Tuesday, December 27, 2011

our homestead: goals and non-goals

Here are a few small scenes from our garden this year:
Our garlic patch 
Celery growing in the greenhouse
Sugar snap pea blossoms
Potato blossoms
One of our many sunflowers
With 2012 just around the bend I thought I'd take the time to write about some of my "homestead" non-goals from 2011 and some of my goals for 2012. I borrowed the idea of non-goals from my sister-in-law, Rachel. You can read her post from her blog here: Nickel Images goals and non-goals. Non-goals are things you might have accomplished or enjoyed or are motivated to continue. Here are my non-goals from 2011:

1) I started my own tomato plants on my windowsills in the wintertime and saw them through harvest.

2) I had a hoophouse built and was able to grow lots of tomatoes, celery and cucumbers in it.

3) I learned how to brew nettle tea for my tomato plants.

4) I completed another farmers market season selling produce for Frog's Song Farm. Every year I learn more and more from the markets in regards to the business of farming. This year I was also able to sell a lot of my farmers' produce at our local co-op, granting them another outlet for their labors.

5) I grew so much this year! Peas, potatoes, turnips, spinach, beets, kale, garlic, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, celery, brussel sprouts, sunflowers, marigolds, sunchokes, corn, pumpkins, winter squash and more.

6) I canned jams and fruit butters and made lots of pickles, using homegrown or market procured ingredients.

7) I saved lots of seeds from my garden for next year's garden, acclimating these plant varieties to our area.

8) I established more planting beds in my yard.

9) My husband and I finally brought home the second dog we'd been talking about getting forever. We love our little Banjo and Oswald's quality of life has increased now that he has a playmate and snuggle buddy.

10) I ground my own cornmeal from corn I'd grown and dried myself.

11) I learned how to make soap with my mom. The old-fashioned, saponification-of-oils-with-lye-and-six-week-curing-process-style.

And on to the fun part! My homesteading goals for 2012:

1) To establish rows of interesting berry plants including: goji berries, honeyberries, gooseberries, lingonberries and hardy kiwis. We have already pre-orded three goji plants, due to arrive in April. We'll probably have to build some sort of trellis...but that means I can also throw a few more hops into the yard.

 2) To raise a small flock of chickens, perhaps a duck or three, in the spring. I grew up on fresh-from-the-backyard eggs and nothing beats the flavor. I'm still lucky enough to be able to bring home eggs from my mom's house, but I'd like to learn how to take care of my own hens.

3) To grow even more than 2011! This year I really want to learn how to grow broccoli, cauliflower, fennel and leeks, and  melons in the greenhouse. I've also already ordered red brussel sprout seeds...it'll be fun to see how these turn out. Joe has his heart set on doing a giant lacinato kale patch too. I'm also looking forward to seeing how my saved tomato seeds fare.

4) To grow a massive sunflower patch. Why not? I saved so many sunflower seeds this year that I just might have to grow a big plot of sunflowers to nap underneath. I want it to be so big that you can see it from the road below my hill.

5) To make more soap!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

our homestead: merry christmas

Photos from our family Christmas shoot

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone! I thought I'd post some of our family Christmas photos we had taken this year, including photos of our furbabies, Oswald and Banjo. These photos are the work of my sister-in-law, Rachel, of Nickel Images. You can check out the rest of her photo projects at the Nickel Images Blog.

For a while there we were living in a land cloaked in a thick fog, as you can tell in the photos. My husband and I took our photos on the train tracks I used to sneak down to play upon when I was a kid. I'd leave coins on the tracks and come back later to find them smashed into smooth roundish disks.

Anyway, hope everyone is staying warm and spending time with loved ones and may the eggnog overfloweth in your mugs!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

DIY almanac: Homeground cornmeal and corn husk angels

Last night I tried using my coffee grinder to turn my dried corn kernels from the previous post into cornmeal. Success! I just cleaned out my coffee grinder with a dry cloth and then ground one small batch of kernels at a time until I'd achieved my desired consistency. The coffee grinder worked very well. If I wanted to make full on soft and velvety corn flour, I could have made it with the grinder, but I decided to create a coarser meal. The meal I ground is the color of eggshells, speckled with bits of blue, red and gold. Very pretty. I tried baking my first loaf of cornbread with it- another success. Very good flavor and the the colors of the speckled cornmeal became richer.

