homesteading

7 Golden Rules for Eating from the Wild

As we enter the Spring season on the Central Coast, blossoms are populating our fruit trees and seedlings are sprouting in the garden, but these are not the only places on the farm where the promise of a diverse and healthy harvest can be found. A cornucopia of wild greens, fruits, and mushrooms are emerging after a cold, wet winter; and we have been enjoying the addition of these healthy treats into our daily meals. From salads made with fresh, juicy greens like Lamb’s Quarters and Miner’s Lettuce to hearty soups made with Chanterelles, everyone here on the farm has caught the foraging bug. Here we share some tips and beginner guidelines for responsible foraging around your own home!

  1. Forage only from abundant, clean sources

When collecting plants or other food from the wild, make sure that you harvest from sources that are widely available. If the plant you are looking for is fairly common and you find an area where it grows in large quantities, by all means help yourself. If, on the other hand, there are only a handful of this type of plant growing around your area, it is best to look for this treat elsewhere to ensure that you don’t accidentally eliminate the plant from your area by over-harvesting.

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It is also absolutely necessary to harvest from clean environments only. Plants draw their nutrients from the soil, and if the soil they grow in is full of toxins or pollutants, such as on the side of a busy road, then the plant may have absorbed some of those bad chemicals. To make sure that your wild diet is healthy, not harming, collect your plants from pristine and familiar environments.

  1. Leave your source alive and healthy

The best way to make sure that your favorite wild treats are there for you and future generations in years to come is to leave your source in good health. This means not only harvesting from abundant sources but also helping the plant continue to thrive where you found it. One way you can do this as you forage is to take only what you need from the plant. For example, do not pull a plant up by the roots if all you need are the new leaves, seed pods, or fruit. Leave the plant as whole as possible.

Another great way to be a good steward with your favorite foraging spots is to be a propagator, like the birds and animals of the forest who spread seeds and pollen so that plants continue to grow year after year. For example, if the plant you are harvesting has seeds try collecting some and scattering them around the area you harvested from. This way, not only will the plants you’ve discovered be there next year but you will have also helped create new ones. This is a great way to create even more abundant sources of wild food for yourself and others in the future.

  1. Go at the right time

Early morning is a great time to go foraging for most plants, as many tend to wilt on warm afternoons. Foraging early also gives you time to clean and prepare what you’ve harvested at home on the same day so that everything is fresh and delicious! Dry weather is also ideal for harvesting most plants. If the weather is too wet, there is always the risk that the extra moisture will make your harvest start to rot before you get home—not to mention the mud!

Besides considering the weather and time of day, the time of year also matters a great deal. To get harvests of the highest quality, it is always best to know the growing cycle of the plant you are looking for so that you’ll know what part of the plant all of it’s energy is being used for. For example, in Fall and Winter most plants concentrate their energy into their root system to make it through the dark season until Spring. Likewise, you wouldn’t be able to harvest wild blackberries in Spring because the plant won’t bear fruit until late Summer. When figuring out what you can expect to get the best of from a plant for any time of year, remember this general rule:

In SPRING, the new SHOOTS; In SUMMER, the FRUITS; In FALL, the ROOTS!

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  1. Have the right tools

Whenever we take a foraging trip on the farm, we always go prepared. This means plenty of bags or buckets to carry all of our wild goodies home in, as well as keeping them separate and organized. Small garden spades, clippers, or other tools can make harvesting easier and cleaner. Tools help us harvest with more precision and allow us to take only what we need, like any good forager is mindful to do.

Gloves and long clothing are also a good idea, as foraging in the wild around the farm means sometimes swimming through a patch of poison oak or stinging nettle to get to a sweet spot on the other side. Keeping our skin covered helps ensure that our experience collecting from the woods and fields stays a positive and healthy one!

  1. Keep it legal

If you are lucky enough to have something wild growing on your own property, then it is a lot easier to make sure that your foraging is legal. When venturing off of your own property, legal foraging can be more confusing. Here are some general rules for taking a foraging trip on to public lands, like neighborhoods, forests, and parks.

