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Trying not to be wasteful

June 3, 2008

I always feel guilty if I waste food.  Whether from over planting, or being over zealous in my harvesting.  I try to ask myself, “Is this better on the vine, in the ground, … , OR in the refrigerator?”  The refrigerator is usually the most wasteful place for me, it costs money to run, and things in the refrigerator, well,  they  come out looking worse than, what stayed alive one more day in the garden.  I struggle daily with decisions regarding my family’s food supply, our livestock’s food supply and try to balance all this with daily life and bringing food to all the mouths that are depending on me. 

I think these days people don’t even recognize food when they see it.  In our area, cole crops are the norm in the growing season.  Three weeks ago, I drove by acres of bolting cabbages, young tender shoots reaching for the sky, just begging to be picked and eaten.  Last week, the same fields, were disced under.  Literally tons of food, gone to people, but turned back in as food for the earth.  This particular farmer has tried direct marketing, but he just puts out a sign on his rural road and of course the only people driving by, have acres of their own cabbage to get disced.  They don’t see what I see when I drive by, he could be making more money and customers could be treated to something fresh, and maybe he could quit struggling with high farming costs.  If you don’t see it at the grocery store produce section, or in a package, it must not be edible, right?


These are Dark Red Norland and Purple Viking potatoes from last year.  They have been in the barn, in their snug little straw bale root “cellar” all this time.  The quality is still quite high despite the sprouts.  We store them unwashed, and take out a weeks worth at a time.  These are destined to be boiled in their jackets and used for hash browns and potato salad.  It is a mistaken notion that these aren’t good to eat still – knowing facts like this may make the difference in going hungry or not.  I grew up seeing food like this not being wasted, and now I’m passing this on to my daughter.  She doesn’t know what a Tater Tot is!  No wonder kids are off the charts, the TBHQ that all those potato products are steeped in are dangerous, and especially toxic to small children.  Working at a food and soil testing lab has given me an education that I never would have guessed was available.  Chemicals like this one are used primarily to preserve food.  My potatoes have had no chemicals in their lives, and they have lasted almost 10 months, that’s long enough for me, those potatoes don’t owe me a dime and if they get too shriveled to eat, I’ll cook them up for the pigs.

I did waste some seeds though, these are my milk cow carrots.  I used seed from 2001 and I was afraid they might not germinate well, so I planted rather thickly.  Lots of thinning ahead – at least they came up.  We have not been able to plant anything outside since then because of rain.

One dilemma I’ve not agonized over, is putting our broiler chickens out to pasture.  We have had rain every day, sometimes heavy and never more than a few hours of sun.  So do I put them outside, subject them to stress and cold weather?  And feed them more to boot, just to maintain the weight they have gained so far?  Or do I keep them comfortable and clean as possible and wait until the weather breaks?  Since I am going to be eating them, I want them as comfortable as possible.

I have three and a half weeks to go before my butcher date.  I lost one yesterday to ascites due to heart failure, and I have one with bad legs, who will become cat food.  So far, that makes 3 goners.  The next 3 1/2 weeks will be long, at this point they can have all sorts of problems.

When we have these rainy springs, I concentrate on getting the greenhouse planted up.  During a downpour the other day, I had to irrigate the tomatoes and peppers for the first time.  I deep water once a week with soaker hoses in the greenhouse, until the first of August.  I stop at that time to allow the fruit to develop its full flavor and sugars.  Some things that are interplanted will just be hand watered from then on if need be.

Doggie Feng Shui  – they know to stay on the path.

I put the stakes in before the peppers are planted, so I don’t disturb their roots later.  The stakes also act as a “barrier” to the dogs.  With the doors open on each end, the dogs just run through and leave the plants alone.  (until the cherry tomatoes are ripe, that is)  The dogs actually eat anything they see us eating.  Tonight they had Joi Choi and daikon stems for a snack.  On the right are my only determinate “early” tomatoes, Bellstar.  These and the cherry tomatoes got to keep their flowers, everything else has been pinched off. 

This is the first year, that the tomatoes weren’t attacked by flea beetles.  The only difference from previous years, is that I watered the soil over the course of the winter, subjecting the soil to freezing and thawing.  Normally, I would have just watered deeply once, tilled, and then planted immediately.  The flea beetles would attack, the plants would sit for about two weeks and then begin to grow.  This time, they just took right off. 

Swiss chard going to seed. 

I’m saving chard seed this year, and beets next year.  Chard and beets are from the same family and freely cross, the seeds also keep well for several years so every other year is a workable schedule. I rogued out all the chard in the greenhouse that sprouted this winter and is starting to bolt already, since that is an undesirable trait.  These plants were volunteers last summer and we have eaten off of them since that time.  Very economical!

