Self Sufficiency Is Hard Work

So five years into building our farm and working outside to afford our farm. Plus living a self sufficient life, living off grid while doing this. Growing the majority of our food year round . Wildcrafting for local fruit; blackberries, huckleberries made into jams and frozen for mid winter feasting. Bartering and trading for anything from salmon and local rock fish, even abalone to lamb and goat cheese also lemons and wine. Our half a beef and the wild pig Dennis shot carrying us through. I find our meals to have become more and more gourmet and inspired. Needing abundant creativity and a very diverse garden to keep the meals interesting.

More and more I read and think about traditional lifestyles in rural France and Italy. How local food markets were based on a high standard and a reputation you didn’t want to ruin by offering a lesser grade product. Our tastes here in America have been ruined by old food overly processed, too much sugar and salt, not to mention mold . It will take careful eating practices to regain our taste buds in favor of fresh foods. I noticed I wasn’t that interested in vegetables; they didn’t seem to have any flavor. My kids too now love vegetables because they are fresh and flavorful. Growing traditional heirloom varieties of vegetables and fruits, brings back subtle flavors lost in our current market produce, grown for shelf life and ship-ability.

The work day is long and hard but the richness and integrity of living this type of life is so abundant . The pay is little for what we are producing but what we need is coming and a feeling of working within a community is developing. Doing good work trying to be kind to each other is bringing us closer and we all help to make this vision develop .

Carried Away With Summer

I know I’ve written very little the last few months. Part of it is that I’m sleeping again, so no more 2am-4am writing times. The other part is this farm vision is taking effect before my eyes and it’s just so much work.

Today my husband and son-in law and the rest of us got part of the new fence up. This will increase the garden to about four acres. I’m trying to fill part of that with fruit trees, part of it with ornamental gardens, some rows of berries, then more vegetable space. I’m looking at it from an irrigation point of view. How I can run the systems and how much landscape can we reasonably water. Marketing what we produce seems to be relatively easy, so I’m trying to focus on what we like to eat and how to grow the most diversity of product to eat with year round. Also to try to grow mostly what will do well here.

These last few days have been like a farm camp here. Dennis riding three kids all piled around him on the four-wheeler. Dragging small sapling fir trees up to hatchet off the branches and hand peel the bark with a draw knife. They are all making a teepee, an authentic large sized one . Tonight our instant hot water heater washed six of our dusty bodies in a row, then did dinner dishes as well. I finally succumbed having typed the first part of this with dirt all over me and my clothes.

I feel it’s very important to include our whole family in farm and house chores. So visiting grandchildren harvested strawberries, weeded paths and then collected flower seed on their own inspiration to grow their own flower gardens at home. Helping with running errands picking food and preparing lunch out of the garden seems to make the food taste even better.Today doing a taste test of six different types of beets.Then gobbling them up in a salad .

Our freezer is full of Sherry’s cow and an extra lamb, plus lot’s of tan oak bark smoked salmon. We feel stocked for the winter. But the summer garden is going full force harvesting french filet beans, so far eating more of them in the garden than we have cooked, lettuces, spinach, beets, mizuna, peas, cauliflower, kale, potatoes, garlic, onions, leeks, broccoli, mixed greens: cucumbers, tomatoes and squash are just starting here on the coast in August. Winter vegetables are starting to go in, more potatoes, garlic, brassicas, peas, spinach, lettuces planted in the next months for winter harvest.

Since my family is coming here for Thanksgiving, I’ve been planting acorn squash, pumpkins, etc. specifically with that holiday in mind. It’s inspiring me to finish many undone projects around the ranch, hopefully many will get done. Three turkeys were ordered from http://mendoorganicscsa.com/2011/07/01/thanksgiving-christmas-turkeys/. To reserve for the holiday. My brother made the comment today, his birthday, when I called; ” You know Katie, we could always just go buy something from the store, if we need it ” . Yeah cranberry bogs just don’t grow around here, but we could dig a pond and try ? OK Ok .

Storytelling

There was a gypsy evening of storytelling and music, at a self sufficiency event I wanted to attend . I thought about a story I might tell. I didn’t end up going to the event as I did last year, since we are already living the self sufficient life ! We are so busy doing that and I didn’t want to be away a weekend when I could be working instead on one of our many projects here.

