Monday, April 30, 2012

Phew! What a day!

My hands are work sore. My skin feels sun worn. Since early this morning I have been hard at work in the garden.  I'm makin' hay while the sun shines.

I sorta have to. I find it funny that there are times, usually around this time of year, when the work piles up very  easily. Saturday we drove down to Clinton to the Fedco tree sale.  We go to the sale every year. I place my tree and potato order in the winter and we drive down to the sale to pick up the order. I also like to pick up any amendments I may need for the garden there. It saves a ton on postage and handling.

It is also a social gathering. We run into old friends from our time in Milo. One friend, who owns Checkerberry farm, has a greenhouse set up. I usually try to find some herbs from him. Nancy works for him. She makes a wonderful pine scented soap that I pick up at the sale.

There are also more trees, perennials and herbs for sale. I was able to find some arnica, astragalus and stinging nettle for the garden. All these plants, on top of my order; which included potatoes, onion sets rosa rugosa, cranberry, hazelnut and ever bearing raspberries, came home with us.

I also was given some bachelor buttons, lily of the valley by my aunt when we went to visit her recently. Another friend, Wendy, mailed me some jerusalem artichokes. The ones I had planted last year seemed to have gone  missing. I think it may be the same culprit who ate my parsnips.

So, needless to say, my to-do list was significant.. We instantly got to work when we got home on Saturday. I had seedlings here that needed to go into the ground.Onions and cranberry  and hops plants made it into the ground that afternoon.

Yesterday was another busy day. I made bread, dandelion jelly. I planted the hazelnut.I planted the the jerusalem artichokes and roses. I have been clearing areas that have been overgrown since we moved here. In the process I have found a couple of forgotten peonies, horseradish and rhubarb. I planted the rhubarb in the apple tree guild. I am using the guild as a nursery for future guild plants. I have bunching onions, paperwhites, comfrey, yarrow under the first tree I am working on this year. Mark finished a gutter project and connected the rain barrel. He finished mucking out the boys ( sheep) side of the sheds. Now that Rama-lama  has moved and Leroy Brown goat is residing with Sadie we have an extra shed. We plan to use this as a place to keep hay in the winter. Their old yard is richly amended with poop. So we are going to make this another garden this year. Maybe some fodder for the livestock. Mark is working a barter of shearing 20 sheep for two Rambouillet.

Today, I started clearing an overgrown area. There is a bunch of chokecherry saplings that have over taken an area that I would eventually like to put some grapes, maybe next year. I turned one compost pile and made a new one. I planted the raspberries and finished planting many of the smaller plants.I cleaned up and amended a bed in the front of the house. I plated hollyhocks and other flowers. I have some sorghum to plant there for birds and some dyers broom for this bed when the weather is a bit warmer. Tristan had a list he was working off today. He was a big help. Evan, too, helped out today. He picked dandelions for me. I will make some wine this week with some friends on Wednesday.. He helped me dig some post holes for staking the raspberries. He also helped  water plants.

I love days like this. I can stand back at the end of the day and see the results of good hard work. This time of year when the garden is waking up, small sprouts of spinach poke through the soil and there is so much promise of what will grow and be on our table, I can forget about such things as slugs, cut worm and late blight.

Tomorrow it may rain. My work will bring me indoors where the housework has been neglected these last few days. The to-do list is shorter...for now.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Kitchen Tools, some words about what is enough.....

For a very long time I had this fantasy about the perfect kitchen. I would drool over Better Homes and Gardens photos of granite counter tops, six burner gas stoves, counters with a few most important gadgets; ya know the Kitchen Aid mixer, the cuisinart food processor.

Then I got simple. Gettin' simple included the question I always found myself asking," How was this done before electricity?" It really narrows the field of tools down to the essential elements every kitchen should have. It also requires perfecting my cooking skills to not need fancy gadgets. It also means that the process of cooking itself takes on a different pace.Some foods will take longer to prepare now that I have cut out some of the cool whiz bang stuff. But not much more time really. If there is an approach to slow food that really slows the process of food preparation down then it  is finding the joy in  chopping every vegetable for a stew with a really good knife.

Well, and then, there is the more practical reality. I have a small kitchen. My pantry/ cold room could store a host of appliances but then I wouldn't have any room to store food in there!

