Thursday, February 26, 2009

Surprise snow storm!

Not that snow isn't to be expected in February, but generally we get a bit more warning than we did with this one. The rain/snow mix that started mid-morning turned into a full-on snow storm by evening. Nothing too terrible, but the north winds brought the temperature down to the low 20's rather quickly, and we spent the evening making sure all our critters were warm & cozy.

Speaking of warm & cozy, Magnus has the newspaper basket staked out for his naps. Somehow he convinced a human to make a privacy screen, since he's constantly hassled by photographers.

The picture below is a preview from this weekend's upcoming blog post about beer as food & medicine. I came across some amazing and hilarious advertisements from Rainier Brewery from the early 1900's. Further research uncovered a lot of information about how important beer has been in terms of health & comfort over the years, and how motivated modern breweries were to find loopholes in the Prohibition laws.

On the gardening front, we just ate the last of our onions, garlic, Reddale potatoes, and buttercup squash from last year's harvest. This year we should be able to grow and store a lot more, though we still have plenty of Island Sunshine potatoes, canned green beans, pickled beets, pears, dill pickles, dried apples & pears and applesauce to tide us over.
I'm sure most folks have been following the recent economic headlines with all the failing banks, bailouts, TARP plans and so on. With so much information coming at us so fast, it's easy to tune it out, even when we need all the help we can get to make decisions for our households.
One blog has made a world of difference for us at Seven Trees. If not for the explanations and analyses I have read at Calculated Risk over the past few years, we would have never been able to do what we needed in time to finance the new garage (and get a better loan) before lending rules were tightened. Those rules have changed many times since, as have a lot of other economic factors, and I highly recommend giving Calculated Risk some of your time. And don't forget to check out the comments with each post. The people there manage to have a good time while contributing even more worthwhile information about the nitty gritty of what is happening to our money.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Photo interlude #387

Life at Seven Trees is starting to get even busier now. We are part way done with adding an electrical circuit to the barnyard, have onions & chard sprouting in the greenhouse, some just-delivered firewood to stack, a beehive to paint before the bees arrive in April, and so on. Here are a few random pictures of goings-on this week....Homemade pizza again, always a favorite.
Newt has decided to be boss kitty of the house. She beats up the other two cats, bullies the dogs, demands treats, and hogs the best chair for her naps.

Magnus just wants to relax & enjoy life. All he needs in this pose is a clam on his belly to crack, and he'd be a land otter!

Can't do anything outside without proper inspection. For some reason, digging the trench for the power line is fascinating to all the critters. Gemini even got in the trench and walked along the whole way. I guess he wanted to make sure it was up to code. Here's Crichton, Fergus, Stewart, Doug & Buddy, keeping an eye on things. BTW, this shot is from our front stoop. I love being able to stick my head out the front door to check on the animals, or just to ring the front bell and call pony over for a treat when he's in the yard.

We found a really great deal on straw on craiglslist, so the kitties just had to check it out for themselves. You can barely make out Newt in the shadows, and Maggie is enjoying the smell of fresh straw.
We'll be working on the electrical project this weekend, stacking wood, canning chili, and hopefully having dinner at the Beach Store cafe on Lummi Island Saturday evening. We also have a cow's tongue in brine in the fridge. It will pickle for 7 days, then soak 2 days in plain water, then be slow-cooked. If it turns out tasty, we'll post the recipe. Getting beef fresh from the butcher and raising our own, means we can get every last bit of the cow to eat. I'm sure some things we won't like, but we can share that with the dogs.
And speaking of dogs, Stewart got to help round up cattle the other night. The barnyard gate wasn't latched, and the steers got out into the backyard right about bedtime. We tried rounding them up ourselves, but it wasn't working. So we brought out the specialist. Stewart has a knack for knowing how to circle around and drive them in the right direction without spooking them. It is so cool to see him work. German Shepherds were originally a herding dog, and Rottweilers are derived from an old Roman cattle-herding protection dog. Stew must be channeling his ancestors, since we've never trained him to herd cattle.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Kailyards and Plantie Crubs, oh my!

The picture above is of a kailyard c.1936, on the island of Foula, a part of the Shetland Isles. The climate in parts of northern Scotland is so harsh that even today gardening is a challenge. One way early crofters dealt with the cold and salt sea air was to build walled gardens. Even so, not much would grow but hardy plants like Shetland cabbage (kale) and more recently, potatoes.
These two pictures are of the Ham Doon kailyard (also on Foula) in spring and summer. The word kailyard literally refers to a small plot of land or kitchen-garden where cabbage (i.e. kail) and other vegetables may be grown. The word kail is recorded in Scottish sources from the late fourteenth century onwards and derives from Old Norse kál. Kailyard has been in use since at least the sixteenth century, and is attested in official documents such as the Edinburgh Testaments, e.g. 'Ane littill hous and cailȝaird' (1586). Widespread use of such plots of land is noted by John Sinclair in his General Report of the Agricultural State and Political Circumstances of Scotland (1814): 'Those who work as day-labourers, in the capacity of hedgers, ditchers, dikers, village-shoemakers, tailors, wrights or joiners, and the like, have now almost universally little gardens, called kail-yards, attached to them'.

Before potatoes came to Shetland towards the end of the 18th century, people
preserved kale in barrels of salt, similar to sauerkraut in Germany. They also fed it to livestock
through the winter. Shetland kale/cabbage is the only Brassica that can withstand the winter salt blasting in Shetland. It was fed mainly to lambs (called “settnins”) over their first winter, though outside leaves would be given to the cows in autumn and some hearts would be used domestically. Above is a modern-day kailyard, post harvest, with a few remaining cabbages. Shetland kale grows its heart on a 12-15" stalk.

