"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

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sunroots in our Salad

One of the vegetables that we will probably never be found lacking in are sunroots, so we are always looking for new ways in which to use these prolific tubers that spread so readily throughout our gardens...in their designated areas of course. Of late we have been slicing them into thin strips and mixing with a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil or any balsamic dressing we happen to have on hand...Mrs. H is always finding fantastic deals on balsamic dressing and hauls it home by the box full, it must be a black market thing...shame, shame. Anyway, they are then covered and left in the fridge overnight to marinate a bit which helps impart an extra nice flavor when sprinkled atop our daily veggie bowl.

Today's ↑ salad contains various kale, turnip greens, cabbage, grated carrot, squash, turnip (root), beet, topped with red cabbage sauerkraut, sunflower seeds, and a hint of Asiago cheese. Sunroots really add a distinct crunch to the mix, traditionally, when eaten raw, we have simply grated them into the salad but I much prefer this new method.

If you are so inclined, more of my thoughts on how we grow, care for, and store sunroots can be found in the links below.↓ Also, I have been asked why I choose to call them sunroots instead of Jerusalem artichokes, sunchokes, topinambour, girasole, earth apple, or any of the other names they might go by. I do this because, as far as I know, they were first cultivated by Native American and Canadian Indians who called them "sun roots" long before these tuberous plants were whisked off to foreign lands where they underwent a variety of name changes.

Sunroots or Pirate's Booty
Our Ultimate Survival Food

Our Ever Evolving Sunroots (Jerusalem Artichokes)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Summer's over

Winter's here

Patiently waiting for spring...

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ambitions and Rambling Thoughts on Chickens

Sharing Food

Warning -“The critical opinions of a writer should always be taken with a large grain of salt. For the most part, they are manifestations of his debate with himself as to what he should do next and what he should avoid.” - W. H. Auden

The above quote can be considered my disclaimer as I am somewhat of a boob when it comes to discussions on animal husbandry. Give me a potato, tomato, or even a funky climbing trombetta squash to talk about and my confidence level is fairly high...chickens, not so much. That said, we have somehow managed to keep our flock healthy and thriving for a few years and are only now faced with a slow down in egg production forcing us to contemplate a few new additions to the gang.

One of our future goals is to become more self-sustainable when it comes to feeding our fine feathered friends. We think that this objective could either be achieved by once again selling enough eggs to pay for the birds feed and/or growing all of the foods that a small flock might need to meet their nutritional requirements. My plan is to one day soon set aside a small section of land that we will use to grow enough corn and wheat to feed a flock of 15-20 chickens whose diet will also be supplemented with as much garden produce as we can get them to eat. I figure that this might be possible on about 1/4 an acre...we shall see and I shall share.

These carrots, mangles, beets, potatoes, squash, apples, and sunroot tubers are being grated for the chickens.

At this point we are still buying most of the grain products that we feed our flock but do go out of our way to augment their diet with as many home grown food stuffs as possible. This makes a huge difference in the amount of store bought grains they consume. Right now our birds have around one fenced acre of forest and field in which roam about foraging for bugs, grass, and anything else they might find...this also helps with the feed bill.

The flock heading out into the cold...they hate being cooped up even more than they dislike the snow. Their pen is always open during the day so they can come and go as they please.

Every couple days during the winter months we grate and then steam cook a wide variety of vegetables from our root cellar for the chickens. A portion of this is then fed to them late in the afternoon each day to provide enough carbohydrates to help them stay warm at night. In addition to root vegetables the birds are provided with alfalfa hay when they can't forage for grass and weeds due to the snow and I also try to obtain any "less than perfect" greens from the winter garden rows for them while picking our daily salad.

The chickens get a flake of alfalfa hay every 3 days when their free range is covered with snow.

Their eggshells are saved, dried, crushed, and added back to the feed to help provide them with enough calcium for all those eggs we no longer get. Every couple weeks after I have cleaned out the wood stove the "cool" bucket of ash is left in the pen for them to peck at...they really seem to like the ash and it no doubt adds some beneficial minerals to their diet. I do know that the ash contains some calcium because we add all of Rowdy's (the dog) and any other bones we might come upon to the fire. When it is time to clean out the fireplace any ash remaining in the bucket is then spread on the garden and replaced with the new stuff. Wood ash can also be dumped in a pile so the birds can use it for dust bathing purposes during the winter, although we don't do this as their pen has plenty of soil in it. Obviously, we are very careful that nothing other than wood and the occasional bones go into the fireplace.

I built our chicken house so that it could easily accommodate 30-40 birds, although we have never had that many. Their house is built right into the barn and has three adjoining rooms, the one pictured below is where they sleep and lay eggs.

As I've mentioned in a previous post an oil heater and bird bath warmer are ready to use during January when the temperatures sometimes drop into the negative digits for a couple weeks. The heater is surrounded by chicken wire just in case someone decides to try roosting on it...so far that has never happened.

