Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Farm Goals for 2014

It's list making time, hooray! It's New Year's Eve, I will be making many lists today. And this thrills me so much more than it should. Anyway, on to the list. In no particular order; because I can't seem to figure out how to make a descending ordered, numbered list, these are my goals for Serendipity Farm this year.

  1. Find a local, affordable source of raw milk. This may involve buying a cow, I'm OK with that.
  2. Successfully hatch out goslings 
  3. Ditto for turkeys 
  4. Add flocks of quail, guineas and/or ducks
  5. Pigs. I suppose right about now I have officially gotten over my head. A cow, more geese & turkeys, quail, guineas, ducks, a pig and we haven't even started talking about gardens yet! These first 5 goals though are more like options than goals. A cow or a pig is probably more likely. Ducks or guineas. Ya, that's my story & I'm sticking to it when my partner challenges this list :) 
  6. Name & launch our birthdays on the farm idea 
  7. Host 2 swap meets & craft fairs- note to self: let's try not to schedule either for the same week as the State's Fair. Turns out those are kind of big deals to farming folks, who knew?
  8. Investigate the local Farmer's Market. Before I lose real food street cred, I do shop at a Farmer's Market of sorts. I love Farm 2 Family. I make a pilgrimage back to Richmond regularly to shop there & of course plan to continue. I just haven't done any exploring in Caroline County yet. 
  9. Plant (& more importantly maintain) gardens that will insure that ALL of the animal feed is coming from the farm. There just isn't another viable option. It's terribly important to us that our animals are GMO-free. It is terribly important to us that the farm is cost-effective. And it's terribly important to us that our products are reasonably priced. Charging $7 for a dozen eggs just wouldn't be OK with me and that's about what the numbers work out to when buying organic feed in the winter. 
  10. Plant, maintain and preserve a harvest that insures around 50% of our food comes from our farm. Does that seem too low or too high to my readers? I've had friends respond in both directions. Those that think it is a high goal recognize that it is a lot of work. Those who think it is low wonder why the goal isn't 100% or at least close to it. The goal is 50% and I imagine it always will be. We are a large family, and we like variety in our meals. Permaculture, sustainable farming means working with the unique micro-environments of your farm. This year will be about learning those characteristics. Do tomatoes do well in our soil without heavy supplementation? Will I ever successfully keep the geese off of our greens? I learned last year that corn is going to be challenging here. My neighbor is a giant GMO corn grower. This year I am going to try growing corn behind a wind block & hope that cuts down or eliminates cross pollination. If it doesn't, I'll skip corn the following year and find a local grower I can trade with or buy from.  I don't have a moving body of water on the property, rice would never grow here- but I'm going to give quinoa a try. I don't expect it to do well, but who knows maybe it will. That's why the goal will always be about 50%. When we find what does best here, we'll plan crop rotations to insure we don't exhaust our soil and let those crops be our focus. 
So the first list for 2014 has been written. If you're making any farming, homesteading, or gardening goals for 2014 please share them in the comments. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Yogurt Making

