In a Pickle or a Jam? A Rainy Fourth of July!

It has been a soggy holiday weekend with a much needed rain that has kept us out of the fields the last couple of days but conditions did not stop the other activities around here since I’ve continued to make jam (blueberry at this point) and have started the first of the pickle makings! Yahoo!

The cukes are best when first harvested at the desired size of about 4-5 inches long and require a twice a day picking at this point in order to not let them grow too quickly and get out of hand. Given some daytime heat and some extra moisture, they will increase in size significantly in a short amount of time so we have to be zealous about harvesting. We planted 2 varieties in 18 hills with 4 plants each and they are doing great this year!  IMG_2496The bees love to help out with pollination! IMG_2498.jpgSo, much like other years, I have started with our favorite sweet pickle recipe and weighed up 9 pounds on each of the last couple of days to wash and slice up. IMG_2621IMG_2622.jpg

They get a quick brine in a vinegar/salt/sugar/mustard seed mixture on the stove top which is essentially blanching them in a brine mixture for several minutes before draining.IMG_2639.jpgI then pack them tightly – steaming hot – into pint jars before adding a sweetly spiced, cooked syrup that has thickened on the stove top in the background. Ouch to fingers!IMG_2641.jpgThis reliable recipe makes 10 pints of crisp, sweet pickles which I’ve done twice already in the last two days. I’ve already made 31 half pints of blueberry jam in addition to freezing countless gallon bags of them. If it weren’t raining, I’d be picking berries now to add to the 90 plus pounds I have harvested this year to date. Here are some of the pickles and blueberry jam jars cooling while waiting for labels.IMG_2629.jpgThe garlic bulbs have finished drying after two weeks on their screen bed and were ready today to trim and put in the “root cellar”, aka the basement. I cut their long necks and put them into the mesh bags I had purchased for this purpose and off they went to hang in a dark, cool corner of the basement where I will send my messenger, Dave, to grab a head every now and then for cooking during the coming year.

IMG_2727IMG_2728Dave started digging the potatoes recently and got less than three of the ten rows dug so far – weighing in over 53 pounds – before the rain started in so they are also in the cool, dark basement as well! We expect quite a nice continued harvest of Pontiac Reds to compliment more of the Yukon Golds as seen below. IMG_2654.jpgWith all the processing I’ve been doing these days, I decided to wise up and get some bulk items to help keep the cost down. For instance, I found a great pectin supplier in a small, family owned company in northern California called Pacific Pectin. So instead of opening an individual package of Sure-Gel every time I make a batch of jam, I’m measuring out the equivalent amount from a 10 pound box. What a savings for a jam maker like me!IMG_2107.jpgI’ve also taken to buying my sugar in 25lb bags. IMG_2045.jpgThis requires some strong arms and pre-planning which I’ve been working on as well as the supplies for pickles shown here. Gallon containers of vinegar were on sale recently so I’m grabbing as many jugs and noting the amounts subtracted from each so as to keep my constant measuring sensible. IMG_2642.jpgWhen I have time, I pre-measure bags of sugar for specific recipes so that I have a system called ‘mis en place’ – French for ‘things in place’ – so as to keep the stress of the fast paced, heated cooking the simplest. This helped out when making 85 jars of strawberry jam!IMG_2108.jpgOther crops are doing well and we are serving a large variety at mealtimes: turnips, broccoli, swiss chard, lettuces, scallions, peas and peppers and more. The tomatoes are just beginning to ripen and it looks as though we will have a good harvest. I’m investigating another method of preserving our harvest this year as I purchased a vacuum sealer recently. Everyone raves about these machines but I’ve been hesitant since I’ve been pretty successful so far with my other tools. IMG_2643.jpgSo far, so good. I worked up some Swiss chard today into nice bundles for the freezer. I consider this another tool in my war chest…I’ll keep you posted as to my opinion of usefulness. IMG_2733.jpgSo, besides all I’m trying to accomplish on the farm lately, I’ve been asked to give a presentation at the Missouri Botanical Garden, August 2nd, on Preserving Your Harvest. What an honor…but it does require me to get a professional presentation ready so this is how I’m spending my spare time! My biggest fear is a sea of empty seats, so please attend if you can!

