Friday Free For All: Tips for Keeping Your Vegetables Fresh

tips for keeping your vegetables freshSo the broccoli is ready in the garden and it’s delicious! My dilemma is harvesting it before it blooms. Some of the heads have escaped being eaten; I didn’t get there in time and they’re blooming but that’s OK…it’s more food for the beneficials. I’ve noticed that if I leave the cut broccoli overnight, it doesn’t have the same crispness that the grocer’s does; perhaps you have this problem too. I thought that we would look at some tips for keeping your vegetables fresh after harvesting them from the garden.

  1. BROCCOLI – so if your broccoli is more floppy than crisp the day after you harvest it, try soaking it in ice water for a few minutes before you’re ready to use it. Of course, if you’re cooking it, you can skip this step because you’re going to make it floppy anyway. I think that broccoli is best stored in the fridge.
  2. CUCUMBERS – cucumbers are best stored outside the fridge on the countertop. Unless you’re ready to eat one of course. I love a cold, crisp cucumber so we keep a few in the fridge when they’re in season (and the 5 gallon buckets of them are overflowing).
  3. LETTUCE – lettuce prefers the fridge to the countertop. We generally grow romaine and I like to wash it and then place it in layers of paper towels so that it’s ready to use when we need it. All of the paper towel and lettuce layers go into a ziploc bag and then into the fridge.
  4. TOMATOES – some people swear by keeping their tomatoes on the countertop…that it makes them last longer. Others say they keep longer when in the fridge. Personally, I don’t have a refrigerator big enough to handle all of them so I usually keep the majority of them out of the fridge in the aforementioned 5 gallon buckets. If we have problems with blossom end rot, I still pick those tomatoes for canning…I just cut the bad ends off. Those I try to keep in the fridge since they’ve been injured.
  5. PEPPERS – it’s been my experience that peppers are better stored on the countertop. If they’re kept in the fridge, mine tend to look shriveled up…like all of the moisture has been sucked out of the skins.

 

Here’s another tip that you can keep in mind the next time you’re bringing in your harvest. Many herbs and greens can be kept fresh in your refrigerator by placing them in water like you would cut flowers. A bouquet that you can eat…now that’s an arrangement I’m interested in!

What are your tips for keeping vegetables fresh? Do you have any secrets that you’d like to share with the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community? Leave me a comment below or send me an e-mail. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening! And happy Friday!

Friday Free For All: Is It Too Late to Plant Your Vegetable Garden?

I’ve received quite a few questions in the last week asking is it too late to plant your vegetable garden? I understand why people are concerned…the weather has been spring-like for the past seven to eight weeks here in central Virginia and fellow gardeners have been planting their crops for weeks. Lest you feel alone if you’re just getting around to planting your veggie garden…we just planted ours last weekend and still have a few more plants to get into the ground. Life gets busy and time slips away from you and before you know it, its second week of May.

There are a few plants that you may have missed the boat on if they’re not in the ground. Let’s take a look at those before we move on to what you should be planting now and whether they should be started from seeds or transplants:

  1. Broccoli
  2. Cauliflower
  3. Potatoes
  4. Cabbage – I have a little disclaimer to make here; I know several people that plant their cabbage plants with other warm season veggies and they seem to do fine. Experiment and try some now if you want to…what do you have to lose?
  5. Fava Beans
  6. Peas

 

So what can you still plant in your veggie garden? Virtually everything!

  1. Tomatoes – only from transplants
  2. Peppers – only from transplants
  3. Cucumbers – seed or transplants
  4. Squash – seed or transplants
  5. Zucchini – seed or transplants
  6. Melons – seed or transplants
  7. Sweet potatoes – sets
  8. Basil – seed or transplants
  9. Carrots – seed
  10. Pole or bush beans – seed
  11. Lima beans (aka butterbeans) – seed
  12. Lettuce – seed or transplants
  13. Cilantro – seeds or transplants

 

Now with cilantro, you need to watch it closely so that it doesn’t go to seed. If it does, it turns into coriander instead of cilantro. I wish that someone would develop a cilantro that wouldn’t bolt so early. I can’t ever seem to have cilantro and tomatoes that are ready at the same time. You can always dehydrate the cilantro and use it in salsa later but it would really be nice to have fresh cilantro available when the tomatoes start rolling in.

