Tag Archives: organic

Thoughts on Lease Cropping vs Grazing Your Own Stock

There is something wrong with me that leasing and renting properties never seems to work out.  Even when there is a contract with goals and procedures laid out life, weather, resources change and stuff just doesn’t happen as plan.  But, by and large, my disappointments seem rooted in being too accommodating.  Or maybe it’s a lack of communication though for sure i don’t hold back giving my opinions and expectations – to a fault, i’m afraid.  Nevertheless, things never turn out quite the way i want.

Currently, i’ve leased 120 acres for organic farming for 4 years.  My goals are to eliminate or drastically reduce endophyte infected toxic fescue and build organic matter through the use of cover crops.  I knew going in that my renter has no intention of ever letting cattle graze the cover crops, so i can’t be unhappy about that, yet, the more i see happening and the more i read, it is clear that my soil is lacking due to the removal of animal impact.

Our contract was spelled out and ends after next year’s crop (it was a 4 year deal).  I had hoped that it would be successful and that then we could move forward with working another piece and removing more fescue, but it doesn’t work.

Here are some bullet points i have:

  1. animal impact is essential to making cover crop and soil improvements financially viable as well as building organic matter and tilth.
  2. in a lease situation, the owner doesn’t have the power to make certain that soil is covered.  This past year, the soil did not have anything in it from November until June (except volunteer ragweed growing in the spring) and now that it’s been worked and readied for more soybeans, it still lays open to the sun, wind, and rain with prevented planting.   Cover crops simply don’t get planted even though that was the written goal.
  3. I knew going in that i was incurring some opportunity costs by leasing vs grazing my own cattle on the property.  I weighed that against the possibility of getting better control of the toxic fescue and giving my friend an opportunity to expand his organic cropping endeavor.  Bottom line, from a purely income/expense perspective, I make more money with grazing vs leasing the property for row cropping.
  4. Lessees do not care for your property as you would.  Trees and brush are growing rapidly in fence rows and untilled portions of the land.  I still do the labor of keeping them under control and since the crop is organic, i must follow the rules of how to manage.  In other words, i can’t chemically treat the plants or stumps if they are within 20 feet of the crop – So they grow and grow.  It will be 7 years from the time i cut brush and treated and the time i regain control of my property.  A lot gets big and away.  More work at the end of the organic regime.
  5. This experiment was worth the pain since i now know that it simply is not the way i would ever do this project again.  I’m especially glad I went with the organic approach despite the stumbling blocks since a conventional farmer would have slathered the soil with toxic chemicals year after year and farmed fence row to fence row and through the waterways.  My friend is careful to leave ample grass strips in waterways and leaves 20 foot buffer from the fences (organic rules).  At the same time this leaves at least 20 acres that is not be utilized for any purpose since he won’t allow grazing at any time.
  6. The weather immediately turned into drought mode for these 3 years and I’m having to downsize my cow herd drastically to accommodate since my acres for grazing is reduced.  Incredibly, this has turned to be a blessing since i’ve culled deeply (after this fall, it will have been about 40%!), no cow gets a second chance and i’ve sold a lot of older cows that i would typically try to ‘get one more calf out of.’  This year’s calf crop is the best I’ve ever had.  Now if only market prices weren’t in the tank.
  7. If i had my own farming equipment and the desire to run it, i think there is opportunity to improve the soil, increase tilth and organic matter, create better wildlife habitat, create another employment opportunity, and increase profit with combined cropping/grazing especially if a value added food crop market is developed.  We actually do have all the equipment, but not the time or energy to develop the plan, work the plan, and market.  The equipment mostly sits in the barn and serves as depreciating assets against income.
  8. At the end of the day,  we do the best we can and then we die.  The hope is to leave a legacy of some sort – be it a physical asset, money, or wisdom.  A friend recently sold his rather large farm he had promoted, taught, enjoyed, and improved with holistic, organic practices for all his life yet it sold to conventional farmers who are likely to plough it all under and row crop until it is degraded. That is sad, but life goes on.

At the end of the day, I’m looking forward to bringing the 120 acres back under my management even though i will only graze it once i get it seeded back down.  With managed grazing and some brush/tree removal, the pasture will be back hopefully making money for me soon.

