Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Food in the summer garden

Life goes on.  A third chickie has become our dinner, and his bones are in the freezer ready to make stock.  He was still small-ish (bigger than the first two, but smaller than any of the adults) but had also begun crowing, so it was into the pot with him.  His demise was only slightly less traumatic than the first.  Partner dispatched him.
There now remain three male chicks, none of whom are attempting much at crowing.  They're almost as big as the adults now, but still lowest in the pecking order, with moderately gentle personalities (the little crowers were a bit more aggressive).  Luckily everyone has now integrated fairly smoothly, though the adults and juveniles still sleep separately.  If the males continue to stay quiet, we will probably not kill them until autumn.  Partner sadly told me that the chicks have outgrown their "mama" now--they not longer come running to him.
Typical kale leaf
More food is growing and being harvested in the garden now.  My new season's kale is my biggest ever;  the most successful variety, Sutherland, is not very tall, but still has an abundance of huge leaves.  I only need about 6-8 leaves for dinner, and as I have more than that many plants, I can easily pick several days in a row.  Sorrel and chard are also big and leafy, and while there are only a half dozen lettuces, there is enough to pick leaves for a couple salads a week. 
Drying fragrant rose petals
Mainly picking leafy greens at the moment;  I anticipate leafy greens will feature heavily on the menu the rest of this year!  Franklin's been eating a strawberry a day for the past week, and it looks as though the cherries, blackcurrants, and raspberries will soon follow--probably about as many raspberries as strawberries, but the cherry tree is loaded, as are the currant bushes. 

Willow arch, leading from patio to lawn
I'm hoping to harvest peas soon, as they've burst out all over in flowers and are forming tiny pods;  the runner beans also have little red blossoms, ready to pop out plenty of beans all summer long.  Last year all my beans died in the New Fence Disaster, and the few peas that grew (in a container) went straight from the plant into Franklin's mouth. 
Rose bouquet
As well as using them fresh, I'm also picking and drying herbs for winter use:  rosemary, hyssop, sage, oregano, lemon balm.  I had hoped to dry some mint, but mine took a severe beating over winter and has barely survived;  not sure how that happened:  I thought you couldn't kill mint even if you tried!  I hope to preserve some vegetables for the winter:  runner beans at the very least.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Thoughts on death and life: raising meat chickens

Our first two chicks have been butchered and eaten.  I wrote a post about my experience on the forums at, with pictures.  A few of the pictures may be too graphic for some readers, so consider yourself warned!

The second chick we killed ourselves (the first was killed by an adult hen we think), and I have to say it was pretty traumatic.  Though it was Partner who did it, I still found myself trembly and had to sit down during it.  However, I was able to pluck and dress it;  both Partner and Franklin assisted in the plucking, which was rather time consuming. 

As I grow older, and become more experienced in life both in studying/reading and personal observation, and particularly since becoming a parent, I have developed a greater appreciation of life--I mean life as in living things:  people, animals, plants, insects, fungi, and so on.  I appreciate life in all forms, even ones which are not popular among other members of my species:  like spiders, ants, weeds, rats...  And I have come to believe that all life has the right to exist for its own sake, and as part of the greater ecosystem. 

To this end, I don't like to kill unnecessarily.  Every life has value and is part of something bigger.  I don't kill spiders in my house;  I like spiders--they eat flies.  I don't even kill weeds in my garden (too much work!  and new ones grow in their place anyway), except by sheet mulch while planting new plants;  when the weeds are too big, I simply cut them back for mulch, or let the chickens trim them for me. 

And I have gradually become more socially conscious which is not something I discuss much;  for instance, I can simply no longer eat or buy shrimp and prawns after reading about the use of human slavery in that trade.  (Link to article about the Thai prawn industry.)  And I care about where my clothes come from--I try to buy them and other household goods from charity shops;  this way my money is going to charity, rather than lining the pockets of the 1% at the expense of sweatshop workers in the third world. 

And I care about animal welfare, who I believe have just as much right to a natural life as we humans, and the rest of the biological community.  Meat animals should be able to express their instincts naturally, just as wild animals do.  As a life-loving meat-eater, I want my meat to come from happy, natural animals.  Animals whose needs for sunshine and real food, social interaction with their own kind, and the ability to just be, have been met.  And just like wild animals, they should form part of the food chain, going on to feed other beings (like me) after their death.

Ok, getting off soapbox now.

But.  Here's the thing.  I don't have access to the kind of meat I want.  The meat we buy from our butcher has a higher welfare standard than the supermarket, but it is still far from my ideal.  If I want that high quality meat, I have to provide it for myself, and that means taking responsibility.  Responsibility for an animal, both in life and death. 

And I have to reconcile these two ideas:  that I believe life should be able to live, and that I believe I should eat meat raised naturally (or ethically, if you like). 

What's more, I have a drive to produce my own food, as much as possible.  I know the health benefits of garden-grown produce, as well as the superiority of flavor;  a chef by profession, I have a love of good food, and as a mother I want to provide my family with the best nutrition available.  And through my experience I have learned that my particular garden is not ideal for growing masses of vegetables year round because of shade issues--but it's good for growing grass.  Grass that I can't eat, but chickens can.

Our chickens have the best life I can give them, which is certainly better than the butcher's chickens, raised by the thousand in closed barns.  It's true, I have a relationship with my chickens, unlike those faceless barn chooks.  It was very hard to kill that first one (and I didn't even wield the knife!), who I had raised and cared for since he was a tiny baby--so hard to take away his life so that I could eat him.  And yet I know that his life is worth no more or less than mine;  I will die too one day, and other living beings will eat me.  We are all part of that circle of death and life.  That chick may not be alive, but he is part of me now.  When I die, I too will become a part of something else.

PS  He was really tasty