Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ramblings from the Farm

These are baby Oyster mushrooms in the early fruiting stage.  In the past few days, since taking this picture, they have changed yet again.  I'm so curious to watch these phases take place and will be guessing at when to harvest them, especially considering how we have neither grown nor eaten this type of mushroom EVER!  My husband has refused to eat mushrooms of any kind, for as long as I've known him.  I'm hoping to convert him with these tasty homegrown delights.

 We took another gamble this week by installing new bees (a 5-frame nuc) in our hive, which saw only two months of occupancy nearly two years ago.  I was sad and tired of seeing if sit empty in the garage.  The Italian package originally installed were mostly drowned by my inept attempt at feeding and then finished off by our voracious dragonflies.  The nuc I placed a week ago seems healthy and vigorous.  As I was opening the cardboard package, several frames tipped over onto the ground.  A simple adjustment from vertical to horizontal positioning was enough to warrant an attack directed at me.  Several made their way under my shirt, which I had neglected to tuck in, stinging me on the belly.  So as my visiting mother and children watched from a window of our house, I high-stepped and cursed my way across the yard in a sprint, covered in angry bees.  Lesson learned.

Remarkably, all of our tomatoes have begun to set fruit.  These are Sungold cherry tomatoes.

And blueberries are coming along ahead of schedule.

We also added a Copper Maran rooster to our older laying crew.  "Harold" is quite handsome and friendly.  He took his male duties very seriously and we collected six fertilized eggs from our Rhode Island Red hen, immediately.  My nearly-five-year-old was too excited about the prospect of hatching chicks to let this project slide.  So, we a built a cardboard box incubator using an old desk lamp, a wire rack from the toaster oven, and a recycled refrigerator shelf. 

Poor Harold lost his gorgeous tail to a fox the same day I took this photo.  Since then, he has been severely depressed and failed to crow at dawn.  I'm actually looking forward to his recovery.  I miss all the racket and farmyard reminder to get moving out of bed.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Fruit Wine-not?

Last autumn, during apple season, we frequented a family-owned orchard located about 5 miles up the road in the Lake Champlain Islands.  We've gone there since before our 5 yr-old daughter was born and returned every summer for weekly indulgences of cider donuts, utility apples, kiddie playground, and cider by the 5 gallon carboy.  It's run by an lovely older couple, who are always working the register, cider press or tractor and are in such amazing shape that I'm convinced an apple a day may just keep the doctor away for good.  They are also the most friendly and genuine people I've ever met.   I'd like to be them one day.  Not now, since I'm only half their age, but if I could live the remainder of my days the way they do, I would not complain.  I've certainly never heard them complain for the amount of tedious, yet enjoyable, work that must possess their livelihood.

Last fall I would swing by with the girls for 10 gallons of fresh cider, which required a minimal amount of time to convert into hard cider.  Recipe: take 5 gal cider, remove <1 gal to dissolve 2+ lbs of brown sugar, return to carboy and pitch in champagne yeast.  Bottle when airlock is quiet ~2 weeks.  One tip...check the sweetness before bottling.  If it is dry, add some bottling sugar (1/2 c to 5 gal).  But if your brew is still sweet, reconsider bottling it or don't add any sugar.  We've had exploding bottles that had to be uncapped (for safety) and consumed immediately due to incomplete fermentation. 

After our success with hard cider, I began experimenting with other wines.  Dandelion wine was alright, but I figured any good flavor (dandelion isn't so good to me) plus sugar and champagne yeast could result in a nice brew.  Wild grapes grow in the ditches along the road I used to walk with my daughters.  A few cups of grapes, heated and smashed to release the juice plus sugar and yeast, with time under an airlock, resulted in a decent wine last fall.  Transpose this process to spring when we have rhubarb and last season's frozen strawberries.  SUCCESS!!!  I took two cups of fresh chopped rhubarb, about 2 cups of frozen strawberries and added 1 gallon of boiling water.  In a large glass jar (reused from pickles), this sat for 3-5 days undisturbed aside from a bit of initial stirring and smashing.  Then it was filtered into a pot and set to boil for 20 minutes with 2 lbs of sugar.  After cooling to room temperature, I pitched in 1 Tbs of champagne yeast, poured it into a clean container set with an airlock and waited.  When the bubbling subsided about 2 weeks later, our first pour tasted like an excellent dry wine, which went too quickly.  We'll see if I can recreate this pleasant surprise.  I will continue our seasonal approach, anticipating blueberries, raspberries, and apples.  Fruit wines may seem hobo-ish to you, but if you appreciate local eating you may also find local malt grains and hops in short supply and more expensive.  Think outside of this narrow box to find your favorite flavor + sugar + yeast wine to cheers our new summer.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Gambling Garden

Kale, cabbage and broccoli under cover
 Never in my adult life have I gambled with money.  No lottery tickets, casinos or memories left in Las Vegas.  Blame it on my perpetual negativity regarding personal luck or simple appreciation for statistical probability.  Never-the-less, I play my cards every gardening season when I plant 2 months before our last frost date in an effort to get fresh food in our kitchen as soon as possible.

We had no snow pack this winter and temperatures near the 90s in mid-March, which ruined our maple syrup crop.  That was just too much of a teaser not to move things up even further, raising the stakes.  To give you an idea, it's tradition in our region of the country to wait until Memorial Day before stepping foot in the garden.  I sowed our root veggies like carrots, radish, parsnip, rutabaga, and beets directly and transplanted brassica starts during this unusually warm late winter.

I've been very wrong before, like last season when a mid-May frost killed all of our tender tomato seedlings.  Or when I put bean seeds in too early and they don't germinate.  But this year, our gamble has paid a handsome return already.  We've harvested all of the main heads from the broccoli crop and the garlic scapes.  The kale is coming in from the garden in quantities sufficient to justify blanching and freezing for winter.  We've even had some beets.
Parsnip up-front, carrots at the back

The carrot bed is full and tall enough that I won't need to weed it again until harvest.  Parsnip are coming on strong since clearing away the companion radishes.

I've a new appreciation for the humble radish.  There is nothing more reliable, care-free or faster growing than a spicy radish.  My previous efforts to slice them for salads did not go over well at dinner until I discovered how delicious they are grated (cheese grater) in a slaw.  We eat slaw in lieu of a lettuce salad, which my infant would choke on and is dependent on finicky lettuce plants that need to be continually reseeded since they bolt if you stare too hard at them.  Carrot, parsnip, beets, radish, and I'm sure any dry crunchy edible (kolrhabi but not cucumber) will make a wonderful salad after grating and adding a dressing like seasoned mayonnaise.  If available, we throw in some chopped napa cabbage for bulk, fresh broccoli and a few garlic scapes.  My 18 month old ate this.

Slaw fixings
 I'm sure there will be disappointment and total failures this season for one crop or another, but for now I'm smiling at our good fortune.  Diversification is not just for retirement portfolios and it certainly takes some risk out of gambling, that is.
3 ft tall garlic