Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanks Given

The day before Thanksgiving,  Brendan and Bethany (our summer interns) arrived to pick up several turkeys their family members had reserved.  We were so happy to see them and I think they had fun seeing how much the calves had grown, picking greens out of the high tunnel, bonding with the chickens and feasting on a farm lunch with us.  Having these two as interns on our farm is definitely one of the things things we are most grateful for this year.
On Thanksgiving, we were hosting a bunch of dear friends.  Our week had been too hectic to do anything ahead, so we had a lot of last minute preparations. As soon as I finished chores, I started the dough for our traditional dinner rolls. I use a recipe from the dilapidated 1956 Betty Crocker cookbook my mom won when she was named "Homemaker of Tomorrow" in high school that year.   I mix the dough in the big "Rhythm Rose"bowl that my grandma got as a wedding gift and always made bread and cookies in when I was growing up. Tradition.
One year when our children were young, I had a Martha Stewart moment and invented "Thanksgiving Fortune Rolls."  I printed messages stating things we were thankful on paper, cut them into strips which were then folded and inserted into the rolls before rising. During dinner, whenever somebody ate a roll they had to read their message aloud. By popular demand, I have now made fortune rolls for most of the past fifteen Thanksgivings.
While the bread dough rose I made  the pumpkin pie. The filling was actually made from  a blend of  sugar pie pumpkin and  buttercup squash from our garden.
Gotta love farm eggs--the yolks were even more orange than the pumpkin.
In the meanwhile, since it was a remarkable 60 degrees on  Thanksgiving Day, Rog was grilling the turkey. In comparison, last year my parents couldn't get here for Thanksgiving because of a snowstorm.
The finished pies.
Rog with the grilled turkey, ready to carve.
We are especially thankful to have had some of our favorite people in the world here to feast and fest with us!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Turkey Delivery

The big freezer is nearly empty as families pick up their Thanksgiving turkeys.  This afternoon. Maynard and Kris and their two delightful granddaughters got their turkey and several other  feast ingredients from our farm: chard, honey, and sugar pie pumpkins.
The girls were a bit scared of the chickens and  dogs, but loved the cows (maybe because they were behind a gate.) After checking out the chicken coop and the barn, they were curious about who lives in this little house. 
Such cuties! They keep their grandparents on their toes!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Final Winter Prep

For the second weekend in a row, we opted to not participate in the winter famers market because we have so much to do at home to get ready for winter.  Lots of little  projects, like taking in the rest of the moveable electric fence. ..
and a few larger projects, such as last weekend, when we poured a concrete slab for the new cow fountain. [Once again, my $25 pink metal bunkbed frame from a garage sale came in extremely handy as a barrier so the curious cows didn't step in the wet concrete or flip the water on before the plumber arrives to install the fountain.]

The cow fountain is a costly investment but I am SO looking forward to not having to haul water in the winter or risk being distracted and overflowing the stock tank when I am filling it with the hose.  The cows will be happy that it never runs dry or freezes up. Also, it is much more energy-efficient than using a stock tank heater to keep the water from freezing and should pay for itself in electricity savings in a few years.
This morning I finally got the garlic planted - 100 huge cloves, mostly from our own garlic harvest, plus a few from a Farmers Market garlic grower.  This should give us plenty of garlic for all that pizza we make and enough to sell some at our farm store next year. I watered well after planting and covered the garlic bed with a layer of straw.

