Monday, February 02, 2009

State of the Homestead Report

Mid-winter. Starving time. Full hunger moon.

A groundhog in Pennsylvania predicts 6 more weeks of the stuff, and though the days are getting longer, fresh food this time of year is often scarce. Time to assess food storage and adjust planting times, quantities, and varieties accordingly for next growing season. What worked and what didn't? What held and what didn't? What do you wish you had more of or less of?

Our food stores are holding out well here, and we still have plenty of home-canned goods.* We're starting to run low on raspberry jam, but hopefully it won't be too long before we have a fresh crop, so I think it will hold out. Strawberry and black raspberry jams still going strong. Plenty of tomatoes in all fashions—need to start using those more often. Still lots of peaches, though I'm sure those will be gone before peach season rolls around again. Salsas holding well, though I'd like to put up more hot next year. Soups going strong; need to nudge Jim to take more into work.

Onions are holding out well, though we're running low on red onions. Will plant an extra row of both yellow and red this coming year. Garlic still going strong. Still have several leeks. Hopefully all these alliums will hold out until the first harvestable batch of spring onions and garlic.

We're just about through all the red potatoes we put up, which are now sprouting and shriveling but still work for mashed potatoes. Yes, that's the bottom of the bin you see there. Our yukon golds still look great—will plant more of those next year, hopefully in an early and a later batch. They probably will not hold out until harvest time next year, though that would be a neat trick if I could pull it off. We do love our homegrown potatoes around here. We still have some fingerlings that are just starting to sprout, which I'm hoping to hold as seed potatoes for March. We'll see how they do.

Winter squash was a no-go thanks to the hordes of squash bugs during the 2008 growing season. *sigh* I've ordered some organic insecticides and will be moving to a pre-emptive spraying program for the squashes in 2009 as loathe as I am to do it. The problem is that as soon as you know you have a problem, it's often too late to address it with organic sprays, which don't tend to operate on the instant-kill model of conventional pesticides. I will also be trying several non-spray-reliant methods, including later planting and heavy composting, which will hopefully help strengthen the plants. Regular compost tea applications should help as well. We do use barrier methods while the plants are young, but as soon as we need to take them off for pollination, we get crushed.

Meat is holding well. Plenty of pork and chicken, though we've definitely made room in the freezer for a side of beef we'ree hoping to get from down the road. In 2008, we raised 100 broilers, about 25 of which we sold. For 2009 I'm planning to raise just 75 for our consumption, 25 for whole roasters and 50 for parts. That sounds like a lot, I'm sure, but for a family of five, that will feed us quite nicely for a whole year, allowing us to have some kind of chicken at least twice a week for dinner. We won't be selling chicken or pork for 2009; we just can't charge enough to make it worthwhile.

Frozen butter holding well. Bulk goods are doing fine in a normal rotation, and we're still lucky enough to be harvesting fresh greens and herbs from the high tunnels.

It will soon be time to start planting my seedlings!

*Yes, my dirty little secret: we use soft, bleached toilet paper. Sorry, we're just not willing to make that sacrifice yet. I could try to play it off as barter material in the event of a major emergency, but we all know that would be a lie.

++Editing to add that we also still have a whole refrigerator drawer full of turnips, and a very large bag of carrots. Definitely planting the Eliot Coleman hybrid "Napoli" carrot from Johnny's for next fall. It sized up very nicely compared to the heirloom "red core chantenay," which I'll still plant, but in the spring.


Carolyn said...

Great report! Thanks for sharing. Love those shelves. Very Organized!

Christy said...

Good to read your plans, it helps me to plan too. Do you process the chickens yourself or take them somewhere? What breed do you get for broilers and how long to you keep them. We are definitely doing them this year.

Gracie said...

Gosh I wish my stash looked as neat and orderly as yours. Great post. Very informative and gave me things to think about in our own garden this year.
Thank you.

el said...

Great work Ms D.

Good luck and do report on the squash status. I swear some years I have them in pestilential torrents and some years they're only mildly annoying, but all the ones that come through best are either sprouts from the compost pile itself or are rooted heavily in big piles of compost. I am considering doing a couple varieties in the greenhouse...are you?

~Crystal~ said...

I would love a ‘bigger’ picture of your storage. As you know, I’m a HUGE food storage junkie. We’re getting ready to add an indoor-cold room and I would like a closer look at what you’ve done.

Hey, and I’m in the process of getting our side of beef. I’m splitting with a friend. I’m very unsure of what ‘extras’ to get. Should I get the tongue, tallow, innards? That is where I am quite confused and intimidated. I’m thinking, ‘yes’ on all of those and then I’ll just need to figure it out as I go. Any suggestions or sites you could recommend?

As for ‘starting your seedlings’, I have a question. Today I’m hosing off all last years pots, etc. Some people use a bleach solution to ‘extra’ clean them. Do you find that necessary?

Loving your blog! So darn inspiring!

Country Girl said...

Good report. I look forward to putting up much more food this year. We put up 50 broilers, it was our first year of raising them. I love the looks of your pantry. I am working to get one set up.

Angie said...

(Saw your email on the foodstorage group) I've never tried it myself, but a community garden near me posted this last season -

The Organic Gardener by Catherine Foster, published by Knops says that you can spread wood ashes around squash and other cucurbits to prevent squash bugs from infesting, or you can spray with onion or garlic spray.

It's worth a shot!

Madeline said...

I love hearing the amounts that you store. It makes me feel tucked in and secure even by association. Using up all of our stores was always so hard for us (so I did much less this year), but maybe that is because we were freezing rather than canning and I wasn't thawing them properly. I have been baking like crazy since you left. Once again you inspired me.

