Sunday, August 29, 2010

Moose in the garden

It's a hot cereal kind of morning. Cool and wet out, overcast and dreary. There has been a lot going on around here. Our backup fridge is overflowing with vegetables. We had our first Moose in the garden - ever.  For most Alaskan gardeners, Moose are our biggest pest. Amazingly we have never had a Moose stop by our place in the summer or fall. I guess we've just been lucky, but we were beginning to think that the smell of our buck goats was keeping them away. We have been planning on putting in a fence, but it is a serious undertaking cost and time wise and until this week did not seem pressing. To keep the moose out, we are going to put in an eight foot tall electric fence, with woven wire mesh fencing along the bottom four feet to keep chickens and smaller critters out.

One visit from a moose can be catastrophic. Fortunately I had some moose favorites in multiple locations, so I lost a few cabbages and Romanesco, but also a few were overlooked. The biggest disappointment was the celery. I had several beautiful celery, ready to harvest, just waiting to be eaten - completely gone. Almost all the broccoli got munched down, I'd harvested all the heads and have been enjoying side shoots. The moose munched on most the beet tops, so now I need to harvest the beets, which I'd been waiting for a couple frosts first, and a root cellar, or a better storage setup. The snap peas took some damage, the carrot bed trampled but mostly unscathed, the kale nibbled. Needless to say, as I was content to pace out the harvest, we kicked it into high gear this week. I went ahead and brought down the rest of the cabbage and romanesco. I harvested a bunch of greens and made and froze green soup this week. I covered the remaining greens and kale. I also put row covers over the remaining beets to try and discourage any more damage.

I went ahead and pulled all the garlic this week. A couple had root maggot damage, and only half of what I planted came back this spring, but there are some nice size bulbs. I went ahead and placed an order for some more garlic for planting. Last year I planted Northe, Siberia, Killarney Red and Chesnok Red, with the Chesnok Red the clear winner in size and hardiness, although it was also planted on the higher side of the bed, so was less exposed to the cold temperatures. I've been pulling onions as they topple over at the base. The beans and peas have slowed down significantly, but we are still getting some, so I'm not pulling the plants yet. A decent amount of tomatoes have been ripening on the vine. We are enjoying the fresh flowers. Currently I have a small vase of lavender, a jar of sweet peas and a bouquet of sunflowers on the counter.

We killed a few Cornish cross this week, and plan on harvesting the rest this week. The new black Sexlinks are beginning to lay. Dustin brought home a meat grinder this week, just in time. We think we are processing a pig this next week. The grinder is one horse power and can grind 9-11 lb. of meat a minute, and it has a sausage stuffer attachment. I'm planning on grinding up pork, a turkey, a few chickens and some duck this fall. When I get the grinder up and running, I'll take some pictures.

At the beginning of this week, I couldn't see any yellow in the trees. After a couple cold nights, getting down into the forties, now there are gold splashes everywhere. The fireweed and ground covers are turning orange and bronze. It is finally looking like fall. Today is our first wood fire of the season. The boys are bringing in firewood as I write this. So it is looking, feeling and smelling like fall.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The August garden is a glorious sight to see. More importantly, it holds a large amount of the vegetables we'll be eating over the next several months. Everything is growing and getting bigger right now, and yet there is only so much time to pace out the harvest before the frost and snow come. Unfortunately I have not found a way to store food in the garden here as so many of you are able to do in more temperate climates. So everything has to come out, even the kale and cabbage will freeze and turn to mush by the end of October. We have an area under our house that we heat to above freezing to keep our water and water pipes working. The last couple years I've tried with various success to store potatoes, onions and garlic there. The biggest issues I've had are that the temperature and humidity fluctuate depend on the outdoor conditions. The floor is just bare earth, so what I'd like to do is dig a large hole or a couple holes in this area that we can cover, so the conditions inside the hole would be more consistent.

