Sunday, December 30, 2012


As the year is coming to a close we take time to continue some seasonal family traditions.  Outside, collecting and foraging for items to decorate our mantel; pliable grapevines for wreaths, smooth shinny buckeyes, maple leaves, acorns and evergreens.  Inside we gather with friends for our annual gingerbread people fiesta.  The children look forward to making dough, shaping cutouts and slathering on a myriad of dried fruit, nuts, candy and icing for finishing touches.  (This year the addition of the gingerbread ninja was a hit!)  These are some of the sweet little things we cherish. And as the years go by and the children become teenagers there is something so special and wholesome to just being together to bake, laugh, eat, play games and maintain connections with the people we love. 
We are praying for everyone, many blessings in 2013.  
Happy New Year from the Soul Flower Farm crew!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Tonic Treats For Livestock

I've been focusing a bit more of my attention on the animals this week.  I bred one of our does a couple of days ago and realized that I have not been giving any of the animals the extra supplements and treats they used to get so frequently.  After all, it is a lot of work to keep up with everyone's (human and animal) needs!  I thought I would share an easy recipe for these tonic balls I like to give to the goats and cow.  There are infinite ways and ingredients for this recipe. What you put in will depend on what extra supplements you want your animals to have and perhaps what time of year it is.  Or maybe it will just depend on what you have around the house. Since this is one of my ways of using food as medicine, it is important to me that all ingredients be organic.  

Garlic is the essential ingredient being a very effective natural wormer and generally increasing immunity, as well as, over all health.  Flax oil is high in omega 3 fatty acids, which does wonders for the animals appearance.  When fed to lactating animals, flax improves the fatty acid content of their milk.  (We also try to feed flax seeds to our chickens to get the omegas in the eggs.)  For this batch of tonic balls I started with a generous amount of peeled garlic cloves which I put into the blender and immersed in flax seed oil.  (You can also just crush the garlic with a mortar and pestle and add whole flax seeds.)  I then blended the garlic and flax oil until almost liquefied.  

Next I ground some steel cut oats into flour.  Other substitutes for oats could be rye, barley, wheat, or any grain you think your ruminant will enjoy.  The goal is just to have some flour to add into the mix, the fresher the better.  My animals tend to find oats the most palatable. (And in case you are wondering, the cast iron grain grinder attachment for the Kitchen Aid mixer is awesome!) 

So once you have the garlic mashed and the flour ground, combine these ingredients in a large bowl.  Add rolled oats and a good amount of black strap molasses, which holds the balls together, makes the whole thing sweet and yummy for the animal, and is very high in iron and calcium.   
Other additions I usually add are...
-Vitamin C powder
-Probiotics  for healthy digestion
-Nettles for iron and calcium
-Olive leaf extract for anti-bacterial and anti-microbial action

Mix well, adjusting wet and dry ingredients until you get a consistency that will stick together.  Shape into small balls (you may have to pat your hands into some extra flour to avoid the mixture sticking to them).  Store in an air tight container in the refrigerator.  I usually give 2 balls a day to each goat and several more to our cow.  Use your best judgement on the dosing depending on what ingredients you use and how potent the balls are.  If your animals are picky you might have to reduce the amount of garlic.  And be sure to use them up when they are fresh.  The longer they sit the more garlicky they get and the goats especially will turn their noses away.  

Welcome winter and happy tonic making!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

POTA Update

Some of you may have read a previous post about our attempts at finding sustainable home resources for feeding our livestock.  Well, the search is still on but here is the update on how it went with the Protein Out Of Thin Air method.

Overall the experiment worked great.  After about a week the bucket was teeming with life.  The chickens had a field day eating all the larvae.  Our ducks did not show any interest in the whole affair but the hens were in a frenzy when the maggots started dropping out of the holes.  The down side was that the whole experiment smelled 
p-r-e-t-t-y bad.  We were thinking that because it rained during the first few days and the bucket got really wet inside, the mulch that was supposed to be a dry buffer and cut down on the odor did not do it's job.  

