Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas! We had Christmas morning at home, and then came over to Brian's mom's for more gifts and dinner. In a few days my parents and grandfather will be coming up to see the kids. The kids had a blast with their new books, art supplies and a few new toys. Hope everyone had a nice holiday!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Solstice!

It had been really cold here a week or so ago (at least really cold for Western Oregon). Our thermometer was at 8 degrees, and it was 9.5 degrees in town. We fared pretty well, although part way through we did end up turning on our propane back up heater to keep the temperature comfy at night. It was a real luxury but really not absolutely necessary. It was a real chore keeping the animals watered though. I would haul buckets of warm water out first thing in the morning and a little while later they would be iced over. Our shallow duck pond was solid ice, so the kids had a blast "ice skating" and playing hockey.

During this time our good friend Myron came for a visit. We had a great couple of days making plum wine and soap; while playing music, hanging out with the kids, and just catching up. He is studying herbal medicine so he spent some time gathering poplar buds to make a pain relieving salve and red cedar leaves for it's anti-fungal properties. He also has a lot of experience gardening and working on the land; so it was great to have him wander around and give us feedback and ideas. He makes a great moisturizing bar which you can check out here.

We made it through the cold spell, Brian had his winter concert at his school, and our daughter danced in the Nutcracker, so now we have two weeks to visit with family and get a lot of work done. Brian is working on tiling and plastering drywall, while I am focusing on the interior lime plaster. In the warmer months we spend so much time working on the land, so now is our time to really work on the house.

Today is the Winter Solstice, the beginning of winter and the shortest day of the year. Today was especially cold and wet, with the sun setting just after four o'clock. A great day to be inside by a fire and enjoying the Christmas tree. So happy Solstice everyone!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Today is our last market until next year! Harvesting yesterday was easy; just some turnips, sunchokes, kale, bagged mixed greens, mizuna, spinach, cabbage... the usual cold weather harvest. The market today is great, complete with a visit from Santa, a huge gingerbread house, beautiful gifts at the different vendor's booths, a choir, and beautiful wreaths made by Brian's mom. Very festive and fun!

We had a great Thanksgiving in Ashland with my family. We got to see my brothers new home, and spend time with my parents. We went on a nice hike and the kids got to play in the snow. My mom sells her own soaps (made with our goat milk!) and body care products at the farmer's market down there, so she had lots of local foods for our Thanksgiving feast. Yum!
A good friend took great care of our critters, even milking my goats! I feel really fortunate I have someone I can count on to help us when we are out of town. Thanks Danielle!

Our home schooling is going really well. I feel like our seven year old has made a major shift in his ability to do "school" for longer stretches. Before, he could only sit there for about 15 minutes at a time, and then need like 45 minutes to run around and play. I know this is normal, especially for boys, but it was taking all day just to get a few things done, and my days are already pretty busy. In the last few months though he is really able to focus more: so he is reading for blocks at a time, then we do science and history (which he loves), then some language arts, then math (which he also enjoys and has a real aptitude for), with some art projects, read aloud time, and special topics thrown in here and there. Then he is done for the day, and can play with his little brother. During his school time our 4 year old often sits with us, doing his own "reading and writing"and then runs around the house reciting the definition of a noun. He has also been known to ask random people questions like "Do you know who Genghis Khan is?" He is learning a lot just be being around his siblings. During this time our 5th grader does her independent work, and then after lunch while the boys play I work one-on-one with her on the harder subjects. Of course at least once a week we attend various clubs or playgroups with other home schoolers, so we keep busy.

We're just about finished with getting the kids' Christmas presents. We try to keep things pretty simple. I think too many things can be overwhelming, hard to keep clean, and the kids end up not playing with them anyway, so we try to keep gift giving under control. It is hard because we obviously want our children to have fun, nice things. We give our kids mainly books, home school items and art supplies. This sounds boring, but our kids devour books, the home school items are fun things like tangram sets or really interesting history or science projects, and my kids constantly are creating art. For their stocking we will get some more "fun" items: a few toys like Legos, some hair stuff for our 10 year old, useful things like socks and gloves, and even some traditional holiday oranges. It should be lots of fun, and we also get to see both Brian's family and my side as well. Brian and I don't exchange gifts; if one of us needs something, we get it.

