Thursday, December 10, 2015

Early Winter Kale Comparison

The little bit of snow cover we've had so far this winter melted off in some warm weather this week, so I'm taking the chance to see how the kale is holding up. I'm hoping to make a bed of kale, spinach, and possibly carrots next year, which I'm planning to protect with a row cover and harvest when the rest of the garden is covered in snow (trying out Eliot Coleman's idea).
This is by no means scientific, being only a comparison of one plant of each variety, but I'm going to go with it anyway. This first picture is from a "Dwarf Green Curled Kale" I sowed in mid-July (seed purchased from Bountiful Gardens). It's a little frost-bitten around the edges (not surprising since it's December in Wisconsin!) but otherwise looking pretty good.
Further down the bed, I sowed some "Red Winter" kale seed from Burpee's in mid-August. Despite the name, this variety doesn't seem to be holding up to our mild-so-far winter as well:
So, as I said, this is not exactly a scientific test, but I'm thinking I'll order some more of the Dwarf Green Curled Kale for next year, and not the Red Winter variety.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Pumpkin Cheesecake Swirl Brownies

One last pumpkin recipe before Thanksgiving . . . and this is a good one!
Brownie Batter:
1/2 cup butter
1 cup maple syrup (or sugar, or sweetener of choice)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup cocoa
3/4 cup flour (sprouted flour works great in this, but white flour is fine, too)
Pour half of this batter into an 8x8 pan. Then, in a separate bowl (or blender), mix:

Pumpkin Cheesecake Swirl:
3 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 egg
3 Tbsp sugar (or sweetener of choice)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Layer the pumpkin mixture over the brownies, and top with the remaining brownie batter. Run a knife through the layers to swirl them together. Sprinkle with chocolate chips, if desired. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Cool completely before cutting. Store covered in a refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Monday, November 23, 2015

24 Hour 100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

In general, when you're talking about whole grain sourdough, the longer the soak, the easier it is to digest, and the more of the whole grain's nutrition you will get out of it. I finally figured out a recipe that combines nutrition-packed whole wheat with only natural sourdough leavening, for a full 24 hours. It has quickly become our family's "daily bread" - we use it for everything from peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to grilled cheese, garlic bread, and turkey melts (and if there's any leftovers, Pumpkin Pie French Toast Bake like we had this morning!)
24 Hour Sourdough Bread
Mix together for your sponge:
.6 oz starter (I have a rye starter)
5 oz water
8 oz flour (I use fresh-ground whole wheat)

In a separate bowl, mix together:
12.2 oz water
12.7 oz flour (again, wheat flour I grind myself, but store-bought probably works fine, too)
.4 oz salt
Let sit on the counter, covered, for 16 hours.
After they've rested, mix the contents of the two bowls together and place into a bread pan. Let rise, covered, another 6-8 more hours (depending on your room temperature; it might rise more quickly in the summer when the room is warmer). Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. Let cool at least half an hour before slicing.

I'd like to thank the folks over at The Fresh Loaf, where I found great information when I was working on this recipe!

Pumpkin Pie French Toast Bake

As it is the time of year for all things pumpkin, I decided to try combining two of our fall favorites into one pan of warm, yummy comfort food.

Pumpkin Pie French Toast Bake
Line a 9x13 pan with crumbled bread (dry or fresh is fine)
Mix together:
3 cups pureed cooked pumpkin (or squash)
1 cup milk
1 cup maple syrup (or sweetener of choice)
6 eggs
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp each ginger, nutmeg, and vanilla
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp salt
Pour over bread and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

This post is part of Thank Goodness It's Monday at Nourishing Joy.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Making Sprouted Wheat Bread Without a Grain Mill or Dehydrator (Wet Sprout Bread)

