Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Monday, June 27, 2011
We butchered our meat birds yesterday and so now I have all my final facts and figures in place enabling me to see just how much it costs to raise this portion of our food.
I used the standard Cornish Cross meat bird because I appreciate the growth efficiency that has been bred into them. They provide lots of bang for the buck. Not to say that they can't be fraught with problems if you don't follow the instruction sheet. Basically these are race car chickens and they need the high octane fuel, My old 6 banger hay truck doesn't need race car fuel and it is slow as heck, but it gets the job done. So if you want,need, or desire a slower growing chicken by all means grow that type of chicken, but please don't try to fit the industrial Cornish into the slow growing, low protein type feed, it can end up very sad for both birds and the people raising them. There's plenty of opinions out there on what breed of bird, type of feed, and raising methods to use. I am not addressing any of that here, I am just reporting what it took to from hatchery to freezer on my farm. My equipment is already off the depreciation schedule so I haven't included start-up costs. And labor costs vary depending on how much you think your time is worth or what you are willing to pay someone else to do your work for you. Obviously the longer you raise your birds the more time you have into them.
$ 126.00 - Chick Cost (day-old includes shipping)
$ 450.00 - Feed (custom mix non-organic broiler feed)
$ 5.00 - Electricity(brooder)
$<581.00> - Total Expenses
*VALUE (*reflects comparable product available in my area)
$1764.00 - Meat 441 pounds @ $4.00 per lb
$14.00 - Hearts/livers 10 lbs @$2.00 per lb
$ 29.00 - gizzards 14.5 lbs @ $2.oo per lb
$72.00 - feet 18 lbs @ $4.00
$1885.00 -Total Value
$1304.00 - NET
I started with 77 birds and lost two, one within hours of receipt, and one a week later when I stepped on him. Ouch. He ran off, but was dead the next morning. Looking at the figures above my birds cost approximately $8.00 each to raise. More than the Fred Meyer version and less than if I had to buy them. By the time I get my husband's lunch meat for the week, 2 more meals at least, and 5 quarts of broth, plus dog food I have gotten my moneys worth. Most of the birds weighed in the 5 and 6 pound range with a few outliers at 4.5 pounds and 7.5 pounds. I used 1500 of feed for the Cornish and pullets in the 8.5 weeks, which works out to about a 3:1 feed conversion rate. The leftover feed from the ton will be used for my pullets and with some cutting of protein my adult hens can eat it too.
Another factor that you have to take into consideration is processing costs. I butchered at a friends house, and will help them butcher when their chickens are ready. Processing at a state facility in my area starts at $3.50 per bird. Which is worth it if you're squeamish.
As for feed, I co-oped with a neighbor who needed pig feed. I did the ordering and delivered the minerals, and when the feed was done, they picked it up. Still we had some costs involved in time, and fuel. I also raised my replacement pullets for eggs with this flock and it would be hard to track what they ate in the 8 weeks.
And certainly with some ingenuity and attention to detail you can really gather some good chicken manure for your garden in the time you are raising these birds. I have some good material from the brooding stage and used the birds to renovate a small pasture that needed some help.
So while not for everyone, raising chickens for meat is certainly a good place to start. Chickens are small and easy to handle and in two months plus, you have a product to eat. Much quicker than any other type of meat animal.
And it is delicious!
Friday, June 24, 2011
I learned to play the accordion when I was eight years old. I was really interested in the piano, but that was financially out of the question. When my parents found a used accordion they could afford, they convinced me to learn that instead. So I took a couple year's worth of lessons, learned to read music - both bass and treble clef, and eventually learned how to play an instrument where you can't see what your hands are doing.
After a couple of years though, I got interested in other things, and stopped taking lessons. I grew up, and eventually moved out on my own. For a few years, that accordion sat in my parents' house, but I never would let them get rid of it. Eventually, when I'd matured enough to be a bit more stable in my living arrangements, I took it back. It's since made every move with me.
