Yesterday I had a workshop on rendering lard and pressing vegetable oils. I've been using a lot of lard over the past year, ever since I discovered how easy and inexpensive it is to make (pork fat is a by-product, you can often get it for free). Lard is a very healthy fat if you make it yourself from an organically-fed, pastured pig. Lots of Omega 3s and high in Vitamin D, doesn't have the trans-fats, has mono-unsaturated fats, the good kind. It's a totally different beast than the thing you find on the grocery store shelf - to make it shelf-stable it has been hydrogenized, the same sort of process that makes margarine and crisco so terribly bad for the heart. So yeah, if you are not a vegetarian, lard is excellent, and fairly versatile. The only thing I don't use it for is salad dressing.
Pressing vegetable oil with a home-scale oil press on the other hand is WORK. Hard work. It takes me a lot of effort to get a quarter cup. Unless you want to buy the $3,000 electric machine. As if. The one I use is made by Piteba, a company in Holland. It is a high-quality, hand crank, "screw press" and it is used all over the world in subsistence societies. It costs around $150. It's a sweet little gizmo, but like I said, you need to rally some bicepts to keep it cranking. Especially for flax seed, the hardest one I've tried yet.
Yesterday we made sunflower oil from seed I bought...and camelina oil from seed that I grew. Camelina is an amazing oil and I believe you will start hearing about it in the near future. It is in the mustard family, like canola, and has been grown for oil for a few thousand years in the Mediterranean. It is high in Omega 3 oils, but unlike flax, you can cook with it on high heat. Camelina is now being used as a soy substitute in chicken feed since it is very high in protein and a super-healthy oil for the "chooks".
Camelina was very easy to grow, harvest, and thresh. I yielded 3 gallons of seed from a 150 foot long bed 3' wide. I would have gotten twice as much but it started to drop half its seed while I was away over a hot weekend. It was easier to thresh and winnow than flax, and overall, really seemed to thrive in our climate: plant it in the spring, and it matures during our drought season very easily. I have seed available for Camelina if anyone else would like to try it. Or if you are local and want to try your hand at pressing oil, give me a call. I might just be willingng to set the machine up if you feel li
My kitten Hunter is my most loyal volunteer these days - he shows up for every threshing session within moments of set-up. He loves to lay in the material pre- or post- thresh, and I always wish I had my camera to capture the orange ball of fluff snuggling down in the orange-colored chaff or straw. The picture above is un-threshed buckwheat. We finished the buckwheat but are still working on the flax - the one last grain threshing push. After that it's smooth sailing finishing up the bean harvest and pulling in the corn and one more row of potatoes. The end-of-summer perfect weather has been a joy for the second year in a row. I get sick of watering my garden but for grain and seed harvest, you couldn't ask for anything better.
Organizing and packaging for the CSA is another matter! So many details to take care of before getting the first distribution into peoples' hands at the end of the month! It is difficult to stay inside and spend time on the computer during a beautiful day in September - my favorite month - but I need to finish writing up storage and cooking information, make labels, and the rest. I will be excited when it is November and it is all done, but then again, this is the high season - squeezing in as many high-country adventures as possible amongst the business is my ultimate goal. Yesterday was a beautiful day in the mountains, and I feel rejuvenated and ready to continue with the full days of farming...
Quite a busy summer for us, as you can tell by the lack of blog entries! I have been so busy helping to develop the new farm where I live and developing my farm business so that I can continue on this path of self-employment in a the world of farming, where it is not easy to pay the bills. (Hint to other perspective farmers: lowering your expenses is much easier than raising your income.)
The season has been full of interesting challenges for myself and most farmers in the region (interesting because I believe we always learn more when things don't go according to plan). The rainy summer brought a lot of disease for the potatoes, storage onions, garlic, and wheat. The millet crop downright failed for the first time in the 5 years I've grown it, because we tried to do it at home where the weed pressure was simply too overwhelming. (Note to self: do not plant grass family grains into a freshly seeded pasture). Sad, I do love the millet flour for my gluten-free baking! Our local wheat grower also had a massive crop failure from too much rain, too late into the season. Our CSA customers will get their money's worth, no doubt, but we will have to wiggle things a bit to even everything up.
