January 8, 2018
Happy New Year! The frigid cold snap is passing and warmer temperatures are forecast for this week. The fluffed-up birds at the feeders will be even happier than we are as things ease up. Under the heavy blanket of snow and straw, strawberries and garlic sleep safely for several months more before life stirs again.
2017 was a good year here on the farm. We had plenty of rain, plenty of sun, and fruits thrived.
The most exciting was the return of a peach crop, which was completely unexpected because the winter had been mild which usually leads to buds breaking prematurely, only to be nipped in later cold snaps. I wasn't alone in forecasting a lackluster peach season, and as surprised as anyone when the trees put on an amazing bloom, followed by a lovely crop.
Damson Plums, which had also been scarce in recent years, also bloomed and produced spectacularly. With eight freezers full of fruit in September, we wondered where we'd put it all and began cooking up a storm.
Berries put on a good show - raspberries and blueberries were a bit low in yield, but blackberries were spectacular, with a yield of nearly 500 pounds. (We had no strawberries because they'd been completely fried in the drought of 2016.) Red and black currants were abundant again, and elderberries blossomed and bloomed but we lost lots of the berries to the birds. Elderberries are too tall to net, and the birds will happily eat the unripe berries. In fact the elderberry plantings are their favorite places to just hang out, although we find nests in all the berry plantings and we watched eggs hatch and babies feed and fledge in raspberries, blackberries and black currants.
In other good news, our long beds of flowers provided lots of interest for bees and butterflies. We were really happy to see so many monarchs this year. We've encouraged the native milkweed wherever it pops up and have noticed that even roadside mowers now leave the milkweed unmown, providing food and habitat for this beloved insect ambassador to countless classrooms. We're big fans of all bees and butterflies, but understand the role that this butterfly plays in getting children involved in learning about nature.
In the kitchen, we continued to put up plenty of preserves, and also really expanded our pie offerings to include full size pies baked in glass pie plates (because I hate aluminium pie plates!) And, our booming peach crop let us add peach and peach-raspberry pies to our offerings of raspberry and triple-berry pies. Our 5" Patti Pies are made in an eco-friendly paper pan that can withstand the 425 initial cooking temperature. I've always loved pies (cookies and cakes are too sweet for me) and making pies for people - and having so many people tell me they're "the best pie I've ever had," fills my heart with joy.
We also made plenty of Patti Pops - our Frosty Fruit Pops - and had a wonderful time joining the food trucks at Tower Hill Botanic Garden and making so many little kids happy and big people swoon with delight. I was really excited that kids would readily try even unusual fruits like red currants and Damson plums when offered as a pop. And again, folks kept telling me that "that's the best pop I've ever had!"
We harvested lots of lovely garlic and plenty of lavender, dill, tarragon and chili peppers for our Farmhouse Mustards, but sadly, we have been out-of-stocked on organic yellow mustard seed from our supplier since September. I've been quiet about this since they've predicted its return each month, but since they're still out of stock I guess it's time to announce we're down to our last 16 jars! Hoping hoping hoping this is the month it returns. I'm not sure if the California wildfires are to blame or what. When this happened once before, we bought organic mustard seed from India, but it had been steam sterilized and the aroma and flavor were terrible and we threw it away. Once we can get more US or Canadian organic yellow mustard, we'll be back in business, but our mustards need a month to age after they're blended, so I don't expect to have more available until late February at the earliest. And of course since we make everything by hand, a whole day's mustard-making for us is just 64 jars, so it will be a while until we catch up!
Ralph spent a lot of time with hammer in hand, and built two new jiffy buildings from recycled pallets and other materials. One became a Slovenian style bee house for our beekeeper, Jodi. You can walk inside and work with the bees from within so the bees aren't disturbed, and it's a lot stronger protection from the bears that do so love bees, especially in spring. The second became this tiny farm's "Tiny Farm Store." We opened for two weekends just prior to the Christmas holidays, and will be open again for pies and preserves and plants and more in the late spring. He's also rebuilt our old restaurant range and will install it in the spring so that we can offer hot cider and cocoa and a cozy site.
Looking forward, seed catalogues have been arriving and tempting me to try new varieties, although we're running out of room to rotate into, and I already have saved seeds from so many beloved varieties I'm not sure where we could find the space for more. And I must finally admit that I'm getting too old to expand our plantings and that I've really got to start growing smaller.....as it is, most of the hard work is being done by Ralph and Elisha....I just come up with the ideas.....!
We also had lots of help from Lara (who does everything better than me) and occasional help from her son Dante, Elisha's daughters Asha and Juniper, new friends Kat, Maggie and Miles, old friend Jenny and her kids Cady and Daniel, and our amazing neighbor Lu. Many hands make light work....and it takes many hands to pick berries every day in the sweltering sun. Thank you all! We love you all!
And thank YOU, our friends, for caring about our little farm and supporting us for so many years. I joined Ralph here in Winchester, in his little cabin, in 1986, 32 years ago, and immediately planted strawberries and raspberries. By 1987 I had returned to the farmers' markets in Brookline and Newton (where I had sold produce from my first farm) with preserves and herbal vinegars and bouquets of flowers and herbs. It's pretty amazing that we've created a life and a living from this old gravel bank with not much going for it but good solar exposure. I have a lot to be grateful for....and I surely am!