Friday, October 29, 2010

It's Strawberry Guava Time!

It's time at the ol' homestead to harvest Strawberry Guavas. Psidium cattleianum (or Cattley Guava). Our little tree (more like a bush) has been in for a few years. It was a gift from farmer friends in Fillmore, California. The plant seems quite happy here in Petaluma. We've got it planted against a south facing wall of the house with our citrus so it's protected from frost. It doesn't seem to mind our adobe soil and it gets blasted with sun in the summer. A permaculture plant for sure as it needs no attention once it's established and bears large quantities of fruit.

Here is a description from the Trade Winds Fruit website:

Dark red skinned guava, closely related to the common guava, with an excellent strawberry like flavor. Fruits are small, to 1.5" around, and the pulp is translucent and very juicy. In some varieties, the flesh can taste pleasantly spicy.

Description: Small bush or tree to 20-25ft, although often much smaller.

Hardiness: Strawberry guava's are hardy to 22F when full grown.

Growing Environment: The strawberry guava is very adaptable and can be grown outdoors throughout much of Florida and California. It will fruit in a container almost anywhere if protected from hard freezes. Trees grow well in full sun and with ample water, although short periods of drought will not harm the plant. Lots of water is needed during fruit development and for proper ripening to occur. The yellow strawberry guava (Psidium cattlenium var. lucidum) is said to be not quite as hardy as the standard red strawberry guava, but seems to survive temperatures to 25F.

Propagation: Usually by seed, sometimes by cuttings.

Native Range: Native to coastal areas of Eastern Brazil.

Uses: Usually eaten fresh or used to flavor beverages, ice creams, and desserts.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Chicken Soup (Part 2)

O.k., so my husband thought the last entry was a bit of a rant. Well, it was....

Back to Carla Emery's indispensable ENCYCLOPEDIA OF COUNTRY LIVING. She had a picture of a wooden board with two nails partially nailed in and standing up about 2 inches. It created a sort of V shape. She had us stretch the chicken out on the board with its head between the two nails. I held the body down while my husband did one whack with the kitchen cleaver (the big Japanese kind was perfect). That was it. A friend had warned me that the nerves fire off for "much longer than you'd think" so I was prepared for that. It was true. I held down with one hand until it stopped. Surprisingly little blood.

I walked the chicken over to the pot of boiling water and dunked for 30 seconds. Then, sat down on a log and commenced to pluck. The feathers came out so easily! Almost immediately the chicken looked like one you'd buy in the store. Boom! I made the connection. I was sitting there plucking a chicken I had raised just as millions upon millions of women had done throughout history. It was so empowering! I envisioned a group of women sitting on that log with me all doing the same thing. Feeding ourselves and our families. Whew!

The gutting was my husband's job as he had cleaned turkeys in the past. I washed them down and packaged them up and let them sit in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Then, I put one in the freezer and one in the soup pot. These hens were a year old so I did not know how edible they would be. The breast meat was perfect but the rest was pretty tough. It was good for stock and the tougher meat went to the dog. I would not raise chickens for meat but I don't mind making use of the older layers.

My plan now is to change out the flock every two years as egg production declines. I'll have the next generation of layers just about ready to lay before I cull the older hens. Do I name them or not? Hmm... My friend Jane names them and puts their name on them in the freezer so she knows who she's eating.

I had kids over last week and told them that we'd butchered two of the hens. "Which ones?", "Why?" they asked. I told them that chickens don't lay eggs for more than a few years and that I couldn't just keep adding chickens to the backyard flock. They immediately understood and asked to look in the freezer. One of them said, "I just want to say a few words". When they looked in and saw what looked like a chicken from the store they understood even more. We closed the freezer and went to the feed store to buy more chicks. "Mary Ann, Fred, Irene, and Honeycomb". So, much for not naming them.

This time I did my research. I bought varieties bred for meat AND egg production. We got two Delawares and two Golden Sexlinks. They will be added to the two just-laying Aracauna and Americauna. Heaven help them from the older Americauna's wrath.

I'll cross my fingers when it's time to integrate them. Good ol' "Ari" still walks upon the earth. She's the one pictured peering out of the peephole in the last entry.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Chicken Soup (Part 1)

Well, I guess we just got a little more serious about the whole 'homesteading' thing...

Our Speckled Sussex hens were not quite living up to our expectations as egg layers. They were an impulse purchase at the local hay and grain. I cannot be purchasing chicks on impulse. This is a 6,000 square foot urban lot with a 1200 square foot house on it. There is not a whole lot of room for livestock. Chickens live a long time and only lay eggs regularly for a few short years.

I was in the process of introducing two new young hens to the flock which was not going well. First of all, they were supposed to be an Americauna, a Wellsummer, and a Barnevelder. But, noooo..... We ended up with an Americauna (fine), an Aracauna, and another damn Speckled Sussex! To make things worse the Speckled Sussex turned out to be a rooster. Roosters are not allowed within city limits. What a mess. Another impulse purchase gone awry. The rooster went to live on a ranch outside of town.

So, I began to introduce the two young hens to the resident flock after carefully raising them in an separate enclosure within the main enclosure. Everybody was happy. Then, the second the smaller enclosure was removed all hell broke loose. The resident Americauna went for blood and the Sussex joined in. The terrified new hens decided to live in the tree above the coop and have nothing to do with the older hens since they want to KILL them.

All I wanted were some nice little hens to lay some nice big eggs on a regular basis for the kids to collect and for us to eat. But, no. It had to be blood and mayhem and chickens living in the trees!

So, that was it. I decided the Sussex had to go. I'm still attached to my first ever chicken (the older Americauna) so I gave her a break (for now). Luckily she went into a full molt and was too weak to continue to try to KILL the new hens.

I got out my copy of THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF COUNTRY LIVING, turned to the section on butchering chickens and made plans for the following morning. We happened to have an out of town guest staying with us who probably thought we had completely lost our minds. "Have you ever done this before?", he asked. "No", we both answered and carried on with our plan.

My husband got up the next morning and said, "O.k., I've got my killin' pants on!". He reached for the cleaver and headed out to the backyard. Our visiting friend and I followed. I got a big pot heating on the outdoor stove. I looked over toward the coop and saw my husband holding Hanna (one of the Speckled Sussex). He looked like he was just having a little talk with her. I asked, "Are you going to be able to do this?". He said, "Yep". We all headed over to where the cleaver was waiting.