All the Signs are Here and it’s all Spring

Since we generally are on the farm and have few reasons to leave, things haven’t changed a lot here with quarantine. It is frustrating and disappointing to not see family, but the most important thing is that we are healthy and the family is healthy and so we are beyond grateful for this. When our state stops going upward in cases, which it has yet to do, I will make a trip to see family and boy do I look forward to it.

Getting Spring supplies, however, was definitely different this year. Even getting seeds and seed potatoes was touch and go. We did in the end get what we needed. This year, now that we will have a root cellar, I will be saving an amount of potatoes for seed potatoes, so that we can supply our own potatoes full circle, from planting to eating to planting again and this will be one more way to rely on ourselves for our food. This year we had some of last year’s to plant but not nearly enough.

Watching the pandemic induced changes has been stunning. We have all seen the empty grocery shelves, the shortages of supplies, the limiting of purchases, and now the meat industry succumbing to the pandemic as well. When it began, people who felt they were food secure found themselves wondering if they really were. People who already felt food insecure felt this compounded. We saw the fragility of our American food system beginning to spiral before our eyes in the early weeks of pandemic panic buying. Panic food buying is simply going to happen when a good portion of the food system is in other hands. If you make your living in a city and even if you are not in a city, sometimes growing your food just can’t fit, and lack of food is scary for anyone.

What Spring brought, secondary to the Pandemic, was surprising increase in direct purchasing from small farms, newbies began raising chickens, people started baking bread, and when yeast was not to be found on the shelves they created sourdough starters. People began to take more hand in their food, even if it was in small ways. Small farms became the safety net for many people who were faced with empty store shelves. I had relatives in downtown Chicago buying flour from small family farms, up our way, who raise their own grain and mill it locally, and a friend who drove up here twice from the city to find farm food that was less available in the stores. We saw more people raising chicks for eggs, planting gardens and frequenting small family farms for porch pick ups of meat and eggs. Additionally, we have never seen such a run on baby chicks, nor have we ever sold so much meat! We’ve already sold one of our Spring pigs and they aren’t even on the farm yet! This has never happened! We sold a side of beef, this Spring, which was new for us because we have only sold retail cuts in the past. It’s been a learning curve for everyone at some level whether it be the consumer finding new avenues for purchasing food, the family that decides to start raising some of their own food, or the small farmers who have done an incredible job of meeting the needs of consumers, in a contact free way, with porch pick ups, drive through pick ups and even deliveries. I even started seeing old War Food Administration posters, like this one, surfacing on Facebook, (shown below) last used during World War II. Hopefully some of the people who sought out the family farms for purchasing food will continue to purchase this way in the future. It’s not just a phrase, “know your farmer, know your food”.

 

Spring on our farm…

There is so much Spring all around us. We have burned the last fire in the fireplace and now we are look forward to outdoor fires some evenings. The following pictures show all the early signs of Spring here as we progressed from early Spring to late Spring.

Starter plants indoors.

Morel Mushrooms!

Baby Chicks in the garage. Most definitely a sign of Spring! These 40 roosters are Red Rangers. We have found them to be a great meat bird, with excellent foraging skills. We let them range freely when they get bigger. This is our third year with the Rangers, they go into the freezer at about 5 pounds each and that is a perfect size we think.

Carrots that made it through the Winter, in the tunnel. They are not too pretty but they are crunchy and a welcome site.

Hostas are delicious! These were sautéed with some green garlic.

Asparagus

Thyme, Lemon Balm, Shiitake mushrooms, Rhubarb, Asparagus, and Lambs Quarters.

The Cattle are back on grass after a long Winter on hay.

As we progressed further into Spring the apple blossoms showed so nicely this year. We had a super cold night during their blossom but we got lucky and didn’t lose them.

The Garlic looks great this year!

This Mama deer hid her Spring babies in the tall grass on this hillside, this morning. She took off for a while, but she came back later for her little twins. It gives the babies a chance to rest, and these little twins couldn’t have been more than a couple days old.

We are just waiting for the sliced potatoes to heal enough to plant. Now that we will have a root cellar, for next Winter, we are planting loads of potatoes. It will be great to have true long term storage for them and for carrots, onions, squashes, and cabbages.

The lettuce in the tunnel garden is looking good and the spinach, radishes, beets, dill and some peas that will soon be climbing the trellis are doing well.

Finally after nursing the baby plants inside since mid March, they are outside! The only plants left inside are the squashes, and they will be planted soon, as well as the potatoes. This means no more plant shelves in the kitchen!

At this point in the Spring the little ones are now up in the Big Coop, so no more garage chickens!!

 

Lastly, of course, I can’t do a post without food pics so here are a few highlights of early Springtime…

Morels and asparagus are one of my favorite Spring dishes!

These amazing looking peppers are actually last Summer’s peppers. They froze so beautifully that when you cook them up you could mistake them for having been fresh ones! Finishing last year’s Fall/Winter veggies is part of Spring.

