Tag Archives: Garden

Gimpy Farmer

Q:  What happens when a farmer with a bad knee chases pigs through the garden?

A:  A farmer with a torn ACL!

Now, if this were a real joke the punchline would be funny rather than painful!!  Why was I chasing the pigs through the garden?  Because they were out of the pen and having a joyful, if short-lived piggy frolic through the fall plantings!!

Last Wednesday reminded me of several things…the importance of latching the gates, how much damage livestock can do in a relatively short period of time, how quickly hogs can move when motivated, that pride cometh before the fall, and the fine and perilous line between health and injury.

On Tuesday I took some pictures of the garden to share with friends because while it was a bit weedy it was producing like gang-busters.  Tomatoes, potatoes, beets, onions, corn, basil, cucumbers, peppers…the list goes on and on!  I was putting up pickles like crazy, making pesto with the basil, freezing gallons of green beans – and in one quick trip through the garden the cows and the hogs took care of all that.

Cucumber patch
Morning harvest
My laying flock – and the Rooster!
The flea-bitten, bad-smelling, egg-sucking farm dog in the penalty box after running through the garden…yet again!
Green beans (foreground), lettuce, cabbage, beets, basil, onions, peppers and celery (bit of random planting toward the end!)
Broccoli and corn

What?  Cows too??

Yes.  When I got up early Wednesday morning the cows were standing in the front of the house having spent an hour or so trampling things down and mowing through most of the beets, green beans and corn.  With a little cajoling and bribing with grain the girls went back in their pasture, I got the chores done and went on with my day.  THEN, right before dinner and in the aftermath of the bovine invasion, hubby looked out and said, “Are the hogs supposed to be in the chicken pen??”  The answer of course is “NO!” We dashed out and herded the hogs back to their pen.  A couple thoughts about big hogs: capable of short bursts of high speed, they are short on stamina and quickly get hot and tired.  Pretty soon they just want to go back to their wallow and cool off!  Before they get there they can make you dodge and run a bit – which is when the torn ACL happened.  The hogs zigged, I zagged, and my knee didn’t so I ended up hobbling back to the house for an ice pack.

Convalescing helps with the pain but my mobility is still pretty compromised and I will find out on Monday if surgery is in my future.  In the mean time teenager #3 is doing most of the chores, including milking and feeding the chickens, in addition to her own chores. Regretfully, this solution isn’t sustainable as she starts OC next week and won’t have time to milk in the morning before school.  To deal with my limitations we are working on getting rid of the hogs a couple weeks early (okay – tomorrow!) the flea-infested, egg-sucking farm dog is going to the groomer tomorrow so I don’t have to wrestle her into the tub and I am working on finding a temporary home for one of the cows.  I can milk but it takes forever because I move very slowly!  Snail’s pace!

As I make calls and get offers of help with milking and chores from other farmer friends I am very touched by the out-pouring of compassion and concern. I have also spent lots of time thinking about what would happen if I was farming full-time.  I have several other off-farm jobs, including my gig at WSU Extension, most of which can be done sitting down.  And, more importantly, we have one full-time off-farm income with good benefits and health insurance.  As a full-time farmer I would be hard pressed to take time to recover properly.  Cows need to be milked and hay needs to be cut.  By way of illustration, one of our hay growers took a fall off a horse last summer and broke his pelvis and one leg.  His neighbors cut and stacked his second cutting hay and his father-in-law did all his irrigation for the remainder of the season.  We saw him in October and he was still limping badly but he could get up on a tractor and do his own farming again.  It was a significant challenge for his family and they are still digging out from the medical bills – and his wife works for the local school district s they actually had medical benefits.

A frequent comment about farming in Kitsap is that it is “Part-time” and while that is a valid observation – this isn’t solely a Kitsap phenomenon.  Nationally, 85-95% of farms have off-farm income.  Kitsap merely mirrors the trend nationally.  Reasons for off-farm income are varied – but many farmers I know rely upon off-farm jobs for health insurance.  Given that farming is one of the most dangerous industries,  the importance of medical coverage can’t be understated.  As more and more young people enter agriculture (which is great given that 60% of farmers in the US is over 55) the trend of relying upon off-farm income is going to continue.

