Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A Ground Hog's Day and Winter Local

It started out sunny with shadows, Ground Hog's Day, then the temps dropped, a lot, and the snow came. At least the ground was warm so the roads were ok until I got the barn fed and myself home.

At home it would seem our cow is in estrus. Which would mean that she isn't pregnant. Which I'd like to point you to Leslie at Pocket's of the Future's recent blog post about crazy crazy cow times. Really, you should follow her blog -- it is one of a very few farm blogs that I really read because she has something to say. And she happens to be not that far up the road from me. So, if you know of a cow confirmed pregnant (they can do this via palpation or ultrasound) or in milk (with or without calf), reasonable, ummm, could you let me know? Our cow will be hamburger sooner rather than later it looks like. We've become accustomed to a milk economy, and want pigs this year too, and do not want to do without.

At least the little goat looks primed to drop in the not too distant future, and we will be milking her to supplement us.

Ah, but what I'd meant to write about was way back in the previous cold time in January. You see, we generally "store" our potatoes in the ground, un-dug, and dig them as we need them, except we try to get them out by March because they do start sprouting. When it was predicted to be lows down to zero and less, we knew some would be lost to freezing (some but not that many usually, depending on how deep they've grown, and this year the potatoes were not laying on top of the ground) so we went to dig as many as we felt like it. That ended up being

these. Those are two five gallon buckets full and the muck tub not full. These sit (significantly lowered) in our kitchen to this day. This is how potatoes really look -- all shapes, sizes and dirty.

Now, it is easy to talk about local food when the salads are in, or the tomatoes and corn are flowing, but what about in the dead of winter?

The single easiest answer is the potato. Significant quantities of potatoes can be grown in small, scatted plots (no need for vast expanses of arable ground or any expensive carbon emitting equipment), the various varieties provide for short and long season options, you can save your own seed potatoes, and they are supremely nutritious (and balanced nutritionally) to boot. We eat them baked, roasted, as french fries, mashed, boiled, in stuff, around stuff, and every sort of way. There is no end to variety in the potato.

Other answers include cabbage and all its hardy relatives (kale and collard especially). This is your winter green and it makes a wonderful raw winter salad. And winter squashes which give you your orange veggies.

To enjoy fresh during the winter, you either need to be on a first name basis with your local produce stand proprietors (and ours recently had fresh sausage and salt middlin's available too!), or know how to store them yourself. Potatoes stay well in the ground around here, although you'll have some freeze and mice damage. You'll have some damage no matter how you store them by the way. If you dig yours, they need to be kept dark and cool and damp. Cabbage can be holed in the ground or stored in a root cellar, cool and damp. Squash, on the other hand, need to be warm and dry.

Our main grain we grow is corn, and we eat plenty of corn bread year round. It takes many forms -- pones and cakes and gems and tortillas and hominy and masa. Beans form a home grown staple -- canned green beans, canned green shelled shelly beans, dried beans, shucky beans. These are all grown in the summer and harvested and processed adn stored for later use. Corn mostly just has to be dry, like the dried and the shucky beans, and then the only challenge is to keep the bugs out. And of course, anything else that you grew and harvested and processed and stored is appropriate for winter too. Our wealth of July blueberries is being much enjoyed in our oatmeal, on our pancakes, and in cobblers and pies. We dried them and froze them. We dried a lot of fruit. And don't forget our stash of jam! All sorts of other things can be successfully stored fresh (unprocessed) too -- primarily other root veggies like carrots and turnips, but even fruit like apples and maybe pears.

If you don't grow and store these things yourself, they are still what ought to be eaten in the winter. They are healthy, whole, local, and delicious.

But also remember that the occasional banana won't kill you or the planet.


Madcap said...

I've definitely been having a lot of restless, gardeny-type thoughts lately, and your post fits right into the Big Plan. Little Plan this year, since that garden's a wilderness, but for sure we'll be hacking up enough ground for potatoes and beets and carrots. I'm jealous of your dirty-potatoes-not-in-a-plastic-bag.

So, I have a food-drying question. How do you go about that? Do you keep things over the woodstove, or wha? I tried drying some mushrooms on a platter on the top of a cupboard, but they had half an inch of dust on them by the time they were dry. I'm suspecting there's a better way to go about it, but the only other thing I've heard much about is electric dehydrators.

