on loving, caring, killing and eating

**If you would rather not read and see pictures of the butchering of our animals for meat you may want to skip this post and come back another day. However, I would encourage you to read on because as long as we remain disconnected from the realities of our choice to consume animal products the longer are food system will remain broken, and I dare say, harmful to both the animals’ lives and ours. It’s so easy to divert our eyes from the reality of being omnivores, it also seems as though many living this lifestyle are skirting round the realities that come with raising one’s own food and avoid articulating their experiences in favor of not ruffling feathers. In the name of authenticity I am choosing to share both the realities and the emotions that accompany them. 

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Spring and Fall. The most frantic time of all for anyone who grows/raises the majority of their own food. Eh, who am I kidding there is really never downtime when it comes to living the way we choose but there’s just something about Spring and Fall, that manic hurrying, the need to get so many of the things on that “to do” list done, like yesterday, or you’re gonna throw the whole damn schedule off.

In reality, that schedule is a mirage, something that never actually existed because the second you decided to be a homesteader your were already behind. You should have started 5 years ago, you should have learned a hell of a lot more a hell of a lot sooner. 

Summer is abundant and feels at time languishing. The humid, hot days seem to stretch far in front of you, the light lasts forever and you feel like you have all the time in the world to get it all done. There’s always new life running and bouncing in the pastures or rising up from the cool earth of the garden. When one thing stops ripening two new things start and there is always something to look forward to.

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Then one day you wake up, walk out the door and realize you’re missing a layer to protect against the morning chill. It never seems like Autumn arrives gradually, at least not in our neck of the woods, but rather all at once, catching you off guard, unprepared and suddenly you’re behind…again.

Fall is harvesting and closing up the garden, moving in the firewood, repairing anything that might not make it through another winter, winterizing of structures, recalculating and sending out a quiet prayer that you have enough hay, breeding of most of the livestock, and moving everyone closer in to be nearer to the food, water, the electric to keep the water from freezing and the farmer. (The shorter the distance you have to carry a square bale in two feet of snow, the better. Especially come February when your patience with the white stuff is already wearing thin.)

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Also, it’s butchering season, at least around here.

We do most of our butchering this time of year for a variety of reasons. It’s cooler for one, there are fewer bugs, more rapid cooling of the carcass and an overall more hospitable environment for us throughout the process. Also, most things reach the age required at this time of year. I think there is also something that results from our closer connection to nature and the seasons (and I believe a pleasant side effect of this lifestyle) flipping that primeval switch that still lies somewhere deep inside of us all- winter is coming, protein rich food needs to be acquired and put in reserve to help us weather the long cold months that are ahead.

This past week we butchered both a steer and the the final turkey that remained after an apparent coyote visit this summer (we are lucky to have a local farm that we can buy free-range turkeys from to replace the loss.) Within the month we will butcher the lambs that need to be culled and Kevin will hopeful get a deer or two and that will stock our freezers full of meat until this time next year. We would also be butchering pigs and meat chickens but they were two of the things that didn’t make the cut this year when we had to rethink where our energy was spent.

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In the name of full discloser we did not butcher the steer ourselves (we like to do our own butchering when ever possible) only because we do not have a large enough cooler (yet) were we can hang the sides of beef for 3 weeks. So instead we reluctantly loaded him on a trailer and took him to a local, family run butcher shop that can do it for us.

Bert, the first animal born here on the farm two years ago, was Lilac’s baby. We touched him and carried him within an hour of being born. We watched him nurse and grow and nurse some more even after he had grown. (See? when left to their own devices all mammals practice full-term breastfeeding.) We fed and watered him, giving him a scratch on the head whenever we did. He was precocious and possibly more friendly than even his mom, by far friendlier than the other bovine in our herd.

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He was funny and entertaining, running fence lines whenever we walked by, often telling us a story while doing it. He is the headliner in the best story that has come out of this homestead of ours. He was originally scheduled to make his trip to the butcher earlier this fall but secured his month long reprieve the morning that Kevin and my dad tried to load him on to the stock trailer we had borrowed. They had parked the truck and trailer in the alley way that runs alongside all of our pastures. The plan was to run him from the pasture into the blocked off alley and then up into the trailer. All went according to plan until the second they got him up to the the trailer, Bert suddenly realized what they had in mind, froze and took a mental accounting of his surroundings and remaining options. Without missing another beat he reared up onto his hind legs, all 1000 lbs of him, and gracefully leapt over our seven wire, electric fence, just barely grazing his belly hair against the top wire and gently came down in the same pasture he had just exited, reunited with his herd. According to the guys, they looked at one another, threw their hands in the air and said “you win today, Bert.”

