A Really Good Day

50’s outside meant 70’s in the high tunnel and plenty to harvest.  What a wondrous day for the last day of January.  Once I got done with my have-to’s in the AM, I made an executive decision to ignore my need-to’s in the house and spend a few hours working in the high tunnel and the garden.  I was richly rewarded.  Salad greens, edible flowers, and Jerusalem artichokes will be heading to the restaurant with the chef tomorrow.  The weekend’s Jerusalem artichoke chowder was a sell-out hit.  It was great to get my hands into the earth and go treasure hunting for them. Mother Nature does a great job of keeping them crisp and fresh for whenever we need them.  The “candy carrots” are sweet and crisp.  In addition to the harvest, I loved seeing a dandelion in the high tunnel and some beautiful magenta kales.

Roast Beast

Just like the Whos in Whoville, Our Christmas feast included roast beast, in this case–leg of lamb. We also had roasted carrots glazed with cider molasses (a thicker version of our cider syrup) and mashed potatoes. This meal came mostly from our own backyard with the addition of a beautiful grassed leg of lamb from Thistle Byre Farm. I marinated the lamb with olive oil, fresh rosemary, fresh thyme, white wine, garlic, salt, and pepper. The carrots are Napoli carrots from our high tunnel. These are Eliot Coleman’s much lauded “candy carrots” that are sweetened by some heavy frosts and freezes. I harvested them along with some beautiful Jerusalem artichokes on Christmas Eve. The artichokes are heaped with compost in their outdoor bed. Our mild winter made it quite easy to harvest them. The carrots were amazingly sweet and lovely. These holiday gifts from our own farm were a beautiful celebration of the day.

Here’s the official breakdown for the Dark Days Challenge:

Our own farm:
Carrots
Potatoes
Thyme
Rosemary
Garlic
Chicken broth (for mashed potatoes)
Parsley
Apple cider molasses (home canned from Markle Farm cider)

Thistle Byre Farm:

Leg of lamb

Non-local Ingredients:

White wine
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper

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A Brand New Harvest

As of this week, Small Wonder Farm now produces some of it’s own mushrooms.  My Back to the Roots oyster mushroom kit has started producing.  It took a lot longer than I expected. but it is amazing to see how fast they grow.  one of our nephews is a very accomplished mushroom farmer and he inspired me to give it a whirl.  I want to grow mushrooms with my 1st graders at school as our winter harvest project and now I know it works.  Lily, although wowed by the growth, continues to be a staunch anti-mushroom eater.  More for me and Paco.

Dark Days are Here

This week we kicked off the Dark Days of Winter Eat Local challenge. Don’t know about the Dark Days Challenge?  Follow the link above.  Over 100 bloggers and others will be presenting their local meals on a weekly basis and the recaps will end up at Not Dabbling in Normal.

At our house the challenge is further complicated by the fact that we eat gluten, soy, dairy, legume, corn, and fish free (those are just the highlights) due to our daughter’s food allergies. I know of a few grains I can get locally, but when it comes to making sure I am stocked with GF certified oats and specialty flours like tapioca and sorghum, I turn to our local co-op and natural foods store. The GF oats used in this recipe come from Bob’s Red Mill via our local food buying co-op.

We kicked off the challenge with a meal of maple meatloaf, sweet dumpling squash, and roasted tomatoes. The maple meatloaf I make is based on the recipe from The Gluten-Free Goddess–one of my go-to sources for allergen free recipes. I pretty much followed the recipe, but did not make the glaze.  The addition of our own tangy ketchup was a delicious substitution. Everything in this meal was already in my pantry or harvested fresh from our farm. These products were from our own farm:

Eggs
Carrot
Parsley
Rosemary
Ketchup
Garlic
Onion
Tomatoes (some of the last of those picked green from the high tunnel that have been slowly ripening on the kitchen counter)

Products from other local producers:
Ground beef from This Old Farm
Sweet Dumpling Squash from Markle Farm
Maple Syrup from Middleton’s Maple Farm and Longhouse Farm (we do make our own but have gone through all of it)

