Food & Health Archive


Chelsea Green to Revolutionize Industry with Edible Books

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

Move over Gutenberg: In advance of Earth Day 2015, environmental publishing leader Chelsea Green Publishing is announcing the introduction of an entirely new type of book – the completely biodegradable, and in certain instances edible, book.

While some publishers tout the recycled content of their papers, or use of soy-based inks, Chelsea Green, which turned 30 in 2014, is embarking on a new type of book that promises to revolutionize how we think of books as objects. These books are designed to nourish the mind, and the body. Literally.

Using all-natural and organic ingredients as their base, similar to the methods used in a new line of plantable coffee cups by a California entrepreneur, and these coffee cup makers in North Dakota, our limited line of biodegradable books will allow readers to use their books to:

  • Make healing bone broth;
  • Grow mushrooms;
  • Plant heirloom squash and other select varietals;
  • Reforest areas degraded by those “other” book publishers, and much more.

Each of these limited-edition books will come with a free, companion eBook, to allow you to return to those pages you’ve now planted, or eaten. These books are designed to help do more than just put seeds of knowledge into people’s hands, but the seeds themselves.

The broth-brewing books, based on the recent top-selling book The Heal Your Gut Cookbook, will come in three flavors —Beef, Chicken or Fish. Why stand in line at Brodo waiting for a cup of broth, when you can simply make it yourself in the comfort of your kitchen.

How does it work? For the bone broth book, it’s simple: Since each page is made from a combination of finely ground bones, marrow, and a vegetable seasoning powder, when you’re done reading a section of the book, simply tear out the book’s pages at its perforated edge and drop into boiling water. Within minutes you’ll have a delicious steaming hot bone broth. The more pages you use, the stronger the broth!

Other titles to be released in our new biodegradable series include:

  • Organic Mushroom Farming: Pages from this book are inoculated with mushroom mycelium. Just place the pages on top of a growing substrate—some cardboard or an old pair of jeans— and it’ll start growing fungi! You can use those mushrooms for food, or as author Tradd Cotter points out in his book, for a variety of health and environmental mycoremediation projects.
  • The Tao of Vegetable Gardening: Grow some of Carol Deppe’s amazing heirloom varietals, including squash and corn by planting pages from her book. Select pages will help you seed an “Eat-All Greens Garden,” her revolutionary way of growing greens that can raise enough fresh, leafy greens for a small family for a year.
  • Farming the Woods: Pages from this book will help you reforest deforested northern woodlands by planting a mix of deciduous and conifer trees. Techniques in the book laid out by authors Ken Mudge and Steve Gabriel will show you how to then add plantings of wild garlic, ginseng, and more to augment the production of food from your forest.
  • Holy Shit: With the subtitle of “Managing Manure to Save Mankind,” need we say more? This treatise on all things bowel-related and how we can harness its richness to fertilize the land—including the use of humanure. This book is edible enough to become compost after you chomp it, yet biodegradable enough for the less adventurous who merely want to toss it on the compost pile when they’re done. If neither appeals, it does make for a great bathroom read.

Unlike the creator of the K-Cup, we have no regrets about bringing books into the world, and want to ensure that no one makes a viral video accusing us of “Killing the Planet” with our hefty how-to tomes because people may have concerns about their environmental impact.

For more information about this revolutionary publishing technology, visit www.eat-this-book.com.

And … Happy April 1st!

Building a Sustainable Community: The D Acres Model

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

If you were going to create a community-based homestead or farm from scratch, where would you start? What building materials would you use? What crops would you grow and what animals would you raise? How would you develop an organizational structure and connect with your community? And, how would you make sure all of this evolves in perpetuity and is truly sustainable?

For the past twenty years, Josh Trought, founder of D Acres of New Hampshire, has been asking himself these very same questions and has come up with a model to help others seeking practical alternatives to the current environmentally and economically destructive paradigm.

D Acres is an ecologically designed educational center located on the slopes of the Appalachian Mountains in northern New Hampshire. In addition to it being a fully operational farm, it serves multiple community functions including a hostel for travelers, a training center for everything from metal- and woodworking to cob building and seasonal cooking, a gathering place for music, poetry, joke-telling, potluck meals, and much more.

In his new book, The Community-Scale Permaculture Farm, Trought describes not only the history of the D Acres project, but its evolving principles and practices that are rooted in the land, its inhabitants, and the joy inherent in collective empowerment.

Booklist calls it, “An immensely useful guidebook for organic farmers, cohousing advocates, and anyone interested in learning about a place where sustainability is truly possible.” Trought hopes this book encourages more people to become involved in the land-based service movement. He writes,

While the book may be valuable to most anyone, my purpose in writing was to offer a compilation of information that I wish was available when I began farming. By providing a basis of understanding of the farm system, I hope that readers can use this model as a platform for their own innovation and creative living.

From working with oxen to working with a board of directors, this book contains a wealth of innovative ideas and ways to make your farm or homestead not only more sustainable, but more inclusive of, and beneficial to, the larger community.

For more insight into Josh Trought’s work building a sustainable community at D Acres, check out the author interview below.

*****

A conversation with Josh Trought— educator, farmer, author, builder, community organizer, dreamer

A key aspect of D Acres that comes across in this book is its flexibility, and that it evolves based on the changing needs and ideas of both the onsite members and the surrounding community. Is there a project or idea that has surprised you because at first it seemed unlikely to work, but has instead flourished? 

