2020 Garden

I think we can all agree 2020 has been an interesting year so far. Lots going on around the world and around the homestead.

We started seeds in February like usual, but did not get them planted until nearly the middle of May. The weather here just stayed wet, and could not till up the garden in the mud.

Then the weekend after we planted, had two nights of historic frost for our area. Looks like we should have waited even longer to get them in the ground. We will certainly keep that in mind for next year.

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We ended up having around 125 plants to cover with pots. We got several of those from a last minute run to a dollar store. Cleaned them out of 31 pots! They’ll get put to use later for transplanting as seeds start to outgrow their starter block.

Our lettuce bed we covered in a tarp as the bed itself is a little set in the ground. Lots of the more tolerant plants just got some hay spread around them.

Most things made it, more than we would have thought. Some decisions had to be made, and some plants did not get the best cover. We have had a few die but that is part of gardening anyway. No one anticipated a frost right before Mother’s Day.

We did not change much in the garden this year. We worked on getting more proficient at what we are already doing. We invested into more of the black fabric we had so much success with last year. This year instead of skipping rows we decided to cover it all and torch holes on where we wanted to plant. Took more time upfront but is already proving to save us time weeding. We even did the corn plot the same way, but a storm the very next night ripped up all the paper. So now its just a wait to see where corn pops up so we can weed around it. No way we could have gotten the paper back down exactly lining the holes up to where we already planted.

One exciting difference this year is we have so much lettuce!

We are pretty sure we can thank the farm cats for that. They are doing a great job of keeping the rodent and rabbit population down.

The only real new things we added this year were some GIGANTIC pumpkins for fun, a new cucumber variety we wanted to try, and eggplant. Oh yeah, and a beet variety. We’re also trying potato and sweet potato again this year.

So far we have had plenty of rain and not enough sunshine but we will see. Hope all of your gardens are doing just as well or better!

Anyone planting anything new this year?

Favorite Dishes from the Garden: Squash

One of the fun things our first few years of growing our own food taught us was how to get creative with meal time.

When you’re looking at your 12th consecutive day of having yellow squash for dinner, you want to spice things up – literally and figuratively!

We’ve got the fried squash down perfectly. In fact, it’s usually requested by the June birthday girl since its the best thing.

Sadly though, we can’t live off fried squash so we started looking at other flavors we liked and tried them with squash.

One of the earliest attempts was squash pickles.

They were a start but not really a meal.

One of us got to craving pizza but this mound of produce kept staring at us. We then had the idea of taking some of the bigger squash and turning them into pizza boats!

This was a great way to use up the larger squash that weren’t as tender as the smaller ones but are still just as delicious. We also cooked these on the grill since it’s just too hot to run the oven in the house.

We took 2 good sized squash and cleaned and prepped them. They were washed, cut in half and the insides scooped out for either the compost pile or chickens.

They were seasoned with salt, pepper, onion and garlic powder, as well as since Italian seasoning, since we’re making pizzas, after all. We drizzled with olive oil and set cut side down on the pre-lit grill over medium heat for about 6 to 7 minutes. Try to avoid any burning at this step. It’s not a yummy taste.

After that, flip the squash over so the skin can cook and so that the pizza toppings can get started. We used some ready made pizza sauce but of course homemade will be just as good. Spoon 2 to 3 spoonfuls then start layering in toppings. Pre-cooked Italian sausage or ground beef , pepperoni slices, basically any protein that you like on a pizza goes great here. Then some veggies. We love mushrooms so those were a given. Peppers, onions, spinach would all be great too. Top with any kind of mild, easy melting cheese like provolone or mozzarella and a little more Italian seasoning. Return to the grill and finish off for about another 4 to 5 minutes or until the squash is fork tender and the toppings are melted and bubbling slightly.

Cool for a couple minutes and then dig in!

We also a squash hamburger bun and even squash “mac and cheese”.

We used our own frozen squash, cut into slices and then halved. They went right into a pot to cook in their own juices from frozen. A little salt and pepper to season.

