July 31, 2007 – Blackberries!

The blackberries we planted in the spring of 2006 are giving their first fruit this year!

They have a sweet/sour taste that has to be sooo good for you!  The row looks very healthy and there are many more on the way.  Like most everything we do, we weren’t too sure how we’d like them or how they’d grow here, so we just put in one 75 foot row.  Looks like a thumbs up for blackberries so far.  If I was forced, I’d say blackberries make my favorite jam.

one year ago…

July 30, 2007 – Claire’s First Road Trip

This weekend Grandma Jo took Claire on a road trip to get some driving experience.  They went down to Keokuk, in the tiny SE portion of the state that juts into Missouri.

Over the course of a couple of days, Claire drove 11 hours, down to Keokuk and back up the river.

One stop was at the house where Grant Wood painted his famous “American Gothic” work.  You can look back at our visit to Grant Wood exhibit at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art a couple of years ago.

Claire was challenged to drive down “Snake Alley” in Burlington and reports only touched the curbs once!
one year ago…

July 29, 2007 – Peaches!

Today is a day to live for – fresh sun-warmed peaches just off the tree!

This is a day we greatly look forward to – we are cheating the range of peaches to get them this far north – and despite the ice storm and late, hard frost, the trees still managed to produce a tempting basket of fruit.

one year ago…

July 28, 2007 – A Night on the River

Friday night Linda and I snuck out for some live music.

Cross Canadian Ragweed and Los Lobos played in an outdoor ampitheatre along the river in Des Moines.  Los Lobos, “Just another band from east L.A.” was the headliner.  The encore was “La Bamba” and they invited about 25 of their new closest fans up from the crowd to dance and since on stage with the band.  It was a fitting end, as the artist who wrote La Bamba – Richie Valens, performed the song for the very last time in the Surf Ballroom in Mason City, Iowa in 1959; shortly thereafter, he was in the plane with Buddy Holly that crashed and killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and the Big Bopper.

I was first attracted to Los Lobos back in the 80’s – their folky ethnic sound was dangerously close to the “Chmielewski Fun Time” and “Jolly Brothers” polka bands that were a staple of my childhood.  Even though the polka bands and Mexican folk cross thousands of miles, the music must share some deep roots.

Opening act was Cross Canadian Ragweed (not really from Canada, from Oklahoma/Texas).  They didn’t seem to like playing in the daylight and we didn’t go to the bar show later than night – the two strongest songs were covers that ended their set – Todd Snider’s “I Believe in You” and Ray Wylie Hubbard”s “Rock and Roll.” (Thanks to Shannon from Cross Canadian Ragweed for correcting the title on the Ray Wylie song, now correct on this entry.) 

one year ago…

July 24, 2007 – First Hazelnut!

We also planted a half-dozen hazelnuts years ago to see how they’d like living at out place.  They have been very slow to produce – this year the first nuts have appeared.

I’m not sure if this is normal for first fruiting but 4-5 years seems a bit long – we have peach trees that have produced fruit faster than that.  We may have a place for them as the shrubs below the understory in the developing shade strip down the center of the back pasture.

one year ago…

July 23, 2007 – Hops Progress

The hops we planted this year are making a tentative start.

The experimental hops we planted this spring are making their way up the trellis.  I’ve been rather surprised that we are having a bit of a pest problem with these – as there are not many hops around to breed pests.  There are tent caterpillar-like worms that we’ve been picking off the leaves.

one year ago…

July 22, 2007 – Dilly Beans

Finally, the finished product – 18 jars of dilly beans.

We’ve decided not to be as stingy with these as we usually are, so we are making more than usual this year. This batch is without hot peppers, the next ones will contain hot peppers. We started making these as in the past (decades now!) we didn’t have good luck growing enough cucumbers or canning pickles and keeping them crunchy. These are a nice alternative – dilled beans with plenty of garlic!

one year ago…

July 21, 2007 – Harry Potter and the Dilly Beans

Welcome to potions class, high hopes style.

Here are the instructions. Insist that each of the Harry Potter books be read out loud, together as a family. Link farm chores with additional reading. Kids are under the parent’s spells and gladly do work they may normally complain about! Today we read a few chapters while we prepared to make dilly beans – sitting around the kitchen table cleaning and cutting beans to the right length to stuff in jars.

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July 20, 2007 – Neil Smith Wildlife Refuge

Today we took our out-of-state guests to the Neil Smith National Wildlife Refuge and Prairie Learning Center near Prairie City, Iowa.

There is a beautiful interpretive center nestled into a prairie hillside.  The site was at one time destined to be the site of a nuclear power plant, but those plans fell through, and it became the largest reconstructed prairie in North America. It is a grand experiment to try to turn corn and beans back into native vegetation to give those around here a small taste of what it might have been like when the first pioneers came this-away.

Blazing Star – commonly naturalized for home and butterfly gardens – liatris.

Cup plant – Saves water by the design of the stem and leaf – you’ll see this one is holding water just below the flower.

one year ago…

July 18, 2007 – Local Food at High Hopes Gardens

Tonight we had a nearly all-farm meal for our guests, now joined by Linda’s Dad and his wife.

The menu tonight is marinated and applewood grilled extra-thick lamb chops (lamb and herbs from high hopes); less than day-old sweet corn from northern Marshall County; new potatoes fried with fennel and olive oil (potatoes from high hopes); fresh garden salad with feta (also from high hopes, except feta). Can it get any better than this?

one year ago…