Making yogurt at home is so simple & so cost effective. You really do not need special equipment, it's very inexpensive and although it takes quite a bit of time to turn milk into yogurt, it's only seconds of actual hands-on time.
When I first started making yogurt at home I used a technique Alton Brown (isn't he so dreamy?) demonstrated on an episode of Good Eats (I think). It's been years since I did it this way & I'm certain I will forget details. But his method was basically warming your milk, inoculating it with your starter yogurt and then putting that mixture into a container that fit inside of a second container and keeping it at a steady temp by using a heating pad wrapped around the container holding the milk-yogurt mixture, nestled in the larger container.I did it that way for ages, it's not terribly difficult even if I didn't explain it so great. Google it, watching Alton cook & be smart is never a waste of time.
When you're done watching Alton, do it this way instead.
The Easiest Way to Make Yogurt: In a crockpot!
I won't infringe their copyright & copy the directions here, so you'll have to head over there to get the directions in their entirety. I'll just share a couple little tips to make it even easier. When I am fortunate enough to have access to raw milk, I do remove some of the cream before using. Store bought "whole" milk is 4% milk fat. Raw milk, depending on the season & the breed of cow, is around 16% milk fat. You could leave all the cream in, but raw is illegal & expensive here. You don't need that much milk fat to make yogurt, so it seems wasteful to me to leave it all in. I skim about half of the cream & save that for whipping, coffee or small-batch butter making. Also when I start a batch I take a wipe-off marker & I write the start time right on the lid of the crockpot, then I write the time I need to shut it off, the time I need to inoculate it & the time it will be done. So if I start at 2p, I write "2p-4:30, 7:30, 5:30am" I would never actually start at 2p though, only thing I do at 5:30 AM is keep my pillow warm.
You can make Greek style yogurt from homemade yogurt by simply straining away the the whey. I line a colander with a cloth napkin & nestle it inside of a bowl. Pour the yogurt into the strainer, put it in the fridge & forget about for around 6 hours. The longer you let it sit, the thicker the yogurt will be. The whey will drain down, you can use this for lacto-fermented veggie recipes and the now Greek style yogurt will be left behind in the cloth napkin.
Easy-peasy, frugal & nutritious real food.
Oh & don't forget to save a cup for the next batch you make!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Five Minute Gardening

I'm having a day. I don't know not really a bad day, but not matching my idea of a good day either. My littlest Gelf is cutting a molar. He's not impressed with the process. Then I guess because our mother-son bond is so very strong, I am suddenly in excruciating pain very aware of a cavity in one of my molars. We finally got to bed last night, at 6:30 this morning.Then at 8:30 AM the pain medicine I took for my tooth wore off. Then there's the upcoming holiday. It's my youngest's first Christmas. The baby I am pretty confident will be my last. The three year old really "gets" Christmas for the first time, she talks about it nonstop. For a week now she's been reminding me that she hopes Santa brings her a big, red, balloon. (ya- no idea where that request came from but I am lifting my balloon ban to accommodate & embrace her simple request) I had these ambitious plans for a completely homemade Christmas. I'd make coordinating but not quite matching PJs for all of the Gelfs, I'd even make 2 more sets to ship to my Grand-Gelfs (yes can you imagine? I have two grandchildren already!). I'd think of something clever and magical to make out of all of these chicken & turkey feathers. Satisfying both my creative needs and my desire to not be wasteful of any part of the animals we process here. All meals & snacks would be made from scratch, while wearing the purple & red-hat apron that I brought home from my last visit with my grandmother. At 4:20 on the twenty-second of December, none of these things have happened. And then, the icing on this just not quite cool cake, it's 65 degrees out but it's raining. What? I had acclimated to the cold snap we've been having. I made good use of yesterday's warm day out in the yard. I love the rain, but 3 days before Christmas snow would be so special. Or a warm, sunny 65 degree day would also make for another productive day outside and I would be ever so grateful. But no snow, warm, but raining just seems like exactly the wrong weather for today.

And you're reading along still, thank you, while wondering how any of this has anything at all to do with gardening. I'm getting there, I promise. I felt like something, anything outside would help me shake off some of this blah. And I remembered I had a bunch of celery stalks I've been meaning to plant. And I remember to take my camera so I could share. Here we go.

Disclaimer: I am not a master gardener. I am not an adept gardener. I am barely an accomplished amateur gardener. I just make it up as I go. That approach gives me like, I don't know, a more often than not success rate, and that's good enough.  
These are the bottom 1.5-2"s of 6 organic celery bunches I've used in cooking over the past month. They've been sitting in that little dish for weeks. Most of the time there is water in the dish, sometimes I forget to check them though. They haven't died & all those leaves are new growth. Again, good enough. I took those, 3 soda bottles & scissors out to my front porch.

