One Man’s Trash

cartons1March 2011:  Sometimes I feel like I’m playing with Lego.

And trash.  I play with trash a lot too.  My trash, and other people’s trash.  The other day I was visiting a friend, and she’d just finished a carton of juice.  She rinsed out the carton and made to throw it into recycle.  “Can I have that?” I asked.  “I can use it.”

cartons3“You like?” she asked.  “We have many more.”  And her husband pulled out three huge boxes of  juice cartons.  Wow!  Riches!  I took them home and cut them in half.  Piled up, they almost look artistic.  Or flowery.

Two liter cartons are the perfect size for 2″ soil blocks.  I can get eight blocks into the carton, and it fits perfectly.  One problem with blocks is that the soil can dry out along the edges, but with cartons, there really are no bare edges, so drying goes much more slowly.

I’ve spent the last few days popping 3/4″ blocks, Lego-style, into 2″ blocks.  I’ve found that I need to pop them in quite quickly after germination, because they tend to go leggy quickly.  The oven works wonderfully for germination; constant temperature in the night when the heat is off, open during the day with the kitchen is warm, and when I want to crank it up to 90 degrees F for recalcitrant seeds, I can do that too.

cartons4Here is my seed rack mostly set up.  I added the plastic as a whim–a big bag I found from I-know-not-where.  It works pretty well to keep in some heat, and amazingly, quite a bit of humidity.

My tomatoes are doing very well, and I fear will outgrow their bounds quite soon.

cartons5All this trash is eminently labelable.  I just have to write on the side with a permanent marker.  No little tags to get lost, no paper stick-on labels.  And when the season is done, I can chose to recycle it all.

But I’ll probably wash them up and pack them away in a box, because they are so easy to use, cheap, and already cut to size.

FarmShare (CSA) 2016 officially open for shareholders

Island Shire is happy to announce that the 2016 Omnivore’s Delight CSA FarmShare is now open for shareholders.  Join, become a Choice Customer, and guarantee yourself a dozen eggs per week, all year long.


  • Full-share
  • Half-share
  • Vegetarian share
  • Half-dozen egg share
  • Avid home vegetable gardeners can buy a protein share to partake in Choice Customer status
  • Additional Garlic option

Details here.  Looking forward to another wonderful year on the farm!

How To Make Lard

finished jars of lard

In the not too distant past, pigs were raised with an eye to their fat.  For the pioneers, butter and lard were the only reliable sources of fat–they didn’t have fancy presses or chemical processes to extract oils from seeds or nuts, and olive trees don’t grow well in North America. So each household had a pig or two which they deliberately fattened not only for the meat, but also to render the fat and carefully use it all winter long. Certain breeds were known for their fat-producing qualities, such as Berkshires or Old Spot.

leaf fat

A hog produces two kinds of fat:  back fat and leaf fat.  In a package, the thick square-cut strips are the backfat, and the weird shaped folded fat is the leaf fat from around the kidneys, which can be pulled out by hand.  Leaf lard is said to be the best fat for pies.  While cutting up the leaf lard, I noticed it is full of conback fatnective tissue, which I diced along with the other fat.  My butcher says she doesn’t notice much difference between the fats, that the back fat is no more “porky” than the leaf, but in my first experiment making lard, I kept them apart just to see.  She was right: I didn’t see or smell any difference.

I find making lard is much faster and easier than the other “use all the bits” processes such as sausages or headcheese. Equipment is simple:

  • a crockpot with temperature settings
  • a ladle
  • several small glass jars (jelly or salmon jar size)
  • rubber bands
  • paper towels
  • Several layers of newspaper on the counter also aid in cleanup.

It’s a project that doesn’t take constant attention: Start in the morning and melt slowly over the course of the day.

cubed lardI diced the fat into little 1/2″ chunks, dumped it all into the crock pot, added 1/4 cup water, set it to Low and put on the lid.  For the rest of the day I cycled between Low and Warm.  Every website reiterates Don’t Burn the Fat! so I kept things low and slow.

The better websites also said to skim the fat as you go–don’t wait for it all to melt.

