CSA Week 2 Newsletter – Boredom is More Frightening

Well, today got off to an intense start and I’m coming down off the adrenaline now.

This morning, we wanted to fill up some rinse water basins for the salad mix. Our solar battery bank was a bit low, so I started up our generator in order to run the well. It started up LOUD, way way louder than usual. This was a concern, but we needed to water and it was still putting out electricity properly, so I let it run hoping it would settle down and smooth out. It did not settle, nor smooth. It started on fire.

Blowing on it was futile. It spread to the plastic housing. A little water from a nearby bucket wasn’t enough. The fire got larger inside the generator as it spread. The hose to the mushroom logs did the trick, and the fire was stopped before it spread or exploded.

Fortunately, it was still under warranty, and we had our old one (functional but loud as bellowing hell) on standby. But dang.

Glad it happened today, and not on Sunday – when we’d left it running unsupervised for 4 hours (watering the crops with the drip lines in each row … have I mentioned it doesn’t rain here anymore?) while we went to wade and float in the Saint Croix.

And here I’d thought I’d had my peak adrenaline moment of the week on Friday morning.

I woke up at 5:30 with the sun, trying to make sense of what I was hearing from outside. Something was .. yelling? Repeatedly. From down by the chicken yard? I threw on my robe and headed toward the sound.

I started recording – capturing the unusual cry for identification purposes, suspecting that whatever it was might hear me coming & disappear before I could see it.

But as I got nearer and nearer to the sound’s source – inside the chickenyard fence), it did not run away and I rounded the last tree trunk in the way, expecting to see a fox or maybe a fisher cat or coyote but definitely not a black bear cub and oh cute oh shit where’s Mom and I turned around and got of there and that’s in the video too:

stalking the mystery sound

Momma had led her cub into the chicken yard and then climbed over the fencing to knock over the garbage can with the chiclen feed inside.

smashed fence and bashed chicken feed: taken from safety atop the semi trailer

But baby couldn’t follow her over the crushed fences and got stranded. After spending some time up in the tree yelling “MOM!” over and over, he came down, met our flock, and found his way back out into the woods the way he’d come. Ten minutes later his cries stopped and we knew Mom had found him.

The next night I set up a game cam to see if they came back, but instead discovered we have an obese raccoon with no tail and strange lumps hanging out in there at night.

I don’t know, it’s been one of those weeks. Maybe for you too.

But I guess interesting times don’t seem like much of a curse to me.

Inside Box 2

In other news, there is a farm happening here. There is no rain happening. It is unclear if rain will ever happen, or has ever happened. It is not as hot as last week, though. And the clouds are beautiful. Oh, right, the farm … the weeds are being countered, the irrigation working hard to save lives. Zucchini is flowering. Some tomatoes are forming. The crops are not flourishing, but they are surviving.

The dude abides.
  • Salad Mix (Red & green lettuces, arugula, pea tips, bekana, maybe a leaf or two of mizuna)
  • Green Onions – they are starting to bulb a bit …
  • Radishes – oddly, this batch was in much better shape than the last week’s radishes. Milder and better formed. Delicious roasted. Don’t forget to chop off the greens before storing so the bulbs don’t get squishy! The greens can be either cooked, or blended into a pesto … which would a great idea to combine with the …
  • Garlic Scapes – we scavenged these off the Free List from a local gardener to share with y’all. The flower of the garlic plant, basically, full of flavor. Chop finely and treat like raw garlic in whatever you’d like.
  • Microgreens – either Red Cabbage or Kale
  • Cilantro – god I love the way it smells. This is the last of it for the foreseeable future due to the hot weather. Tastes a little bit coriander-esque because it was starting to bolt.
  • Fresh-ground corn meal – use this ASAP for maximum freshness!
  • We grew it last year, dried it over the winter, and shucked, stone-ground, re-stone-ground, and sifted it for you yesterday. It totally made my day when the random amount of cobs that we pulled out to process turned out to make EXACTLY the 44 cups worth of finished product that we needed for you! Want to get excited about your corn meal? I want you to, too. So here read this: The Search for Mandan Bride
  • Rhubarb Chutney – We had rhubarb to share! Chutney is like …a sweet and savory tangy chunky barbeque sauce, kinda. Use with meat or perhaps tempeh, if you are a vegetarian. Here’s the recipe we used if you’re curious about ingredients or anything.

