This is my Shissel

Shissel: Yiddish for basin or tub.

My Mother knew my love of coffee and had  bought me this mug and told me it would be my Shissel of coffee. So my Shissel and I are ready for a post here. Ironically my last entry was about change, and we have gone through a big one since then. This entry is for you Mama because you loved hearing what was happening on the farm.

my shissel

This is the time when everything is ramping up. I watch from Springtime till Fall as the small High Bush Cranberries change color from green to yellow to orange to red. They are almost red and that is a sign that I look forward. It is usually a cool crisp day when I pick these berries in Late October to early November. Can you tell I am a Fall lover? So as hot as it is right now, it can be felt in many ways that Fall is coming sooner then we are probably ready for…. It’s time to pull the cider press out and start collecting apples, the tomatoes are at peak and so are the grapes. I’ve been freezing beans, about 3-4 pounds every other day, as well as Kale, Collards, and fermenting cucumbers and making fermented sauerkraut. Today was grape jelly, grape juice and tomato sauce. They will all be in the freezer by the end of day.

gatherings 2

In addition to food preservation, I’ve been collecting, whenever I am out, little bits of herbs and weeds to add to my herbal/weed apothecary. I look forward to exploring my collections this Winter and having time to make teas and salves etc. I’ve collected dozens of flowers, weeds, leaves, and roots. I’m a student of Rosemary Gladstar, but she doesn’t know it, she’s taught me a lot and it’s been fun to learn. Couple that with the fact that I finally am back to finishing the book “Clan of the Cave Bear” Rosemary and Ayla, the strong female character in the book, have taught me a lot.

Today Hubby is working on a new hay barn. We literally have not an extra foot of space in our current barn due to wood storage and equipment. Much of the stored wood will help build the barn, and much of the money for the rest of the structure, will come from the sale of our little Ford tractor. This all means more space in the barn which will really help! Maybe even doors on the long barn someday!

This weekend I will plant the Fall tunnel garden with Kale, Spinach, Early carrots and Watermelon Radishes. The chicken wire tunnel will be covered with plastic around the first half of October, and these veggies should be with us through the Winter. Last year we had some slow growing lettuce all Winter in there. I also run a plastic cover across the inside of the tunnel like a blanket over the veggies (the cover rides the edges of the tunnel where it sits on the hay bales), it worked great experimentally last year so this year I am hoping for even better success so I am planting more than just the experimental lettuce from last year.

our honey

We are becoming more self sufficient in bits. The more new things on the farm the closer we get to this. We now have our first sample of our honey. A beekeeper has his hives here and the exchange rate is that we earned 10 pounds of our own honey that he has been able to raise here. I did actually get a bit more of this, on a granola barter, so I could have “our honey” to use as gifts at the holidays this year. I know self sufficiency on the farm, is as the title suggests “incremental”, but in addition to raising all of our own meats and eggs over the last few years, this year we likely will have a year’s worth of our own: rhubarb, green and yellow beans, butternut squash, tomato sauce, fermented pickles and kraut plus other ferments, as well as enough basil, oregano, garlic, dill and chili peppers. I get excited with each thing we add here. Last year we added a lot of fruit (elderberry, aronia berry, plum trees, currents and goji berries), none of these are big yielders yet but they will! These are all small steps but they add up over time. I still barter as needed for things we don’t have such as local strawberries and years worth of potatoes and onions.

This November a new change to the farm is that new grazing land will open up for our cattle because some areas of the farm are coming out of a program, and now will be able to be grazed. This allows us to consider growing our small herd of Highlands over the course of the next few years. In the meantime we have two steers getting processed at the end of September, so less mouths to support on hay this Winter and lots of meat in our freezer, especially with the 2 hogs being processed in early November. I believe I may have sold one of them yesterday, it was a referral call to us, and selling a whole hog would be an easy way to handle it, and freezer space with the two steers would be tight.

mushrooms

We had a surprise flush of Shiitakes the other day, and they are now dried and packed away for Winter soups and stews. They are such wonderful tasting mushrooms!

sauce, all ours!

