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Taylor and I are in Georgia from now until January. Check back on the eighth to see what new stuff we're up to in 2010!

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas and happy holidays! I hope everyone found some holiday cheer this year, and had a happy time with friends or family.
Check out Taylor rocking out his hand-knit sweater!

Our blog will be taking a brief break as we go on our post-Christmas trip to Georgia. Our posts will return on January 8, next year!

Seed Saver

After getting my fall Seed Saver's catalog, I've decided that I may try one or two varieties alongside some conventional seeds. The photos are amazing, and the varieties are amazing. The only problem is many of them are targeted to more temperate regions, not our subtropical Sarasota.

The Romanesco broccoli is amazing. There's an organic farm an hour south of us that grows this variety, so I think it might work out.

I love how heirloom seeds are totally different from the conventional grocery store fare. Publix doesn't carry things like orange eggplant. They taste great, look cool, and offer a much greater variety, but because they don't pack and ship well, you can't get them anywhere.

I'll think about ordering a few things, and research some of the Florida-friendly varieties. Southern Exposure offers varieties that are more heat tolerant, which I'm also considering.

Making fruit leather

I've been reading the Encyclopedia of Country Living and found a recipe for fruit leather, which is a dried puree. We decided to give it a shot with some of our ripe tangerines.

We sliced them up, peeled them, and sifted out the seeds.

There were a freaking TON of seeds too. We had to go through the bowl for about fifteen minutes to get them, and we still missed a few.

Then it went into a blender with a bunch of beauty berries.

Then it went into the oven on 140. It still hasn't dried, but it's only been in there a few hours. We'll give it another few, and hopefully it'll turn into a dried, chewy sheet. We can store it in the freezer indefinitely, and it'll make a nutritious, no-sugar-added snack.

Gardening with children

We think it's important for young kids to get outside, play in the dirt, and breathe some fresh air. It's been proven to help with all sorts of things, including obesity and attention disorders (for anyone really interested in the subject, check out the book Last Child in the Woods).

We're very happy that Seleighna, our three-year-old next door neighbor loves coming and hanging out in the garden. Every morning she comes to check on her princess, take care of the rabbits, and play in the garden. At the library I've picked up a couple of books with gardening activities for children. I think we're going to put together a little two foot by two foot bed for her to plant some flowers and vegetables in, and maybe work with some of the other activities. They're really cute books, and seem to have activities even adults may enjoy.

A new site

One of our biggest problems impeding our success in the garden is the lack of sunlight. For a good part of the day, our beds are cast in shade which is not conducive for plant growth. We've since gotten permission to put a few beds out front come this spring, which should improve things. We'll still use the beds out back for low-light crops, and use the ones out front for corn, tomatoes, beans, and squashes, which seem to require a blazing sun to do really well. We're pretty excited, and hope to get a head start preparing the soil in January.

Good news!

The other day, Mr Dennis told us some wonderful news. Up until now, we had heard that owning chickens in Sarasota county was illegal. Figuring that we were surrounded by woods on all sides and that any neighbors were too far away, we risked it and got some hens anyway. Turns out, it's perfectly legal, so long as there's no rooster, and no more than six hens. We have eight, but we figure, if anyone comes around to check things out we'll just have a nice chicken dinner. We're pretty excited to hear that we're allowed to keep our girls legally.

It's raining, it's pouring

I love when it rains. It's great for all of the plants around here, and it means one less chore to do. I went outside and snapped a few photos of the lingering rain drops. The tangerines are pretty close to being ready too! Some of them are soft enough to eat already.

Our daily chores

The beginning of this school year, Taylor and I put a lot of work into getting this garden up and running. We built a rabbit pen, a chicken coop and run (with lots of help from Mr. Dennis), five raised beds, and dug four other beds. Even though most of our big projects are done, we still have plenty of daily chores.

We get up in the morning and head out to the garden first thing. We check on the chickens, which are normally already out. Mr. Dennis is normally up before dawn, so he lets them out for us every morning. We make sure they have plenty of food and water, and throw in a handful of scratch.
Then we check for eggs, and make sure the coop is clean. Every other week or so we clean it all out and replace the hay.

