March 2012

My cheese is beautiful! I got it waxed yesterday and now comes the wait. It won’t be ready to eat for 2 months and 6 would be better. I’m not a patient person so I made a mozzarella yesterday. Instant gratification! I need it anyway. I’m cleaning out the freezer and finding pits of vegetables that will only be consumed if hidden in a lasagna. I had planned to make one last night but the owners of the deli/grocery that Karen has worked since she was 13 took her out for a lovely dinner to celebrate her 18th birthday and we decided to have fish. We love fish but seldom eat it because Karen is allergic. We don’t eat it front of her because she loves it so but just being in the same room causes her to get hives and make her lips swell up.

I got a wonderful sourdough going. It’s such a crap shoot to make. This time I appear to have caught a good yeast and the flavor is awesome. I used potato water and it seemed to work just fine.

One week ago I was out in the strawberry patch, in short sleeves, pulling weeds and planning the expansion. Today, Phoebe will need her heavy coat for school. It looks to be cool and cloudy all week. This works as it seems I need to fly to Florida on Saturday or Sunday. My daughter, Neddy, had some emergency surgery last night. It was a ruptured ovarian cyst and she won’t be up to caring for her children for week or so. Chad can get the time off from work but he won’t get paid for it and this young couple just can’t afford that. I’m presenting at the Master Gardener’s Symposium on Saturday morning. I don’t want to bail on them at the last minute so I’ll look for a flight in the afternoon. I just realized that I have to carry all of my equipment back up the stairs from the basement and out to the car. I knew there was a reason I don’t like to do trainings two weeks in a row. It’s a lot of work!

I’ll be too busy to do much in Florida but care for my grandkids but I will bring a plot plan for the herb garden and strawberry patch with me. We have space that needs to be filled in. We had one plan but I had complained to Bruce that the herb garden, the prettiest spot in my yard, is no longer visible because of the second greenhouse. He had the idea of enlarging to the small plot that was going to hold the new section of strawberries. We could move the walkway and have a good portion of the garden show from the back porch. That works but now we nowhere to put the strawberries. I’m not sure there is enough sun in the spot that was going to hold the rest of the herbs. I could try to talk Bruce into sacrificing a bit more lawn( a big bit) but he does not share my permie dreams. He loves his lawn (crazy. crazy man) and I already dug up a section for the blueberries, another for the plum berries and let’s not forget that I have a big Oiko’s order coming in a few weeks. I’m thinking of feigning surprise when it shows up. “Who could have sent these plants to us? I have no idea where they came from. Whatever shall we do with cranberries, nanny berries, sea berries and several trees?” To be honest, I don’t remember what I ordered. I just can’t be trusted with a catalog and a credit card.

I have some fun stuff coming up. This is the time of year when my permie group and seed saving guild gets together for seed and plant swaps. Last year I gave away 300 strawberry plants and buckets of raspberry canes. It feels good to know that they produced and multiplied. This year, I’m looking for scion wood, Calendula seeds (I went and gave all mine away) and decent blackberry canes. I transplanted mine last year so the people next door could hang out laundry without being slashed by thorns and they have not done well in their new home. The cress didn’t take either. The first year it was killed by drought and last summer it was flood. Do locusts like cress? I hope not. I plan to try again.

Thank you all for your patience with my bad mood on Friday. I’m better now.

What really helps when I get the blues is to get busy. The stars aligned yesterday and I found myself with 2 extra gallons of raw milk from my CSA and a full day without some mid-day interruption so I decided to try cheese making again. The first batch of cheddar I made fed the chickens. I won’t give up until I master the process.

