Monday, March 29, 2010

100 mile diet in zone 3 -5

Recently, an expert from the local college gave an enrichment lecture at Jogas, one of the local bistros. His topic was the 100 mile diet and its feasibility in our valley. His conclusion was that it wasn't feasible, so grow as much of your own food as possible, don't do without coffee, tea and chocolate and be happy.

Ah-hum. Waving hand wildly from the back. Excuse me, Sir. I beg to differ.

Not only is it possible but we in the Kootenay-Boundary have the best of all senarios -- existing between desert in the Okanagan (zone 6) , through the mountains (zone 3) to the Creston valley where grain and fruit are grown. We have within 100 miles of Joybilee Farm -- Grains from Creston, the best grass fed beef, lamb and goat in the West -- grown right here, Okanagan fruits like grapes, cherries, peaches and, my goodness, our own apples, pears, cherries, plums and even hazelnuts and walnuts.

Local farm fresh eggs and poultry are available at the farm gate. And there is even an organic artisan cheese maker -- Jerseyland Organics -- right in Grand Forks. And the farmer's market is full of all the standard vegetables in season from May to October.

So yes, there is no coffee or chocolate grown locally. But how about peppermint tea, chamomile, saskatoon tea.. Oh, and no coconuts, oranges, avacadoes, mangoes, cashews but my goodness, no one is going to starve in this valley, following the 100 mile diet if they are preparing for the winter when the food is in season.

And that is the key -- preparing for winter when the food is in season. Canning, pressure canning, freezing and drying for winter use, at the peak of freshness, in the summer and fall.

I've been canning for winter for 28 years. It is a fun activity to do together as a family. Before we had our own acreage we harvested wild fruits and went to local farms to pick. We grew a big vegetable garden and learned to enjoy the vegetables and fruit that we could grow organically, ourselves.

We started raising our own eggs by building a chicken tractor, that housed 4 or 5 bantam hens and we moved the tractor every morning onto fresh ground. That gave us enough eggs for family use and also cleaned up the grubs around our apple trees, which increased our apple harvest.

We got a Saanan milk goat for her milk and milked her once a day -- leaving her babies on her during the day and separating them at night so that we could have the morning milk. The milk from one doe gave us 3 litres of milk from one daily milking -- 4 litres when she was fresh. That's enough for a batch of cheese or milk for a 4 person family.

And a kid or two for the freezer -- kid tastes like lamb, and is cut up the same way as lamb into leg roasts, chops, and stew meat or ground. Many cultures in the 10-40 window have goat as a staple meat in their diet, so there are lovely curries, and picante stews that start with goat meat. Or you can cook it using a lamb recipe and you won't notice any difference.

Most bantam hens will brood their own chicks, so we had replacement hens for eggs and roosters for soups -- very small roosters. Roosters begin to crow at 16 weeks of age so if you are in the city you want to put them in the soup pot before that.

We raised French angora rabbits as a dual purpose animal -- both for fiber for spinning, knitting and weaving -- and for meat. Rabbit meat is a delicacy in Italian, French and German cooking -- as well as in Native cuisine in North America.

A rabbit fryer is ready to put in the freezer at 14 weeks and will weigh 5 lbs. -- dressing out at 2 1/2 to 3 lbs. finished weight. Rabbits are easy to raise in a back yard hutch, even in the city. They are quiet and easy to manage. The average litter size is 6 to 8 kits so they are a great introduction to raising your own meat. Two does and a buck will give you ample meat for a family of 4 to have one meal a week.

Their droppings and the goat manure can be put directly on your garden without composting, too. It won't burn the plants and is full of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, plus minerals like calcium and zinc. And the rabbits will eat grass hay, and trimmings from your garden if they are started on them slowly.

What about vegetables? If you are cold like we are -- with potential frost all year here in the mountains -- you can still grow your own vegetables. We stick with the hardy vegetables -- well mulched potatoes, peas, flax, cabbage, kale, chard, beets, bok choy, sui choy, oriental radishes and carrots. But we grow many colours of each of these for interest. I also try beans every year under a row cover and have been successful 3 out of the last 4 years. Zucchini's also give us a few zukes from under their row cover. Winter squash, tomatoes and peppers grow so well in Grand Forks that I buy them from my friends at the farmer's market. I could grow them in a greenhouse at the farm.

We could grow our own oats and wheat here but we don't own the equipment to combine it for home use, so our neighbor at Hampshire Ranch grows it as straw and we feed it to the animals and then drink their milk.

