Thursday, November 27, 2014


When I was younger, I used to feel that holidays were contrived marketing opportunities, seeing all the obnoxious decorations that went up in stores and places of commerce.  But as I've gotten older and tried to be more in tune with nature and our food, I have started to appreciate more and more the old wisdom behind the Holy Days.

Moving into winter and cold, dark days (of which we are mostly spared, being so close to the Equator), I think it is the best of times to reflect upon all the blessings and gifts we have received, and bring the warmth from them with us into the colder times.

There is so much to be thankful for - our home, our children, our families, our things, the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe - life itself.  We can enjoy the generosity of life and the feeling of gratitude, knowing that yes, it will change, and all gifts will eventually be taken away.

These words have found me this Thanksgiving:

"And you receivers - and you are all receivers - assume no weight of gratitude, lest you lay a yoke upon yourself and upon him who gives.....For to be ovemindful of you debt, is to doubt his generosity who has the free-hearted earth for mother, and God for father."

From The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran 

Reflections of gratitude, I think, open the heart to receiving even more, because it brings the realization of how much we are all given, everyday. And gifts can also come in surprising ways, in ways that don't seem good at first.

Sometimes I have tried to give good things that were refused because the person I was trying to give something to was too proud to accept the offer -  And I know that I have sometimes also been too proud.  And how many blessings have I unconsciously ignored or taken for granted?

How can we open our minds and hearts, receive things with grace, and enjoy ALL of our blessings? 

That, I think, is the essence of thrift.

In the Garden: Greens, Greens, Turnips, and More Greens

I wish I had more to say about the garden other than I need to get out there and plant  more.  I've only seen it in the dark for the past few days, and I've just been harvesting lately, which is by far the funnest part.  Turnips are coming out, as well as French breakfast radishes and parsley, cilantro, green onions, and dill.  Our greens consumption has gone way down now that the kimchi is ready.  It's so good and it is redundant to cook more greens to eat with it, so I've been donating them to the grandparents.

I have more beds to build for spring, starts that are getting too large and have been ready to plant.  I've been thwarted by the weather and illness for weeks now.  Either I was too sick to move, or it was pouring rain, or freezing.  This weekend I hope to catch up!  I've got cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower starts to plant, and I would really like to seed the salsify.  I've never tried salsify before, but it sounds so good.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Yarn Along: Christmas Surprise

I wish I could tell you what I'm working on at the moment, but it is a (shhh!!) Christmas surprise for someone.  I have knitted this pattern before, back when Clothilde was wonderfully immobile and still in that cute stage where they are extra chubby and can't crawl anywhere.  Needless to say, I am finding the lace patterns VERY hard this time.

I've tried only working the difficult rounds with the yarn overs and K2togs and SSK's while Clothilde seems completely immersed in something else - but her toddler radar must beep like crazy when I make a start.  There have been a few times I've messed it up and had to discretely add a stitch in the purely knit rounds.  I refuse to frog it, because just casting on the right number of stitches in the tiny yarn was so painful while being climbed on by Clothilde.  It seems to be turning out "lacy" anyway, so I am happy enough.

As for books, we have been following our family tradition of reading Washington Irving this time of year.  We skipped the usual favorites this time - Wolfort Webber or Golden Dreams, Dolf Heyliger, Rip Van Winkle, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Young Buckthorne, and have been reading bits and pieces out of Wolfert's Roost and Other Stories.

 One of these was a story  called "A Time of Unexampled Prosperity" and goes into a historical account of "The Great Mississippi Bubble."  It is an engaging true story of a Scotsman named John Law, who was responsible for an imaginary period of wealth in France in the early 1700's, which ended up with the country being impoverished.  The parallels that can be drawn between now and then were eye-opening.  It's amazing how history repeats itself. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Nature Finds: A Mysterious Stranger

 We discovered this lovely stranger crawling across the pasture the other day.  It had silvery twinkles all over it.  It was a Luna moth.

When I was a child, my dad and I raised a bunch of Luna moths from eggs.  Of course my dad did most of it, but I helped him gather sweet gum leaves to feed them.  They got bigger and less prickly, and finally were glowing green and very fat like our caterpillar above, and ready to pupate.  Every day when I got home from school I would check the cocoons to see if any had hatched.  Some days there were two or three, some days there weren't any.  My dad showed me how the males had fuzzier antennae than the females.  In the evening we would walk to the park to let them go.