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You can see the worked field which has now been bare soil since harvest of soybeans last November.  That means 10 months and counting of open, unprotected soil.  

Stuffed Grape Leaves (Dolmades)

Stuffed Grapevine Leaves

Adapted from Betty Crocker’s International Cookbook recipe by the same name on page 165.

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Place about 1 tablespoon of meat (lamb or beef) mixture on doubled leaves and wrap, place in skillet, seam side down.

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Using my Kitchenaid Mixer,, i whip the eggs and add the organic lemon juice.

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Pour the egg mixture over the stuffed grapevine leaves.

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Here are the alternative meatballs only – better for people who have difficulty chewing.

Fast Food – Chicken Fried Steak

Oh my goodness – i am such a good cook.  Start with quality ingredients and anyone is a star in the kitchen.  Start to finish – about 35 minutes.  Now, i must get outside or i’ll eat it all!

Today’s lunch:  Chicken Fried Steak  (printable and downloadable recipe)

Chicken fried steak with smashed potatoes and steamed broccoli.

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Chicken fried steak (our home raised grass finished round steak beef)

Organic Einkorn ancient grain flour

Olive oil

Sea salt

Organic black pepper

Farm fresh eggs

Milk and butter from local pastured cows

Organic russets from Wal-Mart

Organic broccoli from Wal-Mart

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Cheers!

tauna

 

Sirloin Roast Week of Menus

On Sunday afternoon, i threw a thawed 4 ish lb sirloin roast into a small electric roaster.  I must admit, i use this little roast unrelentingly, yet only paid $5 for the thing!  It was at a church fundraising bazaar and that is the price marked on it.  I did not like the noisy little fan on the air roaster, so it was simply removed and the holecovered with tape.  Done and done.

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Once finished cooking, the result is a lovely tender sirloin roast, a bit over 2 cups of rich beef broth, and a small amount of nutrient rich clean fat – all of which will be used for cooking.

Day 1:  Sliced roast with smashed sweet potato and fresh salad.  Not much more to say, very delicious, simple, and filling.  Pictured here is one small smashed sweet potato and about 3.5 ounces of beef roast and a ubiquitous power salad.

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Day 2 – Beef & Vegetable Soup – was planning something else, but my husband came up croupy and sick with a cold, so switched gears to make a cold buster soup.  Mix the broth created when the roast was cooking with the cooking water from the sweet potato preparation for a nutritionally powerful base for adding sliced carrots, diced scrubbed potatoes with skins, finely chopped onion, minced garlic, sliced celery, then salt and pepper to taste.  The broth is strong, but i added 2-3 oz of roast chopped into small pieces to this dish.  All in all this yielded about 5 cups of deliciousness.  Bring to slight boil, then simmer 20 minutes, but longer doesn’t hurt, just mind keeping on the lid so the moisture doesn’t get away.  Feel free to add water for a thinner soup.

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One complaint i have about buying the organic celery stalks is they trim the leafy tops.  Why is that!?!  Surely they are putting them to good use.  Nevertheless, i slice off the very tip small ends, the chop of the fat end just so the stalks will separate.  Wash the lot, then bundle it back and slice off several inches of the small ends, then open up the bundle to reveal the leafy and lighter green pieces – slice them up  – all goes into the soup.  The remaining short stalks should serve well as snacks or stuffing with peanut butter for dessert.  The little bit cut off can be easily composted or as in my case i feed to my pasture chooks.

Day 3:  Crumbled roast in Scrambled eggs  (Egg Frittata)

This is my go to when i’m short on time for anything – don’t even need meat.  Saute a finely chopped small onion in the saved fat drippings from cooking the roast.  After a couple minutes, cut or chop fresh spinach into the skillet, stir those around until softened, then add as much crumbled roast as you want, then add eggs.  This is one of the recipes where you can add as much or as little as you need to make the meal.  Plus, dress it up even more with sliced fresh mushrooms, sliced black olives, shredded cheese.  Or exchange the spinach with any leftover greens you have in the frig.

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Day 4:  Cubed roast beef with smashed potatoes and white sauce, steamed broccoli

Since i used all the broth for the sick day soup, white gravy made with milk will be a great substitute.  Onions are for healing, so finely chopped and sauteed in the beef fat before adding flour and milk creates more robust and healthful gravy.

