We Made Maple Syrup!

Last weekend, the weather was great, so we decided to install the Maple Tree Tap Kit that I ordered on Amazon last month. You can watch the process below!

It only took a couple days to get enough maple water to boil down. The process is as easy as boiling water. ūüôā

After filling up a stock pot with maple water, turn the burner on medium high. Let the water boil until there are only 1/4-1/2 inches left. At this point, you should keep a careful watch over the pot, because once the water is gone and only the syrup remains, it will foam and burn easily. Once the syrup starts to foam, pull the pot off the burner and pour the syrup into a container.

The whole family was very impressed with the flavor. Christi made some pancakes for us to try it on! The maple water had somewhat of an aftertaste to it, but the syrup tasted superb.

Rendering Lard for the First Time!

We purchased a couple pasture raised hogs this past year from Green Finned Hippy Farms, which was a great experience! They were raised on pasture, fed non-GMO grains, and moved regularly to let the land heal and re-grow. The processor (where the farm takes the hogs to be butchered) let us know that they need so much pig fat before they could render it, that our lard
would be mixed in with non-GMO lard, so we asked for the un-rendered fat. This came in sheets of skin with about 1 inch of fat. The sheets were about 1 foot by 2-3 feet.

To render your own lard, you will need:

– Pig Fat
– Knife/Cutting Board
– A Slow cooker
– 1/2 cup of Water

The first step to render the fat into lard is to cut it into 1-2 inch cubes, and place them into the slow cooker. This allows it to fit well into the slow cooker and render faster. Once you have filled the slow cooker, poor 1/2 cup of water over the fat. This keeps it from burning in the slow cooker, and it will evaporate during the process.

Turn the slow cooker on low, and let it cook all day or over night. As it melts, the lard becomes clear, and there will be smaller cubes of skin left over that can be used to make cracklins.

Once the lard is simmering, you can pour it off into containers to cool.

The most difficult part of the process is pouring this much lard out of such a large container. I ended up spilling a lot on the counter (which is hard to clean up). Eventually I poured the rest into a pampered chef measuring bowl that had a handle and spout to make pouring much easier. The result was great!

The photo on the left is the fresh, hot lard, and the photo on the right is what it looks like after it cools.

Lamb Noodle Soup

20161228_15510020161228_155244Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 chopped carrot
2 cups Water
4 cups Lamb Bone Broth
3/4 cup pasta
2 1/2 cups of shredded lamb
2 tablespoons chopped parsley20161228_155254

 

 

Saute the chopped onions, celery, carrot, salt and pepper in the olive oil until the vegetables are almost tender.

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Add the broth and water and bring to a boil. Once it is at a boil, add the pasta and cook 7 minutes or until the pasta is not quite tender. Stir in the lamb, and let it heat up until the pasta is fully tender. Stir in the parsley and serve!

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Lamb Bone Broth

20161119_083808Neck bones may not seem like the most prized cut of lamb, but they are excellent for making bone broth. Any bones can be used for bone broth, but neck bones have quite a lot of meat that will come off easily during the broth making process.

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Start by thawing the neck bones and soaking them in your stock pot with 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and enough water to cover the meat. This starts breaking down the bones, so you will get more out of them. This should take at least 30 minutes. Do not turn on the stove yet.

20161119_092418Then, prepare the following:
2 whole Onions, chopped
4-5 stalks of Celery, chopped
4-5 whole Carrots, chopped
1 bulb of Garlic, peeled and smashed
1 bunch of Parsley, chopped

And add it all to the soaking bones with some fresh ground pepper and sea salt.

20161119_092425Bring the pot to a simmer. The goal is to let the bone broth simmer for at least 12 hours, but longer is better. The meat will fall off the bones, and they will turn white if allowed to simmer long enough. That means you’ve gotten all the good stuff.

20161119_235037After simmering for at least 12 hours, strain the bone broth. We use a colander, so we don’t over strain it. As you ladle the bone broth into the colander, you will be separating the meat. The vegetables will be soft, or falling apart. You can feed everything that is strained out to your chickens!

The broth can be used immediately or frozen to save for soups and other recipes requiring broth.

