February 1, 2010
Happy New Year! Happy Groundhog's Day! Groundhog's Day is actually the ancient Celtic holiday of Candlemas, celebrating the halfway point between the winter solstice and vernal equinox. We're halfway to spring! Yippee!
It's a peaceful winter day here, newly fallen snow blanketing the ground and coating the trees. The dogs are sleeping in front of the wood stove (more interested in the simmering stew than warmth, I think) and Ralph is moving wood from the shed into the house.
Our harvest and holiday seasons were wonderfully busy. We were lucky to escape frost all the way into mid-October, extending our harvest of raspberries, blueberries and elderberries and helping offset the losses from the rains of July and August. We were especially delighted with the performance of "Caroline," an autumn-bearing raspberry we trialed this season. Our harvest fairs and farmers' markets were sensational and we scrambled in the kitchen to keep up with everything. Thanksgiving provided a chance to celebrate the bounty of foods the earth provides with my family - my amazing 88 year-old mother did the lion's share of cooking the meal which included her own home-grown butternut squash.
In December, winter farmers' markets and holiday shows gave us a place to be every weekend right up to the winter solstice, and were all so successful that we continued to put up preserves or mustards just about every day. The "Buy Local" message resonated loudly during the holiday season and I thank everyone who gave us a try. Our holiday mail order business continued as strongly as ever thanks to dedicated friends and loyal customers, some of you going back 25 years now. It warms my heart to see photos of your kids enjoying blueberry preserve spread on a muffin, or learning that Nellie, now 90, is still happily enjoying her Damson plum.
As the decade of the "oughts" turned into the "teens", we sent off checks representing 20% of our holiday sales to four local animal rescue agencies as we have done for many years now.
In the Pantry, we sadly report that we're out of Strawberry Preserves (for just about the first time in 25 years! Back when big grey bunny gobbled up the plants around ten years ago, we were able to get berries from Dancing Bear Tom but he no longer grows any.) We try to grow enough of each fruit that we run out of preserves just as the new harvest is coming on, but the late frost and incessant rains diminished our strawberry harvest by more than 50%. We've also run out of Elderberry Syrup which flew out of here, everyone agreeing that it was a most delicious way to help combat colds and flu. We're also out of JazzBerry Raspberry Salsa for the first time ever. Since both raspberry and pepper yields were down, we decided to save the fruits and peppers we did have for preserves. We'll be making JazzBerry again as soon as we harvest red peppers in August.
Little by little Ralph and I have been working in the kitchen to replenish the stock of other preserves and mustards which were all sold out after the holidays. I think we now have the full complement of preserves on hand (except for Damson plum and those mentioned above) and mustards are aging nicely - all ready for next week's winter market in Greenfield.
I love the peace and quiet that January brings. The strawberries are sleeping beneath the snow, the garlic waiting beneath the ground, and the fruit trees and brambles have gone dormant, protecting themselves from winter's cold and wind. I'm pretty dormant too, falling asleep shortly after supper and not rising until the sun itself brightens the bedroom. Barley and I take long walks in the woods and don't even feel at all guilty about the time spent. We walk for hours and never see a soul - our compensation for all the days we had to stay inside during the seemingly endless hunting season.
I'm not "catching up" on my reading, I'm reveling in books I've been saving to read when I could give them the attention they deserve. The history of Northfield, Massachusetts (which included Winchester until 1740) has answered many of the questions we've had about the native people who lived here on the site of our farm. I learned that the great piles of small stones point to evidence of cooking here - that fits with the old charred debris Ralph uncovered when tilling the new pumpkin patch and, of course, the old corn grinding stone he uncovered while building a stonewall. The days of the French and Indian Wars were bloody awful around here and I ponder the lives of the natives and the colonials as I climb the mountain and follow the old trails. I took a break from the despair to gobble up the latest mystery penned by Chet the Dog - "Thereby Hangs a Tail, a Chet & Bernie Mystery" - reading much of it aloud to Ralph, Rosie and Barley who all appreciated Chet's take on life. It's like a shot of Raymond Chandler with effervescent doggie joie de vie! Good friends have passed on a stack of tempting novels including new works by Atwood, Le Guin and Fforde - yes, reading life in January is very good.
Now that the days are a bit warmer, we can start to think about pruning the trees in the orchard. It's a pleasant way to spend a sunny afternoon. I've ordered yet more fruit trees - apricots this time, plus a couple of peaches (because those we have were all heavily damaged by last year's ice storm) as well as two more Damson plums (someday I'll have enough.....). Raspberries, blackberries and currants all look very good so far. We'll probably move some of the currants into new beds to let them stretch, and we'll thin the elderberry bushes and move some of them too.
Winter Farmers' Markets
We are having so much fun at the Stonewall Farm markets - we'd be there even if we weren't farmers - and are looking forward to this weekend's Winter Fare in Greenfield, always a highlight of our winter and a chance to get extraordinary local food. Here's a listing:
Saturdays February 20, March 20, April 17 - Keene Farmers' Market at Stonewall Farm, Chesterfield Rd. (off of Rt. 9) Keene, NH 12:00 - 4:00. Excellent vegetables from Stonewall Farm's root cellar (potatoes, carrots, garlic, onions, turnip, celeriac) and fresh greens as well as local eggs, beef, lamb, pork, sausages, bacon and pot pies as well as alpaca fleece, felted hats, granola, jewelry, soap and more.
Saturday February 6, Winter Fare - Greenfield High School, Greenfield, MA 10:00 - 2:00. This is an amazingly vibrant event, with all kinds of fresh greens and storage vegetables, apples, cider, eggs, and many kinds of meat from some of the best farms in the Happy Valley. I can't wait to see what Coyote Hill and Red Fire Farms will have this year and we'll definitely stock up on cheese from Chase Hill Farm.
Saturday February 27 - Turners Falls Winter Market at Turners Falls High School 9:00 - 12:00. Lots of fun, lots of local food, and great music from the school kids, this winter market benefits the school music programs in Turners.
It's about time for Barley and I to head up to the top of the mountain. Rosie does a lap around the gardens with us these days, then relaxes by the fire while Barley and I continue on. Auggie is as happy as a cat can be with three woodstoves to choose from. Ralph is drawing plans for a barn/tractor shed/chicken house/wood shed he's thinking about building this spring. I guess that's all the winter news! Looking forward to spring!!!
P.S. The opposite of Candlemas is Lammas, August the first, halfway between the summer solstice and autumnal equinox. It was a hot and humid day in early August when Trish and Tom came by to take some photographs - Tom flew overhead in his brother-in-law's plane and took aerials; Trish stood on terra firma and photographed us after a hot day's work. Since many of our friends have slow-speed internet, here's a link to these photos so you can decide whether or not to view them. And, I'm including one of that ancient grinding stone since so many people have asked about it.