Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Tomato problems and a small harvest.

Last year my garden was hit with late blight. It was pretty devastating at the time. i have always grown a ton of tomatoes, then turned them into sauce, froze or canned them. i was pretty proud of the fact that i had gone several years without having to buy pasta sauce or canned tomatoes. Last year, at this same time i had over 40 heirloom plants that were destroyed by blight in a little over 1 weeks time.

 Looking back i realize that the loss of all those tomatoes was only the beginning of a cycle of loss that would continue until we had lost most everything.   

Since our house burned in Jan. my main goal has been to return home and plant my garden. It was something i needed to do, to stay sane and to not lose myself completely in all the chaos we were dealing with. This is my therapy, it is healing and one of the few things that makes me feel 'okay' again. So getting back to my garden became my focus, more important even than rebuilding the house.

Since we were in the rental house i had no where to start seeds inside, so i purchased a flat of tomato plants from a farm market in NC.  Before i had even gotten the tomatoes into the ground one of the plants died.  i didn't really think much of it, sometimes you get a weak plant that for what ever reason doesn't make it.  i threw out the dead plant and went ahead and planted to rest of the tomatoes. One, by one the plants began to shrivel and die.  i was not at all concerned that it was late blight again. They did not have the leaf spots that you see with blight.  From my research last year, i read that late blight does not over winter in the soil and just because you have it one year doesn't mean you'll get it again. It has more to do with weather conditions. It only appears during wet cool summers, which are not typical for this area. 

So i had no idea why my plants were dying.  We were getting a ton of rain at this point, so i thought perhaps they were getting waterlogged. Often times irregular watering can mimic other plant diseases.   i examined the plants, and found that they all had strange brown lesions on the stems, and the leaves were turning brown just along the edges and then eventually wilting and dying completely. i cut the stems of a few plants and found the tissue inside streaked with brown. After a bit of internet research i came to the conclusion they were either infected with bacterial canker or some type of wilt.  i pulled and destroyed about a dozen plants.

i was not about to be defeated by this so i purchased new tomato plants, and even started some from seed even though it was already the middle of June.  The rain continued, and continued and continued.

By the middle of July, i was finally starting to see tomatoes develop.  My plants were looking fantastic, but the tomatoes were coming in cat-faced and splitting.  This is most often caused by weather conditions.  So far i had been really confident that i wouldn't have late blight again, after all it doesn't overwinter in the soil and was most definitely killed off over our abnormally cold winter. i'd gone 11 years without ever getting blight, what is the chance i would get it two years in a row? 

But we were getting a ton of rain, and the temps were oddly cool for July. i was checking the blight map religiously. The weather conditions were favoring late blight and it was starting to pop up everywhere. NC, WV, NJ and Dc area. It had not yet been confirmed in VA yet and i was still feeling pretty confident that it would miss us. What are the chances i would get it two years in a row?? 

The rain stopped, the sun came out and for a moment i was beginning to feel like we were in the clear.  i looked back to my old blog post to see when it had hit last year thinking we were already way past that point.  The post was published July 30th.  i looked at my calender, it was only July 22rd.  That's went it hit me that late blight was still very much a possibility. 

It began to rain again, and the temps dropped.  i checked the blight map again, still no VA, then went out and checked my plants.

There is was. July 23th, late blight again.  Devastated? crushed? or just completely defeated. It's hard to explain the feeling. Yes, i know they are only tomatoes. i know i can by pasta sauce and canned tomatoes at the store. i know that in the grand scheme of things it's really not that big of a deal.  Yet, when you put your heart and soul into something and then watch it fall apart and die,  it takes a bit of you with it.  

On that same day a note was released by the Virginia Tech Esarec Plant Pathology FB page that Late blight had been officially confirmed in Floyd County and was widespread in the area.

Eight more plants have been pulled and bagged.  i've been pulling the plants immediately at the first sign of blight, unlike last year where i thought maybe i could somehow save them.  i've started spraying copper on all the other tomatoes plants.

The tomatoes in my main garden all look like this.  So far however, it is only the tomatoes in the main garden. i have tomatoes in two other beds that are not yet infected. i'm not optimistic that they will remain that way, but i am spraying them with copper and i hoping.  After losing all my tomatoes last year, i told my husband that i would be happy with one perfectly ripe on the vine Cherokee purple tomato.  

