July 2012


So I’m 60. It sounds a lot older than it feels. I will admit to some aches and pains and bouts of forgetfulness but all in all, I feel good and getting older has its compensations. I feel less obligated to do things I don’t want to do and more able to ask for what I need and want. I feel freer to take some risks and step out of my box for the sake of trying something new. I spent time with family this weekend and also time with friends, old and new.

Here were the weekend highlights. I had a great evening with my family. I got a rain barrel. Now a rain barrel may not be glamorous but I really wanted one and this is a beauty. It has a screened top and a spigot on the bottom so I can hook up the hose and water away. This will be especially helpful for water my greenhouse. I also got a gift certificate for a kitchen supply store and pots and pans for the summer kitchen are in the works. Add in a trip to the bookstore sith gift cards from my sister and brother and I’m in Pig Heaven.

On Sunday, I was up at the crack of dawn to head to Cambridge to spend the day with Michelle (Gardengirl) and Jenna Wogonrich at Cold Antler Farm. I taught candle making (boring unless you enjoy watching wax set up) and learning to make soap. I have long wanted to see somebody do this and I do feel ready to tackle it. Some of my old pots will be dedicated to this process and I can envision making a year’s worth of lovely herbal soap in one long afternoon. I’m on the lookout for molds. Everything else (except the lye) is right here. I will pick an afternoon with no children around. There are some dangers to working with lye and I want to pay total attention to what I’m doing. I’ll also be looking for a used welding helmet. The face shield will be just the ticket for protecting my face. As part of our package from Jenna we got a nifty little soap making book. I can’t wait to try it.

It’s hard not to see what other farmers are doing and not catch one bug or another. Jenna had what I think is probably the cutest lamb on the planet and the competition for that title is pretty stiff. Of course, I went to sleep with lamby dreams. The bug was not helped by watching Michelle work on a totally gorgeous sweater. How cool would it be to make a sweater from lamb to wearing? Very cool. How likely? Not very.

I bought myself a new book. The Homemade Pantry: 101 Things You /Can Stop Buying And Start Making is a really fun read. Homemade Twinkies, peanut butter cups and filled chocolate cookies are in the offing soon. There is one funny line. It claims that the cookies will last for 10 days in the refrigerator. I’m thinking 10 minutes is more like it.

The great purge is ongoing in preparation for the clothing exchange this coming weekend. I think my junk has baby junk when I’m not looking and I’m quite sure my shoes do too. The work is loathsome but the gains will be well worth it. I think I can carve out an actual office in my bedroom if I get creative with the space. I just need to watch my propensity for letting stuff fill in the vacuum.

My first rule of preparedness is organization. Well. I broke my own rule. My house is a mess. I certainly have some excuses. We added four people, two of them children with all the assorted “kid stuff”. Then there’s the heat. It’s just sucks the ambition right out of me. It’s been too hot to do any real work. The garden work can’t be put off and I have a pretty full teaching schedule. The result is a house that’s cluttered and dusty. But today is a perfect house cleaning day. It’s wet and cool and I need to get busy.

I’m starting with my living room. The magazine situation has gotten out of control. I get Mother Earth News and Bruce gets American Bee Journal and Woodworking. I have a friend who passes on Grit and Organic Gardening. There are always a few articles I think I’ll revisit but in truth, I seldom do. Today I’m going to load them all up and bring them to magazine share at the Sustainability Library. I’ll also get out the mending and just do it. I may just put on a good movie and tackle the ironing too. I don’t iron a lot but it always feels as though I just got a new wardrobe when I do. Just getting rid of those baskets of clothes and the magazines will feel good. I may weed out some books too. My son is buying a new house and I can give him some of my overflow of gardening books.

In between raindrops, I hope to get some more carrots pulled. Thank you all for the recipes. I got the inspiration I needed. The garden is doing surprisingly well, in spite of the drought. It’s the mulch that makes the difference. What water I put on is absorbed into the soil rather evaporated to the dry air.

I have a very full week ahead of me. On Wednesday, I’ll be teaching my final class at Berkshire Botanical Gardens and I’m preparing for a candle-making class at Cold Antler Farm on Sunday. I’m going to a climate change presentation on Wednesday evening. I also need to get my curriculum set for the Greenfield Community College classes that begin next week.

I’m so excited to see the progress on my summer kitchen. Bruce and I picked out the wall covering and the countertops on Friday and he’ll pick them up today. I’ve been using it, even unfinished and it’s made all the difference to me. The mess and the heat out of the kitchen and keeps my supplies corralled. By next week the water will be hooked up. I’m as excited about the drainage as I am about the ability to have running water. The waste water will be routed right out to the garden. I usually let the water I use cool down and then carry it outside. I won’t miss that job.

I have been thinking a lot about water lately. We use a LOT of water around here. I have never done much with catchment but that needs to change. This dryness may be the new normal. There’s no way I could ever store enough water to meet even the basic needs of my family for more than a few days. A water filter is on my wish list as are rain barrels. My birthday is this week. Hint, hint Bruce.

Getting in the raspberries and all other farm-related activities has to happen before 8:00AM or it doesn’t happen at all. The heat saps my energy and robs me of all ambition. There are other rewards to early rising. The people world has not yet awoken and I can hear the small sounds of nature without the distraction of engines and voices. There is a quality to the air, a softness that is only present in those transition moments between dawn and day and dusk and darkness. I can hear soft clucks that signal eggs and the screech of a screen door that lets me know I’ve been joined by a neighbor. We can’t see each other and that’s just as well. I don’t want to talk. I’m happy just being.

