Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Building Garden beds

I have spent the last several days laying out garden beds and then building them, while trying to stay dry. As you see in the picture below the weather has not been dry.

On the left I have 3 beds that are 4' wide and 24' long separated by 2' walk ways.  On the right is a raised bed, a 9'x16' bed and a 10'x15' bed.

Each bed has 1 cubic yard of horse manure with bedding, and 1 cubic yard of compost.  They are separated by 1 cubic yard of wood chips from the city dump.  I still need to get at least one more load of wood chips for the garden and 2-3 more so I have enough for the landscaping around the back yard too.

The shrub that you see in the picture below is a blueberry bush, there is another one just out of the picture above.  They should get 5'-7' tall.

If you look between the patio and the house, you'll see a bed that I planted with Irises and 5 variety's of potato.  On the opposite side of the patio I planted a Peony and several Ranunculus, Kristina's 2 favorite flowers.

I also added Irises just to the left of the picture below, and buttercups.  

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Contrary Farmer's Invitation to Gardening - Book Review

The Contrary Farmer's Invitation to Gardening by Gene Logsdon, my new favorite author.  Reading what is written by Gene makes me feel like I'm listening to a grandfatherly character talk about his days on the farm. He is a remarkably good storyteller and can make even books about farming and gardening seem like  a fun quick read.  I have not read any of his novels yet, but I intend to as soon as I can get my hands on one.  Our local library only has two of his books, I think he has written thirty or more, so I'll buy them as I can.  You can also read his blog post at http://thecontraryfarmer.com/ or Organictobe.org where his post from the first site are posted in conjunction with several other like minded authors.

The Contrary Farmer's Invitation to Gardening is about gardening, but not in the same way that most books on gardening approach the subject.  He discusses why we need to garden as a nation, not only to provide food for ourselves, but to break our dependance on industrial agriculture (which will eventually fail).  Then he discusses his version of deep mulch gardening that I have previously posted about. He has animals so his approach is slightly different. He takes one of his pasture paddocks which has had years of manure added and mulches it in the fall, then plants it in the spring with successive plantings till winter.  then the next summer he plants corn, his own open pollinated sweet corn, for people food and animal fodder (the whole plant ears, leaves, stalks, and all).  Then he plants winter wheat which starts growing in the fall and comes back in the spring to make grain.  In the spring he seeds clover in with the wheat.  Then when the wheat ripens in early summer he cuts it, and the clover.  This provides animal food and wheat for the kitchen or the chickens.  After the cutting the clover grows back for either grazing or making clover hay.  He has both permanent pastures, the hilly uneven ground, and temporary pastures, the flat ground.  The temporary pastures are for grazing, hay making, and gardening.  The wheat leads into Flour gardens and Pancake patches.  His discussion on how to grow all of your own grain.  He has another book that goes into more detail, but I haven't read it yet.  The grain discussion leads to husbandry, chickens at a minimum.  With animals he also discusses how to grow your own worm farm, either for money, fishing, or just to turn kitchen scraps into compost fast.

Now that you have a garden you need to protect it from wild critters that want to eat it as much as you do.  This does not mean bugs, on a diversified deep mulch garden this isn't a problem, it means wildlife. Did you know that in 1950 that farmers in the USA lost 7% of their crop to insects while only using 5 million pounds of pesticides.  Now we use billions of pounds of pesticides and lose an average of 13% of our crops to insects.  Then the conversation turns to water gardening, growing aquatic plants and fish to eat.  And finally a great essay by him to close the book.

Whether you want to garden, farm, or just enjoy a great read this is the book for you.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rotisserie Chicken

Take a whole bird and apply a rub to the skin and in the cavity.  I used salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and poultry seasoning.  Place on a rotisserie grill at 325 for an hour and a half to an hour and forty five minutes.  If you do not have a rotisserie then use a beer can chicken stand or even a rack placed in a pan in the oven.  Cook till the temperature reaches 170, then take out and tent with foil for about 15-30 minutes.  This is called resting and will let the juices reabsorb into the meat.  The temperature will also continue to rise during this time to about 180, the recommended temperature for chicken.  If you cook it to 180 it will be dry.

Leftovers can be used in enchiladas, fajitas, chicken salad, chicken sandwiched, chicken and dumplings, etc.

Save the bones and make chicken stock from them.  Place them in a large pot over medium heat with 1 gallon of water, 2 celery stalks, 1 or 2 carrots, 2 bay leaves, and 1 potato sliced in half.  Don't add any salt till you use the stock in a dish, otherwise it is easy to over salt a dish. Cook over medium heat till the liquid is reduced by half.  Then strain out the solids and store in the refrigerator.  It will keep for 5 days, if you have not used it by then just re heat it to boiling and let simmer for 5-10 minutes, then re chill.

I like to eat the cooked vegetables from the stock.  Every recipe I have ever seen said to throw them out, but I add a little salt and butter and enjoy.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Nature Does Not Need Compost Piles

This spring I have read Lasagna Gardening and Gardening Without Work, both of these books discuss deep mulch gardening.  Gardening without work focuses on the mulch part while Lasagna gardening focuses on building beds.  The Lasagna method will get your soil in condition quicker, but both will enrich your soil in the long term.

