Sunday, March 25, 2007

Rainy Day

This day started as a "misty, moisty morning" like the Mother Goose rhyme, and I was sure glad I was able to finish the sap boil down yesterday. I got a little over a quart of syrup which I finished off in the house and put in 1/2 pint canning jars. I boiled the sap a bit longer than I did the first batch and this turned out a lovely clear dark amber with a smoky flavor. It's delicious! I actually like the darker syrup better than the more golden color of the first batch. You know, for the effort involved to make maple syrup, I'm surprised at how little people charge -- that syrup should sell for $300/8 oz! I don't think I'll sell mine after all. At least not until I have a bigger set up that makes the process easier to do and more in line with my idea of economic return.

Chin Lee is banging at the door to get out into the coop run now that the snow is melted. The chickens like scratching in the mud and chasing every bug they see. I already have had to make two fence checks as my "crazy" hen has managed to get outside the run. I have enough varmints around without her putting herself in jeopardy. As soon as the ground firms up I will clean out the coop and turn everything over in the compost bin. I should have some really nice compost this fall.

I took a quick look around the woods and see all sorts of branches down that I can use to make fence panels and stack up for this winter's kindling. Can't wait till the ground firms up.

Went to the feed store yesterday and picked up a load of supplies for the chickens and the garden. I hauled the bamboo and the makings for my organic soil fertilizer recipe (the one from Mother Earth News (June/July2006 issue)) out to the high tunnel while the ground was still hard. Tom says he will buy a new spark plug for the BCS this week and rev it up for me. I told him I want to get the oats and wheat in the ground hopefully by the end of next week while the moon is still good. Also bought some more buttercrunch lettuce seed to plant as the first I planted did not germinate, and I picked up a type of cabbage called Red Rock. I have not heard of it but wanted a red cabbage to complement my Copenhagen Market. I hope it is a red cabbage -- I'll have to try to look it up. And since I liked my friend Rebecca's big beets so much, I bought a pack of Detroit Dark Red to grow with my Bull's Blood beets.

Scrubbed the floor late last night after I finished the syrup and wiped down the bathroom. Still need to do the bath tubs and I want to scrub the stone floors. Tom is going to move the wood out of the mud room so I can open the back door. I am looking for my clothesline -- don't know where I put it. I can't find my book Got Dirt? either. That is a book I got from the Barron County Ag Agent about school gardens while I was at the Local Food Summit, and I am looking for it as I need to give a little talk about school gardens and wanted to use it as a reference. I can only think that it inadvertently got put in one of the bags of books I donated to the Park Falls library.

Tom fixed Vegetable lasagna for lunch today so I'm going to go eat!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Maple Sugaring Update

I had great fun boiling down my first batch of sap. I wound up with just one half pint of beautiful syrup. I like syrup with some taste to it so I continually added sap to the pot to make the final product a bit darker. The weather was nice and I set up my little fire pit near the wood pile. I set up a lawn chair close by where I could easily watch the sap and the fire. I bought out the camera and took some pictures but I don't know when I'll get the roll developed. (Have to get that digital camera!) We had a cold spell so the sap didn't run for a couple of days, but it is starting up again now. I figure to have about another week of sap collecting before the temps get too high. I need another 2 1/2 gallons of sap before I have enough to boil down again. Well, at least I know this is something I like doing and you know what that means for next year!

The seedlings in the basement are doing fine except for the Buttercrunch lettuce. I don't know if that is just a slow germinator or if the seeds I have are bum. Anyway, those seeds are not germinating. The endive and cabbage is coming up just fine. I will start eggplant, sweet peppers, and more lettuce this week. I really am surprised at how well the herbs are sprouting. Maybe they know I plan to plant them in a medicine wheel garden!

I will be out in the field hopefully by the end of this week to start working in the orchard and the high tunnel. We went to town and picked up the bale of bamboo poles I bought to make pole bean trellises with. If I have any poles left, I'll use them to stake the tomato plants. Personally, I like letting my tomatoes sprawl -- they just seem healthier to me and I get LOADS of tomatoes, but I think how well your plants do depends in large part on how the weather is overall for the season. We had to go to town to get the poles because the roads are restricted now. Thanks to Billy and Kathy Ernst for letting me take delivery at the Butternut Feed Store!

I am going to be doing a lot of planting! I am waiting on the apple and cherry trees, and I went ahead and bought 24 hazelnut and juneberry trees not from St. Lawrence, but from Chief River Nursery in Hayward -- thought I would give them a try as they were recommended as a source of good stock. We'll see how the stock does. And, I have more elderberries and plum trees coming, too. I am going to plant most of these around the inside perimeter of the fence along the road side of the field after we move the fence line out of the new easement. The hard part is waiting for the plants to mature enough to bear fruit! It will be a beautiful field is a couple of years.

I am still thinking about getting some of those Doyle Thornless Blackberries. I was going to put them in the front of the house, but as they are supposed to be trellised, I think I may use them like landscaping plants for a hedge effect in back of the house where they will be sheltered by the balsams from the north wind but get plenty of sun from the south. And being close to the house I will be better able to water them. Then, too, they will be separated from the wild raspberry patch I am cultivating in the front yard, so I won't worry about disease so much. Also looking at setting up some mushroom logs this coming fall under the trees near the chicken coop. I found a nice patch of trillium growing and think that would be a good spot to put some golden seal and ginseng.

We have a good sized racoon coming by the bird feeders. The motion light was going on and off for hours last night! I told Tom I want to get a varmint permit from the DNR so we can shoot it. I make sure the chicken coop is closed up tight at night. I wish I had Great-grandpa's 8 guauge. (I don't think you need to know how to shoot with that!)

