Most colorful Fall on the farm ever!

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It has been an amazing Fall. We are used to more subtle colors since we do not have Maples, but this year it’s been incredible. It was awesome that family came to visit right when the colors were best!

What’s going on at this point is all about transitions from Fall to Winter. It’s that time of year when there is a lot of clean up. Clean out all the gardens and put them to bed, clean out all the coops, clean out the old tomato cages wrapped in knotted tomato vines and clean through the last of the veggies, storing what can be, dried, frozen, canned or eaten. Oh and of course what goes to the pigs and chickens.

Hubby has been working very hard on fencing, trying to get every last bit done before the snow flies this year, actually not every last bit but everything he hoped for his goal this year. The cattle are systematically eating through every pasture we have and so it’s supplement with hay time. The pigs also are getting down to their last bits of pasture but they will be going to the locker soon and so we will just make it, pasture wise.

Speaking of pigs here is the the whole pig story…

Last year, as mentioned, we had loading issues with our pigs. The issue? We couldn’t load them, due to not having a proper enough loading out facility. Instead they were shot on farm by the local locker who came out and did it, then we loaded them with the loader into his truck and off he went to the locker where they were butchered in a USDA facility. We liked the “on farm kill” method so much we wanted to do it again this year, but it is like swimming upstream. We can not get anyone to do it so far, well, not true exactly. The locker from last year said they would but this is the “last year”, however, they don’t seem pleased about the arrangement, and I feel like they really would rather wash their hands of the whole thing. This means Monday I will be going for a field trip  to see a new facility. They also won’t do on farm kill, but they do have a facility and a way to do it where it will be lower stress on the pigs, lower stress means better meat. See, they prefer to load them the afternoon before and then bed them down overnight, so they relax. Then in the morning they only have to walk 20 feet. I would rather go somewhere that understands our feelings about low stress and although the people at the first market are very nice folks, both we and they have a different philosophy on the process. We don’t want to compromise their philosophy any more than we want to compromise ours. Updates to follow on how things go, at this point I have an appointment at both lockers and will cancel one after the field trip. The consequence of this is that we (hubby) WILL have to build a loading out facility since they will end up being loaded live. Since there are consequences to everything, here is another. If we do have a loading facility we could in the future, if we wanted to sell meat by the piece, and get full price for pastured bacon and the expensive cuts like roasts and chops. This will be something to revisit next year.

Pigs for profit or food for us? Cattle for land management or beef?

All of this said, it created another bigger conversation, we are not surprised anymore when this happens. Where are we going with the pigs and the cattle? What is our goal, both short, and long term? Are we raising cattle for a beef business or for cleaning out the woods (land management) and feeding ourselves? My feeling about the animals is that they have to earn their keep on the farm.  The pigs earn their keep in 7 months on the farm. Next year with proper licensing one pig will provide us with meat and the other two will be sold in halves or wholes and cover the cost of raising the pigs as well as our own pig specifically. It’s a win-win, in 7 months! My opinion is that it’s remarkably easy to raise good pork. Healthy balanced organic food in, healthy rotated pastures, low stress life, the edge of the woods where they have access to acorns, and walnuts, add in wild apples and garden scraps, pumpkins etc. This is all very easy to do. Good in, good product out. Raising grass fed, grass finished cattle, in my opinion, is far more complicated! Learning about grasses alone is a whole education and the type of grasses, the availability of them, the time of year, the weather, the breed of cattle, the environment and many other things play into how that meat will taste. Grass fed cattle also take twice as long to get to market (one of the reasons grass fed beef is so expensive) and are very hard on our weakest link which is pasture space. This all weighs in when asking if they are earning their keep?  Is  their presence here financially sensible? These are some of the scenarios that we talked through… If we continue breeding we will be harder on our pastures. Do we take the bull to market and have our first beef, and not replace him? This would put us to 8 head of cattle. We also have another steer that could go in at the same time putting us at 7. Then the next year we will have two steer ready to go in leaving us at 5 which would be far more appropriate for our pasture, additionally at this point we should have substantially more pasture and could consider getting a bull then. The following year we still would have one more steer to go in and then we would be down to 4 cows, possibly with a new bull, of course, then there is the potential of 4 more calves, but maybe we would be ready by then. What this plan would do is keep us in beef through the end of 2017. This plan proves the cattle can earn their keep in beef, as well as by restoring our wooded areas, also known as land management, which they are great at doing. A question that popped up out of this discussion was, “can you let a cow go two years without breeding”, and so the research continues…and the greenhorns keep reading.

