West Coast Snow Dayz

With more than a foot of snow falling over the last couple days, getting around the barnyard has been a trial. Especially hauling full water buckets. RG came home today from a weekend at her boyfriend’s (it’s ok, covid safety is important to our family, he’s in her bubble) and promptly shoveled all the hundreds of feet of trails I had stomped through the drifts while doing chores, right down to bare ground. She also texted me a few times as she worked, to warn of particularly slippery areas. ❤️

DH cleared the whole driveway, multiple times. And worked on our road along with the other neighbourhood guys and their tractors. A narrow lane really, that dead ends not far past our place, the municipal plows don’t exactly prioritize it. He also carefully filled the back of my truck with snow, packed and levelled for safety, in case I need to go anywhere. We have a fairly large parking area and drive, his snowbanks are now taller than his tractor. ❤️

Chores were so much easier this morning, even though I had some fence repair to do. George had once again knocked down the electric line between him and the donks, in a fit of pique about the weather I’m sure. I can tell it was him and not the donks because a) he is the one with the temper; and b) the donkeys have not set foot outside their stall since the ground turned white. I had to move their water inside, when I realized about twelve hours in (!) they had not gone for a drink since it started. The chickens don’t like it either. All the barnyard crew are getting fed up with this white stuff, they tell me so every time I go out to see them. Except the ducks who love to eat it, puddle around in it, and turn it into a soggy poopy mess, much like they do bare ground.

I am getting fed up with it too. I don’t know how my prairie relatives manage their version of our Canadian winter. Better than us west coasters handle this snow I’m sure…

A Dog’s Life

Our little dog Chance is a creature of habit. He is also blessed with a robust internal clock, so that all his days, as far as he can manage them, unfold right on schedule. From the moment he wakes up, to climb sleepily into my lap where he will snooze for another hour and a half while I drink coffee and read the news, (the only time of day he even considers snuggling in the recliner with me) until he successfully wrangles me onto the couch in the evening so he can press first his head, and eventually his entire length, up against my leg and, you guessed it, sleep, each day’s events unfold in the most predictable, most delightful (from his point of view), manner.

At the same time, he can be very adaptable if he so chooses. Nimble in fact. If one day I randomly hand him a dog biscuit as we are coming in from the barnyard, he adds this exciting event to his list, and the next time we come in from the barnyard, he beelines to the closet door behind which the dog biscuits live, where he stands eyeing me with a confident air, genially wagging his tail. If I keep walking, turn the corner and head up the stairs, he quickly deflates, his body language screaming his disappointment, and trails glumly after me up the stairs. He will keep asking for days, if not weeks, every time we come in from the barnyard in the afternoon, before he’ll sadly strike “receive dog biscuit after barnyard” from his schedule. Lord help me if I give him that après barnyard treat more than once in a month! He almost needs counselling to finally let go.

The daily schedule around which Chance’s life orbits consists mostly of events involving food, although specific types of snuggle time on specific pieces of furniture with specific people are right up there too. As is going outside at specific times (ostensibly to relieve himself, but really to yell at anyone, man or beast, daring to use the road in front of our house), play time with Arrow, feeding the horses in the evening, and to cap each day, his chew chew (rubber bone stuffed with tiny treats).

I admit I do indulge him, and yes he is a manipulator. I am quite aware and I do allow this; I take reciprocal pleasure in making my dog happy. Chance’s schedule harmlessly choreographs our days, and has for years. I know that his schedule makes my little rescue dog feel secure, but sometimes his fervent adherence to it still surprises me. 

Each day after early morning barnyard (for me, he stays behind snuggling in bed with DH) he and I go into my office where I nudge my computer awake and grab him his daily half a dentabone. I throw it, he grabs it excitedly, and I “change my mind”, chasing him down the hallway and into the living room, growling that I want it back. He dearly loves being chased, he cavorts and practically giggles as he goes. Then I laugh and give up, he plops down and begins to devour his treat. I retreat to my office, shut the door, and start to check my email. After a few minutes, his single soft ‘scritch’ at the door signals that he’s ready for breakfast, which I serve in the kitchen, then back to my desk. Another ‘skritch’ a few minutes later tells me he is ready to go outside. Generally his barking gets him brought inside again, usually by DH, and eventually another soft ‘skritch’ tells me he is ready to take up his position on his six inch foam bed under my work table, where he snores away the remainder of the morning while I conduct my business of the day.

