Preserving the Harvest

The last week has been cool and rainy, rainy, rainy, rainy.  I was lucky to have my sister home from Guelph on the weekend, and we decided to get some canning done.  It’s been a while since I’ve been in the garden – Jae has taken to the gardening while I lay in bed with some rotten pregnancy sickness – so I wasn’t quite prepared for what I saw when sister and I went out to harvest tomatoes for canning.

Endless rainy days destroyed a LOT of my lovely heirloom tomatoes.  Many hadn’t ripened in the cool, sun-less weather, but those that had ripened too fast, split, and fell to the ground to rot. I had planned on making salsa verde with tomatillos, but the dreary weather meant that none of those sweet little fruits were ripened, either.

Still, we ended up with enough good tomatoes to make a batch of salsa.  We used all the good tomatoes we were able to find, ending up with about 6lbs after seeding and stemming. Not too bad.  I borrowed the basics from the book “Put ‘Em Up!“, but changed the recipe a little to suit my tastes.  Here’s what we did:

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Heirloom Tomato Salsa

Ingredients:

1 Cup fresh-squeezed lime juice
Splash of vinegar
1/4 Cup organic cane sugar
1 Tbsp salt
4 lbs heirloom tomatoes, seeded and diced
3/4 lbs onions, diced
2 hot peppers, finely diced
1 cup chopped cilantro

Directions:

Bring the lime juice, splash of vinegar, sugar and salt to a boil.  Add the tomatoes, onions and hot peppers.  Return to a boil for about five minutes.  Add the cilantro and remove from the heat.

Ladle into clean, hot canning jars, leaving 1/2″ headspace.  Release trapped air, wipe rims clean, add lids.  Process in boiling water bath for 15 mins.  Turn off heat, remove canner lid, let jars rest in water for 5 mins.  Remove jars, set aside for 24 hrs, check seals. Keep for up to one year.

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Our salsa was almost entirely local.  The only ingredients that weren’t locally sourced were the lime juice, sugar and salt.  The tomatoes and hot peppers were straight from our garden, picked that morning.  The onions were from a neighbouring farm (ours did poorly this year, unfortunately).  The cilantro was from my friend Lesley’s organic farm about 20 mins away. The vinegar was from our local Heinz factory (hey, that’s gotta count for something!).

My sister and I couldn’t resist – we had to eat some of the salsa fresh out of the pot.  There were no tortilla chips to be found in my cupboards, so we dipped pita bread instead.  The salsa was absolutely delicious! Amazing! The best salsa I’ve had yet.  I’m pretty thrilled to have plenty stored away to enjoy this winter.

Since I wasn’t able to do the salsa verde I had planned, I moved onto another project instead: wild grape jelly.  Again, I used a recipe from the book “Put ‘Em Up!”.  We had about 8lbs of wild grapes that Jae harvested on a recent foraging excursion.  I boiled them down, crushed them, and strained the juice through cheesecloth overnight.  The next morning, I boiled the juice with sugar and pectin, as per the recipe directions, and canned it.  Twenty-four hours later, I checked to see if it had set… and, it hadn’t.  I’m not sure what went wrong there, but I now have 8 jars of grape juice, NOT grape jelly.  I’m going to have to do some searching on the webz to find a solution.  Perhaps I can pop those jars open and use that juice to try again?  Or is that a no-no?  I have some learning to do…

It looks like we might have some clear days ahead of us, so I have my fingers crossed that my tomatillos will ripen, the last of the tomatoes will turn red, and I can get some more canning done.  We also have to pay a visit to my in-laws (about 15-mins away) to harvest the fruit hanging on their apple and pear trees.

There’s nothing more satisfying than opening the cupboards to see rows of homegrown food preserved for the winter!

 

(I wish I had photos of our lovely canning day and jars full of goodness to share with you, dear readers, but alas! My camera is lost and so is my cell phone.  Photos will have to wait for another day…)

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Fruit of the Land

August has been a tumultuous month.  In the middle of horrible pregnancy sickness, I took the kids on a week-long camping adventure, while my dear husband stayed home and quit his job.  Yes, that’s right, he quit his job.  After years of working in an office, Jae and I decided it was time for him to break free so that we can live the life of our dreams.  No more schedules! Two adults to run the farm! Both parents home full-time with the kids! And, a lot less money.

I could write a very long essay on all the reasons Jae quit his job, but I’ll hold myself back.  The long and short of it is that having the majority of his daylight hours sucked away in an office has meant that Jae has not been able to do the things with his life that he truly wants to do.  His family time was limited to a few hours in the evening before putting the kids to bed, and we never seemed to have enough money anyway.  Why sell the hours of your life away when the money’s  not enough?  Now we are free and all of our options are wide open.  It’s the dawning of a new age for our family.

We’ve had to think long and hard about how our money gets spent, over these last few weeks.  Our feeling has been that being jobless is the kick we need to REALLY live off the land.  Sure, we’ve kept a garden and a flock of hens, we’ve eaten local food, we’ve tried to provide for ourselves, but at best it has been a practice round.  We still shop at the grocery store on a regular basis, eating food that has been trucked in from lands far away (yeah, so what if it’s organic? It still traveled far too long and gobbled up far too many resources getting to us!).  Our grocery store dependence needs to end.