This week, using a revised plan (the same plan I had suggested the first time around, ahem) he loaded immediately and was delivered without incident.

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Now here is were it all gets confusing and murky. As the trailer pulled away there was sadness, melancholy and few tears (mostly from the youngest one) but there was also gratefulness, relief and something that felt a lot like excitement, though I am terribly reluctant to use that adjective in regards to a situtation such as this, but it was there none the less. After all, within a month we would have a freezer full of high quality, grassfed, extremely nutrient dense food to feed our family and that would last us well over a year at a fraction of the cost (a fraction of a fraction?) than if we were buying from a local farm, not to mention the grocery store.

With these emotions still fresh in our memories we finished off the week butchering the last turkey ourselves. Both kids were present, though they always have a choice to opt out, just as they always have the choice to not eat meat. (I would like to mention here that mine and Kevin’s bodies feel better and stronger when we eat meat and considering the life we are living both of those things become paramount. We have also, at times, consumed a far more vegetarian based diet, mostly out of necessity (read cost here) and before we lived in a place where we could raise our own meat.) We said our goodbyes and thank yous and watched as Kevin delivered the life ending swing of the ax. See there it is again, the confusion and murkiness. Things have to die, we have to kill, in order for us to live. Be it a turkey, or cattle, right on down to the lettuce chopped out of the garden. And while I understand the it is easier to see the similarities between us and an animal then between ourselves and a head of lettuce the truth is everything is going to expire, including us. We are all going to return to the ground and feed new life.

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The hard truth is everything is going to be something’s dinner. 

My point in all of this is not to sound callus or to find fault with anyone who chooses not to eat meat, the point is that life is complicated, full of gray areas- raising, killing and consuming our own food is one of them. What’s not a gray area is that if your meat is coming from the grocery store you are actively supporting a substandard life for the cow that is going to grace your grill (and that you are likely to overcook all the nutrients out of but that is an entire post unto itself.) That cow never stood in the middle of a lush green field, sipping fresh water void of dung and getting a glorious scratch between the ears. He most likely hasen’t seen his mother since she licked him clean and has definitely never drank milk from her udder, no less at 18 months old.

Don’t even get me started on what the life of that turkey you will be setting on your Thanksgiving table was like. A quick internet search of factory farmed poultry will be education enough.

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If we are going to eat meat, it feels most honest to have the proverbial (and often times literal) blood on our own hands. 

Now, I’m sure those of you who are still here reading this ridiculously long post are thinking “That’s all great but you have acreage and I live in the city or suburbs, I don’t have the land, knowledge, resources to raise animals to meet all my meat needs.”

To this I say hogwash (How punny was that?) not because I think you should get a steer or a batch of meat birds and let them trim and fertilize the grass in your backyard, though I do dream of a day when everyone has a sheep or two on their lawn and they finally throw out their lawn mowers, but because you have options. Minimize your meat consumption like we did when we lived in the city. Go to the farmers market and introduce yourself to a local farmer, ask him/her about their animals or better yet make a visit to their farm. Join a meat CSA or go on LocalHarvest or eatwild and find a local, grass based farm near you. Offer to help during butchering time to offset the cost of buying better meat because, yes, this is a more time consuming and labor intensive way of raising meat animals just like buying a hand-carved, wooden toy is more expensive than a piece of plastic from china, which is to say, it is an investment. You are investing in your future health, in the health of those you love, in the health of the animal you are going to consume and the health of the earth.

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Kevin and I have had a lot of discussions over the years in regards to the feelings that arise from the raising and subsequent killing of our animals for meat. We agree that it never feels easy and we are always reverent. But the truth is, there will always be a new baby being a born, often times shortly after the butchering of the last one. The circle continues, until the circle comes around and sweeps us in too.

Living the way we do seems to create a life with a lot of uncertainty (Is it going to rain too much this summer…is it not going to rain enough? Are we giving the kids enough off farm experiences…are we away from the farm too much? You get the point.) while at the same time presenting us with some absolute truths.

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Ruminants are meant to eat grass, not grain. Truth.

Animals are meant to live out in the sunshine and moonshine, laying on the earth, napping in the fresh air. They are not meant to live in a dark “barn” that is covered in shit and other animals. Truth.

Most often if an animal eats what it is meant to, and lives as it is meant to, it will likely never become sick and never require a single dose of antibiotics, where as  factory farmed animals will receive these and other medications prophylactically because they will inevitably need it. Truth.

