Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Cattle Tub Container Garden

Earlier this spring, I had the bright idea to grow a garden in cattle tubs.  I call it my CTC (Cattle Tub Container) garden.  If you are unfamiliar with these, they are large, extremely durable plastic tubs that contain supplement feed for cattle, like vitamins for cows.  We have a couple of friends who raise cattle and were able to get a few of these tubs from them.  

I wanted to set them up in the back yard, near the house where they would be easy to water.  We had the perfect place in a corner by the peacock shed.  I had Tom set them up in that corner after we had covered the area with weed barrier.


First he drilled some holes in the bottom of each tub for drainage and put some sticks in the bottom to keep the soil from packing down too tightly and clogging the drainage holes.


We bought potting soil that was 45% bark to allow for good drainage and I mixed it with compost to provide plenty of nutrients.  I didn't have enough to fill all the tubs, but if I have good success growing in the tubs, then I will fill the rest of them next spring.  

After the tubs were filled, I planted sweet potatoes in some of them.  We have difficulty growing sweet potatoes in the field because the deer love them.  It will be a very brave deer that jumps inside the fence and braves our very vicious Sally dog to get at them here!  Actually, Sally was a stray that we adopted and was crippled by a bullet in her shoulder.  So, she's not much of a danger to the local deer population. 



And, I planted strawberries in some of them.


And, rhubarb in a couple of them.



The county extension agent told me rhubarb is difficult to grow in this part of Oklahoma, so  I'm hoping by planting it in these tubs, I will be able to manipulate the growth conditions to give it a better chance of survival.

Something has eaten holes in the rhubarb leaves and many of the sweet potato leaves.  I'm not sure what it is.  But, the plants do not seem to be suffering too much as a result, so I'm not too worried about it.  

I added a layer of leaves to the top of the soil to keep the tubs from drying out so quickly.  Even then, I've had to water them every 2 to 3 days during the hottest weather.  So, I plan to add a drip watering system to keep them watered next year.  The best thing about this project is that it has basically eliminated any weed problems.  So, I am optimistic!  If all goes well, this may be the way I garden from now on. 




Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Nest Competition Drama

Occasionally, there is a bit of drama in the chicken coop.  A while back I was in there to check on their food and water when I noticed all the nests were occupied.  


The nest on the left is occupied by Gertrude.  She is at the top of the pecking order and is one of the first batch of chicks we got back in 2012 when we became first-time chicken owners.  On the middle nest is Goldie.  We got her, along with 3 other chicks, last year.  One of the Rhode Island Red hens which we got from a friend in 2014 is on the last nest.  I honestly cannot tell the RIRs apart, except for one who has a different kind of comb.  This is not her.  So, I'm not sure which one this is. 

So, now for the drama.  Gertrude apparently was not satisfied with her nest and decided to check out the other nests to see if she could find one better to her liking. 


Notice that there is already an egg in Goldie's nest.  Now, just because the egg is there does not mean she laid it.  It could very well have been laid by someone else earlier in the day.  Perhaps it was the egg that made the middle nest look more attractive to Gertrude, but for whatever reason, she decided this was the nest she wanted to use.


She sat on the edge of the nest for a little while, perhaps to give Goldie a chance to leave peacefully.  However, when Goldie showed no sign of vacating, Gertrude began to edge her way in anyway.


Being the top chicken, Gertrude gets her way and Goldie eventually gave in and let her have the nest.


Gertrude carefully lowered herself on the egg and settled down.  Whether or not she laid an egg of her own, I have no idea.  Hens will sometimes sit for long periods of time on a nest and never lay an egg.  It is like the nest is their place to go meditate.  If they lay an egg while meditating, then all the better.

I didn't have time to stick around to see what Goldie decided to do.  She may have given up for the day or have come back later and tried again.  At any rate, I found this bit of drama to be quite entertaining.  Chicken interaction can be quite interesting!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

My Favorite Gardening Shows

Ninety percent of all the shows we watch on TV are public television.  For us, that is OETA on channel 13 out of Oklahoma City.

We enjoy Nature and Nova.  And, we watch a lot of the British mysteries, such as Masterpiece Mystery, few of which are as graphic or gruesome as most of the American produced shows.  Yet, they are, in many ways, much more challenging intellectually because of the complicated plots they usually involve.  

