Jamming at Seven Oaks

It is hard to believe that we continue to be stuck in such a constant rain pattern here. The rains from June have continued to soak us thus far into July and our rain gauge shows that we have had more than 3 inches so far in the first 9 days of July. (Dave checks the rain gauge every morning at 7am and records this total in his farm spreadsheet. The gauge is accurate to the 100th of an inch which is pretty amazing. If you missed my earlier blog about this particular gauge, it can be found here: https://sevenoaksfarm.net/2013/06/26/rain-rain-rain/.

Thankfully, we’ve had two dry days in a row but the heat and humidity are fierce now and so are the mosquitoes. Dave was able to get out to mow this afternoon but had to stay clear of areas that are still too wet to approach. The orchard trees that were so badly wind damaged appear to be alive so far which is wonderful but we aren’t holding our breath.

We are finding small windows of time to do whatever chores are left for us to accomplish outdoors. My friends have gotten used to me prefacing everything by only committing to doing things according to the rain status. “Sure I can join you, but only if it is raining!” Otherwise, I am scrambling to pick berries or work in spots that are still accessible. Although the fields look like swamps and have standing water, Dave has managed to work with what he can in the tomato patch…or what is left of it. Despite the dismal conditions, mother nature has allowed many volunteer tomato plants to sprout from the seeds of last year’s plants (shhh, don’t tell Monsanto!) and from those, he has potted a few that might produce some fruit this year! It will be fun to figure out what varieties these are since some already have blossoms and the bees have found them! At least they are able to drain as they sit on the back terrace wall. IMG_8386Other than that, the berries are about the only thing that is impressive at this point. I’ve harvested just under 150 pounds of blueberries so far this year which is more than twice that of last year’s total and there are more to bring in still. This year we are keeping track of the harvest weights of each of the 5 varieties which we had not done before. One variety in particular, Blue Ray, is so prolific that it has produced nearly 58 pounds so far, approaching the total blueberry count for all of last year! This variety has very large fruit that is tightly clumped and so is very easy to pick, almost like grapes. Other varieties hang from the stem more like cherries but have smaller fruits so the volume vs. time commitment to harvest is quite obvious. Although I’m tempted to say, “why didn’t we just plant this one variety?”, I have to remind myself that we must continue to work on diversity of plant material which helps the pollinators find diversity in bloom time and keep the eco system in balance. Otherwise, I would be just like those large, commercial farms that have acres and acres of only one crop in production (that makes money for them) but is actually bad for the rest of the environment. But, guess what…I still love to harvest the plentiful easy rows the most!

But, with so many blueberries to eat and freeze this year it is interesting to distinguish between the 5 varieties as far as flavor, in addition to size, color and volume of production. Now that we have eaten our fill of fresh berries and frozen as many as we can, I decided to make blueberry jam this year and am using some of the smaller fruit varieties that are very flavorful to do so. I have made this jam using one variety at a time and noting which jars contain which variety (not so for the strawberries) so it will be interesting to see if any distinctions of flavor and texture are apparent to the average taster. Here are some of the washed up berries ready for jam making. Their skins are so dark, but their flesh is quite pale. IMG_8364The general recipe I followed said to chop or mash the fruit first so into the Cuisinart (in batches) they went with a pulse action to barely chop them. IMG_8366Then they went into a big pot on the stove top and I added the appropriate amount of pectin per weight. IMG_8368I then brought that to a boil before adding the sugar. IMG_8371Once the fruit and sugar mix comes to a boil that you “can’t stir down”, the mix boils for 1 minute before shutting off the heat and scooping this very hot, syrupy mix into the waiting jars. It is amazing to see the deep purple/blue color evolve thru the heat process. You have to work fast so that the mixture doesn’t begin to thicken prematurely. The jars then go into a hot water bath for 5 minutes before they pop out to cool and self seal. I just love the popping of the lids when the vacuum takes place. IMG_8384So far I’ve made 42 half pints but have given some away already despite the fact that the pretty labels I’ve ordered have not arrived yet. I’ll try to be patient for those since they will make the jam into a commodity, along with the honey this year!

