Thursday, June 19, 2014

WWOOF Canada and Worldwide

Unlike slugs in the garden, my article on slugs has disappeared so I'll have to find and re-post it. Sorry about that.

Today is a very wet one with 40mm of rain expected in the next 12 hours or so and maybe some thunder showers too this afternoon. So what do you do with wwoofers who are wanting to work and learn but can't because of the weather? You give them homework. Now as many of you know, not all work at a farm is outdoors but at this time of year most of it is field work which can be made near impossible by heavy prolonged rain. And I'm not sure I want to be out sloshing over my fields today anyway. It's true that work doesn't stop for the weather but we have to be practical. The animals are fed and bedded down except for a few brave roosters out for a walk and the turkey toms who have only just decided that it's not going to stop raining so they'd be best off indoors. What we've decided to do is clean their cabin, empty the toilet, maybe sort out the tool shed a bit and read up on Humanure. Part of being a wwoofer is learning about life on an organic farm and at our farm it's about composting. Here's the link if you'd like to read all about why composting toilets are so terrific in the Humanure Handbook. We have a basic humanure toilet plus an very fancy Sun Mar model and given the choice I think the bucket method suits me better.

I know I've talked about wwoof before and how great it is to meet young people and have some far help. With Steve gone, Chris working and the kids in school it's always a struggle to get things in the ground and they've been really helpful with planting. This rain is great at least for giving everything a good soak so we won't need to water for the next ten days or so at least. As soon as it stops we have apple trees to plant, berry bushes to go in and an orchard to rescue. We're going to take down the standing deadfall for firewood and get our piles stacked properly for drying. It should be fun and lots of work. 

WWOOF, as an organization and an idea isn't new. Although you may not have heard of them, there have been many schemes over the years to train up new generations of farmers, provide education and help young people find their own path in life. Here's an interesting video about one such scheme in England.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Budget Food Ideas from WWII and Earlier.

The toast sandwich and other hyper-cheap meals


At just 7.5p a serving, a toast sandwich is the cheapest lunch option, says the Royal Society of Chemistry. What other ultra-economical meals - of a similar order of simplicity - could be revived in these cost-conscious times?
As recipes go, it's even simpler than boiling an egg and as cheap as chips (even cheaper, in fact).
For a toast sandwich take a very thin slice of bread and toast it. Once cold place it between two slices of bread, also sliced very thinly. Butter optional. Salt and pepper to taste.
Devised by Victorian domestic goddess Isabella Beeton, this recipe comes from her 150-year-old Book of Household Management. Now the Royal Society of Chemistry wants to revive the toast sandwich to help the country through hard times.
But what's the appeal, beyond saving pennies? She recommended it as "very tempting to the appetite of an invalid", whose weak digestion was thought to benefit from plain food. Some who have tried it enjoy the textural variety between the cold crisp filling and the soft outer layers.
Children eating carrots on sticks Wartime treats - carrots on sticks
Food historian Annie Gray says Victorian era recipes aimed at invalids fit the bill of cheap and quick to prepare. As well as the toast sandwich, beef tea was another favourite.
"That's as simple to prepare as simply boiling up beef bones to make a stock."
The toast sandwich isn't the only recipe in Mrs Beeton's compendium to use cold toast as the basis for a meal. She recommended toast soup - 1lb (0.45kg) of bread crusts boiled in 2oz (0.05kg) of butter and a quart (1.1 litres) of "common stock". Or for a refreshing drink, what about "toast-and-water"? Made with, you guessed it, a slice of stale loaf toasted, then soaked in a quart (1.1 litres) of boiling water until cold.
"If drunk in a tepid or lukewarm state, it is an exceedingly disagreeable beverage," warned Mrs Beeton. Quite.
Steerage soup
Another Victorian cookery writer was Charles Elme Francatelli, a former royal chef, who wrote A Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes in 1852.
Illustration from Mrs Beeton's book How Mrs Beeton envisaged supper
"His recipes ranged from Sheep's Head Broth to A Pudding made of Small Birds - the type of dishes people are too squeamish to make today," says Gray.
He recommended starting the day with pumpkin porridge, which involved little more effort than simmering chunks of pumpkin with a little butter and water and adding a little milk before eating.
"Cheap eating largely revolved around loading up on carbohydrates to fill you up so you didn't need too much meat, which was much more expensive," says Gray.
An old Scottish recipe for Fitless Cock was equally economical as it contained no meat. It was a chicken-shaped oatmeal pudding which "fooled no-one", says food writer Stefan Gates.
To make Fitless Cock mix together oatmeal, shredded suet and a finely chopped onion with a beaten egg. Form into the shape of a chicken and boil for two hours.
Mock goose
A similar recipe dates from World War II, when the Ministry of Food introduced rationing to cope with food shortages. As the system gathered momentum, the ordinary ration came to encompass meat, cheese, butter, margarine, bacon and ham, tea, preserves, sugar and cooking fats such as lard.
To help war-weary home cooks, its austerity recipes ran in newspapers and on its daily radio broadcast. As well as mock cream and myriad uses for spam and dried egg, it devised this recipe for mock goose, complete with stuffing.
  • 150g (6oz) cup dried lentils
  • 1/2 pint water
  • a little lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • for the stuffing - breadcrumbs (made from two slices), chopped onion, fresh sage
Simmer the lentils until all the water has been absorbed. Add lemon juice and season. Then to make the stuffing fry the onion in a little water, drain and add breadcrumbs and chopped sage. Place half the lentil mixture in an ovenproof dish, then layer on the stuffing and top with the remaining lentils. Cook at 180C (356F) until crisp.
Accompany with boiled potatoes and shredded cabbage cooked in a modicum of water. Reserve the cooking liquor to make gravy. Doesn't appeal? Tough.
Oyster seller Oysters used to be food for the poor
When the Titanic set sail in April 1912, its hold was loaded with goodies such as wine and fresh asparagus. But not all passengers dined on such fine fare. A typical dinner menu in steerage included rice soup with cabin biscuits and corned beef.
Rice soup was made with chicken stock, rice, onion and celery, with salt and pepper to taste. After two hours in the pot, it was strained and cream or milk added.
And finally, how about something sweet for afters? A carrot perhaps? Mrs Beeton recommended carrot jam for those unable to afford fruit. In WWII carrots stood in for stone fruits in desserts such as apricot flan, or were made into carrot fudge with gelatine to set and orange squash for flavouring.
But some recipes do not translate today because cheapness changes over time, says Emily Angle, editor of BBC Food.
"Oysters were food for the poor until they were all eaten. Their rareness transformed them into food for the rich."