The other morning, I had a deadline and was already working when he got up from DH snuggle time and skritched at my door for his dentabone. Knowing that he would just sit there, softly skritching every few minutes, until I gave him what he was “owed”, I grabbed half a dentabone, opened the door, and dropped it at his feet, then closed the door, sat back down, and got back into my task. Until. Skritch. A minute or two. Then, skritch. “Oh jeez.” I thought, “He’s got to be kidding, it’s not enough to get the treat, he wants me to chase him too?” Realizing that the quickest route to peace was to indulge him, I got up again and opened the door, whereupon he grinned up at me, picked up his half dentabone in his mouth and tossed it high in the air over his shoulder into the hallway, pivoted, pounced on it, took possession, and ran down the hallway giggling, with me in hot pursuit. 

“Excellent” I could practically hear him thinking as he plopped down to chew, “that’s done properly now, and rightly so.”

A Redemption Story

Last Sunday night, a heavy old tubular steel gate that had been hanging, chained and locked, at the end of our barnyard driveway for more than 25 years vanished in the night. All that was left behind was the plastic netting (carefully folded and set aside) that had been zip tied along its base to keep chickens and ducks from wandering onto the busy road, and a couple broken chain links. DH reported our theft to the police, and the fellow who took our report said it was a first for him in more than 3000 calls…usually people enter and exit through gates to steal stuff, they don’t actually steal the gates.

Scavenging a gate from between two fields elsewhere on the property, DH and RG spent much of the day installing and theft-proofing it. Of course, as with any farm chore, the usual number of tangential roadblocks cropped up along the way, each having to be dealt with as it arose. DH’s farm truck battery died at the feed store where he’d stopped to ask them to call us if anyone came in looking for farm gate hangers. RG had to go give him a jump, after one from a kind stranger didn’t work. Then, as well as the new chains and locks, DH had to go buy a new truck battery. Funny how vehicle batteries always die when the weather turns cold, isn’t it. It ended up being a fairly expensive day. Good locks, chains, and truck batteries don’t come cheap.

On the advice of middle daughter, the organized one, I wrote a quick Facebook post and sent it to a couple ‘what’s happening in our community’ pages. My post got lots of attention, so it didn’t take long for the local print and TV media folks to come calling, looking for a story. We indulged each as they came, because of course any publicity just might help. Maybe someone had seen our large (12 feet long!) gate travelling down the road. Maybe someone had noticed a big old gate appear in their neighbourhood. With a replacement looking like it was going to cost north of $300, and the usual insurance deductible meaning the cost would assuredly come out of our own pockets, we really just wanted to get our old gate back.

Lots of folks reacted to the story, we read all the comments, which ranged from sad to mad to everything in between. We enjoyed seeing RG on the evening news – it’s always fun when family is on TV. And that was it, I thought, Muddy Valley Farm’s fifteen minutes of fame. I’d been surprised by the level of interest, and was happy when things started to settle down. I liked the idea of sinking back into quiet obscurity.

The last interviewer who had come by had said as he departed “You never know, it might just turn up, I’ve seen it happen.” I wasn’t holding out too much hope, but thought that if our gate was to reappear, it would come in the form of a call from a good samaritan reporting a gate in the ditch somewhere. Mostly though, I thought that probably we’d just never see our old gate again. Luckily, the gate we’d scavenged to plug the opening onto the busy road wouldn’t be needed between the barnyard field and the Tarzan Tree field until the weather improved, and we could let George and the donkeys out onto grass again.

The week went by quickly, as weeks tend to do, and every morning as I walked out to feed, I’d glance up at the driveway entrance, thinking of what that last interviewer had said, and hoping…on the off chance…

Friday night was a frosty cold one, and the barnyard was gorgeous as I walked out to feed early Saturday morning. I glanced to my right as I crossed the winter field, and saw…something?…what the heck? I set down my buckets and fished for my glasses on their string around my neck, squeezing them on between my scarf and my toque, then peered up the driveway again. The gate almost looked like it had…doubled? Walking more quickly now (could it be??) I dropped the feed buckets at the barn door and headed up for a closer look. Were my eyes deceiving me…or…OMG, the old gate!!! It was back! Leaning against the new gate, it’s chain securely taped (so THAT’s how they kept it quiet!), it was definitely our old familiar gate. The rust spots were just where they were supposed to be, but the metal cash box (which we hadn’t used for years since we stopped selling manure) was missing. I didn’t care, our prodigal gate was home!!!

