Sooo, you may have heard that we, Inheritance Farm Permaculture, held a grape pruning workshop at the fabulous Gilmanton Winery and Vineyard. WHAT A TIME!! It's a beautiful place and you can have brunch (which we did) or go to a wine tasting or have some wine with your brunch *wink, wink* or host an event there.
If you didn't make it (and yeah we're looking at you) shame on you! Marshall and Sunny (what a great name!) Bishop treated us royally and started the day with free coffee and fresh cooked pastries. We would have loved to post pictures of the pastries, but, alas, they weren't around long enough for a photo op. And the rumors are true: some of us *may* have had more than our share, just saying.
Anyway, we have pictures, pictures and more pictures of the days events.
First up: Classroom time!
Here we are looking all fine and phat as Marshall gives us the in's and out's of basic pruning. Damn, what a good looking bunch! And did I mention we had FREE coffee and pastries (not that's it's on my mind or anything)?
Next up: We hit the secret laboratory!
Marshall then took us into the guts of the operation and showed us around his workshop. Here's where the magic happens and it's pretty impressive to see all of his wine making equipment. BUT, the wine making workshop is happening later in the year (and you WILL be there, right? RIGHT?) and so we didn't tarry long at this stop, it was time to get to work.
Wholly Moley! The vineyard looked huge and Marshall had already pruned most of it, but, left a section just for us!
This man was soooo gracious. He took his time and gave us one on one instruction about grape pruning and released us into the wild (ok, our section) to hack, cut and basically try to destroy his vines.
We did our darndest and with his gentle patience we prevailed at the task we came to learn.
Along the way to our section of the vineyard we had to pass the alpacas and who came a runnin', but, Cocoa! He was cute on cute with some more cute thrown in for good measure.
More photos are coming, but, until then here's a short video of Marshall helping Randi prune a vine.
Oh, and buy the apple wine. Trust us, you'll be sending us Christmas gifts after you do.
Well, spring is kinda here now and so that means it's "Project Time" around the micro homestead. Just hearing the word "projects" or the phrase "honey do list" is enough to turn mere mortals to slobbering heaps, but, I've learned it's best to just accept the list and wait until I'm outside to murmur to myself. It's a self preservation thing.
Anyhow, we thought we'd give folks a little insight into our early spring projects. Just in case anyone cared.
First up is our herb bed. It's not finished yet (so I've heard anyway), but, we've been tinkering around with the aesthetics of bed. Yeah sure it looks pretty barren now, but, trust us it's lush when in full bloom with herbs and pollinator attractors. That thing sticking up in the middle of the garden is our insect hotel. It's made up of different items like pine cones, straw, tubes, etc. to give insects a place to stay when they come to visit.
Next up is a look at one of the places we've planted some peas. We're looking at it because some F&%!# critter dug up the seeds I had planted and so I've had to improvise a cage to keep the rascal out. Anyone plant peas yet? Had any issues with the F*%&^ critters?
Yeah, we're looking at pictures of a tarp full of drying sawdust and bags of shredded newspaper. Why? Because we like the idea of "free" and one of our goals this summer is to make "bricks" out of a mixture of the sawdust and shredded paper to burn in our rocket mass heater. Ya we know, we're cool.
We get the shredded paper for free and the sawdust for free and so we're going to mix 'em up, put them in a press to squeeze the water out of them and then dry them, stack them and burn them. For free.
We got the idea on Youtube. We're going to make a video of the process and end results later, but, for now we're giving all of our fans a preview (just like at the movie theaters!) to whet they're appetites.
So that's a quick peek at the goings on around here. How's things at your homestead? Started any outdoor activities (grilling doesn't count)?
We live on a farm. Until last year (and possibly again next year), we home schooled our eldest son, now 12, and our middle daughter, now 8. Our 4 year-old has never set foot in a classroom. Our kids live, breathe, and eat FARM. We must have the ideal child-raising scenario, right? Our kids probably wake up early, throw on their muck boots, and help with the chicken chores. After a hearty breakfast of eggs just fetched from nests, they banter about in the fields and gardens, playing hide-and-seek and helping us plant seeds. Sounds wonderful, doesn't it?
Except that it doesn't happen. Here's a more realistic picture of kids on the farm:
They wake up and immediately ask me for breakfast. I have already done the chores and had my coffee (in truth, I love doing the morning chores alone; it's my peaceful time and I have precious little calm-and-quiet space when it's just me, the animals and the sunrise). I provide breakfast they don't want and field the badgering questions for things they'd rather have ("can I eat my leftover birthday cake? What about mac and cheese? Why can't we go to Dunkin' Donuts? My friends get breakfast there on the way to school!") and, if it's not a school day, they immediately launch into woes about being sooo bored it would practically be child abuse for me not to let them play video games and watch TV.
