This November, we returned to California for my grandmother's memorial. The temps in Colorado dropped drastically while we were away. Though the weatherman had predicted temps in the 40s and 50s for the week, an 'Arictic Freeze' swooped south from Alaska. The weather in Colorado went from 60 degrees and sunny, to 10 below zero.
A 70 degree drop in the space of 24 hours.
Though our neighbors and friends who were on duty to help feed animals and vent greenhouses did a GREAT job caring for the place, there are things that I might have done (and wouldn't ask them to attempt) if I'd been home to think about saving things.
While I was in California with family enjoying 70 degree weather in November...
This was the reality back on the homestead:
A typical snow in November wouldn't have done any damage to the cold weather crops we had out in the garden still... cabbage, kale, collards & peas can usually tolerate a snow - and temps even down into the 20's. But 10 below zero?
If I'd have only been home I could have picked cabbage, covered kale, harvested a TON of veg and frozen or dehydrated more.
But I wasn't home. (And I'm truly grateful to have been with family for such an important time.) But it was VERY hard to return home to this harsh, wintery reality.
After our long road trip, I ventured into the garden in the dark. I picked one of our TWENTY-TWO cabbages that were buried in the snow - hopeful that I might be able to sautee it with enough garlic and olive oil to salvage it's flavor. Sadly, it was frozen solid - all the way through. Even after a sautee - it was a mouthful of watery mush. This is why greens and vegetables are typically blanched before freezing. The cell structure is damaged by freezing when the vegetables are in raw form.
What about fermenting? I had hoped to store these cabbages in the cellar, and then turn many of them into sauerkraut for winter storage. But fermenting, too requires that you begin with fresh, undamaged vegetables. Nope. None of these TWENTY-TWO cabbages would become sauerkraut.
IF only I'd known that these TWENTY-TWO beautiful cabbages should have been picked and stored before the trip! Did I mention there were TWENTY-TWO of them??
Those first couple of days I picked armfuls of frozen kale - rinsing them off and sauteeing them too. Because they didn't hold as much water - these were a bit more tasty when crisped up in the pan. The flavor was more sulfury, instead of the typical fresh and sweet flavor that the cold weather usually adds.
I whizzed batches of this kale into some kale pesto. Since this method requires a quick blanch and puree. This, too - was ok - but not like it could have been if I'd picked it before the hard freeze.
The 'IF ONLY' kept creeping in. We didn't lose any animals in the weather - and for that I was grateful. But the loss of these plants was just as much of a heartbreak to me.
I start my cold weather seedlings in my basement in late January, or early February. This means, these twenty-two cabbages, rows of kale and collards I lost had been under my care for more than 10 months of the year. Watering, transplanting, moving to greenhouse, hardening them off, mulching them, rinsing off aphids, picking off slugs.
In actuality, I've probably invested more work into them - than the animals that we raise for meat. These plants would have provided us with nutrient-dense greens for at least a couple more months or longer - if I had been able to pick, store or cover them.
After the snow melted, the unpicked brassicas began to stink. The odor of rotting cabbage began to waft toward the front door. It was time to face facts. I needed to feed them to the animals. This, at least brought some solace. The rabbits and chickens were able to draw some nutrients from these dear plant babies of mine.
If I WAS relying completely on our own hard work to provide food for our family (like many do in other parts of the world - and have in the past) - the heartbreak would go much deeper.
The reality of losing so much food would not cause mere heartbreak - it would likely feel more like panic.
The effect on the health of a family - struggling through a hard, long winter without the necessary vitamins and minerals that vegetables supply (not to mention flavor) would be terrible.
I DON'T enjoy buying vegetables from someone else after I've grown my own all year. Even supporting a small, local organic grocery store is tough for me. (It's been hard on the budget already this month! )
But I am once again thoughtful of my ancestors who knew how to grow food. Thoughtful of the small, sustainable farms who make their living by working with the soil and what nature offers. Thoughtful of the years that it takes to really absorb the knowledge, experience and skill needed to survive.
This is not something I should expect to have mastered after only 4 years of homesteading.
This is a lifelong, hard-earned skill.
I am learning through these mistakes. SO VERY MUCH.
It's December. The garden beds are now covered in heavy mulch. We have some frozen, blanched collards in the freezer, some dehydrated greens, frozen tomatoes, some canned tomatoes, our rabbit & chicken meat in the freezer - and a good supply of winter squash in the basement. Our winter hoop house greens are still alive - (at least half of them are) and we have lots of potted herbs in our sunroom. I choose to be thankful for that.
I choose to remind myself that my children will go into adulthood with more experience and wisdom about raising food, homesteading & sustainability than I did.
That is enough to balance out the winter hearbreak for now.