How to Make Pumpkin Puree

Jan and Andy gave me a huge pumpkin last week (a Tan Cheese Pumpkin… strange name, but it has amazing color and tastes great!), and I thought I’d share how to make pumpkin puree! 20160902_115204

  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Slice your pumpkin in halves or quarters, depending on how big it is.20160908_090938.jpg
  3. Scoop out the pulp and seeds. (You can save them to roast and eat or perhaps plant next year, like I’m doing!).20160908_091038.jpg20160908_091317
  4. If you’ve got a large pumpkin you’ll need to slice it into more pieces for baking. And if your pumpkin is 14 pounds like mine was… you might have to cut it into 12 slices. 20160908_091556.jpg
  5. Lay the slices in glass baking dishes, and bake at 375 degrees for 50-90 minutes, or until they are soft when you stick a fork into them. 20160908_092247.jpg20160908_115124.jpg
  6. Let cool for a bit, then spoon the insides into a food processor (a blender might work too?). Process until smooth. If the pumpkin isn’t blending or seems too chunky, you probably didn’t cook it long enough. Stick it back in the oven for a while. 20160908_120548.jpg20160908_121524.jpg
  7. And there you have it! You can store your puree in the refrigerator for up to a week, or freeze it. But I’d suggest you turn it into pies or bread and eat it. 😉 20160908_123039.jpg

Stay tuned for my pumpkin pie recipe later this week!

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Oh Hey, September is Here!

8/23/16 – 9/2/16 | Headlines from the past week and a half:

  • Canning tomatoes and banishing weeds from the garden
  • School…
  • Chicks are getting big! (and sorta ugly, depending on what kind of person you are…)

So I actually didn’t have many tomatoes this year. I didn’t plant enough plants for some reason… but thankfully Jan was willing to give me her seconds! Tomatoes with splits or bug bites are awesome for canning. I ended up with 14 quarts!

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The chicks are getting big! I graduated them from their little plastic chick feeders to this one that they’ll use for the rest of the time. They’re starting to walk and look like meat chickens already! Do you see their huge legs? Goodness.

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I’ve been working on school some too. For those of you who don’t know, I’ll be graduating with a BA in English in December! Since I enjoy both writing and farming, I’ve loved this blog where I can combine the two. Anyway. This is a neatened version of what it looks like to write a paper on social media farm marketing. I’ve actually been doing surveys at the market for this paper – trying to learn what people like to see in social media posts from farms and what kind of posts are effective in helping farmers sell more of their produce/goods.

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Also. My garden was a mess yesterday afternoon… for some reason I’d neglected the weeds for too long. The plus side is that when I finally got out to pull them, they were tall enough to get a good handle on! They also made nice mulching material. Here’s my garden right now. See the flags in the background? I’ve had problems with rabbits or coons or something nibbling off the tops of my tiny bean, beet, and spinach plants in the past. So when I planted my last row of beans I stuck flags among them, and the varmits seemed to respect the colors enough to stay at a distance. Now the flags are standing guard over my fall crop of spinach. (I’m not sure it’s the most respectful thing to do with flags, but I didn’t have any other similar scary objects. Maybe I should make something…)

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And finally, Jan and Andy gave me a huge pie pumpkin!! It’s got a bite on the side, so it can’t be sold at market. But it will get turned into pies (and maybe cheesecake? We shall see) instead! Here’s a post about how to prepare a pie pumpkin, and another with my pie recipe is in the works. Fall is coming, guys! And so are the pumpkin pies.

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My Second Batch of Chicks has Arrived!

8/16/16 – 8/22/16 | Headlines of the week:

  • Getting chicks in the mail!!!
  • Jandy’s Garlic Festival
  • Carrots and buckwheat

On Wednesday of last week I got chicks in the mail! The post office must have called around 8:30am, but I was already gone for the day so the chicks didn’t get picked up until 4:30pm. Definitely not the best situation… so I had more chicks die in the first three days (of dehydration and/or stress) than I did with my first batch, which I was able to pick up early in the morning. But I learned my lesson, and next time I’ll plan better so I can pick up the chicks ASAP.

That said, I now have a brooder full of yellow puffballs!

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This year I was experimenting with growing carrots. We have clay soil, so carrots have never done well. But this year we turned our old sand box into a cold frame and raised bed, so I planted half of it with carrots to see if the looser soil would be kind to them.

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I think it worked! I definitely could have let these guys get bigger, but I was too excited. The cat was also excited… she looks awful proud for not having grown the produce, no? Cats will be cats, I suppose.

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On Sunday Jan and Andy had their Garlic Festival! It was super fun – bluegrass, good food, gorgeous weather, and great people.

