Category Archives: local food

Black Currant Love

Black currants (ribes nigrum) are my favorite fruit right now!  I am growing 3 big bushes – Titania, Consort, and an unnamed variety from the local farmers market.

1.5 g from unnamed black currant

1.5 g from unnamed black currant

The unnamed bush gave me 1.5 gallons/ 8 pounds of fruit yesterday.  The Titania was a little overripe already, but I got 3/4 of a gallon that hadn’t fallen and rotted yet.  The Consort is less ripe and I’ve only picked about half a gallon off of it, but there are more to pick.  It is also in the shade and currently (hah!  get it!) has some mildew problems.

I like black currants because they are vigorous and hardy and produce a lot.  They grow well about anywhere I plunk them down in my yard in Anchorage – right under an apple tree’s shade, out in the sun, wherever.  They are a great permaculture guild plant; I have a corner with an apple tree, black currant right next to it, white currant next to that, and arctic kiwi twining through the whole thing.  Red clover surround this dense mix, and everything produces well and catches just about all the light before it gets to the ground!  Unlike my red and white currants and gooseberry, they don’t get touched by the totally defoliating currant worm.  They get a few leaf rollers (or tent moths or whatever you call them) in a bad year like this, but nowhere near as much damage as apple and other fruit trees.  They are very easy to propagate.  The branches that touch the ground root and can be clipped off, pulled up and replanted elsewhere.  If no branches have done that yet, you can always pin one down to root, but most of mine have a very sprawling habit and are rooted all over the place.

They are pretty easy to pick, the fruit is on stringers that can be plucked or cut off as a cluster.  They are less of a pain to pick than strawberries and raspberries, where the fruit are a bit more separated and ripen over a longer period (I lose a lot of straws and rasps by not going out every day in the season to pick).  They are harder to pick than my apples since my apples are bigger, at standing height, and less hidden under leaves, but for small, easy fruit they win!  Generally, I can pick some into my mouth for a couple of weeks, then choose a good day, like yesterday, and go out and harvest almost all of the crop and process them in one day.  And be done with black currants!

I tend to like to eat them fresh – they have very very high vitamin c content and are quite tasty.  You may need to develop a taste for them, they are a little skunky, but that grows on you more and more!  I’m sure it is this spicy skunkiness, that is also in the leaves, which keeps the chewing insects at bay.  I love brushing by the leaves in the spring and getting a whiff of that wonderful perfume!  I also can juice concentrate for italian sodas with them.  This is more likely to be consumed by my son than jam, and I think most people would find it tasty…mellowed by sugar.  I’m going to try to make a little fermented soda this year by throwing some yeast in a bottle of juice concentrate and water and see what happens…hopefully not a broken bottle!  My roommate makes a good black currant fruit leather.  They can also be frozen for later use if you can’t decide what to do with them, or want to throw them in baked goods or something in the winter.

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The successes of the Alaskan Food Forest Garden

It was a great year for fruit! The apples, june berries, arctic kiwi, currants of 3 colors, sour cherries, strawberries, and raspberries of 3 colors were all mega-prolific. Sweet cherries, gooseberries and an improved mountain ash all produced a bit. Here are the Hyer 20 apples:

Turnips, potatoes, rutabagas and some cole crops also did quite well, and I got one almost-big-enough tomatillo. As of yesterday, most of the garden is harvested and in except for some cabbages, that I think are better left out until I can make room in the fridge or a cooking pot! I still have some spring bulbs to plant, but gardening is almost done for the year. Just in time considering we already had our first snow last week, and a few nights of frost.
I purchased the empty lot next door this summer, so my dream of starting a community garden may be realized next year, if I can get off my butt and organize it! Right now the lot is full of piles of wood chips and the back corner is fenced for an extended chicken/duck run.

