Autumn Again

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Fig preserves, freshly canned, and cooling on the counter.

Growing our own food keeps us well-tuned to the seasons. This past summer has been a bit of a blur as painful realities of life demanded our full attention. The garden got a little raggedy, Hilda managed to hatch three chicks without much attention or fanfare from us, and before we knew it, it was time to plant the the fall and winter veggies!

We currently get 4-7 eggs a day from 10 laying hens, but it seems the eggs are starting to taper as the daylight hours shorten and the temperatures cool. We are expecting some serious molting to start any day. We have started to evaluate our little flock and think about any changes we might want to make as we head into the Fall. We’ve learned that keeping the flock healthy and thriving sometimes means making tough decisions about who stays and who does not.

We like to use the fall to make repairs, changes, and additions to our garden beds and this year we’ve been replacing some of the wood edging frames around the beds and tidying up the layout. Now that most of the summer garden has been harvested and we’ve planted the winter veggies in one big bed that is fenced off from intruders, the chickens are allowed to free range again. They are great helpers in tilling up the beds, weeding away any weeds, and fertilizing the beds for next year. So, as the leaves start to fall, we rake them into the beds and let the chickens break them up and work them into the dirt. It’s a great system!

Some of our last harvesting tasks involve the fruit trees. There are still apples on the apple trees, and we are just starting to harvest the ripe figs to make the delicious fig preserves we use as a marinade for pork and hams throughout the year. The persimmons are just starting to turn a pale orange, and while the leaves are starting to fall from the persimmon tree, the fruits won’t be ready until the weather gets a bit colder. Meanwhile, everything else has been harvested, canned, dried, or frozen!

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Hilda hatched 3 chicks in late August (she was setting on 4 fertile eggs) and proved to be a fantastic mama hen!

Busy, Bustly Days at Raggedy Hen Farm

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This…is crunch time!  The garden is blousy and overgrown and producing like crazy; Most of the pullets are laying, along with the old hens; it is time for canning, drying, saving seeds,, and just trying to keep up with this last big hurrah of another summer season. This has been an incredibly prolific year as some of our long-term projects like raspberry canes, grapevines, and hop vines are really coming in to their own.  Here’s a little run-down of what’s keeping us so busy…

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We are getting 5-8 eggs a day from our plethora of busy hens. It is so fun to have the diversity of colors in the egg basket. We now have everything from white to green, to dark brown (along with the light brown we’ve had for a while.) We haven’t had any trouble finding homes for all these yummy eggs!

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Our daily forages into the garden with a harvesting basket under one arm are yielding pounds of tomatoes, green beans, zucchini, cucumbers and, now, some of the ripest of the winter squash. This means we’re doing all sorts of canning and preserving, along with eating our share of these tasty treasures!

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The apple trees are laden and almost ready to be picked and canned. We’ll make applesauce and can slices for winter pies. Any “drops” get tossed into the chicken run as the hens all love to eat up the fallen apples.

 

 

 

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We have dozens of pumpkins this year and they are all starting to turn orange! It’s a good thing, too, because it’s helping us realize and find them all…although there tend to be daily “surprises” as we stumble upon yet another swelling pumpkin. These magical vines are starting to get a little ragged after roaming all over the edges of the garden all summer.

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Harvesting Hops! We have three different hop vines that we planted a couple years ago. This year, they are laden with ripening hop flowers and we are determined to dry them and use them in the making of home-brewed beer. These have been incredibly easy and fun to grow–the vines twine and stretch and grow along the fences and up into the trees and the hoppy smell is delightful too!

So, there you have it! We are neck-deep in projects and preserving all the bounty coming from our overgrown urban lot. Stay tuned for an update on the also-very-busy honeybees!

Bean Bonanza!

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We are on the verge of a bit of an explosion…We planted a few different types of heirloom green beans this spring and, as of a couple days ago, we’ve started to find a few big enough to harvest. With hundreds of blossoms coming on strong, we know it won’t be long (days?) until we’re doing a daily harvest of these easy-to-grow garden treasures!

Blueberry Zucchini Muffins

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I’m pretty sure the saying “necessity is the mother of invention” covers all gardeners and cooks. Maybe that wasn’t the original intention, but it fits perfectly! As our summer garden is coming into full production and the nearby farms are offering up their seasonal delights, we’re starting to get creative with our meal preparations!

This year’s crop of heirloom zucchini is starting to come on strong as our daily temperatures have warmed up quickly and are staying in the eighties and nineties. We’re already starting to share the daily pickings with family, friends and coworkers. Of course, we’re saving plenty for ourselves and this little muffin recipe is the perfect way to enjoy two of our current fresh treats: zucchini and blueberries…

Blueberry Zucchini Muffins

1 3/4 cup organic all purpose flour

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup sugar (white or brown)

2 teaspoon baking powder

2 large eggs

2-4 Tablespoons organic macadamia nut oil (or melted butter)

3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup fresh blueberries

1/2 cup freshly grated zucchini (about 1 small-medium)

Freshly grated nutmeg

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease muffin tin (this recipe makes 12 muffins). Blend flour, salt, sugar and baking powder together (either by sifting or with a fork.) Lightly beat the eggs, oil or melted butter, and milk in another bowl and then add to the dry ingredients. Stir until about half-mixed. Add the blueberries, zucchini, and freshly grated nutmeg to taste and stir together with fork just until mixed. Batter will be lumpy and uneven (the trick to good muffins is to NOT over-mix–stir them by hand just until everything is incorporated.)