 We had to be very careful to wait until the birds were asleep, or they might eat one of our moths.  I would hold the huge moths in my small hands, watching them vibrate their wings to warm them up, before finally kicking off and flying away into the night.  Sometimes they wouldn't make it into the air on the first try, so we would pick them up and give them another chance.

Once (I think this actually happened with Polyphemus moths we'd raised right after the Lunas) the moth took off flying before it was dark enough.  A mocking bird swooped out of the trees and snatched it out of the air!  We ran after it and scared it so that it dropped our moth.  The moth was okay, but had a little notch out of both wings.  We picked him up to keep safe until it was darker.  After we left the spot, the mocking bird came back and was turning over leaves where it knew the moth had dropped, looking for it again.

Monday, November 24, 2014

First Beef

  This weekend we said goodbye to Meathead, and hello to beef.  It was a huge amount of work - far more than we had anticipated and we are all sore and exhausted.  I have pictures from the harvest (slaughter?) day following, just a caution in case you are sensitive...

Meathead was Geranium's baby, born and raised on our farm.  He was a good steer, a little deficient in brains sometimes, like the way it took him two years to figure out how to follow the herd.  Geranium had been supposedly bred to calve in April when we bought her, and after May we had given up hope.  On July 4th Ethan went out to do the chores and discovered that Meathead had been born.  He was named Sebastian at first, until we realized what a brick he was.  Meathead just stuck.  I always affectionately called him Meaty.  We let him grow for three and a half years on grass and hay.  The longer time allows for more marbling, and because we didn't use grain or growth hormones, he took longer to grow.  He had a good, peaceful life.

The day we slaughtered him, we separated him and gave him some nice hay to munch on.  Mirin was very sorry to say goodbye, and ended up scaring him trying to feed him some hay as a parting gift.  He was never extremely friendly or tame.  I kept the kids at a safe distance while Ethan stunned him with the .22.  Then I went to help with catching the blood and stirring it until it cooled.  We made blood pudding from it (really nourishing and tasty).  I always cry when the animals are dying, and I shed some tears as I was thanking him for feeding us.  We've had him for so long, we were all attached to him and were sorry to see him go.  Later the work/food aspect kicked in and I felt mostly grateful and busy.

 Mirin and Ethan started out skinning.  We thought this would be really easy peasy compared to scalding and scraping a hog.  Clothilde was clinging to me while I was still stirring the blood, so I couldn't help at first (she has been very clingy lately - teething?).

As sorry as he was to see Meathead go, Mirin really jumped in and helped a lot this time.  The hide was extremely big and beautiful, and we took a lot of care skinning so we can save it.  The best we can do with what Meathead offered us is to use as much as possible.

After a while the blood cooled enough, so I grabbed my favorite carbon steel knife and also got to work.  It turned out that I was WAY faster at skinning than either of the boys....

I had let Ethan kind of be in charge because he was reading right beforehand about how to do all this, but I am usually the one who does all the cleaning for the pigs.  He struggled mightily with the bulging organs.  It was extra difficult because Meathead had not gone down under the tree we thought he would, so we had to move the block-and-tackle to hoist him up. It was a smaller branch and I kept worrying it was going to break.  Every time we raised or lowered the carcass, the branch creaked ominously.  After watching Ethan struggling with the billowing rumen and cursing, I handed Clothilde off into the dubious care of the big kids and came to help.  It was tough.  In the moment you don't quite realize how intimate you are with the organs of a dead animal.  It occurred to me at one point that my face was practically inside the stomach cavity, and I was shoulder deep trying to get the guts out.  Finally we were almost done!!  There was just quartering the carcass left.  It was almost time for the butcher to close.  

We made desperate, tearful (on my part) attempts to hack down the spine with saws and then an axe.  It was taking too long.  We called the butcher and asked if we could just bring him whole, but they said they wouldn't be able to move the carcass otherwise, so it had to be quartered.  There was an awful moment when we realized we wouldn't make it, and we would have to hang him in a tree overnight (it was very cold, though).  

So after that we made ready to hang it up wrapped in plastic and stuffed with ice.  Mirin and I went about preparing the organs, fat and other bits to take home.  I saved kidneys, heart, liver, head.  Mirin sawed the horns off, and we will retrieve the tongue and brains (to tan the hide) and make a big pot of stock from the head, once the bullets are removed.

