Pretty things

We are away, spending some time in the woods, with family and friends. So here is a short post, with lots of pretty things. These things inspire me and remind me of how special this place and life of ours is. Moving to a new home is such an adventure, one filled with surprises and many discoveries to be made, for both children and adults alike. When spring rolled around, these were the things we discovered.

Hundreds of geese on our ponds, who gave birth to many fuzzy babies and then paraded them around every morning and evening.

Does anyone know what these are? Tiny flowers, growing in bunches, on the side of our rock wall.

Crabapple blossoms.

Early morning fog.

The early spring light, that streams through our windows, every afternoon.

Hens and chicks…another inhabitant of our rock wall.

Another beautiful sunset.

A surprise batch of Poppies, tucked in the back of the garden.

The clematis by our front door. It grew all the way up onto the roof!

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. -Anais Nin

A bushel (or two) of gratitude

Flowers on our Blue Fingerling potato plants. Not only do they give us tasty potatoes but, in the meantime, they are pretty to look at.

I love growing potatoes! Outside of awaiting the first ripe tomato of the summer, the first potato harvest is one of my favorite times of the growing season. I love the anticipation, the little surprise that lingers, just under that hill of dirt, the deep sigh of relief when the first few plants are unearthed and there are actually edible potatoes. Potatoes just waiting to be tucked away in the fruit cellar, until a cold winter night, that right now seems so far away. For someone like me, growing potatoes is a test. Since I am not the most patient person, you could see how something that mostly grows below ground and is not supposed to see sunlight until the day it is picked might try what little patience I do possess. Potatoes, especially ones grown organically, are also quite finicky. Combine that, with our lack of experience and you can understand why we so anxiously await the first day of harvest.

Kevin preparing the ground before hilling the potatoes.

So, to give us the best chance for success, we baby these plants of ours from the day they arrive in the mail until the day they grace our dinner table. We bought only organic, certified disease free, seed potatoes. On two very rainy days in late April, Kevin dug 20 trenches that were about 15 feet long by 1 foot deep. Then Dad, Kevin, PJ and I spent a few hours, in the chilly rain, carefully placing all of our, previously cut and cured, potatoes in the ground and covering them with about a 6 inches of dirt. When they reached about a foot tall we hilled them, to keep the sun out, using the remaining dirt from digging the original trenches. This year we fought flea beetles on all our nightshade plants, of which potatoes are one, using Neem oil extract sprayed on them at dusk, as often as needed. This allowed the plants to get well established and reach a size capable of enduring a little munching on from these tiny pests.

Flowers on our buckwheat plants.

Next we broadcasted buckwheat seed in between each potato variety, having read that it supposedly deters Colorado Potato Beetles from attacking the plant foliage. We are still trying to decide if we should harvest the buckwheat to use as flour or plow it under as green manure, which would replenish the soils nutrients before next spring. As a side note, we did not see a single potato beetle amongst our garden pests this year. Whether that is owed to our preemptive strike, we may never know. It does mean that we will be doing it again next year.

Digging up the first few plants.

So knowing myself, and my inability to wait an entire growing season to eat the first potato, I had enough foresight to purchase some early varieties and we spent a few afternoons, before the much needed rain blew in, participating in the treasure hunt that is potato harvesting. I stood by, hovering nervously, as Kevin sunk the pitch fork into the dirt around the first plant and, lo and behold, he dug up 4-big-beautiful Yukon Gold potatoes. We were off!

Each potato has to be dug up by hand. Luckily, Kevin has potato farmers in his family tree, evidently those skills are hereditary!

He and I proceeded to dig in the earth together, talking about what chores needed to get done before dark, which sheep was acting friendlier today than yesterday, if Lilac looked a little wider and hopefully pregnant and if maybe, just maybe, Shaelyn was going to finally pop that newest tooth of hers and let us sleep more than two hours, at a time, that night. As we knelt, talking of the usual and mundane, we would stop to admire when a plant surprised us with 6 large potatoes or voice our disappointment when one, that had looked particular large from above the hill, only gave us a single tuber.

Laying in the sun to dry before being collected and taken inside.

