Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Hello all,

Happy holidays to all.

Here at Bluebird Farm all the animals have been well behaved and healthy. In the winter we raise all the animals together to make caring for them easier. We don't rotate the animals like we do in the summer because the soil is frozen and biological activity has stopped. This means that if we add manure it will wash away, becoming a pollutant instead of a benefit. Instead of rotating the animals we add piles and piles of bedding. Straw and wood shavings serve as a kind of a sponge holding the manure in place. In the spring we can pile the bedding up for a great compost pile.

Another great benefit of raising the animals together is that they interact in mutually beneficial ways. For example, the pigs are very messy eaters, spilling food right and left as they smack their chops. The chickens come along and clean all that spilled grain up. The chickens also help the sheep, horse, and pigs with parasite problems. Sheep are especially susceptible to internal parasites. However, if a chicken unwittingly consumes a sheep parasite larva that is in the grass the parasite will die because it can only survive in a sheep stomach.

We are taking a little vacation to visit family. But believe it or not next year is already on our minds. January will be a busy month of planning for the garden and the animals. While we are busy planning and staying warm one of our favorite winter dishes is a Pumpkin Tomato Soup. Below is the recipe for this delicious easy to make recipe. I have also attached it.

Have a great winter!

______________________________

This is a delicious, easy to make, soup I discovered this winter. It can be made with pumpkin, hard sweet winter squash such as butternut, sweet potato, or any combination thereof. It is easy to make your own pumpkin puree. Just skin pumpkin, winter squash, or sweet potatoes and cut into 1 inch cubes. Boil until they are soft. Puree in a food processor or blender. Once the puree is made the soup is extremely fast to make.

Making the soup

Ingredients

2 teaspoons to 2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil or butter

1 large onion, chopped

4 cups of your favorite stock

4 cups fresh or canned pumpkin or butternut squash puree (up to half sweet potato is delicious)

1 can whole tomatoes with their juices, pulse/chopped medium fine but not pureed In a processor (a can of pre-diced tomatoes works well too)

1 tablespoon maple syrup, molasses, or honey

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Minced Italian parsley

Directions

Heat the oil or butter in a nonstick soup pot (more butter if it is not a non-stick pot). Add the onion, and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes

Add the stock and heat through. Add the pumpkin, whisking in. Heat again. Add the tomatoes and sweetener (maple syrup, molasses, or honey) and heat through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve hot garnish with parsley

Adapted from Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon

Monday, December 13, 2010

Conover this Saturday

Hello all,
The cold weather is blowing our hats off. There isn't too much to do outside, but we are carrying an awful lot of hot water from the house out to the animals. In weather like this even hot water will freeze by the end of the day.
This Saturday Bluebird Farm will be at Ruby Jo's Consignment store in Conover with our pork and eggs. Ruby Jo's is located at
331 4th St. Place SE, Conover, NC, 28613
We will be there from 10-11 am.
To place an order please respond to this email with the number and types of cuts you would like. We will also have our free range eggs available. To see the cuts available see our pork website here. We are sold our of shoulder roasts, but other than that we have all these cuts available. New this time is Ground Sweet Italian Sausage. It comes in one pound packs, vacuumed sealed.
I will bring extra meat if you don't want to preorder. But these cuts will be sold on a first come first served basis. To make sure you get what you want we recommend you preorder by replying to this email

Big Oak farm will also be there selling their beef. To make a beef order please contact them. Their website is http://www.bigoakfarmnc.com/

Thank you for your support,

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Widening the Pasture

One of the many joys and challenges of living in a near rain forest climate is that when you turn your back, trees grow. Consequently, the once open pastures here at Bluebird Farm have shrunken as the trees advance around the edges. Cutting trees fills many winter days. We can do 3-6 big trees in half a days work. Then achy muscles usually forces us to do something else the rest of the day.



Proper warm ups and exercise are an important part of any hard work-a few reps with a tree trunk usually does the trick


A close encounter with the rare pine tree species Pinus horribulus, known for its savage revenge attacks on would-be lumber jacks. I was lucky to escape with my life!

Clearing in progress

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

December Pork Packages and Speical orders

Family Pork Packs and Special Orders

It’s time to stock your freezer for winter! From late fall to early spring- late October to April 1st- pork will be limited in availability. We will continue have retail cuts, by appointment, at the farm until our pork supply is sold out.

