Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Harvesting Garlic

Last fall, we planted our first crop of garlic.  Maid Elizabeth had carted a large bag of bulbs home from a farmers market and, not wanting any to go to waste, we planted the largest, nicest cloves and minced and canned everything else.  We ended up with six 1/2 pints of canned garlic and two medium sized garlic beds.  It was a wonderful garlic experiment.

Early this spring we noticed that our garlic was shooting up and looking wonderful, but we hadn't the slightest idea when or how to harvest.  In early June, after we noticed some of the leaves beginning to brown, we actively began to research the proper time to harvest and how to cure garlic for long term storage (other than canning).  We found that garlic is generally harvested in the beginning to middle of July, after 4 or 5 leaves have browned and withered from the bottom up.  Although it was the last day of June, our hot summer had hurried the garlic along, and, after checking, we determined that it was ready to harvest.

The girls and I headed to the raised beds, basket in hand, to reap the rewards of our labor (although truth be told, there is very little labor involved in growing garlic).  We carefully dug up each bulb, wiped the dirt from the surface and snipped the roots close.  Bulb after bulb yielded to our gentle tugs, until at last, our basket was filled to overflowing.  The bulbs were gorgeous, some nearly as big as a baseball!

After harvesting the garlic, we stood our screened drying rack up in the sun room and prepared the garlic for curing.  Garlic needs to be cured for about two weeks in a warm, well ventilated room, out of direct sunlight.  Not wanting to put the garlic in the shed (where the generator is housed) we sacrificed precious floor space in the sunroom/sleeping porch.  After the garlic has cured for a week, we will braid the stalks and put them back on the screen racks to cure for another week.

While most of the garlic will be for eating, the best, healthiest looking bulbs will be stored until fall when we once again fill the raised garden beds with cloves for next summer's harvest.

Oh, the sweet harvest of summer!

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Sleeping Porch

We have been experiencing the most unusually extreme temperatures!  Typically we get a few days of extreme heat (over 100 degrees) every August, however June and July are warm but manageable.  This year is something else entirely.  We have already strayed into the triple digits and it's not even July!

Because we live in a metal box in the middle of a prairie, we have to get creative to keep our family from succumbing to the heat.  One of the drastic steps we have taken to beat the heat this year is to turn our "sunroom" into a sleeping porch.

When I was a little girl, my Great Grandparents had a large house in the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle.  To my child's eye, their home was a mansion, filled with precious treasures and wonders.  For hours I would sit in their telephone room, situated directly between the foyer and the kitchen, and write letters and draw pictures on the pads of paper used for taking phone messages.  I would make my way through closets that connected one room to another, pretending they were secret passageways and explore the contents of long-forgotten trunks.  I would play the miniature peddle organ on the stairway landing and sneak into the breakfast nook for a solitary moment in the warm, cheery kitchen.  But, on the hot summer nights, my very favorite place in the world, was the huge, old-fashioned sleeping porch.

The porch occupied one entire end of the second story.  It was about 40 feet long by 15 feet wide with wood floors that creaked with each footfall.  The room was wall-to-wall windows, which were covered by storm windows during the winter, but come summer, the windows were stored in the basement and the room became a screened in wonderland.  The sleeping porch was nothing fancy, merely 8 metal chaise lounge chairs arranged in a line.  They had thick, heavy, old-fashioned mattresses that smelled of age and dust and a few pillows and blankets spread here and there.

My family always visited during the warmest summer months.  My mother, grandmother, brother and I would walk to Volunteer Park and meander through the conservatory.  My brother and I would perch atop the lions that guarded the entrance to the Seattle Art Museum (located, at that time, in the park), pick water cress in the creek (for sandwiches with our tea) and trot after mom and grandma as they visited, filling each other in on their dramatically different lives. 

At the end of the long summer days, sleep would beckon.  My parents would retire to a well-appointed guest room with a tall 4 poster bed, linen sheets, and rose scented pillow cases, but my brother and I, we were the lucky ones.  We got to slip into crisp sheets on freshly made chaise lounge beds, to be lulled to sleep by crickets, cool breezes and the scents of summer.