JT: Transforming the land with pigs has been an eye opening process that we are continuing to explore. Experimenting with the number of animals, age of the critters, what time of year, in what soil conditions as well as rotational opportunities allows for continual observation and ongoing evaluation. At first it seemed that the compaction pigs caused would limit subsequent annual production without mechanization, but we had heard about planting potatoes in thick mulching of wood chips on compacted soils so we just tried to build the soil from the ground level up. At this juncture it has proven effective beyond our expectations and continues to yield benefits throughout the process.

I am also amazed at the attraction of people to tree houses and the playground is a super element I would not have foreseen when we began this project.

This book covers a lot of ground, from alternative building techniques, renewable energy, and holistic forestry to hospitality management, organic gardening, and more. All of these specialties require skilled labor. What are your strongest skills and what are you most excited to learn more about right now?

JT: I am really humbled by this whole process. I feel like a novice in so many ways.  grew up in the suburbs and have learned a lot by both doing that which I am passionate about and that which is necessary. I am excited about being part of a cultural continuum that will span into the future. I am excited to be part of a permaculture movement that will enrich the ecology for the next thousands of years. I imagine a future record/book such as Farmers for Forty Centuries that documents the evolution as members of this vibrant ecology on Earth. I am excited to be a very small part of this immense movement towards an ecological society.

My strongest skills are probably in construction design building with an emphasis on natural and reclaimed materials improvisation. I am really excited to continue seasonally improving my skills in the garden and the woodshop. I am necessarily compelled to learn more about human nature and our relations to one another.

As a child, you spent many summers with your family on this property in northern New Hampshire and now you have been living on it full-time for the past 17 years. What do you love most about the D Acres landscape and is there anything new about it that you have recently learned even after all these years?

JT: Every year I try to get more in tune with the natural cycle and rhythm of the land. The farm is so seasonally dynamic.  I like to notice the seasonal shifts as they occur.  I have started documenting these changes using my senses as well as journal and videography to view not only the seasonal changes, but also those that differ year to year.

I like getting more in touch with the water resource. I enjoy swimming in our local rivers and appreciate the resource for its ecological value. I have been more focused on how the water works on the land and our role to clean and purify this resource.

What advice do you give people that want to start their own community-scale farm?

JT: While I encourage them to do so, there are several comments I like to share with them. I think while it is important to start and initiate projects of this nature everywhere, it is also important to nurture existing projects. It is a good idea to join an existing project to learn from models that are up and running as well as support the projects in place.  We are proud of the people who have participated in our project and then gone out to start their own family farms or projects unique to their locales. I also think it is important to recognize that the D Acres model is a response to a wide array of circumstances. Any new entity would naturally be a reflection of the surrounding variables including the individual personnel and their strengths, land base, and community needs.

You’ve Got Mail. And it’s Chicks!

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

There’s nothing quite like having a box of cute, fluffy chicks arrive in the mail. It’s miraculous, notes author and homesteader Ben Hewitt, that a newly hatched chick can survive without food and water for exactly the amount of time it takes to mail a package from anywhere in the United States to anywhere else in the United States.

If you’re considering purchasing some mail-order chicks, read the following excerpt from Hewitt’s recently released The Nourishing Homestead for tips on housing, fencing, feed, and more.

Or, if you think ducks might be more your speed, here’s a comparison of ducks vs chickens from Carol Deppe’s The Resilient Gardener.

Cheep! Cheep!

Chickens and Other Poultry

The crazy thing about chickens is that you can order them through the mail. Actually, this is not entirely true, because you don’t order chickens through the mail; you order chicks. Day-old chicks, to be exact, and it shouldn’t be possible but it is, because chicks hatch with just enough energy in their tiny bodies to live for two or three days without food or water. As it turns out, this is precisely long enough for them to be shipped via mail from pretty much anywhere in the United States to pretty much anywhere else in the United States.

Although I have become
 accustomed to it by now, it 
would be hard to overstate just
 how extraordinary and delightful it is to walk into our post 
office each spring and hear the
 cheeping of our freshly hatched 
birds from behind the counter.
 The notion that something so
 fragile and alive can be sent
 through the mail seems to me 
to border on the miraculous. I
 mean, is it merely coincidence
 that just-hatched chicks can survive without food and water for precisely the amount of time it takes them to traverse America by train, plane, and automobile? Surely it is. Surely there could not have been some sort of grand plan in place since the days of the Red junglefowl, the Asian bird from which all modern chickens have evolved over the past 5,000 years. But still: How many other newborn creatures can survive being enclosed in a cardboard box and then sent on a dark, hurtling journey across thousands of miles?

Every year, there comes a day in late May or early June when the boys and I drive home from the post office with a box of chicks on the passenger seat, filling the car with the smell of wood shavings and something that’s harder to identify, and which is perhaps best described as the smell of chick. It is a warm smell, and if it is possible for a smell to have a tactile sensation, it is the smell of soft. The boys always want to pull “just one or two” out of the box to hold on their laps for the ride home; imagining the chaos that would inevitably result, I always prevail upon them to wait for the three or four minutes it takes us to get home.
At home, we carry the box gingerly to our brooder setup, which consists of an open-floored “box” of screwed-together boards, about 12 feet by 12 feet. We assemble our brooder in one of the small greenhouses, although doing so requires constant monitoring, as only a short period of sun on an otherwise cool and cloudy day can fry the birds if the sides aren’t raised. A heat lamp dangles from overhead, low enough that the heat is directed into the box, but high enough that there’s no danger of fire. We make a crude “peak” with two-by-fours, over which we drape plastic to retain heat. This allows us to run the 250-watt heat lamp intermittently, saving electricity, and we can even swap the high-watt bulb for a 100-watt incandescent bulb on warmer days. For the next three weeks, until their feathers come in enough to insulate them from the cool nights of late spring and early summer, this is their home. We bring them clippings of grass and other organic material every day, along with whatever waste milk the pigs aren’t consuming.

