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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Summary of 2011

The garden and chickens this year where quite a success. Seventeen meat birds raised, averaging about 6.5 lbs apiece, and costing about $1.40 per pound.  I never had this much chicken in the freezer, but, I like it.

Lots of carrots, beets and turnips in the root cellar, lots of beans dried, and lots corn drying as well. Lots of tomatoes frozen, and turned into sauce, juice, salsa and ketchup and pickles, and lots of dried mushrooms.

My general feelings about this whole process, growing food, preserving food, thinking about life in this way is this:
Its a commitment, which, like all commitments does not always feel fun. However, it is an activity which does, at the most basic level, create peace of mind. It is real peace of mind, the kind that existed before insurance tried to convince people that they could sell you peace of mind. Its is peace which comes from actions taken, from diligence, from sacrifice, time and knowledge. It leaves you with little to say at the end of it all. It is done, and here is what the results are.  There are always plans for next year, always learning which occurs, but at the end of the season, when everything is put away, it is like a huge exhale. There is nothing more to do, until the season starts up. Its time to celebrate that you have participated in the reality of keeping yourself alive and healthy, to the extent that you could.

It creates space around you- knowledge that makes you feel secure. It is the raw knowledge that ensures you will be alright this winter. Even thought there is uncertainty in the weather, and many things can go wrong, if it didn't go wrong this year- then, for the most part this winter will be o.k.

 This has meaning that is tangible, and that is what we need- the connection to our life, our labor, our time, and our efforts  remember this feeling, and carry it forward, as the world changes, as time rubs off the memory of what it feels like to live with the earth, and to connect ourselves in the most honest way possible to the ground we live on.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Making Strawberry Wine

Strawberry Wine is arguably one of the most wonderful possible things that one could invite into life. The taste of the strawberries is beautifully preserved. Just the smell of it reminds every cell of your body that, even in the coldest, most bitter parts of the year, summer will come again.  It reminds you that soon, you will run around and play outside, with bare sleeves and tan skin, and the air will again carry the warm scent of roses. It is full and luscious in body, and dense with scent in the nose. The beauty of strawberry wine is a relationship that you develop- you can not be given or buy the fullness of strawberry wine. For it to be fully salient you must experience strawberries, and summer, and love it, and love it so much that you save the memory in your body, and strawberry wine is the key. I can not recommend highly  enough to make your own- on the most profound level- make it your own- what ever the summer means to you, whatever strawberries mean to you- make it your own, sweet memory, and make strawberry wine to unlock it whenever you might need it. And, I mean- you know you need while it seems like an indulgence, it is, in fact, completely necessary.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

How to Pick Mulberries

For anyone who has ever wanted a large amount of mulberries: the easiest way to do it is to lay blankets down around below to tree. Then climb up into the tree and shake it as best as you can. When the berries are good and ripe, they will fall right off.

These were used to make wine with. They will turn your fingers and lips deep purple. Its best to get involved with mulberries when you don't have anything  to do afterward, where that might make you feel uncomfortable...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

New Chickens!

Chicks have arrived. We bought 20 "La Roux" meat birds from some neighbor farmers to raise birds here. They are as to be expected, cute, yellow, fluffy, and chirping. But, they are also going to be food.  So, we are caring for them with great respect and concern, because our lives are intertwined now.  If they are cared for, soon, we will be cared for, with real food. This is really the stage where the expression " Putting love into it" counts, because once they fed chemically altered and treated food, kept in cramped places, and treated disrespectfully when killed, there is no amount of loving that can bring that dead food back to life. What nurtures you when you eat it- the healthy mineral and vitamin content, the absence of chemicals, lean dark, tasty meat-  can only happen before you kill it. That is something that is very important to recongize becasue that is the truth of food. Good food is as a spiritual, emotional and psychological food as well. The process of creating food is part of the food itself. That is what wholesome is supposed to mean.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Work, Art and Music

I was working in the garden a few days ago- using the side of a rake to disrupt the weeds between the tomato plants. As I was working, down the row, I noticed that there was a particular rhythm which made sense for the work I was doing- the rhythm being made by the metal rake hitting the ground and pulling through the soil.

At the time, I just noticed it, and enjoyed what, to me, sounded like a song.  The birds, the wind, and rake  fit together in a rhythm which made a song.  As I thought about it later, it seemed to me that that experience held the kernel of all music- heartbeats, work rhythms, and other natural  sounds.  

The connection between work and art is very  distant, now. Work is something so distinct from art. But, I think that there is another way to approach this. The work that we do forms the basis for what we value, and what has meaning in our lives.  So, when I heard this rhythm- "Raking between tomatoes" I thought, this is a beat to a song- a real song, that I create when I do the work of keeping my garden, my body, and hopefully my community healthy. 

“Can we degrade all forms of essential work and yet expect arts and graces to flourish on the weekends?" 
Wendell Berry 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Enjoying The Longest Days of the Year

Spring has been busy! The garden is in- we had three weeks of rain in May so the garden got planted around the first week of June- but many things were started in pots before that, so things should go well.  Heres to the unique beauty of this time of year!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Spring Update

Seeds started  in the cold frame

Baking Bread in the brick oven- very fun.