When an animal is living as it should (and grazing in a natural manner) it can do more to help and heal the land than its carbon footprint will undo. Everything form fertilizing and aerating the soil to fighting against invasive species and revitalizing native ones. They will help us save the earth and ourselves. Truth.

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And when the moment comes just before the final swing of the ax or the final pull of the trigger you look into the animals eyes, the animal that you have cared for since the day it was born, and that good life you have given them and all they have done is replayed in an instant. All at once you are grateful and sad, you are killing and loving.

And the circle continues. You will nourish another animal until the day it begins to nourish you.

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We will be nourished by the earth until the day we nourish her. Truth.

shifting…

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I don’t know about you but this year I am looking forward to winter. I am ready to tuck the animals into their winter pastures, tidy up the garden and close up shop until spring. The shorter days and cooler weather are just what I need and I am so ready to move our attention indoors and practice hibernating for a while. I know, I know- feel free to remind me of all of this in February when I am complaining about hauling another bale of hay or unfreezing another hose, all while wading through two feet of snow in below zero temperatures.

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In the vegetable garden we only have the hardy crops left. Cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, collard greens, carrots, celery, beets, a couple of spaghetti squash and a few rows of tubers waiting to be unearthed. We lost our tomatoes (late blight?) but only after processing gallons of paste and dehydrating quarts upon quarts of cherry and pear tomatoes. I hope to harvest a few rows of carrots now and leave the rest in the ground, under cover of straw and mulch throughout winter, so we can pull them as needed. I am also contemplating doing the same with a few rows of beets as an experiment. The rest will be harvested and stored in our garage, layered between sand in metal garbage cans with the greens loped off. The remaining purple cabbage will be pulled out by the roots and hung, upside down, from our fruit cellar’s ceiling. The kale and Brussels sprouts will stay out until a nice hard frost to sweeten up and then brought in- the kale frozen for smoothies or beans and greens while the sprouts will be roasted and devoured immediately.

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As far as berries and fruit go, we are still picking a few ever-bearing strawberries for a quick snack as we run past the patch and the littles continue to eat all the ripe raspberries before any can be picked and brought it into the house. I, myself, am most excited about our much anticipated apple harvest, we have stolen a few here and there as snacks and they are delicious. My Aunt and Uncle were kind enough to supplement our fruit harvest this year while we wait for our little trees, bushes and vines to grow up. They brought me apples from their garden to add to ours for sauce, juice and pies along with a crate full of grapes which I made into juice and canned right away.

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Other than the goats, there won’t be much breeding going on this fall and the last of the pigs have been butchered, a huge relief as they were the hardest to overwinter. Over the next few months we will also be butchering some of the non-breeding sheep for meat, which will help get the herd number down to a more manageable number as we have not been able to sell anymore breeding stock.

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Soon the fall routine will be in full swing, Kevin and Dad will spend more time in the woods as deer season will have begun, apple and pumpkin everything will be consumed, canned, dried and frozen. We will continue with a huge amount of celebrations, one birthday after another, sprinkled with a few anniversaries and, of course, all those autumn holidays yet to come. I hope to occupy myself with a lot of knitting, homemade chia and snuggling on the couch under cozy blanks, possibly in front of the fire, and waiting for winter’s arrival…a welcomed break after a particularly crazy year.

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Are you looking forward to winter? What are your plans and must dos for autumn? 

the july garden

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Our new, improved and smaller garden is in full swing as July comes to a close. We have already harvested and pulled our shelling peas and sugar snap peas to make room for our winter beets. As much as I enjoy pulling peas right out of our backyard, the time, energy and space that they take up is hardly worth it when I can buy peas locally for a nominal price. I think we will most likely forgo planting both types in the future.

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Yellow squash, zucchini and round zucchini are all producing abundantly. PJ has become skilled at identifying when each is ripe and can be trusted to harvest all three on his own. Now if only we could get him to eat them as well!

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Mountain after mountain of green and purple beans have been vacuum sealed and tucked away in the freezer for winter. I also planted a row of wax beans so that we could make my great-grandmother’s cold bean salad for lunches .

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The baby lettuce and Kohlrabi are both doing well and thanks to the small-scale of the garden this year we have been successful in decreasing our garden workload by laying down grass mulch in between the rows. My dad, very kindly, sweeps up the clippings after mowing and makes me a pile which we (usually with the help of PJ) distribute; laying down a nice thick layer after initially weeding each individual space. This year I also think we finally figured out the correct schedule for succession planting of our carrot patch, which should mean we will start harvesting full-grown carrots this fall and continue well in to next year with proper mulching and over-winter care.

