photo by Lisa Steele
I will be the first to admit that I am not a gardening expert, not a Master Gardener, not a self-taught guru. In fact, I probably would be classified as barely proficient. Don’t get me wrong, I love gardening. I enjoy spending time outdoors feeling the warm sun on my back as I prepare the soil for planting, love picking out seeds, starting them indoors and watching them grow on the windowsill. I love planning where everything will go and setting the seedlings and small plants in the soil. And that’s sort of where things start to go downhill. I quickly lose interest in the constant weeding and watering, I never remember to pay attention the sun or soil requirements, and don’t know anything about companion planting. Which is why I love herbs.
Herbs are extremely easy to grow. They don’t seem to care about soil type, how much sun they get, or even if you water them. Our resident bunnies and deer don’t eat them, and bugs don’t generally bother them because many are natural insect-repellents. Herbs produce all summer long and with regular snipping, they won’t get leggy or go to seed. Herbs also smell wonderful. Just brushing against one in your garden causes a burst of heady aroma.
Another nice thing about herbs is that you never have to wonder if they are ripe, as you do with other fruits and vegetables. With herbs, if you see leaves and they are large enough for your purposes, go right ahead and snip away.
Herbs don’t take up much space either. Years before I moved out to the country or even had a yard, before a farm was even a glimmer in my husband’s eye, I grew herbs in a small greenhouse on my kitchen window in my tiny apartment in New York.
Cooking with fresh herbs makes a good dish great and a great one superb. If you grow more than you can use, just pick the leaves, spread them out in a single layer on paper towels on cookie sheets and let them air dry, then crumble and pack them in glass jars. Unlike canning or preserving excess fruits and vegetables, ‘preserving’ herbs is just that simple.
Here are a few common culinary herbs and some growing specifics (that is, if you’re not comfortable with my arbitrary method of randomly planting them whenever, where ever).
Basil is best grown from small plants, although it is possible to start seeds. Seeds don’t transplant well however, so they are best started outdoors in sandy soil once the soil has warmed sufficiently.
photo by Lisa Steele
Basil does best in full sun and likes warm conditions. While certain other herbs can tolerate temperatures briefly dipping below freezing, my basil turns black the first time a cold breeze heads our way, so just prior to the weather turning cold, I harvest all the remaining leaves and make pesto, which I then freeze in ice cube trays.
Dill is a personal favorite of mine. Not caring much what type of soil in which it is planted, or whether the soil is dry or wet, dill seeds do best if planted where they will grow, since dill doesn’t transplant well either. The seeds should be planted in early spring. Although my dill wilts and seems to die off in the extreme heat of our southern summers, as soon as fall arrives and the weather cools a bit, the dill makes a miraculous comeback.
Oregano is my favorite kind of herb — a perennial. Buy or grow it once and it keeps coming back year after year. Oregano can be started as seeds or a plant and loves full sun and well-drained soil. Oregano doesn’t need much water and will do just fine if left to its own devices for the most part.
Parsley is extremely hardy. We had a mild winter here in Virginia this year and I have been picking parsley nonstop since late last spring. Parsley is a biennial, meaning it generally lives for two years, and will also self-seed. I mean, really, is there nothing cooler than a plant that replants itself? I tell you, this is my kind of gardening!
Parsley likes full sun and soil that drains well. Seeds can be started indoors and the seedlings transplanted, but the seeds take a relatively long time to germinate, so start them at least 6-8 weeks before you plan to move them outside.
Rosemary can be grown from seed indoors and then transplanted but should be started 2-3 months before you plan to plant it outside. Rosemary is technically an evergreen shrub and therefore a perennial in areas that don’t get too cold. Rosemary loves full sun and is drought-tolerant, meaning it’s okay if you forget to water it. Trust me on this, I’ve done it.
photo by Lisa Steele
Thyme is one of the easiest herbs to grow. Extremely forgiving, although it prefers full sun and dry, sandy soil, it will grow in almost anything and is drought-resistant as well. Thyme is a perennial and best started as a small plant., If started as seeds, be aware they can take a very long time to germinate and therefore should be started extremely early in the year for spring transplanting.