One fellow flockster I read about hoists his buckets up above his chicken run, 20-30 feet high avoiding the smell which is carried away by the wind.  (I'm not sure how his neighbors appreciate that, but it does seem like it would work.)  I have also read that some people have multiple maggot buckets going in their chicken yard at once, which would be a more efficient way to conduct this method if you are really trying to feed the flock mostly from home resources.  In my opinion the summertime with the hot dry weather would be a more conducive time to use this method so that the smell could be more manageable.  I have not given up on producing protein out of thin air but I think we will wait for the dry season to do it again. It was definitely worth trying and with some tweaking could be a useful way to provide partial feed for free.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Makin' Some Compost Tea

All gardeners need a little inspiration now and then.  The rain has been very welcome here but we're feeling a bit of a winter lull with all the mud, busy-ness and and not as much time to get our hands dirty outside.  Making compost tea is a fast and simple way to increase soil fertility and do something extra special for the winter garden.  We got a bit carried away with ours as we were super excited and filled a 350 gallon IBC container (which is an extremely useful thing to have around by the way!). 

We've never been fully convinced that compost tea really works but after watching the video below about the guy who grows Guinness Record gigantic vegetables we thought it was worth a try.  

We started with homemade compost in a burlap sac, some microbial enzymes and about a quart of raw sugar.  Molasses is recommended to feed the bacteria and get the mixture going but we used sugar because it is cheaper and we had some on hand.  

Our container was already filled with rain water so we added the ingredients and submerged the burlap sac like a giant tea bag into the water and let the combination steep for a day or so.  The key step is to aerate the compost tea.  For this we used an air fish tank pump.  

Supposedly after 24 hours the compost tea is ready and thankfully we have a huge stock of it with a hose attached to play with and use in our garden at will.  Just one more experiment we are trying out over here.  

Check out this video.  We hope it inspires you the way it inspired us.  Although we had to wonder if this guys amazingly humongous vegis are due to his super fertile Alaskan tundra soil.  Only one way to find out...
Happy winter gardening everyone!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Wild Winter Feast

Post Thanksgiving, we felt that a wild feast was in order so we invited a group of friends, neighbors and family to join us in celebrating together over an enchanting spread of both homegrown and locally foraged wild edible delicacies.  On the menu...homegrown Cornish hens and rabbit roasted in the cob oven with butternut squash, wild green salad with miso vinaigrette, wild oyster mushroom soup, tomato-chard quiche, sauteed apples/sweet potatoes/onions-w/figs and walnuts, rabbit pot pie, braised parsnips and celery root, pumpkin bulgar pilaf, and cranberry onion relish.  (We still have yet to catch one of the wild turkeys so prolific in our area!)

For dessert; steamed persimmon pudding, pineapple guava sorbet, apple sauce cake, popping corn, and caramel apples.  Our beverages were hot yogi chai and pomegranate ginger water kefir.  Not bad for a spontaneous soiree.  We enjoyed and gave thanks for the bounty and good company.  As we approach the beginning of this winter season we are staying mindful of each and every blessing and the quiet simplicity of nature and family that we cherish so dearly. 

Be with those who help your being.  
Don't sit with indifferent people, 
whose breath comes cold out of their mouths.  
Not these visible forms, your work is deeper.

A chunk of dirt thrown in the air breaks to pieces.  
If you don't try to fly, and so break yourself apart,  
you will be broken open by death,
when it's too late for all you could become.  
Leaves get yellow. The tree puts out fresh roots 
and makes them green.

Why are you so content with a love that turns you yellow?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Dynamic Accumulators

Comfrey leaves
As we continue to work on improving our soil, we are learning about plants that gather micro and macro nutrients and minerals through their root systems and store them in their leaves.  These plants are called dynamic accumulators and can be used in the garden for many purposes.  They can be used to detoxify the soil and for gathering specific nutrients and minerals, bringing them up from deep in the ground through their extensive root systems.  We can use them as fertilizer for other plants that may be lacking those particular nutrients by cutting down the nutrient rich leaves and spreading them as a mulch or adding them to the compost pile.  Many of us are familiar with nitrogen dynamic accumulators such as clover which can fix nitrogen in the soil, restoring soil fertility.  