Make sure you have a selection of our pork in stock for the winter by ordering a Family Pork Pack or making a Special Order. We sell out of Family Pork Packs quickly so reserve your pork today! Or take advantage of the Special Order - winter is the only time we offer them.

Special Orders (min. $25):

Ordering information

Small Family Pack (20 lbs)

Ordering information

Large Family PacK (40 lbs)

Ordering information

Half Hog (about 90 lbs) Contact us for pricing and cutting information

Pick-up:

  • At Bluebird Farm on Friday, December 10th from 3:30-5:30.
  • Downtown Hickory, Farmers Market parking lot, on Friday December 10th from 4:15-5:15 (it gets dark so early!)

**********************************************
We have over a dozen cuts of pork! All pork is sold by the pound. Individual retail cuts are sold at the farm by appointment as available, and at several seasonal, local Farmer’s Markets.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Final 2010 farmers markets



There are a few more Farmers' Markets this season

You can find Bluebird Farm at these local Farmers Markets:

Catawba Valley Brewing Company Friday 11/12 and 11/19 5-7 pm

Conover Holiday Market Saturday 11/20 10 am-3 pm
(at the farmers market location)

Hickory Holiday Market Wednesday 11/24 noon-5 (at the farmers market location)

Come find us for free range eggs, sausage from our pastured pork, salad mix, swiss chard and other greens. We will also have chickens one more time this season on Friday 11/19 at the Brewery and the two holiday markets in Conover and Hickory.

Patton High student working on his senior project (way too early in the morning!)


Saturday, November 6, 2010

October manure brings May vegetables!

November 6th! Last week we were busily sweating out in the fields, staying so busy that I didn’t even have time to write. Today we spent a leisurely (first Saturday with no markets since April), but chilly morning doing chores. Then this afternoon I attended a meeting of other small farmers raising pastured poultry and other meats. Cold weather, no markets, and farmer meeting it must be winter planning time!

Our major October project was preparing the field for next year’s vegetables. Here are some photos of the project:

First I make the beds


Spreading manure

Cover crop planted in September-oats, buckwheat, millet, cowpea.



Petunia and the Ulysses, the ram

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fall is here!


Hello all,

Rain and beautiful weather usher in the final week of September. The official Bluebird Farm rain gauge registered 2.1 inches from the first drops Sunday am to the final rain Monday night. Thankfully, the rain came in well measured bursts interspersed with drizzle. The last thing we wanted was a 2 inch deluge in one hour.

On Monday our older pigs loaded into the trailer to go to the butcher. Getting to the trailer was a little bit of an adventure. We had mixed the two age groups of pigs together about two weeks ago. So we had to somehow open the fence and herd the big pigs out while holding back the seven, very curious and excited little pigs. In the end four little ones came along for the walk to the holding pen. They had a great time exploring the woods without the older pigs bothering them (they were too busy exploring as well). But after the hullabaloo of corralling the older pigs into the holding pen the younger pigs were ready to head home. Petunia had jumped into the herding at the corral (usually she was more in the way than a help) and now she wanted to “help” with walking the young pigs home. So Marie and Petunia led the way along the forest road with the four little ones trotting along behind. I brought up the rear to make sure no one stayed behind. It was pretty funny seeing Petunia’s fluffy tail leading four curly pig tails up the road.

The big vegetable field is looking tired and worn out. The tomatoes are showing more blackened branches than ever before. Many fruit are damaged by insects, the sudden switch from dry to wet, and fungus that invades when plants become weak. It is the sort of garden that makes me start to think about clean up: the hard, dirty, but ultimately satisfying work of pulling up plants, taking down trellises, removing irrigation, mowing, and soil preparation for next year. I can already see the field in its fall state. The landscape of towering tomatoes, sprawling vines, and unruly weeds replaced by the groomed look of a made bed or mowed lawn-a welcome respite from the exuberance of summer vegetable gardening.


The garden from the hill. Next year's garden is in the far left

We feel a little like the garden at the end of a season. Our muscles are past tired and our minds have trouble with basic organization and focus. Cooler weather and shorter days make us want to spend more time reflecting than actually working (of course we don’t get to do that quite yet). As we talk about this year we never cease to be amazed at all the support and encouragement we receive. When we moved back to North Carolina we didn’t expect Morganton to be very interested and passionate in what we are doing at Bluebird Farm.

