Summer Food Processing, New Pigs, New Pastures, and Heat!

It is really feeling like Summer, with high temps and it’s accompanying elevated humidity. I am not a Summer person. While I love the produce Summer provides, and how pretty and lush it is outside, I am counting down till Fall begins. Summer is beautiful, hot, sticky, and filled with hard work. Once Fall and Winter hit, all of the bounty from the Summer stickiness becomes comfort food, and it warms the kitchen and fills the house with delicious smells while the wood stove warms us. To me, this comfort in Fall and Winter give Summer it’s worth.

This is a Purslane ferment with garlic and last year’s dried cayenne peppers. Purslane is a super healthy food, and I am lucky that not only does it grow nicely and wild here, but it kindly grows right in my garden! Since Purslane is so healthy, fermenting means that we can eat it all year instead of just Summer. The carrots were from our local farmer’s market. I have been itching to ferment, and my garden does not have too much to harvest yet. Next to the carrots is an Echinacea Tincture. It has leaves, buds and flowers of the Echinacea plant (Purple Coneflower). This is covered in vodka and will sit till Fall when I add some of the roots to it, once the plant has gone dormant. Once ready it will get strained and this tincture will hopefully help us when cold/flu season comes around. The last jar on the right is Spruce tips in sugar, for Spruce tip syrup. It has a ways to go as all the sugar has not melted yet.

I was ready to feed the carrot tops, from my farmer’s market carrots, to the chickens, when my friend said, “do you know you can eat them”, well NO was my answer. So, I looked up some recipes and made something delicious. Thank you friend.

Here it is, carrot top Pesto! I used carrot tops, basil, almonds (it’s what I had left from my granola business I just sold), garlic and olive oil. It’s absolutely delicious!

First harvest of fresh broccoli:)

These are collards, stacked for chopping. They went into the freezer for Winter.

My kitchen table, in the summer becomes my drying area. Here I am drying some red clover to add to what I have collected already, it is good in tea mixes. Also Mullein in the front right to be used for colds/coughs. Pineapple weed (wild Chamomile) in the back right will be wonderful in tea, and smells so much like pineapple! I pick off the flowers and dry them. In the picture I had not done this step yet. There is Yarrow in the back left, which has many uses which I am learning about now in my readings, and lastly a few Mullein flowers. I had quite a few Mullein plants around here last year, but I am not seeing as many this year. The yellow flowers, take a long time to harvest as only a few flower each day on the very tall stalk. They are often used for helping ear infections, by making a medicinal oil from them.

The grapes, despite our poor training for them, look like they are growing well. Last year our grape juice had so many varieties in it, it tasted nothing like store grape juice. It tasted like grown up grape juice, with a really nice flavor to it.

Piggies! We just got these adorable little girls. They are more friendly than their counterparts last year, and cute with their little spots!

This was a big morning at our farm. Hubby has worked so hard to get things fenced in the front of the farm where we have wonderful grazing land. It was a big job! This was their first day down there, and they couldn’t have been happier. They have a stream to water at, and lots of grass to eat, and tree branches to browse. We are pretty happy to, because they have just begun what we have wanted for a while, they are going to clean up the area. When they are done it will be beautiful. We know this, because they cleaned out our woods already, which are now more beautiful than ever! Highlands are amazing cattle.

Now I am off to give fresh cold water to our 45 younger chickens, our 11 two and three year old chickens, and to two cute little piggies. They will all feel refreshed from this, however, with 93% humidity, I will not. Shower time.

Garden Touring

One of the things I love about our farm is the layout of our gardens and livestock. It is similar to the old small family farm, which really was a goal of mine. These farms didn’t specialize in large scale livestock, instead they focused on raising a varied diet that could feed a family year around, as well as, hay to support their livestock in Wintertime, and to raise enough extra here and there to trade for things that were needed that weren’t raised on the farm. Our layout of the gardens, the pig area, the cattle paddock, the chicken coops, and the mushrooms is based around the home site. While we do have a small orchard area, we put in, that isn’t by the home site and of course many forage foods all over the farm, the rest is focused close by with the exception of the cattle grazing the hillsides on the farm.

Our “big” garden, it is not huge but is very productive. It currently has cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, swiss chard, lots of tomatoes, and peppers, plus onions and, what will be, a good supply of cucumbers.

This garden near the house has Elderberry at each end, Currants, a Goji, Lemon Balm, Sage, Spearmint, and some Rhubarb that is just outside the edge of the photo.

These are our grapes. There are a variety, including champagne, table, seedless, and a few others. Next year training the grapes properly will bump up on the triage list.