The piggies got the rumen.  They LOVED it.  The next morning there were vultures crowded around that spot, which was completely cleared of anything edible by the pigs.

Once at home we packaged everything up for the freezer, saving out the blood for pudding and some caul fat.  The cavity fat is rendering into snowy white tallow.  The organs were HUGE.  The size of his heart amazed me, and while slicing up the enormous liver into useable chunks for many months' supply of liver pate, I realized just how crazy expensive organic beef liver is at the store.

Our darn cat Teasel, seeing how busy we were, decided to drink some blood out of the waiting-to-be-cleaned blood catching bowl and vomited bloody cat kibbles all over the kitchen.  She was escorted outside after that.

 I've been busy processing all these wonderful, nutritious organs into food.  In addition to the blood pudding and tallow, we've also been enjoying oxtail soup.  The next day Ethan quartered the carcass and brought it to the butcher.  It weighed 434 pounds!  He looked so small next to Matilda and Geranium.  No wonder it was so much work!  Each quarter of beef weighed as much as a whole hog dressed out! 

Friday, November 21, 2014

In the Kitchen: First Kimchi

The Daikon radishes and Chinese cabbage were ready in the garden, indicating that it is high time for a batch of kimchi.  Luckily we also had some Trinidad spice peppers left over from before the first frost.  Here's what I put together:

1 head of Chinese cabbage, shredded

3 Daikon radishes, trimmed, washed and grated

1 turnip, topped, peeled and grated

2 carrots, peeled and grated (these were from the store.  I mostly added them for color)

1-inch ginger, peeled and minced

3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

8-9 mildly spicy (or HOT, if you prefer) peppers, de-seeded and finely sliced

sea salt

* * * *

Mix the vegetables all together in a large bowl.  Start sprinkling with salt.  Crush and squeeze the veggies with your clean hands, adding more salt and tasting as you go (the daikon is so spicy before it's fermented!).  Salt it so that it is slightly saltier than a salad.  The vegetables will begin to shrink down from the salt, and their juices will collect at the bottom.  When they have shrunk quite a bit, start packing them into clean mason jars, pressing them in firmly with a meat pounder, a wooden spoon, or your fist.  Squeeze them in so that the liquid rises to the top, covering the vegetables.  Leave about an inch of space before the top, cap the jars and leave out on the counter for 3-5 days.  I like to leave a tray or plate under them in case they overflow.  Makes about 2 quarts, depending on the size of the vegetables.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

In the Garden's cold out there.  Last night it was around 38 F and we were forking the last bit of a load of horse manure onto another garden bed.  My face was so cold it was hard to talk.  The hoops and plastic have seem to have worked for frost protection. Only the tender nasturtiums froze, and they were mostly for color. There were also a few chewed-off leaves from a rabbit casualty.  The kale seems to have doubled in size in the past week, and the herbs are not only finally visible, they are ready to be used.   The frost should sweeten all the greens up.

The collards and cauliflower amazed me when I saw them again over the weekend.  I remembered them as tiny starts.  There were even some sugar snap peas ready, but they did not make it into the kitchen (or the picture).   No matter how many I plant, there never seems to be enough.

I adjusted the rabbit netting a little to try to tighten it up.  The daikon radishes are ready to be pulled. All this seems to have happened at once!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Hard Work

It's been interesting getting back to doing my chores every day.  I get a lot of exercise.  Not complaining, I like the exercise.  It is grounding, practical, soul-nourishing.  I remember feeling restless living in town when Mirin was small.  We walked a lot in the evenings, careful to avoid the sprayed lawns, the dog turds and the inconsiderate maniac cut-through drivers.  A walk around several blocks felt like a long way.  Out at the farm, with the distinct lack of property lines and lawn borders, it is hard to tell how far you've gone.  A walk to the first line and back to the milking paddock doesn't seem very far, but after not walking it for seven days my legs tell me it isn't as short as I thought.  When your hands are used to it, milking four animals a day doesn't seem like much.
When I'm out working it doesn't usually feel like exercise.  It's just doing what needs to be done.  The air is fresh and sweet and there are beautiful, surprising bits of nature crawling across the path all the time.

