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If I’m Not Going to Sell My House, Maybe I Can Sell My Neighbors’?

Sharon August 3rd, 2010

I’m really sorry to see my neighbors go, even though they’ve been busy and we haven’t seen much of them for the last couple of years.  They have been excellent neighbors and good friends, and I wish they wouldn’t move.  But since they have their reasons, the best I can do is maybe help sell their house, and get some new, but equally excellent neighbors living next door to me!

So, wanna buy the house next door?  It has small acreage at the top of the hill, in a nice, rural setting, across the street from lovely people, and (IMHO of course) next door to some nice folks ;-) .  Duanesburg (the school district) is a good school district for those looking for those things, and we have tons of local food resources. 

The house is large and has a nice in-law apartment and is ideally set up for an extended family.  They’ve done a lot of work on the house, and it has definite good adapting-in-place possibilities. 

The community is well out of a flood plain, in easy commuting distance of Albany and Schenectady, pretty and rural and friendly.  The only thing I ask is that if you move in next door, you have to promise not to start an expose blog about how Sharon really doesn’t have it all together ;-) .

There’s more info here - see you around the neighborhood?

Independence Days Update: The First Tomato

Sharon July 4th, 2010

I ate the first ripe tomato today on the fourth of July.  I just feel that statement should be preserved in amber, because it is the dream I always begin with in February.  When the first tomato seeds go into the ground in winter, the fourth of July is the dream date.  Most years, we don’t make it - too cold, too wet, too something.  But in winter, when summer seems infinitely far away, I dream of a hot day Independence Day in summer, popping a sweet cherry tomato into my mouth.

And today I got to do it - it was from a variety I’ve never grown before “Venus” designed for container culture.  These are the smallest tomatoes I’ve ever grown - true dwarfs.  But they have a surprisingly heavy yield for their size and the two that I ate today were sweet - not as good as sungold, but better than my usual first tomato, Glacier. 

I’m in between trips right now - I was in New York City for a few days earlier this week with the boys and Eric and my mother in law, back for a bit, and then headed to Boston to celebrate my great-aunt’s 90th birthday.  After that we dive into the meat of July - Eli attends summer school and the other boys are attending a wonderful skills-oriented camp program for three weeks.  Meanwhile, Eric and I plan to use most of the time with no obligations and several uninterrupted hours every morning (this is very unusual for us) to build buck pens, put up fencing and continue expanding the garden beds. 

That last couple of days have been more about getting what we already have in order - weeding, sorting, planting a few things still lingering.  I started the fall broccoli and cabbage crop, got two of the production herb beds planted, finished up the peas and planted late cucumbers and have been generally trying to get ready to go away again.  Phil the awesome housemate did a terrific job on his first soloing with the creatures, but this time he may have to do some garden work as well, so I’m in the process of figuring out how to get him up to speed - and also minimize his time spent on this, since his orals are rapidly approaching.

We’re t-three weeks from first goat babies, and that’ll be the other priority - getting a second kidding pen built, getting my supplies in order and preparing for the babies.  We did the first round of vaccinations for the girls due early, and will do the second one on Tuesday.  I’m not sure if Tekky’s pregnant or not - she’s a *lot* thinner than the other girls, and I can’t tell by palpating.  It is possible that she didn’t settle on the first go round and is due a month after the other girls.

I’m enjoying the fact that chores take so little time without milking, but I admit, I’m also looking forward to milking again - and I hate buying milk.  Although my kids think it is a huge treat - everyone was so excited to have cow’s milk again - Asher said “Mommy, I love cow’s milk!”  He likes the goat stuff fine too, so presumably that will also have the pleasure of novelty when it comes back into our lives.

We are done with the cherries, but it was quite an orgy while it lasted.  I have a few cherry trees, just coming into production, but our local pick-your-own has them, and we picked a lot - I think picking cherries is my favorite kind of fruit harvesting.  You are reaching up rather than bending down, you get to be in the shade, and well, then there’s all these cherries.  We ate them and ate them, dried them and jammed them (although it didn’t set up very well), and I had the last few this morning.  I fantasize that there will be a few left on the trees next week, but I know that the season is short and its time is past - soon it will be blueberries.  But I have trouble letting go of cherries for some reason. 

