Saturday, June 8, 2019

Beverages from Nature

Last autumn we made our first venture into the world of fermenting…turning apples into cider.   It was a fun experiment with delicious results.   Recently I’ve been exploring other types of beverages – fermented and not.  Tisanes, cordials, squashes, switchels, tonics, infusions and syrups to flavor home crafted sodas and other drinks. 
It’s finally SPRING in our neck of the woods and woodlands are where my first test ingredient can be found…common Blue Violets (Viola sororia) that have a very subtle fragrance.  If you like more fragrance, you can grow the European sweet violets (Viola odorata).
For those with an interest in herbal healing, violets are used for cooling.   In early times, cloths soaked in violet water were used to soothe a fevered brow.  Violet teas, or tisanes, were drunk to help cleanse the blood and reduce inflammation.  Another name by which violets are known is hearts-ease.  The violet’s cooling properties and soothing color are well used in summer beverages.  Violet syrup can be added to water, seltzer, or alcoholic beverages.   Adding the juice of lemon, lime or orange changes the pretty indigo syrup to a magenta color.
For a rich syrup color, select the darkest purple flowers, and gather in the morning after the dew has dried.   Harvest into a paper bag or cloth lined basket to keep them in the dark and dry as it will be a time consuming process to gather sufficient quantities.  Gather only from areas you know have not been treated with pesticides or road chemicals.  Practice good wild-crafting etiquette.  And don't disturb any sleeping dragons!

·         4 cups of lightly packed fresh Violet flowers.
·         6 cups, or 1.5 liters of boiling water
·         Approximately 16 cups, or 4 Kilograms of white sugar.

Gather the violets and remove stems and leaves.  Measure the flowers, lightly packed then place them into a glass canning jar.  Bring water to a boil and pour over the violets.  Cover tightly. Let the violets sit overnight at room temperature or slightly above it.  This is your infusion.  After 24 hours or so, press out as much of the liquid as you can.  

Measure out your violet infusion and put it through a very clean paper, (or mesh), coffee filter into a clean pot.   An enameled cast iron pot is perfect.  Try to avoid using metal.
For every cup of liquid, add 2 and 1/4 cups white granulated sugar.  Slowly bring the liquid to almost boiling, stirring until sugar has dissolved.   Skim off any scum and remove from heat.   Wait five minutes and repeat.   You are looking for the liquid to thicken into a syrup, but do not let it boil or the sugar may crystallize.
Remove from heat and allow the syrup to cool, then pour it into sterile bottles.  It can then be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks.   Use it as you would a simple syrup.
Violet Limeade Refresher
A tall glass works well for this lovely beverage.   Add ice if desired and pour approximately 1/4 cup of the violet syrup into the glass.   Add the juice of two small limes, or approximately 1/4 cup of lime juice.   Top off with original, plan club soda or seltzer, stir until the mixture is well blended.  The indigo color syrup will turn into a lovely ruby color - the original pink limeade!  Lemon juice can be substituted for the lime if preferred.   Juice and syrup measurements can easily be adjusted to taste.   Garnish with a lime wedge or twist and candied violet if serving to guests.  Enjoy!

