New Seeds for a New Year

Temps went over 60 today and Lily and I took advantage of the strange weather to uncover all the high tunnel beds, tear out spent crops (careful to save green plants for the chickens), seed new crops, and water.  What a wonderful way to spend the last day of the year.  Lillian put her new reading and writing skills to good use making markers for the new crops. We planted claytonia, Italian dandelion, radishes, carrots, kale, mache, bunching onions, onions, and shallots.  We also harvested carrots by the handful, radishes, spinach, kale, and beets.  The high tunnel was a glorious 72 degrees and it was wonderful to work together and get dirty.  We tossed some of our carrots into the pot of corned beef and cabbage and knew it was the end of and start of a good year.

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A Few of My Favorite Things

Here is a post of some of my favorite things relating to the farm.  They have helped my workflow in big ways and may inspire you.  A nice way to end the year.

  1. Plastic Colanders.  I have about a dozen and could use more at the height of picking season.  We use these to gather and store eggs, to pick berries, and to pick, sort, wash, and store veggies.  Open my fridge in summer and they are everywhere.  Very cheap.  I have a variety of sizes, but nothing too big.  I use half bushel baskets for harvesting the big stuff, but take 2-3 of these out with me for picking so I can pick the smaller items (berries, mini cukes, cherry tomatoes, etc.) and keep them from getting turned into jam by the time they get to the house. At the height of the season, I may take a larger plastic bucket with me–using the colander to pick and then emptying it into the bucket.
  2. <em>Half Bushel</em> Picking <em>Basket</em> With Handle - Quantity of 12 - Color ... Half bushel baskets with a handle.  My dad gifted me a dozen of these and I love them.  I can fill them with tomatoes, cukes, summer squash, etc. and bring them up to the house.  I also use them to store veggies and fruit until I get it processed (frozen, canned, or dried).  I also send these baskets full of produce to the restaurant.  Invaluable.  Don’t get the kind without a handle! For me, half bushel is perfect.  A full bushel is hard to maneuver and lift.
  3. Canning Jars. This is a no-brainer.  If you grow it, you need to use it, store it, or gift it.  I can a lot.  Canning is not hard, and I think everyone should do it.  Try this: somehow, get your hands on some fresh canned peaches.  Compare the taste to grocery store canned peaches.  Hard to believe they are even the same fruit.  Home canned food is summer in a jar.  Besides canning produce, I use the jars for storing dehydrated food, flours, leftovers, and on and on.  The possibilities are endless. I try to use jars in most contexts where I would reach for plastic bags or containers.
  4. Wagon.  I use my daughter’s red flyer wagon, because that is what we already had.  If you garden in a big way and your garden is not near the house, you are going to need something to move baskets of produce back and forth.  I use this all the time whether I am carrying plants, tools, baskets, etc..  There are many good garden carts out there, but, if you can, re-purpose something you already have.  At the height of the harvest, I may have 2 half bushel baskets in the wagon, smaller colanders nestled inside, and another full half bushel in my hand.
  5. Stirrup hoe.   Also called a loop hoe.  Can be hard to find in local stores.  This hoe glides under the top of soil, taking out weeds and aerating slightly.  It is much easier to maneuver than a traditional hoe. I use it for weeding and also for preparing beds for planting.
  6. Food Dehydrator.  I am lucky enough to have this bad boy–the Excalibur, but other models work fine too.  The dehydrator is the savior when your counters are covered in produce.  I love to dehydrate green peppers, apples, pears, tomatoes, greens like kale, and some berries.   I also use it for herbs.  Sort of chopping and throwing into a freezer bag, dehydrating is as easy as it gets.
  7. Atlas Nitrile Gloves.  These are amazing.  They fit like a second skin (my stubby, chubby hands wear a small), are dipped in latex to protect hands, and they can be purchased online for under $4 a pair (worth 5 times as much to me).  I own about 8 pairs and always have them handy.  I wear them all the time in the garden and for farm chores.  I love the form-fitting dexterity they offer.  They are never in the way.  I can even use my iPhone while wearing them.

There is no end to this list, but these are the the ones that jump to the front in my mind.

Christmas Sustenance

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Yes, we had many presents, a very excited little girl, and all the rest; but we also had a breathtakingly beautiful white Christmas with 6 or so inches of fluffy snow on top of what we already had.  The chicken portraits were inspired by my new zoom lens.  We also had a beautiful platter of FRESH veggies picked today!  I took a picture of my harvest basket nestled in the snow.  Absolutely amazing.  The word sustenance has been in my head all day.  The sustenance of home-grown food even in the coldest winter and the sustenance of our souls and our family on this Christmas day. I thought of all the eggs those ladies have “donated” to the sustenance of our bodies and the hours of enjoyment they and the goats provide us. I gave the goats and chickens my best rendition of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.”  Insane?, perhaps, but I think they enjoyed it.

Now, Paco is on his way out the door with a big basket of carrot, radish, and beet trimmings for the chickens and goats.  Sustenance.

Gingerbread Village

We went all the way with our gingerbread house this year–creating a whole North Pole scene.  My thought was that the experiences of Christmas will last much longer and serve us better than the gifts, so we went all out.  I do buy prebaked kits–one of the corners I let myself cut around the holidays. Check out our fun as we created Santa’s workshop and the elves surrounding shops.

