Category Archives: Miscellaneous

2018 Harvest Season and How to Make the Best Kraut.

Well, the 2018 growing season is nearing its end. We are suppose to get frost later this week, so we brought in what was left of our delicate vegetables from the garden. All we have left for this season is Lacinato kale, pie pumpkins, Delicata squash, a few heirloom tomatoes, and of course, potatoes such as purple and sweet potatoes. Oh…and about 4 of our very sweet, tasty cabbages that were a big hit for making sauerkraut and coleslaw this year. One customer even told us, “That was the sweetest, crispiest, best cabbage I have ever had. And the best batch of kraut I ever made too.”

We had a couple record-breakers as well this year. One cabbage weighed in at 10 pounds and another at 9 pounds!

Apple season is about done as well. The only apple variety we have left that didn’t make it into this year’s cider batch is Macintosh. If you are still looking for some good pie apples before they are completely gone, we have just a couple bushels of the Macs left.

Cider is going fast. We also only have a few half gallon jugs of soft cider left. We will have some pasteurized cider for over the winter, which does not taste nearly as good as our fresh French-Style cider, but it’s a good second especially for hot cider on a bone-chilling winter day.

Photo: As one person said about the above cabbage photo: “That’s just obscene.” lol

 

Tips on Making the BEST Homemade Sauerkraut:

BEFORE YOU START

  • Sauerkraut is prepared entirely in a brining crock. Don’t worry about going out and buying an expensive stoneware crock—”crocks” can be any unchipped enamel pot or large glass jar. The gallon, wide-mouth jars that restaurants use to buy pickles in work beautifully.
  • If you have an old crock you want to use, don’t use it if there is a white film on the inside that disappears when wet and reappears upon drying. That crock has been used for waterglassing (preserving) eggs; there is no way to remove it and it will ruin your sauerkraut.
  • The old jingle “A hand in the pot spoils the lot” is completely true. Keep your hands, and any metal object, out of the crock. Use wooden spoons and mashers and glass or crockery for dipping and weighting.
  • The best and freshest ingredients will yield the best sauerkraut. You can make relish with your old, tough cabbage, but use your young, fresh, tender cabbage for your sauerkraut.

MAKING SAUERKRAUT

  • For a 1-gallon container, core and shred 5 pounds of cabbage. Measure out 3 tablespoons of pickling (or kosher or dairy) salt.
  • Alternate layers of cabbage with a sprinkling of salt, tapping each layer with a wooden spoon or potato masher. The top layer should be salt. This will not seem like it’s enough salt, but it will give you a 2 ½ percent solution, the perfect strength for fermentation.
  • Boil an old dish towel or piece of sheeting for 5 minutes and cover the crock with it. Weight this down with a flat plate the size of the inside of the crock and weight it down with a canning jar full of water. If you’re using a glass jar, you won’t need to weight it down. Let it sit for a day.
  • If you used fresh and tender cabbage, by the next day you should have enough brine to cover the cabbage. If you don’t, make more brine by adding 1 ½ teaspoons salt to a cup of water and add enough to cover.
  • In 2 or 3 days, white scum will form on the top. Skim this off, replace the cloth with a newly boiled one, wash the plate, and replace it all. Repeat this skimming (a 5-minute job) each day until the bubbles stop rising, or for about 2 weeks. Then your sauerkraut is done!
  • At this point, simply keep the cabbage below the brine with the plate, cover the crock tightly, and store at 40°F to 50°F. If your cellar isn’t that cool, heat the sauerkraut just to simmering, pack in canning jars, seal, and process in a water bath 20 minutes for quarts, 15 minutes for pints.

Peach Season

A Hint About Local Peaches and Peach Season.

Since I already had two people ask me for peaches this morning and I had to tell them they just missed the peach season, I thought I had better give a little info about the local availability of this fruit in Wisconsin.

First off, peaches are rather difficult to grow in Wisconsin due to our brutal winters, but in the event that an orchard actually has some, peaches get started much earlier than apples. I have people coming to Bluebird Orchards for peaches during apple harvest. That is way too late for peaches. Peaches usually ripen around late July into early August, and apples mid to late September. So, unfortunately, those of you looking for fresh peaches this year have missed the boat.

