Archive for April, 2011

Beltane Fire

Beltane, May Day, has long been one of the most important festivals of the agricultural year, when our ancestors danced around maypoles, leaped across fires, and chose mates or thought about it. It’s easy to see why. The earth is fully awake and full of the promise of the year’s abundance. Flowers are everywhere. Salad bowls brim with the first fruits of the soil. The frosts are largely past, and we can entrust ourselves to the splendors of the unfolding season. Hens lay, cows and goats give milk, and urban homesteading is briefly and exquisitely simple.
This is also the main planting season, and there’s so much to do in each lengthening day that I seldom feel like making fussy meals. The hens are laying mightily, and eggs can be turned into a series of light fresh meals. Here, scrambled egg tacos combine great eggs from your hens or the farmers’ market with good soft corn tortillas, avocados, and your favorite fiery red salsa, either homemade or bought. This is too simple to be called a recipe. For two people, prepare eight corn tortillas by your preferred method; I toast mine briefly on a hot comal and put them in a clay tortilla-holder to keep hot. Have the salsa ready at room temp. Cut two good ripe avocados into chunks and dress them lightly with lemon juice and salt. I like to mash them into a very rough and chunky puree. Saute’ half an onion or the white part of a green onion, chopped finely, in butter or oil until cooked. Pour in 5 eggs and scramble them over medium heat, throwing in about half a teaspoon of salt and a good pinch of ground toasted cumin (a kitchen staple if you do much Mexican cooking, but you can omit it if you don’t have it or don’t want to make it.) When the eggs are done to your liking, pile them on two small plates and serve immediately with the tortillas, the salsa, and the avocados. Roll some egg, some salsa, and some avocado in each tortilla, and eat messily.

Meet Magnolia

One of the biggest steps in making an urban homestead is adding animals. Chickens are the easiest, and you can get Brett Markham’s book Mini Farming for info about how he integrates layers and meat chickens into a small operation. I have wanted for a while to add a dairy animal, and based on my past experiences with goats here are the pros and cons:
Pro: goats are small and easy to handle compared to a cow. They tend to be hardy. They will eat brush (they love Siberian elms.) They are intelligent and affectionate. They produce a lot of milk relative to body size, and the milk is easy to digest.
Con:they are unbelievable escape artists and require excellent fencing. They will eat all your shrubs and trees unless well fenced. You need to know their health and nutrition needs. Contrary to popular belief, they won’t “eat anything;” they are actually picky eaters who need very specific kinds of food. They need to be bred, and I do not recommend keeping a buck in a suburban area, so you will need to take them somewhere to be bred. If bred or in milk, they need supplemental food and it can get expensive. You need to have a plan for how to handle the milk and what to do with it, keeping in mind that unless you pasteurize it you may not be able to sell it legally (check your local ordinances, but it is illegal in many areas to sell raw milk.)
Get a good book on dairy goat raising and actually read it before deciding to get a goat. That said, they are lovely animals and I’m very happy to have one again. Magnolia is a yearling doe, purportedly bred. We’ll see. Meanwhile, she participates in homestead life by standing on top of her goat-house commenting on all yard activity and eating all the siberian elm cutting I bring her.