Category Archives: country living

Tomatoes! Tomatoes! Tomatoes!

It’s that time of year in the garden.  I have been picking tomatoes by the five-gallon bucket load.  The freezer is full and we have just about run out of room. 

We have been growing tomatoes for decades.  We try different varieties.  Some years we like this one, another year we might like another one. This year I decided to make a semi-scientific analysis of the different varieties that we usually gravitate to.

First of all, I don’t start any plants from seed anymore. Been there, done that.  I can usually find a good variety in the local stores and garden centers.  Also, we don’t use any sprays and rarely fertilizer (none this year.)  But I do rotate the crops in the garden so the same thing is not planted in the same place each year. 

This is my schematic for the tomato part of the garden.

This year I planted fifteen tomato plants (not counting the five that I planted in the spring garden).  I have planted as many as sixty-four plants in the past but that is ridiculous.  The varieties that I planted this year are:  Goliath, San Marzano, Roma, Better Boy, Pink Brandywine, Red Beefsteak, and Park Whopper.  Not counting the cherry tomatoes (Sweet 100 and Yellow Pear).  I did all the planting on May 15th because we had a very late freeze and SNOW earlier.  We had plenty of rain earlier but not too much since mid July.  Sometimes we’ll water, especially if the plants are little but usually not.  I planted the seedlings very far apart, about five feet, so they had plenty of room and we could get down the rows with the tiller.  We also put them up in cages with stakes and ties.

I have lost track of how many tomatoes that I’ve picked but in just one day last week, I picked three five-gallon buckets and gave one away.  I have to pick about every three or four days. Our freezer is full.

Tomatoes, tops. L-R bottom: Pink Brandywine, Red Beefsteak, San Marzano. Top: Celebrity, Better Boy, Park Whopper, Goliath, Roma.
Tomato samples, bottoms. L-R bottom: Pink Brandywine, Red Beefsteak, San Marzano. Top: Celebrity, Better Boy, Park Whoppers, Goliath, Romas.

So let’s go down the list.

Goliath.  We’ve liked this tomato in the past and it started off well but slowed down.  I paid a lot for just one plant so will probably not plant it again next year. 

San Marzano.  This is supposedly the king of Italian tomatoes.  VERY prolific.  I can pull the tomatoes off the vine in handfuls, like grapes.  But they seem a little dry and have quite a bit of white/green core which is not tasty. 

Roma.  We’ve grown these before but they really produced this year.  Much larger than the San Marzanos which was a surprise.  Very meaty but sometimes a little black inside which is probably blossom end rot from uneven watering.

Better Boy.  Good but nothing to write home about.  Will probably pass next year.

Pink Brandywine.  These were a real surprise.  The tomatoes are huge, at least six or even seven inches across.  A beautiful pink color and low acid.  Really tasty and very meaty. One slice is enough for a sandwich. 

Red Beefsteak.  Very meaty but knobby. Difficult to use for a slicing tomato but pretty good for canning.  However, not worth the trouble even though they are so large and produce well.

Celebrity.  We’ve grown these before but for not for the past few years.  VERY good producers.  The tomatoes just keep coming.  Great for putting up or eating just plain.

Park Whopper.  We were told by a friend that this is his favorite tomato so we thought we’d give it a try.  Very consistent shape, good taste, but not very large.  And they’re petering out, even in mid-August. 

The final verdict?  We’ll definitely plant the Pink Brandywines, Romas and Celebrities next year.  But….depends upon what other options catch my attention.

Meanwhile, back to the salt mines…er ummm….the garden.  And don’t talk to me about beans and corn.  Ha!

August Garden

A beam of early morning light catches some potted plants, partly shaded, partly sunny.

The summer is speeding past and life has been busy here in Southern Indiana.  We’ve had lots of company this summer.  I think everyone was ready to get away, out of the house, just go somewhere.  Always enjoyable to reconnect with old friends and family.  Of course, the grandkids have kept us busy, too.  We didn’t get to do nearly as many activities as we had wished but we did have some fun.

August garden. The corn in the back right is done but the tomatoes are just coming in. And the Sunflowers are towering over everything.

The past few weeks we’ve been busy with the garden.  Plenty of rain earlier in the season so the produce is coming in.  The corn is past.  Peaches and cream variety, first planting late April.  Second planting a few weeks later after the late freeze.  This is a delicious variety, full ears with no bugs or flaws.  We ate what we could fresh, then put up the rest.  After picking and husking, we ended up with four five-gallon buckets of shucked corn.  I do the picking and husking; my husband does the rest of the processing. Plenty of corn in the freezer.