Even though I didn't play it for months, even years, at a time, I never did think about selling it. Every once in a while, I'd pick it up - just to see if I still remembered anything, and to make sure it was still playable. And now, recently, I've started playing it regularly again. I found an old guy nearby that did accordion repair, and had him fix a broken strap bracket and one stuck reed. He blew the dust out of the inside, and said my accordion is still in fine shape - I'd obviously taken good care of it over the years.
Having learned to play so young, the muscle memory came back quicker than the mental exercise of reading music. But that's coming back to me too. As a kid I had to play polkas, waltzes, and marches, but recently got myself some zydeco and movie soundtrack sheet music. I've even started to think about memorizing a handful of tunes and trying my hand at busking downtown.
So I'm just wondering: how many of you out there play a musical instrument?
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
I love porridge and so do my chickens! In fact the whole family loves porridge, even the dogs.
Such a versatile breakfast, all full of goodness to start the day. Rolled oats (or Quick oats) and milk (or water) in a ratio of 2:3 (oats to liquid) and cook until thick. Kim and I have it with a teaspoon of jam to sweeten it up, and I have an extra dash of milk, but other than that, no other additives. It is also one of the cheapest breakfasts you can buy.
The chickens get it straight up and thick which they love. Here is some pictures of me feeding them some warm porridge this morning. They just go crazy for it.
|Fever pitched excitement amongst the chooks.|
|They just can't wait to eat it straight from the spoon.|
|We've got lumps of it out the back.|
|Line the wagons up in a circle, Pilgrims!|
|Nice breakfast Mr Man. You're welcome, Miss messy face.|
|Don't worry girls, there is lots more.|
|I just love their messy little faces.|
As you can see, they prefer the warm porridge than they do their complete seed mix. Well, if I was a chook, so would I. It is full of protien and calcium for making strong bones and eggs and warms up their tummies on a cold, cold morning.
Go for it girls!
Monday, June 20, 2011
After a few weeks which left me feeling positively disheveled, I've been taking some time to commit to getting back into a rhythm which helps me lead a simple, green & frugal life even among the chaos of life! And for me, right now, those essential rhythms include...
:: A weekly walk, preferably repeated each day ;)
:: Homemade soup, perfect for a winter's eve - or for tackling summer allergies & sinuses
:: Weekend cooking sessions so meals are healthy & simple during the week - this week roasted trout, brussel sprouts, cooked sweet potato, roasted lemony carrots and broccoli salad
:: A few sessions with the needles - the perfect way to unwind
And when I take the time to incorporate a few little activities which help me lead a simpler life, I find that I'm learning an important lesson. A lesson in understanding no matter how busy, there is always a choice. A choice to rest, a choice to be in that moment, a choice to let go of the distractions and instead take a few minutes to focus, to be, to let go. And in that very moment - even if in the background there is noise and lists of things to do, I see the beautiful! And when I find that beautiful, even just a few minutes each day, it helps me set the tone for a relaxed and simple week.
What activities do you incorporate into your life which help you lead a simple, green or frugal life?
Sunday, June 19, 2011
This week I finally got around to buying and putting up the shelving that I have needed for far too long. The books that have been stacked in various corners of my house collecting dust are now lined up neatly on accessible shelves. The prolonged lack of suitable book housing has done me some favors. In a burst of enthusiasm for minimalist living this year, I got rid of a lot of my books. I was forced to think long and hard about whether the books I owned represented who I now was - did they provide me with the information I needed now and for the future I was planning for? Most of my old geology textbooks didn't make the mark, whilst most of my DIY and craft books are ready to take their place on the new shelves.