Other items used: olive oil, spices, GF oats

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This was a meal I prepped in the AM since I taught that day and my daughter had an after-school art class.  I set the oven to come on at the right time, left the squash in the oven, and my husband (home first) just had to take the meatloaf out of the fridge and put it in the oven.  I put the tomatoes in when I got home and we ate about 20 minutes later.  Instead of trying to open and scoop out the squash before baking, I placed them whole into a shallow pan with some water in the bottom, covered tightly with foil, and baked.  After letting them cool off a bit, I opened the tops as if to carve a pumpkin and scooped out the seeds.  Worked like a dream and those squash were the sweetest I have ever tasted.

It was wonderful to eat so many things that we knew originated in our backyard, but also to know and be friends with those responsible for the beef, squash, and maple syrup.  There is a level of respect you have for your food when you produced it and/or know the hard work of those who did.  Meals like this are a reason for Thanksgiving every day.

The Larder

Definition of larder according to Merriam Webster dictionary:
1: a place where food is stored : pantry
2: a supply of food
Larder.  I like this word.  It seems to encompass the idea of a real food supply.  Today, pantry most often means a few shelves of boxed mixes and canned foods.  A larder is food security.  A larder gets you through.  A larder is independence.    A larder is a rebellion against processed food and the industrial food machine.  Heck, a larder is a revolution. Every time a big snow is expected, people run to the store to buy frozen pizza and milk.  We hunker down and eat real food.
The larder is complete here at the farm.  A lot of hard work, planning, sweat, and tired limbs went into this year’s larder, as always.  The payoff is well worth it and the process is even more worth it.  My larder, a back porch taken over for food and equipment storage, with the addition of a chest freezer in the garage, is full to the brim.   Tomatoes, peaches, apples, blueberries, cherries, tomatillos, cider, grape juice, pears, relishes, pickles, beets, peppers, myriad jams, and more line the canning shelves.  More canning jars hold dehydrated food and herbs. Mesh bags are full of onions, garlic, potatoes, apples, flint corn, sweet potatoes, and butternut squash. Other staples that can be purchased locally like honey and buckwheat flour are in there too. The freezer is full of berries, roasted and peeled poblano chili peppers, lamb, pork, chicken, and beef.  Other staples have been purchased wholesale–like rice, oils, various flours, and nuts.
The majority of our food for the year is here right now.  I certainly will not buy meat until next fall.  We are still harvesting from covered outside beds and the high tunnel.  I am picking broccoli, radishes, lettuces, spinach, Jerusalem artichokes, kale, chard, dandelion greens, mizuna, collards, mustard greens, celery, carrots, beets, arugula, parsley, and pansies. I am pretty sure my fingerling potatoes are at a harvestable size, but am letting them keep growing while we enjoy our summer potato crop. We are still eating the last of the cherry and slicing tomatoes as they slowly ripen on the counter.  When they are gone, we won’t have another “fresh” tomato until next summer.
Winter meals are pretty easy when you have an organic supermarket in your house. Today we had roast chicken with home-grown root veggies, home canned peaches, homemade biscuits with chocolate cherry jam, and just picked broccoli.  Home is the unifying word here.  I know what was in everything because I made it all.  With the exception of the biscuits, and some of the jam ingredients, all of it came from our farm.   A meal like that is more than food, it is sustenance.  It is a meditation on self-reliance. It is a celebration of life and honoring of the dead.
The pictures show the farm as it is now, heading into winter.  For the first time ever, we have really cleaned up the outside gardens. They have all been cleared, mulched with a mixture of compost and garden mulch, and seeded with cover crops to reduce erosion and improve tilth.  We planted more fruit in our orchard as well. We added a fig, cherry, and Asian pear trees to our orchard as well as 2 more grapes.  that brings us up to 3 apples, 2 cherries, 2 pears, 1 fig, 2 peaches, 8 grapevines, 4 blueberry bushes, 2 aronia bushes, strawberries, and too many raspberries and blackberries to count.

