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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Project Fermentation

Big day here in the apartment!  Not only was it BOXING DAY but for the first time we tasted the Sauerkraut!  My Mom suggested rinsing it before eating (to remove some of the excess salt).  This improves the kraut tremendously.  It’s still not great, but it’s ok, better than most of the kraut of my memory (although my Babcia’s is still better, what IS her secret?). 
The Kim-Chi however is fantastic!  It too is improved by rinsing, but is also nice as is right out of the fermenting bucket.

Also, I've started Project Hard Apple Cider!

1.89L bottle of organic cider - $7
EVERYONE warned me to stay away from ciders with preservatives (potassium sorbate, etc.) so this is just pure organic apple juice.
1 packet Campaign yeast. - $1
The pack says it’s for 4-22L of juice but I just dumped the whole thing in.  Hopefully since there is only so much sugar the extra yeast will just die off.

1 (glass) jug
Apparently you can use just about anything as a fermenting vessel but the proprietor at the home-brew store says there should be no more than three fingers of air between the surface of you cider and the airlock.  The jug LOOKS like a proper carboy… and it was “free”!
1 airlock - $1 (with rubber stopper sized to fit fermenting jug)

Christmas eve I added yeast to the jug of cider, no stirring just dumped it in right on top, like the proprietor of the home-brew store recommended, and by the morning it was bubbling away merrily!  Millions of millions of tiny bubbles form in the cider and rise quickly to the surface, every few seconds the airlock silently “pops” releasing some gas.  It’s actually quite hypnotic.

For now the whole kit and caboodle is sitting on the kitchen counter.  Should be about a month before we know how it tastes.  Can’t wait!

Any experts (or people who know more than me) with advice? Please leave a comment!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Hard Apple Cider (Project Fermentation)

I have always wanted to make beer (Bek has stories of exploding bottles and is not quite so keen).  And so begins the second phase in our fermentation experimentation.  Hard Apple Cider.  By all accounts much easier than both wine and beer (and more legal than moon-shine). 

As usual we have no idea what we are doing so I (as usual) went online. Apparently, hard cider is one of the easiest fermented beverages to make!  The basic ingredients are “sweet” cider and yeast (most people recommend Champagne yeast).  The only pieces of equipment you are not likely to have lying around are; a fermentation vessel (I’m using the (glass) bottle my cider comes in) and an airlock ($4 at the local home-brew store).

But cider is soooooooooo good! We drank the whole bottle before we even got home!  Oh well, just have to buy some more and try again tomorrow!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

First Steps in Project Fermentation: Kraut and Kim-Chi!

We (my girlfriend, Bek, and I) have always wanted to make sauerkraut, problem is neither of has ever done it!  And I at least don’t really like plain kraut.  Some is nice (my Babcia makes a great kraut!) and Kim-Chi (spicy Korean sauerkraut) is excellent (Bek loves it too)!  So we are going to give it a try.

Having never made either before we’re going to use recepies from the internet.  Apple, Carrot Sauerkraut        and Kim-Chi.  So today we went to buy ingredients; 1 red and 2 green cabbage (the local store didn’t have Napa Cabbage so for Kim-Chi we used a regular green one instead), apples, carrots.  All the rest we already have.  It’s great when that happens!

For the kraut, because there are no instructions on the recepie page, we basically followed the instructions for regular kraut on Sandor Kainz’s website, Wild Fermentation.  We used half red, half green cabbage (as Mr. Kainz suggests).  Hopefully this will give us a nice pink kraut!

For the Kim-Chi we followed the recepie on the site except for adding a puree of one apple and half an Asian pear.  Many other websites I’ve read suggested this as it adds a “natural sweetness.”

On the left is the fermenting Kim-Chi and on the right is the Sauerkraut.  Both buckets were full when we started, the salt draws water out of all the vegetables and makes everything shrink.  A lot!

Sandor Keinze recommends covering the fermenting Krout and weighing it down with something, we used small plates and jars full of water, it seems to work.

So far so good!  We’ll see in a week or two how it all tastes!

Apartment Aquaponics 102.

