"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Please, I'll Pass On The Carcinogenic Nuts

We have a weakness for nuts - I mean we really crave them. I suppose you could say that we are nut-a-holics. In amongst the fruit trees in our little orchard there are also hazelnuts, black and English walnuts. The only problem is that the hazelnuts will not start producing until this fall and the walnuts are still in their infancy. Mrs. H has decided that we will be adding almonds and more hazelnuts this year, but a big nut harvest is still many years away.

This fall we bartered eggs and some cash for around 50 lbs of unshelled English walnuts that we hoped would get us through until spring, though they are going fast. My wife picked up another 15 or so pounds of black walnuts from a neighbor who did not want them. We are realizing why now as they taste pretty strong and are next to impossible to shell. After removing the outer husk the nuts were set about the fireplace to dry for a few weeks and are now quite edible.... well the English walnuts anyway.

So we caved in and bought a can of peanuts the other day, not organic as those are impossible to find in our area. I got to thinking about the on-going salmonella outbreak in peanut butter and decided to check it out and see just what it is they do to the peanuts before they leave the field as far as pesticides go. We are usually very careful of late about the few (mostly condiment) food items we still purchase and whether they are organic (supposedly chemical free) or not. So I thought that since they are a legume that grows under ground hopefully they are not sprayed all that much. To my dismay, the first article I came across talked about how they are one of the most carcinogenic and pesticide contaminated food items out there and that's just one of the problems with peanuts.


Yeah, well that's just great...here I have been stuffing my face with poison. I am strongly reminded at this point why it is that we grow our own food - the only pesticides on my food are the ones that drift over from 'Chemical Joe's' house. He's our neighbor that likes to saturate his entire field in poison every year in order to kill a few weeds....his weeds seem to actually like it though as they grow a little bigger every year. By the end of summer his entire field is nothing but a dusty toxic wasteland.

I did a little research and found insecticide products commonly used on peanuts include phorate, methomyl, esfenvalerate, cyhalothrin, carbaryl, acephate, azadirachtin, cyfluthrin, diflubenzuron, disulfoton, fenpropathrin, indoxacarb, propargite, pyrethrins , rotenone, spinosad, sulfur, and zeta-cypermethrin. As near as I can tell these are all still in use today, it is hard to keep track of what has been banned, is still in use, and what the new poison of the day is.

Here is some info on the first one in the list, the rest are not much better.
Phorate - Approximately 3 million pounds are used in the U.S. annually, 80% of which is applied to corn, potatoes, and cotton. Phorate is a 'restricted use pesticide' due to high dermal, oral, and inhalation toxicity. Toxic to fish, birds, and not so good for humans either.

The Phorate response in peanuts remains a mystery to researchers.

A mystery no longer -

Pesticide Spray Proves Disastrous In Salkiana Village, Jalandhar

Tea / Bamboo Plantation Owners applied Phorate. Boy dies and over 40 people hospitalized

Pesticides May Up Asthma in Farm Women

Thus my long standing love affair with the peanut has come to an end, I will bestow my affections upon a nut closer to home...after all, a peanut is just a lowly legume.

Oatmeal For Breakfast

There is nothing like a nice warm bowl of oatmeal and apples for breakfast, especially on a cold morning.

Especially if you are a flock of hungry chickens.

Not too warm though, we wouldn't want to burn their little chicken tongues.

Do chickens have tongues?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Much Ado About Compost

This past fall I decided that I have had enough with compost piles. Each year we end up with this massive pile of debris from the fall garden clean-up. Every spring one wheel barrow after another of composted material is hauled into the garden. In between we have to keep this huge pile turned so that it will break down enough to use. So this last fall, instead of continuing the ritual of hauling stuff to the pile, turning and waiting, and then hauling it all back into the garden. I decided to leave it right where it was.

They call this sheet composting, which is simply working matter straightaway into the soil and letting it break down there instead of in a pile. Supposedly, this can cause a temporary depletion of nitrogen in one's soil. This is not a issue for me as my soil is a little too high in nitrogen anyway, mostly due to the giant, hot, pile of compost that I have been using. Too much nitrogen is conducive to aphids and this has been a problem for us lately; one reason I am looking for a different method of adding organic material to my garden.

Before winter I pulled up all of the remaining plant materials, broke it up a bit, and distributed it amongst the garden rows. My fava bean plants, of which we grow many, were chopped up and added lightly over the whole garden. Weeds were left to grow after August, being careful not to let them go to seed, so that they would be there to provide material as well. We are fortunate to have a yard full of maple and mountain ash trees that shed huge amounts of leaves every year and these were also spread throughout the garden.

Wood ash was then added to each row, our soil is very acidic and this helps to neutralize it. I'm always careful to spread it lightly so as not to make the soil too alkaline. Potatoes like acidic soil while my brassicas do not...hence the aphid problems. Ash is obtained from the wood stove and also collected from burn piles created during spring clean-up. It must be stored in a manner so that rain will not leach the beneficial nutrients away and is kept in buckets in the barn - after it has cooled of course. I have observed in previous years that some crops really love having a bit of ash worked into the soil around them. I have grown freakishly huge carrots and beets in areas where ash has been spread.

