Archive | May 2017

Mystery Peas

Finished planting the garden late last week, just before two days of heavy rain.  I’ve put carrots, wax beans, indian corn, beets, field and mini pumpkins, head lettuce, basil, sunflowers, zinnias, bachelor buttons and tomatoes in the ground.  Also, an interesting experiment I’m calling mystery peas.  These are some of a five pound bag of organic whole green peas I bought last winter for sprouting.  Actually, I just soak the peas to rehydrate and eat them raw on salads.  I love the taste of raw peas and in the winter it’s hard to find them.  Soaked dried peas taste almost the same as fresh ones.

On a whim, in the middle of May I grabbed a couple handfuls and with the help of my 5-yr-old granddaughter Lia, planted the peas in a row.  I have no idea what variety they are.  Could be something that isn’t even designed for our short northern growing season.  We will find out.  They are all sprouted and starting to grow.  Usually it is good to plant peas in late April to early May since they like cooler weather, but mid-May is good enough, especially in Maine.  Two nights ago the temps got down to 40.  Brr.  The last few days have been cool, cloudy and damp.

Whole dried peas are usually made into soup, pease porridge or mushy peas, or sprouted.  I tried sprouting peas during the winter.  Pea spouts are great on salad and sandwiches.  They are expensive to buy, so I thought I’d do my own.

I learned that for me, sprouting peas is not worth the effort.  The seeds are sprouted either without soil, which involves keeping them damp in a plastic container and shaking them twice a day, or they are placed in soil and allowed to grow until a good cutting height is reached.  I tried the no soil method.  I ended up with spouts that tasted like roots since they all still had roots.  Pea roots have an earthy flavor, even if they’ve never touched soil.  Not the taste for me.  I’m using up the rest of the 5 pound bag by soaking them overnight in the fridge and eating raw.  Maybe I’ll make some mushy peas, those are good.

While I was checking the progress of the peas, I also discovered the lettuce has just sprouted.  Tiny baby leaves are popping out all over!  And I spotted a couple volunteer cucurbits, no idea what they are.  The sprouts are in the area where field pumpkins grew last year, so I’m hoping that’s what they are.  If the volunteers are some sort of gourd, they could ruin the pumpkins by cross-breeding.  Since I’m adventurous, I’ll leave those sprouts to see how they develop.

There are also volunteer sunflowers where sunflowers grew last year.  With great care, I rototilled around them this spring and now have three well-started plants.  Their parents were yellow-flowered so I imagine they will be as well.

This year I planted six Early Girl tomatoes.  Before long they will grow into a tomato jungle and take over their area of the garden.  They will need to share some room with the mini-pumpkins and the lettuce in the lower corner.  I grew corn in this area the last couple years.  It’s time to move the corn to a new spot to prevent smut from developing.  Smut is a fungus that infects corn, turning the ears into corn-shaped mushrooms.  The best way to avoid smut is to rotate the crop to fresh ground each year.  I also discovered that planting beets where they will be shaded from the hot afternoon sun by the corn greatly improves the quality of the beets.  The leaves stay tender longer for use as beet greens and the beets don’t become woody.

Now all we need is ample rain and some warm, sunny days.  I know that’s asking for a lot.  Hope springs eternal in the gardener’s heart.

Baby Chicks Learning to Free Range

The baby Ameraucana chicks are three weeks old now.  This past week they have been learning to go out on their own into the big world and free range.  Seeing such small babies on their own can give a mother hen like me heart palpitations, but I can’t hold my little ones back.  They need to understand how to find food, hunt for insects, avoid danger and return to the safety of the shelter at night.  Although they are quite tiny, these chicks are old enough to be on their own.

The babies love freedom.  They run together in a little flock.  All twenty-three of the original hatch are still with us, hale and hearty.  On a sunny spring day they sprawl in the sunshine lighting the barn doorway and spread their wings to collect the warmth.  As a group, they move from place to place finding adventure and keeping in constant contact with a steady stream of peeps and chirps.

Thursday was the first time the little birds ventured from inside the barn out on the grass.  Once this wonder was discovered, there was no stopping those chicks.  They found the grass and greens delicious and also teeming with juicy bugs.  I am teaching them to drink from a pan by sinking their plastic waterer in the center of a rubber dish full of water.  The chicks have quickly caught on.

It is amazing how fast baby chickens grow.  The tiny roosters already test their strength in mock fights.  In no time the birds will be fully feathered and starting to fly.  A baby chicken is actually quite a good flyer because its body is small and light in comparison to the size of the wings.  This tends to give the small birds an advantage against predators.  They are very good at escaping.  Although they appear delicate, millions of years of evolution have made these small creatures tough and capable of caring for themselves.

Bloodroot

During a recent walk on our farm I found this patch of white flowers.  The single leaf has a distinctive growth habit of wrapping around the flower stem.  The early blooming spring plant is called bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis.  It is native to northeastern North America.  Bloodroot grows in moist to dry conditions, from woods to floodplains, in full sun to shade.  I did not detect any fragrance in the flowers.
Bloodroot has a rhizome that grows close to the surface. It sends out shoots in early spring and is pollinated by bees and flies.  The flowers produce pollen, but no nectar. The plant is spread by ants who carry the seeds away to their colonies to eat the attached elaoisomes.  After the flower is pollinated and the petals drop, the leaf enlarges and unfurls.  By the time the seeds develop, the leaves begin to yellow and die away.  The plant then goes dormant until next spring.

