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Archive for March, 2013

  • sweet potatoes with peanuts, cowpeas, and collards

    sweet potatoes with peanuts, cowpeas, and collards

This is the fourth year, of the past five, that I’ve eaten only what I’ve grown on the Fridays in Lent. I call these days Homegrown Fridays. I find that it deepens my understanding of what it takes to feed ourselves when I limit myself to only what I’ve grown. By this time of year stored food supplies are diminished and the garden is not quite awake. Our garden and food preservation program has evolved to depend on staple crops that can be stored, rather than canned or frozen. Although I did do a little canning this year, most of the things that couldn’t be stored properly to keep were dried in our solar food dryers.

In the photo you will see one of our Homegrown Friday dinners. It consisted of cowpeas, sweet potatoes, peanuts, and collards fresh from the garden. I often try new things on these days and that day I boiled peanuts. We (my husband and I) decided that eating them raw or roasted was our preference. I depended a lot on peanuts at lunchtime this year. Maybe it was because I seemed to be extra busy on these days. I’d grab some peanuts while sweet potatoes were cooking for lunch. My peanut harvest had picked up in 2012 when I planted some after Austrian winter peas in the rotation. The previous year I had peanuts in a bed following onions and garlic. At harvest time there was a definite difference in the yield in the onion half of the bed compared to the garlic half. Winter peas were the winter cover crop preceding the onion sets that had been planted in the spring. I was pretty sure that the increased peanut yield was due to the winter pea cover crop and not the onions. In 2012 I planted one bed of peanuts after winter peas and one in a bed that had had garlic, onions, and kale. The onions were multipliers and had been there with the garlic and kale since the previous fall. The yield following the Austrian winter peas was three times the one following the alliums and kale.

roasted carrots and beets with black walnut oil

roasted carrots and beets with black walnut oil

I had a great carrot harvest this winter. You can read about it in my post on Winter Carrots. I also had beets in the garden through the winter. The black walnuts yielded in 2012 so I shelled some and made some oil to put on the carrots and beets when I roasted them. Shelling the walnuts and pressing oil took a long time. I wouldn’t want to depend on that for my cooking oil. Frying locally grown bacon and saving the fat for cooking is a lot easier, but that wasn’t an option for these Fridays, since I hadn’t raised the pig. The roasted carrots and beets were delicious.

Soup made from dried ingredients is always on the menu during this time. One soup I made had no dried ingredients. It was made from carrots, butternut squash, and garlic. I cut them up and roasted them—no oil that day. Then I added water and simmered the cut up, roasted vegetables for about 20 minutes. It all went in the blender and resulted in what you see in this third picture. It was good, but a little bit of dairy added—sour cream, yogurt, or milk—would have been nice. Onions would have been a good addition, but I was down to my dried onions and they were in short supply.

butternut squash, carrot, and garlic soup

butternut squash, carrot, and garlic soup

Dried onions went into bean burgers using the same recipe as I did in 2012. Our staples for these meals from stored crops were sweet potatoes, peanuts, cowpeas, garlic, sorghum (for flour) and corn (for cornmeal). Fresh from the garden came collards, kale, carrots, and beets. I ground Bloody Butcher corn to make cornmeal mush for breakfast. We have chickens, so we have eggs. I use an egg or two occasionally on Homegrown Fridays, but not much because I don’t grow all the feed for the chickens. Since some of their nutrition comes from our property, an occasional egg is included. Dried tomatoes were important for sauce and other dried vegetables and herbs provided variety in our meals. I’ve already written about our new tea ingredient—Red Thai Roselle Hibiscus. With such a great honey harvest last year we could sweeten our cornmeal mush. Unfortunately, our two beehives didn’t make it through the winter, so I’ll be looking for new bees this year. We had mead made from our honey and grapes, and popcorn cooked without oil.

Observing Homegrown Fridays at this time of year makes me more determined to work out my vole problem with the potatoes to make sure I have enough to last through the winter. I’m also acutely aware that I need to up my wheat harvest. I had an interesting conversation with Eli Rogosa of the Heritage Wheat Conservancy in January while I was preparing an article for Mother Earth News that will appear in the June/July 2013 issue. Eli filled me in on heritage wheat and how to grow it. A chart with her recommended varieties for each region of the U.S. will appear in the article. A chart with crops I’ve mentioned here and varieties recommended for each region will also be included in the article. You will be interested in that article if you want to grow staple crops for your meals.

If you have done any of this, even in a small way, I welcome your comments. It is in sharing, both information and food, that we will move forward on this journey.  Homeplace Earth

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1"x2" welded wire garden fence

1″x2″ welded wire garden fence

Wherever you live, fencing is necessary to keep predators out and children, pets, and livestock in. It is important to consider which of those functions you want to accomplish. If it is to keep predators out, which predators would that be? That’s the general aim of a garden fence. If it is the neighbor’s (or your) dog, livestock panels will do to keep large dogs out. The spaces in those panels are 6”x8”. They are easy to install and to take with you if you should move. It will not keep rabbits, chickens, and other small critters out. Livestock panels might be your choice to keep livestock in. In All Flesh Is Grass Gene Logsdon suggests using livestock panels as a perimeter fence. You can read more about livestock panels in my blog post In Praise of Livestock Panels. One of the great things they have going for them is that they are rigid. However, that means that they don’t conform to the landscape well, making it look not so good if your ground is not level. 

