The hot dry end to summer gives our garden a boost. The heat is reddening up the Jimmy Nardello sweet Italian frying peppers, ripening the tomatoes, and giving the melons some size.The latter is an exciting addition to Quiet Creek’s table. Past success with cantaloupe and watermelon has been limited. The hi tunnel experiments yielded some small sweet butterscotch melons, but never a good watermelon. The only decent watermelon ever grown at Quiet Creek came from a volunteer spit in a contest at Spring Fest years back. This stray prompted the melon growing committee to try outside growing. Early this spring, we started a lasagna garden on a chunk of lawn by our honeybee hive. The twenty by forty foot patch mowed short, then covered with large pieces of cardboard donated by the local appliance store, and finally topped with wood chips is now yielding beautiful fruit. Initially we waited three weeks before transplanting seedlings into the layers. This time allowed the grass to be smothered, the soil to warm up, and the moisture to reach maximum capacity. It was a slow start, but by July there were plenty of melon blossoms. Throughout the season, intern Jeremy squashed bugs and top dressed the plants with worm compost. His hard work paid off last week when he picked three very sweet cantaloupes. There are plenty more waiting to ‘slip’ from the vine when ripe. The watermelons are doing fine as Rusty patiently learns to harvest them appropriately. The thumping test fooled him twice, although they were devoured with no problem by the boys. His next method is to wait until the white spot on the melon where it touches the ground turns orange, not yellow. Another good indicator is to watch for is the green curly tendril closest to the melon stem to turn brown. If waiting for ripening and a chance of frost may occur, be sure to cover them with a tarp.After the final harvest, the melon committee plans to cover the patch with more cardboard, leaves, and compost to prepare for next summer’s crop. We want to be sure to enjoy plenty of sweet, juicy melons.
Don’t Have a Cow
Our intern Jeremy is soon moving back to his home city of Detroit. His urban farming plans are formalizing at the dinner table and the livestock issue is quite entertaining.
The poultry options are not paltry. Exotic chickens offer colorful eggs, but chickens will scratch up his garden beds and peck his fruit. Guinea fowl don’t carry these negative traits, but they are territorial and do have loud vocal tendencies. Ducks will eat slugs and lay eggs, but beware of their numerous, slippery deposits. Indian Runner ducks may be worth the effort since their upright waddle will provide many laughs.
The age old adage “which came first the –the chicken or the egg” problem will not be a problem. There will be fowl and then eggs. Milk, however, is an argumentative issue. Rusty, a recovering dairy farmer, states if you want a milk animal, you’ll be married to it seven days a week, twice a day. Rusty is an advocate of local, raw milk, but not owning a cow.
Jeremy has learned how to make cheese and yogurt here in Pennsylvania and is dependent on the rich supply of quality vitamins and protein. He attempted to track down a “cow share” since selling raw milk is illegal in Michigan, but the closest one was a hundred mile bike ride, round trip.
Goat milk is looking promising, although a determined goat can jump a six foot fence and create a nuisance by eating the garden, shrubbery, and miscellaneous household items.
Sheep milk is apparently good for making cheese and water buffalo makes the best mozzarella. These animals are somewhat uncommon in Detroit as well as Quiet Creek.
For a meat source, the afore-mentioned fauna will satisfy, but maybe a pen of rabbits sounds appealing. In addition, they will provide manure for feeding red wigglers who will offer worm compost for growing vegetables.
That brings the discussion back to Quiet Creek’s one and only recommended animal – the worm... not great for meat and/or milk, but super powerful for any herbivore in the city or the country. We wish Jeremy the very best in all he and his five thousand worms do to promote urban gardening for the disadvantaged.
opter Cutter Last Friday the farm was in a flurry of activity. Rusty was canning tomatoes, Pearl was planting winter greens, Claire was preparing fruit leather, and the boys were riding their bikes. The crisp fall silence was broken by the boys’ excitement as they announced a calamity coming from the sky.
At first it sounded like a low flying aircraft, then a tree trimming crew, and finally a monster. Within seconds the integration of all three emerged over the hill. As the deafening monster grew closer it lifted high enough to reveal whirring discs at the end of its pole. Along the electrical transmission line skirting Quiet Creek’s property, it was a helicopter with its giant hedge trimmer hovering just above the tree line blasting the forest wall. It seemed as if a tornado was careening the tree line, but instead high speed saw blades.
The five of us stood in amazement at the skill and the agility of the helicopter pilot. What a dangerous and bulky apparatus to maneuver so accurately near the power lines. As quickly as the “Death Blade 2000” had appeared, it completed its task and flew away directly overhead.