The next time you are thanking a farmer for feeding you, wish them good health as well.  They can use it!!


Grocery Shopping

GroceriesI went grocery shopping the other day.  And, I spent more than $100.  That isn’t a big deal – it is just that I don’ t do it very often.   My grocery bill is typically $30-50 a month for food – and another $50 or so for other essentials like TP and shampoo.  That isn’t much considering that the “average” family spends between $150 – $290 a WEEK according to the USDA.  Why is our bill so much lower than the national average?  Mostly because we plant and grow our own veggies, raise meat and eggs, preserve our bounty, process in the home dairy and cook at home.   Simply put, we produce more than we consume.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, my feed bill is not inconsequential.  I spent $240 at the feed store last month and I do get the hay pretty cheap ($195 last month) but that still puts our food costs at about 25-50% of the cost of the average family.

Which begs the question — is there really that much savings in fermenting your own pickles??

I guess so.  I mean, we do ferment our own pickles (there are 2 gallons of cucs in brine sitting on the counter right now and if the kitchen wasn’t such a mess I would snap a picture for the blog!), preserve jams, jellies, green beans, salsa, tomatoes, grape and apple juice, apple sauce, and pickles, and make our own yogurt, butter and cheese…which is a bit more “Pioneer Woman” than most folks.  But we don’t make EVERYTHING.  This should be pretty obvious since there are s’more fixin’s and potato chips on my receipt!  I am thrifty, but not insanely DIY enough to make my own marshmallows no matter how easy that America’s Test Kitchen says it is.  You will also notice that there are potato chips (You MUST have potato chips for a BBQ!) and a couple loaves of bread on there – because I haven’t had time to bake bread lately.  Like I said, we are thrifty – but not Amish!

So what is the single thing that saves us the most $$$ on our food budget?  I cook at home and I make most meals from scratch.  Snacks are homemade (chocolate zucchini bread anyone??) and ingredients are fresh, local or homegrown, and unprocessed.  Simple.  But time consuming at times because we are more scratch than most.  Take my lasagna for example  The cow is days away from calving so we are a little light on milk right now, but I love to make lasagna because is uses 5 gallons of milk!   The mozzarella cheese takes three gallons and with the left-over whey and two more gallons of whole milk I make the ricotta.  Then, a pound of hamburger and a pound of ground pork (from our own beef and hogs), canned tomatoes (from the garden), garlic, onion (ditto!) in the sauce and the only store bought input at this point is the lasagna noodles.  My recipe makes two 9×13 pans of lasagna – which should be at least  four meals unless I am feeding the hay crew dinner.  Pop one pan into the freezer for another day and I have  a couple of cheap, quick meals for busy nights down the road.

The real cost of this kind of cooking and lifestyle?  My time.

One can feel just a bit like the “Little Red Hen” (I milked the cow, I made the cheese, I assembled the lasagna…) because it is time and labor intensive.  Is this the most efficient use of my time?  Perhaps not when one looks at the cost of a pan of frozen lasagna in the grocery store or Costco.  Is my time really worth only $9.99 for a whole day’s work?  Depends upon your perspective.  At the same time I am making the lasagna I am building relationships with my children who work with me, passing on skills that many have forgotten or never learned, and making a conscious decision about the value of producing rather than consuming.

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” ~ Albert Einstein


Happy Father’s Day

We are three days away from the first day of summer and my father the farmer never missed noting the longest day of the year.   We would be walking across the yard and he would casually comment, “Well, today is the longest day of the year.”  No big deal.  Just wanted to make sure that I knew.  As it is Father’s Day it seems appropriate to share a bit about my dad and his connection to the passing of the seasons.

As a farmer there are never enough hours in the day to get everything done.  My life right now is a testament to this true principle.  My garden is sad, they lawn is long and there are untidy little piles of stuff all over the place needing to be picked up.  Tonight as I was doing chores in the fading light I was grateful for the long day and the extra time to put chickens to bed and milk the girls.  Dad was in much the same boat much of the time.  Robbing time where he could get it to accomplish the many tasks needing attention.  Hay making, tractor repair, cattle chores, fence building, cutting firewood for winter…and so on.  As spring turned to summer the lengthening days provided precious minutes to get a few more things done in daylight.