Now in my family, we are all storytellers, and we all elaborate our stories adding more stories to the original. Let’s see if I can write it as I would tell it:

People ask me why I moved into a monastery at the age of 24. It all started with a motorcycle, a Norton Commando, to be exact. I had this boyfriend at that time. he was blond I’m blond, he was a triathlete, I was riding my bike 28 miles to college each day plus swimming four + times a week at his encouragement. We got along really well. Anyway his mom gave me a piece of Christmas china for a present. A few months later , I had a vision of my life unfolding with him; the Volvo wagon, some acceptable suburban lifestyle, walking a baby in a jog stroller. I broke up with him the next day, I could not see myself living this life.

The next day I was selling my Karman Ghia and this unique looking guy in retro shades, a used army jacket and work boots drove up on ” The Motorcycle”. He was like taking a different road . He and his friends were involved with the patrons of the monastery, some of them worked as cooks or gardeners at their estate. Most were meditating. This was 1979 and I realized I had found what I’d been looking for.

To be able to work at this estate, they taught regular meditation classes, I had to either become a cook or a gardener. I decided to try my hand at gardening. I started with a small patch outside our tiny cottage ” The Guy” and I were sharing. I could just afford a few six packs of flowers, I tried delphiniums and foxgloves. These grew to the overwhelming height of ten to twelve feet tall, a rose blew in and grew and started blooming, other bulbs just came up. It seemed the earth was trying to tell me something, maybe I was good at this ? Then I turned the corner and started gardening in the next long bed, then the huge front bed, double digging it all with manure after my bakery job was done each day. Flowers started blooming abundantly everywhere. I started trading them for gelato credit at a local shop. Other stores joined in purchasing flowers.

One day the woman I admired so much at the estate garden, told me the story of the two sisters;

There were two sisters, each wanted to grow a flower garden for the fair flower show at the end of the summer. Both sisters turned their front yards into huge flower gardens. One sister would give her flowers away to whoever was coming by for a visit. The other sister wouldn’t cut any of hers trying to keep them for the fair. Well when the time for the fair came around, the sister who had given away all the flower bouquets still had lot’s of flowers, while the sister who wouldn’t cut hers had all her garden go to seed and had no more flowers. Cutting flowers helps them to grow more flowers.

Why do I farm?

Last night eating a particularly wonderful fish chowder, fish caught by my daughter’s boyfriend, potatoes gently dug from under the plants, fresh purple onions, green garlic, parsnips (some of many currently), chopped parsley and fresh thyme. Then accompanied by one of our brick oven baked naturally leavened breads ( we baked 80 loaves yesterday), and followed by a slightly tart rhubarb pie ( none of those sissy strawberries). I think how rich my life is .

Then my husband pushed around some burn piles ( yes, it’s still raining and wet in California in June !) with his backhoe for our neighbors, and came home with some fresh salmon ! Yeah !

The abundance is arguably coupled with a lot of hard work, but I feel so proud when I look at those peas climbing up the trellis and the rows of growing veggies. But yes, my love of good food also motivates me. Thanks to all the good cooks I know who have inspired me.

As the garden here slightly matures and the very small plants I’ve put in as permanent or perennial shrubs and trees mature and fill out, it feels easier like some momentum has been gained. My roses, started from cuttings are beginning to cascade on the fence. The artichokes started from seed are producing quantities. The asparagus started from seed was harvested for the first time this year ( three years before the first harvest) . The rhubarb is getting to be a big plot, helped out by lot’s of compost and did you know rhubarb love LOT”S of water ? Some of the fruit trees have quite a few fruits on them and are starting to look like trees !

Sharing this with others, getting invited to come see my 90 yr. old neighbor’s boyfriends garden who sends us over glorious cauliflower, while we drop off bread.
Feeling a sense of community and tradition. As my great and wise girlfriend who grew up on a dairy farm told me , “school was never the most important thing”. It was the family, the farm, being a part of that, having an identity in what a farm really means to a community. Farming is a passive revolution. Bringing back rural America and collaboration instead of isolation as our material world has fostered. Interdependency , compassion, neighborliness, sharing, all these things are why I farm.

