Friday, October 29, 2010


I've been intending to write about the garden and how everything did this summer. I guess it is such a daunting amount of information that I haven't known where to begin. So I suppose it makes sense to narrow my scope and write about one or two crops at a time. I pulled these beets out of the hay pile the other day, and noted with much satisfaction that they are holding up just fine. 

We grew several varieties of beets this year, including: Early Wonder Tall Top, Robuschka, Golden, Detroit White, Chiogga and one called Egyptian something- flat top? Our beet bed was about three feet wide and twenty-five feet long. I haven't done the math lately to see what yield we should have had. As we were harvesting beets out of the bed from the end of June until late September when we pulled the rest, it's impossible to know the overall yield. This was officially the longest growing season on record for Fairbanks. We had a nice balance of rain and sun. 

We got an early start (for this area) direct seeding beets, turnips, rutabagas, carrots, scallions, greens and radishes in early May. The plus side of this was that we were harvesting these crops much earlier than usual; pulling baby beets and turnips by mid June, decent sized carrots by early July. So we were eating more diversely out of the garden for a longer stretch than in previous years. The down side is that the final harvest was significantly smaller than expected. 

 I thought the bed I'd sowed beets in was one of our richer beds, with lots of compost and amendments (bone meal, blood meal, lime, chicken and goat bedding, horse manure - all somewhat but not completely composted). Beets are one of our favorites, I know they need good soil to grow well, so I thought I was giving them what they needed. There was a significant percentage of small beets at final harvest time, that had never grown. I also noticed that the Chiogga variety had light green leaves by the end of the summer. Coincidentally the Chiogga beets taste bitter, whereas all the other beets taste fine. We were watering with a fish emulsion which was highest in nitrogen, but the greens never greened up. We worked in some bone and blood meal hoping to bulk up the size of the roots, but they didn't seem to grow much after mid summer. I left them in the ground for storage, but the bulk of the growing took place in the first couple months and then they were at a stand still. We didn't have any pest problems. We did have quite a few beets bolting in June. I suspect that it was our long day light hours, although I don't remember beets bolting before. The Early Wonder Tall Top bolted the most. As far as which beets did the best for us, the Robuschka was overall the largest at harvest time. The Detroit White was decent size and mild in flavor. The Egyptian was second in size and pretty. I love the colors of the white, gold and bulls eye beets in comparison with the red beets in a salad.

Conclusions: allot more room for beets, add more goodies; more nitrogen rich additives such as fish and kelp meal. Also I'm going to try and resist adding partially broken down compost, and be more diligent about the compost piles. We did use fabric row covers over the beets as we had sown a row of radishes next to them. I've never had root maggots bother beets so I may save the covers for other crops. Also, I'm thinking of sowing a second planting around June first. Have one bed that is for eating fresh all summer, and another bed which is for a fall harvest.

Our favorite ways to eat beets: I boil or roast them just till fork tender. The kids prefer theirs with just butter and salt- and I love them simply as well. I adore beets adorned with some good olive oil, sherry or champagne vinegar, sea salt, fresh black pepper, maybe some orange zest. Take it a step further and put them on a salad with toasted nuts and goat cheese; I could eat this dish every other night.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The moon is a friend remembered as I step out into the dark night. I scan the trail and woods ahead relying on my headlamp to prevent any Moose surprises. My worn boots easily find their way up the slippery snowy trail; good traction - and I know where to step. I've only made this winter walk a thousand times, putting away ducks and chickens, tossing hay and saying goodnight to the goats. After a summer of sauntering through the evening chores in a skirt and sandals, in constant awe of the lush green banks and gentle late summer evenings, well the difference is night and day. I'm not use to the dark. I haven't seen the moon in several months. The ground is white with brown tufts sticking up everywhere. The Birch are bare, silver in the moonlight. The beauty now is in the stillness of everything. The nights are almost silent, punctuated by the occasional squabble from the the coop, and faint howling of sled dogs far off in the distance.

