Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Harvest Has Begun

Hello All!  A little update from Grace Note.  This is the haul from the garden today.  I will be harvesting my sweet onions pretty soon as well and my potato plants have begun the die off that will signal their readiness to harvest.  I've especially enjoyed the waxed beans and though I didn't get to plant many this year, they are abundant for what I do have and we've been enjoying them.  And, I managed to make a tomato convert out of Little Red.  That child doesn't like tomatoes, but when I told him to try one of the gold ones with the assurance that he would like them indeed, he scowled at me and reluctantly put it in his mouth.  His grimace turned to a smile and a pleasantly surprised "Hunh!".  He said, "Yah, those are okay".  Score one for Mom!  Nature's candy those little orbs, so sweet and juicy, there's no way you just can't love them.  I will for sure be doubling my efforts with those next year as they are great dried as well. 

One of the other things we discovered was zucchini chips.  Sliced thin with a little salt and dehydrated for a few hours and they are so yummy.  When you first put them in your mouth, well, you're just not sure.  Then the flavor grows on you quickly and you just can't stop eating them.  Not bad for a kid snack!  I'm glad we discovered them as the zucchini has been very abundant from the 4 plants I put in.  This year the garden is almost miniature compared to where I hope to have it next year, but we had to start somewhere with it and for what we did this year, we've gotten a nice crop so far.  We tried some sweet potatoes as well for the first time, and I'm anxious to see how they do.  I'm too nervous to pick any out yet, just want to wait and see what we get when the harvest is ready.

This past weekend, we also killed our meat chickens.  We left one egg layer that we weren't sure if it was a roo or not, and the day after we got them all processed, the little bugger started crowing.  He's a beautiful bird, but we just don't need another roo so he'll be joining his frozen brethren soon.  This was the first time we actually killed, plucked and eviscerated our own birds.  It was a difficult day for us and we did not enjoy any of the process.  Except when the freezer was full and we were all cleaned up and didn't have to fret over it any more.  Each bird's life that we took was as hard at the one before it.  Having to hold the chicken while it's life left it's body was a very hard task, knowing that you are the reason it lived and died.  Music Man did the actual killing while I held and it was a sick in the stomach feeling the whole time.  We did the roosters the first day and the hens the second. 

I will admit, I cried over the first hen.  For some reason, it hit me harder for the hens.  Maybe because I am female and I relate to them more, or maybe because we have pet laying hens and I could see them in these birds.  It was definitely a very solemn task for us.  I said a prayer of thanks over each bird, fully recognizing that their lives had ended so that we could eat.  Having been a vegetarian in my early 20's, that provided an even deeper understanding of what we were doing.  We are unsure of whether we will do this again next year.

It is hard to eat the meat and then not be willing to do the work to get it here in our little world.  We understand what horrible lives factory farmed chickens live and the terrible ways that they die.  It's really hard to reconcile that when you're eating the meat.  So, we gave that up years ago and had a local farmer and friend raising them for us.  That was acceptable, the meat was delicious, the chickens lived good lives and were humanely processed, but it still felt like a bit of a cop out somehow.  We do have a pig being raised by those same farmers this year, and we've discussed whether we will raise our own pigs next year.  This is also tough as they are very smart and social animals, so we would have to work hard not to bond to them.  We made a point of not bonding with the chickens and it was still difficult for us this year, so not sure about the pig.

Maestro is at the age where he is curious about a lot of things.  He wanted to be there with us helping out with the chickens, and he was a big help with the plucking process.  He helped Music Man eviscerate and me to pluck.  He was curious about how the chicken insides were put together and stretched them out and we examined the organs to see how they all fit together.  Morbid, maybe but it felt more like a science lesson then anything else.  Little Red, who is a big animal lover stayed on the outskirts of the scene, playing cars in the dirt and shooting us with Nerf gun darts.  He was not very happy with the whole idea of it, but understands that this is where chicken comes from.  And he likes to eat chicken, so he gets it.  He didn't want any part of it, though, and that's okay with us.  I was like him when I was 9 and couldn't have imagined being forced to take part in that.  So, we let him decide what level he was comfortable with and he did come closer from time to time to see what was happening, but on the whole remained a very distant observer.

