A visit from Susi (The Wolf)

Check out what our trail cam picked up! How lucky we are that wolves still live in our hills?12-3-2015 timber wolf FB

When our neighbor’s mother, Mary Nikolai, was young, she lived in the old farmstead that is on our property. One day, Mary’s mother skied out to check the mail, and the kids (Mary and her sisters) heard the wolves howling in the hills. The kids were sure that the wolves had eaten their mother. She returned safely, but not long after that, they decided to move closer to what is now Little Marais Rd.

This is a story that my sisters and I heard many times when we were young. Perhaps this wolf is related to one of those wolves that scared Mary and her sisters all those years ago?

Fermented Organic Chicken Feed: The Secret to Healthy Chickens!

Fermented Breakfast

By: Kaare Melby

chickenFermenting chicken feed is a wonderful way to get the most out of your chicken feed, and keep your chickens healthy. Fermenting grain for chickens makes the feed more digestible, adds important nutrients, gives your chickens (free!) probiotics, and increases the available nutrients in your feed by neutralizing phytic acids. Since this helps your chickens get more out of the feed, they also need less feed each day.

I came into fermenting feed after learning a lot about fermenting human food, and its benefits. I wrote an article about fermenting vegetables a while ago that was published in the Organic Consumers Association‘s newsletter. You can read that article here.

Since I am comfortable with fermenting and know that it is the oldest and safest form of food preservation known, I think that I had an easier time with the concept of fermenting chicken feed than someone who has no fermenting experience. But fermenting chicken feed is easy, and no one should be scared to start.

My process is very simple. But it does take 4 days from when you decide to start to when you will be able to start feeding your chickens fermented feed. After that initial 3 day period you will always have fermented feed.

Here’s how to get started:

(day 1) Simply put the amount of feed you usually feed your chickens in the bottom of a bucket. Add enough water to make it a soup like consistency (you will get the hang of the amount of water you will need, you want to be able to pour it out when it’s done). Then you put a towel over it to keep bugs and dust out of the feed. Be sure you put the bucket in a warm area, 50 degrees or warmer. That’s it!

(day 2) Do the same thing with another bucket, place it next to the first bucket (remember which one is older!).

(day 3) Fill a 3rd bucket, place it next to the bucket you made the day before. Now you should have 3 buckets arranged from oldest to newest.

(day 4) Take the oldest bucket and feed its content to your chickens. Fill it again, and place it next to the other buckets, but now in the position of the newest bucket.

Then, simply repeat this processes every day, and you will always have fermented feed!

As you go, you will start adjusting to find the amount your chickens need. You will most likely be able to significantly reduce the amount of dry feed you use each day, we were able to reduce our daily feed usage by over 50%! As you learn about the needs of your chickens, you can start adding supplemental feed, such as sunflowers seeds (to boost protein and natural methionine), chia seeds (to boost omega 3 fatty acids), and more!

Happy fermenting!

Babies at The Farm!

Incubator Filled With EggsIt’s that time of year!

This spring our friend Chris gifted us an incubator (thanks Chris!). We could hardly wait to use it, so we found a good place to hatch chicks and filled it with eggs from our hens. We patiently watched them, making sure to keep the temperature and humidity right.

Finally, 3 weeks later, we saw the first signs of life. Shortly after that, chicks stated hatching!

We happened to be ready with a camera as 2 of the chicks hatched. Check out the video we made of this beautiful experience:

Guinea Hen Chicks
We also ordered 20 guinea hens, which arrived yesterday. Look how cute they are!

We are so very excited about adding these birds to our flock. Now we are waiting for our turkey chicks to arrive! Hopefully they will get here soon!

Storing Carbon in the Soil: Our Small-Scale Biochar Experiment

biochar close-up

WoodstoveBy: Kaare Melby
April 20th, 2015

Winter’s cold embrace has a way of inspiring ingenuity here on Finnskogen farm, and this winter was no exception. On one particularly cold day this February, I was sitting next to the woodstove, day-dreaming about all of the projects that the frozen ground and snow were preventing me from working on, when I had an idea that changed the way I thought about our woodstove, and our whole farm.

One of the projects I had been working on over the summer was ways to efficiently make Biochar to add to our compost. Biochar is charcoal, which can be made from any biomass (grass, leaves, wood, sawdust, manure, food waste, egg shells, bones, etc). When used properly, Biochar has amazing properties that can drastically improve agricultural soils. It can help increase the population of healthy soil micro-organisms, it can increase water retention in soils, and it can be a great way to fix nutrients in the soil. But the benefits are not limited to agriculture; Biochar can actually help us fight climate change by fixing carbon in the soil for thousands of years! Clearly, Biochar is something of interest to us.