I also had a bunch of dried corn husks leftover in colors of gold, green and ruby red, so I decided to make a corn husk angel to top our Christmas tree this year. I made her a red and green dress, a husk halo complimented with red corn kernels and even braided her hair. I'm going to try and see if I can make some corn husk ornaments in different shapes to gift to loved ones. Anyway, here's the recipe I used for the 'painted mountain' cornbread:

Painted Mountain Cornbread
1 cup homeground cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/8th cup brown sugar
1/8th cup white sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup of milk
1 egg

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and lightly grease a small loaf pan. Combine dry ingredients, combine wet ingredients, then gradually mix the two together. Bake about 20-25 minutes.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

our homestead: preparing my painted mountain corn for meal and seed

I spent a good portion of the morning shucking and stripping the colorful kernels from a bunch of dried ears of 'painted mountain' corn I grew this summer. To strip the ears, I used a few different methods. I picked kernel by kernel off with my hands, ran a butter knife down the center of each kernel row to loosen them, and twisted my palm around a few ears to dislodge the kernels. Eventually, I ended up with a big bowl of loose kernels in hues of indigo, periwinkle, gold, pearly white, garnet and crimson reds, blush pink, warm black, mandarin orange and more. I set aside the black kernels and the pastel-colored kernels to plant for next year. I also hand selected a few fun color blends to gift to gardening friends this Christmas, such as a "Sunrise Blend" (reds, oranges and pinks), a "Norge Blend" (red, white and blue) and a "Blueberry Blend" (blacks and blues). I then packaged these blends in brown paper envelopes with their planting instructions.

Painted Mountain corn is very special because it is an older, hardier native corn with its own gene pool (meaning it's not a mass produced hybrid or GMO corn). This corn comes in a multitude of colors, hence its name, and I've read that these rich colors have high antioxidant values. This variety of corn is good for fresh eating (although it has a different texture than sweet corn), for making hominy or for grinding into flour or meal. I plan to grind the leftover kernels (the ones I'm not gifting or using for seed) into cornmeal later today. I don't have grain grinder yet, so I'll be experimenting with my food processor and coffee grinder to see what I can produce.

Oh, and I thought I'd post a recent photo of Banjo. He was napping under the table on his blankey the whole time I was seeding my corn. He's about 3 times as big as when we brought him home.

Monday, November 14, 2011

trail setters: brussel sprout trees have arrived at the co-op

Finally after about a month of searching, I've had locally grown brussel sprouts (on the stalk no less) brought into the co-op. I found them by asking around- "who has brussel spouts? who has brussel sprouts?", whenever I'd be ordering from a farmer or talking to my PR gal (who knows some farmers as well). I could have just taken the easy way out and ordered California-grown brussel sprouts, but I wanted to bring in something really special and local for the upcoming holidays. These brussel sprout trees come from Snowgoose Produce of Fir Island, Washington, up near Mt. Vernon and down the road from Frog's Song Farm. I had heard that they had them, so when I was working in the back one day and Erica came in to deliver their gorgeous rainbow colored eggs (white, blue, brown and green eggs), I immediately asked her about the brussel sprouts. Yup, they had them! And yesterday they came with 28 stalks for the co-op along with their egg delivery. I wish I had a better photo of them...lately I've been having to take all of my photos on my cellphone. Anyway, it was quite the procession when we were bringing the stalks to the back. We carried box after box of these science fiction-looking tentacles loaded in sprouts. I kept jokingly saying, "be still my beating heart", as I was setting them out...I was so excited! To make the evening even better, Frog's Song Farm came in shortly after with a full delivery of arugula and ruby streaks mizuna bunches, fat green cabbage heads, bright lights swiss chard, fennel bulbs and beet bunches....this was as I was setting out more bok choi bunches from Five Acre Farm. Aww! Bringing in local!

