all tucked in

winter, farmDecember is the sweetest.

We are all tucked in.  Cozy, warm.  Together.

Harvests are on hiatus.  We have a minimum of morning chores to tend to.  Feed and water the hens and the growing pigs.  Feed and water–and play–with the small chicks in the greenhouse.

Mostly, we sit by the fire and play games and read stories.  In this down time, we reweave the strings that hold us together that we inevitably stretch thin in the hay days of summer, all of us throwing ourselves outward, even as we are always all here, on this farm and in these days, with each other.  Because summer is its own wild beast of living.

And so winter.

We take this time and use it to tend to each other in our winter ways, and the whole, wonderful cycle works, for us.

This winter we have been simultaneously blessed and cursed with clear skies and cold temps.  Without our covering of grey skies and Pacific Northwest rain, we are getting full on that metallic tasting winter air that so many others hold on their tongues always through this season.  I love it.  I hate it.  I can step outside and feel like I am, for a moment, tucked away in the mountains of Colorado or out in the wide open countryside or quiet plains town of Nebraska.  This kind of winter feels like home to me, as much as I am ultimately a part of this lush, temperate valley now.

It was single digit cold here last night.  That is more cold than we are used to.  We all are weathering this fine, although we have used more wood than ever for this time of year and the water to our house is frozen.

No matter the temperature, though, these cold, slow days are so full of time, there is the feeling one could get so much done.    I could get a lot of things done.  Things that would make me happy, things I have been waiting all summer to get to.  On top of that, there is all the extra things one could do, to celebrate.  But instead, in December, I sit.  I wait.

I have learned so much about letting go, it is ridiculous.  Every day, we must wake up in the morning and remember what matters, and so much of it, doesn’t.

I have learned that the sweetness of this month isn’t in the doing, that it is in the waiting.  In the quiet and the stillness.

In our home, there are all the inevitable squabbles of four children inside so much, the eruption of bodies needing to move more that turns our small home into a wrestling ring or race track every evening before bedtime.   The frequent sighs of boredom, the excited as well as impatient expectancy of Christmastime.

But there is a softer side to all of this too.  There is more skin time, more snuggles on the couch.  There are news ways of playing, discovered.  There are knitting needles in my lap, slowly working again towards the only gift worth giving my dear husband, my heart poured into some thing to keep him warm while he works.

I do get itchy, who doesn’t?  I want the new year to start, all fresh and full of promise.  As always, as everyone, I have big plans.

But this last beautiful month on the calender is for the waiting.  Expectantly, hopefully.  Equal parts joy at the dusting of snow and ice to play on as well as trembling and fear, the desperate desire for the return of the sun.

All the work of December is done on the inside.  There is only the barest perception that it’s there, but it is some of the most important work we do of the year.

Fueling our lights for the new. 

All tucked in.  Warm, cozy.

Together.

September

September was:

canning, drying, freezing, jamming, beaches, hikes, early freezes, back to home-schooling, messy house making, returning to Sunday, not weeding, still watering, kind of waiting for the real turning of the seasons but loving the lingering heat too.

A baby turned two.  A papa turned thirty-four.

We are, this family and farm, growing and changing and the two grown-ups here are really excited and happy, despite some of the hard moments we faced this summer, with the decisions and enlightenment this season brought us.

Was there anything more to ask of September?

I guess it has come and gone and was as full as could be.

We are still swimming in the river, although the nights and mornings are cold and so even the heat of the day can’t warm the water as much as before.  Still, the other night as I was turning off lights and putting the house to bed, I walked by the woodstove and was flooded with the memory of a warm fire in the house. I couldn’t help but want that, just a little bit.  Moving forward, that’s what the end of September feels like, and forward is always the right direction to go.

The first frost and what’s left of summer

Despite the warm weather most of these days and nights (even now, with the rain), we had our first frost in our lower field, a natural cold sink where all the cool air flows to at night.  It wasn’t a hard freeze, but it was enough to kill the winter squash plants and the tomato and pepper plants that were growing in that space.  We hadn’t yet harvested the winter squash because they were a little behind this year, and just two weeks ago they were not yet ripe.  Thankfully, by the frost most had ripened, and we got a good harvest, our best yet.  Now they are curing, although we have started eating the acorn and delicata squash–yum!!

