Sunday, October 21, 2012

Foraging, Freezer Filling, and Fun

Life on the farm can be interesting to say the least - you never know what is coming next. You need to be ready for almost anything - at any time.

The past three weeks found us shifting gears from collecting acorns and wild mushrooms, to healing a sick sheep, to watching boys gather eggs and roast peppers.  We were even gladly interrupted one evening by our kindly neighbor and bow hunter, Jim Sanders, who dropped us off a deer he harvested on a neighboring property.  Al even gets attacked by one of his own roosters... (he's now in the freezer)  A bio-diverse farm - it is quite the experience for sure!

Since our last update, the earthen oven has really come a long way - it now has just one thick insulating layer of cob to go.  Dave built a beautiful arched opening, and we hope to fire the oven up in the coming weeks for a test run.

The bees are doing well, but one of the two hives in particular was not able to produce enough honey for food for the winter, so we will be supplementing with large sugar cakes inside the tops of the hives. Bees do not go dormant and will even venture outside when the temps move over fifty degrees.

Opala, one of our yearling Icelandic lambs became ill recently from a heavy parasite load and required treatment.  Watch this very interesting video here:

The boys were busy helping Al & Dave build a second sheep shelter for spring.  They really enjoyed working a full size hammer and driving the large nails home to secure the hemlock siding.  When they needed a break for some sustenance, a batch of freshly made Kale Chips was waiting for them in the kitchen.

Here's how to do it:  Simply coat de-ribbed kale leaves with olive oil, some salt and pepper and bake until crunchy somewhere between 250 and 325 for 10 - 15 minutes - turning once is best.
Keep an eye on these as they are best when dark green and crunchy - try to keep them from turning brown.  They are outstanding!    

Along w/ brussel sprouts and root crops, kale is the one vegetable that keeps on giving long after the first frost.  Another outstanding way to use up that extra kale and get some serious nutrition at the same time is to make a "massaged" kale salad.   Just de-vein some kale leaves ("dinosaur" kale works best) and rubbed them down well with a generous dowsing of olive oil and some salt an pepper.  Then add fresh or dried fruit, nuts, shredded carrots, or anything you can think of.  We are particularly fond of dried currants.  Tahini also works as dressing.

As the October chill begins to set in each night, we have been forced to make a decision regarding heating the old farmhouse - stay on as oil addicts with our oil burner, or get the old Kalamazoo convection wood/coal furnace in the basement back in action.   We have chosen the latter.

The old furnace works like a champ and heats the house thoroughly very quickly.  There are warm spots since the heat radiates through only one central floor grate, but all in all it does a great job.  With close to 40 acres of woodlot, we are pleased to be using our own resource to heat the home.  Now Dave and Al will be doing a lot of chainsawing and hand splitting of fallen timber to stock up for winter.

Speaking of trees, Al and his dad,Dave recently cleaned out the hollow side of the 300 - 400 year old sugar maple up near the waterfalls.  The old giant had been struck by lightening years ago and a large limb and section of the tree had collapsed about five years ago, opening a depression of sorts where rotten wood, soil and debris were accumulating.  This has since been cleared out to allow the cavity to air dry and prevent further rotting.

We close with a link to what having a family farm is all about - kids really enjoying themselves and discovering so many new and interesting things each and every day...

Enjoy some more photos below from the first half of October at Old School Farm...  and feel free to pass on our blog if you are enjoying it - thanks !

Quercus macrocarpa - Mossy Cup Oak -
Delicious for Acorn muffins.
Dave Benner with 1/2 of a "Chicken of the woods" mushroom -
These can weigh up to 25 lbs and are incredible sauteed - especially in scrambled eggs.

Dave adding an insulating layer of clay/sand/straw
mix to earthen oven.
Al with giant golden storage beet - the greens are even delicious
Als' friend Adrian takes a crack at splitting some ash
After just one bottle of some serious hard cider "truth serum" -
provided by a local farm

Too many roosters and bad behavior helped make
this decision easier for Al.
Our moss patio overlooking the pasture
The warm glow inside the old No. 23 Kalamazoo...

