Ending Winter

After two and half months away from snow and subzero temperatures, our family of winter vagabonds has returned to the glorious North.

seed starting greenhouse slumbering in the snow

It was a successful journey – we weren’t sure what to expect from our first roadtrip with Otis, given the long drives, strange places, and constant change. Fortunately, he loved the shifting locales and characters, and we quickly found ways to make the 4,000+ mile trek bearable for the little guy while strapped into his safety bucket. He met countless animals, rode in boats, enjoyed parades, had his first tastes of so many foods, loved the Ocean, and learned to walk. It was a momentous journey for a guy not yet a year old – and a joy for us to guide him on.


Otis and one of the many goats he met along the way

Given the uncertainties, we’d planned our route around friendly farms that we’d visited before, where they know us and were excited to meet our spawn. We revisited our friends at Wu Wei Farm, Habitable Spaces, the Chastain Farms, and Yokna Bottoms Farm as we looped through the south, in between visiting family and friends along the route.

(these are statues and not our actual families.)

The winter wandering went so well that we’ve decided that we will continue to do our winter snowbirding, rather than build a more permanent cozy winter dwelling on the farm (yet, anyway).

While we were away, the Best Neighbors Ever kept the farm’s driveway clear, and even shoveled off our front steps in anticipation of our arrival – of course, we’ll still have some snow to battle as we get settled in to start seeds for the year, clearing access to the woodpiles, greenhouses, outhouse, root cellar, chicken coop, and storage spaces … or maybe we’ll get lucky, and it’ll all melt in the next few days?

a welcoming driveway awaits us

I feel my mental gears grinding slightly as they shed the winter’s rust, switching back into Farm Mode. We’ve ordered our seeds for the season (Kristin is more than ready to get the onions started ASAP!), volunteers are getting lined up, and we’re signing up members for this year’s CSA.

It was a lovely winter and a wonderful journey – but we are happy to be home, and ready to rock.

Bring the Spring!

Week 18 News – Th-th-th-that’s All Folks!

Wow.

This year sure shot past fast, considering how many eternities and infinities were crammed into every day and week of it.

It’s a good time for it to come to a close; there is a ton to do around the farm to prepare for our first winter with the baby, plus all the field and greenhouse clean-up, party preparation, and heck, maybe we can even find the time to get the bread oven built somehow.

And it’s been so, so gloomy, I love the Sun. I am not a fan of long periods of gray, even though the monochromatic gloom of the sky provides a beautiful backdrop to the fiery autumn maple leaves.

Anyway, yeah. It’s been a heck of a year. From the late-departing Winter that leaped straight into a blazing, humid droughty Summer to the early frosts and the chilly damp of this sunless purgatory, the weather has been an ongoing challenge.

While we did the dance of the first-time parents, our produce productivity plummeted. The weeds staged a triumphant comeback, bursting back from the single seasonal round that they’d ever lost, the voles staged parades to celebrate our decision to try no-till another time.

Our foes, such as they are, are at least worthy ones.

And you know what?

It was a good year.

In the field, the strong and the serendipitous survived, abiding along to the always-implied strains of “Que Sera, Sera.”  It didn’t really feel stressful. In fact, I think it seemed less stressful than any other year, really.  Sure, we made a lot less money, and The To-Do List got longer rather than shorter.

But it was worth it. It was a season where our major crop wasn’t a vegetable, and the major construction project wasn’t a guest shack, or greenhouse, or a root cellar.

It was the year that we let the farming and the homestead slide into the background ever so slightly, and let them work for us, a bit more on their own. They carried us through: the habits, foundations, mechanisms, and momentum we’ve scraped together in the half a decade we’ve been learning how to live on the Farm.

And this allowed us to grow our Otis as our primary focus, making it possible for him to sink nourishing roots, to rise into the light – with the living farm and forest his ecosystem.

We three grew a lot this year.

Season Six is already, even mere days later, lit by a magical glow in my memory.

