Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Notes to Self on Garden

This afternoon I came down from the garden with a bag of baby carrots, broccoli, zucchini and basil. I steamed some garlic whistles and the broccoli. Sauteed carrots, onions and the zucchini in olive oil and butter (not all at the same time), and then tossed everything together along with some goat cheese, lemon zest and fresh basil and shredded parmesan. I relish the days where the garden inspires and provides the next meal.

Today I threw out (to the chickens) several bags of greens that had been in the fridge too long. Feeling guilty I forced myself to try and salvage a couple heads of napa cabbage that some sort of fly larvae got the best of. I grated up several beat up zucchini to make into bread. And I pulled a large jar (think vase covered with a bag) of swiss chard front and center in the fridge so that I will include into tomorrow nights meal. Another batch of greens soup for the freezer is in order so that I may gain in the battle against the overtaking greens. Planting more greens needs to move to the top of the list on my garden chore list. I've recently sowed a late batch of dill, cilantro, radishes, beets and swiss chard. But no greens of late, but I hear the clock ticking. Escarole, endive, mache and arugula, tatsoi, spinach, lettuce and mizuna - your time to thrive in the coolness of fall is coming.

This week I harvested several bundles of mint and oregano to dry. There are still some more garlic whistles to snip. Basil is ready to harvest. Beans are flowering and growing little beans. Radishes are all done, a few of the cauliflower bolted in the heat. Some of the beets are getting to be nice size and some aren't. I planted several varieties all mixed together. The yellow and white beets seem to be less tolerant of the soil. Note to self: next year plant beets in better soil with lots of compost. (I recently have seen the light in regards to roasted and lightly dressed beets)

While I'm at it here are a few more notes to self:
  1. Don't plant anything in straight soil! Add compost and goodies, turn well, then plant!!!
  2. Plant more onions (shallots and leeks too) and make sure they are not day sensitive!!
  3. Plant more cauliflower (there are maybe a dozen plants growing now-not enough) !
  4. Plant less kale and more variety! (think a dozen and not four dozen!)
  5. Plant less Swiss Chard (two dozen or so, not five dozen)
  6. Start more cucumbers (I started six and now have four, only one is growing well)
  7. Succession plant radishes and cilantro more frequently, June fifteenth maybe for second planting.
  8. Plant more peas, can never have enough peas!
  9. Keep beans and squash covered until they are big and bushy
  10. Cover napa cabbage, radishes and onions with row covers to keep insects off, lettuce too.
That's all for now, I should do that a few more times during the season as I think of new things. Today I was looking over my notes from last year's berry harvest. When I came home from picking blueberries I measured and kept track of each cup. The raspberries I had weighed when I picked them at a Upick place. Last year I picked roughly fourty four cups of blueberries (not nearly enough), and about twenty-seven pounds, roughly eighty-four cups of raspberries. Fifteen pints of blueberry jam and three pints of blueberry topping and thirteen pints of raspberry jam made it to the shelves and several bags of whole berries into the freezer. In addition a good friend of ours brought over bags of raspberries on a couple different occassions that I did not keep track of. As of now I still have four gallon ziplocks full of frozen raspberries in the freezer and several jars of raspberry jam, but only a small bag of frozen blueberries and no blueberry jam. So, this year I would like to harvest as many raspberries as last year and hopefully more blueberries. Something new and exciting (for me) that I am looking forward to doing is making syrups with the berries. I often stir jam into Noah's milk, kefir or yogurt, and the clumps are straw cloggers- (ha! straw cloggers). A friend recently gave me a jar of raspberry syrup that she had made and it is devine. I am hoping to make more blueberry jam so instead of hoarding it we can give it as gifts.

