24 August 2008

Independence Days Update

Summer is a busy time around here!

Yes! I finally put some stuff in the empty spaces in the garden: Dinosaur Boy helped me in the garden yesterday, and we put in some more radishes (The Reluctant Farmer really likes them, and the first crop didn't do very well), some more carrots, and some lettuce.

Oh boy, did we ever harvest!
We pulled out most of the pea plants, as they were coming down with powdery mildew - this seems to happen most years, but we did get a really good harvest from the plants we took down, and a few healthy ones are still out there in the garden. These were all varieties of sugar snap peas. We also harvested a bunch of carrots, some beets, and more potatoes.
Today I went wandering along the back part of the property, and I found saskatoons! Wow! I had no idea we had them growing wild on our property, that's very exciting. I also harvested a bunch of rose hips, and found that the little red berries I see on the ground belong to a plant called a bushberry (sometimes called a dwarf dogwood) and that these are edible. So, I harvested a bowl full of those, too. The Boy picked another bunch of clover blossoms for me ... we left the basket down somewhere low, though, and the bunny got into the basket and ate most of them. Well, at least we had a very happy bunny!

We did more dehydrating: the peas we harvested, and their pods. The pods were dried on cookie sheets set inside the barbecue outside, where it is nice and hot during the day - they dried out quite nicely. I then ground them up in the Magic Bullet blender, and we'll feed those to chickens and the bunny over the winter (the bunny LOVES pea pods!).
I also tried lacto-fermentation for the first time: I preserved one jar of beans and one of sugar snap peas (in their pods) in a salt brine. I have no idea how these will turn out, but it is an easy way of preserving things, and I wanted to give it a shot.
I have a bunch of carrot tops outside drying, and we'll probably end up using them in soups or for critter feed.

The Reluctant Farmer cleared away the muck and leftover hay from the area behind our shed: we will be building a small lean-to barn on the back of the shed so that we have pens for the milk cow and calf to be separated at night, for the milking stanchion, and for lambing pens to hold expectant mothers, sick sheep, or mamas and their new lambs. It'll also give us a place out of the weather for shearing, treating sick sheep, and all those other jobs that are miserable to do in the wind and rain!
We also did more fencing ... we will be moving the cows to a new pasture as soon as the barbed wire is up, but at least the posts are in!

Managed Reserves
We continue to sort through the things in the basement: The Reluctant Farmer's storage unit is entirely empty now, so that's one less bill on the monthly accounts, and we are finding things of use and sorting and storing for the future. We are also getting rid of the excess: The Reluctant Farmer has managed to sell some things, and that effort will continue.
We have been eating out of the pantry and the garden a lot, and as we find things on sale at the store we do pick them up but we have made it a whole month without a 'big grocery store run'.

Cooked Something New
Lamb! We have had several cuts of lamb, done in different ways, and they've just about all been great. The ground lamb casserole didn't turn out so great, but the roast was amazing, done in the slow cooker with rosemary and cumin and garlic.
Today I made a syrup from the berries I harvested on our land - rose hips, saskatoons, and bunchberries. I cooked them all down in some water, strained through my wonderful jam and jelly strainer from Lee Valley, then heated the resulting syrup with some sugar and bottled it. We can use this to flavour drinking water, as it's not thick enough to use for syrup on pancakes or anything.

Reduced Waste
The trick we tried with the countertop compost bucket easier to work with seems to be a success: I put a handful of the wood shavings we use in the bunny's cage in the bottom, and boy, does the bin empty out easily! Compost is dumped in the garden, to make soil for next year.
Other than that, the usual tricks: reusable shopping bags, feeding leftovers to the various critters here, buying things with less packaging (like from the bulk section where possible).

Work on local food systems
Well, we are certified to sell our lamb to customers, so that makes us a local producer! We have been eating out of our garden, and the person we intend to buy some bison burgers from should have some ready ... that's up next!

A happy sheep is a tasty sheep

You know, I thought we might have trouble getting the kids to eat lamb that was raised here. They know the sheep by name, and I did think that we might encounter some resistance when "Brownie" was placed in front of them on the table.

Instead, they asked for seconds!

Apparently, a happy sheep is a tasty sheep.

We have been eating lamb out of our freezer for a little while now, and I have to admit, I am pleasantly surprised by both the willingness of our smaller family members to eat animals they knew by name, and by the taste of the meat.

We have tried a variety of the cuts we got from the butcher: ground, chops, and roast leg of lamb. The roast lamb was so tender it fell apart on your fork, and tasted almost exactly like roast beef, with just the slightest hint of a different flavour to it. Dipped in HP sauce and served up with mashed potatoes from the garden, it was a fabulous meal. The chops grilled up beautifully on the barbecue, as did the lamburger - seasoned with onion and barbecue sauce, and served in buns, you'd probably never have guessed you weren't eating cow.

