My LAB making rendered a lot of whey, and even more curds. I was planning on turning that into cottage cheese, but after straining and pressing it remained too crumbly. So this morning, for Father’s Day, I got experimental and after a couple of trials put some yummy curds/egg/gluten-free flour/salt and sugar “pancakes” on the table. With homemade blueberry jam they reminded everyone of blintzes, only better. Crunchy and melted, salty and sweet, with a hint of sour, it was a hit!

I checked on the nucs we took off the big Sam hive and one after the other they turned out queen right with laying queens. 100%! One hive became seven, just like that. The chickens are robust and healthy and laying too many eggs to keep up with, and the six chicks are thriving too (and starting to croak instead of cheep!). The garden is perking up now that the weather has shifted to warm. The ferments on my counter top are abounding.

Big jar of LAB, and the five ingredients for OHN, fermenting in their brown sugar.

You can imagine the smell of the cinnamon bark just by looking at it’s color.

These milk curds are so rich! They’ll be paneer tomorrow.

Today I was finally happy with the seedlings planted in the garden. The lettuces, for instance, have been in the ground for three weeks and in those weeks hardly put on any weight.  The peas are pathetic. The cold and rain would be fine for those, but for being followed instantly by heat wave weather. The up-and-own has been holding back everything, except for the weeds. (And the mushrooms have all turned to sludge.) But on my morning tour of the garden today, everything looks perked up. Must be yesterday’s perfect 70F, perfect mix of sunshine and clouds, a not-too-cool night and this dewy, overcast morning. And yesterday’s dose of this KNF!

Hail the ugly Homer Bucket! In went harvested rainwater, OHN (Oriental Herbal Nutrient), FAA (Fish Amino Acids) and FPJ (Fermented Plant Juice), the inputs for stimulating basic vegetative growth during the plant’s consumptive stage and egging new organs towards maturity. At 500:1 dilution (FAA) and 1000:1 dilution (OHN and FPJ), these went into each 5 gallon bucket at respectively 2 tbsp + 1 tsp  and 2 tsp. A little goes a long way.

I also added a tablespoon of micronized Azomite, a splash of liquid kelp and of EM1. Six buckets of this went out onto the veg garden as a foliar and soil soak. I still have three “unsettled” garden beds waiting for the squashes, zukes and cukes to harden off. Once those are in, and once the plants are bigger and need more, I’ll need to figure out the irrigation. I enjoy the watering and face time with each seedling in this perfect weather, but when it gets to 90F, I’d rather open a valve. More on irrigation soon!

My KNF/biochar trial partner and I also planted tomatoes and peppers into our Community Garden beds. I tucked in some lettuce, chard, celery, and scallions. We ran out of time to apply KNF (same as above) to half those beds, but I’ll run over there and do it today.  The sun exposure int that plot is out of this world, as are the massive amounts of worms. And weeds and pests… can’t have it all perfect. Those seedlings were the same batch as the ones I planted here. I’m curious about the difference between the trial beds and the difference between the Community Garden plot and my own garden, where I apply biochar/KNF throughout.

 

Cross-post from the Transition Wayland website

Today we started the carbon/biochar and Korean Natural Farming inputs trial at our plot in the Community Gardens. Andrea and Kaat divided two beds in half. All halves received biochar (“pre-loaded” with compost – never apply pure biochar by itself!) and straw. Two of those halves (one in each bed) received the first Korean Natural Farming inputs.

According to Wikipedia, Korean natural farming (KNF) takes advantage of indigenous microorganisms (IMO) (bacteria, fungi, nematodes and protozoa) to produce fertile soils that yield high output without the use of herbicides, pesticides, fungicides or industrial fertilizers. A result is improvement in soil health, improving loaminess, tilth and structure, and attracting large numbers of earthworms. This practice has spread to over 30 countries, and is used by individuals and commercial farms.

In Wayland, the main student and advocate of KNF is Kaat,who has studied the techniques, makes the inputs herself (this is fundamental to KNF: all inputs can be made at home from “indigenous” materials), and is in the second year of applying them. Last year she saw great improvement, especially in her berry bushes and fruit trees, but of course that is anecdotal. She is for that reason very curious about this side by side trial.

The first inputs, which aim to load the soil with the right organisms, were Kaat’s home-made Fish Amino Acids (FAA) and Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB), and EM-1 (not home-made and not traditionally a KNF input, but entirely in line with KNF).

