Monday, September 29, 2008

Fall's falling...

Harvest continues. Here's J shelling Hidatsa Shield Figure beans. Grand total for apple sauce canned is 20 quarts, 37 pints and 19 half pints. Good thing we like apple sauce. We also dehydrated some broccoli for the first time, and it was so delish we'll be saving a lot more that way for sure next year. Last thing left to harvest in the garden are the peppers... and we'll need to do them soon. It was 39 degrees last night and it could freeze at any time.
Return of the prince. This is an Agaricus Augustus Fries mushroom, also called the prince, which grew near where the same variety showed up last year under our old growth trees. This is a more coastal California mushroom, but apparently it likes it here. J harvested, sliced and dehydrated it to share with some friends. The mushroom is a delicacy and quite tasty.
I was clearing garden plants from the side of the house for winter prep and look who was hanging out catching bugs! J actually watched her catch and eat a small spider.
Here's Fergus's Marty Feldman impression.
Stew tried as well, but looks more like he's attending some sort of first aid class. Nice try Stewart.
The cats like to lurk just outside the cat door tormenting one another. As long as one of them is sitting right outside, then it is too dangerous to exit. This can go on for hours.
After such cat door torture Magnus needed some Z's, and what better place than on some warm sheets from the dryer? At least his feet weren't muddy this time.

Here we are approaching a 4-way stop on Gemini. No matter how little or much we drive him, he's always the consumate proffesional.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Rainy season, and thoughts turn to planning...

As part of my job, I get to se a lot of interesting old government publications like the one below. There is a lot of pre-WW2 farming information, before chemicals were pushed as the only way to grow. When we're looking into "new" methods to try here at Seven Trees, or even just for background on how things were done before Lowe's and Home Depot, I often look at these old USDA pamphlets. This one, on planning a subsistence homestead, is very doable for most people, even if your lot is smaller than the ones shown here. Just scale down a bit, but use the layouts for guidelines as to what was considered crucial for a well-rounded 'stead. (Oh yeah...clicking on each picture should get you a much bigger one.) Here's a 1 acre layout. Notice the caption mentions it's a good size for one man with help from his wife & kids. Ah, the good old days...male breadwinner, female housekeeper, and one income enough to cover the bills.
2 acres....
And 4 acres. We're kind of pushing it at Seven Trees, having all the livestock. We just assume we'll have to buy hay instead of growing our own or having enough grazing year-round. Ideally we'd have 3 to 5 acres, but not at current prices in our area.
Watch for more helpful vintage government info on all kinds of topics, like rotational grazing, wireworm control, helpful farmhouse conveniences (a really cool low-tech "refrigerator" in this one), and so on!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Cat door addition and random animal moments...

We added a cat door to the garage this week. Here Magnus is getting a lesson in how it works while Newt looks on. Newt is already a cat door expert, so she just watched as the other kitties got their training. It didn't take Stewart and Fergus long to realize this is not a door for dogs to use. Though they do enjoy sticking their snouts in cat doors for a sniff.
This is Stew and his beloved gator. He's chewed most of the mouth off, but the rest is quite serviceable for dragging about or silent adoration.
Magnus has turned into a handsome lad as you can see. He is a total people cat, and spends most of his time wherever we are just hanging out with us.
And Crichton does what he does best... Zzzzzzzzz. He is after all 7 this year, so I suppose he's earned it.
We've been turning Doug and Ryder out together these days. The two boys had the run of an entire barnyard and pasture, but where did I find them when I went out to check? Both snugged up in Ryder's stall, enjoying a friendly cud chew together. Handsome little guys...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Feeling saucy

After a slow start, apple season has finally commenced in the PNW. We lucked out in getting plenty of Gravenstein apples from a neighbor and friend. Now we have to turn them into applesauce and other treats.Applesauce is pretty easy to make. Put about an inch of water or apple juice in a heavy-bottomed pan (we use our brew kettle). Chop the apples into large chunks. Don't peel or core them, just make sure there are no bugs or bruised areas. Fill up the pot and start it boiling. Once it starts boiling, turn it down to a strong simmer and cook until the apples are all the way soft. Then scoop them into a food mill and grind away. You'll end up with a pot of almost-ready sauce.....
....and a pile of peels, seeds and apple bits. The hens love this stuff!
Put the pot (this is our soup/cheese pot) on to a low simmer and season to taste. For 7 quarts, we used 1/4 cup raw cane sugar and almost a 1/4 cup white sugar. Then we added cinnamon & nutmeg. Perfect!

