Jun 302009

Greetings from a well watered farm at long last!

Well… the title and greetings may be a little deceiving as so many things have happened since the last update! The farm was well watered three weeks ago or so when I first started trying to get this update together. Sorry that it’s been so long! Everything has been so hectic I’ve tried snatching a minute here and there to work on it, but had not been able to finish it till now. Each time I got a chance to work on the update part of the information was outdated so it was necessary to change it!

My! It was getting awfully dry as we hadn’t had any rain to speak of until a Tuesday night (more on that later in the update) a few weeks back. I wish I would have kept better track because we had even missed some of the other rains that folks around us had gotten and everything was getting extremely dry.

While we had one great week of rain once it started again, the clouds have since shut off the spigot and have just given us dribbles now and again. Once again everything is becoming quite dry as the temperatures soared up around 100 plus or minus for practically all last week until finally, Saturday night it cooled a little. It’s been cooking people, animals, soil and plants alike! During the hottest days it felt like the percentage humidity just about matched the 100 degree temperatures as well. What’s made the humidity worse is the couple of days that it sprinkled just enough to dampen the top layer of dust. A few of those scorching days there wasn’t much of a breeze so working outside wasn’t the most enjoyable. Amazing how much better the ten degree drop to the lower 90’s felt after the cool front moved in Saturday evening!

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It seems as though the pace just keeps picking up instead of slowing down! We have given several farm tours this past month in addition to the regular tours given to CSA members and customers during the CSA pickup times. One even included the Independence Garden Club. The draft horses are always popular with shareholders and other guests.

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I’ve been installing as much of the drip irrigation system as possible while hand watering everything I could that doesn’t have irrigation yet. Most of the crops seem to stay in a holding pattern during our droughts not growing much while trying to retain as much moisture as possible. Due to that fact among others, we skipped a few CSA pick ups for the first time this season. Overall we estimate that we harvested approximately 85 bushels of produce out of the two hoop houses alone this spring!

Before the rain, it was so dry I couldn’t break up some extremely hard clods where I wanted to plant a succession planting of corn. Since none of the equipment handles the clods very well I hand dug the furrows with a highwheel walking plow, hand planted the seed and used a rake to cover 1,600 row feet of corn. None of the seed came up until we received some rain and even then I was amazed it came up through those hard clods.

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The weather has been very interesting and before last week’s heat wave several fronts came through. Some days multiple fronts came through in one day although not many of them brought rain. However, Tuesday, the 9th, we had a large storm system move in that brought hard gusts of wind, very small hail (we’re very thankful it didn’t hail much) and 4-1/2″ of rain. While we didn’t time it exactly we are estimating it dumped that 4-1/2″ within 1-1/2 to 2 hours! The ground was so dry it took a bit for the water to fill all the cracks, but it finally did and we had some quick hard run off. Another blessing to the hard rain was it pulverized some of the extremely hard clods I’d been unable to break up out in the garden and brought up that last planting of corn.

The strawberry season is over now. G-Jean picked the majority of strawberries this season while I worked “on other things that she can’t do” (that’s her favorite saying to me) Mom managed to catch me picking strawberries this time.

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Everything combined has really kept us hopping and while it’s sad in some ways it’s also kind of a relief for the strawberry season to be over. Picking strawberries three to four times per week then sorting, culling and packaging them takes quite a bit of time, but my they sure were delicious! Thank you to everyone who helped us use the beautiful strawberry harvest the Lord gave us this year! We harvested well over 100 quarts of strawberries!!! Yum yum!

My “cousin” Danny and “Aunt” Donna from McAllen Texas came for a visit earlier this month and I told Danny he could keep however many strawberries he could find. The last count I had before they left was seven quarts he’d picked! I was very proud of him for sticking with it and harvesting that many! While not true blood kin (unless you trace it back to Noah) Donna has been a good friend of Mom’s for many years and Jena and I have always called her Aunt Donna. Donna has been bringing Danny out to the farm almost every year since he was a baby and it’s been fun watching him grow up through the years.

Danny helping Mary Fritzemeier and me string out T-tape irrigation for the strawberries and raspberries.

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Danny also harvested the first three varieties of garlic for me and then he and G-Jean bunched them. I had test pulled a few from one of the varieties and told Danny to go ahead and pull all that variety, but found out after he’d pulled all of it I’d not allowed it to mature quite enough… Oh well, live and learn. It is necessary to wait a while for a few of the other garlic varieties to finish maturing before we harvest them. We’re about half way through the garlic harvest.