A moment with the bee (look closely in the center of the photo)

In our early planning discussions we frequently pointed out Morganton’s proximity to Hickory, Charlotte, and even Winston-Salem. But you have shown that you care about what we are doing. You care where your food comes from, you want to know your farmers, and you believe in what we are doing. We have been humbled, excited, and inspired to receive this response. Without such positive feedback it would be hard to want to continue working this job that is challenging in the best of years (and this wasn’t one of the best years). And so, even as we clean up from this year we are preparing for next year. We have been spreading organic soil amendments (manure, granite dust, lime), seeding cover crops, and writing down thoughts and observations about this year’s crops before they fade in our minds.

With our increased knowledge of the fields we are working, improved soil conditions, and more planning based on a year of work we look forward to a great year next year. We hope you will join us!


We will still be at Farmers markets for the month of October!

Morganton Saturday 8-noon Oct 2 and Oct 9

Conover Saturdays 8-12:30 for the month of October

Hickory Wednesdays Noon-5:30 for the month of October


Preparing for winter

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Time lapse chicks

Hello all,

Friday began early, picking up some baby chickens from the post office. Whenever I call down there in the morning they seem a little surprised to receive such an early call. They also seem relieved that someone is coming to get the noisy babies out of their office. The chicks are usually chirping so loudly that I can hear them over the phone as the post master looks at the address on the chick box. The only way to get them to quiet down just a little bit is to crank the heat in the car on the drive home-even on a hot morning like Friday. Now the chicks are happily munching, cheeping, and growing in their shelter.

video

Happy chicks

Our pigs are now (at least most of the time) getting along together. Two weeks ago I wrote about the big pigs chasing the little pigs all the time when we tried to put them in the same pen. We had to put up an electric line between the two groups to let the little pigs have some peace and quiet. However, the older girls (who have never broke down their fence before) continually broke through to the young pig area. After almost a week of constantly moving pigs and fixing fences we just took the fence down and told the little pigs to “stand up to those big bullies”. So far they have done just that and everyone is enjoying being a pig in the woods!

happy sheep

In the garden we have planted almost everything we plan on planting this fall. All we have to do for them is some minor weeding and harvest. But there is never time to sit around at the farm! We have been busily preparing next year’s area. We have spread lime to improve our pH, granite dust to make up for our potassium deficiency, and horse manure to add nutrients and organic matter. The next step is to plant a winter cover crop and hope for rain. Actually, because we need the cover to germinate before it gets to cold we will probably put up overhead irrigation (sprinklers-as opposed to the drip irrigation we use for vegetables) to ensure adequate moisture.

Recipe:

Roasted Pepper Spread

1 or 2 cloves of garlic, peeled

6 medium bell or sweet peppers, chopped roughly and roasted (see below)

8 ounces Neufchatel reduced fat cream cheese, softened

1 can chickpeas, 15 oz, rinsed and drained

1 tablespoon miso (you can find it at Nature’s Bounty. Maybe Ingles? If you want to substitute it try tahini and salt instead)

2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice

Minced parsley

Mince garlic in food processor. With the motor running, add each ingredient until smooth. Garnish with parsley.


Adapted from Passionate Vegetarian, 2002.


William and Marie

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mid-September and Spring Veggies?







Hello all,

It has been gorgeous dry, clear, dry, cool, dry, breezy, and dry weather. While we can’t complain too much about the weather we could stand a little more rain. Luckily enough we timed our last several plantings in the garden with the wet days we have gotten.

Our fall transplants of boc choi, chinese cabbage, lettuce, and kale are standing in vibrant green rows out in the field. However, you wouldn’t notice their bright little sprouts against the brown soil at first. What catches your eye are the giant white caterpillars, well not really caterpillars, but that’s what we call them. We have metal hoops about waist high and about 6 feet across from foot to foot. We set the hoops up over our garden beds and stretch a white spun fabric over them. Many of you have seen this row cover at the farm or in our photos. Right now we are using a lightweight cover for insect protection. Later in the fall we will switch to a heavy weight fabric for frost protection. Currently we have three of these hoops side by side running the 120 foot length of the field.

It is like entering another world when you lift the edge of these hoops and look under. The wind doesn’t blow; the air is moister and a little warmer. It’s like a little protected vegetable haven. Under each hoop are two beds separated by a narrow pathway. And down the beds are our little rows of bright green fall vegetables. Their green is almost incongruous with this time of year. Most grass, trees, and other plants are the dark rich, tried green of late summer. But not the vegetables, they have the bright almost neon green of spring in their leaves.