The project was concluded by shoveling a thin layer of dirt over the top of everything. It is now up to the worms to work their magic. I know from prior experience that whereas bacteria break down a hot compost pile earth worms do most of the work in an area that has been sheet mulched. I always find many more worms in a cooler pile of leaves or compost than are ever found in a really warm one.

Hopefully the outcome will be good, saving time and effort. I will then only have a small kitchen scrap and chicken manure pile to tend which does need to be hot in order to destroy pathogens.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Boy In The Garden

Four and a half years ago an unexpected surprise came into our lives. He was named Hunter and is our first grandchild. This is something of an anomaly for us as my husband has never had children and now he was a grandfather at the age of 35. That has taken some getting used to for sure. At any rate, by our own choosing, we have taken a large role in helping out with this boy and are learning much about life, love, & laughter again through the eyes of a child. What fun we are having!

For the past year he's been in our care three days a week and we take this opportunity seriously. Great effort is put into helping him develop in all areas of his life. We work not only on educational and intellectual pursuits but we encourage his sense of humor and have fun with crafts, cooking, and chores.

There is one particular area, however, where we are purposefully putting in an extra special and thoughtful influence that we hope will have a lasting impact in his later years. His eating habits. Unfortunately, his diet away from us consists of McDonald's and fast food, daycare lunches of white bread, Ritz crackers, putrefied & hormone filled milk and way too many sweets. Once, while talking on the phone to my son I asked him what they were having for dinner and he said chicken nuggets and french fries. When I asked about a vegetable, he said the fries were potatoes and that was the vegetable. Ay, yi, yi...

Since birth he has spent time with grandpa in the garden. Dirty clothes, hands, and feet were cleaned in an old stock tank filled with water. Naps were taken under the shade of a tree using his plastic swimming pool for a portable bed. Worms were collected and played with and let go again. Countless times he stumbled and fell into grandpa's newly established crops - that being both irritating and comical at the same time.

All the while, he's been learning what food is and where it comes from and how delicious it can be. He can identify a carrot, beet, onion, garlic, zucchini, broccoli, kohlrabi, cabbage, kale, mustard and anything else we quiz him on. We take garden tours and walk and talk and snack. Which tastes better the bean or the pea, the strawberry or the raspberry, mustard or arugula?

A favorite garden activity of ours is the salad game. It requires a big romaine leaf into which a green onion, a piece of kale, sorrel, and anything else that will fit into it is rolled up into a salad sandwich. Hunter is then asked to 'hold' the sandwich but not to eat it. He squeals with laughter as he runs through grandpa's rows (this is where we sometimes get in trouble) and I chase him down trying to get the sandwich back - all the while he is stuffing his face with it. After a couple of these 'sandwiches' he's had a good supply of his daily greens and we've had a lot of fun in the process. He loves showing off his biceps, or 'broccoli muscles' as we call them and going out to feed the chickens in the evening without the flashlight as he believes all the carrots he's consumed have given him super eye site.

We've fed him almost exclusively organic foods and rarely have any sweets or treats for him. He's never even noticed that while here he eats no meat. At age four he cooks his own eggs from start to finish, under supervision of course. Daily snacks include broccoli & peppers or carrots and apples dipped in peanut butter, or a favorite of his, fried zucchini. If he eats everything at dinner he ends the day with a square of dark chocolate. This has become the norm at our house and he does not nag us to buy him cookies or candy while shopping because he knows - it's not going to happen. The other day, he looked in the fridge and saw a couple of cans of Coke in the back that I bought for my son & daughter-in-law who were visiting from Vegas during the holidays and he said in amazement "grandma, you've got pop in there" and that was it - he didn't ask for or expect to be given any - it was just a statement of fact.

Our hopes are that when he is old enough to make his own food choices, he will have developed a taste for 'real' food, and will make wise choices that lead him down the road of good health. My regrets are that I did not do this with my own sons when they were young. I thought I was doing them a service by feeding them breads & cereals that were 'fortified' with this vitamin or that mineral and meats and milk that had who knows what done or added to it before it arrived on our plates. Sadly not, and now they pay the price for not knowing or liking the taste of a tomato or carrot fresh out of the garden. I am grateful for a second chance to try to get it right.

Mrs. H.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Berries, Kefir & Goats

We spend much of our spare time in the summer and fall wandering the forests gathering wild edibles, mostly berries. This is our hobby, our release you could say. We go high into the mountains where nature is still wild and we are free from the things of man. These are the times that one can truly feel alive.

Many hours and days are spent in our secluded haunts finding and picking berries. It can be grueling at times, when fingers freeze in the early mornings or the afternoon heat weighs upon us. But in the end, with freezers full, such days are left to be remembered in the depths of winter when a simple trip to the freezer will supply endless amounts of fruit.

