Monday, August 24, 2009


Check out this big blue addition to Seven Trees' workforce! It's a 2007 Dodge Ram 1500 SLT 4x4 V8 from Dewey Griffin in Bellingham.
We started out looking for a Toyota Tacoma, but after test driving (and pricing) them, plus a Tundra and a Nissan Frontier & Titan, we realized we could get a lot more use out of a full-sized truck, and that the Dodge Ram is a lot of truck for the price. It's going back to the shop this week to have a bedliner and some running boards added. You wouldn't believe how high those seats are off the ground!
We harvested all our onions this weekend. Quite a pile, and that's not including the ones we've already eaten.
They have to cure for a while before we take the tops & roots off and store them in the pantry.
A wheelbarrow of beets (and the not-quite-finished painting project in the background). This is about 1/2 the harvest, since the first 1/2 is already pickled & jarred.
We left them in the ground longer than usual, but they should still be good pickled. Luckily the cows like them, so any we don't eat will be put to good use. All the critters loved the pile of tops we took off, leaving around 50lbs of beets in the basket.
And for the exciting finale, this year's garlic harvest, ready to get cleaned up and brought inside for storage.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Busy bountiful summer!

The new pullets have just started laying. We had to hurry up and add some nest boxes to their coop, since the older hens don't share their house too well.
Coop with a view! This Welsummer was a little perturbed by the sudden appearance of 'air conditioning'.
Much better! The young gals are getting the hang of laying now, but we did find a few eggs in the barnyard this morning. Practice make perfect!
Here's a bit of the squash patch. You can just make out the yellow yardstick in the middle of this jungle. The vines literally grow more every day, and we have to chop them back from the melons, cukes, beans, maters & peppers that are trying to hold out against the onslaught.
The warm summer is good for the few melons we're growing this year. Not quite ripe yet, but close. This is a Blacktail Mountain watermelon, developed in Idaho and good for cooler summers.
We totalled up our harvests so far this year, just to see how we're doing....
1lb asparagus
27lbs assorted lettuce
3lbs mint/lemon balm/catnip
3lbs nettles
15lbs chard
27lbs kohlrabi
14lbs carrots
6lbs onions
15lbs tomatoes
32lbs cukes
17lbs broccoli
116lbs taters
25lbs blackberries
20lbs green beans
50lbs beets

1340 eggs
59 heads garlic
4 heads cabbage
28 pints pickled beets
21 quarts green beans
5 pints relish
5 pints sweet pickles

Still to come:
We're frantically watering, harvesting, processing, and even starting some veggies for a late fall harvest. Maybe we should follow Newt's example and find a hidden nook to relax in. Here she is, tucked behind a stump in the barnyard. When the cows noticed me taking pictures, they came over to ham it up. Newt high-tailed it for some other hidey-hole.....

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Blue and the Gray

This weekend we time traveled back to the civil war era, and all it took was a fairly quick drive over to Hovander Homestead Park in Ferndale where a reenactment group, The Washington Civil War Association, was camped for the weekend. They had several events throughout the day, but of course the battle was the most dramatic.

The encampment was very authentic, and soldiers moved all about the area as we walked around.

The artillery officer moving to his position with the canon.

Civilians were also bystanders at this conflict. The scout below talks to a woman near the battle field.

The great thing is that there were men and also women fighting this day in uniform at Hovander, which many people do not realize was what truly occured in reality. The farther rider in this shot below is female. At least 250 women, and probably more, served on both sides of the war, disguised as men. "They Fought Like Demons" is a fascinating study about women soldiers in the American Civil War, and attempts to reconstruct the reasons why women entered the armed forces during this era. Some women followed loved ones, some wanted the freedom mostly denied them in normal society as females, and others were simply patriotic. Unlike their male counterparts, female civil war era soldiers were denied medals, pensions, benefits or any public acknowledgement of their contributions. The official stance was simply that women did not serve, despite any evidence to the contrary. The irony that we still today debate whether or not women can be soldiers is deafening. Women have always served, so I think people should just hang up that tired sexist notion.

The battle lines formed up much as they might have in the day with the smoke from canon fire drifting the field.

Drums and bugles sounded, and a drummer is seen marching below with the troops. I would think this red uniform would have made the young boy drummer here a considerable target.

Across the field those fighting in gray formed up as well.

There was an array of union uniform styles represented by the ranks.

And as the fire continued to be exchanged, casualties mounted. We had a pretty decent taste of what a real battle like this might have been like, but with live munition, screams of the wounded, and dieing, hell on earth was probably not an exaggeration about how it really was.