Most herbs are easy to grow from seeds, either starting them indoors on a sunny windowsill using potting soil and plastic wrap over the top to retain the moisture and heat, or sowing the seeds directly outdoors in early spring. All can be started as small plants which is even easier, some are perennials, which is easier still. They like full sun but will tolerate some shade, and don’t need fussy attention in the form of fertilizer, nutrients, plant food or even regular watering. Starting and maintaining your own culinary herb garden requires very little time, money or space and in addition to being fragrant and visually attractive, will elevate your home cooking to a whole new taste level.
Story and photos by Lisa Steele.
Lisa Steele blogs at fresh-eggs-daily.com. Read more about her use of herbs and her ideas on keeping chickens here.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the April/May 2013 issue of From Scratch magazine. Click here to read that issue and more back issues. Click here to read the latest issue. Want to subscribe? It’s free! Just fill out the form below.
Photo by Jennifer Sartell
On a trip to a giant conglomerate craft store the other day I passed though the yarn department and I must say … not too shabby folks … not too shabby at all. I remember a time not so long ago when the yarn department at these types of stores was rather, well, lacking. Think “The One Pounder” in five different primary colors. Everything was a nylon blend of worsted yarn that reminded me of Crayola colored bailing twine. But the yarn department has upped its game. I found myself ogling over some pretty impressive machine spun yarns that looked very hand spun. There were art yarns with plies of fancy feathery blends and mixes with beads and sequins and all sorts of fun additions. This was no Granny Square yarn.
So why spin? Why spin when there are all of these beautiful yarns out there to choose from at half the price, with double coupon days? And my answer to that question lies in an equation. For me, spinning is to yarn as gardening is to dinner.
Photo by Jennifer Sartell
Have you ever tasted an heirloom tomato? The big, juicy purple ones that make you want to sink your teeth into the flesh like a maniac. They taste like … and I know this is ironic … a tomato! The flavors are complex, sweet, acidic, tart, almost smoky at times. I could talk about heirloom tomatoes like some people talk about wine. (It’s a problem really, sometimes my husband gets jealous.) But a grocery store tomato might as well be that Playschool plastic food that my 4 year old niece plays with. You’ve seen the rubber cheese, convincing, but not appetizing.
Raising fiber goats, and shearing, and spinning for me, is the equivalent of toiling in the garden, pulling weeds and composting. All that work, just to experience that delicious burst of flavor. Sure it’s easier to go to the store and buy a bag of tomato “looking” vegetables, but not nearly as satisfying.
I learned to spin a few years ago, after we adopted our two Angora does Knit and Purl. I loved goats, and was (then) afraid of the whole milking routine. So we decided that we would just keep a few goats as pets. Then I found a breed called Angora that could be sheared like a sheep. At the time, fiber seemed a lot less scary than milking, and with the same reasoning as in keeping chickens, why not raise pets with benefits?
photo by Jennifer Sartell
After our first shearing, the fiber was too tempting, too irresistibly beautiful not to do something with it. So I learned to spin. And I fell in love with the whole process.
Spinning, knitting, crocheting and weaving are on an up swing as far as popularity these days. In general, it seems that there is a whole movement toward the old artisan crafts. And that’s a great prospect, as these skills are being lost from one generation to the next. But spinners aren’t exactly common, and spinners who raise their own animals are even rarer. So just as heirloom seeds and heritage breeds are dwindling, so are the traditional skills that our no-so-distant ancestors carried. Spinning, blacksmithing, basket weaving, traditional woodworking — it’s a part of our history. It is skills like these that have brought humanity to where it is today. But tragically, in only a few generations, has all but disappeared as a way of living and become only a scarce hobby.
If you have the interest to start spinning, do it! Learn it, and teach everyone you know! (Or at least those that are interested.) A hand spun yarn tells a story. Somewhere on a farm, an animal turned hay, grain and pasture into fleece. The fleece was sheared and washed and carded and dyed into colors that were selected and dreamed up in the imagination and creative enthusiasm of an artist. Every inch of the twisted plies has been lovingly touched and contemplated by the craftsman who spun the yarn. It has slipped through the fingers of a human who sat before the wheel with the soft clickety clack of the treadle pumping the twining fiber. A hand spun yarn is not just a lifeless medium to turn into a scarf, it is strands and skeins of art and skill.
