Nepeta cataria – party style

Since the weather turned rainy this week, our outdoor projects took a back seat to the long-neglected shop clean-out. Many things were condensed, discarded, prepared for donation…but amongst all the debris of farm living was a plastic tote full of dried catnip. HerbHedgeLast summer we sheared vast quantities from this herbal hedge (catnip on the right, motherwort on the left) and some was stashed in the shop for later processing. With so much abundance, we never did get around to storing it properly (we have bundles of catnip hanging behind the woodstove that kitties revel in all winter). As the wiki says – the nepetalactone contained in some Nepeta species binds to the olfactory receptors of cats, typically resulting in temporary euphoria. Garden-Newt

So we set this tote on the porch, after declaring it too old and spent to be worth saving, to await a dry day for burning in our firepit. The cats thought otherwise…

NipTub1The cat-butt prints in this vat of party didn’t translate well on film, but just about every time we stepped out to the back porch, we found a feline taking advantage of the party favors. NipTub2Even our cranky paranoid old man cat, Crichton, got in on the fun.

NipTub3Like it or not, catnip now grows everywhere on Seven Trees Farm. Not what you want in the middle of the carrot row, but rather nice to have as a bee-attracting, shade-producing, kitty-intoxicating hedge in other parts of the yard. If you’re in our neck of the woods, we’d be happy to pot up some party weed for you to take home to  your kitties :D

 

First day of summer – Viking style!

Seven Trees:

It may not be summer in terms of sweaty nights and scorching days, but the growing things here at Seven Trees are out of the gate and ready to run. Our ancestors didn’t bother with fussy temperamental spring. It was winter or summer, so now, we declare it summer!

Originally posted on Seven Trees Farm:

This April 21st, Seven Trees will be wishing everyone a Happy Harpa!

In the Old Norse calendar, still used in Iceland to calculate holidays and annual feasts, the first Thursday following April 18th marks the first day of summer. Our viking ancestors divided the year into two seasons, Náttleysi (“Nightless days”) and Skammdegi (“Short days”). Harpa (possibly a Scandinavian goddess) is the name of the first month of summer, roughly coinciding with mid-April to mid-May.

The holiday celebrated on this day has multiple names – Sumarsdag, Sumardagurinn fyrsti, and Sigrblot. Many summer-kickoff observances were all about fertility, invoking bountiful crops and productive livestock in the up-coming warm season. But Sigrblot (“victory sacrifice”) was intended to bring success and luck to warriors, since summer also heralded the onset of fighting/raiding season.

The Icelandic Club of Greater Seattle details some of the less-warlike traditions of Sumarsdag:

People also used to give summer gifts on…

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The bacon of fish – smoked salmon

After many years of eating and making smoked salmon, we finally found the *perfect* recipe, which is as follows:

Makes enough brine for 5 pounds of fish.

Prep Time: 24 hours, almost all of it passive in the fridge.

Cook Time: 6 hours, depending on your smoker’s temperature and how smoky you want your fish

  • 5 pounds salmon, trout or char
  • 1 quart cool water
  • 1/3 cup Diamond Crystal kosher salt (about 2 ounces of any kosher salt)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup birch syrup or maple syrup
  • More birch or maple syrup for basting

The recipe is from the most amazing food blog – Hunter . Angler . Gardener . Cook

salmon1

 

We were lucky enough to get a great deal on salmon ‘ends and pieces’ from a neighbor that are just right for turning into smoky/tender/chewy bits of awesomeness. Once the brining process is done, the salmon needs to form a pellicle (the wiki explains it best).

photo2

After a day of gentle breezes in the shop, the salmon pieces get basted with more maple syrup. The orginal recipe called for birch syrup, but we didn’t get that crazy.

salmon3Whenever we run the smoker, we also load up the top with slabs of Tillamook cheddar. The box that the smoker came in fits nicely over the top, capturing the smoke as it leaves the warm part of the smoker, adding all the smoky goodness without overheating the temperature-senstitive cheese.

salmon4Here is one batch of smoked salmon chunks. It was colder outside, and we used pans of cherry and apple wood for the smoke, about 8 hours of smoking, then resting overnight.

salmon5The next batch it was about 5-10F warmer out, which made the salmon cook a bit more for a drier texture. We used alternating pans of cherry/apple and alder wood chips, and let it rest overnight. Both versions are very tasty. One more tender and sweet, and the other closer to salmon jerky and more savory. We still have another 10 lbs to smoke, and are so happy to have a freezer full of healthy, local, food.

salmon6

Rough around the edges

It’s been a few years since we worked on cultivating our wild spaces here at Seven Trees Farm. In 2008 we started planting some native habitat restoration shrubs and trees around the perimeter of our lot, some of which took off and some, not so much.

Since then, we’ve been caught up in our domesticated species endeavours – bees, cows, chickens, corn, wheat, beans, herbs, and so on. Some of which took off and some, not so much.