We tried something new with spinach this fall. Spinach is notorious for its poor germination. Ask almost any farmer or gardener about spinach and they will either tell you they have trouble growing it, or they have no trouble because of some complicated scheme they devised to make it work. Our new complicated scheme is to place the seeds between damp paper towels. We then put the towels in a plastic bag in a dark cool place for about three days. At this point almost all the seeds have germinated! They had little roots less than a quarter inch long. I then made small trenches about 1 inch deep and put the seeds down the bottom. I was afraid that the seeding might break off the roots and that the seed wouldn’t be able to regrow. But hey, farming is about trying new things. Next I put fish emulsion across them to give a little boost. Then I tamped the soil back over the seeds. Today we have rows of spinach with their two cotyledons (false leaves) reaching upward. Now the battle with the insects begins. We hope to win that one with the help of cooler nights. With any luck we will have some delicious spinach in a few weeks. Just in time for the last CSA week? We certainly hope it will grow quickly for Week 20, our last CSA box.



Pasta with Mizuna and Sausage
Mizuna is one of the primary greens in our stir-fry mix. I love its peppery flavor more than other spicy greens like arugula. Use stir-fry mix in this recipe (I thought it sounded better with Mizuna in the title) Feel free to substitute the sausage with cooked mushrooms.
1 large onion, cut into ¼ inch slices
1 tbl sp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 cup chicken broth
½ lb-1 lb of your choice of sausage, mostly cooked- a little pink is fine,
½ cup roasted peppers, cut into bite-size pieces
1 bag of Stir-fry mix, leaves chopped into 2 inch pieces, stems diced into ½ pieces
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
1 pint cherry tomatoes, washed and halved
12 oz medium bow tie pasta
¼ shredded Parmesan cheese or Manchego
½ tsp. freshly cracked pepper

1. In a large skillet cook onion in oil until tender. Stir in garlic, broth, sausage, roasted peppers. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer. Add greens; cook 1 to 2 minutes or until greens are wilted. Remove from heat.
2. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Toss pasta with sausage mixture, basil, cherry tomatoes,cheese, and black pepper.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pig Adventures

Sometimes while farming we try things that we really don’t know if they will work or not. On Monday we tried combining our younger pigs with the big ones. The younger pigs have spent the last 6 weeks or so in a corral with a small run on it. We were moving them by herding them to the pig area in the woods. Unfortunately, they had become very comfortable with their space and were reluctant to leave their home. Eventually we had to shut them out of their corral and shove them far enough away that they began to explore instead of trying to return. Of course there was one stubborn one that I had to pick up and carry about 20 feet through briar infested woods to get her moving.

Once they were on the road through the woods the little group of seven moved along pretty well. As soon as the big pigs noticed the little ones walking toward them through the woods they leapt to their feet and ran to their fence snorting, “barking” and sniffing. The little pigs, surprisingly enough were not particularly intimidated. I say surprising because the labels “little” and “big” pigs are no exaggeration here. As I mentioned the little ones are still pick-up-able, about 90 lbs, albeit not very comfortably. The big pigs however, are approaching 300 pounds. The top of their back easily come up to mid-thigh on me. The little pigs can literally run between the legs of the big ones.

Once the little ones were in the fence with the big ones the curiosity of the large pigs turned into bullying. If the seven little ones stayed together over in one corner, they would be mostly left alone. But should they try to venture out the big ones would sneak up on them and start chasing trying to get a good bite out of the little ones ears. This culminated in all of the little pigs breaking out of the fence and having a little pig party in the woods. We thought we’d try it out- some pig herds can be mixed ages, but our big pigs don’t enjoy sharing. Now the little ones have their own paddock next to the big pigs. We hope they can sort out their differences across the fence and one day live in harmony. For now they enjoy being neighbors.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Labor day weekend farmers markets

After a brief break from farmers markets we will be back tomorrow! Add some flavor to your holiday weekend with some Bluebird Farm pastured pork sausages or bratwursts. Back this weekend will be our full assortment of pastured pork products. We will have our delicious chops, flavor packed ribs, and everyone's old favorite: country sausage. You can also try our cherry tomatoes on shish kabobs or in a great salad. We will also have our eggs from pasture roaming hens!