I want to give you a reminder that I know you already know. Don’t be discouraged by the size of your plants when you put them in the ground. It’s so easy to look at your 6″ tall plants and then see your neighbors that are 2′ tall and be discouraged. But don’t be. Our veggies are so small right now that I’m embarrassed to post pictures of them. I’m embarrassed but I’m not discouraged. Look at these two pictures of the broccoli that we planted on March 22.

is it too late to plant your vegetable garden

 

Here they are on May 6:

is it too late to plant your vegetable garden

 

Aren’t plants amazing? Now get out there this weekend and get your veggies in the ground! Let me know what you’ve been up to in your vegetable garden. Send me your pictures…I’d love to share them with other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers. Send them to stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. If you’re a little less boastful, then just leave me a comment below. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!

 

 

Reader Questions: Growing Salad in Summer Heat

Today’s Reader Question comes from Kate in Virginia:

I need your ideas on growing salad throughout the summer. My lettuce bolts when it gets hot outside and my spinach just stops producing. Do you have any recommendations?

Great question Kate! The Mid-Atlantic gardening region warms up quickly in the summer and we’ve already experienced 90+ degree days and it’s only the first week of May. As you know, salad greens are cool season crops that enjoy temperatures above freezing but below 70 degrees. A few spikes in the thermometer won’t put an end to your salad greens but sustained hot temperatures will. So what can you do to keep the temperatures cooler?

Do you have any lightly shaded areas that you can use for growing salad? Not dense shade but a nice cool, lightly shaded spot. I know that my yard has several pockets of cooler growing areas…your landscape probably does too. Take advantage of these areas by tucking a few salad greens into empty spots.

Consider creating your own shade. There are several ways that you can accomplish this. Do you have any potted plants that you could place near your salad greens to cast shade on them? Or can you grow your salad greens in easily movable containers that you can move to shade when the temperatures climb?

growing saladAnother way to create shade is with shade cloth. Shade cloth is used extensively in the nursery industry and it’s practical to use in your veggie garden. Create some hoops out of PVC and secure your shade cloth to it for instant shade. Here is a link to Gardener’s Supply where a 6′ x 12′ piece can be purchased for $27.95. If you have a nursery grower near you, give them a call to see if they have any shade cloth that they’d be interested in selling…often times, they have scrap pieces lying around that are too small for their beds but may be perfect for yours.

Let’s talk about plant selection. Try to find an heirloom seed supplier that is located in your gardening region…they may have varieties of salad greens that have been selected to perform better in the heat. Since you’re in Virginia, take a look at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. They’re located in Louisa and have a variety of romaine lettuce, Jericho, that grows well in our summer heat. If you’re looking for spinach that will keep on keeping on, try Red Malabar spinach. It’s a vining type that needs to be trellised so it will take up less room in the garden too. Southern Exposure recommends growing them on your pea trellises…as the peas finish growing, the Red Malabar spinach will take over where they left off.

I’m sure that other Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers have other creative ideas for growing salad in summer heat. Please leave a comment below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!

Friday Free for All: Backyard Chickens

backyard chickensBefore we start discussing chickens, I want to let you know that I don’t have any chickens. I’ve never had any chickens, backyard or otherwise. My husband and I were determined to get a few girls last year but our resident raccoon population deterred us. That and the fact that our backyard is uneven…we couldn’t figure out how to keep the backyard chickens safe from predators. We didn’t want them in a coop…we wanted them on fresh green grass in a tractor.

A tractor? For those who aren’t familar with chicken tractors, they’re essentially a movable pen that has a run for them to access fresh ground each day and a coop where they can be safe at night. Here’s a visual for you:

backyard chickens
Photo courtesy of www.wikipedia.org

 

Chicken tractors can be simple or complex…cheaply made or extravagant. It’s up to you…the chickens won’t mind either way.