I grew up in a house where to discard a book was sacrilege - they were the most valuable possessions you could own - an attitude which led to indiscriminate book collecting. When I walk into rooms full of books, I often wonder if they are there to genuinely educate and refer to, or to give the impression of scholarliness, or a message about who the owner is. If most of those books were not read, or read more than once, its a terrible waste of a resources. This is not to say that having a range of books on a breadth of topics not of immediate relevance to you is a bad thing - indeed, if you have children, you will do them a great service by letting them read widely and explore the world through books. Reading books is still a great pleasure, but I feel now that there is a limit to the amount of chaff I am willing to store in my own home.
The internet has revolutionized the way we access and disseminate information in my lifetime. It is a mine of useful information - but it is just that, a mine. You have to put a lot of time, energy and discrimination into finding good resources. Because of the sheer quantity of free information it is possible to accrue with a few mouse clicks, storing and using that information can be a further challenge. I use a blog reader to read blog feeds and bookmarks in my browser for other web pages. I then go through and purge the bookmarks on a regular basis, or print/write out the gems that I genuinely need to remember.
And then of course there is personal experience. We live in a culture that is far too dismissive of personal experimentation in favor of deference to paid experts. I think personal journals, blogs and scrapbooks are important resources - whether you keep a general one about your life, or topic relevant ones. Every author, even when trying to provide a generalist overview, ultimately colours their writing with their own experience - not a bad thing itself, unless as is all to often the case, the work is held up as a benchmark, a gold standard that everyone else should be following. Keeping a record of your own experience - including, most importantly, all of your failures - is one of the best references you can have.
I am now working towards something more personal. I have a few generalist books - basic gardening techniques, a basic sewing book, a crochet stitch dictionary, a few very different but well thumbed cookbooks. But I no longer collect reference works indiscriminately - I don't need four books that repeat most of the same basic information but might contain the odd gem of wisdom that may or may not be useful to me. Instead I am building up scrapbooks of information directly relevant to me - tips pulled from library books, newspaper clippings, internet searches and personal scribbles of our experiences. I have reacquainted myself with our local library, instead of heading straight to Amazon - the three week loan period is just the period of time needed to work out whether a book is a keeper or not.
So far, my own folders and notebooks include -
- A notebook of recipes we use on a daily basis.
- A gardening journal of successes, failures, notable weather events, planting dates and yields.
- Brewing and wine making records and recipes.
- A file of craft patterns, doodles and stitch techniques, inspiration and DIY instructions.
Do you have a library? What are your priorities when it comes to collecting information - and how do you organise it?
Saturday, June 18, 2011
Friday, June 17, 2011
Indeterminate vining tomatoes, in fact, need a little more care than the determinate varieties. You have to pinch off the little side shoots (also called "suckers") that grow in the V between leaf stems and the main vine, and sometimes also at the base of the vine. This practice will ensure that the main vine grows strong and produces as many tomatoes as possible.
Sometimes you'll miss a side shoot, and you'll notice it only when it's already grown into a bigger branch. I still go ahead an pinch it off, unless it's grown blossoms in the meantime.
Pinching off side shoots is an easy task, though it can take a surprising long time when you have lots of plants. Besides making the main vine stronger, it will also give you the opportunity to inspect your plants, and check them for signs of disease or pests.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Monday, June 13, 2011
Salads are popular for a reason - they taste good, are good for you and they are easy to grow. But as a fast growing crop, most salad fixin's can cause a little consternation in the garden by bolting or getting bitter in the heat. Fall and spring salads are a little more forgiving due to less dramatic weather in those seasons.
To ensure a continuous supply of salad throughout the season, succession plant, which means you start and plant future salads every few weeks throughout the growing season.
For our family of three we shoot for about 24 - 30 lettuce plants in our salad beds plus miscellaneous greens like mizuna, bok choy, celery, spinach, arugula, kale, chard etc. Plant what you want to eat, remembering that some greens grow better and subsequently taste better in the cooler weather. Mustards and arugula can get hot and bitter, and likewise kale in the summer can leave you wondering why you just didn't wait until cooler weather to harvest it. It just depends on your growing conditions.
