Monthly Archives: December 2016

The Trouble with Facebook Permaculture

Facebook Permaculture.

That’s my new term for the day. And it has really been bugging me.

The problem is that I’m guilty of it myself.

I need to say that at the onset. I don’t want to come across in a condescending way, because I do it.

I don’t think we really mean to, but it happens nonetheless.

We get excited about getting something done. We are proud of it. We want to tell people about it. So we do. We get on Facebook or Instagram or whatever social media, photo-sharing website/app we use, and we show the world the wonderful thing we have just accomplished.

We are happy when others “like” our post. We love the positive feedback.

Now, before I get too far, please don’t get me wrong… sharing our successes and accomplishments is important to do. In fact, we ought to do this.

I often think of the people in the mid-1960’s and 1970’s “back to the land” movement. They were one of the first groups of people who left the city to try and be self-sufficient. Most members of the previous generations knew how to be self-sufficient, because that was how they were raised. The earlier generations grew up with backyard gardens and chickens and a more self-reliant know-how and confidence. But by the 1960’s, at least in the United States, there was a gap in the transfer of this knowledge. The people who left the city and moved to the country didn’t have first-hand knowledge. They had to learn it or figure it out.

They may have had a few Foxfire books.

If they were lucky, and not too arrogant, they were befriended by a neighboring farmer or homesteader from a family that never left the homestead. They were fortunate if they had some early successes to build the confidence when tough times came… when a harvest was destroyed or an animal was lost.

Unfortunately, far too many of these “back to the landers” gave up. This whole “living off the land” thing was way too hard. It was all but impossible. So the “back to the landers” went back to the city. Defeated. Disillusioned. Depressed.

Today, we are incredibly fortunate to have the enormous wealth of knowledge found online. We can find how-to’s and problem-solving-solutions within minutes of when we need it. We can find success story after success story. We can find inspiration.

This next generation of “back to the landers”, of which I am one, are not giving up quite as quickly as before. I have no scientific data to support this claim. But I daily see success story after success story from people who are not giving up, not throwing in the towel, and not moving back to the city. It’s not that we are better in any way. I firmly believe that this generation of “back to the landers” are succeeding, in large part, due to the vast resources we have at our fingertips, which sadly the previous generation did not have. We run into roadblocks, and we can more easily find solutions and work-arounds. We are able to Google our way to success.

But this is only because we share those successes.

This is because we are getting on blogs and Facebook and Instagram and telling the world what we did and how we did it.

So for that I am immensely grateful.

But there is a down side to this story. And this is not only found in Permaculture or Homesteading or with the “back to the landers”. It is found throughout this entire generation of people who compare themselves to those they see on social media.

“Gosh,” they say, “Everyone is so successful with everything they do. What am I doing wrong? Why can’t I be so successful? I’ll never be able to ____  Maybe I should just stop trying. Maybe I should just quit.”

This is especially true in the Permaculture world.

We share photos of our huge harvests, of our beautiful pastures, of our new lambs or piglets or chicks.

But we don’t share struggles. We don’t share our failures. Some do. But most do not.

It is not malicious.

It’s just not fun. It’s not exciting. We are not proud of failing.

Our compost pile... that will be in the wrong place for over a year before we are finally done with it.

Our compost pile… that will be in the wrong place for over a year before we are finally done with it.

When all we do is share our success, we make it appear that failures are not common and are not part of the path toward success.

But I think it is important for us to be real.

So I’ll start…

  • We had a litter of piglets that were all stillborn.
  • We had another litter of four piglets, and only one survived.
  • We had a dump truck load of compost that is still sitting on the driveway. We used almost half of it, but we probably will have that pile sitting there for another 6 months… much to my wife’s chagrin.
  • We randomly had one of our ewes die. No idea why.
  • We had two of our pigs die. Not at the same time. But it happened, and we don’t know why.
  • We had a significant drought this Summer, and I lost close to half of the trees I planted a few months earlier.
  • I sliced my finger while breaking down chickens after processing, and I needed to give myself stitches.
  • We got our garden going too late this year, and we didn’t get a harvest from the broccoli, cauliflower, or Brussels spouts. (You can see the photo at the top of the page… this was a quick harvest before the frost… all we got was cabbage, but none of the other crops had time to mature, because we got them going too late.)
  • We still have a section of perimeter fence down from a windblown tree, and I have yet to get it cleared and the fence repaired. And I’ve known about it for at least 6 months.
  • Our geese made multiple nests, laid eggs, and abandoned all of them.
  • We lost every single one of our 23 Guinea Fowl to an unknown night predator.