Fish Day!  Last night (much to the cat’s delight) I added fish to the aquaponics tank.  They’re just small feeder goldfish, the smallest (and cheapest) the pet store had to offer.  Still a dollar a piece, far too expensive I thought.  I’m feeding them crushed up cat food, about 1 pellet every 3 days.
Your supposed to wait to add plants, about 6 weeks from when you put the fish in, but I don’t think I will.  Just going to get some plants and stick them in as soon as I can, the waters already kind of murky.

Expenses so far: $21.

Apartment Aquaponics 101.

Aquaponics: essentially a (beautiful) marriage of aquaculture and hydroponics.
Aquaculture is fish farming.  Fish are grown in ponds or tanks (or giant net enclosures in a lake or bay), like a feedlot for fish.  With aquaculture it’s possible to produce a lot of high quality protein in a hurry.  But all those fish so close together create a lot of nutrient-rich waste!  In open water this is not quite so much of a problem (it’s still a problem) but in ponds or tanks it is a HUGE problem!  The water needs almost constant pumping/filtration just to stay liveable!
In hydroponics plants are grown without soil, all the nutrients they need are brought to them in water.  The plants are either suspended with their roots in the water or supported in a moist “soil-less medium” either pea-gravel, “expanded clay” or, in my case, aquarium gravel.  The benefit is plants can be grown closer together because they don’t have to compete for nutrients, the drawback is all those nutrients need to be supplied by the farmer, usually in the form of nutrient-rich liquid fertilizers.

So, plants grown hydroponically need nutrients in liquid form,
farmed fish produce a lot of nutrient-rich waste-water.

Enter aquaponics!  The fish poo and pee in the water which is pumped up to the level of the grow-bed (where the plants live).  The water trickles down through the “soil-less medium” and is filtered by the hungry plants (which feed on the waste produced by the fish) before falling back into the fish tank.  Simple.
Well, not really.  There’s more to it than that.  We’re going back to science class.
Fish produce ammonia (NH3), which in its raw state is poisonous to plants.  We need bacteria, called nitrosomas, to convert the ammonia into nitrites(NO2).  Unfortunately nitrites, while not poisonous are, as far as we’re concerned useless.  We need to convert them to nitrates(NO3) which the plants can “eat”.  There is a bacterium to do this too, its called nitrobacter.  Fortunately both will develop naturally if given enough time.
So now; the fish create ammonia in the water, bacteria in the tank convert the ammonia into nitrates, the water (with nitrates) is pumped up to the grow bed where it is filtered by the plants before returning to the fish tank!

And that, boys and girls, is how it all works.
To any teachers reading, this would make one hell-of-a science project. 

I wanted to try aquaponics for myself.  It sounded so simple and so interesting!  And think about it, scaled up an aquaponics system could be used to grow alot of food!  Especially after last summer I was definitely thinking in terms of food production.    So I started doing some research.  By far the best web page I found was Hydroponics plus Fish Farm equals Aquaponics; a how to, it describes EXACTLY how to make an aquaponics system in a greenhouse.
But my girlfriend and I live in an apartment! There just isn't enough room for a greenhouse and all that equipment!  So I did what I always do in these situations.
Pay a visit to Value Village.

And this is what I came up with!  It’s a little (2 1/2-3 G?) fish tank.  I picked it up, along with pump and grow-bed (that black box with gravel in it is the grow-bed (used to be for a filter?), the piece hanging down on the left is the pump) and a fluorescent light (which I don’t expect to need) for about $11 (after tax).  Gravel was about $7 for a 2kg bag.  The pump was working to fast and totally flooding my grow-bed (that not good) so I stuffed a piece of sponge in the outlet (that’s that little yellow thing).
Tomorrow (after the water has had a chance to sit a little and the temperature has stabilised) I’m going to add a few feeder goldfish.

Expenses so far: $18.

Saturday August 18: Berries!

