Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Hitchcockian afternoon

The black snake, more like a swarm this time, returned to our house one day last week. When I drove home from work I could see some of them on the roadway by our house. I parked in the driveway and got out of the car. Apparently I disturbed them, for they all rose out of our grove and began flying in waves over our yard.

My husband told me they had been there for awhile, circling the house for over an hour. They would rise and fall from the yard to the sky, to the trees, to the house, to the yard, to the trees, to the sky, over and over and over again.

Finally they flew a little northward to the neighbor's old soybean field. All that black in the picture above is birds, not soil. Now I have a little better understanding of how passenger pigeons, back before they went extinct, could blot out the sun as they flew through the sky, enormous clouds of birds stretched horizon to horizon. I wish I could have seen that. But I'm glad I get to see this.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Having cake and eating it too

Yesterday we carved our pumpkins. Hubby opened up the tops, the boys scooped out the goop and drew on the faces, and then Hubby carved the faces out. They had a lot of fun, and were very proud of their pumpkin masterpieces.

I saved some seeds from the green pumpkin, simply because I thought it beautiful and the flesh inside was very thick. I bought it from a neighbor, and she grew a number of different varieties so the seeds probably won't breed true, but who knows. It's worth a shot. I'll plant it in an isolated part of the yard for an experiment next year. If I like the results, I'll keep the seeds.

When I was going to university several (many) years ago, one of my classmates who was from Belize once expressed his dislike for Halloween pumpkin carving. He was amazed that our country wasted so much food in this matter.

That got me to thinking. I like to think of myself as somewhat socially conscious. But I also enjoy our cultural traditions. What's truly amazing is that I live in a country where, for most people, this choice is academic. I don't actually need to choose between carving a pumpkin or feeding my family. I'm lucky enough that I can do both. But, obviously, there are lots and lots of people out there that aren't nearly as fortunate as I am.

We received a Heifer International Gift Catalog in the mail a few days ago. We've never received a catalog before. Is the timing a coincidence? Normally I refuse to respond to phone or mail marketing; however, I think I will make an exception in this case. I feel like celebrating Halloween and Thanksgiving a little differently this year, celebrating my fortune of living in a country where I can have my cake (or pumpkin) and eat it too.

Now I have to decide: rabbits, bees or trees?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Free to good home

We still have one kitten left from this summer's cat crop. Here she is, drinking leftover-from-supper chicken noodle soup. She is very sweet, furry, and has no problem being picked up or petted, unlike our other outside cats. Anybody out there want a kitten?

Right now we have three-and-a-half adult cats hanging around the farm. Calico Cat, the one that we managed to catch and spay last year, comes and goes. The other three (Pepper, Sally and Zoe) stay close by. If I could manage to catch any of those three female felines, I would have them spayed in a second. But they won't let me touch them, unless I'm feeding them. If they have food in front of them, they are usually too busy scarfing it down to pay attention to me. But if I tried to grab hold of them they would shred my arm to pieces.

Mother Nature actually does a pretty good job of keeping our cat numbers low. We had four litters this year, totaling about eighteen kittens. Of those, we adopted one for an inside cat, brought two to the humane society, and have the remaining one still outside. The others -- well, let's just say the others didn't meet with such a kind fate.

I'm quite pleased that we only have one kitten left from the summer. I don't want any more outdoor cats. A friend of mine tells me that when they moved out to their farmstead, they had just one male and one female cat. Now, nine years later, they have over thirty. And she feeds them all.

Another farmer friend of mine wasn't so soft-hearted. At one point the cat population on his farm totaled thirty-nine cats. He decided that enough was enough, and got his shotgun down from the rack. Now he has none.

I don't want to have to do that.

Maybe I'll put an ad in the paper. One cute and friendly, brown tabby kitten. Free to good home.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Busily winding down

This has been such a hectic week. We drove out to the Cities to celebrate my sister's wedding last Wednesday. Numerous relatives from Canada also came down, so we had a grand time visiting with them. Hubby, boys and I also attended a friend's pig roast. It was five fun-filled days away from home, but when we finally arrived back home yesterday we were all exhausted. We need a vacation after our vacation.

The day before we left I pulled the Brussels Sprouts out of the garden. Number Two Son helped pluck the sprouts off the stems. After a quick blanch they went into the freezer. I planted twelve plants and got enough for eight meals. Next year I'll plant more.

While at my parent's house, all the young boys went out to pick apples from the backyard tree. This tree bent over in a wind storm last year, but stayed alive. Dad wanted to cut it down but we all convinced him to let it live. It seems to be growing just as well as if it were upright. And picking apples from it is a whole lot easier now. The branches are mostly horizontal.

The goats are at the breeder until early December, so hubby and Number One Son went out this evening to begin cleaning out the goat barn. They got half-way done before it turned dark. We're supposed to get three days of rain, so the rest of the job might have to wait a bit.