The brisket burgers from last month were such a big hit here that (with a little encouragement from the Wards) we did some research and ordered a nice electric grinder from a company that sells a model for every type of consumer. It arrived one day last week. Thank goodness Dave was here to lug it inside since it is heavy!.

IMG_8383So we bought another brisket which I cubed and put into the freezer to firm up for an hour. I think 30 minutes would have been enough so that will go into the mental notes for next time. Of course I thoroughly washed all the working parts to get the industrial grease cleaned off before the first use and let them dry.

IMG_8385 I then carefully put the pieces back into place and loaded the tray with the meat and helped feed it into the medium grinder plate.  IMG_8393Viola, the motor did all the work this time instead of me and we have nearly 4.75lbs of lovely ground brisket, ready for hamburger patties!

I know it is a snore to write about this twice, but with the swamped exterior conditions, we had to find other ways to be productive! The Wards are eager to share the goods and I hope will be good critics of my lean to fat ratio this time around.

IMG_8396Although it is hard not to be depressed by the weather and the effects it has had on our production this year, it does help to put things into perspective and realize that we need to keep a balance in our lives. Baby Coulter continues to be a joy in our lives and we are happy to make time for him often which also helps his parents. He is more interactive now with contagious smiles and cooing. Here he is celebrating the 4th of July at Lake of the Ozarks where he got to spend time with his Grampa Bill. It is hard to believe that he will be 12 weeks old next week! IMG_0040I hope to have good news re bees and my venom allergy remedy for the next blog…stay tuned!

A Fungus Among Us

And so the Rain with a capital ‘R’ continues…ugh! We have come to the tough realization that the last month of incessant rains has not only brought much damage to the farm’s fields but also to the orchard. Several trees now have yellow leaves…signs of their drowning status. We have two fruit trees, a plum and a pear, that have already given up and sadly, I’m afraid that several more will follow.

With the fields and the orchard in such a state of demise, just what is it that flourishes in these wet conditions? Perhaps I need a crash course on mushrooms and various edible fungi!?!? They are sprouting up everywhere. If only I knew which ones to eat…we could possibly have a grand and colorful harvest after all! Here are some I photographed on my recent walk in the neighborhood. Isn’t nature grand?IMG_8343IMG_8344IMG_8342IMG_8356IMG_8357IMG_8355IMG_8346IMG_8349IMG_8347IMG_8350Thankfully, the blueberries are still producing and I’ve harvested a few ounces short of 100lbs so far with promise of more to come. The birds are still eager to get beyond the perimeter netting which is annoying but something is also getting to the birds that do! Here is a ‘nest’ of feather remains I found the other day inside one of the nets which makes me think that some poor bird was attacked while taking a snack. IMG_8121

I did have the most incredible experience while picking berries the other day and want to share it here. I saw a blue jay that got inside one of the rows of netted berries (which normally makes me irritated to see that the birds have compromised my system of berry protection) and his partner was perched outside the net on one of the corner posts. I looked up after being startled by their commotion and found that the bird inside the net had a berry in his beak and was “feeding” it to his partner outside the net! OMG! I was floored at this cooperative effort and watched this take place more than once! What a devoted pair of birds! It was worth sharing my harvest with them!

In other bird news…our barn swallows (absent so far this spring/summer) swooped in and reappeared today! Yeah! We are so excited to welcome them to the nest they built two years and occupied last year as well in the front porch entryway! Goodness knows, with all this moisture, there are plenty of mosquitoes for them to eat!

Here is one little guy, grandson Coulter, who is managing to eat at every opportunity! Here he is thinking about his dad’s ham and cheese sandwich! IMG_0038Knitting news to share: I worked on this sweater while at my mother’s bedside during her last weeks and completed it shortly after she died. I will enjoy wearing it and thinking of her since she helped me pick out the buttons (from my collection) just days before she passed. IMG_8188 (1)