We pulled all the ripe peppers as well, and both ripe tomatoes and any that had started to turn in color.  Those unripe ones will finish ripening in storage.  Thankfully, we had tomatoes planted in our upper field too, so there are a lot still on the vine, and those are covered, so the first early frost we get in that field (most likely in the next few weeks) won’t kill those plants and we should have tomatoes for quite a while still.

The rest of the early fall glut is slowing down though, just like that.  This week we didn’t bring cucumbers or summer squash to market for the first time since they started this summer.  It always surprises me how fast this happens, and I joked with the farmer that he should have warned me–I want to know when I am eating the last of something for the year.  Even when I take great pains to enjoy every flavor while it is in abundance, I would pay special attention to that last bit of something for the year!  Luckily, I am sure the kids and I can go glean some of these vegetables for ourselves, since they really are not completely done, just not prolific enough anymore to take the time to harvest for market or the CSA.

 

 

So this week, I plan to enjoy the last tastes of summer:  a few more meals of White Lebanese summer squash, simply sliced and roasted with olive oil and sea salt (everyones favorite!) or stuffed (so good!) and yellow summer sqaush diced and sauteed until browned. A few more cucumbers to throw on our salads and as many more as there are eaten out of hand by the children.  Eggplant in some of the last few eggplant recipes I wanted to try this year:  this and this!  And also in some of our favorites that we haven’t yet made this year:  moussaka and white bean and roasted eggplant dip (since as much as I love eggplant, I don’t love baba gonoush).  These alongside yummy winter squash and apple cider soups, turnip and turnip greens soup, and roasted pear, arugula, and balsamic vinegar salads.  The best of both worlds for another week, two if we are lucky!  And then it will be good-bye to summer meals for a good eight months;  it’s no wonder summer veggies are so prolific in their turn, they really have such a short window of time to bear fruit.

A hard frost!

The farm frosted hard this morning! This may be the last week of veggie harvests that teeter in the space between eating seasons. The very last peppers, the very last summer squash…although the tomatoes are always picked to ripen in storage just so we can spread out the season of everyone’s favorite summer fruit, and we may just get another eggplant harvest next week because the plants rebounded quite unscathed from this morning’s layer of frosty white. Other signs of change abound. Waking at 5:30 this morning to help a wee one get a drink of water, I was struck by how much it felt like the middle of the night. It was dark, the bright moon set for the night, and no sight of the rising sun. I just couldn’t imagine staying awake, the feeling that it was still night was too strong, even though this was the hour we did wake on Tuesdays not long ago, sky light blue, ready to begin the harvests for the day.

In many ways, everything around us is telling us to slow down. The days are shorter, the sky telling us to sleep more, work less. The crops that needed us to tend to them day in and day out, to harvest, harvest, harvest their mad rush at setting as much fruit as possible while the heat lasts, the weeds competing with our plantings in a summer long race to win, all done for the year. The frost itself calling to us to take the time to start the fire and warm the kettle again, because no harvesting could be done until the leaves thawed. The farmer’s market ends this week too, and in a flash, our summer routine is gone for another year. Slowly, slowly we inch towards winter.

So alongside your summer squash this week we have the first of the season’s winter squash! And everything that has been touched by this morning’s frost (and our two softer frosts before this) has been infused with the sweetness of the season. This is the best time to eat fresh food, the sweetest and fullest of all. We were caught off guard this morning, the first really cold fingers of the season, but harvesting food for all of you through the fall is one of our favorite things to do. Unlike in the warmer months, food becomes such a treasure, a source of warmth itself, as we head into colder weather. If you are at all busy bees like we are in the summer, the true savoring starts now, when nature beckons us to slow down and sip some soup!

What do we farmers do in january?


I know, I know…it is important to keep this thing updated, even in the quiet of winter, so here is some of what we are up to at the farm.

