The Prairie Homestead http://www.theprairiehomestead.com Homesteading | Self Sufficient Living | Living off the Land Thu, 28 Jul 2016 21:39:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.3 How to Make Compost Tea http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2016/07/compost-tea-recipe.html http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2016/07/compost-tea-recipe.html#comments Thu, 28 Jul 2016 16:01:21 +0000 http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/?p=17085 Since when did poop and water get so complicated? When I began my research on compost teas, I figured it would be a fairly easy subject to tackle … Boy did I ever underestimate that one. It’s no secret that compost is one of the best fertilizers you can possibly add to your garden. And […]

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how to make compost tea

Since when did poop and water get so complicated?

When I began my research on compost teas, I figured it would be a fairly easy subject to tackle … Boy did I ever underestimate that one.

It’s no secret that compost is one of the best fertilizers you can possibly add to your garden. And the sky’s the limit when it comes to all the options you have when it comes to different styles of compost piles and the ingredients that you can use.

Compost tea is basically a brew made from water and finished compost. It has a myriad of reported benefits and I like to think of it as a natural alternative to the “miracle growing” products sold at the gardening stores in town. It’s a fantastic, easy way to improve your garden soil.

Not only does compost tea add extra nutrients to your soil, it also has the potential to increase the microbe population in the soil. (Because I’m a big fan of good germs, and you should be, too.)

compost pile

When you start to learn about compost tea, you’ll quickly learn there are approximately nine million different compost tea methods, techniques, and recipes … And that is where it begins to get confusing.

The biggest differentiation in compost teas are the aerated or non-aerated varieties. Aerated compost tea (ACT) uses an electronic device of some sort (usually a bubbler for a fish tank, or something along those lines) to force oxygen into the brew, while non-aerated tea simply relies on water, compost, time, and a bucket.

As you can imagine, there is much debate as to which method is superior. Some folks swear by ACT and claim it is the only appropriate way to brew compost tea, while others reason that there is no scientific research backing these claims.

After a lot of digging around, I’ve settled on non-aerated compost tea for my homestead, and here’s why:

  1. Simplicity- While I will be the first to admit that there are probably benefits to ACT, I simply do not have the time to add another semi-labor intensive project to my homestead. If gardening is your primary passion, then by all means, I encourage you to do some research and become an aerated tea expert. But keeping it simple is my number one priority right now.
  2. History- Different cultures have been brewing forms of compost tea for centuries. I’m pretty sure they didn’t have fish tank motors.
  3. Laziness– Err… I meant efficiency. 😉 Steeping and stirring sounds better to me than babysitting an aeration system.

As I mentioned above, if you want to pursue the ACT methods, I think that’s great. But if you are a homesteader like I am who struggles to keep her head above water, let’s keep it simple, shall we?

steeping compost tea in bucketHow to Make Compost Tea

  • 5 gallon bucket
  • 1 shovel-scoop of good-quality finished compost (as you can see, the quantities here are super-scientific)
  • Non-chlorinated water (rain water is great, too!)

Instructions

  1. Dump the shovel-full of finished compost into the five gallon bucket. Fill the rest of the way with water. Stir vigorously, and set aside for about a week. Stir it once or twice a day.
  2. When you are ready to use it, strain the compost from the water.

straining compost tea

How to apply:

  • Your finished compost tea can be used undiluted, or if it turns out very dark, try diluting it 1:1 with water.
  • It may be sprayed directly on the leaves of your plants or poured around the roots and allowed to soak into the soil (I personally prefer using it as a soil drench). If you are applying your tea to a large area, it can be diluted further to make it stretch.

Compost Tea Notes

  • Here’s how to make compost, if you’re new to the idea. I suppose you could buy compost for this recipe, too, but buying compost sounds a wee bit crazy to me. 😉
  • You can also use worm castings for homemade compost tea.
  • Some sources warn against compost tea since they are worried it could harbor dangerous bacteria like salmonella or e.Coli 0157:H7, since these organisms reside in manure. This is why it is important to use finished compost, and not raw manure. Other experts warn not to spray the foliage of a plant if you plant to consume it or its fruit right away. Personally? I’m not too worried about this, but I wanted you to have the full story. Since I’m using compost from my healthy, grass-fed animals, instead of manure from questionable sources, I feel completely comfortable using compost tea in my garden. But in the end, I’ll leave the choice up to you.
  • As mentioned above, my compost pile is a giant pile of horse and cow manure that we turn with the tractor and allow to “cook” until it becomes beautiful, mellow compost. You could absolutely use kitchen compost for your compost tea as well.
  • You can add other stuff to your compost tea, like kelp, molasses, etc, to add various nutrients to the soil if you need them. Me? Well, I like to keep it simple.