By planting certain dynamic accumulators that bring up calcium from the soil in a bed with plants that need extra calcium, you can create a symbiotic relationship allowing plants to flourish in a sustainable way.  Growing dynamic accumulators throughout your garden is a great way to fix deficiency in your soil as well as add diversity through their multi-functional qualities.

Comfrey, stinging nettles, yarrow, chicory  alfalfa, and dandelion are all dynamic accumulators, as well as, medicinal plants that we can use in our kitchen pharmacy.  We are interested in dynamic accumulators and their capacities for healing, not only the human body but also the earth in which they grow.  As we become aware of the powers these plants have to restore the soil and how to use them as compost teas, mulches, cover crops, and companion plants, the possibilities seem endless.  

Here is a list of some dynamic accumulators and the specific nutrients they supply:
1. Sugar Maple, Acer saccaraum K, Ca
2. Maples, Acer spp. K
3. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium K, P, Cu
4. Chives, Allium schoenoprasum K, P, Ca
5. Black Birch, Betula lenta K, P, Ca
6. Birches, Betula spp. P
7. Shagbark Hickry, Carya ovate K, P, Ca
8. Hickory, Pecans, Carya spp. K, Ca
9. German Chammomile, Chamaemelum nobile K, P, Ca
10. Chicory, Cichorium intybus K Ca
11. Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida K, P, Ca
12. Horsetails, Equisetum spp. Ca, Co, Fe, Mg
13. Beeches, Fagus spp. K
14. European Beech, Fagus sylvatica K Ca
15. Strawberry, Fragria spp. Fe
16. Wintergreen, Gaultheria procumbens Mg
17. Licorices, Glycyrrhiza spp. P, N
18. Black Walnut, Juglans nigra K, P, Ca
19. Walnuts, Juglans spp. K, P
20. Lupines, Lupinus spp. P, N
21. Apples, Malus spp. K
22. Alfalfa, Medicago sativa Fe, N
23. Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis P
24. Peppermint, Mentha piperita K, Mg
25. Watercress, Nasturtium officinale K, P, Ca, S, Fe, Mg, Na
26. Silverweed, Potentilla arserina K, Ca, Cu
27. White Oak, Quercus alba, P
28. Black Locust, Robinia pseudoacacia, K, Ca, N
29. Sorrels, Docks, Rumex spp. K, P, Ca, Fe, Na
30. Salad Burnet, Sanguisorba minor Fe
31. Savory, Satureja spp. P
32. Chickweed, Stellaria media K, P
33. Comfreys, Symphytum spp. K, P, Ca, Cu, Fe
34. Dandilion, Taraxacum officinale K, P, Ca, Cu, Fe
35. Basswood, Tilia Americana P, Ca, Mg
36. Linden (Lime in the UK), Tilia spp. P, Ca
37. Clovers, Trifloium spp. P, N
38. Stinging Nettle, Urtica dioica, K, Ca, S, Fe, Na
39. Vetches, Vicia spp. K, P, N
40. Violets, Viola spp. P

Abbreviation Key

Ca = Calcium
Co = Cobalt
Cu = Copper
Fe = Iron
K = Potassium
Mg = Magnesium
N = Nitrogen (Nitrogen fixers)
Na = Sodium
P = Phosphorus
S = Sulfur

*list from Temperate climate permaculture

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


More on the fermenting tip, last year when I finally broke down and bought Wild Fermentaion, I read it cover to cover and added a whole bunch of new recipes to my list of new things to try.  Amazake is one I am most excited about and I'm finally getting around to experimenting with it.  I'm guessing that few of you out there have heard of this delicious fermented Japanese creation.  We usually buy it in the health food store as a thick smoothy like treat which the kids love.  During the fermentation process, simple rice (or any other grain you choose) becomes extremely sweet as the mold spores in the inoculated rice product called Koji turn the complex carbohydrates into simple sugars.  According to Sandor Katz, amazake is versatile enough to eat as a pudding, to sweeten your baked goods, or blend into a thick sweet beverage that can be consumed hot or cold.  The most exciting part about this recipe is that it only takes 12-24 hours to ferment.  Here's how you do it...

