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Gulf Coast Winter Farming

January 29, 2016

IMG_4540It is late January and this is the busiest time of the year for this farmer. I am starting to plant spring broccoli and pak choi, 1500 tomato plants need to be bumped up to 3″ pots and the hoop house they are going in needs some repairs. I am potting basil, separating lemongrass and grafting persimmons. In a couple of weeks I will begin grafting citrus.
Right now is the time to prune all the dormant fruit trees and grapes.
I have to keep my baby chicks at 95˚, which is sooo easy in the summer, but today it requires some extra monitoring.
It is lambing season and though the Gulf Coast Native ewes do all the work, giving birth on pasture, cleaning them up and nursing them, we spend some time weighing the babies, recording info, tagging ears and monitoring the mamas’ health. And heck–just looking. That’s what the blue chairs are for. I consider that work.
Nursing ewes are always requesting some alfalfa pellets and they drink a lot of water. Yesterday morning the hoses were frozen, making me truck water from the house. It was only 29˚ and they were thawed by 9:00. The weather has been glorious this winter.
Fruit trees are selling out, we are running low on lamb meat and the broiler chickens will be sold out before the new ones are ready.
Add to that the fact that the sun is only up about 10 hours a day. Ten beautiful hours.
In the north winter is a time to sit inside as much as possible and plan. For me that would be August.
This is a great job.

Pastured Lamb and Chicken at the Farmers Market

January 21, 2016

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I will have a limited amount of lamb meat available this Saturday at the Eastside Farmers Market. We raise Gulf Coast Native sheep, noted in the Slow Foods Ark of Taste. “Meat of the Gulf Coast sheep is extremely tender, moist and balanced with a mild, clean earth flavor.”
Chef John Besh in his “My New Orleans” cookbook, calls the meat “leaner, richer, and more flavorful…”
The Gulf Coast sheep are also listed as critical by the Livestock Conservancy
http://www.livestockconservancy.org/index.php/heritage/internal/gulf-coast
Gulf Coast Native Sheep

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I will also have whole, pastured, organically fed, freedom ranger chickens, raised by the “Label Rouge” production standards, a grassroots, chef and farmer driven program the French introduced in response to the factory chicken.
Local, Pastured, Organically Fed Chicken

Buy Local and keep millions of dollars in our economy

December 11, 2015

DSCN0900Even though it is 68˚ at 4:30 am on December 11, people are preparing for the Christmas season and often that entails spending money on gifts, food and decoration this time of year. If you spend your money at a department store or supermarket, most of that money goes out of the area to middle men, trucking companies, China, Mexico…
If you spend the money on something produced locally and sold at a farmers market or many local shops, most of that money will be recirculated in the community.
We used to write on past due invoices at my old company, “Please pay us, so we can pay him, so he can pay you.” Money moves, and when you can help direct where it moves, it benefits friends and neighbors.
If 10% of the people in the greater Houston area spent $100 for locally produced Christmas goods this year, over $50 million would be recirculated in the local economy.
If 1% of the people in the greater Houston area were to spend $50 per week at a farm or farmers market for an entire year, that would contribute about $130 million per year to our local economy. That would support a lot of farms.
We consumers make a lot of decisions that effect our economy. We often complain about the federal reserve, congress and the jobs in America, but consumers choose where to spend some of their money. Don’t send money to China or Wall Street this year.
Invest in your local farms and shops.
Whether it is fruit trees, gift certificates, art, meat, cheese or vegetables, make sure some of it is locally produced.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays, Happy Kwanzaa, and enjoy the solstice.

Beaver Wars

November 27, 2015

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When we bought our farm, we were assured that this pond had never gone dry and, sure enough, it did not during the 2011 drought. This year the water level has increased by two feet. The pond drains out to a small creek to the west side in a heavily wooded area and we have assumed for some time that a dam had been built on that creek, and we theorized that beavers were the experts at work. Now we know. We planted this cypress ten years ago, so that beaver has started a war.
Beaver pelts anyone?