After the squash had cooked through, we lightly drained it and added a can of cheese soup. Just a splash of milk was used to thin the soup. Not much was needed since there was so much liquid from the squash. From there, we seasoned to taste and were ready to dig in!

The squash mac was in pretty heavy rotation because it is so easy and tastes good too.

Do you have any squash recipes we need to try? Any other twists on a favorite that we missed? Share in the comments and let us know!

2019 wrap up

Little late with the wrap up post on 2019, which is about perfect because 2019 seemed to be the year of being a little late.

Just as with any place there was several successes and failures on the Homestead.

Greenhouse was finished and worked great for the head start on spring planting.

We also got to experiment with putting down black ground cover, which we liked and will be getting more for the future gardens.

Wild rabbits did eat at least 50% of what we planted, but the greenhouse worked.

We started breeding rabbits on the homestead, took it slowly but did successfully raise and process three litters.

Our first group of chicks had zero losses. We bought 3 different breeds and supposedly no roosters. Ended up with entirely different breeds and six roosters. So surprise for us we also got to do our first rooster harvest in 2019.

Bought 6 more chickens to replace the rooster fiasco this time they were all hens, but again not the breed we thought we were purchasing. They lay eggs though, so we are calling it a win.

Also, we started getting eggs!!

We were able to finish the barn and immediately started planning an expansion …. Might get to that this year.

Planted a few more trees and bushes, but to be completely honest we did not take care of the ones we already have. The blackberries were taken over by weeds, the blueberries were all eaten by something. Even had a plum tree that was real dead before we noticed. Strawberries grew, but they did not have much flavor, so they were mostly ignored for the rest of the year.

Berries and orchard have to be more of a priority this year.

Fall garden was non existent. We started some seeds, but it stayed into the high 90s all the way into October, then rained for what seemed like a month. We probably could have still planted, but just got disgusted by it and took the fall off garden wise. We did a small raised area for cabbage and another for carrots.

Land clearing we did not do much. Really just maintaining what we had already cleared. Bandit, the farm dog, uses the brush line as his boundary. We really dont want to get rid of that boundary without the fencing to keep him in. Money was not in the budget in 2019 for what we needed, so nothing additional got cleared.

House building we did a lot more planning, over planning, and then planning it to death. 2020 something tangible has to happen with the house. The trailer is slowly falling apart and still not worth putting any money into fixing.

We will do a future post on plans for 2020 as of now the top 5 are (we know this will probably change several times.)

  1. Start on a house – actually for real get started
  2. Raise more rabbits/ chickens for the freezer.
  3. Add to / take care of orchard.
  4. Barn expansion.
  5. Start nut trees

Hopefully in 2020 we can get more accomplished, which I think that is the goal every year. Still loving the adventure!

What’s something else we could work on for 2020? Let us know what you think! Drop us a comment!

Rabbits on the homestead.

We had always kinda had in mind that chickens would be the first animals on the homestead. We had rabbits in the back of our minds but still thought chickens first.

As time and work went on, the ease of rabbits kept popping in our heads. Rabbits would be a way to get some animals and a renewable source of meat on the place, where as we still did not have the area cleared for the chickens . Also we did not have the money for the netting we wanted to use for our flock. We had already done lots of work on the barn and had a place for rabbit cages.
A deal presented itself and we very quickly built some rabbit cages and our new residents moved in.

We started with three red siblings, New Zealand Red’s, which turned out to be two girls and one boy, and also one older black rabbit female who was a proven breeder. The original idea was to breed the Red buck and black doe to start our group, but the black rabbit never took to our new place. She was scared all the time and never adjusted to us. You could just tell even after a few months she was miserable. On the other hand the three red bunnies were not the friendliest but were getting along well enough.

So the plan shifted from keeping the Red buck and black doe , to keeping the two red does to be part of our breeding trio.

That meant we needed another buck. When a very good deal on one popped up we snatched him up quick.

