Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pasutred Poultry

So it was my Birthday a few weeks ago and my lovely girlfriend, Colleen, got me Pastured Poultry Profits, by Joel Salatin. The book basically outlines a production, processing, and marketing model for small scale poultry production. The novel part of this method is that the chickens live in floor-less, mobile, pens that are moved daily to fresh pieces of pasture. The benefits are numerous, some obvious and others more subtle. Basically, the pastured poultry model allows birds access to fresh air and sunlight, exercise, as well as fresh green pasture which provides crucial vitamins and minerals. Furthermore, because the chickens are moved daily, they are not forced to wallow in their own poop and urine, which yields healthier, disease free birds, and healthier pasture. Even compared to free range poultry that live in a stationary building, the pastured poultry fair better. Keeping chickens in one place, even if they have access to pasture, inevitably leads to nitrogen build-up in the radius around their house, which causes nitrate toxicity in the soil and enables pathogens to live, grow and prosper in the feces of the chickens. I could go on forever about the benefits of pastured poultry and even longer about the detriments of factory chicken concentration camps, but I will leave it at that.

After reading the book, I decided that I HAVE to run a batch of pastured poultry. I set out to find some flat land (a difficult task in the highlands of Guatemala) and a partner to work with on this venture. Sure enough, i found what I was looking for.

In the town next to our, there is a local Guatemalan cow farmer, named Marcos, who rents and stewards 4 and a half acres of lake front property, which is incredibly flat and well equipped with healthy pasture. After spending a few days talking and working with the farmer, I brought up my idea of running some pastured poultry on his land. The fact that he has cows makes it all the better. Note that his milk cows are beautiful and his management of them is even more so. Each morning, he moves each of his 10 cows to a piece of fresh pasture, preventing manure build up and damage to teh grass, which providing a fresh daily piece of good green material for grazing. Running pastured poultry behind cows is incredibly beneficial, as the chickens benefits from the grubs and undigested grain found in the manure patties, and the pasture benefits from the chickens spreading and scratching the manure patties into the ground, to fertilize the pasture and prevent run-off into the lake.

Needless to say, he loved the idea and, after working out the details, hit the ground running. The first movable chicken pen is almost complete and we are then going to build a brooder house for the chicks. The goal is to have the first batch of chickens on to pasture by November 1st. Assuming all goes well, and we learn from the first few batches, we hope to be at about 40 birds per week production come mid-February. There is also some potential to diversify, for example, by running pastured turkey starting in March for a batch ready right before Thanksgiving. There will be lots more information on the blog, so you can keep up there if you guys are interested.

Pictures and more details will be posted shortly and, as this is a major project for me, I will try to use the blog as a log for all my expenses, experiences, and thoughts on the project as it progresses.

Just one other thing I want to note. As Marcos is primarily a cow farmer, I have been learning a lot about how to work with these beautiful animals. I even milked one for the first time. Furthermore, we now have unlimited access to fresh, raw, unpasteurized milk (and cheese, yogurt, cream, and butter, all f which can be made from milk). The health and nutrition benefits of unpasteurized milk are unparalleled, but the details will be left for another, later post. Cheers!

And We´re Back!

So after quite a long hiatus, I have decided to restart the weekly postings on Fun with Farming and Fermentation. In addition, Colleen has also agreed to post on here as well. The blog, as usual, will be devoted to the documentation of all our activities in the areas of farming, fermentation, and nutrition.

During our hiatus from the blog, we have been extremely busy. Just as a recap, here are some of the projects that we have recently been working on:

- Built a Chicken Coup near our house, which will soon house a flock of Criollo (indigenous)Hens that should provide us with eggs for eating and some to sell. The house is all finished and we are now in the market for a number of good looking hens to move in.

- Built a Rabbit Hutch that now houses 3 rabbits. I bought the rabbits in San Pedro La Laguna. The lady who sold them to me only had three, one mature female and two of her sons that are about 1 to 2 months old. Currently, we are looking for a mature male so that we can begin breeding for meat and fur production. The two younger males are being fattened up and I suspect that one will be eaten and the other will be traded in order to get a better deal on a mature male from a different blood line.