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Garlic ready to bunch and hang.

6-8-2009 (14)

I forget from time to time that some folks who are fairly new to the farm updates and our family won’t know all the names I throw out and some of the stories behind them. For instance, my grandma, G-Jean (Imogene Mitchell) was so named by Jena (my sister) and me because when G-Jean and Granddad (my grandpa Mitchell) were foster parents, one of the young girls called G-Jean “MammaGene”. When one of the other foster daughters grew up, married and had kids, she liked the nick name so well that she taught her children to say GranaJean. Well, when Jena and I came along we shortened it to G-Jean.

Just to fill you in on our family; my Mom’s name is Deanna and Dad’s name is Steve. Mom’s folks whom Jena and I call Pappaw and Mammaw are Louis and Edna King who live in eastern Kentucky and visit us twice a year. Now that you’re filled in on the family history maybe you can piece all the names together a little easier in the updates!

Pappaw and Mammaw came for their summer visit a week ago. Here I’m giving them a garden tour.

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G-Jean has had A LOT of fun pulling carrots this year! While not as big and pretty as supermarket average carrots, these carrots are better for you, have a little more character in their variety of shapes and are just beautiful in their own right. These are the best carrots we’ve ever raised on this farm!

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Is this one or six?! He just grew a little funny!

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Attacked! We’ve been having many skirmishes all over the summer section of the garden. The fighting has been fierce and the stench has almost been over powering at times from all the gorilla activity killings. I’ve been the gorilla crawling along sometimes on my hands and knees other times just bending over killing all the squash bugs I can find. The cucumber and flea beetles are also a problem, but the gorilla hasn’t been in on enough training to attack the foe with much success of victory yet. A new method was needed to help control the out break of civilian bug activity so the top gorilla brought in some natural pyrethrin spray (derived from chrysanthemums) to help slow the pesky plant eaters.

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We also celebrated a once in a lifetime event recently. Mom and Dad’s 25th wedding anniversary was the 9th of June! There wasn’t a big “doin’s” but we did have the privilege of Mom’s maid of honor coming for a visit… Aunt Donna!!!

6-9-2009 (17)

My evener and single trees were ready for pick up from the blacksmith shop so we got those one evening after Dad got off work. We were getting ready to use them the other day, but I haven’t played with Belle and Blaze enough here lately so the girls weren’t ready to be harnessed up. Jena said she’d be willing to play with them some more to help me (and she enjoys playing with the horses anyway) to get them ready for the harness again. After one playing session Jena thought we could harness them up so within a couple of days we got Belle and Blaze all harnessed up and ready to go.

Jena’s good friend Leah was also helping Jena and I harness the horses up. When everything was set we decided to test drive them a little just to see how they were working together after not being harnessed for so long… I was glad I tried ground driving them a little as they acted very confused and I couldn’t get them to settle in and walk straight together! After playing with them and being unable to get anything to work (I was very thankful Jena and Leah were there to help keep things from getting out of hand) I asked Jena to go get a book and see how the lines needed to be adjusted. As Jena flipped through the book she came across something… I’d routed part of the driving lines wrong! Poor girls, no wonder they were so confused! When the line problem had been corrected they worked like pros!

6-17-2009 (16)

Dad and I had changed out some of the cultivator sweeps to extra wide ones and since it had been so long since Belle and Blaze have really worked consistently I decided to take it easy and toughen them back into it slow so they wouldn’t get sores and overheat. By the way, did I mention it’s been really humid and hot here lately?! Right now I just have a one horse cultivator, but with the wide sweeps and the horses not toughened in I hooked them both up and cultivated some of the wide rows. We seemed to have plenty of “horse power” up front! Jena was running the cultivator while I was driving the horses (I don’t have the simultaneous driving and cultivator operation figured out yet) and I had a few specific requests to “slow down a little please!” as the Belgians really were stepping out well.

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Jena and I took out for John Crisp’s farm, Shepherd’s Valley of Americus Kansas, to pick up some livestock supplements and natural fertilizers. We were also going after two sows and a boar that one of his apprentices, Alice, was needing to sell. Dad and I have dreamed of having some of the heritage breed Large Black hogs, but they have always been way out of our price range. Alice was needing to get out of the business quickly and was willing to sell them for much less than they were worth… Thank you Alice for giving us a start! The boar is part Red Wattle (another heritage breed of hog) and his name is Spanky. Ethel and Lucy are the two sows. We also got a head start as we believe both sows are bred now and expecting a litter of piglets!

