Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Mother of All Cold Frames

Can a coldframe be art? A sculpture? A thing of beauty? I think mine might qualify for them all. After all, the tagline/motto of 3 Flat Acres is blending food and farm into work - life - art

I've been asking Bill to built me a coldframe for a couple of years - every since I read Eliot Coleman's Four Season Harvest (*El's recommendation - see footnote for more about El). It took a while but it was well worth the wait. I should note that this is in our Chicago backyard.

The wall frames are constructed with scraps from a ReAdapted project from Black Locust which was sustainably harvested from Western IL near Galena. Black Locust is one of the hardest (and heaviest!) woods to work with. It is similar to Osage Orange and can last 100 years as fenceposts without treatment. The coldframe walls come apart with screws and wingnuts to allow it to be disassembled easily. The glass tops are made from old windows from my friend Mimi's house. She gave us the windows a couple of years ago and we left them outside in the weather on top of a sheet of plastic to allow the weather to do the majority of the paint removal (amazing what rain, sun and freeze thaw can do for you if you are patient). These are old windows and had years of paint (yes, lead paint). The paint flecked off onto the plastic so we were able to safely dispose of the paint chips. Bill then removed the glass from the frames, further removed any remaining paint, sealed them with an environmental soy-based sealer, reworked the frame, and then reinstalled the glass. He sanded down the low side of the window frame to allow water to run off. There are two eyehooks on the backside which, using the chain from the old windows (these are old double-hung windows), can hook on to the eyehooks to keep the frames propped open.

hard to see, but this photo shows the low side of the glass sanded down to allow water run off

I set it up about 10 days ago, and taking some lettuces that had gone to seed, shook the seed onto the soil, topped with a tray of worm compost and it has sprouted already. I situated the set up on top of a couple of kale plants and beet plants (we are obsessed with beet greens) that we have been eating from all summer, and transplanted some chard inside. Oh and sorrel is in there too!

beets in the foreground (sorry about the glare)

We'll see if it can keep us in greens all winter!
* I realize that I quote El over at Fast Grow the Weeds a lot. She is my inspiration on many projects and she is the absolute locavore and lover of real food. If you don't read her blog, please pop over and visit her. The post on eating live foods almost brought me to tears.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


The large spruce is down. It really looks and feels different around the existing house. Bill also felled the remaining black walnuts (sad, but had to be done) and I finished taking down the fence between the pasture and the house. Compliments of the spruce, we have some amazing logs that we are going to have milled and use for stair treads, cabinets, etc in the new house. Bill counted the rings and estimates that the tree was about 105 years old. We also cleared the downed black walnuts into a staging area in piles of “future firewood” and “ReAdapted project material” as well as getting all of the brush stacked in a burn pile. (Although now that Bill is reading about Rob's delightful endeavors over at One Straw I bet we chip it instead of burning it! I envision our next purchase will be a chipper that goes on the tractor PTO.)

Big tree behind the house is gone!

Note the stump - it feels so open now

Black Walnuts are down at the future home site

Some of the Black Walnut logs - future ReAdapted projects?

Additionally, we met with a local electrical contractor who is going to take down all of our overhead electrical lines and bury them. The timing works well since soon (hopefully) next week, the excavator is coming to excavate around the house, excavate the new home site, berm up areas to direct watershed from the back hill and install another culvert to direct water away from the homesite. Although we don’t envision starting construction for another two years, we need to know and understand how this watershed re-direction is going to work before we build a new house.

Bury those overhead lines - some of them are bare wire

close up of the spruce stump

Spruce tops

13 ft lengths; one is 38" and clear

with the chain saw for scale (obviously, this chain saw wasn't used to cut them down!)

We also got a pallet full of framing materials delivered for the barn while we were there. We are moving ahead full-steam to try to frame and pour concrete footings and reinforcements before it gets too cold this fall. Bill built about ½ of the frames needed for the buttresses and the back wall framing.

Pile of the frames

We hope to go back either the 1st or 2nd week of Nov for an extended period. The clock is ticking on the weather and our concrete pour window is getting smaller every day.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Finished up the jalapenos

Bill said to me Sunday morning over coffee, let's do some canning today. Music to my ears!
We finished up the remaining jalapenos from my earlier jalapeno canning fun. We got 9 1/2 quarts of escabeche. Escabeche is a Mexican pickled jalapeno mix. We follow Rick Bayless' recipe from Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking... Essentially it is a mix of jalapenos, garlic, carrots and cauliflower in a vinegary oregano brine. We typically use serranos instead of jalapenos, but since we were overflowing in jalapenos this year...