Dandelion Wine making
Pickling Fiddleheads!

The fiddleheads

The brine

Garlic on the top.

Yum for the wintertimes. 
Egg production is up. 
Zeus continues his devotion to playing fetch at any spare moment. 
Chickens are eating grass cuttings.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Labor of Love

Spring comes on slowly up here, and the rush hasn't quite started yet.  Maine gives you a number of opportunities throughout the year to reflect- times when you need to know not to jump the gun. Its still to cool to plant, and you must keep your head about you on the warm days. There are a lot of old timey ways to know when to get started- " don't fish *such and such* until the leaves on the * such and such*  are as big as a mouse ear."  Or by how amorous the birds appear to be or certain tender flowers that grow wild, but only when the soil warms to their liking, so you know that its warm enough for a cucumber.

Why farm? Why know these thing when you can eat as easily without knowing them?  Just go buy some food and gobble it up, go about your day because we all have to work to keep up, and theres only so much time.

To me, the reason is this-  Time spent watching and participating in the natural order of things has a similar effect of becoming good friends with a person- you understand them better, and as you understand them, you love them.  Maybe not everyone feels that, but in my experience it has been true. 

It is a beautiful relationship; that we eat from the land we live on, land sustains us, offers the beauty of life each spring, and the gift of food.  If a person was to do this for us: feed us, exist beautifully so that we may enjoy her presence, provide wood for our homes, we would consider them to be so valuable to our lives and we would never think of doing something to hurt that relationship. For some reason, because the entity which does this for us is not human, we cannot accept it as gracefully.  To live closely to the earth requires work, but the work is for your own freedom and nothing else. When you plow, plant and harvest; your  labor, and power within the land has provided you with that food.  When you go to a big store and buy tomatoes in the dead of winter which were grown in South America, your labor still has provided you that food ( in the form of money) , but the opportunity to commune with the raw power that makes a seed into food, and makes life on this earth possible, is gone.  

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Gettin' the Garden Ready!

Winter finally let go up here,  and we have been  busy. Tomatoes, peppers,  kale, cabbage and Brussels sprouts are started.  Lettuce will be direct seeded, and some herbs will be getting started in the ground this week.
By far the most exciting part of the week was getting the garden harrowed and plowed. 
The garden was disc harrowed first.  This churns the soil and breaks everything up,  which gets it ready to be plowed.

Molly stood watch close by. She is too old to work, but she likes to be in the action.   The soil is dark, beautiful and healthy.  Having sat through the winter really makes you love when land turns workable again.  All the old corn husks, and remnants of plants are gone, and the garden looks young.  I can feel the momentum that has been building. Just like all these plants that know its time to get going, we feel it to.  There is nothing, nothing, nothing in the world that I love more then spring after New England winter. 

After a few days, its time to plow.  Markus and Gus get harnessed up again are ready to work.  I loved watching this team work.  I  learn a little bit more each time I watch them work.  Turning and steering a plow is a very advanced knowledge and it is something that can only be learned from watching and listening, and noticing how the land is being plowed.  When the horses turn, they side step, one foot in front of the other, and it looks like dancing when they are in sync. 
The first furrow.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Peeper Party! ( peeper as in frogs..)

The Peeper party is an annual event which celebrates when the peepers start their peeping.  A great group of friends came over, a turkey was roasted in the outdoor oven, numerous pizzas where consumed, home brews far and wide were imbibed, and music was played till the wee hours of the night. The most profound observation of the evening was made by a friends 5 year old, who was explaining who Zeus and Zeke were to his cousin.
"Zeus is the mom and Zeke is the cat."
 (Zeke is my puppy, and Zeus is the Dad of the puppy. )
Overall, a great evening.

The first arrivals of the evening.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The First Green Harvest: Ramps

Ramps are amazing, fantastic beautiful little plants. Here they are the first green plant which pops up from the ground, so they are very easy to identify.  There is a little ramp patch here which I have been frequenting. A number of experiments have ensued, as ramps are quiet versatile. Winners include potato pancakes with ramps  and ramp pesto with sunflower seeds.  So far, ramp mayonnaise did not turn out well, however, I am continuing with my research.
Ramps! All over the place!

Getting ready to clean them.
Ramps are  very small, very flavorful wild leeks. There is a little outer layer on the white part of the stalk which can be peeled off.  Its very fun to clean ramps, and it always makes me feel connected to the past. I imagine there has been many, many people who have dug some ramps up in the spring,  and felt so grateful for the first taste of fresh food after winter.

Beautiful clean ramps in a bowl.