Well, have to go. We're having corned beef and cabbage today.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Maple Syrup Time

Well, I can't believe how fast the snow is melting! I really need to get a digital camera to share more pics with you guys. When I go out to check the sap buckets tomorrow I think I will wear my muck boots. I have 5 gallons of sap already and if the weather is ok I think I will go ahead and boil it down tomorrow. I am really looking forward to seeing if my first attempt at making maple syrup turns out all right. If it does, I'll think about increasing the number of trees to tap next year. It was funny, too, today because a guy cutting tree branches away from the electric lines came to the door to let me know they were on the property and asked if I had any syrup to sell!

It was a pretty day. Tom went to town and I washed the windows and put up the window screens. I emptied the sap buckets three times, and the chickens almost came out of the coop. Chin Lee kept the hens inside and crowed from the doorway at me. Rotten chickens don't like getting their feet wet!

Inside, I dusted the house and did the laundry. And, I knitted two hair pieces for the boy dolls and managed to sew one on one of the dolls. I checked on the seedlings in the basement and misted them. I am surprised at how well the herb seeds are sprouting as many of the varieties are quite old. I do not have them under lights either -- just the natural lighting that comes through the window in Sarah's room (all the seed trays are on either her bed or her dresser). After we move part of the field fence out of the new right-of-way we wound up selling to the county, I will plant a lot of climbing vines. The maple trees and linden trees I am rooting seem to be doing all right so far, and if they take root, I will plant them around the field perimeter (along the creek and marsh). In a couple of years people will drive by our farm just to look at it! I am ordering some hazelnut shrubs and juneberries from St. Lawrence Nursery to start planting around the inside of the fence to join the elderberries and native plums. I can't wait to start eating some of that fruit! None of the other seeds I planted have sprouted yet. I planted tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, early cabbage, buttercrunch and endive lettuce.

Well, I'd like to keep talking, but it's getting late. Talk to you later!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Off to the Chequamegon Organic Conference

Had a busy day today and got answers to some questions I've been ruminating about. Good things can happen in a Mercury retrograde period!

I went to the Chequamegon Organic Conference and had a wonderful time. The speakers were great and I spent some time at lunch with our Ag agent, Mark, and my friend, Jane. I learned about bee keeping -- which is definitely on my TO DO list. While the setup requires a fair amount of money up front, the cost is justifiable and two hives is all I need to provide for my acre fruit orchard and adjoining market garden. The speaker was an enormously enthusiastic young man who offers a "bee training" day for a nominal fee. I think I'll get my sister, Mary, to go to one with me. Then, I talked to Mark, our Ag agent about increasing my Dominique flock and he allayed my fears about government regulation, so I think I shall go ahead and build a bigger coop. I want to build my flock to 50 birds (100 sounds better, but 50 is all I think I can handle for now what with the infrastructure I am still working on) and start working on developing some good form to Standard birds. In a couple of years I'll be in a position to sell chicks. My friend, Jane, is selling chickens again this year and she told me how she handled her processing. With only me to handle everything, I think I need to enlist some help and, like Jane, pay them "in chickens". In the meantime, I can really start selling eggs. I also asked about agroforestry and Mark is going to send me some info on the upcoming Forest Landowners conference in Rib Lake which is going to be some time next month. I am interested is agroforestry as an alternative way to farm without clearing my forest and as a fire prevention strategy. I think utilizing agroforestry options will tie in well with my long term farm goals along agritourism lines. And as Eddy and I have been traipsing about the woods in the front yard tapping maple trees to try our hands at making maple syrup, I got to thinking about cutting down a tree or two for mushroom growing. Now's the time to do it.

I think I have spring fever.

Biting the bullet and sending off for an organic certification packet from MOSA is really humming in my head.

Now tomorrow, I'm going to start tomato seeds down in the basement as the moon is in Scorpio.

On the craft side, I have three girl dolls knitted and seven ecru jar topper doilies completed. I have three boy dolls mostly finished: I have to knit their hair pieces and I'm working on a pattern for overalls. I haven't decided yet whether to knit them hats or give them neckerchiefs. I had several requests for jar toppers in different colors, so when I get a chance I will buy some thread in different colors. I also crocheted a couple of yards of rick-rack lace that I was thinking about sewing around the edge of fabric circles to be used as another kind of jar topper. I did a sample using some lovely patriotic fabric I have and the effect was very eye appealing. I want to make some more of my old fashioned lace book marks, and then I will get to the really fun (but not so easy to knit) baby booties. I have some great knitted bootie patterns for hiking boots and maryjanes, and I plan to alter the hiking boot pattern to make Army boots that I will knit in "jungle" cameo and in "desert" cameo. One of these days I will get around to making sturdy wooden baskets from tree tops.

I bought a commercial 8' x 8' red canopy umbrella shelter for the farmer's market this year and I found some table legs I can attach to a piece of plywood to make a new folding table, so I think I will be in pretty good shape for the market there. I still need to contact DATCP and see what I have to do to get my scale certified. I have a lead on someone who may give my liability insurance.

I was asked to participate in the Ashland Farmers Market and Hurley Farmers Market. I certainly am getting some options for places to sell my produce.

Don't tell anyone, but our Farmer Tom is going to 57 on the 10th! I am going to make him a diabetic New York style cheesecake and he bought himself some DVDs for a present. We haven't decided if we'll go out to a restaurant or not. I guess that depends on the weather.

Well, it's getting late and I'm beat. Talk to you soon!