Preserving Food- Freezing

Freezing food is a practical and easy way to save the abundance of produce that flows into the kitchen and from farmer’s markets all season.  Freezing has its cons, for sure.  All one has to consider is the great possibility of power outage or malfunctioning freezer to remember a time that you opened the door of one to find melted, smelly food languishing in the musty interior.  Freezing is not my main form of preserving, but I still utilize in many ways because I find it very helpful on a homestead.

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There are some vegetables and fruits that are better frozen.  Eggplant and peas, for example, become mushy when canned.  Green peppers and chilies are easy to scoop out into a pot for soups.  Greens can be successfully frozen in plastic bags without becoming soggy.  And of course meat can be canned but it is easier to separate and freeze in individual bags for suppers.

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My granddaughter is here for a few days enjoying the farm.  We had fifteen chicks arrive chirping in the mail yesterday and she made sure to snuggle each one.  She also helped me harvest mulberries.  Berries are delicious as is, straight off the tree still warm, or in cereal, ice cream, or made into jam, or wine, or pie.  I will make all of those things and may still have some to preserve for winter.  It is lovely to pull out mulberries in December, or rhubarb or raspberries for that matter!  Freeze them on cookie sheets first, then pour into bags.  They will stay separate and easy to measure out.

I have a confession; I don’t typically blanch the vegetables before freezing.  I haven’t seen the point as of yet.  We eat them fairly quickly through the winter and they haven’t been bad at all.

I did blanch the peas once and it was easy enough.  Throw vegetables into boiling water for a few minutes then transfer to a bowl of ice water.  Lay out on cookie sheets, freeze, then pour into bags.

At the end of the summer, I like to have Doug throw peppers, chilies, and eggplant onto the grill.  Then I slice them into cubes and freeze on a cookie sheet.  Then pour into individual bags for pizza fixings all winter.

Here is the trick for fresh greens all winter.  Cut greens, like kale, chard, and spinach, and stuff into freezer bags.  Push out air and seal.  Then put in freezer.  When it is frozen, quickly crush the contents through the bag with your hand.  Don’t let it start to thaw.  You can easily pour out frozen, crisp greens into your soups and sautes all winter.

Cheese, milk, and eggs can be frozen, but it changes their consistency quite a bit.  I don’t freeze broth because I will never remember to take it out in time and big containers take up too much room.

Pile the remaining tomatoes after you are tired of canning into freezer bags and pull them out as needed and put them into the crock pot with soup, or bake on top of rice, or cook down for sauce and use an immersion blender to blend.

Shred zucchini and drain.  Then stuff  1 cup of zucchini into muffin tins and freeze.  Pop them out and into bags when solid.  These make great zucchini fritters, additions to soup, or zucchini bread during the winter and spring.

I am a bit adverse to even the slightest hint of freezer burn so I don’t let anything stay around for more than a year.  I start working my way through the freezer in the spring and any burned vegetables left go to the chickens.  I think one of those food sealers would be a good investment.

You can freeze juice concentrates, and nuts and seeds from your gardens, or fruit, and vegetables, scraps to make broth, meat, and bread.  That makes the freezer (and extra freezer) a good addition to a homestead.  Should the freezer break or be out of power for an extended time, you can rely on your root cellar and pantry.  But for many things, like fresh greens, peas, and chicken, (and mulberries) a freezer is great!

Homestead Anywhere and How to Preserve Rhubarb

Shelling, Preserving, Freezing Peas (an all day venture, bring friends)

Freezing Produce (it’s not too late to preserve!)

Tunnel of Arbors (and how I made ours)

I would love to say that I am super handy or a DIY kind of farmgirl.  But, I am not.  I can think of all sorts of clever alternatives though that don’t require more than a screwdriver!

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I am in love with this arbor idea.  I have been for years.  I find it so enchanting!

So, I priced them out at the hardware store.  Yikes.  “You can just build one so easy,” my friends tell me, “You just need PVC pipe and…” They lost me.  I can go on Amazon though, y’all.  I ordered five arbors for $24.99 each.  I have had ones like this before and they last forever.

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Feeling mighty fine wielding my trusty screwdriver, pulling screws from my apron pockets, I got three of them up and made my husband do the others.

