Posted in Gardening, homestead, Horticulture, Mapleberry Gardens

Growing “Dragon’s Egg” Cucumber (2017)

These ‘dragon’s egg’ cucumbers were a lot of fun to grow this season because they’re interesting and they have been extremely prolific. I love their pale color and small size. They are about twice the size of an average chicken egg and they taste just as you’d expect a cucumber should. They’re cold and refreshing out of the fridge. The skin is tender and not bitter. They’re perfect for snacking on raw but I also used my abundant harvest to dehydrate some salted cucumber crisps.

I gave them an area of about 30×30 inches for three plants. I directly sowed the seeds on May 27th. The soil was amended with loads of organic compost.  I added a 4′ tall trellis that I made from a scrap of welded wire fencing, metal rods, and wooden stakes. I had to actively train the cucumbers up the trellis as they grew. The trellis has made it extremely easy to harvest fruit and inspect the plant for cucumber beetles and other pests. I occasionally fed the plants with a small amount of organic, granular 5-5-5 fertilizer.

June 11th: These seedlings are about two weeks old now.
June 11th: Ginger is waiting patiently for something interesting to happen in my early spring garden.
July 20th: The cucumber plants are really filling out the trellis.
July 20th: These cucumber plants are extremely prolific. I’ve harvested dozens of them. This trellis is supporting them perfectly. This variety has 2×4” gaps.
July 20th: The skin on these cucumbers is tender and not bitter at all. The small size is perfect for me. Rex has been enjoying them as much as we have.
July 20th: This plant is producing tons of flowers.

These plants are still producing abundant fruit by the beginning of August but their leaves are starting to look unattractive. By August 19th, they are still producing several fruits every couple days. There are fewer flowers now and the leaves are faded and discolored.

Posted in Chickens, homestead, Mapleberry Gardens

A Frozen Treat for Summer Chickens

My free ranging chickens do a good job of keeping themselves cool in summer. On the hottest days, they find shaded sanctuaries under the foliage where they dust themselves with cold dirt. They have numerous sources of fresh water that they visit throughout the day. Even still, their maniacal appreciation for bugs and fruit makes it fun to offer them healthy, hydrating treats they have to work for. My chickens loved this frozen block of mealworms and fruit. It kept them busy for several hours and they devoured every bit.


I simply packed strawberries, peas, and mealworms into a silicone bread mold then topped it off with water and froze it overnight. The only reason I chose these fruits was because I had some in the freezer I wanted to use up. I know my chickens also love corn, watermelon, and tomatoes when they’re in season. But every chicken agrees that mealworms are essential no matter the time of year.


Posted in Gardening, Horticulture, Mapleberry Gardens

Growing a “Blue Jarrahdale” Pumpkin in a raised bed (2017)

What can I say? When I saw a photograph of a blue-gray pumpkin I immediately wanted to grow my own. I found some organic, non-GMO, heirloom seeds and planted one in my raised bed. It brings me joy every day as I see it continuing to grow larger and change color.

July 22: This “blue jarrahdale” pumpkin is almost as wide as the 10” tray it’s sitting on!

I am growing my single “blue jarrahdale” pumpkin plant in the sunny, southern half of a raised bed that it shares with a few tomato plants (an area measuring about 36×36 inches).  In early spring, I amended the soil with loads of compost and I’ve treated it weekly with a small amount of organic granular fertilizer. I started the seeds in pots indoors on May 13th and planted three of them out on May 27th. I (reluctantly) thinned to one plant due to the space constraint. By July 27th, I have just one thriving pumpkin on a bushy, 10 foot vine.  The vine is happily traveling south down my garden path. Several female flowers have perished throughout the season but one persisted and it is awesome.

July 25: Valentina is catching some rays with my developing pumpkin. Isn’t that green-blue color gorgeous? It has changed a lot in just a few days.
August 1st: The stem has been turning brown and the skin has been turning blue-gray. The skin on this pumpkin is perfect for Halloween. As it becomes more gray, it looks like a zombie version of an orange pumpkin.
August 3rd: I harvested the pumpkin because the stem was brown and cracking. The vines were yellowed and looking poorly. I was excited to clean the vine out of my garden because I had just noticed a bunch of squash bug nymphs on several of the leaves. 
August 3rd: Just admiring my clean pumpkin in the morning light.
Ginger isn’t sure about the zombie pumpkin.
I’m starting to get into the Halloween spirit and it’s only August 3rd. I love these ghost-like squash with my zombie pumpkin.
July 25: A second “blue jarrahdale” pumpkin is growing in my “no till” pumpkin patch to the north but the vine is now tangled up in the fencing.
August 1: This pumpkin is continuing to grow well. I’m using an upturned wooden bucket (9” diameter) for support.
Posted in Edible Landscaping, Foraging, homestead, Mapleberry Gardens

Foraging Staghorn Sumac for “Rhus Juice”

Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) is a North American plant that has been used here for centuries by the native people. We are lucky to have a small grove of these trees growing in a distant corner of our property. I love the tropical vibe of their leaves and their velvety texture and their vibrant fall coloring. Every summer after flowering, they produce bright red fruits (known as drupes) composed of sour, fuzzy seeds. Their citrusy flavor can be drawn out of the fuzz when it’s steeped in fresh, cold water. The resulting beverage is known as “sumac-ade” or “rhus juice.”