My first Aronia bushes. Starting small scale. Aronia’s are said to pack a higher antioxidant punch than blueberries and even the acai berry. Someone let me harvest theirs last year and I made Aronia syrup. Hopefully we will get berries this year on these new bushes.

This garden already had a nice violet patch so I left that and added lavender, 3 small rose bushes and in the front 3 chamomile plants (in cages so the chickens won’t dig them up).

Our Raspberry garden. Yes it needs clearing out, there are old canes to pull. It’s on the agenda this weekend. Also on the agenda is picking some of the young raspberry leaves for tea this Winter.

This is our blueberry bed. It’s a bit of an experiment, we have been amended the soil to be the appropriate ph for them, but blueberries in our zone are new for me, I like to start small and learn about things before I try a larger amount of plants.

This is our mini high tunnel. In the Wintertime it has plastic on it and grows Spinach year round, although slowly during the coldest months. It sits on top of a hay bale wall all the way around. This makes the tunnel tall enough for me to walk in for planting and harvesting. In the Spring the plastic comes off and here it has lettuce, some overgrown Spinach that got pulled shortly after this photo and some beets that just went in, as well as some lettuce that is providing us more salad than we can keep up with so far.

Our neighbor shared some of his rhubarb plants with us, and so this is a newly planted area.

This year we moved our garlic to a new bed up the hill behind the grapes, and near to the compost pile, squash garden and melon garden.

 

Potato growing in buckets. The buckets are food grade, and it helps to prevent potato beetles, as they can not climb up the smooth sides of the buckets.

Seems funny to weed a compost pile but since we have so much growing on them, I thought why not? The front left of the photo shows a nice potato plant. All volunteers and all appreciated.

Mushroom area. These logs are pre-inoculated for next year. I am hoping to sell these logs next year to backyarders who might want logs that quickly produce after purchasing, rather than plugging their own and waiting a year. Hoping these will sell well on a pre-order basis next year, it will also be a good way to get people out here to see what else we are selling.

We are excited now for a big move for the cattle! Hubby has now expanded the grazing areas to the front of the farm where we have a stream and great valley land, it was a vision of his for a long time, and now the fence lines are ready!

It will be a very special moment seeing them wander down to the valley together for the first time.

Here is a well deserved, homemade Kombucha, toast to our 2017 gardens, may they be productive and successful!

When loading and unloading doesn’t go as planned…

on grass

Hubby came in the night before loading up and said, he’d run them through the chute, all was smooth, all gates looked good and so we went to bed thinking things would go close to as planned.

The next morning our helpful neighbor came in his truck hauling his older trailer and we were ready. The 2 steers were separated and ready to send through the chute and into the waiting trailer. As he encouraged the first one and then started to close the gate behind it, which should in turn gently force him, by the nature of the set up, into the narrowing chute and onto the truck. As the gate closed this steer literally jumped straight up and over the 5 plus foot fence. This was something we had not run into yet. Greenhorns. There is no reason to know why he did that and others hadn’t but it may be that the gate was closed at a speed that was just more than he could emotionally handle and he went for flight and thankfully not fight. He knocked a board down and so Hubby nailed it in with special nails so it would be in tighter. We repeated the procedure and that animal did it again, except this time he busted the top two boards. Hubby put up an oak board this time and raised it higher and with that and a bit of good luck the animal did as he was supposed to and walked right into the trailer to get the hay that was waiting for him. Now the gate was locked in the front of the trailer and we successfully loaded the second one into the second compartment, and with great relief, drove in the truck behind the our farmer friend who was hauling our feisty animals.

As we rode there, in the car, and thought the hard part was over, we discussed that morning’s loading and what might have created the problems, and how we can change things next time either in the way we move the animals, the materials we’ve used, or our physical set up. We got to the locker, which is a short ride from home, and waited while someone unloaded their unruly pigs. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that we could have the same problem, I assumed it was going to go as smoothly as last year. Well, you know the thing about assumptions. We offloaded the first one and then we quickly realized the second one now had the run of the trailer and was not going to make this easy. The last thing we wanted was more tussle as we do all we can to move the animals calmly and not overly upset or stress them, but after enough trying I asked, can’t we put him down in the trailer? The reply was for another $20 bucks, which at that moment seemed cheap, so within in a minute he was down.

We will get better at this, we will keep learning, but we also will be greenhorns for quite a while yet.

As the blood rolled out of the rusted holes, in the bottom of the old trailer, and pooled in the lot, I was reminded that when you are working with animals, there is no being sure you’ve planned for everything.

