Thursday, January 17, 2013

Selecting Seed,Checking Seed Viability and What I Want To Preserve

When the seed catalogs start streaming in during December and January it immediately draws me to a time of sun-filled  lazy days working in the garden.  After the flurry and craziness of the holidays I need some much-needed down-time to dream and plan.
I receive oodles of catalogs but only buy from a few.  Johnny's, High Mowing, Fedco, Seeds of Change and Seed Savers Exchange offer open pollinated seeds which I prefer.
It is very easy to get carried away with all the beautiful pictures and want to order everything I see.  However, I do have a substantial seed stockpile that I'll go through and see which ones are still viable or which ones need to be replaced.
A viable seed is one that is able to germinate and produce a growing plant.  You can check the viability of your seeds by scattering a few seeds between barely moist paper towel.  Then place them inside a clear plastic bag and place in a warm place around 70 degrees.  Don't put them into direct sunlight or it will get too hot and you'll cook your seeds.  Peak at the seeds every couple of days.  When you see little bit of green popping through the hull of the seed you will know that you can use your seeds.  Give it up to a couple weeks as some seeds take longer to germinate than others.
Next thing, because I'm planning a food preservation garden, I'll work backwards to decide what and how much I'll need to plant.
This is a rough idea of what I'd like in my pantry and freezer at the end of the growing season 2013. There should be enough to feed myself and my family for a year as well a little extra to give away as gifts, etc..
I'll be using my trusty Ball Blue Book to help me get a rough idea how much I'll need:
Tomato Sauce-26 quarts
Whole Tomatoes-26 quarts

Pickled cucumbers-52 pints

Green beans-15 lbs frozen

I'll also be purchasing produce to preserve such as:
Carrots, broccoli and cauliflower (pickled vegetables)
Cabbage (saurkraut)
Strawberries (jam)

The next step will be to determine what and how much to grow to meet my goals.

Next, I get cozy and start perusing those catalogs with a purpose. Because I'm planting in a limited space and will try to get the best bang for my buck, I'll look for varieties that promise to be heavy producers and good for preserving.  Of course, the biggest factor will be taste!

My next post will highlight some veggies that comprise all of these criteria.  Stay tuned.




Monday, January 7, 2013

What is biointensive vegetable gardening and why?

I am far from an expert on gardening.   Luckily, I've always had a green thumb.  I can pretty much make anything grow, but I've also had my share of mistakes.  The best way to learn how to garden is to experiment and try different things and not be afraid that you'll fail.  That's the only way you'll learn.

Also, I'm taking liberty to change things as I see fit or want.  Please don't take my word as final.  This is a very loose adaptation of biointensive gardening.  So, if you don't want to use open-pollinated seeds, fine. (You won't be able to save the seeds, though, so not so economical) If you want to buy plants  instead of growing your own, fine!  We are having fun here and hopefully grow some delicious veggies along the way.  The thing I want to accomplish is that you will find a way to garden alongside me in your neck of the woods.  We can encourage each other along the way and share triumphs and fails together.

I've grown vegetables using different techniques, but I find that biointensive vegetable gardening is perfect for the backyard grower who: 1.) doesn't have a lot of time, 2.) doesn't have a lot of room in which to grow vegetables  and 3.) wants to grow organically and economically.

To begin, biointensive growing is an ancient form of growing so it's not a new technique.  You may have heard the terms French biointensive, Square Foot gardening, Grow Biointensive.  These all basically follow the same guidelines: Using wide beds filled with loose, friable soil loaded with composted organic matter. Plant or sow closer together to create a microclimate and a living mulch. Use open-pollinated seeds to create biodiversity in the garden.

Soil:  Soil is loosened deeply, usually down 12" or more.  Double digging is a  key term that is used in biointensive gardening. It is explained here.  However, I am not convinced that it is only way to achieve deeply aerated soil.  The purpose is so that the plant roots can stretch out and grow unrestrained in order for them to accept micronutrients deep within the soil.  Double digging is back-breaking!  Believe me, I've done it.  And I'm not going to do it anymore.  I believe you can get nice deeply loose soil through raised beds or by adding compost deeply directly on the beds.  You can even use a rototiller (but don't overuse it or you will break down the structure of the soil)  However, once you get that deep loose soil, it must remain free from any foot traffic or compaction. Think deep, loose and rich!

Beds:  Biointensive beds are wider than traditional rows, generally 36"-48".  Wider means more plants and then planted closer together.  Paths can be any size you'd like.  Consider your situation.  Will you be tending the garden yourself?  What space limitations do you need to consider?  Will you be mowing the path or needing to move a wheelbarrow down it?  Also, the bed should be wide enough that you can reach comfortably to the center of the bed from each side.  This will alleviate your need to step into the bed and therefore compressing the soil.  You don't want to do that.