What are the benefits of backyard chickens?

  1. Backyard chickens are composting machines. Throw in your kitchen scraps and you get manure and eggs. Seems like a good trade off to me.
  2. They can help with insect control. We have all sorts of little creatures crawling around in our backyard. Chickens can help with ticks, beetles, spiders, caterpillars, grubs…you name the insect and they’ll pretty much eat it.
  3. They can improve your soil. As they’re busy ingesting all of the yummies that you give them and the goodies they find on their own, they’re producing manure for you. Chicken manure has to be composted before it can added to your garden but if you move them daily, the fertilizer they leave behind on your lawn will be just fine.
  4. Backyard chickens can clean up your garden for you. If your girls are in a tractor, move your tractor to your garden a few weeks before you’re ready to plant. They’ll go after any insects that are hanging out waiting for your veggies to be planted, they’ll weed the garden (to a point…they are chickens after all) and they’ll fertilize. When you’re finished with the garden in the fall, let them back into the garden to clean up insects that are left behind. They’ll scratch your weeds into the soil and fertilize again.
  5. Eggs! Unless you’re a vegan, eggs are enjoyed by most people in one form or another. You may not want scrambled eggs every morning (I do!) but chances are you bake a cake once in a while. Studies have shown that eggs from backyard chickens and those raised on pasture have the perfect ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Eggs that you purchase from the grocery store are more than likely from chickens raised in confinement housing and their fatty acid ratios are completely out of whack. Here’s a picture I took of eggs from my local producer, Cardinal Hill Farms, and those from the grocery store. The eggs from the grocer are touted as cage free, certified organic and vegetarian fed. Besides the fact that chickens are omnivores, let’s see what the picture reveals.

 

backyard chickens

The locally produced egg’s yolk is deep orange and sits up nice and proud whereas the cage free, “certified organic” egg’s yolk is pale yellow and flat. I’ll take my non-certified organic, locally produced egg any day.

The last thing I want to discuss regarding backyard chickens is meat. Also known as broilers, meat birds are raised for well, ummmm, meat. It may seem cruel to you to butcher your own birds but I can tell you from first hand experience that it’s not. I volunteered at Avery’s Branch Farm in Amelia, VA on Tuesday to help them process chickens. I don’t have any pictures to share but here is a video from Polyface Farms showing their operation. It’s worth watching!

I was hesistant about the whole process at first but I felt like it was important to know how chicken processing works on a family farm. It’s not nearly as horrible as people think it is. The chickens are put in killing cones where two cuts are made on each side of the neck. The chickens bleed out quickly, in usually less than a minute. They are then placed in scalding water to help loosen the feathers and then they are plucked in a plucker. The heads are removed, then the feet and the oil gland are removed and then they are eviscerated. I worked at the evisceration station for most of the process and it’s actually a pretty cool process. You learn the anatomy of the chicken and it truly makes you realize how impossible it is to pay 99 cents per pound for a chicken that is actually healthy for you to eat. We processed 300 chickens that day. Three hundred chickens that will be sold to support a family farm.

So, do you have backyard chickens? Are they in a coop or tractor or free range? Do you have layers or broilers? Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. Happy gardening!

 

Polyface Farms: The Rest of the Lunatic Tour Pictures

So the weekend got away from me and I wasn’t able to post the rest of the Polyface Farms Lunatic Tour pictures. But, it’s a great way to start the week so here we go:

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These are two of the hoop houses as you walk up the hill from the house and storefront. The two on the left are empty and the one on the far right is housing pullets

 

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Here is the hoophouse full of pullets

 

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This is a look inside the store where you can purchase all types of shirts, hoodies, books and even apple cider. Of course, meat and eggs are available at the store too

 

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Here’s a closeup of one of the bunnies…what a cutie…and they’re so friendly!

