Archive for August, 2010

Independence Days Update: When the Rain Comes

Sharon August 24th, 2010

I worry about rain a lot here, but not usually this way. Most years, we get more than 60 inches of rain, including reliable, regular summer rain.  Last summer we had more than 45 inches of rain *between May and September alone.*  The previous year the summer was more moderate, but included at least two storms with more than six inches in under 2 hours, and the expected flooding that accompanies this.  I worry about rain - but not about too little rain.

Except this summer. I woke up the day before yesterday to a day of steady rain, and I literally couldn’t remember the last time I’d awakened to rain, or we’d had a real rainy day.  This summer has been very hot and very dry - we’ve had less than 10 inches of rain from May to August, which is very unusual. I know for many of you that would be ample, but remember, our vegetation isn’t designed for that little.

To give you a sense of how little I usually worry about rain, let me note that in the 7 years my main garden has been in the front, we’ve never bought hose enough to reach the back half of it - that is, I’ve never, ever watered that part of the garden, except the occasional sprinkle on new seedlings.   This year, we got hose.  After all, I had just planted the back end of the garden with wetland medicinals and native plants to take advantage of the dampness - a dampness now completely imperceptible.  My direct seeded fall crops mostly either didn’t germinate or withered in the heat and dry weather, despite regular waterings.

But mercifully, starting Sunday, the rain came and it rained more or less nonstop for two days.  It is cool here now, and moist, and more like what we expect here in summer. 

The good news about the heat and drought is that we are having the best year we have ever had for peppers, eggplant, tomatoes and okra, which means your blogiste is spending much of her time over a canning kettle and laying things out in the dehydrator.  The good news about the rain is that now we’re not having heat and drought anymore ;-)

The kids see the rain primarily in terms of their creek and its wildlife - the waterbound portions of which were dying off pretty rapidly.  The boys were thrilled that the rain would fill up their creek and save the remaining crayfish and minnows - they are there right now getting filthy, examining the life in the creek, and probably annoying the heck out of  our great blue heron who considers that new life his private preserve.

Me, I’m grateful for the sake of everything - and looking forward to weeding in the coolth and canning in the same.  It is amazing what a difference a rainy day or two makes.

Jessie kidded in the wee hours of the morning on Monday - a single buckling, which was pretty amazing given her size.  It wasn’t even that large a baby.   I admit, I was a little disappointed, since I particularly wanted one of Jessie’s daughters this year, but this is one of those “win-some, lose-some” things that goes with agriculture.  I have explained to Jessie how she can do better next year - twins and does and not making us wait, and I’m sure she listened carefully and will take my comments under advisement ;-) .  Her baby has her adorable snub nosed face, and I’ll put up some pictures soon.

We are now officially done with kidding for the year (woohoo!) with a final count of 10 babies from 6 does (Tekky, who may or may not be pregnant, or may or may not be infertile or may or may not have been pregnant early and aborted is a big old question mark, but in any case, not having anything anytime soon, and is living with the boys), five does and five bucks.  We’ll be keeping one wether and one buck, and selling the other three wethers, so I’ll put info up about the boys ASAP if anyone wants adorable, friendly pets, lawnmowers, horse companions and brush clearers.  We’re retaining all the does, as we build up and improve our herd, but will have milkers and babies for sale in the spring.

Things are busy here otherwise - lots of preserving and late season garden work to do.  Eli is on vacation, which is not his favorite thing, so that takes up time too.  We’re getting our firewood and hay in this week - once a year we borrow a pickup truck from my friend Elaine who owneth the sheep, and use it to haul all the things we need a truck for.  Putting 200 bales of hay (some of which is for bedding, other for fodder) into the hay barn is a project in and of itself - good exercise, kind of fun, but a project.  Although before we do that we also have to clean out the hay barn, replace some of the broken pallets the hay rests on, and figure out where the rabbits are going to go (they are getting a corner of the hay barn this year, instead of living in the main barn because Phil-the-housemate is allergic to them - he can stand coming in for a few minutes to feed and water them when we’re away, but can’t do all the chores in the main barn if the buns are there.)

