posts tagged with 'farming'

blankets for the beds

Fall felt like it raced by this year; I didn't do lots of the things I had hoped to do. Now it's totally winter, and the year is still racing. But at least the boys and I caught up with one fall task this afternoon: mulching the garden. Since it wasn't only me being slow and out of it that delayed my fall tasks—the weather was a factor too—other folks are still doing leaf cleanup, and it turns out they're happy to give us their leaves! (I've never talked to anyone else who regrets having a yard that doesn't produce enough leaves...). We imported four bags today, which was just enough to cover the remaining beds. The boys aren't always up for helping in the garden, but they were enthusiastic participants in the work today. I think the way I described the project to Lijah was just the thing to get him interested—I said we needed to give the garden beds their blanket of leaves. All three boys also had fun using garden rakes, and miraculously nobody was injured. And now I can feel like the garden is ready for the winter, and check something off my endless to-do list. Up next in garden projects: ordering seeds!

apple days

So I haven't written anything about our apple trees since last time, but I should have: they lived up to the promise of those blooms and produced an impressive crop. Impressive for us, anyway, since except for the crab apples it's the first time we've gotten any fruit off of any of our many fruit trees. This year we ate countless Macintoshes, five Golden Russets, four Moonglow pears, and the one precious Honeycrisp apple, watched carefully over long months of ripening, and finally picked last Tuesday (as pictured in this post). All those trees are done, but the Northern Spies are just now coming into their own.


enough for a pie

Back in the end of September I picked that pile—the ripest ones I could find—to make a pie. Because that's what Northern Spies are for, I'm told; that's the reason I planted the tree. How good are they? I had to find out!

an apple pie cooling on the porch

a good use of apples

Very good, it turns out. They made a pie with plenty of juice, but with each apple slice still entirely distinct and firm. Impressive and delicious. Of course, it was also the first time I ever made a pie with apples picked less than an hour before, so maybe that has something to do with the good results too. Either way, I'll take it!

I'd also love to take credit for our bumper crop of fruit this year, but I probably shouldn't... apples are doing great all over this year. What I can take credit for is properly using the ones we have. All over town I see trees laden with unpicked fruit, surrounded with drops. Sure, they might not be the tastiest apples for eating out of hand, but they can at least be applesauce or jelly! Or even cider... what if we could have a shared community cider press?!

We're leading the way in full utilization of the Malus family by even using our crab apples, to make the jelly so beloved of our middle child especially. We didn't get any last year because of the late freeze, so it was gratifying last week to be able to pick a couple gallons. Of course, now I need to find the time to actually make the jelly!

Of course, if you ask the kids apples are really just for eating. I was excited to pick those finally-almost-ripe Northern Spies for the pie the other day, but we've actually been getting apples off that tree for a while because Lijah, notably, much prefers "a green not-ripe apple from the tree!". The Macs were all ripe by mid-September, so he had to move on. Northern Spies now. They're so big, he gets plenty of enjoyment out of each one. We do like our apple days.

Lijah biting an apple



precious blossoms

pink furled blossoms on the apple tree


In the midst of the cool wet weather last week I noticed something thrilling: our fruit trees had flower buds. We have five apple trees and two pears, plus a couple of crab apples, and to this point only one of the crab apples had ever flowered. Considering I have no idea what I'm doing when it comes to tree care I wasn't surprised, but it's still been a little disappointing every year—five years of disappointment. Well, in 2017 we're at least moving in the right direction, because all nine trees are in flower!

pink furled blossoms on the apple tree

small but full of promise

At just about the same time we have blooms on the the six-year-old Macintosh and Northern Spy apples, the four-year-old Honeycrisp, the three-year-old Golden Russet and Cox's Orange Pippen apples and Seckel and Moonglow pears, and the crab apples. The flowers might not be the most beautiful, but to me they're precious and delightful.

white opened blossoms on the apple tree

phase 2

Now all we need is for the pollinators to do their work. It's a little disturbing how few I've seen so far—a subject for another post—but there's time yet. The weather looks like it'll be cool but not too cold for a while, and now that the rain stopped those bees can start getting busy. I wish we still had our own; it would be great to watch them in action. A project for next year!


squash soup

close-up of roasted squash on a baking sheet

squash glamor shot

In the middle of the winter when the green of our garden is just a memory, looking at the pile of winter squashes on the counter makes it real again. Butternut squash is one of just two storage crops I've managed to grow in any worthwhile quantities—the other being the garlic—and we've started the past three winters with a significant number of them taking up space in the dining room. At this point in the season the pile is smaller, but there are still squashes! It feels like a success. It also feels like a success to turn one of them into delicious food.

squash slices on a baking sheet

uncooked squash

One of my favorite ways to do that is by making roasted squash soup. It's pretty easy. Peel a squash, split it in half, and take out the seeds. Then slice it up, splash some olive oil and salt on the slices, and bake them on a cookie sheet until they're soft and browned on the edges. You can do that ahead of time. (You can also eat the delicious squash morsels right off the sheet when they come out, but not too many—or else you'll have to do another one to have enough for your soup.)

