When people ask what we’ve been up to, I find I’m always a bit dumbstruck and I can rarely enumerate more than a few items before trailing off and wondering to myself what HAVE we been up to lately. On the one hand, I know we’re keeping plenty busy because I feel remarkably well-adjusted at a time of year when I am traditionally a bit cagey and morose with the winter doldrums. On the other hand, our days are so much more calm, relatively speaking, than the mayhem of this past spring and summer, that it seems like nothing much is going on around here if thought of at only a cursory level. Only upon deeper reflection as I write this do I see that we have been bustling with activity even now that we are in the “off” season.
Without belaboring every minute detail, let me see if I can break down the last few months in the form of a photo essay of sorts.
With my desire to try extending our somewhat foreshortened season, Lance built a hoop house structure over our largest raised bed. This was covered with reemay and some poly and we experimented with various ways of collecting and holding heat in our makeshift greenhouse. I was a bit overly optimistic and late by about a week or so on getting the fall and winter harvests planted, so we didn’t have the success I’d hoped for, but we did get some produce and certainly learned how to do better next time!
While we didn’t produce everything we wanted, I was able to preserve most everything we did and augment our food stores with some purchases from fellow farmers. I spent several days canning and freezing veggies and fruit, and derivatives thereof in the form of sauces, jams, and relishes. I also dehydrated herbs for cooking and tea, and we dried and saved a number of seeds and beans for future propagation.
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What equates to just over six pints of roasted salsa (split into half pint jars) combined 6 lbs of gorgeous Speckled Roman Paste tomatoes from @bucklefarm, garlic from the Unity Farmers Market (I buy from her constantly and can never remember the name of her farm), jalapeños from @beez_the_change, onions from Common Sense Farm, and Aurora and Ace peppers from our garden. I think we'll call it Unity Salsa. 🙂 ♡
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This is a fraction of what probably amounted to 1/8 cup of Black Turtle beans I just harvested from a plant we got for a donation to MOFGA at an event in May. The plant got taken out before its time when we were away for Lance's birthday. We hung it upside down to dry the beans and I threshed them today. It's sad that we lost a plant that had been doing quite well, but it is humbling and nothing short of magical to think that each of these seeds I hold in my palm carries the coding to make a new plant and exponentially more beans. #seedsaving #lifecycle #hopeinmyhand #gardengeek
Our little place is about 10 miles due north of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), which is home to the Common Ground Country Fair. We came to the fair when we rolled through here to visit my folks in 2015 during Ambling Full Tilt. It was one of the highlights of our trip, and our one-day visit let us know that that particular resource would be one of many reasons why this would be (and is) the perfect place to set up our homestead. This year, our attendance was for all three days and we scheduled ourselves for as many classes and talks as we could now that we were (are) actually involved in the process of building a micro-farm. There was such a wealth of information to absorb that we often had to divide and conquer and hardly saw each other, let alone many of the little things that make the fair festive and fun. But I did manage to take a break long enough to witness a chicken on a leash…
And Lance picked himself up a custom made scythe with the goal of eventually growing and harvesting cover crops to use as green manure and feed for our future chickens and (maybe) goats.
Lance is also getting rather handy with powered cutting implements. He’s managed to apprentice himself to our friend and professional woodsman Rob. This has come in handy as we have about a half acre of woods surrounding our property on two sides (and landscaped treelines on the other two sides). One birch decided to save him the trouble of felling it and we found it suddenly toppled onto a couple of our spruces on the east end of the property. We got to use our recently acquired farm truck, Kermit, to pull it out the rest of the way and then Lance went to work turning it into kindling (and logs)!
About the time our house was overrun by ladybugs, we started thinking it might be a good idea to snug the place up a bit. They helped us find all the little nooks and crannies that needed sealing by appearing out of and disappearing into them like the ghosts in Pac-Man. We had to evict Inky, Clyde, Pinky, and several (like, more than 50) others so we didn’t have a crunchy carpet blanketing our floor. But Blinky and his lesser known brethren, Blaze, Bitey, Brazen, and Burney are still hanging with us trying to ride out the winter.
So with most of the little draughts sealed, we decided we had better insulate the attic with something more than the ghosts of ladybugs past and mouse droppings. Lucky us, the gas stove we had ordered (and had to convert to LP and install in place of the temperamental electric clunker we inherited with the house), and the mountain of insulation showed up on the same day. Motivated by the desire to both eat and stay warm, Lance and I managed to get the stove installed without blowing ourselves up, and he somehow managed to haul 18ish bags of Roxul up through a hole barely big enough to accommodate him, and then install it in the attic without completely ruining his knees or sustaining (too much of) a head injury. Bless him.
