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Archive for August, 2011

On Sunday, as I was carrying some hay out to distract the cows while I fed the turkeys, I was intrigued by how many seed heads were in the few flakes I carried.  My mind wandered, as it is prone to do.  I first thought of how the King James Bible called wheat and barley heads, corn.  We still talk about ‘barley corn’.  Then I started thinking about corn, as in sweet corn.  What is corn?  It is an annual grass.  Sure it’s been modified and selectively bred, but it is a grass, nonetheless.

Next, I asked myself, ‘If cows got loose and wandered into a corn field, would they eat the corn?’

The answer?  ‘Darned skippy they would.’  Oh, and deer do it all the time.

Follow up question, “Would the cows have digestive problems as a result of their foray into the world of King Corn?”

Answer?

“Probably not, unless they gorged themselves too quickly and gave themselves bloat”.

So where am I going with this?  Simply, that if corn is a grass and cows eat grass, then corn, in moderation, and left on the stalk, or mixed with the fodder as silage, may not be the egregious act we’ve made it out to be.

Don’t misunderstand, I know that a primary diet of corn and soy is bad for cows and the people who eat cows, but I’m thinking that planting a little corn with alfalfa or clover (as a nitrogen fixer), and leaving it stand as winter forage might extend the grazing season and reduce or eliminate the need for winter hay, especially in places like Georgia where we have longer growing seasons.

I’m going to study it more, but I’m suddenly wondering if, in our condemnation of factory farming and CAFO cruelty, we sustainable farming types might have thrown the baby out with the bath.

Stay tuned.  More controversy to come.

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We’ve been afraid to free range our Black Spanish Turkeys.  Remember, our farm is surrounded by a neighborhood full of people, cars, dogs and cats.  Black Spanish Turkeys can fly.  This is not a great recipe.

Last week when the predator got into the tractor we were devastated.  A dozen beautiful half grown turkeys slaughtered and abandoned.  It was awful.

We moved the turkey tractor into a field with cows and the predation stopped.  The demolition, however, had only begun.  Over a three day period, one bull, two heifers and three sheep totally decimated the turkey tractor in their efforts to get at the turkey feed.

Yesterday morning, before Church, B and I went out to do chores.  I was watering the livestock and feeding the rabbits while Brittan milked.  During my rounds I went to check on the turkeys and discovered the tractor in tatters.  Every joint was broken as was the top door.  One of the sheep apparently jumped up onto and into the turkey tractor.  It looked like one of those boxes of parts that says “some assembly required”.

The turkeys were happily grazing through the tall grass and weeds.

We decided to pen them in with poultry netting and electrify it, but decided the grass was too tall and would short out the netting.  It also crossed our minds that more of the turkeys may have survived the predator if they’d been free to try and escape and fly up into a tree or onto a wood pile.

So…. we’re trying our an experimental turkey free range method.  It was and accident and may result in the disappearance of our birds, or it may be as successful as our chicken free ranging.  We’ll know in a couple days.  Stay tuned.

 

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We haven’t even started building the system and already have a dilemma.  Such is our lives.

Sharp Entertainment, producers of shows like “Man Vs. Food” and “Extreme Couponers” are doing a show for National Geographic Channel called, “Doomsday Preppers”.  A melodramatic title, to say the least.

We have talked with them several times about the show and they want to come and film for two days in September.  We explained that we don’t have any bomb shelters nor are we expecting an alien invasion in 2012, but they are intrigued by ‘our edible suburb’.  They think the idea of a sustainable suburban farm would have some appeal.  We thought that our lack of ‘extremeism’ would be the end of things, but no, they sent us a release form this week and want to come out sometime between 12 and 27 September to film for two days.  There is no money involved.  Shucks.

There is a catch, though.  Someone in the production company read my post about Giant Redclaw Crayfish and they are psyched about that.  I have tried to explain that the Red Claw plan is scheduled for spring due to budgeting constraints, but they are urging me to move it up because it’s so different.  The simple answer is that we’re not prepared to blow the budget just for the chance to be on TV.  That’s totally counter to what we’re trying to accomplish.  We have an emergency fund, a year’s worth of food and supplies in storage, a considerable investment in, shall we say, security, a self sufficient garden, two years or so of seeds and 8 varieties of livestock, yet the one thing we weren’t planning on until next year is the one thing that excites a television company.  How do you spell ‘irony’?