A friend asked me the other day if it was possible to make sprouted bread if you didn't have a dehydrator or a grain mill. I honestly didn't know - I'd tried a recipe for Ezekiel Bread once that used wet sprouts, and it turned out a heavy, crunchy mess, so I hadn't tried again. But my friend's question got me thinking . . .
This time I wanted to start out with a tried-and-true recipe (my 100% Sprouted Whole Wheat Flour Light and Fluffy Sandwich Bread) and tweak it to see if I could make it work with wet sprouts.
First, I needed to make the sprouts. I weighed the amount of flour called for in the original recipe, then measured out the same weight of unsprouted grain. It came out to about 2 1/2 cups of grain weighed the same as 3 cups of flour. Then I mixed the dry grain with the 1 1/2 cup of water called for in the recipe and let this sit in a bowl, covered, overnight.
The next morning, the grains were sprouted nicely - you can see the tiny root "tails" in the picture.
The first time I tried this, I just ran the sprouts through my meat grinder attachment for my Kitchen 
Aid mixer without adding anything, but it made my machine bog down worrisomely. So I tried it again, this time mixing the oil called for in the recipe into the sprouts, and that made the process go more smoothly.
NOTE: The second time I made this recipe, I stripped out the gears on the top of my mixer. I can still mix things in the bowl, but now I can't use the tools that attach to the front. One expensive lesson learned.
Instead of my now-useless meat grinder attachment, I use my food processor, which works just fine.
After mixing in all of the ingredients and mixing the dough until it formed a rough ball, I placed it in a bread pan to rise. After an hour, I pressed it out into about a 10x15 rectangle (I used my Pampered Chef Baker's Roller, but a regular old rolling pin should work, too), rolled it up jelly-roll style, and put it back into the loaf pan to rise a second time.
After another hour, it had risen a little (not nearly as much as the loaves I make with sprouted flour), but I popped it in the oven and hoped for the best.
When the finished bread came out of the oven, it was not very tall (although it had gotten some oven spring), but it smelled heavenly. Once it had cooled for about an hour, we cut into it and the kids and I all tried some (slathered in butter, of course).
Every single one of the kids exclaimed about how good it was! It was slightly sweet from the sprouting, a tiny bit crunchy because of the coarse grind from the meat grinder, and it had all of the flavor of a hearty whole wheat bread. That first loaf disappeared in minutes, and the kids were begging me to make another!
I should mention that this wouldn't work well for a sandwich loaf - it's quite crumbly. But it's a great snack or go-along bread (my kids love it warm out of the toaster with breakfast).

Simple Wet Sprouted Bread
1 cup water
2 1/2 cups wheat berries
3 Tbsp oil of choice (I usually use butter or lard)
3 Tbsp sweetener of choice (I like honey or maple syrup, but sugar works fine, too)
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 1/4 tsp yeast
Soak grain in water overnight. In the morning, mix in oil and run through meat grinder twice. Add all other ingredients and knead until dough forms a ball. Let rise one hour, then press into a 10x15 rectangle, roll up jelly-roll style, and place in loaf pan. Let rise another hour, then bake at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes. Let cool for one hour before slicing.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Homemade Sprouted Whole-Grain Flour

A few weeks ago I was teaching a sourdough baking class in my home, and I mentioned that for recipes where using sourdough or soaking your flour wouldn't work, I generally used sprouted flour. One of the students was not familiar with sprouted flour, so I gave her a very quick and basic tutorial on how to make it. Afterwards, I looked online to see how much it would cost to buy sprouted flour rather than make it, and I was shocked to find that most of what I could find was over $3 a pound! I quickly compared that to what it costs to make it at home. I buy non-GMO wheat berries for less than $1 a pound at my local bulk food store (I think I've also seen this brand for sale at Wal-Mart), and the only costs over and above that would be for the electricity to run the well pump, dehydrator, and grain mill. Definitely much cheaper (and fresher) than anything I could buy!

I do want to note that I use a dehydrator and a grain mill when I make mine, but it is also possible to make sprouted flour using your oven and a good-quality blender. There is more risk of over-cooking the grains (or even burning them) in the oven, but if you're careful, this shouldn't be a problem. A blender may not grind all of your grains perfectly evenly, and you can only do very small batches, but it does work in a pinch. So don't let a lack of equipment stop you from trying.

The first thing you need is whole grains - wheat "berries", rye, spelt, oats - pretty much any seed you'd make flour with will germinate this way (this is also a good preparation method for beans; just cook them after they've sprouted and skip the dehydration and grinding steps). I do want to note that this doesn't work well for flax - the grains make a slimy coating when they're soaked, and they should never be run through a grain mill because of their high oil content. It also won't work with oatmeal, because once the seeds are rolled they can no longer germinate.

