Saturday, July 31, 2010

Complete Organic Fertilizer (COF)

There are some gardening books on my gardening shelf that I refer to over and over.  This is the case with Steve Solomon's gardening when it counts.  Growing food in hard times is the topic, and Solomon is an expert at it.  He has been growing food for his household for decades, using different methods over many years (decades), and in very different conditions - from Oregon to Australia.  His suggested formula for a complete organic fertilizer (COF) is one of the gems I took from it and return for every season.  We like that we can find most of the components locally, and that they are affordable if bought in larger quantities. 
"Finding a proper supplier will take urban gardeners a bit of research.  Farm and ranch stores and feed and grain dealers are the proper sources becasue most of the materials going into COF are used to feed livestock.  If you should find COF ingredients at a typical garden shop, they will almost inevitably be offered in small quantities at prohibitively high prices per pound.  If I were an urban gardener, I would visit the country once every year or two and stock up." 
Formula for complete organic fertilizer

Mix fairly uniformly in parts by volume:

  • 3 parts any seedmeal except coprameal and 1 part "tankage" (sometimes called "blood-and-bone" or "meatmeal"). 

  • 1/4 part ordinary agricultural lime, best finely ground

  • 1/4 part gypsum (if you don't use gypsum, double the quantity of agricultural lime)

  • 1/2 part dolomite lime

  • 1 part of any one of these phosphorous sources:

    • finley ground rock phosphate (there are two equally useful kinds - "hard" or "soft")

    • 1/2 to 1 part kelpmeal
There are a couple of variations to this formula in the book.  This is the combination we use.  We also add Epsom Salts to our beds, though this may not be necessary in other parts of the country.  I have seen signs of magnesium defficiency in our soil, perhaps because it's very sandy.  The dolomitic lime should correct this, but it is a long-term solution.  Epsom salts work overnight.

We have been getting garden beds ready for Fall planting these last two weeks.  Here in Florida, we have a second chance to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, zucchini, corn...  if we get our seeds in the ground in early August.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Making Butter

I have been asked many questions about what we do with the milk we get from our cow. People are often surprised to know that we consume about a gallon of milk a day. The thing is, we don’t actually drink a gallon of milk a day. The bulk of our milk goes into making dairy products – milk, butter, buttermilk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, pudding…

Making butter takes about 10 minutes.

Probably the most important element in everything we do with our milk is sanitation. We use food grade peroxide diluted to 7% in a spray bottle - one part 35% peroxide (H2O2)/four parts filtered water. We buy the food grade peroxide (35%) at Guardian of Eden. It is potent stuff and will burn if not rinsed off right away with water. It sanitizes everything, killing bacteria on contact, and it is much better than bleach because it doesn’t let out toxic fumes. So, everything that comes in contact with milk is sprayed first with peroxide.

Each morning, Don milks the cow and puts the milk in a bucket in the refrigerator till the next day.
At that point, the cream has risen to the top and is ready to be skimmed off.

After four days, we have enough cream to make a pound of butter. Into the mixer it goes.

It will turn into whipped cream, then it will begin to separate from the buttermilk and turn yellow. This takes about five minutes.

We usually pour out the buttermilk and give it to the animals. It’s a great source of protein for them, and they love it.

The butter must be rinsed out with cool water until the water runs off clear. This washes the rest of the buttermilk out. It’s an important step, as it tends to spoil faster otherwise.

Sweet, raw butter served for breakfast.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mixing Chicken Feed

This weekend, we ground up and mixed our first batch of chicken feed.  It's a good feeling, knowing where our food comes from - even that which we feed to our animals, especially if we are going to eat the eggs and meat they produce.

Our newest tool - a hand-cranked mill (aka the upper-body workout machine).  Since we do a lot of baking using whole grains, it's nice to have a mill that we know we'll be able to use in the event of an extended power outage, as we are prone to suffer during hurricane season.  Still, we may buckle and buy the motor one of these days.

Here is our current mix, still subject to tweaking:

Chicken Feed Mix (Layer)

  • 3.5 parts field peas: 22% protein
  • 3 parts organic corn: provides energy and fat. Feed more in the winter, less in summer.  Often makes up a large percentage of processed chicken feed. Downside is that a large percentage of corn comes from genetically engineered sources. It often contains high levels of pesticides which build up in animal fat and are transferred to the consumer. 9% protein.
  • 1.5 parts barley, oats, wheat...: oats are 14% protein, barley 12 percent.  Oats are inexpensive and local, so it's tempting to use more, but I read somewhere this is not a good idea.
  • 1 part black oil sunflower seeds: high in fat, 15 % protein, minerals and B vitamins
  • 1 part fish meal: This is the big source of protein, ~60%.  We are looking for a local source to cut down on cost and avoid the stuff coming in from China.
  • .7 parts alfalfa meal: in winter or confined
  • .3 parts bonemeal
  • .1 part mineral salt
  • 1 part kelp meal: dried seaweed, great source of vitamins and minerals
In addition, we always sprinkle feed with diatomaceous earth, brewer's yeast (for B vitamins), and have oyster shells available.

