Real Food Mama

Musings about cooking, eating and everything in between.

Time to get pollinating? June 26, 2013

Filed under: Food Activism,Home Economics,Politics — realfoodmama @ 9:57 am
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beekeepingAs you readers may or may not know, last week was national pollinators week. Unfortunately, the week was kickstarted by a horribly mass murder – namely, the loss of 50,000 bumble bees and assorted other pollinators. An Oregon Target parking lot was littered with corpses after thoughtless landscapers sprayed trees in bloom with toxic pesticides. This is a pretty serious blow to an already struggling group of flying insects.

As a gardener and someone who is concerned about her own food security, I am deeply troubled by the apparent disregard for the lives of these tiny foodies. I experienced low yields of tomatoes and squash last year as a result of, I think, diminished pollinator populations, and already this year I have watched my tomato plants flower only to see that several days later those same flowers have died and fallen with no fruit. It’s pretty terrifying, to be honest. All this work going into growing food plants only to have nothing happen because there are no bees.

Frankly, the obvious solution seems to be bee-keeping. I have an orchard and three gardens. I have drought tolerant flowering plants in my front yard. I already have livestock in the form of goats and chickens. Bee-keeping seems like the logical next step in my journey towards food security. The only problem is that I am “kinda” afraid of bees. With the stinging and the swarming and the flying into my face…

BUT, if we’re being completely honest here, I was also kind of afraid of chickens. With the flapping and the pecking and the crazy dinosaur eyes. I totally conquered that fear, so bees should be easy, right!? They’re so much smaller than chickens after all. And you get honey! Eventually…in theory.

In either case, I have some bee keeper friends who I will speak to about it and I am really thinking of just diving right in. Food security is reliant on our pollinators and small hives with access to organic and non-toxic food sources (such as those found in my garden!) are the best way, in my humble opinion, to stabilize the bee population. The first step in my journey I think will be to read up on beekeeping techniques and philosophies. I will share any reviews about books and how-to guides that I come across. In the meantime, Happy Eating!

 

Tomato Tragedy! May 19, 2011

Our tomato plants did not fair well with the transplant from pot to garden plot the other day, and now it looks like we are expecting weather in the low thirties this evening which, I am afraid to say, may be the final blow to the already stressed plants.

I will be really disappointed if they don’t survive. We had four different heirloom varieties and I have been fantasizing about all the things I will be able to do with them come late summer. At this point it really only looks like about three of the plants will pull through, but I haven’t entirely given up hope yet. Of course, we will have to see how things are tomorrow morning after our cold snap. I fear the worse.

The most distressing part about this, of course, is the fact that I like to think that our gardens can feed us. This is probably unreasonable regardless of circumstance, but when something like this happens it really highlights how fragile the balance is. If we WERE totally dependent on the garden, we would now be down a whole crop. And while that isn’t necessarily the end of the world, it does mean that one of the best foods for canning and preserving would be completely missing from our winter cupboard. It makes me really appreciate and understand how hard it is, and how much luck goes into, being able to survive without the convenience of readily available supermarket variety food.

It is easy to forget that even our farmer’s at the local farmer’s market here struggle with that and are also subject to the whims of nature, regardless of their experience or skill at keeping their crops happy and alive. Just this year one of the local tomato growers lost almost all their plants due to a natural gas shortage which killed the heaters in their greenhouses. So please, think good thoughts tonight while the temperatures dip. I am hopeful that the plants will pull through, but if not I will have to replace them with some other varieties. I hope that your gardens are doing well in spite of the weather here!

Happy Gardening!

 

Early apples and Plums August 1, 2010

Filed under: Garden Fresh,Home Economics,Home Made — realfoodmama @ 8:33 pm
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This weekend we spent a bit of time each day picking fruit off trees that would otherwise have simply fallen to the ground. We were able to get apples from the tree of a business associate and plums from the tree of a complete stranger who we were referred to by a mutual friend. As a result she is no longer a complete stranger!