Monday, we weeded our strawberry patch and harvested “runners” (the tiny plants which mature strawberry plants produce). A mature strawberry plant sends out a long, thin tendril on the end of which grows a new plant, an exact clone of the first.
The young plant can be separated from its parent and planted elsewhere. It will (hopefully) grow into another strawberry plant! We gathered about half a bushel of runners from the edges of our patch, leaving the runners in the center to grow on their own and thicken the patch.
The harvested runners are being stored wrapped in a damp towel and in the fridge.
That day we also maintained our raspberry plants.  Cutting off the old brown stems (called canes) at the base and “tipping” (cutting off the top ½ inch or so) the new young canes so they will put more energy into producing berries and less into growing taller.  We weeded as we went and as usual gave the fresh weeds to the pigs (I never thought pigs ate much salad but apparently they do)!
We are down to 6 pigs from 18 when I first got here!  This number is not including Ballsie, the sows and their piglets.  Now that there are so few pigs in the herd each pig's individual personality is much more visible.  The largest is also the most aggressive, obviously the “boss pig,” but also the most cautious and wary of people.  The two smallest, whom I think of as “The Twins,” have always been the best foragers, first to attack a pile of weeds and last to stop eating.  Where the others run away when a new pile of weeds are thrown in to them The Twins don’t move, even if the pile lands on top of them, they just keep eating!  In general pigs shy away from people and don’t like being touched but there is one who seems to enjoy a scratch between the ears now and then.  If you haven’t been around in a while she will actually come looking for attention!
No matter how hard the day, no matter the weather, no matter how hard we’ve worked, no matter how tired I am, the pigs never fail to make me smile!

One of our geese has taken ill (from a description in a book we suspect botulism).  He (or she) is almost completely paralyzed.  We have separated him from the rest of the flock and are feeding him on egg yoke and water from a syringe, just a little dribbled in the beak every few hours but the outlook is not good.  Botulism is often fatal.

Saturday August 4: CRAFT Days and Busy Days!

The past few weeks on the farm have been busy, busy, busy!  The now almost mature corn field has had to be fenced (to keep out the racoons and squirrels), many of the vegetables, including the potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and very productive zucchini are starting to produce!  We have had volunteers and WWOOFers come and go, my fiancé, Rebekah, was here for one glorious week and Paula, one of the other interns, took her week off this past week.
Yesterday I moved the pigs.  Really this just means expanding their pasture on one side to include some fresh area and reducing it on the other side, to let the old pasture re-grow.  Pigs are intelligent animals with good memories; ours have learned that I usually bring them their food.  So for the entire time in the pig-pen I was followed around by a curious and expectant entourage of ten of so pigs!   Another aspect of pigs' memories, they remember where the electric fence used to be and will not easily cross that line even when the actual fence has been removed.  It is possible to completely remove ther fence (we did), giving them access to the corn, tomatoes, potatoes, etc, before re-stringing it without worry of them wandering off!  This is not true of any other animal, just pigs!
It took them three days to go from the old area into the fresh grass, in the end we had to pour a trail of pig food from the old area into the new to entice them over!
On Monday we went to a local CRAFT day.  CRAFT stands for Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training.  Each CRAFT day (once a month or so but not everybody attends every one) members of the local network gather at a host farm for a potluck lunch and a day of workshops.  This Monday's CRAFT day was hosted by Jim and Maurine Giffin on beautifulEdencrest Farm.
Jim and Maurine have two Belgian draft horses which they use for much of the general work around the farm.  Tthey also have tractors so not all of the work on the two-hundred plus acre farm is done with horses!  We learned, among other things, about caring for and handling these beautiful animals, some of the economic realities of farming and about beneficial (and harmful) insects.

Saturday July 7, Ducks in the Orchard!

This week on the farm we set up the orchard as a giant chicken yard with electro-net fencing all around the perimeter and portable coops in amongst the trees.  When all was ready we began to herd the ducks from their old homes in the front pasture.
All was going well until we passed out the gate and into new territory for the ducks.  What a nightmare!  There were ducks in the barn and geese in the ditch!  They were hiding in the bushes, even running down the lane and on to the road!  If we pushed forward they wanted to go back, when we tried to turn left they went right or straight ahead!  What should have been a quick half hour job at most became an hour long ordeal.
Eventually everyone was moved, happy and quacking in the dappled shade, but it sure did take a lot of work.
After the ducks and geese we decided it would be less work to simply wait until dark to catch the turkeys (when they are naturally more docile) and carry them in cages on the tractor.  The tractor wouldn’t start.  Apparently the alternator is shot and the battery has lost its charge.   We were up until eleven thirty carrying turkeys and ducklings from the chicken yard to the orchard.
I hope those birds appreciate it.
Don’t think that life on the farm is all work though.  On Wednesday night we had a barbecue and built a bonfire.  Outside under the stars we ate truly spectacular grass fed steak and pork chops, roast potatoes, barbequed corn and a garden salad and afterwards in the warm evening air we sat around the fire, relaxed and drank red wine under a rising full moon.