Chickens are simple creatures. And while fast-growing meat birds seem to be particularly lacking in charisma, the same cannot be said of layers. Perhaps I should not be so quick to admit this, for it may reveal something unflattering about our general level of sophistication, but this family has passed many hours doing little more than watching our birds. This was particularly true in the early years of our homestead, when we allowed our small flock of layers to roam in the yard, close to the house. Owing to the preponderance of vegetables in this area today, and chickens’ fondness for perfectly formed green peppers, we no longer allow them to range near the house. But I won’t soon forget the times Penny and I sat on the front stoop of the house, watching those curious birds do their little dance.

Pasture Requirements

Again we have a creature that is well adapted to a wide variety of landscapes and ecosystems. Like pigs, chickens do very well in forested areas; after all, every single chicken alive today evolved from jungle fowl. But so long as they have some shelter and shade, chickens also do very well on established pasture, and there’s nothing like a good dose of chicken shit to turn grass a shade of green so vibrant it looks digitally enhanced.

The surprising thing about chickens, particularly given how small and light they are, is their capacity to do tremendous damage to the soil via compaction. In remarkably short order, they can turn a small, fenced-in pen into a barren wasteland of stone-hard soil. Not only does this ensure they’re extracting few nutrients and calories from the ground, but it also does damage that can be remedied only over long periods of time or via mechanical intervention.

It’s hard to prescribe a fixed amount of pasture per chicken; what I can say is that we keep our flock of about 20 layers enclosed in a single length of flexnet for perhaps two weeks before moving them. We move our meat birds much more frequently, mostly because there are 500 percent more of them, but also because they are much larger than our layers.

Fencing

We utilize the same flexnet for our chickens as we do for the goats and sheep. It’s important to move their shelter regularly within the flexnet, or they’ll quickly “burn” the ground under the shelter with nitrogen-rich manure. How often you have to move it depends entirely on how many birds and at what stage of growth they’re at; when we have 100 mature meat birds, we move it at least twice per day. When we have a dozen layers, maybe only every other week.

Housing

There are innumerable designs for portable chicken coops, and if none of those ring your bell, you can always buy a $1,500 unit from Williams-Sonoma that comes with “white glove delivery” including on-site assembly. Or you can do like we do and knock together simple structures from materials on hand. We have constructed a variety of mobile structures over the years and have come to rely on a very light “chicken tractor” built on skids and covered by a tarp for our meat birds. The lack of weight is critical, since we’re often moving it twice per day and because the nature of our land means that many of these moves are in an uphill direction.

For the layers, we prefer a somewhat sturdier structure that of course accommodates nest boxes and roost poles. In general, the simpler and lighter the design, the better it’s worked for us. We prefer structures that offer plentiful headroom for those times we need to enter the coop and that feature at least one clear roof panel to provide more natural light for the birds. We’re also extremely fond of having nest box access from outside the coop.

By winter, the meat birds’ home is the freezer (with a last move to the oven or pot of bubbling lard) and the layers usually move into the tomato greenhouse, which has been outfitted with nest boxes, roost poles, and copious amounts of bedding to reduce compaction.

We also maintain a permanent, fenced-in run with an old coop that we semi-jokingly refer to as the “Problem Poultry Pen.” The PPP becomes home to any birds with a propensity to escape their portable coops, until we can either determine how they’re escaping or eat them. In keeping with our theory of building flexibility into our animal housing, the PPP has also served as a winter home for pigs.

Summer/Winter Feed

Both our layers and meat birds receive organic grain, table scraps, and, if there’s more than the pigs can consume, waste milk. The milk is particularly helpful in curbing the meat birds’ enormous appetite for grain. We are constantly scheming ways to reduce the grain inputs to this small farm, but we have not yet evolved to the place where our birds do not require grain. This summer, we are planning to incorporate Harvey Ussery’s maggot feeding system (sticking the carcass of a small animal into a bucket with lots of holes and letting the maggots that form drop to the ground for the birds), as well as cultivate a plot of comfrey for chicken feed.

I know some homesteads that simply allow their layers to have run of the place, and the hens seem to find plenty to eat without supplemental feed, at least during the warmer months. But they also seem to find places to lay their eggs that are never seen by the human eye. Never mind what a flock of hungry hens can do to a row of almost-ripe green peppers.

In a further attempt to curtail our grain habit, we are also experimenting with ducks again, in the hope that their proclivity for foraging will reduce our dependence on purchased grain. During the brooding stage for all our poultry, we bring clippings of grass and other greenery. Another trick we learned from Harvey Ussery is to feed hard-boiled eggs. Of course, this only works when we have an excess of eggs.

Minerals

In the winter, we mix a couple of cups of kelp with every 50-pound bag of grain. In addition to supporting the health of the birds, the kelp helps to keep the yolks dark yellow when there is a lack of other greenery to eat.