Sam and I don't think TV and video games are good things in excess, but we do love our screen time, and we're not afraid to admit it. After the kids have gone to bed, the ducks are herded into their coyote-proof house, and the day's updates have been shared between us, Sam and I are total suckers for Netflix reruns of Scrubs, and DVR catch-up marathons of Big Bang Theory. The more laundry I have to fold, the more episodes I can justify before finally putting myself to bed too late. The kids are allowed some PBS and some Wii time in their own schedule, too. But it makes me crazy that they would trade a gorgeous, sunny day for a marathon of Mario Kart in a heartbeat.
Last weekend, the temps reached into the high 60s. Spring birds were in a riot, and the daffodil and tulips, confused by the early warm weather this year, were competing for who-can-bloom-while-it's-still-winter status. Every ounce of me wanted to be outside raking, digging, and prepping for the growing seasons. I wanted the kids to be outside with me. Here's how that went:
What's WRONG with this picture?!
I stood in the kitchen staring down my non-farming children for a bit, then remembered some words of wisdom from a Joel Salatin book I'd just been reading. Kids will engage, he said in not so many words, when they feel empowered by growing food. Bingo.
I put on my "I'm in charge" voice and herded all three whiners outside. I sat them down at the edge of the most fertile of our myriad garden beds, and told them it was all theirs. The rules were simple: they could dig in any place, plant any plant, and choose anything in our box of saved seeds. I would offer advice when asked, but otherwise would not interfere. They would be free to succeed (or fail) on their own, which Salatin rightly asserted is one of the best ways for kids to learn about life's ups and downs.
I was prepared for a bit of bribery (I'll help you plant, I'll help you weed), so I was shocked when they immediately ran for the garden barn to grab hoes and rakes. They had the garden cleared of last-year's debris within an hour, and our eldest had a row hoed an hour later. I was tempted to ask him why he'd created a row for peas that ran south-east and would shade the rest of the plants, but bit my tongue. Instead, I asked him his plan, and through respectful listening to his ideas, found that he began to ask me questions. We decided together to try the peas there, and plant sunflowers on the shaded side. Problem solved.
It's an ongoing lesson for me to remember that permaculture is about community growth and learning within our families just as much as it is for the larger community. I am a work-horse, and tend to want to get it all done myself. The lesson here is that allowing the kids to experiment and take ownership of this piece of garden allowed them to invest in a way they would not have if I'd just "allowed" them (ahem, forced them) to help me with my own space. Putting the power of choice and control into their hands got them excited to see what they could do. It's a parenting lesson I think we all need reminding of from time to time, but it extends beyond that, too.
What if we all chose a bit of garden, walled it off from our "supposed to be" spaces (supposed to be flowers, lawn, etc) and allowed ourselves the freedom to succeed or fail? Why not plant peas on a strange angle? Maybe it will prompt an idea that wasn't there before. Or maybe it will fail, but the lesson in that is valuable, too. How can we engage with our gardens this year in a way we have not dared to before?
What's your opinion about starting seeds yourself? I have this love/hate relationship with seed starting. And today I'm gonna talk about it. Hopefully as spring is slowly coming upon us you're already trying to decide what to plant and where to plant them.
Making our little charts and graphs while looking through the seed catalogs is a grand old tradition. Mulling over germination periods, companion planting and crop rotation really make you feel productive and gives a nice sense of accomplishment.
And it's that whole germination thing that gets the brain working hard. First you have to consider the last average frost date (around May 15th here) and then, depending on the seeds you're going to start, you have to count back a certain number of weeks to determine when to begin your seed starting.
And, that gets back to my love/hate relationship. Let's talk about the reasons for and against starting your own seedlings.
Personally, I can only come up with 3 reasons on the plus side:
1) There's an undeniable link between we humans and our soil. Creating the growing medium (even if it does come in prepackaged trays), planting each seed and waiting for the first little sprout appear are all things that deep down make us feel good. God knows it's no great accomplishment, but, still the satisfaction and pride that comes with seeing the first little shoot break through the surface seems really primal.
2) You get to choose your plants. If you've been looking through the catalogs and see "Grannies Heritage Heirloom 3 Seed Blue Tomato that weighs one pound each" and you want to be the talk of the neighborhood being the only one to grow them well then you buy the seeds and proudly starting the process. There's usually not much variety at most nurseries to choose from.
