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Month: August 2014

Monday Morning Tomatoes

Monday Morning Tomatoes

I dreamt of tomatoes last night, tomatoes and the Pre-Raphaelites.  Tomatoes fill my dreams and my waking moments, and rightly so.  Tomatoes are bursting out of our gardens and I’m determined to make the most of every single one of them.

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Summer has returned here these last few days, the temperatures are suddenly soaring again.  After the severe rain storms earlier in the week it’s making things feel a little topsy turvy, but I’m so grateful for the ripening sun that I’m willing to push on through!

Yesterday the heat really made itself known, I was working out in the fields with Stephen for a couple of hours stringing the new cow fence, but by midday I’d had all I could take.  Stephen carried on like a hero and finished the fence but the heat even beat him in the end.  After a day of hot working we were drained by dusk, but that was the time when my work needed to start up again.

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As the evening finally cooled I did the hot work of roasting and canning tomato sauce, working until about 11 to make the most of some of our huge basket of tomatoes.  This morning I was back at it before breakfast, aiming to process as many as I could before the heat started to build again.

The huge washing basket worth of tomatoes we brought in yesterday (we estimated about 20 kilos), with sweat dripping down our backs even as the sun began to dip, is now empty.  The ‘perfect’ tomatoes have been blanched and are now sitting in ice water ready to be skinned, chopped and canned, work that will have to wait until after sunset this evening.  Anything that is marked or showing signs of blight (that rain did it’s work on some of my plants) are chopped up and roasted with salt, oil, garlic and fresh basil from the garden.  Then I run it through my super food mill (the only thing standing between me and a dead arm) and can it, ready for the pantry.

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As I pass my tomatoes through the mill, or peel and core my canning tomatoes, I put aside the ‘waste’ and pop it straight into the pig bucket.  What seems like a waste product is, I remind my self several times a day, turning happily into bacon in the field.  The plants will be composted, returning eventually to the earth and the droppings from the aforementioned pigs will go back onto the soil to refresh it for next year’s planting.  It’s the cycle of life here on the farm, and it’s one I love repeating.

In the Garden – August

In the Garden – August

The garden really is taking up a lot of my thinking right now, or rather the produce we are bringing in from the garden and preserving.  All the work of this year has led up to this and I am determined to make use of as much as I physically can!

DSC_0911 DSC_0910 DSC_0909We’re still getting lovely salad from the garden (the romaine’s are coming to the end now though) and my seed onions are giving us lots of fresh spring onions.  As I thin them out we get spring onions and they get more space to grow, perfect!  The bulb onions I planted are doing well too, they haven’t gone over yet so I’m hoping they will grow a bit more before they are finished.

DSC_0916 DSC_0917 DSC_0918 DSC_0919I made rhubarb jam last week from our own lovely stalks, and it has gone down so well I’m planning on doing more.  I have delicious local strawberries in the freezer so I thought I’d do a strawberry and rhubarb jam, perfectly marrying the tart and the sweet.  Personally I prefer jams with a bit of sharpness, raspberry is one of my favourites, but that tiny fruit is very expensive so until we are growing our own I think I’ll stick with home grown rhubarb.  Delicious and free!

Other greens are doing well, our chard is growing beautifully.  We also have carrots coming through, pushing their cover crop of radish out of the way.  We still have some months for them to evolve fully so I’m resisting pulling them just yet.  I’ve done a bit of thinning but again, my policy is to wait until there is something that can be harvested rather than just pulling out shoots.  I’m sure this is a gardening sin but it works for me!

We also have pumpkin plants spreading out all over.  I planted them in as transplants in early July and I’m really hoping we’ll get some lovely pumpkins by Halloween.  There are plenty of flowers on the plants but no sign of fruits so far.  I know from experience that there will seem to be nothing for ages and then suddenly you find fruits everywhere, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this will be the same.  I can think of nothing more brilliant than our own orange pumpkins in the fall!  Again I have to remind myself that we still have a good way to go for things to develop and ripen, with the wonky weather we’ve been having there have been days when it felt like autumn is already upon us.