As a child my summer days were unconstrained by the responsibilities of adulthood and my chores were quickly accomplished leaving endless hours to play with friends, ride horseback, swim in the river, and all of the other ways farm kids find to spend long summer days.  Summer nights were the best … we picked beans and peas in the cool of the mornings and spent warm summer nights snapping and shelling around the big round kitchen table watching reruns on TV and drinking lemonade.   When we were making hay we would haul bales into late into the evening, picking them up by the truck headlights.   At the end of a long hot day the cool of the evening was welcome respite.  Mom would bring dessert out at end of the day and we would sit on the tailgate of the pick-up eating pie and ice cream by the light of the moon.

I can remember Dad calling me while I was in college.  I had a summer research position and wasn’t home for haying or to help work the cattle or get them ready for fair.  My days were far away from farming, spending hours in the library, hanging out with the other grad students.  He and I chatted for a few minutes and then he said, “Longest day of the year today!” and brought me back to warm summer nights on the farm.

Martha Stewart doesn’t live here

Shannon was gracious and outed us about farm decor.  In the interest of full disclosure, the inside of my house is tidier than my back porch.  Even if I do have a latex IV set-up hanging from the suncatcher over my kitchen sink.  (It needed to dry completely after it was last used!)  This was taken last year (the BBQ is gone!) and it is much tidier (sort of) now.  We built this house and I had the idea that we would enjoy the porch on warm summer evenings.

Instead we have to battle for space with boots, recycling and camping gear.  The garage where most of this will go hasn’t gotten built and so rather than clutter up the (unfinished) basement further it lives on the porch.  The little freezer on the porch has 200# of veal in it, and during the summer it is handy for chilling fryers.  There are two more freezers in the basement…along with the canning pantry.  The garbage can isn’t full of garbage – it just happens to be convenient to store the chicken feed in a garbage pan near the porch because the layers live in a coop not far from the porch.  And, unlike Martha Stewart’s architecturally designed coop at Turkey Hill, mine is covered with a blue tarp.  Did you honestly expect anything else?

The Dark Days Challenge

The 2012 Dark Days Challenge is upon us.  Shannon, who is more motivated to participate in these sort of things than I, signed us up.  And then today, she had a dinner failure.  So, it falls to me to keep our end up.  Good thing that we had a decent dinner tonight.  Those Sundays when we eat left-overs, chips and salsa and scrambled eggs for dinner don’t really make for a very convincing blog about sustainable, local or organic meals….all winter long.

During late summer and early fall the blog world is full of folks posting about eating local, 100-mile diets, 100-foot meals…ad infinitum.  Now, I am not a complete zealot like the 100-mile folks.  I am not going to run down to Scenic Beach and dip water out of the Hood Canal to evaporate and make sea salt.  We grow and raise about 90% of what we eat and I cook from scratch much of the time – which upon reflection makes me sound sort of Amish which isn’t the case (the bonnet not withstanding) – but let’s just say we are less dependent upon the grocery store than the average family.

Frankly, during that time of year I am too busy canning, freezing, picking, weeding, feeding, milking, and mucking to blog about what we are eating.  I think about blogging a lot while I am doing those things!  But until they develop the technology for me to plug a USB port unto my ear and download all those great blog posts composed in my head it isn’t happening.  The really interesting thing about those days in the garden and nights canning and freezing is that I am doing all the time consuming and hard work associated with warm winter meals.  Beans frozen in August take minutes to heat for dinner in December.  Tomatoes blanched and canned in September make pasta dishes in minutes for mid-week meals – garlic harvested in July is Fettuccine Alfredo when I have  a yen for something rich and creamy.

So, as we kick off the “Dark Days Challenge” I thought it would be interesting to go back in time and take a look at the genesis of tonight’s dinner!

