Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mm Mm Mealworms in the Oatmeal

I am on a mission to grow our own chicken food.  We spend about $45 a month on chicken feed for our small flock.  We are letting our birds slowly multiply, so that figure could get higher. I talked B into measuring out and being more conservative with the feed because some definitely gets wasted.  We spend a bit on dog and cat food as well. (I'm not even going to tell you about the time we had the dogs on a real food "raw" diet).  If we're trying to cut OUR food costs, then we definitely need to look at cutting the animals' food cost. Plus I'd like to give our birds a healthier, more natural, and even organic diet.  We do eat the eggs and some of the chickens after all.

Recent research led me to find that you can grow worms fairly easily.  This is a more "natural" diet for a chicken anyway, at least a free-ranging chicken.  Our birds used to be completely free to roam our property, just shy of two acres.  They went further though, but not too much further.  They were laying eggs....somewhere besides their nesting boxes.  So now we have the backyard fenced in for them.  They have plenty of room, but probably not as many insects.  At least now we're getting all of our eggs.  Yay!  We have 8 laying hens and get on average get 8 eggs a day.  We'd like to have a few more momma hens, and they are slowly multiplying.  We had 9 hens but one mysteriously disappeared, with no trace.

So mealworms and/or maggots was my first inclination.  I recently posted a links to each of the options.  After further investigation, I found out that maggots = possible botulism and other diseases.  That's fine, they gross me out anyway.  Mealworms seem pretty easy.  Something about the dryness of the worms and the bedding (oatmeal or bran meal) that makes them much less gross.

I looked at lots of sites about mealworms.  Seems birds, fish, sugar gliders, tarantulas, lizards, and who knows what all other animals eat mealworms.  They are easy to grow and cheap.  Sign me up.  You need to keep them separated through out their life cycles.  It's pretty cool, they have 4 stages and it goes like this:

Egg: 7-14 days
Larvae (mealworm): 30-90 days
Pupae: 10-20 days
Darkling Beetle Adult: 5-10 days

I bought a tub of mealworms from Petsmart, 100 for $5 and went to work.  All the tutorials I found suggest something like those plastic office organizers.  My first inclination was to run out and buy some.

Fortunately I'm still in my "decluttering" mindset and I realized I have several plastic bins in a closet full of junk I'm not using.  So the smartest thing to do, would be to get them out of the closet, go through the crap inside and use what I already have.
rescued from the "junk" closet
B already had the drill out - see the green house coming up in the back?
I asked him to drill holes where I marked, clearly he understood

I already had these in the pantry, it works as food and bedding

Ok, mealworm setup is complete.  Well that was so quick and easy that I'm ready to do something else.  How about red wigglers?  Them make awesome compost, and more worms.  All they need is one big bin and some shredded paper/cardboard.  Sweet, now where can I get some of those?  Apparently not anywhere near me.  Before publishing this I heard there are some in Mobile, but there's a hurricane out there and I'm not driving to Mobile for worms.  Especially when you can buy some from Amazon.  Yes, you can buy live worms from 
But I didn't.  The reviews weren't great for those that had taken that route. I ended up buying worms from Uncle Jim's Worm Farm.  They also had a pretty great deal on mealworms, so I stocked up a bit more on them, about 500 more.

Vermicomposting and Vermaculture from has some great info on whys and hows of growing worms.
So does My Pet Chicken.

I'll show pics of the red wigglers when they get here.  Yay!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Farm Chick Chit Chat: Meal Worm Farming

Farm Chick Chit Chat: Meal Worm Farming As we all know, meal worms are a great feed supplement for all poultry flocks, and it is very easy to "grow" you own! Over time, depending on how often you like to give your birds meal worms, it can indeed get quite pricey. In a time where the "name of the game" is to spend as little as possible and be more self sufficient …

Here's a great video tutorial on raising mealworms.
What's really cool is this kid is growing them for his fish and tarantula. Apparently it's a pretty source of food for multiple species.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Deliberate Agrarian: FREE Chicken Feed

The Deliberate Agrarian: FREE Chicken Feed:

The October/November issue of “Backyard Poultry” magazine has an article by Harvey Ussery titled “Feeding the Flock From the Homestead’s Own Resources.” In addition to pasturing the birds, growing green forage (like comfrey), and mangle beets, and feeding surplus milk, Mr. Ussery’s article discusses the feeding of earthworms, Japanese beetles, and maggots.

mmm maggots

Good Bugs & Moon Signs

I have been organizing our seeds and planning our Fall/Winter garden  You know, just throwing seeds in the ground and waiting for produce just doesn't work.  This is our third year gardening, every year it gets a little better, BUT a little more complicated.

