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My first full-blown fermentation experiment has finally made its way to the table and our tummies.

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I opened the Harsch Gairtopf crock yesterday after three weeks and this is what I found! A beautiful pink sauerkraut. Pink because I used one head of red cabbage mixed in with the green. Hard to believe that just cabbage and salt could mingle to make something this tangy delicious (and good for you).

The pro-biotic and other health benefits of fermented foods are becoming widely known, but since going Paleo a year ago (the Paleo diet, in case you don’t know, can be easily researched by putting the term into Google) I have wanted to “kick it up a notch” and add fermented foods into my daily rations. I’ve done fermented pickles (mixed reviews), fermented peach chutney (unusual, but good) and a small batch of sauerkraut in a Mason jar (a winner). So I decided to commit to this and buy myself a real fermenting crock, get some books, take a class and do it for real. One thing about going Paleo, you become a foodie just by osmosis and in self-defense.

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This batch was about five pounds of cabbage (there’s one more container not shown in the picture). Not sure how long it’s going to do us, since I plan on eating it at least once a day. I also wanted to give some away to a friend from this batch, so I’m thinking I’d better start another right away. Maybe this time we’ll add a little carrot. Some hot peppers? Looks that big brown crock will be a fixture on my kitchen counter.

Fragile Fruit

We had a night of predicted low temperatures a week ago last Tuesday and I didn’t get much sleep.

At 3:30 a.m. it was 29 degrees. Same at 5 a.m. According to the Michigan State University (you can find their chart here) my apricots were in trouble. I fretted. I wrung my hands. I sighed. I watched and waited.

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A week later they are still holding tight, haven’t shriveled up and appear to be gaining in size. Some even have a little blush on them. Whew!

We’re not out of the woods yet. I’ve lived in Prescott since 1994 and we’ve had a blizzard in April, but, fingers crossed, maybe not this year. If I get apricots one year out of six or seven that’s good. If the apricots make it this year I’ll have hundreds! Between the two trees I will be busy canning, dehydrating and eating (yum!) early and have plenty to share. Since I have friends who did winter gardening this year (I planned to but never got there) I see some good tasting bartering in my future. Can’t wait!

We Begin Anew

Howdy peeps! Spring is early at our mini-farm and it’s time to start getting dirty.

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The hens are laying again and the herb garden is coming alive. Lemon balm tea this afternoon is just what the (natural) doctor ordered. The lemon thyme, bee balm, sage and lavender are all looking alive. Not sure about the lemon verbena. Mints in containers are starting to pop up.

Here in Prescott there’s always the danger of a late frost lurking when we have such a mild winter. The apricot trees are almost finished blooming and getting ready to set fruit and the peach trees are beginning to flower. We’ve had serious snow here as late as April, so you never know and I could lose most of my fruit this year. Covering the apricots is impossible because they’re just too tall and wide. The peaches are possible. Fingers crossed. The new Pink Lady apple tree I put in a month ago seems to be doing really well and the Granny Smith I put in last year has buds on it, as do the two new peach trees from last year. Berries and grape vines lookin’ good.

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Seed starting indoors has begun. This wee little one is the first to pop up since Sunday. I’m starting a little early, I know, but I just couldn’t help myself. Not really TOO early for cabbage, broccoli and the like, is it?

sauerkrautcrock

Speaking of cabbage, here’s my first big batch of sauerkraut fermenting on the kitchen counter. I’ve done a small batch in a Mason jar, but I’m not sure it fully fermented. This is about five pounds so we’ll have enough to eat a little probiotic powerhouse food every day for a month or more! I’ll let you know how it turns out the first of April. Good to be back. How’s your garden growing?

After weeks of rain we finally had a sunny morning and this is what I picked today.

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It’s early in the morning for eggs, but my twosome, Coo and Pecky, always seem to lay early. The Gang of Five usually don’t lay until the afternoon. Funny about chickens.

I finally pulled up most of my garlic and onions, although I still have some red onions in the ground that I’ll pull out another day. The garlic is the most beautiful garlic I’ve ever seen. No. Joke.

There are two kinds of cucumbers: pickling and regular. Trying fermented pickles for the first time thanks to some homemade whey starter from a friend. There’s a nice big jar in the fridge and soon I’ll have enough to start another one. Want to try fermenting garlic, too.

Those little pear-shaped yellow tomatoes are heirlooms and the sweetest most flavorful things you ever want to eat. The flavor just explodes in your mouth. Put some in a cast iron pan with some fresh basil and garlic, add some fresh eggs from the girls and a little organic coconut oil and you have a heavenly breakfast. Of course there’s nothing like a regular vine-ripened red tomato, this particular variety being an heirloom that was the original Heinz ketchup tomato I’m told. I couldn’t wait for them to get any bigger — I had to have them NOW!

Every day I have to look something up, learn something new, discover something I’ve never seen — be it a bug, the way something grows (ever see a carrot that wasn’t thinned? FRANKENCARROT!) or just an unusual cloud formation — and generally enjoy the wonder. When I named this blog “Romancing the Everyday” I didn’t have but a small herb garden. Living much closer to the land the way I am this year is True Romance as far as I’m concerned.

One thing I will credit with making this more of a joy and less of a chore is Square Foot Gardening. More yield in less space, using less water with less work. Perhaps you’d like a post on that? I think I’ll oblige next time.

Life can sometimes be so full of contrasts it’s more than amazing. It is, in fact, downright surreal.

Thursday garden and egg harvest

I harvested this bounty minutes ago while watching the winds rekindle the Doce Fire a short distance away from my garden.

Doce fire Tuesday

This is what the fire looked like from our back deck when I got home around 1 p.m. Tuesday afternoon.

