Thursday, May 30, 2013


My (Jason) great-grandfather was a produce farmer in Bayfield, Wisconsin.  He was apparently known for his ability to rehabilitate abused farms, his absolute scrupulous honesty, and his strawberries.  It's nice to have an ancestor to aspire to!  My mom tells a story from her childhood wherein a person came out of the house looking for him, and she happened to know he was in the packing shed preparing strawberries for market.  She responded to the inquiry with the following humorous jab intended for his ears:  "He's out in the shed putting the big strawberries on top."  He reportedly heard this joke and didn't think it one bit funny; he took time out of his packing job to come out into the yard and set the record sternly straight.  She reports that this was the only time her gentle and appreciative grandfather was ever angry with her.

Well, there is no deception in these photos; the bowls are full of berries just the way we picked them from our smattering of strawberry beds of various and sundry shapes and sizes.  So far we have picked strawberries every day this week, and most of those days have ended with a batch or two of jam in the freezer or on the canning shelves, plus the occasional tray of whole strawberries for freezing along with a few containers of sliced for the same (smoothies, here we come!).  And plenty go into our bellies before any of the above takes place. We're looking forward to drying some in the solar dryer soon. Today's harvest gave us enough for 3 large trays of whole berries, 10 containers of sliced berries, and 12 containers of jam.  This was after we ate a bunch and Kali's soccer teammates were here tearing around the property and picking, eating AND tromping on strawberries.

I wouldn't say these gems have spilled across our threshold without effort.  Much ground preparation, transplanting, watering, tending, and weeding have gone into the plantings.  But a sum total of perhaps thirty dollars of actual money have been directly spent on them for 50 plants purchased last spring from Gardens Alive (Fort Laramie, Sparkle Supreme) and a few bucks for straw.  We had already had an expanding planting from crowns dug from a neighbor's patch the year before (Honey-O), and honestly so far this has constituted perhaps 85% of this year's harvest (and the flavor is excellent), though that number may change when the Sparkle Supremes come on, since the plants look very vigorous, a lot of fruit has been set, and they are just starting to blush.  The Fort Laramies are not doing as much...I have the impression they might like the weather better in Wyoming.

Our criteria for when we can consider selling some strawberries (or other crop) is when we have so many we are beginning to become sick of them.  We're not there yet, but it won't take too much more for us to feel like we have so many we can't keep up with the processing, which is more or less the same thing I guess.  I expect the plantings to only increase in size and productivity by next year, so stay tuned if you might be interested in trading for or buying picked or pick-your-own strawberries, possibly beginning next spring!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Musings about new stuff...

So the only reason I'm sitting here typing is that Alida is doing what she is pictured doing here to the left!  She sacked out on our walk back from church this morning.  No, we did not walk all the way to Harrisonburg for church.  Instead, we walked into Keezletown and visited the local United Methodist church.  To say that we (our family, plus Jonathan, Rachelle and Emily) were warmly received would be an understatement.  It was very nice to see and chat with a number of our neighbors and I enjoyed a long visit with the woman who was in the nursery with me.  Of course it didn't hurt that it is yet another absolutely gorgeous day and being able to go to church without stepping foot into a vehicle makes me very happy!  No long term decisions being made right now (we have enough of those on the burner currently!) but I feel quite certain we'll go back...

The biggest decision on the docket right now will hopefully be made in no more than about 48 hours from now!  We ramped up our minivan-search recently and once ramped up both Jason and I were ready to have it over and done with.  There are a number of reasons for wanting to do it sooner rather than later, including our summer vacation to Maine in which we'll enjoy my parents' company for a few days (during which it would be very nice to be able to travel around together).  So we have narrowed our search to a blue 2005 Honda Odyssey that I'll pick up tomorrow after work and we'll take to our trusted mechanic on Tuesday for a once over.  We both really like it (and so does Kali which is a big bonus), so if there are no surprises, it looks like we'll be taking our very reliable Subaru off the road.  Any last minute council on spending a good portion of our savings on a minivan or whether or not to sell our Subaru or keep it for around the property driving until we have our access paths smoother is welcome!

Most of our processing time about the van has happened while we work around the property. I am starting to get a window into why Jason needs so many calories to keep him going.  If I keep getting my to do list from Jason rather than generating it myself, I will be in shape long before the end of this growing season.  I'm loving it and am almost a bit alarmed by how I'm turning down inside tidying up to work on the outside major tidying that needs done at this time of year.  I was even tromping through our home in work boots yesterday.  But I must admit that I did sweep all the floors while Alida was still sleeping this morning and felt a bit better after doing so!