The more you know, the more you know you don't know.  Right?

Planning is crucial.  Pest control is right up there in the top of the list of factors to consider.  I'm planting more beneficial herbs and flowers to help draw in some of the "good bugs."  Many years ago I met a man in Hartford, TN on the Pigeon River who went on and on about good bugs.  I'm going to start researching that aspect more.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.   I'd much rather have some happy braconid wasps laying their eggs in those tomato hornworms then sprinkling poison on our food.  I'd really rather not have the hornworms to begin I've gotta get studying.  We also have flea beatles, pill-bugs (roly-poly), and other caterpillars.  I understand that pests are prone to attack the unhealthy plants versus healthy plants.

We are working on our soil too.  I'm leaving that up to hubby.  It fascinates him and bores me.  I'm much more into seeds and weeds.  We have some pretty dang good compost on hand.  B is working on a fish gut connection and the chickens help contribute.  I also want to get a worm box going.  I want to add some worms and worm castings.

Greenhouse is under construction, it's going to be a real treat.  We are repurposing - and I can't even type this without laughing- acrylic sheets from tanning beds.  B is framing up the structure now, and he's trying to finish by September 10.  Of course photos and details to come as it makes progress - or hits completion.  Added bonus * the greenhouse is going to have an outdoor shower. Sweet, right?

discarded tanning bed "glass"

I have been using the website Smart Gardener to layout plants and help me find which plants to plant based on the season.  I ordered seeds from Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden SupplySouthern Exposure Seed ExchangeBaker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and I already had some from Seed Savers Exchange.

At Bonnaroo 2010 B and I went to some classes hosted by Seed Savers Exchange in Planet Roo.  Our first bit of seed education came from there.  We went to 3 classes, and learned about heritage and heirloom seeds and everyone was given seeds.  I also went home with my first kombucha mother from a fermentation class. The goal of the Seed Savers Exchange folks was to get this thing going every year and for people to start saving and bring in their own seeds to share yearly.  Sadly I missed the last two Bonnaroos since then.  2011 I was very pregnant, 2012 Baby O was a little too pasty and helpless.  Bonnaroo 2013 we are all going as a family.  I'm super excited about that.  And we'd like to take a handful of seeds to share.

We have been harvesting okra.  That's about it. Pretty sad, this is our worst year for okra.  That's the one thing we have always had an abundance of in our garden.  I think I planted old seeds this time though.  I'm not sure if they were from our last years okra or from Bonnaroo three years ago.  Lesson learned is to throw away old seeds.  Or throw them in the compost and see what grows, that's always fun.  Fortunately, we received okra in our CSA baskets from Mae Grace Farm earlier in the summer.  WE LOVE FRIED OKRA.  I have some in the freezer.  I cut them up, battered them, and froze them ready to go. We are eating a fresh batch tonight from our garden and I'm going to use the buttermilk I've got sitting on the kitchen counter fermenting.  Let's hope it's better than the kefir.  You have to have buttermilk to fry okra or green tomatoes. I linked to the buttermilk recipe previously.  It's simple.  Make sure you have active cultured buttermilk as a starter.  Pour into a glass jar 1/4 cup of buttermilk and 3/4 cup of milk, let sit 24 hours, shake, done.  I'll share the outcome. Um, and now that I think about it, it might have been supposed to be a 1:4 ratio.  Hm.

We also got hooked up with some grass fed beef from our friends at Mae Grace, pretty excited about that.  It came from Hastings Farm which is about 20 miles or less north of us. We've had 2 pounds of the ground beef this week and it is quite tasty and not greasy at all.   I made beef stroganoff one night and browned some with kale, topped with feta last night.  Can't wait to try some steaks.
Speaking of meat, I also have some of the best bacon in the world in my freezer from Farm Fresh Meats in Robertsdale.  Those of you from around know.

We are utilizing the Old Farmer's Almanac and following the moon signs to do our planting and weeding this year.  We haven't really done this previously.  I'm anxious to see the results.  I laid out all of the seeds I ordered and looked up each specific vegetables' best time to plant.  I used notecards and a box to organize them.  I can't believe I didn't do this sooner.  I loved using index cards for study tools in college.  So every packet of seed has a date on it and whether to start indoors or sow directly.  I copied those dates down chronologically on a note card and then organized seed packets by date/season.  So far this is the only "method" I've ever implemented.  I think it's going to work great.  In the back I stuffed a copy of our garden plan and the moon calendar. Also here's a link to Farmer's Almanac Blog

organized seeds by season

subdivided by starting method

probably an unnecessary step, but now I know

lay the packs sideways, and they fit perfectly

I'm so proud of this task
Next post will probably be of the next step in our pear wine, or the greenhouse, or the chicken swap from last weekend! Can't believe I haven't posted that one yet.  We have new family members and I haven't introduced them yet.

