Friday, February 24, 2012

This moment

Indendpendence Days Challnege ...Year 5!

This is my 5th year of participating in the Independence Days Challenged offered by Sharon Astyk of the blogs Casaubon's Book and The Chatelaine's Keys. Five years. Wow. After all this time it would seem that many of the lessons to learn from this challenge would be learned. But I find that every year that goes by my thinking about growing and preserving food, preparedness, and local living have evolved to refine or distill my approach to these skills which make our homestead run a little better every year.

For example, we are growing much more foods from seeds; instead of buying seedlings. A few years ago, I spent weeks and weeks; usually very hot weeks, canning every single veggie that came out of our garden. Now I practice lacto-fermentation, more cold storage of veggies and season extending practices. We used to grow a pig every year; a much more expensive venture than the roasting birds we grew last fall. I have expanded the amount of wild foods that grace our plates. My herbal knowledge has grown and I use herbs in our daily life. I still have a bit of decluttering to do. But I also am much more aware of everything that comes into our house and whether is serves a use or is just another thing to dust. I am very aware of sources for local foods incorportate them into our meals as much as possible.

So here is to another year!

Plant: leeks, celeriac and bunching onions.

Harvest: Maple sap

Preserve: not yet but we will start boiling sap down this weekend.

Local Foods: Local milk, local meat, local spinach, local potatoes

Eat the food: The yummy spinach has been gracing every meal. Our favorite is a chard pie we have substituted spinach for.

Want not: A friend gave us a big bag of children's clothes for Evan. We finally found and awesome chaffing pan to use for maple sugaring this year. Mark found it at this great kitchen supply place we have in town that sells, second hand and vintage cooking equipment. We also bought some new cinder blocks for our sugaring set up. Mark got our '81 Mercedes working so we have two cars working again.

Waste not: That Mercedes is a biodiesel. So we have been able to cut our gasoline bill and emissions significantly. We pick up used cooking grease from some local restaurants. Mark processes it to clean it out of chunky bits and we are good to go. I passed on any of the clothes we did not need for Evan to another friend. We are using a lot of brush and fallen branches in our sapping fire. Mark is cutting some big field pines down. We plan to mill up some of the tress for some building projects we have planned....( a green house!!)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Herbs 2012

Every year I like to introduce a couple of new herbs into my garden. I am really drawn to plants that provide dual purposes: beauty and food or medicine. This year we plan to grow arnica, astragalus, stinging nettle and motherwort.

Arnica would be a great addition to our homestead. Mark starts his spring shearing our sheep and he also earns money from shearing sheep. This can be very hard on those muscles that have been dormant through the winter. Early spring is also a good time to have sore muscles from the excitement of spring garden chores. Arnica is used externally. I plan to make a salve with the leaves and use it as a linament for sore muscles, sprains. I will also tincture it in some 80% proof vodka for foot baths.

Atragalus has many uses for women. It is good for anemia, the roots are good for grounding, it is also a good herb, in conjunction with others, for decreasing breast cysts. Astragalus is also a good herb for boosting the immune system.

Stinging nettle will be planted in a part of the garden where I want some plants to just grow crazy. Herbs in this spot are mint and comfrey. Stinging nettle is good for anemia. The seeds and flowers are good as a hair rinse. Nettles are high in mineral and vitamin content. It is also a cure for diarrehea.

Motherwort brings on delayed menstrual flow, eases uterine cramping. Motherowrt is helper through menopause by relaxing and supporting the body through menopause.

I recommend The Woman's book of Herbs by Deb Soule and Common Herbs for Natural Health by Juliette de Bairacli.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Seed Order

We've been pondering seeds this week. Perhaps the warmer weather has me itching for spring and the return of gardening season.