I have a ton of 6" pots a friend gifted me with recently. If I didn't I would have cut the soda bottles in half, poked holes in the bottoms, used the bottoms as pots, then taped the tops back on. But since I had these pots, I cut the bottles in half & used each half as a top for the pot. I filled the pots with an organic potting soil & buried all but the leafy growth. The last batch I did I only put about half the stalk in the dirt. I have no idea which method is better. The only reason I did it differently this time is because I forgot how I did it the last time until I looked at those ones when I was done with these ones. I think both methods will work just fine. If they don't, I'll have learned something new to apply the next time. I tucked the bottle domes pretty deep into the soil. If I had thought of it, I would have added some rabbit manure to the potting soil- I think I did with the last batch. Rabbit manure doesn't need to age like cow, horse, chicken manure does. I forget why that is, but even fresh it's safe to mix right in & won't burn your plants. The covers will act like a mini green house. Keeping them warm & watered, even when I forget. If the grow faster than the weather warms up, I'll cut new bottles taller or look for another thing to re-purpose for the job.

I've been told that growing celery is challenging. Maybe it is. Maybe these will get half way grown & suddenly die or rot or who knows what. The ones I planted last month seem to be doing fine. Maybe whoever told me that celery is challenging tries too hard or has never tried and is just repeating some rubbish they were told. It took about 15 minutes from when I thought "I should plant those celery plants" to uploading the pictures of the finished project. Took me far longer to share the story. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Bobbe Dunn

This was my grandmother. My mother's mother. Catherine-Susan McCabe Dunn Trotta. I called her Nana, most people called her Bobbe. My grandmother was many things, but first and foremost my grandmother was a story teller. Most of her stories began with her lamenting that she didn't take notes when she was younger eavesdropping on her aunts and mother telling stories at the kitchen table. But you kids today, she'd say, you could record all of this on your tape recorder. I meant to, but just like she never got to writing down the stories of her elders, I never did either. It's OK though her stories are tattooed in my memory banks, and I can recite them all even without a tape recording. 

This is what ran as her obituary. It's alright, but it's just not enough. Her stories should be told again. I really feel I need to tell her stories again. I started writing this entry a month ago. I come back to it, I change some things, add some things, get a little sad & save it for later. I'll never finish it at this rate. There's so much I need to process with her passing. It isn't going to be over in an afternoon. I think for 1 year I will dedicate one post a month to a story from my grandmother. So you can look forward to hearing how my grandmother invented belt-less maxi pads, her excommunication from the Catholic church, and dozens of other really cool stories. Understand that we had a tumultuous relationship. It wasn't all playing hairdresser and pretending we spoke french. There may be uncool stories too. I need to do this to process the other stories too and to make my peace with her passing. So I will leave the following that I've already written as an introduction....
Her name was Catherine-Susan. Together, not a first & middle. My family lacks name originality. She was named after her mother, who was named after her mother. I'm not sure, but there may be very well be a chain of Catherine Susans stretching back to the dawn of time. I have 2 second cousins and a third cousin (or is the child of your second cousin a second cousin once removed?)  that bears that moniker too. I'm dumb-founded that while writing this it is the first time I realized all four of her children have original names. I guess it didn't occur to me because they each in turn recycled their names. A moment of sadness here that it never occurred to me to ask her why she didn't choose to continue the tradition. Everyone called her Bobbe. There's two different stories about why that is. One story is just that she always used a dozen bobby-pins to pin up her black curls. That story is boring. I like the other story better. She was the first-born, and her grandfather was hoping that she would be a boy. So he started calling her Bobbe & it just stuck. Both of these stories may be true, then again they may be whole cloth; story tellers are allowed artistic license too. The grandfather version always seemed likely to be true to me. It made sense. The name fit. My grandmother wore long beaded necklaces that tied in a knot when they reached her sternum. She used Oil of Olay moisturizer & Dove soap. She was a seamstress, and designer. She owned a tailoring shop with my mom called "A Stitch in Time" and created costumes for the productions of  the Chateau DeVille Theater Group, now Lantana's in Randolph MA. She also swung hammers.  The raised ranch she lived in during my childhood, she built. No I didn't say she designed it. I didn't say she had it built. With a hammer, with a table saw, with sweat & blood and her 4 teen-aged children assisting; she built a house. About 15 years after the foundation was poured, when everything was finally exactly perfectly what she wanted; she sold it. When she was about 50 she bought a rundown 12+ room farmhouse in Cornish, Maine and spent the next 30 years restoring every inch of it. About 10 years ago I brought my friend Lori up for a get-away vacation. Lori complimented my grandmother on the new three-season porch. My grandmother started to tell the story of how hard it was to talk her partner Mike into spending the- oh I think it was $3000- to build the porch. Lori was flabbergasted that Nana, then 70-something years old, had a porch built so inexpensively. It took me a minute to get what was getting lost in the conversation- Nana didn't have it built, when she said Mike (then about 78 years old) and she put on the porch last spring, she meant that she & Mike were out on a rig tearing down that wall & building this porch. She was no nonsense,  pragmatic, and tough as nails.She was creative, skilled and capable. She was so many the qualities I take pride in using to describe myself too. But she was also distant, cold, stand-offish.She was judgmental, and harsh. She set standards and expectations unreasonably high. The qualities I worry that I inherited too. When I was little I thought she was magic. When I would need a pencil, for the lists I kept even then, she would reach up into her mane of black curls & sort of feel around for a moment and like magic, produce a pencil. My straight as a bone hair can't replicate that trick. So little me started stabbing a pen through my ponytails to copy her in my own way. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Response to What to Ask a Poultry Farmer

