Thursday, January 31, 2008

First lamb, first seeds in the ground

When we went out to check on the sheep this morning there was our first lamb of the year, a little grey and black part Cotswold ram lamb. He was on his feet and nursing with no problem. We just have a few sheep, this little guy makes 11, and only two ewes that we expect to lamb. Our ram is a colored Cotswold and the rest of the flock crosses between Cotswolds and Waldron mutt sheep, combinations of the breeds that have been brought over here for year, Suffolks, Romneys, Lincoln, and who knows what else.

And the first seeds are in the ground in the new hoophouse. Joel is experiemting with early plantings of greens under cover so there are lots of short rows of a lot of different things, spinach, bok choy, several varieties of Asian greens, arugula and cilantro. We'll see what happens. Hopefully we have greens earlier than ever before for market.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Between November and about March Joel bakes bread for us. He used to bake it year round but when the farm started taking over our lives he realized that something had to go and it was back to buying store bread during the spring and summer months. The first baking of the bread season is such a special treat and it never pales.

Joel's bread is made from about half whole wheat flour and half unbleached white flour. We all decided over the years that we like the texture of that combination best. He adds oatmeal, cornmeal, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, honey, eggs when we have extra, and milk.

Breakfast is almost always a couple of pieces of toast toasted on a rack on top of the woodstove with homemade blackberry or raspberry jam or sometimes apple butter.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Eating winter's bounty

This time of year we tend to go back and forth between having winter squash and Brussels sprouts for dinner. I love Brussels sprouts. They are among my all time favorite vegetables. When my two older daughters, Jennie and Marilla were young Jennie got Rilla to eat them by telling her they were fairy cabbages. Worked a charm and we still call them that. Usually we just steam them but when Siri was here she showed us how to roast them, They were fantastic. Just put some olive oil in a baking pan, toss in the sprouts, sprinkle a little salt and pepper over them, and roast until they are soft and just a wee bit brown.

Winter squash I just cut in half, place cut side down in a baking pan and bake until soft. I like to sprinkle an little brown sugar on mine, Joel likes butter and salt and pepper.

It is amazing what you can grow outside in the winter in this neck of the woods. The Pacific Northwest does get cold now and then, it's been down to 24 degrees F this last week, but members of the brassica family, that is cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts can take an amazing amount of cold weather and bounce right back. Chard and hardy mustard greens are other vegetables that are growing outside in the garden as I write. We also have carrots, leeks, and parsnips still in the ground and baskets of winter squash upstairs in Siri's room. (We did have to move them aside when she came home for a few days so she could get to her bed.) We also have onions and garlic and potatoes in the house.

We store boxes of King apples from our 100 year old tree next to the house and Enterprise apples from a new planting out by the pond. Joel makes marvelous apple pies for us now and then and applesauce is a regular treat. One of my favorite winter side dishes is apples and onions fried together. Slice up three or four onions and several apples. Put a little oil in a frying pan and add them. Cover and cook until the apples are soft and then take the lid off and cook until they start to brown a little bit. This is great with any sort of pork, but is also wonderful all by itself.

We buy very few vegetables in the winter. An occasional red pepper and may be a head or two of lettuce between our last lettuce in December and the first in March. This year we have lettuces growing in one of the hoophouses so hopefully we will be able to get through without buying one head of lettuce.

People at the winter's farmers market are always asking if we grown the bounty we have for sale in greenhouses and are amazed when we say, no. It does differ greatly from area to area, but with a little care in planting and some simple protection a lot of people can grow most if not all their winter vegetables. Or buy them from a local farmer if someone in your area is growing a winter garden. Check it out.

Friday, January 25, 2008


As I went out to the barn this morning I noticed that the first snowdrops are up and in bud under our old birch tree. Our neighbors have been in bloom for a couple of weeks, but it is very shady where ours are and it takes them a bit longer. But I never cease to be amazed that the fragile little things come up regardless of the weather and temperature at this time of year. Obviously warmth must be part of what triggers them as that would be why the ones across the road bloom first, but a week ago when this cold spell began they were not up. The sun has been shining during the day and creating some warmth, but the ground has remained frozen. Those little flowers know that the days are beginning to be longer when when I'm not sure I can notice it yet. Although it is now after 5:00 PM and still light outside. Yay!!!