And wow, am I excited for what’s to come.

 

 

Box 18

Baby Sweet Potato – As in, a baby-sized sweet potato. We haven’t given these out before, because there is a rather long curing process to develop the sugars and the potatoes aren’t ready to be dug until late in the year. They are not particularly sweet, but they are tasty! They cooked up quicker than I expected, possibly because of their freshness. Try making home fries, sweet potato hash browns, or maybe frying or grilling slices of them. I find that coconut oil compliments them nicely.

Butternut squash – These work well for soup and baked goods (it would substitute well in any pumpkin recipe) because they are moist. I also like them because they are easy to peel, so they can be cubed or grated. Nothing wrong with just baking them up in the oven either.

Brussels sprouts – People were enthusiastic about these in last week’s box, so here they are again! These ones are more normal-sized.

Cabbage – the critters love them too.

Leeks

Kohlrabi – I expected these to be bigger but it seems that they are just maintaining. Has anyone noticed how cloudy and cool it has been???

Potatoes

4 Varieties of Kale – I like kale in squash soup. Neighbor Marcia recommends kale with cubed sweet potatoes.

Sage – works well with squash and potatoes and in hearty winter stews. Dries well for later use too.

Cthulian squash vine
Cthulian squash vine

Fire Roasted Salsa fixin's - smoked tomatoes, roasted peppers and onions
Fire Roasted Salsa fixin’s – smoked tomatoes, roasted peppers and onions

battling gophers
battling gophers

packing pickled peppers
packing pickled peppers

Week 17 – the second to last CSA News of the Year!

This is the week where this song is constantly in our heads as we scurry about trying to save food from the formidable forces of nature and get it safely delivered to you all:

The Fall has proven to be as unforgiving as the Spring was for us – we had a frost last Friday night, and a freeze this Friday night, which killed off all the hot weather crops in the field.

We ordered a giant 11′ wide roll of row cover and saved the salad row from the icy grip of death, which was great … but now there are deer that have learned that they are quite capable of leaping over our electric fence, and they are huge fans of the salad buffet we salvaged, as well as the fall carrot and beet’s tops, the kohlrabi, etc. Once in a while they graze on the weeds too, which is polite of them at least.

deer print and munched beet tops
deer print and munched beet tops

And they’re not the only hungry mammals making munchmeat out of our crops – an invasion of pocket gophers has pushed into the carrot and salad rows, as well as the greenhouses.  They aren’t even bothering to fill their holes in, so that they can run back and forth and gorge to their fat little hearts’ content.

gopher mayhem in the carrot row
gopher mayhem in the carrot row

Hell, even the chickens have decided to start invading the field, and only grudgingly scatter back when threatened with stern admonitions.

So, we have plenty of battles to choose from whenever the spirit to fight takes hold. My fighting spirit is on the rebound now, thanks to the wonders of strong antibiotics and the highest recommended dosage schedule of ibuprofen. My advice is to not simply ignore a cracked wisdom tooth filling until it starts hurting. Do you want pain? Because that’s how you get pain. As well as an inability to either open or close your jaw. Fortunately, it’s a necessary and legitimate farm task to hang out with Otis and keep him happy, which was quite both doable and therapeutic even with a swollen throbbing half of a head.

All the above kinda sounds grim maybe, but life on the farm doesn’t feel that way at all. We have good company, beautiful surroundings, a fascinating tiny human, and the days are never boring. I wouldn’t want anything else.