Last night, B came up with a three phase plan that would allow us to get our first tank started in the next two weeks, making the production company happy while keeping us financially solvent.  I’m going to spend some time this weekend working through her plan to make sure we can get it done.  In the meantime, we are forging ahead with our first tilapia system.  I wish we had some cooler weather in which to construct the darned thing, but it’s been over 90 since the first week of May and there’s no end in sight.  So all construction projects include heat stroke and sunburn relief spray.  After all, we live in “HOTlanta”.  BTW, the old song, “Rainy Night in Georgia?”  Total lie!

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There’s nothing I hate more in the summer than standing over a hot stove for hours on end canning up tomatoes.  I’d much rather be out in the pastures playing with the animals or sitting under the ceiling fan on the porch enjoying a book and an iced cold glass of tea, but that’s just me.  However summertime always finds me with mountains of ripe, delicious tomatoes that need to be preserved before they go bad.  So on those days when I can’t bear to spend an exorbitant amount of time in front of the pressure cooker I dig out my Ziplock freezer bags and process up my tomatoes for the freezer.  Freezing tomatoes (or tomato sauces) is super easy, and doesn’t take more than a few minutes of your time; and when thawed out you’ll have fresh from the garden tasting tomatoes ready to be incorporated into your meals.

When it comes to freezing tomatoes, it’s really about preference.  I prefer a ‘crushed’ tomato as opposed to tomato juice since I can always make my sauces more smooth by running the tomatoes through the blender or food processor before adding them to my cooking.  But for things like stews and pasta sauces I like something with a bit of substance to it, and I find that a crushed tomato sauce works much better.  I have also been known to  up whole tomatoes to use in chili and lasagna recipes.  However, if you prefer a smooth tomato sauce, you go right ahead!

** One other point about freezing tomatoes that should be considered before you begin is whether you want skin-on or skinless tomatoes.  Again, I’ve done it both ways depending on the amount of time (and energy) I have.  If you want skinless tomatoes the process will take longer as you’ll have to blanch the tomatoes in order to loosen the skins.  This will add additional time to your overall processing time, however if you don’t like skins then its well worth it.  To blanch the tomatoes you’ll need to make a small X in the bottom of each tomato (coring is not necessary unless you don’t like them) and drop the tomato in a large stockpot of boiling water.  The amount of blanching time will vary depending on the size of the tomatoes and the thickness of the skins.  I just watch them, and when I see the skins beginning to blister and roll back around the X mark I remove them with a slotted spoon to a bucket of ice water.  Once the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, carefully slip the skins off the tomatoes.  If they were blanched long enough the skins should slide off in your hand, although sometimes you have to use a small coring knife to ease the skins off of greener spots.  Once all your tomatoes have been skinned you’re able to proceed with the freezing process.  **NOTE: I do not recommend freezing whole, skin-on tomatoes as the skins seem to get really tough, however if you’re planning on processing your frozen/thawed tomatoes through a food processor or blender before using them and you don’t mind the skins then you can leave them on.  I’ve just never had good luck this way.**

freezer quality bags

What you’ll need to freeze tomatoes:

* Freezer bags (make sure the bags are ‘freezer’ quality as the thinner bags will not hold up to the expanding tomatoes and will get frostbite very

quickly).  I recommend gallon sized and quart sized bags – pints are just too small.

* Lemon juice (optional)

* Salt (optional)  (I use Kosher or canning salt, but regular table salt is just fine in this application)

* Tomatoes

How to freeze tomatoes: (‘crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce)

1. Before you begin, mark all your freezer bags with a permanent marker – you’ll want to label the bags with the contents as well as the date so you can easily identify your tomatoes from other items in your freezer.  There’s nothing worse than digging through your freezer and pulling out something unlabeled and unidentifiable.

