Thursday, July 28, 2011

Who Knew? -OR- I now drink of the poison and live...

Yeah. So my whole life I've been living with an erroneous belief. I've heard "Sumac is poisonious" countless times and the term "poison Sumac" has been bandied about forever. I've even suffered with guilt knowing that, as a child, I talked my brother into tasting "poison sumac". What was I thinking?

It turns out that my child's instinct wasn't far off. I've got this amazing gem of a book - The Forager's Harvest - and I'm having so much fun with it. In here Sumac is considered a drink and a snack. There is such a thing as poison sumac. I don't know if I've ever seen it. It's leaves are very glossy and the fruit of it hangs in clusters.

The sumac I'm surrounded by is Stagshead for the most part. Upright clusters of fuzz covered "berries". Really just seeds with a fleshy covering. Apparently the Indians really favored Sumac-Ade. Going so far as to dry the heads so they could brew it up year round. Of course I had to try some as soon as the heads were mature. Here are several in my kitchen sink where I rinsed them lightly.

Put them in a container and cover them with cool water

Crush them up a little with your hands and then let them sit for a few hours to "steep". Then I strain it through a paper towel lined sieve and, voila, a refreshing beverage with a slight tartness reminiscient of raspberry.

I haven't tried it yet but you can peal and eat young stems. They are purported to taste like a mild apple. This book is geared for our altitude and latitude. I'm discovering that the woods and fields are a storehouse of amazing things to eat.

Next up, I'm going to investigate to see if I can locate any wild parsnips. I love me some parsnips. Do you have wild edibles in your yard?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Around Here

When you inspect your plants and animals every day, sometimes it's hard to see any changes. But when I stop and think of what things looked like when we first saw the house. Or even when we moved in less than three months ago, I am amazed anew at everything I see.

So many apples in our trees. I don't know what I'm going to do with all of them. I'm picturing applesauce, apple pie fillings, dried apples, fresh apples to eat. And although they'll likely be smaller than commecially grown apples, the vast abundance of them will proably be overwhelming.

The chickens are doing really well, so far, in their little gypsy wagon hen house. Though I have to admit that I fear for them a little after what we saw this evening. Kent and I were in the garden, just getting ready to head back to the house. It was about 8:30 and still light out when a large black bear came out of the growth on the side of our field and made it's way up the edge and across the front, looking as if were heading to our house! Yikes. My heart was racing. Not long ago someone had said that there was supposedly a "300 pound" bear over near Val's neighborhood. I laughed and said that people likely over-estimate it. Well, friends, this bear we saw, which didn't seem particularly disturbed at seeing us, was very large. 200 pounds easy and maybe closer to 300. It looked very healthy. I hope that it is content with whatever it has been eating and leaves our livestock and garden well enough alone. We've got a hot wire run around the part of the pasture where the chicken coop is and tomorrow we're going to add a strand around the garden perimeter. No use taking chances.

The peaches are still very promising. Sometimes when I'm out in the garden on a hot day I imagine what it will be like when I can pick one off the tree and sample it.

We've propped the tree up to help support the growing weight.

The calves are growing. I noticed tonight when Grady walked up to me that he's grown significantly in the last few weeks. They are grazing these days, having been weaned, and get just a little sweet feed in the morning as a supplement for their growing bodies. Next year we hope to expand our growing space to include fodder beets and other ground vegetables for animal feed so that we can move away from purchased feed.



I am so grateful to God for blessing us with all this abundance. We have a such a sense of His provision and our dependence on Him in the midst of all this.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

In which we mark time without employing a calendar

Here on the homestead we frequently find ourselves judging the time by the sun and the passing of time by the changes around us. For example, there were the wild strawberries, which faded at about the time the black raspberries began to come into their own. As you know if you've been reading along, we've enjoyed the black raspberries immensely. But now they, too have faded and we are moving into a new berry season...

Aahh. Sweet blackberries. I so enjoy the process of picking berries. I like that this is food growing wild on our land. There for the taking, by us, the birds or other critters. I really enjoy the peaceful activity of carefully plucking the berries so that they don't squash. Finding hidden branches heavy with beautiful berries. The soft plunk of them as you drop them in the bowl or basket. The way the brambles bounce and settle themselves a little higher - a little lighter - with each berry I remove.

And most of all, I love to eat them!

But I'll try and save a few for jam and cobbler fillings.

Monday, July 25, 2011

We're Starting to Feel Like Real Homesteaders

Kent had a great idea. He talked to some neighbors who he had seen driving on our road with haying equipment. They looked at our field, which was grown chest high, and said they thought we could get 25 bales out of it. They offered to do it for a nominal fee and we said Yes!

