Monthly Archives: April 2014

A Visit with Harvey Ussery!

Have you ever taken someone to your favorite restaurant, and you are so excited for them to experience the food and atmosphere that won you over? You kind of have this restrained anticipation, but you don’t want to gush over it too much and ruin their expectations. If the night goes well, you get that smiling contentment when they tell you it is now their favorite restaurant, too.

This is what I feel like when I run into a Permaculturist or homesteader who has not heard of Harvey Ussery. His book, The Small-Scale Poultry Flock, is in my opinion, the best book on the subject. It is comprehensive without being overwhelming, and Harvey’s writing makes the whole process of raising chickens seem entirely doable to those who have never done it, yet he has a lot to teach experienced homesteaders. With over 30 years of experience, he has a Permaculture mind toward simple, yet efficient systems that are natural and sustainable. I believe you would be hard pressed to raise healthier chickens using a different model.

Harvey and his chickens!

Harvey and his chickens!

When I had the chance to visit Harvey at his homestead in Virginia, I was thrilled. Unfortunately, the only time that worked with our schedules was the day after a small snow storm, so his homestead was covered in snow. The homestead was still in its Winter rest, but I didn’t mind too much. Most farms and homesteads not only look worse in the Winter, but beacuse of poor design and lack of good systems, they can be filthy, unhealthy places. But not the Ussery Homestead. The fact that I can visit a homestead at the end of Winter and still see healthy, happy animals living in good conditions is a testament to the poultry system that Harvey has set up which continues to care for his birds well in times that other farmers struggle.

A snowed-in chicken coop.

A snowed-in chicken coop.

After a cup of coffee and a pleasant chat at the kitchen table, we took a trip out to the chicken coop. After reading Harvey’s book, it was great to see the coop in person. And I don’t know how many chicken coops you have been in, but a traditional coop is not a place most people want to spend much time… because it stinks! I had read about how Harvey uses deep bedding in his coop which serves multiple functions (food, nutrients, scratching activity, dusting material, heat from the composting process, etc.), but I was pleasantly surprised at the complete lack of odor. I kept taking deep breathes through my nose, trying to get a wiff of anything bad, but I couldn’t. I told Harvey how thrilled I was that there was no bad odor. Harvey smiled at me, and said that is one of the most common comments about  his coop. This reminded me of Joel Salatin’s statement that a farm should be an aromatically pleasant place, or you are doing something wrong. Well, here was more evidence of Harvey doing things right.

The coop itself is divided into three sections each containing a separate flock of Icelandic Chickens. He has a breeding rotation with this closed flock that will not require additional genetics for at least 20 years (if I remember correctly). I could go into more detail describing this breeding program, but Harvey has explained it so well in his book that I just tell people to learn more about it there. It is quite a simple system, but it works exceedingly well.

I also have to add that I may have been sold on the Icelandic Chicken as possibly the best homestead chicken breed for Temperate Climates. They are good layers and good meat birds. They are docile. They are good foragers. They are appropriately broody. They do well in this system, which I believe is a fantastic system for a homesteader. And they are a landrace. A landrace breed is a breed of animal that has developed from isolation and neglect. Most other breeds of animal have been selected for specific traits (color, size, shape, lack of broodiness, etc.) by breeders with a goal in mind… to create a chicken that lays the most eggs possible or to create a chicken that gains weight really fast. But a landrace is a breed that was kind of left to its own devices. The chickens that survived their environment were the ones that passed on their genes. Landraces usually end up being very hardy, disease resistant, pest resistant, and low maintenance. They often have a high degree of genetic variability as well, and this is the part I really like. In chickens, this means that some may be smaller and some may be larger, comb shapes will be different, feather color and patterns will be variable.  This ultimately means that a landrace is often more adaptable to a wider variety of climates and environments, because the genetics are there… they haven’t been bred out of the breed. If you have a good breeding program in place, the genetics for adaptation to cold or humidity or wind or whatever can be selected for, and over time, you will end up with a sub-breed that is ideally suited to your specific location and conditions.

Again, there was a lot more to his chicken coop and runs, and my photos of snow-covered ground just don’t do it justice, so I will direct everyone to his book for more information (with photos and illustrations) about Harvey’s poultry set-up.

Running down the center of Harvey's hoophouse is an earthworm factory.

Running down the center of Harvey’s hoophouse is an earthworm factory.

After the coop, we headed over to the hoophouse. I was rather cold after beind outside and walking in the snow, so stepping into the hoophouse was like stepping into a sauna. I had to immediately take off my coat and hat, and I had to wait about 10 minutes for the fog on my camera lens to clear. Harvey had just started putting out seedlings in the beds, so there was not much greenery. However, there was still a lot of life in there. Right down the center of the hoophouse are the worm beds. The worm beds are covered with wood to serve as a walkway. Organic material and kitchen scraps are thrown in to feed the worms. The worms provide decomposition of waste material, they provide worm castings (worm “castings” are just another name for worm manure… it is an amazing natural fertilizer, full of nutrients, beneficial bacteria, and enzymes that are wonderful for a garden), and the worms are a prized food supply for the chickens.

These worms process his organic matter and provide worm castings for his gardens and food for his chickens.

These worms process his organic matter and provide worm castings for his gardens and food for his chickens.

While I would love to visit again when all the plants are green and in flower and the chickens are at their prime, there was still a lot to see. We toured the snow-covered garden as well as his neighbor’s homested, before we went back inside. We defrosted a bit and then enjoyed a wonderful chicken curry prepared by Harvey’s lovely wife Ellen.

So I will again recommend Harvey’s book:

And I will recommend his website: The Modern Homestead

As a bit of a teaser to his book, I will also share a couple of links to some of Harvey’s writing on chickens from other sites:

 

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Photo References: All photos in this article are mine (except the first one of Harvey Ussery which is linked from the photo… how did I not take a photo with him?! )  If you would like to use any of my photos, please let me know!

 

Permaculture Plants: Calendula

Common Name: Calendula, Pot Marigold
Scientific Name: Calendula officinalis
Family: Asteraceae or Compositae (the Aster, Daisy, or Sunflower family)

Calendula or Pot Marigold... a lovely little plant.

Calendula or Pot Marigold… a lovely little plant.

Description:
Calendula, or Pot Marigold, is a beautiful flower known throughout the world as an ornamental, but has been used as a medicinal plant for centuries. This annual reseeds very easily and can withstand fairly cold weather, the flowers are edible, and they also attract beneficial insects and butterflies. Calendulas are an easy to grow plant, and they are a great way to add some functional beauty to your Permaculture projects.

Calendula officinales

Calendula officinales

History:
Calendula is native to the Mediterranean, Southwestern Asia, Western Europe, and the islands of Macaronesia (which includes the Azores, where I currently live!). However, they have been grow for so long as a medicinal and ornamental plant, that they can now be found around the world.