Nature does not need a compost pile, leaves just fall off of trees and rot where they lay.  Grass grows tall and goes to seed then is blown down by wind, rain, snow, and animals where it breaks down into the soil.  So why do we spend lots of time building, maintaining, and spreading compost?  It has gotten to be big business, with expensive composters and books telling you how to make compost. By following either of these methods you can get rid of the compost pile once your bed is built.  And with Gardening Without Work you don't need it to begin with.  You just need to hold some mulch in reserve.

Ruth Stout, the author of gardening without work, recommends 25 fifty pound hay bales for a 50'x50' garden.  For her method you apply this hay 8" deep in the fall wherever you want to plant in the spring.  This 8" will quickly become 2-3".  Then rake back the mulch in spring to expose the dirt, ONLY where you want to plant, and plant.  As your plants grow up add more mulch as needed to kill weeds.  If it is spring or summer and you already have your garden going you can still start adding compost immediately, no need to wait till fall. The only fertilizer she used after the first 5 years, in which she used manure, was soybean meal spread on top of the mulch in winter.  As the rain and snow came it would wash it through the mulch to the soil where it would only become available as nitrogen in the spring when the ground warmed.  This is not possible with conventional fertilizer which will leach out of the soil by spring.  In winter your reserve bales of hay can be placed over your parsnips, turnips, carrots and other root vegetables that can be wintered in the ground.  Just flip the bale over and pull up what you need, then replace the bale.  She suggest several mulch options, but focuses on leaves and hay/straw because they are most available.

The Lasagna method builds more of a horizontal compost bed in the fall and then plants directly in the compost instead of the ground in the spring.  Then as plants come up you mulch around them to prevent weeds, hold in moisture, and encourage earthworm activity.  Again, if you have already planted, you can start adding organic matter regardless of the time of year.  She starts a bed with either newspaper or cardboard directly on top of an untilled sod (grass).  Then a layer of manure, chopped leaves, peat moss, compost, straw, grass clippings, wood ash, etc. in alternating layers.  She recommends to build the bed up 18-24" deep, NOT a raised bed. This will shrink to 4-6" by spring.   Once a bed is established the continued use of mulch will feed the bed almost everything it needs.  This method does recommend blood meal, bone meal, kelp, etc as fertilizer and other supplements to bring back trace minerals.

This can be replaced if you can find a farmer who pastures his cows and only feeds hay during the winter.  Just get some manure and add it to your bed yearly for 5-10 years and it will replace the lost fertility and trace minerals.  The continued mulchings and and adding organic matter from plants back onto the bed will keep trace minerals high enough to no longer be a problem.

Both methods recommend narrow planting beds instead of rows.  This is because the soil will become so rich that you can increase the density of your plantings.  If you do this over too large of an area then you will not be able to harvest it all.  For this reason keep beds 3-5' wide so that you can reach everything from one side or the other.  The space in between beds can be filled with wood chips to prevent grass and weeds from starting there and spreading into the garden.

A neat tip for those who mulch and have a risk of a late frost, just spread hay extra deep around frost tender plants and they should survive just fine.  After the risk has passed pull back the extra mulch and save it for when weeds try to come thru.

One time when a compost pile is still useful with a deep mulch system is to warm a hot frame.  A hot frame is a small seedbed/greenhouse that is kept warm.  This can be by electricity, hot water, manure, or compost.  With this application you get multiple benefits.  The compost pile produces Heat, Transplants, Mulch and fertilizer.  The fertilizer is added by bacteria in the pile fixing nitrogen from the air which adds up to 25% more nitrogen than is available in the organic matter to begin with.

Some may say that that deep mulch will rob nitrogen from the plants to break down the organic matter.  This is only true for a few days to a few weeks in rich soil.  If your soil is just being converted to this method you will need to add some manure to supply nitrogen for the plants and the bacteria.  Once you have done this for a few years the deep mulch will have little to no effect on the available nitrogen in the soil.

Some say that the manure will burn the plants, this is true if you apply them to plants while it is wet.  If you place it into the middle of rows till it is dry and then add it to your plants this will not be a problem.  If you have persistent weeds then bury them under wet manure and let it burn them.  

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hot Links and Country Flavors - Book Review

Hot Links and Country Flavors by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly

Hot Links and Country Flavors - Sausages in American Regional Cooking - I have had this book since fall of 2009, I either bought it at a library book sale or got it from one of their free book bins, but did not read it till this spring.  I wish I had of read it sooner.  It covers sausage making in general and then breaks American sausages down into the region that they come from.  It has 67 recipes for making sausage and enough tips to modify recipes that you could make an infinite number, or so it seems.  Then they give you recipes of how to use those sausages in cooked dishes, including an excellent gumbo recipe.