Each year we try to refine the kinds of crops we grow to be the most efficient for the space we have. I have been trying to concentrate on those crops that will produce the best yield and nutrition. I would like a good balance between crops that can just go into cold storage as opposed to crops that need to be processed. I also try to balance crops that we can eat through out the growing season and crops we can can put up. Each year I also like to try something new. This year there are a couple of new crops we plan to grow and a couple of new methods for growing some.

This year I am not growing sweet corn. We eat a fair amount of it during the summer and I also like to put up a bit in the freezer. Growing this much sweet corn would take up a lot of space and compost. I can find some really nice organic sweet corn at the Farmer's market. So I am going to take 20.00 this summer and buy all the corn I need for our freezer. I do plan to grow some dry field corn this year. Fedco seed company has a nice , very pretty, variety called Painted mountain. I think for the the energy put into the growing of the corn this might give us the best yield. I tried growing corn with the three sisters last year and found that small critters ate our winter squash that has growing under the corn. This year I am going to grown dry beans,black coco, under our corn. The beans will still work as a nitrogen fixer to the soil. The amount of work that goes into processing the dry beans and the corn can wait until I have time to work on it, once they are dry. The great thing about both these crops is that the seed is easily saved for next year.

Winter squash is a winter staple for us. It can be stuffed, put into breads, muffins and soups. It is easy to store and if any should get spots it can be processed later in the winter when there is more time. I saw an absolutely beautiful squash last fall at a friends house. It was called a Marina di Chiogga. It is like a pumpkin. It is green when it is mature. It has warty bumps all over it. It stores extremely well and turns orange the following spring. The taste is supposedly wonderful.

There are a few more herbs I am adding to the herb garden this year: arnica, astragalus, stinging nettle and motherwort. These are all perennials. I start these herbs from seed. It is very affordable this way and I also get to share extras with friends (doing my bit for the informal economy). Tomorrow I will explain why I chose these herbs for our garden.

While we wait to get into the garden we are starting seeds however. I have started brilliant celeric , celery root.I have also started leeks and bunching onions. These all need a little longer to get started and can be put out before the last frost.

What are you planning to grow this year?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Here comes the Sunflower...and a recipe.

Oh the beautiful Sunflower! Big and Bright. In the summer I love to watch the goldfinches swoop through the yard and land on the sunflowers. Bees convene on their big heads.

Why do I wax poetic about sunflowers in February? Well, as much as there are plenty of things about this season that keep me in the moment; long walks on cold days, chickadees calling from the boughs of the field pine in the yard. Sunflowers mean warmth. Sunflowers also mean food. Sunflower seeds are good for you. Last year I harvested the seeds from the sunflowers in our garden. I hung them up to dry for a few days in our shed. I reserved some of the hardiest looking seeds to plant again this year. I planted mammoth grey stripe. The rest were given to a small gerbil we call Munchy who resides in Evan's bedroom. This year I plan to plant quite a few more sunflowers. My hope is that we will be able to provide some of the food for the fowl we plan to bring to our homestead this year.

I don't have the technology to shuck every seed for our own food. I don't have a press for oil either. But I know that as a local food source for seed and oil that it will not be too hard to find soon. There are farms in the Northern Kingdom of Vermont that are experimenting with growing sunflowers. A few years back we were driving past beautiful fields of this workhorses of the flower world. Some of those farms are growing them for fuel for their farm. Last summer I met a woman who grows sunflowers for fuel and food right here in Maine. It is mostly for her own consumption. On ocassion I have also been able to purchase Maine grown sunflower oil.

We have been trying to find a substitute for peanut butter. We had been buying organic peanut butter. But it has just become too costly for our palette. We also would like to find something more local but until we do we have been making sunflower butter with the hope that someday soon we will be able to buy local sunflower seeds.

Sunflower Butter

All measurements are approximate.

A cup or so of sunflower seeds
A couple of tablespoons of sunflower oil
Salt to taste

Put sunflower seeds in a skillet and toast the seeds. Shake pan occasionally. When seeds begin to brown and make a popping sound, take them off the heat.