CSA Week One: Here We Goooo!

I don’t think there is any way to talk about the week we’ve had or the field or the veggies or the future of life itself without Talking About the Weather.

As you are almost certainly aware, it is HOT. And it has been hot. And it’s going to stay hot. And this Hot came snarling on the heels of it being dry for weeks and then Cold too; in a one week span we went from covering the plants to save them from impending freezes to watering them copiously to save them from roasty toasty doom.

heating home one week before we saw 100 degrees

As you can imagine this has been a complicated dance. Stressful, sure. But also interesting, which is always nice – even when it’s hard to feel it from within the thick of the interestingness. (Like a day of raising and lowering and reraising and relowering all four sides of a giant greenhouse, trying to balance the defense against relentless high winds (close it down!) with defense against tripe digit sun roasting (open it up!).

a rare chance for rain?

The weather kind of sucks, sure, but I’m feeling optimistic – not that everything is going to work or that nothing will go haywire, but that it – the work, the stress, the joys and pains and beauty and lessons and sunshine and burns and flowers and fruits and thorns – will be a good use of our lifetimes, a worthwhile way to live.

I feel lucky to be living this dream, and I’m glad you’re all here with us.

Now let’s eat some vegetables.

Inside the Box

This morning, we woke up around 5:00 to get the leafy greens harvested before the sun got brutal with them, and to get as much as possible of the rest picked and packed before it hit the 90s. (Everything in the boxes was picked today.)

The harvest went smoothly, thanks in large part to a little help from our friends – Marty and Maddie rocked the picking and packing, and Grandpa Jim hung out with Otis while we harvested all of this stuff for you:

  • Salad Mix (several varieties of red & green Lettuces, Arugula, red & green Mizuna, Tatsoi, & Pea Tips) – a cool weather loving crop … we are watering like crazy, but can’t be sure how it will fare.
  • Spinach – with the early heat, our spinach crop was all right on the verge of “bolting” (which makes it less tasty), so we we harvested it all for you today! Spinach ravioli might be calling you this week.
  • Bok Choi – this is usually stir-fried at our place with whatever else is on hand.
  • Green Onions <- link – These will continue to grow and bulb, and we will keep including them in your boxes. We love these and use them constantly and we want you to join our cult.
  • Radishes <-link
  • Radish Microgreens add some zip to any dish! We had planned on doing some different flavors of micros for this box, but were thwarted by a series of unfortunate events that I am going to blame squarely upon one particular chicken. Anyway, the flavor of radish is pretty much the trademark of the first CSA box of the season, so celebrate the radical radish this week!
  • Cilantro – this heatwave is sadly most likely going to murder this cool weather crop, so enjoy it while you can!
  • Chive Blossom Bouquet – Pick the petals off with your finger tips – and sprinkle them on a salad perhaps. They provide a little bit of chive flavoring, in addition to the obvious visual appeal. Or you can infuse vinegar with them! Or mine for idears here.

. . .

PS – y’all are extended family now, so you’ll be among the first to hear about the newest magic growing out here on the homestead … :)

Resurrecting the Tin Can

When we saw the Spinning Plates farm profile on the WWOOF-USA website, I just knew it was meant to be – kids about Otis’s age, a scrappy homestead started under circumstances similar to ours- and the possibility of staying in a big old travel trailer in need of renovation.

Our own home is a similar structure (albeit smaller, and a few decades older), as is our own WWOOFer dwelling, the Albatross. So we had some experience working on such things, and we also wanted more (as we prepare for an addition to our home’s climate-controlled space).

After stops to visit family in New Orleans and our friends at other farms (Yokna Bottoms in Mississippi, Chastain Farms in Alabama), we arrived in Cedar Grove, North Carolina just after New Years, ready to spend two month living within the project we’d be working on – the renovation of the huge, rotting travel trailer they’d gotten for cheap a year before, hoping it would one day make a goat milking barn perhaps, or perhaps a dwelling for WWOOFers like us.