Berry harvest in July

Dipnetted the Kasilof and the Copper this summer, so the freezer is full of salmon and berries, and the cupboard has a few jars of syrups and jams. Not a huge stash of food, but a start on the winter! Also grew a good crop of oyster mushrooms from a kit and dried some of those plus some wild boletes.
Secrets to this year’s successes: goat manure around the fruit trees early every spring has undoubtedly contributed to strong growth and health. Guild planting has definitely led to happy communities – the strawberries are doing a very good job of competing with grass, berries under the trees are happy, and borage and motherwort and other flowers are drawing the bees. Yarrow, crimson clover, buckwheat, field peas and favas filled in the interstices, were lovely, and contributed their myriad benefits (drawing beneficials, pollinators, providing chicken forage, covering the ground as living mulch, providing food and nitrogen fixation). Mushrooms (of a generally undetermined nature – except for ubiquitous inky caps) grew everywhere amongst the beds and the wood chip paths.
Secrets to this year’s failures – I always put all the manure on the trees and mostly ignore the annual beds, so they don’t do as well. I didn’t thin enough as usual, and let the turnips shade out the beets and carrots too long for the latter to get big (the former are the size of baby’s heads and still tender). I traveled in May and late June and missed planting many things early etc, but all and all a great year!

Overview of Garden Progress – Spring/Summer 2012

OK, I have not posted since March. I must be busy. or lazy. Or both. I will try to get up to date with a couple of photo essays of the time in between my March postings and now. This first one is of the melting snow and the garden, from above. Next time I’ll post a photo essay of some more specific happenings and progress in the garden/food forest. Enjoy.

April 9 – the garden is covered with snow!


April 13 – still under snow!


April 18 – Melting…


April 27 – Melted!

May 24 – Finally greening up.

July 13 – not the same view, but getting almost Jungle-like

Cold climate egg production!

One of these days I’m going to write about my building/energy efficiency and community building projects again, but for now it is eggs that are exciting me. I arrived back from an overnight trip to Ft Yukon (where there is some interest in chicken raising due to the high cost of AC store eggs) to find 5 blue-green eggs in the nest!! So it seems at least 3 of the girls are laying. And here is breakfast this morning:

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The lighter yolk, bigger egg is a local egg but not from my hens. My hen egg is the one with the bright orange, firm yolk! Delish! Shells are strong as well, and the chickens seem healthy.

So, as I commented on in the last post, my local, energy efficient coop management seems to be working: a 40 watt equivalent 8 watt led bulb on a timer to give 14 hours of supplemented light, in an insulated but unheated coop. Alaskan grown grain (oats, barley, and or wheat) available from an automatic feeder in the coop. Unfrozen water supplied once a day. Scraps are brought with the water including crushed egg shells, table scraps including greens frozen for them in the fall, and salmon scraps (guts, backbones, skin, heads, roe, etc – about a pint to a quart a week). All for 5 hens and 4 ducks.

Little blue frozen egg!!

One of my hens laid a little blue-green egg in the nest box this morning! It was 10 F in the coop, so it froze before I got to it, but I’ll cook it today. I don’t heat my insulated coop, and the little door to their yard is always open unless it is double digits below zero F.

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So cold doesn’t seem to be a deterrent to laying! Neither does my tough-love, low energy treatment: to have as sustainable an operation as possible I only feed local grain (wheat, barley and/or oats – always available) and bring them salmon and table scraps and warm water once a day. We’ll see if that egg tastes fishy since most of their protein and calcium comes from salmon!

The key is light. I got them as new hatched chicks June 15, so they are about 31 weeks old. A couple of weeks ago I installed a compact fluorescent bulb on a timer in the coop and have generally been giving them an additional hour of light a day until today. Today they will have artificial light from 4:30am to 9:30am (dawn) then from 4:30pm (dusk) to 6:30pm – 14 hours as my sources tell me they need. Yesterday they only had 13.5 hours, so that was enough for one girl! I will slowly adjust the hours to start later so the eggs don’t have so much time to freeze.

It certainly seems like a miracle that they are starting to lay! Here is the flock:
The black Easter-egger type (blue/green egg layers):

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One of the three grey Easter-eggers:

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Probably the lone brown egg layer – the barred rock mutt:

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And, of course, the duck family:

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3pm update: another little blue egg in the nest – this one not cracked from freezing!! And I ate the first egg and it was delish – no fishy at all!

Murder most fowl

Over two weeks ago now I perpetrated a premeditated offing. The crime scene still shows some blood spatter if you dig around in the snow. I’d spent about 6 months intending to take out my victim, researching killing and disemboweling methods. Even when I grew somewhat attached to my intended target, I counseled myself to remain distant…biding my time.