Lots of eggs are also a part of Spring. This was my first attempt at making egg noodles. I should have used all purpose flour for dusting, not semolina, lesson learned, but they were very good. Next time I will make them one crank thinner on the pasta machine. There’s always room to learn more. The nice part is that once there were done being made I popped them in the dehydrator which left me with this…

…a nice big jar of homemade pasta! I am looking forward to my next batch with less semolina and cranked a bit thinner they should be just right!

Another use for lots of eggs is quiche! This one is headed for the oven and has foraged ramps, and garlic mustard. Once chilled and sliced it makes for an easy breakfast to grab from the fridge and warm up.

Lastly, this pretty dessert, that my daughter made, is a great way to end. It was a really delicious treat!

Finding Comfort in the Kitchen, of Course!

There are so many reasons why people homestead. We are fortunate to homestead because it was a dream and we love it. It’s an amazing thing, to us, to experience eating, for the most part, all food grown or raised on our land. I marvel at our plates actually knowing every thing that went into the process, and the months it took to get it to our plate. The reason food preparation is such a big focus here is because raising enough food to sustain us requires a lot of attention. When you eat food that you grow, raise, harvest, can, freeze, ferment, dehydrate and cook, from scratch, it is a time consuming process but I enjoy it immensely.

Suddenly now I see things through a different lens. We are all experiencing a seismic change on a world level and on our own personal levels. It’s changed everything. Parents are now homeschool teachers, kid’s normal worlds have been squelched with change, most of our elderly parents are in isolation, shopping has become strategic and in the face of all this we can’t reach out to console each other by hugging our friends and neighbors and families.

It brought a new meaning to homesteading for us, we felt the shift. I’ve never sold more meat from our little farm meat business. People are finding stores to be a risky place and in some cases feel uncomfortable going in them. We have been doing porch pick ups. I put the order in the cooler on the deck and they drive up and take their order and leave a check in the cooler. I say hello to customers though the window near the door. Locally our small farmers are banding together and providing food to people by drive through, contact free, pick ups. I feel so proud of our farming community over how they have come together to work through the obstacles so that they can provide safe farm fresh food for people. It’s been amazing watching this community become even closer, ironically at a time when we cannot be physically close.

Here on a smaller scale we have been keeping fed by working through the freezers and making the most of everything we have. Above you see Walnut syrup from the sap I had in the freezer from last year, potato and sausage soup from some shelf stable “Loaded Baked Potato Soup” that I had pressure canned a while back and served with some grilled brat slices (from our pigs) in it. Below in the frame you see our last frozen tomatoes from last year, which became a fresh tomato soup that tasted like summer. The potatoes in the picture were the last of ours from last summer. Our root cellar is not done yet so they were stored in a cold room of the house and made it pretty long. These will end up being planted soon if they stay in condition a bit longer. The canned garbanzos became hummus and the rest of the beans have been great in soups and chilis.

Since we eat mostly our own food, (other than dairy which we buy, because we don’t have a dairy cow) and some from a a few neighboring farms, we are in many ways doing what we always do, but there is a different feel to the way I view our food resources now. We always try to make the most of our food, but we have taken it up a few notches now. Using mixed fermented pickled veggies like cauliflower and peppers on our spinach salads helps to make good use of the fermented veggies in the garage fridge and it helps with the lack of fresh veggies. Pulling out all the stewing chickens for making a large amount of broth, and using the big bags of oddly assorted beef bones to make more beef broth. I have used most of our broth up in the last month, in soups, stews, pot roasts and more. I have also used a lot of the various beans I canned so I will be working on replacing all these things this week, to be sure we don’t run out. The frozen corn, beans, chard, collards, spinach, broccoli and peppers in the freezer, are our veggies nightly with dinner. I am keeping a careful eye to use them at a rate where they will still get us through to the time when the first summer veggies appear.

It’s great that the tunnel made it all winter, so we have plenty of fresh spinach, and some small beets and carrots to add to the dinner table.

I’ve also been making great use of my sourdough discard in the fridge. I sometimes forget about it in there for periods of time, but I have found the perfect cracker recipe using it. They have a really great sourdough taste to them.

Shown above, is my process for making “bouillon”. The first picture shows all the scrapings and juices from a sheet pan that chicken was roasted on, and after it went in the fridge, you can see in the second picture it becomes a little jello patty. Then I heat it up in order to strain out the small pieces that you see on the top in the second picture. Once heated it gets strained through a jelly straining bag. Then into the fridge to turn to jello again and as you can see I cut it in half and stored it for the freezer. I call it chicken gold, and when added to soups it adds so much flavor and also all that healthy gelatin as well!

During these unusual times, sometimes there need to be some special treats, like Sunday morning cinnamon rolls, and these…

…which are one of hubs favorites! Extra pie crust, twisted with cinnamon and sugar, just like his Mom used to make, and they are always a hit. It’s no lie, food comforts us and brings floods of memories with their tastes. We are all appreciating small comforts right now.