There is nothing better than a nice dust bath on a sunny winter's day...dirty birdies.

Here is an interesting excerpt from Countryside Magazine on feeding animals from one's garden:

"While growing small amounts of grains will be fun and instructive, you'll soon see why farm folk welcomed mechanization. But what about those crops that got left behind in the process?

The leader is probably the mangel, or mangold, or mangle-wurzle or stock beet. These are fun to grow: they'll amaze your friends and neighbors.

The roots reach fantastic proportions. . . two feet long and more. Don't worry: they grow mostly above ground You won't need a backhoe to dig them.

At one time mangels were a staple feed for dairy cattle, even in the U.S. They were displaced because the growing of other feeds was more easily mechanized. . . and because of the research into and improvements in silage. (Some writers maintain that if as much work had gone into root crops as was invested in silage, root crops would be the more common today.)

After harvesting, cut off the tops and store the roots in clamps-rudimentary root cellars. Dig a pit, put the mangels in, and cover with enough straw and soil to keep them from freezing.

We once had a Jersey cow that ate mangles whole, just nibbling on them like people eat apples. But conventional wisdom says cows can choke on these beets, so they must be cut into bite-size pieces. If you want to feed mangels and you're lucky, you might still be able to find a beet-cutter hidden away in an old barn. Failing that, you might study one in a farm museum and replicate it. . . or devise your own. On a small scale, of course, they can be chopped with a large butcher knife or machete.

Other root crops include the aforementioned turnips and carrots. Turnips have made a recent comeback among some shepherds. Planted in pastures, the sheep can harvest them themselves. (Turnips are said to produce off-flavor milk if fed to cows or goats.)

Carrots require more work to harvest, but if you have good, sandy carrot soil they're certainly worth considering. Store these in clamps, like mangels.

Jerusalem artichokes have also been highly touted as livestock feed by modern homesteaders. This member of the sunflower family produces stalks and leaves that are relished by cows, sheep and goats. Any animal (including humans) will eat the potato-like tubers, but that involves a lot of digging labor for little reward. We have found, however, that pigs enjoy both the labor and the rewards.

And what about potatoes? At first blush it might seem like some kind of a crime of waste to grow potatoes for livestock feed, but why is that any different than growing corn for them? Potatoes were once a common stock food, and culls are still used in potato-growing regions."

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Alternative Kitchen Garden: an A-Z

I have been thinking about reviewing a few of the gardening and self-sufficiency related books that I so dearly enjoy reading. One of the things my wife and I love to do during the winter months is to "try" and catch up on our reading so that we can justify spending a day every so often tooling about the used bookstores in our area in an attempt to uncover more of those hidden gems that are tucked away on dusty shelves just waiting for us to find. Some of my most rewarding accomplishments are those that I have taken from the page of a book and turned into a reality, having an idea manifest from mere words to an actual tangible creation is always an enlightening experience.

That said, I thought it would be fitting to start off with a newer book I just finished reading that, in my mind, truly exemplifies the pure unadulterated joy of gardening, The Alternative Kitchen Garden an A-Z written by Emma Cooper. This young author tends a very diverse garden plot where her and husband Pete can be found enthusiastically growing and experimenting with a wide variety of different vegetables, herbs, fruits, and berries...anything that can possibly be grown in their climate. Emma also keeps plants going in their geodesic dome greenhouse and raises chickens on her property in the UK. I have found that some of my favorite gardening books come from this region as the climate is so very similar to our own in the Pacific Northwest, thus the advice given is most pertinent.

One of the things I like about this particular book is that it's an especially valuable resource for those with small garden plots, showing the limitless possibilities of what can be achieved in a modest area of land. Emma shares her personal thoughts and experiences growing organic food and raising chickens on her small homestead with a refreshingly witty and down to earth sense of humor that sets this read apart from many of the stodgy and strictly serious gardening books out there. I should also mention that all of the information in this book is presented in a very environmentally conscientious manner.

Perhaps what really piqued my interest was the wide diversity of topics and plants that she covered. Do you know what xynophyl is? Want to try growing Achoca? Well, besides covering all of the "normal" garden veggies one of Emma's passions is to try new and unusual varieties in her garden...me too. All in all I thoroughly appreciated this book for the reasons listed above plus the fact that Emma is a fellow blogger whose thought provoking posts about gardening always impart on me a little more knowledge than I started with. So check out her book and blog sometime...you just might like it too.

Emma's gardening blog can be found at http://coopette.com/blog/ and she also produces The Alternative Kitchen Garden podcast (an online radio show).

Friday, December 10, 2010

Gardening in the Snow

Another dreary, sunless, wet winter afternoon finds me chilled to the bone from hacking away at the snow surrounding our covered garden rows. It has finally warmed up enough that I was able to more easily remove the snowy slop that encompassed them. Up until this point everything has been so frozen solid that I have only bothered to tackle the snow from the ends of each row, thus allowing me limited access to the greens hidden within. So, back inside the warm house with a hot cup of coffee in hand I thought I might take a few minutes to post some pictures and thoughts on gardening in the snow.

