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Posts Tagged ‘organic gardening’

I just read this on a blog I just started following!! This is an AMAZING commercial! All my feelings on the farming industry summed up in 2 minutes. Check it out!! Back to the Start –

Back to the Start

Two Barn Farm

I’m not one to post back-to-back entries, I’m usually good for one a week but if you didn’t see the new ad for Chiptotle, take a couple of minutes and watch it. This is Chipotle’s first tv ad and wow! They nailed it, amazing. Smart campaign to target a “Back to Basics” farming approach in this short animated commercial featuring Willie Nelson covering Coldplay…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMfSGt6rHos

It reminds me of Pixar’s “Up” when they were able to convey so much emotion in the first ten minutes (when she was unable to have children) completely through nonverbal means. I’m not saying go to Chipotle’s (owned by McDonald’s) but I am saying what they made here is gold and will hopefully force change in the industrial agricultural factory farming community.

Baby steps, right?

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A single week's fruits and vegetables from com...

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As I prepare my last batch of hot pepper jam for this season and plot out the holiday baking madness for the upcoming season I am also preparing to put our garden down for an extended rest.   That’s right, for Garden Season 2012 we will not be planting anything in our garden plot.   Does that mean this Farmgirl has given up only 3 years and 6 chickens in?  On the contrary,  this Farmgirl has been inspired by a great book that I picked up at my local Tractor Supply  The Backyard Homestead:

This book is a must have desk reference for anyone who wants to start a backyard homestead or begin to dabble in producing  their own food from scratch.    Upon purchasing this book I had some AHA moments about  being a bonified urban homesteader.    I have not mastered anything mind you (as clearly illustrated by this year’s less than bumper crop of carrots and beets),  but I do feel that I have a good handle on growing vegetables in a garden.    So 2012 our goal is to make our yard a well-rounded food bearing garden retreat.   We would like to add apple trees and perhaps some pear trees.  We would like to clear out the random and useless rock garden next to our pool and create a blueberry patch.   We would like to plot out a location for  raised strawberry and raspberry beds.   Perhaps a deck and real live fireplace and/or bread oven.   Perhaps a door yard full of berries and nuts.  Boxed herbs and of course a handful of containers loaded with tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.  Oh and maybe, just maybe we might actually get that compost system set up that we have been threatening to put into operation for 3 years now.

So,  you ask what will these homesteaders do for fresh and local produce next year?   Well, we will start by getting a full share in our CSA, Maplewood  Organics.   My final calculation after this last pick up of what we received for this season was nearly $350 of organic potatoes, peppers, onions (which, I might add, organic onions were going for $2 a lb. today at the grocery store) brussel sprouts, broccoli, tomatoes, fresh-cut flours, swiss chard, kale, radishes, lettuce, green beans and more.  Given that, I am super excited to see what a full share will garner us.  Of course there is always our local farmers markets and farm stands where buying in bulk is encouraged.  Having  just filled my belly with Gluten Free Lasagna made with delicious homemade tomato sauce, we will make sure to do whatever it takes to get our hands on fresh tomatoes.  So. long story not so short, we will do what our ancestors have always done and give our garden plot a rest after what can only be described as a “challenging” season for growers across the nation.    We will fill it with winter rye,  and host a potato sack race over the top of it for leap year in July!!!  We will build the backyard homestead/haven of our dream and in 2013 recreate the veggie magic of old.   And by then, ideally, I will be picking my first apples from our own tree, making my own soap, jewelry and clothes (try to contain your envy) and munching on homemade yogurt and string cheese.   At the end of the day, homesteading is an attitude and a lifestyle.  Gardening is a huge part of that, but anyone can grow a vegetable, a true homesteader grows and decorates an entire buffet.

