A Year of Food

We just are beginning to get tomatoes and they are so welcome! It’s been a long time waiting for them.

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I managed to save one package of our bacon for BLT’s when the tomatoes came in this year. Saving bacon, from last November, to unite with fresh tomatoes that don’t come till the following August takes discipline, but we did it, and it was well worth the wait!

As I finished our last jar of tomato sauce, from last year the other day, I started thinking about all the homesteading that happened here since that jar was canned a year ago. We will take our first steer to the locker this Fall, are raising an extra pig this year, and have many more chickens than last year. Oddly though, this summer I didn’t feel quite the same “homesteading” wonderment as I did last year, but why? After thinking it over, it occurs to me that it may be, because over the course of this year it became less of a ground breaking change for us, like when we started back at the end of November 2012, instead it now became a way of life.

Although some years are thought of as a fiscal year or a calendar year, I think I will mark our year as the Tomato year, from August to August. This year I would like to take things up a few notches and try to freeze, dry and can enough of our vegetables, fruit and meat for a year. Last year I made great progress towards this, but this year will well surpass the preparation from last year. The freezer is looking like I am well on our way to achieving this! I will still buy all of our dairy (locally) as well as staples such as coffee, flour (local), rum (yes it is s a staple) and other basic supplies, but August is officially the kick off to “A Year of Food” here on our homestead.

MUSHROOMS!

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The Shiitake mushrooms surprised us the other day. I had been checking them the whole week Hubby was gone and there were none. A few days later we found these! This is our second flush of them over the last couple of months. Hopefully we will get more before it gets too cold. I made a pasta dish with these mushrooms, and our green peppers and garlic, the last package of our ground pork, the last jar of our tomato sauce from last year and a few of our tomatoes from this year which are really just getting started. I turned it into two different dishes. One was Hubby’s with lots of pasta covered in this delicious sauce, and mine was poured over a steaming bowl of diced Zucchini, with extra mushrooms and onions. Sooooo good!

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We ate them for a couple of days and then I dried a lot of them. These will add nice variety to stir-fry dishes this winter to go with our frozen veggies. They are delicious…

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…and beyond elegant in their design.

Sweet-ish Pancakes :-)

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While Hubby was gone there was one rainstorm.  Just one. Just one that dropped 3+ inches of rain in less than 2 hours! To quote a very good man, this one was a gully washer! It was the perfect rainstorm to find a good window seat with hot coffee in hand. It rained as though faucets had been turned on, no wind to blow the rain, just a steady downpour for the duration. The night before I was regretting not watering. This took care of those regrets!

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I continued on in my food processing… this time, Dill Hot Dog Relish, Pickled Zucchini, Yogurt Cucumber Salad, and more refrigerator pickles.

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Dinner was delicious. Local carrots and beets, my eggplant and broccoli, all roasted in the oven with olive oil. My Hubby and many other husbands would have felt this was an incomplete meal, like something was missing, right?

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I almost forgot about the Bread and Butter Pickles. We love these, another batch will be in order for sure!

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When Hubby returned we had a gathering for his birthday. This collaboratively built salad was perfect for an outdoor celebration. Also on the menu was (locally raised beef) hamburgers on homemade buns (local flour of course, lol), and refrigerator pickles, sliced tomatoes, local melon, pickled carrots, and potato salad made with locally grown potatoes, our eggs, and some of the dill relish I made AND it would have been delicious with dinner, HAD I REMEMBERED TO SERVE IT! Ugh! Well, our guests took home parting gifts. You guessed it, potato salad!

Finally for dessert Grandma made his boy a chocolate cake, and I was going to make him ice cream. Good thing Grandma didn’t know I was making ice cream, because she brought some. What happened to my ice cream? Well, if one does not watch the recipe carefully while on the stove it begins to cook the egg. This is a big no no. Now I had cooked egg, sugar, milk and cream. What do do with all these organic ingredients and our eggs, I couldn’t stand to waste it. Someone said pig food. I had an idea.

HOW DOES ICE CREAM BECOMES PANCAKES?

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Well you’ve likely heard of Swedish Pancakes? This is a “sweet-ish pancake. I added some melted butter and flour to the failed ice cream mixture and these are delicious! Top with ice cream and strawberries from the freezer? A very decadent dessert! …and that is how ice cream became pancakes. A very sweet mistake!

Flying Solo

Hubby was out of town for a week, and I enjoyed my solo flight. Time alone on the farm is not a usual thing, and so it is a special time, in a different way, then our together time on the farm which is special in another way. I tried to do all my granola business before he left so I could make it more of a farm week. I achieved my goal! I did bake one time but the rest of the time I literally did not leave the farm. It was beyond wonderful.