Trivia:

  • The name “Calendula” comes from the Latin, calendae, which means “little clock” or “little calendar”
  • Calendula flowers close at night.
  • Calendula flowers also close before the rain, and it can be used as a simple weather guide, which is why another possible meaning of the name “Calendula” is “little weather-glass”
  • Calendula are considered good companion plants for tomatoes.
  • Calendula flower petals have been used for centuries in soups and stews, and is likely the source of its other common name “Pot Marigold”
  • True Marigolds are in the Tagetes genus, native to North and South America, and they are in the same family (Asteraceae) as Calendula

    Primarily an ornamental nowadays, there is quite a bit more this plant offers.

    Primarily an ornamental nowadays, there is quite a bit more this plant offers.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Ornamental Plant – This is its primary use in modern times, and it is indeed a beautiful flowering plant
  • Medicinal Plant – Historically, this was one of its primary uses (see Medicinal Uses below)
  • Edible Flower Petals – has a bitter flavor, some flowers can be more tangy or spicy, but the flavor can vary. Used fresh in salads or dried in soups and baked goods. Can also be used as a yellow food dye, and has been used as a saffron substitute and to color cheeses, custards, butters, sauces, etc.
  • Edible Leaves – used raw in salads.
  • Tea Plant – made from the petals or whole flowers.
Calendula attracts beneficial insects and butterflies.

Calendula attracts beneficial insects and butterflies.

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect nectar and pollen plant – attracts beneficial insects, especially bees and hoverflies
  • Butterfly Plant – the flowers attract butterflies
  • Nematode Deterrent Plant – there are many reports of this plant repelling nematodes, similar to true French Marigolds
  • Groundcover Plant – Calendula can form rather dense clumps, although I still have had many other “weeds” pop up between plants. Calendula would likely be a good candidate for a mixed groundcover planting. I have had some success with Parsley and Calendula growing well together, but this was not exactly planned. Also, it does make harvesting the Parsely a bit tedious. I will experiement with other combinations, on purpose, in the future and will share my findings.
  • Cosmetics – with its history as a medicinal, especially for skin issues, it is no surprise Calendula is a popular cosmetic ingredient
  • Dye Plant – yellow dye from the flower petals

    A Calendula (and other herb) poultice.

    A Calendula (and other herb) poultice.

Medicinial Uses:

  • Calendula has been used from at least the 12th Centurey as a medicinal.
  • When something has been used for close to 1,000 years as a traditional medicine, there is a pretty good chance that traditional medicine works, at least for some things.
  • Calendula as a traditional herbal medicine is one of the most studied herbs by modern medical researchers.
  • Calendula has been used to treat insect stings/bites, chapped/chafed skin, minor cuts, burns, bruises, and minor infections, and there is good, modern evidence that topical Calendula preparations help wounds heal faster.
  • There is pretty good evidence that topical Calendula will help treat/prevent dermatitis, diaper rashes, and hemorrhoids.
  • There is some evidence that gargling with Calendula-infused water will help sore throat and mouth/throat infections.
  • There are a number of other medicinal uses, both topical and internal (typically in the form of teas), but there is not a lot or absolutely no modern research that has studied these uses. That does not mean these applications do not work, it just means they have not been studied in modern times.
  • There are no known modern or traditional medication interactions with Calendula, although some researchers suspect there could (theoretically) be interactions with Calendula and hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, and sedation medications.
  • Most sources state that pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid Calendula, but I can find no good reasons for this, nor can I find any information if this is just for internal use or both internal and external use.

    Making Calendula Oil... quite easy to do.

    Making Calendula Oil… quite easy to do.

Calendula Oil – used for many topical skin conditions. The oil is easy to make. It can be used on its own, or it can be used to make other products.

  • Take dried Calendula flowers or fresh Calendula flowers (at least 12 hours old, this allows them to wilt and lose much of their water content).
  • Place the flowers in a glass jar.
  • Fill the jar with olive oil covering the flowers by at least an inch (2.5 cm).
  • Stir the flowers to evenly distribute the oil.
  • Cover the car with an airtight lid and shake well.
  • Place the jar in a sunny window.
  • Turn and shake the jar at least once a day for 3-6 weeks.
  • Strain the oil (a cheesecloth works well) into another jar.
  • The Calendula Oil is now ready to be used.
  • A double-strength Calendula Oil can be made by adding new Calendula flowers to the strained oil for another 3-6 weeks.
  • Other oils can be used like grapeseed oil or sunflower oil.
  • Store the Calendula Oil in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

Calendula Salve -used in much the same way as the Calendula Oil, but it is more of a cream, so it can be easier to apply. This one is great for chapped hands and lips.

  • Chop up 1/2 -2 ounces (1/16 – 1/4 cup or 15-60 ml) beeswax.
  • Take 4-8 ounces (1/2 – 1 cup or 118-236 ml) of Calendula Oil from recipe above.
  • Place the oil and beeswax in a double boiler and slowly melt.
  • Remove from heat.
  • If desired, a few drops of lavender oil can be stirred in for additional scent.
  • If desired, a pinch of tumeric powder can be added for additional color.
  • Pour the salve into small jars or tins, allow it to cool, then put the lid on the container.
  • The Calendula Salve is now ready to be used.
  • Note that the ratio of beeswax to oil ranges from 1:4 to 1:8. The more beeswax will result in a thicker, firmer salve.
  • Store the Calendula Salve in a cool, dark place for up to a year

Calendula Compress – this is a more gentle, and less oily/greasy, way to apply Calendula to the skin.

  • Place dried or fresh Calendula flowers to a heat-resistant jar or bowl.
  • Just barely cover with boiling water.
  • Let the water sit until it was completely cooled.
  • Strain the Calendula-infused water into another jar or bowl.
  • Soak a clean cloth in the water, wring it out just a bit, and apply it to the skin.
  • Let the cloth rest on the skin for 30-60 minutes, one to three times per day.
  • I can find no good information on how long the Calendula-infused water will store, but it likely does not store for more than a few days.

Calendula Poultice – a poultice is a much more aggressive treatment than a cool compress. Calendula is often used to make a poultice either by itself or mixed with other herbs.

  • Grind dried or fresh Calendula flowers – some experts recommend a course grind, and others recommend a fine grind with a mortar and pestle.
  • Place the ground flowers into a heat-resistant bowl.
  • Add just enough boiling water to make a paste (most herbalists recommend using another herb or something like slippery elm powder to make the paste more mucilaginous/thick)
  • If the wound is not open (e.g. like a bug bite or sting), then the poultice can be put right on the skin.
  • If the wound is open a little (e.g. abrasions or very shallow scratches), the place some gauze on the wound first, and apply the poultice to the gauze right over the wound.
  • If the wound is open and large, then talk to your medical provider first – we don’t want to cause an infection while we are trying to treat/prevent one with a poultice!
  • Once the poultice is applied, cover the poultice with some sort of dressing (e.g. additional gauze, plastic wrap, etc.)
  • Leave the poultice in place for 30-60 minutes.
  • The poultice should remain moist for most benefit.
  • Heat will increase its penetration/effect, but is usually avoided when treating sunburn, heat burns, or when treating children.
  • Heat can be added with a hot, wet cloth or a hot water bottle applied over the poultice dressing.
  • Heat is a great adjunct when dealing with an infection like a boil (furuncle).
Click on the photo to see some of the best photos of Calendula I have ever seen.
Click on the photo to see some of the best photos of Calendula I have ever seen.

