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For the past two garden seasons we have offered plants of an annual sweet fruit called Sunberries and Garden Huckleberries. This year I planted both in my garden and in containers too. I wanted to see how they would perform for me in our climate and also I wanted to speak first-hand for how they taste.

They’ve grown wonderfully for me in both the garden and in  containers. Both plants are producing berries like crazy! Yesterday I picked a bowl of sunberries (the garden huckleberries aren’t quite ripe yet) and we all tried them freshly picked straight off the plant. Lizz said they tasted just green, I thought they were mildly sweet, Beki said they were melon-like and Chris agreed with her.

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Once washed, I put them in a baking dish, sprinkled them with brown sugar.

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The topping is a simple mix of oats, butter, cinnamon, a tiny bit of cloves, and a little more brown sugar. Then I put the dish in the oven at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. This morning we ate the sunberry crisp with yogurt and walnuts and a few dark chocolate chips on top. It was very tasty!

Both Sunberries and Garden Huckleberries are marketed in the seed catalog as a substitute for blueberries for people who garden in areas like Colorado where blueberries are nearly impossible to grow well. The catalogs say they are nearly tasteless until sweetened and then can be used any way that a blueberry can be used. I actually think they should not be compared to blueberries at all, because aside from their color and size they are really nothing like a blueberry. They should be promoted, I feel, as a sweet fruit in it’s own right. They are quite delicious, but they don’t taste like blueberries to any of us here at Desert Canyon Farm. It probably is true, though, that you could use them instead of blueberries in most recipes, but I think you should expect them to taste like sunberries or garden huckleberries, rather than a blueberry.

Both sunberries and garden huckleberries are annuals, meaning that you will plant new plants each spring. They do well in full sun or part shade and are growing for me with a 4 day watering rotation, which is quite reasonable. They have preformed well in containers and in the garden soil and pests are not bothering them so far, even the grasshoppers which are eating my raspberries, are not eating either of these fruits. I think they are both winners if you want a berry crop to eat fresh, cooked or to freeze. I haven’t made any preserves or jelly from them, so I can’t speak for that.

Next spring when Open Farm Days happen, we will plan to have both of these fruits available again as starter plants. Maybe you’ll want to give them a try.

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This is the Two-Inch Strawberry Popcorn that we also sold plants of. I had fun growing these in the garden and I will try popping the corn at some point, but for now I’m just enjoying how beautiful they look drying on my counter.

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For years we have hoped for seed on our Fragrant Ash tree in the desert garden. This is the first year it has produced seed, although it has flowered for many years. Now our challenge is to catch the seed as it ripens. When the seed ripens it turns loose of the stem and drops to the ground, and the seeds are ripening at different rates. The challenge comes because next to and underneath this tree is our giant cholla, which we fondly call the Thrasher’s Cholla, and that is a very mean plant to try to find the ash seeds in. Chollas have barbed spines that are long and ruthless and the spines often shed and are lying around on the ground under the plant. If the ash seeds fall onto the ground where the cholla spines are, well…surfice it to say none of us is ready to go digging around to salvage out those ash seeds among the cholla branches.

Lizz and I decided to net the end branches of the Fragrant Ash tree where the seed clusters were maturing, in the hope that as the seeds fall from the branches they will get caught in the net fabric and then we can take the nets down and have the seed safely inside of them. Keep your fingers crossed that this plan works as we hope. The wind has been recking a bit of havoc with the net bags, but so far I think most of them are holding up. If so, we’ll finally have some Fragrant Ash seed to plant.

Cat update: The mother cat, now named Charlotte, and her two kittens have homes. The black kitten went to live with a wonderful woman in town here and the gray kitten will stay with us. His name now is Pal. Charlotte is also here on the farm…she was just too wild to find a good home for. Thanks to everyone who worked to help us find homes for these cats. Well done!

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The mother agave has nearly finished blooming now and her flowers are beginning fade as they start to form seed pods.

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At the base of the stalk, the mother agave plant is starting to decline. Once the seed is mature, the mother plant will die. But if you notice at her edges are several agave “pups”. These are off-shoots from her roots and they are now growing as individual plants. Agaves reproduce both from the roots and from seeds, which allows them to hedge their bets with higher rates of survival by having more than one method to self-propagate. Pretty cool!