-2 cups sweet rice (or any other grain)
-2 cups koji  (I found at local health food store, but you can order here.  Koji is also the culture used to make miso)
-you will also need:  1 gallon wide mouth jar and an insulated cooler large enough for the jar to fit into

Cook the grain in 6 cups of water.  Preheat the cooler and the gallon jar by filling with hot water.  When the grain is cooked, remove it from heat, stir and cool to the point where you can hold your finger in it for a moment but it is still steaming hot.

Add koji to cooked grain and stir well.  

Place cooked grain/koji mixture into heated jar, screw on lid and place in heated cooler.  add additional hot water to maintain the heat in the cooler, not too hot to touch.  Shut the cooler and place it in a warm spot. 

Check amazake after 8-12 hours, if it is very sweet then its ready.  If not then heat it up gently with more hot water and allow to ferment for a few more hours.  Once it is sweet bring it to a boil to stop the fermentation.  If you leave it to ferment after it becomes sweet it becomes the alcoholic beginnings of sake.  You can now serve it as a pudding or add water and blend into a smooth drink.  Some delicious added flavorings are, coconut. grated ginger, nutmeg, vanilla, espresso.  There are other methods you can try (you basically want to create an incubator that will stay between 130-135 degrees).  Your amazake can sit in the crock pot or rice cooker filled with water.  I was thinking of putting the closed jar in my dehydrator next time at 135 degrees.  The oven can also work.

I have yet to try baking with amazake but the notion of having sweet baked goods on hand in our house that require no sugar, honey, maple syrup, etc. is REVOLUTIONARY!  Here is a recipe I will be trying asap for gluten free cardamom-peach amazake scones.

Another great book on the subject that explains in more detail the fermenting process, health benefits, and gives many more recipes is Naturally Delicious and Nutritious Amazake Rice Beverage, by John Finnegan and Kathy Cituk.  Enjoy!!

*first image from

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Perennial Greens

We cling to our own point of view, 
as though everything depended on it.  
Yet our opinions have no permanence; 
like autumn and winter, 
they gradually pass away.
swiss chard
With the coming of the rain, the greens in the garden are popping.  All the kale, cabbage, collards, and broccoli are steadily growing but it is the perennial greens that we tend to rely on daily.  This time of year the chard, purple tree collards, and Malabar spinach become the mainstay of green vegetables in our diet.  

Swiss chard is such a versatile vegi, you can use it in salads, stir fries, soups, or in any way you would use spinach.  To make the savory treats above, saute an onion and fresh garlic with a large bunch of chard.  Wrap generous spoonfuls of the mixture up in filo brushed with lots of butter and olive oil.  Baked at 400 degrees for 20 minutes and you have the most amazing flaky little hand pies.  Serve with a lentil or chicken soup for a comforting meal on a cold evening.  

purple tree collards

I am becoming a firm believer that everyone should plant at least a few  purple tree collards in their garden.  These greens are a bit tougher than swiss chard but have such longevity in the garden and are so useful for feeding the family as well as any livestock.  Fed to the chickens, they make the yolks bright orange.  One of my favorite uses for tree collards is to make chips, like kale chips only better!

Purple Tree Collard Chips
-1 large bunch tree collards or kale
-2 tbls miso
-1 1/2 tbls. tahini
-2 tbls. olive oil
-1/2 tsp. granulated garlic
-1/2 tsp. granulated onion
(you can also add sunflower seed butter, cashew butter, cumin, shredded coconut, etc.)

