The Nutrition of Spinach & Garden Gossip

Spinach is something we have been eating a lot of lately, and I wanted to add it to our list of nutritional content articles.

1 cup of raw spinach contains the following nutritional content.

  • calories 6.9
  • carbohydrates 1.1 g
  • protein 0.9 g
  • Vitamin A   2813 IU 

  • Vitamin C   8.4 mg
  • Vitamin K  145 mcg
  • Folate   58.2 mcg
  • Choline   5.4 mcg
  • Betaine   165 mcg
  • Calcium   29.7 mg
  • Magnesium   23.7 mg
  • Phosphorus   14.7 mg
  • Potassium    167 mg
  • Sodium    23.7 mg
  • Omega-3 fatty acids    41.4 mg
  • Omega-6 fatty acids    7.8 mg

As you can see, spinach packs a good amount of nutrition into one cup. When we start getting more sunshine and less rain, I expect our little seedlings will finally grow into the normal, large plants I have been hoping to see for about a month now.

I have planted some more seeds in the last week. Some of them will go in the herb bed, but some will hopefully go in our salads. The new tubs of seeds include spinach, lettuce, baby greens, celeriac, parsley (which we have been eating in salads and the goats have been eating once a week to help expel worms), boneset, feverfew, moonflowers, psyllium, sweet woodruff, cayenne peppers, arnica, borage and fennel. We are also going to have to replant our pinto beans, which we will use for green beans and pintos, because there has only been one come up. And some day, if it ever quits raining four or five days a week, I can do some serious weeding and finish planting the last few rows of the new part of the garden.

This patch of turnips is sharing way too much space with the grass and weeds.

It is interesting how our tastes and interests change over time. We have always grown corn and potatoes in the past, now we are turning toward plants with more concentrated nutrients, like beans, cowpeas and greens. We do have about a dozen volunteer potatoes coming up from last year, which we are letting grow. It will be interesting to see how they produce. Learn all you can about producing your own food, then put it into practice. We have been gardening in this spot for six years now and no two years have been the same. The weather has been different, the insect pests have been different, and the harvest has been different. There is always much to learn. 

For example, the past two years the slug population has really taken off. Yesterday, I placed some scrap 2 x 4’s around in the garden to encourage the slugs to gather under them so I could ‘harvest’ them in the mornings. There were a few under the boards, but you could see dozens of them just sliming around on the ground. Once the plants are grown, they will still be there, I just won’t be able to see them. So, I have decided to treat them like the pest they are and try to ‘harvest’ as many as I can each morning and put them in the chicken bucket. This will hopefully help deter their population in the garden, and feed the chickens at the same time. I probably picked close to 100 slugs this morning alone. Yuck! There were several fat, happy ones that were making quick work of the new squash plants that are just poking their heads out of the ground. I didn’t take their picture.

Taking pictures of the garden from the porch while it rains.

Like everyone else, I can’t wait for the harvest to begin in earnest. We put very little food up last year due to surgeries and illness, and we hope to more than make up for that this summer. In the meantime, we are also working on a few major projects involving the house. Wait, a news flash. Frank just told me that after Tuesday, there is no rain forecast for Wednesday, Thursday or Friday! Yahoo! Everyone around here is more than ready for the puddles and mud to dry up at least a bit, and be blessed with the touch of the sun. 

Until next time – Fern

Please Help Us Grow Cabbage

Cabbage is one of those vegetables that we have not been successful growing, at all. The small green cabbage worms are the nemesis of our crop every time. I thought when I tried growing some this fall, there might not be any of the moths left to get the worm crop started, but that was not the case. These wonderful little worms appear to be able to grow anytime during the spring, summer or fall here. I was able to pick enough of the worms off of the fall broccoli plants to keep them alive, but not the cabbage.

Really sad, huh?

I have read about floating row covers to protect the plants from the moths, attracting paper wasps, using Bt and picking the worms and feeding them to your chickens. It seems that once the garden gets going in the spring, I get busy and don’t keep up with the worms, even though the chickens really enjoy them. I would prefer not to use a floating row cover, as it could provide endless hours of entertainment for our cats to the detriment of the plants. I am a big fan of companion planting, but so far the combinations I have tried have not been effective, or the plants grew at different rates, so the companions weren’t large enough to make any difference.

The most common kind of cabbage I have grown to date usually look like this. One of the first posts I did when we started the blog last year was “Don’t Grow Cabbage Like This“, and this picture was the star of the show. This one actually got off to a fairly good start, but in the end, succumbed to the worms, even with a zinnia growing next door.

