Saturday, April 21, 2012

Recycle Useful - Free Mulch and other usefull items

At the Rural Living farm we come up with lots of creative ways to recycle items that would normally be taken to the landfill. It's amazing what you can do with common, ordinary items.

Our electricity comes from a rural co-op. This particular rural co-op has a maintenance crew that keeps lines free from trees and other debris growth. They have to cut the trees or the power lines can be damaged during a storm. Simply put, damaged lines can cut off our electricity. While the Rural-living farm is fully prepared in case of a lengthy power outage with a back up plan, others are not.

Normally, when the maintenance crews cut trees and run them through their chippers they drive across the county and dump the chips at our local landfill. Our local landfill has an area where they stock pile this stuff and over the years have amassed literally tons of it. County residents are welcome to load up on these chips for free but it requires a trailer and limited hours of availability.

However, we offer the use of our property to dump their chips thus cutting back on fuel and the expense it takes to dump it at the landfill. Yes, the landfill charges the electric company and any one else who wants to "dump" their "trash." This also keeps us from driving to the landfill to pick up a trailer load.

The mulch you see in the back of this truck has sat in our pasture for 2 years and it is RICH.

In urban areas you have commercial tree trimming companies who can provide the same service. Keep your eye out on those trucks that are towing a commercial chipper. You'll find them all over the place. However, I have found over the years that some are more willing to dispose of their chips that others. Some companies say it could be a liability problem if a tree they removed and chipped was diseased and the tree disease spreads to your trees or your neighbors trees. It is a risk YOU have to take. However, I have never had a problem with it.

We suggest you ask the driver if you can have the chips or offer your property as a drop off point. If the first person tells you no, keep asking. Once you have a company who is comfortable dropping their chips off you'll have more than you could ever imagine.

We use fresh chips as toppng for gardens and walkways. In gardens we top off landscape fabric. If you let the mulch sit for several months or years in the case of the load in the pick up....it can be wonderful for soil amending.

Pallets - you've heard me say it before...I LOVE pallets. You can construct a lot of useful things around the farm including these compost bins.

Railroad ties - if you talk to the right person who is in control of track maintenance, you can get permission to remove old railroad ties. We just did.....and can load up on as many as we can haul away on from a 200 mile line. I must say it took 2 years to get this permission and some work including convincing a friend who is a conductor on a train to get us in touch with the right person.


PERSISTENCE.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Life on the farm - Feathered Friends

Chickens are a standard on a hobby farm. They are relatively easy to take care of and the benefits of keeping them outweigh the effort it takes to keep them. They really do earn their keep.

In recent years urban chickens have gained popularity and are becoming a common site in neighborhoods around the country as Home Owner's associations loosen their guidelines and city officials amend ordinances.

At the Rural Living farm our chickens are simply pets who give back to us.

Take for instance our hens. We have not given any of them formal names but we refer to them as the white hen or the Cukoo (maran) or the Americana's. We can pretty much tell who furnished eggs that day because of color and size. They react to us as we talk to them calling them "our girls" and produce many more eggs if we throw treats of left over produce into their coop and announce to them that they can have a party with the extra food. They are always in the coop and not exposed to the roosters except when we choose to let them. Their coop is quite big and very nice, nicknamed the Chicken Condo. 

WJ
On the other hand, there are the roosters and some of them do have formal names. Take for instance WJ. WJ is a hulking rooster who is much taller and larger than all the other roosters on the farm. We acquired him not too long ago from a friend who was trying to reduce their rooster stock. We'll gladly take any rooster as they tame quite quickly and their benefits are endless.

WJ is so big he looks mean yet he is one of the biggest woosies in the flock. Despite his size he simply won't take food from the others nor fight them. He is tame enough to jump into John's lap and eat out of his hand and will often simply fall asleep as John strokes his breast.

Then there are the smaller roosters. Two of them are true Bantum roosters and one is a half breed Bantum and Cubalaya mix. They have formal names that describe their character.

The half breed is named Help Help. Help Help is a beautiful rooster and we named him after an incident last summer. Lots of evenings John and I scoop chicken scratch into red solo cups and feed the roosters out of the cups. When they are close and if you are quick you can grab them and put them in your lap. They fuss for few seconds but after some petting they tame right down and fall asleep.

Dominicker
As a routine John reached down and grabbed Help Help. He put up quite a fight even as John tried to pet him and twisted and turned to try to escape screaming the entire time. His scream mimicked someone screaming "Help! Help!" Poor thing never stopped screaming as I am sure he thought he was doomed. John never calmed him down and finally, after several minutes of trying to calm him down he let him go. Hence he was known from that day forward as....."Help! Help!" 