Then we head over to the rabbits, which are normally pretty low on water. With four of them in there, they go through it pretty quickly. Since we don't have running water right near them, we've filled up a few gallon jugs to make the process a bit quicker. After making sure they have food, and maybe throwing in a couple weeds for them to munch on, we head back in until evening.

Later in the afternoon, we put the chickens back in the coop. They normally head back in around 5:00, when the sun falls below the tops of the trees. We check to see if the garden needs watering, and do that while we do a little bit of weed control.

All of our chores don't take too long, and it's nice to have a routine to follow every day (and people to help out when we leave on trips!)

Recycled eggshells

So in plenty of the chicken books we've been reading, they've discussed calcium. Chickens need extra to lay their eggs, but not too much, which can impair bone growth. Layer feed is generally fortified with the right amount, but crushed oyster shells or chicken eggs are not a bad idea to feed in addition. However, if you feed a chicken insufficiently crushed shells, they may begin to eat their own eggs before you can collect them. To solve this problem, we've been using a wand blender.

It turns them into a consistency similar to their food, which we either mix in, or throw in with some scratch. They seem to enjoy the stuff, and it's one more way we can keep a closed system here in our garden.

Still no babies

It's been almost three months since our rabbits have been together. They were supposedly a little over six months old. Rabbits this size generally take between six and nine months to reach sexual maturity. This means that pretty soon, we should start to see some evidence of breeding rabbits. Toby is definitely much more interested in the girls, but they don't seem to reciprocate his behavior. I now understand the phrase, "chasing some tail."

The girls are still displaying nesting behavior, including Farina, who is actually old enough to breed. She should be right around ten months old right now. She's ripped out all of this hair to line her hutch, which may be a good sign.


When we first started our garden in August, I was very excited about the radishes. Supposedly Cherry Belles only take 21 days from planting to harvest in ideal conditions. Sadly, we didn't have those ideal conditions. It was too warm, our soil too packed, and not enough sun. However, this time around, they seem to be doing well. We directly sowed them, and a couple weeks later, they're looking terrific. We're keeping our fingers crossed!

Food Inc

I've been trying to get more books out of the library instead of buying them, but I just couldn't wait for this new release to make it to my local branch.

Nearly every chapter is written by a different person on a different subject. There's an interview with the writer of Food Inc the movie, Robert Kenner, too. A few of the subjects:

Organic food
The future of world hunger
Genetically modified foods
Animal practices in agribusiness
Global warming and agriculture
Cheap food
Community gardens
Sustainable tables

All in all, it's a wonderful, sometimes alarming book. If you haven't seen the movie, I'd recommend that too.

Our strawberries have recovered!

A couple weeks ago, our strawberries where looking pretty sickly. We assumed it was snails, and decided to go out one night with flashlights to try and find the culprits. Instead of snails, we found some teeny black beetles. We picked them all off by hand, and now our strawberries seem to have recovered.

Stevia seeds

A couple months ago, we got some Stevia at a local Sarasota Fruit and Nut Society sale. We planted it in Taylor's herb garden, and it quickly began to flower. This week, we've got some seeds! We collected some in an envelope, and we'll try to grow some more this spring.

Empty nesting boxes

We continue to keep finding our eggs on the floor of the coop, instead of the nesting boxes where they belong. They love hanging out and pooping in them, but just can't quite figure out their intended purpose. Oh well--- they help with ventilation, and let some light in.

Our cabbages are cabbaging!

For the past couple weeks, our cabbages just looked like little piles of limp leaves. Then, recently, they've actually started folding inwards to form little heads. We're crossing our fingers and hoping for the best.
We've got some red cabbages planted too, which are still pretty tiny, but we're hoping they catch up soon.