It isn’t hard but it does take some careful watching to keep the temperature in the right range. You have to heat the milk to 90 degrees and add the mesophilic starter, hold for 45 minutes, add the rennet and hold for another 45 minutes. The you cut the curd and increase the temperature to 100 degrees over the next 30 minutes. Ricki Carrol’s book says to do this in a sink of hot water. My sink is big enough to wash a Volkswagen in and I hated to use tha much water so I got out an old enamel canner I had in the basement. My big stock pot fit in just right. I was able to increase the temperature by turning on the gas for just a minute every ten minutes or so. It worked out really well. Next the cheese is pressed; 10 pounds for 1 hour, 20 pounds for another hour and them 50 pounds for 12 hours. I took of the cheese cloth this morning and my round looks lovely. I think I will dry it on the counter for a bit and them see what the humidity is today. I may transfer to my Excalibur. Set on the lowest setting, the cheese will develop a nice rind and the cat won’t get into it.

There are so many benefits to knowing how to do this. In the spring and summer we have a glut of milk but production slows down in the winter. How nice to have a way to store that calcium and fat for later use. And having cheese makes so many wonderful foods possible. This cheddar was made from cow’s milk but the goats are kidding now too and I have ready access to goat’s milk so I think I’ll be doing a lot of cheese making in the coming months. No wonder I prefer pants with elastic waists.

Ignore the tags on my pictures. I have figured out how to tag a folder but not individual pictures. These are obviously not pictures of Phoebe wearing the pajama bottoms she made. Ah well. One skill at a time. During the Zombie Apocalypse, it will matter more that I can make cheese than tag photos.

I go through this from time to time. I try to come up with an interesting topic and come up blank. That, combined with taking on a lot of work for the next few months, makes me think that I will post a bit less this summer. I did three workshops for the Marshfield Ag Commission on Saturday. It was so much fun but I don’t think I’ll do any more trainings that involve so much driving. Six hours on the road is more than I’m comfortable with, especially with gas nearing $4.00 a gallon. The up side is always the people. The nicest people tend to come to gardening and food preserving workshops. We speak the same language. It’s one of soil and weather, food and animals and dreams of rural living.

I will be presenting the same workshop in Holyoke at the Master Gardener’s Symposium next Saturday. I will home in the early afternoon, in time for a nap before going to the Community House for Earth Hour. It’s an annual event here ond one I look forward too. We have great music, interesting speakers and a few information tables. I’m helping out at the seed exchange table. I’m looing for a few things and I have a lot to swap. Again, it’s the people that make these events so special.

So what’s out at your house. I have garlic, rhubarb and walking onions as well as lots of hers and greens. We’re expecting a freeze, maybe a killing one on Thursday. I just hope the fruit crop is not lost. My trees have small leaves but no flower buds so there is still hope.

I do have one prep tip for you today. On the trip to Marshfield, we stopped at the Charleton rest stop. We were maybe 6 miles down the road when I realized I had left my purse behind. We had to drive to the next exit, get off the pike, get back on and head back until we could get back on below the exit. It took almost 30 minutes to complete the trip. I found that someone had turned in my pocetbook to the McDonalds. The young man was still there and I had an opportunity to thank him. He was maybe 20 years old, Puerto Rican with saggy pants and tattos. He just waved off my thanks, embarrassed I think by my tears and gratitude. Anyway, it occured that it was not the money in my wallet that would have bothered me. It was the other stuff. Today, I plan to make copies of all my cards. I have one credit card, lots of insurance cards, my liscence and appointment book. There is no reason for my book to travel with me so that’s coming out. I would have been hard-pressed to remember all that I was carrying so making a copy of everything would make replacing it all a lot easier. I also need to reconsider how much cash I keep on my preson. It might be better to hide some in my car and keep just a small amount in my wallet.

When it comes to an emergency, I am far more likely to lose my purse on a trip than I am to find myself stranded by an EMP so it doesn’t make sense to prep for one and not for the other.