So, we're producing food here.  That first roast chicken dinner was out of this world delicious. Next year will be on a bigger scale we hope and maybe even have a little to sell if we get the garden a bit bigger then it is now.  It's been a learning process for us as well and fulfilling in a way we've never experienced before.  We are truly learning the skills to become as self sufficient as possible.

That's about as fulfilling as life was meant to be, we believe.

Food harvesting with good faith,

~Peacemom

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Summer In Full Swing

Hello All, I know it's been a while since I was here visiting.  Things around here are quite busy and I've had my hands full with taking care of this place, the kids home from school and getting food production and preservation started.

Living in a new place is always interesting as you see what landscaping bloom brings you in the spring.  We've sort of decided to live here for a year before we do anything drastic in the change department.  This is further necessary as Music Man broke his shoulder in May and is out of commission on anything in the heavy lifting department.  And I need him to be healthy, as he's not only a part of my heart, but also the muscle around here.  So, we're taking the time to try to heal him up.  But it also gives us a chance to not jump into changes that we might regret later...yes, that's what I'm telling myself so that his injury doesn't drive us both nuts.


In the spirit of taking time, I've happily discovered some food in production naturally around our property.  We have a nice selection of black raspberry patches here and there and it's provided me with some beautiful, organic and free food for the summer garden.  Fabulous!  We also have a blueberry bush that is about 10 feet tall growing down by the pond.  Now, the berries on it are uber tiny, so I'm not sure they will, in fact, amount to anything, but the excitement I feel about the possibility of all those berries becoming cobbler is palpable.  In the meantime, I've planted nine blueberry bushes close to it down by the pond where the ground tends to remain moister then anywhere else on the property.  I also frequented our favorite cultivated blueberry farm, Blueberry Bay, on opening day where I picked seven pounds of lovely berries, three of which I froze and three of which went directly into our stomachs.  It's a long time between fresh berries around here, so we like to partake copious quantities when they are available.

I have a lot of milk here as well as we get two gallons from a local raw milk farmer who milks his one cow and sells it to a few people each week.  I have an agreement to do this each week with this farmer, so I have to pick up.  The problem is, I don't really drink milk, Music Man is allergic to it (though he will drink it anyway sometimes) and the boys aren't fond of it on long, hot summer days.  They would always choose cold water over milk if given the option in the summer time.  So, you can see how two gallons would add up in this case.  I decided last week that after sharing 1/2 gallon with a friend and still having two gallons in the fridge the day before I was to pick up two more, I needed to do something with that milk and cream.  So, I thought I'd make a nice batch of butter to put in the freezer.  Having fresh farm creamy butter for our holiday meals is a treat, so I thought I'd freeze it for those Thanksgiving rolls.  If you've never made butter from scratch, you go through a stage in the whipping of it that it becomes whipped cream.  And I had fresh blueberries picked the day before...so I think you can see where I'm going with this one, right?  Yep, the bowl in the picture above is cream on the way to butter topping those most delicious blueberries.  I mean, what's a girl to do?  I had to do it, it was calling my name.  And, not for nothin', it doesn't get any better then that.  I savored every bite and didn't share a bit of it with any of those growing boys around here.  Mine, hahahaha!  All mine!
The rest of it did make it to butter, which I assure you would not have happened if I had shared with the menfolk, it would have been inhaled as whipped cream and I would have been out of blueberries, too.  Growing boys will eat you out of house and home and then come back for crumbs, it's unbelievable.  So, I got the butter whipped up and nicely packaged and ready for the freezer.  Living in the moment is so important, but so is planning for the future and so our Thanksgiving butter is ready for the table when I thaw it out.
I also managed a batch of yogurt that made it to the yogurt maker.  I went strawberry picking a couple weeks back and picked 12 pounds which I made mostly into jam, but also did some strawberry syrup. This poured on to the plain yogurt is heavenly, so I may have to try my hand at some blueberry syrup to go along with it!
As you can see, I've had my hands full around here.  Now that we have a pool, a lot of people have come over to swim.  I'm not used to entertaining so much and the days seem to be dedicated to that lately, but soon it will settle down so I can get more done around here.  The pool has been a great asset for the boys as they are in it just about every day and not only have their swimming skills improved immeasurably, but they are entertained quite nicely and that's been good.  They aren't quite at the point where I feel safe leaving them to swim alone yet, but since I spend a lot of time outdoors this time of year, I can keep an eye on them and still work in the garden.