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I spent the afternoon cutting up garlic for the garlic taste test (although I admit that I didn’t taste all 7 kinds. Raw garlic is something else!), dishing out samples of tabouli, and giving farm tours.

Also, back at home I have buckwheat in my new garden spot! I planted it about two weeks ago, but wasn’t sure it would do so great because it was super dry the following week. It’s pretty cool to see the sequence of events (using livestock and cover crops) that I’m using to prepare that area for planting next year!

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April 2 | Put fence posts (previously known as dead ash trees) around the new garden spot
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June 16 | Ready to spread fertilizer (otherwise known as chicken manure, applied by moving their shelter to a new spot of ground daily)
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August 5 | Fertilizer was applied and chickens are in people’s freezers
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August 5 | Buckwheat is planted
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August 22 | Buckwheat is growing!

Beans, Blackerries, and a Chicken Plucker

7/12/16 – 7/23/16 | Headlines from the past two weeks:

  • Harvesting and preserving lots of produce (but mostly green beans)
  • Sold out of my meat birds for this batch!
  • Blackberry picking
  • Gearing up for processing day

I love summer! Here’s some of what I’ve been getting from the garden now-a-days.

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I helped Jan and Andy harvest all their garlic, and I got to take some home! I decided to dry it and turn it into garlic powder to use in my Italian spice mix I’m hoping to sell at the market next year.

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I’ve been freezing lots of green beans from the garden! I wrote a post on how I freeze the beans to keep them bright green and flavorful here.

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Now we’re one week out from processing these birds! My processing dates are July 30th and 31st, and I’ve sold all the birds from this batch. I’ve already ordered another set of chicks, though! They’ll be ready in October if any of you wanted broilers and didn’t get them this time around.

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Some friends have lent me their Whizbang Chicken Plucker! Good thing too, because I do not want to pluck all 74 of those birds by hand. I’m not that crazy. I’ve got to get this thing cleaned up and I’ll probably do a trial bird or two the middle of this week, so we’ll see how it goes!

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I picked some black gold from the woods this week! I sold all of these blackberries at the market this morning and also made a pie and my favorite blackberry recipe – blackberry pie bars. We’ll see if I have time to post that recipe! This upcoming week is looking to be insanely busy. But also insanely awesome. 🙂

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Jan’s flowers are gorgeous. Here are a few pictures – look at that detail! Isn’t God an awesome artist?

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Hope Farm has a Logo!

6/28/16 – 7/11/16 | Headlines of these past two weeks:

  • I got a logo!
  • Planning for next year
  • Starting to prepare for chicken processing

It’s rather handy when you have a graphic designer for a friend! Lauren made me this awesome logo and now I feel very official. I’ve started handing out my broiler flyers/order forms and business cards to people who are interested in buying chickens! If you don’t know the story behind the name “Hope Farm” you should check this page out!

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Each week I’ve been able to bring a little bit of produce to sell at the market along with all this beautiful produce from Jandy’s. My “top crops” are kale, green onions (which are done now), and cilantro.

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I must admit that my garden is a mess. I neglected it for about a week, and the weeds are finding ways to come through the mulch! I think it would have helped if I’d packed the mulch down tighter instead of just lightly setting it on the ground. Thankfully I’m not depending on being able to sell a bunch of produce right now! This year I’m focusing on learning and trying lots of new things. And when you do that… it’s okay to get messy and fail a time or two. Agreed? 😉

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I’ve been thinking and planning for next year, and I’d like to try selling dried herbs and herb mixes along with produce at the market. So I’ve been getting a head start on drying the herbs I have growing already this year! Here’s parsley (with layers of dill and oregano underneath) in the trusty dehydrator.

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My broilers are doing fabulously. They literally just eat, drink, and rest all day long -and are growing at a great rate. If things go as planned, I’ll be processing them (with the help of family and friends, thank goodness) the last weekend in July. I had lots of fun yesterday with Judah planning for and learning about processing chickens! I still need to locate and buy/borrow some sort of table (stainless steel is best!) and a big sink or tub. There’s actually quite a bit of setup for broiler processing, and some of the things that hadn’t crossed my mind were things like shade, hose shut-offs, and ice. Thankfully I’ve got a great support team to help me remember things like that and to lend me random items like hose fixtures, a canopy, and a makeshift scalder.

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I was looking through pictures of what all I’ve been doing this spring and summer, and am realizing how blessed I am to be able to work outside with all this beauty! I absolutely love working on my little farm and am excited to start sharing more of what I grow with customers – friends, really – in the near future!

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Strategic Timing and Spacing Plus a Comfrey Fertilizer Experiment

5/2/16 – 5/20/16 | Headlines of the past 2.5 weeks:

  • First Farmers Markets!
  • Lots of hand hoeing
  • Planting lettuce, basil, cilantro, butternut squash, green beans, sweet potatoes, cayenne peppers, tomatoes, and sunflowers
  • Preparing for chicks!!