 

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Lest you think that the watering system for the animals in the pens is complicated…here’s a shot of the inside of the bucket with the tubing

 

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Here’s the inside of one of the hoophouses that has been vacated of animals. Again, Polyface has multiple uses for every structure

 

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This is down at the barn closer to the house. My assumption is that these pigs will be moved to the woods when they are larger

 

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I had to include this picture…it shows how friendly the pigs are and how they are well conditioned to being around people

 

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Here’s a wider shot of the barn and the pigs. I love how this picture shows the simplicity of the farm…a gate propped up against the fencing for reinforcement

 

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You won’t find a picture like this at Smithfield

 

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Here is a picture of the farm buildings as we traverse the hill up to see the broilers

 

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Here is a shot of the pastured broilers and their alignment

 

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This picture shows the dolly that is used to help move the broiler pens

 

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Joel speaking to the tour group…if you see yourself, let me know!

 

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This is a shot of the bunny/hen house. These bunnies are suspended above the floor and the hens pick through the litter to keep it sanitized. It is my understanding that these are the breeder rabbits and they need an area that isn’t as unpredictable as outdoors. If the does are with a litter and they feel threatened, they will eat their babies

 

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The hens were enjoying treats off of my boots courtesy of walking through the cow paddock

 

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This is the bounty out of one of the nest boxes in the bunny/hen house

 

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More pictures of the girls hanging out around the eggmobiles

 

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I like this picture…it shows the present and the future. The hens will be where the cows are in about 3 days

 

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My son, Myles, surrounded by hens. He was fascinated by the eggmobile, just like his momma

 

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A close up of two of the girls

 

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Looking from the eggmobile back towards the barn where the piglets were in the earlier pictures

 

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What a view

 

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Back at the barn, the pigs were romping and having a ball

 

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The closing shot of the day

 

We toured Polyface Farms on a Monday and allowed our kindergartener, Myles, to miss school. He went to the school library on Wednesday and brought this book home:

polyface farmsJob well done Joel! Thank you for showing my 5 year old (and his parents) that farming can pay the bills. That you can follow your dream of living off the land and help to heal the land in the process. And that I’m not so crazy for having this dream after all…

If you enjoy this type of discussion as well as learning about gardening, please leave me a comment below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list, become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 30, 2012Permalink 3 Comments

Polyface Farms: Pigaerators and Eggmobiles

In yesterday’s post, we talked about pigaerators a bit…how Polyface Farms uses them to turn their deep bedding into beautiful compost. Today I want to continue the tour and head to the pigs in the woods. In my quest for knowledge regarding animal husbandry, I’ve read time and time again how hard it is to confine pigs. I’ve heard of people using barbed wire at the top and bottom of wooden fencing, electric fencing at the top and bottom and all sorts of other homemade devices. How does Polyface Farms keep their pigs contained? Two strands of electric fencing. Again, simple but oh so effective.

Here is a picture of the pigs in the woods:

polyface farms

Sorry that the picture is a little fuzzy…my hands were trembling a bit from the cold. But here you can see that the pigs are rooting through the understory of the forest. You may be concerned that so much disturbance would disrupt the natural balance of the forest. But Joel informed us that there isn’t much that is naturally balanced in the forest anymore. When the bison and other herbivores roamed the land, they kept all of the undergrowth from taking over and allowed for perennial grasses to dominate the forest floor. Those days are gone and now the forest is filled with brambles and dense understory plants. By allowing the pigs to root and just be pigs, they are able to clear out much of the dense understory which in turn enables the perennial grasses to re-establish themselves.

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Polyface Farms moves the pigs when they have eaten all of the feed that is in their feeder: it’s a ton…literally. They have discovered that when the feeder is empty, the pigs have rooted through the woods enough to prevent the brambly growth but not do permanent damage. I’m not sure how many pigs are contained in a given area or even how big the area is. At this point in the tour, my daughter was fascinated with the fact that her boots were making the sucking sound as she pulled them up out of the mud/poo mix so I was a bit distracted. And then she fell bottom first into the mud/poo mix…fun for everyone.