I have a few more food pics, because when you have a neighbor who grows amazing food, and gifts you a box of edible flowers, it must be shown off, because, well, they are BEAUTIFUL!

As for the future garden this summer, the starter plants are growing well inside with their crazy pink/blue lights hanging over them. If you look at them too long it makes everything else look green when you look away!! It is nice to see their little heads popping up out of their cups. They look so green and full of hope. I will never stop being amazed at how those tiny little plants will provide 100s of pounds of food.

Garden planning…this picture was taken at a lovely cafe, while waiting to meet my daughter for a lunch date. Such a simple thing, that now seems extraordinary to do. As it turned out, this was my last real outing, apart from 2 days of helping my Dad move out of his house in time for his closing on the sale of his home.

Lastly, many of you have seen the progress shots as the house addition has been progressing. Amazingly, it is completed. We thought it would be much sooner, but ironically it was ready just as the “shelter in place” order was issued, due to Covid 19. We have been spending our nights around the fire and it has been warm and comforting during these unusual times.

Wishing everyone safe passage through all of this and looking forward to seeing people on the other side some day.

Beautiful Winter scenes, and a very late Christmas wrap up!

 

We have been going through some family changes this past year, with parents, on both sides, settling into new situations that are more fitting to their time of life. This has meant sorting through things and passing things on to next generations. This salad bowl, that I saw on my Mother-in-law’s table over the last 35 years, is a treasured item. Many years ago she told me that I could have it and as they pared down their belongings this was passed to me. I love it very much for it’s beauty and for the story that it makes me a part of, as well. This salad was served on Christmas Eve. To my constant amazement the Spinach was from our tiny high tunnel in December! The greens and watermelon radishes were from our small Saturday local winter market.

After Christmas 2018, I went to a quilt shop that was going out of business. The fabrics were 50% off and the Christmas designs were 50% off of that! I purchased a lot of different fabrics and my daughter and I cut them so that this year on Christmas we would not have to use gift wrap, but would use gift bags in lieu of wrapping paper. Well, December rolled around this year and there were all the nicely cut out pieces for the bags that I never made! I got the sewing machine out and for a couple days I just sewed bags. I have literally no sewing talents at all, but I can sew straight lines on a sewing machine, so without pinning anything, or measuring anything I just went at it. I didn’t do a drawstring on them, instead I finished the edges at the top and tied them with some hemp string. It went quickly and I had enough bags to wrap all the family gifts. This year I collected the bags afterwards for a good start on next year’s bags. My plan going forward is that I will make many more bags this year, for all different occasions and then I will always give the bag with the gift, asking that they suggest to others to pass it on as well.

I posted this on a Homesteading Facebook page and was absolutely shocked to see over 500 comments, and 4700 likes! People really liked the idea and many said they too were going to quit buying gift wrap. It also got shared many times. I just wanted to share an idea, and I had no idea how much exposure the idea would get! How cool if a bunch of people do not use wrapping paper next year because of this little Facebook post!

A little holiday bake. Breadsticks for the soup, buns for lunch the next day and a braided loaf for serving with dinner.

This is a 100% grass fed Scottish Highland 5 bone Prime Rib saved for this special holiday occasion. It was as great as it looks! Highland beef is quite special.

I accidentally mixed some of my soft wheat berries with my hard wheat berries, and not wanting to make bread products with a mixed result, and feeling bad for the poor chickens with nothing green to eat, I decided to grow some wheat grass for the chickens. The chickens were at first alarmed by the wheat grass but once one tasted it they were definitely on board! It was nice to see them eating something green!

In order to make room for our pork, we will soon get back from the locker, I decided to use up a lot of round roasts. I thaw them about half way and then slice them thinly. It’s much easier to do this when they are still partly frozen. After marinating the meat overnight I put it in the dehydrator.

Here is just some of the finished product. It made quite a bit!

 

This was a first attempt at a very rustic Summer Sausage. I’ve learned the word “rustic”covers all sins of dabblers trying out new things. Next time I would cook it longer to dry it a bit more. It was good, but was surely a first try. Next time I will do a few things differently and if I really like it, it might warrant getting a simple sausage stuffer for future batches.

…and this just in, we finally, finally, saw some Winter on the farm, and it couldn’t be prettier.

We broke in the new fireplace on New Year’s Eve! There is so much work going on in the addition at this time, that we only used it that one time. I am really hoping for a cold March so that we can get to use it before it gets too warm!

 

Dark Winter

We are now headed into a season that I love. Most people don’t love it. Dark Winter is not technically a season or even a term, (at least not one that I know of), but it’s just one that feels comfortable to me.

