Tuesday, October 30, 2012

And I thought I was prepared....

With the remnants of hurricane Sandy bearing down on our little corner of WV we have been busy the past few days making last minute preparations in case we lost power from either high wind or snow accumulations. Part of these preparations included rearranging food in our two freezers so that we could concentrate on using food from one and using the other for more long-term storage.  This strategy is not just because of the storm but is also part of our winter food-usage plans.  Some weeks ago I had also defrosted these two large freezers and placed food that needed to be eaten first in the freezer compartment of one of our two refrigerators.  This is the same fridge that is in my little milking area and where I store my milk.  Last minute storm preps yesterday involved a trip to town in the morning to pick up some milk since the goats are tapering off now with once-a-day milking and to pick up a few other perishable items.

Yesterday when I went to rummage in that refrigerator's freezer compartment I discovered that the food was mostly defrosted.  What????  How could that be?  Had I been so preoccupied with storm preparations that I failed to notice the refrigerator wasn't even working?  Guess so.  Unfortunately I had packed that little compartment full when I cleaned out the large freezer so I had a lot of mushy food to sort through.  There were a couple of packs of homegrown sausage and bacon, some sauteed shitake mushrooms, blackberries we had picked, and bags of cranberries slated for future muffins this winter.  There were also some zip-lock bags of goat milk that I had saved for soap-making.  There was also lots and lots of sweet corn from our garden.  We determined that everything was still fit to eat (mostly) so the day was spent trying to salvage all this food.  In the end I made a huge pot of corn chowder with the corn, bacon and mushrooms and a blackberry cobbler for dinner.  That may end up being dinner for the week based on the quantities involved.  I made cranberry sauce from the several bags of cranberries and I ended up cooking the sausage and we will reheat it to eat with our eggs and whatever else I can think of that goes with sausage.

One bag of store-bought strawberries leaked all over the freezer and mingled with some leaking goat milk (yuck) and I just couldn't manage to deal with all that corn.  Fortunately we have chickens that will appreciate what we couldn't save.  Now there is a cooler full of chicken food sitting on the porch in the great outdoor refrigerator until I get it fed to the chickens.  It is snowing now so I think it will keep fine, much better than in my dead fridge.  Because we tend to always have a back-up strategy, we moved important items (beer and cheese mostly) to a newer fridge that we had not placed in service yet.  This is mostly because I still need to run some electric to where that fridge is located.  It is now connected by a 25-foot extension cord.  I suppose that project will have get moved to a higher priority on that "to-do" list. This is also where I need to thank Don for spending a couple of hours yesterday cleaning out the new fridge that had accumulated a bit of mold and yuck from sitting empty for a few months.

As this day wears on the snow just keeps falling and we now how 4 inches of accumulation and it is now predicted to keep on falling until tomorrow sometime.  So:
Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Nut Job

One of the wonderful things about living in WV is the bounty that fills our woods and fields through out the year.  This is the time of year to go nut-gathering.  Timing is critical otherwise you find this:

Pile of walnut hulls left by an industrious squirrel.

Black walnut trees commonly grow in the moist bottom land along our road so all one has to do is hop on the ATV and go looking.  We also have lots of walnut trees on our farm.  We strapped containers on the 4-wheelers and headed off for a ride on a lovely warm fall day.

One of the bonuses of collecting walnuts off our gravel / dirt county road is that the minimal traffic crushes the hulls off the very hard inner nut shell.  Because there is so little traffic, one can park in the road and gather walnuts.   As long as the roads are not muddy, the hull-less nuts can be picked up off the road.  If it happens to be a wet period then those nuts become part of the road bed.  A lot of the nuts I gathered were in the road and already de-hulled.

Pre-hulled walnuts collected in the road washed and drying in the sun.

As we were tooling down the road on our walnut-collecting adventure, we stopped to visit with a neighbor.  He happens to have two large chestnut trees in his yard along with walnut trees too.  I happen to love raw chestnuts.  They are commonly roasted (on an open fire according to the Christmas carol) but I have never really liked them this way.  He offered to share some chestnuts so we spent a few minutes in his yard sorting through porcupine-like outer hulls picking up the shiny and brown leathery nuts.  Gloves are definitely a must!  I also picked walnuts (in the hull) out of his yard.

Chestnuts encased in their spiny hulls.

Unfortunately, chestnuts commonly fall victim to the chestnut weevil that lays its eggs in late summer in the outer burs.  As the nuts mature, tiny larvae form and eventually eat into the nut meat. If you pop the nuts in the freezer for a few days immediately after picking, the larva don't develop and the nuts will store without being ruined.
Chestnuts ready to pop into the freezer.

