Two brothers (farmers) in Central New York state are going to try to survive the year eating only food that they produce, forage or hunt. It’s an interesting experiment and one that you can follow on their blog. They have allowed themselves some exceptions:
- “Salt and pepper are allowed.
- Vitamins and seaweed are allowed.
- Barter is allowed, particularly if the item we’re trading for is produced by the other barterer.
- Gifts of food, so long as the giver grew them him/herself, are allowed.
- Seasoning added by the butcher to meat we raised e.g. bacon and ham, is allowed.
- Cider (mostly hard) made from apples we picked at a nearby farm is allowed. We paid for the apples as it was a u-pick operation. The wild apple crop in 2014 was very poor, so we made an exception about purchasing food for those apples. Plus, we still put in all the labor gathering them and Garth did all the labor fermenting the cider.
- (They will quit) if (they) lose 15% of (their) starting body weight.”
The last caveat is interesting and might be a bit conservative although from the photos on their website they seem to be pretty lean to start with. However, I will note from my own personal experience that when I experimented with a radical diet (raw food) for a full year I lost 37 lbs (thought gained back about 20 for a net loss of more than 15).
These guys are going to blog about it, of course, and it should be interesting. If you want to follow their progress (or lack of it) you can sign up with blog trotter and you’ll get an email when they make new posts.
With a farm, the ability to barter and an omnivore’s diet they should succeed. After all, it’s been done before by generations of people who lived on self-sufficiency farms. In our day and age, it’s quite radical.
I’ve had very poor luck (but a good experience) trying to be a beekeeper. In three seasons I bought three packages of bees, caught two swarms and once got two hives through the winter. In the end, I lost them all for various reasons (weak hive, inadequate population, yellow jacket attack, robbing, poor management).
After year three I made a decision to not buy any more bees but to catch a swarm if one were within my grasp. It’s nice to have bees around the place. Even my deeply insensitive nature can feel the uplift when honeybees are present and working diligently to support their hive.
Like most activities in life there exists the conventional wisdom and the alternative. For reasons I’ve tried to explain before on this blog I gravitate toward the alternative particularly in areas like politics, economics, medicine and, in this case, beekeeping.
The conventional beekeeper keeps bees in a box with preformed frames, doses them with meds and attempt to interfere with natural processes like swarming. The aim of the conventional beekeeper to maximize honey output. The typical beekeeper manages the bees for the beekeeper’s benefit. The alternative approach is to use a top bar or Warre hive and try to create a natural environment, leaving the bees alone as much as possible, letting them build their own comb as they see fit, feeding them (when necessary) honey instead of corn fructose syrup and eschewing pharmaceuticals. Like any subject, it’s very complicated with arguments at every level.
Jacqueline Freeman is a leader of the natural beekeeping movement and lives in SW Washington. She just published an interesting and readable book called The Song of Increase about her conversation with the bees. I know that Jacqueline is the real deal and one can verify this for themselves by watching her part in the famous bee movie Queen of the Sun or in various Youtubes like this one:
And, full disclosure, though I’ve not met her personally, Jacqueline has been kind enough to respond to emails questions I have sent her. The Song of Increase may not be for everyone. When a person claims to be in communication with the bees, that they, if fact talk to her in enough detail that their communication can be transcribed in voluminous enough quantity to make up supplementary chapters of a book, most will roll their eyes. I personally have no problem with channelled information, or the suggestion that nature spirits and fairies, if you will, play a role in nature. Though I’d like to and I have tried, I don’t see them or sense them and am unable to talk to them.
Clearly there are undefinable energies at work in the fields and gardens. The success of biodynamics is evidence and it’s not surprising to learn that Jacqueline also practices biodynamic principles as laid out by Rudolf Steiner whose philosophies are responsible for practices such as Waldorf education.
I enjoyed and will benefit from Jacqueline’s insights and experiences with her bees. The book is chock full of extremely interesting and helpful information. And, if these insights came directly from the bee’s mouths so to speak, so much the better. Her writing style is lively and engaging. This brings me to the only quarrel I have with The Song of Increase. And that is the writing style of the bees. I found it to be a bit pedantic. Boring even. Who knew?