Have a great rest of your weekend.  I've been spending a majority of mine loving on a teething baby and obviously all of the above.  Life is good!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Let the Fermentation Begin

The reason I haven't been blogging as often as I would like, is because I feel I need to complete something before I talk about it.  But some things aren't that quick.  Some things are a long process.  Sometimes I have a lot of unfinished projects.....

The lengthiest one underway now is our first batch of wine.  We had buckets and buckets of pears that aren't worthy of eating.  So what's the next best thing to eating? Drinking.  Yep.  Winemaking has been around for oh, about 9,000 years. fruit and time equals a great opportunity to make booze.

Everyone says oh, it's cheap to make wine.  When was the last time you bought a carboy?  They ain't cheap.  Neither is shipping.  We DID get a great kit with minimal shipping and now that we have a batch brewing, er fermenting, whatever, we need another carboy or two for our muscadine wine coming up next.  There's a wine supply store in Mobile, so I'm hoping hubby can stop there this week and pick up a carboy or two for under $60.  BUT once you have all of the equipment, it IS cheap.  The ingredients consists of fruit/grapes, yeast, and sugar.

We got a kit big enough to make 6 gallons, which is 30 bottles of wine. That's great.  The bad news? It takes a year to make wine. Dang!  We better get  started ASAP.

Making wine really doesn't seem to be that complicated, just technical.  There's a lot of new lingo to learn: must, racking, specific gravity, carboy, bunghole (haha), and so on.  I did some reading and some researching to find out exactly how to do it.  Turns out there are lots of methods and varying recipes.  I found 4 good pear wine, aka perry, recipes.  I blended them to create my own.  I hope it works.  I hope we don't wait a year to find out it didn't!!!

Instead of waiting a year to blog about our wine, I'll just keep ya posted as we go.  Also, this is sort of my online diary, so when I forget what I did when, I can always look it up here.  Now do you feel weird reading my diary? Should I write about my feelings too? =)

Some pictures:

I thought 6 pounds of sugar would be enough...after adding this big pile I checked the specific gravity and added about 5 more pounds!  I can't believe there is 11 pounds of sugar in this batch.

This is our 6+ gallon bucket with the cut up pears.

 I think this is about 25 pounds of pears.

Add boiling water and let soak for 72 hours.

 These are some of the ingredients we used.  We can label our wine as "made with organic pears" but we can't call it organic wine.  From what I understand, it is quite a difficult undertaking to make organic wine because of the added sulfites.

After 72 hours the directions said to pour off the liquid and squeeze out the fruit.  Well that seemed like a lot of work and then we wouldn't be left with much actual pear.  So I had this bright idea to puree the pears and then squeeze them.

 Um, yeah...this was going to be a long process.

Then I had a better idea! Juice the pears!

There we go, now we have pear juice and no hand squeezing necessary.  I did have to sterilize all of the juicing equipment first.

What's that fist shaped indention in the pulp you ask?  Uh, did I mention I was drinking wine while making wine?  I like to punch weird things, like fruit pulp and packages of toilet paper in the grocery store.

Now, I'm stirring the must twice a day for 7 days.

We have a few more days until the next step.  I'll keep ya posted!

If anyone is interested, here is the recipe:

Hargraves' Perry Recipe
Pears - 25 pounds
Sugar - 10+ pounds (add 6 at first, then add more to adjust SG)
Acid Blend - lemon juice from one lemon 
Pectic Enzyme - 2½ teaspoons 
Yeast Nutrient - 3 teaspoons 
Campden Tablets - 3 each 
36 raisins
Yeast Lalvin - 1 package
6 gallons boiling water


1.   Remove the stems from the fruit, cut the fruit into quarters, and put it in a large sterilized plastic vessel. 
2.   Dissolve Campden Tablets in the boiling water, and pour the water over the fruit, fill to 6 gallons stirring well. 
3.   Tightly cover the vat.

After 72 hours
1.   Pour off the liquid and press out the fruit. (This is where I decided to juice the fruit)
2.   Add sugar, adjusting the SG to 1.090. 
3.   Add lemon juice, yeast nutrient, pectic enzyme, tannin or raisins, and yeast culture. 
4.   Cover
5.   Stir twice daily for 7 days.