And then that fateful Tuesday earlier this month. He started making too much noise. It was time to act before the neighbors grew suspicious. I set out my knives and went to work as normal, knowing my victim awaited his fate locked in the shed.

Ok, enough Dexter creepiness…Featherfoot the rooster crowed one morning as I brought the chickens and ducks water, and sealed his fate for the day. I got home from work, set my canning pot on the stove to heat water for plucking, loaded my favorite ‘how to butcher a chicken the simple way’ website and went out to the coop. Featherfoot was gentle to the end, almost no protest as I picked him up, held and petted and cooed to him, hung him up by his feet over a bucket outside, and slit his throat with a sharp fillet knife.

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Then he struggled, with what seemed to be minutes of post-mortem wing flapping that caused him to fall from his rope where I held him over the bucket, double checking the mortal severity of my slice, until he quieted.

A bit breathless from this, I then methodically dipped and plucked him and the three young chickens that the dog had offed and left one summer day. Fresh from the freezer, these tender young chickens’ skins pulled off as I worked to pluck and I let that be.

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The website butchering instructions were flawless, and all went well, even with my modification of saving the tail (which I love), by cutting under it instead of over. For the young chickens, since they hadn’t been gutted before freezing, I cut off frozen necks, legs, wings and breasts, chucking the rest in the compost for food safety.

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He went straight in the oven for that night’s dinner. I followed the high-roast recipe on the butchering site, but in hindsight I should have cooked him slower or frozen him first to tenderize the meat. He was very tasty, but a bit tough and stringy the first night, much more tender in soup the next day.

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I’m not sure I fully feel him as gone, and I’m sure the butchering was easier since my contact with the chickens is fairly limited in the winter ( the cold keeps us all inside more). I know it will be sad to not see him out being so wonderfully roosterish with his girls in the spring. But I am very proud that I seem to be cut out for this practical farmer lifestyle. The not-unpleasant but not-appetizing sweet smell of the guts was the only slightly distasteful thing (other than meting out death) of the whole process for me. The liver was amazingly tasty though. I remarked that I would raise meat birds just for the amazing taste of their fresh livers! (yumm…with fava beans would be good!)

Rest in peace, wonderful Featherfoot…if I can say that to someone I killed and ate.

This is where we weren’t going to go!

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This is Featherfoot.

If you remember, we got straight run (unsexed) chicks in June. We knew the boys were going in the pot, so we didn’t name any of then. At one point a dog got 4 of them. We consoled ourselves that those were probably all roosters (pretty sure that at least 2 were). The 3 bodies we found are still frozen in the fridge awaiting cooking. We successfully avoided attachment – except to Featherfoot.

He was a cute little runty fuzzy black chick – the only one with feathers on his feet. Since he became an early favorite, we reminded ourselves frequently that he was probably a boy. Not because he seemed to be, but as emotional protection. We would slip and call him Featherfoot, and then remind ourselves not to. We were very relieved when he showed back up after the dog rampage. He definitely started to get a bigger comb and wattle then the rest, but his body still looked very hen-like and we sorta hoped against hope that he was just a big combed breed of hen.

No such luck. There is no crowing yet, but it is painfully obvious that we have 5 hens and one rooster. He is shiny black with some iridescent green and has recently developed some pretty cream colored hackle and saddle feathers. His tail is getting long. He is beloved by his hens and quite the gentleman. He is also the tamest and the easiest to hold. It seems so right to see him out with the girls.

But this is the city. I have half a mind to get him de-crowed, and I’m not too concerned with the cruelty of that (I think he’d rather strut amongst his girls, indulging in his roosterly duties quietly than simmer with the dumplings) but even if anyone in town does that it is a risky, presumably expensive procedure that may not make him quiet enough to pass city standards. So he’s probably dinner. But it does seem a shame. It seems the flock should have a rooster, and he seems like such a good man to have around. It’d be neat to hatch out chicks someday too. Sigh.

In other chicken news, the winter coop is almost ready for them (I know I said that last time, but now really!). Just need to gate the outside run, finish the automatic chicken feeder, and seal the floor with polyurethane – they should be in by Friday. Probably going to acquire some Muscovy ducks by then too…at least the drakes will be no problem, noise wise!