The rain, which has caused so many issues with my tomatoes plants, has caused the rest of my garden to explode with abundance. i am trying to let go of the tomato loss and focus on everything that is doing well. i've been harvesting lots of beans and zucchini. i won't be doing any vegetable canning this year because we are in the RV, but i have been able to freeze quite a bit. We have a deep freezer set up at Kenan's shop and i am slowly getting it filled up with homegrown organic goodness.  i only have a few chickens left, but they are starting to lay again too. i'm only getting a couple eggs a week, but it is something.

 My flowers also seem to be loving the rain, and although the beds are neglected and overgrown with weeds, the flowers look prettier than they ever have before. The  flowers have brought the butterflies and hummingbirds in abundance. So on the days when it is not raining, i sit outside and just enjoy being right here, right now. 

i did get my one perfect ripe on the vine Cherokee purple tomato, in fact i have picked 6 so far and there are a few others on the plant that are very close to being ripe.  i will not get the bushels of tomatoes i was hoping for, but i will get a few and right now that is enough.

Be content with what you have, rejoice in the way things are.  When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.  ~Lao Tzu

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Summer Travels- The Cascades

The Cascades in Pembroke VA is one of our favorite hiking places. It's a little over an hours drive away, but we try to visit it at least once a year. My favorite time to come is in the early spring when all the first wildflowers are blooming.  The area is covered in trillium, wood violets columbine, anemones, jack in the pulpit, blue cohosh etc.  It is still a beautiful walk other times of year, but the spring is definitely my favorite.

This year we visited in the middle of summer, so most of the windflowers were not blooming. We've had so much rain this year, that the area was damper than usual and everything was lush and green.

The hike follows this beautiful river through a winding rocky path.  The hike can be a little strenuous, but the 70 foot waterfall at the end makes it all worthwhile. The cascades is considered one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Virginia, and of all the waterfalls we have visited it is by far my favorite.  i enjoy the actual hike as much as i enjoy the falls.

Although there were very few wildflowers, we did get to see a few butterflies fluttering about.  This one is a called a Red spotted purple, even though it looks black and blue.  They are usually spotted sucking the minerals out of the soil near the edges of the creek.  

Last year was the first time i've ever come across a purple flowering raspberry Rubus Odoratus. i had spotted it on our way back from hiking at panther creek. It was actually covered in fruit, otherwise i would have dismissed it as a type of wild rose. 

Although we visit the Cascades every year, i had no idea these were all over this area. We typically come in the spring, so the raspberry isn't flowering. The leaves to this plant don't look like a typical raspberry, so i've never paid it any attention before.  i was pretty excited to find them here, they are such a pretty raspberry! They are also sometimes called thimble berry and Virginia raspberry. i'm hoping to come across these again in the wild (not a state park :) )so i can dig up a runner and get some established on our land. i just love them!

Although the hike is several miles and strenuous in places, the kids love to come here and have no problems hiking the entire distance.  The scenery is completely magical, and there is amazing energy everywhere. 

The waterfall at the end of the hike is breathtaking. Kenan always takes the kids out to the falls. You can follow the rocks across and walk right up to it. The rocks are really slippery though, and it's hard not to fall. So i prefer to stay. :)   i'm not sure how i managed to get this picture of them without anyone else in it. The day we were here there were a ton of people at the falls. There were people all over the rocks, walking up to the falls and several were even in the water swimming. We always let the kids wade in the shallow areas, but we've never swam here, although many people do. 

The falls always leave us feeling energized, and the walk back seems really easy. Last year we continued up the trail to see the other falls farther up, but this year we were there a bit later and decided to just head home. Just as we got back to our car the rain poured down and  it began to storm.  Seemed like the perfect ending to such an amazing hike.

We left feeling energized and recharged.  

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Squashini? Zucchinash? Cross pollination in the garden.

Every year i grow a pretty big (relatively speaking) garden. At one time i loved to collect seeds from my plants. Since i like to grow a variety of plants and started growing open pollinated heirlooms almost exclusively, i now purchase most of my seeds to guarantee they haven't cross pollinated.   Most of this years seeds came from Baker's Creek, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Botanical interests.

Every year, beside all the seeds i plant i end up with a few volunteers. For the last few years we've had a lot of volunteer gourds. This year i spotted this interesting fella in coming in my zucchini bed. The bottom of it looks very much like the gray zucchini i planted last year.  It had several baby squash on the plant, and they all have this yellow strip in the middle. So strange! 