homemade compost tea recipeOther DIY Garden Goodness:

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Garlic Scape Pesto Recipe http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2016/07/garlic-scape-pesto-recipe.html http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2016/07/garlic-scape-pesto-recipe.html#comments Tue, 19 Jul 2016 15:50:17 +0000 http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/?p=17047 I avoid shoes whenever possible in the summertime. In fact, if I do find myself in a position where I have to wear shoes and socks for a long while on a stifling summer day, I get pretty grouchy, pretty quickly. Therefore, my favorite summer meals are the ones where I can run outside barefoot […]

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garlic-scape-pesto-recipeI avoid shoes whenever possible in the summertime.

In fact, if I do find myself in a position where I have to wear shoes and socks for a long while on a stifling summer day, I get pretty grouchy, pretty quickly.

Therefore, my favorite summer meals are the ones where I can run outside barefoot and harvest the bulk of the ingredients a few steps from my front door, which is exactly the case for this garlic scape pesto recipe.

Barefoot farming is where its at, y’all. Hmmm… that’d be a good book title, “Barefoot Farming“…

But yeah, back to the garlic scapes.

garlic scapes in garden

Scapes are one of the beautiful bonuses of growing your own garlic. (Because you ARE growing your own garlic this year, right?)

Before the bulbs themselves are ready to pluck from the ground, you’ll find the delightfully elegant scapes growing in curves and swirls high above the leaves of your hardneck garlic plants.

It’s wise to clip them to help the plant put its full resources into the final maturation of the bulb under the ground, but that sure as heck doesn’t mean you have to discard the scapes.

If you’re a garlic fanatic (like me), you’ll be ecstatic to know the scapes carry the same pungent garlic flavor as the bulbs.

It’s like the best two-for-one deal EVAH.

how to cut garlic scapesWhat to Do with Garlic Scapes?

Oh so many options, my friends. SO many options:

  • Grill them
  • Saute them in butter (either alone or with other veggies)
  • Add them to stir-fry for a pop of garlic flavor
  • Mince them up and make compound butter
  • Chop them fine and add to any salad, pasta, casserole, or other recipe that benefits from a fresh garlic flavor
  • Make garlic scape pesto (which we’ll do below…)

How to Harvest Garlic Scapes

You’ll see the scape stalk growing up from the leaves of the garlic plant. Clip it with scissors, or snap it with your fingers down low at the base. Younger scapes are more desirable as they tend to be more tender and mild. However, I used mature scapes in my latest batch of pesto, and simply discarded the tougher, woodier base-portion when I was chopping them. (It reminded me of the woody stalk of an overly-mature asparagus). I also cut off the flower/bulb at the top and gave it to my pigs. Although I know some folks eat that part too.

garlic scape pesto recipeGarlic Scape Pesto Recipe

  • 1 cup garlic scapes, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1/3 cup cashews
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • Sea salt and pepper, to taste

In a food processor, process the garlic scapes and basil for 30 seconds.

Add the nuts and process for another 30 seconds.

Slowly drizzle in the olive oil as you continue to run the food processor.

Add in the parmesan cheese, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Mix and taste, adjusting the salt/pepper as desired.

Use the pesto over fresh homemade pasta (my favorite), use it as a sauce for homemade pizza, or smear it on a bit of crusty bread.

Garlic Scape Pesto Notes:

  • More mature scapes will be spicer, so give them a taste before you make the pesto so you know what you’re working with. Mine were pretty intense, so I added the basil to help mellow things out. However, if you want to omit the basil, you can.
  • You can use pretty much ANY nut in this recipe– walnuts, pine nuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, you name it!
  • Definitely use REAL parmesan cheese here– no weird powdery stuff in the green can, please.
  • Pesto freezes extremely well, and often mellows out a bit in the freezer.
  • If you’re not growing garlic this year, check your farmer’s market for scapes. They are becoming more popular, and it’s likely you can find them there.