- Built a worm bin and filled it with red worms that are used to make incredibly rich compost. We are currently figuring out a way to integrate the composted rabbit manure as a food source for the worms. Already, the worms seem well established and happy in their new home. For their bedding, we are using coconut husks from our weekly coconut deliveries. Shredded and mixed with a bit of compost, this makes an extremely effective medium for the worms to do their thing.

- Making, Bottling, Labeling, and Selling our Kombucha Vinegar. Our vinegar is a live culture, non-distilled, raw vinegar that has been aged for three to four months. This vinegar is now being sold in a health food store in San Pedro, with more locations to come. This is also the beginning of our plan to sell a number of live-culture, whole foods to restaurants and health food stores in our area.

- Weekly Beef Stock: Understanding the benefits of animal fat and protein for human nutrition, we have begun patronizing the local butcher in order to work these products into our normal diet. The life of the typical cow that is sold at our butcher is a quite and lovely one. For the first several years of his life, he lives near the coast, eating fresh pasture and dried hay and corn stalks. During the last year of his life, he can be found in our town or the town next over, grazing and exercising in the open fields. Each Saturday morning at 3AM, a cow is slaughtered across the street from the butcher. I have actually had the pleasure of watching this ritual be performed. When we buy the meat Saturday morning, the flesh is still warm, signifying the freshest meat one can possibly buy. We typically buy 2 to 3 pounds of shoulder, bone and all. We make a beautiful stock that literally simmers for 2 full days. The meat and bones are then removed and the meat is picked out for use in other dishes later. The resulting stock serves as a base for soups, rice dishes, and also as a warm nourishing drink.

- Lard Rendering: From the same cow, we also buy several pounds of fat once a month or so. We then render this fat to yield highly stable lard and also some cracklings. The whole process also takes about 2 full days. For all those who think lard and animal fat is bad for you, rest assured. We will devote a post not only to the benefits of stable, saturated animal fat in the diet, but also how to render your own lard and typical uses for it as well.

There are also a number of other things, but I will cut it short for now. We will be posting more detailed information regarding each of these projects, as well as updates on their progress. We are also working on getting a camera, so we can upload pictures.

We apologize for our hiatus, and we hope that you will continue reading and also spread the word to all your friends. Cheers!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Beet Kvass

Beet Kvass is a traditional health tonic that provides numerous benefits to its consumer. From Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions, "This drink is valuable for its medicinal qualities and as a digestive aid. Beets are just loaded with nutrients. One 4-ounce glass, morning and night, is an excellent blood tonic, promotes regularity, aids digestion, alkalizes the bloods, cleanses the liver and is a good treatment for kidney stones and other aliments."

Beet Kvass is a lacto-fermented drink that is made much the same way as one prepares traditional pickles. (This recipe is also from Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions)

- 3 Medium Beets- Cleaned, scrubbed, and very coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup whey
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- filtered water, enough to fill a 1 or 2 quart jar

First chop beets and add to jar, which has been well cleaned. Then dissolve sea salt into filtered water and pour over the beets. Leave about 1/2 inch between the top of the liquid and the lid of the jar. Seal tightly with lid and let sit for 3 days, upon which is ready to consume, and will store for up to several months.

NOTE: I have already posted how to make whey, as well as live culture cream cheese, from yogurt HERE.

If you do NOT have whey, substitute another 1.5 or 2 tablespoons of salt.

NOTE: If you save a bit of liquid from the first batch of kvass, that can be substituted for the whey in the next batch that you prepare.

Monday, June 22, 2009


So far, I have had no luck raising tomatoes in San Marcos Guatemala. We are at about 5000ft above sea level and thus, the weather is slightly cooler than tomatoes prefer. There are several local varieties of tomatoes, all of which grow relatively well here, but give little yield and offer very little variety in terms of types of tomatoes.

