Another year gone by, and the donkey’s doing fine…

Jack the miniature donkey

As the day faded into New Year’s Eve, I did a little walkaround, checking the goats and visiting Jack the Miniature Donkey, who’s a pretty good barnyard pal. I don’t see him up close that often (I hear him all summer), but we get along. He’s cool. Along with the goats and half-dozen cows, they’re Bob and Karen’s charges. I helped care for the goats daily for a couple of years, winter and summer, watering and feeding twice a day, experienced the goat cycle of life and death (well, birth, and occasionally, off to the slaughter). But my tiny farming career has yet to directly encompass livestock. Another thing to do! I think, this spring, CHICKENS!

Temperature gadget

Remote thermometer/hygrometer sensor

This wireless remote temperature and humidity sensor sits outside, beside the side door to the Milkhouse. Here, it’s reading 0.3°C. Precise! I’m not overly thrilled by technology, but some gadgets I like. Like digital weather stations! They’ve become really CHEAP in the last couple of years. A local hardware chain just stocked a house brand, indoor/outdoor (dual measurements), min/max (stores highs and lows until reset) thermometer/hygrometer (humidity) for 10 bucks! I started tiny farming with a plain old analog min/max thermometer, until the digital ones got cheap about three years ago. Plus they had humidity. I got one, but it soon broke (didn’t like the greenhouse heat and humidity, I guess). The next generation of cheap weather stations had outdoor sensors. Cool! I got two for the greenhouse, one for the seedling room, and they’ve lasted. But, the remote sensor (a bonus!) is on the end of a long wire that I never got round to running… Now, there’s cheap and WIRELESS. That’s REALLY cool. More units, more batteries, but it’s WIRELESS. I banged in a nail and hung it out there in three minutes. It sends temp and humidity to a neat little unit sitting by my computer. It doesn’t store min/max wirelessly, that one’s not as cheap until probably next year. Instead, I glance at it quite often. The remote isn’t protected from direct sunlight, so the highs are too high when the sun hits it, but here it’s on the east side of the barn, so only the morning reading is off… Why do I need real-time outdoor temperature for tiny farming? Hmmm… It’s been just above zero days and most nights lately, and THAT’s interesting? You mightn’t have noticed otherwise that everything is slowly MELTING… Though really, watching the temperature through the day is kinda like watching the balls spin on a lottery draw: it DOESN’T REALLY MATTER! So maybe this wireless thing is yet another clever, largely unnecessary…gadget. I still like it: it’s 32.6°F outside the door, three days to the New Year, and seeds start soon! :)

Not turkey, beets!

Bowl of beets

While a bit of a tradition of leftover-turkey crepes were being cooked up for brunch this morning, I was eying the leftover boiled beets. It was something about shapes and the muted, earthy shades of purple, and maybe the bowl helped along the effect. Soothing. Mesmerizing. I couldn’t stop staring. Guess I’ve got veggies on my mind… These were beets from the basement, roughly cut up as you can see, a mix of red (probably Scarlet Supreme) and white-with-red-stripes Chioggia, which were colored by the red beet juice. Boiling this time round was easier, though baking is the favored way to cook ’em. Anyhow, possessed by the beets, I brought them out into the light to take a picture, grabbed the first suitable surface to stick in the snow (a wooden bushel basket, upended), and took a pic. The color is sort of as I saw it, but you really had to be there for the full effect. Stare into the beets… Like I said, veggies on my mind! :)

Brussels sprouts for Christmas?

Snow-harvested Brussels sprouts

Got the idea this morning to get something REALLY FRESH onto the Christmas dinner menu. A fat local turkey, plus squash, potatoes, carrots, beets and onions from storage (in addition to a ham and industrial veggies from the supermarket) didn’t seem quite enough. But what could I find? The bed of Brussels sprouts left standing when the snow hit was…still there, not fully buried, and possibly perfectly preserved in a frozen state. Remembering a harvesting lesson of the past, I headed up the field with short, stiff saw in hand and bagged three (once again, the saw did its stuff!). Unfortunately, between the snow and the leaves, the sprouts were too well-mulched and probably never really got frozen solid, or at least, froze and partially thawed a few times. Many were damaged and discolored, but some were definitely…fine (I tasted a few raw on the spot). In the end, between the rather unappetizing, damp mass in a bucket waiting outside the kitchen, and all the other cooking to do, this time around, the good sprouts never got sorted, and it’s on to the frozen compost heap for the lot. But there’s more out there for another try… This is not exactly part of the Professional Market Garden side of tiny farming, more like my personal garden-addicted behavior, but it’s all part of learning!

Puddles on ice

Puddles on ice

Yesterday, it hovered a little above freezing, today, it rocketed up to nearly 50°F (10°C) and started to rain pretty good. There are puddles on paths where the snow was packed and icy (here, the reflection is Bob’s shed), patches of ground showing through in spots, and the overall snow level is dropping. It’s supposed to freeze up again tomorrow, but today’s 15-day weather forecast says there’ll be a string of warm days in early January that would melt things right down. Two winters in one? That’d shake up the trees and everything else living in the field. Wouldn’t be a surprise…!

First day of winter

Field on the first day of winter

Winter: today, it’s official… Every day I head out to the field to take a look, even if it’s only for a few minutes. I check the greenhouse, and…look around. There’s not much to see. The snow is now about 3′ (91cm) high on the sides of the hoophouse. I don’t bother clearing it off, it seems to do fine. It may not be obvious from the pics, but the side walls are double layers of plastic, inflated by electric fan with about six inches of air between (electricity for the fan is run out from the drive shed). You can see the hose for the fan on the inside, right near the curved rib (the fan and hose are on the left of this shot). This keeps the sides rigid enough to stop the snow from pushing in. And the trees are bare… And the days are now getting longer! :)

Local toast

Peanut butter and jam on local toast

My local toast: this morning’s breakfast slice of whole wheat from local baker Barb, along with a tall glass of supermarket-orange-juice-not-from-concentrate-with-pulp, and all-from-the-store orange pekoe tea with cream and sugar. The toast is spread with industrial peanut butter (smooth!), Gloria-Jean’s Sundae in a Jar (strawberries, raspberries, sugar, pectin, from the farmers’ market…mmmm!), and expensive transfat-free margarine. Altogether not so local, and nothing from this farm, but the bread is delicious… Some things I’m compelled to plan, like changes to the market garden. But when it comes to eating local, there is NO WAY I’m going to sit around with lists and notes, calculating food miles, looking up arcane food processing ingredients, interrogating local producers and the like. “Planning” my diet and, uh, FOOD STRATEGY to be Local would reduce the pleasure of eating to a chore, and that’s not fun! My personal preference for local food seems to be emerging as a natural extension of tiny farming and eating what I grow, which is cool. My instinctive approach to local food is…laid-back, figure it out as I go. Let’s see what happens!