I love the way Staghorn Sumac resembles palm trees.
staghorn sumac drupe
Staghorn Sumac is easily identified by these bright red drupes and their velvety stems.

The drupes have the best flavor when they’re fully ripe so wait to harvest them until they are a deep red color. Pick a little berry off the cluster and give it a taste. If they’re pleasantly sour, they’re ready to harvest. This will usually be in August and September.

A tiny handful of fuzzy Staghorn Sumac berries. That fuzz is packed with sour, citrus flavor.
I recently harvested these low-hanging drupes from one of our staghorn sumac trees that has been bursting with fruit. (7/30/2017)

Making “Rhus Juice” from Staghorn Sumac berries

This is incredibly easy to whip up. First, I used my hands to pull the fuzzy berries away from the stem; I ended up with about 3-4 cups worth of them. I put them in a large pitcher with about 6-7 cups of water and let them soak, covered, for a couple hours. with occasional stirring. Afterwards, I removed all the large plant debris with a small, handheld strainer and filtered the water through a coffee filter. After taking a sip, I didn’t bother with adding sweetener. The taste is so refreshing. It’s very similar to the taste you get when you add a big squeeze of lemon to your glass of water.

For the best taste, use your favorite fresh, clean, cold water source for steeping.
We enjoyed the “sumac-ade” with lots of ice and a little extra lemon on this hot summer day.
Posted in Gardening, Horticulture, Mapleberry Gardens

Growing pumpkins and other squash in a no-till garden bed (2017)

Note: I’ll be updating this post regularly until the end of the growing season.

INTRO   I was so excited to have room to plant pumpkins and winter squash in 2017, that I ended up buying 9 different varieties. I definitely bought way too many seeds. When I finally sat down to plan the garden, I realized I would need to add a significantly more space to my garden if I wanted to grow all these vining squash plants. My goal was to grow several varieties of pumpkin for both eating and autumn decoration. I was also hoping to have extras for my chickens (that were only hatchlings when I started this project). The only problem is that I don’t yet have a tiller and I hate digging. I thought this would be a great opportunity to try a no-till garden.

METHODS    In mid-February 2017, I sectioned off an area of lawn that was 17×20 feet. I chose a mostly sunny (evening shade) area of the lawn for my pumpkin patch and fenced it in. I laid plain, brown cardboard down over all the grass (1-2 layers thick). I topped the cardboard with a 1-2” layer of straw (approximately 1.5 straw bales). I soaked everything thoroughly with water once or twice a week. I began using distinct paths in the patch in en effort to somewhat alleviate soil compaction. After all, I was relying on the worms to move in and make the place suitable for growth. In April, I purchased 8 cubic feet of organic compost and made 8 hills, using one cubic foot of compost for each. The hills were concentrated in the sunny, southern half off the pumpkin patch, about 4 feet apart. I started pumpkin seedlings indoors, two weeks before planting out. After the the last frost on May 27,  I planted 4 pumpkin seedlings in each hill and eventually thinned to 2 plants per hill. I added a drip hose for irrigation. I occasionally applied organic Bt spray and/or a neem oil mixture to deter insects. I fertilized weekly with 1-2 T of organic granular 5-5-5 fertilizer per plant. The eight varieties I planted were: (1) Big Max, (2) Jarrahdale, (3) Flat White Boer, (4) Moranga, (5) Musquee de Maroc, (6) Pipian from Tuxpan, (7) Red Warty Thing and, (8) Yuxijiangbinggua.


RESULTS   By June 8, they plants were looking small and scraggly. I started noticing a few squash bugs in early June so I vacuumed them up. In early July I started seeing cucumber beetles so I vacuumed those up too. I noticed that the plants in my new pumpkin patch were developing a little bit slower than the pumpkins in my raised beds and they began flowering a few weeks later too.  I trained the vines to go northward to fill in that section of the pumpkin patch. By July 11, there was one pumpkin forming and several female flowers getting ready to bloom on the others. However, the pumpkins in my raised beds have had dozens of male flowers and numerous fruits in various stages of development. By July 17, there are 3 small pumpkins developing and many female flowers that are close to opening. By July 21, I started noticing squash bug and cucumber beetle eggs on the undersides of dozens of leaves. By the 25th, some of the leaves with egg clusters that I missed were now hosts to lots of little creepy squash bug larvae with black legs. I snipped off the affected leaves and disposed of them. There have been several small fruits that died and fell off the vine, which may have been caused by the bugs.