Monday July 25, Turkeys, Skunks and Ballsies Big Escape!

Every night Jens and I must make our rounds of all the poultry flocks and put them all to bed. With the chickens (both Layers and Growers) this is a simple matter of closing the door (chickens go in on their own at dusk) but the ducks and geese (there are three groups of ducks and one of geese, each with about thirty individuals) have not yet learned this trick. So, every night, we have to herd them back into their houses. Thankfully ducks and geese have a "herding" (perhaps "flocking?") instinct. They tend to clump together and run away from the herders. This makes putting them to bed relatively easy.

Turkeys, on the other hand, do not have this instinct, and their curious nature makes them just as likely to turn around and inspect the herder (or tree or fence or stone) as run away! Trying to herd turkeys is like trying to herd cats. A nightly exercise in frustration!

One might wonder why we have to put the flocks to bed every evening, only to set them free nine hours later.  Farmers who have free range birds have competition from all kinds of predators. Weasels, skunks, foxes racoons, ferrel cats and more would all like to have an easy dinner at the expense of the farmer.  So when you are paying more for free range eggs and meat, remember the extra care and time it takes on a daily basis to provide it.

For the past week Ballsie (Saturday May 9) has been spending a lot of time "inspecting" the fence which separates himself and the sows (female pigs), trying to find a way through. On Friday he must have figured it out. We were getting ready for market the following Saturday when we heard a commotion coming from the pig pen! We rushed to see what all the fuss was about! Ballsie and the sows were "going at it" with reckless abandon. Although it is apparently thoroughly enjoyed by both parties, pigs make a lot of very strange noises when having sex! Apparently Ballsie finally figured out that although the fence is electric the gate is not. He simply put his snout under the bottom bar and lifted (pigs have enormously strong necks and shoulders!) Once off its hinges the gate just fell away leaving the very happy Ballsie a clear path to the waiting sows!

Saturday June 16 on the farm, field tomatoes, Jersey-shore and Chinese Geese!

Tomatoes, eggplants and peppers all come from warm climates and like to have their roots HOT!  To make sure they stayed that way we covered each 140 foot row with black agricultural plastic.  First we ran a drip type irrigation line down the center of each bed.  Then Jens ploughed a furrow down each side and we went along behind and draped the plastic over the bed with the edges of the sheet hanging down into the furrows.  When we kicked dirt back into the furrows the edges of the plastic sheet were buried but the center (over the bed) was exposed.
We burned holes in the plastic every two feet and in them planted out tomatoes, eggplants and peppers.  So far so good, the plants look great!
Also this week we moved Studmuffin (the bull) and Jersey-shore (our new jersey cow) to re-join the rest of the herd out in the farthest field.  Jens has taught me that given enough time most animals will eventually do what you want on their own.  When herding, the most important thing is to go slowly, stay calm and be patient.  All that went out the window though when the bull smelled the rest of the herd.  At the slightest whiff of his harem Studmuffin was off like a shot (impressive for such a large animal), it was all we could do to just keep up and open the gates for him!
Now the herd is back together, much to Studmuffin’s pleasure and poor Jersey-shores dismay!  Where she used to get all of Studmuffin’s attention she is now almost completely ignored in favour of the other cows.
The other day we heard her bellowing and, thinking she was hurt, went to check on her.  She was fine, just lonely, ignored by her former boyfriend and shunned by the other cows, who view her as a stranger and outsider!  We hope the herd accepts her soon.
On Tuesday Jens bought Chinese Geese at the small animal auction at Keady Market, where we will have a stall every Tuesday for the rest of the summer!  For those who don’t know what a Chinese Goose looks like here is a link to a site with much better pictures than I could ever take.
Jens and Ayse had planned to buy a few kids (baby goats) to raise until the fall but there were very few of a small enough size this week.  Looking forward to trying again next Tuesday!