Joel told us that buy piglets for $80 and get $500 for them at slaughter. That’s over a 6-time return on their money. What’s your savings account paying these days? Polyface Farms will raise 1000 pigs between the main farm and the other 8 farms that they rent. That’s a lot of bacon.

polyface farms

The tour ended with my favorite part: the eggmobile. I don’t know what it is about the eggmobile that fascinates me. Maybe it’s the fact that hundreds of birds (800 if I’m not mistaken) work so hard to sanitize the fields. Or that they produce an entirely new revenue stream for the farm. But it probably has a lot to do with the fact that they don’t have to be slaughtered to generate income. Don’t get me wrong…I eat meat at least twice a day and I have total respect for the farmers that produce the meat that I consume. I’m just not sure if I can be the one doing the slaughtering. I’ll find out next Tuesday, May 1, when I go to Avery’s Branch Farm in Amelia to help process chickens. I need to know if I can kill an animal to feed myself and my family. And I need to push myself past my comfort level. Otherwise, I won’t ever know what I’m capable of. Do you ever feel that way? I’m sure I’m not the only one. Back to the eggmobile…

Polyface Farms runs the eggmobile behind the beef cattle but they wait three days before bringing the girls in to work their magic. The reason for the three day delay is that it takes that long for the fly larvae to develop and the chickens can procure a sizable amount of their protein from the larvae. They take a cow patty that is a 1 foot circle and scratch through it until it’s about 3 feet in diameter. This helps to spread the manure fertilizer around and also decreases the amount of grass that the cows avoid when they are moved back to the same paddock. Cows don’t want their lips near their own poo when they’re grazing and the chickens help to reduce the repugnancy zones.

The chickens are wonderfully friendly and seem to enjoy human company. They cluck and carry on and wander into the eggmobile to lay their eggs and then get right back to business. Here are some pictures of the girls:

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I love the picture of my son standing in front of the eggmobile. He’s muddy and cold but oh so happy. I really think that he would be right at home on a farm. If there’s mud around, my daughter would be as happy as a pig in, well, you know. While Myles and I explored the eggmobile, Maddie explored a mud puddle with a stick.

polyface farms

When I asked my kids what their favorite part of the farm was, Maddie replied “the mud mommy” and Myles said “the poop momma”. I love my kids. My favorite part was the fact that I was able to experience Polyface Farms in all of its glory. I love the fact that the buildings aren’t perfect and so much of it is made out of re-purposed materials. Sure it was a cold, wet and muddy experience but the warmth that emanated from the staff and their animals was amazing. We are already planning our return trip…my husband and I joke that we’ll end up there once a month to attend the “Lunatic Tours”. And we just might do it. Oh yes we can!

I still have a bunch of pictures and short video clips that I didn’t use in these posts. We have a busy weekend planned but if I can find the time, I may post them over the weekend as a pictorial tour. If you enjoy this type of discussion, please leave me a comment below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list, become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!

 

 

April 27, 2012Permalink 5 Comments

Polyface Farms: Salad Bar Beef and Deep Bedding

polyface farmsIn yesterday’s post we looked at pastured broilers at Polyface Farms. Today, we’ll explore Joel Salatin’s “salad bar beef” and deep bedding. I think I would be correct to assume that the bread and butter of Polyface Farms is the beef cattle operation. Well, that and grass. Without the grass, none of this would be possible. I must say up front that I didn’t catch all of what Joel said while we were seeking shelter from the rain in the barn. My daughter had to use the potty so she added a little more ammonia to the deep bedding further down in the barn. Don’t worry, we shielded her with an umbrella.

Here’s is what I did learn in the barn. Joel runs his cattle on 2.5 acre paddocks and moves them to fresh grass everyday around 4:00 PM. I’m not sure how many cattle there were…here’s a picture:

polyface farms

The cattle are kept in their 2.5 acres by two strands of electric fencing. Two strands. No expensive, hard-to-maintain wooden fences. Two strands of electric fencing. This “portable infrastructure” as Joel calls it allows the cows to be moved easily to the next salad bar. At this point in the tour, it was probably around 2:15 and the cows knew that moving time was on the horizon. As we exited the paddock (after seeing the pigs in the woods) they were getting antsy. I think Joel said that they wanted to get to the candy bar grass…that’s the prime eating in any paddock.

