Building Momentum

6000 nails and counting, and I can safely say that the single greatest invention in construction would have to be the nail gun!

The house is just about framed at this point, and we have started the process of putting up plywood sheeting on the walls and roof. Soon we'll be able to start working indoors (with a wood stove!) The location is just beautiful, and our living room picture window affords an incredible view of sunrise over the mountains.

It's hard to focus on prepping for next year's growing season with the house foremost in our minds, but we did manage to get our garlic planted last month and have been rotating the piggies around to clear some of the garden space. Our next big food related endeavor will be processing a beef cow in the coming month. It will be a relief to start stocking the freezer with our own food. It has been a challenge for us to arrive in a new place without any food connections, especially this time of year. There are some local items to be found, but we have had to become reacquainted with the grocery store, a place we were very happy to avoid the past 3 years in Maine!

A New Chapter

As a child I loved visiting my grandparents' farm in Colorado. I have such vivid memories of scaling what then seemed to be mountains of hay bales, of waking up to hear my grandmother adding wood to the stove and starting her day well before dawn, of trying to avoid the watchdog geese who seemed to be trying to nip and hiss the city girl out of me, and of sitting in the barn while the cow was milked, watching in amazement as my grandfather occasionally interrupted his steady rhythm to squirt a stream of milk into the mouth of a persistent barn kitten.

Fast forward 30 years and here I am starting a whole new chapter of my life on that very same farm. After 8 years in Maine, my husband and I felt drawn to a place where we could begin to bring all of our food and sustainability interests together, while also being able to collaborate with, and learn from family with lifelong knowledge. We have been here almost exactly a month, during which time we have quickly slipped into the routine of getting up before dawn, working really hard all day, and going to bed early! Between building a house, tending to the pigs, chickens, and turkeys, gathering firewood for winter, and cooking, there is always something needing to be done. Yet, it all feels good, and this morning I woke up feeling motivated to start writing about it. But for now it's back to work getting ready for least the plucking part is over!

Happy Thanksgiving.

Ready for Winter

For anyone wondering why I haven’t posted lately, let me count the reasons: 56 quarts of fermented pickles, relishes, krauts, and other veggies, 38 jars of various jams, jellies and fruit butters, 18 pints of canned pears and applesauce, 10 quarts of tomatoes, various bags of dried plums and pears, and dozens of packages of frozen peaches, kale, and pesto! You could say it has been a busy transition from summer to fall.

This weekend I finally closed down about half of the garden beds. 40 cloves of garlic are tucked in for the long winter. There are still leeks and kale to harvest, but I have promised myself that everything will be wrapped up in the garden before our pig is processed in November and we shift into making ham, bacon, lard, sausage, proscuito, and pancetta. I rarely look forward to winter, but this year I feel a bit of relief that things are winding down and there will be a period without weeding, pig feeding, or keeping up with processing the harvest.

We are just about finished with construction of our root cellar, which will give us better options for storage this winter and also shift the focus of the garden for next year. I plan to grow more storage crops (beets, carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic) and let our CSA membership bring the fresh greens and summer veggies to our table. Of course I will still plant dill and cukes for pickles and cabbage for kraut, but I know that next year I can get by with about half of what I planted this year. (Thank goodness our neighbors like cucumbers!)

So heading into our third winter of local eating I feel more secure than ever. Preserving pears, peaches and plums was new this season and will add some needed variety to what has been our daily ritual of blueberries and strawberries. We also froze a lot of blanched kale to use in winter soups (with still more in the garden to process). And of course I fermented more veggies this year than ever before: kraut, kimchi, salsa, pickles, dilly beans, beets, radishes, celery, corn relish, ginger carrots, and just about anything else that found it’s way into the kitchen this season ended up in one jar or another, guaranteeing us an array of crunchy raw veggies all winter. It does feel like we have come a very long way from that first local winter of potatoes and cabbage at every meal!!!

Cucumber Magic

I can clearly see that it is going to be me against the cucumbers for the next several weeks! Thursday I made pickles, Friday I made pickles, today I made pickles and I'm pretty sure I'll be at it again tomorrow. I honestly don't know how they do it. I pick them, turn my back, and abracadabra...more cucumbers. I'm not sure how long they can keep this up, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to need more jars.