This sauce was exciting. Everything in it was from the farm, which included tomatoes, beef, mushrooms, peppers, onions, and basil and lots of garlic. This may be a small achievement but as I put it in freezer containers for Winter eating, it was a very good feeling. Tonight the grape juice and tomato sauce from today will be packed into the freezer as well. Tomorrow will be more beans and more tomato sauce…blanch, freeze, and repeat.

sunset

Things that change…

This is a photo collage of how things change here,

and how one thing often inspires another…

 

Late May to Mid July…

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IMG_8452tomatoes july

Berries become…

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…amazing jam

 

Cucumbers become…

cukes

yummy fermented pickles

…delicious fermented pickles

 

Calendula flowers dry to become…

dried calendulacalendula salve

…Calendula Salve.

 

Fresh Dill dries to become…

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…Fresh dried Dill seed.

 

A Cranberry and honey ferment and a Lemon and honey ferment becomes…

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… a 2 quart jar of cranberry honey and a 2 quart jar of lemon honey that both can be used this year for sweetening tea and desserts. What is shown in this jar got mixed together in the food processor and will be Cranberry relish for the year. It will be especially great on our Pork come Winter.

It’s nice looking back over this and seeing that despite the fact that sometimes I feel like I have many unfinished things, that there are plenty of things that do come together in the end:)

Finally, a great find today!

We are approaching August and produce season is really kicking in at this point. I will be blanching and freezing small batches of Kale, Collards, and Swiss Chard every few days at this point. The Green Beans and Dragon Tongue beans will be coming in full over the next week, so there is plenty more to blanch and freeze, so the timing today of my popping into the local resale shop and finding this great tool for blanching, was perfect! It cost me $2.00 and it is stainless steel and much smaller then what I used to use, and the basket is perfect for plunging from pot to ice water to stop the blanching process. It made the job very simple, and simple often means that I get more of it done! Looking forward to a freezer full of vegetables this Winter!

blanching pot

 

 

 

Everything Spring!

Spring came on early and way too hot. It was crazy hot for a while being 85-90 degrees in mid May. This creates a bit of Spring Drama, with young plantings withering from the Sun, and well, me too, that is…withering from the Sun! It becomes hard to acclimate to, when it hits this early. Stormy season has begun, and with each storm I think, maybe this one will cool things off. Well the picture below was the one that did it. We got a couple of cool planting days after this storm!

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chives

I learned that chives buds can be fermented, so I had to try!

chive bud ferment

They can be used in a relish tray or with a Martini, darn I need to learn to like Martinis!

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Once the chive blossoms open they can be steeped in rice wine vinegar to add to a salad dressing, this turned out to be wonderful!

rhubarb

My rhubarb plants have grown to almost be enough for our needs, I still added some from Grandma’s plants though so I would have some extra.

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I liked this new rhubarb jam recipe because it doesn’t require any added pectin! So easy to make and really delicious. I might make one more batch! In my quest to learn from last year, I will freeze just a little rhubarb, I froze a lot more last year and I think Jam is a better use for it. Each year, I am trying to learn from last year!

catch of the day

What I found on my walk.

pbs and morels

…and more of what I found on my walk. Sadly it was a dismal Morel year for us, but we were happy for each one we found. The Pheasant Backs had a much better year, of course. Our Shiitakes are getting there, we should have a good flush soon, can’t wait!

I have been learning some new things, which I love. I have started learning about all the amazing wild plants we have and their medicinal values. This puts together my nursing instincts and background with my love of Wild Crafting and foraging. I practiced my first salve using these Dandelion flower tops. I dried them first a bit so they wouldn’t add moisture to my oil infusion. Then I heated the oil and let them saturate it, then I strained the olive oil that had the flowers in it and combined it with some beeswax, from the honey farm down the road. It is such nice beeswax with a bit of natural honey scent to it.

dandelion oil

 

melting local beeswax

Here is the beeswax melting.

process

I had extra beeswax so I made some candles as well. Shown below are the finished products.

product

My daughter gave me some dried Calendula flowers and so I made this salve as well. This was really fun, and I know I will want to do this more! I am starting to think about Holiday gift giving ideas!

fishing

Sometimes one must take some time to just sit, and so we did. All the fish we caught were too small:( The boat though was very relaxing, so goal achieved.

ginger beer

I am playing with fermented Ginger Beer these days. Trying to get it just right. The batch previous to this was better, so I am thinking I need to work on my Ginger Bug (my ginger starter). It is nice to be able to make a carbonated Summer drink like this.

