…and the snow just continues!

We really do have a lot of snow on the ground. I was trying to figure out how we have this much snow when we have not had any really giant snowfalls. Then I realized that quite literally we have kept every inch that has fallen because it has been so cold since October when the snow began! So although we haven’t had any giant 2 foot snowfalls we sure do have a lot, and each time hubby plows the driveway the sides get taller and the driveway gets just a little bit more narrow. It will soon look like a Luge run if this continues. I will say that I have heard so many, many people saying that they have just had it with Winter, and that they are just so over it, but this to me, is odd to hear as we have clearly a good 2-3 months of it left. I’m just taking it one day at a time, and noting as well how really quite pretty this Winter has been!

I was downstairs checking out where we are at with frozen stores for Winter. We have way more green beans than I thought, and loads of broccoli, kale, collards, chard, morel mushrooms, squash, pumpkin, and tons of frozen tomatoes, also still plenty of rhubarb, strawberries, cherries, and peaches. We have of course plenty of pork in the deep freezer as well as 3 of our chickens left and 1 organic turkey I purchased from the coop last Thanksgiving. We sadly got our very last bag of Winter storage carrots, we had bartered for,  from our Organic Farmer neighbor and he brought over more of our potatoes of which he said we have quite a few left of in his cooler. Occasionally we get a box of our neighbors fresh micro greens, bartered of course, and it’s nice to have something green and fresh. I am anxiously waiting for our Watercress to come in by the stream, it’s usually our very first greens to eat fresh. So nice to see the color green, looking so fresh and pretty!

microgreens

Unfortunately for my neighbor his green house heating system when down shortly after we got these  and he lost all his greens. He hopes to be up and running again when this major cold snap breaks. He took it like a farmer. Note the sharp contrast between this picture and the one below…

snowy fields

This picture reminds me of many I have taken of the ocean with the nice blue horizon, it almost looks like waves rolling in!

Our daughter called and asked if we wanted to join her at the tiny local bar that is located part way between her house and ours, for dinner. I already had dinner planned so I told her you picked the perfect day, and to come on over. Dinner plane? One of our chickens, with the neighbors potatoes and carrots, our squash and our broccoli. Since I had, had guests earlier that day there was even cake (thanks to the chickens for the 6 eggs that go into the giant pound cake) and strawberries for dessert!

chicken dinner

cake

Yum! Pound cake, thanks chickens for all the eggs! Topped off with yummy strawberries shown below, it was quite a treat!

strawberries

No sweetening added at all, just delicious red juicy summer sweetness.

My daughter and I love to have the little neighbors over for cookie baking, and since everyone is tiring of the frigid air and constant snow we decided to make spring colored cookies, with a farm animal theme, if you can tell under all the icing what the shapes are!

cookies

There was a lot of finger licking involved in the little ones process of frosting the cookies, so no big temptation to eat them on my part, they took all of them with them, and very happily carried them all home.

A literal bowl of cherries!

While the weather may not be a bowl of Cherries, I still am eating cherries, and strawberries, and peaches, and raspberries, and applesauce, and in the case of this picture…

apple cherry sauce

..Applesauce WITH Cherries! I have had more than one person ask me, “how we are getting along without fresh fruit and vegetables?”. The answer is very easily. We are eating loads of fruits and vegetables, they just come from the freezer or the pantry. It is all delicious and there is plenty there for us, and when we can eat all those things fresh again in the summer, it will be all the sweeter!

The weather update?

snowy road

There is little to say about the weather at this point other than words like….crazy freakin’ cold, closed schools, intense winds and well, I have to admit, beautiful sunshine, a brilliant blue sky and glistening shiny fields of ice, so really it’s all perspective! If I had little ones at home climbing the walls during these periods of lock down, it would be a different story for sure!

So between keeping the books for the business, and reading through seed catalogs, and cooking from our stored foods, I am keeping busy. Today, I will bring the chickens something special to give them SUPER powers against the cold. I will bring them some pig liver, and I am betting it will be gone the second I put it out or them.

beef chart

My newest assignment is reading about beef cuts, and here is my homework! Lots to learn before Spring. Since we had the hogs butchered I have read a lot and learned a lot. Some of it in the “hard lesson learned” category. In the big picture I did fine with the hogs, but next year I will do it differently. I want to focus on the getting the most cuts I can in the category of “what people will purchase” such as; chops, roasts, and bacon. I learned from “The Beginning Farmer”, (how would I get along without these awesome podcasts?) that there are a lot of ways to increase money made on pork in each phase of the process.

1. Can I reduce the purchase price of the piglets?

This is an area I am stuck on, I like the people and the farm that we got our Heritage Breed piglets from and I like that we know how they were treated, and how they were fed and housed. This isn’t a place to save $50 in my mind.