You do not need to be an expert cook or sausage maker to make most of these recipes.  Some specialized are helpful, but not absolutely required.  If you love sausages, but never considered making it, or always wanted to try making it, but find that most books overcomplicate making it read this book and you will be making excellent sausages within the first 100 pages.  It has recipes for making sausages out of; pork, beef, chicken, turkey, duck, goose, fish, seafood, bear, moose, elk, deer, rabbits, and other wild game.  If you want to be sure of what is in your food, there is no easier way than making it your self.

This book can often be found on Amazon for less than $1 and sometimes for $0.01.  It is worth much more than it's original retail price of $19.95.  

Friday, March 18, 2011


It occurs to me that not everyone knows how to cook well or at all.  My mom made it a point to teach all of  her children, 5 boys, how to cook.  In her words, "You may not be lucky enough to find a woman who can cook as well as I can".  I did find a woman who can cook, but I enjoy cooking more so I cook and she bakes.

If you don't know how to cook, but want to learn, there are many options.  There are cookbooks and websites dedicated to learning to cook.  You can go to many high end kitchen/appliance stores and take classes.  You can ask an aunt, uncle, friend, elderly lady (neighbor, from church, work, etc) who you know cooks well and often if you can buy the ingredients for a dinner and have them teach you how to cook the dish.  Some community colleges offer basic cooking classes.  If you are in high school see if your school offers home economics, or a similar class.  And finally experiment at home.  Don't get disappointed if you have a few failures along the way, I did and sometimes still do.

When looking for a person to teach you to cook, look for someone who makes most of their dishes from scratch/whole/fresh ingredients.  This will make you a better cook and often save you money on ingredients.  Also just because someone is a good cook does not mean they will be a good teacher.  You need someone who will let you/ make you participate and who tells you why they do each step the way they do.  You may want to learn baking from one person/school and grilling from another and everyday cooking from yet another.  Baking is often more of a science, while cooking can be an art, science, or both.  The way I cook is more of an art.  I make most meals without ever referring to a recipe.  Though I do use recipes when I make a dish the first few times, or if it is a dish I rarely make.  I try, mostly, to make dishes at least once without modifying it to my taste.

Remember that Recipes are a starting place and after you master a recipe you might want or need to experiment with it to make it your own.  When shopping for cook books look for ones that give you a master recipe and then ways to modify it based on available ingredients.

If anyone wants me to teach you how to cook I will, but I don't think I am a great teacher.  I tend to want to do the work instead of letting the student do it.  That and I rarely have a recipe to leave behind, because each meal is different.

Potato salad

Many of you know that I love to make and eat Potato Salad.  So for those of you who have had it, or want to try it either try this recipe or invite me over and ask that I bring some with me.  You won't be disappointed.

Potato Salad
Serves 4-8 as a side dish

2.5 pounds potatoes
1 medium onion diced
2 celery stalks, split and sliced 1/4" thick
2-3 hard boiled eggs, diced
1-2 dozen Dill pickle chips diced to 1/4", or 1 medium whole dill pickle diced, or use dill rellish
salt to taste
Paprika (optional)

Peel and slice the potatoes and place in a pot and cover with water.  Add the diced onion and boil over medium heat and add about 1 tsp salt and 1-2 tsp of garlic powder (both to taste).  Cook till the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork.  Drain the liquid (can be reserved to make a potato soup if you stir the potatoes often while cooking).

In a bowl while the potatoes are cooking add the dill pickles, boiled eggs, celery, about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of mayonnaise, 2-3 tbsp of mustard and mix well.  Add the drained potato/onion mixture and stir till well blended.  Taste to see if there is enough salt, mustard and mayonnaise.  Once satisfied with the mixture sprinkle a little paprika on top then cover it and refrigerate for a few hours, serve chilled.  This can be made the night before and will taste even better as the flavors meld.

The celery adds a nice crunch to vary the texture, but if you do not like it you can leave it out or add it to the potatoes and onions in the pot to get the flavor without the crunch.  You can also add carrots to the pot to cook, if you want the flavor or need to eat more vegies. Pimentos can be added to the uncooked ingredients if you like them, or have some that you want to use up.

For a variation of this recipe replace the mayo and mustard with my Ranch Dip Recipe.


Spring is here

Remember last month when I posted Has Spring Sprung? Well now it is here, though we have not had a blackberry winter.  The temperatures during the day are in the 80's and in the mid 50's at night, but that won't stop one more frost.

Trees have been in bloom for a month, but that does not mean that spring is here.

What tells me that spring is here early this year is that the dogwoods are in bloom!  This never happens before Easter, or at least within a week before Easter. I have never seen a frost after dogwoods start blooming.  This might be the year I see it, but I think it is more likely that spring is here early.

