Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Blanching and Freezing Greens


Bonar Rape

Mixed greens


Blanching and freezing greens is quick and easy; in Denver I did in summer to insure cooked greens in winter, here in Tampa I do it in spring to insure them for summer when brassicas are very very difficult to keep alive beyond some varieties of collards. I just chopped the leaves into my colander using my wonderful kitchen scissors until I have a LOT of them in bags or bowls (they shrink a LOT when blanched). I put 3-4 inches of unsalted water in a BIG stainless steel soup pot, put on the lid, bring the water to a boil, then toss in a lot of chopped greens and use a big spoon to push them down into the boiling water. I cook them a maximum of 3 minutes, then drain, (I save the water for the next batch if on a blanching marathon, or let it cool to water plants with) and pack into used yogurt and cottage cheese tubs, or the freezer bags I often dumpster dive new boxes of behind discount stores, then toss into the freezer. If it looks like there is airspace in the container, I add some of the cooking water to fill those voids before I freeze it to avoid "freezer burn". About the only thing one can do "wrong" with blanching is to overcook the leaves, but even then they are still great to thaw out to add to soups. Give it a try. Google it to see the differing approaches people favor.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Perfect Weekend Weather in Tampa

The temps Saturday night were cool enough for Brad to create another one of his great fires for the Spring potluck party we had fun at, then just as my Sunday class was winding down the thunder then rain arrived and continued all night. I got nicely altered, listened to the rain and watched yet again a favorite movie, 'Iron Man' as the rains pounded my roof. Woke up this morning to 4 inches of rain in my gauges! Good thing I'd done some fertilizing before! Today I will slosh onto my releafing freeze-damaged citrus that 2 month old batch of horse manure tea that has had dozens of freeze killed fish carcasses fermenting all this time...it makes veggies LEAP into growth, so with the soil this wet I figure the citrus roots will lap it up. I LOVE El Nino! John

Saturday, March 27, 2010

My Second Ever Rooster Kill

Two Fridays ago I killed my second ever chicken, one of "Mr. Rooster's" kids that turned out to be a rooster after his Dad's harem. This was making "Mr. Rooster", whom I've trained to rarely crow in the daytime (he spends nights in a dog carrier covered in a sheet inside my garden shed to spare my neighbors...I let him out 10:30 on weekdays, 11AM on weekends) to begin crowing 12-15 times daily. People with more experience told me this would continue until I dealt with the new rooster. In an act of cowardice I offered him on Craig's List......no takers. So I tried a technique a friend told me about that takes advantage of how placid chickens become when hung upside down by their feet. I pounded a GIANT nail into the telephone pole at the back of my yard, hung a nylon rope noose from it, and when I took that rooster out of his sleeping box I hung him from the noose. The first rooster I killed, and the first time I tried to kill this rooster, I held them down on a stump. But aiming that machete to come down a foot or so from my own hand was unnerving and made me aim poorly. This time was easier though still very intense. As before, I thanked him and apologized for taking his life to nourish my own. The first swing of the machete apparently killed him but did not sever his head, and he briefly did that disturbing nerve reflex flapping that chickens do, even when decapitated...it took two more swings to sever the head. Again....a very intense experience for a man with the soul of a vegetarian (but whose body will not tolerate that diet). I was surprised JUST how much harder the feathers were to pull this time, but I had tried something I saw on line and let the carcass cool and hang for about an hour. Once I dipped him into very hot, near-boiling water, the feathers came off easily, except for the main flight feathers which are anchored to the arm bones in pits (the same pits have been found in the arm bones of many fossilized therapod dinosaurs!) And just like last time, I got urpy and dry heavy when I reached into the body cavity to pull out the still warm organs. Julia Childs would be happy.....I saved the liver....and gizard....and heart.
I again thanked him and apologized, sprinkled him with sea salt and garlic powder, and baked him at 375 for about an hour....very tasty. I was amazed how DARK the dark meat was....perhaps due to the parentage? (his Mom is a Barred Rock, "Mr. Rooster" is an Americauna). I gave a leg to my neighbor Theresa whose Mom raised and slaughtered chickens during the Depression to help feed her 12 children), then used the carcass to make a yummy rooster stew with barley, wheat berries, onions, spices and garden veggies.
I am hosting a Spring Firepit Potluck tonight, and as soon as I get home from errands I am killing a third new rooster that has beem challenging and upsetting "Mr. Rooster" and will serve him with a giant salad of arugula, Bonar rape, broccoli leaves, and daikon leaves and roots with a dressing I will buzz in the blender..... olive oil, balsamic vinegar, home brewed kombucha tea garlic leaves, sea salt, touch of brown sugar and black pepper. That rooster is still in the shed.
And guess what? As soon as I killed that last rooster, and with this new rooster in the shed, "Mr. Rooster" became his usual, uncannily quiet self! The last thing I want to be is an inconsiderate neighbor, or give backyard poultry raising a bad name, BUT....having a rooster is letting me hatch fertile eggs in my free incubator, knowing that a certain portion of the chicks will be male and thus FORCE me to "meet my meat". I think today's killing will be easier as this rooster is a mean little raptor, attacking other chickens and my flip flopped feet as I work in the yard. But I will still thank him, apologize, and kill and cook and serve and eat him with gratitude and reverence, knowing he had a great free range life in my spacious back yard. He looks VERY different....I suspect that a Buff Orpington was the Mom, and that "Mr. Rooster" was the Dad.
Now off to shop and clean and prep for the party at 7 PM...and kill and clean a rooster.
Happy Spring! John