We had a fun visit from our avid blog reader and friend, Mary Ann Segal and husband Paul, who came in from Beloit, WI for the weekend and got to see what is going on at the farm! Photo credit to Mary Ann who documented the visit with this pic! Of course we had homemade blueberry coffee cake to munch on!imagejpeg_0.jpgThe chicks provided some of the entertainment and at one week old, are doing quite well despite eating us out of house and home as they are consuming at least 3 quarts of feed each day! Tail feathers are now apparent on some of the varieties. IMG_2638.jpg

Despite the rainy day, we joined the Wards for a bit of fun Independence Day celebration. Coulter rode in the neighborhood street parade in his decorated wagon.IMG_2680And we joined in for a group photo that included other JBS faculty members and their families! Happy Fourth of July! IMG_2713.jpg

Chick Up Date

Here is an update for eager readers interested in the chick status. They are all doing wonderfully and  I’m taking lots and lots of photos. This morning I found them all sleeping in a carpet of chicks, huddled together for warmth despite the heat lamp! Aww!IMG_2576They are starting to develop their wing feathers which you can see here on this central gal who is a Cinnamon Queen variety.

IMG_2606Aren’t they so cute!!! The thermometer you see on the floor of the brooder is indicating the temp but they ignore it and so do I at this point since they are very comfy. The construction crew has been working hard to finalize the coop areas and the presence of the chicks seems to have ignited their spirit as well. They made these screened tops for the temporary brooder containers so that when they start to jump a bit they will be contained. IMG_2608When they graduate from the brood boxes, they will go to their indoor coop for a while which is a nice interior area of the barn. Here are the finished nesting boxes in the coop that have an opening in back (on my workshop side) to allow for egg retrieval for anyone not willing to deal with laying hens! There is also a special security screening on the coop window area which lets light in but not critters!!! IMG_2612Below is their 3 tiered, adjustable, coop roosting area with a “drop board” below that will allow me to clean off their nightly ‘deposits’ very efficiently. I lined the lower area of the interior coop with ‘Hardie Board’ siding so I can spray it down and wash all of the excrement into the sewer floor drain. There is also a hose bib below the drop board area that will be the watering station providing an in line, fresh water system for their drinking pleasure!

IMG_2593My work shop, which is next door to the coop, has a sink and other amenities as well…ok, there is a toilet too that is not pictured! IMG_2614I couldn’t resist hanging some of chick artwork in my workshop today! IMG_2615.jpgHere is their covered, fresh air run that is ultra secured with a concrete foundation surrounded by galvanized, heavy duty hardware screening. The top (ceiling) is ventilated to let the heat out but also screened off to prevent the chickens from trying to roost up top. These girls will be spoiled!IMG_2613It is a good thing we are taking such precautions since I found these racoon tracks just outside of the coop area this morning! Arg! IMG_2535.jpgBut no day is complete around here without a bit of precious time with Coulter who makes our days on the farm extra special. He finds the joy in every corner and inspires us to do the same!

A Very Fun ‘Chick’ Trip

So the baby chicks, one day old, have finally arrived at the farm! Hurrah!  My friend Joan and I made an early trip to Cackle Hatchery this morning to pick up the order of chicks I had previously reserved. This hatchery is about a 2.5 hour drive from here and we left early from the farm with great enthusiasm.  Joan and I have been friends for 30+ years and would often find ourselves wearing similar attire. So it was no surprise today when Joan arrived and we found ourselves in nearly matching outfits. Off we went to Lebanon, Missouri for a chick trip to pick up the chicks!IMG_2506.jpgWe arrived at the hatchery in good time and the counter guy went to the back to pick up my order. This fellow opened the box marked ‘Sauerhoff’ and here is what I saw. I fell in love instantly with all of them!IMG_2508.jpgMy original order was for 3 each (recommended numbers for less pecking) of 4 varieties giving me a reasonable total of 12 hens, right? The hatching dates were pre-set by the hatchery but I was missing out on at least one variety that I would have liked to have had so they told me I could call them early on the hatching morning (yesterday, June 27) to see if they had an “over hatch” which would allow me to possibly get access to a variety that was otherwise sold out on that date. I did this and found I could get 2 of the varieties I was not previously able to get, so my numbers grew! Yikes!

Suddenly I had 18 on order rather than 12! Funny, (I’m not sure Dave is laughing but I have the room to accommodate!) but it turns out they added a couple extras to the order and I arrived home with – surprise – 21 lively chicks!  Yikes!IMG_2516.jpgHere they are in their new homemade brooder which consists of a very large plastic bin, shaving and 2 waterers and a feeder. The varieties – all docile egg layers- are great back yard types as follows:

  • Buff Orpington
  • Barred Rock
  • Rhode Island White
  • New Hampshire
  • Cinnamon Queen
  • Easter Egger

Little Coulter  arrived today for a visit!  The infra red lamp makes the photo quality tough and is also a heat concern for his little fingers but he was excited to see them!IMG_2518.jpgHe was happy to look at the chicks for awhile and then wanted to sit on his favorite tractor! Some things never change! I’m following all of the new chick instructions to a ‘Tee’ and will be updating as things progress. For now, thanks to Joan for the wonderfully fun chick trip today!