Sunday, October 21, 2007

Season Slowing

Today was another cloudy, misty day. It was windier and colder than yesterday, and a day more suited to indoor activities, so I have spent the day reading on the Internet about a wide variety of subjects ranging from Alchemy, Spagyrics, and Mundane Astrology to solar water pumps, waterwheels, aquaponics, community kitchens, and the price of wheat. All sorts of things.

I got the October issue of Farmers Markets Today magazine. It's a small mag, but I really like it because it gives me lots of ideas for marketing my food. They do a lot of profiles and I really like those, too, because it's nice to see how other producers are working at their dreams. Check out its web site at

Yesterday was our only nice day in over a week so I took advantage of it and headed out to the field to work on winterizing everything. The first thing I discovered was that the beaver has been busy chewing down some more birch trees. The skid trough he has worked down to the creek is getting deep and smooth. As long as I don't flood, I don't mind that beaver; with drought the last three years I might need his pond. And I need a couple of more fence posts and the trees he has down are just right for me to be handle by myself! Anyway, it took a couple of hours to clear out all the weeds from the high tunnel and put all my bits and pieces of equipment into tubs for the winter -- I work slowly because my asthma kicks up in the Fall when the molds start -- but the tunnel really looked nice when I was done. I watered the rows where I planted winter carrots, spinach, and beets, and talked a bit to my great catnip patch and Italian parsley. I put all of the collards and cabbages in a row that I hope to get through the winter for seed production next year, and that was it. When the cranberries I have in the dehydrator are dry I may cut all the parsley down to the ground and bring that back to the house to dry. I don't worry too much about parsley because it's pretty hardy for me.

Tom and Ed came out to the field in the afternoon and helped me hoe all around the fruit trees. We put their winter bark protectors on and dug the new holes for the Westfield-Seek-No-Further apple tree and the two pear trees I have coming from St. Lawrence Nursery. I remember one pear tree is a Golden Spice, but I don't remember what the other pear tree is. I need to get to the Feed Store in Fifield and buy some mushroom compost, cow manure and peat moss to spread around all of the trees. Hopefully the new trees will come before I go to Marshfield with Lara. If not, then I will have everything ready for Tom so he can put the new trees in the ground for me. Now that we have been getting rain, the field looks pretty good. I still want to cut the grass around the beds one last time, and Tom wants to rake up some of the grass for winter mulch in his garden. I still want to turn over the ground where the potatoes were and sow some oats and rye grass -- as long as the seed sprouts, I'll be happy. It felt good to be outside working. I can't wait to get out and start working with the wood.

I am going to take down the chicken fence after I butcher Chin Lee and the remaining Lisas (I did three hens the other day. It didn't take me as long as I thought, but three was plenty for my arthritic hands). That way if we need to get Dad's tractor to skid logs, he'll have an easier way to get down into that section of the forest. Then I will clean out the coop and get ready for a new batch of chickens next year. I will use that coop for a brooder house and build a bigger coop for the layers.

We are on a pumpkin seeds binge. I figured out a way to make tasty pumpkin seeds and Tom just loves them. I did find, however, that seeds from the giant pumpkins don't taste as good as do seeds from the pie pumpkins; their hulls have too much fiber to chew and swallow. And now I have lots of pumpkin puree to use up. But that's ok, too, because we can have pumpkin pies, pumpkin bread, and Lara wants pumpkin soup, all of which I know I have recipes for. We have been drinking pumpkin juice, too. We had plain pumpkin juice, orange-pumpkin, cranberry-pumpkin, and pear-pumpkin juice. It has been fun experimenting with different flavors, and it is a good way to get Lara to drink more fluids. All I have left is 2 jars of unsweetened apple juice and one jar of plum nectar already. But the kids and I have been enjoying Fall. I made apple grunt and caramel apples with the last of the fresh apples I bought in Bayfield. Ed really liked the caramel apples. (I'm a grunt fan.) And I am still trying to get everything in the house taken care of and ready for when I go to Marshfield with Lara so it's not on my mind that I have to enter the bills into the accounting program or dust or clean the basement, etc.

When I took Ed bowling last Thursday, the coach didn't show up. I hope he is ok -- I don't have a phone number for him. Everybody was just standing around so I got the kids bowling and even though I'm not good at scoring, I wrote down all the pins and took the sheets home with me since no one else wanted them. I found an applet on the Internet that helped me score the sheets (I'm so happy I found that applet that I've been practising scoring and I'm confident I know how to do it now. Here's the site: I also had an e-mail when I came home from Special Olympics about special training that they wanted Class A volunteers to take -- it is a little awareness course that you do right over the Internet and when you submit the final test back to Special Olympics they sent you a confirmation e-mail acknowledging that you completed their requirements. When I got the acknowledgement e-mail I saved it in case someone asks if I took the course. Then I sent Billy an e-mail to let him know I had the score sheets (Bill Ertl is my godson and is head of the Chequamegon Agency Special Olympics in Ashland -- I'm VERY proud of him!), and I sent him everyone's score because I wasn't sure whether they needed the scores before the tournament in Duluth on the 20th. (I wasn't sending Ed.)

