Sunday, September 23, 2012

Our new pullets are starting to lay the sweetest little eggs. They will be small for a couple of weeks before the eggs reach a more "adult" hen size. Plus I'm finding them in funny places: on the coop floor, in the grass of the new chicken run, I even found one on top of one of the rabbit cages. It's kind of like the egg actually takes the pullet by surprise and she just lays it where she happens to be instead of making her way to the nesting boxes like the other hens. This will go on for a couple of weeks, too. Then these little girls finally figure out what's going on and will lay in the boxes.

In the meantime, it's pretty fun. Kind of like Easter!

Friday, September 21, 2012

This is a water hose.
I bought it this spring.
It leaks.

This is a perfect illustration why it's not a good idea to buy cheap equipment. The leaks are right along the area where the brand name of the company that makes this hose is stamped deep into the rubber. The stamp somehow must have created a weakness in the integrity of the rubber leading to a hole and it now leaks. I bought this water hose for a cheap price at a big box chain store which name starts with a "Cost-" and ends with a "-co". And even though this particular item is not the best workmanship, I'll buy there again. I really like the store. When I take the hose back, they will refund my money or give me another hose without question. So I shouldn't be complaining except that it takes time out of my very busy harvest-work schedule to run into town. So I won't replace it until after the work is done......sometime around the end of November........
But it's pretty frustrating just the same.

I should have known better.
A price too good to be true is just that.....not good.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

It took a long time, but the little yellow hen finally hatched out a couple of sweet babies chicks. Here they are having sips of water with Momma watching on.

Only two hatched out of 12 eggs. That's the lowest hatch rate we've ever had. But I'm determined to allow the hens to hatch their own chicks without any interference. It's hard to take a step back. I have a friend who has offered the use of her incubator so we could actually replace our whole flock in just one summer. But my goal is to raise chickens that know how to raise their own families from start to finish, even if it means only hatching one chick at a time. I did purchase several new chicks this past spring because I just haven't found the right combination of winter egg layers and broody hens. So far we've had at least one or two hens go broody each summer but I've not found a breed that will lay more than 8 months out of the year. Our winters are both cold and dark. But it's probably the dark that limits the hens laying rate as more than the cold.


So here are two more sweet things to enhance our flock. It will be a big celebration if we find out they are both little pullets (.....instead of roos. We have A LOT of roos already!).

Only time will tell!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Now we have TWO!

Here's the first momma to go broody. See that blank stare?
(Reminds me a little of me when I was pregnant.)

Here's mother #2. It's kind of interesting. Barred rocks aren't known for going broody.
(How's that for a scary mother face. Hen: "get away from my babies!")

Sisters in waiting.

(See the two eggs kicked out from under the barred rock on the right? I'm guessing they aren't viable. Somehow the hens just know when there are no live babies in some of the eggs and kick them away from the nest. I've cracked these eggs in the past to find just a slimy baby. I'll pull these out and dispose of them. If nothing else, if they have gotten cold, they will not be viable anyway.)

Monday, July 23, 2012

We have a new hen who's decided she wants to be a mother!

It's one of the Buff Orpingtons and this is partially the reasons we picked this breed of chicken. Not only are they pretty fair at winter laying but they are well known for going broody. Many egg production businesses will shy away from the Buffs, but we like them for this reason. I actually purchased 4 Buff chicks last spring, but through attrition (IE. hawks, owls, neighbor dogs....) we only have 2 left. But two is enough!

She has 12 eggs under her and though 12 is a pretty big task, she seems up for the job. She has been diligent in her mission so far. Our hatch out rate over the years has been about half so hopefully she will produce 6 sweet little puff balls to augment our flock. Last year all of the chicks that hatched were roos, no hens.....kind of weird. I gave all of them away to other small flock owners who are trying to hatch out babies, too. All but one. He is still with us as a back up roo. Our wonderful red, grand- rooster is getting on in age. He's a great protector but I'm not sure how viable he is as a sire. So we keep a back up guy to ensure all the hens are "covered" for fertility. He's not as pretty as the big red roo, but he gets the job done.

Here she is diligently waiting for babies.

Friday, July 20, 2012

It just keeps getting better......

