What I learned from my tunnel garden, again.

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What I learned from my tunnel garden this year is the same as what I learned last year. Plant earlier! I planted earlier than I did the year before but still not early enough. These goodies could have been much bigger, on the other hand the tiny carrots couldn’t have been cuter and tasted so sweet. It got too cold for it just before Christmas, so I pulled most of it out. It makes me realize that this really does work for us though. We extended the season for 3 months. I do have to get the timing right. I will start the tunnel August 1 next year. At that time of year the plastic is off the hoop and we wait to put it back on till about October. It is a very tiny space so I want to grow things that will have the most impact for us, so for this reason I will be filling almost half of the space with carrots, and most of the other half with Spinach (because it’s so hardy and good) and fill in the rest with Watermelon Radishes. The ones in the picture here, never had a chance to get big enough, but they can get very large, are delicious, and so pretty inside! Kale is also hardy and more so than Spinach but the system I have set up is such that I can not plant things that grow higher than about 18 inches. When it is really cold I pull the second layer of plastic over the plants, so they can not be too tall. (See the previous entry with photos of our tiny but mighty high tunnel.) It truly was fun to go out to the tunnel, in the cold and the snow and walk inside and smell dirt and see such pretty greens. The funny thing is that after the little harvest, the Spinach started sprouting back up again, when it got above about 20 degrees outside for a handful of days in a row, so who knows what may happen in there, maybe I will get some surprises.

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We have been enjoying some beautiful snowfalls.

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We had a wonderful family Christmas with our in-town family. Relaxing, delicious, and filled with thoughtful gifts that will keep us warm, well read, and fed.

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This year we didn’t put up a tree. I instead decorated my antique plant drying rack. I thought it was quite pretty, I think my family thought it was pretty, but not a tree. Next year I think we will have a tree, but this was fun to me. The ornaments hanging were mostly made by the kids and grands, with a few baby’s first ornaments included.

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The holidays equal cookies. While these cookies seem perhaps not as fancy as many Christmas cookies, they are the best butter cookies ever. The recipe was given to all attending my friend’s Mother’s service, at a small local church in a valley a few miles from here. The cookies were something she made for her family frequently. After the service the Pastor said, “You are all invited downstairs for Butter Cookies and Fellowship”. I like that there is a story that goes with these cookies.

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Our Holiday meal included a root veggie platter of bartered potatoes and onions, a gifted acorn squash, and our garlic, carrots, sage and rosemary, and a few organic sweet potatoes from the quick sell basket at our local market.

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It also included a standing rib roast from our Grass fed Highland Cattle. Here it is going into the oven, for one reason or another we didn’t get an after picture, maybe too busy eating?

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This was a tradition at my Husband’s family Christmas. Now his folks are snowbirds, and each year since Hubby has brought up the yummy Chocolate Steamed Pudding from his family Christmas, so last year after Christmas I decided I would get the pan and make it for him this year. Chocolate Steamed pudding with Hard Sauce. One cousin calls it heart attack sauce, but we all agree that once a year you have to say to heck with that and bring on Tradition! It was delicious, and insanely rich.

Other than holiday things….

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I first true successes with Kombucha. I have a very active fruit and honey ferment and I will try to do a second ferment w my kombucha you see here, and see if I can get some fizz this time! Scoby looks happy and healthy so far!

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I finally gathered all the peppers that were drying in the downstairs room. I didn’t realize I even had this many. I gifted some and still have a lot. I am looking forward to learning more about cooking with them, but in a way where the hot tastes good but doesn’t overtake it all. Haven’t learned that art yet. I wanted to thread them onto long strings but I unfortunately waited and now they are so dry, I don’t think it would work well. Just another reminder that timing matters.

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Last year I made a table runner for my West Coast daughter. This year I made place mats for my in-town daughter and her fiance. I was pleased with how they turned out. It is fun, and I love that the fabrics are either from our old sheets and clothes or from St. Vinnie’s, where they have huge pieces of fabric for $1-3. It definitely is the store I buy at most frequently for kitchen items, books, warm winter shirts for layering, canning jars and more. I never know what I will find there, but it is always fun exploring.

Snow finally happened.

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Our warm Fall lasted forever, and I started to wonder if snow and Winter weather would ever arrive, but over the course of a couple of weeks we went from T-shirts to long johns. Despite the weather, though, we are still enjoying Spinach salads with watermelon radishes and fresh dill several times a week. After the snow today, I really wondered how it would look in there, but it all looked great. It’s hard to believe how different the temperature is in there compared to outside!

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A two layer system. The blanket covering gets rolled back on days where there will be sunshine.

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It tastes even more amazing when everything else is covered in snow;)

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So what is on our minds now…Yep firewood. Hubby went out and pulled two trees up here today to cut up this week. We didn’t go through any wood at all in the Fall and then all of the sudden we are going through it very quickly. Cutting firewood was able to be put off, with the warm weather we were having, which made him very happy because…

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…he got the whole barn built! Phase 1 is completed, next Spring will be siding, but the hay will be undercover for this Winter, and that is a huge thing for us.

Towards the end of barn building it was time to have the hogs butchered, and we for the first time had a locker that comes on site, come out and slaughter on the farm. This means a lot to us. It’s very difficult for us to load animals and transport them for slaughter because we know that no matter what, it is a stressful end for the animal. This year went differently. They came out and had a State Inspector attend as well, so that our meat can be marked “for sale”. Here, if you don’t have an inspector present, then you can not legally sell the meat

I happened to have just strained elderberries out of an elderberry tincture made with Vodka, the night before, and so I mixed the boozey elderberries in the hog’s feed. The boozey berries worked perfectly, the hogs were relaxed and laying in the sun, when the truck arrived. Having them come out and do an on farm kill went so well.  A stunner was used a so it was sunshine one second and they were out the next second. They loaded the hogs into the truck, gutted, and skinned them, then inspected the livers. Then they were off in their refrigerated truck to their brick and mortar store to package the meat. We will do this with our cattle next year too. It was a good experience. No gates, no ramps, no transport, no off loading at the locker etc. Just all around the way we want to do things for our animals.

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When the barn was done and the cold hit, it was time to rebuild, and Winterize the coop. While he worked on this, I was working on the beef and pork orders, which involved (researching) and filling out cut sheets in detail, and reviewing and setting pricing for our beef and pork. Then there was the scary part of juggling all the frozen meat so that it fit, and was organized for customers. Thanks to some excellent help from my daughter who spearheaded “project organize the freezers”, it all looks great!

The birds are now moved from the chicken tractor up in the field above and are down in their Winter coop, and the older ranging birds have moved from their Summer coop into this new Winterized coop. It is nice for them, it is set up so the pop hole door leads to the underneath of a big fir tree which leaves them nicely protected.

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The completed and fully Winterized Coop! As usual he did an amazing job!

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We had three calves this year. We might have found a new home for young Maggie, shown in this picture. We sold one of our one year olds to this other farm already, and they may be interested in her next Spring. Our other two little ones we had this year are bulls and so they will be sold for beef in a couple of years. I do love this picture of Maggie with her Dad (Scotty) and Mom (Jill).

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And drumroll……this is the newest addition to the kitchen. I am exploring Kombucha and seem to have a healthy SCOBY here! This may be one of my Winter kitchen projects this year.

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Now we finally settle into the quiet of Winter. A favorite time of year for me.