Sunday, February 24, 2013

Market on the move and produce education

Our church participates in something called Market on the Move. It's a pretty fabulous organization. The basic premise is actually a little heart breaking.

When a farmer in Mexico ships his crops for the season, he doesn't necessarily "fill an order". There is a buyer in the US who wants what he's selling and so he takes a ton of his crop to the border and fills the buyers that he has lined up. Most of the time, he has more produce than is necessary to fill the orders. A lot more. So because of some customs laws and probably a general desire to not bring back lots of unbought food, the producers tend to leave the produce at the border. Just on the side of the road.

So this organization got together with them and agreed to buy their surplus for a minuscule amount of money. Then they take it into the US and sell it in big sales in parking lots, like the one at our church. You pay $10 for up to 60lbs of produce.

The goal is pretty admirable, for a very low price, fresh fruit and veggies can get to the masses, and people who don't otherwise have access to produce. It also helps facilitate neighborly produce trading. It's is a concept that I'd like to write about in more detail later, but suffice it to say that you can make some great friends trading off food that you grew, raised or otherwise acquired!

As you see, we don't take a full 60lbs because we don't need it, but in addition to this stuff we also have a full target bag of green beans, seriously, green beans for DAYS!!!


So it's something to think about, the politics of food and hunger. There are starving children right here in Tucson and literally tons of food rotting by the roadside not 45 miles south of where their little bellies growl. It really is a tragedy. So if you find one of these happening near you, get some food, take it to a local homeless shelter, or group home or just some poor family you know who is struggling. Post it on Craigslist. You will get so many responses from people who are struggling to eat if you offer free food on Craigslist.

This is one of those times when being an all organic person doesn't necessarily make sense. When your options for a kid are happy meal v. Roadside spaghetti squash, wise up, go with the squash. This is not to say you shouldn't have higher standards if you are able. Just that you should not let that standard get in the way of good common sense.

Now for the farm snobs among us, I feel it's worth pointing out. Did you see those tomatoes?

That's how your grocery store buys them. Unripe. They will red up eventually, but this is one of the biggest culprits behind why grocery store tomatoes are no where near as tasty as home grown. So if you are growing your own this year: don't pick til you are ready to eat or until they are waaaaaay ripe and you need to share with a friend. Trust me the sharing is just as good. :)

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Location:The farm

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The truth about organic gardening

I have been wanting to write this post for a while and I have a ton of pictures for it. But it's a very long topic so if there is a seemingly abrupt ending, I'll finish in a "Part two". I'm just preparing you in advance for my nearly inevitable laziness.

I'd first like to say that I have absolutely zero objection to non-organic produce. I really really do not. I opt for an organic garden because actively putting poison on my own food seems odd. And although I know that there is/was/remains in a lingering way poison on most non-organic produce, I just don't have the time or the inclination to care. I just wash it, like most people.

But when you garden you get to "know" your plant a little. And you become familiar with its behaviors, it's output etc. So in that case, organic seems just a little bit more...gardeny. I dunno. It's harder, certainly...

Anywho, organic is not all sunshine and roses. I think a lot of my "organic only" snob friends (no insult intended...) would be super grossed out to know what's involved. Here is some of that info:

Truth number one: Organic = bugs.

This is just a fact. Even grocery store organic produce will have bugs. If you can't hack bugs you probably aren't eating organic, or looking at it very closely. For example, broccoli.

Yummy!!! Guess what's crawling riiiiiiight next to his mouth?

See those little dots? APHIDS! Hundreds of them! It's thick enough to cover the whole thing and almost look like the broccoli crown itself! Eeeeeew. Go wander through Sprouts and pick up a head of broc. Every other one SHOULD have these on them. Wash it in water with salt and vinegar and they'll come right off. If you miss a few... Eh, protein.

Aphids can be dealt with organically using lady bugs. Lady bugs eat aphids. The aphids are attracted to the nitrogen in your soil. So if you have manure in your soil, you'll get bigger, leafier, healthier plants, but you'll also get aphids.

Not all broccoli will have aphids.

See? Clean as a whistle. Except for this guy...

See him? He blends right in. He is a cabbage worm. And I imagine he's delicious. Or just keep an eye out for him. Cause if he gets in your cabbage, you get holy cabbage.

So holy it's running for Pope. (Do you run for Pope?). If you see white butterflies around your cabbage, you have cabbage worms, likely. Cover them with netting. The netting keeps them from laying eggs and eating your whole patch. In theory.

