A commenter asked if things are growing. Are they ever! Winter ended quite suddenly, with feet of snow melting away in a matter of days. So it was time to get growing.

Here are the seedlings in the basement:

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If necessary (I’m also growing seedlings for friends and school gardens), I can add an extra shelf below.

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Some are hardening off on the porch:

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In the garden, the sorrel was the second to look all alive and ready to go:

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First were the onions, overwintered. They looked so dreary and slimy emerging from the snow, but then:

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I’ve got gardening nails again:

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As our trusted reader(s?) know, we grow all our vegetables from seed, and now that it is spring (on the calendar at least) the time nears to sow the seeds. We do this in the basement, where we have a large “seedling bank” of lights and a heat mat.

But most of my plastic trays are pretty beaten up, and I didn’t feel like buying more flimsy plastic. So we decided to make our own seedling boxes out of wood. They’ll be sturdy and long-lasting, made of biodegradable material (mostly), and I was able to design them so that the containers that I use most often (the plastic boxes that mushrooms and berries come in) actually fit well in them.

Amie helped me shop for wood and nails at Home Depot, helped design the box, then helped saw and hammer and glue the sides together and cut out the bottom. She had the most fun hammering the bottom on, then sinking the nails in.

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The mead I made in September has cleared a lot. This is the bottle (front) in September:

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It’s much lighter now. Here’s the bottle next to the year-old, wholly clarified mead:

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The bottom is a moonscape of dead yeast people and quaintly coalesced beeswax. But something else in the yeasts must make them consume and break down the color. I need to learn more about this because a bottle of homemade mead is always an occasion for storytelling.

Not wanting to disturb the sediments, I used the thief to extract some and tasted it: just right, still enough sweetness left. I filled a couple of glasses and here’s to all of you: Happy Thanksgiving!
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In the middle of October we had a warm spell, hovering around 70F for a week. Still, firewood was on my mind. Our friends Kath and Paul joined us in renting a log splitter and doing the work. First we worked at our place, splitting all those old rounds that had been cut last year and were cluttering the side of the driveway. Then we hooked the splitter to my car and drove over to their house, about six miles away, where fresh cut rounds awaited the brute force of the hydraulic monster.

It’s noisy and stinky (gas powered) but oh the gratification when the wedge explodes those knotted ones that no maul work can budge! I had told my mom that we were going to do this and she expressed her envy. My parents helped us two years ago and she remembers the joy of that hard and so all the more satisfying work.

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Over here we added about a cord of firewood to our stash.
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It’ll dry for over a year while we use up the dry wood that we still have left from that earlier cutting: some of the middle stack and all of the right stack in this picture of warmer times:

All this wood is from our own property, mostly from that massive tree work we had done in 2011. We still have ten or so of those downed logs in the front garden, but now, after a lot of whittling, they’re like mikado (pick-up) sticks and not easy to buck anymore. Maybe, with one good weekend, we’ll get those done too. That wood is getting old and is in the way of other plans.

Last week I split some of that dry wood into smaller pieces and started the stacks in the porch, so they can dry extra before the time for a fire begins We had a couple of cold nights, when the fire in the stove was welcomed for another season.

The yard smells of split wood, the house of apples. Of my 120 lbs of apples only one box (20 lbs) was left and I turned it into more applesauce. The rest has been eaten, sauced, juiced, dehydrated, and some bartered away for hive-over-wintering supplies. And I’m paying my friend, who picked up the tab at the orchard, with eggs, by the way. Gotta love that!

Aside from eating the lunch and dinner I prepared, I was busy in the kitchen for eleven hours (11 am to 10 pm) and it was wonderful. I had a lot of accumulated CSA produce to use up, and I’d bought a lot at the last Farmers Market in town. And then there were eggs. The result of a day of peeling, slicing, chopping, frying, boiling, steaming, stirring, sterilizing and canning with Arvo Part’s Fratres (*) on repeat:

huge stack of crepes, had with homemade peach butter and yogurt.