It's the time of year when my body is telling me to hibernate. Maybe I was a bear in a previous life. All I want to do is stay under a warm blanket and sleep. The weather is changing so quickly and I feel unprepared for winter. I'm scatterbrained. Distracted. Tired. I should be out cleaning up the garden but the task seems too great. The basement needs a good cleaning, too. And the front porch. And the closets. The whole house, in fact.

But I am sleepy. Very very sleepy. Zzzzzzz.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Going whole hog

Our hog is back from the butcher. We didn't have this hog on our farm, but he was still our hog. He was born and raised at a local organic farm, the same farm from where we get our milk. I saw him as a wee pink piggy, a few days after birth, on a cold winter day. I saw him grow quickly in the springtime, frolicking outside in the mud with his brothers and sisters. I saw him become a young adult over the summer, grubbing his nose into the ground and rubbing his backside against the trees for a good scratch.

We had to buy a new freezer for this hog, since our other two freezers are mostly full. (More evidence of that looniness I mentioned in an earlier post.) So you can see here how much meat a butchered hog can give you. The top shelf is lard that I will render on a cold snowy day this winter. The second shelf is pork chops, brats and breakfast sausage. The third shelf is fresh roasts and hams. The bottom bin is bacon and ground pork. The door holds spare ribs, hocks, soup bones and liver.

I love cooking a fresh pork shoulder roast in the crockpot with sauerkraut and caraway seeds. And serving it with mashed potatoes, loaded with butter. So very very tasty.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A peeling

One bushel down, one to go. We did more canned and dried apples this evening, twelve quarts of canned and four quarts of dried. I'll try to do applesauce on Monday. If the weather warms a bit we can go out and pick more apples for cider. Doesn't homemade apple cider sound appealing right about now?

But the next ten days will be extraordinarily busy with meetings and seminars for work, plus my sister's wedding. I really hope the temps warm up a bit for the latter half of October, for we've tons of autumn tasks yet to finish. Cleaning out the chicken coop and goat barn in sub-zero weather is no fun.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Fun while it lasted

The boys helped me pull the remaining pumpkins and rutabagas out of the garden this afternoon. I also hacked off two Brussels Sprout stems and brought them in. We had some with dinner, and they were oh so good. In fact, both Graham and Benjimouse had third helpings. Owen, however, choked down his obligatory three sprouts and declined my offer of more.

Remember the first frost we had on September 29th? Well, here it is ten days later and what is it doing outside right now?

That's right. We have about an inch on the ground already. So much for autumn. It was fun while it lasted.

Picking apples

On Wednesday we went out and picked about two bushels of apples from a friend's orchard. Our newly bought apple picker helped tremendously. Right now a batch is in the dehydrator and another batch is getting ready for the canner. Tomorrow I'll do a vat of applesauce. I'll probably put some unbruised apples in my root cellar just to see how long they will last in storage. And if we have enough left over, maybe we'll try our hand at some cider.

Last winter I accidentally left a half-full jar of applesauce on the counter for a few days and ended up with some pretty potent applejack. Just smelling it brought stars to my brain. Hubby refused to taste it so it ended up in the bin. Fermentation is a strange and wonderful thing.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Roots in my cellar

Sorry it's been awhile. Went out of town, busy at work, lotsa stuff happenin'. Too much to cover here in one post. So I'll split it up a bit.

First and foremost, our root cellar is finished! A big shout-out to my brother-in-law Caleb, aka Redeeming Restorations out of St. Paul, for finishing this in less than two days. He did a great job.

The root cellar is in the basement of our 1912 farmhouse. In ye olden days the farmhouse had a coal furnace, and a small room was framed in one corner of the basement to hold coal. We still had some coal dust on the floor in there. When they converted the coal furnace to fuel oil they put the fuel oil tank in the old coal room, but left the walls standing. I don't have any 'before' shots, so you'll just have to use your imagination.

Here's the little room, with its new door. These pictures aren't very good -- hard to take pictures in such close quarters. Plus the flash sometimes does weird things to the color.

With the door open, you can see part of the new shelves. The room is probably about 4' x 6' total.

Looking directly in, you see the fuel oil tank straight ahead, the shelves to the left and the ventilation ducts. You can also see a tiny bit of the insulation. Double foam insulation on the walls and the ceiling.

There are two vents. The vent at the top draws warm air outside, and the vent that droops down brings cold outside air in. I will be putting in a remote thermometer that I can monitor from upstairs. The vents can be closed if it gets too warm or too cold outside. Ideally the cellar should be kept between 35 and 45 degrees.

At first I told Graham that this was the room we would put him and his brothers in if they were bad. He believed me. I told him to crawl onto one of the shelves to see if it would fit him to sleep on. He did. He said, 'it fits, but it's cold.' I told him he could have a blanket. Then I told him I was kidding, and it was really a place to keep vegetables cool over the winter. He seemed disappointed.

I put our carrots and potatoes in the cellar today. Some of the potatoes show some green (yes I know the green parts are toxic), and I am wondering if those will store well. We'll see. I also put a pan of water on the floor to keep up the humidity. This first winter will be experimental, seeing how long the veges will store, how well the humidity stays high, how well I can regulate the temperatures with the ventilation. I am very much looking forward to it.