After the first planting of salad in the spring, we don't plan salad beds per se, when a space opens up in the garden or greenhouse and we have plants ready to plant, we stick plants in. Between tomatoes, or other large plants, basically anywhere we have an opening. The secret to success with succession planting is to always have plants growing somewhere that are in different stages of growth. When the first salad bed shown above reaches senescence, we don't have to feel bad about pulling out the plants and feeding them to the chickens because we have other salad plants already growing and reaching the harvest stage.
For summer sowing and growing, look for varieties that do well in the heat. Romaine lettuce is especially heat tolerant and a welcome summer treat. Likewise for cold weather growing, look for cold tolerant varieties while perusing seed catalogs.
Sow seeds about every three weeks for a continuous supply of salad plants. If you have extra plants due to varying rates of growth in the garden, your friends will always be happy to get a gift of a few plants. And if that doesn't work, I give my extra plants to our hens.
To make your salad bed a little longer-lived, pick a few leaves from each plant for your salad instead of harvesting the entire plant, that sends the message to the plant to keep growing leaves instead of bolting and sending up a flower stalk. Of course, this only works for a short while as all plants live to make seed. We just can intervene a little and slow the process down.
Friday, June 10, 2011
I have to admit it. I like doing laundry - especially now that the weather is getting nicer and I can hang my clothes out on the clothesline again. First of all, it's a sensory thing: the light breeze on my face, sun on my shoulders, listening to the murmur of the chickens below me, the birds chirping above, the smell of whatever happens to be in bloom in the yard.
Plus, I have a wonderful view over the top of my clothesline. In the morning, the air is usually crisp and crystal clear. Looking south, I love looking towards the snow-covered peaks on my horizon. Today, by mid-afternoon, the air's gotten a bit hazy - from both the humidity of the recent rain, and maybe a bit from fires burning in Arizona - but the mountains still shine in the sun.
I like the orderliness of it all, too (same reason I like hand-washing my dishes, too). The ground slopes down beneath the clothesline. The re-aligned garden now means a corner of the (now higher, too, since Bambi found out our place had good eats) fence is pretty close to the direction things usually flap. Extra long things, like pants or my husband's long-sleeved shirts, are best hung closest to the pole where the line is highest. Next usually come t-shirts. Dark ones inside out, to reduce fading, I've found they look best later if doubled over the line to the armpits and clipped out smooth and straight, each apart from the other. Then the flat things that can be clipped edge to edge, to save on clothespins, graduating down in size as they get closer to that fence corner. Small stuff, like socks and underwear, usually end up on a small folding rack set up on the patio next to the house. That area is pretty much out of the wind, so clothespins aren't even necessary there.
Lastly, and maybe best of all - I really enjoy my laundry accoutrements. My clothespin bag is a re-purposed bit of old cotton bed sheet. I didn't realize how rough and scratchy my old purchased generic one was, until I made this one. It's a pleasure reaching into it, the cotton soft and smooth against the inside of my wrist. Embroidered with a vintage "jumping clothes-peg" pattern from my mom, it still makes me smile each time I see it. My laundry basket is a wooden bushel basket, lined with a re-purposed piece of old vinyl tablecloth. With wire handles, it's sturdy, and just feels better to carry than a plastic one. The lining is getting pretty worn, though. I've patched a couple of tears with packing tape. One of these days, I'm going to make a new liner. I have a couple of old cotton pillowcases, worn thin in the middle but with lovely crocheted edging still in nice shape. I plan to make a cotton canvas liner for the basket, then use the pillowcase ends to make the decorative outside flap. Laundry day, even nicer!
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Have you ever cut into this cheese and wondered how it was made? Well let me tell you that this one is well worth taking up cheesemaking as a hobby just to find out. Camembert, if made correctly can be a very rewarding cheese to make. It should go well with my quince paste.
"Camembert was reputedly first made in 1791 by Marie Harel, a farmer from Normandy, following advice from a priest who came from Brie.
