What’s On The Docket For Today?

Mid-August and that means spending at least part of the day in the kitchen preserving the bounty. Green beans are frozen and also pickled. A big pot of broccoli soup and kettles of tomatoes simmering. Pesto. Lots and lots of pesto. Sweet pickles, sour pickles, mustard pickles. Probably some relish, too. Yesterday some fresh cabbage slaw and later in the month, a crock of kraut will be made.
Beets roasted for tonight’s dinner ( along with a chicken in the oven) and sprinkled with blue cheese. Dessert? How about homemade ginger biscuits with peaches and blueberries? Ice cream? Yes!

Then, this afternoon, along with tending the nursery, we’ll keep working on our latest construction project…the new outhouse! We had a long conversation with my cousin Barbara and cousin Ronnie during dinner last night about furnishing the outhouse with one seat or two. They have a two seater, who goes in there together? I don’t know. Apparently, a traditional two-seater outhouse has two different size holes. One for big bottoms and one for smaller. Well, that makes sense, we wouldn’t want any little folks falling through! Cousin Barbara has made her own privy into quite the luxury palace…fancy curtains, a linoleum floor, and art work hung on the wall. I can imagine all of her guests lining up outside the outhouse happy to “do their business’ in such fine surroundings. I bet there’s probably some good reading material in there too. Our outhouse is still taking shape, but I’ll glean some inspiration from cousin Barbara and be thinking about ways to make our own “one holer” a pleasant place to sit for a spell. If you want to read up on some outhouse facts, go here, http://cottagelife.com/environment/10-things-you-probably-didnt-know-about-outhouses

Blue Days

Nothing to cry about, quite the contrary! This lace-cap hydrangea serrata is attracting lots of visitors, both humans and pollinators. So happy that our buzzing friends (the buzzing insects, not the humans) are finding nourishment throughout the gardens.
And, it’s blueberry season here in Maine! I’ve picked up a carload of blueberries from my friend’s farm in Washington. Ten 10 lb. boxes of blueberries for here and for friends. Of course, we will freeze most of them, but a couple of fresh pies will be made and some blueberry ice cream cranked out. Like I said, nothing to cry about!!! Yum! Summer at its best!

High Summer

There is a brief window during the season when we experience a slight lull…in the gardens and in the nursery. It happens just after school lets out in late June and continues until the 4th of July weekend. We appreciate the small reprieve. The garden’s beds are planted, weeded, and looking great, the flow of customers is steady but not as busy as in May and June, there’s a calm before the ‘storm’ that the now ‘high summer’ brings. From here on in however, our pace picks up again. The nursery gets re-stocked with late season offerings and with plants that simply needed replacing from earlier sales. Now is the time we do most of our propagating for the next season, this involves collecting seed, taking cuttings, and dividing plants from the stock beds. The greenhouse is cloaked in shade cloth and a misting system gets set up ( in the greenhouse)to provide a constant and controlled amount of moisture. In the vegetable gardens, the bounty to be harvested and preserved is coming fast and furious….summer squash, cucumbers, kale, chard, greens, snow peas and shell peas, beets, and loads and loads of broccoli. Every meal is the essence of freshness, plates of homegrown chicken surrounded by steamed veggies and an extra large green salad. I begin to eye the squash patch with concern, a day of not picking could lead to one of those gigantic zucchinis or an overly bulbous yellow squash. Harvesting the squash patch becomes a secret competition between me and the cucurbits. I am determined to harvest each and everyone before I need the wheel barrow to haul them away. I’m determined to pick them when they’re small and incorporate them into meals before they roll to the back of the fridge and become wobbly. Right now I’m winning, we’re roasting squash, grilling squash, steaming squash, and using them in our favorite squash fritter recipe. So far so good. If you come for dinner more than once a week and think to yourself “squash, again?”, please don’t say it out-loud. I’m on a mission and only looking to feed ‘Team Squash’ while I’m at it. Be happy that your squash fritters include smoked Gouda and that your grilled squash wedges are peppered with a nice spicy dry rub. Eat and be happy.
It’s at this time we begin glancing forward to what’s ahead. Yes, we’ll still be harvesting and preserving well into September, our work at propagating will continue, mowing and weeding and moving sheep fence a constant until the leaves begin dropping, but there will also be firewood to bring in and hay to be gathered and stored, meat birds processed and sheep brought home. It’s not about not living in the moment or in the present (we always hope to manage this as well!), it’s about the cycle of the season and how our lives here are connected to the natural rhythms of time. We’re part of it and I like that. Well, it’s 6:30 a.m. and I must leave you now, my Patty Pan squash and Costata Romanesco zucchini have had well over 12 hours to gain inches and it’s time to rein them in!
And while out in the garden stalking the vegetable bounty….we sure are stopping to smell the flowers!