The first seedlings (hardened-off broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Tom Thumb lettuce, arugula and pac choi will receive more FAA, as well as Fermented Plant Juice (FPJ) and Oriental Herb Nutrient (OHN) once they’re over the transplant shock.

The idea of the trial arose when NOFA Mass invited farmers and gardeners to participate in biochar/no biochar trials. According to NOFA Mass, for centuries, biochar has been used throughout the world as a natural and easily-obtained soil amendment that builds microbial communities and long-term fertility in soils. Created through a process known as pyrolysis, biochar adds stable carbon to the soil, functioning to sequester atmospheric carbon, retain moisture, sweeten soil, and build rich habitat for microbes, nematodes, and fungi that aid in plant nutrient availability.  (More here).

All those sounded good to the Transition Wayland Community Gardens group. They accepted the invitation and worked with NOFA to fine-tune the experiments. One group will test biochar / no biochar in the two established raspberry beds. Kaat and Andrea wanted to try annual veggies, but they decided to take it one step further. They asked, what if the biochar – also called “condominiums for your micro-organisms” – doesn’t work so well, or even at all, if there are no micro-organisms? You can build it, but what if they dont come? So let’s see what happens if you add the char and the micro-organisms. A good way to do that is through KNF.

Keep an eye on this space to see!

In between juggling three loads of laundry, baking four “pumpkin” pies with the last root-cellared butternut squashes, and watching the home yard hive for swarming (better go in tomorrow and have a look!), I finally got the Michael Philips Holistic Spray onto the garden today. A bit late: the sour cherry, currants and jostaberry are flowering, the elders, blueberries and grapes are about to pop. But no insect damage yet, anywhere, so I may have caught it in time.

I use the Home Orchard Rate recipe in my 4-gallon backpack sprayer. One gets me through the entire garden, and it takes me about two hours (admittedly because the filter on the sprayer wand needs unclogging so often).

  • 2.5 ounces of pure neem oil with a generous teaspoonful of soap emulsifier (achieves a 0.5 percent neem concentration; more would burn the leaves)
  • 10 ounces of homegrown FAA
  • 6 ounces of mother culture of effective microbes (I use EM.1)
  • half a cup of Brix molasses
  • 5 tablespoons of liquid kelp

I also added a tablespoon of home-made OHN, and a tablespoon of WCa… that is, Water-soluble Calcium, another Korean Natural Farming input I’ve not explained yet (basically, eggshells dissolved in vinegar).

I also sprayed the assortment of indoor plants, mostly ferns, (pictured) while I was at it. The largest fern adorns our bathroom and it’s great only… it is growing exponentially! They’ve been with us throughout winter and we’ve not had a bug problem, and have 0bviously thrived, thanks to a mini-holistic spray once a month.

 

 

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Any day when I walk into my kitchen and come upon a scene like this, is a good day. In the morning my friend A and her family picked me up for a couple of hours pulling carrots at Siena Farm. Every Fall the farm invites their shareholders to come and help pull the carrots for the root cellars and the winter CSA boxes (which both A and I get). It always draws a crowd, and it was no different today in the sun-drenched field. The carrots came up willingly after being  harrowed up with their tractor. We pulled and snapped off the tops, filled boxes and boxes, and boxes.

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It’s the kind of thing you can just happily, mindlessly keep doing as long you don’t get chilled, or have to pee, or are reminded by a teenager that they have a friend coming over. I brought home a bag full of gleaned carrots (broken, nibbled on carrots or carrots that were just too plain funky) and a bag of carrot tops for the chickens. I also put some in a big pot of vegetable broth.

After washing all those carrots I decided to also wash the last apples and make some apple pie – I’ll bake up, sauce and dehydrate the rest tomorrow. My basement is just too warm for apples to keep well, so I’d better get them all in.

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Orphan pumpkins have started arriving at my mailbox. Here’s the first one – in the meantime I’ve brought up twelve, some massive ones among them. With the coffee grounds from the local roaster’s, pumpkins make for the best compost.

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dsc_4301dsc_3901_500One of the changes we made during the Local Food Challenge that we kept was the locally-grown-grain home-made bread. Four Star Farms  in Northfield, MA, has been my go-to place (either through Volante Farm when they stock it, or straight from the farm) for hard red winter berries, which I grind in my mighty Vitamix. Amie and I did enjoy the 45 minute “spin” when we borrowed my friend’s hand mill, but that Vitamix does a good enough job in under 3 minutes.

