The Grovestead

Farm, Family, Fun.

That’s a wrap

Harvesting corn and taking down pea trellis

It’s official: the growing season is over. First frost arrived 3 weeks earlier than average as temperatures dropped to 34 degrees overnight last Saturday. I spent the previous afternoon plucking the remaining potatoes out of the ground (60 lbs worth).

Early frost at the Grovestead

The coldest Winter in 36 years followed by a Summer-cut-short? I emailed my friend Paul Douglas to find out what was going on. His reply to my “incredulity” came in print edition of the Sunday Star Tribune. He doesn’t know either.

Chickens out on a cold morning

The close of the season brings out all kinds of reflective thinking. What worked? What didn’t? What would I do differently next year? I have lots to share. But for now it’s nice to know that the heavy lifting is over, a season of rest is coming, and the planning for next year’s garden starts soon enough.


Planting seeds

Shelling peas with Ivar and Elsie

Of all the things we grow here, I try to be mindful that our children are the most important crop. My dad (the world’s greatest) once told me that he knew he only had about 10 years to get through to us boys. After that, it would be too late. The Jesuits have a saying in a similar vein, “Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man.”

So when my role shifted from husband to husband & father, I took seriously the job of connecting with my kids, building a foundation of love and trust from the earliest possible age. It’s been said that 90% of success is just showing up. I think 90% of good parenting is just being there.

I’m also continually looking for teachable moments–opportunities to teach kindness, courage, and faith. This farm affords many such opportunities.

Last week while I was home with the kids one evening, we gathered up all the unpicked pea pods which had dried on the vine. Ivar and Elsie were excellent helpers. I would had each a section of vine and they would set to work stripping the pods and throwing them into a paper bag. Elsie seemed more interested in opening the pods and dumping the peas on the ground to which Ivar screamed in protest: “NO Elsie!”

After the pods were picked we sat down at the picnic table and shelled all the peas into a mason jar. I explained that these were heirloom seeds, which means they could be saved and planted next year and we’d get more peas just like we had this summer. It was a perfect Minnesota summer evening spent with my two favorite kids.

Ivar inspects the heirloom peas we just gathered

After we finished with the peas I walked Ivar over to a potted string bean plant which also had some dried pods. Earlier this Spring, I helped Ivar plant this bean plant indoors and we watched it grow daily. Ivar took good care of the seedling, making sure it was watered and getting plenty of sun. Eventually we brought it outside so the blossoms could be pollinated and beans could start growing, after which Ivar mostly forgot about it. But this night Ivar was able to see the fully grown plant.

I picked one of the dried bean pods and asked Ivar to open it up. “Do you know what that is?” I asked him after he had a few brown beans in his hands. He knew they were beans, but didn’t catch the significance. I explained that it was the very same bean he planted all those months ago. We divvied up the rest of the pods, Elsie not to be left out, and ended up with 14 bean seeds. Then I explained to Ivar, “You planted just one seed, but God made it grow into a big plant with 14 seeds. And next year we can plant each one of these seeds and they will grow into more plants with many more seeds. This is how good our God is, he provides for us abundantly.”

Ivar holds the beans in his hands

The lesson of God’s abundance is never more apparent than in a garden. So I’ll keep looking for opportunities to plant seeds and trusting God to make them grow.



Preserving peppers, pt 1

Fresh cayenne peppers harvested from garden

Its harvest time at the Grovestead, and that means getting creative with where to put stuff. And unless you can eat 4.6 lbs of hot peppers all at once, that means preserving them.

So I did a quick bit of research and came up with two ways to save the harvest of our hot peppers. For our cayennes, a simple dehydrated pepper was the easiest.

The first step was to cut into the peppers lengthwise. Not cut in half, just cut into to let the water evaporate.

Cutting cayenne peppers to be dehydrated

Next place the cayenne peppers on food dehydrator racks.

Cayenne peppers on dehydrator racks

Set the dehydrator run for several hours at 135-degrees. I let mine run overnight. This is what they look like when done:

Cayenne peppers after being dehydrated

The last step was to throw them in a mason jar.

Dehydrated cayenne peppers placed in mason jar

That’s it! A full jar of homegrown cayenne peppers ready for any recipe.

First apple

First apple harvested from our orchard

We enjoyed our first homegrown apple from our apple orchard yesterday. The Zestar variety ripens earlier than the rest, by the end of August. It tasted similar to a Honeycrisp but more tart. It was especially sweet since we have so few apples this year, having to pick most of the blossoms to force the roots to establish, then losing most of what remained to wind and worms.

Overall, I’m happy with our orchard’s progress. There were some mishaps to be sure, like the Harralson that got so weighted down with apples that three branches broke. Cedar Apple Rust, a common fungal disease has infected other trees but can be easily treated with a fungicide spray. And of course watering the apple trees every day with 5-gallon buckets for the first six weeks was a chore. But seems like we’ve done ok, overall. From here on out the maintenance decreases and the fruit increases.

Watching chickens grow

Comparison of chickens week one to week four

If it looks like our broiler chickens are doubling in size every week, that’s because they are. We received the box of chickens in the mail just one short month ago.  Already they’re the size of rotisserie chickens you’d see near the checkout lanes of the grocery store.

We had a few vacations this month with different family clans and had neighbors helping care for the rapidly growing chicks. Upon returning from each trip we couldn’t believe how big the chicks were getting. So far the thirty birds have gobbled up over 150 lbs of feed and they’re only half-grown.

Growing chicks in the pen

Growing chicks running

Closeup of our growing broiler chickens

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