The way I like to do it is to fill a wide-mouth quart jar with about a cup of grain (size of the jar doesn't really matter - just big enough for the amount you're working with, and able to be covered for the draining step), then cover the seeds with about an inch of water (the grains will swell as they soak. If the grains get above the water during the soaking stage, just add more water). Warmer water will help the process along. Hot tap water is fine - just not too hot, you don't want to cook the grains (but your tap water shouldn't be that hot anyway!) Set them on the counter to soak for 8-12 hours.
When that 8-12 hours is up, cover the jars with a piece of loose-weave cloth and a rubber band (or one of my custom-made sprouting cloths with elastic edging, which unfortunately I don't yet have a picture of! Hopefully I'll be able to update that soon!) and invert to drain the water. Let drain upside down another 8-12 hours.
By the end of this draining time, the seeds should be showing tiny "tails" (really roots starting to emerge). This is the stage you want to put them in the dehydrator - if you let them get too long, they won't flow through your grain mill as well.

As a side note, the sprouting water than you drain off is great for plants, and some people even drink it as a health tonic (I'm not one of those people - I give it to the plants). I use a funnel and store it in an old gallon milk jug, then use it to water my houseplants.

I like to dry my sprouts at about 105 degrees F in my Excalibur dehydrator (I love that it has adjustable temperature settings), to preserve as many nutrients as possible, but if you're dehydrating in an oven, just use the lowest temperature you can (you will be baking these grains, after all, so don't stress too much about the temperature here - but you don't want to bake them before you put them in the final product, either). I leave them in the dehydrator for around 4-6 hours, or until a seed from the dehydrator "crunches" the same in my teeth as a seed fresh out of the bag (very scientific, I know!)

When the seeds are properly dried, you can then either store them whole in the refrigerator, or grind them and then store them. I prefer to store them in the refrigerator because the oils in whole grains can go rancid quite quickly (another reason to grind your own flour and never buy unsprouted/non-sourdough whole grain products from a store!) I love sprouted flour for baking - I can use it just like I would any store-bought flour, and it actually gives a lighter, fluffier texture than unsprouted whole grain flours. I use it mainly for cookies, quick breads, and such, but sprouted wheat bread is also a favorite treat (when I don't have time to wait for sourdough but I have sprouted flour on hand).

Rabbit Bedding for Blossom End Rot Follow-Up

I just wanted to post a follow-up to my post from this spring (Would Rabbit Bedding Mulch Prevent Blossom End Rot?) It looks like it works! Not a hint of blossom end rot this year!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Much More Mulch: Cover Crops

