Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Backyard Roots

Hey folks, there's a new urban farm book out called Backyard Roots, by Lori Eanes.  We had the privilege to be featured in her book as one of the thirty-five small farms and homesteads all along the west coast up to Vancouver.  We can't wait for our copy to arrive in the mail.  Lori is an amazing photographer so you can expect this to a be a stunning photographic essay.  One more good book out there you don't want to miss!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Wildcrafting Nettles

Yesterday I escaped with a friend for a much needed excursion to our favorite spot to pick stinging nettles.  A nice gentle hike meandering along the creek was healing and long overdue.  The nettles were not very high but flourishing and plentiful with their leaves unfolding in the sunshine.  The thing I love most about nettles is how they sing.  If you are present, you can feel their vibration as you sit with them, they sing all around you.  Before we began filling our bags we hiked further down the trail to the ocean...what a magnificent day!

When we harvest nettles we try to take only the leafy tops, especially this early in the season.  The plants will continue to grow and if we like, we can go back every few weeks for more throughout the spring. For better or worse, my hands have become so tough from all the farm chores, the nettles barely stung me.  The plants at this time of year are particularly potent as the energy is concentrated in the newly emerging leaves.  Nettles has a variety of uses you can read more about here.  

Once back home the nettles were rinsed and dried in the dehydrator for later use as tea.  I did have plans to add some fresh nettles to my sauerkraut today.  So after clipping all the leaves from the stems and giving them a good wash, I used the mortar and pestle to smash the leaves just enough so they would release their juice and not sting while I mixed the kraut by hand.  

My experiments resulted in two different versions...purple cabbage kraut with fresh nettles and some organic nettle leaf powder for an extra kick...

...and sea kraut with green cabbage, fresh nettle, grated ginger, kombu, and dulse flakes.  I still have a big bag left which may end up as either an invigorating green pesto or a nice stimulating nettle, red clover glycerite.  Spring is almost here, it's all about cleansing, blood building, nourishing, and rejuvenating.  Out with the old and in with the new!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

February On The Farm

"There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind."

-C.S. Lewis

Now that we are past all the hustle bustle of the 6 day permaculture intensive, it has been pretty quiet around here.  There are still a few greens growing in the garden.  The garlic is up in different stages and varieties.

We are enjoying the sweetness of snap peas straight from the pod.  (They rarely make it into the house.)  

Long beds made on contour flow across the hillside.  Some are mulched with straw, some with sheep wool.  The seedlings in the mini-green house are not quit ready for transplanting and the nights are still a bit too cold.  We are itching to get busy in the garden, but for a few more weeks the beds sleep, waiting to be planted.  

Giant colorful mustards draw attention with their spicy purple leaves perfect for salads and stirfrys.

Everywhere the favas are beginning to flower.  The green leaves have a mild, delicious flavor reminiscent of pea shoots.  

The broccoli has been showing itself in almost every meal from breakfast eggs to dinner quiche.  It seems the hens have decided to lay again so more eggs for us!

We have some new residents who are still nameless to date.  Two breeding does that came from a friend, one New Zealand and one Californian.  I am on the lookout for a nice big boy for these gorditas.  

Maydaisy and Hazel have been taking weekend field trips around the neighborhood to grub on the neighbors overgrown backyards.  Everyone definitely gets a kick out of seeing them walk down the street on their leashes.  What, you never saw a pet goat before?  Hmmm.  

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Deep Litter Method

Located on a south facing hillside in full sun, the ground in our chicken run was hard, compacted clay.  Periodically we had put a bale of straw or two into the run at the top to add mulch and to give the chickens some entertainment.  We would watch as the chickens and ducks had a field day scratching all the hay around but after a few days the straw would be at the bottom of the run while the soil was still hard and dry.  Our goal was to create a healthier environment for our poultry where juicy insects multiply and micro-organisms thrive in the moist soil.   Enter the deep litter method with a twist.

We tried adding wood chips, which worked better but still made their way to the bottom, just a little more slowly.  It was time to add some retaining walls and get more creative with the mulching.  So we hammered in stakes around some long pieces of scrap wood all over the run.  Here comes the creative part...we used a huge amount of wool we had been given to mulch the whole run.  Wool is denser and does not move around as easily as other mulches.  It also holds a tremendous amount of moisture so the goal was to have this stationary material be the first layer of our deep litter and hold in most of the water, bringing the soil back to life.

poultry run in the summer before deep litter method, soil is dry and compacted
The funny part of all this is that while pulling the wool out of the bags the chickens went crazy running to and fro as if there was a wild furry beast emerging from the bags.  It took them days to get used to walking over the wool.

Our next step was to add a thick layer of straw, then lots and lots of wood chips over the top. Every few days when we clean out the small water troughs, we dump the old water around the fruit trees and into the mulch.  

scratching away surface mulch reveals dark moist soil underneath
As the months go by we have been adding whatever we have on hand to the run, more old straw, goat stall bedding, cow patties, branchy bamboo tops, leafy debris.  We are hoping that we can build a truly deep litter for the poultry area.  And now that we have received a significant amount of rain the moisture has soaked into the ground leaving the soil dark and spongy, resulting in a happier, healthier poultry flock.

A few more additions have been put in the run, a grapefruit tree, two granny smith apples, a fig, and two melon berry trees.  Let's hope these trees benefit from all the composting action going on around them.  Now if we can only stop the goats from sneaking in and nibbling the trees down to stubs!