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The potato plants have grown lush and green in this year’s steamy weather. I am hopeful that all that beautiful growth above the mound is a sign of things to come at harvest time. Our early season Yukons are beginning to die off, so by next month our potato diggin’ treasure hunt will commence. Next door the corn is also growing tall and green and I have spotted ears on some of our earlier varieties.

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Cherry tomatoes have slowly been ripening and PJ has enjoyed them for a mid-afternoon snack most days. As much as I wish my kidlets would pick up their own messes, I secretly love finding little tomato stems laying about the house; evidence of some nutrients being consumed by the same child that has firmly entered the “all beige” dieting stage.

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The most exciting news coming out of the vegetable garden this year is the presence of cucumbers. With total crop failures the previous two growing seasons, we are finally, once again, swimming in cukes! Granted, I had to buy our starts from a local organic nursery (all of mine died this year) but I’m still going to count this one as a win. We have eaten them fresh at almost every meal but we have also canned dill pickles and sweet pickle relish. Next on the agenda is some bread and butter pickles. As there is no end in sight, I would welcome any and all cucumber recipes that you might be willing to share.

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We are still pulling everbearing strawberries from a few rows in the patch and a handful of raspberries from our tiny plants. The weather here, in our part of the world, has been perfect for fruit growing this year. All around us local berry farms and orchards are have a fantastic year and bumper crops. Happily, we finally found a huge area at the back of our property covered in wild black raspberries that we have been harvesting and freezing and we will soon be gathering wild blackberries from a neighboring spot as well.

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What are you harvesting, foraging, pickling, fermenting, canning and/or freezing this month?

*It’s been one year since I started on the adventure of writing this little blog. I am grateful for the people it has introduced me to and the insight and reflection that it has afforded me. Happy Blogiversary to us and thank you for all the love and support you have shown us over the last year!

Much Love -L ❤

if it’s not working…

Change it!

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The new garden plot.

Well the last couple weeks have been all about reconfiguring. Reconfiguring our plans, our wants, the things that we truly need and, most of all, our (often times unrealistic) expectations.

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Kevin preparing the soon to be potato patch.

Truth is, things had gotten a little out of hand; stuff on the homestead had seemed to take on a mind of its own. We were trying to do so many different things, in the hopes of being guided toward that which fulfilled us and that we honestly enjoyed. On the contrary, we were each being pulled in so many different directions that we were all suffering. Oh, the perks of restructuring you life and mindset all while in your 30s, raising two kiddlets and completely overhauling one’s living arrangements. We also found ourselves drifting away from some of our original intentions which had, of course, led us to this lifestyle in the first place. We were so busy everyday that Kevin and I found ourselves with little time and, unfortunately, sometimes even less energy and patience to really engage with the kids, what with constant farm chores, three meals a day to prepare (often times from scratch), businesses to attend to and any other general tasks all of us have to do in our daily lives. We also found that we all had little time left to pursue our individual creative endeavors, those things that refill each of our respective cups, allowing us to return to the group refreshed and recharged. The environment that we were unintentionally generating was in direct contrast to how we so badly wanted to live.

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Last year’s garden partially turned back into pasture.

Late this winter while discussing this season’s upcoming pasture rotation schedule we came to realize that the front pasture we used for our garden last year would need to be reseeded and transitioned back into grazeable land. I officially started off spring feeling deflated and firmly planted behind the proverbial eight ball. After all the work and soil amending we had done on the space, with tremendous help from the pigs no less, we faced the 2013 gardening season back at square one. We also sat down and discussed which livestock groups were working here, which we would like to possible add, and those that we would rather transition away from. Taking into consideration ease of keep (especially during the winter months), upfront and subsequent feed costs, resale value and whether or not the products that each inevitably provided could be purchased from other farming friends at a reasonable price, we started laying out slightly adjusted plans for the future.

I hope these guys get to stay!

I hope these guys get to stay!

