The Second Cup

second cup e1347456289475 225x300 The Second CupThis is not an unusual tale – I’m sure it bears an uncanny resemblance to what happens in countless households every morning.  But this morning I was hit by a wave of nostalgia – someday I might want to remember the details of this daily orchestra, preserve that nugget of our lives we often take for granted and may someday miss when it is gone – the morning madness before the second cup.

Tim and Elsa are always up first, rising with the sun as if there’s a window shade pull-cord attached to their consciousness.  I’m not so quick – My ears open before my eyes and I hear them in the kitchen, bustling about with inexplicable exuberance, cracking eggs, making crepes and chatting about the upcoming events of the day. I finally swing my legs over the edge of the bed when I can smell coffee, and slowly enter the land of the living.  Gabbie and I are a matched pair of morning grogginess but she usually beats me down the stairs.  Dressed it’s now 6:40 and we have 20 minutes left to make the school bus dash.    I drink my first cup, eat some granola and listen to the girls talk about school and friends.  We are picking up speed now, like an inevitable freight train, and Elsa watches the clock like a hawk, gaining more anxious with each passing minute.  Bread is sliced, PB&J spread, apples, carrots and cheese packed, milk bottles filled.  The questions start flying “Have you finished and packed your homework? Did you brush your hair?  Where are your sneakers and your jacket?”  Elsa replies to each with military precision and launches out the door as soon as possible with a quick peck on the cheek.  Gabbie lives on another plane – between such questions as “Is space really black or is it dark blue?” we try to help her get her shoes tied and not forget her lunch box.  Suddenly she snaps to and also flies out the door, one arm out of the sleeve of her sweatshirt, the other gripping a piece of toast, just making it to the end of the drive as the bus pulls to a stop, 7:05.

Tim and I take a breath.  The next stopwatch in our heads begins, 25 minutes until the crew arrives to start the workday.  We go over project details, materials that need to be picked up, print out plant lists and directions, answer important phone calls and emails. Tim heads out to load trucks and I head out to the barn to do chores.  Feed alfalfa pellets to the bunnies, gather fresh kale and lettuce for them, fill water bottles, clean pens, spread fresh shavings.  Weigh 11 lbs. of grain for pigs, try not to get too covered in mud as they nudge buckets impatiently.  Move sheep fence so that the ewes have fresh pasture to graze, check their autofill water tub.  Open the door of the mobile hen “eggmobile”, inspect hens as they march out down their ramp, fill their hopper with grain, and collect any early eggs.  All the while making a mental list of the more serious repairs and projects that will have to wait until the weekend.  Then I go to the landscape yard, help the crew make sense of a plant list, lend a hand as they load up, and they’re off.  Circle back to the farmhouse, water the containers on the patio, check new seedlings in the coldframe, prop open the greenhouse door.  Feed a scoop of kibble to our barn cat and take Scarlet the dog for a walk up the field.   Morning checklist done.

Normally at this point I’m in a rush to get changed, pour my second cup into a travel mug, pack a snack, collect the day’s schedule and files, answer a random call, then hop in the car to drive north to Burlington to meet clients and lay out designs for the crew until 2:30, then make the school bus dash back south.  My office days are slower paced but I’m lucky to cram in 4-5 hours of landscape design and estimating before the big yellow bus rumbles down the road.  After doling out the after-school snack we hop in the car and run to town to deliver eggs to The Laundry (fabulous French bakery in town), collect compost for the pigs, or ferry the girls to various lessons, then back to the farm for afternoon chores, answer emails and calls, harvest vegetables and make dinner, help with homework, review the business day with Tim, eat dinner, put the girls to bed, close in the chickens, take Scarlet for one last walk, then collapse in bed.

But not today.  I’m staying put.  I’m breathing.  I’m sitting in the morning quiet on the patio, soaking up the sun, writing, and drinking my second cup, because in an hour the chaos will resume, the impulse to accomplish something, create order, and meet the needs of others will take over.  For now the garden waves its leaves at me slowly, dreamily, sparkling in warm autumn colors.  I imagine that someday when kids are grown and the business is handed down I might live all my days in this peace, frozen in amber, and for all its glory I will still miss the sounds and motion of the freight train.