Story and Photos by Jennifer Sartell
If you want to learn more about the craft of spinning, dying fiber or raising Angora goats, visit Jennifer’s blog at www.ironoakfarm.blogspot.com
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Feb/March 2013 issue of From Scratch magazine. Read it and other back issues here. Read the latest issue of From Scratch magazine here. Want to subscribe? Fill out the form below. It’s Free!
photo by Kate Richards
Want to learn how to make super yummy, super unique bacon bark? This sweet, salty, savory recipe is sure to please any bacon lover in your family and anyone that has a sweet tooth as well. Try it out! You want be disappointed.
- 2 packages store-bought bacon, cooked the way you like it (I prefer crisp, and I think it works best in this recipe that way)
- 2 sticks unsalted butter
- 1 cup brown sugar
- Two 12 oz packages semi-sweet chocolate chips
- sea salt to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a standard cookie sheet with tinfoil (it seems that heavy-duty tinfoil works best, as normal tinfoil can be a bit tricky to peel off afterwards).
Break your cooked bacon pieces into bit-sized-ish pieces and make a good layer across the cookie sheet with them.
Photo by Kate Richards
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt your butter. As soon as it is completely melted, add your cup of brown sugar, stir well and dissolve. Let this come to a boil and stir it steadily. It will thicken and darken, and you want to keep stirring the whole time–don’t let it burn. When it is a nice caramelly brown color and kind of fluffy and thick (after about 5 minutes), pour it evenly across the bacon bits in the cookie sheet.
Pop the sheet into the oven for 5 minutes, then take it out and pour your two bags of chocolate chips evenly across the top of the caramel-bacon mixture. Pop it back in the oven for another 5 minutes.
Take it back out of the oven and then use a spatula to gently smooth the schmelty chocolate chips out. Go ahead and crack some nice sea salt over the whole thing–as much as you feel is necessary.
Put the whole sheet in the freezer for a few hours to set. Remove from the freezer, peel the tinfoil off, and break the bark into pieces to serve (I like to dust another layer of sea salt over the top here, too).
Photo by Kate Richards
Photos and recipe by Kate Richards
Want more yummy recipe ideas? Check out Farmhouse38, where Kate blogs and posts recipes and other homesteading ideas.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the Feb/March 2013 issue of From Scratch magazine. Check it out — and more back issues — here. Read the latest issue here. Want to subscribe? It’s free! Just fill out the form below.
Photo by Jennifer Burcke
A few weeks ago, my husband mentioned that he had a craving for angel food cake. I like angel food cake, or angel cake, as his grandmother used to call it. In fact, angel food cake was one of the first baking recipes that I taught myself to make. I was about twelve years old when I separated a dozen eggs and followed the recipe in my mother’s cookbook. I marveled at the egg whites as they were transformed into a light and airy meringue and baked into a delicious angel food cake.
That was decades ago. Now I find myself with my own daughter who is about to turn twelve years old. We love to spend time in the kitchen baking and cooking together. I also find myself as a chicken keeper with a supply of fresh eggs to use in our baking recipes.
It’s the chicken keeper in me that doesn’t want to make a traditional angel food cake. My reason is simple: I can’t bear the thought of having a dozen egg yolks that have been purposely cast aside from a recipe. I make meringue cookies and manage to find a way to use the remaining three egg yolks. But twelve egg yolks without a purpose were more than I wanted to consider.
Luckily, I didn’t have to. Enter my Mom who shared my Great grandmother’s handwritten recipe for daffodil cake. Instead of twelve eggs, it called for only six. My great grandparents were farmers and chicken keepers. Apparently they didn’t want to cast aside twelve egg yolks either.
Instead, they baked Daffodil Cake. As soon as I read the recipe, I understood why. The technique was altogether simple and brilliant. This cake would allow me to celebrate the best of both the egg white and egg yolk in one delicious cake.
In a matter of minutes, my daughter and I were in our farmhouse kitchen preparing to make our own daffodil cake. I watched the look on her face as she whipped the egg whites into a beautifully made meringue. We worked together until the cake preparation was complete. She slid the cake into the oven, set the timer and we wondered aloud how the finished cake would look and taste.
Photo by Jennifer Burcke
I am happy to report that we loved both the taste and appearance of the daffodil cake. The color of the egg yolk mixture was a strikingly beautiful yellow. The texture was light and airy and the flavor was everything I love about an angel food cake and more. One bite and my husband’s craving for angel food cake was satisfied.