I’m going to regret this, thinking it’s spring when I know better. Apil is often a month of freezing rain and short, heavy snowfalls. Unfortunately, my plants are just as confused as I am. They are budding out, leafing out and a period of freezing weather could do them in. Still, there’s no point in worrying about what I can’t change. For now I’ll just enjoy the shirt sleeves and the greenery. Here’a some pictures of what I found on my morning walk around the garden. Of course, as I can figure out quite how this woorks I labeled all the pictures maple syrup. It’s obviously lots of other things. The bee hive frames are waiting in the green house for new foundation.

Ben and Maggie moved out in December and Now Nate and Amanda and their two kids are moving in. They have decided to build a house on some land we own just a mile or so away and will live here while they get the house up. It’s a good news/bad news thing for my household organization. The bad news is that I have to clean out and organize if I’m going to come up with enough space. The good news is that I have to clean out and organize.

I’m pretty neat anyway but I do tend to accumulate stuff. It is an ongoing process to keep food and tools and books and the flotsam and jetsam of daily life from overwhelming us. The summer kitchen is a big help. I have all of the candle making stuff out there now and it’s way better than having it all over the island in the main house. I spent some time yesterday in the basement organizing canning supplies. Much of the canned food has been used up and I have many hundreds (dare I say a thousand) jars. I make an effort to keep them sorted by size but lots of times it just doesn’t happen. I also have cases of lids, regular and Tatttler and a huge collection of rings. I will say that, without the wood stove going in the basement, it felt downright cold down there. I could have devoted a few more hours down to sorting out but it was just too pretty a day for that. I cleaned out a bit more of my herb garden and started on the strawberry patch. I can see bits of onion and garlic peaking up and the rhubarb is showing some signs of life too. I’m not sure that I can remember a March afternoon when I was outside in a T-shirt cleaning out the strawberry patch.

Breakfast yesterday was pancakes. They were made with sour milk. I had miss a bottle in the back of the fridge and by the time I realized I hadn’t used it, it had turned. The lovely thing about raw milk that has soured is that it’s still food. Pasteurized milk that goes bad is fit for nothing but the compost pile. I used a recipe for buttermilk pancakes and they were really good. Of course, a dollop of amazing maple syrup didn’t hurt them any.

My busy season is here. I’m going to be in Marshfield on Saturday doing three food preservation workshops and then I’ll be at Dean Technical HS for a Master Gardner’s Symposium the following week. Bruce and the kids are coming with me to Marshfield as it’s a long trip and we’re going to have a vendor’s table. I think it will be good for the girls to help run the table. We’ll be selling books, T-shirts, honey and candles. I don’t expect to make a lot of money but I do love the opportunity to meet other people enjoying the challenges of leading a more prepared and self-reliant life.

I did want to share one final thing. I have always visited a number of forums devoted to preparedness. I know you know the ones I mean. I had them in my favorites and I checked in each day. I find I’m just not doing it anymore. Some are devolving into political rants and others are mostly gun porn. I find the anger and paranoia was starting my day off wrong. The sites I prefer have a much more practical bent. I really don’t want to read about red versus blue, democrat versus republican, north versus south and liberal versus conservative. We have so many ways we can divide and define ourselves. If I had to put a label on my T-shirt I want it to say that I am human and so are you. I need this planet to be healthy and so do you. I want my children to have a future and so do you. I need friends and so do you. We aren’t all that different.

I just cleaned out my favorites bar. I’m feeling lighter and happier. jars aren’t the only things that need organizing.

I do a lot of things to enhance my family’s food security and participate in many activities that I hope will support my communities resilience but the most important thing I do is save seed. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a total novice but I’m reading and experimenting and learning all I can so I can become more adept. I have joined a local seed saving guild and, as with most things agricultural, I find the more I know the more I learn I don’t know.

My goal this year is to grow out three varieties of squash. I’m choosing Oregon Sweet meat, Delicata and Bennings Green Tint. This gives me one of each squash family, Maximo, Mushata and Pepo. They won’t cross with each other. I will miss the many varieties I generally grow but the idea is that I’ll grow a lot and trade with friends to get some variety. The trick is going to be isolating my squash patch from my neighbors.

