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MI Food Preservation Course

Posted by [email protected] on February 24, 2018 at 9:55 PM Comments comments (0)

I've got some exciting news. I found out that the extension office offers an online food preservation course. I thought that after 5 years of preserving in various ways the class would be a breeze and it'd be cool to take and get the certificate. I have been wanting to take a Master Food Preserver course, which is a course similar to Master Gardener in that it's also offered by the extension office and involves lots of class time, education, and hands on training. Unfortunately Michigan doesn't offer such a course (but Indiana does). Michigan does however have the online food preservation course. I signed up and got started. The website is https://www.canr.msu.edu/foodpreservation/food_preservation_online_course" target="_blank">https://www.canr.msu.edu/foodpreservation/food_preservation_online_course.

Topics included:
Basics of Preserving Food At Home
Preserving High Acid Foods
Preserving Low Acid Foods
Blanching and Freezing
Jams and Jellies
Pickles and Relishes
Drying

There was something new that I learned in every section (5 years of experience is still not a lot compared to people who have decades). Overall it was a great course, worth the $10 and great for anyone who home preserves. Right now is a great time to take it while you're still in the planning stage for your garden, yard, homestead, and what you'd like to do this year. Take the course, think about what you can do or would like to do, make a plan, and go for it. Excellent home grown, home made, home preserved food awaits.




How to Preserve Your Harvest - Dehydrating

Posted by [email protected] on February 6, 2018 at 9:30 PM Comments comments (0)

How to Preserve Your Harvest

Dehydrating

If you're looking for a way to preserve the abundance from your garden, dehydrating is a grea way. Almost anything can be dehydrated; from fruits and vegetables to sauces, soups, and potpouri. If you purchase a dehydrator things are even simpler. I have a 12 tray Nesco FD60 American Harvest. It works great, but it's a bit small for what my garden produces. I can easily fill 2 or 3 of these with what I harvest on a heavy week thanks to all the herbs. All I have to do is rinse the herbs and pop them in. Some fruits and vegetables need to be blanched (put into boiling water for a short time) and all of them need to be cut into smaller pieces before going in the dehydrator. Vegetables that are high in starch like potatoes need rinsed several times to reduce browning. To find out if your produce needs blanched, check online or consult a handy guide like the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving (ISBN: 978-0778801399).


Drying Temperatures

95°F - Herbs, Spices, & Greens

105°F - Nuts & Seeds

115°F - Crafts

135°F - Fruits & Vegetables

160°F - Meats, Fish, & Jerky


Why do we dry them at that temperature?

Herbs and greens are very sensitive and should be done between 90°F and 100°F. Too much heat or too long of a drying time causes a loss of the aromatic oils in the plants. Nuts and seeds are higher in oil and will go rancid or develop strange flavors if dried at too high of a temperature. Fruits and Vegetables dried between 130°F and 140°F will keep more heat-sensitive vitamins like A and C. Meat and fish should be dried on the highest temperature to keep bacteria and other harmful organisms to a minimum.


Drying Time

There are many factors that influence drying time. If the trays are loaded very heavily, if food is in more than one layer, if pieces are large/thick, or if it is a day with high humidity, your produce will take longer to dry. Generally you will want to check your items every hour or so. For my dehydrator, herbs and greens take 1-2 hours, but some like Kale (with the thick midrib) can take 4-6 hours depending on the day. Fruits and vegetables are 4 hours minimum, but I usually expect 6-8 and will dry them overnight.


Dehydrating Cautions

  • Don’t get the power head unit wet. Clean it with a damp cloth or sponge, but don’t submerge it.
  • Remove the trays and accessories before your dishwashers dry cycle or they can warp.
  • Make sure to keep foods away from the air intake.
  • Do not dehydrate food that has been marinated or prepared with alcohol. Alcohol + heat = fire.
  • Read your owner's manual. Some have unique requirements like using 4 trays at all times, even if 3 are empty.
  • If you are drying with a screen outside, make sure to cover the produce so bugs do get in it.


Dehydrating Tips & Tricks

  • You can cut some window screen down to fit inside your dehydrator trays so smaller particles and food do not fall through.
  • When drying sauces, liquids, or fruit rolls use a solid drying sheet.
  • When drying jerky put a fruit roll sheet on the bottom tray to catch drips.
  • After opening, you may want to store foods in the refrigerator or freezer or vacuum seal the container shut again.
  • For bulk greens that take up a lot of tray space dehydrate them on a cookie sheet in your car on a hot summer day.
  • You can make your own non electric dehydrator with some old window screens stapled to a wooden rectanglar frame. Just place them in the sun and wait.