During the cold season some plants are actually able to concentrate or increase their sugar content which in turn serves them as a sort of natural antifreeze, helping them to withstand frosty and freezing conditions for extended periods of time. The slower the weather cools off the better the plants are able to acclimatize in this manner. Even people can slowly adjust to cold or heat as our body's make internal adjustments to help compensate...it's really quite fascinating.

Anyway, we are always experimenting with a wide variety of plants that seem to withstand the cold to varying degrees. So far we have a had luck with an amazing amount of different types of greens that we can grow in the cold, often all the way through the frigid months.

Plants like kale, Swiss chard, parsley, boc choy, Bull's Blood beet greens, cress, collard greens, sorrel, various kale, mache, certain mustards, green onions, arugula, oregano, violets, cabbage, purple sprouting broccoli, rutabaga greens, salad burnett, spearmint, spinach, chickweed, turnip, kale-rabi, winter density lettuces, chervil, and many diverse varieties of chicory/endive/radicchio make up the winter garden list.

For this winter we focused on some of the very hardiest of the bunch that always perform well for us and have the majority of our winter rows planted in turnip greens, kale, and parsley. This↓row contains parsley, a nutritional powerhouse that is so very much more than just a silly little garnish to be pushed aside before beginning one's meal. We love it so much that we have a 25' row of it that gets picked at/on most days of the year. Parsley is included in almost every meal that we make, raw or cooked.

After over a month of very cold weather that included more than a few days in the negative digits you can quite clearly see how well the parsley and red sorrel have managed these conditions. It is not so much the chilly weather that will wear on these plants but all of the other elements combined such as cold, rain, snow, and wind that tends to break them down on a cellular level much faster than the cold alone. A simple protective cover makes a world of difference.

Included in this year's winter garden is a small section of red celery that, surprisingly, seem to be holding their own so far. These plants will be encouraged to bolt to seed in the spring in order to provide us with enough seed for the next couple years. Giant red is definitely the hardiest celery we grow. The one drawback is that a capricious percentage always seem to bolt during the summer if conditions are not just right, conditions that are all too often hard to consistently achieve...but I do try and we always end up with enough good plants to make them worthwhile to grow.

This row contains a whole lot of young turnip greens and a small section of winter density lettuces, spinach, and red mustard too. Turnip greens are always the first to put out new growth for us, sometimes even in the middle of winter during brief warm spells.

I am using this makeshift cold frame to help protect and overwinter some of our Swiss chard that, like the celery, will be allowed to provide us with new seed.
As an experiment, I have a mixture of different varieties of beets that didn't make the harvest cut under this row cover just to see how readily they will resume growth in the spring...if at all, they look pretty whipped at this point.

"There are three principal means of acquiring knowledge... observation of nature, reflection, and experimentation. Observation collects facts; reflection combines them; experimentation verifies the result of that combination" - Denis Diderot

Two of this year's winter rows contain nothing but kale, my favorite winter green.

We have Lacinato kale, also called Dinosaur kale because of its bumpy textured leaves.

Our very hardy Lacinato Rainbow kale is a cross between Lacinato and Red Bore kale. I hope to grow the Red Bore (hybrid) variety next year if I can find some affordable seeds...dang they're pricey.

Beedy's Camden Kale hibernating in a bed of leaves.

Red and White kale. I have noticed that the younger Russian kale plants perform much, much better than the larger ones in our winter garden, it seemingly has to do with the thickness of the stem. Many of the larger Russian kales seem to be affected by the cold and begin to rot along the trunk while those with smaller stems manage the weather much better. On the other hand, the larger plants that do survive share many more greens with us in the early spring. Quite often, even the large kales that appear to have died out in the cold are able to regrow if their roots have not been damaged. They will then provide us with a good month or more of nice greens before bolting to seed.

And, in saving the best for last, we have what I now believe is perhaps the all around hardiest variety we grow at this time, Dwarf Blue Curled Vates kale. A very nice kale, not only because it is so darn cold hardy but the shorter stature of this particular variety makes it a perfect fit for our row covers. The Red Bore kale seems to be similar in nature which is why I want to include it next season.

Believe it or not, we are able to "gently" pick all of these greens while frozen solid and if they are allowed to thaw at a temperature around 40°...not too warm, you honestly can barely tell that they did not arrive straight out of a summer garden. Of course the main difference is that there are no bugs on them this time of year and their sugar content makes them taste much sweeter.

Gardening is much more than a warm weather activity for us, we can be found on bended knee tending our plants 365 days each year. I often wonder what my neighbors must think when they see me trudging about our gardens in the snow with a bowl in my hands, perhaps they will inquire one of these days...or more likely not, as they no doubt consider us to be a little touched in the head...and maybe we are at that.:)

"The fair-weather gardener, who will do nothing except when the wind and weather and everything else are favorable, is never master of his craft."--Henry Ellacombe
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