You know who loves bugs on cabbage and broccoli?

Truth number two: Organic = smaller (usually)

The stuff you get in a grocery store is fed steroids. I hate to tell you. I have a friend who runs a baseball blog who is actively upset about the use of steroids. Probably not in veggies, but given his passion on the issue I can only imagine it translates to veggies as well.

This is a good sized organic carrot from my garden compared to my husbands hand. He's a normal sized grown man. And they vary pretty significantly from carrot to carrot. My red carrots were all nice and fat, my whites were all long and skinny. I barely got any orange.

But truth number 2.5, these carrots are way prettier than their evil grocery twins. Even next to my dirty glove.

They make nice bouquets.

Truth number three: Organic = imperfect.

It's less a fault of the organicness and more of the grocery store only selling the perfect looking food. There is nothing actually wrong with this carrot. You can eat it just like its little friends.

Yes, it's a carrot. Yep I'm sure. Nope I didn't plant radishes. Honestly people its not just about the outside! It's what's inside that counts right?

See? Orange like a carrot. :)

Finally, truth number four: Organic (rather home grown) = kid friendly.

My kids have eaten the following dishes, veggies and all. Excitedly too, because they pulled the carrots, cabbage and broc that went into them.

That last one is fried rice, showing you an appropriate rice to meat to veg ratio, if you wanted yours to be healthy. Trust me it cooks down so it looks more even. Start with less than that and you've got problems.

Oh look! I got through all I wanted to say! Hooray! Ok so remember, organic veggies are buggie, oddly shaped and small, but they are delicious, less likely to make little boys start menstruating at the age four, and prettier. And chickens like them. And ergo visa vie, chickens eat bugs, there are bug nutrients in your eggs! Unless your eggs come from unhappy chickens.

Happy eating!!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:The farm

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The wisdom and pitfall of Pinterest

Let me start this by saying, I love Pinterest. I mentioned in a recent post that we got our seedling-pots-out-of-toilet-paper-rolls idea from there. It really is great for things like that.

In fact there are TONS of great tips on Pinterest. Including keeping lots of calcium in the soil for your tomatoes to keep them from splitting and spraying buds with Epsom salt in order to make peppers and tomatoes more abundant. These are all great tips! This year I am trying out a Pinterest tip that I can't vouch for just yet, pinching the suckers off my toms and strawberries for more fruit. I'll let you know how that comes out in a few months!

But there are some things on Pinterest that seemed to be planted there by evil elves just to screw with desert gardeners. If you live in Arizona, you need to remember you are not just a gardener or a back yard farmer, you are a DESERT gardener. That is significantly more hardcore than your Midwestern and Southern counter parts.

This is one of those posts:

I've seen it a bunch of times now. The problem with this post is twofold.

Number one, there is almost nothing save for corn and sunflowers that can tolerate full sun in the desert. And even those two things would probably like a little mid day shade. Honestly, you cannot grow things in full sun here, much less carrots and lettuce.

Number two: while I think I've said before I can't make carrots grow in the summer here, others have, so I guess that's only half a problem. But the lettuce in the picture with the "partial sun" implies you could do this in the summer time. You can't plant lettuce in the summer. Unless its inside. Lettuce "bolts" which means it grows really tall and bitter really fast. Like overnight fast. That's nothing to do with how much sun it gets, it's the heat. Anything over 85-90 is too hot for lettuce out here. So for my purposes I will make the blanket statement, salad is for winter! If you could conceivably make this veggie spicy or picture yourself eating it in the summer, then it's a summer food (toms, peppers = salsa! Spicy! Summer food! Corn with hot peppers, delicious = summer food! Watermelon, good in summer) and allll of it needs shade.

This leads me to my next Pinterest lie:

It's probably a little hard to read, especially on the mobile app but its saying when to plant what. Including crazy things like broccoli getting planted may 1. No. That's a winter plant. Peppers, transplant June 1. Only if you don't want to ever eat any peppers cause the whole plant fried in the sun before you had a chance. Tomatoes, may 20, that might work for your second round of toms, but you should start them much earlier if you want to eat anything before August. Anything planted in may has to not only use its energy to create fruit but also to fight off the heat! If you could read the source on there you'd see the problem: University of Minnesota. I am reasonably sure that there is zero overlap in our seasons. When we think its summer they are buying their second winter coat.

