Rabbits are a fantastic addition to a homestead: they are a source of fertility (manure), protein (meat), fibre (pellet) and love (they keep your lawn nice and trim!). Once you get over the "easter bunny syndrome" or "cute factor" it becomes apparent that meat rabbits are as valuable to an homestead operation as backyard chickens.
First off, the meat production factor. Rabbits have a much smaller carbon footprint than other animals because they convert calories into pounds more efficiently. According to Slow Food USA, "Rabbit can produce six pounds of meat on the same amount of feed and water it takes a cow to produce just one pound." Furthermore, rabbits are a healthier meat. The quality of their protein is very good, they are high in good fats, and because they are a pseudo-ruminant they have higher levels of CLAs [Conjugated Linoleic Acid] which are high in the Omega-3 fats that you find in grass fed-beef and lamb.
Moreover, rabbit tractors (think mobile chicken tractor but with bunnies inside) help keep weeds and grasses cut low and their manure is one of the best to apply to a veggie garden. Though high in nitrogen, rabbit manure is safe to apply to crops without first composting it.
We were very excited to introduce backyard rabbits to our farmstead operation with our buck Kale and our two does Buttercup and Dottie. Unfortunately, my carpentering skills let me down and unable to create a run/ hutch system that would keep the neighboring Cherry Lane farm guaranteed free of of bunnies, we are having to depart with our rabbit operation. The same qualities that make bunnies a fantastic source of animal protein for a homestead, make it a nightmare for vegetable growers, and the thought of having a wily un-neutered female rabbit on site can cause some farmers to have nightmares of torn up rows of cabbage and demolished seedlings. We, as fledgling farmers, completely understand the stress and fear that comes with trusting others in doing their due diligence to make sure your livelihood isn't being put at risk, so though we are sad to see the bunnies go to another homestead, we're more than understanding of the situation that is leading to this loss.
Thus, the rabbit operation will have to wait until I have my own farm where my carpentry skills will be able to meet my needs for seedling/ crop security. Until then, I'll just have to support my friends as they raise one of the most sustainable forms of meat and courageously dispel the 'easter bunny cute' syndrome.
A glorious day under the sun, with a group of fantastic friends. So wonderful to meet new and old neighbors as we cleaned up our most public urban farm site at 41st and Blenheim.
We harvested kale blossoms, fava tips, sage, purple sprouting broccoli and mini heads of cabbages.
If this weather keeps up we'll have all our beds prepped in no time!
Mert and Fin seeding calendula, poppies and peas!
Luna weeding between rows of garlic
When my housemate Greg volunteered to write the newsletter this week in exchange for me doing the dishes, I jumped at the offer! Not only is Greg a writer by trade, I'm finding myself in a bit of a rut writing newsletters week after week- so a dose of creative energy was welcomed! Here's what Greg came up with after listening to me ramble about my week:
Vancouver’s lingering summer has kept its citizens outside for a little longer, and one may reasonably assume that there has been a little bonanza on the farms. So perhaps it’s hard to imagine that, despite the early October sun, we have had a light harvest this week. The reality is that when the temperatures plummet overnight, even frost-tolerant plants, like kohlrabi and carrots, find it difficult to grow consistently. So we have pieced together a little of this and a little of that, as our summer crops dwindle and our fall/winter crops finally come into their glory.
And because they are ambitious, the plants themselves are becoming impatient. They would like to grow less skittishly, to make regular daily progress, and maybe even thrive and bloom into something unlike anything seen before.
In spite of these frustrations, most of the harvest at our Thanksgiving dinner murmured little thank yous for the usual things: sunlight, soil of a fair fertility, water, love, and the chance to change. And as we chewed and sipped our wine we had to admire those little miracles that were being skewered by our cutlery. We smiled at their gratefulness, their coy and modest hopes, and had only vague wishes that in the future they might stop using humans as metaphors for their own brief and glorious lives.
Please subscribe to Leah's blog- it's absolutely amazing! Such detailed account of how to use all of the quirky things we put in the CSA boxes. I'm always so excited to read how she's enjoyed (or not) the contents of the boxes!
Leah (member #27), whom I think should start writing a weekly food column for a magazine, wrote another mouth watering email about what she did with the CSA contents.
Here it is:
Here’s how I adored box #3:
First, I amalgamated the kales, old and new, along with the few, sad leaves in my own garden to make some gorgeous kale chips. The only thing I have to add that hasn’t been said before about kale chips is to use a huge bowl to add very little olive oil (say, 2 tsp. max) and sort of gently massage it into the kale. Then use the convection setting on the oven (about 325 degrees) and check frequently after 7 or 8 minutes. Crispy, and not too oily.
Used up last week’s garlic scapes and some left-over garlic butter in a mushroom dish which got stuffed into quesadillas. Just sautéed it all up, along with one of the sliced new onions, then baked it in folded flour tortillas with a little mozzarella until melted.
