Monday, November 28, 2011

Season of giving give-away

If you've been thinking that Homegrown & Handmade would make a great gift for someone special, here is your chance to get an autographed copy, as well as a spiral notebook that can be used as a garden diary, a cheese making notebook, a goat journal, or whatever type of record keeping book that is needed.

To enter, just leave a comment below (not on Facebook) telling us who you'd like to give the book to, and why. You don't have to get really personal -- just something like, "My friend Julie because she's been talking about getting chickens for at least a year now!" Of course, if you want to tell us more, that's great. I always love hearing about homesteaders at all stages, whether they're just starting to plan or have been living the dream for a few years.

The deadline is Friday at midnight, central time, and the winner will be randomly chosen and posted on Saturday. I'll ship the books directly to them with a card letting them know whom to thank!

P. S. If you post as "Anonymous," you are not eligible. Sorry, but I flunked Mind Reading 101.  

Friday, November 25, 2011

What to do with dark turkey meat?

If you are like most Americans, you are not crazy about dark turkey meat. In fact, you don't like it at all, which is why Big Ag figured out how to grow turkeys with breasts so big that they can't fly or mate naturally. (Yes, that means supermarket turkeys are the result of artificial insemination.) And I was right there with the majority, only eating white turkey meat for so many years until a couple years ago, I had an epiphany when looking at a turkey leg. It's dark meat!

No, I had not just picked up prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses. I had suddenly realized that people expect all the meat on a turkey to taste like the breast meat, and when something doesn't taste the way you expect it to taste, your brain registers, "Wrong!" and you don't like it. I realized that the turkey leg meat looked a lot like beef, so I wondered how I would like it if I used a recipe that I'd normally use for beef. I have since tried dark turkey meat with a variety of beef recipes from schnitzel to pepper steak, and I've enjoyed them all! In case you are not sure where to get started, here's a recipe from Homegrown & Handmade:

Turkey Stroganoff 
Makes 4 servings

  • homemade noodles 
  • 2 cups cooked heritage turkey leg and thigh meat, cubed 
  • 1/4 cup butter 
  • 1/4 cup flour 
  • 2 cups sour cream, buttermilk, or yogurt 
  • 1/2 cup milk 

Make noodles according to the recipe in H&H or package directions if using store-bought noodles. While noodles are boiling, melt the butter in a large skillet and whisk in the flour until bubbly. Add the sour cream (or buttermilk or yogurt), continuing to stir until bubbly again. Add the milk and continue to whisk until smooth. Add the turkey meat and noodles to the sauce and stir. Turn the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes until meat is heated through.

Yes, this really is as simple as it sounds. Don't believe me? Aside from boiling the noodles, it only takes about five minutes of work, then simmer for five, and it's on the table! Check out this video of me making Turkey Stroganoff on Indy Style a couple of days ago:

Friday, November 18, 2011

Chickens in winter

One of the biggest concerns of future chicken keepers, as well as novice chicken keepers, who live up north is how their birds will survive the winter. The short answer is that they'll survive just fine! You don't have to worry about heating the coop or feeding them hot cooked grains, both of which were done in the late 1800s in a failed attempt to get hens to lay eggs through the winter.

Your only concern is probably keeping fresh water in front of your girls. There is an electric heater base that is available commercially, but if you don't have electricity in your coop, you can simply have two water bowls and swap them out twice a day. Put out a fresh bowl of warm water in the morning and take the frozen bowl in the house to thaw. In the late afternoon, dump the melted ice out of that bowl and take it outside with fresh, warm water to replace the one that is probably frozen by now. You can use dog bowls that have wide bases so that they won't tip over if the hens decide to sit on the edge.

You don't need to spend money on products such as those on this page, which merely use "passive solar" to keep the bowls from freezing -- that means that if the bowl sits in the sun, it won't freeze. There is no "technology" involved in these bowls, regardless of what the manufacturer says. And their battery operated heaters are an environmentalist's nightmare. It makes no sense whatsoever to use eight -- yes, eight -- D batteries to keep a bowl of water from freezing overnight. The batteries are dead in less than eight hours, eating up one battery per hour for no reason. If you give your hens fresh warm water in the late afternoon, they'll be fine until morning. And if they have access to snow, they'll eat that, which contributes to their water intake. Chickens actually drink very little in the winter anyway.

As for insulating or heating your coop, don't do it. Chickens survived just fine for centuries living in makeshift coops made from barrels or whatever scrap wood was laying around the farm. It wasn't until the 1870s that commercial chicken keeping took root, and people began putting chickens in insulated, heated houses, thinking it would make them lay eggs through the winter. By the time they realized their mistake, confinement chicken production was considered the standard. People also saw a huge increase in poultry diseases during this time, and by the early 20th century, some people were advocating a return to letting chickens go outside. Research showed that the above chicken house, which had no wall on the south side, made for healthier chickens, but most poultry producers would not be swayed. The debate raged on for about 30 years, and we all know who won. Today confinement chicken operations are the norm.

