Thursday, April 21, 2016

Food Storage: Buying in Bulk

It used to be that at our house buying in bulk and having a well-stocked pantry were just not things that happened. One day, though, something clicked and we began to realize that keeping the food items that we use most often on hand is much easier and cheaper than going to the store and back a million times. So, how does one keep the things they need on hand at all times, without going broke in the process? Buy as much as you can while items are on sale, while shopping with coupons, or while shopping at stores that provide bulk amounts at discounted prices (such as Costco or Sam's Club.) The questions you should ask yourself when selecting items to purchase are: Is this something my family will use on a regular basis? Do I have a means of storing this item long enough for my family to use it? Will my family go through enough of this item quickly enough that it doesn't spoil or go to waste? You should be able to answer "yes" to all three questions in order to select an item for purchase. Purchasing food that will not be eaten is wasteful, and we all know my opinion on wastefulness.

Let's talk about storage for a bit. Storing canned and prepackaged dry goods is fairly easy. Store in a cool dry place, rotate oldest product forward and newest to the back. In the restaurants I've worked at we remembered FIFO: first in, first out. I also like to face my canned and prepackaged dry goods, so that you can read the label and know what it is, and group like items together, such as all your veggies in one spot and another spot for broth and gravy.

Frozen goods should also be pretty easy. If your food is individually wrapped, fine. If you have things you need to portion, remember to label and date your container. This way to know what you have, and when it went in, so that you can determine when it will go bad. For help here, please see my Load Up Your Freezer post.

Often times staple items such as sugar and flour are sold in large bags. Buying these commonly used ingredients in bulk is a very smart way to go, so long as you have a way to store it. Five gallon buckets will usually fill this role rather nicely. You can typically purchase buckets and specially designed lids at hardware stores, feed stores, or super centers. The lids that we use are called gamma lids, and are snap on lids with a screw on inner lid. This makes it fairly easy to access your food without having to constantly pry off the lids. It also allows you to open the bucket without accidentally dumping in any dirt or debris that may have accumulated on the lid during storage.

If you don't have the money to invest in this bucket and lids system, just do what my mom did when I was growing up. Start purchasing your laundry detergent by the bucket. When the bucket is empty, thoroughly wash and dry it. Line it with a drawstring garbage bag and add your foodstuffs. Draw the top of the bag closed, fold it over and apply your lid. The garbage bag will prevent the aforementioned dirt and debris from being dumped into your food. No matter which method you use, remember to label your containers so you don't have to guess which bucket your bread flour might be in. At my house we have all-purpose flour, bread flour, corn meal, white rice, white sugar, and ramen noodles in buckets. Mom kept egg noodles, lasagna noodles, flour, sugar, powdered milk and pinto beans.

For those food items that you have a lot of, but not enough to justify a 5 gallon bucket, you can use half gallon canning jars. We use half gallon jars to store our salt, powdered milk, popcorn, coffee beans, brown sugar, lentils and chickpeas. (To name a few) You can purchase plastic storage caps for your jars, so that you don't have to mess with the ring and lid combo, and you can use a label maker to label all your products. For items you don't use often, you can buy a lid sealer what is compatible with a Food Saver vacuum storage system. It will vacuum seal a canning lid onto your jar to keep the food inside fresher longer.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Ducks - The Basics


Muscovy Duckling
Photo Credit Andrea Malstrom
Baby ducks should be fed a good quality duck starter, or a mix of gamebird and chick starter. The reason for the mix is that the feed needs to have extra niacin, from the gamebird feed, but not the high protein content. Not enough niacin causes problems with legs, too much protein causes problems with wings. Calcium supplements should not be given to baby ducks, as too much calcium can be toxic while a duck is growing. After your ducks are six months old, or after they have laid their first egg, these guidelines are no longer applicable. Adult ducks can be fed duck feed, all flock, or layer feed. Free ranging ducks will eat bugs, slugs, frogs, fishes, weeds, leaves, grasses and seeds. Good treats for well behaved little duckies are crickets, meal worms, or feeder goldfish. Just imagine watching your duckies swimming around their pond or pool, chasing and eating little fishes! Too fun!


