Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Nature Table

Fall nature table

Creating a nature table is a natural extension of our time spent out doors. Each treasure we find reminds us of the remarkable beauty in nature: the forms, colors, smells, and tastes. When a fascinating specimen is found, we gently carry it to the house to place reverently on our nature table.

We've had a nature table in some form since the Boy was born. Originally, it was a little plate on the center of our dining table, where he would put little stones or flowers. As we spent more time in nature, among the amazing flowers and trees, splashing in the creeks and puddles, clambering over rocky trails, that plate soon proved to be way too small.

The Boy loves to collect rocks and feathers, seeds and twigs, pine cones and bird's nests. And now they all make their way to our designated nature table. (Much better than in his pocketses.)

All of our summer and early fall treasure, abundantly overflowing their boundaries!
At the beginning of each seasonal change, the table is nice and tidy. We change the cloth, rearrange piles of things we want to keep, create a blank slate. Oh, but by season's end, it is crowded! So many little treasure that need to be moved to some other place.

Some disintegrate, like fern leaves and herbs. Others the kitty knocks to the floor, amusing herself. Those are easy to dispose to the compost pile. Some are too special to just toss back outside. I actually get a little anxious thinking about how I can get rid of these finds without seeming callous. I think we came up with a great solution.
The fairy house.

This morning we decided that with our fall to winter change we'd build a fairy house with our nature treasures. After a full geometry lesson, we packed up the contents of the table and trekked outside to find the perfect place...meaning protected from the puppy and the chickens.

An hour spent in the sunshine and fresh air, building a quaint little cottage scene under a forsythia. Plus cleaning off the nature table in a gentle way.

The late fall/winter table. Look at all the clean space!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Summer's Bounty: Taking Stock of Our Farming Successes and Failures

Assortment of cherry, grape, and yellow pear tomatoes fresh from the garden.
 With our first wood stove fire emanating delicious warmth, I have finally accepted that summer is officially over. (Autumn's official start over a month ago is immaterial.) I still have vegetables growing in my garden specifically: leeks and chard — therefore it's still summer, yes?

Overall, our garden produced quite an abundance this year. Pounds and pounds of garlic and onions. (Enough to give away and also save for next year's planting.) Quarts and quarts of tomatoes, leeks as big as my wrist, enough basil to make a couple of pesto dinners. And our first attempt at sweet potatoes resulted in a pleasantly surprising yield.

Then there were some duds: low potato yields, an abysmal strawberry harvest, and my carrot experiment (planting saved seeds) was mediocre at best.

"Moving to the country, gonna eat a lot of peaches."  Presidents of the United States of America
Each fall I take stock of what we produced and start formulating plans for next year. There are a few plants I've given up even trying to grow, such as watermelon and cantaloupe. No matter how hard I try, the vines produce small, nasty tasting little melons. I'd rather just buy melons at market than waste space in my garden for inedible produce.

Then there are the ones I keep trying, despite poor results. Actually there is only one I keep trying: pumpkin. In 10 years I have never had a bountiful harvest of pumpkin. Gourds, yes. Lovely, edible pumpkins, no.

I did grow beautiful vines this year, with gorgeous, plentiful blooms. And they received great care: I hand picked all the squash bugs and egg cases, I mulched and watered, I talked to them, weeded them religiously. And, out of 8 plants three beautiful pumpkin ovaries proved themselves fruitful. Carefully, I draped the vines with their swelling beauties over a trellis in an attempt to keep them bug and disease free. I checked on them daily, and I waited. Sigh. One day they were gorgeous, the next all but one was rotten. Filled with frustration, I cut the darn thing down while it was still green and brought it inside. One pumpkin, the size of a duck pin bowling ball.

As the weather turns frosty, we begin our transition to the more inward self, the start of our hibernating season. It is a great pleasure to inventory our "take" for the year: frozen corn, spaghetti sauce, berries, peaches, garlic paste, basil pesto, applesauce, sweet potato mash, and chickens. Canned tomatoes, applesauce, and peaches. Root cellared potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, carrots, and garlic. And the leeks, carrots, and chard still in the garden. The satisfaction of growing and preserving our own food is what keeps us plodding onward during those drippy, sweaty, buggy summer days.

It is time to take a breath, set garden plans aside, and enjoy the beauty and change the fall season brings. And enjoy the fruits of our labors.
Canned tomatoes....perfect for quick pasta dinners.