Gardening shows rank high on our favorites list, as well.  We greatly enjoy Growing a Greener World.  It features ideas for organic gardening and green living.  Many of the episodes feature a segment where a Chef Nathan (my idol!) prepares easy farm-to-table recipes.  If you click on the Episodes tab at the top of the above link, it will take you to a list of the seasons that have shown so far.  Scrolling through these, you will see the episodes.  Clicking on any of the episodes will allow you to watch them in their entirety.  

Here are some of my favorites:

  • The New Generation of Farmers   This show was so inspiring for me.  It features young people and some older ones, as well, who have left their cushy corporate jobs to pursue a more meaningful lifestyle growing clean healthy food without using chemicals or pesticides.  All the while, keeping it close to home where they can offer their communities the freshest food available that has not been brought in from foreign countries or trucked thousands of miles.  
  • Brooklyn Grange   This episode features a group of young people who have created very productive farms on top of buildings in New York City.  I was fascinated at how they managed to produce tons of fresh, organic produce in the middle of a large city.
  • Veteran Farmers   This show was emotionally moving because it featured Veteran’s Farm where returning veterans are trained in sustainable farming and organic methods of production.  Not only does this help create a meaningful career for these vets after returning from duty, it also helps them overcome many of the traumas they faced while overseas by giving them peaceful, quiet surroundings to live and work in, which in turn gives them a chance to work through some of the issues they returned home with.
  • There are many others, such as Chicken Keeping 101, How to Make Compost, Solitary BeesBackyard Bees and Polyface Farms.  You can find many more by scrolling through the list of episodes on the Growing a Greener World website. 
Of course, we watch Oklahoma Gardening which is produced by Oklahoma State University.  Their website is a wealth of information and many of these shows are available online, as well.

My newest favorite gardening show is Food Forward which deals with many of the issues facing us today, such as  Quest for Water , Food Waste, and Making School Lunches Healthier.

I hope you will check out some of the links above and find them as enjoyable and inspiring as I have.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Kombucha

We meet the most interesting people at the farmers' market.  Some of them are customers; some of them are fellow vendors.  Some of these acquaintances turn into lasting friendships.  For example, there is Cindy (the veterinarian and foodie), Sarah (the chef), and Shonna (the beekeeper). 

The newest member of the market, and who is assigned the space next to us, is named Susan.  Susan is an auditor for the state, but she enjoys gardening, enough so that she has extra to sell.  She joined the market this spring and, like us, does not use any pesticides in her garden.   So, we hit it off right away.  

A few weeks ago she brought a jar of kombucha to the market and was giving out samples.  This was my first introduction to this strange drink.   If you have never heard of this, it is fermented tea.  Yes, you read that correctly.....TEA.  I was intrigued and she offered to give me the jar she brought to the market as a starter so I could begin brewing my own.  Here's what she gave me.
 

The layer of material on top is called a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast), also known as a mother.  It is a rubbery disk that floats on top of the tea as it ferments and closely resembles a byproduct of vinegar-making, also called a mother.  The fact that both kombucha and vinegar produce similar mothers should give you a clue about how kombucha tastes.  Once it is brewed, it has a tart and sour taste similar to vinegar, but it is also fizzy and, depending on how much sugar you add, slightly sweet, as well.

The SCOBYs form in layers as the kombucha is fed.  If you look closely, you can see older SCOBYs in the bottom of the jar.  But, I am getting ahead of myself.  So, let me go back and explain how I started my own kombucha.

I bought a gallon-sized jar with a spout, organic sugar and loose-leafed tea.


I use organic sugar, to keep the kombucha as pure as possible.  You could just as well use regular sugar and regular tea bags.

I took the SCOBYs out of the jar and reserved a cup of the kombucha.  I saved a couple of the SCOBYs in the rest of the kombucha in case I messed up and needed an extra one to start over.


Next, I brewed 4 cups of strong tea, to which I added 1 cup of sugar.  When this cooled to room temperature, I added it to the jar I had purchased (having washed the jar in the dishwasher first) along with a couple of cups of plain water.  The water you use should be non-chlorinated.  Then, I added the reserved cup of kombucha from the original batch.


Next, I peeled off one of the SCOBYs and added it to the jar.  


It sank into the liquid.


At this point, it had to sit for a week at room temperature while the mixture fermented.  It was obvious when fermentation started because bubbles began forming and rising to the top.  Also, a new SCOBY began to form on top.  