When foraging in urban areas, keep to the sidewalk. Fruits or other plants that hang over or grow on public sidewalks may be collected legally but stay off of lawns, driveways, fences, or other private property. For free maps of public urban foraging spots in your area, check out FallenFruit.org.

If your foraging trip takes you into more wild settings, remember that just because you are on public land doesn’t mean that it is legal to forage. Most state parks and forests prohibit any foraging whatsoever. National forests, on the other hand, usually allow foraging up to 1 lb. of plant matter by an individual. These guidelines may vary from location to location, so be sure to check PublicLands.org for any bans or foraging suspensions, as well as for locations that are more lenient about foraging amounts per person.

  1. Prepare to process before you forage

The greatest sin of a forager is to over-harvest but perhaps the second greatest sin is to waste a harvest from neglect. Many a forager has spent a day collecting prizes in the wild only to return home tired and unprepared to clean, use, or preserve what they have harvested. Greens, fruits, and other plants then rot and waste in their collection bags due to neglect.

When planning your foraging trip, remember to factor in the time and energy required by your harvest AFTER you leave the woods. Have everything you need to clean and process your plants ready at home before you leave so that you can get the most from your harvest.

  1. Share and enjoy!

The only thing more fun than foraging is sharing your wild treats with friends and family. When you share your harvest, be sure to let the gift receiver know that you foraged their goodies with care and invite them to join you on your next trip to the wild banquet!

By: Rachel Meeker

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Backyard Chickens, Fresh Eggs, Pecking Order, Uncategorized

4 Important Things to Consider when Ordering your First Chickens

In addition to looking forward to scrumptious and beautiful eggs, as backyard chicken keepers, we also hope that our feathered, breakfast-making ladies will be our pets too. As you prepare to get chickens for your coop and backyard, there are a few important things to consider in order to foster a flock that is healthy, happy with each other, and happy with us. (Note: this will certainly make for the-most-delicious-tasting eggs.)

  1. Choose wisely when deciding on the number of chickens you’ll get. First, check with your city ordinances to find out if there is a limit to the number of chickens you can keep. Next, determine the maximum number of chickens you can keep based on the size of your chicken coop. Chickens, like most living beings, need personal space and some freedom to move about. If you pack too many hens into a small area, you’re asking for heavy cleaning and loads of bickering (or worse), somewhat like taking kids for a long car ride! You can generally assume that about 10 square feet per chicken should be sufficient, less if you plan to free range them outside the coop. Lastly, determine how many eggs your household will reasonably use, sell, barter, or give away. On average, a good laying hen will give you 5 eggs per week.
  2. Keep pullets around the same age or size. We recommend keeping adolescent pullets within a couple months of age of each. If you’re starting with baby chicks, keep them all within a few weeks of each other – they will need much different heat requirements if they’re too far apart in age. If you’re starting with mature hens – they’ll all be the same size and the age does not matter. It may seem like a great idea to get some chickens that are ready to lay to appease our excitement to harvest fresh eggs, and some chickens that are small and fluffy that we can bond with. Unfortunately, putting together a group of chickens of wildly different ages can be really tough on the little ones, and its never okay to put baby chicks together with adolescents or adults who are not currently broody and ready to be mothers. Younger chickens in a flock of older birds will often get ostracized from the group, kept away from the food and water, and subjected to a much tougher and lengthy pecking order. Baby chicks will not survive the cold or the pecking order, and getting just one baby chick for your brooder will make it lonely, stressed, and cause other health problems.
  3. Avoid including just one chicken who looks different from the rest. Surely you’ve heard the saying “Birds of a feather flock together,” and it’s true: chickens seem to know when they look like each other. They’ll pair up or stay in groups that look alike and the one chicken that doesn’t look like anyone else will get left out. Our favorite recommendation is to get all different breeds. Chickens become like pets and will probably all get names, and this makes it easy to tell them apart. You could also get all the same breeds, get pairs or multiples of different breeds, or make sure there are at least 2 chickens that look different from the rest.
  4. Integrate chickens as few times as possible. It may seem like a good idea at the time to start with a couple, and get more as you go but the pecking order can be a nasty score to settle for some chickens. This is not to say it isn’t possible or it’s too hard, but it’s not pleasant and it can be quite a bit of work.  Unless you’re absolutely not prepare to bring your ideal number of chickens in all at once, or your heart is set on breeds who will hatch in different times of the year we recommend getting everyone at once.