What is A Rain Garden and Why You Need One

Posted by [email protected] on April 25, 2017 at 2:20 PM Comments comments (0)

What is a rain garden?

A rain garden is a depression that collects the rainwater. This can be water off of your roof, driveway, or even lawn. Rain gardens slow the water down, they filter it, and return it safely to the groundwater supply - all within 24-48 hours. Rain gardens can help improve the health of streams/rivers, reduce pollution, and can improve your property in many ways.

 

Why do you need one?

  • Do you have problem wet spots in your yard? These can be breeding mosquitos or making it difficult to mow.
  • Do you need to be able to utilize your yard that is otherwise difficult to manage due to hills, trenches/ditches, etc?
  • Do you want to utilize the rain water?
  • Do you want to capture, filter, and keep your storm run off out of the sewer system? In heavy rains these systems can back up and flood resulting in boil water advisories.
  • Do you want to garden, but need something that you can put in the shade that is good for the environment?
  • Do you want to reduce sidewalk and driveway flooding and wintertime ice?
  • Do you want to attract natural pollinators?
  • Do you think they look pretty?

All of the above are reasons to put in a rain garden, but there are many more reasons too. The key ones I want to point out are: difficulty mowing soggy wet spots, loss of space and potential growing space due to unfavorable (wet) conditions, mosquito and tick breeding grounds, and keeping the storm water out of the sewers. Our ground is so wet in one spot that we sink up to our ankles if we walk in it. This place is obviously difficult to mow, so the grass stays longer. This longer grass makes the temperature a bit more cool and is the perfect place for ticks. And all those places we walked? Those holes hold standing water where the mosquitos breed. This is clearly a problem spot, and the perfect place for our rain garden.


If you live in a place like Detroit, Chicago, or any city where the stormwater system (drains in the road that catch rain) is also the same as the wastewater system (where the water from your toilet goes), you’re at risk for flooding of sewage and a boil water advisory. In these places, all of the storm water goes down into the sewer system and it must all be treated at the water treatment plant to make it safe to dump. When heavy or continuous rains happen, the system cannot keep up and you get a mixture of raw untreated sewage and rainwater leaking out. This is a major health risk and one that can be helped by installing a rain garden to collect runoff from your impervious surfaces (roof, garage, driveway, sidewalk, etc). Rain gardens slow water down, they filter it, and return it safely to the groundwater supply.


Who cares and why?

Your county drain commissioner cares. All of the rain water needs to be slowed down, have the temperature reduced (hot water kills plants and fish), and filtered before it goes into the rivers and streams. How does it get there though? Through the stormwater system. The drainage system of your city can be one of a few different types, and in some cases becomes easily overloaded with continuous rain or heavy storms. Many places now require a plan from builders and housing developments on how they will handle the rainwater before they agree to allow building to take place. Other organizations that may be involved include the local watershed council, the watershed protection agency, and the extension office.

The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cares. Pollution and water runoff is a huge issue. As our cities and other impervious surfaces expand, the amount of runoff going right into our rivers is increasing. This decreases the amount and type of plant and fish species in our waterways.

Individuals care. Several individuals are interested in preserving native species and attracting pollinators. The bee populations are rapidly declining, and by putting plants that are suitable in your yard, you can help the populations to recover. The same goes for butterflies. Some species, like the Monarch need a specific plant to complete their lifecycle. This plant, Milkweed, is perfect in rain gardens. By planting Milkweed, you’re doing triple duty as a water steward, native species conservationist, and helping the insect population.

 


Can a rain garden be too small/big?

Every little bit helps. Even a small rain garden can be useful, but you need to take care. You need to have a plan in place for where that extra water will go when it overflows, and make sure it is done safely. In really small spaces, a rain barrel might be a better idea.


Rain gardens cannot be too big, but there are some things to consider. Look at the aesthetics. Will turning your entire front yard into a rain garden look good? Maybe not. Will turning a large portion of the backyard look good? It can. You’ll need to check with zoning and find out if you need something like a “native or wild yard” permit if you’re planning a large scale garden. You should also consider your neighbors who will have to look at the garden, and make sure you have a plan in place for maintenance and a proper plant volume (even a rain garden can be too crowded or have too few plants).


Where should you put one?

Generally rain gardens should be put 10’ from the house or other structures. You don’t want to put a rain garden somewhere where it could compromise wooden supports or fence posts, or where it is too close to the air conditioner or other things that need maintenance. You also need to consider your neighbor. It is not a good idea to put your rain garden 10’ from your house, but only 3’ from theirs. Consider their structures as well.