DSC_0945DSC_0920 DSC_0921DSC_0942I’m so pleased with the way the new beds have performed this year, it’s transformed our gardening experience.  Having individual spaces seems to make the tending so much easier; weeding out one bed at a time feels very doable, rather than feeling like you have to tackle a whole field at a time.  I’ve been very proud of the work we’ve all done in the garden this year, Stephen and I have enjoyed many peaceful hours weeding side by side, but the boys have helped too.  Huwyl in particular is growing into a great little farmer, his skills are developing along with his discipline and focus.  He’s been quite the boon to have around this year.  Neirin loves just being with us, bouncing around all over the place.  He’s also become a little obsessed with home grown and home made foods, which of course I love!

Though we haven’t felt like we’ve really made the most of our polytunnel, we do have a fabulous crop of beans in there right now.  Beans are something that never quite worked out for us in the past, so to have them bursting out all over the place feels like a triumph!  We’ve enjoyed some beautiful beans in our meals recently and I’m planning on freezing some this weekend so that we can enjoy them through the winter.  We’re also going to leave some to grow to full maturity and harvest them as drying beans to add to soups and chilli’s through the winter months.

DSC_0913 DSC_0915DSC_0922DSC_0926But of course the real story in the garden right now is the tomatoes.  We’ve hit that point where so many are ripening at once, we are bringing in boxes and baskets and buckets of them.  We’ve harvested roughly 23 kilo’s in the last couple of days and I’m sure there will be more coming in over the weekend.  To be honest I’m not sure that we could ever grow enough tomatoes, we would use them all.  We use them year round and I’ve never quite managed to grow and preserve a year’s supply.  Last year we got to February on our own tomatoes (from the summer onward) so we’ll see how many I can put by this year.

Knowing that we grew these plants from seed, raised them, tended them, fed them, weeded around them and are now harvesting them, gives me immense satisfaction. It was a family affair as the seeds were a gift from my Dad, a connection from across the water that’s stayed with us all season.  I know that we could just go to the store and buy them, that the hours and energy we put into them might not make purely economic sense. but it goes far beyond that for us.  Apart from the superior flavour and nutrition (there is no doubt they are better) we’ve gained so many other things from tending our own crops.

DSC_0925DSC_0948DSC_0930This year, more than any other I’d say, we’ve really worked as a team.  The boys have helped in the garden this year, from sowing seeds, potting on,  planting out and harvesting.  They are seeing, literally, the fruits of their own labours.  When they eat the sauce I make from these fruits they have a vested interest in it’s production, I think that is a wonderful thing for them to know.

It’s also so been great for the grown ups!  Apart from the obvious exercise and health that comes from gardening (it’s not called the green gym for nothing!) we’ve also had many hours of peace and companionship.  When else can you just browse and chat, moving quietly but without boredom or lethargy?  Working alongside Stephen has been my greatest joy this summer, knowing that we are truly a team, bonded together in work and harvest.

While this summer has been about work (and a lot of it) it really has also been about family.  We’ve taken trips together, had fun days out and done things on our summer ‘to do’ list.  But when I review my memory album of this summer, many of the highlights revolve around these moments in the garden. Simply working as a team, each of us doing what we can to contribute to the well being of the whole.  Pulling weeds, planting plants, digging, feeding, watering.  All so basic, so fundamental and so terribly important. All of us doing our own work but all interconnected, side by side, with our hands in the earth.

Perfectly Preserved Peas

Perfectly Preserved Peas

We are now entering into that wonderful phase where whole meals can be made with what we have raised on our farm.  The other night, after our latest chicken harvest, I accompanied the roasted bird with greens, radishes, onions, beans and eggs from our own garden; as well as home made feta and hard cheese made from our own milk.  All raised here.  It’s a glorious feeling to step outside and 10 minutes later return with a meal.

But prior to that the boys and I had already brought in our first real garden harvest of the year.  By that I mean more than we could eat in a week, more than a meal’s worth.  No, we are now entering into preserving territory.  This year we dedicated an entire raised bed to peas, we eat a lot of them through the winter and wanted to have as many of our own in the freezer as we could.