One thing:  making lard makes everything greasy.  Greasy greasy greasy!  You try to be careful, but the hot grease will drip and spill.  Your hands get greasy.  The spoons are greasy.  The stove gets greasy.  Your elbows and nose get greasy.  I used up almost an entire roll of paper towels, which usually lasts me a month.  Keep wiping with paper towels and don’t let all that grease go down into your drainpipes, or you’ll have to pour vats of boiling water down them to melt everything.

filter the melted fatAfter trying several different filtering systems, I’ve settled on the simple paper towel / jar method.  I never use any size bigger than a pint jar, and like the half-pint jelly jar best.  I freeze my lard–home canners don’t work at all–and I prefer to take out the smallest quantity at a time.

While the fat is heating up, get your jars ready.  Place the paper towel over the mouth of the jar, make a deep hollow, and secure with a rubber band.  The hollow should extend at least one-fourth into the jar.

looking through the melted fatWhen enough fat has melted so you can see liquid, use the ladle to start skimming out the fat, and pouring slowly through the filters. Continue this through the day, being especially careful toward the end not to burn the remaining cracklings. When the liquid fat is almost gone, you will hear the cracklings start to sizzle. Reduce temperature to Warm, and stir often toward the end.  I usually prop the crockpot about 1 inch on one side, shove the cracklings toward the high end, let the last fat flow toward the bottom and spoon it out with a smaller tool.

I ladle into two or three jars with each scoop because the fat doesn’t drip through the paper very quickly.  When the level reaches the paper, transfer to another jar, and top up the first jar with melted fat from other vessels.  Pop on a lid, wipe down with a paper towel.  At this point you could wash the jar in hot soapy water.  Set aside to harden, and eventually put into the freezer.

lard in jars, cooledOne pig side makes about eight pints of lard, but your mileage may vary.  I raise my pigs to between 95-115 pound sides–the higher weights have more fat on the carcass.  Sometimes a butcher leaves a large layer of fat on a roast–sometimes I cut that off and save it, and make more lard later.  Unlike earlier in my life, I never throw away fat anymore–one way or another it gets used.  I no longer buy vegetable oil.  The only fats in my cupboard are olive oil, peanut oil (a dollop raises the smoke point of all oils), lard, butter, and rendered chicken fat (there’s nothing like potatoes fried in chicken fat).

Island Shire has pork sides available, with extra fat for lard.  Click here to learn more.

Lard MakingCracklings

Ever since I read Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, I have wondered what “cracklin’s” are and why on earth people go on and on about them, rhapsodizing about how good they are and what a luxury they were and how they fought over them as kids.  Why in the book would Ma say “they are too rich for little girls”? Why anyone would choose to eat the leftover bits of whatever-it-is when the fat is gone?  Isn’t that disgusting?  The whole idea of fat in particular, and then THAT part?  Very redneck.

Cracklings are variously described as browned or crunchy. In the crockpot toward the end of the day I noticed that things were turning color, even though the melted fat looked perfectly clear.  I thought I probably had cracklin’s.

So, let’s be a redneck.

Initially, no taste.  I chewed a bit.  Huh.  Not really crunchy, but more like a crackle between my teeth.  Huh.  An apt name, indeed.  No taste… wait….wait…. Oh good heavens, what is THAT?  The cracklin’s had finally spread throughout my entire mouth, and then the flavor hit.  Oh wow.  Very subtle, like faint bacon, but with a richness that is even more satisfying.  There’s no salt in this.  It’s just pure flavor.  Except it’s almost like not a flavor.

I wondered if this in the umami that I’ve read about and was never sure if I’d experienced–umami, supposedly the hard-to-define fifth taste.

I found myself returning to the crockpot, again and again, to taste cracklin’s.  Weirdly addictive.  Maybe kids hate to eat fat because they haven’t yet developed a umami taste, and to them fat is just a waste of time and chewing.

I’m looking now into ways of turning cracklings into something like bacon bits, that can be sprinkled on baked potatoes or put into salads.  Let me know if you have a good recipe for that, so that they don’t clump together.

As of January 2016, I have a few sides of pork available, if you’re interested in pampered, pastured pork, that will make you clean healthy lard.


Most Unique Payment Ever

Satchel1Today the Shire received its most creative FarmShare payment ever.

