Saturday, March 30, 2013

Farm Update:

 Farm Update: 

"It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade."
-Charles Dickens

 The sun is out, the snow is almost all melted, the soil has turned to a boot-sucking mud, and spring is here. A few days ago, the ground thawed enough for us to finally put out our poultry netting. We went for a solar-powered energizer and a moveable electric poultry netting from Premier 1

Priscilla definitely has the Cock-a-doodle-do part down. Aint he pretty?

 The electric netting creates a shock that deters predators (and Ender with a surprised yip and jump) and keeps the chickens safely contained. Much like step-in posts, this fence lets us move their pasture to let them feast on taller, greener pastures. No longer is the grass greener on the other side of the fence!

But most of all, we were excited about the solar energizer. Ours is enough to power 3 of these fences, and will be enough for these chickens and our pig pasture. While we are probably going to keep a back-up energizer on hand, we went with solar to increase the sustainability of our farm enterprises.

Though our just-thawed pastures aren't exactly green...
After coxing Worf and Priscilla outside, with a few of their hen-groupies in tow, the chickens poured outside to scratch at the sprouting grass, bugs and scattered scratch grains. Worf almost immediately laid down and stretched out one of his wings, ruffling his feathers and basking in the sunshine. 

As for farm projects, we recently added 4 more nest boxes, made from 5 gallon buckets and pallet wood and a dowel for one of the roosts. With more nest boxes we can decrease the amount of feather pulling and overcrowding from all the hens who want the prime real estate.

We've been tinkering in the garage with some projects for the Farmer's Market, including our sign, and doing some much needed shopping. That's right, soon we'll be seeing more livestock at The Shire! At the end of April we're expecting our first batch of broiler chickens. Besides chickens, we've started shopping around for some piglets, we expect them to arrive on the farm early May!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Our New Tractor!

Our New Tractor!

Well it's a little old ... every bit of 70 years old, wow!  

This is a Ford 9N tractor manufactured in the late 1930's.  It is a bit of a historical relic and a testament to American ingenuity and manufacturing capabilities.  This tractor was originally built in Dearborn, Michigan.  

This is certainly a unorthodox choice of tractor for most modern farmers. But of course, we aren't exactly traditional.

We passed and visited more than a few tractor dealers while shopping for our tractors, and saw a lot of shiny new Kubotas, New Hollands, and John Deeres. We do not rely on the tractor to plow hundreds or thousands of acres.  We also do not require mechanical assistance to fight bugs and pests by spraying... we do that ourselves and by encouraging beneficial insects and healthy growing conditions.  And most importantly, we do not require much mechanical assistance to harvest our crops. 

This little guy will take care of everything we need.  It has a 3 point hitch which we can attach any number of implements to help us around the farm.
Most important this time of year will be a Moldboard plow, which is used to turn over the ground where we will  have the garden.  It also could pull a disc or other type of harrow.  These tools are used to break up the turned over soil to create a seed bed, and also to help maintain and reseed pastures. 

It also has enough horsepower ~23hp to do any hauling tasks like dragging lumber from Mirkwood or uprooting an unwanted trees or stumps, especially if we add some weights to counterbalance.

Most importantly using an older tractor helps us maintain a financial equilibrium that is for any farmer difficult to maintain.  

A modern tractor manufactured in the last 10 years with similar size and capabilities could easily run $10,000-$20,000.  With this equation, if this tractor broke down we could actually buy 5-10 identical replacements before we would equal the cost of a modern, but still used, tractor.  

Ok, I was wrong, really the most important thing is I just think they are cool looking, reliable, little tractors!

-Farmer Fahler

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Today is the First Day of Spring

Today is the first day of Spring, though you wouldn't know it. 

It's been cold, windy, snowy and blustery the past few days, and bound to be so the next few days. But we can feel spring waiting on the other side of this storm. Last week, most of the accumulated snow and ice from winter had melted away, leaving giant puddles and a stream of snow melt running across the frozen ground. 