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Foodies, Farmers and Fracktivists

Coleman weighs peppers on Mom's "Old School" scale
September was a blur - it came and went faster than any month so far this year here at the farm. We have been incredibly busy harvesting produce and eating, selling, canning, freezing and giving it away.

This has been a great experience for Owen and Coleman as they have been involved with picking vegetables that they then were able to sell on the street corner to neighbors back in Philadelphia. The profits were split up between the farm, the boys, and a charity of the boys' choosing.

Boys learn important life lessons by growing food
Anyone have numb fingers yet?

Three of our more unique crops have been transformed into some very tasty appetizers and specialty foods.  Jalapeno peppers became Jalapeno Poppers stuffed with a mix of cheeses - these disappear as soon as they come out of the oven, and so far have only lasted a couple of days in the freezer :)

Carmen sweet red peppers starting to roast
We also made several batches of tomatillo salsa using our purple tomatillos, fresh pineapple or mango, cilantro, organic cane crystals, onion, and jalapenos of course.  It is pretty amazing.

Perhaps the most irresistible food we have been making are the fire roasted sweet red peppers made over coals on an open fire.  They are jarred in their own juices and a bit of salt and apple cider vinegar. We would never even consider selling a jar of these!   This is candy for the boys.

Wild Food Update:

Butternuts - A delicious, native nut tree
Last fall Al, Dave and the boys gathered a bushel or two of butternuts from a wild tree on the property that decided to produce nuts heavily.  These were stored by hanging them in mesh "baskets" in the basement.  They are stored w/ the husks on to better preserve them.  We recently cracked a few and the flavor was superior to black walnuts.  We will be adding these to the last batch of zucchini bread for sure.

Buff Orpingtons- this heritage breed goes broody & will often sit on eggs until they hatch

EGGS !     Our flock of hens has finally matured enough to start laying eggs - we are only averaging three small eggs per day at the moment, but that should be up to 18 or so by springtime.

The earthen cob oven takes shape

We can almost smell the bread...  The bread and pizza oven is really taking shape nicely.  It is very time consuming to thoroughly blend 3 parts sand and 1 part clay with your feet, but as you can see the hard work is really starting to pay off.  We have about eight inches more to go with insulating layers of the clay/sand mixed with straw for insulation to go.  We hope to start to fire the oven later this month.  Watch our latest video for the cob oven here:

Fracktivist   Finally, a couple of weeks ago, Al Benner attended the Shale Gas Outrage protest march in Center City Philadelphia.  Close to two thousand people turned out along with some well known speakers to help create more awareness about all the health hazards associated with the dangerous "fracking" process.  This method extracts methane gas from the shale layer a mile deep below our aquifers in the northern half of Pennsylvania.  120,000 wells are planned by the industry.  3,000 wells are in and many failures have already occurred.  More Pennsylvanians get their water from wells than any other state.

Fracking is a threat to Old School Farm since the farm relies on pure water for all it's animals and crops.  At the moment the Delaware River Basin Commission has a tentative moratorium on drilling within the Delaware River Watershed where the farm is located.  This could change at any time.

You can see the overview of the demonstration here:
Be sure to let your officials know you care about clean air and water for Pennsylvanians and all Americans.  The oil and gas industry is on a major campaign right now to convince Americans that this process is perfectly safe when it is not.

Until next time-  enjoy this beautiful time of year and the great outdoors... and some more photos from the farm:

Your Friends at Old School Farm

Our sheep enjoying native grasses, milkweed and golden rod.  

Heritage Breed Turkeys - Spanish Black, Bourbon Reds, and Royal Palm 
Our one and only celery plant! - we need to plant more next year.

Dave discusses oven with neighbors Pat & Jim Sanders
Al working on the cob oven

Our neighbor Gail and her son w/ a bag of produce

A warm late September day and the bees were VERY busy