August

July and August are frenetic months. Facebook memories pop up nearly everyday from the past 15 years about being overworked, overtired, worn out, burning the candle at both ends. All my friends, all my neighbors, are busy too this time of year. It makes sense as we live in a place with a short season with only so much time to get summer projects done and to prepare for the long winter.

But.

I have worn my summer season exhaustion like a badge of honor, feeling an inward satisfaction every time someone says “Wow, you are so busy” for too long. I don’t want to live that way anymore. There is no joy in working yourself to death. And so, I now have to remind myself it is ok to let things go in my quest to create new, healthier habits. “I can only do what I can do.” Being stressed out all the time is not any way to live. I am taking many notes this season on how to streamline the farm so I can spend more time in the future on the lake, more time with the horses, more time playing with my kids, more time in the wilderness, more time with friends.

Homeschool classes started this past Monday and the structured days have helped me set more realistic goals of what can be accomplished in a day, in a week. (Or try to. We ate dinner after 9pm last night when turkey butchering extended into the evening.) Saturday mornings are for harvesting produce to send out to McCarthy to be turned into restaurant fare. The rest of the week is weeding, watering, homestead harvesting and chores, and overseeing homeschool classes. This summer has slipped by quietly and quickly and the arrival of fall has caught me off guard. Fall, already?

The August full moon

The beets began to really hit their stride the week of July 19th and I have been harvesting steadily every week since. 4 succession plantings seems to be a good fit for our zone.

I butchered the meat chickens July 25th and was glad to begin culling the annual livestock (though not actually enjoying the butchering process.) It is a lot of work to do as one person, four times as fast with two. But butchering continues to be a farm activity in which the kids firmly refuse to involve themselves. The farm has been a little chaotic this season with the pigs, ducks, chickens, turkeys, and horses. With the horses back to work at hunting camp and the meat chickens in freezer camp, the daily chores have eased a bit.

Currently the emerging drakes need to be butchered (I am just now able to tell who is a boy with their maturing drake feathers) and a few persistently broody chickens. Fluffy, the single duckling from midsummer, has finally decided that he/she is indeed a duck and not a human and is living with the big ducks at 6 weeks old. The first three nights we attempted to keep the duckling outside, Fluffy escaped the garden fence to peep frantically at our door asking to come back inside for the night (which we allowed). But now, finally, happy as duck rather than human, Fluffy has turned his/her back on us. I would miss the duck company except we have a new kitten, Apollo, who has turned the domestic pet hierarchy in our home upside down, so we have plenty going on inside and out.

Farm kitty

I finally butchered the turkeys last night after putting it off for several days. I have two beautiful carcasses cooling in the fridge now before heading to the freezer. One was 20 pounds 7 ounces, the other 15 pounds even. Now that it is done I can revamp the meat bird pen into duck pen and move the ducks out of the perennial garden so I can work on that area this September. Ducks are noisy especially at night. Between the ducks and the new kitten waking me up several times a night, I have been unpleasantly reminded of what the nights (and following bleary days) with a newborn were like. I am looking forward to a quieter yard.

I have had spectacular flowers in the garden for the pollinators (and me) thanks to the July heat this year. The poppies, peonies, lemon gem marigold, phacelia, nasturtium, yarrow and buckwheat flowers have been busy with insects buzzing about. The hard August rains and frost nips have knocked many of these back from their peak, but I still have a few poppies, sweet peas, nasturtium (in the tunnels) and strawflowers hanging in. I think most of my sunflowers will be too late to bloom this year as they are just budding up now but that is entirely my fault as I started them too late. Same with the calendula, so I dug up 5 plants, potted them up and put in the greenhouse in the hopes of harvesting some September flowers.