This week has been really cold. I'm having to haul water for the animals every morning and need to get out the hats and gloves. I love that now that the ground is frozen there is no mud, but the pigs have trouble running across the hard, frozen ground in their tilled up areas. The kids get so excited about the ice coating everything, and our four year old goes on and on about the beautiful "frosting" outside. He can't catch on that the correct word is "frost"! Our ten year old is in the Willamette Ballet Academy's Nutcracker, and I help out with costumes; so I have been sewing lots of lace and sequins in the evenings.

We are now shifting into planning for next year, ordering seeds, and getting our planting calendar figured out. Now that we have a better idea on what our customers want, we are excited to start a new year of seed starting and planting!

Monday, November 23, 2009


Brian was talking to someone the other day who was asking about our gardens in November, asking what we were growing right now. He assumed with the cold weather there wasn't much; but Brian told him about all our cold hardy veggies like kale, mache, cabbage, leeks, collards, plus lettuce and spinach in cold frames and under cover, as well as our home raised milk, eggs and meat from our animals. Plus we have cans and cans of home preserved jams, sauces, broths and pickles, buckets and boxes of potatoes and apples. We got some jokes about preparing for the apocalypse, which Brian of course plays up. We often joke with each other about being survivalists with our self-sufficiency goals, buckets of stored food, and love of food preservation. And I do have a fascination with end-of-the-world novels. But really we aren't preparing for Mad Max scenarios, nuclear winter or zombie attacks.

Many years ago Brian and I looked at the problems we humans were causing and the issues we would be facing in our children's lifetimes; global warming, peak oil, environmental degradation, the industrial food system... and we thought long and hard about what our reaction would be. We had already done the activism thing, with disappointing results. So what could we possibly do (besides offing ourselves) to some way minimize our personal impact on the planet, while still living within the confines of the system.

We decided the best we could do was to work towards self-reliance. Anything we could grow, raise or create ourselves was one less thing creating waste, warming the planet and using fossil fuels. When we couldn't or didn't have the time or energy to make it ourselves, we decided to try and find the least damaging source of the item. We buy food in bulk because it has less packaging and uses less fuel in transport (and it's cheaper). I like to buy many things second hand to minimize waste and not wasting resources creating something new when used works just as well (and it's cheaper). Now we are by no means perfect; we shop at stores, drive a car, watch movies, etc. But we do try.

There are also some additional benefits to having our food storage, stacks of firewood and herd and flocks of animals. If we ever had a personal disaster; Brian loses his job or we get a ton of unanticipated medical bills (like our ER trip a few months ago created, despite good insurance), I know I will have plenty to feed my family. Usually once a winter our area loses power for a few days, and I have seen the scramble as people go to the store to buy drinking water, candles and canned food when a big storm is predicted. With our solar power and wood heat, we are relatively insulated from these things. So we aren't crazy survivalists, despite our stocked pantry, hand tools and books on how to do everything from tanning hides to smoking meat. We just believe in being prepared and the value of learning how to do things ourselves.

This last week had more intense wind storms, but despite keeping us up all night; there was very little damage. Brian dismantled our tangled irrigation systems to store for the winter, and I've been doing more lime plaster inside to house. We are preparing to go see my family in Southern Oregon for Thanksgiving, while a good friend is kind enough to take care of our animals. We are looking forward to Christmas break to have a big chunk of time to get work done on the house.