However, the origin of the cheese known today as Camembert is more likely to rest with the beginnings of the industrialization of the cheesemaking process at the end of the 19th century. In 1890, an engineer, M. Ridel invented the wooden box which was used to carry the cheese and helped to send it for longer distances, in particular to America where it became very popular. These boxes are still used today.
Before fungi were understood, the colour of Camembert rind was a matter of chance, most commonly blue-grey, with brown spots. From the early 20th century onwards, the rind has been more commonly pure white, but it was not until the mid-1970s that pure white became standard.
The cheese was famously issued to French troops during World War I, becoming firmly fixed in French popular culture as a result. It has many other roles in French culture, literature and history. It is now internationally known, and many local varieties are made around the world."
From experience, Camembert can be a tricky cheese to make if you haven't done so before, so please watch this tutorial that I posted on my personal blog today, for the first part of the process (milk to culturing container). Over the coming weeks I will make another video updating the progress of this batch as the mould grows over the cheese.
The recipe can be found in any good cheese making book. I highly recommend "Home Cheese Making", by Ricki Carroll. It contains the recipe that I used to make this video and all you need to know about getting started in this wonderful hobby (I am not affiliated with the New England Cheesemaking Supply Co, I just like the book)!
Sunday, June 5, 2011
This has been a fraught week, for me and for just about everyone I know – as if something has wafted in on a breeze, determined to mess with even the best laid plans. No matter how much you try to simplify your life, unforeseen stresses will still come calling. There are a myriad of options for dealing with everyday stresses, the supreme one being distraction; doing something out of the ordinary to take your mind off of the situation in front of you.
Saturday, June 4, 2011
I hope you are all well and having a good weekend. I have just finished a major deadline at work and as I sit back now planning out my work year, I have realised that I will need to, once again, travel for work at the end of the year. This put me in mind of an older post that I wrote in my personal blog and I thought I'd share here. Note that this post was written during an intense period of work travel....
During my travels, it occurred to me that I had a particular worry that many other travellers don't have and thought I'd share:
Number 1 Worry: that my home crafted stuff will somehow have traces of bomb-making ingredients...
[Regular readers of my personal blog] would know that almost all of my crafting uses 2nd-hand materials. In fact, I can't remember the last time I used brand new materials to make something. Normally, this is not a problem for me. In fact, I really enjoy making stuff out of old stuff.
Unfortunately, when you're travelling and working a lot, crazy thoughts start spinning in your head arising from the fact that:
a. my materials have passed through many many hands before coming to me; and
b. it seems I come across too many articles citing how "easy" it is to make a bomb out of household materials.
So a few days ago, I get stopped at the airport for the random search of all my stuff. I was fine with this until the man said something along the lines of: "...traces of explosive materials...".
And that's when my confident smile slipped and quickly turned to "uncomfortable".
They scanned my handbag...
They scanned my shoes....
They scanned my luggage...
Hell, even the clothes inside my luggage were second-hand!! And as I smiled my uncomfortable smile I kept worrying that "uncomfortable" was coming across as "shifty".
It was with great relief when they finally let me go and I could rejoin my workmates.
I was not alone in my worries though! As I approached my workmates at the airport lounge, I was greeted with: "Oh thank god there were no bomb traces in your stuff!!"
...yep they all know that I made my own stuff using second hand...
At least now I know that some of my home crafted stuff is safe to travel with.
I might stick with the same travel luggage and wardrobe for next few times - I don't think I can handle the worry of my other stuff coming up with traces of something that might end up deporting me... :P
I hope you are all well.
Friday, June 3, 2011
Somehow last year I grew radicchio. I must have accidentally picked a bag of Radicchio di Treviso (or trevisano) seeds or decided that I'd give radicchio a try while I was at the garden center, and then forgotten about it. Fact is that last spring, as I was starting my garden, I found this bag of radicchio seeds in my gardening basket. I sowed it, and waited to see what would happen.
