I first read Helen Nearing’s The Good Life twelve years ago and was inspired move toward a more sustainable and Earth-centered lifestyle. When we purchased this land, christened it as Red Sunflower Farm, and saw the abundance of stone in the hills and especially in the creek, I wanted to try Helen’s slipform method of building with stone. Finally, I’ve taken the plunge.
This precast concrete box, an eyesore sitting next to the house, has been patiently waiting for six years to become a root cellar. In order to function as such, it must be covered with soil. Walls on either side of the insulated door will allow me to do that.
Here’s how it works. Heavy wooden boxes held in place and filled with rocks and mortar.
After building the first tier, leaving the forms in place for too long, and not being careful about how much mortar was pushed to the front, we ended up with a stone and concrete wall. On the first “slip” or “lift” to create the second tier, we were more careful about the placement of mortar in an attempt to have only rock showing. The results are obvious as there is a vast difference between the first and second layer. We’ll continue to improve. Anyone who wants to learn how to do this, contact me and we’ll set up a time.
We make a lot of pesto at the farm and mostly use it for appetizers when we have guests. To make pesto, all you need is olive oil, garlic, parmesan cheese, and nuts and greens of some kind. For nuts we’ve used pine nuts, walnuts, and almonds; for greens we’ve used garlic scapes, basil, watercress, and garlic mustard, a wild highly invasive weed that grows everywhere on the farm. We like garlic mustard pesto because unlike basil, which oxidizes and turns black after being exposed to air after a short time, garlic mustard pesto stays green.
Garlic mustard proliferates in April. So we invited some friends and had a pesto-making party. Three food processors were humming in our big kitchen and before long, everyone was packing containers with the precious stuff.
We took the Joy of Cooking recipe and altered it somewhat:
1 ½ cups fresh green leaves, bathed and dried in a salad spinner
2 garlic cloves, minced
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup nuts
¾ cup olive oil
Put all but the olive oil in a food processor with the chopping blade. Turn the machine on, then add the olive oil until you get the consistency of creamed butter. That’s it!
Notes: - You’ll use less olive oil when using a succulent green like watercress.
- If you are using garlic scapes or garlic mustard as your greens, use only one garlic clove per batch.
I couldn't be more excited about the global agreement on climate change in Paris last week. It’s fabulous to see governments tackling climate change head on. However at the end of the day, climate change is going to be solved one person at a time. It is you and I that are emitting carbon, not someone or some company somewhere else. We are either direct emitters by our actions or indirect emitters by our consumption.
By most accounts, food and agriculture contribute to 1/3rd of carbon emissions. Since we all eat, we have a role to play in reducing the impacts from our food consumption.
To reduce my carbon footprint, to improve my health, and to improve the taste of the food I eat, I am always looking for ways to use more local ingredients. A few years back we had an intern, Martha, who introduced us to squashamole. Basically, guacamole with squash substituted for avocado. I never got her recipe, so I decided to venture out on my own and create one. I found this version of "amole" refreshing and delightfully sweet, with no sugar added. I hope you enjoy it.
2 cups of cooked winter squash, mashed
1 large bunch of cilantro, chopped
2 large garlic cloves or 3 small ones, minced
Juice of one lemon
Zest of 1/2 of one lemon
1/4 cup dried tomatoes, cut into small pieces
1/4 tsp. salt
Mix all ingredients and serve w corn chips, preferably organic.
A couple weeks ago, while walking on the power line above the house looking for deer tracks, I spotted this tiny turtle. Unlike a box turtle, which is the only terrestrial turtle in Kentucky, the shell had sharp edges and the back of the shell had ridges. So I sent this pic to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. They confirmed that it is indeed a newly-hatched box turtle. If you look closely you can still see the tiny white egg tooth on the front of its beak. According to my contact there, not many people ever see one this small.
Box turtles come out of the woods in early summer to lay eggs in an open area where direct sunlight warms the ground. The eggs normally hatch in September and October. Some babies spend the winter in the ground and come up in spring, while others dig their way out soon after hatching.
Because my contact is a herpetologist, I sent him a picture I took two years ago of four snakes intertwined on one branch. They were not mating and I was curious as to what they were up to. His reply: I am guessing the larger snake (facing to the L) is a female and the others were males. Garters often court and mate in the fall. Perhaps the males tracked the female up into the shrub but stopped short of mating because the hormones hadn’t fully kicked in yet – or – maybe mating had taken place earlier in the day. Sometimes numerous males will court one female.
Walking in these wooded hills, one never knows what lies around the next corner. I hope I never lose my sense of wonder when it comes to the natural world.
Two things you’ll never see me wearing as I walk and work around the farm: a blindfold or earbuds. Learning about one’s environment means looking, listening, and feeling what’s around and both are equally detrimental to that end. And what are around right now are lots of plain old sparrows. Because they’re not as big and colorful as cardinals, jays, and woodpeckers, I’ve been ignoring them.