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This was our chicken hoop that we were moving the chickens in all summer long. Now that the chickens have been butchered, here it is transformed into a…

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…mini high tunnel, or “tiny tunnel”.  We removed the green tarp over the old hoop coop and put on clear plastic so we can use it to extend the season. I planted: scallions, spinach, lettuce, radishes, peas (for the pea shoots), and transplanted a small kale plant into it. So far everything is coming up and the little green sprouts showing up are beautiful. I hope this experiment works!!

This is what it looked like before we lowered the hoop on top of the bales…

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and now it looks like this in there…

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Now for some picture fun…

How pretty is this amazing red cabbage?

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The Delawares are starting to lay, not consistently but we are getting there!

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This picture just looks like cattle on the side of the driveway. Ahhhh but it is so much more than that! This is a scene I marvel at each time, because it took years of fencing, on hubby’s part, to get them across the driveway! It’s a beautiful thing. Check out the fencing techniques below…our posts are all Black Locust, which had to be cut down, retrieved, and de-barked before they were ready for the project. Now that is a project all by itself!

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The picture above is from chicken butchering day… look at all the eggs that were in the butchered hens?! You may ask why did we butcher such seemingly great laying hens? Answer….because the hatchery gave us more females than we wanted. The picture below had to go next to the the one above because they are the peas and carrots of breakfast, they just go together…

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JOWL bacon. Nothing else needs to be said…

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This was taken the night we picked the last of the pears and apples. It’s been a wonderful Fall season!

Cool temps, Fall is settling in…

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These pumpkins were on my neighbor’s lawn, I had to stop and snap a picture, the orange was the most perfect pumpkin orange ever.

We went from t-shirt mornings straight into woolen cap mornings. The afternoons bring us highs of 78 and highs of 48 all in the same week. It’s that time of year. Just when you get out your necessary warm stuff, you wake up to a humid day. Honestly, this description could easily describe anywhere in the Midwest.

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This is what a typical catch of the day is like this time of year. The Acorn Squashes were a welcome surprise. They were growing in one of the pig’s rotationally grazed yards and so I kept them out of that yard till the squash matured.