Enjoy the equinox in a few days.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

All Flesh Is Grass - Book Review

All Flesh Is Grass by Gene Logsdon

This book is a must read/own for anyone considering grass farming (pasture based livestock).  In the book he discusses:

How to set up a rotation of pastures
Which plants he prefers and ones that will do well in other climates
How to graze the pastures
What problems specific pastures (plant type) might pose to livestock
How to cut pastures for hay and silage
How to seed pastures with the minimum of equipment
How to divide permanent pastures and temporary pastures (used for gardens, hay making, growing grains, etc.)
How to build and maintain fences
Stocking rates for animals (though this varies by region and quality of the soil)
What plants to avoid in your pastures
Which trees are good on pastures
Good and Bad weeds for grazing
How to make a haystack
How to build a reserve of plant material for winter grazing
How to approach year round grazing with minimal hay or grain feed
And most importantly how to let the animals do most of the work

This book is aimed more at a garden farmer who is trying to maximize self sufficiency than the production minded market/commercial farmer.  For commercial farmers who are willing to sacrifice some of the quantity for quality, then this book will work for you too.  Most of the discussion is framed around farms in the 5-50 acre range.  It is still helpful for those who will have less land for a few animals and is also scalable for farms in the 50-500 acre range.  Gene is not anti grain , he just believes in planting it with other crops like clover and letting the animals harvest and feed it to them selves.  Instead of 90% grain and 10% pasture he advocates for 80% pasture and 20% grain.  Though on his farm he only dedicates about 10% to corn in one of his temporary pastures.  This corn he recommends sheep graze first, then hogs, and finally dry cows and draft animals.

What is not covered, and for good reason, is how many animals to stock on how much land for how long in a rotational grazing system.  The reason is it will be different fro every farm.  Depending on what mix of animals you have, the quality of the soil, how much rain, what plant types and which species of those plants is how you need to base those decisions.  That can only be done by the eye of the farmer and knowledge gained from years of experience.  For this reason he suggest that someone who wants to get into commercial pastured meat products first start with a small farm and learn the technique, before investing lots of money and learning the hard way.

This book is good for a laugh and knowledge for beginners,  as well as a reference to other books and publications on pasture based farming.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Cute pets

Since my wife pointed out the cute dog in my last post, I decided to show you all of our cute pets.

Hiro - a year old Rat Terrier from Paws Humane who joined our family in late april last year.

Hiro the peaceful, he can be very energetic, but after play he becomes peaceful.

Or really cute

Rose - Our lovable, klutzy, glutton of a cat who we got as a kitten June of last year, I think, from Paws Humane.

This is her trying to catch a bumble bee to play with and eat. She has batted a few, but luckily she has not caught any.

Rose napping in the shade

Next is Donna, a Beagle Basset mix who we found while walking Hiro last August.  We tried to locate an owner, but after none was found we decided to give her a good home ourselves.  The vet estimated Donna's age as 10-12 years old last year.

Donna Howling at the weekly tornado siren test.  She only howls when emergency vehicle or warning sirens are within hearing range.

Donna in the yard

Donna being cute while napping.

The pet we have had the longest is The Doctor, named from Doctor Who.  Kristina got her as a stray kitten in North Carolina the summer of 2009.  Then she moved to Alaska and then to Georgia.

The Doctor, who we seem to have remarkably few photo's of.

You will see these cute critters lurking in the background of many of my photo's.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Garden update

The garden is doing fine.  I took the plastic off of my greenhouse/cold frame.

The weather for the next week is not supposed to fall below 40 degrees so I figured I would let the bees pollinate some strawberries, which flowered, but did not produce in the cold frame.

My experimental onion seems to producing 3 vigorous plants.


Seedling trays

If you look in the background to will see lots of seed trays and pots with seedlings.  

Wooden Seed Trays

I have run out of the seed trays that I bought and still have more seedlings to start. So I scoured the internet and found that wooden seed trays were used before today's modern plastic seed trays.  You can build the seed trays out of almost any material, but a rot resistant variety will last longer.  Some of the better rot resistant woods are: cedar, cyprus, red wood, and teak. These woods also cost more and are more difficult to scavenge for free, so I built mine out of Pine and Oak.  I got my materials from old pallets that were broken.  If you are going to "scavenge" pallets, be sure to ask since many businesses have to pay $5-35 per pallet if they are not returned, but they can not return broken ones.  Other times the pallets come with a shipment and the business has to dispose of it themselves.  The more time and effort you put into your boxes will make them more showy and you more proud of them, but it will not make plants grow better.  The wood I used was rough on one side and did not always have straight edges.  But like I said the plants will not mind. Leave small cracks in the floor boards up to 1/4".  This will allow water to drain if you over water.

Once the seed box/tray is built fill it to the rim with half screened compost or peat moss and half garden soil that you have screened to remove roots and rocks.  Mound the dirt in the center, when it settles it will flatten out.

Sprinkle your seeds directly into the dirt and lightly cover with compost or peat moss.  When the plants come up pick the strongest plants to plant in the garden.  Some plants like mesculin greens can be harvested directly from the planter box.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ranch dressing recipe

Last night we went to a Sonic (I know we are not perfect) and they gave me a packet of "ranch" dressing with my dish, even though I said I didn't want it.  I already had good ranch that I had made waiting at home.  I decided to check out the ingredient list and compare it to my ranch dressing.  Theirs had 34 ingredients, including HFCS. Mine had 13 including the ingredients in the store bought mayo, and that could be reduced to if I made my own mayo.  If making mayo scared you then google immersion blender mayo.

