The Backyard

The Backyard

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The $1.98 Hamburger

Natural Acres in Millersburg, Pennsylvania raises and sells organic, grass-fed, local Black Angus (although I think they are shifting away from meat to red raspberries). My husband balked at the prices the single time I bought it and I haven’t had it since. This past weekend, after sitting in my bike seat for nearly 4 hours, I divulged in bad food – a hamburger BBQ on a white roll, chips, pretzels, macaroni and cheese and cookies. It was all processed, non-organic, and likely factory-farmed beef. I hate to say it, but I didn’t feel guilty eating it – it was part of my too-high entrance fee for the race and I was getting my money’s worth! But I immediately got back on the wagon the next day, and decided to add a little more meat into my diet. I already took the plunge last week with some local organic chicken, so I headed to Natural Acres for some local organic beef. Most of it really was too expensive, so I settled for the 90/10 ground round at $6.48 a pound. Yup, that’s outrageous too, but I justified it like this: one pound made 4 burgers so that was $1.62 per burger, coupled with the whole wheat rolls at $3.00/12 totaling .36 each…. It’s a $1.98 burger! That’s affordable, AND it didn’t come in a Styrofoam carton, shipped from out west, raised on genetically modified/pesticide-laced grain. I can see the cows roaming in the fields behind the store. Go to a restaurant and ask for organic, locally-raised grass fed beef and it will likely cost upwards of $5.00, conservatively figuring. Even hubby's favored $1.00 McDonalds burgers aren’t that less in price to the grass-fed burger given you get a little more meat, nutrition, and a benefit to the environment. I hope hubby reads this. He’s still balking at $6.48 per pound, but it WAS good, and it IS affordable!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Snakes Alive!

The furthest compost pile was ready to turn (I have 5 going right now... I'm a glutton for punishment!) -- its been about a month since I started it which is WAY to long to wait to turn it. This pile borders the field with not a lot of activity going on. I'm doing my turning deed, and what do I find but a nest of eggs. ARGH!! What are they? Skunk? Turtle? Snake? Quick... run to the house and look them up. Damn... I don't have a reptile book, or any other kind of book to see what they are - I've just never been into mammals and reptiles. But ahh... the ever wondrous Internet. Rick, quick, look up box turtle eggs. We find a couple pics that maybe look a little like them, but its not a positive identification. Try black snake eggs. BINGO! They are identical for a black rat snake. So now what? Do I want about a dozen black snakes running around? I don't think so... even though black snakes ARE beneficial. Rick suggested scattering them in the field. I went back out and poked at them, and couldn't toss them. So I just pushed them a little closer to the pile so I don't roll over them with the lawn mower and will let mother nature do her thing. I have a sneaky suspicion now that they are exposed, a predator will eat them. What a night.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Replacing Appliances and a Fossil Fuel Furnace

Hubby and I got into a discussion this morning about the future, money, and appliances that are wearing out and will have to be replaced in the next couple years. It got the old brain waves thinking about where the future is headed and energy efficiency when replacing those things. The dishwasher is easy -- no replacement there. I can't say I'm ready to give up the frig, stove, microwave, washer/dryer, lawn tractor, water heater and water pump just yet; although I 've read where folks really do live without these things. They cook with solar stoves and ovens, use solar-powered units to generate battery-power for the refrigerators and other appliances - the Amish have it figured out! (I need to visit a couple of my neighbors!) Maybe I could try my luck without the dryer and a microwave, but definitely not the others. Then there's the furnace. This sparked a little more conversation with hubby. He said, "I'd replace it with another oil furnace." And that was the end of his conversation. I asked if hasn't thought about all the other possibilities out there? Being a little more energy-efficient and being less dependent on oil? What if oil goes up to $10 a gallon in a couple years? What will you do then? "Blankets." was his answer. Ain't he cute?? He said "go ahead... see what's out there." But he has no desire to look into further. He truly has it in his head, we're simply getting another oil furnace, end of story. I can see his point -- the gent who would install is fabulous. He's been cleaning our furnace for 20 years (in our other house too), and he replaces furnaces in a day or two at a very reasonable cost, and is on our doorstep within hours if there's a problem. He's extremely reliable and trustworthy. And I'm sure Rick is thinking of all these things getting another oil furnace (he doesn't say it, but I've learned to figure him out over the years -- he's usually right in the long run 'cause he's smart!). But is it reasonable if oil is $10 a gallon? Is it really reasonable in the long run as the world runs out of oil? So my thoughts are leaning toward an alternative energy-efficient source of heat. Much research is in order. Geothermal is definitely out -- it costs $40,000 to install! We live on top of a sunny hill so wind and solar are options, and I'd LOVE to get an old fashioned cook stove. No, I wouldn't heat a house with it, but I'd use it to cook year-round and it would certainly warm the room I'd be cooking in (a "patio" room adjacent to the kitchen.) I love to dream. How does one go off the grid? It seems unimaginable to me -- but its certainly not impossible. Folks are doing it! Here's my favorite -- Greenpa. And Adapting in Place gives a ton of other links of folks doing it.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Arcadia Broccoli