Now before you get turned off at the thought of eating "Thumper" or "Billy the Kid". Look at the ethics. Everything must die at some point. Its part of living. When you raise your own meat for the family table you know that it has been raised humanely and without neglect or cruelty. The animal has had the best possible life -- with its every need met including its need for companionship with a human. Yes, domestic animals have a basic need for human companionship and humans have a basic need for animal companionship.

You can raise it without hormones, chemicals, or antibiotics ensuring that its environmental footprint is low. It can be fed the scraps that you would normally compost -- cabbage leaves, grass clippings, carrot peels and waste from the apple trees.

Then when it has accomplished its life's purpose you can humanely slaughter it for your own table. Your homesteading friends may be able to teach you this essential skill. Please, if you eat eggs and milk or buy grocery store meat, consider raising your own, if you are able.

So I conclude that there is nothing essential to nutrition that is not available within 100 miles of this lovely valley that we live in. And that the 100 mile diet is feasible for any who wish to engage it. But every one won't so the grocery stores are still needed.

A food co-op is beginning in our valley for those consumers who don't want to grow their own food but want fresh local meat, vegetables, fruit and grain. The Kettle Valley Food Co-op is having a members meeting in April in Grand Forks, B.C.

Oh, and about tea, coffee and chocolate -- not 100 mile diet material here -- but there is room in the 100 mile diet for indulgence. Its a lifetime commitment to healthy, sustainable eating -- not a religious exercise of abstinence for its own sake. So I suggest you chose the things that are important to you and start there.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sifting through the confusion between Linen Flax or Oil Seed Flax

Linen from flax seed to woven cloth

There are several kinds of flax seed available on the market. Sifting through the confusion to make the right decision on what type of seed to grow can be daunting for the first time linen grower.

Most of us know that the garden flax flower is not the right seed to pick up, just for the shear expense of the seed. Of the two remaining kinds -- oil seed flax and fiber flax there is more confusion.

Oil seed flax is grown commercially for its plump, oily seeds. It is a shorter plant -- usually 12 to 18 inches in height. It is sown sparsely to increase stooling (production of side shoots) which will optimize flowering and seed production. Its stems contain a bast fiber -- different to linen only in the length and coarseness of its fiber. This bast fiber has commercial uses and may be spun into thread, but because of the shortness of the fiber it should not technically be called "linen".
Fiber flax is grown for its long, fine fiber. It is a taller plant -- usually 24 to 32 inches in height. It is sown thickly to limit stooling and to optimize height and fineness of fiber. It also produces seed after flowering that may be used the same way as oil seed flax. However, its seeds are smaller. Its stems contain the bast fiber that is referred to as linen, due to its fineness and length. It is optimally sown at a density of 250 grams (1/2 lb.) of seed per 100 square feet. (30 meters square) for fiber production or 400 square feet (120 meters square) to increase seed production.
At Joybilee Farm, we grew oil seed flax the first year in order to test the viability of growing linen on our land. We harvested the fiber and the seed and had enough fine linen-like fiber to spin a few hanks of thread. The seed was purchased in bulk from the health food store, making it a very inexpensive experiment.

The second year we had difficulty locating a source of linen flax seed and bought a 250 gram package of seed and planted sparsely in order to increase our seed supply. Our seed from that planting was then used the third year to plant our field more densely. This second year linen harvest was quite coarse and although longer than the first year crop, was a lower quality due to the coarseness of the fibers.
In the third year we planted the linen flax, from our own saved seed, more densely and had a huge harvest of fine stems. A hail storm bent the stems before flowering and there is some loss of length due to the hail damage but the fiber is fine and the seeds abundant.

We now carry three varieties of linen flax seed at Joybilee Farm, at bulk pricing -- Hermes, an older variety of European flax, Ilona and Electra -- both daughters of Hermes. These are tall varieties with blue flowers. However, several cultural steps need to be taken to ensure a successful flax harvest -- as in all farming.

It is now time in my area to plant the linen flax plot. The ground must be deeply cultivated or rototilled before planting. I usually rototill and wait two weeks and till again to get out any young weeds that will choke out the fragile plants. In Saskatchewan the flax is not planted until after May longweeked -- due to the mud. Their flax is harvested after Labour Day -- so there is a large window of opportunity for planting anytime after the ground can be worked in Spring until 100 days before you expect your first killing frost.
Then I plant the field by broadcasting the seed thickly over the land. I plant 1 kg. of seed on my 20 x 20 plot. This year I will be planting two 20 x 20 plots with Hermes and Ilona, in my trial ground. I firm the seed in well by walking on it.