We have been buying an organic feed from a Countryside Natural coop.  We still plan to continue buying organic corn and a few other ingredients for our mix from them.

Pookie - the chicken faerie, approves.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

New Look

So, I am an incurable choc-a-holic, and when I saw this chocolate-brown template option, I had to have it... So, voila - the new look.  I like the title without the header picture, for now...  I may add one later.

Monday, July 19, 2010

What's for dinner?

Whenever I find a Martha Stewart recipe that doesn't call for obscure and expensive ingredients, I give it a try. Two of my favorites are her Meatloaf 101, which I've got memorized and have been making for years, and her Thanksgiving turkey brine, published in the Martha Stewart magazine Thanksgiving issue, 2007. 
Today, I decided to try her mac-and-cheese and a dessert which will help with our surplus of calabaza squash - Swirled Pumpkin Brownies.

Martha Stewart's Creamy Mac-and-Cheese

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for casserole
6 slices white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4- to l/2-inch pieces (I used bread crumbs)
5 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons coarse salt, plus more for water
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (This gave it just the right amount of spice)
4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar cheese
2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyère or 1 1/4 cups (about 5 ounces) grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 pound elbow macaroni

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside. Place the bread in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour the melted butter into the bowl with the bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside.

2. Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt the remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.

3. While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick, 8 to 12 minutes.

4. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar cheese, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyère (or 1 cup Pecorino Romano); set the cheese sauce aside.

5. Cover a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil. Cook the macaroni until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir the macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.

6. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Sprinkle the remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup Gruyère (or 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano), and the breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes (though we needed a bit more time to get it brown, but your oven may vary). Transfer the dish to a wire rack for 5 minutes; serve.

Served with salad and green beans from our garden (the hydroponic green beans are still producing!).  It was very good, another keeper.


I have to say that I hesitated with the cayenne pepper.  It just didn't seem right to add hot & spicy to a brownie.  It isn't too noticeable, but I will skip it next time. 

Martha Steward's Swirled Pumpkin Brownies

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups solid-pack pumpkin (my calabaza squash was just right for this)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped walnuts


1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan or dish. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper; butter lining.

2.Melt chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth.

3.Whisk together flour, baking powder, cayenne, and salt in a large bowl; set aside. Put sugar, eggs, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat until fluffy and well combined, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in flour mixture.

4.Divide batter between two medium bowls (about 2 cups per bowl). Stir chocolate mixture into one bowl. In other bowl, stir in pumpkin, oil, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Transfer half of chocolate batter to prepared pan smoothing top with a rubber spatula. Top with half of pumpkin batter. Repeat to make one more chocolate layer and one more pumpkin layer. Work quickly so batters don't set.

5.With a small spatula or a table knife, gently swirl the two batters to create a marbled effect. Sprinkle with nuts.

6.Bake until set, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack. Cut into 16 squares.

Emily's words of praise: "It was scrumptious and delicious, mom."

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Two Survivors

If you have been reading my blog lately, you know I've been searching for Black Copper Marans chicks for a while.  A couple of weeks ago, I found some chicks - they said there were some BCMs in the mix, so I brought them home.  Yesterday, I connected with a couple down in Riverview who had some Bev Davis BCMs.  After the storm, I drove down with Michael to see what they had.  We brought home four chicks. Three are about five weeks old, then there was this one little one.  I think it's one week old. 

I put him in with the two week old Marans, the one Dominique(r), and the three silkies.  They accepted him without fuss or complaint, but the little chick spent a good long time fussing and crying.  This is a first for me.  I think it's because she came to us without siblings, so sad... 

She is the one on the right of the feeder, and she did eat; so I thought she was ok.
A little later, she managed to squeeze into the back of the sleeping-chick heap.  They all managed to sleep through her sad peeping.
For the life of me, I cannot get Blogger to upload this picture in the right direction...  So, at the risk of giving you a crick in your neck, here is a picture of the little peep.

I actually spent an hour trying to fix the reorienting of the picture problem and gave up on Friday.  What follows is today's update...