Jam Planning – Growing, Picking, and Preserving

 Jam Planning   Growing, Picking, and PreservingIt’s time to plant your Berries!  Every year we run out of homemade jam and I vow to make more.  Elsa and Gabbie insisted on having PB&J every day for school lunches, and only the strawberry freezer jam would do.  By mid-March we were down to three jars and the rationing began.  The girls insisted that they had first dibs on strawberry and that Tim and I could eat the peach jam, but I would still occasionally sneak some strawberry on my toast.  So, this year I’m going to make 30 pint jars of strawberry freezer jam – one jar every two weeks plus more to give away.  My grandmother ‘Nanny’ was the queen of freezer jam – every trip home from her farm included a jar, and now I realize why she kept half a freezer full of the stuff.   When she passed away in my 20′s, I learned how to make it myself, and it has been an annual ritual ever since.  I rarely ever make cooked jam – freezer jam just tastes so much better, even if it isn’t as carbon friendly.

So how much is enough?  Well of course that depends, but start first by figuring out how much fruit you eat in its different forms (fresh, frozen, jammed) then figure out how many total pounds of fruit are required and then how much space/number of plants you need to grow to yield that amount.  The calculations for fruit are similar to the ones I described for vegetables in the article “Oh My is that 850 lbs of Veggies in your Yard?”.  For our family of four I’ve figured out that we eat about 575 lbs. in one year (7 cups per day x .25 lbs per cup x 330 days).  Here’s what I estimate we grow vs. what we buy in pounds:

fruit needs e1330639730925 Jam Planning   Growing, Picking, and Preserving
(I Just realized that the qty of strawberries in my chart above is reversed – it should be 30 lbs for jam and 45 lbs. for fresh eating, which is equal to 20 quarts of berries for jam and 30 quarts for freezing and fresh eating – about 6 flats total).

 Jam Planning   Growing, Picking, and PreservingFiguring out how many row feet to grow to yield what we need for every fruit in the chart above is a lot to tackle right now so let’s focus on just one – strawberries.  The general rule of thumb is one pound per plant, but I’ve found that some varieties yield more than others.  Last year we planted 100 June-bearing plants – 25 ea of Jewel, Earliglow, Allstar and Sparkle.  Sparkle was by far the favorite, and Jewel was a dud for us, so I’ll plant more Sparkle this year.  We get all our fruit plants from Nourse Farms in MA, for their high quality and superb info and customer service.  All of the growing info is on their website so I won’t repeat it here.

For now let’s skip to the processing of jam, glorious jam.  The girls have always been my accomplices and I have photos throughout the years of their participation.

 Jam Planning   Growing, Picking, and Preserving Jam Planning   Growing, Picking, and Preserving Jam Planning   Growing, Picking, and Preserving

We pick, wash, hull and slice, and then use Pamona’s Universal Pectin which requires minimal sugar to make it set.  Last year I used about two full flats of berries (24 lbs or 16 qts):

6 boxes pectin + 40 cups mashed fruit  + 2.5 c. lemon juice + 7.5 c. sugar + 7.5 c. water

yield = 25 pint jars (50 cups)

Here’s another no-sugar recipe that I’ve used that includes apple juice.

We also process other fruits – We freeze gallons of blueberries for muffins and pancakes, and this year I am going to try drying our currants and grapes for granola.  The raspberries and blackberries disappear fresh into little mouths before I can estimate how many pounds are eaten, but when I can pick a batch I spread the berries on cookies trays so they freeze individually and then slide them into freezer bags.  We also buy a wooden case of PA Amish peaches, skin them and slice them and freeze them as peach sauce for waffles on weekends.

 Jam Planning   Growing, Picking, and Preserving Jam Planning   Growing, Picking, and Preserving

Happy planting and jamming!

April Farm Photos

Here are some photos from the Farm in April – an exciting time of year!