That’s all I can think of in about 30 seconds. But I am sure there is a whole lot more.

We have had a lot of bad and sad and frustrating things, but the good thing is that our successes have outweighed our failures and our delays. And that is really important.

But it is also important for people to see that this life is not always simple or easy or carefree.

I’m not planning on quitting and moving back to the city. Not at all!

But I am trying to keep it real.

 

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Birding with My Daughter

I officially went birding for the first time with my 5 year-old daughter. I personally love birding (see my previous article on The Benefits of Birding for Permaculturists). I am not naive enough to think her interest isn’t, in part, because she wants to “be like her daddy”. But she has been expressing a growing interest in birds that seems to be more than just trying to mimic me, and I definitely want to foster this.  At night, she reads through an old copy of my Sibley Guide to Birds before bed, so I do believe this is a real interest for her.
The "Beginning Birder Set" I put together this Christmas.

The “Beginning Birder Set” I put together this Christmas.

For Christmas this year, one of her gifts from me was a “Beginning Birder Set” I put together. It included a couple of birding books for kids and a kids pair of binoculars. She has been asking to go birding with me since Christmas, but due to my work schedule we had to put it off. Yesterday, while I was at work, she took her new binoculars and her backpack, filled it with snacks, a water bottle, and her new birding books, and went birding on her own around the house! Well, I was not working today, and so were finally able to go out together this morning. We only lasted about an hour with temperatures in the mid 30’s F, but we had a great time… more importantly, SHE had a good time!
She correctly ID’d a couple birds entirely on her own, and she was the first to spot quite a few birds as well. I had a blast watching her! One of my favorite parts was her asking, “When can we go birding again?!”
White-Throated Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow (source: http://hughvandervoort.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/White-Throated-Sparrow-53.jpg)

Here is a list of the birds we spotted. Not too bad for a first birding foray:
  • American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
  • Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
  • Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)
  • Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla)
  • Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) – photo at the top of this page. (Source: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/content/dam/news/2016/10/17/northern-flicker-bird/01-northern-flicker.jpg)
  • Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)
  • Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
  • Red-Winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
  • Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
  • White-Throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)
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Piglets at the Bauernhof

NOTE: As we are actively growing and developing our herd of pigs, we are offering piglets for sale. We do not ship live animals. Please let us know if you are interested.

This year we have had our first piglets at the farm.

This year we have had our first piglets at the farm.

One of the goals I have for our farm is to develop a good line of pigs. I don’t have a specific breed in mind. But I have specific characteristics in mind. I’ll explain the background of how I chose the characteristics I am looking for.

Here is a photo of our first pigs on the farm.

Here is a photo (over a year old) of our first pigs… the foundation stock.

The reality is that there are a lot of places that have feral hogs and landrace pigs, but not many places have truly native wild pig species. Feral hogs are pigs that were once domestic, but have escaped. These feral hogs can be found around the world.

A landrace is a bit different than feral animals. A landrace is any breed of domestic animal that has been developed in relative isolation from other breeds or strains of that same species. These may be pigs or sheep or chickens or ducks or any other domestic animal. (Note that I am not referring to the American or Danish Landrace pigs which are specific breeds of pig… I am referring to the idea of a landrace breed in general.)

We run a mixed-breed herd of pigs on our farm.

We run a mixed-breed herd of pigs on our farm.

It was common practice for Spanish and Portuguese explorers to bring animals with them on their journeys. They would find a location with fresh water and let a few animals free. These animals would breed and their numbers would grow. When the explorers returned to that area, they had water and meat waiting for them.