Impressive. I had to call hubby and tell him to bring the camera when I saw the size of this head of broccoli. Pictures do it no justice -- it's a full 1.5 pounds! Alice Waters would pay me $10 bucks for this head of broccoli, for sure! For folks wondering who the hell Alice Waters is, she's an activist/local food chef for the local/organic food movement for many, many years. She owns an up-scale restaurant in California, Chez Panisse, since 1971 that sells only local food for which you'll pay $95.00 a plate to eat there! We saw her on 60 minutes, and she left the impression money is no object -- so what if people pay $4.00 a pound for grapes... or $10.00 a pound for chicken which left a very sour taste in hubby's mouth about organic food pricing.) Back to the broccoli... my harvest is huge this year - every head is this big and I have 36 plants. That's a mere 54 pounds of broccoli I'll be harvesting. We'll be eating broccoli every way imaginable. Yes, I'll freeze some, but as little as possible 'cause it gets bitter in the freezer. Anyway, its much better fresh. Here's the blurb from Fedco on the variety. Broccoli is one of the few plants that you have few choices of varieites - I'm aware of only 15 or so varieties (compared to 1200 tomatoes!) which is very unusual in the plant world. For many years, I grew the "packman" which is very common. I read Arcadia needs highly fertile soil to form nice sized heads - I guess it likes my dad's horse manure! And the flavor is incredible -- absolutely delicious, not bitter. I will always grow Arcadia broccoli -- there will be more in the fall! I'm hopeful my new fall garden will produce these babies for Christmas dinner.

Rachel, Isaac and Toby

Our valley -- Lykens Valley, Central Pennsylvania -- is blessed with a plethora of Amish Farms who have been hanging out more and more signs of goods for sale: baked goods, produce, and my favorite - free-range brown eggs. My newest shopping experience took me to the home of Rachel, Isaac, and Toby. Isaac is about 8, and was weed eating with his barn mucking boots on and when I asked if they have eggs, he said, "they're in the milk house... she'll get 'em for you." She, was Rachel. A gal of about 10 with glasses. She got the eggs, and I didn't have change, so I gave her $3.00 and told her to keep the change (they were $1.25 a dozen). She said thank you, and something I never had happen before with the Amish was this, she asked my name! They are usually pretty quiet and take the money and go. I was pleasantly surprised. So I returned the honor and ask her name, and her brother's, and of course, the always-present in every Amish household, the family dog, Toby. It was a pleasant experience and when pulled out of the drive way, I thought how absolutely beautiful it is to get fresh food directly from the source -- seeing the animals running freely and grazing in the pastures. If only everyone could experience it, and more importantly, appreciate and understand it. I guess I'm just a farmer/country girl at heart. Although I DO know some city people that truly appreciate old-fashion, natural farming too.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Food, Inc.- A Movie

Compelling... extremely compelling. And that's only the trailer and the website! I doubt I'll see the movie until it comes out on DVD. Food, Inc, is a documentary being run in metropolitan areas (that excludes Harrisburg). I've read Michael Pollan's books (featured in the film) and Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation (co-producer) and the film is about everything they write about -- agribusiness, sugar, corn, food processing, packaged foods and how our food industry dramatically changed in the past 50 years; and we need to get back good, wholesome eating! Incredible. You can sign a petition on the Food Inc. website to get schools to change what they feed the kids.

Fall Garden Planning -- Yes It's Time to think About it!