Soon enough our time will be all about school books, sweaters, sports and scouts, so I'm taking this summer to enjoy my boys and the fact that we don't have to be in any particular place at any particular time.  Time to just be and have fun, though plenty of work happens too.  I'm a firm believer in the fact that children need unstructured play time, it's necessary to their development and also their stress level.

This child looks pretty stressed out, wouldn't you say?
Happy summer to you all!!  Enjoy these warmer days, the heat bills are fast approaching!

~Peacemom

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Brady


Meet our newest member of the farm!  His name is Brady.  As we found out, try to get 4 people to agree on a name, it's not easy!  He's been here about a week and a half now and we already are totally smitten.  He's very smart and awfully cute, wouldn't you agree?  He was rescued from a kill shelter in South Carolina along with his 5 littermates.

So far, he's been a great dog and he's very charming.  He's about 5 months old and we think he's a mix of beagle, hound and Jack Russell Terrier.  Whatever he is, he's staying.  We're hoping he will deter some of the chicken predators around here...foxes, coy dogs (coyotes to you non-New Hampshirites) and the occasional fisher cat.
And even though HE ate the bbq'd chicken off the dining room table tonight when our backs were turned for two seconds, he's still gonna be part of our family farm.  Puppies, what can you do?

Wishing you doggie dreams of your own,

~Peacemom

Friday, May 16, 2014

May Days

Food is in production here at Grace Note Farm!  I didn't actually completely kill my asparagus bed (phew!), and so I've gotten enough for a few meals.  I can honestly say that fresh asparagus right off the garden bed is one of the most amazing things I've ever tasted.  A very complex flavor of sweet and bitter at the same time along with a fresh "SNAP!" that you'll never get from grocery store stalks.  So amazing in fact that I went and got 8 new root balls to put in the soil and am hoping for a nice big harvest of them in the future.  Just outstanding!

The big chickens have been doing their part to keep us in food, also.  We've had plenty of eggs to keep us going and they, in fact, made the perfect birthday breakfast for me.  Along with lending their part in the waffles Music Man made for Mother's Day, amazing!


And here's my handsome roo, Snowball, or just Snowy for short.  Behind him there is my little Egyptian Fayoumis (pronounced fay you me), Wilma. 

She's one of our original chickens and has turned 3 this spring.  She was one of the ones hit by the virus I had go through the coop last year where we lost 3 birds, and her reproductive system seems to have been affected as well.  She lays eggs very sporadically and often times they don't have a shell on the, they are just the membrane you see attached to the shell when you crack the egg.  The insides are fine, but we don't eat them because of the bacteria factor.  Plus, they just look kind of gross.  The other hens usually eat them before we see much of them as well. I know, disgusting, but chickens are like that.

We've had plenty to keep us busy, these little buggers are finally out of the house and in their own little pen and coop.  This is the view I see when I open the door in the morning.

They have absolutely voracious appetites and attack me the second they can get a peck on me when I'm reaching for their feeders.  I was afraid that I would not be able to slaughter them when the time came, but honestly, they are so aggressive and tend to stress me out a little, it's not going to be a problem!  Because when they were this cute...

But now, the roosters are sparing off with each other, they attack anyone who comes near them  for food.  Mainly that's me as I take care of the animals around here...not sure how that duty came to fall on me, but it seems to have done just that.  Good thing I like animals.  And we're adding a dog to the mix next week, more on him when he arrives from his shelter down south soon.

Work continues in earnest, here are a couple of the things Music Man has been up to, pretty self explanatory...

Coaching...

Sawin'...

 

Hauling...

 
 

Tuning up...

 
 

Funnin'

 
 
 

See why I'm so incredibly lucky?  You can't beat a handy husband, and he's one of the handiest going.  We have never a dull moment here on the farm.  The list of "need to do" far outweighs our available time, but we just keep on plugging along and doing what we can do.  The boys sports schedules tend to dominate our time, especially Music Man's, so that's always a precarious balancing act.  But, somehow, we're making it work.  We always do. 
 
