Sunday, October 31, 2010

Jack of all trades

 Mr. O'Lantern is certainly a versatile fellow.  He can be carved,


 eaten (seeds AND flesh AND blossoms),

and still give us plenty of seeds for growing new pumpkins next year.  

So easy to grow, so easy to store, so easy to enjoy.  All hail the mighty winter squash!

Hubby's been baking

Yesterday, granola.  Way yummy this morning in a bowl with milk.

Today, shortbread.  Way yummy this evening with a cup of black tea.

Who knows what tomorrow may bring!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Cider and sweets

Friday was cider pressing day.  We jammed two cars full of family and drove down the road to the Big Stone Apple Ranch.  The lovely lady who owns the ranch graciously allowed the use of her press and her apples. Cousin Bethany was visiting from St. Paul, and joined my monkeys in the enterprise.   

We made thirteen gallons of cider, now safely tucked away in freezers for the winter.  If last winter is any indication, thirteen gallons will last us through March, at best.  We likes our cider.

I made a pie with some Cortland apples from the ranch, and it was dee-lish.  With the leftover pie crust I also made a dozen lemon tarts and some cinnamon straws.  All that, plus another batch of homemade crackers and date cookies.  Having company is such a good excuse to go overboard with baking.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Borrowed time

The starlings have arrived on their whirlwind fall tour.  The grove flapped hundreds of black wings and chattered loudly all afternoon.  One more reminder that summer has long departed and we are on borrowed time.  We have had sunny skies for several weeks now and above average temps, up until today.  Now we are back to normal -- days in the 50's, nights in the upper 30's.

The change in temperature has brought a renewed sense of urgency to our fall chore list.  Fortunately we've made good time with our list so far.  Hubby painted and roofed the bus shelter at the end of the drive.  Our snowblower has been repaired.  The chicken coop litter has been cleaned out.  The deck garden has been put away.  The hoses have been coiled and the outside water shut off.  The goats have been sheared, dewormed, deloused and had their hooves trimmed.  The yard has been tidied of toys and tools and scraps.

I worked a lot in the garden, digging the rest of the potatoes, pulling sunflowers and tomato cages, picking dried bean pods, saving seeds, harvesting the last of the broccoli and cabbages.

Hubby tilled the empty tomato and potato beds. I raked the hard soil and planted 150 garlic cloves, then covered the area with a thick layer of rotting straw.

Thanks to a fine gift from a good friend, I also planted and mulched some sunchoke tubers (Jerusalem artichokes).  I hope I didn't err by planting them in the fall, but I couldn't imagine trying to keep them alive all winter long in my refridgerator.  We'll see how it goes.

We had so much trouble with those darn cabbage moths this summer, I was afraid all my Brussels Sprouts would be filled with little holes.  [Filled with holes?  Is that an oxymoron?]  But upon closer examination (and removal of many worm-eaten leaves), I am hopeful for a good harvest.

I'll wait for one more light frost before I chop them down.  I think I'll use the machete my husband bought at a garage sale years ago.  Those thick stems really are a bugger to cut through.

Still to do on the chore list:  cleaning the goat barn, buying winter chicken feed, butchering roosters, pressing apple cider.  Hopefully the snow will hold off for another week or two.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A tale of two gardens

It was the best of gardens, it was the worst of gardens...

I have mentioned before that I have two gardens -- the one I have at my home, and the one I have at my work.  The garden at home is an ordinary vegetable garden, wide beds of various cool- and warm-season veges with a smattering of flowers for color.  I spent a lot of time on it in the spring and early summer, and in reward I was able to harvest a large (ish) amount of good-tasting greens, fruits and tubers.  It was too bad my three biggest crops (potatoes, tomatoes and beans) did the worst.  Yet overall, the house garden has been a modest success this year. 

The work garden didn't fare so well.  It never does.  It is patterned after a traditional Dakota Three Sisters Garden, which grows plants in hills rather than rows or beds.  I usually don't get it planted until early June (or mid-June, as it was this year), and there's never enough time while I'm working to spend weeding or mulching or watering.  The soil is different at the park -- there's much less clay, so it holds moisture far less well.  And there's a heckuva lot more critters in the park that like to snack on garden delights -- especially the large antlered kind that take full advantage when someone accidentally leaves the gate open overnight.

So, the three sisters garden at work ended up being a sister-and-one-quarter garden.  July's 'all-you-can-eat buffet night' for the deer dealt a heavy blow: one lone bean plant left alive, most of the corn missing and the remaining corn stunted.  Plus, judging by the corn picture below, I think Mr. Thirteen-lined ground squirrel has discovered a smorgasbord all of his own.  That, tripled with my general negligence, promised a dismal harvest this fall.