The fava bean trials are all harvested and in. There were definitely some promising varieties at the green stage, and I look forward to doing the taste tests as a dry bean to determine if any are tender enough to go without peeling. That is the main goal- overwintering during a harsh winter around here - and cooking as a dry bean without needing to peel the individual beans.
We have also harvested all of our soup peas and camelina (an ancient oilseed crop). The camelina grew in nicely, with only one weeding, was easy to harvest, and easy to thresh. Unfotunately, half of the seed shattered when the temps got into the 90s here. I don't know if I should have harvested it earlier or if the unseasonable heat was what got it. I may try it one more year. Crops that shatter easy are a pain - but a vegetarian source of local oil would be nice to have and it is a fantastic chicken feed amendment.
I am still looking for volunteers who want to learn some of the harvesting and threshing. We still have to harvest flax, garbanzos, dry bean (lots and lots!), buckwheat, and dry corn. Harvest and threshing will mostly take place over the next month.
I will be leading a threshing workshop at the Whatcom Skillshare and Barter Fair. If you have not heard of this most awesome event, please check it out at: www.whatcomskillsharefaire.org. It is on Saturday, Sept 22, at the Deming Log Show grounds and will feature all sorts of wonderful self-sufficiency skills in all categories. It's only $2 to get in! (plus $8 for the vehicle itself if you drive). You can also bring things to barter and teach a skill yourself if you want!
Well, there is good news and bad news. All seven of the overwintering favas I trialled have survived the winter and are perky and ready to grow up up up with the lengthening days. The bad news is that how will I know which ones are the most cold tolerant when they all survived? The best kind of trial is when 90% of the varieties do poorly, and 10% thrive. Then you know you are on to something. We simply didn't have a harsh winter this year. The super cold northeaster we had in January followed a snowfall, which seems to have protected the plants well. Even my winter garden made it through far better than it did the past few winters. It was a gradual hardening off this year, which is fabulous...but as I said, I didn't get good info about the favas.
Our 1200 garlic plants look beautiful, happily popping up through the mulch. We did a side by side comparison of mulched vs unmulched this year. The unmulched version was already full of weeds, but seems to be growing more vigorously, since the bare soil can warm up more quickly.
So I enjoyed a couple of very beautiful february afternoons weeding the garlic, favas, and overwintering wheat and barley trials. I am ecstatic about having overwintered crops that I can enjoy working with without having to wait until the soil is dry enough to till up with the tractor and warm enough to germinate new seed. It felt wonderful to be back out to the field at Broadleaf Farm, a very special place, with the most beautiful soil that is so lovely to weed. The field at home, on the other hand, is a soggy, heavy, mucky mess and I don't even want to think about planting anything there until at least May.
Georgia and I will have the details out on our CSA very soon. We are shooting for March 1. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, I am busy filling seed and book orders and looking forward to having a small booth at the Bellingham Farmer's Market this year. I hope to see you there!
It's February, the time of the year when the abundant fall harvest has either been eaten or lost to rot. For a local food eater, the months of late winter and early spring are the most challenging. But here at my household at Riverhaven Farm, the residents are fat and happy. Our pantry is stuffed with amazing homegrown, foraged, and locally-raised ingredients. From the organic pastured pork and wild-caught salmon in the freezer to the overloaded shelves of canned foods, to the sauerkraut and root-cellared apples, potatoes, and squash, to the winter greens that survived the January blast of cold, we are smiling. The many jars of beans and grains are certainly a welcome contribution to our winter food supply as well.
I'm busy preparing for the many workshops and presentations I have scheduled for the winter and spring. I am speaking six times on the subject of growing beans and grains. I am also co-teaching a homesteading series that will cover a broad range of topics. The schedule of talks are as follows:
GROW YOUR OWN DRY BEANS AND GRAINS
COMMUNITY EDUCATION WORKSHOPS
*February 7– Bellingham Gluten Intolerance Group support mtg - 7pm
*February 13 – Everson Garden Club meeting (WECU Everson) – 7pm
March 7 – Community Food Co-op Class (Cordata Store) – 6:30pm ($10)March 17 – Deming Library (Local Food Works series) – 10am
*April 9 – Lummi Island Gardener’s Network (Lummi Island)– 6:30pm
April 21 – Cloud Mountain Farm (Everson) – 1:30-3pm
*Non-members please call firstSPRING HOMESTEADING SERIES Location: Riverhaven Farm (Lynden)Sundays from 2-4pm; April 15, 29; May 6, 20; June 3
$85 for the series + $15 registration feeRegister through Whatcom Folk School
Threshing soup peas and garbanzos with friends
Somehow I've completely neglected to blog for over 6 weeks, while meanwhile, the entire harvest season has come and gone. It's been a busy time! Right now I am relaxing in Missoula, Montana, with friends who also appreciate the art of growing quinoa, dry beans, and garbanzos.
