Lettuce Get Planting! How To Grow Lettuce In Texas

Lettuce, Herbs, Green Onions, and Radishes- great fall crops

This post in from the archives- and oldie but a goodie!

There are some nasty rumors going around about lettuce.  I hear that it is really hard to grow with lots of insect problems.  It has also been said that lettuce grown in Texas tastes bitter because of the heat.  Lies, all of them.

The misinformation comes from the fact that  the instructions on the back of seed packets and those great little farming magazines are written for folks living in the areas of the country that actually have four seasons and one growing season.  Now do not misunderstand me, I love my gardening magazines, but the time lines do not line up. Well, welcome to Texas Gardening.  There is a rhythm to gardening in Texas that is as unique as our Texas spirit.  Once you learn the rhythm you will be amazed at what you can grow.

However, for now we will focus on lettuce and its cousins.  It perturbs me to no end to have to purchase greens of any kind in the grocery store.  Homegrown greens are so easy and tasty!  Also, it is so much easier to have a bed of lettuce and just go pick you some whenever you want, than to have to go to the store when you want a salad.  If you are like me, lots of times what’s for dinner is not something planned very far in advance.  So, having items growing in the garden to have on hand is just the ticket.

One of the perks about lettuce and all the other greens, such as arugula, chard, spinach, etc. is that they can by eaten at all stages.  Baby greens make for a scrumptious salad or sandwich.  Many people, like my children, do not like mature spinach but love baby spinach.  So, while the plants are growing you can pick the outer leaves and enjoy the garden abundance for many weeks.  The greens( the term greens refers to all types of lettuce, herbs, kale, greens, spinach etc)  do not take a lot of space.  One 5X12  foot bed of greens will keep my family of 6 in fresh greens.

Now to dispel the lies.

First, that lettuce is hard to grow.  Not so, you just have to know when to plant it.  If you read many of the labels on lettuce sold in Texas, the labels  say to plant after all danger of frost has passed.  The problem with this is that if you wait that long in Texas you can have as little as 2 weeks until the temps are consistently in the mid- 80′s.  The proper planting times in Texas are February- April and September- December.  Lettuce is a cool season crop.  When most areas of the country are having dead of winter, we are having our cool season.   When we have had a mild winter, I harvest greens from September until June.  That is only 2 months of store-bought greens in a year.  That makes my heart happy! Most lettuce varieties,as well as spinach and collard greens, can stand temperatures down to 23′ degrees.  Some winters we don’t even get that cold once so you can have a productive garden all winter.

Second lie- lettuce has many insect problems. Now there are certain worms- Cabbage Loppers for example- that do like lettuce.  However, these are easily dispatched with Bt.  Bt- (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a naturally occurring bacterial disease that only attacks caterpillars.  Bt is organic and you can eat the produce with no worries that synthetic pesticides bring.  There are other insects that can be a problem at times, but I have found in my gardens that Bt is all I need to keep things in balance.  Also, there are other methods of insect control, but again the Bt is simple, easy and effective so that is what I use.  You can find it at most hardware and garden supply stores.  If you have fertile soil fed and amended with organic compost and fertilizers, most other insects won’t pose a large problem.

Third Lie- lettuce grown in Texas tastes bitter- hogwash.  Again, you just need to know when to plant and what varieties to plant.  The types that are considered “slow to bolt” are the best for planting in the spring.  Bolting refers to sending up a conical shaft with blooms that will produce seeds.  Warm weather signifies to the lettuce that it is time to make seeds.  So, those lettuces that are slow to bolt will be the most tolerant of warm weather.  While you are looking in seed catalogs for heirloom selections (heirloom refers to varieties that will reproduce consistently if the seeds are saved) look for ones that were developed in Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas- of course- or Israel.  These areas have climates similar to ours and those varieties will usually do well here for the spring planting.  Look for varieties labeled “Cool season” or “cold tolerant” on the lettuces, these will be the ones for planting in the fall.  When it comes to the spinach, swiss chard, and kale- these are not even stopped by a freeze so they will grow all winter.

lettuce in compost raised beds

Some of my favorite varieties are:
For Fall Planting: Black Seeded Simpson, Drunken Woman, Tom Thumb, Oakleaf
For Spring Planting:  Oakleaf, Jericho- awesome, Tom Thumb
Spinach- Longstanding Bloomsdale is great year round.