It's easy to work too hard out there.  I know that I worked too hard the past six years.  When Ethan was always being sent out of town for work and the children and I stayed behind with the milking, the gardening, moving the heavy chicken coops, the housework, the homeschooling.   Sometimes I was so tired my heart would beat strangely and irregularly, cramping and hurting, and I would feel like I was dying.  Bone-crushingly tired.  So tired that it was effort to move my arms when I woke up in the morning, after a black, unconscious sleep.  So tired that it was difficult to be patient when other people didn't understand why I was late, why I didn't call them back, why I HAD to sleep that long, why I didn't mow my lawn more often at our house in town, why neither kid had a pair of matching shoes in the grocery store.

 I know this is partly why I've had such a challenge with my health this year.  Why I feel so old and tired all the time.  Those past six years I worked so hard for everyone - for our customers, for the farm, for my family, for people with high expectations.  I wanted to do it all right.  I wanted to please everyone so they wouldn't judge me, so they would be nice.  I worked for everyone except myself, and it didn't even work out the way I hoped it would.  Here I am now, in my 30th year, exhausted, worn out, feeling like life is too much.  And I think - wait a minute!  If my priorities were turned around, what would my life look like?

It's good to consider it.  I know what hard work is already.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


We just finished a four-week math block for home school.  I like taking several weeks for a subject this way.  This is the first year I've been very organized with home schooling, and it is really wonderful.  I wish I'd been more organized before.  By organized, I mean I go through and do all the activities quietly by myself first, even ones I feel I remember well from my schooling.  There is always some aspect I need to refresh myself on, and just going through and imagining explaining it to someone else helps tremendously.  There is a difference between doing something well yourself and teaching someone else the same thing.  Every day has a predictable rhythm to what we do (although sometimes we do things different to accommodate all kinds of bumps that come from being at home - such as toddler messes, tantrums, and trying to get laundry/dinner done).

We always start with "Circle".  For this block we sang autumn songs ("Autumn is Here" and the pentatonic song, "November"), practiced French (fruits, counting to twenty), recited three different counting poems for first grade (not all at once, of course, for different weeks.  That would have been WAY  too much.  They were "One is the Sun", a finger game called "Dancing on the Shore", and then we sang "Twelve Days of Christmas" for the last week when we worked with twelve), did a 4th grade verse from Rudolf Steiner, and went through the 4 and 8 times tables on flash cards for Mirin.  (I used to feel very strongly opposed to flash cards, but Mirin likes them and they are really helping him.  It's good to be flexible and try different things and find what works).

For first grade we started off with learning Roman numerals and games with counting.  Then each day we focused on a new number, reflecting on what that number's significance is in the world and daily life.  From one to twelve, that took us three weeks (first grade is only four days a week).  I particularly liked seven because there are the days of the week, which also correspond to the Norse gods, and we just read Norse Myths for 4th grade.  Tuesday started out as Tyr's Day, Wednesday was Woden's Day, Thursday was Thor's day, etc.  I was so pleased to find that in French they are named after corresponding Roman gods.  Tuesday is Mardi - named after Mars, the god of war.  Tyr was also a god of war, and apparently it was traditional to declare war on Tuesday.  Even into Asia, Tuesday is associated with war.  Another delightful discover was that the seven visible planet stars - Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, also are connected to the days of the week and the ancient gods they are named for.

For fourth grade we reviewed adding, subtracting, multiplication and division, and also did slightly more complicated things.  The last two weeks were all about factoring, square numbers and primes.  Number Sense and Nonsense has been an invaluable book for this year.  For this block we used several of the activities, one of which was drawing as many rectangles as possible with numbers 1-25.  It was amazing how much you can see from the rectangles.  Square numbers and primes are wonderfully obvious, and factors are a matter of course when working with numbers this way.  Another great thing we learned about from this book was the Sieve of Eratosthenes that quickly sifts out prime numbers.  We also drew number patterns on a circle which made great shapes describing the relationships between numbers (for example, making a circle with 24 equal marks.  Drawing lines connecting multiples of three ends up as an octagon because 8 x 3 = 24)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Signs of Winter

I finally went to the farm on Saturday.  It didn't seem like I had been gone for very long, but everything was different.  The greens in the garden looked huge.  There were tinges of rusty brown in the pine trees.  A frost had put an end to the rioting fall flowers, leaving them delicately dry and brown, like faded lace.

In the garden the old pepper bushes were still loaded with peppers, like colorful Christmas ornaments in the crispy branches.  There was no one to pick them before the frost.


