Monthly Archives: August 2013

Orchard

Standing tall, Bowing down

Sapling tree bent by caging wind

Resilient

Bending low, standing tall

Growing stronger each season

Each storm tests strength

Of branch, trunk, and mettle.

Without the wind

I would not be sheared and pushed

Stronger

And strength fills me while it yet

strips me away.

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Listener Question: Drying and Other Ways to Preserve Food Yourself

Photo Credit: Andrewatla via everystockphoto.com

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Jorge P. from Manteca, CA writes:

Thank you so much for all the helpful information. I listen to you on my way to work and my way home. I recently bought a home though it has a smaller backyard and my wife and I are planning out our small farm. We are from a town Los Banos (Yes “the bathrooms” in spanish, and Manteca is “lard” in spanish. Heh hahah) where agriculture is king — and now that we are in the suburbs its been a rough adjustment. What kind of tips could you give for food preservation, and tips for drying, and if you have ever salt cured pork or beef for preservation? 

Here is my response to Jorge.  I love his sense of humor!

Great to hear from you!  Ha ha ha!  Those are great names! 
These are great questions!  On episode 51 of Small Home Farm Radio I answered a gal’s question about preserving food – she wanted to use a cold cellar, but lived where it was too warm all but two months of the year.  I think she was in zone 9, also.  I believe Manteca, where you live, is zone 9.
 
For her I suggested canning and drying, and also succession planting so she has fresh food available to her most of the year since there is such a long growing season.  In the really hot parts of the year you’ll want to concentrate on growing heat loving veggies like tomatoes, tomatillos, various peppers, squash, melons, and beans.  Anything like potatoes, carrots, turnips, etc… you can just leave in the ground and harvest as you need them until frost.  Then they should keep in regular storage for maybe a couple of months – depends on how warm it is where you store them.  The colder the better, but above freezing.  If you have a really cool spot (below 40 degrees) you should be able to keep them quite some time.  But you have to sort through them and take out any that are starting to go bad regularly.  If you miss one, you can easily lose your whole crop to spoilage.  You can leave carrots and parsnips in the ground over the winter.  They will get sweeter the longer they stay in the ground, but you need to keep a bale of straw over top of them to keep the ground from freezing there.  Then just flip back your bale and pull however many you need for a week or so, put the bale back on top of the rest of them, and they’ll keep just fine!  
 
You can freeze a lot of foods, certainly.  That’s a good option if you have freezer space available to you.  I prefer chest freezers.  If there is a power outage, the contents will stay cold a little longer in the chest freezer.  The first time you open the door to the upright freezer, you lose a lot of the cold!  At least the chest freezer will keep the cold air in it a lot better if you open it.
 
If you want to dehydrate your foods, you can air dry, sun dry, dry in your oven, or use a dehydrator.  I’ve tried all those methods.  I think you just need to experiment to find which ones you like best.  I like a dehydrator for a lot of things, but they can also get a little *too* hard and crispy if you don’t watch it.  To air dry (indoors), you just spread things out – I’m talking about peas and beans here … nothing really, really wet like tomatoes.  And let them dry on your table or countertop.  Then you can store them in jars with a silica gel packet once they are completely dry.  The silica packet keeps any moisture left in the jar at bay.  But again, you want them really dry when you put them in there.  
 
Sun drying is great for tomatoes.  You just slice your roma tomatos in half or quarters and spread them out on an old screen or something that will allow the air to circulate under and around.  You’ll probably have to put a lightweight piece of fabric over them to keep the bugs off.  Nothing heavy at all, though, or it will hinder the drying process and they could start to mold instead of drying.  Let them sit until they are dried out and leathery, then store them in a small jar with olive oil in it, and maybe add a bit of herb to it – oregano or basil or something you like to cook with your tomatoes.  Then when you’re making a dish you want the tomatoes in, you just fish them out of the oil and add them to the pan toward the end of the cooking.  You can also sun-dry berries or sliced fruits or your peas and beans.  If you slice fruits, you want to dip them in lemon juice or sprinkle them with ascorbic acid or Fruit Fresh so they don’t turn very brown out in the air.  
 