March is when seed starting begins, May is when chick raising begins, and June/July is when the hogs arrive on the farm. By the end of November the pigs are to the processor, and the chickens are all in the freezer, apart from our enthusiastic young layers who are laying eggs like crazy! This is when the quiet settles in and the short days, to me, are welcome. It is a time to restore, to do things slower, to cook hearty and warming foods, and to not think of Spring planning till the fire is roaring, the farm is covered in snow and the new year has passed. We are at 9 hours of light right now, and that will decrease a bit yet till it begins to slowly turn around as the new year approaches. There is a feel to these days, that is hard for me to explain, but suffice to say I appreciate it in it’s own right.

We have not had a lot of snow yet, oddly we did in late October, and that is when this snowy cow picture was taken.

Funny, the Highlands could care less about the snow. It piles on their backs and they still prefer to be out in it rather than duck into the the covered area for refuge.

I finished the Sumac project. In my last post I showed the Sumac clusters that my brother-in-law so kindly gathered for me. Here is the powdered Sumac and the remaining seed that was left after the powder was sieved out. The Za’atar seasoning I made with it turned out delicious. It was fun to make something from WI Sumac to give during Winter gift giving season.

I also made these Sumac pickled onions. They are delicious on sandwiches and in salads.

This photo collage was taken on a very cold day, one that was perfect for hiding out inside making “loaded baked potato soup”. I used Turkey broth from the Thanksgiving bird as the base. Then added some of our potatoes, bacon, dried red peppers, garlic, foraged ramps, sage, dried celery and garlic. The fire was going all day, and between that and the soup simmering we were toasty warm inside.

So much Thanksgiving broth!

This is such a good time to fill the shelves. The broth making process warms the kitchen so nicely! I am loving having, ready to eat foods on the shelves. Irish Beef Stew, Loaded Baked Potato Soup, Hearty Hamburger Stew, French Onion Soup, Pasta with Meat Sauce, all kinds of beans and more. The other day I mixed a quart of the Irish Beef Stew with a quart of French Onion Soup, then added a few carrots, some dried celery, some small potatoes and dried mushrooms. The flavor for this beef soup was so rich and good!

This was the very last of the Thanksgiving turkey. It turned out delicious!

Sourdough tear and share rolls. I think I am wearing out my favorite sourdough cookbook! Every recipe I try from it is great!

Nope these are not mini marshmallows. It was a first attempt at making noodles for throwing in soup, but due to technical difficulties on my first batch, I ended up making mini dumplings. They puffed up nicely in the soup.

Beautiful pheasant feathers! Hubs went pheasant hunting last month. He really enjoyed it. Our honey farmer took him with and they did well.

The cleaned pheasant.

Despite the cold the Fall/Winter Spinach is still doing well. Winter salads are a huge treat!

Our new hens are working overtime! In 7 years of raising birds, we have yet to have a double yolk, but in the last month we have had 2 double Yolkers!

Trying to make good use of the eggs while we are getting 40 a week is the name of the game. This week I was able to sell 4 dozen, hardboiled 2 dozen, pickled some of the hard boiled eggs, and then made a large quiche. I am now caught up with production!

Progress shot. The Fireplace is beautiful and the room is really coming along. I believe we actually may sit in there some day!

It is now that season, Winter festivities, holidays and so many delicious goodies. Yesterday was a fun baking day with my daughter. We are ahead of the game this year!

Fall photos and Waking up to Winter Weather!

The collection of photos in this post go back over the last month. This morning looks anything like this one here. We woke up to a couple of inches of snow. First snow of the year! I wonder what type of Winter we will have this year. October is a bit on the early side for snow. The trick or treating kiddos this year will be wearing snow suits over their costumes, in true Wisconsin style, this year!

The project continues to march on like a heard of turtles. It’s looking great! I need to just keep my patience about me!

At the end of the garden, when frost came early, I picked all the peppers. They are so colorful and delicious! I still have some left in the fridge to use up, and loads of them in the freezer for Winter.

I didn’t get as many apples as I had hoped, for dried for winter snacking, but I have access to more of these apples from my organic farmer neighbor, who has started doing some distributing of other local farm’s foods. These were from north of here, and are delicious honey crisps!

I think we have gotten our last flush of mushrooms for the year, looking forward to more in the Spring. These cool weather mushrooms are meatier and quite different than the early Spring mushrooms, and even mid summer mushrooms. It is always interesting to watch them change over the growing season.

So pretty!

These will be used as additions to Winter soups. Mushroom soup is only for mid summer when we are rich in mushrooms. The rest of the year they are great additions to soups and stews.

Think Hershey kisses, but garlic instead. This is frozen chunks of roasted pureed garlic. Once frozen I pop them out of this tray and fill bags with them in the freezer. Sometimes it’s nice to not have to peel garlic for a quick add on to a dish.

I used up the last of the cabbages, they just were not going to keep long with the root cellar not ready yet. Now they will keep just fine. They were added to my ferment fridge for Winter eating.

Speaking of my ferment fridge… This will last all Winter.

These are the last little bits from the garden yesterday. It is officially done, the season is a wrap!