After a week, I tasted it.  It was okay and may have been fine for some folks, but I decided I wanted it a little stronger, so I let it sit a few days longer.  In the mean time, I bought another jar and divided the mixture in half.  To one half, I added 2 cups of tea, 1/2 cup of sugar and one of the extra SCOBYs I saved.  I began using the other half, drinking only small amounts each day....about 4 ounces.  How do you like my glass?  


So, now I have 2 batches of kombucha going.  One is brewing, while I am drinking on the other one.  


I am now doing what is called "continuous brew" meaning that I just keep adding sweetened tea every week to one jar, while I drink from the other jar.  However, at any point, I could brew a "batch" in the same manner that I did to begin with.

As you can see in the picture below, several layers of SCOBYs have formed and the bubbles indicate active fermentation.  Eventually, I will have to divide the SCOBYs and dispose of the older ones, either by feeding them to the chickens or giving them away to friends who want to make their own kombucha.


Kombucha is touted as having healing properties, but like any ferment it contains living bacterial cultures that may or may not agree with you.  So, it is best to start with small servings and see how it affects you.  The healing properties of kombucha may be attributed to the fact that it contains glucuronic acid, a compound produced by our livers which binds with various toxins for elimination.  

If you are interested learning more about  kombucha, you can find a lot of good information on the internet.  Here's a site with great information:  Kombucha Kamp.  Also, The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz is an excellent reference  book on, not only kombucha, but all kinds of foods made using fermentation, as well.

And, if you need a SCOBY to get you started, I have a bunch of them!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Tomatillos with Salsa Recipe

One of the new things we are growing this year is tomatillos.  They look a bit like green tomatoes, but taste completely different and have a totally different growth habit.  Here's a tomatillo plant.



They have tiny yellow flowers.


The tomatillo fruits grow inside "husks" that dangle from the underside of the plant stems.


They are ready to pick when the fruit fills the husk and the husk begins to split.


I picked a bunch last week.  



Once the husk is removed, they look like small green tomatoes.




But, inside they don't look like tomatoes.  They look like this.


I made salsa with these.  The recipe I used is easy and requires only a few ingredients. 

Ingredients

1 pound tomatillos
3 cloves garlic (unpeeled)
1 jalapeno (more or less, depending on your taste)
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro
juice of 1/2 a lime
Salt to taste

Directions

Put the tomatillos, garlic cloves and jalapeno on a small sheet pan and roast at 425 degrees until they are soft.  They will char on top.  This is good and gives the salsa nice flavor.  Turn them a couple of times to get a good char on both sides.

When the tomatillos are soft and mushy, remove from oven and put in a food processor.  Peel the garlic cloves and remove stem and seeds from the jalapeno.  Put them in the food processor with the tomatillos.  Finally, add the onion and cilantro.

Run the food processor until everything is thoroughly chopped.  Add the lime juice and salt.  Pulse until incorporated.  Put in a small sauce pan, bring to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes.  Cool.  Adjust seasonings to taste.  



Enjoy!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Organic Farm Tour - Day 2

Day two of our organic farm tour began with a visit to Provision Organic Farm in Oklahoma City.  The farm provides organic vegetables and meat for Provision Kitchen.  Both are locally and family-owned.  Here we are at the beginning of the tour with one of the farm managers.


Just like Three Springs Farm (from the blog on Day 1), they have a large hoophouse full of tomatoes.  



The tomatoes are trained up twine that is attached to overhead supports.


They are in the process of building a large barn that will serve several purposes.


In addition to vegetables, they also raise "pastured" chickens and hogs.  This means their animals will never see the inside of a Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) a.k.a. Pollution Palace.  Believe me, you do not want to eat an egg or any meat that comes from one of those places.

Here is their chicken "tractor".  It can be moved around to give the chickens access to fresh grass.


LOL.....it is a little bigger than our chicken tractor.  We move ours around with our Gator.  I think you'd need a tractor or a truck to move their chicken tractor.


They have Rhode Island Red chickens.  


And, they raise Berkshire Tamworth hogs.  Although you cannot see it, the hogs are fenced in with electric fencing that can easily be moved to allow them access to new pasture and "rooting" ground.  


Here's a closeup of one of the hogs.  I was standing just on the other side of the electric fence.


Next up on our agenda was a visit to Guilford Gardens  which is located in northwest Oklahoma City.  It is comprised of four city lots, smack dab in the middle of a suburban neighborhood.  However, you would never know it was there.  The garden is behind the the family home and well hidden by privacy fences and shrubbery.   Here's our tour bus parked in the driveway.