Mom and Sue came to visit last week, and as usual, Sue went around fixing things and making them work - she built a hinged cover for the hay feeder to keep the hens from nesting in the goat’s hay.  Whenever Sue is visiting we get proof of what slackers we are.  We had this enormous board on top of the hay feeder which was incredibly heavy and awkward and a huge pain to move for umm…two years.  And although we occasionally thought “maybe there’s a better way” it wasn’t until just recently that it actually occurred to us that we didn’t have to lift that enormous thing every single time we needed to put in hay.  It was just what we did ;-)

I’m convinced that there are two kinds of people in the world - the kind of person who says “that window is broken, I can’t stand that, I must fix it today” and the kind of person (both Eric and me) that says “Oh, bugger all, that window is open, ok, we’ll just open the other one.”)  I think our failure to be the first kind of person explains a lot about the flaws in our lives ;-) .  I’m just grateful to know the other sort!

Plant something:  Lettuce, bok choy and arugula.

Harvest something: Tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, onions, carrots, beets, okra, potatoes, green beans, kale, chard, collards, cabbage, parsley, cucumbers, peaches, raspberries, milk and eggs.

Preserve something: Made tomato sauce, tomato puree, canned whole tomatoes and salsa.  Dried sweet corn.  Made the last of the rhubarb sauce.  Dried sweet peppers, made hot sauce, made salt-herb mix.

Waste Not: Composting, feeding of things to other things, picked up scraps for chickens from friends while we were passing by, scavenged my first bag of leaves from the roadside.

Want Not: Bought new farm notebooks for record keeping when the kids got their school supplies - Simon the cartoonist keeps stealing mine and drawing in them. 

Eat the Food: Stewed okra and tomatoes, lemon garlic pickled onions, stuffed tomatoes with pesto orzo…love this time of year.

Build Community Food Systems: Working on a new project - more soon!

How about you?


Moby Goat

Sharon August 20th, 2010

The goat birthing is just about over here, which is both sad and good.  Good because I have stuff to do, sad because there’s nothing like new life in the barn.  So far the result is 9 kids - 5 does and 4 bucks from 5 does.  Mina the Milk Truck brought us up to 9 with a beautiful pair of twins, a doeling, Poppy and her twin brother, Hemp (well, we said we were naming them after herbs, right?).

We’re waiting on Jessie.  Now you’ve got to understand that Jessie, while gentle and unobtrusive in personality, is not a slim goat.  She’s a bit of a beachball most of the time.  Right now, she’s huge - I mean, huge.  These goats aren’t that big, you know, so when they are pregnant they look like they are going to burst anyway, and Jessie is the roundest of all.  She’s also apparently decided she likes being pregnant and doesn’t really plan to ever have kids.  Most of our does kid between 144 and 148 days (Nigerian Dwarves run a bit earlier than other breeds), Jessie at 151 days is serenely happy with her present state and simply uninterested in giving birth (this is still within the normal range, so we’re not worried).  Hey, she can still reach the food, right?

Jessie also likes to act as though she’s going to give birth.  Labor signs in goats are a little ambiguous, but most of them have some discharge, go apart from the other goats, and seem a little abstracted at the least, and we’ve always been able to tell (for everyone but Maia, whose only advance sign of delivery both times was the sound of amniotic fluid bursting as she delivers her kid - in about 30 seconds).  Jessie, however, is the mistress of faux-labor.  She has vaginal discharge.  She gets abstracted and goes off by herself and paws the ground.  We get excited and say “today is the day” - and then half an hour later, she’s off grazing or hanging out on the extra milking stanchion letting the baby goats climb on her back.

Nah, I think Jessie is just not interested.  And I sympathize a bit.  With Eli, with my first child, I went overdue by two weeks.  And while there was a part of me that longed to have this over, there was also an inner sense that most likely, as uncomfortable and unpleasant as all this was, he was probably easier to take care of inside me than out.  As it got further and further from my due date, you’d think I would start feeling that birth was more pressing - in fact, it was the opposite - when Eli didn’t come and didn’t come, I gradually began to feel he never would, that maybe I just had to get used to this huge belly of me, and was faintly relieved.

