Welcome back to the 5th annual Dark Days Challenge! This is the 3rd year I’ve participated and I’m excited to hear over 100 people are taking part in the challenge this year! It’s inspiring to read about what other bloggers are growing, cooking, sourcing, and learning about their local foodsheds. I’ve talked before about what local means to me so I won’t explain it here again. Before I tell you about our first meal, I’ll summarize where some of our food comes from.
We have a year-round garden in both the front and back yard. In the back, we have about 1,000 sf of annual growing space. I’ve divided that space into five main rows and rotate what I grow each year based on plant families (brassicas, legumes, alliums, roots etc.)
In the front yard, we have four raised beds (4′ X 10′) and one octagon shaped bed we call “strawberry mountain”. I rotate what grows in the four raised beds each year too.
Early in February 2011, we installed an irrigation system in the backyard to water the five rows I mentioned earlier. Each row has its own water valve which connects to a soaker hose. In the PNW I’ve found I don’t use the irrigation all that often, but it’s nice for those rare consecutive days of heat or when I’m starting seeds in the middle of summer for the fall/winter garden and I need to keep the soil moist. We also planted a mini-orchard in the backyard which consists of five fruit trees. We have a 5-way plum, 5-way Asian pear, a pie cherry, a 4-way sweet cherry and a Gravenstein apple. We’re planning to add a couple more apple trees this winter to pollinate the Gravenstein.
2011 was the third year I had a large kitchen garden. Each year I learn a bit more and build on my successes and failures from the previous year. At this point, almost all of the veggie produce we eat comes from our 1/8 acre city lot. We’ve learn to shop our garden instead of the grocery store and plan our weekly meals around what needs to be harvested.
We have three backyard chickens who provide us with eggs for most of the year. My husband built a fancy coop in 2009 the same year we began our food journey. We hope to get two more chickens in the spring of 2012.
Our mini-orchard won’t produce fruit for a couple years, so most of our fruit comes from the Farmers’ Market. We buy it when it’s in season and eat it fresh, can it, or dehydrate it for later. I didn’t grow potatoes or onions this year and I haven’t mastered growing citrus yet (if I ever will?!) so those items we buy at the grocery store. We usually choose organic. Most of our cheese comes from Costco because of the great prices, and they carry Beecher’s of Seattle. I like buying our milk from Twin Brooks Creamery because it’s available at QFC right up the street, but that doesn’t mean we don’t shop at Trader Joe’s. I want to learn how to make cheese and I’m going to try to make yogurt this weekend.
I like making bread and try to keep a loaf in the freezer so I’m one step ahead. (Editor’s note: Brittney’s homemade crackers are awesome, even though she hasn’t made them in a while. I miss them dearly almost every day.) I’ve been experimenting with whole grain flours, spelt, rye and emmer, but I have a lot to learn! I want to get a grain grinder and source my grain locally. Until then, I usually buy Stone Buhr flour which is local or King Arthur flour which isn’t local but is employee owned and committed to quality.
Our freezer is full of pork from the pig we purchased from Pastured Sensations this year. We’ve been really pleased with it and have experimented with making sausage, guanciale, pancetta, and pate. I’m even going to render lard. We have geoduck in the freezer from our annual geoduck dig in May and we have some salmon Tyler’s uncle Rob shared with us from his fishing trip. We’re down to one chicken in the freezer and I’m looking for a source for next year. So what we don’t grow ourselves, we try to source locally. We’re very conscious about our food choices.
I think it goes without saying that I love to cook. Feeding my family (Editor’s note: That would be me!) with what I’ve grown fills me with immense pride and satisfaction. For me, the connection of growing our food from seed and watching it mature until it’s ready to be harvested for a meal comes down to cooking with the best possible food. Real food. It’s also about self-sufficiency, reducing our dependence on the corporate food system, supporting local farmers and sharing my knowledge with others.
The Dark Days Challenge has taught me so much. I’ve “met” so many people through it that have introduced me to new possibilities from what to grow, where to source, or what to read. I’ve also connected with friends in new ways because of food. I love that.
Laura was the one that really encourage me to take the first step. By reading her blog I was encourage to suppress all the grass in my backyard and turn it into a vegetable garden. Now that garden feeds us year round. I hope I can encourage others to take the first step too.