Tin Can in the background
Tin Can in the background

It was dark when we arrived, and cold. First impressions of the Tin Can were rather bleak. The floor was spongy at best, riddled with gaping holes, some patched with treacherous loose scraps of plywood, others wide open and serving as entrances for the cats. Not that they needed them – the front door frame was rotten and it would not close, and the remains of the back door had not been closed in years. It smelled dank and musty. The windows did not close, and the wind blew freely through the entire structure … chilly, but at perhaps a blessing, as fresh air.

ruin of the back door that had hung open for years

Kristin had a pretty strong opinion about the best, most helpful course of action: “We … should burn this down for them.”

She was kidding … mostly. Maybe. It was hard to believe it could be salvaged, especially by the likes of us. But, we started chipping away at the project the next day, one step at a time. First up was demolition – Farmer Lish explained her plans for the space – where the old walls needed to be removed, where new walls might go. So we started tearing out the interior closets and walls, salvaging what might be useful later, sorting the rest into burn pile and dump piles. Sadly we didn’t take any good “Before” photos, as we were working to focus on the positives …

(*note: we were invited to stay inside the house, but refused – we wanted to stay in the Tin Can all winter!)

We learned where it was safe to step, and where you had to tiptoe across the exposed floor joists. I put my leg all the way through the bottom only once during this training. After the first freezing night, we taped plastic over our windows and started closing up the openings in the walls and floor that let the wind race through the East bedroom (the one that actually had a floor, mostly).

Although it was significantly warmer outside than back on our farm, it sure isn’t balmy in the northern North Carolina wintertime. It rained a lot, sometimes for days at a time. Mud was everpresent, of a slippery but not sticky variety. Sometimes there were ice storms, where the slow drizzle coated everything in a quarter inch of solid ice – causing trees to collapse and shatter under the weight. The power went out for a couple of days as a result. It was … rather exciting really, and strange and beautiful too.

Anyway, the weather wasn’t a really big deal for us, since we were mostly working indoors. We had a propane heater in our room with which to stay toasty at night, and thaw out during the work days. Otis had a new pair of tall rubber boots for mud puddle stomping. Lish and Wayne bought a car port; we set it up out back and moved a whole pallet of 3/4″ plywood into it, where it would stay dry and I could cut pieces down to size as we refloored the entire building. Kristin found a pile of storm windows and matched them to the appropriate holes, Frankensteining them into place as needed. I did some temporary junkgineering to the front door so it would open and close.

Every day from the time we woke up until we fell asleep, at least one of us was working on the Tin Can – and when we weren’t working on it, we were thinking about it. When it was wet out we worked on the interior, and watched the leaks to learn how water was entering. When it was dry out, we worked on the exterior. Honestly, I didn’t think we could get it near a final state during our 2-month stay … but as I mentioned, the Spinning Plates Farm and the Tin Can had felt meant to be from the get go. And as things tend to do when things are meant to be – things just kept falling neatly into place.

We started with the back bedroom, which had already had the particle board floor stripped out. Before we could put the flooring on, we had to address the damages to the subfloor and walls – several studs and floor joists were rotten, and the rim joists (the edge of the structure, where wall meets floor) on both sides of the NW corner were completely destroyed.

So while Kristin focused on identifying and repairing the many leaks that had been letting water into the structure, I learned how to cut out damaged subfloor and framing, and repair it – using mostly salvaged cedar 2x4s from an old outdoor playset. I talked to myself incessantly and wrote notes on every surface with a Sharpie, like a madman. Everything had to line up properly, support the weight of the roof – and provide level, flat surfaces for the replacement floor boards and wall panels that we hoped to install next.

Once that was done, the plywood went in, and we started letting the renovations flow forward from the back bedroom toward the other end, where we slept. Next up was the ruin inside of the missing back door – before we could put a new door in to keep out the rain, before we could build a floor, we’d have to replace all the rotten framing, and expand the doorframe to accommodate the full-size replacement door. Again the rim joist and the attached studs and joists had been totally destroyed – not only by the constant rainwater, but by the termites that the moist, rotting wood had invited in.