Severe thunderstorm watch
National Weather Service
·     Friday, July 20, 2012 3:10 PM Local Time

Flash flood watch

• National Weather Service

• Friday, July 20, 2012 12:00 PM Local Time


Hmmm. Guess I'd better turn off the sprinkler. It looks like we are in for a big one. And with the drought that seems to be plaguing most of the rest of the country....I'm not complaining one bit.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Corn progress

So here are a few pictures of the corn. The first shows "Cascade", the corn developed by Carol Deppe from Oregon. As you can (barely) see by this picture, most of the stalks are well over 12 inches tall. This is pretty amazing since I planted the seed in cool, damp conditions....just the type of weather corn doesn't really like. I can't wait to see the results. It's supposed to have the ability to produce "sister lines" of corn which may allow for both grinding and parching depending on the color of the kernels on the cob: red ears make good parching corn. and a sweet flour for breads and cakes. Brown ears make for good savory breads and a "wonderful brown gravy". Ivory and creamy yellow ears make a flavourful flour for sweet breads like pancakes but aren't great for parching. These are all notations from Carol's book. I have yet to experience all the nuances of growing anything other than sweet corn for fresh eating (bleck). So I'm excited for the corn harvest this year.

Here's a pic of Painted Mountain, the "Montana" corn develped by a very dedicated man here in the mountains. As you can see, it doesn't have quite the kick of Cascade, but at a little over 12 inches after 6 weeks, it's still making a show. My animals love this corn so even if I can't produce anything humaly edible from these kernals, at least I know my chickens will be sustained. Plus, I saved this seed from last year. So I KNOW I can reproduce this food. Yeay!

This Supai Red parching corn is making a weaker showing at just 12 inches tall after 6 weeks. This corn hasn't shown the spark of the other two, so if the hype of this parching corn isn't reproducable then it might not have a furture place in our garden. Good gardening space is just too precious to waste on an iffy product. The harvest will tell the story.

Lastly, this Mandan is struggling at barely 10 inches after 6 weeks. The germination was weak and continues to be frail in it's growing pattern. If the Cascade continues to perform well, it will provide the flour we will need in future gardens and this flour type corn might have to be relegated to more temperate areas of the country.

The sweet corn from Burpee that was supposed to be a short season corn didn't even spout (darn the luck!) So I won't be buying that type of seed again.

Well, that's it for the corn update. More to come as time rolls on! (Sorry for the poor picture quailty. It was about 10:30 at night when I took these and the light was failing.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I'm sitting here at the computer writing and trying to cool off. It's been a scorcher at 92 degrees. I know for those of you in the south, 92 is just another July afternoon. But here in the north west, 92 degrees is pretty hot. We see temps in the 90's every summer, just not this early. Plus, we don' have air conditioner.......hardly anyone here has air conditioning. Even when I had the option of air conditioning, I chose not to invest. It just didn't seem to be necessary in a place that only saw 90's for a week a year. But this year is a little different. We have consistently been 15 degrees above normal since July started. I'm not complaining. This seems like the first real summer in two years. (The garden LOVES the weather! Even if the rabbits are a little hot.)

Anywhooo, here I sit trying to cool off. The night air is fresh and I can glean a few puffs through the open window every so often. It smells nice, too. I started the water sprinkler on the garden before coming inside. So it smells like rain. I know we are a long way off from rain and what I'm smelling is just moist soil, but it's oh, so nice. The garden is coming along with the warmer temps. The weeds are too. I don't mind weeding. It's a reminder of my investment in our food production. I just don't have a lot of time. It seems that I spend a good deal of effort driving kids to baseball and volleyball and cello lessons and trumpet lessons and piano lessons these summer days.... I don't mind TOO much. It's just frustrating sometimes when I find myself finally getting to the garden at 9:00 at night.

Oh, well. My sweet mother reminds me that someday soon I'll miss the comings and goings of the kids and wish that I had another baseball game to watch instead of only having the garden to tend. I guess she's right. I just wish that I could find a little more balance.

But this minute, for now, I'm happy to listen to the sprinkler feeding the thirsty vegetables through the south facing window and to wait for a cooling puff of breeze that will remind me of rainy nights. And dream of big, fat, juicy Glacier tomatoes, and corn (bleck), and Contender green beans, and Sweet Meat Oregon Homestead squash, and warm, yellow Butterball potatoes......mmmmm, summer veggies. I can hardly wait....