This year i planted Black beauty Zucchini, Yellow crooked neck squash and a few other varieties. This volunteer looks like it could be a cross between a zucchini and a yellow crooked neck. Many of the gourds we've grown have been half green and half i was a little worried that it had crossed with a gourd and would be completely inedible.  

i decided to slice up some zucchini, yellow squash and our mystery squash and compare them. Surprisingly, the mystery squash looks identical to the zucchini inside. i had my kids do a taste test, with their eyes closed and they could not tell the difference.  So we are calling it a Squashini. :)  

My summer squash have just started to really come in.  So far i have been harvesting Dark green zucchini, Black Beauty Zucchini, Golden Zucchini, Yellow crooked neck squash and Squashini! i'm still waiting for my patty pans to mature, and i have a ton of other volunteers that i'm watching. Most looks like gourds, but it will be fun to see what we end up with.

What is the craziest cross-pollinated vegetable you've ever grown?

Summer Travels- Sage's B-day weekend in TN

Where does the time go? My baby girl's turned 7 years old on June 21st, the first day of Summer.

 i made a very basic cake for her birthday and then realizing we didn't have candles or any kind of decorations we went outside and picked fresh flowers and berries. She helped me decorate it and was totally thrilled with it. We had a pretty big weekend planned for her birthday, and had a quick celebration in the RV and then packed up for a weekend trip to TN!

Before heading out she opened up a few presents.  i was really excited to see her open the new doll i had made for her back in May.  After losing all of those handmade dolls, making a new one was extremely important to me.  She loved her!

So our main reason we were heading to TN was for me to get together with a few of my childhood friends. The father of a girl i've been friends with since kindergarten had passed away around Easter time, and she was coming to TN to spend time with her mom. Her mom's house is only a few hours from here, so i was hoping i'd be able to see her while she was there. Then a few of our other friends arranged a road trip to come down from MI and i knew i HAD to get myself there! We are all originally from MI, but with me in VA and my other friend in MO we do not all get together very often.  i haven't been to MI in about 6 years, and it has been even longer since i've seen my friend in MO.

Since the road trip was planned for Sage's b-day weekend, we decided to make a family trip out of it. Kenan would drop me off with my friends Fri-Sat, take the kids somewhere fun and then we'd head up knoxville and spend Sunday at the Knoxville zoo and head home that evening. 

i lost almost all of my old photos in the fire, but found this one blowing around the yard.  This was taken in the late 80's. ha ha, can you tell?  i have known these girls since kindergarten. 

Here we are about 25 years later. i think we all still look pretty good. :)  My friend with the hat isn't in the picture above. We were uncertain if she took the other picture, or if it was taken by another friend who didn't make the trip. 
 We picked up cupcakes for Sage's b-day, sang happy birthday and had my girl blow out her candle.  Then Kenan and the kids took off for Johnston city to get hotel and explore the Hands on Museum.  

i had a wonderful time visiting with my friends at this beautiful place.  This land has been in her family for many years. We walked through the home of her great-grandparents. No one lives there now, but it is still furnished and i really enjoyed see the old pictures still on the walls. Her grandparents home is right across the road and her niece is living there now.  We stayed at her parents house, which was up on the hill.  It was amazing to see everyone and hang out again. We stayed up too late and drank a bit too much, but we had a great time.  Despite the time and distance, it was as if a day hadn't gone by.

We took a stroll through downtown Elizabethon and checked out the covered bridge festival.  

While i was hanging out with my friends in Elizabethon, Kenan took the kids to the Hands on Museum in  Johnson city.  The museum membership pass we'd picked up at Greensboro Science center gave them free admission to this science center. 

After exploring the Hands on Museum, they headed back to Elizabethon to check out the covered bridge festival. We actually just missed them by about 1/2 hour.  The kids had lots of fun on these bungee cord trampolines. They also splurged on some fair food and face painting.  Then they headed back to my friends house, we said our good byes and continued on to Knoxville.

Years ago, we used to vend at bead shows.  One of them was in knoxville, across the parking lot from the zoo.  So while Kenan was working the bead show i would take the boy to the zoo. We really like this zoo, and although we no longer do the bead show we still come back to knoxville every few years to visit the zoo.

They have these mist stations everywhere. So although it can be hot walking around a zoo, they are a nice way to cool off and the kids love them.

If it gets too hot outside, there is an indoor kids area called Wee play (i think).  It's really neat,they have a pizza shop, grocery store, veterinarian clinic and farm yard all set up for imaginary play.  They have lots of Melissa and Doug toys, and even a few real animals in the farm yard. The kids had fun pretending to work in a pizza shop. 