The menu –

  • Pork Chops – the last of the chops from a hog butchered last spring.  We buy piglets from a neighbor, fatten them on extra milk and grain and butcher about twice a year.  We don’t buy any extra meat and eat out of our freezer all the time so we go through a whole hog, half a beef, 20 or so broilers and 10-15 stewing hens a year.
  • Smashed red potatoes – from the garden with fresh cream and salt and pepper.
  • Milk gravy – pan drippings, milk and Shepherd’s Grain Washington grown white flour!
  • Sauerkraut with apples and onions – we had great plans to collaborate on the ‘kraut this summer but the day we were planning on doing it I got side-tracked so Shannon made it.  She jump-started the fermentation with whey from some homemade yogurt and it has a wonderful zing to it.  The King apples were picked at my mom’s house right before Thanksgiving and the onions were from the garden.  I season it with a bit of brown sugar, pepper and caraway and saute until caramelized.  Very tasty.
  • Applesauce – from Mom’s apples.  I typically can 15-20 jars – need to get around to doing that.
  • Pickles – dutch spears made from the abundant cucs we planted last spring.  This is a refrigerator pickle recipe that I got from The Joy of Pickling.  I only made a few because I didn’t know if we would like them.  Need to make more next year!  Sweet, tart and spicy!
  • Green beans – from the garden.
  • Milk – from Ellie
  • Raspberry Juice – from the berry patch

And the best part about this meal?  It was a meal eaten around our family table with my husband and children, we were truly grateful for the bounty of our life, and were able to talk and laugh as we enjoyed the fruits of our labor.  Regardless of whether your food comes from 100 miles or 1000 miles from your home, if you are unable to eat with the people you love, they are dark days indeed!

Strawberry Jam and Euler Circuitry

The beginning of summer vacation certainly has been busy around here!  As my kids said goodbye to another year of school, I resumed classes for the summer session for college.  I am taking classes toward an Ag degree at Oregon State University.  Having been eleven years since completing an Associates degree, I have been pretty careful about the class-load and since Math is not a strong subject for me, I opted to make it my sole summer class.  Turns out, that was a wise choice.  Last week it was Euler and his formulas relating to circuits.  ((Gag))  This math class is a study of everyday math and I had already taken it once while studying in Hawaii.  Math is different in Hawaii, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.  Regardless, it didn’t transfer.

So, here’s me on my little farm running my clutch of little chicks on summer vacation to different activities wondering what in the world is “everyday” about Euler and his circuitry and graphs.  And then it dawned on me…perhaps I already know about Euler, but, I didn’t know that I knew!  Here’s where the farming comes into play…

A few weeks ago, Diane and I wrote about our daily lives living on a farm.  A lot of point A to point B and beyond.  And in order to get the maximum amount done, we have to be pretty efficient with our footsteps.  After all, we are pretty busy ladies. So, as I set out to do chores I think about what needs to happen to set my route.  Now, Euler was made famous for this when he solved a bridge problem (you should look it up, I can’t explain it very well) and companies who use an Euler circuit can save serious money!  So, if I use a  Euler circuit while doing farm chores, it will free up some time and energy to accomplish more important things, like Balsamic Vinegar Strawberry Jam!!!

And that leads me to the real point of my story.  It is finally strawberry time and we are on the cusp of raspberries, too!  Jams and jellies are a great way to explore food preservation and I would love to teach you how to do it!  Don’t worry, we won’t be discussing Euler’s circuitry.  My classes are FAR more interesting than that!  Plus, we will make a batch to share!  So, head on over to the WSU Kitsap Website and sign up for my class THIS Thursday!  This class will be from 10 am to 1 pm and is held at the Silverdale Community Center.  You will also notice that “Jammin” is a class from the Hip Homesteading summer series exploring everything from Jams, Pickles, Soap, Cheeses, Pressure Canning…there’s something for everyone!

If you are looking for local strawberries, Pheasant Fields Farm has them!  We spent an hour in her patch picking strawberries that she will sell at the Silverdale Farmers Market today!  These berries are the smaller more flavorful ones, perfect for a batch of delicious jam!

And as your going about your daily business, give Euler’s Theorum a thought…there just may be some time in your day to make some jam!

Cows are like potato chips…

… you can’t have just one!

Eleanor is the newest edition to our little farm family.  She is a 4 year old registered Jersey and joins Alexis (aka The Princess Cow) and her son, the Count (born 8-9-10) in the pasture.  She is small for a Jersey but she is milking 4 gallons a day which is plenty for the house, the hogs and some cheese!  Her temperament is affectionate and willing, which I can assure you isn’t always the case with cows, and even though she wasn’t halter broken she has learned to lead in record time.