Look for low spots in your yard. Is there a natural dip in the lawn partway from the house that is always soggy? That’s the perfect place to put a rain garden. Is there a hill that you don’t like mowing? Put a rain garden on it. Is there a trench or ditch running on your property, that’s an excellent spot for a rain garden. One of the best ways to get water to your spot is a buried PVC pipe attached to the gutters. This will send the water from your roof right into the garden, helping to keep your driveway, sidewalk, and yard from flooding. 


Care & Maintenance

After your rain garden is dug and planted, maintenance mostly consists of weeding until the plants grow big enough to shade out the weeds. If you have any particularly aggressive plants, you may need to thin them out every so often. The drain pipe should have a cover on it to prevent small animals from nesting in it. It’s a good idea to clean that cover a couple of times a year to make sure there’s no leaves across it, etc. If you do not have a leaf guard, you may need to remove the cover and flush out any leaves that went down the gutters as well. In general, rain gardens are easy care and require little (1-4 hours per year) maintenance after the first year.

 

How does a rain garden help homesteaders?

Rain gardens can be very beneficial to homesteaders. There are 2 areas that I want to discuss today though: Crop space and Animals and Soil Erosion.

Crop Space

When I have a wet soggy spot in my yard, I can’t fully utilize it. I can’t plant fruits or vegetables there. That 80-200 sq ft space is useless to me. With a rain garden though, several plants will dry up that nearby soil so I can utilize the nearby space too. For instance, I’m losing out on about 160 sq ft of space in my garden area because it’s too wet and soggy. This area has expanded and is even under the corner of one of my raised beds and is rotting the wood. It’s a huge hassle. I am putting in a 12’x6’ (72 sq ft) rain garden. Even though the garden takes up some of that space, I’m gaining 88 sq ft of dry yard back, preserving my garden bed, and making it easier for myself to walk and mow. Even better is the fact that I can include edible and medicinal plants in my rain garden. I can put in a plant whose leaves repel flies to help in my house. I can put in a serviceberry or elderberry for fruit, and I can put in any number of medicinal herbs. I’m gaining dry ground all while increasing and diversifying my crops.

Animals and Soil Erosion

As we all know, animals eat the grass and vegetation around them. In the case of chickens, they also scratch up and destroy the roots of plants. Lack of vegetation leads to faster running water off slopes and soil erosion. Topography can cause places where the water pools. Without enough vegetation or the proper type of plants to soak up the pooled water, you’ll get swampy or permanently wet spots. This can be unsightly, difficult to manage (who wants to wade in a swamp to install fencing?), and unhealthy to both the animals (drinking unclean water can lead to disease) and the humans (mosquito breeding ground). The solution: in addition to reseeding the ground around the area, is to install a rain garden. Even if nothing changes in terms of % of surrounding vegetation, having the proper plants in a rain garden will soak up that water and eliminate the wet spot problem. Be sure to check for plants that are not toxic to your current and future animals. For example, if you might get goats in the future, don’t plant milkweed. Also make sure that the plants you choose are resistant to the animals so your flock won’t view the rain garden as a buffet. Some chicken resistant plants include iris, ostrich fern, and columbine. Ducks will eat the ostrich ferns though.


Plant List w/photos

See the rain garden page (coming soon) for photos and lists of plants that work well in rain gardens.

How to Create a Rabbit Pedigree

Posted by [email protected] on April 12, 2017 at 1:20 PM Comments comments (2)

Today I’m going to be covering how to create a rabbit pedigree. It can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Let’s first start off with some basics: what is a pedigree, what’s in a pedigree, and why you should pedigree. Then I will move on to how to create a pedigree and record keeping.


What Is A Pedigree?

A pedigree is a listing of the genealogy of the rabbit. It shows which rabbits the rabbit came from. Each pedigree is created by the breeder of the litter and pedigrees are given with the kits when they are sold, or simply kept for a number of years as records. At Kaninchen Farm, each and every rabbit is given a pedigree. This helps us to keep track of who’s who, and to know which pairings are working well and which aren’t. Even rabbits that do not get sold or used for breeding are given a pedigree.


What Is In A Pedigree?

A pedigree contains 5 very important things, and may contain 2 optional things. The 5 must haves on a pedigree are:

Name

Ear Number

Sex

Variety/Color

Weight


The optionals are:

Genotype

*Date of Birth

*Legs

*Grand Champion #

*Registration #


You absolutely must have the name and ear number (if tattoed) of all rabbits on the pedigree. There must be some way of identifying those past rabbits. If there is no ear #, you can leave that section blank, but most rabbits now have ear numbers. Names are made up of a breeder prefix and the name the breeder assigned. For example, Kaninchen’s S39 is the name of one of our rabbits. Kaninchen’s is the breeder prefix, and S39 is the rabbit’s name. If I sold S39 to Ms. Jane, and Ms. Jane decided to call her Daisy, she’d write on the pedigree, “Kaninchen’s S39 aka Daisy”. You can add an aka to your pedigree’s name field. It is helpful to let the original breeder know that you’ve renamed the rabbit, but it is not necessary since the Ear # will be the same.


