Egad, December Already…It’s For the Birds!!!

Yikes, how quickly time has elapsed since my last post! I spent the tail end of the summer season and most of the fall helping my mother deal with some health issues as well as a move to a new apartment. All of that is difficult at any age but I think she is settling in at her new digs and is doing well now. I’m thankful that I have had the time and flexibility to help her with this transition.

Life at the farm continued a pace despite my lack of a regular or detailed reporting. The evidence is found in my photos (since I constantly whip out my phone to capture the moment at all times of day) but first, let me share Dave’s current Farm Report, which speaks volumes. As I’ve mentioned earlier, a copy of the report is deposited on my office chair nearly every day of the growing season and today was no exception despite the small degree of incremental changes at this time of year.

The report is condensed to one page, but it certainly gives a snap shot of the current production year with a quick comparison of last year’s numbers. (We are still harvesting 2014 cold season crops with the aid of cold frames and plastic sheeting – despite several really hard freezes! – so the year end totals are just about final but not quite!)
Drum roll: 2014 Cumulative YTD  Harvest = 2,309 lbs  vs. 1,644 in 2013!  Again, thanks to the hardworking honey bees?!?

Here are the 2014 top 10 producers in terms of weight (in pounds):

  1. Tomatoes                 573.8
  2. Cucumbers              369.9
  3. Eggplant                   199.3
  4. Potatoes                    197.5
  5. Strawberries            122.5
  6. Watermelon            106.6
  7. Cantaloupe              105.3
  8. Summer Squash       85.6
  9. Blueberries                66.6
  10. Green Beans              61.4

The actual list details 25 specific items but these totals do not yet include the slim orchard produce nor the honey from the first year of hive production!

For the most part, we experienced a mild fall and then all the sudden we had frosty temps and snow on the ground. The season changed so quickly that the trees and shrubs didn’t have a chance to doff their leaves or even their blooms! Case in point, our roses were blooming one day and were covered with snow the next! IMG_6940Many of our trees are still clinging to their leaves but where they have not, it is fun to spot all of the birds’ nests! Here is my favorite one…a humming bird nest in one of the new Trident Maples. I wish I could give this some scale, but I took the photo with my zoom lens and you will have to trust me, it is so tiny that a golf ball would surely fill the nest and stick out above!IMG_1810Our owl population seems to be quite healthy. I spotted a family of them hunting in the berry patches nearly every evening this fall. They have a unique bird call other than hooting which alerted me to their regular presence. They sometimes made themselves available for a photo op. They are heavy enough to have broken some of our netting posts! IMG_1690 I continue to be concerned for the smaller feathered friends and how they will find food and shelter this winter. On my daily walks from the farm into the nearby town of Kirkwood, I regularly pass a home where the front yard is filled with lovely bird houses. They are of all sizes and styles so I always think that the people who live in this home are bird enthusiasts too. One day, I saw a woman come from the house and since I was staring intently at her home, I felt the need to explain myself and I shouted out how much I admired their birdhouses. This led us to a nice conversation, followed by more conversations as we crossed paths again and now to a new friendship! It turns out that the woman, Tina, is married to a wonderfully talented carpenter, Vio, who is responsible for building the extraordinary birdhouses. We have since visited several more times and I am encouraging Vio that he might be able to sell his lovely birdhouses. In the meantime, I have received one as a gift and will hang it from the ginkgo tree outside of my office! Tina and Vio also have very prolific fruit trees on their property, so we have lots in common! IMG_4214IMG_0424Although cold temps have set in and the outdoor pace has slowed up a bit, we still have daily winter chores. Dave has a chance to catch up with maintenance on the essential tools and equipment that are used all season long. The tractor has been out and back for its yearly check up and other tools are in line for sharpening! We are forever trying to keep the edges of the fencing and property boundaries cleared, and so we recently splurged on His and Hers machetes!!! Yes, another tool to practice with since it has a sharp edge (careful!) as well as a serrated edge (ouch!) IMG_6915The fresh harvest from 2014 that was not consumed or shared with friends and family this year, was preserved  in many ways (dehydrated, canned and frozen) and we are steadily digging into the stockpile for our daily meals. Besides daily pickle and jam consumption, I can’t help but smile every morning as I fill a large bowl with blueberries and strawberries to thaw for a bit before adding my yogurt to the dish. Yum!

But this is the first year that we are reconstituting our dried harvest (tomatoes, zucchini, turnips, etc.) and adding it back into our meals. We have two full sized freezers (at their max capacity) with the frozen goods that we are pulling from at this juncture for our meals but our pantry also contains bags of the dehydrated veggies. Last night’s meal was one example of a combination of frozen, dehydrated and home canned goods all coming together in one meal. I started by putting a layer of dehydrated zucchini (yellow as well as green) in the bottom of a large casserole dish. I think of them as the pasta ingredient.IMG_6982Then I added a pint of our “jarred” or canned tomato sauce which will help to reconstitute the squash. IMG_6983On top of that I added roasted veggies that I had frozen in quart sized bags. This mixture includes cherry tomatoes, eggplant, green peppers and onions. IMG_6984I had some leftover ricotta in the fridge so I dolloped a bit of that into the mix before adding some mozzarella cheese and a bit of raw chicken breast that I cut into small pieces. IMG_6985 I topped this with the other half bag of the roasted veggies and the rest of the mozzarella and popped it all into the oven to cook for 45 minutes. This “Lasagne” fills our tummies with scrumptious summer veggies on a cold winter night. I hope this will answer some of the questions we get when people cannot imagine how we manage to eat all the veggies we grow! I’m so glad that we only ate half of this dish and so tonight’s meal is in the bag, so to speak!

I managed to continue to preserve several other items in the last months since these veggies waited their turn in the fridge. We love the carrots we harvested and although they are at #20 in the list of harvested produce, we were able to put 20+ pounds away in the freezer! Here they are after a good cleaning and trimming.  IMG_6781Then sliced. IMG_6782And blanched before bagging for the freezer. IMG_6783 copyMuch to Dave’s delight, I also processed the banana peppers into a pickled version that he loves to put on sandwiches. Although the Farm Report says that we only harvested 12 or so pounds of these, that was quite enough for me! I made about 20 jars and Dave is plowing through them quickly!IMG_6876 copy And now for the bee report! In August, Jurgen entered his honey in the Missouri State Fair and won 4th place in one of many categories that were judged! Of course I thought this was terrific since it was his first time entering, but he seems to have his eye on a blue ribbon in the future! IMG_6755He also made a ‘creamed’ or ‘whipped’ honey out of his raw honey and sold it with great success at the local farmer’s market. The neat thing about this type of honey is that it is very spreadable and easy to handle. I was able to watch him make it but won’t disclose his secret recipe since I liked being on the receiving end of this product! He still has honey for sale if anyone is interested. As most of you already know, I’m most proud of the honey from Seven Oaks. Here are my jars with front and back labels….ready for holiday gift giving! IMG_7005