Roasted veggies are so delicious this time of year!

Our new layers gave us our first eggs! They are precocious little hens, they started producing 3 weeks early! We now have an abundance of eggs again, so time to be able to have hard boiled eggs in the fridge again, with plenty left to cook with as well.

This is one very happy sourdough starter and it turned into some very happy…

…sourdough Rye bread!

This is a favorite thing of mine. After roasting a chicken I scrape every bit of it from the pan and put it in a small dish and warm it up so it is easy to strain. Then I run it through a strainer and then refrigerate it. Once the fat has settled on the top if scrapes right off and what is left is the firmest gelatin ever and packed with flavor. I save these in the freezer to add to soups. Liquid gold.

SUMAC! My brother-in-law picked an incredible amount of Sumac for me. He has such a nice patch of it at his place up north. I am working to get as many of the little “berries” off of these clusters and then I will dry them and grind them into Sumac powder. Once it is ground the seeds get sifted out and I will use the Sumac powder to make Za’atar seasoning for holiday gifts.

Other holiday gifts. This Wisconsin Cranberry Apple Jam turned out so good, I could eat it with a spoon, but I try and control myself enough to put it on a piece of warm homemade toast instead.

The squash garden did not do to well this year, but it’s enough to make plenty of pumpkin puree for future pumpkin breads, and the squashes should last a while before we have to use them.

The light is on in the coop. This will keep us in eggs all Winter. Many people choose to let their hens rest in the Winter and don’t use a light to promote egg laying but we have a very well insulated coop, we give them light 14 hours a day, and lots of good seed mixes and black oil sunflower seeds to give them energy and protein to lay in the Winter for us. They don’t seem to mind and the eggs are wonderful to have all Winter.

Now, with today being the first snowfall, these Fall scenes are pretty much a thing of the past. It was a beautiful Fall, but a bit short before we suddenly jumped into Winter early.

 

Our Food Year

September is when we start to really see the winter food coming together. Food growing season actually runs throughout the year, but in very different ways.

January is when the seed catalogs arrive, with their colorful covers and beautiful pictures of vegetables and fruit varieties. I save looking at them for the quiet that comes after the holiday season and this year I will sit by our, soon to be, beautiful new fireplace to look at them. Choosing new varieties and comparing garden notes is always fun. I am getting better at taking garden notes, thanks to a farmer friend who enlightened me. It’s also the time that I look at the chick catalogs and make choices for our meat birds and new layers. January also, brings a bit longer days and the Spinach that is in the mini high tunnel begins to wake up and grow a little faster, by March it is looking beautiful, given that the climate inside there is entirely different than outside the tunnel. February and March is tree tapping season. Although I do it on a very small scale, our syrup needs are not frequent, so it is all we need. Mid-March is seed starting in preparation for the summer garden. I start more plants than I need, in part to be sure I have enough of what I want to have, but also to sell some plants so that I can cover the seed costs. March and April are busy with tending to the seeds, re-potting them into their next size up pots, as they grow, and also enjoying the last of our cool weather, grey skies and cozy time. April is also when our meat birds arrive. This requires lots of attention. The more attention they get, the lower the chick losses. Over the last 7 years, I have only lost a couple! Their temperature must be properly regulated and they get fresh water intermittently all day. This is easier to do when you only have 40 birds. If I had a couple of 100 birds it would be much harder to tend to, especially their sensitive issue at 3-6 days old, which requires getting very personal with their care and cleaning! Mid May is time to clean up the garden and prep for planting. When May comes to an end the garden plants are in, and the chicks (our meat birds), have moved to their big outdoor coop and have left the confines of our garage. This is always a big YAY moment, to regain the use of the garage. May is also Morel mushroom foraging time, often we find pheasant back mushrooms and wild ramps as well (these taste a bit like garlic and onion put together). If there is abundance of these, I dry them for later use. June is generally a quiet time, and it is the last quiet time till October! August is time to plant winter spinach, radishes and carrots in the mini high tunnel, which we cover in plastic in October. August is also the time when we process our meat birds, here on the farm. This year for the first and hopefully the last we took them to a processor because of the building project we are involved in, there just wasn’t time to process them here. July through early October is gardening, canning, dehydrating, freezing, fermenting and of course lots and lots of delicious cooking with fresh vegetables! This year, if it is ready in time we will also add root cellaring to our storage methods. December brings to an end, the pig raising year, and at any given time during the year we process 1-2 highland cattle based on their readiness.

October until February is the reward, in my mind, for a long gardening and food preservation season, allowing more time to read about new gardening, preserving and cooking methods. Now that I have learned pressure canning, I use this time, also, for stocking the shelves with soups and broths, and stews. Canning really heats the kitchen up, so this is the perfect time to do this. Also, finally reading a bit of fiction. I love this time of year. This year it will include a fireplace and so I am looking forward to it even more!

These onions finally dried enough, and with the help of my daughter, they are strung and will be hung tonight in the basement and moved to the root cellar when it is completed.