Ranch Dip or Dressing
5 minutes to make

1/2 cup Mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream (get the full fat stuff it only has 1 ingredient, cultured cream)
1 tsp coarse ground black pepper
1 small clove of garlic (can be replaced with 1/4 to 1/2 tsp granulated garlic powder)
1/4 cup fresh parsley finely chopped or 2 tbsp if using dried
juice of half of a lemon
milk or butter milk

All of these measurements are subjective and can be modified at will and still make a great dressing. I recommend keeping at a minimum 1 part mayo to 2 parts sour cream or vise versa.

Mince the garlic clove and sprinkle with salt, then use a fork and work the garlic and salt together till it makes a paste, about 30-90 seconds depending on the fineness of your mince. Scrape this pulp up and add to a mixing bowl.  Add all of the other ingredients except milk and mix thoroughly. If you want a dip, then stop here, if you want dressing then add milk till it reaches the consistency that you like.  For dressing, pour into a small jar or old dressing bottle and store in the refrigerator.  For the dip place it into a small air tight bowl, an empty sour cream container works well. Enjoy

Warning flavors will intensify by a day after making it.  If you put too much garlic or pepper you will know it the next day.  This recipe can be served immediately, or you can let the flavors meld for a day.

If you want to add more pepper or garlic, chipotle, scallions, green onion, bacon, cayenne, paprika, or pretty much any other spice feel free to experiment to find what fits your taste best.

If you could not tell by the ingredients list this needs to be refrigerated till use, not left on the table like mass produced ranch.  

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fish - Organic, Local, & in Season Part 4

Even More Wild Sustainable Fish

Pollock &  Cod are often cited as the gold standard of sustainable fishing, which they really are.  The harvest limits for pollack are set as a percentage of the population, between 2-5%, and in banner years instead of increasing the harvest there is a maximum tonnage that can be harvested even if it does not reach the estimated percentage of the population.  The problem lies in by catch, most pollack is harvested in the Bering Sea, where the crab are caught in deadliest catch, which is where Yukon king salmon grow thru adulthood before returning to spawn.  In terms of the millions of tons of Pollack the 50-100 thousand king salmon caught seem trivial.  But considering that the total return of salmon in a given year may only be 200,000-300,000 fish which need to feed those living in Alaska's interior, spawn in the Alaskan tributaries of the Yukon, and meet The minimum number of salmon that get to pass to Canada (25,000-35,000).  So that many fish being caught yearly drastically impacts the fish available.  Regulators made a good intentioned, but poorly chosen cap on the number of king salmon caught in the pollack before the fishery gets shut down.  I forget the actual number but it is somewhere in the 40,000 to 60,000 fish range.  This sounds good till you realize that these numbers have only been exceeded in the last decade, when escapement problems have been the worst.  Because of this locals have been encouraged to catch and eat more Chum salmon.  The problem with this lies in the chum's history.  It is called a Dog salmon by many, because it has been traditionally used to feed dogs.  When it reaches them it still has high fat content, but low meat quality.  This makes it nutritious to feed to dogs, but not appetizing to feed to people. How would you like it if some regulator told you that your steak needed to be sent to people thousands of miles away, but it was ok because you could eat this low quality beef that is usually used to make dog food?  They don't like it either.

Probably better to eat locally.
As you can see even with the most sustainable populations of fish we still have major problems.  I focus on Alaska's sea food for many reasons: first I am very familiar with fishing in Alaska, Alaska is held up as the gold standard of sustainable fishing, and I think we should not import fish from asia, europe, and South America to feed Americans. Those countries have their own need for affordable food, which fish was before large fleets of commercial ships that had devastated their local fisheries moved in and started catching fish and shipping the fish to high paying locales.  If you must eat seafood then: demand wild caught, try to get it from as local to you as possible and from this country at a minimum, also focus on species that are small, short lived, and/or that live in waters that are shallow or near shore.

So go relax, take a day off and go fishing. No need to buy into the hype of big bass fishing.  Just buy a simple pole, a hook, some bobbers, sinkers and a few worms or crickets.  Find a shady spot on the bank of a pond, lake, or river and lounge in the shade, read a book and maybe catch a few fish.  Those locations of fish are probably the healthiest in ponds and small streams and creeks and more polluted the bigger the body of water they come from.  Don't forget those tasty non game fish that seem to bite when you are fishing for bass or trout they are tasty too.   Even the salt water has it's "Garbage Fish", visit garbagefish.com to find out more about these tasty fish.

Who is ready to grab a pole and go fishing?

Fish - Organic, Local, & in Season Part 3

More sustainable wild seafood

Salmon are still regulated by a half dozen different government agencies in addition to the State of Alaska. The state seems to have more control of these species.   Probably owing to the fact that they can manage spawning grounds, rearing grounds, commercial fishing, sport fishing, guided/charter fishing, personal use fishing, and subsistence fishing.  Sounds complicated already doesn't it, just wait. 