Breeds

We’ve been all over the map with chicken breeds, from heritage to commonplace. In all the years we’ve kept poultry for eggs and meat, the only breed that’s really stuck is the Kosher King. Kosher Kings are relatively fast-growing meat birds that in our experience, are vigorous, prone to foraging, and still capable of producing 6- to 7-pound roasters at 10 weeks. They are also exceptionally tasty, producing a large quantity of the dark meat we covet. We purchase cockerels from a small hatchery in Pennsylvania called Clearview Hatchery. There is no website, and the owner always answers the phone himself, which might be part of the reason his prices are so reasonable.

Interestingly, Kosher Kings are the very breed permaculturist Ben Falk discusses in his book The Resilient Farm and Homestead as being difficult to contain and
 generally unsuited to his
 farm. Our divergent experi
ences with the exact same 
breed are yet another
 reminder that the powers of
 observation should always
 trump the dogma of concept.

For layers, we have experimented widely, looking for catchphrases like great forager, exceptionally cold hardy, and consistent layer. We’ve been quite satisfied with Golden Comets, Rhode Island Reds, and Lace Winged Wyandottes, but we’re always experimenting. This year, we’re getting Black Javas, mostly because we have a local source for chicks.

Book Exposes Scientific Fraud, Collusion on GMOs

Monday, March 9th, 2015

Altered Genes, Twisted Truth is an important book that is long overdue in the United States, and Chelsea Green Publishing is proud to distribute this book to consumers who need to read the whole story behind how government officials and chemical companies have colluded to mislead the public about GM crops and foods.

With a foreword by Dr. Jane Goodall, this book is being praised by scientists for finally lifting the veil and exposing the collusion that has gone on behind the scenes between politicians, regulators, select scientists, and global seed manufacturers. Together they have joined forces to promote genetically modified organisms (GMOs) while ignoring the negative effects GMOs are having on our public food supply, health, and in the process has subverted scientific protocols.

The book was announced this week at a press conference in London, featuring Goodall.

“Without doubt, one of the most important books of the last 50 years,” writes Goodall in her Foreword. “It will go a long way toward dispelling the confusion and delusion that has been created regarding the genetic engineering process and the foods it produces. Steven Druker is a hero. He deserves at least a Nobel Prize.”

Frederick Kirschenmann, distinguished fellow, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and an expert on sustainable agriculture had this to say of the book: “Altered Genes, Twisted Truth is a remarkable work that may well change the public conversation on one of the most important issues of our day. If the numerous revelations it contains become widely known, the arguments being used to defend genetically engineered foods will be untenable.”

This book uncovers the biggest scientific fraud of our age. It tells the fascinating and frequently astounding story of how the massive enterprise to restructure the genetic core of the world’s food supply came into being, how it advanced by consistently violating the protocols of science, and how for more than three decades, hundreds of eminent biologists and esteemed institutions have systematically contorted the truth in order to conceal the unique risks of its products—and get them onto our dinner plates.

Altered Genes, Twisted Truth
gives a graphic account of how this elaborate fraud was crafted and how it not only deceived the general public, but Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Barack Obama and a host of other astute and influential individuals as well. The book also exposes how the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was induced to become a key accomplice—and how it has broken the law and repeatedly lied in order to usher genetically engineered foods onto the market without the safety testing that’s required by federal statute. As a result, for fifteen years America’s families have been regularly ingesting a group of novel products that the FDA’s own scientific staff had previously determined to be unduly hazardous to human health.

By the time this gripping story comes to a close, it will be clear that the degradation of science it documents has not only been unsavory but unprecedented—and that in no other instance have so many scientists so seriously subverted the standards they were trained to uphold, misled so many people, and imposed such magnitude of risk on both human health and the health of the environment.

“If you have even the remotest interest in this topic, I would strongly encourage you to get a copy of this book,” urges Dr. Joseph Mercola in an interview with Druker. ” It is, without a doubt, the best book on the topic and provides a treasure trove of facts that will help you decimate anyone who believes that GMOs are safe.

“For close to 20 years, the American public has been exposed to these largely experimental, untested foods, which its own scientists said entail unique risks and could not be presumed safe,” adds Mercola. “The FDA claimed GMO’s could be presumed safe, and that there was an overwhelming scientific consensus backing up their decision, yet the evidence shows that is a bold-faced lie.”

Watch the full interview with Dr. Mercola and Druker:

 

Roadkill 101: An Insider’s Guide to ‘Asphalt Hunting’

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

We’ve all come across one while driving — a doe, a deer, a female deer — dead on the side of the highway. Admit it, carnivores and omnivores alike, you’ve often thought to yourself, “I wonder how long it’s been there … and … boy, am I hungry!”

After checking the rearview a couple times and being thwarted by oncoming headlights, you probably speed off with the smells of an imaginary venison stew giving your stomach pangs. Your trunk? Also empty.

Face it, lean times financially mean many of us seek inexpensive, yet still wholesome, ways to feed our families.  Author and homesteader Ben Hewitt asks us to consider roadkill as an option of putting meat on the table. Yes, honestly and truly – roadkill. And, why not? In many instances, the animal has been freshly killed, and if it’s a sizable deer (or even moose), that’s a lot of meat that can be stored away into the freezer for another day.

In his new book, The Nourishing Homestead, Hewitt offers some basic tips on the etiquette and edibility of “asphalt hunting.” One thing is to be sure, there is an upside to the deep freeze of a winter that many of us are experiencing.

Read on, and start searching the side roads for your next meal.

*****

Determining the Edibility of Roadkill

This excerpt is adapted from Ben Hewitt’s The Nourishing Homestead (March 2015).

