My attempt at backyard permaculture (year 11 with my veggie garden)

gardeningMy garden has always been a great place for my kids to dig in and get dirty.  They help plant and sow, and rarely help in the messy “no fun” work in between.  However, I too, rarely partake in that no fun, yet necessary work (primarily weeding) in the garden, and just end up happy with whatever harvest we get.  So, this means a bunch of work getting things in the ground in the Spring, and then I mostly let it go til harvest.

After the season wraps up, I complain that it’s not a pretty/aesthetic garden, (it’s not) and the yields are low (they are) but Wendy always relishes in the bounty no matter what, and the kids do as well.  They often enjoy much of the harvest while standing out in the garden, well before it makes it into the house.  THAT makes it a good garden to me, and I’m fine with that.

This year however, I revamped the entire garden, and will report back on the results in the fall.  The raised beds that were put in at least  five years ago are now gone.  The bagged 3-part “dirt” mix (peat, manure & vermiculite) from those raised beds that I spent lots of money on and hours mixing (following the square foot gardening method) is now blended into the top layer of my garden soil.  I’ve reverted to more traditional row style garden following a permaculture approach based on what I learned from the “Back to Eden” movie I saw a few months ago.  It is a no-till method, and while I don’t have a tiller anymore anyway, there was a fair amount of dirt moving, mulch spreading etc this season due to the redesign.

My fully automated overhead watering setup is all ripped out and will be converted to a drip system (which will still be fully automated).  The automatic timed watering setup makes a huge difference in time spent on keeping it all wet.  My hope is that the thick bed of mulch will also lessen the water needs in our otherwise arid Colorado climate.

photo 2

Bark chips and coconut coir (shredded coconut fibers) make the predominant layer of mulch on top. Each marked row is planted and the Spring garden is all sprouting like crazy!

photo 1

Peas coming fast….this is the first row of about 3 total for now, planted in the cold frames.

 

Finally, I am also experimenting with more seedlings inside prior to the frost dates next month.  Tomatoes were always one of several veggies that were bought in large size pots to get a jump on the growing season.  While I need to have a better set up for this in the house next year, I’m hoping the time & effort outweigh the expense and convenience of buying from a local greenhouse this year.  I’m also growing some more annual flowers from seed, so we’ll see how that goes.  Need to have some more flowers around….it helps to keep Wendy happy:)

Backyard gardening, along with other urban-agriculture projects like chickens and beekeeping are finally gaining extreme popularity nationwide….and for good reason.  Knowing what you’re eating, where it comes from, educating your kids and saving money are all obvious reasons for this groundswell of popularity today.  What we get OUT of our garden is priceless.  Beyond the obvious freshest vegetables possible, the list is endless.  For starters, I’d say a healthy ache in my back; the best Vitamin D available and a nice tan to boot; fresh air; dirty fingers; smiling kids (it helps to have a trampoline and my new homemade fireplace IN our garden) and as Joel Salatin would say, dancing earthworms.  Yes, lots of amazing worms in every shovelful.  Even with the raised beds, we have amended with a ton of kitchen and yard compost over the years, as almost no yard waste goes to the landfill.

There is a plethora of ideas available on the web for micro-sized gardens even forgardening quote the smallest apartment patio or kitchen window, making fresh backyard produce a reality for anyone, anywhere. Here in Colorado, The Grow Haus has a free seed exchange I attended this year and many unique educational tools available, offering community support and produce to low income families.  Denver Urban Gardens assists in the organization of many community garden plots all around the metro area, and similar services are available in most urban areas today. If you simply cannot imagine tending your own plot, or do not have the ability to tend a small garden or a few pots of dirt, then seek and find a local CSA and or farmers market.  Buying organic, local produce right from the farmer is hands down a better choice than your local conglomerate supermarket.  We LOVED Clear Creek Organics last season, but I am  committed to more volume from my own plot this year, and did not rejoin again.

Get out and DIG!  You will be happier and healthier for your efforts!

Dinner Tonight

Best chicken ever, according to the kid's friends we had over!

Best chicken ever, according to our kids AND their friends we had over!

Nothing special tonight.  Very simple.

  • Mixed chicken pieces, baked after marinating all day in mixed leftover lacto-fermentation brine.
  • Sauteed green beans
  • Thick cut organic “french fries” (baked).  Lightly coated in avocado oil and then dusted with cumin, chile powder & garlic salt.
  • Lacto-fermented homemade ketchup
  • Pomegranate water kefir (not pictured)

Kids had friends over, and they said it was the best chicken ever.  They loved my “soda” too.

Yum.