If you purchased a rabbit that doesn’t have a breeder name listed, you should ask the breeder what they’d like used. In some cases they will just have their last name used because they don’t have a rabbitry name (for example, Draggo’s Mama). If you are borrowing a buck, you can ask them what prefix they’d like used. It should be either yours or theirs. For us, it’s the doe’s breeder prefix that gets used. If we use our doe, then the kits are named Kaninchen’s (name). If we provide the buck to Ms. Jane to use, then they’ll be called Jane’s (name) or whatever rabbitry name she uses.


The Ear # is the number tattooed in the rabbit’s left ear and is only to contain numerals 0-9 and letters A-Z. No special characters, shapes, or smiley faces are allowed. If the rabbit is to be shown, ARBA also requires nothing of a profane or sexual nature be tattooed. There are some breeders who want a rabbit to only be used for meat or breeding and will tattoo things like, “meat”, “cull”, “no show”, etc. This does not however prevent the rabbit from being shown. If you truly do not want the rabbit shown, a smiley face, exclamation point, star, etc in the ear is a disqualification and prevents them from being shown. These characters can still be written on a pedigree however, so you can still keep track of your rabbits if they have them in the ear.


All pedigrees must contain the sex and the variety/color of the rabbit. When pedigrees are filled out, there is a certain order to which rabbits go where. The buck always goes on top of the doe. Some pedigrees do not list the sex because they are always to be filled in this way, buck on top, doe on bottom. Look at the example below. The rabbit, KA700 has her father on top, and her mother on the bottom. Then each of the parent’s parents are listed, and so on.


The other must have on the pedigrees is weight. Each rabbit should have a weight given. Here we use pounds and ounces. Some places use pounds only so you would see 9.5 lbs instead of 9 lbs 8 oz. Our scale measures in pounds only, but we do the conversion to ounces for the decimal place. In order to register your rabbits with ARBA, all 15 rabbits in the pedigree MUST have a weight filled in. This can be very difficult. It is advisable to always make sure your pedigree includes all weights when you purchase a rabbit. If it does not, you can still breed, show, and use the rabbit, but you just can’t register. Not all rabbits are registered (none of ours are), but they are still good quality rabbits. Registration means that a judge has looked them over, confirmed they meet the breed standard, and that completed paperwork has been filed with ARBA. Registered rabbits are not worth a higher price, so we do not register our breeders. It is a personal choice.


Under optional things to include on a pedigree are genotype, date of birth, legs, grand champion number, and the registration number. Not everyone knows (or cares to know), the genotype of their rabbit. The only program that I know of that fills this in by default is Global Pedigree. This is a nice piece of information to have, especially if you’re breeding for certain colors or trying to test breed, but it is not necessary.


The date of birth should be on there for the rabbit if you know it. There is no reason not to have a date of birth for any kits that you are selling. Don’t be lazy, write it in. In Global Pedigree, and in Evans, it will record the date of birth for all animals, but only print it for the rabbit named in the pedigree, and for the parents. Handwritten pedigrees have a spot to include this for all of the rabbits.


If your rabbit is shown, or some of the rabbits in the background have been shown, it is nice to include the number of legs the rabbit has won, and the Grand Champion number or Registration number if the rabbit has been Granded or Registered. Not all rabbits have been, so this information is not required in a pedigree. When a rabbit has been Granded or Registered, it will receive a tattoo in the right ear to identify it and signify its achievement.





Why You Should Pedigree

Do you want to fetch a higher price for your rabbits?

Do you want to show your rabbits?

Do you want to help preserve your breed?

Do you want to help children in 4H, FFA, etc?

Do you or your children want to enter the fair?


Do you want to know which rabbits make the best kits together?

Do you want to know who makes the largest litters?

Do you want to know who’s kits grow the fastest?

Do you want to know which rabbits that one came from?

Do you want to try to get blue, chocolate, lilac, etc?

Do you want to try and avoid certain colors?

Do you want to know who is responsible for that funky (whatever it is)?

Do you want to know why these kits keep dying (genetic issues)?

You can figure out all of that and more from a good pedigree.