Most of your annual herbs like dill, Salad Burnett, chives are best planted on the same schedule as lettuce.
I like to sow the seeds in wide beds.  I thin the seedlings and use them in salads as baby greens.  Keep the lettuce or greens watered one inch once per week and a little shade is very helpful for extending the growing season in the summer.  The seeds usually germinate and emerge in 7-10 days.

So there you have it- the truth about lettuce.  Now what are you waiting for?  September is coming to a close and October is upon us,  I can just taste the homegrown lettuce now.

Raised beds are great for gardening, this one in the front is filled with baby greens.

The One Thing The Food Industry Won't Tell You

Slate’ Criticizes the ‘Home-Cooked Family Dinner’: Joel Salatin Responds

Tags: Joel Salatin, family dinner, home cooking, Slate

Victimhood escalates to stratospheric whining with Amanda Marcotte’s recent Slate post titled Let’s Stop Idealizing the Home-Cooked Family Dinner.

Joel SalatinThe piece concluded more often than not family members (especially the male ones) were ingrates and, generally, home-cooked meals were too stressful, expensive, time-consuming, and utensil-dependent to be worthy of the trouble.

Marcotte’s indictment of what she considers a romanticized cultural icon certainly speaks volumes about where our cultural mainstream food values reside. Indeed, the average American is probably far more interested and knowledgeable about the latest belly-button piercing in Hollywood celebrity culture than what will become flesh of their flesh and bone of their bone at 6 p.m.

In the circles I run in and market to, the home-cooked meal is revered as the ultimate expression of food integrity. The home-cooked meal indicates a reverence for our bodies’ fuel, a respect for biology, and a committed remedial spirit toward all the shenanigans in our industrial, pathogen-laden, nutrient-deficient food-and-farming system.

I would imagine most of the ungrateful males in these families watch TV or see a lot of food ads on their computers. You won’t find integrity food advertised on TV or pop-culture web sites. It’ll be a steady brainwash of junk food, convenience, highly processed food-like materials. That we can physically chew and swallow the stuff does not make it desirable for our bodies.

Further, since when are women the only ones who are supposed to shoulder the burden for integrity food? Why doesn’t Marcotte, rather than whining about unappreciated women, write instead about families who seem to think sports leagues and biggest-screen TVs are more important than health? Who think pharmaceutical companies are responsible for wellness?  Who think no difference exists between factory chickens and pastured chickens?

Here’s the question I would like to ask these families: “Are you spending time or money on anything unnecessary?” Cigarettes, alcohol, coffee, soft drinks, lottery tickets, People Magazine, TV, cell phone, soccer games, potato chips . . . ?  Show me the household devoid of any of these luxuries, then let’s talk. Otherwise, you’re just unwilling to do what’s more important, which is provide for the health of your family and your environment. That’s a personal choice, and one that’s entirely within your control.

I’m amazed at the difficult situations I hear about in which people do indeed rise to the occasion. Whether it’s sprouting mung beans or alfalfa seeds in a quart jar on the windowsill or buying grain by the bushel, resourceful, can-do people committed to changing their situation figure out a way to do it.

For Marcotte to accept irresponsibility this easily underscores a profound courage deficiency. Turn off the TV, get out of the car, get off the phone and get in the kitchen — men, women and children. The most expensive potatoes in the nation are cheaper by the pound than the cheapest potato chips. Ditto healthful ground beef from pastured cattle versus fast-food burgers.  

With slow cookers, indoor plumbing, timed-bake and refrigerators, today’s techno-enabled kitchens allow busy people to cook from scratch and eat with integrity far easier than during Great Grandma’s time. She had to fetch water from the spring, split stove wood, start a fire and churn the butter and she still managed to feed a large family very well. If our generation can’t do at least as well with our 40-hour work week and kitchen tech, then we deserve to eat adulterated pseudo food that sends us to an early grave. I don’t know that anyone’s children deserve this, however.

While extreme hardship does certainly exist — and my heart breaks for impoverished people who truly have no resources — let’s not excuse the other 98 percent from their responsibility on that account. If everyone who could do something would do it, perhaps we would all have enough left over to help the egregious hardship cases. Soccer moms driving their kiddos half a day one way to a tournament, stopping at the drive-by for “chicken” nuggets, and then dismissing the kitchen as “too stressful” is an upside-down value system. And how many of the men whining about not liking what they’re being fed spend their Saturdays on the riding mower managing a monoculture, fertilized ecological-dead-zone of a suburban lawn, rather than using their resources to grow something nutritious for their families and wholesome for the planet? When do we start talking about them? Hmmmmm?

