Garden in June

It was a slower start this year, both for personal reasons and as the result of a very cool and rainy spring. It feels different this year, mostly I suppose because we aren’t starting from lawn.  My focus has been on the medicinal herbs, both perennial and annual, starting a new circular herb garden, and creating a berry patch.

But vegetables are coming from the garden. We have beets, rainbow chard and kale in abundance. The calendula is blooming and being dried to create oil for lotions and creams. The garlic is about ready to harvest. A new no-till bed is being put to use for the winter squashes and pumpkins. And with  a few days of hot sun, the wildflowers are bursting open.

My tomatoes are starting to pick up (finally!), as is the basil, neither of which was happy with the cool days and cooler nights. Of course, along with the heat, the pests are arriving as well. Hello Japanese Beetles, darn you!

Here is a peek into our late June garden….

End of June Garden

Late June Garden

 

Kale June

Kale

 

Rainbow Chard

Rainbow Chard

 

Calendula Patch2

Calendula Patch

 

Winter Squash

Pumpkin Sprouts

 

Squash and Pumpkin Patch

Pumpkin and Winter Squash Patch

 

Tomato Patch

Tomatoes

 

Wildflowers in the Garden

Wildflowers in the Garden

 

Japanese Beetles

Beetles have arrived!

Happy summer!
~Michelle

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Parmesan Roasted Pattypan Squash

 

 

Parmesan Roasted Pattypan Squash3

It’s summer and that means summer squash! If you are growing squash in your garden, it seems you either have too much, or not enough (depending on the pests). If you are in the “too much squash” camp, you quickly find yourself discovering new ways to use all that squash. How about parmesan roasted squash? It’s quick, easy, and delicious.

Parmesan Roasted Pattypan Squash

I never tried pattypan squash before. It was always the long-neck yellow squash or the green zucchini my mother grew in her gardens. Summer and squash seem to go together in my memories of childhood. But my dear husband doesn’t like squash (or so he thinks). So what to do with these odd-shaped squash? How about roasting them with butter, parmesan, and bread crumbs?

It was delicious, and husband enjoyed it. Really. With butter and cheese, how can you go wrong?

Recipe 

Slice squash and layer in casserole dish

Add a pat of butter to each slice

Layer with bread crumbs, parmesan, salt, and pepper to taste

Bake 20 minutes or until golden brown

The squash will be soft with a toasty crunchy layer of crumbs and parmesan – yum!

How do you enjoy your summer squash?

 

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Small – Scale Homesteading – Raising Rabbits for Meat

“Food became for me a way of becoming self-sufficient with my hands, to regain manual literacy, which I think has been lost on our generation and certainly younger generations.”
~ Timothy Ferriss

 

Warning: This post talks about the practicalities of raising rabbits for meat, and includes a graphic description. While I do not wish to offend those who do not consume meat, I also make no apology for our choice to remain omnivores and to raise our own meat.

Ethics of Raising Meat Animals

My husband and I both grew up in the suburbs, and our food arrived nicely packaged from the grocery store. This is our first experience with raising animals for meat, and I can tell you it has not been easy. Buying meat from elsewhere allows a level of detachment that we take for granted. But as a committed omnivore, I feel more respect for the meat I consume when I am aware of the life that has been sacrificed.

We are choosing to raise rabbits for meat.

The woman reached into the closed box and gently pulled a rabbit out by the scruff of its neck. Quickly she brandished the length of metal pipe which she used to strike the rabbit at the base of its skull, effective stunning it. With a fluid grace she quickly hung the stunned rabbit by its rear legs and slit its throat with the long blade. Death was quick.

In less than 10 minutes, the rabbit was skinned, gutted, and ready for a cooking pot.

Meat Rabbit

This was the scene my husband, youngest daughter, and I witnessed on our visit to Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms two springs ago. We had already completed our tour and were wandering back from the small farm store when we stopped to observe one of the interns dispatching a group of rabbits for a wholesale order. Polyface sells their meat rabbits to upscale restaurants.