Sunday, September 2, 2018

New for 2018 - Bacon Seeds for Pastured Pork

We moved our young family out of the “burbs” and onto 10 acres in the country almost twenty years ago in order to bring home our two horses, raise some laying hens, grow our own vegetables, and start a small orchard.  Since then, it has been an ever changing journey on the road to self sustainability.  Shortly after we set up housekeeping, we acquired two angora goats for brush clearing and fiber, followed by Kiko and Boer goats as niche meat market animals.  That didn’t work out as we hoped so we shifted our focus to wool sheep and market lamb.  After three consecutive years of unpredictable hay supplies, we shifted our focus to growing vegetables and our rainbow eggs for market.   That was enjoyable and worked out well until first one local farmers market closed and the other moved closer to the city and changed its market day.  While that was great for some of our customers, it became too difficult for us to meet the early arrival and set up times, never mind all of the harvest and work necessary to prepare for market on an off farm work day.  So in 2016 we scaled back to selling just eggs to our long time customers and hatching eggs to fellow poultry fanciers.   We also decided to shift our growing focus from vegetables to wine grapes and orchard fruits.  Now we have big plans in the works and one of those is to produce delectable old style pork.  Old style pork is not the lean “white meat” of today, it is rich in flavor and marbled with fat...a melt-in-your-mouth kind of meat.
This wasn’t an easy decision, and it almost didn’t happen.  We first contemplated bringing grass fed beef to the farm, but we have neither the experience or sufficient acreage to raise them properly.   Sheep and goats hadn’t worked out  well, so we considered pigs.   Most of the pigs raised for pork today, even heritage breeds, are being bred for a lean meat – the so called “other white meat.”    We aren’t interested in that kind of pork, we already raise chickens.    Another drawback of these hogs, at least for us, is the size the breeding stock will attain.  We aren’t prepared to deal with 1000 pound plus animals producing huge volumes of excrement (and the associated smells), nor the damage they do to  land and infrastructure.  In spite of working with 1200 pound horses, the thought of handling 1000 pound hogs intimidates me almost as much as would caring for a mature bull.  Not to mention the horror stories we’ve heard about how hogs can kill and eat other animals and the possibility of aggression toward their human handlers.   Yikes!   We were not prepared to learn if this is true the hard way.   It isn't wise to keep animals you are afraid of, particularly when they are 5 to 10 times your own weight.  When you have to work with animals 24/7, through all seasons, rain, snow, heat and hail, you have to be passionate about them.  
So why not just raise feeder pigs?  Market weights are much less than breeding stock, typically between 200 and 300 pounds.  While that may be true, it wouldn’t allow us to be truly self sufficient.   For that we need our own breeding stock, raised to do well on our land.   John and I were also worried about the propensity of hogs to escape their enclosures.   There is a huge problem with feral hogs in this country and we didn’t want to contribute to it with escapees.   Pastured pork just wasn’t looking like a good idea.   Then we stumbled upon the solution, almost by accident.   We discovered the Kunekune!
Ginger Kune piglets
Kunekune (pronounced “cooneycooney) are small pigs by commercial hog standards.  A Kunekune will only ready 24 to 30 inches at the shoulder and weigh between 200 and 400 pounds at maturity.  As is true of many other heritage livestock, Kunekune are slow growing.  Mature weight won’t be reached until the pig is around two years of age.  While this may typically be viewed as a disadvantage for pork production, it can be offset to some degree by judicious breeding.  And in our opinion, it is also offset by the many advantages of the Kunekune.
The Kunekune is a breed developed by the Maori people of New Zealand.  The admixture of breeds that evolved into the Kunekune pig are lost to the mists of time, but they were most likely European and Asian breeds brought to the country by the English colonizers and whalers.  New Zealand is a nation of many islands, and islands create unique selection pressures – sharply defined boundaries and limited resources – pressures that usually result in scaled down version of large mainland livestock.  The end result is an animal that can maximize the available resources.   The Kunekune definitely does that.  It is a true grazing pig that actually requires less grain, and lower protein rations to grow and maintain condition that traditional pork hogs.   Feeding a Kunekune like a commercial hog will just result in a very fat pig.  They do best on pastures containing clover and mixed forage crops like turnip rather than monoculture grass.  In fact, their unique physiognomy – Kunekune roughly translates to round and fat – with short to medium upturned snouts makes a pig perfectly designed for grazing.  Like heritage hogs they can also be used to clean up windfall fruit in orchards and finished on acorns and other forest mast for a premium pork.  Best of all, they don’t tear up the ground as they graze!  This grass and mast heavy diet also means that their waste contains much less phosphorus and smells more like horse than hog.
Finally, the biggest selling feature of the Kunekune for us is their friendly and placid temperament.   They are easy to handle, aren’t inclined to roam far from home and don’t mind their caretaker’s  presence during farrowing.  Of course males require respect during breeding periods and individual females can have their grumpy times as well, but overall, the Kunekune is defined by its placid nature.
Grazing Herd
Our foundation stock was carefully chosen and purchased from Kunekune Preserve and Corva Bella Farm.  We anticipate having pastured pork and select breeding stock available some time in 2019.
You can see a video of our new arrivals on our YouTube video:  Four Little Pigs

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Growing GREEN...

With all of the recent rains everything is growing green crazy.   The weeds and grass are out of control.  Corn has been struggling to outpace the weeds but at least it's knee high.   We won't have fresh corn for July 4th, but we should have some by the end of summer.

 Still seeing male flowers on the squash plants and not much spreading.   Keeping our fingers crossed that good weather will speed things up a bit.

We have green tomatoes and green peppers.   More sun-time should see them ripening to red and orange.   I can almost taste that BLT!!!  Of course the beans are supposed to be green and we're starting to see more and more of those.   

The chickens have been enjoying the heat and sunshine.  Sriracha managed to find both a shady and sunny spot for his daily dust bath.

I wish I made note of the person I purchased the quail peeps from at Gilmanor.   The Manchurian Gold variety is really getting attractive.   They are pale palomino ground with dustings of gold feathers along their back and wings.  Looking forward to seeing their offspring.

At SpringFest I purchased some of these cactus flower zinnia.  I wasn't sure if I would like them, but they really are attractive, like Dahlia.   I also purchased some calendula officinalis.  Not sure if these are truly that variety.  They're rather frilly like the French marigolds.   Still pretty and keeping the pests away.