Rouen/Pekin Cross
Photo Credit Jillian Burge
While ducks don't HAVE to swim to survive, they just love it so much! If possible, provide a pond or pool for your ducks to swim and splash around in. A hard plastic kiddie pool works great, is inexpensive to purchase, and easy to find. Ducks also like to wash their food. They will pick up a bill full of food, wash it in their water, eat the good bits, and leave the bad bits and dirt behind. A larger container will take longer to dirty than a small one. If it's not possible, you need to provide a water container that is deep enough to submerge the ducks' bills. Ducks use water to keep their nostrils clean, and can suffer from respiratory infections of not provided with water to keep their respiratory systems clean and operational. Change water containers frequently, to reduce risk of disease and provide your feathered friends a nice clean place to get cleaned up.


Muscovy Drake
Photo Credit Andrea Malstrom
Just like any other critter, ducks need a clean, dry place to sleep. It is important to keep in mind whether or not your duck is a perching breed or a non-perching breed. Although most breeds of duck kept in the United States are non-perching species, there are a few breeds, such as Muscovy, that will seek out a spot to perch and sleep for the night. Keeping the floor of your duck's home clean and dry is essential. Soiled living quarters can result in an over growth of worms, infestations of mites, or infections. If you can, make sure that the floor of your duck's shelter is a non-porous surface which can be sprayed clean. Duck poop is sticky, icky and stinky, and it won't go away without a fight.


Merle and Daryl with Their Goat and Chicken Buddies
Ducks don't typically do well without companions. They like hanging out with ducks best, but they will hang out with other types of poultry such as geese, chickens, and turkeys as well, When we first got our Pekin hen Merle, she peeped and peeped whenever we put her down. Finally we relented and brought her a friend, our drake named Daryl. Now that Merle has passed away, Daryl is content to hang out with the chickens, and take naps with the goats.

Other Considerations

Daryl's Drake Feather
Some other things to keep in mind when deciding on ducks are: noise level, appropriate containment, and appropriate numbers. Some ducks are quieter than others, and it pays to do your research. Pekin hens, for example, are very loud, and they will quack at anything and everything they see. If you live in a neighborhood or have neighbors nearby, a Pekin, or similarly loud breed, is probably not the best choice. Another topic that it pays to research is how well your birds can fly. Heavier breeds may not be able to fly over a fence, or achieve liftoff for that matter, but there are some breeds that are exceptional flyers. Keep this in mind when evaluating the containment scenario for your little quackers. Lastly, having ducks in the appropriate ratios is important. If you have a male duck, you will want to try to provide a female companion for him. At least one female, but preferably two or three.  Male ducks can be kind of frisky, and if you don't have at least one or two female ducks, they will seek out other female poultry to try to scratch that itch. How can you tell if you have a drake? Just look for the drake feather! Or, if you don't see a drake feather, listen to the quack. Female ducks have a loud, clear quack that sounds like what we all imagine a quack should sound like. Male ducks have a low, raspy quack. This video is the best one I have found so far to differentiate the sounds that male and female ducks make. The first duck is male, second is female, first duckling is male, second is female.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

If You Can't Beat Them, Eat Them! Volume 3

Like most other species of wild mustard, blue mustard is edible. While some people may be put off by the stale smell of the plant, its leaves are eaten nonetheless. Young leaves may be used in salads containing other wild or dark leafy greens, such as dandelion. Larger, more mature leaves can be cooked, much like turnip greens or collard greens.

The most common recipes for mustard greens come from the Southern states in the US and involve cooking with pork and serving with vinegar. I found this excerpt in the comments section of a wild mustard article on Eat the Weeds:
"Don’t pick the big leaves at the bottom of the plant. They will be sandy and more likely to be bitter. Don’t make extra work for yourself by picking sandy greens. Simmer them in a covered pot for about an hour (until tender) in about 3/4 – 1 inch of seasoned water (salt, pepper, and if you like it, add bacon fat), stirring occasionally, and checking the water. When they are nearly done, remove the cover to reduce the liquid, which is known as “pot likker” or “pot liquor.” Pot likker is nutritious and it is used for sopping cornbread or making soup." 
Although these instructions are not specific to blue mustard, I think that it would work out just fine.

Where I live, blue mustard grows in any available open space: along the roadside, in vacant lots, it will even make its way into your lawn if you let it!