Folks who hear of our fondness for “asphalt hunting,” which has netted us three deer over the past four years, frequently ask how we determine whether or not a piece of roadkill is prime for the stew pot. Like so many aspects of food production and processing, such a determination depends on a number of factors.

First and foremost, what time of year is it? While we have harvested roadkill during the warm months, doing so requires much more luck (to have come across the kill shortly after it met its fate) and a bit more discernment (to know what safely constitutes “shortly after”). For that reason, I can only recommend harvesting in winter, with the exception being if you are unfortunate enough to be the one who hit the animal or if you actually witness its demise.

When we come upon roadkill, the first thing we do is to assess the level of bodily damage. This is not always obvious, because severe internal injuries are not generally visible, although they also don’t preclude harvest, as there’s still likely to be a fair bit of edible meat. Generally speaking, if we find a deer that’s really torn up, with a fair amount of visible blood, we leave it. Shattered and twisted legs look dramatic but are actually a sign that the animal took the hit down low, rather than directly to the body, where the majority of the meat is contained.

Regarding freshness, the colder it is, the less you need be concerned. That said, anything that’s frozen stiff suggests to me that (1) it’s been there awhile and (2) it’s going to be a real hassle to transport and dress. The ideal situation is exactly like the one I came across last October, when I rounded a corner on a rural road to find an SUV pulled to the side of the road and a fellow in designer jeans hauling a dead doe into the ditch. I hit the brakes and hopped out of the car. “Are you planning to do anything with that,” I asked. It was a rhetorical question, because I could see that his plans for the deer ended the moment he reached the bottom of the ditch. He looked at me quizzically: “No, why? You want it?” He sounded skeptical, but was kind enough to help me load the animal into the back of our Subaru. Ninety seconds later, I was on my way home with a freezer full of fresh venison. I doubt more than 10 minutes passed between impact and loading the deer into our car.

That doesn’t happen too often, so you should be prepared to make a judgment call. In general, what I like to see in cold weather is a body that’s still limber and maybe even a little warm. That’s a sure sign it was a recent hit. Of course, if there’s snow on the road, you can usually tell whether any spilled blood is fresh and bright red or congealed and duller in color. I suppose it goes without saying, but when it doubt, leave it for the birds. Which brings me to another simple rule: If birds or animals have been feeding from your quarry, it’s been there too long. Or too long for my taste buds, anyway.

Do expect some internal damage. A burst stomach is not uncommon, and while its contents can appear to have spoiled a lot of meat, it’s actually pretty easy to clean up the resultant mess, via either a vigorous scrubbing or a careful cutting away of affected areas. Fortunately, there’s not much meat directly around the stomach cavity, so contamination of prime cuts is unlikely.

Finally, you might want to check state wildlife laws before gleaning any roadkill. Here in Vermont, it’s actually illegal to glean roadkill without notifying a game warden; the deer herd belongs to the state, a fine example of how the common wealth of the land has been commoditized. The truth is, most wardens are happy to see the meat go to good use. The other truth is, damned if I’m going to let a perfectly edible animal rot in a ditch while I try to track down a warden for permission.

Get Ready for Maple Sugaring Season

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

Everything is better with maple syrup. At least that’s what you’ll hear when you ask Vermonters. So what better way to solidify your love for all things maple than to learn how to make it yourself?

If you only have a couple of trees nearby — say in your backyard — author Michael Farrell (The Sugarmaker’s Companion) has some simple advice for you to get started tapping a few trees and collecting the sap by bucket. The following excerpt is adapted and condensed from Chapter 5 of his book.

If you have access to a larger grove of trees you might also want to read these additional excerpts from The Sugarmaker’s Companion on producing value-added products from your collected tree sap.

*****

Maple Syrup 101
by Michael Farrell

Backyard Sap CollectionWhen to Tap

One of the most difficult decisions you have to make from year to year in your sugaring operation is deciding when to tap. I always recommend tapping just a few trees in January and February to determine what is going on with sap flow conditions. In relatively cold areas, even when the temperatures get above freezing in January and February, the amount of sap flow can be negligible. The trees are basically frozen, and it takes an extended period of warm temperatures to induce substantial sap flow. In warmer regions where the winter isn’t as severe, optimum temperature fluctuations usually happen all winter and the trees may be producing a decent amount of sap in January and February. If you see this happening in your test trees, you’ll want to tap the rest of your sugarbush to catch the early sap runs.

How to Tap

Finding the Right Spot

The first step in tapping is to find a good spot to drill the hole. It doesn’t matter how nice a hole you drill, what type of spout you use, or what level of vacuum you are pulling if you have drilled into a bad section of the tree. To get a decent amount of high-quality sap, you need to drill into clear, white sapwood. It is important to avoid previous tapholes and the associated stain columns as well as other defects and rotten areas on the trunk. Large seams and wounds are easy to identify and avoid, but it takes a trained eye to locate old tapholes.

Drilling the Hole

Sugaring Tap

Some people advocate drilling the hole directly into the tree whereas others recommend drilling at a slight upward angle. I usually try to achieve a perfectly straight hole but always err on the side of making it at a slight upward angle whenever necessary. No matter how you drill the hole, be sure to use a relatively new, clean, sharp drill bit that is intended for drilling into maple trees.

