Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Easy-Peasy Turkey Bone Broth

When we butchered our two tom turkeys last month, I couldn't wait until Thanksgiving so I cooked one up that same week.

A Bourbon Red heritage turkey

I brined the bird with this recipe and then used these instructions to cook it. It was heavenly. All of the work that went into raising and butchering those birds was so worth it! We butchered or sold all of our (admittedly pesky and sometimes violent) turkeys, but I think they will reappear on our homestead at some point in the future. The turkey tasted that good.

As a sign of respect for the turkey and the sustenance it gave us, I was determined that nothing would go to waste. We ate roast turkey, turkey tetrazzini, the best turkey soup ever, and even grilled turkey and cheese sandwiches. After five days of nothing but turkey, we were pretty much over it, but I knew the turkey still had more to give.

I made a broth from the picked over bones of the bird. It's easy! You should definitely try this with your Thanksgiving fowl if you've never done it before.

I put all the bones from the turkey into a 6 qt. crock pot. I added a couple of splashes of apple cider vinegar, some black peppercorns, and some bits of carrots, onion, and celery that I had hanging around in the produce bin. The vinegar is to help leech out all the wonderful minerals that are in the bones, which is one of the things that makes bone broth so incredibly nutritious. I covered the bones about 3/4 of the way with water and set the crock pot on low.

It cooked for 48 hours straight and my house smelled like luscious roast turkey the entire time. Of course we were pretty sick of turkey at that point so it wasn't a particularly enticing odor. I added a bit more water a couple of times, but otherwise the broth attended to itself.

After 48 hours, the bones were partially dissolved and my broth was a rich brown color. I strained the broth and measured it into pint freezer containers.  

And that was it! I now have some high-quality turkey broth that will add richness to any dish I add it to. I also have the satisfaction that we honored the turkey by truly using every last bit of it.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Fall Orchard Update

We are entering our second year of planting and maintaining our survival orchard. (Here's my original post on the subject. I've made a few additions and changes to our plan since I first posted it.)

Apple trees, comfrey, and newly planted almond. Blueberries on the back right. 

The comfrey we planted thrived. Hopefully I can divide them sometime next year and get more plants to spread the happiness throughout the orchard.

Speaking of spreading something, I have been dumping duck poo and litter in the areas in between the trees. Duck poo is wonderful stuff for plants and will help improve the soil, which is something our hard-packed clay desperately needs. I am careful not to get it too close to the trees lest it "burn" the them, but that seems to be less of an issue with duck manure than chicken manure.

All the trees and bushes we planted over the past year survived despite the drought that continues unabated. If we do not get a lot of rain and snow this winter, the powers-that-be are going to add more water restrictions which are going to make it hard to keep things alive.

"Bluecrop" blueberry

Our blueberries will technically be old enough next year to give us a crop. They still seem pretty small to me, so I'll be interested in seeing what actually happens. Look how pretty blueberries get in the fall! Blueberries don't only produce delicious fruit; they also are beautiful landscaping plants. All you suburbanites with hoity-toity neighbors should take note! ;)

A sloooooow growing pecan tree

Last weekend we did two important fall orchard tasks. First, we put tree guards around the trunks of our trees. The tree guards will help keep voles, mice,and rabbits from eating the bark off the trees. Since the guards are white, they will also help reflect light on sunny winter days and prevent southwest injury. We will take the tree guards down in the spring because, according to The Holistic Orchard, they hold too much moisture against the trunk and provide cover for borers.

The fun (albeit exhausting) task was to plant our new trees: two pears and an almond.

Our new All-in-One Almond tree

I think nut trees are an essential part of any survival orchard. Last year we planted pecans, this year we planted an almond, and we will be adding walnuts in the future. You might be surprised to learn that folks as far north as Zone 5 can grow almonds. There are two varieties that will grow here, Hall's Hardy Almond and the All-in-One Almond. It seems that more people like the taste and texture of the All-in-One Almond and so that is the variety we went with. Either variety will make lovely ornamental trees in addition to producing lots of nuts.

One of our new pear trees. 

We planted two varieties of pears, Maxine (also known as Starking Delicious) and Seckel. These two varieties will cross-pollinate each other and have different strengths. Maxine is your typical Bartlett-type pear. It is great for eating fresh or canning and supposedly will last in cold storage for a while. Seckel pears are a smaller pear that are great for fresh eating but also dry well. We planting standard-sized pear trees so they will grow between 18-20 feet tall and 12-13 feet wide.

A drawing of the orchard layout, mostly to scale
The dots with circles around them are current plantings; plain dots are future plantings

We're making slow but steady progress. I look forward to the day when all this hard work will pay off!

Monday, November 5, 2012

How to Grow Garlic

Garlic is a staple at our house. Luckily for us, garlic is one of the most simple and rewarding garden plants we've ever grown. If you like garlic and have a few square feet of garden space, you should give it a shot.