I'm also thrilled with the Hostas I purchased at Spring Fest.   They look so nice next to the pond.   And the lotus is sending up its leaves!  I can't wait to see those first flowers.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Pond Maintenance

After all of the rain lately, it was nice to finally have some clear weather to work on the pond.   It took me several  years, but now I finally have a lotus and a pitcher plant!

The lotus is Perry's Giant Sunburst.  It is a show stopper with large double yellow flowers that can be more than a foot across with pale green outer petals.   And not only are the flowers large, the leaves can be up to 18 inches across.   Pretty impressive on a four to five foot tall plant!   I can't wait to see it bloom.

The pitcher plant is another favorite I've admired for quite a long time.  It is a bog plant that requires very special growing conditions.   We created a "shelf" in our pond for just such water loving plants.  The variety is Tarnock with deep russet flower clusters that look almost like hop flowers.   Very pretty.

Cleaning the pond was quite an ordeal.   Pumping all that icky winter, leaf filled, tadpole infested water was quite the chore.   The submersible pump kept getting clogged as we reached to bottom so out came the shop vac to make quick work of the remainder.   Tadpoles were scooped up and sent to the wild stream and hostas were organized into their final locations.   The southern side of the pond is shaded by a lovely River Birch.

Positioning and filling the lotus pond wasn't much easier...and who knew a tub filled with almost 40 pounds of soil and rock would float!  Displacement really is a thing :)

Prepping the lotus pot with soggy wet soil.

Lotus planted

Of course I had plenty of supervision as I worked.   The cat stopped by, took a look and sauntered off while one of the dogs decided what I was doing was interesting enough to watch.

After what seemed like days, everything was in its place and ready for the water.   Filling is the fun part...except when you have to catch a huge floating planter and hold it in place until it fills with water.   That part wasn't so much fun.

Almost full again and ready for the koi

Thursday, March 17, 2016


It happens every year without fail sometime in January, and it doesn’t matter whether you are under six feet of snow or just cooler temperatures in the Deep South.   The first signs are subtle.  It’s actually light enough to see the chickens we you do the evening feed, and durn, they’re looking pretty good, not so ragtag and winter worn.   You begin to think it may be a good time to set up those breeding pens.  Then the Valentine’s Day stuff gets marked down in the stores and the Easter and spring stuff goes up.   Seed packets begin to appear and you know it’s coming soon.   Is it too soon to gather eggs and fire up the incubator?  Are they fertile (and for those of you who free range a mixed flock during the winter…are they purebred) yet?  The incubator looks so forlorn sitting in that corner…cold and empty.   Surely one batch will be okay, a couple more barnyard mixes won’t hurt?  No, better to wait.  Then it happens…that sense of electricity in the air when you go to the feed store.  You know it’s coming and no one is immune.   PEEP FEVER!

If you think bad news travels fast, it’s got nothing on word that the feed store chicks have arrived.  Within an hour of their arrival at the store, every chick delivered is already sold and on its way to a new home.   And not too long after the fever dies down a little, the second wave hits with the arrival of the Swaps.   But this time it is a little different.

Instead of the mad rush to fling open wallets to be the first to pick up chicks, I hear the same question…why are you charging $8, $10 or more dollars for a chick when the feed store is only charging $2.50!  And they’re guaranteed females!  

Well here it is.  The down and dirty answer.

First, there is this little thing in the retail industry known as a loss leader.   A loss leader is an item priced below market value in order to get you into the store to purchase higher value, higher profit margin items.   Those new chicks need food right?  (Heck, some stores offer the chicks for free if you purchase the food!)  And a special feeder, and a special water dispenser.  What about a heat lamp?  And a backyard coop for them?  Bedding?  Oyster grit (not really needed at this stage, but I know everyone has fallen for this one as a newbie!)  Treats!  Don’t forget treats to hand tame them!  By the time you leave the store those six new female chicks have set you back several hundred dollars. 

      Now add in that other little thing in the retail industry known as economy of scale and there is really very little actual loss for the store at the below market price.   Chain stores don’t invest any time or money into raising chickens, they purchase them from hatcheries – by the tens of thousands – to repackage and distribute to their various store locations.  That brings their cost down to pennies.  And it also tends to mix up the “guaranteed pullets” with some guaranteed cockerels.   So maybe you don’t really have six females.  Time will tell.

