Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ice Storm

We got freezing drizzle yesterday afternoon, so I essentially skated through chores and gave the slush-covered cows extra hay for supper and extra straw for bedding.  It rained all evening with the temperature hovering at freezing. When I let the dogs out before bed (or tried to, they refused to go out) I was dazzled by an ice-encrusted world!

Limbs that are normally way above where I can reach were bowing down to my shoulders, encased in ice. It was very windy and the branches were shaking and clattering like maracas. It was impossible to capture the beauty of the night with my camera - for one thing I was kind of afraid to go out under the trees, worried a heavy branch would crash down onto me.  I snapped this photo from the steps, lit by the yard light, branches waving furiously.
This one was taken with the flash.
I was hoping to capture the beauty this morning but most of the ice had already melted from the trees. It is still raining steadily, gray and dreary. We have some clean-up to do.
This branch is too heavy for me to move alone and the electric fence is now compromised. At least I don't think the cows will attempt leaping over the fence when it is so icy.  They have been stepping very carefully across the treacherous pasture.
Electric fence with icy barbs.
Jitterbug and a rooster sharing a bit of  grain in the rain.
The dogs are dismayed and the yard  and driveway are a slushy, muddy mess.  So much for the beauty of the ice storm. If the sun does break through the gloom later on, I will try to capture some sparkle.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Miscellaneous Tidbits Interspersed With Chickens

It's not often I go an entire week without a blog post, but it is even more unusual for me not to shoot a bunch of photos every day.  That just goes to show how busy life has been lately. Here is a brief rundown on recent farm happenings, some illustrated with random chicken photos, since my camera seems to have taken a few days off.

Notice the bare ground and sunshine. It feels like spring, which makes me  feel kind of panicked and  behind schedule - I don't have my seeds planted yet!  We are  forecast for a huge snowstorm with freezing rain tomorrow, so it's not quite spring yet, but  the last three predicted storms missed us entirely so I'm not holding my breath.
That doesn't mean I am not prepared, however.  I picked up chicken feed and grain for the cows today so I don't have to drive the slip-slidey truck if we do get freezing rain.
The seed orders have arrived!  These came from Seedsavers a few days  ago and a few more packets of tomato seeds from Tomatofest arrived today --they sell 600 varieties of heirloom tomatoes! I intend to start planting tomorrow.
Thanks to Facebook, we reconnected with a high school friend, Kat, who came for a visit  with her husband Spike.  Spike is an author working on a book featuring farm building projects, so he was curious about our farm enterprises. (I am now immersed in his recent book, A Splintered History of Wood,  a great read!)   We fired up the  clay oven and made wood-fired pizza with them. We also had an embarrassing mozzarella-making fail - it turned out more like ricotta than mozzarella but still tasted good.
Even though my own sofa reupholstery project is not yet totally done (that's why you haven't seen the finished photos yet) I am undertaking another upholstery project - the sofa of my friend Gael.  She and our friend Robin came over to help me with the hardest part: unupholstering. Gael and  Orange relaxed in the sofa  one last time before we tore into it...
and here it is two hours later, totally naked.  I am eager to  get this sofa covered and then finish my own darn sofa before the crazy busyness of spring hits.
That friendly, stray black cat in the barn that might be a pregnant female?   I named her/him Poet and no kittens have arrived yet, although Poet is very rotund.  A second stray cat, a gray tiger, seems to have taken up residence in the hayloft, but it is totally wild and unapproachable.

Lastly, I am working part time again for the Clean Energy Resource Teams this spring in the far SE Minnesota counties.  It is great to be back working with such wonderful people on renewable energy! (It may mean less frequent blog posts, however.  I'll try to keep up.)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Power Growing

Last weekend was so inspiring!  I got to attend a weekend workshop at Growing Power  in Milwaukee, WI, an urban farm developed by this remarkable farmer, Will Allen. About 18 years ago, Will purchased an old nursery for sale in the inner city of Milwaukee with the intent of selling produce from his farm there.