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There is nothing quite as magical as going to an open air market on a beautiful day. Whether you are in Africa or Hometown USA, the overall feeling is still the same: COMMUNITY. Where else can you go with $15 in your pocket and leave with $30 worth of produce and kettle corn? Even here in my hometown, which could stand to amp up it’s farmer’s market a scootch, the market has an amazing feeling of warmth and highlights all the wonderful things our town has to offer. In two hours I tasted honey, smelled kettle corn and chit chatted with a local farmer about his growing methods while negotiating a salsa/dilly bean trade with my friend and neighbor. I learned a little about soap making (one of my next big homesteading endeavors) and I learned that a local crafter makes these amazing fleece backpack blankets, perfect for even the coolest of preschoolers. This is not the same experience you get a big grocery store. Upon stopping at our local grocery store my farmer’s market perusing com-padre and I reveled in our fresh and frugal successes when compared with store prices. For example: I got nearly 6 pounds of zucchini for $1.00. At our grocery store, $1.49 per pound for not so fresh or delicious looking zucchinis. You do the math. Beyond the joy of the market experience there is also a certain thrill for every aspiring homesteader and/or culinary artist of drawing inspiration from the bounty you have gathered whether from the market or your own garden:

Creative inspiration

When I look at all of that delicious, fresh, vegetable goodness on my table I see not only zucchini, spaghetti squash, tomatoes, hot peppers, green beans and apples, but I see salsa for a Mexican fiesta in January and zucchini bread on a cool fall morning. I see a pasta dinner with no noodles and a green bean casserole (that is my favorite GF Recipe) on Thanksgiving morning. I see money that I will not have to spend and meals filled with fresh, delicious and local ingredients. In fact, I was inspired to make an entirely local dinner on Saturday night that featured vegetables from my stores not even shown here. It included carrots, beets, pork, honey, maple syrup and cabbage. Every bit of it produced within 30 miles of my house. Without getting on a soap box about eating local, I can tell you that there is nothing quite so tasty as a vegetable grown in your backyard or just down the road. When you put your food on the plate and it is composed of whole and delicious foods there is a sense of pride and accomplishment and a feeling that you are providing your family with a healthy meal packed with nutrients.

Spicy Glazed Pork Chops, Sauteed Red Cabbage and Roasted Root Vegetables

So the moral of the this story? Whether you are into the localvore movement or growing your own food or not, a visit to your local farmer’s market is always worth the trip and you never know what kind of practical magic it might inspire.

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Today was a good day for our homestead kitchen. Not only was it CSA day (in which we got almost $35 worth of organic produce including broccoli, beans, beets, squash, kale, chard, onions, garlic and cucumbers) but we got enough tomatoes to make a batch of sauce. This year I decided that I had no time to meticulously seed and skin my tomatoes. This has been a super busy and hot summer for us so I did what any good modern day homesteader would do, and Googled it. I found Kalyn’s Kitchen She recommends making the tomato purée in your food processor. What a novel and brilliant idea. So this evening I chopped my carrots, onions, and garlic and sweated them in the sauce pan while I pureed my tomatoes; skins, seeds and all. Add some mushrooms, chopped garden herbs, turkey burger or chopped portabellas, and some gluten free pasta and you have a magical and uber-fresh weeknight dinner. So purée on and enjoy the tastes of the season!!

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We have chickens.  We live in what by Vermont standards is considered an “urban” area.   We have less than 1 acre of land, yet we still have chickens.   It seems almost like an urban legend, but in reality 1 in 3 families raised livestock prior to WWII, regardless of their location.   In the grand scheme of history, WWII was not that long ago.   Everyone knows at least one person who was alive during that time.   Like so many practices of old, urban livestock went the way of the DoDo with industrialization and suburban sprawl.   Why raise a chicken when I could go to my neighborhood grocery store and get one all cleaned and ready to cook and serve?  Why spend a morning collecting eggs when I can pick a dozen up on my way home from work? These are valid questions that I ask myself daily, because, raising backyard chicken’s can be a challenge, but they are worth every minute.  In today’s post I would like to address some of the myths/questions surrounding raising the urban chicken:

1. You cannot have chickens in the middle of a city.  That may not be true.   Take a look at the Backyard Chicken Forum and see what the ordinances are in your state/city.  And yes, there is a Backyard Chicken Forum.  This is the 21st Century, even chickens have an online forum.

2. You need to buy thousands of dollars worth of equipment.  Absolutely not true.  We spent a total of $450 dollars to build a coop, actually purchase the chickens and get heat lamps and feeders.  We brooded our chickens in the old dog crate in the basement.    My husband built the coop from scratch.   In truth, they were pretty easy to raise.