At first, I was concerned about the impression this might have on my four-year old daughter, who, only moments before had been feeding dandelion flowers to the baby bunnies in their little portable hutches lined up in the grass behind the last row of greenhouses.

However, as she often does, she surprised me. She was neither shocked nor repelled. In fact, she was respectful, fascinated, and full of appropriate questions. So we explained the process. Later, we would ask her about the scene, but she remained very matter-of-fact about the whole thing.

Now, when I asked Joel why more people didn’t raise rabbits for meat, he reflected that it is perhaps the “cuteness factor”.

But I think it is hypocritical to place more value on the life of a rabbit, simply because they are “cute”. At least the rabbits my family raises and slaughters will lead comfortable lives and die without unnecessary suffering. How can we continue to support the industrial food system’s atrocities just because they are invisible to us?

Huge subject, I know. And I digress.

Practicalities of Raising Meat Rabbits

When Carl and I first researched and discussed the possibility of raising meat rabbits for our small homestead, this is the list we came up with:

  • Rabbits are an inexpensive investment requiring very little infrastructure
  • Easy and inexpensive to feed
  • Don’t require a lot of space
  • Easy to raise, simple to breed
  • Few health problems
  • Short gestation and quick to reach maturity
  • Because of their small size, they are easy to kill humanely
  • Tasty and tender, domesticated rabbit is very similar in quality of taste and texture to chicken
  • Rabbit manure can be applied directly to soil and does not need composting as does other animal manures
  • Little environmental impact

The rabbits we raise will help reduce our reliance on purchased meats, will provide a low-cost source of healthy protein, and will add nutrients to our soils each year. This can all be accomplished in a small amount of space, with minimal cost.

 Housing

After much research, my husband decided to purchase two well-constructed hutches and to build a third, larger hutch for breeding. There are many choices available for rabbit hutches, and our decision was based on several factors.

  • Shelter from wind and rain. We live in a valley that experiences frequent winds year-round. We wanted to be sure to provide enough shelter while still allowing adequate ventilation when needed.
  • The cages we use have wire bottoms allowing urine and feces to pass through. Because we are concerned about the health and comfort of our rabbits, we line the bottoms with straw. The rabbits seem to enjoy burrowing into the straw and it is easy to clean when soiled.
  • Security. We have an abundance of raccoons and possums, and we wanted secure cages to keep the predators out.
Building rabbit hutches

Building rabbit hutches

 

DSC_0328

First hutches were purchased and easily assembled

 

DSC_0330

Easy access

Rabbits

Final Rabbit set up

 

Feeding and Care

We feed our rabbits alfalfa pellets, winter rye grown in our garden, and during the spring, summer, and fall, their diet includes garden vegetables and small amounts of Comfrey from our perennial herb garden.

We started raising rabbits last year, and so far everyone has been healthy and happy. This year we would like to add some portable rabbit tractors like those used at Polyface Farms. This will give the rabbits greater access to pasture.

Serving Our Community

A large part of our desire to live self-sufficiently includes being able to remove ourselves from the industrial food system. This is important to us for a variety of reasons, including economic, social, political, and ethical reasons. But being “self-sufficient” is not an entirely accurate term. As we develop relationships within our community, we are finding ways to give and receive. Raising rabbits is allowing us to share healthy, humanely raised food as we barter what we produce with others for items, services, or skills we do not possess. And for each rabbit we share, that is one less factor-farmed animal being consumed.

Rabbit Recipe

Garlic and Rosemary Roasted Rabbit

Need:

2 whole processed rabbits
1 medium-sized head of garlic
Handful of fresh rosemary sprigs
Handful of fresh sage
Salt, pepper, paprika

Steps:

Rinse rabbits with cold water and place on their sides in a large roasting pan.
Add enough water to cover about 1/2 inch in the bottom of the pan.

