A Change in the Weather

This last week things have really shifted from late summer sun to fall drizzle. The days are noticeably shorter and the animals and wasps are feeding voraciously. The bobcat is teaching her young how to hunt and the coyotes are taking down deer around here. I’ve been busy preparing too, sensing the final lap in the food preservation marathon.

Despite kitten-induced bursitis (read, cannot bend knee for several months) I managed to get in all the winter/spring starts from Cascadian Edibles (they are the rocking start CSA that I mention in the book, totally coming to save the day for me this year). Then I realized just how full of slugs my garden was so I moved the ducks out from the poultry area. They have been fairly well-behaved around the starts, focusing instead on slugs.

Awesomest husband finished building the rabbit shelter and I finished building larger cages so they would actually be able to hop around.

Just in time too, because Nibbles had her kits last Thursday just about dark.

This bunny is four days old and just starting to get fur. There are six babies in total. Many people have a hard time understanding how we can celebrate the birth of these small creatures which will one day grace our table. It’s easy to imagine a chicken farmer enjoying his baby chicks, knowing that some day they will be dinner. And if you don’t want to buy factory farmed food, need to keep your food costs down, and want to control the diet, lives and deaths of the animals you are responsible for – rabbits just make sense. Until post World War II rabbits kept many families in protein, but then we became this affluent society too good for our roots. In the forties north of Seattle, my father had the childhood job of working in a meat house processing rabbits. And already in the partial span of one generation they are no longer main stream cuisine. Unless you are a foodie and can afford it from a butcher’s shop that is.

Raising chickens takes longer, costs more, and requires more space to keep them healthy. Here’s some rabbit math for you: a rabbit can breed when it’s six months old. That rabbit can have four litters a year, with six to eight rabbits per litter. It takes 8 weeks to raise a batch to “market” weight, or “table” weight in my case. Baby rabbits nurse for six of those eight weeks so their food requirements are minimal. Rabbits gain weight well year round, unlike chickens that work great when the weather is warm but don’t gain rapidly in our cool winters and springs. And also, rabbits don’t need heat lamps.

One other great thing about rabbits: compost. I’ve designed this rabbit shelter so that it’s elevated enough to have compost piles underneath. I’m still working on those but they will have raised sides so I can pile it up and have some kind of chicken wire cover so the chickens can get at the scraps and some of the worms but not totally destroy my entire worm population. My goal this winter is generating as much compost as I possibly can to regenerate the depleted garden and orchard soils here. Between the goats, rabbits, chickens and ducks I think I just may be able to finally make enough compost. Rabbit’s eat primarily alfalfa so their droppings are nutrient dense amendment without a ton of weed seeds.

The fall weather has me in the kitchen, baking up tons of bread. This is one rare time you’ll find white flour in my kitchen but sometimes you just need some holes in your baguette and whole grains don’t give you that like white flour does.

I’ve been finishing off the last of the tomatoes from the big buy a few weeks back. I’ve fermented salsa, canned salsa and sauced roasted tomatoes until the goats came home. I’m making some cheesy tomato tarts with Beecher’s for the freezer. It’s nice to have something to pull out of the oven and not have to think about dinner on occasion – and especially nice while flipping through seed catalogs in January deciding which varieties of tomatoes to plant.

How about you – what have you been up to this week? Are you putting the garden to bed or planting out your winter starts?

9 Responses to A Change in the Weather

  1. Wonderful!! We’ve been in our end of season sprint- pulling out old plants, bringing in all the tomatoes, trimming things back, making apple sauce and butter and juice and pectin… Fun :)

  2. Annette Cottrell

    Myrnie good for you! My apples are starting to fall so I hope I catch most of them in time. I love that you are making pectin!!

    • Annette, it’s funny…I didn’t try to make pectin! I cooked and processed the apples into apple sauce, and then set it in a colander to drain a bit, hoping to separate out juice to can. Some batches I got juice, and some batches had so many immature apples, I got thick pectin! Tastes amazing, though- I think I’ll serve it over ice cream…maybe pour it into sparkling water to make apple soda…

      • Annette Cottrell

        Oh Myrnie you should make jelly with it! Either infuse it with mint or lemon verbena or rosemary or add some hot pepper seeds. It’s so special! That’s exactly how I make my pectin – just sauce and strain then can until I’m ready to make something else with it (like raspberry freezer jam…)

  3. I’m transplanting strawberries from one depleted bed to a compost- and fertilizer-reinvigorated bed. I’m selecting the baby plants and composting the adults.

    I’m enclosing the kale and spinach starts – also from Cascadian Edibles – in a plastic hoop house, Annette-style.

  4. Hi Annette! We’ve been working on cleaning up the garden. We’ve got tons of slugs here, too. I wish I had your ducks! I’ve still got tomatoes to can, and ground cherries. I’ll be moving parsley and celery into the greenhouse soon, and digging root veggies to store in the root cellar.

  5. Annette Cottrell

    Laurie, how d you transplant your celery – just dig it up? I’ve never thought to do that, but I don’t have a greenhouse either. Does it transplant well? I wish I could lend you some ducks! Do you have a root cellar post you can link into?

  6. We used to raise rabbits when I was growing up. We also raised chickens and sold the surplus eggs and culled the flock every fall to stock the freezer with meat. Between the rabbits, chickens, and the milk cow we bred each year that provided milk and a steer to butcher for the freezer – my folks fed a large family of six kids on a the very meager wage my dad made at that time. We were blessed to live on some acreage though that made it more reasonable to keep livestock as well as gardening. With our homestead size and location, I am content to just keep my hens for egg production and purchase local sources of meat.

    We are definitely well into fall now. I am working my way through the garden transition and am about half way done. Several of the spent crops have been removed but there are more to do this coming weekend – including the tomatoes that need to come out. Last weekend I finished covering the winter crop beds and protecting the perennial planted areas (fruits, berries, artichokes, and rhubarb etc) and once completed let my hens back into the garden area for the fall/winter to graze and forage for bugs. They really did a great job of reducing my slug population last spring after being in the garden all winter – so I am glad to see them return as the slug population is peaking up again. I will be planting garlic this weekend as well. Lots to do in the fall!

    • Annette Cottrell

      Laura what a wonderful childhood that must have been! I love keeping up with your garden through your posts. I’m a few posts back right now but I’ll catch up soon! xo!

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