DSC_0866 DSC_0865 DSC_0860So about 10 days ago, when I determined that the pea harvest was very ready, I spent an afternoon with the boys clearing out that bed.  We worked together, pulling off the pods, pulling out the plants and taking down the nylon trellis that had supported their growth all summer.  I am aiming to plant fall garlic in this very bed in the next month and am very proud of my garden organizational skills!  I hope to get more proficient with crop rotations in the future but for now it feels like a hopeful beginning.

We spent the evening together at the counter, podding the peas one by one.  When Stephen got home he chipped in too, adding more little gems to the tubs and bags of peas.  I had preserved about a third of the crop the week before but this would be the last push.  I was glad to have the help of my two boys at the counter, especially Neirin who endured longer than anyone.  He seemed fascinated by the process and enjoyed splitting each pod as if it were the first.

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To preserve the peas I’ve blanched them (dunk them in a pot of boiling water for a minute) then transferred them to iced water.  After than I froze them on my one nice baking tray in a single layer before banging them with a wooden spoon to release them into a big ziplock bag.  It’s not exactly a technical process but it works!  If you are ever tempted to skip the blanching piece don’t, it is crucial in preserving the peas at their very best.  This technique is what you need for any vegetable freezing.

The preserving season is firmly upon us.  I have to admit I’m in the midst of a mid-season energy lull so the thought of all that kitchen work doesn’t thrill me.  But the thought of delicious jam in the middle of winter, of a freezer full of our own produce and home grown meat, of cheeses tucked away in the fridge for the cold and dark days in front of the fire…that does thrill me.  So tomorrow we’ll be heading off to pick raspberries for jam, to add jars to our pantry and prepare ourselves for the long winter to come.  But for now…summer isn’t over yet.  Not by a long way.

Because we just don’t have enough animals.

Because we just don’t have enough animals.

This is Oberon.  He lives with us.  He’s beautiful.  He’s the most beautiful thing in this house.  He knows it.  Oberon likes being stroked; he likes being stroked by you.  Go on.  You know you want to.DSC_0704Oberon used to live with another family, that clearly didn’t make any kind of sense.  Luckily the fates (through the medium of my Kijiji trawling Papa) brought us together, as it was meant to be.  He didn’t really have a name so I call him Oberon, but that’s just his official title.  He’s also known as Pushkin, Professor Fluffy, Captain Meow, Big Cat and occasionally (by the less charitable and bearded among us) Fat Cat.  He rolls with it, as long as the strokes keep coming he doesn’t seem to mind.

If he were a Harvard Professor he’d be the sort that solves international crimes involving art and secret organizations bent on world domination and big swishy cloak wearing.  And yes he’d probably sleep with his students too, but dang it all you wouldn’t mind.  After all, on balance, breaking international crime syndicates really gives you a lot of leeway in the sleeping with people department.  That’s what he says anyway, and I trust him.

DSC_0705Within about 12 seconds he ruled my heart.  I mean, I know I’m a big sucker when it comes to oversized and intensely floofed chaps (yes Stephen, I am referring to you), but this guy really knows how to turn on the charm.  He’ll lie on the bed next to you, lie across your arm like a little fluffy teddy bear, tuck his head under your chin and purr.  It’s mind blowingly cosy.

DSC_0708This boy will snuggle right up with you, he’ll snuggle kids, me, Stephen, he’s not fussy.  He’ll snuggle you softly until you fall fast asleep to the sound of his purrs.

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Then he’ll go downstairs and poo on the floor.

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Which is why Oberon goes out at night.  Don’t worry, he snuggles first.  He picks a boy to cuddle with and stays there until we boot him out into the darkness each night. Out into the cruel world beyond the pillow, beyond the cushions, beyond the sofa.  That dark world of mystery and magic, of naughtiness and unseen doings.

And what does he get up to out there.  Nobody knows.  And we wouldn’t dare ask.  It’s possible he’s foiling the plans of the local chapter of the Illuminati whilst simultaneously riding a deer through the woods meowing “High ho Silver, away!”.  Or he could just be taking a very long bathroom break.  Or both.   We’re just glad when he returns each morning, settling down quickly for a good 18 hours of napping as quickly as possible.  It’s not a bad life.

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So if you’re in the mood for some serious stroking for an hour or two his door is always open.  Just don’t knock too loudly, he’s probably asleep.