Monday, December 15, 2014

Season's Greetings

Another spectacular day begins as another year glides to the end. Its been an interesting year as we started an heirloom orchard, had winter in May and summer in November, enjoyed the best grazing season in four years, broke my ankle in early July and hobbled around for three months, and reminded ourselves what is truly important in life. If 2015 is half as enjoyable as was this year, it will be a beautiful one.

We've tucked the gardens and orchards in for the year, started working down the wood stacks and woodshed as winter finally settles in, are studying what a neighbor calls "garden porn" in the form of seed catalogues, and find ourselves enjoying the time when the natural world rests.

2015 will bring a new project to the homestead - beekeeping. We've thought about it for years but finally made the decision this fall. The hives are now constructed and painted and awaiting the bees. In May we'll travel to northern New Mexico and bring two bee colonies home. It will be a big learning curve but Don has armed himself with lots of books and we are blessed with some excellent beekeepers in the Valley who are willing to share their knowledge and experience. 

As the year comes to a close we want to take a moment to wish you the beauty and blessings of the season. Take comfort in the love of family and friends and look forward to a happy and prosperous New Year. 

From Fleur Creek Farm

Friday, June 20, 2014

Heirloom Orchard

It has been ten years since we started our little orchard. In 2004, tempting climate and altitude, we planted two strains of cherry trees (Bali, Montmorency) and three strains of apple trees (Sweet Sixteen, State Fair, and Haralred). In past blogs I’ve written about the trials and tribulations, challenges and failures, and the joys and successes.
     Orchard comes of age
     Keeping up with summer’s chores
     Orchard fencing

Not ones to learn from our past frustrations, we decided 2014 was the year to start our heirloom orchard. Don spent a good part of the winter researching various strains and the nurseries that carried them. Our goal was not so much to create another production orchard as it was to continue these wonderful old strains of apple trees and test them at our less than ideal location (for fruit trees anyway).

Don settled on four strains, all zone 3 or 4 though untested at 8000+ foot elevation, and purchased them from Trees of Antiquity. The bareroot trees arrived in early May, just in time for three nights of 20 degree temperatures. We had already decided that we would start the youngsters in large pots of good quality soil before planting them in the ground this fall so we hustled them into the old cabin where they waited out the cold nights. We have ordered bareroot shrubs and trees in the past and are always a little disappointed by how small they are, looking more like sticks than trees. I was stunned to see how robust and healthy these trees from Trees of Antiquity were.

So here are the new heirloom additions to the orchard:

Rambour Franc (c1535): A 16th century French apple popular with American colonists. Rambour is a French name given to certain varieties of red apples of a large size. Crisp, very juicy, breaking flesh, a great apple for early season eating out of hand and also good for sauce. Large red fruit, bright striped. Precocious, vigorous, hardy and productive tree. Displays some resistance to scab and fireblight.
Bloom: Midseason
USDA Zone: 4,5,6,7,8,9
Pollination: Select another midseason bloom apple variety
Fruit Storage: Fair
Mature Size: Large
Ripens: Early
Uses: Fresh eating/ dessert, cooking (puree, applesauce, apple butter), baking
Rootstock: Semidwarf

Snow Apple (c1739): From Canada and also known as Fameuse, Snow Apple is one of the oldest and most desirable dessert apples, a parent of the aromatic McIntosh. Flesh is tender, spicy, distinctive in flavor, and snow white in color with occasional crimson stains near the skin. Very hardy, heavy bearing tree that is excellent for home orchards. Delicious fresh off the tree, in cider, or in culinary creations.
Bloom: Midseason
USDA Zone: 3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10
Pollination: Select another midseason bloom apple variety
Fruit Storage: Fair
Mature Size: Medium
Ripens: late
Uses: Fresh eating/ dessert, cooking (puree, applesauce, apple butter)
Rootstock: Semidwarf 

Cox’s Orange Pippin (c1830): Highly esteemed in England as a dessert apple; produces excellent fruit in cooler summer climates. Medium sized apple, red and yellow, usually striped. The flesh is yellow, firm, crisp, very juicy, richly aromatic and some say almost spicy. Flavor is enhanced when fruit ripens off the tree. A heavy bearer and one of the best apples for espalier.
Bloom: Midseason
USDA Zone: 4,5,6,7,8,9,10
Pollination: Select another midseason bloom apple variety
Fruit Storage: Fair
Mature Size: Medium
Ripens: Mid Season
Uses: Fresh eating/ dessert, cooking (puree, applesauce, apple butter), baking, juice/hard cider
Rootstock: Semidwarf