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One went by the gate because nothing is as wonderful as approaching a home and entering a gate and walking under an arbor with climbing roses atop it.  Secret garden indeed.

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Before (this is our third season)

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The new garden beds just waiting for climbing peas, yard long beans, and loads of pumpkins!

To read how to make my signature garden beds in about fifteen minutes and fifteen dollars, click here.  They are a combination of permaculture and straw bale gardening with a touch of broke farmgirl from buying too many seeds.

Spring is here and I would love to hear about your garden plans!

Farmgirl Inspiration

Hello March, it’s nice to see you.  January and February can be the very hardest time of the year for farmgirls.  We have our gardens, our farms, our animals, our preserving, our home making, our crafting in the fall in anticipation for the holidays, we have our cooking, and our entertaining, and our pleasant fatigue.  Then there is January and February…hello March, it’s nice to see you!  Thank the Lord you’re back!

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Even though it is still cold and there is ice on the car and tomorrow it is going to snow, it is March and all things can come anew now, in my mind and in nature.  I have plans!  Oh glorious plans, and guess what?  I figured out a way to make them manifest.  My son texted me yesterday and said he would come help with the fencing.  I found an affordable way to get the outbuildings I wanted.  Yes, my gardens are about to take on some marvelous expansion and changes.

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Field fencing is a farmgirl’s friend because it is easy to put up and can be taken down if needed.  I am expanding the chicken yard.  I am fencing off another part of the backyard for a greenhouse, raised beds, and space for a rooster.  Doug isn’t thrilled we have a rooster.  But I think one in seven wasn’t bad!  I also have ducklings on order to pick up in April.  They are honest-to-god worthless (few eggs, eat ten times more than the chickens, are noisy, splash water everywhere), but dang, they are so cute!  The greenhouse will double as night quarters for the trouble makers and Captain the Rooster.  None of them can jump or fly up on things, so plants will be safe and the added humidity from the ducks’ water antics will create a nice space.  (Did I mention my husband doesn’t like ducks either?  I just look at him like I don’t speak English.)

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A shed is going up to fit all the yard tools in, which will make room for some outdoor furniture and hanging plants around the back porch.  Listen, y’all, I will do before and after pictures when all this is said and done, but right now it looks like a hundred and fifty pound puppy dug holes to China, ate all the outdoor pillows, destroyed a huge dog bed, and threw some trash around.  (Actually, that is what happened.)

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In the front yard, a large archway will have pumpkins and other climbers growing up it.  Add in a few twinkly lights and I will have an enchanted garden for sure.  I have added a couple hundred feet of gardens.  The stalks of the roses are all turning green.

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There is a loom downstairs.  I have friends that can show me how to use it.  I have always wanted to learn how to weave.  I painted a box with a lid for my son’s long time girlfriend for Christmas.  It has a dear clasp and longs to be filled with secret treasures.  I painted a scene from a vacation they took on the lid.  I would like to do more of those.  Maybe set up my sewing machine.  Craft ideas come to mind.

Inspiration to farmgirls is like medicine.  Maybe even breath, if I am not being too dramatic here.  What are you inspired to achieve this spring?

Putting the Garden to Bed (compost, adding new beds, bulbs, and there’s no place like home)

Gardening need not be expensive nor incredibly difficult.  By necessity I have come up with ways to make widespread, prolific gardens quickly and easy on the homestead pocket.

The first thing that is imperative to a great garden is compost.  Compost is one of those things that still baffles folks a little.  You do not need a fancy, turning contraption to make compost.  Doug screwed together five pallets to make two open spaces and it is tucked into a far corner of the yard.

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The chicken coop certainly adds to it.  In the fall the chicken bedding gets changed and the soiled straw goes into compartment one.  For six months I add leaves, coffee grounds, lint from the dryer, food the chickens don’t like, and it builds up.  Repeat in the spring, only use compartment 2.  Put on the garden beds what you began six months ago and do this in the spring and fall.  I do not turn the compost or water it or do anything to it really.  It just does it’s thing.  If it smells, add dry material like straw or newspaper or leaves.  If it is not decomposing at all, add more wet items like food scraps or grass.  Let the chickens play in it, they scratch it up nicely.