There is only one more garden to be put in and it should be done this week. There is loads of mulching to do, but after that there is a bit of a lull, before produce starts needing processing. I am ready for a lull!

Sharing some things I have seen…

While this poster likely may be more for the SHTF Prepper world, I like the list. The one thing we have not attempted is to save our own seed. This year maybe? Working to become self sufficient? Yes, this is an ongoing process, and relates to the very title of my Blog,” Incrementally Stepping Towards Homesteading…because each step forward is one step closer”.

take control

These last few years have taught us a lot and has brought us so many steps closer to this goal. Three years ago we had a small garden, and a few Cattle. Now we have sold a calf, processed two cattle, and currently have 7 on the ground here as well as two piglets. Our garden has grown and is exponentially more productive, and we have 14 laying hens now. We have increased our fruit on the farm each year, and have freezers full of our fruits, veggies, beef, chicken and apple cider we made last Fall. We have more than enough eggs for ourselves and now are licensed for retail sales here on the farm for eggs, beef, chicken and pork. I’ve learned about the health benefits of fermentation, and have enjoyed creating with this newly learned skill.  We are also learning to be better foragers, although I want to get so much better at it! My foraging adventures have taken me to become interested in natural medications that are easily made, such as teas for colds and congestion, and salves for irritated skin. I am only just learning about this and there is so much to learn! Interestingly, I am reading The Clan of the Cave Bear and my plant research parallels the book as young Ayla learns about medicinal plants from the medicine women. It is all so very interesting and I am so excited for the things we have learned and will learn.

ww2 poster

About being more self sufficient… This is an interesting World War II poster, my own Mama remembers about planting victory gardens. The result of the victory gardens was that more than 20 million gardens were planted, with 9-10 million tons of food being produced, unfortunately when the war was over this initiative was no longer promoted and there was a shift to relying on the developing grocery stores and commercially made foods, instead of ourselves.

I can not stop myself from inserting this Joel Salatin quote…

hstead collect

Ok, (shown below) this really is the last poster, it hits home for us because whatever we can provide ourselves with, translates to needing less money to live on, which ultimately translates to us continuing to step towards self reliance, it is a simple way to live and it is a very powerful feeling to know how well we can take care of ourselves.

like printing your own

So, now I will hop off my soapbox and tell what’s up on our farm…

spring cows

The cattle are thrilled to be out on fresh green grass. The weather has been great, apart from a few too hot days, well too hot for me, anyhow!

first asapargus

Asparagus are poking up!

a morel

It’s so far not been a good Morel year, we are hoping from more, but the window is short for these.

spruce tips

This is a first. I read about dried Spruce tips. They are said to be a helpful for sore throats and colds, it can be made into a tea. It can also be made into a syrup, but I ended up drying all of these. They looked like this once they were dried. (see below)

dried spruce tips

Dried Spruce tips.

dandelion salve

This is Dandelions infusing in Olive oil, the oil gets mixed with coconut oil and beeswax to make a salve for irritated skin or sore muscles, Dandelion is supposed to have pain relieving qualities. I have never tried anything like this!

beeswax

This beeswax is from the honey farm down the road. It smells lightly of honey.

breakfast ingredients

Breakfast the other day… Pheasant Back mushrooms, chives, garlic mustard, day lily, watercress and hosta all sauteed in our rendered pork fat, with our eggs. Everything from the farm!

morels, p.b's and watercress

Wild mushrooms and watercress, yum!

kvass and strawberry yogurt

After making a strawberry fruit Kvass, I took the strawberries, now a rather light pink shade as most of the coloring went to the Kvass, and blended them in with the yogurt to make a yogurt drink, this gave the strawberries two uses. It is May and I am now officially out of blueberries, strawberries, peaches, and  what is left is applesauce, and lots of rhubarb. I could make the applesauce more interesting by mixing it with some rhubarb for an apple rhubarb sauce, and I could use the rest of the frozen rhubarb to make some rhubarb jam. We have plenty of rhubarb coming up right now, so I need to get that frozen stuff used up! Made the first Rhubarb Crisp of the year last week. We were lucky enough that when MIL and FIL came over for Mother’s Day they brought, what turned out to be, our second Rhubarb Crisp of the the year and of the week!

family shoot out

Finally it was time to take a break from productivity for a bit of fun on the weekend with family.