I’ve been harvesting and drying herbs quite steadily, and I’m starting to figure out what it will take in terms of existing plants to grow a given weight of dried herbs. I spent part of yesterday experimenting with tea blends - my favorite is a headache blend that combines Betony, Skullcap, Lemon Verbena and Lemon Balm - it tastes almost exactly like a black tea with lemon.  Betony is a superb black tea substitute, as well as being a lovely medicinal.

Another success was the greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts combo I pulled together for respiratory conditions - Elecampane, Yarrow, Anise Hyssop and Peppermint.  Neither elecampane root nor yarrow is a particularly yummy tasting herb - both are strong, and elecampane has an odd spiciness, not unpleasant, but a little strange, while yarrow is fairly bitter.  Oddly, the four together create a really surprisingly pleasant synthesis - I might add some cinnamon as well, but I liked it more than I expected. 

We have set up our mudroom as an herb drying room, but it remains to be seen whether this will be wholly successful or not - I really don’t yet have an optimal way of drying herbs quickly and effectively.  The problem is that my solar dryer on a sunny day gets far too hot to effectively preserve herbs, while on an overcast day often doesn’t dry them fast enough.  Since it is important to dry herbs very quickly but at low temperatures and out of direct sunlight to best preserve their medicinal qualities, I’ve been trying to figure out something that works as well as my electric dehydrator, which is extremely effective, but which obviously uses electricity.  My solar dryer is great for fruit and vegetables, but not ideal for herbs.  Hanging in my house usually takes too long - the herbs lose color and fragrance.  I’ve tried the attic, and that’s ok - but cleaning out the attic to be able to really use it will be something of a production, and not something I want to do in July, when it is 100 degrees in there.  Thus, the mudroom, which heats up well.

What I’ve found is that it doesn’t hold heat well over night, though, and in the cool stretch we had last week, the herbs took too long to dry and weren’t of the quality I want.  I may have to break down and do what other growers I know have - reserve space in a hoophouse to get appropriate temps, but I don’t have one yet, so that won’t be this year.  I’m watching to see how we do in this hot, dry stretch.

The sour cherries are just about ready to be picked, and the peaches and plums are coloring up.  The wild raspberries are producing, and the blueberries will be along next week.  My black currants would be ready, but the goats got at them - I won’t have many black currants this year.  I’m going to move the bushes in behind the fence - I was lazy, because the goats had ignored them.

Otherwise, not too much going on here - quiet and peaceful and hot.  With all the young plants going in, I’m having to water more than I like, but our well is good and the year hasn’t been so terribly dry.  It would have been smarter to put everything in earlier, but then we’d have had to have the beds built.  As always, reality and the ideal come banging firmly against one another. 

Plant something: Cucumbers, bush beans, broccoli, cabbage, kale, mesclun, chard, echinacea (3 varieties), skullcap, yarrow, horehound, vervain, blue vervain, marshmallow, valerian, feverfew, blue cohosh, spilanthes, dill, sage, pennyroyal, betony, elecampane, angelica

Harvest something: Tomatoes, zucchini, snap peas, shelling peas, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, eggs,  motherwort, yarrow, meadowsweet, yellow bedstraw, chamomile, calendula, basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, kale, mesclun, lettuce

Preserve something: Made cherry jam, dried cherries, canned rhubarb sauce, dried herbs, froze snap peas

Waste Not: Because we’ve been travelling, we’re trying not to build up food that won’t get eaten, so mostly just trying to cook in correct quantities.  Otherwise, the usual composting, not throwing stuff out, etc..

Want Not: Picked up the pasta I ordered way back when.

Eat the food:  Cherries, cherries and more cherries.  And snap peas.  This time of year, I find it hard to do creative cooking - everything tastes so delicious just as it is!

Build community food systems: Nothing new.

How about you?