3) Your home looks like a nursery for 6-8 weeks. There's tray everywhere, grow lights hanging in closets, corners and basements. There's misting bottles, popsicle sticks, seed packets, bags of soil and pots for replanting scattered all around the house. You have to admit that you probably look pretty smart to all of the visitors to your house. And most of them usually say stuff like: "I could never do that!" or "Wow, that looks like a lot of work!"
And that brings me to my reasons against it:
1) The investment. There's grow lights and trays and seeds (which aren't cheap anymore) and racks and heating pads. And if you're really into it you'll probably end up getting some type of greenhouse to place the seedlings in when the get taller and your trying to harden the off. I never could quite come up with a decent grow light set up. Your supposed to always have the light about two inches above the plants and keep raising the light (or lowering the plants) as things progress. But, all of that requires hooks and chain and pretty soon you have a setup that begins to look like Dr. Frankensteins lab.
2) I don't necessarily need Grannies Heritage Heirloom 3 seed Blue Tomatoes. I just want regular tomatoes that can go on my sandwich or be made into a sauce for canning. And so I'm perfectly fine going to the nursery and coming home with the same old Beefstake or Roma that everyone else has. No pride issue for me there. And I don't mind paying a little more for someone else to grow them for me. I can even get organically grown varieties.
3) No disappointment when I fail. A couple of years ago I had started 40 cucumber plants and when the last average frost date came around I proudly planted each one in its assigned space and waited for the magic to happen. Well, the only magic to happen was a freak snow fall that I wasn't aware was coming and all 40 died. <insert heartbreak here> Sigh. So, I went to the nursery and bought some more and began to wonder why I didn't just go there to start with.
4) Nothing to clean up and put away. Nothing to sanitize or sterilize or box up and store until next year. Now, if you're someone that loves seed starting this isn't a big deal to you. It's all part of the package, but, I'm a lazy farmer here on the micro-homestead. We have gardens that, for the most part, are self watering and self feeding; and raised beds that keep down the weed population so I don't have to weed much anymore. Whole areas are covered in wood chips to produce good soil, but, another sly reason is because we have less area to have to mow.
Soooooo, chime in. Yea or Nay? What's your preference?
Is syruping even a word? Anyway, over here at the micro-homestead we're just about done cooking up this years syrup and so far the tally is a little over 1.5 gal. For those with the accountant gene that means we've collected about 60 gallons of sap. That's 12-5 gallon buckets and a whole lot of shoulder strain (we're not as young as we used to be).
Do you collect sap? Have you ever tried it? It's a pretty interesting, albeit short lived, hobby. There's only so many weeks a year to collect it and so you have this concentrated period where you put up the buckets, collect the sap and fire up the stove.
I think this was our 3rd year making syrup and by far the best year production wise. The first couple of years we may have gotten a few quarts each year, but, something about the mild winter seems to have upped the cupboard count!
We have about 13 taps installed with a couple of trees being large enough for two each. One of the trees with two buckets just can't seem to stop sending out sap. Both buckets fill up within a day or two while some of the other trees just kind of lump along giving a half a bucket at best at their peak.
We also tend to have a mix of traditional metal buckets and those bluish plastic ones. I actually like the blue ones better because you can see how much sap is in them without have to remove the lid. I've never tried the gallon milk jugs and driving around town you'd think I'm missing out on something, but, I just can't get used to the way they look. Kinda redneck-ish. And I'm not picking on any that uses them, actually it's a really nice way to recycle some stuff. But…nah, I just can't do it.
I am thinking about using the plastic tubing and letting gravity do some of the work rather than keep lugging my five gallon pale from tap to tap.
And we've been cooking ours down inside the house rather than outdoors, but, it's mainly due to the fact that it seems like a waste of good wood to cook all day just to end up with a quart. And a quart is usually all we get because we only cook down 10 - 20 gals per session.
Keep an eye on this site because Sam and I are planning on trying an experiment to cook down sap using a rocket mass heater J tube. If that works like we think it should then we may be able to cook loads of sap down just using sticks. A lot of sticks, but, it least it would be more efficient than logs.
Closing out here's some numbers I've kinda scratched together as to the value of one quart of syrup:
Assuming my labor is worth at least $10 an hour and it takes me 10-12 hours to cook the sap down indoors, that makes our syrup worth about $100/quart or $400/gallon and that doesn't include the usage of propane/ electricity or the time to collect the sap or the time to setup the initial taps.
The stuffs like gold.
So, what's your story? Got sap? How are you processing it? What value do you think you syrup has? Come on, give us the scoop.
Ray is part of the Ray and Randi duo, who actually don't live on the farm. They have a micro-homestead in Gilmanton, but are VERY active over at IFP and are guest bloggers for them.
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