Environmental Issues Final

For my Environmental Issues class this semester, I had to write a paper about the future of any issue I chose. Related to both academic and extracurricular interests, I decided to write about the past, present, and future of industrial agriculture. For anyone that's interested, I've decided to post a rough copy here:

Agriculture in the Year 2100

In the early 1900’s, more than forty percent of Americans farmed for a living. By the end of the century, that number dropped to less than two percent (Pyle, 2005). Increased mechanization, the introduction of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, and transition to monoculture drastically increased annual yields nationwide, and at the same time decreased the need for man power to run it all. This transition applies not only to Americas vegetable and grain crops, but animals products as well. The introduction of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) has led to increased consumption of meat, and other animal products (Halweil, 2008) . Traditional heirloom crops disappeared, replaced by their more industrial counterparts; hybrids and, controversially, GMOs.

While some hail industrial agriculture as the end to world hunger and the advancement of man kind, some environmentalists and agricultural scientists recognize industrial agriculture taking a large toll on the environment. Increased consumption of fossil fuels, wide-spread use of polluting chemicals, and damage to ecosystems have all made headlines as a result of the growing agriculture industry.

Chemical Consumption

In the 1940s, agriculture witnessed the Green Revolution. The discovery of petro-chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides quickly bolstered farmer’s annual yields, bringing plenty of enthusiasm for technology into the agricultural sector. Over the last fifty years, fertilizer use has increased ten-fold (Grinning Planet, 2005), and is expected to continue well into the twenty-second century.

Why the transition from organic to chemical agriculture? After the second world war, there was no longer a high demand for war chemicals. Labs that synthesized many of the chemicals used during the war would be shut down, unless they found new uses for their technologies. Nitrogen was one of the most used chemicals, used in TNT and other explosives. During the war, the US government had built more than ten factories to supply these nitrogen bombs. After the war, these plants transitioned to produce chemical fertilizers, as ongoing studies linked nutrient availability to rising crop yields (Ganzel, 2004). Other plants transitioned to the production of pesticides, herbicides, and other toxic chemicals. These chemicals were abundant, cheap, and greatly increased agricultural yields to support a growing population. As populations continue to explode, many farmers view fertilizers as the only possible solution.

Taxes on the Environment

The average item on the American dinner plate has traveled over 1500 miles (Kingsolver, 2007). Agriculture directly consumes 20% of the nations fossil fuels, both in production and transport (Cleveland, 1995). This results in a huge number of greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global climate change. Nearly all of the chemicals used in agriculture are created from petroleum directly from fossil fuels.

In addition to depleting non-renewable resources in the form of fossil fuels, soil is quickly disappearing. In the past forty years, more than one third of the world’s topsoil has disappeared, washed away into lakes, rivers and oceans by wind and water erosion (Pimmentel, 1995). As farmers continue to rely on tilling, which releases large amounts of sequestered carbon dioxide, this topsoil loss is expected to rise significantly in the next century. This erosion is also resulting in decreased production per hectare.

Agriculture continues to rely on harmful chemicals to bolster productivity. The use of organochloride pesticides contaminates not only lakes and rivers, but groundwater as well (Butler, 1969). Long term exposure to pesticides results in resistant pests, which will eventually require stronger pesticides or herbicides (Cummins, 2009). By traveling in waterways, these pesticides endanger ecosystems world wide.

Changes to Diet and Health

Up until the mid 1900’s, the human diet hadn’t changed remarkably in over 10,000 years. With the rise of industrial agriculture, the types of food available for consumption has changed drastically. Most notably is the rise of genetically altered foods, and the expansion of corn consumption.

Genetically modified foods (GMOs) have been on the market since 1990, and about half of the corn, soy, and canola grown in the US is genetically modified (Philips, 1998). Most of these GMOs have been engineered to be pesticide and herbicide tolerant, which allows farmers to use copious amounts of chemicals without harming the plant. While the health effects of GMOs remains largely unstudied, the neurotoxic quality of pesticides has been noted many times. More than half of the produce in todays grocery stores contain pesticide residue, according to the Food and Drug Administration (Organic Consumer Association, 2009). Ninety-five percent of Americans have levels of organophosphate pesticides show up in blood tests according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. These pesticides are linked to many disorders, including hyperactivity, motor dysfunction, learning disabilities, and developmental delays. More than 400 biocides and 300 synthetic additives are allowed in conventionally-grown foods.