The best way to know what we have ripe at any given time is to follow this website. We post what is “in stock” or in season in our farm store, and what is not, on a regular basis throughout the growing season.

That said, we do have a few jars of farm-canned peaches left, but they are going quickly as well.

Apple Cider Nog

Apple Cider Nog Recipe

Whisk together 2 cups half-and-half, 1 cup each milk and apple cider, 2 large eggs, 1⁄2 cup sugar, 1⁄4 tsp. ground cinnamon, and 1⁄8 tsp. each salt and ground nutmeg in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, 15 to 20 minutes or until mixture thickens and coats a spoon.

Remove from heat; stir in 1⁄2 cup bourbon, if desired. Top each serving with sweetened whipped cream. Garnish with cinnamon sticks or ground cinnamon, and apple slices, if desired.

Makes: 5 1⁄2 cups

Tips for Cider Drinking Pleasure

Tips for Cider Drinking Pleasure:

  • We make our ciders strong, you will notice a big difference between ours and the stuff in the stores. But if our cider is a bit too strong for your taste, you can always water it down to taste. Treat it like a concentrate.
  • Try the carbonated on ice or just chilled on a hot day. Add a sprig of fresh mint leaves for something a little different
  • If our cider is not sweet enough for you, you can always add honey or agave, however, our method of crafting our cider makes it the sweetest possible elixir right from the apple. So please add sweetener in moderation and taste it first.
  • Hot cider on a cold winter day is so warming and soothing to the soul. Be careful when heating it to not boil it. Just microwave for a few seconds until warm. Add a cinnamon stick or some fresh ground ginger root and a little extra honey if it isn’t sweet enough for you. See our Apple Nog Recipe too. Perfect for Christmas guests.
  • One of our camping customers just informed me that our cider also goes well with whiskey. Hmmm. Try adding liquors like spiced rum also.
  • If you purchased our still cider and you want it to be carbonated, try adding a good quality ginger ale to fizz it up a bit
  • For parties, serve cold or hot cider with a slice of apple to make it look especially inviting.
  • Cider is always good while sitting around a campfire. It adds to the warming glow due to the fact that it has a warming glow itself.
  • Drink as you would wine. There are so many different craft ciders these day that range anywhere from a sweet wine-like drink to a hoppy apple infused beer flavor. Apples go very well with food, and the finer wine-like ciders go very well with dinner. Try different brands until you find one you like; they are all a little different.

It’s Cider Time!

Apples are about a month earlier this year than last year in our orchard. Cider making is already well underway and we have a stock of Fresh-pressed, carbonated French-Style Cider as well as some pasteurized still cider that’s great for drinking hot on a cold winter day with a cinnamon stick or fresh ground ginger.

Nothing beats a sparkling cold glass of fresh cider on a hot day either!!! And it looks like our heat wave is not about to stop any time soon.

Regenerative Growing Techniques

Regenerative agriculture is nothing new to organic growers but has recently been advertised as the latest “new” concept in farming. Please read our article “Regenerative Agriculture” if you are not aware of the reasons regenerative farming has suddenly become the latest buzz word in agriculture.

You can use regenerative agricultural techniques in your home garden or farm with excellent results and to save yourself a great deal of back-breaking and unnecessary traditional garden work. If you are anything like me and hate to weed, you will be happy to learn of a few regenerative growing techniques we bet you haven’t even considered.