The previous thaw, which created a river of snow melt running across our property into the woods,
which we like to call Mirkwood.  

By the barn and chicken coop, grass and weeds started to sprout and show fragile green seedlings reaching for sunlight. Robins and Cardinals, like drops of blood against the snow, have been appearing. Flitting around the orchard and birdhouses, perching across the road with our resident crows and hawk. And driving Katniss crazy, of course. 

Our neighbors cut-down corn field, to the west of us.
Farmer Donnie discovered that we're down the street from an Amish school, which we is why we see their buggies so often. Turns out it's young Amish children, driving themselves to school and back. Their wooden wheels skitter and bounce across the frozen dirt road, the neon caution lights on the back of their buggies gleam in the dark before sunrise. 

Spring is right around the corner. We ordered our first batch of Cornish Cross broiler chickens this week, they'll be arriving around mid-April, and next month we'll be piglet shopping!

-Farmer Figgins

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Seed Starting

Seed Starting DIY

As we transition to Spring here at The Shire, we can finally start seeds indoors. Last week we seeded a few flats of onions, leeks, and green onions. Soon we'll be starting kohlrabi, cabbage, kale, swiss chard, lettuce, and spinach.

I've tried starting seeds with other methods, but I've found that making seed blocks removes the need to use plastic pots for most of your seed starting needs. Excepting things that spend a longer time indoors, like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant of course. But for most of the crops gardeners start inside to get a head start on their season won't outgrow their seed block before you transplant them. The key is to thoroughly wet your growing medium, compress the soil to create firm blocks that will hold their space, and water lightly and evenly to keep the blocks intact. 

Here's a simple DIY guide to starting your own seeds indoors.

You'll need:

-11"x22" seeding flats
-preferred seed starting soil medium
-Johnny Seeds 4" Seed Blocker 
-A tub to mix soil and water in
-Light (natural light in a greenhouse, or growing lights with florescent or natural lightbulbs)
-Duct Tape
-Black Sharpe marker

For starting seeds indoors, I like to use a seed blocker from You can usually get it for $25.00, and its worth the investment, considering it eliminates most of the costs for pots and containers.

The 4 Soil Bocker makes 2" square blocks

Soil blocks are compressed soil made into blocks with holes for the seeds.

Fill your soil blocker with your preferred seed starting medium, wet thoroughly first.

Compress and fill again a few times, usually two or three times.

Fill a 11"x22" plastic growing flat with your soil blocks. This will give you 50 soil blocks per flat.

The blocks should be pretty solid, like 2"x2" brownies. Fill the holes with your seeds, and cover with some wet soil.
We like to seed every hole with 2-3 seeds, after the old adage "One for the bird, one for the bug, one for the farmer." 

For an easy way to keep track, label your flats. On a roll of duct tape, write the plant type, variety, and seeding date. Tear this off and attach to the corresponding flat, on its side. If you're doing multiple varieties or crops per flat, you can write this info on Popsicle sticks and place where that variety starts. 

Place these flats under your desired light source, and keep moist and above the recommended temperature for the specific seeds you are starting.

Wait and watch, and soon you'll see some sprouting seedlings! 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Happy Pi Day! Celebrate with Our All-Time Favorite Apple Pie

Happy Pi Day! Celebrate with our All-Time Favorite Apple Pie!

March 14 is Pi Day, the official celebration of the mathematical constant π (pi), the number that represents the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. It's a geek's holiday, and one I was extremely ecstatic to find out about this morning, when I was planning on making this pie later today anyway! 

You can celebrate Pi day by making and/or consuming pie, or by watching Pi or Life of Pi and maybe Waitress too. What? It has pie in it! That counts, right?

Dutch Sour Cream Apple Pie with a Streusel Topping:

We have a few fruit trees left to us from the farm's previous owners,  but when we moved it was too far into the fall for us to identify what types of fruit trees they are. As spring comes we're excited to identify what types of fruit trees and what varieties to expect, and hopefully bring with us to the Farmer's Market with us! Our fingers are crossed for some Granny Smith Apples for our all-time favorite apple pie. 

