Summertime

Summer is not my favorite season by any stretch, yet in spite of unprecedented weeks of heat here in the Pacific Northwest, this summer has been filled with charm and simple luxuries.

The creek is at what neighbors say is a record low for this time of year, and I believe it. But it still offers burbling pools for swimming, and a multitude of wonders such as impromptu crawdad boils and a reprieve from the scorching afternoons.

The wild berries are bountiful, and my daughter and I spend much of each day picking– and she eating. The variety is astounding here. The common blackberries are just beginning to reach ripeness in greater quantity than could ever be picked, and the cooking and canning finally shall begin.

DSC03577

We’ve dug the first row of potatoes– 17 pounds– and the garlic and shallots, which were small due to late planting and infrequent watering. Fortunately they yielded a good handful of delicious scapes, or as I always knew them, whistles.

Our great friend made an impulse purchase of two Muscovy ducks and brought two for us in exchange for keeping them here. My husband was quick to day “I told you so” when I conceded that they’re great– adorable, easy-for-now to care for, and will eventually be a good meal that led a happy life in the grass and water. Long-term, we intend to dig a pond in the pasture area, partially for run-off management, and then raise more ducks.

Our rabbits were successfully bred, and delivered ten of the most adorable babies: tortoiseshell, black-and-white, and all-white rex-New Zealand crosses. I’m pleased and relieved that all have survived and thrived, whereas in the past these mothers have struggled.

We took in our male rabbit, who I believe is a black-and-brown rex, several months ago after losing our buck. I hoped to have colorful pelts for a variety of uses. However, my plan backfired: these bunnies are way too cute for food, my husband insists. Some will therefore be sold, some will be eaten, and we will be purchasing an additional New Zealand buck.

The garden is filling out, which feels slow but good. I’ll be prepping fall beds this coming week and planting brassicas, as well as more beans on the pea trellis after we harvest the stunted shoots for salad tonight. This incredibly hot summer has had no sympathy for our late plantings.

This is the first year in many that I’ve been filled with visceral euphoria in anticipation of fall. I suppose it’s because I’m back home. And here, I think we will enjoy the most sumptuous fall of any, and I can enjoy these sweltering summer days for their promise of eventual cool and falling leaves and rain.

Advertisements

Homegrown Potatoes: A Worthy Vegetable

A few years ago, as my husband and I prepared to plant our first large garden, we poured over the colorful photos in seed catalogues and discussed what we wanted to plant. The gist of it: everything!

But we narrowed it down to a reasonable selection, based on the pursuit of superior flavor and nutritional value than what we could buy. (We did, however, fail to plant a reasonable quantity of each: notably three 30-foot rows of spinach for the two of us and something like 100 tomato plants.) We placed our order. In addition, I heaped several paper sacks with various potatoes at the local feed store.

He didn’t protest the potatoes until he had fulfilled his job of mounding the rows a few times. While we now layer in straw mulch, at the time he was heaving shovelful after shovelful of dry valley clay soil– backbreaking work. And he began to wonder aloud, why waste the time and effort with potatoes when they’re so cheap from the grocery store? They’re just a bland starch.

Then we harvested our first Yukon Golds. They were like butter– totally unlike supermarket spuds. They hardly needed anything but a pot of boiling water. Divine in every preparation.

Now we grow lots of potatoes: fingerlings, purples and blues, waxy and white. We’ve grown them in buckets, in trenches, and in circles of wire. We layer mulch and soil for easy mounding and digging. And they’re my very favorite harvest– have been since childhood. It’s like digging for treasure.

We planted purple potatoes in bins before the move with the intention of simply moving them with us. I didn’t want to miss potato season and the purples were sprouting. We also threw in some golds and reds. The plants shot up in the early warm California weather. Then before one of our weeklong trips with a load to the new place, I forgot to tell the student caring for our animals to water the plants. Many survived. The potatoes did not.

Disappointed, I shrugged them off with the intention to plant more in the new garden, which I did in March. Then as we prepared for the final move and I dumped the demised spud bins, out poured dozens of colorful marbles: young potatoes from pea-sized to ping pong balls. Delighted, I tossed them in a bag and brought them along.

Now at the new place, I prepared them to our toddler’s delight, simply boiled and tossed in a bit of butter and fresh parsley, served over a bed of peas. It was a hit that highlighted the finest of spring vegetables, even the ones some might not deem worthy of growing at home.

This weekend we’ll be digging fingerlings, and we’re as eager as we will be when harvesting the first tomatoes or berries.

Shared on the Homestead Blog Hop.

The Rabbit & Chicken House

We currently have about twenty chickens including two roosters and two broody hens that cannot be deterred from setting. Since for the past several years we’ve had the unique circumstance of urban acreage, there have been no predators aside from the occasional raptor from which to protect them. They simply roam free and roost in the rafters of the barn.

The new property will expose them to numerous hungry hunters, so at least at night, they’ll need to be cooped. With numerous outbuildings in various states of disrepair, I intended to fix one up to house the chickens and rabbits in the style of Joel Salatin’s “Racken House.” My favorite building seemed well suited, if a bit large, so we set to work cleaning it out.

After a few hours and a dump run, we had the place ready to litter and roosts. There was only one problem: everyone liked the place too much to give it to the chickens. It’s an early twentieth century cabin with true two-by-four construction and attractive siding on all but the front. (We will salvage the siding from a fallen building on the property to reside the front.)

So I changed course and located a concrete-floored shed at the back of what we call the Workshop. It needs to have a window installed, but it is otherwise perfect. We’ll mount the rabbit cages on the wall and the chickens will run below, eating their dropped food and aerating the litter to prevent ammonia build-up. For litter we raked dried grass from the field around the garden into piles, which we used also for mulch.