Alexis, for all her wonderful attributes, has a couple of problems.  She gets milk fever and ketosis at calving and we almost lost her last year.  As a result to the rough start to her last lactation she has been really hard to breed back and get in calf.  She also tends to have a serious drop in production late in lactation so she is only giving about 2 gallons a day.  Right now the calf takes most of that.  But she is a love bug and I REALLY like her!

When the new cow arrived I anticipated that there would be a bit of a power struggle in the pasture to see who was going to be boss cow, but much to my surprise it wasn’t Alexis that was the fighter but the Count.  He and Ellie tussled around the pasture for a couple of hours off and on before settling down.  She did prevail in that one, but they did so much running around I almost expected to see whipped cream at the next milking!  Alexis on the other hand merely bobbed her head at Ellie.   I don’t speak bovine, but it was a rather curt exchange and apparently the message was received that Alexis was the BOSS.

Before you think that Ellie has a problem with this please note – cows are not deep thinking beasts.  They behave instinctively and life is best when they know exactly what is supposed to happen and where they need to go.  That is why they follow the lead cow to pasture and back again and the boss cow gets first taste of the hay.  Once Ellie knew her place in the herd she settled down, ate her fill and promptly laid down to chew her cud.  The Count is now hopelessly in love with her and follows her around and bawls pathetically when she leaves to go and be milked.

Alexis is the one with the PROBLEM.  She is used to being the first to get a pat and scratch, getting first crack at the grain in the milking area and being the favorite in the pasture.  When I went out to take the pictures for this blog post she wouldn’t even look at me and this morning when I was out in the barn area she turned her back on me and pooped (a strong message of derision from a cow!)  I am pretty sure she will forgive me eventually but right now she isn’t a happy girl!

At this point I will just have to work and curry favor by bringing her treats of apples and carrots and get back in her good graces.

In other farm news it might be warm enough to start seeing things coming up in the garden this week.  Everything is so late with the cool weather – even the asparagus is just now getting going – though it took a hit when the passive aggressive lawn mowing teenager decided to mow that particular patch of the yard.  I finally got the raspberries trimmed and tied up.  Every year I promise myself that I won’t procrastinate the task – and every year I am late getting it done and break off a bunch of the fruiting stems in the process.  On the other hand, the patch already produces more berries that I know what to do with so I suppose I shouldn’t stress it.  The weather has been warm enough this weekend for the native pollinators to buzz around the fruit trees.  I am excited about that because I hadn’t seem much action from them this year.  Summer can’t get here soon enough for me!

Farmers on the Town

So, the other night Shannon and I put on our name tags (since it makes us look so much more official!) and went out on the town!  The Kitsap Community and Agricultural Alliance monthly meeting was a Meet the Farmer / Farmers Market Preview event and Potluck!  I am not saying that we were the country mice, but it was nice to get out and chat with Farmer Friends.  We put the WSU board up with the rest of the farmer displays and tucked into some amazing local food.  My new favorite?  Pickled Garlic Scapes!  Spicy, beautiful to look at and very tasty!  I am thinking that is what my scapes are going to do this spring!  I can’t wait for them to come up so I can get picklin’.

The rest of the meal was pretty tasty as well.  I must confess to a bit of pride myself – I can hold my own at a potluck!  But there was some tough competition!  Lots of varieties of bread, deviled eggs (yummo!), spring greens, chicken curry and nan bread…all washed down with Hummingbird Hill soda.  If you have never been to a KCAA meeting be sure and come next month!  You will be fed — physically and mentally — because they always have interesting speakers and programs.  For a complete summary of the event check out Brandy Williams’ post over at Kitsap Cuisine

Here is a pix from the smart phone – which apparently is the WRONG model for the awesome camera!

Speaking of picklin’ — Shannon recently posted about her food storage efforts — and canning and preservation are a huge part of that.  “In a Pickle” is her April class — check it out and get ready for summer veggies!

