chicken food

We love winter squash, but even with all the help the monastery can give, one thousand pounds may be more than we can eat.  For one thing,  not every squash is going to be ripe before our first hard frost, or in fit condition to store.  Fortunately, on the integrated (multi-species, whole ecosystem)  farm there are many other uses for winter squash:  besides the obvious, pigs, there are the chickens, who love a split winter squash and will eat the seeds and all the flesh down to the rind.  Chock full of the most delicious fats, proteins and B-vitamins.  chickenIn the afternoon when we go down to give the chickens their evening meal, we toss what’s left of their breakfast squash to (yes, you guessed it) the pigs.

book coverCheck out our new book from Chelsea Green Press!

An art and discipline learned over much time by living with and attentively listening to a piece of soil and its tenants. 

As an illustration of the above principle we can do no better than to refer you to Eddy and Gosia, in Poland:june-2015-457

“I extended the electric fence and let (the pigs) into the orchard to save me the trouble of cutting the grass and if they picked up the odd apple, pear or walnut then so be it, it could only be a good thing. . . . I do like to observe them, and on one occasion recently i couldn’t help noticing that they occasionally froze, motionless, as if in a state of torpor, far better than any street performer I have ever seen! I just assumed that they had heard something, pigs are a little edgy at times, but watching them for longer I soon discovered that they were in fact listening for walnuts falling from the tree. As they fell the ears pricked to detect location, followed by a mad dash and a bit of a scuffle to reach the tiny morsel ahead of the competition. It was only the resulting crunch as powerful jaws cracked the nuts open that gave the game away to me.

Now much as I like my pigs I’m also pretty keen on walnuts,  they both taste good but the latter cost more than twice as much per KG as the former, and the former don’t require them to put on the KG,  so I have since made changes to the fence to divert said pigs around the harvest area. Not that I’ve taken walnuts completely off the menu, I’m not heartless, no instead I have allocated one walnut tree with particularly difficult nuts to crack as the pig tree.”

You follow?  Eddy and Gosia are farming.  It works like this:  you take the pieces — pigs and orchard trees and grass and so forth, and maybe some cows and ducks and sheep and chickens and geese and a dog and some cats, and a big garden and a nut break and so on — and put them all together in a little valley, or a clearing in the woods, or a piece of a field, or somewhere, and then you move the pieces around here and there and see how they all fit together.  With time and attention, and the determination that everything has a meaningful place, and everything has a right to eat, and must in its turn eventually be eaten as well, you start to see how the energy in the system can cascade smoothly, beautifully, from point of surplus to point of deficit, piling up there until it, too, spills over to fill the next need.  The Winkos have pigs, and walnut trees, and walnuts, and the need to shell walnuts, and time for moving pigs and for watching them, and time for cracking nuts, but not unlimited time, and pigs who will be happier listening for walnuts to fall and racing one another to get there first when a nut does fall; and, living with all this and giving themselves to it, these farmers can feed pigs, and feed people, and make them both happy, and save time on nut-cracking as well.

In this sort of commerce, everyone wins, and the world gets more beautiful, and so does Michalina —


rooster retirement

Fully eighteen of our twenty-four straight-run Buckeye chicks turned out to be cockerels.  Expensive fricassee, of course, but we’re over the disappointment and yesterday we culled all but three of the boys.  Now there are twenty-five quarts of canned chicken ready to go down cellar, and tomorrow there will be at least a dozen quarts of rich yellow bone broth to join them.  We hope we selected the surviving roosters well, since they will be serving our breeding flock.  With only six hens to choose from, we don’t have many options for the two or three we decide to  breed, yet, ever sanguine, we hope for great things.  Next week we’ll have to do it all over again with the ducks, a more difficult task since ducks are a real challenge to pluck — it’s hard to scald a waterproof bird.june-2015-306

bringing it in

The harvest tide creeps in with the same subtle insistency as the maritime influence, and with its own appropriately seasonal peaks and valleys.  Jars that sat in vacant rows on their plywood shelves in April jostle one another now, heavy and colorful, jewel tones of tomato and peach (not too many of the latter), deep purple grape jam, mosaic salsas, muted colors of dried apples, apple sauce and sauerkraut, ambers of honey, maple syrup, apple juice.  The laden boards groan, and so do we, bringing up yet another bucket of tomatoes, more bushels of peppers; empty jars are getting scarce now, but we won’t willingly let anything good go down to the pigpen without taking what we can for the pantry first.

The winter-squash patch, where we lost half our plants to bacterial wilt carried by striped cucumber beetles, grew rank and filled the empty spots with butternut squash, martin house gourds and luffa.  With our beloved tromboncino, which cooks up well as summer squash but, left to mature, attains more than a yard in length, mostly neck, stores into mid-winter, and, roasted with garlic, onions and quarters of bell pepper (which we freeze for just this purpose), is beyond all praise — as we say, butternut squash and tromboncino will fill the dry cave and overflow into other spaces, and culls will feed the hogs and chickens, and worm them at the same time (a property of cucurbit seeds, according to old farm manuals).  God is good.


One-tenth acre of mangel-wurzels have done well this year, perhaps redeeming itself after a stunted crop last year, and promising a ton or more of red-skinned, white-fleshed roots, for pig fodder, mainly, but delicious when peeled and sliced into julienne, a good substitute for apples when no fresh fruit is available.  Deer have had their share of the field corn and the pigs will have to make do with what is left, along with mangels, winter squash culls, hay, bean haulms, whey, buttermilk, and table scraps.  Feeder pigs average about fifty bucks for an equal number of pounds, after which the farms feeds them, with just a few bags of grain to carry us over the low spots.  Home-dressed, our pork costs us substantially less than a dollar a pound, and generates tons of good organic compost into the bargain.  This is as it should be.

drying apples

We peel by hand and slice into eighths, or twelfths if the apple is very big, and spread the slices on frames made to fit our big dehydrator.  This one is made of plywood and holds fifteen two-foot by two-foot screens, or frames, but you can only really use about half of them at a time if you want things to dry very fast.  In the bottom there are eight light  bulbs and a small fan, but we cheat and make one of the bulbs a heat lamp bulb (from the chick hover, not in use this late in the summer).  Still, the drying process wasn’t going to quickly at first, until investigation showed that whomever assembled the thing (we don’t know who, we got it in salvage) had never cut vent holes in the back panel for drawing in fresh air and releasing damp air.  A couple of minutes with a hole saw and the situation was corrected; now apples dry in a day or so.  A good thing, too; this has been an excellent year for apples.


Thank you to all the people who helped make the Mother Earth News Fair 2016 at Seven Springs the stupendous event it was.  Great talks, great demos, and lots of interesting tools and gadgets.  Especial thanks to the dragon stove people, who weren’t afraid to get wet and dirty showing us how it is done.

fallen apples

Couldn’t figure out why Baby kept coming up to the dairy with really loose stools in the evening, then fine at the morning milking, until we turned her out the other morning and saw how she went directly to the pasture apple trees to see what the wind had brought down in the night . . .