The Backyard

The Backyard

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Hops, Grapes, Elderberries and Apples - Winter Fruits of My Labor

Today's blue skies were hard not be under. The air was crisp and birds were singing springtime tunes. Warmth is around the corner and it was a perfect day to get out for a change. I hadn't planned on pruning anything, but my first snip of the grape vines led me to trim ALL the vines (5 of them), the Hops (no, I don't brew beer -- I just think its a cool looking vine), the volunteer fruit tree (it suddenly appeared amongst the elderberries and has grown to consume its own place in rhubarb row - so I pruned it to see what fruits it might bear), and the real fruits of my labor today -- the apple trees. I planted 3 apples trees when we moved here 15 years ago, and never did anything else with them. I'm not a believer in spraying, so I never sprayed -- but I never pruned them either thinking maybe with a little luck and no work, they'll produce something. They never did, but I never really payed much attention nor cared much either. So today, out of the blue (must have been the sky), I took the ladder, a good trimmer, and my tree climbing skills and chopped 15 years worth of growth off of 3 apples trees. At first I wasn't sure if I was taking enough off, then a vague memory of my master gardeners days came to mind that these babies like to be naked in the dead of winter, so naked they became. This will force some serious growth into the tree, with hope they'll bear fruit for the first time. You'd think after 15 years I'd get something out of an apple tree wouldn't you? Oh, that's right...I DID get an apple in 1998 - I forgot. And I believe I remember seeing a bird peck at one other apple last year. So this summer we may be picking apples. Won't that be a delight for the first time?

Organic Bread from Scratch

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, my latest read (see other post) convinced me to think about making my own organic bread so I know exactly what's in it and whether or not its truly organic, and of course eliminated a lot of that crap they put in bread nowadays - High Fructose Corn syrup, sugar, hydrogenated garbage, "enriched" wheat flour, etc. Of course there's no time to make bread as we all know...the old fashioned kneeding of dough and an all day affair. Enter Bread Machine. I had one years ago, but it only lasted about 3 years until it broke. So the new one is on the way. You may ask, what benefit is it to the environment using an electric bread machine? Interesting article here on Bread Machines vs Store bought bread. They claim a loaf of bread is 50% less than a loaf of store bought bread.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Book Review - Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - A Year of Food Life

You'd think I just finished a fictional love story the way tears are streaming down my face. Why is it the most unexpected of things force a burst of tears? Edward Scissorhands had me sobbing -- now its the birth of baby turkeys as I flipped the final page of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. 15 years ago when Rick and I first moved to our little house in the country, I picked up a book called The Good Life, by Helen and Scott Nearing. It talked about living off the land, and being self sufficient - "homesteading" it was called. The book was written at a time in the 40's, 50's and early 60's when it was the "norm" to live and buy locally. Helen and Scott both lived into their nineties from what they believe to be "the good life" of eating their own foods. At that time, there were few industrial agricultural operations of "CAFOs" as they are called today (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation).

Animal Vegetable Miracle takes you through a modern day experiment of one-year of living off the land with only food they grew themselves or purchased from local farmers market -- always making sure the food was in fact "local" and not shipped (using precious resources) or chemically-produced with pesticides/herbicides. The book reaffirmed what I felt 15 years ago, that you CAN live off the land and buy only local; but it takes work and lot of it - starting seeds, planting, weeding, harvesting, canning/freezing, and the part that in my opinion takes the longest - cooking a beautiful meal from scratch. Time-consuming, but SO worth it when you grew it yourself. But this mom, dad, and two daughters loved and lived for every moment of their 1 year experiment. She planned for 3-years in advance of the experiment of what she'll need to sustain her family. She planted fruit and nut trees along with perenniels that would be producing by the time of the experiment -- rhubarb, asparagus, strawberries and raspberries. Realizing the drastic changes in their food habits during their 1st week of grocery shopping, they allowed themselves each one luxury item that is not available in the Northern Hemisphere -- coffee for dad, spices for mom, dried tropical fruit for the eldest daughter, and cocoa for the youngest daughter. Each luxury item had to come from a Fair Trade organization and be organic. The only other item they couldn't find within 100 miles of where they lived, was 100%whole wheat flour to make their own daily bread. They had that shipped from Vermont. They even raised their own chickens and turkeys -- explained in detail from the varieties they picked to be good egg-layers that winter well, to the heritage turkey that actually breed themselves which is what brought the tears to my eyes. 99% of modern day turkeys are the breed Broad Breasted White which is artificially inseminated by humans. They've been bred over the years specifically to be raised for meat and get SO fat, they can't breed themselves...thus human intervention. Barbara Kingsolver selects a heritage turkey breed that by the end of the book, hatches their on brood. A final chapter in the final month of their year of living locally. That was her success of the entire project and the icing on her cake.