Come on out and find us in

Morganton 8-noon behind Gepettos

and

Conover 8-12:30 at the Conover farmers market


Come on out. See you there!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Climbing pigs and broken trucks

My first adventure of the week since I last wrote began just hours after Wednesday CSA pick-up. We had finally arranged for a load of beautiful horse manure to be brought to our vegetable field so I headed over to meet the truck and show it where to dump. It was supposed to be a quick project (this is the way many farm projects begin). However, I soon learned that the dump truck they brought the manure in was a very special sort of dump truck, specifically a dump truck that does not dump. Needless to say we spent a good hour trying various methods to unload the truck. In the end we faced the inevitable and got out the shovels. But all is well that ends well and now we have our first load of manure in our field for next year’s crops.


We have discovered that we have a rare breed of climbing pigs! Our younger pigs here on the farm are so eager for any compost we might be bringing them that they have developed the ability to climb up to a standing position using the fence panels of their corral. They love to investigate the sound of running water when we fill their water tank. They use their noses to dig all around the bottom of the tank searching for the source of that tantalizing sound. Just watch out if you get in with them-they love eating shoelaces and nibbling on clothes.


If you aren’t careful farming can be a very isolating occupation. Animals and plants require attention every day. On top of that there is always the next thing to be done so it is all too easy to work, work, work. No matter how much one loves what they do, it is tiring to do it non-stop. A wonderful way to break the routine (while still convincing ourselves that we are working) is through “continuing education.” We had a great weekend of reuniting with several old friends from school who are undertaking various farming ventures of their own. We got to swap chicken raising methods with a friend who worked for Joel Salatin and now has her own place in Virginia. We also spent time with a friend working on several organic vegetable farms in the triangle area. To cap it all off today we attended a field day at a NC state organic field research station. There we learned about the development of disease resistant tomatoes, grafting tomatoes, growing fall broccoli, and the efficacy of various weed control methods.


Talking and cooperation are not always traits that come easily to people, especially independent type-A farmer personalities. But an open dialog between farmers, consumers, wholesalers, government researchers and regulators, and of course farmers talking to other farmers, is one of the biggest changes needed in our food system today. Our food is, more often than not, produced behind closed doors (closed even to regulators as is evident from the latest egg recall). Farmers are hesitant (or even prevented by agreements with companies such as Tyson) from sharing ideas with each other or with their customers. It is a system designed to bamboozle, confuse, and hide. It hides environmental destruction, health safety problems, corporate profits, destroyed rural communities, and societal health impacts.

A great NC organization that works to promote the kind of dialog we need is the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. They provide action alerts on food legislation that could harm small farmers, work to educate consumers, and especially promote farmer to farmer networking. Their biggest event of the year is a conference held each December to bring farmers from all over the Carolinas (and sometimes further afield) together to participate in workshops, network, and squeeze in some socializing. We hope to attend this year’s conference in Winston-Salem to continue our “continuing education.” If you are interested in learning more about the organization check out their website at http://www.carolinafarmstewards.org/index.shtml

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Some August news

Could it be that fall is just around the corner? We notice the mornings are darker. In fact, they are dark enough that chores can’t start until 6:15-a whole 15 minutes later! Even though it doesn’t feel any cooler in the sticky August air, it hasn’t actually broken 90 out here on the farm for the last four days or so.

In case we couldn’t tell it was fall by the weather, the calendar tells us it is. At the end of July we started out fall Swiss Chard. The hot and humid weather caused some fungus problems with the young transplants, but many survived. Today we were out in the garden planting our babies. It is great to see little rows of greens in the ground again. Its time for transplanting again!

We need to get these fall greens in now because before we know it days will be short and nights will be cold. At that point the plants really won’t do much growing. So we need them to be large enough to harvest right around the time of first frost. The trick is dealing with the late summer pests. We sprayed a cocktail of items to give them a fighting chance: fish emulsion for nutrients, Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) for caterpillar pests, and a kaolin clay to word off sucking insects and provide some “sunscreen” cooling the surface of the plants. To cap it all off we pulled out some of the white row cover you heard so much about in the spring. That will help exclude insects from the garden bed.

On the animal front I had an amusing task yesterday. We needed to estimate the weight of our hogs to see if we could take them to the butcher a month earlier. Since we have no scale we use a measuring tape much like tailors use to fit people for clothes. But this tape measures the pigs length and heart girth (the roundness just behind their front legs). With these two numbers we can estimate their weight. Our friendly pigs really enjoy attention. This usually makes the measuring easier. However, they have been spending their days totally covered in mud to cool off. Then they like to scratch on trees-or people. So as I measured around the pig’s bellies they were trying to rub on me. So I got to hug 200 lb, mud encrusted friendly pigs. Needless to say I needed a pre-rinse before coming in the house.