On winter evenings like these I am thankful for the moon, the lack of wind and the air which is warm enough that it is cold, crisp and refreshing, and not so cold that it stings and burns. I rejoice in putting on my boots, insulated overalls, wool hat and gloves, all old friends that have been on vacation for the summer. And then there is usually something new and special entering winter, this year it is my new Carhartt jacket which is light and durable and moves just right with my upper torso, not restricting, and best of all it doesn't hold onto hay like my sweaters or get snagged on fencing or gates like my down coat. The comforts of winter; quality warm work wear, a warm house - in particular a wood fire, hot food; especially soups and fresh baked bread, and the moon, always the moon, whether a sliver or a huge glowing orb in the dark night; on winter nights I am always thankful for the moon.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

October Avery, does and ducks

Downloaded some recent photos, and feeling the need to get a post out there, but not much in the talking, or writing mood, so: above = ducks. Note heated green water tub on right. Roof netting to keep owls and ravens out.

We have a new feature to our doe stall this winter; the back door, which allows us to divide up the does and all have access to waters, feeders and are able to come in and out as they please. Key for weaning doelings and separating pregnant does from spunky adolescent does. I've been leaving the doors open so that the goats climatize while the temperatures are mild. The doors are insulated, but only the front door has a door flap.Once the temperatures start dipping down to zero and colder, I'll start leaving the doors closed. Eventually whoever is on the far side will be locked in for the night. We decided not to make a flap on that door so that the structure stays warmer. We'll see how it goes...

Friday, October 15, 2010

The first Snowy pictures of the winter

 Yesterday we had a clear sunny day. The blue sky, low sun and mild temperatures looked and felt like spring.  Well, I've been promising pictures of snow, so here they are, the first pictures of winter.

Zuri looking plump and ready for winter. Turkeys in the background, ready for the freezer.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Odds and ends and goat breeding

Winter is here! A few inches of light snow blankets the ground. The trees have filled out, with snow building up in all their hollow places and along every branch. Every footstep is marked, stamped into the snow, including that of a neighbor fox who has been circling the duck pen and chicken coop nightly. I'm intending on sharing some more informative and posts here now that things are slowing down. I'll be reviewing our gardening successes and failures. I promised to share our essential oil bug spray recipes earlier in the summer and my failure to do so at the appropriate time of year has been nagging at me. I also wrote of making homemade dog food recipes last spring which I never delved back into. These are just a few topics I've been intending to get back to. I'm looking forward to having more leisure time at the computer, and not always feeling as there is something more pressing I should be at. This morning I'm a little scatter brained, so here are some odds and ends of what we've been up to and what has been on my mind.

Yesterday I bred the first goat of the season. Many dairy breeds, including ours, are seasonal breeders. Their breeding season begins in September and stretches into December/January. The gestation period is about five months. I would prefer to breed in October and November to kid in March and April. We have six does to breed this year, three junior does and three does who have been in milk and kidded a few seasons already. I'd like to wait to breed does in milk till last so that we can keep milking them. It is fairly common to keep milking a doe until half way through her gestation, but I'd caution that this is a doe by doe case which depends on the doe's health. We have yet to milk a doe through consecutive seasons without re-breeding. We have been eager to increase our herd size and see how the kids turn out from different bucks. We may milk one doe through this winter, we'll see.

Yesterday I bred Zinnia, out of Lew and Rose. She is a year and a half old black and white doe. Her dam produces the most milk of our three senior does, and has the largest, widest, nicest shaped udder. We have been walking the junior does up the hill and putting them in a pen by the bucks for a few hours daily, so that we can observe everyone's behavior and catch any doe in heat. Yesterday I went up to check on them and notices Zinnia standing with her backside to the boys wagging her tail. Wasting no time I brought Xavier over and let the other does out. Zinnia would have nothing to do with Xavier, rather she kept running back to Zanzibar, who was on the other side of the fence. I thought maybe she'd warm up to Xavier after a while, but no such luck. So I put Xavier back and brought Zanzibar over, and lets just say she was much more receptive. If all goes well, Zinnia will be our first doe kidding in early March.

Dustin is getting some time off work. Today he is blowing insulation into the ceiling of our addition. Yesterday he went to buy a new wood-stove for the addition. The one we want won't be here for four weeks, we should have known better than to wait this late.

I rendered pork fat into lard this past weekend. I can't wait to make pie crust with it. I'll let you know how it goes.