FAT: A Brief Introduction

The idea that saturated fat is the primary cause of obesity and heart disease is finally changing course in the medical and health community.  Gary Taubes, an American science writer in his book “Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It” hypothesizes that Carbohydrates generate insulin, which causes the body to store fat.  It’s been a long road from when Proctor & Gamble’s Crisco was invented in the early 1900’s and soon became a household name.  It was the first time Hydrogenated oils were used and because they were plant based, were thought to be a better cooking oil than it’s immediate predecessor: Lard.  Entire industries and new food-like products sprang up as a result of this newly found, supposedly “heart healthy” oil product that was cheap, easy to make and very shelf stable.

coconut_oil

Spoonful of Coconut goodness – it is liquid above 76 degrees. Solid, like in this image below 76.

Unfortunately, the data didn’t ever support this, then or now, and it’s pretty clear that diets with less saturated fat generally have a higher rate of heart disease.  That’s one of the reasons Coconut oil is “all the rage” now, and seen on every aisle and every health blog out there.  Back in the 80’s, the American Soybean Association went on a PR blitz trying to obliterate all other tropical oils to make way for their vegetable oils.  Well, it worked.  To this day, the myth of coconut oil in particular being unhealthy still lingers, because unlike most vegetable oils, it is indeed high in saturated fat…and considered downright evil.

Keep in mind that Coconut Oil has been a staple in the diets (and for endless topical uses as well) of most of the world’s tropical populations without any history of heart disease.  What the food-oil industry PR campaigns missed was that while Coconut oil is indeed saturated, there are many varying types of fats.  Coconut Oil consists mainly of medium chain fatty acids.  In laymen’s terms, this means that this kind of fat is burned immediately, as a source of energy, and not stored as fat OR converted to cholesterol (thus also punching holes in the theory that Cholesterol is fat’s evil partner as another key contributor to heart disease).  None of this news on saturated fats is to say that all saturated fats are good in endless amounts, so don’t go thinking tons of fast food burgers are suddenly okay.

What else is Coconut Oil good for?  The list is really long, and although anything that calls itself a “miracle” seems dubious to me, I do highly recommend the book by Bruce Fife titled The Coconut Oil Miracle. 

How about these for starters:

  • Overall general immune support – due to the healthy fats lauric acid, caprylic acid and capric acid which contain antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral properties
  • Helps manage Type 2 diabetes – by protecting against insulin resistance
  • Eases digestion, bloating and even irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Eases skin lines – keeping skin’s connective tissue strong (use topically AND ingested)
  • Helps sugar cravings – reaching for a spoonful of coconut oil instead of an afternoon sweet because a quality fat is more satisfying than carbs
  • Outstanding cooking oil – has a high smoke point, and doesn’t oxidize like most other oils.

I think the primary take away is that the KIND of oils we consume, alone with whole, minimally processed foods is critical to good health.  For example, while we need Omega-6 fats for sure, the Standard American Diet is way out of whack with regards to the proportion as compared to the Omega-3 fats.  Still eating margarine?  STOP NOW, and bring back the butter.  And Coconut Oil.  And Olive Oil (best when eaten raw, as in a salad dressing).

Some other oils to consider are avocado and hemp.  Steer clear of run of the mill vegetable oils, especially soy, cottonseed or even canola.  Yes, Canola is another great PR campaign gone awry…..while most oils are named for the fruit or source they come from, ever hear of a canola plant?  It doesn’t (really) exist.

Keep quality fats, and ample portions of them in your diet as a means to radiant health.  In our house, we’re trying hard to get at least tsp/day into the kids.  Give it a try….prices are way down on bulk sizes of quality, minimally processed, organic and extra virgin Coconut oil.

As a side note, give Jackson’s Honest Chips chips a try.  They’re delicious…organic potatoes, 100% coconut oil and sea salt!

REAL FATS ARE GOOD- “….even the maligned saturated fats and its corollary, INDUSTRIAL FATS ARE BAD. It’s not complicated. Eat real fats and avoid industrial ones.”  Nina Planck, Real Food for Mother and Baby.

“America Needs An Oil Change” – Quote from the side of the Nutiva Coconut Oil Container in our kitchen. 