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Let's talk corn

It's a well known fact in my family that I am not a corn lover. I am actually a "if-I-put-corn-in-my-mouth-I'm-gonna-throw-up" kind of person. There's just something about the squirting juices when you bite down on a kernel.....bleck. I have very early memories of spit up on my dinner plate and all the brothers and sisters gasping at the site of half chewed corn swimming next to my mashed potatoes.

OK. Enough of the graphic details. I don't like corn.

But all of our kids and my beloved LOVE corn. So corn has a very important place in our family's home food production. There are many ways to eat corn other than fresh: polenta, parched corn and corn meal (for bread and johnny cakes....). Plus, we are trying to produce some of our animal's winter food. Even here in Northwest Montana, we can grow corn, though it takes special short season varieties.

So in anticipation of growing corn that we can serve to our animals and our sweet kids, I picked out a couple of different types as a kind of experiment for our garden this year. Since the garden spot was expanded quite a bit, I have a small area for "experimental" crops.

The first experimental corn I planted was the one noted below: Sapai Red Parch corn from Seeds of Change. Of all the "other" ways corn can be eaten, parched is the only way I have not tried. The corn is allowed to completely dry on the stalk in the fall, then the kernels shucked off the cob. The kernels are then roasted in a dry cast iron skillet until fragrant. They are supposed to taste great....better than pop corn (although I almost can't believe that! I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE pop corn!). So we'll see. The little corn plants are not very impressive at this point, barely 5 inches tall (pictures to follow later today when I venture out into the garden). However, we have had a really cool, wet spring.....again. So I should just be happy that the little cornlings had the perseverance to germinate at all.

I have tried growing pop corn here several times with terrible in the corn either didn't grow well enough to produce a cob or didn't even sprout. So parching corn might be a nice substitute.

We also planted Mandan Red which is a corn flour. Its a medium- early corn that grows short bushy plants with 6 inch ears. The best part is that it will grow fairly fast and hopefully offer a flour that will be useful on our homestead. Supposedly the Supai Red can be milled as a flour, too but the kernels are harder to grind than the Mandan. Plus, the Mandan is supposed to have a sweet flavor to the four. We'll see.

I purchased a flint seed, Cascade Ruby-Gold Flint corn, which was developed by breeder Carol Deppe and was bred for her cool, wet springs. She calls it "the ultimate survival crop". It's actually doing pretty well! The plantlings are up about 6-7 inches and coming on strong. It's going to be fun to see how it progresses through the year. This is touted to be a very early productive flint corn "superb for cornbread, johnny cakes and polenta. Does well even in downright cold summers." Again....we'll see.

(A short season sweet corn from Burpee was planted along with all the others, but never made an appearance......just not tough enough for our Montana spring, I guess. So I tilled the spot under and put out some broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower starts I had left over for just this reason.)

I also saved seed from my corn patch last year: Painted Mountain. It's a corn specifically bred by Dave Christensen in the mountains of Montana. The website states this: "Painted Mountain grows fast even in cold climates where other corns struggle to stay alive in early spring. It also pollinates and fills out ears during the searing heat of the dry Montana summer. It takes 90 days to mature as dry grain in my cold mountain climate, about 2-4 weeks ahead of other "90 day" corn. Painted Mountain will grow food where many varieties will fail. Farmers find it a very efficient food source if grazed by livestock right off the field. The lack of woodiness in the stalks and soft starch of the grain give it a higher digestibility to animals than other corns.  The highly nutritious grain promises to have many uses for humans and farm animals."

I found that Painted Mountain grew and produced actual corn during one of the worst gardening seasons I had ever experienced here on our farm several years ago. So even though it's considered an ornamental corn, I'm going to try and use it this year for grinding and parching. The chickens fight for the kernels so even if it doesn't taste great, it seems to be a dependable food source for the animals. So if the flavor isn't great, for the fact I can feed it to my animals, Painted Mountain has a spot in our garden.

All in all, this corn season will be interesting and hopefully very fruitful. I really can't wait for the results. I'm very concerned about our nations food supply/ production and everything I can do now to ensure our own ability to produce real food during uncertain times will help me sleep better at night.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

New babies......

