KW Homestead

Pasture Raised Poultry from Our Family to Yours

Month: January 2014 (page 1 of 3)

farm food friday: roasted sweet potatoes, raw spinach, pecans, and parmesan

jason and i gave my dear friend, georgia, some of our sweet potatoes and she created a delicious recipe from our crop:

she roasted the diced sweet potatoes tossed in olive oil and pink himalayan rock salt on 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. then she tossed them with raw spinach, pecans, and fresh grated parmesan.

georgia's meal was well-plated as well as yummy. this is not surprising considering the great artist that she is!

georgia’s meal was well-plated as well as yummy. this is not surprising considering the great artist that she is!

delicious! i believe we’ll have to try that ourselves!



Astragalus: A Perennial Herb for Perennial Health

Astragalus is a perennial and medicinal herb that has been used in both gardens and medicine cabinets for centuries. It is a very valuable and useful plant for a homestead, filling many roles, and providing many benefits.

A leguminous plant (related to beans and peas), astragalus, or milkvetch as it is commonly known, fixes nitrogen from the air with the help of colonies of bacteria that live in its root system. This allows it to feed itself and other nearby plants. Hardy to Zone 5, astragalus prefers full sun and good drainage, and would guild well on the southern side of fruit trees, or the edges of garden paths in a permaculture system.

astragalus, a great permaculture plant

Astragalus, a great permaculture pant. Courtesy Jason Hollinger

Medicinally, astragalus root has been touted as an immune boosting herb that stimulates and promotes general health and immune system strength. In 20,000 Secrets of Tea, Victoria Zak says that a tea made from astragalus root is traditionally thought by Chinese medicine to strengthen a body’s “protective energy” and acts as a catalyst for other herbal remedies by tonifying the immune system and enhancing the properties of other herbs.

Astragalus root tea

A warm cup of Astragalus and spearmint tea, sweetened with raw honey

I try to have a cup of astragalus root tea anytime I know I’ll be around sickness or sick people, especially during flu season or if someone I know is sick. I’m enjoying some right now, actually. I combined it with a pinch of our dried spearmint, and a touch of raw honey. Its flavor is good on its own, slightly spicy and nutty I think, maybe a little too earthy to be a delicacy, but not at all unpleasant. It blends really well with other herbs, and this mint combo is pretty tasty.

We will definitely be planting some astragalus this spring; its medicinal properties are more than enough reason to, but the added benefit of fixing nitrogen makes it a great addition to our food forest. From what I’ve read, it takes a few years before the roots are harvestable, so for now I’ll stick with the astragalus root powder we got this year. Like many herbs, it is available for purchase in many forms (capsules, extracts, etc.) but I prefer the powder for making delicious tea.

As always, this isn’t intended as medical advice, and you should always do your own research when looking into herbal remedies and alternative medicine. But in the meantime, I’ll have another sip of my astragalus and mint tea.

wind egg, fairy egg: the smallest and most amazing egg in the world!

something amazing happened to me the other day. i’m so excited about this that you would think that i happened to lay my own egg! (that will come some day, but not yet!)

here’s what really happened:

i was collecting eggs in the afternoon and i found an amazing, tiny egg snuggled in the nest box with the other standard and bantam sized eggs. at first i thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. but i quickly realized that there was in fact a tiny, darker egg laying in the nest box with the other eggs.


the wind egg, laying on top of other standard eggs. you can see that the wind egg is darker and much smaller!

having never seen or heard of this before, i clutched that little tiny egg closely, being sure to cradle it in my hand until i got inside and placed it somewhere safe.

later, i used a technique that my mom taught be years ago for preserving beautiful or interesting egg shells: blowing out the egg. this technique allows you to preserve the egg for many, many years!

the procedure is simple, really. you use a safety pin to poke a small hole in the bottom of the egg (a couple millimeters across) and an even smaller hole in the top. then you proceed to blow into the top hole so that all of the contents of the egg are blown through the bottom hole (be sure to save the egg for using in a recipe or for scrambled eggs).

as i was blowing out the egg, i saw that there was no yolk inside, and the egg white seemed a little murky and did not look very delicious. so, jason did some research about the tiny egg!

he found that such small eggs are often called wind eggs. they are commonly a shade lighter or a shade darker than the hen’s usual egg and they are usually a hen’s first attempt at laying. these little eggs do not include a yolk because, well, they are not really an egg, actually. they may have an egg shell around them, but they could not support life as an egg should.