Jae and I have been vegetarians for a great many years.  Our children were born vegetarians.  Now, our diets are changing.  In an effort to live off the land, we’ve decided to do some fishing in the local creeks, marshes and rivers.  We are blessed to live in an area with an abundance of waterways – why not make use of them?  Our goal is to fill the freezer with fish to eat throughout the winter.  So, today we set out with the kids in the canoe for our first attempt at fishing.


Our oldest son, Lynden, was very hesitant when we told him what our plans were.  Being a lifelong vegetarian, the idea of killing a fish was upsetting for him.  I had a good long talk with him, explaining that we are trying to have a small footprint on the Earth, and that after lots of thought and discussion, Daddy and I thought the Earth would be happier if we caught our own fish down the road than if we bought avocados from South America.  By the time we were out on the water, Lynden was brimming with enthusiasm.

We enjoyed the canoeing (as we always do!) and were treated to plenty of wildlife encounters – ducks, geese, Great Blue Herons, swans, egrets, water snakes, frogs, snails – and we felt so at home on the water that any doubts I had started out with simply vanished away.

Swans, keeping a safe distance.

American Egret doing some fishing of her own.

After a time, we realised how silly we had been to do our fishing from within the canoe, while trying to manage three small children and keep our lines from getting tangled.  When over an hour passed without anything more than snag after snag, our toddler screaming between my knees and trying to throw himself overboard, we decided to head back to shore and fish from the banks instead.

Instant success! Jae and I each caught a fish almost immediately.  Mine was a small sun fish, his, a small catfish.  They were both too small to eat, so we threw them back and kept trying.

Before long, Lynden caught a catfish.  He reeled it in all by himself, pulled it up out of the water, and started hollering to me that he had caught a fish.  His excitement was enormous!

Granted, the catfish wasn’t very big, but Lynden was so thrilled with himself and couldn’t wait to eat it.  A far cry from the nervous boy who didn’t want to kill a fish earlier this morning!

We took the fish back to Jae’s parents’ house, where “Papa” knew just what to do (Papa is an expert fisherman!).  Lynden got hands-on lessons on how to clean a fish.

Papa fried up the little catfish filets, and added a bit of pickerel that he had caught.  I never thought I’d enjoy fish as much as I did this evening.

There is much to say about sustaining a family of five (almost six!) on the land, divorcing the system we’ve been raised in and slave to for so long, living without regular employment, and having the life of our dreams.  There’s not room in one post for all the thoughts that are swirling through my head – you’ll have to bear with me as I sort through this new stretch of our life’s adventure!

Abundance

Life has been SO BUSY lately.  I guess that’s always the case, but it has felt even more so the past few weeks.  Here’s a glimpse of farm life, this last little while:

From the beginning, our birds have been completely free-range.  They enter and exit the coop as they like, they roam where they please.  A few hens breeched our garden fence and discovered the juicy green baby tomatoes in the garden, and we found ourselves with a problem.  How to keep those darned hens from eating our vegetables?  So Jae and I built a chicken tractor to keep the renegade hens contained.  I don’t like having them enclosed, but they seem quite happy in there and the tractor is moved every couple of days so they always have fresh grass and bugs to enjoy.  A compromise, of sorts.  The funny thing is, the chickens who are still on the outside, always seem to want to get in!

 

We have cucumbers coming out the wazoo.  Really! More than we can eat.  Our zucchini is starting to produce beautifully as well, and tomatoes are ripening.  Hundreds of dry beans have been collected.  We are eating fresh from the garden every day.  Rainbow chard is looking good, peas are growing nicely in the shade.  We live a life of abundance.

 

Herbs, herbs, herbs.  There’s lavender hanging in the kitchen window to dry (thanks, mama-in-law!!), nettle drying for tea, mint, sage… I love the sweet smells of herbs hanging to dry, filling the house with sensory wondrousness.  I can’t wait to expand my herb garden next season!

 

I’ve been knitting, crocheting and spinning like crazy lately, filling orders for yarn and hats and mitts.  I love the thought of little heads being kept toasty warm by something I’ve made, and other knitters creating lovely projects with my yarn.  It’s my way of sending love out into the world.  (I’m still filling orders for hats & mitts.  Contact me if you’d like to place an order!)

Yes, life is good and abundant.  I feel incredibly blessed.  The children and I have enjoyed so many wonderful days of play and exploration, soaking up the summer sun and enjoying all the small moments.  Alas, summer days are gone too soon…

On a Hot Day in July

Oh boy, is it ever hot out there!  When I step outside, I feel like I’m melting!  Nevertheless, today’s been a day of getting things done (despite the many times I’m interrupted by a baby who’s decided he needs to nurse).  We enjoyed fresh cucumbers from the garden, played in the shade, hung clothes on the line, and tried our hardest not to make ourselves hotter than we needed to be.

Raina’s got it made in the shade.  This child loves to sit up in trees, as high as she can get.  Her beloved kitty usually follows her up.  Today she was higher than I could reach!