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This past weekend, Shrek had his first mini mountain hike since he had his knee surgery 7 weeks ago. It was a very mellow and very short (only 45 minutes) leash walk at Deer Haven, but it made him incredibly happy.

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And…tired. After our walk, he and Chris took a little rest in the back of the Mad Hatter mobile before we left Deer Haven to drive back home. I think Shrek is smiling.

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On a more serious note, we have sort of a crisis happening here at the farm. A orphaned mother cat and her 2 kittens has been hanging out here for more than a week or so, hunting at the bird feeders (which we cannot allow) because they were so hungry. I finally set out live trap cages and caught the three of them and they are now living in our bathroom temporarily!

I’m asking now if you or someone you know would be willing to adopt the mother cat or the black kitten? Chris and I are adopting the gray kitten. All of them have appointments this week with our vet to get vaccinations, worming and tested for feline leukemia, plus mama cat will be spayed. That way we know they are healthy aside from being skinny (they might be chubby by the time they get adopted the way they are eating right now) and ready to go to their new homes.

As you know, we already have two other cats, Pouncita and Sadie, plus Shrek the dog, so adopting one kitten is all we feel we can really do. We cannot re-release them outdoors here at the farm because outside cats tend to climb the greenhouse plastic roofs and their claws ruin the plastic, causing us to have to recover the greenhouses, which is a whole lot of work and extremely expensive. So, we’re hoping to find them homes.

If you think you might be interested, you would need to be close enough to Canon City, CO to drive here by appointment to see if you would like to adopt one of these two cats. These cats have had hard lives already! They need good homes where they will be cared for and fed well and loved for all of their lives as part of a family. If you think you are this family, please call us at 719-275-0651 during the hours of 8am -7pm Colorado time. We need to find them homes, but we will only let them go to loving good homes.

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Speaking of babies…these fawns are triplets, which doesn’t seem to be a very common thing. We see lots of single fawns and twins, but this is the first time we’ve seen triplets in 20 years here. We’re enjoying their visits, usually in the early morning hours.

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I also want to let you know about the Mountain Seed School event that will be happening in September just outside of Canon City. This will be an amazing experience for people who want to learn all the ins and outs of saving and storing seed. Here is the link to the information. I tried to copy the flyer, but I didn’t have any success, so you’ll just need to click on the link to get all the information about this event.

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We will be hosting those attending the Seed School during one morning when they will visit our farm to see how we are growing perennial seed crops here as part of our farm operation.

Enjoy your weekend and I’ll be writing again soon.

 

 

Hi There,

If you are wondering if I fell off the planet, since it has been so long since I’ve written, the answer is not quite. I have been away from the farm though.

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It’s been over two years since I went on my own personal stitching retreat, but last week I did just that. I packed up my needlework, several good reads, some wonderful music, my hiking hat, and off I went to Willowtail Springs in Mancos, Colorado, which is my traditional place of preference for my stitching retreat.

Willowtail Springs is a private property where you can rent a cabin on a small lake and be treated like a queen for however long you stay by Peggy and Lee Cloy and their staff. Willowtail also happens to be a non-profit nature preserve which hosts residencies for those doing art, writing, photography and other creative passions. I discovered this place many years back and I go there whenever I’m in need of rest, relaxation or a creative place to work. I rent the “Garden Cottage” cabin and it’s glorious! Check out their website at Willowtail.org

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Normally when I go on stitching retreat I take my very large stitching frame with a massive project on it and work on it for several days straight to my heart’s delight, but this year I made a different plan.

Above is a basket that belonged to my Grandma, who we all called Grandmommy, and it was her stitching thread basket. When she passed over it came to me and I’ve enjoyed making some beautiful stitching projects using that thread. However, I’ve never sorted through the basket and organized the threads, so on my stitching retreat I emptied the basket and sorted all the threads into color groups. I also discovered in the bottom of the basket a leather thimble and a small piece of paper with directions for making all types of fancy stitches. Since I know that Grandmommy knew these stitches like the back of her hand, I’m guessing that piece of paper must have been quite old and something maybe she used as a young woman beginning to learn to do hand fancy needlework. What a treat to discover these small bits of her life hidden away in the bottom of her needlework basket!