This morning, we found the little peep lying on the pine shavings, looking very unwell.  It has been terribly hot outside this last week, so I suspected that maybe she hadn't been drinking enough and was dehydrated?  I had nothing to lose, so I got a dropper and started giving her drops of water.  She had enough energy to drink and soon started perking up a little.
  We decided to set her up back in a brooder inside for a few days.  Knowing that chickens are not solitary animals, I thought to bring in a companion for her, so we brought in the smallest silkie.  We got them both settled with a heating lamp, water and food, and went off to church.  When we came back from church, I went straight over to check on the chicks, and I didn't see the silkie!  I saw evidence that it had jumped out of the box in the form of droppings, but no sign of silkie anywhere.  We all went around the house looking - fearing the worst since Molly was in the house while we were out.  I found her lying, looking like death, behind the door in the mudroom.  She was soaking wet but still breathing! 

Don held the silkie in his hand under the heating lamp, rubbing it to try to revive it.  He thought maybe she fell in the dog's water bowl, managed to jump out, but couldn't handle the soaking.  She was barely breathing, and I thought maybe bringing the other chick to keep her company might help.  It was really neat to hear  the Marans chick making barely audible peeping sounds, then pretty soon the silkie began to respond.  After about a half hour under the lamp, she finally opened her eyes and started moving a little.  Yeah! 
They both ate some about an hour later.  I think these two survivors will stick together after their near death experiences of today.  We'll be keeping an eye on them the next few days...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Essential Oils - Bee Stings

Michael had a rough encounter with some bees this afternoon while mowing the lawn.  I quickly gathered my bee sting remedies - ice pack, sting- ease, aspirin... then thought of looking up which essential oils would help with allergic reactino and the swelling that follows. Here is the recommended formula:

2 drops lavender
1 drop peppermint
1 drop german chamomille
1 drop wintergreen

I put one drop of this mix on the area of the stings every 15 minutes for an hour. The severity of his swelling was relatively minor, so I think the essential oils really helped.  For a source of essential oils check here.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Monsoon Over Our Heads

That dark red area on the right side of Tampa just went over our heads.  The house is an island now.  I'm glad we are elevated a couple of feet.

The red, that's us.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Essential Oils - A Must for Summer

About five years ago, after bringing Emily home from China, I had to find a gentle solution to her severe allergic reactions to insect bites.  I discovered that I could make a mild and effective insect repellent using a blend of essential oils.  This blend has become part of our summer routine because it works!  Spending time outside in the summer evenings watching the kids play and keeping an eye on chickens has become part of our after-dinner routine.  My insect repellent is a must to an enjoyable and relaxing time in our rainy, bug friendly, Florida summers. 

I have tried using essential oils from a few different companies and found that Ananda Apothecary is a good source of therapeutic (pure) essential oils.  My recipe is a blend mixed with organic almond oil.

Insect Repellent
16 tsp. organic almond oil
2 tsp. each of thyme, lavender, peppermint, eucalyptus essential oils
4 tsp. each of lemongrass and tea tree essential oils

Pour ingredients in a dark 4 oz. bottle and store at room temperature, away from direct light.

Here is a conversion calculator to change quantities/measurements.  Just make sure you keep the same proportions.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Weekend Fun

We went to an exotic bird sale this weekend. We all enjoyed walking through and looking at all the animals.  There were more bird varieties there than at any zoo I've ever been to, and the kids got to pet many of them; plus several other types of animals not of the avian variety.
Like these Sugar Gliders this man allowed to climb on Michael. 
And it did bite me when I tried to give it back to him.
No petting this one.  It was actually a cub.  They had it resting under a pickup truck tied with a leash, right next to a lab who seemed very used to having a tiger as a playmate.  It's mother was caged on the truck above, and it was huge.

This guy had some of the cutest birds, I thought.  I'd never seen salmon colored parakeets.
This is a closeup of the finches he had.  He said they came form Australia.  I loved them.  There were really many exotic birds at the show, some looked just recently hatched.  I kept wondering how legal what they were selling was.
And there were chickens!  This picture's colors are muted, but these chickens were actually very pretty.  The one on the right was a Rhode Island Red rooster, and the one on the left caught my eye because the coloring on it was like a Golden Cuckoo Marans. It actually was a hybrid Rhode Island Red mixed with Dominique(r).  The hen that resulted from that same mix was almost black with a tinge of red/copper, not that interesting.  That seems to be the way it goes with bird feather coloring.
Emily was fascinated by this parrot - a creamy pink type.
And nearby was this ornery gray bird whose owner doesn't even dare open its cage for fear of being bit.  Gabi thought he was picture worthy.  I thought they both were.

