The bird feeder has turned into a grey squirrel, red squirrel and chipmunk feeder !
Ok, I’m a little behind the times. Last year a pair of Merlins arrived in the neighborhood. This April they returned ! There is a rather tall dead tree at the end of our block which they like to use as a perch, in the beginning of the season anyway. Now in early June I only hear them infrequently so I’m guessing that they found a nesting spot a little further away. Merlins are small falcons and having a raptor in the area makes it feel a little bit more wild ! Better pictures and recordings can be found here : Dendroica.
These have been quite a conversation starter. “Are those bones on your counter ?”, “Why, yes they are !”. I’ve actually meant to take them down to the root cellar, but my procrastination has at least yielded some entertainment. I make stock with the marrow bones from our beef order, and then I rinse them off and save them. You might be asking why at this point. Simple, it’s for the trees ! I have plans for adding a few fruit trees to the garden this spring (and also raspberries). Trees need phosphorous for good root development, and since phosphorous is not very mobile in the soil, it helps to add a source to the hole when planting. Bone meal is a good way to get phosphorous ! So into the hole go the bones. Granted, these will be more of a long term source of P due to the fact that they aren’t ground, but hopefully the trees will be around a long time.
Phosphorous has been on my mind as of late. I have a high pH soil in the garden (7.8, we’ve got calcareous soils in these here parts) and it means phosphorous can become unavailable do to reaction with all that calcium. Nutrient balancing in general is a goal for the the veggie gardens this year, but that is a whole other post !
With my stash of rendered beef tallow in hand I had a few projects I wanted to try. As an avid organic gardener, I’m always trying to keep the diversity of species around our house maximized. In addition to leaving seed bearing plants like sunflowers and cone-flowers standing through the fall and winter, we also have a couple of bird feeders I try and keep stocked. The tallow meant I could add another type of feeder. I’ve been inspired in a number of ways by the books of Irmgard Kutsch and Brigitte Walden about the Children’s Nature and Garden Centre in Reichshof, Germany. In Autumn they have a description of making a bird feeder from seeds and fat placed in a clay flower pot with a branch attached for a perch. The picture makes it all clear!
I hung this near our established feeder before Christmas. Then I waited – and waited. Come the beginning of January I was starting to worry that the birds wouldn’t figure out where the food was, or maybe the really cold temperatures were making the tallow too hard. This week, however, the birds proved me wrong and a chick-a-dee found the treasure ! After that all her friends joined in, including nuthatches and a downy woodpecker who is our biggest customer. While we see these birds eating seed from a feeder, in the spring and summer they are voracious eaters of insects (especially during nesting season). Our three friends all made the top 10 list of The Best Birds for Your Garden. Here’s hoping a little extra fat will help this winter !
The next use for tallow was in helping ME this winter. The dry conditions inside do a number on my skin, so I’m always on the lookout for an even better moisturizer. A little time on Google turned up this recipe which claims animal fats are much better for our skin (makes sense, us being animals and all). I used avocado oil instead of olive oil and added some shea butter for good measure. It has been working great so far !
Wow, my initial determination to get projects recorded here in a timely fashion didn’t last long. First off, there was the pre-Christmas rush, and then the whole family came down with the flu for the Christmas holidays (and beyond). We’re just finally (mostly) back to normal this week.
So, backing up a bit. In early December our much anticipated mixed quarter of grass fed beef arrived ! We’d been buying grass fed ground beef at our butcher for over a year, but they don’t carry other cuts, and it’s not certified organic. At various times in my life, I’ve been vegetarian, or mostly vegetarian, but after a nasty bit of illness 3 years ago I found out I’m gluten and corn intolerant (possible celiacs) and dairy doesn’t do the body good anymore either, so my diet had to change. I did the gluten free substitution thing until this past year, but still was having issues with grains in general (and sugar). As a result, I decided to go grain free, and luckily there is a whole world of people out there following the paleo diet so I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. My favourite recipe site.
Which brings me back to the beef. I wanted to be supporting a small scale local farmer and the O’Brien farm fit the bill. I also want to be as sustainable as possible, make my budget go as far as possible, and utilize as much of the animal as possible. I haven’t quite made it to liver yet, but I was supper excited about getting more marrow bones for stock, and rendering my own tallow.
Since rendering tallow seemed pretty straight forward it was one of the first things I did after safely getting our meat tucked away in the deep freeze. Actually, the first thing I did was to order Shannon Hayes book on cooking grass fed beef. HIGHLY recommended !!! Preping the beef fat was simple. I chopped it up fine, added it to my slow cooker, put it on low and left it for the night. OK, now here is the part that I haven’t seen mentioned before. Grass fed beef smells, well, grassy. At least to me. Granted, I do have an overly sensitive sense of smell. The fat, once it started to melt was particularly pungent. Nobody else in the house seemed bothered much, although they did admit to a smell. I on the other hand wanted to run screaming from the house ! Fortunately, it was all done by the next day, and once cooled the tallow lost most of it’s smell. Surprisingly, when re-heated for cooking (I use tallow to sear our meat) it has a much less noticeable odour. The final colour of the liquid tallow was also interesting; bright yellow, practically florescent ! I hoping that’s all the good stuff from the grass. Once cooled it was much more cream coloured but still definitely on the yellow side.
I’m hoping this will last me for awhile, at least until I can have all the windows open !