On our way to church Sunday morning we spotted the helicopter camped out in our neighbor’s field. Later that day we stopped to have a closer look. The cutter was mounted to the copter on the end of a 75 foot pole and contained ten circular saw blades each with a 30 inch diameter.
Eric, our neighbor, a commercial pilot, shared his air strip with the trimming machine from North Carolina and informed us that the helicopter could trim steep hillsides where trucks could not easily go. We appreciated the fact that no herbicides were used to poison the trees along with the smaller forest shrubs, insects, birds, and ground water
Business is back to normal, but we never know what lies over the next hill.
Will the Real Kim Chi Please Stand Up
As fall stretches on feeding us short beautiful days and long cold nights, we prepare for the inevitable – winter. All our canning jars are full (please drop off any unwanted ones), so now we are freezing, drying, and fermenting.
A fermented staple in our larder is kim chi. This is a Korean sauerkraut which has become a daily tonic for the Quiet Creek family. Interns, visitors, and our boys eat a tablespoon daily to keep the doctor at bay.
We’ve developed our own kim chi recipe over the years using fall produce. With a base of cabbage, we chop in kale, broccoli, radish, beet, carrot, celery, and/or onion. This crunchy blend is flavored with whey, hot pepper, sea salt, garlic, and ginger. It sits in glass jars for three days on the counter at room temperature. Lactobacillus bacteria found in the whey, air, and vegetable skins ferments the combo into a spicy, tangy, and textured condiment.
Korean friends from church have tried Quiet Creek’s kim chi. They politely smile, and shake their heads saying “thank you, but not real kim chi.”
Last week we invited the Kim family over to learn their technique.
Jen, Jung, Isaac and Joyce enthusiastically accepted our offer. They brought their authentic hot pepper paste made with fish sauce, garlic, a hot, sweet pepper, and rice water. We supplied the Napa cabbage, daikon radish, leeks, and carrots. The result was REAL and incredibly delicious. Claire and Walker couldn’t stop eating it.
Now our winter storage is stocked with many fermented products: Pearl’s purple kim chi, Lucy’s miso, Rusty’s cheese, Claire’s sourdough bread, and the Kim’s brilliant orange kim chi. We look forward to winter, a great time for eating.
Prepare Ye the Way
For those of us dreaming of next year’s gardening season, there are a few things we can do to get a jump on spring. First, if you want garlic next July, it is time to stick it in the ground. Try spacing the individual cloves four to six inches apart. Quiet Creek recommends lots of worm castings when planting your largest cloves from this year’s crop.
Secondly, if you want a no-fuss-early-planting bed next spring, choose a piece of lawn or field now. Mow your future food plot as short as you can, leaving the grass clippings lay. Next you will need to cover with a layer of newspaper (4 to 5 sheets thick) or better yet use large chunks of cardboard. It’s best not to use any glossy colored paper in the garden; it may contain heavy metals in the ink.
Next put six inches to a foot of leaves, manure, straw, wood chips and/or compost on top of the smothering layer to hold it down. This will decompose into great soil. By doing this in the fall, the grass and roots will die leaving organic material to attract earthworms that will slowly digest the mulch material above.
By the first of June, this area should be primo to plant watermelon, squash or most any other garden vegetable. Simply dig a hole and pop it in. No need to plow, roto-till or double dig. Another layer of mulch can be added if weeds threaten the area.
Your spring chore list will be reduced and your soil food web will be actively building by the worms and their friends.
Return of the Victory Garden
There is a renewed interest in vegetable gardening. Perhaps a generation has passed without exposure to hands-on lessons of this pleasure. Please allow us to share basic advice on our experience granted by our parents who lived the Victory Garden era.
Start small, if this is your first garden in awhile, or ever. No need to plow up the back forty acres. Go for quality, not quantity. A half dozen well-spaced, well cared for tomatoes will yield a greater harvest than twenty crowded, neglected, sprawling plants.
Keep your garden as close to your kitchen as possible. You’ll find you use and enjoy it more. Next, choose vegetables you and your family will eat, that are adaptable to our growing zone, and are easy to maintain. For example, Rusty has grown okra and artichokes, both with limited success because they need extra hot weather and they weren’t his favorites. Gardeners tend to baby the veggies they love.
Choose seeds and plants wisely; there are numerous sources for heirloom and organic seeds. “Heirloom” varieties are open-pollinated meaning their offspring will produce seed that mimics the parent plant. It also means the seeds have been passed down through many generations because of their great flavor. Using heirlooms may not give you the ability to ship the produce 3000 miles across the country, so more for you and the local market.
Hybrids are fine to grow. They are defined as two varieties of the same species cross-pollinated. The only drawback, if you are a seed saver, is that their seed will revert back to one of their parents and/or grandparents.