2. Can we reduce feed costs?

We have found that feeding the piglets when they are young is not too tough on the budget but when they are giant hogs, it is a whole other thing! Fortunately they are giant and hungry towards early Fall, and we can combat some of this by growing food for them, such as pumpkins, squashes, beets, and more. We did very well last year feeding them wild apples and letting them gorge themselves on acorns and hickory nuts, so this is also a great supplement in the Fall.

3. Can we use things better if we process differently?

Plain and simple… Hams are hard to sell when it isn’t Christmas or Easter! I would next time do much of the ham in ground pork. It is versatile and can go a long way on Pizza, in Spaghetti, in Meatballs etc. I would cure less, grind more, and put more into brats and breakfast sausages as well, which are both great company feeders when guests are around. Another thing I learned is letting the processor know we want every little bit of the ends and pieces of bacon. These are great for us to eat for bacon, leaving the nice one pound packages to sell, as bacon is the item EVERYONE wants!

4. Can we eat the pork differently ourselves to create a better profit on the pork we’ve had butchered?

The answer to this is YES! I went straight for the bacon and pork chops when we filled the freezer. Hmmm then I learned about eating high on the hog vs eating low on the hog. It really means exactly what it says. So next year we will eat more efficiently. We will eat more of the ground pork, and instead of eating the 1 lb packages of the nicely packed bacon, we will eat the Jowl Bacon, which as of yet we haven’t tried. We did get those cuts, there were four. We gifted two and have two left. If we get 3-5 hogs next year we will have plenty of Jowl bacon for ourselves and the 1 pound packages for traditional bacon will be sold to customers. There are plenty of cuts lower on the hog that will be just fine for us, and this leaves us with an overall better profit from the pork. Does this mean we won’t eat as well? Absolutely not!

behind a tractor

On the days we are not in the deep freeze I go out on deliveries, sometimes a bit in the slow lane though.

It never got THIS cold!

not quite that cold

…but it almost did!

Extreme conditions require extreme measures.

staying warm

So this is me prepared to go feed the chickens! Now this is where I have to confess. My intention was that I would be out there every morning no matter what the weather to take care of  the chickens but when you are inside on a cold day and someone says…”I can take care of the chickens, I’m going out for the cattle anyway”, it’s pretty hard to say, “no thanks, I want to spend 15 minutes dressing and go out in the -26 degree temperatures”. So hubby has made it pretty easy for me since it got super wintery, and I appreciate it, and also feel guilty over it. In my defense, I will say that often while he does this I am getting the fire going, getting coffee going and in the case of the super cold days I’ve had a hot breakfast waiting for him when he comes in, so it’s us in our somewhat unspoken divisional labor mode and it works.

We have been enjoying the pork we raised very much and have gifted some as well. The reviews are all raves and we have already been asked by two families if they can pre-purchase their meat next year so that they can reserve the cuts they want for the freezer that year. We also know 2 other families that feel the same way and other people have mentioned interest as well. So my pondering about a very small meat CSA continues and I have been crunching a lot of numbers with the pigs related to feed costs and how we can reduce them. Hubby and I have been talking about how to make more room for more pigs. Actually mostly me trying to convince him we could do it.  Ideally I’d like to have 5 feeder pigs and sell three by the cut out of the freezer and 2 by halves where people purchase their half and pay for their processing when they pick it up at the locker. A CSA model wouldn’t be right for us at 5 hogs, but if we continue to increase the amount of growers we raise we could consider that as an option.

So…over the last couple of weeks we have been enjoying trying different cuts of pork. OK here is your warning.

Warning: Vegetarians and non pork eaters may wish to shield their eyes.

ribs

Ribs! Rubbed with homemade mustard, followed by a mix of many spices and seasonings to make a rub, and then baked in the oven. Just before they were done, I covered them in the BBQ sauce I made last summer. They were delicious! We will try them on the grill next time and compare notes.

ham steak and collards

Ham steak and collards! The collards cooking in with the smokey ham? Yep, damn good!

Split pea w Ham hocks

This also goes on the list of amazing flavors! Split pea soup with cured ham hocks. Simply said, “a treat”!

In the meantime, when I am not eating pork, I am thinking about reducing the cost of chicken feed, how to bring the new flock and the old flock together or not at all, chicken tractors, and how to keep the chickens on clean grass by moving them around and of course garden thoughts as well. PS – A chicken tractor is actually a fenced run with a netted top, and shaded area that can be moved to fresh grass regularly by moving it around. Most designs are overkill to our number of birds, it’s got to be light enough for me to move it myself, so I’m leaning to PVC but hubby would prefer conduit or something heavier. I repeat, I need to be able to move it. We have time though to think about ways to do it. So more winter pondering.