Photo by Richard Lord: Joel Salatin raises pastured poultry and grass-fed beef at Polyface Farms in Swoope, Va.

Read more: http://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/slate-family-dinner-zb0z1409zsie.aspx#ixzz3Ckxhk96M

Swiss Chard- A Power-Packed Beauty In The Garden

swiss chard from the garden

Just two seasons ago I had know idea what to do with Swiss Chard.  But, I bought some because it is so beautiful- and it is pretty enough to be grown for gorgeous foliage all on its own.  But it would be just silly to not harvest and eat those beautiful leaves.

One cup of chopped Swiss chard has just 35 calories and provides more than 300% of the daily value for vitamin K plus it is one of the best sources for magnesium.  Magnesium is an important trace mineral that is missing in most of our diets.  Most soils are depleted of this mineral which is why it is important to purchase organic Chard or grow it yourself.

Growing Chard is very easy.  Plant in spring or fall.  Harvest leaves individually and the plant will keep producing more.  Chard is one plant that can grow in partial shade.  Fertilize with organic fertilizers and compost tea so as to add the trace minerals to the soil thereby enabling the Chard to pick them up and make them available for you.  For more details on growing Chard, click here.

WebMd says this:

Swiss chard is a nutritional powerhouse — an excellent source of vitamins K, A, and C, as well as a good source of magnesium, potassium, iron, and dietary fiber.

 

Here is a little more about the great veggie-

Chard is an annual crop widely grown greens around Mediterranean region and is available at its best during summer season from June until November months.

Chard features distinctly large dark-green leaves with prominent petiole well-developed edible stalk. Generally, its leaves are harvested at various stages of maturity. While the whole plant with its tender young leaves can be harvested for salad preparation, individual large-size, mature leaves with slightly tough texture stem may be picked up for sautéing and cooking in dishes.

Swiss chard comes in variety of types based on their shiny, crunchy stalks and petiole:

 

Health benefits of Swiss chard

Regular inclusion of chard in the diet has been found to prevent osteoporosis, iron-deficiency anemia, and vitamin-A deficiency; and believed to protect from cardiovascular diseases and colon and prostate cancers.

So, now that you know why you should eat this little jewel you may wonder how-

Swiss Chard can be cooked the same way you would spinach- saute in butter, steam, roast, chop and add it to green salads.  The stalks can be chopped and added to soups and broth.

A dish that we love for breakfast, lunch or dinner  is listed below.

Swiss Chard, Mushroom, and bacon Saute with eggs.

1/2 pound of Swiss Chard- about 6 large leaves with stems

6-8 mushrooms of your choice (or more if you like)

1/4 lb of bacon, diced

1 small onion, finely diced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed or pressed

2- tbsp olive oil, if needed

4 eggs

Cut stems from Swiss Chard leaves and chop like you would celery.  Chop leaves and set aside

In large stainless steal or cast iron skillet, brown bacon over medium heat.  When bacon is just turning brown add onion, swiss chard stalks, and mushrooms.  Saute until the onion becomes clear.  If the pan is smoking, reduce heat and add olive oil.

Add the chopped Swiss chard and garlic, saute for 2 minutes or so- until wilted and tender.

Now, make four wells in the cooking mixture and break one egg into each well. If you need more oil, add olive oil.  Let cook for 1-2 minutes for sunny side up, place lid on pan and cook for another minute for “over easy” or leave lid on until the eggs are cooked through if so desired.

Serve and enjoy!  A nice piece of crusty bread goes very well.

swiss chard, mushrooms and eggs

One. Last. Time…

Old Timers around my part of the country refer to what is called “Good Friday Gardens”  because they never put out warm season crops such as tomatoes before Good Friday- the Friday before Easter Sunday.  Here is why- 9 times out of 10 we will get a freeze or at least very close to freezing the week or so before Easter.

