The Homestead Cookbook

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"To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug." ~Helen Keller

Ayam Cemani chicken

Photo by Greenfire Farms


Designing Your Chicken Coop

A Work in Progress

By Kimi Ceridon


     "Five years ago, my husband and I designed and built our backyard chicken coop.  The design was based on photos of a friend's chicken coop and ideas we gleaned from other online coop designs.  Both of us being mechanical engineers and hands-on do-it-yourselfers, designing our own chicken coop is a pretty straightforward task.  If anything, we went way beyond what was needed by modeling it in CAD with very exacting dimensions and drawings.  That first design incorporated all the necessities for keeping a small flock healthy and comfortable—coop area, run area, nesting boxes, perches, doors, accommodations for food and water. 

     However, we found ourselves continuously tweaking the design to incorporate new features aimed at making tending our flock a little bit easier.  Recently, we were asked to design and build a chicken coop for our vegetable CSA farm.  We looked at our original design and all the features we added over the last five years.  We also considered how we ended up with our current design because not all of those new features worked out the first time.  There was some (read: a lot) of trial and error...

     This is by no means an exhaustive summary of all chicken-coop design consideration, but, instead, some of the things we found important to our lifestyle.  With busy schedules, running our own consultancies, going to night school, and keeping neighbors content about chickens in an urban setting, these features turned out to be essential for simplifying our chicken-keeping lives."



Get Ready to Get Ready for Winter

By Kim Flottum


     "Right now the tomato plants in my garden are just beginning to show signs of late blight, an insidious disease that takes out tomato plants later in the summer.  If I let the plants go and they collapse and die right there in the garden, all the inoculum that collects on the dead tissues of the plant, now decomposing in the soil, lie dormant for a year or more, waiting to strike next season when the right environment and a host plant are ready.  But at the first sign of infection, if I remove and destroy infected plants by burning them, I’ve stopped further infestations in their tracks.… my proactive treatment saves future season’s plants, and takes anything resembling a necessary chemical treatment out of the equation.

      The same goes for fire blight on apple trees.  Once observed, it can be removed and stopped from spreading further in the original tree and on to other trees in the orchard.  No chemicals needed, and no further outbreaks expected.

     So, too, for your bees.  If you do your homework now, before winter, when it finally arrives all the preparation pieces are in place and your bees have everything they need, long before they need it."



Look to the Weeds

Weeds as Soil Indicators

By Diana Barker


     "Gardeners and farmers constantly battle with the weeds, but weeds can have a useful purpose.  Weeds can be used as a soil indicator.  Simply by observing the most prevalent weeds that are growing in a specific area, they can indicate if the soil is acidic or alkaline, whether the soil is a healthy, balanced soil, or if it’s depleted.  Weeds can indicate a poorly draining soil, or a soil that is unable to retain moisture.  Weeds can even indicate if the soil is unbalanced, being overly rich in one nutrient and deficient in others. 

     When using weeds as a soil indicator, observe several of the most prevalent types of weeds to get an accurate soil assessment.  For example, the dandelion and common mullein both indicate an acidic soil, but common mullein can also mean a low fertility soil, so if you see it alone, it could mean several things, but seeing it along with dandelions would indicate an acidic soil...

     There will always be a battle between man and weed, but knowing that weeds can be used not only as a soil indicator, but also the flower of many weeds provide essential nectar and pollen, the foods needed by beneficial insects to complete their life cycle.  Most insect pests would actually prefer to dine on weeds rather than your deliberately planted crops, if given the choice, so weeds can be good companion plants, and last, but not least, they’re edible.  I can never defeat the weed, so I must live with the weed.  Now I have an excuse for not spending hours pulling out the weeds in the garden.  Now I can spend time wandering in my blended garden enjoying both plants and weeds.  They are rebels, just like me."



Rotten Tomatoes

Man vs. Monsoon

By Barbara Bamberger Scott


     "The tomatoes were dying on the vine, and it was not a pretty death.  I realized for the first time that no matter how bad a performance or a speech might be, throwing a rotten tomato at someone is a strategy that should only be undertaken in the most extreme case.  

     My first theory, based on minimal web research (about ten minutes) was that our little orange darlings were afflicted by BER (blossom-end rot).  It’s not a disease, but a 'disorder' and is usually an indication of calcium deficiency in the soil.  But this was not so.  For one thing, from the get-go Donnie was out with the lime wagon.  He cosseted every tomato plant, dusting each one, but careful not to add too much of anything.  He set up drip hoses and absorbent anti-weed cloth, he staked and caged and calculated distances between plants.  He mixed his varieties.  He was ever vigilant.  Besides which, he noted that the rot on our fruits was generally on the side, not the blossom-end, so it could not be the dreaded BER.  It started as anything from a brown, unpleasant 'place' on a green or even pink tomato, to a clearly water-logged blister. But despite his Herculean efforts, Donnie could not control or conquer the malady, which he identified as a fungus caused by an unavoidable circumstance: too much water from too many heavy rains."