Independence Days Update: Getting Ready to Party

Sharon June 17th, 2010

I was away three days last weekend, and I came back to the preparations for Eric’s 40th birthday party, so not as much has been accomplished this week on larger farm projects as I’d like.   On the other hand, the grass is scythed, the flowers are blooming and the barn will be cleaned out tomorrow, so that’s good - sometimes the trade offs are aesthetics vs. infrastructure, otherwise, we sometimes fall too far into “infrastructure and ignore the aesthetics.”

I’ve already frozen several lasagnas and 100 shortcake biscuits for the party - got to make one more lasagn and a big batch of tomato sauce.  It is nice, the first basil harvest is ready just in time, and there’s plenty of oregano and thyme and it makes for amazing tomato sauce with all that fragrance imbued.  The menu is lasagna (with some pasta and tomato sauce for the vegans), pesto bread, asparagus with lemon-caper dressing, a big green salad, and for dessert, a huge quantity of strawberry shortcake.  There will also be chips, salsa and snap peas for nibbles beforehand. 

I’ve done a bunch of prettification stuff (I did a bunch before Memorial Day weekend as well, so the place is looking pretty decent) - I finally bought a dark purple clematis to twine up the porch (wanted one for years, keep forgetting about it), and got the front path weeded (bleah!). 

Meanwhile, I’ve also been working on the usual planting, both the herb infrastructure for the new medicinal project (what do y’all think of “the homegrown apothecary” for a name for the medicinal line - I haven’t googled yet to see if it is already taken, though), and all the normal perennial and annual things.  I’m getting the wetland medicinals in over the next week or two - Viburnum opulus (crampbark), blue vervain, marshmallow, valerian, angelica, eclipta, betony…  I’m enjoying putting these beds together and making them look nice.

It is time for the first major herb harvest as well here - but I haven’t done much of it.  The chamomile is blossoming, as is the motherwort, betony, yarrow, catnip, lemon balm, red clover and other herbs that need to be cut for aerial parts.  But they will have to wait a week, other than a few bunches to make the house smell good.  I’m still trying to figure out whether I can make tinctures for sale in my kitchen, or if I have to actually rent a commercial kitchen for the process, which would suck, but I could do it.  I’m planning on doing the commercial kitchen thing anyway for a few of my crops, notably black currant and elderberry syrups and juices, but I’d really like to avoid having to do that every time I want to pour Everclear over plant matter ;-)

We had a bit of a setback this week when the goats learned to open the gate to the side yard - the goats got in and had a field day.  I don’t mind the strawberry losses (they’ll grow back, and they were past their time anyway) or the geraniums (which are just for pretty), but I do resent that every single broccoli plant was eaten down to the nub - no brocc here for another month yet, I fear.  I had plenty of transplants yet to replant, but oh, what a pain!

The goats are almost dry now - due dates begin the last week of July and run through the third week of August, and everyone looks pregnant, except Tekky, who may just be carrying thin, or may not be.  If she hasn’t taken in four months with a buck, though, we’ll have to sell her.    I’m looking forward to a run of babies.  I’m also kind of enjoying the end of milking for a short while - and when we come back, we’ll have enough does in milk that we will be milking only once a day.  I’m looking forward to the end of long evening chores - I never really minded them, but it frees up a bit of time.

Our shared sheep arrangement doesn’t seem to have happened so far this year - my friend with the sheep has had a series of troubles and they’ve never come, which means my pastures are growing up, which means I need sheep!  I really want icelandics - so if anyone knows of a local herd of icelandics with ewes for sale, I’d be interested.  Also, bonus if they do disease testing, since some of the things sheep can get are more serious in goats.  Please drop me an email if you know of a good herd near me!

Otherwise, all party prep and prettification this week - next week will be the last serious hurrah of getting in the very last of the garden, and then I move on to the fall garden.  The work never ends, but I like it, and that’s the reality of the farm. 

Plant something: More broccoli, chard, calendula, marigolds, clematis, viburnum, gingko, mulberries, corn, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, flax, lettuce

Harvest something: lettuce, chard, kale, bok choy, chinese cabbage, snap peas, asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries, motherwort, lemon balm, lemon verbena, mint, catnip, yarrow, milk (pretty much the last of it) and eggs.