Time to clean out the garden beds.  I let the plants go to seed.  Next year Mother Earth will grow dill, basil, carrots, spinach, arugula, and many other plants for me.  Everything is pretty well frozen and quite deceased so out they go and into the compost.  Perennials and winter greens stay put.

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Add a layer of compost.  Then a layer of warm straw.  Not thick enough to suppress weeds (because the water won’t get in) but enough to keep the soil cozy.

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When we first moved in.

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Now

I have a third of an acre here and I am only gardening a quarter of it.  But, we haven’t even been in this house two years; the changes in this property over that time have been impressive.  As always, I want more garden beds!

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These easy beds create abundant crops and very few weeds!

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This is my own design; a very easy gardening bed that combines many great techniques.  Lay out cardboard where you want your bed.  No need to rototill or disturb the beneficial guys underground.  Ring with wood you have on hand, rocks, bricks, anything really, use your imagination!  Then top with a 2 inches of thick straw.  You can add your compost and soil now or wait until spring.

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I am adding a bed that runs alongside the other one and putting an arbor over them.  Next year I will grow pumpkins over them (and will try to outsmart the squash bugs).  It will create an enchanted walk through that leads to the house or the gardens while freeing up space in the garden.  Pumpkin Hollow Farm is moving up!

Plant tulip and daffodil bulbs and lots of garlic cloves.

Everything looks great!  The garden is put to bed, the new spring beds are ready for next year, and the perennials are snug in straw.  Bulbs are planted, muscles are tired, and the farmer is happy.

All this wondering what to do now that I don’t have my businesses.  Should I go to school?  Should I get a job outside my writing?  Should I…?  And as I spent the day hauling compost, designing beds, standing in the next herb garden, dreaming, being present, working hard, I realized that this is what I want to do.  This is where my heart is happy.  At home.  Creating home.

This Year’s Secrets of the Garden

Already I can feel the air shifting, changing.  I had been watching the birds and animals a month before the Farmer’s Almanac predicted a hard winter.  My crops are finishing up weeks early, ready to be placed asleep beneath layers of heady compost and blankets of straw.

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This year’s lessons were plentiful.

#1 I sought to use up all the seeds that I had collected over the many years of gardening and not purchase any this year.  Most were not viable and I had to do mad dashes to the store to get seeds/seedlings in order to have a garden!  I grew tomatoes from seed.  One large vine was struggling to turn ripe so I pulled the whole thing out and hung it in the kitchen.  It is now producing luscious, red tomatoes.

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#2 I did not purchase expensive potato starts.  Instead I filled my apron with potatoes from the kitchen.  Organic and growing eyes, fingerlings, reds, and a few yukons from a friend’s nursery.  They took off better than any potato start I have ever had.  I filled baskets and had three huge harvests of delicious potatoes.

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#3 I discovered a little nemesis to my farm’s name.  The Squash Bug.  Few pumpkins were found last year and this because of that wretched little bug and his army.  I shall be spending this winter’s reading time perusing garden books for organic methods to killing said enemy.

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#4 If it doesn’t grow well over here, then plant some more over there.  I never plant in rows.  I plant everything together.  This year the weather soared above a hundred degrees way too early and I did not have any spring crops.  Almost all of my new herb seedlings were toasted quickly beneath the scorching May sun.  I planted many things on the east side of the house and they thrived.

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#5 Mother Nature grows best.  The squirrel that hid a pumpkin seed in front of the porch is my hero.  The vine is up on the porch and produced the only pie pumpkin because the squash bugs didn’t know where to look.  The ristras hanging from my porch had their seeds scattered in an April wind and I will have New Mexican red chilies soon.  A rogue head of popcorn I didn’t know was there planted itself and grew in the herbs gardens.

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#6 Let things go to seed.  I had prolific basil and arugula.  The radishes and carrots reseeded, as did lettuce and spinach.

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#7 My perma/straw beds that I created this spring were genius (I say so modestly) and I had little work this year to keep them weeded.  I will add three more next month.