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(Deanna’s Note: I have to admit that hogs are not my favorite critter, so I didn’t think about the fact that I hadn’t taken any photos of the new hogs till I was proofreading this update. This photo was taken as it was about dusk… I’ll try to get better photos of the hogs sometime before the next update.)

I was very thankful the hog loading party went a lot better than I’d anticipated as there wasn’t any chute to run them through. With a little coaxing of a feed bucket and helpful nudges they loaded right up into the 16-foot utility trailer we had to haul them in.

On the way home we had more excitement than I’d planned on though as we had a rear truck tire give out on us going down a fairly narrow stretch of highway! Thankfully John’s other apprentice, Ben, was leading Jena and I back from Alice’s place which is beautifully situated back off the main roads and when he saw us pull over he turned around to see what the problem was. I didn’t just do the tire in half way… Did you know it’s a funny feeling to see your tire rolling by you after you finally come to a stop? The main tread of the tire was cut off of the sidewall which was still on the rim. It was a little squirmish trying to get stopped as the tire gave out, but thankfully Jena, I and the pigs were safe. We both were very appreciative to Ben for coming back and checking on us as he had a floor jack he allowed us to use instead of the scissor jack that Granddad’s truck has!

One well shredded tire coming right up!

6-10-2009 (57)

Mom’s turkey poults came in a couple weeks ago! Here they are enjoying a cube of hard boiled egg. Mom boils the eggs, blends them up in the food processor, freezes them in ice cube trays and feeds a few cubes at a time as a protein boost for the turkeys.

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After raising so many chickens for several years it’s always fun to have a few turkey poults each year. They are so funny to watch! The main purpose for us raising the turkeys this year is for grasshopper control in the garden. So far turkeys have been the most sure and quickest natural control we’ve found for grasshoppers.

Jena has been trimming for clients for some time now and it was fun to hear a story she told the other day. She’s been trimming a horse for some folks that had severely foundered. After trimming the first time or two she told the owners the hooves weren’t healing properly because of the rich grass diet. Per Jena’s instructions they pulled the horse off of the pasture and put her in a dry lot with hay. Jena has now trimmed the horse twice since then and this past time Jena said there was a huge difference in the hooves and she’s making great strides toward trimming it to be a healthy hoof!


Another side note of Jena’s accomplishments is on her natural horsemanship training. She and Leah have been going through the Parelli Natural horsemanship program which is basically a home study. They decided to have Leah’s brother video them playing with the horses and send it in for the Parelli faculty to assess where they were in the study course. They managed to get the video in for assessment for free just before the price shot up to $50 per video assessment!

There are 10 levels and the founder of the program, Pat, only considers himself to be a level 8. He can do some very amazing things with the horses. Each level is broken down into sections such as riding and online ground skills with the sections further subdivided into three parts such as “Level 1”, “Level 1+” and “Level 1++”. Jena has been studying the program longer than Leah so had a little head start, but they were hoping to score somewhere in the level one category. When Leah got her report back she’d scored Level 2 and Jena got a level 2++ on ground skills and the faculty noted she had some level three things coming along! Our family is proud!

Jena and Leah have taken Tally and Storm for rides/walks on our farm and some small hills a neighbor owns not far away and it about looked like they were moving out with all the equipment they took!

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Tally was having a good day so Jena decided she could really get up in the world… that’s Jena standing on Tally’s back at the top of the hill!

Jena and Leah have also been helping with vaulting (basically gymnastics on horse back) classes put on by Equine
Eagles in Independence and they took a one day clinic as well. Since then they put together a program and performed it at the Equine Eagles Festival!

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Unfortunately I was unable to attend Jena and Leah’s vaulting performance as I was at an auction that Saturday. There were several things I was interested in at the auction, but some items went beyond my price range. Most of the things I did get need to have some repair done to them… All we needed was another project!