So there you go, know your source! If you are reading garden advice not specifically tailored to a desert climate, you are probably reading a source that will ultimately lead to your disappointment! Good Luck new garden friends!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:The farm

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Just a quick update

I don't have much in the way of pictures or fun stories this week, except to say that the girls are laying in full swing again, giving us ten eggs on Thursday, but only 7 today. Still a pretty good haul!

None of our seedlings have sprouted yet, and we are getting yet another cold snap, hopefully the last one!

In the mean time, I am just laying around waiting for farm baby to make an appearance! :)

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Location:The farm

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Time to think about summer

Here it is, the first week of February and I am just now getting started on transplants. Oh dear! I might have to start using the chick light in order to make sure these little guys get the growth they need!

"What on earth are you talking about?" I think you might be asking yourself.

Mid-January to early February is a good time to start seeds for summer veggies here in the Old Pueblo. You obviously need to start em inside because we do get a few freak frosts between now and march 15 when you are good to transplant into your garden. In the mean time, your little guys can grow up in doors. I have found that transplanting works much better in Arizona than outdoor seed planting. For whatever reason, I can only grow carrots in a direct to the ground seed fashion.

So how do you start this process? Well there are some little kits you can buy at Target that are pretty easy, they have little pills that expand into dirt when they get wet. Then you just press your seed into them, keep them watered and in the sun and you are good to go. This year, we went a more "homemade" route.

First we had to find a potting soil that was organic, in order to keep up our organic veggie garden status. The pills in those little planters are not organic, FYI. Target actually sells a pretty awesome potting soil, if you are interested. It's nice an dark and moist when you open it. It just feels like something that would grow things well.

For the record, yes, we really did do all our planting at the dinning room table today. Farm baby doesn't let me sit on the floor very easily these days!

Farm husband made little planters out of toilet paper tubes. You might have seen this on Pinterest, I think that's where he got the idea. You simply cut them in half and then cut one end into fins that you fold over.

Now before I show you this next picture, I have to say, we do NOT go through this much TP in a short period of time! We are lucky enough to have a family member that owns a catering business and uses a LOT of paper towels. You can make three of these little pods out of a paper towel roll. :)

We made two trays about this size. Obviously, you just spoon your dirt into the little pods about half full. Then put down one see in each pod, near the middle. These are all tomatoes, different varieties. It's difficult to see the seeds. But below we have green beans and cukes, much easier to see

The kids both helped. If you have kids, this is a really good way to involve them in growing their own food. It could be coincidence, but our kids eat a lot of dark leafy greens and veggies that normally kids wouldn't because they see it come out of the garden and they get to pick it themselves. Green beans are super easy to grow, very healthy, can nicely and are fun for kids to pick. If you only plant one veggie for your kids I'd do that one. If you plant two, do the multicolored carrots :)

Finally, once the seeds are all dropped, cover them with a little more dirt, and spray them with a spray bottle. Find a home for them in your house where the windows are nearby and they get lots of light and sun.

Like I said earlier, I started a little late on these guys, so I might need to give them some artificial sun to get them up to snuff in time. We'll see. My plan would be to involve the light we use to warm up chicks when they are little. It's a red light so it won't be so harsh on the little planties. But again, we will see! Maybe they'll take off all on their own!

So have you thought about your summer garden? What are you planting? I'm thinking about corn this year down with my green beans. I would have to put that straight into the garden though so that's a liiiiiiiitle bit scary!! Anyone ever successfully grown some back yard corn?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:The farm

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Farm Food Safety

Recently, I have began selling eggs to new and diverse groups of people. Lots of people have commented that they'd like to try some eggs, but only recently have people been willing to sink $3 into the experiment. Now I have also not always had the supply to feed my family and offer extras to others, and now I do, so my supply could be a good part of the recent uptake. However, it's been recently brought to my attention that it could just as easily be people's concerns regarding the safety of non-regulated food suppliers. Although it never occurred to me before, farm husband thought it should have been obvious to me, saying he himself had similar concerns in the beginning. So I thought I'd give you just a little info about the safety of homegrown eggs and produce.

The main concern, I imagine, is salmonella. So here are some of the FDA rules for eggs in order to curb salmonella. keep in mind, these rules apply to people with greater than 3,000 birds whose shells are unpasturized. Pasteurization of an egg shell generally consists of washing it with warm water and a sanitizing chemical.