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#8 Some things cannot be tricked.  I grew ginseng and gingko until they realized they were in Colorado and promptly died.  Peppers, which have always been impossible to grow up north, grow plentiful and flavorful in Pueblo.  (The eucalyptus and ginger were tricked successfully, I must add.)

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#9 Water and compost are all you need.  The sun does the rest.  Plants want to grow.

#10 I love gardening.

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My porch and many gardens were taken over by morning glories, which effectively shielded many herbs and young trees from the record-high temperatures.  I enjoy feeding the birds and watching the wildlife.  I let the rogue “weed” trees grow and ended up with a lovely privacy fence.  We ate well.  Every year is different.  Even when some things don’t work, something else always does.  A good lesson for life from this Farmgirl’s perspective.

Life On An Urban Homestead

20180813_071437The air is cool this morning.  Autumn just whispers.  A  little early, it seems to me.  A lovely few weeks of monsoon broke us out of our months of triple digit drought.  The farms are half fallow for lack of water.  On my little urban farm, the rain has brought forth abundance and we are just nearly tired of zucchini.  Still, fried zucchini and early pumpkin beer sounds good today.  I am grateful we do not rely solely on ourselves for food as I thumb through my depression era cookbook.  We are eating well from our gardens.  The herbs are lovely and fragrant, and though the produce is all slow to mature this year, we are now eating peppers and tomatoes and calabacitas.

The chicken’s yard is filled with birds of all kinds, apparently enjoying the new chicken feed.  The egg eater was discovered and went to a chicken swap where she is going to live in a lovely coop with three other roommates.  We now have eggs again.

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Many years ago I wrote a post about the pros of urban farming.  I think of that post now as I sit on my front porch watching the early morning world go by.  The morning glories have run wild and made the porch art.  Though I do want goats- many cities do allow them, perhaps eventually Pueblo will too- I see the many pros to living here in town.  I have abundant space to garden.  My garden on ten acres was smaller than the space I have here.  I can go up and out and raised and potted and there is much more land to make into gardens and orchards.  One does not need as much space as one might think.  I have the benefit of not having crop dusters flying over my little organic homestead.

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I have chickens and their hilarious antics and fresh eggs.  I have local farmers for milk should I choose.

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Today I am making soap for our new shop and for ourselves.  I canned seven pints of fresh, organic peaches from the farmer’s market and seven jars of spicy pickles from my own garden.  Little by little the root cellar fills.  Soon Doug will be chopping wood for the wood stove.  My favorite reading spot has oil lamps and candles and the power could go out and I would go on reading.

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Homesteading, I have learned over a decade of experience, is not about self sufficiency, but rather it is a village ideal.  One cannot possibly do everything themselves.  I need sweet corn from the local farmer, organic meat from my friends’ ranch if I choose.  They might get medicine or take a canning class from me.

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Here in town, I can ride my bike to the newest coffee shop to pick up fair trade coffee and hit the library for a homesteading book.  I can grow food and have chickens and even a farm dog.  Old arts like quilting and sewing and crocheting are making a comeback.  Homesteading is not insistent on the country, but rather a space in one’s heart for simplicity and old ways.

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How to Make Raised Garden Beds Easily and On the Cheap

I pour myself more sludge (strong coffee) as I write, the world encompassed in white, me not trying not to fall under SAD (seasonal affective disorder), knowing in a few weeks I will be planting those first seeds.

I told you that I was going to move the garden to the backyard because zoning had come by last fall and given me a warning post-garden to clean up my front yard into fancy neighborhood status.  I thought it would be easier to grow grass and flowers in the front yard and fence off a 25×25 designated garden in the back yard.  Enter large puppy, large expense for fencing, and here I am back in the front yard.

The weeds last year were incredible.  I have never seen lamb’s quarters ten feet tall!  I have never experienced mallow whose roots may actually tickle the top of Australia.  I was humbled.  This year I know we will still have weeds (they are medicine and food, but they do like to take over the world some…) but this year I will be a little better prepared.  Even though my crops did great in their sandy, never-been-gardened spaces I did want to amend the soil.  Did I mention on the cheap?  Because I never have as much extra money for gardening as I think I will!

