Monday, January 26, 2015

Do You Have Seed Catalogs?

When the heat of summer is a memory only rekindled by too much time close to the fire, and while no insects molest my plants aside from easily killed aphids or slugs, I can imagine the perfect garden.  This year, I think, I will dodge drought, insects, and disease.  Weeds will cheerfully refuse to germinate, while every seed I plant will sprout perfect leaves.

Of course, seed catalogs exist to make the gardener forget the troubles of last season and to dream about the coming year.  The photographs of perfect vegetables and weedless beds help perpetuate this delusion.  I engage in this fantasy, and I love it.

My favorite catalogs remain the same year after year.  I usually order seeds from Johnny's Selected Seeds.  They give cultural information and sell many disease-resistant tomato seeds. Maybe this year will be the year I try to graft some of my own tomato plants onto disease-resistant rootstock I purchase from Johnny’s Seeds.

To graft heirloom tomato plants onto disease-resistant rootstock, the nursery grows plants that are resistant to certain diseases, and plants that aren’t resistant but that produce tasty fruit.  Then, horticulturists graft, or cause the tasty-tomato plant to grow onto the root of the disease-resistant plant, causing the resulting plant to be both disease-resistant and a producer of the desired variety of tomato.

Last year, I ordered heirloom tomatoes grafted onto disease resistant rootstock from White Flower Farm, and, although they were expensive, they did continue to bear the heirloom varieties, that I cannot grow, all season.  The folks at Jung Seed have sent me some samples of their disease-resistant tomato plants, as well as some perennials, and I’m pleased with the tomatoes they produced.  The perennials they sent me are thriving.  

Heavenly Seed LLC, based in Anderson, SC, provides the least glamorous catalog but the most generous amounts of seed for the money; I buy most of my seeds from Heavenly Seed.
I have ordered fruit trees, vines, and bushes from Stark Bro’s  and from Ison’s Nursery in Georgia.  I am pleased with their products.

Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply is a California company with nearly every gardening/farming item imaginable.  Peaceful Valley’s catalog and website provide information, obscure organic pest control products, and season-extension products.
I sometimes order seeds from Seed Savers Exchange, a nonprofit organization from Iowa, which sells exclusively heirloom seeds and John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds.  I visited Seed Savers Exchange in 2011 and enjoyed the beautiful gardens and store.    

In 2013, I visited Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  It has one of the largest collections of heirloom seeds in the US.  Pinetree Garden Seeds sells small, inexpensive packets of seeds that are useful for small gardens or for trying out many varieties of seeds.

Visit these websites and request catalogs, or peruse the catalogs online, and you will be able to imagine and to plan the garden of your dreams, unmolested by insects, disease, heat, or drought.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Eating My Chickens

As I helped unload my chickens at the slaughterhouse on the early December morning, I experienced a mixture of emotions.  I felt relief that my two- hour trip with 17 chickens in my SUV was over, and I felt satisfied that I had finished the job I began 6 weeks ago.  My husband and I arose during the night, when the chickens were still in their chicken-coma of sleep, and put them, inside pet carriers, in the plastic-lined back of my SUV.  I rolled down the windows and blasted the heat the entire trip, and it was not as bad as I had imagined.  Although we have a truck, I did not want to expose the chickens to a 2-hour ride in the open air in December.  After a thorough airing, vacuuming, and cleaning, my SUV's smell returned to normal.  
Calm birds leaving for the slaughterhouse
 I felt pride that my birds had redder combs, brighter eyes, and more darkly pigmented skin on their feet than some other birds awaiting slaughter that had not, perhaps, seen as much of  the sunshine and the green grass as mine had enjoyed.  I also felt sad that their lives were ending so that I could eat.  I said a prayer of thanksgiving to God, and I thanked the birds for their lives.

The chickens had no idea what was about to happen.  Poultry do not worry about tomorrow.  When they arrived at the slaughterhouse, a little after sunrise, they were barely awake.  They sat calmly in the crate, and then the workers took them inside the facility, put them in a carbon-dioxide chamber, where they went to sleep and died.  No drama of a chicken running about with her head cut off for these birds. 

A few days later, I returned to pick up my meat.  The box of chicks, weighing a couple of pounds, which I opened on October 20, had turned into nearly 75 pounds of meat by December 3.  
This is what I picked up a few days later
Was this a cost-effective undertaking?  As long as I do not pay myself an hourly wage for my labors, it was.  Considering the cost of the chicks, feed, and processing, I paid about $3.50 a pound for free-range meat (and mine got more free-range and green grass than many chickens labeled free-range).  The $3.50 a pound applies to all cuts of meat—so I got boneless skinless chicken breast for the same price I got chicken necks.   I did not include the cost of fuel to transport the chicks and meat or the cost of electricity for the heat lamps in this calculation.

They were not organic because organic chicken feed is not available for sale in my area to anyone (unless you want to pay to have it shipped from another state, which is cost-prohibitive), but they did have green grass and some insects and worms, which is more than many chickens raised certified organic from the grocery store receive.  I did not medicate or vaccinate them.  Compared to other free-range meat I have purchased—free-range boneless skinless chicken breast can be nearly $10 a pound--this was a bargain.
To reduce the costs, I could have slaughtered them myself, but I was not and am not able or ready to do that.  Maybe someday.  I could have also purchased them in August when the heating bills would have been much lower.  I will definitely do this project in a warmer month next time.