they are usually made when some portion of the hen’s reproductive tissue breaks off (no harm to her, though) and her body thinks that the tissue passing through her nether-regions is the beginning of an egg. so, her body slaps a shell on that baby and sends it on out into the world.

these eggs are also called fairy eggs, and i can see why: what child wouldn’t want to believe that a fairy had been playing with her chickens! in the past, these eggs were called cock eggs, and because of their size and the fact that they aren’t viable, people originally believed roosters had laid them.

how amazing! an amazing history for an amazing little “egg.” i will certainly forever cherish my little wind egg, and keep it as a reminder that there is always true magic that nature has to offer us!


farm food friday: sweet potato ginger soup recipe

this is to be the first of many posts detailing farm fresh recipes with homegrown ingredients!

let’s start with a recipe that suits the cold weather well… perfect for a snow day or gelid temperatures. It also makes use of our abundant sweet potato harvest.

snow day on the farm!

snow day on the farm!

a few days ago, when i had a snow day off from school, i made a triple batch of my sweet potato ginger soup. i made this much because jason’s family is coming to visit soon and my dear friend, who has a marvelous photography and portraiture business in north carolina, is about to have a baby. i wanted to be sure that she had a little bit of easy-to-reheat and nutritious food on hand after the baby comes!

the sweet potatoes i used when making my triple batch

the sweet potatoes i used when making my triple batch

here are the ingredients:

  • 4 large sweet potatoes (raw, peeled, cut into 1″ chunks)
  • olive oil
  • 2 large onions (peeled and chopped)
  • 1/4 stick of butter
  • sugar
  • 8 garlic cloves (or even a few more!)
  • garlic powder
  • 3 teaspoons of freshly grated ginger
  • cayenne pepper
  • 64 oz. chicken broth
  • salt, pepper
  • a food processor or blender

some things to have prepared first:

  • peel and chop up the potatoes (they take a bit of time) and onions
  • set out your food processor/blender
peeling sweet potatoes

peeling sweet potatoes

diced sweet potatoes

diced sweet potatoes







and the directions:

  • heat olive oil in a large pot (don’t skimp on the olive oil, but you can add more later if needed). put in the diced sweet potatoes and onions and cook them on medium for at least 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
sauteing the diced potatoes and onions

sauteing the diced potatoes and onions

  • add thickly sliced garlic cloves. let these ingredients cook for 10-30 minutes on medium (continue to stir frequently), until the potatoes begin to brown and become mushy around the edges.
add garlic cloves to the pot

add garlic cloves to the pot

  • lower the heat and add just a pinch of sugar and all of the butter. allow this to cook at least 10 minutes longer. continue to stir frequently. grate your ginger during this time.
i use a simple, handheld grater for my ginger

i use a simple, handheld grater for my ginger

  • add the ginger, as much cayenne pepper as you like, salt, and pepper. stir and saute for 1 minute, until the ginger becomes fragrant!
  • add 1/3 of the chicken broth. cut back up to medium and simmer for 20+ minutes or until the potatoes are soft.
add chicken broth and continue to simmer

add chicken broth and continue to simmer

  • mash the mix while it cooks and add another 1/3 of the chicken broth. add a bit more garlic powder, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper (if desired).
mashing the soup!

mashing the soup!

  • once most potatoes and pieces of potatoes are cooked through, cut off the eye of your stove and let the soup cool off sufficiently before placing portions of it in your food processor/blender. i use a cuisinart food processor and it does a great job pureeing the soup. we are hoping to get an immersion blender sometime this summer, though!
  • blend the soup in installments, placing the pureed servings in a separate container. once the soup is all pureed, add it back to the pot and reheat on a medium temperature.
freshly pureed, waiting in a separate container

freshly pureed soup, waiting in a separate container

  • add some or all of the remaining 1/3 of the chicken broth (this depends on how thick you want your final product to be).
  • add more of the spices, if desired.
the finished product. delicious!

the finished product. delicious!

  • serve and eat. yum!

note: i always think it is an excellent idea to make extra and freeze some for a future date. soup reheats so well, after all!


Permaculture Plants for the Homestead: Paulownia

Paulownia is a genus of fast growing deciduous trees native to the forests of China. Also known as the Royal Empress Tree, Paulownia tormentosa is often called the fastest growing hardwood tree in the world. Capable of growing 10-20 ft. in 1 year, and of being harvested for timber in 5-7 years, Paulownia trees are a useful tree for permaculturists who are seeking sustainable designs for their gardens, homesteads, and communities.