Monday, November 16, 2009


It seems like the longer we have lived on our land, the more in tune we are to the earth's rhythms. I'm not sure if it's eating seasonal food or being more aware of light because of our solar, but we are all feeling winter coming on. Right now it is getting dark before 5:00, so there is a rush to get any outdoor chores done while there is still light. The kids are going to bed really early, and we are often asleep before ten. It is cold enough that we light a fire in the evenings, and the house is still warm the next morning. We've been eating pots of soup, and drinking gallons of tea. I feel like we are well prepared for this winter: we have firewood stacked, food canned and stored, and we have lots of indoor projects lined up for the kids. We have had another crazy weather week, cold nights, marble-sized hail, and high winds. Today it was really warm and very windy. It even blew over one of our trees!

Monday, November 9, 2009

We had a great indoor market on Saturday. We sold out of most of our produce, and it was great to see return customers and to connect with new ones. Brian was especially happy to meet some of the people in Wellspring Heart program. It was great to see people trying new foods. I was a little worried about how all the seasonal produce would do. But people were happy with the turnips, kale and sunchokes!

That night we rented the DVD Food, Inc. We are already well-educated about the industrial food system, so there weren't many surprises, but I found the movie really well-done and informative. Plus it features both Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin (Brian's hero). The film breaks down different elements of the industrial food system, and ends with a basic conclusion. You are voting with your dollars, so if food (and your health and the environment and the treatment of workers and animals) is important to you: buy local, shop at farmer's markets, grow a garden. Now Brian tends towards extremes, so he ended the movie depressed about all the ways we still buy into the food system. That day he bought a six-pack and a jar of natural peanut butter (gasp!). Of course I countered with the fact that we just provided our community with fresh, seasonal organic produce, and we grow and raise a huge portion of our food, and no one can be a purist anyway.

He felt better Sunday, because we harvested some of our ducks that we don't want to over winter, and had delicious roasted duck with rosemary, garlic, turnips and cabbage, all from our farm. Now we are canning the rest in broth to make meals through out the winter. I am also making some pickled easter egg radishes and turnips. Yum!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Roots and greens!

For our November market, we've harvested lots of roots and greens; turnips, radishes, chard, kale, salad greens, cabbage and more. It was a very cold and wet Friday, which made for tough picking weather, but we got it done. It didn't help that our pig Wilder (aptly named by the kids because she is more wild than the other pig), snuck out of her pasture three times! Brian was at work so I rushed to get the homeschooling and household work done so I could be done harvesting before dark. It was very cold pulling up root veggies out of soggy beds and spraying them off outdoors. By the time I milked the goats, my hands were so cramped with cold I could barely get them to work. Also the goats weren't thrilled with my icy fingers! Thankfully Brian got home and took over the rest of the washing, bundling and bagging, so I could take a hot bath and put the boys to bed. Then we had a nice time listening to music and getting everything ready. We've also made some more soap, salve and new beeswax candles from our beehives.

As I was sorting through radishes and putting aside slug-nibbled ones, I was thinking lots about how we expect our produce to be "perfect", regardless of the cost to the environment and our health to make it so, and the amount of waste created by throwing out cosmetically imperfect food. It is so frustrating to spend all the time and energy growing something, only to harvest it and realize we can't sell it due to light insect damage. But we have had good luck will our customers accepting some imperfect produce because they know we grow organic. Fortunately we are small enough that it is easy for us to eat our market "rejects", and we can always feed things to our animals or the compost pile. But I shudder when I see all the picture perfect produce in the stores and think of how many chemicals it took to grow them that way, and how much food was thrown out that didn't meet aesthetic standards. I think we all need to learn what kind of imperfections are acceptable and won't harm the quality of the food.

The last few days we have had high winds, driving rains, hail and even lightning! Our animals have been hiding in their shelters, waiting for breaks in the rain to come out and forage. Brian made a new cold-frame for our lettuce, and put row covers to protect our spinach and greens. We should have enough to eat fresh greens all winter. We are still eating plenty of fresh tomatoes that have been ripening on my counter. They should hold out until December, when I will start using my home-canned sauce.
I've been trying to get as much plastering done as possible, after chores and homeschooling, before making dinner, nighttime milking and clean up. Here is a picture of the lime plaster over earthen on our south wall.

