Returning my attention to the clay…

I’m busting at the seams this morning with excitement and hope and plans. Let me tell you why. Yesterday at our local Tractor Supply I pawed through the $5 book bin, as I often do. I came across “the joy of hobby farming” by Michael and Audrey Levatino. Hobby farming, sustainable living and homesteading books are something that I have somewhat of a collection of. (And the old timer say we young folks don’t collect anything!)

I posted this on facebook this morning (I tried to embed my post, but it appears that that’s not supported bywordpress.com)

facebookpostblog
just so you know I’m not making up fluff for a very neglected blog. 😉

So here’s the thing. Business took off for me this spring. I’m still working full time as well, and will be for some time, but it’s taken off just enough that my back yard looks pretty awful:

IMG_0396

General view of the garden which kinda blends in with the grass, and the perennial bed (left) that’s all green, no flowers.

IMG_0399

cucumbers planted in a hanging pot that’s now set on the ground. Also, can never give it enough water. A few tiny cukes on it.

IMG_0397

Left to right, bell peppers, broccoli, cabbage, green beans, and grass, lots and lots of grass.

A tumbling tomato plant that has tumbled itself into death, no amount of water would keep this thing alive.

A tumbling tomato plant that has tumbled itself into death, no amount of water would keep this thing alive.

We waffled about whether or not to plant the garden at all this year. Our house has been on the market for a year and it’ only shown twice, but with my luck, we’d plant a garden and get it to June 30th, and get a contract, leaving all of the vegies for the new owners. Well apparently my luck has turned. No offers, no contracts, we have some veggies.

I’ve harvested green beans twice now and ate them immediately….along with some tiny broccoli florets. A few of the cabbage plants are heading up nicely, and we’ve had a steady supply of small bell peppers. My daughter says they are great in her salad, I thought they tasted watery and plain. The red cabbage looks like hell, and we have miscellaneous corn, squash and tomatoes popping up from last year.

So I snuggled up this morning with the new book, and was instantly just FIRED UP. Here’s the thing. I have always wanted to buy an old farm. In fact, I used to have one, but life gets in the way and a divorce separated me from my dream. Here I am, clawing my way back to it.

The land we have purchased is 3.25 acres of hills, woods, and clay. No pasture (but we could create some) and LOTS of water. This book just made me nostalgic for my old farm, and how that’s really what I’d prefer to be doing (old barns and outbuildings, and plenty of flat grassy area all ready to use) but it is what it is, and I will have to work with the 3.25 acres for now. I feel fortunate that we were able to purchase it and if the house never sells, we can still use the land for growing/raising food, it’s literally 5 minutes from our house.

I started out with great intentions here on this blog, outling types of plants etc., but I failed, miserably, flopped on my farmer face, but you know what? That’s ok. Life happens, people change, plans fly out the window, you regroup, refocus, and step out again.

I’m back. I hope you’re still with me.

Marie

Hope carried in rays of sun…

I’m writing early this week because I am hopeful and motivated.  The sun is shining, after 3+ feet of snowfall in the month of February, we were beginning to wonder if we’d EVER see spring.  I’m not so naive as to think that spring is right around the corner, I haven’t yet packed away the hats and mittens….but I am hopeful that brighter warmer things are coming!

I’ve been up for about 4 hours. In that time, I tended to the dogs and the cat, made a batch of pancakes and a cup of coffee, but the rest of the time I have spent on my garden and preserving plan and homesteading blogs.  Because I am a nerd, I have put that plan into an Excel spreadsheet, don’t judge me too harshly.  It appears that I’m going to need a truckload of tomatoes. No joke.  Spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, tomato paste, tomato soup, and just plain canned tomatoes?  I’m wondering if I should just can all of the tomatoes as they are and construct the other things (minus the salsa) as I need them…..Lest I overwhelm myself and do NOTHING.

So before I get on with my day (I’m going on a paranormal investigation tonight!) I want to record my Homesteading Wishlist of both things to get and things to do.

TO GET

  • Pressure canner
  • Dehydrator
  • New freezer
  • more canning jars and lids

TO DO

  • get our chickens settled on our new land with a better enclosure system underneath the actual chicken house (new land is heavy with fox!)
  • look into rabbits for fiber and design appropriate housing
  • look into ducks for meat and design appropriate housing
  • start pricing purchases of local, organic, no hocus pocus meats
  • research making our own flour for our own baked goods
  • add twenty more hours to each day to do my own baking, canning, freezing and critter tending.