Which is why I think Jessie has just decided to live her life as Moby Goat - every time we say “it has to be today” she says “nope, sorry, it really doesn’t have to be, so there.”  She remembers from her first kidding that babies are a lot of work.  Why not just get comfortable as the goat the size of the moon?


Food Preservation Q and A

Sharon August 17th, 2010

Ok, folks, ask me anything you want about food storage, food preservation, etc… and I’ll endeavor to answer!  Free for all - ask what you want!


Independence Days Update: Waning Summer

Sharon August 16th, 2010

Looking at the forecast I’m hopeful that the worst of the blazing summer is behind us - we’re still very far behind on rain, but have gotten enough to sort of make do.  While the hot dry weather has been wonderful for things like tomatoes, okra, hot peppers and melons, I’m pretty much ready to be done with it, especially since teh canning is getting pretty heavy duty.

I picked a bushel of tomatoes today to put up, and I only stoppped because I didn’t want to deal with more than a bushel.  Then I got a phone call from my favorite local farmstand, where I forgot I’d reserved myself several bushels of tomatoes earlier in the season, thinking I might not have this good a crop if thigns turned wet and cool (last year I didn’t put up nearly enough, so I was hedging my bets) - guess what, they’ve got those three bushels of tomatoes for me.  Oops.

So salsa and ketchup, sauce and whole tomatoes it is.  If you are looking for me, I’ll be behind the canning kettle.  There are also the cucumbers, but I’m in denial about those for the moment.

Yesterday was my 38th birthday, and it was not wholly successful.  First of all, I’d spent Saturday night up with a laboring goat.  This one, Selene, has lingering neurological damage and weakness from her bout with meningeal parasite, and our concern was that she might have trouble delivering, even though she can pretty much everything else.  The vet had been encouraging about breeding her, and friends with a goat who also had the same problems had had good luck, but hey, I was nervous.  So when I woke at 12:30 and checked the barn, I stayed out with Selene.

It turned out she was completely fine, except that the buck kid she delivered was huge (I had thought she was going to have triplets) - in fact, he’s bigger than the triplets born a whole week before him.  But with enough time and maternal discomfort, out popped Heliotrope.  We had agreed we would keep one wether, to use as a transitional goat when one of the boys is in with the ladies, so that we never have to keep a goat solo, and after witnessing the amount of trouble he gave Selene, we’ve decided he wins, and we’ll keep him. Selene does not give birth to buck quality goats, but he’s cute and she’s the best and most devoted mother we have. 

So Saturday night was no sleep.  Sunday morning was supposed to be me getting to do whatever we wanted, but my friend Jesse, who I’ve known and loved for 19 years now left a message on our machine.  You see Jesse had stopped by on a trip west a couple of weeks before, and because he missed the kids, promised he’d stop for a bit on his way back.  Although he was meeting up with friends and his fiancee, we were told it would just be him, and he would arrive sometime late on Saturday.

Well, Saturday passed and we wondered where Jesse was. Late that night we got a phone message from him, announcing that he, his fiancee and two other people I’d never met would be arriving at 11:30 on Sunday.  Oh, and despite 19 years of friendship, it was pretty clear he’d forgotten it was my birthday.  So much of the morning was spent preparing for four people to arrive at lunchtime.  And plotting the ass-kicking Jesse was going to get.

As it turned out, while I still would have preferred not to spend the morning cooking and cleaning, it was lovely - the two friends were lovely and one of them, realizing that it was birthday, announced he had a case of Blue Moon Ale in his car he was looking to drop off - the birthday beer fairy arrived!  So it was pretty awesome.  We had a lovely lunch and pie from the local farmstand (the one now holding unbelievable quantities of tomatoes for me).  The afternoon of my birthday was spent cooking for a friend’s shiva minyan (mourning prayer gathering), since our friend had lost her mother earlier in the week, but we’d planned that.