Well, back to the garden -- my thoughts are never far from it. I still have pumpkins for sale, mostly New England Pie Pumpkins, and a couple of giant Big Moon pumpkins. As long as the weather doesn't get too cold, I should be able to get dill, parsley, and maybe some cilantro, along with Bull's Blood beet greens, Southern Giant Leaf Curled Mustard greens, and Gilfeather Turnips. I might have some St. Valery carrots left out there, too, but would need to check. St. Valery doesn't get very big as far as carrots go, but it is a good juicer. I have decided not to offer any seeds in the Seed Saver Exchange book yet because I want to work on my production methods a bit longer. It would be nice to offer more than one variety of seed, too, and I want to be confident in my ability to save seeds from a number of veggies.

I have also been ruminating about next year's seeds, as well, and imaging in my mind how the field will look. I will leave the hazelnuts where they are, but I am going to move the plums to the perennial bed section next to the horseradish. I need to check how many of the elderberry bushes I planted are still wick, and then decide where I want to replant them because I am really thinking about putting a couple of pigs in that last grassy section next to the high tunnel. The thought of homegrown bacon sandwiches really makes my stomach talk.

I have been working very hard on my plan to build a shared-use commercial kitchen. Mark Kopecky (our Ag Extension agent) is trying to get a book for me, and I am trying to crunch numbers on the first part of the project. Since I don't want to borrow any money, it looks like I will have a lot of time to work on this. I need to build a small aquaponics system anyway and get comfortable with that process before trying to build a larger set-up. Once I understand how the process works, be able to troubleshoot any problems, decide on my fish, and establish markets, then we'll take a gander at a larger view. You can grow one hell of a lot fish and food on only one acre of land if you set it up right. I checked out an aquaponics farm in New York (Laughing Duck Farm ) that makes an incredible amount of money, and if I remember right, their aquaponics set up is on 1/8 acre. I have been reading government publications about aquaponics, and I really think we can get all the help we want if we (Price Direct) want to go this route to build a community kitchen with profits from an aquaponics operation. If not, I'll build the kitchen privately on my property and everything will go into a family trust.

Well, it's getting late so I think I'll sign off. Talk to you soon. BTW, I have about 4 more pictures to use up on the camera so hopefully I'll have some new pics soon.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Getting Cold

Today was pretty chilly, damp and grey outside. I put up my market table and set up a butcher station and butchered three of the hens. I was glad that I only did three because by the time I was finished my arthritis was really acting up and my hands were freezing. Dominiques don't clean well because of the dark feathers, and I will need to go over these once more tomorrow before I put them in the freezer, but these hens will make some really good soups and stews being 2 1/2 years old. I would sell them but I am not satisfied with my ability to butcher well enough to make a nice carcass. I am getting plucking down pretty well, but I have a hard time trying to remove the guts and innards in one movement; I can't get my big hand inside the carcass. However, once I get my technique down to my satisfaction, then I will offer processed chickens for sale off the farm. I tried dry plucking this time and like it better than scalding the birds.

Last Wednesday when Lara and I were down in Marshfield, a reporter from The Country Today called to talk to me about Price Direct. She left a number and said that Friday morning would be a good time to talk, but I tried calling her back twice on Friday and kept getting that noise you hear when the phone is off the hook so I figured I'd just let it go. Maybe Tom wrote down the wrong number; I don't know. Price Direct is in "coccoon mode" now anyway so there really isn't much to talk about at this time. I am working every chance I get on a two-part plan that would get a shared-use commercial kitchen up and running, but I have a long way to go yet as far as research goes. I did receive the information package from S&S Aqua Farm in Missouri, but I want to read and study the material some, and then work on approximating current set up costs for a system. I already see that I will need to set up a small experimental system to work with and become famililar with the various aspects of an aquaponics system. I think I would like to work with either tilapia or perch -- I don't want to deal with avid predators like bass and wall-eye. I would hate to go out in the morning to check the system and find I have one fat fish left in the tank. That makes me think of the time I made 70 cookies to send to school with Sarah. While the cooking were cooling on the table, I went to pick Sarah up from school, and when we got home we found our black Lab fat as a sausage and ALL the cookies gone!

I pulled out a jar of plum nectar and diluted it some for me and the kids to drink at supper tonight. Lara test tasted it and said we needed some honey in it, so I obliged her. I also brought up a jar of apple butter and tasted that. I was surprised! It isn't real dark like apple butter you get in the store, but it tastes like it. That steamer from Lehman's is really great! I pulled out some nice looking pumpkins that I will cook and save the seed from. I think I will cook up one of my giant pumpkins and we will eat those seeds. The last batch of seeds I made didn't last long -- Tom really like those.