Frank and I have started trying to eat healthier and consume fewer carbohydrates, so we have added many more vegetables to our daily consumption. I have also revisited my research about lacto-fermented vegetables and purchased a fermenting crock. One of the main vegetables recommended for fermenting is cabbage, which provides another reason for successfully growing our own cabbage instead of consuming what we buy at the store. But, for now, that is all we have access to, so we are purchasing cabbage.

We do like to eat cabbage, we just wish it could be our own.

Another motivation for growing cabbage is how well it will store and keep for longer periods of time than other vegetables. If we were able to master producing cabbage in enough quantities, we could store some for the winter months for fresh eating, keep some in the fermentation crock and can some for soups and other dishes.

So, as you can tell, we need help, and there are probably other folks out there that are frustrated and could use your help, also. Please share your experiences, techniques and advice with us here. All comments are appreciated. And in the process, maybe we can all learn something new.

Until next time – Fern

Chicken in the Freezer……Finally

We ran out of our chicken meat some time ago. You see, just like Frank tried to explain yesterday, things don’t always go according to plan, even when you’ve been homesteading for 30 years……

We followed our regularly planned, annual production run of chicken meat this spring, i.e. hatched and purchased baby chicks, with birth coinciding for ease of housing and raising them all together. Everything went according to plan…..until Frank had a serious upper respiratory infection. The chicks stayed in the stock tank brooder much longer than we planned, but finally made it out to the chicken house. They made the transition to a lot more room just fine…….for a while. Then the cannibalism problem cropped up, and in greater proportion than we had ever had. At the first signs of it, we doctored and separated as needed, just like we always had….but it didn’t work. We lost about six or eight birds in a couple of days. We had never seen anything like it. Finally, we killed all of the roosters, which appeared to be the major culprits. That’s what happens to major deviant behavior, it has to be removed. Maybe our world leaders should take some notes. Anyway……

Because of the problems that batch of birds had, staying in the brooder too long, then cannibalism, we decided we would not keep any of them in the long run. We ended up with 15 hens that managed to behave themselves long enough to make it to laying age. That’s where we are now. They are just starting to lay. But our long term plans to get rid of them are still in place. So, back when we made that decision, we ordered 25 brown egg layers which are now three months old. We found some folks that wanted some new layers for winter, so we sold them eight of the problem batch, keeping six for our own layers until the young ones are old enough. Then the final six will go as well, or that is the plan for now.

That finally brings us up to butchering time. We thought about selling the extra young hens, but they aren’t bringing much and we didn’t know anyone else that wanted them. So we decided to butcher them. We don’t usually butcher hens, but this time things changed…..again. You see, things don’t always work out the way you plan, and in a survival situation that can be very critical. If at all possible, redundancy can mean the difference between life and death. Other options for food, clothing, protection, water, heating, and shelter need to be thought about, if not prepared in advance. If you can. Just in case.

We received 10 white hens in our batch of 25, which is a large proportion. The thing is, we don’t like white birds. They are pretty enough, but white is the first color human and predator eyes notice. White is not a natural color for birds in nature unless they change to white for the winter up north, like the Ptarmigan or Snowy Owls. We prefer all of our animals, chickens, cats and goats to be a more natural color to blend in with nature. The exception is our Great Pyrenees, Pearl, and we would actually prefer she be another color, but after all, she is a Pyrenees.

Before we decided to butcher hens, we talked about not having any chicken in the freezer, and we only have one lonely jar of our canned chicken left. We still wanted a supply of chicken. So we ordered 25 day old, mixed heavy roosters. Just for meat. Well, if there is a stunning rooster in the bunch we may keep him and replace our Barred Rock rooster, we’ll see. These chicks arrived a couple of days ago. They are all named variations of Drumstick. The hatchery even sent a couple of Turkens in this batch, and they sure are ugly! 

When we looked at all the hens we had, there were just too many birds. So we sold 8, butchered 11, got down to 21, then got 25 in the mail, and ended up with more than we started with. Hmmm…..that is just how it goes sometimes. Things don’t always go according to the best laid plans. Prepare for that.

Butchering the 10 hens reduced our flock to 20 hens, 14 of them young. Having 2 roosters, would then be too many, so we picked one to stay and one to eat. That made 10 young hens and one six month old rooster to butcher. The morning we chose to butcher, Pearl came up with an eye abrasion that necessitated a trip to the vet. We had already been doctoring it with triple antibiotic ointment, but it wasn’t doing the trick, and that morning, it was much worse. Things don’t always go according to plan. Once we got her home and situated, it was time for lunch and our morning butchering session had been moved to the afternoon. We had gathered the chickens up the night before and put them in a pen. They had a longer wait than usual, but it couldn’t be helped. We do this to help their intestines empty out somewhat. It makes them easier to gut without leakage into the body cavity.

If you do not want to see some of our butchering process, please do not view the following pictures. The choice is yours.