Here I have some heirloom varieties from Johnny’s Select Seeds. Because they re not localized to here and are likely adapted to the climate of Maine, which offer a shorter summer and warmer days and nights during the summer, to which tomatoes respond favorably.

Another problem with growing organic tomatoes here in the mountains is the white fly. This little insect damages the leaves of tomatoes and weakens the plant to such a point that it can no longer yield fruit.

Here is my solution. I grew my tomatoes in a 5-gallon bucket filled with topsoil and some rich compost. On top of that, I put a layer of mulch about 4 inches thick. This is to maintain even moisture and to provide slow-release organic fertilizer. On top of that, I laid a layer of plastic bags. These black bags serve to warm the soil throughout the day so the plants stay warmer at night. Also, tomatoes like evenly distributed moisture and do not like the daily soakings that accompany the rainy season. Thus, the black bags prevent the majority of water from entering and the mulch helps retain moisture and spread it evenly over all the soil.

Lastly, I fed these tomatoes with sea salt dissolved in water. Not sure of the concentration, but I used about 1 cup on this whole bucket, dissolved in a good amount of water. Sea salt contains all 92-trace minerals that are needed by both plants and humans. There is a lot to be said about sea salt. As it is more a nutrition topic (always eat sea salt and rarely or never use refined table salt), I will go into more detail about this topic in another post.

Needless to say, while there is a bit of white fly on these plants, their defenses are working perfectly and the plants are still growing beautifully and seemingly resisting the damage caused by the white fly. The control tomatoes which are planted in a basic vegetable bed are suffering from major white fly damage and are not likely going to survive for much longer.

It just goes to show that healthy plants are the best pesticide and when all trace minerals are available to the plant, the plant is strong and versatile, able to cope with stresses more easily. Furthermore, the resulting harvest of vegetables grown in mineral rich soil is also rich in highly important trace minerals, making them more nutritious to us. There are theories suggesting that the lack of minerals in our diet, caused largely by the take over of industrial chemical agriculture, is a major cause of all civilized world diseases including cancer, heart disease, and other degenerative disorders.

Lastly, I have begun mulching the tomatoes with their own clippings. Tomatoes should be pruned in order to allow them to invest more energy in fruit production, and I have been using the clippings to mulch the plants in the bucket. According to Rudolf Steiner, a master of agriculture and pioneer of biodynamic farming methods, “Tomatoes feel mot at home when they are given manure or compost that is as close as possible to the form in which it comes from the animal or other source. They prefer raw compost that hasn’t had much chance to be transformed through natural processes. … And if you were to use compost made from tomatoes plants, that is, if you were to let the tomatoes grow in their own compost, they would grow even better.”

We will see how the harvest looks.

Sowing Medicinal Herbs

Last year, I got really into medicinal herbs and also into the challenge of starting perennial herbs from seed. Most of these perennial herbs are more easily propagated by cuttings or plant/root division, but starting from seed allows you a greater variety of plants to choose from and also more control from an earlier stage in the plants life. So basically, I bought about 40 different herb seed packets from Johnny’s and began working on growing them in San Marcos.

I started many of the plants in the La Cambalacha herb gardens from seed in wooden flats. Another group of more obscure herbs needed to be stratified, which means pre-chilled, before germinating. These herbs, I placed in two airtight plastic bags and stored them in the fridge for several months. I kind of forgot about them until Colleen noticed them this past week when cleaning the fridge. Thus, I decided to sow them in a wooden flat and see if my fridge stratification was successful.

Wooden flats are the best and most cost and labor effective seed-starting tray. These flats can be made with scrap wood and once made, last for many years. Compared to plastic trays, they have longer life and are often cheaper. Recycled materials such as egg cartons are good, but again, only last one season and often are limited in space for plant roots to expand. Basically make the flat about 4-6 inches tall, 12-18 inches wide, and 25-30 inches long. When choosing a size, keep in mind flats will be a lot heavier with moist soil in them. The bottom of the flat should have many holes for drainage and the best design is to just use a number of 2-5 inch wide, ½-2 inch thick pieces of scrap wood spaced about 1 inch apart.