The canon was quite impressive in person! Louder than it appears in the video I must say.

All and all a very entertaining and educational day.

We have much left on our plate here at Seven Trees before snow flies, and sadly the days already grow shorter as it gets dark a little sooner now in the evening already. Still, it was well worth losing a day off to have enjoyed this.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Pease, porridge....bread?

Lammas means harvest season is underway, and a very important group of crops being harvested now are grains. Whenever possible, our ancestors transformed these grains into bread. And bread often wasn't soft squishy white stuff we see at the grocery store. Depending on one's station in life (and during times of famine), it could be rather "hearty", with pea, bean & acorn flour added for bulk.
Look at this "meadow" in the French Alps. It's actually an old wheat field. Medieval agricultural methods weren't terribly precise, and crops often had other plant species mixed in. Sometimes the mix was intentional. Rye, oats & barley might be sown along with the wheat, the resulting blend of grains called maslin.
Here's a modern wheat field, in contrast. Pretty boring, but easy to cultivate with giant expensive machinery. Bread made from mono-crops like this may be cheaper, prettier and more uniform, but not necessarily more nutritious. Agriculture on this scale also removes individual humans from the ability to grow, process and bake their own bread. A wonderful author and garden-farmer, Gene Logsdon, has just written a new edition of Small Scale Grain Raising that just might inspire you to reclaim your peasant past and grow your own bread. We're planning to give it a try at Seven Trees next year.
Please excuse the watermark on this picture, it's the only one I could find showing a variety of grain seed heads. From left to right: oats, spelt, wheat, barley. Rye, not pictured here, was another very important grain crop, mainly because, like oats, it could grow under conditions too harsh for wheat.
These loaves were baked by a member of the SCA for a period cooking competition, recreating medieval recipes. On the top is wastel, period "white" bread made from sifted wheat flour. It was sometimes called manchet (more info & recipe at link). In the middle is maslin, a whole-grain loaf made from mixed rye and wheat flours. On the bottom is horsebread, a recreation of the mixed-grain breads eaten by peasants, workers, and servants. All are sourdough leavened, and baked them inside an enameled cast iron Dutch oven.

Horsebread was a very coarse loaf, baked with roughly milled grains, pea & bean flour, with a ratio of 2 parts pea/bean to 1 part grain flour. The loaves were baked until very hard, like modern-day biscotti, so they would keep a long time. They were used as concentrated horse food, as the name suggests, but also eaten by poor people and during times of famine. Bread was the main source of calories for a medieval laborer. Records kept at Peterborough Abbey Manor at Kettering, Northamptonshire in 1294 shed some light on a farm servant's daily rations:
- 1/2 oz. cheese
-1/4 oz. butter
-2 3/4 oz. oats
-less than 1 oz. peas & beans
-5 1/4 lb. rye bread
All this comes to 6,035 calories, with the bread making up a whopping 5,440 of them. The first 4 items most likely went into a pottage or soup with kale, onion, garlic and/or wild greens gathered & grown by the worker, one can hope. Otherwise this would be a depressingly monotonous diet. Meat and eggs were not commonly part of a peasant's diet, unless it was a holiday and provided by the manorial lord.
It gets worse.
This is bark bread from Finland. It's now a traditional food, baked to keep alive the memories of harsh famines of the past. One of the worst occurred in 1596-1598:
"Spring and summer brought a lasting wetness. Day after day the heavy rain fell. Clothes rotted on the farmers' bodies as they worked in the wet weather. No dry hay could be brought in. It rotted and turned moldy in the barns. And the cattle, affected by the ruined fodder, sickened and died by the hundreds. The meat could not even be used to feed dogs and cats.
As autumn came and supplies ran out, no new grain could be harvested. The bins and pork barrels were empty. People looked for every possible substitute for their normal diet. They ate bark, buds, leaves, husks, nettles, hay, straw and roots. They ground up bones for flour."

Sounds awful! But people being people, they used what they could find to survive.
Not everything about medieval bread was so indigestible. This article, Early Period Grains and Their Uses, has more information about grains, and also some historically authentic recipes that don't sound too hard to try at home.
More medieval bread recipes at Gode Cookery, plus all kinds of period cookbook translations in case you find yourself wanting to recreate an entire medieval menu.
The bakers at Seven Trees have attempted historical cookery, with varying results, and will no doubt keep trying. As seen in our Smokin! post, an outdoor bread oven is on our hotlist.
Stay tuned for an update on Uncle David's monstrous rampage over, under & through the garden. This squash has even suborned the pie pumpkin and delicatas into its world-domination attempt.