But I ran into some problems when I was contemplating ways to make Biochar on our farm. I tried the pit method, which involved starting wood on fire, then slowly burying it as it burned. This method was labor intensive, and it seemed pretty inefficient. It also ended up with a lot of sand/dirt mixed in with the Biochar, which made retrieving the Biochar difficult. Next I tried making a pyrolysis chamber out of a metal bucket. This resulted in a much cleaner finished product. But this method was still somewhat labor-intensive, as it required me to gather a lot of firewood to support the large fire the processes needed. This also bothered me because it required me to burn a lot of wood that I otherwise might not have burned, and burning this wood only achieved one goal: making biochar. I knew there had to be a better way, but I wasn’t sure what it was.

This is where the woodstove comes in. What if I used the fire in my woodstove to make Biochar? The idea is simple enough, but the effects really started to inspire me. There are many people across the planet who heat their homes using a woodstove. If I could figure out a simple, cheap, and efficient way to use a woodstove to simultaneously make heat and Biochar, I could teach other people the method. And if enough of us started making and using Biochar regularly, we could make a real impact on climate change (not to mention improve our soils and grow more healthy food for our community)!

DSC_0279After thinking about it for a while, I realized that all I needed was a pyrolysis chamber that fit into the woodstove, and still left enough room for a fire to burn. A pyrolysis chamber is really just a metal container with a lid and vent holes on the bottom. I made a simple one out of an old round cookie tin (thrift stores often have these for sale if you don’t have any laying around). I used an awl to poke holes along the side of the tin, filled it with wood scraps, and wrapped it with some steel wire to hold the lid on. I then put the filled tin into my woodstove on top of a Biochar before and afterhot bed of coals. I added some wood to the fire and shut the stove.

After about half an hour I opened up the stove, and saw the sign of successful gasification that I was looking for: jets of flames coming out of the vent holes in the side of the tin. After an hour or two the gasification stopped, the fire burned down, and I removed the tin and put it outside to cool (This is very important! If you do not let the Biochar cool down before opening the pyrolysis chamber, the Biochar can ignite, burning up all of that carbon you have worked so hard to preserve). Once the Biochar had completely cooled, I opened the tin, crunched up the pieces, and sprinkled them on to the floor of my deep litter chicken coop. This helps inoculate the Biochar with good bacteria and nutrients such as nitrogen. It also helps keep the chicken coop from smelling bad. If you don’t have a chicken coop, we suggest biochar and chickensthat you mix your Biochar in to your compost pile, or at least leave it outside to weather for a while before incorporating it in to your garden. The Biochar needs to absorb some water and nutrients first; otherwise it can actually suck important nutrients out of your soil.

Note: I have noticed that some cookie tins start to disintegrate after several uses. Some tins are stronger than others; I suggest looking for a pretty sturdy one. I plan on having my local welder make a pyrolysis chamber for me out of some heavier duty sheet metal for next year. But for now I am happy using the cookie tin.

Wait, doesn’t burning wood release carbon in to our atmosphere?

Yes, anytime you burn carbon based materials, some carbon is released in to the atmosphere. But there is a difference between wood and fossil fuels such as petroleum and coal. When we burn fossil fuels we are adding ancient carbon in to the current carbon system. That carbon took a very long time to accumulate via natural processes, and it’s been stored safely underground for millions of years. When we burn wood, we are adding some carbon to the atmosphere, but that carbon is part of the current carbon system. When a tree grows, it pulls carbon out of the atmosphere using photosynthesis. When that tree dies, most of that carbon will return to the atmosphere in the decomposition processes. When you burn wood, you simply accelerate that processes. In this way, wood is essentially carbon neutral, because it does not add new carbon in to the atmosphere.

Even though burning wood does not add new carbon to the atmosphere, it does add some carbon to the atmosphere. And for this reason, I like to avoid burning wood when I can. That is why I am so excited about making Biochar using the fire in my woodstove, a fire that would burn whether I was making biochar or not. Using the woodstove also helps burn off the volatile gasses that are produced when making biochar (remember those jets of flame that were coming out of the vents in the pyrolysis chamber?). As those volatile gasses are burned, they generate heat. This means that we are producing heat for our home as a byproduct of making Biochar. And we take the Biochar (which is pure carbon), and add it to the soil, where it can stay for thousands of years. This means we use carbon from the current carbon system to create a stable form of carbon that is essentially removed from the current carbon system. And that is the secret to reversing climate change.

Now that you have this knowledge, it’s up to you to act on it. We all need to start making biochar. We all need to teach others about biochar. And we all need to spread this message of hope! We can reverse climate change! It’s up to all of us!