I like to think I've come a long way since back in 2011 when I last wrote about my mulching experiments. No more plastic for me; now I'm mulching with combinations of chicken bedding, cardboard, living mulches, and green manures. Instead of being concerned only with weed control (although that is certainly still my main priority), I now think more in terms of soil building and conditioning.
While green manures aren't primarily meant to be a mulch, they will cover your soil somewhat and minimize new weed seeds emerging. Anna Hess over at The Walden Effect was kind enough to send me some oilseed radish and oat seeds to try out for her new book, The Ultimate Guide to Soil (due to be published in Spring or Summer 2016 - if you can't wait that long, I highly recommend her e-book Homegrown Hummus: Cover Crops in a No-Till Garden). Since she lives in zone 6, she was interested in how these crops would work in my zone 3-maybe-4 garden.
I'm sorry to say that I probably wasn't very much help, since I sowed the seeds quite late in the season, and didn't keep the best records (last fall was extremely busy, for non-garden-related reasons); but I can share the few things I did observe. Both crops did grow (although the oats seemed to have trouble - Anna reported that her oats had a lower germination rate than she'd been hoping for, too). The bed I sowed the radishes in had been double-dug and filled in with old logs and compost the previous summer (2013), then topped off with soil (kind of a hybrid of John Jeavons double-digging method and Sepp Holzer's Hugulkulture). I'd planted the bed with rye that spring (2014), then after the rye was harvested I covered the bed with a layer of leaves. When I sowed the radish seeds from Anna in early September, I simply sprinkled them over the leaves and watered them in well. 
Here's a shot of the oilseed radishes, just after a hard frost last November:
As you can see, the mulch blocked out a good number of the seeds, and the plants that did make it through the leaves didn't get more than about 6 inches high before they were killed by frost.
For me, the real test was how the gardens look this spring. I went out this morning and took the shot below, showing the radish seeds that apparently didn't germinate last fall but sprouted this spring (I pulled up a few, and they definitely don't have roots big enough to have carried them through the winter). For my purposes, I wanted these plants to winterkill and keep the ground covered over the winter, but leave the ground open for planting this spring. So seeing seedlings coming up this spring was disappointing (but since they pulled up quite readily it wasn't a deal-breaker for me). Obviously the grass coming up behind is going to be a much bigger problem. That does show, however, that the radishes didn't work extremely well as a weed barrier - but I haven't yet found a cover crop that will block out grass!
Another matter of interest was how the radishes affected the soil below. I turned up a patch under these radish seedlings, and the soil was quite loose and nice. There was another patch, however, where the soil hadn't been double-dug (it was under a young apple tree, and I didn't want to disturb the tree's roots while I was building the bed below it). When I turned over the soil under the radish seedlings there, the soil was much more dense, even though it had been under the same cover of radishes and leaf mulch.
So in terms of soil conditioning, the radishes didn't seem to have much effect (although that was probably due to how late I planted them - they didn't have time to make much of a root, which in turn would break down and add organic matter to the soil).
As for the oats, it was really hard to tell how they did, since there is so much grass invading the area. I could tell last fall that some of it had come up (there is a slight color difference between the oats and the grass), but again, it wasn't thick enough to keep the grass out entirely, and since I had the leaf mulch already on the bed, the oats didn't do much in terms of covering the soil.

So, Anna, I'm sorry I wasn't much help, but hopefully you can use at least some of the information I learned. It was very interesting for me to experiment with some crops I wouldn't otherwise have tried!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Easy French Bread

I don't know why I've put off making French bread for so long - I guess I'm just too much of a whole-grain purist, and you just can't make a good loaf of French bread with whole grains (at least I assume so - I guess I haven't tried it yet!) But I found myself buying frozen garlic bread one too many times in the grocery store and feeling horribly guilty for all of the nasty chemicals I was feeding my children. So I finally gave in and pulled out my trusty old Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book and looked up French Bread.

The ingredient list was simple - flour, yeast, salt, and water (with an eggwash for that classic crust - I'm sure you could skip that if you needed to go egg-free). So I pulled out my organic white flour and went to work. I made one recipe by the book, and a second right away skipping some of the more complicated steps. They both turned out about the same, so here's my "cheater" easy version:

Easy French Bread
makes 2 loaves
5 cups flour
1 1/2 Tbsp yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 cups warm water
Mix all together (in a mixer or by hand) and knead until smooth and elastic. Let rise for about an hour (I use my seedling grow mat, and it rises like a dream!) After dough has risen, roll out into a 15x10 inch rectangle and roll up, starting from a long side:
Place seam-side down on a baking sheet, cover with a towel, and let rise for another 45 minutes. Then, using a sharp knife, slice each loaf 4 or 5 times diagonally across the top. For an extra-crispy crust, make an egg wash (use a fork to beat one egg (I use a whole egg; many recipes call for just the white, but I don't bother separating it - this is my "cheater" recipe, remember) and brush across the top of each loaf. I like to use a silicone barbecue brush):
Bake in a preheated 365 degree oven for 40-45 minutes, or until bread sounds hollow when you tap the top with your finger. Immediately move to a wire rack to cool.
To make garlic bread, slice lengthwise and brush with garlic butter (crush garlic and mix with melted butter - I use about two cloves per 1/2 stick of butter). Bake about 10 minutes at 400 degrees, or until edges begin to brown.

