Busy day in a busy season as we try to process and store as much of our 2015 forest garden yield as possible. Since we keep pretty busy, all the storing we do has to be really high-value, such as wines, salt and oil cured vegetables, and medicinal herbs, tinctures and teas.
Today, that meant a marathon of drying teas and processing country wines.
This was the first year we processed Valerian in any quantity, which was a treat, kind of like working aromatherapy. While I've often heard the root referred to as "musky" or unpleasant, I think it's wonderful. It has much of the same "cherry pie" aroma of the flowers, with a mysterious earthiness and just a hint of musk. We dried some for teas and used some for a tincture.
We also had a variety of other previously dried herbs to process and store for the year.
And then there was the massive booze-athon. I finished bottling some of last year's Elder Wine, and then got started on bottling this year's ferments: more elderwine (one of our favorites,) a 2nd run Elderberry mead, apple cider, 2nd run apple mead, and fox-grape wine, another one of our favorites.
Using spent fruit to produce a "2nd run" mead has been a real revelation for us. The 2nd run elder mead was ready to drink after a month and was one of the best drinks we've yet brewed. Our 2nd run apple mead is spicy and rich, but could easily pass as a cider.
I also dug and potted a few pots of Belgian Endive, a great winter vegetable that can produce gourmet greens in the basement. I strongly believe in maximizing the more energy-efficient and economical forms of winter production before investing in the more expensive and energy-intensive forms like hoop-houses. "Cellar forcing" vegetables in the dark doesn't require any energy input beyond digging them and throwing them in a pot. A variety of veggies can be forced, including chicory, dandelion, poke, and asparagus. We also potted up walking onions. The pots can be brought inside and placed in a window for scallions through the winter.
We're also experimenting with winter herbs and watercress as low-input sources of greens. Watercress, in particular, seems happy in a window, and is considered one of the most nutrient dense greens you can grow.
In terms of cost-effectiveness, all of these plants have thrived in our forest garden without any measurable care or inputs. Today, I probably bottled $300 - $500, worth of wines, which was probably the equivilent of $50/hour or better. Not bad for a hobby. With the other items figured in, we probably produced a value close to similar to the wines, perhaps $30 - $50/hour.
But honestly, I wouldn't sell a bottle of my Elder Wine for $20, or even $50. The satisfaction and surprise I get out of turning my own fruit into delicious wine - I can't buy that. And that's the kind of value that really makes farmhouse craft pay for itself.