As is usually the case, the further we move forward with these new plans of ours, the more the resulting benefits become apparent. We have scaled back the vegetable garden, finally convincing my father that we would never be able to make a living from market gardening if Kevin and I were the only two working at it. However, we can save quite a bit of money if we focus our efforts on the produce that we eat all year and put our energy into growing those crops well, then preserving them for winter. The garden is now much closer to the house which makes taking the kids out with me to tend to it much easier and tremendously more productive for me (this girl of ours is a runner, a daredevil and a huge majority of my days seem dedicated to keeping her from mortally wounding herself during one of her stunts). It also seems to be much more enjoyable for the kids, thanks to their play set and other toys soon being moved near by and a new picket fence that is being erected, allowing them to play safely within its confines, without me having to chase after the littlest every two minutes (that two minutes is not an exaggeration, by the way). We have already established various fruit trees and bushes, including a large strawberry patch that Kevin and I planted on the slope of a small hill, near the new garden area. As the new layout and design unfolds before us, my creative heart is happy with the aesthetic we are achieving, as well as the resulting increase in efficiency and more realistic goals we have set for ourselves.

It's a work in progress...

It’s a work in progress…

All of this reconfiguring has also allowed Kevin and I to begin focusing on creative endeavors that before had only received a fraction of our attention while we worked mainstream jobs and before we began cohabiting and pooling all of our respective resources. Our move here was supposed to allow for pockets of time, and interpersonal support for each of us, to rekindle these talents. I am so thankful that we were able to step back, re-evaluate where we wanted to end up, accepting where we currently were and having the courage to say “this is no longer working for us, we need to change it.” Sometimes the choices are tough, other times the decisions are a no brainer, what’s important is that we realize when things are heading in the wrong directions and have the strength and confidence to turn the train around. Granted, admitting that I can’t accomplish everything on my list(s) is certainly not my strongest quality but that is why I have Kevin. He, thankfully, plays the part of my brain (which I dreadfully lack) that tells me when I have reached the reasonable limit of things that can be accomplished, figures out which of my “to dos” really do not matter in the grand scheme of things and identifies those that will need to be left until another day.

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Sunset over the apple orchard down the road from us.

I have a feeling that exciting things are on the horizon and I think we will now have the time and energy to enjoy them.

What’s new with you? Has Spring’s arrival inspired exciting changes in your neck of the woods?

eggs, eggs, everywhere

I LOVE eggs! My favorite breakfast, of all time, is Eggs Benedict but I will eat them any way I can get them. When I was pregnant with PJ my major craving in the second trimester was scrambled eggs. At first they were the only thing I could keep down as I emerged from the awful period that was the first trimester of my first pregnancy. I ate them every day, sometimes for both breakfast and lunch, until other foods began to sound appetizing again.

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When we first came here the thing I looked forward to the most was getting our laying hens. Being able to walk outside and collect all the eggs we could eat, for only a fraction of the store bought price, was quite exciting. Not to mention, our eggs would be healthier and more nutritious than eggs sourced from conventional or even large organic conglomerate (and supposedly pastured) farms. The day we got our first egg (a brown one) I was excited. The day we got our first Americauna egg, well then, then I was ecstatic. Not only are they tasty and good for us but they are cheery to look at. I will never tire of all the different sizes, shapes, hues and speckles or the unexpected excitement of perusing the nest boxes, gently nudging the lazier hens out of the way, to find what they have to offer us both morning and night.

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Unfortunately, we are having a similar problem to the Great Tomato Influx of 2012…instead this time we are drowning in eggs. Yes, I see a recurring theme of me, getting overly excited about each new venture, dreaming a smidgen too big, over extending us in the process and then having more of a yield then we can reasonably use. Humph! Thanks for passing that characteristic down to me Dad. Originally we had intended to sell eggs but have had a hard time finding a large enough outlet to sell all that the girls can lay, minus what we can use ourselves. Even though we have shut off the lights in the coop, and spring has most definitely not arrived around these parts, we still have dozens of eggs leftover and the girls continue to lay about a dozen every three days, even without their extended daylight conditions. So I have searched the internet for every egg using recipe I can find. We eat egg salad often. Inhale deviled eggs 2 dozen at a time. I make all forms of custard desserts on a fairly regular basis. I’ve become a pusher of scrambled eggs, eggs over easy and poached eggs for breakfast and try to throw in a Quiche or Strata for dinner at least once a week. I am not “egged out” yet (probably never will be) but the rest of the crew seems to be over them. If all else fails, and we don’t get to them before they start to turn, they are destined for the pigs’ slop bucket. Seems like a waste of good eggs to me!

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I need inspiration. I need recipes. I need someone to buy all of these darn eggs!

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What recipes can you share that would use a boatload of eggs? Because a boatload is most certainly what I’ve got.

December 3rd

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The moment right before we all sit down to a dinner of (mostly) homegrown goodness.*

Our sweet potatoes roasted in butter and brown sugar then topped with flaked salt, just before serving. Canned dilly beans from the garden. Homemade baking powder biscuits, canned applesauce and, depending on whose plate, pan-fried venison and onions or grilled pork chops.