Early Spring Harvest

It's April in northern Wisconsin. While the snow is gone, it's not nearly time to start planting things out in the garden yet (I'm in zone 3b, which is technically less amenable to gardening than Anchorage, Alaska. Snowstorms in April - or even May - are not uncommon here). But if you know what to look for, there are a few things out there ready to be eaten.

The first, and most surprising to me, is winter cress. I had never even heard of it until I read Euell Gibbons' Stalking the Wild Asparagus, and now I see this "weed" growing everywhere in my yard! It loves recently disturbed ground, which means I've been weeding it out of my gardens for years. Here's a sample of what it looks like in the yard right now:
It's a perennial member of the mustard family, and apparently (according to Gibbons, anyway) long used by Italian housewives. He says that these plants "have an extraordinary ability to grow vigorously during any warm spell in winter and from them the forager can often gather fresh salad material or boiling greens in midwinter if the ground is free of snow. However, it is in late February and early March (make that late March and early April in Wisconsin) that winter cress becomes best and most abundant. It forms dense, bright green clusters before any other green thing shows." But, "in April (May here) the plant puts up a seed stalk which eventually reaches from one to two feet high and bears many bright yellow flowers, about a quarter inch across and evenly spaced along the stem. . . . To be edible, the leaves of winter cress must be gathered early, while the weather is still cold. Those who complain of the bitterness of this plant are usually those who gathered it too late in the season. When gathered early enough, winter cress is no more bitter than the best leaf lettuce, and far less so than endive or escarole. As soon as the frosty nights are past, this plant becomes too bitter to eat. Fortunately, by this time, one can select from a number of other wild salads and potherbs."

I assume by "other wild salads" he means spinach and such - which are much to small still to harvest without damaging the plant (and thus harm any future harvests). Here's what my spinach looks like right now:
(This is spinach that volunteered in my garden last fall, after I let another spinach plant go to seed in the heat of the summer (my Grandma Ada's old trick). As you can see, the outer leaves are brown from overwintering, but new leaves are forming in the center.) There are also some really tiny lettuce plants starting up, but definitely nothing harvestable yet.

Since this foraging trip was for the sake of gathering ingredients for soup, I also took the chance to weed out some stinging nettles growing nearby in the garden:
Of course, I was careful to wear gloves when I harvested these so I didn't get stung, but once boiled they are highly nutritious, and apparently work as a soup thickener as well, so I was happy to find them.

I would have loved to have added some chives to the soup, but they're still pretty puny, too:
Instead, I harvested some of my walking onion roots. In the summer and fall I usually harvest only the bulblets on the top (here's a picture from last summer in case you're not familiar with walking onions):
but this early in the season they're barely putting up greens, so I harvested to roots instead:
Paired with some potatoes, carrots, parsley, and garlic from last year, a few jars of chicken stock, salt, pepper, and an nice cheesy white sauce, and we had a nice, hearty pot of soup for lunch. A good start to a new year's harvesting!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Raise Bread on a Seedling Mat

In another of my Captain Obvious moments, I realized this afternoon that the seedling heat mat I purchased this spring would be the perfect tool to help my bread rise. We generally keep our house at around 65 degrees, which can really slow yeast growth. The heat mat, however, is designed to raise the temperature about 10 degrees - perfect for bread!

I tried it this afternoon, and it worked beautifully!

(As always, if you click on the blue affiliate link in this post it will take you to the product description on I will receive a small reimbursement for each referral.)

Easy Egg-Free Homemade Maple-Sweetened Chocolate Pudding

This is one of those recipes that took me an embarrassingly long time to discover. I've been thinking there must be an easy way to make chocolate pudding from scratch, but I was never motivated enough to search for one (and you never know if recipes you find online will really work - unless of course they have pictures of adorable children obviously enjoying a sample!)

Most pudding recipes I've seen include eggs, which can be tricky to cook correctly without them hardening (think hard-boiled egg chunks in your pudding - yuck!). This version is so simple, my daughter could make it herself.

