Quickie: Garden is coming up roses…

….and strawberries!  We had a late start on our gardening season this year at Blueberry Acres, but we’re so excited to report that we have sprung seedlings in all kinds of beans, beets, broccoli, swiss chard, pumpkin, zucchini, watermelon, spices and more.  The slugs have found our strawberries, but that just means I can treat them all to a beer.  Careful use of organic Neem oil is going to be our good friend as well as organic food grade DE, if we can just get the garden to dry off a little bit from all of these rains.  We also moved plants around in an effort to stave off some of the effects of our arch nemesis, the squash bug.  We also worked to eliminate all of our raised beds (except for the strawberries) and have taken everything to a row configuration in an effort to better control weeds.  I’ve heard lots of gardeners extol the virtues of raised beds, but it was a beating for us and we’re excited about this new set up.

What do you have in your garden this year?

Berkshire bacon is on the way!!

Well, several of our registered Berkshire pigs are going to the happy hunting ground later this week.  We will be offering some of this pork for sale to friends, family and other foodies like us.  We’re excited to see the results of what has been absolute hours and hours of work on these crafty, smart and enormous animals.  If you follow our blog (as infrequent as it may be), you already know a few things about how we raise our livestock, but if not, here’s a quick overview:

Organic…to be or not to be!

Being certified Organic is an incredibly expensive and time-consuming process that a lot of small family farms don’t undertake.  While we could certify once we have been on our land for 3 years (we’re not quite there), we don’t feel like it’s worth the thousands (upon thousands) of dollars to invest in this governmental certification, so instead we try to be transparent with how we raise our animals.  For our pigs, they are raised in a large pen with access to some forage.  We supplement their feed with commercial feed that is antibiotic free when we can get it.  Yep-that’s a big problem-that feed is not always available, but we do our best to avoid the antibiotic feed that many commercial pig operations feed exclusively.  In addition, our pigs receive zero additional medications during their life here with us.  So, I feel honest in saying that our pigs are sorta organic.

Registered?  Papers?  I don’t need no stinking papers!

But, really you do!  Our stock is registered and more importantly they are from registered blood lines found at a well established, well-respected family farm.  We can trace the lineage of our pigs and are happy to report that there are no “Uncle Daddys” among our boys or girls.  As we move forward with our breeding program, we will continue to ensure this clean genetic line by introducing stock from other family farms thereby keeping everyone pure Berkshire and not genetically compromised.

Butchering…learned it on youtube?

As a small family farm, we do a lot of things ourselves.  However, there are a few things that we absolutely will not do and one of the things at the very top of that list is butcher our own large animals.  We do not have the facility, training or equipment for it and we prefer to turn that over to trained professionals in established facilities whose cleanliness is inspected and maintained.  Do you really want me butchering your pork chops next to my coffee pot while running my dishwasher?  Yeah, I didn’t think so!

I’m your mother’s cousin’s sister’s friend twice removed…..you can cut me a deal on the price, right?

We love our friends, family and mother’s cousin’s sister’s friends and would be happy to give anyone who wants a large volume of meat a volume specific price.  However, please remember that these are Registered Berkshire pigs.  Do a quick Bing search for Berkshire pork and you will see that prices range from $15-$40 per pound from commercial producers who make no effort to raise organic.  In Japan, apparently the prices can go even higher!  But…we’re not in Japan and we’re not looking to extort money out of other pork loving foodies.  As we take this batch to butcher, we will sit down and calculate a fair price based on our cost that is reasonable. You will know the price per pound of the cut you want before you have to commit.  But, I’m just going to say this…if you want grocery store prices, ya gotta go buy grocery store pork…capice?

You don’t have to be a local yokel to enjoy these piggies

If you aren’t near us, we can ship to you!  Just contact us through our site and we can work out shipping, etc for you to get your little piggie products.  We may be country but we do have FedEx/UPS!

Speak now or forever hold your peace..

This is hopefully not a one time deal.  We will have other pigs available for purchase later this spring/early summer.  From there, our focus will be on our breeding program so that we always have a supply of yummy, delicious berkshire pork available.  If now is not the time for you to buy humanely raised, sorta organic, deliiiiicious berkshire pork, you will have other chances!

 

Thanks to everyone who helped, supported and educated us as we started this process of learning about pigs.  Now let’s go make some bacon!

Step away from the canned pumpkin!