So this is how I have distilled my kitchen necessities down. This is what I consider essential to my kitchen. I have never been unable to make something because a recipe called for a utensil I did not have. Well, okay, I will admit to making some not so pretty mozzarella because I did not have a microwave to get the whey out of the cheese. But I consider this a challenge to learn how to make it without a microwave rather than an impediment because I did not have the zapper.

I could not live with out my cast iron skillets. I have a collection of  5 skillets. Four of them belonged to my great-grandmother. They are really well seasoned. The smallest skillet is a small one I use for toasting a small amount of seed or melting butter. I have a cast iron muffin pan and a dutch oven. The muffin tin is used frequently and is seasoned enough that I rarely have the muffins stick. And the dutch oven replaces a crockpot when I use it on the woodstove for a slow cooked stew.

One really good rolling pin. I use this nearly daily it seems. Pie crust,crackers, pizza crusts, homemade pasta, tortilla.

Good knives. I have an old favorite that I bought from the knife man when I used to work in a restaurant. I can still bring up a good edge on it. It fits well in my hand. I have a couple of good pairing knife. I would like a good cleaver for when we do butchering. But I have made do with my other knives. A good steel and honing stone for caring for the knives is important to have.

Several cutting boards. I have a large one for making bread.A smaller one for chopping veggies and a couple of smaller ones for cheese and such. I will use cutting boards for serving trays when I make a meal that is mostly cold and fresh.

Mixing bowls in several sizes.

An array of hand utensils including: spatula, a few wooden spoons, a couple of ladles, a couple of whisks, a veggie peeler,a can opener,a couple of rubber spatulas in large and smaller sizes to make sure that everything gets used up. A cheese grater, funnels.

Foley food mill. For most foods that might need puree this seems to do the trick. I use it to make applesauce, pureed soups, making tomato sauce, ketchup or paste.

I do have an electric food dehydrator but it really is nearly on its last legs and I have plans for building a solar food dryer.

A hot water canner and a pressure canner.

I have some beat up everyday dishes but I also have a nice set that I bring out for special occasions.

One 6 gallon stock pot. We use this alot We use it to finish off maple syrup in the house. Mark uses it to make beer. I use it for canning. I've used it for processing lard and making large batches of chicken stock. I use it when I am making a large batch of tomatoes stuffs.

A soup pot and a couple of pots for cooking, a couple of colanders.

Measuring implements. Cups, spoons.

A grain mill. I love my grain mill. I use it for grinding wheat, buckwheat, flam seed and sunflower seeds. We are growing dent corn this year and I would like to get an attachment to grind my own cornmeal  this fall.

I do have a chopper. I've had it since Tristan ( my 19 year old) was a baby. I used it for baby food then but now I use it for chopping basil for pesto, cranberries and nuts.

Finally, a mortar and pestle.I love my little one for grinding herbs or breaking up camden tablets when I make wine.

Monday, April 23, 2012

First greens in a rambling sorta way...

Tonight's dinner is in the oven. I sneak a few minutes on the computer. Small boy is drying off from a "tubba" while singing "Tom Doolie". Tad is composing. Big guy is in his room writing. LOVE THAT.

The house smells of sweet potato french fries roasting in the oven and a most local quiche. The first gleanings from the garden have finally found our plate. It is a quiche with dandelion greens, a meager stalk of precious asparagus, french sorrel and chives ( splendid chives).

Evan has exited tub and asks if I have invited his friends for lunch tomorrow. His bath towel is over his head and those lovely curls spring out from underneath. He will be six soon and I can not believe that he was my baby and now he is firmly in his boyhood. There will be no more babies at my age (45). There are so many moments in this boy's day that I wish I could capture by photo but they are so fleeting. They come and while I get the camera they are gone. So it goes...

At this point in my life I begin to think of second acts. I have so many ideas for so many things so I start and stop. The garden is always a source for inspiration. So for the moment I will work with this idea in this space.

There are so many good things coming out of the garden. Whether it is tender spinach sprouts or garlic or the first pokes of chard; I love this time of year. This is the real magic in the garden. I love to plant perennial greens in my garden. They are always the first to bloom and promise an early harvest. They are loaded with really good minerals and cleansing properties that our bodies crave this time of year.

Spring greens quiche:
Preheat oven at 350 degrees


6 tablespoons of  chilled butter
1 and 1/2 cups flour, may substitute 1/2 for whole wheat flour
7 tablespoons of cold water
dash of salt

Cut butter and salt into flour till it is the texture of cornmeal and add water until  blended well.  Roll out onto floured board. Roll to about 1/2 to 1/4 inch thickness. Place into 9 inch pie plate, crimp edges.