Tomatoes and cucumbers have been a challenge in the greenhouse. It was so hot in July that the female cucumber fruits died on the vine. They are recovering and have fruits on the vines now, but growth is slower as it gets chillier. The indeterminate tomatoes look good but are ripening ever so slowly. I have been stingy with my greenhouse firewood as I have only a small supply this year but think I will need to keep the temperature warmer to get a good harvest. The pepper plants are covered in green fruits but also seem to be ripening very slowly. At least I do not have slugs in the greenhouse this year! The low tunnel determinate tomatoes in the market garden have done far better. So far, I have 4 gallons of ripe whole tomatoes frozen that I will turn into sauce later this fall and many more ripening up. Freezing whole tomatoes intended for sauce later is a great time saving trick in the summer (especially if you use a food mill to remove the seeds and skins when you thaw them).

Mountain Miracle. Slicers have been a challenge for me, always growing with a mealy texture. Until this one! Best. Tomato. Ever.

We have had two light frosts so far, one on July 31st when it just barely hit 31° and 30° at 4 A.M. on August 22 which nipped the tops of the potatoes and all the buckwheat flowers. We had covered everything we could with frost blankets. The voles are very happy to have the extra cover to munch away while the hawks cannot see them. Speaking of voles, I had a funny experience when emptying the vole traps. I had made a little vole pile in the middle of my main garden walkway to move out of the garden later. I got distracted by some other chore and looked for them the next day to take them away. Gone. So, I left the next collection out too to see what would happen. I don’t know if it is hawks or owls, but somebody is enjoying the vole buffet!

The raspberries really started producing as we came into August, and I have been attempting to diligently pick every other day. The sparrows do not seem to be hitting them as hard this year and we have over 10 gallons in the freezer and lots in our bellies. Production is slowing down as we hit the end of the month, but it has been a spectacular berry year with large, sweet berries.

I harvested the garlic on August 17th. Usually, I harvest in early August. Most of the varieties were spot on but a few new types I had tried this year were over mature. The garlic was late up this year and behind on producing scapes, so I was surprised that some were overgrown. The wet weather complicates garlic harvest but with rain forever in the forecast I went ahead and pulled them, rinsed off the soil and hung them up to cure in our guest cabin. I am hopeful they will dry down in time and that I will have enough large cloves to replant this September.

The carrot season is beginning and soon it will be time to empty all those beds too and put them up for sale. My days in the next weeks will be occupied with blanching and freezing, drying, and canning to preserve our food for the winter. Digging up the potatoes will soon be on the list as well!

An autumn chill is in the air and the willows are losing more of their verdant greenery every day. Yellow leaves are appearing and heralding that fall is here! I do love this time of year with the overflowing totes of vegetables, fresh meat, and a nip of cold.

August harvest basket

It is not all sunshine and rainbows on the farm. It just happens that harvest time joy has a way of overshadowing all the rough bits. There are weeds going to seed, pens that desperately need to be mucked out, overgrown paths to mow. Undone projects abound and to do lists flutter around the house like snowflakes. Nearly constant rain and cold temperatures this month rotted my bean and winter squash harvests.

Ok. Bummer.

Every year has crop failures which is why we plant a diversity of things to ensure that when some founder, others thrive. The rotting plants will go in the compost to become soil and start over next year. I harvest, take notes, and start planning for next year with the hard won lessons from this one. Most of all, I stop to appreciate what was possible this year and realize how truly good it all is. Garden resilience!

From my garden to yours, happy harvesting!

Welcome Spring!

The Vernal Equinox dawned clear and cold on this gorgeous March morning. It was -25°F at 8:30 AM. It has been a spectacular month of March with snow storms, cold night time temperatures and the brilliant sunshine that after several months of intense cold and dark days is so so welcome. Welcome, Welcome, Spring!

March 20, 2021

When I published my last blog post on November 10, 2020, I meant to follow up with a Part II to our annual hunting and butchering season before taking the rest of the winter off. Somehow four months passed by without me sitting down to write at my computer.