I pulled my phone out of my pocket, which was not easy as it was nestled under several warm layers, and called DH who was in the house enjoying his morning coffee. “THE GATE IS BACK!!!!” I shouted delightedly. “Really???” he said, and then he laughed and laughed and so did I. We were both shocked. What a head shaker. Then I texted my sister “holy sh!t, it’s back!”, but she never got the message because I accidently sent it instead to a random ex-coworker in my address book whom I hadn’t talked to for several years. Suffice to say I was a little stunned.

By now George was stomping around expressing his strong displeasure at his feed bucket’s delay, so I carried on feeding him and the donks, letting out the ducks and giving them feed and water, then over to the coops to do my chicken chores. When I got back to the house I quickly dashed off another post to let everyone know the good news. One of the nice things about good news is sharing it, so that was fun. Of course the media folks got back in touch for follow ups, and the TV guy is coming back today to interview RG again. I’ll have to congratulate him on his insight.

All in all, it’s been an interesting experience, and I’m thankful for it. Good and bad, these are the happenings that enrich our lives. At its heart though, this is a redemption story. Unknown persons came to our farm, did a bad deed, saw how it affected us, regretted their actions, and then righted their wrong; redeeming themselves in our eyes and, I believe, in the eyes of the universe too. Redemption narratives are as old as humankind, and for good reason; they give us hope. These days, with all that we are living through with this pandemic and everything else that’s going on around the world, a good redemption story provides sustenance to our souls. I don’t know who took our gate, and I likely never will, and it doesn’t matter.

As I said in my second post, we’re all human, and we all do stuff we later wish we hadn’t. And sometimes, we even have the courage to make it right. It couldn’t have been easy for whoever took our gate to return it, but they did so anyway. By doing so, not only did they make my day, they made a lot of other peoples’ day, and they redeemed themselves as well. Gosh I love happy endings. Happy Sunday everyone!

Rain Again

Oh the rain we had yesterday! Our little workhorse of a creek swelled up enormously as she digested her floodwater meal, gulping down every bit of it with her usual aplomb.

My neighbour up on the hill to the NW of us checked in at one point, reporting waterfalls gushing down from the heights above, down to form a “new” pond at the bottom of their place and then across the road and into the valley bottom along which our little Goward Spring Creek runs.

We were watching our creek carefully, as is prudent for those of us who live beside any waterway in stormy weather. As her crest passed around five pm, we still enjoyed a clear foot of space below our permanent bridges, phew! Again I quietly thanked those who put our house where they did, mere inches from the water’s edge and yet safe and dry for many years now.

Fingers crossed our luck holds. Last January we had 262 mm, the highest monthly total in more than ten years but still well off the hundred year high of 358 mm set in January 1953. Our place was built in 1972, so who knows what will happen if another hundred year record breaker comes along. Hopefully we won’t find out!

Measuring the gap

Requiem for a Hawthorn Tree

Our big side-yard hawthorn (Crataegus Oxycantha), British expat and lovable invasive species, has finally succumbed. She had been visibly failing since October and probably long before. Her capitulation was precipitated by the heavy snow load Mother Nature delivered yesterday on the first day of winter.

Always a pleasant neighbour, Ms. Hawthorn graced our side yard for many years. She made herself useful, as both trees and the British tend to do. 

Each May saw her don her trademark white-tinged-with-pink floral dress for ten days or so, before flinging it off all at once as the weather warmed. We always enjoyed the resulting petal-storm, so much gentler than yesterday’s frigid blast. 

She was a steadfast summer helpmeet too, her hundreds of thousands of tiny shiny serrated leaves collaborating to shield us from the hot sun, as she dabbled her toes in the cool creek, rejuvinating her green frock. In this shady role Ms. Hawthorn silently chaperoned dear C’s graduation celebration, dear K’s wedding shower, and many teen parties and get-togethers over the years. 

Every September she produced bountiful shiny clusters of the reddest of red berries, edible, but not very palatable, admired by passers by and relied upon by our local wild bird population.

Her roots must have been imperceptibly loosening as the fall rains softened the bank she stood on because she began to tip over into the yard, managing a full forty five degrees from her traditional upright stance before we noticed that she was losing her grip and moved the hammock out of the way.