One thing about nuts, they generally come well-protected with outer hulls.  Instead of spiny burs, walnuts come with messy, brown-staining hulls which are commonly used as a natural dye.  The outer hull is generally green when fresh but quickly turns black.  Gloves are a must for working with walnuts to prevent nearly permanently staining fingertips.

Freshly picked walnuts.

Folks use various methods of de-hulling walnuts ranging from putting them in their driveway and driving over them to remove the hull to smashing them with a hammer.  In any event the walnuts must cure and dry before they can be cracked open to get to the nut meat.  Some folks cure them in the oven to speed the process and others let them dry naturally so that by winter, one can sit by the fire and crack nuts.  I have a friend who has described her method of curing walnuts in her blog Dandelion Dairy.

Walnuts have a very hard shell when dried so most people use a hammer.  It seems however that everyone that collects walnuts has their preferred methods of cracking them.  Walnuts are generally cracked from the flat side rather than from the edge as are hickory nuts.  As soon as mine cure a bit I'll be sitting on the floor, hammer in hand trying to get enough nut meats to put in our oatmeal this winter. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

October Veggie Garden

It is October 21  and the veggie garden is mostly put to bed for the winter.  

I skipped taking a photo of all the frost killed plants because most things looked so DEAD.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, okra, squash, and peppers all wilted or turned black; gone for the year.  Many of the tomatoes were already dried up from various blights and I can't say I was sad to see the end of the peppers.  A couple of days were spent clearing out vines and dead plants so the garden looked pretty bare.

All the plants are gone.

Broccoli and brussel sprouts are pretty frost tolerant so they are still growing.  Often they last well into December.  We have picked a bit of broccoli already and it looks like a few more heads may have a chance to mature since warm weather is predicted for this week.  Kale and collards are much better after a touch of frost so they are still in the garden and we will pick them to eat fresh until the weather turns really cold.  What ever remains of them will go into the freezer.
Collards and kale.

We erected a temporary fence around the kale and collards from livestock panels to give them a bit of additional protection.  Deer pressure this time of year is generally greater than other times of year even with our electric fence still connected.  Also they need protection from smaller mauraders:

Chickens can now free range in the garden.

Our small flock of mixed-breed chickens can now free range in the garden and scratch around in all the mulch looking for bugs and seeds.  I love to wander down to the garden and just watch them.  Even though the growing season is technically over, it is fun to see such industrious activity in the garden this time of year.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The great excuses for October

It has suddenly dawned on me that October is flying by and the Intermittant Farm Report has been more intermittent than usual so I thought I might ought to give an update. My first excuse is that I have been running an outdated version of Internet Explorer and Blogger would no longer load on IE7.  I finally got around to upgrading to IE8 so at least Blogger works again.

My second excuse is that on the first day of October, the does finally decided that yes indeed it was fall, signaling that a young doe's fancy turns from food to bucks.  As a result, there was a succession of five days filled with seven restless, bleating does followed by me leading a parade of various bucks twice a day back and forth from their pen in the back field to their anxiously awaiting mate.  Because does only stay receptive to breeding for 12 to 24 hours, breeding of individuals has to occur within a very short window of opportunity or else one must wait 21 days for does to cycle again.  Because we hand breed, each buck is put in a pen with one doe and then removed after a successful mating.  Later in the day the mating is repeated to help insure a successful breeding.  WIth one or two does coming in to season each day, that made for a lot of hiking back and forth with anxious, smelly bucks. 

Gratefully, by my birthday on the 7th, matings for October were successfully completed and I could actually take a day off for my birthday (third excuse).  I had friends come by to visit my bucks (and maybe us?) to check out potential suitors for their does.  This visit culminated in the great "chicken swap" the next day.  She needed a rooster for her flock and I ended up with an excess of them.  She had a few extra hens.  So Voila!  I have more hens and her chicken "Wild One" can set on fertile eggs and be happy and fulfilled.

Also on my birthday, Don and I had a great visit with Leslie and Diane where we spent the afternoon at their house. We ate a late lunch/early dinner of manicotti that was worked off playing four games of cornhole. But then we packed it all back on again eating birthday cake. 