CG said...

we do have a super nice electric dehydrator, Excalibur I think it is. At any rate, it works GREAT, unlike those round cheap things. I keep meaning to design and make (mostly sew I'm thinking -- so you do it and share your plans!) a passive dehydrator to hang in the trees in the summer. It just needs trays and to be screened from bugs -- could be collapsible if we were clever enough. We're really taken with drying as an alternative preservation method.

Madcap said...

I went and looked it up, and yes, that's a mighty nice looking dehydrator. Not in the budget right now though, sadly.

Now, was that bit about the hanging thingy a double-dog-dare-ya? I think I could... would the bottoms of the trays need to be mesh too, to let the air in at all sides of the food?

CG said...

yes. But what works well for that is, what is it? needlepoint mesh or something like that.

Madcap said...

I was thinking of lightweight wooden frames with some sort of mosquito-type netting stapled on, not metal, some sort of vinyl stuff. I guess I'd have to see what's available in the hardware store. You could use tulle fabric for that part too, I suppose, and there would be so little of it involved that it wouldn't be a big deal to replace it if that was required.

CG said...

yes! It would be nice if the whole thing was collapsible for storage. The "trays" would need to be framed, and have that needlepoint stuff for a surface, but could sit on screening too maybe? There would be so many ways possible to do it -- because if you didn't make the frames removable it would be simpler construction but much harder to load and unload.

BTW, go ahead and ask excalibur for information -- I believe we paid about half whatever their original asking price was way back when we bought ours. Like the VitaMix, it is truly worlds different from the other stuff on the market.

Joe Tornatore said...

haven't been on your blog in awhile. boy, i missed it. good stuff.

PocketsoftheFuture said...

Dear CG,

Thank you for the very fine compliment. As you know, it is very hard to live your life and then find time to write about it. Nice to know that it matters.

I wish that we had all of your knowledge and experience with gardening and eating with the seasons. I am making note of everything you said here for the future.

I am having the hardest time finding corn. We live in a country that is saturated with corn and yet I can't find any whole, organic corn anywhere around here. The health food store here says they have never ever even had a request for whole corn. What?

Please could you direct me somehow to resources for making all of those corn dishes you mentioned. How do you make your own masa, for instance? My husband has gotten quite proficient at making tamales but I cringe at using commercial (i.e. GMO) corn.

I still haven't heard of any cows available around here but I will keep my ears and eyes open. We have yet to come up with a solution to our cow problem either.

Love your blog and thanks,

CG said...

Leslie, in some ways I should write you privately a treatise on corn. But I'll try to address it shortly here. In short, you can't find whole corn except in the feed store. And as you know, that is likely to be GMO corn. However, keep in mind that GMO corn allowed no till and no till IS an improvement . . . as far as industrial agriculture is concerned. I personally would rather incorporate corn and then figure out how to grow "pure" corn myself than to wait and insist on the purity of it.

We grow and will be glad to send you seed corn for Hickory King (Cane ) (a white dent) and Bloody Butcher (a red dent), both open pollinated hard corn. Please write me at my e-mail address and frankly I'll probably put you in touch with my husband who is much more the gardener than I am. But we've plenty of seed corn to share, no problem. We've grown all the corn we eat for years now. Not yet all the animals eat though.

To make masa you just have to make hominy and to do that you just have to dissolve the husk off the corn and you can do that with baking soda although lime water works easier and quicker. Commercially they do it with lye (which is also how they peel beets commercially). Once you dissolve the hulls, you just grind it for wet masa, or dry it and then grind it for dry masa or (more coarsely ground) for hominy grits.

The most common thing we make with corn is corn bread and corn cakes which is just a quick bread based on corn. I'm sure there is my recipe on here somewhere . . . but again, if we need to talk how to's, just write my e-mail.

I've never thought of us as more experienced than you all -- you seem so determined to do more than we are (like live off grid). The one thing I absolutely know is that it flows -- we all do what we do and if we have a direction, it grows in that direction. I dearly love those finding someone else who seems to see some of the same problems . . . and some of the same solutions. Thanks. (except I never see the videos because we have a slow dial-up)