For the last week we've been picking wild raspberries that grow along our driveway. They are looking good this year, large and free of bugs and mold - so far. Some years the wild raspberries are hardly worth picking but they sure seem to like the sun and heat we have been having and don't seem to have sufferred due to the drought. On the otherhand, we walked up our hill to the blueberry patch and while there are plenty they are small. Ergh! I had a feeling that it wasn't going to be a very good blueberry year, they do best with more moisture early on in the summer and we've hardly had any. I count two days of rain so far this summer, and a few sprinkles, makes for little blueberries. I'm wondering if we look low down in the valleys where there is more moisture the berries might be bigger than on our hill that seems to avoid the passing showers. The berries are just beginning to ripen and there were a lot of green berries still, so maybe if we get some good rain they will be looking better next week...but then the raspberries will start to

I have stayed up too late, and tomorrow I have no farm help. I can do it! I'm leaving the goat kids with their moms tonight so that I don't feel so rushed in the morning. Getting Noah and Avery out of the house and up the hill can be challenging because the more urgent I am with Noah the more he protests. The longer it takes to get out of the house the closer Avery gets to her morning nap. The keys to success are a good breakfast for all and then snacks, smoothie for Noah and blueberries for Avery once we get up the hill. Then I just try to relax and enjoy being in a lovely garden with my kids and some hungry goats, one day I'll look back and think "ah, those were the days."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Summer Snap Shots

Dustin came home with a sprinkler last week. Noah enjoys garden watering time now more than any of us. Today he was asking to water the garden but it rained last night and today so there was no need. We have had such hot weather that we've all been running through the sprinkler.

On a side note the sun is setting at this very moment, 11:18 by my computer clock. It is a hot glowing orange sinking behind the blue ridge-line. The sky closest to it is salmon spreading into lighter shades of pink. I enjoy this time of year as well as this time of night so much. My kids get to bed just in time for me to sit at our west facing window and watch the sun set while I sit at the computer munching on forbiddables (a word of my own making apparently). The sun setting this early is a sure sign that we are approaching the later stages of summer, yikes! We won't get any dark nights for a few more weeks, just dusk. I can walk around our property at any time of night and see clearly until early August. Then it will take a while to get use to carrying flashlights and driving in the dark again. Ah...

On a brighter note, the harvest is approaching full swing. This week has me pulling out my favorite cook books looking for recipes that use large quantities of greens. One of our favorites is a green soup that Dustin calls pureed salad. It is tasty and I throw in any greens that I have, and garnish it with homemade croutons and cream, or sometimes fried scallions. The original Deborah Madison recipe calls for sorrell which I didn't have when I first started making it but I grow it now and at the moment have an abundance. Other greens abounding include swiss chard, beet greens, head lettuce, baby salad greens, tatsoi and other mustard greens. I also harvested radishes, herbs and garlic whistles. We've been snacking on baby carrots and snap peas but none have made it down to the house. Every time Noah is in the garden he asks what we can eat. Tonight we also had some fresh broccoli. Some of the heads are about as big as they are going to get. We finally have some zucchini growing (it got off to a slow start). We have lots of green tomatoes and have eaten some cherry tomatoes.

I have been gearing up for this statement: I will not be purchasing any out of state vegetables for the next three months! We will try to eat mostly out of our own garden, but may also purchase a few things at our local farmer's market. I will be bypassing the produce section at our local supermarket. I could probably commit to eating local veggies until November or even December, but we may be taking a vacation in late September. In the last couple years I've made this commitment sooner in the summer, but once again I blame our children. Beings that up until now we've mostly just had greens, Avery loves her peas and green beans and Noah's favorites are cucumbers and I think we will be in the clear for a while as far as kid veggie preferences go.


Here are a few photos I took of the kids this week. We've been spending lots of time outside enjoying the fabulous weather. I guess in some places people may be lounging inside in their air conditioned homes, but not in Alaska - fortunately it never gets that hot. Although we've been coming close. The nights have been too warm for covers and that is a bit warm for me. Yesterday we had to keep the windows closed because it was so smokey outside. Which made for a muggy house.

I think most the pictures of Noah and Avery speak for themselves. Although I have to point out that the photo above is a classic Avery expression. A few months back she started wrinkling up her nose and snorting. She does it when she is in a playful mood. When I told my mom what new thing her granddaughter was doing she said that I use to do the same thing. I don't think Avery looks much like myself so it is nice to see other characteristics of mine showing through, ha ha. Now Avery does this all the time and all you have to do is wrinkle up your nose and snort at her and she does it right back.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Summer Fun

Despite the busy summer days we still manage to have some fun. Just about every warm afternoon calls for some water in the pool on our back deck. We don't have a lot of shade so I've hung up blankets on the railing and situated the pool and sandbox nearby so there is some shade for the kids. When Avery is not in the baby pool, Noah enjoys sliding into the water.