5.0 from 1 reviews
Garlic Scape Pesto Recipe
Author: 
 
Ingredients
  • 1 cup garlic scapes, cut into 1" pieces
  • ½ cup fresh basil leaves
  • ⅓ cup cashews
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • ½ teaspoon lemon juice
  • Sea salt and pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. In a food processor, process the garlic scapes and basil for 30 seconds.
  2. Add the nuts and process for another 30 seconds.
  3. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil as you continue to run the food processor.
  4. Add in the parmesan cheese, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Mix and taste, adjusting the salt/pepper as desired.
  5. Use the pesto over fresh homemade pasta (my favorite), use it as a sauce for homemade pizza, or smear it on a bit of crusty bread.

homemade garlic scape pesto recipe

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Honey Baked Peaches with Cream http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2016/07/honey-baked-peaches-recipe.html http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2016/07/honey-baked-peaches-recipe.html#comments Wed, 13 Jul 2016 21:24:10 +0000 http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/?p=17035 I feel kinda silly even calling this a “recipe”… But I felt compelled to share it with ya anyway, because EVERYONE needs this simple little trick in their summer recipe arsenal. You know those days when you have company coming over and you need a quick dessert, but you’ve been out in the garden all day […]

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baked peaches recipe with honey and cream

I feel kinda silly even calling this a “recipe”…

But I felt compelled to share it with ya anyway, because EVERYONE needs this simple little trick in their summer recipe arsenal.

You know those days when you have company coming over and you need a quick dessert, but you’ve been out in the garden all day and cooking is the last thing you want to do. Yeah, this baked peaches recipe is for those times.

honey baked peaches with cream

My other quick summer dessert trick is homemade ice cream, but I call on these baked peaches when I’m feeling even lazier. The other thing I like about them? Presenting a bowl of slightly warm, perfectly golden peaches smothered in cream looks pretty darn gourmet (at least in my world). Your guests will never have to know this is actually your lazy recipe… I’m not gonna tell. Promise.

Oh! I almost forgot– if you have fresh basil in your herb garden, run out an grab a handful for a garnish on your baked peaches. I know– the peach/basil combo might sound strange at first, but it’s actually pretty darn good.

baked peaches recipe with honey and cream

Honey Baked Peaches with Cream

  • Peaches, ripe but not too squishy (1 peach = 1 serving)
  • 1 tablespoon of butter per peach
  • 1 tablespoon of honey (roughly) per peach
  • Fresh cream or vanilla ice cream

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the peaches in half and remove the pit. Place them in the dish, cut side up.

honey roasted peaches

Place 1/2 tablespoon of butter on top of each peach half, and drizzle generously with honey (and in case you’re wondering, no, I do NOT measure…)

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until peaches are soft and turning golden brown on top. I also turned on my broiler and let mine broil for the last 2-3 minutes to get extra color on the top, but this step is optional.

honey roasted peaches

Remove from the oven. If there is cooking liquid in the bottom of the pan, spoon it over the top of the peaches. Allow to cool slightly, and serve with a generous drizzle of heavy cream or scoop of ice cream.

Optional Garnishes: 

Roasted peaches are even more amazing when you garnish them with a bit of fresh, chopped basil or fresh lavender buds… Or cinnamon! A sprinkle of cinnamon would be tasty on these, too.

honey baked peaches with cream

Baked Peaches Notes

  • You’ll want ripe peaches for this recipe, but skip the overly ripe or squishy ones.
  • Instead of heavy cream, you could also top these with homemade vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or mascarpone cheese.

honey baked peaches with cream

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How to Butcher a Chicken http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2016/07/how-to-butcher-a-chicken.html http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2016/07/how-to-butcher-a-chicken.html#comments Thu, 07 Jul 2016 02:45:10 +0000 http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/?p=16918 **WARNING: This post contains graphic photos. Because, well, this is a homesteading blog, and homesteading isn’t always rainbows and butterflies. If you don’t eat meat, I respect that decision, and you won’t hurt my feelings if you click over here to read about these super-awesome fruit & herb slushies instead. However, my family and I […]

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how to butcher a chicken tutorial

**WARNING: This post contains graphic photos. Because, well, this is a homesteading blog, and homesteading isn’t always rainbows and butterflies. If you don’t eat meat, I respect that decision, and you won’t hurt my feelings if you click over here to read about these super-awesome fruit & herb slushies instead. However, my family and I have made the conscious choice to raise and eat meat, and I ask you to respect our choices as well. Comments left with the intention of starting a fight will be promptly deleted.