Nothing says the start of my favorite time of year like pumpkins.  Our little Blueberry can sniff out a hidden pumpkin patch the way some kids know where you hide the candy in your handbag!  There are 7 large pumpkins clustered in the middle of my dining room table right now as a result of multiple trips to pumpkin patches.  If you are anything like me, you have a hard time saying no to buying yet another interesting looking pumpkin for fall decorations.  But instead of decorating them and forgetting them, think ahead and plan for reusing those pieces of decoration for your baking!  If you are thinking about trying to be a little more conscious with your food, finding fresh local produce from small farmers like us is a fantastic way to not only get to know your neighbors but it’s also a smart way to help your kids better connect with the food they eat.

To start, pick out some midsize pumpkins. If you have a choice, I recommend sugar pumpkins. They are typically easy to find and available both at farmer’s markets and your local mega mart.

Slice off the tops and then scoop out the interior. Once clean, bake flesh side up in a 350 degree oven for 20-35 minutes. Some recipes will suggest oiling them or seasoning them. I like to just roast them dry.

Just keep an eye on the pumpkins after 20 minutes to ensure that they don’t burn. A little bit of carmelization is a good thing but you don’t want them to look like the crazy tanning lady…

Once they have cooked and cooled, you can scoop out the flesh and just discard the skin, or if you are like me, make some happy little Berkshire piggies happy by giving them the leftover pumpkin.

Just because I love looking at their little selves.  Smoochie smoochie!

Just because I love looking at their little selves. Smoochie smoochie!

I just love those piggies and will use any excuse to show pictures of them: Wilbur, Spot, White Fur, Stinky and Hubert (he’s French), our baby barrow Berkshire piggies. I love them. And yes, I will eat them too…but I digress.

From there, you can freeze the flesh or use it right away. I’m more of an instant gratification kind of gal, so I made muffins with my freshly cooled pumpkin. And when I say muffins, let’s be honest…I mean cupcakes that I call muffins so I feel a little better about myself:

Blueberry’s favorite Pumpkin Muffins

For the muffins:

1 cup room temperature butter 1 to 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

2 cups brown sugar 1 teaspoon salt

1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract 1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon ground clove 1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon ground ginger 3 large eggs

1 to 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 2 ½ cups AP flour

1 ½ cups pumpkin puree (see above) ½ to ¾ cup instant rolled oats

For the topping:

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 3 tablespoons butter

1 cup brown sugar 3 tablespoons AP flour

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cream the butter, sugar and pumpkin together with an electric or stand mixture. Then add eggs and mix until thoroughly incorporated. In a separate bowl, mix all dry ingredients. While you can absolutely buy pre-ground spices, I strongly recommend that you invest in one of these cool little things:

AR Women Bloggers_Pic3

I cannot tell you how much I love this little grater. And if you are wondering what the heck that is in my needing to be manicured hand, its nutmeg. Once you have smelled freshly grated nutmeg, you will want it on and in everything. The little plastic jars of spices cannot hold a candle to this. In addition, this little grater can also help you discover the joy of freshly grated cinnamon:

AR Women Bloggers_Pic4

I was trying to be so cool and give you an action shot here of me grating fresh cinnamon into the mix. However, shortly after I snapped this, I managed to grate about half of my finger into the mix. You will note that I didn’t include that in the ingredient list. You are welcome.

After you have mixed your dry ingredients, slowly incorporate them into your wet mixture. The dough should be wet but not overly wet..think cookies versus cake. From there, scoop into muffin cups-about 2/3 full. From there, mix all of your topping ingredients in a separate bowl and spoon generously on top of your muffins before baking for about 20-25 minutes.

I’ll be honest; this isn’t a great shot of the muffins. By the time I took this, I had downed several of them…in the name of research, of course! However, all of that sugar made me a little jumpy. Sigh. The things I do for blogging…

Now, what I really love about these muffins is that they are idiot proof, and frankly, living my life, I need more things that are idiot proof. The first time I made this recipe, I forgot the baking soda and powder but they still turned out like rock stars…or rocks, but at least tasty rocks. If you wanted to riff on this recipe, you could substitute applesauce for some or all of the butter. You could also swap out whole wheat flour for AP flour. In addition, you could omit some of the sugar. Bottom line is that there are many ways to make and remake this recipe..just get in the kitchen and bake!

