Homestead Review: March 2016

Can you believe the summer vegetables are here already?!

We can’t either. And while it isn’t really time for tomatoes yet, we do have some tomato seedlings in stock down here at the store; for those who have their own greenhouse or who want to tempt the fates in the quest for the earliest tomato harvests. Who even knows what the weather is doing these days?! So far it’s just the tomatoes that are serving as ambassadors for all the summer excess to come; it really is too early for basil, eggplants, peppers, and the like.

Veggies are Coming 

The time for summer vegetables is fast approaching, though, and we are hard at work along Highway 9, readying the demonstration garden for a new season of growth and experimentation. Turning in compost, pulling the weeds, checking the irrigation--planning and dreaming and even looking through the old recipes, to see what sorts of salsas, preserves and sauces we might like to create. Oh sure, we may be getting a bit ahead of ourselves, here in April, but farming has always required a hearty dose of optimism and anticipation.

Planning for Successful Water Management

In fact, that sort of advance planning is just the thing that can make the difference between a crop’s success or failure. All the water a gardener could wish for has just finished falling on our little mountain hamlet. How much of that water have you been able to capture? However much, it hardly ever seems enough, in the heat of August, when the rivers run low and the water table drops.

We are happy to announce that we have recently expanded our stock of rainwater catchment supplies, as well as materials for gray water systems, aquaponics, and sustainable water management.

We may be done with rain for the year, or nearly so, but now is indeed the perfect time to think about installing a serious rainwater harvesting system in anticipation of next year’s water. We’ve brought in some great local expertise to help us build and develop this aspect of the store, and we are seriously excited about this new direction. After all, water is the most precious resource, and one that is sometimes in short supply in these hills. How to harvest it responsibly, treat it safely, and store it in quantities large enough to be useful, are all things that we see homesteaders and backyard gardeners wrestle with every season.

We hope that this new expansion will inspire gardeners and farmers at every level to consider what they can do to create better and more sustainable water managment decisions, starting right in their own gardens.

And aquaponics!

To think of creating systems that create both vegetables and fish, using less water than conventional agriculture, has us dreaming of fish tacos and butter lettuce with nary a speck of sand stuck down between the leaves. Ah yes, the benefits of aquaponics are vast, and we’ve only begun to explore this avenue. The coming months will see a great flurry of activity in this department, as we continue to expand and build full scale demonstrations of the systems in action. Stop on by and watch as we build this division out to be something truly inspiring, educational, and attainable.

Mushroom Cultivation Workshop

For those who love the gray rainy days, and the bounty of fresh mushrooms they bring, you may be pleased to learn that we are hosting a low-tech mushroom cultivation workshop on April 23rd at Alba Schoolhouse. Cassandra Fuentes will be teaching this workshop, and participants will leave with an inoculated oyster mushroom kit of their very own. The oyster mushroom (pleurotus ostreatus) is one of the easiest to grow mushrooms, as it can live on many substrates ranging from wood, to coffee grounds, to sawdust, and beyond. Learn all about how to do it, and keep the rainy gray flavor of the forest floor growing in your home, long after the sun has driven the wild mushrooms into hiding for the year.

2016 Farmer's Market Classes and More!

With the sun comes strawberries, and all the delights of warmer weather, which offer recompense for the loss of wild mushrooms. Our collaboration with the Farmer’s Markets continues; our first event will be held at the Scott’s Valley Market on May 14th. And then on June 14th, the Felton Market will host a Kid’s Day, with strawberries galore! There will be shortcake and music and generally joyous festivities. We’ll be there, happy to be a part of community life in the San Lorenzo Valley, hosting demonstrations of just what to do with an abundance of strawberries. It’s early yet to mark your calendars, but it is something to look forward to. We’ll keep you posted on the next series of free classes and demonstrations to be held in collaboration with the Santa Cruz Farmer”s Markets in the coming weeks.

Springtime Experiments in the Kitchen and the Garden

Bees and eggs and flowers and chicks and bunnies! Oh, springtime. We love you.
We’ve been enjoying the fresh milk of the season, too. (When a dairy animal first comes into milk with the birth of her babies, it is called “freshening”—for good resson! The first milk is ambrosia.) So we’ve been making cheese; chevre, fromage blanc, and more.

Cheesecake and Whey

The cheesecake recipe from the journal this month can be made, of course, with cheese that you can make at home; give it a try if you’re curious! It is even simpler than yogurt. And both of these processes (cheese and yogurt both) leave you with large quantities of whey, which is a resource in and of itself. Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we explore whey drinks, lentils soaked in whey, and other uses for this useful byproduct.

In the Garden and Fermenting

It’s time to make room in the garden! The cardoon plant is coming out. We’ll be trying out ways to cook that strange vegetable up, too, and we’ll let you know if we come up with anything delicious. Sometimes experiments lead to dead ends…and sometimes you discover a new favorite food! Such was the case last week, when we set out to ferment a jar of jicama in a salty brine. We’d never heard of such a thing, but we weren’t afraid to try. Luckily, this was one of the more delicious fermentation experiments, crunchy and full of zing. We’ve tucked some in this week in the Kraut source with a bunch of fermenting carrots, to see if they pick up any flavor or color from that pairing. Also, this week in fermentation experiments, we’ve tucked a little diced rhubarb into a lime and ginger sauerkraut. The rhubarb wine recipe in this month’s journal inspired the pairing, and so far it is coming along nicely! What are you fermenting these days?

Fun with Dyed Eggs

Besides fermenting vegetables and milk, we’ll be eating a lot of hard-boiled eggs, surely, in the coming days, after the annual egg hunt in the meadow. We experimented last year with which natural dyes worked the best—the ones we forgot and left overnight in the onion skin dye turned the deepest, most delicious midnight blue color. Another happy accident! The grown-ups will relax in the shade—perhaps with a shrub, or another refreshing beverage—and watch the children rush and peer around the wide meadow in search of their pastel treasure. Life is good, in the springtime.

Over to You

It’s part of our mission here at Mountain Feed to help you make delicious, sustainable, homemade food more often. Stop by and say hello on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest. Or, as always, you can do it the old fashioned way and come by the store to speak with one of our in-house experts.