We're barely into the growing season and already busy, busy, busy with harvesting/cooking/dehydrating/freezing/storing our bounty, but its time to start thinking about what to grow for the fall. Every year since I've been gardening, I looked forward to fall and the first frost as a time to finally take it easy and slow down -- take a break from a long, hard-working summer and relax a little. This year? It ain't happening! For many years, I've read about gardening into the fall and winter and I've even purchased the Four-Season Harvest many years ago and never put it to use, although I think about it and read about it every year. This year, I'm doing it! Sharon Astyk, author of Abundance and Depletion, is holding an on-line class for Fall Gardening and I signed up (I think she has some spot remaining if you are interested). That started the ball rolling and in one week, I bought Eliot Coleman's latest book, Winter Harvest Handbook, have been perusing Eliot's website for ideas for fall and winter growing (worth the visit, by the way, they grow vegetables YEAR-ROUND in Maine! Incredible), and placed an order for fall/winter seeds/plants. I plan to have leeks, several kinds of greens, beets, carrots, radishes, spinach, turnips and maybe some asian greens and broccoli into winter. The cool part about the Fall Garden class is it is real-time and she'll have us starting seeds some weeks, prepping a bed another week, maybe working on the fall/winter cold frames or greenhouses, etc. Boy I'd love a greenhouse -- an Eliot Coleman movable greenhouse would be awesome, wouldn't it!? I've been wanting a greenhouse for 17 years. Maybe this will be the year I finally invest in one. I told hubby it would make a wonderful 50th birthday present! :)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Garden - June 16, 2009

It was mentioned before but is SO worth repeating -- I have the best boss in the world. She was ok with me staying home today to work in the garden and boy oh boy did I work -- a solid 10 hours straight. I was feeling overwhelmed and needed an entire day dedicated to anything and everything in the garden; weeding, staking tomatoes, transplanting some volunteer cantaloupe, seeding greens, compost turning, feeding the plants compost, composting spent and rotted turnips, harvesting peas, freezing peas, and picking some broccoli, romaine lettuce and peas for my mom. My dear mother came and helped today too -- she pulled some weeds. She's awesome. So here are the latest pics:

Hubby - the Caged Chicken Eater

When your beliefs, opinions, and practices day in and day out, are part of a marriage, sometimes (and ONLY sometimes), the couple become one -- you have the same thoughts, ideas, and activities. After 20 years of blissful togetherness, hubby and I do in fact have many likenesses -- but not when it comes to food and prices of organic food. I love my hubby dearly and for the most part, we do the same things, but he continues to buy "cheap" chicken. There, I said it. I can't hide it any more and I'm sort of embarrassed with my preaching about saving the caged birds from a life of misery. One half of our union doesn't care too much about the environment, nor the bird itself. Last week, I brought home some beautiful organic, free range chicken breasts mainly for him, but I was thinking about eating some of it myself (I haven't eaten chicken in probably about two years and this is the first time I found semi-affordable organic/free range/local birds). And what's worse, being the good wife I sometimes am, I bagged up and froze the meat this morning for him - which is what prompted this post. It really hurt putting those birds in a bag. Visions of beakless cacklers crammed in a too-small cages ran through my head. Then after that miserable short life (I think I read broilers are raised for 9 months which is a blessing after being injected with antiobiotics and not being able to move), they are literally thrown in crate and hauled off for slaughter in an industrial complex somewhere. Maybe in China. Or maybe in Oklahoma somewhere, then flown to China to be cut up and packaged, then shipped back to the states to land on the Giant shelves prepackaged for $1.79 a pound. Yes, its that $1.79 that is the driving force to hubby buying this chicken - as is the average American and why the organic movement can't break into the average buyer. I can't convince in him no how, no way, that organic chicken is worth the price. I found local, organic, free-range whole birds for $2.50/lb, but what did he do? He bought the packaged, high-cost-to-the-environment $1.79 meat. I really do love him, but this hurts -- and I don't think he minds too much. Geeeeezzzz. It's all a practice in tolerance and patience -- it's all a test!

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Imperfect Garden

Practicing organic methods in the garden takes T.I.M.E.... something most of us have very little of. Unless you have a postage stamp-sized garden, and not a whole lot of anything else going on, I'm sure you found out the hard-work way, there are simply some things that will not get done. As I sat in the garden this weekend, painstakingly pulling tiny purslane plants from the base of the sweet corn to prevent smothering of the corn (taking extra-special care not to disturb the tender corn babies) in preparation for their first feeding of compost, I thought about conventional gardening and farming. I live in farm country, and I often see the farmers spraying numerous times a season. It's so easy for them to mix it up, and pour it on. Chemicals truly make it much, much easier, but at a cost more valuable than gold. And as I hit the compost pile, turning, digging, pulling, tossing, and carrying finished goods back to the garden, I thought about how much harder it is, but SO much more healthy in more ways than one - the environment, sustainability and "recycling of materials (a.k.a. horse manure!), human health through the food we eat AND our own physical being. Organic gardening is a workout! And even with all that hard work, its still not perfect. There are weeds I'm learning to live with until I can get to them, there are overgrown herbs that can just wait a little longer, there are tomatoes that need staking that can hold out a couple days, and there are areas that simply were left for nature to deal with -- there are peas to pick! Organic gardening is all about spending a lot of time nurturing a healthy lifestyle, and accepting imperfections.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Fedco Seed Variety Review

Many of the seeds from Fedco this year are virgin tries for me -- that's part of the fun of gardening -- experimenting with new varieties. The older heirlooms are especially interesting and if they are still around after all these years and being touted as "super sweet," or "reminiscent flavor;" how could you go wrong? We love carrots, and I got pretty excited last night when I pulled my first bunch. The variety is Sugarsnax and they are delectable. I especially love the long, skinny growth pattern. Very strong plants. Here's a short list of varieties so far this year and what I discovered about them:

Oregon Giant Snow Pea - slow to germinate and come in - maybe only 60% germination rate. But boy are they now taking over. I'm picking almost every night. Flavor is ok -- not the best I've had.