Here's the most important bit of information you need to know: it must be planted in the fall. We wait until after the first freeze of the fall and then get it in the ground.

Last year we bought 1 lb of organically grown 'Music' seed garlic from Peaceful Valley. That worked out well for us and I'd definitely recommend finding organic seed garlic if you can. Many of the nurseries are sold out by now, however, but don't worry. You can even plant garlic straight from the supermarket, though there are no guarantees as to how it was produced or what variety it is. Read here to see how Kendra at New Life on a Homestead grew supermarket garlic.   

The seed garlic we saved from this year's crop

When we harvested the 2012 garlic crop, we selected our biggest, best-looking heads to save as seed for the 2013 crop. We stored them loosely in a mesh bag and hung it in our cool, dry basement storage room until planting time.

A square foot bed ready for planting

We prepared the garden box by stirring in a bit more compost.

Separated cloves

Then we separated the cloves from each head of garlic, discarding any that might have gone bad. 

Four cloves per square foot

We garden primarily by the square foot method. (Read more about that here.) You can plant four cloves of garlic per square foot. Plant each clove 2 inches deep with the pointy part facing up. Cover with soil.

Mulch with straw

The last step is to put the garlic down for a long winter's rest. Cover the bed with a nice layer of straw. Though you won't be able to see it, the garlic will be busy during the fall and winter months. It will put out roots and when spring comes, it will pop through the mulch.

Mid-March 2012

We had such a mild winter last year that the garlic was well out of the ground by mid-March.

You can see the garlic standing tall in the back. 'Music' grows to about 3' tall

By mid-May, the garlic was truly gigantic. All we did was keep it watered and fertilize occasionally with foliar applications of kelp. Pests ignored it completely. 


We harvested the garlic in early June and hung it up to dry it for several weeks. That's it!

See? Growing garlic is easy! If you've never grown garlic before, why don't you give it a try this fall? 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Lessons from WWII Britain: Hayboxes

I absolutely adore the historical reality shows filmed by the BBC. There's nothing tawdry about these reality shows; two archaeologists and an historian show what it was really like to live during several important eras in British history. "Tales from the Green Valley", "Victorian Farm", and "Edwardian Farm" are among my favorite television shows ever. It was in "Wartime Farm", however, that I recently spotted something that could be extremely useful for all of us: the haybox.

A haybox is simply an insulated container that allows you to continue cooking your food while conserving precious fuel.  Ruth Goodman explains it better than I do, so watch the following video. The haybox is introduced near 27:00 and the end result is shown at about 36:00.

(These videos keep appearing and disappearing off YouTube. If the video isn't functioning, search for Wartime Farm, episode 2.)

Simple but effective, right? If you don't have a lot of hay hanging around your house, you might prefer to make the city-slicker cousin to the haybox, a "wonder box oven".

The gals at Food Storage Made Easy also put together a pdf that shows how to make your own Wonder Box.

Have any of you tried using a haybox and/or wonder box oven? What did you think of the technique?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Misadventures in Sprouting Wheat Grass

When I decided to embrace my inner hippy and get into sprouting, my main motivation was to give my poultry fresh greens all year round. The fact that sprouting seeds are a fabulous addition to our food storage was secondary. Pretty much everything is secondary to my chickens and ducks these days!  Sorry family. ;) 

Once I proved that the Victorio 4-Tray Seed Sprouter made sprouting ridiculously easy, I wanted to try and grow massive quantities of greens for my birds the lazy way. Here's a bit of a recap and the end result of that experiment.

Soaking the wheat 

The first step is to soak the wheat for about eight hours. I used a cup of the same hard white wheat that I regularly bake with. 

Day 1 

I spread the wheat seed evenly among the four trays of the sprouter and watered it three times a day.  

Day 2 

It was about day two when I started to notice a rather distinct odor wafting through my house. Since I have four children, weird odors are par for the course, but this was something different. It was sour, almost cheesy. My wheat was beginning to ferment! I tried to rinse and drain the trays thoroughly and more often, but it didn't seem to help much.

Day 3

On day three it became obvious that the wheat wasn't going to grow into the neat little green carpet of my dreams. The alfalfa and vegetable seeds I had sprouted formed a neat little mat of roots that held everything in place by day three. In contrast, the wheat dislodged itself with every watering and smelled a bit like sweaty gym socks. I proceeded on.   

Day 4 - More of the same

Day 5

Five days was as long as I could stand the stinky goat cheese smell in my kitchen. The sprouts were between 1-2 inches long. I rinsed them really well and gave them to the birds. They gulped them down with gusto. 

Obviously, this method will sprout wheat, but is unsuitable for producing a true wheat grass that you can get several cuttings from. I guess the experts were right, the know-it-alls!  

I'm going to buy a few cheap pieces of hardware and then give it another shot and report back. If you can't stand the suspense, watch this video from Sprout People to see how wheat grass is really supposed to be grown.