Summer of Turkeys

Reader Contribution by Bill Hakanson

The growing season is almost over up here in northwest Pennsylvania. All that’s left is a final squeeze of honey and a harvest of buckwheat. It was a good year.

Temperatures were above average, and the rain seemed to come just when we needed it.

In July we took about five gallons of honey from the bees. It is now September which is usually a good month for the honey crop but it’s been cold and the bees are not working very hard. However, we must reduce the hives and get them ready for winter, so we’ll take what they have.

Brother Duane’s been great with the bees. I’ve been hearing horror stories about how many colonies folks have lost. The State Inspector lost 90…all he had. And he told me of a commercial keeper who lost 1700 of his 1800 hives. A visit with two neighboring beekeepers revealed they both lost all of their colonies last winter. Virtually every one I’ve talked to had great losses.

Last year we went into winter with six hives and came out on the other side with five. Duane divided some hives, captured a swarm and we now have eight. Three of our hives swarmed again and we gave them to our friend Dave who came out of winter with just one hive. He’s had hives for a few years now and never harvested any honey, so this gave him a boost.

He now has four good colonies and harvested about four gallons of honey a few weeks ago. Duane tended Dave’s bees all summer and even helped hand crank the extractor to render the honey.

In May we were picking asparagus. We’ve grown asparagus at our previous two suburban properties, but this was our first year for that vegetable on this land as it takes three years in the ground for the plants to develop the strength to produce. What a treat!

In mid June the black raspberries began to ripen.  The timing was perfect as our children and son-in-law were here for a short visit. Especially great was the fact that daughter Gretel gave us the plants as a gift three years ago and she was the first to pick.

When the raspberries dwindled, the blueberries ripened. We picked blueberries from June 22 to September 7th affording me fresh berries every day.  We have 25 mature plants and 25 juveniles and harvested about 250 pounds. From what I hear, that’s peak production.

As you know, growing organically means you must tolerate bugs that attack what you grow. While we have some organic repellants, they don’t do the job of chemical bug repellants…but obviously they’re easier on the environment.

Therefore, I had problems with my three sister’s garden. But everything else produced well. More on 3 sisters later.

Last year we raised a dozen chickens. This year we sprung for four bronze turkeys and ate the first burgers for lunch today. They were great!

Originally I was going to convert all four into burger after hearing that suggestion from my Amish friend. Along the way we decided to keep two in their skin and bake them for turkey dinners. We also kept the breasts of the other two, and therefore only converted the legs, wings and misc. meat trimmings into burger. I have about a dozen patties. I used a hand grinder, and it seemed to take forever to convert, but the end result is delicious.

The turkeys were purchased in early June and harvested in early September. We got quite a bit of meat from these birds in three months.

Next year, goats???

Sharing the greenhouse with the turkeys I raised peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, cantaloupe and cabbage. The cabbage worms destroyed these plants so I fed them to the turkeys. The tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers produced very well. We harvested only one delicious cantaloupe from the two or three plants we grew…not great. We believe the tomatoes, peppers and eggplant did well in the greenhouse because they grew in soil that was fertilized by my dozen chickens grown there last summer.

In the beds in front of the house we raised beans, more tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce, onions and cucumbers. Again, the tomatoes were very productive. We used an organic spray to delay late blight and it worked. Last year the blight hit so early it wiped out the tomato harvest. This year I think we got some blight, but it was so minor and so late that we still harvested all the tomatoes we could use. The biggest problem we had was the fruits were so many and so large the stakes didn’t’ hold. The plants slid to the ground, but still produced aplenty.

I made sauce from some of the tomatoes. Wife Lynne canned a bunch. We gave some to friends, we ate them in salads and sandwiches, and Lynne is now drying some.

We grew one bed of potatoes and were somewhat disappointed in the productivity. Each plant produced only two to three spuds amounting to one half bushel. We’re not sure why. Perhaps it was the source of the starters.

I’m not sure what happened to the onions. One thing; we did not get them in the ground until late. I let the bed go to weed. We ate many as green onions. I think the soil in our beds is not yet great for this type of crop. We’re working on that.

The beetles got more from the cucumber plants than we did.

Beans were excellent….green and purple. We got plenty and they were very tasty.

In the beds that are perpendicular to the house we grew kale, beans (for drying), ground cherries, garlic, and broccoli. Everything except the garlic produced well. Like the onions, I think our beds are not conducive to growing good garlic and need work. However, we’ve planted garlic again in a bed that I tilled, mulched and fertilized and we’ll see if this helps in production.

I planted a small wheat field and was very happy to eat bread made from wheat grown on my own land. We harvested about 150 pounds in a 100 x 25 foot patch. This was a great experience going through the process of soil prep, planting, harvesting, winnowing, and milling.

Back to the three sisters. This is the second year for this experiment. This is how the Iroquois Indians planted. Growing corn, beans and squash in mounds in the same bed about five feet apart is symbiotic. It’s also a lot of work. Building the mounds, and I had to plant the corn three times as the black birds pulled the sprouts out of the ground and ate the kernels. This delayed the planting of the beans. The squash bugs ate most of the pumpkin sprouts. And the weeds took over.

I’m thinking of going mainstream next year and just planting corn and pumpkins in separate plots.

At this point, we’re getting the beds ready for next year. Most of the plants have been pulled; the beds are mulched with hay then covered with aged Tennessee Walker horse manure. In years past we’ve used prized Percheron, thorobred and goat manure. We like Tennessee Walker the best because it’s the only one we don’t have to shovel into and out of the truck. (The owner loads it with the bucket on his tractor.)

In mid October, we’re going back to south Texas for the winter…letting the garden rest until next year.

all photos by Bill Hakanson

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