Inside Box 17

Buttercup winter squash – These are the preferred squash for us and the field rodents.
Red mizuna – In the spirit of CSA overabundance we provide you a large helping red mizuna!  It has aggressively reseeded and is now drowning out some of our other plants, so we must devour it for any chance, no matter how small, of beets. Fresh, it is quite peppery, but cooking will mellow it out. Also consider using it like an herb, like parsley in tabouli, or creating a unique Asian inspired pesto, or tossing it with potatoes.
Choy – a good accompaniment to the mizuna.
Brussels sprouts – Frost is great for the cole crops. It makes them sweeter. Most people love these roasted up with garlic and bacon but there is plenty of inspiration out there including eating them raw!
Carrots
Green onions
Radishes
Sweet Peppers
Cilantro

 

Habanero Gold pepper jelly, setting up
Habanero Gold pepper jelly, setting up

 

squash being snuggled in away from the freezing night
squash being snuggled in away from the freezing night

 

this mushroom growing in the ground cherries looks just like a husked one from above
this mushroom growing in the ground cherries looks just like a husked one from above

Sweet (Peppers) (Week) 16 (Newsletter)

And this would be the week that Jack Frost came to the farm. His visit was marked by sweeping the creosote from the chimney, the first firing of the wood stove, sheets over the pepper plants, salvage harvests of the final field tomatoes, and screens being swapped for storm windows. The predicted low for our township on Friday night was 38, but we’ve learned that our low spot in the glacial valley will usually drop further, so we were not taken unawares by the frost that came to the field, icing leaves and freezing flowers, with the temp bottoming out below 30 degrees.

top temp is the recorded low overnight on this frosty thermometer
top temp is the recorded low overnight on this frosty thermometer

It’s hard to believe that just the weekend before, I was sweating on the screen porch and not wanting to go outside into the sunshine, but that’s Minnesconsin for ya. And it looks like there is worse to come this week – I see a predicted low of 30, which could mean a hard freeze of 20 in the field! So this will be a week of preparing for that.

Woo hoo!

inside Box 16

Today was marked by yet another instance of rainy harvest, which seems to have happened a ridiculous number of times this season, given how very little rainfall we’ve had in general. It makes it tricky to pack things into paper bags, but other than that we made do pretty easily with the help of a couple of retired market canopies.

Salad mix– Neighbor Marcia suggests using these leaves in wraps and on sandwiches.

Salad row lookin' fine
Salad row lookin’ fine

Potatoes – The “All Blue” variety. They may make an odd-looking potato leek soup, but we figure you get white-fleshed potatoes most of your life. Plus these are more nutritious!

Jester acorn squash – Mom cuts these in half and steams them upside down in the oven, and then fills the bowl with butter and brown sugar. Or you could make it a main dish bu salting, oiling, baking and filling it with chicken and wild rice soup or a rice pilaf.

Ground cherries – the sweet and cute little sibling of tomatillos. We sorted out any bad or green ones but, to spare our sanity may have left some that were not completely ripe. We like both flavors – the sweet and tart and the smooth mellow ones.

using a light beneath the glass table to determine which ground cherries to keep and discard
using a light beneath the glass table to determine which ground cherries to keep and discard

Leeks – We figured out a great way to plant these using a slightly tapered table leg. Seems to have worked out well! There might be dirt between the layers, since the whole white part is grown underground. If you slice them lengthwise, you can clean out any grit that snuck in. Some recipes say to discard the green top part, but it’s still quite edible. Chop em up and sautee them in dishes!

Parsley- Great in soup, and tis the season … potato leek soup? If you roast veggies, you can toss this with them when taken from the over, to balance the earthly veggies with a fresh bright flavor.

Sweet Pepper Medley – With hard frosts looming, we harvested all the sweet peppers in the field, so this box is bountiful with them! Have you tried simply eating the red ones raw like apples? Quite good.

Eggplant – The cold weather this week is going to put an end to eggplants. We ate some sliced, salted, and fried (no batter or coating) the other night and I thought, I am going to miss you eggplant.

Salad Tomatoes – Some of the season’s last!

things you see when visiting neighboring lands during the River Road Ramble
things you see when visiting neighboring lands during the River Road Ramble

new decoration in the outdoor shower
new decoration in the outdoor shower

the bounty of summer's end at the Market last weekend
the bounty of summer’s end at the Market last weekend

gnawing on a sweet pepper
gnawing on a sweet pepper

gnawing on the mower trying to obtain a mouse. she managed to rip out the spark plug wire completely instead
Widget gnawing on the mower trying to obtain a mouse. she managed to rip out the spark plug wire completely instead

Week 15 CSA News – Summer’s Encore

So this was the week that summer came back for just long enough to remind us that we didn’t actually love everything about it. By today, after a few sweaty days and sticky nights, we were all happy to get back to bemoaning how chilly and gray things are, which we’d only just barely been able to get into last week.