Plantiecrubs (also plantiecrues) were turf and stone walled enclosures, used for growing cabbages and kail. They were a feature of the Shetland and Orkney landscape, like these examples on the remote island of Foula, in 1902. The walls have a stone foundation, with turf above and further stones laid on top. Additional height is provided by a fence. The space within gradually rose above ground level with the accumulation of manure. Plantiecrubs were used by tenants and could be built anywhere on the common grazings. A few were still being used in the 1960s. In much earlier times, enclosures like these were also found on the Scottish mainland. A very few planticrubs are still in use in 2005. They are used for protecting Shetland Kail seedlings through their first winter. The seeds are sown in late July/August and the seedlings are set out in kailyards the following spring.

The plantiecrubs are covered in netting to prevent birds from getting in and ruining the seedlings.
Most gardeners in the US today take advantage of relatively modern (and convenient) technology in the form of greenhouses, cold frames, heating mats for seed trays, grow lights, etc. But it's always a good idea to check out what methods people have used to grow food (and to check out food plants that can survive extreme conditions) in other times and places. You never know when the information might come in handy, or inspire a better way to grow something in your own garden. Many garden manuals mention growing tender plants near a south-facing stone wall. The stones catch heat from the sun during daylight, and radiate it to the plants after dark. Most of us don't need a plantie crub to ward off winter salt winds, but if you have a lot of rocks handy, it sounds like a low-tech way to gather some free heat for the garden.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Spring project kick-off

At the Cattlemen's Winterschool last weekend, we got some info about the Western Washington Fruit Research Foundation. It was formed to fund tree fruit research at the WSU Northwest Research & Extension Center in Mount Vernon, WA. They are holding their annual winter field day on March 7th, with seminars on pruning, grafting, pests, and general fruit and berry growing. Looks like we won't be able to make it, but the websites of the 2 groups have some very helpful tips for fruit growing in the Pacific Northwest.
There were over 700 people attending the Winterschool. We took classes on barnyard drainage issues, beekeeping, cider-making, composting, and chicken processing. We took a lot of notes and got some great handouts from the teachers and exhibitors. Looks like we may be getting a beehive this spring after all! We're really looking forward to next year's workshops, since you can only take 5 classes, there were a lot more we missed out on. And we're hoping they add an intro to draft animals, so we can get some ideas on putting Gemini to work at Seven Trees.
Magnus is teaching his own winterschool in advanced sleeping techniques. I love his method of falling asleep in the rocking chair while doing his laundry. A real professional!

We got the spare coop moved this weekend. We need to paint it before we put it up on pier blocks, and start getting it ready for the new chickies in March. Sometime this summer we'll insulate it and add a layer of plywood inside, so it's as warm & cozy as the smaller coop.

It was quite a workout, walking it across the barnyard. The steers are happy to have a little more room for roughhousing, and now we can enclose both coops in a varmint-resistant run. We're getting ready to start the next project, which is running power to the coops and barn. What a treat to get rid of extension cords and have a real electric light to work by. We'll also add a security light near the end of the drive, since the front porch light doesn't really make it out that far.
We're still eating last season's onions, garlic, squash & potatoes fresh from the garden, but not much left. We'll be planting even more this year. Plenty of canned goods left, green beans, pears & applesauce especially. I'll be making jam out of the blackberries & strawberries left in the freezer, to make room for upcoming harvests. Always something tasty in season here, once we figure out what to grow when, and how much to preserve.
Here's Doug & Buddy showing how excited they are about the coop-moving project. Doug definitely takes after his mom when it comes to being bossy and yelling for food....

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Springing into February

Check out this before & after picture of Hidatsa Shield Figure beans! They really plump when you cook them, and taste great. Hidatsa is the name of the tribe that originally grew these beans, and the dark part of the bean is supposed to resemble they way they painted their shields. I haven't seen any Hidatsa shields, so I can't verify that ;)
These beans were recently boarded on Slow Food USA's Ark of Taste. (Be sure to check their site out for all kinds of amazing foods in danger of disappearing.) We've grown Hidatsa beans for 2 years, and will keep them in rotation as a house favorite. Dry beans take up a fair bit of garden space, and take a long time to mature, but it's worth the trouble to find out for yourself just how tasty heirloom beans can be. You can buy your own Hidatsa bean seed here, or check out Local Harvest to see who's growing them near you.

Finally! Paychecks, days off, and end of road restrictions all aligned so we could have a load of gravel delivered. It was a fun day of being local. The gravel came from the pit nearly next door, then we drove 3.5 miles to our local Breckenridge Dairy for milk (check out this picture of the dairy drive-thru during our recent floods), ran into a neighbor who had just seen a friend/coworker/neighbor coming down the Pole Rd. on his tractor to spread the gravel for us. He brought his cute little dog, Roxie, with him, and took some of our homemade goodies back with him. We had to leave for grocery shopping and traded our hard earned cash for more local delights - fresh oysters from Taylor Shellfish farms. We grilled the oysters on the BBQ and ate them with lime wedges, hot sauce & melted butter.

Stewart, doing his lapdog impression. He's going on 3, but still a puppy at heart.

And as usual, Magnus, demonstrating how stressful his life is.
We also attended a day of classes in assorted farm & livestock management called the Cattlemen's Winterschool. Here's this year's class schedule, so you can get an idea of what is offered. It is a program of the Washington State University extension, and they have an incredible amount of useful information on their website alone, not to mention all the classes and publications available through them. More about our day of agricultural fun later this week!