Monday, October 26, 2009

We had a productive weekend this week. Saturday was dry and mild, so I mucked out our buck pen, put in fresh bedding, trimmed the boys' hooves, and cleaned off the buck. He is in rut right now so he is constantly peeing on his face and front legs. Supposedly this makes him more attractive to the does. But the urine irritates the skin on his legs really bad, so I try to spray him off every so often. It doesn't seem to improve the smell.

I also cleaned our milking/ hay and feed house and scrubbed the milking stand, and cleaned out the pig's house and put in fresh straw. Now I just need to finish cleaning the chicken house and get wood chips on the mucky paths.

I have been applying lime plaster on our exterior strawbale walls. Lime over layers of earthen plaster is a good idea for strawbales homes in our climate, as is provides excellent protection while still allowing the bales to "breathe". It is made from limestone which is heated and slaked into a powder form, then made into a putty, and when exposed to air it turns back into limestone, creating a hard plaster. I mix fine sand with lime putty, adding small amounts of chopped straw and wool to act as a binder. I moisten the earthen plaster and trowel on the lime paster. Lime is very caustic, due to it's high PH, so I need to wear gloves to prevent burns, and I should wear googles. This time of year is good for working with lime; it needs cooler, moister weather to keep the drying time slow to help the plaster set up hard. But when it gets too cold (below 45) I will need to move on to the interior walls. We have really large overhangs to protect our bales, but we do get some intense storms with driving rains, so it feels good to know that our bales will be well-protected.

Brian has been working hard on firewood. He has been cutting up downed trees on our property and we should have plenty to get us through the cold season. Of course he will probably keep stacking anyway, just to be prepared. Our house is well insulated with the bale walls, with lots of thermal mass in the floor, earthen plaster and interior cob wall, and we have a passive solar design, so thus far we haven't needed any additional heating. Also I think we tolerate cooler house temperatures than most people. It will be nice when we fire up the woodstove in earnest.

Brian has been clearing an area of rotten wood and stumps to get ready to plant berries, so he built an enormous bonfire. It was the biggest we have had on our property. By now, he is a fire building expert, and he made such a clean, hot fire it made virtually no smoke. The kids love fires, so they spent the day cautiously playing near it's warmth and gathering wood for it. While getting wood they found a salamander, which they found a safer home for.
On the housewifely end of things; I have been working hard on the kids' Halloween costumes, and trying to get some knitting in during the evenings. Brian has been plastering the ceiling, laying tile, and generally making a big mess of our living space. It is worth it though to see our house get closer to completion.

We made some new soap and are getting ready for the November and December markets. We hope to have many items that could work for holiday gifts; like our soap, salves, beeswax candles and more.

Monday, October 19, 2009


We went apple picking at a friend's orchard a few days ago. The kids ran around eating apples like they were the sweetest things ever, while Brian and I filled boxes. It looked like it would be rainy but it turned out to be the perfect fall afternoon.

Now the boxes are sitting on my counter with the salvaged tomatoes needing to be dealt with. We have already used a bunch by getting out our cider press and making sweet cider for the kids (heated up and spiced is their favorite) and started brewing hard cider for us. I still have lots for apple sauce, apple butter, apple jelly and to store for eating this winter. Right now my favorite treat is apple slices with peanut butter.

The first year we started picking at this orchard we filled the whole back of our truck with apples. Despite giving lots to friends, and canning applesauce, butter and apple rings in syrup, we still ended up having to compost many that spoiled before we could get to them. It made great compost though! So this year we tried to pick enough to have a good amount for fresh eating and storage, but not so much as to be overwhelming.
Today I went to a local park with a canopy of huge oak trees, and collected acorns for our pigs. They also are enjoying the wormy walnuts from some friends. They have been doing an amazing job tilling up our fields and eating weeds.

