Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Gathering Food

It's been a while since I last posted something here, so I'll probably just try to do some posts bit by bit to describe the busy season I've had raising veggies, tending the vineyard, and finishing building my house. Fortunately I've been taking pictures, so there is some record of what I've been doing. I just haven't taken the time to update the blog this season. I wish I could be as prolific in my blog posts as Ziggy.

This season, there was a bounty from the garden in many ways.  Because I end up with so much of some crops I try to come up with ways to preserve what I can't eat right away so I can extend the bounty through the rest of the year.  Not so long ago, before the advent of refrigeration, everyone grew their own food and knew special ways of preserving it for the rest of the year.    Pickling in brine was a great way of keeping veggies edible for the winter and inspired so many delicious new foods.  These foods were fermented like saurkraut and could be stored without refrigeration in a cellar for many months.  One pickle that I like to make is the Korean kimchi, which is made with Chinese cabbage or radish, scallions, really hot peppers, and if desired, small fish like anchovies.  I like hot pickles and one of my favorites is a hot pickle mix of cucumbers, carrots, and hot peppers.  In this pickle everything becomes infused with the heat of the peppers adding a kick to the cukes and carrots.  This was a good year in the hoop house for pickling cukes, so I made a big batch of hot pickle mix.

Another good way to presere the harvest for winter is to plant good storage varieties of vegetables.  I plant tons of garlic every year which I hang up in the house.   It usually lasts from mid-July to sometime in January.  This season was a good year for onions finally and I ended up with plenty to tide me over until the first spring onions begin to sprout..  For the first year in a long time I planted winter squash and was able to get a fairly good harvest..  I'm not a big squash eater, but I do like a good Thai squash curry.  They will store well most of the winter.   Then there's always potatoes.  I don't count on being able to grow all I'll need though someday I hope to plant that many.  This year's harvest was the best in many years.  I find them hard to grow in our wet springs and with our high water table.  They end up rotting in the ground.  Unfortunately my attempt at planting fall carrots failed this year because it was about 100 degrees when I was sowing them.  They don't germinate in that kind of heat.  I experimented with presprouting carrot seeds in the hoop house with good results.  It's not that the plants can't grow in the heat, but the seeds won't germinate, so if you start the seeds inside in a cooler temperature, they'll sprout.  Carrots are a great root cellar crop and they usually do really well as a fall crop heavily mulched or pulled up before the first hard frost.

To diversify our diet and get a little bit of valuable manure out of the deal, my girlfriend Julie and I raised 10 broiling chickens this season.  I'd raised 7 for the first time last year.  These are not a heritage breed but are the common Cornish Rock Cross.   They take a lot of time and food, but they sure do taste good.  I wouldn't recommend keeping them as long as we did--almost 4 months--because it's more efficient as far as meat to food consumed ratio if you eat them at around 8-10 weeks.  Everyone says these birds are too feeble to survive past that age and disparages the breed for being poor foragers, but ours were still energetic and scratching for bugs at 4 months.  I think it just takes them a little tome and the opportunity to learn to forage.  Of course, compared to heritage and traditional breeds they fall short in everything except their rate of fattening and their feed to meat production ratio.

In addition to the meat birds we have the chicken co-op, which now consists of me, Julie, Dennis and Sharon.  This summer we got a new batch of laying chicks and have been watching them grow up very slowly compared to the Cornish Rocks.  We started out with 25 chicks and lost one when they were still tiny and fluffy.  Up until recently we had 24, and though we got a straight run (meaning they weren't sexed) we ended up with a great ratio of hens to roosters.  We wound up with just 6 roosters.  Unfortunately, only last week after so much care and feed spent on them, a mink got into the chicken tractor and killed 14 birds.  These animals just go on a killing spree and don't even eat most of what they kill.  It was pretty devastating for our co-op, but is also a lesson never to let our guard down.  It had been so long since we'd had any problems, and we thought they were too big to be messed with, but I guess minks are pretty deadly and can squeeze through a one inch gap under the chicken tractor.

These Buff Orpingtons are really friendly and their color is striking. It was sad to lose so many beautiful birds. So now we are down to 8 laying hens and two roosters along with our older 5 hens that should start slowing down their laying soon.

One local source of feed for the chickens has been the cattail pond behind my house.  Every season a bloom of duckweed grows thick over the surface.  This is a tiny water plant that is supposedly high in protein, very nutritious, and a favorite food of ducks.  The chickens seem to like it too, even the Cornish Rock Crosses.  One five minute venture out in the canoe on the pond and you can bring back a full 5 gallon bucket of duckweed.  We've been mixing it in with the grain feed we give the chickens.   This is such an ideal food source because it replenishes itself so rapidly I"m sure we could sustainably harvest tons of it out of this little pond every year.  Our greywater systems feed the pond with nitrogen and the duckweed thrives on the nutrient-rich water.  So not only is it cleaning the pond of nitrogen and treating our greywater, we get a renewable, self-replenishing food source for our livestock.

Cornish Rock Crosses eating duckweed

1 comment:

Aravinda said...

Hey Dan, gorgeous picture of the cucumber pickle. Glad to know you are still gardening. I keep meaning to as well ...