Dad had a three day weekend recently! Dad has been working on the horse drawn mower pretty much by himself evenings and weekends and has been finding a lot of helpful tuning tips from Lynn Miller’s book on repairing sickle mowers. In fact, Dad has been finding so many things out about the sickle mowers that he decided to pull our old 9’ tractor drawn mower out again that we’d given up on, deciding it was “shot” and beyond repair, just to see if he could find out why it wouldn’t cut the last time we tried it. After looking it over we decided it was a wonder the poor thing had cut at all as long as it did! There seemed to be more wrong with it than right in the tuning department although nothing so serious that we couldn’t recalibrate it with our watch making tools, (a hacksaw – our cutting torch wasn’t repaired and boy have we been missing it!, welder, 36″ pipe wrench, some rock bars, 8 lb. sledge hammer and approximately a 12 lb. splitting maul, numerous 1/2″ drive sockets with long handled ratchets, punches and many other miscellaneous necessary tools). It seems like we always end up dragging out half the garage before we’re done fixing a project.

6-15-2009 (9)

By the end of Dad’s long weekend we were able to get the tractor sickle mower ready for a test run and the cutter bar finished up on the horse drawn mower. Dad and I have worked on the horse drawn mower a little more since then and have taken it on a couple of test drives. There is still some fine tuning we need to do. The tongue and tongue assembly still need to be replaced so we’ve been test driving it with the tractor and short tongue that came with it.

We cut a little hay last week, but lost several days due to mower and tractor problems. I hope we’ve about got everything lined out now except for the flat front tractor tire! One problem all started when I checked the hydraulic oil in the tractor and managed to drop the spout of the two piece funnel down the fill hole…sigh… By the time we got everything done related to that incident we had the hydraulic system cover apart twice and had to take the PTO shaft out to retrieve the funnel spout. Lost a day and a half of haying right there since Dad worked on it after he got home from work and then again on Saturday.

Mulching the tomatoes has become high priority to help conserve moisture, suppress weeds and get everything ready to cage them! Since I was unable to plant all the warm season crops in a timely manner due to all the mud slogging wet weather earlier they are running a little behind this year. It would be nice to have some of that mud again!

Feeding the tomato plants with a natural fertilizer while…

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…G-Jean hoes…

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I’ve been unrolling big round bales of hay between the tomato rows and discovered that our little baler sure
doesn’t make near as heavy a bale as some of these newer big round balers! I bought some mulching hay this past winter and my those things are heavy! I could start our own round bales unrolling by hand, but there’s no way I could start unrolling a few of the purchased round bales by myself. I decided to cheat a little though and got the Kubota and used the bucket to start rolling the bale down between the rows. After the first layer has come off I can generally hand unroll the remainder of the bale.

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Enjoy this breath of a little cooler temperatures!

Farmer Josh and the Mitchell Crew


Hay Report: So far we’ve put up about 104 bales of mixed grass hay during the hottest week of the year thus far. As the hay season progresses we’ll try to keep you updated!

Bloom Report:

Several colors of beautiful day lilies!

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Arizona Sun Blanket flower (gaillardia)

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Small pink roses.

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Calla Lilies

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There have been several colors of beautiful hollyhocks!

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Yellow yarrow (the wild yarrow is white)

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May 252009

Berry sweet greetings to you from the strawberry patch!

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The strawberries have jumped ahead of my anticipations and have begun to give us lots of wonderful, fresh, sweet, juicy strawberries! We are now taking orders for strawberries which will be available on a first come first served basis. We do have strawberries available NOW! You may just swing by to pick up strawberries tomorrow, Tuesday between 5 and 7 pm., but if you would like to ensure us having some for you feel free to call and reserve as many as you would like. All strawberries are available on a first come first served basis.

CSA shareholders have been given first chance to preorder these berries, now we are opening it up to everyone. If you would like strawberries from our garden I suggest you place your order ASAP because berries usually "walk out the door" quickly!

Unfortunately strawberry season is usually quite short lasting only about two weeks. I expect this to be the peak week of harvest. Strawberries are very dependent on the weather which could vary the season considerably.

Strawberries are $4 per quart or $2.50 per pint.

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It’s been busy to the very extreme since the rains have stopped. We’ve been getting the ground worked and ready to seed, transplant and all the other details related to that! For the first time we ran T-tape (drip irrigation tape) along the rows we were transplanting. The transplanter was set up for unrolling the tape, but needed some slight modification to make it work better.

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Jena is our transplanter acrobat!