I use the Farm Feast easy no-knead hold-over-in-the-fridge method for a dense, moist, dark bread. As a whole grain bread it’s a bit finicky, though. It worked better with the Farm Feast’s Red Lammas and Redeemer berries than with Four Star’s Zorro. The latter possibly has less gluten action and often I had breads that weren’t fully risen/cooked. This time around I got Four Star’s Warthog, 20 lbs of it – it takes 1 lb 6 oz for one smallish bread. Let’s see if that is a better fit.

As for even more local eating, a couple of weeks ago I failed to report on my mushroom haul – possibly because it did not result in eating at all. Right down there, in wood chip heaven (heaven for fungi), I found hundreds of King Stropheria mushrooms bursting from the carbon carpet of wood chips after a big downpour (our Fall, compared to our Summer, has been downright delugional). Some were as large as 10 inches in diameter. The King rules! I plucked quite a few, distributing many of them into parts of that garden without, keeping some for ourselves.

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Unfortunately, the mushrooms were wet when I picked them, and there were quite a few more rainy days ahead of us. In the end, they didn’t dry but rotted to slime. We didn’t get a meal out of these, but we did get some neat spore prints, which became more seeds for the rest of the garden.

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Lastly, a small reporting of a conversation between mother and daughter.

  • What are you doing?
  • I cleaned up my car (aka the Bee Mobile, which is my beek office and storage space, and truck for honey-dripping bee boxes and straw bales, chicken food, etc., and which tonight will be the taxi for Amie and her two friends).
  • Yeay!
  • Well, mmm, not “cleaned up,” really, rather, mmm, made room in, for you guys to sit.
  • I knew I shouldn’t get my hopes up!

I did put newspaper over the honey spill.

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I approached the second-last Farmers Market of the season with winter in mind. More tomato seconds (soup/sauce), more cauliflower (freeze), leek (freeze), corn (freeze if it doesn’t all get eaten before I get round to it), lots of onions, red and white (storage), 4 pecks of Cortland apples (rings and sauce), potatoes (storage), and spinach (freeze). We also got fish (eat immediately: it’s so fresh).  Luckily Russells Garden Center, where the Market is held, provides study carts for lugging bags of mulch and palms in pots, and produce.

It’s not just a joy buying the produce straight from the farmers. Ever since the almost daily routine of food photo shoots for the Omnivore’s Delight challenge I enjoy unpacking it, displaying it, taking pictures. Food is so photogenic.

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Especially tomatoes.

Then chopping and cutting and sauteing or blanching, serving and freezing, and offering the scraps to the chickens, in return for… more food. Serving it to people and getting to eat it together is icing on the cake.

{From Two Field Farm: 8 lbs seconds tomatoes = $16 / 2 lbs red onions = $4 / 5 lbs yellow onions = $10 lbs / 2.25 lb leeks = $6.75 / 2 bag of spinach = $8 / 5.5 lbs potatoes = $16.50 = $60.25 total —– From Brigham Farm: 10 ears of corn = $7.50 / 2 honey cauliflower – $6 / 8 heads of garlic (for seed) = $16 = $29.50}

dsc_4120This is the last post in my Omnivore’s Delight Challenge week of blogging What a marathon that was. You can read all the older posts here.

All the folks in my household enjoyed the Omnivore’s Delight Challenge. Turns out we didn’t have to change our eating habits much – only our shopping habits. Still it was an interesting and inspiring exercise that can take the dread out of changing one’s food culture, and a good “test run” for more permanent changes.

The following is a wrap up of what was most valuable, challenging, surprising, and eye-opening. No doubt more thoughts will offer themselves as the experience reasserts itself, in no small part because we’re keeping several aspects of the diet.

Eye on the prize. This “diet” lasting only a week, and it being the end of summer, the season of optimal food abundance, made it rather easy. Imagine eating locavoraciously (locally sourcing at least 50% of our calories) in the middle of winter! The trick then would be to keep our eye on the prize: a healthy, sustainable and fair food system for all. Time and time again, as our small pilot group sat around the dinner table examining yet another thwarted eating habit, touching on the sacrifices we would have to make were this a permanent deal, this is what we asked: would we give up bananas, coffee, rice at any time of the year, fresh peaches and tomatoes out of season, if the result was a healthy, sustainable and fair food system for all?dsc_3961

It would take more work, more time, more ingenuity, more community involvement, and quite a bit of preparation to make it possible at all. New England Food Vision, of which the Omnivore’s Delight is a component, is for 2060 after all. Both in terms of availability and variety, much of the food that New England could be growing in 2060 isn’t here yet. Some of it is as yet only available to those who have the extra income to pay a premium price, the time and means to drive the extra mile. I for one felt privileged to be able to do so for a week, and I plan to keep paying that forward as much as I can so that local markets – the farmers and the local shops who take a chance by giving their products shelf space – can continue on in lean time and grow into prevalence.

