Monday, May 2, 2011

Work is over-rated, eat weeds!!

     So here it is, for the longest time I've been looking for a comprehensive course dealing with wild foraging on the first coast.  And sure enough, just when I'd about given up, I discovered Green Deane's website, I cant believe I didn't find this sooner.
     Here on the urban homestead we've always attempted to be as self sufficient as possible, producing as much eggs, milk, and vegetables as we can.  Ultimately though, no one can meet all their nutritional needs on a fraction of an acre.  Thats where wild foraging comes in.  All around us, in overgrown lawns and empty lots, are thousands of edible, highly nutritious plants, all ripe for the taking.  In light of rising food prices, I can't imagine a more urgent skill set to acquire.  Our post-peak world is about to get a whole lot smaller, and if we hope to adapt, we need an intimate knowledge of our local ecosystem.  On my own tiny lot are three giant oak trees, making copious amounts of acorns, which were a staple part of native americans' diet.  Within a few blocks of my house i've noticed plenty of wild edibles (especially mulberries, and pecans, which are abundant here), but after looking through Deane's archive I realize i've barely scratched the surface.  It never occurred to me that camphor, which also grows in my front yard, is also edible (at least the young tender leaves are, older leaves can be used as a spice).  Be sure to read his entry on Moringa, one of the most astounding plants I know of.  I've planted them throughout my backyard as hedges, and am convinced it is one of the most important subsistence crops there is.
     I highly recommend everyone sign up for Deane's next class, on Sunday May 8th at FSCJ South Campus.  Class sizes are limited, so call ahead and reserve a spot.  I'll see you there!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Duckweed and Tilapia


Tilapia Tank

 Now that the weathers warming up, I thought i'd mention my next project, raising tilapia.  It actually started about three months ago when I bought about 20 fry (baby tilapia) from a hobbiest is St.Augustine.  Since they need temperatures above 60 degrees, I had to keep them inside, in our utility room actually, in a in a food grade 55 gallon barrel.  Right there next to the washing machine and my beer brewing equipment, good fun.
  Tilapia are ideally suited to backyard aquaculture because they are extremely hardy.  Given a warm climate they will thrive in conditions that would kill most other fish species.  They are prolific breeders, and perhaps most importantly, can eat just about anything; be it algae, plants, insects etc...  This is particularly important from a sustainability perspective since you don't have to feed them commercial blends packed with fish meal (ground up fish, which depletes our oceans),or grains grown using fossil fuels and shipped long distances.  In fact, simply dropping a burlap bag filled with some chicken manure in their tank will help 'seed' the water, causing an algae bloom, which the fish then eat.  Nothing goes to waste, another closed loop!
  What I found particularly interesting is their affinity for duckweed.  If you've ever seen a pond covered in what appears to be green slime, it is probably duckweed.  A prolific weed, it is considered one of the fastest growing plants on earth.  If that weren't enough, it is also highly nutritious, with a surprising amount of protein, even more than soy, which is similar in quality to animal sources.  And in a world beset by rising oil prices, it can also be used as a fertilizer.  You can even feed some to your chickens, with some sources I found saying it can make up nearly 25% of their diet.  Duckweed is even a great source of food for humans, though despite some enticing recipes, i've yet to work up the courage.  But to return to our subject, tilapia can survive when fed exclusively on duckweed.
  So here's what i've done.  I bought a $15 kiddie pool, filled it with water and a few scoops of chicken manure.  Then I just needed to find some duckweed.  While there are online sources, I thought  i'd avoid paying for it and find a wild source that is already adapted to our area.  I first remembered that there were tons of duckweed at the jacksonville zoo, used to feed some of the animals.  Sure enough, I found some clumps of it in a ditch beside the road just outside the zoo, having probably escaped by sticking to the legs of a bird.   Took that home, dumped in the kiddie pool, and waited.  For the first first two days nothing much really happened, probably the shock of a new environment.  Then, voila, it was off like gangbusters.  True to what i'd read online, it began to literally double in mass every 24 to 36 hours.  Id simply go outside with a little aquarium net, scoop off half the surface, and by the next day it was full again.
  By this point i'd moved the fish outside under our pear tree, to a 400 gallon plastic tank.  Now normally this would be prohibitively expensive, and defeat the whole purpose of saving money on food.  But with a tip from a friend, I was able to find a local container business that offered damaged tanks at a deeply discounted price. Mine had about a 3 inch hole in the bottom, easily patched using silicone glue and a bike tire repair kit.  The fish, many of which are now nearly 6 inches long, seem to be thriving.  Every now and then, if the water appears hazy, I drain some of it into our vegetable garden.  Free organic fish poo fertilizer!
  In another 5 to six months they should be big enough to eat.  I already have a ton of recipes in mind, i'm especially keen on trying some filets sauteed in homegrown basil and meyer lemons.  And though my only olive tree (i plan on buying more) is still far too small, in the future perhaps we'll have olive-encrusted tilapia.  And finally, i'm hoping to experiment with salt-curing them.  From what i've read, this is an excellent way to prolong their storage, so that we will have fish to eat throughout the winter months.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Babies, babies, babies

