We got rain!!!! Finally.
We were definitely starting to worry that all plant growth was done for the season because everything was just too parched to go on. I was starting to feel a bit like that myself actually (I thought we were moving NORTH for goodness sakes!).
Anyway, it has been a lovely few days of gray skies and rain and it seemed like a good time to write about some of our food preservation endeavors. As the summer progresses, gardening tasks like weeding and planting are easing up a bit and we are transitioning into the harvest season. It started slowly with a few snap peas, a head of lettuce, and some chard. Then one day that turned into 15 pounds of turnips...and then 5 pounds of cucumbers...and then 5 pounds of tomatoes!!! Oh my.
At the moment, our diet mainly consists of meat and fermented vegetables so we have chosen to turn most of our harvests into sauerkrauts or "ferments" of some kind. Fermentation is a wonderful thing. It is what makes popular foods like yoghurt, cheese, beer, coffee, and chocolate possible for one thing. Vegetable ferments also contain helpful bacteria such as lactobacillus and leuconostoc which we find make vegetable digestion much more pleasant (for everyone).
All of the recipes that we have used so far either come from "Wild Fermentation" by Sandor Katz or "Nourishing Traditions" by Sally Fallon, both books that I HIGHLY recommend. Not only do they have lots of recipes, but they also have great information on fermenting foods and interesting perspectives on health and nutrition. Here is a recipe for Sour Beets (one of our favorites!) in case you want to try it out:
From "Wild Fermentation" by Sandor Katz
5 lbs Beets
3 T sea salt or canning salt (something without iodine or anti-caking agents)
1. Peel and grate beets.
2. Sprinkle grated beets with salt as you go.
3. Mix beets and salt in a bowl until well combined and until you can see some juices start to coming out of the beets.
4. Pack beet/salt mixture into a crock or a mason jar, pressing down on the veggies so that the juices come out and cover the top. Depending on the container you have chosen you can either find a weight that fits in the container and will keep the beets pressed down below the level of the liquid, or you can just put a lid on the jar and open it up every day and press down on the beets with a wooden spoon (or other implement) to try to keep them below the level of the liquid.
5. Leave out at room temperature for a couple of weeks. Generally, we start tasting our beets after two weeks or so and when they taste just right we put them in the fridge.
For more info on fermentation I suggest going to the Wild Fermentation website.
As Jean-Paul mentioned in our last post, we recently harvested our garlic and hung it up to cure in the shed. Most of the garlic that we grew this year was a softneck type called Inchelium Red. This type of garlic stores really well (6-7 months!) and because the stems are soft and a bit bendable they can be braided into lovely hanging home decor which you can enjoy looking at while you also enjoy eating it.
With all of this harvesting and preservation we are definitely feeling the coming of fall and the end of the growing season (though we still have a couple months to go!). This certainly means some relaxation is possible, but it also means that it is already time to start planning for next year. As our spring brassicas finished producing, it was time to figure out what to do with that garden area once the plants were pulled out. Cover crop? Sheet mulch? Compost? Leaving it bare and at the mercy of wind and water erosion was not an option for us, but deciding what to do with it also meant deciding what we want to do with it next year.
We have been doing quite a lot of reading this year about farming and about nutrition (the two are so inextricably linked), and one of the conclusions that has come out of this reading is that, no matter how you do it, growing vegetables is pretty rough on the soil ecosystem that has perfected the art of water filtration, erosion prevention, and perennial growth (among other things) and has taken hundreds of years to get where it is. With livestock, we can leave that ecosystem intact and maybe even help it out (if we are careful) by adding some nitrogen in the form animal manures, but for vegetables? Well, that's another story. One of the books that we found particularly compelling and would recommend to anyone interested is "The Vegetarian Myth" by Lierre Keith.
So we have decided that although we are still going to grow some veggies next year, we are scaling WAY back. We will have three beds for annual vegetables (instead of this year's 18 beds); one bed for perennials such as raspberries, blueberries, and hazelnuts; and the rest of the garden will be used as more grazing area for livestock. For the annual vegetable beds and the perennial bed we plan to plant a mix of crimson clover and japanese buckwheat as a cover crop. The buckwheat grows really fast so can hopefully get established before other weeds do, the clover will add some great organic matter to the soil, and both of these will not overwinter so we don't have to worry about combating our own cover crop when we are trying to plant in the spring. For the grazing area we will plant the beds into a perennial pasture mix from FEDCO Organic Growers Supply. Hopefully we can get this pretty well established this year so that it will come up strong in the spring and outcompete our troublesome weeds! Each year we will rotate one of the annual beds out of production and into pasture mix and turn one of the pastured beds into an annual bed. This promises to be a lot of work of course, but breaking into one new bed each year seems like nothing compared to creating eighteen all at once.
So there's a plan. Certainly not a perfect plan, but a starting point from which we can work toward our vision of positive impact food production. I don't know if this is a term anyone else is using yet, but for us it means a positive impact on the land and on ourselves. And the plan involves multiple years which feels a little crazy, but also really good. Here we are and perhaps here we'll stay for a bit.
Enjoy the harvest everyone!
Surprise! The hot, dry weather has not wiped us out. Things on the farm are still going well, in fact.
The sheep continue to munch on pasture. With no significant rain for weeks, though, the grass is now hardly growing at all. Fortunately there's plenty of room and plenty left for them to eat. And maybe it'll even rain again at some point.
There's plenty of action in the vegetable plot too. Just recently, this was our garlic:
Now we've harvested it and started the curing process.
We've been eating our own chard, kale, and lettuce for a while now, and more recently broccoli and cauliflower have joined the mix. Jericho also made 15 pounds of turnip saurkraut (saurrueben) from some of our turnips. Some other turnips were offered to and declined by the sheep.
Not that the vegetable plot is going perfectly. Our brassicas have been set upon by cabbage moths. Our cucumbers and winter squash are swarming with cucumber beetles and squash vine borers. Mexican bean beetles are in with our beans. And slugs... well, slugs will eat anything and everything.
Chicken is on the menu once again as well. I think our broilers had a happy two and a half months out on the pasture, scratching in the dirt and chasing after bugs (not to mention eating unsustainable quantities of grain). Now they're in the freezer, waiting to go into the oven.
We've had some visitors come by, too. Snakes are nearly constant companions here. The snapping turtle showed up for a couple days and then seems to have found somewhere else to hang out.
And we also had a great surprise yesterday in the orchard.
Yes, that is a single, perfect cherry (we ate it, it was delicious).
There's still plenty to do yet this year - carrots, sweet potatos, beets, parsnips, and plenty more won't be ready for harvest for a while yet - but days are getting shorter, and things are coming out of the garden instead of going in. And we're already talking about winter cover crops and what to do differently next year. There's plenty of work left this summer, but it feels like we're well into the slow slide towards autumn now.