Beans, beans and more beans!

Before I launch into this weeks missive on my planting/preserving plan, I have to tell you…we have had SO much snow this winter in Southern Vermont, it’s completely overwhelming.  I have not seen snowfall of this magnitude in many many years.  Last week’s snowstorm brought us 20″ of snow.  We are back to the days of not being able to see what’s coming down the street because the snowbanks are too high!  On the bright side, out of our 10 hens, we are now getting 6 eggs per day, and every day, there are two eggs that are either blue or green. So excited about that!

 Image

Green Beans

Harvest time: July-August (In Vermont)

How to prepare: Feed through a “frenching” machine, steam, or my favorite, ROAST!!!  Toss with olive oil and plenty of salt and roast at 400 until brown and sizzling! So delish.   Another nice preparation is to steam them, and then finish the drained green beans in a hot pan with melted butter and garlic..toss them until lightly golden brown.

Preservation plan:
Blanche and freeze
Pickle with garlic and dill
Least desirable plan: chop and freeze for soups/stews

Green beans are pretty basic, pretty simple. They are either bush beans or pole beans….you either eat them fresh or let them mature and pop out the “seeds” to use later as dried beans, you can either replant them, or cook them.  I prefer to eat them fresh, young and tender.  I’m not crazy about frozen green beans in the supermarket, but I do like home frozen green beans.

Leave me a comment with your favorite green bean recipe!!

Patty pan squash

This week I know, I know, i missed several weeks, I feel so guilty I wanted to talk about scalloped or patty pan squash.  It is one of our favorites, and we plant it every year.  As a family of 4, we have a hard time eating all of the produce from two plants, so seed wisely unless you have critters to feed the extras to, or friends and family to share with.

Image

Scalloped Squash or Patty Pan Squash

 

Harvest time: July-August (In Vermont)

How to prepare: Stuff with meatloaf mixture, slice thinly and fry (with our without breading), slice in half and roast in oven

 

Preservation plan:
Freeze batches of stuffed squash halves in batches of 6-8
Pickle with tomatoes
Least desirable plan: chop and freeze for soups/stews

 

Scalloped squash or patty pan squash is a variety of summer squash.  Like it’s cousins it’s best eaten when it’s not yet fully grown.  You will find them in white, green, yellow, and a very pale pearly green.

Leave me a comment with your favorite patty pan recipe!!

 

Garden space secured, and the new preservation plan.

As I sit down today to write my weekly (Ok, my intention is weekly) post, I am thrilled to say that I have secured a garden spot for next year. I have so much on my plate right now, but I do want to spend some time to plan what will be on our plates for the following year.

Last years growing/preservation plan flopped horribly.  Onward and upward in 2014!!  I’ll be back in the weeks to come with some veggie profiles of things I’d like to preserve.

It’ll look something like this:

Image

Apples

Harvest time: Mid September (In Vermont)

Preservation plan: x quarts of unsweetened applesauce

Basic information about the apples used, and the properties of the apples once they are canned or frozen or whatever.

Hopefully it will help those of you who want to get started but have a little trepidation about that first step. 

While I have preservation on my mind, I want to share this product with you. I first saw it in a seed catalog (1 of 5 that have arrived in the mail since January 1st) It’s a water bath, steam canner combo.  This one is a good example, I’ve seen some that look different, and some with different price tags.  There are two issues here, one is space and the other is my complete and total fear of a pressure canner. We’re talking terrified. Somehow this pot looks less daunting… less scary, and maybe something I can manage.

What do you think? Have you used one? Do  you have a garden and preservation plan that you can share? Please leave your comments below.

Let it snow, let it snow….oh gosh please stop the snow!!!

When you live in New England, you expect a certain amount of crappy winter weather. So far this year we have had two storms resulting in very slick roads, but very little accumulation. Mother nature has made up for her shortcomings however. Last night we were gifted with about 18″ of white fluffy snow. It’s actually still snowing.Image

It’s pretty, it’s fluffy, it’s cold. My smallest dog likes to bury her head in it and burrow like a pig with the appropriate snorting noises to accompany her work. The chickens are not impressed…..they will considerably shrink their wandering territory to exclude the snowy portions of their yard. So funny, our last flock didn’t mind one bit.