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A week ago last Friday I finally got around to spreading a little compost, but after the spreading the second load I noticed one of the drag chain bars had bent and was broken about half way through. I was thankful I’d caught the problem before it broke completely as it could have caused major problems.

Saturday Dad fixed up the cultivator with wider sweeps so we could get a higher percentage kill on weeds as we cultivated. After CSA pick up Dad and I hooked Belle to the cultivator and tried it out. The soil was slightly sticky at first, from the 1/2" rain we’d received the night before, but by the time we got everything cultivated it was just perfect.

Dad and I also worked on the sickle bar mower a little and filled the gear case back up with oil. I discovered we are going to need to replace the oil seals as they’re now leaking. I’m wondering if moving things around caused the old seals to break. Better to find it out now than when we’re out in the field mowing hay!

Dad and I test drove the manure spreader before using it in earnest to make sure everything was working properly.

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By Monday I was able to get back around to spreading compost again, but discovered the manure spreader has to be left wide open. Some gear teeth on the main drag chain gear had been broken off and if the amount you spread is cut back the mechanism that holds the gear can’t catch a good tooth to turn the drag chain in one particular section of the gear. It still worked great and so did the Kubota for loading and spreading! When I get a chance (famous last words on a farm) I plan on checking to see if the gear off the old manure spreader will fit the one I’m currently using.

It will sure be nice when I get the manure spreader set up to be pulled by the horses. Then I can load up the spreader with the Kubota get off, hop up on the spreader and drive off with the horses!

My evener and single trees should be ready for pick up, but I haven’t had time to go by and get them from the blacksmith’s shop as every moment I could spare has been taken up getting the planting done. I’m literally running nearly a month behind due to the weather!

All the goat kids are ornery as ever!

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Granddad wanted a tiller that he could handle a little better, so he went to town and bought a new one that he can use as needed.

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Jena and Leah gave Storm a bath this week! While he wasn’t overly thrilled with the idea he did ok and afterwards he was shining!

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It looks like we may have the best crop of carrots we’ve ever had! Our heavy clay soil doesn’t grow very good carrots, but we planted some shorter varieties and placed them in an area where we’ve had decomposed shredded leaves.

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Between all the regular chores, CSA and daily tasks we’ve been picking strawberries and boy what a pleasure that has been! G-Jean has said this is one of the best strawberry crops she’s seen in several years. Despite helping her Dad pick 5 acres of strawberries during her growing up years G-Jean still loves picking and caring for strawberries!

Hard to imagine, but we’re in need of some more rain now! A good soaking 1" of rain would prevent me from needing to start watering this week.

Most of the plants shown in this picture are now transplanted out in the garden!

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The list of transplants in the garden now are: Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, a few varieties of summer and winter squash, sweet potato slips along with the cucumbers and okra which didn’t like the transplanting… We have the transplanter set up so it waters the plants some as they’re transplanted, but I didn’t get them watered a second time soon enough so a lot of them died. I will replant in the blank spaces with seed ASAP.

Our first planting of beans and corn were a crop failure so I need to plant some more beans (already replanted some which are now coming up) and more corn.

After deserting her nest the mamma killdeer has come back and laid another batch of eggs!

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Hope you have a great week and enjoy all this beautiful sunny weather!

Farmer Josh and the Mitchell Family Crew

Bloom Report:

A couple beautiful types of iris

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Tuber false dandelion (Pyrrhopappus grandiflorus – wildflower)

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The apache blackberries are blooming well this year, but I’ve been very disappointed in the other varieties so far… I hope they will still bloom more this year, but if they do the berries may be so late they don’t do any good.

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G-Jean’s beautiful peonies and a rose bush

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Another rose picture

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A couple of Granddad and G-Jean’s foster kids, Fred and Gloria, which Jena and I had never met before, came by and visited from Missouri this past week! I believe every one had an enjoyable time and Granddad and G-Jean loved "catching up". Notice the rose bush in the background as well!

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The sage is blooming

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Our first potatoes have started blooming now… Won’t be long until we’re harvesting new potatoes!

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Egyptian walking onions with their "seed head" of bulblets

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Yellow sweet clover and red clover

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The broccoli hasn’t been heading up right and has basically gone straight to bolt instead of forming a nice head. Beneficial insects love the broccoli blooms though.

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My cover crop of hairy vetch has started blooming amongst the rye grass as well.

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Mom’s purple clematis has been beautiful this year!

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