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Spring has arrived on the farm

 

After a seemingly endless winter, spring has finally arrived on the farm.  Maple season ended after a stretch of warm weather; the sap changed from clear to opaque, signaling the tree’s anticipation of warmer weather.

Ben has been busy finishing up a fencing project. Proper fences require ongoing maintenance and repair.  IMG_3898

Our chickens grew weary of the cold, wet weather, but were happy for the longer days. Their egg production increased markedly in March, and we occasionally find our free range eggs in rather strange places.

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PB finds a new place to lay

The pasture is starting to awaken and the livestock are happy to have fresh grass to graze after a steady diet of hay, haylage, and alfalfa pellets. We are happy for the arrival of violets. We make jelly from those pretty little purple flowers.

 

The perennials are finally starting to return. We love our asparagus around here. There is something magical about those pretty green spears appearing overnight. Sauteed or lightly roasted in butter or bacon drippings, the taste of fresh asparagus is simply unmatched.

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Spring signals the beginning of our lambing season. The red Tunis lambs are a stark contrast against the green grass. They don’t remain red for long, their white/cream fleeces begin to overtake the soft red hair after a week or two.

 

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Jewelweed

Many of our favorite plants are wild annuals and perennials that we forage. We spend time walking the woods to locate useful plants that we use for our family and the livestock.  Certain birds, insects, and reptiles are indicator species to determine when it’s warm enough for us garden in earnest. Gold finches, bullfrogs, and grasshoppers have all made their presence known over the past week.

The bees are happy for the warmer weather, too. Our hives are active daily now, harvesting pollen from dandelions, wildflowers, and the many fruit trees that are now in bloom.

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Many of our friend and family across the country are still struggling with cold temperatures. While we’re not quite out of the woods yet, it is encouraging to see the signs of spring on the farm.

-CW

 

Maple recipes part 2: Maple granola

With the first official boil in the books, we’re now busy replenishing our maple stores for the year. We use a LOT of maple syrup and honey at our house, primarily because we don’t use artificial sweeteners. We stopped buying processed cereal years ago and replaced it with granola. We eat granola with milk for breakfast or as a simple snack.

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Granola– a healthy breakfast and snack option.

This recipe is pretty versatile– we typically add whatever we have on hand and don’t worry about it too much.

Maple Granola

  • 3 cups rolled oats (NOT the instant kind)
  • 1 cup raisins (or dried cranberries or blueberries– you get the picture!)
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup black walnuts (or whatever kind of nuts you like– almonds are great, too!)
  • 1/2 cup coconut flakes
  • 1/2 cup pure maple Syrup
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup grapeseed oil (or other neutral oil)
  • 1 dash salt

Preheat oven to 250ºF.

In a large bowl, stir to combine rolled oats,  walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and coconut flakes. In a separate bowl, stir to combine maple syrup, brown sugar, oil, and salt. Pour wet ingredients over the oats, and mix well.

Pour the granola onto a rimmed sheet pan and spread it out evenly with a spatula. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring halfway through the baking process. The granola is done cooking when it turns medium brown, so your cooking time may vary a bit. Let the granola cool completely then store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. (It NEVER lasts that long at our house.) This recipe can be doubled if you want to make more.

Happy baking!

(Adapted from Homemade Pantry and Food to Live By)

What are dryer balls and why should you use them?

A question posted on the farm’s Facebook page inspired today’s post. We make and sell wool dryer balls made with fiber from our Tunis sheep. Our chemical and dye-free dryer balls are a popular item, but many people don’t know what they are!

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100% undyed Tunis wool dryer balls

So, what are wool dryer balls? Dryer balls are used to help dry clothes more quickly than usual as well as to soften fabrics in the dryer. When you add dryer balls into your clothes dryer the balls will bounce around in the dryer and in between clothing.  The balls will separate and pull them apart with their weight. This in turn is allows more hot air in and around your laundry helping the dryer to heat your laundry more quickly. By using up to 3 balls in a medium load, you can decrease the total dry time by 20% or up to 15 minutes at a time.

There are a few tricks to using dryer balls. You can’t efficiently dry great big loads of laundry at one time since the balls need a bit of room in the dryer to bounce around. Three medium sized balls should suffice for most small-medium loads, but 6 would work better for heavier material (think denim). (Keep in mind that overloading the dryer will reduce their efficacy, regardless of how many dryer balls added to the load.)  To use them, you simply toss them into the dryer along with your laundry and they will do their thing!

What about static? Do dryer balls prevent static? The truth is, dryer balls do not prevent static. However, there are things that you can do to reduce static in your laundry. First, much of the reason that static builds up in dryers is due to over-drying the load. This is especially problematic during the winter months when the overall environment is low in humidity.

To compensate, try spraying the wool dryer balls with water, getting them rather wet. This will increase the humidity level in the dryer. Another tip– try pinning a small safety pin on one ball to diffuse static.

Can I add essential oils to my wool dryer balls? Absolutely! splashing a few drops of essential oils onto the wool dryer balls will make your laundry smell great without having to use chemicals!

To get the maximum benefit, allow the essential oil soak on the dryer balls for 10-20 minutes before putting them in the dryer. This will extend the amount of time the fragrance will will impart to clothes.

Can I use these with cloth diapers?
Absolutely! Unlike chemical fabric softeners, they won’t affect the absorbency of your towels, kitchen dishcloths AND your cloth diapers like commercial fabric softeners will.

 

We hope that you will give will dryer balls a try. For those of us who are sensitive to chemical dyes and fragrances, wool dryer balls offer an inexpensive, eco-friendly alternative to dryer sheets and fabric softeners.

