Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Early morning wanderings and reflections...

While out doing chores this morning, I started to think about our season and our fourth year at the farm. These are some of the things that come to mind while the sun comes up and you are lugging water buckets up to the pigs and turkeys on a still but cold
-13 morning!

With such an early spring this year, which initially got everyone excited! who would have thought that after the first 6 weeks of the CSA we were doubting if we would even get to the end of it.  It was not a wonderful growing year, harvest was low and some of our members did find this challenging. Others who have been with us from the start appreciated what was happening and knew this was one of the risks you have to roll with and it really was out of our control.

From a distance the field did look green and lush but it was not until closer inspection that you started to note the lack of fruit on the crops, cabbage had not formed solid heads, cauliflower only grew so much and then just stopped, crops stunted in growth, lettuce bolting before they had even formed and insects and pests had the most fun of all eating all our veggies and reducing yeilds.  Watching huge cracks appear in the dried out soil and while watering you would watch the water neatly fall down through these cracks and not even touch the roots of the plants.
We did make it to the end of the season but we really had to take it week by week and all the planning we do before the season starts and the succession planting we do during the season seemed to go out the window as we really had to leave it in mother natures hands to see what would grow with minimal water.
By the end of the season we had fed 37 families through our 18 week CSA, raised 300 chickens, 50 Turkeys and 4 Berkshire pigs on pasture.  Our Chickens have laid well over 6000 eggs this year, and our bees some how managed to produce some of the best honey we have ever tasted.

The middle of our year was made harder when we lost one of our long term companions, our gorgeous Spinone boy Zampa in August.  Zampa was our first Spinone, a true gent in every sense of the word and his passing has been a huge wrench for Michael and I.  Jorja seems to have coped a lot better than us but our farm seems  empty without him.  My rat hunter and protector has gone. Working in the greenhouse will never be the same without my boy sitting glued to the spot staring at seed trays to let me know I either have a mouse or a rat under one.  Or digging a hole so large under the seeding tables you wondered where he was actually heading.

Water does continue to be an issue this winter as our well has run dry again and we have more animals this year to water than we ever had before.  So we are hoping for more rain before we really freeze up and then lots and lots of snow to help the water table come spring next year.  I am actually looking forward to saying goodbye to our Christmas Turkeys this year as it will be one group less to water.

With all that has happened and tested us this year we have also had a lot of days that has brought laughter and fun to our farm.  Both our mums visited this year and at a respective 67 and 70 years of age they both worked like troopers on our farm, some days it was a challenge to get them off the field!

To our friends, neighbours and CSA members who came out and helped clear sections of our field as crops died back, to help water or brought water to the farm, who arrived with iced coffees or snacks on the hottest of days to keep us going, for the e-mails and phone calls that kept our spirits up.  We can only say THANK YOU for being who you are and making a huge difference to our farm this year.

May and Lily's mum's visited and we had the best two days ever! Discing and cultivating the growing area with two teams and two generations of Suffolk's on our field was an amazing sight for all.  Reuniting mothers and daughters also seemed to give a sense of closure that all was well.
With a horse trailer parked at the farm for two days it did send rumours flying around the local sale barn that our team was leaving, which made Michael and I laugh even more!   Most people think we are slightly crazy to do this all with a team of horses a walk behind tiller and a lawn tractor and trailer! 
Garlic is in and mulched and we have planted more than ever this year.  We have added two new varieties along with Music and Fish Lake II in the field for next year.  So here's looking to a bumper crop of scapes and garlic in 2013.

Our gorgeous Berskhire pigs are growing and doing an amazing job of clearing part of next years garden.  Once the Christmas turkeys leave they will move onto their paddock and turn it over.  They make light work of it all and are doing an amazing job of not only getting rid of all the weeds but also turning all the rocks up.  We also welcomed Bertie the Boar to our herd so we are able to start breeding our own Berks next year.

Breeding, Pregnancy and Birth will head line early 2013 as Elly is looking on the large side already and I am guessing that is not from eating hay! So fingers and toes crossed we will be welcoming our first kids and piglets to the farm next year.

2013 is nearly here and the planning has started.  We will look at the new season slightly differently, taking into account the drought this year when we plan for next.  One of the biggest things the drought has shown us is this farm at this location would never be able to run a drip irrigation through our growing area while we still raise livestock.  We enjoy being a mix diversified farm and we will continue to do this.  What we will be doing is looking at different ways to hold the water in the ground, looking for more affordable water storage containers and hoping for regular rain during the growing season.

So there we have it a mornings wanderings and reflections while doing chores.  

From Michael and I a huge thank you to all who choose to support our small farm.  We love what we do and we love feeding all our customers with healthy and nutritionally rich food.  Without your continued support we could not do this.  
We look forward to feeding you all again in 2013!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Cooking with a Stew Hen....

There comes a time when we have to retire some of our older eggs layers and this fall was that time.   We had a lot of interest from our customers who wanted them for stock birds as the flavour from these older birds is delicious.  They have spent over two years running around a paddock eating grass, grubs, excess vegetables and scratch.  

These birds are slightly lighter in size but are darker in meat.
Rather than just making stock we decided to have a go at making a chicken ragu.  I am not going to lie it is a lengthy process but well worth it.

Michael jointed the chicken and then I marinated the chicken in half a bottle of red wine, fresh rosemary and garlic.  This stage can be done for an hour or over night, all depends on your time and patience.

Once marinated the chicken pieces were removed and browned in oil in a dutch oven.  Once the chicken was browned I used the excess fat in the pot to brown three cloves of sliced garlic and to cook a tin of anchovies.

The chicken was returned to the pot along with the remainder of the marinade and two jars of home canned tomatoes.   All of this was brought to the boil on the stove top. Then the lid was popped on the pot and placed into the wood stove oven on 350F and left to cook for 3.5 hours.

Once cooked the chicken was falling away from the bone but we left it with the pot lid on and placed it on the counter top over night so all the juices could soak into the meat even more.
Next morning I pulled all the meat away from the bones.  We were pleasantly surprised how much meat we got and also how tender it was.

All the skin and bones can go into another pot and stock can be made with this if you wish.  I added the meat back to the sauce and cooked on a gentle simmer for another hour. Finally it was ready to serve for dinner on a bed of spaghetti squash.   Other sides could be Spaghetti or mashed potato or what ever takes your fancy.