8/2012 canning and heritage chickens

green bean lessons

The sun goes right through the red linen dress onto my shoulders. I bend and contort my body over the 100 ft row of green beans. If you think of them as a long, emerald butt crack, they are easy to spot. Sort of fuzzy, velvety like a baby bottom.

I just picked the 11th 5 gallon bucket full of green beans off this row. Dear me. That’s 55 dry volume gallon’s worth of beans!!! I wanted green beans, and boy howdy did we get them! And they aren’t really slowing down, more like hurrying up. The more you pick, the more the plants flower and send out more pods. Trying to keep up has been a challenge, we only have so many CSA shares, and only so much room in the freezer, and there might be a limit to numbers of quarts of dilly beans I can manage to pickle, on top of everything else to do. The apples are beginning to fall now, so it’s time to gather the windfalls for honey-apple-saucing and the lovely apple vinegar I discovered is so easy to make last year.

But here’s what my green bean lessons are, if you might be interested. “Jade” is my FAVORITE. This variety produces straight, firm and sweet green beans and the plants never quit. Some types seem to dwindle in production after the first picking, but not Jade. Blessing or Curse? I don’t know….but this is a seed we will keep using. I like straight beans for pickling, much easier to fit nicely into jars. And soooo tasty.

The other side of that 100 ft row has both Royal Burgundy and Dragon Langerie “green beans” growing there. Dragon Langerie is a gorgeous yellow wax/romano type striped with lavendar- She’s easy to spot on the plants, rarely gets tough even when seeming too large, a very forgiving bean. But not as prolific as Jade. Dragon is a variety we’ll always grow, even with the lesser production. Just so delicious and so beautiful. Royal burgundy on the other hand was an experiment this year, after hearing a neighbor talk about how much easier purple beans were to find when picking. This is true to some extent, but this purple bean also comes from a purple plant, so it’s just another version of searching for those “butt crack” shapes, amongst a different color scheme. And deep dark purple is hard to see, under the plant’s deep dark purple shaded canopy.

A simple tip that I want to share is in regards to processing green beans and making life simpler. Pick them all with the stems pointing one direction! Line them up carefully in your bucket so all the stem end face the same way. This makes it so much easier to trim those darn time-consuming stems off. If you throw the beans all willie nillie in the bucket, you just give your self alot more work later. Simple but it’s made a big difference!

The last most important lesson is that you should never try to fit an extra row in that 30” wide garden bed. Even though the bean seeds seem small, each plant will usually get pretty big. And air flow is important around the plants to fight mildew based problems interfering with the plants’ success. I am guilty of putting in a 3rd row of beans in the first part of the 100ft row of beans, and they are getting blight now, nevermind the fact that it is nearly impossible to find beans in that jungle.

preserve the bounty

How i love to can food, put it up, save it for later. Preserving the bounty. I realized it’s all I think about while gardening. It’s not the immediate pleasure of eating those fresh veggies, it’s all about saving it. I guess that makes me a true hoarder.

We’ve gotten through nearly all the canned goods from last years’ canning mania, so we’re actually not hoarding over here. Then there’s the new WI pickle bill which allows us to sell our high acid canned goods, which helps our farm account. Many, many reasons to put food in jars I say!

Today I literally canned from 9-5. It was wonderful! My husband can’t really believe my fervor, but he does appreciate it and does all the chores so I can focus. All the chores except milking. The goats and I have a thing.

I broke my own personal canning record today- starting off with honey applesauce, then 7 gallons (!!!) of salsa, which was reduced a bit to 27 pints and then the nectar was simmered down for another 25 pints of what I’ll call an “arrabiata” style tomato sauce. It is sooooo good. We’re eating it smeared on fingers with an all day slow-roasted boston butt chunk from Rosie, which was previously brined and smoked, like a ham.

Now I am in the midst of my first ever offical pressure canning experience. We’re running out of freezer space already, so it’s time to can green beans, simply salted, and safely jarred. The pressure is rising in the canner. I’m nervous….

here’s my mise en place, home sweet productive home!

free range chickens

As much as we and our customers love the Bubsters (what we call our Cornish Cross broilers,) we’re in bind of a situation, as we make 2013 plans. Feed prices are sky rocketing, and organic feed prices as simply growing to the point that we have to think- do we sell $40 organic chickens next year, or do we look at alternatives for birds that might just forage more and reduce the grain portion of their dietary needs? We did a small experiment with other breeds of chickens this spring to gain a little experience as well.