This first-of-several beds coming this spring is a combination of everything I have learned over the years.  It is part Hugelkultur, part Permaculture, part straw bale gardening, part raised bed, part ingenious way to use what I have on hand.

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First I laid down sheets of cardboard.  Cardboard will break down within one season but it will help immensely in keeping weeds down.  I sure wish I hadn’t sent all that cardboard to recycling!  I would have layered on a few extra sheets of cardboard if I had it.

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I thought of large stones.  I thought of cinder blocks.  I thought of 2x4s.  I checked the bank account, and went into the back yard to see what I could find!  I have large limbs from the dying Elm tree that were ready for firewood.  We have lots of wood right now and these are so beautiful with the bark still on them.  They were easy to place in an 18×4 rectangle (with the help of my husband) to create a frame.

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Then two to three inch slabs of straw went on top of that.  The straw will suppress more weeds, will create an airy environment for the seedlings, will break down and become mulch and amendments, and helps fill the space so I didn’t have to buy so much garden soil.

Next went on pails of finished compost.  It never fails to amaze me that a banana peel in six months becomes dirt.  That scraps, and straw, and grass clippings, and chicken straw, and everything I put out there turns into rich, dark compost.  I won’t have enough for all the beds I am planning on putting in but I can purchase mushroom compost pretty cheap once I run out of my own.  It is only for this year.  From here on out my own compost will act as fertilizer in spring and fall sprinkled on the beds.  I won’t need quite as much.

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Then went on five bags of organic gardening soil.  I wanted to get it spread on the new bed now because it will have a few weeks to settle into the straw.  I want to make sure I don’t lose seeds in the settling soil!  We will know in a few weeks if I need more soil.

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The tiny trees I planted are in the tomato cages.  They will be watered regularly by being in the garden bed.  Once they grow nice and tall in as many years and begin to shade the patch, the patch can move.  Gardening is as much about flexibility as it is growing food.  Nature will work with you.  The main idea is to improve the soil and to create as many perennials so that each year we have more and more food and we are helping the soil regain health.

Done!  Now, the straw will try to sprout but the grasses easily pull out.  If a weed makes it through eight inches of cardboard, straw, and soil, it, too, will be easy to pull out.  At the end of the season I will pour some leaves, straw from the chicken coop, etc on top, and blend it in come spring.

*Side note- the empty soil bags will be set around perennial herbs and bushes with straw or wood chips placed over.  Weeds will not get through them!

Grab another cup of coffee, Folks, and hang in there.  We are almost back in the garden…

 

To Grow and Forage One’s Own Food

home 4Soon.  Soon now the dark greens of earth will peek through the moistened soil and seek the sun.  Dandelions will unexpectedly be dancing through the grasses.  The mulberries, black and velvet, will stain my fingers as I gather them.  Perhaps the squirrels will leave some walnuts for me.  And this is the year for the plum tree to fruit.

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To forage for food gives a great satisfaction to the spirit but to forage amongst one’s own gardens and land is spectacular.  I can already taste the cleansing lamb’s quarters, the tangy purslane, the scrumptious dandelions interspersed with sweet butter lettuce fresh from the garden.  Just dressed with good olive oil and sea salt, the tastes of spring come forth and fill my body with nutrients after winter’s rest.  Soon.  Soon now.

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I am reading a beautiful book called, “A Year in the Village of Eternity” by Tracey Lawson.  It takes place in Italy, in the village of Campodimele, one of the Blue Zones, where the most active and healthy elders live.

Cibo genuino. Real Food.  Roba nostra.  Our own things.  I let the many Italian words roll off my tongue and take their lessons.  Real food.  Our own things.  Grow an orto, a garden.  In this village they forage or grow nearly everything they consume.  Is it possible?  Last year on our own little third of an acre in town, in soil fit for a driveway, we grew all of our own produce for the summer.  Our first season here with little time or money.  Now we have eggs from our chickens.  We have planted many fruit and nut trees (if I can just keep the puppy from thinking they are sticks to play with!), we are recognizing more and more wild foods, and are growing many more vegetables this year in better soil.  Contadino.  Farmer or gardener who produces their own food.

