Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Meat in the Freezer

With the ground thoroughly frozen, aside from the freak rain lately, there isn't much going on in the garden. We harvested a handful of carrots last month which marked the absolute last of our 2009 produce. The one thing we were able to harvest was a bit of meat.

One of our major goals with livestock is to raise multi-purpose animals. We've chosen animals which, with hopefully minimal upkeep, will live long productive and happy lives. Since we are not raising them for meat, hunting has become a valuable alternative to buying meat. What was once common practice in Chester County has quickly become a taboo. Within the past 20 to 30 years much of the wooded land for hunting has been developed. In my early teens I hunted small game but like the new norm in these parts I opted for video games and indoor hobbies during high school and college.

I never gave up my love of being in the woods and the recognition of the natural world that hunting provides.

In the fall of 2008 I had the chance to go on a Pronghorn Antelope hunt in Wyoming which was an amazing experience and I brought home some wonderful (though slightly gamey) range fed meat. It was a shame that I had to travel halfway across the country for my first big game. This year I was determined to hunt local and was able to harvest a modest 32 lbs of Pennsylvania Whitetail Deer.
We cooked up a bit of the venison in shepherd's pie made with some of those carrots I mentioned earlier. It turned out to be my absolute favorite meal in recent memory.

I'm hopeful that social trends can shift in favor of responsible hunting to help regulate the ecosystems we live in. Hunting can help lower the number of deer hit by cars, prevent the cost and waste while at the same time reducing our consumption of less healthy imported meat. We've removed the original predators and it seems there should be an obligation to take their place in a sustainable way.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Busy Birds

In the past 10 days we've collected over 40 eggs from our 8 hens.

They're coming in all sizes. The large one here is so big we can't close the egg carton properly.

Now we just need to find a souffle pan!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Happy 2010!

Another new year is upon us, and with it comes the usual thoughts of resolutions. Unlike diet or exercise resolutions, gardening and homesteading plans come naturally this time of year, when everything is gray and cold and we're looking so forward to longer, warmer days and the green of new sprouts.

Looking back on 2009 for a moment, we accomplished so much and so little all at the same time. Most importantly we got through the six month ordeal that was buying our new house, which not only made us homeowners for the first time, but also land owners at last! Unfortunately, the timing of it all made it very difficult for us to do much gardening at all. In the spring our garden was miles from home, which meant we didn't get to give it the attention it deserved, and in the fall we were faced with the prospect of starting all new veggie beds. But we did have some other projects to keep us busy, the greatest of which were our chickens, which are proving to be a very rewarding addition! We managed to get 41 eggs in the second half of December alone! We also got to go foraging in our little woods on the back of our lot, where we collected raspberries, wineberries, mulberries, hickory nuts, walnuts, and firewood.

This coming year will be bringing us many new joys, as well as challenges! Just as spring is arriving, so will be our first baby! We're hoping to be able to power through the sleepless nights and find the time and energy to put up fencing, get some baby lambs, plant fruit trees and other perennials, and grow the majority of our own produce, just to name a few!

For me personally, my goals this year will be to learn to simplify, establish routines, and be better prepared. The key, I think, is going to be practicing things like canning, baking bread, brewing and knitting until they become like second nature, so that I can better fit them into a busy schedule without feeling like I have too many chores to do. I also need to be willing to do fewer things if it means they can be done better, particularly in the garden. As much as I love looking through the seed catalogs and reading about all the rare and interesting varieties of everything, I'm going to be choosing fewer plants and basing my decisions on hardiness, reliability, and how well they store or take to processing. And, I'm not going to plant all of my seedlings at once!! Having gone through a late frost which devastated most of our carefully grown veggies this past spring, I've learned my lesson!

As for the Gardener, his main goals are to do more with what we have by nurturing our best trees, wild berry bushes and our neglected hops. Composting more and working harder at amending the soil in our garden are also on his list. Our sleep schedules are going to be a struggle when the little one arrives but he's hopeful that it will help him learn to manage his time better. Collecting sap for syrup, building native bee houses and bird houses, setting up our rain barrels, lumber-jacking and learning more about native useful plants and fungi, round out his resolutions.

2010 stands to be a very exciting year, and we look forward to sharing it all with you!