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Chris and I went on a plant hike yesterday with Shrek. The wildflowers this year have been outrageously beautiful, so we wanted to see what was blooming since our last hike two weeks ago. We saw three different penstemons since we were there last and saw the Penstemon virens blooming. Here is Chris looking deep into the throat of a pink-purple penstemon flower as he went through the process of identification. This particular penstemon remains a mystery at this point because we didn’t have the better botanical key with us. Next time we go, we’ll take Weber’s book with us and I know we’ll be able to id this beauty with that key.

Two years ago our neighbors gave us a nopal cactus (which is an edible cactus used to cook nopolitos) originally from their home town in Mexico. Last year, they showed me how to cook it several different ways. It’s really delicious!

Some time back I posted on this blog how to propagate the nopal cactus, so that you could grow it as an indoor or patio plant and then harvest the pear-shaped pads to cook with. I never got around to posting up the directions of how to prepare the cactus pads for cooking. This past week we shared a plant with our brother, Rob, and I told him I’d tell him how to prepare it for cooking. That prompted me to just take some pictures as I was preparing some pads for my own cooking. So, here is how you do it…

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The first step is to cut the pads carefully off the cactus plant using a very sharp knife. You’ll see where the pads are jointed at the connection point of each pad to the cactus, and that is the spot you cut at. Once you have cut the pads off, you need to soak them in clean cold water for about 10-15 minutes. This causes the spines, which are very tiny and the dark spots you see in the picture, to swell up from the water. That will make them easier to remove.

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Next, carefully remove the pads from the water and place on a cutting board. Remember that those dark spots are cactus spines and if you are not mindful they will get stuck in your skin, which is not only painful, it’s difficult to remove them since they are quite small. Now that the cactus pad is on the cutting board, hold it securely and carefully with one hand and with a very sharp knife begin to peel off the dark spots where each the spines are. It is really only necessary to peel away the little dot of spines. You do not have to peel the whole pad. That said, my kitchen knives leave a lot to be desired in terms of being very sharp, so I have some trouble peeling off the spines and often end up peeling more than is necessary.preparing noplitos 042

This is the pad once I’ve finished peeling off the spines, and as you can see I’m not expert at it. When Chalo peeled the pads that day to show me how to do it, he had a perfectly shaped pad with just little nicks where the spines had been removed. Oh well, one of these days I’ll buy a decently sharp knife and then I know I’ll end up with a much prettier end result. Once you have all the spines peeled off of both sides of the pad and along the outer edge, rinse both sides of the pad in cold water to remove any lingering debris that might still be clinging to the cactus pad.

Cacti are often filled with a mucilaginous gel, and these are no exception, so expect your peeled cactus to be oozing some slimy gel. No worries about that happening.

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Take your rinsed pad back to the cutting board. FYI: Be sure to also rinse the cutting board you used for peeling the cactus on to remove any wondering spines that might have clung to the cutting board. Now, dice the pad up into small pieces.

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Put the dices nopalitos into a sieve and rinse very well with cold water to remove a great amount of the slimy inside gel.

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Put your rinsed dices nopalito pieces in a bowl in the fridge until you are ready to cook them.

How do you cook them? Well, there are a zillion ways from what I know about it. Sandra and Chalo cook them with scrambled eggs often and we have done that too and it is really tasty. Another way is to cook some pork, chicken or beef until tender, then add the nopalitos and cook some more until tender and serve as tacos. You can prepare a mexican red sauce to cook the nopolitos in if you want and then add the meat to that, serve with beans on tortillas. I’ve also fried them with potatoes, onions and peppers at the suggestion of another friend, Blanca, who long ago told me that was her family’s favorite way to eat them. No matter how you prepare them, I think you will really enjoy them. They are delicious!!

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Last week was my first really significant garden harvest and things have been steamrolling since. This was my first real harvest. Since them I’ve been picking cucumbers, tomatoes, squash ,peppers and peas every other day. The strawberries are starting to fruit more heavily now too, and tonight I’ll be putting my first batch of those in the freezer. The crock pots and dehydrators will be running nearly 24/7 from now through the rest of the gardening season. That’s usually nearly Thanksgiving in November for us before we get a killing frost. Yippee. So, now we have lots of fresh produce to eat each day and produce stored away for winter groceries after the garden is done.