Genetically modified (GM) seeds have been spliced with genes from other species and/or other kingdoms. The health risk to humans of ingesting GM seeds and/or eating animals consuming GM seeds is a possible cause for inflammation (heart disease, arthritis, asthma, and some cancers).
Look for the “Safe Seed Pledge” in the front of the catalog or on the website. These companies vow to keep genetically modified seed out of their inventory, although research is showing this is becoming a difficult task. What a great reason for all of us to collect our own seed, if possible. The label “certified organic” will guarantee no GMs.
Stay away from fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides on and around your seeds. Instead, be proactive with garden pests. Try fencing off your garden from large pests – rabbits and deer. Row cover helps rid the smaller ones, such as whitefly and flea beetle. Companion plant orange/yellow flowers, marigold or calendula, to attract beneficial insects that will eat the bad boys. If you mulch with newspapers and cardboard, you will battle the weeds, conserve water, and attract earthworms.
Please have fun, involve the entire family in planning, planting, and munching. Preserve the excess and enjoy the fruits of your labor year round.
Let that Sink In! Thirteen seasons ago we began remodeling Quiet Creek with reusable items. The large sliding door on the barn was replaced with two swinging doors removed from Great Aunt Martha’s garage from the 1960’s. What gems!
Their twelve panels of bubbled swirled glass reside next to the six pane door gifted by brother-in-law Joe. The second floor of the barn enjoys a support beam from brother Frank’s one hundred year old log cabin. Thus the journey began --reusing and rebuilding.
Mrs. “Sweet Thing” Willis offered some treasures from her attic and garage. Three old doors and two sinks recently were pulled out of storage and became handy fixtures highly admired by all.
Specifically, a corner sink, her husband Joe had saved from a hospital remodeling project, works perfectly in the shop. The sink stamp reads March 16, 1954 which seemed ancient to Walker and Ashton, but Rusty felt young standing beside it.
Sister Maryellen donated a sink that Rusty has been sizing up for the basement. He’s not quite sure if he’ll install that one or the one he recently salvaged from his father’s barn. The porcelain beauty came from his grandfather’s house with a stamp dating 10-27-99. Knowing that it had been collecting pigeon excrement since 1980, the ’99 was a sure 1899. Grandpa Orner renovated his bathroom in 1930; so it likely was removed from another after thirty years of suds.
We predict five generations of hands will be washed in that sink, thanks to the “reusing” mentality of many folks. Let’s continue the legacy of passing down high quality items from one remodeling project to another.
ABC's of Sugaring
Rusty spent last week showing, Alice and Kevin, Quiet Creek’s newest apprentice couple, the ABC’s of maple sugaring. To begin the lesson, the A’s consisted of acquiring tools, appropriate atmospheric conditions, accumulating sap, and the unplanned accident.
Rusty’s dad contributed his three by five foot evaporating pan, as well as a hand brace for drilling holes in the maple trees. The crew acquired tubing and connectors from the plumbing shop and glass gallon jars from Angelo’s Pizza.
The appropriate weather appeared, a cold night followed by a warm day, causing all of our juices to begin flowing (especially the maples). We headed to the woods with our wares when Ashton tripped sailing a gallon jar. It picked the only rocky spot on the path and it crashed. No one was injured, and we graciously accepted the lessening of one of our taps.
Ashton’s accident was a blessing in disguise as we attempted to push a dull drill bit into a tree. The progress was slow but steady; fifteen minutes later sap was drip, drip, dripping into the bottom of the jar. Six taps later and almost dark, we tucked the boys into bed with visions of pancakes soaked in syrup dancing in their heads.
Alice and Ashton joyfully accumulated several gallons and stored them in our refrigerator ready for Saturday slated for ‘B’oiling day. A cement block pit with metal roof was erected with hot coals from the wood burner. Even in the pouring rain the sap in the evaporating pan began to steam. Alice continued to add her collection, but by evening we were down to half a pan.
We charged up the fire with new wood and went to bed. At five thirty a.m. Rusty awoke to check the process and here begins ‘C’onsternation.
As he approached the site he noticed a sweet burnt smell and said, “Crud!” The liquid had evaporated completely, even with the fire out. The center of the pan was crispy but the outside perimeter was crystallized candy caramel.
The trees are still flowing and we anticipate more chances to produce maple syrup, until then, we love the sweet ‘D’elight found from our ABC sugar adventure.
Since moving to Quiet Creek thirteen seasons ago, many fruit trees and bushes have been established. Apple, apricot, blueberry, and gooseberry have all been traditionally spaced in rows, so many feet apart. Even our few plum varieties were planted similarly. Today the boys enthusiastically helped Rusty plant another plum orchard with a whole new approach.
