It rained a lot this week, and the temperatures fell still further away from the brief spell of summery heat. The crops love it for the most part, although the tomatoes are getting stretch marks from their resultant too-rapid growth spurts. The wild fungi also enjoy it, and so we’ve been taking regular foraging forest traipses, collecting bolete, chantrelle, coral, and other varieties of edible mushrooms.
It’s also wild fruit season – we brought home buckets full of tart plums, grapes, and choke berries, which were transformed into jams, jellies, and syrups, preserved to enjoy all year ’round.
WWOOFer Sean and Athena the Beagle departed to Colorado amidst the downpours,
,and two new travellers pitched their tents – Marc and Leonel, who are on a journey of exploration and self discovery, surfing westward from New Jersey to parts unknown.
They helped install an alley-salvaged length of aluminum rain gutter to the back of the trailer, which will collect rainwater into one of the 275 gallon IBC containers.
A cluster of oaks had died on the edge of the field, so we downed, bucked, split, and stacked a few of them for firewood. The ragweed that we let grow in a few patches of field went to seed, so we removed a ton of them from the field, evicting their laden seedheads before they spread them into the soil. We made buckets of tomato plant food/medicine and fed em it, in an effort to prevent blossom end rot from marring their fruits.
Today was the first time we’ve ever had to harvest for the CSA in a serious rainfall, which was actually kind of fun. When we finished harvesting, we were able to stay dry while cleaning & boxing the veggies beneath the huge tarp shelter that Kristin’s dad put up. This seemed to focus the teamwork and camaderie, and we finished everything in record time, with hours to spare, rather than the usual scant moments. Thanks to the NJ WWOOFers, Jim, Mark, Florian, Ryan & Will for making it a fun time!
We got a game camera from Kristin’s folks, but instead of using it to see what critters come lurking through at night, we first set it up to capture the goings-on in the processing area …
Stuff we Could Use
A couple of you have asked about items we could use around the farm – so here’s a few of the things we’d find good uses for if you happen to have extras / unwanteds:
Garbage cans (esp with lids)
Construction hardware (screws, lumber, posts etc)
Compost (food scraps / dead leaves / lawn clippings (only if not chemically treated), coffee grounds, etc))
The Weekly Box
Edamame – fresh soybeans! These can be cooked in boiling water, then either shelled & eaten (wih rice, or as an ingredient in salads, stir fry, hummus, dip, etc), or salted within the pod, and snacked on individually as an appetizer (by popping them out of their shells with your mouth, enjoying the salt from the pod along with the beans). More info at http://m.wikihow.com/Cook-Edamame
We woke up chilly the last two nights; lows are falling to almost 50. Windows are being closed a bit at night, sleep snuggling is back in vogue, and the felling, bucking, and splitting of firewood seems much more relevant than it did even a week ago.
It seems like summer never really even started, weather-wise – strange to feel it already receding.
As usual, things have been busy.
We captured a bunch of red wiggler worms from the second-oldest compost pile, and started a small-scale vermicomposting experiment, hoping to start producing worm castings for starting seeds in.
We weeded & mulched all the interplanted eggplant and basil, started a test batch of sunflower greens using a new method, did a bunch of foraging for wild fruit and mushrooms, made wild cherry jelly and chokeberry jam, turned a few standing dead oaks into firewood piles, and planted peas for fall salad mix tendrils.
Widget finally caught and quickly dispatched the rabbit she has been hunting all spring and summer – first as a baby rabbit in the woods between the field and trailer, and then out among the rows, when the rabbit got into the fence and set up permanent camp in the edible environment.
That rabbit taught her some serious dodging and evading tactics before she finally advanced in her lessons enough to put teeth to it – tactics which she now delights in using to confound the pursuit of Athena the Beagle (Sean the WWOOFer’s companion).
The porcupine came back gnawing one night, but got away before I could throw furniture polish on him in an effort to convince him to stay away from the trailer. We swam in the mighty purty Saint Croix, ate at Wolf Creek Bar, sold carrots and such at the Market, and composted Gabe’s beard.
It was a good week.
The Weekly Box
Ground Cherries – also known as Husk Cherries, these look like little tomatillos but have a much sweeter, fruity taste. To open easily, squeeze the husk at the stem attachment side, letting the fruit slid out the tip end. They are sweetest when yellow, more tart when greenish. WWOOFer Sean calls them “ground candy” and gets distracted eating them whenever he comes across a random volunteer from last year’s crop out in the field. They keep best inside their husks, and don’t need refrigeration.