These little guys are just 4 days old. Their eyes aren't open yet and they are almost hairless but, they quickly wriggle back into the warmth and familiarity of the nest when I pulled the fur away to look at them. They will be jumping out and pestering on each other and their mom in just two weeks. They won’t even look like this in as short as 7 days.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

It's War

We have thistles in our pastures. I didn't really notice any thistles until last year. I'm not even sure where they came from because I have been watching for them to crop up from both our lands and our neighbor's lands. They just kind of exploded on the scene.

The thistle is the national symbol of Scotland and has rich historical value. The image of the thistle can be found on coins, flags and I guess is the name of several football teams (Wikipedia used the word "football".... but in maybe?)

Supposedly they have some medicinal uses (some medieval writers had thought it could help regrow hair on bald heads). And while I'm really interested in exploring the culinary uses of native plants, I haven't found a recipe for thistle that I'm ready to try. Around here thistle is very invasive. Don't let the pretty purple flower fool you. Thistles can monopolize a large area of pasture and kind of push out other pasture grasses in just a few years.

And though lots of animals will eat thistles, having thistles in your pasture is considered an indication of poorly cared for land. Plus, we don't have any animals that will eat a thistle right now (the chickens just turn their noses, umm, beaks, up at a thistle.)

So we have to get rid of the plant by hand before that pretty little purple head shows itself.  After blooming, the head looks very similar to a dandelion head....a giant puff ball of seed, waiting for a breeze to spread itself   ALL.   OVER.   EVERYWHERE.  So it can NEVER be allowed to go to seed. Swift action must be taken to lop off the purple heads before the seed can spread. It's a constant battle.

Though it seems insignificant, thistle removal is really an important insurance for the future health of our pastures. So part of a farm kid's responsibility is to be on relentless guard for a thistle invasion and to take hasty action if a plant has gone unnoticed. 

It's an all summer job.
 It takes persistance and resolve.
It is NOT insignificant. It is not thankless.
This year the job goes to Daniel, our tenacious 13 year old. 

Weed war: an important safeguard for our on-farm food supply.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Here we are on a Saturday afternoon, catching up on some chores between downpours.
The work never ends but is oh so important. 

14 year old son mowing the dandelions, um, lawn, in the rain. This is a big job. With all the rain we've had the yard looks more like the pasture it once was instead of a lawn. He is taming the beast. (See his muscles? See his mud boots?)

 13 year old son weed eating. This job isn't terribly huge, but this kid's mother likes it to look "just so" therefore he needs to do it "right" the first time or he'll have to do the job again. Poor kid.

17 year old son helping his dad, my beloved, put the final touches on the back of the little red chicken coop where the run is going to be. This way there won't be chicken poo all over the place (IE: the front porch).

15 year old daughter, planting yet another row of potatoes. She'd MUCH rather be reading, but she does love potatoes and understands the value of growing our own food. So she's happy to help (and I mean that).

Later, we'll gather for a feast of grass fed hamburgers, sharp Cheddar cheese, onions, dill pickles, home fried potatoes, home brew (for the parents).......

food fit for kings and hungry, hard working, well deserving kids!

Friday, June 8, 2012

We had a break in the wet weather tonight so I high-tailed it (do people say "high-tailed" anymore?) out to the garden to put in a few more rows of potatoes. It was 9:30 pm but the sky had plenty of light yet. Hmmmfph. Planting seed potatoes at 9:30 at night.......last year it was corn at 10:30. This year....potatoes.

The view out our back door at 9:38 pm. See, plenty of light yet. Plenty of planting to do.

It does this every year. We have a couple of nice, warm days in early May that lull us into a sense of "false summertime". Then we get hit with lots of rain and chilly breezes in late May and early June. Long about June 15th or so the faucet flips off and summer begins. If you don't have your garden spot worked and planted, you're out of luck. Our growing season is so short that if you don't plant by end of May/ very beginning of June, there's just not enough time for the plants to produce vegetables before the first freeze.

So here we are again, June 8, with the garden completely planted.....almost.