When you are pulling the drill out of the tree, always examine the shavings to make sure that they are pure white. If you get brown or dark-colored shavings, you have drilled into a bad part of the tree. Your sap yield will be negligible, and any sap that does flow may have a yellow tinge to it and impart off-flavors to your syrup.

Setting the Spout

The final step is placing the spout in the tree. It takes some practice to figure out how hard to tap on the spout to get it nice and snug without overdoing things. Not tapping in hard enough can cause the spout to be too loose, creating a vacuum leak. On the other hand, tapping too hard can potentially cause the wood to split, which in turn leads to vacuum leaks, lost sap, and increased wounding at the taphole. Most sugarmakers use regular hammers to set the spouts, but you don’t necessarily hammer the spouts in. Just a few gentle taps will usually do the trick until you hear a thumping sound. As soon as you can hear the difference, stop tapping on the spout.

Row of Sugaring buckets

The Seed Series: 3 Steps to Start Your Plants Off Right

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

How you handle your seeds and your practices around seeding is your first chance to get your plants off to a good start and help them achieve their full potential. Ben and Penny Hewitt, authors of The Nourishing Homestead, have developed a three-step process which starts with inoculating the seeds, then sowing them in high quality potting soil, and finally using soil blocks instead of pots to start seedlings.

It may not be quite as easy as 1-2-3, but the increased vigor and yield the Hewitts have experienced with their crops using this system has made it worth the extra effort. Check out the following excerpt from The Nourishing Homestead for more details on how you can incorporate these three steps into your early spring planting routine.

And, for additional information on seeds, read the previous article in our “Seed Series”–an excerpt from Carol Deppe’s latest book, The Tao of Vegetable Gardening about creating your own seed bank. Up next, learn from award-winning author John Navazio about the right questions to ask when determining what crops will grow best on your land.

Related Articles:
Seed Saving Basics
Become a Plant Breeder 

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Seeding

Perhaps the best way to think of your seed and your practices around seeding and starting your plants is to draw the obvious analogy to human gestation. Starving your seeds of nutrients is no different from starving your unborn child of nutrients, and the results will be no better in the long haul. This is the first opportunity we have to minimize the stresses that negatively impact your crops’ potential.

Step 1: Inoculate

You may be familiar with inoculating legumes, which is the process of coating the seed with the bacteria that allow it to “fix” nitrogen in the soil. But it’s not merely legumes that benefit from inoculation. In fact, prior to sowing, we treat all of our seed with a high-quality inoculant (we get ours from the Nutrient Dense Supply Company, the same source for many of the trace minerals, inoculants, and enzymes we use).

Seed inoculant is cheap as all get-out: For a mere 13 bucks, you can purchase enough inoculant to treat 100 pounds of seed, and the process is ridiculously simple. Just mix a pinch of the powdered inoculant with the seed inside the seed packet. Doing so assists with germination, improves seed vigor, and breaks down nutrients so they are available to young roots. In other words, it’s a jump start on plant health.

Step 2: Sow Your Seeds into High-Quality, Inoculated, and Mineralized Potting Soil

Ideally, we’d be making our potting soil from scratch, but until we realize that goal, we purchase high-quality potting soil from the Vermont Compost Company. Their Fort Vee potting soil includes compost, sphagnum, rock phosphate, gypsum, protein meal, kelp, bone char, crushed granite, and vermiculite. We add more kelp, montmorillonite clay, humates, and alfalfa meal, which can generally be found at your local farm supply store. We also add two ingredients that will likely require a bit more diligent shopping: a biological inoculant (we use Biogenesis from NDSC) and an enzyme microbial stimulant (Pepzyme from NDSC).

The quantities of our additions are not an exact science. Roughly speaking, to a 60-quart bag of potting soil we add a quart each of the first five ingredients, a few grams of inoculant, and half a milliliter of Pepzyme mixed into the water we use to moisten the soil.

Step 3: Punt the Pots

One of the best investments we’ve made in the health and vitality of our seedlings, and therefore of the vegetables we ultimately grow and eat, is a soil blocker. This is a small mechanical contraption that compresses loose potting soil into tight seedling blocks that are then released into an open flat. They are available in numerous sizes; we use one that makes twenty 3⁄4-inch blocks for starting peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant. Because we have limited space for our starts, the mini blocks make it possible to germinate lots of seedlings in a small space. The most vigorous seedlings are then transferred to a larger block shortly after germinating.

The size blocker we use most makes four 2-inch blocks. We own two of these blockers, one with a seed pin that makes seed-sized holes in the top of each block and one with a 3⁄4-inch cube pin that creates a hole in the top of the block that’s just the size of the mini blocks. Coincidence? I think not. The blocker with the seed pin is used for brassicas, lettuce, chard, celery, celeriac, onions (four seeds to a block), basil, parsley, and other herbs and flowers. We also use it for germinating squash, cucumbers, and melons. The 2-inch blocker with the cube pin is, of course, for anything that has been sown into mini blocks, as well as for larger seeds like corn or beans.

Lastly, we have a blocker that forms a single 4-inch block with a 2-inch square relief in the top to accept the 2-inch blocks. We use this for “potting on” (a term that means potting up in size) cukes, winter and summer squashes, peppers, and eggplant.

The two smaller sizes of soil blocks are quick to make after a little practice. It’s key to get the soil moisture just right; generally, we make it a bit wetter than for pots. Think spongy, not soggy; you should be able to squeeze a few drops out of a handful. The larger 4-inch blocks are more time consuming to make, simply because they tend to fall apart without a studious effort to really pack the soil into the form. For this reason, we are not above using large pots instead if time is short. We always use 6-inch pots for potting on tomatoes, because with the 4-inch blocks, it isn’t possible to set the original 2-inch block deeply enough in the soil to take advantage of all the little root hairs on the stem that will create a stronger root system if buried in the soil.