Those minutes just as dinner is hitting the table usually feel rushed and stressed, with patience running low and emotions running high. But once we all sit down and gather (whether the blessing gets forgotten or not) we all calm down (obviously low blood sugar issues run rampant in this family) and share these meals, happily, together. I want to remember this moment when I get tired of weeding or fighting off pest in the garden next season.

*She is always the first to show up when I call everyone to the table. She knows where it’s at!

Where we’re at

“The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.”  -Laura Ingalls Wilder

The past few weeks have been a blur and the next few promise to be more of the same. It’s a busy time here on the farm, especially since it’s our first Autumn. No big posts are on the horizon but I like checking in and keeping everyone updated, so here is what we have been doing…

>Celebrating not one, not two but three birthdays. PJ, my mama and Kevin are all another year…wiser!

>Preparing for two new arrivals. It is very exciting and extremely nerve-racking, all at the same time.

>Anxiously awaiting the arrival of our first little calf, trying to soak up all the information and knowledge that we can about birthing and milking. All the while, knowing that we won’t truly “know” anything until we are in the thick of it.

>Picking, reorganizing and constantly shifting sheep breeding groups, on paper, in the hopes of getting spring lambs with the characteristics we are looking for.

>Desperately trying to get the girls back to laying after a sudden cold snap that made them stop, overnight!

>Trying to come to terms with the fact that we now have not one but two roosters in residents. Which is quite funny considering we paid extra for sexed chicks. (As long as they continue to behave and be respectful they can stay. If that changes they will quickly become dinner!)

>Working on getting Mum and Poppy to eat out of our hands and to let us give them a good pat or scratch.

>Thinking that the time spent last week carefully monitoring the weather for frost advisories was a complete waste of time. We were trying to strike that balance of soaking up more time to ripen the produce without losing it.

>Feeling fooled when we awoke to a frost, considering the weatherman said it wasn’t supposed to drop below 40 degrees overnight. Our best guess is the windstorm that unexpectedly blew through brought with it a windchill that dropped temperatures below freezing.

>Feeling sad that I lost all of the remaining basil to said frost.

>Feeling irritated that a good amount of squash got compromised by the frost and now, rather than tucking it away to use later in winter, I need to process it immediately.

>Prepping for next year’s sweet potato plot and how we are going to fight what ever it was (rodent?) that gnawed on     almost half of our crop, which rendered that half inedible for those of us of the human persuasion.

>Patting ourselves on the back for buying the pigs because they, my friends, ate all of those previously nibbled sweet potatoes after a careful trimming by us. In the end, we will eat that produce one way or another!

>Processing bushel after bushel of apples from our local apple orchard. Juice, applesauce and apple butter, oh my!

>Watching Kevin’s first go at hard apple cider bubble away upon the kitchen counter…teasing us!

>Searching for a local provider of organically grown pears and striking out.

>Desperate for those pears because I whipped up a delicious dessert this week and I need to tweak it so I can share it here.

>Finding others around us who are striving to live the way we are and feeling comfort in the fact that there are kindred spirits “nearby”.

>Considering adding a breeding flock of heritage breed turkeys to our motley mix of livestock.

>Contemplating other heating sources to use in the house, in order to alleviate our dependence on oil. I personally wish for a woodstove to sit beside and knit (or just create in general) at.

>Composting, plowing up and preparing to plant next springs garlic plot.

>Using the last of the previous years venison just as opening day of bow season arrived.

>Sending the hunters out with high hopes, feeling like it is still too early to expect any venison to be coming back in with them.

>Remembering that we have to stop at the local sugar house (who also happens to be a neighbor) to stock up on maple syrup since we’re almost out.

>Walking around our little bit of woods thinking that we should mark our own sugar maples and try our hand at tapping them this winter, just for fun.

>Savoring the last warm weather days that are sprinkled throughout fall, while also looking forward to the coming winters activities.

>Working hard at re-instituting a family rhythm that allows us to feel connected and grounded during these busy days we are now living.

>Feeling the pull of our quiet, winter routine and looking forward to attending to indoor activities that desperately need to be done. As well as, giving time to each of our individual creative outlets that we have missed so much during this busy summer and fall.

What is new and exciting in your neck of the woods?

My ode to the tomato

Until I started growing my own, I had no idea there was such a thing as heirloom tomatoes, nor the huge spectrum of colors they came in!