Today the pigs got an extra fun treat. I took down their fence and moved their paddock to the next space over. After some careful exploring to establish where I had placed the electric fence they started running around, and around, and around snorting and bucking. They thought it was great to be in a new space with fresh ground to root up. Incidentally, a new study has confirmed that pigs can express optimism and pessimism depending on their environment. Pessimistic pigs run from new stimulus while optimistic pigs move toward something new-our pigs are a bunch of sunshine!

Some Photos of the Farm


Chickens exploring


A chicken exhibiting its athleticism to catch an insect-too fast for the camera!

You know its time to be more social when buckets become your best friend

Flowers always brighten the day

Rain is nice, but it sure makes the grass grow!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Cooler August?


July flowers make?


August peppers!


Everyone and everything at Bluebird Farm has enjoyed several days of cool, cloudiness with the temps not breaking 80 degrees. How refreshing! That meant the soil cooled down from 90 degrees to the mid 70’s. The plants loved the perfect soil temps and we’ve been watching the veggies and grass grow. It was also the perfect time to transplant more cilantro, the last succession of squash and cucumbers, and an attempt to get snow peas seeds to germinate. Hopefully these last squash and cuke plants will have good growing conditions and we will all swim in their fruits.


Cooler weather lets the pollinators do their job


The flowers aren't complaining about the weather!

We move the sheep flock every few days to a fresh patch of ground. This improves both the flock's health and the health of our pasture. Usually when we move them they all put their heads down to dive into the fresh salad bar. They look like this:


But, we have one silly ewe who kind of loses all her sense when there is fresh food available. She ignores, the flock, ignores us, and snarfs up the grass. The funniest part is that she actually snorts as she eats. Can you spot the bad sheep?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Lean Ground Lamb



Hello!

For the next few weeks: We will have lean grass-finished ground lamb at the Moganton and Conover Farmer's Markets on Saturday from 8-12 for the next few weeks. Don't miss it! We have it at these markets (and maybe Wednesdays at Hickory) until supplies last. Try a lamb burgers- mix lamb 50%/50% with ground beef or pork! Remember, this lamb is very lean, please don't overcook it!

Try these Turkish lamb kabobs! William and I spent a wonderful time together in Turkey several years ago. I fell in love with Turkish cooking and Turkish architecture during our travels and the successive weeks I spent traveling solo. Turkish spices blend so well with lamb, tomatoes, and cucumbers.

Turkish lamb kabobs (or koftas)

2 tblsp. water
3 tblsp. butter, softened or melted
3 cloves garlic
2 tblsp cilantro, finely chopped
2 tblsp parsley, finely chopped
2 tblsp paprika
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

2 lbs. ground lamb

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, and mix well. Shape into approx. 16 oblong "sausages" 1 1/2 inch by 3 1/2 inches and press around metal skewers. Grill or broil, 3 to4 minutes on each side, until just cooked through. Remove from heat.

Sometimes, instead of using skewers I use a small slotted grill rack from a Dutch oven and place this on the grill so the kabobs don't fall through. If using your broiler, remember to place a catch pan under the rack to catch drippings.

Serve each portion on the skewer with grilled pita bread, cacik (Turkish version of Tzatziki yoghurt sauce), salted tomatoes wedges. Cacik recipe

Oh how wonderful! Petunia runs with joy!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A summer day on the farm

I thought that this morning I would bring you out to Bluebird farm. Don’t worry, you can leave before the hot, hot afternoon!

6 am

Out the door. I’m still loosening up my shoulders, neck, and fingers. Every morning those three places are the sorest. Walking to feed the cats and up the hill to the chickens is usually enough to warm up my legs.

6:05

Cats are fed. Now comes the hardest part of the morning. I haven’t developed a system of writing down the things I noticed I needed for the next morning’s chores. So I am left to scratch my sleepy head for a moment remembering who needs food and water. I love it when I remember that we are fully stocked.

6:07

This is the part of the walk I usually remember that I forgot something. Today, nothing! I hate turning around.

6:10-7

Open, move, feed, and water meat birds and layer hens. Stroll past the pigs on my way back down for breakfast. Marie has taken care of the baby chickens and started the eggs. Mmmm, by this time I am hungry and sweaty already.


Our hard working truck, loaded and ready for action!

