Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Cranberry Harvest

Back in April, a soil test revealed that the beds where we planted our cranberries and blueberries are nowhere near acidic enough for those plants to thrive. We replaced the sadder of our two cranberry beds with strawberries, but kept one around, since we had nothing better to put in it this season. As you can see, it's still pretty pathetic, despite adding some sulfur:

Given that we planted these cranberries years ago, they should be filling the bed by now. Because the pH of the soil is too high, however, the cranberries can't access the nutrients they need. That means they're growing very slowly. Here's the whole crop for the year, from three plants: 

To be fair, they do look nice. It's just that 40 square feet of planting area has yielded us only 25 berries:

By any accounting method, that's not a very good use of space. Should we hang onto the plants anyway and keep plugging away at making the soil more acidic, or should we give up on cranberries since we don't eat that many of them anyway? I feel like it's a bit of a Massachusetts duty to grow cranberries, and it irritates me not to be successful with them. On the other hand, we could have 50 pounds of potatoes in that space with no real effort at all, so it seems silly to baby something that just doesn't want to grow here (and that we only eat a few times a year anyway).

It would be wise to add more sulfur to the bed before frost if we want to double down on cranberries, so we should probably make a decision soon. I don't like to admit defeat, but keeping those things on life support is probably a big waste of space.

What would you do?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Wine and Chicken

If you've noticed I've been having a little trouble keeping up lately, well … you're right. We're in the middle of a major (and overdue) kitchen remodel, and things are in a state of utter discombobulation around here:

We're slowly putting it back together again, but in the meantime, we haven't been able to stay on top of our typical fall food preservation activities. Most things are already done: tomatoes are canned, green beans, okra and broccoli are frozen. But our fruit is just sitting around, waiting to be eaten. We have lots of apples and pears, and they are doing alright since they have a reasonable shelf life — though we'd love to whip up some pies! We're having real trouble keeping up with the small fruit: the second round of raspberries and a third round of strawberries, plus all of our grapes. Normally we'd be in high jam season right now, but we can barely get a dinner together, and it's no fun at all to do the dishes in the second-floor bathroom sink. 

Oh, the grapes … we've lost (literal) bunches:

This is is a bowl's worth of Concord grapes that started turning to wine before we were able to finish them fresh. They actually smell delightful, all yeasty and fermenty. If we had time and space, we'd try making some more wine, but it'll have to wait until next year. In the meantime, these slightly fermented grapes are chicken food:

Our youngest three chickens (that's Lizzy in the front, with Louisa Catherine and Rachel not far behind) were all over the grapes, while the oldest put themselves to bed. The young 'uns seem to like them well enough:

They only had a few because it was dusk and time to get home to roost, and I really like to think they got a little buzzed, stumbled up the ramp, and hit the roosting bar snoring. 

There's no indication they're drunk, though, and they (wisely) only had a few. 

We'll see if the rest of the grapes get eaten or not. I had some myself before tossing them — they're not noticeably boozy, so I'm sure I'm not providing alcohol to minors or anything.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Worth the Wait

Just as I was about to give up on our young ladies giving us any eggs at all, there's this:

The large egg is a normal-sized egg. The smaller one is maybe 2/3 the size — definitely a first attempt by one of the girls. 

The mystery (unless you catch a hen in the nesting box) is always about figuring out which egg came from which bird. The big egg above looks like one of Sally's regular eggs, a sort of pinkish brown. It was also warm in the nesting box when I picked it up.

Sally was nowhere near the henhouse, but Louisa Catherine (our Gold-Laced Wyandotte) was standing on the ramp, looking slightly confused. Some quick research revealed that, yes indeedy, Wyandottes lay pinkish brown eggs. 

Sally, by the way, is in the middle of a molt, and hasn't laid in a couple weeks (a sad fact that led us to buy an incredibly disappointing carton of eggs last week). Though she's a champion layer, I'd be surprised if she randomly popped out an egg in the middle of dropping all her feathers. 

But I'm equally surprised that Louisa Catherine appears to have figured out the nesting box without any coaching. I found that little egg on the floor of the henhouse in a corner, where all the other chickens laid their first eggs. We had to train them by putting some plastic eggs in the nesting boxes for a clue. It appears that Louisa Catherine was caught off guard by that first, small egg, but has since gotten her act together remarkably well.

I snatched up the full-sized egg and carted it off to the kitchen (we're desperate for some full-bodied, orange-yolked eggs instead of the pitiful ones you get at the grocery store). I left the little one in the nesting box as a helpful hint for the others, and Kirk added some straw to make the boxes more enticing.

We shall see….

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Pink Potatoes

Our potatoes this year grew quickly, flowered, and died back, leaving us a pretty decent harvest under the ground. We've left them there because they're nice and safe under ground until we're ready to cure them for storage. We did dig up one bed that was planted with Kennebecs and Adirondack Reds:

The Adirondack Reds are new to us this year. I ordered them from Johnny's as a replacement for our Red Pontiac potatoes, which we ate last winter instead of saving any for seed. Unlike the Red Pontiacs, these red potatoes are colored all the way through the flesh, which made for some colorful mashed potatoes:

This meal brought back a strong, visceral memory of the first time I ate dinner at a friend's house. My first grade best friend Wendy loved mashed potatoes (I did not), and she especially loved them with ketchup. She stirred huge squirts of ketchup into her snow white mashed potatoes until they turned bright pink. I had never seen such a thing, and promptly lost my appetite.

Anyway, these potatoes have no ketchup involved, but are naturally pink (the green flecks are chives). Maybe it's just me, but I'm still not sure mashed potatoes should be pink.

Further reading about Adirondack Reds reveals that they were bred at Cornell University and therefore do really well in our short, Northern growing season (which explains the quick die-back of the vine). According to New York chefs, the flesh is waxier, so they're not the ideal potato to make fluffy mashed potatoes.  We did find that they browned nicely when pan fried, though:

These are little potato patties made from the leftover pink mashed potatoes in the first photo. You can see the nice browning.

Where the Adirondack Reds really shine, though, is as pan-fried potato wedges. Kirk made these by slicing them in quarters. First he covered and par-cooked them in the microwave for 10 minutes, then browned them in a pan with some olive oil. This gave them a really nice, brown crisping on the cut edges.

I'd show you, but we ate them up long before I had a chance to snap a photo.