We were away for the second half of July, and the vines really took off while we were gone. In addition to the cukes, the pumpkins are spreading everywhere. They have already climbed up their 5 foot cage and back down onto the fence. (The groundhog takes care of any vines that dip too low). We've been eating lots of green beans, carrots, beets and onions. Last night night we pulled the rest of the first carrot/beet bed in preparation for seeding our fall storage crop. Hard to belive that it's time to think about fall already!

Our garden pest problems seem to have leveled off. The aphids are gone, and since we harvested our cabbage the earwig population has died down. There are occasional cucumber beetles that will appear in any of the yellow blossoms, but they are easy to hand pick. I'm still getting tiny green caterpillars on the kale that munch the tiniest of holes before winding themselves into little white cocoons. I think they might be diamond back moths, but I'm not sure. At least they don't seem to eat much.

Anyway, my focus is really shifting into storage mode at this point. I continue to do a lot of lacto-fermenting which I feel offers the most nutritious (not to mention delicious) end product. If anyone reading is interested in learning more about this method of preservation, I am offering 4 workshops on the topic. Registration info and workshop details can be found on my website.

Exploding Cabbage

This weekend we put up part of our first major harvest...cabbage. It has been exploding in the garden for weeks (apparently it doesn't need sun since we haven't had any) and now continues to explode in my kitchen! I usually only ferment in jars with screw top lids, and now I know there is a good reason...latch top lids under the pressure of kimchi fermentation become fully loaded, semi-automatic, cabbage launchers. If you have never seen cabbage juice spray 10 feet in every direction I can tell you it's impressive, but probably best observed through safety goggles.

So three gallons of kimchi, and a newly washed floor later, I still have a ton of cabbage ready to harvest. Granted with all the rain, the slugs and snails are helping, but my fist major planting adjustment for next year will be: less cabbage!

Everything else is coming along nicely. The beets are about 2 inches in diameter, the carrots about half an inch and 4-5 inches long. It was well worth the time to space the seeds as I have not had to thin them and they are doing great. Our aphid crisis has abated a bit and the ladybugs that we released to help control them have not flown away due to the bad weather. We do still have an over population of earwigs, which seem to really like living in the cabbage. I just read that a good way to trap them is by putting out upside down plant pots with crinkled newspaper in them. They apparently like to hid in the folds of the paper, probably because it reminds them of cabbage leaves.

The groundhog continues to be kept at bay by the fence, but he got bold enough to climb on to the deck and eat all the cabbage seedlings that I had growing there. In the end, he probably did me favor, keeping me from having to plant more cabbage when this crop is done!

An Anniversary Approaches

In a little over a week we will enter into our third year of eating locally. The first year presented new challenges at every turn, but over the course of the second year, the experimental feeling simply faded into normalcy. We eat what’s in season, or what we have stored in anticipation of the leaner months. We still have a few exceptions (nuts, tea, olive oil, and some spices) and occasionally enjoy a meal out (favoring places that have local items), but all in all, what seems strange now is the idea of eating fresh strawberries in December or lettuce in February.

This spring I have been writing more about our garden than about what we have been eating, but to catch up, we have been enjoying our own backyard spinach, kale, lettuce, chives, sugar snap peas, baby beets, and cabbage. Asparagus and fiddleheads have passed by, but not before finding their way from local farmers/harvesters to our table several times. This past week we had our first strawberries with the taste of summer in every bite (something you simply don’t find in December). We still have some potatoes, onions, a couple jars of sauerkraut and jam, and a freezer half full with meat, and the remains of last year’s blueberries and peas. Our storage was adequate for winter, but each passing year we learn what we can do better. What we could use more of (blueberries, carrots and corn relish). And what just doesn’t taste that great after a season in the freezer (peas and green beans).

New food endeavors this year include the garden, constructing a root cellar in the basement to efficiently store our own as well as purchased crops, and participating in a cooperative arrangement where we perform animal chores a couple times a week at a nearby farm in exchange for raising a pig there. I anticipate doing a lot of fermenting, and have already put up several jars of kraut from almost full sized cabbages I had to thin from the garden this week. I am hoping to try some dry curing (salami, prosciutto, pancetta) this fall with our pork as well as smoking ham and bacon again. And another preservation method I am interested in exploring is dehydrating, either with a commercial dehydrator or simply using the sun. Needless to say, it should be another busy, interesting and delicious year!