The Proof is in the Pictures

There is so much happening now that only pictures can convey it all and are all I have time for.  I will be picking the first zucchini this week and cucumbers won’t be far behind. I harvested the last of the cabbage and lettuces yesterday.  I also saw the first pepper yesterday and picked the first handful of raspberries.

Note the vast difference in the tomato plants grown in the high tunnel and those outdoors. 

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A Good Farm Day

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I was laid low over the weekend by pain and intense heat, so it was wonderful (and sorely needed) to get out yesterday early AM for three hours of harvesting and weeding. Here is what I am harvesting now:

fingerling potatoes (Russian Banana)

purple, orange, white, and orange carrots

kale (Lacinato and Fizz)

Rainbow Swiss Chard

strawberries

onions (Bridger–harvesting them all and they are drying on the driveway)

purple bunching onions

cabbage

celery

basil (Mammoth and Genovese)

parsley

nasturtium flowers

leaf lettuce

For supper last night, I used all of the above to make a green salad, antipasto plate, and stir fry. It was delicious and oh so nutritious.  Everyone loved it and Lily got creative with her rice noodles.  Kale, strawberries, chard, and carrots went to the restaurant with the chef this morning.

High Tunnel Update

Now that it is May, I think an update on the high tunnel is in order. I could not be happier with it and am so glad we have it. We enjoyed fresh veggies from the tunnel all winter. Nothing grows in January and most of February due to lack of light, but we were still able to pick spinach and carrots. It’s amazing to me that the kale and spinach I seeded last August have fed us from September to now and are still going strong. The only crops that were sown in fall and did not winter over was the lettuce and broccoli. Here are some of the crops that have done particularly well:

Spinach–sown in August and picked through the winter, still going strong

Lacinato Kale—ditto

Arugula–I planted a fall bed, ripped it out in March because it got woody and seeded another patch

Swiss Chard–fall crop did great, died back almost completely in the harshest winter weather and then some came back–interestingly enough the plants that came back were the white veined ones

Claytonia–sown 12/31 and harvesting heavily for the past month, still going strong

Strawberries–transferred “the volunteers” from the main garden in September and we started harvesting this week! The bed outside is just starting to flower.

Cilantro–I’m have blogged about this previously. Cilantro overwintered and we were able to harvest in the fall and then again in late March. Now, I am starting to rip it out as int gets overgrown and am planting new plants outdoors.

Carrots–perhaps one of the best crops. I seeded them in August and more in late September. The August planting was perfectly timed. The carrots were sweet and beautiful. I was able to harvest through the winter and the ones we seeded on 12/31 are growing beautifully. The ones seeded on New Year’s Day are getting close to harvest.

Onions–we have been harvesting bunching onions through late fall and still are. The “Bridger” onions from Johnny’s Seeds sown last fall are already knob sized and will give us a nice crop of early storage onions.

Peas—the peas seeded on New Year’s Day are producing now.

Potatoes–I planted some fingerlings in very early March and they are big and beautiful. They look like outdoor plants do in late June. Flowers will be here shortly. Interested to see how quickly we can start harvesting. Between these and the beds of storage potatoes outside, we should have a nice staggered crop. Stay away potato beetles.

And more–we also have had numerous radish harvests, have beautiful cabbages and broccoli coming along, and are picking dandelion greens, raddhicio, and chicory as well.

Lettuces–stunning and almost no bugs. Sure seems to me that one of the greatest advantages to high tunnel growing is the early start you get when the insect pressure is very low or even non-existent.

The only true fail we have had is our plastic has been badly ripped on one side.  We did not do enough to secure the plastic that meets the ground on each long side. The crazy March winds tore it badly.  I took this kind of hard until I found out that one of my neighbors greenhouses had all the plastic torn off by straight line winds.  That was the night that the tornado hit about a 10 minute drive from here.  I now count us lucky that is all that happened.