As I write this the temperature is falling and we are looking at the mid-thirties overnight.  So long as we stay above freezing the vast majortiy of our plants will be just fine.  Quite a few won’t even care if we dip below freezing.  However; tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, Basil and other such warm season crops do mind very much if we get into the thirties at all.  So, we have been covering what is already planted and wrapping up those items that have already blossomed and are putting on fruit.

sierra in the garden covering squash

The squash plants were covered in plastic pots with plastic staked over the top so this confounded wind doesn’t blow them to kingdom come.

jonathan in the garden covering peach trees

Jonathan is working to stabilize the frame he and Tony built to protect the peach trees.

family covering peach trees

A farm requires a family to pull together.  Covering our crops and praying that the temps hold above freezing.  The white rectangle is covering the tomato patch.

sierra covering tomatoes

Sierra helped me put pots over all the 50 tomato plants and 20 Basil plants.  There are three times as many tomato plants to go out, but those are still safe inside the greenhouse.

tony and J covering peaches

My two favorite men.

peach tree covered

Here is our harvester peach tree all tucked in for the night.  The cold weather won’t kill the tree but we are concerned about damage to the young fruit growing on the little limbs.  We are just to close to the end of all this cold weather to leave it to chance.  We are determined to get a peach this year!

Once this was done, we all trooped inside for hot chocolate and a wonderful meal of sauteed Swiss Chard, mushrooms, bacon and eggs.

swiss chard, mushrooms and eggs

swiss chard from the garden

Swiss Chard is a beautiful crop and one we did not have to cover as it doesn’t mind the cold.

So, here we go just one last time.  Easter comes this Sunday and this winter will just be a memory.

Please Help The Small Farmer- The FDA has a new law that will put many out of business.

What follows below is an overview of the Food Safety Modernization Act- what congress passed left room for the small organic farmer.  The name seems harmless enough and our food should be safe, but there is so much more to it.  In the regulations the FDA is trying to implement All producers, both big and small are being lumped together an will have very expensive regulations saddled on their businesses.  There is a small farm exemption but what constitutes a small farm is very unclear and the FDA is given the authority to revoke a small farms exemption without any proof of a public health concern.  Once the exemption is revoked, the exemption is gone for good.  This huge expense placed on small farms will force many out of business- as stated by the FDA, a fact with which the agency seems to be unconcerned.  Loosing the small organic farmers from your local farmer’s markets will not make your food supply more safe- it will be devastating to your food supply.

In addition to all of this, most of the food contamination cases we have seen in the past have been traced back to the super large industrial farms shipping produce in from foreign countries including Mexico.  These safety regulations will not apply to them.  Therefore, those companies can offer cheap produce and food that is largely unchecked upon entry to our country and our local farmers will have to increase their prices to cover the cost of the regulations and unnecessary testing.  Therefore, the local small farmers will have an even harder time competing.

After reading the overview, please follow the link at the bottom to a site that will allow you to comment directly to the FDA with your concerns.  This site even has letters typed up that you can  copy and paste into the comment section at the FDA’s website.  It will take a bit of your time, but all of us have to stand up for our food supplies and the endangered species called the American small farmer.  Please help.  The comment deadline is November 15th.  We can change the fact that the law is in place at this time, but we can have a voice to make certain that the guidelines adopted are clear and helpful to the small farmers.

What is the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)?

The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is the first major update of federal food safety laws since 1938. FSMA gives the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) broad new powers to prevent food safety problems, detect and respond to food safety issues, and improve the safety of imported foods. FSMA does not change food safety regulations for meat, poultry, and egg products, which are under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s jurisdiction.

FSMA authorizes new regulations at the farm level for producers and certain facilities. Specifically, FSMA mandates the establishment of:

FSMA includes key provisions to make these new regulations scale-appropriate, conservation-friendly, and accessible to certified organic producers and value-added producers. The regulations focus on addressing food safety risks from microbial pathogen contamination (e.g., Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, and Shigella). FSMA does not address food safety risks from genetically engineered crops, pesticide use, or antibiotic resistance.

FDA has released its proposed (draft) Produce Rule and Preventive Controls Rule and is seeking public comments on both! 

Why Does it Matter?

Everyone has a role in ensuring safe food from field to fork. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) includes new regulations of practices on produce farms and in facilities that process food for people to eat. This means it represents some big changes to our food system – and it is extremely important for the Food and Drug Administration to get these regulations right so that they improve food safety without placing an unfair burden on family farms.

The risk of foodborne illness — that is, the risk of getting sick or dying from food contaminated with pathogens like E. coli — is largely preventable by good food safety measures applied at every stage of the food supply chain. Examples of good measures include hand washing and keeping foods at the right temperature. However, it’s not as simple as requiring all farms and facilities to meet identical safety requirements. Depending on the complexity of the supply chain, types of food, and practices implemented from farm to table, different kinds of farms and facilities face different types of risks when it comes to contamination that could cause illness.

