November 2010 Archives

It has been a frightening few months since I left my well-paying, fairly stress free desk job back in May. I've been focusing most of my attention on beekeeping, teaching workshops and trying to force myself to write a proposal for a beekeeping book (that I recently realized I don't want to write) at the urging of an agent a friend connected me with. I was busy, so I didn't really have time to think about what I would be doing next.

Now it's December, the bees are bundled up for the winter, the killing frost is nipping at our heels and I have no desirable prospects to put food on the table through February. At that point, I'll have some classes I'll be teaching at the New York Botanical Garden. I'll also be helping Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group get their hives started at Tarry Lodge, where they will also be constructing a fabulous rooftop farm. These are fantastic prospects that I am most excited to get started on, but in the interim I will be struggling to cover the high cost of living in NYC.

I am not complaining. I knew what I was getting myself into. I didn't think I'd just be quitting my job and taking my pick of every fantastic PAYING speaking gig that comes along. (like any of them pay...pfft!) I've recently found myself slipping into a nasty bit of self-doubt and self-scrutiny.

My garden this year was pretty pathetic. It was my biggest failure in recent memory. I had no time to focus on it consistently because I'd be hustling to find paying gigs so that I wouldn't be late on bills. The bees and chickens were fine, because let's face it...if they were neglected it wouldn't be long before I hear from angry or concerned neighbors. They took priority. I'm afraid that my current system of doing things just doesn't make good sense.

So why am I doing this? I often compare trying to "live off the land" in NYC to trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. How can you be any good at growing ample food for yourself when you are being forced to devote significant chunks of time to hustling for cash money? It seems that the only way to produce food for yourself properly is if you are working with other people as committed as you are. I'm basically trying to do this as an individual and it's not working. And all I can do it question why I continue because I am not certain what I am gaining from it or where it's leading me.

When I lay in bed at night before I go to bed, I close my eyes and think of who I want to be in 20 years. What I envision my life to be. This is what I see:

I am in a small house, situated on a hill above a valley. It is verdant and quiet. I have a family. A modest one. Maybe only one child. We have goats and chickens and rabbits. We grow vegetables and take them to restaurants and markets to sell. I never step foot in a supermarket again. Some of our friends are farmers too and they occasionally come by for dinner and wine, to swap some food and to talk shop.

I wake up early every day and go for a walk through the valley like my grandfather did on visits to my family's homeplace in Virginia. I do not feel separate from the trees and the dew and the air. They are part of me and I am home. I spend the days toiling and planning and I go to sleep each night exhausted but satisfied that I did good work.

I know it sounds as though I am romanticizing farming and I don't expect that my life should turn out exactly this way but I've known since I was a child that I would one day work for myself. I always felt that my future involved food and nature and animals and exercising some independence in the world. And here I am, walking down that path. I've not always been aware of what I am doing or why but I follow the voice inside of me and it usually never leads me astray. My heart has always known what it wants.

Next season I plan to do things differently. Instead of trying to grow enough food for the occasional salad in my backyard, I will be working an entire growing season at a farm in the Hudson Valley. I've arranged for some interviews in the oncoming weeks and I hope to have good news before the New Year. I need to submerge myself in learning to grow food not only for myself but for others. I need to decide if I want to continue struggling here with nothing to show for it or if I want to struggle someplace else and potentially have the life that I see for myself when I close my eyes at night.

I'm very fortunate. I know this so well. My wonderful, loving boyfriend will be sticking around to look after the chickens and my sweet, fat cats. My landlords, as always are really understanding and are always rooting for me. I've got friends and beekeeping apprentices that will look in after my rooftop apiaries. I know my little oasis in Brooklyn will be here waiting for me when I get back and that makes it all seem a little less scary.

VA.jpg (Me on my family's 450 acre farm in Amherst County, VA)

With fall finally here and most insects either dying off or burrowing deep into the ground for the winter, my chickens get a lot less of the foraged protein and calories than they would find in the warmer months. Proteins are necessary for egg and feather production and since my hens are currently on their molt they could use all the help they can get. One way I like to give them a little boost is to give them suet. It is typically made from the rendered fat from beef kidneys, but there are plenty of other ways to make suet cakes if you don't have beef fat on hand.

