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.)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Slowing Down

Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet."
-Thich Nhat Hanh

How did life become so overwhelmingly busy?  With the start of the school year, time seems to have sped up and now, moving through October, it feels as if I am caught in an unseen whirlwind that has no allowance for a moment's rest.  I think everyone is feeling it.  So many people are under pressure, the same rush and push. However resistance is not futile, and I refuse to succumb to the grind.  Life is too beautiful and in slowing down, even just for a moment, we can see and appreciate the Gift of it all.  

Autumn is here, my favorite month, time to begin turning inward for reflection.  It is in the small things (like preserving a basket of apples from our tree) that I am forced to inhale, exhale, ponder, give thanks. Here and there in between the hustle bustle, we are like little squirrels, adding to our winter stores, one jar at a time.  

After a summer of canning, I have rediscovered the dehydrator with all of it's ease and now we are drying fruit and vegis in small batches when we have time, or when we think of it.  (There is one munchkin in the house who is devouring apple chips before they make it off the sheet.)

And in the spirit of not wasting, we started some vinegar today.  Good old apple peels and cores, filtered water, a few spoons of organic sugar, and a spoonful of yeast.  We'll wait a month or two and see what it becomes.  

My words to myself this week are to "reclaim my life".  It goes by too fast to not enjoy every precious minute.  Many blessings.-

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wondrous Elderberry

Don't ever take more from a plant than you need,
they enjoy having life as much as we do."
-Gypsy Wisdom

In preparation for our  recent herbal medicine making class, we went out on a few treks around our neighborhood to see what plants we could use for our concoctions.  The discovery of several prolific elder trees was a marvelous surprise.  The timing was perfect as they were laden with fruit.    Just in time for the coming winter, we  harvested baskets and bags of the ripe berries.  Our native elder tree here in California is Sambucus Mexicana.  We usually spot this tree along creeks, but not always.  One of the trees we just harvested from is on a hillside high above a creek, among a grove of Bay trees.  

fresh ripe elderberries
dried elderberries
There are so many interesting ways you can extract the medicinal constituents from sister elder's fruit.  Many people like to make syrups, wine, or dry the berries for later use in teas.  In some cultures elderberries are fermented into special drinks or porridge. I know a friend who likes to add handfuls of elderberries to her kombucha batches which gives the fermented drink a lovely color and taste. My preferred method of making herbal medicine is to make a glycerin tincture, and elderberries makes a glycerite that is effective, palatable, and strikingly beautiful.

Due to it's strong anti-oxidant properties, elderberry is known most widely as an immune booster.  It helps protect against colds and flu and acts as an anti-bacterial and anti-viral in the body. Elderberry is also useful in aiding the respiratory system, coughs, and tonsillitis. It is high in calcium, vitamin C and amino acids.

To make a fresh plant glycerite, harvest some elderberries.  Wash and take the time to remove as much of the stem as possible.

Put the berries into a clean glass container leaving a couple of inches head space   Mash the berries well then add sufficient food grade vegetable glycerin to cover the herb.  Stir to release air bubbles and add more glycerin as needed to fully cover herb.  Agitate 2x daily for  a minimum of 14 days.  (The longer you let it sit the better.)  Strain well, press, and store in glass jars.  More glycerin can be added after pressing and straining to improve preservation.  The shelf life will be 1-3 years.  

Check out this video by Mountain Rose Herbs on how to make elderberry syrup.  If you have never made an herbal syrup you will be pleasantly surprised at how simple it is.  Enjoy and happy autumn!


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Intensive 6 Day Permaculture Seminar & Workshop

We are so fortunate to be able to host this amazing event!  Our friend, Rhamis Kent, has been traveling internationally, teaching and studying with world renowned permaculture design expert Geoff Lawton.  Now those of us in the Bay Area can benefit from Rhamis's wealth of knowledge in this information packed, hands on course. Check out details below and register HERE!
Email us at soulflowerfarm@gmail.com for more information.
Over 6 days you will acquire the practical skills to regenerate any landscape and to design productive ecosystems.
In this 6 day course you will learn:
  • Basics of Permaculture Design
  • Soil Biology
  • Specialized Compost & Worm Farm
  • Water Harvesting Strategies
  • Grey Water Treatment
  • Drought Proofing
  • Designing & Implementing a Food Forest
  • Designing Micro Climates
  • Integrated Animal Systems
  • Basics in Aquaculture & Aquaponics
  • Permablitz
Course Content

Each session is 1 hour 30 minutes.
Day 1

First Session
Making the case for Permaculture/Agro-Ecology

Second Session
Ethics, History of Permaculture, Working Examples

Third Session
Concepts and Themes in Design for Productive Eco-systems

Fourth Session
Designing for Sustainable Communities

Day 2

First Session
Soil Biology Primer & Principles

Second Session
Plants & Soil: symbiotic relationships

Third & Fourth Sessions
Practical: making Specialized Compost, Natural Mineralisation and Worm Farm

Day 3

First Session
Water Principles & Harvesting

Second Session
Earthworks, Designing Water Harvesting Strategies

Third Session
Keyline Design and Grey Water

Fourth Session
Practical: Miniature Earthworks exercise

Day 4

First Session
Climate and Micro-climate

Second Session
Designing Micro-climates

Third Session

Fourth Session

Day 5

First Session
Theory and History of Food Forests
Symbiotic Relationships between Productive and Support Species

Second Session
Designing a Food Forest for Dry Climates
Integrated Pest and Disease Management

Third Session
Integration of Animal Systems
Sample Designs for Maximising Plant Spacing and Symbiotic Relationships
Drought-proofing and Fire-proofing

Fourth Session
Practical: Seed Scarification and Tree Planting

Day 6

First Session
Design, Methods and Tools

Second & Third Sessions
Guided Design Exercise through Observation and Analysis

Fourth Session
Where to from now, Questions and Answers