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Give Peas A Chance

The tender vine tips, leaves and tendrils of English Peas, Snow Peas, and Sugar Snap Peas are delicious raw or cooked, and taste much like the pods. Try them as a plate garnish, in salads, or chopped into an omelet or stir fry. The variety called 'Novella' produces vast numbers of tendrils instead of leaves, and folks grow it to harvest the tendrils with scissors. The blooms of all pea varieties are sweet and tasty too, but of course each one you eat will never make a pea pod to harvest. John

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Waste Not Want Not

Feathers are comprised of the protein keratin plus some silica and other trace elements, just like our own fingernails, and thus make an excellent high nitrogen organic soil food....that is why "feather meal" is a key ingredient of many organic fertilizers. I slaughtered my second chicken ever, a rooster, last Friday....since I took that feathered dinosaur's life, I wish to waste nothing of him because I raised him from an egg in my incubator. I will likely bury his feathers in a Water Wise Container Garden I plan to try some Cocozelle squash in.
With so many folks raising chickens these days in their yards, which I think is a wonderfully hopeful phenomenon, I feel it is very important that the value of the plucked feathers as a soil food be widely known.

Food Self Sufficiency and Urban Farming Class

There is wonderful security and satisfaction in being able to prepare many of our meals from abundant gardens around our homes. Imagine FRESH omelets and meat from a backyard henhouse, or expensive "exotic" crops such as arugula, Barbados Cherry, cassava, chaya, papaya, many herbs and staple crops for Thai and other ethnic cuisines fresh and all organic from your own yard. But where to start if you have a "normal" yard of high maintenance lawn and ornamental shrubs?
Organic landscape consultant and garden writer John Starnes (St. Pete Times, Fine Gardening, Florida Gardening) shows how to make the transition in stages based on your time, temperament, budget and goals, using his jungly south Tampa "urban farm" as the classroom. Learn the ease of "sheet composting" vs. buying an expensive compost bin, using household graywater to nourish your food crops and cut your water bill, plus a very effective, low-labor method for killing lawn areas in place and turning them into productive gardens. You will receive a detailed class handout, but be sure to bring a notepad and pen, and, if you wish, a camera, as people tell me that my classes are very information dense.
I will be teaching this well-received class again on March 27th, plus on April 11th and April 24th, from 11 AM until 1 PM, from 11 AM until 1 PM followed by a 30 minute Q & A session. The cost is $25 per person, or $20 per person in carloads of four or more to help foster considerate parking for my neighbors. My address is: 3212 West Paxton Avenue Tampa 33611, which about 6 blocks south of Gandy and 1 1/2 blocks west of MacDill Avenue.
I love helping folks eager to transform their yards into sources of sustenance, personal independence, and spiritual satisfaction. Come see how little the freeze affected my food supply as my gardens transition towards the summer crops, and enjoy fresh raw nibbles as we walk amongst the free range chickens. John