I’m going to use two techniques. The first is season extension. I’ll be starting my squash indoors, something I never bother with. I hope that if I get a one month head start, my plants will be flowering well before my neighbors. I’m also backing this up with a plan to tape the blossoms of the female squash closed and hand pollinating several vines. I’ll mark the hand pollinated fruits and save the seeds from just those plants. The downside to this method is that I want to save the best plants for seed and I won’t know that I have chosen the strongest vines until they mature.

I’ve been all over the internet, looking for some documentation forms that our group can use. It’s vital to have a consistent method for tracking process and results. After several fruitless hours I decided to make my own form. This is the information I think we will need.

Name of plant
Seed source
Year saved
Where planted
When planted
How isolated
How pollinated
When harvested
condition of plant and fruit
How many seed saved
How gathered
How dried
How saved

There is also a space for comments. If there has been drought or flood, insect damage or disease, this needs to be noted. It’s surprisingly hard to remember these details over time and the information could be vital.

I have joined a couple of internet forums this week. Idigmygarden and Seed Savers Alliance both look good. Primal Seeds, International Seed Savers Institute and Seed to Seed Exchange also have great resources. I love the feeling I’m getting from doing this. There is sense of belong to something much bigger than yourself. This makes me better nderstand my role in a global community. National boundaries are about politics. Food is about people. One is artificial and the other ordained by nature. Maintaining a secure seed bank, specific to your soil and climate, is the best way I know to ensure that you and your kids, their kids and their kids eat. It goes beyond voting with your pocketbook. It means voting with your sweat. It’s my act of rebellion in the face of a toxic food system.

April is the month of the Hungry Moon. It may not be quite April yet but I can see why. My freezer is looking mighty sparse, the root cellar barren and my multiple canning cabinets have been condensed down to one. Even the dried food is looking bleak. I will just about make it until summer with mint for tea. The celery is gone as are most of the mushrooms. The garlic is sprouting and onions are history. I served the final jar of peaches this weekend and strawberries are just a memory until June. The good news is that we are eating the food. The bad news is that I can see I need to be preserving more next year.

With that in mind, I spent time out in the garden looking for places I can carve out more space for things I’m short on. Of course looking morphed into cleaning up. I pulled up all the plants that were left standing in the garden Ben and Maggie used last year. It stands right next to the strawberry patch so it makes sense to pull out the wooden border and add that 12×12 space. I will have plenty of plants to transplant. In fact, I remember pulling out a good 300 plants from last year’s patch and passing them on to friends and neighbors. I’ll do the same this year.

We have a weird, pie shaped spot of soil between the newer greenhouse and the canning kitchen. It’s just right for the herb garden expansion. I already dedicated a spot for the perennial onions but I don’t think it’s large enough. It will do for this year but in the fall I’ll be looking to expand. I need a bigger onion patch too. Someplace, I have to find room for the squash I’m planting for seed saving. I want it closer to the house so I can keep an eye on it. I love the planning but this spell of amazing weather is making me itchy to get my hands in the dirt. As the ground is still mostly frozen I’m relying on the greenhouse to feed the addiction.

I had a lovely experience yesterday. After cleaning up the small garden plot I moved in the herb garden. I wanted to thin out the sage and thyme and cut back the mint. As I pulled out dead plants I was rewarded with the most amazing smells. I had left behind a clump of lemon grass when I put the garden to bed last fall. It was bronze and brittle, looking as dead a plant can be but the lemon fragrance was so intense that my mouth watered. The sage brought to mind Thanksgiving dinner. Even the eucalyptus was still fragrant. I found mints and lavender and rosemary. They may be dead or dormant but the memory remains.

My son and DIL came for breakfast Saturday morning. It was a such a joy to offer French toast made with our eggs and my neighbor’s raw milk. I baked a big pan of bacon (baking it requires much less watching and it’s a lot less messy)and served the last of the peaches and strawberries on the side. Pouring on the syrup we had boiled the day before topped off a perfect meal. Now, if I could just figure out how to make mint tea taste like coffee I’d be all set.