The green beans (variety Jade Bush) have been very prolific.  I keep up with the picking and the beans keep coming.  Of course, I planted some more which I don’t know why. 

We planted several varieties of tomatoes this year just to remind ourselves why we like some better than others.  With the freeze that we had in early May, they’re just now coming in.  The Goliath, Celebrity, Beefsteak, and German Pink are great eating tomatoes.  Lovely on a sandwich or just with supper.  For putting up in the freezer, we have San Marzanos and Romas, and the Park Whoppers are very prolific.  We use a lot of tomatoes so these will keep us busy for the next several weeks.  The cherry tomatoes are Sweet 100 and a cute little yellow pear, both of which are very prolific.  The kids just graze on them as they pass by.

These tall, colorful sunflowers will probably end up in a painting or two. The finches are already prying the unripe seeds from the heads.

I’ve got some herbs in the food dehydrator out in the shop.  Best to remove the machine from the house so the whole place doesn’t smell like basil.  Will probably do another batch or two this season.  I’ll miss fresh herbs when they’re gone.

So, you might ask, why go to all this work just for some vegetables? It certainly doesn’t save any money when you consider all the time, labor and expense that goes into planting, picking and processing.  I guess the real reason is that we like fresh.  We know what’s in the plants and what isn’t.  We use no pesticides.  Not everything turns out perfect and beautiful.  We’re willing to live with losses.  The zucchini and squashes have been beset by squash vine borers the past few years.  I may give them a pass next year.  And as the joke around here goes, you lock your car doors in Indiana in the summer as you’re likely to find someone has filled it with zucchini. 

Lots more stuff going on around here.  The flowers are beautiful – several varieties of sunflowers, cosmos, and zinnias not counting the potted plants.  I sold a lot of artwork with my Super Summer Sale last month, both online and locally.  Still need to make more room in the studio.  Still paint nearly every day.  Lots of visits to the library and arts center. And spending some evening time on the patio with a cool drink and a book. 

So how has your summer been going?  I love reading your posts and comments.  Keep cool!

Bread and Miriam

Bread and Miriam. My friend is delighted to display her new painting. We had such a fun morning visiting, talking about books and life.

I had the great pleasure of hand delivering my painting Bread to my friend Miriam.  She was so delighted to be able to buy this.  “Making this bread was the best experience of my time during the COVID pandemic.”  Miriam used my bread recipe for no-touch sourdough bread.  I heard back from so many friends and blog followers that they loved this recipe. 

Still need some bread?  Check out this post from last year. https://my90acres.com/2018/03/28/crusty-artisan-bread/ https://my90acres.com/2020/08/02/bread-a-new-painting/

Summer Super Sale still going on.  40 to 70% off.  Adding more every day.  Check here to see what is currently on sale.  Or contact me personally if you’re nearby and I’ll deliver. https://www.etsy.com/shop/KitMiracleArt?ref=l2-shop-info-name&section_id=1

Independence Day

Flag Day, Milltown, Indiana Kit Miracle

July Fourth has always had a special meaning for me.  Far beyond the picnics and bands, the fireworks and family gatherings.  There is just something about the holiday here in the United States which makes me proud and excites my sensibilities.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a marching band in person or even a fireworks display, although I love both of those things.  The big booms reverberate in my chest all the way to my toes. 

And I love the family gatherings.  In our case, not quite reunions but a group of friends and relatives who show up to spend a pleasant day in the country.  This year is especially poignant since we haven’t seen many of these folks for over a year.

The kids will run around, sneak blackberries from the bushes, and whine about when they’re going to eat.  The adults will swap tales and events.  And the young men will regale everyone with some awesome fireworks.  (Fortunately, we’re not in the super dry western states where fireworks are banned these days.)

But I often reflect on the meaning of the day.  Independence Day.  The declaration of our split from our English heritage and ruler, King George.  What a chance our founding fathers took!  What moxy!  What great beginnings, too.  I wonder what they’d think of the form of government they started nearly two and a half centuries ago.  Would they be proud? Astonished?  Perplexed? Maybe all three.

I hope that you have a great day, an enjoyable day, and perhaps can reflect on the meaning of this special day here in the United States.  Be kind. Be safe.

