Monday, June 4, 2012

One small step for man, one giant leap towards self sufficiency for woman!

I absolutely loved the little farm site we had when we moved to the new River Valley. Unfortunately, it had extensive storm damage that caused excessive water leakage and the evil dreaded black mold. We had to move.  Locating a new place that would take our menagerie wasn't easy but we found one with a smaller parcel of land and a larger home within reasonable distance of my husband's job.  It's gorgeous up here on a high hill overlooking the valley, and the property is heavily wooded with large, mature black walnut and other hardwood trees.  It's beautiful- and that's also a problem.

With the slope of the hill and the abundance of large trees there is very little space to put in any food crops that allows enough drainage and sunlight. Add rocky, clay based soil and it's a disaster for any hope of a vegetable garden. What's a girl to do?

Get creative, that's what.

A former neglected flowerbed near the front porch that receives plenty of morning to mid afternoon light was dug up and  made over into an herb garden.  Using old landscaping timbers we found on the site we were able to create a raised border. We lightened the soil with composted wheat straw from our chicken coop, which had the added benefit of nitrogen rich manure.   The sage, basil, rosemary and mint are all doing well. We lost the garlic chives to the chickens, who are permitted to roam the yard during the day and despite fencing (they flew over!) love to dust bathe in that spot.  I don't mind so much, the loss of the chives was worth it for the automatic weeding done by the birds!  My thyme and oregano were not doing well, and were moved to hanging planters where they are much happier.

Another small strip of level ground along the porch was also given similar treatment.  Imagine my surprise when I found a pretty silver ring with semi precious gemstones buried like treasure in the spot!  This narrow section was just big enough for a few tomatoes, with a little more light daily than the herb garden. To make more of the space, I built a tall frame from 8' high 4" x 4" treated posts.   From this, we hung three "topsy turvy" planters with more varieties of tomato.  We're having mixed success with these; the German Queen and Lemon Boy are thriving while Mr Stripey isn't looking too hot.  We may need to relocate old Stripey.   Our two large upside down plants and the ground based cherry, Bush Goliath and Black Princes (my favorite) are all full of flowers and we hope to see fruits by the fourth of July.

As much as we love tomatoes, we can't live on them alone so I needed to put in some more veggies. But where?

On an internet homesteading site I found information on re purposing untreated wood pallets, creating upright flower beds, really interesting raised beds (will try this next year!) and lie flat planters that make weeding a breeze.  So in a corner around the house near our cellar access, I found enough fairly level space with good quality of sunlight for four pallets.

Being able to separate plants in this way, I thought it might be a good opportunity for a little experiment.   In one, we used composted chicken manure with the soil. In a second, we used the offerings from the ducks. In a third, rabbit.   Yes, we now have rabbits!  I'll get to those in my next post....   And for the fourth, a mixture of both.  I'm tracking what has been planted where and will be tracking their growth to see what works best.

I'll find space to add a few more of these across the yard and finish getting the rest of the plants I'd like to have into the ground. The plan is to have enough fresh greens for the entire family for the season from our own gardens, and some canning down for the winter.   We'll see how it goes!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Would You Like A Side Of Propaganda With That?

I'm still trying to figure out when efficiency and economy became a bad thing.

During the Great Depression, Americans were forced to find ways to make more with less. Fear of another devastating recession led to changes in industry that made businesses more productive and more profitable.  Along the way, improvements were made for worker safety and other concerns.

Animal agriculture was no different from other players in the game.  Livestock owners needed to care well for their animals, since failure to do so would be counter productive. Let's face it, a poorly maintained machine doesn't run well, and a poorly maintained animal doesn't create healthy young, eggs, milk or muscle mass for meat out of thin air.

Urban sprawl and the creation of zoning ordinances codified livestock ownership out of grandma's yard and into far removed rural areas.  Could you imagine what it would be like living in your neighborhood if everyone had their own chickens, dairy cows, beef cattle, swine, or other animals?   I know some of you throw fits when Mrs Murphy's dog barks after 9 pm, so you've come to expect that food production animals belong, well, on a farm.