 

The one thing that i do worry about with this much snow, is the roof. Not just my roof actually, roofs all around me. It’s a light “dry” snow (It’s been bitterly cold lately) but if it starts to warm up, if we get some rain, then some homes will be in danger of roof caves ins, ice dams, and leaks.

Our new property is probably really pretty this morning, in fact I can’t wait to see it and take some photos. Unfortunately, this means Mr. Gray will have to use snowshoes to hike up into the woods to cut down his firewood for next winter. There’s little chance of either of our vehicles making it up that hill from this day forward.
Thank goodness we are taking the family to Florida in one week for Christmas, it will be a little easier to come back and endure the rest of winter. I’ve heard we are in for a LOT of snow.

Lunge forward? OR fall back on your butt?

 

 

For those of you who are new to this blog, we purchased 3.25 acres of wooded land this past summer.  It was partially developed, there is an existing driveway and landscaping as well as some poor drainage.  It’s a steep hilly lot, but it’s build-able, and so we began.  Step number one was to play in the dirt.  Turns out that playing in the dirt was not only expensive, but a deterrent to the big excavating that has to happen to make ready for the house next year, plus we are the proud owners of an ice skating rink on the top of the hill.  (One step backwards…..no one in our family ice skates either)

The second step was to build a garage.  In the event that we sold our current house before the new modular can be set, we’d have a place to store our belongings.  This proved to be a much more time consuming, difficult task than I think Mr. Gray anyone imagined.  The concrete cost a small fortune, in fact, we chose to just do the footings because pouring the whole floor seemed cost prohibitive.  Looking back, it might have been cheaper to have it poured after all but hindsight is 20/20 right? Ahem.  So the garage is built, but our original plan (storage) is blown because we have a dirt floor.  Not much is going to survive storage on a dirt floor without mildew/moisture becoming a problem.  (Two steps backwards)

Image

These two helpd with the roofing because Mr. Gray has a serious fear of heights.  Enter the next issue, which is that we had two different colored shingles…so Mr. Gray got creative.  It works.  If all goes well, it’ll be replaced with standing seam in a few years anyway.

.Image

The final problem (third step back, in which we fall on our butts)  is that now this garage, is (according to the excavator) is in the way.  It left us little room to manuever the heavy equipment needed to complete excavation, landscaping, boulder moving, basement digging etc.  *sigh*  It is what it is at this point, but it’s put a significant dent in our housing cost.  As I said, it’s a steep, complicated wet piece of property, it needs to be done right, who wants a basement full of water? I’ve been there, done that, no thank you.

So…..until next time!

 

The chill of winter is upon us, and I need a place to plant my seeds!

It’s 17 degrees here in Southern Vermont today.  The wind is blowing at a pretty constant rate with the exception of the 50 mph gusts.  The chickens are still on the ground though every time I walk by the window I fully expect to see them go flying by the window.

Despite the fact that the winter chill is upon us, I want to talk to you about gardening and containers, or other alternative food growing strategies.

We came to the realization today, that we are not going to be able to have a garden next year.  We can’t begin breaking ground for our new house until April 15th.  After that day we are going to be busy for sure, but every place where we might have put our garden, is likely to get dug up by the excavator in order to set the basement for our new digs.  Hmmph.

This has me thinking about container gardening.  There are countless posts out there about container gardening, I’m not uncovering any long lost unknown gardening secrets here, I get that.  There are pots, rubbermaid totes, cardboard boxes for potatoes etc.

We do have 3.25 acres to play with, but not knowing what will be dug up or driven over, I think it’s best not to plant anything in the cleared spaces.  What I DO have an abundance of….is forest.  Imagine how reach and peaty the soil is out there?  I suppose though, that the deer would probably agree with me.  Scratch that!

I’ve also considered getting involved in a CSA so that at least I’ll have fresh veggies each week, but you know…I live in Vermont.  There are Farmer’s Markets all summer long, produce stands on every country road, do I really need to commit to a box full of stuff I might not be in the mood to use?

I’m being whiny, I know that.  Bear with me.  What are your favorite alternative gardening solutions? Where’s the wackiest place you’ve grown a tomato? Zucchini? Help a girl out!?

Leave a comment for me below, pretty please?

How NOT to make applesauce, and why you should sleep with your squash!