This little light…

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I really don’t want to be that person that starts a blog entry with, “I can’t believe how long it’s been since I have posted”. What I will say is life has been drawing me and my attention in other directions. Homesteading, or stepping towards it, is no different than any other personal path people decide to take in life. The course is always tempered by twists and turns and lately that is in the form of aging family members and health concerns. These things turn all else on their side. Having said all this, I am brought back to this candle. This beautiful handmade 100% Beeswax candle, was made for me by my friend. I find it very calming.

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Lighting it as evening starts rolling in is a nice way to close out the day and transition to night. It feels very soothing in our kitchen and smells just barely of sweet honey.

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In farm news, it’s been prairie burning time, as well as sap cooking time, both of which came early and had very short windows to work within unfortunately. We do have a week of weather coming up that has temps above 32 during the day and below 32 at night, so there is a chance I may sneak in another week to tap.

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This was a gallon of Black Walnut sap, ready to boil down. The eggs were in the pic because they came in with me on the way back from bucket emptying. All in all it has not been a good year for syrup. It warmed up way too quick leaving only a couple of days of good flow.

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The greenhouse is doing great. The greens in there lasted entirely through the Winter with my double layer blanket system. Their growth was a bit stunted at with the double blanket not providing enough light at times, but as soon as the days got longer they shot up. There was actually lettuce that started to bolt on the last day of March! I couldn’t have been happier with it’s performance. Next Fall I will plant the whole darn thing not just a test batch. About 10 days ago we went ahead and planted the rest of the tunnel with radishes, chard, spinach and bunching onions and things are already up! Ironically it is going to snow a bit on Thursday but nothing this tiny but mighty mini high tunnel can’t handle! It’s been so nice to eat fresh salads!

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I guess the eggs made it into this picture too… which maybe is just about right, when you look at the next photo!

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You might ask what is this? Well it is a few things. It is a steam cooked hard boiled egg, or would that be called a hard steamed egg? I read that if you steam the eggs that they peel easier, and guess what? They do! This egg, I peeled and put into a jar of beet kvass that had fermented with onions and garlic. Once sliced this oniony, garlicky egg was not only pretty, it was delicious!

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To finish a few kitchen photos, I will show (with pride) my sourdough hotcakes. Yes they could have gotten a bit fluffier, but I was so excited about this coming from my own starter that I couldn’t have cared less. A bit of butter and some Black Walnut syrup, was a great way to start the day. I have volumes to learn about sourdough! One of the things I need to learn will be how to use the discarded part of the starter when feeding my ‘lil starter. That is where these sourdough hotcakes came from…happy belly.

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This is my normal every day no knead bread, but I tossed in some starter to see what would happen. It had a nice little sourness from the starter. Once my starter is really ready, I will do a true sourdough bread, which I hear takes days to make! I’m having trouble coaxing along my sourdough starter, since we have a cold house. It is generally 61-65 in the house so my ‘lil starter has not been happy enough to bubble with joy, over the top of it’s jar. Today I will set it in the oven with the light on, and maybe that will make it happier.

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This picture I am including just because it is beautiful. Food is amazingly beautiful. These are carrots and daikon radishes, that I put into a ferment. Speaking of ferments, I had a special treat on my birthday. I got a bit of birthday cash and decided that although I don’t buy produce at the store, I had to feed my need to ferment. It is tough in the Wintertime to feed that need, what with all the frozen, canned, stored and dehydrated foods we eat in the winter. This was a strange experience buying produce, as it has been years. I felt like a kid in a candy shop as I selected my yummy organic cart full of fruits and veggies. Seemed so strange to buy citrus fruits, but they were beautiful and such a treat.