But there was a catch.

Those animals had to survive. With no human intervention. With no hay. No feed. No medications. No assistance with birthing. No vaccines. No shelters. No dewormers. No barns. No selective breeding.

Nature was the selecting force. The animals that could survive did. Those that couldn’t handle the parasites, the droughts, the humidity, the cold, the predators… they didn’t. And their genetic traits of being unable to cope were not passed on to the next generation.

These survivor genetics are what I want. And fortunately there are a number of surviving landrace pigs out there.

Our piglets nursing well.

Our piglets nursing well. These are Gloucestershire Old Spots x Vietnamese Potbelly piglets.

 

Our pigs love to eat grass!

Our pigs love to eat grass!

Fortunately again there are a number of heritage breed pigs that still exist as well. A heritage breed is a breed of animal that was traditionally raised by farmers and homesteaders in the past. Over time, commercial breeds gradually took the heritage breeds’ place, and their numbers significantly declined. Many heritage breeds were lost. But there were a few dedicated farmers and homesteaders who kept some of these breeds going, and I am so glad they did. These heritage breeds may not be as hardy as some of the landrace pigs, but they are significantly moreso than the commercial breeds. They also have a significantly better flavor of pork than the commercial breeds. And, to be fair, the meat of landrace breeds are also very flavorful.

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We have a mix of genetics on our farm. Here is a photo when our heard was relatively young.

 

A piglet at sunrise!

A piglet at sunrise!

With all this said, my goal is to build my herd with genetics from a variety of landrace and heritage breeds. And that is exactly what I am doing. Here are the breeds I am using at our farm:

Berkshire

  • Origin: Britain. Berkshire (Berks County).
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Succulent, marbled, flavorful, pink-red meat.
  • Size: Medium.
  • Color: Black with a white snout and boots and tail.
  • Temperament: Good-natured.
  • Notes: Good mothers. Good foragers. Commonly used as a terminal sire (i.e. used as the male contributor for hybrid meat hogs).

Gloucester Old Spots

  • Origin: Britain. Gloucestershire (Gloucester County).
  • Type: Lard.
  • Flavor: Sweet, very flavorful, well-marbled meat.
  • Size: Medium to Large.
  • Color: Mostly white with a few black spots.
  • Temperament: Very good-natured and friendly.
  • Notes:  Very good foragers. Very hardy. Very good mothers. Originally raised on windfall apples.

Guinea Hog

  • Origin: Guinea (Africa) originally, but this is a southern USA landrace breed (meaning it was developed over time, adapting to its new environment in the hot and humid South).
  • Type: Lard.
  • Flavor: Delicious! On the Slow Food USA Ark of Taste.
  • Size: Small to Medium (adults: 150-250 lbs/68-114 kg).
  • Color: Black, occasionally red, and hairy.
  • Temperament: Sweet-natured, friendly.
  • Notes:  Endangered breed. Very good foragers. Do not do well in confinement.

Kunekune

  • Origin: New Zealand, but originating from Asian breeds.
  • Type: Meat. Being a small pig, they produce select cuts of meat and a lot of sausage and bacon.
  • Flavor: Well-marbled, succulent, tasty meat
  • Size: Small.
  • Color: Wide range of colors, hairy.
  • Temperament: Good-natured. Friendly.
  • Notes:  Excellent foragers. Kunekune means “fat and round” in the Māori language. It is one of the “pet” breeds of pig.

Large Black

  • Origin: England. Devonshire (Devon County) and Cornwall County.
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Very tasty, juicy, lean but well-marbled meat. Little back fat.
  • Size: Large.
  • Color: Black.
  • Temperament: Good-natured. Docile.
  • Notes:  Endangered breed. A very good forager. Very good mother. Not common in the USA.

Mulefoot

  • Origin: USA. Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Arkansas. Developed from early Spanish explorers’ hogs (a landrace breed).
  • Type: Lard.
  • Flavor: Succulent, marbled, red meat. Delicious! On the Slow Food USA Ark of Taste.
  • Size: Medium.
  • Color: Black with wattles.
  • Temperament: Good-natured. Docile.
  • Notes: Endangered breed. Very good foragers. Hardy. Mulefoot hogs have fused toes forming a “hoof”… hence the name.