If you are anything like me, you are busy.  Too busy, in fact, to begin your applesauce canning project with the fantastical trip to the local apple orchard, complete with sticky cider donuts, wagon rides through the fruit trees, or the Kodak moments around every corner.

Instead, I jockey for a position in the parking lot dusty field.  I walk into a building filled with people oohing and aahing over pumpkins, squash, pies, cheddar cheese, and again, the sticky cider donuts.  I heft a bag of Macintosh apples over my shoulder, pay for them and haul them back to the car.

When I get home with my apples (and ok, you caught me, cider donuts) I lean the bushel bag up against the fridge and just live with them for a while.  I need a plan of attack.Image

I set up the counter with the apple peeler thingamajig and three bowls.  One for peels, and two for naked apples, to be cut up.

Image

I saddle up the peeler with the first apple.  It doesn’t go very well, but i chalk this up to inexperience, and continue with another apple.  After botched apple number three, I throw the peeler in the trash. I never liked gadgets anyway.  I can never adjust it correctly, it wobbles all over the place.  Instead, I go for my trusty paring knife.

Image

One hour and one cold cramped hand later, I put two pots of apples on the stove to cook down, and head out to the chicken coop with some of the apple peels.

Image

On my back from the coop, my lovely neighbor Meghan calls to me.  I walk over to the fence, and we begin to gab like good neighbors do on a sunny Saturday morning.  After 20 minutes or so, I jump, and remember, Oh shoot! I have apples on the stove!!!  I dash inside, and thank goodness, I was just in time!  The stainless steel pot was fine, but dutch oven (which gets VERY hot and STAYS very hot) was sporting some brownish burned carmelized looking apples.  I added some cinnamon and brown sugar to these, no one needs to know they are brown from overcooking right!?  What’s the lesson you should take away from my story?  Do not walk away from the stove when you are cooking apples, or bacon, or anything else that is wretched when completely overcooked.  This could have ended on a much worse note!Image

Image

Finally, as promised, I want to tell you why you should sleep with your squash.  Winter squash can last all winter if you store them properly.  I used to keep mine in the cellar, but it proved too cold, and too damp for them, they wouldn’t make it past the two week mark.  I read somewhere that sliding winter squash under your bed in a cool bedroom was the way to go..so this is what I have done.  I can just imagine what the folks that looked at our house yesterday must have thought of the weird pile of squash in the corner!  So use them as a decoration piece, slide them under the bed, or line them up against the mopboards….if your bedroom is cool and dry, you’ll be good to go!

Image 

 

 

Sunday Procrastination

It’s cooling off here in Vermont.  It’s usually between 40 and 50 degrees in the morning.  This makes it awfully easy to hide behind a warm cuppa and procrastinate.  Today, I am procrastinating on the half bushel of apples that i have waiting for me in the kitchen.  My intention is apple sauce, here are my roadblocks:

1. I don’t have a food mill which means I’ll have to PEEL and then quarter and seed all of the apples.

2. I have a freezer on the fritz that I am trying to empty and unplug so I have to can it vs. freezing it.

 

Having said that, it’s 8:20 AM and I have yet to do ANYTHING other than cruise Facebook, and drink coffee.

Homesteading took a back seat to our new real estate, we have spent the last two weekends working on that, cutting trees, hauling brush, chipping brush, digging in the dirt, popping stumps, moving rocks, and in general exhausting ourselves and feeling slightly overwhelmed at any given turn.

I essentially walked away from the larger garden at my folks place.  This was not a great year for that garden either, we lost ALL of the potatoes, not sure why, possibly because of harvest errors.  The corn was mediocre, the cauliflower got away from us….. *sigh*  The kale was fantastic though, we did eat a lot of that.  I’d prefer to look back on this gardening season as “the season that shall not be named” and just move onward and upward!

I’ll leave you with some photos….and a heavy sigh, while I shuffle off to the kitchen to start on the apples.

On the left is a photo of the cone like green cauliflower that we tried, still haven’t eaten any, It’s blanched and frozen sitting in the freezer.  The beans were an heirloom variety, the name escapes me, but they were an integral part of the 3 sister garden that we planted.  The corn is also beautiful, but inedible, it never matured…..The beans have lovely purple splotches on them.  They are sweet and delicious.  We have saved a pile of them for seed for next year….we saved the corn as well.  Till next time….

IMG_0238 IMG_0237