grape juice concentrateThis grape juice is really a treat. It was a tiny harvest, but the nice part is this really amounts to grape juice concentrate so just a little in lemonade or water adds so much flavor.Everything the last couple weeks has been about food processing. This is a time of year where the granola business fills orders but doesn’t look hard for new customers, because it is a demanding time on the farm. Come winter, I will be looking to add customers and front burner the business but not in late August and September. This helps me get through the crescendo of the garden produce as it first ramps up and then explodes exponentially, as the tomatoes did this year. I have 36 pints of salsa made, pints and pints of dried tomatoes and have 40 pounds of tomatoes in the freezer to make sauce, bbq sauce and ketchup. This is an example of the explosion. In fact I have even pulled some of my plants and tossed them aside to get some cold crops in and they are fruiting right in the pile where I tossed them! In the past week, I have gone into overdrive, but I knew it was the last big push and I enjoyed checking one thing after the other off the list. Over the past week I have frozen most of the last tomatoes, frozen yet another 5 pounds of beans, dried many more apples, made large amounts of applesauce, dried 4 watermelons, and 3 cantaloupes, froze a nearly 10 pound chicken of the woods mushroom (shown below), made the last of the grape juice, made and froze pesto, and finally a giant bowl of cole slaw, that went amazingly with baby back ribs, the last of the pork from last year, and homemade applesauce that was still warm, mmmmm. What more could one want?IMG_1422Here is the Chicken of the Woods Mushroom. I was wary at first but after reading so many great recipes on the internet I figured they all lived to write about it. It is delicious. IMG_1430Here is the mushroom sliced for the freezer.IMG_1480How does one make homemade pizza sauce in a few minutes? Take a bag of paste tomatoes out of the freezer the night before. The next day take them out of the fridge and pour them out into a colander over a bowl. Then slip the skins off each one, they come off in one piece, and then with an immersion blender puree it and season it. I was very surprised to see how much water came off of paste tomatoes, I knew there would be some but it was quite a bit. This resulted in the sauce literally not having to be cooked down at all! The tomato water went into a broth, and it didn’t use hours of propane to cook down. This is a win win for sure. The thawing process does all the work for you! The sauce was delicious, tasted like pure summer. We had an assembly line and built oodles of little pizzas, with garden veggies on my amazing pizza stone, it makes such a nice crisp crust!zucchini chipsNow again, I might have had a bit too much of my own kool aid, but when I could can no longer, or had little more room for freezing, I started making things into chips, and a few people may think I’ve gotten carried away? Well I like them, and I made sea salt zucchini chips and eggplant chips as well as a seasoned version. I dried yellow zucchini chips as well, and green bean sticks too, although they tasted a bit like eating a mouthful of tiny branches, which felt like a choking hazard. These will be safer in soup.salsa makingI keep thinking it’s the last batch, but the tomatoes won’t stop pouring in, and you can’t waste them, right? I will be making one more batch tomorrow.Other things besides just the garden and kitchen are happening on the farm. We are butchering the last 9 birds this week. They have been put off a few times, and it has to get done. Then we will have all the birds down to just the winter coop, where they don’t mind at all on these cool mornings hanging out inside the coop. Translate: I don’t have to get up as early to let them out, which is pretty nice on chilly mornings.We will be going to visit a Highland Cattle farm in the area this week. The farmer is nice enough to show us his operation, especially his loading facility. He is very knowledgeable about Highlands so it will be helpful to talk to him and see his set up. We have been having conversations about the Highlands. What are our goals with them? We know we want to use them for land management. Do we want to raise beef? Do we want to raise calves to sell as growers, like we get our pigs as growers? See raising grass fed, grass finished beef is an art, really. It’s also a longer term investment, because without being grain fed, they will take 2 years or a bit more to be ready for butchering. We are learning about cool season grasses, warm season grasses, herd needs at different times of year, and about how much the quality of forage we feed affects the meat. There are many variables that affect how this type of beef will turn out and so until we learn enough, and get to a point where we know we are turning out a really great high quality tasty grass fed, grass finished beef we will just be feeding ourselves with the beef. We will have our first steer to the locker in late winter, and we will learn a lot then. He is not a big guy and Highlands are not large cattle at all as well, so we are not expecting a huge yield. The hogs, in contrast, are on the farm for about 7 months and the 2 we are raising for other people (that they have pre-purchased from us and own) will end up paying for our hog. They are easy keepers and you don’t even have to over winter them! This for now is the perfect balance and the system provides us both beef and pork. Since we are not selling the beef at this time and it is just for our own use, and since our hog sales are all pre-sold meaning that the parties own the animal, and we are not selling any pork by the piece we can do on farm kill and then transfer to a USDA butchering facility by their worker. I couldn’t be happier that the hogs won’t have to go through the stress of transport and of entering the locker and chute etc. So glad this is legal and we can do this. There has been lots to talk about and think about lately as we figure out our direction and model here on the farm. There will be much time for this, this winter.

August

This picture sums up August.

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Produce season has been keeping me extremely busy, which means between baking and delivering granola for my business, and processing food from the garden, and the farm, that those are the only two things happening here now.

There are definite signs of winter coming, laugh if you will, but one of the signs is Fall. Fall has become less of a season and more of a warning of last chances. Last chances for collecting apples, last chances to plan out and set up cold frames to keep the “cold” crops going through the end of the year, last chance to harvest every last vegetable, and to secure winter storage for veggies with our bartering neighbor (who has a walk in cooler), last chance for free fall raspberries at said neighbors as well. Other last chances include, last chance to get the pigs to put on as much weight as possible, and to get our steer on the best grass possible, for the next two months before he also goes to the locker (a challenge for the greenhorns as our herd size increases).

We didn’t realize how quickly Fall would be on us, until the chickens stopped laying eggs and we realized the days are getting quite a bit shorter and so it was time to give them more light in their day. The timed light is back on, and the eggs came back. The apples in the orchard are ready, the garlic is dry enough to put away, the tomatoes are at the 5 gallon bucket a day stage, the grapes are ready, and the Brussels Sprouts are getting bigger. The Kale and Collards look nicer now that some of the extreme heat is lessening, they love the cool and even cold weather, they went till the end of November last year. (I am hoping for a better cold frame around them this year to keep them going longer.)