These potatoes have been stored carefully in boxes and will have to be looked at weekly to be sure one hasn’t spoiled. I guess it’s like the old phrase, “one bad apples spoils the bunch”.

These beans are now frozen in 2 cup portions for serving this winter.

My outdoor refrigerator is filled with vinegar pickles, pickled peppers and some fermented pickles. They last a surprisingly long time in the fridge!

The corn is also frozen in 2 cup units.

Some of the tomatoes were monstrously large this year!

Tomato puree in jars for the shelves. This will get used in soups, stews, pasta sauce, and possibly for making more BBQ sauce this winter.

Fermented tomatoes with garlic and basil. This is a new technique, so the jury is out yet. The recipe says to take the tomatoes and the garlic out of the brine and puree them for a fresh sauce. Fingers crossed this works!

I think I have finally found a good, thick salsa recipe. It could have been a bit spicier but I can amend that when I open them, with a bit of cayenne.

We have been eating tomato salads nightly! They are so good. Tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese, herbs and a bit of Italian dressing.

Veggies, veggies and more veggies!

This is a progress shot. We actually have a roof and shingles on it now. It is great to see a roof on, and things are drier now, but I have to say that the beautiful trusses look prettier without a roof!

Breakfast for dinner is always good! Everything on this plate is from the farm. Even the dried sprinkled pepper powder and foraged Lamb’s quarters is from the farm. I never get tired of taking stock of my plate and thinking about the food year that went into it.

Fall will be here officially just days from now, however, when I see an orange pumpkin it’s as good as here to me.

Late Summer and Signs of Things to Come!

Hard to believe that so much of the Summer has gone by without a post since mid June! I guess we have been busy! It was a great year for Currants! We moved the currant bushes into the confines of our high security garden, and finally we have Currants. This garden is fenced from deer, but also is covered on the outside with chicken wire, so there are no rabbits or other small critters in there. Additionally, I netted the bushes so that even the birds were unable to get at them. They are so pretty. They will become Currant jelly (when it gets cool enough to dare heating up the kitchen), and I will save some for adding to a special Wild Rice dish, I love, this Winter.

Meet Haddie. She was born in the hottest of weather, but is doing great. Her Mama is our most protective Mama, making vetting the calf trickier but we have only had take care of the calf once so that has helped. Haddie is doing quite well and is darn cute too!

Although it has not been a great tomato or bean year at all, there is enough to eat fresh. I may have to buy beans and tomatoes for bulk processing from a local farmer. If I can’t grow it myself, I rely on the area’s great local organic farmers. My poor Brussels sprouts, got ignored while I needed to help with family matters…but they still tasted good!

Beautiful, beautiful salads. We appreciate them so much. We do get simple spinach salads through most of the Winter and in the earliest of Spring, because it grows well in our double layered mini high tunnel garden. Summer salads though are a totally different ball game! We are, for the most part, seasonal eaters so we enjoy and appreciate these amazing Summer salads for the short time that we have them! Summer food, and Winter food are very different here.

Plants amaze me. How all that info is packed into a small seed, and how it produces so much food from that tiny seed. Then more amazingness when you look at the perfect little packages that Mother Earth has created for her beautiful works of art. I can’t get enough of this picture!

Pickle season has begun in earnest!

The red onions are not ready to harvest yet but they are close. Yesterday I harvested the yellow onions and found these mushrooms had naturally fruited due to some evenings being cooler. This variety of Shiitake is called West Wind. It’s been fun getting to know the different varieties and how they respond at different times of the year.

We had a special occasion here the other day. It was Hub’s parents 61st anniversary and his Dad’s 88th birthday. Lots to celebrate! These bread knots always look so pretty for serving. The buns were made out of some of the dough since we were out of bread, and there wasn’t time to make a loaf with all of the party cooking.

I tried to re-create a cake that the birthday boy had described from his boyhood, and hopefully I came close. It was a lemon cake with lemon curd filling between the layers, topped with a vanilla frosting with lemon zest. The Calendula flowers made it so pretty and summery!

As the work continues on our addition to our home, these trusses (4 of them) finally got finished. They were a TON of work, literally and figuratively! Hub’s worked with people to learn this craft and although it was very, very hard work, in very, very hot weather, he loved learning this skill. He has always wanted to do this! Hats off to these guys for their fine craftsmanship!!

Sunset over construction.

These High Bush Cranberries, are my sign. I watch them from early Spring till late Fall. Their color is an indicator of things to come. As Fall gets more near, they begin to blush with color. October will turn them a brilliant red. I’m a Fall and Winter kind of girl, so the color of these berries make me think about cool weather, hot coffee, soups, stews and cozy warm blankets.

Almost Summer

It’s funny how I don’t realize how much the garden has grown until I see the comparison to it a month ago! The pic below this one really shows the difference. I have started to harvest a bit of kale, collards and chard. Not sure who the little pest is that has been feasting on my swiss chard before I can get to it, but I did manage to get some before the little bugger! Other things are doing quite well, it just might be a bad chard year.