The soil mix used to sow these seeds is one part topsoil, one part screened compost, one part course white sand. The sand is good for seed flats, as it allows good drainage and good water retention.

The following herbs were sowed (Sowed from the ‘A’ marking): Angelica, Echinacea, Joe Pie Weed, Skullcap, St Johnswort, and Pleurisy root. All of these seeds are very small and also require a bit of light to germinate. Thus, I merely made small divots 1/8 inch deep in the soil, about 1 inch apart, and placed 1 seed in each space. I planted in short rows, 2 to 4 rows of each plant.

To keep tract of what is where, I marked an ‘A’ on the flat and use my knife to mark off number sections corresponding to each plant species, which is also numbered. These sorts of seeds can often take several weeks to germinate, so it is a slow process, which enables more things to go wrong in the meantime. It will be interesting to see what actually comes up and does well in this area.

I also direct seeded a few of the seeds into the garden bed pictured here behind come flower cuttings.

New Herb Bed at La Cambalacha

Here are some pictures from us building our 3rd herb bed. As you can see, the plot is initially filled with various weeds as well as incredibly rocking soil. The first job is to cut all the plant growth back and then remove the roots and rocks with a pickaxe and a hoe.

This next picture is of a two volunteers using the level and some fishing line to create a straight line that will be used to build the stone wall. The basic idea is that w want the wall to be even along the top so that all soil is retained within the wall and there are no leakage or drainage points, which remove soil fertility from runoff and leeching.

This is a picture of myself and Jorge standing over th pile of rocks we pulled from the soil. Ridiculous. We are now selecting rocks to be used in the retaining wall that will be built next.

We note that not as much effort went towards soil improvement as did in the vegetable bed. Due to the location of the herb beds, making charcoal is not possible and double digging is not really necessary. We do plan to add charcoal, but as for now, we only added compost and a heavy layer of mulch.

This is the end result. Note the retaining wall and the stone path in the middle of the bed. This path is so that the soil is never compacted by people feet. From this path, all points of the bed can be reached easily for cleaning, harvesting and other jobs.

Herb Gardens at La Cambalacha

Here are just a few pictures of the herbs gardens that we have built while I have been working at La Cambalacha.

This is our nursery. There I basically 3ft of topsoil below these plants and it is mulched heavily, about 6 inches below the ground, with newspaper and leaves. This helps the soil to stay very moist, even during the 6-month dry season. We used this to store out cuttings, propagations, and other special plants until the rains came, when we could then plant them out into their new homes in the formal garden beds. Now the nursery is relatively sparse, as we have been transplanting many species to their new homes since the beginning of the rainy season.

This is the first herb bed that I made at La Cambalacha. Species in this bed include Thyme, Rosemary, Pennyroyal (the lovely groundcover all throughout), 3 types of basil, Tropical Oregano, Mint Marigold, several types of mint and spearmint, Earl Grey, Cilantro, Lemon-scented Germanium, Feverfew, and wild thistle.

This is a more recent one that has just been planted in the last two weeks. Plants here include Lavender, Lemon Grass, Onions, Orseuss, Sage, Comfrey, and several other herbs.

This is a Noni Tree surrounded by Aloe Vera that was planted about 2 months ago. Noni is a ridiculously magical fruit that also smells like old cheese, dirty feet, and vinegar all rolled into one. From Sally Fallon in Noursihing Traditions, “Juice of the Tahitian Noni fruit is revered by the Polynesians for its curative powers, possibly due to the presence of an alkaloid precursor called Proxeronine, which contributes to the effectiveness of proteins on the cellular level. Noni juice has been used successfully to treat diabetes, injuries and pain, digestive disorders, depression and many other aliments. It should be taken on an empty stomach.”