Basics of Frugal, Humane Backyard Poultry Raising

Many folks these days are considering, or have followed through on, pursuing a long time desire to raise backyard chickens for fresh eggs or even meat they know the origins of. But if one does not know some key basic data, enthusiasm can result in great needless expense, losses to racoons, and a long-imagined "fun" hobby offering frustration instead of omelets and humane lives (and deaths) for the birds. I've been raising free range chickens here and in Denver since the mid 90s, and am eager to share the valuable, pragmatic lessons I've learned.
This class covers how to make a predator-proof hen house cheaply or even for free, how to feed chickens cheaply or even for free (chicken scratch from a feedstore surprises people with its cost), preventing disease without using antibiotics, hatching fertile eggs for free chickens, insuring a quality life for your birds, and how children can help easily while learning where food REALLY comes from......children 12 and under can attend this class for free.
I have been asked to teach this class again, so I am twice in April, on the 4th and again on the 25th, from 11 AM until 1 PM, with a 30 minute Q & A session after. My address is: 3212 West Paxton Avenue, Tampa FL 33611, about 6 blocks south of Gandy and 1 1/2 blocks west of MacDill, jungly yard on the south side, look for roses out front. The cost is $25 per student. Please bring a note pad and pen as we will cover many points. You will receive a pack of winter greens seeds to sow next fall to provide raw green plant matter VITAL to having healthy chickens. I should be able to give each person a fresh egg, too. 813 839 0881 to RSVP. See you then! John

Successful, Organic, Frugal Summer Vegetable and Fruit Growing Class

There is an unfortunate widespread myth that summers are too hot, muggy and buggy to grow a successful organic garden here in central Florida, but nothing could be further from the truth. Healthy soil and choosing subtropical and tropical crops that LOVE the heat is the key to fresh abundance from your yard for that long hot half of the year when so many folks let their gardens go barren and weedy. You will receive a handout with a long list of heat-loving crops, plus I will give you seeds of two kinds that utterly thrive each summer here. Growing these crops organically is easy as very few pests attack them, but we will cover those few possible problems and how to deal with them cheaply and without using poisons.
The class will be offered on March 28, plus again on April the 3rd and April the 18th, to give you time to plan the summer garden, prepare the soil, and acquire the needed seeds and soil foods. The cost is $25 per student, and my address is: 3212 West Paxton Avenue Tampa FL 33611 813 839 0881 JohnAStarnes @msn.com RSVP is helpful in my planning how to best teach this class.
Just think....as your winter garden fizzles out each spring, you can phase in six more months of adundant home grown food with a whole new range of tastes, textures and nutrition! See you then. John

Least Toxic Organic Pest Control Class

Say “summer” and many homeowners and gardeners and pet lovers alike cringe and think of plant-ravaging bugs and diseases, plus swarms of fleas and roaches and mosquitos making life miserable for us and our animal companions. This class will teach you a great many natural, non-or-least toxic methods of controlling and eliminating those scourges, including biological methods that need be purchased just once from mail order or local sources. All of these control methods are VERY inexpensive (hey, I’m a lifelong pathologically cheap tightwad!) and easy to acquire or make at home. Food self sufficiency gardeners like me CAN enjoy fresh produce all year long by defeating pests without poisoning those crops or the environment. Great tips for indoor pest control too.

A detailed handout, complimented by the notes you take (bring a pad and pen please) will let you begin right away winning the “battle against bugs and fungus”! I am teaching the class again on April 17th, from 11 AM until 1 PM, and the cost is $25 per person, with a $5 discount per person in groups of four or more to encourage car pooling and help with my limited parking.

My address is: 3212 West Paxton Avenue Tampa FL 33611 813 839 0881 e-mail is: JohnAStarnes@msn.com Happy Gardening! John

Water Wise Container Gardening Class April 10, 2010

We have here in central Florida been blessed with a damp cold El Nino winter after easily 20 years of dry winters....so to me, all that moisture compensates for the extensive freeze damage. Hopefully, we are all making wise water use a central focus in our lives as Florida's population continues to boom. So I've invented an alternative method of making home made container gardens that grows food and flower crops well with much less water, and that can be made for free to just $10. As a result, despite my yard being an urban farm, my June 2009 water use bill was just $1.35! Most springs here are very dry, so now is a good time to learn this simple and very frugal technique.

This class teaches you how to make your own from free recycled plastic containers, how to create a great soil mix for it, how to feed the soil, and easy ways to maintain and sustain your crops using cheap and/or dumpster-dived supplies. This simple design avoids the problems that many have experienced with others often described as "self watering containers" and that can cost $100. You'll see several of mine in differing styles and stages of growth to help you decide what works best for you and your space and budget. I love how they use VERY little water vs. my growing the same crops, including my beloved Old Roses, in my in-ground gardens. Growing food crops in this manner can also allow a gardener to avoid using Tampa's and St. Pete's reclaimed water that has caused severe difficulties for many folks due to the very high levels of salts and chlorides. Plus one is not supposed to eat raw veggies grown with reclaimed water, which rules out growing fresh salads and herbs from one's own garden!

Special attention will be paid to the very common problem of nitrogen deficiency often encountered in container gardening whether one makes one's own soil as I do, or purchases it in bulk or bagged. Plus the basics of gardening in central Florida will be addressed. You will get two packs of very hard to get vegetable seeds that will thrive all summer long in your Water Wise Container Gardens.