Smokehouse (c1837): Smokehouse is a seedling of the ancient American variety, Vandevere. Smokehouse originated in Lampeter Township, PA about 1800's adjacent to William Gibbons’ smokehouse. Tender, but firm, exceedingly juicy, yellow tinged flesh. Fresh cider flavor. Young, productive bearer and a reliable cropper. Flattish, red-striped yellow fruit. Hardy to -40 degrees F. Excellent keeper, very good quality apple for multiple uses. Shows some resistance to fireblight.
Bloom: Late
USDA Zone: 3,4,5,6,7,8,9
Pollination: Select another late season bloom apple variety such as Grimes Golden and/or Newtown Pippin
Fruit Storage: Excellent
Mature Size: Medium
Ripens: Late
Uses: Fresh eating/ dessert, cooking (puree, applesauce, apple butter), baking, juice/hard cider
Rootstock: Semidwarf

Wish us luck!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Its Spring Somewhere - Right?

The wild turkeys who have spent the last four days with us are finally ready to get back to the task at hand - breeding season. This big tom is doing his best to impress the others but unfortunately there are no females in the small group. None-the-less, I was impressed enough to zip back inside and grab my camera. The scene seems strangely like one that might play out in a bar.

With camera in hand I captured a few more beautiful scenes. As I mentioned in the previous blog, there's a lot to be thankful for!

The Natural Resources Conservation Service SNOTEL website on South Colony Creek at an elevation of 10,800 feet recorded 19" of snow with 1.8 inches of moisture from our last storm. That's 4.3 inches of moisture more than this time last year.

The horses and cattle are content in the morning sun and with the big bale to munch on. By tomorrow plenty of fresh grass should be showing again. We are boarding two rescued Thoroughbred horses for a wonderful neighbor down the road and seven replacement heifers for a nearby ranch. It feels nice to have horses here again.

In case you missed the previous email about our mid-May snow storm, click here.

From Fleur Creek Farm

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Nature's Seasonal Battle

Nature’s seasonal battle is underway, a battle that occurs nearly every year when spring attempts to arrive only to be ­blown back by winter. This push and pull of the seasons leads to wonderful sunny days in the 60s followed by a snowstorm.

The last few weeks have been so beautiful that we tackled all kinds of outdoor projects from fence repair, irrigation ditch cleaning, and garden preparation to fruit tree pruning and fertilization. We woke up yesterday morning to 14” of wet snow and temperatures in the low 20s. Last night another 3” of snow fell. 

We had some warning that this winter blast was on its way when I received a text alert on Friday from the National Weather Service. In a desperate attempt to save the blossoms on the cherries and native plums Don took a clue from the Florida citrus growers and sprayed the trees with water as the temperatures dropped below freezing Sunday evening. The concept is that the blossoms encased in ice are warmer than the 20 degree air around them. It will be several days, maybe weeks, before we’ll know if it worked. The apple tree blossoms have not yet opened so we are hopeful that they were spared the damaging cold temperatures.

Several weeks ago, I started squash, pepper and herb seeds in our small indoor greenhouse. Today the little seedlings look out the windows at all the snow and I’m sure they are thankful for the heating mat they are sitting on and the bright lights that hover over them.

Last week we ventured over to our favorite garden center in Salida to take in the scene and buy our geraniums. Last year we waited too long and missed getting the color I like the most. I was not going to make that mistake again this year so we came home with a dozen beautiful red plants. I’ve had enough experience with the give and take of the seasons to know that these flower plants need to stay indoors for a few more weeks so they are currently in the old cabin.

The scene will be spectacular as the clouds slowly lift off the high peaks. Once the ground reappears, we’ll see bright green meadows, brilliant blue skies and snowy, white mountains. Its lot to be thankful for!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Eating Locally

Eating locally produced foods is a popular topic these days and for good reason. Most American’s foods travel 1500 to 2500 miles before reaching the table. That’s a huge waste of resources not to mention a pretty risky situation. All it takes is a natural disaster, terrorist incident or any number of other issues to create a disruption in food distribution. And nothing probably creates more chaos than a lack of food.

Locavores, those who prefer to eat locally grown/produced foods, point to additional benefits of eating locally including knowing who grows your food and how your food is produced, supporting small farmers and ranchers, consuming fresher foods, to name a few.