Yield: Variable.
Harvesting: The flowers can be harvested when in bloom (Summer-Autumn). The leaves can be harvested in Spring and Summer.
Storage: Use fresh. Dried flowers can last for years, but it seems that 2 years is really the maximum they should be stored if they are to retain their medicinal properties.

Calendula makes a pretty good groundcover.

Calendula makes a pretty good groundcover, but works best when in a mixed planting.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 6, but since it is an annual, Zone doesn’t matter that much
AHS Heat Zone: 6-1
Chill Requirement: None.

Plant Type: Small Herbaceous Annual, but can grow year round in some locations
Leaf Type: Annual
Forest Garden Use: Herbaceous Layer, Groundcover Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available for this species.

Pollination: Each plant has both male and female flowers (pollinated by bees).
Flowering: Summer to Autumn, but this really depends on the growing location. Calendula is not sensitive to frost, and will often keep flowering after the first snowfall.

Life Span
This is an annual plant (lives for one growing season), but considering that the plants self-seed so easily, this is not much of an issue.

There are many varities of Calendula.

There are many varities of Calendula.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 12-30 inches (30-75 cm) tall and 8-18 inches (20-45 cm) wide
Roots: Shallow and fibrous
Growth Rate: Fast

Calendula adds a splash of beauty anywhere it is planted.

Calendula adds a splash of beauty anywhere it is planted.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates mederate shade
Moisture: Prefers moist soils, but can thrive in a wide variety of soil conditions.
pH: 4.5-8.3 (tolerates a wide range of soil conditions)

Special Considerations for Growing:
Give Calendula good conditions, and you will need to do little for it.

Propagation:
Calendula is propagated via seed. It self-seeds very easily, so once you have a patch growing, it will often continue to pop up every year.

Maintenance:
Removing the old flowers (aka “deadheading”) will stimulate more flower growth.

Concerns:
None.

Now this is real flower power!

Now this is real flower power!

 

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Photo References:

  • http://www.biabeauty.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Calendula_officinalis31.jpg
  • http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-LbZrFvH3rIo/UBHW67QfxQI/AAAAAAAAGBg/ZU0uIeV4trA/s1600/calendula.JPG
  • https://davisla2.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/calendula-officinalis.jpg
  • http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-gQ0iYdiIfJM/UdmeZGf3T8I/AAAAAAAAFyI/XGyQGViuwf8/s1600/77cleaned+calendula.JPG
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5c/Illustration_Calendula_officinalis0.jpg
  • http://www.tandmworldwide.com/medias/sys_tmwld/8798115201054.jpg
  • http://www.onlyfoods.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Calendula-officinalis-Pot-Marigold-Pictures.jpg
  • http://rachelcorby.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/100_2458.jpg
  • http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-GtvwEjfK59Y/UToxBkE8T5I/AAAAAAAAA-8/OCH4Y8FKfzo/s1600/Poultice6.jpg
  • http://macdragon.biz/gardeningwithcharlie/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/calendula.jpg
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-J5UhZtX8Wjc/UhJfmz3ir3I/AAAAAAAAEZw/PgmjX0DYVDg/s1600/P1030422+-+Version+2.JPG

 

A Visit with Alex Sumerall from This Cob House!

During my whirlwind trip last month, I had the opportunity to meet Alex Sumerall at one of his work sites. Alex is a cob home builder. I have been very interested in alternative home designs for quite some time, and specifically straw bale and cob homes. About six months ago, I came across Alex’s site, and we started talking a bit. When I found out I was going to be in Tennessee in March, I contacted Alex to see if we could meet him. As it turns out, he was going to be at a building site not too far from where I was going to be.

The Winter was still winding down, and the project had only just gotten started when I arrived at the building site. After reading about cob building for so long, it was great to see an actual cob home under construction, even if only the foundation was partly completed. I’ll share the photos I took, and I strongly encourage you to check our Alex’s site: This Cob House

Alex and I at the building site.

Alex and I at the building site.

This site had plenty of clay, so much in fact, that Alex was going to need to bring in some sand to make a good consistency cob.

This site had plenty of clay, so much in fact, that Alex was going to need to bring in some sand to make a good consistency cob.

Bathroom corner of the home. Note the drainage ditch that will keep rain and ground water from pooling at the foundation.

Bathroom corner of the home. Note the drainage ditch that will keep rain and ground water from pooling at the foundation.

Showing how the piping traverses the foundation.

Showing how the piping traverses the foundation.

I'm excited to see how the finished home turns out... here is an example of one cob home in the Pacific Northwest.

I’m excited to see how the finished home turns out… here is an example of one cob home in the Pacific Northwest.

 

 

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Photo References:

 

Be a Food Snob! (a new article I wrote for AgriTrue)

The following is an excerpt from my new article at AgriTrue.com

You probably know one. A Food Snob. This is a person who typifies the word “snob”. This person will go on and on about the wine they drank with “cherry aroma and a strong, yet balanced, oak finish, with hints of chocolate and prunes.” While they may know what they are speaking about, in reality, their goal is to tell you they spent $200 for the bottle of wine. They want to make you feel less informed and cheap. They want to feel better about themselves. They are sad people.

If you want a humerous and witty read that further defines Food Snobs, take a look at this excerpt from The Food Snob’s Dictionary.

But to me, there is second type of Food Snob… call it a second-tier Food Snob, or a nice Food Snob. I am one of these Food Snobs. Some may call us “Foodies”, but this term conjures an image that is a bit too casual and pedestrian, so I still think Food Snob is a better term for people like me. I like food… okay, I love food. A lot. I love most food, but I really love good food. I talk about food. I read about food. I cook a lot. I experiment and practice in the kitchen a lot as well. I also love to teach others about food, not to make myself sound informed, but because I want everyone to appreciate good food as much as I do. To me, eating good food is one of the simplest, yet most important, pleasures in life, and I feel everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy a great meal.

(click here to read more…)

 

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Edible Wild Mushrooms in the Azores!

(sorry for the rather bad photo… it was taken on a friend’s smartphone!)

Ever since moving to the Azores almost two years ago, I have been searching for wild edible mushrooms. All the locals I asked told me that there were only poisonous mushrooms here on this island, that there are no edible mushrooms here. This puzzled me. The Azores, in general, have high amounts of rainfall and humidity through most of the year, so I figured this place should be a mushroom hunter’s paradise. But time and again, the locals shot me down.

I felt that this was a classic case of fungiphobia. It seems that mushrooms are adored by the Spanish and Portuguese on the mainland, that is the Iberian Penninsula on the European continent, but other than button mushrooms and the occasional portabella, the Azoreans do not seem to be big fans of mushrooms. I am sure there are Azoreans who do love mushrooms, but I have not met them yet. My thought was that the locals believed there were no edible mushrooms on this island, because that is what their parents told them, and their parents learned this from their parents, and on and on.

