Squirrelin' it away

Early autumn is a busy time on the farm. My family is working like little squirrels, trying to store up enough food for the winter. Canning, freezing, fermenting – we employ all these methods of food preservation to ensure that the fresh food that is so abundant in the summer will see us through the winter as well.

Today I put 33 quarts of corn in the freezer. I’ve also put away quite a bit of kale, broccoli, and zuchinni from my garden. Salsa, tomato sauce, tomato juice, and diced tomatoes have been canned (thanks to a friend who shared his abundance, for all my tomatoes ended up in the sandbox long before they started to turn red. A predictable hazard of gardening with kids!) Our most important family staple, applesauce, has yet to be checked off the list. We spoon it on top of yogurt for a go-to breakfast or lunch. Last year we canned 85 quarts, and we hope to beat our record this year!

The boys love to help out with food preservation. Making kimchi is a fun, family-friendly activity. Basically, I shred lots of cabbage and mix it with onions, garlic, ginger, carrots, and radishes, sprinkle on some salt, and then let the boys have at it. They have a great time mixing and mashing, and by the time they’re done with it, I only need to pack it down a bit with a wooden spoon, weigh it down with a plate, and then let it sit on the counter for a few days. It is then transferred to the refrigerator, and we enjoy it all winter long. It has a delightful sour taste and crunch, and, like yogurt, it is loaded with healthful probiotics. I didn’t develop a taste for fermented veggies until I was an adult, but my kids eat it liberally, and have even been known to drink the juice. These are the benefits of starting them on it at a young age!

We also rely heavily on the magic of fermentation to feed our cows through the winter. Most of their wintertime food comes from fermented hay, also called baleage. We cut and rake the hay, and instead of letting it dry, we bale it green, and then wrap it in plastic. The plastic seals in moisture, and the hay ferments over the course of two weeks or so. We have found that the best quality baleage is made when we bale the same day we mow, or as Joe calls it, “Hay in a day.” So, a typical “hay-in-a-day” day looks like this: Wake at 3 am, milk cows, mow hay, rake hay, bale hay, milk cows again, wrap hay. These marathon days can be tough, especially on family life. To ease the burdens of haying days, we try to spend at least some of it working together as a family. Usually, this means Joe will strap the boys into the farm truck, hitch up the ground-driven rake, and take the boys on a hay-raking adventure. I love hearing stories about all the kangaroos and flamingos that they spot in the hayfield on their “safari”! Meanwhile, I will do the afternoon milking, or drive the tractor with the other rake. The boys also enjoy playing in the mulch pile while we wrap hay, but most often the wrapping takes place after their bedtime, while we burn the midnight oil after a long day.

Putting up food for a family and barn full of cows is hard work, but it’s worth it! I love the feeling I get when everything is squirreled away, and we can kick back and relax in front of the woodstove. Which reminds me, we also have a winter’s worth of firewood to cut, split, and often stack within the next couple of weeks. I guess I better get to it!