Homestead Update: Apple Picking!

This is a bit unusual, having a Homestead Update on a Wednesday! I've had to switch my schedule up a bit as I wait for DSLR camera to finish up repairs, and it seemed a good time to share some photos of our trip to the apple orchard, which we took this past weekend. I believe this is the earliest we've gone apple picking around here within the past two autumns that we've lived in Iowa, and I am not upset about it at all. The weather has been quite mild for a few weeks now, staying mostly in the high 60s and into the 70s, which feels like such a treat, but is also a bit frightening in some ways. I decided to meander over to the Facebook page of Wilson's Orchard, a popular u-pick farm in Iowa City, and discovered that quite a few of their apple varieties were ready to be harvested, like Galas!! We packed up Tad, our bolga basket, and the Gathre mat and headed off to the orchard to spend a couple of hours. My favorite part about any u-pick farm is that you have the freedom to just enjoy yourself without spending any money if you don't want to, but of course it's respectful to at least buy a few pieces of fresh produce and support your local farmers. We are always so grateful and happy to live so close to a place where we can stop by and not feel bad that we didn't experience everything or anything at all. In fact, I have found in the past few years having a little one around, that the times we spend at a family outing not working so hard to have an experience make the experiences that much more enjoyable. There is truth in slow living when it comes to getting out and about and just loving being there rather than what you are doing.

Speaking as a mother of a two-year-old boy who lives off of being out with other people, we gave Tad a run for his money this past weekend by traveling with him to Illinois, back, and then to the orchard the morning after. He operates best on adventure, that's for sure! And I am thankful that the days have been so pleasantly filled with nice weather so that we can spend most of them outside getting our fill. I believe he had the best time while picking apples, however, visiting with one of their barn cats. He is definitely my son! I have strong memories of visiting u-pick farms as a child and dragging their cats along with me the entire time, even scheming a few times to stuff the kittens into my pockets or sweatshirt. It never was a successful plan! Ha! We were more than happy to share a few nibbles of our apple turnovers with the sweet kitty while sitting on our Gathre mat (we have this one). We also just picked up two of our own kittens yesterday! Can't wait to get some photos of them to share here.

We happily picked and ate apples and meandered about the trees. The views in this orchard are truly magnificent, and you feel surreal standing at the top of the hill and looking down upon the lakes, the little wooden bridge, and the pumpkin patch growing carving pumpkins. I love coming here every year, and I hope to make several trips this autumn now that Tad seems to not mind walking the hills himself. 

It somehow feels like a long time since I have updated you all on the status of our garden, but perhaps it only seems that way because so much has been evolving since then. Within the past week or so, we've taken out our cherry tomato plants and are debating on whether or not to let the Black Krims finish out the season (there are only a handful of small green tomatoes left that don't seem to be growing as well as earlier in the summer), dug up our entire potato bed, planted a handful of new seeds, and watched as our June zinnias bloomed. I am really regretting not planting more zinnias all over the garden this year! They are my favorite flower and thinking back I am not really sure how it turned out that I didn't plant any in May! I suppose I was so focused on making sure all of our plants had perfect companions that I forgot to leave some room for them. I think I wrote it here earlier in the summer, but I ended up tearing out half of our nasturtiums because cutworms took them and planted some zinnia seeds in their place instead. They are just now blooming (they were planted in late June), and I couldn't be happier. Next year, we are planning on almost tripling the garden (aaah!) and cutting out around the outer edge and planting basically a wall of flowers outside of the fence. You know there will be zinnias there! Not to mention a definitive cutting bed of perennial blooms. I am so excited to finalize next year's garden plans and share them with you.

I didn't plan on digging up our potatoes over the weekend. I actually was hoping to keep them in the ground until mid-October, but was sort of left with no choice. I let the chickens into the garden to munch on kale and swiss chard (something we haven't really been eating, at least not fresh... I freeze our kale and put it in smoothies and stews) and somehow Thelma Chicken discovered that there were potatoes buried underground. She uncovered one and was pecking it to death, which made me curious, and I started digging. Our potatoes were huge! And the skins were thickened and not rubbing off! If you've never dug potatoes, you're supposed to leave them in the ground until the skin can no longer be rubbed off by your fingers if you are hoping to keep storage potatoes. Otherwise, you can dig potatoes anytime and eat them right away. By the way, chickens aren't supposed to eat raw potatoes... thankfully I caught her early on! I washed off the large clumps of dirt and placed them in a wooden box in the greenhouse. I'll have to see how it goes; you are supposed to let them cure in a warm place with high humidity for 10 days, so that seemed the most logical to me! It's definitely humid inside of the greenhouse!!

Our turnips and radishes are growing like crazy, along with some promising new broccoli and cauliflower sprouts, arugula, and even some spinach. I am excited for spinach later this fall since our spring spinach didn't do too well! I noticed the other day that our radishes were already poking out of the soil and their little red tops had been nibbled on. My best guess is squirrels, which I don't see all that often inside the fence, but I also don't watch the garden like a hawk anymore. I am hoping that they leave some for us! I am not really sure how to stop a squirrel from getting inside... they don't seem to mind if I have diatomaceous earth sprinkled nearby. It's also been interesting watch our pie pumpkins slowly dwindle from what I am assuming is partially squash bug damage and powdery mildew. I am not sure what to do about it since it's already happened, the leaves becoming white and wilting, but we do have several pumpkins growing and beginning to turn orange. All I can hope is that they make it until they are ready to pick, and I don't have to worry about it any longer. I guess I can be thankful that it happened this late in the season and not before the pumpkins even started growing! Again, hoping they can make it another couple of weeks as the skins are still too soft to pick.

The chickens are doing well! We are currently getting around two to three eggs a day, and I think we actually have four layers. I am assuming the fourth layer is Frankie, since she has been sitting quite a bit outside, and we found an egg layed in the run! It was so strange, and there's a layer who has been leaving us an egg underneath the roost posts. Do your chicken lay in odd places? One thing I know for certain is that Muriel and Arlene lay at the same exact time together everyday! What a couple of weirdos. They sit next to each other in their boxes and squawk for a few minutes every single day at 10 AM. I've sat out there with them a few times, but am never patient enough to wait for their eggs to be laid. I am assuming it takes about an hour to lay an egg from the time the "egg laying song" is sung, because I always rush outside as soon as I hear it, but they're just sitting in the boxes unbothered. You can see which of our chickens are which here! I am hoping to make them little profile pages at some point. The gal below is Arlene!

That's really all that's been happening around here. Like I said earlier, we just welcomed two new kittens to the homestead yesterday to help us catch some mice! Hoping to get some photos of them soon, but they've been hiding from us (mostly from Tad). I've missed having a cat around the house, and now we have two! (:

xoxo Kayla