Vietnamese Potbelly

  • Origin: Vietnam.
  • Type: Meat.
  • Flavor: Flavorful. Can have a lot of fat if allowed/desired – very good for bacon. Being a small pig, they produce select cuts of meat and a lot of sausage and bacon.
  • Size: Small. 70-150 lbs (32-68 kg), but can get well over 200 lbs (90 kg) depending on the genetics.
  • Color: Black or Black and White.
  • Temperament: Very good-natured.
  • Notes:  Common as pets in the United States, although this is a new phenomenon considering how long they have been present on small farms in southeast Asia.

 

Gentle pigs that do not grow too large are important considerations for us as we have our own children as well as frequent visitors to our farm.

Gentle pigs that do not grow too large are important considerations for us as we have our own children as well as frequent visitors to our farm.

 

These are our most recent piglets.

These are our most recent piglets. They are Gloucestershire Old Spots x Gloucestershire Old Spots/Mulefoot/Large Black piglets.

We ultimately want to end up with a line of pigs that need no significant human intervention but are still gentle. They do not need to be fast-growing, but they do need to produce quality, flavorful meat. I do not want tiny animals, but I certainly do not want very large pigs; I have my own children as well as frequent visitors to my farm, so safety is a consideration. I don’t vaccinate. I don’t deworm. I don’t use antibiotics. I don’t help with deliveries. I don’t use a barn; I provide minimal shelter. I feed them fermented grains (no soy and no corn). They eat fresh grass (as much as they can find!). They eat roots and tubers and anything they can find on (or under) the pastures where they live.

This is a work in progress, and it will probably take quite some time before I “arrive” at a final result. Most likely, I will be tinkering with this for as long as I am alive, and that makes me happy.

 

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First Autumn Hard Freeze and Making Sauerkraut

Technically, a “hard freeze” is when there are at least 4 consecutive hours of temperatures below 25°F (-4°C). This is important to gardeners, because a hard freeze will kill most annual plants.

Autumn temperatures here in East Tennessee are not very predictable. We had a few mild frosts over the past couple of weeks, but no hard freezes. Then we had a forecast for temperatures dropping to 19°F (-7°C). I noticed this with only about 1 hour left of daylight.

So our current WOOFER (Jacob) and I went out to the garden with baskets and scissors and knives to harvest what we could before the cold could destroy it.

Garden_Harvest_07

Sunset and the hard freeze was fast approaching, and I just didn’t think about taking any photos of the garden before we started harvesting. In fact, this is the only photo I took while outside.

We have been at our farm for about 18 months, and we finally put in our first annual vegetable garden late this Summer. I say “we” very loosely, because although it was done with my guidance, almost all the work was done by one of our other WOOFERS, Marianne.

Garden_Harvest_06

We piled the harvest on the kitchen table.

 

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We had numerous varieties of cabbages we were testing.

Our hope is that this annual garden will be in place for many decades, maybe longer depending on how many generations use it. It was a project we wanted to get done last year, but so many things got us distracted. As with many things on a homestead and farm, late is better than never.

We finally got the garden in place, but it was just a bit later in the season than we were initially planning. The kale and Swiss chard did just fine, but our broccoli and cauliflower and Brussels sprouts did not have enough time to mature before our cold weather started slowing their growth. Our cabbages didn’t have enough time to develop a full head, but that’s okay… even a partially formed head of cabbage is still edible. It may not be great for long term storage, but it is plenty good enough to make sauerkraut!

Garden_Harvest_03

None of our broccoli, cauliflower, or Brussels sprouts had a chance to mature due to late planting, but all the other plants did really well.

 

Garden_Harvest_02

We had some loss due to caterpillars, specifically the cabbage looper (Trichoplusia ni), but this was pretty minimal.