Last year the onions, garlic and potatoes kept downstairs until February, and by then we had used them all up. We stored beets and carrots in our back up fridge until December. They would have kept much longer but I needed the space so we rushed to eat them up, making lots of vegetable juice and blended soups. I've been making a couple gallons of sauerkraut each fall which gets us through most the winter. I've also been making lacto-fermented veggie pickles which store in the fridge, lasting us till spring. Other than that, most of the vegetables have been going into  the freezer. Last year I blanched and froze more broccoli, kale, swiss chard and beet greens than we needed. So I've been a little reluctant to start a greens blanching and freezing spree.

I tend to push my luck with the harvesting and the inevetable frost. Unlike some gardeners I know who are on top of their fall gardens and have everything safely stored away, all the vines and stalks in the compost pile and the soil turned and ready for spring...I tend to go into winter with stalks and vines still in the garden and wait until that day where it starts snowing and the ground is mostly frozen before I finish digging the last of the potatoes and carrots. This may be my last year for leaving stalks and vines in the garden, as I'm more on top of the garden this year with our farm helper preferring garden work to stall mucking.

Soon here I'm going to put together a list of the different varieties we grew this year and how they performed. In other news, we'll be harvesting twenty-eight Cornish Cross in the next couple weeks. They are about nine weeks old right now. I'm looking for a good number of seven to nine pound birds in the freezer. We've got four turkeys that will join the chickens in the freezer in September sometime. We've also got a whole pig coming to us, and I'll be having a hand in the processing. So I'm starting to research what cuts I want to do what with.

Last night I stayed up reading about making sausage. We'll be buying an electric meat grinder in town soon, so I probably don't have many options. I'm hoping to find one that can easily process large amounts of meat, and that also has a sausage stuffer attachment. I'm feeling like I should be putting the garden into the freezer now, to make time for all the upcoming meat processing...but it is so hard with everything just growing bigger. If you have any tips for dealing with a whole pig, or opinions on meat grinders let me know. Fortunately we've got someone who supposedly knows what they are doing that is going to kill the pigs and help with the initial butchering process. I'm hoping to cure and smoke some bacon and the hams, make some sausage and hot dogs, render lard, and I'd really like to make some salami and cured meats but I'm not sure if I'm up to the task yet or not... I checked out three books at the library on meat curing and sausage making which I'll be pouring over in the following weeks to come.

On a side note, I made a quiche last night for dinner with our own zucchini, onions, tomato, basil, eggs and goat milk...and we gobbled it up. I thought it would last a couple mornings, but I was mistaken. I love making meals with almost all our own ingredients.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Feels like Fall

I've gotten a lot of cooking and cleaning done the last couple days, and I guess that's how I know summer is coming to an end. The days have been overcast, the air; crisp and almost shockingly cool. The temperatures have been in the fifties and sixties, which shouldn't feel so cold, except that there is that fall feel to the air, as if it is blowing from the north or off a frozen glacier. I expect the cooler air this time of August - I brace for it - I don't welcome it. I loathe to see the end of the hot days.

Daily I've found myself pausing to scan the trees for signs of yellow leafs. So far the Birch are looking droopy and tired, their leaves dried out like paper. The woods have taken on a lighter green shade, no longer the lush vibrant green of mid summer. The only yellow I see are on dying trees. Not long though, maybe a week before there are several splashes of yellow throughout the trees. Maybe two weeks before leaves start falling and covering the ground. We usually have lovely sunny September days, but they are cooler, not as much sandles and a lot more sweatshirts, ah.... I've still been doing chores most days wearing sandles and a skirt, and I'm already missing these days.

In the last couple days I've canned smoked salmon and green beans from the garden. I cleaned out the pantry to make room for all the new canned goods. I've been cooking and baking more than usual. Yesterday I made a lemon pie, a broccoli bacon salad and a white bean soup with garden veggies and bacon- (bacon = fall cooking). I dehydrated some scallions yesterday as I have more than I can eat fresh. I'm going to do my dehydrating this year, more vegetables and not just berries and fruit leather. The garden just needs harvested. Everything is just getting bigger, nothing has needed water except the greenhouse. The tomatoes are slowly ripening, we've been picking just enough cherry tomatoes for snacking and enough full sized tomatoes for sandwiches. I just put a batch of freshly made kimchee into the fridge and started a batch of lacto-fermented dill green beans.