Here’s a great recipe for Lamb Noodle Soup that you can make with this bone broth and shredded lamb!

Mushrooms!

20161229_213029For Christmas, one of my brothers bought another brother mushroom shiitake spawn! It came as dowel rods filled with shiitake mycelium. Most people think of mushrooms as the fruiting body (toadstool), but the largest part of a mushroom is the mycelium (mushroom roots) that colonize a carbon source: paper, wood chips, sawdust, or in this case, logs. 20161229_210958We cut 3 foot sections of walnut, then drilled holes that matched the dowel rod sizes every 2 inches in three equally spaced columns down the side of each log. Afterwards, we used a hammer to pound a dowel rod into each hole (see below).

20161229_215656This is similar to planting young mushroom fungi into the wood, with the goal of it colonizing the log to convert it into shiitake mushrooms! The key is keeping the log moist, so it has to stay out of the sun and be watered or soaked to keep it from drying out. The last step of preparation is to seal the dowels with bees wax to slow down the drying process as much as possible.

IMG_29791After the log has been fully colonized (~6 months), we will force the log to fruit by soaking it for 24 hours in water, then keeping them around 70 degrees. They should fruit about a week later.

(By the way, the log on Jared’s shoulder is 30lbs!)

Planting Garlic 2016

Planting garlic is easy. We set aside 20-30 of our largest garlic bulbs that were harvested in July to plant around Halloween. You can also get organic seed garlic from GrowOrganic.com.
When you are ready to plant:
  1. Break the cloves apart
  2. Cut rows into the soil with your trowel about 6 inches apart
  3. Place the cloves (pointy end up) about 4 inches apart
  4. Then cover them with about 1 inch of dirt

They’ll start sprouting through the winter, and you’ll harvest them next July!

Wyatt is explaining the garlic planting process.
Please forgive the video quality (Liam is filming). ūüôā

Plans and Priorities for the New Year

During the winter is a great time to reflect on priorities, since things have slowed down from the holidays and there’s not much to do outside. Last year, when I listened to Jack Spirko’s podcast on Getting Ready for Spring¬†I set about 9 project goals for the year, including finishing the duck paddocks in our back yard, starting a tree nursery, and buying land. Out of the 9, 7 were accomplished and one more was started. So when it came to the first of this year, I was excited to evaluate the projects I have for this year, prioritize them, and develop the plans for making them happen. This was also the first year that Christi helped add to the project list.

Jack Spirko suggested making a list of projects, then prioritizing them based on how much you want them and how much you need them. Also, adding the cost in terms of money and your time will help in balancing between what you can do yourself and what is better to hire out. I’ve added a couple of new columns: Category (to keep track of where the project is needed) and Schedule (when I am planning on accomplishing the project). Not all the projects are on a schedule, because it depends on what I am able to accomplish.

Annual Goals Project List

On December 30th, our pastor gave a great sermon on making plans for the new year. Some improvements in life don’t cost and are ongoing, but they do take a plan. Benjamin Franklin once said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”, so we added another tab to our Project Priorities spreadsheet. It helps to have a list of what you would like to do and put plans to actually accomplish them.Annual Goals Plan List

Here is a link to a template spreadsheet for tracking your plans and priorities.

Migraine Tincture

This spring, Regenerative Landscaping started our test herb garden which includes plants like Feverfew, Lemon Balm, Lovage, Thyme, Lemon Thyme, Chives, and others. With it getting close to Winter, we needed to harvest and use any last herbs that weren’t used over the Summer/Fall. One thing I’ve been wanting to try is a Feverfew Tincture. We have been adding Feverfew leaves to tea this fall to cure headaches, and we plan on drying part of the plant for teas this winter. A Tincture is “a medicine made by dissolving a drug in alcohol”. This gives us another way to preserve the Feverfew longer. Researching Feverfew Tinctures only, we ran across a recipe on FrugallySustainable.com that also included Lemon Balm, so that’s what we went with!

Lemon Balm Plant
Lemon Balm Plant

Feverfew Plant
Feverfew Plant

Feverfew and Lemon Balm Leaves
Feverfew and Lemon Balm Leaves

After harvesting sprigs of both plants, the leaves were removed from both plants and chopped into small pieces.