Yesterday it was 33 degrees on my front porch! 33! Brrrrr. But we got out there and finished up the planting after the soil warmed up a bit. We just have a couple more rows of potatoes to put in and several miscellaneous things like Brussels sprouts, a few more cabbage and some cauliflower plants. The bulk of these staples have already found their place in the garden. I just have a few left over plants to find space for. The garden always starts off looking nice and neat with smart, clean rows. But ends up looking like a smorgasbord because I'm forever tucking extra plantlings here and there. (Example: not enough celery to make a row? that's OK.....just plop a pepper plant in there....)

Anywhoo- the bulk of the garden is done. It just has to stop raining so that the sun and warmth can work it's magic.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

I can't let the view out the back door fool me into spring time despair.
 I know that behind this:

Is this!

Hurry summer......

Friday, June 1, 2012

My baseball son had pig feeding duty after a game one evening. The pigs were so happy to see him they were dancing! It had just rained and they exploded out of their slumber in the "pig cave"- grunting and all hungry- ready to eat!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

It is May, right?

39 degrees on my front porch.
A fairly stiff breeze coming out of the North.

It is May...... right?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Baby pictures

 You can see that they have round, happy tummies and teeth already!

The proud papa.

(Completely unaware.)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Garlic (and onions) have entered the building!

I have been dreaming of home grown garlic for a long time. But for one reason or another, we've just never grown it. Last year I decided that enough was enough and it was time for our own garlic bed. So I ordered a few different garlic heads to try. You can actually use the cloves that you find at the grocery store. They can be planted and grown just fine at home. But I wanted to try a couple of different varieties. So I ordered 4 large heads from Territorial last spring: Spanish Roja, Siberian, Sevilla Sunset and Music. When one plants garlic, it's desirable to plant in the fall, allow the heads to over winter in the garlic bed then harvest the next season. It just takes garlic awhile to get going. Warm weather speeds growth and cool weather slows growth but the cloves do continue to grow, just at a slower pace. But here at my house, we have a horrible problem with voles. Last year they ate almost my whole potato harvest and lots of other veggies. Well, that can't happen to my a matter of fact, this really can't happen anymore at all. We just cannot loose valuable food to rodents. Someday, we might completely have to depend on the garden to feed us so I have to figure out a way to combat these voracious eaters now. So after a little research, I decided to plant the garlic as early as possible in the spring and harvest as late as possible in the fall just so that the voles don't have a huge garlic eating festival under the snow all winter long. (Successful garlic an be grown this way but the heads aren't nearly as big as if they were over wintered.) But my beloved husband, understanding my plight and feeling a little sorry for me and becoming pretty tired of hearing me belly ache about the (stinking) voles, built these raised beds and (tu dum) my problem was solved! No more voles in the root least not the least I hope. Since my initial plan was to plant in the spring and harvest in the fall, I had already started the bulbs inside under lights to give them a jump on the season. I had over 50 cloves so it took some time to replant all these guys, but now they are safely tucked into the ground to grow and get fat and make garlic magic.

Good help is hard to find.
Thank goodness for the red puppy. Her recommendations are indispensable.

We also have a keenness for onions. I usually purchase a 50# bag of storage onions in the fall before the local fruit stand closes for the season and it is often empty by March. So this year we planted our own in the bed with the garlic. We have Walla Wallas, an un-named red variety and two flats of yellow storage onions. (Onion seeds are a little hard to find unless they are ordered. Of course, I didn't remember to order onion seeds when I placed my order this last fall so I had to buy most of these as starts. But I did find a packet of "bunching" onion seeds.  They came up pretty vigorously under lights in the basement so I'm not sure what to expect. I just planted them along side the other onionlings. I guess we'll see how they turn out.)

 No self respecting vole would come close to this bed of loved globes. They don't look like much now.....actually, the onions and garlic look pretty pathetic, but give them a little sunshine and a little rain and watch them grow! Mmmmm. I can smell (my breath) them now! Yum!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

We have babies!

Beneath this warm mass of fur is a pile of 5 small, spotted, hairless bunnies. They are all entwined together, snuggled under fur that the female has pulled from her body to keep them warm and safe. They will stay snuggled under there for 10 days or so until their eyes begin to open and their little bodies begin to hair out. The mother rabbit will jump into the nesting box once or twice a day to allow the kits to nurse. Her milk is concentrated with the perfect combination of nutrients on which her litter will thrive with only a couple of nursings a day.