We tried to find a replacement door of the same size, without any luck – so they bought a standard exterior door and we cut the metal skin, and rebuilt the door frame entirely to fit it.

From there the flooring project continued – first the old bathroom needed major work – a water heater in a closet had leaked for years and totally destroyed the floor and adjacent sheetrock, and the old toilet drain needed to be cleaned up and covered,

Then forward into the kitchen – where the hidden leak behind the cabinets had destroyed a section of wall and floor.

Around this time, we realized that I had been carelessly inhaling fiberglass stirred up by power tools and demolition. I had a sore throat and a nagging feeling that no amount of throat-clearing would fix.

So I started wearing a mask while I worked … and we turned up the priority of finding new wall panel material to cover all the exposed insulation left from the repair of the framing.

As you likely know, we are into old abandoned buildings – and the area was full of them, especially one specific type that we fell in love with – old tobacco curing barns, used to hang and dry the tobacco crops that once covered the local landscape. There were two right in the woods behind the farm – and when we asked, we learned that the neighbor just wanted them gone. So, of course we had to check them out.

And there beneath the blackened exterior siding boards (the builders had used fire to treat them against decay), we discovered beautiful rough-sawn pine boards, almost an inch thick, 8″ wide, and in lengths from 8 to 12 feet.

I knew this was what we needed – to not only serve functionally and inexpensively as wall panels – but to also build beauty, local history, and style into the structure we were bringing back from death’s door. It took some experimenting, but once I figured out how to loosen a board from the inside and then work the various options of a wonderful Wonderbar, I could quickly salvage the boards without damaging them in the process.

A corner was turned, once these boards started to be deployed – and suddenly it seemed that the resurrected building just might be not only functional … but beautiful, too. Motivation, already high, became nearly obsessive, as the carpentry project blossomed into an artwork, something inspiring to work on and behold transforming.

There was still much to be done – a new front door and frame, repairing the subfloor inside the door, move our whole room out and rebuild the floor before replacing our bed, build an interior wall, source smooth cheap wall paneling from craigslist, panel all the holes in the walls, keep chasing leaks, … Kristin padded and carpeted both bedrooms and rebuilt the ravaged gutters and sanded/sealed the plywood flooring, I added water catchers over both doors, stabilized and leveled the front steps, used junked appliances from the demolition to create a temporary back step and stairs. We cleared away the piles of debris to the dump, jacked up and leveled the whole thing on concrete blocks … and just generally tried our best to make it all useful … and lovely.

And against all odds, it worked. We finished with a day or so to spare before we had to leave to return to the North to start a new season’s seeds – just enough time to throw a little house warming ice cream social, and relax for a couple of nights within the project that had defined our winter. It was intensely satisfying, and we both learned so much … perhaps primarily, about how capable we can be at making it work.

if anyone ever opens the old electrical panel door, they’ll find this.

It was a winter well-spent.

a Post-Season Newsletter

Howdy again everyone! I’d planned to write up a year-in-review post shortly after the Harvest Party, but life took a weird turn and I wound up in the hospital instead. No, I didn’t catch Covid at the party (as far as I know, no one did woo hoo!), but I came down with … well, we still don’t know what it was. If you came to the party you might recall that I had a sore hand, which I blamed on rough-housing with some children the previous night. I thought I’d sprained the tendons in my hand somehow.

Well, it got worse and worse, swollen up like a balloon and excruciatingly painful to the slightest pressure, and by Tuesday I was in the ER and then under general anesthesia for surgery, for debridement of the presumed infection within my wrist joint and tendons. After several days in the hospital on IV antibiotics they sent me home with a port in my arm so Kristin could continue giving me antibiotics intravenously for the next two weeks.

While I’d been in the hospital, winter had arrived for a surprise early visit,  Slowly, the swelling went down and the gnarly incision closed up, and even more slowly, the pain receded and I regained at least some use of my hand. However, the cultures they took from my wrist fluids failed to provide clues to what the heck had gone wrong – a mycobacteria grew from one culture, but was deemed most likely from contamination, and all the other cultures grew nothing at all. So .. we still don’t know what happened. Mystery infection, or some kind of runaway inflammatory process? Time may tell, or maybe it won’t … I just hope that never happens again because it sucked!