And dismal it is.  I've got a couple dozen ears of corn (Mandan Bride) that look like this:

I've got no beans and no sunflowers.  The only vaguely bright spot is the potential harvest of half a dozen of these lovely jarrahdales:

Like I said, I planted the garden very late so I am pleased by our extended warm autumn in the hopes that these beauties can mature properly.  I've never grown this variety before, and despite the less-than-ideal growing conditions they have done well.  I will be sure to save lots of seed from these (let me know if you want a packet).

This is definitely not a far far better garden than I have ever grown, but it has served its purpose as a learning tool.  I learn many things each year from the gardens I grow.  Too bad I keep learning about what NOT to do.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The goats' gourds

Earlier this year I noticed something unusual growing in the goat's pen -- squash.  The plants were growing from the 'compost' pile next to their barn.  I used quotes in the last sentence because it does not in any way actually qualify as a compost pile -- it is just a place where I put random vegetable things and muckings from the goats.  Someday, maybe ten or twenty years from now, it will all have broken down and I can add it to my garden.

The goats didn't eat the squash plants, for some reason.  Maybe because of the prickly stems?  When I made this discovery I thought, hurrah!  I have a bonus patch of winter squash, growing in a place with lots of fertilizer and four-legged weed control.  My happy dance was short-lived, however; it turned out that these were not, in fact, squash plants -- they were gourds.  Rats.  Cancel the order for homegrown pumpkin pie.  The seeds must have grown from gourds I chucked out into the pile last fall, from gourds I received in my CSA box.

The plants grew well throughout the summer.  Then I noticed something a few days ago -- the goats had started eating the gourd leaves.  Also, they had been taking a few experimental nibbles out of the gourds themselves.  So, if I wanted any kind of a gourd harvest,  I figured I should probably pick them fairly soon.

So, a few days ago we picked the gourds.  The monkeys were my hesitant accomplices.  Hesitant at first because 'harvesting gourds' sounded too much like work.  After we got out there, and they realized it was more like a treasure hunt than a chore, they got into the spirit.  Many of the gourds were still green and difficult to spot until too late.  We stepped on more than a few in our searching.

I think some of the seeds are actually a cross between gourds and another kind of squash. I'm sure the CSA farm didn't isolate the gourds from the other Cucurbits.

The mouse tired of picking after a few minutes and sat down near the fence.

We ended up with almost a feed bag's worth of gourds.  I'm not really a gourd person myself.  I'm generally too busy (or too lazy) to decorate in the fall.  Plus, I like my garden vegetables edible rather than ornamental.  What on earth am I going to do with all of these?  Are immature gourds edible?  How about their seeds?  Should I convince my hubby to try his hand at gourd carving?  Or should I hand my kids a slingshot and a bag of rocks and say, have at it?

New hay

Baking bread

I baked bread today, using a recipe from The Minnesota Homegrown Cookbook, given to me by my sister last Christmas.  I've made this particular bread before, so I know it works.  The recipe is called 'seeded oat and potato bread', and also includes sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and flax seeds.

This is the 'sponge', when the oats, potato and honey have been added to the yeast, water and milk.  Two cups of wheat flour have been stirred in as well.

Here is the dough after more flour is added, just to the point where it can be kneaded.

The dough has been kneaded (knedded?  kned?  knet?) and is set aside to rise.

An hour later, the dough is risen.  Next step, forming loaves.

The loaves are formed.  I slashed the tops with a knife and added melted butter.  Let rest a few minutes, then bake for 40 minutes.

Here they are, right out of the oven, ready to serve with our ravioli dinner.  Nothing like a heaping helping of starch to get us through a crisp, cool October evening.  Except that today it was sunny and 80 degrees.  Oh well, who's to know?

The bread is very good.  A nice soft texture with a bit of nutty crunch from the seeds.  Although I think it could use a bit more sweetness.  (Couldn't we all?)  Next time I may add raisins, and see how that turns out.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Fall colors

Minnesota State Parks has a webpage devoted to fall colors.  We (the employees) have to send in our leaf/grass/flower reports every week, so they can be uploaded to the internet.  Lots of people use this site to find the best places to see color at any given time.  Fall color is a big draw in the upper Midwest, although we don't have the reputation that New England has.

Being out here on the prairie, we don't get the fall color visitation that the North Shore (of Lake Superior) has.  I worked one fall at Gooseberry Falls State Park during the fall color rush -- holy moly, there was a ton of cars going through.  I spent hours each day out in the parking lot just telling people where to find a parking spot.

Our prairie park has a lot of amur maple, which turn a beautiful bright red in autumn.  It's really too bad they're considered an invasive exotic species for our area.  The original amur maples were planted here thirty years ago by the state (!) as a windbreak for our office/shop area.  Since then they have spread via seed and wind, clumps of small trees invading the prairie.  We cut them down, but there are always more growing amidst the grass.  I am loathe to cut the windbreak itself down because, after all -- a good windbreak is a good windbreak.  And they do look very pretty in the fall.  Even though they serve as a seed source for new tree growth.  It is a bit of a dilemma, at least for me.  So, right now we are just focusing on removing them from the open prairie.