3. Do you really have to clean poop off the chick’s butts? Yes you do.  There really is no way to church that up, other than to tell you that gently washing chicks’ butts with your significant other is truly a bonding experience.  Please note, you should never pull the poop off.   You will definitely take feathers and may even get some intestine.  Pouring warm water over the dried on poop and gently massaging it does the trick.  If you don’t clean the poop the chicks could get really sick and a sick chick becomes a target of his/her brooder mates.  Now that I own chickens I truly understand the meaning of “hen pecked”.   Long story short: Clean the poop.

4. How do I know what breed of chicken to get? Well I would love to tell you that we did  A LOT of research before we pulled the trigger on owning chickens.  I would love to, but I cannot.  We woke up on a Saturday morning, drove to our local Tractor Supply and researched our chickens by using the little signs on the outside of their display.   The Black Australorp said it was a good layer, good for meat and didn’t mind living in a small space.  Free Range chickens might be a bit much for our neighboors.   Next thing we knew we had 6 girlies in our basement chirping the day away. The moral of the story:  figure out what you want them for, than if you must do some Googleing or visit your local extension, Co-Op or Hardware store.   Let experts help you pick the right chicken for your situation.

5. What on earth to chicken’s eat? Again, check out the Web for some great advice.  Our girlies eat grass, antibiotic free feed, grit, oyster shell and garden greens and bugs.  I think they will start to eat things like oatmeal and other leftovers once the cold weather sets in.  Don’t feed them eggs or chicken, it just seems wrong.   Definitely visit the Backyard Chicken Forum or pick up a Backyard Chicken Magazine.  Both locations have lot’s of amazing tips and tricks.   I will post more sites on here as I continue to do my own research on backyard livestocking.

 

6.  What do we do with them in the winter?  I don’t know.  I will get back to you in a couple of months with what we do.

 

So when all is said in done, if you are interested in having your own fresh eggs, a little feathered entertainment and just a fun overall summer project but live in a less than rural setting, don’t give up hope.  The legend of the Urban Chicken can become a reality in your backyard just like it has in ours.

 

 

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Do you really need to blanch your veggies before freezing them?   I get this question a lot from friends and acquaintances who are just breaking into the gardening/preserving world.   The answer, without any hesitation is YES.    I will admit that when I first heard and read about blanching, I thought it was an old wives tale designed to keep me trapped in my hot kitchen sweating my keister off. Enzymes eating the flesh of my veggies?  Couldn’t I just put a garden gnome out there to protect them?   From experience, however, I can tell you that blanching absolutely makes a difference.  The first year I gardened and froze the fruits of my labor, I did not blanch.   When I returned to utilize my delicious frozen goodies, they were neither delicious or good.  They were mushy and had lost much of their flavor.   As a I get ready to prep and preserve my delicious take homes from the CSA, I know the only way that our family will enjoy fresh and delicious Kale in January will be to blanch the stem free greens and use our Foodsaver to suck the air out of the freezer bag and seal it up tight.

What is blanching you ask?  According to the Ball book or the “Preservation Bible” as it is called in our house,  “blanching cleanses off surface dirt and microorganisms, brightens the color, helps retain the vitamins and reduces the action of the enzymes which can destroy the fresh flavor after 4 weeks.”  The process of blanching is basically dipping your fresh, prepped veggies in boiling water for a prescribed amount of time and then immediately plunging them into ice water to immediately halt the cooking process started by the boiling water.   It sounds a bit like a hot mess, especially on a hot day, but I promise you the end result is worth it.  Time is perhaps the most important factor in the is process as either under-blanching or over-blanching  can be worse than not doing it at all. Each veggie is unique so times will vary.  When you are reading blanching times for specific veggies, note that the times given refer to the time in the boiling water and you should start the clock as soon as you put the veggies in the boiling water.  Time in the ice water should not be longer than the time in the boiling water.  Get your kettle on the stove, remove your unwanted skins and ends (remember, you want whatever you freeze to be in the state you want it to be when you are going to use it.  It will never be ideal to freeze a head of broccoli without cutting it up first, unless of course you like to just gnosh in a whole head of broccoli), get your bowl/sink of ice water and ready follow the times EXACTLY as listed below for the following commonly saved veggies:

Snap Beans Trimmed and Cut to 2-4 Inch lengths-3 Minutes

Carrots washed peeled and diced, sliced or quartered-3 Minutes

Corn on the Cob husked-8 Minutes (I like to peel the corn off after blanching to freeze)

Leafy Greens (Spinach, Kale, Swiss Chard, Beet Greens) stemmed and cut-2 Minutes

Peas (Sugar Snap with shells removed)-2 Minutes.