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Dinner of haddock, creamed spinach and scalloped potatoes, all local ingredients except for the pepper, salt, nutmeg and paprika.

Food group changes. The Omnivore’s Delight first of all recommends a caloric intake for those food groups that can be grown in New England due to its climate, soil, etc. We were already eating well within those parameters (I wrote about our Baseline here). We eat less meat, refined grains, and warm climate fruits, and more whole grains and vegetables, than the average New Englander. In fact, our diet was already closer to the Food Vision’s “Regional Reliance” diet, which adjusts to local growing circumstances even more. But in the spirit of the challenge, we cut out almost all the processed snacks, and all the bananas. I suspect we ate more fish and meat than usual (though still within Omnivore’s Delight parameters) simply because we were excited to have found them locally and wanted to feature them on the table and in the blog.

dsc_3901_500Local sources. So our main challenge was the 50% local/regional provenance of the food. Though I don’t have exact numbers, I would estimate that about 75% of our food was locally sourced. This was a major adjustment and we made big changes in all the food groups, except for vegetables, which we usually get from our own garden, our CSA, the Farmers Market and local farm stands – rarely did I buy California strawberries or a Florida tomato. But I had not been conscious about grains, dairy, meat and fish, simply assuming that they were too difficult, or too expensive, to get locally. They weren’t easy to get, required research, some extra driving, and they sometimes cost more, but in many cases I found them worth those costs.

dsc_3884_500In that respect, what does “local” mean? Beef and chicken from Codman Farm in Lincoln at 7 miles is fairly incontestably local. Anything grown outside of New England is not. But what about wheat berries from Four Star Farms in Northfield, MA, at 75 miles (I wrote on grains here and on beans here)? Or if you consider 100 miles to be the magical radius, milk from High Lawn Farm in Lee, MA, 113 miles away (I wrote on dairy here)? Those are still in New England, but though I would conceivably drive to Northfield to pick up a year’s supply of grains for myself and preferably some other families, I would not do the weekly drive to Lee, or even to Shaw Farm in Dracut, only 30 miles away, for a couple of gallons of milk. Fortunately, both Four Star and High Lawn are already stocked at local-enough shops, and hence I count them as local.

dsc_1984_500Distribution lines. The Food Vision is an economic, political vision, a plan for the community of New Englanders working together. It doesn’t advocate individual or household self-reliance: everyone growing all they need for themselves. Hence the importance of supply lines. For instance, I can buy those Four Star Farms wheat berries from Volante Farms in Needham, MA, 8 miles away, or I can buy them from the Four Star Farms online store and have them shipped straight to my house. The latter would even be $2 cheaper. Nevertheless I have learned enough to choose the former. I wrote them an email to explain:

I just love it that you stock Four Stars, and I want to encourage that. My research into local food has taught me that a major part of promoting locally grown is supporting the supply lines too, and farmstands and shops like yours are to be commended on being the first to give shelf space to these emerging markets.

dscf9204The same thinking goes for the drive there, and back: I want to show support and keep this market growing so that more local stores will also take up the baton of local food. It’s not ideal, of course, but that shouldn’t stop us from working toward the ideal, and that comes at several costs (money, time, convenience, car emissions). Still, we should work to minimize that cost, so I hope I can drum up more friends and neighbors to carpool shopping trips with.

$Cost$. Speaking of costs, I found that most locally grown vegetables, bought straight from the farmers at the Farmers Market or a farm stand, or through a CSA, are cheaper than in the grocery store (some of this has to do with foregoing organic, about which later. Having discovered how easy it is to bake our own bread, the premium I pay for local grains and flour is very little compared to what I used to pay for baked loaves at the grocery store. Local milk and cheese do cost more, as do fish and especially meat (which is also costly to grow, economically as well as environmentally). Again, and as I also wrote here:

The first step has been taken by passionate, incredibly hard-working people whose love of good food, happy animals and the land overrides the need for a job security and a stable income. Now it’s up to the customers to grow the demand for the food they grow, so these small businesses can become more stable and so that other farmers can get started as well. These first customers pay a premium, just as the early adopters of solar paid much higher prices. They got that market going, then prices went down and others with less disposable income could get in. The question is: can our household be that customer? If we eat less of it, we could.