Fruitless efforts by other growers have prompted experimental spacing and pollinating of various Asian and American plum hybrids. The most recent discovery comes from an article written by Professor W.H. Alderman from the University of Minnesota. He states, “Very few hybrid plums will accept pollen freely from other hybrids, but they all accept pollen from native plums.”
Our plum distributor, Fedco Seeds and Trees, make claim “this is the breakthrough we’ve all been searching for.” Fedco growers recommend planting hybrid plums in clusters with native plums, three to six feet apart, so branches intertwine and co-mingle. Fedco offers over a dozen varieties. No personal space needed for plums, although they will still need pruned to allow for ample air flow. Select a well-drained site with lots of sunshine for the plum blooms. If the plum curculio, a small insect pest, becomes a problem, try an organic control by spraying “Surround”, a powdery coating that protects the leaves from insect damage. With decent pollinators nearby, “Surround” may not be needed.
The boys are excited to try this clustering experiment with hopes of sinking their teeth into juicy treats for years to come.
As spring progresses, we find planting at Quiet Creek accelerates. Vines, trees and bushes, ordered months ago, when the snow was blowing, are now arriving in bundles impatiently awaiting nutrient-rich soil.
Rusty’s eyes, sometimes larger than his allotted space, must adjust to finding an appropriate home for his adoptees. Fortunately for the grapes, he knew there was plenty of vining potential under the arbor Joe built last summer for his school project.
Grapes are easy to grow when offered proper room and board. They prefer soils that are well-drained with plenty of compost. Full sun is a must and extra heat is appreciated by placing them near a stone wall or building on the south-facing side.
There are plenty of good grape choices for western Pennsylvania. Rusty is trying Bluebell, Chontay, Reliance and Somerset cultivars, plus a few cuttings from his Dad’s hardy concords.
Bluebell is a dark seeded grape ripening three weeks earlier than Concord. It boasts immunity to most or all fungal diseases.
Chontay is a Midwest variety that is good for fresh eating. It is very reliable and hard producing loose clusters of large purple fruit.
Rusty enjoys the convenience of seedless grapes and found the hardiest one listed, Somerset. It is described by Fedco as “a crispy texture and great flavor.”
Reliance, another seedless variety, finds a spot in the garden because of its promise of “tender melting sweet pinkish-red fruit with a strawberry like flavor.”
For best grape production, try the Four-Arm Kniffen system. To begin, these vines are planted as a single stem, six inches long, with two or three buds. Next year the vines will be pruned to a single stem, six feet long and trained on wire from three to five feet off the ground while allowing six buds on each wire. On the third year, select eight canes, four for each wire, while removing the rest. Tie two canes to each wire, one in each direction. Cut these four canes back to ten buds and the remaining to two buds each. Finally on the fourth year of production, be sure to remove last year’s fruiting canes and select eight new ones and repeat the procedure from the prior year.
This pruning technique is a bit complicated but well worth the effort. We invite you to Quiet Creek to witness grape pruning in action and enjoy some tasty treats from the vines.
The garden work above ground is coming to an end. Tomatoes have succumbed to the blight, peppers are sharing their last bit of color, and the beans are squeezing out a few tender pods.
Underground there is plenty of work to be done throughout October. Bulbs, tubers, and roots will occupy our dry days in both harvest and planting.
Top of the list is the root harvest. Sweet potatoes are dug immediately after a light frost or before a pending heavy freeze. This year’s crop looks promising since Rusty worked in a generous amount of sandy compost to the bed before planting in June.
Another sweet root is the carrot. Some are dug now while others remain in their beds covered under mulch outside or under two covers inside the low and hi tunnels. Right beside the carrot is the beet and the Daikon radish ready for chopping into the spicy Korean sauerkraut called Kim Chi early November.
As for bitter roots used in medicine at the farm, the Echinacea and burdock will be harvested after a frost and made into tinctures to build the immune system and cleanse the liver, respectively.
On the ornamental side, the showy red Dahlia distributed evenly around the deck need to be cut down and their tubers carefully lifted out of the ground and placed on bread trays on our cool, dry basement floor. They will rest there until next June.
In between harvesting the many root crops, we are planting garlic and flower bulbs, particularly tulips. We saved the biggest heads of our July garlic and by mid-October we’ll place individual bulbs three inches deep and six inches apart. As for the spectacular tulips, Rusty recommends planting them annually in groups of five to a depth three times the size of the bulb.
The hard work this fall is returned throughout the winter with preventative medicine, with a colorful spring, and with delicious produce year round. Let’s get digging!
Rusty and Claire Orner, with their two sons, Walker and Ashton, are stewards of the non-profit educational organization, Quiet Creek Herb Farm & School of Country Living in Brookville, Pennsylvania. They can be contacted at