roasted squash


Then it's time to make the soup part. Chop a big onion, a couple carrots, and two-three stalks of celery. Melt a lump of butter in a stock pot and when it's hot toss in the vegetables. Cook them for a while, over not-too-high heat, stirring every once and a while. When they seem ready, toss in the roasted squash and enough chicken or turkey to cover it all up. If you have some delicious roasted-vegetable turkey stock made from the carcass of a pasture-raised bird you're all set for ingredients; if your stock is milder you'll probably want to add some salt, at least. Simmer it all together for a while.

diced onion, carrots, and celery

somewhat diced

If you have a stick blender, now's the time to put it to use. Blend everything up into a beautiful puree. If you don't, all the ingredients should be soft enough to mash with a potato masher. Don't bother with a blender—what a pain. Lumps are fine too. If it's too thick—not everybody wants to be able to stand a spoon up in their soup—add some more stock or water. Taste it. If it isn't wonderfully delicious, you can add a little maple syrup and a little cayenne pepper... but if you started with well-roasted squash and good stock you won't want to.

And that's our squash soup, beloved of adults and small children alike (the bigger children aren't quite so appreciative). There really should be a photo of the finished product, but it didn't last long enough.


growing garlic

Since I want to be a garlic farmer when I grow up, the beginning of November is an exciting time for me. Back in the first week of the month I took some time a couple of days to put in this year's crop: about 90 cloves, of five different varieties. Lijah helped me with the planting and, knowing we were working on a culinary crop, insisted on having a taste. Really insisted: I put him off for as long as I could before finally giving in and letting him have a bite of an interior clove that was too small to plant. "It's yummy!" he told me hoarsely, then wiped his eyes vigorously with the backs of his hands for a bit.

me holding a just-pulled garlic bulb, in front of the row of the rest of the plants

beginning the 2016 harvest back in July

I like eating garlic, and the garlic we grow is delicious. Besides that, though, I also appreciate the simple multiplicative nature of the endeavor. You plant one clove in the fall and then in the summer you pull out a whole head, five or eight or twelve cloves. Then you break those up and plant them to get even more! I've never played Farmville or any of those farming simulator games, but I think the garlic planting business captures something of the same appeal. It's a little bit slower, I guess, but never mind—plenty other aspects of my life are rushing by too quick to manage.

I've also heard that garlic is the best crop small farmers can grow, on a dollar-per-square-foot basis. While I don't know if that's really the case—seems like heirloom tomatoes would be tough to top—it's certainly true that you'll pay a dollar a head at the farmers market for garlic that's much punier than what we grow here in our well-composted garden. I bought about $40 of seed garlic this year to broaden the diversity of our crop and we'll only harvest the $90 worth next summer; but we'll be able to eat or give away 70 of those heads and still have enough left to put in over 100 cloves next fall. Then 150 the year after... and 400 the year after that! Assuming we only keep back the 70 each year, that is. We may have to do better than that, or our whole yard will be garlic plants by fall 2022...


feeling abundant

One of my delights at the farmers market is checking out the prices for things that are growing well at our own farm. Seeing that raspberries—which we have so many of that they're a chore to pick—are going for $4 for a half-pint eases the pain of having to buy kale, because I didn't plant nearly enough. Seriously, I think we've brought in four or five quarts of raspberries so far; say $64 worth, at the low end. Not counting my labor, of course, but any real work (besides the trouble of picking) was so long ago I hardly remember it anyway.

some raspberries

two minutes' work

I've always felt that way about crops that do well here—in this culture even we anti-capitalists like to reference market economies to help us feel our efforts are worthwhile—but this year there's a new extreme: purslane for sale, at $4 a bundle!

purslane for sale at the farmers market, on a table next to some basil and mint

can you believe it?

Now, we've been eating the stuff every now and again for a while, so I won't argue that it doesn't belong on that table next to the basil. Lijah wouldn't either; he's a big fan. As we were picking some the other day—and I was trying to pick faster than he could eat—he exclaimed unprompted: "I like purslane... ice cream and purslane!" (I assume he didn't mean together).

But if you want to count dollar values, we've probably eaten about $8 dollars worth, fed $20 to the chickens, and thrown $60 or $70 on the compost pile. Probably because I always let it grow a bit here and there, purslane is a serious weed on our farm. I wonder if there's any chance we could get in on the market! Actually, as I think about it I assume it's pretty win-win for the farmers: they can set aside a few bundles of the stuff each market day and if it doesn't sell, it's no loss. If I had more space in the garden I'd have at least one dedicated purslane bed and would be willing to sell to all comers.