As a writer, trying to communicate bee thoughts finding a “voice” is a challenge. As I read the book I kept wishing the bees would just shut up and let Jacqueline tell the story in her own voice.
The go to sources are Steve Solomon’s book The Intelligent Gardener and Michael Astera’s The Ideal Soil both available via Amazon.com. Steve’s book should also be available in local bookstores.
The gist of soil testing and its rational are summarized at Growabundant.com, a website operated by Steve Solomon’s co-author. Both Steve Solomon and Michael Astera recommend a Melich III test from Logan Labs.
Logan Labs soil test is now $25. Logan provides soil sampling instructions here. You send a copy of this worksheet in with your soil sample and a check for $25 or more if you are getting multiple samples. Growabundant.com has a series of short essays to get you started.
Subscribe to Organicalc Organicalc is a function on the Growabundant website that allows you (for $9.50) per year to input the results of your Logan Labs test. Organicalc will then give you a recipe for your garden’s custom fertilizer.
There is another essay that tells how to apply the amendments. Applying amendments
Amendments can be easily mixed in an Oddjob Mixer.
When you’ve been a vegetarian for 40+ years you get all sorts of questions. One of them is, “Does it bother you if I eat this?” Usually referring to some kind of meat. Answer is, “No, it doesn’t bother me at all.” In fact, I’m abnormally interested what people eat. Food, at its essence is political. It defines cultures, regions, even localities. Right now, control of the food supply is a huge issue with the Montsantos of the world seemingly getting the upper hand.
Recently the island had its version of a brouhaha over food—what style of food might be served at the local cafe, its price and whether or not the cafe’s business plan was right for the island. Feelings run strong on the subject of food.
Driving down any strip mall street in America one gets the idea that we don’t have much of a food culture. All these streets look the same with MacDonald’s, Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, Wendys, etc. lined up in more or less a regular order. But, we actually have a pretty interesting and lively food culture. One recent development as illustration is the evolution of the food truck from “roach coach” to gourmet dining. I will attest to the excellence of El Tapito’s vegetarian burrito made in their truck located near the end of Bakerview Road.
Food is endlessly fascinating. It doesn’t have to be the new cuisine. Street food is really the most interesting. One of the best documentarians of food culture is Anthony Bourdain who explored street food (and some fancy stuff too) around the world for eight seasons on the Travel Channel with his food/travel show No Reservations. He got mad at the Travel Channel for inserting product placement into his narratives and bolted for CNN where he is in his second season of Parts Unknown. Parts Unknown is a bit more newsy than No Reservations but Bourdain is a writer with talent and, luckily, a fellow with a cast iron gut who will eat just about anything especially if it’s food made from the less savory parts of an animal: tongues, brains, noses, heads, ears, guts, you name it. He can also drink copious amounts of booze.
He’s also pretty antagonistic to vegetarians which doesn’t bother me at all. He will reluctantly eat vegetarian and in a recent Parts Unknown episode on the Punjab was actually complimentary.
Most of us are a bit reluctant to try food from street vendors or even local establishments fearing stomach upset. But I’ll bet that just about everyone can recall some kind of interesting food adventure. I look back fondly on my successful search for a genuine bird’s nest soup in Bangkok, samosas from a station vendor in India and fry bread from a greasy spoon near the Navaho Rez. Each is an interesting story and indelible memory. We can learn a lot by paying attention to people’s food, how the raise it, get it to market, prepare it and eat it.
Food adventuring is a lot easier, I will admit, if one is an omnivore But, I’ll let Anthony Bourdain do my traveling for me now.
Some more good food shows and films:
Spinning Plates—”This documentary profiles three restaurants based in very different locales: Chicago; Tucson, Arizona; and Balltown, Iowa.” Their only similarity seems to be personal tragedy.
The Mind of a Chef—”This mouth-watering series produced by Anthony Bourdain takes viewers inside the world of culinary artist and restaurateur David Chang. Traveling the globe to research what we eat, the Momofuku founder brings an exotic dash to all his creations.”