This weekend we did a lot of planting; Brian planted 6 fruit trees we picked up over the summer (2 apples, peach, plum, plucot, and cherry) and planted 8 blueberries. I planted a gooseberry and currant I started from cuttings, and an echinacea plant I started from seed. I still have lots of gooseberries, currants and a fig to plant. Fall is my favorite time for planting. The trees and shrubs seem to like the cooler temps and moisture.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Last week there was a coating of ice on the animals water dishes, and the hoses I use to water them were frozen. It thawed quickly, but it called my attention to how my routines will be changing as the temperatures drop. I will have to haul buckets of water, and bundle up for chores. The animals will be staying in their shelters more and we will have to deal with the mud when the ground isn't frozen.

Brian has been working hard with our preparations; chopping wood, caulking and painting, and clearing out the gardens. He planted lots of garlic last week, and our compost pile is overflowing with garden debris. I dug the last of our storage potatoes (yukon golds) and put them in cold storage. Brian picked every last tomato, so I have been making sauce for every meal and we have green ones in boxes to ripen slowly.

Today we are going to do our last big apple picking of the season, so we are excited for lots of apple pie, apple crumble, applesauce and just plain apples!

Monday, October 5, 2009

First Frost

This morning we woke up to our first frost. It was a light one that killed the pumpkin leaves, but left the tomato plants intact. We should get some harder frosts this week, so the next few days will be spent harvesting like crazy, and figuring out what to cover. Most of our winter crops are hardy, but our tender lettuces will need some protection. It is sad to lose all the summer plants, but it feels good to feel like we will get a break from weeding and other constant garden chores.
Brian is getting serious about stacking firewood and I have gotten out extra blankets and warmer clothes for the kids. We are getting serious about preparing for winter.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Home as a Workshop

When we designed our home, we put an emphasis on work spaces. Downstairs, our kitchen has big counters that take up almost half of the living area. The other half has our dining table, a piano, and our woodstove. The idea was that we spend a lot of time in the kitchen area; cooking, canning, brewing, etc, and we spent a lot less time hanging out in a living room-type area. Outside we built large overhanging porches to protect our strawbale walls, that also provide covered outdoor work spaces. Right now I have several lengths of clothesline under one porch, and Brian has stacked dry wall sheets and bags of organic fertilizer.

We also have numerous projects constantly going on; I have my knitting projects, sauerkraut fermenting in crocks, beer brewing, fruit to be canned, herbs to be dried, Brian's tools, musical instruments and sheet music, bread rising, kid's toys and homeschool materials, tile to be laid, etc. Add to this all the equipment we use to do all this stuff: grain grinders, cream separator, cider press, canners, etc and things can get pretty busy in the house.

When we prepare for market day, every inch of space downstairs seems to be covered with veggies to be washed, bagged and refrigerated, fruit to be boxed, honey to be put in jars and labeled, boxes of soap and all the crates and baskets to hold it all. I definitely start dreaming about a barn with food washing sink and walk-in fridge, but this way I can watch the kids and make dinner while we get ready.

Today is the first of our monthly Saturday markets inside Wellspring. We will be there the first Saturday of November and December. We should get our first frost this month, which will end the tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash and other non-hardy vegetables, but we should have a good amount of hardy greens like kale, mache and cabbage, some root crops, and lettuce and chard grown under cover.

We try to eat as seasonally as possible; so in the spring we eat lots of salads, in the summer we eat our fill of cucumber and tomato salad, and eat tons of steamed green beans and zucchini. By the fall we are ready to eat pounds of kale. I love it sauteed in olive oil with garlic and tamari sauce, or chopped up in soups.

The kids had colds this week so I made lots of soup. One of them was made with all our own crops; roma tomatoes, lots of onions and garlic, beets, carrots, kale, soup beans and herbs. The only thing in it not made by us was some sea salt!

Monday, September 28, 2009

This weekend my mom came into town for the Flock and Fiber Festival. On Saturday our whole family went to look at the animals and pick up some yarn, wool for spinning, and a spinning wheel maintenance kit so I can tune up my spinning wheel. It was fun to see all the different sheep breeds. We hope by next year to get a few sheep. I like the little Shetland sheep, and Brian is partial to Icelandic. There were also alpacas, angora and pygora goats, and angora rabbits. On Sunday my mom and I took a advanced drop spindle class. During the class I really was able to improve my spinning and learned new techniques. I learned how to spin while walking, spin the spindle with my feet, and special plying techniques.