These times and more, along with more specific techniques are all listed in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.

Personally, I do not blanch the shredded zucchini I use for baking.  It’s pretty much a mushy disaster to start.  It really can’t get any worse.  I do recommend using a shredder attachment on your food processor or stand mixer just to speed up the process, especially since zucchini tends to multiply.  I had a large zucc shredded and frozen in 7 minutes today.  That was pretty sweet.

I never blanch fruit. I  don’t think you are supposed too, however, I don’t know that for sure.  I am just grossed out by boiling fruit that is not in jam.

I use the same water (both ice and boiling) for multiple veggies in a single blanch session.  I am quite certain none of the experts recommend that and I just cannot bear the thought of dumping out boiling water and refilling it and re-boiling it 5-6 times.  I have a full-time job and it is not blanching vegetables.  So far I have not suffered any adverse effects for utilizing this lazy preservers’ method, so if you are short on time I suggest you try it too.

At the end of the day if you find yourself asking the question “Do I REAALLLLY need to blanch these vegetables before freezing them?”, Turn on the Pandora and put on your sleeveless shirt and comfy shoes, because the answer is YES.  Please let us know if you have other blanching/freezing tips to make the process easier or more enjoyable.

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My family has just returned from an amazing 4 day excursion to the Adirondack Mountains in New York.   We were totally off the grid and it was amazing and relaxing.  If the dream of owning an organic farm falls through, you may find us running an inn/b & b in the mountains, but that is a tale for a different day.  As it turns out, however, the garden did not tend itself while we were away.   Naturally, the days preceding our departure were some of the hottest on record so to even pick a cucumber off the trellis was exhausting, therefore weeding more or less, or really  just more, did not occur.    And there it is, the dirty word amongst all organic gardeners:  WEEDING.    As much as you mulch and till and try to ban non edible seeds from the garden plot, there is just no way around it, you will weed or you will drown your garden in pesticides.  I will take the weeds.   In fact, I find weeding to be fairly cathartic.  Nothing works out the stresses of a bad, bad day like ripping an invasive garden invader out by its roots and throwing it to the side of the garden.   Weeding also provides you with a sense of accomplishment on a day like today where my only goal was to have a goal.   Finally, it helps you to have a connection to your food, which is the primary reason I got  into gardening.   So today, as I approached what was my garden 4 days ago, I felt like a conquistador of old approaching the jungles of the New World, minus the machete.  In truth, a machete would have been super helpful, but I simply did not have one on me.  So I spent the better part of this vacation day plucking weeds and uncovering a trove of garden treasures that were not there when we left.  It was hard, hot work and it often seemed that the weeds would regrow immediately after I pulled them out.   Despite being neglected for 4 days and becoming an Amazonian forest, the garden exploded with healthy, happy and some ripe tomatoes.  Spaghetti squash was everywhere to be found.  Full size cucumbers that will become delicious refrigerator pickles tomorrow.    Herbs, peppers, lettuce and cabbage all thrived underneath the overgrowth.  Despite being attacked by Japanese beetles and being surrounded by weeds, the green beans were beginning to pop.   Peas, kale and swiss chard were almost overwhelming with their presence.     Our sugar snap peas, after an alarmingly slow beginning, seemed to appear out of nowhere.   At times, pulling out the weeds was like uncovering a secret treasure trove of plentiful veggies.   In the end, the garden looked like a garden and my kitchen was full of fresh veggies to eat, freeze and pickle.   So while I might be more likely to get back on an every other day weeding plan, it was reassuring to know that while the gardener was away the veggies would still play AND more importantly, that if you don’t get to that weeding every day your garden will not fall over and die.

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