Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sugaring Time

 While we were trimming fruit trees and cutting trees in the timber this week, we noticed that the sap was starting to rise. This is always a sure sign that spring is on its way, but in many parts of the country it also means that sugaring time is here, the start of the maple syrup season.
Full disclosure: I am a maple syrup junkie! I love real maple syrup the way some people love high quality wine or olive oil. For those of you who are unaware, I am not talking about those plastic bottles of pancake syrup with the "Hot" indicator built into the lable, or, heaven forbid, that scary woman-shaped bottle. Blech! Take a look at the ingredient lists on one of those bottles sometime, that's truly frightening! No, I'm talking about good, rich, all-natural (preferable Grade B) maple syrup.

During the winter, I eat maple syrup on my steel-cut oatmeal every morning. And this morning, I opened my last quart (yes QUART) of real maple syrup. This bottle is a special treat because it was a gift from our dear friend Diann, brought back from her travels in Minnesota. The syrup that I just finished was a local syrup from northwestern Iowa and it was very nice. But this Minnesota syrup from Wild Country Maple Syrup is marvelous, dark and rich, I could just about drink it straight. This is what maple syrup should be!

Since I'm a storyteller by habit and profession, I have to share my syrup story...

When I was young I was in love with the Little House on the Prairie books. I had them all and read them over and over (I know, total dork!). I wanted to live that life, and now to small degree, I do. But regardless, I loved all the small daily details about their lives and one day after a storm that provided us with a snow day, I recalled a particular story in one of the books about making maple candy in the clean snow after a storm. I had to try it! So I followed the description of the process in the book as closely as possible, pouring some of our syrup into a pan and heating it to a boil on the stove (I'm sure I had permission to use the stove, Mom). Then I took the hot pan outside and carefully poured the syrup in swirls onto the clean snow.
To my total disappointment, the slightly cooled syrup melted right through the deep snow and disappeared into the ground.  I couldn't imagine what had happened, why hadn't it worked?

It was only recently that I remembered that whole experiment and realized that what failed wasn't my was my syrup. We lived in middle-class Iowa, we didn't use real maple syrup, we used the aforementioned pancake syrup, just like everyone else in our neighborhood.  I don't really remember when I realized there was an alternative, but the first time that I consciously tried the real stuff, that was it. I was hooked and I never looked back.

Now that I have that story back in my memory, I'm waiting for a nice deep, fresh snowfall so I can try the maple syrup candy experiment again. If you've tried it, let me know how it worked for you. If you want to try it, just remember... substitutions are not acceptible and corn syrup with maple flavoring is NOT the same as maple syrup. Get yourself some real maple syrup, Grade B, if possible and have yourself a real treat!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I have subscribed to The Essential Herbal for a year or so and it is one of the most interesting and educational publications that arrives in my mailbox. It is edited by wonder-woman Tina Sams and each issue is chock-full of submissions by herbal experts nationwide. There is nothing pretentious about it, just lots of friendly, useful information about all things herbal (culinary, medicinal, soap-making, growing ect.)
I was honored when Tina decided to include one of my stories (nature-oriented, though not particularly herbal) in the current issue. What a treat to get to share the pages with so many smart and creative "herbies." I had a couple poems published years ago, but this is the first foray into the "print public" for one of my stories. Thanks Tina...proud to be on your pages!
You can subscribe to the magazine, or check out a multitude of fabulous products from the website link above. Check it out, they do great stuff over there in PA!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Spinning Locks

For Christmas this year I was gifted (among other cool things) a bag of mohir locks dyed in a rainbow of colors by talented friend Maggie.

I wanted to spin them with something that would really show off their lustrous color, but didn't have any fiber that I thought fit the bill. Finally I took some of the beautiful grey shetland from an earlier Fiber CSA delivery and tried to dye it black. Yeah, my dyeing skills still need some honing. I tried two different dye baths, and finally ended up with a mottled black and dark grey, nearly felted fiber. Grrrr!
Not exatcly what I was hoping for, but I decided to use it anyway. So I spun the locks into the shetland for one single.

Then plyed that against a plain shetland single. It isn't exactly what I was hoping for, but it did make a couple of  interesting skeins of yarn.

Not sure yet if I will sell them or keep them for my own stash.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Crawl On!

Last night we had a meeting of the farms that participate in Farm Crawl and everyone agreed that they wanted to do it again in 2009. So here's the first (un)official announcement...
Farm Crawl 2009 will happen on October 4th from 11:00am - 5:00pm.

For those of you unfamiliar with Farm Crawl, it is six independent family farm operations, all within a six mile radius of each other in south-central Iowa, hosting simultaneous open houses. You can enjoy a leisurely autumn day “crawling” from farm to farm (Okay, you don't actually crawl, you drive yourself between farms).