Joel, in his infinite wisdom, has studied the habits of wild herbivores whether they be buffalo, antelope or zebras and learned how they move in their natural habitat. Herbivores follow the three “M”s…mobbing, mowing and moving. Let’s look quickly at what each of these M’s mean.

MOBBING – in nature, herbivores move together in close proximity to each other. This allows protection from predators.

MOWING – while these herbivores are packed tightly together, they mow the grass to a level that the grass can easily rebound from. While the animals are grazing together, they are also pooping…alot. So what do they do?

MOVING – animals are not stupid. They don’t want to stand in their own feces anymore than you do. So they move. They move onto new fresh grass and away from their manure. What they leave behind is fertilizer for the grass.

Doesn’t that make sense? So why does the industrialized food production model pile cattle into CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations)? Beats me too.

polyface farmsThe barn that we sought shelter in serves as the winter housing area for the cattle. Polyface Farms practices a method known as deep bedding. In case you don’t know what this is, it’s basically a method that as the bedding is soiled, it’s not removed. Fresh bedding is added on top of the soiled bedding. Polyface can’t settle for just adding a fresh layer of bedding….they’ve made it work even better. Before they add the fresh bedding, they put down a layer of corn. Why you ask? This is where Polyface Farms knocks it out the park. They do this over and over through the winter and then they release the pigs into the bedding in the spring. The pigs then root through the deep bedding in search of the corn that is now fermented. By doing this, the pigs are aerating the bedding and turning it into beautiful compost that is later applied to the fields. Joel calls the pigs his pigaerators. They get to express their pigness by rooting and the farm benefits by having the bedding turned. He believes in having the animals do the work for him and he pays them for their work; in this case, it’s corn.

One more awesome thing that Polyface Farms does: the area outside the barn is a sacrifice area. It’s an area where the grass won’t grow anymore because of the heavy hoof traffic during the winter. Instead of sowing seed to establish new grass (which by the way they have never done since the farm was purchased in 1951) they grow their potatoes here. By the time the soil is warm enough for potato sets, the cows have been turned out into fresh pasture. So Polyface Farms plants their potatoes and covers them with straw. That’s it. Here’s a closer look:

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I want to leave you with a video of Joel speaking to us about the role of the herbivore in nature. Please take the time to watch the video…it sums it up so well.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the pigs and the eggmobile. If you enjoy this type of discussion, please leave me a comment below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list, become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!

 

 

April 26, 2012Permalink 8 Comments

Polyface Farms: Broilers

Yesterday we looked at the rabbit operation at Polyface Farms. Today, we’ll continue our tour and mosey on up the hill to the broiler operation. For those who don’t know, broilers are the chickens that we eat. They differ from the layers that provide eggs in that they have a very short life. Joel said that you can raise a broiler in the same time it takes to grow a radish: 8 weeks. Most people don’t realize how quickly baby chicks are transformed into 4 pound birds that are ready for the table. I won’t profess to know all of the details; after all, I’ve just started reading Pastured Poultry Profits and my kids required a lot of my attention during this part of the tour. It was raining at a pretty good clip and the kids were worried about their umbrellas.

Polyface Farms’ broilers are moved everyday to fresh grass. Joel said that they have the cows come through and mow down the grass because chicks don’t particularly care for tall grass. This also provides cow manure for the chickens to pick through. The portable houses are 10′ x 12′ x 2′ tall. Up to 75 chickens can be housed in each shelter. Here’s a picture to give you a better idea.

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See the simplicity again? Sheet metal roofing, chicken wire sides, a bucket on the top with rubber hosing and a feeder. These pens are also moved by pulling them with the rubber covered wire to fresh grass. Joel stated that it takes one minute to move each pen and one person can move 60 pens in an hour…impressive.