I’ve been adding a little to my herb garden each year and it’s starting to come together nicely. Oregano, Thyme, Chamomile, Rosemary, Calendula, Basil, and cutting celery. I am hoping to add more to this garden by digging up some wild plants and transplanting them here, such as Motherwort, Marsh Mallow, and a few others I have found.

MINT! I have tried growing mint for years, and it’s never enough. People say not to plant it because it will take over everywhere, which is actually what I have hoped for but it never happens. I get a small amount each year. This year though I started a lot of it from seed and finally it is looking pretty good and spreading which is just what I wanted.

PIGS! We picked up our two feeder pigs and these pigs are pig L and pig M. Introducing Lyla and Mabel. They are adjusting well, and are now out on their first pasture. We keep them in their small area till they get to know us and know that we are the food providers. This way when they are out in their pasture we can get them to come to us when we bring their feed bucket to pour into their bowls.

Ground Ivy, Creeping Charlie, Gill Over the Ground. These are all names for this plant that I have harvested and placed in this jar. Most people know it as the ruination of perfect lawns and call it Creeping Charlie. I prefer to let it grow. It is a good for the bees and now I learned a new use for it. It can be used in salads, but here I am making a tincture out of it. I filled the jar with vodka to cover the plant matter and let it sit for a while and then strained out the plant matter. Tinnitus is a condition that many people have that causes you to hear a humming, ringing, or other sound in the ears when in a very silent room, where no other background sounds can be heard. I have read that a tincture of Ground Ivy can help this and since we are both somewhat bothered by this problem we thought why not give it a try. Who knows if it will really work for us, but it can’t hurt to try.

We have been having a VERY stormy Spring, and the skylines have been dramatic. I love that dark blue sky, filled with constantly changing, cloud formations.

Pheasant back mushrooms. They are not as flavorful as other mushrooms we forage for, such as Morels or Golden Oysters, but I found if you dice them and sauté them in butter till a bit crispy they are great on a salad. If I was a vegetarian I would call them mushroom bacon bits! These particular pheasant backs are a bit large and on the older side, but on the other side of this stump, there were some small young ones I harvested.

Ready for the dehydrator! These are Shitakes and Morels we harvested this Spring. They are all dried now, and ready for Winter soups!

Pickled Asparagus are a real treat and pretty darn great in a Bloody Mary. These will be saved for Winter as well!

I made bagels once and I didn’t do a great job on them, but I think I have the knack now, and these did NOT disappoint! It’s nice to have them in the freezer and take out a few at a time. I have done this with buns as well, so now our freezer always has these items at the ready! When we have a cool day I bake more, saving a few for fresh and the rest in the freezer for another day.

I found out that making Za’atar seasoning is quite easy, and now I finally have a use for the Sumac berries I foraged last year! I ground the sumac berries and then sifted out the seeds. There are various recipes for this but the base recipe is Sumac, Thyme, Toasted sesame seeds and salt. There are other additions such as coriander, ground fennel, cumin and cinnamon with marjoram in some as well. I learned that you can make a paste of it with olive oil and brush it on breads before baking, or add a bit more olive oil to it and use it as a dip for breads, which we tried last night and it was fabulous.

Speaking of foraged items, this one here is one of my favorites to add to tea mixes. It is pineapple weed, which as I understand it, is the wild form of Chamomile. The tiny yellow cone shaped flower smells like pineapple! I thought I wasn’t going to find much this year, but on a walk, I hit the jackpot! Now, I have loads of it to dry for tea this year!

I’ll admit, this walk I had to push myself to do. It is Gnat season here, and they are bad! They seem to have about a 2 week run of just being awful and this walk was me against the bugs. The view, however, was very pretty on this muggy “almost Summer” day.

One Day

People have asked me, what is a day like on the farm? Surely that depends on the season and some days are busier than others. Wintertime is slower, but in the Spring most days are busy! Today was a day of spring planting, chick feeding, house cleaning, dinner prepping and good eating. With a well deserved glass of wine in hand, I ran through my head, the details of the day, and here they are…

Coffee with hubs, started the day, then out to the brooder to check on the wee chicks. They are growing while we watch them. We did some connecting on, when should we move them out of the garage brooder, and into their rooster coop, where we house our meat birds once they leave the garage. Then I collected some shiitakes from their shady spot, and grabbed some spinach from the mini high tunnel, and robbed the coop for some eggs. Then inside to make some breakfast for us.