He is half Flemish Giant Half Silver Fox, has a great temperament, likes treats, tolerates being handled and has already sired a litter of bunnies at our place. He is a keeper!

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We only bred one of the girls for the first round, wanting to make sure that we could handle having a litter at our place. Getting our feet wet without going overboard which is not always our go-to move! Not that we expected trouble but one litter is easier to deal with than two if something were to come up.

The one red girl we bred proved to be an excellent choice so far. She is taking care of her seven babies as well as any rabbit ever has. So now we have a few weeks to get another cage ready. Debating between a rabbit tractor type cage or another closet wire cage they are currently in. Either way we, will need one for the last few weeks of growing them out.

2019 garden updates

Just a quick post on the 2019 garden so far.

The garden woven fabric is working wonderfully so far.  If it holds up through the year and comes up in good condition we will be getting more for sure. See our previous post about it here: 2019 Spring garden .

Rabbits destroyed the rows of lettuce,  spinach, cabbage, broccoli , cauliflower.   They ate what they wanted and are leaving the rest along for now.   We are at war with them at the moment but they are still winning I think.

The plants have gotten to the point that they are outpacing the weeds which saves us some time.  Between the weeds that come up still, the black fabric ,  and the hay bedding from our rabbits that we added to the rows, the soil is keeping its moisture.  It has been very much needed in the hot dry weeks we have had recently.

 

We have already been eating squash,  zucchini , radish, garlic (planted last year) , spinach, peppers.

Our herbs are also rocking and we were able to use them and the garlic with the last of our frozen tomatoes to make an amazing batch of sauce.

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So many great things going on.   Very exciting time of the year.

Speaking of the war on the rabbits – we have recruited some help.  They are small now but once they get some size on them… varmints beware! We’ll share more about Callie the Calico and Ursa the Little Bear, in a future post.

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Blackberries, Strawberries and Blueberries. Oh my

Just a quick post about our berry production on our little homestead.

The first year we planted strawberries and a thornless blackberry.   The second year we added more strawberries,  blackberries ,  and then blueberries. Third year we added more blackberries and blueberries.

We are adding more as we can afford to and also when we can get an area cleared for them.

 

The strawberries were a mix of Alpine,  Ozark,  and probably some others we are forgetting. We tried a white strawberry too, called Pineberry.20190515_181305.jpg

They are planted in a old building foundation with a concrete wall that has fallen down.  It was a defined area that we always try planting things in.   Strawberries are about the only thing that we have found to work there.   We say work but even though we are currently getting lots of strawberries,  we are not getting lots of flavor.   They have all been so bland this year!  Our theories on this are that we have had record level of rains this year effecting the taste  or they do not get enough sunlight.  Or both. There are a few trees surrounding them we are considering cutting down.

Any suggestions from you guys are welcome in the comments!

 

The blackberries are a thorn less variety we like, named Apache . The property is covered in “wild” blackberry plants,  but they do not produce as much due to their thickness and the wild animals get most of them before they are what we consider ripe.

We are planting them on the edge of our young orchard and keep adding as we take back the woods.   They will have plenty of room to expand in the future.   The plants do well for us despite a few bites taken out by deer and rabbits from time to time.    Last year we even got enough to make a cobbler.  I would be fine if we got enough this year to make 20 cobblers.  We might be planting more,  or we might give it a few years to see how far they expand on their own.

Blueberries  we have planted several varieties so far,  mainly because where we buy them from seems to change what they  have every year.   They are all doing a great job despite the light deer grazing,   we have not gotten a significant amount off them yet,  but maybe this year!

 

 

We also have some grapes we have started that we will go over in a future post.  Thinking about maybe doing raspberries.  We are in zone 7b so researching what we could realistically grow here.

What berries are you growing?   What are some of your favorites?  Are we forgetting any that we should get started?   Let us know in the comments !!!

2019 Spring garden

Finally got time to get the 2019 Spring garden in the ground. So much work but such a fun work. Putting stuff in the ground, giving each plant a little “grow babies” whisper and daydreaming about how delicious the rewards will be in a few months.