References:

The Atlantic

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

and American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

Water – Think Beyond Just Quenching Your Thirst

Water really is the elixir of life.  An interesting perspective that another friend (a backpacking buddy) who is a well trained outdoorsman told me one summer the rule of three:

A human can survive for:

- 3 minutes without air
- 3 hours without a regulated body temperature (shelter)
- 3 days without water
- 3 weeks without food

Blue Lake - Indian peaks Wilderness, Colorado

Blue Lake – Indian peaks Wilderness, Colorado

These of course are considerations in the worst case scenarios, but specific to water, we’re generally all not hydrated enough.  If you feel even mildly thirsty, you’re already slightly dehydrated, and you need to drink water to catch up.  Even the slightest level of dehydration negatively affects the body’s physical and mental performance.  When you have a dry mouth, chapped lips or decreased urine output, your body is telling you very clearly that you need to hydrate, fast.  In the above rule of three, 3 days with no water is a pretty scary place to be…after 48 hours or so, assume fever, low blood pressure, cracked skin with no elasticity, no tears or sweat and in the most extreme cases, delirium or unconsciousness.  It doesn’t take much for the body to naturally start to take precautionary steps to accommodate when it is not getting ample water.

Dr John Douillard, an Ayurvedic practitioner in Boulder CO states that dehydration is one of the most common reasons that one’s Lymph system could be stagnant.  He suggests sipping hot water every 10-15 minutes throughout the day, totaling at least ½ your ideal body weight in ounces per day.  This means for a 150 lb person, drinking at least 75 oz, or (almost 10 cups of water) per day is necessary.  He just released anther excellent article on the Lymph here, as well.

Water is the key word here…not just any liquid.  Juice, soda, coffee etc do indeed contain some water, but it’s clearly not the same thing as drinking clean water.  At home, we have filtered our water with Reverse Osmosis (RO) for more than 10 years, and feel it is the best set up for us.  It’s convenient, inexpensive and does a great job in my opinion.  The filtered water clearly tastes superior to the tap water.

Also, despite the average American’s infatuation with ice cold drinks, room temp water (or even better yet, warm)  is so much better for you.  Consider that we are about 98.6 degrees; what happens when you dump ice water in?  Your insides immediately constrict, and it douses your digestive “fire”, making it considerably weaker. Drinking iced beverages with your meal can result in overall poor digestion, cramps, nausea, gas or constipation.

Finally, it’s ok to NOT have a beverage with your meal.  Doing so dilutes the acids needed for proper digestion.  If you would like, drink a glass 20-30 minutes before your meal if you want to help curb your appetite, as it will help you feel fuller, faster.

Water quality and its general availability are becoming more and more of a concern and many today feel that it is or will be one of the most important political and environmental concerns of the 21st century.  The excellent documentary ‘FLOW” discusses these concerns thoroughly, exposing many of the historical and current concerns as well as some of the most thought provoking solutions.

Why we filter our water comes down to doing whatever we can to mitigate the negative environmental impacts on what we put into our body.  No one would willingly drink a cup of straight chlorine bleach, and yet every time we drink tap water we’re drinking it in small quantities each and every day.  I totally get and respect the advances we have made as a society with clean drinking water.  I know how fortunate as a whole we are in America and yet it has come at a price, and there are better ways today.

So, for now I’ll take my drinking water filtered, thank you.  On another blog post, I will discuss more of the specifics as to what’s in the water  (hint: its much more than just chlorine!) at the kitchen sink that we’re so interested in removing before it flows into my glass.

Ever wonder about those people who spend $2 apiece on those little bottles of Evian water? Try spelling Evian backward.  – George Carlin

Bones

“Going Paleo” is not something I think we’ll incorporate into our family protocol anytime soon.  Nor is being a vegetarian.  Both of these lifestyle choices could easily take several blog posts all on their own and yet as if they were politics, I may stay away from them in their entirety….we’ll see.

However, both of these relatively drastic dietary choices have merits, and for the topic of this blog I want to talk about bones.  Bones…as in using the complete carcass in the case of poultry.  The nutrient dense stock you get from them when properly preparing at home makes it not even a comparable product to anything you buy in the store.  If you look at the ingredient list in anything store bought there is no indication of bones or how the stock is made.  The bones are the key, and usually the difference in terminology.  Chicken broth is usually made when cooking the meat with some vegetables and seasonings.  Chicken stock is what we’re talking about here….made with the bones.

When cooked at the lowest simmer possible, for the longest amount of time….as much as 24 hours or so, the minerals that leech from the bones are second to none.  When I drink it, I seriously feel nourished deep down….it’s hard to describe.