Lisa said...

Crystal,I'm not big on eating the "extras"although I've tried a few.The suet,which is where you get tallow from,makes wonderful soap.I get it free from a custom butcher,I guess from all the people who don't want their extras.

Sylvie said...

Danielle, found your blog a few weeks ago, and I keep coming back to it: it is so informative. And I know how much work that is! There are a lot of things you do that are on my dream list. Some we are implementing, and some are still in the future. And some might never been accomplished. Sigh.

We've had a terrible onslaught of squash bugs too last summmer (but not my neighbor across the creek - go figure!), and since I planted the squash with the corn, I could not cover them with agrofabrics for insect protection. Of the 10 or so varieties I planted, the two winners were butternut and Sucrine du Berry: despite the insect depredation, both still produced lots of fruit that were good enough to store. As I took stock of the storage yesterday, we had eaten all the butternut but still have 4 large sucrine. I was not thrilled about the texture though: it's almost like a spaghetti squash. As long as you expect it, it's fine, but if not, it makes a little surprise. Good flavor, though.

I definitively have to do a better job curing the sweet potatoes, as I just had to send a bunch of them to the compost pile. The ones that were cured well are doing beautiful.

Like you, plenty of tomato products too, canned or frozen, as well as canned & frozen peaches, frozen berries, frozen melons, canned pears, green beans and a smattering of this and that. While me made a big dent in buying "outside" veggies, we are clearly not there yet. Which is why blogs like yours are so inspiring.

And for Crystal: As far as extra I always ask for soup bones/dog bones, liver, tongue - because I know I will use them. If you have dogs, I am sure they'd be happy with the hearts too (although I understand, it's delicious, I have never cooked it yet - may ask for it next time). If you know you'll use it, ask for it, If you are not sure, just ask for a pound or two.

Thanks again Danielle.


Danielle said...

Thank you for the kudos. Yes, the pantry is a place for me to direct all of my OCD energy. I was just able to borrow a labeler, too, so that should be loads of fun!

Christy, we've done both, but we've found that for processing a large batch that it makes far more sense to take them up to a small Mennonite butcher in our area. They're fast and inexpensive. Having the right equipment helps tremendously, but pluckers are crazy expensive, even if you build your own. Here's a link to the whizbang, a plucker you can build yourself.

I prefer the slow growing broilers from Privett hatchery. They are excellent on pasture, very active, and no health problems. Of course, they take twice as long to feed out, but they produce a nice table bird—about 4-5 lbs in 12-14 weeks.

El, no, I don't keep the greenhouses up over the warm months. We pull them down to allow rain, etc. to flush the soil, hopefully prolonging the plastic life as well as preventing too significant a salt build up in the soil. Though the irrigation lines don't help with that.

This year, I'm planning to solarize at least part of the soil in my original greenhouse where things seem to be struggling to grow, and I'm hoping to squeeze in a planting of buckwheat before fall rolls around. So one whole high tunnel area will be out of commission this summer. I'll put shade cloth over the other to do lettuces again.

Crystal, my pantry's in a small room, so it's really hard to get a good wide angle on it. In my experience, butchers differ on what extras they're willing/ allowed to give, and how much tallow you can get depends on the carcass itself. As others have said, especially if you have dogs, getting anything and everything makes good sense. We're moving further and further away from commercial pet food here. You might want to check out the book Nose to Tail Eating for some ideas.

As to bleaching my pots, yes, I figure it's an easy insurance policy. Plus, it's an easy thing for me to make do double duty: I can mix up a mild bleach solution and run the animal feeders/ waterers through it, then dump a load of seedling pots in to finish up. I do this throughout the season, and by the time fall rolls around, I've usually gotten all of them clean and put away. I try to clean the feeders/ waterers about every 6 weeks or so—basically when I get around to it and a stiff spray and swish with my hand no longer gets the algae/ yuck out.

I have a big 18 gallon tote with a lid that I use for this in the barn. I can drop a load in, cover it so no animals or kids can accidentally get in, leave it for five minutes while I do other chores, then cycle another round through, etc. I will also use the dump water to clean/ scrub the stall mats if I've had something in the barn. That way, I get the most use out of a single bleach solution as possible. If I don't have a stall that needs to be cleaned out, then I allow the tub to sit covered for a couple of days before dumping, giving the bleach plenty of time to dissipate.

Angie, thanks for the tip! Lord knows I have plenty of wood ash, so I'll give it a try.

Madeline, "tucked in and secure" is way better than afraid! That's really what it's all about: knowing that I can provide comforting and nutritious food for my family, come what may. It's one more way of stepping outside the system.

Sylvie, what a wonderful comment; thank you for leaving so much detail. I always love to hear which varieties have worked for others.

Adventures On Beck's Bounty said...

What did you pack your potatoes in for winter keeping ? (sawdust, dirt, ??) We have canned / frozen / dehydrated garden crops for preservation, but have not tried this type of "root cellar'ish" storage for potatoes, onions, apples, etc. But we hope to try it out this year. Any recommendations would be appreciated !

Grace & Peace,

Michelle said...

Great Larder/pantry and really informative post. You have inspired me to organise and store more.

~Crystal~ said...

Hi Danielle, I came across this blog and thought I'd pass along.

matschmomma said...

We use a wash of organic soap and water to spray on our plants... then just before it's dry do a light dusting of flour. Works great... might be worth a try on a plant or two in your area.
Happy gardening!