Saturday, March 29, 2014

Spring's first salad

One of the hardest tasks for me is "thinning."

I've spent many minutes sowing delicate little seeds into our homemade-soil blocks. I read the germination rate on the seed package and sometimes sow extra seeds in each hole to be sure at least one of them germinates. Then we wait, trying to maintain optimum soil temperature and humidity.

And the plants start to come up.

But then that sad day comes when I have to thin the seedlings, when I have to terminate the life of the seemingly weaker plant so that the stronger one can have the space and nutrients to thrive. Those cute, perky little kale and collard green starts look so fresh and so hopeful - but some of them have to go. In previous years it had been so difficult for me to thin that I just didn't do it. And what we ended up with were two spindly seedlings in one tiny space whose dense root systems were ripped apart upon transplant. Not good.

Spring's first salad
So I've reframed our art of thinning this season for peace of mind: spring's first salad.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sausage stuffing

That fine-looking 5-lb-capacity sausage stuffer had been staring me in the face for too long. Despite the long winter, we hadn't yet attempted to transform our ground pork into the delicious thing we call sausage. But the time had come... spring was here, the snow was melting, a good friend was in town to join in the festivities, and we had planned an over-the-top stuffed leg-of-lamb dinner for the weekend that called for Mexican-style chorizo.

So 11 pounds of ground pork went through the processor and we mixed up 4 flavorful sausage stuffings: a classic Sicilian-style sausage with fennel seeds; a garlic sausage; a luganega sausage that included freshly grated orange and lemon zest in it; and, of course, the chorizo, which had ancho chile pepper, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cloves, pepper, bay leaf, nutmeg, cinnamon, paprika, cayenne, garlic and salt in it. We got our hands dirty, deep in pork fat and spices. We mastered those natural pig intestine casings (how cool to see them expand under the faucet water as we rinsed them of their salt preservative). We figured out the timing and pressure on the sausage stuffer. And we froze about 50 sausages for the future.

Best of all, we had a delicious dinner in front of the fire, trying each kind, and really appreciating the art of sausage making.

Friday, March 21, 2014

On the first day of spring

On the first day of spring, my true love gave to me a beautiful day to be working outside.

I saw ground for the first time on our vegetable beds. The snow melt from the mountains is now gently trickling down our seasonal streambed. We pruned our fruit trees with a great friend of ours visiting from overseas. We tidied up the greenhouse, anticipating being able to put our tomato, eggplant and pepper starts out there in just a few days. We unloaded the 2000 pounds of organic potting soil we bought from a local farm. We trekked up to the compost pile for the first time in weeks. And back inside the house, we made some delicious homemade sausages (more on that in a later post).

We are officially delayed in our planting now (usually we get the peas in the ground today), but I feel hopeful that it will start soon. We've adapted to the weather and we're anxiously enjoying our last few days of "vacation."

Saturday, March 15, 2014

In the greenhouse

We've moved into the greenhouse. Well, the seedlings have moved in (although I might like to, too... it boasts temperatures in the 90s during mid-day with the sun).

This will certainly be a learning curve for us. We're using heat mats to keep soil temperature around 70, but daytime temps can be over 100 degrees and nighttime temps dip to near 32. It's amazing the wide temperature range one structure can produce. So we're using our go-to technique of "hooping up" - we put greenhouse plastic tunnels over the seedlings at night to trap in heat and moisture.

After this week's forecasted snow (?!) passes, we're hoping more spring-like weather will settle in, so water sources can be turned on, the ground starts to thaw and we can get our shovels in the soil.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The season begins

This snow is getting depressing. We've still got a foot of it covering our fields, and today's 48-degree temperature forecast made me smile until I looked at next week's and saw that we will again barely climb above freezing during the day.

But the seeds must start. Our beautiful new greenhouse is just waiting to be put to use - and once nights don't drop too far below 32, we'll be able to move all of our starts out there.