The Art of Pork – Making Sausage, Bacon and Ham on the Farm

Processing our pigs takes several weeks and consumes a good chunk of the end of December.  We usually wait until December to process so that it is cold enough to hang the carcasses outside and so the root cellar is cold enough to brine the hams and salt-cure the bacon.  (If you want to know more about our animal philosophy and on-farm slaughter you can read our previous blog post Embracing the Web.  We take photos of slaughter and butchering which we do here on the farm so if you are learning how humanely raised food goes from the barn to the freezer I can send you the link.)  For now let’s skip to the end – the fresh cuts are wrapped, the leaf lard is rendered and jarred, and then we make sausage, hams and bacon – a.k.a. the Omnivores Ambrosia.  This is a rough description of the process not a recipe or instructions – if you want specific instructions let me know, it requires accurately weighing salt and controlling temperature and humidity, otherwise you can poison yourself, and that’s no fun.

Sausage – we grind fresh pork and then mix it with garlic and herbs from the garden and Celtic sea salt, a bit of maple syrup and local apple cider vinegar.  The ingredients are adjusted to make three recipes (sage, maple, and italian).  The grinding, grating and measuring of ingredients takes almost all day.  We leave the breakfast sausage in logs so we can cut patties, and the Italian sausage we put into natural casings. 

Hams – whole hams are cut into two halves.  A brine is made from water, Celtic sea salt, apple cider, juniper berry and bay leaf and injected into the ham every two inches.  (So far we have not added any nitrates such as Cure #1 or celery powder, but the hams and bacon are for our private consumption, so we take the risk.)  Then the halves are submerged under brine in food-grade plastic 5-gal buckets.  The hams are rotated every day in the buckets to keep the brine evenly distributed.  After 7 days they are hung to dry in the root cellar (conditioned to 38 degrees) for 7 days.  The root cellar humidity needs to be kept lower than normal for this week (under 75%) so the hams and bacon don’t grow mold.

Bacon – we trim the belly cuts and place them in a shallow tub, rub them with Celtic sea salt and maple syrup as well as sage and juniper berries.  The bellies are stacked criss-cross 2-3 high and flipped every day for a week and additional salt is rubbed on if necessary.  The bacon slabs are then placed on hangers and left to dry in the root cellar for 2 days.

Smoking – The bacon and hams are then rinsed, patted dry and hung in the smokehouse, which we renovated from an old corncrib behind the barn.  They are smoked for 12 hours per day for two days using apple wood. Here are a few photos of the smokehouse construction in 2010 and more from last year while it’s in use.

While I was hanging hams one of our ewes poked her head in

An animation showing the benefits of planting natives in suburbia.

The Dirt

Watch a new animation from ASLA’s “Designing Our Future: Sustainable Landscapes” online exhibition that explains how to transform your property into a real wildlife habitat. Learn how native plants and designed structures provide what nature needs.

Wildlife habitat can be destroyed by development, farms, or mines; or degraded by invasive species, climate change, or pollution so it no longer supports native wildlife. Sprawl has increased the rate of habitat loss. One estimate says U.S. forest land the size of Pennsylvania will be consumed by expanding cities by 2050. But insects, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals still all need habitat: food, water, cover, and places to raise their young. Unfortunately, with sprawl, native wildlife now has fewer places to call home. (Sources: Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Doug Tallamy, Timber Press, 2009; “Sustaining America’s Trees and Forests,” David J. Nowak…

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We have been talking about trees a lot lately, mostly in context with our discussions about increasing biodiversity in the landscape by replacing lawns with native trees and groundcover, a method advocated by Doug Tallamy that has shown to have rapid results in the number of species that move into developments or “green deserts”. Now we are also talking about the positive impacts that trees have on our own health as well. The bumper sticks on our trucks “Trees are the Answer” couldn’t be more true…

The Dirt


“Everyday exposure to trees enhances your health now and promotes health across your entire lifespan,” said Dr. William Sullivan, Ph.D., a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, at a conference on the Washington, D.C. region’s urban tree canopy organized by Casey Trees. Some 150 urban forestry policymakers, experts, and designers heard Sullivan make the striking argument that the social and psychological benefits of trees and other greenery may even eclipse their ecological benefits. Research, based in real data, is now clearly demonstrating that exposure to trees brings people together, reduces crime, and lowers stress. Furthermore, trees are even a matter of life and death — their presence is a predictor of death rates for many.

Given that social ties are a predictor of our health and well-being, we need healthy, strong ties across our lifetimes. “Social ties are what glues us together. And people…

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Building Habitat Trails

Wetland boardwalk designed by Reed Hilderbrand, an ASLA award winning project

We started installing our own Habitat Trail here at Linden Farm back in March 2010 and are excited to see that the idea is spreading into the high-end landscape design arena.  This year we are looking forward to developing a wetland walk similar to the one pictured above for a client that wants to be able to enjoy the wildlife that lives in the wetlands on their property.  We will also be working with the non-profit organization Vermont Coverts – Woodlands for Wildlife to introduce the idea of Habitat Trails to landowners who have woodlands that they are managing for wildlife.  Our friend Lisa Sausville is the Executive Director of Vermont Coverts and we are applying to participate in their 3-day “Coverts Cooperator Training Workshop” this fall.  “The program involves classroom and field studies taught by a variety of professionals. The seminar is free to participants and includes food, lodging and materials. In exchange, participants agree to share information on forest management with others in their community for at least one year. Community sharing by graduates (called Cooperators) may involve demonstrating forest management activities on their land, speaking to community organizations, writing short articles for newspapers, organizing workshops for woodland owners, or enhancing local public wildlife policy. Cooperators, now numbering over 500, have been instrumental in creating an information network that has helped other landowners make more informed decisions about managing their land.”  We believe this training and the following community service will help us spread the use of Habitat Trails through privately owned woodlands in VT.