I just found this quote. I wish I knew who said it first. It’s a keeper

We’re just about through with the boiling. We put up 2 gallon of syrup for personal use. The rest is going in pint jars. We’ll be giving some to the neighbors who let us tap their trees and my kids will each get a jar. It took 120 gallons of sap, hand gathered, to get this syrup. The whole process brought up an interesting discussion for Bruce and me.

Small works for us. I sometimes get calls from wanna-be-someday farmers who want to come by and see how we do things. I always tell them they will be mighty disappointed. Farm doesn’t define us. We are more gardeners with a lot of hobbies. We do a lot but none of it in volume. Most of what we make or raise is just enough for personal consumption or a bit of barter for what we don’t grow. A friend just dropped off some parsnips last night. I’ll be giving her some potatoes in exchange. I swapped some tomato sauce for a hand-made tote.

Small is good. I spent most of yesterday in the summer kitchen. There was a round of work. I would empty one of the sap buckets into the holding tank, transfer sap from the pre-heater to the evaporator and from the holding tank to the pre-heater then return the bucket to the tree. Run in the house and toss some clothes in the washer and empty the dishwasher, scoot back out to the yard and grab another bucket. As the sap thickened I brought it inside to finish and started a new pan of preheated syrup. Jars had to be washed, meals prepared and there is always something to tidy up. In between I started onion and leak seeds and also got the greens started that will fill the green house in a few weeks. Bruce got home and took over outside while I helped Phoebe with a school project and put away laundry. He did supper dishes while I ran over to a select board meeting. I got home and finished more syrup while he boiled outside. It was an exhausting process. Full sap buckets are very heavy, especially when you’re slogging through slush. The rewards would not be worth it if you were counting the value of our labor. For under $100.00 I could have bought this much fine syrup. The point however is not about making or even saving money. The point is to know how to do it ourselves and to make good use of our land and resources. Time I have. Money-not so much. If I was trying to do this on a commercial level, I would hate it. The work is sticky and messy. The big guys boil and collect round the clock. They tap heavily. We only put one tap on each tree. We quit when we get tired. There are a couple of hard days but few enough that we aren’t sick of it at the end.

I could anticipate a time when a neighborhood could get together and put up a small sugar shack. They could tap neighborhood trees, work together and share the bounty. It would work like our communal cider press. Shared labor, shared cost and shared fun. Small works.

Looks like we dodged a bullet on the latest solar storm. Storms don’t peak for another year and I’m guessing that people will get sick of hearing about them but I think the natural world bears watching. We worry so much about things like economics and politics, war and rumors of wars but it pays to remember what Guy McPhearson says. Nature bats last.

My granddaughter’s advanced placement English class performed Our Town last night. We were there in force to cheer her on and had a wonderful time. There was one thing that I found extremely annoying. The use of I-phones was really distracting. The child behind us kept up a constant stream of beeps and flashing lights while she played games rather than watch the play. This was not an antsy three-year-old. The little girl was at least ten. There were plenty of adults checking in on their phones as well. I find it difficult to believe they were all people waiting for life and death messages. Most likely, they were just rude. Ah well. I guess I’m turning into one those crusty old ladies, bemoaning technology and complaining about how the old days were better.

Yesterday was one of those days for getting out-of-sorts. I received a call letting me know that the old homestead where I purchased the nifty book had a dumpster in place and anything left behind was getting tossed. I ran up and did a quick walk-through. I took a van-full of sheets (those lovely, heavy cotton sheets that I remember from my childhood), blankets and heavy comforters home with me. These weren’t the cheap, department store comforters but really heavy and well-made. I also took a box of wash cloths and towels, lots of curtains and a big box of cleaning supplies. Much was left behind. It’s so sad to see the flotsam and jetsam of a person’s life reduced to garbage. I don’t need the bedcloths but I couldn’t bear to see them go to the landfill. Someone, sometime will be happy to have them. I am always aware that should something major happen, my kids and grandkids will all end up here. I can sleep a lot of people in a pinch and an extra set of sheets could come in handy.

