squashbed

This week we started putting the garden to bed for the summer. Back in the Midwest, July through September were the pinnacle of the garden, market, and food preservation period. It has literally taken me years to get out of that rhythm and swing into a rhythm that takes into account the impact the heat has on crops here. You can take the girl out of Minnesota and all that…

green-beans

So we are now at the end of what I call the early summer gardening season. This is when we do things like squash and tomatoes and many of the summer crops we would have grown June through September up north. But once July and the general trend towards mid-90 to triple digit temperatures hits, these guys struggle. Add to that the fact that some years we see very little rain during July and August and it really doesn’t make sense to push hard for a garden during these months.

So this week we chop-and-dropped the squash plants and covered them in a thick layer of hay and somewhat composted manure. The green beans and collard greens are on the chopping block for the same treatment next week. All of this is in preparation for a season that is generally cooler and generally sees more rain – the fall garden.

cukes

These cucumbers are still producing despite the heat, though I do think their flower production has slowed down. We are watering regularly using the solar-powered pump in our pond. That combined with the bits of rain we are getting have really helped.

But I imagine it won’t be long before these guys give out too and we’ll put this area to bed for the summer.

okraplant

That leaves us with what I call the deep summer crops. These guys are the ones who stand tall on a 100-degree afternoon and tend to use less water. Sweet potatoes, black-eyed peas, and okra are what we generally grow during this period and I’ve just started to see the first okra blossoms forming this week. Pumpkins and pole beans are being experimented with this summer as well.

onions

So right now we are eating cucumbers, green beans, collard greens, garlic, and onions from our garden. This is the first year we’ve planted a larger number of onions and I am sold on it being a yearly happening. Stewart planted a few bags of bulbs last fall – maybe one to two hundred?

Well, I made the mistake of probably picking way too many green onions over the winter so many of them went to seed. Still, for a family that can eat 3-5 pounds of onions per week, I haven’t had to purchase onions for several months. I think we’ve probably eaten through at least 60% of them and the rest we’ll harvest over the next week or two since the tops are dying back.

I remember the day that the seeds from which this food came went into the ground. I remember the bags of onions Stewart meticulously planted in the pallet garden… and the bunches and bunches the girls planted haphazardly in the chicken field. I remember Stewart and Abram planting those 16 squash plants… and the squash hill he gave Annabelle. I remember the sunny spring day Ruthie carefully squatted next to Stewart to put the cucumber seeds in the ground. I remember the evening she knelt beside Stewart and I for bean planting. And I remember the night Annabelle, Stewart, and I planted okra just hours after the 2017 garlic harvest. We finished just as it began to rain.

There was also the day the boys helped me plant potatoes and the pots of eggplant and peppers they stood beside me to start. As has been the case every season, at least a portion of the crops we planted failed. It has been a part of every gardening season, though as the soil has been fed and enriched, the complete garden failures have lessened.

I’m not sure how to convey my gratitude for this process – the food yes, but mostly the process – and the way it has nourished our family in ways that can’t be seen at the dinner table.

girlsbread2
This morning, after chickens were let out and goats milked, in that post-breakfast hurrah we seem to have every morning that tends to fizzle out just before lunch, it was chore time. The boys were strangely excited to move large quantities of manure from the barn and surrounding pasture and into the garden. It appears as though my love of animal manure is beginning to rub off on them.

It was a baking morning, the sourdough starter still bubbly from last night’s feed and the bread bag empty for days. Usually I whip up a quick double batch of No-Knead and move onto the impending dishes but it was a cooler morning ripe for a bit of extra time in the kitchen, so we went into full sandwich bread mode.

I began mixing the dough on the table and Annabelle immediately put away her pens and papers and asked if she could add the flour. Then Ruthie pulled up her chair and started to mix. When the dough was too stiff for her little arms, mama finished it up in the bowl.

Ooh, can I knead?!” Annabelle asked with great enthusiasm. So I split the dough in two and floured up the table and away they went. Pull and fold and push and turn and repeat, we sang. Oh, and Joshie’s trying to eat it, Mama. Ten minutes later I had washed a couple of sink fulls of dishes, my bread dough was ready for the bulk fermentation, and these girls wanted to know why they had to stop.

The recipe is the high-rising Sourdough Sandwich Loaf in Traditionally Fermented Foods which we will shape and bake later today.

***

This scene got me thinking back to when I first began to learn to bake bread. It was nearly twenty years later than Ruthie is getting started and it was one of those first DIY skills that got me hooked. Why couldn’t I make our own bread, yogurt, butter, salad dressing, vegetables, meat, medicine… everything I began to ask myself? In theory it sure would lighten the burden on the pocket book and give us access to better food.

So I began going down the list of the things we consume and tried making it at home instead. Eventually I was fermenting anything I could get my hands on and growing what we could in a small suburban backyard. Ten years later we have more gardens and chickens and goats and cows (!) than I could have imagined back then.

But baking our own bread with real ingredients, feeling that dough change shape beneath my hands, that spurred me on to ask more questions and try to make and produce more of our family’s needs. Recently I shared three recipes over on the Attainable Sustainable blog that might be good for those first starting out in making their own bread:

Foolproof Homemade Sandwich Bread

Soft French Bread

Homemade Light & Fluffy Dinner Rolls

Happy baking!