I found this recipe in The Boxcar Children Cookbook, which my nine-year-old daughter checked out from the library yesterday. Of course, I had to make a few changes to make it healthier (you know me!) but it still turned out great - 5 out of 5 thumbs up! I also had to double the original recipe (4 servings for 5 children was never going to work!)
Easy Homemade Chocolate Pudding
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup sweetener of choice (I like maple syrup, but honey or sucanat work, too - they do affect the taste slightly, though)
1/4 cup cornstarch (I will be trying arrowroot, but haven't yet - I'll keep you posted)
4 cups milk
Mix dry ingredients in a small saucepan. Add liquid ingredients and heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil one minute, then remove from heat.
Serve hot or cold. Keep refrigerated once cool.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Homegrown Mushrooms!

Look what I found this morning -
Beautiful white oyster mushrooms growing on the kit I bought online this winter! (Here's the link to the kit I bought.)

I kind of feel like this should be a story of how NOT to grow mushrooms from a kit - I neglected it a lot, and it still turned out OK. So don't be afraid to try it, it's really pretty foolproof!

First off, it took me more than a week just to get the kit out of the box it was shipped in (it's been rather busy around here, to say the least), and so the mycelium (mushroom "roots" - white yogurt-y looking growth) had already colonized most of the straw. I prepped the bag according to the directions, and then set it on a shelf while I focused on getting the house ready for Easter houseguests.

I ignored it completely all weekend, and when I remembered it on Tuesday (today) I found fully-developed mushrooms, ready to harvest! It's a good thing I remembered today, because mushrooms only last a day or two before they're spoiled.

Now to decide which recipe to make with them for lunch today - I'm thinking Broiled Bacon, Mushrooms, and Spinach from The Nourished Kitchen cookbook. Mmmmm . . . is it lunchtime yet?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Spring Chicken Coop Care

It's that time of year again - when the weather finally gets above 40 degrees and we're tricked once again into thinking that we'll be able to get out and sow some spring seeds. Unfortunately, what usually happens is that we open up the seed packets, only to get another foot of snow (as happened back in 2011).

But whether we get another big snowfall or not, what we will get is a lot of melting snow, which invariably means mud. The higher temperatures also mean that all of the clucker muck that was frozen onto the floor of the coop (no matter how hard I tried to clean it out earlier) is finally melted. And that means trouble for chickens.

In my experience, spring has been the hardest time of year for my chickens. Just when I give a sigh of relief that we all made it through the sub-zero weeks of winter, I start finding dead birds. While that cold weather held, the pathogens in the coop were held in check, but once the warm, wet spring days arrive, they're alive and kicking again.

So what's a chicken keeper to do? I've learned that strict coop cleaning is a must. Not super-sanitation, mind you (I've never used bleach or other chemical cleaners in my coop), but clearing out the leaves whenever the weather warms up. I usually aim for cleaning out the coop once a week, unless the weather is really cold (think sub-zero for over a week), in which case I'll wait until the forecast calls for warmer temps. No need to freeze myself and the chickens when the nasties are dormant anyway.

Now, I should make a confession here - I like cleaning my chicken coop. When you change the bedding regularly, the smell isn't overwhelming (which is half the point! Ammonia is just as irritating to your chickens' lungs as it is to yours!) It's also still pretty light and easy to handle. My coop is an old 10x12 garden shed, and I add about two fresh 55-gallon sized bags of leaves each time I clean it out (leaves gathered from friends' yards in the fall - which they're more than happy to give me if the kids and I will come and gather them!) So that's not a huge job. Plus, the thought of all of the health and vitality I'm getting from the job keeps me going - not only am I getting those pathogens away from my chickens (I'd rather be taking out dirty leaves than dead chickens any day), but I'm also getting the ammonia out of the air for the chickens and rabbits (we have my son's meat rabbit cages above the chickens, an idea we gleaned from Daniel Salatin's "Racken House"), I'm spreading valuable fertilizer on my garden beds (I take the clucker muck directly from the coop to the garden - no need to move it twice!), and I'm getting myself some much needed exercise, sunshine, and fresh air instead of huddling in the house trying to stay warm. Multi-tasking at its best! What's not to like?

One more thing I'd like to note is that it's very important to have a place for your chickens to dust bathe. When everything is so wet outside, they need a dry place to dust themselves to minimize mites and other nasty little critters. I have an old wooden box under the nest boxes (where they won't poop in it while they're roosting) which I fill with ashes from our pellet stove. I'll often find two or three birds in there at a time - they seem glad for the chance to get "clean"!