Wash and chop greens into small pieces and dry well.  In a large bowl mix the rest of the ingredients.  Add chopped greens and toss into the dressing mixing well to coat all pieces.  Arrange on dehydrator racks and dry until crisp.  You can also dry on a baking sheet in the oven on low or warm but check often as the oven can cook them instead of just dehydrating.  Once cool store in glass jars and enjoy as an inexpensive, healthy snack.  

malabar spinach

Malabar spinach is a perennial vine found in the tropics.  We have observed that it does love heat but is also thriving in this cool wet weather.  Although we are just beginning to get acquainted with this vegetable we have found it to be tasty, hardy, versatile, and I have heard it makes an awesome substitute for spinach in the Indian dish saag paneer.  So far we are enjoying harvesting handfuls of the tender leaves just before dinner time to enhance our meal.  

What are some perennial greens you find useful in your garden?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Seasonal Cycles

"To take what there is, and use it, without waiting 
forever in vain for the preconceived- to dig deep 
into the actual and get something out of that- 
this doubtless is the right way to live."
-Henry James

We have come around on our third autumn here at Soul Flower Farm.  As we transition from one season to the next, we are beginning to observe the familiar cycles and traditions unique to each time of the year, a familiarity that can only happen when you put your roots down, dig in and stay in a place for a while, really getting to know the land and learning to know yourself as part of that place.  

If I had to describe this time of year in one word it would be GATHER.  We have been collecting and preserving all the harvest for cold rainy days to come, as well as, gathering materials we will need for the animals, garden, and ourselves.  

For me, certain sights and events will always mark the presence of this autumnal season; the magnificent piles of bright orange pumpkins, stacks and stacks of hay bales, the sweetness of persimmons and the huge fat wild turkeys prancing about.

Right now we are planting lots of garlic, getting the last of the greens in the ground, tidying up in preparation for the rains, and generally turning inward for self reflection.  Having family time, getting cozy by the fire in the early evenings, and enjoying many new good books are all part of this season's goodness. 

A few current favorite reads in our house...
The Dirty Life, By Kristin Kimball
The Small-Scale Poultry Flock, By Harvey Ussery
The Seasons on Henry's Farm, By Terra Brockman
The Beginner's Guide To Growing Heirloom Vegetables, By Marie Iannotti

Monday, November 12, 2012

Protein Out of Thin Air

Yesterday afternoon was spent harvesting and processing most of the meat birds.  In our quest to feed our animals from home resources, we decided to save the leftovers from cleaning the chickens and try out a method we read about called "protein out of thin air".  After reading most of Harvey Ussery's book, The Small-Scale Poultry Flock, I have to say I was impressed.  He has a bunch of innovative and creative ideas I had never read about or thought of before on how to sustainably care for your flock.  Sustainably meaning not going elsewhere for feed.  The basics of the "protein out of thin air" method are...

-drill 3/8 inch holes all around the sides, bottom, and lid of a 5-7 gallon plastic food grade bucket
-add a thick layer of mulch such as straw or dry leaves
-place your animal innards, road kill, that gopher you trapped, etc. in the center over the mulch
-cover with more mulch and secure the lid on tightly
-hang above the ground in your chicken yard

The idea is that female flies will enter through the holes and lay their eggs, which will in approximately six days become larvae (or maggots).  The larvae will grow and feed on the animal parts, quickly devouring all but bones, hair, and teeth.  When they are ready to pupate into winged adults they will make their way out of the holes in the bucket in search of earth to burrow into, dropping down to the ground and becoming...voila! protein snacks for the chickens.  

I know, I know, very few things on earth are as gross as maggots, but I'm learning part of this farming business is developing a strong stomach.  In his book Ussery addresses many of the questions you might have about the possible smell, what happens to the carcass, "aren't you just breeding flies?", disease, and attracting predators.  Personally, none of those issues really worry me especially since our poultry area is large and nowhere near any neighbors.  I am excited to think that an added benefit may be a decrease in the already annoying fly population since many of their larvae will be eaten on the spot by hungry chickens and ducks.  

In less than a week we will know whether or not it works.  I'll keep you posted!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Family Cow Chronicles: Volume 2

Our little Ginger is settling down and has become the sweet young thing I dreamed she would be.  (Now we are really praying she is a fertile young thing too!)  Unfortunately, the artificial insemination we did back in June did not take, so in July, Ginger had a nice month long vacation up in Hopland where she was bred to a beautiful black Dexter bull named Meatball.  