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Chipped roast, smashed potatoes, white sauce with onions dressed on side with steamed broccoli. Still working on that roast prepared Sunday afternoon.

Day 5 – Roast Beef Salad – an old fashioned favourite

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Plate 5-since I had time whilst the potatoes cooked (meal 4), went ahead and finished off the little bit of roast left. Grind the meat, hard cooked eggs, chopped pickles if you like. Stir in mayo, mustard. Serve with crackers or veggies. Alternatively, make sandwiches.

To squeeze out another power soup, use the cooking water from potatoes and steamed broccoli – chop onions, carrots, and the stems of the broccoli – add to the water and bring to a boil.  Season with salt, pepper, and even parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme to boost flavour if you like.  Although i seldom use rosemary or thyme simply because i don’t like them!

 

So, there’s a small example of roast flexibility, whatever it’s worth!

Cheers

tauna

Bourbon Meatloaf from WSJ

My son was required in one of his classes at uni to take subscription of the Wall Street Journal.  We had taken it for years, but it had gotten so expensive we’d dropped.  However, as a student, he could receive it for $50 a year!

Once in a while a fabulous recipe which meets my criteria is published and i nab it and usually tweak it just a bit. Here’s one i found just last week.

The original version is pictured far below, but here’s what i did:

MEATLOAF INGREDIENTS:

1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion

3 cloves garlic

Sauté these in a medium hot skillet with 2 tablespoons butter, then add mushrooms and lettuce until softened – all in all about 6 minutes.  Don’t let it burn!

1 cup diced mushrooms

2 cups snipped fresh spinach

Add these items to the above skillet until softened

2 lbs grass finished ground beef

1 cup finely ground bread crumbs (i used what i had leftover from a failed baking experiment)

2 egg yolks from farm fresh eggs (save the whites for scrambled eggs in the morning)

1/2 cup ketchup

3 tablespoons brandy (i discovered that brandy is a substitute for bourbon)

2 teaspoons Bragg’s Liquid Aminos

Mix together, by hand, all these ingredients to make the loaf.

FOR THE GLAZE:

While the meatloaf is cooking, whisk together 1 tablespoon Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, 2 tablespoons unprocessed organic sugar like Florida Crystals, 1/2 cup ketchup, and 4 tablespoons farm fresh milk in a small bowl.  After meatloaf has baked about 6 minutes, remove it from the oven and brush glaze over top.

Return pan to oven and bake until meat is just cooked through, or internal temperature reads 145-150 degrees on a meat thermometer.  Making a 2-lb loaf, mine cooked for about 30-35 minutes in a 400ºF oven.  Remove  from over and let cool slightly.

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Chopped onion, grass fed butter hasn’t melted yet.
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Home grown garlic

 

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Didn’t have any celery, but spinach is a substitute for just about everything!
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I use scissors to cut the spinach in smaller pieces – add to the onion/garlic mix to saute.
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i keep these mixes in the frig pretty year round unless i happen to grow enough for us to use in the spring and summer.
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Separate the eggs – i keep the whites of course to use for scrambled eggs later.

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Gather it up and roll onto the jellyroll pan.  Mine is 9×15″
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My loaf is far too great a diameter to be finished cooking in 26 minutes, so adjustments are to be expected.  This is using 2 lbs ground beef.
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This is absolutely NOT what the glaze is supposed to look like – i forgot to add the ketchup!  Grrrrrr!
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Without the ketchup the glaze is far too runny…….
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….resulting in this burnt mess on the pan around the loaf.
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My loaf was far greater diameter than the recipe, so i cooked it an extra 15 minutes which was just right.  Also gave opportunity for the glaze i messed up to burn a bit more.  😦

 

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Yup, it’s done.
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Thank you to my sister-in-law, Shawna, for this perfectly sized Pampered Chef mini spatula she gave me for Christmas.
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Restaurant quality meal (except for the glaze i screwed up).  The meatloaf has a delightful texture and flavour.
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Here’s the original recipe by Chef Lee as published in the Wall Street Journal
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This is the whole article with the featured chef.
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These prepared lettuce or spinach mixes in a clam shell container are just the handiest things!
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Shredded Carrots on the salad.  Add whatever you are hungry for – sliced hard cooked eggs, mushrooms, olives, cheese, pumpkin or sunflower seeds.