We removed the heavy door and replaced it with wire gate and a small chicken entry at the bottom, which with any luck, will keep the goats at bay. Add a few roosts and a window, and I think we’ll have a perfect little bunny-bird abode.

Fine Dining: Wild Salad

Every day when I get home, or before lunch on weekends, I put my daughter in the Ergo carrier or pull on her boots, and we go out to the field to pick greens. Most goes into salad, which we enjoy with simple chutney vinaigrette or oil and vinegar at least once every day. Others we sauté.

The pleasure I glean from gathering, washing, arranging, and eating is immense. Knowing that the earth is feeding us of its own plants and short, bountiful season is both gratifying and awesome. And to know that for most of my life I marched past these free wild vegetables makes me almost regretful.

If you’re on the West coast, and probably even if you’re not, five of my favorite greens are undoubtedly familiar to you, and I’ve got photos and descriptions in my guest post at Cold Creek Homestead.

Planting Purple Potatoes

Every Saturday during the summer, since we did not grow potatoes for the first time in years, we bought spuds from a fellow at the farmer’s market who we affectionately referred to as Santa Claus Guy. He sold organic Yukon Golds, Russets and a lovely purple variety.

Since colorful potatoes contain the most nutrients, we ate a lot of periwinkle mash. When his supply dwindled at the end of the season, we bought out his stand.

One bag sat hidden in the pantry, forgotten for several weeks until the spuds shriveled and began to sprout. Several months later, the paper bag left undisturbed and consciously stepped-over, purple tentacles began to emerge.

Since we’re currently mid-move, I won’t be able to plant a full crop of early potatoes, but this bag-full will be just about the right amount for a bin or garbage can that we can haul up with us. If for no other reason, I’d like to preserve the variety for a proper planting later.

The first time we planted a large crop of potatoes, my husband was dubious about whether the effort was worthwhile. For a food that’s cheap and we eat a ton of, wouldn’t it be better to just buy them and dedicate the garden space– and time and energy– to a more delectable vegetable?

After our harvest, he dramatically changed his tune. The waxy yellow tubers we pulled from the earth tasted buttery and delicious, unlike anything we’d ever bought. Since then potatoes are one of our primary garden plants. When I was enormously pregnant and the summer was scorching, our garden waned to a few vegetables, yet I went out daily to water and hill up my precious potatoes.

We grow them in circles of wire lined with newspaper. I place the seed potato on the ground, cover it with straw and soil, and position the fencing wire around it. As the leaves rise up through the dirt, I add layers of mulch and soil to cover most of them until the wire “bin” is mostly full and the greens begin to die back. Then I pull the wire off, knock down the tower of earth, and pull out the potatoes.

I’ll do the same basic thing in a trash can with these purple sprouters and the bin will be our mobile start to a garden for the new property. It will be nice to know that the garden is already underway before we arrive permanently!

Double Yolks and Wind Eggs

Among these four chicken eggs are three yolks. Can you guess how many each contains?

Double-yolk eggs are said to occur once in about 1,000 eggs laid. I’ve found many of these elongated monstrosities over many years of collecting eggs, and there remains a certain excitement to discovering one, from spotting the enormous shell to making bets on its contents to cracking it open and winning double gold.

Consumers of store-bought eggs miss out on this pleasure, because in the United States commercial eggs are sorted by weight and large anomalies discarded. Even normal-sized eggs with two yolks, which do occur, are culled after “candling,” a process of shining a light though the egg to examine its yolk and look for any undesirable matter. One producer in Pennsylvania is cashing in on two-yolk-inclined chickens, selling them by the dozen.

These were our first-ever wind eggs, though, laid two days in a row undoubtedly by the same pullet. Wind eggs are yolkless oddities resulting from a reproductive glitch, as are the double-yolkers. They’re also called cock eggs, dwarf eggs, and least charmingly, fart eggs.

Both extra-large and extra-small have histories of lore surrounding them, understandably. Unlike other errors of egg formation, wind eggs and double-yolks feel delightfully lucky.

Our New Buck

We lost our sweet two-year-old male rabbit in last summer’s heat. It was one of the harder losses for me.

With the move in mind, we’ve been disinclined to add any new animals until we’re at the new place for good, but with a near-empty freezer– plus considering the time it will take the new boy to get a bit larger and reach sexual maturity– we decided to make a purchase now.

Another concern is the potential effect of this time lapse on the mama rabbits– with an extended gap between litters, some females become sterile. If they are, we wouldn’t know for a few weeks after attempting to breed, so with the time to replace them, we’ll be significantly further delayed.

The new fellow is living in the cage I made last year from plum tree suckers and scrap wire, while the females are in the hutches. He will have a little den for nighttime warmth. Our daughter named him Bob– or, more accurately, Bop Bob, which is what she dubs anything she can’t pronounce.

To be honest, I’m not sure if this little guy is a Californian or New Zealand white. He’s got the signature dark spots of a Californian, but they’re very faint. When we bought our original stock, they were sold as New Zealands, but their offspring all had varying shades of nose and ear color. My guess is that most people around here mix the breeds. I’m not too concerned about it either way– both are middle-weight, efficient types with good pelts, although I have not yet tanned any.

The Tiny Homesteaders have a nice tutorial that inspired me to tan the next batch, since it pains me to let the heavenly fur go to waste. Mother Earth News has a nice article from back in 1983 on tanning, and after seeing the luxurious gray pelts from Applegarth Farm‘s post, I’m giving some thought to other breeds. While white pelts are desirable for commercial sale because they take a dye, lovely naturally variegated fur appeals to me greatly.

I’m interested to explore what mid-weight meat breeds people grow with colored pelts, as well as what others use the pelts for. I’m looking forward to another clutch of baby bunnies by spring.