Monday, January 27, 2014

How Cold Is It?

Just how cold was it doing chores this morning?  I don’t know -- the thermometer bottomed out!  I wish I had noticed this thermometer only went to -20F when I bought it, but then why would they sell such a limited thermometer in Minnesota?
I just now checked and it said we are up to -15F, with a -38F windchill factor.
I am a bit surprised about that windchill factor - it is quite calm compared to last night when the wind was absolutely blasting, creating whiteout conditions.  It blew a little snowdrift precisely where my shoveled chore path was. At least the snow is so hard-packed from the fierce wind that you barely sink in.
I  dressed warmly enough in so many layers that I did not get cold except for my fingers and eyebrows.
The sun is flanked by brilliant sun dogs this morning - this is the  one to the north of the sun just after sunrise.
Here is the sunrise, taken at the same time. I need a much wider-angle lens to fit the sun and sundogs all in the same frame.
Face peeking through the snow on the wood-fired oven.
Despite the cold, the dogs took off on their  daily rabbit hunt this morning and were rewarded with a warm breakfast. I think Zinnie is probably the one who actually catches the rabbit, she is SO fast and agile, but Nutmeg must be the alpha dog --she eats first, then Zinnie.
Cocoa gets the leftovers.
This wintery weather has put me in the mood to dive into my treasure trove of shrunken wool sweaters and sew more mittens.  I am sure the restaurant will be closed today due to the cold, so I plan to stay home and sew more mittens, then paint!  The mittens will now all be on sale - $5 off.  The way this winter is going, I am sure everyone will get plenty of use out of them before spring!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

2014 So Far

How can it already be the end of January?I  haven’t even written my end-of-the-year retrospective post or my resolution post yet. Oh well, I will just try to catch up a bit.  It has been an old-fashioned, darn cold winter and here are some of the things we have been up to at Squash Blossom Farm the past few weeks:
In December I started working part-time at a rather fancy restaurant, baking bread, pizza crusts and desserts. It is nice to earn a bit of income during the winter, but even better, I am learning some good tricks for more efficient baking on a large scale that will come in handy when our farm kitchen opens. One perk of working there is that I get to take home a big bag of kitchen goodies for the cows and chickens every week- ends of carrots, celery and cabbage, broccoli and brussels sprouts trimmings, apple cores, crusty ends of baguettes. I  empty the sack onto the snow and all the  animals eagerly forage through the fresh delicacies -  the dogs try to  gobble up the bread crusts before the cows get them.
With all the bitter cold spells we don’t spend much time outside just for fun and the winter already seems interminable. It is also kind of nerve-wracking, worrying about the animals when it is -20 or colder windchill.
The animals are eating a lot to keep warm. I give the  chickens extra scratch grain and make them warm oatmeal with a bit of coconut oil stirred in on really cold days. The cows are getting a bit of grain and beet pulp with their hay rations. Of course the hay piles have to go down as the winter advances, but I miss the reassuring feeling of floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall hay bales in the barn. I counted about 110 bales left;  that will only get us to the beginning of May, so I was relieved to find a farmer who can spare 30  bales, which I will pick up this Friday.
Our cow fountain froze up this winter so the cows are drinking from a small stock tank with a heater to prevent it from icing over. It takes about 10 buckets of water to fill it, which I do twice a day. I got tired of unlatching and re-latching the gate to pour in each bucket of water, so now I just pour it through the gate, resulting in icicles hanging on the bars.
The cow fountain repairman never showed up, but that is the least of our repair concerns. Since Christmas we have had so many repairs! Septic system issues, furnace not working, chimney sweeping,  a stove repair and a washing machine repair.... I hope that everything else keeps functioning for rest of the winter.
I got new glasses, which really enhance my chore attire! You can't  quite see, but the  earpieces are actually red, very trendy. Underneath my down jacket I have a fleecey sweatsuit and Carhartt overalls. My sweet sister sent us two pair of  Carhartt lined bib overalls that her family did not use-- we so greatly appreciate them this winter.
We have begun preparations for the commercial kitchen project. Rog ordered a dumpster for kitchen demolition debris
and spent a couple weekends cleaning out the scary middle part of the barn ( full of old hay and construction materials and junk when we bought the farm, we have been working on it a bit every year but hadn’t gotten down to the floor yet.) It is no longer scary! It is now a place of lovely potential. But first it will be the swing space for  storing appliances while the kitchen is being constructed.
Every week for the past  month I have been making many, many batches of chocolate truffles and sumac-elderberry jelly for Kickstarter rewards.
The truffles were packaged in origami boxes. [What was I thinking when I  promised the truffles would  be in pretty, handmade origami boxes? I didn't  know how to do origami but I figured “how hard can it be?” Ha! I learned that I do not have an innate talent for origami. (Thank you for spending much of your holiday folding boxes, darling daughters!)]
Then the Kickstarter rewards were packed for hand delivery to local addresses, postal delivery to distant supporters. We are not done getting them all out yet yet, but the end is finally in sight!
While I bottled honey and made jelly, Rog made  elderberry-raspberry melomel (fruit-flavored mead, or honey wine.)  It smelled so delicious - I cannot wait to taste this next summer!