I’m also learning about cuts of beef and have been talking to the butcher that processed the hogs, about beef cuts. There really is plenty for me to learn and since our first steer will go to the locker in June it’s not too soon to be learning this stuff. We also have to review in our readings about “finishing” this guy before he goes in, and making sure we have the high quality grass he will need, and IF our bull succeeded in his job we will have some new mamas at that time and the high quality grass will be good for them too. (If you saw our ‘lil bull you’d know why I say IF.)

All that being said, tomorrow is a baking day. I’ve been listening to podcasts from a farmer in Iowa who raises heritage breed animals and his podcast shows are great! So while I get three batches of granola baked and packaged tomorrow, I will be listening to him and learning, learning, learning! The next day is a solid day of deliveries so the day after I will finish the book keeping from deliveries the day before and then earn myself some Spring planning time. It’s about time to get in touch with our neighbor who said he knew where to get more spiles and buckets for this Spring. We both want to increase our collection of Box Elder Syrup. Looking forward to way more Elder syrup this year. I have been enjoying using it in many ways. Since it does not have a Maple flavor it is perfect for using as a sweetener in most anything that needs it. Yesterday the seed catalogs started arriving…hard to believe the farm will get it’s green back again, it will be exciting to see!

A New Year

After an amazing dinner with our daughter and friends we had a true to Wisconsin ringing in of the New Year… the annual burning of the brush pile!

nye bon fire

Yep it was 4 degrees but next to a fire that big, we were toasty warm!

At midnight there were a few…

nye fireworks

..fireworks before we headed back up the hill. After a Champagne toast with our NYE companions it was time to stoke the fire and climb into bed.

temperature

It’s been darn cold and hubby has spent large blocks of time taking down dead trees to cut up. Seems the firewood pile gets stacked high and before we know it it seems time to stack up more. Yes we do have a furnace but it’s great knowing we don’t have to rely on it, and of course wood also is available for free here, by the kind work of hubby that is!

Now that we are in January and a new year we are starting to think about Springtime planning. I have a list of items that I want to think through as far as new ideas for Spring, and we have a planning session coming up to prioritize together what we want to see at the top of the list. At the end of last season Hubby talked a lot about expanding his grapes in the future. I did make grape juice from our little bitty vineyard last summer and it was delicious but this year with more grapes we can try our hand at making wine for ourselves but also, hopefully we can sell our grapes to a very local vineyard who showed interest in our variety last year. Hubby was so busy with infrastructure, for my endeavors, so much of last summer, such as Pigs and Chickens, and he was amazing in getting it all done. This summer I would like to help him build up the vineyard he wants to have. Quite honestly, there are so many things I don’t know how to do that no matter how much I learn I will always be a rookie next to him, but that is okay, we each have very separate natural skills and that makes it balance out just right. It’s the Yin and it’s the Yang and it works. By definition, “Yin and Yang are not static or just two separated things. The nature of Yin Yang lies in interchange and interplay of the two components”. It works for us:)

I am also excited about doing some cold frames a bit more traditionally this coming early Spring so l can achieve Lettuces, Spinach, and Radishes very early in the season this year. Definitely I will need some modifications from my failed hay bale frames I used in late Fall early Winter, but I stand by it having been a good learning experience. Learning by doing has highs and lows, and each one in it’s own way, is a lesson learned.

… and back in the pantry, supplies are still good. Time to combine down the freezer into one freezer now that we have been using up some or our frozen goods, nice to turn off an energy sucking appliance!

jarred goodies

Some of the deliciousness we enjoyed at dinner the other night… As I was preparing the rest of the meal and had these set out on the table to have with dinner, I was taken by the beautiful colors that we are eating in the midst of what looks a bit like Siberia outside and none of it traveled farther than a quarter mile! Sauteed yellow and Green Beans, Pickled asparagus, local Strawberries and Peaches and yes that beautiful color is from straight up frozen local fruit, no sugar or anything added, just vibrant and beautiful all on it’s own. Additionally, I found a new way to eat Summer Squash, introducing Summer Squash Bread and Butter Pickles. They are sweet and a little sour and crunchy and great. So great that Mr. “I don’t really like Squash” LIKED them. I am going to pickle a lot of them next year, they are a treat!

While I gear up for the planning months before Spring and my excitement about Spring Chicks, and Piglets and cold frames ramps up, I am, at the same time, carefully looking at some exciting changes for my Granola business really granola. Seems like this could be an exciting year of growth for this small business that I am so grateful to own.

Starting a new year with healthy family, time for family and friends and enjoying the snow blowing and the fire warming has been just the right foot to start a new year on…

Finally, with all the sunsets I have posted they still amaze me so I can’t stop myself, these two different nights were beauties…

sunset

sunset 2

Now with the holidays come and gone it is time to settle into the quiet of Winter.