As it is, I'll pull out most of it and rest happy in the knowledge that, whatever else happens, our garden will always be full of something that somebody, at least, thinks is valuable. And we also have lots of zucchinis.


our rhubarb this year

It's past time for my annual rhubarb appreciation post!

a piece of rhubarb crisp

plenty of rhubarb, plenty of crisp

The last few days I've been appreciating a new recipe for rhubarb crisp. I made it for our friends who come over for dinner on Fridays:I wanted something to go with the leftover butter crunch ice cream we had in the freezer and went with the best-looking of the first few search results for rhubarb crisp, Allrecipes' Ginger Rhubarb Crisp. It's a winner, and I'll definitely be making it again. Maybe not right away though, since I'm the only one in the house who likes it—and it's a 9-by-13 pan so I've been able to like it a lot!

Of course, I wouldn't be making it at all if I didn't have a couple of big healthy rhubarb plants in the garden. The eight cups of rhubarb the recipe calls for would set me back between $10 and $15, the way prices are around here now. It's good, but it's not that good! But as it stands I have plenty to go around for free, so I'm always on the lookout for new applications. Sunday morning I made muffins.

a couple of rhubarb muffins with struesel topping

more rhubarb goodness

And of course, there's pie (the one pictured below from a couple weeks ago).

half a rhubarb pie on the back porch table, with the garden in the backround

rhubarb morning

If you have a year-round garden and don't have rhubarb in it, you totally should. Come by in the fall and I'll give you a little clump to get started!


at least we have asparagus

As seems to be the case most of the time, we're feeling pretty busy and exhausted around here. I've had many moments during the day when I blinked and I'm pretty sure I fell asleep for a couple seconds. Which is why it was even more frustrating than usual when, at the beginning of the week, I had a couple nights where I was up for what felt like a considerable amount of time, too stressed to fall asleep. What was I stressed about? Oh, work, some; and homeschooling; but mostly the garden. There's so much that I should have done and haven't! Amateur farming is hard work. Luckily, there's always the asparagus.

a bundle of asparagus on the kitchen table

one day's take

I think I planted our asparagus patch back in 2008 or so (and then I added some more plants in 2011). As I've mentioned before, it was a little work to get set up, but now we just sit back and let the deliciousness pour in. It's lovely, and all the sweeter when I see how much asparagus goes for in the stores. I think I've picked about $40 worth so far, and it's still coming in! Do you have an asparagus patch in your yard? You should!

(In researching for this post I find I write nearly the same things almost every year. I don't remember any of it. Must be memory loss from never sleeping. Stay tuned: more excitement about asparagus coming May 2017!!!)


best intentions

I had grand plans for making this the best year of gardening yet at our house. It's only the second week of March, and they're already all in tatters. Turns out that transitioning to two parents working part time and dealing with a toddler who sleeps like a newborn negatively affected my abilities to focus on necessary early steps. Like ordering seeds.

Back in the fall I made a chart of the things I thought we should grow, ranking them by their interest to me as plants, by how much we actually eat the crops in question, and by how guilty I would feel paying for non-home-grown alternatives this summer. And I was delighted to see the first seed catalogs arrive in December. Only then I never had any time to really look through all those catalogs, and when February rolled around I just randomly threw together an order of whatever caught my attention in the five minutes I was able to concentrate on the project. I don't even know what I have; I've barely looked in the box yet.

I did get out the onion seeds, though, since I know you have to start them in February to make growing them worthwhile—otherwise they don't have time to get big enough. But my second, bigger, mistake, was deciding to build a new seed-starting setup, which of course necessitated tearing down the old one. And... the new one still isn't done. Maybe 15 of the onion seeds—sowed in such fine style—germinated just kind of sitting in the basement waiting for me to get my act together, and I assume the rest rotted. If those 15 survive to be planted out we'll call it a test crop.

In the meantime it's 70 degrees out and I don't have anything to put in the ground. Last year I vowed to start some cold-weather greens early, but I had no idea how early I'd need to do it to get a jump on this ridiculous weather. Not only do I still not have a seed-starting setup—if I did have one, it would have been colder inside it that out in the garden this afternoon!

I suppose all is not lost. I can still get a few tomatoes and peppers started, and direct sowing the greens in the next couple weeks would still leave me well ahead of last year, when there was still a foot of snow on the ground at this point. And I manured in the fall, and finally got supports up for the raspberries, two years after a falling tree crushed the first set. But overall my feeling is one of failure.

Oh well, there's always next year!


bridging the seasons

Mid-February, and we're down to just five butternut squashes left out of the summer's crop. I made the sixth-from-last into soup for Friday's supper.

butternut squash, halved and seeded

making squash soup: first steps

I'm pretty happy with how many we grew this year. I neither weighed nor counted, but it was a fair number; we're maybe not eating one every day or even every week, but up to this point we haven't felt any lack. We certainly haven't felt the need to buy squash!

I'm thinking about it because it's almost time to start the first seeds for this year's garden. It's hard to imagine, looking out at our tundra-like yard (not much snow this year but historically cold weather for the last few days) that in a few months the squash and corn and everything else will be green and growing like crazy.

a jungle of squash vines and corn stalks

where the squash came from

2016 is going to be our best gardening year yet! On that note, I'd better think about where we're going to store the squashes this year; Leah wasn't too happy with the box in the upstairs hallway this winter...