The 2011 harvest season was the best so far for BBGP. The late summer sunshine and beautiful dry september was perfect for drying down all of the crops that matured. The cool summer meant that the soybeans and amaranth struggled and didn't mature well, but everything else was primo. The dry beans yielded about twice as well as last year, wildly exceeding my expectations. All of the beans are threshed and the grains and peas are all threshed but needing to be winnowed.
We had a number of successful work parties this year, so I want to give a shout out to all those who came and learned and helped and had fun. It's truly more enjoyable with company! We had a couple of great articles published this summer as well: in the June issue of GROW NW magazine and the October issue of the Community Food Co-op's newsletter. Thank you to the writers/editors for helping to get the word out about what we are doing. Lastly, I was invited by Tom Thornton, of Cloud Mountain Nursery, to have my dry beans and grains on display at the annual Fruit Festival. It was a very exciting weekend and I enjoyed chatting with hundreds of folks over the two days.
My cohorts and I are now busily planning for next season. A collaborative storage foods CSA is in the works for next year, I am putting the finishing touches on an instruction manual for growing dry beans & grains in the Pacific NW, we are planning workshops for winter and spring, and I am gearing up for seed sales, hoping to have everything ready by December. Thanks to everyone who provided motivation, encouragement, and enthusiasm this year. I feel especially confident that this project deserves my attention and passion and I look forward to diving in even deeper.
It seems like it is going to be awhile before my earliest crops are mature and dried down. The weeding pressure has relented but there is no harvesting to be done yet, so a few weeks of breathing time (camping, hiking, and planning for next year) have arrived. I am anxiously awaiting when the grains, soup peas, and garbanzos are ready so I can have a harvesting and threshing workshop. I think that will be loads of fun.Meanwhile, I have been too busy lately to make more tortillas and I crave them immensely. I had purchased a new Estrella masa grinder a few weeks back at the Mexican grocery store down the street and have been looking forward to trying it out. So I finally spent a few hours this morning making tortillas. I made about 70 tortillas from 8 cups of my Mandan Bride dent corn. Here are some masa-making instructions for those of you who are interested in making your own tortillas:
Dissolve 4 Tablespoons of "Cal"/Slaked Lime (can be purchased at a Mexican grocery) in 12 cups of water.
Add 4 cups of dent corn kernels and slowly bring to a boil over a half hour. Let it boil for a few minutes, then turn off the heat.
Let sit overnight.
Rinse the corn until the water runs clear. Use your hands to briskly rub the kernels to assist in removing the cal. Drain in a strainer
Grind in a masa grinder as fine as you can get it (it won't be fine like flour and you will get a wet, coarse dough).
Make the dough into a ball. Add a bit of water if needed for it to stick together. It should be just wet enough to be able to make a golfball sized ball hold together.
Use a plastic bag to line either side of your tortilla press. Put a bit of oil on each side. Press tortillas and carefully peel them off the plastic.
They should be fried in a cured but dry cast iron pan on high enough heat so that they turn slightly brown on each side in about 30 seconds, but the pan does not smoke.
Note: if you do not have a tortilla press, you can make little patties with your hands, or you can press the dough between oiled plastic sheets with a heavy pan or other flat-bottomed object that you can press down on. But believe me, a good tortilla press is invaluable if you are going to do a lot of this!
Good Luck and happy masa-making.
So far I'm enjoying the summer immensely. Working hard, no doubt, but every day brings new treasures and introspections and simple beauties of nature. The field blows me away every time I walk out there. Most of the crops so lush and vital, the peas and garbanzos are thinking about starting to dry down, the beans still vivaciously filling in the paths so that there will be nowhere to walk come harvest time.