Pizza with ramp pesto, smoked gouda cheese, and roasted chicken.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Logging with Horses

One of the most beautiful aspects of gathering wood here is interacting with horses in a partnership to accomplish a task. Its very unusual to have the opportunity to work with an animal to accomplish something that you depend on for your survival and comfort ( that being providing heat.)
Walking the horses to the wagon

Going for a ride to the woodlot

Driving horses into the puckerbrush. Horses do less damage to the land then a truck

Split wood is loaded into the wagon. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Attack Rooster 2011

The chickens are a constant source of entertainment.  I would like to publicly state I always say "thank you" for the eggs, and "Good Morning Chickens" when I let them out. I count them, to make sure everyone is present. But, despite my best attempts to be a top notch chicken czar, I do fall short every now and then.

A few days ago, I decided  to go check on the hen house- the usual- get the eggs, check their feed, and water. Well, because all the chickens are broody ( meaning they are getting ready for hatching chicks),  the rooster is protecting his ladies. And the hen house apparently ain't big enough for the two of us- so I close the door when I go in there, so that the chickens and rooster doesn't come in and give me hell. But this time, I forgot to open the door back up and they couldn't get back into the hen house.

That night it started raining, and getting cold ( it was right before the last snow storm).  I went out to make sure that everyone was safe and sound in the hen house and to batten down the hatches for the snow storm.
Well- none of the chickens could get in because I hadn't opened the door back up!

"Oopsy daisy" I think. And open up the door. They'll all just jump right back in.

I wait, and wait.  The chickens are not coming inside...maybe they don't know the door is open.  I stick my hand through the door and make some silly noises and wave my hand around.
That didn't go well.

I try the flash light.

Hmmm- this might not go as easily as I planned. And I have to get them in because there is a snow storm coming.  I conference with  people knowledgeable in the mysteries of chickens.
Apparently,  the chickens will not go anywhere, or do anything when its dark. They just want to stay huddled in a chicken pile, and not make any changes, on account of not knowing what might be out there in the dark.
I will have to pick up the chickens and put them back into the hen house.

O.k- I put on some heavy duty gloves, and get my flash light, and enlist Zeus, master herds-dog, to assist with the process.  I open the door to the hen yard, and to general clucking and some wiggling around, but no scattering of chickens, which is encouraging. Zeus guards the door while I go into the battle zone.

I grab the first chicken.  There is much clucking and flapping, but I shove her right into hen house and she stays put.  I grab another and do the same. Then the third. Things are going better then I thought they would.
Then, attack rooster catches on. And he is mad. He starts clucking, and honking and yelling at me. Then, he jumps up!  He is launching a full on attack with the feet!  I have nothing to defend myself with accept a chicken! Then, instinct takes over- I can not condemn, nor condone the actions which follow, because they where purely instinctual.
In a moment of panic, I throw the chicken at the rooster. It stops him dead in his tracks. The chicken and rooster land in a confused heap on the ground. It give me time to get a few more chickens into the hen house- and the rooster is sufficiently dazed that he wonders around for long enough for me to prepare for the next attack. I see him getting all puffed up, ready to attack intruders again, and grab a buffer chicken. I just hold her out, between me and the rooster- it seems like enough to deter the rooster from a full on attack.
There is only a few left, plus the rooster. I decide to just go for it and grab him. I sneak up behind him while he is starting to get suspicious of Zeus. He doesn't even see me coming, because now, he's got Zeus pegged as another intruder. BANG! I grab him, and he squirms around, but I hold my ground and shove him right in the hen house. The last few chickens go in with out a problem.

I gather up my flashlight, and close them in for the night, and promise to Zeus that I will never, ever put him and myself  through this particular type of nonsense again- if I can help it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Maple Sugaring: Gathering the Sap

Note: Photos taken at the Webb Family Farm in Pittston Maine
Maple Syrup is one of the  great New England traditions which still has a lot of life in it.  The sap has been running for a few weeks- this season apparently is longer then usual. In order to get good runs, the nights need to dip below freezing, and the day needs to be  above freezing. This causes the sap to run up and down the tree.

A hole is drilled into the tree, and a simple tap is inserted into the hole. In the picture above you can see the bucket which is catching the sap.  There are some important concerns about bucket placement. Generally, it seems that the south side of the trees works better,because if the bucket is on the north side, the tap may not thaw out during the day. Also, you have to remember to take into consideration that the snow might melt after a while, so, if you can reach your bucket when standing on snow, you may not be able to reach it after the snow melts.
Next, the sap is gathered into a big vat. In this case, a horses are used to go from tap to tap, and someone empties the buckets into a big vat.

Here, the vat is the large metal container on the sled which the horses are pulling.  This sugar house was heated with wood,  which is common.  It needs to be split up small to fit into the firebox,  and so that is burns fast, and makes a hot fire. So, that shed with the wood is all for wood for making syrup. That has to be done beforehand. There is no time time to cut wood and keep an eye on the syrup.

A beautiful team of horses.

A lot of the wood has already been burned up at this point in the season.

If goats are present, they certainly will be involved, but they may not be helpful. 

Nanny goat and a baby goat. 

Goats keeping an eye on things.

The next blog entry will show the inside of the sugar house, the equipment, and the process of making syrup.