Harvest Season

If there is a single harvest season, this is it. Exceptionally heavy rains in July have rejuvenated the pastures and put the garden on a course of steroids. The corn in neighboring fields seems to double in height weekly. Harvest time adds just one more layer of work to a busy diverse small farm.

On Saturday we had a father-son drive from an hour away to buy Sussex chicks. Our Speckled Sussex hens are likely to go broody anytime of the year but winter. And although we really shouldn’t be surprised after all this time, we’re still stopped in our tracks to see a hen walk from an outbuilding, chicks tumbling around her feet. Many weeks we have an ad out to sell chicks, pullets or cockerels. Both the birth and the selling of the chicks is a type of harvest.

Wendell Berry remarked that his dad’s farm advice was, “Sell something every week.” It’s a reminder that the farm constantly needs to be generating some income. Balancing the outgoing with the incoming is always a struggle. Our farm has its conventional income—selling meat from our hogs, cattle and sheep—and its self-sufficiency “income”—gardening, orchards, small fruits, poultry, firewood and lumber, and foraging and hunting.

It is a point of pride that we haven’t bought meat at a grocery store in 16 years. Providing for ourselves adds joy and confidence in ways that are hard to measure. Providing for customers is a way to pay the bills and to feel valued for the life we live. Don’t under estimate that latter, for without the steady stream of people raving about our pork, beef or mutton, the soul of the farm would drift away into a purgatory.

Throughout July, we have been selling lambs as breeding stock and marketing mutton; foraging wild mushrooms; harvesting tomatoes, eggplant, garlic, onions, and peppers; canning produce and cutting hay for the winter; and selling the odd batch of chicks.

We spent part of yesterday, the second time this season, canning tomatoes. Forty pints is the minimum to get us through winter. We have 36 on the shelves now and can easily double that amount in the next couple of weeks.

That is if one wants to avoid the shame of purchasing at the grocery store what could have provided by one’s own efforts. There is a point each winter when the hens fail to provide. That’s when I find myself in the grocery, skulking around like a man buying pornography, with a dozen eggs clutched close at hand. That perceived shame is the special preserve of the small farm.

Harvest continued today with honey from the hives, a small amount for our own use, about 30 pounds. That may seem like a lot, but between making mead and using honey for most of our sugar needs, it seems to disappear fast.Honey 3 001

We still call these months the harvest season. But if I approached the term with the right mindset, I would say that “harvest season” is really 12 months long. Even in the deep of winter, the land and the farm provide. Cutting and storing firewood, hammering plugs of oyster mushrooms into stumps, bringing in armloads of turnip greens on a cold December day—all are acts as surely a part of harvest as the plucking and eating of a ripe tomato in July.

Regardless of the “when,” a careful harvest, with work and planning, is renewable, an object lesson in resource use we would all be wise to learn and relearn.

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Reading this weekend: Peter May’s The Blackhouse and Todd Openheimer’s The Flickering Mind.

Ends and Beginnings: a scrapbook

Pickled green tomatoes with garlic and dill.

Pickled green tomatoes with garlic and dill.

Fall wines: perry and crabapple.

Fall wines: perry and crabapple.

Final peppers of the season

Final peppers of the season

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The last of the dill in the herb garden

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Winter squash is done

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Winter squash curing

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The season of the greens begins

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Young cockerels, soon to be coq au vin

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Steers on winter pasture

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The fig survived, barely, the polar vortex and has thrived this season

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The sheep graze

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The sheep expect

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Small hay barn is packed

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Fresh composted manure for all of the fruit and nut trees. Here is a load for a two year old hazelenut

This time of year is filled with completing chores from the last season and beginning the ones for the new season. Whether pickling the last of the green tomatoes or fattening the lambs for December holiday plates we are busy. Hope you are all taking time to enjoy this beautiful fall.

A Late Summer Scrapbook

Been a busy few days, days that I hoped would include cutting hay. But a trip out of town and a short three day window for cutting, curing and baling left me deciding to postpone. So, we’ve turned our attention to smaller tasks.

The author Simon Fairlie, in his excellent work Meat: a benign extravagance, makes a brief tantalizing reference to the Japanese method of fermenting their pig slops. I couldn’t find anything else on the subject. But armed with my imagination, a fair understanding of The Art of Fermentation, (an essential work by Sandor Katz) and a fifty-gallon plastic garbage can, I went to work.