It was really fun to get back into knitting and spinning again. This summer I didn't do any fiber work; there just wasn't time. But now that it is getting darker and colder, I am going to have more time to knit at night. I am working on socks for Brian, lacy socks for me, and the kids will need new mittens this winter. So I better get busy!

Our radishes, lettuce, spinach and leeks are coming along, and we are getting ready for garlic and shallot planting. I have several fruit trees that I will plant when the rainy season starts in earnest. I have been trying to get the indoor plastering and cobbing done while it is still warm and dry; it will dry a lot slower as it gets colder.
Brian has been chopping firewood. We heat entirely with wood, so our woodpile is really important.
I took the kids with my mother-in-law to the Oregon Garden's homeschool day. It was fun but tiring walking around the garden visiting their education stations. My kids' favorites seemed to be the compost station where they looked at worms and bugs in compost with a magnifying glass, and the wildlife station with animal tracks and signs. They also liked the children's garden with a model train and a kid sized hobbit-hole. I liked their vegetable and fruit garden (I fantasized about having a crew of volunteers to work in my garden) and the One Green World garden. One Green World is my favorite nursery for unusual edibles that do well in our climate. It was fun to see all the mature plants; paw paw, dwarf pomegranate, figs fruiting.

This Saturday, October 3rd from 10:00 to 2:00, is our first indoor market at Wellspring. We will have seasonal produce, with lots of kale and greens, soap, salve, honey and more. This is a once a month event. Hope to see you there!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Despite the return to high temperatures today (high 80s) at night it has been getting very chilly. The kids woke up a few nights ago needing an extra blanket. We only heat with wood, and heat sparingly at that, so as the weather cools we begin pilling on the wool blankets and comforters. The first winter we lived in our home, the upstairs was just a shell; roofing and plywood without insulation. Downstairs we had the strawbale walls to keep the heat in, plus the thermal mass of the floor, but upstairs was cold. Some nights I would look up and see frost on the ceiling. We kept the kids in warm jammies, under mounds of blankets, and put hot water bottles on their feet, so it was tolerable, but stressful. This winter should be a lot more cosy, with ceiling insulation and dry wall in.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Not too much new here on the farm. Just making tomato sauce, sauerkraut and eating lots of dishes with eggplant, tomatoes, summer squash and green beans. Inspired by a customer's idea; I made sauerkraut with red and green cabbage, some red onion for flavor, and some red-fleshed crab apples! Experimental but I think it will be yummy. Brian planted beds of spinach, lettuce and greens this week too!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Homestead homeschooling

This week we have been focusing more on homeschooling. Our older kids are in 1st and 5th grade, so we keep pretty busy. Our 10 year old does most of her work on her own these days, with me checking her work, and doing some one-on-one teaching for things like math. My 7 year old still needs lots of mom directed time. I don't know if it a boy-thing or just his personality (or just a kid-thing!), but he would way rather be running around outside than sitting still and working on reading. He really seems to like math though. Our 3 year old insists on doing homeschool too so I have lots of workbooks and manipulatives for him to do while I work with the older kids. We do history and science all together, with my 10 year old doing more extensive reading and writing on what we are learning. It is amazing how much home schooling is a full-time job. I love it, and I love spending so much time with my kids, but it can be draining sometimes.

With getting ready for our last market, getting back into schooling, and getting the house under control after a summer of letting things slide a little; I haven't got much done except for the daily maintenance work. The kids do help a lot with chores and I consider this an important part of their schooling. I would like to raise kids that can grow and prepare a meal, do laundry, knit a sock, sew a seam, chop wood and start a fire... as well as being able to do algebra and read Shakespeare. Thus far they are interested in learning what we do and lending a hand, and I hope that if we have the patience to show them now while they are young, they will continue to be willing helpers as they get older. Our 10 year old has a knack for intricate work and has been knitting and sewing projects since she was seven. My 7 year old has a real kinship with animals and is talented at building and fixing things. It will be fun to see what gifts our youngest develops.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

We put our pigs out on pasture this weekend. It was amazing to watch them root around with their snouts. Our son said "They're just like a rototiller!" Which is funny, because we decided to get pigs to use them for tilling and weed control, not just because they are cute. We were delighted to watch them chew on thistle roots.