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This is sunshine in a jar. Ok, it is not, but if you could put sunshine in a jar, this is what I imagine it to look like. Beautiful lemon slices bathed in local honey. I have used some in my tea and the lemon infused honey has a magical taste. This jar is loaded with vitamin C and the wonderful immune properties of honey, as well as the beneficial value there is in eating local honey! All this and it is so nice to look at in my pantry!

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This is what came out of my birthday ferment-a-thon! Fermented garlic green beans, a “ginger bug” starter for ginger beer, beet kvass, moroccan lemons, fermented cauliflower carrot dill mix, kimchee, sourdough starter and lots of purple kraut! Love my ferments! They are so delicious and so pretty too, I love putting them together.

To the outdoors…

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My little corner of the barn is cleaned up and ready for a new season.

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We had some eggs that got pushed back to the back of the fridge for too long. I used them for target practice. I was having a very hard time with my new (to me) gun. I just wasn’t hitting the target. This is a new to me problem. The sites on this older Colt 22lr, are different then any sites I had every used. I literally was not hitting the darn paper. In total frustration I went to “my people” (Facebook homesteaders) and told my story. I asked if anyone had advice on these sites that I had never used. Someone wrote me back and sent me this chart. My sites are the one on the bottom row. After that? Problem solved. All shots are tightly grouped and I think I just need to adjust it a tiny bit, as they were slightly left of center.  I love my Facebook homesteader pals. They always are there with an answer!

 

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We took an anniversary break and went fishing. Hubby caught this amazing bass on his first cast! I got to filet it, and it was the first time I ever fileted a fish that had such substance to it, I am used to smaller pan fish. This was amazing and delicious. Half was for dinner and half went into the freezer for another dinner. It was a perfect anniversary.

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Recently, while on a farm walk, I stopped at the old stone cheese factory ruins on the farm. Oh if these walls could talk…

This week is one of the two times a year that I fly solo here. Cattle, chickens, greenhouse, keeping the house warm, it’s all me this week. Having a week alone 2 times a year is therapeutic for me. I have a great list of things to do… I am going to clean through items in the basement to purge and get them on the local FB buy and sell page, clean out the coops, clean out two fridges and organize the two chest freezers, get the garden plan done, write on this blog and of course, work on my granola biz, but it’s taking a back seat this week. If the rest of the family is off on vacation, I decided that basically I am too!

Looking forward to my solo week…

Bubbling soup, and a crackling fire…

I cleaned up from a simple dinner of grilled cheese with delicious 5 year local cheddar and homemade soup. Then I sat down, with a hot cup of Ginger Lemon tea (this is new for me, never have been a tea drinker) which I really like, and opened my computer to work on Quickbooks for my business. My intention was to get all book keeping done tonight. Then I started thinking about the garden and then pretty soon Quickbooks was off the desktop and i started working on my garden list. While I was pausing to think about what else to add, I realized how quiet the house was and that all I could actually hear was the simmering beef broth on the stove top, the crackling of the wood fire downstairs, and an owl that was just down the hill from the house. Nights on the farm are very quiet. This sparked yet another of my, multiple time a day moments, where I just feel so grateful, and so lucky and so happy to live on our hill, and be able to do what we do here. It seemed like a good time for a blog post, so now work and the garden were both off my desktop.

We’ve been wanting to have a “farm meeting” before Spring hit, so we could talk about animal and garden plans etc. It just kept not happening so on our most recent drive to see my folks, we had our farm meeting in the car. I of course hadn’t thought of this idea before hand so all my perfectly organized notes were no part of the discussion unfortunately. We did pretty well though and I am excited about all of our new ideas and plans.