Paulownia, Royal Empress Tree

Paulownia tree blooming in early spring. Courtesy anja

Paulownia trees provide more than wood, though. In early spring, they are covered in numerous, beautiful bundles of purple flowers. These flowers provide nectar and pollen for honey bees and produce a marketable monofloral honey as well.

Paulownia can be coppiced as well as pollarded, and would make a great pioneer support species to use in food forest development. Their quick growth and large nitrogen rich leaves can enrich the surrounding area by building hummus and deepening soils.

Paulownia leaves and fodder

Large Paulownia leaves make excellent mulch, compost, and animal forage

These large leaves, up to 20% protein, also make good animal forage for cattle, goats, and other livestock as well.

Paulownia lumber is resistant to rot, though not as much as locust. It is very strong, and also very light. Its quick growth and high insulative value make it an ideal wood for a log cabin or roundwood timber building.

Royal Empress wood is sought after by woodworkers because of its strength, weight, and ease of carving. Guitar makers are especially fond of Paulownia wood.

Because of these attributes and the resulting demand, Paulownia trees demand a high price at timber markets, and offer an opportunity for small farmers to diversify their income streams by using marginable land to produce high quality, quick growing timber.

In a permaculture setting or food forest, Paulownia would guild well with other coppice grove species such as chestnut, hazelnut, and black locust. Its rapid growth and quick rotting leaves make it an excellent choice as a support species to other fruit and nut trees. It would also make fine hugelkulture wood. I envision using Pawlonia trees as both a pioneer species for soil growth, and in a coppice grove area along with smaller fruiting bushes, herbs, and long lived standard trees.

Empress tree,Paulownia

Paulownia tormentosa growing in NY. Courtesy Goosefriend

All of these attributes: rapid growth, high quality timber, prolific flowers, ability to coppice and regrow, along with being able to grow in depleted soils, and a natural resistance to insect and disease pressures, make Paulownia trees (tormentosa, elongata etc.) an extremely useful and valuable plant in the permaculture toolbox.

homemade dog food!

when we got bolt as a puppy in july of 2013, jason and i wanted to make sure that we started off in the best way possible with him, health-wise (A great resource for us has been dr. pitcairn’s complete guide to natural health for dogs and cats).

bridey was 7 when i inherited her from a friend, and she had always eaten the same purina dry dog food. i tried to switch her to a new dog food one time, years after i got her, but her bowels did not agree. i also also tried to give her homemade dog food (chicken, rice, and other ingredients) and her body didn’t like that either. since she’s clearly doing fine on that same old purina dry food, i’m loathe to change her routine on her now.

bolt's first day at home, sleeping under the corn

bolt’s first day at home, sleeping under the corn at 10 weeks old

but with bolt, who we got as a puppy, we wanted to be sure he grew up to be a big, strong, farm dog. so, we wanted to do something different and natural.

our latest dog food recipe for him per day is:

  • 4 or 5 cups of diced, raw venison
  • 4 or 5 cups of grated carrots
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • a pinch of green sand mineral supplement
  • a pinch of kelp mineral supplement
  • as much olive oil as desired
  • a dash of salt
  • a dash of cayenne pepper

every few days we add a small pinch of diatomaceous earth or raw pumpkin seeds to help prevent intestinal parasites.

our future plan is to begin adding brown rice to the mix for both dogs and to continue giving both of them a boiled or raw egg to eat every few days.

with the above recipe, bolt always gets a small amount (maybe a half of a cup) of his dry dog food for the crunch factor. eating the dry dog food always slows him down, too, which is nice!

three cheers for strong, healthy puppies and dogs!


bolt, at 10 months, with a bit of carpet fuzz hanging from his lips!


Snow and a Food Forest in Puerto Rico

Let it snow!

We got our second snow of the winter, and it stuck. It stuck to the chickens, the bird netting, and basically everywhere on the homestead other than the driveway. It looks great to me (as I’m sure Sean Law’s messy lawn looked great to him), but we’ll see about travel conditions tomorrow.

Chickens and Snow

The chickens are Snow excited!

Today we pretty much lazed about, waiting on the snow to start. Emma whipped up some sweet potato ginger soup (Yum.) and I mulled over some seed catalogs that recently came in the mail.

I focused on perennial plants today, and the lists and descriptions of exotic edibles and unusual varieties guided my thoughts to our backyard, and our plans for next year.

I’d like to put in a food forest.

A food forest is basically what it sounds like, a forest of food, and can take many shapes and sizes. Cultures all over the world, and throughout history, have tended forest gardens. Some of these gardens are obvious and some are so embedded in the landscape that they are hardly noticed.