After some dish cleaning, it was back outside to the garden, to get more plants in, and to feed the laying hens, and make some cages for protecting my new herbs from those curious hens. I knew dinner needed to be easy on a planting day, so I had thawed one of our chickens from the freezer the day before. I ducked inside and put it in the oven, knowing we would be coming in that night late, and tired. I threw in some laundry, set a timer on my phone for the chicken and headed out to plant a few more herbs in the herb garden and good thing I set a phone alarm for the chicken, in the oven, or I would have lost track of time!! I set the chicken on the counter, to cool enough to handle, and started more laundry. Once the bird was cooled, I separated out the meat from bones, while saving a bit of the meat for throwing on my spinach salad for lunch, and then dropped all the bones into a pot of water and set them on low on the stovetop and headed back out. It was time to tackle the potato planting, which we were way behind on already. We plant them in buckets, and hubs had gotten all the buckets set up already and we put the cut sections and small whole potatoes into the buckets and covered them up with compost. Then a quick stop at the rooster coop. I swept it out and got it straightened up for the moving of the chicks, and then back to the brooder to check on the babies. Inside, I sorted the last of my plants on the plant rack. I ended up with one more tray to sell, one tray for my mother-in-law’s garden, and then there were the extras. My garden is full so remembering that my doctor said he was excited about a community project raising food for the local food pantry, I gave our clinic a call and they were happy to take the extra plants and grow even more food for the food pantry. Then one more time outside to clean up tools, collect empty coffee cups and water jugs,and it was time to call it a day, and clean up for dinner. Guaranteed not all days are this packed, but the late part of Spring is when everything happens at once!

While this day might just seem like just another day, here, when I reviewed it all at the end of the day, I realized it was exactly what I dreamed of 6 years ago. A day raising our food, caring for our critters, coming in to our plates full of foods, we carefully raised, and going to bed tired and happy. I never forget not even for a day how grateful I am for this farm.

Onions

Almost all the veggies are in the ground. The garden fabric is a huge help in reducing weeding time…weeding is a back breaker and this is the solution for me!

We are back to the catch of the day trays! Today’s catch brought Shiitakes, Spinach, Nettles, Dill, Hosta shoots, and chives.

Nettles are packed with nutrition, and after a long winter with few greens, they used to be considered, and still are by some, to be a Spring Tonic. I have always been afraid of them, because, well, they are Stinging Nettles!!! I brought them inside and put them in boiling water for a minute and a half, because it said they should boil for 30 seconds, ha, ha!

Here are the Stinging Nettles, properly prepared. I only used the leaves, as I read that you only use the stalk if they are still very small, and these were just past that stage.

Here is the beginnings of the Mushroom Nettle Soup.

I added just a bit of cream and it was absolutely great! I am not afraid of Nettles anymore!

So many, many years ago, sitting down to food that came all or almost completely from the homestead was the norm. These days not too many people get to experience a meal that came from a few feet out their door. Although it is a lot of work, I feel beyond fortunate to have such opportunity.

The hens weren’t used to the warm sun yet, they decided to stay in the shade for the day and be bush hens.

Signs of Spring and other things…

The buckets are hung…

The sap is flowing…

Everyone is walking in mud…

The eggs are increasing…

The seeds are getting started…

The sprouting has begun…

The shedding of long hairy coats begins…

The last of the summer berries are being used up from the freezer…

The critters are exploring, and this one was BIG!

It was a very long Winter here, and although I didn’t mind it at all, I am finding the signs of Spring a very welcome site. The creek sounds like a river, the small blades of grass on the southern exposures have showed, there are rumbles of thunder and smells of wet dirt, and sun on a cool day that feels like it melts your bones from Winter. Even the giant clods of mud on my boots, they are all welcome signs that the growing season is here. It’s time to prepare gardens, time to clean up from Winter, time for baby chicks to arrive, and time to forage for Day Lily shoots and fresh Nettles. Watching our farm wake up from a long Winter slumber, is always beautiful. I guess I am just a four seasons girl. I love watching the changes.

Speaking of change, this Fall we will have a great room with a fireplace, something we have wanted for some time. I look forward to snowy days and warm fires! Hubs is doing a lot of it and wow what a difference. A few weeks ago all we had was a foundation and a mountain of dirt from the excavating. Today the mountain is gone, and the landscaping is in the works. Even the retaining walls are getting set in place. I truly don’t know anyone who works harder! I’m so in awe of all he can do! (See my starter plants glowing in the window?)

I can’t possibly make a post without a bit of food, so here is some goat cheese with red peppers and coated in last Spring’s foraged Ramps. I always like visiting the goat farm.

Then there was this. A hunter asked if he could have an opportunity for some hunting ground at our place this Spring Turkey season. He offered to help with farm chores in exchange, and brought us, on his second visit, a wild turkey breast. He recommended this way of preparing it. Our own Red Tail Hollow bacon wrapped around WI wild turkey. The man gave us a good tip here! It was delicious.

Then, last Sunday everything changed in a heart beat. When a beloved family member is hurt everything else instantly doesn’t matter! I am happy to say that Dad, the rock in my life, is recovering. At this time he is all that matters. It is such an honor and privilege to be there to help him recover. The farm will always wait for me. I never want him to have to wait for me. Family is everything.