Now that we don’t have large livestock (i.e. horses or cattle) to worry about, we decided to expand those original hedgerows into cover plantings for our chickens. This winter, while those planning discussions were underway, we noticed the unmistakable buzz of a hungry hummingbird.  In previous years the hummingbirds would pack up and fly south for the winter in late August, not to return until late March. But between climate change and habitat destruction, all bets are off. We dusted off the hummingbird feeder and gave thanks for the Costco-sized bag of sugar in the pantry. (One part sugar to four parts water. Heat and stir until dissolved.)

Not long after that initial brave winged soul appeared, we were swarmed by ravenous Rufous hummers. We broke out the back up feeder, since one male was so fiercely defending ‘his’ feeder no one else could fuel up. Those two feeders were immediately overwhelmed with hungry birds, so we had to resort to the usually-unloved third feeder, hung a bit farther off under the carport roof.

This onslaught luckily coincided with the annual Whatcom County conservation district plant sale, so one of us braved the cold, wind & rain (not to mention the crowds of pushy people) to buy hummingbird-friendly hedgerow material. Oregon ash trees, native blue elderberry, crab apple, mock orange, and ever-so-popular red flowering currantRedFloweringCurrant We also protected most of our new plantings with blue CREP tubes. CREP stands for Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, a federal program that pays landowners to preserve critical habitats. In our area it is common to see new plantings protected by these reused blue plastic tubes, so having a ring of them around the lot perimeter means habitat reconstruction.

Not that we still don’t have livestock management issues. Stay tuned for the next update which might very well involve the one species that has never planted cloven hoof upon the soil of Seven Trees….far baaa it from me to let the sheep out of the bag about that :D

Dances with eggs

Seven Trees:

Easter is a few weeks off yet, but with another batch in the incubator, eggs are on our minds here at STF.

Originally posted on Seven Trees Farm:

We don’t celebrate Easter at Seven Trees, aside from taking advantage of Hempler’s ham being on sale. But we’re always interested in some of the oddball ways our ancestors observed the holidays, so I’ll share a little bit about the Egg Dance….
The picture above is The Egg Dance, by Jan Steen c. 1674. The Essential Vermeer website describes it thus: “To the hypnotic music of the fiddle and a bagpipe peasants dance wildly around an egg lying in chalk circle drawn on the floor of sordid inn. In front of rustic tavern, villagers and their children listed with rapt attention to a beggar playing a hurdy-gurdy while the reek of cheap drink and tobacco hang over the scene. Even the innkeeper has been lured to the doorway to listen to a few notes of music.”

In the dance pictured above (Pieter Aertsen, 1552), green leaves and early flowers were…

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Pi Day, Friday! 3.14…

PI

Pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, approximately 3.14159…

It is symbolized as in the image by the Greek letter Pi, and is a revered mathematical constant.

What should you do on Pi day besides reveling in the perfection that is Pi and measuring circular objects?

Well visit the Pi Day site and learn more for one. Since it’s 3/14 on the calendar, the time of 1:59 is definitely worth noting, Pi being 3.14159. Let us all pause then and ponder that these days, Pi has been calculated to over one trillion digits past its decimal! It continues indefinitely without repetition or pattern… a pretty amazing feat.

At Seven Trees Farm, we will mark the occasion with a dinner of meat pies from Good to Go MeatPie shop! They carry dessert pies as well so the meal will be well rounded.

So on Pi day don’t be a piker, eat your pie and derive Pi, but don’t deride it until you’ve Pi’d it!

Getting a leg up on laying – with Leghorns

Building a ‘custom’ laying flock from the ground up takes time. This spring we plan to start selecting more foundation stock based on conformation and egg production. But until we get there, we need more eggs!

Most of the heritage brown-egg layers do fine for a small backyard flock, and we’ve trialled lots of breeds. The production crosses are very, well, productive for the first laying season, then drop off considerably. They also don’t make good stewing hens, so we no longer work with those hybrids.

Since the popular definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results, we looked at best laying breeds with a fresh eye. A clean slate. A blank page. Yup, we are shaking up decades of preference and trying that powerhouse of production, the white-egg-laying Leghorn. brown leghorn pullets

Luckily this breed comes in a few other colors than white, and we opted for the brown variety. This breed is reputed to be wary proactive foragers, and the wild-type coloring will be good camouflage against raptor predation. chick2

Leghorns are in the Mediterranean class of chicken breeds, and these seem to have originated in Tuscany. Leghorns came to America in 1857, and were admitted to the American Poultry Association’s standard beginning in 1874. chick3

In the early 1900′s, the thrifty feed conversion ratio and high rate of lay of the Leghorns were critical in transforming egg production from a backyard enterprise to the forerunners of today’s giant commercial operations. chick4

This week we received 15 pullet chicks from Cackle Hatchery, and were amazed at how energetic and robust these little peepers are. They love eating and investigating everything, even at just a few days old. If these characteristics carry through to their adult lives, our egg baskets will runneth over :)