The advantages of soil blockers are numerous. First, they eliminate the inevitable waste and expense of cracked and broken containers that must be discarded and replaced. Second, the blocks are cubic, rather than tapered, providing more room for root growth. Third, by eliminating the impenetrable walls of a plastic container, you eliminate one of the primary limiting factors to early plant growth and vitality.

To understand why this is true, remember that the growth you see above the soil surface is merely a reflection of the growth that is happening below the surface. In fact, root growth generally exceeds top growth, which means that a 4-inch seedling in a 4-inch pot is already experiencing diminished potential as its roots bump against the hard container surface. Think of a plant’s roots as its “feelers”; as soon as these feelers hit the container wall, they circle around, looking for more space, and in that circling back, a degree of vitality and development is lost. Before you’ve even put your starts in the ground, you’re losing vigor and yield.

In blocks, instead of the roots circling, they simply fill the block to the edges and wait. When transplanting, there is no root shock and seedlings are quickly established in their new environment. However, if the seedlings are not transplanted in a timely manner, they will eventually grow into neighboring blocks, which should be avoided.

Once the seeds have been inoculated as discussed, Penny then engages in a bit of seed discrimination, selecting the largest, plumpest seeds from each packet for planting. She also plants more seeds than necessary, so that she can discriminate once again when the seeds become seedlings by discarding the ones that lack the vigor of their companions. In the case of tomatoes and peppers, she’ll actually plant at least twice as many seeds as the actual number of seedlings she’s looking for, just so she can have the pick of the litter. If this seems wasteful, I assure you it is precisely the opposite, because by selecting for health and vitality, we end up with far greater yield for a given square footage of garden space.

Our earliest seedlings are started on shelves in front of a set of south-facing French doors. We have chosen to not rely on artificial lighting or heat for our starts, a habit established during the 15 years we were disconnected from the utility grid and simply didn’t have access to the necessary electricity. Now that we are grid-connected, we could rely on these technologies, but we still choose not to, because our cheap electricity inevitably costs someone, somewhere a great deal.

Once the weather warms up, we transfer our flats of seedlings to makeshift shelves on the enclosed porch that houses our summer kitchen. We installed translucent panels on the southern end of the porch expressly for this reason, and the seedlings thrive out there, as long as we bring them inside for the nights, until temperatures warm up. This daily shuffling of our seedlings—out to the porch in the mornings to catch the most light, in from the porch in the evenings to protect them from the cold—is unquestionably a hassle, necessitating reminder notes left in conspicuous places (BRING! SEEDLINGS! IN!). But like most hassles, it seems bigger than it actually is. As the season progresses, there are more and more flats to move, but with the boys’ help, it generally doesn’t take much longer than seven or eight minutes. Just about the time we’re getting sick of this little dance and the number of flats has increased to multiple dozens, it is suddenly warm enough to leave them out at night.

Seeds that need a lot of heat to germinate, such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, are granted a coveted spot atop our coldbox, which resides near the wood cookstove. As soon as they germinate, they are potted on into the larger-sized soil blocks and placed in front of the French doors with their companions.

The next big stressor event for our seedlings is transplanting. We’ve already mitigated some transplant shock by seeding into soil blocks, rather than containers. We also refrain from starting our seeds too soon. This is not easy, because like most gardeners, by the time March rolls around, we’re chomping at the bit. But we have found that vigorous seedlings of the proper age do better than seedlings that were started too early and have grown beyond the capacity of their soil blocks to fully nurture them. Finally, all our seedlings are allowed a few days in their flats outside to “harden off” in preparation for transplanting. We then transplant on an overcast day or late in the day, to protect the young seedlings from the stress of direct sun.

Over the years, as we’ve learned to select for more vigorous seed and seedlings, we’ve also learned that we have to take this increased vigor into account and provide them with a little extra space to fully express themselves. Whereas we once planted our tomato plants 1 foot apart, we now allow them at least 2 feet, if not even more. This may sound counterintuitive; after all, if we’re planting fewer plants, won’t our yield be greatly reduced? But the reality is precisely the opposite. In fact, over the past few years, our tomato yield has increased dramatically, despite a 50 percent reduction in actual plants. The genetics are the same. The overall space devoted to their cultivation is the same. The only thing that’s different is that we’ve created an environment that allows our plants to come closer to achieving their full potential.

Kvass: A Nourishing, Fermented Beverage

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

Looking to add another recipe to your fermenting repertoire? Try your hand at kvass. This nourishing beverage calls for just a few simple ingredients and only takes a couple of days to ferment. Use beets or get creative with various fruit combinations like Blueberry Lemon Mint or Ginger Apple Lime.

According to Sally Fallon Morell, co-founder of the Weston A. Price Foundation and author of Nourishing Traditions, beet kvass is valuable for its medicinal qualities and as a digestive aid. Beets are loaded with nutrients. One 4-ounce glass, morning and night, is an excellent blood tonic, cleanses the liver, and is a good treatment for kidney stones and other ailments.

Below are recipes for both beet and fruit kvass from The Heal Your Gut Cookbook by Hilary Boynton and Mary Brackett.