Leaving the garlic clove whole and in the skin, simply cut off the top.
Tuck 1/2 of the fresh herbs around each rabbit.
Sprinkle with salt, pepper and paprika

Roast at 350 degrees for 1-2 hours (depending on the weight of the rabbits). I often basted the pan liquid during the baking process. The rabbit is done when it reaches 160 degrees.

Rabbit gravy:

Rabbit gravy can be made using the liquid from the roasting pan, and is very similar in color and flavor to chicken gravy. Because the rabbit is so lean, I had difficulty getting my gravy to thicken. I added extra butter for a creamier texture.

Mix 4 tablespoons of butter with 3 tablespoons of flour in a pan on medium heat until browned and bubbling. Add 2 cups of roaster pan drippings. If gravy is not thick enough for your preference, whisk 3 tablespoons of corn starch with 1/2 cup of cold water and add to pan gravy, stirring until well-combined.

~ Michelle

For more information on raising meat rabbits:

 

Top 10 Meat Rabbits

 

Farm Fresh Fried Rabbit – Raising Rabbits

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Planning Your Homestead – Edible Landscaping and Permaculture

The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.
~ Arnold H. Glasow

Garden Notes

Planning Your Homestead

Money is tighter than ever, and with a tighter homestead budget comes a re-evaluation of priorities. Having priorities means having a plan. Let me share with you some of the strategies you can can use when planning your homestead.

When we moved to this land 18 months ago, after so many years of dreaming and yearning, I couldn’t help but imagine the possibilities. Large gardens, an orchard filled with fruit and nut trees, a large berry patch, perennial herbs, a pond, and chickens, rabbits, and dairy goats.

I still carry the vision. But patience is required. We simply don’t have the resources – money and time, to do more than make small, steady changes. Which of course, is a blessing. Because the longer we live here, the more we get to know the land.

I walk the perimeters, watching the water levels rise and fall in the creeks, walk the fields, noting the saturation in the low spots, how quickly the soil dries, where the water pools, how much shade is cast by the trees, which direction the winds come from. The earth is turning, and each season is slightly different from the last.

What vision do I have for this home and land? How can we produce more of our food and medicine? What grows well here? What challenges will we have to overcome?

Back Yard

As we consider these questions, we are using the ideas of edible landscaping and permaculture principles for planning the homestead.

Edible Landscaping and Permaculture Principles

Edible Landscaping

The principles of edible landscaping can apply to the urban homesteader as well as those with an abundance of land. We can grow food that does not require a large garden space with evenly spaced rows. The edibles are tucked into flower beds, along the driveway, beside the mailbox, or up against the house.

For example, our front and back flower beds contain both flowers and useful edible plants. The catnip is fragrant, lush, and attracts butterflies all growing season. The peppermint tucked beside the front steps is convenient for snatching a few leaves for a refreshing coolness as we pass by, and for easy gathering for creating hot and iced mint teas.

Using edible landscaping, we can plan our spaces with an eye on beauty as well as function. Everything serves a dual purpose and contributes to both beauty and health.

Permaculture Principles

What is permaculture? In the words of Deep Green Permaculture:

The Permaculture Design Principles are a set of universal design principles that can be applied to any location, climate and culture, and they allow us to design the most efficient and sustainable human habitation and food production systems.

Permaculture is both a complex and simple design process. It reminds us to work with nature as much as possible, by mimicking natural ecosystems in our food production design process. My goal is to create an edible landscape working with the ecology and environment of my land, not to micromanage and remain in constant battle against the forces of nature.

This takes observation, and once again, patience. As well as trial and error. And more observation.

Here are some of the design principles and the ways I am applying them to my homestead:

Each element performs many functions– rabbits provide a meat source for our family as well as fertilizer for the gardens

Efficient energy planning–  for house and settlement (zones and sectors) – plan to have areas that require a lot of attention closest to the house (and water supplies) – such as perennial gardens. 

