November Garden Update and Local Meat

1 / 5
2 / 5
3 / 5
4 / 5
5 / 5

I haven’t been out to the garden as much in the past few weeks, partly because we’ve had so much non-stop rain.

But this seems to have been good for everything.

Yesterday I brought this in.

And today I got a basket just full of broccoli, some of it admittedly past its peak, and on the very brink of flowering. Also a rutabaga, a few red beets, a handful of mini-red bell peppers, and a huge head of red-speckled romaine lettuce that has Caesar salad written all over it.

I lightly steamed all the very best pieces of broccoli, dumped them in icy water to stop the cooking, and then gave them a few minutes in the dehydrator to make sure each piece was really dry before putting it all in the freezer. I laid it all out in a glass pan in a single layer in the freezer and when it’s all frozen I’ll pop it in a Ziploc bag for storage, that way I can dip into it when I need it. It’s the first broccoli I’ve frozen. I managed to put away zucchini, yellow squash, green beans, beet greens, kale and collard greens already this year. I was beginning to be afraid that I wouldn’t be getting more broccoli than we can eat as we pick it, but today’s haul was reassuring. Plus, all of these big lovely plants are already putting out nice-sized side shoots, something last year’s plants from a big box store never really did. These transplants came from a local nursery with an excellent reputation, and you can really tell the difference in the plants. It was a nice couple of moments, out in the cool November drizzle, wading waist high in broccoli. It kind of got the gardening juices flowing again.

Among other good news, it looks like I will have some carrots, though a fraction of what I actually planted. And I have 7 garlic shoots coming up! I planted two different varieties, and it looks like only one is up, and I can’t remember if I planted this particular variety before or after I realized that I had been planting the cloves upside down (insert dumb blond joke here). It may just be that the second variety has a faster germination rate. Anyway, at least now I know what to look for, so I’ll keep an eye on it and see if the other variety comes up.

Also, the rye seeds that I planted a few weeks back are coming up beautifully!

It had been our intention to just let our summer garden lie fallow for the winter and next summer, but after getting involved in a sheet mulching project a few weeks ago in about a third of it, I realized that there were other, better and more useful things that we could do with that space. At first we were thinking a straightforward cover crop, but we really do want to focus as much as possible on things we can actually eat. Some research turned up rye. It’s one grain that can be successfully planted in late October. If pulled up in spring it supposedly comes up easily and will have protected the soil from erosion, as well leaving channels in the soil for the roots of new plants to follow. But our plan is to leave it in until summer and then harvest the grain. I believe it’ll be harder to get out at that point. But we’ll have something to show for ourselves, and we will have made a productive use of a patch of land that we otherwise wouldn’t have been using; we’ll also be getting started on one of our goals, to grow our own grain.

If it seems like we’re trying to do a little bit of everything, well, you’re right. We are. But so far things are working out okay. We may not know everything, or even all that much, but we’re staying busy, and we’re getting results, and we’re zipping right along that learning curve. This past year was my first full year as a gardener, and I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how I want to do more and better next year. Now that I have an idea of  how what and how much I plant might relate to what I will be able to preserve for the year, I’m going to go into 2010 with a definite plan. Part of this upcoming taking stock will include making a list of those things that we absolutely can’t or don’t plan to do for ourselves here on our own land and, for the time being, raising animals for meat makes that list. But that’s okay, because having someone that’s practically a neighbor raise it is almost just as good, and we’ve got that base covered.

We took a big step last week and took our meat needs almost totally local. I’ve been communicating off and on with a local farm, and I have ordered a half hog from them for fall delivery, as well as my Thanksgiving turkey. My hog isn’t fattened up yet, but the farmers did have a hog slaughtered recently which means that they have fresh pork for sale! I added over 16 pounds of fresh, local pork, humanely grown, with no antibiotics or hormones, to the two (out of the six) chickens that I bought from them this summer that are still in my freezer, and I’m thinking that I may be stocked up until either my hog or my turkey is ready. If not, then I’ll just give the farm a call and drop by for more!

So recently, for dinner, for the first time in my life, I had an animal that I have actually met.

That is to say, we hadn’t been formally introduced, but I had been to the farm a number of times. I have wandered waist deep in blue and red-faced turkeys, side-stepped chickens, ducks, geese and guinea fowl (when Fresh Start Farm/It’s Only Natural says “free range” they really mean it). I have petted the goats, admired the rabbits, and exchanged pleasantries with the hogs. Next spring they’re adding beef, and I’ve already put in my order for at least a quarter cow. If I can come up with another freezer, I may make that a half.

This past week I got pork chops, bratwurst, hot Italian sausage and ham steak. Our dinners lately have been nothing fancy and nothing short of delicious. A pot of ham and beans. Pork chops and brown gravy with homemade mac and cheese and greens from the garden. With all of this dreary, rainy weather, it’s been very satisfying. This is the freshest, and most natural, and most local our meat is going to get without growing our own – an enterprise for which I doubt we have quite enough land (or the proper zoning). So, I’m very proud of having gotten to this point.