Naturally, colder weather turns our thoughts to food to help us stay warm. Actually, I’m always thinking about food, such is my affinity for culinary creativity. In addition to the aforementioned methods of stocking the freezer and pantry, I added fermentation and wild yeast cultivation to my playbook. I’ve made two successful (and one utter failure) batches of kimchi and so many sourdough boules (and other starter based creations) that I’ve lost count. Lance has also dabbled in wild yeast for beer-making, but the experiment is ongoing, so results will have to be reported by him in a later post.
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In less than three days – SUCCESS!! #itsalive #wildyeast #homebrewing The hemlock infused beer on the right (non-inoculated wort on the left) has lots of bubbles, it's much cloudier, and smells like brett! The apple peel jar smells very bready, and the raspberry leaf jar smells sublimely farmhouse-y with a lively cidery tang. The "control" wort smells and looks exactly the same as when I brewed it. It WILL grow something eventually… Looks like I'm committed to more brewing mad science! Next up a SMASH beer that will be subdivided to ferment with each of these. Only then will we know what we're dealing with more fully.
As if my food-related endeavors at home weren’t enough, I’ve also been volunteering most Thursdays at the Unity Food Hub, which is where we get our Maine Farm Share (it’s like a cooperative CSA). I’m generally moral support for my friend Sophie, who is the coordinator for the distribution, and help her with distributing shares, but my primary function most weeks is cooking samples out of recipes I have devised based on the share produce for the week. I also occasionally do recipe write-ups for the weekly newsletter that gets distributed with the shares. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to meet and talk food with both patrons of the program and contributing farmers in the local area. Lance and I have talked a lot about establishing a bit of a cottage industry and this might be one way I can share my wares with the community. The angle we are most interested in and find somewhat underrepresented in the offerings around here is zesty seasonings and sauces. It’s no secret that we love our herbs and spices, and I especially love nothing better than crafting tasty sauces and soups. I have been dabbling in making our own curry powders and have already been asked to package and sell my pesto, so maybe there is a bit of a market for such things. We shall see!
Speaking of crafting things with fire, though this is a bit hotter than the sort you’d use for cooking, Lance has also taken up tutelage under Rob for blacksmithing. My poor partner spent 15 weeks of Tuesdays at a welding class he didn’t love (the class was fine, it was the welding he could have done without) in an effort to learn how to repair our vehicles in an area notorious for eating the parts and bodies right off of them. The very last thing he learned, which only had one class devoted to it, was blacksmithing. He thoroughly enjoyed the little bit he did and was glad to find that Rob is a willing teacher and has a shop and the equipment to practice with.
Industrious though we have been, we’ve had some time to get out and explore and indulge ourselves in more leisurely and artistic pursuits. We’ve braved a bit of ice trekking on the bog down the road from our place and taken advantage on a couple of occasions of a splendid trail system that spans from the hills of nearby Unity to the coast in Belfast over about 40 miles of public and private land. I’ve (obviously) abstained from writing very much here, but I have been getting back into photography and doing a bit of writing to go with it in a project called the 100 Photo Challenge on my personal blog, danijamesdayton.wordpress.com. I’ve also been knitting a fair bit and occasionally dabbling in the lost art of letter writing as a part of assembling care packages with knitted and canned goods to send to loved ones.
I don’t have photographic evidence of this, but I’ve also been cutting my own hair and making nearly all of our toiletries and cleaning products from scratch. I don’t have to wear my own knitted hats all the time (I couldn’t anyway because I keep giving them away), so I think the crunchy granola homemade haircuts and products are working out alright. I’ll document more of the latter in the Mad Alchemy section of the blog at a later date.
As the new year approaches, our thoughts are turning to getting prepared for the next growing season. We’ve both enjoyed a decent amount of leisure and writing research reading of late, but soon we’ll need to hit the homesteading books again and come up with a game plan for the farm. It’ll be a lot of work, but it’s definitely not an unpleasant task to peruse the vibrant pages of seed catalogs and work at building my own while the garden beds and future buds sleep under a blanket of snow.
Wishing you all well as we dream of beautiful beets and busy bees! Happy 2017 and Cheers!
Dani and Lance