The Week in Pictures

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As the long days of summer fly by, I usually flop into bed exhausted at night. Therefore, I’m keeping this post simple by sharing some photos from the week.

IMG_4356My how my garden grows! I returned from a lovely week in New York State with family and friends to a garden that is taller, fuller, and weedier than when I left. After a few vigorous days of work, it is now back in tip top shape.IMG_4349 I am most impressed by the sunflowers, which must grow at least 3 – 5 inches each day.

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IMG_4346This is my first year growing eggplant, which has a rather exotic-looking leaf and flower.

IMG_4336It’s harvest time for the last of the spring spinach and chard, and the first beets and turnips. IMG_4340

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While in Syracuse, my cousins shared with me an interesting natural history tidbit from our Grandpa. He taught them to ask a daddy longleg “which way did the cows go?” and it would point a leg. The day after I flew home, we moved the cows to a new pasture, and I had the perfect opportunity to test this out. The very next morning, I found this daddy longleg trapped in my sink. When asked the question, he pointed in approximately the right direction! I consider this an affirmation of the wisdom of Grandpa.

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On hot summer days, we usually have sun tea brewing. This batch is Mountain Huckleberry with honey. Yum.

Our neighbor’s goat had twins! One of the kids was too weak to get up right away, so Bart gave it a boost. IMG_4405

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Being a ranch dog is tough work – Doc usually takes a nap at lunchtime.

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IMG_4446At dusk last night on the western horizon: the Moon and Jupiter behind the Cottonwood tree.

Signs of Summer

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Here above the 46th parallel we bask in sunlight until well after 9 at night on the summer solstice. We sleep with the windows wide open to let in the cool night air and murmur of the crickets. We awake by 5 in the morning to a chorus of birds already greeting the sun. The days are long and we have the good fortune to spend most of our time working outdoors.

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The Coulee Garden grows – June 1st
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June 7th
June 19th
June 19th

With two gardens to tend, I can usually be found in the dirt amongst vegetable plants. A couple rough hailstorms in early June set us back a bit, but everything is now growing well. I keep up on weeding, watering, and removal of pesky potato bugs. Alas, they have already found my new garden in the coulee. Luckily, they are easy to see and pick by hand. We’ve had a marvelous harvest from the town garden already: lettuce, spinach, and arugula. At this time of year, we indulge in fresh mixed green salad twice a day.

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Ample June rains have granted us lush, green fields that are ready for haying. We are up to the task as we purchased our first haying equipment this spring. We picked up a swather for a smoking deal after enduring a long hot day at an auction in May. All the sane people left in search of water and shade by five. Out of the few determined bidders left, we clearly wanted the swather the most. After a few minor tweaks, Bart is cutting hay.

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It works!

Next came the baler. Bart’s commitment to finding hidden gems on Craigslist really paid off. He found this little square baler down in Bridger. Again, a few minor tweaks and it is working like a champ. Luckily, our little tractor can pull the baler. We picked the tractor up from a friend a few years ago. It required several major tweaks before it jumped to life. Now all it needs is a sun umbrella, and we are ready to roll all summer long.

IMG_4322Bart cut and baled the first of the hay last week. We loaded it onto the trailer and brought it up to the barn. Here at the height of summer we are doing our best to prepare for winter: hay for the animals, and vegetables for us.

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The honey bees are back
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Milkweed is just starting to bloom
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Doc was nowhere to be found when I finished weeding last week. He usually sticks pretty close to me in the garden, but sometimes follows birds off on a tangent. I figured he’d show up soon, and went to the car to get my water. Lo and behold, there he was sound asleep in the back seat of the Subaru. He had taken advantage of the open driver’s side door and made his way to a luxurious bed complete with pillows. Usually he rides in the back of the wagon, which is certainly not as comfortable. I figure he made out pretty good that day. Probably even woke up when I called him, but didn’t want to give away his position.

Glimpse of Spring

IMG_4147 We moved north to the country last year in order to live a simpler, more sustainable existence. One year later, we are much closer to our dream, yet there is still room for improvement. I managed to take on enough teaching responsibilities this year that I’ve kept myself busy – too busy. I enjoy teaching immensely, however, it is time again to simplify. Luckily, with the end of the school year, I have the valuable opportunity to evaluate what I will continue with next year. And, I have the delight of working outdoors in the gardens again all summer to look forward to! Garden planning has already begun. We’ve had little tomato, pepper, and eggplant seedlings growing in our cabin for over a month now.