With the right approach, we will be able to help ensure good food safety practices across the nation without placing an unfair burden on family farmers.

Ultimately, we want to ensure a safe food supply, strong on-farm conservation of natural resources, and thriving family farms and small value-added farm and food businesses. With regulations and requirements that are tailored to different types and sizes of operations, we can achieve these objectives.

Where Did FSMA Come From?

Due to a rise in major outbreaks of foodborne illnesses and increasing bioterrorism concerns after 9/11, both Congress and the Administration proposed new food safety measures in 2009 that expanded food safety regulations to the farm level. Previously, food safety regulatory oversight was focused mainly on the processing, food handling, and manufacturing sectors – areas shown to be of highest risk for foodborne pathogen contamination.

In 2009 and 2010, Congress debated a number of food safety proposals that directly and indirectly affected farms and on-farm processing. These proposals extended regulatory authorities to farms and made some on-farm safety standards mandatory. Concurrently, the Obama Administration created an inter-agency Food Safety Working Group through which the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture started adopting new food safety standards and oversight.

Given the potential impacts of these new food safety proposals on sustainable food production, NSAC created a task force and engaged in the legislative debate. NSAC’s priority was to make sure that the new food safety measures worked for sustainable and organic farmers, and for consumers who wanted access to fresh, local food. Due to NSAC’s leadership and the actions of thousands of farmers and concerned consumers, the new food safety law that Congress passed and that President Obama signed – the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) – included the following critical provisions:

What Happens Next?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has started the lengthy process of implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). FDA is currently in what is known as the rulemaking stage – meaning they are turning the bill – FSMA – passed by Congress into actual rules and regulations. They have released their proposed (draft) regulations for public comment as part of this process. These proposed regulations show FDA’s thinking on how to implement the provisions in FSMA and are not yet final. Currently, FDA is requesting comments on two proposed regulations:

After FDA has received and reviewed the comments, the agency will prepare to publish final rules (with rules as big as these, the agency might opt to release another draft set of rules before finalizing them). All of the positive provisions listed above that Congress passed as part of FSMA must make it into the final rules published by FDA to become part of the new regulations.

NSAC is carefully analyzing the proposed rules to ensure this happens, and we need your help – it is critical for sustainable farmers and consumers who care about where their food comes from to write comments to FDA about the proposed regulations to ensure that FDA correctly implements FSMA! Check out the links below to learn more about the two rules – and then submit your own comments to FDA!

 

Click HERE for the page to enable you to leave your comment with the FDA.  There is a button for producers and a button for consumers.

Thank you for you time.

Just another note- the FDA that is charged with inspection, regulation, and enforcing the exemption rule is staffed with many big Monsanto boys appointed by the President- going back several terms.  Is it any wonder that this act is damaging to small farmers?  Monsanto has been suing and bulling small farmers for years and putting them out of business.

Basil- For A Moment More & How To Make An Herbal Vinegar

As I left out on my morning run, for the first time this year I wore a hooded sweatshirt over my t-shirt and wind-pants with a cap on my head.  For us here in East Texas, that is just almost cold.  I could see my breath but there was no frost on the ground, just a heavy dew.  Oh, but how brilliantly the dew shone in the early morning sun with the reds and golds of the leaves finally beginning to show.  I was not the only one feeling invigorated by this Autumn morning, as I ran by the field across from our place, the resident horse came galloping up to the fence and ran along with me until she ran out of field.  Some days, it is an effort to choose to run but not today.

purple basil and kale

One thing the morning did tell me was that basil and it’s other hot weather friends are not long for this world.  So, in preparation for the influx of herbs & peppers that are about to line my drying racks and the hall (I have to make use of the space I have so I have fishing line strung down the hall to hang herbs on) I am getting the jars and vinegar’s ready to go.  Making herbal vinegar is an easy process, they make wonderful gifts and they add so much to your kitchen prowess.  A pork loin marinated in basil vinegar tastes like something from a five star restaurant.

purple basil and vinegar

For the most part, which herb you use and which vinegar to use are completely up to you and your taste buds.  A good place to start is with white wine vinegar and basil.  This will make a wonderful vinaigrette or marinade.  If you have purple basil, you will have the most beautiful purple/pink vinegar you ever laid your eyes on as seen in the above picture.  The purple basil is Dark Opal and the green is Sweet Genovese- both of these are the standard type basil flavor with which you would make pesto or spaghetti sauce.  Health food stores will generally have better prices on large quantities of vinegar in its various forms.