Preserve something: 18 pints of strawberry jam - half strawberry rhubarb, half strawberry-masala chai.  A good year for strawberries.  Some dried strawberries, and a few dried herbs.

Waste Not: Gave our battered baker’s choice stove, in wild need of radical reconditioning away to someone who will love it and give it a good home.  Otherwise, the usual.

Want Not: Nothing in particular.

Eat the Food: Eating up last year’s pickles in anticipation of lots of cukes, snap peas at every meal.

Build community food systems: Was asked to consult by a municipality on local food design - am hoping to do more of this kind of work.

How about you?


Independence Days Update: A Change in the Weather

Sharon June 7th, 2010

After a hot, dry May, we’ve shifted into a cooler weather pattern for at least the next few days, perfect for all the raised bed building we’re doing (we’re finally, finally getting the rest of the garden raised up to deal with drainage problems that have been totally irrelevant this year ;-) ).  I admit, 89 and humid is not my favorite weather for digging all day.  I’m not a hot weather gal, I guess.

We’ve also had enough rain to actually make a difference, which is great - the pond is low, the creek was nearly dry, and even after several shorter rainfalls, you couldn’t feel moisture in the soil.  It takes a lot of rain to compensate for that kind of dryness.  But the last two days have been great, and we are now ready for hard labor.

And since I have to get these beds built before I can get a lot of my plants, particularly the perennial herbs, into the ground, there’s some urgency to it.  Even the wetland herbs are getting slightly raised up beds, for soil improvement and increased yields.  I’ve got cranberrybush viburnums, valerian and blue vervain galore waiting to go in, and am hoping I’ll be able to get it in within the next couple of days. 

Meanwhile, the new, expanded culinary herb bed is up and running (the old one has been shifted into a spot for acid lovers like blueberries, bearberries and arnica montana), and we’re getting the annual crops put in just as fast as we can.  The heat and drought were tough on my transplants, even watered in, so this will be a good week for getting the last ones in.

We’re having a huge birthday party for Eric’s 40th in two weeks, so my goal is to have everything in and looking nice by then, except, of course, the fall crops.  Realistically, this probably won’t happen, especially since I’m off to DC for a meeting this weekend, but we’ll take advantage of the energizing cool breezes.

The does are starting to look pregnant, and we’re in the process of drying them off - they need to be done by next week, so we’re enjoying the last bits of goat milk for a bit.  The hens set and hatched out 11 surviving chicks altogether, so now they are being kicked off their nests to lay eggs for us for a while ;-) .  I’ll be starting the meat birds and turkey poults for fall as soon as I get back. 

We went strawberry picking for the first time this year - by long tradition, the first batches we pick are used only for consumption - everyone eats strawberries as much as humanly possible for the first few days, and then we can bear to reserve some for preservation.  So no preserving so far - but the season has only just begun here, and I’ve got the rhubarb set aside for Tuesday’s first batch of strawberry rhubarb jam.  Meanwhile, we ate strawberry shortcake, and I plotted Eric’s birthday party, which will involve strawberry shortcake for fifty.

Otherwise, it is just back to the grind ;-) .

Plant something: Peppers, eggplant, melons, cucumbers, squash, beets, corn, sweet potatoes, green beans, dry beans, barley, basil, rosemary, tarragon, lemon thyme, organge thyme, shiso, parsley, vap ca, maypop, elderberry, kale, chard, rau om, watercress,

Harvest something: Lettuce, bok choy, kale, mint, chard, chives, pea shoots, peas, beet greens, orach, strawberries, rhubarb, asparagus, eggs, milk

Preserved something: nope, but we start Tuesday

Waste Not: Been freezing milk for cheese during the period without milking does, collected bottles of (very good) salad dressing not finished at an event I was attending for home use.  The usual composting and feeding things to other things.

Want Not: Did a bit of yard saling on Friday - picked up glass wiretop canning jars for storing food (I don’t can in them) and some garden pots.  Eli’s bus driver brought me a bag of size-8 boys boots that she found, all new, at the dump of all places - they should fit him next fall.