It grew pretty fast: thick, hairy green oblong leaves, very bitter in taste (or "toxic", as my children say).
It kept growing during the summer, impervious to the neglect my garden suffered while my family and I were on the road (here), and to disease and bugs (even the snails that happily feed on my lettuce did not seem to have a taste for its "toxic" leaves).
Note: there are milder varieties of radicchio, such as the rounder radicchio di Chioggia
Towards the end of August, my radicchio di Treviso started turning red, as the night temperatures began to drop, and thereafter it thrived in the cooler weather: the leaves became thinner and more palatable, and the taste milder.
And it continued to do well during the winter, which was long but not terribly cold, with only two hard frosts and a couple of snowstorms.
After the snow melted, I just removed the spoiled outer leaves, and the healthy heads kept on growing and producing radicchio red lettuce leaves.
So, we had fresh radicchio throughout the winter. Thinly sliced in salads (balsamic vinegar does wonders to mellow out its pungent taste), or sliced length-wise and grilled or roasted.
As the temperatures rose again in April, our radicchio started turning greener and becoming more bitter in flavor, and I pulled it up: during a one-year cycle, it had produced impressively deep, strong roots, considering it was lettuce.
It was great to have fresh radicchio from the garden during the winter, and I'd recommend it to anyone who has enough garden space, especially those who live in less favorable climates.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
We keep a flock of about 20 laying hens and have 3 roosters. I was watching the chickens today while enjoying the sunshine and collecting eggs and I considered something. Quite a few of my city peers who keep backyard chickens have problems we rarely see with our flock and it occurred to me that the underlying problem is that they are not allowed to have roosters! They have baby meat birds and adult hens, which is fine to a point and certainly appropriate for a backyard flock, but some of the more common problems with raccoons in the coop and chickens running around confused when they should head for cover might easily be solved if they had a rooster. Chickens have to either be trained carefully or have an active leader.
I think that most people don't understand the flock dynamics and importance of the rooster.
Our roosters do more than just fertilize eggs. They guide the hens in, they ward off predators (and small children), they sound the alarm in storms or threat. They break up hen fights. I have even seen them guard the baby chicks when they are first integrated into the bigger flock. When I set out scraps for them to eat, the roosters come running and THEN call to the hens if the food is to their liking. We free range, run of the farm, our chickens so they are not penned from predators during the day. We have lost some to neighbor dogs and hawks, but the majority of predators are kept at bay by the roosters and our dogs.
Chickens are not stupid, they just rely on a rooster ruled and protected society. Watching and observing this dynamic over the last 3 years has been interesting, we still have one of our original roosters and 4 hens from that brood too. He, Chicken Nugget, has really mellowed out but is still very much the head guy. He has intervened and fought back Mr. Stripey when MS gets agitated with the human children. Our third rooster is a banty cross and is more like a hen in temperament.
Roosters can be overly aggressive too and then, at our house at least, they are shortly turned into gumbo. Rooster gumbo is a fine dish, and my three year old daughter likes to brag that the mean yellow rooster is now in her belly. :)
Here is my recipe for rooster gumbo:
Andouille sausage (1 lb), cut into bite size pieces
3 stalks of celery, chopped bite size
1 red bell pepper, chopped bite size
1 clove or garlic crushed and minced (or 1 tsp of garlic powder)
1 Tbs of seasoning salt (like Swamp Fire or Slap Yo Mama)
1 Tbs of dried parsley
2 quarts (1/2 gallon) of rooster (or chicken or duck) broth
Fry bacon slices and sausage
Add celery, crushed garlic, bell pepper, and onions
When everything is fried up and spattering, add the broth
Bring to a boil and then simmer.
Make roux with melted butter and flour, add to soup to thicken.
I used Jasmine rice to serve it over, but traditionally long grain is used.
It's pretty much interchangeable with my duck gumbo recipe. Often, instead of rice, I will cut up potatoes and add that. Top the soup with cheese before serving with crusty bread.