I need to start blanching and freezing herbs and kale. We should be eating green salads and stirfry every night so as to use up all the greens, but instead we've been eating peas, zucchini, green beans and broccoli just about nightly. I don't really like any of these things frozen or canned- green beans are about it for canning, unless I have enough tomatoes for sauce. I don't find that snap peas, snow peas or green beans freeze well and I don't usually use frozen broccoli either. I will shred and freeze some zucchini. My favorite way to preserve summer vegetables is in soup form. I make a lot of big batches of soup to freeze, pesto garden veggie soup, green soups, blended veggie and bean and veggie soups. Last year I probably froze forty to fifty quarts of veggie soups that we pulled out for dinners through the winter.

I suppose if I were trying to go without buying vegetables in the winter then I would freeze and can more vegetables, but as long as I can buy them fresh, yes with all those fossil fuel miles packed in, I will. Usually we go without buying many vegetables till mid winter. We'll have enough garlic, onions, potatoes, beets, rutabagas, turnips and carrots to last till spring if we can store them that long. The tomatoes will continue to ripen slowly indoors until November. We'll be eating fresh out of the garden till the end of September, maybe some greens will keep in the garden through October with row covers. For now, I'm making the most of eating what I like fresh while it is fresh, lightly and simply cooked. What are you enjoying while it is fresh?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Harvest meals

I love how simple meal planning and cooking dinner are this time of year. I could pretty much eat fresh vegetables in various combinations steamed with butter or stir fried, sprinkle with salt and pepper, garnish with fresh herbs, maybe some cheese. Serve with rice, noodles or bread and that's dinner.

Dustin came back from Chitina with twenty-three Copper River Red Salmon. He could have gotten up to forty fish but the water level rose drastically the night he arrived making it difficult to catch the fish. He held out a day, the water level went back down, he was finally catching fish, but had to get back for work the next morning. Twenty-three salmon is a nice number, plenty for us for the year. Wednesday night we processed fish, vacuum sealing and freezing most of it. We saved out several fillets to eat fresh within a few days and I set aside enough for about four batches of smoked salmon. In past years we have frozen fish whole wrapped in saran wrap and freezer paper. This year we filleted them all as we eat salmon more often when it is more convenient.

The only parts of the salmon thrown away were the guts. We froze all the row to feed to the chickens throughout the year. We put the whole carcasses in the bottom of a freshly dug trench and planted raspberry canes on top. We scraped all the extra meat off the carcass and froze eight quarts of salmon strips and pieces to make chowder and salmon cakes with. Today I'm either going to start canning smoked salmon or go blueberry picking depending on the weather and the kids.

A perfect meal, fresh baked salon with olive oil, garlic and fresh dill. Freshly shelled peas from the garden, cooked briefly over high heat with butter and a little salt. Tasty, simple and nutritious. I love summer meals.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Avery on a warm August Evening

We finally had a little July weather in August, five eighty degree days in a row - the warmest days of the summer I think. The last couple days are feeling more like August, sixties with scattered showers, but then our fair has begun so that explains the fair weather. It is starting to get dark late night- early morning. I've been heading to bed around midnight and I can still see, but I would grab a headlamp if I headed out to check on the animals. During our warm spell Avery and I took a walk with the camera. It was about nine p.m., about as warm and balmy as an evening gets around here.

Avery trying without success to catch a chicken.

Stopping at one of our wild raspberry patches.

Our warm days are so precious. I never get my fill. Here's to savoring the last of our bare legged, tank-top and sandal wearing days

August Does and Doelings

This time of year the does are looking their best. They've finally shed out the last of their winter coats and have yet to start growing their coats for this coming winter. They've been living easy, enjoying the warm summer days and getting out to browse a bit. I'm looking forward to breeding season as I'm planning on breeding five does, three are first timers. We've got two yearlings and a dry two year old who we've been putting food (money) into and I'm ready to put them to work for us - start milking and having extra doelings to sell - hopefully.