Last night I came home quite late from a day of baby rocking, and found this intriguing message on my answering machine:  “I have a small bag of money for you. I’d like to hand it to you sometime.”  I had to listen to it several times to hear that yes, the gentleman did indeed say “bag of money.”

Then this afternoon, James and Susan showed up in my driveway.  They had studied the Island Shire website, and having also read The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien, had an appreciation for the literary aspect of this whole project.

James indeed was holding a bag, which to me looked more like a leather satchel.  He handed it to me, and it clinked–like a bag full of money.  Susan undid the drawstring for me, because I just wasn’t sure about the whole experience. Satchel3 What is the protocol when someone hands you a satchel heavy with coins?

Inside, a mysterious little rolled parchment note, tied with a leather thong.  On it, inscribed in flowing calligraphy, Bilbo’s first riddle:

So absolutely cool.  What a lot of thought and time went into getting this payment together.  They even scoured thrift stores to find just the right kind of satchel!

Just WOW.

Yes, there’s still time to join the 2015 CSA FarmShare. We accept EMT, cheques, PayPal….or satchels!!!!

Pretty Darn Good Liver Recipe

These days, you don’t hear so much about moms making kids eat liver.  Moms probably figure that they can hand the kids a Vitamin A pill, and that takes care of the whining.

But Husband found some pork liver in our freezer, and determined to make use of all of the pig parts, he found this recipe, which originated in the Philippines, where we spent five years.

And I took seconds.  And then thirds.


Liver Steak Recipe
1 lb Liver (pig’s or cow’s liver are best)
2 medium sized onions, sliced thinly crosswise
1 piece lemon (or 3-4 pieces calamansi)
4 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp garlic. minced (optional)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
4 tbsp cooking oil
Cooking Procedure
Marinate the liver in lemon juice, soy sauce, salt, and ground black pepper for a minimum of 1 hour.
Pour the cooking oil in a pan and apply heat.
Put-in the garlic and fry until color turns golden brown. Set aside.
On the same pan with the remaining cooking oil, fry the both sides of the liver (do not over cook ) then set aside.
Put the onions in the pan where the liver was fried and cook until texture becomes soft.
Add the marinade and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes or until sauce becomes thick.
Pour the sauce with onions over the fried liver and garnish with fried garlic.
Serve hot. Share and enjoy!
Number of servings (yield): 4

Peace at the Slaughterhouse

After the stressful process of readying the pigs for loading, I expected the remainder of the journey to be as difficult. But the trip to Braun’s was strangely tranquil.

The backroads route to the slaughterhouse has no stops, and on a Sunday morning, probably very little traffic, so I knew I could take my time. I wanted to keep the trailer moving, so the pigs got no ideas about jumping out at a stop sign. The way there is through very pastoral landscape–past horse farms, hayfields, a picturesque old Anglican church, under a railroad with room for only one car, across a one-lane timber bridge, up a dark tree-lined curve out of the river valley and coming into cleared rolling hills of dairy farms. We passed around curves, up and down, past organic farms, greenhouses, vineyards, fields full of alpaca, through tunnels of Douglas fir still part of Native peoples reservations, and out again into cleared areas of housing. It’s a beautiful drive. I went slowly, feeling the pigs jostle around in the trailer, wishing they would just lay down.

After turning into the butcher’s property, I made my way to the dock. I’ve dropped pigs off here before, and know that the dock is just the right height for my trailer. I backed up almost perfectly the first time, and drunk with my success, tried to better it, but made a mess of the subsequent tries. Hubris.

A person unloads their animals with no help from the butcher, who lives onsite with his family. I guess they expect you will know how to handle your own animals, and they are right. Large plywood barrier boards can be positioned to funnel the animals toward the building, and discourage them from escaping out the sides. My inexpertly parked trailer had a gap between it and the dock, but there was another board I could use as a temporary floor.

The atmosphere was oddly serene. Two other stalls were full of pigs, but they were quiet and resting. The barn is very well organized, with swinging doors that perfectly fit the shoots in two directions. It’s very easy to encourage an animal into the spot you want them, especially if you roll apples ahead of them. Their stall was freshly laid with shavings, clean and odor-free. In fact, there were no bad smells at all, anywhere. No smell of manure or dead flesh, which one might expect at a slaughter / butcher house. The only scent was the smell of wet forest and grass, and fresh wood shavings.