In colder climates eating locally in the winter can be a bit challenging unless you’re willing to be bored out of your mind or you are lucky enough to have some summer garden produce stored, a freezer full of grass-fed beef from the pasture and a friend with a greenhouse full of fresh greens. That’s us!

Here are a couple of recent dinners:
Chile marinated beef, roasted potatoes and fresh greens

Don made a spicy Chile Colorado (red chile sauce from Artisan Farming ) which he used to marinate a sirloin tip roast overnight. The next day the beef, in the red chile and some beef stock and dried onions, was slow cooked all day on the woodstove until it was fork tender. We oven roasted some of the Yukon Gold and All Blue potatoes from last summer’s garden that have been stored in the old cabin and added a simple green salad of the fresh greens with oil and balsamic vinegar dressing. 

Traditional green chile stew
Again using the recipe from Artisan Farming (with a few additions), Don browned pork cubes (from a local 4-H piggy), added our potatoes, dried onions, and garlic, tossed in a big heap of roasted and chopped green chiles (from the famous chile fields of Pueblo), plus some chicken stock and spices and let it cook all afternoon on the woodstove. With a plate of warm tortillas, it was a great way to watch the snow and temperature falling.

Summer squash soup
Using cubed and roasted summer squash (from bags in the freezer), Don adds dried onions and garlic, veggie stock and spices to make a wonderful and hearty soup. He cooks all the ingredients together for about an hour then runs everything through the blender and puts it back on the woodstove. Just before serving, he adds a spoonful of sour cream and serves with fresh, warm whole wheat biscuits. The whole wheat used for all our baking needs comes from Gosar Ranch located in the San Luis Valley only 30 miles away as the crow flies.

Today was “baking day”. Four fresh loaves of whole wheat bread! What better way to spend a cold, snowy day?

Don't have any local foods hanging around - no problem! A search of the internet can help you find producers with great local foods even now. Start with Local Harvest which you can find tune to your location and need.

Now get cooking!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Wild Turkeys 2.0

It was unusual to see wild turkeys when we moved here more than 20 years ago. We’d see an occasional turkey here or there with the biggest group of a dozen or two along the back road to Salida. An old rancher along that road would plant a small patch of oats every year for the turkeys to enjoy during the winter. 

State wildlife officers and sportsman/conservation groups began reintroducing wild turkeys in Colorado in the early 1980s to strengthen dwindling populations. Martin “Turkey” Burget, with the then Colorado Game & Fish Department, in Southwest Colorado was instrumental in the effort distributing wild turkeys throughout Colorado.
The favorite habitat of wild turkeys is a mixture of ponderosa pine and Gambel oak that provides food, shelter and roosting areas. Many of Colorado’s mid-elevation (7000 – 9000’) mountain areas include this preferred habitat. Wild toms and hens mate in early spring in areas where they’ve spent the winter.  The hen then builds a nest hollowed out in the ground, often a secluded site in a stream corridor where there will be plenty of bugs for the newborn chicks.

I don’t recall when we started seeing more turkeys nearby but sometime in the early part of the 2000s their presence became more noticeable. At some point probably around 2006 – 2007, we’d have a mother hen and her brood show up almost every afternoon. The poults (young turkeys) weren’t much larger than a baseball and covered in fuzz. We started feeding them cracked corn to help their survival and because we enjoyed seeing them. In the months that followed the poults grew and developed full feathering enabling them to fly into the trees at night for roosting. By the time they left for the winter the poults were nearly the size of their mother.

In the years that followed it was not unusual for several hens and their poults to show up for corn. We never knew if the hens were ones who had been here before or if they were grown poults and their broods. Whatever the situation, the number of turkeys that showed up every summer kept growing as did our cracked corn budget. 

Normally winter weather sends the turkeys to lower elevations where they can get around easier and there are more food options for them. For some reason they didn’t leave this winter even though we started right off with 26” of snow in mid-November. The turkeys stuck it out and we have anywhere from two to three dozen ready for their corn every morning. Two other landowners in the area also feed the turkeys so the neighborhood is full of the birds.

Last year we decided it was time to put the turkeys to work by feeding them in a different location each time. Their scratching and pecking loosens up the soil and there is no better soil amendment than poultry (including turkey) poop. 

Before you think that the turkeys have a pretty easy life around here remember that turkeys are prey for fox, coyote, bobcat, mountain lion and even bear on occasion. Just last week we accidentally interrupted two foxes who were stalking the turkey flock and later the same day, a coyote. 

We really enjoy our turkey neighbors and are happy to be a part of their success in the area. They are an important part of the ecosystem.