Before I start getting comments, I should note that I have tried the Deep Litter Method (in which you leave the bedding in all winter, and just keep adding more as needed - making less work for you, and a healthier mix of probiotic organisms in the bedding). In fact, I've tried it multiple times, with disastrous results. I don't know if my coop was overcrowded, or if my extra-cold winters are too hard on the "good" bacteria, or if I didn't add enough bedding, but every time I tried it I ended up with dead chickens in the spring (as you can see, I've obsessed over everything I could possibly have done wrong! I wanted it to work!) So - been there, done that, didn't work for me, feel free to try it for yourself and I'm so glad if it works for you!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Simple Artisan Sourdough Bread

I love this recipe - just 3 ingredients: flour, water, and salt! It comes out so perfectly: crusty on the outside, chewy on the inside. It's not really a sandwich loaf, but slather it with butter (or better yet, honeybutter) and it's a wonderful treat! Or toast a slice, add some spinach artichoke dip and top with some chopped tomatoes and chives for some amazing bruchetta.

Artisan Sourdough Bread
325 grams (2 ½ cups) flour (whole grain flours work great for this)
200 grams (3/4 cup) sourdough starter
275 grams ( 1 ¼ cups) water
1 tsp salt
Mix all well, cover and let rise for 8-12 hours.After the dough has risen well, preheat a dutch oven (cast iron is best) to 475 degrees for 30 minutes, to make sure it's good and hot. Carefully scoop out your dough in to the hot dutch oven, cover, and bake at 475 degrees for 30 minutes. Then turn down the oven to 400 degrees and bake for another 15 minutes. Remove from dutch oven and cool at least 30 minutes before slicing. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Herbal Tea for Picky Eaters

My kids are great at trying new foods, and usually enjoy my homemade concoctions. I have one boy, however, who just can't learn to like tea. "It tastes like bathwater!" he tells me. So while the rest of us are sipping warm cups of echinacea tea to stave off the sniffles, he won't touch it.
Finally I figured out the trick - I steep the tea bags in apple juice, and now he'll drink it! I don't need to add any honey or other sweeteners, because the apple juice is naturally sweet enough. While I don't usually let my kids drink fruit juices (I prefer that they eat whole fruits), for the sake of getting that immune-boosting goodness into them, I'll give them that treat.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Chickens in the Cold

I've been raising chickens in the harsh climate of Northwestern Wisconsin long enough that I've learned a few things about keeping them through our cold winters. While many would think the cold would be the biggest problem in my unheated coop, aside from a few frozen combs (which don't seem to have any permanent detrimental effect on the birds) and perhaps, in really extreme weather, frozen feet (which I've encountered once, when it was -40F for more than a few days), I've found that it's really the thaw after the freeze that causes the most harm. It's usually in the spring, or in an early thaw (like today), that I see problems.
While the bedding is frozen, biological action pretty much stops, but once it thaws, parasites and pathogenic bacteria quickly start becoming a problem. I've dabbled in the deep bedding method, with disastrous results (I lost an entire flock of 40 one-year-old hens one spring). Since then, I've either added bedding weekly (a contractor-sized bag of leaves for my 10x12 coop) or, if there's a thaw in the forecast, shoveled out the barn entirely (and of course spread it right on the snow-covered garden as a sheet mulch). I've started going by the adage, "If you can smell ammonia, it's time to clean it out." This seems to keep my flock much healthier.
Plus of course, it's good exercise!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Would Rabbit Bedding for Tomato Mulch Prevent Blossom End Rot?

I was cleaning out the barn this morning, and had the realization that if blossom end rot in tomatoes is caused by a calcium deficiency, and rabbit urine is high in calcium, perhaps my rabbit bedding would make the perfect mulch for my tomatoes?
Has anyone tried this? I'm using maple leaves for my rabbit bedding, so I don't see any problems with putting that on my gardens. Any other problems you can forsee? I'm excited to try it out this summer!

(September 2015 Update - it looks like it worked! Not a sign of blossom end rot in my garden this year!)