I stumbled over an unripe pumpkin, still attached to the umbilical vine. 

  I walked up to see if Chestnut had her baby yet.  The fallen leaves were no longer bright yellows and reds and they crunched under my shoes.  She was still extremely pregnant.  Her udder was starting to swell.  I said hello to Isla, who looked strangely fluffy around her muzzle.  Matilda was darker than ever.  Her winter coat has always had more black.  It was a shock to see how green the winter garden looked, junky debris and all.

 And in the pastures, the rye is starting to sprout.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Mirin's Hat

I was sorry yesterday that I couldn't post a weekly garden update as usual.  The truth is, I haven't seen the garden in almost a week and I have no idea what it looks like, although Ethan assures me he has been remembering to water it and that it is mostly still alive.  I've been slowly recovering from what turned out to be a very intense illness.

Yesterday I was finally up and about and thought maybe I would be able to go to the farm again, but cooking/house chores/homeschooling the children sapped all my energy and I ended up staying home again to rest while everyone else made the trek out for the farm chores.  The big kids played with Clothilde, who apparently spent most of the time rolling in Mirin's pit and becoming as dirty as possible.  She looked like a Victorian chimney sweep child when she got home.  Mirin forgot his hat out there, too, but luckily Ethan found it when he went out to do the chores early this morning.  It was in the most unusual places:

Maybe after all that, he won't forget it next time.  Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Rye and Rest

350 lbs of rye on.  Everything is seeded except the garden.

For two days I seeded in moonlight.  The last day we went out earlier and the sun was bright overhead and everything looked golden.  After two days of sowing in twilight with bats flitting overhead and the beautiful moon rising, everything looked so clear and straightforward.  A stretch of ground I had been tripping over the time before was quick and easy to walk over. All the obstacles were easy to see and the rest of the field was seeded in the blink of an eye.

Rose helped me seed the last stretch.  She skipped and tiptoed around the field, tossing rye seeds like a hyperactive rye fairy.  She sowed at least 10 lbs.  It will help fill in the gaps I missed while I was stumbling around the field in the moonlight, having my ankles scratched by unseen mowed blackberry stems.  We sang the pentatonic song that we have sung for our circle every homeschooling day in November:

Golden Light is fading gray,
Mists begin to rule the day
Bare the trees their branches lift,
Clouds of dead leaves earthward drift.

Through the field the farmer goes,
Sowing rye and corn he goes
Trusts the earth to keep it warm,
Shelter it from cold and harm.

Really "ripened corn" instead of "rye and corn", but we had to work rye in somehow.  We got rain over the weekend.  It was all seeded just in time.  I haven't been out to see if it has sprouted.  I have been really sick the past few days.  It's been difficult for everyone.  Ethan took over homeschool/housework for me on Monday and Tuesday.  He almost freaked out when I showed him my to-do list for the day, so I simplified it as much as possible.  Monday went smoothly, Tuesday everyone got on each others nerves, and I was so ready to be out of bed just to stop all the conflicts.  I'm finally on the mend today.  It's been an intense illness, and I'm so glad to be feeling better finally.

Friday, November 7, 2014

What We've Learned - Some Practical Stuff About Rye

I'll admit - we actually don't know what the heck we're doing out here on the farm.  We've had to learn everything from scratch.  Before this, the only animals I ever had to take care of was a cat, some mosquito fish, and zebra finches.  I thought cucumbers grew in the winter.  It's been a learning process of  many, many failures, and still continues.

Ever since the drought in Texas, Florida hay has been crazy expensive.  When we just had goats and one cow, it wasn't such a big deal.  The goats still ate the oak and blackberries, which stay green over the winter, and one cow eats way less than eight (soon to be nine.  Chestnut is due tomorrow!).

Even with a little green stuff from the oaks and brambles, winter was still hard.  They didn't get enough sugars for their rumen, and we started feeding molasses to help them along.  But molasses isn't good for their teeth, and what's more, it's made from GMO sugar beets.  Organic feed-grade molasses isn't available here, and buying human quality molasses would have been ridiculous.  We used about a five gallon bucket over the winter.

I was inspired when we went to a local farm to pick up Richard the Bull, who fathered (or is it sired?) Flora and Explorer.  It was January, and they had rolling green pastures of beautiful rye that the cows were grazing on.  I was jealous when we returned to our totally brown and dead-looking farm.  I realized it was stupid to feed molasses in a place where we can have year-round fresh forage available.  I decided to try seeding rye the following fall.