I came across this great article last night at kellythekitchenkop. Three Tips on Knowing Your Farmer...  it outlined questions you should ask various farmers. I've decided to answer the 5 questions suggested for asking your poultry farmer. The questions are: 

  • How are your chickens raised? On pasture, indoors, confined? Are they caged?
  • How much time do your hens spend outdoors each day?
  • Are your hens force molted?
  • What are your hens fed?
  • Are your hens given antibiotics? 
After the questions there is also a paragraph that talks about exposing chickens to hormones via being fed animal protein. 
I would add to Kelly's list to ask what breeds your farmer raises and why. Heritage breeds are breeds that lend themselves best to permaculture/sustainable farms, and many of them are in danger of extinction. We are focusing on heritage birds; which may mean their eggs and meat look or taste different than you are use to from the grocery store. Asking that question will likely lead to your farmer explaining how to best prepare the items she offers. 

We have a flock of less than 30 chickens; about 25 hens and 5 roosters. We also have 5 Pilgrim geese, and 4 sub-adult Narragansett turkeys. We have several coops, but only 3 are in usable condition. Our farm was a family homestead 20 maybe 30 years ago, we're slowly restoring and repairing everything. What we call the back coop houses the turkeys. It is 2 rooms, one that is completely enclosed from the elements and one that allows good air circulation and is constructed primarily of chicken wire. At this time the turkeys are confined almost all of the time. They were allowed to range for about 2 months when we first began raising turkeys. That is until we lost 2 of the 8 birds we started with to predators and had to start herding them home daily from approximately a quarter mile away. The confinement is temporary. Building an enclosed run is on the To Do List right after finishing the pole barn that is currently in construction. Two of the adult roosters have taken up residence in the side coop. The side coop is actually a broody run, 5 individual runs with a nest box in each. The doors to this are never closed, and the two bachelor roos retire to runs in the evening and leave of their own accord as soon as the sun is up in the morning. Side note: Did you know that you can learn to ignore a rooster crowing while perched on your window at 5am and continue to sleep? Well I can, because I am an expert at sleeping.  Another rooster has claimed my pony as his flock. He spends most nights in Ariel's corral sleeping in a covered area by her hay shed. Occasionally a hen or two will choose to sleep out there too. The geese and the remainder of the flock use the front coop. This is a two room enclosure that is approximately 20' by 8'. We open the doors around 8a and it is kept open until around 10p most nights. The hens tuck into their perches long before then, but our geese seem to think they are owls. Since we tend to be night owls too, we send them to bed around 10. The front coop is at maximum bird capacity, which means cleaning more often than I would like. The nest boxes have clean shavings or straw added every other day or so, and are cleaned out with the rest of the coop weekly. When we expand our the flock of geese this spring, the geese will move to their own coop & the hen house will hopefully go to a bi-weekly cleaning schedule. The chickens and the geese are allowed to range all of the 3 acre yard and the 12 acres of forest. They also help keep down the bug population of 2 neighbors' yards. Neighbors who have each told me not only do they not mind, they enjoy watching our chickens play. They also sometimes sneak across the street to the barren corn field. This is not allowed and fencing is also on the To Do List. They are never caged. The only time we confine birds in any manner is when they are a new purchase