 

Here piggy piggy! A curly tale about getting pigs

Well, he went and did it!  Sheldon went last week to pick up our “couple” of pigs…except the maybe 3ish pigs turned into 3 gilts, 5 baby barrows and 1 very large boar.  For those of you playing at home, that is 9 pigs….who need to go into an enclosure that was designed to hold 6 at most?  Not only that but the gilts that we picked up are not quite at the farrowing (the baby making stage for you non-pig people) stage, so we need to keep the boar away from the ladies a bit longer.  Have you ever tried to encourage a lonely 200ish lb pig of anything?  Yeah..it ain’t easy.  Gripety gripe gripe gripe.

Ok, so let’s reboot and start this post again.

thCANBX0K1

Yeah!  We were blessed to be able to afford 9 Registered Berkshire pigs that will enable us to begin our pig farming (on a tiny scale) but will also help fill our freezers with high quality, pasture raised pork for the winter.  While the plan was to start with a smaller amount of piggage (I made that word up, don’t bing it for accuracy, ok?), Sheldon just became so enamoured of the piggy potential that he decided to up the ante by starting our pig endeavors with 3 gilts, 5 baby barrows and 1 ginormous boar. 

Hush little piggies don't say a word...mama's gonna buy you a big pile of food

Hush little piggies don’t say a word…mama’s gonna buy you a big pile of food

3 out of the 4 older pigs.  I didn't want to give you a shot of the boar from behind because I was afraid it would scare small children and the elderly.

3 out of the 4 older pigs. I didn’t want to give you a shot of the boar from behind because I was afraid it would scare small children and the elderly.

And so I don’t make you go on out to Wikipedia, I will tell you what all of these words mean:

Boar: a male pig of breeding age.  Some people refer to this as an “intact” male.  Our boar is named Shoot after his sire, Shoot to Thrill and he is very very intact.  Like I cannot look directly at the back of him intact.  Like we had to have a biology lesson with The Blueberry intact.  Ok, you get the picture.

Gilt: a female pig of breeding age who has not yet had a litter or maybe has only had 1 litter.  Our gilts are named Charlotte, Hey You and Other Pig (ok, so we are a little behind on the naming) haven’t yet had any babies and should be totally ready to go later this fall/early winter. 

Barrow:  a male pig that is castrated at a young age before he hits puberty.  Yes, pigs get pimples and act awkward too, except they don’t..but of course they do go through puberty.  Barrows are often prized as feeder pigs because many people think that the lack of testosterone in their systems means their meat has a superior flavor.  We have 5 barrows named Hubert (he’s French), Spot, Skunky, White fur and Wilbur.  Of course we have a pig named Wilbur!

And just for fun

Stag: this is a male pig that is castrated at a later age.  We didn’t get any of these, but when I saw this term in my pig books, I had to laugh…next time your husband talks about going to a “stag party” you can laugh with me…

Now here is where it gets a little more intensive.  Because we had built the pigmahal and pig yard, we thought we would be set on pig buildings for a long time.  It took Sheldon a long time to finish the pig house because that man built it out of concrete blocks with mortared in concrete blocks.  No ramshackle pig house for our pigs! 

Butttttt…because our girls aren’t quite ready to get pregnant and our male is very ready to make everything pregnant, we are building him his own little bachelor pad with an adjoining “birthing house” next door so we will be able to lead the appropriate pig to the appropriate place when the time is right.  In addition, because we ended up with some little piggy barrows, we didn’t feel good about putting them in with the big kids, so they actually went into a temporary enclosure until we get Shoot moved this weekend.  Ironically, they went into a chicken yard that I had just finished.  This means that we are delaying moving around some of our chickens, but we thought it was better that than have Shoot step on them all in his excitement to get to the ladies.  Once Shoot is settled in, we will move the barrows into the run with the gilts and then the chickens can finally get rearranged.  Whew.  It’s like musical chairs but with a lot more poop.

It’s been about a week since they have been here and while it’s a heck of a lot more work in the mornings, I’m really enjoying them.  They all have personalities and I really enjoy being in with the barrows because they are such goofy little things.  The big pigs are fairly docile but are interested in Sheldon and have given him some love nips a couple of times.  While we don’t think they are about to eat us, they do seem to be naturally curious.  We’re keeping them very well fed, so we don’t think we are going to end up as one of those horror stories of a farmer getting eaten by his/her pigs, but still..I prefer not to get love nips from someone who could eat me.