We had lots of rain the last few days, which is great for my new seedlings and onion sets. We use only solar power and the well pump drains the batteries quickly; so it is great to not have to irrigate. We hope in the next year or two to put in a rainwater catchment pond and use gravity for irrigation.

Today I took my son to the orthopedic doctor to get his arm checked and his cast off. The doctor was asking him what sort of chores he does that he could use to strengthen his left arm. He asked if he empties waste baskets or vacuums? My son replied that he didn't do those things but he does empty the compost bucket. I could have added that he hauls wood, collects eggs, waters the animals, etc, but I think the doctor thought we were nutty enough already!

This Saturday is the last of the weekly Saturday markets. We will have an abundance of produce, as well as our soap, salves and honey, so come out and see us!

Friday, September 4, 2009


We picked up our two pigs on Saturday. They are eight week old girls and they are hilarious! It seems every time we get a new animal we spend hours hanging out with them, finding their antics hysterical. Pigs are especially funny. They grunt back and forth and root around with their snouts, and they can really bite when they think your fingers might taste good! Their first morning on our farm the kids ran up saying "The pigs are gone!" I ran down to check and found them burrowed into the thick straw, sleeping. They also have made one escape attempt which required all five of us to work together to get them back in their pen. What fun!

Brian has been manuring new and empty beds in the gardens and I have been canning like crazy! We have about 150 tomato plants so I am making lots of sauce. Hopefully I will put up some salsa this week too!

For our market customers: No market on Saturday, September 5! But we will be back for the last market next week. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Seasons changing and nighttime carnage

Yesterday at sunset as I was bringing the goats up from the lower field, I was shocked to notice the maple leaves are starting to yellow. It seems like summer just started but it will be the first day of autumn in just a few weeks. It is hard to watch summer end but I am looking forward to the fall. It is one of my favorite seasons and after a rush of canning and preserving, it marks the start of a slower time for us. We won't need to be weeding or watering, and we will do less harvesting especially when the Saturday market ends. Egg and milk production will also slow down as we lose light.

We harvested our first pumpkin but as we planted late, our main crop should be ready by Halloween. For some reason Brian really loves pumpkins, so he is really excited to see them growing. Our Roma tomatoes are weighing down our plants, and I have been canning tomato sauce made with our garlic, onions, oregano and basil. I am hoping to can enough for the whole year.

We picked boxes and boxes of apples, pears and asian pears this week. Brian made a solar food dryer following directions from this book. I can dry apples in about 12 hours on a sunny day. I use a hand crank apple peeler/slicer/corer so it goes fast. I have also been drying pears and asian pears. Dried asian pears are my favorite. I love asian pears fresh, but they are kind of watery and insipid. When dried, all the sugars crystalize and it gets all chewy, almost like candy.

This week we will also try to can applesauce, apple butter, pear butter, and apple jelly. Also we will be getting out our cider press and making apple cider; sweet and fresh for the kids, and start fermenting hard cider for us. Last year I made some nice pear and crab apple hard cider, but Brian accidentally dropped the 5 gallon carboy (glass jug used in beer and winer making) so we lost most of it. This year I am determined to get a good amount.

Our concord grapes are ripening up; several times a day I see the kids grazing on the fat, purple grapes. What they leave behind I am making into grape jelly. We also picked some for the market booth. The blackberries are getting big and sweet. We have a good patch by our gate and every time we open or close it we take a minute to eat some. Even the dog has been snacking as we go on our evening walk! Our "Autumn Bliss" and "Fall Gold" raspberries are also coming on nicely, although with three kids constantly in the raspberry patch, I don't know if we will have enough for jam. I think we need to expand the raspberries because the are a big favorite.