I drilled a quarter-inch hole in the top of the garbage can lid and inserted a fermentation lock with a gasket. A friend had come over last Saturday and used our cider press. In payment for the use he left me with fifty pounds of pressed apple “cake”. I added the “cake” to the can, alternating with hundred pounds of hog meal. This mix was finished off with a ½ cup of kosher salt and enough water to just cover the meal. It was then covered and left to ferment for five days.

Our latest crop of pigs, of which we only have three, have been a bit stand-offish. They have grown slowly and showed little interest in feed. Let me tell you this new feed system has made all the difference. The first day they caught wind of the sweet fermented smell and came running. They have doubled their daily intake of feed. The first pictures are of the fermentation system and the next of some happy pigs.

Fermenting hog slops

Happy pigs

 

 

 

Earlier this summer I had been reading an “idea” opener of a book, The Market Gardener by Jean-Martin Fortier. He uses a tarp system on his gardens to suppress weeds. It is quite simple and effective. I tried it out on two garden areas. The pictures below show the dramatic change.

This garden had been used to raise greens and turnips last winter. Since that time I have over sown it with seven-top turnips twice, cutting down the greens before they developed seeds. After the second cutting I covered the area with a 30’x50’ hay tarp and left it for four weeks. After uncovering and tilling lightly, the area was planted in turnips, kale, rutabagas and lettuce.

Tarp

Tarp

Uncovering garden

Uncovering garden

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Tilling

Preparing the winter garden

Well amended soil

 

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A daily harvest

These late summer days are also focused on domestic harvest and preservation. We have been making jelly, chutney and wine most weekends and canning tomatoes. Today we will do more of the same. But we will also fire up the smoker and dry the Anaheim and jalapeno peppers.

That is all from the farm this week.

 

New Sawmill

A rare midweek post: here are some pictures of our new sawmill operation.

Slow Farming

“These were all manufactured so that a man with a little common sense could repair them.” We were walking the rows of horse-drawn equipment at an estate auction in Dayton, Tennessee. The comment was made by a neatly dressed farmer from central Georgia. Horse-drawn equipment (and farm equipment in general), though frequently ingenious in design, is straightforward. As the man pointed out, “No need to call an IT center in India.”

I’m sure someone has used the phrase already. But I’d like to call what we do “slow farming.” Carlo Petrini launched the slow food movement some twenty years ago to fight the rising tide of industrial food processes and their damaging impact on dining and culture in Italy. That movement has blossomed across the globe. And, although subject to some well-placed criticism, on the whole it has benefited civilization—with an emphasis on seasonal produce, local food, preservation of heritage breeds, seeds and traditions, and, most important, a renewed sense of conviviality in our dining rituals.

It occurred to me last week that the label “slow farming” was an apt description of farms like ours. Productivity, efficiency, and moderate profitability are certainly ever-present in our minds. But they also serve the greater end of allowing us to enjoy, savor, care for, and stay on the land. Too often the agrarian mindset loses out to the modern paradigm of profits, extraction, and haste. Yet, like a good pot on simmer, those older impulses bubble slowly to the surface with encouraging frequency.

It should be said that we are no puritans in this movement, both of us still firmly burrowed into the bosom of our lemming-like culture, in its mad dash for the cliff of climate change and resource depletion. But it is possible, at times, to slow down and allow that rush to the cliff to sweep around you.

Here are three slow farm principles for your consideration:

  • Take a daily walk—not for exercise, but simply to be in the outdoors, listening to the far-off hoot of a barred owl and watching with friends as the fog rolls into the valley below. Between tasks on the farm, walk up in the woods and harvest some newly emerged chanterelle mushrooms, or blackberries growing free for the grasping, all yours because you made time to slow that mad surge forward.

 

  • Thrift is good for the soul. Creating a useful and tasty dish from a hog’s head may not be the most effective use of your time. Likewise, the long hours rendering lard and making lye soap. Building your own kitchen cabinets, milling your own lumber, tilling your own garden, drying herbs, curing meats, and using horse rather than diesel power—all are tasks an economist would suggest are wasteful to the GDP. But what do we care? What do they know?

 

  • Preside over a convivial table. The sheer pleasure of gathering with friends and family to share a dinner of mutton simmered in beef stock and wine, eggplant baked with tomatoes and oregano, and new potatoes with rosemary—every single ingredient from your farm—must surely give pause to our fellow lemmings and cause a few more to slow and turn against that tide.

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Reading this weekend: The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the meaning of food. By Adam Gopnik.