Sunday, January 20, 2008


We just came in from covering the last of the potato row with old hay to protect them from the cold air that is coming in with a roar. The Canadians always refer to these outflows of cold air from the north as an Arctic Outflow. I always envision cold air from the dark of outer space seeping into the high arctic in the absence of the sun and then finding cracks in which to flow down into the sunny areas. I remember in the past throwing hay over my dahlia beds as the ground froze under my feet. We get these days of cold dry air periodically during the winter, right now the humidity is about 52% and dropping every time I check the new digital weather station I got Joel for Christmas. It was in the 80's this morning. That kind of weather makes my hair fly around and the cats spark when you pet them. We rarely ever get snow when it gets cold here because the cold air is so dry Once in a while we are on the edge between the cold dry arctic air and the warm moist ocean air and then we get snow. This kind of cold dry weather is really hard on the garden. Even the really winter hardy things can dry out when the ground is too frozen for them to get moisture out of it while the cold wind is drying out the leaves.

So we will hunker down for a couple of days, keep the fire going and be grateful that since we are off the grid electrically our power isn't going to go out. It's hard to keep the studio warm enough to work as its heat is mainly from a fan from the main room where the stove is located, but I can sit close to the fire and knit and read and drink many cups of hot tea. It can be downright cozy. I think I'll make chili for dinner.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Yarn Tangles

I know this probably brands me as a true eccentric, but I like untangling yarn. I remember once telling a weaving student that I had decided that the most important personal characteristic of a potential fiber artist was the patience to untangle yarn. Because yarn will tangle no matter how careful you are. Science News recently ran an article on how things tie themselves in knots.
and I looked at my yarn stash and said "Yep."

I find it meditative to carefully tease out the knots and I love it when I get a particularly bad spot loosened up and a whole bunch of yarn just pulls out and I can wind it on the ball. It's like weeding quack grass roots out of the garden. It's such a great feeling when that long 3 foot piece of root just pulls loose and doesn't suddenly snap leaving you knowing that the end of it is in their somewhere and will happily be growing another plant in just a day or two. We occasionally get an infestation of the stuff in some part of the garden. The only only term solution for a large area is to cover it with heavy black plastic for at least a year. We plant our pumpkins through holes in this plastic so as to not have to take the whole bed out of production for that time. this s\does mean that the occasional plant finds its way up past the pumpkins or out under the edges and we have to weed it out by hand. In a small area digging it up carefully and pulling the roots out by hand works wonderfully and you get that great feeling of satisfaction when you do it.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Grey Day

Today was one of those grey, misty days when all the colors outside are intensified. All the various greens of the trees, the silver of the lichen on branches, the reds and tans of dried grasses and leafless branches are deeper and richer for the grey background. I was looking out the window while weaving and noticed that the pussy willow is in bloom. The large catkins looked almost metallic in the misty light. This is a pussy willow with huge silver catkins that came from cuttings I took from a tree that was going to be cut down in town. I had a friend who knew when the old gardens were about to be bulldozed for new construction and we would go on shrub rescues. I have a gorgeous double mockorange and a Veilchenblau rose with lovely little single purple blossoms, and an unidentified old fashioned double pink rose that escaped the bulldozer thanks to our quick action. I also have some lovely old roses that I've grown from cutting taken from old farmsteads here on Waldron, most of which I've never been able to satisfactorily identify. But they are beautiful. I hope that someone rescues my roses from this place when we are gone.

Today Joel cleaned all of the old tomato plants out of one of our hoophouses (unheated plastic greenhouses) and I am going to plant an experimental short row of sweet peas tomorrow. For years I have tried to grow sweet peas only to have them taken over by aphids just as they start to bloom. It occurred to me to try them as a winter crop to see if I can escape the aphids. Elegance is a day neutral variety, meaning it will bloom regardless of the length of the day. I'll try some now and then again in the fall for a winter crop. Wouldn't it be lovely to have fresh flowers in the winter?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The blackbirds are back

I heard the first red winged blackbirds of the year today. Two males were sitting in the top of the big maple tree in the yard singing their hearts out. The males usually show up here toward the end of December or early January, the females follow later, around the middle of February. I often wonder where they go. I saw them around here in late October feeding on the seeds of the sunflowers left in the garden, and then they were gone. They can't have gone all that far in two months. I know that the males and females form separate flocks in the winter and come back together when it is nesting time. We always have a large flock of them here as we have a marsh on the farm. It is a great place for the blackbirds, the occasional duck and Virginia rails. I've never seen a rail but we hear them in the marsh all spring.