Best Pastry Shell 

I've tried a fair amount of pie shells in my day: butter, cornmeal, shortening, graham cracker, oreo, you get the idea. But for your basic, flaky pie crust that's not too hard and not too soggy, I always find my way back to this shortening-based pie shell recipe. 

-1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
-3/4 cup vegetable shortening
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-1 large egg
-1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
-2 1/2 tablespoons whole milk

1. With a pastry blender or a fork, combine flour, shortening and salt until mixture resembles coarse meal. 

2. In small bowl, mix egg, vinegar and milk; add to flour mixture, mixing only until dough holds together in a ball. If the dough is too sticky, as in sticking to the sides of the bowls and shaggy looking, add more flour, 1/4 cup at a time. If its too dry and not coming together, add more milk, a tablespoon at a time. 

3. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

4. Let warm up a bit, then roll out, transfer to a pie dish and prepare the pie shell. 

Dutch Sour Cream Apple Pie:

-1 9-inch Pastry Shell
-1 cup sour cream
-1 large egg, lightly beaten
-2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
-3/4 cup sugar
-1/8 teaspoon salt
-1/4 cup all-purpose flour
-6-8 cups peeled, cored, and thinly sliced Granny Smith apples 

1. Prepare the pastry shell and set aside. 

2. Preheat oven to 425. Place a lined cookie sheet on a rack below the pie's rack, this pie is prone to overflow.

3. Peel and core your apples, 8 apples is usually enough. This pie works well with smaller filling (6 cups, like the one pictured) or overstuffed with 8 cups of gooey sugary apple bits.

 To speed up the coring and slicing we like to use a hand slicer. Thinly slice these apple slices and set aside in a large bowl.

4. In a medium bowl, mix the sour cream, egg, vanilla, sugar, salt and flour, stirring until well blended. 

5. Stir this mixture into your apple slices, mixing thoroughly. Transfer to your prepared pie shell. 

6. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. 

7. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake an additional 30 minutes.

Meanwhile...Make your Streusel Topping: 

Streusel Topping:

-1/3 cup all-purpose flour
-1/4 cup sugar
-1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
-2 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
-6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces

1. Combine all topping ingredients, blending with a fork or pastry blender until it resembles coarse meal. 

2. After the pie has been in the oven for 40 minutes, take it out and put the streusel topping over the pie. It should be lightly browned on the crust and apple tips at this point.

Starting to set and browning on the edges.

3. Stick the pie back in the oven at 350 degrees for another 15-20 minutes. 

4. Pull out and let cool for 10-15 minutes, then enjoy!

*To make the pi, roll out extra pastry shell, cut three rectangles and arrange on a cookie sheet. Bake on a  at 350 degrees until golden. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Beets are deadly serious

Beets are deadly serious...

"The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.

Slavic peoples get their physical characteristics from potatoes, their smoldering inquietude from radishes, their seriousness from beets. 

The beet is the melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer. You can't squeeze blood out of a turnip...

The beet is the murderer returned to the scene of the crime. The beet is what happens when the cherry finished with the carrot. The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon-boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kite string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies.

The beet was Rasputin's favorite vegetable. You could see it in his eyes.

In Europe there is grown widely a large beet they call the mangel-wurzel. Perhaps it is mangel-wurzel that we see in Rasputin. Certainly there is mangel-wurzel is the music of Wagner, although it is another composer whose name begins, B-e-e-t------. 

Of course, there are white beets, beets that ooze sugar water instead of blood, but it is the red beet with which we are concerned; the variety that blushes and swells like a hemorrhoid, a hemorrhoid for chich there is no cure. (Actually, there is one remedy: commission a potter to make you a ceramic asshole-and then you aren't sitting on it, you can use it as a bowl for borsht.)

An old Ukranian proverb warns, 'A tale that begins with a beet will end with the devil.'

This is a risk we have to take."

-Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Butternut Squash Pie Recipe

Butternut Squash Pie Recipe

Winter squash and pumpkin can, for the most part, be used interchangeably in pies. Which is not to say that they don't have their differences. Winter squash makes a drier pie, it has more of a pale-orange color, and a milder flavor than pumpkin pie. Both go well with your traditional pumpkin pie spices, but this one uses Chinese five-spice powder, a similar mixture but with ground star anise added. Best served slightly warm, this pie offers a warm and festive note to many a cold winter night. 

Best Pastry Shell 

I've tried a fair amount of pie shells in my day: butter, cornmeal, shortening, graham cracker, oreo, you get the idea. But for your basic, flaky pie crust that's not too hard and not too soggy, I always find my way back to this shortening-based pie shell recipe. 

-1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
-3/4 cup vegetable shortening
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-1 large egg
-1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
-2 1/2 tablespoons whole milk

1. With a pastry blender or a fork, combine flour, shortening and salt until mixture resembles coarse meal. 

2. In small bowl, mix egg, vinegar and milk; add to flour mixture, mixing only until dough holds together in a ball. If the dough is too sticky, as in sticking to the sides of the bowls and shaggy looking, add more flour, 1/4 cup at a time. If its too dry and not coming together, add more milk, a tablespoon at a time. 

3. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Butternut Squash Pie

-1 large butternut squash 
-1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
-3 large eggs, at room temperature
-3/4 cup light cream or half and half, at room temperature
-3 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
-1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 

2. Cut off a little of the stem end of the squash and halve it lengthwise. Scoop the seeds out of the cavity. Place the squash flat side down on in a large, shallow oiled casserole and add just enough water to cover the bottom.

3. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake for 50 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until tender, bordering on mushy, about 10 minutes. This would be a good time to prepare and refrigerate your pastry shell. Transfer the squash to a plate and let cool. 

4. Roll out your pastry shell on a floured surface, turn over onto lightly buttered pie plate. Trim to a 1 inch over the rim of the pie tin. Sculpt the edge with your preferred method, I like the fluted pinched edge personally. 

5. Place in the freezer for 15 minutes. 

6. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

7. To bake, prick all over with a fork. Bake at 400 degrees for 11 minutes or until lightly golden brown. 

8. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. 

9. When the squash is cool enough to handle, scoop out 1 3/4 cups firmly packed flesh out of the skin and mash with a pastry blender, fork, masher, or food processor. Add the brown sugar, the eggs, light cream, five-spice powder, salt, flour, and vanilla and mix. Slowly pour the filling into the cooled pie shell. 

Warning: Do not be tempted, as I was, to overfill your pie shell and use all the filling. Though I still argue it was worth it-Farmer Figgins

10. Place the pie on the center oven rack and bake for about 50 minutes, rotate it at 25 minutes 180 degrees, so hat the part that faced the back of the oven now faces forward. When the outer rim of the pie is risen and puffy, and a toothpick comes out clean, your filling is set and you can pull the pie out and let cool. You've baked it too long if the outer rim gets large cracks in it.

11. Let cool and serve slightly warm or at room temperature. Or cover with loosely tented aluminum foil, refrigerate, and serve cold. Top with whip cream. 

Fresh Whipped Cream

-1 cup heavy or whipping cream
-2-3 tablespoons confectioner's/powdered sugar, or granulated sugar, to your taste
-(optional)-a few drops of vanilla

1. Tip: to make whip cream faster, chill your beaters and a medium sized bowl in the fridge for 15 minutes before making.

2. When you're ready to make whip cream, pour the cream into the chilled bowl and beat on medium speed until the cream starts to thicken. Increase the speed and beat until the cream starts to hold soft peaks. Add the sugar and continue to beat until it is stiff but not grainy. If the peaks turn into clumps, you've beat it too much! 

3. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until use and after. To use later on, beat for 15 seconds and then add to pie. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Identifying our Mystery Chicken

We have been chicken raisers now for 3 months, wow that was quick.  Here at The Shire, things are starting to show the first signs of spring, temperatures are rising, snow is melting, days are getting longer and seeds are getting started inside.  Our chicks have quickly grown into chickens and we are hoping for eggs next month.