Most of Alaska's commercially caught salmon either come from either the Copper River or Bristol Bay.  Smaller quantities come from the Cook Inlet (near 3/4 of Alaska's population) and any the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Both of the smaller areas pose complications to salmon being sustainably fished.  The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta feed vast portions of the interior of Alaska with subsistence caught salmon, this is regulated differently than sport fishing, commercial fishing, and personal use fishing in Alaska. The Yukon King salmon populations have not met escapement goals in recent years  for either Alaska or for the international treaty with Canada.  Some of this may be due to previous over fishing in the Yukon river but it is at least partially attributed to commercial by-catch of juvenile king salmon with the pollock trawlers. The cook inlet problems stem from the fact that the two largest commercial fisheries, the Kenai and Kasilof, are in the lower cook inlet and catch many fish headed for the upper cook inlet where many salmon populations have crashed in recent years. Still with these concerns Most of Alaska's salmon are sustainably fished.

There are 5 species of Pacific salmon and one species of Atlantic salmon, actually a trout and not a salmon. All farmed salmon is Atlantic salmon, even those on the west coast.  This farmed salmon should not be eaten EVER!  The fish is fed antibiotics (because of the close confinement in pens breeds disease), corn & soybeans (which fish were never intended to eat and likely contains GMO crops), and because the FDA has recently approved frankenfish AKA genetically modified salmon (so that the fish can better tolerate eating corn and soybeans). In addition to these problems the Atlantic salmon are farmed on the west coast where they regularly escape from their pens and jeopardize wild salmon stocks with disease, competition for food, competition for breeding ground, and risk of contamination of the genetic modifications.

Back to the 5 species of wild Pacific Salmon, they are King (chinook), Red, Silver (coho), Chum (silver bright, dog), and Pink.  If a salmon is a wild pacific caught it will list the species even in restaurants.  If it just reads Salmon without a species then it is probably farmed salmon.  The exception is where the salmon is canned, which is never served as a filet, and served as salmon patties, omelets, frittatas, etc. The cans will label the species, usually Pink or Chum, which is most often labeled silver bright, and occasionally red salmon. If your restaurant does not list the species be sure to ask, if they do not know or if it just comes in a big box from the truck then it is farmed salmon which taste like fishy cardboard and has none of those healthy omega 3's you are looking for.  The most abundant wild species are Red and Pink salmon followed by chum, silver and King salmon in that order.  King salmon are the largest often 30-60 pounds. Chum salmon are next biggest at 12-35 pounds. Red and Silver salmon are next in line averaging between ten and twenty pounds.  Pinks are the smallest at only 2-5 pounds. You will never see fresh pink and chum salmon in the market, because the are abundant at the same time as Reds, Silvers, and King Salmon and they are considered inferior.  I feel this is wrong, but most people feel this way because both of these fish quickly loose their meat quality shortly after entering fresh water.  I personally like to eat Chums as much as Silvers.  King Salmon are the first to hit the market in May, followed by Red Salmon in June, and Silvers in Late July. If you eat a King after july, Red after mid August, Silver After september then the fish has likely been frozen, ice glazed and shipped then thawed by your grocery store or market. Sometimes these have been frozen, shipped to China thawed, pick the bones out and sometimes processed into smaller filets, then refrozen and shipped to the USA.  Since pinks and chums are always canned their season matters less but it is late May thru August.

If you are going to buy Alaska wild salmon try to buy thru distributers who are based in Alaska.  Most distributers are based in Washington and Oregon and all of that money goes to them instead of to Alaska where salmon is the most valuable renewable resource. One such distributer is 10th & M Seafood in Anchorage. I know there are other, but they are the only one I have personally used.  They have reasonable prices and will ship you salmon overnight anywhere in the US and Canada.  It will be shipped frozen this time of year but you can keep it frozen in your freezer, till you need it.  You did buy in bulk didn't you?  By buying from Alaskan distributers It allows that money to stay in the local economy just like shopping at your local farmer's market or hardware store keeps more money in your community than shopping at national chains does.

P.S.  If you travel to Alaska and fish, then you can drop your cooler off filled with salmon and 10th & M will hold it in their freezer till you get home and then overnight it to you.  This is cheeper than sending it overnight by Fedex, even though they will be the ones delivering it. Or if you can freeze your catch before you fly home, you can check your cooler as an extra bag, if it is not over 50 pounds, just remember to duck tape it closed.