The broccoli, crunchier bits of the lettuce and the carrots (or as we call them, carrost): an amazingly effective little strategy for feeding fussy 9 year-old boys. When he is on the computer (5:45 exactly, for about an hour, or until dinner is ready) I stealthily and silently set a dinner plate heaped (and I mean heaped!) with raw veg just near the mouse. It always disappears. Sometimes I even refill it, and that will disappear, too.
The rest of the carrots and all the mint were made into a tasty slaw: shred carrots, chop mint, add a handful of raisins. Mix in a dollop of mayonnaise with some rice vinegar and olive oil, and a sprinkle of sea salt. Almost sparkly, it’s so refreshing.
Have been enjoying the cilantro and basil seedlings, which I finally planted into a container just at the bottom of the kitchen steps. Twice this week made a cucumber and cherry tomato salad with feta cheese, finished with white balsamic vinegar and olive oil. The first time I added shredded basil, the second time I used cilantro. Loved it both times. Had left-overs once, so served it again on the last of the salad greens.
Last night I cooked sliced mushrooms in butter with the rest of the new onions, and some cauliflower flowerets. Added a splash of balsamic vinegar, some parmesan cheese and the last of the cherry tomatoes, then mixed in some cooked pearl couscous that I got at Costco. It was really yummy, but of course the kids wouldn’t touch it.
And I’ve decided I like lambs quarters even more than spinach. Especially good sautéed in olive oil, then drizzled with sesame oil. No squeaky teeth.
The fridge is now pretty much empty, just in time for box#4.
It's been about a month now since we coaxed the pigs up the red carpet into the back of my van, and transported them to their new home at our plot in Burnaby. They've adjusted just fine to being in a large space, with plenty of quack grass to root up and mud baths to play in. One of our objective for the pigs was to have them decimate the quack grass by over pasturing them on our field: allowing them to express their pig-ness (aka their love to root) and in the process, helping us try to clear this huge field of a weedy root system so thick, it breaks tractors.
The key to our system for rotating pigs on our field is having an easilymoveable pig pen. The solution? Electric Fencing. Our friends at Rootdown Farm have been using this system for their farm in Pemberton for two years now, and were SUPER generous with helping us through the process of choosing a system that would work for us. So after a fun trip to Otter Co-op, we hooked up our solar powered, electric fencing unit and set about training our little piggies to stay back from the live wires.
The process itself is rather simple: set up the electric fencing inside a solid fence (in our case, a pallet pig enclosure) and after getting zapped a couple of times, the pigs will figure out that they are not to approach the yellow and black wires with pink ribbons attached to it.
After watching Julia cry out in pain (and she is no wuss!) after testing the wires, I knew the pigs were not in for fun times as they learned their painful wire-avoidance lesson, but my heart was still not prepared for their yelping. As I watched them get shocked, yelp and look over at me with betrayed eyes, I felt a premonition for the emotions that I will face at a larger magnitude on slaughter day. It was a feeling of responsibility, knowing that I could stop the pain that they were experiencing by simply flicking off the switch for the electric fencing system, but also recognizing that this learning needed to happen in order for the pigs to gain access to the larger field.
Now as I watch them sunbathing in their live wire enclosure, where they have ample room to root and explore, I know the painful wire-lesson was one that was necessary and worthwhile- for both pigs and humans.
Leah, (member #27) absolutely made my day today with her amazing description of what she did with the goodies from our first CSA harvest box. Below is the email I found in my inbox this morning:
Ah, Box 27. Your first visit. I think we’re going to get along just fine.
The first thing I did was pop the kale and garlic scapes into an old jug I happened to find in an alley. Just too purdy to hide in the fridge.
Tore the lettuce into pieces and added to the other salad greens. It just fit into my Tupperware salad keeper thingmee. A very good invention.
The chard didn’t even make it into the fridge. It was so crisp and glossy I decided to eat it straight away: sautéed 3 chopped green onions and the chard stems in olive oil, added the leaves and steamed for a minute or two, then threw on a little sea salt. Could have eaten the whole works myself, but saved some for my husband. That’s love. Secretly pleased the kids refuse to eat cooked greens.
Not a big fan of the radish in general, so made a little pickle something like my dad makes, to keep in the fridge: sliced the radishes, then covered with about 1/3 cup rice vinegar, 2 or 3 Tbsp. sugar, salt, pepper, plus the sprigs of herb with little purple flowers (what was that?). Definitely need to dig out some smaller mason jars. And ask Dad for the actual recipe.
(note: I received Dad's recipe, it can be found here
Going to use the rest of the green onions in what we call Never-Ending Quinoa Salad, loosely based on one in the cook book Vij’s At Home: to a whack of cooled, cooked quinoa add some chopped celery, green onion, cucumber, cilantro, parsley (or not), mushrooms (or not), salt, pepper, lemon juice (lots) and olive oil. Mix in about a cup of sprouted lentils.