 Babies hugging babies!  I think the best part of growing and producing our own food is knowing when our son gets older he will know the price of food and where it comes from.  He will understand that an animal needs to be treated with respect in order to receive its gifts.  By feeding them a natural goat and chicken diet we know exactly what is going into the animals bodies and what, or mainly what isn't, going into his.  The craziest part of this is that feeding them what they were made to eat is easier and cheaper than the alternative.  Cheaper is always a bonus.  Not to mention a chicken fed fresh greens has an egg yolk that is bright orange and the whites are firm, not runny like store bought.

Now the only down side is having a sexist chicken.  For whatever reason, they view me as underling and Brandon as alpha-chicken.  I still don't know why I'm on the bottom of the pecking order and my husband is on top.  Do I lack resolve, can they smell fear?! They don't listen to me!  In all seriousness though, it's amazing how much personality can fit into 3 pounds of white meat.  You never know what you're going to get.

Chevre and Honey: What it's All About

Yesterday I had my first chevre with local Springfield honey dripping over the edges - wow it was good!  What an excellent way to kick off the day.

Really, cheese is the reason we got the goats.  Don't get me wrong - we absolutely love the goats (way more than the dogs shhhh), but using the milk to make food is a great bonus!

So far we have made ice cream, mozzarella, ricotta, and chevre.  Each thing we have made has been delicious!  And there are no preservatives or "extras" added in - its simply pure yummy-ness.

Goat's milk from the store doesn't taste anything like fresh.  Fresh goat's milk tastes much like cow's milk.  The butter fat content is higher - so it is better for cheeses and such.  Plus, unpasteurized milk retains many of the nutrients that the pasteurizing burns off.  And since we aren't transporting or storing our milk for great amounts of time pasteurization is unnecessary.

Another great thing about goat's milk is that it freezes well.  So if you are milking every morning but only have time for cheese making on the weekends or once/month, you can just freeze it until you want to use it.

The goats have been eating lots of fresh greens now that the weather has warmed.  As I am clearing out my garden, I have been giving them the broccoli and cabbages left from cooler weather and my neighbors have been bringing them their yard clearings (approved by me of course).  The goats turn all of this into good healthy nutritious milk that we turn into food for us - it is a closed loop.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Bringin' it All Back Home

Naturally, your first question is, 'why?' I could give you a whole host of answers of course, none which would be entirely correct.  Peak oil, peak soil, global warming, that good 'ol american DIY spirit; take your pick.  All important, but to be honest, we're cheap.  Having just bought our first house, baby on the way, money was tight and, well, have you seen the price of organic eggs? Seriously...  So as so often happens, chickens came calling, that gateway drug of all things self sufficient; and head's full of Michael Pollan and Novella Carpenter, we took the plunge.  And I tell you folks, theres no going back.