 

Enjoy!

tauna

Apricot Ginger “Granola” by Wheat Belly

I’m no good at sticking with the Wheat Belly diet with the exception of keeping grain out of my diet, and by default, milk, simply because even grass based, organic, real milk doesn’t agree with me and i’m not going to buy almond or coconut milk.  But i do keep this ‘granola’ made up and stored in a Ziploc Bag in the freezer – just dipping out about 1/4 cup for brecky most mornings and usually eat without milk, but sometimes 1/2 sliced organic banana.  Most of my organic nuts and seeds come from Food To Live which can be ordered directly from their website or some are available through Wal-Mart online ordering.

My version of Wheat Belly‘s Apricot Ginger “Granola”

5 dried or apricots or more likely i use prunes

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted

2 teaspoons vanilla (Mexican pure)

2 cups raw sunflower seeds

2 cups raw pumpkin seeds

1 cup chopped raw pecans

1 cup chopped raw almonds (these aren’t available in the US; mine come from Italy)

2 cups unsweetened desiccated coconut

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground allspice

NO SWEETENER (it really doesn’t need it, but you can always drizzle a bit of pure local  honey on top, then eat with a spoon).

 

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Here’s the published recipe, but above in the body of this blog entry, i’ve published the way i actually make it.

Spraying Done for this Year

One of the main projects i had planned for this year was to spray brush.  Truly had hoped to cover the entire farm, but there is just so much that between regular work and windy or rainy days – well, i did get quite a lot done actually and i’m pleased.  My focus did switch to completely covering (spot spraying) the west 160 and that was accomplished by July 1.  It is important to keep track of that date because three years from then, the farm can be used to grow certified organic crops.  Weed and brush management from now on will have to be by brush hogging and intensive grazing.  One of the ironies of ‘certified’ organic is that i can’t chemically treat individual plants even once for three years, but i could burn all the fossil fuel i want mowing them down.  But rules are rules.

So to finish the project also means to clean up and put away the tools used.  My 30 gallon spray tank and pump were purchased new at Orscheln’s this year and i hope to get several more years’ use out of it.  Their brand name is Country Tuff and it has worked flawlessly all season.  I did switch out the coiled hose for a straight one we already had – i just didn’t like the coiled one.

For the chemical, the easiest and most effective in my opinion is Crossbow.  i buy it by the case (4 gallons) at a cost of $200.46 at Butterfield & Associates Grain in Meadville, MO.  Mix half gallon to 30 gallons of water and you are ready to go.  This spring and summer, I sprayed about 1200 gallons of mixed spray.  That’s about 45 hours worth of spot spraying.

Cleaning up:

  1. drain and rinse out the tank with clean water
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This photo shows that i place a 2×4 between the tank and the edge of my Gator bed which keeps the tank from rubbing on the side and also keeps the clips that hold the sprayer wand from breaking off.
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i used a couple tarp straps around the tank to secure the tank in place.  The 3×3 inch board in front keeps other items from bumping against the tank and the motor.  (My Gator is usually full of other stuff)
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Under the motor, the draw pipe is located.  Shown here, i’ve undone the pipe from the tank and showing the screen is partially plugged.  The sprayer will operate with this little bit of stuff clogging it, but you will definitely notice a lack of spray distance.  It’s important to use clean water and keep stuff out of the tank which can clog the orifice and screen.
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I’ve cleaned the screen and replaced it.  (Yeah, i know, i need a manicure badly!)
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This tube actually had a small part of a leaf in it when i set out to clean the tank for storage.  I knew i had a lack of power and had cleaned the screen before.  I just thought maybe i had run the motor so much it was worn out.  However, i have no doubt now it was because of the leaf blocking this tube.  I’ll remember to check that next year.
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Inside the tank is the draw tube.  This is where that leaf had gotten trapped.  i’ve cleaned it out now.
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The electrical plug and wire goes from the motor and up through my Gator back window and down under the passenger seat to the battery.
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Horrible photo, but black to negative and red to positive for battery connections.
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Cleaned, drained, ready for winter storage
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Properly labeled as to what was used in this tank and when.

 

Shabbat Shalom!

tauna