Grind seeds. I use a grain mill but a food processor or blender will work too. I have ground this find and roughly. It is a matter of preference.

I put all the seeds in a widemouth canning pint jar.

Add oil one tablespoon at a time. Stirring after each tablespoon until you have the consistency you would like. You may want a little more oil.

Add salt to taste.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Early Spring

Our spring chores have begun early this year. It is still winter by the calendar but thelight has change, the days grow a little longer and it just feels like an early spring. A sign of the strange winter we have had here in Maine. Winter was late to arrive, barely sat down for a cuppa tea before it decided to leave.

Temperatures have been warm and the snow fall has been scant. It is always tough to admit that I might actually enjoy this season as it is. It sure has made our winter easier. We did not have to start our trek from the road to our house, about a 1/4 mile, until January. Last year we were trekking in in early December. We have used much less wood than last year. In general, the way of our life has been easier than last winter.

But there is always a flip side. The flip side is that mud season has arrived VERY early. For us this means that the road we live on has suffered that ravages of frost and thaw. It is all rutted up. The town posted the road a full month earlier than last year so that large trucks can not travel on the road. The early mud season could mean one of two things. Mud season could be short. Perhaps the road will dry early this year and the town will have it grated by the end of March. Or mud season will last a lot longer and we will be trekking in from the pavement, about 2 miles or so, for a lot longer than we had to last year.

The warmer weather has meant that we are tapping our trees for maple syrup earlier than ever before. Usually we tap our trees that last full weekend in February. Maine has a school vacation the week before. Mark is usually home so we take some time to organize our supplies and boiling operation before he goes back to work. With the warm days and cold nights we have been having we decided that perhaps the sap would be running already. We could have a short season and miss out on getting enough syrup to put up. Last year we put in 30 taps and we were able to get 4 gallons of syrup. It lasted until December. Last year was an unusually good year. Two weeks ago we put in 15 taps. The sap has really started to run this weekend so we will put 15 more in this week.

At the same time we start sugaring I also start pruning our apple trees. I am still learning how to take care of the orchard. Last year I only got four of the twelve trees pruned. Sugaring season was that crazy. After the pruning the trees put out a lot of apples last year. I was a bit timid in the pruning last year. A pruning class I took a couple of years ago suggested pruning 30% of a tree that has been abandoned. Last years trees lost 30% using only hand tools; loppers, hand pruners and a hand saw. This year those 4 trees will have the chain saw taken to them to open up the top of the tree. This will allow more airflow and sunlight to get into the interior of the tree. It will also make it easier to harvest apples that are not 50 feet in the air. Mark will help me with that part of the chore this week. In the meanwhile I prune the other trees with a little help from Evan and Cheddar dog. The snow on the ground is just high enough for Evan to climb into a tree or two. So the first day we were in the orchard pruning, Evan picked up small twigs that fell to the ground from pruning and brought them over to his tree to build a bird's nest. Cheddar dog offer his help as well by sneaking sticks to chew.

It always makes the chores of spring easier when you have help like this:)

Saturday, February 18, 2012


Well, I am finally connected to the internet at home! To Celebrate the revival of this blog I have some big plans for the following week. Some giveaways, some show and tell of all we have been doing since our old computer crashed, and some new recipes we have introduced to our table.

To kick off this celebration I would like to share this recipe for what I would like to call a winter salad.

Winter Salad

half a head of cabbage sliced thinly, as for a slaw
4-6 leaves of Kale sliced in a similar fashion as the slaw
2 carrots shredded
a couple of tablespoons of sesame or flax seed.

optional additions could be diced bell pepper, raisins, celery


3 tablespoons of honey
3 tablespoons of sunflower or olive oil
3 tablespoons of rice or apple cider vinegar
dash of salt and pepper
optional red pepper flakes

Place all the vegetables in a large bowl. Whisk all the dressing ingredients together. Pour over vegetables along with seeds. Mix well.