Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Update on the home front

I can't believe it's been six weeks since I blogged! Time flies this summer, and my computer time has become limited as my outdoor activities increase, but life is good. I have no complaints. Lets see, where to begin? The orchard first, since so many have asked.

I left the orchard the day of my first scheduled Herb Walk for the season. When I arrived at my scheduled time, the orchard was being sprayed. Great I thought, perfect timing. I was told to go ahead with my walk, and that I would be in no danger. All my instincts disagreed, and when I stepped outside into a cloud of drifting toxic mist the orchard keeper reminded me of the dangers of the chemicals used, and not to go into the orchard at all. So I went back inside and cancelled my walk, disgusted and apprehensive that this was likely the first of many times I'd face this during the season.

I had a lot of thinking to do, and some research. So when I arrived home I emailed and asked for the names of the chemicals used. I then researched the MSDS on all four chemicals and quickly determined that I did not belong there at the orchard. I have been anti-chemical for years, choosing not to use toxic chemicals in my home to control bugs or other pests. I don't even vaccinate my dogs. My friend Linda calls me the "chemical Nazi". I cringed as I read warning after warning, and saw documentation of the effects these chemicals had on humans and other animals and wildlife, water quality, and long term pollution of land. All this went totally against my conservation minded brain. So I cancelled all my appearances for the season.

I was able to find another place fairly quickly however, so will be doing my walks at the local Inn property, as well as conducting my herb classes at the local meeting house. Cool! One door closes....

Dogs; All the dogs are fine. The Bear puppy has doubled in size and remains a joy to be around. He's attended a couple of cookouts with me and we enjoy lunch one day a week at the local pet-friendly Cafe. Sadly he killed one of my chickens that had gotten out, and fetched it to the sunroom to feast on, where I took it away from him. So, I guess he'll be more of a pet and companion than a livestock protection dog! Bella is his favorite playmate, Rusty tolerates him, Mintaka likes him, and Diva still wants to kill him, so things are going well in that department.

Chickens; Well, things are not so good in the chicken department. After I moved them all to their larger area I had two more escape and get killed by the ever watchful Akitas. I'm down to three now, one of the White Rocks and two of the New Hampshires. And to make matters worse, two of them are roosters, and are learning to crow. So now I'll have to eat one of them, and get more chickens. And still they are not old enough to lay eggs. Bummer.

Other; I found a great email list that discusses Sally Fallon's "Nourishing Traditions" book, called "discussingnt@yahoogroups.com. I'd purchased the book when I was in herb school and tried several of the recipes, dabbled in kombucha, got good at whole grain sourdough bread, and loved making yogurt and kefir, which have become regular staples in my diet. But I slipped gradually, going back to storebought (tho still organic) yogurt and kefir, and abandoning my last kombucha scobi on my counter. I stopped making bread when the weather warmed. This non-air conditioned house gets so very warm with the oven on and I found too that my body actually does better on a semi-grain-free diet then even the whole and fermented grains, so I'll leave that for now.

But that email list has gotten me recharged and wanting to get back into fermentation projects, so I started last week. I made yogurt and kefir, using them in my morning smoothies, and today I started a batch of beet kvass. I had a couple of organic beets that I peeled and chopped, and I have a couple of cups of kefir on the counter now straining the whey from it to add to the beet jar. I'll also end up with a bit of soft cheese from the strained kefir. I love beets, and hope that my body will love the kvass more. I'll crank up the kettle in a bit to make a batch of kombucha too, maybe my shroom is still alive.

My garden is doing well. I lost my winter squash plants as seedlings for some reason, but the peppers, tomatoes, summer squash and Jerusalem Artichokes are all doing well. I'm eating squash almost daily now. The herb gardens are fine too, except for my Skullcap. My Mugwort and Wormwood have grown so tall they completely shaded out my Skullcap and those plants are tiny and likely won't produce. I'll have to relocate my artemesias and let them have more room to expand, and replace them with smaller herbs that will get along better with my Skullcap.

My Comfrey is doing TOO well. Silly me decided to transplant it from one garden to another last fall. Every teeny tiny root I cut as I dug it up turned into a thriving huge comfrey plant that shoved out my Oregano, Thyme, Basil and even a Rosemary bush. So I figure I'll have to cardboard it this fall and hope it doesn't come back in that spot. The ones I transplanted did well and like their new spot, so I just have to get rid of the extra. My compost pile is loving the extra green stuff I feed it weekly, chopping down the growth and adding it to the pile.

With the almost normal rain fall this year the mountain is green and happy. The herbs flourish, and all around me I see blooms of Black Cohosh, Solomon's Seal and Plume, Elder, Queen Anne's Lace, and many many more. This fall I expect a good harvest of many herbs I've been supporting for years by planting extra seeds, moving plants threatened by development, and just talking to them. It's nice to see that I've had a positive impact on many of the rare and endangered herbs, as their population has doubled and even tripled where I added my own bit of help.

Gotta run now.....kvass calls.


Sarah said...

Congratulations on taking action so swiftly with regard to the orchard! I can't think how anyone would think it was safe to do a walk immediately after spraying!

I wanted to ask how you started off your yoghurt and kefir from scratch. Did you use a bought natural yoghurt? I haven't seen kefir in the UK although my German friend has some. I've been wondering about starting some up.

Granny Sam said...

Hi Sarah!

Thanks for your comments.

I make my yogurt using a commercial "storebought" organic yogurt called Stonyfield Farms. http://www.stonyfield.com/ It's the best I've found. I buy a single serving of it and only use one tablespoon of that as my starter. I follow Sandor Katz' instructions from his book "Wild Fermentation", a must have for anyone who wants to get into doing ferments without a lot of expensive equipment. He credits the book "The Joy of Cooking" with the method. I highly recommend both books.

Anyway, I use a small cooler and a couple of jars or bottles of hot water. I pre-heat the cooler by filling it with hot water and let it stand while my milk is heating and cooling. I heat organic whole milk (again, the Stonyfield brand) to 180 degrees, remove it from heat, and allow it to cool to 120. When it reaches the right temperature I pour it into my clean quart jar, and add one tablespoon of my yougrt to it, stirring to blend it well. I dump the hot water out of the cooler at this point and set the capped jar in the middle. I add two more quart jars of hot water, one on each side, cover the whole arrangement with towels, and close the cooler. It sits undisturbed for about twelve hours. I like to start my yogurt at night while I'm cleaning up the kitchen, and then I have fresh yogurt in the morning. It's awesome stuff. I save a tablespoon of that yougrt to use as starter for my next batch.

For my kefir I bought a commercial powdered kefir starter. I simply poured one envelope into a quart of fresh milk and capped it loosely overnight. I tighten the lid and shake it now and then. After a day or two it's thick enough and I put it in the fridge. When it's almost gone I add more fresh milk and let it do its thing over again. I can only make two or three batches this way, as I don't actually get kefir grains from it. It'll stop making kefir after that. I'm currently hunting some grains for both milk and water kefirs which I'll be able to keep ongoing.

I hope this helps. Let me know how yours turns out!