After three fun-filled weeks of training, school groups, and classes, it’s hard to believe that winter break was less than a month ago! As January comes to a close, we have been reflecting on how important it is to step away, and how exciting it is to come back.
Our staff comes from all over, and when we closed for the holidays, we spread out to every corner of the United States. Naturalists could be found frolicking in the forests of Vermont, snow-shoeing in Montana, reuniting with their dogs in Texas, spending family time in Washington, and even road-tripping through the Midwest. Those who relaxed up here at the ranch were able to witness something exciting, too – the first snow of the season! Whether watched through a window with hot cocoa in hand, or caught on tongues and rolled around in, the snow was enjoyed by everyone lucky enough to see it, and pictures were sent to those of us who were too far away.
No matter where we spent our break or what we spent time doing, a common thread between us all was the time spent with family and friends. Living a wanderer’s life, it is so wonderful to have the opportunity to wander back to the people we love, even just for a week or two. That time spent away from work, reflecting on our lives, friendships, and growth, was truly a blessing. It was a nice reminder that no matter how long you are away, you can always go back home.
We hope everyone had a happy holiday season! Whether you spent it on a faraway adventure or snuggled up in your living room, we hope you spent some time reflecting and celebrating with the people who matter the most.
Happy winter, from our family to yours!
September was a big month at Pathfinder Ranch! Fall announced its presence, weather is cooling off (thankfully), the leaves are changing colors, four new naturalists are teaching away, two new chickens (Silkies) have joined our farm flock, and seven schools have already visited. Yes, the new season is in full swing. We also have a new addition to our garden space. Drum roll please… take a look at our High Tunnel! Our maintenance crew toiled away to get this up last month and we are so excited. This will allow us to extend our growing seasons, and give us more workspace for garden classes. Possibilities abound. Will we grow tomatoes? Eggplant? Flowers? Luffa? Keep your eye on our Facebook page for High Tunnel updates.
Autumn brings many things, including delicious seasonal produce like squash and pumpkin. Pumpkins are great for carving and pies, not to mention roasting the seeds for yet another yummy snack, but what about the medley of winter squash showing up this time of year? There’s always time to try new things, especially when it comes to trying new seasonal foods. There’s butternut, kombocha, acorn, delecata, spaghetti, and even calabaza squash. The list could continue, and there are more recipes than we could cook up if we spent the whole season in the kitchen, but here’s a simple recipe to get you into the autumn spirit.
Baked Acorn Squash
1) Preheat your oven to 400°F (205°C).
2) Using a sharp, sturdy knife, carefully cut the acorn squash in half, from stem to tip. (A rubber mallet can help if you have one.) The squash can rock back and forth, so take care as you are cutting it.
Use a sturdy metal spoon to scrape out the seeds and stringy bits inside each squash half, until the inside is smooth.
Take a sharp paring knife and score the insides of the acorn squash halves in a cross-hatch pattern, about a half-inch deep cuts.
Place the squash halves cut side up in a roasting pan. Pour 1/4-inch of water over the bottom of the pan so that the squash doesn’t burn or get dried out in the oven.
3) Rub a half teaspoon of butter into the insides of each half. Sprinkle with a little salt if you are using unsalted butter. Crumble a tablespoon of brown sugar into the center of each half and drizzle with a teaspoon of maple syrup.
4) Bake for about an hour to one hour 15 minutes, until the tops of the squash halves are nicely browned, and the squash flesh is very soft and cooked through. It’s hard to overcook squash, because it just gets better as it caramelizes. But don’t under cook it.
When done, remove them from the oven and let them cool for a bit before serving. Spoon any buttery sugar sauce that has not already been absorbed by the squash over the exposed areas.
Well, that’s all for this installment. See you down the trail,
Pathfinder Ranch Naturalists
Spring is just around the corner, and like the plants that are being reborn all around Pathfinder, the garden is getting revitalized, too! Spring cleaning has begun and the garden is getting a fresh make-over.
All hands are on deck as Pathfinder gets ready for the warm weather and 50th year celebration in April. Maintenance began a project in the front lobby to try and get some plants growing even earlier than the cold would allow; and it worked! Live in a cold place, or have soil with little to no nutrients? Check out our experimental hydroponics system. Hydroponics doesn’t require soil. Instead, the plants are placed in plastic containers (drill holes through the sides and bottom) that are filled with shredded coconut medium, which absorbs water and nutrients from the water basin that it’s submerged in. We used an old plastic bin, recycled yogurt containers, an aquarium pump, and 6 gallons of purified water. Instead of daily watering, with hydroponics you can simply add 1 gallon of water every two weeks!