The health concerns related to GMOs are many and largely unresearched. In 1989, a genetically-engineered dietary supplement resulted in the death of thirty-seven people, and more than 5,000 suffered from eosinophilia myalgia syndrome as a direct result of the supplement. A decade later, a GMO potato containing a mosaic viral promoter caused lab rats to die of severe viral infections. This same gene is currently present in nearly all GMO crops. A GMO bovine growth hormone proven to cause cancer in lab studies is present in about ten percent of milk sold in the US (the EU has since banned this rBGH). These GMO crops may also cause extreme allergic reactions. A decade ago, a gene from the Brazil nut was spliced into soybeans. Animal tests showed up negative, but humans still had severe reactions to the beans. Luckily, the product was pulled before it reached the market, as a result of these last-minute tests. Further problems with GMOs are described in the next section.

Perhaps even more alarming than the introduction of GMOs is the rise of corn. Of the more than forty-five thousand items available in most supermarkets, about a third of them contain corn (Pollan, 2006). Most of the 10 billion bushels produced annually isn’t directly consumed, and is instead turned into the processed foods that occupy most of the shelves in the grocery store. What isn’t fed to animals to become meat will be processed mechanically and chemically to become corn syrup, preservatives, oil, citric acid, fructose, glucose, MSG, xanthum gum, or one of the hundreds of products made from corn today. Because corn is heavily subsidized, it is incredibly cheap, and has replaced other crops in our diet. Most of these new corn concoctions are incredibly unhealthy, high in sugars and fats. Because they are so readily available, both in supermarkets and fast-food chains. The average person under 18 visits a fast food establishment twice weekly, and fast foods comprise about 20% of the average American’s diet (Institute of Medicine, 2005). This drastic change in diet has led to an increase in the percent of Americans that are obese, or suffer from diet and weight related illnesses. One in three children born after the year 2000 will have diet-related diabetes. The number rises to one in two for minority children (Kenner, 2009). One in ten people in the world is clinically obese. If this number doesn’t change, half of American will suffer from diabetes in 2100.

Beyond the health issues arising as a direct result of consumption, industrial agriculture is creating a dangerous backdrop in which antibiotic resistance runs rampant. Low doses of antibiotics are included in most of the diets of industrial livestock. About seventy percent of all antimicrobials in the US are given to livestock (UCS, 2001). Because of this antibiotic abuse, new resistant strains of bacteria are becoming common. Most staph infections in the US are penicillin-resistant, and may be resistant to other drugs as well. Without a decrease in the amount of antibiotics being used in the agricultural industry, many new “super bugs” may emerge over the next century.

GMO Pollution

Genetic pollution is a relatively new word to describe one of the many potential problems that GMO crops have created. Genetically altered pollen can contaminate non-GMO food crops grown in other areas. Many commercial food crops are wind pollinated, and this pollen can travel miles to contaminate non-GMO fields. This genetic drift can also affect weeds related to the GMO crop. The insertion of “kill genes” which are designed to make saved seeds unviable can drift into neighboring farms or wild plants growing near farms growing these GMOs.

Monstanto, and other companies responsible for developing these GMOs are actually benefiting from this problem. They frequently sue farmers who haven’t purchased GMO seed whose crops contain these genes from cross contamination. Because these genes are patented and protected, they retain them as intellectual property. Growing any GMOs belonging to Monsanto without paying for the right, accidentally or not, is illegal.

An Uncertain Future

By 2050, the world population is expected to surpass nine billion people and remain at that level for a few centuries (Lutz, 2002). With many more mouths to feed, and most viable land already in production, agricultural yield will need to be much more efficient to feed the people, especially in the US. While nobody knows the right answers or the outcome, and with global climate change a looming possibility, there are several proposed solutions to curve the impending food crisis.

One of the largest arguments for industrial agriculture is that it functions under an efficient use of man power. One farmer can feed well over 100 people (Pollan, 2007). The use of tractors, combines, threshers, and other bits of machinery allow a few people to do the job of dozens. While it makes good use of personnel, it’s much less efficient than biointensive models. By packing plants closer together, yields per acre can quadruple. However, because of the close spacing, it’s nearly impossible to plant and harvest with machinery.

