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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

 

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

 

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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…

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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).

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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…

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

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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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More Evidence of Our Farm’s Regeneration

We are in the middle of a drought at the end of October here in East Tennessee. It is classified as moderate to severe, depending on the source. Those in the drylands of the world would laugh at our complaints, but we are truly in a drought for our area. We are not in the desert. We are not in the drylands. We are in a continental temperate climate, and our average rainfall is between 36-44 inches (91-111 cm) per year, and this is one of the reasons we chose this area to live. Unfortunately, our rainfall is significantly below average. In fact, we are currently in the fourth driest month on record here in East Tennessee.

What does that mean to us and to our neighbors? Well, it means things are really dry. The soil. The pastures. Our ponds. And our neighbors are concerned about having enough hay for the Winter.

While it is not a cure-all by any means, but our application of Holistic Management is keeping our animals, and our land, in pretty good condition despite the drought. For those unfamiliar with the term, Holistic Management is a system of land and pasture management geared at improving the soil and the environment while still making a living using livestock. There’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s a brief explanation.

A fun photo of our kids... but look at all those red cedars and that broom sedge!

A fun photo of our kids… but look at all those red cedars and that broomsedge!

Above and below are a couple photos of our land when we first moved to the farm. It was a bit dry then as well in the first photo, although nothing like right now. You can see a few issues relatively quickly if you know what to look for. First, there are a lot of young Eastern Red Cedar trees/saplings (Juniperus virginiana) across the pastures. These pioneering plants will try to turn a pasture/field back into forest. Second, there is a lot of Broomsedge Bluestem (Andropogon virginicus). This is a native clumping grass that often indicates, and rightly so in our case, that the land has been overgrazed. I love native plants, no kidding, but some are better than others. Herbivores will eat Broomsedge Bluestem in the Spring and early Summer, but the nutritional quality of this plant greatly drops as the plants mature. Animals generally avoid it at this point. Then, to make matters worse, this clumping plant stays standing and blocks sunlight to other more desirable plants.

Another photo of our land right when we moved in.

Another photo of our land right when we moved in.

We were extremely blessed to have a youth group volunteer almost a week to clear the Eastern Red Cedar saplings from our fields. This saved untold hours of work on our part. And it was the first step in pasture regeneration.

Eastern Red Cedar removal!

Eastern Red Cedar removal… we only had a piles of cut cedars left!

At this time, we are using sheep as our primary tools to repair our land. We rotate them frequently… as often as every 3-4 days with the drought conditions we have right now. We use portable solar electric fencing and give them just enough space to keep them fed and happy for a few days at at time. The sheep trample a lot of the dried Broomsedge Bluestem. They nibble a little bit of it as well. They graze most of the other plants in the pasture. We give almost no ancillary feed; just a little fermented grains to move them from one paddock to the next. The sheep deposit manure and urine which fertilizes the soil and provides additional organic matter.

We use sheep as our main land regenerators at this time.

We use sheep as our main land regenerators at this time. This was earlier in the year when we had a decent amount of rain… look at that green!

After the sheep are moved off the paddock, I will take our tractor… okay, it is actually just a riding mower, and I take down anything that is left standing in the paddock. Yes, this is more management than I desire to do, but I only plan to mow any given pasture one time, and one time only. As we knock down the Broomsedge Bluestem, we are making room for the other pasture plants to take their spot, to outcompete them. Ideally, I would mow right before the Broomsedge Bluestem is forming a seed head, but that is not always possible. But by knocking it down so that it cannot form a shading clump, we are giving the other plants an “unfair” advantage. This seems to be giving the other plants just the boost they need. Combined with our grazing method as described above, I don’t plan to ever mow an area twice.

Our only "tractor".

Our only “tractor”. I don’t ever plan on owning a “real” tractor.

Here I come to our proof. Our evidence that what we are doing is truly working. The photo at the top of the article (and below as well) shows our personalized rotational grazing method. In general, you can see how brown everything is. This is not normal for this time of year here in East Tennessee. But with our land management, we are still getting green growth… despite the drought!

In the far left is where I have just removed the sheep. Then in the center area is the area I have just mowed. Then to the right you can see the area that has already been grazed and mowed and rested for just over a week. No Broomsedge Bluestem. And lots of new, green growth! This is a mix of pasture grasses and forbs (non-grass herbaceous flowering plant… sheep love these!).

This Permaculture stuff works. Even in drought!

The different stages of our pasture's regeneration.

The different stages of our pasture’s regeneration.