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Tomato plant at ten days old – moved up into its new 3-inch peat pot
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Tomato plants at three weeks old basking in the grow lights
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Wide selection of month-old tomato plants: Amish Paste, Valley Girl, Gill’s, Stupice, and a few varieties of cherry tomatoes

We’ve put the potato, onion, and root vegetable seeds in the ground out at our new garden in the coulee. There, the soil is sandy unlike the Musselshell River bottom here at the cabin. Our carrots will grow straight and narrow! No more franken-carrots struggling to push their way down into the soil. Our new well will provide easy access to water, unlike our old potato patch where I hauled bucket after bucket, toning my arm muscles and watering the plants all at once last year.

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Bare-root honeyoye strawberry plant in its new home

I added 25 strawberry plants to the new plot yesterday before a 12-hour spring rain doused the landscape in moisture.

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Straining the sauce before thickening

Today, on a rainy Saturday, I am cozy by the fire in our cabin as I grade papers and turn the remainder of last summer’s tomatoes into spaghetti sauce.

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Bart has been planting too – on a bit of larger scale

My Thankfuls

Evan, age 2
Evan, age 2

When I sit down for dinner with my nephew, Evan, we always say our “thankfuls”. Evan brought this tradition home from preschool, where the kids learned to pause a moment and reflect on the things for which they are grateful. Saying thankfuls with Evan is always a treat. As the sole vocal member of the youngest generation of our family, the spotlight is on Evan as he picks who says thankfuls first. I prefer not to be picked right away. I want the opportunity to collect my thoughts and speak from the heart. I love listening to everyone share their thoughts while I deeply inhale the rich scents of the hearty meal that we are about to enjoy. The meal always tastes better and the company more joyful after we say our thankfuls.  This week I’ll share a daily thankful in honor of Thanksgiving and the tradition begun by Evan.

Soon to be a scrumptious cuke
Soon to be a crunchy cucumber
Baby butternut squash
Baby butternut squash

Today, I am thankful for the harvest from our garden. In August, September, and even into October, I canned, froze, fermented, cured, and dried a variety of vegetables – from pumpkins and peppers to beans and cucumbers. Meals now are accentuated by produce that we grew. They taste somehow sweeter and more satisfying for all the work that we put into growing them.

A typical August day's harvest
A typical August day’s harvest

This morning I pulled four gallon-sized bags of tomatoes out of the freezer. All day they’ve been stewing on my stove, warming our cabin as they cook down to a thick sauce. I’ve added our onions and carrots from a neighbor’s garden, along with basil I dried back in July. Some of the sauce will go into lasagne tonight – the perfect meal for a windy and brisk autumn evening!

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Straight from the freezer to the pot

Potato – Potahto

Here’s a quick update from Coulee Creek Ranch. Also, I finally added content to the other pages – Garden, Hen House, Sisters’ Soapworks, and Grassfed Beef.

Today, we spent our Sunday morning harvesting potatoes. With the frequent rains this fall, I was unsure if they’d be edible or if they’d be on their way to producing the next crop already. Luckily, there were no sprouting spuds in sight. We pulled up slightly less than last year since we planted only 8 – 40 foot rows instead of 15 this year. Nonetheless, we’ll still have plenty of potatoes for at least half the year! Now to just finish that root cellar so we have somewhere to store them…IMG_3614Bart has been busy milling logs in order to finish our corrals. One more solid week of work, and they should be ready to go, just in time to sort the calves out next month.

IMG_3610With so many projects in the works, our home site still looks like it did in the spring when our friend Dave came over with his Cat and dug a big hole for us. IMG_3071 IMG_3072 IMG_3073We had high hopes of pouring concrete before winter, but we can’t get a concrete company to call us back. Next year, we may just have to tackle it ourselves. This is not an exciting prospect. For now, our root cellar is in place at the home site, but is not fully covered. Now that our potato harvest is dug up and curing in the shop, we’ll prepare at least the back half of the cellar for winter spud storage.

IMG_3081Bart cut doors into an old gas tank and welded brackets on for shelves. Then we scrubbed it 3 – 4 times with hot soapy water to remove any lingering oil. Eventually my pantry and kitchen will adjoin the door to the cellar – perhaps in another five years.

IMG_3083The biggest news, and perhaps most important development is that we now have water at both the corrals and house! We’ve piped our well to a cistern and down the hill into the coulee. It is cool, refreshing and delicious! Next year, we’ll move our potato patch out here where it is sandier, both easier for the potatoes to grow and easier to harvest.