I thought this climate would be perfect for mushrooms. I even “planted” some mushroom patches of my own. Unfortunately, with me moving in about 6 weeks, it seems that I will never see the fruits (or fruiting bodies, rather) of my labor. I am okay with that. I have turned over many gardens and fruit trees to unknown people who came after me with all my moves in the last decade. But I really thought I would be able to find some edible wild mushrooms here if I could get out there and hunt. Between naturally occuring species and/or accidentally introduced species, I figured that there would need to be at least one wild edible mushroom on this island.

Now, to be honest, I have not been out hunting mushrooms like a professional would. I am rather busy, probably way too busy, with so many other things, that hunting for edible mushrooms when everyone says they don’t exist was not a huge priority for me. However, every time I am outside, my eyes are constantly scanning. I look for insects and birds. I try to identify every plant I step over or pass by, and I look for mushrooms. In truth, I have seen quite a few mushrooms… tiny, frail, ephemeral mushrooms that are probably non-poisonous but not really “edible”. And I have not come across any mushroom larger than a dime. I will also add that the one other Permaculturist on the island which I live has recently told me about a gentleman who is growing edible mushrooms, but I have yet to visit his place.

But today, I have been vindicated!

As I was walking in to work this morning, I spotted a little, round, white ball in the grass. I stepped right over it and kept walking. It took two to three steps before my brain made the recognition… “I think that was a mushroom!”

I went back and took a knee in the grass to study it. It was just a bit smaller and oblong than a golfball. I plucked it from its anchor and took a deep smell of it, and a big smile crossed my face. It was a very small Puffball. I am pretty sure it is a very young Calvatia gigantea. So, here it is. I had found a wild, edible mushroom in the Azores!

In hindsight, I wish I would have left it there in the hopes it would continue growing large enough for a meal, but really wanted to make the correct identification. Some immature gilled mushrooms with their intact universal veil, a number of which are quite poisonous, can resemble a young Puffball. Identification of a small Puffball is quite important. It gets significantly easier as they mature, since some Puffballs can grow larger than a basketball. But I know where I found this one. Other Puffballs will hopefully pop up in the area.

I may have just enough time for some Puffball steaks before I leave… keeping my fingers crossed!

Here is a great page on cooking the Giant Puffball mushroom.

 

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Permaculture Plants: Sweet Potatoes

Common Name: Sweet Potato, Creeping Yam, Kūmara
Scientific Name: Ipomoea batatas
Family: Convolvulaceae (the Bindweed or Morning Glory family)

To me, harvesting Sweet Potatoes is like digging for treasure!

To me, harvesting Sweet Potatoes is like digging for treasure!

Description:
Sweet Potatoes are perennial in climates warmer than USDA Zone 8 or 9, and are grown as annuals if the climate is cooler; however, I personally think that with some experimentation and large trials, we could push perennial growth into colder zones. However they are grown, Sweet Potatoes are a wonderfully nutritious plant. The majority of people are familiar with the sweet, orange flesh of the tuber, which may also be white, yellow, purple, violet, pink, and red! But most Westerners do not know that Sweet Potato shoots and young leaves are edible and are considered a tasty vegetable in many parts of the world. In addition, Sweet Potato makes a great animal fodder – all parts are edible, and the fast-growing, beautiful vines make an effective groundcover, especially in perennial locations. Sweet Potatoes should be incorporated into most Permaculture designs!

There is such a variety of Sweet Potatoes to choose from!

There is such a variety of Sweet Potatoes to choose from!
This is just a tiny sample.

History:
Sweet Potatoes were likely domesticated in Peru by 8,000 BC, and they either had a second domestication or were transported to Central America and grown domestically by 5,000 BC. Although there appears to be growing evidence that the origin of our modern Sweet potato was on the Caribbean coast somewhere between the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico and the Orinoco Delta in Venezuela. There is also strong evidence that supports the Polynesian explorers visiting South America and bringing back Sweet Potatoes around 700 AD. In modern times, Sweet Potatoes are grown around the world in tropical and subtropical climates for human food (tuber and leaves) and as animal feed.

This purple variety of Sweet Potato is stunning.

This purple variety of Sweet Potato is stunning.

Trivia:

  • Sweet Potatoes are NOT yams, although in the U.S., Sweet Potatoes are often called “yams”.
  • Yams are tuber plants in the Dioscorea genus originating from Africa, and are typically drier and starchy.
  • Sweet Potatoes are tuber plants in the Ipomoea genus originating from South America.
  • Sweet Potatoes are considered “root tubers” which means they have modified roots called “storage roots”.
  • Regular potatoes are considered “stem tubers” which means they have modified stolons (stems) that enlarge just below ground.
  • Sweet Potatoes can have beige, brown, yellow, orange, red, or purple skins.
  • Sweet Potatoes most commonly have light or deep orange flesh, but white, yellow, purple-blue, violet, pink, and red-fleshed varieties exist.
  • Not all Sweet Potatoes produce tubers that are edible… they aren’t poisonous, but they do not taste good.
  • Sweet Potato leaves and shoots are a common vegetable in many parts of the world, and some varieties are grown only for the leaves.
  • Not all Sweet Potatoes produce leaves or shoots that are edible… they aren’t poisonous, but they do not taste good.
  • While Sweet Potatoes do best in hot and humid climates (Zone 8 and warmer), they can still be grown for tubers if the Summers are hot enough for long enough. If the climate is too cold for good tuber production, they can easily be grown for leaves/shoots as an annual vegetable in almost any location.
  • Tubers can take 2-9 months to mature, depending on the variety.
  • The Sweet Potato is considered the 7th most important food crop in the world.
  • The Sweet Potato is the state vegetable of North Carolina (United States), and this state is the lead producer of Sweet Potato in the US.
  • China is the world’s largest producer of Sweet Potato at 105 million tons (95,250,000,000 kg)! Half of it is used for animal feed.
  • People from Papua New Guinea consume about 1,100 lbs (500 kg) per person per year!
  • Americans consume about 4.5 lbs (2 kg) per person per year.
  • Random Bit… every time I read about Sweet Potatoes and see the genus (Ipomoea), I hear the tune for “The Girl from Ipanema” in my head!

 

The classic Sweet Potato seen in the U.S.
The classic Sweet Potato seen in the U.S.
Sweet Potato shoots and young leaves are a popular vegetable in non-Western parts of the world.

Sweet Potato shoots and young leaves are a popular vegetable in non-Western parts of the world.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Tubers – the root (tuber) of Sweet Potatoes almost need to description. The large tuber is sweet, moist, and fleshy, but there are some varieties that are considerably less sweet and/or less moist. The tubers are usually cooked – baked, fried, steamed, roasted, etc. The cooked potatoes can also be thinly sliced and dried. The dried potatoes can be used in soups or stews or can even be ground into a flour.
  • Edible Shoots/Leaves – the top 3-4 inches (7.5-10 cm) of growing (shoot) tips are used as a vegetable, as are the small, young leaves. Cooked – treated like most other “greens”.

 

Sweet Potato animal feed from tubers (left) and leaves/vines (right).

Sweet Potato animal feed from tubers (left) and leaves/vines (right).

Ornamental varieties of Sweet Potato abound.