Spoon into muffin tins and bake for 10-15 minutes or until lightly brown and firm to touch. Serve warm with melted butter or jam.

 

July at Raggedy Hen Farm

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We’ve been busy with travels and adventures and meanwhile, the garden is full of life here at Raggedy Hen Farm! This year’s pullets are growing up and the summer crops seem go grow several inches every day.  Here’s a little peek at what’s going on…

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Pumpkins and winter squash! With plenty of pollinators, we are getting plenty of growing squash.  Last year was a good pumpkin year for us and this year seems to be shaping up quite nicely too!

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Zucchini anyone?  We came back from a trip to the East coast to find nearly a dozen zucchini hiding among the big squash blossoms. These vegetables grow fast and we should be seeing daily harvests for the time being. We need to get busy finding ways to eat or preserve these beauties!

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As the tops start to brown and die back, we have started to harvest the onions and garlic.  If we let the tops die back all the way, we won’t be able to find the onion bulbs!  The weather is warm and dry–perfect for allowing these to dry so they’ll be ready for storage.

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Meanwhile…the pullets are turning into almost-full-grown chickens. The two nuggets are 14 weeks old and we’ve been letting these two gals out for a bit of free ranging. Teri’s little bantam, Minnie, is still quite tiny, but full of so much sass. Since they can’t do too much damage, and they are a pair for now, they enjoy their play time foraging in the clover!

The days are long and warm and that means plenty of time for us to spend trying to keep up with our abundant garden. Of course, at this time of year, it is quite the challenge and we are often tempted to pour a glass of lemonade and just sit and watch the world go by.  Ahhhh, summer!

Planting Potatoes

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We’ve planted our potatoes…and right on schedule too! Potatoes are one of our favorite and most satisfying crops to grow–it doesn’t really take a bunch of space to grow lots of them, and it is yet another opportunity to grow varieties that don’t appear in the local markets. They aren’t terribly fussy and it is so fun to reach into the ground and pull out handfuls of tender, delicious potatoes!

This year, we decided to go a step further and get heirloom seed potatoes that we couldn’t ordinarily find locally–in hopes of saving some to grow in future years and building up our own little collection. We chose three varieties offered by the Potato Garden, out of Austin Colorado. They had so many varieties, we were like kids in a candy store and it was hard to narrow it down to just a few. To be honest, we didn’t really have a system as we looked over all the offerings–we knew we wanted a red skin variety, a white-fleshed one, and that was about all the parameters we had.

We chose: Irish Cobbler (1876), French Fingerlings (1800’s) and Colorado Rose . This year, we’re planting potatoes back in traditional raised beds–have tried a wire “potato tower” last year and finding our yields diminished substantially. When the seed potatoes arrived, we cut them into smaller pieces–making sure there were a few “eyes” on each piece. Even though we are planting them in beds, we group them in “threes” for little hills or mounds as they grow. Since we are not a huge farming operations, we also plant them rather close together.  Each grouping is about an 8-inch triangle and the groupings are about 12-18 inches apart. They are planted in fertile, well composted beds with lots of humus added in for extra drainage–leaves, partially composted straw, etc. Then we put about 4 inches more humus over the top. As the potatoes grow and send up their stems and leaves, we’ll mound more leaves, straw and compost around and over to add more area for the potatoes to grow in.

Those of you who grow potatoes, may notice our method is really a combination of several–traditional, hilling, and mulching. It tends to work well in a climate with very wet spring and then dry, warm summers–good drainage in the spring  when we need it and then tubers planted close together so that as they grow, the combination of their canopy of leaves and the mulching will keep the soil cool and moist during the hot, dry season.

Of course, every year seems to be different, so we’re excited to see how the potatoes grow this year!

Blueberry Elderberry Pie

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We have been making an attempt to use up some of last Summer’s frozen bounty.  Even though the vegetables and fruits are frozen and well preserved–fresh from the garden–they do not last forever. Discovering a bit of a frozen blueberry stash, we’ve been having pancakes, smoothies, and sharing them with the chickens (the hens all time favorite treats are blueberries and cherries), but we couldn’t help but create a delicious pie too!

This pie is a combination of two somewhat tart berries–blueberries and elderberries and they make a simply scrumptious duo…

Blueberry Elderberry Pie

2 1/2 cups thawed, frozen blueberries (or fresh)

1 cup thawed, frozen blue elderberries (or fresh)

1/4 cup organic all purpose flour

3/4 cup sugar–white or brown

1 -2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon  ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon powdered ginger

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

pinch of sea salt

Butter

enough pie dough for a double-crust pie

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Combine berries, flour, sugar, lemon juice, seasonings and salt and toss together–well, but carefully so you don’t crush the berries. Prepare pie dough and divide in half.  Roll out one half to fit pie tin. Fill bottom crust with berry mixture and dollop with 1-2 Tablespoons butter, in pieces. Roll out remaining half of pie dough. Top berries with crust–round, spiral or lattice. Place pie on baking sheet (to catch any spills) and bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour–until crust is lightly brown and berries are bubbly. Allow to cool before serving.