*Starting the construction of our new chicken coop, the one that will find most of us (human, dog, cat, and pig) and farm members alike being again well nourished by copious amounts of eggs-yeah!! The new coop is being made from a nice wood privacy fence that was taken down in big pieces and then given to us. We have opted for a permanent home with access to four large pasture areas to rotate them through rather than a mobile home. With a small clutch, 40-50, we think this will still work to keep the birds on good pasture continually. This time around, the fencing will be predetor proof so we don’t see a repeat of this spring’s sad chicken wipe out.

*Working out the details of just what kind of hen’s will be coming home to take up residence in the new coop. The children can’t help but request the “punk rock” and “brain” chickens, both different Polish chicken breeds or all the other birds in the catalog that aren’t chickens, the quails and pheasants in all their beautiful variety. In the end, we compromised. The adults chose again the breeds we went with before, Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, Buff Orpingtons, and Silver Laced Wyandottes, all breeds that are fair sized when mature, lay a good amount of eggs, know how to forage, and lay well in winter. We also know that the Orpingtons will brood, a trait we want some of our birds to have. For the kiddos, a few funny haired Polish and some Araucana/Americanas. Of all the chickens we had before, it was only the Araucana/Americanas that were blessed with names–Harry, Ron, and Hermione in turn since the oldest boy and I had just finished the Harry Potter books.

*Delivering the last remnants of all the free-roaming poutlry to the butcher. As much as we love the site of a few birds in the yard, they have repeatedly made landscaping and gardening in our huge sheet mulched garden by the house impossible, not to mention the constant annoyance of finding them on the porch or front yard play area sitting all day or roosting at night…birds tend to leave a lot of mess behind them! This included our wild mutt banty/barred rocks. They truly were great in so many ways. They had enough smarts to survive the predators of spring, they had babies, they never came to eat the grain the regular layers and meat birds relied on, and still layed eggs year round, right through the winter when they were mature. They also never stayed in any kind of fencing we tried, and in the end, this is why they had to go. The other birds to go were the lone duck we still had waddling around, and a lone goose that our friends gave us and who just recently went from calm, squawking duck pal to the meanest goose around. His hissing sounds, nose to the ground line drive towards you, and little beak bites were more intimidating than you would imagine. Andre thought it was quite amusing, but I was honestly afraid of that bird, not to mention the kidlets. He had them up in trees one day, afraid to come down–not good! I have vowed to never have geese here again; Andre is holding out to see how great the bird tastes come Easter. I am sure I won’t change my mind either way!

*And not everything has gone to the birds around here. We will be putting new-used plastic (some that our friends at Country Garden Nursery lost during the snow from their big hoop houses) back on our little greenhouse and starting seeds in the next couple weeks! Some lettuce babies that were started in cold frames are getting transplanted out, and some new things will then be sown in the ground in the cold-frames, probably radishes and swiss chard. All in all, the over-wintered veggies are looking good and slowly putting on growth. We have continued to harvest turnips/tunrip greens, cabbage, beets, brussel sprouts (ugly as can be from aphid damage this fall, but still tasty after peeling them down) and leeks, leeks, and more leeks for the family. We are letting the rest of the veggies in the fields put on growth, so our winter vegetable palatte is limited in ways, although we have a tad winter squash left and some dried and frozen tomatoes as well as saurkraut to round things out. Part of the excitment of the changing tides around here is that expectation of late winter/early spring harvesting that we will begin in March, not just for CSA members, but for us as well!

*And in non-farm goings on, we are spending the nights by the fire, playing games together or doing our own things. I love the winter for this down time at night, something we don’t have when days stretch out until 10:00 and the warmth comes from outside instead of inside. We are, in this respect, equally excited for the year to come, but content with the blankets piled high and the crackling of the fire a constant sound, the feeling of foraging for freshness instead of swimming in it, the endless pages being read and the comforting arms of the home wrapped around us. Perhaps you won’t trust me any longer if I say this (that is if you have been following along here), but isn’t this the best time of the year?