Darn! I didn't get the tulip bulbs planted. The ground hasn't frozen yet, though, so I might still have an opportunity tomorrow.  If the snow melts, the ground might actually become soft enough to dig the bulbs in.
Everything is parched and dry, dry,  dry - we haven't had significant rain all fall and the ground is cement-hard.  Yesterday, I resorted to using the rototiller to breakup the soil so I could plant the garlic today. The rototiller belongs to our friend Joe, who lent it to us when he moved into town.  This tiller is such a helpful little beast!
This afternoon, Rog winterized the lawn mower and rototiller and stored them away in the barn barn. He got out the snowblower and made sure it starts up and is easily accessible.
 I worked on winterizing the  high tunnel. I  discovered a way to  secure the side  panels to the ends to reduce the draft of cold air whooshing in at the  corners...
by cutting up  lengths of a plastic sump-pump hose, slitting and popping the tubes over the end tubes, pinching the plastic film inside. 
Inside the high tunnel, I covered one row of three beds with floating row cover to see how it would work.  Wire hoops are on order for use as supports, but for now I used step-in fence posts (from the movable electric cow fence) spaced along the outer edge of the  beds.  I bowed them to meet in the center of the row and duct-taped them together.  The row cover is draped over and clipped to the fence posts with clothespins.  Tomorrow I will compare the temperatures under the row cover and outside the row cover to see how well it works to hold the heat. 
We cleaned up all the stuff around yard that could be a snow-blowing hazard - poultry feeders, dog toys, flower pots, hoses, etc. Rog dumped the (frozen) water out of the duck pool and stored the plastic pool away.
I am a bit worried about how dirty the white ducks will be by spring without their daily swim. Already today they looked a bit dingy - not their usual snowy-white.
The buff orpingtons decided the best place to hang out in the snow was alongside the car. Maybe it was still warm from my  errand-run into town.
Last year, winter arrived so abruptly we weren't totally prepared; this year I think we are about as ready as we can be.  Looking outside tonight, the ground is covered in beautiful snow. I am in the mood to hunker down for winter.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

High Tunnel Harvest

This is how it looked in the high tunnel as I harvested greens Tuesday, 63 days after planting seeds.  It was 10 a.m. and the sun is very low this time of year, so there are shadows dancing on the south wall from the windbreak of leafless trees growing at the edge of the pasture, about 40 feet away .
This was the second order from high tunnel for the Good Food Store co-op. Even though I grew these greens to be sold and eaten, I can't help but hesitate in harvesting them.  It is so lush, vibrant and healthy in there, I hate to have bare spots!  I felt better after harvesting a large bin of rainbow chard -- if you hadn't seen the "before" you wouldn't even realize I had harvested all the bigggest leaves.
For this order, I picked 12 large bunches of  Rainbow chard, 12 bunches of  Biondi di Lyon Chard, 18 bunches of spinach and 8 bunches of Toscano di Nero kale.  The kale is still young, just starting to get its distinctive crinkly, dark leaves.
All of the greens are so crispy and tender - absolutely irresistible. I probably munched a salad's worth as I  picked.
Every few days i pull a carrot, a beet and a radish to check how big they are getting. The carrots are now about the size of my pinky finger. They should be about 4 inches long when fully grown, so they have a way to go.  They taste so sweet and crispy!
The radishes are  almost ping-pong-ball-sized.  These are beauty heart radishes: pale green on the outside, brilliant magenta on the inside.  These certainly could be harvested now, but  when I have eaten them  grown by others they are usually twice this size.  I think I will wait until Thanksgiving to pull very many.
The beets look great but the roots are only marble-sized yet.
This is the little inflation system that maintains air pressure between the two layers of plastic covering the greenhouse.  The air space increases the insulating effect of the the unheated high tunnel, helping to create a space inside that is one and a half growing zones warmer than outside.   The blower uses very little energy and makes hardly a sound. just a whispery little hum.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Garden Clean-Up

Last weekend we finally gave up on it ever raining and watered the garden so the soil would be soft enough to pull out the tomato and pepper plants easily.
I  prefer to burn the tomato debris instead of composting it to better destroy any disease.  The fire department gave us permission to burn despite it being so parched.  I wasn't too worried about having a little fire in the middle of the garden, though, having just watered.

As you can see, there were even a few good tomatoes to snack upon while I worked!
Here's how the tomato patch looked at the end of the day -- ready to dismantle the supports and plant the garlic.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Weasel Takes a Mouse, Hi Ho the Derry-o

If you live on a farm, in the fall you are probably destined to get a mouse coming in, looking for a warm place for winter. Last night, about 3 a.m., we were awakened to the unmistakable squeaking sound of a mouse being caught by a cat. Caught and let go and pouncing sounds and caught again and let go -- it had to be Weasel playing with it.  Both of the other cats take their mouse-catching much more seriously.  This morning, no sign of a dead mouse; it must have gotten away.

Just now as I was on my computer I heard it again. I grabbed my camera and followed Weasel as she raced down the steps into the basement, mouse in mouth.  Of course she let it go.
I swear she has a pact with that mouse. I know one of the other cats will get it soon, though.