Berries from the garden and forest soon become daily meals that can be counted on to provide health and sustenance throughout the year.

Every other day, we have for breakfast a shake or smoothie made up of these berries and a few other ingredients.

Added to our breakfast drink are honey, quinoa, or flax and something called kefir. The latter is a beverage that is made by adding kefir granules to milk and allowing it to ferment.

Kefir is discussed in detail at http://users.chariot.net.au/~dna/Makekefir.html and I have also found the http://pocketsofthefuture.com/blog/ to be most helpful.

We included the following in this morning's drink - frozen huckleberries, cranberries, blackberries, currants, service berries, Oregon grapes, strawberries, elderberries, and raspberries. We delight in the nutritional value and variety of the berries knowing that if we had to purchase these same foods from the supermarket we could never afford to do so.

Below is a condensed "low quality" and extremely boring video of our summer 2008 berry picking adventures. PS -The kefir didn't come from these goats...they were much too fast for us.

Friday, January 23, 2009

All Cooped Up

This has been a fairly cold winter, the night time temperature has ranged from lows of -10 ° to the high 20's with daytime temps all over the place. Not too cold, but we have received record snow this year. It usually starts to warm up a bit around here come February, so that is something to look forward to.

We are fortunate to have electricity in our chicken house and have been able to keep their sleeping quarters around 35° when necessary. I set up an old oil heater on a stand figuring this would be the safest heating device. The heater is encased in wire so that no members of the flock will try to use it as a personal heating pad. I also attached it to the ceiling with a chain so that it could not possibly get knocked down. So far so good.

In order to keep the outside water dish from freezing my wife picked up a bird bath heating pad that fits perfectly in the bottom of an old metal pot. It works really well as long as I keep the water dish full so that it does not get too warm for them. We leave another water dish in the heated room and it only freezes occasionally. They seem to prefer the ice cold water best.

Even though we have tried to keep it warm the roosters and a couple hens got frost bite on their combs, nothing too serious. We started rubbing bag balm on their combs and waddles during the coldest days and that seems to have helped prevent any further damage.

I could keep them locked up in their sleeping quarters on cold days but instead have given them access to the entire coop. They seem to appreciate this. We built chicken doors with a sliding panel so that they can come and go as they please between the three areas. I have invited them outside on numerous occasions this winter but they have decided it would be best to wait for the snow to melt and have thus far declined my invitations.

I try to keep them happy, healthy, and entertained as much as possible. They receive salads made especially for them every day. Yeah I know, spoiled chickens...but I try to remember that what goes into the birds comes out in the eggs. We grew extra Chantenay carrots, potatoes, and Mammoth Mangles (beets) just for the birds and they are very grateful to receive the aforementioned mixed with any greens that I can find on a daily basis.

Once a week we bring in a few buckets of dirt for them to play in and also provide alfalfa hay.

All of this may seem extreme but it has cut the feed bill in half and also proves most beneficial to us via the healthy eggs.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Leather Britches

Leather Britches - sounds like something out of a western movie, but unlike a robust John Wayne they are just dry shriveled beans. Any beans that we do not eat fresh or allow to mature as dried beans for food

or seed as these Scarlet Emperor and Painted Lady runner beans,

are made into leather britches also called shuckey beans. I take tender young green, yellow, and my favorite purple beans and hang them on the porch to dry. This is done by threading them onto string or fishing line. That is where they stay until we need them for soup dishes. They are also good eaten out of hand as I do upon occasion. Often times I will put a handful in my pocket and snack on them during the day and they are especially good on long hikes as they take a while to chew. Are they any good? Well let's just say that they are not too bad and if you were really hungry they would be pretty darn good.

This is the way some beans were stored before all the modern conveniences of today. I am trying to keep in touch with the old ways in case our modern appliance based system fails. That will surely never happen though, will it?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

It's the Compost! Creating Abundance at K-JO Farm

A most amusing yet interesting video on frugality and growing your own food.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Rebirth In The Garden

A little bit of sunshine is enough to bring about new life under the row covers. This week has been really cold but we have had a few sunny days and it got close to 40° a couple days the week before. There are fourteen of these covered rows and only eight are dug out of the snow. We should have dug them all out the other day when it was warmer because now they are frozen to the ground by ice...oh well. I will have to make do with greens from the others until we get a couple more warm days and I can finish the task.

The larger Swiss chard's have started to rise from a long winters nap.

This fabulous red veined sorrel, that I once bought at a farmers market from a seller of herbs, has always been there for me. It now self propagates throughout the garden and is the only source of vitamin C I will ever need.

Various kale,
mustard, chicory, spinach and mache have also started to come out of hibernation. This is a good thing because a month and a half of pulling greens from the winter garden is starting to take it's toll on the salad population. I always look forward to February because I know that the worst is behind me and life will start to begin anew under the garden row covers and cold frames.
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