Farming 2011

Front yard May 2011
As this year shapes up for us, we are finding ourselves working hard to finish infrastructure development and to do it with a cash flow problem. TRADE has become our middle name, maybe our surname . We are trading for carpentry help to install our outdoor kitchen. So we can stop making dough and loafing in our tiny cabin kitchen, then hauling up to sixty loaves up to the oven to bake. Just the paraphernalia to produce the bread is overwhelming to store . Soon , soon we shall have a outdoor space !! Dance, sing, oh joy.
The other big infrastructure project is more fencing. Combining the two veggie gardens together by fencing the middle area. This means making new soil in the new area so lot’s of compost. We are happily mucking out stalls and the chicken coop. This new area will be home to more orchard trees planted close together and kept short, mostly espaliered . The 36 fruit trees I started by grafting rootstock to scion wood are doing well, thirty four took , two I will have to redo the graft on later. The fifty fruit trees already in, are growing, mostly mulched, mostly weeded, getting bigger . Our vegetable rows will be longer . The new fence area will provide a place for a Livestock guardian dog so our chickens can free range in that area without getting picked off by bobcats.

Last week I tried baking the bread in a commercial kitchen, we had such big hopes of this large mixer that was going to make the batching so much easier and the commercial dishwasher to help clean up afterward. We did get a great group of women and I felt all my hopes of bringing together community around food was beginning to work. Anyway the kitchen had this tiny mixer that was broken and no dishwasher that we could find ! Still it was fun to mix the doughs.

Our food expenditures and monthly expenses have been growing much smaller due to our severely reduced income. I think we are getting closer to what we can really live on. Maybe we can finally afford to farm. Since we rarely buy any groceries but milk and dairy products, and we are not growing that much fruit yet, fruit has become this mouth watering fantasy item. Tonight my daughter was talking about how delicious our salad would be with a apple in it. The strawberries are almost ripe and we all are checking them daily. Seeing the baby fruit forming on the trees means more to me this year than it ever has before, it’s what we will be living on for the next year.

My hope was that we would be farming and selling our produce this year, also bread and eggs; is to only be on a small scale again like last year. Until the infrastructure is in and paid for and my new jobs gardening for others becomes more reliable, we won’t be able to live on such a small income as we would make from small scale food production. But we are getting there and I can see the other side of the mountain. We are well on our way to building a small farming business. Hopefully we will be able to dawdle around and prune and harvest the fruit trees until we are quite old.

Self Sufficiency- Too Many Eggs!


The wonderful chickens are laying their hearts out and we are getting way too many eggs! How to really eat ” In Season” is to eat what we have right ? So some egg recipes follow, because you have to be creative. Any ideas out there ? We also market some of our eggs to help compensate for the cost, because organic feed is so expensive ! But worth it , no GMO corn sprayed with round-up fed here . Plus they eat lot’s of green vegetables every day so our yolks are so yellow!

Do you know that the eggs you buy in the store can be four to six weeks old and older if they were cold stored ? Support your local egg grower.

1. Always have hard boiled eggs- if the eggs are very fresh, they will peel well if you steam them for about 20 minutes.

2. Eggs for breakfast- If I scramble them I always put a few extra in and they usually get eaten. Breakfast burritos w/ scrambled eggs.

3. Deviled Eggs- Mix mayonnaise, salt, pepper, squeeze of meyer lemon.

4. Frittata- Heat Oven: 400 Carla Roney taught me this recipe, start with a pound of goat cheese chevre, whip it with the mixer, add 12 eggs one at a time mix each one in and beat, salt and pepper and 3-4 Tbs. flour. At the same time I saute onions( let them brown) in a #8 cast iron frying pan, add garlic and a lot of chard chopped fine, cook until well wilted . Add in egg and cheese mixture Bake until browned. approx. 45 mins.

5. Quiche- Try potato and cheddar or quiche lorraine which to our family means Bacon and carmelized onions usually jack cheese since we don’t typically buy swiss.