 

Garden_Harvest_01

We also had a couple of varieties of kale and Swiss chard. We blanched and froze most of the chard and the Nero Di Toscana Cabbage (aka Tuscan/Lacinato/Dinosaur Kale). Here is my mom about to be buried in greens!

I’ve written about making sauerkraut in the past:
My First Attempt at Making Sauerkraut and My New Sauerkraut

Since these first attempts, I have made many batches of sauerkraut. Here is how I make it…

2016_Kraut_01

We started with the entire plant. We separated the cabbage leaves from the main stem. We did not have any tight heads of cabbage. This was due to planting too late before cold weather set in. We removed the central vein from the large leaves (like the one pictured in the bottom right).

 

2016_Kraut_02

We grew Tronchuda or Portuguese Kale (Couve Tonchuda). This kale was mixed with the outer, thicker leaves of the cabbage to make one batch of sauerkraut.

 

2016_Kraut_03

We used a food processor with the slicer attachment to speed up the slicing! Here is a photo of another batch of sauerkraut using the inner cabbage leaves (what would have been the heads of cabbage).

 

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I used to measure my salt based on the amount of cabbage I used; however, now I just sprinkle a small amount of salt on the sliced cabbage as I go and adjust based on taste.

 

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After I sprinkle the salt, I then mix and squeeze the sliced cabbage until the juice is literally squeezed out of it. This is a third batch of sauerkraut made from only Hilton Chinese Cabbage, a Napa-type cabbage that grew great for us this year.

 

2016_Kraut_06

The sliced, salted, and smashed cabbage is added to a crock. This sauerkraut is made with Aubervilliers Cabbage, Charleston Wakefield Cabbage, Glory of Enkhuizen Cabbage, and Mammoth Red Rock Cabbage.

 

2016_Kraut_07

The cabbage is pushed down level and then covered with some whole cabbage leaves… remember to save these at the beginning!

 

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Cover the whole cabbage leaves with a plate or lid or, if you have it, a specifically made crock weight. This allows for even distribution of weight to push down/compress the sauerkraut.

 

2016_Kraut_09

I use a gallon bag of water to weigh down the lid and sauerkraut. This weight pushes down the sauerkraut forcing the cabbage below the brine.

 

2016_Kraut_10

The crocks of sauerkraut fermenting! I usually check the next morning to make sure the fluid has some bubbles in it… showing signs of fermentation. Then I let it rest for about 5 days before I start taste-testing it. Once it is as tangy as I like, then I will transfer the sauerkraut into mason jars and put them in the refrigerator. 

 

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Making Head Cheese

“Once you knock an animal on the head it is only polite to eat the whole animal.”
— Fergus Henderson

Yes, head cheese is made from the head of an animal. This may sound unappealing to our modern minds, but once upon a time, people valued their livestock in a way most people do not today. After raising animals at our farm, the Bauernhof Kitsteiner, for the last 18 months, I have a whole new respect for our ancestors desire to utilize every possible part of an animal.

This was part frugality and part respect.

Frugality… for our great-great-grandparents couldn’t just run down to the supercenter grocery store and stock up on whatever they wanted. They needed to be mindful of which animal they culled from their stock. They needed to be mindful of how much food that animal would provide for their family. There would be good times and bad times ahead, and they didn’t know which would be coming next. They couldn’t afford to be wasteful.

Respect… for our great-great-grandparents knew where their food came from. The animal may have had a name. It may have had a personality that our great-great-grandparents interacted with daily. They may have felt a pang of sadness when it was slaughtering day, but they knew that this animal’s life would provide life to their family for the winter. There was intentional and unavoidable knowledge of the animals life. There was intimacy in the animal’s death. When one experiences this, it is a matter of course to make use of everything you can from the animal. It would be disrespectful to wasteful.

So what exactly is head cheese, and how did it get its name?

From Wikipedia:
Head cheese or brawn is a cold cut that originated in Europe. Head cheese is not a dairy cheese, but a terrine or meat jelly made with flesh from the head of a calf or pig, or less commonly a sheep or cow, and often set in aspic. The parts of the head used vary, but the brain, eyes, and ears are usually removed. The tongue, and sometimes the feet and heart, may be included. It can also be made from quality trimmings from pork and veal.