One of America’s largest concerns today is job security. The US unemployment rate has risen to around seven percent, with more than 11 million people out of jobs (Goldman, 2009). A more intensive, organic agricultural sector would welcome the jobless, requiring more people than conventional agriculture. A transition to organic methods would also require the well-educated, who would have to monitor complex biological systems and polycultures.

Another, perhaps more startling proposition? There are currently 2.3 million people behind bars in the US (Aizenman, 2008). If these prisoners were given the privilege to get outside and grow food, the US would instantly double the number of farmers within its borders.

On the other extreme, many US companies have begun offshoring our food production, especially in the organic sector. Everything from apples to steaks are being shipped from Asia, New Zealand, and South America, where land and labor is cheap. While this is a possible short term solution, one cannot simply ignore the resulting pollution. Restrictions on chemicals are less stringent, and the produce must travel thousands of miles, consuming millions of gallons of fossil fuels.

The further development of GMOs will prove to be either a great success, or a horrendous failure. More stringent lab testing and further technological development should be required before these genetically engineered “franken-foods” can hit the market. Whether or not there will be an accident leading up to this regulation is unknown, but possible.

Bureaucracy must also drop its regulations against small farmers, who are often more environmentally and health conscious than the big industrial farmer. By setting standards on cleanliness rather than infrastructure, more local, healthy foods will be available at less cost for the consumer.

Ganzel, Bill. Postwar Fertilizer Explodes, 2004. Living History Farm.

Pyle, George. Raising Less Corn, More Hell. 2005.

Halweil, Brian. Meat Production Continues to Rise. World Watch Institute.

Grinning Planet. World Fertilizer Use, 2005.

Kingsolver, Barbara. Animal Vegetable Miracle: A year of food life, 2007.

Cleveland, Cutler. The direct and indirect use of fossil fuels and electricity in USA agriculture, 1910–1990, 1995. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment Volume 55, Issue 2, September 1995, Pages 111-121

Pimmentel, David. Environmental and Economic Costs of Soil Erosion and Conservation Benefits. Science 24 February 1995: Vol. 267. no. 5201, pp. 1117 - 1123

Butler, Philip. Monitoring Pesticide Pollution, 1969. The American Institute for Biological Science.

Cummins, Ronnie. Hazards of Genetically Engineered Foods and Crops, 2009. Organic Consumers Association.

Pollan, Michael. The Omnivores Dilemma, 2006. The Plant: Corn’s Conquest.

Phillips, Peter and Grant Isaac. (1998). GMO labeling: Threat or opportunity? AgBioForum, 1(1), 25-30.

Organic Consumer Association. Exposure to Pesticides, 2009. Food Inc, A Participant Guide.

Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance. 2005. Institute of Medicine.

Kenner, Robert. How industrial food is making us sicker, fatter, and poorer, 2009. Food inc. A participant’s guide.

Union of Concerned Scientists. Hogging it: Estimates of antibiotic abuse in livestock. UCS, 2001.

Lutz, Wolfgang. Doubling of World Population Unlikely, 2002. International Institute for Applied System Analysis.

Goldman, David. Worst year for jobs since '45: Annual loss biggest since end of World War II. Unemployment rate rises to 7.2%.

Aizenman, NC. A new high in US prison numbers, 2008. Washington Post.

Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal

With less work to do in the garden, and school drawing to a close, I've finally had more time just to read for fun. I picked up Salatin's book, "Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal".

It's an entertaining read for anyone interested in the local food movement. He deals mostly with animal products (eggs, beef, and pork), and the controversial methods that surround them. He colorfully details encounters with government bureaucrats , who desperately try to run his small farm down.
He uses independent labs to prove that his products are much cleaner than the typical grocery-store fare, but even so, much of what he wants to sell is often illegal. For being such a thick book, it's a pretty quick read that I recommend.


A few weeks ago, we got rid of most of our heirlooms. The squash had succumbed to mildew, the beans had fungus and aphids, and pretty much everything was dead. We still had some Oakleaf in a seedling tray, and in a last attempt we went ahead and planted it anyway. A couple weeks later, they're still doing lovely. You can definitely see why it's called Oakleaf lettuce. I'll bet it's delicious.