 

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Rendering Duck Fat

I wrote in my previous article on Bone Broth about how I save the fat that rises to the top of the cooled broth. I scoop this out and put it into a dutch oven on the stove. The fat is rendered down and put into jars, and I use it for cooking. Duck fat is considered one of the most prized cooking fats by chefs and foodies for its flavor and cooking qualities, and is becoming more popular of late because it is high in monounsaturated fat, the “good” fat.

All the cooking fat we render on our farm comes from our pasture-raised, grass and organic-fed chickens, ducks, geese, and sheep. We use it mostly for roasting, sauteing, or pan-frying vegetables, and it is delicious.

I have also prepared this fat by rendering the skins of the ducks we have processed. I’ll be honest. I have processed our ducks and geese many times, and trying to get all the feathers off is almost impossible for me. I have tried every combination of dry and wet plucking, by hand and with an automatic plucker, with single and multiple dips into wax, and I have yet to come up with a system that is effective and efficient. I can get all the feathers, but it takes so long, that it is almost not worth it. I end up doing the best I can, which is pretty good but not good enough for sales, and then I skin the bird. But I save the skin. There is so much great fat in the skin that I just can’t waste it.

Duck skin cracklings

Duck skin cracklings

Rendering fat from the skins is easy. Just add all the skins to a cooking pot; I prefer a dutch oven. I add a little bit of water to prevent the skins from burning at first. Then I put the pot on to simmer. As the skins heat up, they release the golden fat. Eventually, the water all boils off and we are left with the rendered fat and the cooked skins known as cracklings. We eat the cracklings if the skin is cleaned well, and they taste great sprinkled with a little salt.

The image at the top of this article is the duck fat I most recently rendered from the skins… beautiful, liquid gold! There are a number of ways to get this great cooking fat, and if you have the ability to produce or procure it, I highly recommend it.

 

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Making Bone Broth

I love bone broth.

Bone broth is the flavorful liquid produced when bones from poultry, fish, beef, lamb, etc. are simmered for hours to days with vegetables, herbs, and spices.

Here is our 62-quart stock pot... the Bone Broth Pot!

Here is our 62-quart stock pot… the Bone Broth Pot!

It tastes great. Seriously. Bone broth has a rich flavor that reawakens the sense of what food is supposed to taste like. It also can contain a lot of gelatin which is a natural thickening agent useful in soups, stews, sauces, and curries. I use it in many meals that I cook as one of my “secret ingredients” because it imparts a difficult to describe depth or layered flavor. I think this may have to do with how nutritious it is.

We make stock from the animals we raise and process on our farm.

We make stock from the animals we raise and process on our farm.

It is healthy. There are numerous medical research studies showing that chicken soup really is healthy for you, but bone broth goes even one step further. The long, slow cooking releases many minerals making them bioavailable (meaning we can easily absorb them). It also provides a great source of gelatin, as mentioned above, which contains arthritis-relieving glucosamine and chondroitin.

Bone Broth simmers for a couple of days on the stovetop.

Bone Broth simmers for a couple of days on the stovetop.

It is easy to make… not quick to make, but it is pretty easy. This is slow food not fast food!

Let’s get to the specifics. On our farm, we freeze our poultry whole after we process them, but we rarely want to cook or roast the whole bird, so after we defrost them I break them down to breasts, thighs, drumsticks, wings, etc. This leaves us with the ribs, backbone, and other bones that are difficult to utilize unless we make stock. We freeze these leftover parts until we have enough for a large batch of stock… or until we start running out of room in the freezer! I also save the chicken feet when we process our birds. Chicken feet have a lot of gelatin it in, so these are a great addition to the stock. I throw in a few big handfuls of roughly chopped onions and carrots, a head or two worth of peeled and crushed garlic cloves, a few stalks of celery, a fennel bulb, peppercorns, and some fresh or dried herbs like thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, etc. Any other spare vegetables can be thrown in; I’ve used parsnips, turnips, rutabaga, etc. I also add a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar for every gallon of water. The vinegar helps extract the minerals from the bones.

Frozen, concentrated Bone Broth

Frozen, concentrated Bone Broth

I toss all the ingredients into my 62-quart stockpot (that’s 15.5 gallons or 58 liters), fill it up with cold water (I prefer the water from my Berkey filter), bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let it go for the next day or three. It fills the house with a wonderful aroma. Cooking time is variable, but I keep the stock simmering until the bones crumble when I squeeze them between my fingers. This may take 24 hours or 72 hours; it depends on the bones. I then strain the stock. I sometimes pick through and save the meat for fajitas or other meals, but everything else goes to our pigs. I put the strained stock into the refrigerator and allow it to cool. All the fat rises to the top, and I scoop this off for rendering (see my next article). The remaining stock is put back into a stockpot and simmered down or “reduced”… basically, some of the water is boiled off, and the stock gets thicker and thicker. This results in something like a demi-glace. I spoon this into ice cube trays and freeze them. I then dump the cubes into a freezer bag, and I have readily available, serving size, concentrated bone broth ready to go whenever I need it!