If you have been following along on facebook you know there has been one chicken that has been a constant mystery for us.  Today we are going to take a picture-journey from chick to chicken, and share a surprise cock-o-doodle-do ending.

Our chicks a few days after arrival
Our Mystery Chicken at about a month old. 
We thought this was a silver laced wyandotte hen
based on the coloring.

Mystery Chicken standing with Worf, our rooster, who clearly was a rooster by 6 weeks old.  Worf was easy and obvious with red wattle and single comb. We had doubts about Mystery Chicken being a silver laced wyandotte, because of it's brown feathers, but what else could it be?

But at 8 weeks, we could see it wasn't exactly a Wyandotte, maybe part falcon?

Well now, what is this? Are those blue and green feathers in your tail, that must make you an Ameraucana, as they are our only chicken breed with blue green feathering.

But Pikachu here, now she's definitely an Ameraucana hen and she looks nothing like Mystery Chicken. And her comb is much smaller than Mystery Chicken's...
Could it be just the perfect disguise, a rooster disguised as a hen?
But where is the large comb? The wattles? I mean, Worf, now there's a rooster. But wait, aren't Ameraucana's are supposed to have Pea Combs, Worf has a single comb...OMG. Worf's an alien.

My, what a colorful rooster tail you have Mystery Chicken...


Who me, did I cock-o-doodle-do at you?   That's right, listen to me do it a few more times. Me and the rooster down the road are having a competition for the loudest.  

 So, maybe be have more than 1 rooster. And maybe our for-sure-rooster, Worf, is a some kind of cross which gave him the single comb. And though our Mystery Bird, which Farmer Figgins has taken to calling Priscilla, Drag Queen of the Coop,  looks like a combination of 4 breeds, she is in fact a he, and he is an Ameraucana, the mutt of the chicken world.

So, any name suggestions for our colorful rooster? 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Kale Chips Recipe

In the spirit of the nearing spring, here's another cold-season crop recipe. Yes, more kale! The hardiest and toughest of greens, Kale chips is my go-to when i'm feeling a craving for potato chips and something salty. Simply tear kale leaves into bite-sized bits, toss in olive oil and sprinkle with salt, and roast until crispy and golden and they smell like popcorn and taste like nutty chips, crunching and shattering in your month.

Kale Chips

-1 bunch of kale
-olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. To make chips, wash your kale leaves and then pat or air dry. You want them to be dry or they won't crisp up. 

3. Tear or cut kale leaves away from the tough main stem of the leaf, then tear these into bite-sized pieces

Ready to roast!
4. Toss in some canola or olive oil, spread on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt *

5. Roast at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes, until crispy and starting to turn brown on the edges, but not too dark. Serve immediately or cool completely and store in an airtight container until ready to serve. If it still has a chewiness to it, roast them a little longer.

*Check this article for 10 other great flavor options for kale chips!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Farm Update: Spring is near!

Spring is near! 

The days are getting longer and sun is making more of an appearance in our days, and soon we will be able to start seeds! Fortunately for us, one of the rooms in the barn is insulated, and by repurposing some tables around the farm, upcycling some pallets into seeding shelves, adding some grow lights, soapy water and a lot of scrubbing, we made a workable seed starting room. Now if only spring would hurry up and come!

Some seed starting shelves Donnie made out of pallets

By starting seeds indoors, farmers can transplant their crops into the field as soon as temperatures are suitable outside, shaving weeks to months off the growing time left. By starting seeds indoors, we can extend the harvest season and harvest our crops sooner, extending the length of the CSA share season!

Our first batch to be seeded are your cold season vegetable crops: onions, leeks, green onions, and cabbage first, then kale, kohlrabi, swiss chard, lettuce, spinach, and arugula later this month.

All in all, we spent less than $100 on the "grow room," not counting the soil needed. And there's plenty of room for more shelves and lights, with room for us to expand how much we can start indoors. Not bad!