Monday, November 7, 2011

trail setters: 10 reasons to support your local farmers

1. You support more open space in your area. If a farmer can afford to keep their lands, there's less of a chance that their land will get developed into ranch housing or "paved paradises".

2. You support nutritious food in your community. Locally grown food has higher vitamin content, as it can be picked in the peak of ripeness and brought to you quicker than if it had to be harvested under-ripe and shipped hundreds of miles. Also, food grown here is acclimated to our area- I sometimes wonder if certain food allergies are caused by eating food grown far away and if people could digest local foods easier.

3. You support bee survival in your area via the selection of blossoms and nectar sources farmers can supply to pollinators with their crops and orchards.

4. You support your local economy, especially during this hard economic time our country is facing. One of my favorite things to have happen while selling produce at a farmers market is to be checking out two customers and the first customer hands me what instantly becomes the "change" for the second person. For example, the first customer's total is $12 and the second customer's total is $8. The first customer hands me $12 exactly and the second customer hands me a $20. I immediately hand the first customer's $12 over to the second customer as their change. I know it's a little silly, but that is a true visual of the money that is cycling around the community from people shopping at my farmer's produce stand.

5. You support crop biodiversity. I recently read an article in National Geographic that discussed the extinction of several different types of vegetables (such as heirloom radishes and potatoes), caused by mass production of more generic crops. Supporting smaller farmers can help keep heirloom varieties alive.

6. You support the knowledge of where your food is coming from and have less risks for the salmonella and e.coli outbreaks that seem to occur with mass produced food.

7. You support the farmers for the labor they provide! Farmers work very hard, very long, grueling physical days and a lot of them end up with arthritis from all the minute work they do with their hands. We should show them the appreciation they deserve. It's patriotic.

8. You support better soil. Smaller, local farmers' livelihoods depend on the health and fertility of their soils, so more effort is put in to creating living soils rich in organic matter and nutrients through better growing methods and rotation.

9. You support the maintenance of a unique set of skills. The average farmer's age today is 55 and that average is continuing to climb. What does that mean? That less folks are getting into farming. When today's farmers age, who will grow our food? It's important to keep it so that people can actually make a living and support their families through farming.

10. You support your taste buds. Fresh food tastes better. Enough said!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

our homestead: Brussel sprouts and Banjo

I was so busy with the last of the growing season and other adventures and projects that I haven't had the time to post a blog in a quite while. Finally things are starting to settle out a little more for me as we head further into the chilly part of autumn (we had our first frost a few days ago...brrr). Some quick updates: I finished the 2011 farmers market season on October 2nd with a subaru full of produce to deliver to the co-op (literally...full..you should have seen me driving down the road), my husband and I hopped on a plane on October 4th and spent two weeks on the Garden Isle of Kauai in celebration of our 1 year wedding anniversary (mmm lots of fresh tropical produce at the farmers market there!), I returned the 18th and had a festive rest of the month including running around the Bob's Corn corn maze, pressing my own hot cider from the wild orchard across the road, baking pumpkin whoopie pies using my own homegrown pumpkins and hosting a Sleepy Hollow themed Halloween party. My husband and I even planted our second crop of garlic using our own garlic seed (e.g. the wedding garlic).

As far as other announcements, we just added a new member to our family. His name is Banjo and we've been calling him an "Arlington Shepherd" as he came from Arlington, WA. We believe he is has an assortment of dog breeds in him including rottweiler, corgi and labrador. It took us three days to name him. My husband wanted to name him Hendo, I wanted to name him Huckleberry...and we settled on Banjo. It fits him. He's a mischievous little fellow who likes to howl and take super-man jumps from the couch. Currently he's afraid of walking downstairs but can scamper up them in a jiffy. Our other dog, Oswald, has been having a blast since we brought home a new brother for him.

Anyway, as far as the state of my garden is concerned, I'm still enjoying kohlrabi, spinach, sunchokes and kale from out back...as well as tomatoes in the greenhouse! I'm sure the tomatoes won't last long with these frosty mornings we've started having. I harvested all of my pumpkins and have been baking all sorts of cookies and breads and I made a batch of pumpkin chili the other night for supper. Today, I went to investigate my brussel sprouts and it appears they are in full swing. I'll have to plant more next year to sell perhaps! I harvested enough for dinner tonight. I'll be making baked macaroni with brussel sprouts and broccoli from Five Acre Farm. Good comfort food for a chilly autumn evening.

