Sunday, September 30, 2012

Buying Beef in Bulk

I have a great garden in my back yard, but I do not have the space (nor the blessing of my husband or knowledge needed) to raise my own meat. For the last two years we've been buying our meat at the farmer's market, from local farmers that raise their beef, pigs, chicken, buffalo, etc. on pasture. After thinking about, we decided we'd like to 1) avoid going to the farmer's market so often in the winter, 2) try to eat more cuts of an animal, and 3) save money while still buying from local farmers.

So, we decided that we would buy beef in bulk. We solidified our decision when we found a 16-cubic feet upright freezer on super-sale at the local home improvement store. So, this summer we visited R Farm to check out their farm store. Based on our online searches, they were offering the best value in local beef raised on pasture (although they're not certified organic). We planned to go to the store to buy a few cuts, try them out, and then decide if we would buy. However, while there we heard Mac talking about the cost of feed going up this winter because of the drought, which would ultimately increase the price of beef. We decided right then and there to put a deposit down on a half steer, without ever tasting the meet. We still bought some cuts and took them home with us, and I'm happy to report that they were delicious.

Our farm visit was in mid July, I think. I received a call from Nicole on September 13 letting us know that our steer was ready for slaughter in five days. It was a little faster than I expected, but fine by me. I started reading up about cuts and requested our selected cuts from the butcher R Farm works with, Detjens Northern Trails Meats. They had an online form, which made it super easy.

Yesterday we went to go pick up the meat. It was a lot, but manageable. We filled three coolers. We realized we were newbies because we were the only people not wearing gloves. When packing coolers full of meat, it helps to have gloves on - my hands got a little frosty. Lesson learned from last time.

We got the meat home and packed it in the freezer. I'd say it fills about 60% of our freezer. Our freezer has three shelves, a bottom basket, and door space. The beef filled the bottom rack, bottom shelf, and about 80% of the second shelf.

Here's what we ended up with:

  • 3 chuck arm roasts (about 3 lbs each)
  • 3 blade chuck roasts (about 3 lbs each)
  • 1 rib roast (maybe 5 lbs?)
  • 2 rump roasts (about 3 lbs each)
  • 1 english roast (about 4 lbs)
  • 6 packages of stew meat (about 1 lb each)
  • 4 soup bones
  • 2 large packages of short ribs (about 3 lbs each)
  • 8 round steaks (about 12 oz each)
  • 6 sirloin steaks (about 10 oz each)
  • 8 t-bone steaks (about 8 oz each)
  • 4 porterhouse steaks (about 10 oz each)
  • 8 ribeye steaks (about 10 oz each)
  • 5 lbs of hot sticks
  • 73.5 lbs ground beef
*I didn't weigh any of this meat - I'm totally guessing, and likely a bit conservative. The only thing I'm sure of is the ground beef.

Since most of my beef cooking experience has been tacos, chili, hamburgers, and stew, I'm going through my cookbooks for great ways to use all this beef. We're looking forward to quality meat without all the running to the farmer's market.

As luck would have it, we signed up for a whole-hog butchering class 6 months ago, and that fell on the same weekend our beef was ready. So today we butchered a hog and brought home a cooler full of pork. More on that in a separate post, once I wade through the pictures.

Monday, September 3, 2012

I Will Not Be Defeated

As I briefly alluded to in my previous post, our fall garden bed (chard, beets, turnips, carrots) was overrun with pests that ate off the top of all the tender seedlings. Generally, I'd assume September is too late to start all over again, but I'm going to ride the wave of this crazy climate year and hope our last frost doesn't hit until the end of October. I've replanted the chard, beets, and most of the carrots. I'd run out of St. Valery carrot seeds as well as all turnip seeds.

To ward off the pest, I've already treated the bed for slugs, and I also sprinkled ground pepper over everything. I read on Garden Web that ground pepper is a deterrent for mice, voles, and other crawly critters. Hopefully, this will keep them away until I can get some row covers purchased and installed.