Regenerative Growing Techniques:

  1. The No-Till Method: For centuries and centuries, man has tilled the soil. Now, experts in farming are telling us tilling is not such a good idea. Here’s why. When you till up the soil, and mix it around, you are burying hundreds of thousands of weed seeds and planting them, essentially. You are covering them with dirt so they will have what they need to sprout. If they are left on the surface of the soil, they will have a much harder time getting established and birds and other animals can find them and eat them. As we all know, tilling also kills many earthworms. If you are starting a new, previously-unplanted area and need to work some manure or compost into the soil to give it a jump start, that would be the only time tilling will be of benefit. Just be prepared, you will also be starting a bumper crop of weeds.
  2. The No-Weed Method: Many of you will be ecstatic to hear this new regenerative growing technique that almost eliminates the back-breaking weeding we’ve been doing for years. All of our lives, we have been led to believe the only way to get rid of weeds is to spray them with harmful chemicals or to painstakingly and tediously spend long hours on our knees or bending over to pull those nasty little invaders. But here’s a thought – one I’ve been practicing for a couple years now: What if you don’t pull or kill those weeds? Scary thought huh? But here’s the thing. Everyone admires those immaculate gardens without a single weed in them, but if you really look at them, they leave large areas of unprotected bare soil open to the sun which bakes every last ounce of moisture out of those nice clean dirt areas. Yes, you can cover them with mulch to hold in moisture, but you still have to pull weeds eventually.
    The No-Weed Method actually uses weeds to our benefit. Weeds and grass will shade the soil and protect it from erosion, sun damage, flash floods, heavy downpours and drought. The key is to just keep the weeds short so they don’t overpower everything else or go to seed, and the best way to do that is to simply and easily just mow them like you do your lawn. And…every time you mow them and chop them up with a mulching mower, you are adding nitrogen and green manure to your garden plants. So mow those suckers down, keep them short, and just pull the ones in the immediate vicinity of your garden plants so they are not competing for water and nutrients. So much easier yes, but no, you won’t have that immaculate, pretty-looking nice clean garden. Although, I don’t mind the mowed look. I think it looks nice with patches of garden veggies in a mowed lawn-like setting as well.
  3. DON’T KILL ALL THE WEEDS: So…by now you must be saying to yourself, “Hell yeah. I’m all for no more tilling and no more weeding!” Which makes a person wonder why we ever started such sadistic growing practices in the first place. We have certainly done some stupid things in the past as far as agriculture goes. Our obsession with killing dandelions and considering them “unsightly” in our lawns is the number one reason the honeybee is now endangered. I happen to think dandelion splotches decorating my lawn in the spring are pretty, and the dandelion is the honeybee’s favorite flower. There are some good weeds. Educate yourself and learn which weeds are actually beneficial to bees and other pollinators. Let them take over where the invasive and unwanted weeds used to be to crowd them out, or leave them around the edges of your garden to attract and support pollinators. Some free knowledge here: another honeybee favorite is wild mint and many herbs, which you can also use.
  4. No weeding methodThe Best Mulch on Earth is Right in Your Back Yard: Literally. Every time I see people spending hundreds of dollars on expensive bark mulches, I shake me head. They obviously don’t know that the best mulch in the world is FREE and right in their own yard. It’s called grass clippings. After you mow your lawn, save those grass clippings either by purchasing a lawn sweeper if you have a riding mower, or use your lawn mower’s bagger. Pile them up in a corner of your garden, then take a nice big handful and put them around all your garden plants at least 2-3 inches thick. Flatten them down by walking on them all the way around your plants. Then spray-water the clippings with your garden hose to flatten them down even more, or apply them right before a rain, and they will form an almost impenetrable dense mat that will choke out anything, and, they have the added benefit of adding nitrogen and other nutrients to the soil as they decompose as well as holding in moisture so you don’t have to water as much. You may have to refresh the clippings about mid-summer as they start to break down, but if you save all your grass clippings every time you mow, you will be surprised the endless supply of nutritious mulch you will have.
  5. Investing in a Few Living Mowers and Fertilizers: If you decide to go “whole hog” (yes, pun intended) and get some backyard livestock, consider which ones would benefit your property the most. I’ve been reading up lately on farms that use geese in a specific manner to go up and down rows of vegetables and eat the weeds and grass. This may not always be the most symbiotic relationship if the geese also eat your garden plants, and they will, if you don’t do your research first and learn which garden plants they don’t like. However, a very popular technique of regenerative farming that is on the rise for backyard growers and homesteaders is to rotate their livestock pens with their gardens. By doing this, the pigs or sheep or even chickens will eat all the weeds and weed seeds as well as fertilize the soil leaving a wonderfully rich plot for a garden the following year or two. If you don’t mind rearranging a few livestock pens in the spring, this is an awesome way to get the most out of your land without ever operating a tiller or plow. Let the animals do all the work for you.
    Warning: To all you would-be livestock owners out there who don’t know any better, such as the ones I bought my orchard from, DO NOT put livestock in an area with fruit trees or trees you want to keep. They will eat the bark and kill the trees.
  6. Compost Everything: All of your kitchen vegetable and fruit scraps should go right in the compost pile. They add more variety of nutrients than manure alone and composting them saves on the amount of trash you have to take to the curb every week. Start a separate branches pile, which will take longer to break down than small yard debris, and have a separate leaves and kitchen scraps pile which will break down quickly and you won’t have the branches getting in your way when you want to use the compost. Compost is gold to a gardener or farmer, and learn how to make compost tea. You will find you can never have enough compost. Ever.