The recipe below calls for chives, if you don’t have any you can leave that off.  If you have not been growing herbs long enough to have this much material to cut from, you can purchase fresh herbs at your local farmer’s market.  Remember, any flavors you like together will go together in the vinegar such as rosemary and garlic, oregano, basil, and sun/oven roasted tomatoes.  While learning the way, start with small batches this way if it tastes bad, you didn’t lose much.  However, every mistake is a lesson learned and experience is the best teacher.

For sterilizing your jars, wash them with hot soapy water, rinse and dry in a 225′ oven for 15 minutes or use a dishwasher.

 

Basil, Chive, & Lemon Vinegar

Zest of ½ lemon

5 Basil Leaves

10 stalks of chives

1 cup white vinegar ( any type such as rice or wine)

 

Zest lemon, crush or chop basil and chives, place in a clean dry jar.  Pour vinegar in and cap- vinegar should cover all the herbs completely add more if needed. After 24 hours add more vinegar if the herbs have soaked up the vinegar.  Vinegar is ready to go after 24 hours, but the flavor will develop the longer it sits so 10 -14 days is fine too.  Strain herbs out and compost them.  Store  vinegar in a cool dark place, it will keep indefinitely.

Making these things at home is a safe activity- it has been being done since ancient times.  Use good sense, clean and dry utensils and jars- moisture is your enemy- and all will be well.  Remember- if it is growing funny things, bubbling like it is boiling but there is no heat or it smells raunchy- throw it out.  Please consult your county extension office if you would like more detailed information on canning.

herbal vinegars

 

The choices are endless, just make certain that you label and date all your creations at the time to place them in the jars.  Trust me, you won’t be able to remember it later!

How To Make Herbal Tea

lemon sage tea on wood

Cool weather makes one want a nice cup of hot tea, and an herbal tea will not only warm the soul but it will boost your immune system as well.

To Make A Tea:

Place one teaspoon of dried herbs in a  tea bag, a tea egg, or loose in a cup and pour hot water over the herb, cover and let steep for five minutes.  Remove bag or egg if using.  Sweeten with honey & add a shot of fresh lemon juice, if desired.

Enjoy!

Yes, teas are that simple.  By covering the tea while it steeps, you are keeping the essential oils in the tea.  Otherwise, the essential oils can evaporate into the air along with the steam.  Also, you can substitute a tablespoon of fresh herbs for the dried herbs.  You can also add herbs such as lemon balm and mint to any green or black tea while it steeps.  This not only adds flavor that is just scrumptious, but it adds lots of health benefits, too.  Such a boosting the immune system, relieving stress, calming the nerves, and calming the digestive tract.

Another tip to improve the flavor of you tea, is to heat the water just till the boiling point.  Then remove the water from heat and pour over the tea.  By doing so, the water will contain more oxygen and this leads to a less bitter tea.

A great combination for a tea to boost the immune system and brighten your mood, is lemon verbena, lemon balm, pineapple sage, and sage.  I blend this tea and sell it at our farmer’s market.  It tastes great and makes the body feel good.

Herbs are easy to grow and easy to use, every one should be growing some.  Even if all you have room for is a pot of mint on a window sill, you will benefit from it.

Herbs Make The Difference!

lemon sage tea with window shadow

Off To Whispering Pines (the butcher)

Today was the day!  We have been looking forward to this for months.  Effie the Pig and the heifer ( and I mean that in EVERY sense of the word) went to Whispering Pines today.  Shortly, we will have a freezer full of good clean meat.  Meat having been raised on love, clean water, lots of grass and in the case of Effie, lots of kitchen scraps and melons too far gone for us to eat.

I am often asked, “How can you eat your animals, animals that you know?”  Well, I must admit that sometimes it is hard.  Francis Bacon was a pig that I loved.  I patted him as we unloaded him and told him thank you.  Effie, she was another story and pig all together.  You see, some animals push your buttons and make life miserable.  As you chase those animals around the farm, through your gardens, and out of the sheds – you find yourself thinking, ” I can’t wait to eat you!” Really, some animals are so determined to upend  a farm’s balance and happiness that you even have ideas of just getting the shotgun and having roast pig luau style.  I keep using pigs as an example and that should tell you something.  Effie was one of those animals that was made for pulled pork sandwiches. So when she got out of the trailer, with much ado and drama I must say, I was like “Good riddance and don’t let the screen door hit you in the behind on the way out.”  Very kind and loving, I know.  But until you have chased a pig in  Texas summer heat not once but three times in 5 days- don’t judge me.

