Friday, July 23, 2010

Inspirational Reading

I've been reading a lot lately. It is one of my go-to mechanisms for coping with stress, along with napping and knitting furiously.

Most of the time, I get my books from the library, but every so often, I get an overwhelming urge to buy a book. Usually it's because it is a title that I don't have the patience to wait for at the library or, it's one that just looks so right that I feel that I must have it. Apparently, I am only a semi-reformed coveter of books.

When I go to the library, I am inevitably drawn to the gardening, animal husbandry, foraging and food preservation sections. With this farm house thing finally happening, I am downright thirsty for knowledge about running a small farm and self-sustainability. It recently dawned on me (extremely belatedly) that, when at the library, as opposed to at the bookstore, I could have as many books as my little heart desired, all free. I was reborn in that moment and started piling books into by bag - poultry husbandry for dummies, vermiculture, putting food by, etc. And so I've consumed a staggering amount of these books as of late, and therefore have a few recommendations for my like-minded granola hobby farmers. I have links listed here in the event that you'd like to buy, but as a dyed-in-the-wool cheapo, I'd encourage you to check your local library for them first and save yourself some serious dough.

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer
by Novella Carpenter

Review via Amazon - Highways roared in the distance. Gunshots could be heard a few blocks away. And a homeless man slept in an abandoned car down the street. Among these modern-day urban scenes, author Novella Carpenter put down roots literally turning a vacant lot in Oakland, California, into a working mini-farm, complete with vegetables, herbs, chickens, ducks, and bees.

The Encyclopedia of Country Living
by Carla Emery

This is the most comprehensive book on back-to-the-land living ever written! Carla will walk you through putting up foods, designing a barn, harvesting livestock, etc. If I could only have one book to aid me through this farm journey, this would be it.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (P.S.)
by Barbara Kingsolver

Inspiration with an education in the importance of feeding ourselves well, and having reverence for the food we eat and what it took to make it happen.

There have been so many others too - The Self-Sufficiency Handbook, The Backyard Homestead, Making Wild Wines & Meads, the list could go on forever. I feel like I've gleaned new little tidbits from each of these books that I will hopefully be able to successfully put in to practice, starting this fall. While our move will be too late in the year for us to establish anything in the way of a garden, or add new livestock, I hope to at least be able to hit the ground running on my foraging, wine making, and garden planning, all the while plotting and planning for the forthcoming spring, my first as farm girl.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Digging Beets

I planted beets this year as a small experiment. I only planted about 1/4 of one raised bed's worth, but in their little corner of earth, they grew like mad.

So, while I wouldn't call this a bumper crop by anyone's definition, we ended up with more beets that I know what to do with at the moment, but not really enough to justify canning them. I think that I'm going to try root cellaring.

Our soon-to-be new old house was built in 1925, and has a HUGE dug-out basement. The basement stays fairly cool and (for better or worse) a bit damp; ideal conditions for a root cellar. Based upon my obsessive research on the subject, I've come to learn that the best way to store an uncooked beet is to trim off the greens (leave 1 inch of stem to prevent "bleeding"), and bury the beets in a crate filled with clean, slightly damp sand. Making sure that they stay cool @ 32-40 degrees, and lightly misting the sand regularly, the beets should last for at least 4-5 months.

As for the trimmed greens, what doesn't get fed immediately to the bunnies and chickens gets chopped and dried in my food dehydrator for supplemental green fodder for the critters come wintertime, when green things become scarce. The greens are actually more nutritionally dense than the roots, containing vitamins A, B1, B2, B6 & C, and even more iron than spinach.

Dwight Schrute, have I done you proud?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Jammin' 'til the jam is through

Oh yeah! We be jammin' alright. Cherry jam and raspberry jelly so far this week, and apricot and peach are up next. My organic fruit man at the Farmer's Market says that he can get me a sweet deal on a case of #2 apricots for jamming and canning - $24 for 24 pounds. That's going to be a lot of 'cots!

I've had a little help with my preserving efforts. Here we have Scarlet working the Cherry Chomper -

Which resulted in -

12 Pints of Skeena Cherry Goodness

Factoring in the price paid for the cherries (organic), sugar (also organic) and pectin, my cost per 1/2 pint jar ends up being somewhere around $2.58. Not bad, but I could have done better if I had taken the time to go to Costco for 10 lb bag of organic sugar instead of using a bunch of 2 lb bags from my neighborhood grocery store. (I should also mention that, with both the raspberries and cherries, we ate some of the fruit plain, which, if I could subtract that from the cost of the ingredients, would lower my price-per-jar a bit.)

The raspberry jelly was my first attempt at a jelly, having always made jams previous to this. The price per half pint on it came out a bit higher, at $2.72 per half pint.

It gelled very well and came out only slightly cloudy, because I apparently squeezed the berries too much, according to the pectin package. Um, how does one juice a berry without squeezing it in some way or another?

Anyway, slightly cloudy or not, we now have a total of 30 half-pints of preserves put up so far this year. Brace yourselves, people. By fall's end I'll be giving this stuff away left and right.