Garden update, home on the farm

Life out here on my 90 acres has been so busy this spring.  Making some progress tackling my three page list of things to do (yes, really!) but there are still plenty of things left to do.

Garden May 15th, you can see the corn coming up in the foreground. The far end of the garden is tomatoes and peppers.
These tomato and pepper plants look so small.

We got a late start planting the garden this year on May 15th.  I did manage to plant the first crop of corn on April 27th.  It is now as tall as I am.  The freeze in early May delayed planting but we got to everything else in one day. Then we had about a week and a half of hot, dry weather so I had to haul water.

A month later, June 20th. Everything is growing well. The corn in the distance on the right is as tall as I am. The left distance is the second crop of corn. And the sunflowers on the left side of the garden. The posts have solar-powered motion detector lights to scare away marauders.

The past few weeks have been pretty wet but at least not gully-washers as sometimes happens.  I planted really wide rows to allow my husband to get down them with the rototiller.  This is after I hoe around the individual plants.  As you can see, everything is really established now.

Hundreds of thousands of cicadas. Even the birds got sick of them. A week and a half ago, the sound was deafening. Now, none. There is a lot of debris left, but that will decompose soon.

The cicada invasion has been here and gone. Finally! Hundreds of thousands of the bugs. The birds, toads and lizards are full. A week and a half ago, the noise was deafening. Today, barely anything at all. Wait another seventeen years. And, no, I did not eat any. Blech!

Other chores which needed attention.  Trimming out the lane (1/3 mile) both on the sides and overhead.  This is a several day job, particularly during the extreme heat and humidity.

Then I started on other tasks: trimming bushes, digging flowerbeds, potting flowers, etc.  And those are just the outside chores. There are many other tasks, cleaning the greenhouse, attics, closets, preparing for company.  Taking the grandkids on road trips or to art classes.  It’s always something.

But, I am still able to get out to the studio, mostly in the afternoons.  (Outdoor work is reserved for mornings when it’s cool.)  Recently I created a small series of sunrise paintings.  Who doesn’t love a beautiful sunrise?  Every one is different. And contemplating my next big series.  Just some ideas rolling around but I’ll get there.

A composite of three recent sunrise paintings. Same location (Florida Keys), different days. Golden Sunrise, God’s Eye Sunrise, and Confetti Sunrise. All acrylic on canvas, 12 x 12. For sale in my Etsy shop and local shops around here.

How’s your summer going?  I hope you’re having some fun, seeing some friends and family as things open up now.  Still cautiously keeping safe but a little freer.

Brutus

Brutus, the old farm truck. A family member for over three decades.

There’s always something to do here on the farm and spring seems to be the busiest.  This past week my husband and I spent time trimming back the brush and overhanging branches on the lane.  This doesn’t sound like much except that it’s a third of a mile long, with trees and bushes on one or both sides.  The delivery vans have to run the gauntlet, often leaving with debris decorating their vehicles.

Usually I just walk along with my battery-powered hedge trimmers.  When the battery runs down, so do I.  And I can only reach just so far up.  Getting to the overhead branches is more challenging.  In this case, one person drives the truck and one person stands in back with clippers or a chainsaw.  We got over nine truck loads so far and we’re still not done. The temps were in the 90s a couple of days ago, but they were in the 50s today.

Since I was the driver this time, I spent a lot of time in the truck.

Brutus is our farm truck. (My husband names every vehicle we have.)  We ordered Brutus new back in 1985, a handsome but no frills Ford F250 4WD. Let’s see, that makes him 36 this year. Every farm has an old truck.  Come meet ours.

After many years of hard use, Brutus is showing his age. Rust, holes, dents, and even lichen.

He’s very reliable but has never been coddled.  Never spent a night under cover.  And is used but not intentionally abused.  He’s hauled rock and a whole lot of firewood over the years.  He’s been able to get out during the worst of snowstorms.  Both of the boys learned to drive in him, which in the country is way below the legal age (only on the farm). 

Uh oh, you can see the ground through the floorboards. Oh, well, slap a car mat over it.

Unfortunately, Brutus is showing his age.  The speedometer doesn’t go past 99,999 so he’s now clocking at over 117,000 miles.  The radio still works (AM only) but the heater doesn’t.  He has two gas tanks but I don’t think the gage works on either one.  We don’t worry about anyone stealing him as he’s pretty touchy to get going, besides, he’s not a beauty either. And his top speed is about 45.