Near the end of our visit, over 180 booths, I turned around to find the family stopped by what I thought was this lady's ceramics.  Well, not so, they were looking at a cage on the ground with some cute and silly looking Cochins, Silkies, and hybrids of both types.  In the barrel next to the table were chicks... and they all agreed they loved them, so...
We came home with these head-tuffted cuties, and I am innocent of not resisting the chickens and chicks, this time.
They joined our Marans flock, since they are just about the same size. Here they were this morning, caught roosting on the feed tray.  That has been corrected. I relocated it to a warmer, less comfortable spot in the brooder box.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Sexing Baby Chicks - video

Since deciding to look for chicks localy, I've been wondering how to tell the cockrels from the pullets.  I really like the coloring and antics of roosters, but I know from experience that too many roosters can be detrimental to my flock.  I've been reading about this, but the descriptions weren't making much sense to me.  Being the visual learner that I am, I finally thought of looking up a video, problem solved.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Canning Figs and Wild Plums

My pickled figs were very well received, so I decided to can the rest. One of these is going to a guest who had seconds and thirds at dinner this week.

Pickled Figs
adapted from

3 quarts of figs-firm not too ripe-leave stem on
2 quarts boiling water-pour over figs (let stand 5 minutes); drain

Make syrup:
1 cup water
1 cup vinegar
3 cups sugar (recipe called for twice this amount...)
1 tablespoon whole cloves
1 stick cinnamon

Put cloves and cinnamon in cheesecloth and tie. Drain figs and pour syrup mixture over figs. Bring to a boil. Let simmer for 10 minutes. Leave figs in syrup in pot. Set aside.
Put figs and syrup into sterilized pint jars.
Put into water bath for 15 minutes.

Chicksaw plum jelly from the fruit in the post about Wild Edibles this week.  The recipe was easy - cover one quart of plums with water and boil for 15 minutes. Mash with potato masher.  Strain liquid and discard seeds. Add 2 cups sugar to hot plum juice, then pectin following package instructions.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Chicken Watch

This evening, after dinner, we went outside to sit by the coop and watch over the chickens while they grazed for a couple of hours.
A white one stares at me, it seems to be trying to say something...
Then she takes off in a big rush...
The hens are still working on growing their adult feathers.  This is a Silver Laced Wyandotte.  I think she's going to be very pretty.
Here she is again, posing for the camera... She's a shy one.  It may be a trait of this variety.  Another one of the same kind is still living in the tractor with three others.  It was being picked on (pecked) about a month ago.  It took all this time for the new feathers to grow back in.  We have two Speckled Sussex in the chicken tractor.  They also seem to be less agressive and smaller than the rest.  Thankfully, we removed them quickly when we first noticed the pecking behavior.  So far, it looks like the rest of the flock isn't suffering from severe pecking.

One of the Speckled Sussex, still working on her feathers.  She was busy eating ants from that pile she was standing on.
Here she is again with one of the Columbian Wyandottes.
A pair of them posing for the camera...
Grazing away...  Emily calls these, "Grayvers"...  I have no idea why.  I don't name all our chickens, but some have been named through the years.  One of the older chickens is called Ginger.  She is a hybrid Rode Island Red/Buf Orpington.  I like her dual feather coloring.  She'll remain in the coop as a grandma hen... 
And putting their heads together with a White Orpington...

We have to be outside with the chickens while they graze because of the predator problem.  Eventually, we plan to instal an electric fence in the cow pasture.  We do enjoy our time outside with the chickens, generally after dinner in the evenings.  The older kids go out and read while they watch/listen during the day, especially in the summer. 

This evening, we got distracted from our watch for a few minutes because the neighbor's horses came up to the fence.  Don went inside and got some carrots for a treat, and the girls got to pet them.  While we were there, we heard one of the chickens make this loud holler of alarm.  Sure enough, a hawk had swooped down, and she was calling out an alert.  We've seen and heard them do this several times before. 
When we walked back to the coop area, they were all huddled together in a tight group between the coop and the shed wall, clever girls... except for the one.

It was dusk already and time to go back in.  They seemed  to agree and readily filed back into the coop.

Wild Edibles - In Our Yard

Plums on a Chickasaw Plum ( Prunus angustifolia)
Berries on an elderberry bush (Sambucus simpsonil)
Both of these are favorites with the honeybees.  The loud buzzing of thousands of bees can be heard as we walk past them.  It's a reassuring sound.
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