Sugarsnax Carrot - Beautiful looking carrot - long, skinny, colorful; and the flavor is sweet - not bitter.

Early Wonder Tall Top Beet - Incredibly easy and tasty plant; both the greens and the beet itself. I cooked up a pasta recipe that called for the beets AND the greens and it was wonderful.

Risato Rose Radish - Radishes never formed. plant went to flower and seed and the radishes never formed. Bad choice with this one. Pulled and composted the plants.

Purple Top White Globe Turnip - too wet and bulbs started to rot. Mom was disappointed.
Space spinach - You'd think all spinach would be fine, huh? Not so - this variety went to seed fairly quickly and I didn't get near the crop I expected. The flavor was good and the leaves were small and easy to handle, but they are seeding and I'm about to pull the plants and reseed.

Jericho Lettuce - ok; average. I'm not a huge fan of plain lettuce. This was planted for hubby.

Arcadia Broccoli - Interested heads forming. They are super tight and slightly golden-tinged. I'm anxious to taste -- I've found many broccoli varieties to be bitter.

Red Russian Kale - magnificent. I've only recently started eating kale and find store-bought to be bitter. This variety is nothing like store varieties. It's small-leafed, stays fairly compact while growing, and the flavor is spinachy. Even hubby eats it! I'm very pleased with this one and will buy again. Can't wait to reseed for fall.

Safir Cutting Celery - They weren't kidding when they said growing celery is for the experienced gardener. After months of growing indoors, and about a month of being outside in their home for the summer, the plants are just now starting to show signs of actually starting to get life. They are greening up nicely, but still very small. I'm feeding them today with fresh compost - maybe that will bring them around.

Zefa Fino Fennel - slow to germinate and maybe only 50% germination rate, but those that are growing and growing beautifully.
Swallow Eggplant - only 2 seeds germinated after about 2 weeks and those both died. I'd call this a crop failure. I ended up buying eggplant transplants.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Local Pastured Raised Poultry

Shady Acres Dairy Farm in Elizabethtown PA has a stand at the Broad Street Farmers Market in Harrisburg. They sell pasture raised poultry, beef, and sell eggs, milk and homemade cheese from those pastured animals. YES! This is the way it should be. A farm, with fields, and animals in the field. And the farmer selling his products without the fancy packaging and processing. It was awesome to see this gent's stand. What really hit home was his brochure (he doesn't have internet or I'd link to his website). In it, was an order sheet that said:

Fresh Whole Broiler Chickens , 3-5 pounds a piece. $2.25/pound: Not packaged, bring your own containers. Order fresh chickens, and pick them up at our farm on the day they are processed between 2 pm and 6 pm.

It's like a chapter out of In Defense of Food! Michael Pollan spends time at Polyface Farm where the owner, Joel Salatin, processed food exactly like Mr. Wise of Shady Acres Dairy Farm. Yes, I'm vegetarian -- but will make exceptions for locally produced meat where I know the animals are raised and treated humanely, and the grain and food they eat is not part of agribusiness. And it appears I may now have that access without paying an arm and a leg for it! Natural Acres, in Millersburg (local) is locally raised, pastured beef, but way, way too expensive. I can handle $2.25 a pound for pastured chicken. Of course the first thing hubby said was, "but how much is regular chicken for a whole chicken." Don't ask Rick! Just think about the good deed you are doing for mother earth and local farms! I believe I may be stocking my freezer with local chicken.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pics from the Backyard

Oregano on its 2nd sprouting... the first batch was already cut, dried, and jarred. Egyptian onions, bulb fennel, and parsley.
Black Beans (the dark row next to the fence), tiger eye beans, and cannelli beans.

Sugar peas!

Red Beets and carrots.

3 month old strawberries looking mighty strong.
Onions circling peppers. this is the center of the rose garden which used to be planted in annuals -- usually begonias or marigolds. This year, its all edibles.