For example, I spent many days wandering my great grandparents’ small lot in Moca, Puerto Rico, walking in the shade of a huge bread fruit tree while picking the sweetest grapefruit, oranges, and bananas I’ve ever tasted. An avocado tree nestled on the sunnier side of the tall tree, and in its shadow was a chicken coop with a small flock of hens and the first rooster to start crowing in the valley.

banana food forest

Bananas in the understory

Also in the shady understory, as almost an afterthought, were a couple dozen coffee plants and a few herbaceous “weeds.” Pigeon peas flowered along the driveway, fixing nitrogen and waiting their turn in the next pot of arroz con gandules, and a tall annatto tree soaked up the sun behind the house while ripening the red colored seeds used in almost every dish Mamá prepared.

Pigeon Pea Food Forest

Pigeon Pea or Gandules

That’s a food forest. Plants occupying every layer and interacting with each other by providing shade or nutrients, chickens foraging beneath and cleaning up fallen fruit, stopping the pest cycle, and fertilizing the entire system all while providing eggs and meat.

Instead of focusing on annual production, row cropping, or cash crops, food forests are small, diverse ecosystems that are greater than the sum of their parts. As self replicating systems, they are the epitome of sustainability, soil building, wealth, and resiliency as they age. There are some food forests that are over 2,000 years old.

So you can see why one would want a food forest on their homestead.

Food Forest Location

Most of the undergrowth at the forest edge has been cleared in preparation for a food forest planting next spring.

I’d like to put the beginnings of one in next year in our backyard. The spot I’m most excited about is the edge of the woodland that surrounds our yard and makes a small southeastern facing glade. I’ve begun clearing the underbrush of small oaks and pines, and would like to integrate our edible forest with the maple and oak regrowth forest surrounding us.

It will probably look nothing like the forest garden in Moca, but it will be built on the same principles and interactions between species, and will hopefully be a place where our great grandchildren will walk through, reach up, and take a bite out of whatever piece of abundance is at peak ripeness that day.

sweet potatoes: jewels of the soil

we have been eating so many of our sweet potatoes this winter, both baked as warm, delicious snacks, or made into my delicious sweet potato ginger soup.

this fall, we had a sweet potato yield of about 12o pounds. this is more than we expected since, frankly, we didn’t really know what to expect because this was our first time growing them.

the recommended planting dates for sweet potatoes in our region are may 15-june 15 and our plants went in the ground on june 11, 2013. the 100+ plants were given to us by my father, and jason planted them 3-6″ deep in two of our raised beds. each plant was 12″ apart within rows, and 36-42″ apart between rows.

the first harvest day: halfway harvested and halfway to go

the first harvest day: halfway harvested and halfway to go

within a few months, the vines went crazy and flourished. we had a small issue with a groundhog who was trying to munch on the vines, but jason dealt with that effectively.

since the average number of days until maturity for sweet potatoes is 105-135 days, we decided to wait until the later end of that spectrum, hoping for larger potatoes. i harvested the first half of the sweet potatoes in mid-october and jason and i harvested the other half together at the very end of october.

jason, placing freshly dug sweet potatoes in a box

jason, placing freshly dug sweet potatoes in a box

since the first frost of fall was on october 22, we cut all of the sweet potato vines off at the ground the night before to make sure that the frost wouldn’t run into the ground and damage the potatoes. this meant that the potatoes sat in the ground for about a week without their vines, which is not a cause for alarm. still, the sooner you harvest the potatoes after cutting off their vines, the better.

i harvested the first half on a harvest day, according to blum’s farmer’s and planter’s almanac. i also encountered a black widow while i dug up the vines, and learned later that black widows love sweet potato vines more than many other hiding spots. be aware while digging up your potatoes of all kinds!

the first harvest: a bushel of potatoes waiting to be cleaned and sorted

the first harvest: potatoes waiting to be cleaned and sorted

neither day that we harvested was sunny, so we did not leave them outside in the sun to cure. instead, we wiped as much dirt off of them as possible, sorted them by size (keeping the tiny potatoes for bolt to eat as treats), and stored them in our guest bedroom/farm room.

sweet potatoes sorted into crates

sweet potatoes sorted into crates

our harvest, stored in the farm room

our harvest, stored in the farm room







we’ve stacked them in multi-tiered, open-air crates to help with the curing and drying process. currently, 3 months later, most of the potatoes continue to store well and we intentionally choose the iffy ones to use first when cooking and baking.

we are proud of our first sweet potato crop and in 2014 we plan to plant even more sweet potato plants than last year! this year, when may comes, we’ll be ready to get those plants in the ground even earlier!


