Thursday, July 19, 2012

Busy Busy

Wow does time fly here. I’ve now been here for seven weeks, and I keep looking back and realizing on how much I have learned so far. Everything from the basics of permaculture to the fine details of spoon carving. Usually when I get somewhere I make elaborate plans to do a trillion different things, but before I know whats happened Im running out of time with a ton of stuff to still do. I have been trying to find time to work on this ongoing herbal remedies project I decided to take on a month back. On top of that I am also in the planing / design phase of a new edible forest garden onsite. Also finding time to read in the voluminous library, sit back and play music and just relax on days off is up there on the priorities list. All of this on top of more veggies that need harvesting, a house to build and gardens to weed Im only getting busier with less and less time... ....Time to kick things into gear and get work done! -Alex On a side note a lot of plants are in bloom this time of year and the echinacea is looking beautiful...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Trimming the Yard

Today was my day to take out the lawn mower. Sort of. Here at D Acres, our team of oxen - Henri & August – takes the place of large machinery. No pedals, gears, nor spinning blades, just a goad, plenty of practice, and time-earned respect. Fact of the matter is that a neighbor’s threat of a real lawn mower (the dandelion has been getting away from us, granted) has imbued the task with urgency. You see, what “lawn” we have here at the farm is kept up, not by gas-powered gadgets, but by hungry oxen and by the careful use of a hand scythe. Allow me to explain myself, please. Each morning, the oxen are walked about the property, trimming the edges of liminal areas, munching the clover, plantain, dandelion, and assorted grasses into temporary submission (these are their favorites of the daily selection, however, they’ll mischievously snatch at apple trees or a paw-paw leaf if you’re not careful…). The sides of paths and walkways, the edges of gardens, the field space we use for tents…each of these grow quickly. The oxen provide a check and balance to the system. Not only do August & Henri keep things looking presentable for us, they glean significant calories from the land. This daily hour-or-two walk provides a lush and reliable source of food for these large work animals during the summer months. For us, it’s about using all the available biomass that presents itself. The sun’s energy and the soil’s nutrients regularly produce a wealth of rogue weeds and persistent grasses. Our temperaments are much better off if we see this cornucopia of growth as free fodder, rather than troublesome invasives attempting to ruin our gardens’ growth. That being said, there are certainly nooks and crannies on the property into which the oxen can’t reach their sizeable frames. They are also picky, and obstinately turn their broad shoulders on patches of barbed grass and milkweed. The pigs and chickens, though, are not so discerning. Therefore, for these lower-grade weeds and hard to reach places, we make use of a hand scythe. A hand scythe is an excellent tool for edging. With a sharp, curved blade, a hand scythe is like a weed-whacker specializing in accuracy and precision. Using this tool to cut grass and weeds is part of our daily summertime chores, enabling us to feed significant quantities of biomass to our numerous pigs and many chickens. Not only are we converting the sun’s energy into “free” food, we’re also utilizing it in such a way that accelerates it’s conversion to a nutritive soil additive. As the animals eat through such “weeds,” they are actively transforming this biomass into a nutrient-rich compost. Thanks to this animal-powered conversion, we can then spread such compost back to our garden beds. By cutting these vigorous grasses and weeds, we are encouraging a healthy albeit controlled growth of these plants, ensuring that we will continue to have nutrient-packed fodder for our many animals while also guaranteeing that nothing goes to seed. (While that still leaves us to fight wily against the ever-expanding root system, it does, at least, prevent an all-out re-seeding of this not-to-be-cultivated flora in our garden beds). Farmer’s tactics, if you will. We are striving, as in most of our endeavors, to employ the resources we have at hand for as many uses as possible in a holistic, cyclical system. Thanks to our animals, we are able to turn less-than-useful lawn space into an integral component of our edible permaculture landscape. ~Beth as published in North Country News