The book goes month by month, featuring an animal or vegetable dominant in that month. Of course early spring was what to eat? It was a monthly discovery of food, family gatherings, and learning from neighbors. At one point they visit an organic Amish farm and shell peas for dinner as a group; at another time they visit an organic home gardener in Maine whom grows huge tomatoes nearly year round in the ground, in a heated greenhouse. She grows her food on about 1/4 acre total, with a surrounding of fruit trees and what mother nature provides (mushrooms, wild raspberries). They tell the story of food for an entire year. She harvest 300 lbs of tomatoes, cans 40 quarts of anything tomatoey, 40 quarts of vegetables/fruit, and stuffs the chest freezer full with prepared pesto and shredded zuchinni ready to pop in a winter recipe. They preserve many root crops in a cold cellar - butternut squash, several varieties of potatoes, sweet potatoes and even peanuts. The 9 year old daughter learns a less on of entrepreneurship and economics with "her" chicken business. She discovered chickens can be pets AND profit...the "nice chickens" stay as breeders and layers, the "bad" roosters end up on the dinner plate. She realizes the profit margin of organic chicken meat vs organic this smart 9 year old figures out how to run a business. The chapter I didn't care much for was the "harvesting" of chickens and turkeys which is all the gorey details. A necessary must in her scheme of the experiment.

This is a must read for anyone caring about where your food comes from and how was it grown and even more so if you have the land to grow your own food. Was what you just bought at the grocery store laced with pesticides? How much gas did it take to get it here? What poor South American farmer suffered from chemical poisoning while picking this crop? And what northern bird species died out as a result of habitat loss because of the coffee I'm drinking. We're killing our earth and its people and most folks haven't a clue they are doing so. Thought provoking, and interesting. Spread the word, buy local.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Yet Another Top-Rated Organic Seed Company

There must be a gazillion seed company and catalogs out there - most to my dismay being supplied by the chemical/genetically modified seed giant, Monsanto. Did you know Monsanto owns 60% of all seed suppliers? Very, scary thought where our society is going with regard to agriculture. Monsanto is an opinion I'll save for another post... While reading my latest and greatest book, Animal, Vegetable, Mircale by Barbara Kingsolver, she mentioned an organic seed co-op that flat out refuses to sell anything remotely sourced from Monsanto. Of course they are now my new favorite seed supplier -- FEDCO Organic Suppliers. If you read about them, you'll find them located in the Northeast, all out organic, and the part I like is their seeds are afforable, sold in smaller quantities, and they have a huge variety. But the even better part is their stance on Monsanto. Its a MUST READ. This link tells you everything you ever wanted to know about genetic modification to seeds and why should avoid them like the plague. Trust me, once you read this, you'll read every label of every product you ever purchase again. But to save time reading, just buy ORGANIC! My order is in with FEDCO - probably a lot more than I can handle now that I have to be putting more saddle time in for a couple long bike races this summer - but I simply couldn't resist the tempatation to try an "heirloom tomato" sample. It sounded too good.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Organic Coffee - Best Buy at Trader Joes

My $50 gift card for Trader Joe's was burning a hole in my pocket and today I finally made the trek to Media to check things out. My neice and my boss have been raving about this place for months and that I'd luv shopping there (all things organic and natural...although read on for my observations). My list was long, and about half of those things made it to the cart, with Organic Coffee winning the best buy prize. They had many varieties of Organic Coffee -- Sumatra, Peruvian and a Trader Joe's Breakfast blend. All Fair Trade, shade grown and organic. 4 varieties are chilling in the freezer. But the best part was the price. None were more than $7.99 per 14 oz and even a full pound for the one variety. Now the observations; all things are NOT organic there. Yes, they have more choices of organics than most store (except Whole Foods of course), but its not totally organic and you DO have to read the labels carefully. AND some of the prices of products weren't always a good buy. Yes, the majority was, but some were not such as raw almonds. One unique, affordable item I found was Wild dried Blueberries. That was the first time I saw dried blueberries for purchase. So will I go back? Absolutely for the coffee for sure; and next time I'll take a cooler to tote home some rare, "healthy" fish.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Fish is Back

After about 3 months of no fish, seafood, nor meat in the diet, the old bones started screaming and yelling that something just ain't right. My workouts were suffering, my muscles were tired and weak most of the time - even with soy protein added in the diet. So this week was an experiment of increasing protein to 100 g a day (I was getting about 50-70), and I took the plunge and ate some "healthy" salmon -- the Alaskan wild caught kind that doesn't hurt the enviornment much (except the shipping resources to get it here). Low and behold, I'm back to "normal." I can workout again without any issues and the energy levels are back up. There was a vegan here at work that was meatless (totally) for 14 years and he was forced to start eating again by his doctor. His protein levels were SO low for so many years it was reaching a critical health issue stage. So the search will begin for the "healthy" good for the environment fish.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Garden Planning 2008 - Organic Seed Choices