With all the temperature changes, you’d think we’d have had an abundance of stormy rainfall, but of course that isn’t how the drips fall out on the Barrens. We had just shy of 1/2″ total … enough to whet the thirst of the fall salad, to be sure. And although it’s easy to feel angsty over how dry things have been for us this year, it’s refreshing to realize that too much moisture is just as much of a problem – perhaps more, since we can irrigate, but farms who got swamped this season can’t turn on a field dryer.

tis the season to make Fire Jelly
tis the season to make Fire Jelly

Otis on the crabapple picking expedition
Otis on the crabapple picking expedition

We did plenty of fruit scavenging and foraging – mostly tart crabapples from a friend’s place and wild grapes from the Barrens by the farm. We learned that the low-hanging grapes most readily accessible were woody-tasting and made for mediocre preserves, so we adapted, using our advanced ape brains to acquire the sweeter, plumper, most abundant fruit from 30 feet in the air.

Neighbor Don lifts Gabe & Jeff skyward, to pick crabapples from his tree
Neighbor Don lifts Gabe & Jeff skyward, to pick crabapples from his tree

The grape vines that were most successful at graping had often killed their host trees, by stealing all their sunlight. This meant that there were grape buffets way up high out of reach … unless some enterprising primates realized how weakened the grape-killed tree scaffold was, and rocked the entire thing until it crashed to the ground for easy picking! Much celebrating and jelly was made in the wake of this discovery.

a laden grape vine is taken home for processing, like a hunter's deer
a laden grape vine is taken home for processing, like a hunter’s deer

Box 15

Fall Salad Mix – First cutting! A less lettuce-y mix than our spring salad, with a variety of flavors and textures. It includes: Curly green lettuce, cavendish red lettuce, arugula, green and red mizuna, tat soi, and a few pea tips with more to come.

Dang it, I meant to take a photo of the beautiful mix all laid out on the processing table!

Tomatoes – A nice addition to your salad.

Bok Choy – did you know that “the Cantonese word choy can be translated loosely as ‘cooking greens’”? I just read that in Mark Bittman’s great reference for storing and cooking vegetables, How to Cook Everything. If you have Amazon Prime it’s free through Prime Reading.

Onions – Good in most things really. Not many things will as quickly bring a spouse around sniffing the air and proclaiming hunger as do onions hitting a hot frying pan.

Tomatillos – Good in a few things. People often ask what to do with these and salsa is the play. But I have also used them to make a southwestern chicken soup, or they can be sautéed with other veggies, or eaten raw …  but the main thing we do is broil or grill them, and blend them up with garlic, onion, and salt. I like that they have a sweet and tangy flavor and that they make a thick, not runny, salsa.

Peppers – sweet ripe ones and a few jalapeños. Good for salsa, fajitas, stir fry, or crunching on raw. I can tell the night temperatures have been warmer this year because of the amount of ripe peppers that we’ve been harvesting.

Broccoli heads – maybe some broccoli cheddar soup, broccoli casserole, or a broccoli quiche? Something warm and hearty sounds good to me today.

Zucchini – Still going, until the frost comes.

Cucumbers

Spaghetti squash – More potential than just treating it like spaghetti. It could be baked into a cheesy casserole or even used with an Asian peanut sauce 

the level 1 bluff of a hognose snake
the level 1 bluff of a hognose snake

 

Loading the solar dehydrator with "chicken fat" bolete mushrooms from across the road
Loading the solar dehydrator with “chicken fat” bolete mushrooms from across the road

what will be will be