8 am

On the road to Silver Creek Farm

Now is when the day really starts. We head over to Silver Creek farm to work in the vegetable garden before it is unbearable hot. These days there is usually something to harvest every day. Most of the greens we harvest in the spring can hold in the field until we need to pick them for market or CSA. The summer crops on the other hand just keep ripening. Squash, beans, peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes all need to be picked every other day or we will find baseball bat squashes, tough beans, and rotten peppers and tomatoes.

Our day often begins by starting the irrigation pump

After the vegetables are in the shade we move on, usually to weeding. While we weed we are constantly scouting for potential problems so that we can address them as soon as possible. These days we are on the lookout for a wide variety of insect “friends.” While the spring rampage of Colorado Potato Beetles has dissipated summer pests are out in force. Cucumber beetles, squash bugs, squash vine borer beetles, stink bugs, bean beetles, tomato horn worms, and a variety of unknown worms are all causing us difficulties. Our primary line of defense against insects is old fashioned hand picking. When we fall behind neem oil and Bassilus Thuringiensus (Bt) help keep the insects at bay.


I hate weeds!

The neem oil, essential oil from the Indian neem tree, also acts as a fungicide. Hot, humid weather provides ideal conditions for many funguses including blossom end rot on tomatoes and a black fuzzy mold on our squashes. To apply oil, Bt and anything else we may need to spray on plant foliage we put on our “ghost buster” backpacks. They hold 4 gallons of liquid and use a hand pump and spray nozzle to pressurize and apply liquids to plant. They are a great tool for precession application of fertilizers, insecticides, and fungicides (all organic of course).

The dreaded bean beetle larva (the yellow fuzzy thing)

12:30

Time for lunch yet!?

By now it is almost too hot to function in the field. We are hungry, hot, tired, and usually a little grumpy. This is not a good time to come visit. Homeward bound to lunch and a nap. Rejuvenated we will catch up on inside work during the heat of the day before heading back out to move sheep, seed, more weeding, put up crow
deterrents….

A garden visitor

Some summer recipes

Leeks

Leeks are a non-bulbing onion with a mild flavor. The white part of the leek is the sweetest. The greens are perfectly edible. The higher up you use the stronger the onion flavor. How much green to use is a matter of personal preference.

To prepare leeks Remove roots. Then slice half way through the leek along the length. Hold the leek upside down and rinse well. The growth habit of leeks means they tend to fill up with dirt as they grow so they need a good wash.

To cook either

Dice and sauté in butter to serve with just about anything.

Or try

Cutting the leeks into three inch lengths and sauté in butter. Then place the leeks on a piece of good bread, cover with a tomato slice, then top with gruyere or mozzarella cheese. Broil just long enough to melt the cheese.

Pesto version 1

Ingredients
1 big cup of basil leaves
4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 ½ tablespoons of pine nuts
3 tablespoons of original parmesan cheese
1 ½ medium sized garlic cloves

Directions

Crush the basil leaves using a mortar and pestle after washing the leaves carefully (they should not break before you start crushing them. Otherwise they might lose flavor).

Add the olive oil and mix it very well. When it starts to look like a paste add the garlic and the pine nuts and continue mixing all the ingredients.
After you obtain a nice puree season with salt and pepper and continue mixing for another 2-3 minutes. Now, add the parmesan cheese and again: mix it well.
Let the pesto rest before you use it, so the flavor will unfold. 10 minutes should be enough. Use it with your favorite pasta dish or try another dish, such as pesto chicken.

Pesto version 2

Ingredients

½ cup fresh basil
2 cloves garlic
¼ cup walnuts or pine nuts
½ cup olive oil, approx.
Salt to taste

Directions same as version 1

Pesto Tips

Pesto can be made with almost any nut. I have had excellent pistachio pestos as well as roasted almond pesto.

A homemade pesto sauce should be kept in the fridge if you don’t use everything in the same day. You can store homemade pesto for about 1 week, if you cover it with olive oil.

To freeze pesto leave out the parmesan cheese. You can add the cheese after thawing. Divide pesto into meal size portions. Freeze in freezer bags.

Don't forget to stop and smell the basil!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

June photos


Tomato trellis

The garden as seen from the hill

Interesting clouds over the south mountains

Late May bounty

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Killer Insects

As Bluebird Farm has grown and developed it has been one large project after another in expansion and addition. Every week, even every day, brought a totally new project to be tackled-our first chickens, our first butchering, our first sheep, a new walk-in fridge, first planting of each crop, then on to the next first, and the next. But this week we began to see the beautiful cycles of farming. Now, the arrival of a new batch of chickens does not initiate some new adjustments, instead we just prepare and go.