Only one out of the three females gave birth. The other two did not produce a litter. A loud noise or a large fright can sometimes interrupt a pregnancy and the females will not deliver. I'm not sure why but sometimes this happens. All the does are three so it's not related to age. We'll give them a week or two to rest, then re-breed. In the mean time, these five guys will grow and mature seemingly over night. Before you know it, they will be jumping around the cage pestering their patient mother and each other like siblings are apt to do.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

New coop door

I have a new door to the chicken coop!

My beloved husband came home from the Great White North and built a proper coop door. It's wonderful in that it's very sturdy and the green panel comes off exposing a whole door of just chicken wire. This will be good for summer when it's really hot and the animals must stay inside. The rabbits suffer in any temps above 80 degrees. So this will be nice for them. Of course any mammal that would eat a rabbit could just blow through the screen door but hopefully, with the red puppy leaving her mark all around the property, we won't have to deal with predators breaking and entering.

We painted it like the farmers used to do with a big white "X" on the outside so you can see if the door is closed across the pasture. Of course the coop is just across the yard from the house so it's not a stretch of the eyes to see if the door is closed. But so what! I like the look of the big white "X". It makes me feel like a real farmer. And that's what it's about!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Baby Watch

Three of our four Rex does are "with kit" and will soon deliver. Rabbits have only a 28-32 day gestational period and while they can re-breed within a day of delivery, it's really hard on the does to be carrying a litter while nursing a litter at the same time. Sometimes the number of kits can be 6-10 in a single batch!  So we don't keep our bucks in the same cage as the females for that reason.

It has been such a mild spring that we might be able to get two- three litters this year instead of one. I don't breed our girls in the winter or early spring as it's usually very windy and cold in the winter and chilly and damp in the spring. I just don't want to stress the rabbits that much. Plus I really don't want to feed all those babies with store bought food. I'd rather feed them greens from our abundant pastures. But the pastures don't green out with much spark until the end of April or May.  So we wait. This year has been exceptionally mild. We might just get a couple of litters before the snow flies again!

At 3-4 pounds a bunny after 12 weeks~ that's a lot of quick meat!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Busy, busy, busy!!!

We have lots of GREAT things going on here at Mountain Harvest Farm! These greatness-es will each have their own post but let me show a few pics to get the ball rolling!

We now have pigs! Three little pigs! (Well, they're not too little any more. The only thing growing faster than these pigs on this farm are our children!)

 We now have a much larger garden spot AND raised beds!!! Two of them (so far)!!!!

         My beloved made the chicken coop door- a REAL chicken coop door!!!


We have more chicks. 10 of them! (I bunched them up in the same bin to show all at one time.)


And, see this spot~ This area will have fruit trees planted here~ maybe by the end of this month as well! Plus, we might, probably, hopefully, have a PERIMETER FENCE  before this month is over!!!! (At least we will have the posts in place.) Yeay! This is great news because the fencing allows for bigger animals; one's that fit into our sustainable food program. Double Yeay!

More to come....stay tuned! (Triple yeay!)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Spring in Montana

Well, it's snowing. I don't know why I'm surprised. It was 62 degrees yesterday and beautiful....perfect cloudless day and no adequate words to describe the blue, blue mountain sky. We put our backs into a few chores that would take more than just a couple of hours and have the sore bodies to prove it. My beloved husband began re-staining the front porch. It has needed it for a while and he jumped into the project with both feet. Of course it will take several nice weather days to complete and of course since it is SNOWING today, the rest of the project will be delayed. That's OK. It'll look great when it's done.

I sifted through our potato bin (this box is only 1/2 full of those that are-to-be-planted); sorting the lovely German butterballs into piles of potatoes-we-get-to-eat from potatoes-we-are-going-to-plant this spring from the potatoes-that-get-to-go-to-the -chickens. The pile of potatoes going into the garden is larger than the pile that gets to be eaten. Since we really love these potatoes, it's hard to be without for the several months it's going to take to grow more. But it's always worth the wait. The books state that these nice potatoes are supposed to be best eaten up to just after Christmas. After that they become kind of mealy. But our experience is that they do fine into spring as long as they are kept cool but not frozen. The hardest issue for us is the "don't let them freeze" part. These butterballs are really juicy and therefore seem to be more at risk of freezing while wintering over in our unheated garage. We also have a small box of reds that we will plant this spring as well; can't be without our red potatoes! It must be the Irish in us!