Bloodroot earned its name from the bright red juice in the rhizome.  When the root is damaged, it appears to bleed.  Bloodroot is poisonous.  The chemicals in the sap can burn the skin.  In times of old, people used the juice to burn away warts and even cancer.  It was a dangerous and somewhat ineffective treatment that often resulted in severe skin damage.  The plant extract was also touted as a cure all and sometimes ingested.  Its use has been linked to cancerous growth in the mouth due to skin damage.

So it is best to enjoy the fleeting beauty of bloodroot flowers from a distance.  Do not pick or otherwise disturb this wild spring beauty.

Good Hatch

These chicks are the first to hatch from my new Brinsea incubator.  The hatch was a great success, 96% hatch rate!  The best rate I ever got was around 70% using styrofoam incubators.  I’ve started the second clutch, a total of 28 eggs.

I was amazed by the difference in the hatching process between the solid plastic, double walled Brinsea Ovation Eco 28 and the styrofoam incubator, a Hova-Bator circulated air model.

In the Brinsea, the chicks all hatched within 20 hours, compared to a three-day process for the styrofoam.  In the Hova-Bator, it was always evident when the eggs were hatching because the chicks made so much noise.  They often peeped very loudly.  In the Brinsea the chicks are quiet.  The double plastic walls do insulate sound, but there is no loud, endless crying.

The chicks in the styrofoam tended to move all over the inside of the incubator, peeping and scrabbling around, disturbing the eggs still hatching.  In the plastic model, the chicks all gather in the middle of the incubator and fall asleep.

The Brinsea incubator also seems to dry the chick fluff more quickly than the styrofoam incubator.  They fluffed up hours before chicks that hatched in the Hova-Bator.  At the same time, the humidity level was well maintained.  The chicks stayed moist inside the eggs and easily broke out of the shells.

The most telling thing for me was the cleanliness of the new incubator after the hatch.  The inside contained just broken shells and loose fluff.  No nasty smells or egg insides stuck to components.

With the styrofoam incubator there was always a smelly mess.  The inside was always smeared with meconium.  There was none in the Brinsea incubator.  Early expulsion of meconium, the contents of the intestines that formed during the development of the embryo, can be a sign of stress in any newborn.  With this first hatch from the plastic incubator, none of the chicks passed meconium until they were placed in the brooding box.

I think this fact and the quiet, calm demeanor of the chicks during and after the hatch are testimony to the greatly reduced stress achieved by the Brinsea incubator.  Even now, several days after the hatch, the chicks are more calm compared to past hatches.

The only complaint I have about the Brinsea is that the well holding the water for humidity is too shallow.  There are two wells, the second is to be filled only at the time of hatch.  Using just the one well requires adding water about every other day.  This can be annoying.  Filling both wells during incubation would probably raise the humidity too high due to an excessive water surface area.  However, overall, I would say this new incubator is a great addition to my operation.

I look forward to watching these babies mature and to the results of the other hatches I have planned this year.

Also, let me state that I have not received any remuneration from any incubator seller.  This comparison is based solely on my personal experiences with two incubators I chose to use.

Ancient Grains

Farro with dried cranberries and sunflower seeds

Recently I decided to try some of the specialty ancient grains available in local stores.  The term ancient grains refers to cereals that were discovered and eaten millenia ago by our ancestors.  Many have fallen from use in modern times, replaced by more factory-farming friendly plants.  Judging from the variety available even in such an outpost of civilization as central Maine, the ancient grain business is good.  The grains I tried were all organic, meaning non-GMO, no pesticides or herbicides used for growing, storing or processing.  I decided to try kamut and spelt in addition to farro, a grain I’ve been eating for a year or so.  In the future I will try others.

The three grains are relatives of modern wheat.  They were first gathered from wild plants over 8000 years ago.  Man (as in most likely–women) learned to plant the wild seeds they gathered and cultivated the grain.  This provided a more secure food source for early communities.  Farro originated in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East and was eaten in Egypt.  It has a softer texture than some wheats, especially when it is pearled.  A semi-pearled grain has had some of the tough outer membrane, the bran, removed.  I use semi-pearled Italian farro because it cooks faster than the whole grain, yet still retains an impressive nutritional value.  A 1/4 dry cup serving of semi-pearled farro has 170 calories, 0 fat, 0 sodium, 35 g of carbs with 5 g of dietary fiber, 0 sugar and 7 g of protein and also some iron.  It is not a complete protein since it does not contain a full supply of lysine and should be paired with another lysine source.

Farro is delicious.  It is a very nutritious alternative to rice, especially white rice which is a nutrition wasteland.  Farro has a smooth, creamy, rice-like texture with a slightly nutty flavor from the retained bran coat and a wonderful fruity, sweet fragrance.  I like to cook it with a handful of dried cranberries and some raw sunflower seeds, simmer in three times its volume of water, covered, for 15 mins until al dente, drain before serving.  A perfect breakfast or side dish for pork, turkey or chicken.  For a more authentic and jaw-exercising experience, try whole grain farro which should be soaked before cooking to soften the bran layer.