Well, he and Ed are home from town so I'll check out for now.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Harvest and Transformation

September was a busy month and October is not giving me any rest yet either. We have had a lot going on with the family. For those of you who know astrology, you know that Saturn moved from Leo into Virgo at the start of last month, and you probably could feel the change; I know I did, and now, everyone in the family with Virgo in their charts aspected by Saturn in some way are getting zapped big time. All I can say is I'm glad I don't have any planets in Earth signs. (I'm just passing through this plane.) Anyway, at only 42, my brother is in full blown congestive heart failure. He finally came home after a stay in two different hospitals, and it looks like it's only a matter of time now as his heart is not strong enough to survive the surgery he needs. Then, last week-end we had my neice's wedding (a month early) because her fiance got shipped somewhere by the Army, and then her sister, went to Urgent Care down in Marshfield where she was interning a position and it turned out she contracted cellulitis somewhere and her eye was swollen from it, so she got thrown in the hospital and put on IV antibiotics. Fortunately, the infection had not spread to the eye or brain and she is back home again on the mend. Now we are dealing with our own "Missy La" and complications from her spina bifida. We are looking at bladder augmentation surgery with a long, painful recovery. We saw the neurologist in Minocqua last week, who sent us to Marshfield yesterday for an MRI to rule out whether or not Lara's spinal cord has re-tethered to her back bone. We had teh MRI done in Marshfield to be sure the urologic surgeon got the test results before we see him again on the 10th. His office called and told us that Lara has a two strain urinary tract infection so she is now on Levaquin for 10 days. Needless to say, Lara is very cranky and worried about having surgery. Everybody is stressed, and I know this is just the beginning. Just think, Saturn is in Virgo for two more years! Meanwhile, our Ed is enjoying his Thursday Chequamegon Bay Special Olympics bowling in Park Falls. It is a wonderful bunch of young people.

I managed to get the garlic planted on October 4th, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. I planted more Persian Star (Samarkand), Czech Tan, and Shvelisi -- another good garlic from Russia, similar to Samarkand. All my garlic seed cloves are certified organic from Seed Savers Exchange. This time I really tilled deep the garlic bed and added good compost from my compost bin by the house. I planted the cloves further apart, and put down some good mulch. I took the time to till up and add compost to the horseradish and rhubarb beds, too.

Did I tell you I moved all the currants and most of the rhubarb closer to the house where I can keep a better eye on it? I still have to move the gooseberries. Next spring I'll see if any rhubarb left in the field sprouts, and if so, I'll dig it up and move it at that time. My plan is to move everything but the asparagus and horseradish closer to the house, and plant more fruit trees in the field. (I think I have the orchard fruit bug!) I also have my eye on some hickory and butternut nut trees. But working with new orchard plantings other than the Westfield-Seek-No-Further apple tree and the two Golden Spice pear trees I've ordered for this Fall planting, will have to wait till next Spring. Everything I do is going to depend on what can be done around Lara's surgery.

I have another roll of film must about finished that has some nice pics of the Fall leaves, so I will try to finish up the roll and will post some new pics as soon as I can.

After I took Ed to bowling on Thursday, we ran to Phillips and picked up the 4-H fruit order and bought some more canning jars from Copps. I canned the rhubarb, raspberries, apricots and pie cherries after Lara and I got back from Marshfield. Thank goodness fruit doesn't take long to can. I made a couple of batches of jam and used pectin in the recipe to save cooking time. I left the blueberries in the freezer because I like them better frozen, and the mushrooms are better frozen, too.

I used my new Finnish juicer/steamer for cooking down some pumpkins and boy is that thing nice! I cooked about 6 pie pumpkins in about two hours, measured out the puree after running the pulp through the food mill, and packed it in freezer bags in no time. I don't quite understand how it works, but the steam in one chamber cooks the food you place in the strainer chamber, and all the liquid from the steam and produce recondense in a third chamber leaving the nearly dry pulp. You don't need to do any further cooking down unless you want to. I used the pumpkin juice and mixed some with orange juice, and some with cranberry juice, for the kids and canned that, too. Harry Potter won't taste any better!

I tried to get hold of Randy from BSI Scales in Tomahawk the other day to see if he would be interested in coming to Phillips for a "Scale Day" next spring, but I missed him. I left a message telling him I would try to touch base with him another time as I am in and out of the house so much lately with all the medical issues.

I have pumpkins for sale, some small Big Moon and mostly New England Pie, if you want pumpkins. I also have Forellenschuss leaf lettuce, some Bull's Blood beet greens, Southern mustard greens, some Italian flat leaf parsley, and maybe I can find some dill and cilantro out in the field. I usually cut the greens as people want them because I want the greens as fresh as possible and I don't have a produce cooler. The doorbell doesn't work so just come to the house back door (through the garage) and bang on it. If the green van is gone, I may not be home. If the truck is gone, we may be out in the field.

Well, I know I have more to talk about, but I'm pretty tired. I'll talk to you later.