To oven dry, you set your oven at its lowest temperature, crack the door, and put your produce in on baking sheet.  If I recall correctly, it takes roughly 8 hours – give or take a couple hours depending on temperature, what foods your drying, etc…, to dry things.  And whichever method of drying you use, you want things to be relatively small or sliced thinly so they will dry quickly and not start to rot or mold instead.  You wouldn’t dry 1/4 of an apple, for example, but you could slice the apple into maybe ten or twelve slices and dry the slices.  Those are good dried, by the way, sprinkled with a little cinnamon or cinnamon and sugar after you’ve dipped them in your lemon juice!
 
A dehydrator is pretty easy to use.  I found mine at a garage sale for $1!  So you don’t necessarily have to buy a new one.  You could even try borrowing one to see if you like it if you know anyone who has one.  Seems like it’s not uncommon for people to have one sitting around in a closet somewhere!  Just follow the instructions that come with the dehydrator.  They usually tell how to prepare whatever you want to dry and how long they should dry.  I use this for my herbs and fruits and fruit leather.  I’ve done fruit leather in the oven, too, but it usually ends up a little too crispy for my tastes.  It can be done well, I’m just not that talented!  
 
I have not salt cured my pork.  I freeze it.  But I’m pretty sure I do have instructions for that.  I also have a recipe for corned venison, (which can be found here) which can also be done with beef.  Beef is generally frozen or made into jerky or sausage.  I’ve made homemade jerky by adding herbs and spices to ground beef or venison and drying it in the oven or dehydrator – both ways work – and it’s quite good!  Beef is not really salt cured the same way you do with pork.  If you are using salt to cure it, it would be in a brine like with corned beef, I believe.  
If you are interested, you can “Like” the Small Home Farm Radio facebook page and we occasionally have discussions on there that folks take part in, and fans can ask questions that we try to answer.  
 
Thanks for getting in touch!  I can relate to having a hard adjustment period after a move when it’s so different from what you’re used to!  I hope you settle in well and get your garden up and running so that it’s a pleasure for you!  If you can get a copy of Paul Heiney’s book “Country Life” through the library, it’s a nice inspirational piece with good pictures to help you have an idea of how to set up your small farm to suit your space.  It’s no longer in print that I’m aware of, though, so you’d have to buy a used copy and I believe they’re pricey!  But here’s a link to Small Home Farm Radio’s Recommended Reading page where you can find one of my favorite books about food preservation in case you want some recipes and instructions, as well as the book Country Life by Paul Heiney. 
Have a great week … and Happy Home Farming!

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A Listener-Suggested Resource

Photo Credit: photoxpress.com

A Small Home Farm Radio listener took a much-appreciated moment to point me to a book she’s found really helpful in her extended-season gardening.  I’ll let her tell you about it:

Hi Erin,

I stumbled upon your podcast a couple of months ago and have enjoyed catching up to date. Thank you for taking the time to give great bits of wisdom and helpful tips.

We have just started our own little homestead with 6 chickens, a beehive and a large vegetable garden. We are also thinking of a little orchard. Thanks to you, we now know about dwarf fruit trees and natural pest deterrents!

I love your recommended reading section of the podcast and refer back to it on your website often. Just wondering if I could recommend a book to you? It is called The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener by Niki Jabbour and is similar to Eliot Coleman’s Four-season Harvest. But it includes some beautiful photos of vegetables and she explains how she uses multiple different resources (greenhouse, hoop house, grow lights) to get her vegetables growing year round up in Nova Scotia.

Again thank you for the wonderful podcast and look forward to learning from many more episodes!

Thanks,

Cristin  

Natick, Massachusetts

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You can click on this link above to be taken to our Recommended Reading page at our Small Home Farm Radio website, where you can purchase a copy of Jabbour’s book if you like.  

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Cover Crops in the Home Garden?

Photo by Linda N on everystockphoto.com

Have you read or heard about using cover crops in your garden to boost soil health?  Ever wondered if you should give them a try?  I almost always encourage people to give something a try if they’re interested in it, just to see what’s it’s about first hand.  But I’ve never used cover crops, for many of the same reasons that our listener Sabrina H. from Placerville, CA hasn’t used them.  She writes:

Erin, 

I would like to focus on building soil fertility. We have hard clay soil here so my husband and I have worked hard at building raised beds or have dug out the hardpan and filled it with better soil. I started with an ‘premium’ garden mix (mushroom compost, black forest humus and horse manure) from a local nursery and have been trying to build on to that. I’ve added shredded oak leaves, horse manure, straw, and compost. I’m going to try the no-till method of lasagna gardening and see how that goes.