Fennel – this frilly herb is why your box smells like black licorice. The stalks, leaves and seeds are all edible. I like to eat it raw. Chop up the stalks and use them in a salad, or sautee them. A fennel stalk carried the coal that passed down knowledge from the gods to men; fact! Fennel stalks can also be used for soups, stocks and stews, while the leaves can be used as an herb seasoning. Good on sandwiches, yogurt, and seafood.
Potatoes – a spud rainbow.
Watermelon – most of you got Peace Yellow Flesh or Early Moonbeams (yellow) this week, but a couple folks may have gotten Sugar Babies or Crimson Sweets (red). I really like the yellow ones, I discovered this week. Pro tip for eating seeded watermelons – don’t chew, smash with your tongue and swallow the seeds.
Tomatoes – a mix of the varieties that are producing currently, in with the:
Peppers – a mix of the peppers that are ready for harvest (see last week’s newsletter for the full listing of tomatoes and peppers.)
Cucumbers – Lemon and Marketmore Slicing varieties
Green Beans & Dragon Tongue Beans
Okra – you can freeze this until you’re making stew this winter and use it to thicken it up, or sautee it now (but don’t cut open the pods until after you cook em, to avoid the slime-factor.
Kale (Dinosaur, Red Russian, and Dwarf Curly Blue varieties)
Beets & Beet Greens (the “greens” are only sometimes green, usually more deep red, and they’re bagged with your kale) Cook em up with your potatoes, add em to your salad – maybe a beet and fennel and arugula salad?
Arugula – salad, pesto, sammiches! The self-seeded children of the arugula you were eating this spring!
… we were hanging out with our friends Jacque & Bob, doing some “Dead End Squadding” – cruising the outskirts, hunting abandoned houses, ruined shacks, burned barns, and other such dead ends, investigating the histories and appreciating the beauty and interest we find there.
We usually just enjoy the places and take photographs, but when necessary, we’ll rescue some stuff …
This particular “shed spread” was literally falling apart, and it seemed the owner hadn’t been around for over a decade.
He’d been an interesting guy, judging by the half dozen giant blackboards that we found scrawled with diagrams and notes, buried in the collapsing trailer’s waist-deep piles of refuse. We sorted through moldy letters and notebooks, getting an understanding of who he had been and what he’d been up to out there.
Toward the end of our time exploring this dead end, we discovered an old woodstove – rusting, cracked & missing a couple of legs, but functional looking nonetheless.
The thick iron firebox was weighted down with firebricks: it was a tricky walk back out to the road through the rutted fields with the stove between us.
A couple of months later,
– we saw a post pop up in the Craigslist Free section that got us to get back out of bed, get back in our clothes, and go rolling through the alleys of South Minneapolis. It was for 16 Grolsch beer bottles, put out in the alley for whoever came by first to pick them up. Kristin brews beer, so those bottles were desirable – and we were both in the mood to go get them.
We were, indeed, the first vultures on the Grolsch scene, but as it turned out that other things we found along the way were the real treasures.
When we drive through the southside, we use the alleyways whenever possible, cruising for the wonderful free things that people often set out by their trash cans. On our way down toward the beer bottles, we scored a couple long sections of 6″ stove pipe, complete with elbows, a chimney cap, and a flue.
(And then, after we got the bottles, we found a shock-absorber-straining heap of landscaping bricks …)
Fast forward to today –
– we loaded up the car (with the dogs, Kristin’s dad Jim, and a bunch of tools) and headed to the Farm. It had snowed several more inches since our ‘Homecoming’ visit, so we still couldn’t get in with the car. We used the sled to haul our supplies up the hill, and got to work bringing heat to the trailer.
We didn’t know where exactly we wanted the stove to go. We weren’t sure if the stovepipes were the right size, or how they would work to meet our needs – we expected they might help some, but would require supplementation from purchased components – which we avoid whenever we can (both to save money and to avoid trips to the damn store).
In spite of all the uncertainty, the project flew along with grace and ease. The scavenged stovepipe pieces required only the slightest modifications to run where we wanted it to go – we merely cut one section down a few inches, and removed another short segment. Other than that, the already existing elbows all worked perfectly for where we wanted the stove to sit, and the window we wanted to run the chimney out of.