Lately, I’ve noticed two things. The birds that are constantly raiding the chicken feed bowls are the cardinals, jays, and woodpeckers. The birds I am most likely to find trapped in the bird netting after stealing my black raspberries are cardinals, jays, and woodpeckers. And which birds have I been feeding in the winter with my sunflower seed-only regimen? You guessed it – cardinals, jays, and woodpeckers.
I’ve been watching a group of about twenty five sparrows sitting on the pole bean trellis. Every time a bug takes flight out of the garden, one launches and nabs it in midair. So I’ve started profiling birds. Cardinals, jays, and woodpeckers are thieves. Sparrows are allies.
This winter, things will be different.
We made a modest planting of winter squash and thus harvested adequate quantity for our fall and winter needs. We intend to cook some yummy dishes throughout the holiday season.
While this picture may not do justice to the twenty pound size of this unique squash we thought we might have an accidental hybrid and waited for it to mature in order to taste it. Four of these beauties dotted the field, each the color of spaghetti squash but with the shape and size of a pink banana squash. We waited until frost to harvest it, and held it up like a large mouth bass for photos. Turns out, it was simply a pink banana squash that didn't know it was supposed to be pink!
The weather is turning cold. Thanksgiving brought us closer to those that we love and gave us a new feeling of gratitude for the world around us. That squash that lay in our field, an accidental hybrid of pink and banana squash, we finally harvested. The squash is indicative of our journey here on the farm. Six years of growth, sometimes small, sometimes large, and sometime accidental. But always filled with the bounty of the earth.
The nature of change is often difficult. Natural change such as butterflies leaving, bees reaching the last of the nectar, and squash growing that last bit of flesh, make sense in a world that sometimes feels like insanity itself.
We've planted the winter crop in the high tunnel and are setting our sights on planning for maple syrup, and perhaps some other varieties of syrup. But for now, enjoy this photo collection of our summer at Red Sunflower Farm.
Under the forest canopy, birds call out to one another. Maybe they warn of the encroaching human. Leaves glisten with dew in the morning sun. Movement above, two birds flying between branches. That's when the spider web comes into view. It's spider season.
Yellow jacket laden with pollen, moves as if drugged, too much of a good thing. Caught in the twining, thin yarn of a spider who waits and watches for death to come to the dumbstruck insect.
Spinning as a trapeze artist might, across branches tall and short. under the branches the woods are alive. Their populations far beyond that of human civilization. We can't count the number of species, nor could we know their every purpose.
Sunlight's hue is different now that September is here. The summer is nearly exhausted. It tires of day light, seeking early darkness, and harkening a change.
The last of the beans have been picked. The tomatoes are sauced on shelves in the pantry. All that remains is jewelry of nature, a necklace of sorts to adorn the dressing of the woods and fields.
The American Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) is found growing wild throughout the US and it's blossoms have become a highly-prized addition to craft beers. The blossoms of it's European counterpart (Sambucus nigra) are the main ingredient in the very popular St. Germain liqueur. The American Elderberry plant grows to a height of twelve feet, and flowers in lovely white clusters in mid to late June.
Pictured here are the unripe, green berries that will turn deep purple when mature. We were contacted last year by a local distillery that wants to experiment with some elderflower distillations. We sold them 19 pounds of the blossoms from our three mature bushes and from wild bushes we found around northern Kentucky. We also rooted some prunings on the hope that he would want more of the blossoms in future years.
We now have 50 new starts to put in the ground before fall, but sadly, we've been informed by the distiller that the distillation experiments have not fared well. He seems to think that the American elderflower does not have the intensity of it's European cousin. We'll plant the starts anyway, as they make a beautiful addition to the landscape and we can harvest the berries to make jelly and syrup. And what we don't harvest, the birds will enjoy!
This time of year we are flush with tomatoes of all colors and stripes. From the website: my recipes, I found this one, http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/chilled-yellow-tomato-soup-10000001875607/. I have enhanced the recipe to my own tastes. I chose 7 ripe yellow tomatoes from the field.
The recipe is relatively easy. I began by retrieving homemade chicken broth that we made in the spring from the freezer and letting it thaw overnight. I used only 4 cups of broth as opposed to the 6 suggested and could have cut it by one more in order to create a thicker consistency.
Warm the olive oil in a dutch oven or stock pot. Then saute two roughly chopped yellow onions until translucent. Add fresh or dried thyme. We had a rough winter this year so our thyme struggled. Thankfully, we dried last year's crop. The aroma will make any kitchen smell great.
Core and chop tomatoes. Don't worry about peeling them, the skin is soft enough to cook down and not get all curled up like some thicker skinned tomatoes do.
Add tomatoes and broth to the onions and thyme. Cook for 30 mintues and let cool.
Process the soup and serve hot or cold. We found that adding goat cheese to the warm soup added another layer of texture and flavor. If served cold, it is best with a slice of country bread.