Broccoli just about to overwhelm us -- we have 40 plants that will be ready to pick all at the same time!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Salty Local Strawberries

Strawberry season is here and the locals are hanging out their strawberry signs and I made my first stop this week to pick up a couple boxes. Two weeks ago, I splurged at the Broad Street Market in Harrisburg and purchased North Carolina berries -- they were $3.75 a quart. In the back of my mind I was thinking, that's kind of expensive. This week, the local farm where I normally get the out-of-this-world berries, soaked me $4.00 a quart. I was hesitant, but bought them anyway - 5 boxes becauses I wanted to try my hand at drying them. Today, I decided, that's too much and unless I find a cheaper way to get them (pick my own at the fruit farm 1.5 miles away from me??? More on that if I do), I'm not getting any more. Why are they so much? $4.00 is really out of hand -- and that's not even for organic. I can't imagine what a quart of organic strawberries cost. To be honest, I've never even seen organic strawberries. Possibly its because there are so few organic plant growers (the plants must also be organic in order for a grower to sell certified organic berries). Hubby put the bug in my ear -- why pay that? Next year, I'll have all I want - for free - from the backyard. Those 100 strawberry plants that went into the backyard 2 months ago and very, very happy in their new home and will show their appreciation to me next year. So this year I'm saving my money on strawberries and spending it elsewhere. I'll await wild black raspberry and wild blueberry time and pick for free until my heart is content! It's only about a month away -- and wild black raspberries are in the FRONT yard - more than I've ever seen (they like the rain). It's nice to not have to travel too far.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Chili Backyard Update

The Backyard from atop the horse S--- pile. Asparagus in the front, the main vege patch, and the conversion rose garden closest to the house. And the white spot in the middle of the patio? That would be the non-working antique behemoth of a freezer that's about to be turned into a root cellar. Wormy
The gorgeous, beautiful, magnificent, delectable compost pile. The best food on earth.

The potato "wall". I had thought I lost all the potatoes to frost on May 19, but low and behold, mother nature didn't beat up on them too much -- they're back! In full force.

And the blog header is the main vege patch -- green beans and corn alive and well. Everything is organically grown and and seeds are from FEDCO -- no GMO seed companies spreading their bad word in MY backyard.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Our Roots Grow Deep - The Story of Rodale. A Book Review

“We’re not publishing; we’re trying to make the world a better place, a healthier place.”
Ardie Rodale, Chief Inspiration Officer of 60-year old publishing company, Rodale, 2007.

Our Roots Grow Deep, The Story of Rodale is yet another book in my repertoire of readings that have inspired me, motivated me, and has provided focus I always crave to continue living the healthiest lifestyle I can. Rodale was my original inspiration for gardening (Organic Gardening magazine in the early 90’s), and when I took on bicycling and outdoor fitness in the early 2000’s, little did I know that Rodale’s other mission is health and fitness. Their mission is my mission – organic gardening (their roots, my roots) and health and fitness (bicycling, running, hiking, swimming, etc). I’m in awe. (For those of you who hadn't realized it, I have another blog that focuses on my fitness life -- Chilibloggin. You'll love the blog header picture that "connects" organic gardening with biking! )

The book spans the years of the life of the founder, J.I. Rodale to the present day 3rd Generation family-owned business. From the 1930’s, to 2008, the company saw numerous transitions, but always survived and grew. The company never left its “roots” of founder J.I. Rodale – organic gardening and healthy living. Even today, and moving forward, management continually focuses on that mission.

In its seventh decade, and under its third generation of family leadership, Rodale is neither complacent nor comfortable with power. Despite all the success and growth, the company has never succumbed to a sense of entitlement. An in the millions of magazine and books that it publishes every year, the exuberance and creative spirit of J.I. Rodale, the determination and humility of Bob Rodale, the spirit and strength of Ardie Rodale - and the promise of a birth future shine through. As Maria Rodale put it: “Our goal is to reach as man people as possible with out message and to change the world for the better.”

Being the sap I am, I cried twice reading this book – you become part of the family flipping through the pages, and you felt their pain when both J.I. Rodale and his son, Bob Rodale died suddenly. The book leaves no stone unturned – it talks about the publishing business and their entire family in the business throughout the years. The parents, the children (one of them died of AIDS), the grandchildren, where they lived, how they lived, where they went to school and college – its all in the book, written with a passion for living. The book itself is an impressive coffee table-style book that your guests will enjoy paging through while relaxing. There are many, many pictures and the bottom of each page provides interesting historical events throughout the years – all relating to significant accomplishments by Rodale at the that moment in time. My passion is Rodale’s passion – organic gardening and health and fitness. After reading this book, I feel like I should be working for Rodale. Very inspiring, indeed.