The entire weekend was spent on tilling, laying out the rows, and planting. We realized we needed to do something for weed suppression this year. In previous years we just weeded, constantly. This year we are trying a woven plastic garden cloth. It should keep the weeds way down while still allowing water through but not getting too hot. Once those 3 and 4 foot widths were secured, we could start adding in the plants. Most of the rows were plants that we had already started in our greenhouse, with a few being seeds that didn’t need a head start. By the end of the weekend we had planted three 25ft by 50ft gardens and a smaller herb bed area.

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The favorite part of the day for me I think was the last tilling that morning. It was right at daylight, and going slow over the rows so the tiller could do its job. It was an excited anticipation like when I was a kid before a birthday or before a favorite dinner. This giddy feeling with each pass of the tractor picturing what would be growing in each row. Then I thought about my grandfather, and how when I was a kid I would watch him till up rows in his garden on an old red tractor. I wonder if he was as excited in those moments as I was now.

Then my mind drifted to the previous owners of the property. We found a “produce for sale” sign when cleaning up some of the trash. That probably means they had a little stand at one point. So we know they farmed some, not sure exactly where or how. Maybe the exact same rows I was moving down someone else had done just that 50 years before me. What about 100 years before me? I had the luxury of doing it on a small tractor, but at one point though, it could have been someone behind a plow and a team of mules. Not growing as a fun hobby but for a legit reason of food. I miss a row or don’t plow an area as deep as would be needed and we get a little less vegetables. The man and his mules make the same mistake and his family could go hungry. It meant so much more to him. Where my morning was full of excitement his likely had a healthy does of fear and worry as well. It is another quick reminder of how blessed our lives are in so many aspects. Gardening as a hobby has to be much more fun than gardening to prevent starvation.

Back to the plants!

We already had rabbits strike. In three days they had already eaten an entire row of Broccoli/cauliflower, Cabbage, and at least three rows worth of lettuce. They even bit off a pepper plant and left it just laying on the ground. We are working on plans on how to deal with them. Anything from rabbit repellent spray to companion plants that rabbits don’t like to much stronger methods. The garden is between the house and the road which strikes out some options. We’d love your comments if you’ve got any suggestions on what has worked for you in the past.

Plants we are most excited about – tomatoes, obviously. What they sell in most stores as tomatoes should be illegal compared to how a REAL tomato tastes . Along with that, we have yellow squash and acorn squash are high on our list as favorites. Melons didn’t work out for us last year so fingers crossed for this year. Corn also, especially the Glass Gem corn but also the Peaches and Cream. Oh, and potatoes. And 3 different colors of carrots.

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Maybe we are just excited about everything?

The smell of dirt, the sun coming up catching the dew on the surrounding plant life. Birds waking up and starting their songs for the day, sometimes flying down to check out what the tractor had overturned. Just spending time outside planting things.  There are far much worse ways to spend a weekend, and not many better ways. As always we urge everyone to plant things. It is so rewarding.

Inside the New Greenhouse!

In the last post, we went through the building of the Greenhouse, really focusing on the outside. After that was done it, was time to get started on the inside. As most projects, the outside went a tad over budget, so a large goal for the inside was to not spend any money on the setup.

The first thing we wanted was something more than a dirt floor. We knew of a brick yard that had a policy of putting bricks in the dumpster. They had no problem with people taking the bricks for free, but you had to dumpster dive for them essentially.

We were lucky that every time we went there was pretty much only bricks in the dumpster and no actual trash. It was dirty work but we ended up with around 600 bricks for just a little sweat and gas in the truck.

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Putting the brick down during the rain storms. Rain came in from under the walls. Problem has been fixed now.

After the brick path was laid down we started to put tables up on the sides. These were built out of scrap wood we had from the original construction. The tops were old fence boards and scrap pieces of plywood. Turned out great!

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Under the tables are just dirt. We might do something different with eventually but for this first year it won’t hurt anything.