The FDA requires that eggs be held at about 45 degrees if they are going to be waiting around for transport for greater than 3 days. Additionally they are required to be shipped and available for purchase within 30 days. A day, for the record, starts the day after the egg is laid. So, if the chickens are like mine, an FDA day starts when the egg is about 18 hours old already. (Many hens lay at sunrise). Prior to shipment, eggs must be washed in warm water (and frequently a sanitizer chemical of some type) and shipped without any cracks in the shell.

What follows is a lay explanation of those rules. Please keep in mind I'm neither a doctor, nor a scientist.

An egg, normally, is an airtight item. Without any cracks or age based deterioration, the inside of your egg will never be contaminated by the outside of your egg. That's good, because eggs come out of a chickens butt. I hate to be the one to tell you if you didn't know, but essentially the same hole they poop out of is the same hole the egg passes through. it is not uncommon for an egg to have poop on it when it comes out. It is the poop and other environmental factors that cause eggs to have salmonella on their shells. Again if the egg is uncracked, that salmonella is no problem, once you crack it, it's exposed. Thus, the washing. If you wash with water over 90 degrees, the bacteria will be killed. Even more so if you wash them with a chemical.

Storage at 45 degrees keeps the bacteria from growing back, if it remains on the egg.

So why was I never concerned? If you've seen my chickens in their coop, there is plenty of poop! We toss out about ten lbs of chicken poop a week (let me know if your compost could benefit from some nitrogen btw!). It falls into a tray under their coop which has a slatted floor. However, they lay eggs into a nest box. Traditionally, a chicken doesn't poop where's it lays its eggs.the nest box is a clean area of the coop filled only with straw and eggs. This is a repeat picture but you'll see what I mean.

See through that's little door there is a slatted floor? That's where they sleep. The clean dry straw filled area is where the eggs are. See? No poop.

Now, at the risk of being accused of attempting to shock, here is a picture of factory farm chickens:

They poop and lay and live and eat and spend their whole lives in the same space. They cannot spread their wings, much less move away from their waste matter. So it makes good sense that "farms" with this many chickens should be following rules to minimize salmonella exposure. Just for fun, these are your factory "free range" chickens which produce those "free range" eggs. To be FDA free range they need only have access to the ground and fresh air.

Look how free!! Certainly better than the alternative I suppose but, my girls, who are confined to a run, have enough space to speed up and charge at one another! They also get supervised weed eating time. ;) this one was from last summer. So you'll see one of our dearly departed, Other White Chicken.

I suppose knowing how a factory chicken lives is what leads me to never worry about the safety of our eggs. I cannot imagine a scenario in which the former two pictures of chickens are cleaner, happier and healthier than the latter picture.

But just for full disclosure, unless our eggs have visible poop on them, they are not washed. At all. This is to preserve the "bloom" or naturally occurring protective coating on the egg. I recommend you wash them before cracking them, but most home farmers will keep their eggs on the counter until they use them because of this bloom. We refrigerate a dozen once we have a full doz (normally two days) and we sell the ones that have been refrigerated. Our home consumed eggs live on our counter. For the record, the front egg is speckled, not dirty.

Right next to our butter. Which is also not refrigerated. Now we don't sell butter, so this is just a fun fact: we use a butter bell. It's a little crock with a lid. The underside of the lid is a bell type shape that you store your butter in. You keep a small amount of water in the crock which creates an air tight seal around the butter. This means your butter is always soft and spreadable. Butter, like eggs, is very obvious when its gone bad. Both smell funky.

As long as you have a little device like this, and you clean it and replace the water weekly, you too can keep your butter soft and toast ready. They sell these little guys at places like William Sonoma, but we got ours at bookmans. PS if you ever find one with a chicken handle, please buy it for me, I'll pay you back!

So there you are. A quick note one egg and butter safety! Now I have to do some research to talk to you about veggie safety, but just for fun, the number one carrier of food borne disease last year was leafy greens! Not that I want you to be afraid of my salad, but rather consider where your food came from. Farm husband has said before he loves eating our salad cause he knows exactly what was on it. (Mostly dirt and water... But we compost chicken poop sooooo dirt is actually poop and rotted veggies... Albeit raised to a very high temperature in order to turn into dirt....Tee hee! Wash your salad!)

I hope it's been fun and educational.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:The farm