6. Deviled egg sandwich- really good on our home made sourdough bread!

7. Vanilla Custard- Whisk 4 egg yolks Measure in another bowl 3/4 cup cream. Combine in a small pan 3/4 cup half/ half, 1/4 cup sugar, one 2′ piece of vanilla bean split. Warm until steaming, stir occasionally to dissolve the sugar. When warm whisk into the egg yolks.Strain this mixture into the cold cream and mix well.Remove the vanilla bean from the strainer and squeeze all the seeds and juice from it back into the mixture. preheat oven to 350. Pour into four custard cups. Place them in a large deep pan, pour in boiling water until halfway up the sides. Cover w/ foil and seal edges. Bake until the sides are set but the center is still soft when jiggled. About 25-30 minutes.
Remove from the water and let cool. : From “The Art Of Simple Food” by Alice Waters

8. Lemon Bars- 1 1/2 c flour, 1/4 cup powdered sugar, 12 TBS. butter cut into flour. Press into bottom and 1/4 inch up the sides, of 13×9 inch pan. Bake 325 till golden brown 20-30 mins. Reduce to 300, whisk together 6 large eggs,3 cups sugar, stir in grated zest of one lemon, and 1 cup+ 2 Tbs. lemon juice and 1/2 cup flour. Pour over baked, cooled, crust. Bake until set approx. 35 mins. From ” Joy of Cooking”

8. Challah Bread- Bakers Flour 7 1/2 cups, 5 Tbs. sugar, 4 egg yolks, 2 eggs, 5 1/2 Tbs. softened butter, 1 1/2 cups warm water, 1 Tbs. salt, 2 1/2 teas. yeast. From BREAD by: Jeffrey Hamelman.

9. Pancakes- Three eggs( beaten), two shy cups of flour, two cups of buttermilk, two teaspoons of baking powder, 1/4 -1/2 stick of butter melted.

Eating from the garden year round


Yesterday I dug through last Fall’s potato bed . We’ve gone through it a few times already for the last of the potatoes, think I’ve gotten them all now. I found some nice red potatoes and decided to replant them . We haven’t had enough red ones.

Last night I made a meatloaf. Local sausage and local organic hamburger, cooked rice, cream, onions( out of the garden) and roasted the last of the potatoes . It ‘s a good time for the spring planting of potatoes, so this morning perused potato catalogs and wrote out an order. It’s very expensive to buy seed potatoes , plus pay the shipping. More than $50.00 for 13.5lbs. of seed potatoes plus the shipping was going to be more than $20.00 more. I remembered the local farmers who had a huge bumper crop of organically grown potatoes dry land farmed in rich river bottom land. They agreed to sell me a 50# box for $50.00. I came home and planted another forty five feet by three feet of russet and yukon gold potatoes. The extras should keep us in local potatoes until the next bed is harvested in the next few months.

I made a potato soup for dinner, spring garlic, purple onions, parsley, fresh thyme and rosemary, potatoes and a small amount of meatloaf. Everyone loved it. We’re still eating spinach, swiss chard, kale, mustard greens, broccoli, lettuce, onions and some beets from the garden. Asparagus and artichokes are just coming on. Eating year round out of the garden, here in California is pretty easy even without a root cellar. We canned tomato sauce, salsa, apple sauce, jam, pickles, green beans from the garden last summer. In the freezer we have blackberries and huckleberries still. There are some lemons on our small tree happily growing next to the chicken coop. Lemon curd and lemon bars have been a staple lately along with custard and puddings from all the eggs the hens are laying. I’ve traded some bread for gelato and for goat meat last week. We eat good! Plus the cost is quite reasonable. I’ve saved seeds for many of my greens and let others reseed in the garden. I buy some seed and some starts, small amounts of organic fertilizer to supplement our manure rich compost. Gardens don’t have to be expensive. Neither should eating be.

Baking Day ! Febuary 12th 12:00


Febuary 12th 12:00 the oven should be about 500-600 degrees. Perfect for bread baking and roast meats, Pizza. Let me know if you want to be in on making bread the day before and early am the morning of the bake.

The oven is very well insulated and stays hot for days. Many more things could be baked in it as the temp. goes down. Just let us know.

If you want to learn about naturally leavened bread we’ll be putting it together Friday and Saturday early.