At the back, we built a little table out of the scraps and we did buy a sink insert from a re-use store for pretty cheap. There wont be water hook up but can use the sink to wash some mud off vegetables so we don’t gunk up the sink in the kitchen as much.

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Above the sink we hung a back of an old refrigerator with peg hooks to hang some tools ( of course we always put the tools back where they go……..) We had some light blue spray paint so painted the coils to give it a little color.

The table had to stop on the one side due to the door swinging open. Behind it we put more brick on the floor. A taller tool rack for things we need usually right outside or around the greenhouse. Then a little cabinet we actually got for $2.00 at a little sale.

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We found some glass cabinet doors at the re-use store for cheap and decided to put in some grow out boxes on the side of the greenhouse.

We love our little greenhouse and are in it every single day doing something. We do need to work on some insulation and heat retention before this winter but for now it’s all about getting plants going so they can get in the ground.

The start of our plants

Some photos from the middle. Some stuff had been up potted, some new stuff planted. Even 10 or so trees from the Arbor day foundation.

Below is where they are now! Hopefully can get put in the actual garden within the next week. We could already cut a few salads from the lettuce.

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Starting our small greenhouse

Having years one and two gardens past us , we started to dream bigger. We wanted a place to start seeds earlier and a little bit more substantial than our hot box we used our second year.

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Small but effective.

We also wanted a potting shed, and a place to start some young trees, and nut bushes that could use a safe environment for the first couple years. With all of these things in mind, we decided to build a small greenhouse. There is a future plan on building a larger greenhouse/sunroom on the future house. We needed something a bit sooner though.

We spent some time figuring out where would get good light but not block anything in the future. It made good sense to put the greenhouse by the gardens, too. With our site in mind, we got going!.

First thing we did was set the posts. It is not the first thing we should have done. The ground seemed level to the eye. However we quickly realized it was no where close. It took some time and lots of shovel work to get it level for the walls and floor. It would have been much easier without the posts already in the way.

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Chief inspector Bandit the dog was there every step of the way making sure everything passed inspection. We will be posting more about this awesome pup in a future post.

Once the posts and brick were laid, the frame went up pretty quick.

 

The only thing on this part we should have done differently was to slope the roof more. It drops six inches but would have been better to do it ten or twelve. We have not had any issues yet, and we don’t usually have any snow accumulation here so will have to wait and see. We have had one of the rainiest starts of the year on record, and it has not leaked a drop yet. Fingers crossed, it continues to hold.

For the lower section we used metal just like we did on the barn.  The reasons being it helps prevent rot from rain splash back, also it matches the barn kinda.

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Below you can see between each rafter we have venting. So 4 holes on each side to help the green house cool down when needed.   On a sunny day even if its only in the 60s  the greenhouse can hit 120 pretty quickly.

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Vents out from the top.  Vents laying on the ground. 

After the outside was up, all the rain that came showed us we needed to work on the drainage around our little building.

We dug a simple ditch around the side that was causing the issue. From a previous post we mentioned there was a little decorative pond on the place when we bought it. Around that were loads of pea gravel and large rocks for a wall. We filled the ditch with buckets of the gravel, then laid the stone on top. Fixed the issue so far, and looks great to us!

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Inspector Bandit on the job.
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Front
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Left side

We are so happy with our first little greenhouse. It is already being put to good use. So many seeds started and even ten small trees. The pictures below do not even show all of them.

 

In a future post we will go through what we did on the inside and show you guys what it looks like . Got any questions? We would love to hear from you all in the comments!

Second year garden

If you havent checked our first year garden post, check that out here –> First Year Garden

The second year garden was bigger ambitions than the first.   The first year we kinda learned some things we wanted to grow and we wanted more.     We had two 25ft x 50ft main gardens.  Then we also had 3-4 spots that were 5ft x 5ft we kinda threw extra things in we didn’t know where else to put.