Chinese Chestnut seedlings Castanea mollissima

I gathered these seeds last fall, from the tree that blooms and ripens first.  When you are trying to start something from seed, try to duplicate nature’s method for propagating that particular plant.  We have chestnuts all over in the woods, that have been planted by Steller Jays and tree squirrels.  The wildlife buries them in a cache of wood debris and maybe they come back and maybe not. If not, we got a tree.   So I planted mine, immediately in bucket (with drain holes) full of sawdust and horse manure and left the bucket outside near the barn.  This is stratifying the easy way.  I did leave the bucket near the cat area, so squirrels wouldn’t find it.  They are just peeking out, and I see a Douglas Fir has started also.

Chestnut seedlings flanking gate.

We gathered the chestnuts for seed from the tree on the right.  These are seedlings, about 50′ feet tall.  Chestnut is an excellent food, lumber and firewood source.  The growth rate is phenomenal. The seedlings in the bucket are for a woodlot project, on a north facing small pasture, that we want to replant to trees.  Chestnuts easily coppice, making them a good choice for our woodlot.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. June 4, 2008 2:57 am

    Your posts always make me think……………..that’s a good thing. Everyone needs to be more concerned about our food supply and waste. Like you, we try not to waste anything. What we dont’ consume, something else here does. I’m always thankful for the pigs 🙂

    Great photos as always. Love the stand of Chestnut trees.

    I’d love a post on your straw bale root cellar. I planted potatoes this year as well as sweet potatoes. Now to figure out the best way to store them for the winter.


  2. matronofhusbandry permalink*
    June 4, 2008 7:27 am

    Debi, thanks, I agree about the pigs – they are perfect for utilizing scraps, and surpluses. Ours don’t know it yet, but they will being dining on kiwi jam soon. No one liked it, and I am going to try to dry the kiwis this year for a raisin substitute. At least if the pigs eat the jam, it won’t be a total waste. Our laying hens take care of all our extras when we don’t have pigs, during the winter months.

    That’s a good idea for a more detailed post, there is a picture of the spuds on the post dated May 3, 2008 – titled, WHAT WE’RE EATING, THE TRANSITION. We have a full basement, with food storage areas, but even with a partial dirt floor, which helps with the humidity, it is still too warm to keep the potatoes as long in the basement. Sweet potatoes sound good – their on my list of things to try. I’ll be interested to see how many you get. Joan Dye Gussow details her sweet potato trials and tribulations in THIS ORGANIC LIFE. Good book for Northern Gardeners.

  3. Kristen permalink
    June 4, 2008 9:37 am

    I LOVE your posts!!! We are soooo wasteful and I am learning just how wasteful we really are reading about how you don’t waste. It is a slow transition we are trying to make the move too….we are looking at things totally different now….trying to figure out different ways to use things and thinking outside the box. It’s really fun and I am loving finding new ways to make use of our waste..(not our own personal waste…just thought I would clear that up):-)

  4. June 4, 2008 11:21 am

    Our chickens get everything in the winter as well other than parings from the veggies. The donkey loves those 🙂
    Sorry your Kiwi jam wasn’t a hit. I’m sure the pigs will love it. Growing Kiwi is on my “to do” list but I don’t think that will happen this year.

    We have a 4 foot crawl space under our new house. It has a poured floor. We are trying to determine how we can utilize that for food storage. It stays pretty cool down there but it doesn’t freeze. Our oil tank and furnace are down there. Otherwise it’s empty and huge! I’m using the space now to dry sheep hides. Works great. We also have attic space but it does get pretty cold up there. We hope to insulate at some point and use that for food storage as well.
    Thanks for the tip on the book. I’ll be sure to look for it at the library.

  5. matronofhusbandry permalink*
    June 4, 2008 12:16 pm

    Kristen, thank you, and now with all this rain, I can answer comments on a timely basis. I’m no stranger to wastefulness, but I sure feel guilty when I waste something. Just being around older and frugal people as I was growing up, makes the whole process second nature. It helps not living close to the store too! But, my husband grew up with disposable and new everything and he is a saver too. Although our piles of “good stuff” sometimes get on each other’s nerves. 😉 I love it when Martha Stewart has to get the last scrape of batter out of a bowl, when she has a guest on the show. Some habits are just ingrained.

    There is an interesting book on the subject of your personal waste called THE HUMANURE BOOK, I haven’t gotten that desperate yet, since there is manure everywhere we look around here, but someone might be… .

    Debi, I always wonder if my chickens are getting a buzz from the coffee grounds;). Our kiwi are the hardy, grape-like type, and they are hardy to -25. I feel sorry for all the people I gave that jam to for Xmas :O. It isn’t bad, just weird.

    Your crawl space sounds like a great place for food storage. Our temps rarely fall below 10*, maybe 5* at the coldest and never for a long time period. That’s a great place for the hides. We have cow hides everywhere, and I’m patiently waiting for DH to finish my Guernsey steer hide. But, it is actually pretty low on the Honey-Do list.