Friday, September 9, 2011

trail setters: small tomato victory at the co-op

It’s been my first year working for my local natural food co-op’s produce department, and I've been slowly testing the waters to see how many of my favorite organic farmers I could bring into the store. This year I was able to bring in a lot of Frog’s Song Farm produce (I've sold their produce at markets for six summers now), including an assortment of their heirloom potatoes and fingerlings, fresh onions and shallots, cucumbers, spinach, salad greens, turnips, beets and more. I've also recently set my foot down on bringing in non-local tomatoes as it’s prime tomato season in our area and I truly believe in the Co-op’s mission statement about supporting local producers. My coworkers and produce team have all encouraged me in my attempts to change a few things, so I’m very grateful for them. My co-op’s tomatoes are now all 100% Washington grown. Someone in the back even created a sign for me, declaring the exciting news of sporting all local tomatoes (I really appreciate that!). I brought in my parent’s Beefsteaks, Yellow Pear and Mountain Magic tomatoes (Flying Tomato Farm) and I've also brought in Tonnemaker’s romas. I’ve worked markets next to Tonnemakers for years. We also have colorful cherries, romas and red and yellow slicers coming from Five Acre Farm and Okanagon Producers and heirloom tomatoes from Millingwood. Go little Co-op! I wonder how many of the larger Co-ops or health food stores in our area can claim 100% local tomatoes in their produce section.
As the "off-season" approaches, I look forward to heading to the few year round markets (such as Ballard or Bellingham) to see what some of our farmers will have in the colder months. There's no reason why we should have to ship in produce from California or Chile when, with a little sleuth, we can find Washington farmers offering overwintered beets, carrots and potatoes, fresh cabbages, kales and brussel sprouts, microgreens, parsnips and sunchokes and more. I am really looking forward to this challenge. I want to keep the local spirit alive in our co-op...to be a true outlet for farmers all year round. I am also going to see what I can grow out of my greenhouse this winter...

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

DIY almanac: saving tomato seeds for later planting

My husband and I have been harvesting tomatoes left and right and have been enjoying tomato inspired meals everyday- tortilla soup with big chunks of tomato, open-faced grilled cheese sandwiches with green tomato slices, little slider burgers stuffed with shredded purple carrot and onions with giant slabs of brandywine tomatoes and beet greens, classic basil and mozzerella caprese salads, scrambled tomatoes and farm fresh eggs...I might have to make tomatoes stuffed and baked with bacon, chopped onions and bread crumbs tonight. Oh baby!

Anyway, if they don't just get tossed into the cook pot, I've been trying to save as many of my tomato seeds as possible from the really nice tomatoes I harvest (any big, colorful "perfect-looking" tomatoes or tomatoes with cool features). That way, next February, I can start tomatoes from my own homegrown seeds. Saving these seeds should produce hardier plants next year and the year after since the parent plants had to acclimate to Western Washington weather conditions. My original seed packets came from California, so I'll be creating my own Washington genetic version, which should increase my yield for years to come.

This is really a big part of heirloom creation. For example, I've been saving seeds from my really, really big pink brandywine tomatoes. Next year, when I grow these plants, most of their offspring should exhibit this size, and I'll select, again for the biggest brandywines for seed storage, perpetuating this giant trait. I haven't researched tomato cross-pollination too much this year, though my tomato plants did get a little mixed up in the greenhouse, so I do have a few tomatoes that look as though they are mixed between pink brandywine and evegreen. I'll probably save some of their seeds, though since they are more of a hybrid, I'm not sure what I'll get next year with them, but that adds to the fun and the mystery. One of my goals is to create a few of my own heirlooms to pass on to the next generations of my family.