For more helpful information on getting started with chickens, purchase tickets to our Backyard Chickens Classes or browse our free Care Guide!

by: Megan Raff

Food Waste & Preservation, homesteading

9 Ways to Store Summer in your Pantry: Preserving summer veggies, fruits, and herbs

The beauty of summer fades too quickly every year; and just as we wish we could capture sunlight to carry with us into the dark winter days, we also wish to preserve the flavor of cherry tomatoes off the vine and the crunch of a fresh cucumber. Of course these are also a great way of making food last when harvest bears us more than we are prepared to eat. Here are nine ways to store summer in your pantry.

Before you get started with any of these nine methods, make sure you get the right supplies for storage. Mason jars are a staple for canning and for storing dried or preserved foods; but don’t over pay for them. We recommend getting a 12-pack of wide mouth (wm) pint Ball jars. They can be used for canning and fermenting, or even storing dried goods in. (We also like to use them for drinking glasses: durable, decorative, inexpensive, and easy to find if you need to replace them. No more hunting for discontinued glassware or buying an entire set of glasses because one broke. Shoot, I even use them for wine!)

If you plan to make spices like powdered garlic or peppers, you might try the cute little 4-oz Ball jars that don’t take up as much space. You might also think about picking up a vacuum sealer. The Weston 11-inch Professional Advantage is the most highly recommended by America’s Test Kitchen. You can purchase pre-cut bags, or buy a roll of bags to cut at whatever length you choose. Mesh bags are also handy for cured food, and look pretty cool in your pantry.

Pickling

Pickling is the most common preservation process, but there are incredible flavors to be had by pickling, so don’t sneeze at it. Tons of vegetables can be pickled: cucumbers, peppers, beets, carrots, beans, garlic and more. Wash the veggies, and cover with a brine using 2 tablespoons of salt per quart of water. Leave to brine for 2 days and then drain. Put sugar and white vinegar into a pot to boil and dissolve. Add veggies and can into sanitized jars. You can add pickling spices to the sugar vinegar mixture; or you can add herbs and pickle flavorful veggies together like garlic cucumber pickles, or jalapeno bush beans.

For tons of amazing recipes, pick up a copy of this book we love: “The Joy of Pickling” for just $15. It also has lots of great tips on canning methods.

Fermenting

Fermenting vegetables and fruits requires a lot more care, but you get amazing foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and chutney. Using a salt, whey, or starter culture, create a brine with purified water. The salt is key in fermenting for flavor and quality. We use San Francisco Salt Co’s Sherpa Pink salt. You can get a pound of salt for $7.50, which is a steal for ordinary salt, but this is amazing stuff. Really. If this is the one thing you take from this article I will be happy. It deserves it’s own picture. Here it is:

Submerge chopped, shredded, or sliced veggies completely in the brine in a fermentation vessel and put it in a cool place to sit. Again, recipes for the brine are important, and it’s also really important to know when things go wrong. Just like pickling, if not done properly, mold can result; and you’ll need to know what to do. So pick up a book, like “Fermented Vegetables” by Kirsten Shockey, for outstanding recipes and tips, for less than $20.

 

If you already have some wide mouth mason jars, you can get started with an Easy Fermenter Kit that comes with lids, a vacuum pump, recipes, and a 30-day membership to The Fermenting Club for help.

 

If you get the chance, try Kanji, a popular Indian pickled carrot drink. Wash a few pounds of carrots and grate into a jar. Add clean water, salt, hot spices, and close lid but leave a tiny hole for gas to escape. Ferment for 7-10 days, strain out the carrots and drink the liquid!