Kamut with a soup spoon for size comparison

The next culinary adventure is kamut.  Enjoyed by the ancient Egyptians and originating around the Nile, kamut grains or berries are huge.  They are 3/8″ to 7/16″ long when cooked.  Kamut reminds me of tiny beans.  It has the same combination of snappy hull with soft insides and enough size to make its presence known in your mouth.  The taste is more wheat-like for sweetness, but starchy and similar to beans.  The kamut I tried is whole grain, with the full bran coat retained.

Cooking whole grain cereals requires more time.  The berries are soaked overnight in at least twice their volume of water.  I place them in the fridge to soak.  In the old days before refrigeration, I suspect our forebears discovered alcohol through this soaking of the grain.  I imagine some slacking hut-wife left the grain to soak too long, (several days at hut temperature) and it fermented.  The woman probably drained off the water with the alcohol content into another container and, because she was so lazy, just left the liquid sitting around the fire.  Then the hut-husband arrived home from hunting rabbits and birds, an activity that apparently can lead to a powerful thirst, he grabbed the jug of fermentation water for a drink and became the first man to fall in love with home brew.

After soaking the grains overnight, drain the liquid and use it to water something, then add the grain to three times its volume of water and simmer, covered for 30-40 minutes until it is al dente.  Drain excess liquid before serving.  I tried kamut with a little salt and butter, yummy!  The whole bran definitely provides chewing exercise.  I would substitute this grain for any bean recipe or serve it as a side dish sweetened up by cooking with any dried fruit, including tomatoes.  A serving of kamut provided an excellent nutritional source for ancient Egyptians.  A dry 1/4 cup has 160 calories, 1 g fat (not saturated or trans fat,) 0 sodium, 32 g of carbs with 4 g being dietary fiber and 4 g sugars, and 7 g of protein.  Again, this grain is lacking in lysine and should be paired with an appropriate amino acid source to form a complete protein for vegetarians.  It is also a source of thiamine and niacin.

Piping hot spelt with a bit of salt and a pat of melted butter

Finally, I tried spelt.  This is a better known type of wheat, at least to me since I’d heard of it.  Spelt is related to durum wheat and came from the Middle East.  Its use spread to Europe and was especially popular in Germany where it fed the population during the Middle Ages and is still grown today.  The berries are smaller than either kamut or farro, very nutty and sweet and lead to plenty of chewing with the bran of the whole grain.

Spelt is prepared in the same fashion as kamut, soaked overnight in twice its volume of water for best results, drained then simmered, covered in three times the volume of water for 40-60 minutes to al dente.  Drain the excess liquid.  The grain is delicious served warm with some salt and melted butter.  The sweetness pairs well with fruits and light meats.  I even tried it with melted cheddar and loved it.  Mixed with cinnamon, a bowl of spelt did not last long when given to my two granddaughters aged 5 and 2.  They gobbled it up and wanted more!

This ancient grain, like the other two, is nutritionally superior to most modern starchy side dishes.  A 1/4 dry cup serving has 180 calories, 2 g fat ( not saturated or trans,) 0 sodium, 38 g of carbs with 5 g dietary fiber and 2 g sugars and 7 g protein.  Spelt is also low on lysine but is higher in many minerals than the other two grains I tried.  It is a good source of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper and manganese, among others.

Since all three of these grains are related to wheat, they contain gluten and are not for gluten intolerant diets.  I pity the ancestors with celiac disease who had to try and survive on wheat grains.  I wonder if they figured out what made their guts hurt and tried alternate foods?  Luckily, I love gluten and can digest it, so will be adding these heirloom wheat varieties to my diet.

Old Limoges Plate

I found this old Haviland dinner plate at an antiques mall for $3.  The plate dates to the early 20th century.  It was made in France and imported to the USA by Mellen & Hewes of Hartford CT.  I listed the plate in my eBay store on auction.  The sale ended tonight with some feverish last minute bidding that reached $42.

Such a beautiful piece, I’m not surprised that several people wanted to add it to their collection.  The plate is very lightly used, in excellent shape for such old porcelain dinnerware.  The transfer floral pattern has been embellished with hand applied porcelain paste to give depth.  The rim is encrusted in gold.

There are a very few light utensil scratches and some wear to the gold along the tops of the beads.  Otherwise the plate looks much as it did almost one hundred years ago when it left France.  The back stamp indicates the piece was made by GDA (Gerard, Dufraisseix, Abbot,) the company that bought a portion of the Haviland porcelain works.  The piece was made in Limoges, an area of France famous for porcelain production.  The import company who brought the tableware into the US was active in the early 1900s.  Mellen and Hewes was a successful and influential company in their day in Hartford.

I very much enjoy the sport of hunting for hidden treasures.  Little bits of history such as this plate are often overlooked and sold for a pittance.  When the piece is identified and brought to the correct market, its true value is recognized.   The excitement for me is discovering how much my find is really worth.