Now that the black birds are here the bird seed in the feeders will start to go down fast. They are greedy birds. Up until now we have had our usual population of juncos, song sparrows, fox sparrows, and towhees at the feeders. I also saw the first pair of purple finches today.

And this winter the golden crowned sparrows seem to have stayed around. They usually show up in the spring to eat as many of our tiny seedlings as they can before they head up to the interior of British Columbia to nest. It took quite a few years before we figured out what was happening when a whole bed of peas would start disappearing. We'd blame slugs, cutworms, whatever, the usual culprits until I watched a flock of golden crowned sparrows run around in a bed of seedlings nibbling on the leaves that had just come up through the soil. They are funny little birds, looking almost like little mice down under the plants. They will fly up into the bushes just a few feet away and wait until you leave to drop back down into the garden. We quickly learned to cover all beds with floating row covers as soon as we heard their distinctive "Oh, dear me, oh dearie me" call in the spring.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Seed Catalogues

January is our vacation month, sort of. That is, being in both the farming business and the tourist industry we are slaving away in July and August when most of our customers are on vacation and people are always saying something like "You work so hard." Well, they should come visit in January. We can go on beach walks (well bundled up to be sure), sit around and drink tea, and eat leftover Christmas candy.

Of course, the truth is, that neither Joel and I are particularly good at just sitting around, so taking a vacation mainly consists of reading seed catalogues, while drinking cups of tea or coffee and dreaming about the next year's garden.

Ah, the seed catalogues. My love of them stems from a visit to one of aunt's when I was about 8 or 10. While the adults sat in the kitchen talking about adult stuff I wandered into the living room and discovered this marvelous magazine full of FLOWERS. I was entranced and to this day remember how wonderful it was. When I first started gardening for my self some 30+ years ago I wondered if I could find that particular company's catalogue. By gosh when I got my first Park Seed catalogue there it was, looking not all that different from what I remembered. And in the mail today I got my 2008 version of the Park Seed Co. catalogue and it is still wonderful.

This will be our 22nd year of growing vegetables for sale at the Farmers market. We decided years ago that getting exactly what we wanted in seeds was more practical than trying to keep postage rates down by limiting ourselves to one or two catalogues. We love growing a wide variety of vegetables and flowers and experiment each year with new varieties. Some of them are busts and we toss the seeds, but some of them are wonderful, better than anything else we've had before. So we keep trying new stuff. This means that we order from sometimes up to 20 different companies. Our mainstays are Johnny';s and Territorial but we order from Jungs, Parks, Harris, Tomato Growers, Seed Savers, and a lot more.

So today Joel has had them all spread out on the table checking prices and amounts of seed and looking for a new red turnip that he knows he saw someplace and now can't find. And a new storage tomato that he did finally find in the Abundant Life catalogue. This is the fantasy garden; no cutworms, wireworms, muskrats, golden crowned sparrows or fungi. Just beautiful pictures of gorgeous vegetables and beautiful flowers. I love this time of year.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

First planting of 2008

We planted the garlic today. 400 cloves of Nootka Rose garlic saved from our last year's crop. It felt good to be getting the farming year off to a start. there was a bit of sun, the temperature was about 45 degrees and it f elt good to get a bit muddy and get our hands into the ground.

All three looms have tan and brown warps on them. The little Harrisville has a brown and tan boa, the big Oregon Trails a multi tan and brown rayon chenille warp, and the 8 harness Harrisville an organic cotton overshot warp for placemats and runners.

To relieve the color monotone I'm also working on a purple felted hat.

2008 is off to a great start. Siri was home for a few days from college in Brooklyn. She had a nasty cold and slept most of the time but I decided that that is one thing parents can do, be boring enough so a sick kid can just sleep and get well.

I sold my first item in my Etsy shop, a purple rag rug. I listed things in the middle of December, a bit late for Christmas, so didn't know how well it would work. I've gotten a lot of hits and this first sale is really exciting. And I just found out that my old library job at the Waldron Island one-room school will be opening up next fall and I think I will apply for it. I loved that job and hated leaving it when we moved to Friday Harbor for high school for Siri.