As I’m sure you can see by now, regenerative growing techniques don’t just benefit the land, they also can save you a tremendous amount of time, money, and labor if it is planned out just a little in advance and you know what you are doing.

 

Regenerative Agriculture

At Bluebird Orchards, we practice the regenerative method of farming: A form of sustainable farming that focuses specifically on rebuilding healthy soil. In a world where we have continually depleted and polluted our soils for decades, we are now frantically looking for means to preserve what we once took for granted and abused so heavily.

In regenerative farming, everything is utilized, composted, returned to the soil to help build it up. And since chemicals defeat the purpose, we do not ever use any type of chemical for any reason. Not only is all organic matter returned to the soil, but every animal on the farm has their own purpose that contributes to the overall health of the orchard and grounds. The geese, for example, eat weeds, and of course, contribute manure. The chickens eat bugs that hide under the bushes, leaves and plants and that are secretly killing our productive plants or eating them.

Many people in the farming world refer to our style of living and growing as homesteading: everything has a purpose that contributes to the overall health of the land, and nothing is ever used that is harmful to that well-being.

It’s a very rewarding, awesome way to live; but not for everyone. It also requires a great deal of hard, physical work to attain, and a thorough knowledge of what you are doing to achieve. Since I have been involved in organics for over 20 years, I already have a very thorough knowledge of organic growing, organic foods and organic living. Taking a broken down, neglected and abused piece of property such as the one I just purchased and turning it around to be a vibrant, prolific Garden of Eden is extremely rewarding. Every time we have a visitor to the farm they comment on how beautiful it is. That is always a nice pat on the back for a job well done in my opinion.

However, it doesn’t come easy or without it’s setbacks. For instance, this year our apple orchard came down with cedar apple rust. Unfortunately, there are a lot of cedar trees growing in our area that I cannot do anything about. We live next to a state park that has red cedar growing right across the road from the farm. The best we can do is put up barriers between the farm and the park, but that only minimizes the contamination and will never eliminate it.

It took me two years just to get this property to a manageable state, because the previous owners did not maintain it, it was overgrown with many varieties of invasive and poisonous weeds. The most difficult and trying job in the agricultural world is getting a grip on such a weed infestation as I have never seen before. And it has been a labor intensive job at best.It can take 3-4 years to get an invasive weed species under any amount of control, and if you are not just as persistent as they are every minute, you will lose the battle, for they are just looking for any opportunity to regain control.

Regenerative agriculture is not a new concept to organic growers in the least. It is basically just one of the many sustainable and organic techniques used by us every day in order to achieve organic growing. Why so much attention has been focused on it of late is probably due to the fact – as I mentioned earlier – that the agricultural community is now looking for ways to try and reverse generations of soil abuse because our soils have become so depleted they are no longer able to sustain any life. They are dead. Chemicals of any kind make the soil hard, barren, and lifeless. Pesticides kill the beneficial bacteria needed to nourish the soil. Chemical fertilizers and weed killers eventually make it impossible to grow in soil where they are used, not to mention all the additional contamination they cause to ground water, our air quality, wildlife, and the very important pollinators farmers so need, such as the bees.