It takes about 3 days to get the lentils to the right stage for this salad. I sprout them in a big mason jar with mosquito netting held on by the ring. Rinse, then soak about 1/3 cup green lentils over night. After that, rinse well and drain morning and evening every day. Crunchy goodness.
Not sure what I’ll do with the lambsquarters. They’re in the fridge with the radish greens until I’m through ruminating.
Was gleeful (actually gleeful) to see the basil seedlings in the box. Plunked them on the back porch, near the kitchen door. A fridge full of fresh veg, and basil growing just outside the door. Life is good.
Bun Bun in her new home- the chicken coop!
I'm writing, reeling from yet another Houdini worthy escape by one of the animals in our Yummy Yards family...
Yummy Yards has been bunny-sitting a particularly precocious rabbit for the past two months. About two weeks ago, noticing that the small patch of lawn on the property was looking quite unsightly due to the lack of mowing, I decided to put the little bunny to work. I built a little moveable enclosure and placed little Bun Bun inside, hoping she'd mow the grass down. Imagine my surprise when not five minutes later, Bun Bun had found a way to lift the wire cage with her teeth, and slide herself under the wires and escape. It took a small army of us humans and several cardboard boxes to catch her and put her back in her rabbit hutch.
Undetterred, I built a more solid enclosure, using 2x4's and my staple gun, I increased the square footage of her enclosure so that she'd have less reason to escape. This time, Bun Bun simply sqeezed herself through the fenceboards in order to escape into the neighbor's yard. I mourned for Bun Bun that night, thinking she had left us behind in search of the other bunnies at Jericho beach, but we awoke the next morning to find her staring up at us from the spinach patch. Again, it took three people and forty five minutes, running around the block, in and out of three neighbor's yards to catch Bun Bun.
Yesterday, I had the brilliant brain wave of sticking Bun Bun in with the chickens- after all, if the coop was able to contain four birds with the capability of flying over four feet high, it could surely manage to contain an overweight bunny.... Additionally, having several types of animals in one area is actually fantastic for pathogen control. Bunnies, as ruminants, don't fully digest their first passage of food through their digestive tract, and so their wet droppings are actually quite nutritious for chickens to eat. But back to the story... I went to feed the chickens and check on Bun Bun this morning and lo and behold, she managed to dig out the rocks from under the gate and created a nice little opening to escape. I have a row of nasturtiums and sunflowers nipped to the quick and some spinach that looks considerably more sparse as evidence of her trail leaving the yard. I'm sure she'll be back- she seems to enjoy getting caught just as much as she enjoys escaping!
For my birthday this year, I bought myself.... a pig! It's not everyday that a girl has an opportunity to purchase a healthy Tamworth-Berkshire cross that is just the right age to be weaned from their mother (7 weeks) AND has a new farm site where a pig pen can be built. So rather than going out for breakfast or indulging myself with sleep-in for my birthday, I found myself driving to Chilliwack with Julia Smith of Urban Digs Farm to bring home our new little piggies. Having been a vegetarian for the past 7 years, it took becoming a farmer last season for me to realize the necessity of animals for my vision of a sustainable food system to take place. With that realization, I began eating meat that was raised by friends or friends of friends whose farming practices I believed in. This season, I am hoping to raise all of the meat I will consume this year, and this purchase is with that vision in mind. It is no doubt going to be a difficult process: to develop a relationship with these pigs and then to bring them to slaughter, however it is one that I am prepared to go through as I continue to build a truly sustainable, closed loop food system. These pigs will help us to close our farm loop- helping us deal with food waste and provide us with fertility, foraging through our brambles to help us clear land and eventually nourishing our bodies through the winter months. In the photo above, Bacon and Chop are chowing down on kale stalks- they truly are ready for the farm!
The camellia in my backyard has erupted into pink blooms and I found myself working in outside in a tank top the other day, so it looks like spring is indeed just around the corner! As such, it seems fitting that my seedlings have outgrown my grow room and have been punted out into my unheated greenhouse to fend for themselves over the next month while I prepare the ground at the five different farm sites I will be operating this summer. Right now I have scallions, kohlrabis, cabbages, lettuces, spinaches and swiss chards out in the greenhouse and tomatoes, eggplants and hot peppers being babied under lights. Mmmm can you already taste the season?
In one of the many kerfuffles of last autumn, I ended up planting a bunch of mysterious brassicas (the vegetable family which includes kale, cabbages, turnips, mustard greens, broccoli, cauliflower etc.) whose identifying tags had been bleached white from exposure to the sun. Apparently, permanent marker is not that permanent when written on plastic. All fall and winter I have been staring at these monstrous plants, tasting their leaves (too tough to be kale) and checking for bulbing roots (definitely not in the rutabaga or turnip family). Last week, the mystery was solved as I found cute little purple broccoli heads popping out from amongst the large leaves.