Friday, October 21, 2011

Harvesting plums and apples

A couple days ago I went around the orchard and took a few pictures of the fruit we're harvesting.  The 4 plum trees are loaded, in the photo above this is about the number of plums from each tree.  Not all have ripened, I watch and pick only those that easily come from the stem and are turning purple or are dark purple.  I will harvest them all over the next week, and hope the rain doesn't crack too many.

Don't you love having the dilemma of an abundant harvest, it allows for creativity and chances to try new things.  So what am I doing with all these plums.  I'm on my second batch in the dehydrator, I remove the pit and dry them whole, they're delicious.  Some will be jam and preserves, some plum juice, and I'm planning to make a plum kuchen this weekend, plus we've been giving them away to family and friends.

The plum trees are on the left, it's hard to tell in the picture that every branch is heavy laden with plums. The Katsura's are on the right.

The apples below are called Akane, they are some of my ealiest ripening apples, the catalog said they ripened in late August to Early September, this year it's the middle of October.  They're delicious with a nice, crisp, sweet and tart flavor.
I planted all of these apple trees in 2007, when I made several purchases from Raintree Nursery and Burnt Ridge Nursery.  I also bought seedling nut trees that I planted at the same time.  The apple trees are just beginning to produce, so we didn't have a large harvest.  One must have patience and a vision when raising fruit and nut trees.  Every year I get excited even for 6 or 7 apples, simply the fact that they're growing and will produce more and more every year.  
Above is a Honey Crisp apple, they like our climate and taste so good.  All my apples looked great for being organic, I didn't spray anything, just added dry grass clippings as mulch.  I do plan to add aged manure and compost this year.  Fruit trees need nutrition in the form of compost, aged manure, and mulch in the summer.
 A dark red Williams Pride apple, it has a wonderfully crisp and spicy flavor.  It's also an early apple, and cross pollinates with Akane.  Having two different apple trees that bloom at the same time, and will produce their fruit around the same time, this is a keys to success with fruit production.  Having early, mid, and late apples, plums and pears is a good idea to spread the harvest out.  Plus it gives us the opportunity to process them and a reasonable pace.  Late apples are important because they're the best winter keepers, I'm planning to buy more late season apple trees to plant this year.
Above is one of three large buckets of apples that I picked from a tree at my work.  The tree was big and went out over a creek, the apples were perfectly ripe and taste great.  I'm making dried apples, and canning applesauce and apple butter, I'm also freezing some for apple pies and crisps.

We have 5  older Asian pear trees.  4 are the same and produce heavily every other year, but we have the one above that produces faithfully every year.  I think it's my favorite fruit tree on our property, I love the flavor, and texture of this particular Asian pear.  I like to eat them sliced with cheese, in salads, and just picked and eaten right off the tree. This winter I'm planning to get 3 or 4 more varieties of Asian pear trees, they do so well here and are such a favorite with everyone.   Asian pears are also very good keepers when kept cool and can last all through the winter. 

12 days old

Summer is a great Mom, we're all so proud of her.  Look how big and healthy her 4 puppies are at 12 days old.  The 2 males are in the middle, one is blond like his father, and one is dark red like Summer.  On either side are the females, one is a little lighter than the other.  Their eyes are all just beginning to open.

We like to sit on the floor by the fire with them and snuggle and love them.  They are so cute and the little noises they make are adorable.  They are just beginning to get up on their legs and practise walking instead of scooting, so being contained is becoming essential.  We're all having so much fun with them and are enjoying watching them as they grow up.
You can see how light the blond male is, he's going to be beautiful like his Father.  I just love the dark goldens too like Summer, her coat is a dark reddish golden and shines in the sun.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Summer went into labor yesterday on Columbus Day. Thankfully I was home and the kids were all home, so we all got to be with her as she gave birth, the timing was perfect.   When I went out to get fire wood from the wood shed around noon, there she was in the corner where she sleeps, she had been hanging out in here, (her bedroom), for the last few days.  It's a nice dry stall-like area right by the house, and doubles as a wood shed.  I went up to her and she whimpered, I looked down and saw she had just given birth to her first puppy, a little boy.  Quickly I gathered clean dry towels, a blanket, and told the kids.  We got her all clean and settled and began the 4 hours of labor and delivery. 