This week we rolled both sides up and took the plastic of the ends.  We ran green fencing to keep the dogs out.  The summer crops started to go in about a month ago.  It is amazing.  Here are some photos I took yesterday:

Claytonia

Claytonia, also called Miner’s Lettuce (among other things), has been a great high tunnel crop.  Lily and I seeded it on new Year’s Eve and have been harvesting it heavily for months now.  It’s a wonderful cold weather crop and it has wonderful succulent leaves.  Tiny flowers from in the cup of the leaves and are edible as well. It is best eaten the same day it is picked.

In the photo, Lily is planting tomato transplants into the high tunnel.

Cilantro Season

When you think cilantro, you think tomatoes, jalapeños, and heat.  Tomato, onion, cilantro, and chile peppers are indeed a match made in heaven, but gardeners know that cilantro does not like the heat.  Not only did the cilantro I seeded last fall in the high tunnel winter over, but it is growing like gangbusters now.  I assumed I could harvest a bit last fall, that it would winter kill, and I would reseed this spring.  I was amazed that it made it through the very harsh winter.  When it gets really hot, cilantro will bolt and go to seed.  At least with the high tunnel, I can enjoy it fresh now and through early summer.

I had to behead it this week to keep it under control.  I found an Emeril Lagasse recipe for cilantro pesto and tried it out today. There are many recipes out there.  The recipe called for 2 cups of packed leaves, so I doubled it to use up my bounty.  The picture of the cilantro growing above is what is left after 4 cups of leaves were harvested. The cotija cheese and pumpkin seeds were easy to find at one of our local Mexican markets.  Pumpkin seeds, or pepitas, are used often in Mexican cooking.  It turned out fabulously!  We were shocked to discover that it does not taste very cilantro-ey.  It is a mild pesto with a unique and marvelous flavor.  I put some into tonight’s lasagna and plan on tossing some gluten-free gnocchi in it for dinner tomorrow.  I put 2 half-pint jars in the freezer and one in the fridge.  Canning, even pressure canning, is not recommended.

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An interesting side note, our goats Stella and Horton love cilantro.  Who knew?

Workday in the High Tunnel

 

Before the work begins

It may have snowed last night, but in the high tunnel it is spring.  The photo above is the “before” picture.  Thanks to being ear infection free and Lily being back in school after strep throat, I got a very needed work day.  For a glorious 2 hours I weeded, harvested, and planted in the high tunnel beds.  It is amazing to me everything that made it through the extreme cold of this winter.  Many of the seeds Lily and I planted on New Year’s Eve are coming up now.  The very late fall sowings of arugula are now taking off.

Below is a video tour of each bed mad after the big cleanup and planting is done.  The focus isn’t always great, but it gets the job done.

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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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.

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.

Eternal Spring

Thanks to the weather’s flirtation with freezing this week, the plastic was put on the ends of the high tunnel and we rolled the sides down.  Yesterday’s low was 37 and high 59.  At 2 PM , the high tunnel was a warm 87–with the screen door open on either end. 

I was able to remove the floating row covers from everything yesterday and gather the first harvest.  Spicy arugula, tender leaf lettuce, and baby beet greens.  I kep enough for a wonderful dinner salad and delivered a pound of arugula to be mixed into salad greens at the restaurant. 

When I got to the restaurant, I gave hubby/chef a big hug and kiss.  I cannot imagine a better present than the ability to bask and work in the eternal spring of my high tunnel.  I will be able to provide fresh produce for our family and the restaurant.  More importantly, we will be able to enjoy this farm in a whole new way all winter long. 

Here is what is planted:

Beets: Chiogga, Ace, Detroit

Lettuces:  Many, many

Spinach:  Bloomsdale, Olympia

Arugula

Chicory

Radicchio

Swiss Chard: Neon lights

Lacinto Blue Kale

Radishes: French Breakfast, Cherrybelle, and Black

Carrots:  Napoli, Little Finger, Dragon, Paris Market, Purple Haze

Onions: Evergreeen Bunching, Crimson Bunching, Italian Flat, Bridger

Parsley

Cilantro

Broccoli: Waltham

Peas: Sugar Ann

Mache: Vit

Worth a try:  Green Apple Cucumber, Genovese Zucchini

Chicken Daylight Savings Time

In order to have hens lay well throughout the winter, they need to have about 12 hours of daytime.  Each year, we dust off our timers and set the lights in the barn to come on at 7 AM and go off at 9 PM.  This true signal of fall on Small Wonder Farm  keeps things running smoothly.  Some let nature runs its course and give the hens the winter off.  They will still lay occasionally, but nothing close to production of longer light-filled days.