When the plants are 6 to 12 inches high, I will hand weed the entire bed thoroughly. It is alright to step on the plants at this stage and they won't be hurt. Later, stepping on them will break the stem and damage the plant. This is the most important step in ensuring a successful planting and should not be neglected.
The plants begin to flower around 85 days after planting and are ready to harvest when the plants are 2/3rds yellow to brown and 1/3rd green in the stems. The seed will be immature but will continue to mature on the stalk.
To harvest, the entire plant is pulled up by the roots, bundled and left to complete drying in a sheltered place. Protect from wind, rain and rodents. Plants can be rippled (seed heads removed) as soon as they are dry or in the Spring before planting the new plot. Chickens, goats, sheep and llamas love them -- so if you don't want to clean the chaff from the seed you can feed them to your pets. Or use them yourself after cleaning, as you would oil seed flax. Or use them to plant -- by crushing the seed bolls and broadcasting the loose seed, chaff and all.

If you'd like to learn more and experience the thrill of harvesting the linen field come to Joybilee Farm August 7th for our 3rd Annual Linen Festival -- camping is available at the farm.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Shearing days

We started shearing angora goats this week. Unfortunately two of the yearlings that we sheared were already matted--nothing salvageable. We were 2 weeks too late. Angora goats are so finicky with their fine fleeces that if you don't get them off in time they start to felt right on the animal. We only managed to shear a few and the shearer went home. Granted he is coming back in April, but I didn't realized that the goats were already matted. He decided not to change his plans to stay an extra day to shear the goats.

So there are still 27 goats to be sheared plus sheep. Sigh. We may be shearing them ourselves or trashing the whole clip. In times like this I seriously want to quit farming all together. The same thing happened last Fall when the shearing was split into two sessions a month apart. We trashed a few fleeces then, too.

When we first got angora goats we clipped their coats ourselves using scissors. It took 3 hours per animal and we could only manage a couple hours at a time before the goat was too stressed to keep going. But it is an option if their coats start to matt before the shearer comes back in 5 weeks -- which is highly probable. Being dependent on the good will of other people for the success or failure of your farming venture is ... what should I say...stressful, stupid, insane. We need to find a better way.

In the meantime I am washing up mohair locks from the Fall clip for the Vernon Spin In. So far I've done a black kid fleece -- luscious 4 inch locks and so soft. Its hard to part with some of these fleeces, but I don't have time to spin them all. Today I'll wash up a mocha fleece, one handful at a time to keep the locks intact. The intense shine on these fleeces is fantastic.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Natural Dye discovery in India last Fall

A 15 volume journal of natural dyes in India by Thomas Wardle was discovered in India last Fall in a back corner of an office belonging to the Botanical Survey of India in Kolkata. Although the pages of this compendium are faded and crumbling the textile samples of natural dyes are still vibrant and bright.

This amazing discovery has set the natural dye world a buzz and caused the moving of an international dye conference from Paris to Kolkata in February, where the international experts on Natural Dyes -- Jenny Balfour-Paul, Dominique Cardon and Brenda King -- could view this amazing find.

The volumes contain not just dye samples but the recipes used to obtain the amazing colours and will be a treasure trove of natural dye history for many of the weavers and dyers still making their livelihood from their crafts in India. A feast of knowledge for the natural dye revival taking place around the world today.

Here's a link to the Times India article.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Why we won't be at the Show....

Many of you have asked that Joybilee Farm attend several of the Fiber Festivals happening in B.C. and Alberta in the Spring and Fall, to make our rovings, angora, and dyed kid locks easier to buy. Well, we had to make a choice.

We could be good shepherds to our flock of angora goats and wool breed sheep and take care of them or we could go to the show--leaving the farm for 3 days with care givers, who don't know the animals. To be at the show means that we would be carrying Ashland Bay fibers, Ashford and Louet equipment and Fibers to be competitive. Problem is that that's what all the vendors at those shows carry -- internationally available, generic, threads and fibers.

In order to be unique, we need to focus on the things we do best -- long lustre wool fleece, exquisite coloured mohair, naturally dyed rovings and locks. But this takes time at the farm.

So we are not going to be at Fibres West this month. Or at any of the other fiber festivals coming up -- we'll be getting the farm ready for our summer visitors and preparing the fleece for you.

We will, however, be in Vernon at the end of March for the Annual Kalamalka Guild Spin In. But we'll be home that night to take care of the herd.

All our products are available by mail order through our website. So if you missed us at the Fiberfestival you can catch us on the web.

Or call ahead and stop by for a visit on your way past. If the sign says closed we can be open for you with a phone call. Opening for the season May 1st. Tues to Sat. 10am to 5pm.