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After I organized all of Grandmommy’s threads, I began a simple needlework on a pair of old printed pillow cases. The stitches on these pillow cases is nothing special or unique, but what is, is that I’m stitching them completely with Grandmommy’s threads. They will be a tiny piece of Grandmommy’s life memories each time these pillow cases get used, and that will make them extra precious.

This stitching retreat was very special because as I stitched away, I was filled with memories of Grandmommy. It was the best way to spend time.

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I took a morning while at Willowtail to go to the visitor’s center at Mesa Verde. I’ve been to Mesa Verde many times and this time I had no plans to walk in the National Park, but I wanted to shop for some interesting books. My experience is that National Park Visitor Centers are excellent places to find interesting reading that you won’t find in most regular bookstores. This trip was no exception. I came home with a field guide to Anasazi pottery, a book on traditional Indian foods, and another one on the Navajo people. I am enjoying them very much.

As I was about to get in my car, I looked down to find a wild turkey feather. Since wild birds is another favorite passion of mine and I enjoy watching them very much, I was quite pleased to find this feather. I took a bit of time to research what wild turkey feathers symbolize and I discovered that they symbolize abundance and fertility.

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Yesterday morning I looked out my kitchen window right at dawn and was pleased to see a doe and her twin fawns getting a drink in our deer drinking trough. Between the poor light and the screen on the window, the picture isn’t good, but it is fun to see them all these same.

Following my stitching retreat, Chris, Shrek and I made a fast road trip back to Lincoln, Nebraska for our niece, Gracie’s, wedding. It was so lovely! It was also extremely hot in Nebraska with high humidity levels. It made me thankful to live in Colorado where it can be very hot, but without all that humidity it still feels ok and it cools off at night. Yay for Colorado weather.

Now that we’re back at the homeplace and back to work, we’re trying to get caught up. It’s a lot to do, but we’re working at it. We’ve had the wonderful company of our other nephew and niece with their two daughters visiting this week, and today M’lissa was here visiting from Denver. A lot going on.

Agave Update

The agave plant is nearly finished flowering and we hope it will begin to set seed soon. I’ll try to remember to take a picture for the next blog post.

The evening grosbeaks are here now and their sweet peeping chirp is very nice to hear. We heard a bob cat moving on the farm in the middle of the night a couple of nights ago…a treat and a gift to be able to hear these kinds of wildlife. There are groups of half-grown quail, and a family with a batch of very tiny baby quail, scurrying about in our gardens and yesterday, along with today I noticed a chipmunk foraging underneath the bird feeders. This isn’t really chipmunk habitat and in 20 years here we’ve not seen one here before, so maybe this little one is just lost or perhaps he/she is going to make its home on the farm. Time will tell.

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This is Tawny, who lives at Willowtail Springs in Mancos, Colorado. This kitty is in charge of guest visiting and making everyone smile. Tawny does that job very well.

 

 

 

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Meet the Mad Hatter, which is our new (to us) delivery vehicle, and no it’s not really a mad hatter, it’s a Honda Element. I’ve given it the name “Mad Hatter” because somehow it reminds me of the Mad Hatter in Alice Through the Looking Glass.

This was its maiden voyage as a Desert Canyon Farm plant delivery vehicle. It will hold about 45 flats of plants, so that’s not too bad. Our old mini van held 60 flats, so this isn’t quite as good, but it is good enough to do the job. And…it’s so much fun to drive!

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Lizz and I had a meeting on Monday to start planning our propagation needs (seeding, cuttings, root divisions and the like) for spring 2017. We really have only just passed this year’s busy season for the greenhouse, and already we are beginning to work on growing our plant inventory for next spring. Oh my…I think there used to be a slow season, but that seems to be less and less the case as each year passes.

Well, anyway, the photo above is white prickly poppy, which is a plant that we grow from seed. I cannot buy organic seed for this plant, so we grow some plants in our gardens here at the farm and then harvest the seed ourselves. You can see the gorgeous white flowers, and then there are some oval-shaped green seed pods. The seed won’t be ripe for a while, but we’ll be keeping an eye on it so that when it’s ripe and ready to pick we can do that. Once the seed is cleaned, we’ll work towards growing those white prickly poppies for next spring’s Farm Stand store.

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This morning I went out at 6 am to start the irrigation water in the flower seed field, and as I was walking back to the irrigation pump I passed the agave in the desert garden. I know I’ve been talking a lot about this plant, so you’ll have to indulge me as I talk some more about it. Look at all those bees!!!