It does make me wonder, however, what it is we're doing now that will be considered 'mistakes' thirty years down the road.

The cattails are so rich in color right now.  In the fall, the grasses usually outshine the trees on the prairie.

Here is one of our restoration fields.  You can see the big blue stem has established itself well.  This grass reaches about five feet tall.  I'd love to have seen the vast stretches of tall grass prairie that were on this land hundreds of years ago.

The leaves of the big blue stem change color in the fall, just as lovely as the leaves on a tree.  Just not as showy -- you have to look down to see the color, not up.  The stem itself turns an amazing shade of dark purple.

And while you're looking down, you can see a few other things too.

These little asters are about the only flowers still in bloom.  (Unless you count the occasional thistle, dandelion or spurge which never seem to STOP blooming...)

Most of the trees in this area turn yellow in the fall--elms, ashes and cottonwoods.  The trees are just about past peak already.  My fall color report for next week will reflect these changes.  With our high winds, the leaves don't stay on the trees very long after they begin to turn.  But the colors are lovely while they last.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


This weekend I paid a visit to The Red Barn.  This lovely barn is located on a farm just a few miles down the road from my place.  My neighbors built it to replace an older barn that blew apart in a tornado.  It's a really cool building -- there are stairways leading up to the second and third floors, plus up to the cupola at the top where you can peer through the glass windows and see for miles in every direction.

The Red Barn was a host site for the Meander, a local art crawl that takes place the first weekend in October.  Lots of cool art and lots of nice folks to visit.

I bought a beautiful bowl from my friend Mark Mustful, and a watercolor print from my friend Neva Foster.

I chatted with my good friend (seems I have a lot of artist friends, doesn't it) JoAn Melchild.  She also is a watercolor painter, but has begun using acrylics as well.  She was one of the first friends I made after we moved out here twelve years ago, when we were roomies at a Blandin Foundation retreat.  She told me once, 'I just look like a nice little old lady, but really I'm not.'  She's a hoot and a half.  We traded gifts with eachother -- I gave her that bouquet of cosmos, and she gave me a book and a package of grits.  Artists make very nice friends.

I wish I could have meandered a bit longer, or a bit farther, but there was work to be done on the farmstead.  We managed to shear the final two goats; pick the last of the peppers, tomatoes and zucchinis; harvest most of my herbs; and start the laborious task of digging potatoes.  Our hay man delivered 33 bales of grass/alfalfa for the goats' winter feed this afternoon and we tucked it away with last year's remainder in the barn.

Fall is here, the skies are clear and sunny, and we are busy busy busy.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Fall tomatoes

This is one of the pots of basil I have on my deck.  I've harvest most of the basil leaves from the stems.  But as you can see, there is more growing here than just basil.  Several weeks ago, during a mad tomato canning episode, I poured the blanched skins and whey from my refuse bowl into the basil pot.  A little bit of extra nutrients, I thought.  Little did I know those little tomato seeds would sprout and grow like crazy.  I am loathe to pull them, I want to see how big they get.  Although with the hard frost predicted for tonight, probably not much more.

I love a parade

Yesterday was homecoming for our little town, and a lot of folks (including hubby and I) came out to watch the afternoon parade.  The elementary school classes, grades one through six, got to march.  Preschool and kindergarten got to watch from the sidelines.  Hubby and I staked out a spot behind Benjimouse's preschool class and watched the flotilla go by.

While I was in high school I never went to a homecoming parade, nor the game or even the dance.  I never went to a sports event, ever, when I was in school.  Just not my thing.  Plenty of other things to do in a growing suburbia.  But in a small rural town the homecoming game is a bigger deal.  I think it's because out here in the country we don't take our school for granted.  A lot of little towns around us have consolidated and lost their schools.  It happens all the time -- just last year the neighboring town of Bellingham closed its elementary school and consolidated with Ortonville.  It really is a sad thing when a town loses its school.  It's as if the heart and soul of the community go with it. 

Some people in the parade carry buckets of candy along with them, and throw some out to the kids as they walk past.  It took no time at all for the preschool class to catch on to this wondrous fact.  They began to eagerly watch each of the floats going past, and to cry out 'candy!' when they spotted a likely benefactor.  When candy would fly the kids would jump up en masse and scurry out into the road to scavenge the sweets like little black-and-orange vultures.  The teachers had their hands full controlling their flock.

I didn't get a good photo of Number One Son, but here is Number Two waving his pom at us as he walks past.  This was his first year in the parade.  He was so pleased.

I feel a song coming on ...