October 21, 2016
Autumn's brilliant colors still shine through the grey mist that lingers from yesterday's rains. Red maple leaves color the ground, but the flaming sugar maple, golden peach and pear leaves, yellow birch, mahogany oaks and red-orange sumac leaves still hang on, creating a fiery tapestry from earth to sky.
The rain is welcome, (more would be, too) after the driest year in the 30 years I've been here. 30 years!!! Can that be right!!!
Yup, 30 years ago, Ralph took in this stray farm girl (and Hozzie, my great big dog) to join him and his dogs Duffy and Macaroni and a cat named Rita, the cat who has been all over the world as the face of Cheshire Garden (although she is wearing my clothes).
In 30 years, we've transformed this gravel bank on a hillside into a garden of fruits, herbs, flowers and vegetables. I am grateful beyond words that as we carved garden beds out of the hillside, we managed to carve a life and livelihood from those gardens, as unlikely as that may be.
It has all been a labor of love, and we couldn't have done it without everyone who ever tried a jar of preserves or mustards, bottle of vinegar, bouquet of flowers or herbs, or pie or frosty fruit pop at a farmers' market, from this website, or at a market, farmstand, bakery or inn.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, and thank you again!!!
It has been a challenging 30th season, what with the lack of rain and all, but there's no need to go into complaints of what has passed. The well ran dangerously low, but we managed to resurrect the well from the old house in late July and we count ourselves lucky to now have two water sources.
Strawberries were the first clue that something was wrong when they began to dry up in mid season. Even with watering, they didn't recover. We will put up what we have in November, but it won't last long.
Red Currants and Black Currants were actually great. They are in our wettest place at the bottom of three slopes, and were loaded with fruit.
Garlic is also at the bottom of the 3 slopes, and we got a terrific harvest of big bulbs - plenty for Farmhouse Garlic Mustard and Ralph's new classic, smooth Deli Mustard with Garlic, Dill and Turmeric.
Summer Raspberries, sadly, were hit hard by the drought, down 75 percent from last year (in fairness, 2015 was an astonishing year, so really down about 50 percent).
Blackberries benefitted from the old well's resurrection, and put on an astonishing crop of more than 300 pounds. In addition to all its usual uses, I've been enjoying the bounty infused into vodka (sorry, it's not for sale!)
Blueberries, too, were heavily-laden and since we grow late season varieties, they also benefitted from the renewal of the old well in late July.
Elderberries were good - we now have hundreds of row feet of them, and even though the berries are tiny and it takes a zillion to make a pound, they delight us everyday with the beauty of their long elegant stems and huge umbels of lacey, heavenly scented flowers.
Autumn Raspberries are putting on a good show, thanks to their site near a wetland, as well as the better weather conditions during harvest.
Wild Grapes were plentiful, probably due to their late season. We didn't do a lot of foraging this year as we had in the past, but got about 25 pounds right around here and will put them up in November.
Peaches and Plums, alas, were a no-show this year, as in all New England. We do still have some Damsons in the freezer and will be able to offer it for a while.
Besides the drought, the summer was a scorcher with temps often in the 90's. Everybody complained, but not the amazing crew that helped us bring in the berries this summer - the crew that picked thorny blackberries day after day in the sweltering heat without complaining and came in at noon to make a stone soup salad for all to share. Thank you more than I can say to Elisha and her girls, the bunch of Radyshes, (did we really meet 20 years ago?!?) and an awesome neighbor named Lu. You guys worked as hard as honeybees and I love you just as much!!!
And about that new mustard....
Smooth, Classic Deli Mustard with Garlic, Dill and Turmeric
We've been making mustard for 20 years now (another anniversary!), and in that time Ralph, our mustard-maker, has aged to the point where his teeth no longer enjoy whole mustard seeds of the farmhouse-style mustards. He's been mixing up special batches of smooth mustard for himself for a couple of years now, but really fine-tuned it this year and created something special.
Dill is a delightful herb, sunny umbels of yellow flowers with that cheerful aroma, and we love interplanting it with sunflowers, tomatoes, cucumbers, marigolds, peppers and nasturtiums in our annual beds. We captured that cheerful, fresh dill flavor in local organic cider vinegar, and blended that with our fresh garlic cider vinegar infusion.
When the infusions are ready, he blends them with ground organic yellow mustard seeds, ground organic turmeric, local wildflower honey, and kosher salt. The first 50 jars are aging now and will be ready by mid November. I'm working on a label now.
A New Preserve Too!!!
There was a time when I dismissed fruit blends as hodgepodge, but I started making 3-Berry pies for the farmers' market with Raspberry, Blueberry and Blackberry, and surprised myself by actually liking them better than my beloved raspberry.
Since we had a bumper crop of blackberries and blueberries, I experimented with a small batch and discovered that by slightly smashing the blackberries but leaving the raspberries and blueberries whole, I could get a perfect set where each fruit's flavor notes can still be recognized and enjoyed. It's been a big hit with everyone who has tried it at markets and shows, not surprisingly, because it's really tasty.
Markets and Shows
Speaking of markets and shows, as of this writing, we don't know where the Keene winter farmers' market will be held, but check our Facebook page for updates.
We will be at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, MA, on the evening of November 12 for the "Meet the Makers" trunk show at The Shop at Tower Hill. Anyone can attend (you don't need to be a member, and since it's after hours, there is no admission fee to the gardens). Our friends Kati from Woodard's Maple Syrup and Rebecca from Holland Homestead Goat Milk Soaps & Lotions will be there too.
November 18-19, we'll be at Stonewall Farm in Keene, NH for their annual "Thanksgiving Farm Fare" an event featuring foods, farm products, and crafts that benefits this wonderful local educational farm - Friday evening and 9-3 on Saturday.
December 2, we will be at Antioch New England University in Keene for a seasonal craft fair to benefit the Community Kitchen from 10-3
It's hard to believe, because I don't feel that old...Its been a lot of planting, staking, mulching and weeding, a lot of picking fruits and putting them up in freezers and jars, sooo many bouquets of flowers and bunches of herbs, and bottles of herb-infused vinegars. I've met so many wonderful people at farmers' markets, had so much fun, and watched so many children grow.
When I left my old Leyden farm, I only hoped to be able to garden again wherever I landed. I bounced a bit that year, but landed here like a seed bomb.
Luckily, the seeds popped and roots spread....
Thanks to Ralph, for building everything here from the stone walls and garden beds to our house, kitchen, sheds, structures and outbuildings. Thanks to everyone who has lent a hand here in the gardens and at markets. And thanks, more than I can say, to everyone reading this, everyone who has tried the food I have grown. I love you all!!!
Spreading love like milkweed seeds,