Top this off with 2 days of hanging out with your sister, on said farm? Priceless. We relaxed and did nothing. Well, that is if you call coffee mornings on the deck, cooking good food, and drinking wine on the deck in the evening nothing. It was our kind of nothing and it was perfect. I am often reminded of The Country Mouse and the City Mouse story from long ago, when we are together. She is the city mouse and I am, well, you get it, I’m sure. This city mouse helped slop pigs, toss hay, feed chickens, soaked the wallow and helped move chicken tractors. She even got the last rooster into the coop at night so we could move the chicken tractors. Why is there always one bird who won’t go in? It was great fun. After that I was on my own again. I was also on calf watch, because we are expecting two more calves, for what we have been calling “any day” for the last two weeks. This displays again our greenness with the cattle. We keep learning and they keep throwing more our way to learn. An example being about a month ago one of our newer little one knocked his horn off trying to get between the bars on the gate to reach some hay, he wasn’t supposed to have yet. So much blood, and redder than any red one could imagine it was a Dexter scene I hope to never see again. This is just an example of our learning on the fly, smart phones are great for that in the paddock. Google: our calf knocked his horn off…thankfully Google did not fail us! No matter what I ask, it’s been asked by someone already, and so it is a go to for help!

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There are so many fresh delicious veggies right now, and everyday is a surprise in the garden. These are our radishes and our neighbors cukes and onions. Absolutely delicious the radishes made the cukes just a little spicy.

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While hubby was gone, I worked in the kitchen, for many happy hours.

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This pigs have been loving the kitchen leftovers. Our neighbor sent a box of overripe cukes for them too! Happy, happy pigs!

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Our broccoli is beautiful this year!

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…blanched and ready for the freezer!

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The garlic is drying very nicely, it is almost ready to start using. There will be the yearly debate I wrote about last year. It’s the how much to replant, vs. how much I get to cook with debate. It’s so hard to set some aside when it is such amazingly good garlic!

Another thing I found out while hubby was gone? Although I LOVE cooking, while he was gone there was, no meal planning, no big sit down, and no real clean up from it. I ate simply, when hungry with no schedule! Late afternoons and early evening resulted in large windows of time, I don’t usually have.

This was nice for a change:)

Saying good bye to a good friend is hard.

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A week ago we said good bye to a very good friend, a dog who has been with us for 16 years. We were so lucky to have her that long. Does that make it any easier to say good bye? Barely, although it should. We know though that this little girl was struggling at the end and so we gave her the peaceful ending she deserved. The Vet was wonderful, we never even went in the clinic. There is a pretty spot on a river right behind the clinic, and it truly was a peaceful painless end. Well, painless for her. We still are trying to find our center in a house that feels oddly off balanced without her presence.

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This is our good old girl in her favorite pose, surveying the area in what we called her Princess of the Farm pose.

We miss her.

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Then strange things happen, like a surprise calf, and a reminder of endings and beginnings.

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The garden is growing in leaps and bounds. The San Marzano tomatoes I have been lusting for are still green but are getting to be a nice size, and there is NO possible way, short of a tornado taking them out, that I could run out of tomatoes, salsa, tomato sauce, ketchup, bbq sauce etc. this year, it’s just won’t be possible with over 20 tomato plants!

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Peppers are coming in nicely, all three varieties.

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My lovely eggplant.

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The chickens are getting so much bigger the last few weeks. Coop number three is almost done, at which point we will break up this group of 26 birds. The 8 hens will move to another coop and the roos will stay in this hoop tractor with an attached coop, however, the remaining roos days are numbered. These Delawares are supposed to be harvested in 12 weeks, I am going to let them go to 14 weeks which puts us at the last weekend in July. Last time, which was our first time butchering, it took us 6 hours to do 6 birds. That was from start to finish or from catch to clean up. This time I know it will go considerably faster but processing 20 birds will be quite the marathon, likely a two day marathon. The reward? We will eat only our chicken this year. We will know it was treated properly for all it’s life, and that we will be eating chicken that ate our grass, organic feed, garden scraps and bits of pig liver (from last years pigs) in the hardest part of winter. In October when our new hens are laying our older 4 hens will become stewing birds and so that adds 4 more birds for a total of 24 chickens in the freezer this year. Half of a chicken feeds the two of us for dinner and that makes 48 dinners for the two of us. That is almost a chicken dinner a week, but when I add in the broth it will make, that becomes the base for many more meals. This Fall we will bring our first steer and one of our hogs to the locker. (Two of the hogs are sold one will be ours, of which we will sell some of by the cut.)