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I cannot wait to feel the soil in my fingers.  Soon.  Soon.  The season comes earlier where we live now and in three short weeks I will be folding spring crops into the cool ground.  What preserves shall we do this year?  I imagine lilac and lavender jam, stewed tomatoes, crisp fire roasted corn.  We are enjoying our larder these winter months.

To live like this is to be ready at all times, for what you seek or what you want to “put up” may not be there tomorrow.  Herbs must be harvested when ready.  Fruit may be eaten by birds at dawn.  Piles of corn need shucking.  Ah, but I enjoy the work.  I love our evening walks after dinner in the sunlight.  I love the sound of water covering plants and the crisp sound of the pea pod being opened.  Ogni cosa ha il sua momento.  Everything has its moment.

For now I have winter preserving to do so that it is done once the busy season starts.  In my cucina this week dozens and dozens of jars of beans will be put up.  Vegetable broth too.  I still have beans from the garden to shell.  I will check on my vinegars and my kombucha.  I have been resting and a tad neglectful.  But now as each day falls closer to spring, I awaken, don my apron, and get to work.  In campagna, c’ e sempre da fare! In the countryside (or city as the case may be) there is always something to do!

 

 

The FSA (Family Supported Agriculture)

veggie 2“Do you know what you want in your FSA this week?” I asked Emily.  Eggs, goat cheese, beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, sage, and pumpkin piled into the cooler.

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I have always been on that in-between-sized farm.  I can grow a lot of produce, but I have run into a few problems with a small farm.  When I take produce to the farmer’s market, most folks will pass up my small display to go to the big farm tables.  You have to have a big, vibrant display to get folks to stop.  I tried to do a CSA (community supported agriculture) one year and some weeks my customers got a lot, and sometimes barely a shoe box.  We used to pick the best to go to the market and for the CSA’s and then ended up with the garden dredges ourselves, or worse, out to eat because we didn’t have enough!

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This year I took produce to the market early on and ran into the very same problems so I stopped.  Our kale is still four feet high out there and vibrant ruby beets line the row.  We have eaten more of our own produce then we ever have before.  We put up quite a bit as well.  I still have Jerusalem artichokes, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and cabbage to harvest but the garden is sleepily falling into slumber.

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I have found more joy in delivering large bundles of produce to my grown children then I ever did going to market.  Knowing that they are eating delicious, organically grown produce, cheese, and eggs makes this mama’s heart happy.  I always throw in some meat from my friends’ ranches.  It is my way of giving gifts to my kids.  I can’t always help them repair their cars or pay their bills, but I can feed them.  It’s what I do best.

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FSA stands for Family Supported Agriculture.  Payment comes in the form of a hug, and that is just right for me.

Farming by the Moon and Canning Jar Cloches

It is both exciting and daunting to be farming in a slightly different climate.  We went up one zone and added at least a month to our growing season.  I am attempting Brussels sprouts, artichokes, and sweet potatoes with my new found month.  It is quite hot here in the summer though so this is really all a big learning curve.  As soon as I thought I was pretty dang good at gardening, the new landscape will again be a firm teacher.

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I have been farming according to the Farmer’s Almanac and have been very intrigued by my findings.  As the moon is waxing the above ground crops are put in.  Promptly following the recommended days of planting were three days of rain.  As the moon was waning we planted our potatoes dutifully on the days specified and it was followed by rain.  The statistics and patterns of the earth’s cycles recorded for so very long make it pretty accurate to tell the weather and the best time to plant.  It is a nice way to up our odds in the garden.

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I started seeds in the special little plugs but ran out of money to get one size bigger and the plants were suffocating in their cramped quarters.  When I was speaking at the Sustainability Fair a few weeks ago a woman mentioned that she puts her tomato and pepper plants under canning jars for two weeks and that they do amazing.  “They don’t burn up?” I asked.  She was surprised herself.  She first put the seedlings under the canning jar cloches and forgot them.  When she came back from vacation two weeks later expecting the worst, they were blooming frantically and joyfully under their inexpensive greenhouses.  So, here I am with Brussels and artichokes and a bit early yet to actually put them out but this is all a lovely experiment anyways with these vegetables so let us try it.  Under the free cloches they went and I shall keep you posted on the findings!

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