Working our way up and down the hills, I was suddenly struck with overwhelming gratitude for what we had here in this new place. For as hard as the day-to-day work is, especially since we are still setting up and catching up, we are much luckier than those who came before us. When they planted their spring potatoes, tended them, cared for them, fought off pests and then dug them up to place in the winter larder, they had no choice but to succeed or they would go hungry. While I realize, that the truth is, if this fails, we can go to the store or the farmers market and buy what we need, it still feels fulfilling and important to spend an afternoon in the garden, with the man I love, digging our food up out of the ground, talking about the little (big?) things in life and providing for ourselves. Who knew a potato could cause all that?

What delicious potato recipes do you have? Please share because we are going to need them…we have 6 more varieties to harvest before winter!

The one where I gush about Martha

Snoop Dogg baking brownies with Martha. photo courtesy of marthastewart.com

I love Martha Stewart. Honestly, I have loved her ever since I was in high school, you know, back in the day when she did every show from her actual house and before she had street cred. That’s what happens when you spend time in prison, you become instantly cooler and rappers want to bake brownies with you. So, I loved her even before her cool factor shot through the roof, that makes me a true fan, right? Anyway, Martha (yes we are on a first name bases, at least we would be if we ever actually met in person) has always spoken to my type A personality, my inner monster’s need for perfection, and my always present want (need?) to be crafty, in one way or another, everyday. She’s who sparked my interest to bake my own bread (I started experimenting making bread when I was a teenager, long before I had any idea that I would be making bread to feed both my family and to make a political statement about the state of our country’s food systems) and she was also the one who got me into collecting vintage dishes and bakeware, which may be considered more of an addiction than a hobby, depending on who you ask around here. I guess, in a sense, she’s the one who started me on this path toward self-sufficiency. Who would have thought?

My cooking experiences have not always turned out stellar. There have been a lot of bumps and wrong turns on that road, especially early on, but with practice and time, things have got much better. Yes, the deck most defiantly got stacked in my favor the day I married, a professionally trained, cook who was willing to teach me a few new tricks! Martha’s recipes, however, always turned out great, even in the early days. When my mom came upon this recipe in an issue of last summers Martha Stewart Living I knew I had to make it and I knew it would only be more delicious using homegrown heirloom tomatoes and fresh-cut basil from the herb garden. It’s also a great summertime meal because it only heats up the kitchen when boiling the water for the pasta and comes together quickly for those nights that we linger outside, a little too long, not realizing that dinner should already be on the table. At least, not until after one of us (usually PJ, my Dad or myself-oh no, our family resemblance is showing, again), is on the verge of a low blood sugar induced meltdown of nuclear proportions.

Macaroni with Marinated Heirloom Tomatoes– adapted from Martha Stewart Living, August 2011

Some heirloom cherry tomatoes-red, sun gold and black. The pottery bowl was a handmade gift from Kevin.

7-8 cloves of garlic, sliced thin

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 lbs of heirloom tomatoes* cut into bite size pieces.

3/4 cup torn, fresh basil

3 tablespoons of salt packed capers

zest of 2 medium lemons

1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes

sea salt and fresh ground pepper

1 1/2 lbs of bow ties, or another flat pasta.

*I used heirloom cherry and pear tomatoes because that is what is ripe, in our garden, right now but you could use any heirloom, even large slicers, just cut them it into the correct size.

 In a small sauce pan heat sliced garlic and 1/2 Cup of oil on low heat until garlic becomes golden-colored. Remove from heat, set aside and let cool.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl with a lid, mix tomatoes, 1/4 cup of basil, capers, zest of one lemon, red pepper flakes and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Pour garlic and oil over mixture, affix lid and toss. Let sit on counter for about thirty minutes tossing occasionally.

For this meal I used store-bought, organic, dried pasta. It would be even more tasty with homemade fresh macaroni but then it would no long fit under the heading of  one of my, “I haven’t left enough time to get dinner made-before everyone starts complaining-oh crap what am I going to make fast so no one flips out” meals.

Once paste is al dente, drain, give a quick rinse with cool water to prevent sticking and place in a large serving bowl. Now, here is where Martha and I differ, I know, shocking. Right? Instead of adding 2 cups of cooking water to the pasta, I drizzle ~1/4 cup of olive oil and give a quick stir. I find that my homegrown tomatoes tend to be more juicy than their store-bought counterparts and when mixed with the extra cooking water, make the dish soupy. Stir in tomato mixture, salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with remaining torn basil and garish with the zest of second lemon.