I Like Killing Flies—“…filmmaker Matt Mahurin peers into Shopsin’s, a hole-in-the-wall Greenwich Village restaurant that’s been dutifully serving comfort food to satisfied customers for more than 30 years. Lording over the eatery is hilarious, ersatz philosopher/owner Kenny Shopsin, who caters to his regulars while dispensing tough love with his okra chowder. And he’s just as likely to throw his customers out as he is to take their orders.”
Best Food Ever—”From the South’s best BBQ to the Big Apple’s most delicious delis, “Best Food Ever” profiles America’s top food destinations and highlights what makes them the best in their culinary categories.”
Kings of Pastry—”Acclaimed documentarians D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus venture inside the deliciously cutthroat Meilleur Ouvrier de France, the legendary French pastry competition, to capture this fascinating account of what it takes to be the best “patissier.”
I’m glad I’m not in this gardening thing for the money. I might get discouraged by the lineup of pests and pestilence we gardeners face each season. There’s slugs, of course. There’s this years ubiquitous tent caterpillar. There’s the new girl in town—the saw fly, voracious in the larval stage. There were rabbits but our garden security officer has disappeared them along with the voles and rats. Later, the raccoon families appear to feast on cherries, plums and corn. A radio tuned to 24 hour talk helps save the corn crop. Last, but certainly not least, are the herds of deer who roam the island looking for treats.
Deer can do a tremendous amount of damage and do it quickly. They can jump fences, scooch under them if there’s space and even push them in. They get up on their hind legs to eat apples and other treats.
Last year a friend showed me a possible solution and I’m nearly ready to conclude that it might be working. Behold the Wireless Deer Fence, a step short of a full electric fence which would no doubt do the job. The trouble with an electric fence is that it will also shock the grandkids and is in the way for mowing and weed whacking, checking for caterpillars, etc.
The Wireless Deer Fence, on the other hand, is a rather elegant solution. I was intrigued after watching this video:
The website for this product claims it is a deer training system. There are two AA batteries, four metal probes sticking up and surrounding a scent tube. The scent tube is supposed to attract the deer and when they try to sniff it and make contact they get a shock.
Animal advocates might think this cruel. I can attest to the shock of the shock, which feels kind of like a bee sting without the lingering pain caused by the injection of venom. It shocks you, you react, you don’t want to get shocked again. You watch out.
To be clear, I didn’t intentionally test this on myself. My shock was accidental but confirmed what the manufacture had to say.
They are a bit pricey but will last a long time. You do have to change the scent tube about once a month and change the batteries each season.
“Step up, lad,” cried (Long John)Silver. “I won’t eat you. Hand it over, lubber. I know the rules, I do; I won’t hurt a depytation.”
Thus encouraged, the buccaneer stepped forth more briskly, and having passed something to Silver, from hand to hand, slipped yet more smartly back again to his companions.
The sea-cook looked at what had been given him.
“The black spot! I thought so,” he observed.”
The black spot from Treasure Island is an image that remains from my youth. It was a wonderful literary device that pronounced a final verdict on the individual who received it.
As I write this, life sort of imitates art as tent caterpillars all over the island are receiving the “white spot.” It is also a final verdict and judgement for these fuzzy creatures who have redefined the word “ubiquitous.” At our place, they are everywhere. Because they are into the raspberries and blueberries we have to spend a significant amount of time hand picking them. They ride into the house on our clothing. Linda found one in her hair late one night.
But they have been given the white spot which you will, if you look closely, find appearing on the heads of more and more caterpillars. This is the egg of a parasitic fly. The larva hatches and crawls inside the caterpillar and begins to eat the caterpillar from the inside out; a gory death which should, hopefully, put the clampers on the tent caterpillar for the next few years.
I think the egg sac must give the caterpillar a terrible headache. Here’s a video I made of a caterpillar trying to shake off and rub off an egg sac (at least that appears to be what it’s doing).
IMG_7318 (Click link to view)
Enjoy the white spot of doom.