We choose to use an ax when butchering our chickens. This routine has been tweaked over many years and many, many chickens. Initially, I would hold the head, and Frank the feet, as he chopped off the head. He was uncomfortable with how close my hand was to the landing of the ax, so we devised a simple noose to hold the head, which works very well and increases our safety. When we begin this task we always thank the animal for the food it is providing, and say a prayer of thanksgiving and a request for safety.

Since we had not butchered chickens in a while, we had forgotten a few details of the routine, like Frank’s gloves. The very first chicken, once we had relieved it of it’s head, curled up and started ‘pecking’ Frank on the wrist with it’s neck. Yuck! It managed to ‘get away’ and not land in the trash can we use for them to bang around in until their muscles quit jerking. So, you know that old saying, “Running around like a chicken with your head cut off.” That’s what happened. But we caught it by stepping on it’s feet. Interesting. Then it happened again with the last bird, the extra rooster. He managed to escape the trash can as well and bounced off the side of the garage and both vehicles leaving blood in his wake before we had him caught and safely ensconced again. This required a quick session with the water hose before cleaning the carcasses could commence. It just wouldn’t do to have the blood drying everywhere the rooster chose to decorate. Things don’t always go according to plan. 

As birds age, they get harder to skin. We don’t pluck them, we skin them, which is much easier and faster. It is one thing we will change when the SHTF because the skin is another source of food. And unless we plan to can up a batch, we won’t be butchering this many at once then. The six month old rooster was much harder to skin than the three month old hens. The connective tissue that attaches the skin to the muscle needs to be cut away in many places slowing down the process. If we had very many older birds to butcher, we would only do about five at a time. You can easily skin and dress out 10 young birds in the time it takes to do five older ones. This rooster will be baked slowly like a turkey, otherwise it would be very tough. The young hens make great fryers. 

I always use a knife with a guard to prevent slippage and injury.

We dressed out the birds on the tailgate of the truck, replacing the saw horses and plywood of the past, which works well. I did the rooster first, because I knew he would take much longer. I wanted to end up with the hens which were much quicker and easier. 

After they are all dressed, rinsed and soaking in a sink of cold water, we do the final washing and get ready to package them for the freezer. When we first started butchering our own chickens, we froze the carcass whole. This took up more space and allowed for freezer burn due to the airspace. We know many folks that use a vacuum sealer for all of their meat and vegetables. We have looked into them over the years, but in our effort to remain frugal, have never invested in one. The replacement bags have to be kept on hand and cost more than we care to pay.

Now we cut the birds up into these pieces, nest the parts together to allow for as little airspace as possible and double wrap them in plastic wrap. This box of wrap came here with us from Alaska six years ago. I don’t remember how many years we used it there before we moved, but it seems to last forever and is very inexpensive. Then, we wrap them in newspaper we save, seal with masking tape and mark it with the date. The rooster gets a circled ‘R’ for roasting. The rest are left with just the date to indicate fryers.

We really enjoyed our meal of fresh, homegrown fried chicken. It has been a long time since we were able to sit down to this meal. If you have never had homegrown chicken, you will be surprised at the difference in the taste and texture, and once you get accustomed to eating homegrown, store bought just doesn’t hold a candle to it.

The weight of a twelve week old homegrown bird is about half of a six week old store bought bird. That is because of all of the steroids, antibiotics and genetic engineering of production birds. We feel much better about eating our own meat that is fed a different ration from our recipe along with daily meals of comfrey, turnip greens, kale, other garden scraps and fresh goat milk or whey. They get to scratch around in the dirt and eat the passing bug. Once we make a few more modifications to some gates, they will also be able to range and increase their natural intake even more.

L to R: Two 3 month old hens vs. 6 month old rooster

We wanted to share our chicken story to help folks realize it is very possible to raise your own meat and eggs, but also to let you know that even after raising chickens for 30 years, things don’t always go according to the best laid plans. And when they don’t, there needs to be alternative plans that can accomplish the same goals in a different way. We all need to have the flexibility to change plans in midstream when the need arises. It won’t do to run around like a chicken with your head cut off yelling the sky is falling. Not if you want to survive.

Until next time – Fern

P.S. Fiona, over at Confessions of a Crazed Cattlewoman has started updating her blog. She and her husband, Ralph, are sharing the process they are going through to locate and set up a new homestead. Please take a look and share in their adventures.

What Eating Out Does To Us

It makes us really sick, well kinda sick. You know, when you feel real yucky and just want to sit on the couch and say, “Uugghh. I don’t feel good.” Over the past five or six years we have noticed a growing trend in our stomachs, or maybe a growing trend in the prepared food supply. There are very few places we will eat out anymore. Not that many establishments don’t serve good tasting food, it’s just that there is something about the food that doesn’t set well with our digestive systems. Something to ponder.