Ornamental varieties of Sweet Potato abound.

Another ornamental Sweet Potato.

Another ornamental Sweet Potato.

Secondary Uses:

  • Ornamental Plant – Sweet Potatoes are commonly used as an ornamental plant. The vigorous vine has attractive foliage and can come in a range of colors and shapes.
  • Groundcover Plant – very effective due to its fast growth.
  • Drought-Tolerant Plant – Sweet Potatoes can be fairly drought tolerant once established (after about 80-90 days… after the tuber initiation stage) as perennials.
  • Animal Fodder Plant – the tubers, stems, and leaves can all be used for animal feed.
  • Sweet Potatoes can be used to make alcoholic beverages (wine and liquors).
  • Industrial uses for starch and alcohol (ethanol) – research is being conducted for biofuel.

Yield: Variable. It all depends on how it is grown, where it is grown, and the variety.
Harvesting: The shoots can be harvested at anytime. The tubers can be harvested at anytime as well, if the plant is a perennial. If the plant is treated as an annual, than they are harvested at the end of the growing season (before the first frost).
Storage: The tubers can be used fresh or stored, but they need to be cured first. The simplest way is to let the tuber (unwashed!) sit in the sun for about a week or so when the temperatures are over 77 F (25 C) and the humidity is high. The cured tubers will last for many months (often up to a year) if kept in a cool, but not cold, location and handled as little as possible. Ideal storage is around 60 F (15 C), and there is conflicting information on whether dry or moist storage is best.
Using Stored Potatoes: Sweet Potatoes that are cracked or have large wounds (sustained from harvesting) that have not sealed during the curing process should be eaten first. Any Sweet Potato that is showing bruising should be eaten next. Sweet Potatoes with wounds that did seal during the curing process should be eaten next. Finally, the non-cracked, non-wounded, non-bruised tubers, which are the ones that typically store the longest, should be eaten last. Stored tubers can also be planted the following year.

Blurring the line between ornamental and functional groundcover.

Blurring the line between ornamental and functional groundcover.

A beautiful red-skinned, yellow-fleshed variety.

A beautiful red-skinned, yellow-fleshed variety.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 9-12 as a perennial. There aresome reports of Sweet Potatoes over-wintering as perennials in Zone 8, and even 7, in a very protected space or microclimate. If you live in colder temperate climates, then treat Sweet Potatoes as annuals.
AHS Heat Zone: 12-1
Chill Requirement: Unlikely, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Herbaceous Vining Plant (non-climbing)
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Underground Layer, Vining Layer, Groundcover Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available.

Pollination: Self-sterile (the vast majority of Sweet Potatoes are grown from slips, cuttings, tubers, or tissue culture). Sweet Potatoes need cross-pollination from another variety in order to set seed.
Flowering: Summer. Flowering events are rare for Sweet Potatoes grown in Temperate Climates. Flowering typically occurs in the Tropics or Sub-Tropoics, and is triggered by changing day length.

Life Span:

  • Years of Useful Life: No good information available as we typically harvest the tubers and eat them. Considering that the plants can be propagated so easily, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant. But I would like to know this for those living in warmer locations and using Sweet Potatoes for groundcovers.
Flowering is not common for Sweet Potatoes unless they are grown in very warm climates.

Flowering is not common for Sweet Potatoes unless they are grown in very warm climates.

Sweet Potatoes' beautiful leaves... no wonder they are an ornamental.

Sweet Potatoes’ beautiful leaves… no wonder they are an ornamental.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 7-10 feet (2.1-3 meters) long
Roots: Large to very large tuber with small fibrous roots
Growth Rate: Fast

Sweet Potatoes are consider "root tubers".

Sweet Potatoes are consider “root tubers”.

A typical harvest showing the variety of large and spindly tubers.

A typical harvest showing the variety of large and spindly tubers.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade (Sweet Potatoes tolerate more shade in hotter climates)
Moisture: Prefers moist soils.
pH: 5.5-6.5 (prefers slightly acidic to neutral soils, but can still produce in less than ideal conditions; however, there are reports that state diseases occur more as the pH becomes more neutral.)

Special Considerations for Growing:tutorial android

  • Sweet Potatoes love the heat, and they really like humidity. But they really don’t like wild changes in temperatures, so it is important for them to planted once the temperatures stabilize. After that, the more heat, the better… within reason!
  • Sweet Potatoes do not like to be transplanted, so either plant in place or transplant as few times as possible.
  • Be sure to plant potatoes that are disease resistant and virus free if possible.
  • Planting in raised mounds or raised rows/beds makes for easier harvesting.
  • “Hilling” can be done (mounding up the soil or adding compost or mulch around the base of the plants) helps tuber development and prevents dehydration of the tubers.
  • If growing as an annual, rotate the Sweet Potatoes’ location to minimize nematode problems.

 

A slip ready to be planted.

A slip ready to be planted.

Many bare-rooted Sweet Potato plants - a common way these are sold.

Many bare-rooted Sweet Potato plants – a common way these are sold.

Propagation:

  • Sweet Potato can be propagated from seed. Like most species in the Morning Glory family, scarifying the seed or soaking the seed for 12-24 hrs before planting will increase germination. Sweet Potato seed may not yield plants with the same quality as the parent (i.e. they are not “true to type”).
  • Sweet Potatoes are often propagated via stem cuttings; these cuttings come from the terminal tips of a growing shoot, should be 7.5-18 inches (20-45 cm) long, and should contain at least three nodes. The lower leaves can be removed, and the cuttings are direct planted into the soil at about half to two-thirds their length/depth.
  • Another common way to grow Sweet Potatoes is by using whole tubers. The entire tuber is planted whole in the ground. This is an easy way to use your stored Sweet Potatoes.
  • Finally, Sweet Potatoes are commonly propagated by using slips. “Slips” are sprouts with small roots that are removed from a tuber (i.e. “slipped off”) and planted as individual plants. These are easy to produce yourself….
    • Just take a whole, half, or large chunk of Sweet Potato, poke some toothpicks in the side, and let the tuber sit about half in a cup/jar of water and half out. The shoots will grow out of the top. Once they are strong and healthy (about 8-10 inches/20-25 cm), the shoots can be slipped off (this takes a little practice) and placed in a cup of water, like a cut flower. Keep the water fresh, and roots will start to grow from the slip. Once the roots are about an inch long, they can be planted in place. Some sources state that these slips do not form as vigorous a root system as possible.
    • Alternatively, the tuber can be covered in moist garden soil or sand. Keep the soil moist. Sprouts will appear just as above, and the slips may be placed in water above or in moist soil.

Maintenance:
Minimal.

Concerns:
There are some relatives of Sweet Potato that are deadly poisonous. Just make sure you know what you are eating before you consume “wild” Sweet Potatoes.

The deep colors mean the tubers are packed with nutrition.

The deep colors mean the tubers are packed with nutrition.

A lovely red-skinned, violet-fleshed Sweet Potato variety.

A lovely pinkish/purplish-skinned and fleshed Sweet Potato variety.