A flower garden occupies one of the four lots.  It is a commercial venture between Guilford Gardens and Elia Woods of CommonWealth Urban Farms.   Here are some of the flowers that are grown there.  


The Guilford Gardens is owned by Kamala Gamble and supplies produce to her other business Kam's Kookery, as well as to their CSA members.   Kam does catering and treated us to a terrific lunch before we toured her gardens.

Next, we loaded back on the bus for the trip to Ft. Cobb, OK, and a visit to Arcadian Family Farm.  This farm is owned by Rod Ardoin and Nanette Ardoin.  They are originally from Louisiana.  Ron is the second person from the left, in the rubber boots.  I really enjoyed him.  He has a slight southern Louisiana accent and made a point of singling out a couple of OSU professors, who were on the tour with us by asking questions of them.  He'd say things like "Maybe one of the doctors could tell us .....".  I got the feeling that he might actually know more about the subject than the "doctors" did.  Ha!  



They've had a lot of rain in this area recently and there were puddles around.  I think Ron had the right idea with his rubber boots.


Ft. Cobb is located in southwest Oklahoma.  As you can see there are wide-open spaces all around.  One of the crops this organic farm is known for is their sweet potatoes shown below.  Who better to grow sweet potatoes than someone from southern Louisiana!


The black tubing running to the rows is part of their drip-irrigation system. The tubing contains small holes that allow the water to drip slowly right at the base of the plants.  This is so much better at conserving water than the large sprinkler systems that so many farmers use.  The picture below shows how the smaller tubes are connected to the main water line. The picture also shows how black plastic is used to control weeds in the field.  These are onions.  Small holes are punched in the plastic and the onions plants are planted in the holes.


Arcadian Family Farm was the last stop on our 2-day organic farm tour.  By the time we got home that evening, we were tuckered out, but extremely excited by the organic movement in our state.  

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Organic Farm Tour - Day 1

We've just spent the last two days touring various organic farms around the state.  As I write this, I am overwhelmed with the movement toward sustainability and organic garden management in our state.  I am also in awe of the people who are leading this movement and what they are doing, in many cases with very little resources.

I can't possibly cram both days into one blog post, so I will break it up into Day 1 and Day 2. Several organizations went together to organize and support the tour.   I first heard about it through the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture.  Here's the flier they put up on their web site.  Kerr Center Announcement
The first day we drove to eastern Oklahoma to Three Springs Farm.  Three Springs Farm
Mike and Emily own and run the farm.  Here is Emily talking to us about the farm.  The little girl is their daughter.  It was wonderful to see a child who spends her days outside running free, instead of indoors in front of the TV or playing a video game.  But, I digress ....  



Mike and Emily do all the work themselves and run a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) where members "buy" a share in the farm by paying an annual fee.  In return, the members are entitled to a bag of produce each week of whatever is in season.  Members pick their bags up each week at the Cherry Street Farmers Market in Tulsa where Mike and Emily also sell their produce to non-CSA members. They are a hard-working young couple who are devoted to what they do.  

Here are some pictures of their farm. 

Tomatoes growing in their hoophouse

Rows and rows of organic vegetables

Very friendly cat that escorted us on the tour
Family dog taking a dip in this beautiful clear stream that you have to cross to get to their house.  I was tempted to join him!
Elderberry Bushes

After we finished our tour of Three Springs Farm, we drove to Fisher Produce near Slick,Oklahoma.  I think that is a great name for a town!  This is a family business that has been farming their land for 100 years.  They use sustainable practices for all their crops.  They are organically certified for everything, except asparagus and sweet corn which are grown conventionally, but without the use of insecticides.  They do use herbicides to control weeds in the asparagus and corn, but are trying to figure out how they can grow these without herbicides.

I'm sorry to say that I neglected to take any pictures there.  I cannot believe I didn't.  I must have been so interested in what was being said that I just forgot all together!  Anyway, I have included a link below where you can read about the Fishers.  


We ended the day at Langston University where we heard about the farmers market they support there on campus and about their aquaculture program.  Unfortunately, we were running late by the time we got there and were unable to tour the ponds where they are raising tilapia and other fish.  But, we were treated to a catered dinner by Kam's Kookery in an outdoor pavilion there on the campus.

It was an awesome day.