We decided to keep clear and let her come down on her own, for safety, worried that if we began sawing, the release of the strain she was under would snap us straight to kingdom come. I expected her to collapse within days of our discovery, but she doggedly hung on, long past Halloween, right through November and a series of heavy deluges, and indeed almost through December, until yesterday.

Presciently, I had taken a quick photo of her as I slogged by on my way back from the barnyard and the lunchtime feed. She was heavy with wet snow as was our whole valley. I had divested myself of my sopping snowy outerwear, poured myself a bowl of hot soup and settled down at my desk to read email when a text came in from Resident Gardener, “that hawthorn broke”. 

“Just now?” I asked. 

“The one we thought would come down soon” she continued, our conversation following the usual frustratingly disjointed cadence of my texting sessions.

“Ya heard it crack when I was outside just now” RG then observed.

By now I had made it to the bathroom window where I could indeed see that my dear Ms. Hawthorn was no longer peeking over the shop roof, and the adjoining trees’ branches still wobbling with the shock of it all.

 “Wow” I excitedly exclaimed to RG, having by then switched over to a voice call. “I just took a picture of her! Should have stood there and waited I guess.”

I ran downstairs and outside, slid into my boots and made my way carefully down the slushy path past the shop until I could see her in all her recumbent glory. I took another quick shot or two, then retreated back into the house and my warm office.

The end of a lovely tree, another casualty of 2020. RIP Ms. Hawthorne. I take solace from the fact that we can look forward to your many inevitable heirs sprouting in your place. May they grow as tall and as buxom and as indefatigably as you grew, until 2020’s latest weather bomb got the best of you.

Stomping in Puddles

As a havoc-filled 2020 continues to unfold in all its dismal glory, I am, like everyone else I suppose, doing my best to keep calm and carry on. Pandemic and lockdowns, a crazy president refusing to admit he lost, climate change breathing down our necks, ridiculous conspiracy theories deluding millions. 2020 will surely be a year for the history books, and we’ll all be able to say “yep, I was there…” and have a story or two to tell, hopefully stories where everything turns out ok.

I find that keeping busy helps, and so I do, falling asleep each night planning projects and spending my weekends accomplishing them. There’s work too, to fill my days, and chores, and once or twice a week there’s errands off the farm. It’s thankfully easy to keep busy around our muddy valley.

Yesterday after some deep coop cleaning in the barnyard, I finished tucking in the garlic bed for winter with a thick blanket of leaves; going forward I will focus on raking leaves for chicken pens. I wish the leaves would dry up a bit, the birds enjoy scratching through dry, crackly leaves so much more than damp ones. But it is November after all, so I’m not holding my breath.

November as usual has been cold, and wet, and dark, and yet I love it so much. One of my favourite months, November provides plentiful opportunities for savouring the chill alongside warmth’s sweet contrast; for labouring in the crisp air until I must peel off first one layer and then another to cool myself; for long quiet evenings in front of a crackling fire, listening to the rain tapping on the skylight. One dusky, slightly surreal day last week, heavy clouds dimmed the light so dramatically from sunrise right through to sunset that it felt like a day long eclipse. There’s just so much potential for cozy in November.

November was my mother’s least favourite month. A prairie girl born and bred, she much preferred the sunny winters of her youth. Our rain forest weather was hard on her at times, although she loved living on the coast. Mom’s been gone for many Novembers now, nine to be exact, but of course I think of her often. Like the other day, as I was traversing the soggy, slippery northeast field dragging my empty wheelbarrow pony-cart style, having just spread another load of leaves on the garlic beds. 

There was this perfect little puddle, you see. Not a run-of-the-mill mud puddle, rimed with muck and no bottom visible, this was one of those short lived mudless puddles that briefly appear in low spots after a heavy rain. A crystal clear miniature watery valley, a freshwater tidal pool, each blade of grass and bit of colourful leaf litter suspended as if in glass; silent, peaceful, still. It looked to be just perfect for stomping in, so I gave in to my childish impulse. Dropping the wheelbarrow handles, I went all in, swishing the water over the toes of my boots, rinsing a layer of mud away and stirring up the depths into a most satisfactory squishy, muddy stew. Take that, 2020! And then my inner voice spoke up, “For goodness’ sake you silly old woman, you’re almost 59! What are you doing?” 

