Saturday, July 25, 2009

Nature's Abundance

As I walk our land and surrounding properties, right now there is an amazing amount of wild foods growing. We have wild hazelnuts ripening, saskatoon berries, salal, thimble berries, black cap raspberries, wild cherries, rose hips, salmon berries, huckleberries, blackberries (both the native trailing ones and the non-natives) and indian plum, to name a few. In the woods and roadsides, I often see old apple and plum trees growing untended. I wonder if they are the remnants of someone's old homestead, or just grew from a thrown pit or core. In the spring we look for nettle shoots and morel mushrooms.

I love identifying and harvesting wild foods and herbs, and I feel safe doing so and teaching my children because I do a lot of self-study about plants. I grew up taking nature walks with my parents and studying their guidebooks. My dad was a science teacher and naturalist, and when we would go into the forest or even parks, he would take his sketchbook and guides and teach me what was growing around us. To this day when I am in nature I subconsciously scan and classify the plants I see. I wonder if it is from my childhood experiences or some throwback to our hunter-gatherer brains. I am teaching my kids what I know and learning with them as we spend time in nature. My seven year old can tell a ponderosa pine from a douglas fir or red cedar, and my ten year old can identify many wild herbs and tell me what they are used for. They snack on the wild berries that are abundant right now.

In a few weeks the blackberries will be ripe and I hope to pick lots and make pints of blackberry jam. I have made strawberry, strawberry-currant-gooseberry, and currant-gooseberry jam so far, and I hope to make blueberry jam in the next week.

Squash explosion and ducklings!

Summer is in full gear now. We have tons of summer squash and zucchini coming on, along with lots of cucumbers. The tomatoes are ripening and we have been enjoying them in homemade salsa and straight off the plant. My mom will be shocked since growing up I hated zucchini and tomatoes, but since I have been growing them myself I love them. I am amazed at how sweet they are! I have been sauteing the squash and zucchini with onions, garlic, beets, cabbage and basil, all fresh from the garden. Then I top this with homemade pesto with lots of parmesan. I also like to cut the zucchini into thin strips and lightly saute in olive oil or even water and then top with tomato sauce instead of using pasta. Yum!

One of our ducks is setting on eggs, and another showed up yesterday with 9 ducklings! The ducks usually have one batch of ducklings in the spring, and another midsummer. The ducklings are yellow and brown and completely fuzzy. They stay right with their mom and she puffs up and covers them at night to keep them warm. We have seen many batches of ducklings over the years but we always get excited to see them!

Brian has been hard at work finishing the clearing work and weeding. With the predicted hot temperatures for this coming week we figure we will do our outdoor work early in the day or late, and then work inside during the hottest part of the day. I will need to make sure the plants and seedlings have lots of water and I might put a shade cloth on our lettuce and tender greens. The animals will need to have their water checked frequently, especially the milking goats, as they drink gallons of water while making milk.

Our strawbale home is very well insulated and has lots of thermal mass, so as long as we keep the windows closed and don't bake too much, them temperature stays around 70 degrees, with no air conditioning or fans. I will be working on earthen plaster inside and Brian will be plastering the ceiling or laying tile on the floor. We have been devoting lots of time to the land and outdoor work, so it will be nice to get some things done inside the house.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Brush clearing and chores

We have been busy this week trying to get the weeds and brush on our land under control. We pasture our goats on the hillside to keep the brush down, and they do a good job, but it takes time for them to clear an area. So this week we rented a brush hog (a big spinning bade that is pulled behind a tractor) and Brian trimmed up blackberries and cottonwoods for two days on the hillside to prepare for our expanding orchard this fall and because we plan on increasing our growing area in our lower field and eventually want to dig an irrigation pond. . He also broke it twice (a good reason to rent a several thousand dollar machine instead of buying one). We usually do this work with hand clippers, the weed eater or goats, but we are pretty pressed for time so we chose this quicker option.

I have gotten a good start on the fall/winter garden this past week. I planted cabbage, collards, brussels sprouts and winter onions. The real trick is keeping the seeds moist enough to germinate in this hot weather (yesterday was over 90 degrees at our place). But I am seeing some seedlings coming up so they should be fine. I love Eliot Coleman's book Four Season Harvest for information on how to plant a winter garden and how to make simple greenhouses and cold frames.

For the market we have more potatoes, garlic, squash, zucchini, onions, kale, chard, beets, turnips, cabbage, cucumbers, etc. The lemon cukes should be ready in a week or two, which are always a favorite in our home. We like to chop up cucumbers and make a salad with a yogurt, dill, olive oil and garlic dressing. Yum! We will also have another batch of lavender soap for the market next week.

Right now we have lots of chores to work on every day. In the morning I feed and water all the animals, let the chicken on of their coop, milk two goats, lead the goats to pasture, water the garden, and the usual household chores. Then I try to make earthen plaster and plaster the house for a few hours. Then I try to weed and hoe the garden, lay mulch, harvest food, flowers and herbs, pot up seedlings, and general garden maintenance. Of course somewhere in there the kids need meals, clean clothes, stories read, etc.