and undergoing  quarantine. They go into one of the brooding runs, not cages. We only purchase groups of flock-mates, so they are not alone during their quarantine period. They have access to fresh air & sunshine during that time too. We never force molt. Egg production has been down to 3 eggs daily from 20 for over a month now. Our girls did not simultaneously molt as we hoped. There seemed to be about a 3 week lag from when the first started till when the rest joined in. So molting is dragging on & on here, but that's OK. We know production will slowly pick up too, and before we know it we'll be up to our ears in eggs again. We do not give routine antibiotics. And knock on wood, we have not had to treat any illness with antibiotics either.  I actually offer free-choice probiotic treats like kefir & kombucha often. I hope that this coupled with good husbandry will keep our flock healthy & strong. At this time of year they are getting about 65% of their diet from foraging; during the spring, summer and fall foraging accounted for up to 90%. Their diet is supplement with organic "scratch" which helps them to stay warmer, and during warmer months they are given an organic layer feed to round out their foraging. Next spring I want to try planting gardens for the birds. A mixed garden of greens, beans, peas and squashes in the hopes that we can feed them exclusively from what we grow here. They are also given the trimmings from the gardens, sprouts and appropriate table scraps. Which brings us to the last piece of advice from the article. It suggests you ask if the hens are given meat and explains that this could lead to the hens being exposed to hormones, then it explains that it is not known whether this would in turn mean that you would be exposed to hormones via eggs or meat. Our chickens are given meat scraps from our table. Mostly in the form of bones that have been processed multiple times making bone broth. I follow a Weston A. Price-like approach to feeding my family, and we go through a lot of bone broth. By the time I am finished with stock production I believe I have extract every trace element and mineral from the bone except the last of the calcium that will crumble into dust from finger pressure. Calcium that I can't access but the hens can, and they need it. We also offer shells from clams, oysters and crab whenever we eat those foods. Sustainable wild harvest shellfish are not given hormonal growth treatments :P  At this time the bulk of our family's meat is coming from other local, ethical family farms, a small amount is from our livestock and a still smaller amount is from the grocery store. For the sake of full-disclosure, yes they may be exposed to trace amounts of hormones infrequently and it is unknown whether those hormones than pass into consumers. Please keep in mind that hens fed a vegetarian diet are exposed to incredibly high levels of phyto-estrogen from their primarily soy diet, as are you when you eat non-fermented soy products. 

As I was reading the original article, I thought of several questions I would add to the list. I didn't include them here to keep the entry to a manageable length. But please, if other questions occur to you ask them in the comments. I love what I do, and I love sharing that with others. This is an exciting time in farming. All across the country we are seeing people from all walks of life slowly returning to (or finding their way for the first time to) real foods, local foods, nourishing foods. Through your questions & feedback we can guide you as you embrace a healthier life style and you can show us what you need as a consumer. 

Please check out our Indiegogo campaign. It details our upcoming plans for the farm and if you wish, you can help us accomplish these goals. If you are unable to financially contribute, that's OK- there are many ways you can help and the most important one is by sharing the campaign.