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Many Thanks – Don Abbott (aka the Snarky Gardener)
The Snarky Gardener toured Tierra Verde Farms, his favorite place to buy quality food, including grass fed beef, free range chickens and nitrate free pork.
Tierra Verde Farms (which roughly translates to Green Acres) is a local farm we discovered through a pamphlet at my doctor’s office of all places. A group of us from Kent Ohio Food Not Lawns showed up on a Sunday afternoon to get a personalized 2 hour tour from the owner, Mike Jones. We started in his store front as he explained that his farm is designed based on Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms system of rotational grazing with chickens pasturing after cows, etc. It was easy to see from his presentation that Mike considers the animals part of his family, with all the emotions and attachments that entails.
After our talk, we started the walking part of the tour with the Thanksgiving turkeys. The Snarky Gardener had ordered one a few months back and wanted to meet him/her personally. We found them gobbling away out in the pasture. They came up to us as we looked like people with food. Sorry guys, no food here! Trying to find our specific turkey was impossible as they didn’t have name tags.
From the turkeys we moved onto the meat chickens. They were housed in “chicken tractors” that are moved every day so the chickens can get fresh stuff to eat. Mike’s tractors were very well designed as they had automatic waterers and lots of fencing to keep out predators (hawks, coyotes, etc.). Would love to have a smaller version here at Snarky Acres but I think that’s a few years away.
Next on the agenda were the pigs. They were fenced in under a stand of trees as pigs are forest dwellers in nature. With this type of farm, it’s important that the animals get to be themselves as much as possible so they are happy. These pigs are able to root in the mud and eat plenty of forage, including acorns and other nuts, just like they would in the wild. Mike let us go in to see the pigs closeup though I think his idea was to give the pigs people to play with as they kept nipping at the back of our shoes.
From the pigs we moooooved onto the beef cow pasture. Beautiful brown cows welcomed us by staying together as a herd and looking at us warily. Cows are herd animals and their ancestors survived by keeping together. These particular cows are hybrids, which helps them be productive, much like an F1 plant has hybrid vigor (an interesting concept in the least).
Our final tour stop was the egg laying chickens. They were truly free range with a portable trailer coop to lay eggs and receive shelter. The chickens have been trained to come in by a certain time before the automatic door leaves them out in the cold and vulnerable to predation. Mike told us that after the chickens reach two years old he sells them off for $5 a piece to home egg producers. These older hens don’t produce as many eggs per week (3 to 4 versus 6 for younger chickens), but for a home raiser that should be plenty. Never thought of buying a used egg chicken before (hmmmmm).
If you are interested in learning more or purchasing some meat products (but not Maynard, he’s ours), please visit their website http://www.tierraverdefarms.com/
The Snarky Gardener built raised beds using hugelkultur
Hugelkultur is the German term for garden beds made with buried wood. The wood breaks down over time, providing garden vegetables with nutrients and moisture (as in you don’t have to fertilize and water as much, if at all!). The wood does not have to be brand new as rotted wood is actually better is some ways.
This fall, I decided to utilize this technique to build four 8 foot long by 4 foot wide by 3 feet high raised beds. In general raised beds are beneficial as they warm up earlier in the spring, keep humans (but not my dog) from compacting soil, and allow plants better drainage. Usually raised beds are built with a frame around the soil, but my beds have no borders. After completing each bed, I planted cover crops (turnips, spinach and clover) to minimize winter soil exposure. My long term plan is to convert more of my garden into hugelkultur beds, but wanted to perform a trial first, as putting these beds in is labor intensive, with all the wood gathering, moving, and burying.
The Snarky Gardener is managing his herd of Jacob’s Cattle beans.
Saving bean seed is really easy. Allow your bean plants with with beans still attached to turn yellow and die off. Collect the seed pods. Open up the pods and there are your seeds. You will want to let these dry out completely before putting them in an airtight container (I use old vitamin bottles though glass jars will work also). Make sure to keep an eye on them over the winter as they could mold up if there was any moisture in them.
After I do my “shelling”, I like to divide them up based how they look. Some will be deformed or have some flaw that makes them less than perfect. These will be put into the “eat me” pile. Jacob’s Cattle beans are specifically “dry” beans (think kidney or black beans), but I do eat some green.
So, you might be asking “Why does the Snarky Gardener bother with saving bean seed when it’s so inexpensive to buy at the store or online?” In a word, adaptation. These plants grew up in my garden with it’s specific conditions. Plus beans make the soil better, especially through their nitrogen fixing nodules.
The Snarky Gardener entered his vegetables in the local county fair. Now the Snarky Girlfriend will never hear the end of it.
A little while back, the Snarky Girlfriend picked up this year’s Portage County Randolph Ohio fair book. She thought it would be cool for us to enter some items just for fun. She had some photos she wanted to enter, including one of my dog River. According to the rules, our entry forms had to be in by 8/5 even though the entries needed to be onsite when the fair started two weeks later. Telling the future is hard with garden produce, though I did have the option to enter and then just not have them. Going with a conservative first-timer approach, I perused the book, looking for viable vegetable categories.
Vegetables not quite ready for the big show:
1. Tomatoes and peppers – behind all year with cool wet weather
2. Corn – a few weeks off, not sure they would be ready by then
3. Beans – they wanted a quart of beans and I didn’t have that many.
4. Swiss chard – would rather eat it then enter it
5. Carrots – not enough and/or too small
1. Red potatoes – Red Chieftain
2. Golden potatoes – Yukon Golds
3. Kale – Red Russian
4. Turnips – Purple Top
5. Zucchini Under 10 inches- Sure Thing from Burpee
We dropped them off on Sunday 8/17, the day before the first day of the fair. Right away I realized something was amiss. People with kale and Swiss chard were using jars of water to keep them hydrated. The fair book said to do this, but somehow I didn’t pick up on it (oh well – lesson learned). On the plus side, we didn’t see any other turnip entries, so I knew I had a good chance of winning something in that category. The turnips I entered were far from perfect, as they had pits and marks on them. From the Internet articles I read after the fact, fair entered vegetables should all be little clones of each other and as close to retail sale quality as possible.
On Thursday (a long 4 days later), we attended the fair with some friends to see how I did (at least that’s how I saw it). They seemed to be interested in other things first, like seeing the Snarky Girlfriend’s pictures (she won a second place ribbon for a flower picture), and eating fair food. Finally we arrived at my vegetables and lo and behold, some had ribbons! Two firsts and a second (yeah). My red potatoes didn’t win (3rd place out of 3) as they were noticeable smaller and less uniform than the other competing entries. But my Yukon Golds won second place (out of 4) – not bad at all. My sad turnips garnered a first place ribbon as they had no competition. But the topper was my zucchini which earned 1st place out of five. Mine seemed to look the most like the ones you see at the grocery store. Now I just have to figure out what I’m going to spend all the prize money on. I wonder what I can purchase for $5.50?
Where: Kent Social Services – 1066 S Water St, Kent, OH
When: September 10, 2014 – 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM
A food swap event is where people meet to share homemade, homegrown, and foraged foods (including plant starts and seeds). No money changes hands but instead attendees bring items they wish to swap for other’s produce. Packaging and labeling does help. Value of each item for trade should be around $5.
Each unique item will have a sheet placed in front of it. During the “walking around” phase, swappers will write down what they are willing to trade for a given item (sheets will be provided). For example, if you have jars of jelly and you want a loaf of bread, you put down your name and “jars of jelly” on the bread sheet. During the swap phase, you find people who want your products and whose produce you want. Sometimes you can get someone to trade even if they didn’t write down a bid on your sheet, but this is usually only if they have extra they don’t want to have to take home.