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Summer Weeding

We can take a deep breath. Garden fork in hand, harvest basket ready and waiting, food is emerging where once there were weeds. Our myriad of annual beds have been forked, weeded, seeded, transplanted into, edged, mulched, and watered. As the solstice passes, the urgency of spring has finally been satiated. Weeds still abound, mind you (indeed, nature’s persistent biology is the ultimate job security), but our focus has shifted. With the final bed weeded out last week, and the last of our seeds and starts in the ground, weeding has taken on a new purpose: maintenance. This is the pulse of the summer. Weeds continue to grow at an overwhelming pace, and our rapid work is now directed at staying ahead of these undesirable invaders in our garden space. To this end we take to the fields each day, our many hands maintaining our growing number of agricultural beds, patches, and rows so that our food crops flourish. Each meal is a testament to the work that dirties our nails and calluses our hands. As garlic scapes, peas, broccoli, herbs, berries, and a plethora of greens now fill our bowls, the vital nature of our work is continually demonstrated. Annual food crops, however, haven’t garnered our exclusive attention. The perennials have our interest as well. Flowers and groundcovers abound, as do herbals and medicinals; these favored species are encouraged to hold the weeds at bay. They don’t maintain themselves, however, and our efforts must be directed to these understory perennials, as well as the larger species. Even with weeds encroaching, fruit and nut trees have begun to form fruit, offering the first glimpse of the abundance that will be upon us come fall. Berries are swelling and gaining color – mulberries will likely be the first for pickin’, with blueberries, gooseberries, raspberries, and currants close behind. As we watch insects humming about the valerian, and notice birds evaluating the coloring of berries, we must work quickly to maintain such valuable rootstock against the competition of persistent, weedy colonizers. While perennials require less constant consideration than annuals, they do require maintenance, especially as younger crops. So there is no shortage of tasks to rapidly fill our hours, our days, and our weeks. From summer solstice to autumn equinox, we bask in the longest, warmest days of the year. With our hands in the dirt, we pull weeds…may our food prosper. ~Beth as published in North Country News