Fish - Organic, Local, & in Season Part 2

Wild Sustainable Fish

In general the bigger or longer lived the fish is the less sustainable the fish stock will be.  In reports from the north east in the early 1700's a single sail powered ship was able to harvest more cod and haddock in the bay than the entire atlantic fleet did last year by using motors, better nets, and fishing many more thousands of square miles. This is not unusual, in most cases we simply over fish one species and then move onto another while still catching as many of the original species too.  Ever wonder why you never or rarely see haddock in the store?  It is because there are few left and what few there are are marked to northern european populations in this country and abroad. To find better sources of seafood look to small oily fish (anchovies, sardines, hooligan, herring, etc.) or short lived species like salmon. Most of the east coast, and europe have been over fished and only provide a few sustainable species in limited quantities. The west coast California to Washington has equally been decimated by over fishing, pesticide & herbicide poisoning, and dams that impede migrating fish from reaching their spawning grounds. Most of the Alaskan fish escaped over fishing to the levels of other areas due to it's remoteness and the limits placed on catching practices and quantities and practices shortly after statehood.  There are exceptions here too.  Herring, crab, and shrimp populations still have not recovered fully in Prince William Sound (PWS) after overfishing then the Exxon Valdez oil spill.  Likewise the south east coast of Alaska was hit harder by salmon and halibut fishermen from the pacific northwest. Both of these areas now support a recreational fishery and some limited commercial harvest.  The exception to that limit seems to be Halibut.  The  International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) allows a high catch of halibut commercially in these waters while limiting recreational and charter fishermen to a single fish with size limitations, that do not apply to commercial fishermen. Charter fishing seems to cross the line of recreational and commercial fishing to the IPHC.  While the fishermen are recreational fishermen the boat and it's captain are engaged in a commercial activity.  This single fish limit and size restriction only apply to south east Alaska and not the rest of the state, making it harder for Southeast businesses to attract paying customers.  Also the boat captain can not take a day off and take his family or friends fishing from the boat he uses to commercially fish from.  Most of the money from commercially fished halibut in SE Alaska goes to Seattle and not Alaska. Where recreational fishing and charter fishing goes to support local economies thru not only fishing but lodging, dining, and license sales. Anyway back to sustainable fish.  For the most part Halibut seem to be somewhat sustainably managed, I feel it would be better managed if the state of Alaska were given control instead of the IPHC. Also there is an issue with bycatch of rockfish and to a lesser extent Lingcod.  Rockfish are the bigger problem, they can live to 100+ years old and many species do not breed till they are over 30 years old.  While this is not terrible, it gets worse.  Rockfish have swim bladders which inflate as they are brought to the surface.  This is caused by rapidly rising in the water column and decreasing water pressure. This means that if they are just tossed over the side as other by catch is they will float and either die of sunburn or from birds.  These fish must be re lowered to the depth they were caught at before they can be released.  That does not happen with commercial fishing.  They either throw them over board, or puncture their air bladder and then throw them over board (where they will die out of sight since they can no longer control their air bladder with a hole in it). There are now devices that clamp onto the fishes lower jaw and lowers it to the bottom When the weight touches the bottom the device releases the fish unharmed, that have been developed by and for recreational fishers.  These improve the survivability of being caught and released from 75-90%.  

Fish - Organic, Local, & in Season Part 1

One of the hardest parts of eating organic, local, and in season is seafood.  Most of us don't live within an hour of the coast or even half a day's drive which is the most I could consider local. So what do we do about seafood?  Well you have 2 potions, find your freshwater options or substitute sustainable wild populations for local.  I don't have a huge problem with the latter because fish have long been preserved by smoking or salting and shipped away from the seaside.

Local Fresh Water
This will vary in each state and for many states it will vary by what region of the state you are in.  In Georgia the options are Bass, Catfish, Sunfish (Bream, Bluegill, Shellcracker, etc.), Crappie, Crawfish (aka crawdads, mudbugs, crayfish, and many other names), Mussels, trout (rainbow and brook trout are stocked into rivers in north Georgia), whitefish (considered by many as too boney to be a tasty fish it is often abundant when there are limits on other species), Carp (another boney fish which has become invasive and is probably already reeking havoc in Lake Michigan).  There are other lesser known species including fresh water shrimp, but I have not heard of anyone harvesting them here.  Most of these species are not commercially harvested so you will need to go fishing to get them or rely on a friend who is good at it and wiling to share, it is easy to catch more than you can easily eat with the high catch limits in the south.  Some will ask about those commercially available fish like catfish, tilapia, crawfish, and freshwater shrimp. The catfish and tilapia (not native and when it escapes confinement can out compete some of our native species) are raised in the CAFO equivalent for fish.  They are fed a corn and soy based diet that they were never intended to eat. The crawfish and shrimp are also grown in farm ponds, but they might have a better chance of being raised without genetically modified (so common in commodity corn and soybeans that you can not be sure that it is not GMO unless you buy directly from the farm) feed.  I have heard some freshwater shrimp aquaculture operators are able to grow them organically, but I have never seen or eaten one of these.  Most of the freshwater shrimp that I have eaten from commercial ponds taste like cardboard with a fishy aftertaste. Catfish comes the closest to tasting good from a farm pond if you have to buy commercial, I have never eaten wild tilapia since it is not native. If you want to eat an animal that lived as it was intended to then it is better to eat wild.  In Georgia there are a few mussel species that are threatened or endangered, mostly because Atlanta wants to use all to their water to water their yards and golf courses leading to inadequate flows of water down river from Atlanta, so you will need to learn to identify those species if you intend to harvest from the wild. Most of the other species are abundant and only lightly pursued, bass are the exception on being lightly pursued but they are also heavily stocked too. I will try to show methods of preserving your catch later this year as I actually catch them.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Eating local & in season March

I have been reading Animal Vegetable Miracle. It follows a family that moves from Arizona to Virginia, to be able to eat local, organic, and in season; also known as a localvore. Since they are in Virginia and not southern Georgia, there produce starts coming in about a month later than it does here. Some of the foods listed came from the book, but most come from personal experience. I grew up on a farm and generally know what is in season and when, but not totally.