I decided to irrigate this year. Normally I've practiced experimenting with dry farming, but a few dousings is what I will apply this year. Last week I helped Dusty move the 40 foot long aluminum pipes to my upper section of field and we ran the sprinklers for 3 or 4 hours. Celt and I hooked up several hoses and ran them from the nearest spigot to the lower field and hand watered our squash, half the wilting buckwheat, and her beans. Everything has responded so well, and the lushness was beautiful to see afterward. The potatoes still struggle, the soybeans have barely recovered from all the bunny pressure, and the corn is tasselling so short. But I'll have my hands full in another couple weeks with harvest. I better go camping now while I still have the chance!
A few friends joined in today for some light weeding and we got a lot accomplished. It feels so good to be able to have fun, gossip, laugh, and be productive at the same time. I love the idea of having gardening partners in my life regularly, growing food is a joyous thing to share, and a key component to my own happiness.
Well, we had a fabulous turnout for our first work party of the season. It really did sort of feel like a party this time as everyone was super enthusiastic and hard-working! I'm happy I'm living on-site this year, so we could provide a nice meal of the very crops we were working in: beans and corn tortillas! Plus some salad from our gardens. Thanks to the great turnout and energy, we managed to retrive our large field of corn and loads of beans from the weeds and hill up our potato trials as well. Things are in great shape now as a result.
The earlier crops are mostly on their own now, as they've filled in their beds and are starting to wrestle with one another in areas (namely the unruly peas and grains). My barley is lodging (falling over) a bit, which is a pain, and all of my early transplanted corn - although over knee high, deep green and healthy as can be (yay) - looks to be sending up flower stalks already (not yay). I don't think that's a good sign but I can't remember, to be honest. The flax is flowering, one of the prettiest crops I've grown, and the beans are full and lush. It's interesting being right across the farm road from Dusty's traditionally-managed potatoes, getting watered and having had properly fertilized beds prepared. Ours were planted earlier but are much less full so far. I will be curious how the yields compare in the end, but with dry-farmed potatoes you get le
As if we woke up in an entirely new and foreign (and lovely) land, the summer solstice has brought us warm weather and sunshine today, to last all week (we hope). The field is looking amazing these days, with all of the early crops full in their beds and lush. The field feels vital and enthusiastic as if all the crops are feeling content and productive.
Ok, enough of the poetry. We have had some setbacks this year, such as the birds ripping out a whole lot of corn and bean seedlings, rabbits mowing down the soybeans and storage onion tops, and germination issues with some of the seed purchased from seed companies. Heck, this may be a small operation, but my self-saved seed pops up thoroughly and enthusiastically whereas much of the stuff I've gotten from seed companies has been less than reliable.
Despite the setbacks, most of the crops are flourishing. An update to this point includes the following: the soup pea and garbanzo trials are growing fabulously, with most of the peas in flower (the bush peas have white flowers and so far all of the pole peas have two-toned pinkish, reddish, or purplish flowers! The barley and wheat are headed out, I forgot to look at the oats but I don't think it's headed yet (planted late). The lentils are flowering. The potatoes are weedy and could use another hilling up soon, but are holding their own. Sunflowers (oilseed and edible seed) look strong. Transplanted corn is big and robust. Millet is small but germinated well and is filling in the beds thickly. Amaranth is doing well, still less than a foot tall. Same with quinoa but for the second year in a row, we planted too late and don't expect it to get big enough to harvest. All of the bush beans are starting to take off, pole beans are climbing their trellis. Soybeans and cowpeas are growing slower but will love the sun and heat this week.
We've been working hard to keep the weeds down, hoping to stick with hand-tools during the growing. I'm out with the wheel hoe at least once a week keeping the paths manageable. The evenings have been idyllic out in the field and it is fabulous to be living at the farm this year so I can take advantage of short morning and evening tasks, when it is so peaceful out.
Our first work party is this saturday, June 25 from 3-6. Get ahold of us if you'd like to come. We will be sharing a home-cooked meal of beans and cornbread (what else?) at the end. Cheers!