Suffice it to say the fruit picking adventures of this weekend mark the beginning of canning season. That coupled with this evenings bumper crop of green beans from the garden and we are already starting to put food up for the winter. The green beans were blanched and are now freezing in the chest freezer out in our workshop.

Tomorrow I am hoping to make plum preserves and, assuming my kitchen isn’t a disaster by the end of that project, start some apple butter. I am also falling behind on my zucchini and basil processing – I need to make pesto and bake some zucchini bread. Both can be frozen if packaged properly and are a great use of our crazy garden bounty.

The monsoon rains here in Santa Fe have been dramatic this season, to say the least. We haven’t had to actually water the garden in about a week as the nightly down pour has kept everything incredibly wet – in some cases too wet especially in the goat pen. Mucking this afternoon proved…unpleasant. But that is another topic! The gardens are happy and I should really post some images of our tomato forest. The tomato plants have gotten so huge and are so bushy that I admit to being somewhat afraid of them. I can’t see the basil plants anymore, the poor things are buried under the tomato foliage!

In either case I am excited that today, the first day of a new month, we are getting a jump on our food processing. I am looking forward to more apples later in the season, some pears, and of course the rest of the bounty from our home garden! In the meantime, I should probably go make some bread…

Happy Eating!

 

Chickens, gardens and goats oh my! April 17, 2010

Filed under: Animal Husbandry,Home Economics — realfoodmama @ 5:19 pm
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Tomato seedlings - Black Krim

Things here have just been crazy. So much so in fact that I barely have time to cook, much less write about it.

In the past three weeks we have planted our salad garden, built a chicken coop, welcomed two baby goats and a dozen chickens into our household and have started a variety of seedlings. Things are all going very well with the exception of the eggplant. For some reason none of the seeds sprouted and I admit to being pretty upset about this given that eggplant seeds can take nearly two weeks to germinate and they need to be about a month along before you can transplant them outside. So if we replant the seeds this weekend, the mature plants won’t be able to go out for six weeks which is nearly a full month after the last frost date here.

I am determined, however, to grow them so even with the late start I am hopeful we will get some fruit this season.

On a brighter note, the tomato’s are doing absolutely fantastic and I am hoping another two weeks in the solarium will really get them going. In addition to tomatoes and eggplant, we also did some Ancho chili’s and will be doing tomatillos tomorrow. We will also be planting some new raspberry bushes, since we killed our last year when they got placed next to the potatoes, a grape vine (yippie!) and a couple of new trees, including a peach. We will see how that does here, as it was a gift and not purchased locally.

Our spinach, lettuce, cress, arugala and the first round of peas are all sprouted and doing very well outside, and all of the trees are flowering, although the apricot buds are already blown which is rather bizarre.

Apricot tree

The baby goats are getting enormous and are taking pretty much all the milk mom has for themselves. Any attempt to milk her at this point is met with an empty udder and much exertion on my part. Tonight is the first night they will be separated from her, however, so I am hopefully that tomorrow morning I will get a lot. We shall see…she is incredibly hard to milk.

On another goat related note, my Nubian lost a horn today while trying to prove her dominance and although she is slightly bloody she seems otherwise uninjured. For those of you readers who are not goat owners, she didn’t lose a big horn, she has what the goat world calls scurs, and these are remnants of an improper disbudding or horn removal at a young age. They tend to be less well attached than the real thing. Aside from being kind of gross, she seems unfazed by it so that is good.

As for the chickens, I think we have one rooster and eleven hens. The reason I think this is due entirely to the fact that one of them is getting a very red comb and none of the others are. I could be totally mistaken however, as I know next to nothing about chickens. However, if I am correct, not only will we be getting a huge number of eggs, but we also may have the opportunity to allow the hens to brood, resulting in chicks next spring!

That is pretty much all that is happening here at the urban farm. I am hoping that once the livestock issues settle themselves and we get back into a routine that I will be able to focus, once again, on cooking and eating. Until then however, here is a nice shot of the greenery in my solarium!

Happy Eating!