 

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Photo References:

  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/eb/Ipomoea_batatas_6.jpg
  • http://flowergardengirl.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/100_9931.jpg
  • http://www.onlineplantguide.com/Image%20Library/I/4341.jpg
  • http://www.thompson-morgan.com/medias/sys_tandm/8796166684702.jpg
  • http://albertvickdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/beauregard-group-shot-1.jpg
  • http://albertvickdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/beauregard-slip.jpg
  • http://www.public.asu.edu/~camartin/plants/Plant%20html%20files/green%20potato%20container.JPG
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/ce/Ipomoea_batatas_(Purple_Sweet_Potato_Variety)_Flower.JPG
  • http://godshealingplants.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/dsc_0117-2.jpg
  • http://lettucebehealthy.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/purple-potato.jpg
  • http://www.farm-fresh-produce.com/spvarieties.html
  • http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com/files/2013/10/Sweet-Potatoes.jpg
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-lFDweqURoFA/TmMIGPugitI/AAAAAAAADB0/6hjvzNFImb8/s1600/DSC_0143.JPG
  • http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7108/7489529132_4c4078156f.jpg
  • http://mindsoulfood.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/heirloom-sweet-potato.jpg
  • http://static.parade.condenast.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/purple-yam-ftr.jpg
  • http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-fJfuTMojpY8/UgfE-70WRsI/AAAAAAAAAT0/5PTBXi0ap24/s1600/Sweet+Potatoes.jpg
  • http://prettypiesbylindsey.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/dsc_0456.jpg
  • http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-KRT9UJuinl0/UOtNQCusXYI/AAAAAAAABXY/jQBx9FxHU8U/s1600/Orange_Sweet_Potato_Harvest.JPG

AgriTrue is Live!

 AgriTrue.com

AgriTrue has been a project I have been working on (with a few partners) for over three years. After many ups and downs and headaches, I am so excited to say that AgriTrue is live! It has actually been up and running for a few week. We have a few kinks to work out, but we have those fixed. We now have over a dozen producers signed up already!panduan android

So what is AgriTrue? It is a website that connects food Producers (farmers and ranchers) with local Consumers (people like you and me). It allows us to know where and how our food was raised. All Producers on our site agree not to raise Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) and agree not to use synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides. The Producers complete an initial questionnaire answering basic questions about what they raise and how they do it. Anyone can ask the Producers any question about how that food was raised… and the Producers will answer the questions. Each Producer has a profile page with all their information, photos, and videos if they have them. Consumers can rate the Producers and leave comments about their experiences. All the Producers can be found in a search engine that links their profile page with a Google Map (and directions) to their farm or ranch.

AgriTrue is about transparency in food production… it is about truth in agriculture.

 

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Domestic Beef Cattle: Breeds (Part 3)

This is a continuation of a previous article on domestic beef cattle breeds.

See the other articles:
Domestic Beef Cattle: Terminology and Breeds (Part 1)
Domestic Beef Cattle Breeds (Part 2)
Domestic Beef Cattle Breeds (Part 3)
Domestic Beef Cattle Breeds (Part 4)

 

Red Devon (horned)

Red Devon (horned)

Red Devon bull (polled)

Red Devon bull (polled)

21. Devon

  • Origin: Devon County, England
  • Type: Meat (there is a Milking Devon which makes great milk!)
  • Flavor: Tender, well-marbled. The Milking Devon is on the Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste.
  • Size: Medium.
  • Color: Deep red to ruby red.
  • Horns: Medium-sized horns or polled (naturally non-horned).
  • Temperament: Gentle.
  • Notes: The Devon, also known as the Red Devon or Ruby Reds, are one of my favorite breeds. I love that they were a traditional, triple-purpose breed (beef, milk, and draft), that they were the first British cattle in the New World in 1623 (Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts), that George Washington kept this breed at his farm (Mount Vernon), and that they have excellent production on grass/pasture-based farms. In the 1950’s, some farmers started selecting for beef traits, and some started selecting for dairy traits, and the beef Devon and the Milking Devon were created. Known for being hardy, easy calving, and good mothering instincts.

 

Dexter cattle

Dexter cattle… yes, they are full grown!

Dexters come in various colors.

Dexters come in various colors.

22. Dexter

  • Origin: Southwestern Ireland.
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Lean, but tender.
  • Size: Very small (3-3.5 feet/1 meter tall!)
  • Color: Mostly black, but dark red and dun exist.
  • Horns: Small, but in proportion to their body. There are also polled (naturally hornless) strains.
  • Temperament: Gentle. Friendly.
  • Notes: Hardy. Does well on pasture. Good fertility. Good mothering. They still retain higher milk production from their dual-purpose (milk and meat) roots; although hey were traditionally triple-purpose cattle (meat, milk, and draft). These cattle are not miniatures, but are the smallest British breed.

 

Florida Cracker cattle in the pine woods.

Florida Cracker cattle in the pine woods.

Florida Crackers have some of the most diverse colors and patterns.

Florida Crackers have some of the most diverse colors and patterns.

23. Florida Cracker

  • Origin: Florida (USA), originally brought to the Southern U.S. by Spanish Conquistadors in the 1500’s.
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Leand and flavorful. Listed on the Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste.
  • Size: Small (cows: 600-800 lbs/270-360 kg; bulls: 800-1,200 lbs/360-545 kg)
  • Color: Variety of colors and patterns.
  • Horns: Medium to large with various shapes.
  • Temperament: Docile. Easy to manage.
  • Notes: Heat and humidity resistant. Disease resistant. Forage very well (can thrive on rough pasture and brush). High fertility. Good mothering. Long-lived. Some cattle strains also are good milk producers.

 

Red and Black Belted Galloway

Red and Black Belted Galloway

White Galloway

White Galloway

24. Galloway

  • Origin: Southwestern Scotland.
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Tender and juicy.
  • Size: Medium.
  • Color: Shaggy coat of black, red, dun. The “White Galloway” is white with black ears, feet, tail, udders, and around the eyes. The “Belted Galloway” is black, red, or dun with a white “belt” around the middle, and they have a separate registry.
  • Horns: Naturally polled (hornless).
  • Temperament: Mild-mannered.
  • Notes: Hardy. Cold-tolerant. Easy calving. Performs well on rough forage.

 

Gelbvieh, in the classic yellow color

Gelbvieh, in the classic yellow color

Gelbvieh also come in other colors

Gelbvieh also come in other colors

25. Gelbvieh

  • Origin: Germany (from red landrace cattle from Bavaria with Oberland Bernese and Red Danish.
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: “Tender, tasty meat”
  • Size: Medium to Large.
  • Color: Often yellow, but can be black, red, and cream.
  • Horns: Horned or polled.
  • Temperament: Docile and calm.
  • Notes: “Gelbvieh” means “yellow cow” in German. Good mothers. Good fertility.

 

Hays Converter retain their Hereford white face and belly

Hays Converter retain their Hereford white face and belly

Hays Converter

Hays Converter bull

26. Hays Converter

  • Origin: Canada (from Holstein, Hereford, and Brown Swiss). Developed by Harry Hays, the Minister of Agriculture for Canada.
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: No reliable information
  • Size: Medium to Large.
  • Color: Red or black with a white face and belly.
  • Horns: Medium.
  • Temperament: described as having a “good “, “excellent”, and “lovely” temperament
  • Notes: Hardy. Cold-tolerant. Long-lived. Good fertility. Fast growth. This is the first Canadian breed of beef cattle.