Dustin and I managed to get away on our own for a lovely afternoon of floating down the Chena river. This is one of our favorite summer past times that we've missed out on the last few summers (ahem, kids). The Chena river runs through Fairbanks and passes by several bars before it exits down and joins up with the much larger and faster moving Tanana river. We usually take a cooler with snacks and drinks. If you paddle the trip goes by too fast for our liking so we generally just float and steer out of the way of boats, jet skis, float planes and the riverboat. Bar/Restaraunts that we usually get out at include The Boatel, Chena Alaska Grill, Pikes Waterfront Landing and The Pump House. We pull out at the Pump House and usually have dinner. This trip we took a taxi cab from the Pump House to our home, which is only five miles or so.

Top photo is myself at Pikes waiting for a cocktail. The middle photo is the River Boat, it past us in both directions during our float, taking tourists on a tour of the river sights. Lastly is a photo of a float plane that sounded like it was having difficulties. We didn't see it take off or land. We were guessing that maybe it had made an emergency landing as it was limping along. Planes take off and land in the river frequently. Other sightseeing along the river includes checking out houses and yards in addition to seeing lots of ducks with their ducklings and the occassional beaver. Water plus sun and heat equals a good time.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Busy times

It is past midnight and I just came in from my last walk around of farm chores. I didn't do much, other than check to see that everyone was in for the night and had enough food and water to last in to the morning. I also covered some hay that had been airing out, (the tarp blew off in a storm a few nights ago and the top and sides got wet). I usually put away the goat kids at night but I don't feel like being rushed in the morning to get out and milk so I left the kids with their mom's tonight. The sky is mostly cloudy and grayish blue with shades of light rose and apricot above the blue ridge line where the sun set not so long ago. The smell of smoke is in the air, which makes up for the less than clear blue sky. All of Alaska has been experiencing above average temperatures. Which we all enjoy immensely until the smoke starts rolling in. Smokey summers have been a trend over the last several years, but I don't remember them from my youth. We have many wild fires and so little infrastructure in the state that most are left to burn until they are deemed dangerous to populated areas. When the wind blows in the right (or wrong) direction, we get smoked out, even when the fires are far away and pose no threat. For the last week the smoke has drifted in and away as the wind changes course. It is worse in early morning and late evening, often giving way to clear blue skies during the day.

Not only have we been having record breaking heat waves (nineties), but we have also been experiencing humidity, which we are not use to. We live in an arctic dessert and our air is something I take for granted; it is very crisp and refreshing, sometimes in the middle of winter it is too dry and I crave the moist humid air that helps ferns grow lush and the hairs at my neck curl. But whenever I return to Fairbanks and step off the plane the first thing I notice is how much I missed our cool crisp air. Our summers here in interior Alaska are so fleeting and the winters long lasting, that Fairbanksans are completely tuned in to weather forecasts and taking advantage of each precious moment of sun and warmth. When listening to people talk they are hesitant but eager, hopeful and doubtful. Over and over I hear "They say it is going to be a cool rainy summer!" "On the news some expert said we are in for a cooling trend for the next several years!"or "I hope we have a hot summer, but I sure hope it doesn't get smokey". There is a lot of expectations riding on a Fairbanks summer, and I may be biased but Fairbanks has the best summers of anywhere in the state (think the hottest and sunniest). I tend to go crazy if I have to be inside for very long on a nice day. Forget all indoor house chores, forget dinner, I don't tend to think of myself as moody but keep me inside on a nice summer day and watch out.

We got our first batch of brome hay this week and will be picking up several more pickup truck loads over the next couple months. The first cutting here in the interior has just begun as we have only had a couple rain falls all summer and the hay was off to a slow start as a result. The first batch we got is beautiful, green and sweet smelling. The goats seem to think it an improvement over last years leftovers. We have so many tasks to accomplish over the next couple weeks. We are extending the outdoor chicken yard now that our chicken numbers are growing. I need to mix chicken food. Now that we are feeding about seventy birds we are plowing through the feed. I'm trying to keep track of all our grain expenses so I can figure out what we spend on feed. I bought fifty pound bags of fish and kelp meal in January and we haven't gone through even half of them, whereas we've probably fed eight or nine bags of corn - or more. So it isn't as easy as just adding up how many bags of crumbles we've fed. I need to sit down with all the receipts and do some math. When I do, I'll post it. Other farm chores include cleaning out the doe and buck pens and stalls (big nasty projects), finish a second doe stall that was started last summer and is now used as grain and hay storage, and build one more chicken house onto the side of the existing one. Firewood is going to start taking precedense here soon, in addition to finishing our hearth and hallway so we can move our woodstove back into the house. Finally, and here is the doosey, we are going to build an additon onto our house that is almost as big as our existing home. At the moment we all sleep in one large open loft. We have great acoustics with our high ceiling and as a result you can hear everything that goes on downstairs or vice versa, a little too well. So the big push for the addition would create two bedrooms for the kids and a play/family room. So far this summer Dustin has been working six eleven hour days a week and is about to get some time to spend all that money on lumber and building supplies.