In all honesty, I do take this seriously.  The fact is that it takes life to sustain life.  I am grateful to the animals that feed my family.  I show them this by providing shelter, good food and clean water and plenty of kindness.  They lead a joyous life, even if their joy is derived from causing me to cuss a blue streak, until the day they die and they never saw it coming.  Most humans can’t say that about their own lives.  Everyone has a job and purpose in life, farm animals are no different.

Most folks have problems with knowing the animals that they eat because in their minds they only have two files- Pet & Wildlife.  The reality is that there are three files- Pet, Wildlife, and Food.  All of our animals are stewarded as best we know how and treated humanly every step of the way.  Some are destined to a long life as a breeder (which are sometimes considered pets and sometimes considered family members) and some will have a much shorter life and are destined for the freezer.

The butcher we use is very important to us.  When you have taken the time to raise your own meat and treat the livestock in a certain manner, you want to know that they are handled humanly in the end.  We do not have the resources to process the large animals we raise so we take them to Whispering Pines.  This is a Mennonite community that are committed to peace.  You might not agree with their philosophy, but that peace and calmness permeate the place and even the animals feel it.  Cattle are very jumpy critters when stressed and will cause quite a ruckus.  Every time we have taken our cattle in, they have trotted onto the scales and then right on out to the holding pen with 5 or 6 other steers just standing there like everyone took a large dose of Valium before they arrived.  This is a wonderful bunch of folks and they make certain that you get the meat from the animal that you brought in to the shop.  It makes it so much easier to leave you animals when you can do business with people like these.

So, the circle of life goes on and I am looking forward to getting the lard from our pig.  I have never requested the lard before so this will be a new experience.  I hear tell that baked goods made with lard and just addictive they are so good.  We shall see!

Jonathan making pork chopsFried Pork Chops- a Southern Love.  Can’t wait for Jonathan to cook us up some more!

 

For the love of Salsa!

This is a post from the archives, but Cheyenne made a batch of salsa yesterday and she just nailed it.  That Salsa is so good, it needed to be shared again!

 

Me & Cheyenne (drinking bubbly apple juice)
Cheyenne and I share a lot of things.  For instance, neither one of us can hide our feelings very well, what we think is telegraphed on our faces, we love taking care of our animals, we are strong willed, and we love babies.  Also, we share a love of really good Salsa.  Mexican food makes us happy and we like a little heat.  She is her mother’s daughter, with just enough of her daddy mixed in to mellow her out in a nice way.
She has been making some noise about needing to make salsa with our bountiful harvest of tomatoes.  Apparently, Cheyenne has not thought that using the tomatoes to make tomato sauce was a very wise use of those beautiful ‘maters.  A love of spaghetti is not something we share.  So, I surfed the internet for a recipe and found one that was simple and looked promising. And yesterday we got busy over some tomatoes, hot peppers, and cilantro.
The recipe was simple and we followed it up until we tasted the salsa, then we went to tinkering.  Cheyenne is really good about making notes as she improvises so we were able to recreate the same flavor this morning, as we already needed more.
Below is the recipe- our rendition, not the one from the internet.  Before putting everything in the food processor, we cored the tomatoes and scored the other ends and dropped them into boiling water for about a minute.  The tomatoes are in the boiling water just long enough for the skin to start to curl.  Then the peeling just slips off, chop the tomatoes roughly and toss in the processor.  The longer you run the food processor the finer the salsa, so if you like chunky then just pulse a few times.  Also, for thicker salsa use paste tomatoes such as roma or Illini Gold.
Cheyenne’s Fresh Salsa
2-3 medium tomatoes, stems and peelings removed (see above)
½  onion coarsely chopped
2- fish peppers seeds removed- unless you want to up the heat then leave the seeds in. (if you don’t have fish peppers, jalapeno or any other hot pepper will work.
Juice of one lime
1 cup cilantro
1 tsp salt (adjust to taste)
½ tsp of cumin
Put tomatoes, peppers & onions in food processor and pulse for about 2 minutes.  Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse till you are happy with the consistency.  Taste- if too hot add more tomatoes, if not hot enough, add more peppers.
Let set in the refrigerator for one hour to let the flavors blend- if you can wait that long, we just eat right out of the blender bowl.
ENJOY!