Chris and I looked out the kitchen window yesterday morning to see this little critter watching us eat our breakfast! Kinda gives the definition of “people watching” a whole different meaning. Actually, I think what this fella was really wanting us to know is that he was waiting patiently for his own breakfast. You can see that the feeders behind him are empty. Guess I wasn’t holding up my end of the bargain:)

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Last week a wildfire erupted about 6 miles from the farm, just on the other side of Cooper Mountain (which you can see there in the distance from our driveway). The fire is being called Eight Mile Fire and it is burning off of Phantom Canyon, which is the drainage to the east of us. This wildfire is burning in very rugged country and near to a State Wildlife Park called Beaver Creek. It is an area we like to hike in during the winter or late fall when the rattlesnakes are not out! Anyway, the fire, as of today, is 25% contained, but we are having very high winds  and temps in the 90’s…not good fire-fighting weather.  Dry lightning is in the forecast for the next couple of days, which is a bit worrisome, however, tomorrow we are also to have temps in the 70’s, which should help quite a bit in the work they are doing to get that fire under control. Our farm is safe, in large part because of Cooper Mountain being between us and the wildfire.

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The past two years have been extra challenging for us in terms of finding a good soil/media mix to grow our plants in the greenhouse. In the past, I have grown in Sungro Organic #2 Basic, and I’ve been growing in that brand of soil for decades. I like it a lot!, but it is super expensive.

Oh, for those that may not know, greenhouse “soil” is actually called media, even though we still refer to it as soil. It actually is a mix of ingredients that does not contain any true soil, but rather things like shredded wood bark, perlite, peat moss, coir, and the like. It is good for potted plant growing because it is lighter than soil, typically drains better, and doesn’t have weed seeds, etc.

Anyway, two years ago we tried another mix that we thought would be similar in how it behaved for growing quality plants, but it was more reasonably priced. It did ok, but had some significant challenges that we couldn’t find a solution to, so this past year we switched again to another mix that we thought would do well, and which contained mycorrhizae, which helps plants develop a good root structure and be less susceptible to  fungal and other problems. In an ideal world, we would have found an ideal media in this mix to grow in this year, but it was not to be so. This mix has even more challenges and again they do not seem to have a solution. What is the answer to the situation is still not decided, however, we are leaning very strongly to going back to the Sungro mix, which we know performs well.

Now the question revolves around which formulation of Sungro do I want to grow in. #2 Organic Basic is what I’m used to and have used for many years. They also have a mix that never used to be available as organic, but now is, called #4. This is the same mix except with more perlite added to it so that it drains even better. That mix might be the one I choose. But just to keep things interesting, they have come out with another mix that has coir(shredded coconut fibers) added to it and it will require less watering, plus this mix uses less peat moss in the blend making it more environmentally friendly. I really like that part, but I’m not sure it will drain well enough for some of the crops we grow like tomatoes. Tomatoes are notoriously fussy about drainage in the early spring when temps are still cold and too much water on the roots can cause problems. Sungro has said that they can custom blend for us to add mycorrhizae to their blends, so that might be the answer to getting that ingredients, which we really like having, into the soil and available to the plants.

Decisions, decisions, decisions! So, Lizz and I have set up a trail of all three blends to see which one we feel will do the best job for us with the variety of plants and pot sizes that we grow in. Below are tomato plugs for Red Robin Tomatoes planted in the mixes.

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We do some large patio containers in spring of vegetables for our Farm Stand customers, so I’ve planted some peppers in these pots to see how they will like the various mixes. Tomorrow we will sow seeds in plug flats and transplant some seedlings into 2.5″ pots (which is what we offer mostly for our wholesale customers), plus we will take some tip cuttings to be rooted and see how all these various sizes and plant varieties do.

I order our soil for the whole year in August, so I want to have a sound plan of action well before then. Sungro will cost the farm a lot more if we go back to growing in one of these mixes, but compared to struggling with growing challenges it may end up being cost affective all the same. We’ll see.

 

 

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Another project that I did this week was to put permanent copper metal tags on our fruit trees and grape vines here on the farm. We have had them all labeled with plastic tags and handwritten names, but over time the writing fades away or the plastic tags deteriorate in the sun and then you are left with the possibility of not remembering the name of the tree or vine variety that is planted in that spot. Plus, it is just really nice when visitors are walking about on the farm for them to be able to read the names of the fruit trees, most of which are heirloom varieties, or grapes, some of which are wine grape varieties. These tags will hold up to the weather and will give our trees a permanent name marker.

 

 

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I think we have enough of the tags left to mark some of the other trees and interesting shrubs that we have growing on the farm too, so next week I plan to make labels for those and put them on the plants.

The other nice bit of information that I put on some of the tags is the year that tree/vine was planted. Our older orchard was planted in 2006, and the new heirloom orchard was planted this year in 2014, so that information is reflected on the tag.

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Well, I’ve run out of stuff to say for the moment. That must mean that it is time to close for now. I’ll be back in touch soon.