With the extreme heat this summer has brought us, I decided that my children needed to experience the sweet sleep of a sleeping porch.  Normally, our sunroom is set up with chairs and a table and a single bed, where we often have tea in the evenings, enjoying the cool breeze and lovely views.  The sunroom affords us extra living space during the late spring, summer and early fall.  But this year, we removed the chairs and tables from the sunroom and added a cot and a "nest", along with the single bed that already occupied one corner, to create a sleeping porch for the children. 

The children love their new sleeping quarters!  They awake refreshed and rejuvenated, even from the warmest nights.  Each night, the kids can't wait to crawl into their beds, made with crisp sheets, and fall asleep, cooled by night breezes and lulled by the sweet music of crickets.

And so, my children get a tiny glimpse into the lives of their Great-Great Grandparents, through our own, little, make-shift sleeping porch.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Harvesting Scapes

Last fall Maid Elizabeth brought home 3 pounds of garlic bulbs from a local farmers market.  I planted what I could and canned what was left.  The garlic flourished over our mild winter and has taken off in our warmer-than-usual spring.  As I was weeding the garlic bed last week, I noticed that the scapes were getting large and begging to be harvested.  Oh joy!

Garlic scapes are the flower stem of the garlic plant.  It is necessary to cut scapes off the plant in early to middle June in order to encourage bulb growth rather than flower growth.   Scapes really are the first harvest of the wonderful garlic plant.  They can be used fresh or preserved for future use and are incredibly versatile. 

Scapes should be harvested while very young if you are planning on eating them fresh.  Before they start to curl they are incredibly tender and can be eaten raw, right off the plant. When they are larger, with a bigger flower "bulb" and have curled, they can be eaten like green beans, with a crunchy texture and decidedly garlicky flavor.  They are wonderful sautéed with peppers and onions and can even be pickled. 

Master Calvin cutting the last scape!

Always use good olive oil!

The olive oil completely covers the scapes
Our scape harvest was only big enough for one fresh meal, so I opted to preserve the scapes in an attempt enjoy their sublime flavor long after the summer has waned and the garlic bulbs have been harvested.  To keep their pungent, fresh flavor, I simply washed the scapes, trimmed the small end near the flower bulb and chopped the scapes in the smallest pieces possible.   With Dragon Snack helping, we chopped all of the scapes and filled two canning jars to the top.  After the jars were full, we poured good quality olive oil over the scapes and screwed the caps into place.  The scapes will infuse the olive oil with wonderful flavor and be and incredible addition to pizza, pasta sauce and even garlic butter.  The olive oil will preserve the scapes and become a gourmet addition to many future recipes.

Ready for use!
Don't just enjoy your garlic harvest once when you can enjoy it twice by harvesting the scapes!  Believe me, your taste buds will thank you!!

Monday, June 15, 2015

New Beginnings

Saturday, Maid Elizabeth and I got up at the crack of dawn and drove an hour south to help Miss Serenity's best friend prepare for her wedding.  Maid Elizabeth was in charge of photos and I did hair and makeup for the bridal party (don't ask me how that happened!) and Miss Serenity was the Maid of Honor.  It was a beautiful day filled with joy and anticipation.

The Bride and Groom, Maid of Honor and Best Man
The bride was beautiful, the groom handsome and the wedding party full of youthful enthusiasm.  I have to admit it is bittersweet watching my children's friends begin their new lives together.  I am excited for the next chapter in their lives but I will miss the giggling slumber parties and the sweet innocence of childhood.  And I know that my own children aren't too far behind their friends...

Ah, the joy of new beginnings!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Ignorance Cloaked in Tolerance

I'm not much of a SNL fan, however their attempt at humor struck a little too close to the truth....

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

4-Wheeler Maintenance

In our ongoing effort to maintain operational readiness, Sir Knight and I have been diligently going through all of our equipment and making sure it is fully functional and in good repair.  One of the items on our "to be maintained" list was our 4-wheeler.

Our 4-wheeler is more of a workhorse than it is a recreational vehicle.  We use it for all manner of work around the homestead, not to mention we have taught all of our younger children the basics of shifting on the 4-wheeler (before they graduate to motorcycles and automobiles). 

