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Ep 5: Homegrown Thanksgiving '23

The Doldrums

By The Bantering WelshmanPublished 3 months ago 6 min read
Cold enough over Christmas to freeze the pond solid.

This is the sixth entry documenting our 14-month challenge to ourselves to prepare a Thanksgiving meal made entirely of food and ingredients grown, harvested, hunted and produced right here on Fain-XX Farm. Regardless of the outcome, subsequent entries, photos, recipes and social media posts will be arranged into a book format for publication.

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Monday, January 30, 2023

Truly, this phase of planning for Homegrown Thanksgiving ’23 is quite like the doldrums. Most activity has been in acquisitions, maintenance, and building execution matrixes to help us stay on track. Even though there is much to do outside, the weather has been extraordinarily wet since before Christmas, not to mention a record cold snap that culminated on Christmas day forcing us to move the chickens and the ducks into our garage for about a week.

The ducks, Nelson and Salle, didn’t much like the indoors though we let them out during the warmest part of the day — even still, the temperature never climbed out of the teens. The chickens on the other hand made themselves at home in the bed of my old Dodge truck that I filled with hay and backed into the garage to serve as a temporary coop. Penny and Tula liked the truck bed so much, they didn’t want to leave when it was time to go back outside. I finally had to drive the truck out of the garage and around the house to their enclosure with the two rebellious birds riding in the back like dogs on toolbox.

Chickens were staying warm in our garage over Christmas.

We lost Liza, our oldest duck, a few months ago; to what we aren’t sure, but Nelson and Salle are thriving, and Salle is laying one fabulous egg daily. Among our five chickens — Isa, Cruella, Penny and the Spider Twins, Taren and Tula, we are collecting two to four eggs a day. All together we are putting up a dozen eggs every three days, which is a home sustaining amount for now. In the spring, we would like to add two more duck hens and about three more chickens.

Our first order of new seeds arrived, mostly tomatoes and peppers and the like, produce that I will start indoors in late February and early March. We got some early greens too that we can set out at the first sign of spring. We still have many seeds from our previous acquisitions and seed saving, but it has been so long since we had a complete garden, I’m not sure how much of those seeds are still viable. I ordered two pounds of peanuts last night and we likely have at least a few more orders of seeds before we are ready for spring planting. I wanted to do some winter tilling, but the ground is so saturated from all this rain, my tiller would sink to the exhaust as soon as I broke ground.

I did sprinkle some old carrot seed into the planting trough along with a few red seed potatoes just to see if they grow. The sweetest carrots I ever grew, I busted out of the frozen Colorado dirt in the month of February, so I guess we will see.

Mary Ann is growing famously. She is the ginger root I planted in a pot in our dining room before Christmas. It was several weeks before she sprouted through the dirt. We decided to give her a name, but somehow, Ginger didn’t seem right, so we decided on Mary Ann. I have since planted another root in the same pot. If she sprouts too, maybe she will be Ginger. The plan is to transplant Mary Ann, and Ginger too if she comes up, in the spring to large ceramic pots in the courtyard where they have plenty of room to spread out and supply us with all our future needs for the spicy rhizome.

Mary Ann is growing famously!

Before the rains, I trimmed back some wood line near the house to make way for pawpaws and honeyberries and in the process felled a number of young sassafras trees. I want to recover a supply of those roots to process the safrole — original root beer flavor — out of the bark to use as a potential substitute for vanilla or nutmeg. Of course, it will be entirely for our own use considering in 1960 the FDA ridiculously banned the use of safrole obtained from sassafras as a food additive and even classified it as a schedule I drug. Our nation’s food and drug Czars based their reasoning on an obscure lab test from the 50s that claimed safrole caused cancer in rats; never mind that cinnamon, nutmeg and mace all contain safrole too and the amount of safrole force-fed to these rats would have been the equivalent of a man drinking about 300 original root beers a day for a year.

American Indians and early pioneers used sassafras root medicinally and modern homesteaders and hippies still use it in teas and tinctures today so I’m confident it’s safe, especially in the minute quantities we will use it. I’m only hoping for a little bit of dryer weather so as to not make the whole venture of collecting the root such a muddy mess.

Our first maple syrup kit.

Speaking of trees, the season for collecting maple sap to make maple syrup is soon upon us. I recently purchased a maple syrup kit complete with three stainless steel buckets, lids, spiles, filters and even a book to help guide us through the process. Maples are not the only trees that can be tapped to make syrup. We intend to make a small batch of beech syrup this year too, and who knows, maybe we’ll try sum other sappy trees as well. We have lofty goals of producing three gallons of syrup this year, which will take approximately 120 gallons of sap. Considering our current equipment stance, collecting that much sap will take about 6 weeks and likely beyond the running season so we may need to get another kit or two.

I think we are set for milling flour and cornmeal. We have a grain mill attachment for Jessica’s Kitchen Aide that I think will meet our needs, but we are in the market for an oil press. I was surprised to learn that I can find several acceptable solutions online for about $100. Sunflower seeds and peanuts will be our preferred oil supply, but we will experiment with other nuts and seeds as well.

February and March are a crap-shoot here. We could be in for more record cold and snow, or we could be looking at an early spring warming. It is anybody’s guess, but there is still plenty of prep work that needs to be done and more acquisitions to be made before the exciting stuff starts to happen. Now is the time to fine tune the plan to ensure we don’t miss something. From here, we have one shot at making this work by Thanksgiving Day. If we miss our window, we can’t come back around until next year.

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About the Creator

The Bantering Welshman

M.S. Humphreys is The Bantering Welshman, an East Tennessee native, author, journalist, storyteller, marketing specialist, husband and step father. https://www.instagram.com/thebanteringwelshman/ and http://www.banteringwelshman.com

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