Brian has been hard at work mucking out the goat house. It is strenuous work but oddly satisfying. It is fun to watch the huge pile of manure and straw get bigger and steam in the mornings as in composts down. When it is finished breaking down we will have amazing compost for our gardens and fields.

Our pigs are ready for pick-up so look for a post and photos this week!

A few nights ago our dog alerted us to sounds coming from the chicken coop. We ran out to find carnage; 5 chickens dead or mortally wounded, and several ducks and ducklings dead or missing, including the mama of a clutch of new ducklings. We think several raccoons got in and killed them in just a few minutes. It was about 2 am so we rounded up the living and locked them in, and decided to deal with clean up when it got light. At some point the raccoons came back and grabbed a few of the dead poultry, but left most of the carcasses behind. The swiftness, waste and brutality of it was pretty shocking, and Brian took it as a personal attack. He tracked the raccoons through the woods following feathers and scat, but we havn't actually seen them. This was the first real predator problem we have encountered. So now we are serious about locking down tight at night, rounding up all the straggling duck we can find, and running outside whenever the dog starts barking in the middle of the night, but I am guessing the raccoons have enough meat to last a while so they probably won't be back too soon. I hope.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Summer is already starting to wind down for us. Brian goes back to school on Monday (his off-farm job is a middle school music teacher). He loves teaching and looks forward to it, but it is always hard for him not to be able to work on our land all day. We have two more markets left; there isn't going to be a market on labor day. Our crops are still producing like crazy, so we are working out a weekly produce drop. Also, we may be doing a once a month indoor market as well. Keep checking the blog or email for more info.

Earlier this week we took the kids to the coast to visit the aquarium, play on the beach, explore tide pools, and buy some yummy crab. It was lots of fun, although nerve-racking when the kids were wading in the waves! It is such a blessing to live just an hour or two from the coast.
I haven't been doing as much baking this summer, but I have been making no-knead, dutch oven bread. You can find the recipe here. It is so fast and easy, and impresses guests. By cooking it in dutch oven or other heavy duty covered pot, it seals in the moisture and heat to make perfect artisan bread. The dutch oven we use came from Brian's great grandfather, who mined for gold and lived in a tiny cabin in Southern Oregon. I feel in touch with our family's history ever time I use it. When we first got our dutch oven cast iron pot, it was rusty and neglected. But we did lots of scrubbing and curing and now I use it often for roasting chicken and veggies, cooking in my solar oven, or baking bread.

Brian finished the chicken tractor and we have three of our hens in it digging up the soil, eating weeds and bugs, and fertilizing in between rows of vegetables. I picked a few of our hens that seemed to be either getting picked on by other hens or getting too much attention from our rooster. We have also put been putting our goats in the lower field and they are getting
to work munching thistles.

We are still planting for the winter gardens and I am try to plan what I would like to plant for the rest of this year: cover crops, garlic, fava beans, etc. We are also starting to get ideas about what to grow next year. We are looking at what worked this year, what didn't sell, what we sold out of, and what gaps we had in availability. If you have any ideas or there is something special you would like us to grow for you, let us know! We would love some input.

This year was really done "by the seat of our pants"; we basically just grew what we normally grow and brought the excess to the market. Items we thought would sell really well didn't (lettuce, radishes) but items I didn't anticipate selling a lot of always sell out (onions, eggplant). So we are planning with that information in mind. Although, next year's market may be totally different. One of our biggest questions is whether or not to increase the size of our flock. Right now we have 20 chickens and when we sell out of eggs we end up just barely covering our feed costs, and not covering the labor involved. The eggs are fun, and people seem to really like them, but we aren't sure how cost effective they are. I now know why people charge so much for eggs at the larger farmer's markets. We hope to see you all at the last markets; we will keep updating the blog and have items (fall produce, honey, goats milk soap, salves, etc) available all fall and into the winter.