The beets and chard rows are covered with wet burlap, and the carrot rows are covered with boards to help speed germination and stop the ground from drying out so fast. I will try to be diligent - I'd really like some fall/winter greens and root vegetables.

Do you take any special precautions with your fall garden?

Garden Lessons

The garden season is not entirely over (it better not be - there are a lot of green tomatoes on my plants), but I've gotten through enough of it to reflect on things I want to do differently next year. Some of my readers who are more experienced gardeners may say "duh," but this is only my third year of gardening (fourth if you include containers). Hopefully, I have about 50 years of gardening ahead of me. My husband has urged me to write these things down so I don't have the same frustrations next year.

We need to learn how to deal with pests.

Whether flying, crawling, or scampering, this year's mild winter has made every pest invasion more extreme. There are a variety of measures I can take to keep the pests out of my garden.
  • Dig our chicken wire barrier down into the ground.
    • Last year, when I put up the chicken wire along our chain link fence that encloses the garden, I didn't dig it into the ground. I knew I should have, but we had already felled 4 trees, added 4 large beds, hauled in garden soil, and constructed a serious trellis/gate. I needed to get plants in the ground, not dig in the chicken wire—or so I thought. The ground-level barrier worked for a year, but this year I've seen mice and chipmunks running free through the garden. They've definitely learned to burrow. Either this fall or early next spring, we're going to have to invest some serious sweat equity - digging in approximately 125 feet of chicken wire.
  • Invest in some hoops and cover fabric.
    • If the mice do end up getting in, I don't want to let them have my beet harvest again. I know the hoops aren't 100% necessary, but I think I'd like to have them to extend the growing season anyway. I wish I would have purchased some immediately after I discovered the devastation in the beet patch - the entire fall bed (beets, chard, turnips) has had all of its leaves eaten by some type of critter. I dont' think it's going to make it. Hopefully this covering will also keep our plants protected from the bugs that infested our garden this year - at least until they're established enough to need pollinating.
  • Figure out how to outsmart the slugs.
    • We've tried beer traps. We've tried treating with Sluggo (maybe not frequently enough?) The fact is slugs are still decimating many of our crops. They seem to love our soil, and I need to find a way to get rid of them.
  • Pay more attention to my summer squash and cucumbers, and Aaron's hops.
    • I think these need to be sprayed much more often than we did (we use pyrethrin). That, or I need to plan to have two rotations of these plants so I have more maturing after the first planting is lost to the bugs.

We need to make better use of our available space.

  • After harvesting the early bed, most of it stayed empty (except 4 rows of pole beans on 2 trellises) because it was too late to plant the melons I had planned for that bed. I could have, however, planted more summer squash in that space—it would have started producing fruit right as we started severely cutting back our powdery-mildew and squash vine borer infested leaves and stems.
  • Some things can be planted closer together (garlic), while others need to be farther apart (onions, tomatoes, beets).
  • I need to give up on planting in the ground on the back fence line (it's overrun with weeds from all the neighbors) and add a few smaller raised beds back there. They'll be perfect for determinant tomatoes, bush beans, or smaller root veggies like beets and turnips.

I need to build better tomato cages.

  • I have these great tomato cages that store flat (they're made up of 3 poles and 9 connectors/supports each), but I consistently assemble them backwards. I face the supports the wrong way, so as the plant grows it busts out of the cages. Simply snapping on the supports facing the correct direction will fix this problem—yet I've managed to screw it up for 2 years.

I've got to make the basil last.

  • Believe it or not, I think this means planting less of it. I have a tendency to plant too much basil, which results in my inability to keep up with harvests and the premature yellowing of the plants. I need to be ruthless when I harvest so the regrowth continues until the tomatoes are all ripe.
  • Related - when I have a glut of basil, I need to make pesto, even if there is a bunch in the freezer. I'm looking at a pesto-free winter because I didn't make pesto in June when I should have.