Like Shannon, I also have a large pantry, full of jams and jellies, pickles and sauces, fruit and juices, pasta, rice, beans, flour, and spices.  In addition, there are three (!) freezers full of meat and frozen fruit, berries, and veggies.  Right now we have about half a beef left from last summer, 10 stewing hens, a couple fryers, and a hog that we added to the larder last week.  There is also 10# of rendered lard — because you just never know when you  might need to make a killer pie crust for that rhubarb pie!  And, until the middle of February we also had onions, potatoes, carrots and garlic.  We still have a bit of garlic left — but the last of the stored vegetables are gone.  March to July is rice and pasta time!

We don’t buy many groceries — but we also spend a lot of time putting up.  Why?  Well, it tastes good, it is good for you, we know where all that food came from so there is no question about whether it is safe or healthy for the family, and it is thrifty!  The trade-off for our grocery independence?  We spend lots of warm summer nights sitting around the kitchen table snapping beans, hours peeling and canning peaches and tomatoes, early mornings in the garden picking baby cucumbers, and more than a couple cold fall afternoons butchering chickens!  It never stops from jammin’ with the berries in June until mid-November, by which time you have lost your will to can and are very thankful to be done.  A constant stream of empty jars come upstairs and go back down full.  Then abruptly, the process reverses and a couple at a time the jars in the basement pantry march back upstairs.  Peach-Orange-Pineapple Jam to slather on warm bread on cold winter mornings, dill pickles to crunch on with tomato soup and grilled cheese for weekend lunches, peaches for cobbler with whipped cream (thanks to Alexis the Princess Cow!) after Sunday dinners of roast beef, mashed potatoes and Bread and Butter Pickles.  I “go shopping” in the pantry a couple times a week all winter long and the emptied jars pile up on the counter until there is no more space, then I grab a box and tote them back downstairs where they wait on the bottom shelf of the canning pantry for the process to begin again!   This annual “uncanning” is more than an exercise in nostalgia — now it is hip and sustainable.  People blog about it — there are facebook pages devoted to preservation — and people are getting back on the train.   So, join Shannon and I this year as we share opportunities to fill your pantry in our classes, offer tips and recipes, and laugh a little at our failures (because there will be some — trust me on this!)

Don’t know how to get started?  It all begins with planting some seeds!


It has been a while since I posted – mainly because I have had family visiting for the past couple of weeks.  Their vacation became my staycation.  We had fun, picked lots of beans and enjoyed the time reconnecting.

What is hot?

A few weeks ago, during the hot spell, things got pretty crispy.  Like most farmers and gardeners I found it difficult to keep enough water on things.  The cucs stalled, the carefully nurtured second seeding of lettuce and spinach bolted straight out of the ground and the raspberries shrivelled on the bush.  About the only thing that seemed to thrive were the SLUGS!  I have never had an infestation this bad.  They are getting about 20% of the tomatoes right now and a significant number of the cucs and zucs.

What is done for the year:

  • raspberries
  • beans for the freezer
  • strawberries
  • garlic

What’s Blooming Now?

Dahlias!  Finally they are popping out.  Every time I drive by the Silverdale Post Office and see the Dahlia Society demonstration plot blooming like crazy I lamented that my flowers were so late this year (mainly because I was late getting them in!)   Now they are coming out like crazy.  I didn’t label them as I was planting them (Memo to self: Do that next year) so all of the blooms are a total surprise!  I love dahlias because they seem to grow just about anywhere, they bloom like crazy until frost, and the deer don’t bother them! 

Other things that are coming on gangbusters:

  • sweet corn
  • zucs
  • pickling cucs
  • tomatoes
  • peaches
  • blueberries
  • plums
  • beets
  • red potatoes

The cow has had a visit from the bull this month and hopefully she is in calf.  Farmer George is coming for the hogs next week and we will be butchering chickens with the neighbors then as well. 

The rain has provided a momentary respite from the heat and the need to constantly switch water from one section of the garden to another.  I have also had the chance to get all the fall veggies transplanted.  I will have to wait and see how many cabbage and broccoli I end up with.  Again, I meant to label the seed trays and before I got around to it one of the children moved them around.   We dug all of the red potatoes to make room for them and they are taking off!