We have learned a difficult lesson the hard way: that we cannot continue to kill our soils with chemicals and deplete them with over-farming and expect them to last forever.

I once read an article about a colony of Tibetan monks who were having a building construction project going on within their monastery. The construction work was halted by the monks going out into the site and saving every earth worm they could find. Most people find that a bit radical, but I find myself doing the same thing whenever possible, but this is the building block of regenerative farming: to preserve and protect our precious soils if we expect to have any food in our future.

If you would like to learn how to use regenerative agriculture in your home garden or on your farm, please read our article on regenerative growing techniques.

Apple Cider Caramels Recipe

If you just don’t have the time to make these, never fear, we will have them in our store around Christmas time.

Apple Cider Caramels Recipe

  • 2 cups apple cider
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cubed

In a small saucepan set over medium heat, bring the cider to a simmer and heat until it is reduced to 1/3 cup, about 35 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Butter or spray parchment with nonstick cooking spray. In a glass measuring cup or small bowl combine the heavy cream, salt, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and reduced cider. Set aside.

In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan combine the sugar and corn syrup. Set over lower heat and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolved. Simmer the sugar mixture until a candy thermometer registers 234°F.

Remove mixture from heat, remove thermometer, and slowly and carefully whisk in the cream mixture (mixture may foam and splatter, you may want to wear oven mitts). Add the cubed butter and stir until the butter is melted and incorporated. Return the pan the the heat and cook over lower heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture is thickened and sticky and the candy thermometer registers 250°F.

Remove the caramel from the heat and pour into the prepared pan (again, you may want to wear oven mitts). Let the mixture cool to room temperature or refrigerate until set. Once set, remove caramel from pan and cut into 3/4-inch squares. Wrap each piece in wax paper, twisting each end. Store caramels in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Fresh Herb Dipping Oil for Bread

Mmmmm. Nothing tastes better on homemade bread than fresh herbal dipping oil. In restaurants of the Southwest and West, dipping your fresh bread in seasoned herbal oils is all the rage. Butter? Oh please. That is so yesterday, and also so unhealthy.

Bread, still warm out of the oven, rip a piece off and dip it into a shallow bowl that has olive oil or grapeseed oil that has been mixed with fresh cut basil, rosemary, lemon thyme or your favorite herb. Scrumptious! And so much better for you than the saturated fats of butter or margarine. Plus, these lightly herbed oils allow you to taste the bread rather than the heavy fat on top of it.

Don’t think you can only enjoy this delicacy in restaurants either. You can make your own herbal dipping oils at home and customize them to your liking. Below is a good starter recipe.
Bon Appetit.

1/4 cup olive oil or grapeseed oil

Minced basil or thyme or rosemary.

Dash of salt and pepper

Mix all the above ingredients at least a half hour before using to give the herbs a chance to flavor the oil. Dip chunks of bread into the dish of flavored oil. You will not want to go back to heavy bread toppings again.

What is the Best Pie Apple

We already reviewed which are the best eating apples, now, we must go over which are the best pie apples and why. Of course, you can make an apple pie from any apple variety, however, what makes an award-winning pie, or even just a good tasting apple pie, is the type of apple you use.

best apples for pieSurprisingly, those sweet apple varieties in the stores such as Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Rome, Jonathan make horrible apple pie. Yes, they are sweet, but totally lack the flavor and texture to hold up under cooking. Once cooked, they are so bland that if used in a pie they will hardly have any apple flavor left to them.

To give an apple pie a good flavor you must start with a good tasting firm apple. Some of the apples that we would consider too sour or tart to eat raw make the best apple pies. The two most popular apples for pies are Granny Smith and Macintosh. They both are very firm, solid textured apples which makes them hold their shape during cooking and they don’tt turn to applesauce under a little heat. Both also have a robust flavor that when cooked gives apple pie that traditional apple pie taste.

To give your apple pie the best sophisticated flavor, try some of the Pink Lady, Orange Pippin, Baldwin, Bramley or Cortland apples. See our post on apple varieties to choose for yourself.