A Little Midwinter Reprieve–Recipe: Taco Cupcakes

As Winter barrels on, sometimes it can feel unrelenting, and…well, cold! Every now and then, it becomes necessary to bring a little summer fun to the depths of your snow-filled wilderness. This idea came to us, and it was immediately put into motion; Taco Cupcakes! Not only do the fresh veggies and sour cream bring to mind the warmer days of summer, but the new and unique delivery system was simple, and fun. While our home-grown reserves have been severely depleted by the winter, we were still able to find everything we needed from the local co-op (most of it was organic, too!).

Here’s the recipe that we used:

Taco Cupcakes

Taco Cupcakes

Makes 24 ‘cupcakes’

1 lb ground beef
1 can refried beans
12 small corn tortillas
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

For garnishing:
1/2 onion, finely diced
1 medium tomato, diced
lettuce shreds
sour cream

Preheat your oven to 350°F.
In a medium skillet, thoroughly cook the ground beef. Set aside.
Grease 2 (12 muffin capacity) muffin tins.

Cut the corn tortillas into fourths (like a clock: 12 to 6, and 9 to 3). Push one triangle into the bottom of each muffin cup. This will take some scrunching; let the corners fold up the side of the cup, this will help keep some of the ingredients in after baking.

  1. Fill each cup with about a tablespoon or two of ground beef.
  2. Place another tortilla triangle over the ground beef. Then, place a tablespoon or two of refried beans.
  3. Bake these layers for 15-20 minutes. You want the edges of the tortilla to be slightly browned, and fairly crispy. This will help hold the ‘cupcake’ together.
  4. When you have achieved a pretty crispy cupcake, evenly sprinkle the cheddar cheese on top of each cupcake, and place back in the oven for another 3-5 minutes. You want the cheese just melted.
  5. After removing from the oven, top with your favorite garnishes! We found that sour cream was necessary, not only to keep the garnishes on top of the cupcake, but also for the overall texture.Other garnishes could include avocado, pico de gallo, cilantro, guacamole, or salsa.

These will be a little messy. So let your mind travel back to the barbecues of summer, where napkins were necessary, and smiles were plentiful. Travel to the tastes of summer. Enjoy with a cool glass of lemonade (or maybe a margarita?) and stave off cabin fever for a few glorious moments!

Happy New Year! Recipe: Cloud Eggs

Cloud Eggs
Cloud Eggs

Cloud Eggs

Being that this is the first afternoon of the year, today’s lunch begged to be different and exciting. The only thing holding us back was the lack of different and exciting ingredients. Holiday parties had tapped out our exotic resources, and we were left with the simple and mundane.

When what to our wondering eyes should appear; a Bulgarian video that promised beautiful egg yolks suspended on clouds! The video was completely in Bulgarian, but the message got through: whip the whites, and bake the eggs together. Since eggs are one of the Finnskogen staples with our ever-expanding flock, this recipe needed to be tried. Although, “recipe” may not be the best name for what these are; “procedure” is probably better suited.

Creativity can run rampant through this procedure–with add-ins, and sides that can take your meal to a new level. Since this was our first try, we kept things simple as a control. Next time, we will definitely use add-ins on our clouds like crumbled bacon and Parmesan cheese. Or served on top of a slice of hot, buttered toast. Mmmmm!

Here is the procedure we used:

4 eggs
salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
2. Lightly grease a cast iron skillet or other oven-safe vessel.
3. Separate the yolks and whites of eggs. Note: We found that one of the yolks broke as we were transferring them later on, so it may be advantageous to use separate ramekins for each yolk.
4. Whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in your add-ins at this point, including salt and pepper.
5. Scoop in four equal ‘clouds’ into your skillet. With the back of a spoon, push a well into the center of each cloud. This will house the yolk.
6. Place in the oven for 3 minutes.
7. Remove, and (carefully) set one egg yolk into the well of each cloud.
8. Return to the oven for another 2-3 minutes, or until your yolk is set to desired “doneness”. Don’t walk away! The whites will begin browning very quickly!

Rooster and Chickens

Rooster and Chickens

We removed the clouds with a spatula, and served with fried slices of pork ribs from the night before. We found that the clouds stayed fluffy, and the slightly crisp, browned sections were the most savory. Next time, we will probably add the salt to the whites themselves, and increase the amount slightly. This time we used around 1/2 to 1 tsp, and it was added to the chives, and folded into the whites from there.

Overall, this procedure was extremely successful, and we will definitely be adding it to our breakfast/lunchtime repertoire!