Not only can plants grow year round when protected from the elements outside, but you can also save both space and water! In our experiment, the basil is flourishing but our spinach is not. Try it at home and post the results of your own hydroponics system on our Facebook page. We’d sure love to know!
Another project a few Naturalists have been working on is our compost. As the weather gets warmer, and we want to grow many more things than will fit in our hydroponics system, we need soil for our plants to thrive in. As old plant matter breaks down, it creates fertile soil which you can use for planting. This decomposition harnesses the power of the circle of life. Why buy something you normally just throw away each day? Use those food scraps and start your own compost. Your garden will love you for it!
Have you ever composted before? If not, here are a few tips from our resident garden expert, Rain:
1. Dig your compost pile down at least a few inches. This makes the pile easier to turn and keeps heat in. Keeping the pile warmer will produce soil sooner.
2. Cover your compost. Again, this keeps it nice and warm which breaks down material faster. This also helps to keep unwanted critters away.
3. Turn your compost. There are plenty of fun ways to do this, including rolling it around in an old trash can! The reason is simple..all those microbes and other organisms like earthworms that help the food turn to soil need the help of oxygen.
4. Add nearly everything! Add any food waste that comes from plants: bread, veggies, fruit cores and peels, pasta, french fries, coffee grinds, tomato sauce, leaves and twigs, and even old paper, napkins, and tea bags! (Did you know it takes less energy for the paper to break down in the compost than to be recycled into new paper? Plus this added carbon helps the compost to be more nutritious and less smelly!)
New projects are springing forward to make this year’s garden the most beautiful and bountiful yet! We’ve had some amazing 4th-6th grade gardeners already come and help plant many new crops. How about you? This spring you too could revitalize that little plot of green space or an empty windowsill into a lean, mean food producing machine!
Thanks for reading,
Your Pathfinder Ranch Naturalists and Staff
Things were busy here at the Ranch before our season ended in the middle of December! We’ve had a lot of schools visit us over this past fall (about 20 in total). Thank you to all of our fall schools. What a great season! We’ve enjoyed the holidays with family and friends, cooking delicious foods, and building fires to keep us warm on cold nights. Even some of the animals at the Ranch have had the holiday spirit. Take a look!
When they aren’t playing with the animals and teaching classes, the Naturalists at the Ranch have been hard at work this season designing new programs that can fit into our classes! One of the newest additions is an indoor planetarium that will soon be used during our Astronomy evening program! Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate the way we wish it would, so on rainy or cloudy nights we can potentially use this to help students see constellations and stars in our night sky!
Once inside we can project pictures of different constellations, stars and planets that we talk about during astronomy!
If you’re interested in building one of your own or seeing how it works, here is the website: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/education/videos/playVideo.cfm?videoID=28
Hope everyone is enjoying this beautiful time of year! Besides the current week of oddly warm temperatures, it has definitely gotten colder and colder here. So, why not warm up with this delicious hot chocolate recipe?!
Slow Cooker Deluxe Hot Chocolate
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 (6-oz.) pkg. (1 cup) semisweet chocolate chips
1 (14-oz.) can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated)
2 quarts (8 cups) milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
Miniature semisweet chocolate chips
Peppermint candy sticks
Assorted liqueurs and flavored syrups
Chocolate cookie crumbs
Happy Holidays and See You Down the Trail,
Pathfinder Ranch Outdoor Education Staff
We’re getting into the swing of the season and already, we have new and exciting things to report.
We have new helmets for horseback riding and for climbing.
The Traverse Wall in the Rock and Rec. room got a make-over.
Meet Sir Simba and Breezy, the two horses who recently joined our Pathfinder family.
Sir Simba is 18 years old and comes to us from Midway College in Midway, KY. (www.midway.edu) He is a registered Quarter Horse, and though his size might appear a bit intimidating, he’s quite the gentleman. Peppermints are his favorite treat so far.
Breezy is a 10 year old registered Quarter Horse and is rather the opposite of Simba in appearances; she’s much shorter and more compact. Breezy is fond of hats and playing in her water.