In addition to the "core" six farms, two additional area farms/ag businesses are hosted on participating farms. This year the group also decided to invite another area farm to join in the fun, so there will be seven farms to visit and nine independent families represented. Details to follow later.

Last year Farm Crawl brought more than 600 people out to rural, south/central Iowa for a beautiful fall day and we hope for similar turn out this year. So put it on your calendars now and then come out and join us the first Sunday in October!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Sowin' in Snow

Here it is the 2nd week in February, the snow is flying and the seed sowing season has begun. For the past couple of days I've been cleaning up the sunroom and getting it reset for it's spring role as a greenhouse. I'm totally spoiled by having it actually attached to the house, so I don't have to set one foot outside to check on all the vegetable starts, until the move out the the high tunnel to harden off. Eventually the sunroom will be crammed with green growing things literally from floor to ceiling (and enough grow lights to land a small plane), but for now we start one crop at a time. The alliums, or onion family seeds are always the first on the list so this morning, I dug out six varieties of seed from the seed box and made sure I had seedling labels for all of them.

Then the fun begins...dampen organic potting mix (20 qts at a time), fill each flat with said potting mix, mist potting mix in flat, place label in flat, sow seeds (4 per cell), mist seeded flat, cover seeds with more damp potting mix, and then soak the whole flat again, top with dome cover and place on heat mat until seedlings appear.

By the time I'm finished I will have 20 flats of various allium crops stacked up on the heat mats, headed toward germination.

So what exactly is in all those flats of onion-y goodness?
Onions: Copra, Ailsa Craig, Gold Coin Cipollini
Leeks: King Richard
Shallots: Bonilla & Prisma

All together, that's about 5700 individual plants that will all be transplanted intot he gardens later this spring, but we try nott o think too much about that now.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Happy Candlemas

Really I should have said, happy belated Candlemas, because yesterday was the actual date. According to the Old Farmers Almanac,
Candlemas was originally a Celtic festival celebrating the fact that the days were getting longer and spring was not far off.
Well I am all for celebrating that! The past few days could have made one believe that spring is actually on its way. Bring it on!

Actually, I am getting a little ahead of myself. I am on my way out to clear the last of the spinach out of the high tunnel and once that is done, I need several days of good cold temps to freeze the top soil layer. This kills off the aphids and some of the fungi that can build up in a high tunnel. So a little scheduled freezing is a good thing. Then I will be all ready to sow the beds in March for the early farmers market.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Photo Tag

We've been tagged!

Maggie tagged us for this game, so here goes...6th Picture Meme!

Here are the rules to the photo meme

1.Go to your Picture Folder on your computer or wherever you store your pictures

2.Go to the 6th Folder, then pick the 6th picture in that folder

3.Post that picture on your blog and tell the story that goes along with the picture.

4.Tag 6 other people that you know or don’t know to do the same thing and leave a comment on their blog or an e-mail letting them know you chose them.

The Photo:

The Story:

Last year on a beautiful sunny Sunday in June there was a quiet, nearly unnoticed parade on our road. A group of horse aficionados was working their way across Iowa, riding different parts of the Mormon Trail. Our road happens to be one of the "theoried" routes, so down the road they came. There was an assortment of riders, wagons and mounts and it was the best part of the whole weekend for us. This photo was shot as they passed along the area that we call "Oak Hill" on the western-most part of the farm.

External inputs

Well gosh, this could become an addiction...a fun (and very swanky) award from Claire. Don'cha know this is how all the farm women around here look? Anyway, thanks Claire! I think the "fabulous" award fits you better than me!

And now back to the addictions part, I am supposed to list 5 addictions...

1. Coffee...every morning, preferably with half & half. Cold coffee in the summer.

2. Ice Cream (right there with you Claire!) Any time of the year, bring it on! In July...homemade ginger peach is hard to beat.

3. Fiber...I totally blame this one on Maggie. All natural fibers, ready to be spun into yarn, or wonderful yarn produced by others...I will probably be found dead someday, suffocated under a giant pile of fibery products, with a big smile on my face.

4. Outdoors, can't live without it. Our farm, timber, natural name it and I am happier there than I could ever be in any mall.

5. Friends. Espeically now that we live so far from them, friends seem so much more important. I'm quickly becoming addicted to these electronic means of staying in touch.

So there you go...and my awards for other Fabulous Blogs go to:

Prairieland Herbs, because everything they have is truly Fabulous!

Walk Slowly, Live Wildly, because I am always amazed at Sara's talent and enthusiasm

Sugar Creek Farm because Kellie writes a wonderful blog with great farm and nature pics.

Cold Antler Farm because this is one of my favorite blogs to read daily. Check out the January 30 post about things to bring back. It is one of the best lists I've seen in a long, long time.

Farmgirl Fare because its about food, farming and great dog and sheep photos...what's not to like?