My experiment with multiplying (potato) onions was a resounding success. The picture does not do just to just how prolific the harvest was from one small bag. There were not as many small ones as I expected so I’ll have to keep out some larger if I want enough to plant this fall. The shallots did well too and I even found a clove of garlic I had missed. It threw off a 1/2 dozen full cloves of lovely heads. Just in time too as my harvest from last year is gone and this year’s is not quite ready to pull. As soon as the potato onions have cured I’ll pull the rest of the onions and set them out for the same treatment. The greenhouse is perfect for this and I don’t have to worry about rain. Not that rain has been a concern for curing anyway but a girl can hope.

I have to show off my cabbage. I wish I knew what made some years so good and others so poor for a given crop. This year my brassicas all look like blue-ribbon winners at the state fair. I put up a picture of my grapes too. They are still a miracle to me.

I’m throwing out a question for you all. My carrots are ready to pull. They are simply lovely with a rich sweet flavor. This may be the best crop ever and I’m planning to plant a fall keeping crop this week. But what to do with my carrots? I can can some but we don’t love canned carrots. I’ll pickle a couple of batches too and some will go in kimchi. I do dry a load and I’ll make some carrot cake but I’m running out of carrot recipes. Any ideas for something fabulous??? I suppose I’ll end up making bread and freezing that but it feels like I’m missing something.

This is a short post but it has a lot of pictures. Hand watering a lot of my garden and the start of my teaching schedule has left me little computer time.

We have a very big garden and it’s really not practical to water the whole thing. I have decided to concentrate on the plants that matter most from a long-term perspective and they have been getting a good soak once a week. I have only one of the Oregon Sweet Meats that looks healthy so I’m babying her along, hoping for at least one squash that will provide me with seed for next year. The same goes for three of my tomatoes. These are heirloom varieties that seem to be the most disease resistant. I’m running a trial with sweet potatoes. I planted a bush variety and a vining type to see which gives me a better yield. Unfortunately, I added a second variable so the trial is hardly scientific. The bush plants are in the greenhouse and the vines are outside. I know that sweet potatoes need a lot of heat which they have had this year even out of the greenhouse. There’s actually a third variable which is soil. I planted the vines in a spot that held corn last year (a notoriously heavy feeder) and it’s an area that was severely flooded during Irene. The greenhouse soil is outstanding. I also mulched the greenhouse to help retain water. I hope to get a crop this year. When planning for a warmer climate, it makes sense to learn about crops I may not have bothered with before. My potatoes seem to be having a good year. I harvested some volunteers from the compost heap a week ago and they were perfect. Onions are also thriving and I have the best broccoli ever.

You will certainly notice that nothing here looks like a design star winner but it’s all functional.The kitchen will look a lot better next week when the final walls go up and the rest of the bee supplies are relocated. For now, what you see is what you get.

I found myself with bits and dabs of lots of fruit this week. The strawberries have just about finished up and the raspberries are beginning to ripen. My currents are young and only produced a few cups of fruit. I had a half apple in the fridge and some grapes that had seen crisper days I even found some late rhubarb. None was very useful alone but together had potential. I knew I wanted to steam juice them all together but you can imagine just how enamored I was with the idea of pouring all that heat and steam into my already way-to-warm kitchen. Not very is how much. But fruit waits for no man so I pulled out my steamer.

My summer kitchen is well on its way to completion but it still lacks a few important things. Running water is one of them and floor space is another. Have you all noticed how empty space begs to be filled? My DH needed a place to store some of his extra frames and hive boxes. I needed room for the candle making equipment. Nate and Amanda had a stroller that needed to be kept dry. Guess where all that stuff ended up. Not to be undone by all the clutter, I started rearranging and shuffling and came up with enough space to work in. Nothing can be done about the water for another week or two but what’s a little water hauling when the reward is jelly?

Two quarts of fruit yielded two quarts of lovely juice. I added some lemon juice and some sugar and came away with 11, 6 ounce jars of jelly. It has already started to travel around the neighborhood. I have enough to eat and enough to share and enough to store. I LOVE this stuff.

The kitchen worked perfectly. We have a large stainless steel shelving unit that will hold all of my equipment. Bruce is hanging cabinets and shelves everywhere I can reach them. Some higher shelves will hold the things I seldom use but still want out there. I have lots of extra canners and a second dehydrator that set up high. Today, I plan to clean out my cookware and utensils and see what can go outside and what I may need a second set of. I’ll have more room in here and everything I need outside. Yeah!!!

It was so nice to work outside where I could keep and eye on the kids. I worried that I might have a bee problem with fruit and sugar but only one bee stopped by. The cross ventilation kept the room pretty comfortable. The low counters and stove saved my back and shoulders.

Up until now I have needed to haul all of my equipment upstairs from the basement every time I canned or I had to leave it out to trip over for weeks at a time. Anything stored downstairs needs to be washed before it can be used. It’s a lot of heavy lugging for a woman who is not getting any younger. Naturally, the kitchen cost more to build than we expected, even with a lot of scavenged materials. However, I think this falls in the realm of investment rather than spend. This outdoor space will free up a lot of space inside. It will be much safer as there are no children under foot. I can keep the kitchen neat and tidy and all the messy stuff outside. My back and knees will suffer much less wear and tear. With a space to set the dehydrators I can keep all that heat out of the house at the exact time I don’t want it. Now I have to think of something special for dinner tonight to thank my dear husband for his love and labor and attention to detail. I am so grateful.

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