Having babies is exhausting.
4 puppies in all.  We waited until overnight, still has 4, so I think she's done.
 2 boys and 2 girls.
Glowing with happiness as a new mother.  Summer is such a good mom, she fusses over her babies continuously, and keeps them clean, warm, and well fed.  I have been her nurse, bringing her meat, cheese, eggs and milk, and of course her dry kibble and water.  I bring it right to her, she still hasn't gotten up.  More baby pictures soon, I want to keep one!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Early Fall

Everyone is off to work and school and I'm home all day, Yeah! I love being home! 

Fall is here in the Northwest, and the rain has begun again.  I'm sitting here writing and procrastinating on the morning milking, waiting for a little reprieve from the downpour.  The milk stand is under the eaves of the goat and chicken barn and we all get wet during rain.  A priority before the heavy Fall rains will be a cover for my milking area.  Early this morning I fed everyone, so now we're all just sitting under cover watching it come down.

The rain also gets me to thinking about my pickling cucumbers in the garden,  I need to harvest them and will make crock pickles with the large ones, and jars of pickles in vinegar and herbs with the smaller ones.  The basil is not liking this rain either, I need to go pick it right away, and make pesto.  *Note to self, pick basil before the end of September next year.

There are apples, plums, and asian pears hanging on the trees, we've been eating from them everyday, and will be harvesting them over the next couple of weeks.  This year our bumper crop will be plums, we have 4 mature blue gage trees that have hundreds of plums per tree, about every 3 or 4 years these trees decide to give a haul.  I'll be making plum preserves, dried plums. and plum juice. 

In the garden I still have potatoes, carrots and beets to dig, and am hoping the delicata squash will ripen before the first frost, I'll leave them on until the end of the month.  I also have tomatillos to harvest, we've never had to plant them, they just come up year after year, and we make the most delicious salsa verde with them. 

Fall brings the sounds of the Douglas Squirrels dropping fir cones everywhere, these industrious little guys scurry up and down the trunks of the large Douglas Fir trees in the forests, you can hear the cones drop and watch them race through the tree tops. Watch out if you walk under a tree where they are, they have a good aim, and must have fun with their cone bombs trying to hit us.  Fall is also the smell of the Katsura trees, the smell is undescribable, cotton candy-like, it comes when the leaves turn yellow and fall.  Vine maples are beginning to turn red, orange, and yellow, and the sedum autumn joy and purple cone flowers are still blooming.

This morning I got a fresh batch of sourdough started, my old batch I had left too long and it went bad, this can happen if you don't watch it close enough. Possibly it failed because I didn't have it stored in the refrigerator, which helps slow it down and last longer.  I decided to experiment  this time and try the yogurt maker to start it in.  The consistent warmth might help speed up the process of making a good strong sourdough in less time than the typical 2 weeks, which is about how long I have found it takes to get a really good flavor.  You can begin to use a starter after 3 days, but it's much better to let it work a little longer.  I'm hoping this will speed up that time.  The main thing I'll do is check on it regularly, and  feed it when it get's thin or too sour. 

To make the sourdough, I use fresh dark rye flour (Bob's Red Mill), mix a little warm water into it and make it a little thicker than cake batter. I start with about 3/4 of a cup of flour, it needs warmth to get going, so usually I just set it in a jar by the wood stove, and add flour every day or two.  You know it needs to be fed (flour added) because it will bubble and then fizzle out, then you need to feed it with flour, if it gets too full you will need to take some out, also allow half the room in the jar for expansion.  I only use the rye flour to get it going and feed it for a couple days, then I switch to whole wheat flour.  This Fall I'm looking forward to baking with my sourdough, we love pancakes, bread, and muffins made from it. 

