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.

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