Bone Broth ingredients consists of things most people throw away nowadays.

Bone Broth ingredients consists of things most people throw away nowadays.

It uses things most people throw away. Specifically, and unashamedly, I am talking about all the bones, wingtips, necks, and feet of poultry, and the bones and joints of sheep and beef. These are parts of the animal that most people throw away, but our ancestors wisely saved. I have learned that when I raise an animal from hatch or birth, fed and watered it, checked on it once and sometimes twice or thrice a day, and then ended its life with my own hands, I have a strong desire not to waste anything.  We often use the word “process” to distance ourselves a bit, but the reality is that we are eating an animal that was alive. We treat every animal on our farm with the utmost respect. We give every animal the best and most natural life we can offer it. Our promise to our animals is that they only ever have one bad day. That respect continues after life, and we try not to “waste” any part of the animal. This was common sense a century ago. It’s how we make bone broth today.

 

Here is a great article about Bone Broth on the Weston A. Price Foundation website. It is written by Sally Fallon who I happened to briefly meet while visiting her farm a few years ago.

 

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Sheep Hoof Trimming

A few days ago, we took about an hour and trimmed the hooves of our sheep. We run a small, but growing, flock of Katahdin Hair Sheep. Anyone who keeps sheep or goats needs to check the animal’s hooves once a year at a minimum, but 2-3 times a year is probably more appropriate. If they are given a lot of supplemental feed (instead of just pasture) and/or they are regularly on wet, soft soil, then the hooves will need to be checked more frequently.

If an animal has hoof growth that is not kept in check with rocky soils or with regular trimming, then significant health problems can develop such as foot rot, foot scald, laminitis, and arthritis, to name a few.

Our sheep are relatively relaxed around us, so catching them and trimming their hooves was not too difficult. My wife and our current WOOFER (Eliza) were the ones who caught most of the sheep while I flipped them on their rump, sat down with them, and trimmed their hooves. Only one ewe evaded us over and over again, so we’ll have to try to catch her again on another day.

This was the first time I’ve ever trimmed sheep hooves, but it went very well. It was easier than I expected. My main bit of advice is to trim the hooves slowly and sparingly as you are figuring things out. If you are a little too aggressive, you can cause bleeding. If you are very aggressive, then you can cause significant bleeding or infection. If you are feel unsure of yourself, then go visit another sheep farm to get some experience first. Here are some resources I found helpful as I learned how to trim sheep hooves:

Article: http://www.sheep101.info/201/hoofcare.html

Article: http://www.raisingsheep.net/how-to-trim-sheep-hooves.html

and a couple videos…

 

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Excited about Hornworms?

Manduca sexta is a moth whose larvae (caterpillar) is known as the Tomato Hornworm. This is one of the more destructive and dreaded pests for those who grow tomatoes, as the caterpillars can defoliate a plant seemingly overnight.

So why would I be excited to see this guy on our tomatoes this morning?

This pest has parasites!

This pest has parasites!

Take a closer look at the back of the caterpillar.

This Tomato Hornworm has been parasitized!

Just think of the movie Aliens as I explain the life cycle of the Braconid Wasps, a Tomato Hornworm parasite.

Braconid Wasps are a family of parasitic wasps, and Cotesia congregata is one species in this family that prefers Tomato Hornworms. It has a sharp ovipositor… a long, tube-like, egg-laying appendage. The adult wasp uses its ovipositor to pierce the skin of a caterpillar and deposits eggs inside the caterpillar’s body. The eggs hatch and the wasp larvae slowly eat the caterpillar from the inside. Initially, the caterpillar will act as if nothing is wrong, but as the parasitic larvae grow, and continue to eat, the caterpillar becomes progressively less active. The wasp larvae save the vital organs for last, so the infected caterpillar will stay alive for as long as possible. Eventually the wasp larvae break through the caterpillar’s skin and spin a cocoon. The larvae pupate into adult wasps, and the cycle repeats itself.

I was disappointed to see the Tomato Hornworm on our tomatoes, but then I saw the cocoons adorning the caterpillar like some macabre decoration. My disappointment quickly shifted into excitement. I went from almost grabbing the Hornworm from the plant and feeding it to the chickens, to gladly leaving the Hornworm right where I found it on the tomato plant.