Looks great in the pictures, right?   Very few times was it weeded that well throughout the year. We enjoy weeding the garden and it does help ,  but it is more for the “look” of it more than anything. We feel better if the garden is prettier.  Does not mean it makes the seeds grow any better.

We did start some seeds for 2018 year garden.   Even built a little hot box thing for them.  This was before the little greenhouse we just finished this year.   We started several types of tomatoes and peppers.   Also some cantaloupe, watermelon, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli.

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Tomatoes

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The tomatoes did ok ,  we ended up planting 9 that we had started but also bought 5 additional from the plant booths around here.   Ours were way smaller than the ones we bought,  but within the month they had grown past what the bought ones were doing.   Obviously the store bought ones work,  but to us it seems they are stunted at the size you buy them at and it takes a while for them to get going. We had a type of yellow plum tomato that was a free gift.  It was delicious but 2 plants produced more than all of our families could eat.   At the height of the season we were getting over a 5 gallon bucket of tomatoes a day total.  We ate our fill,  froze so many gallon bags full for winter soups,  and gave away just as many to family and friends.

Peppers

All but one of our pepper plants died.   Ended up buying several so we still had an amazing pepper crop but it was a little disappointing our plants didn’t take off.   The one that survived was a jalapeno plant that did fantastic.  The one plant produced enough jalapeno for us,  we just didn’t have any to share.  We mostly ate the peppers raw,  we did grill a few.  One thing that we liked to do is cut up some banana peppers into rings and pickle in apple cider vinegar because they are great on hotdogs.  Some of the hotter peppers we just put in a jar of vinegar to soak. This is a favorite to add into soups or beans or anything that needs a little kick. Pulled pork is very good like this.

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The rest of the seeds we started died.  All of them.   For different reasons ,  but mainly due to poor soil quality and poor area selection.    The watermelons behind the barn never developed.   The cantaloupes did ,  but half way through something ate a hole in every single one.    The broccoli and cauliflower was plated a little late probably,  but in horrible soil and even re-planted  and re-planted again after that.   Ended up with zero Cauliflower and maybe 8 very small broccoli heads.

Potatoes came up and looked fantastic ,   above ground.   Once it came time to dig them up we were getting maybe two potatoes for every three plants.   And the ones we did get were hard as rocks.  They tasted good,  just took twice as long to cook.   The purple ones were fun though.

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Planted 200 onion bulbs.  Ended up with ZERO.  We planted them behind the barn as well and think something dug them up.   200 of them .  All gone. Hope that was a good meal for something.

Beets- The year before we had planted a few beets and had lots of success,  but that was in the good soil raised beds.   In the new garden areas none of them grew.  Planted several rows of a couple different varieties but again ended up with none.

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Lettuce and Carrots all had to be replanted and were hit and miss.  We did get some but not half of what we should have.

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Corn did better than the year before,  but still not great.    It was delicious though and hopefully this year we can end up with three times as much.

The worst failure was spinach.  Planted so much spinach in different areas,  different times, different ways.  Zero spinach

The failures are part of the adventure and we try our best to take them with stride.  This year we have the greenhouse and are going to try to get the plants going more in there and plant actual plants instead of just seed this year for everything.  Hopefully we can improve the area of the plants while we continue to work on the entire gardens soil quality.

Amazing to think that the thing that matters most is the soil,  getting that right and everything else really takes care of itself.

The garden was not all failures  there were several successes.

Tomatoes and peppers as mentioned did great .  Cucumbers,  squash,  and zucchini did good.   Beans and peas did pretty good. Okra did great. Acorn squash did very well.  Loved the acorn squash ,  planting twice as much this year.  When fall came we did manage to get a few heads of cabbage,  and enough turnips to feed an army.  We eat the greens and then the “meat” of the turnip.

This year garden hopefully outdoes last year.  Improving on what we did well , and fixing what we did wrong.  We have already started the seeds in our greenhouse. Learning that we need more insulation in our greenhouse…..  but the seeds are growing and we are anxious to get the garden beds ready.   Will be posting more about that in upcoming blogs.