Sunday, July 1, 2012

What's on the Menu: Permaculture Weekend III

The summer solstice has quickly come and gone--the greens are growing faster, and all the other veggies are eager to catch up to our growing appetites. There's so much delicious food out there. For this particluar weekend, I wanted to enhance the freshness of herbs, the tender new chards leaves, and the early harvest of peas and garlic scapes. It all begins with a time-consuming, but well worth it Saturday lunch. Simple Saturday Lunch: Fresh Salad Hummus Bread Sprouted Lentil Salad Handmade Lasagna with Great Northern Bean Sauce and Swiss Chard Ever since my winter trip to Italy, I have been dreaming of making pasta again. I needed just the right ingredients to compliment the pasta, and the colorful Bright Lights Swiss Chard seemed the best fit. I pre-made the pasta dough on Friday and let it sit overnight in the refridgerator. I would normally prepare it just before making, but I needed all the prepe time the day of the meal in case things were running late. And I'm glad I prepared. Homemade pasta is nothing to be afraid of. It is realy quite simple: For every 2 cups of flour add about 3 eggs, a dash of salt, and water only if needed. It is important for the dough to be stiff. If the dough is too sticky, elastic, or soft, it will not move through the pasta machine at all. I found that preparing the dough ahead and letting is sit in the cool refrigerator allowed everything to settle together. Kneeding the next day, I had to add minimal flour, and it worked through the machine smoothly. Lasagna is the most simple of all pastas--no need for fancy shapes or perfect rectangles. Be cautious about putting it through the finest setting, for lasagna I would not go further than setting #5, for once the lasagna is cooked it becomes difficult to handle. But any less than #5 is too thick. Having a second person for this process is ideal (thank you George!). The pasta can be layed out, and let to dry--so don't worry about boiling it straight away. But there is no need to let is dry completely. For the white bean sauce, I thoroughly cooked the beans, until they were more than tender. After soaking for the the day on Friday, I cooked then that night at the boil for about 20 minutes, then placed them in our "Hay Box." This is an insulated box that allows anything to maintain a warm temperature, slow-cooking it overnight. No more simmering beans for hours over a hot stove! Once the beans could easily be squished between my fingers, they were ready. I like to add whole cloves of garlic to the beans while cooking. They are slowly cooked to super softness, blending nicley along with the beans into a smoth paste, as well as adding a mild garlic flavor (not as potent as sauteed in oil or butter). Adding freshly chopped parsley to the bean/garlic puree brings a freshness and light color to cream-like sauce. I like using the white beans because they are like cream without acutally using cream. To prepare the chard, I cut the stems away, reserving for the lentil salad, and cut the greens into about 1-inch strips. Lightly sauteeing the chard, allows for easier layering in the lasagna, and ensures that the greens can more easily be chewed through. To make the lasagna, boil the pasta for a short couple of minutes, not long. Drain and either run under cool water to cease cooking, and/or drizzle with oil to prevent sticking. Layer a baking pan (preferably glass) with the pasta, sauce and chard, then with the pasta again. You can make as many layers as you have ingredients, but I think three or four layers is plenty. Once this is complete, place in the oven to bake for 15-20 mintes at 350 degrees F. Be sure to cover the top layer with either a decent drizzle of oil or enough sauce, otherwise the pasta will be too dry and bake too crispy. Let the dish cool slightly before serving. Lasagna is versatile and can be made with any ingredients. Adding cheese, especially ricotta, to the layers would make this dish even more filling. For the Sprouted Lentil Salad, I started soaking lentils on Wednesday to ensure that I had sprouts by Saturday. Sprouts are also easy, and very nutritious. Lentils are especially delicious, maintaining a nutty flavor and a great crunchiness. To sprout simply let the beans soak in a jar overnight. In the morning, drain the water, then rinse the beans at least twice a day. What you want to avoid is the beans drying out. If you can shake the jar, and the beans clink against the jar like beads, then you need to thoroughly rinse them. While this meal required some preparation, in its ingredients it was simple and light. Great for an early summer day. It was served with a fresh salad, frsh sourdough bread, and hummus. The weekend continues, so check back for more great meals. Enjoy and happy cooking, Regina

Weekends Full of Fun

Along with the usual busy work weeks, the weekends have been packed here as well.  Last weekend was the third week of the Permaculture Design Class (PDC) and the first one that I have been a part of, and man it was awesome!  Steve Libby was here to talk about Polycultures, followed shortly by David Whichland; Mushroom extraordinare.  He started off talking about the history of mushrooms and how useful they are and we soon got into demonstrations of how to inoculate them into the landscape around the farm.  The amount of enthusiasm that David brought was truly inspiring and overall the workshop was very eye opening for even someone that knew a bit about mushrooms before hand. This all happened on Saturday, and needless to say, we were all a bit mentally exhausted from the amount of information that Dave threw at us.
The next day started off with Bryan Felice, a local builder in the area, who talked all about natural building techniques and processes.  After lunch Josh took the reins and we got to do some hands-on work with an age old method known as cob building.  This involved doing the cob dance to incorporate the right amount of clay, sand and straw so that it would be sculpt-able and dry strong.  We used this to repair the cob oven which has been in much need of repair, and will hopefully be up and running again in the next month or so after the cob dries....
If that wasn’t enough to keep us all busy here, the next weekend (this weekend) has also been packed.  There was an AWESOME blacksmithing workshop yesterday with Steve Ash.  He was an awesome instructor especially to people just starting out and really helped everyone through whatever project they wanted to complete.  After 8 hours of hammering away we all walked away with knowledge, coated in black and maybe a trinket or two.  

Instead of resting on sunday, however, we had the monthly farm feast breakfast to attend to.  With about 100 people coming through it was quite a busy sunday morning, although always a pleasure.  Serving all this fresh food to friendly locals and meeting new people is always enjoyable.  

Even though all these busy weekends have been quite tiring, they have been amazing and I have been learning SO much!  Hopefully more to come.
Until Next TIme!