With my hand now finally mostly-functional, we are working to get the farm ready for the winter, and next Spring – cleaning up the field, organizing the mess (we got a second new semi trailer … one will become to the garden center, the other a building material warehouse & workshop), getting wood piles prepared for the next three winters, and fighting the endless onslaught of mice, which are patrolling the woods in unprecedented numbers.

Our usual canned goods sale was cancelled due to the pandemic, so once we sell what we can to ya’ll, we will finish buttoning up the farm for winter, and hit the road southward – we plan to spend most of the frigid season in North Carolina, with a couple stops to see family and familiar farms as well.

Next year we’ll be keeping the CSA at roughly the same size again, preferring to maintain the quality and sanity that we have learned to balance at this scale (let us know if you know that you will or won’t be signing up again, when you get a chance!) 

Stay warm, stay safe, and remember to notice the beauty around you and the things you love about your people. Thanks so much for surfing along with us this season, it’s been an honor to feed you and yours.


the Que Sehra Fam

Week 18: Kicking the North Wind out of the bedroom

This week we finally tore into the north wall of our home – the 1953 travel trailer / deer hunting shack.

We’ve wanted to do something about it for years – it was in rough shape, and when the frigid North Wind came blasting across the barrens, you could feel it whispering into our bed. The lack of insulation meant condensation and decay where our hard-earned wood heat passed through the wood sheathing – and we knew it wasn’t structurally sound by the way it would shimmy and shake when we’d bang on it in vain efforts to silence the chewing, acorn-dropping mice within.

With another winter looming, and the Fishhouse vacant, we decided to finally make our move – dismantling our 2×4 bedframe and packing for a few nights “downstairs.”

Of course, this coincided with the coldest few nights around, so we made heavy use of the little sheet metal wood stove that had come with the free structure (an ice-fishing shack that breaks down into a nice flat pile of 4×8 panels for trailering out onto lakes).

Upstairs, the work went quickly; I tore out (and burned) the rotten wood paneling and the small amount of remaining insulation – just a few sad, soggy inches fallen to the floor. One old panel had been done in a quick and dirty spraypaint impression of a camouflage pattern by the deer hunters who’d come before us – nifty for historical context, but pretty fugly too. Most all of the wall consisted of only an empty air space (mouse space?) between the interior paneling and the thin metal exterior skin. The studs had mouse tunnels from section to section, and one spot was completely disintegrated.

While I finished gutting the wall, Grandpa Jim rebuilt the rotten framing. Steffan & Britney had given us some 1″ insulation from their wedding keg cooler – perfect to make our insulation upgrade happen. I cut out the requisite odd shapes to fill each void, and Jim cut new plywood to fit around the walls and windows. Another friend had donated dozens of bottles of Great Stuff foam that had been … although they’d expired in 2008, many were still perfectly functional, perfect for sealing up remaining gaps and cracks.

Uncle Tom had given us some pretty 2-foot carpet squares, which completed the bedroom refresh. I don’t really have many pictures to share, but how much do you really care about this project, really? Sorry about that, but hey – that’s what happened this week! And for us, it was pretty sweet.

Hrrmm, what else … more frosts, even colder than before. More field clean-up. Visited Brandon & Nora’s new baby / Bear’s brother, Jaden. And the town’s soybean farmers harvested their crops, rendering millions of lady beetles homeless … ugh, we’d hoped this year just wasn’t going to feature the standard annual plague, but no such luck!

Beats locusts, anyway.

Inside the Final Box

some lucky person got this whimsical tater
  • Brussels Sprouts – Micro cabbages! If you eat bacon, these pair great with it. And onions. You can roast, pan-fry, or eat em rrrraw.
  • Butternut SquashMake a squash soup with the sage perhaps!
  • Kale (Curly Blue, Scarlet, & Dino) – Might be great together with your sprouts, ie https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/kale-brussels-sprout-salad-368295
  • Sage – adds great flavor to stews, classic seasoning in stuffing. You can easily dry it if you want to use it later.
  • Onions – there will be bulk boxes of these available in the after season if you’re interested!
  • Purple Potatoes be like

what will be will be