We’ve been homesteading for 6+ years, and this is the first time we’ve butchered chickens…

That’s almost too embarrassing to announce to the world, but I had a good reason.

You see, even though we’ve raised layers for a long time, Prairie Husband has had a severe allergy to all poultry meat since childhood. Therefore, we had no need to raise meat chickens, since he couldn’t eat chicken (and I never felt like cooking two separate meals). So beef and pork it was. For a loooong time.

HOWEVER.

Last year, upon the advice of some good friends, he visited an NAET practitioner, and the acupuncture technique actually cleared him of his chicken allergy. (I know, I wouldn’t have believed it either, if I hadn’t witnessed it with my own two eyes… It’s insane.) But that’s a topic for another post. 😉

The self-appointed turkey inspection task force
The self-appointed turkey-inspection task force

So there we were–fairly-seasoned homesteaders, yet complete newbies to the meat bird world.

What did we do, you ask?

Well, we created a 5-year plan of learning about meat birds, then taking some courses in meat bird farming, and then a couple of home-butchering courses, with the culmination being our first batch of birds here on the homestead, sometime in the next 5-10 years.

Wait a second. You didn’t actually believe that, did you? Surely you know me better than that. 😉

Nah, rather we ran down to the feed store, grabbed some assorted meat chicks, and decided to figure this baby out– trial and error style.

Now that butchering day is over, I figured it was time to share some of our adventure with y’all. No, I don’t even remotely claim to be an expert, but I figured you might like to see some of our process, and some of the things we want to improve on for next time.

how to butcher a chicken tutorial

But before I dive into the specifics, I want to address a part of butchering that inevitably comes up every time I mention harvesting animals on the blog:

Is it easy to kill something you’ve raised? No, it’s not. And I don’t relish in taking a life. However, we have chosen to eat meat (for many reasons), and if we’re going to eat it, I believe I should be willing to participate in the process of producing it. In fact, I think anyone who eats meat needs to take part of the process at least once. Far too many folks never give their meat a thought, thinking the neatly wrapped styrofoam packages at the store somehow magically erase the fact the meat inside the cellophane came from a living, breathing creature. I’ve explored this whole concept of ethical meat-eating and production over here, if you are still working through the concept.

kids-chicken-butchering

And as far as the Prairie Kids go, we don’t hide death from them. They understand that any meat we eat used to be alive, and they are full-aware the pork chops on the table came from the pigs and the burger came from the red steer, etc. We don’t act like butchering is gross or scary, so they don’t either. They were present on the day we butchered these chickens, and they watched for a while and asked questions (Prairie Girl was especially interested in the anatomy part–it was a great homeschool science lesson). And when we roasted the first bird from our harvest, they were both extremely excited to know it was one of “our” chickens.

OK… enough of the heavy stuff. Let’s talk equipment!

killing cone for butchering chickens

Prairie Husband was quite adamant that if we were going to have a meat bird operation, we were going to do it right. So we made the choice to invest in some high-quality equipment that will last us through many, many butchering days:

how to butcher a chicken tutorial

(This post contains affiliate links)

Equipment for Butchering Chickens:

  • A killing cone (a calmer, more humane alternative to the ax method)
  • Several buckets for blood, innards, feathers, etc.
  • Hose/sprayer or other water source to rinse workspace and birds
  • Very sharp knives (we like this one)
  • Poultry shears (to remove head)
  • A turkey fryer (to scald the birds and make plucking easier)
  • Stainless steel table(s), or other clean, easy-to-sanitize surface
  • Heat shrink bags (reduces freezer burn and gives you a professional end result)
  • Large cooler filled with ice (to cool the birds before you bag them)

How to Butcher A Chicken

how to butcher a chicken tutorial

Prep:

The night before, withhold feed from the birds to ensure they have an empty crop before you start.

On butchering day, take the time to get your set-up how you want it–this will save you some serious hassle later. We made an assembly line of sorts (killing cone > scald > plucking table > evisceration table > cooler with ice), and even though we just did a small batch this time around, it made things flow much smoother.