 
 Spring cheers to you, ~Peacemom
 
 
 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Daffodils! At the Grace Note

And so, spring rolls in.  As the old homestead has thawed, so many beautiful daffodils are popping up everywhere!  It's been amazing to see them peeking up from all corners (even in one of my compost piles!)
The path down to the basement of the barn is lined with them.  I think it's interesting how a little used area would be so attended to with flowers, but it sure is.  I know they will multiply on their own, so maybe it's nicely fertile for them there or something.  In any case, they are a spring show we've truly enjoyed here.  Also seeing some other flowers popping up, crocuses and hyacinths...
and these crazy beauties.  I'm not sure what they are, but my friend Diane told me she has them, too and they turn into beautiful yellow flowers on tall stalks.  Can't wait to find out what they look like!
I've unearthed the 4 garden beds that were existing here previously.  They are small, but will do nicely for my potatoes and peas for now.  I was cleaning the last one and found it to be overgrown with a very tough root system. So, I hacked and hacked at it, tearing it out so that I could plant in the bed.  Then on the last bit of chopping I was doing, I noticed a slight white root...and I discovered it was an asparagus bed that had not yet started to bud!!!  Ohhh, I was so mad at myself, I have always wanted an asparagus bed and just dug up one that was already here, and quite old gauging by the stalk that was making it's appearance.  So mad at myself!  I have never actually planted it, though always wanted to and didn't know what the root stock looked like.  This is why you should always live in a place for a while before you do something like chop the heck out of the beds.  Now, I know this to be sage advice, but in my eagerness to get this place productive, I didn't follow such advice.  I did manage to rescue some of the root balls and stuck them back in the ground, but it will be years before they are productive again.  Living and learning the hardest way possible.

New meat chicks are doing well.  Going on 3 weeks tomorrow.  We lost a total of 4 birds, not really sure why, there didn't seem to be anything wrong with them in particular.  The heat lamp was a little higher then prudent at one point while we were first working out the lighting situation, and one of them did pass right after that, so not sure if that was the cause or not.  At week 2, Music Man threw together a new enclosure for them as they had badly outgrown the one we thought would be good for a while.  They have about tripled in size since they got here, so it was necessary.  They are happily dust bathing constantly and my house is full of dust, so I'm anxious to get them outside now.  We think another week or so and they can go in the little coop with the lights on, at least that's the goal.  We just need the nights to be warmer and their big bird feathers to come in more.  Right now they are looking like gangly pre-teens.   Ahhh...to be dust free again!  It's coming, I know it!

Alright so that's the update on our little homestead here.  We've officially named it Grace Note Farm, so, it's on the local agricultural society's map as such. Must be official then, right?  I've got lots of seeds peeking up from their little cells in the dining room, great slider there for that action.  Still working on the hoop house so we can get those outside, too, hoping to get that completed finally this weekend.

As a parting shot, one more of our lovely daffodils, harbingers of spring...

 
Bienvenue le pretemps!  ~Peacemom

Friday, April 18, 2014

Sin-a-mon Ice Cream

Now, I wish I could take credit for making this one up, but I got it from the Susan Branch "Autumn" cookbook.  One of my favorites, and if you've not seen her stuff, you gotta take a peek...wonderful artist and it's one of those that makes you feel like you're at your friend's house having a spot of tea and some great conversation.

This stuff is so incredibly good, it truly is sinful.  It's full fat, full sugar and amazing.  Soooo, you won't eat it every week, it's okay, we won't tell if you treat yourself to it once in a blue moon.  And you won't be sorry in the least that you did!  It's wonderful in a cone, all melty on apple crisp, or if you're Music Man he dabs a little in his coffee when it's around.  It does not stay around long here, my boys have some love going on with ice cream, no joke.  Either way, successful ice cream brewing to you and enjoy a nice big bowl yourself!

Cinnamon Ice Cream


1 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp vanilla
1 1/2 c heavy cream (right off the top of the raw milk jug if you've got it)
2 c half & half  (we just use all raw milk cream instead of half & half on this, comes out fine)
6 lg egg yolks
1 tsp cinnamon (use the best quality you can, it's the star of the show after all)

Best to measure everything out first, it goes fast once you get started.