Stomping in puddles is what I was doing, like a little kid. What an idiot I am at times. As shamefulness began to creep over me on its sharp little claws, a stray thought came too, a gift from my mom that made everything ok again. The memory of her advice, given in the toast she made at my 21st birthday party, “Value your inner child, don’t ever grow all the way up. Hold on to her magic because you will need her sometimes.” Yes mama, I will. I do. Love you. Thank you.

Planting Garlic Again

I smiled with satisfaction at the rain’s soft pattering on skylight. Right on schedule. How sweet of Mother Nature to water in the thousand cloves of garlic I had just spent most of the morning sowing, one pointy clove at a time.

We always plant lots of garlic, it’s so easy to grow it’s almost ridiculous, and we use it all up every year so why not? This year though, we have increased our garlic patch by about 50%. Planting against an uncertain future increases my sense of control. 

Our 2020 crop was so good that we had plenty of really stellar heads to choose our seed from. Plus lots to supply all our four households, and to share.  Organic local garlic goes for five bucks a head around here, making last years’ crop worth a cool $3,140. My seed garlic would have cost me $750, if I’d had to pay for it. Not bad. In fact, with its minimal effort and cost inputs, garlic is by far our most lucrative crop.

Growing garlic is one of the few farm activities all our residents play roles in, which is nice too. Even Dear Husband, a tinkerer not a farmer who prefers to spend his hobby time on taking apart and putting together vehicles, or computers, or various other items with moving parts, does his bit. I know he likes to be a part of the garlic effort.

He tinkers with the tractor, gets the rototiller attached, his pocketful of shear bolts ready (those critically important sacrificial bits of steel that snap instead of the rototiller tines when he unearths rocks), his fluids topped up and lube points lubed. Resident Gardener and I (with opinions from avid non-gardener DH 😉) finalize the spot. Where to plant the garlic this year is always a topic of much serious discussion and pondering for several weeks prior to plowing day. To avoid disease, garlic needs to be planted on fresh ground on a minimum three year rotation. There needs to be not too much, and not too little, moisture; we save our limited irrigating for the veggie gardens. We need enough sun too. Luckily we have the space for options. Our muddy valley bottom is also blessed with a couple-foot thick layer of dark loam above clay, above bedrock ten feet down. Drainage can be an issue, but fertility is great. 

This year we settled on the north east field. It’s the first time this corner of the place has been used for anything but grazing in more than 20 years, if ever. It pleases me that we are bringing a fallow area of our little hobby farm into active production; we didn’t even get the equines on it this year. RG cut the long grass, marked four corners with bamboo stakes topped with (recycled) pink plastic strips, and then DH climbed on the tractor, where he spent the next few hours coaxing his rototiller through virgin pasture, keeping a sharp lookout for rocks. His rototiller (and about seven shear bolts) discovered less than a wheelbarrow load of potato-sized beauties in the whole 1500 foot square patch. 

A few days later, It was RG’s turn to climb on the tractor so she could bring many loader scoops of well rotted chicken/horse/donkey manure compost blend over. She spread the compost and raked the patch into four rectangular raised beds at least a foot deep, with nice wide paths between.

And yesterday, with all the hard work done, it was my turn to majestically stride out there, give the beds a quick surface rake to level them, and plant my garlic. It’s great sometimes, being the matriarch.

I prised open all 150 tight heads, separating each clove, a task that had my fingernails aching by the end. Anyone who has hand peeled garlic for dinner can imagine what I’m talking about here. After years of planting garlic, I have learned to do this job all at once at the start, sitting comfortably rather than bent over in planting position. 

I count the cloves I plant for record keeping, and I always have trouble with this deceptively simple task. Planting garlic is a contemplative activity for me, as explained in previous posts, therefore I often lose track of my numbers and have to start over. So for a change this year, I counted each clove as it went into my yellow planting bucket rather than as it went into the ground. It was easier to keep track of them going into the bucket for sure. Then I was free to let my mind wander, and by the time the bucket was empty, another 300 cloves had been planted. Problem solved.

Our last task before winter will be to bury the garlic beds in their thick leaf blankets, but we must work with the trees’ schedule on that one. Not many leaves have even turned colour yet, much less fallen. It’s been a slow fall so far in 2020. How apropos.