Ryegrass seeds don't need to be "drilled", or mechanically planted.  They can be broadcast by hand, and as long as they make soil contact they'll usually sprout.  There are so many other beautiful, beneficial forages that we could plant, if we had the equipment.  That's why we're still working with just rye.

That first year the rye did come up.  It looked like little strings of Easter grass, and that was as big as it got.  It was so discouraging.  We never had the imagined rye pasture, and I spent the rest of the winter trying to find an easy way to sprout massive amounts of grains without spending $10,000 on a special, mold-free facility, just to give them something fresh and green.

There was a breakthrough when we started getting organic fertilizer from Midwestern Bio-ag.  The winter crops like the brassicas, roots, and ryegrass require so much more fertility and feeding than the summer plants.  In the garden I grew the most beautiful rye, and in the pastures it started to look good - until the deer ate all of it.  We would find deer footprints in the sand literally running to get to the rye pastures.  I begged Ethan to shoot some so we would at least get some venison out of it, but he was too timid.  I guess I can't blame him.  I probably wouldn't have done it, even if I didn't have a tiny baby at the time.

There was also a problem with getting the seeds in contact with the soil.  The summer grasses had lost their palatability months ago, and the cows would pick around the clumps of grass.  The rye would not sprout through these clumps of grass, so the pastures were very patchy.  The best place the rye grew was where we had left the goats, who had eaten it down very well.  I briefly thought maybe we could run the goats along and have them eat it all down, but logistically we don't have enough goats.  It would take them months.  I tried soaking the grains and mixing clay and fish meal in, kind of like Masanuobu Fukuoka's seed balls.  It helped and made it possible to also seed oats, which usually need drilled.  I have hope that someday we can add diversity to our pastures in this low-tech way.

This year, we are solving the deer problem by only planting the two lines closest to where other people live.  We are keeping the cows, and therefore the guard dog, on the next line over.  This seemed to be effective last year.  We had our neighbor mow the lines we are seeding.  This worked wonderfully in the garden.  It seemed to give the rye a month's head start on germination over the un-mowed areas in the pasture.

We are also adding the organic fertilizer, and I will be throwing on tons of pell-lime.  I did a little test-swatch experiment last fall to see if it would make a difference to add more lime than the soil test recommended (that amount seemed to have done nothing to alter the pH).  It made an incredible difference.

We'll see how these improvements work out.  So often I tweak something in some way, or add a new idea and find out it was better the old way.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Sweet Potatoes and Cassava

 The first frost came through over the weekend and froze out the sweet potatoes.  We were hesitating to dig them up this year, because we always seem to do it too soon and they are teensy.  But once the tops were frost-killed, I figured I'd better get them out of the ground.

The size of the harvest surprised me, especially the very large ones.  I guess they liked the compost beds.  I roasted some for dinner and they are very starchy and sweet.  They seem somehow richer than "boughten" sweet potatoes from the store.  I wish I could plant twice as many next year, they are so good.  We were trying to estimate how much it would have cost for us to buy that many organic sweet potatoes.  A lot.  Interesting to put a monetary value on such a thing, but at the same time it makes you realize just how much wealth comes out of the earth.  Sweet-and-starchy gold.

The hoops and plastic were effective to keep everything from freezing, but we have realized we will need a bunch more hoops to keep the plastic from sagging.
  It became very windy when the cold front came through and the tallest cassava plant was knocked over.

We went ahead and dug the roots the rest of the way (Ethan did, actually.  I was digging the sweet potatoes).  They were huge.  This is just one.

Then we chopped all the stalks down to save them for next year.  You plant sections of the stalk to get new plants.  I'm swathing them in old feed bags to keep them from drying out (it worked ok last year).  The stalks are sensitive to cold and will be killed in a frost.  In the picture above, you can see the roots growing out from the piece of stem I'd planted in the spring.

Last year we got excited just before the first frost and dug up all four of our cassava plants.  The roots were enormous, and the big kids discovered that they were not super excited to eat lots of cassava all of a sudden, so the roots languished on the porch for awhile.  Unfortunately they molded up very quickly, and lots of them had to be composted.  It seemed like such a horrible waste.  I didn't know they spoiled so quickly.  They wax them in the stores to keep them fresh longer (well not rotten, at least, which is what passes for "fresh" these days).