Sunday, April 8, 2012


I think most people who make sauerkraut, make it in the fall. But I've gotten into the habit of making in the spring. I do this mostly because I'm lazy, but also, it's easier to accomplish in the spring when it's still too cool to plant anything outside and the crush of harvest isn't looming.

Sauerkraut is really easy to make and it's pretty good for you, too. Cabbage is easy to grow in our climate, even from seed. And our family happens to enjoy sauerkraut a lot so making it is a win/ win food storage skill. I am able to use up any cabbage that starting to show it's age by now plus, my cabbage recipes are becoming fairly exhausted (or maybe I should say that the kids are getting tired of cabbage soup, cabbage salad, steamed cabbage, cabbage and pork, cabbage and get the idea). So sauerkraut is the perfect solution for those few heads of fall cabbage that haven't been eaten yet.

The traditional way to make kraut is to allow the cabbage to ferment in a large crock after preparing the slices, but I don't have a large crock so I just make the kraut in canning jars, one at a time.

You start by slicing the clean head of cabbage into fairly thick slabs (after the large floppy leaves have been removed. I often use these leaves if I'm using the cabbage just after harvest. But usually by this time, the outer leaves can be, um, undesirable.) In the past, I've used a food processor for this part since the slicing is time consuming, but I've found that the processor makes the cabbage pieces too small for my liking and hard scoop out of the crock pot after cooking. I end up loosing a lot of my hard earned sauerkraut because the small, food processed pieces slide off the spoon when transferring to the plate.

So after you slice up about 1/4 of the head you put the cabbage into a very clean Mason jar (or any other type of canning jar....I just call them all Mason jars. I'm kind of weird).

Then you sprinkle salt over the slices and pound the poor cabbage into smithereens. There's no exact measurement for the salt. I just sprinkle several teaspoons over the top of the cabbage.

(I don't have a picture of the cabbage being pounded to smithereens because I didn't have a way of pounding and snapping the picture at the same time. But you can see the instrument of doom in some of the early snaps. It's that wooden thing that looks kind of like a short rolling pin with a handle. Actually, it's the tool that you use when pushing meat into the Kitchen Aid grinder. For some reason I have about 3 of these little gadgets. They come in real handy!) You don't have to pound hard. The pounding really just helps the salt release the natural juices of the cabbage. As you pound, find you can add more and more cabbage to the jar. Just continue to layer the cabbage, sprinkle salt, pound, repeat. Eventually you will have the jar filled with salted and pounded cabbage. The secret is to make sure that you have all the cabbage covered by salty juices when the jar is full.

(This is a hard-to-see picture of juicy, post-pounded cabbage.)

The next step is my favorite. You just store the almost-sauerkraut in an out of the way, semi-warm place. The warmer the storage place, the quicker the fermentation process. I cover mine with the Mason jar lid that has NOT been screwed on.... at all. This way as the cabbage ferments, it can release gases and sometimes a little juice in a safe manner. (If you place the lid on the jar in any way other than just balancing the lid over the mouth of the jar without screwing into place, it will not be "in a safe manner". Over time, the jar will build pressure under that lid and it could actually explode in a "not safe manner", spewing interesting smelling cabbage juice ALL OVER THE PLACE. Don't ask me how I know this. Just take my word for it!)

Anywhoo, after a couple of weeks, you have amazing, great sauerkraut, ready for imbibement. (No, wait. Imbibement is drinking. Is imbibement even a word? OK...forget that. After a couple of weeks, you will have amazing, great sauerkraut to eat.) You can either eat it immediately or place in the refrigerator until you are ready to eat it. By placing the sauerkraut in the 'fridge, it stops the fermentation process so the kraut doesn't make anymore gases and you can safely put the lid on without fear. Plus, the fridge halts the resulting "sourness" to just the exact tartness to our taste.

So there you have it. A cheap, nutritious way to use up waining heads of fall cabbage that is easy on the money bags. My mother would be so proud!

(Sorry. I don't have a picture of the finished product. I have to go clean up a juicy, smelly cabbage mess.)