All of which is a really wordy way of saying that one of these days, I’m supposed to get a birthday day in which I get to goof off a lot.  That said, however, with the mountain of tomatoes facing me, I think that might be, say, in December.

Otherwise, things are quiet - we’re milking again, but most of the does are mostly feeding their babies as yet.  The milk quantities will rise gradually over the next few months, in time for some lovely fall cheesemaking.  

Much of what we’re doing is infrastructure re-working and planning for next year’s farm projects.  We’re working on ways to use the CSA model, which I love, without running a conventional vegetable CSA - we did that for four years, and for any number of reasons, I don’t want to do it any more.  But I love the CSA connection, and the way it ties you to your customers.   I also, being a lazy slacker type, like the ways it forces me to structure my time - once you’ve committed to delivery and specific dates, you have to make that work.

We’re considering three CSA model projects.  The first I’ve talked about here before - a seed starting CSA.  I’ll send out a list of varieties and various options on numbers of plants in December and January, and start seeds for people. I love seed starting, and always start insanely too many, so this appeals to me as an excuse basically to grow more stuff.  This will supplement the plants we’ll also sell at farmer’s market.

Second, if we can pull this off, we’re considering working out a schechting workshop with the only conservative schochet in the US, who teaches “slaughter your own” in a kosher style, and setting up kosher (by the standards of Jews who would accept meat slaughtered on farm by a woman and a Conservative, rather than Orthodox Jew - this is a complicated and fraught subject), organic, free range poultry CSA.   This would be a small and specialized market, but it is one we want to serve precisely because it isn’t being served.  We’d slaughter monthly and deliver poultry to our customers for six months - mostly chicken, but duck and turkey as well.  This exercise is more speculative, because it requires that we find a clientele in our area that want what we can offer, accept its limitations, and want to support it.    But the cost of on-farm kosher slaughter through traditional methods in the Jewish community is prohibitive, and that leaves most people buying meat from far away, if they can get organic kosher meat at all - or they buy kosher industrial.  In our case, we schecht our own, but at this stage I won’t do it for anyone else because I don’t feel I’m expert enough.

Finally, I’m thinking about a medicinal herb CSA, and one that could be done mostly by mail, since these are small, light items.  I’d have two tracks - one for practitioners and one for home use, and it would include a monthly delivery of appropriate herbs as they are harvested and dried, tinctured or turned into creams or oils.  I could also make up small themed mail-order medicinal gardens using plants as well, to get people started in growing their own. 

What I love about the CSA is that it connects me to my customers in deep ways - I get to learn what they need and want, and how to get closer to that, and they get tied to the farm and learn about what we’re experiencing.  So I’m experimenting with ideas that would allow me to bring these things together.  I haven’t yet, however, figured out how to make a goat CSA ;-) .

What else is up here on the farm?  Not a whole lot - the boys are done with a month of camp and swimming lessons, so there’s some more quiet time, and at the end of this week, Eli will be done with his summer program.  The latter is a mixed blessing, since Eli really doesn’t enjoy disruptions in his routine, and making sure his needs are met will take more time and energy - but at the same time, it is nice to have him more fully integrated into our day to day life.

I’m starting to feel the real press of autumn coming on - particularly since the Jewish holidays are so early this year (that, of course, is misnomer - they fall the same way they always do by the lunar calendar, but since we use a solar calendar they seem that way ;-) ) - September will be mostly taken up by holidays.  This is nice in many ways, because it means October will be more laid back, and while we’re eating outside in the Sukkah, it should be warm enough to be pleasant, but it means that school, the holidays and everything else come bang up against us in a just a few week’s time.  Have I prepared my homeschool stuff for this year?  Nope.  Have I ordered firewood yet?  Bought the winter’s hay?  Dealt with the damned tomatoes?  Nope.  Better get cracking!

