Monday, March 23, 2009

Locally Grown

I am in New Mexico for a couple of weeks helping out my Siren sister. The desert is so dry this year, the drought continues. How do you eat good food that is locally produced in a place where there is no water? If we are to effect the carbon emissions created by growing food and getting it to market, we need to eat food grown within 100 miles of where we live. I would have to do more research to add scientific validation to my claim, but I think it would be difficult to do this winter in this very dusty place unless you are willing to give up most everything.

We went to a local organic grocer the other day and had the choice of buying stuff grown in Argentina, Chile, and Mexico in the produce department. We did manage to find some things grown in California, but nothing that was grown anywhere within the 100 mile limit. No tomatoes, no berries, no avocados, no lettuce, and no lemons or limes. These things are staples in the diet of the people who live here. What are they supposed to do?

It is challenging to change the way we look at the food we buy, or what we grow. When I stand in the produce department, I am no longer faced with just two questions, is it organic and is it fresh. Now, I must check to see where it was grown. I believe I will be doing a lot of drying of fruit we pick this summer so we can have some at that time when the fresh berries are flown in from thousands of miles away. Same with bananas.

It is work, but it is worth it. I know that if enough of us change the way we think about not only what we eat, but where it comes from, we can make a positive impact on the health of this planet. Although I feel for the people who are trying to grow food in this dry, sand lot of a state. It's no wonder I moved.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Another Reason To Go Deeper In The Green

I just now finished watching a documentary about corn. How much there is of the stuff, how sick it makes the cows that eat it, and then we eat them, and how because they figured out how to turn the stuff into sweetener, we are pretty much corn based beings. If you don't believe me, get a strand of your hair tested.

I am not saying the everyone in this country is in the same corned fed boat, but most of the population certainly is. I am probably a bit better off than most, and less than some, but it does not change the fact that corn, unless it is that variety that we can actually eat in its natural form, is evil and it will make you as sick as the cows if you don't start reading labels and NOT eating processed foods that have high fructose corn syrup in them. It is going to be difficult if you eat processed foods. Which is why I will grow as much of my own food as possible this summer. Food kissed by the sun, and danced around by the chickens. As whole as it comes.

As it stands now, I pretty much eat real food. The labels on the stuff I buy say organic, grass fed, sweetened with cane sugar, or whole wheat. With the advent of sustainable agriculture, I don't have to eat tainted food. I am not saying that I don't eat some of the horrid syrup, I do. I am human after all. After watching the doc, I am going to try and NEVER eat the stuff again.

Rent the movie, and see if you don't change your ways...... they use killer chemicals that eat skin in the making of corn syrup, and that alone should make every man and woman rethink that stuff in the pretty packages at your local warehouse supermarket!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

On To My Feathered Friends

I have moved on from garden and chicken coop design. I have decided what food to grow, and have tentative plans on where to put it. My focus has shifted to actually deciding what kind of chickens to buy. There are so many breeds. It makes my head swirl. Do I go with bantams? Standards? There are standard white chickens. There are buff colored chickens. There are black chickens. There are Golden Laced Wyandottes and Blue Langshans and even a breed called Jersey Black Giants.

I wish there was a chicken consultant who functioned much like a wine merchant. I could tell this poultry genius I want chickens that are good layers. I would tell them what color eggs I would like to find in the hen house (blue or brown please), after some thought they would tell me what to buy. Alas, I’ve not found that person so I have to do my own detective work in books and online. I have settled, at least for now, on starting my small flock of four with two Silver Laced Wyandottes, and two of their cousins the Golden Laced Wyandottes. I chose these particular birds because, according to the McMurray Hatchery catalog, they are “an outstanding example of American poultry breeding”. Ok, I am lying. Different breeds of chicks, it seems, arrive at feed stores staring in March and can come as late as the end of April. Being the instant gratification type, I looked at the list from my favorite feed store to decide what day had the best chicken names and then found out what they looked liked. April 7, 2009 will be the day when we get to the feed store as early as possible for a better chance to get our pick of the Wyandotte chicks. The guy who gave us our list said that he hated chick season as people act insane around the procurement of poultry. I know Jenn is pushy enough to get us in and out with our little girls in record time. She takes no prisoners, and will be a force to be reckoned with on chick day.

We will have a month to get the coop ready after the babies come home. For their first thirty days they will live in what is called a brooder. Or, more simply put, they will set up housekeeping inside a cardboard ring that is 18 inches high and has a feeder and waterer along with some towels or newspapers (I am not yet sure which I will choose as there are varying schools of thought on which is better for the bottom of the enclosure) and a heat lamp hanging overhead to keep them at varying degrees of warmth depending on their age. Now, to figure out where to put the little buggers before we put them in their permanent home.