Using open-pollinated seeds:  First of all, when you choose your seeds I recommend using only open pollinated seeds. By doing this you will be creating biodiversity in your garden.  Through open pollination, natural pollinators like insects, wind and birds will pollinate your seeds.  Therefore, each plant may have a slightly different genetic makeup which will enable it to adapt better to it's natural environment. Because of this you may notice a subtle taste difference in your vegetables within the same seed family. Even better, after harvest, you may save the seeds from the plants. These seeds will be replicas of the mother plant.  Hybrid seeds won't do that.  So if you get a delicious tasting tomato make sure to save the seeds for next season.  No more buying seeds=more economical.
Next time I'll be discussing garden layout and seed selection.  Also, frost dates and the length of the growing season.  Begin thinking where you'd like to put your beds.  Remember, you'll need at least 6 hours a day for most vegetables to grow.  However, looking out your window now is probably not the best indicator.  I'm from Michigan and the trees are bare now in January and the sun is lower in the sky. Think what it will be like from May-October.

Now, think what growing your own food means to you.  Are you looking for the perfect-tasting tomato?  Do you like the feeling of security that  a well-stocked pantry provides?  Does having your hands in the soil feed soil?  I'd like to know!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Taking A Different Path

It's been a while.
Life has a funny way of changing direction.  I'm no longer a CSA, but I still like to grow my own food.  2013 is supposed to be a year of high food prices due to the drought of 2012.  So, I'm changing my focus from growing for others to teaching others to grow for themselves.  I'll be focusing on using the biointensive method which focuses high yield in small plots.  High fertility is key.  Also we'll be using less water.  I don't profess to being an expert.  Let's learn and grow together!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Taking it "Slow" in 2011

I'm putting a "slow" spin on my New Year's resolutions this year.  They may make my fitness, financial, food, fun and friends goals a little easier to attain.  Check 'em out!

1. eat with others more often
2. support local businesses

3. ditch my car as much as possible
4.walk
5. ride my bike
6. save 10% of every bit of cash I'm given whether a check or money that I find in the bottom of my purse.
7.find fitness through play and fun
8. get rid of "stuff"
9. don't buy anything new
10. host potlucks
11. listen 
12. support my community
13. build local food systems

Anything else I could add?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Goodbye Mr. Roo

Well, we're busted...for having chickens, that is!  Joseph found a violation sticker slapped on our door. Damn!

After meeting with the township I have been instructed that in order for me to "try" to keep the chickens I must apply for a zoning variance and plead my case before the township board. OK... The chickens are worth a fight.
 As I began filling out the necessary paperwork and attaching the supporting evidence that explains why we should be able to keep our chickens I'm forced to recall why we began this whole suburban farming thing in the first place.

It started innocently when I left my job at Neiman Marcus ready to begin a new entrepreneurial adventure.  I had always been a gardener, starting at my mother's side and eventually reading "Organic Gardening" and "Mother Earth News" as a teenager.  By the time I was in my 20's I was cultivating my own plot as well as dabbling in food preservation like canning and pickling.  Because this new endeavor would require our family to watch our spending, I thought I'd try growing as much food as I could to reduce our food costs.  Growing things has always been easy for me, but that summer produced a bumper crop of lettuce and salad greens.  I opted to sell our surplus at the local farmers market.  The greens were a hit!  I was like a vegetable "rock star" as my regular customers waited eagerly for me each Thursday, afternoon.  This is when I knew that I could have a place in the local foods movement.  Instead of being a consumer, I could be a producer!  Cool!

Joseph, my oldest son had visited his aunt in Vermont one summer and was introduced to a neighbor that kept chickens.  He was smitten and proceeded to beg me thereafter to get our own backyard flock.  At first I said, "no", but as time wore on I was tickled that my teenage son wanted to do something kinda cool.  I thought it a great way to do something together as a family.  I mean I could be digging contraband out of dirty jeans while doing laundry, but my son chose to raise chickens! So now I would scraping  chicken shit off his jeans!  I could live with that!

Someone said that owning chickens is kind of the gateway drug to becoming a farmer.  They were right.  After we gathered our first egg we became more concerned about the origins of  our food.  Reading numerous Michael Pollan books and listening to Joel Salatin only encouraged me to take farming a step further. Urban agriculture and SPIN farming were terms that were appearing in mainstream publications.  People were out there doing what I wanted to do!  I didn't need to have acres and acres of land, in fact, the idea that smaller could be better is the new way of thinking. I could be a farmer!
Of course, while doing my chicken research I read a lot about big industrial livestock management, also known as CAFOs.  Seeing pictures of suffering chickens debeaked because they are so stressed  living in such confined environments that they'd peck each other to death,  or of sows nursing their young laying on concrete and through a small barred pen or of dairy and meat cattle standing knee deep in their own manure.  This made me examine every piece of meat I ate wondering how the animal lived or died.  I knew that I was heading for a time when I'd only be able to eat the flesh of an animal I personally killed because then I would know how it lived and died.  In my care and by my hand the animal would leave this world with dignity, with grace and with my utmost gratefulness  I know it sounds crazy...but I'm getting there a little closer every day.