My question is about cover crops. What is that all about? I mean, I’ve read all about it and its many virtues but I’m not convinced that it is right for me. I’m in California so we can grow for most of the year and I just rotate my plants throughout the growing season. I don’t want to yank out my plants four weeks before the frost in order to sow seeds for cover crops, that would end my fall garden harvest. I suppose I could fit it into my succession planting schedule (which I’m terrible at) but don’t want to give up productive space. Also, even if I do mulch well to prevent weeds, it seems like a bad idea to purposefully plant weeds in your garden beds. The only advantage I can see would be planting grains and being able to harvest grains, but you’re supposed to kill them before they get to that point.

Is there some secret advantage to cover crops that I am missing? From what I have read it mainly serves as a way to fix nitrogen into the soil and add organic material. I add plenty of organic material and the manure is high in nitrogen, so I guess I just don’t see the benefit in all that planning and effort. Is this ‘green manure’ all that it’s cracked up to be?

I have the same reservations as Sabrina.  I don’t have room (or the inclination, really) for a great big garden.  And I don’t want to give up space in my garden to grow a cover crop.  And to be honest, I’m not johnny-on-the-spot when it comes to getting out there at exactly the right time to do much of anything in the garden.  I get around to what needs to be done, but sometimes there are more weeds than I’d like, or the beans are in kind of late, or I let some of the peas get past their prime before I get out to pick them.  I sure don’t want to worry about a cover crop seeding itself all over my garden to make more work and weeding for me.  But since I’ve never used them, and have pretty much let those reservations alone keep me from trying it out, I don’t have much experience with them.  So I went to veteran gardener David Schleicher, speaker and author of the book From Earth to Health (available through our affiliate link at Amazon.com) and asked him to answer Sabrina’s question.

Here is what Dave had to say about it:

I have experimented with cover crops in the past, but I do not use them now.  I think they may make sense on a farm, but not so much for a home garden.

The main advantage is to add humus and some nitrogen to your soil.  Most home gardeners can do this with compost. 

The disadvantages are the extra labor to seed, water, and fertilize the bed, ungerminated seeds coming up during the following crop, added risk of bugs (armyworms and cutworms in my case), and the loss of time in the spring waiting for the cover crop to decompose.  I also found it to be a deer magnet during the winter. 

Dave

I think Sabrina is on the right track with what she is currently doing to build good, healthy, humusy soil.  That’s exactly what we did here at Aspendale Farm.  We started with beach sand that wouldn’t even grow grass and just built soil on top of it by adding lots of organic materials in spring and fall, and on an as-needed basis.  In our fifth gardening season here, we have  lovely, rich, black dirt and get nice, healthy, prolific crops from it!

Continue to add all that great organic material to your garden every year, and if you can, add a little more compost in between successive plantings.  If you keep at it you’ll end up with a lovely, crumbly, black, healthy soil that you and your plants will love!

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Click on the link to our Recommended Reading page to check out Dave’s book From Earth to Health on Amazon.com!

 

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Japanese Green Bean Stir-Fry with Soba Noodles

Yes, I ate half my serving before taking the photo. I just couldn’t help myself. Hmmm… stop eating this delicious bit of heaven to go find my camera? Or go retrieve said camera and let it get cold? I opted for eating half and letting half get cold.

As I’ve mentioned numerous times on Small Home Farm Radio, my daughter Cecily loves to experiment in the kitchen. (I think she gets that from her Mama, if I do say so myself!) And she loves to cook with new, different ingredients – especially is they’re a little healthier than your average, every-day supermarket fare.

It’s green bean season here at Aspendale Farm, and Cecily is apparently a little tired of me repeatedly grilling the green beans in their oh-so-fabulous! marinade of olive oil, garlic, and rosemary. I could eat them like candy grilled like that. But she wanted something different. So she scoured some cookbooks for ideas and threw together a few different ingredients to make what turned out to be a fabulous stir-fry that we all agree is a definite keeper!

Soba noodles are made with buckwheat and are found in the ethnic section of your supermarket.