Here are some of the reasons why:

  • The gelatin, a colloidal substance in bone stock assists digestion; in fact it is known to treat digestive disorders such as IBS, colitis and even Chrohn’s disease.
  • Bone stock contains minerals such as calcium, silicon, sulphur, magnesium, phosphorous & trace minerals in an easily digestible form. Calcium for one, is the most abundant mineral in bone and also the most abundant mineral in the body.
  • Gelatin is used to tonify the blood, with glycine, a key ingredient playing a vital role. Chinese studies have shown gelatin to increase red blood cell and hemoglobin count, increase serum calcium level, and increase the absorption and utilization of calcium.
  • Gelatin assists in neutralizing whatever intestinal poison is causing problems during an intestinal bug or flu.
  • Most stock recipes stress the quality that can be obtained from using highly cartilaginous parts of animals including joint areas, like chicken feet and beef knuckles, trachea and ribs.
  • Stock is a liver tonic (liver supportive) because it helps the body to detoxify during a cleanse, and in fact at any time it is eaten.
  • Stock also contains, Chondroitin Sulfate, a jellylike substance, now famous as a supplement for joint pain associated with osteoarthritis. It functions to support and provide adhesiveness. It lines blood vessels and plays a role in lowering atherosclerosis, cholesterol and heart attacks.

My own chicken broth process is adapted from numerous sources, and it works for us.  I usually make it with two whole chickens at a time, but only one this round, as shown.  I generally slowly roast the chicken, as it is simpler to use the meat in my opinion.  Should you choose to start with raw whole chickens right into the water, you have to remove the bird after about 2 hours.  Then you remove the meat and return everything else to the liquid to continue on.  Leaving chicken meat simmering for 12 or more hours makes it tough at first, and then mushy, like a tofu gone bad!

  1. I usually start in the morning after breakfast.  Remove innards, do not discard.  Place whole bird(s) into casserole/baking dish with innards, covered with foil or baking lid in oven at about 210 degrees for about 10 hours.

    photo 1

    Raw bird going in

  2. Time the start time for dinner, and about 15 minutes before dinner time flip bird over carefully. Remove foil and broil to lightly brown the top skin.  Enjoy the pulled meat for dinner.  Crispy skin is a killer appetizer to sneak before pulling the meat off the carcass!
  3. As you pull the meat, return the juices and bones to a crock pot on low setting.  I always try to break as many of the bones as possible to allow all the marrow to be fully released.  For one chicken, I add about 4 c of water.  Double that for two whole chickens.
  4. Add a few TBS of Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar.  This acid helps to pull more minerals out of the bones.  COVER, and then simmer on the lowest setting.  My crock pot lowest setting is not as low as I would like, and I’ve read that the best simmer is when the bubbles are steady, but just barely breaking the surface.  My crock pot is slightly more than that but I am not worried about this slight difference.

    photo 2

    Some veggies added to bake for dinner that night.

  5. I run the crock pot for about 12 hours, and then put in chunks of 3-4 carrots, celery and an onion or two.  It is perfectly fine to stop after a few hours when the veggies are soft, or let it go another 12 more hours.  The longer the better.  Just be sure to add water as needed to keep the total liquid level about the same as when you started.
  6. Turn off crock pot.  You can let it cool for an hour or so to make straining it easier if you would like.  I strain it at least twice, sometimes three times.  I use a large holed (metal) pasta strainer first to remove the bones.  Since I hate wasting a single drop, I usually let the bones drip for awhile before straining it again.  Discard the bones (and the now mushy veggies) at this time.  Strain a second time using a finer, metal screen type strainer.

    photo 3

    Meat separated from bones

  7. Chill.  This is one area that is important for good food safety, as you need to properly chill within a short amount of time (well under 4 hours is best).  Putting a huge bowl in the fridge will take much too much time, and clearly not a good idea.  Once the stock is at a cool enough temperature to handle, break down your batch into quality zip lock bags or mason jars and freeze or chill in small batches. You could even put a few ice cubes into each batch to help it cool faster.
  8. Consume.  Add a little salt and sip like you would a good cup of tea.  Make soup.  Flavor simmered veggies with stock.  Always have some in the freezer for when the cold or flu season hits.  It is unbeatable.

    photo

    Broth in bowl after first strain

If it is total liquid and not wiggly like jello, it either may not have cooked long enough, you added too much water or it could have even been a poor quality CAFO chicken.  You want your finished, chilled product to have that jello-like wiggle, and even a nice layer of fat on top – don’t discard that!  Be sure to mix it in as you take your portion each time.

While I clearly favor chicken stock over the others I’ve made, broth can be made from turkey, beef, buffalo and even fish/shellfish.  The red meat batches generally add an extra step of braising bones in the oven first, but I’m just not a fan of the taste of this broth, although the end result is clearly still just as beneficial.  Once you get the process down, I think you will never go without some  in your freezer.

“The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent disease with nutrition.”  ~Thomas Edison