We have had several chicken dinners.  The meat is delicious, fresh and tender.  The fat is a deep yellow thanks to the birds’ exposure to sun and green grass, instead of the pale beige fat found on store-bought birds.  I know that these birds had a good life.
Our first meal of chicken wings
My children are young enough that this seems like something normal.  Eating animals you either raise yourself, or kill yourself,  is normal, and it's what people have done for the entirety of human history, except for the past 50 years or so when it became normal to have your meat raised by someone else so you didn't have to participate in the messiness of life and of death.

From the day the chicks came home, we all knew we were going to eat these birds, and although my children had moments of sadness about it, as we all did, I made it very clear to them (and reiterated it to myself) that anytime we eat chicken meat, the food started out as fluffy chicks.  I made sure I could not change my mind about the fate of these chicks by ordering all male chicks.  I couldn't have 17 roosters.  My 5-year-old horrified a new babysitter by saying, with delight, "We have baby chicks in our garage and we're going to EAT them!"  That gave me an opportunity to talk about the origins of our food to another person who eats meat but doesn't give much thought to its origins.

If you'd like to raise chicks yourself,  Murray McMurray Hatchery will begin shipping chicks in late January or early February.  Be sure to read and to follow the directions carefully about raising the chicks, especially if you purchase a hybrid breed.  Local feed stores will carry chicks beginning in early February.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Have we squelched normal childhood behavior with electronics?

It's the season of Christmas performances for children.  I've been to several for my children, and I have noticed that the young siblings of the performer, who in past years must endure boredom, threats from parents to "Be quiet!" and even brief removal from the performance for a walk around the building. no longer have to endure such atrocities.

They play games on a parent's cell phone the entire time, and no one even realizes they are present. At a recent performance, a small boy curled up against his father and was lost in his car-chase game. He didn't bother anyone.  But what did he miss out on?

 He was about three, and three-year-olds are not known for their ability to sit still.  Before cell phones existed, perhaps mom or dad would have had to take him outside to allow him to run around for a few minutes, and then they'd bring him back in to endure the rest of the performance.  This child didn't whine for a snack, he didn't laugh at his sister, or make faces at her, or try to get her to laugh.  He didn't ask, in the way of many three-year-olds, innumerable questions about the performance.  He didn't play with his toy cars and accidentally send one across the room.  He just sat quietly with the phone and didn't bother anyone.

But he wasn't normal.  In the entirety of human history, parents have had to manage the behavior of three-year-olds, to the amusement and understanding of those past that stage of life, and to the aggravation of those childless folks who think that their as yet unborn child will sit contentedly through every performance and church service.

My youngest child is 5, and during the performance while she  watched her sister, she said she didn't want to sit there and watch (I told her she had to), she said she wanted a snack (which I provided).  She played with toys.  She whined.  She smiled at her sister.  Finally she lay across my lap and rested.  I expected her, at 5, to be able to remain in the room for 45 minutes without going outside for a walk.  She was normal.

When mine were three, I prepared for outings by packing snacks, small toys, crayons, and paper. I expected that at some point we'd have to leave the performance and walk around outside.  If the behavior went from 3-year-old wiggles to defiance, they might have (very rarely) gotten a swat on the behind as a reminder that Mama Is Serious.

While waiting for food at a restaurant with toddlers and preschoolers, my husband and I took them on walks around the restaurant or outside.  Inevitably, someone would find them adorable and would want to talk to them, pleasing both child and all adults.  They were normal.  They were living real life, and they were interacting with others and coping with boredom in the same ways that small children have coped with such things for all of human history.

They have reached school-age with their attention spans intact and with the ability to handle some boredom.  They do not expect entertainment by me: if they whine about being bored at home I helpfully find them a chore.  That quickly teaches them not to ask Mama for help with alleviation of their boredom.

TV and other electronics are a treat, not an expectation in our house.  They don't happen every day.  People fear that their children will be behind others if they don't start learning how to dress princesses on the iPad when they are two; I assure you that my 8-year-old, who had no computer time until she was of school age, and who still has very limited use, can Google answers to questions (if she can only spell well enough), knows about YouTube, and is learning to type correctly. She learned how to use the computer with startling speed, certainly much faster than I learned.

She was old enough, when we started using the computer, to actually need the information she might find on the computer.  She has also played enough games to be able to understand what her friends are talking about so she "fits in" with others.    She won't be a video game champion, but that is perfectly okay with me.  Friends come to our house to play in the creek, visit the chickens, and play in the playhouse.  When we drove 700 miles in one day, they watched movies on a portable DVD player.  I am not opposed entirely to electronics.

My husband and I have had to listen to whining that could have been easily squelched with electronics.  I have to tell them sometimes to go to their rooms and don't come out unless there is blood, fire, or vomit.  Sometimes I tell them that they are driving me crazy, and I tell them to go outside, and I might even lock the door after it closes. Didn't your mother send you outside?  Mine certainly did.

But that is real life, isn't it?  Children are supposed to let you know they are with you. When  a two-year-old is awake and quiet for more than a few minutes, it should be because they are getting into trouble, not because they are lost in a video game.  Children are a lot of bother.  They need to be shown, when they are small, that they are capable of playing alone instead of being given an electronic device for entertainment.  As they get older they need to develop hobbies.  Children need to learn to fill that ache of boredom, of loneliness, with some activity, either for fun or as work.  

If they do not learn this skill as children, they become adults who play video games all day, or watch TV in every spare minute, or binge eat.  It's easier to watch TV than to read a book.  It's easier to play video games than to take up a new hobby or call a friend or cook a meal or work in the garden or walk around the block.

Throughout the entirety of human history, people have had to overcome boredom without electronics.  Perhaps we should continue to practice this skill and, most importantly, because adults today at least grew up without cell phones and easy access to electronics, teach them to our children.  Children are worth the bother.