31st October, All Hallows Eve
The first snow has come, and gone, and come again, and with it a new chapter of the year begins.
The heiffers, sheep and horse have all been happily grazing in the field below the farm until recently. Well, the sheep are still perfectly happy it seems, and haven’t yet come to eat hay with the heiffers. The horse too prefers independance, but will make the effort to come up to the gate, if he thinks you’ve got something good, like a carrot or some bread. In the evening we bring them into the barn. I stand at the gate and call. Hornfagr comes trotting, and calls back “mmmm”. Freyfaxi (very non-chalant) looks up, then carries on eating for a while, before trudging slowly up the track to the farm. He then stands there, as if to say “there had better be a damn good reason you made me come all the way up here (i.e bread)”. Audhumbla walks slowly, steadily and quitely and is more inquisitive than demanding when she reaches the barn. Then they all tuck-in to a good supper of handmade organic hay, with fresh water from the well, (and a little bread on the side). I check on the rabbits and as mama rabbit reaches up to sniff me, one of her little ones hops out of the nest for the first time to explore the enclosure. It’s tiny! I pick it up and it tries to kick, and then sits in the palm of my hand. It’s older sisters live in a larger enclosure nearby. They are at the age where they try to merge into a single entity, following each other like a shoal of fish. They are almost fully grown, so i can’t help thinking what this means for them: their days are numbered. I give them some fresh straw and they nibble on a few grains that still cling to some of it.
The enormous task of threshing has begun! We got an old hand-cranked threshing machine and also another machine that sifts out all the dirt and grit and bits of straw, both generously donated to us by someone who just had them standing in the barn, unused. Now they are both fulfilling their purpose once more. The threshing machine is basically a big rotating drum inside a box, with teeth that catch the grains and pull them from the straw. One person holds a bunch with the grain end into the threshing machine, and moves it back and forth while another turns the handle and a third moves the straw away when it comes out the other side. The straw is then beaten with a flail, to remove the last of the grain. The cleaning machine is basically a series of different types of mesh trays inside a box, that shake from side to side when you turn the handle. There is also a fan that blows away the chaff, which is powered by the same handle. Everything goes in at the top, and the clean grain comes out at the bottom. It’s fantastic to finally see the result of all our efforts, all the work with preparing the fields and sowing, then cutting the grains and drying it all, and hauling it back up to the farm. It’s wonderful to put your hand in that bucket of oats, and swirl it around, and to think: we made all this food! But the journey is not quite over: the oats and barley still have a husk on which needs to be removed before we can eat it, and we haven’t exactly figured out how to do that yet. So far we have around 180 kilos of grain, and we haven’t even finished the oats yet!
While the woofers have been threshing, we have been doing some renovation work. My partner has now finished making a new concrete floor in the washing cellar (which means we can now have indoor showers again!) and has almost finished with the new wooden floor in the cool room. I have started restoring some windows in the house, which are just on the edge of rotting. I decided to start from scratch and remove the window panes, scrape them all down, repaint them and replace the glass. It’s so satisfying!
Now is our last chance to put the garden to bed, and bring in that which will not survive the winter. I try to mulch as much as i can, to protect the soil from erosion, and to keep all those tiny creatures doing their job, converting shit into food for next years vegetables. I have brought the fruit trees indoors, into a frost-free cellar, and will plant them outdoors in the spring. We have also brought in several kale plants, for seed-saving. They are biennial which means they flower in their second year, so have to keep them over winter and plant them out early next year. We tried leaving them in the garden last winter, as they should really be able to survive in this climate. Alas, all that was left in the spring were the stalks. The mice had eaten the lot! We have also dried alot of kale leaves, for eating in the winter. This was prompted also by previous experience. I remember digging in the snow in january, trying to get some fresh kale for dinner. After digging a metre down, and still seeing nothing but snow, i gave up. I took some cuttings from the blackcurrants too, and put them in soil in the cellar, so hopefully they will root, and i can plant them next autumn.
The threshing is now complete! All the barley and oats are safely tucked away in the storehouse, with a grand total of 865 kilos! We were pleasantly surprised (or more like…pleasantly shocked) as we only expected to get 250! It was especially surprising since the fields looked quite thinly sown, and much of it ended up falling flat on the ground towards the end of the season, which meant that when we harvested the grain we separated that which was lying down to go for the animals. So we actually grew alot more than 865 kilos! All in all, the grains were a massive success, and relatively little work compared to the amount of food you get in return- compared to growing vegetables, or raising meat. We were very fortunate to have many woofers here to help cut the grains, and we have had three people threshing, which was perfect. Next year we will try and grow wheat and rye in addition, my partner discovered that there are actually varieties of these grains that should be able to grow here, so we will try! Its pretty exciting, especially wheat, as i was dreading having to live without it! (No bread, or pasta, or pizza, or pastry) It’s amazing how much we have all come to rely on this one grain!
We butchered two of our sheep today. They were slaughtered last week, and had been hanging in the barn until now. We have made pinnekjøtt (salted ribs), fenalår (salted thighs), and smalahove (salted sheep head- slightly dubious about this, but I’ve been assured that it’s good). The rest of the meat we have frozen and we have made tallow from the fat, which we will use for soap. The sheepskins, we nailed up in the barn to dry, and we will tan them as soon as we get the chance!
And then there was snow….
not too much… only around 25cm!
More photos soon!