2. If you’re freezing skinless tomatoes follow the blanching instructions above before you proceed.  Quarter the tomatoes, removing any bruises or bad spots, and place in a blender or food-processor.  Add in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of salt (if using) for each quart of tomatoes.  Pulse the tomatoes a few times to reach the consistency you want.  I usually pulse 3 to 4 times for ‘crushed tomatoes’.  Pour the processed tomatoes into the freezer bags – filling the bags no more than three-quarters full.  As you seal the bag, gently squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible.  Lay the bags out on a flat surface like a large cookie sheet or in a cake pan, spreading the tomatoes out as much as you can in the bag.  You can stack the bags up, but not more than 5 high or else the weight could rupture the bottom bag leaving you with a mess.

3. Place the cookie sheet in the freezer and allow to freeze for 24 to 48 hours, depending on how many bags of tomatoes you’ve got.  Once the

bags of frozen tomatoes

tomatoes are frozen solid you can remove them from the cookie sheet and stack them up.  Thaw in the refrigerator or on the defrost setting on your microwave before use, or add frozen to soups and stews.  Frozen tomatoes keep well for up to 12 months.

How to freeze tomatoes: (whole tomatoes)

1. Before you begin, mark all your freezer bags with a permanent marker – you’ll want to label the bags with the contents as well as the date so you can easily identify your tomatoes from other items in your freezer.  There’s nothing worse than digging through your freezer and pulling out something unlabeled and unidentifiable.

2. Blanch, cool, and remove the skins, saving as much of the tomato juice as you can during this process (see above paragraph on blanching).  Place whole tomatoes in gallon-sized freezer bags, filling no more than three-quarters full.  Divide any saved juice evenly among the bags.  Add in 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and 2 teaspoons of salt (if using).  Seal bags, carefully squeezing out as much air as possible.  Lay the bags on a flat surface like a cookie sheet or cake pan, spreading the tomatoes out as much as possible.  You can stack the bags of tomatoes up, but no more than 4 or 5 high as the weight could burst the bottom bag, leaving you with a big mess.

3. Freeze the tomatoes for 24 – 48 hours, or until solid.  Thaw in the refrigerator or on the defrost setting in the microwave before using, or add frozen to soups and stews.  Frozen tomatoes keep well for up to 12 months.

That’s all there is to it!  Super simple, quick, and when winter is at its bleakest and all you can find in the supermarket are notional tomatoes you’ll be able to grab a bag of garden fresh tomatoes from your freezer and whip up a fresh batch of fresh tomato soup that will remind you of sunny days and cool glasses of iced tea.  Enjoy!

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We finally settled on a spot to locate our first aquaponics garden. Now just have to do the work

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Despite the persistent 90 degree temperatures here in the ‘burb, the gardening season is beginning to wane in most of the country. Many of you are finding yourself being overrun with an abundance of tomatoes. Juicy, huge, and ripe to the point of nearly going off. It seems pointless to just let them rot on the vine, so you pick them out of guilt; but if you’re like me you’ve had nearly all the tomatoes your taste buds can take for one summer.  They’re sitting on your counter in huge piles, gathering fruit flies. Your creativity has run amok and you’ve given up on coming up with new ways to incorporate them into your every meal.  More than anything you’re tempted to just chuck the lot of them into the compost pile and
wash your hands of the whole mess. You’ve considered the idea of preserving them but you don’t have limitless time on your hands, nor do you have a pressure cooker and all the canning paraphernalia you’d need. So what to do?…

Don’t despair my friends, here in the ‘burb we’ve come up with a simple and easy way to can up all those tomatoes that won’t break your budget or wreak havoc with your already pressed schedule.  We call it ‘oven canning’, and its super simple and can be accomplished in just 4 easy steps.  It could just be the easiest method of  canning tomatoes ever invented.

Here’s what you’ll need:

canning funnel

* Quart or pint-sized canning jars with lids and bands (these can be purchased in a hardware store or big-box stores for about $10-$13 per dozen)
* Canning funnel (this has a large, open funnel end to allow the food to be passed into the jars without making a mess everywhere and can be purchased with the canning supplies)
* Large stockpot
* Canning salt (this can be purchased with the canning jars)
* Lemon juice (or ascorbic acid, if you have it)

canning & pickling salt

* Tomatoes

How to Can Tomatoes in the oven:

1. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F. Sterilize your jars and bands by running them through the dishwasher. Place the lids in a small saucepan of simmering water.  **NOTE: If you do not have a dishwasher you can accomplish the same thing by washing the jars in the hottest water you can, and then submerging the jars and bands for one minute in a stockpot of boiling water.**