In the garden, summer crops are in the ground and growing. Now our priorities are planting the second succession of the summer crops like tomatoes, cuke, and zuchinnis. Some of our spring crops are done and we clean up the bed, much like in the spring, and prepare for another round of seeds and growth. Also our focus shifts to maintaining the crops we have: namely fighting weeds and insects.

Of course we are always trying to work with natural systems and not fight them. But the weeding and insect killing of the past week can only be described as war. Suddenly potato beetles are everywhere. We are using a variety of physical (spray on clay barriers), manual (hand crushing), and spray methods. Our two first line options for insects are insecticidal soaps and essential oils. The soaps are biodegradable soaps that penetrate insect cells, causing their cell membranes to collapse, dehydrating the whole insect. The essential oil we have been using is neem oil from the neem plant. It is a natural, but powerful, oil that kills insects.

We do try to encourage beneficial insects as well. We are assisted by lady bugs, predatory stink bugs, soldier bugs, and assassin beetles. All of these insects prey on our pest species, helping to keep their numbers in check. Our lady bugs are everywhere and it’s great fun to watch the predatory stink bugs spear and suck the juices from bug larvae. A very good reason to avoid traditional chemical pesticides is that they typically kill all insects-good and bad. Almost always the bad insects will rebound first-this time into a habitat totally devoid of any predators.

A soldier bug eating a colorado potato beetle larva

Sunday, May 30, 2010

May Newsletter

I started writing this newsletter under a leafy umbrella waiting out a few raindrops from a fickle little raincloud. I had just settled into the hammock in the shade for the first time this year. But those raindrops kept coming, and I am grateful for warm, gentle showers. I am especially thankful for the gentle showers that bring back the grass in the pastures without shredding the garden with wind and hail!

Our sheep love their grass!

The animals appreciate the showers too- no flies, nice cool grazing weather. After the hot April weather many of our laying hens decided to go “broody.” A broody hen’s wings droop and they cackle as they walk about with fluffed feathers, all while thinking about a private nest. We have about a dozen American and European heritage breeds of laying hens for the beautiful array of eggs you see at the markets- Barred Rocks, Marans, Silver Laced Wyandottes, Buff Orpingtons, White Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, New Hampshire Reds, Americanas, Lakenvelders, and Golden Campines- all beautiful breeds that thrive outdoors. Two Maran hens showed so much dedication to the nesting idea that we took them up to a private little chicken house where they could sit on a nest of a dozen eggs each without being disturbed. Just 21 days later and the hens have hatched out their little chicks. The fuzzy little ones follow their moms around as the hens cluck and scratch for food. After a break from laying, the laying hens have begun laying again (hooray) and I hope that future spells of hot weather won’t shut down everyone’s laying capabilities.

A mama hen and her day old chicks

As the nights continue to warm, it becomes Swiss chard season. With its beautiful stems of yellow, red, and green the Swiss chard lights up the garden as well as the kitchen. Swiss chard is a great substitute for spinach- it has a great flavor and is packed with nutrients. Chop and sauté the stems with onions and then add the chopped greens and cook like you would spinach. Another great addition to the vegetable fare is Bok Choy. This vegetable is also a beauty in the garden and it’s the ultimate stir-fry vegetable! Large, white stems add a sweet, juicy crunch to any meal. Cook with garlic, grated ginger, mushrooms, carrots, snap peas. Stir-fry the stems for 5 minutes, add the chopped leaves and wilt the leaves for 2 minutes.

Late spring greens-poc choi and cabbages

Warm weather also brings out the insect world. There is no better way to meet the six legged denizens of the world than by weeding a large vegetable field. After several hours on your hands and knees you begin to see the insect world around you. I have noticed, for example, that the lady bugs prefer hanging out on one particular weed over others. It makes me feel a little guilty ripping out their favorite habitat. Finding and destroying other bugs; however, brings no sense of guilt. Our worst so far this year is the Colorado potato beetle. The strikingly striped adults began appearing about a month ago. Since then we have surveyed the potatoes at least every three days to find all the adults, eggs, and larva and squish them. Save the potatoes! Using organic methods sometimes requires the laborious work of hand squishing something like potato beetles, but in the meantime we are able to enjoy all the benefits of friendly insects like predatory wasps and lady bugs that eat the aphids.


See you at the markets!



Up close and personal with a future stir-fry


Coming soon-summer crops like zucchini!