I've had lamb at restaurants in the last year or so, and the taste was indeed fairly mild, as one would expect with grain finished lamb (all lamb that carries the "Alberta Lamb" label has been grain finished, so it's easy to know what you're eating). I was prepared for a very strong lamb flavour in our meat, as we feed only pasture, hay and the odd bit of alfalfa pellets, and grass-fed meat is often a bit stronger in taste than grain fed meat. However, the Icelandic sheep are known for a very mild taste when fed a grass-based diet, and my taste buds tell me it's absolutely true.

There's nothing quite so satisfying as eating a meal that came entirely from your own yard. Roast lamb and mashed potatoes from the garden one night, chops with salad and beans another night ... it's a good feeling.

Eating locally is a good thing. Eating from your own back yard is even better. :)

The Health Inspector

When I was growing up, my mom would routinely throw her hands in the air and say "Good heavens! We have to clean this place up or the health board will come and shut us down!"

Given the normal state of housekeeping in my world, this phrase goes through my head fairly often.

The Health Inspector did come to my house this week ... but she didn't shut us down! She must have been willing to overlook the dust bunnies under the couch and the crumbs on the counter, thank heavens.

What she did do, however, was provide us with an official license that permits us to sell lamb directly to consumers.

Who'd like to be the first customer?

We have chops, roasts, ground and rack of lamb! All grass-fed, antibiotic-free, and amazingly mild in taste ... come here and pick it up, or requesest delivery right to your home! :)

08 August 2008

Independence Days Update

Wow, summer is just flying by! Time already for another update.


Nope, nothing planted. The spaces I thought might be freed up are overshadowed by other plants outgrowing their allotted spaces, mostly tomatoes. I figure I'll let the tomatoes grow as big as they want - we use a lot of tomatoes when we cook, so I expect I'll be doing a lot of canning later on.


More lettuce, more new potatoes, and lots more snack peas. More greens too - more on that in the 'preserved' section below. Oh, we also got the first green beans of the year, and the first carrots.

We have a steady harvest of calendula blossoms, and I've been picking clover and yarrow as I wander around outside.

We also harvested three lambs and a ewe: they went to the butcher on Wednesday, and the resulting meat will come home tomorrow. I'm very excited about this!


I did a bunch of research on how to preserve beet greens, and found ... nothing. So, I thought I'd just try dehydrating them and see what happened. I mean, if it didn't work ... well, the chickens would probably eat the results, they eat just about everything. Happily, the dehydrating thing works really well. I just tear up the greens into small chunks, and cut the stems into very short bits, then layer it into the dehydrator. Allowed to sit for several hours, it turns into dry crispy leaves that grind up into a reasonably fine powder that smells like a fresh garden. I have been packing this into a glass jar and will add it to soup and stew as we cook - I figure it can be used much the way you'd use vegetable broth powder. I guess we'll find out.


The new freezer is downstairs, as the basement is finally finished (and it's a wonderful thing, too). We have done some fence work, patching up loose spots, and we walked through the unfenced land at the back of the property and did some thinking about the best way to make use of it. Even more of the outside mess has been cleaned up and hauled to the dump, so things outside are looking better and better.

The biggest prep job this past while has been the garden: The Reluctant Farmer used the bobcat to bring over some of the waste hay, straw and other 'animal residue' from the pasture and I've been spreading it out to compost down over the winter and make new beds for planting in spring. I hope to grow the tall things like beans and peas along the fence, and I've set aside a corner of the garden for a fruit tree of some sort, with room for strawberry plants around the base.

Manged Reserves

This would be the big category right now. With the basement finally finished, we are emptying out the storage unit that much of The Reluctant Farmer's household things have been sitting in for the past year. As boxes arrive, we are sorting, organizing, and filtering out what we don't need - but as we do this, we are keeping in mind that the future might not always look like today. I sorted all the spare clothing into boxes: ladies' summer clothes, ladies' winter clothes, extra coats, young men's clothing, kid's clothing, kid's shoes ... all the boxes are labelled and ready to be stacked in a reasonably accessible place once the sorting is complete. Extra dishes are packed away neatly, and will go into the crawl space.

These are the sorts of things that I would have previously gotten rid of, telling myself that if I needed new dishes or new shoes in a year or two, I'd just go out and buy them. Now, however, I have access to storage space and I realize that it's not always prudent to assume that you'll always be able to just run out and buy whatever you find yourself needing. So, if it'll keep, and we can see ourselves (or someone we know) needing it in the future, and we have a spot for it ... we'll put it by for 'just in case'.

Cooked Something New

I did a quick stir fry with some fresh green beans, snap peas and carrots to serve over rice. Not really wildly creative, I'll admit, but it was good, and not something I ever recall doing in the past.

Reduced Waste

Nothing new in this category ... unless you count the fact that I finaly scrubbed out the really nice stainless steel compost bin I had set outside some time last winter when it got unbearably green inside, and now have it on the counter again. This time I put a few of the wood shavings we use for the bunny's bedding in the bottom to soak up moisture and keep things a bit less soggy - so far that seems to be working.

Worked on Local Food Systems

Well, tomorrow night we'll be eating the first of our home-grown lamb ... and we've been eating out of our garden a lot ... but that's about it.