As our farm and market grows, we’re stepping up in 2018 to a full-service online home to provide our customers with more info and a variety of payment options. New blog posts and all prouct info will be found at www.michaelfamilyfarm.com.
Loads and loads of leaf mulch.
Once we’re through the holidays, it’s garden season here in North Carolina, so we’re getting ready to plow. The local lead collector dropped off 5 truck loads of leaf mulch last week and the boys have been collecting manure from the pasture and barn, and the chicken coop will be cleaned out soon, so we’ll have some big, new compost piles starting for next year, while also plowing and tilling a few inches of leaf mulch and manure into all of the gardens to sit until March. I plow a good 8-9″ deep each January and bury all this mulch. The following year, when I plow again, it’s dark and broken down and pulled back up to the top, improving the soil year by year. With the cows’ manure and chicken litter, we don’t need any chemicala fertilizers.
One issue I’m looking into this year is water quality. I’ve joked around in past years, saying that when it rains, the gardens are visibly improved and I haven’t thought much about the negative effect that our well water may have on the gardens. I’m planning to pump water from the pond to the gardens this year and see if there’s a difference.
This summer, we added a new 3 acre pasture, cleared and well-fenced. Big project for a family, but we got it done and it looks great. We put up a 39″ woven wire fence, an inch or two off the ground, and then added a barbed wired at 48″, creating a 48″ pasture fence that can keep any livestock in or out. I also arranged so that a strand of electric fence can be run around the top, middle and/or bottom of the fence if needed. It took our Great Pyrenees (Clovis) two days to find a way out of it, so I know it works well (he had to climb the gate). Definitely not a cheap fence, but the money we save from buying hay will pay it off over time.
I designed the fence and did all the detail work. My teenage sons dug the posts, cemented the posts and built the braces, which was amazingly helpful. My wife made supply runs as we went along and brought ice pops out to us as we worked. My daughters and younger sons helped me as I stretched the fence and barbed wire, made splices, and fastened it all and made water runs. Can’t guess how many thousands of dollars we saved and I think we did a better job than a fence company would do because I was able to make sure every spot was tight and clean.
Sour dough bread baking is divided into 2 sessions, making preparation ideal for the busy woman. The night before, the starter is mixed with a few other ingredients to create the sponge. The sponge sits overnight in a warm place, allowing the starter to work its magic. In the morning, the sponge will have risen double in size and be alive and bubbly. A bit of the sponge is taken out and added back into the crock and a few more ingredients are mixed into the sponge. The dough is kneaded, shaped into loaves, given a second rising and then baked.
Sour Dough Bread
The night before:
- 8 cups flour
- 1 cup starter
- 2 cups warm water (about 100 degrees)
- 2 tsp sugar
- 2 tsp salt
- In a large bowl, add 4 cups of the flour, starter, warm water, sugar and salt. Stir well with a large wooden spoon. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and set in a warm place to rise overnight. (A warm spot in the kitchen or in the oven with the pilot light on is ideal. The goal is to keep it around 90 degrees overnight.)
- The starter can be fed now by adding back in 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup warm water and letting it sit in a warm place overnight.
The next morning:
- 1 packet yeast (2 ¼ tsp)
- ½ tsp baking soda
- The starter can be fed now by taking out one cup of sponge and adding it back into the starter.
- Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. Stir into the sponge.
- Sift baking soda into remaining 4 cups flour. Stir into sponge.
- Turn onto a floured surface and needed until smooth. Add more flour if necessary.
- Shape into 2 loaves and place in well greased loaf pans. Or, shape into round loaves and place on well greased cookie sheets
- Let rise in a warm place until double. (This takes around 2 hours, but depends upon temperature.)
- Make 3 diagonal slashes across the top of the bread with a sharp knife.
- Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes.
- If you’d like a darker crust, brush bread with a beaten egg before baking.
- If you ‘d like a crustier bread, brush with water before baking.
- If you’d like a more sour flavor, let the sponge sit for 24 hours before baking.
The foundation of a simple diet begins with homemade bread. Beginning bread with a sour dough starter is the way to go for daily, reliable and affordable breadbaking that can even be handled by young (responsible!) daughters from the age of 8 and up. Here is our recipe that is used daily in our kitchen.
Sour Dough Starter
- 1 package dry yeast
- 2 cups warm water
- 2 cups white flour
- In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in the warm water. Add flour and stir until well blended.
- Cover with a clean kitchen towel. Allow the mixture to sit in a warm place (about 80 degrees) for 3 days. (a warm kitchen or a stove with the pilot light on works well). Stir twice a day.
- The mixture will rise at first and then separate. A yeasty smelling grayish liquid will rise to the top (called hootch) and a heavier paste will be on the bottom. Just stir them back in together and don’t worry about the grayish color of the liquid–it’s working!
- The starter is ready to use after 3 days. It can be stored in a glass, ceramic or plastic container with a lid that is not fastened tightly. This is very important. The bubbling yeast could explode the jar if the lid is put on tightly! (We store our starter in a mason jar in the back of the refrigerator covered by a coffee filter fastened on with a rubber band.)
There are a couple of important things you need to know about this starter:
- Always replace what was taken out. This can be done in a couple of ways. After some starter is used, add equal amounts of flour and water back to the jar to replace what was taken or after letting the sponge sit overnight, take out one cup and add it back into the starter in the morning. The amount of starter can be doubled by adding 2 cups of warm water and 2 cups of flour and letting the jar sit in a warm place overnight.
- Use the starter at least every 2 weeks. Remember that yeast is alive and needs to “eat”. It’s food is the flour added to the starter. If fresh flour is not added often, it will basically starve to death! If the starter isn’t used often, feed the yeast by adding 1/2 cup warm water and 1/2 cup flour and letting it sit in a warm place overnight.
What to do with the starter? The answer is coming next!
Beside the house last year, we started a new herb garden for Dania. This Spring, it’s exploding:
Should be very interesting in another year or two, as Dania’s growing and adding more herbs by the day. If we can just keep the kids out of the mints and stevia…
Our first dairy animals were a pair of Nubian goats we bought from a friend in 2007. We started a herd of Jersey cows in 2010 and haven’t milked dairy goats since. Today, I decided to start milking goats again, separated a mother from her kids for the afternoon, and, in 15 minutes, I had a half gallon of delicious goat milk. I forgot how easy milking goats was!
Fresh goats’ milk is back on the menu.