Hi Everyone! Debbie Strickland, Appalachia Cares/AmeriCorps at Rural Resources, reporting in from Greene County, in East Tennessee. July just seems like the invasion month – rains, weeds, mosquitos, weeds, heat wave, weeds, a visit from Candace :), weeds, rabbits, weeds, coons/ground hogs, weeds, fair, and if I haven’t mentioned it enough – WEEDS! The month started with rain after a very hot and dry June, and it wouldn’t stop. The rain was nice for the dry spell we had, but it came just in the right amounts and spirts to keep us out of our gardens. So our nice managed gardens of June were gone, and our forests of all kinds of weeds imaginable began. We do not want to complain about the rain, because we definitely needed it and could have been a whole lot worse like some of our other Grow Appalachia sites. So, if all we had to do is deal with trying to manage the weeds and mosquitos, I think we were in better shape. Of course, this did make our teenagers very nervous and sheepish about showing their garden spaces off to Candace when she visited. Most all the gardens, including ours here on the farm, were over taken by weeds from all the rains. But, it did not stop us from showing what is growing, seeing some fruits of the labor, and tasting some sungold tomatoes. The weekend before Candace showed, a ground hog or maybe a coon, decided to help him/herself to the corn in one of our teen’s garden. They were discouraged at how it looked, and also with sitting and watching it grow and almost ready to pick to be gone the next day. At least the varment was fed really good.
It took the teens a while to open up, but I think as we visited each of their homes, they shined with pride as they explained what was going on in the gardens, showing off their vegetables, offering them for us to taste, and just sharing what they were doing. We also had a few on the tour that had to stop for a bit of fun:
Our temperatures this past week have been very tropical, 90’s with high humidity. There was definitely a reason I left Florida. I remembered one of those reasons very quickly this past week as I stepped outside and felt like a wet log. We have not had much rain in the last half of the month, so we have been able to get into our garden spaces, weed, till, cover crop, and begin planting some of our fall production areas. Our greenhouse has been going very well in helping us start all the colorful and delicious things that will be going into the ground. The tiller and tractor have both finally been taken out of the shed from their couple weeks of much needed vacation to be put to work in preparing the soil. I am excited and cannot wait to taste the greens that will be coming in with all this fall planting. We also have some late green beans coming in, onions, and radishes. Our sweet potato plants are looking great, and Melissa has actually been selling sweet potato leaves to people that are cooking them like greens. They say they are very good! Our sunflowers have finally bloomed and help make the garden look grand!
The teens have been very excited about their gardens since all the rain and the dry spell that they can get in to them now. The harvest numbers are really starting to come in. For those that weren’t producing because of lack for rain or just late in getting started, are excited to share things are starting to finally rippen and be picked. One young man, Fernando, his squash and zucchini have been doing so well that he has shared about a bushel with friends and neighbors! Another young lady who did not want to show her garden to Candace because she thought it was all mostly weeds and not thriving, was able to start clearing the weeds out. When she did, she was exstatic to find a lot of lemon grass, some tomotoes rippening, basil, and I think she said oregano. Something ate her cabbage plants which bummed her in the very beginning, properly a pesky rabbit! I didn’t think Bugs Bunny lived in these parts. Two brothers commented that their pie pumpkins took off with all the rain. Their garden beds are about 10 feet from the house and they said the vines were almost to the house, I am hoping they send me a picture soon. They have also harvested a peck of lettuce, some radishes, a couple of onions, have pumpkins and watermelons on, and a peck of green beans. These boys cannot wait for that watermelon to rippen! Several other teens who took basil home said they have bushed out so big and could supply all our basil needs! I am excited to hear the excitement, see the energy in their face and body language as they share how their gardens are growing.
Next week fair invades our county, with that comes hours of preparations to set up a display/interactive booth that shows what Rural Resources is all about. The teens take the lead roll in designing, setting up, and manning the booth throughout the week. They have wonderful ideas to show off what we do and what we offer. They will be giving out samples of produce from our garden during the week, having herb identifications, displaying interesting facts about our livestock, showing off the invasion of over 20 baby bunnies we have had at the farm this summer. I haven’t done an official head count, but we are at about 80 rabbits bouncing and jumping around in our barn now! A group of teens in business training have invested a lot of time this summer improving the housing, watering, and feeding systems of the rabbits; increasing our breeding stock; breeding; maitaining their needs; and marketing rabbits and manure. Rabbits do multiply very quickly and easily! We have plenty of volunteers who want to come and cuddle with our babies. This should be a good interaction for fair goers! The teens have also decided to do a caterpillar hunt in our fair booth. They will be hiding caterpillar cutouts in the booth, and will have a drawing at the end of the week for the person who guessed or came the closest to finding all the caterpillars that will be hidden. Pictures will follow next month of the setup. The teens are excited to share what they have learned; skills they have gained; fun they have had; and healthy food choices with others. We are also lining up volunteers that can come in and perform food preservation demonstrations. We have someone each day of the fair that will be demonstrating a variety of things – canning tomatoes, yogurt making, corn cob jelly, pestos (this should interest those teens who have humungous basil plants), infused oils and vinegars, and jams. We are excited to offer these demonstrations in an effort to educate and encourage others to get back to the roots of food preservation.
This is not close to everything we have done this month, but it is definitely some good highlights of what we are doing around food. We have had several classes on gardening topics, vermi-composting, cooking classes, preservation, business implementation, demonstrations at the farmers market, and special events at the farm. Summer is always a very productive and busy busy time of the year, as most of you understand that. Happy gardening!