A Farm Toolbox: Mattocks

This addition to the toolbox includes a “threefer”, a garden mattock, a weeding mattock and a pick mattock. These tools are pulled out of the toolbox when you are serious about the job at hand. Dirt will fly, pigweed will die and clay and chirt will disappear. Just make sure to mind the eyes when swinging the pick mattock.

Our three mattocks posing on the carry-all.

Our three mattocks posing on the carry-all.

 

Pick Mattock: this mattock has an adze on one end and a pick on the other. The mattock sits on a squat three foot handle. We use this to help start or finish digging out large holes. It is also used to excavate trenches. Stand in a wide stance over the hole, raise the mattock to a 45 degree angle and bring it down with force. Good things will happen.

Weeding Mattock: this mattock has a four-inch adze on one end and a two-inch adze on the other. It is attached to a long slender handle. This mattock is perfect for weeding in an established garden, an elegant tool that allows one to reach in among plants with ease. And with that long handle and light business end, I find that it makes light work in the garden of grubbing out intruders.

Garden Mattock: An adze on one end and a cultivator on the other, mounted on a short 12 inch handle this is a one-handed tool. This is my favorite tool to use when doing a quick weeding of the herb garden. Or, one Cindy grabs to clean a flower garden. It has a real heft that allows the adze end to grub out serious taproots. And the cultivating end has tines that are strong enough to work in the toughest soils. A sweet tool made sweeter by the purchase cost of a couple of dollars on a clearance table.

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Homestead Tip: a cider mill shreds cabbage. I took fifty pounds of freshly harvested cabbage, cut into quarters and ran it through our cider mill. It took about fifteen minutes. I then salted it and pressed it into the crock. It has been quietly fermenting away in the corner of the library. Pretty nifty!

Bargaining with the rain gods  

OK, give us some rain, not too much, not too little, just enough and when convenient…for us. With crazy weather patterns becoming the norm I’m not sure what totem offerings to make to whomever is listening. But I’m willing to try. Just clue me in big guy.

The folks in the UK, I hear, could stand a dry spell. The good people of the Gulf coast could use a month or two to dry out from Noah like deluges, just not too long…. And we’ve been running low for the year. Not a drought, yet. But edging into the scary zone where you know what can happen. So when a major system kicked up and started firing moisture northwards from the Gulf of Mexico and along a frontal line, we were hopeful.

But after a misting over 24 hours and by yesterday afternoon a mere measly 10th of an inch was in the rain gauge. So late on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, with the skies having parted I was glued to the computer watching stray storms popping up; calculating wind directions, intensity and whether the gods were going to play fair.

For a couple of hours we watched what appeared to be a promising cell fire up on the Cumberland Plateau. An agonizing drift eastward at a glacial pace and it finally crested the ridge of our valley around 6 pm. A nice round ½ inch dropped into the gauge. We’ll take what was offered. Do I need to slaughter a lamb or offer burnt offerings?

So after the rain of yesterday I piddled about the farm today, did a bit of fishing, mainly as an excuse to smoke a cigar. And I mulled over an email we had received. Someone wanted advice on leading a more self-sufficient life. I disclaim any authority to answer adequately. But apparently I can’t seem to resist the siren call of thinking I have something to say (see below).

So, while I’ve been a bit useless today, Cindy has been her usual industrious self. She has been cleaning our hive bodies and getting frames ready for our two new bee nuc’s. These are ones to replace the four hives lost last year to bad weather and poor management.

5 Guidelines to greater self-sufficiency

Lesson #1: Garden

Start by getting your hands dirty. Plant a garden. Grow what you like to eat. Plunge your hands into the soil, make some notes of what you did and repeat next season. It is not hard. At the end of the season you have some fresh produce, don’t waste it. Eat it, save it or compost it.

Lesson #2: Livestock

Start small and raise for your own home consumption. Raise only what you like to eat. It doesn’t take a college degree or permaculture certification to raise a hog out for nine months, butcher it and eat well for the next year. Chickens or ducks, a hog or a lamb, can all be raised successfully on a small bit of land.

Lesson #3: Work

We all have more time than we realize. So, use it. You are going to feel better at the end of the year when you have some food in the freezer and in the pantry, I promise. Knowing you can produce food for your family is simply the best feeling.

Lesson #4: Killing and cooking

Get over your squeamishness. You got an extra rooster, learn to butcher. Do it cleanly and humanely and honor it with a really nice dinner with some sides of fresh vegetables you grew.

Lesson #5: Intelligence

Use your brain. Educate yourself on the best ways to do any of the above. Our ancestors have been providing for themselves for thousands of years. Hey, how hard can it be?