The Great Harvest

Picture 3528Now is when the vegetable harvest floods the kitchen. Buckets, baskets, and wooden crates filled to the brim with tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, and more. Let’s not even mention the cucumbers. Or the squash…. you know how that goes. We’ve been trying to harvest all the squash before it grows to its potential baseball bat length. This can happen overnight, as you know. ‘Sunburst’ patty pan squash grow like berries on a bush, you pick them one day and the next there are just as many. Our favorite way to prepare these cute little Cucurbita are to first throw them into a pot of boiling water, cook until just tender, then take them out to drain and dry off a bit. Then scoop out a small hole on the top side of the squash, discard seeds if you want to, and fill the hole with something yummy….like a bit of the roasted tomatoes, garlic, red pepper, and eggplant that’s been in the oven all morning. Top this with a little goat cheese ( we like Appleton Creamery’s ‘Chipotle lime’) and put under the broiler for a minute. A great little presentation, I must say.
Hope everyone’s gardens are doing well despite the lack of water ( here in the North East). Happy harvest to all!Picture 3533

To The Watering Hole

Picture 3470There’s a heap of green beans ready to blanch and freeze. Also, a forest of broccoli and waves of swiss chard to harvest and preserve.The tomatoes are threatening to ripen in great numbers and all at once…slicers, cherries, and pastes. The kitchen is about to see a lot of action. Heat or no heat, it’s time to can! But by late afternoon today, it was unanimous. It was time to put away the weeding buckets, hang up the harvesting knives, and head for the watering hole. Hip Hip Hooray!!
These next words from the book Clabbered Dirt,Sweet Grass by Gary Paulsen. A farming story….and delightful read.

High summer brings thick heat and there comes a day when dust itches the skin, when the flies and the gnats and the no-see-ums and the thick, humid air and the heat that presses down all build together so that the sweat doesn’t help, shade doesn’t help, and somebody says something about going swimming, just a word, and it becomes the only thing in the world. By the middle of the day work is impossible, everything is impossible but going down to the creek. There is a place, always a place, a special place where the current rounds a bend and goes through a double culvert under the road, and right there, right in that special place the water has dug out a great hollowed pool. Green, green deep to soft brown cool with speckled minnows fleeing from the great splashing monsters who tumble, fall, dive, cannonball from the heavens into the cool clean clear water.
Clothes hanging on the willows, dust hanging on the willows, dirt and grime and work hanging on the willows while the water takes them, takes them all.
The swimming hole.
Picture 3471

Peppers , Lots Of Peppers!

Picture 1655What’s coming in from the gardens at the moment? Lots and lots of peppers! Having a bounty of fresh sweet red, yellow, and green peppers is a treat. A large sweet red pepper can get pricey at the market.They are coming out of the garden in buckets , along with tomatoes, beets, cabbage, beans, and eggplant. We’re ignoring the squash. Roasting peppers over a charcoal fire is our favorite way to eat them. Everyone in the house loves the addition of roasted peppers on their burgers and in their sandwiches. We will freeze some, freshly chopped and frozen, as well as roasted and then frozen. The consistency of course is nothing like fresh, but the preserved peppers will be added to soups and dishes where they are not intended to be a main ingredient. We have canned roasted peppers. Being low acidity, they need to be processed in a pressure cooker. I’ll leave you with these instructions for canning or freezing peppers (http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/pdf/8004.pdf). It is important to follow careful steps with canning, especially with vegetables that you aren’t going to pickle and are considered low acidity. Picture 1657
Oh, and what’s our favorite salad at the moment? The easiest cucumber salad that is quite divine ( yep, buckets of cucumbers, too).
Slice cucumbers quite thin, ( maybe 4 medium cukes)
Add about 2 tbls. minced fresh ginger ( or more if you’d like)
season with a ‘ seasoned’ rice vinegar
Let this sit for an hour or two in the fridge…….quite yummy, and lovely on sandwiches!

Because we are hauling in baskets of these……Picture 1648
And cooking up gallons of this…….Picture 1647
We thought it may be helpful to go back and repost an old entry on how we do it……. ( click the highlighted ‘old entry’ to go back to that very post. Hope your tomatoes are ripening!