Since then, he has transformed this 2- acre lot into an intense and diverse farm, training and employing over a hundred people at a fair wage and growing healthy, delicious organic food for thousands of Milwaukee-ites.
Growing greens and microgreens year-round is one of the key enterprises of Growing Power. They sell weekly market baskets of vegetables to community members and wholesale produce to places like Walmart and Whole Foods.
They get tons of wood chips and semi truckloads of vegetable trimmings and waste from city businesses that they turn into compost. (This is not their only compost site.)  This  huge compost pile was steaming hot on a February day because they had just turned in the goat manure...
from their herd of about a dozen goats that lives on the urban farm. They were expecting also 500 new laying hens later in the week. Their hens are housed in deep bedding in two of the hoop houses and provide  eggs for sale.
In one corner of the farm is the bee yard where they have 14 beehives, mostly Langstroth hives, a couple of top-bar hives and this intriguing tall hive called a Hapiary, designed to mimic a hollow tree, to make the bees happy.
Aquaponics systems combing fish and plants in a symbiotic growing relationship are located inside many of the greenhouses.  For a typical system, a  4-foot deep, long rectangular fish tank (holding up to 10,000 gallons) is constructed with a plant-growing platform above. The pond water is pumped up into the growing beds where microorganisms convert the fish waste to nutrients for the plants, filtering the water for the fish. Watercress, nasturtiums,  and many varieties of greens were currently growing in most of the beds. The logs hanging above this tank are growing shitake mushrooms and are occasionally immersed in the water.
A net scooped full of tilapia from this tank. Tilapia and pacu are tropical fish requiring water that is at least 60 degrees F. The warm water tanks are heated by a solar thermal system on the roof, and the tanks act as heat sinks that help keep the greenhouses warm.
The pacu, a  fish that is a vegetarian relative of the piranha and is absolutely delicious, according to Will. These two pacu were about 20 pounds but they can grow up to 60 pounds!
Close up and personal view of the pacu.  (I am not sure I could eat this smiley fish after I raised it to 20 pounds.)
At Growing Power they also raise lake perch and bluegills in tanks with colder water.

Of all the livestock raised on the farm, worms are the most important, providing the fertility for the soil.
Will showed us the Worm Depository, sort of a worm nursery where they raise large populations of worms.  They control the temperature of this huge vermicompost pile through careful addition of new materials, brown and green, so that the red worms survive Wisconsin winters.
Inside one of the greenhouses are many large wooden worm bins where worms process the compost into castings (worm poop), nature's most perfect slow-release fertilizer.  There are over 15,000 pots throughout the greenhouses, where plants thrive grown in pure compost topped with a sprinkle of worm castings. Worms are added to every pot.  With just a bit of worm castings added occasionally, the same pots of compost have been used continuously for ten years.
The hanging bags are "mushroom  chandeliers," growing oyster mushrooms.  Notice all the hanging pots also. Every potential growing space is used, up to the rafters.
A view into a high tunnel growing spinach.  Growing Power has launched community gardens all over Milwaukee and in Chicago. They often erect a high tunnel right on top of an asphalt surface, spread compost two feet deep and plant into the compost. This way they enjoy totally weed-free gardening.
Compost banked against the outside walls of the  high tunnels helps retain heat inside. I love the fleet of wheelbarrows.

It's a pretty astonishing  agricultural system on just two acres! And I didn't even show you the solar panels sheltering the outdoor produce market, the new classroom, the delicious meals, the hens in the hoophouses, the anaerobic digester, the water catchment system in which the bluegills are raised, or the aquaponics research area...

