State of the Farm


(Picture from here.)

It has been a long winter.

As I sit in this diner writing this I’m looking out at more snow falling. Enough already! We’ve broken the all time winter snow record. When will you Gods of Winter be satisfied with our misery? Must we sacrifice our children to appease you?

Hm. Ben’s been seventeen a lot lately…

<Deep breath>

Okay. Winter on the farm. Gotcha.

Starting around Thanksgiving and up to about now we do winter activities around the homestead. This means cleaning out the greenhouse some. Making sure the turtles and tortoises have a nice place to sleep, perchance to dream of Terry Pratchett. (It’s Terrys all the way down– at least that’s how I wish to imagine the afterlife.) Keeping the chickens warm.

Ah, the chickens. We lost Abigail and Beaker this winter. Abigail had been our oldest chicken. She survived a coyote attack, a racoon attack and a bobcat attack. Survived her peers when they were slaughtered like, well, animals. We now have Stalag 17 and I think they’re safe.

She was a good chicken. Speckled black and white, she had a sort of Grande Dame grandeur. She didn’t turn mean when she got old. Her last egg looked like it would have hatched into Quasimodo if it could have hatched at all. I think she kept the other chickens in line even more than the three roosters she outlived.

Beaker was a different sort. She was born with a deformed beak that twisted as it grew. Every year we had to trim it back so she could eat. Beaker was lively and quick. She was never mean, either, but she was smart. She figured out places where food had been brushed, which foods were better than other. It was Beaker that figured out how to get to the grass on the west side. Beaker was the first one on the railing in the spring and the last one to end up in the coop in the throes of winter.

Now we’re left with Stumpy (whose leg doesn’t work from said bobcat attack), Fish, the rooster, and the Brown One Whose Name We Cannot Remember. (BOWNWCR?) We’ll need new layers in the spring and the debate now is to hatch them ourselves, buy some hens or get some hatchlings from one of the hatcheries.

The other thing we do in the winter– appropriately in this time of Chicken Mourning– is make wine.

I skipped wine making for a couple of years. Then, last winter, I got back into it. Over the last year I’ve made a plum wine, peach wine, Concord grape wine (don’t laugh), Reisling, Alvorinho and an accidental Current champagne.

Over the years we’ve come up with a pattern that works for us. We do primary fermentation upstairs where we can control the temperature more easily. When fermentation is pretty much done, we move it into glass carboys and put it downstairs in our cold, cold basement. Right now we have a rhubarb cooking upstairs and I’m trying a lager which ferments at a much lower temperature. It’s downstairs. We have a strawberry and another Concord in the glass carboys.

Wendy has cleaned out the freezer and set up a schedule of upcoming fermentation: Cornelian cherries are next. Followed by peaches. Then, a mango concentrate I got on sale a while back. Then, the grapes in the fall followed by cider. If I can get her to agree I might try something interesting like a Chardonnay from California juice.

By the end of the year we’ll have about 40 to 50 gallons of wine in the basement.

Hey. It was a cold winter. I want to be prepared for the next one.




State of the Farm — 5 Comments

  1. I was a serious brewer for years until I had to give up gluten. I still think about returning to meads and cider. What kind of chickens are you thinking about for the new flock?

  2. Have you made Concord grape wine before? Is it worth the effort? I have two nice Concord grape vines, and usually I make low sugar jams and jellies, but I’ve thought about wine…

  3. Yes. It snowed again on Saturday. It was horizontal snow, too. This morning it was 14F. This winter just isn’t giving up.

    I started making wine with Concord grapes about ten years ago. It was a dream: making a drinkable dry Concord wine that doesn’t taste like Welch’s + kerosene.

    I finally hit my stride about three years ago. The tricks I have found are:
    1) Do not– repeat, do NOT– treat Concord grapes as red grapes. That is, ferment them with the skins in the fluid. Concords are strong enough not to need that and you’re just making misery for yourself.
    2) Every recipe calls for pectinase. Triple it.
    3) Set up the Concord wine to run to dry. For a regular yeast, this means not having an SG of greater than 1.09. For a distiller’s yeast that means no where north of 1.12.
    4) Rack often. Sediment is your enemy.
    5) Figure out a way to keep oxygen out of the mix when you rack. I do it by stirring vigorously. That releases the CO2. CO2 is heavier than air.
    6) Keep racking until there’s almost no sediment. For me this takes about 4 times.
    7) Use a glass carboy for settling. It means you can actually see what’s happening.
    8) Get a wine filter. You’ll be glad you did.
    9) Once you’ve bottled it, prepare for no less than two years wait. Crack one every now and then to see how it’s doing. But I haven’t had the kerosene leave the wine in less than two years.
    10) Be prepared for failure prior to success. I’ve had good luck with most things. Concords were a challenge.

    Drink hearty.

    • Oh, one more. You can use oak chips as well. They seem to mellow the wine. However, they have to be used judiciously as they impart tannin along with a lovely vanilla sort of taste. Too much and you get Concord-acorn wine. Too little and no effect.

      I don’t use oak chips much any more but for really strong flavors it’s a useful trick to have.