It tastes even better than it looks, I promise!

What recipes have you been cooking up using the summer’s offerings?

Catching up

I had been tossing around the idea of starting this blog for awhile, as a way to chronicle all the goings on around here. I kept coming up with reasons to put it off, “I can’t come up with a good name, I don’t have extra time to sit down and write” and many other excuse that are too numerous to count. Thanks to constant bugging prodding from Kevin and gentle nudges from other friends and family, here it is. So, I needed to find a good way to catch everyone up on what has happened here on the farm since last November and this picture post is what I came up with. My hope is to be able to focus, in more detail, on the individual aspects of our homesteading life in the coming weeks. You know, in the spare moments between preschooler requests, toddler needs, animal chores, garden weeding and harvesting, food preserving, meal making and all the other “to-dos” that come with this simple life.

I’m also slowly working on the look of the blog and have been constantly tweaking it, so, if it seems to change every time you stop back you’ll know why.

Okay, here you go, the quick version of the past 9 months here on the farm. The amount of time it will take you to look through the photos is about how fast it felt while we were actually living it. Time flies and all that, ya know?

A little bit of our little prairie, covered in a morning frost.

Not long after moving in we discovered that there were gorgeous sunsets almost every night.

The first animals to arrive at the farm were the guinea fowl (above) and 10 Cayuga ducks. (Below)

During the heat wave, in March, we were able to get a head start on tilling up the garden and Dad’s hops yard, with help from our neighbor down the street.

The veggie garden, which we calculate to be about 2/3 of an acre, plowed, tilled and ready to be planted.

Planting peas, the first seeds to go in the garden of our new homestead.

The next arrival on the farm was Lilac, our someday dairy cow. We bought her from an organic dairy farmer, her farm happens to be right around the corner from us.

Next to arrive were the heritage breed piglets who will be pasture raised to market weight and then put in the freezer. Any extra meat, exceeding what we can eat in a year, will be sold.

Here are the first three, of our now 18, Shetland sheep. From Left to right, Hershey, Dessie and Hope. They are here not only to eat grass, giving Kevin and Dad a break from constantly mowing, but to also provided me with fiber to process and spin into yarn. Hopefully, this will make feeding my knitting habit much less expensive.

The growing garden in May.

Some of our laying hens outside the mobile coop that Kevin built for them. One hen has started to lay tiny brown eggs.

Free ranging on pasture will make for tasty and healthy eggs.

The first pullet egg next to Henrietta’s pale blue egg. Henrietta is the Americauna hen we inherited from the previous owner.

Some goodies, picked from the garden just a few days ago.

What’s new in your neck of the woods?

Here we go…

A view of the house, barns and livestock shelters from the ridge in the back pasture.

This first blog post, of mine, is an invitation of sorts. We want you to come with us on this new adventure of ours and the best part is we will be doing all the heavy lifting and poo hauling while you get to sit back, relax and enjoy your daily visits to the farm!

For quite a while, it has been a dream of Kevin’s and mine to start homesteading. To get back in touch with the earth, to know where our food comes from and to be sure that it only traveled the short distance from our backyard to our kitchen, not hundreds of miles like most store-bought goods. At the same time, my maternal grandfather had decided, that at 88 years old, he was ready to sell the home that he and my late grandmother had shared for over 50 years. My parents intended to share their home with him, if he agreed. After many discussions, weighing both the challenges and joys that would lay ahead, we decided to search for a large home with individual living spaces for all of us. A home, with enough land attached, that allowed us to pursue our need for a self-sustaining lifestyle. I hope that this blog will help keep our family and friends updated on our day-to-day experiences, no matter how busy this farm life becomes. I also wish for it to serve as a reminder, to myself, when the days get perticularly hard, how beautiful and blessed this life of ours truly is and to create a written journal for our children. A journal that will remind them of one wild adventure that their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparent, dove head first into, seeing the great promise that laid ahead and the wonderful memories that waited to be made.

I’m sure it’s not going to be easy but I guarantee there will be fun, moving, happy, trying, difficult and often hilarious moments. That’s life after all. So here we go…life in a big, crowded, house on our own little bit of prairie. Won’t you join us?