The chickens in this particular portable shelter are actually pullets. The broilers are Cornish Rock Crosses which are the industry standard. But these chickens are grown without antibiotics, arsenic (to stimulate their appetite) or any of the other pharmaceutical cocktails that are given regularly to factory farm chickens. Joel told the tour group that these chickens never touch the same piece of ground twice in a season; in fact, no other chickens will be grazed on that patch of ground until the following year. The reason? Soil health. The soil can only capture and metabolize 200# of nitrogen/acre in a season…any more than that runs off and is lost. His chickens are capable of producing enough free fertilizer for the grass that synthetic fertilizer isn’t even a thought. Here’s a video of Joel discussing the pastured broiler operation. It was taken with my husband’s non-smartphone so it’s a little choppy. Sorry.

Joel on Pastured Broilers

I was interested in predator protection. These broilers are out in the middle of a field and they can’t be seen from the house. How is it possible that they aren’t eaten by raccoons, foxes, skunks or other wild animals? That is the main reason that I haven’t pursued getting chickens for our backyard…we have raccoons that we could claim on our taxes they’re here so much. They’ve become so use to us that they just stare at us if we interrupt their forays in our trashcan. So what keeps Polyface Farms’ broilers safe? The answer is this guy:

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Not the cute little girl in the monkey hat…that’s my Maddie Tate. Her friend for the day was Michael. From what I could gather from Joel through my daughter’s chatter, Michael is 1/2 Great Pyrenees, 1/4 Anatolian Shepherd and 1/4 Akbash. If I got that wrong, please leave a comment with his true heritage. Michael can run 37 mph and is a fierce protector of the broilers. Joel figures that Michael successfully takes care of skunks, raccoons and possums on a weekly basis. I’d say that Michael earns his keep at Polyface Farms.

The broilers at Polyface Farms are processed after three weeks on pasture so they have another batch of chicks ready for the pastured pens when the older ones move on. Polyface is all about efficiency while not compromising the ecological integrity of the land. Through years of experience, they have learned how far they can push an operation to increase revenue without sacrificing the land that they have worked so hard to develop. Joel said that when his parents’ purchased the 550 acre farm in 1961, it was the worst farm in the whole valley. There were large areas of shale exposed and through the Salatin’s careful stewardship of the land, those areas have been rehabilitated and now grow beautiful grass. Grass that the bunnies, pastured broilers, beef cattle and layers can enjoy. So that we can enjoy them.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the beef cattle operation and deep litter. If you enjoy this type of discussion, please leave me a comment below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list, become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!

 

Polyface Farms: Oh Yes You Can

polyface farms

Myself, Joel and my husband Ed

So yesterday my family and I went to Polyface Farms in Swoope, VA. It was a 2.5 hour drive from Chesterfield where we live and we hoped the whole way there that the weather would improve. When we left, the thermometer on the car registered 47 degrees. As we went over Afton Mountain near Charlottesville, the temperature dropped to 35 degrees…that’s not the way we hoped the temperature trend would go. When we pulled into the drive of Polyface Farms, the temperature was 40 degrees. And it was raining. The rain continued for most of the day but it didn’t put a damper on our visit.

We saw Daniel, Joel’s son, when we arrived. He said that his dad would be conducting the 2 hour “Lunatic Tour”. Joel arrived back at the farm about 45 minutes before the tour started. He had been in Florida for a week and was leaving for Michigan the next day. But yet, he still conducted the tour for the roughly 100 folks that showed up on this day of poor weather. That’s dedication. That’s how you can tell that someone is living a life that they are passionate about.