Eat the Food: Strawberry shortcake!  Strawberry rhubarb pie! Stir fried snap peas and asparagus.  Haven’t done anything fancy with them, just too happy to have them to gussy them up!

Build community food systems: Gave a talk on the need for more young farmers.

How about you?


Independence Days Update: Better Late…

Sharon June 3rd, 2010

Sorry for the lateness of this update, but I was so tired earlier this week that I could barely function. We had a wonderful time at our weekend event - the kids had a fabulous time, the adults had a fabulous time, it was glorious, but it took two days before we recovered. 

And after that, we had to move all the furniture around so that Phil the official housemate of Gleanings farm could move in, which he did this afternoon.  He was here for three whole hours before taking off to spend four days with his girlfriend, but I gather this won’t be typical. 

Phil wants to learn to farm, so he was very nervous that we would have done all the planting before he got here.  He begged me to make sure there was still some planting left to do…oh, Phil, you innocent ;-) .

A lot got planted last week, not as much this one, since we’ve been tired and busy with other things, but I’m hopeful that the week that runs from tomorrow morning to next Friday will be good - before I head off for Washington DC next Friday.

We finally had some rain day before yesterday, which we desperately needed, and there’s hope for a bit more - we could really use it.  The weather has been so hot and dry it has been tough on the transplants and the early crops - this is quite unusual for us, I’ve only once before seen my lettuce bolt before the end of June.  Time to start another planting. But the projection is for cooler and wetter in the coming week.

The sheep still haven’t arrived - Elaine, my sheep partner-in-crime has had problems with white muscle disease and hasn’t wanted to stress the lambs by moving them, so the grass is getting tall.  I went and looked at a flock of Jacobs nearby, since I’m pretty determined to get my own sheep, but I’m leaning back towards icelandics.  Keeping an eye out for a local flock - if anyone knows a good one, let me know!

We lost some of the baby bunnies in the heat wave, despite moving them to a cool spot and the judicious application of ice packs, but the surviving ones have turned into little open-eyed bunny creatures.  I’m mulling over the purchase of another doe and buck, and trying to decide what would be fun to cross the cinnamons with.  The setting hens hatched out a few chicks, and the does are being dried off for July/August kidding.

First strawberries came to the table, although we lost a lot of blossoms in  a late freeze and won’t get tons ourselves.  But the local farms are open for picking and we’ll go tomorrow and probably Tuesday for the first batches of jam.  My kids can pick (and eat) an almost infinite number of berries. Yay!

Ok, onto the update:

Plant something: Elderberries, apples, filberts, pears, lady’s mantle, elecampane, liatris, dianthus, peonies, yarrow, maypop, hops, mulberries, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, onions, squash, cucumbers, orach, hollyhock, mullein, breadseed poppies, clover, zucchini, cabbage, broccoli, kale, chard, maximilian sunflowers, sage, lemongrass.

Harvest something: lettuce, kale, scallions, spring garlic, mint, chives, raspberry leaves, rhubarb, asparagus, radishes, strawberries, milk, eggs, yarrow

Preserve something: dried raspberry leaves, dried yarrow, made rhubarb sauce

Waste Not: Cleaned out freezer, and found surprisingly few scary things.  Decided not to freeze broccoli in the future, as we don’t like it enough to eat it - prefer frozen lambsquarters, kale or chard, and like our broccoli fresh.  Gave frozen broccoli to chickens who liked it fine.  Froze some cream for butter making…eventually.  Cleared crap out of Phil’s space and donated many things to Goodwill. 

Want Not: Finally got some pasta that wasn’t orzo or lasagna to replace that which was eaten.  Children very grateful.

Eat the food: Learned to make hardboiled eggs in the solar oven (thanks for the tip, Bernard!), ate lots of thai salad (lettuce, broccoli thinnings, asparagus, other veg, hardboiled eggs with peanut sauce dressing).  Made asparagus rolls.

Build community food systems - had a bunch of people at my house ;-) .

How about you?


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