We are reaching a new level of self sufficiency.

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Nice to have a neighbor that says, I can’t possibly pick all those berries, come and get ‘em! Beautiful and delicious.

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Pretty nice late night snack?

Yogurt is off the grocery list!

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Heating the milk to make…

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Yogurt!

So I am a bit afraid of other ways of making yogurt. I know that you can make it in a Crockpot, but most places I have read that people who do this have the kind of Crockpot that has a digital temperature readout, and mine has low and high. Not being brave enough to tackle the unknown, I purchased this yogurt maker on Craigslist. It was $20 bucks, and I offered $12 and  a bag of my Granola from my really granola business. She accepted the deal and the trade was made.

I wondered, with an excellent local yogurt maker in town here, why was I even trying this? So then I “mathed it out”, and yep numbers win. This yogurt costs 18 cents a cup vs. 95 cents -$1.25 at the store. Even with our wonderful local yogurt in town, their yogurt still had a couple more ingredients then mine, which is MILK, plus 2T of starter yogurt which I now have! So I have yogurt that costs almost nothing, and takes little effort to make, I now have my own “starter” for it, and my yogurt is made simply of milk, period. Additionally I am building up a supply of fruit for yogurt from now till next summer when fruit comes in again. We will have raspberries, strawberries, and rhubarb-strawberry sauce, apple cinnamon and peaches to stir into our yogurt.  All in all I would say a success story. If I ever replace my crockpot I may try the other method.

The gardens are growing like crazy, from all the rainstorms we have had, both the garden variety storms and some wickedly bad storms for which we were luckier than many. We are harvesting Kale, Collards, lettuces, and radishes so far. The green beans will be coming in soon, and I’ve seen a tiny pepper, and even an eggplant, although quite small yet. The picture below shows what I brought in yesterday. Our current hens are really slowing down in production, come Fall these will be stewing birds and we will have 6 new hens coming into laying in the at that time. We may have timed it just right!

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I have calculated the days and the 26 birds we brought here on May 1 will officially be 12 weeks on July 21st! These birds have kept us busy!

 

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Hubby was busy building this “Hoop Coop”, and we’ve both been busy moving birds around. These birds live in a coop in the old run at night but are in the hoop coop during the day. Hmmm if you think about that long enough  you may wonder…how do they get from the old coop and run to the hoop coop? By dog crate transfer! The first time we did this the birds thought we were crazy and completely balked at the idea, but now when we bring the crate to the old coop to load them up they cue up like they are waiting for the Metro. Then we carry the crate to the coop hoop and open the door and they all fly into the hoop coop. Then at night we do the reverse. It will be nice when the birds are in the freezer and we can stop doing this. Next year there will be a mobile coop to go with the hoop, so there will be no more transferring of birds. We may let them go till about the 28th, to give them one more week to fatten up. Hubby is going on a “mancation” shortly after with the brother boys and I sure don’t want to be doing chicken transfers on my own! (oh and the traffic cone [a.k.a. killing cone], is on top of their water because, well,  they perch on it otherwise which results in poopy water, yuk!

Thinking about meat for the year:

We got 18 males for butchering and 8 hens, thinking that if we lost any hens we wanted to still have enough layers, but since all 8 hens made it, I think we will butcher 2 of those as well, so we will have 20 birds in the freezer which with the two of us means 40 dinners. That is almost a chicken a week. I will also get 2-3 locally raised turkeys from the Co-op in November, and then with taking our Steer in early fall to the locker and the hogs in November, we should be all set to purchase NO meat at a store this year (other than said local turkeys at the Co-op).

We will have plenty of veggies in the freezer this year, but fruit for the year is the harder one in the midwest with our short growing season, and cold winters. But we will have plenty in the form of:

Frozen: strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb, peaches, (our cherry tree was very challenged over the cold winter) maybe local blueberries

Fresh: wild apples in our neighbors walk in cooler

Prepared: strawberry rhubarb sauce, applesauce, peach sauce,

Dried: apples and peaches

So all this is to say, we are well on our way to another year of delicious food for which we either raised, grew or bartered to get.

A few other farm pics…

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Patiently waiting for a new flush of Shiitakes. Well at least I am trying to be patient!

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Putting in a new pasture for the pigs. Yea, I’m learning to make fence:)

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While I did this Shadow kept a close eye on me, that is if she can see thru her pretty, pretty bangs!