I was over there in a minute because we pretty much do whatever Dorothy tells us to do. We’re not the only ones. I was a bit crestfallen when I saw the apples, some kind of yellow transparents that a hungry dumpster diver might pass on. Yet, I carried them home and went back and got the steam juicer, a contraption that might look at home in a meth lab.
The thing was tall. There were three parts or sections. There was a tube and there was a clamp. Dorothy told me how to use it. “Don’t burn yourself,” she instructed.
It sounded simple enough. Besides, I knew there would be Youtubes:
Those apples looked kind of nasty, though. We pressed on, following the instructions and ended up with juice. Several quart jars full. We also ended up with a lot of pulp. That called for the the Roma Food Strainer and Sauce Maker which we happened to have handy.
I will be quick to point out that I don’t consider steamed juice or apple butter, or jam or jelly of any type to be healthy foods. By the time you steam ‘em and sterilize them and water bath can them you have cooked out all the nutrition that might have been there in the first place. What you are making is a dessert item or condiment to make future meals more enjoyable. Heating/steaming/canning kills the enzymes in food and probably obliterates the vitamins. All you are left with is flavor.
People often ask me how we are able to afford such an array of wonderful appliances. The answer is that we only have one car. But that’s a story for another blog.
For a couple of years I’ve had Sandor Katz The Art of Fermentation sitting next to my chair. I’d skimmed it. It’s a thick book—maybe three pounds of information and a lot to take in. I am not unfamiliar with the arguments in favor of eating fermented food. When my brother Bart learned I could not cook and began a series of forced nightly cooking lessons many years ago, he started me on macrobiotics. It’s actually a simple way to eat.
Without going into excruciating detail macrobiotics, as a dietary regimen, emphasizes grain, especially brown rice, local vegetables in season (except for the nightshade family), fermented soy products, minimal amounts of meat and condiments such as ume plum and pickled veggies. I discovered it was pretty easy to become a macrobiotic chef. You need a pressure cooker, a wok, a pickle press and a grinder (to make gomashio—a tasty mix of roasted sesame and celtic salt).
Not strictly macrobiotic, we learned to enjoy pickled veggies. You slice cabbage, radish, carrot or whatever hard veggies were on hand, salt them a bit, pour in some ume vinegar and crank the lid down on your pickle press. In the morning, pour the pickle off and they are ready to eat. It’s a good, quick salad. It sits easy on the stomach.
But what we really hankered for was sauerkraut, a truly fermented food. So, last year, after studying Sandor Katz and doing some internet research, we invested in a water seal crock. Sandor is an evangelist for fermented foods and the many health benefits. Fermented foods aid in digestion, they provide more of the B vitamins, create micronutrients and help prevent cancer. Sandor goes on and on. Fermentation is also a good way to preserve food which has appeal on the self-sufficiency level.
But back to the water seal crock. You can ferment in jars and open crocks but there are problems. Explosion is the one I don’t want to deal with. The water seal crock allows gases to escape and allows for anaerobic fermentation of your veggies.
Last year we made two batches of sauerkraut. It was the best we had ever eaten. We went through it in short order. So, this year we decided to make as much as we could. A batch takes 5-6 weeks in the crock. I have planted so many cabbage that I will probably have to buy a second crock.
Sauerkraut is ripe with probiotic power. It is an excellent source of vitamin C. “Finnish researchers reported that fermenting cabbage produces compounds known as isothiocyanates, shown in laboratory studies to prevent the growth of cancer.” And, sauerkraut is a source of Vitamin U which is used to fight peptic ulcers.
Mainly, though, we just like sauerkraut in the same way that we enjoy pickled beets and would like to have it with every meal.
I’m a bit embarrassed to report that I have about fifty cabbage plants growing in the garden. It will be, hopefully, the year of the cabbage.
I feel compelled to make an annual plea to not use Roundup. In spring the temptation is great but, “Get thee behind me Satan.” Roundup is evil stuff.
All the latest studies indicate that Roundup, manufactured by Monsanto, is dangerous to human health and to the eco system at large. A summary of the evidence can be found at the Biosaf Information Centre or at Wikipedia.