I am still in awe of the Polyface Farms operation. It is so simple and unglamorous, if that’s a word. It is everything that a farm should be. There are animals that are happy to be working, and people that mirror that happiness. How can an animal be happy to work? It’s simple…it’s in their inner being; it’s who they are. A chicken loves to scratch and peck and stretch its legs. A pig loves to root and run and play with other pigs. Beef cattle love to eat grass and chase each other and poop. Lots of poop. The bunnies love to eat grass and feel the grass under their feet. They love for people to feed them grass and that’s what people did. Including my kids.

polyface farms

I love the simplicity of Polyface Farms. Look at the harepen that these bunnies are housed in. Chicken wire for the sides, sheet metal roofing, slatted floors so that they can eat the grass but not dig out. A bucket on the roof with a piece of rubber tubing provides them fresh water. A piece of wire covered in rubber tubing on the front of the harepen makes it easy to pull their accommodations to fresh grass. Again, so simple!

polyface farms

And what is the result of this setup? Poop. The bunnies keep the grass mowed and fertilize the area as a result. There are fruit trees growing in this area and they are provided with a readily usable source of nutrients. Have a look for yourself.

polyface farms

Now people that take issue with these bunnies ending up on someone’s dinner plate should consider Joel’s words (and I’m paraphrasing here): “My animal’s live a wonderful life and have one bad day”. That day, of course, is the day that they are slaughtered and end up as dinner. I think that the bunnies at Polyface Farms live a better life than those that are kept as backyard pets. Most of the backyard bunnies are kept in hutches off the ground and their little feet never touch the ground. There aren’t grass stains on their paws.

Back to the tour: we visited the broilers, the cows, the pigs and the layers in our 2 hour tour. We’ll dig deeper into these operations as the week continues. After the tour, Joel was kind enough to sign my copy of his book You Can Farm. I didn’t have a chance to read what he wrote until we arrived back home. Here it is:

polyface farms

Oh yes you can. If you are interested in homesteading, check out the Homestead Barn Hop where you can discover people pursuing their dreams of living a simpler life. Click here for Part 2 of the Polyface Tour. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!

 

 

Did You Know? Polyface Farms

polyface farms

Today, my family and I are visiting Polyface Farms. For those who don’t know what Polyface Farms is, it’s Joel Salatin’s family farm. If you don’t know who Joel Salatin is, I highly recommend that you Google him. To sum him up, he’s the rock star farmer who has brought sustainable agriculture to the forefront. His farm was showcased in the movie Food, Inc. and he’s also in the  movie FRESH. His premise is so amazingly simple but yet it is so far from where our current food production model lies. He is an acclaimed author who has written the following books:

  • Family Friendly Farming
  • You Can Farm
  • Salad Bar Beef
  • The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer
  • Pastured Poultry Profits
  • Everything I Want to do is Illegal
  • Holy Cows and Hog Heaven
  • Folks, This Ain’t Normal

 

One of my favorite YouTube clips is this one from FRESH. If you can spare 1 minute and 42 seconds, please watch this. What a wonderful life.

This week, Mid-Atlantic Gardening will be focusing on our trip to Polyface Farms and all of the wisdom that we can glean from the experience. Truth be told, we aspire to have a farm similar to Polyface Farms. We don’t aim to copycat Polyface completely…we would like to have dairy cows instead of beef cattle. Being that I’m a horticulturist, we’ll focus more on plants than animals but we would still like to have meat birds and laying hens. And possibly sell some to have multiple revenue streams.

You may be wondering what all of this has to do with gardening. To me, it has everything to do with gardening. By learning how to grow vegetables, fruit trees, nut producing trees and shrubs that provide you with food, we are one step closer to being able to feed ourselves. Also, as gardeners, we are stewards of the resources that God has provided us with. Whether those resources are plants or animals is irrelevant to me. To know that we have been entrusted to take care of them is awe inspiring. I know that I’ll be in awe and inspired visiting Polyface Farms. I can’t wait to fill you all in on the details. Let me know if you’ve been on a “Lunatic Tour” at Polyface Farms. Leave me a comment below or e-mail me at stacey@midatlanticgardening.com. If you enjoy being part of the Mid-Atlantic Gardening community, join our e-mail list (upper right hand corner of this page), become a fan on Facebook and follow me at Twitter. Happy gardening!