 

Hereford bull, cow, and calf

Hereford bull, cow, and calf

Hereford cattle

Hereford cattle

27. Hereford

  • Origin: England (Herefordshire County).
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Tender and juicy
  • Size: Medium.
  • Color: Red with white face, belly, tail, and feet.
  • Horns: Horned or polled (naturally hornless… but this is less common).
  • Temperament: Even-tempered and docile.
  • Notes: Hardy in cold and heat. Good performance on grass.

 

Highland cattle

Highland cattle

Highland cow and calf

Highland cow and calf

28. Highland

  • Origin: Scotland (in the Highlands).
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Lean and tasty.
  • Size: Medium.
  • Color: Shaggy hair in various colors.
  • Horns: Large.
  • Temperament: Docile, even-tempered, friendly, “Quiet and charming”
  • Notes: Hardy. Insect resistant. Performs well on grass and rough forage. Another of my favorite breeds.

 

Limousin bull

Limousin bull

Limousin cow and calf

Limousin cow and calf

29. Limousin

  • Origin: France (Limousin province).
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Tender and lean, full of flavor
  • Size: Medium.
  • Color: Golden red, dark red, or black.
  • Horns: Horned or polled (naturally hornless).
  • Temperament: Wide range of temperament depending on the breeding
  • Notes: Hardy. Good mothers. Efficient growth.

 

Lincoln Red bull

Lincoln Red bull

Lincoln Red cattle

Lincoln Red cattle

30. Lincoln Red

  • Origin: England (from Shorthorn and native cattle from Lincolnshire county).
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Marbled, tender, “succulent”
  • Size: Medium.
  • Color: Deep red.
  • Horns: Horned or polled (naturally hornless).
  • Temperament: Docile, “excellent” temperament
  • Notes: Hardy. Long-lived. Easy calving. Early maturing. Good production on grass and rough pasture.

 

 

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Photo References:

  • http://www.ntsouthwest.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/KL-Red-Devon-Cows-in-front-of-house.jpg
  • http://www.redrubydevon.co.uk/image.php?w=780&h=450&type=crop&f=aW1hZ2VzL2hvbWVwYWdlXzI1LmpwZw%3D%3D
  • http://www.cheshirewildlifetrust.org.uk/sites/cheshire.live.wt.precedenthost.co.uk/files/images/Dexters_Tom%20Marshall.jpg
  • http://www.gormellick.co.uk/images/136866.jpg
  • http://www.cccourthouse.org/content/image/DSC_1103.jpg
  • http://www.hillsboroughcounty.org/images/pages/N3301/0294_FloridaCowboys045_2.jpg
  • http://www.dartmoorbeltedgalloways.co.uk/images/black-red-belted-galloway-cattle.jpg
  • http://www.puregrassbeef.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/images/SAM_0862.201125853_std.JPG
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/54/Black_Gelbvieh_cow_and_Calf.jpg
  • http://i911.photobucket.com/albums/ac320/townfarmer/ekka%202010/IMG_1057.jpg
  • http://www.bovin.qc.ca/bovins_files/images/races/boucherie/hays_converter_attente.jpg
  • http://www.canadianbeefbreeds.com/siteadmin/upload/Breed%20Photos/Hays_CowCalf_HiRes.jpg
  • http://www.herouldmedeherefords.co.uk/images/P1000400.jpg
  • http://herefordmarketing.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/cropped-hereford-11.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/43/Cow_on_Pupers.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6d/Highland_Cattle_2.jpg
  • http://www.peacecountrylimousin.com/Cow%20pic-whatareyoulookingat-compressed.JPG
  • http://www.bullseyebreeding.com/images/Veteran_Lrg.jpg
  • http://www.lincolnshirelife.co.uk/images/uploads/main-images/_main/COWS_01.jpg
  • http://www.genusbreeding.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/DSC_6399-Walmer-Piper.jpg

 

 

A Visit to the P.A. Bowen Farmstead

When I was living in Turkey, my friend Jake told me that I needed to read a book titled, Nourishing Traditions. He thought I would enjoy it considering my interest in food and health, and he was right! The book is kind of a mix of a cook book, a health book, and food history book. I have used it and referenced it many times.

The author of the book is Sally Fallon Morell who went on to establish the Westin A. Price Foundation, which I highly recommend to my patients. In addition to being an author and health activist, she also loves to make cheese from raw milk. When Sally had the opportunity a few years ago, she and her husband purchased a farm that dates back to 1665 (from a modern history perspective).

A beautiful Tamworth sow with her Tamworth/Berkshire piglets.

A beautiful Tamworth sow with her Tamworth/Berkshire piglets.

These pigs were friendly and so fun to watch!

These pigs/piglets were friendly and so fun to watch!

Mike Haigwood with the most friendly Tamworth I have ever met... she loves a good back scratch.

Mike Haigwood with the most friendly Tamworth I have ever met… she loves a good back scratch.

I had a chance to meet Mike and Barb Haigwood when I was at the Permaculture Voices Conference. At the time, just over a month ago, they were the farm managers at the P.A. Bowen Farmstead. They said that I should come and visit some time, and, as it turned out, I was going to be in the D.C. area about 2 weeks after the conference. I decided to take them up on their offer, and I am so glad I did!

A young calf born just a couple weeks earlier.

A young calf born just a couple weeks earlier.

What I found was a Joel Salatin/Permaculture style farm that had a lot of class. Now… how do I explain this without offending anyone? I am not sure if I can, so I will just say it. Permaculturists can be slobs. They may call it being frugal or being artsy or being whimsical or being natural, but the end results can often look like a junkyard. There is a part of me that really understands and identifies with that. I really like to be frugal, although I don’t like being cheap. I also understand working at or below a budget, and I am not above foregoing class for functionality… you should see the $800 car I currently drive! At the other end of the spectrum is spending too much time and money on making a place look good, making it look classy; a farm like that can turn into a money pit and will go out of business fast. To me, there can be a good balance between the two extremes. Joel Salatin’s farm falls to frugal side, and the P.A. Bowen Farmstead falls to the classy side. I don’t have a clue about the bottom line or budget of either of these places, so this subjective assessment is based soley on outside observation.

With that said, the P.A. Bowen Farmstead is certainly pretty to look at. If every farm in America looked like this, the cities would be half empty due to everyone moving to the countryside!

Another look at the Egg-Mobile.

Another look at the Egg-Mobile.

The laying hens enter/exit on the ramp. The human door can be opened to maintain the interior.

The laying hens enter/exit on the ramp. The human door can be opened to maintain the interior.

...but the eggs can be collected from outside. Note how the hens prefer just a few locations to lay their eggs.

…but the eggs can be collected from outside. Note how the hens prefer just a few locations to lay their eggs.