Roundup is important to Monsanto in production of Genetically Modified Seed. As a result Roundup has entered the food chain with Roundup Ready Seed, plants that can be sprayed with Roundup and not affected.
On a more personal level, Roundup is dangerous for children and pets.
Prevention Magazine recently printed this article on Roundup:
“America’s favorite weed killer could be the driving force behind some of modern society’s most common health ailments, according to new researchexamining more than 300 studies. The new review looked at research investigating glyphosate, the active ingredient in the popular herbicide Roundup.
Once called “safer than aspirin,” glyphosate’s reputation for safety isn’t holding up to the scrutiny of independent research. More and more non-industry-funded scientists are finding links between the chemical and all sorts of problems, including cell death, birth defects, miscarriage, low sperm counts, DNA damage, and more recently, destruction of gut bacteria.
Here’s the quick backstory: Since chemical companies invented genetically engineered seeds designed to withstand heavy sprayings of glyphosate, global use of Roundup and related weed killers has jumped to nearly 900 million pounds applied annually. Glyphosate is a systemic chemical, meaning once sprayed, it travels up inside of the plants that people and animals eat. As more farm fields converted to GMO crops, federal regulators quietly increased the levels of Roundup allowed in your food, something that could be particularly tragic for your gut.
Citing recent studies, review coauthor Stephanie Seneff, PhD, senior research scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, explains how glyphosate acts as a potent bacteria-killer in the gut, wiping out delicate beneficial microflora that help protect us from disease.
Harmful pathogens like Clostridium botulinum, Salmonella, and E. coli are able to survive glyphosate in the gut, but the “good guys” in your digestive tract, protective microorganisms, bacillus and lactobacillus, for instance, are killed off.
Even the developer of Roundup—Monsanto—seems to know this. About 10 years ago, the company registered a patent for glyphosate’s use as an antimicrobial agent.
Eating food laced with Roundup could be setting us up for some major health problems, some researchers suggest, citing that power to kill gut flora. “When you disturb something in nature, there aren’t any voids,” explains retired pathologist and veteran glyphosate researcher Don Huber, PhD, professor emeritus at Purdue University. “You take the good guys out and the bad guys rule. And that’s what’s happening.”
This nightmare in your digestive tract can spark other problems, including “leaky gut,” where the protective lining of the gut is compromised, allowing for toxins and bacteria to enter the bloodstream. This causes the body to send off an immune response to attack the wayward bacteria, potentially sparking autoimmune diseases.
But there’s more to the glyphosate-gut conundrum “The most important piece of the story is the disruption of serotonin in the gut,” says Seneff. She says glyphosate can disrupt the gut’s ability to create tryptophan, the building block of serotonin, an important neurotransmitter linked to happiness and well-being. Low serotonin levels have been linked to suicide, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other ailments.
Not only is glyphosate hampering tryptophan production in your gut, but it’s also lowering levels in plants, causing even more deficiency, Seneff says.
Other scientists say the latest research could help frame new studies. “It is a very broad, comprehensive, thoroughly researched paper, and is an important paper in many respects because it suggests many testable hypotheses,” says Warren Porter, PhD, professor of environmental toxicology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “It is also consistent with some new state-of-the-art work we have been doing on domestic animals.”
While the latest review study is valid, it also makes big leaps in terms of connecting the dots, according to some researchers who say the new ideas presented in the analysis will need to be tested in future studies. “As a thought piece to stimulate thinking, it serves a useful function, but should not be used as ‘proof’ of problem,” explains Charles Benbrook, research professor at Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources.”
We were blithely enjoying the fact that our gooseberries were tropically lush this spring when, yesterday, we noticed they were disappearing before our eyes. A closer inspection than we had done up to that point revealed hundreds of larva of the greedy, voracious, orc-like sawfly. These little bastards can do an amazing amount of damage seemingly in a matter of hours. Apparently, the sawfly lays her eggs on the bottom of the leaf stem. When the larva hatch they spread out and line of on the perimeter of the leaf and with impressive teamwork begin to eat their way to the center of the leaf. It doesn’t take long for the leaf to disappear.