The egg yolks added a delicious richness to the cake without compromising the lightness of the meringue. It wasn’t a fancy cake. Instead, it was the cake of a farmer, the dessert of a chicken keeper. This cake celebrated the beauty of fresh eggs. Each bite reminded me that I was proud to be a chicken keeper and collect fresh eggs from our coop every day.
More than that, the whole experience created a memory that I will hold close for a lifetime. Standing in our farmhouse kitchen with my daughter baking a cake from a recipe in her Great great grandmother‘s handwriting was a moment that connected the generations of my family past and present. Having a delicious cake to share around our family table was merely a bonus.
Makes 8 servings
The light, airy texture of this cake depends on a properly beaten meringue. A mile high meringue is easily achievable with one easy step. Simply wipe your mixing bowl and beaters with a paper towel moistened with white vinegar before beating the egg whites. This will ensure that your bowl and beaters are free of any traces of fat. Fat residue jeopardizes your ability to whip the egg whites into a meringue with stiff, glossy peaks.
To prevent batter from falling into the center tube as you are transferring the batter to the pan, place an overturned cupcake wrapper over the tube. Fill the pan, remove the wrapper, and bake as directed without letting any of the batter go to waste.
- 6 large eggs
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
- ¾ cup (144 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup (60 grams) all-purpose flour
- 2 Tablespoons warm water
- ½ cup (96 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ cup (60 grams) all-purpose flour
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Position the oven rack in the bottom third of the oven.
Separate all six eggs, placing the egg whites in a large bowl that has been wiped clean with a paper towel moistened with white vinegar. Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl and set aside.
Add the salt to the egg whites and beat at medium-high speed using a hand mixer or stand mixer until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue to beat at high speed, adding the ¾ cup sugar a few Tablespoons at a time until the mixture forms stiff, glossy peaks. Set the meringue aside as you prepare the egg yolk mixture.
Add the warm water to the egg yolks and mix on medium speed using a whisk or mixer. Add ½ cup sugar, vanilla extract, baking powder, and flour. Mix until the batter is completely smooth.
Using a spatula, gently move a portion of the meringue away from the side of its mixing bowl. Add the vanilla and ½ cup flour to the space created by moving the meringue. This step prevents the weight of the flour from deflating the airy meringue. Using the spatula, gently fold the meringue until the flour and vanilla extract are fully incorporated and the mixture is smooth.
Transfer two thirds of the meringue mixture to an ungreased angel food cake pan, spreading lightly if necessary to cover the bottom of the pan. Add the egg yolk mixture to the pan. There is no need to spread the yolk mixture or completely cover the meringue. Add the remaining meringue to the pan. Using a skewer or toothpick, lightly swirl the two batters by moving in a random pattern around the pan.
Transfer the pan to the preheated oven and bake for 35-40 minutes. When fully baked, a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake should come out with crumbs attached. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the cake to cool.
Once cool, run a sharp knife or small metal offset spatula around the outside of the pan to loosen the cake. Invert the cool cake onto a plate. Slice the cake into slices and serve plain or dressed with fresh berries and whipped cream.
Story and Photos by Jennifer Burcke
Jennifer Burcke blogs at 1840farm.com. Read more of her work, including great recipe ideas here.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Feb/March 2013 issue of From Scratch magazine. Click here to see that issue and more back issues. Read the latest issue of From Scratch magazine here. Want to subscribe? It’s free! Fill out the form below.
photo by Emily McGrath
As we all know, meal worms are a great feed supplement for all poultry flocks, and they LOVE them.
Thanks to companies like Happy Hen Treats, they are easy to purchase and simple to feed to our chickens, ducks and quail. The downside is that over time, depending on how often you like to give your birds meal worms, it can indeed get quite pricey. In a time where the “name of the game” is to spend as little as possible and be more self sufficient, one finds themselves looking for alternatives to buying certain things.
Although there is an initial investment to meal worm farming, the pay off is quite nice and in some cases you can even make money by selling your worms. I recently started up my own meal worm farm about 2 weeks ago after much research and consulting with several “professionals”.