More and more home-grown food is making it on our plates. This morning, we picked some collards.

Then, Seleighna helped us tear them from the stalks and rinse them really well. She loves helping out with our vegetables (she did an amazing job shelling limas a couple weeks ago).

A few hours and a few pieces of bacon later, we had a delicious pot of steaming hot collards. Topped with a little bit of garlic and salt, they made for a rather tasty lunch, on top of being organic, fresh, and local. It's nice to get some encouragement to keep on keeping on.


Another crop that's doing well so far! Our collards (Georgia Blue) are doing very well. They love the cooler weather, and just keep chugging away. Tomorrow we're going to cook em up with a bit of bacon for lunch. Yum!


We use mulching hay for just about everything. Chicken bedding, mulching our garden, the rabbits nibble on it, and use it for bedding. One day, while I was at school, Taylor went to our local feed store to replenish our supply, and they gave him the wrong bale of hay. We stupidly decided to use it anyway, and turned one of our beds into weed paradise.

This morning I pulled most of the weeds, and re-mulched with a new bale of the right stuff. We can still use the leftover seed-ridden hay for animal bedding, and the rabbits prefer it to munch on.


Right now, our best-growing plants are the potatoes. They took weeks to finally show up (we thought they had maybe rotted in the ground), but once they poked their heads out of the soil, they looked great! They started out as these teeny purple plants, and now they're close to two feet tall and a luscious green color. Later in the season, we can dig em out, and have purple mashed potatoes.

A hidden bounty

Every other week or so, we scrape out all of the dirty, pooped-on hay in the chicken coop, and replace it was some fresh, clean, unstinky stuff. It gets pretty fluffy until the hens pack it down by walking/pooping on it.

A couple days ago, I cleaned out the coop and threw in some hay. Then something weird happened.

Prius, who'd been laying eggs almost every day for a month now, didn't lay one. And then the next day, she didn't lay one. And the next day, there wasn't one. And then, this morning, there also wasn't one. I decided to climb into the coup to investigate.

Lo and behold! After shuffling some of the hay around, I found her hidden nest. Inside were four blue eggs, nestled in the clean bedding. For a second there, I thought we may have a problem! She was too young to be molting, so I couldn't figure out why the flow of eggs stopped. Now we know to be a bit more thorough searching for eggs in the bedding.

Leftover bacon fat

We're pretty big fans of bacon. With so many fresh eggs, it's very tempting to throw on a piece of bacon to go with our breakfast. Over the past couple of weeks, we've wound up with a ton of leftover grease. We decided to mix it up with some of our chicken scratch and food, and gave it to them. They absolutely loved it.

Next time, I think I'll try making cookies with it. You can use it instead of butter or shortening, like in the following recipe:

1 c. bacon grease or lard
1 c. sugar
1 egg, beaten
4 tbsp. molasses
2 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. cinnamon

Sounds delicious!

Tangerine time!

The citrus around here is slowly coming into season. Every couple days a tangerine will drop from the tree, nice and ripe. We had one for dessert today, and it was great. Pretty soon we'll have oranges, grapefruit, and lemon as well. I've been looking into canning, and it should be easy (it seems like so many citrus fruits get wasted in Florida--- there's just too much too fast!). I'm also interested in candying some lemon and orange peel, which sounds scrumptious. I wonder if we could boil down some juice and freeze or can that too.

Garden salad

We're starting to eat more and more out of our garden. Yesterday we picked a little cucumber, some salad greens, and tossed together a lovely little salad.

What a cute little cuke!

Topped with some blue cheese dressing, it was delicious. Most people don't care for them, but I love raw collards. They're a tiny bit tougher than lettuce, but I think they add a nice flavor to a salad mix.

Yolk-less egg

Here's something you won't ever find at the grocery store. Taylor and I went into the coop and found a teeny tiny blue egg. We cracked it open, and all there was was albumen (white).

It still tasted delicious. It'd be pretty neat if these happened more often--- they'd be perfect for recipes that only called for whites.