So now, in addition, to my daily caterpillar check, I will be inspecting for sawfly. This can go on all summer according to my internet research to wit:
- The common gooseberry sawfly is the most troublesome pest of gooseberries. It can have three generations a year, with the larvae active in late April to June, July, and August to September
- The female sawflies lay eggs on the underside of leaves low down in the centre of the bush, so the young larvae go unnoticed until they have eaten their way upwards and outwards, devouring the leaves as they go. (My observation is that they eat from the outside in).
- Defoliated plants are weakened and may produce a poor crop the following year
- When the larvae are fully fed, they go into the soil, where they spin silk cocoons and pupate
- The pale spotted gooseberry sawfly only has one generation a year with larvae present in May and June.
- The small gooseberry sawfly has up to four generations a year with larvae present from late April.
My solution to the problem is to locate them and squish them. I have done much squishing of crawly critters this spring. I have to admit that on one level, it’s disturbing to kill so many little things. However, if I want to eat an apple or a gooseberry, it must be done. Yet, the swath of destruction I have left in my wake is nearly biblical.
“And there came great swarms of flies into the house of Pharaoh and the houses of his servants and the land was laid waste because of the swarms of flies in all the land of Egypt.”
I must go outside now and stand guard against the next plague that is to come.
We don’t have many dangerous plants in this area. No poison oak, for which I am particularly grateful, and no poison ivy. Some folks disparage the stinging nettle but, in reality, it is a beneficial, nutrition-packed vegetable and it’s so-called sting is rather benign when compared to a case of poison oak.
We do have poison hemlock and poison hemlock is sneaky, often showing up in your veggie garden disguised as a carrot. Our family had a run in with poison hemlock a couple of years ago when our grandson ate a bite from their backyard garden and ended up in the emergency room. He’s now quite the expert at identifying poison hemlock as is his mom who recently found a plant growing in our front yard garden in amongst some over-wintered carrots.
It’s pretty easy to identify from the characteristic purple mottling on the stem.
When it matures the poison hemlock can be mistaken for Queen Anne Lace, a common roadside plant.
The chart at the bottom of this article provides a good comparison between Queen Anne Lace and poison hemlock.
All parts of the poison hemlock plant can be poisonous so you should wear gloves when handling it. Best to dig it, bag it and put it in the garbage.
We have lots of wonderful, wild foods available for free on the island. Poison hemlock ain’t one of them.
This video linked below also has excellent identification tips for the fall version of poison hemlock.
The axe has a long and distinguished history as a mandatory tool for work and war. It is, in the language of high school physics, an inclined plane (two sided) attached to a level (handle) that allows one to deliver terrific force to a point. In the case of a round of wood this force causes the wood to split. In the case of a Viking holding an axe, heads split even more easily. The axe is what my physics teacher called a “simple machine.” The fact that its basic design has stayed constant for generation on generation attests to its usefulness and efficiency.
A wood burning home depends on the axe and variations of the theme. Our personal collection includes a standard axe, a maul, a hand maul, two hatchets, a collection of wedges and a thing called a “wood grenade.
Recently I took the plunge and purchased a Finnish Vipukirve http://www.vipukirves.fi/english/, a surprising new variation on the axe which increases the ease of splitting wood by a factor of at least two. That is, I think it is twice as easy to split wood with the Vipukirve.
It’s kind of amazing that it took 400,000 years or so for someone to come up with a completely new twist, an axe with a counter weight, that torques hard to the right as the blade makes contact with wood so that you get downward and sideways force at the same time. For someone who enjoys splitting a winter’s worth of wood it’s the equivalent of going from a wooden tennis racket to a one of those Prince oversize rackets that appeared in the 80’s.
The Vipukirve (or Leveraxe) is safer too. It has a longer handle which makes it more difficult to whack yourself in the leg. But what really makes it a safer tool is that you don’t have to swing so hard. Because of the design the Leveraxe never penetrates completely through the wood. In addition it doesn’t get stuck like a conventional axe which often means using wedges to extricate the blade.
Almost as valuable as the Vipukirve itself is the idea of putting your round inside a tire. This is magic. Check the video.