Spring follow-up

One of many beautiful peonies. The scent is so lovely.

We have been so busy with spring activities here on the ninety acres.  The temperatures have exploded from the frost predictions earlier this month to near 90s this week.  No rain so we’re doing lots of watering.  Everything I planted last weekend – the entire garden pretty much – is up and looking healthy.  I’ll post photos later when there’s more to see.

The air is a flood of beautiful scents, roses and peonies, honeysuckle, too.  The locusts are about done.  The strong perfume seems to be the only redeeming value of the multiflora roses and the wild honeysuckle, both which are fighting it out in the scent category. 

Top: Tame climbing roses vs wild multi-flora roses. Bottom: Tame honeysuckle bush vs wild honeysuckle vine.

The farmer who rents some of our fields has been working until way after dark these days.  You can see by this monster disk how much time it takes to prepare the ground.  Not counting that “other” natural odor that was spread on the fields.  Well, that’s called soil improvement. 

Disking the fields. That is some big piece of equipment.

And the cicadas have emerged in ever-increasing numbers.  They don’t bite or sting, just climb out of the ground and then hang onto anything they can while they emerge from their shells.  They can’t climb on vinyl or metal but they do like wood or just about anything else they can attach to.  My husband uses the leaf blower to blow them off the porch.  I use the broom.  And now they’re starting to sing to attracts mates.  Not as loud as it will be but it’s already beginning to sound like that weird alien noise in a sci-fi movie. The birds and frogs and toads seem sated but I watched two little lizards stalking the same bug today.  I think they both missed. 

The Reader, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 18, Kit Miracle

Of necessity due to the heat, studio time has been limited to afternoons.  I did manage to finish the painting which I started as a demo a couple of weeks ago.  The Reader is a lovely piece, not in any series of paintings but just because I like the subject.  I’m already scouting around for the next topic.

Cicadas and more, spring 2021

I love perennials. Nothing much to do except enjoy their beauty year after year. Azalea and irises.

All is not art.  Spring on the ninety acres has arrived and so has the work.

This beautiful red/pink rhododendron is right outside our kitchen breakfast nook.

The past several weeks have been devoted to getting my big show up and running.  Framing and delivering, shipping, some marketing, some public events.  Exciting but exhausting.

Now, to tackle my three page list of things to do this spring.  Yes, I still make extensive lists for almost everything.  It just relieves my brain from having to remember everything.

We’ve had beautiful, rain-free weather this past week.  A little on the chilly side but make hay, etc. etc.  Weeding the flowerbeds.  Seems as if we are beset by bedstraw this year.  Or as I like one of its other common names sticky willie. Grrrrrrrrrrr.  I hate this stuff.

A few of several pots of plants on the patio. Full sun. My favorite Provence memory.
Flowers waiting to be transplanted to pots. A couple of perennials, too.

Bringing out all my pots, mixing large batches of soil – potting soil, manure, peat.  Planting about thirty of them for sun, shade, large, small.  Oh, my back but I just divide the job up to smaller pieces.

Peppers, tomatoes, herbs and more.

Then a big push on to get the main garden planted.  It’s a serious garden of about 25 x 40 feet.  The sweet corn was planted a few weeks ago and is making a good showing.  The peas finally came up in the spring garden (a whole different garden area), and we have been eating fresh lettuce for several weeks.  The asparagus patch is nearly done for the year.

Just a small part of the garden. I planted fifteen various tomato plants and about the same number of peppers. Many varieties. PLUS….we have more in the small spring garden. I remember one year planting 64 tomato plants! Last time I did that.

Yesterday meant planting tomatoes, peppers, beans, eggplant, herbs, more corn, and lots of flowers for cutting.  It’s not very interesting at this point but in a few weeks, it should really start growing. 

So, let’s talk about cicadas.  It’s the widely touted seventeen year emergence.  And they’re HERE!  At least emerging.  They do not have mouths or stingers so they’re harmless to handle.  They feel kinda creepy as they crawl on you with their little claws.

A cicada emerging. I’m finding these in the grass, the flowerbeds, just about everywhere outside.
Slightly creepy feeling, this is what the cicadas look like when they first shed their brown shells. It will attach itself to something – twig, trees, side of house – while it pumps up it’s wings, then takes off to find a mate for a day. No mouths or stingers.
A cicada hanging on its discarded shell which it attached to a plant. After it pumps up its wings, it changes color and then flies off.
Holes in the ground from the emerging brood. I’ve actually observed a flicker listening and diving for the emerging beasties.