 

Sunflower has settled in well here.  She grazes on a lot of the plants the goats leave behind, which makes them perfect companions.  Sunflower is a sweet, gentle soul with bright & curious eyes.  And guess what?……

Sunflower has a new friend!  This is Day Lily (“Lily” for short), who arrived here on Sunday afternoon.  The two sheep immediately became chums.

Quail eggs – aren’t they lovely?  They are so small and beautiful, each one uniquely speckled.  Our quail flock has been laying like crazy, much to our delight.

Look how little those yolks are!  We enjoyed a lunch of scrambled quail eggs today.

 

 

I hope you are staying cool on this hot day in July!

 

Baah

Today was a lovely day.  We took a little road trip to visit some friends, and came home with our first sheep!  Lynden named her Sunflower.  She’s a Shetland ewe lamb from Thistlecroft Farm, and just the sweetest, most beautiful thing I ever did see.

Here she is, meeting one of the Araucana chickens.  It’s hard to see how lovely she is in such a small picture, but my camera is being fussy so I had to resort to using my phone.  Keep your eye open tomorrow for some sheep photos!

When we got home from our little day away, Jae had a yummy organic, wheat-free lasagna in the works.  I haven’t had lasagna in so long! What a treat!  With our dinner, we enjoyed a simple, delicious and utterly satisfying salad – organically grown leaf lettuce from a neighbour, and cucumber straight from our garden.  Mmm, so fresh and crisp!  Superb!

At the end of a day like this, I feel pretty satisfied with life.  I hope you all had a wonderful day, too!

Friday on the Farm

Today has been a glorious day – and it’s only noon!  We’ve still got plenty of this amazing day left ahead of us!

Early this morning, while the dew was still hanging like diamonds from the leaves, we ventured into the garden to do some weeding.  Look what we found!

Cucumbers! Lots and lots of cucumbers!

Nice, big, succulent cucumbers!

We couldn’t resist chomping into a few.  Mmmm… there’s nothing better than food fresh off the plant.  The taste is unbeatable!

While we were weeding, we found something else in the garden – something we’d rather not have found.

Cabbage moth caterpillars, all over our Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and kholi rabi plants.  Argh!  Luckily, my children found great fun in plucking the caterpillars off of our plants, and happily spent over half an hour carefully examining each leaf on every plant, and dropping the caterpillars into a bucket.  By the time they were finished, they had over one hundred cabbage moth caterpillars in their bucket.  EWW!

So, what to do with all these garden peskies?

Feed them to the chickens!  Now THAT is natural pest control!

While we were busy plucking cabbage moth caterpillars off our plants, wee Robin was doing what he loves best –

– hanging with the goats!  This child loves, LOVES to be with the goats.  They are his favourite creatures, and he will spend hours following them around the yard as they graze.  They seem to love him too.  Maybe it’s the treats he happily hands over – apple cores, carrot stubs, melon rinds – or maybe they just sense how much he cares for them.  Whatever the connection, I’m glad they have it.

As I went about my farm chores this morning, I thought to myself that “chores” is really the wrong word to describe what I’m doing out there.  None of it feels like a chore, none of it is work.  It’s a daily dose of connection to the Earth, connection to our animals, fresh air, glorious sun.  It’s invigorating, uplifting, fulfilling, and all-around enjoyable.  The farm work grounds me, calms me, and fills me with purpose.  There is no place I’d rather be than out there in the yard taking care of this place.

The Berry Best

Oh, what a joyous time of year!  Mulberries and raspberries are ripe and ready for the picking!

We are blessed, truly, to have two very productive mulberry trees here at the farm, AND to have a public hiking trail directly behind our property that is home to dozens of equally productive mulberry trees.  Last evening, Jae and I took the kids out on the trail to do some foraging, and came home with a bucket full of mulberries and several handfuls of wild raspberries.

The plan was to make mulberry jam, but I wanted more berries before getting started.  This morning I went out into the yard to collect from one of our own mulberry trees.

Have I mentioned how blessed we are to have these trees?  This particular mulberry tree is the favoured hang-out spot for our farm animals.  It’s a shady and breezy spot, with soft sandy soil, perfect for dust-bathing and stretching one’s legs.  The chickens go wild when I collect the mulberries, gathering around in hopes of being the first to nab any berries that fall to the ground.  When one hen grabs a berry, the rest swarm her, trying to steal her treasure.  Many squawks and clucks later, someone emerges from the mass of feathers, victorious.  I am grateful for this comic entertainment while I pick berries.

The chickens aren’t the only ones who enjoy the mulberries.  Our goats have discovered how delicious these little purple nuggets are, as well.  Here is Daisy, our bottle-fed kid (who’s too big to drink a bottle anymore!), helping me with my berry picking.  The silly girl stretched herself up so high at one point, she lost her balance and toppled.

This morning’s harvest barely made it to the jam pot.  My children were all over it the moment I had it washed, popping berry after berry into their mouths.  Our fingers were stained purple all day, much to the delight of the little people.  Now they are asking for purple hair, too!

Voila, mulberry jam! As the berries continue to ripen on the tree, there will be more and more of this coming out of our kitchen.  A delectable summertime treat!