With this post I will list things that are locally available and either in season or that can be stored long term either in the ground or in a root cellar. I will not include foods that are preserved from previous seasons by drying, dehydrating, smoking, canning, freezing, salting or other preservation methods.

Those items from the ground or the root cellar:
wheat and other grains including corn, oats, millet, barley, quinoa, rye, etc.
carrots (mine never stopped growing or got mulched by me)
cabbage (I have some in the greenhouse, but some wintered out doors due to lack of space) also it can be stored in a root cellar.
citrus fruits
winter squashes

Those that can be grown and harvested right now:

cabbage (if it over wintered in the ground)
green onions
baby lettuce (full grown if grown in a green house)
rhubarb (this the "fruit" that bridges from fall apples to spring berries)
mescalin salad
carrots - overwintered
cauliflower - overwintered
asparagus (mine are only on their first year so no harvesting this year)
morel (I have not found any yet, but I should before the end of the month)
cilantro - greenhouse
collard greens
mustard greens
garlic - green or immature garlic
onion - some fall planted varieties are beginning to fatten about now.

Animal based foods available now:
chicken - I think now is the wrong time to eat them since they are about to reproduce for a spring flock. But if you have excess rosters that are not needed for breeding it would be a good time to eat them now.
veal - if you can afford it and get over mentally eating an infant cow. Most veal comes from milk cow calves in commercial operations. You can share the milk with the calf or let one cow feed two calves while you milk the other, but this is "inefficient" in a commercial milk operation. Some commercial operations bottle feed formula to the calves till they can be weaned and sold.
sour cream
butter milk
and any other dairy products

there are also a few wild plants and animals available this month.
dandelion greens
dandelion flowers
wood sorrel

fiddle heads
wild hog (this animal is an invasive species and there is no closed season in Georgia)
game birds and small game if still in season (Georgia's season closed at the end of last month, but you could still have them in your refrigerator)
wild fish - crappie, bass, catfish, bream (sunfish), etc.

If you know any other wild, gardened, or stored foods that are available please let me know in the comment section. Thanks

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Holy Shit

I just read a great book titled 'Holy Shit' by Gene Logsdon. I never knew there was so much to learn about manure. In the book he covers the value and benifitt of manure, how to treat manures from almost any animal, & how th apply that manure to your field or garden. I recommend this book to anyone who strives to garden organically, who raises animals (dogs, chickens, pigs, cows, goats, cats, rabbits, ect.), or anyone who wants to save money on fertilizer while building the quality of the soil in a way that will still be evident in 50 years. I learned things about manure, compost, and animal bedding that I never learned while growing up on a small farm.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Food for the elderly

This New York Times article makes me think that these people have it right. Just because you can get a senior discount does not mean you should stop enjoying what you eat. As we age our bodies need fewer calories but just as much, or more, nutrients. So this means that the elderly should be eating the most nutrient rich foods they can find. In many traditional cultures this meant the organ meat, especialy liver. Post any other nutrient dense foods you can think of in the comments area. Isaac, if you read this what are some of the foods that are traditionaly reserved for the village elders?


Our computer has been acting up and is being repaired, so this post is from an Ipod touch. I don't know how to load pictures from my camera to this device, so no pictures today.

Those seedlings I started last week are now sprouting. I would say that over 3/4 of them are already up. When I planted those I also planted some apple seeds and lemon seeds. I know that these will not come true to seed, but I had them so why not. While reading Botany of Desire I learned that most apples before prohibition were bitter and used to make hard apple cider. Also all cider then would have been hard. The sweet stuff only came along when refrigeration was invented. It also told of the real John Appleseed Chapman, and how he planted orchards of seedlings on the froniter to sell to the setelers. There was a requirement to plant 50 either apple or pear trees in the homestead laws to keep profiteers from claiming lots of ladn then reselling it. Now there were sweet named varieties, but they cost a good bit. You could buy 50 no name varietys from Appleseed for the price of a handfull of named ones. Since all 5, usually, seeds of an apple will produce 5 diffrent trees genetically appleseed's trees led to there being over 17,000 named varietys, mostly regional, in the late 1800's. Now most of us can only name a dozen if we try and the Grannysmith is the only non sweet one. So I have started saving my seeds from fruit and planting them. Many will die, or at least not prosper, but because of genetic diversity a few will thrive. It may take them a long time to fruit, but if they do, I will make apple cider and apple cider vinegar. Then there is also applejack. Setelers learned that if their cider was frozen to -30 in the winter that the water would freeze and what was left would be apple brandy.

If all else fails apples are beautiful trees. I can enjoy their beauty in my yard and when I prune them I can use the wood in my BBQ smoker.

P.s. My mouth is healing nicely. The day of the surgery was not great, but since then it has been steadily improveing. I am not even using over the counter pain meds now on my sixth day after the surgery.