JustPicked Farms

  (Emporia, Kansas)
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In the Belly of the Whale

March 06

In the Belly of the Whale

As I write this week, I'm sitting in an airport on my way to a conference for my "day job".  Although the conference should be interesting, I will miss my family and my "critters"; my dog, Ellie, and my hens who have no name, except for the New Hampshire Reds which are collectively called "Lucy".  The conference couldn't come at a worse time for my "real job", that is, my market garden.  If I were at home this week instead of at the conference, I would be working with Martin to complete the high tunnel, tilling the area where I will be planting peas, and starting more seeds indoors.

IMG_1265 The celery seeds I planted a couple of weeks ago are slowly germinating, with one or two small, spindly plants per pot.  The lettuce and broccoli I started a couple of days ago are already sprouting, seeming much stronger and more vigorous than the celery.  The under-cabinet fluorescent light that shines on them as they sit on my kitchen countertop is probably not bright enough to give them a good start.  I’m thinking I’ll have to set up some sort of makeshift cold frame on the south side of the barn in order to give them some warm spring sun and protection from the wind and the chickens.  After all, I don’t have any more room left on my kitchen counter, and I have LOTS more seeds to start!



During the short, cold days of winter, spring seems to take forever to arrive.  Once it’s here, everything seems to be in a rush.  Seeds rushing to sprout, and us rushing to get things ready for them; everyone rushing to enjoy the first warm sunny days.  I’m looking forward to the extra daylight in the evenings once daylight savings time is here. 

Standing inside the new high-tunnel-in-progress, as I looked up, the arches seemed like a whale skeleton around me.  This garden sometimes seems to me like I’ve hooked a whale on 10-lb test fishing line.  I’m excited, scared, and I feel like I’m in way over my head.  I’ll just have to learn to take things as they come, one day at a time.


Keep your head above the water,



The Fifth Season

February 28

The Fifth Season

IMG_1263 Some places have two seasons – the rainy season and the dry season.  Most everyplace else has four seasons – Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter.  Kansas has five seasons, and we’re in that fifth season right now.  Kansas’ fifth season comes squarely between Winter and Spring.  The nights are still cold enough to freeze everything solid, but in the daytime the 40-something temperature is just warm enough to turn the ground into a thick, soupy mess.  You guessed it, the fifth season is Mud Season.  This year’s mud season is especially muddy, due to the larger than usual amounts of snow we received this year.  A walk through the garden makes ankle-deep footprints that immediately fill with water, and leaves a person wondering if their boots will be left behind with the next step.  It is in this type of mud that we were out yesterday, trying to set up a new high tunnel that we got at Christmas. 

IMG_1262 Martin had a great idea on how to line up the poles that get pounded into the ground – he got a 20-foot long 2x4, and drilled four holes in it at the appropriate spacing, figuring that once we get the first four posts pounded in through the holes, we move the board down two spaces and pound in the next two poles.  A brilliant idea, I thought, and so I suggested that we skip the usual batter boards and string, and just get started pounding poles in using his 2x4 alignment tool.  Our son came over to help, and our daughter’s boyfriend did too, and we were making pretty good time, and got all 17 poles on one side pounded in.  Then we looked back down the row of poles and realized that instead of a straight line, they drew an arc in the mud.  Apparently the 2x4 had warped when it got wet, and the holes were no longer aligned.  So, we put up our batter boards and string, and figured out which poles needed to be pulled out and moved.  If there’s any blessing in the mud, it’s that the poles were fairly easy to pull out and move.  We ended up getting only the 17 poles on one side done that day, plus the corner poles for the other side. 



IMG_1264A day wiser, Martin and I set out this afternoon to get a few poles installed on the other side, and to get a few of the bows up, so it would at least look like we were making some progress.  It turned out the 2x4 tool still worked well to get our spacing, as long as we used the string for alignment.  Four done, 13 more to go!  Then we just have to add the top purlin, bracing along the sides, the end walls, the plastic, etc….  I hope we’re done in time to start planting!


Keep your socks dry,



Signs of Spring

February 07

Signs of Spring

One of the things I enjoy most about gardening is watching the seasons change.  People tend to think of seasons as beginning on a certain date – winter in December, spring in March, but in reality nature follows a smooth wavelike pattern, gradually becoming a little less like one season, and a little more like the next, unhindered by dates on the calendar.  In the depths of a cold, snowy January, it seems like winter will last forever.

And then the seed catalogs arrive.

Seed catalogs are truly the first signs of spring, and even though they aren’t a natural phenomenon, they are still a ray of hope – a reminder that the cold days of winter won’t last forever.  Arriving at the deepest trough of the winter doldrums, they signal the way out, a sign of surer, more natural signs of spring to come.  Other signs of spring follow quickly after the seed catalogs’ arrival.  The chickens start waking up a little earlier each day and stay out a little later each evening.  Snow turns to mud.  And then suddenly, there it is – the first little sprig of green.  Sometimes it’s a crocus, a joyful, brilliant, blooming herald yelling “Spring is Here!”  Sometimes it’s a dandelion that’s found a sheltered spot on the warm south side of a building, just a whisper of spring.   

Yesterday, I found this little weed growing between buckets I had set under the eaves of the barn to catch rainwater.  A true sign of spring.  I hope it gives you the same feeling of joy and hope that it gave me.



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