On the stove I have pheasant stock going.  How in the world did I get a pheasant?  Well, A couple days ago J came and told how a pheasant had flown under his truck while on the way home, it was on our hill so not a lot of traffic.  He knew the tires didn't run over it, but when he looked back it was dying.  He felt really bad and went back to look, it was almost dead and must  have tried to fly up as it went under the truck.  A lady went by in a car and said "Oh how sad for that beautiful bird" he felt the same, picked it up by the feet to bring home, and as he was walking back to the truck another car came by, this time with a guy, he gave the thumbs up sign and said "Good for you!" 

While we all felt bad about this most beautiful bird dying, we gave it honor by saving some of  it's gorgeous feathers for craft projects, we had a wonderful meal, and now I'm making soup.  The girls and I had never eaten pheasant before, and let me tell you, it was so good!  I stuffed it with cooked rice, fresh sage and garlic.  I baked it and as a side dish we had steamed kale from the garden.  Yum, here's to Fall, the harvest and good eating, and thanks for the many small blessings that come our way.  Well the rain has slowed, I'm off to go milk. 

Monday, October 3, 2011


A yearly ritual for me is the making of sauerkraut in the Fall.  It uses up  all the remainder of the gardens green cabbages, is easy to make, will last all through the winter, and even has the added health benefits of lacto fermenting.

Here's how I make it;  First sanitize everything with hot scalding water, especially the container you're using.  I boil water and pour it around the crock, wash the counter and knife real good, and make sure the cabbage is clean.  Slice the cabbages as thin as you can, make a layer of cabbage in your container, then sprinkle with salt, continue to layer in your container.  I use kosher salt, I'm sure you can use pickling salt, I have also used sea salt and it worked just fine, you just don't want to use table salt with iodine. The containers I have used are buckets or crocks, and for the last several years I have used this large 15 gallon crock.  It settles down to about half, so I have room to put a gallon glass jar filled with water to weight it all down.  As it's curing it needs to be covered with liquid, the liquid will come from the cabbage as the salt helps release it. 

I don't measure the salt, just sprinkle it on the layers, I make the layers about an inch thick and sprinkle like I'm salting a food dish then I add a little extra.  If you're salt sensitive try using less salt. I have played around with less salt and more salt, and have found a nice balance is good.  If you don't add enough salt the sauerkraut isn't as crisp.
Once I add all the layers of cabbage and salt, I punch it down, I use my fists (clean and sanitize first) to literally punch and punch it all down.  I spend 5 to 7 minutes doing this for my big batch, a smaller batch wouldn't take as long.  There are probably many ways to tamp down, I've even used a clean two by four in a plastic bag as a tamper, just so it's tamped down to help release the liquid.  I then place a cover like a large plate over it.  I have also placed a towel over top before the plate, but this has to be kept very clean, rinsed regularly in hot water.  Push down so liquid covers the plate, and set your weight on the plate, then I cover with a wooden lid.   Make sure the plate is sanitized along with the weight and the lid, the plate should be large enough to cover the surface of the cabbage.

You will need to check it daily, and skim off any scum or foam.  The time it takes to cure depends mostly on the temperature.  In warmer temps, like 75 degrees, it may only take 10-14 days, in cooler temperature like I have, around the low 60's it will take several weeks, I've let it cure anywhere from 3-6 weeks.  I then jar it up and refrigerate what I want to use in the next 3 months, and can the rest for late winter and early spring.  We eat this all through the winter months.

A few notes;  The cabbage can take a day or two to release it's liquid fully, in the event you don't have enough liquid after 2 days to cover the cabbage when pushed down by the plate, you will need to make a salty brine.  I just mix water in a quart jar add a couple teaspoons of salt and pour over it.  If cabbage is fresh it will usually have enough moisture.

I have found that the best way for me to keep a good eye on the fermenting sauerkraut is to keep it in my kitchen where I'll remember it, I've tried to place it farther away and have forgotten to regularly check it.  You will also want to check the flavor and taste starting when it's about a week old, once it reaches a taste and flavor you like, jar it up in pint or quart jars and refrigerate or can.  We begin eating it as soon as it's done, I like to serve sauerkraut as a side dish for lunch or dinner depending on what I'm serving.   Happy Fall!