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On Tuesday night the flames had progressed down our side of the mountain and we were ready to evacuate. Crates, leashes, important documents and valuables were made all at the ready. Thankfully the fire stayed on the west side of the main road that goes by our subdivision and traveled north.

Still, it was a sleepless night.

Then Wednesday morning it seemed almost calm until the winds picked up again and fanned the flames. The photo below was taken about mid-day yesterday standing directly across the road from the Granite Mountain Wilderness Area trailhead at intersection of Williamson Valley Road and Granite Oaks Drive, the entrance to our subdivision. You can see some flames at the extreme upper left of the white plumes of smoke. There were small flaming pockets all over Granite.

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We were still thinking we might need to leave and went uneasily to bed. By this morning we were feeling fairly secure (although you never know) that we can stay here and ride the rest out. Several friends have been either dislocated or are on standby. We’re at the ready to take in refugees and their animals if need be, now that it looks we’re out of danger and I plan to see if there is a need for emergency response and first aid trained volunteers tomorrow, since as of this year I am one.

One chilling thing we realized Tuesday night was that we didn’t have room in our vehicles for the chickens. They are so new (March) and it just hadn’t occurred to me that I would have to move them all, lock, stock and coop, at a moment’s notice. So very next thing on the agenda is to get a trailer hitch and a small lightweight trailer for our SUV so we can get all the animals (3 dogs, 3 cats, 7 hens and a tarantula) out to safety without needing someone to help us. Sometimes there just isn’t time. We did have several kind offers of help to do transport and I think it all would have worked out, but still we’d like to know we can move our living cargo anytime even with short notice.

There was a moment when I looked around at all the “things” that mattered to me — musical instruments, furniture, pictures, the tools of our businesses, precious tokens of our history — and all at once I let them go. I said to Mister, “let’s just get us and the animals out of here in one piece. The rest doesn’t matter.” He had his moment too and agreed, and from then on we were seriously focused and ready.

Right now, this minute, I am supremely grateful that there has been no loss of life or injury and so far no homes or structures lost. Let’s pray it stays that way. I am also so very grateful for the heroic firefighters who are toiling in the heat and in the face of danger to keep us and our homes safe. You have my heart.

Tonight we will sit down to a feast that includes salad greens, radishes and herbs, with blackberries for dessert, and a cup of lemon balm tea to calm the nerves, all from the little garden that sits at the feet of the Fiery Beast. How amazing is that?

This city girl has grown her some greens. Just cut the outer leaves of some early lettuce and spinach and you’re looking at our first salad from the garden. There was enough spinach to make a delicious quiche courtesy of “the girls,” who have all started laying again after their first molt.

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There was even some tender red lettuce to add to the mix.

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The perennial herbs are doing well, as they always seem to do, year after year. Just add some compost and they give back another year of flavor, beauty and nourishment.

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I put in some more lettuce seeds, so hopefully we’ll have lots more salads before it gets too warm.

Peas are coming up fast…

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…and lots of tiny carrot, beet and annual herb seedlings are poking up their heads.

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Both pole and bush beans have burst through, but something seems to be chewing on some (grasshoppers?), although I’ve yet to catch them in the act.

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Now that a lot of the garden work has become more routine and, hopefully, our fear of frost is over (some say Mother’s Day, others Memorial Day, I’m hedging my bets with duplicate plants in the garden beds and the greenhouse), I plan on getting back in the studio to make some jewelry to put up on my Etsy shop. And you can bet the garden will be my inspiration.

Today was one of those days. Sunny: check. Warm: check. Breezy but not too breezy: check. Chickens happy: check. Dogs content: check. Plants growing: CHECK!

Let’s take a wee tour, shall we?

blackberries  Blackberry bush blossoms.beebalm  Bee balm made it back through the winter!

onions Always reliable multiplying onions.

tank1   These keep company in what I call my first “tank.” It’s a waist-high raised bed that’s perfect for someone like me with a bad back. Also in Tank number 1 are chives, oregano, sage, lavender, lemon verbena, lemon thyme and maybe, yes, an errant asparagus spear I forgot to transplant. But wait. There’s more!

peas2  These are peas protected by what I’ll call “the cage.” More about these in a minute. Four different kinds of peas coming up in Tank number 2 along with lots of garlic and three kinds of onions, planted as sets last fall.

chocolatemint  Tanks number 1 and 2 are in what we now call “The Dog Yard.” That’s where Obi Wan Kenobi, Sheba and Posey play. Also there are the composter, the berry bushes, a climbing rose bush, two different kinds of honeysuckle and the grapes. There are also containers full of mint. This one has chocolate mint, another peppermint. It was looking like the grapes were dead (this is my first attempt at growing grapes so who knew?), but never count a good grape out.

redgrapes  The red Concord grape is starting to bloom and the green grape vine has two tiny sprigs coming out.

cages  Now you can see the “cages” in all their glory. Here you see Tanks number 3 and 4 and they reside in what we now call “The Chicken Yard” for obvious reasons (see previous chicken posts!). There are two more Tanks you can’t see. The cages are a collaborative effort between my Mister, my friend and handyman extraordinaire, Kevin Jordan, and moi. When my peas were being eaten as they began to sprout I could see it was going to be a constant fight between The Gardening Humans and The Critter Kingdom. We are determined to win. So far, so good (she whispers so the critters can’t hear).

greenhouse  Nothing fancy, my greenhouse. More like a tent than anything else. But it works. See?

redlettuce broccoligreenhouse brusselssproutsgreenhouse cabbagegreenhouse  Lots more going on in here, but, well, you’ve probably seen enough. Let me leave you with the best part of being out in the garden…the loving company of my furry friends.

sweetObi sweetSheba  Obi and Sheba seem pretty content, no? When we’re all together outside there is no wrong.

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