Our chickens, no matter how we revere them, are domesticated farm animals.  They need us and we need their product.  We feed them throughout the winter and I have no qualms about adding a little extra light to their days in order to get eggs.  I think their quality of life is probably enhanced.  Less time spent in the dark sitting and more time up and about doing the things chickens love to do. 

Domestic farm animals are not wild animals.  Over many generations, we have created symbiotic relationships with them.  Farming itself, is an act with one foot in “culture” and another in “nature.”  Culture, or “civilization” is the world we inhabit with it’s spiderwebs of concrete, huge box stores, climate controlled environments and the cars we use to race back and forth between these controlled environments. “Nature” is state parks, mosquitos, oceans, and all that stuff we see in on Animal Planet. Many of us that have the good fortune to live in affluent countries are so detached from “nature” that we forget our true dependance on it.   Farmers have a very real idea of the paper-thin and wavering line between the two.  Every time we pull a weed, plant a seed, turn a light on for a chicken, we confront that intersection of self and nature.   It is exactly the active grappling with that line that makes the pursuit so fascinating to me.  I know I can’t control nature.  I can guide my garden, guide my livestock, and make the best choices I can with the limited resources given to me.   I can use morality and common sense in caring for “nature” in a sustainable and intelligent way.

Yesterday, I stood in the garden doing the tedious work of picking raspberries.  I wondered if this piece of the planet is better off due to my decision to plant those berries.  The wall of green brambles is a very busy place for pollinators, is the favorite hide-out of our garter snakes, provides cover to bunnies, and is now a hangout for “wooly bear” caterpillars (saw 4 yesterday) as well as being a favorite of japanese beetles.   If left to her own devices, nature would likely provide all that on her own–maybe more.  I don’t think my meddling with my raspberry desires was a mistake, however.  We can get all the raspberries (and more) that we could ever want and nature can feast and seek cover as well.   In the case of the raspberry patch, I think I balanced the line of culture/nature quite well. 

Now, if I had chosen that spot to build a mini-mart, I think we all lose.  I wish every person who seeks to extract resources from “nature” would try harder to straddle that line. 

As for the chickens, some extra light is a decision that, I think, works for both them and me.

Phase 2 of high tunnel complete and late summer on the farm

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The high tunnel has doors and framed ends. Phase 2 is complete.  Phase 3 will be adding the plastic and the hardware to secure it.  There are now 4 3X12 feet raised beds thanks to hubby and an employee, Felix.  6 more beds will fit.  So far, 3 are planted with:

Broccoli, Arugula, 5 varieties of carrots, kale, snap peas, zucchini, cucumber, 2 varieties of spinach, parsley, 2 varieties of beets, and lettuces.  The zucchini and the cucumbers might be a long shot, but it doesn’t hurt to try.  I will also be planting strawberries.  And more!

High Tunnel–Phase 2!

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Here, you can see phase 2 well on its way.  The metal posts for the door frames on either end are up.  The hipboards are on–the double wood furring strips along the long sides.  The hip boards will allow us to roll the plastic up to that point during warm weather–to avoid cooking our crops.  Phase 2 will be done when the doors are on (generic storm doors) and the ends are framed.  After that, we will just have to attach plastic and the channel that locks it onto the frame.  Today, another run to Home Depot for door framing lumber and enough lumber to make 4 raised beds (for starters) in the high tunnel.  We will build 4 beds–each 3′ x 12′ and 6″ deep.  Yahoo!!  More dirt for me to play in.