Fear and hate are not American or Christian values

November 16, 2015

In 1972 I was driving a group of actors from Berea College through Alabama. We were touring a production of James Baldwin’s “Amen Corner” to Talledega College. All the actors were black. We were in a loaned white limo. George Wallace was running for president on a segregationist platform. At one long stop, due to construction delays, two men with flattop haircuts were putting “Wallace for President” stickers on passing cars. When all the tinted windows rolled down and they saw a limo full of black people, they played up the process and it inspired David and Francis to get out of the car and confront them. In 1972, if you were openly gay, you were quite flamboyant and these guys were truly actors to the core. They pranced around these men, who could snap them easily, talking a mile a minute until I got out and threatened to leave them. I was a bit nervous but I quickly noticed that the two men were seriously scared. Not only had two black men invaded their personal space, but two gay black men. Fear is the harbinger of hate.
It is sad that some Americans are willing to turn their backs on our values out of fear. Many of these governors, preachers and social media posters claim to be Christians. If Christ and all the early Christians had let fear cower them into a corner like our Texas governor is doing, Christianity would not be a choice we have. They welcomed the immigrant and spread their beliefs to the Romans. And doing so was not safe.
Values are something you don’t just have when it is convenient. Our country has always welcomed the refugee that is fleeing political turmoil. It is even more important for us to welcome people fleeing conditions when we share in the blame.
From before the time that the CIA overthrew Iran’s democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossaddegh and installed the brutal Shah Pahlavi as dictator in 1953, until now as we try and finish a war against our previous favorite despot, Saddam Hussein, the west has exported war and suppression to the middle east and supplied billions of dollars of weapons that are being used by all sides of each conflict. The fact that most of the young people in the area know more about war than they know about peace is partially a product of our creation.
Of course, we need to know the refugees. Nothing connects most of these Syrian refugees to ISIS except that they are fleeing ISIS. I, too, would flee. Most of the ISIS fighters are not Syrian and many of them are from western countries. Should we now ban Belgium citizens from Texas after they were connected to the Paris attacks?
The desire to keep muslim refugees from entering the US is about hate and fear.
I have many casual acquaintances who are muslim. They shop at my market. I have taught a seminar at an Islamic school to attentive, intelligent children. Immigrants add vitality to our economy and fit in easily in a town like Houston.
My values have not changed due to these unpleasant realities. I grew up with Christian values of love and compassion and they are too engrained in me to resort to hate.
ISIS must be stopped, but hate will not do the job, it will only generate more radicals.
I truly do not understand people who want to punish those who are fleeing these brutal terrorists. One thing for sure–the Americans that harbor this hate of Islam do not hold Christian or American values.
It is anger and disenfranchisement that are leading these young people to terrorism. Religion is only a crutch, where they cherry pick a bit here and a bit there, the way some Christians do, to validate their actions.
It might be best that our response is measured and well thought out. Not an angry attempt to disenfranchise more of them.

Now, as Christmas is approaching, let us remember that Mary and Joseph were Middle Eastern refugees.

Planting non- tropical fruit trees in Texas

November 13, 2015

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DSCN0289Non-tropical fruit trees are usually planted when the tree is going dormant, the weather has cooled off a bit and the ground is moist but not saturated. The best chance of having good conditions is late November, December, January and February in Texas. This gives the tree time to acclimate before it starts putting on leaves in the spring. Most fruit trees like full sun, but berries and muscadines can do well in partial shade, and can, therefore, be used as an understory plant.
For blueberries see my earlier post on planting blueberries.
For all other trees, muscadines and berries that I sell:
Remove the weeds and grass in a five foot diameter circle. In the center dig a hole twice as wide and just the depth of the pot or, for bare root trees, large enough to spread all the roots out without bending them. Keep the graft (if grafted) a few inches above the ground. Make sure the ground drains. Fill the hole with water and if it does not drain in 3 or 4 hours you must build a raised bed. Spread about one cup of rock phosphate or bone meal in the bottom of the hole. Remove the plant from the pot and set it so that it is the same depth in the ground as it was in the pot, or even an inch higher. For bare root trees, make sure all the roots are below ground and the graft is a few inches above. Replace the same soil you took out of the hole around the plant, working in another cup of phosphate. You do not want fertilizer or compost in this soil. You want the roots to grow out far and wide seeking nutrients. Water thoroughly. Put five gallons of compost around the tree 6” from the trunk out to 2’. Mulch the five foot diameter area with at least 3” deep mulch. Make sure the mulch does not touch the trunk of the tree, as this will create a habitat for fungus and insects.
The first year they require frequent watering, equivalent to an inch of rain a week in the spring and fall. In the summer in Texas, they require twice weekly soakings the first year.
I sell fruit trees at the Urban Harvest Farmers Market on the second and fourth Saturday of each month. This is the inventory as of Nov.13.
Fertilization schedule

Caribbean stew chicken

October 28, 2015

This chicken recipe is simple. It just has a lot of ingredients.

One large sustainably raised, pastured, Laughing Frog Farm chicken.

Process the following marinade in a blender or food processor:
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon Ponzu sauce
1 tablespoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1.5 tablespoon allspice
4 large garlic cloves
1 inch piece ginger chopped
1 medium onion cut
4 scallions roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
5 or six sprigs of cilantro
5 or 6 sprigs of thyme (1 tablespoon if dried)
4 tablespoons vinegar
1 habanero pepper

Cut the chicken into pieces about the size of a thigh or smaller, remove skin and coat the chicken with the marinade. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight.

Heat the oven to 325˚

In a dutch oven heat 1 tablespoon oil and 3 tablespoons of sugar over medium heat on the stove, stirring constantly, until foaming and changing color. The resulting caramel will get dark brown. Add chicken pieces to the pot coating the chicken with the caramel. Add remaining marinade. Dust the chicken with about 2 tablespoons of flour, tossing in the pan. There should not be much liquid left, it should be a paste. Add enough water to coat the chicken. Stir, cover and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Let the dish rest for 30 minutes.

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