Quiche custard:

French Sorrel about 1/ 2 cup chopped.
Dandelion greens 1/2 cup chopped
Several stalks of asparagus chopped.
1/4 cup chives minced
7-8 slices of sharp cheddar cheese
3 eggs
1 cup of milk
 salt and pepper to taste

Layer cheese in the bottom of the pie crust, layer chopped vegetables and chives onto the cheese. Beat eggs and milk together pour custard over vegetable.  Give the pie plate a little shake in order to disperse the custard evenly.

Place pie plate on a cookie sheet in a preheated oven. Cook for 45 minutes or until solid in the middle.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for ten minutes before cutting.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Independence Days Challenge, The full blush of Spring

I've been tempting fate this past week or so. I have started planting the garden already. The temps have been above normal by just a bit. The last few days and the next few to come are supposed to be very warm. So soil temps are high enough to try some seed in the soil. This morning I found some spinach sprouts poking out of the ground.  These first few weeks of gardening season seem to be a bit of a scurry. Gotta try to get as much in the ground that the weather will allow. Clean barns, amend beds. Blackfly season will be upon us soon and even though the spring chores will still beckon no one really wants to be outside when they begin to hatch. With this warm weather it will be here sooner than most years.

So just gonna keep truckin',

Plant: brussel sprouts, kale, shallots, spinach, peas. Transplanted bunching onions, paper whites. Today I will beet it!

Harvest: Parsnips. Oh do I love this vegetable. You plant it in the spring and it is patiently waiting for you to harvest it the following spring. Alas this year when I went out into the garden with my handy trowel I found a pot full of parsnips for dinner one night. But when I went back out to find just a few more for our plate, there were few to be found. I planted a 5'x2' bed last spring. As Evan would say,"Apparently" the deer ate them. Gotta finish putting up the fence. I am grateful they at least left us enough for one dinner.

Preserve: Maple Mead

Local foods: local milk, local ice cream

Eat the food: I am making lots of herbal teas from wild herbs I collected last year. Strawberry leaf, dandelion leaf and red clover flower. A good woman's tea.

Waste not: Just trying to keep a good routine of tidying the house. Once spring comes it seems that the inside of the house gets  neglected. 

Want not:We are chicken hunting. We have not had  layer chickens for a couple of years now.  But we would really like to ramp up our food production now that we have settled into our home. We will be ordering meat birds from a local chicken farm one town over in May.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

What is essential?

So as a follow up to last weeks post I would like to include all the great suggestions to last weeks post plus a few other ideas that I came up with.

Heather suggested a crock to do some lacto-fermentation . I agree that this is a great low cost, method of food preservation. I am just breaking into some kimchi that I made at a class  I took last summer about lacto-fermentation. But I would also add that some wide mouth  canning jars would work if you have limited funds. A crock would be a great addition to the kitchen. I have also used baked bean crocks for small batches.

Practical Parsimoney suggested a greenhouse or more shelves for food storage. If there is a corner of your cellar that can be used for cold room or root cellar storage this would be a great investment to make in your home. The idea of short term food storage is to preserve summer bounty for winter lean times. Some years when I have done this I have only needed to buy dairy and cleaning products during the winter. Money is tighter in the winter;especially when folks pay for higher utility bills or if business is seasonal; which it is in this part of Maine. I would add that if this is your goal it is worth the investment in a CSA Share to supplement what your garden produces. Short of a CSA share I would save some extra funds for pick your own produce. Around here we have strawberries, blueberries and apple picking. I also buy corn for the freezer, extra bulk potatoes. There are some great plans  online  for building your own root cellar. This is a good book for for covering all the bases of root cellaring. If you do not have the funds or skills for using a green house building cold frames will help you to extend your growing season; providing greens for you during the cold winter months.

Stevie suggested cattle panels. I agree that one to four of these are good to have around. Especially if you would like to move chickens around the yard. Instead of a chicken tractor you could move them around the yard without a tractor.

Wendy suggested a good garden wagon. I have to agree with this one. It has been on my garden wish list for a while now. They are so much easier and longer lasting than a regular wheel barrow..