All this is to say, that we know the weeks are going to start going faster and faster as we squeeze more and more in to them. Hubby is doing the final push to get the cattle across the driveway onto the first of a series of new pastures. I think he will feel the weight of, maybe not the world, but how about the weight of a cow off his shoulders, when this gets done. It’s been hard dealing with the consequences of our getting into the cattle a bit too unknowingly and then bringing in a bull when we already were having lack of pasture issues. These are all hard lessons learned and so finally having that huge leap in fencing to get them across the driveway will be a giant step in our cattle goal. This pasture will be part of a series of pastures that will put the cattle into the woods, where they can clean up the woods for us and eat all the free food that waits for them. They will even root out the scrubby stuff for us and the woods will be so much nicer after they do this work. This is work they will love doing! It will be amazing to see them working the woods, it’s been a long term goal that is finally just about here!

Tomato Porn

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Could these paste tomatoes be more beautiful? These are San Marzanos. Amazing for pasta sauce, bbq sauce, ketchup etc.

The other day, I was trying to figure out exactly when I would have time to cook down oodles of tomatoes to make sauce. Even though the plan was to use paste tomatoes this still requires a cooking down time, just not as long as with other tomatoes. We are getting some cooler days but most are still pretty summer-like and so heating the kitchen isn’t exactly the thing I want to do. I always cook down tomatoes in the late summer when it’s hot, but now that I was told the simple secret of freezing tomatoes whole, it’s a game changer. I thought the goal of freezing of the tomatoes was that the skins slip right off when they thaw. Still true, but additionally the thawing process allows a lot of the tomato water to drain off (which will be saved for veggie broth), which cuts down on cooking time and fuel use. I went ahead and cut the tops off the tomatoes and froze them in a large bag that I kept flat in the freezer so they didn’t freeze together. Then I will thaw them, slip the skins off in one easy piece and drop them all into a colander with a bowl under it to catch the tomato water that comes out of them. Not only does this mean they are on the stove less time, (using less fuel), but the freezing of them means that I don’t have to do it in late Summer, when the tomatoes are ready, it could be an early cool fall day when it feels nice to have the burner warming up the kitchen. In my little kitchen, this was a big deal on many levels. It even gives me time to work on other veggie processing, right now, because I can put off the sauces until the produce season slows a bit in Fall, after pumpkins and apples are over.

Other things going on, here on the farm in the last few weeks included…

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Chicken butchering day! We had our daughter, hubby’s brother, and our neighbor to help. It went really well, processed 15 birds in about 6 hours, not including clean up. Much, much faster than when we did 6 birds last year in the same amount of time!

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Finally our good old girl Shadow had her baby. This little girl is much smaller than the little bull we had born here on the farm recently. Mama seems to be taking good care of her. Her name is Eloise, a twist on the name Louise…(Think back to the Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem “My Shadow”) This was a poem my Sister and I loved as kids, so thanks Sis for suggesting this name!

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.
The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow…

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We had another good flush of Shiitakes and I dried a lot of them, after we had eaten our fill. I do think shiitake mushrooms sauteed in butter are an incredible flavor, so earthy, rich and delicious, there is really nothing else like that taste.

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While our grapes vines could look about 100% better if we found time to work on them, they still yielded a good amount for grape juice. This isn’t like the grape juice from Sunday school, promise. We did make a commitment to pruning them properly in March and putting in posts, after the frost, to get them strung up properly.

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The Garlic will all be cut like these today, and stored in a netted bag. When my sister and I went on an amazing trip to Maine some years back, I brought back a netted bag from the Moosabec Mussel company. I will store the garlic in this. Oh how I wish I had some fresh mussels that I could use this garlic with to make an amazing Maine dinner. I have to go back there someday, it was one of my best vacations ever, Sis and I have fond, fond memories of that week!

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Finally, we had a great time at our neighbors farm party. This was a bit of a farm tour he was giving to guests. The food was wonderful, pastured pork, amazing salsa, delicious salads, great beer, lemonade and other snacks. I even was served lemonade, by an attentive and adorable, 5 year old server:)

Now? Back to veggie work.

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:)