Reduce

*This is a repeat of the article originally published on December 12, 2018 and sent to email subscribers on December 13, 2018. Due to a wrinkle in the blogging universe, it did not display properly.*

In my last post I referred to three areas of focus for us to improve our sustainable life style. Reducing the use of some things is the first of those areas.

Have you ever thought about how many chemical compounds you ingest during a day? I’m not talking about things like water, salt, or other items that are technically chemical compounds but actual ingredients you recognize. Rather I’m referring to those artificially processed, scientifically named products with more letters than the English alphabet that read more like a lab experiment than a food.

For the past few years, we have been paying particular attention to chemicals in our diet, cleaning products and even skin care products. To this end, we made the following changes:

1. Limited use of processed foods like lunch meat and most canned or processed items. Yes, we use some canned soups, salsas, etc., but it is minimal. Whenever possible we choose brands with short, recognizable ingredient lists.

2. Changing household cleaners from chemically based products to home made versions. Most of the cleaning is done with vinegar, water, Dawn dishwashing liquid (they use it on wildlife after all) and vodka. Yes vodka. Alcohol is a great disinfectant.

3. Eliminating the use of petroleum based skin products. The most popular brand of lip balm can not even fit all of their ingredients on the label. You have to search the internet to locate the ingredients and the first one is petroleum. It is nearly impossible to pronounce any of the others. We make our own we have christened BEEk balm with four recognizable items: beeswax, sweet almond oil, vitamin oil and a flavoring agent. Our original flavor is honey from our own hives. The others are food grade essential oils.

It isn’t always easy to make these lifestyle changes.  We made small changes over time, not a sweeping change all at once. Food is the hardest both because it is the most frequently used of this list and because it often takes a little extra time to prepare fresh foods. But it is worth it. Our health is worth it and our environment is worth it.

What small change can you make?

Planting Garlic

Did that last post make your mouth water? Are you craving some creamy roasted garlic spread on tender slices of Italian style bread? Perhaps a side of simple pasta with a browned butter sauce topped with grated Mizithra cheese?

I can tell you from experience that roasting garlic grown a few yards from your kitchen adds an additional layer of satisfaction.

Garlic is planted in the fall and overwinters in the ground. Since the time to plant in Central Illinois is late September/early October, get your order for seed garlic in now. We order from Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, IA. This company is a non-profit charged with preserving seed that otherwise may be lost over time.

Bed Preparation

Prepare your garlic bed now. Choose a different location each year for garlic, using good crop rotation principles to reduce disease and improve soil health. Here at Five Feline Farm, garlic will be planted where spring lettuce was grown. The excess lettuce has been allowed to sit on the soil. About a week or so before planting, the bed will be turned with a broadfork. (More to come on this technique in a future post.)  Garlic is a heavy feeder so adding in compost and Epsom salt will increase your harvest.

When it is time to plant, carefully remove the outer papery layers until the individual cloves can be separated. Don’t remove the papery layer from the individual cloves. Plant each clove about 3 inches deep and 6-8 inches apart with the pointed end upright. 

When the weather turns cold, mulch heavily with clean straw. In the spring when the days have warmed to 60 degrees and the night temperatures stay above 40 degrees, you can pull back the straw and keep the bed evenly watered until ready to harvest. You may leave the straw to help keep down weeds but there is a risk that it will stay wet and develop mold. Like most things in gardening, there is a trade off: do more weeding or accept the risks of mold. Decide for yourself how you want to manage your garlic bed.

Our next post will contain ideas about how to use this delicious fruit of your labor. While you are waiting on that post to arrive, check out our Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter feed. Plus, if you haven’t already signed up for our email list, please do. Each post will automatically show up in your email plus an occasional bonus for subscribers only.

2015 in Review

Greetings from Five Feline Farm. 

Most people take a moment to reflect on the past year when the calendar passes from one year to the next. We evaluate our history and plan for our future. Often this takes the form of New Year’s Resolutions. Instead we are focusing on goals. 

But, first the year in review.

Five Feline Farm moved from a hobby farm to a registered small business in 2015. April found us setting up the legal paperwork, opening a checking account, obtaining a tax id number, and registering with the county clerk. 

Huge steps.

Our first major business venture was the 18th Street Farmer’s Market. 