They were coming and going from the flowers like a freeway system, and they were inside the flowers, on top of the flowers, under the flowers…all over those flowers! A couple of hummingbirds also checked the flowers out, but they didn’t linger. I guess agave nectar isn’t as high on their list of desires as it is for the bees.

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I’m not sure how tall this flower stalk is now, but I would guess it is about 18-20 feet tall. There are still flowers that haven’t opened yet, so I think it’s blooming period is going to be very long indeed.

Agave have been used as food, to make fermented and alcoholic beverages, as a sweetener, to make twine and for other fiber to weave into hats, clothing and the like. Rope from Agave fibers is even used as part of the apparatus in the pulley systems that move elevators up and down tall buildings. These are amazing plants to say the least.

I hope we get a lot of viable seed from this plant so that we can grow  baby Agave paryii to sell in the Farm Stand store. It truly is a very special plant!

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Pouncita has been scowling at me tonight. She is 20 years old and completely in charge of the entire household. She tells us what to do, when and how she would like things to be done, and if you don’t listen and follow instructions properly, she will give you an ear-full of scolding yowls. She is a tough old gal, but so sweet and loveable. Most of her hours these days are spent sleeping or finding a warm place to hang out. Old bones don’t like the cold even in summer. Pouncita has lived with us since she was about 4 weeks old. She is one of our dearest four-legged friends!

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My container of sweet corn is covered in immature ears of corn. It won’t be too much longer before we’ll have some delicious sweet corn with our meal.

 

 

 

 

 

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The agave is now in full bloom and full glory! Her flower stalk is very tall, probably between 15-18 feet tall, and the stalk is about 6″ in diameter at the top just below the flower clusters on top. I’ve been noticing many different pollinators visiting. The color is amazing, golden-yellow with a hint of red at the tips of the flowers. At dusk it looks like it is glowing!

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Below, still very tall, but nothing like the agave, is a yucca flower stalk. The creamy white flowers are stunning too. These are pollinated by moths. With a bit of good fortune, we hope to collect a large amount of viable seed from both of these plants.

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It’s been a very long road over the past year and a half, with many ups and even more downs, but finally I think Shrek and Sadie are becoming friends at last. I’m not sure if they will every be best buddies, but they seem to have come to some sort of truce about bullying each other and now they are even doing things “sort of”together. This photo taken last Thursday is the proof, as they both came together at Shrek’s breakfast and water bowls.

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My newest book, Cattail Moonshine and Milkweed Medicine, is going to be released in two short months. I’m truly getting very excited! I hope you will all enjoy it and I’m looking forward to sharing it with everyone.

I also have several upcoming speaking engagements to add to my classes and events page of this blog, so check that out, as I hope to get that page updated sometime this week. Some of those events will be presentations about the plants in Cattail Moonshine & Milkweed Medicine. As part of the process to prepare for those events, I’ve been taking photos to put into power point presentations. This is always a fun task for me.

One of the plants I’ll be talking about are pine trees. Pine trees have been used, and continue to be used, in a multitude of ways from soap to tar, to building lumber and herbal medicine. Our Uncle Don, who passed away this past fall, left us with a box of odds and ends, including this very old soap tin for a bar of pine tar soap. It will make a perfect addition to my power point presentations.

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The red currants are ripening this week and I’ve been picking them by the large bowlfuls, de-stemming them, and putting them into the freezer for winter baking. Currants baked into bread is a favorite around here. Now I just need a working oven and we’ll be all set😉

The past weekend found Chris visiting his family over the holiday, and I was here with Shrek and the kitties. I worked in my gardens and made some real progress getting them tidied up. Nearly all my planting is done, with just some violas and two yellow yarrow plants left to put into the ground. Feels really good to make that progress and now it will leave me free to start walking and hiking regularly. For me, that is what the summer, fall and winter seasons are all about…several walks each week and at least one full day hike every week. My stitching is back out, as I’m an avid hand needlework stitcher, and I have several good books waiting to be read. There is still way more farm work to do than one can imagine, but we’re not spinning crazy anymore like we were in the spring, and our lives beyond farm work actually does exist. Feels really good!