Related Links:
Be Good to Your Gut: Nourishing Food for Better Health
Make Your Own Bone Broth
Chop, Salt, Pack, Wait: Four Simple Steps to Making Sauerkraut
Starting and Maintaining Sourdough

BEET KVASS
Makes 1 quart

3 medium or 2 large organic beets, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon sea salt
1⁄4 cup whey or fermented pickle juice
2 cloves garlic, smashed or minced (optional)
Filtered water

Place the beets in a clean 2-quart widemouthed glass mason jar; add the salt, whey, and garlic, and fill to the shoulder with filtered water. Cap and leave on the counter for 2 days. Once you have drunk almost the entire first batch, you can add more filtered water, cap, and leave on the counter for an additional 2 days. After this you must throw out the beets and start fresh. Save 1⁄4 cup liquid from your previous batch to use as an inoculant instead of the whey. The easiest way I find is to pour what you wish to drink, replace it with filtered water, and return the jar to the fridge. Do this each time you drink some kvass. When the beets are “spent,” throw them out and start a new batch.

FRUIT KVASS
Makes 1 quart

1 cup organic fruit (fresh or frozen)
1-­inch fresh ginger, peeled (optional, but I usually add to my ferments as it is so good for digestion)
Filtered water
Pinch of sea salt
1⁄2 cup whey

Place the fruit and ginger in a quart-sized mason jar, filling it about a quarter of the way up. Add filtered water up to the jar’s shoulder, along with a pinch of sea salt and whey. Cap the jar tightly and leave it on the counter, at room temperature, for 2 to 3 days or until the lid is taut. Turn it upside down a few times a day. This is an anaerobic process, so be sure to keep the lid closed.

Depending on the temperature, your kvass may take a bit longer to ferment. You will see little bubbles starting to form; that means it’s fermenting and the pressure is building in your jar. Be sure to check the lid to see if you can press it down or not. If you can’t, that usually means the kvass is fermented and ready to drink.

You can strain out the fruit, if you wish, or enjoy it in your drink. This is a great way for our daughter to get a bit more fruit into her diet—following the fermentation process, the fruit’s sugar content is largely or completely gone. The kvass will last in the fridge for about 1 week.

You can also use the same process as the beet kvass, above. Simply replace the amount of kvass you drink with water, every time, until the fruit becomes colorless and flavorless.

Pickle People Descend on London Cake Shop

Friday, January 30th, 2015

After reading Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation, Terry Glover, manager of the London Review Cake Shop, found herself swept up in a microbial mania for pickling and brewing. To express her enthusiasm for all things fermented and to try and unearth London’s unique pickling culture, she decided to host a pickling competition. Here’s how the event unfolded in her own words.

On a rainy night in November, we invited Londoners to bring their pickles, brews and ferments to the Cake Shop for what was to be our first Annual Pickle Competition. We assembled a panel of judges, and a selection of prizes: rosettes, copies of our treasured Sandor Ellix Katz books (contributed by Chelsea Green Publishing), and wooden spoons. And we waited to see if anyone would turn up.

Turn up they did: amateurs and purists; city workers and squatters; health-nuts and members of the Women’s Institute. Despite the contestants’ considerably different backgrounds, the evening had the cosy community atmosphere of a village fete (though it was admittedly somewhat boozier than your average church hall). Our winners are representative of the diversity of entrants: first prize was awarded to a selection of vegetable pickles featuring two types of kimchi, delicate pickled mulberry leaf and Vietnamese kale; a home-brewed IPA took second prize; and third prize went to a truly remarkable chutney, made annually from a family recipe.

We love seeing folks like Terry embrace the art of pickling and create an opportunity for people to come together and share their knowledge. Here’s a video from the London Review Cake Shop pickle competition. We hope it inspires you to host a community fermentation event of your own.

Homemade Bone Broth – A Healthy Diet Staple

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Have you had your steaming hot bowl of bone broth today? If not, you might want to consider integrating this nutrient rich, immune system boosting elixir into your daily diet. With recent articles about the benefits of bone broth in The New York Times and Epicurious calling it “the new coffee,” it’s clear broth is taking off as a food trend in 2015.

Learn how to make your own chicken, beef, and fish bone broths using the following instructions from The Heal Your Gut Cookbook: Nutrient-Dense Recipes for Intestinal Health Using the GAPS Diet by Hilary Boynton and Mary G. Brackett. As the foundation of both the GAPS and Paleo diets, bone broths are used in the early stages to starve pathogenic bacteria in your digestive system and heal your gut. Sealing a leaky gut can help treat disorders ranging from allergies and asthma to autism, ADD, depression, and more. However, as a healthy source of calcium, potassium, and protein, anyone looking to improve their digestive health can reap the nutritional benefits of bone broth.

This easy to digest, nourishing broth is made from bones with a small amount of meat on them that you cook on low heat for anywhere from 4-72 hours depending on the type of bones being used and when you think it tastes good. According to Boynton and Brackett, some of the most nutrient-dense animal parts include those you may normally throw away. It might take some getting used to, but once you start adding those chicken feet or fish heads into the pot, your nourished gut will thank you.

For more recipes from books that focus on restorative diets and traditional foods, check out this simple, 4-step method of fermenting vegetables from The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz and a recipe for succotash from Full Moon Feast by Jessica Prentice—a cookbook featuring foods that follow the ancient rhythms of the season.

Now, get ready to make bone both a new staple in your diet.

Homemade Bone Broth – The Heal Your Gut Cookbook


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