This is a rough drawing of the Habitat Trail we continue to develop here at the farm.  The first step of building a Habitat trail is to identify the existing native plants that provide food and shelter for birds and other wildlife, identify invasive species to remove, then map and clear the trail being sensitive to existing habitat and disturbing as little as possible.  Next we add additional native plants in groupings that match the site conditions, as well as “strolling edibles”.  Then we will build bird houses and observation stations, boardwalks through wetlands, and maybe a treehouse or a small platform for yoga and other exercises.

 We consult with several friends and professionals to develop features of the Trail.  To name a few – The Audubon Society for bird habitat and nesting structures (Becca spent a year with the Audubon Expedition Institute); our Naturalist friend Colin Crawford-Stemple for tracks and wildlife signs; and The Nature Conservancy for invasive species identification and removal as well as native habitat restoration.
In addition to providing habitat for wildlife, trails can be a great way to encourage people of all ages to get outside and exercise.  Our trail takes us about 45 minutes to “tromp” with a few stops, is a wonderful way to start or end the day, and is much less expensive than a gym membership!  We’re sold on the idea, and of course now we think everybody should have one – small property owners could even work together to build multi-property trails.  They are very low-maintenance, increase wildlife habitat, and encourage us to get outside to exercise in fresh air and see something new.

The Country Fair

Some of my favorite memories as a child are from the Common Ground Country Fair the third weekend after Labor Day in Maine.  It’s organized by MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association) and is a wonderful combination of traditional hippie goodness, modern sustainable farming and energy, folk music, and fabulous food that doesn’t give you a two-day belly ache.  The hand-made arts and crafts are very unique and even the posters/t-shirts are lovely and worth collecting.  We took the girls several years ago and plan to go again this year.

The children’s activities are rooted in building skills (learning to winnow grains, spin and felt etc.) and they manage to turn the most amazing dress-up I’ve ever seen (tent full of vegetable and animal costumes) into a political parade with a sustainable farming theme.  Maybe you have to be a child of a back-to-the-land family to get emotional over the whole thing, but 59,000 people, over 2,000 volunteers and 600 Maine farms seem to feel the same way.

There are a few fairs in VT that are also worth attending, including our Addison County Fair & Field Days, held August 7-11th this year.  Field Days is Vermont’s largest agricultural fair with lots of demonstrations – draft horse and oxen pulls, sheep shearing and herding, maple sugaring, milking, blacksmithing, and scything to name a few.  There are also many 4-H competitions and someday Elsa might join in, we’ll see.  I think that even if you’re not into farming, agricultural fairs help people connect with history, where our food comes from, and the culture of the people who make it possible.  See you at the Fair!

Staying Cool with Trees, Green Roofs and Green Walls

When the tree on the south side of our house came down in a storm four years ago we instantly mourned the loss of shade.  It’s amazing how much well-placed trees can cool a house, and so we have planted replacements.  It takes time for trees to mature however, so in the meantime we are considering constructing a green wall on the south side that will give us a quicker result.

Both of these techniques are described in this article written by the ASLA and I thought the animation was a concise explanation of how to use sustainable landscape design to reduce our energy use and keep cool during the summer.  So if your house feels hot and you don’t want to continue using air conditioning, check this out:  Designing Our Future: Sustainable Landscapes.

Growing Blueberries and Hops

English:

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Blueberries – If you live in Maine or along the northern Green Mountains in Stowe, and you want to grow blueberries, especially the lowbush Vaccinium angustifolium, no problem.  They’re practically a weed.  Unfortunately, they are one of the few plants I have difficulty growing here on our alkaline soil.  The trick to low-bush blueberries is pH – they prefer very acidic (4.5), infertile, sandy or rocky soil .  Luckily the highbush blueberry isn’t as picky and can tolerate wetter soils with higher organic matter although we still need to add peat, sawdust and sulphur to make them happy.  Highbush varieties that produce well for us include Patriot, Bluecrop, Blueray, and Northland.  We purchase wholesale plants locally grown by Cobble Creek Nursery, but you can also get them through many other local nurseries or mail order through Nourse, and they have excellent planting guides on their website.

hopsGrowing Hops– bitter, beautiful, beer.  The pilgrims brought hops with them to Plymouth, and by the mid-1800s Vermont was a major producer of the country’s hops.  By the end of the 1800s however the crop moved out West to California and Washington, and the Eastern Hop became a rarity, until recently.  Locally grown hops are making a comeback with large-scale and home brewers alike in a state that has one of the most mico-breweries per capita.  One of these is the Square Nail Hops Farm in Ferrisburgh, VT run by Ian Birkett, his father Joe, and Fletcher Bach.  (When Ian isn’t growing hops to make beer he’s pouring beer at the Antidote in Vergennes, a great local bar that also serves local food).  The Birketts are repurposing their 200+ yr old dairy farm into a hop farm – growing certified Organic hop varieties including Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Fuggle, MT Hood, Perle, Willamette, Kent Goldings, Brewers Gold and Zues.  They sell their hops to local breweries and hopefully soon they will also sell rootstock to home brewers and curious gardeners.  Last year they built a drying shed and continued to expand the growing operation – follow their Facebook page to keep up with their exploits.

When Tim and I lived in Taos we had a roommate who was a brewer and so we grew Cascade and Wilamette as an experiment.  We found that they are vigorous vines that have great potential in the landscape, providing shade on a pergola in a short period of time.  I hope to try it again here in VT, and will either get rhizomes from Ian or online through Freshops, http://www.freshops.com/ a mail order source in Oregon.

So whether you love blueberry pancakes or beer or both, try giving these plants a try in your own garden, and let us know how it goes for you.