We enjoyed seeing the animals too. 

Our original plans were to go downtown Knoxville to play in the splash pad at the World's fair park.  We were surprised to see that the zoo now has a splash pad! So we ended up not going downtown at all, and just hanging out at the zoo for the rest of the day.  The kids had a blast, and we headed home early evening and were able to get back to the RV before dark.

We really had an amazing trip, and it was great seeing my old friends! We are hoping to make this an annual get together every year! 

We have really been trying to make this a memorable summer for the kids. Having an exciting new trip each weekend really helps to keep everyone's spirits up.  Although it's nice being back on our property, it is bitter sweet as well. So we really enjoy these outings to take our mind away from other things.

i'm still trying to play catch up with my blog, so you can expect lots of back posting. i have another giveaway to post, and i may start posting a few sponsored posts as well. So don't be too surprised if you see some different postings from me.  My life has been turned upside down, and i no longer have the luxury of sitting around crafting with my kids all day. i've started looking for a job outside the home, or exploring different ways to bring in an income from home. Unfortunately, i don't actually make any money with the bendy dolls, so i need to look for some other options.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Tropical Traditions Raw honey sale and Free shipping (orders over $16)!

Hey folks! Remember that review i did on the Organic Raw honey from tropical Traditions?? If not you can read about it here. The honey is on sale right now for $10.49 and TODAY ONLY they have free shipping on orders over $16 with code 13722.   It's a really good deal, and totally worth it! We have almost finished the jar of honey, so i just picked up another one. i also grabbed a bag of whole wheat flour (cause i was out) and some organic heirloom seeds for my fall garden. We live pretty far from store, so with gas prices so high free shipping deals are hard to pass up! 

You can read about and order their Organic Raw honey here.  If it is your first time order, please use my referral link! You'll receive a free booklet "Virgin Coconut Oil: How it has changed people's lives and how it can change yours!" and i'll receive a credit to the store. 

Remember the free shipping deal is TODAY only, so if you've ever thought of ordering from them, today is a good day to order!  The free shipping code is 13722, and you add it to your card during checkout.   Happy Shopping! 

***the honey is now $13.99 not sure why the price changed. i purchased it for $10.49 just a few hours ago.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Garden Update- July.

It's been a while since i posted a garden update, in fact i'm not even sure i've posted one this year.  If you've been following my blog at all, you know that this entire year has been a bit of  crazy, wild ride.  We were not able to move back to our property until June 1st, so my entire garden got a really late start this year. Then  it pretty much rained all of June and so far most of the garden has had a rather slow start.

Now, half way through July and it is really just starting to fill in and produce. So here is a brief update on this years garden.

i only put in a dozen broccoli plants this year.  One of them bolted while the plant was still small, but the others did well.  After harvesting the heads, w are still harvesting occasional side shoots from the plants. 

By the middle of June we were harvesting tons of lettuce, garlic scapes, asparagus and strawberries.  i planted tons of lettuce, and plant it about every three weeks so we are still harvesting a bunch.  Our strawberries never do that well, but we did manage to pick a few handfuls. 

 By the end of June we were still harvesting plenty of lettuce and garlic scapes. We were also getting sugar snap peas, berries and day lily buds. We were just beginning to get some beans.  i love summer meals like this that are entirely grown at home.

 i always plant a ton of cold crops, and so i've been getting lots of kale and rainbow swiss chard. Swiss chard has become a new favorite this year, and i'm wishing i had planted more! i will be sure and plant a bunch this fall.

By the beginning of July the berries really started producing!  This has been our best year for blueberries.   i think it was all the rain. We have a deep freezer set up at Kenan's shop, so i have been able to freeze a ton.  The kids are outside daily eating unlimited blueberries and raspberries.  i even made a couple mini batches of jam. 

So that brings us to the middle of July. i really can not believe it is July.  :(  i planted a ton of beans this year.  The rain washed away a bunch of my seeds, and so i ended up planting beans in all those empty garden spots just to fill it in a bit.  Now they are all really starting to come in. i'm harvesting purple pole beans now, and have christmas lima, yellow wax, scarlet runners, and purple bush beans in bloom.  My potatoes were put in late, but i dug around a couple plants to harvest some new potatoes and was pleased to see they are doing well. i have red, white and purple potatoes planted this year. :) 

 We are just starting to enter blackberry season!!  We are still getting a ton of blueberries, although the red raspberries have tapered off a bit. They are every bearing though, so we should get another harvest this fall.  My squash are a bit behind, but they are loaded with bloom and baby squash so we should be picking them in the next week or so.