We still have four Turkeys and several male ducks to harvest. We have two chest freezers and two refrigerators with pullout freezer bins, and all of our freezers are packed to the top. One of our Turkeys we are giving to our friends who raised the pig for us. They are also breeding four does to our bucks, free of charge, and that is the price of our pig- an exchange we are all ecstatic about. So we'll eat one of the Turkeys fresh, grind one up and save one for Thanksgiving, leaving us just one whole bird and some ground meat to make room for in the freezer. Fortunately we should be able to rely on the outdoors as a temporary freezer for some things soon.

In terms of food security, this is a bountiful season. Our freezers are full of Copper River Red Salmon, our own chickens, a pig, berries, goat cheese, vegetables, chicken stock and soups. The pantry is loaded with applesauce, jams, smoked salmon and more chicken stock. We have beets, carrots, potatoes and turnips in cold storage. The onions and garlic are still hanging. We keep enough sugar, flour, beans, grains and dry goods around to last a good year or more. With  having our own eggs, meat, milk and vegetables, there isn't much to buy at the store except extras. I've been feeling guilty in regards to the contents of my shopping cart lately, which tends to consist solely of processed foods, cold cereal, chips and crackers. I'm hoping to amend that now that I have more time in the kitchen. I've been debating lately if I'm up for a processed foods strike. Most of our processed foods are organic and include mostly whole grains. While I try to avoid ingredients like preservatives, "natural flavorings", corn syrup and canola oil, I am bringing some of these into our home, and I'd like to remedy that by making more of our own snack foods. I guess there is no time like winter for some food experiments in the kitchen.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Winter Seasons

It is snowing lightly. The kids go in and out, in and out.  Avery mostly stomps around in her boots and explores every snow covered surface up close before knocking and wiping the snow off. Noah is all about ground snow removal, dragging rakes and shovels across the porch and resorting to his digger if need be. I've been in full fall baking mode. Yesterday I baked muffins and cookies, and roasted a couple winter squash.  I'm thinking squash soup with shallots and sage, maybe a squash/pumpkin pie are on the list for today.

Winter has been on my mind lately. Sometimes it seems like we have two seasons here, winter and not winter. I know that technically we are just entering fall now, and I suppose that I could feel like it is fall here too, for another week or so, but with the ground frozen and with a light dusting of snow, it is beginning to feel more like early winter. I consider it to be winter when there is consistent snow on the ground, the ground is frozen, and the temperatures are consistently below freezing; usually October until mid April: a long winter. While our temperatures fluctuate throughout the winter, from now on we won't see much above freezing. Unfortunately for our perennials, we tend to get cold temperatures before we have adequate snow fall to protect them. It is rare for it to warm up enough to rain, or to melt all of our snow. By November we should have a decent snow covering, and most likely, it is here to stay until April. I tend to think of winter having it's own seasons. Surely the Alaskan Native languages have multiple names for my awkward attempt to describe our winter seasons that I think of as early winter, mid winter and late winter. Before I go on I should say that this is my own interpretation of our winters, and I have no idea if other Fairbanksans feel similarly.

Early winter starts sometime in October and extends into December. The nights are surprisingly early and the dark mornings stretch later each day. We lose something like six to seven minutes of daylight each day, and it is startling after such a long light summer. We are reminded that there is a moon and stars in the sky, which we haven't seen in such clarity since last winter. The shade of the woods and hillsides range from light gold to rusty brown and plum and provide a lovely background and boarder to the new white snow. I am constantly in awe of how beautiful this time of year is. They say we don't have fall reds here, but the fireweed, rose bushes, high bush cranberries and currants all seem to keep some of their leaves, which are often splashes of crimson above the snow. The sky is no longer the clear bright blue of September, rather it is usually a dull winter gray during the day, receding into insignificance to showcase the rusty brush and spiny bare adorned with crystals and early snow. Early winter is a time of excitement and anticipation, a time to rest and enjoy our summer labors and a time of nervous hesitation at the certain knowledge of what is before us.

Late November and  December tend to relieve my initial dread of winter, they are the essence of winter wonderland, fresh white snow blankets the ground, the trees are picture perfect images of snowy laden woods, and the chickadees flock to the feeders. These are the darkest months but not the coldest. When the temperatures first start dropping it feels cold, but we gradually adjust and it isn't long at all before ten degrees feels warm, after weeks of sub-zero. The hardest part about early winter for me is the dryness. We are an arctic desert. I think we get most of our precipitation and humidity in the summer. The dryness of our winters is hard on the lips and hands, but at least the cold is not as bone chilling as it would be otherwise. We also have very little wind. It seems the wind we do get is in late winter and spring. Both humidity and wind factor greatly into how bearable the cold is, and that we have little of both certainly helps.