Out To Pasture - Where Our Meat Comes From

We believe that animals are meant to be free to move around, skip and play, roll in the dust or wallow in a puddle on a hot day. And because of that we raise all our animals on pasture, even the ones we are keeping for meat. Sheep are the last animals to come into the barn while they deliver their lambs and then they are the first back outside once the weather permits. They have shelter from the wind, rain and cold as do all our animals from Chickens with their hoop houses to our upcoming pigs who will also roam free and have small huts for shelter.

Because we plan on using our animals to renovate the fields that have been left in such a sorry state of neglect, we have a specific plan to use them in rotation:
-First the sheep will graze down the grass, benefiting from the lush growth for a few weeks.
-Next the pigs will come behind them plowing, treading and rooting up the soil.
-The chickens will come last for their turn and after they've scratched through the turned up soil we'll plant a cover or grain crop depending on what we need.
-After we harvest our grain crop we'll have the sheep back up again for a trim up before planting a winter feed crop of turnips, mangles and kale for the animals to graze.

Somewhere in this rotation we'll include turkeys, probably in their own fields away from the chickens to avoid that horrible disease 'Blackhead'. The goats have a specific purpose in that they are going to clear out the brush in and around the pasture. And if I haven't totally lost you up to this point you should be wondering what happened to the pigs? Where did they go? Well, for the hottest months we'll have them in the cool, shady and damp area between the orchard and the river where they can wallow, root through the woods for interesting things and enjoy the sunny pasture or shady woodland as they desire.

The benefits to this system are that the animals will not pass any parasites to each other and so they'll die off due to lack of a specific host, greatly reducing numbers of worms without medication or other chemicals. We feed Diatomaceous Earth already which helps. Another benefit is that we get to feed our animals good grass as part of their food and they are helping to prepare the soil for later plantings. Their dung is increasing the soil fertility and after the winter feed crops are eaten we'll be seeding new pasture seed which benefits everyone. To cover the 5 cleared acres we've got should take 2 years to do it well but of course it will depend a lot on the soil fertility and moisture in July and August, none of which we can control.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Misty Weekend

We're getting so much done with our wwoofers it's great. And we're having a great time too. After getting sunburn yesterday we're spending a couple of hours this afternoon tidying up the yard and getting rid of some junk. Meghan and Markus are out breaking up old furniture that's no good and getting it ready for the fire. Meghan's calling it the 'German Smash'. It's a misty rainy afternoon so they're keeping busy still which is good because it's too wet to work in the garden.
Caely and Steve are fencing which they seem to have been doing a lot recently. My small garden is now almost fenced and chicken proof which will be nice because I only want them in there to get bugs on my terms, not to dig up my seeds and make a dust bath in the middle of the pea patch. We re-did the main fence across our pasture so now theoretically the sheep will stay in their place. And soon I'll actually have a front yard too which will be great.

The cabin is as done as it's going to get right now. Over the winter I'll cover the joints with wood trim. It's pretty squished in there but hopefully it's comfortable enough. Markus and Caely are super polite and nice so I'm not sure they'd say something anyways. I hope they would though. They really are a great help. It seems like they've been here for ages and it's only been a week. I'm going to miss having them around when they leave.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Weekend Showers

Well we're back safely from the city. We drove the boys to a dance last night and arrived home after 1pm only to get into bed and listen to the mournful bleating of a lamb. After I couldn't stand it I found a flashlight and went out into the rain to investigate. And there he was, running around and making a racket inside the Wwoofers cabin. I got him over the fence but the other sheep came running over and got out so William and I were rounding up sheep at 2am in the rain. Not so much fun when you're tired. This morning they were out again and we've now got half the flock in the front field and the other half in the back field. Time to get the fence finished once and for all. It's another wet day which is good because the ground's had a nice deep soaking and already the grass and trees are looking perkier. Most of the damage done by the hard freeze a couple of weeks ago has been fixed except for my poor fuschia which took a nasty hit. But the trees are leafed out now and it's definitely Spring/Summer.

So what are we upto? I've got a whole list of stuff to plant but first we're finishing off the roof on the wwoofers bathroom and painting the ceilings and walls. It's a lot of work but once it's done then we can move on to other projects. Caely and Markus arrive next week so it's a bit of a priority to get it all finished before Steve leaves on Monday morning again. It's supposed to be showery today but nice tomorrow so if it's dry enough I can finish the painting and have everything done.

I'll get some pics later and give you an update.