After 7th day, End of 7th day? I’m not clear on this
1.   Remove to a glass vessel with an air lock. 
2.   Rack in 3 weeks, again at 3 months. 
When the wine is clear, stabilize, and bottle.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Fruit Leather. Take 2

Since the fig leather was only a partial success, I thought I'd give it another go.  Plus I got some of the paraflexx tray liners for the dehydrator to avoid any paper-eating scenarios.

We have an old sand pear tree on our property that the birds and squirrels have been enjoying for some time.  The pears are huge, but hard, and well....sandy in texture.  I've been told they're good "canning" pears.  Probably cause they aren't fun to eat.

I have to say, the funnest part was taking a long pvc pipe down to the tree and swinging at the branches like a pinata.

We have 2 intentions with this fruit loot.  1. fruit leathers, 2. WINE

3 large grocery sack fulls of pears
putting B to work coring

I believe sitting on the front porch with the dogs, cutting pears is a wonderful way to spend the afternoon
I think this should be enough for dehydrating
I just lightly boiled these for about 4-5 minutes
after pureeing, I just poured and spread onto the paraflexx tray liners
this is exactly what it looks like in the dehydrator manual
Ok, well, did I mention that I have "misadventures?" Sometimes things don't go as smoothly as anticipated.  It was time for bed and I checked the leathers.  Starting to get crispy on the outside and bubbling and cracking in the inside.  Seriously?

cracks and bubbles....whatever
I didn't want to leave the dehydrator running all night, I was afraid the leathers would be hard as a rock in the morning, so I took them out and put them in the refrigerator.

And then...I pull them out of the fridge in the morning and of course, stuck to each other.  I have to laugh, right?

I sprinkled coconut flakes on this tray. 
dirty dishes, yep, always a mess
 Ok, so the NEXT afternoon, here we go.  Holey fruit roll-ups?

 Wait, I think they're swiss fruit roll ups.

And they didn't so much as roll as they just folded awkwardly.  So I made holey fruit fold-ups.  Yep, just like the store bought kind. The whole point was to make a high calorie, quick easy snack to grab, and I did.  Therefore, this is a success story. With lots of laughs.

Oh, I forgot, I did add about a teaspoon of sugar per cup of fruit, and some sprinkles of pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon, or coconut flakes for some extra flavor. 

Final verdict:
B says they taste like they came from the back yard.  I'm not sure how to take that.  I'll probably do it again.  Maybe not with the pears.  I'll save them for wine, or maybe I will learn how to can and save them for pear cobbler.  

You know what?  I don't even like pears.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Law of Circulation

When something super awesome happens you should want to tell as many people as possible, right? I think so. This morning when my car came to a smoking halt in the middle of a major intersection, I had a great experience.

I was pulling up to a red-light when grey, greenish, stinky smoke bellowed out from under the hood. So I just pulled over into the grass. I had gotten off the interstate at the last exit before Mobile Bay. We were on a little hill so it was a great view.  Unfortunately, I was so wrapped up in "oh my car, what's going on" that I didn't even look at the bay and breathe.

Immediately a lady, getting off the interstate stopped and asked if I need help. Then she pointed and said "I think there's a police officer coming" I said thank you and waved, told her I was ok. A motorcycle pulled in to the grass on the other side of my car, but be wasn't the police. He was an older man, 60's-70's. He told me he went by "Pete."

It wasn't one minute later a police officer did pull in, I had the hood lifted already and the little baby was in a ring sling hanging out observing the whole situation, not making a peep.

Then before I could turn around a fireman pulled in, it was determined that it was my starter that went out and where would I like it to be towed.

Well the place we get my car serviced is up the road one mile (1.1 to be exact). They also have a tow service. Isn't that convenient?!  The officer was on it, and had the truck dispatched immediately.

Mobile Bay is just to the left of my finger
Next thing you know, there's a second police officer behind my car. So there's 2 cops, a fireman and my new friend Pete. Turns out we actually have some mutual friends, Pete and I. Some real good people. Here comes the tow truck. My car is loaded up and Pete says to me "You know, I've been really blessed in my life, here, take this." and puts money in my hand!

It made me cry, I couldn't believe it.  I protested a bit through some tears, and he just pushed it to me and said take it.  I got his number and address and told him the next time we are in his neck of the woods we will stop by to say hi.

Baby O and I took the one mile ride in the tow truck up the hill to our service center.  A friend meets me there and takes me home and stays for a visit. I had 2 great friends willing to pick me up, and 2 more willing to take me back to pick my car up when it was finished.