 

Hat tip/Additional resources:
https://www.everydaycheapskate.com/home-and-family/use-wool-dryer-balls/
https://thehomemadeexperiment.com/how-to-use-wool-dryer-balls/

Maple syrup is not just for pancakes! Introducing: maple black walnut pie

We had a bumper crop of black walnuts this year. They are a flavorful addition to pancakes, cookies, and just about anything that could use a good crunch. While looking for a recipe to make over the holidays, I came across this savory pie recipe. It was a huge success! It is reminiscent of pecan pie but without the sugary sweetness that can be overwhelming.

Maple season is upon us, so I’ll try and share a few recipes during the season to illustrate the versatility of this wonderful syrup!

 

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Photo: simply recipes maple walnut pie– our pie was eaten so fast I didn’t even get a picture!

Maple Black Walnut Pie

Ingredients

  • 1 9-inch pie shell, frozen for at least 30 minutes
  • 2 cups roughly chopped walnuts
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp dark rum (optional, but tasty)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp melted butter
  • 2 Tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon of ground nutmeg

 

1 Preheat oven to 375°F. In a bowl, mix together the beaten eggs, maple syrup, rum (if using), vanilla extract, brown sugar, and melted butter. Sprinkle with flour, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Whisk until smooth.

2 . Pour the maple syrup egg mixture into the prepared pie shell. Sprinkle black walnuts all over top, arranging them where needed.

3 Bake at 375°F for 40-45 minutes. After about 20 minutes, or about halfway through the baking, protect the pie crust edges with foil or use a pie protector so that the edges don’t burn.

4 Remove from the oven and let cool completely before serving.

 

 

Fall days: in search of tranquility

It’s been a busy couple of weeks around the farm. Despite my best intentions to chronicle and document the many dynamic projects that we have going on, it’s been hard to sit down and take the time to write. I compose all of these profound insights while moving fence or walking in the pasture, but when I get back to the house, it’s on to another project or series of demands.

While scrolling through my pages feed a few weeks ago, I came across a quote that has stuck with me– “Turn off Pinterest and create!” While I am not a Pinterest addict, I have been guilty of reading about projects and ideas for far too long, looking for a bit of inspiration to get me started on my next creative journey. I am especially guilty of dithering around with my weaving projects. I have some pretty severe avoidance behaviors when it comes to starting a new weaving projects. I linger a bit too long deciding on colors and yarn before I start warping the loom, but once I get started, the work seems to  flow.

I’ve been busy making holiday crafts, and spent quite a bit of time on Ravelry looking at page after page of cute snowmen, Santas, scarves, and the like. Ultimately, I printed a few instructions and patterns, cast on, and promptly ignored them all, just as I tend to do with everything I make.

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Reindeer prototype 1

While I always long for a slower pace this time of year, I feel the subtle tide of the holiday season pulling me out to the sea of expectation. I fight it, but only the quiet peace of the woods, good coffee, and watching the sun evaporate the morning dew off the backs of my sheep seem to do anything to quiet my need for equanimity.

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A month from now, the trees will be laid bare, and the still quiet of the woods will endure without much interruption. Hopefully I’ll be able to squirrel away a bit of time and sit in quiet reprieve.

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Maple Year Round

This past weekend, we attended a Maple seminar sponsored by the WV Veterans to Agriculture program and the WV Maple Syrup Producers Association.

While the course was designed for the beginner in mind, there was a wide variety of interests and experience in attendance. The day-long course covered a wide variety of topics, from tapping and tree selection to maple products and opportunities for further study.

Mid-Appalachia is not well-known for its maple syrup, but it won’t remain a secret for long!  Production is increasing in WV, and local syrup is typically the dark amber, more robust flavored syrup. Last year, demand for local syrup across the Tristate far outstripped supply.  Our customers love our syrup, and with our plans to increase production in2018, we hope to facilitate more pancake breakfasts in the new year!

 

 

Adventures in natural dyeing

As summer fades to fall, things have been busy around the farm. We’ve been busy putting the garden to rest, and are now transitioning to crafts and hobbies. My hands gravitate toward wool as cooler weather becomes the norm; Ben spends more time woodworking.

Since acquiring the sheep and having fiber to play with, I’ve started to experiment with natural dyes. Most fiber (wool and cotton) is dyed using chemicals. This process creates fiber with deep and lasting colors but the complications that arise with disposal of the chemical medium and exposure to toxins in commercial dyes makes me a bit leery of using them.

Besides, there is something profoundly gratifying about collecting natural ingredients and using them to dye natural products! There are lots of books about gathering and using wild plants, mushrooms, and lichens to dye. Armed with a copy of “Wild Color” and a stainless steel pot, I harvested a few nettles and marigolds and gave it a go.

Nettles

Using a good pair of leather gloves, I picked a good amount of stinging nettles to play with. Nettles yield colors that range from green to yellow. Using alum as a mordant, I dyed a bit of handspun and it came out a shade of brown.

Marigold

I grow French and African marigolds as a part of my pest management program in the garden. Orange flowers were selected for the dye pot.

After a bit of hit and time, two skeins of yarn were transformed from white to shades of brown and yellow.

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0 From left to right: dyed with nettles, marigold, and undyed

Dyeing fiber is a life-long craft. The color possibilities created using these ancient methods are endless. I see a lot more experimentation in my future…

 

 

  • A Weaver’s Garden. Rita Buchanan. Interweave Press, 1987.
  •  A Dyer’s Manual Jill Goodwin. Pelham Books, 1982.
  • Wild Color Jenny Dean and Karen Casselman