I’m looking forward to trying out all manner of pork recipes with these Berkshires, but for now, they are just eating, pooping, mess making machines.  Enjoying it all the same!  What’s new on your homestead?

 

 

Holla! I mean…challah!

Hello, my name is Shellie and I’m a bread junkie.  I’ve been a bread junkie for 40mumblemumble years now and I do not see an end in sight!  When I think of a perfect meal, it always involves bread, butter and cheese.  Maybe some grapes.  You know-the kind that comes in a glass and makes everyone look better.  And when I think of that perfect meal, one of my favorite breads always comes to mind: challah.

image courtesy of jewishrecipes.org

 

Thinking back to my younger days, one of my favorite treats as a little Shellie was the joy of freshly baked Challah bread from Publix.  It may have been grocery store bread, but it was so good all the same.  If you have ever had challah, you know how amazing it can be.  Eggy and rich with a golden crust that shines.  I like to imagine I hear angels singing “ahhhhhhhhhhh” when I bite into it.

Now, full disclosure.  While I have made bread many times, I have never attempted challah.  Not quite sure why, but instead of riffing, I decided to follow a recipe on Allrecipes (one of my favorite sites to be sure!) for challah.  I thought this was a good recipe and since I’m a newbie to making challah, I don’t think I can improve on this recipe…yet.

However, I do have some thoughts about the recipe.  Make sure that you have tons of flour.  I mean tons.  While the recipe calls for lots of flour (8 cups), it isn’t explicit in terms of how much you need to add during the kneading process.  This is normal as humidity levels, etc differ from kitchen to kitchen.  However, I found that on a day where temps in the evening were in the low 80’s with humidity below 45%, I had to add far more flour than I do in just about every other bread recipe.  Probably another 2-3 cups.  To be fair, maybe I was distracted by the Blueberry when I was adding in flour and I missed a cup or two, or maybe my kitchen is just ridiculously humid, but in the end I think it’s just what the recipe needed, which sometimes happens.  Also, since this bread calls for eggs, have high quality eggs.  Many of us know exactly where our eggs come from, but for those of you who rely on grocery store eggs, think about spending the extra money for organic.  Since egg is such a star in this bread, you don’t want to skimp with lackluster eggs.

Is it wrong that I heard Barry White singing "...your love babe.  Can't get enough of your love babe" while I was taking this pic?  Yeah.  Probably.

Is it wrong that I heard Barry White singing “…your love babe. Can’t get enough of your love babe” while I was taking this pic? Yeah. Probably.

Also, the recipe calls for braiding the bread.  Hmm…I’m too lazy for that.  I tried it and it kept breaking but I think it’s just lack of practice.  In the end, I created 3 boules and 1 loaf.  The picture doesn’t do it justice, but the crust is still shiny and golden, worthy of all it’s praise.  Generally speaking, challah doesn’t rise too much in the oven.  I didn’t try it in bread pans, but I wouldn’t expect a huge fluffy loaf.  But, that’s ok because the flavor is sublime.  Try it with your favorite sandwich.  Use it instead of white bread in french toast.  Let it go a bit stale and then use it for croutons or bread pudding.  Ah, the possibilities are endless!

Happy baking!

Choosing a heritage breed cow for your homestead

It’s been a few days of having our beginning herd home here on Blueberry Acres and we’re learning that much like every other animal, cows have their own unique identity and personality.  Maureen (the little one) is highly curious about our barn cats.  She is quite nosey and it’s obvious that she wants to explore the cats with smell and probably taste since she licked the wooden fence post that one of our barn cats, Peter had sat on just seconds prior.  Pia (the pregnant one) is a little more cautious.  Apparently we are her third farm and she is a little more apprehensive about us and the situation in general.  She doesn’t seem to display the same amount of “ooooh a cat!” as Maureen, and I suppose that is ok.

 

But, beyond these specific personality traits, our decision to build a herd of Belted Galloways was a strategic one.  We knew we wanted to concentrate on a heritage or less common breed.  Here are some of the things that we discovered specific to this particular heritage breed:

Temperment:   Generally speaking, these cattle are more docile.  They are not overly aggressive and as a result, we believe that they will be very well suited to our small hobby farm.

Size:  Galloways are typically smaller than your average Angus cow.  Maureen was born in 2011 and the top of her head doesn’t even come to my shoulder (and let’s not lie-my shoulder isn’t that far off the ground) which makes her a little easier to handle.  In addition to just having less body mass, this also makes them easier and cheaper to transport.