 

 

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Hollyhocks…you just have to love them! I certainly do, and my favorite ones are the old-fashioned single petaled varieties. This one above is a red hollyhock.

Those in the picture below are part of a mix called Outhouse Hollyhocks, which is an heirloom mix of single petal flower colors in red, pinks, and white.  Hollyhocks used to be planted near the outhouse in days gone by, which was intentional so that if a “lady” needed to use the outhouse she could look for the hollyhocks and know in which direction to go to find the outhouse without having to inquiry where it was located. That’s pretty cleaver!

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The yellow flowered hollyhock is the only perennial hollyhock species I believe, whereas the others are considered biennials, although my plants often go three or four years in the garden before they die. These yellow ones have been here at the entrance of the garden for many years, but they usually do not get quite so large. This year because of the great spring moisture all the varieties of hollyhocks on the farm are doing great, but this yellow one is especially robust.

 

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This one is the only double petaled hollyhock I have and I love it for it’s peach color. It’s called Peaches and Dreams.

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Finally, the well-loved black hollyhock, which really does make a statement wherever it grows. I also grow an old-fashioned true pink hollyhock, but it is growing where the sprinkler was running as I was taking pictures, so I didn’t get one a photo of that one.

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Last week we hosted the CSU Pueblo Extension Service’s group of Master Gardeners for a farm tour and plant talk. What a lovely group of people and we really did have a grand time.

 

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In the picture above we were talking about the uses of wild lettuce, a common garden weed that is used as a powerful medicinal plant to relieve pain.

We also had a look about in the Basil House Greenhouse.

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So, this is the season of noseeum gnats, which are a royal pain in the rear or ears or nose or anywhere else they can pester you as you are trying to work in the garden or do other chores. These gnats really get active about the time that the native cacti start blooming and right now they are in full force.  Insect repellant will keep them at bay temporarily, but you have to apply that to your body and keep refreshing it in order for it to keep on working. I make my own herbal insect repellant, but I’m still not crazy about having to stop what I’m doing to re-apply it every so often. Plus sometimes you just don’t want to have to keep smelling something like insect repellant, even an herbal one made with nice essential oils, so I have found a better solution. This is an insect net veil that sits over the crown of my gardening hat. I can simply pull it down over my face and neck when I’m tired of gnats or mosquitos bothering me and poof…the gnats are foiled!! They can’t get to me to fly in my ears or eyes or mouth, etc., and the mosquitos are the same. It’s a terrific solution and if you have any similar problems in your life I highly recommend you get a veil for your own gardening hat!

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This weekend we could have kept working away all weekend, as there are certainly plenty of farm chores that need to get done, but we’re tired of working 7 days a week, and truly a work schedule like that is necessary in spring, but now it’s summer and time to have a bit more sanity in our lives. So, yesterday we went hiking with Shrek on a trail called Wilson Creek Trail. It was gorgeous and the wildflowers blooming were nothing short of amazing. I took a lot of photos, so perhaps I’ll take you on a little blog wild plant walk soon just for the fun of it…we’ll see.wilson creek trail 029

It was a pretty warm day, though, and at one point we came to a small pond. Shrek decided to put it to good use and cool off with a swim. I wish I could have joined him:)

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This past week was very sad and difficult for Chris and I as we lost our sweet Gwenivere kitty to cancer. Gwenivere has been in our family for 12 years, so we will miss her greatly. She brought us so much joy and love in her time as part of our lives.

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I’ll close for tonight by telling you that if you want to order a insect veil for your gardening hat, check out Brushy Mountain Bee Farm online. I’m ordering them for the farm crew too, and hoping I can convince them to actually wear them so that they can experience being free of those pesky gnats while they are working in the flower field.

All for now.

 

The past week has been all about farm cleanup and consolidation after the spring busy season. I have been moving plants into fewer greenhouses, like these red robin tomatoes, and getting things tidy.

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The iceplant seed crop has been living outdoors on pallets because there was no room indoors in any of the greenhouses for them, so now they have been moved to the Plant Barn. It will be easier to care for them there, plus when it is time to harvest the seed from these little guys it will be a lot easier to do that with them on a bench instead of on the ground.001

The gardens are finally getting some much-needed attention too. I planted my birthday planter pot with succulents and my olive tree and it is now located in the little doorstep garden, which was very weedy just like all the rest of the gardens.

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Tonight I got this part of the White Rabbit Garden weeded and it looks quite sassy now!  Soon the hollyhocks that are located behind the planter pot will be taller and in bloom  and it will look really great I think.