July 17th, 2017
August 1st, 2017


Progress photos of the various plants in the pumpkin patch:


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(1) Progress of Big Max:


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(2) Progress of Blue Jarrahdale


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(3) Progress of Flat White Boer:


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(4) Progress of Moranga:


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(5) Progress of Musquee de Maroc:


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FUTURE PLANS    The pests aren’t annoying enough to deter me from planting pumpkins again next season. However, I’ve heard you aught to avoid planting pumpkins in the same area for three years to disrupt the life-cyle of pests, such as squash bugs and cucumber beetles. Pumpkins also drastically deplete the soil of nutrients (and need a ton of water). In the fall when the pumpkins are removed from the patch, I’ll grow a cover crop and confine the chickens to the patch to forage for bugs in the soil to hopefully reduce pest populations and weed seeds, and add fertilizer. I’ll also employ the chickens to help till and fertilize a new bed for next season’s pumpkins.

In the future, I will keep the plants covered as much as possible and I’ll consider relying on hand pollinating them. I’ll plant hills at least 6 to 8 feet apart (or more) because it’s so much easier to inspect the leaves for pests when there is extra room to maneuver. I’ll use considerably more compost to start with.

Posted in Gardening, Horticulture, Mapleberry Gardens

Growing “Yugoslavian Finger Fruit” winter squash (2017)

I chose to grow “Yugoslavian Finger Fruit” winter squash primarily because of its unique shape and the fact that it’s a winter squash that can be eaten like a summer squash. The mature fruits are interesting and store well. The small fruits are tender and seedless and can be sliced up and cooked like a zucchini. The taste isn’t very strong so it goes well with anything.


I started my two finger fruit plants from seed on May 13th, two weeks before the last frost date in my area. I reserved a space measuring approximately 36×36” in my 6” raised  bed for two mature plants. On May 27, I transplanted the best few seedlings and then thinned to two plants, about a foot apart, a few weeks later. I’ve been fertilizing every week or two with organic granular fertilizer at the recommended dose. I’ve also been occasionally spraying solutions of milk, neem oil, or Bt spray to address powdery mildew and insects. I’ve removed a few affected leaves but the plants are overall very healthy by the end of July. The squash is spilling out and producing several fruits.

yugoslavian finger fruit top

These are perfect because there is no need to peel the skin. It is great roasted or sautéed with oil, salt, and pepper. The texture smoother than other squash. They also look neat sitting in the kitchen and they keep well.

The squash on the left weighed 2 pounds, 12 ounces!
These two “Yugoslavian finger fruit” squash plants occupy the southern half of this raised bed, shared with four tomato plants. (7/27)
finger fruit squash vine
A few perfect squash fruits are growing on this vine. Okay, there two perfect fruits and a small one all shriveled up … It didn’t make it.
July 29: Ginger is a professional fruit inspector just doing her job. By this point, I’ve harvested five of these 3-pound squash fruits and seven are still forming on the vines.

By August 2nd, my squash plants are still producing numerous fruits as the vines are trailing down the garden path. Some of the leaves don’t look amazing. I haven’t been treating them with anything, just removing the affected leaves.

August 2: This vine is heading down the mulched garden path as it produces more squash!
Posted in Gardening, Horticulture, Mapleberry Gardens

Growing “White Acorn” winter squash (2017)

I love squash. I especially love regular green acorn squash with the orange flesh. But I thought I’d try this white variety this year and I’m glad that I did. These fruit are beautiful and taste just as you’d expect an acorn squash should.

July 25: Fruit in various stages of development

I started my two “white acorn” winter squash plants from seed on May 13th, two weeks before the last frost date in my area. I reserved a space measuring approximately 32×72” in my 12” raised cedar bed for two mature plants. On May 27, I transplanted the best few seedlings and then thinned to two plants a few weeks later. The growth habit is compact but it uses every square inch of space I gave it in the raised bed. I occasionally hand-pollinated the female flowers but the plants were constantly buzzing with bees and other pollinators so I mostly left it up to them.

acorn squash
July 27: These two “white acorn” squash plants look lush and healthy in a raised bed. 

I harvested the first squash on July 21st, the second on July 26th, and now there are several more growing. The plants are producing tons of flowers and lots of leaves but some of the foliage has suffered a tiny bit of a powdery mildew-like residue so I removed the affected leaves. I’ve been treating plants with milk and/or neem oil on a weekly basis but I can’t be sure what affect it’s having. By late July, a few of the young fruits have died but there are so many more developing well.  I harvested the squash a week or two after I noticed it stopped growing and the skin turned from snow white to a creamy off-white. The flesh inside is also creamy white and firm.

I peeled the skin, scooped out the seeds, and cubed the flesh. It was great roasted with oil, salt, and pepper like I would with an average green acorn squash or butternut squash. The seeds are tasty, crunchy snack when they’re oiled, salted, and roasted until toasty brown.

Preparing some acorn squash for dinner. That’s the squash plant in the background.
August 2: These three squash will be ready to harvest soon.