The cost of the class is $25 per person, or $20 per person in groups of four to encourage car pooling due to my limited parking. This class has been very well received, so I am teaching it again on April 10, from 11 AM until 1 PM, with a 30 minute Q & A session following. My address is 3212 West Paxton Avenue, Tampa FL 33611. Phone is 813 839 0881, e-mail is JohnAStarnes@msn.com. RSVP is not required but helpful in my planning each class.

Come learn how to grow your own organic produce for a fraction of what you pay in the stores while slashing your water use and bill and avoiding the toxic-to-plants reclaimed water.

Happy Gardening! John Starnes

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest."-- Mahatma Mohandas K. Gandhi - (1869-1948)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Healthy Stew for my dog Sweety

We think of cats and dogs as carnivores, but in the wild, they eat first the intestinal tracts of their vegetarian prey, and thus the plant matter in them. Cats and dogs instinctively crave plant matter, hence their love of chewing on grass, or, if desperate, houseplants. Back when I had grass in my Denver yard then this yard, Sweety and my cats Angel and Luvyu daily nibbled on long tender shoots. Now that this yard is also grassless, I add raw chopped plant leaves to Sweety's "stew" which is based on a canned food she likes, with dry oatmeal added (gives her large firm stools which express her anal glands each time she poops), plus at differing times either a splash of olive oil or coconut oil, a few drops of Lugol's Solution for the dietary iodine that has about 90% reversed the hypothyroidism and subsequent sickly skin and other sad issues that a $200 vet visit overlooked), some food grade diatomaceous earth for dietary silica (I add it to my own food for the same reason), plus a fish oil capsule. I zap it in the micropwave for maybe 30 seconds, then sprinkle on a capsule of CoQ10, and a small handful of chopped raw greens, in this case, the edible, nutritious weed "chickweed". I stir it all up, and my sweet 13 year old Sweety scarfs it down. I think that had she lived on commercial dog food alone all these years vs. these high fiber stools, she either might not be here, or be in very poor shape. I've also always given her boiled cow bones and her teeth are white, tartar free, with healthy gums and zero "dog breath". Give this approach a try with your dog...there are many recipes on-line that are variations of this basic concept of high fiber, raw plant matter, and essential fatty acids. The pic of Sweety is from the winter of 2000 when we first started living in this house each winter before making that godawful (reluctant) drive back to Denver each spring, and when there was still grass growing here. John

Vetch and Rape for My Chickens and Coturnix Quail

Folks raising poultry, or thinking about trying it, need to know JUST how much raw green plant matter that chickens love to eat daily, and that does wonders for their health and their laying great eggs. The 'A C Greenfix Chickling Vetch' (a hybrid Lathyrus) and the open-pollinated Bonar plants have gotten big enough to allow for daily harvests now. It took just a minute or two to use scissors to chop up handfuls of both into beak-sized bits into this dumpster-dived pharmacy tray. The girls and Mr. Rooster clucked happily the whole time they scarfed it all down. The Bonar will die when the heat returns in May as, like all Brassicas, it is a winter crop in central Florida. I suspect the vetch will prove to be too, but I am clinging to a faint hope that it will prove to be perennial here. If not, I hope it flowers and sets seeds heavily so I can be my own source of seed each year. Since ornamental Lathyrus, like annual and perennial Sweet Peas, make beautiful blooms, I am looking forward to seeing the blooms this vetch makes. IF it turns out to be perennial, I will be curious if the now-dormant sweet potatoes beneath the vetch groundcover mingle with it once they sprout and send up vines, or if one competes with the other. All I know is that in the meantime, my chickens and Coturnix quail are loving their daily raw greens. John

Chopped vetch on the left, chopped Bonar on the right.

Happy Chickens!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Greens Garden

We had another nice El Nino rain push through Tampa today...overcast all day...it looks like maybe 3/4's an inch from glancing at a rain gauge partially blocked by a broccoli leaf. This is the view today of that garden area east of my big back yard pond from the garden gate. Closest to me are rows of arugula, then Green Wave Mustard, daikon, and Texas onion. Behind that is the patch of Bonar rape, and behind that, the patch of 'A C Greenfix Chickling Vetch' I am trying above the dormant summer sweet potato patch as a soil nitrifier and source of raw edible greens for the chickens and quail. John

Waste Not Want Not

Since chickens need raw green plant matter daily to be healthy, a few days ago I offered them algae from a front pond I'd cleaned out. They were not wild about it, but ate most of it in a couple of hours. John