One way I like to make it is with leftover bacon grease. Neil and I make trips frequent trips to The Meat Hook. where they sell smoky, salty Benton's Bacon and Ham, which I often cannot resist...both are pretty much the pork equivalent of crack. If you've had it, you know what I mean. I'll usually make suet with the grease from crisped up bacon about once every week or two. (Don't wan't my girls getting high cholesterol!) If you prefer to not feed your birds pork fat you can substitute it with nut butter of your choice. Heck, you can even add nut butter to the grease mixture if you want. More flavor to savor! The chickens won't mind.

Another reason making suet at home is so easy is that you can add a variety of grains and things that you probably already have in your pantry. Barley, oats, flax seed, coarse ground cornmeal, whatever! Chickens love all of that stuff so throw it on in! Use your best judgement. If your chickens shouldn't be eating it, leave it out. Everything else is fair game.

This is my basic recipe for Suet. Feel free to modify based on what you have available. You can feed it to your chickens pretty much right after mixing, or you can freeze it on a baking sheet, slice to the appropriate size and put it in a suet cage. I just put mine in a plastic bowl that I can wash and re-use later.

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Tasty Suet for Chickens or Wild Birds
(enough for one serving for 3-4 hens)

- 1/4 cup of good quality bacon grease, room temperature
- 1/4 cup of organic millet
- 1/4 cup of steel-cut oats
- 2 tablespoons of crushed flax seed
- 4 tablespoons of Bob's Red Mill 7-Grain Hot Cereal or similar
- 4 tablespoons of hulled sunflower seeds

Mix dry ingredients together in a medium sized bowl.

Add room temp bacon grease and stir until fully incorporated. Place bowl directly into freezer to harden until ready to feed, or spread on a parchment covered cookie sheet before freezing and slicing to fit a suet cage.

See! Super easy and my girls really love it. A few leaves of kale and a bowl of this in their run in the morning and I swear I've got a bunch of eggs in the nesting box within the hour!

I'd like to take a moment to share a really great, practical recipe that everyone should have on hand, especially if you have IBS, are pregnant and having morning sickness, or are simply susceptible to getting colds.

I have struggled with IBS for the past few years, and as an adventurous eater, I have to say that is has been one of the most emotionally difficult maladies to bear. I can eat few things without enduring some level of discomfort, but since I have taken to drinking this tonic almost daily I have felt significantly improved.

Ginger root been used for centuries in the East as not only a flavorful addition to food but also as an anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and also possesses antioxidants that help to reduce the risk of cancer.

I used this recipe a lot when I lived back in Baltimore. I lived in a drafty old 1840's mill house and got colds regularly. Rest and a few hot mugs full of my spicy, sweet ginger tonic got me back on my feet faster than you can say "honeybee".

Please give this simple and inexpensive recipe a try! It's makes for a great mixer if you fancy an after dinner drink and is delicious either hot or chilled. I think that many of you will find that it's healing properties are truly no joke!

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Healing Ginger Tonic with Cardamom and Honey

(Makes 6-8 servings)

1 large segment of fresh Ginger root (1/4 lb. approximately), sliced thinly
8 whole Cardamom pods
1 tsp. whole Black Peppercorns
approximate 8 cups of cold water
1/4 cup of raw, local honey

-Fill a 8 qt. stock pot with cold water, sliced ginger root, cardamom and peppercorns.

-Place on the stove over low/medium heat, covered for between 45 minutes to 2 hours, depending on how potent you'd like the tonic to be.

-Once cooked to your preference, allow to cool, strain into a container with an air tight lid.

- Add honey and shake or stir until dissolved.

- You can enjoy it now with a wedge of lemon or refrigerate until ready to serve.

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This page is an archive of entries from November 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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