dscf2837Time. This “diet” did take more time but, except for the driving, all of it was well spent. I count the research and sourcing of local food stuff as a one-time investment. Getting to know the farmers, shopkeepers and other customers makes for constant edification and great community building and food activism. The cooking was more careful and the eating was slower because we felt committed to the ingredients, their flavors, and the experiment made us more experimental. That is all good.

dsc_3788_annotated_1000Thankfulness. This brings me to what was probably our most intense and most lasting learning. We were so much more mindful of the food that sustains our every action. Much less went to waste (in my household that means, into the compost), not just because some of it was more expensive, or not just because we knew it was more scarce, more difficult to come by. This food has become personal. We had studied where it came from, who grew it, what the cows ate who made the milk and who grew that food, who conserved the land these cows were grazing on, and so on. In many cases we had met the people who grew it. This food was no longer anonymous. It came with strings attached and it had made us responsible for it. We also felt more thankful and awed at the achievements that were, each and every one, necessary conditions for it to make it onto our plate. Land and soil, animals, farmers, truckers, distributors, salespeople, buyers and cooks all got recognition. Eating like this, food is no longer fuel, but a gift. Dinner is no longer a meal, but a feast!

dscf2633Food culture. Food for the belly nourished us twice as it was also food for thought. The gathering being made up of several food cultures (European, Indian, American), the food on the table inspired much story telling about memorable meals, favorite recipes, old ways of cooking and praising food. As I wrote, it gave us the courage to question our food habits and entitlements. We thought out loud about what we could give up for our food system to be sustainable and equitable.

Organic, how animals and soil are treated. We spoke often about how food is grown, how animals are treated. Wayland Farmers Market Manager Peg Mallett and I discussed this and we both concluded that for many customers at Farmers Markets, local trumps organic. Before the Challenge, that was the case for us as well with respect to veggies, but this time I applied the same thinking to milk and grains. At the store, the “organic” label is my only guarantee that the food is grown with certain methods and under certain circumstances that I prefer. But at the Farmers Market I do my own certifying simply by getting to know and trust the farmers.

dscf8072smallI had a very interesting conversation with The Kid (11 years old) about eating meat or fish, and how having known the animal – which ranges from it having been a pet chicken, all the way to having caught the fish – bears on whether one should, or even can, be eaten. The Kid stated that once she had looked into the animals living eye, she would not eat it.

The Food Vision considers a vegetarian diet as well, but it recommends meat and fish because those are sources of nutrients that grow well and can be grown quite sustainably in New England. So they’re on the menu. “Sustainably” is of course the key word. What does it all mean? In this respect I had a conversation with a vegetarian friend who gets a good percentage of her proteins from eggs. When I mentioned that some of the local hens from whom I get eggs are getting old and be culled before winter, she was aghast. I asked her what she thinks happens to the hens who lay all those eggs he eats? Does she think they all have a happy, well-fed retirement of about five years after their one, two, three (at most four – depending on the operation) years of laying?

dsc_3894“The fifteen.” Of course, some things just can’t be got locally, not yet, or will never be: coffee or tea (though I did manage to grow some Sochi Tea trees a couple of years ago), or peppercorn (though we could grow substitutes), or rice (though New England farmers are working with native wild rice), or bananas (forget about that one!). I think personally I could give up all of those (some easier than others) or enjoy the substitutes. What about salt? The ocean is nearby and local salt is available – I just didn’t get it on time for the Challenge. New England should also be able to make sugar, but then there is honey, which “grows” not fifty feet from my front door. Anyway, we did eat all of these, counting them into the fifteen percent “discretionary calories”.

dsc_4069What will we keep? Definitely, the homemade bread with local whole grains, the local milk and homemade yogurt with local milk, the local eggs and local fish. We’ll do our best with cheese and meat (possibly by joining a meat CSA). We’ll continue to eat less purchased snacks, cookies, etc., and make more ourselves. I decided to stock up at the farmers market and freeze, dehydrate and can, a lot more than I usually do, for more local winter eating. We’ll also continue our research, grow our relations with the farmers, and have “food conversation” at the table.

dsc_4049The biggest obstacle? Keeping score! I started with a data sheet (calories, ounces, $$), but it was impossible to keep track of five people, three meals a day. When I tried a couple of free online caloric calculators, the results were hilarious. As these programs are calibrated to one person per day, my plugging in pounds of potatoes and gallons of milk for five and, one day, even seven people over several days, resulted in several alarms!

Rest assured that if we decide to invite more people to this challenge, we will also offer a fun and friendly recording tool.