I have one more suggestion.that will be a worthwhile suggestion. I suggest an investment in some edible perennials. Fruits like blueberies, strawberries and raspberries. Some fruit or nut trees. Edible or common medicinal herbs like comfrey, oregano, mint,, lemon balm, thyme. In Maine we have Fedco Seed company just a bit away from where we live. They have an annual tree sale starting on the weekend of April 27th and 28th. It continues the following weekend. It is a great opportunity to find some off catalogue varieties and on the second weekend I have found some 10.00 apple trees. There is also a greenhouse for some early seedlings, and the warehouse is open to find any amendments you may need without paying postage.

Finally, I would like to distill the the total list down to what is essential. It is tough because each investment we make in our homesteads makes them  more efficient. But if I were to start with a foundation I would suggest a good water bath canner and canning jars. Some chickens and a chicken coop. Extra shelves for food storage. Good gardening tools and an investment on edible perennials. If this were the year that you really wanted to take this task at hand then the must have book is the Encyclopedia of Country Living. After this it is all cream....oh...speaking of which...little cooler for yogurt! Just mad a batch and hmmm good!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Tools of the Trade

So the question is if you have a bit of money at this moment; but, you know that you will not have this money in the future, which tools would you purchase to improve your self sufficiency?

For the sake of this post I think that we should consider tools that someone just at the beginning of this journey would need.

This is a partial list. I invite you to include your ideas and I will post an updated list with everyone's ideas on it.

So this is my partial list:

One hot water bath canner. If you did not have the canner maybe you could find the rack to put inside a big stock pot at a Goodwill or antique shop. A pressure canner is nice but can be a bit pricey. I find that when I first started canning I would can anything and everything. What a lot of work. Now I can tomatoes, jams, jellies, some vinegar pickles, some salsas and chicken stock. The pressure canner gets used for some tomato product, salsas and chicken stock. But I use the hot water bath primarily.

Which brings me to my second important food preservation tool. A dehydrator. I started using a small electric dehydrator from RONCO ( off all places). But ideally I would like to make a solar dehydrator. Dehydrated food retains its nutrition. It is so much easier to chop some veggies or fruit than it is to heat water on a warm August day.

Jars. Canning jars for canning but any ole jar will work for dehydrated food. Most of my canning jars have been purchased second hand. I just make sure that they are not chipped. If I had my druthers I would purchases some TATLER reusable canning jar lids and use them for those foodstuffs I know I will be using just for myself and not giving as gifts.

5 gallon buckets have many uses around the homestead. I use them for making compost tea, rhubarb leaf tea. These teas are used in the garden for amending the soil and garden pest control. They can also be used for growing tomato plants on a deck or patio, thus saving you room for other crops if you have a small garden.

A rain barrel. I can not say enough for water storage. We have lost our water several times due to power outages. Water from the rain barrel can flush a toilet, it can be used for washing.

Chainsaw, safety helmet, ear protection, chaps and a good ax. Especially the chaps. Mark wears his everytime he uses his chainsaw. Safety first!

I love my pitchfork. I use it for harvesting some food, turning compost, loading up the wheel barrow with soil amendments. A couple of good hand tools for the garden.

A small lunch box sized cooler. I use this for making yogurt.

If I were to invest in any home improvement I would consider building a rootcellar. If you do not want to dig a big hole in the ground you can build a small room in a cold part of your cellar to preserve food for the winter. With a rootcellar you can store winter squash, potatoes, apples, onions, garlic, cabbage and so much more.

Or a chicken coop. Chickens are cheap to obtain, they eat food scraps, they provide compost for the garden, the eat slugs from your garden and they provide eggs. Some of they can be a source of meat.

Finally, the ultimate resource of knowledge The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery. This book has all sorts of information on growing and preserving food. It also is a first resource for information on livestock and homesteading skills.

So, are there any other suggestions? Please share your ideas in the comments.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Waste not...

There have been some cold nights and some warm days. The sap is still running on some of our maple trees. More than likely this is probably very grade B sap.

A little while ago I took a walk though the sugarbush. Some of the trees have completely shut down. Some of the buckets have colonies of spiders and flies. A good observational experiment for the little guy;). But some of the buckets were overflowing with sap. Some of the sap had become a little milky;which means that it has started to ferment. So I collected what I had. It turned out that there was still about 10 gallons of sap.

So this is what I am thinking...I am going to boil that ten gallons down to about about 1 quart. In past years we have used this kinda-gone-past sap for making a pretty potent ale. This year I was thinking about making a maple mead.

Think I'll use the recipe from this site.