Almost every Saturday morning from May through October found us in a parking lot, gathering with others to sell our wares. Out of twenty-one weeks, we missed four. Not bad for first timers. You might say we don’t give up easily.

We learned so much at the Farmer’s Market. What would sell, how to price, how to package, what the competition would be like. We started out knowing almost nothing. But we learned fast. There were surprises at the market. Who knew simple catnip toys would sell so well? Each vendor brought a unique presence to the market in their products and their personalities. Too many lessons to count from them.

Goosenest Prairie Gift Shop at Lincoln Log Cabin Historical Site is carrying our BEEk balm now and is interested in some of our other products. BEEk balm and other products are also available at our online store

Additional garden space was established this year. Our production for 2016 should be at least double what we saw last year. 

Two groups from Eastern Illinois University toured the Farm and we hosted a private tour. It is so much fun to share the things we’ve learned wth others.

One of the highlights for the year was attending the Mother Earth News Fair in Topeka. This event packs enough knowledge into two days of workshops that by the end we are simultaneously exhilarated and exhausted. A bonus was the blogger lunch with some of the editorial staff at Mother Earth News and Grit.

We lost another of our beloved charter felines, Phantom Joseph. It was hard to say goodbye.

Another highlight was participating in the Honeybee Festival in Paris, IL, an opportunity to branch out into another community. We even got to meet Gene Killion, a huge name in the beekeeping world.

There was a lot of laughter, a few tears, much hard work and occasionally some rest in 2015.

It was a good year. 

2016 will be even better. 

Making Tomato Sauce

Making food from scratch can take time. One of the main reasons busy people don’t make food from scratch is this time commitment. 

But, there is a way to fit home made food into a busy schedule. Here’s an example of how we did homemade tomato sauce in several stages to fit our schedule. 

Think in small batches

Almost no one has an entire day to devote to processing a large bunch of produce and completing it all in one day. If you do find yourself with a free Saturday and bushels of tomatoes, these steps can all be crunched into one day. That is a rarity for us, so breaking it down into small steps is a necessity.

Pick the tomatoes

  
Don’t plan to do anything else. Just pick tomatoes. Tomatoes will keep at room temperature for 3-4 days depending on the ripeness when picked. It is ok to pick a bit underipe and finish on a window sill or kitchen counter. 

Peel and seed.

Prepare a pot of simmering water and a pan or sink of ice water. Drop the tomatoes in the simmering water for 30-45 seconds, then plunge into the ice bath. Skins will slip off easily. Slice the tomatoes in half horizontally, squeeze out the seeds (sometimes it helps to dig them out with your finger), cut out the core, and quarter the tomatoes. Unless you are sensitve to tomato seeds, it is not necessary to get out every single seed. Cover and refrigerate the tomatoes for up to 2 days. 

Sometimes we stretch this step out over a couple of days if needed to get all of the tomatoes peeled, seeded and cut. 

Season and bake.  

 Yes, bake. Line a shallow baking pan with parchment paper, place tomato quarters in a single layer and drizzle with olive oil. The amount of olive oil is personal preference. At Five Feline Farm, a full baking sheet gets about 1/3 cup of olive oil. Then sprinkle with your favorite Italian herb seasoning. We like strong flavors, so we use 2-3 Tbsp. 

If you have a convection oven, convection bake at 300º. If you do not, bake at 325º, and expect about a half hour longer. Stir every hour until the tomatoes are cooked through and most of the juices have cooked off. In the convection oven this takes about 2 hours. 

This step sounds like a long time, but the actual active involvement is 15 minutes or so. In between stirring you can relax, watch TV, eat supper, or work on another household task. As a bonus, the aroma wafting from the oven is heavenly. 

After baking, pour the tomatoes into a storage bowl and refrigerate. This will hold in the fridge another day or so until you have time for the next step. 
Blend and store.

  

Use an immersion blender to quickly blend the baked tomatoes into a thick sauce. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender or food processor; however immersion blenders are fairly inexpensive and so versatile that this is really the way to go.

After blending, ladle into freezer baggies, seal and store. We typically freeze in 1 cup portions. 

When ready to use, the sauce can be thawed in the refrigerator, defrosted in the microwave and added to a recipe or thoroughly heated in the microwave. You will be tempted to eat straight from a spoon.

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