Third, hatcheries are in business to sell chicks.   The more they hatch, the more they sell and the more money they make.   They are not carefully selecting their breeders to prevent genetic anomalies; if the breeders are the same breed then that is enough.   Siblings?  Who knows...six cockbirds and forty hens in the same breeding pen...could be.  Inbreeding over ten generations?  That makes them purebred.   But cheap?  Not exactly.  The average purchaser buying the minimum 25 will spend about $125 including shipping.   Pullets, especially of the “rare” or “fancy” varieties average $5 and the straight run (no sexing for male or female) chicks average $4 each.
But at least the hatchery chicks are healthy.  They’ve typically been vaccinated for Mareks and the hatchery has all the necessary USDA paperwork so that’s okay.  Or is it.  Sometimes disease still spreads in the hatcheries as we've all seen in the news.  But let's assume the chicks all have a clean bill of health when they leave the hatchery.   Some may still arrive at the feed store chilled and stressed and exhibiting some symptoms of illness, but that’s still okay because the store sells medications for that. Right over here in this conveniently set up display.   Starting to understand?

Now all of this may make it seem like I am against feed store chicks – I’m not.  Like many chicken hobbyists, that’s how I got my first chickens.   And honestly, the feed store doesn’t care where you get your chickens; they are not in the business of selling chickens.   Feed stores are in business to sell all of the things that go with chickens.   That’s why they encourage swaps in their parking lots even as they are selling chicks in the store. 

I’m not even anti-hatchery per se, they have their place too.   I am just tired of trying to justify the $8 - $12 chick I ask for my chicks.   In reality, that’s what it costs.   I, like many other hobbyists, don’t receive the economies of scale.  Just like you, we pay the retail price for our feed, electricity for incubator and brooder, and all the collateral equipment.  We tend to raise chickens for the pleasure it brings not in volume to get a discount or to sell for profit.  Most of us raise only a few breeds, chickens that appeal to us for a variety of reasons, and we sell some because we simply can’t keep them all.  Plus it helps offset the feed bill for the ones we do keep.  For $8 to $12 dollars I am placing in your hands the result of many years of careful breeding to produce sound, healthy chickens as close to the standards for their breed as possible.  A breed that may be truly hard to find.  A chick whose parents have been tested NPIP and AI clean each year and who has the potential to be a beautiful example of its breed, free of genetic defects.  A chick who has known only gentle human interaction from the date of its hatch, who may end up being your best buddy (especially if you garden), provide hours of entertainment for friends and family along with the added gift of food for your table.  Sounds like a bargain to me!

I know you will someday understand and agree, because you too will be affected by the next malady...CHICKEN MATH.  :)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Cream Legbars 2016

We've finally selected the Cream Legbar cockerel for our 2016 breeding pen. He is a rather nice Rees line bird hatched in March of 2015. Number 47, now dubbed "Darcy" has a nice balance of lighter hackles and saddle feathers with good dark barring on his breast and body. This balance of light and dark along with the deep chestnut that I feel distinguishes this breed from other barred birds is distributed on his shoulders. The points on his comb are nicely spaced and he carries himself with style. His legs are deep yellow legs and he has a strong, long back. Darcy's tail angle is the best I've seen so far; it's a trait I hope he passes along to his offspring. He also has fairly well tucked wings. Most of the US Rees birds tend to have low and 'lazy' wing carriage. Darcy's comb is a bit floppy and his breast needs filling out that should come with maturity. He is on the small side, but overall I believe he will compliment the six pullets (3 Graystem line and 3 Rees line) he will be covering. Once we've hatched around 100 chicks from this pen, we will be offering hatching eggs. Older birds won't be available until later in the year since these birds change quite a bit as they reach maturity. If you don't have an incubator and would like day old chicks instead, please contact us by email. Introducing "DARCY"

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

First Fruits!

The first fruits are my favorite, waking the tastebuds from a long dormancy.  Birds and torrential downpours made us miss the first blueberries, but today gave us the first harvest of raspberries!  That amazing POP of succulent sweet-tartness followed by a light crunch of the seed reminds us this isn't some tasty concoction created in a chemistry lab, but goodness straight from Nature's garden.   Eating them straight off the stem is good enough, but there are so many delicious things to make that it is hard to choose.   Fresh with cream?  On yogurt?  Custard?  In a tart?  With granola?  Ice cream?  A smoothie?  Cobbler?  Sometimes choices can be a bad thing!

Off to the kitchen to see what we have available to compliment these delicious RASPBERRIES!

Smoothie Time!

Fresh Berry Smoothie 
1 serving

Large handfull (1/4 to 1/2 cup) of fresh raspberries
5 or 6 frozen pitted cherries (or strawberries)
4 or 5 ice cubes
large ice cream scoop of plain greek yogurt
3-4 drops of pure vanilla extract
1 tsp raw honey
1/4 to 1/2 cup of fruit juice (I like CranApple)
1/2 cup milk (We use 2% so I add 2 tbsp of heavy cream)
1/2 banana - optional

Reserve some of the juice and mix in blender.  If it is too thick, add more juice.  Strain into the glass if you don't like the seeds.  That's it; refreshing goodness!