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Chris has been planting the new field crops this past week. They are planted as 1″ tiny plugs and then must be hand watered daily until they root in and can hold up with only the normal drip irrigation. He planted Echium in this picture, and you can see in the bed just behind him some mature echiums that were planted two years ago and are just beginning to bloom now for this summer. Jelitto wanted us to expand this seed crop planting, so that is the reason for planting the baby plugs yesterday. He planted some native Gaillardia and more Echinacea paradoxa babies yesterday too.

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We will be hosting a group this week from the Colorado Springs Utilities for a farm tour walk-about, and next week a group from CSU’s Extension Service Master Gardeners group will be coming to visit the farm. We have tours at the farm by appointment, and it’s always great fun to show people what we are all about and how we do things here.  We are looking forward to it.

This stunning cactus in the desert garden in front of the farm is blooming with the most amazing peach colored flowers that are the size of tea cups! I’ll leave you with a picture of them to brighten your day.

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Meet the “keeper of the seed room” and his faithful friend, Shrek! This scare crow was hanging out at the Farm Stand entrance during Open Farm Days, but now he has a new task at hand, and has taken up residence at the seed room door.

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Lizz’s bees are living on the farm. They arrived about 2 weeks ago and she has installed them in their new home, a top bar hive she built. We are thrilled that her bees will live here on the farm, along with the farm bees. That’s more honeybees pollinating the seed crops and the gardens, so that is all things good! The farm bees have been filling their hive with honey, and her new bee colony is quickly building comb and making themselves right at home. Aren’t pollinators just wonderful!

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Chris went on a walk recently and took a few photos of some wildflowers that are blooming now. This claret cup cactus (above) actually lives in our desert garden where the Indian paint brush plants have been planted. This cactus is native around here and is one of my favorites.

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Next stop is a wildflower I call Globe Mallow, but is also known as Cowboy’s Delight. This is another native here and it blooms thru spring into early summer. I think that color of apricot is about the most amazing flower color there is. We have quite a bit of this growing around on our farm, and it also grows abundantly in this region of Colorado. Keep your eye out for it because it’s easy to spot as you drive along.

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The verbena  is totally beautiful this spring! You can see how it is blooming in carpets of flower color just a block or so from our farm. Mother Nature dressed in some of her finest…that’s what I think.

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In the White Rabbit Garden here on the farm things are also blooming abundantly(below). The oriental poppies are always nice in spring, and this year is no exception. Even though the gardens have not yet been weeded, the flowers are still very beautiful, and we are enjoying them weeds and all.

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The food garden did get some attention this weekend. This is the first time since end of February that I had a few hours of personal time from farm work to work in my food garden, so I took full advantage of that time. I got all the vegetables planted, the strawberries moved out from where they have been living in the greenhouses, and some leftover patio containers from Farm Stand of dwarf sugar snap peas and tomatoes too.

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The garlic planted last fall is totally jamin’ (below)! I think we will get a great garlic crop this year. The potato barrels (black containers in the distance) are growing well and happy too. The raspberry patch still needs weeded, and I’m hoping to get that accomplished some evening this week. Still, it’s good progress to have the food garden planted for the growing season. Feels great, and I’m quite pleased about it.   Lizz planted dwarf snapdragons in the front porch planter and they are starting to settle in and looking very nice also.

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The front pollinator hedgerow that was planted last year about this time is really starting to take shape, with iris’ blooming, the hollyhocks getting ready to bloom, along with other perennials like chocolate flower and yarrow. The currants(one of my favorite fruits and a mandatory ingredient in M’lissa’s fairy bread) are in that hedgerow and were added a year ago. They have completely settled in too.  Now if I can just get some weeding done in the other gardens!

Hope your beginning days of summer are cheery and garden gorgeous!

With Green Thoughts,  Tammi

 

 

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The tiny pink clumps of flowers are called Fairy Rose Baby Breath and they are planted on Professor’s grave (some of you may remember reading about Professor Longhair, our old mainecoon cat who passed away 2 years ago). This three foot section of the White Rabbit Garden is the only part of my gardens that has gotten any time from me so far this spring to do a bit of weeding.

I’m itching to get into my gardens and work on them…clean them up, plant some new things, and just relax a little, but so far all my time has been required by the farm business. That’s normal for springtime when we are very busy sending out wholesale orders to independent garden centers around Colorado and northern New Mexico. It doesn’t make the itch go away though to  know that all of life right now is about work. I’m just holding on for a few more weeks until I will have some quality time in my gardens. I can’t wait!