I attended two great workshops, aquaponics and composting, where I gleaned a lot that I will apply to  our farm. I would love to return someday, for the technical expertise...and for the inspiration.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Fish Encounter

Fish Encounter - ptg by Susan Waughtal

I'm off to learn everything I can glean about Aquaponics - the symbiotic  raising of fish and plants for food - at Growing Power in Milwaukee! I'll tell you all about it when I return.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Tisket a Tasket

We just had a delightful guest: Bethany, one of our interns from last summer, was passing through the area and stayed over last night.  We made supper comprised of salad from the greenhouse she helped build last fall, Vietnamese duck soup from one of the ducks she raised last summer, and a loaf of  incredible chocolate-apricot sourdough bread she made.  Bethany also presented us with her very first hand-woven basket.
The basket is made from red dogwood and green willow stems she cut from the camp she is working at near Lake Superior and is intended for collecting eggs.  It is beautiful and was obviously made with love and we will treasure it!
Thanks, Bethany!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dark Duck Days of Winter Challenge

Despite my dearth of Dark Days local  food postings, we have indeed been feasting on primarily local foods this winter. The majority of our meals feature food grown on our farm, and since the New Year a surprising percentage of them have involved duck.  It is surprising to me, at least, because until now I had never eaten duck.

The ducks were also raised on our farm. Last summer when we picked up our turkey poults from the feed store, there was a kiddie-pool full of  ducklings that somebody had ordered but failed to collect, so they needed homes.  Ducklings are irresistibly cute, so on impulse I bought two. They were Pekin ducks, a meat breed, and they grew astoundingly fast.  After Christmas, when we harvested the surplus roosters,  Sara and Cadence persuaded me to also harvest the ducks.  It was the prime time if we were ever going to do it: according to our research, late fall to early winter is optimum because ducks have a lot of fat on their bodies then and after they are more than a year old they become tough.  It was not an easy decision, but we did it.

Sara loves duck meat, so she was put in charge of preparing our first duck.  We take our chickens to a great poultry processor and  feel it is definitely worth it to pay them to do it, but because ducks are much more labor-intensive to clean than chickens, it turns out they cost a lot more.  Instead of $3.50 per bird, processing the ducks cost $15 each, and there was still considerable work required by us to get out every feather. After completing the detail work, Sara rubbed the bird with olive oil so the herbs would stick, smothered it in rosemary and sprinkled salt and pepper inside and out. She roasted it at 450 F for a couple hours, turning it over after an hour. In the photo above it is still in the oven, not done yet, and you can see how much duck fat is already in the pan. Apparently duck fat is highly prized for cooking - I have some duck-fat cooking adventures ahead.
To accompany the duck Sara  made mashed potatoes (using our garden potatoes from the root cellar),
baked delicata squash (also from our garden)
and steamed brussels sprouts drizzled with the duck drippings.  (We don't know where the brussels sprouts were grown but we had them on hand and couldn't resist including them.)

The next night, Sara made a fantastic duck-vegetable saute over pasta with the leftovers and we made stock from the carcass. That was my first duck ever and it was incredibly delicious.

Duck #2
On Sunday, we invited our neighbors Betsy and Don for dinner in appreciation for all they do. I decided to try Sara's technique for preparing the second duck. I made it exactly the same way, except for squeezing the juice of an orange (not local) over the duck and placing the rinds inside the  cavity during roasting.

This duck was served with a colorful salad of fresh greens, carrots, radishes and pansies from the high tunnel (yes, it's still producing!!) served with honey-mustard dressing (made with our honey and scallions, organic mayo, mustard and balsamic vinegar), a loaf of Rog's freshly-baked sourdough bread, and a heart-shaped chocolate cheesecake garnished with fresh strawberries.  The eggs for the cheesecake were provided by our chickens, and the Organic Valley cream cheese was from regional dairy farmers but the chocolate and strawberries were very un-local. It was a tasty meal (if I do say so myself) with wonderful friends, and was made with plenty of heart and soul, if not 100% SOLE.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Marvelous Morn for a Moonset

We were just sitting down into our window chairs to enjoy our morning coffee and noticed that the nearly full moon was setting through the trees.
So, we abandoned our coffee, slipped into our boots and jackets and ran out to the prairie to watch the moon set.
Bushwhacking through the brush to the road, I just caught the early morning moon sinking over Douglas before the sky became too bright.  Too bad all those folks driving to work couldn't see the beautiful moon behind them.