America's farmers did exactly that and took the production to centralized locations where issues such as noise, odor, and waste could be addressed and leave families free to enjoy their little bedroom communities without a couple of hundred  roosters waking them at the crack of dawn.  Feeds were managed to provide optimum nutrition and quicker market weight gains, meaning more food could be made in less time, and still be affordable and delicious. Housing systems were discussed, researched and implemented in a manner that kept the animals safest from predators, injury from other animals and ability to quickly identify and separate those that were ill.  What's wrong with that?

The more comfortable people got in their cozy homes, the less they understood what it took to bring a meal to the table. And with the advances of the internet, information can be passed between large numbers of individuals at lightening speed. Which is a scary thought if that information is false.

Some people and groups enjoy disbursing misinformation in an effort to manipulate a response. And predictably, the masses follow.   Several times this week I've received postings from friends about "scary foods".  Perhaps you've seen them? In one we're shown food items from a well known fast food chain with the claim that this person's very own doctor set these on the counter, dated them and left them there, where they failed to rot, proving they are not food at all but some insidious replica, perhaps made of plastics.  Funny, I didn't know that so many folks I knew all had the same physician.  In another version, it's a housewife or mother who did this experiment, with the same results; the meat patty and other ingredients remained largely unchanged.

First off I'd love to commend these folks for having the cleanest homes I've ever heard of.  They must have even taken a Swiffer to the food items because there isn't a speck of dust to be seen. Me, I can't come in from walking the dogs without leaving a little trail of dust motes behind me. Outstanding!  Secondly, any mother of a toddler can tell you about the mummified remains of what was once food, home cooked no less, excavated from between the cushions of the couch (and the seams of the high chair, and the side of the refrigerator, and between the range and counters...).   It resembles jerky and that's pretty much what it is. Small, thin, portions rapidly lose moisture and dry out.  Ever enjoy a sun dried tomato? Or Portuguese bacalhau? Open air drying is the oldest preservation method known to man. It's absolutely nothing new and you can find instruction on air drying just about anthing edible on sites such as or homesteading sites.

So I find the assertion  that this food cannot possibly be food because, goodness, it dried out! completely absurd.   When you think about, you will too, but was that your reaction when you saw the photo and read a description sent to you by a friend?

Another photo is allegedly of a product called mechanically separated meat. The story goes that entire carcasses of animals are thrown into the grinder, reduced to a hot pink paste and used in one chain store's chicken nuggets, among other foods.

The gullibility of people I have previously thought to be intelligent astounds me.

Sure, there's a product called mechanically separated meat, and here's where the efficiency issues once again raises it's head.  When you remove the best usable cuts from a carcass, what do you do with the rest? Instead of relegating it to garbage, which raises the price of the products and increases useless waste, processors take the remaining parts (excluding things like fur, feathers, entrails and everything else that was already removed) and grind them.  The mass is pushed through a sieve, removing inedible parts such as bone chips.  The resulting product is then used as a base for formed foods like inexpensive chicken meat patties. It's nutritionally sound, safe and affordable. And no, it isn't hot pink, though it is pinkish. Meat does that you know.

Details can easily be found on Snopes but how many people actually look up and verify what they've just been told? You're already been horrified by an image out of context, edited, altered and then propagandized to the moon and back. And probably already hit "share" to several hundred (or thousands) of your closest virtual friends.

Back before the internet, we used to call this an Urban Legend and it took them a while to circulate. Now, with the touch of a mouse pad, the entire world can read something completely ludicrous before lunch. Twice.

The Snopes page has a short video clip attacked showing how one well known chef recreated the process with household appliances- and the reaction of the participants. It didn't go quite the way he had hoped.  It's worth the four minutes to see how this type of intentional manipulation works, and how it can backfire.

Here at home, I reuse what's left too but I'm forced to do it the old fashioned way.  I add poultry carcasses or bone in meat to a pot with water, onions, garlic, celery, carrots, and spices, bring it to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let it cook down a while. I strain the ingredients and after it's cool enough to touch, manually pick out the good meat and toss it back into the pot with the stock. Back in the days when people actually used their kitchens, we called this SOUP.

Perhaps you've heard of it?