Brown the garlic in oil for 3 minutes

Carrots. Unfortunately, from the produce market, not the farmer's market.

Filling the jars

Into the canner

Waiting for the ping. See the cauliflower, carrots and garlic?

Additionally, we roasted 3 tin foil trays of green tomatoes that I brought home from our Wisc garden last weekend and made 12 more pints of roasted green salsa. Roasting green tomatoes on a hot grill brings out the sugars and makes them sweet and juicy.

I forgot to take a photo of the finished product.

I think we are set for spicy food in jars for this winter!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Tree coming down

We are having a tree removed from the farm. The large spruce behind the house. It is way too large for Bill to remove so we hired someone.

I love this tree and we tried to save it. But frankly, it is way too large for the space it is in. Additionally, since we are designing passive solar into our plans and this non-deciduous tree is on the south side of the house, it is coming down.

We are saving the wood and going to have it milled into board lengths for use as stair treads and perhaps cabinets.

Some of the smaller trees between the house and the red building (which is now gone) are also coming down
It is being cut today. It sure will look different when we go up next time.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Beet burger recipe

Adapted from Farmer John's Cookbook - The Real Dirt on Vegetables

Baked Beet-and-Carrot Burgers (except I doubled the beets and omitted the carrots)

1/2 C sesame seeds (I didn't have so I skipped)
1 C sunflower seeds
2 C peeled, grated beets (peeled? No way. As I mentioned above, I doubled the beets and then added some more.)
2 C grated carrots
1/2 c minced onion
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 C cooked brown rice
1 C grated cheddar cheese (I skipped this because the cheese gets lost amongst the beets and we prefer the cheese melted on top of the burger before serving)
1/2 C vegetable oil (I think I used a combination of vegetable and olive oil)
1/2 C finely chopped fresh parsley (I can't remember what I used, but I didn't have enough parsley so I probably used beet greens or chard)
3 T flour
2 T tamari
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 t cayenne pepper (I used red pepper flakes)

Brown sesame seeds in dry skillet until fragrant, about 3 to 5 mins. Remove from heat immediately. Repeat process with sunflower seeds.

Combine the beets, carrots and onion in a large bowl. Stir in the toasted seeds, eggs, rice, cheese and then the remaining ingredients. Mix until well combined (use your hands).

Shape (again with your hands) into 12 patties (we actually do more of a hot dog shape as they fit better on baguettes or on pitas) and freeze.

To bake: preheat oven to 350. Lightly coat a baking sheet with butter. Bake until brown around the edges and fragrant; about 20 minutes (depends upon the size of your patties). Not necessary to turn them over unless they are really large or you like them brown on both sides. Melt a piece of sharp cheddar on top and serve alone or on a bun.


As you can tell from my substitutions, this is an extremely forgiving recipe. Feel free to add according to your whims.


I've been canning.

I got a bunch of beautiful tomatoes from my friends and fellow farmers at The Gentleman Farmer. They canned up beautifully. I have 24 quarts. Loving my pressure canner El! :)

And a couple of weeks ago, I spent a day helping my friend Molly at Breslin Farms. We harvested beets for the Dill Pickle Food Coop and she gave me the 'rejects' aka 'the ugly beets.' You know - the ones that people in the store won't buy because they are misshappen or have insect/pest damage. She gave me all of the rejects - and a beautiful bunch also which we ate fresh. I processed all of the ugly beets into beet burgers and froze about 20 of them. That is 10 quick weeknight meals for Bill and me.

See - a little misshapen. OK with me...

In the food processor

Into the big bowl. Add some eggs, ww flour, herbs, nuts.

I also purchased about a half bushel of jalapenos from a farmer at the Independence Park Farmer's Market where the Urban Worm Girl sets up every other week. (note to self: a half bushel of jalapenos is a lot of jalapenos!) I made 15 pints of bread and butter jalapenos, 12 half pints of pepper jelly and 4 half pints of peach/jalapeno jam.

Cut up and chillin' in an ice bath (yes, I wore gloves)

Lovely red onion from Breslin Farms

In the pot

Vinegar-y and look at the peppercorns!

Resting and waiting for the ping

The peach/jalapeno is in the middle. I used peaches from my parent's neighbor's tree

I only used about 1/2 of the jalapenos. The can jam over at Tigress is using chiles in October so I might have to wait for that round up to get some additional ideas!