Canning Tomatoes

Wash and remove bad tomatoes. Roma and San Marzano tomatoes are great for this. To remove the skin, score them and blanch them in boiling water, and toss them in a bowl of ice water. Fill a jar with peeled tomatoes, add a little lemon juice or vinegar. Submerge jars in water, boiling for 30-50 minutes and then let cool.

Dehydrating Fruit and Veggies

To make dried fruit and veggie chips, you can find or make yourself a tray. Something that works well is chicken wire attached inside a wood frame. Place the tray with vegetable or fruit chips somewhere warm and elevated to encourage airflow above and below the tray. Turn the chips every day until they are dry. You can dry beans, leaves for tea, fruits, and vegetables. You can also purchase a dehydrator to eliminate the process of turning the chips every day, and keep them safe from hungry insects. The one we use is the Excalibur 9-Tray Dehydrator which we love for not only the quantity of food you can dehydrate at once, but also because the air circulation is excellent, and clean up is super easy.  We’ve used it for years with no problems. Our favorite dehydrated veggie is seaweed style shredded kale, but it does a bang up job on tomatoes too. Mmmm!

Hang Dry Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and herbs can be hung to dry year round. For onions, garlic, herbs, peppers, and tomato clusters, hang to dry in an airy place protected from the sun and heat. You can braid onions and garlic, or create racks to hang them by their bulbs to dry. Peppers can be strung using a needle and thread through the stem and tied off in small intervals. These make beautiful kitchen decorations while they’re drying, and keep well after they are dried.

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Sun Drying

This method is a great method to preserve nutrients. It takes only a few days. You can make your own solar dehydrator with a box or tray covered by a clear glass or plastic sheet to transmute sun rays and heat into a solar “oven”. This will produce a much lower temperature than an oven, which will maintain nutrient structure inside the fruits or vegetables of choice. You can also use a drying net rack in the sun. This $22 Magarz 4 Layer Drying Rack Net allows the heat of the sun to do its job while keeping bugs out; plus its collapsible and washable.

Make Powders and Flours

You can make powder or flour out of so many food items: pumpkin, banana, sweet potato, beans, peppers and other grains. Some foods require you to cook the food first. Otherwise, you can simply dry the food and then pound it into a powder. You can use a mortar and pestle like this cutie, which is good for tons of other things too; but to alleviate the time and headache of hand grinding all the dried food into a quantity of powder you can use for baking, you’d be better off getting a good food processor. The one we use when processing tons of dried foods is this Cuisinart 9-Cup. Aside from processing powdered peppers other spices like a champ, this is easily the most durable and multi-functional food processor we’ve ever owned. (We’ve gone through quite a few to get to this one with the amount of cooking our little kitchen sees.) The most important thing is to make sure whatever you’re turning into flour is very dry. To make a fine flour with a mortar and pestle, you will want to sieve the powder out and continue pounding the rest. When you’re finished, place in a jar in a dry storage area. You can use it by mixing it in with your regular flour or experiment with a new recipe.

Fruit Leathers

This process is done by cooking the fruits and then letting it dry. This brings out the sugars for a leathery texture. You can make Pumpkin, squash, beets, or any other fruits and meaty vegetables. You will first wash, then cook, then puree, add honey and spices, and then spread on a tray to dry in your dehydrator.

Curing

You can cure and keep some vegetables in a dry storage for a good long while. To keep root vegetables such as potatoes and celeriac for a long keep in the cellar or food pantry, cure them in a warm shady place with air flow for a week before putting them in a food pantry. This will thicken their skin and allow them to stay better for longer. Onions and garlic can also be cured in a well-ventilated and shady space by layering them on a pallet or table so each bulb has maximum airflow around it. Garlic must be cured for about a month, or until the stalk is dry and brittle; whereas onions take only 3-4 days. When they’re finished, cut the stalk off and remove the outer layer of skin if it is dirty. Most gourds and winter squashes like pumpkins, spaghetti squash and butternut squash can be be preserved throughout the winter in cold storage without curing; but they should be fully ripe when harvested.

Author: Kelsie Crane

Editor: Megan Raff