The kids have been a great help with the house and land chores. Our ten year old daughter has been helping with the dishes and hanging laundry, and she can fix simple meals like pancakes. This has been a huge help on days when I am super busy in the garden. She is also a great berry picker and she is great at prepping food for preserving. Our 7 year old son is a great one for running quick errands around the farm. He is always good about running to get a tool or gathering eggs. He helps me herd the goats and is a great duck catcher. He also has a real tool kit (thanks to his Grandma Sue) that he uses to fix things around the house. He is really handy with a screw driver. He is also great at helping with some of the dirtier farm jobs like hauling wood or shoveling manure, and he uses his own small shovel to pitch in and help. Both kids are responsible for keeping their rooms clean and helping entertain their 3 year old brother. Our littlest doesn't do many chores but he does help pick up toys and he likes gathering eggs, although he sometimes drops them! I think it is good for the kids to feel like they are important members of our family team and they play a vital role in keeping our house and farm running. Of course we also want them to have lots of free time for play and take them on family outings to the river or homeschool park days, and we even went to the movies this week!

Brian stays really busy every day working on our land and garden and spends the evenings working on the house. But he always seems to find time to help the kids with something. This weekend he will be building a chicken tractor to help with the weed situation. Hopefully we can post photos of it when it is finished!

Saturday, July 11, 2009


One of the main ideas behind our goal of buying land, building a house and starting a small farm is the idea of trying to meet as many of our needs by "doing-it-ourselves". Over the past years we have learned how to make bread, sew clothing, spin wool and knit (thanks mom!), grow food, raise livestock and bees, make our own herbal medicines and teas, cook from scratch, make cheese and butter, heat with wood, brew beer... the list goes on and on. It is always funny when we create something from scratch for the first time, and one of us says, "that is just like real ... (butter, sausage, rolled oats, wine, etc)". It doesn't get more real than that.

It usually starts with looking at the things we use and the figuring out what it would take to create it on our own. I find it so satisfying to have a meal of only thing I grew and raised, or to take something complex and figure out the process of making it ourselves. We have taken it so far as to build our home from the foundation up just the two of us (with some friends helping here and there). Our last child was born at home (actually at my mother in laws, our house wasn't built yet) and the midwives stayed in the other room while we did everything.

Of course, we do have limits; we have grown what will amount to several 5 gal buckets of grain, but I will still keep ordering 50 lb bags of oats and wheat from Azure standard (I don't buy boxed cereal so we eat lots of oatmeal and baked goods, and I make all our own bread, so 50 lbs doesn't last as long and you would think). I know how to stitch a wound and do basic first aid but we take the kids to the doctor if something comes up. We do buy clothing (mainly second hand ) so not everything we wear is hand sewn or knit. We do buy items (mainly luxuries) at the store. But we do enjoy the knowledge that we know the basic steps that our involved in the things we use, and in a pinch we can create them ourselves.

The last few days I have been feeling overwhelmed with the summer work load; tending the gardens and animals, plastering the house, taking care of the kids, cooking everything from scratch, maintaining the housework, on and on. It feels like there isn't enough time to get everything done. But a few days ago my friend came out with her kids and she helped me braid garlic and make earthen plaster out of clay, sand and straw for the house. Just having a little extra help and someone to talk to while I worked made all the difference. Thanks Danielle! Of course Brian was working so hard the whole time in our fields, land and house, but he never complains. Must be a man thing, right?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Garlic and Taters

Hello all. We will be at the Wellsprings Marketplace again this Saturday and will be bringing our usual stash in addition to our new salves, salt scrubs, face cream, potatoes and GARLIC! I love garlic........

Monday, July 6, 2009

Harvest, continued
Yesterday Brian commented on how funny it is that even though we just passed the solstice, already we are feeling the push towards fall. The veggies, fruits and nuts are all getting ripe and ready for picking and preserving.

We dried our cherries in a solar dehydrator that Brian made and they turned out great, except for the fact that our dog got into some of the trays and ate way too many dried cherries! The oats are drying nicely and next we need to thresh, winnow and hull them (get the grain out of the husk). Soon we will harvest our rye and wheat. We also harvested lots of garlic and I am working on garlic braids to sell at the market.

I need to harvest more St. John's Wort, Calendula, Lavender and Comfrey for salves and drying. Our children have been helping with all the picking and preserving as well as helping Mom keep the house together while we are so busy. The goats are making gallons of milk which we are using for soap, cheese and of course, drinking (the boys alone drink about a half gallon daily). The blueberries are ripening and I hope to put up lots of blueberry jam. My goal is to make enough homemade jam to last the whole year. Oh, and Brian has made a delicious batch of homebrewed beer to keep him going while he weeds on these hot days. So we are all very busy, but having a good time.

We are also starting putting in our fall and winter garden this week, so we will have fresh veggies all winter long. If you need more information on what to plant or season extension techniques, email us or ask Brian at the market.

At the Wellspring Market, we had a good response to our homemade salves and lotion bars, despite the heat. This coming market we hope to add to this our salt scrubs and body lotion, as well as our usual goats milk soap, produce and eggs. Hope to see you there!