Energy Cycling– energy recycling on site (both fuel and human energy) – using cover crops that promote healthy soils, prevent erosion, and offer supplemental feed for our rabbits

Diversity– Polyculture and diversity of beneficial species for a productive, interactive system – allowing for wild areas to thrive, creating a garden pond to encourage beneficial predators (frogs and insects)

Edge Effect– Use of edge and natural patterns for best effect – establishing mullein plants along the border of the forest and grassy areas (the preferred environment for mullein)

Using Perennials

Last year we focused on turning an area of lawn into our annual vegetable garden. If you have lawn and want to turn it into garden space, my post Transforming Lawn Into Garden offers the pros and cons of different methods for starting your garden.

Lawn into Garden

The annual garden is where we planted summer and fall vegetables including tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, peas, melon, winter squash, pumpkins, potatoes, corn, peppers, and carrots. By focusing on creating nourishing soil, our first garden was a huge success.

Last summer, our first on the land, I allowed the northern part of my annual vegetable garden to go wild. It all started with the yarrow and wild flowers – their beauty and medicinal gifts seemed too good to yank out, simply to maintain tidy rows and paths. And so, despite my need for order, I had a patch of wild within the perimeter fence of the garden. No weeding, no mowing, and certainly no weed-whacking permitted.

It was beautiful and prolific and full of beneficial insects. I harvested yarrow for drying to be used in wound poultices and teas. I harvested red clover for medicinal teas and infusing with honey. And I had beautiful flowers greeting me each day as I visited the garden. Somehow, a large bullfrog found his way through the fencing and established himself in this wild area.

As I spend more time getting better acquainted with the diversity of the plants, insects, crayfish, frogs, predatory mammals, and birds that regularly visit this land, I am considering other ways I can work with nature and the ecology of our home.

This year we are focusing on creating new growing areas for our perennial foods and medicinal plants. The first step for our blueberry, blackberry and raspberry plants is preparing the soil. It was a challenge finding a spot that had the good drainage and full sun the blueberries prefer. And raspberries and blackberries are difficult to remove once started, so taking our time in deciding before adding these perennial plants to our homestead is essential.

Taking advantage of the current features of our homestead, including shaded areas beneath established trees, and areas that stay moist and boggy, we are creating perennial medicinal herb areas, including a nettle patch and an area for moisture-loving Elderberries.

Nettle patch

What Can You Do?

  • Research edible perennial plants to use as part of your current landscaping plans.
  • Allow some areas to grow wild. In our yard, we have areas where we allow the weeds to grow, and all season I am able to harvest medicinal plants like yarrow, plantain, chickweed, mullein, dandelion, and nettle
  • Take advantage of shade-tolerant plants.
    Some examples of include: lettuce, spinach, swiss chard, broccoli, raddichio, kale, carrots, garlic, beets, cherry tomatoes (take longer to ripen), wintergreen

Resources

There are a great many resources available for learning more about edible landscaping and permaculture. Here are some that I am familiar with:

Websites

Books

  • Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture, Toby Hemenway
  • Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual, Bill Mollison, Reny Mia Slay
  • Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture: A Practical Guide to Small-Scale, Integrative Farming and Gardening

 

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Gardening, Reading, and Medicine Making

It’s summertime and although I am not on vacation, I have been enjoying a small break from the internet and media. Basically, this means giving myself permission not to check every email, twitter, instagram, or facebook message that comes along.

The freedom to ignore it all has been refreshing. How did so much of our daily time come to be devoted to “staying connected” and “being informed”? How much is enough? How much is too much?

Blue Vervain blossoms (1)

 

May kale

 

May Kale morning

My introverted self craves a lot of quiet time and activities at home, and so to unwind, I am spending time with family, in nature, and reading a lot of fiction.

By a lot, I mean several books each week. I accomplish this by using my two hour daily commute to listen to books on CD (from the library), and sometimes staying up late to finish the last chapter of the current kindle book I find myself most wrapped up in.

Of course, there is still a lot of gardening, cooking, baking, and medicine-making happening as well.

Blueberry muffins

 

May Calendula

 

All Heal

 

May Medicine Making

Yes, this is how summers should be spent.

How are you enjoying your summer?

~ Michelle

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