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Meantime, the sweet woodruff is blooming with delicate white star shaped flowers in my fairy garden. Sweet Woodruff is an intensely fragrant herb that smells of the fresh floral springtime. It is a perfect herb to plant in mostly shady locations, and it will spread, so it can fill in areas that need that kind of attention. If you plant it somewhere that you don’t want it to spread very much, you will have to keep it tidy by pulling out some of it every so often, but it’s still quite managable.

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Finally, the back side of the seed room has an iris garden that is amazing right now! That huge clump in the middle is a giant hollyhock that is getting flower buds too, so that’s going to be really nice when it blooms with some height to it. This garden also includes some young red lake currant bushes that have a few green berries on them. I’m actually surprised to see that they have any fruit on them this spring, as they are only a couple of years old. I love currants to make bread with, so I’m quite pleased to see a little bit of fruit potential this year.

So, that’s all for this week. Short and sweet. Still too busy to write very much.

Happy spring!

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Spring Greetings Everyone,

I apologize for not writing more of late…it’s been so crazy busy the past few weeks that every waking moment has been about farm work, and no, that isn’t an exaggeration! This is how the greenhouse looks each week early in the week as I pull orders for the gals to clean and label, and which Chris will start delivering the next day. Last week we processed nearly 600 flats of plants!

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And this is how the farm looks this early morning as I’m writing this blog. Yesterday it began to rain around 9am and then about 4pm the rain turned to snow…good wet snow. The  moisture is truly a huge gift from Mother Nature, as things were starting to get super dry around here. We were anticipating having to start dragging hoses to water the very many areas of garden landscape and field crops, but now that task will be delayed a little while.

Spring heavy rains and snows do make life interesting, though, in terms of being able to get work done. All our greenhouses sit alone from one another, meaning they are not gutter connected, where you can move between them with plants and not have to go outside. We must go outside, in and out, in and out, to do just about anything we need to do. When it is wet or cold outside it isn’t always possible to move plants and then we have to figure out ways to accomplish our work without a work space to do it in. Chris, Lizz and I were soaked to the bone, and cold yesterday as we tried to get things done. Donna and Sally were cold in the Farm Stand all day waiting patiently for customers to visit our farm store and shop for their mother’s day plant purchases. Mostly, customers didn’t come yesterday due to the cold wet weather. A few did and we thank them for being brave to the weather and still come out to visit the farm. Next weekend the weather should be grand, so we will hope for more visitors and shoppers at our Open Farm Days and Farm Stand Plant Sale.

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Each week Lizz checks on the farm bees to make sure all is well in the bee yard. The bees are doing great!  She has been adding new boxes to each hive as the bees go about their work of raising young and producing honey. Lizz says she will most likely be able to harvest some honey soon. She is waiting for a new colony of bees to arrive, which will be her own personal bee colony that will share the bee yard with the farm bees. We are really excited to have her bees living here too. She is expecting them any day now!

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So, these are tristar strawberries and this is how I grow them in my own food garden. I grow them in fiber boxes like this one so that when winter comes I can put the boxes in an unheated greenhouse for the winter and continue to harvest strawberries on-going.  Chris and I eat berries each morning in our breakfast yogurt, with just a few walnuts or pecans added. I find that homegrown berries are much stronger and better tasting than those I can purchase at the grocery market, so I’m happy that ever-bearing strawberries will produce all year if I bring them indoors for the cold months. In spring through the fall the boxes sit in my food garden and thrive too.

We have three varieties of ever-bearing strawberries for sale in our our Farm Stand. Quinalt, which has slightly smaller fruits. Tristar, which is what you see here, and has medium sized fruits and produces well even in the heat of the summer months. Ft. Laraime, which has larger fruits and is ever-bearing, but I find that in the severe heat of the summer they slow down just a little bit and then pick back up again as the temps cool a bit in August. They still give me berries all through the summer, but not quite as many as the Quinalt and Tristar do. If you are shopping for strawberry plants for your garden this year, we hope you will buy them in the Farm Stand if you come to visit us on the next two weekends for Open Farm Days. Our strawberry crop wasn’t as large this year, but we still have some left to offer.

Finally, despite the snow, the gardens are beginning to bloom. The oriental poppies are just beginning to get a few flowers, but loads of flower buds. Before long the garden will be quite a show. There still hasn’t been any time for us to garden, as the greenhouse and field work is taking our full attention, but even without being tidied up the gardens are looking quite lovely. You should see the iris’ blooming in all different colors!! If I can find my way to it, I’ll take a photo this week to post up next time so you can enjoy seeing them too.

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Thank you for your patience in checking in with this blog and seeing that I’m not posting very often. A couple more weeks and the work schedule will begin to shift to something more normal, but in the meantime I’ll write as often as time allows.

Happy Spring With Green Thoughts,  Tammi

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