Then the bottom three-fifths of the jar was filled with Lemon Balm leaves and the remaining two-fifths filled with Feverfew Leaves.

2 Parts Feverfew
2 Parts Feverfew

3 Parts Lemon Balm
3 Parts Lemon Balm

Finally, Everclear was added to the jar to cover the leaves by about a half-inch and the lid was tightened. The beautiful jars will be displayed on our kitchen window sill for the next month or so so that we remember to shake them daily. After that time period, they will be strained through a cheesecloth into darker bottles to be stored in a cool, dark location for headache/migraine relief for years to come!

Migraine Tincture
Migraine Tincture

Everclear Added
Everclear Added

We will be offering herb garden installation next spring. If you are interested in having one installed, Contact Us, so we can source all the herbs that you will need!

Food Forest in Fairview Heights, IL

foodforestThis year, Regenerative Landscaping teamed up with the volunteers at the Fairview Heights Community Garden at Edgemont Bible Church and Get Up and Go! to start a new food forest as a part of their strategy for expanding their community garden. It’s so exciting to see the transformation from resource-intensive grass to a productive landscape! A food forest is a low-maintenance ecosystem that incorporates the different layers of a forest (e.g. Canopy, Low Tree, Shrub, Herbaceous, Root, Ground Cover, and Vines) to produce food. At the right, you can see a diagram of the seven levels of a food forest.

11061772_369415259923232_6332861140967072430_nOn the left side of the page, here, you can see the basic plan for what we planted. The main fruit trees that will form the canopy of the food forest are Pear and Apple. We also added a row of Seaberry trees, because they fix nitrogen in the ground (much like beans) and they also produce berries that are a super fruit and contain carotenoids which give them their characteristic orange color (like carrots).

11263090_365624020302356_4459079423670519809_nAt the right of the page, you can see what the area looked like as we were getting started with planting. A grant from Get Up and Go! paid for the wonderful Pear and Apple trees.

11203171_370180856513339_6969712542558997615_nRegenerative Landscaping donated many other plants to fill in the food forest: the Seaberry trees, Naking cherry bushes, Comfrey, Blackberry bushes, and Sweet Potato plants.

11262453_370354556495969_6852638509832731410_nOn our first day, the volunteers did a great job of putting in most of the plants. We also mulched enough area around the plants to keep them growing well and minimizing competition with the existing grass.

11951776_402113539986737_3730557821657670746_nAs the summer progressed, we mulched the rest of the area inside the food forest.  Eventually, the goal is to shade out most of the ground cover. Until then, wood chips are the preferred choice for ground cover. We also planted four comfrey plants around each fruit tree as a green mulch. Comfrey is a dynamic mineral accumulator as well as a beneficial pollinator attractor. This means that, in addition to attracting pollinators to their fruit trees, it has a deep tap root, so it does not compete with the trees for nutrients but pulls nutrients from deep in the ground to make them available to the trees. They can be chopped and dropped up to eight times a year (pictured below) to create a thick mat of mulch at the base of the tree that provides food for the tree and keeps ground cover from growing and competing with the tree for nutrients and water.

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We hope that the Fairview Heights Community Garden’s first food forest will provide¬†perennial food to garden members for many years to come!

Winterizing the Bees

Bees 2014Last week, we winterized our bees for their second winter. There are two main components that we we added to the hives to help them get through the winter.

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The first is to add a level for sugar in the hives. This is at the top of the hive, so we would prefer that they go to their own stores before going to the sugar, and that is what it seemed like they did last year. There was plenty of sugar left in the hives this spring.

Hive Quilt

The Second component that we added to the hives is called a “hive quilt”. It is an level that has a burlap sack filled with wood chips hanging in it. During the year, as the bees keep the hive warm, it also stays moist. Normally, this warm, moist air rises to the top of the hive, condenses, and rains back down on the bees. (Not good during the winter) The hive quilt soaks up that moisture and acts as a humidifier without dripping on the bees.

Closing Bee Hive