I remember the last time they were here, the air was a cacophony of a high pitched sound, like something you might hear on an old sci-fi movie.  I guess we’ll deal with it or stay inside.  And remember, the birds and especially our chickens love these things and go after them like candy.

I’ll pass.

Cinco de Meowo

Cinco de Meowo. Leo at a year old. Quite a bit of difference from the little fluff ball he was last spring.

Our cat Leo is now a year old now.  We got him as a tiny kitten from our son.  He was born a barn cat in the cellar window well.  Now he is a big, slightly pampered feline.  Would rather spend the night outdoors and sleep in his chair during the day.  I worry but what mom doesn’t.  He has plenty of places to hide, some very sharp claws, is a great climber, and a big scary dog who chases away other critters.

Funny how we become owned by our pets.

Leo at a few weeks old. Ready for adventure.
Leo begging to sit in my lap while I paint. Not happening. But look at those eyes!

Trees in the neighborhood

Spring is in the air down here in Southern Indiana.  The temperatures are warming.  The spring flowers are blooming.  Our yard and fields are showcasing daffodils and spring beauties.

Earlier this week I was in the woods planting some small saplings of native trees.  These are free from the state DNR.  As I was locating the new plants, I looked around at all the other trees in the area.  In the many years of living here, my boys grew up knowing how to identify trees by bark, leaves, the wood and even the smell of the wood.  But I realize that many people have never had the opportunity to explore the woods with some knowledge.  So here are some of the trees in our own woods with names that will be familiar to you.  By just the bark. 

Let’s see how good you are at identification.

Sycamores are an extraordinarily beautiful tree, especially in winter. The upper limbs show bright white against the rest of the drab forest but the lower trunk has a shaggy, peeling bark. They have very large leaves and little fuzzy seed balls. I can never see sycamores without breaking into our state song, Back Home Again In Indiana…. Now you can’t get that out of your head, can you?
This is a very large sugar maple in our front yard. In autumn, it hosts a beautiful display of reddish leaves. Actually, there were several of these trees on the property when we moved here. As you can see, the poor tree is nearly done with interior rot. We have never sugared but I imagine it was popular in the day. It was the host to a pretty neat tree house when the kids were young.
We were delighted to find a whole little grove of shagbark hickory in our woods when we moved here many years ago. It has a very distinctive shaggy bark. (Thus the name.) The nuts taste like pecans. If you can get any. The squirrels and other critters usually harvest everything.
Young locust on the left and mature locust on the right. A rather shaggy bark, these elegant trees can be found on most old homesteads. The wood was often used as fence posts as they seem to be resistant to rot. They have a small leaf so there isn’t anything to rake in the fall. They also have the most beautiful creamy white racemes of flowers with a heady perfume in the spring. The bees love them. They’re the tallest trees in our yard towering over 80 feet. They also propagate by underground runners so they might appear anywhere nearby. I don’t know if these are black locusts or honey locusts but I still love their stateliness.
This hackberry tree was a real puzzle to us when we first moved here many years ago. It has a very knobby bark and tiny whitish/green blossoms. It seems to reseed well but I don’t know if that’s an advantage. The young one on the left has more pronounced knobs but the mature one on the right is also still knobby. A good shade tree, it stands about 60 feet high in our yard.
The native dogwood tree bark reminds me of a puzzle with many interlocking pieces. These days they’re under attack from an imported disease but so far, they’re holding their own. A beautiful understory tree with large white blossoms in spring, they go unnoticed the rest of the year.
This crab apple was given to me as my first Mother’s day gift many years ago. It has a glorious display of pink flowers each spring. It’s progeny has been shared with many people. As you can see, the woodpeckers have been having a go at it as well but it’s still hanging on.
The cedar tree is often thought of as a trash tree but they are quite handy to have. We have used them as fence posts, bird feeder posts, and built an arbor out of cedar logs. We even had some milled to use as benches. They have a lovely red variegated color inside and a wonderful smell.
Wild Cherry with some problems. These trees have a very dark bark and are messy. These are not cherries to eat but contain cyanide so they can be poison to livestock and animals.

These are just a few varieties of trees on our property. I haven’t included the red and white oaks, river birch, ironwood, hazel (a bush, really), sweet gum, pines and more. What is native to your area?