Japanese Green Bean Stir-Fry with Soba Noodles

1 1/2-2 lbs. chicken, sliced thin and *marinated overnight

*1/2 c. teriyaki sauce

*4 cloves minced garlic plus 2 cloves garlic

1 – 1 1/2 lbs. fresh green beans

4 cups shiitake mushroom caps, sliced

2 Tbs. toasted sesame seeds (toast in 350 degree oven 5 or 6 mins until brown)

1 Tbs. vinegar

1 Tbs. sesame oil

1 Tbs. cooking oil (we like safflower)

1 1/2 Tbs. minced shallot

1 Tbs. powdered or minced ginger

3 Tbs. tamari sauce (can sub. soy sauce)

1 package soba noodles (available in ethnic section of grocery store)

Marinade chicken 8 hours or overnight in teriyaki and garlic.

When ready to prepare: Parboil green beans over high heat 4-5 minutes until crisp-tender.  Drain and run under cool water or dunk in a bowl of ice water to stop cooking process.  Set aside.

Stir fry the chicken in the marinade until chicken is cooked through and lightly brown and liquid has evaporated.  Remove and set aside.

Add oils to wok or very large skillet and heat oil.  Add shallot, ginger, 2 cloves minced garlic, and mushrooms to hot (not smoking) oil.  Cook 2-3 mins. until mushrooms have softened.  Reduce heat to medium-low and add drained green beans, cooked chicken, tamari and vinegar.  Cook until green beans are hot, about 3 minutes.

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Foraging for Food

“Wild Berries” – Photo Credit: Woopidoo2 at stock.Xchange

Toward the end of July my youngest son Danny, aged 13, who is an unabashed wilderness-loving guy, disappeared into our back forty for three days of rustic, “survivalist” camping.  Granted, he was only a quarter of a mile from the house, but the idea was to build his own shelter and gather his own food, water, and fuel and completely survive, unassisted, during that time.

He intended to go out Sunday, but when he learned we were having pizza and watching a movie, he delayed his departure until the next morning.  Priorities, you know!  LOL!

Still and all, disappear the next morning he did.  He built a fabulous lean-to shelter that actually worked well during a downpour that first night.  But he had a little trouble foraging for food and finding water in such a small area.  Every now and again I’d notice him silently slipping out of the house after a foraging expedition in the refrigerator and pantry.  With diligence and stealth he managed to bag a couple of hotdogs, a potato, a gallon of fresh water, and he foraged a baggie of flour.  LOL!

By the end of the experiment, though, he was actually eating wild foods – tubers, a garter snake (ew.), bunchberries, raspberries, several kinds of tea: pine needle/wintergreen tea, raspberry leaf, and cloverleaf tea, clover leaves and flowers themselves, teaberries and wintergreen leaves, as well as a really good syrup made of serviceberries (I got to try mine on some buckwheat pancakes).  In past adventures we’ve foraged mushrooms and fungi, wild flowers and herbs, various edible parts of cattails, snails (again – ew!), and an assortment of other edibles, as well as just catching and frying up some fish.  This would exclude any foods the boys have dragged home from their hunting excursions – small or large game.

So when I got the following Listener Question, I was really interested:

Hi Erin,

My husband and I are interested in learning more about foraging and teaching our son about good (edible and medicinal) native plants. Do you have any book or website recommendations to learn more about foraging?

Hope you are taking time to enjoy the summer!

Thanks,

Cristin,

Natick, Massachusetts

I went into a pretty lengthy reply, and I’ll post links to some of my very favorite books through our Amazon affiliate links at the end of the blog post:

Hi Cristin!
Yes, foraging is a fun topic!  In fact, my 13 y.o. son is spending the week out in the woods in our back forty, rustic camping and foraging for his food.  Except that I keep seeing him foraging in my refrigerator for hot dogs and my pantry for potatoes!  LOL!  He came in and told me he’d made a soup from some tubers and it tasted horrible!  It can definitely be a different experience!  LOL!
 
We actually took a month or so and studied foraging a couple of years ago as part of our schoolwork for the year.  We did mushrooms (which takes a pretty sure knowledge as many of them are toxic and a few even deadly), and roots and tubers, and wild greens and fruits.
 
I would suggest starting with “Stalking the Wild Asparagus” by Euell Gibbons.  That’s like the mother of all foraging books!  There are a lot of wild greens that are edible.  Many of them are somewhat bitter – it’s a bit of a different experience than eating out of your garden or from the produce department!  But there are some items, like the violets you just find out in the woods and yard, that are quite tasty and interesting!  Cattails have different edible parts during different times of the year.  And I’m sorry to say that my kids even went as far as catching and eating snails.  Eww.  LOL!  But they wouldn’t starve, I guess, if they found themselves needing sustenance!
 