Fill up sterilized jars, top with sterilized lids, and process in a water bath canner - 15 minutes for pints and 20 minutes for quarts. Let cool on a rack and listen for the happy sound of jars sealing. If any don't seal, put them in the fridge and eat soon.
We also dried plenty of apple slices. They make great portable treats for people and critters.
Pearl the Outback was pressed into service as a farm wagon yesterday for our feed store stock-up, since one of can't drive the trailer-pulling rig (stick-shift) and the other isn't recovered enough yet to drive one either. I love how much we can cram into this car!
Ryder is figuring out how to walk on a lead (he gets rewarded by going to fresh grazing) and he even came back from grazing loose and let me clip the lead on him while he had a nibble of grain. So far, so good!
Later this week, we'll be making more applesauce, starting 2 batches of homebrew (a winter warmer and an English bitter), canning one last batch of green beans, pears, pickling peppers, bringing in the onion crop, and many other exciting farm & garden chores!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

September Harvest

We are still picking and trying to process our September harvest. It was 41 degrees this morning, so it's time to think about getting the last veggies in for the season. Here's a basket of beans and a few ears of corn fresh from the garden.
The kitchen transformed for canning. Our pressure canner is older, but serviceable for now. Eventually we'll be upgrading next season to something like an All American Pressure Canner because J has become quite proficient at canning these days. We like eating food we've grown since we know exactly where it came from and what is in it.

Here's the final product waiting to be placed on the pantry shelves.

And of course who can resist eating what's available while it is still fresh. Below is last night's dinner, roast potatoes, cob corn and Korean kalbi style beef ribs (I based what I did to these on the linked recipe) from the last of our Hemlock Highland beef, all grilled in some form or another on our Weber charcoal grill. The beans were blanched, then tossed with butter, salt and pepper. We served this with a side of what we call "summer salad" or whatever is available in the garden, cukes, carrots, zucchini, onion, cabbage, broccoli; tossed and marinated in this instance with rice wine vinegar, hot sesame oil, soy sauce, salt, black pepper, sugar and red pepper flakes. Delish and completely local!

Other harvests included all of our hops. Here's some fresh picked Cenntenial hops. After harvest we quickly dehydrate them, pack them in ziplock baggies, and freeze them for optimum freshness. We also harvested Cascade, Willamette, and Fuggles hops. Hops are harder to come by for home brewing and more expensive than ever, so we are considering adding more plants in order to have enough to sell at the farm gate eventually. They take a few years to get established.

On the far right rear, please note the enormous size of the egg! Our laying flock is the best we have ever had, and most hens lay an egg every day, but this? Above and beyond the call, I'd say. No hens appeared harmed in any way by the passing of this monster, at least as far as we could tell.

Another fall chore is worming the cattle. Here's Lady Stella herself, first time in the new stanchion for a once over and some pour on Ivomec wormer. She was none too happy, but cheered considerably when the pan of grain was delivered. Turns out Stella didn't take when Nash the bull visited, so she isn't pregnant yet. We've talked to the owner of R Double D's Rambling Bob, the bull who we had out last year, and she can spare him this fall. Bob will be out late October through November to see if we can get Stella to give us another calf as handsome as Douglas next year. The boys, Douglas (left) and Ryder the bull (right) also received their worm treatment. Here they are after the fact, getting to know each other better. Ryder has gotten much better on a lead these days, but we intend to keep on his training all winter. And after a hard day of harvesting and critter wrangling, Crichton demonstrates how to unwind.

"By all these lovely tokens
September days are here,
With summer’s best of weather
And autumn’s best of cheer."
Helen Hunt Jackson, September

Friday, September 05, 2008

Monday, September 01, 2008

Pickle season!

We tried a new cuke variety at Seven Trees this year, the Little Leaf. We chose it because it was supposed to be disease resistant and a prolific producer of pickling cukes. Our ended up with some kind of disease, though with the wet spring and cold summer, I'm not surprised. We still managed 20 quarts of pickles so far, and plenty of fresh cukes for salad. Newt, ever-helpful, is inspecting my picking results.

When I wash the cukes, I also scrub off the spines.

Then the ends get nipped off. If you leave the blossom end on, it produces an enzyme that will turn the pickles mushy.

The lids and jar rings are boiled for 10 minutes, and I sterilize the jars by placing them in the oven at 250F for 10 minutes. (Most people use boiling water or a dishwasher to sterilize jars, but in our small kitchen it saves a lot space to do it this way.)
Each jar gets a clove ot two of garlic, some fresh dill flowers, and 1/4 tsp of alum. We tried all kinds of recipes that didn't use alum, but none of them resulted in crisp pickles. So back to the tried and true, old-fashioned recipe from D's mom.
Each jar is packed tightly with cukes, carefully, since they are still hot.
Then I fill it up with boiling brine.
Seal the jars.
And listen for the happy sound of the lids popping as they seal.

Our recipe:

In each sterilized jar put - 1 stalk dill weed

1/4 tsp alum (look in the spice/baking section of your grocery store)

1 or 2 cloves peeled garlic

Pack jar with washed, trimmed cukes, cover with hot brine & seal. Store in cool, dry place for 6 weeks or longer before eating. If any jars don't seal, keep them in the fridge and enjoy.


1 1/2 quarts white vinegar

3 1/2 quarts water

1 cup regular salt

You can halve the recipe if needed, and we save leftover brine to use if we're going to make more pickles within the week.