If you are scalding, (which I do recommend), begin heating the water now. You’ll want it 150-160 degrees– which hot enough to help the feathers release easily, but without cooking the bird.

how to butcher a chicken tutorial

Killing:

Once your set-up is complete, catch a bird and place it in the cone, with a bucket underneath to catch the blood. We had the the bird’s belly facing the wall  (inside the cone). Grasp the head, and use a (sharp!) knife to make a quick cut to the side of the bird’s jaw (jugular).

Hold the head to allow the blood to drain completely into the bucket. Wait until the bird stops moving.

scalding a chicken

Scalding:

Once the blood has drained (this will take a minute or two), immediately dunk the bird into the scalding water–you can use a hook to swish it around, or just hold it by its feet. Depending on the temp of your water, it will likely take 3-4 minutes for the bird to be ready. You’ll know it’s ready when you can pinch the skin of the shank of the foot and it comes off easily. Or, you can grab a few feathers– if they come out with minimal effort, it means you’re ready to pluck.

plucking a chicken

Plucking:

Removed the scalded bird and place it on the plucking table. Prairie Husband plans to add a mechanical plucker to our equipment inventory, but we couldn’t order one in time, so we just did it the old-fashioned way. Basically, you grab feathers and pull them out. It’s just as glamorous as it sounds. We found wearing rubber gloves and swiping up and down the skin once most of the bigger feathers were gone helped to grab some of the smaller, more stubborn feathers.

plucking-table

Cleaning:

Cut the head off (we used the shears for this), and then cut off the legs. If you cut at the “valley” of the joint, you can avoid the bones and get a clean cut. (Hitting bone with your knife will dull it.) You can also clean and save the feet for chicken stock, if you wish.

There is an oil gland on the back end of the bird that will taint the taste of your meat if it ruptures, so you’ll want to remove it. Slice down behind it, and then “scoop” out with your knife to remove it, like this—>

removing oil gland

Eviscerating:

Make a slice in the skin with your knife above the breastbone at the base of the neck.

eviscerating chicken

Tear down with your thumb to find the crop, windpipe and esophagus. If you forgot to withhold feed from the birds, you’ll find a full crop. Be careful not to rupture it. (If you accidentally do, just rinse off the partially digested feed before continuing.) Bring the esophagus and windpipe out of the neck cavity, and break the connective tissue around the crop. However, do not pull this assembly out completely– leave it attached.

The esophagus and windpipe
The esophagus and windpipe

process-chickens

With the bird still laying on its back, flip it 180 degrees so you can work on the back end. Cut right above the vent, and tear open the carcass with both hands. Put your hand into the carcass, pull the fat off the gizzard, and then hook your finger down and around the esophagus. Pull this out– you should have a handful of connected internal organs now. Cut down either side of the vent and underneath to remove all the guts, in one pull. Now go back in to remove the lungs and windpipe, or anything else that didn’t quite come out the first time.

cut-vent

butchering-chickens-3

evisceration-chicken

Make a slice in the excess skin that’s hanging off the back cavity, and then tuck the legs up through the hole so you have a nice little package.

butchering-chickens-2

chicken-legs

Chilling:

Once each bird is finish, place it in a cooler filled with ice. (Or if you have fridge space, you can chill them in there). It’s important to chill the birds as quickly as possible and to keep them cold. Some people recommend chilling for 16-24 hours before you wrap and freeze. However, we didn’t have enough ice to make this happen, so we only chilled ours for 6 hours.

shrink-wrap

Bagging:

Now you’ll want to wrap, label, and put in the freezer. We used heat shrink bags to prevent freezer burn and they give a really nice finished product. You’ll want to follow the directions on the bags you get, but you basically place the chicken in the bag, dunk it in boiling water for a few seconds, and then tie tightly. Place in the freezer and you’re done!

In a future post we’ll talk about how to save the extra organs and bits– but today’s post is long enough already.

What We’ll do Differently Next Time:

  • More chickens. More, more, more! Now that we have our first batch under our belt, we’ll do a larger group next time. I’d like to raise two batches a year, ideally.
  • Get a mechanical plucker. Once I saw how fast it was, I couldn’t deny it’d definitely be worth its weight in gold.
  • Maybe get a table top with a sink, to make rinsing easier.
  • Get more Cornish Cross birds, versus the Red Rangers we mostly had this time around. The Cornish Cross meat yield was DRASTICALLY different. I’ll dive deeper into this topic in a later post.

Other Helpful Chicken Butchering Resources

how to butcher a chicken tutorial

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