Saturday June 9. Three Sisters Garden.

This week on the farm we planted our “Three Sisters” garden   (corn, pole beans and squash). 
The Three Sisters garden (first used by North America’s native peoples) takes advantage of the symbiotic relationship between corn, pole beans and squash (think rock, paper, scissors).  The corn provides a “trellis” for the beans to grow on.  The beans “fix” nitrogen from the air and make it available in the soil for plants to use (nitrogen is needed by all plants, especially heavy feeders like corn).  The squash grows below and keeps the weeds down by shading the ground.  It's no coincidence that corn, beans and squash can also be used together to make some pretty delicious meals!
We planted our Three Sisters garden on a patch of ground that for the past few weeks has been home to the pigs.  Any swineherd (pig farmer) is fond of saying “A pig is a bulldozer on the front end and a manure spreader on the back!”  Pigs do a wonderful job of stirring up the soil while foraging and adding fertility in the form of copious amounts of piggy “poo and pee”.  Just one more reason to love these amazing animals!
Those grass fed pork chops taste pretty good with corn, beans and squash too!

In other news the ducks who suffered the racoon and weasel attack (Sat June 2) are back outside after getting a little bigger in the barn.  We are again using the chicken tractors but have this time surrounded them with a (hopefully predator proof) electro-net fence.

Saturday June 2. Tomatoes!

This week on the farm we “trellised” all the tomato plants we planted in the greenhouse (Sat May 12).  First we used heavy picture hanging wire to suspend a pipe the length of the greenhouse and 4’ below the rafters.  Then for each tomato plant we tied one end of a piece of twine to the pipe and, careful to leave a lot of slack, the other to the base of the plant.  As the plant grows we will periodically twist the twine around it to provide support. (see gallery: Tomtoes!)

On a sad note, earlier this week we put the larger chicks outside in chicken tractors similar to the one the ducks are in (see last weeks post).  All went well until a few nights ago.  An animal broke in and killed half of them! In the morning we found the bodies, all of them unmarked except for a small puncture wound in the neck or head.  Killed for sport and left to rot, sure signs of a weasel.
The remaining ducklings and chicks have been moved into the un-used chicken coop back inside the barn where we hope they will be safer.  We hope!

Ducklings! Saturday May 26 on the Farm.

This week on the farm we welcomed several new arrivals.  Not least among them was Paula (another intern) from Italy!  Just in time too, there is now more work than ever in the garden and our other new arrivals come with their own demands on our time.
The others were 197 (or so); chicks, ducklings, goslings and pullets (young turkeys)!  They all drink tremendous amounts, each gallon (4.5L) water jug needs refilling at least twice a day.  The birds have been here less then 24 hours and already I am looking forward to the day when they are all outside.  Water-fowl are especially messy birds and the basement of the barn, where they are all currently living, smells worse than any pig sty (but I’m biased, I like pigs!).
Ayse says as the turkeys grow older they will become attached to people and follow us around like puppies!
On Tuesday we moved the older ducklings from their wooden crate in the barn to a “chicken tractor”.  The chicken tractor is a bottomless pen/shelter used to house and confine poultry while still giving them access to fresh pasture and outside air.  In this case it is a frame, 12 feet long by 4 feet wide by 3 feet tall made of 1x2s.  On two thirds the sides and top are covered with strong netting and on one third they are covered with steel roofing.  Part of the steel section has a removable top for access to the inside.  Our ducks certainly benefit from the natural environment and warm weather, since moving they have again almost doubled in size and some are even starting to “feather out” (replace the downy fuzz they were born with and grow real feathers)!  They are still nervous little guys though and run away from any disturbance, including passing chickens! 

Not bad! For a pig. Saturday May 19.