Garlic 2020

628 bulbs weighing 67.5 lbs. Up from last year’s harvest of 575 and 2018’s 550. Split between our immediate family households where it is consumed often, and traded for stuff, it’s always mostly gone by the time the next harvest is ready. Last year’s most unique trade was garlic for Camembert and Brie with a cheese merchant’s wife. I do meet the most interesting people on farm business.

The size of our harvest continues to creep up as we apportion a few more bulbs to the seed box each year. My current farm book goes back to 2008/09, when we planted 186 cloves and harvested 143 bulbs. Not the best year apparently.

A nice thing about garlic is the ease with which it is grown. Absolutely our most reliable and least effort crop, I was even able to do garlic through the years when I had three busy school age kids (as well as the husband) to manage. We have been growing garlic here since the late 1990s when we first moved in, a couple hundred give or take, each year. 

After much discussion on this year’s garlic patch location, (a new spot every year is a must!) Dear Husband or Resident Gardener will climb on the tractor and start plowing, fetching great shovels-full of well rotted manure compost from behind the barn to mix in. By the time they are done, the lovely new garlic patch will be fluffy for a foot down.

I do the planting, in beds two arms-length wide with pathways between. Then RG and I bring the mulch, layering leaves with sprinkles of wood ash and more compost, bedding the garlic down for the winter. The mulching often takes a couple weeks since we like to use a variety of leaves, and they don’t all drop at once. RG rigs up the fence, which is only a couple feet high since neither deer, nor horses and donkeys, like to eat garlic. The fence only needs to discourage the chickens from scratching up the seedlings on their bug hunts.

Then we get on with our lives for seven or eight months, glancing at it infrequently to see how its doing this year, until the following June when RG cuts the scapes. I pull the crop, usually in mid July, they hang in a sheltered spot for a month or so, and then I cut off the stalks, trim off the roots, and sort them into net bags for each of our households, with the nicest bulbs going into next year’s seed box. Which is what I did today.

Garlic harvest is both a yearly milestone and a mindless task, a perfect time for reflection. Each year, I think back on what’s happened since last time I worked with the garlic, and about what the upcoming year might bring. New babies, new pets, kids moving out, and in, and out again, engagements, break-ups, new romance, sickness and health, there’s always something to review, something to look forward to, and lots to be grateful for.

I tell you though, I never foresaw this pandemic! Nor did I think that I would be cleaning bulbs this year with a face mask on, so I could breathe without wheezing, as our neighbours to the south incinerate. 

But not everything has gone wrong in 2020. It’s been a very good year for garlic, for example. Maybe this harvest is mother nature’s way of helping out. Garlic is supposed to be good for warding off werewolves and evil spirits, and we all know that 2020 can use all the help it can get!

Dried Clean Tomatoes!

Ready for the dehydrator

Spaghetti, butter chicken, tacos, tomato soup, salsa, meatloaf, chicken paprikash, mulligatawny, hamburgers, curry, chili, beef stew. It makes sense for us to grow tomatoes, because we use them in so many dishes. Resident Gardener starts them from seed, usually saved or traded, in January each year. This means they are easy on the budget too. 

Since the sixteen century when the Spanish brought tomatoes home to Europe from South America, their use has spread around the world like…well, like an indeterminate tomato plant. You know…the ones that just grow, and grow, and grow.

Our gold nugget cherry tomatoes always ripen first, in July usually, and by late August we are buried in tomatoes of all colours, shapes and sizes.

Heavenly. There is nothing better, in my view, than a still-warm-from-the-sun Italian Stallion tomato, sprinkled with pepper and eaten out of hand…buttery, umami, nirvana. 

By the time September rolls around I’m preserving tomatoes like crazy. RG picks them a couple times a week, taking everything from fully ripe to just starting to pink up. I finish the half ripe ones in the house. Tomato harvesting is a race against the weather in our damp climate, and in this way we maximize our harvest. Once picked and brought in, which can be done as soon as they “break” (10-30% of the surface turns pink) I set them along the window ledges so I can easily see when they turn red. 

In another month or so, when we pull the plants, hopefully just ahead of the blight that shows up each fall, I’ll fill paper grocery bags with mature green unblemished fruit and then check for pink ones every few days as they ripen slowly in the bag. Some years we are eating homegrown tomatoes almost until Christmas. I know some folks make green tomato salsa, and pie, and chutney, and I admire their innovation, but I like them red. Or golden or black or chocolate…depending on the variety.