We noticed it first with fast food burger places, which we really like, we always have. Over time, it got to where we just couldn’t stop there anymore without feeling bad for the rest of the day. That narrowed down the places we eat quite a bit. We have never been the kind that go to expensive restaurants just to say we did, and we seldom ate out anyway. We would rather eat at home or just grab something to tide us over until we get home. Every so often we would get something to eat just because we didn’t feel like cooking, but not often. Some of this routine came from living in remote, bush Alaska where there were no places to eat at all. You fed yourself or didn’t eat. Even if there were days we didn’t feel like cooking, too bad. Fix it yourself or don’t eat. That’s when we discovered Banquet fried chicken. We could still have it flown in from the store 25 miles away. It was already frozen so it didn’t matter that it was 30 degrees below zero outside. Otherwise we would just cook extra whatever – pizza, lasagna, green bean casserole – and freeze the extras in meal size portions.

What we have discovered, or our theory on it anyway, is that the additives like MSG on top of the GMO quality of most prepared foods, just don’t set well with us anymore. We think one of the reasons for this is that we have very consciously tried to eliminate these items from our own food preparations. I guess we have been successful to the point that when we do consume some of these products, it upsets our 

systems. That is a good thing and a bag thing. Good that we have been able to eliminate so many things from our diets, bad that when we do need to eat somewhere else, it makes us sick. All the more reason to eat at home.

From left to right: Winter squash pie with frozen Cushaw from last summer; fresh ground wheat bread; wild cherries picked yesterday, kefir in the making; eggs for the dog; mozzarella thawing out; and a lunch of fresh picked squash, onions, carrots and potatoes. Now that the garden is producing pretty well, we tend to have meals like this. For breakfast we had scrambled eggs, a glass of goat milk with peaches and pears we canned last summer. 

We’ve gotten to the point where we seldom go to a grocery store, and that’s really nice. We have plenty to eat here in season, and plenty canned on the shelf for out of season. I guess it just surprises me at the difference homegrown food can make in your overall health and well-being. We long dreamed of being able to produce our own food, and are now finally able to reap the benefits of that dream. One of the unexpected side effects of dreams come true, is finding out that the food we used to eat all of the time, now makes us sick. Interesting. Very interesting.

Until next time – Fern

Canning Squash & Green Beans

The garden is starting to produce and we were looking for another new adventure in canning so we decided to can squash and green beans. We canned a whole five pints of green beans last year – for the very first time. This year we hope to do many more. We had plenty of yellow crookneck squash last summer that we made into relish. It is good, but you can only eat so much. So this summer we are canning plain squash. It will get very soft, but will be more versatile in it’s use – casseroles, soups, breads, etc.

This is our first harvest large enough to fill the canner, even though it is not one vegetable. Pints of green beans need to be pressure canned for 20 minutes and squash for 25 minutes, both at 10 lbs. of pressure. So I am going to do both together for 25 minutes so I can fill the canner with 16 pints.

It was a rather crowded day in the kitchen with cheese drying and in the press, but it’s that time of year.

I started off by cutting up the squash in about 1/2 inch chunks.

Next we snapped the green beans. Some of the larger ones had strings that we removed when we ran across them. They don’t seem to make any difference when you cook them and eat them so we weren’t worried about them. We are adding 1/2 teaspoon of salt to each pint jar. The cheese presses had to move to the table for a while so we could fill the jars.

We have water boiling to heat the jars and cover the vegetables once the jars are filled, the lids and rings are simmering and the canner is set up and ready to go.

 Fill each jar with green beans or squash leaving 1/2 inch head space. Cover with boiling water. Put on rings and lids and place in the canner. Process for 25 minutes at 10 lbs. pressure.

The evening sun was coming in the window as we were taking the jars out of the canner. Beautiful, huh?

We had a few green beans left and decided to add some squash to them and fill up the last jar. We ate this jar the next day just to see how everything turned out. The squash is very soft but tastes just fine – good, in fact. The beans are wonderful – good texture and more flavorful than the ones we get at the store – and we grew them. 

It is always amazing to us how much better homegrown tastes than store bought. We know our food is grown on ground that is fertile and natural. We use no chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. We do use barnyard and chicken yard, along with hay, and we do still buy commercial feed. So the least natural ingredients come from the feed our animals consume. But we’re working on it. One step at a time. If we try to do too many things at once we become overwhelmed and everything grinds to a halt.

Take one more small step to becoming more self-sufficient, wherever you live, whatever your circumstances. Become comfortable with that step, then take another…..and another…….and another. And before you know it, you’ll have come a long way. Enjoy the journey. The blessings to be had are innumerable and immeasurable.

Until next time – Fern