Ok, in the name of full disclosure, I need to tell you all something. There is a good chance that a large percentage of this month’s posts will contain tomatoes, in one form or another, for a myriad of reasons. First there is the simple fact, that here, it is officially tomato season. We tomato freaks lovers planted seeds indoors, in March, tended the tiny seedlings that sprouted, until they were strong enough to head outdoors, where we then protected them, supported them and worried over them for months. (Honestly, my tomato seedlings took a beating this year, so we saved what we could and supplemented with seedlings from our local, organic greenhouse.)  I personally have a hard time waiting for the first ripe tomato. Whenever I head out to the garden, the tomato patch is the first place I go, to both check in on everyone and see what offerings are waiting for us. Second, we can grow awesome tomato plants. I don’t mean to toot our own horn…well at least not too loud…oh what the hell, toot-toot. We have been known to grow 8 foot tall paste tomato plants and the only tomato failure that Kevin and I have suffered, occurred during our absence and was due to my father’s overzealous watering (we were in the middle of a drought and he thought giving them all the water they could take would insure their survival) which caused Blossom End Rot on all but the cherry tomatoes. Lastly, nothing, and I mean nothing, beats the taste of a freshly picked homegrown tomato. One bought at a grocery store, may look and feel like a tomato but they, most decidedly, will not smell or taste like one. 

The first heirloom of the season, this one is a Cherokee Purple.

I love tomatoes and I love eating them, in any form. Whether they are sliced up in a salad, slapped between two pieces of bread with a little mayo, salt and pepper, as a quick, just pop in your mouth, afternoon snack, sun-dried on homemade pizza, tossed in olive oil and served with fresh-cut basil and mozzarella or made into my great-grandmothers yummy tomato sauce, I just can’t get enough.

Just as pretty on the inside.

I think part of my tomato prowess, and borderline obsession, is due to my genetics. My family is almost completely Sicilian and Italian. After wine, garlic and macaroni (yes, they always called it macaroni, never pasta) tomatoes are the most important sustenance in our lives. To further prove my point, PJ, ever since he first had solids as a baby, has gobbled up tomatoes in any form. It’s the Sicilian in him, I’m sure of it.

Diced and ready to go.

So, to honor tomato season, I wanted to share my salsa recipe. I know, I know, it’s not an Italian tomato recipe, but right now, in our garden, all of the ingredients are ripe so, this is the one you get! Plus, it’s not really salsa, I think it would be considered more of a Pico de Gallo, but it’s what we eat as salsa because I, personally, don’t like the taste or texture of the conventional stuff. I have also been experimenting with canning it. If I am happy with the results, I will share that process next season, after I am sure that it truly has a shelf-life of a year, and a decent flavor when finally cracked open.

You can’t make salsa with out these little hotties!

Homegrown Pico de Gallo

3 medium to large heirloom tomatoes, with seeds removed, and diced. (I sometimes throw in cherry tomatoes too, to add different colors.)

1 small to medium yellow onion, diced.

6-8 cloves of garlic, minced. (Yes, I know my Sicilian is showing through, and this is what makes the whole house (and us) stink when I whip up a batch, but it just doesn’t taste the same with less.

1 small jalapeno pepper, with seeds removed, diced.

1 handful of fresh cilantro, finely chopped. (I usually add more because I’m a cilantro junkie, but a handful should do.)

1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.

1 tablespoon of lime juice.

Salt and pepper to taste.

If Kevin is around when I make it, he tends to walk by and throw in some Frank’s Red Hot and a half a shot of tequila. This, right here people, is the only downside to being married to a cook. I think it is delicious and fresh tasting without these additions.

If I’m not canning it, I store it in a container, with a tight-fitting lid, in the fridge. (The bit about the lid is very important, otherwise your entire fridge is gonna stink.) It doesn’t usually hang around for more than a night anyway, so this is rarely ever a problem. We enjoy eating it on chips, as a snack, or over some chicken, rice and black beans, as dinner. I also like to take two fresh avocados, mash them up, and throw in 2 -3 tablespoons of the finished salsa. Voilà, we have instant guacamole! I bet it would also be delicious, over some eggs, in the morning. Ha! There! You can eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Now, as my grandmother used to say, “go, eat…manga, manga!”

If you try it, let me know what you think. Do you have any special ways you like to prepare your tomatoes?

Friday confessions

This Friday’s confession is brought to you by our garden, and my apparent lack of creativity, as of late…

This isn’t even the whole lot. I processed a basket full two days ago and gave another basket full away to some neighbors.

