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Our new chiminea sits next to the former pond and close enough to the table to provide a little added warmth.

Our new chiminea sits next to the former pond and close enough to the table to provide a little added warmth.

This year was an odd one for us. School started unusually early this year, whereas it has previously started the Wednesday after Labor Day. Labor Day weekend has been a time for us to prepare for the transition from summer living to school year life, but this year the schools started before the holiday, leaving us with no mission for the weekend.

We visited with some family on Saturday and had a great time swimming in their pool for a lazy afternoon. After dinner, we hung out on their deck and toasted marshmallows over their fire pit as the air cooled down and the fireflies came out. This moment was so wonderful, relaxing, and easy to enjoy that Hubby and I started talking about the possibility of a fire pit at the Homestead.

We have gotten little enjoyment out of our patio this summer, what with all the rain and the dratted mosquitoes that have taken over our town. But with the arrival of autumn’s cooler weather, we hope to spend a lot of evenings outside enjoying our patio and encouraging the kids to run themselves to sleep. a fire pit of some sort would certainly help extend the outside season, but I was concerned about the open flames with the kids and dogs, and to make full use of a pit we’d also have to buy chairs to use around it, making the whole thing a more expensive project then we really want right now.

So Sunday I headed out to our local garden center and picked up a pretty clay chiminea. This little fireplace will warm the patio area a bit, and can be used to toast marshmallows for s’mores, as we proved Sunday night when we had some friends bring their kids over to break it in. (On a side note, I highly recommend s’mores made with strawberry marshmallows for a new twist.) It took a while to get that fire started (the use of lighter fluid in a chiminea is highly discouraged), but once it was going, it provided exactly the right amount of heat for out little patio.

I had intended to take some photos of the kids using the chiminea to share here, but in the fun of the moment I didn’t remember to do it. That’s how I know it was truly a success…I was having so much fun and focusing so completely on being in the moment, that I had no need to try to capture it on film.

The dark brown spots on the side of my mushroom patch are little shiitakes starting to grow.

The dark brown spots on the side of my mushroom patch are little shiitakes starting to grow.

The mushrooms are starting to grow. The patch lives beneath a plastic tent in a big white dish on my kitchen counter, where the light and temperature are just right. They need to be misted three times a day, making them nearly as much work as any of the pets, but unlike the pets, we will soon be able to start eating them.

Outside the garden is a mess. My kale leaves are all lacy, so something has been eating at them. The three peaches left on the tree had bacterial rot, and were not suitable to even nibble a wee taste. The cucumbers are coming in all deformed. The tomatoes are gone. If I hadn’t heard my favorite farmer telling another shopper at the market this weekend that this year is one of the worst he’d ever had for just about everything he’s growing, I’d be feeling really discouraged. But there’s nothing we can do about the wet, cold weather we’ve had this summer bey0nd making the most of what we can harvest.

The Swiss chard is looking good, though, and so is the basil, so at least we’ll have that to enjoy. Some of the new seedlings are coming in strong, so I will set my sights on a fall harvest.

This photo is the only harvest I'll be getting from this plant. These tomatoes are gone.

This photo is the only harvest I'll be getting from this plant. These tomatoes are gone.

My garden was ransacked last night. The thief left hoof prints in the dark soil. Deer ate all but three of my peaches, all the best of my tomatoes, and all of the blueberries. I am discouraged, disheartened, and dismayed.

The local government has been discussing what to do about the deer for a few months now. The herd has grown larger than the nearby green park can support. The deer have been going onto properties adjacent the park and stripping gardens there, but they had not ventured so far afield as the homestead. That they would come into my yard so far from the park and with the strong odor of two large dogs and strip my garden shows either that they are getting more desperate for food or that they have good taste in food and don’t mind risking their lives to eat my peaches.

Either way, I am now leaning towards supporting a cull of the herd. (Hubby has volunteered to participate in the cull, but I think it should be left to experienced experts). Going forward, plans will be drawn up to fortify the homestead against future assaults. Next year, I am going to serve my tomatoes to my family, not the local deer herd.

Someday this will make awesome stirfry, miso soup, and fake bacon, I hope

Someday this will make awesome stir fry, miso soup, and fake bacon, I hope

The Shiitake Mushroom kit I ordered last week was just delivered. A barking dog alerted me to the delivery man approaching the door, so I was able to meet him outside and not have the mushrooms left out in the heat at all. The UPS guy was a little bewildered by the package and asked me cautiously if these were for eating. I think if someone were shipping the other kind, they probably wouldn’t cover the outside of the box with photos of growing fungi and “live item” stamps, but I can understand his confusion. Not everyone knows the joy of Shiitake, but I do.

I opened the package immediately, and found a heavy block of something covered with what looks like fuzzy popped corn. According to the instructions, thismeans I need to pop the whole thing into the fridge for 3 to 5 days, then give it a 24 hour soak before it will sprout mushrooms. So if you come over and poke around in my fridge anytime this weekend, don’t be alarmed by the large bag of moldy popcorn sitting in there.

The goldfinches have found my window mounted birdfeeder. The cat has already face planted against the window twice trying to get them.

The goldfinches have found my window mounted birdfeeder. The cat has already face planted against the window twice trying to get them.

The wet muggy weather continues here in NJ, and I am finding it hard to motivate myself to go outside to work in it! I focused my effort yesterday and today on weeding out portions of the back patio, since those area dried faster and were less muddy than the rest of the yard.

I came to a realization today. My efforts are producing 3 big cans of debris each week, which is going out with the rest of the trash because I lack the facilities to compost that sort of volume here on my lot. This represents a lot of my yard’s biomass and soil value being carted away to the landfill. Tonight I am going to talk it over with hubby to see if we can’t come up with a way to accommodate a big compost heap tucked away somewhere in the yard so we can stop wasting so much valuable material.

I also realized something else: I can only be relied on to do a good job of patio weeding for about 15 minutes. After that I get sloppy and start leaving too much root behind. So from now on I am limiting myself to 15 minutes of patio weeding daily, and I’ll find other things to do with the other 15 minutes that don’t involve squatting and grabbing at those nasty little weedies and feeling like Gollum.

June 2017
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About me

I am on a personal and professional quest to find a happier, healthier, greener and more cost effective way to live life in the suburbs.