Plants

 

Spring time is busy! March 31, 2010

Filed under: Animal Husbandry,Home Economics,Real Food Wednesday — realfoodmama @ 11:34 am
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The last two weeks have been very busy here at my pseudo urban farm. One of our milk goats kidded, resulting in two adorable (but sadly useless) male kids, we got our pullets (baby chicks) and have been working on their permanent home – they are currently in my bathroom – and we have been planting and waking up our gardens and trees.

A lot of work!

It has been relatively rewarding, although I admit to being pretty disappointed about the fact that my Saanen doe gave us two boys. I had hoped to keep at least one girl, but I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. While the boys are cute and quite playful and exceptionally fun to have around, they can’t stay long and I have been having a hard time deciding exactly what to do with them.

First, the reason we have to get rid of them. Adult bucks (i.e. unaltered males) smell terrible and if they are too close to your does, your milk and everything you make with it will also smell terrible. In order to keep a buck you really need about 30 yards of space between your girls and your boys and frankly, I don’t have the room. Secondly, I don’t want to feed them. Even if we altered them and ended up with a wether (castrated male) I couldn’t afford to keep him.

That being said, I am soft-hearted enough to dislike the idea of selling them to someone who may use them in a rodeo (or generally not take care of them) so I have been toying with the idea of hanging onto them until they are about 3 months old and then eat them.

The rest of the family has seriously mixed feelings about this idea and as of yet, it has not been confirmed.

In addition to the goat news, we also have a dozen Barred Rock pullets in my bathroom – not the ideal spot for 12 small chickens! The weather has been too cold at night still for them to go outside so until their coop is completely finished and set up with a light, they will live in the bathroom.

Lastly, the garden is really exciting so far this year. The garlic we planted last fall has sprouted and is doing very well. The leeks I let over winter are also in great shape and promise to be tasty, as do a few onions we missed during last years harvest. Don’t ask how we managed that, but we did. The strawberries weren’t quite as successful. Of the ten crowns we had last year, only seven survived to wake up this spring, but of those they are all doing well. Lastly, our fruit trees have been pruned and given how cold it was this winter I am looking forward to a decent crop.

Suffice it to say, all of this has been keeping me extremely busy and as a result I haven’t had much time to write! However the farmer’s market is really beginning to get jumping with spring greens and I have been doing some pretty fabulous cooking so I am hoping to be able to share something along those lines soon.

Until then, Happy Eating!

This post has been my contribution to Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesday.

 

The Quest for Organic Chickens? February 24, 2010

Filed under: Animal Husbandry,Home Economics,Real Food Wednesday — realfoodmama @ 1:10 pm
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This spring it is my plan to raise chickens. We have a lot of work to do before we can purchase our birds. We have to build a chicken coop, decide on a breed, figure out how many birds we want, and determine whether or not we will be able to sell any of our eggs come fall.

My desire to have chickens is motivated by the same thing which spurred my desire to own goats: that is the desire to know where my food is coming from, and that it is being treated humanely before it gets to me. In addition to providing the family with a regular supply of eggs (between the four of us we easily go through two dozen a week) I am also hoping that the chickens will supply much needed fertilizer and pest control for our gardens.

The thing I am really struggling with at this point, regarding both my chickens and my goats, is what to feed them – specifically, whether or not to give them organic feed. Now this may sound somewhat ridiculous, but the primary reason for my concern is financial. I can buy conventional feed for both animals, or I can buy organic feed. The reason I hesitate to buy organic feed is the price: for my goats I spend about $20 a bag on their feed twice a month, not including the alfalfa. If I were to upgrade to the organic feed I would be spending $35 a bag twice a month. This is nearly double and frankly ends up with the goats costing more than they are saving us – i.e. I have a very small “profit margin” and purchasing the organic feed pushes me into the red. At this point, we break even if you calculate feed costs and compare them to the amount we would be spending on milk in the event we didn’t have the goats. If I fed them organic feed, we’d be losing money.