Waffling on Beef…

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The gardens are in and this is what they looked like a couple of weeks ago. Now I am able to pick a few collard leaves here and there and the Lettuces and Arugala have been great. I have also been buying at local farmer’s markets and supporting small local farms. The rhythm of Spring has gone like this… box elder syrup season followed by radishes, rhubarb (rhubarb to freeze, rhubarb sauce to freeze for ice cream topping), and finally…

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Rhubarb Chutney which we love with Pork, of which we anticipate eating a lot of …

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Then we began to binge on Asparagus. Even with eating them almost daily I was still able to freeze about 14 dinners worth of Asparagus for midwinter treats. I freeze all the veggies in what I consider to be a 2 person serving which is just enough for dinner for us.  I also made…

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Pickled Asparagus which we really loved last year. Although I went pickle crazy last year pickling everything but hubby, I decided this year to pickle only our favorites.

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The Shiitakes are coming in beautifully and we are eating them and drying what we can’t eat. We have been enjoying delicious vegetable dishes using these mushrooms. Below is a salad with warm Shiitakes and Asparagus on it.

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Absolutely delicious.

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In addition to the beautiful mushrooms the garlic scapes were ready to be cut and so we are having them in most everything.

One of the biggest treats has been STRAWBERRIES! I feel if I eat many more I may turn red and grow little seeds. They are so sweet and so amazingly good.

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I’ve frozen about 6 quarts of berries so far. I want to freeze as much fruit as possible this year. I will be eating these yummy berries with homemade yogurt throughout the year. I can’t wait to find out how this yogurt tastes compared to store bought yogurt, of which we quite honestly have one of the best local yogurts here, so I probably should just support them. They do a great job, but then I saw this very inexpensive yogurt maker on Craigslist and well you know what happened. I wish I had the bravery to make the yogurt the other way, you know, on the counter for days or something like that.

farm updates:

We are faced with 26 chickens that are getting ridiculously big in front of our eyes. We don’t think that they will fit in their current coop much longer and the yard is getting pretty run down, so hubby is right now putting together a new portable run so we can split up this group of 26…of these 26 there will be 18 going to the freezer the last week of July. We only have to have this extra housing for a about a month and then it can to in storage in the barn. Hubby, you are the solution finder and the driving force behind the infrastructure that makes our small farm possible.

We are also faced with something else, and that is the reality that our Steer that is to go in to the locker on July 10 is possibly just not ready for butchering. Although Highlands are small we feel like this guy is on the smaller side of small. Hubby is fencing like crazy to get them moved out to the woods where they will eat all the things we don’t want and they will love doing it, and they will have endless food for quite a while, but for now, pastures have not been robust and we think we should finish him in the Fall. We have a farmer friend who may come out and give us an opinion. This is disappointing for our food plan because we were really looking forward to having beef this summer, and with no pork till Fall and the chickens not heading to the freezer till almost August, it seems like Fall will be full of variety but for Summer we will be eating more Veggie meals, and fish if we catch. We may go also out to a Grassfed Beef Farm and make a bulk purchase, it would be a good way to sneak in a tour of someone else’s Grassfed Cattle Operation at the same time!

Then hens are doing well in their chicken tractor. It has worked out super well, just another of hubby’s solutions to a problem. They are even settling back into laying after the…. hen pecking (solved), the broodiness (solved), and the move to a new coop (finally they are settling in) and beginning to lay again, which is awesome. Unfortunately they probably are going to go through their molt soon and will stop laying yet again though. So much reading and learning, I read last year when we got the chicks that at about 18 months they would molt, look funny and lose their feathers. Since the protein they eat either goes to making eggs or feathers they don’t lay eggs while they acquire their new feathers after the molt. Hopefully we can still get eggs till October when these girls will be stew birds. That will bring our freezer bird count to 22 birds which is awesome and way better than last year’s 6 birds!

The pigs are growing quickly and I’ve now weaned them off their morning feeding, which urges them to get out on pasture and forage for more food. Then I feed them a big serving in the afternoon, and by evening they are out on pasture again. It’s working well. They are loving strawberry tops and bruised berries, as well as lettuce scraps and mushroom stems. I have also been bringing giant handfuls of particular weeds they like. I bring these goodies mid-morning, as a snack, and I find that if I throw the treats out in the pasture they tend to stick around and graze afterward.

So all that said, all animals and gardens are growing and thriving and right on target, even with the torrential rains, the garden has hung in their like a champ. Craziest thing? A potato plant was growing in the garden randomly from last year. I pulled it out and it was perfect. How did a potato make it through that freezing cold 6 month winter? That tenacious little potato will be enjoyed tomorrow as a side to Saturday morning eggs, anything surviving that Winter should be celebrated!