Several people have told me about a labor-intensive way to save them that involves digging, peeling, blanching and freezing the roots.  I just don't have that much time.  There's a lot of cassava out there.  We are trying out what they supposedly do in other places where most people don't have freezers - cutting the stalks and leaving the roots in the ground, insulated with hay.  We'll see.  At the very least they will sprout again in the spring.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Yarn along: Almost Sleeves


 200 lbs of rye hand-seeded.  I finished with the whole first grazing line last night before it got too dark.  It was really pretty wandering the pastures with the almost-full moon rising. 

 I was just reading recently in Rudolf Steiner's book, How to Know Higher Worlds that watching the sunrise gives you the emotional impressions of birth, but watching the moon rise will make you feel it to be associated with death.  It just doesn't do that for me at all.  Especially if the moon rises in the daytime - which no one thinks about usually.  The moon seems to be culturally embedded in nighttime, for some reason.  I think I was in 7th grade when I realized one day that the moon was rising and it was 2pm.  When I see the moon rising, especially if I am tossing handful after handful of rye seeds as far as they will go across the earth, I feel like there should be a celebration of some sort that evening.  I think of fertility and dream of lush, green rye pastures.

I am still working on Mirin's cabled vest.  It's been very busy around here, so I haven't had much time to work on it.  Last week I got excited and started to cast off for the sleeves, but then I measured it again and decided to add another inch.  I'd rather error on too long than too short.  I'd like to not be knitting another one next fall, too.  I like the cable pattern, but there are other projects my hands are itching to work on, and this is going very slowly.

We are just finishing up Alice Through the Looking-glass for our evening reading.  We first read Alice in Wonderland.  I'd forgotten how much I enjoy these stories.  They are so funny and there are so many amusing puns.  We have the annotated version, so it is easier to understand some of the more Victorian jokes.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Time for Rye

We had a huge day on Saturday when we held the annual group-birthday party for all three children.  It was a tea party (Rose's request) and a cricket match (for Mirin).  There were grain-free cupcakes with three different kinds of cream cheese frosting, sandwiches, sprouted wheat cookies, pork and mushroom pate, salads, and of course tea.  It was lots of fun, even though I thought I must be crazy when I was making the third kind of frosting.

The weather was beautiful and cold over the weekend.  It caught us by surprise and sent us pawing desperately through the cedar chest for sweaters and sheepskin slippers.  The first frost of the year was on Saturday, which we at first thought was unlucky because it was one more thing to do, but it ended up working out well because we had help from the party guests pulling sheets of plastic over the hoops to cover the rows.

Mirin ended up spending the first really cold night camping out at the farm with his best friend Jacques.  He is still tired and very cranky from the sleep deprivation.  We offered to let Jacques and his mom stay at our house - which his mom would have preferred, but the boys were determined to camp out.  I don't think they realized how cold it was getting that night.  It's hard to remember what cold feels like after you've just been through a season in which frequent plunges into cold water are necessary to prevent heat stroke when working outside any time before dusk.

We are expecting more rain on Thursday, and are trying to get all the rye seeded before then, before it's kind of too late to have rye in the winter.  We had our neighbor mow the lines we are seeding, which makes the pastures look like a strange place.  It made a perfect Cricket lawn, provided you didn't fall down and realize how many thorny blackberry stems were all over it.  Mowing should help the rye grow evenly and quickly with the old mops of dead broomsedge out of the way.  And it was so easy to walk in straight lines with all the blackberries gone.  I hope this will improve our chances of having the long-dreamed of lush green rye pastures like we've been able to grow in the garden.  I think the cows munching on their dry old hay are dreaming of it, too.

Clothilde had a breakthrough last week when she requested to accompany Ethan to get hay.  She has always been completely terrified of tractors, especially if they are lifting up a bale of hay.  Ethan had to stop bringing her along after the first few times because she screamed hysterically.  I came along once and had to carry her away when our neighbor drove up on the tractor and she began shaking from terror.  This time, she was completely calm and has even been asking to go again, so I guess she has outgrown her fear.  It will make everything so much easier this year.  Ethan won't have to wait until I've finished milking to hand her off and then drive up and get hay.  We are hoping she will also outgrow her fear of golf carts so we can hitch rides in them next year at the Folk Festival.  This year's Folk Festival was dreadfully hard on my feet.