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Gingerbread success

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When it comes to Lillian’s favorite holiday treat–gingerbread cookies that are dairy, gluten, and soy free–I have tried a new recipe each year and have never found a great one.  This year, we struck gold.  This recipe, tweaked for her restrictions, worked like a charm. I also used my new silpat and roul’pat from Demarle.  This is not a commercial for them, but I purchased them, in part, for the ease of working on a  completely nonstick work surface (the roul’pat is a work-mat). Gluten free doughs are, in general, stickier, and more brittle.  Working on the Demarle products was wonderful.  Here is what I did:  Separated the dough into 2 balls and chilled them overnight.  I rolled 1 dough ball out onto the roul’pat and then cut out the cookies.  Instead of removing the cookies, I removed the extra dough from around them. I placed a silpat (the nonstick silicone and glass baking mat) right side down on top of the cut cookies.  I then flipped the mats (cookies in the middle) over onto a baking tray (perforated Demarle baking sheet) and then carefully peeled the roul’pat off the top of the cookies–leaving the cookies on the silpat and baked them.  It was Lily’s idea to cut out tiny animals and place them on top of the hearts.  It’s beautiful and the tiny cookies we easy to pick up and place. The flavor is wonderful.  These bake into a very crisp cookie and she loves them. Here’s the recipe:

  • 1 cup superfine brown rice flour    (I only use Authentic Foods brand)
  • 1 cup arrowroot starch   (tip: buy this in large containers at Gordon’s Food Service if you have one nearby)
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger (use 1 teaspoon if you don’t like a heavy ginger taste)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoons xanthum gum
  • 1/2 cup blackstrap molasses
  • 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/4 cup softened butter or shortening (I used spectrum shortening–a dairy and soy free option)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350 F degrees

 

  1. Sift all dry ingredients together and set aside
  2. Cream shortening (or butter) and sugar, beating on high speed for 3-5 minutes until light and fluffy.
  3. Add molasses and vanilla and beat until combined.
  4. Slowly add dry, sifted ingredients to butter mixture and beat just until a stiff dough forms.
  5. Separate dough into 2 balls, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill overnight.
  6. Roll and cut dough as listed above (without Demarle products, use some rice flour to dust your work surface and work in smaller batches–the more chilled the dough, the better)
  7. Bake for 10 minutes in preheated oven, or until cookies are firm to the touch. Decorate if desired.

(Santa likes these too)

Batten Down the Hatches

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This post is a bit overdue.  Winter hit big time about 8 days ago.  We had about 4 inches of snow, but the big story has been the deep freeze around here.  Early December lows are uncharacteristically low.  We have had nights in the single digits.  What does that mean for the farm?  It means it is time to batten down the hatches.  Here’s what I mean:

Chickens have been shut into the barn.  If the days get in the 20’s we go ahead and let them circulate in the “common area” of the barn, but keep them closed up inside at night.  We use two stalls and attempt to get one rooster and approximately half the hens in each stall.  Stalls have been equipped with hanging feeders, metal water founts sitting on warmers so the water won’t freeze, and heat lamps–2 per stall.  They also have more roosting areas thanks to Paco and fresh straw.

The goats have been brought into the barn as well.  The goats are quite hardy and have their nice fluffy winter coats on.  We brought them into barn for several reasons.  First, most of their natural browse is gone.  Multiple hard freezes and snow cover have left them without green stuff to munch.  Second, we could not get the outlet in the lean-to to work and therefore had no way to keep their water from freezing over.  Third, we like to keep them in the barn through the worst of winter for their health and comfort but also because it makes it easier for us to do chores if the goats and chickens are together.  So, the goats have their own stall with hayrack and their water has a float in it to keep it from icing over.  The goats, at least for now, have the run of the common areas as well as their stall.  We are giving some hay but also supplementing with alfalfa cubes as well as their usual “granola.”

The goats and chickens keep good company, but we do make it impossible for the goats to enter the chicken stalls. The chickens can join them in the common area, but we have to keep the goats away from the chickens’ feeders.  The goats would happily eat every shred of grain we give the chickens.

The dogs have the entire milking room (was a tack room) of the barn to themselves.  We got their plug-in water bowl set-up for them, put in a heat lamp,  and are keeping the barn door closed.  They have a doggie door entrance.

The high tunnel is a different matter altogether.  Since this is year one, I consulted an experienced friend when we were facing the first night of arctic temps.  I had already pulled lightweight row cover over the beds a few weeks prior.  I added to this by pulling heavy weight row cover over the tops of the more susceptible crops.  I think we did pretty well.  Looks like most of the lettuces are gone as well as the broccoli, but kale, swiss chard, carrots, onions, beets, parsley, cilantro, spinach, and mache are all struggling through.  We are supposed to be warming up starting today (highs in the 30’s and lows in the 20’s) and them plunge back down on Sunday.   I plan to let things in there defrost thoroughly and harvest as heavily as I can.  Because of the very short days, there is very little growth.    What is there is about all there will be until late February/early March.  I have been told that the even if lettuces and other greens die back, they will resume growth in a few months.  It sure has been amazing to have fresh salads and greens in our stews right through the freeze and snow.  I dread the days (which are right around the corner), when I will be forced to supplement our meals by buying fresh veggies.

Yesterday, I pulled the last of the broccoli plants out and tossed them into the common area of the barn.  The goats, as well as the chickens, feasted happily.  Such a lovely reminder of the usefulness of just about everything on the farm.   It brings me joy to experience the cycle of life so intimately.  In those moments, I know that I am living an honest, balanced life.