2. Wash and quarter the tomatoes, making sure to cut out any bruised or ruined spots.  Place quartered tomatoes in a large stock pot over medium heat.  Bring tomatoes to a full boil, stirring occasionally to keep them from scorching. **NOTE: You do not need to add any liquid as the tomatoes will release all their natural juices as they begin to heat up and break down. **

3. Set all your sterilized jars on a clean work surface, making sure not to put your fingers inside the jar. Add to each jar 1 tablespoon of lemon juice

and 1 – 2 teaspoons of canning salt (depending on how salty you like your tomatoes. A good rule of thumb is 1 teaspoon for pint-sized jars and 2 teaspoons for quart-sized jars). Using your canning funnel, ladle the boiling tomatoes carefully into your jars (keep the jars on the work

home canned tomatoes

surface – do not hold them while you do this as you could really burn yourself). Fill each jar, leaving 1” of head space. When all the jars are filled, wipe the rim of each jar with a clean dish rag or paper towel. Center a hot lid on the jar and screw a sterilized band onto the lid, making it fingertip tight – you don’t have to torque it down too tight here; it just needs to be tight enough that the lid’s rubber rim has made good contact with the
hot jar.

4. Place the jars in the preheated oven (directly on the oven racks) leaving a little bit of air space between the jars. Time the jars for 10 minutes. Remove the jars to a heat-proof surface and allow them to sit at room temperature, undisturbed, for 24 hours. As the jars cool the lids will ‘pop’ down in a seal. Store the jars in a cool location and use within 18 months.

And there you have it. Perfectly preserved summer tomatoes from you own garden, ready for your next pot of wintertime chili.  Simple, flavorful, healthy, and quick.  Enjoy!

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Farming has dark days.  We’ve discussed that before.  Some are worse than others.  Yesterday was one of those.

When we got to the farm last evening, Brittan noticed right away that some of the rabbit rangers were moved.  One of them had been shifted about 15 feet.  As we approached, we noticed that ranger was also empty.  B did a quick inventory and found another rabbit missing as well (though the reason for that one remains a mystery).

Fortunately, we spotted them quickly among the rubble and scrap piles of the landscape company with whom we share a driveway.  One bunny was caught quickly.  The other eluded us for at least half an hour, before B managed to get a grip on her.  Meanwhile, I was extricating myself from a pile of pvc and plastic flexible tubing into which I had stumbled while making a grab at the rabbit.

Brittan had not even deposited the bunny safely in its home when our farm helper, Ray, announced that we had dead turkeys.  Our friendly neighborhood predator (the puncture wounds suggest a canid) had returned,  tore open the back of the turkey tractor and annihilated 11 turkeys.  A couple were partially eaten in a way the made it look like more that one animal was involved.  It was awful, simply awful.

While we were picking up carcasses, our landlord arrived and said, “Chuck (our bull) is dragging rabbit rangers all over the pasture.”

Brittan left Ray and me to clean up the carnage while she went to attend to the bull and his furniture rearranging.

It took us about a half hour to get everything cleaned up and to move the turkeys into the pasture with the cows.  By that time, Brittan had strung some portable electric fencing around the rabbits.  I got a solar charger and a ground  rod and went to work.  Since I had no testing equipment, the only way I knew to test whether or not it had a charge on it was to inflict pain on myself.  Let’s just say that despite being idle since February or March, it was still quite potent.  My teeth are still vibrating.

We got the fence electrified and watched while Chuck, Diane and to a lesser degree, Butter, taught themselves to avoid it.

It was very dark by the time the milking was done, the pigs were put away, eggs were collected and everyone bedded down.  Our nerves were shot and the drive home was gloomy.

Every farmer has these kinds of days.  It goes with the territory.  They cannot be avoided.  Life happens.  Strangely, though, even in the struggles and the storms, I feel a deep satisfaction in what we’re doing.  I get discouraged, but a greater joy never let’s it turn to despair.  Tomorrow is a new day.  As we motored home, Brittan said, “It doesn’t ever make you want to say ‘to heck with farming’, does it?”

“No.  Never.”

“That’s why you’re the Wingnut.”

Inside joke.  We grinned.  I hit the gas.

 

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