Well, thinking of all that needs to get done reminds me that I'd better get some sleep. Goodnight.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Summer Climax

It is past midnight and the thermometer is still reading in the high sixties. Most likely this does not impress you, unless like us, you live in the arctic. We've been enjoying temperatures in the high seventies and eighties during the day. Almost too hot for this Alaskan raised girl. My mother-in-law is up for a visit and I've been taking the opportunity to get outside and work in the garden in the heat of the day without the kids. Yesterday I was sweating so much I kept having to wipe my sunglasses.

The climax of summer is upon us. Solstice is past. It is still light but dusky all night. The garden grows before my eyes and the weeds wilt. I ate my first sungold cherry tomato today, but I've been buying lovely heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers at the Farmer's Market for a couple weeks now. My garden is pumping out the greens; head lettuce, baby greens, mustards, endive, swiss chard and sorrel. I've got some Napa Cabbage that is ready for harvest, and the Broccoli Rab is past. I've also got herbs and radishes. Other than that the broccoli and cauliflower heads are forming but small still. Peas are flowering. Beets, carrots, beans and cabbage and squash are rapidly growing. I'm thinking I may be done buying vegetables at the store for at least a few months. Our garden is just starting to produce and will continue to reward us for our efforts for the next few months. Did I mention that it takes me at least an hour and a half to water the garden by hand. Often I wait till everyone is in bed to do so, that way it is cooler and the water doesn't all evaporate, downside is that it means I'm up in the garden swatting mosquitos till one or even two a.m.

Our four ducks have finally been moved up to the garden. I love watching the ducklings! I let them out of their home several times a day (when I milk, when I water, anytime I'm putzing about the garden). They get to splash around in a small pool and waddle around amongst the plants. Only a few casualties so far. I recently planted another batch of kale, radishes and swiss chard in an area near the duck tractor and once they found the tender seedlings, they continued to return to the patch until I put fencing scraps over the row. The first time I let them out I had to chase them around to put them back in. But now they have it figured out. The ducks hate to be held so when they see me coming they run for their home.

All the chickens are outside finally. We have some more building and arranging to do as they are all outgrowing their current structures and pens. I've moved the largest cockerals and pullets in with the adult birds and they seem to be holding their own. Our injured Ameraucana seems to be healed and laid her first egg in a couple weeks today. It only took a few days in a bare kennel for two of my other hens to snap out of their broody stage and they are back to laying as well.

In goat news, a very nice lady is buying Zen and Rose's son (who remains to be named). Both boys have been wethered (fingers crossed) and are between two to three months old. I had a friend wether Zen at a goat meeting as a demonstration. Last night I attempted to do Rose's son using a burdizzo also known as an emasculator. It is a tool that clamps down on each side of their testicles and crushes their sperm cord. It does not cut the skin, and the goat keeps his testicles, only they shrink a bit instead of growing into huge monstrosities. I need to measure them so I can make sure I've been successful. We have one buckling left and I am holding out in case someone wants a buck. But I will probably wether him as well in the next month, by eight weeks they can technically produce offspring although I find the idea highly unlikely... I'd rather not gamble. We are considering selling one of our milking does along with her daughter. So if you are interested let us know. We are still contemplating. Basically, my does are outgrowing their stall and I'm going to have to start parting with a couple each year if I want to keep a couple. And it is hay time. We just got our first truck load of very nice looking Brome hay. The goats are eating a lot of hay right now, and it would be nice if they could pay for some of the years hay themselves.

Happy Mid Summer everyone!