The pigs were calm when I removed the tailgate. Curious as always, they easily navigated the unsteady temporary floor, and made their way immediately down the shoot, ambling along and sniffing everything–floor, walls, other pigs. Inside their clean dry stall I had laid a bunch more feed, since I know they won’t be getting any dinner. I closed the door with myself inside, and gave all of them a good back scratching as they explored their new surroundings.

After this, I filled out my ticket and placed it on the clipboard. I put all the boards back in place, and then decided to go back and give these great girls, these entertaining little rototillers, just one more thorough back scratch. They wriggled like they do, snuffling at me and leaning into my legs. I patted their heads, told them they were good girls, then got in the car and drove away.

This is the life of a small farmer. We love our animals while we have them, and seek to give them a good life, providing what we can according to their nature. I gave them the areas they needed to express their piggishness, and they left a lovely pocked area of soil fertilized with their droppings. These pigs cleared three areas for me, excavating blackberry roots, old wood, and even helped to dredge a nest of carpenter ants. We had a good partnership, and they had a good life.

As of this date, there are still 2 sides available, but they are going fast. Contact me if you are interested.

FarmShare (CSA) 2015 officially open for shareholders

Island Shire is happy to announce that the 2015 Omnivore’s Delight CSA FarmShare is now open for shareholders.  Join, become a Choice Customer, and guarantee yourself a dozen eggs per week, all year long.

New this year:  Half-shares, and an option for avid home vegetable gardeners to partake in Choice Customer status.

Looking forward to another wonderful year on the farm!

Thanksgiving Pumpkin Table Arrangement

Pumpkin ArrangementWhen I talk about free-ranging vegetables, the squashes and pumpkins are particularly what I have in mind.  The entire lower field is completely covered in vines and leaves, and I’m very happy with the crop this year.

In the very last FarmShare of the season, I loaded the buckets with lots of different Cucurbita:  Winter Luxury pumpkins, warty older Crookneck squash, Buttercup squash, Pumpkin ArrangementJack-Be-Nimble mini-pumpkins, and Baby Boos.  The crookneck is a summer squash, usually eaten when it’s much smaller; older, it’s a delightfully ugly and interesting gourd.

One of my CSA members kindly emailed her arrangement to me, and I’m dazzled.  I love how it’s contained in the tray, with those extra flowers strategically placed.  I had been using small pine boughs, but I like this even better.

Pumpkin Arrangement

Pumpkin Arrangement




Free Range Broilers

Broilers Free RangingPeople express a fair amount of surprise when I mention that I free-range my broiler birds. Most folks who pasture the meat chickens still keep them confined to a moveable bottomless pen called a ‘chicken tractor.’ But I found that after five weeks of age, eagles don’t bother them anymore, and they stay pretty close to their hut, because it offers reliable shade and water.

Broilers Free Ranging on Driveway

The meaties start feeling peckish around 7 pm, and begin wandering even farther afield than usual. If they see Husband or I near the house, a bit of a stampede ensues.  It’s the waddling-est stampede you’ve ever seen, and it always makes me laugh.

Broilers Pied Piper  And if I’ve got the bucket, they really follow me around.  They’ve been eating clover and bugs since their breakfast meal, but they do indeed like their pellet dinner.

Many farmers use feeders inside the chicken tractor, but I find that throwing the feed out in a line on a tarp works very nicely. There’s room for everyone, and the pellets don’t get lost in the grass or dirty. The chickens start to associate the snapping out of the tarp with food.

Broilers Prepping Feeding Tarp I really enjoy these birds, and even sometimes sit with them in a chair and drink a cider while they eat.

Evening Feeding Broilers



Having them pastured right between my different fields also makes it easy to take care of weeding or watering in those places while I wait for them to finish.

Broilers Evening MealThis batch of birds was a very lively bunch, spending lots of time in between the rows of the potato field, taking dirt baths, and eating clover.

They dressed out between 6 pounds and 8 lbs 3 oz.  A really nice healthy batch.