Welded wire fencing with 2”x4” spaces is probably the most popular option for a garden and for fencing a backyard to keep your dog or children in. It is readily available at building supply stores. I like a 4’ high fence around a garden, unless you have problems with deer. I won’t address dealing with deer in this post. The spaces in that fence will keep most things out, but not baby rabbits. For that reason, I’ve gone to using 1”x2” welded wire fencing for my garden. If you have a dog or cat that takes care of the baby rabbits, that might not be a problem for you. When installing the fence, dig a trench along the fenceline so the bottom few inches can be buried. If you have trouble with groundhogs you might want to bury it deeper. Rocks along the edge of the fence will help to keep animals from digging in. Raccoons can climb over a 4’ high fence, and even a 6’ high wire fence. If they are a problem for you, maybe a border of something prickly on the outside of the fence would help. Welded wire fencing with 2”x4” spaces and 6’ high is a good choice for chicken pens. When attaching it to the posts, if you leave the top foot unattached, it might help to keep raccoons out. They can climb over it, but if the top edge bends out with their weight, it might discourage them. Besides keeping the critters out of your garden during the growing and harvesting season, a good fence will also keep them from grazing your cover crops. If you planted your cover crops at the right time and thought they were off to a good start, only to find they never got any bigger or even disappeared, it could be that the wildlife had considered your garden their personal salad bar during the fall and winter.

4"x4" woven wire fence in the snow

4″x4″ woven wire fence in the snow

Welded wire, like the livestock panels, can’t be stretched and doesn’t conform to changes in elevation. For that, you need woven wire fencing, which I’ve always referred to as field fencing. You would have seen that in pastures. It usually has 6”x6” spaces, but there are more size options available now. You might find woven wire fencing designated as Class 1, but keep looking until you find Class 3 galvanized. Class 3 will last longer. You are going to be putting in the same amount of labor to install it and you don’t want to do it again anytime soon– by that I mean anytime in the next 25 years or more. We installed a Class 3 woven wire fence 27 years ago. Just now some of it needs to be replaced, not because the wire is failing, but because our son pastured oxen in there for awhile when the pasture was inadequate and they leaned over the fence to get that greener grass on the other side. Otherwise, it would be fine and shows no sign of rust. A strand or two of barbed wire along the top or a strand of electrified wire, which we didn’t have, might have helped with those oxen. Moving those animals out sooner is what should have happened. That fence was originally designed to keep in goats and also worked well when we had a milk cow.

One of the size options available now for woven wire fence is 4”x4” and is called sheep and goat fence. If they have horns, sheep and goats can get their heads stuck in the 6” fence and in the livestock panels. We’ve had to take a hacksaw to a livestock panel a couple times to free a goat. (Heavy-duty bolt cutters would have been better, but we didn’t have any on hand at the time.)  When we decided to permanently fence an area in 2006 we went with the 4”x4” sheep and goat Class 3 fencing. One farm supply store only had Class 1, but thanks to the internet, I knew Class 3 was available. Ashland Feed Store went to the effort to get it for us—thank you Danny Adams. It helped that our order was almost a full pallet. If you have a large project coming up, do your planning carefully so that you can get your supplies all at one time. Often farm supply stores have seasonal sales on fence supplies and spring is a good time for that. While we were in the fencing mood, we decided to fence our barnyard. I discovered that full grown hens can’t get through the 4” spacing! They hop through livestock panels and can get through the 6” field fence, but stay put behind the sheep and goat fence. Fencing the barnyard gave us extra grazing if needed for livestock and allowed us to open the gate to the chicken pen during the day, giving the hens access to our whole property except the yard and garden.

woven wire fence corner

woven wire fence corner

If your property is the least bit rolling you will appreciate the fact that woven wire fence can be stretched and will fit to the contours of your land—provided it has the proper support. There needs to be posts in the low spots to hold it there. At the corners you need strong wooden corner posts with another post about 6’ away and a third post connecting the two. About every 100’ there needs to be another set of wooden posts. The rest of the posts (line posts) can be metal t-posts. It might be that you have a lot of cedars on your property and you can cut your own posts. We’ve been growing black locust trees for future fence posts. Some of the other options for woven wire fencing have 2”x4” spacing and one has a wire V within that. That fence is called diamond mesh or V-mesh. I’m considering that for the part of the garden that may have livestock pastured on the outside occasionally and it will also keep out those little rabbits I have trouble with. The woven wire with the smaller spacing was developed for horses, who apparently can’t keep their hooves out of regular fence.   

wooden fence with oak boards

wooden fence with oak boards

Chicken wire is a short-lived fence that might keep chickens in, but doesn’t keep dogs and other critters out. Furthermore, in a few years, it will begin to rust. That said, a 2’ high chicken wire fence would do for a couple years around a garden and it is comparatively inexpensive. After that the rabbits just jump over it, the grass grows up into it, and it will soon begin to rust anyway. Whatever fence you buy, notice the size of the wire. The higher the number (gauge), the smaller the diameter of the wire. A 9 gauge wire is thicker than a 12 gauge wire. Sometimes you don’t have a choice. I’ve noticed the welded wire fencing we got to replace some old fence around the chicken pen is a smaller gauge than what we bought 20+ years ago. A good source for fencing information and supplies is Kencove.com

Of course, you could go with a board fence. In that case, check a lumber yard for oak fence boards. They are generally available in 16’ lengths and are a full 1” thick, and 6” wide. Oak fence boards will last much longer than pressure treated boards. There’s lots more to know, so talk to people, travel around and take pictures, read all you can—then just do it. You can’t make mistakes-just learning experiences.Homeplace Earth

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