The weather finally warmed up enough last weekend that we got outside for some fun. We did a bit of snowshoeing through our little prairie, trying out some snowshoes gifted to us by friends who moved to Florida. I bet they feel pretty smug about leaving Minnesota this winter!

Keep warm, everybody!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

It’s 2014 - May I Have This Dance?

Somebody posted this definition on Facebook the other day.  It seemed to aptly describe last year, 2013, at Squash Blossom Farm, which was filled with giant steps forward, inevitably followed by a couple steps back.
For instance:

The Commercial Kitchen
We finally decided to pursue building a commercial kitchen wholeheartedly, in order to sell value-added farm products, expand our Famers Market baking to the co-op and restaurants, and be able to serve food on the farm. It will also allow us to rent out space to other small food entrepreneurs and to hold culinary classes as part of our dream folk school. But it is a very costly enterprise, partly because building a certified kitchen is so expensive, and also because we are also required to build a new well and septic system for it.  So,  in the spring our daughter Cadence  created a video for a Kickstarter campaign, which we launched in August and successfully met our fundraising goal!  We were blown away and humbled by the generous out-pouring of support. One humongous step forward!

The Kickstarter was intended to be one quarter of a four-pronged approach to funding the kitchen. We also hoped to get an FSA loan for the well and septic and use a portion of our retirement funds, all for a 3:1 grant match to  a MN Department of agriculture Value-Added grant.  But then we had to take a few steps back: Everything with the grant and loan got very delayed because of the government shutdown, we did not get the grant, and we didn't get approved for the FSA loan because our appraised property value has declined since we purchased our farm. And then, winter arrived full force, delaying our start anyway.  Deep breath. Soul-searching.

We seriously wondered whether this was a sign we should abandon this project and return all the Kickstarter contributions.  But No, our passion for it is still strong. We believe it is the right path for our farm. We will scale back the project a bit, stage things in increments, scour the countryside for used equipment and building materials, dig much deeper into our retirement account, and make it happen!  In some ways it might even be easier without the  constraints of a grant. And oh, if you intended to make a Kickstarter contribution but did not get around to it, we will still gratefully bestow the posted Kickstarter rewards for contributions made for the kitchen--contact us! (We are  steadily making our way through fulfilling the Kickstarter rewards, so if you haven’t received yours yet, expect it soon!)

The Cows
In the September 2012 we bred our cow LaFonda for a spring calf.  We were disappointed to learn she had not settled (that means "become pregnant," in farmer lingo). But then we had the most unbelievably muddy spring (after a frigid, frozen winter where our farmyard was like a skating rink.) As we worried about the cows struggling through armpit-deep mud, we were relieved that we didn't have a young calf getting sucked into the muck.  Later in the summer we were stunned to find out that LaFonda WAS pregnant, possibly bred by our bull calf before he was sold---but then it turned out to be a false pregnancy.  Once again we were disappointed, but also very relieved that we would not have to go into the winter milking. Up until then we had been considering selling the cows because it was so hard to find any hay for winter, and so expensive when we did locate it. The possibility of a calf made me realize I could not part with the cows, and then, as luck would have it, I sold two huge cow paintings, making enough to purchase the supply of hay. So, it turns out the cows earned their keep! Cha-cha-cha.

So there, two of last year’s dances on the farm.  There were many more--with the Farmers Market, the Aquaponics project, the CSA...and through them all we remained upright, did not step on any toes, and we had so much fun.  Life certainly is a dance --can’t wait to get twirling and swirling in 2014!  

Happy, Happy New Year to you!   
With  love and gratitude, 
Roger & Susan