coveralls: a woman’s favorite garb

coveralls. oh, coveralls. i would not be the woman i am today without coveralls!

i grew up seeing my father wear them outdoors in the winter time, and when i bought a scooter in adulthood i used a pair as my safety gear and also as my dog-walking-in-winter outfit when i lived in an urban setting.

my lovely coveralls, hanging by the door and ready to be donned

my lovely coveralls, hanging by the
door and ready to be donned

i feel like women are less frequent wearers of coveralls than men (especially in public), and i can understand why. firstly, wearing coveralls disguises your body shape and on your worst days might make you feel like you are wearing a sack. otherwise, they are associated with mechanics and other laborers, and thus usually thought of as masculine attire.

despite what might drive a woman to think they aren’t the best option for her, i urge you (women and men) to rethink their value as an article of clothing! the coveralls that are quilted inside are extremely warm in the wintertime and one can simply wear pajamas (or even nothing, as i’ve done before) under them when completing outside winter homestead chores. they also serve the dual purpose of protecting your underclothes from mud or dirt. i often wear my nice work clothes under them in the morning during my chore routine without worrying at all about ruining the garments underneath. super convenient!

not to mention, anytime something happens outside that deserves immediate attention (i.e. an attack on our chickens in the middle of the night), it takes less than 30 seconds to be fully suited up and ready to run out the door.

emma, suited up and ready to face the winter chill

emma, suited up and ready to
face the winter chill

coveralls beat the value of a coat hands down because they don’t allow any drafts to blow up under your clothes, as a coat might. often they have double hip pockets, where one pocket allows access to the pockets of your clothes beneath and the other holds things as any pocket should.

i often collect eggs in my coveralls, placing up to 12 eggs in the breast pockets of the suit.

to me, coveralls are a convenience, a coziness, and my very favorite garb. if i woke up one morning and couldn’t find them hanging in their usual spot, i would have a foul day indeed.

coveralls to the rescue!



Permaculture Plants for the Homestead: Yaupon Holly

Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria) deserves a place on any homestead or permaculture farm. As the only native plant in the United States that contains caffeine, this valuable plant brings a lot to the table. A small to large evergreen shrub, yaupon holly is popular among landscapers as a foundation plant, and is commonly seen in both residential and commercial settings.

This is a good thing for homesteaders, because it means that yaupons are not only available to purchase at nurseries, but are relatively hardy and drought tolerant enough to survive these settings.

Hardy to zone 7, yaupon holly, and many other hollies, are commonly found as an understory shrub in hardwood forests and swamps in the southeastern United States. In the Gulf states, yaupons can make dense thickets in cleared areas acting as a pioneer species.

In the garden, yaupon holly is best situated in similar settings. Partial shade is best, but full sun to heavier shade can also be tolerated depending on variety and other factors. These small shrubs make great understory plants in a food forest or guild setting. Female plants produce small, inedible berries that provide winter forage for many native birds.

The leaves and small stems of yaupons contain caffeine, and can be toasted to make yaupon holly tea, a substitute for coffee similiar to yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis) of South American fame. 

The Native Americans of the southeastern United States used yaupon holly as both a tea, and a ritual beverage named black drink. This is where the vomitoria portion of Ilex vomitoria comes in, as after drinking profuse amounts of super concentrated black drink, which often included the inedible berries, many drinkers ended up vomiting and purging their systems.

But don’t worry, normal yaupon tea of just the leaves won’t make you throw up. In fact, I’m going to try a recipe of roasted dandelion root, chicory, and yaupon one day, which I imagine will make a pretty decent tea–very reminiscent of coffee. Not that I’ll ever be able to give up my morning ritual, but you never know. It would be nice to obtain some measure of self sufficiency as far as caffeinated beverages go–just ask the British.

Yaupon holly is easily pruned or encouraged into a hedge, and there are many cultivars available, from weeping yaupon to dwarf yaupon. For maximum caffeine production it needs plenty of nitrogen, so grow it near a nitrogen fixing species or two. An underplanting of clover (trifolium spp.) or vetch (vicia spp.) or an overstory of mimosa (albizia spp.) black locust (robinia psuedoacacia), or elaeagnus would work nicely.

Yaupon holly is a great plant. It is easy to care for, fits in nicely in a food forest, comes in many shapes and sizes, and produces one of the most valuable substances on earth. Caffeine. It definitely deserves a place on any homestead or forest garden, and its trimmings will pay great dividends of yaupon holly tea for years.

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