Pigs like to sleep in, strange but true.  Cows and chickens are in general early risers, especially chickens who tend to be up literally with or before the sun, but pigs, like to sleep late.
On Saturdays I have been as late as 9:00 feeding the pigs (they get fed last; after the chicks, chickens and any cows living in the barn) and they are often still asleep, all 12 of them packed cheek by jowl into their little house, a mass of backs, bums, snouts and tails.  In fact if it wasn’t for the racket made by feeding I suspect they would sleep much longer!
Of all the pigs here Ballsie the boar (older male pig) is perhaps my favourite.  Despite being cautioned multiple times that he is dangerous, to not get in his way and never go in his pen, it is not hard to imagine Ballsie as a good natured, though somewhat slow, country gentleman.
The habit of sleeping in among pigs seems if anything to get more pronounced with age.  Ballsie is kept separate from the other pigs and is fed last.  Consequently it might be 9:30 or even 10:00 before someone gets down to his pen.  He is always still asleep.  Most days not even the clatter of fresh grain being dumped in his trough is enough to wake a slumbering Ballsie!  Like most pigs Ballsie has long eyelashes which make his eyes look only half open at best.  Being a boar he also has short tusks which push the corners of his mouth up into a sort of goofy smile.  So Ballsie ambles about (he never goes anywhere faster than a waddle) with half lidded eyes and the beginnings of a slow smile.  And between you and me, he’s got a lot to smile about, for a pig.   He basically sleeps all day in the sun and has plenty of food and water brought right to his doorstep on a regular basis.  His only real responsibility is to occasionally “service” one of the sows.  Not bad!  For a pig.

This Week On the Farm! Saturday May 12.

This week on the farm momentous things are happening!  Earlier this week the new greenhouse was finished and we began planting (4 rows of tomatoes, 3 of eggplant and 1 of hot peppers = 6 rows - the eggplant and the peppers double up). (see gallery: Tomatoes!)
As any good gardener will tell you, every beautiful garden starts out as a pile of poo, or in our case, horse manure.  Before construction even began on the greenhouse Jens tilled the entire site with the rototiller.  After construction he again tilled each row individually to redefine it and fluff up the soil.  We covered the rows with a fine layer of peat moss and with a thick layer of the aforementioned horse manure.  Finally Jens again tilled the rows to create soft, rich, pillowy beds ready to receive the plants.
About time too, the tomato plants especially have long ago out grown their nursery, each one easily topped 2 feet and some even have flowers, all growing in tiny 2 by 2 inch soil blocks!  Amazing!
I have planted many tomatoes but never on this scale and never using this method, which will apparently create exceptionally strong plants that will bear loads of fruit!  You learn something every day!
After digging a shallow furrow down the center of each new bed we sprinkled in a little organic fertilizer mix.   We removed the bottom few leaves and laid each plant down horizontally in the trench about a foot and a half from its neighbour.  Each plant’s stem was gently bent upwards just beneath the bottom remaining leaf.  A pinch of Epsom salts sprinkled on the roots of each tomato plant and the soil was brought back to cover them and the now horizontal part of the stem.
In other news, we have moved the cows from their winter quarters in the, by now well eaten, front pasture and barn to the fresh new grass of the back pasture (minus the lonely bull who remains in the front pasture).  To move them we simply walked behind the herd with a piece of (disconnected) electric fence.  They thought the fence was on and so, naturally, stayed away from it.  Another technique I’ve never seen but which works brilliantly!
One last word, about ducklings.  Jens and Ayse went to get a batch of Indian Runner Ducks and Kaki Campbels and we moved them into their new home in the barn.  So far they are doing great!  Since we got them just over a week ago they have nearly tripled in size and we are looking forward to putting them outside soon.  Once the nights are warm enough and they are a little bit bigger.

Internship At Marvelous Edibles Farm.

Today is my first full day as an intern at Marvellous Edibles Farm in Owen Sound, Ontario.  Marvellous Edibles keeps heritage breed pigs, beef cattle and chickens as well as an orchard, permaculture garden and market garden.
After arriving yesterday morning I spent the day helping in the kitchen preparing loads of yummy treats and meats to be sold today at market in Toronto.  Jens and Ayse are former owners/chefs of a restaurant in Toronto and augment their farm products with high quality preserves, specialty meats, pies, etc. prepared on farm in their own professional kitchen.
There is of course very little in the way of fresh produce to bring to market this time of year.  Although we did manage to find some fresh garlic, beets and salad greens in the greenhouse!