We took apart an old DIY trailer fender and used the sheet metal to seal in the window where the pipe ran out, and found a piece of thick plexiglass for the other side. Some old aluminum brackets I’d inherited from my dad’s basement junk hoard held the chimney in place, and a scrap of corrugated steel siding served as the heat-insulating spacer.
The stove was nestled into its new fire resistant home, among a couple of pieces of cement backer board (alley), a limestone tabletop (Craigslist Free ads), a granite streetcar paver block (road construction on Nicollet & 38th), and a landscaping brick (same alley cruise that’d yielded the stovepipes).
We were done well before the sun went down; the project gone from zero to completed in a single day, thanks to a well-stocked junkpile, a lot of luck, and our shared love of scavenging.
Even after a massive garage sale and some serious purging, I still had a ton of stuff to move out before the end of the year. However, there wasn’t really anyplace to put it all at the farm – the only structure of any significant size was the old travel trailer we’ll be calling home starting in March … but it has no locks, and there isn’t a ton of space in there anyway (especially if we want room to actually live in there come spring!)
We scoured the Craigslist “Free” listings, but nothing very useful came through – sheds too large to move, or in terrible shape, barely keeping out the elements, let alone mice and thieves. Once there was a “van box” – essentially a cargo truck’s box, but we just missed it, calling after someone had already claimed it.
December loomed, and time was running short – so we reluctantly started looking at non-free possibilities.
After pricing out options, we determined that our best bet would be a shipping container – one of the massive metal locking boxes that are used to transport goods overseas and cross country, on freighters and freight trains. These were a wonderful option … but spendy.
If we were going to have a massive metal box on the land, we wanted it to look decent – even our junk pile is being arranged with some kind of aesthetics in mind. For this reason, I really wanted a green one – not only is that my favorite color, but it would blend in with the foliage & match the travel trailer.
So when we found a huge 40-foot green one for relatively cheap, I thought we’d found The One.
But when we went to check it out, it was too rusted out and damaged- we couldn’t even get the doors to close, contrary to the claim in the ad copy. So we reluctantly passed, knowing we were running out of time to get something before the snow came in earnest and made it impossible to move a container onto the land. And we had to be all moved out by January 1st …
On November 20th, we finally found a good deal on a nice newish blue one – fresh off the boat, still loaded on a flatbed for easy transport.
It wasn’t green and it had a dude’s name in giant letters … but the price and quality were right and time was running out. and hey, at least it wasn’t red, yellow, or orange … blue would have to be my second choice.
So we paid the guy his cash, and drove an hour out to the farm to prepare the spot for him to deliver it – he had a dentist appointment he had forgotten to take care of first, so we had time to stop at the hardware store to pick up some 6×6 timbers for it to rest upon. On the drive out, we discussed painting the thing green, and checked Craigslist for free green exterior paint without luck.
As we finished preparing a place for it to go, level and square with the trailer, the seller called, saying “bad news” as a greeting. Uh oh.
He’d just gotten a phone call from the railyard – the shipping container we’d just bought and paid for had been released to him in error – and he had to return it. So we were’t going to get it, after all.
BUT he had been given a different one – which was not only 2 years newer & in two grades better condition – it was green.
And it said so, too, in no uncertain terms:
Two days later, it was Friday night, and Kristin and I were hanging out at home, waiting for our friend Bob to come over.
While we were waiting, I decided to check the Free listings on the local Craigslist.
Although we’d just scored an awesome shipping container, we still had need for storage down by the field, for tools, a dry & secure place for winter caching of our irrigation equipment, electric fence storage, etc.
So when I refreshed the list, the top item made me sit up straight and shout to Kristin – a free semi truck trailer!! At forty feet long by 8×10, it would be slightly larger than the shipping container – and perfect for our field storage needs.
It would be an amazing free score … but only if I could just get it before any of the other vultures out there did. And I knew from experience these kinds of things lasted mere minutes on the Free list.