Like anything else, the more people you ask the more different answers you will receive. What I did was to start simple and combined bits and pieces from each persons point of view. The first thing you will need to start farming your own meal worms is obviously the farm itself. I am using a plastic 3 drawer organizer I had left over from our office which had been used to store paper products in. Since we no longer use paper, it was the perfect item to re-purpose.
Photo by Emily McGrath
The reason for 3 drawers is because you should separate the worms as they go through their life cycles from worm to pupa to beetle and back again. All of the drawers will need a layer approximately 2 inches deep and also some sort of moisture for the worms to drink from usually just in the form of a cut potato or carrot. Since these worms are going to be a food source for our hens and our family eats their eggs, I didn’t skimp on the substrate which the worms feed from.
In my farm I used an all natural wheat bran at about $2 per box with each drawer using about 2 boxes. You can also use non – instant oat meal if you prefer. The first drawer of my meal worm farm contains the worms themselves. This initial purchase of worms can either be bought in bulk from an online distributor or through your local pet store. You will want to start with about 500-2000 worms if you will be feeding your birds right from your farm. Stay away from the “super worms” and “giant meal worms” as these are somehow treated to prevent them from further developing.
The second drawer of my meal worm farm will contain the pupa I gather from my first drawer. These are easy to distinguish because you will most likely find them on the top of the substrate, motionless, and will be a creamy white color. Their color will slowly turn to brown during its pupation which may take anywhere from three days up to one month.
The third drawer of my meal worm farm will contain the beetles which “hatch” from the pupa. The Tenebrio molter, or flour beetles, are then left in this drawer on the same substrate as in the other two, where they will eventually lay up to three hundred eggs each! As these eggs hatch into worms and the worms get large enough for me to strain out, they will be placed into the first drawer and the cycle will begin all over again.
Mealworm Nutritional Information:
- Fat 27.2%
- Protein 49.6%
- Carbohydrates 6.9 grams100
- Calories 471 calories/100 grams
Story and Photos by Emily McGrath
Emily McGrath blogs at My Little Coop. Get more great stories and ideas at her blog, here.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the Feb/March 2013 issue of From Scratch magazine. Read the issue, and more archived issues of From Scratch here. Read the latest issue of From Scratch magazine here. Want to subscribe? It’s free! Fill out the form below.
Story and Photos by Kate Richards
If you get down to it, chicken coops are really all about function over form; ours, upon first building it, was no exception to this rule. It only took me about two months to realize that I, as well as my little jailbirds, needed some cute sprinkled around in there. It was high time for some coop redecoration.
The mini-makeover started out with a new sign that accurately reflected how we referred to putting the girls up for the night as “lockdown”. To add a bit of cheer into their incarceration time, I went about adding bright oilcloth accessories like a fun, weatherproof strip of bunting across the front doors, and some poop-proof privacy curtains to the roost box. The oilcloth was so great at repelling poop, in fact, that I decided to line the notoriously streaked back wall of the box with it, too. And did I mention it’s cute? Yeah, it’s just so darn cute.
The rest of the coop needed to keep up, so I set to work adding a few other accessories to complete the space. Functionally speaking, we were in need of a new food dish that was heavy enough for the girls to perch on, and not spill; I repurposed a cast iron fry pan to do the job and it has worked like an adorable charm. There is nothing quite as cute as a fat, fluffy hen perched on the handle of a fry pan as she happily stuffs her beak. Wall art is an absolute must for refreshing a space, so a vintage-y chicken-themed tin sign went up along with a candy-red heart-shaped hanging bucket. And, oh yes, I make fresh flower and herb arrangements to put in that hanging bucket, along with routinely placing pretty, fresh herbs and blooms in the nesting buckets and roost box. A little potpourri goes a long way in a chicken coop.
Everybody is very quick to remind me that the chickens don’t care about having a nicely appointed coop. They don’t notice whether there is artwork hanging on the walls. They don’t give a fig about festive bunting (gasp!). But I look out there, and see it all, and you know what? I crack me up. Coop decorating is just another little nugget of joy that having these chickens has brought to my life. And that chicken joy-nugget list is pretty darn long.
Kate Richards is a freelance writer, but a farmer at heart. Read more from her here.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the Feb/March 2013 issue of From Scratch magazine. Read it and more previous issues here. Check out the latest issue here. Want to subscribe? It’s Free! Just fill out the form below.
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