  6. tansy permalink
    June 5, 2008 6:53 am

    we give our chickens coffee grounds too and i’ve wondered if that’s a good idea. glad to hear others do the same!

    speaking of humanure, we are building a composting toilet for our wwoofers since we don’t want to give them a key to our house. i think we’ll just use it to fertilize the fruit trees.

    the kiwi jam flop sounds like me…i make things then forget to sample them before giving out gifts and then later apologize to people for giving them something that’s not very appetizing when i finally get around to tasting it. doh. i really should try it out quicker!

    we’re going to attempt storing things in our basement this winter. the previous owner states he used to store potatoes in it w/o a problem so we’ll see…

  7. June 5, 2008 8:17 am

    Just dropping by to say how much I love your posts about grass and your animals. We just moved to our 3.5 acres and are just starting to get up and running with the garden and debating what kind of grazers to put on our 2.25 acre pasture (not many, I know).

    Since I planted WAY too many potatoes, I’d love to hear more about your straw bale root cellar. We’re going to have to do something to store them because we have no storage that’s cool enough. My only other idea so far is to bury an old chest freezer on the north side of the bar – but Mike thinks that’s a bit ghetto 😉

  8. June 5, 2008 8:48 am

    I get a guilt thing going about waste too, but I rationalize it. I buy at the farmers market, often more than I end up using. I figure I SHOULD eat that many veggies, and if I don’t have them on hand, I won’t. I also figure I’m supporting the farmers, and all of the waste (including coffee grounds) goes into the compost. So – it’s not ideal, but it’s not landfill either.

    I was fascinated by the Humanure Handbook – I’d LOVE to try incorporating it into my building plans. I figure even if I only lessons the load on the septic and returns the nutrients to the woods it’s a good thing.

  9. matronofhusbandry permalink*
    June 5, 2008 1:20 pm

    Tansy, that’s a good idea about the keeping the key. That is the hard part of having help. You need it, but sometimes it takes quite a bit of effort. The composting toilet should be perfect.
    We have a wood furnace in our basement, and that makes it too warm for the potatoes, but great for the garlic and onions. Our fruit room (canning storage area) is a seperate room in the basement, with two walls to the outside, and a door to regulate the temps.

    The pigs never seem too fussy, and if they are, I don’t understand what they are telling me. Maybe I should try stuff out on them first, and then give it as gifts 😉

    Hi Laura, I stop by your blog fairly often to keep caught up, but don’t have much time to comment. Sorry, about your chicks 😦 . As a kid living in a fishing area, we ate quite a bit of Chinook salmon and sturgeon. The sturgeon was wonderful in bouillabaisse. Although now I shudder to think how much toxic residue was probably in those fish. I try not to think about it… .

    I would go with cattle, since they are the easiest to contain. (In my opinion) But, lambs would work good, too. With either, you could get feeders and graze them up to size during the growing season and then butcher them. That would alleviate the need for hay and winter housing. If you practice a rotation you could easily have two steers, or 6 lambs and sell the surplus to offset your costs.
    My best advice: (1)Get at least two of whatever species you decide on, so they don’t get lonely and want to go off wandering. (2)Have the fence ready before you get your new stock, with water and minerals already there. (3) Teach them to eat a little grain, so they come to a bucket and associate you with food. This helps immensely if they get out! (4) Since you live west of the Cascades, make sure you get your stock from the western side also. Livestock brought from Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon often have respiratory problems from our damp climate. (5) Raise what you want to eat.
    That’s two votes for a straw bale post – I should take some measurements, I guess.

    Hayden, do you think the guilt thing is something that only applies to women, or is it just frugal people in general? I tend to overextend myself, but at least animals or composting helps with some of the angst.
    Our friends at BROWN FAMILY FARM,(see blog roll) practiced the humanure composting while they lived in Portland. I have seen pictures of their garden, but I’m not sure if it is on their farm website or not. They have since moved back to their family farm in Indiana and are raising livestock now.

  10. June 24, 2008 8:16 am

    I cringed when I read this post because I know how true it is – for myself especially. Hopefully we will all learn that being wasteful is not only bad for the budget, but also bad for the energy that surrounds us. When we keep throwing away what the universe gives us, why should it continue to offer us more?

  11. January 11, 2011 8:17 am

    How is the wood lot planting coming along? I’ve read some Gene Logsdon about woodlot planting but would love to here a northwesterner’s take

    • January 12, 2011 7:39 am

      Still on the back burner – deer ate my sprouted chestnuts down to the nubs, we are thinking of letting alder take over that spot, since it is the natural progression anyway, and not quite as sought after by the deer. Alder is really a better choice anyway, being the clover of the woods for fixing nitrogen for future more long lived tree species. On this side, the conifer is king, hardwoods take a lot more intervention to get established.
      And we’re lazy… 🙂

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