Feed:  Galloways are excellent at processing food/grass where some breeds will desire more specific grasslands, Galloways are genetically predisposed to make the most of the grassland that they have due to their heritage.  In addition, Galloways have been known to consume about 75% of what a typical Angus would take in but still produce the same amount of meat.  However, that is not to mean that they produce lower quality beef.  Quite the opposite, as Galloways are known for…

Beef:  High quality, lower fat meat is the by-product of both their genetic makeup as much as the fact that most Galloway producers (like us) are either grass-fed and/or grass-fed AND finished.  We’ll be in that later category-grass all the way.

Adaptable to varied conditions:  Given that this breed started in Scotland, I don’t think I would recommend them for a farm in Hawaii, but in the diverse Missouri climate, they are well-suited as they will produce a double coat in the winter to protect them from harsh winds and weather.

So, for us, this breed just became the best of the best in terms of value, disposition, and meat quality.  As our herd grows, we will eventually begin breeding ourselves as well as selling meat products.  As our herd grows, we may add an Angus or two just to see what a Beltie/Angus cross is like, but we will also make sure that we do our part to preserve the lineage of this amazing breed.  The breeder that we purchased our girls from also sold us some ground beef and it was FANTASTIC!  We know that building a herd is going to be slow going for this uncommon breed, but we think the investment will be well worth it.  After all, isn’t homesteading all about the journey and not the destination?  Happy Homesteading!

This post also appeared on Modern Homesteaders.  We love the info there-go check them out!

Spiders and beetles and bugs, oh my! Exploring alternative home pest control options

This was originally posted on Modern Homesteaders-go check them out!

I don’t know about you guys, but I cannot tell a lie.  Once spring rolls around, I start walking with tip toed feet through my house fearful of my first contact with unwanted visitors who come into my house.  While so many things on Blueberry Acres Farm seem idyllic, the reality is that here in Missouri we have winters mild enough and summers warm enough to invite a whole host of creepy crawlies into our lives.  You would think growing up in Florida where the cockroaches fly and were huge would break one of that fear, but alas…no.  I still hate bugs with a passion bordering on phobia.  Or is it a phobia bordering on passion?  Either way, our desire to remain as chemical free as possible has led us to explore some more environmentally friendly options such as:

Dioatomaceous earth (aka DE).  We sprinkle this stuff in many many places.  It’s available online and sometimes in retail stores, but we have found it to be much more cost-effective to buy in bulk.  DE has a lot of other cool applications as well, but obviously if you have something crawling across your kitchen floor, it’s not going to make much sense to sprinkle powder on it, so sometimes you need to spray…

Rubbing Alcohol in various applications.  Get a clean spray bottle and either fill it with alcohol for a quick squirt killer or dilute it by mixing 3/4 water, 1/4 alcohol.  The nice thing is that it shouldn’t leave a residue and apparently bugs don’t build up a resistance to it.  However, since it doesn’t leave a residue, it shouldn’t be relied on for long-term control, just “eek, a bug” moments instead.

Insecticidal Soap Spray  This is another option for spraying but beyond just the “eek bug” moments, this should also leave a residue that will help repel the invading hoards.

Beyond these ideas, Herbal/Floral options abound.  I think every gardener knows the repelling characteristics of Marigolds, but what about using them near your entrances?  Rue is another option for planting near entrances to repel flies and mosquitos.  I’ll be honest-we haven’t considered Rue in the past because it can irritate skin if you rub against it, so this may not be ideal for homes with small humans like ours.   What about those tacky Citronella candles?  Sure, you could use those (I hate em!) but I’d rather plant Citronella/Lemon Grass instead.  It may not pack as much of a punch as those oil infused candles, but I don’t worry about the grass catching my cat’s tail on fire either.  This year I’m also going to experiment with Lavender to see if I can expand it’s moth repelling properties.  My goal will be to make planters of insect repelling plants and decorate my entrances with God’s natural bug dissuaders.

And of course, beyond sprays and sprinkles, some good old-fashioned prevention helps.  Don’t leave sitting water hanging around, especially near high traffic areas.  Mosquitos anyone?  Make sure doors and entrances have a great seal.  Here at Blueberry Acres Farm, Sheldon will be put to work this weekend on that project as we enter into the warmer months.  What are you doing this spring to make sure that the only guests who come into your home are those you have invited?  Would love to hear from you!