Today we are exactly one month into winter; seems like more than that. We're also just two short months away from the first day of spring – works for me. It seems like a short amount of time since I was in the field last but by the looks of things I guess it's been a while. We'll be firing up the greenhouses before you know it so I need to get busy ordering supplies.
Last weeks cold temperatures were a reminder we are very much in the midst of winter. We had an official minus 23 here in Albion and I had minus 29 on Friday morning. The wood pile is taking a beating now; I was concerned we weren't going to use that much this year and what would I do with all that wood I ordered for next year. I don't foresee that as being a problem now.
We are using our antique wood cook stove frequently this winter mostly for baking and cooking on the stovetop. The stove is a Modern Clarion, made in Bangor, Maine around a hundred years ago the best we can figure. Things were made to last and be used back then and it's in remarkably good shape considering its age; I hope I'm in that good of shape when I hit a hundred. Last weekend we made jam from the strawberries we'd harvested from our garden last summer. We also baked beans from a local grower and made a big pot of pea soup with homemade biscuits. The biggest problem with the stove is that it takes "biscuit" wood, which is short and split fine. Furnace wood is 2 feet long and split coarsely so it doesn't take long to stack up a couple of cords. Biscuit wood on the other hand is 14-16 inches long and split into two to three inches pieces and takes forever to pile up. White maple, alders, ash and a little bit of oak is the best for the kitchen stove along with some small pieces of hardwood slabwood.
So, by now I suppose some of you are wondering what exactly this has to do with Johnny's farm. I know we're looking forward to using our woodstove to cook and process the vegetables we harvest next summer out of our garden. We harvest crops like strawberries and tomatoes, freeze them and the cook them down on the woodstove in the winter. There are a couple of reasons for this: we don't have to spend precious time in the summer processing certain crops, and we've got the woodstove running in the winter anyway, so the heat is free. I find it somewhat hypocritical that we would use propane in the summer to replace what the wood can do in the winter. I don't want to use any more energy than I have to so this methodology works for us. It also gives us something to do in the winter, besides cramming the stoves with wood and complaining about how cold it is.
Of course there are many crops we can't use this method on. Any crop that needs to be blanched cannot be frozen, blanched and refrozen, so we have to resort to the gas stove for these. In the old days many people had a "summer" kitchen. My grandmother had one in her house and as I remember it was well designed for preserving the harvest. It had a wood cookstove, a sink, lots of shelves for canned goods and nice big windows that could be opened to let out some heat. It was just off the kitchen so it was handy but wouldn't heat the house up using the kitchen would have. I think if we were going to do lots of preserving it might be a good investment, especially if I was using a wood cookstove!
Although I work at Johnny's where we often get to take veggies home, we have a big garden with lots of fruit trees and berry bushes. We raise our own chickens; both meat and egg birds. We wild harvest some plants, especially crops like fiddleheads that you can't raise in the garden. So summer evenings we are often involved with harvesting something, or getting it ready for freezing or another method of preserving. I get a few people tell me it's a waste of time to preserve my own vegetables and fruits when I could buy them so much cheaper and easier. Apples and oranges here folks. I try to explain that the green beans I have just harvested in my garden, the ones that will be snapped, blanched and frozen within a couple of hours are so much better than those ones you find in the supermarket, having been frozen for who knows how long. The varieties I grew were selected for taste and not for ease of mechanical harvesting. They were picked, snapped and processed quickly so as to retain their fresh taste and crunchy texture in the dead of winter. I know we have 20 quarts of green beans ready for winter and I also know what year they were grown and who processed them and how long they should last. I also know that I'm not so busy as I can't spend any time getting my own food – pretty basic concept here.
I also know "where our food comes from". This catch phrase is quite popular now. Our veggies comes from Johnny's or my own garden, our chickens come from our own flock, the beef we eat comes to us by way of a local beef farmer, and during the summer some of our produce comes from the local farmers market. The local Mom and Pop store and the natural foods store gets support from us, and yes, we do visit the grocery store on occasion; a couple of times a month in the winter and a couple of times during the summer.
The best way to know where your food comes from is to be more involved in the whole picture. CSA's are gaining in popularity and many are available. Farmers' Markets are in nearly every town and city and offer fresh, local produce and farm products in season. And there even a few open all winter now offering root vegetables and other crops fresh. Buying directly from the farmer pretty much insures it's local and fresh; at least you can ask them. Of course you can always have a garden; then you know exactly what's going into your food. I like to garden; good thing as being Farm Manager at Johnny's kind of requires an agricultural interest. My garden is big; not because I need all this food, but rather because I can have a big garden and can grow food for people less fortunate than I.
Until next week, Brian