We woke up today to Beckett announcing “It’s the first frost! And it’s awesome!” The grass and roof were frosted white, reflecting the morning sun. Beckett and Casey had made a couch nest on the 1st floor to have their own sleepover while Russell spent the night in our bed. They made a perimeter of chairs into a wall that seemed to protect them from any 1st floor night monsters, though they may not admit to that. I really enjoyed waking up to this scene because our kids were noticing the changes in the natural environment on their own. It comes up subtly and sporadically, but I’ve seen all of them observing the land, our animals, and the details in our own behavior a bit more. This may naturally come with children aging, but the observations filled with wonderment always remind me of early scientists from the middle ages discovering our world anew.
The first frost is a natural reminder to us that we should be done harvesting most of our outdoor summer growth, planting winter crops, and making sure our animals are ready for the winter. Today, Molly and Ry harvested the cardoons that grew into full bushes in the high tunnel. She’ll prep some of them and freeze more, and hopefully find some local chefs who are interested in using them. Molly has memories of harvesting and preparing them while she did her internship with Chez Panisse of Berkeley, California. This formative experience for her was the foundation of working with farms and restaurants to create quality dishes with quality ingredients. The stalks of the cardoon, a member of the artichoke family, can be used in gratins, soups, or even fried.
Yesterday was one of the many days of pepper processing that has occurred. Mostly jalapeño peppers were pickled with garlic, apple cider vinegar, and a little sugar. In the past month, paprika, shakshuka, and oil packed shishito were other pepper days. Sweet peppers were cut and frozen to be used this winter for chili, fajitas, and stir fry. Ginger wasabi green beans, dill pickles, honey bread and butter pickles, lemon cucumber relish, golden cherry tomato salsa, canned tomatoes, and pesto have all been made and stored for the future. The dill slices are my favorite so far, which have Chicago pickling cucumbers, dill, garlic, apple cider vinegar, and pickling spice. Molly also made some fire cider with aromatics and tinctures of lemon balm and oregano. I just had a shot of the fire cider to fight an impending cold, and it lives up to its name and cleared my sinuses.
The racks of truly beautiful mason jars of food remind me of one of my favorite endings to a novel, My Ántonia by Willa Cather. After a tough life of pioneering, poverty, and deprivation, a life of which we’ll never know, the title character is revisited to be found happy in rural Nebraska with a root cellar packed full of items harvested from the farm. Ántonia experienced the hardships of immigration, gender inequities, and sexual assault (if I remember correctly), nevertheless, she persisted to become a symbol of bounty and life. This ending scene of prosperity and vitality was probably more present on recent farm visit we did, rather than our meager 1st year of harvest.
Peter Bane and Keith Johnson are our permaculture consultants for our project and our friends. They invited us up to their farm in Montague to see the progress they have made on their own farm and to see some of their practices in person. It was inspirational for a number of reasons, but as we brought some of our bounty to share with them, we drove away amazed to have more wares than we had brought. They have been harvesting for years with fine-tuned and simple recipes for such a variety of wonderful products. In addition, their processes for collecting water, producing heat, and reusing so many different materials were truly inspiring. For example, a simple pit by one of their new trees was dug and had a number of paper products that they had saved. Once the pit was full, they would cover it with dirt, and it would act as a sponge to retain water for their tree. Then, they would dig another one next to another tree. It was a simple solution that only requires a bit of thoughtfulness and daily dedication to reuse everything. As a person who loves efficiency in systems and would love to reduce the waste of our own household, I had a glorious moment while looking at their simple paper pit. But, it wasn’t only that, there were so many simple solutions and thoughtfulness on their property, it renewed our embrace of permaculture.
One issue that comes with the first frost is how ready our your animal systems for the winter. How will their shelters and water be affected by the cold? Although our particular species of sheep are northern hardy stock, we want all of our animals to be comfortable when temperatures drop. Thankfully, our chicken tractor for broilers is now empty after having them processed. Our pond-fearing ducks will be moved to within the garden fence for safety and access to the frostless hydrant by the high tunnel. We can close the garden fence for safety, but still leave Duckingham palace open so they’ll be a bit more independent. This solves an eventual frozen hose issue and will hopefully permit me to keep the ducks a bit longer. Molly would like to process all of the ducks, while I want to keep the females (and maybe one male) for eggs. Though they are a hassle, I love their giant eggs and continual quacking during the day.
In about a month, we’ll be shuffling our Katahdin and Icelandic sheep so they’ll have time to breed, and then they’ll need to be separated again by gender. Four of our lambs will go to market and be processed. Five Katahdin and three Icelandic sheep will hopefully be pregnant for spring lambing. One of our goats, Gidget, will visit Ry’s farm, in order to breed with his buck, Monty. This shuffle requires us to have multiple stalls with pasture and water access. I want to attempt to keep the rain collection water insulated and warm enough to continue providing for our flock. This may be a bit more difficult, but saves us from trenching a line to our current well. It’s our first year with animals during the winter, and since we have so much water collected (around 2000 gallons), I’d like to see if it’s viable option for keeping them watered. Now that we have electric and solar power in the barn, a few heating elements should be able to keep the totes warm enough.
Molly is in the midst of making me my favorite dish of hers: Wisconsin Brat, Beer, and Cheddar soup. There is a chill in the air outside as Ry finishes harvesting the carrots and beets. He’ll be in shortly for lunch. It’s a good time at the farm to take stock of all that we have produced and plan for the coming winter over a bowl of hot soup with crusty bread.
“But she still had that something which fires the imagination, could still stop one’s breath for a moment by a look or gesture that somehow revealed the meaning in common things. She had only to stand in the orchard, to put her hand on a little crab tree and look up at the apples, to make you feel the goodness of planting and tending and harvesting at last. All the strong things of her heart came out in her body, that had been so tireless in serving generous emotions. It was no wonder that her sons stood tall and straight. She was a rich mine of life, like the founders of early races.”
― Willa Cather,