It has been almost four months since breeding and Ginger has not gone back into heat.  Our odds are looking pretty good.  She has completely mellowed out, no more bellowing, she comes when we call her, she is generally a pleasure to be around (unless you are a goat, in which she will steal your food).  It would be ideal to get her a preg check so we can have a definitive answer -however, once again, living so far from the large animal vet makes it difficult, and transporting her is such a hassle, not to mention stressful for her.  We will most likely just let nature take its course, waiting for April to see what happens. 

Now there are a few big tasks under way to get us organized and ready for a potential calf and an abundance of milk.  We have almost finished designing a simple milking parlor.   I've been reading up on the Weston A. Price Foundation website which has tons of information on raw milk and the legalities of herd shares.  There is also an exciting workshop coming up that we are planning on attending.  The Principles of Raw Milk Production Workshop with Tim Wightman, will cover; balancing soils, forages and rations and the relation to herd health and milk safety, warning signs of failing soil, forage and herd health, proper milking practices and milk handling, animal behavior, animal scoring, basic herd principles and human interaction, milk culture, quality and pathogen testing and how to interpret them.  There are five different locations where the workshops will take place across California and Oregon.  

I have to say that having Ginger is personally my favorite part of living on our farm.  I have really bonded with her.  There is no way to explain how much I love her earthy smell or how beautiful and soft her fur is, how she uncannily resembles a lion lying out on the hillside in the sun, or how cool it is to have an endless supply of cow patties for the compost pile.  Even though it would have been soooo much easier to have bought a cow in milk, I'm happy to have her and grateful to get this opportunity to raise her up and for us to get to know each other.  She really is part of our family now.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Meat Chickens

We are pleasantly surprised with our broilers who are now about six weeks old.  All the talk of how freakish the Cornish X are does not really seem to hold true.  Yes, they are ravenous at times and will eat, eat, eat continuously.  And yes, they will plop themselves down in front of the food to just sit, or really lie and eat.  But they are far from the frankenbirds we heard and read about.
They have definitely grown at an alarming rate and are now approximately three times the size of the layer chicks of the same age. And they do start out looking a bit different but once fully feathered they have grown to be pretty normal looking.  Otherwise,  the Cornish X seem to behave just like all the rest of our chickens, exploring and foraging around for food and enjoying dust baths in the sun.  Since we transferred them to the run (which is left open all day to give the flock access to the hillside) the meat chickens are free ranging with the rest of the birds.  There has not been much bullying by the layers either.

We have picked up a couple of tips to give them a better start and to help keep them healthy as they grow.  While they were still in the brooder we started adding apple cider vinegar to their water.  Their energy immediately increased and their stool went from watery yellow to normal looking chicken droppings.  Second, we tried to give them a variety of foods.  In addition to their chick starter we offered them mashed boiled eggs, greens, seaweed, kitchen scraps, and bits of grass.  At first they were only interested in the starter but after a few days they began eating all the different foods including pumpkin, which appears to be a favorite.  Fermenting the feed by soaking overnight and letting sit for a day or so is another tip we are eager to try out soon.

Sunshine Chicken is a website we stumbled across about free ranging, holistically raised meat chickens in the Philippines.  It is loaded with amazing information, videos, and great ideas for fermented supplements and super foods (for livestock) that are easy to make.

It has been interesting so far to learn about the Cornish X birds.  We have been discussing that it would be fun to try out some Freedom Rangers in the spring when the grass is high and there is more wild food to eat. We are also hoping to keep a couple of roosters and some hens to try breeding our own meat stock, therefore avoiding having to order from the hatcheries.  There is no doubt that raising our own meat birds is NOT cheaper than buying from the stores but there is satisfaction in knowing that they grew here from start to finish and that we had our hands in the process them.  (Not to mention that we are on a mission around here to find more sustainable -aka free- ways to feed these animals of ours.)