Put sugar, butter & vanilla in a saucepan over medium heat, stir 'til sugar melts & mixture is bubbly.  Whisk in 1/2 c heavy cream until smooth.  Remove from heat.  In another pan, combine 1 cup heavy cream w/half & half (or the rest of the cream if using only cream) and bring to a simmer.  Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk egg yolks until blended.  Whisk a small amount of warm cream into the yolks warming them slowly while adding more cream, you don't want to cook the eggs.  Pour the egg mixture back in the pan with the cream & stir constantly over low heat until mixture is slightly thickened, 3-4 min (don't boil, it will be lumpy if you do).  Remove from heat immediately.  Pour through fine mesh strainer into large bowl, whisk in brown sugar mixture & 1 tsp cinnamon.  Chill in fridge (or, if you're in a hurry, put bowl into a larger bowl filled with ice & water), stir occasionally until cold.  Freeze in ice cream maker following manufacturer's instructions.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

CHICKS!

In our pursuit to be more self reliant, we've decided this year for the first time to add meat chickens to our farm.  We spent a couple of days helping friends process theirs and feel that we'll be able to do that when the time comes to do our own.  All except Little Red who has a HUGE place in his heart for any living critter.  He has already told me he doesn't want to be home that day.  I understand, and that's okay. He's 9 and very sensitive and so we'll allow that he may want to do something different then we do.  Maestro, being the polar opposite of his little brother on most things, told us that he wants to "overcome my fears and actually slaughter one".  We'll see.  Though his soft side is not quite as directed at animals as his brother's, he still does love them. 

We've told the boys not to get too attached to the meat birds as they will be food in about 12 weeks.  Even though that's the case, it's tough when they are so stinkin' (and that's in every sense of the word!) cute.  We lost two of them, which was a bummer for Little Red as he discovered one of them, but he actually handled it okay, he told me that it's hard not to get attached, but that it would have been food in 12 weeks anyways.  He gets it.


We decided not to go with the breed of chicken that most grocery stores sell.  This is a white bird, which has been bred that way so that the feathers shafts, when left, don't color the skin.  They also have been bred to have large breasts, which provides the most popular meat in abundance.  However, the downfall to that is that by about 8 weeks, many of them can't walk, or they break legs because they are too heavy to be supported by their legs.  They also often have weaker hearts and so will die of heart related causes due to their huge size.  They eat like machines and gain enough weight to go from a chick the size of the one in the picture above to 5-6 or more pounds in only 8 weeks.  None of this is humane in our book, but this is how the factory farmed chickens that have been developed by man for food have come to look.  In factory farms, they are also not allowed sunshine and fresh air and usually are kept in cages so small they can't turn around.  All they do is eat, sleep, poop and get bigger.  Nope, just can't do it.


So, we've chosen a more heritage type breed, which is a dual purpose bird.  They can be raised as egg layers or meat birds.  They will be red feathered, take 12 weeks to reach a harvestable size and will weigh in about 4 pounds per bird.  The slower growth rate is more expensive in feed as we have to feed them longer, but they are healthier because they are growing at a normal weight rather then being forced into an unnaturally large overfed body.  They don't have the leg or heart problems that the traditional grocery store birds have and so we hope they will live a happier life while they are with us.  One of the considerations that is very important to us is that their lives are honored.  They are food for us, it is the reason we are raising them, yes.  However the life they live before they are food is one of fresh air, sunshine and rain, grass, bugs, walking around freely, companionship of other chickens.  Honoring the life they have by allowing them to be chickens as nature intended the best way we are able.  This is very important to us.  As are the prayers and blessings we will bestow on them the day they are slaughtered, the genuine thanks for the nourishment they are providing us, the true and deep understanding we have of the gravity of the sacrifice being made for us.  We will allow them the dignity of living like chickens, not factory chicken nuggets.  This we will surely do.

I'll do some updates on them as time goes on.  Along with lots of other things we have in process around here.  It's going to be a busy year, and now we're into baseball season for Maestro, starting soccer for Little Red and Scouts for both.  Never a dull or slow moment around here!

High on spring, cantcha tell?  ~Peacemom