I process our ripe tomatoes in various ways, with my goal being to enjoy them in all the dishes mentioned above, all winter long. I used up my last bag of frozen 2019 tomatoes in June this year. Perfect timing.

Prettiest tomato award for 2020 goes to this beauty.

Every year I roast tomatoes with olive oil and garlic, bag and freeze. The flavour is incredible, but sometimes I forget they are in the oven which never ends well. Or I make ketchup and can it. The easiest method is to simply de-stem, rinse, bag, and freeze. This has been my preference for years; it’s so simple. I add them straight out of the freezer to whatever I’m cooking that needs tomatoes. On the rare occasion when I want to get all fancy and remove the skins, I hold them still frozen under warm running water, squeeze slightly, and the skins slide right off. The single drawback to freezing tomatoes is that they take up a lot of room. And freezer space is hard to come by around here in the fall, even with our big upright freezer, RG’s small chest freezer, and three fridges going.

A couple weeks ago I saw a discussion about drying tomatoes on one of my preserving groups. Some people dry just the skins, left over from canning tomatoes. Others dry the whole fruit. “Oooooh boy”, I started thinking, “if I could get the tomatoes out of the freezer, maybe I will have room for some local lamb!”

A tomato mosiac

I had several pounds of ripe ones in the fridge, so I sliced them a quarter inch thick, the cherry toms into halves or thirds, then onto trays and into the dehydrator they went, for about eighteen hours at 135 F. I suppose you could do them in your oven. But my friend says tomatoes don’t go well in her little Nesco dryer…so be warned.

The gold nugget cherry toms shrunk the least.

Once they snapped when I bent them, I unplugged the dryer, piled them all into the blender together and zipped them into powder in about thirty seconds flat. 25 cups of tomatoes, eight 15×15 inch trays full, almost fourteen square feet of tomato slices, dried down into about 600 ml of super concentrated tomato powder.

So far, I have mixed my tomato powder with water (two tablespoons) to make an almost-too-rich tomato paste for spaghetti sauce and sprinkled it sparingly (two teaspoons!) into homemade veggie barley soup where it both added a tomatoey tang and reddened the broth. The flavour is intense. I can already tell I will need to be careful to not use too much. Best of all, it stores in glass jars in a dark cupboard where it takes up very little space. I added a silicone crystal sachet to the jar too, to keep it from clumping.

I will still roast, and freeze, a few tomatoes. But most of them are going in the dehydrator this year. And now to find me a nice box of lamb…

The Joy of Mending

I visit the barnyard at least four times each day, and never without a pair of gloves on. This habit is so ingrained I feel quite strange without them. 

I find light duty gloves to be indispensable in the barnyard. They warm my hands, have saved me from many cuts and slivers, and keep the poop just that little bit further away from my actual skin. 

They also cost money, get dirty fast, and it’s hard to find comfortable ones. After trying many styles and materials over the years, I have developed a clear favourite; light printed cotton ladies gardening gloves with stretchy cuffs. They are easy to slip on and off and thin enough that my fingers stay nimble. You can’t beat the price, and they sail through the laundry beautifully. 

Lots of people like the stretchy nylon gloves with rubberized fingers and yes, those are comfy, I used to buy Costco packs of the Gardena ones before chickens. But chickens means poop, and poop means more frequent laundering. The rubbery gloves don’t do well in the dryer. After I got chickens, I grew tired of ending up on my knees every laundry day with my head inside the dryer, peeling half melted gloves off the drum walls. So I went all in on the cotton ones.

As all gloves do with such frequent use, mine develop holes from time to time. Curiously, to me anyway, it’s always the right hand that gets the holes, very few on the left, and I’m left handed! You would think it would be the other way round. The holes are often at the fingertips, also a prime danger zone for poop-to-skin contact. But rather than chuck them and pull out a new pair, I like to repair my gloves.

When I have collected a few pairs that need fixing, and they are fresh from the wash, I will sit down with a needle and thread, slide a holey glove on my right hand, and sew up the holes with my left. As noted above, since most holey gloves are right handers, and I am left handed, this works well.

When I have to fix a left hander, I use the same strategy. I have learned it is better to force a glove onto the wrong hand than to wield a sharp needle with one.

It takes only a few minutes to stitch up each glove, and my effort gains me months more use out of each pair. This makes me happy. There is a great deal of joy to be found in mending, if you look for it.