This brings us to Monday the 8th which was the day of the actual chicken swap (fourth excuse).  I took the rooster that I had grabbed the night before off the roost, and took him to town.  My friend is an urban farmer of sorts.  She doesn't live in town but just outside the city limits.  I admire her accomplishments raising food (veggies, milk and eggs) and fiber in a non-farm setting.  We scooped up some extra hens and put them in dog crates for their short journey to their new home. 

My new chickens.
 Tues the 9th I don't really remember.  Maybe I was in a delayed sugar coma from Sunday. I hope I don't offend anyone.  I won't really use this an an excuse.

I'll pick Wednesday as my fifth and sixth excuses.  Wednesday was spent gathering and organizing produce and craft exhibits to enter in our local Black Walnut Festival.  I do have to admit that Don did most of veggie organizing though. He also always enters the Black Walnut woodworking competition which pays $25 for first place.  It used to be $75 but I suppose the economy has taken a toll on everything.  The exhibits were taken to town Wednesday evening and entered in the agricultural and craft exbibits with the rest of the local entries.  It is always fun to see how one's largest sweet potato stacks up against your neighbor's largest sweet potato and if that walnut lamp Don spent hours hand sanding is deemed worthy of the $25 prize.  First place for the agricultural exhibits pays $3.00 so we always hope to at least win gas money to get our stuff to town and back.

Wednesday was also the time to pick remaining veggies in the garden before the first predicted frost of the season.  We seem to be overrun with peppers of all colors. 
Asampling of the peppers.
 Also on Wednesday, another friend travelled from Mason County to pick up three of my Nigerian Dwarf goats that will now be residing at Indigo Acres Farm.  I will miss them but I know they will have a great home.  She wanted to increase her herd a bit and I needed to reduce mine a little.  I'll get a goat kid or two back next spring with different genetics and she will have several additional does that should serve her well with both milk and kids over the next few years.  This also means of course that "herd reductions" are generally only temporary.

Thursday was busy with salvaging the green peppers after the first killing frost of the season.  It was right on time because our growing season on average ends on the 10th of October and by gosh if it wasn't dead-on this year.  I'm beginning to feel like those folks who start hiding excess zucchini in people's cars.  We made an ATV trip around our back road that is populated with hunting camps to give a huge bag to a friend who is here to escape the heat of the deep South for a few weeks to enjoy the lovely cool fall weather.  Fortunately he likes peppers. I'll use this day as excuse number 7.

Friday was miscellaneous chore day in the morning culminated by a trip to the fair in the afternoon with my childhood best friend who lives out-of-state.  Definitely a GREAT excuse so that will be number 8.  Because my Spinone (dog) Tia is so adept at opening gate latches I decided it was time to repair a few of them.  The goats are pretty good at it too so I have come home a couple of times this week to a galloping goat herd greeting me in the driveway.  It was also time to change the in-line sediment filter in our spring-fed water system.  I also used today as an opportunity to start ripping out dead garden plants.  Our spring is adjacent to the veggie garden and I had to wait for the spring to cycle so I could be sure the pump hadn't lost it's prime.  Flow is slow this time of year so it didn't ever cycle back on in time to go to town for the afternoon so getting the pump back on-line had to be postponed until evening.  I did get a lot of plant debris cleaned out though while I was waiting.

This brings us to Saturday (today!!!),.  I'm going to publish this NOW before I have to come up with more excuses and besides Heidi says: 


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

September Veggie Garden

It is almost impossible to believe that it is October already.  I'm not sure what happened to September but I'm fairly certain that it has come and gone.  The garden is looking a bit tired now but frost will be coming our way soon anyway.
Garden at the end of  September.

Contrast this with the fresh spring view of April.

Early spring garden view.

September was a busy month in the garden and by the end of the month most of the leftover summer veggies such as beans and tomatoes have become chicken food.  We did can and freeze the last of the tomato crop and I think we managed to put by 70-some quarts of tomatoes and 60-some pints of salsa.
A few scraggly tomatoes that have succumbed to diseases.

We began harvesting the sweet potatoes that Eve gave us and they did amazingly well.  I dug the first hill and it had 40 pounds of potatoes in it.  I stopped there for a while.
Twenty-six  pounds of the forty-pound hill.

Although the summer garden is done, the fall garden is doing well.  We always plant greens and broccoli which always do well in the cooler weather.
Turnip greens.


Broccoli ready to harvest.

Brussel sprouts....so far all Brussels and no sprouts.

We also have a few Italian fig trees that are doing very well this year and have provided us with quite a few figs.
Green and ripe figs.


October will signal the end of most of the garden plants so we'll be able to send in the clean-up crew.