The day they showed up to mow, we found that there is exactly enough room between these two Black Locust trees to get the mower into our field. Not an inch to spare. This was the widest access point we had without felling a tree. But they squeaked it in and mowed the field. Later they raked it over.

And finally the day came to bale it. This couple, Ed and Maxine, must be in their 70's but very fiesty. She winnowed the rows while he baled. Here's one of the first bales dropping out.

We didn't get the 25 bales they thought we might. Instead we ended up with... wait for it... eighty five bales!! Woohoo, that'll get us a good way through winter feeding our beef cows! And it's a fairly good quality hay that we know is free of pesticides.

I drove our pickup around the field while Kent heaved bales into the back. Then we stacked it on pallets and covered it good with plastic. Maybe someday we'll have a small barn, but this should do for now.

And we are left with a freshly mown field that we can perhaps get a second cutting from before the season is over.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

First Canning in Our New Home

This actually took place a week or so ago. We picked enough black raspberries for me to can up some berry fillings. These will be a great reminder of summer in the cold of winter. I can almost smell the cobbler or pie baking...

There are a few red raspberries thrown in. They aren't nearly as abundant on our property. What a pretty sight!

So I got to work. It's basically a syrup base with the berries added in late enough in the cooking to stay whole. Then they cook a bit more, of course, in the canning process.

Lovely, lovely rich color.

And we got 7 pints to put away. We also have had two, very full, very delicious pies during the black raspberry season.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Let's Walk Down to the Garden

I think it's been awhile since you've visited...

An open gate can only mean one thing. We are tempting cows to munch on our produce. Their current paddock includes this side of the garden fence. We'd better get inside and close it.

Look at those tomato beds! It's going to get tough to tie them up when they get taller than their stakes.

And they do need support - look how tomato rich these plants are. I'm going to be canning lots of wonderful vine ripe maters for the winter.

But first I'm going to eat my fill of fresh picked!

Hmmmm. This one's got to weigh at least a pound. It's called a Lemon Boy. Maybe it's already ripe and won't be turning red. I'd better look that one up.

And the onions are pushing up through the dirt. I'm looking forward to pulling one out and using it to make dinner.

Let's wave to Kent, he's over their hoeing between the corn.

The squash beds are finally taking off. I'm pretty excited about these since they are all planted from seed... zucchini, yellow, Hubbard, pumpkin, spaghetti and butternut. We're hoping to have plenty winter squash for the root cellar.

But for now the challenge will be keeping up with the summer squash. This 5-inch zucchini was only 1 1/2 inches two days ago.

The cucumber plants were slow to start but they are looking healthy now.

And peek under the leaves at all those blooms. That's why you're hearing all the bees buzzing.

And the basil I'd all but given up on has decided to join us.

We're already eating radishes. In fact, I should plant another round to keep the tasty goodness coming in all summer!

I've never grown eggplant - it's so exciting to see them coming on. Isn't it cute?

The cantaloupe are blooming, too. I'm glad the garden is keeping the bees busy.

But it isn't just blooming, it's got little, tiny cantaloupes. Yay!

I love the patterns of these leaves. They just get denser and denser. And if you look around underneath, you'll find a bunch of

Baby watermelons! Double yay!! I loves me some watermelon. And they look just like the real thing. I mean, Barbie could come pick one of these for a picnic with Ken.

Oh, and more of those seed to success stories... the peas and beans are growing great guns. In fact, the beans are threatening to block the path. That's a two-food walkway they are crowding in on.

But since they are busy putting on these little bits of tastiness, we'll let them.

And snap peas - well, they're what's for dinner.

The hot peppers are doing great. In fact, we've decided that we should probably get them picked and do something with them in the next 24-48 hours. And they'll probably just start producing more peppers.

Love the different shades they turn.

The sweet pepper bed is ramping up production, too. At last count there are over 75 peppers growing in there. I'm planning to let at least 2/3 of them turn red, orange and yellow. I'll be drying them and adding taste and color to dishes all winter long. That's, of course, after I've had my fill of fresh.

This guy's nearly ready to go.

The potatoes and corn seem to be doing well, too. We've run out of dirt to bank around the ever growing potatoes and have begun using hay and mulch. As long as they keep growing, we'll keep burying.

Well, that's pretty much the garden from front to back. The only things we missed were the lettuces, arugula, cilantro, beets, carrots, dill, kale, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage... and. Uh. Yeah. I think that's it.

I don't know what time it is, but it's getting mighty warm to be wandering around.

And I don't know about you but I think I picked up a little dirt along the way.

Thanks for taking the time to look at my garden. It's one of my favorite places to be.