Our chicken house -- notice the open windows for fresh air?
Don't open windows on opposite sides, however,
because you don't want wind blowing through the coop.
If you have an insulated coop, you are more likely to see frozen combs and respiratory problems because condensation and ammonia will build up inside the coop. In our nine years of chicken keeping, we've had zero respiratory problems and only a frozen comb every couple years on a rooster or two. And we are in Illinois where below zero temperatures are common. I've even heard chicken keepers in Alaska say that their hens do fine over the winter without any additional heat in their coop. So, to show some love to your chickens, rather than giving them a heater in their coop, just open a window so the ammonia and humidity can escape.

Friday, November 11, 2011

What to do with all that pumpkin?

The following recipe is adapted from the Farmstead Chef cookbook by Lisa Kivirist and John Ivanko, just in time for Thanksgiving and an abundant pumpkin harvest.  Farmstead Chef offers stories and recipes to nourish and inspire.  Kivirist and Ivanko's 150 recipes are based on their quest to eat what they call “farmsteadtarian”: eating as much as possible from our own gardens, community and, when necessary, from carefully selected sources as close to the farmers, ranchers, food artisans, cheese makers, brewers or growers as we can.  It’s about being able to name your farmer, beekeeper or butcher.

Peanut Butter Pumpkin Bread

Who knew a silken pumpkin purée and peanut butter made such good partners? This loaf-style recipe yields two loaves; if that’s more than you need, these loaves freeze well or are always appreciated by neighbors. Peanuts are from the legume family, kin to pinto beans and lentils.  Peanut butter provides plant proteins along with healthy, non-hydrogenated fats.  We’ve learned the hard way that lightly oiling and flour-dusting the pans are crucial steps to ensure the loaf smoothly pops out of the pan.


1 T. canola oil
1 T. flour (for dusting pans)
3 c. sugar
2 c. pumpkin purée
4 eggs
1 c. vegetable oil
¾ c. water
2/3 c. peanut butter
3 ½ c. flour
2 t. baking soda
1 ½ t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. nutmeg


•  Prepare two 8x4 loaf pans by lightly oiling them, then dusting the inside of the pan with flour.

•  In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, pumpkin, eggs, oil, water and peanut butter.  Blend pumpkin mixture well.

•  Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Gradually add to pumpkin mixture; mix well.

•  Pour into prepared loaf pans.  Bake at 350 degrees for 60 to 70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean.

•  Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.

Yield: 2 loaves.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Aquaponic Gardening

by Sylvia Bernstein

What if I told you that you could catch fish for dinner right in your own backyard? And what if before you catch those fish they were growing the veggies for the rest of your dinner plate? Would you believe me? You should! This is all within reach using a new style of gardening called Aquaponics.

Aquaponics is, at its most basic level, the marriage of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing plants in water and without soil) together in one integrated system. The fish waste provides organic food for the growing plants and the plants naturally filter the water in which the fish live. The third and fourth critical, yet invisible actors in the play are the beneficial bacteria and composting red worms. Think of them as the Conversion Team. The beneficial bacteria exist on every moist surface of an aquaponic system. They convert the ammonia from the fish waste that is toxic to the fish and useless to the plants, first into nitrites and then into nitrates. The nitrates are relatively harmless to the fish and most importantly, they make terrific plant food. At the same time, the worms convert the solid waste and decaying plant matter in your aquaponic system into vermicompost. Here is the rest of the story.

• Aquaponic Gardening enables home fish farming. You can now feel good about eating fish again.
• Aquaponic Gardening uses 90% less water than soil-based gardening because the water is recirculated and only that which the plants take up or evaporates is ever replaced.
• Aquaponic Gardening results in two crops for one input (fish feed).
• Aquaponic Gardening is four to six times as productive on a square foot basis as soil- based gardening. This is because with aquaponic gardening, you can pack plants about twice as densely as you can in soil and the plants grow two to three times as fast as they do in soil.
• Aquaponic systems only require a small amount of energy to run a pump and aeration for the fish. This energy can be provided through renewable methods.
• Aquaponics does not rely on the availability of good soil, so it can be set-up anywhere, including inner city parking lots, abandoned warehouses, schools, restaurants, home basements and garages.
• Aquaponic Gardening is free from weeds, watering and fertilizing concerns, and because it is done at a waist high level there is no back strain.
•Aquaponic Gardening is necessarily organic. Natural fish waste provides all the food the plants need. Pesticides would be harmful to the fish so they are never used. Hormones, antibiotics, and other fish additives would be harmful to the plants so they are never used.
•And the result is every bit as flavorful as soil-based organic produce, with the added benefit of fresh fish for a safe, healthy source of protein.
•Aquaponics is completely scalable. The same basic principles apply to a system based on a 10-gallon aquarium as to a commercial operation.
•Aquaponic gardens are straight forward to set up and operate in your own backyard or home as long as you follow some basic guidelines. They can even be constructed using recycled materials, including liquid shipping containers and old bathtubs. Or purchase a system kit if you are not very DIY-inclined. The main point is to set a system soon and become fish independent! There is simply no reason to rely on the fish counter anymore.

Sylvia Bernstein is president of The Aquaponic Source and the author of Aquaponic Gardening: A Step by Step Guide to Growing Fish and Vegetables Together. You can email sylvia (at) theaquaponicsource (dot) com or find her on Facebook – Aquaponic Gardening - or Twitter - @aquapon.
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