We are homeschooling our two children and T runs his Big Game Hunting Outfit business and I run a market garden business out of our small house. We haul all our drinking and wash water which can be quite challenging at 40 below zero. We burn firewood that has to be split and hauled. We make our food from wild harvested and farm grown meats and proteins that we preserve ourselves by freezing, canning, and drying. And so, just keeping up with the normal chores of laundry, meals, and heating the house while overseeing 6th grade and 9th grade classes can take all day. Winter is also our downtime so more time is spent on paperwork, reading books, gathering thoughts, and planning for the next season. And movies. I  absolutely love to watch movies and tv series in the dark depths of winter. So all this to say, whoops, forgot to write the second blog post in November.

Butchering Part II (the mini version)

We slaughtered our pigs November 8 and started processing them the next day. T and I were both involved with the blood and guts so no photos were taken. Pig butchering for us is a several day process. After the pigs are killed, we hoist them up with the backhoe bucket, remove their guts, split them in half, and leave the meat to cool over night. The next day we bring them inside one half at a time and skin them and break the carcass into pieces: front quarter, hind quarter, bacon, ribs, spine. We chill these even further, or freeze, and then use our meat saw to cut blade steaks, ham roasts, pork chops, and ribs and package these up into meal size portions.

After this processing is done we start brining bacon, making sausage, and rendering lard. This season, as I am working on creating healthy mindfulness habits, we did not put in long and exhausting 12 hour days to get it done as quickly as possible as in the past those kind of days always ended in family meltdown. Instead we worked until dinner time and then packed everything away for the next day. It took us a week to process it all but without any family drama it was totally worth the extra few days.

Caught up on meat chores, I processed 5 gallons of sauerkraut.

We moved the greenhouse Nov 29 so I can do ground work for the new greenhouse I want to build. I am not super happy about where it is “temporarily” but I am working on a plan for a passive solar greenhouse that should make seed starting a much easier endeavor in the future. I also want a greenhouse where I can seal out slugs and that has an insulated floor. The moving of the 10 foot by 20 foot greenhouse went better than expected. I had jacked it up and put boards under it so it would not freeze to the ground back when we only had a few inches of snow. T put three sleds with donnage under it (two under the back corners and one centered in the front and manned the ropes while I drove the snowmobile towing it.

The old greenhouse in its temporary home so I can haul in gravel and start building a new and hopefully improved greenhouse this summer.

Over the course of the winter I ate a lot of good food, walked and skied. I also periodically processed harvested food to preserve it or maker easier meals. As my unfinished root cellar freezes up midwinter, I try and make sure any fresh food is eaten, canned, dried, or blanched and frozen before that happens so that we do not end up with any waste. This year I gave away about 80 pounds of potatoes to family and friends to keep them from being wasted as they only last so long at room temperature. I pickled beets and dried garlic in December, canned beans and cooked and froze squash in February, and made hash browns and frozen mashed potatoes with the last of the potatoes in March.

I finally finished processing the 6 or so caribou and sheep quarters that hung out in the freezer waiting for both my schedule to be open and the weather to be warm enough to run the band saw on the same day. It took a while (ahem…according to my photos it took until January.) We cut these smaller legs into steaks while they are frozen and just trim the edges so they do not thaw when we process them and they stay in good shape.

March is the best month in Alaska and this March has been the most perfect March of all. We have lots of snow but not too much, the nights have been cold, the sunshine has been intense, and every day reminds me of why we put up with the dreary dark and bitterly cold days of winter. I am trying to get into the backcountry as much as possible before the busy season overwhelms us. We have been ice fishing and taking snowmobiles into the wilderness and it has been fantastic.

That was my winter in a nutshell. Now the cycle starts again with the vernal equinox. I have started the alliums and tomatoes and peppers and I am looking forward to watching the world transform from grey, blue, and white to brown, green and blue. I am so, so happy that spring is finally here.

From my garden to yours, I wish you happy growing!