How To Create A Pedigree

So you’ve decided to pedigree, great! Creating a pedigree is simple. Start in the first box on the left. That is the rabbit you’ve got in front of you (or in your cage). Write down everything you know about that rabbit (name, ear #, sex, color, genotype, weight, etc). Then move up and over to the right a box. Write down everything you know about your rabbit’s sire. Just continue on down the lines until you’re finished. Depending on the pedigree template you use, it may have spots for different things, just fill them in to the best of your ability.


You can buy the ARBA pedigree book and fill in pedigrees by hand. You can also print off blank pedigrees from the internet (just google, “Blank Rabbit Pedigree”;). You can create your own pedigree template in Word or some other program as well. With all of the above, just make sure that you make two copies, one for your records, and one for the buyer. If that seems like too much work, you can use a computer program just for pedigrees.


Record Keeping

I personally use a program called Global Pedigree (www.globalpedigree.com) to keep track of all of my pedigrees. It stores them all and will link up with thousands of other pedigrees. This is especially helpful so that I don’t have to enter the information for all 15 rabbits by hand when someone else has already done it for me. It also permanently stores a copy and can be accessed at any time from anywhere with Internet access. If I were to have a house or barn fire, my records would still be safe and retrievable even if my computer was destroyed. I also like that the pedigrees are automatically generated. I enter my breeding information and it pops out a pedigree in seconds. It also tells me when I click on a buck how many litters he’s sired, his average litter size, and known progeny. When I click on a doe, it tells me her total number of litters, average kit survival (%), and known progeny. I can tell at a glance, who’s doing well and who’s not, without digging out the pedigrees and counting all the kits. Some other record keeping programs include Evans, and Kintracks. I don’t personally use these programs, so I can’t write much about them.


There’s no real recommendation on how long you should keep your records, but you should be thinking in terms of years. If my buck is 3 years old, there’s no reason to get rid of his paperwork after 2 years, especially if he’s alive. You may even have people coming back to you years later asking if you happen to have a weight on a certain rabbit. For instance, I have a great grandparent in my records that doesn’t have a weight on him, so I emailed the original breeder. It’s helpful to be able to provide that information. It is also helpful if funky things crop up in lines later on as well to have a record of what happened and what you found in litters. Saving that pedigree information can be useful for years to come.


Make your own bunny balm

Posted by [email protected] on May 23, 2016 at 1:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Have you ever tattooed a rabbit? How about had an injured rabbit? Whether your rabbit has a scratch you'd like to help clear up faster, or you'd like to ease any tattoo discomfort, bunny balm is a great thing to have on hand.

My recipe uses coconut oil as a base. Coconut oil is antibacterial and is great for helping animals (and humans) heal. You can find it at any grocery store or online. I also use lavender herbs, and plantain. Lavender can help calm a rabbit, and plantain relieves pain. Both are antibacterial. Lavender can be found online or in the bulk herb section of most health food stores. Plantain can be found in your own yard, or growing pretty much anywhere since most people consider it a "weed". Either narrow leaf, or broad leaf plaintain can be used. 


Above: Broad leaf plantain. This one's been mowed a few times, so some of the leaves are a bit jagged, and the stick like flower has been cut off.


This recipe is very flexible. If you can't find the lavender flowers, you can leave them out. If there's something else you'd like to add in, then you can do that too.


Recipe:

~1 cup coconut oil

~1/2 c Lavender flowers

~1/2 c Plantain

4-oz jelly jars

Slow Cooker


Process:

Prepare your crock pot. Put a folded hand towel or washcloth in the bottom to keep the jars off the crock and to help with even heating. Fill with about 2-3" of water, and turn on warm.

Fill jars 1/4 of the way with plantain, and 1/4 of the way with lavender. 

Melt your coconut oil either in a double broiler, in the oven, or in the sun. It melts at around 75 degrees. You want to avoid microwaving, or do it very carefully because over heating destroys some of the healing properties. 

Pour oil over your herbs, leaving about 1/2" head space. Put the lids on and screw the rings down. Place them in your crock pot for 1-8 hours. The longer you leave it in, the stronger it gets, but don't over cook your herbs. You want the temperature between 100 and 120 degrees.

Once time is up, remove jars, and allow oil to cool. When cool enough to work with, strain through a double layer of cheesecloth (or even a clean pantyhose), and place in 4 oz jars.

Store in a cool (room temp is fine, just not 85+), dark place. Should keep for at least a year depending on storage conditions. 


This makes a small batch, enough for 2 4-oz jelly jars. Since it's good for humans too (even on burns and mosquito bites), why not make a double batch? Or add some different herbs to make herb infused cooking oil. Basil + Oregano olive oil? Rosemary + Thyme oil? 


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