The first Farmers Market was a resounding success! Jan and Andy sold out super quick of all their gorgeous veggies (and they had a lot, especially for the first weekend in May!).

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Since I didn’t have a medium-sized tiller and since I hadn’t mulched last fall, I ended up doing a lot of hoeing in order to get rid of the weeds and loosen up the soil so I could plant lettuce, basil, cilantro, butternut squash, green beans, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and sunflowers. In the past I’ve never bothered about multiple plantings to get a steady supply of one kind of produce (for example, if I wanted to have cilantro every week for the market I would basically have to plant it every week), but I’ve realized how important that is! So instead of planting my entire garden in a few days, I started sooner and will be stretching it out a lot more.

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Besides strategic timing, I’m also experimenting with my spacing. For example, I planted rows of lettuce seeds between some of my transplanted lettuce rows. The idea is that the bigger lettuce will be harvested before the next planting needs that extra space, and as a result I have less unused space.

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In the next picture you can see strategic spacing in action again and the start of my mulching. The white marker in the circle of bare soil is where I planted butternut squash. The lettuce is pretty close, but again, that lettuce will be out of the way by the time the butternut reaches it (in theory). And then the messy mulching job is the result of pulling up a bunch of tall grass and grass clippings. I will cover as much bare ground with mulch like this as I can in the coming weeks, and I figured I might as well start somewhere!

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A few weeks ago I started cayenne peppers inside – a bit late, but we’ll see what comes of it.

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When they seedlings were about an inch tall the leaves started to curl at the ends. Jan had mentioned something similar with her own pepper seedlings, and said it was probably a nutrient deficiency (or something along those lines). A bit of fertilizer made them shape right up, she said. I brainstormed about some kind of fertilizer I could use and remembered that comfrey, one of my favorite herbs, is jam-packed full of  nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium (to name a few). It can be used as fertilizer, either in the form of decomposing leaves or “tea.” Comfrey tea is typically made by letting the leaves decompose in water for a few weeks, but I needed fertilizer right then and was willing to try something new. I heated up some water, let fresh comfrey leaves steep all night, and strained them off in the morning. I used that on the plants for the next few days. The leaves uncurled and are growing at a nice rate! I’ll probably never know if it was the tea that did the trick… but I have my suspicions.

And finally: I’ve been brainstorming and stocking up on supplies for my chicks! I’ve got a shipment of 77 little fluff balls due to arrive May 31st, so I’ll be setting up their brooder soon. Here are a few of my supplies: wood shavings for bedding (I’ve got more than just this), feed scoops, chick feeders, one of my homemade chick waterers, heat lamp bulbs, and buckets.

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Congratulations, my friend! You have reached the end of this update! Feast your eyes on some lovely oregano blossoms (doesn’t it seem strange that if you rubbed the flowers in this picture it would smell like pizza? If the flowers themselves have a smell it’s overpowered by the fragrance of the leaves), and have a fantastic rest of your week!

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How to Get the Most Out of Direct Seeded Lettuce

About 6 weeks ago I planted lettuce in my cold frame by direct seeding. It grew wonderfully, and I kept thinning a little here and there.

It finally got way too crowded and I decided to take some serious action. Since I’ll be harvesting lettuce in heads instead of just picking leaves here and there, each plant needs a few inches of space on each side. Having the lettuce too close sure looks pretty, but it’s way too crowded for the heads to grow to be nice and big!

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I used a dandelion digger to help dig out/pull up the crowded plants and it worked well. This is how many romaine plants I got from the section in the previous picture!

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Now the lettuce in the cold frame has more room to grow!

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In my big garden I’d planted three hills of butternut squash earlier that day. Since the butternut won’t be up and spreading for a while, I figured I might as well use the empty space around the hills for this lettuce.

I learned from Jan that it’s a great idea to lay out the lettuce where you’re going to transplant them before sticking them in the ground. This saves time and makes the rows more even. The lettuce in this picture is actually green loose leaf from the other side of the cold frame, which I also thinned and then transplanted. I eyeballed the distance between them, but I think it was around 6 inches.

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My soil was loose enough that I didn’t need to dig holes – I just poked at the spot a little with the dandelion digger and used my fingers to press dirt around the roots.

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Can you believe how many plants I rescued from my cold frame?! It was super easy to just direct seed them into the (rather small) cold frame then transplant the thinnings instead of tossing the thinnings in the compost and direct seeding more into the garden. And it’s definitely the cheaper way to go! Doing it this way means I got to use almost every plant that germinated.

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Just a note: the plants will look a bit wilted for a day or two after transplanting. Keep them watered and they’ll pop back in no time!