Names and Stories

DSC_0718

This is Jack and his Mama, Shadow. Shadow, and Jack (and Jacks sister, Jill) came to us together. They were our first cattle. The was no way to resist calling him Jack, since his sister was already named Jill! Jack was a funny guy, who liked to kick up his heels at the most unexpected time. Good thing that when you have cattle with horns you are expecting the unexpected all the time!

runaway

This is Runaway. He came to us with his Mama Caramel about a year after we got our first Cattle. His name is Runaway for well, obvious reasons! Little Runaway always found a way to be on the other side of the fence! He had a beautiful reddish coat and managed to continue to nurse till his last day, leaving him with a bit more fat on him than Jack. Runaway gave us quite a scare when he knocked his horn off over a year ago. I am a nurse and personally never saw so much frank red blood. It was one of our green horn experiences that when we got through it we realized that we had another challenge under our belt that resulted in success. This always feels good, of course then there are always new challenges that come up that we aren’t sure how to handle either, till it happens!

I can not say how many people have said about out animals, “oh you can’t name them”, explaining that then it will be too hard to take them to the dinner table. I’m not sure why not naming them makes anything easier,  perhaps people feel that if I don’t name them then I will have less connection making it more comfortable for me to process them? I don’t want to be more comfortable. I want to know the animals, and have a connection. We want to feel what we are doing, completely, and we do.

runaway and jack

This is Jack and Runaway, they have names and stories.

I do not wish to forget them or their names. This is the morning that they went into the processor. They were our very first beef to process. I wouldn’t say it was a hard decision, that day, to process them, because that very hard decision had been made long ago, but it was deeply felt, knowing we were going to end the lives of these beautiful large creatures. We are beyond grateful, to them, for the food they put on our table, and the meat we sell retail from our freezer will help pay for the exorbitant costs of purchasing and licensing our freezer, insuring our meat business, and getting our LLC formed. This is the beginning of our farm business.

Every time we process animals we know why we are doing it and we feel good that we gave them a peaceful and safe life with good food to eat. We also feel good, literally knowing our meat, and how and where it was raised. We are meat eaters and it feels profoundly good to know that we’ve taken responsibility for providing for ourselves. Not everyone who wants to do this has the opportunity to, and we are so very grateful we can do this.

Here is our beef.

hanging beef

The two steers hanging in the foreground are ours. The butcher kindly took the time to let me come in and see them hanging, to learn a bit more about what we are doing. He shared thoughts with me, and he has been doing this for 40 odd years, so it was helpful. It was startling to see the other room of cows that had the grain fed beef. Wow, what a difference. They were completely white with fat as compared to the “red” cows you see up above. He thought they looked just right for grass fed, which we enjoyed hearing. We picked it up about 3 weeks later and happened to have company the next night because it was basically Deer Camp 2015 here this year, with lots of people in and out and even some out of town guests. We cooked 6 different cuts between the steaks, burgers and a slow cooked roast. We had concerns since it was our first time. Were our grasses good enough? Did they get enough to eat? Would they be too lean? All of our worries dissolved away when we shared our beef sampling meal together. Everything tasted wonderful. Nothing was dry, all cuts were full of flavor and we couldn’t have been happier with our product. We had our first beef sale yesterday, and it felt great knowing that we were providing them with delicious meat!

We have learned and grown so much since we started this 3 years ago, (and of course we have so much more to learn), but I couldn’t possibly be more pleased with our progress. I knew this growth would be an incremental process and in looking back on this blog I am reminded of some of the many steps we took. We started with 3 cows, and the next year we added 12 chicks, and 2 hogs, then another cow, a bull and a young bull. The next year we had 3 hogs, 9 cattle and 24 chicks. This year we had no hogs, because we were processing our first 2 beef (no more freezer space). We had 58 chicks this year and processed 50 of them, we also sold our first calf this year. Additionally we have learned so many new things…hubby has built three chicken coops, installed an automatic waterer, added miles of fencing for the cattle, and kept us warm with ample firewood. We learned about new mushrooms to find, how to tap many different types of trees, doubled our garden space and I even learned to get over my canning disaster of 1985. The pantry is loaded with canned and dried foods, I have learned to ferment successfully and learned how to blanch veggies for the freezer without turning them to mush. We buy very little at the store anymore, what with chicken, beef, eggs, a large vegetable garden, apples, pears, berries, grapes and rhubarb we only lack for dairy and I do barter for goat milk when I can get out to the goat farm. We have learned to barter all kinds of things, and it always is a win-win for all involved. Sorry to quote a T-shirt but Life is Good!

I wonder what I will be looking back on a year from now?