It's time to start identifying my preferred varieties.

  • This is most important for me in regards to the plants I grow a lot of and put up for the winter—tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, zucchini, garlic.
  • Tomatoes: I started growing exclusively heirloom tomatoes because it seemed the most authentic type to grow. Don't get me wrong - they're delicious. But, I need a large portion of my tomatoes to be suitable for canning. Most of the heirlooms I grow are delicious slicers, but they don't put out the volume to give me enough for canning.
    • This was the first year I grew some determinant varieties, and Polbig (an early hybrid) is definitely a keeper. It put out tons of fist-sized tomatoes that are perfect for canning, sauce, salsa, etc.
    • Blondkopfchen, an heirloom cherry tomato, is definitely a keeper. It takes longer to ripen than some other cherries, but its huge clusters give me an enormous amount of tomatoes at once - they're perfect for roasting, fresh eating, and soon I hope to give them a try in my newly-purchased dehydrator.
    • Moonshine is my favorite slicer, so that heirloom will still find a place in my garden.
    • Amish Paste, however, is on its way out. The huge tomatoes would be great, except they always split on me, and I end up cutting off way to much to get rid of the damaged parts. Also, I only get a few ripe tomatoes a day - not enough at once to put up anything of consequence.
    • Matt's Wild Cherry tastes delicious, but it sprawls way too much for me (the plant is so tall I can't pick the highest clusters) and it annoys me that the fruits seem to ripen in a set order on the cluster - those closest to the stem ripen much faster than the fruits at the end of the cluster. This means more time spent picking, as you can only pick one or two fruits from each cluster at a time. I appreciated that they ripened the earliest, though - so I'm on the hunt for another early-ripening cherry tomato.
    • Heinz was on trial in my garden this year, and it will probably get another year. The fruits are small, but they take longer than the Polbig's to ripen, meaning I have an extended canning/preserving season.
    • According to this list, I might end up with only 5 or 6 tomato varieties each year (assuming I try something new every year). I need to realize that that's ok. I've got lots of other fish (veggies?) to fry.
  • Beans
    • I've only been growing beans for 2 years, but I've learned a variety of lessons. 1) Don't plant a double row in front of the trellis - the leaves will grow so thick you'll never find the beans! 2) Don't freak out about getting them in the ground as soon as we're clear of the last frost. Better for them to get a start to grow healthy stems than to be set back by cold, wet weather. 3) I need to stagger my bean planting. This year I planted up until July and I think I'll get everything harvested before the first frost.
    • Ideal Market tastes delicious, but it's hard to find in the mess of beans. I'm going to stick with beans that have some sort of color to them so they're easier to pick.
    • Using that criteria, I think Rattlesnake and Purple Trionfo Violetto are keepers.
    • I'm going to actually grow my pole beans on poles (teepees) next year. The beautiful trellises my father in law makes keep getting blown over in the wind.
    • I'll likely try growing edamame again next year, although every single seed failed to come up this year.
    • I'll need another year of trials on growing dry beans. The bugs and slugs were so ruthless this year, they didn't get a fair shot.
  • Cucumbers
    • Actually labeling my cucumbers will likely help me determine which ones I like :) I had a hard time with germination this year, then ended up planting them way too close together. Next year will be better. My husband loves pickles, so I need to plant a lot of pickling cucs and just a few slicers.
  • Zucchini & Summer Squash
    • I'll probably just stick with black beauty and yellow summer squash. They're solid producers, I can freeze a bunch, and they're easy to process.
  • Garlic
    • This was the first year of growing garlic, so it won't actually be until the fall 2013 planting that I can make intelligent choices based on their storage qualities. However, based on what I've seen from our Music variety and what I've heard about its storage qualities, it's a keeper. In fact, it might be the only one I plant this fall. We'll see.
I'm sure there's more......but there are another 6 weeks left in the garden season to get it all out of my head and onto the blog, right?