Farm update: May 24

Late spring is a busy time of year for small farms and homesteads. The task list seems endless: plant this, thin these, weed that, water those and by the way, the alpacas and chickens still need food, water and clean bedding. The best we can do is simply to make list after list, and tackle those lists one item at a time. One thing we do adjust as we move into our busiest period: our daily routine. If possible, we try to be outside in the morning and inside in the afternoon, because our blustery, changeable winds make working outside even more challenging after two o’clock. This is a lovely ideal, of course, and things don’t always proceed as planned – but all we can do is our very best.

Here are a few things we’ve been up to, if you’d like to see:

Careful pasture management is helping our land stay green despite the exceptional drought.

Our irrigation season is set to launch next week, though we still haven’t learned our water allotment for this year. In preparation for running water, we purchased a three-row marker to attach to our little tractor. Because we use gated pipe to irrigate our pasture, it’s important to “mark” the fields with channels that direct the water to the correct places. Marking is usually done on a three-year rotation, but our pastures were essentially abandoned for close to seven years, so it’s going to take some time to get the irrigation pinpointed. In addition to marking the fields, we also reconnected all of our gated pipe and replaced damaged gaskets and gates. Most people don’t break down their pipes every year, but we’ve mentioned before that we have a severe rodent problem – and if they build a winter burrow in the pipes, they’ll eat the gates. It’s more work to disassemble and reassemble the pipes, but likely saves us money in the long run.

Usually when people discuss freezing their eggs it’s an entirely different story.

Because laying hens produce more eggs when the days get longer, spring means we have lots of eggs. We eat fried eggs on toast every day for breakfast, and plenty go into muffins and frittatas and egg salad, and some are given to friends and neighbors, but on occasion we still find ourselves with a surplus. The simple solution? Freeze the eggs. I crack an individual egg into soft, flexible (and reusable!) silicone baking cups tucked into a standard muffin tray. Once the eggs are frozen solid, I pop them out and store them in a zip-top bag. If properly sealed in an airtight container, frozen eggs can last six months or more. While I wouldn’t use these eggs as a star ingredient, once thawed they’re perfect for quiches or baked sweets – and when the hens’ productivity slows again, I can save their fresh eggs for our breakfast.

Vinegar-making: just one of our many fun old-timey activities!

Last year, I casually mentioned to a winemaker friend that I’d like to try making my own vinegar. Lo and behold, he generously gave us two old barrels of spent wine that he had no use for. Some months later, what do we have but tart, tangy, delicious homemade red wine vinegar! Like baking bread and making yogurt, fermenting homemade vinegar didn’t used to be a special or unique activity; instead, it was simply what everyone did with the dregs of their homemade wine. But not many people have access to quality wine grapes, and even fewer make wine at home when it’s readily available in stores, so homemade vinegar has become something of a lost art, too. I used raw apple cider vinegar to kickstart the fermentation (like kombucha, it contains a “mother”) and simply left the vinegar to ferment in the pantry, loosely covered with a cloth. I tasted it frequently (always with a clean metal utensil!) to observe the changes and am really happy with the end result. It’s light and bright and spectacular with good olive oil and the fresh salad greens we’re harvesting by the bowlful these days. And it took close to zero effort on my part!

A colorful, cheerful mess.

There have been lots of small sewing projects these days. As much as I love making quilts, it’s also satisfying to sew little items that can be completed in a few hours, rather than months! Some things I’ve made recently: little drawstring gift bags, reusable sandwich wraps, scrunchies (they’re very on-trend again!), reusable snack bags, an upcycled apron and a cute thread basket made from vintage Levis, and of course bread bags. Lots of bread bags. I love making useful things that eliminate single-use plastic waste, and I love reusing sturdy fabric like denim – most jeans that are thrown out only have one or two holes, and the rest is in great shape. I’m learning how to patch jeans and darn socks, too! Here’s a fun tip: take all your clothes that need mending and stack them away in a corner of your sewing attic. Many months later, tackle that pile and return the newly-repaired clothes to your closet. Magic! It’s like a whole new wardrobe for free! (P.S. The fashion industry is devastating to the environment. Each American throws away about seventy pounds of textiles each year; most of that is fully recyclable. Instead of buying cheap new clothing, consider mending what you own, swapping with friends, buying secondhand or shopping your own closet.)

I just want to eat one homegrown strawberry this year. Just one. Please.

And finally, I’m hopeful that the strawberry plants we put in last spring will bear fruit this year. There are certain fruits and vegetables where the difference between homegrown and storebought is as vast as the Grand Canyon: tomatoes are obviously one example, and strawberries are definitely another. The standard Driscoll’s berries in the plastic box are fine, of course, but a just-picked, sun-warmed strawberry has a sparkling intensity of flavor that can never be matched by mass-produced California berries. Unfortunately, those amazing berries are also coveted by birds, squirrels and rabbits, so as usual, we built in layers of protection. You might think that Quiet Farm is entirely constructed from chicken wire and hardware cloth – which is mostly true! – but we would actually like to enjoy the fruits of our labors.

And with that, we’re off to continue our tiling project. Wishing you a calm and peaceful week ahead, dear friends.

Farm update: January 25

Hello there, and how are things in your world? We’re still in the slower season here at Quiet Farm, but we’re starting to think about spring planting and other farm tasks on our to-do list. The biggest issue on our minds right now is definitely water, or lack thereof – it’s been far too warm and dry this winter, with very little snow. We need about twenty feet of snowpack on the Grand Mesa in order to have decent irrigation run-off in spring and summer, and right now we have two feet – or ten percent of what we need. We are hoping for an exceptionally wet spring, but to be honest it’s looking as though our “extraordinary drought conditions” will persist, which likely means more wildfires, too. With that concern front and center, we’re always thinking of ways we can use the water we do have more efficiently.

We love our local library’s seed bank!

We are huge fans of the Delta County Library system, which does yeoman’s work on a painfully limited budget. In years past we’ve attended “seed-sorting parties” in late winter to help the library prepare its extensive seed bank for the spring growing season. Obviously we cannot gather in person at the moment, so the library managed a perfect pivot and created take-home kits for volunteers. Each kit contained donated seeds (we received bolita beans, marigolds and pink hollyhock) and we sorted and packaged the seeds into individual labeled envelopes. Local gardeners are encouraged to “check out” seeds in spring, grow out the crop, then collect and return seeds to the library in autumn to share with other gardeners. The seed library has been going strong in Delta County since 2013; this program not only encourages seed-saving, but also provides an incredible wealth of locally-adapted seeds and helps build our foodshed’s sovereignty. A task like this is well worth our time.

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