If you want to get started with foraging and edible plants, you’ll want to start collecting all kinds of field guides. I just counted and we have forty books (that I could find – that’s not to say there aren’t a few hanging out somewhere besides the bookshelves!) about foraging and/or field guides.  We have field guides to mushrooms, medicinal plants, weeds, wild berries and fruit, flowers, plants, trees, fish, insects, etc…  A positive ID is important to make sure you aren’t eating anything that could make you sick.  A lot of wild foods that *are* toxic will only give you a belly ache or make you throw up, but some of them can be more harmful.  And multiple field guides about the same thing can be great for cross-referencing.  
 
Some of our other favorite books are The Forager’s Harvest: Edible Wild Plants by Smuel Thayer, Billy Joe Tatum’s Wild Foods Field Guide and Cookbook (my favorite), Edible Wild Plants and Useful Herbs by Globe Pequot, Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places by Steve Brill.  Then for more medicinal plants, Stalking the Healthful Herbs by Euell Gibbons.  I also have a good half-dozen or more books just about medicinal herbs.  You’ll quickly see that many of them are found in your flower garden, herb garden, or vegetable garden, as well as in your yard, out in the woods and along the roads!  You can “wildcraft” them if you like.  Any basic books about medicinal herbs will do.  One of my favorites is “Ten Essential Herbs” but you’ll need to look into “how” to get some of the herbs like slippery elm bark.  They won’t all be readily available, but some like garlic, onion, and cayenne will be!
 
I know there’s a also good basic intro to herbs by Shoshanna Easling (think I spelled it right) that is actually a video tutorial.  I believe she goes outside and shows you how to find them and prepare them.
 
Foraging and medicinal herbs are two big topics in and of themselves!  Fun to look into – and if you want to become expert it will probably turn into years of study! 
Here is a link to our Recommended Reading page where there are links to two of my favorite resources that I listed above.

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Fare Thee Well, My Friend

Saxton, my friend.

Another big change here at Aspendale Farm.  A big change for me, anyhow:  Saxton is going to a new home.  Believe it or not, it’s not his fault.  LOL!  He’s actually been better than ever this year.  I can’t put into words all that has gone into my decision to let him go.  And I can’t put into words the great wrenching in my heart on making this decision.  I’ve always called Saxton, “My Boyfriend.”  Well, he is exceptionally handsome, but if he were a girl I’d have to say he was one of my best girlfriends.

Think about a relationship you have in your life with someone – a coworker, neighbor, friend, that you’ve grown very close to, confided in, worked together, and generally understood and appreciated each other in a very comfortable way.  You rely on each other to just be part of your lives.  That’s the kind of working/playing relationship I’ve had with Saxton.  I’ve grown a lot and learned a lot from him, and I know he could tell you the same about me.  When you work on something together and your personalities are very compatible, you can’t help but be mutually gratified by the relationship.  Even an interspecies one.

But in spite of all my hesitation and sorrows in the matter,  I know it’s the right decision.  I’ve mulled it over, painfully, since about April.  But as I mentioned in my last post, we are in the midst of a bit of upheaval and change here at Aspendale Farm, and I, personally, am in the midst of quite a bit of change as well.  I know that, whether I like it or not, this is the right decision.  Tighter finances play a part in it, as do changing schedules, me taking on more work, and some other changes coming down the pike that we must consider all play into it.  I don’t like it, but I know that it’s right.  And I feel extremely comfortable about where he’s going, about his new owner, and his new care situation.  I also know that based on his age (19) – this is really the last good opportunity I will have to place him in a new permanent home, something that must be a necessity and not an option before too long anyhow.  Once a horse hits 20 years old, they become very hard to place because of their age.  So off he goes.  I wish him all the best and I smile to think of his coming years with lots of green grass and a pretty mare for companionship.

Still and all, he is – and has been – my friend and it’s been hard to keep it together since we made the arrangements with his new owner.  I’ve been trying – and fumbling – to keep the tears at bay every time I think about it or go down to feed or groom.

The last year has seen some very close friends move out of my life (literally – moving van and all.)  Oddly.  And now my son is going, and Saxton.  A season for change.

To everything there is a time and a season.  Ecc 3:1

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