The parasitized Hornworm in my garden is the exact reason we do not spray insecticides on our farm. We may have to put up with a little loss for a short time, but then Nature turns the tables on the pests. This poor Tomato Hornworm is now a barely living but very viable nursery for some highly beneficial parasitic wasps. I left things alone, and in a few days I’ll have a couple dozen more allies patrolling my garden for pest caterpillars.

And I don’t mind letting others do the dirty work for me.

 

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Salatin Style Chicken Tractor Hand Truck or Dolly

Hand Truck or Dolly… what you call this device really depends on where you come from. For us, this simple machine has been a huge time saver. We use this hand truck to move our chicken tractors each day. We raise a few hundred broiler (meat) chickens each year on our farm, and I gave a small overview of that endeavor in a previous article. Previously, we used a standard household or moving type hand truck; this did do the job, but it was harder and took two people to move the chicken tractor (one person to hold the hand truck and one to pull the tractor from the other side).

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The hand truck in action. The wheels are under the chicken tractor as we pull from the other side of the tractor.

With our new hand truck, based on the Salatin design, the chore of moving the chicken tractors now only takes one person. It is also easier to move the tractors; it is smoother and more steady. This hand truck is not sold anywhere. We found a local welder/fabricator who was able to create this with the photos and drawings we gave him.

Here are some photos of the hand truck:

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Our Salatin-style chicken tractor hand truck. Just to be clear, it is laying on it’s back right now. It’s important the handle bends forward (up in the image) so that when it slides, the handle doesn’t catch on anything.

 

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Here is a photo of the outside of the wheel. It’s important that the foot has an extension so that it can slip under the edge of the chicken tractor.

 

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Here is a photo of the inside of the wheel. It’s important that the axle sits away of the angled piece . The foot scoops under the chicken tractor, then as we pull the hand truck back and down, the wall of the chicken tractor slides down and rests behind the axle. Then the hand truck will not flip back up when we pull the chicken tractor.

 

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Note that we cut down the stop on the legs of the hand truck. These stops are important to prevent the tractor from sliding back, especially when the tractors are on hills. But in our original version, the stops stuck out too far and caught on the wire walls of the chicken tractor.

 

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Using Lawn Hay

For many in the world of Permaculture or Regenerative Agriculture or “Green Living”, having a lawn is a sin worthy of excommunication.

Five years ago, I wrote an article about how lawns cause a significant waste of time and resources. And I didn’t even dive into all the harmful chemicals used to maintain a lawn.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

But now, five years later, I have a lawn.

Don’t worry, I have not converted to the dark side. I still know there are significant issues with lawns, and I am still not a big fan of them. However, the property that we bought has a large lawn. I have spent the last year trying to determine what to do with that lawn.

I have also realized that there is something deeper that draws us to lawns. I think it may have to do with how we are wired as humans. It may be the same with our attraction to savannas. We prefer some open spaces where we can see potential threats from a distance …but lets not get too deep in this article.

The lawn has provided a great, open place for our kids to run and play. This is obviously, and rightly, a great argument for having a lawn. Where else are you going to play soccer?!

We have also used our lawn to graze our sheep and pigs and ducks and geese and chickens. We don’t do much grazing on it now except for the free-range Guineas and chickens that occasionally make there way to the lawn.

We do not use any chemicals at all on the lawn. We don’t irrigate it either. We pretty much do nothing to it but mow it. But I am not one to waste a potential resource if I can help it, and grass clippings from a lawn are a great resource.

Here are some of our uses for the clippings:

1. We use it as supplemental feed for the animals. I routinely dump the fresh, clipped grass to our pigs and chickens and sheep. They love it. Fresh lawn hay!

BK_Lawn_Hay_02

One way we use the lawn hay is as mulch (left side) for eroded areas (seen on the right side).

2. I also use the clippings as a mulch. My father puts it in his garden, and I use it to cover bare soil along our fence line. There were a number of Eastern Red Cedar saplings that had grown up along the fence line over the years before we bought this property. The cedar needles fall from the trees and eventually kill most grasses. This is a great way for nature to convert a field to a forest, but that’s not what I want in my pastures. After we cleared the fence line of the cedars, we were left with many spots of bare soil. This is where I pile grass clippings. In time, the soil will come back to life and grasses will be able to grow there again.

3. As you can see in the photo at the top of the article, I spread the clippings over the driveway to dry. After a few days in the sun with occasional turnings, the clippings are nice and dry. I then use this in the poultry brooders. It works way better than straw; it’s more absorbent. And because it has thin strands,  the little chicks or poults can easily navigate over it.

4. I have also used this dried lawn hay for supplemental feed for our animals as well.

I still plan on converting a large portion of our existing lawn to perennials (trees, shrubs, and wildflowers). But until then, we are going to treat the lawn as a resource.

 

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