Time is SO precious in the Spring, Summer and Fall with all the training/biking/kayaking/racing going on, but I SO love going out to the garden and picking dinner in the summer. There's nothing more enjoyable than fresh, grilled, organic vege's from the garden to the table in about and hour. That's the hard part...finding that hour to harvest, cut up and cook. So the thought process on spring garden planning went toward what is the quickest to harvest, easiest to grow, and most economical when it comes to buying the same organic produce in the grocery store. Besides my annual growings of onions, maters and peppers, the early spring answer was GREENS. Spinach, lettuce mixes, salad mixes, and chard are on the seed list - they are super easy to grow and just as easy to cut off and throw in the pot to cook (or salads). And in most cases, they're fairly pricey at the grocery store for organic varieties. I found several organic seed companies to purchase from, and also found a Pennsylvania organic seedling company that I'm contemplating getting a mixed-flat of tomatoes/peppers/eggplant. I don't think I've EVER seen organic seedlings at a nursery, nor do I know of a nursery that grows organic seedlings. That's a rarity, indeed. So check these guys out, but have in mind what you want (know your varieties) because they have no pictures...its all words and listings: Organic seedlings in Pennsylvania, Common Ground Here is one of my favories - Seeds of Change they are a little expensive and not PA-based, but the company is environmentally aware and purposeful. The Cooks Garden - a Favorite (Pennsylvania based). Home Harvest Seed Company (Pennsylvania based). Park Seeds - tried and true old favorite, not in PA. Organic Gardening-related companies - huge list of links. And an incredibly informative website on How to Go Organic. Tons of info in this one.
Happy planning!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Certified Organic Means the Seeds and Seedlings Too

My husband and I were discussing what warrants "Certified Organic." Does it mean the way you grow the vegetable or fruit or does it mean organic from seed and seedlings also. While combing catalogs and websites for spring plantings, I found the Pennsylvania Organic and standards . The short answer is YES; your seeds and seedlings must be certified organic if your intent is to be a certified organic commercial grower and seller of organic products. But read the above link for more details on non-organic acceptance of seedlings/seeds. The difficulty I'm having is finding certified organic, sweet spanish onion seedlings. No other variety, no seeds -- seedlings and organic and they must be sweet spanish to make my dear mother happy. I'm simply not finding please share if you know a source. In the meantime, I may get non-organic seedlings because onions are the BEST produce to purchase for the least amount of pesticides on them. And they certainly will be raised organically.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Non-Organic Foods Can Make You Fat!

Bicycling magazine's March 2008 issue has an article entitled Why Organic by Selene Yeager. I'd link it, but its not available on-line, so I'll paraphrase from the article.

At first glance, I expected the normal buy-organic-because-its-better-for-you and helps save the earth story, but this article delved a bit deeper into an interesting concept about organic food that I haven't read yet. They claim The same pesticides that poison the envirornment also pollute our bodies. Pesticides, such as organochlorines are stored in our fat cells then released into our bloodstreams when we burn fat, disrupting the fucntion of our mitochondria (our cells' energy-making furnaces). In a 2004 study published in the International Journal of Obesity, researchers at Canada's Laval University reported that dieters with the highest levels of organochlorines had a greater metabloic slowdown as they lost weight than their peers with lower levels of the pollutant, likely because the toxins hinder the energy-burning process. Other studies indicate that pesticides may actually contribute to weight gain. The article then went on to talk about the benefits of buying organic which we all know about - at least those of you reading this post know about it or you wouldn't be reading now, would you! The article sited buying organic fruits and vegetables as the most important area to buy organic and referenced the Environmental Working Group as an organization who ranked common produce from highest to lowest based on tests done for pesticides on produce. Other lists are at

Buying organic milk is important too, along with farm raised, organic meat. Fish is an area to be extra concerned when it comes to toxins according to the article, but organic fish and eating fish is a whole other story in itself; I'll opt to stay meatless and study this list for buying hubby his fish.

Not knowing a whole lot about organochlorines, google provided some interesting reads. Mainly, it's the pesticide that was in DDT, and today is in many, many pesticides in a milder form. Here's the scary part:

Because of their chemical structure, organochlorines break down slowly, build up in fatty tissues, and remain in our bodies for a long time. Pesticide residues on food are a major source of organochlorine exposure. In a recent analysis of organochlorine residues in the U.S. food supply, Pesticide Action Network found that even those chemicals that have been banned for decades are showing up consistently in food samples tested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This can be explained in part by the long life of many organochlorines in the environment (dieldrin and the breakdown products of DDT, for example, can remain in soil for decades), and in part from the transport on wind and water currents - as well as food imports - of pesticides that continue to be used in other countries.

Whew....all the more reason to stay organic. I'm a believer...are you?