Spring Already?!

Wow!  It's only the end of February, and it really seems like spring is here.  It was 75* yesterday - although today is supposed to be only 44*, with a low of 24* - and then a low back up to 52* in just another couple of days!  This time of year gets a lot of gardeners here in trouble - it's so tempting to plant everything when it's this beautiful so early, and then it freezes a week later.  And a week after that... and maybe one more in early May!

Regardless, I've been planting in the hoophouse.  It's warm enough in there that even tiny seedlings should be fine. In the last week I've gotten in some carrots, beets, and radishes (with the boys "help") and tomato and pepper starts.  We'll see how those do, the tomato seeds were pretty old, but based on how well volunteer cherry tomato seedlings continue to sprout year after year in my garden, they must stay viable for quite a while!  I'm hoping to get my brassica seeds started this weekend - finally, and more than a month late :(  The bed I planted last weekend with kale, mustard, spinach, and chard is sprouting nicely - I can't wait for fresh greens!  The snow peas are up, and the elderberry outside the hoophouse is actually leafing out!  I hope it doesn't regret it...

Let's see - in the last month, we've done a number of things, as usual.  Noteworthy ones are several.  To start with, I rendered my year's worth of lard a few weeks ago.  Caleb stopped by the local processor and picked up 42 pounds of pig fat - for free!  After, I think, 4 days of slowly rendering on the woodstove (I had to use my pressure canner, and another 2.5 gallon stockpot!) I ended up with 39 pints of beautiful white lard!  We pretty much use only lard for cooking, and I also make soap with it, so we use a lot in a year  - and I have just started using it in lotions.  Sounds crazy, I know, but after a little research online, I realized that it makes complete sense.  While there are several vegetable oils touted as being similar in makeup to our own skin oils (like jojoba, at several hundred dollars/gallon!), what is virtually never mentioned is that even better for our skin, is another animal oil!  Animal fats carry fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, & K, and CLA which fights cancer and inflammation.  With this in mind, I made a whipped body butter, and replaced the usual coconut oil with my home-rendered lard.  I can't tell the difference, I love using it!  I would like to use our own grassfed beef and sheep tallow even more, since solely grassfed animals' fat has several times the nutrients of grain-fed animals.  Since I first made the lard whipped butter, I have finally rendered some beef tallow and will use that next time.  On that note, I have to mention the best way I know of to prepare grassfed beef ribs - pressure cooking!   I have been working on my ability to cook ribs, since we always get a lot of them off our steers, and they aren't one of the better-selling cuts.  I tried oven-baking them, for 4 hours.  Not bad, but still very fatty and the connective tissures still weren't fully softened.  I cringed at the thought of a 5 or 6 hour baking time - surely there has to be a better way?  Yep, 40 minutes in the pressure cooker and they were fall-off-the-bone, shreddably tender.  I simply picked through, removing the meat for a big pot of chili, discarded the bones and gristle, and was left with some lovely tallow and broth.  I'm probably never cooking ribs another way again!  I especially love that it renders all the fat out of them for me, giving me a valuable by-product that is wasted otherwise.  

Other big news - I finally finished that last big lace shawl I was working on!  I started shortly after Ewan was born, and then by September had to stop while I did all my winter knitting.  I finally finished that, so I went back to the shawl - and it was amazing!  I should definitely credit the pattern as Laminaria, off Ravelry, by Elisabeth Freeman.  Thankfully I took a picture right away, because I finished it on a Saturday, blocked it on Sunday, photographed it on Monday, and sold it on Tuesday at the farmer's market :)  Check out the photo in the knitted products gallery, with Liam as my lovely model!  I'd love to make another one when I have time..  Although I've also bookmarked about 7 more lace shawl patterns on Ravelry and Knitty :)  And I already started another one from my Christmas-present-from-Caleb book on Shetland lace knitting.  

I've also been skirting fleeces, in preparation for the incoming crop in April.  I finally, just this morning, listed Carlyle's fleece both here, and in my Etsy shop.  I hope to add a few more as I get them skirted and picked.  If I don't sell them, I may end up taking a batch of the prime cuts down the the fiber mill nearby and get them made into roving so I can just spin them.  I simply don't have time to hand-process all of them from start to finish.  

We took the final steer for the winter off to the butcher last week.  We have sold or eaten most of the last one, so the timing is just about right.  This last steer is our last calf from Thistle, our first mama cow that died a few years back.  He certainly inherited her horns - he had the most impressive set of the herd, by far.  We will definitely work on getting his skull cleaned up and mounted!  Caleb has gotten his beautiful white hide framed and stretched, and almost finished scraping it.  He's currently working on framing and stretching our old bull Fergus' hide.  That will bring us to 4 hides on frames, waiting for the laborious softening stage - at some point I think Caleb's just going to have to take a week or two off work and tackle several at once.  It's just silly to be sitting on that much potential, without finishing it.  Those hides are worth $600-$800 apiece!  And there's 2 more under the porch, waiting to get framed!  

Well, there are, of course, a zillion other things going on around here - I'm back to making pasta, still making lots of soap, lots of knitting, played with making wool pillows, the geese and chickens are laying, Caleb's been working on permaculture-type pasture swales, we're expanding the barn, and of course working on the spring gardenand  orchard, and prepping for shearings and babies. I'll post in more detail about some of those soon!  




Thanks for the shawl! I tried waiting until mother's day, but I had to go ahead and give it to Mom because May is so far away. She loved it!


I'm so glad you liked it, I'm excited it has a good home :). And like I said, now I can justify making another one...

yeah, spring!

Interesting info about using lard, contrary to what is mostly said about it. I tried looking for a picture of Liam modeling the lace shawl but could not find it.

found it

Looked again and found Liam (with his back to the camera!) modeling your lace shawl--just lovely.

Oh good - I wondered if the

Oh good - I wondered if the long braid had disguised him :)
Also, I should have clarified - the lard I render is real lard. Often the stuff in the store is partially or fully hydrogenated lard, or even other things like soybean oil. The rule I saw long ago is that if it's shelf-stable it's not true lard :). I pour mine into pint jars and freeze them. And as for nutrients, it really makes sense. It is the same reason as why whole milk is better nutritionally, why skim milk has vitamin A added back in - because the vitamins are stored in the cream, the fat! ...Why Jersey butter is yellow - the fat holds the carotenes. I even read once (the Stockman Grassfarmer I believe) of a man who was quite overweight and loved fried food. A friend advised switching to lard rather than oil in his fryer, and with no other dietary changes, he lost 60 pounds! Not exactly a clinical study, but food for thought...

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