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20 trays of apples in dehydrator

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most time consuming of all: 24 8oz jars of applesauce (my friend A and I bought 120 libs of apples, each, at a local orchard)

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vat of sauerkraut (white cabbage from CSA)

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large quart of colorful kimchi (all kinds of radishes and beets from CSA)

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for dinner: big omelet with eggs (our hens), kale (CSA) and garlic (friend’s), huge salad of steamed beets (CSA), slightly boiled sweet corn (Farmers’ Market), fried garlic and kale and yellow beans (CSA), with a glass of wine (not local).

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(*) Maybe Part’s haunting music was the reason why everyone stayed away?

Today, I wore my Green Team cap and handed out kale chips in my local elementary school’s lunchroom. I had mixed the kale with lots of olive oil and salt and pepper and dehydrated the leaves at 110F overnight (10 hours). They were cri-ispy! A big bunch of kale shrank to just about enough to give every kid a taste.

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I like taking the kids out to the gardens, and even helping them with recycling at lunch, but serving them the food that grew in their school garden is the best. Interesting too. At the school they sit at round tables, about eight kids a table. I visited each, offered, and maybe one kid would raise their hand. You know that kale, no matter how crispy and oily, is *green*. The horror! And some don’t know what kale is. But the one kid would take it and eat it and say it’s good and want more, and – hop – all the hands would shoot up.

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Each table also got a ball jar with marigolds from the garden, and my fellow parent volunteer distributed the other veggies from the garden – rainbow carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, and herbs harvested by the first and second graders. Two hours and five grades later, all this was gone!

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Well, 17 lbs is not bad for one and a half beds (4′x12′ total), in the shade and without topping up soil (I ran out). The red fingerlings were a bust, the yellow fingerlings did well, the idahoes did best. All seed potatoes were supermarket bought (organic) or came as sprouted (organic) potatoes from a friend.

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All laid out:
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A couple of weeks ago I had a nasty surprise. Workmen installed new oil tanks in our basement (one had started leaking; we have no gas on the street, and we heat very frugally with oil, but mostly with efficiently burned firewood). All was well. A week later I opened my freezer: everything was defrosted! The men had unplugged the freezer! I lost some meat and fish, but the hardest to lose were the soups, sauces, pesto and frozen dinners I had made with produce from the garden. I never really trusted freezing, and apparently I don’t need another power outage to confirm my apprehension. So, when I had all these surplus tomatoes, I decided to dry them in my ten-tray Excalibur.

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I dry them beyond leathery to crispy. Amie eats them like candy, while she will usually only reluctantly eat a cherry tomato. The taste is super concentrated.

A friend called me up this morning from the orchard and asked if I wanted peaches! A peck of seconds for $8? Sure! I got two pecks and will be making peach butter and peaches in syrup.

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It’s getting a little repetitious, but there were again many more tomatoes. The warm weather continues and there are still many fruits on the vines, so this may not be the last of ‘em.

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I’m looking forward to next summer, when I’ll have the super sunny front patio to grow tomatoes, peppers (can you spot the red one) and eggplants. The crew starts work on it in a week or two.

I went into the bees just now and found very little honey, just four or so full frames. There are lots of frames half-filled, half-capped. The bees were hard at work there, though (at least I hope they were, and that they weren’t gorging on honey in preparation of a swarming!). So perhaps I just need to be a little more patient and I’ll get another ten or so frames from both hives.

The generation of hens – three two -year-olds, one one -year-old and four 6-month-old pullets – have been combined into one coop. There’s a quite a bit of pecking, but not too much. The poor one-year-old gets the worst of it. No eggs from the pullets yet.

I am so thankful to these chickens for many reasons, one of which follows. Amie had her kids’ birthday party on Sunday (we postponed it because in Summer many of her friends aren’t around) and I promised to make the heatwave cake. I had bought a dozen organic, free-range, extra large eggs at While Foods. What junk that was! The egg whites were like water, one whipping and the yolks turned beige. The first roll wasn’t up to my standards, so I made another one with an extra egg (that one failed because we just got a new-to-us range, and I must have pushed the wrong button; it was yummy but impossible to roll up). After french toast that morning, we had only 2 homegrown eggs left, but the hens laid three more, just in time for me to make one more roll, which was perfect. I’m happy I made that many, because the nine kids ate ALL THAT CAKE. It went so fast I didn’t get to take a picture.