I didn't get to attend the monthly La Leche League meeting we were on our way to, or go fabric shopping with a friend, or go to the grocery store.  That's ok, and the rest of the afternoon turned out to be pretty great too.  Sometimes, things don't go as planned, but you just have to smile and go with it.  It's actually better that my car broke right where it did.  Normally I drive my hubby's truck and he is who-knows-where in my car, but my faithful 1998 Toyota Camry was in the right place at the right time today.  She's such a good car.  I've never had to replace the starter, it's done me right for well over 200,000 miles. Who knows how many cranks that is.
My sweet ol' girl

The funny thing is, Pete gave me the exact same amount of dollars that we had given a friend to help support her on a mission trip.

So this has nothing to do with being a farmer or organic living, but it has to do with us living the "Good Life." I am surrounded by blessings every day and I like to express my gratitude for it.  It is all GOOD, ALL of the time.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Buttermilk and Sour Cream Recipes

So I heard that you can always have buttermilk just by adding a little bit of buttermilk to milk...This serves me more than kefir, because I just found a recipe for cream cheese using buttermilk.  Cream cheese, I could eat by the handfull, so forget you kefir, bring on the cream cheese!

I have buttermilk, because we batter and fry okra around here (ok and sometimes chicken).
It is cultured milk, so that's necessary for it to work.

Directions to make more buttermilk

(must have a starter with active cultures)
6-8 oz of active buttermilk (about 1 cup)
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • put in quart jar, with lid
  • shake to mix
  • let sit on counter for 24 hours (up to 36)

Sour Cream
(must have active starter)
  • 2 tbsp buttermilk
  • 1 cup of cream
  • put in jar with lid
  • shake to mix
  • let sit 12 hours (up to 24)

sigh, and I lost the cream cheese recipe.....must try to hunt it down again


Easy Cream Cheese Recipe


2 cups whole milk 
2 cups heavy cream
2 Tbsp fresh cultured buttermilk 
1/4 tablet Junket rennet tablet
sterile white plain handkerchief (boil to sterilize, hang to dry thoroughly)

1) Combine milk and cream in a stainless pot. Gently warm to 70 F, stir regularly.
2) Mix buttermilk thoroughly into the warmed milk-cream mixture. Cover.
3) Let sit 15 minutes. Meanwhile, dissolve 1/4 tablet of Junket rennet in 1/4th cup cool water.
4) Thoroughly stir solution of rennet into inoculated milk/cream, cover again.
5) Allow to sit overnight at warm room temperature (70-75 F).
6) The mixture should have gelled by the next morning. Sprinkle 1/2 - 1 tsp salt on the surface.
Stir briefly and gently with a whisk to produce pieces about the size of a pea.
7) Line a large strainer with the sterile handkerchief. Gently pour the semi-liquid product into
the cloth. Let drain for 30 minutes.
8) Pick up the corners of the cloth, wrap corners in a looped thick rubber band, hang over a bowl
to drain. You may hang in a refrigerator if your house is hot.
9) Turn solidifying mass in the cloth to hasten drainage. Store in a refrigerator. Use within a
week or so.

I have not tried this yet, I'll let ya know when I do, hopefully next week.

Kefir [kuh feer]

So what's all this kefir hype? I want some.

I make and love yogurt, so I want to make and love kefir.  Wait, what is it?

Kefir, technically pronounced kuh feer, not like Keifer.  So why don't they just spell it kuhfeer?  Whatever.  Kefir is a cultured milk product, it contains good bacteria and yeasts, is chock full of vitamins and probiotics.  You need a starter, called grains, which isn't too hard to come by these days.  I got hooked up with some grains, brought them home and googled what next.


Take your grains, put them in a glass jar, fill 3/4 of the way with milk, put a lid on it, let sit for at least 24 hours, remove grains. Done.

Now you have more grains, and kefir.  Drink and enjoy.

The kefir grains given to me

here they are, kinda like cauliflower

now let it sit for a day

24 hours later, floating grains
the kefir and new grains 

new pile of grains
Well, final verdict? 

Have you ever drank milk you left sitting out all night and the next day? Me neither.  What about milk that had something floating in it that grew, did you want to drink that? Yeah, exactly.  I don't want to drink it.  I forced myself to sip it. IS kinda gross. Maybe if it's cold, it won't be so bad.  So it's sitting in the fridge, waiting.  I'm not going to lie, I don't want to drink it.  I want to want to, but it's kinda gross.  Kombucha - I can handle because it's tea.  I mean this is milk.  It reminded me of buttermilk, which I love for cooking but I don't want to drink it. I don't even drink eggnog.  I can probably use it in smoothies.  I'll do that.  And maybe I'll acquire a taste for it.  So if anyone wants any kefir grains, just let me know.  gag.