Up until the New Year I'm usually pretty content with winter. I enjoy the Holiday preparations and festivities, especially meal planning and baking. Probably no matter where I lived, I'd be a little down after the Holiday excitement. It doesn't help that January is still very dark and extremely cold, and winter seems never-ending. I tend to think of late December through February as mid winter. These are our coldest months often remaining in the twenty and thirty below zero range for weeks at a time, and occasionally dipping down to fifty and sixty below zero, without wind shield. The hardest part for me is that the lack of daylight starts taking it's toll. We only receive a  few hours of direct sun, in early afternoon. The sun barely skims above the horizon before setting. When the wind blows through, it blows all the snow off the trees making for a desolate barren scene. Town is often filled with dense ice-fog, and the roads are icy, even vehicles move sluggishly in the extreme cold temperatures. All is dim, dusky and very cold. I am reluctant to leave the house in January, and would much rather hunker down around the wood fire and drink hot chocolate all month.

February and March can still be extremely cold, but the sun is noticeably brighter, and the days longer. And while the thought of a few more months of snow is disheartening, our days tend to revolve around making the most of the direct sun we do get.  Because our property is on a west facing hill, we don't get any sun here in December or January. The sun starts hitting our property in February, and because by then I've missed it so, I usually mark the big event on the calendar. It is usually the second week in February. It hits the garden and chicken coop first, and takes another week to make it in our south facing french doors and into the living room. Naturally, we try to get outside and walk when the sun is shining on the driveway, and make it inside to sit on a blanket in the sun once it makes it to the house, then we move with it as it moves through the house.

I consider the end of February and March as late winter. The first couple weeks of April are often still snowy, but are certainly feeling like spring. From March on we are getting lots of wonderful direct sun, so much so that it glares of the snow and we start pulling out the sunglasses. In March there are lots of fun winter activities, dog races and annual ice carving festival. The temperatures are generally milder, making it easier to get out with the kids. Indoors we are starting seeds and preparing for goat births. I think of March as bright white and brilliant blue. We are finally able to get out a bunch and enjoy all the snow. Fairbanksans really come out in full force in March, ski-ing,sledding, walking. Everyone trying to make the most of the snow and pleasant winter weather before everything turns into a slushy mess. If there wasn't so much to do in March and April, I would go crazy with the desire to see green. Trying to keep on a seed sowing schedule and the excitement of goat births really helps with late winter/early spring dull-drums.  By the end of April the snow is finally gone and the ground is thawed. The first sign of green is usually the second week of May. We usually have just a couple weeks of brown and mud before we see green. By then even brown is welcome and I'm happy just to see the ground again.

Ah, Fairbanks winters...
I know this post should include pictures. I took pictures of the snow yesterday but then my husband took off on an unexpected job away from home, with the camera. So, alas, the first snowy pictures will be delayed a few more days. Take care and enjoy your fall, whether you are blessed with a summery fall or a wintry one.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

First Snow

Today we enjoyed our first snowfall of the season. Thankfully, most of it is melted now, with more expected tomorrow. On waking up this morning I was enjoying the bright orange carpet of birch leaves blanketing the forest floor, feeling so thankful that we've had more than a few days to enjoy the fall colors. I was standing at the kitchen sink, doing dishes and gazing out the window and at first I thought it was just more birch seed falling from the trees as there have been many times over the last week where I wondered if the seeds were the first snow flakes, and as it started to snow harder I was elated and panicked simultaneously. The kids were excited, especially Noah, who brought in a snow ball to show me that the snow was actually wet enough for snow balls and snow men, usually our snow is too dry.

I felt that I should be running around outside making sure everything was up off the ground and stored away. I had to keep reminding myself that it really was all done, as we've been gathering and storing tools and tarping wood piles for a while now. There is certainly a feeling of a great weight being lifted off, as once the ground is frozen and the snow has covered everything, it seems only right that I should be indoors stoking the fire and cooking soup and baking pies. And that is what I absolutely adore about this time of year, so much good food and the time to enjoy it!