So I sprang into action – taking my phone into the kitchen and calling Duane, the owner. The ringback tone while I waited eagerly for him to pick up was a country song about being free – the repetition of the word “free” in the chorus combined with the “too good to be true” nature of the free item I was calling about made me wonder if it was a prank, as the ring went on and on …
But suddenly it ended and a accented, mumbly, strange man came on the line. I scribbled notes furiously, although I only understood 1 in 3 words he spoke – he didn’t know the address where the trailer was parked – he could only give me directions on how to get to it. And his directions involved things like “go left at the big pile of dirt.”
I had no idea how we could move a semi trailer, but I wasn’t going to let it go without trying -so I wrote down pieces of the bizarre directions, and tried to make sense of his rambling, mumbled explanations for what he’d been using it for for 18 years, what condition it was in, etc.
While we were talking, Bob came in the front door with his girlfriend Sam. I waved when they peeked into the kitchen, but couldn’t really talk to them as I struggled to make sense of everything Duane was saying.
After five long minutes I got off the phone – not sure if he was going to hold it for me since I was the first person that had called after he posted the ad, not sure where this thing was located, not sure how we could move it even if we found it – and honestly, not really expecting I was going to be able to make it work out. So close … but it didn’t seem meant to be; too many questions, too much uncertainty.
So I went into the living room, where Bob and Sam were chatting with Kristin, and explained what was happening. I read them the disjointed directions from my notes.
As I read through them, Bob perked up, smiling larger and larger.
“I KNOW THAT TRAILER!” he laughed. “It’s literally right across the fence from my grandpa’s shop. If you climbed our fence you could jump on top of it.”
For years and years, Bob has worked at his grandfather’s auto body shop – I’ve hung out with him there a couple of times.
And the truck trailer that I’d been on the phone about when Bob walked into my house was had been parked literally inches from his property for almost twenty years, the entire time Bob had worked there.
He told us that he’d always wondered about it – who owned it, why it was there – it seemed to have nothing to do with the nearby businesses – just an isolated, unrelated semi trailer filled with & surrounded by a constantly changing pile of used car tires.
And it was awesome beyond the weird coincidence – because through his work at the auto body shop, Bob knew a guy with a semi truck who proved to be more than happy to help us pick it up and drive it to the Farm for a reasonable fee … despite the lack of registration, trustworthy tires, or working lights.
So on the heels of luckily seeing the ad and being the first to call, I was immediately provided with the exact location, and the means to move it.
The seemingly impossible logistics resolved into a piece of cake.
(A few days later, we met the truck driver at the semi and helped him get it hooked up. Kristin’s Dad rode with him while we followed behind, trying to prevent anyone else from getting behind him, as we took a route over the river and through the woods calculated to give us the best odds of avoiding nosy police – with “Eastbound & Down” on repeat on the stereo.
We made it unmolested, and convinced the driver to take his rig across the field to drop the trailer right where we wanted it on the edge of the field … a second 40-foot steel reminder, impossible to ignore, that serendipitous synchronicity happens.
We later called Duane’s cellphone again, just to hear his ringback tone and figure out what the “free” country song was … and of course this became a pile of coincidence …
The lyrics, while perhaps hokey and repetitive, were nonetheless crazily apt for the two of us – it was at that time one day from our wedding, and just over one month away from our two-month cross-country (mini)van roadtrip …
So we live in our old van Travel all across this land Me and you
… which we’ve been calling our “working honeymoon,” since we’ll be volunteering for room and board on three organic farms …
Lay underneath the harvest moon Do all the things that lovers do Just me and you
… our route looping us down to the furthestmost point of the sand bar known as the Florida Keys …
We’ll end up hand in hand Somewhere down on the sand Just me and you
… and then back to the Farm, in the rolling Sand Barrens of the St Croix River, a transitional journey from our lives in urban south Minneapolis to our little patch of woods down a remote dirt road …
We drive until the city lights Dissolve into a country sky Just me and you
… with Duane’s former semi trailer that we scored for free …
Just as free Free as we’ll ever be Just as free Free as we’ll ever be
… from the Free section on Craigslist, which we are regularly patrolling for farm materials, in order to minimize expenses, given that I’ll be making perhaps 1/15 the money that I made at the career I am leaving behind, in order to spend the hours of my days making a true living alongside my wife and our dogs …
No we don’t have a lot of money No we don’t have a lot of money No we don’t have a lot of money No we don’t have a lot of money No we don’t have a lot of money No we don’t have a lot of money No we don’t have a lot of money