My tomatoes had a very rough start, i had to pull about 8 plants that were diseased and may of the others were showing sign of distress from the constant rain and cooler temps.  However, we have actually seen the sun a bit this week and my tomatoes seem to be making a come back.   i'm really hoping to be picking some soon. My peppers and sweet potatoes are doing fantastic and i planted a few rows of corn that seem to be doing okay. i've never had much luck with corn, but plant a couple small rows every year anyway.

So, i knew my garden wasn't going to be perfect this year and am actually a bit surprised i was able to plant it at all.  We have a lot on our plate this year, with just trying to get back to the property and now trying to plan to build a new house.  We are slowly making progress and i will post details eventually.

We are enjoying our time back 'home', although it has rained almost every day that we have been ehre. We are trying to make the summer as fun as we can with lots of weekend road trips. i am super behind with my posts, but will share our adventures soon.

This has definitely been the year for change for us, in more ways than i can possibly express.

All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.  ~Anatole France

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Summer Travels-Bottom Creek Gorge

i really have no idea how we have lived here for 13 years, and yet had never heard of Bottom Creek Gorge.  Bottom Creek Gorge has the second highest waterfall in Virginia and is just a  few miles outside of Floyd county, in Montgomery county, VA.  

i only happened upon it when someone posted photos on facebook. i clicked on them to see where it was, and was super surprised that it was so close to us.  We have always spent our summers checking out local hiking areas, nature preserves, places along the new river trail and blue ridge parkway. So i really have no idea how it took us so long to find this place.

At the beginning of the trail head they have a kiosk with info, map and a warning that the trail is very strenuous 'proceed at your own risk'.  i was a little concerned about the kids on the trail if it was extremely strenuous. The falls viewing is at the end of the red trail, so we took that one down. All along the trails are the remnants of old homesteads.  They are all labeled on the map legend. There are not many to see on the red trail, so we decided to take the blue trail back after seeing the falls. The blue trail is much less steep and an easier hike.

 i did not feel like it was especially strenuous, although it was a bit steep. The kids had no trouble walking it, and there are steps down the steeper parts.  It was a beautiful trail, with old fence posts and wineberries everywhere.

The blue trail had a bunch of old homesteads.  We saw many old log cabins, stones  piles where chimneys used to be and even an old cemetery with an iron gate.  Since our hike here, i've been searching online for some kind of history of the families that lived here but haven't found a whole lot.

The only info i could find said that  Bottom Creek Gorge was settled in the late 18th century, reaching a peak population of over 20 families in the mid 20th century. Settlers called the gorge “the roughs” because of the rocky, almost impassible terrain. Scattered about the gorge are old house sites, farmsteads, graveyards, stone dwellings built by Civil War deserters, and the remains of an abandoned scout camp, Camp Kiwanniana. 

The Nature Conservatory began planning Bottom Creek Gorge Preserve in 1978 when the Virginia Chapter and forerunner of Virginia’s state Natural Heritage Program reorganized the outstanding variety of fishes found in the creek. Since 1988, the Conservatory has acquired 1,657 acres here. While most of the land has been purchased, the 74-acre tract containing the waterfall itself was donated in 1992 by Appalachian Power Company.

We had a great time on the hike. The kids collected sticks that turned into wizard staffs, magical wands and bow and arrows.  There were lots of big rocks to climb on and a few open areas where we saw wildflowers and butterflies.  It was really a beautiful hike.

The falls viewing area is quite small, so if there are other folks on the trail it can get rather crowded and you may find yourself having to wait.  There were several cars there when we arrived, but we only saw two other people on the trails.  The actual waterfall, Bent Mountain Falls,  is quite far away on the other side of the gorge. There is no way to access it so you can not get anywhere near the actual falls, but you can see it through the trees.   It is huge (200 feet), but not nearly as spectacular as the cascades.

We really enjoyed the hike, seeing all the old homesteads and look forward to coming back to walk it again.
We love these summer day trips, and are always excited to visit some place new. i still can't believe we had never heard of this before, but am glad that we found it!

Our summer already feels like it going way too fast!  We are in the process of coming up with our house plans and will soon begin to rebuild.  i'll post all about that when we finally know excatly what we are going to do. We are definitely getting closer.   These weekend getaways are so needed to help us clear our minds, and focus on family and just enjoying our time together.