Plant something: lettuce, spinach, arugula, chives, green onions, peas (for pea shoots, not peas at this point), broccoli raab.

Harvest something: Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, okra, onions, carrots, beets, kale, chard, peaches, green beans, summer squash, cabbage, lettuce, fennel, cucumbers, peppermint, vervain, anise hyssop, betony, dill, sage, pennyroyal, holy basil, basil, oregano, thyme, gotu kola, spilanthes, blackberries

Preserve something: Tinctured spilanthes, vervain, gotu kola, thyme. Made ketchup and salsa, dried peppers, dried peaches, dried tomatoes, made blackberry jam.

Waste Not: Collected the first batch of dried leaves off someone else’s yard - yay, free organic matter!  Otherwise, the usual composting, not wasting food, etc…

Want Not: Began to clean out my attic. That will be a job.  Many interesting things to be found, I suspect. I’m looking specifically for canning jars - I know I have a couple more boxes hiding in there somewhere, and I’m nearly out of pint jars.

Eat the Food: Gorged on blackberries - straight, as cobbler, as sauce over ice cream, in cake.  We’re a bit cold for blackberries here, and the only picking place is kind of a haul, so we are only going once.  So we might as well enjoy!  We’ve been eating tons of what I call “tomato goop” although frankly, it needs a better name that is truly evocative of its awesomeness.  All it is is sliced tomatoes, basil, garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and breadcrumbs, cooked in the solar oven until it is all soft and served over toast.  Yum!

Build community food systems: Gave a couple of local talks about gardening.

How about you?



Food Storage and Preservation Class Syllabus

Sharon August 12th, 2010

This is the the time of year for most of us when everything is ripe and abundant in our gardens and at local farms, and learning to put food up can make it possible for you to enjoy summer in winter, and continue eating locally as long as possible. It can be overwhelming when you start preserving, so if you’d like a friendly voice to walk you through it, please join us.

The class is on-line and asynchronous, and you can participate at your own pace. Every week we’ll have projects involving what’s overflowing in our gardens and markets to get you familiar with the basics of preserving the harvest, and also help you build up food security by building up a reserve of stored food.

My hope is that at the end of the class, everyone will have a plan for how they want to go about increasing their food storage reserves, and will have tried the major methods of food storage. You will be able to watch the jars increase as the class goes on.

Here’s a rough syllabus:

Week 1, August 17 - Introduction to Food Storage, How much, where to put it, and how? Can I afford this? Low energy overview of food preservation methods. Storing Water, making space.

Week 2, August 24: Water bath canning 101, Preserving with Salt, Sugar and Honey, Bulk purchasing, sourcing local foods, finding food to preserve, what food storage can and can’t do.

Week 3, August 31: Dehydration basics, Tools you need and where to get them, Menu making and how to get people to eat from your pantry, Setting up your kitchen for food storage, Storing herbs and spices, Sourdoughs and grain ferments, Preserving foraged foods.

***September 7 No Class, Rosh Hashana and Instructor elsewhere ;-) ***

Week 4 September 14: Lactofermentation; Special needs and health issues; Storing food for children, pregnant and lactating women; Storing medications, gluten-free storage; Basic dairy preservation; Building up your pantry and Managing your reserves.

Week 5, September 21: Pressure Canning; Beverages, Teas and Drinks; Preserving in Alcohol, Coops and Community Food Security; More Menus and Recipes; Root Cellaring and in-Garden Storage.

Week 6, September 28: Season extension, Preserving Meats, Sprouting, The next Steps, Getting Your Community Involved, Teaching others, Food Preservation as a Cottage Industry.

We will try and track the seasonal produce coming in, support each other as we experiment with new techniques and build up our pantries as we go - and have a lot of fun! If you are interested in joining, cost of the class is $150 or equivalent barter. I also have three scholarship spots remaining for low income participants who would otherwise be unable to afford to take the class. If you’d like to donate to the scholarship fund, just let me know - 100% of your donation goes to making classes available to low income participants. Email me to enroll or with questions at [email protected].


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