Learning To Be More Self Sufficient

I’ve said, for twenty years, that I wanted to be a urban farmer. For many reasons, mostly due to a lack of land, my want has only been realized in small spaces, with room to grow only basic stuff.

This project of putting in a garden that is four to five times the size of the one I planted two years ago seems daunting, exciting, and a bit like a magical mystery tour..... This year, I have this space that seems large enough to accomplish most of what I want to do and I am thinking and planning before the last blasts of winter have passed and the spring awakening begins. I am ahead of Mother Nature and that feels fantastic!

The biggest questions.... What do I need to put where? What do I want to grow? Can I make room for enough of the anti oxidant bullets that fire on the stuff that might be building inside me; getting ready to send me to an early grave? At fifty-three, I need to plant, eat and grow as many of these bullets as I can.

Should I have the soil tested to insure that there is no residue of pesticides? Which chickens do we buy to get the most beautiful eggs? Should I get rabbits? What about a goat or two? Would they be good to have on my mini farm even if we don’t eat either of them? Goats give milk, what about making cheese? Can I grow enough to feed us for the season, give the animals enough room, and have food to put up for winter as well?
The largest space for my farm is 33 feet long and ten feet wide. There is another space behind the kitchen that is 25’ long and five feet wide. It is not a lot of room to work with.

I made a drawing this morning. I think I can have eight substantial beds, five large pots for flowers and herbs, and still keep the triple bin composting set up we have now. In that plan there is room for the chicken’s house and coop and a place for the rabbits. There is a small patio with trellises for wysteria and roses in my drawing. If I get goats, will they be able to live in that space behind the kitchen. If I get all these animals, will it bother my neighbors? I don’t know....

If I do everything I want, will I have enough energy to accomplish the myriad of tasks that come with the garden and the critters? All the animals have to be fed, everyday. The weeds must get pulled, the crops thinned, and there is the watering.

I can’t hardly stop myself from going overboard no matter how much work it will take. Will Jenn, for all her excitement at the prospect of having all these things, really share the load with me? If she doesn’t, am I willing to do it alone? What happens when we take that week off to go to New York?

Besides the commitment of time, the biggest issue is cost. I want to do this project with as much free, used, and recycled materials as possible. It is not that I can’t afford new, I just want to be as Green as I can in putting this garden together. I have been trying, with a some degree of success, to either not buy at all, or buy used goods. I figure that having a large garden is not enough of a green move and to make it as Earth friendly as possible, I need to beg, borrow, and Freecycle my way to completion of the hardscape.

Can I get bark dust, or wood chips or nut shells for free from the city? Can I find low cost willow branches and tree branches to make into the trellis’ that will hold up the beans and peas and form the frame of the patio? What can I use to make the floor of the patio that is not concrete, or expensive pavers? Is there gravel laying around some where for me to find? Can I get the soil tilled and prepared by trading my cooking skills? Barter would be the way to go..... I do things I can for things I can’t. It seem silly to buy a roto tiller when so many people in this town already have one and know how to use it. I wonder if you can barter for organic seeds too?

So many questions.... so much to learn, so much to do in a few short weeks if I hope to start getting plants in when it best suits them. Two years ago, my non-gardner of a girlfriend and I put in a small plot out back that was pretty successful. It would have been more so if we had gotten off our duffs a bit earlier in the season. We did get some decent corn from our three little rows. We harvested enough green beans and cucumbers to keep Jenn happy for most of the summer. There was an abundance of basil. We raised two pumpkins, and enough tomatoes to eat some fresh, and cook some up for the freezer. We had enough green tomatoes, due to us putting them in late, and a short growing season that year, to supply a southern restaurant for a week.

Now, I want to make sure that we get tomato plants in the ground on time, as to improve my chances of having an over abundance of big heirlooms that I have to push off on my neighbors and friends because there is just no more room in the pantry and freezer. I want to harvest enough from my garden so that I need to learn how to preserve food in those lovely Mason Jars. In all my years of cooking and working in restaurant kitchens, I’ve never canned or pickled a thing. I never paid attention when I was growing up to learn from my Auntie Ruth. Silly me. I was too involved in running around like a wild Indian during the summer.

I am excited by this project. I am excited soon be able to look up from my desk and see life starting to poke it head up through the dark earth in the beds and furrows. Now, to find those branches for the trellis. Wish me luck!