I’ll finish this article by adding that Mike and Barb Haigwood are no longer the farm managers at the P.A. Bowen Farmstead. They left on very good terms to start their own consulting practice, Real Life Consulting, “using their many years of farming, homesteading and permaculture experience. Barb and Mike Haigwood consult with anyone who would like to make a difference in the world.”

 

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Photo References: All photos in this article are mine. If you would like to use them, please let me know!

 

A Visit to Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm

I wrote the following words on Facebook a few weeks ago:

I first stumbled across a copy of Joel Salatin’s “You Can Farm” almost 15 years ago in a small library. I read it and was intrigued… maybe obsessed is a better word. His writing germinated in my mind, and grew ever so slowly as I attended medical school and travelled around the world. This morning, I had the opportunity to walk the land that was described in that book. Even though it is still late Winter and everything is brown, Joel’s farm (Polyface Farms) was still inspirational… It was worth the 15 year wait!

Now I want to share some photos and editorial…

Polyface Farms is in a very rural location. Granted, there are more isolated farms, but I doubt there are many that are anywhere as successful while still being so off the beaten path. I drove over roads that stretched across the brown Shenandoah Valley hills of Virginia farmland in late Winter for about twenty minutes and only passed one other car. The farm is an additional mile down an unpaved road. The drive was very pretty despite the lack of green and the fields of rather poorly managed land of the surrounding farms

As I pulled into Polyface Farms, I noticed that things didn’t look very different than neighboring land. Much of this was due to the fact that everything was still brown from Winter. I spoke with Joel Salatin the week prior at the Permaculture Voices Conference, and I knew that the farm would be at the tail end of its yearly slow period, just getting ready to be amped up for the Spring. However, as I pulled closer to the farm structures I started to notice a few things, and a smile spread across my face.

Interior of the Egg-Mobiles.

Interior of the Egg-Mobiles.

The first thing I recognized as being uniquely Salatin was the Egg-Mobiles (seen at the top of this article). These mobile hen houses get pulled around the farm so the egg-laying chickens can free-range the pastures for food. Supplemental feed is given, but this wild foraging produces some of the best-tasting and healthiest eggs possible. The Egg-Mobiles were not stocked at the moment, but not far from where they were resting for the Winter were three, large hoop houses (aka high-tunnels, polytunnels, hoop greenhouses), and I could hear some clucking.

Winter quarters for the laying hens are large hoop houses.

Winter quarters for the laying hens are large hoop houses.

Another hoop house with a different breed of egg-layers.

Another hoop house with a different breed of egg-layers.

The hoop houses are the Winter quarters for the egg-laying hens of the Egg-Mobiles. These are drastically different systems than the confinement poultry houses of modern agriculture (just run a Google image search for “confinement poultry, and you will see what I mean). You can smell a confinement poultry house from a long distance off, the chickens are packed in tightly, dead chickens are scattered on the floor, and you need to wear a hazmat suit to walk in there, literally. No… these chickens of Polyface Farms were happily scratching in the bedding on the ground, contentedly clucking, hopping into the nests to lay eggs, and the air did not have a stench. I did smell animals, but it was not bad… it was fowl, but not foul! I would have no problem with my children walking in there to collect eggs.

Polyface Farm pigs.

Polyface Farm pigs.

Each hoop house was divided into two sections. About one half or one-third housed the chickens, and the other part housed pigs. I am not entirely sure how this system worked, as I was doing a self-guided tour. Joel was out at a speaking engagement when I was able to visit the farm, and I only had a few minutes to speak with the current farm manager before he had to get back to work. But I am pretty sure that the pigs and chickens rotated back and forth to both sides of the hoop house. There were two areas that were/could be closed off in the center of the hoop houses, and I think these are used to move the animals while keeping the pigs separated from the chickens.

I will add that these pigs were great! Friendly, outgoing, and happy. They also had a bit of a pig smell, but nothing more than a well-kept petting zoo. Which is saying something, because there were a lot more animals here than in a normal petting zoo.

Rabbits are also kept at Polyface Farms.

Rabbits are also kept at Polyface Farms.

The rabbits are kept above the chickens!

The rabbits are kept above the chickens!

Less than a hundred yards down the slight hill from the big hoop houses were some smaller hoop houses. These housed the meat rabbits. I had read about Daniel Salatin’s (Joel Salatin’s son) rabbits previously, so it was also great to see these in person. The rabbits are kept in raised cages, and the egg-laying chickens “free-range” underneath. This stacking of function (literally and figuratively) enables two species to mutually benefit each other. The rabbits drop mature, hay, and feed which provide food and activity for the chickens. The chickens eat any pests that may normally harbor in the rabbit bedding and droppings. Since one animal is a chicken and one is a rabbit, there is a bit of pest/host confusion as well. This is a simple, yet very well-designed system.

The Turkey-Mobiles.

The Turkey-Mobiles?

I knew the Saltins raised turkeys as well, but I had not read nor heard how they did it. I saw this contraption sitting near one of the hoop houses, and I thought it was empty. As I was walking around it, I heard a little rustle inside. I peeked under the hood, and saw a bunch of very young turkeys. This seems to be a variation of the Egg-Mobile. My guess is that it is pulled around to free-range the turkeys… either that, or this was just a temporary holding location for the animals.

The pigs and cattle in the barn.

The pigs and cattle in the barn. Note the ground level difference between the two sections of the barn.

I then decided to wander over to the barn, and all the things I had read about came flooding back. The Saltins do not keep their cattle in the patures over the Winter. They keep them in the “barn”. This barn is not the typical dark, dank structure. It is an open-air roof with almost no walls. The cattle are given fresh hay and bedding on a regular basis. Corn is occasionally dropped as well. The cattle end up standing higher and higher off the ground as the bedding piles up. The corn starts to ferment a bit as well. Toward the end of Winter, the pigs are let into the barn in sections. They love the little kernels of corn, so they root and dig it up, loosening the packed bedding. After the pigs have everything turned over and aired out, the Salatins use a tractor to move this almost-compost out of the barn to be spread in the pastures as high-quality fertilizer. The cattle are kept high and dry for the Winter, and the pigs get to do what they love, root around looking for treasure. Another beautiful system!

The simple, yet efficient, structures of Polyface Farms.

The simple, yet efficient, structures of Polyface Farms.

I also want to point out that many of the built structures on the farm are simple posts or logs, unfinished and unmilled. Most still have the bark still on them. The cost in time and money to use finished wood is really a waste unless you are focused on asthetics. The Salatins are not. They don’t want things to be ugly, but they do care about the bottom line, and it shows. Extra cost is not taken on beautifying poles for a barn. Simple and efficient.

A beautiful calf watching me explore the barn.

A beautiful calf watching me explore the barn.

I don’t actually have a bucket list, but it I did, visiting Polyface Farms would be on it. I plan on visiting again in late Summer or early Autumn when everything is in high gear. There is only so much you can read in a book. Walking the land and seeing things in person allows us to learn a lot more. I tried to share a bit of that in these photos, but if you are ever near Swoope, Virginia, I would recommend you stop and visit.

 

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Photo References: All photos in this article are mine. If you would like to use them, please let me know!