So while I am hardly a large industry, I am affected by the costs associated with organic certification. It makes me think that the whole process is yet another way for the big guys to get richer while the small farmers suffer. And while I hardly identify as a small farmer, in a way that is exactly what I am. I own livestock, I grow my own food, and I am placed in a specific financial situation as a result.

This has in no way altered my decision to purchase chickens, nor has it inclined me to get rid of the goats. However it is something I struggle with and I really have no idea how to resolve the issue short of growing my own alfalfa and grain and I just don’t have the room for that. It concerns me because I wonder what is going into my milk, and how it is affecting my animals. Will it increase vet bills? Could I afford to buy the organic feed every other bag? It is easy to rationalize the additional expense when the food is going directly into my body, or the body of my two year old, but I seem to have a harder time with it when it is coming to me second hand.

In either case it is nothing that I will be able to resolve today, and if we are in a financial situation where I can afford the organic versions I will certainly cough up the additional cash. Until then however, the goats and chickens will be getting conventional feed and that is just the way it will have to be.

This post has been my contribution to Real Food Wednesday, hosted this week by Kelly the Kitchen Kop.

 

Kefir Success!…kind of… February 5, 2010

Filed under: Fight Back Fridays,Home Economics,Raw Goat Milk — realfoodmama @ 11:35 am
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I am pleased to announce that my kefir grains acclimated perfectly to my raw goats milk and I ended up with a beautiful cup-full of kefir yesterday afternoon. The sour smell was very mild, but I decided to stop the culture anyway, change the milk, and give it a try – I have an aversion to really sour flavors as a general rule. It was the sixth morning of letting the kefir sit in fresh milk overnight and everything seems to be working smoothly.

After straining it and transferring the grains to yet another cup of fresh milk (I want to keep a continuous supply going) I poured myself a little and gave it a try. The flavor was very mild, slightly sweet, and very delicious. The thing I find so interesting about kefir is that it is incredibly rich. I can really only drink about 1/8 of a cup before I feel full. I also made my boyfriend and my son try it. The results of their taste test was not quite as enthusiastic as mine:

My son’s response was “I don’t like it…I want to wash my mouth.” (He’s 2, btw.)

His father was more diplomatic and said something to the effect of “My body isn’t sure what this is.”

So this morning, I re-presented it. This time, however, I had added a small amount of organic cherry juice concentrate. This changed the color dramatically and while I didn’t notice a significant change in taste, apparently the boys did because my son gobbled it up and his father did the same. I am hoping that at some point I will be able to convince both of them to eat it un-altered, however for the time being I am willing to accept that they are getting what they need from it, cherry juice aside.

It was pretty exciting to see my little man drink the kefir. The same way I feel when he eats his clams or gets really excited about my sourdough bread. Hopefully when, and if, I get that liverwurst he will be equally excited about that!

The real goal of all of this, of course, is to make sure that he is given the best possible nutrition at an early age and to teach him enough about food so that when he grows up and starts making his own food choices he does so consciously and with a foundation of knowledge rather than just buying things because he saw an ad for them or because they are cheap. It is all about little steps.

Ironically, the real challenge is not my two year old, but his father. He is a southern boy who was raised on sweet tea, mountain dew, candy, and a variety of fried goods (I can bet they weren’t fried in home rendered lard!). In fact, it is a miracle that the only visible damage was to his teeth (which are wretched). He has none of the other health problems so often associated with that diet. As for my part in it, I suppose that working with 40+ years of food experience is much more of an uphill battle than working with my son, who really only has about 18 months of food experience! So while he is willing to let me render my lard, he still wants me to use it for cherry pies, and though he is willing to try kefir, I imagine that if I presented him with a plate of liver he’d burst into tears.

In either case, I think that the most important thing about changing your diet is being willing and able to go slowly, work in small steps, and allow yourself the benefit of the doubt. With that in mind, I’d rather my son drink kefir sweetened with fruit juice than none at all! And the same goes for his dad.

Happy Eating…and Drinking!

This post has been my contribution to Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday’s blog carnival.