The other two bantums are black differing only in one white feather on one of their tails. They were recently acquired when we got WJ and are quite skiddish. Although they think they are bigger than WJ and certainly give credence to the term Cocky if spooked just slightly they will both jump and squak and scramble away. Thus we call one Oh Shoot and the other Oh Heck (or a variation of those names).

We have a variety of Cukoo Maran roosters we raised from babies and Dominickers which look very similar to the Cukoo's except the leg colors are different. These guys are meaty birds although I must admit after this long I am sure it would take hours of  boiling or a chainsaw to cut their meat. We don't raise these birds for their meat but if there ever comes a time I wouldn't hesitate or at least breed a hen with one for meaty chicks. It might take a bit of nerve to slaughter my first bird, not a chore I look forward to but I could do it.

The Cukoo's are excellent snake hunters on the Rural Living farm, a necessity especially during this early spring. So far we have only seen a couple of benign snakes but we are certain there are others that are lurking under brush piles and numerous other hiding places. I am not looking for them but I hope the Cukoo's are.

Our roosters are quite spoiled. John occasionally visits various fast food restaurants to order french fries, not for us to eat but to feed to the roosters. It is quite comical to watch several roosters run to a precisely tossed french fry and run into each other scrambling for the tasty treat. We liken it to a train wreck or desperate bridesmaids trying to snatch a bridal bouquet as it is tossed.. Sometimes one rooster will pick the entire thing up, french fry hanging loosely from both sides of his beak and will take off running only to have the other roosters chase him all over the pasture to try to steal it away. The rooster who grabbed the prize will get some relief to finally enjoy his tasty snack if we throw more french fries to the other roosters.

So you see, our roosters are our beneficial pets who reduce the bug population on our acreage and provide fertilizer at the same time. They also are a great stress reliever when they eat out of our hands or follow us with french fries or come to us when we simply call out "ROOSTERS."

Dinner on the Farm - Chicken CousCous

Many years ago my mother-in-law drove from Ft. Worth, Texas to our home in San Antonio, Texas to cook this meal. Her trip of course wasn't just to cook for us but it was always a delight when she did. She passed last year and I miss her and her cooking although I was blessed to have learned several recipes and tips and tricks from her over the years including how to peel boiled eggs, a trick that her mother-in-law taught her.

Mom figured out this recipe after going to a catered reception after a wedding. She was so impressed with this dish that she called the caterer. Of course they didn't give her the recipe but she had a way with words to ask about ingredients and then literally picked apart a serving that she had taken home. She was good with things like that.

So mom, if you are reading this blog, this is your Chicken CousCous, or at least as close as I could come to yours.

CousCous is a pasta that originated in Algeria or Morrocco depending on who you ask. Widely used as a staple dish much like rice is in the Orient it is available at your local grocer. I bet you have walked right past it many times.

The most popular is from the company Near East and comes in a wide variety of flavors. Sometimes I buy it in bulk at a very reduced price on Amazon.com. The couscous from Amazon.com is an African variety but you cannot tell the difference. Today I found a whole grain version at my supermarket packaged by the Near East company and this is what I used in my dish tonight.

CousCous has a very mild flavor much like a cross between rice and pasta and can be eaten by itself or mixed in with meat and veggies to replace pasta or rice.

Chicken CousCous

1 box Near East CousCous
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts chopped into 1" pieces
1 c. onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 6oz bag fresh spinach
1/2 jar of Capers (3.5 oz jar)
1/3 c. lemon juice

Prepare the Near East CousCous as per the instructions on the package except do not add in the seasoning pack. You want just the plain, cooked CousCous not a flavored version. Simply boil the prescribed amount of water and stir in the CousCous then turn off the heat. It cooks like instant rice. Simple.

Saute the onion, garlic and chicken breasts in 2 tablespoons of olive oil over a medium low heat until chicken is tender. Slowly add in the fresh spinach and stir until the spinach wilts. Add in the capers and the lemon juice. Let this mixture simmer 1-2 minutes. Turn off the heat.

Add the couscous to the cooked chicken and spinach and stir. Let this sit for 4-5 minutes so that the CousCous can soak up the liquid in the pan.

Serve.

So lets look at what we have. Lean chicken, whole grain couscous and fresh spinach with very little salt other that what the capers bring to the dish. This taste so amazing that your family will think you went to a culinary arts academy and it will really impress your friends.

Enjoy.....