Seeing that dumpster put me in the mood to clean. I emptied out and washed several kitchen drawers and then took down my curtains They’re a bit frilly actually and I realized that I had brought home a set that would look much better. It was a good drying day so I got them washed and hung up and I think they look much lighter and fresh for spring.

The boiling is going well but it’s very time intensive. The sap should run like gang-busters today. I’m planning to go to work for a couple of hours, then run home to empty buckets. My DIL asked if they could come on Saturday morning for a French toast and maple syrup breakfast. That sounds like such fun.

I’ll be light on posting for a week or two. I have two big food preservation classes to teach this month and I need to get them organized. My equipment needs to get polished up and I have to update my supply list. Both are new venues for me and I want to make a good impression. I was so disappointed in the NOFA conference and I want to make sure there is never a repeat performance.

I’m up very early this morning watching the international news. It’s not good. I don’t remember a time when resource depletion has been so front and center in the main stream news. There are a number of big events on the horizon that make me very happy to have a deep pantry and a way to heat my house. But back to our regularly scheduled programing.

We had a double birthday party here yesterday and after cake, ice cream and presents the talk turned to gardens. Ben and Maggie want to put in a small kitchen garden this spring. Without hesitation I began to plan out how they could get real bang for their space buck in a typical suburban back yard. It didn’t take long to decide where to put the asparagus and the strawberries. Potatoes and squash could be container grown. Three dwarf fruit trees would replace the one huge tree that is there now. The front yard could have plots that held gorgeous rainbow chard, towering kale and a border of beets. The back fence should be used as the support for tomatoes and string beans and lettuce would keep the ground mulched. There is a corner that would do just fine as a walking onion patch and I think garlic would do well in a patch by the shed. I could go on about some backyard chickens but I think they were really just talking about a couple of tomato plants. I do get ahead of myself.

In checking out a youtube video this week I found a series on wartime kitchens and gardens. It was wonderful although I could only find a few of the ones I wanted. If any of you have any idea where I could purchase the series I would be eternally grateful. It may seem a bit silly to. While others are watching videos of cats playing the piano or children singing inappropriate songs, I’m watching demonstrations on how to butcher a rabbit and learning how women stretched ration coupons. Here’s what I believe. When you think about something over and over you create a path. The longer your walk that path, the deeper and more worn it becomes. Before long, it’s a lane, then a road. That road is your choice. You can choose a life of consumption or one of frugality. You can choose to eat fast food or good food. You can choose to grow food or buy plastic lawn ornaments. Just be aware that your decisions, large and small, become your life path.

The surgaring season is going better than expected. We are still collecting sap and will probably boil all week. I need to get into the summer kitchen to do some candle making in preparation for two conference I’m presenting at later this month so I’ll be glad when we wrap the sugaring up. I’ll be selling candles, books, honey and t-shirts at both conferences but I don’t have enough candles right now. I don’t make much money when I present food preservation workshops. The decision to have Bruce and the girls man a vendor’s table did not come easily to me but with gas so expensive and the time away from home I need to figure out how to make presenting work for me financially. The vendor’s table will help.

I’ve been amused by the reaction of people to the Nat Geo segment. I have gotten (and deleted) a number of comments on how I’m a target and how men plan to come steal my food. Where are people’s minds when they would rather plan to steal applesauce from unarmed women and children than put aside some food for themselves? I would be ashamed of myself but the shame bar is apparently set pretty low. The other response has been an under-the-breath admission from some that they too are worried about our economic or environmental future and have been putting aside a bit for a while. What is odd is that more people are embarrassed to be prepping for an uncertain future than are embarrassed to be planning to be a thief. Crazy.

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