Summer Colors

Picture 1551Picture 1570Picture 1557The gardens that are in full sun are a riot of color at this time of year. They are planted with a mix of well established perennials and some yearly annuals. In their robust nature, they all seem to be competing for center stage.Picture 1556Picture 1564Picture 1540 Such a contrast to the more elegant and graceful nature of the shade beds. The plants in the shade often being much more subdued than the sun area, but no less striking or appreciated. Truth be told, we appreciate the shade gardens more than ever during these hot sultry days. They seem to invoke a feeling of calmness and serenity, where as the sun gardens can bring forth a feeling of…..well, chaos. Nice chaos, that is. We do work in the shadier display beds more often during these hot spells, certain that the temperature is a few degrees cooler under the canopy of trees. It is much more pleasant in the shade and we will get more done in the long run. That heat can zap our energy long before a day is over, and we can’t have that now, can we? Many of the sun loving plants, along with the overflowing vegetable gardens, are loudly expressing themselves. They are closer to the house and are what we look out at from the big front windows. They are big and bold, and of course we appreciate them as well. Everyday a bouquet comes in….sweet peas, cosmos, phlox, echinacea, poppies, monarda, to name a few. I am grateful for these lovely arrangements gathered from just outside our doorstep. How lucky to be surrounded by flowers, poetry expressed in the language of flowers.Picture 1613Picture 1568Picture 1538Picture 1578
Back in the house, before the temperatures soar, I scramble around preserving the vegetables brought in the night before. Today;
more pesto
blanch and freeze more broccoli
blanch and freeze more beans
roast tomatoes, eggplant, and garlic( all together), then can
feed the sourdough
make pizza crust, having vegetable toppings ready for tonight’s dinner ( we’ll cook this on the grill)
do something with a bucket of potatoes
make some coleslaw
make a broccoli quiche ( to use up some of that broccoli and the non stop flow of eggs coming into the house
pick squash…again, and again, and again.Picture 1605

That should keep me busy until the kitchen is too hot to work in. Oh, and I think we just may be in the hay field this afternoon. The 2nd cut hay is mowed and ready. I love being in the hay field, even when the heat bears down on you and the chafe from the hay sticks to your sweaty arms and neck. A jump in the lake is never any better than after a day of throwing bales. Divine! The satisfaction of having the animals fodder secured for the winter always feels good. People often ask us what we do during the long cold winters here in Maine…… we rest, with a sigh of relief!

Filling The Shelves

Picture 1586The pantry shelves are filling up. We are trying to be more thoughtful about the amounts of vegetables and fruits we are canning this year (and freezing). Though it is true that we are often visited by “shoppers” who may come and fill their “to go” bags with goodies (our occasionally returning children), we don’t need as much as we have in the past. Instead of 30 jars of bread and butter pickles, 15 will be enough. The same for dilly beans, sour pickles, relish, and ketchup. Tomatoes and salsa are still being put up in greater quantities. Peaches and jams, we are happy to have enough to eat through the winter and give some as gifts. As our household grows smaller ( boo hoo), we are trying to rein in our efforts to grow and preserve what we actually need instead of preparing for the thoughts of feeding an army. Don’t worry, I haven’t even come close to mastering this concept. It’s a slow process. It is almost painful to put limitations on how many jars of pickled mixed vegetables I make. Are you sure we don’t need a few more quarts of frozen broccoli? Hot pepper jelly? How do I decide which peppers make it into the jars and which ones get offered up to non-hot pepper growing neighbors? And chickens? Every year we raise anywhere between 75-100 meat birds. This year we are scaling down to 60. Geeze! This cutting back makes sense, I know this. With fewer mouths to feed on a regular basis we just don’t need as much. Also, guess what? After years of canning for a full table of eaters, our shelves and freezers still have food from years past. O.k. I’ll just go ahead and admit it, I haven’t seen the bottom of at least two of our freezers in the last couple of years( We have 4 freezers, is this bad?). I’m hoping there may be some chocolate zucchini cakes resting on the bottom. If I stick to this plan of reducing what goes in there, I may reach that cake by February. Just in case, I’ll sneak in a few fresh ones on the top!

Our Recent Days

Picture 1351There is quite a range of activity here at the nursery right now. Every day food is being brought in to be processed…..canned, pickled, or frozen. We’ve just harvested our first large crop of broccoli to be put into the freezer. Kale, chard, and snow peas are going in along with it. The summer squash and green beans are producing faster than we can pick them. Herbs and foraged plants are being collected for tea, or tinctures, and salves.

drying chamomile blossoms

drying chamomile blossoms

Chamomile blossoms are set aside to dry, and St. John’s Wort flowers have been picked to make a tincture with. Our WWOOFer Hannah has been enjoying our foraging excursions, she is quickly learning the botanical names of plants here at the nursery and the ones we collect from the fields and woods to make tinctures and salves with. I think she likes learning about the medicinal uses of the plants we grow and collect.
Adlumia fungosa

Adlumia fungosa

Corydalis lutea

Corydalis lutea

Myrrhis odorata ' Sweet Cicely'

Myrrhis odorata
‘ Sweet Cicely’

Rick has been collecting seed from the display beds, and plants like Adlumia fungosa, Corydalis lutea, and Myrrhis odorata are being potted up and put into the sales area. Picture 1341The sheep are being moved every two weeks or so for rotational grazing methods.Hannah has been spending a bit of time picking through this spring’s fleeces readying them for the next step…..washing.
And then there is the weeding, mowing, and daily maintenance around the place. We continue to advance on the studio project, the second floor being nailed in place soon. Boy, oh boy, our days are full! We do love every bit of it though and feel thankful for this good life we live. And as I’ve mentioned before, there’s always plenty of food!
Lunch.....homemade pizza with zucchini, garlic scape pesto, fresh tomato, and olives

Lunch…..homemade pizza with zucchini, garlic scape pesto, fresh tomato, and olives