In February, we ordered 20 straight run chicks from our neighbor who hatches a variety of dual purpose birds. We chose Barred Rocks and Golden Laced Wyandottes, and of course ended up with half and half hens and roosters. That was fine with me, as I wanted to see what the “Dual” part of a dual-purpose chicken looked like on the plate.

The flock of little chicks kept us company in our planting room for the first month, and then they moved out to the hoophouse in a big brooder enclosure until the weather was nice enough to let them roam free in the farmyard. All went well after we let them out, although they kept flying back over the fence into the hoophouse, since that was what they thought was their co-op. The group of 20 wandered about, cleaned up spilled bits of grain from the goats, scratched up the bedding below the rabbitry setup, and was so beautiful to have around the yard. They did develop an odd love of pecking anything styrofoam they could find, which was a bit annoying, and then they always seemed to poop right in the middle of our walking paths around the farm, but generally it was a dandy situation. Hardly had to feed them anything, and they were 100% free range.

Then puberty hit and the 10 hormone infused young roosters started to try to do their thing with the young hens, and it became unbearable to hear and see their lustful attacks. That was at about 3 months of age. We separated the boys and placed them in chicken tractors near our workshop pavillion, hoping they might settle down and gain some weight. On June 7th, we butchered the roosters, so they were 4 months or 16 weeks. Guess what they dressed out at? 2.5 lbs. That’s not a lot of chicken. After a buttermilk soaking, the pieces were floured and oven fried. They tasted like good chicken, but were a little tough. All that running about led to a finer grain to the muscles, tighter in a way. Not bad, just not a tender & succulent Bubster. Tonight I will be slow roasting another one of our Dual Purpose roosters, trying a long slow cook and seeing if this leads to a more tender chicken dinner. I honestly think the flavor of good chicken is just that. If they have a good life, eat well, get sun and fresh air outside, the flavor will be amazing. I just want a pleasing and tender texture to match.

I love our Bubsters, and I am biased. I like the personality of the Cornish Cross. I like their joy in eating, I can relate. I like their satisfied looks as they lounge in the grass, one leg stretched out, their crop loaded with organic grain, acting as a pillow. I love that they grow so huge. I love their efficiency in converting grain at a nearly 2 to 1 rate. That’s incredible! But they eat ALOT of grain, not a grass based livestock whatsoever. Our Bubsters do eat grass, they do chase bugs and eat them, but this is not a significant portion of their diet. Raising them as we do in a grassy paddock is more about their comfort, and creating more gardens to be, as they trampled and poop down the grass quite effectively.

As we harvested our Summer turkeys, I talked with one of our customers about this situation. He told us his flavor experiences with other breeds of heritage, foraging chickens had been incredible, and would love for us to try raising them to sell next year. I think we will. He suggested Freedom Rangers. I looked into the talk online about this breed, and the next day we actually got to see some in person at our friends’ farm. Freedom Rangers are just like Cornish Cross in that they are an F2 hybrid, coming form a secret combination of 4 different chicken breeds. This is the strain used in the French Label Rougue production. In my opinion, they looked just like our Bubsters, just a reddish color, and smaller. They were all parked by the feeder, not foraging about. Our friend also told us he thought Freedom Rangers tasted better then the “watery” meat of the Cornish Cross.

We don’t think our Cornish Cross tastes like anything you read or are warned about. I think feeding organic grain, encouraging exercise, giving them actual space in the sun and fresh air, and loving them as beings as they grow makes them taste better than the average cornish cross. We believe that peaceful on-farm harvesting leads to a much better tasting bird as well. Next spring we’ll look at feed prices and decide if we can afford to raise more of them, and we’ll try our hand at some heritage type roosters as well, and maybe some Freedom Rangers just because. Andrew’s going to investigate building a moveable coop, like people use for “egg mobiles” for the roosters, so we can move their ranging area around the farm over the many months it will take for them to grow to a good harvestable size. And to keep them out of trouble with our laying hens.

Here a couple helpful links from my researching.

http://www.motherearthnews.com/happy-homesteader/wrong-about-freedom-rangers-zb0z10zgri.aspx    (I was glad to read this accounting)

http://antiquityoaks.blogspot.com/2010/05/chicken-for-dinner-part-2.html    (this lady’s blog is GREAT, but she is so anti-anything that is not a heritage breed that she wouldn’t like her cornish cross chicken experience no matter what!)

http://avianaquamiser.com/posts/Black_australorps_as_broilers/ (I think we’ll try raising some cockerels of this breed next year)

http://www.waldeneffect.org/blog/Filling_the_oven/

http://www.albc-usa.org/documents/chickenbreedcomparison.pdf (a great link to compare the different heritage breeds)

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