Understanding the Blues

A Guide to Gorgonzola

By Dustin Eirdosh


     "Guiding your homestead milk to it's destiny as a farmstead cheese can seem onerous enough without contemplating the role of our dairy-related fungal friends.  Certainly all of the cheese books out there will tell you to hold off on crafting the mold-ripened varieties until you are a master of the fresh and pressed/aged types.  While I agree that you will want some experience in transforming milk into curd—the proper perspective can allow even the novice cheesemaker to craft a stunning blue-veined frommage.

     The intent of this article is not to hand you a recipe or step-by-step instructions for producing the perfect Gorgonzola or blue cheese.  Rather, what is offered here is a set of perspectives and key concepts that will empower the hobbyist cheese maker to gain a more complete understanding of what blue cheeses really are, and the important considerations to account for during their production.

     Like all aged cheeses, the blues require intense patience and the willingness to endure a long and steep learning curve.  The rewards for your steadfast dedication will be unrivaled culinary enjoyment and the amazement of your friends and family.  Certainly Gorgonzola is well suited to almost any type of salad, but I also enjoy adding it to a number of hot dishes.  Try making a buffalo chicken pizza—with diced chicken breast marinated in a buffalo sauce combined with blue crumbles—sure to be a favorite at informal gatherings.  I think it also makes a unique addition to classic Mac'n Cheese, or combined with sausage as a filling for stuffed baby portabellas.  No matter how you prepare it, your home made blue cheese is sure to be a source of pride every time you bring it outEnjoy!"



The Housegoat

The Unusual Beginnings of Withywindle Farm

By Norah Messier


     "I could tell he didn’t have time to deal with a 'special-needs goat', especially one that his dog didn’t like.  I offered to take care of her for a few days, an offer he readily accepted once he realized that I had, during our conversation, coaxed her into latching on to the tiny soda bottle and sucking down milk replacer for all she was worth.  At the end of the day, I went to collect my new charge.  He handed me a small pet carrier so light that I had to turn it and look in to make sure that Sandy was actually inside, a bag of milk replacer, and a bottle. 

     'Good luck and thank you,' was all he said. 

     I tucked her pet carrier into the back seat of my VW, picked up my now-husband, Chris, and drove the thirty miles to our home outside of Boston.  At the time, we were the resident caretakers of an antique farmhouse owned by the town historical society.  It had been at least half a century since livestock had lived anywhere near that house, as the town had changed during the twentieth century, shifting from a little agricultural and industrial town to a bedroom community for the nearby metropolis.  You could see the subway station from our kitchen window.  Town Hall was across the street.  But I figured that keeping a goat inside for a day or two while she got stabilized wouldn’t create any problems, and so we began Sandy’s first few days of intensive care.  Thankfully, Chris had raised goats before and was entirely enthusiastic and helpful with the project.  He very quickly fell in love with the tiny, haphazardly-assembled, adoring little animal that we were to baby-sit."



Black Walnuts

Pennies from Heaven

By Neil Shelton


     "Given sixty or seventy years to spread its boughs in open sun, a single Black Walnut tree may produce a crown 80 or 100 feet across the lawn, and the delicate compound leaves produce dense shade, while allowing heat to travel upward through the tree.

     However, the most noteworthy and traditional value provided by Black Walnut comes from the nuts, which enjoy a reliable and lucrative market every year.  So, if you have the good fortune to have a lawn or woodlot scattered with walnuts, picking them up rewards you not only with the ability to walk safely across the ground, but to do so with cold hard cash in your pockets.

     And how much cash is that, exactly?  Well, you're probably not going to be quitting your day job in order to concentrate on picking up walnuts every autumn, but most anyone can count on gathering a few dollars, perhaps even a few hundred dollars, in return for a little effort spent enjoying nature on sunny fall days."



Grafting an Orphan Calf to a Surrogate Mother

By Devin Kelly


     "Bottle-feeding can be costly and an inefficient use of time.  In my experience, bottle-fed babies never seem to receive the same quality nutrition afforded to naturally-fed babies.  In just about every case I can recall, their growth has been stunted, they seem to lack the social skills developed within the herd, and bloat and scours can become an issue even when transitioning to pasture.  Finding the optimal feeding regiment to compliment their development poses an inherent challenge with little room for error or variation.  It can be time-consuming in an occupation/lifestyle where the notion of spare time is as fantastical as unicorns and leprechauns.  Coupled with the necessities of a mother who has lost her baby, grafting to a foster mother quickly becomes the most efficient and gratifying alternative.

     A mother who lost her baby in the throes of birthing or the critical days that follow can be at risk for other complications.  Udder pressure on a new mother can begin to build, becoming painful and posing a risk for problems like mastitis.  'First-calvers', or first-time mothers, tend to have especially prolific udders.  Milking the mother at 12-hour intervals can take valuable time away from other projects but might be necessary, especially among dairy breeds.  And if the mother is not used to being milked by hand, you could be in for a wild ride.  Posed with both of these problems, the solution seemed obvious: we decided to graft the dogie onto the new mother.  As most things go, this particular case turned out to be much easier said than done.  Below are a few steps to consider should you ever find yourself posed with a similar situation.  Even though much of the article references a cow and calf, most of these techniques can be used for all species of livestock."


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