Grasshoppers & NOLO Bait

A nasty little beast eating the Kale

A nasty little beast eating the Kale

I once read in a gardening book that grasshoppers are usually present but don’t do much in the way of damage.  I thought, “You have got to be kidding!  There is a place on earth where grasshoppers don’t do damage?!”  If there is a place- it is certainly not in Texas.  Here, grasshoppers give a very living example of the plague that Moses sent on the Egyptians.  The grasshopper will eat any vegetation in site and leave nothing but skeletal stalks behind.  And once the grasshopper has matured, poisons will not kill them.

So what to do?  I have found NOLO Bait to be very effective.  NOLO Bait is bran flakes coated in Nosema locustae- a microbial agent that infects only grasshoppers and either kills them or makes them too sick to eat.  This is awesome! Then, the healthy grasshoppers move in and eat the sick ones (grasshoppers are cannibalistic) and then they get sick further spreading the disease.  All the while, no other good bug or bee or humming bird is bothered by this illness.

So how is this accomplished, exactly?

From the website: http://www.goodbug.com/nolobait.html#HowWork

How exactly does Nolo Bait™ work?

Once the Paranosema (Nosema) locustae spores are ingested by the grasshopper they become activated in the grasshopper’s mid-gut. The spores germinate or extrude a filament from the cell wall. In the process of extruding this filament, the spores pierce the mid-gut wall of the grasshopper and in very young grasshoppers death usually occurs very quickly. This is due to septicemia or bacteria invading the grasshopper and causing death. In more mature grasshoppers the spores continue to reproduce, utilizing the fat body of the grasshopper for energy. As the Paranosema (Nosema) locustae population increases inside the grasshopper it becomes lethargic, reduces its feeding and has lowered reproduction capability. In addition, grasshoppers are quite cannibalistic and healthy grasshoppers will feed on their slow, sickly companions. This enables the Paranosema (Nosema) locustae to spread throughout the population and infect other grasshoppers that migrate into the area. Infected female grasshoppers can also pass the infection along in the sticky substance that surrounds the egg pods. As the newly hatching grasshoppers chew their way out of the egg pod they also become infected and will mostly likely die before reaching the first molt.

The grasshoppers love the bran- it’s like crack cocaine for them.  Once you spread the bait out on your plants you will see them feeding heavily.  You will also see a lot of damage in that area to the plants at first.  The picture above is the first area I spread the bait this year and the grasshoppers have fed there the most.  I am now starting to see some damage and more grasshoppers but this bed is just about done, here in Texas is is now hot and the kale is turning bitter so I am leaving it for the grasshoppers to feed on knowing that the sick ones are there and any new comers will eat the sick ones and then spread the disease.  When you garden organically you have to get used to the idea that it is a process, one that takes time to turn the tide.  This is the first year for us at this new place so I may have some problems with grasshoppers, but by being patient I can kill them at the root of the problem while not harming our bees, birds, or other good bugs.

It is best to spread NOLO Bait at the first sign of grasshoppers- when the are about 1/2 inch to an inch long.  At this stage the grasshoppers will be killed by the infection.  However, if you feed it when they are larger you will still infect the population with the disease that will continue to spread for several years.  As you can see, if you start using this bait and your neighbors start using this bait and you put it out 2-3 times per season, you can really do some damage to the populations of grasshoppers in your area- for the long term.  Spraying poisons just kills what grasshoppers are there (if it kills them at all) but does nothing to stop the cycle of the grasshopper.  The use of broad spectrum poisons is a bad process and not an effective management tool.

Kale and grasshoppersThis bed of Kale looks like an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet to the new arrivals, but it is like a loaded gun.  “Come and eat my pretties” it says, but all the while death awaits.  I may seem a bit dark in the way I enjoy death and destruction of the grasshoppers- but once you have watched your gardens be invaded and every leaf stripped bare you realize its you or them.  Nature is a tough place to live.

Add NOLO bait to your arsenal this year, you will be glad you did in the long run. NOLO Bait can be ordered on line or purchased at a feed store or garden center that carries organic gardening supplies.

What is your biggest problem in your gardens?