Sir Knight keeps up on general maintenance, such as oil changes and air filter replacement, on a regular basis, however, other issues arise that compromise our equipment's usefulness.  The 4-wheeler needed new tires this year.  Actually, they probably needed new tires two years ago, but tires are expensive!  Finally, when our tires were no longer holding air, we placed and order with Bike Bandit for new skins.  The tires were shipped to our door and we had a local tire shop put the new tires on the rims.  What a difference that made! 

While the tires were off, Sir Knight changed the 4-wheeler's CV boots.  My dad had noticed a small tear in one of the boots while visiting this spring.  Sir Knight immediately took the 4-wheeler out of service and ordered replacement boots.  The kits were inexpensive (Bike Bandit again) and fairly easy to change (with the help of youtube, of course).  And because they were changed before any damage could be done to the CV joints, we spent less than $20 a side versus $200 a side!  Maintenance is your friend!

After the mechanical issues were taken care of, we tended to some cosmetic problems.  One of the children (Master Hand Grenade) had rolled the 4-wheeler and broken the rear fender plastic (many years ago).  We ordered new plastic through our local Yamaha dealer (the plastic is too expensive to ship) and Sir Knight and Master Hand Grenade installed it - a time consuming job!  While we were at it, we ordered (Bike Bandit) a new seat cover.  Ours was ripped and nasty looking and we had considered having it reupholstered.  Once we found an inexpensive replacement cover online (Bike Bandit), we thought we'd give it a try.  It worked like a charm (thank you, youtube!) and looks great.  We wouldn't hesitate to recovered any of our seats on our own now.

We still have a few odds and ends to take care of, but our 4-wheeler is absolutely operational and ready for work.  With new tires, CV boots, fender plastic and a seat cover, I'm sure that in the coming year the 4-wheeler will plow it's share of snow, carry a number of deer carcasses from the fields to the shouse and haul fencing supplies by the board foot. 

Now, on to the next order of business....

Monday, June 8, 2015

Maintaining Operational Readiness

One of the interesting things that I have noticed about preppers is that they are great right out of the gate.  They are willing to spend money (often a LOT of money) on gear and equipment.  They're willing to invest their time in learning new skills.  They jump in with both feet, get prepared and settle in to wait for the end of the world.  And then the end of the world doesn't happen.  Soon, their food stores are depleted.  Their skills aren't used and are soon forgotten.  Their equipment hasn't been maintained and fallen into disrepair. 

Don't believe me?  Just look to our recent past - Y2K.  How many people do you know that bought into the Y2K hype, became overnight survivalists and now don't have a spare gallon of gas to their names?  I know of more than I can count.  Much of our preparedness inventory and equipment came from people selling their Y2K stores.  They waited for about 5 years and then began slowly liquidating their supplies.  Most of the generators had never been run, the grain grinders never used and the gamma sealed buckets never opened.  We benefited directly with tremendous deals on never-been-used Dietz lanterns, Aladdin lamps, All-American canners and military surplus.  Y2K was good to us in more ways than one!

Although we see the error of our post-Y2K brethren's way, Sir Knight and I can also understand their position.  They were experiencing Survival Fatigue.  The rush, the panic, the expectation of disaster - followed by an anticlimactic conclusion.  Their disenchantment was understandable. 

The same thing can happen to us today.  We learn, we prepare, we train, in anticipation of societal upheaval, yet society, amazingly, continues on as it did yesterday and the day before.  After months, and years and decades, it is easy to become weary and experience our own Survival Fatigue.  We can become complacent and apathetic and that complacency can cost us everything.

Being a survivalist is not a hobby, it is a lifestyle.  You have to be willing to prepare even when you don't feel like it.  You have to be willing to prepare even when everyone tells you there's nothing to prepare for.  You have to be willing to maintain your equipment, polish your skills and stay at the ready.  You have to be willing to invest yourself in prepping, not just your money. 

Maintaining operational readiness should be a part of daily life.  Use your equipment and keep it maintained.  Rotate your food, rotate your fuel and rotate your medical supplies.  Water your batteries, grind your grain and grow your garden.  Don't stockpile your skills and equipment for "some day", make them a part of your everyday life, now. 

We can't live our lives waiting for future chaos.  We have to live now.  And in living diligently now, we can maintain our own operational readiness.