 

 

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This is the Belen Hen, who came to me yesterday from my friend Kris, who lives in Belen, New Mexico. Kris was supposed to teach the permaculture classes this spring during Open Farm Days, but a snow blizzard kept her from making the drive up from New Mexico. Hopefully, she will be here next spring to teach those classes instead.

She sent this hen to me, saying that the hen was supposed to be her co-pilot on the drive up in April, but since that didn’t happen she found a large box and sent her up to me that way. I think she looks wonderful and sassy in the nasturtium patch in the garden!

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This container is growing cucumbers and corn.

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I think you can grow about any food plant in a container. I plant in my food garden in raised beds, but this year I ran out of space, so I’ve also planted a number of large containers with fruit and vegetables. Above is some yellow straight-neck squash, which I believe I will start harvesting in a day or two.

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This container is growing lucious organic sweet corn.

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This is a large pot of jerusalum artichokes, which are a member of the sunflower family. You harvest the tubors and cook them like potatoes. They’re delicious!

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This pot is Norland Red Potatoes and the one next to it has Peruvian Purple Potatoes. We’ll have plenty of potatoes to eat this year, as there are two more large barrels planted with potatoes in the garden besides these two.

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I also like growing strawberries in containers because this way I can bring them indoors in late fall and continue to pick berries from them all through the winter.

I got a call from a neighbor two days ago who is having a difficult time with grasshoppers eating her veggie garden in a very big way. She was wondering how we deal with a problem like that here on our farm.

I told her that we use a combination of Nolo Bait and Neem Oil to take on a problem with grasshoppers or crickets. Nolo Bait is an product made with bran that has been injected with a bacteria that is only toxic to grasshoppers and crickets. The insects eat the bran and then they loose their appetite and stop feeding on plants, plus the bacteria also prevents them from molting and being able to reproduce. It takes a few days to take affect, though, so in the meantime, we spray the plants with Neem Oil extract, that is diluted with water and then sprayed on all the surfaces of the plants. Insects, including grasshoppers, don’t like the taste of Neem oil, so they won’t eat plants that have been sprayed with this oil extracted from the leaves of an African tree. Between the two, we have saved gardens and crops from being destroyed by grasshopers and other pest insects. Nolo bait doesn’t affect any other insects, either pests or beneficial insects, nor pollinators. Neem oil extract should be applied by the instructions on the label, and should be sprayed after honeybees go back to their hives in early evening. It is an OMRI approved pesticide that is approved for organic growing, and it is softer on beneficial insects and pollinators, but it is still not comfortable for them, so best to apply it during the time of the day when they are not active.

Hopefully, if you are having trouble with grasshoppers, this will be helpful information. These products are available from many good garden centers and can also be mailordered online  from ARBICO Organics and I think Peaceful Valley Farm Supply also sells them. Anyway, they are pretty easy to get. They are not inexpensive, but they do work well for us, and they tend to go a long way in coverage.

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Talk to you again next week!

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Here’s the newest photo of the Agave flower stalk. Still getting taller and the flower stalk is becoming more pronounced. This gal is really busy in her efforts to make seeds!

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Amazing!

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Other happenings that took most of our attention this week included Shrek have a TPLO surgery to repair a torn ACL in his knee. This was the evening after surgery and it’s now 4 days later, but he’s not a lot more enthusiastic about any of it. He can’t understand why his life is so different right now, with no exercise, no fun, no helping us at farm work, and most of all he HATES his neck cone hat that he has to wear whenever we are not sitting near him or when we are sleeping so that he won’t lick at his incision. The whole event is a major bummer, but as all things are…this too will pass and by end of summer we hope that Shrek will be back to his old self, with no more restrictions, and back to hiking and chasing balls, helping with farm work and all the rest. Now if we can all just survive the weeks of healing and rehab in-between.

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We also got our firewood for next winter delivered, so now no matter what else might happen we will be warm and cozy. We heat our house with a wood stove, so getting the firewood each year is a very big deal!

Chris is off on a hike today with friends and I’m waiting for the temperatures to cool off enough that I can think about working in my gardens. Right now it’s in the nineties and I completely melt at those temperatures, so Shrek and I are doing office tasks while we wait for the evening to arrive and cooler temps to come with it.

Have a glorious summer solstice tomorrow! The longest day of the year, and it’s supposed to be 10 degrees cooler…yippee.

 

 

 

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