I’m beginning to resent my tomato plants, they are producing too much, to quickly and I can’t keep up. So, maybe I actually resent my lack of ability to stay on top of all my to dos. Where did the girl go who could keep up with everything? Oh yeah, that’s right, she had two kids, gave up sleeping at night, vowed to live without certain conveniences (ones that might make things faster but were harmful to both her loved ones and the earth) and took on running a homestead.  I am officially out of creative ways to prepare and preserve these pretty little gems. Actually, I lost some because I let them sit too long while I contemplated what to make with them. Not to worry though, the chickens enjoyed them as an afternoon snack the other day. So I guess we will be eating them one way or another. Eggs anyone?

So if you have any suggestions please send them my way. And hurry! Two days from now the amount of tomatoes will have double. Kevin’s, not so helpful, advice was to have a tomato throwing fight. I said that was wasteful. He said “not if we do it near the chicken coop or in the pigs’ pasture.” His reasoning here is, unfortunately, sound. I really don’t want to participate in his plan, so if you would like to save me from this embarrassment, send me your ideas. As added incentive, next week I promise to share a very tasty recipe in return. 😉

Happy Weekend!

The weekend

The storm rolling in.

Is there really ever a weekend when you live on a farm? Certainly not in the sense of two days off at the end of your work week, but on the other hand, we never suffer from a case of the “Mondays”, so there’s that! The past two days here have been low on productivity with Saturdays highs reaching the mid 90’s and the heat index reaching well into the 100’s (not feasible with two babes that must follow us everywhere.) Sunday brought a, much needed, downpour that chased us all inside. 

The view out of our kitchen window.

We did manage to move the mobile chicken coop to a new swath of pasture, which ended up taking two extra people and two extra hours and ended in us darting for the house before the sky opened up. Because really, who wants to be handling electronet fencing in a thunderstorm? It is all quite hilarious looking back on it now, possibly even post worthy. I also harvested some produce, the most notable being 2 pounds of beans destined for pickling and was able to put up 8 jars of pesto. Outside of those accomplishments, and the usual daily chores, nothing else got done.

Waiting for a trim and pickling.

It has also been hard getting back into the swing of things after being away for 4 days. Upon arriving home, it seemed as if, the only thing that had grown were the weeds and I think we are both struggling with being extremely overwhelmed by how far behind we feel. So in that vein, and to please my Type A personality, here is our “To Do” list for the upcoming week:

  1. Make and can Dilly Beans.
  2. Weed herb garden.
  3. Harvest some lemon balm, parsley, basil, cilantro, sage, thyme, tarragon, and marjoram.
  4. Dry, freeze or otherwise process said herbs.
  5. Weed, weed, and more weeding of vegetable garden. Problem here is, by the time we get done weeding the entire garden the weeds are growing back in where we started.
  6. Create some kind of support for the sweet corn.
  7. Tend slicing and cherry tomatoes – prune, snip, re-tie/support.
  8. Come up with a way to trellis paste tomatoes. These have gotten quite out of hand and we are at a loss for a good way to support them that also allows us to easily harvest the ripe fruit.
  9. Try to train pole beans back onto their respective poles. I have never had a problem with this in the past but this year they just seem to have a mind of their own.
  10. Pick and trim swiss chard.
  11. Freeze what chard we do not use this week.
  12. Pick lettuce, beets, eggplant, peppers, squash, possibly fingerling potatoes.
  13. Weed sweet potatoes.
  14. Plant fall crops. We are kind of late with this but I would like to throw, at least, some peas and spinach in.
  15. Weed asparagus and rhubarb bed.
  16. Fence in pine trees in front pasture and move sheep into said pasture.
  17. Move Lilac out of front pasture, break-up middle pasture and move her into first section.
  18. Move pigs to other end of, what will become, the garlic patch.
  19. Lay down manure to “bake” in sun on the section pigs just rooted.
  20. Muck out chicken coop and lay down new litter for “deep bed method.”
  21. Muck out stalls and big section of barn.
  22. Pick up peaches from local orchard.
  23. Jam, can and freeze peaches.
  24. Pick rest of boysenberries off bush by barn and process.
  25. Name lambs and send in registration for all sheep.
  26. Find a Ram that fits all of our criteria and set up a plan for getting him here by October 1st, to use for breeding in November.
  27. Order hive and have beekeeper relocate the bees that have taken up residence in barn wall.
  28. Place grass-fed beef order for winter. Hopefully this will be the last time and next year we will be running our own steers.
  29. Go over budget and accounting for farm books.
  30. Work out plan for winter food storage.

Well, what do you think? Can we get it all done by next Sunday night? What is on your “To Do” list this week?