Avalon- won't be bred till next season

Zinnia on left is one of our yearlings. Her mom is Rose, to her right. I am really looking forward to seeing how her udder looks once she freshens. Rose is our best milker with the highest yield and roundest udder. I'm hoping she passes these traits along to her daughter.

Zinnia again, she is on uneven ground, but I think you can tell that she is a good looking doe.

Zuri on left, Rose on right

Zuri is our other yearling. We lost her mom last summer, who was our best doe. Zuri looks so much like her dam. I have high hopes for her.

Avalon and Asia. I enjoy keeping two doelings at a time. Unfortunately eight does is about as many as we have room for, so if I want to keep doelings next year I'm going to have to sell some milking does. It makes more sense to sell doelings as you can sell them for almost as much as a milker without putting a years worth of hay into her. These are our first two doelings from our buck Xavier, so of course we had to keep them!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Picking blueberries and raspberries

Last weekend I took the kids berry picking with my folks. My mom watched the kids while my dad and picked in a frenzy. We had a thirty mile drive and though we saw other berry pickers, no one had picked at this spot yet this season. The picking was superb, so many big and beautiful berries it was hard to focus and harder yet to leave. I picked these three tubs in three hours. Picking wild blueberries is hard work. Lots of squatting and bending over - bend from the hip to save yourself an aching back later.

Yesterday I picked cultivated raspberries (Boynes and Kiskas), at a friend's garden. I picked close to twenty pounds, about five gallons in a few hours. Again, the berries were so plentiful that it was overwhelming. Fortunately a friend offered to watch the kids and I took another friend with me to pick, otherwise it would have taken all day to do a thorough job picking.

There are numerous fruits and berries that don't grow here. In fact, the biggest temptation to move elsewhere is the wide variety and ease with which I could grow fruit and nut trees, along with other perennial plants and heat loving vegetables. Yet, I try with some success not to dwell on what I can not have and make the most of what is available. I am so thankful for blueberries and raspberries. We also have an abundance of cranberries. Other berry bushes and fruit trees which I would like to establish on our property include currants, nanking cherries, elderberries, gooseberries and apple trees. I would like to check out some of the hardier pear and plum trees, as well as some of the hardiest grapes. There are a few varieties that survive the winters here, although I have yet to hear of anyone having major success with these.

I've been looking over my berry picking and jam notes from the last few years. I've also been taking inventory of how much jam, syrup and frozen berries I have leftover from last year. Last year I made five batches of blueberry jam, one batch of syrup and had four jars of jam leftover, no berries. I made three batches of raspberry jam and two batches of syrup. I still have six jars of jam in the freezer and a couple gallons of raspberries, but only because I thought I was out the last couple months. Took some deep cleaning the freezer to find them and now they are front and center to be consumed first. Blueberries seem more versatile to me. They aren't seedy, so they don't clog the kid's smoothie straws. I am so use to dropping them into pancakes, that I find plain pancakes kind of boring without them. I could never have enough blueberries in the freezer or on the shelf. Wild Alaska blueberries are nothing like cultivated or store-bought blueberries. They pack a ton of flavor. They are so intense that we rarely make a straight blueberry pie, rather we cut them with apples or other mild fruits or berries. So I'll try not to turn green with envy when I read about other bloggers drowning in peaches or cherries, and I'll just think blueberries, least I have berries.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

How does my garden grow?

Better than ever. Here are some pictures from the last couple weeks.

Here is a picture of a daily harvest - about as much as I'm carrying down to the house daily. The peas and beans are in full force. Getting a couple zucchini daily. Been thinning onions and pulling the ones that get flatened in the rain. Dug the first potatoes yesterday and made potato salad. I wish that dinners were this easy all year, just cooking up whatever looks good that day. 
Been spending time picking wild blueberries. Picked about eight pounds the other day and froze most of them. Dustin is in Chitina right now, hopefully coming back today with forty Copper River Red Salmon. I've got the brine ready, the smoker and chips pulled out as well as the vacuum sealer and freezer paper. Just need to sharpen some knives. Its harvest time, not just for vegetables but berries and fish too. I feel so wealthy this time of year, rich with an abundance of healthy and tasty food.