Just Add Water

It's amazing what a little rain can do. The drops just stopped falling long enough for me to go outside with my camera and I felt that if I stayed really still I could actually see things growing. The peas are blossoming, the carrots are pushing up delicate leafy fronds, the lettuce, kale and spinach are already feeding us and the beets are ready for thinning.

So far there have not been any major glitches. I lost two little cabbage plants to something of the bug or slug variety, but whatever it was seems to have moved on (hopefully without leaving any eggs behind). The groundhog has been observed sitting by the gate looking rather longingly at the kale and probably thinking "when does this all you can eat salad bar open anyway?" So far the fence has proved effective in keeping him at bay.

We decided last minute to plant some potatoes and since there wasn't room in the garden we built a big round container with some extra fencing. Traditionally when potatoes are planted in the ground you "hill" them several times, hoeing the dirt up around the plants to stimulate better growth. We're trying a container method where instead of hilling we will just keep adding dirt and mulch as the plants grow. The container is about 3 feet deep and we started with a foot of dirt so we have lots of room to go up as the plants grow. If it works, next year we'll expand to more containers.

I'm hardening off the remains of my seedlings: cukes, pumpkin, broccoli, more leeks and various herbs. We also bought several hot pepper plants which will go in containers to be placed in the the few full sun spots in the yard. Hopefully by the end of the weekend everything will be in the dirt and I can reclaim the square footage in my living room that has been serving as a greenhouse since March.

Can't Stay Out of the Dirt!

There is something I just love about dirt. When I was a kid, I could sit and make mud pies for hours on end, as happy as could be. Now it's not so much the mud as dirt in general...the texture, the smell, the way it feels on my hands and under my nails. Pure happiness!

The garden is coming along. We put up the pea/bean/cuke/pumpkin cages today. They seem like they will work well. Each one is 5 feet tall and has a gallon reservoir buried in the middle. The peas took right to their new spot and will be joined by cukes and beans in another week. I think I'll hold back the pumpkins for a couple weeks yet despite the optimistic weather forecast.

The Portland Farmers' Market opened yesterday and I couldn't resist buying a few more seedlings. My leeks and onions were so spindly that I opted for the insurance of supplementing with a few hardier starts. A flat of mixed kale made it home with us as well. There is just such a difference between the seedlings I started in the house with the grow light and what the farmers are selling. Clearly they know what they are doing.

In addition to lots of seedling and flowers we were grateful to find some shallots at the market, just as our storage onions are running out. It's easy to start getting optimistic about expanding our menu now that spring is here, but about the only seasonal veggies to be had this early are fiddleheads and ramps (wild onion)...not quite the makings of a salad!

Instant Gratification

I know that part of the magic of gardening is watching things grow up out of the dirt, but I already did that weeks ago in the house under the grow light! Now I am celebrating the instant transformation from empty beds to garden that happened the moment I transplanted my seedlings.

Almost time to plant!

Well, I'm sure saying that the hard part is over is not exactly accurate, but I'd like to think that no amount of weeding compares to the work we did this weekend! The groundhog fence is installed, the raised beds are built and the mountain of dirt in my driveway has been whittled down to a small pile. The to do list is down to hardening off my seedlings, laying newspaper and straw in the paths, starting some flower seedling to climb the fence (which looks a bit harsh) and then planting everything.

I did start a lot of things indoors that are traditionally direct seeded in the ground, but I thought it was worth trying to see if I can extend the growing season a bit. I am still going to be seeding beets, cabbage, peas, scallions, dill, leeks, lettuce, spinach and carrots into the beds alongside my somewhat spindly seedlings. A planting schedule is in order to avoid overloads at harvest time and to optimize my space...better add that to the to do list. Cover crops are another topic that I keep coming across and I need to figure out how they work into my plan as well, since they provide so much soil benefit and erosion protection.

My exciting tidbit this week was learning how to create reservoirs in your garden so that if you are away for a couple days you don't need to have someone come to water. At planting time you dig in plastic jugs with several small holes poked in them, leaving an opening at ground level. Just fill as needed and the water will seep out slowly. I'll be sure to report on how this actually works later in the summer.