We confirmed a previous passing conversation about not having new Chicks on the farm this year. We have gotten Chickens in the Spring for the last 3 years. We had pigs the first 2 years and then not last year, so each Spring we do things a bit differently. Last year we raised 50 birds for the freezer and 8 new hens. This year after talking it over we have decided to not get new birds. We still have the layers from the year before in a different coop and run and we decided we will let those birds do their thing in the cow yard and be free ranging birds. They are not our main layers anymore, although they do lay, and if we were to lose a layer, which of course we don’t want to happen, I sure wouldn’t want it to be one of our current layers, who have another whole year of laying. This will be a good experiment. Additionally we realized that if the older hens range than we can move the new layers into the old layers pen and this will free up the chicken area in our permanent coop, to be a well fertilized garden. This will be new garden space, and since it is completely fenced in, I will let all the pole beans climb up these fences on all three sides. This frees up space in my other garden where they were last year. In the Fall when the younger layers head into this area, the things planted there will be done and the chickens will enjoy cleaning it all up! We also made a decision that this year will be a pig year, we will get 2-3 feeder pigs, same as last time, Large Black Hogs. So this covers the pig and chicken plans for Spring.

Lastly for animals it brings us to the Cattle. We are pretty sure by an incident that occurred recently that we will likely have calves in September. Our original 9 cattle ended up as 8 when we sold a calf, then 6 when we processed to steers. Now we are at 5 and the decision is that one of our two last steers will get processed in the Spring and one toward the end of Summer. This will leave us with our 3 mama cows and our bull. We had been worried about having calves and not having enough pasture to support the animals, but now that we have thinned the herd, it is a good time for calves. We will have a huge new pasture open in the Fall, that will give us endless grazing for our small herd and will be wonderful to finally see happen.

In garden news:

We will now have 3 gardens! The mini high tunnel that is in use right now will be where I start all my greens early, and it will keep the bunnies away too. The big garden will be extended a bit and now I have the chicken yard to plant in too, this will help provide some of the extra space I will be needing this year. We also discussed fencing the big garden which would be a big job but would be helpful for years and years, I am really hoping we can get to this.

In other random news, we are seeing loads of Eagles, and I am loving it! These were feeding on a deer on near the road, we turned around to go back for the shot!

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I worked on another loom project. This one for my west coast daughter. We recently visited and I brought it with me. It turned out looking like this.

black and white mat

Naturally I have to bore any reader with my newest ferments. This includes my first true Krautchi. Well it’s real Kimchee but I used regular Cabbage so it is Krautchi:)

all new ferments

Finally, it seems Spring is coming early so my daughter and I…

bucket cleaning…washed out the buckets and got to work…

sap collection

We rounded out this weekend after tapping the trees with a wonderful family dinner with fish we caught ice fishing, a veggie dish with red peppers, green and yellow beans, and broccoli, our bartered and roasted potatoes, some Krautchi and a bowl of Strawberries and Blueberries for dessert. Pulling all this colorful and pretty produce out of my freezer amazes me every time. This dinner was like summer with all the veggies and fruits. Finally we played a new game. This is saying a lot because I am a total wreck at learning games, but I learned it and now officially love playing the Settlers of Catan. All four of us liked it, mostly the three of them were in amazement that I could play it;) It was a great farm weekend.

Our first trip ice fishing was a success! We were dressed in many layers and I had pocket warmers in my mittens and socks, and between the two and the not bad temps, we managed to be out there about 5 hours.

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Every Wisconsin event needs Brats, right? And of course, I brought my fermented Kraut! By late afternoon we headed home, started up a fire in the house and got to fish cleaning, which we were doing for a while! There are now quite a few frozen fish meals set aside. All in all a great day!

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In the last entry I showed the lettuce mix I am growing in the greenhouse. With the extra blanket that I drag over the plants on the inside, they have kept growing nicely, despite the temps. They are getting bigger now..

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Green is amazing to see at this time of year.

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We made a trade of beef for bacon, with a farmer friend. This night dinner was fermented cabbage, our friend’s bacon, our eggs and fermented radishes and carrots with sprouts grown on the counter. If this were served at a Farm to Table restaurant, I believe it would be a repeat item on the menu!

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One last bit of food porn… bartered bacon, homemade bread, sprouts grown on the counter and topped with Watermelon radishes from cold storage.

At this point in the year, it is time for a list. What are our plans for the cattle this year, how many pigs will we get, discuss chickens for meat and eggs, figure out where to make more garden space, decide when we will prune the grapes, apples, raspberries, and more… Soon it will by syrup season, and then it all begins again. A year of food starts with Syrup in the Spring and ends with Pumpkin processing in the Fall.