There are a few different routes one can go down in regards to the tomato seed saving process. The biggest concern for tomato seed saving is removing the enzyme that coats the outside of the seeds (the goo around the seeds). This enzyme actually prevents the seeds from germinating within the fruit, and traditionally the enzyme is removed via fermentation. The seedy goop of a tomato is scooped out and dropped in a glass and then filled with water. Usually plastic wrap is placed over the glass and the glass sits in a warm place for a few days, until the goop rotts off of the seeds. Then, when mold starts to appear, the seeds are rinsed through a fine mesh sieve and then laid out to dry.

I usually follow some of these steps, though I'm a little too impatient to wait a few days and allow something to rott on my window. My method involves most of the same steps. I'll take the goop out of my tomato and then rinse the seeds as much as I can using a fine mesh sieve, then I'll let the seeds sit in a glass of water for 24 hours. The seeds that sink are the most viable seeds, whereas the floaters are immature seeds, so I'll skim off the floaters after my 24 hour period. Then, I'll pour the seeds into my sieve once more and rinse and scrub them with a little baking soda or natural dish soap and a small brush. Usually I can buff away the remaining enzyme. I'll then set my seeds out on a piece of brown paper and let them air dry. When they're ready, they'll go into small, labeled glass jars and will be hidden away in a cool, dark cabinet for starting next winter.

Monday, August 29, 2011

our homestead: my first heirloom tomato harvest

This has been a rough year for tomatoes. It's been cold and wet; two factors that contribute to sluggishly slow growth and blight. Despite the weather, I was somehow blessed with baskets full of heirloom tomatoes, right from our little-greenhouse-that-could. These are the same tomatoes that I started from seed on my windowsills last winter, grown in dismal February light and then transplanted out into a frigid spring. I've been picking all sorts of tomatoes, including: yellow pear, black prince, sweet 100 cherries, evergreen (the middle photo) and pink brandywine (the bottom photo). Last night my husband and I enjoyed baked macaroni with bacon and heirloom tomatoes and today calls for BLT's with big slabs of tomato and smashed avocado. I've got a bunch of large, old mason jars, gifted to me from my Oma, running through the dishwasher at this very moment, as I plan on getting my can-on before work. Today I'll be canning stewed tomatoes (using our own homegrown celery, onions and garlic) and salsa. In the winter months we'll be able to roast chicken and potatoes with a jar of our stewed tomatoes, or snack on chips and tangy salsa. We are so lucky to have this bounty!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

our homestead: sunflower season

Sunflowers and Indian Paintbrush are my most beloved flowers, and both appear in late summer; sunflowers in my yard and paintbrush on my favorite hiking routes in the mountains. I've tried to grow Indian Paintbrush in my yard but I think they really need a good alpine environment...at least for me. This year I grew Russian Mammoth Sunflowers (their heads were as big as dinner plates!), some red sunflowers and some of the classic yellow sunflowers with heads about the size of salad plates. The majority of my sunflowers grew at least 5 feet tall, some were even taller than me, and I'll admit I've spent a few summer evenings just standing underneath my sunflowers, admiring these gentle giants. I have my sunflowers standing tall in my back vegetable garden, attracting pollinators, and in my front yard, greeting any visitors that come a'calling.

I have three different life stages of sunflowers at this point. Some have already gone to seed and are ready for harvest. I hate having to cut down my sunflowers since they still look pretty, even when they lose their petals, so I have a few standing out in the field (their seeds will still be able to dry) and a few drying on my front porch where I can keep them relatively safe from birds. I'll probably move them all to my shed soon and hang them from the rafters to dry, and then I'll be able to collect the seeds for eating or for storing for next spring for a larger sunflower crop. I've been taking the spent petals of my seeded sunflower heads and have been drying them for tea, so later, in winter I'll be able to remember my garden. I also have plenty of sunflowers that are still in bloom, and about 5 sunflowers yet to bloom, so I should have some of their color for the next few weeks. With all of the seeds I'll be able to harvest this year, I'm looking forward to next summer. I hope I'll be able to plant a colossal sunflower patch!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