 We have a rooster.  He's a cuckoo maran and beautiful to behold.  He kind of slipped through the cracks and that is common in keeping chickens.  His presence has been met with blessings and curses. With his crowing he is probably the one who announced to the community of our flock.  A neighbor ratted on us.  But what's been so amazing is watching him interact with the hens.  Of course he tries to mate with them 24/7, that's what he's supposed to do.  But what's been really interesting is his place in the flock.  As one of the youngest chickens he takes on the role of protector and guardian. When a hawk flies over he lets out a call to warn the hens.  They run for cover while he surveys the situation and lets them know when the coast is clear. When I give the girls a treat he stands by and let's them eat first.  He's such a gentlemen. He's kind and gentle and lets me pick him up.  Not all roosters are this friendly. However, by getting rid of him could possibly increase our chances of keeping the quiet hens.
  Our first choice is to take him back to the farm where we purchased him as a chick. Hopefully she'll take him.  He'll make an excellent candidate for breeding.  If that doesn't work out we may have to find a home for him on Craigs List or something..  By doing this we will take a risk that he will be treated just as well in his new home as he has with us.  It kills me to think of him treated otherwise.
Of course, back in the corners of my mind, I debate the idea of slaughtering him.  By killing him myself I know he would go humanely without pain, fear or suffering.  And of course, we would eat him as his ultimate sacrifice shouldn't be in vain.
As I told my son today that Mr. Roo would have to go in order to possibly save the rest of the flock.  He cast his eyes downward hiding his tears.  And I hid the quaver in my voice as I explained that sometimes we have to make tough decisions.
Farming has brought out a side of me that I never thought possible.  It has made me strong and forced me to deal with life as it truly is...nothing sugar-coated or glossed over.  But what it is.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Earth Is Stirring...

This will be my first year operating as a CSA with 10 shareholders .  For those who are uninitiated, CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  My shareholders basically, "own" a share or piece of my harvest of crops that I grow in my suburban backyard of one acre. Working as partners, they help shoulder the risk, but reap the many benefits of buying into a CSA. More and more people are trying to become more connected and aware of exactly where their food is coming from and how it is grown or raised.  I grow my produce using natural methods.  I don't use any synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. One can look at what I do as growing "soil".When one takes the time to enrich the soil as much as possible this will eliminate many pests and problems before they even have a chance to begin.

In addition to growing crops I will be throwing in a portion of my egg production from my small flock of 9 hens to my CSA members.  Right now I'm averaging about 6 eggs a day.  I'm hoping to add a few more hens in the next few weeks to boost up production a bit.  Unfortunately, I lost 2 hens in the last few month, so I need to make up for that gap. 
My "girls" (Leviticus-White Rock, Paulie Walnuts -Buff Orpington, Kelly Kapur-Araucana, Bertha and Dean-Rhode Island Reds, Alice and Rylee -Barred Rocks, and Fred and George -Isa Browns) live the epitome of chicken life.  During the warmer months they are able to free-range the Fox property (and sometimes the neighbors property when I'm not watching) eating little bugs, and worms and all the vegetation that chickens like to forage for. I supplement their foraging with a feed that adds supplements for laying hens.  Ideally, I eventually would like to have the hens off of commercial feed, but that will be a process as my chicken-raising skills and knowledge increases. This year they will have their own garden of mangels (a member of the beet family) to nibble.   The girls get to scratch around in the dirt, take dust baths, lay their eggs in seclusion and bask in the sunshine doing the things that chickens are meant to do! For this they reward us everyday with a clutch of eggs that range in colors from light pink to blue, to dark brown which are rich in omega 3's and lower in cholesterol than their supermarket counterparts.  The yolks are a deep rich orange and the albumin is highly raised, firm and compact...and the taste is rich and delicious!

My hands are aching to dig in the dirt, but right now I'm making plans and reworking those plans, and ordering seeds and getting ready to start some plants, and making more plans....it's going to be work, but it's going to be so worth it!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Making stock using chicken feet

My college aged daughter is in home for the break and has been struck with a nasty upper respiratory infection.  Being the nice mama that I am, I decided to make some chicken soup for her to make her feel better.  However, it wasn't going to be just your ordinary chicken soup, it was going to be made from stock made from chicken feet.  According to Sally Fallon author of "Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook That Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats" Jewish folklore states that there is a medicinal quality associated with stock made from chicken feet and other chicken parts, and science supports it.  That's why it's called "Jewish Penicillin". Apparently, the gelatinous texture of the reduced chicken parts renders the nutrients better able to be absorbed by the body.  Plus, it just tastes heavenly.
Even though I raise chickens they were still using their feet at the moment, so I went to Hiller's Market to buy the feet.  I had seen them packaged next to the turkeys and always wondered who purchased them. Hiller's is known for their excellent customer service and one of the meat cutters actually came out to answer my myriad of questions. My query was answered that it was only the professional personal chefs who purchased them. That was a good enough answer for me!
I searched on line for a recipe and used this one.
Tonight I'll be using this stock which will actually be a demi-glace to make chicken noodle soup.The stock will be so concentrated that it will resemble a gelatinous goo. I'll take one part stock to three parts water and  will make the broth that will be the base for the soup.  I'll be adding some left over turkey from Thanksgiving (so it's not technically chicken soup, but turkey will do, carrots  onion and celery.  I'll also add some German noodles. I'll serve it with some crusty bread that JJ baked.  We all will be nourished and, hopefully, Janie will feel better.