I have read that to mouse-proof your house you must block every opening as big as the eraser on a pencil or they can get in.  Even though we have weather-stripping on the bottom of our front door, there is still a tiny opening about the size of a pencil eraser where the doors meet, not to mention how frequently the doors are opened, letting cats and dogs (and possibly mice) in and out every day. However, I can rest easier knowing that any mouse that chooses to live in this house will not last long, thanks to Shamu and Orange, the real farm cats.

A Swarm of Beekeepers

Thursday was the last meeting of the year for the SE MN Beekeepers Association - a traditional pizza party. Members also bring a dish to pass made with honey.

Since I had such gorgeous greens growing in the high tunnel, I made a spinach salad with honey-mustard dressing. Everything but the roasted pepitas and pomegranate seeds in the salad and the mayonnaise and lemon juice in the dressing came from our farm!  (It was so pretty and delicious, I made it again the next day.)
After feasting on pizza, salads and many scrumptious honey desserts, there was a brief meeting and presentation ("Cooking with Honey") followed by a honey-tasting session, where we could sample each others' honey crop, and a seed exchange.  I  came home with a bunch of native prairie wildflower seeds I intend to sow tomorrow.
One of the members, Fant,  shared a sample of cherry blossom honey he purchased in Tokyo  - this precious little jar of honey cost $50 (and tasted great, I might add.)  We also got to try some exotic malaleuka honey from New Zealand.
It was Ed's last meeting serving as president of the club.  Everyone appreciates his energy and enthusiasm as well as his expertise.  Ed brought his refractometer to test the water content of honey, so I tested mine.  It had a  bit more moisture than is ideal, perhaps because of the wet summer we had. Too much moisture can affect the storage  quality of raw honey; it could ferment. We are keeping the bulk of our honey in the freezer, so that should not be an issue.  Plus, half  of our honey will be made into mead - we want it to ferment!
Sister Marlys and Sister Alice, the beekeepers at Assisi Heights, allowed me to snap their photo. They are two pretty amazing women!

All of the beekeepers are so  generous sharing their knowledge - and among the 50 or so members there was a wealth of knowledge. My resolution for next year is to participate in this club more regularly.

When I got home from the bee meeting, Rog had just finished bottling his first batch of raspberry mead made with our honey and our raspberries.  It has to age for a year, but we taste-tested the leftover bit that didn't fit in the bottles and it was yummy and it is a spectacular magenta color.  It promises to be marvelous mead!

Thanks, bees. (Thanks, Rog.)

Friday, November 11, 2011

None of Your Beeswax

 On Tuesday, my lip-balm-making supplies arrived, so I was eager to dive in and make some lip balms with my own beeswax as an ingredient to sell at the Farmers Market.  But first, I had to clean the beeswax- a process I had no idea would take so long.

I have two plastic tubs of crushed comb from extracting the Warre hives.  In addition to wax, there are honey, pollen, propylis, and even a few dead bees in there that nobody wants in their lip balm.  I have been storing the wax in the deep freeze so that if there were also any eggs of wax moths, they would be destroyed.  It's not so pretty, but it sure does smell good.

First, I filled a crock pot halfway with water and put a bunch of wax in to melt. Wax floats on top of the water, and most of the contaminants sink. Then I let it cool and harden until I could remove the layer of significantly-cleaner wax.

Next, I tied up the chunks of semi-clean wax in a couple layers of cheesecloth.
Another crock pot session. I immersed the bag of wax and tried to keep it submerged below the hot water level. The wax melted, flowed through the cheesecloth and floated to the surface while most of the contaminants were  trapped inside the bag.

(I found this old crockpot at a thrift store for a few dollars - it will become part of my beekeeping equipment and never be used for cooking; beeswax is almost impossible to totally remove.)
While still hot, I strained the  liquid of the crock pot into a container. (I guess this sieve will also be bee  gear now.)
The wax began to harden on the surface almost immediately. One thing I love about this time of year in Minnesota is that I just set the container out on the steps in the cold and it hardened very fast. 
It took me all afternoon to get a small amount of purified beeswax, and I am repeating the process today.  Needless to say I did not get to the  lip-balm project yet. That will be a future post.