Head cheese may be flavored with onion, black pepper, allspice, bay leaf, salt, and vinegar. It is usually eaten cold or at room temperature.

The “cheese” term likely comes from the old usage of the word meaning “formed” or “molded” like in a pan or mold form (not mold, as in the fungus). So a modern American meatloaf, could conceivably be called a “meat cheese” if we followed the same naming conventions.

“I don’t actually know what it is, but it just sounds gross.” This is the most common response when I ask people about head cheese. Well, this is the most common response from people who say they’ve never tried it, but they state that they refuse to eat it.

In contrast, I’ve recently heard from a number of people who love it. They remember eating it with their parents or grandparents when they were younger. It brings about good memories of family and good food.

But what does it taste like?

In short… fantastic. It tastes like a mix of a good cold-cut type meat and a thick paté, but not with an organ meat overtone. Remember, it is composed of succulent meat. It does have a flavorful, thickened, gelatin-rich broth surrounding the whole thing. When head cheese is served with a thick, crusty bread, horseradish or mustard, and accompanied with a quality beer or wine… amazing!

Some people use veggies in their head cheese, some do not. Some people like to add vinegar, and this is then called a “souse”. Some people like to have more gelatin-rich broth with meat set in it… more like an aspic. Others, myself included, prefer more meat than broth. Like many foods, there are many variations of how head cheese can be made, and no two are truly alike, especially when home made.

Here are some links to other articles with recipes:

 

Here is how I made my first head cheese…

HeadCheese_01

Start with one cleaned pig’s head. This is one of our own pigs that was slaughtered within the last week.

 

HeadCheese_02

Put the pig’s head in a large container for brining.

 

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The head should be brined for at least 24 hours, but 2-3 days is better.

 

HeadCheese_04

The brined head is rinsed well and put into a large pot for cooking.

 

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Add roughly chopped stock vegetables and spices. I used carrots, celery, onion, rosemary, parsley, and bay leaves. Other ingredients could include…

 

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Fill the pot with water until it just covers the head.

 

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I also added some crushed black pepper corns and juniper berries (in a tea strainer) and a cup of red wine. White wine is traditionally used, but I didn’t have any on hand.

 

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I also added a couple of cleaned trotters (pig’s feet). This will greatly increase the gelatin content of the stock.

 

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Simmer until the meat is falling off the bone. This took us about 6 hours. Strain the stock and then return it to the cleaned pot. Return to a boil until the volume is reduced to about one fourth (or less) of its original volume.

 

HeadCheese_10

The meat needs to be separated from the bones. There is a lot of meat on a pig’s head, and it takes a little bit of time to find it all. If using the tongue, which is very tender meat, then separate the outer membrane from the tongue and chop this into large pieces.

 

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There are many techniques on what to do with the meat until the stock is reduced. I let the meat soak in some of the brine overnight. Then I strained it and mixed in some fresh, finely chopped herbs… parsley, thyme, and sage. Taste and adjust the seasoning as desired. I added some additional salt and ground pepper.

 

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Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap and place the seasoned meat into the pan.

 

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Pour the reduced stock into the pan. Use a spoon to make sure the stock is evenly distributed throughout and around the meat. Cover the whole thing with a layer of plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours so the gelatin-rich stock can set.

 

Once set, the head cheese can be sliced and then allowed to warm to room temperature before serving. Served with bread, pickles, cheese, mustard, and some quality beer or wine… amazing!

 

 

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Sheep Landscapers

This summer, we allowed the sheep to forage around the house for a few days. Why use a lawn mower, weed-eater, or do any work for that matter if your animals will happily volunteer?

Here is a photo showing them taking down the wild grape vine that has grown up around a rose bush. They can only reach so high, and the upper leaves remained out of reach.

Our lambs were a few months old in this photo. Many of the lambs need to kneel down on all four knees if they wanted to nurse.

Just a fun photo I wanted to share!

 

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