Here's our potato patch that just looked like a field from a distance until Alida and I worked on it for several hours yesterday afternoon.  We wheeled loads of chicken litter over and surrounded each plant with several inches of it.  We were working on this while the rest of the household was busy on chicken and duck butchering.  While I've gotten in on more butchering in recent years, I still do not find it to be at all easy for me.  And while I expect to get in on much more of it in the future and will not allow myself to consume meat if I'm not involved in the process, I was not disappointed to be occupied elsewhere for the afternoon and evening. Additionally, having Alida real close to the butchering process is a little tricky yet.

However, lest I feel at all like I'm innocent of the harvesting of animals for our consumption, I had my own experience working in the potato patch which was sobering for me.  It was not at all unlike one that Jason reflected on some time ago.  As I was shoveling chicken litter into the wheelbarrow I uncovered what looked like a very large pink grub. It didn't take but a few seconds to realize that there were several and that they were baby mice (six in all).  There nest must have been deep within the pile and I had ruined the nest in one large scoop, sending the little helpless creatures in several directions.  I picked them up in my hand and felt their little squirming bodies and felt sad (Alida was very curious by this point, of course).  I knew their fate was pretty well sealed already, that their home was no longer intact and they were such tiny things that to just leave them there in the open or bury them in another location would surely mean they would die (but maybe over a longer period of time).  So they provided a hearty treat for a number of hens.  As a side note, I was distraught when I gave one to a rooster who just picked it up and dropped it making little sounds as it did so - yes, I'm still rather slow on chicken behavior and had to have Jason confirm that in fact the rooster was looking for a hen to lure with his treasure.  I didn't want the little creature to suffer long at all so we got it back from the rooster.  The hens got the deed done very quickly (though not necessarily neatly) and clearly they had no qualms whatsoever about gobbling up the tasty morsel.  I felt rather pensive as I headed back to the potato patch.  Being intimately in touch with ones source of nourishment is quite the journey!  It feels deeply important to me.  Yet it is full of moments such as these where it would be easier on some front to be unaware, or at least not there watching it, as, for example, large machines harvest vegetables and in the process kills many small animals that have taken up residence in the fields. 

In other news (slightly more up beat) we are loving watching things burst forth both indoors and outdoors. Next weekend will be the big summer garden planting and much preparation is being done in anticipation for that.  Our wish list of things to do in the next 5 days or so is beyond optimistic.  Here you can see the sweet potato starts poking through the sand.  It's fun to have some of the plants on our windowsill that we can watch closely the changes from day to do.

Some plants on our window sill have been too tantalizing to leave alone. I really didn't care for cilantro the first few times I had it and now I can hardly leave the large pot on our window sill alone!  For some reason, I am enjoying so much harvesting little bits of green here and there and munching on them. My favorites right now, in addition to cilantro, are our various mints outside especially the lemon balm and sweet cicely.  I even reached out and picked a bunch along the road while I was jogging yesterday.  It's fun to be spending enough time outdoors and with plants to slowly be identifying more of what I'm seeing. I will have no trouble ever again identifying yellow dock after spending parts of two days eradicating it (temporarily at least) from our drainfield (with a shovel and my muscles).  Jason encouraged me not to be too discouraged when it sprouts back out...

We are now harvesting lettuce and spinach for salads, continue to enjoy wild onions and stinging nettles whenever we wish and I'm once again trying to keep up with quenching our thirst with peppermint, spearmint, lemon balm and/or applemint tea.  And when there is extra to spare, I toss it in the solar food dryer and within ours on a sunny day I can put it into a jar for the winter.  I'm completely hooked on my dryer.  Today I've got walnuts and almonds in there that I soaked over night and am now dehydrating. It was over 150 degrees in there, which is what it is to be, when the last I looked so I even had to vent it a little.  Fun!!

I'm glad that my work outside gets me meandering past Nora's garden often.  The array of colors and diversity of flowers in bloom right now makes quite a sight to behold.  I caught a bumble bee sitting on the columbine today. 

Speaking of bees, I'm pretty thrilled to be watching the little mason bees busy filling tubes on our porch.  They fly right up to it, even if we are there staring at their home.  Yes, I'm so infatuated with the whole thing that I took a little video today.  It's not a thriller, but you do get to see one little gal in action.  If you look closely you can see that there are five tubes filled (don't be fooled by the sticks) and it is fun to see the different colors based on where she got the mud from.  Enjoy (and Alida is awake so off we head for some outdoor work/play):