Garden Gifts

Traditions are being made at Chickadee Gardens. Every year family members receive a basket of farm products as Christmas gifts. Every year the baskets are larger, more complex. I really wanted utilize more of what Blue Jay Lane Farm (an affectionate term we call our farm) produces, so this is the year I kicked it into fifth gear. Here’s a look into this year’s baskets:

One of several farm baskets ready to go, this one for Mom. Most of the packaging is recycled – I mean what else to do with paper filler from delivered packages? Cardboard makes great labels.

Another basket to my brother and his family. Let’s break down the contents:

First up, corn meal. Not just any corn meal but meal from heirloom Oaxacan green corn and Peruvian black corn we grew and dried and FM later ground. We used some of this in a cast iron cornbread recipe last week and, oh, was it tasty.

Here’s the black Peruvian corn.

And the green Oaxacan corn.

FM has used his father’s old grinder to hand-grind this stuff, but, whoa, is it labor intensive. You grind and grind until your arm feels like it will fall off and you see you have yielded about a tablespoon of meal. FM had a better idea this year: He rented a large drill and – well, watch the video. It explains it better than I could.

We pickled Fortex green beans, our favorite, and added our own garlic.

Those beautiful Kalibos cabbages became FM’s sauerkraut.

Several kinds of beets were grown, these are the golden variety pickled with cloves and other spices. Boy, are they tasty. If you like beets. Which I do.

I have so many herbs growing and really rarely harvest the ones I grow for ornamental reasons. But why not? So this year I did. I do grow tarragon, parsley, chives, thyme, basil and a few others in raised beds which I use all year and dry, but oregano and sage . . . I have not. This year I did and have enough to share.

Freshly dried from the garden.

I also made herb-infused sea salt, definitely a useful pantry item. Also with my herbs that I can’t really give away is herb-infused butter rolled into a log and frozen. You just cut off a slice or two as needed for cooking. I also froze herbs in an ice cube tray – put in fresh herbs then cover with olive oil. You pop them out as you need them for cooking. Brilliant! Not my idea but I love it.

Herb-infused vinegar. I picked loads of fresh herbs this fall and let them steep in rice vinegar for a month. Strain, bottle up and ready to go.

Scarlet runner beans for cooking. We let them dry on the vine then harvest them. Simply use them as you would any dried bean. These are meaty and tasty and quite pretty.

How about that! Magic beans.

Two of the coolest things I made was salve and lip balm. I used honeycomb from our bees, I infused olive oil with dried calendula flowers for a month then strained it and used it here. The touch of honey in the balm is also from our bees.

I wrapped them up with a loofah sponge. Yes, those are from the farm, too!

Here they are, dried and cleaned.

Detail of a loofah sponge. They are great organic, biodegradable sponges that can be used for a bath sponge, a kitchen sponge or a cleaning sponge. After they are peeled, cleaned and dried (and all seeds removed), they will last like this for years. Once you start using them with water, they will need to be replaced eventually but it’s nice to toss them in the compost with a clear conscience.

We grew lots of garlic.

And shallots.

We also grew onions, but we’ve eaten most of those. We easily had over 100 onions, and, yes, they are all gone. We do a lot of cooking and soup-making.

The other kind of corn we grow is Glass Gem popping corn.

This is what it looks like on the cob after it’s been dried. 

We grew bird house gourds last year and, wow, did they take a long time to dry. They weren’t dry enough last Christmas to use, so they are a year late. Worth it though.

The holes are drilled at 1-1/4 inches, perfect for chickadees, nuthatches and a few other small birds. I used a natural and non-toxic stain/sealer to seal them and also drilled holes in the bottom for drainage. These should hold up in all kinds of weather for years (I say crossing my fingers).

They don’t have perches attached because predators use them to land and get at the little birds. Chickadees know how to get into this bird house, a perch is not necessary. They should be hung at least 8′ off of the ground in a protected spot out of the way of winds.

That is about the bulk of it. What a joy to put these together! Our garage became a store where I could pick products from our own shelves and give loved ones gifts directly from the heart and from the farm. All I need now are more baskets!

I would love to keep doing this with an eye to perhaps selling some of what we grow and make someday. I’m not sure how or where, but the wish is out there.