trail setters: a day at the farmers market

Summer is market season, and thus it's always the busiest season for me. I often have lots of dreams right about this time dealing with produce: dreams where I'm helping a customer and bagging their vegetables and then I don't give them accurate change, dreams where I spill fingerlings and huckleberries all over the sidewalk (wait...I've done that in real life), dreams where the scale isn't working or dreams where I'm surrounded by homegrown kohlrabi microgreens and everyone is excited and cheering for me (that was last night's dream). Yeah. This year I'm especially busy since I'm working the produce section of our local co-op as well and maintaining a household, wrangling furbabies and a husband, and keeping my vegetable garden happy and healthy. As most folks already know or probably already suspect, I've been a part of the market scene since I was a kid, so I've grown up with a lot of the farmers and vendors I work with. In a sense, we're like a giant family or community where everyone knows everyone.

Yesterday was a slower day at the market (SeaFair's going on this weekend), so I could take the time to catch a few photos of my family's tomato stand, Flying Tomato Farm, and the stand I work at, Frog's Song Farm. It's been a cold summer this year, so everything, again, is late. We have had sugar snap peas and rhubarb just until last week! All the way through August! And I haven't seen any west-side green beans yet...although chanterelles (a late September mushroom) are already showing up out in the wild. Freaky weather. Anyway, I'm very happy that my family's now making it out to markets with some tomatoes and cucumbers. The top two photos are of their stand. In previous years they've been at the market with their produce as early as May, but they decided not to heat their greenhouse this year and the cool weather contributed to the wait. But let me tell you, their tomatoes have been worth this wait. I made a delicious caprese salad yesterday after the market using their tomatoes and cucumbers. Mmm mmm crunchy, juicy goodness.

The bottom three photos are from the Frog's Song Farm stand. Frog's Song Farm's produce comes from a small, family farm based on Fir Island (up near Conway/LaConner). It's beautiful up there...one of these days I'll post some photos of the area. As far as the market's concerned, we have had so much more variety than what we started the cold season with. Now we have the following up for grabs: several types of fingerling and round potatoes (apple rose finns and peruvian purples made their appearance this week), french breakfast radishes, Japanese salad turnips, chioga and classic purple beets, nantes and heirloom rainbow and big n' ugly carrots, fava beans, red and golden raspberries (though the red raspberries may be on their way out), loose and bunched spinach, rainbow chard, red and white kale, salad mix, all sorts of head lettuce, sweet onions, red onions, shallots, head cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, the first of the chanterelles, zucchini and their squash blossoms, sweet pea flowers, sunflowers, and much more that I'm probably forgetting. Anyway, that cute gal in the last photo is a my super awesome and creative coworker, Heidi. She lives in Kingston and takes the ferry over to sell with me. We always have a fun time working together (especially since we share an affinity for sweet, sweet baked goods from the market as well as the pasta man's rice pudding, oh lord!). She also hooked me up with a darling black rabbit yesterday...but that's a story for next time!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

our homestead: scenes from my walk this evening

Today made for a very sunny day, followed by a beautiful evening and sunset. I had the chance to take my dog, Ozzy, out to one of my favorite spots to go for a late summer's walk: the levy that runs along the river. I have a special way to get here. The entrance is a bit of a local secret...you have to drive all the way to the end of a rural road, past a cemetery full of born-in-the-1800s tombstones and then hang a sharp left to find it. Once you get out on the levy, you cross fields of marshlands full of grasses, wild flowers, snags, giant thistles, willow trees and all sorts of critters. Today I spotted a giant toad, several ducks, a beaver and its dam, and an otter hopping into the river from the bank across from me. In times of heavy rain, these marshlands are meant to hold excess river water to help prevent flooding in the valley. The further you walk, the quieter your surroundings become until you find some true peace.

Friday, August 5, 2011

our homestead: scenes from my walk this morning

It was a warm and balmy, overcasted morning, so I decided to take my dog, Ozzy, out for walk down the slough to the river. Above are a few quick pictures I took of the area. The first is of my neighbor's pumpkin patch, full of big orange blossoms (these will later become big ol' pumpkins). The second photo is my other neighbor's field, rolled up into hay bales. Then, the last is the promise of a very good blackberry season (the bushes that line the roadside are littered in green berries). I'm very grateful to live out here. It's so peaceful.