Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Seed shopping in the food isle

Everyone knows you can buy seeds in those cute little seed packets in the garden center. But you can also get great garden seeds from packages of food in the grocery store.

Two things I just recently tested for germination were quinoa and anasazi beans. I bought 1 lb bags of each in the bulk food isle at the grocery store. I then put some seeds on a plate between wet paper towels and waited to see if they would germinate. Within a few hours I had the beginnings of quinoa sprouts. The next morning almost all had sprouted. It took 2 days but almost all of the anasazi beans in the paper towels also sprouted. Once I figured out they were viable seeds, I planted some of each. The beans are now growing inside in jiffy pots. The quinoa is outside under a frost blanket.

I have also tested organic whole peas, mung beans and amaranth with good results. The only time I had something not work was when I picked up a clearance bag of whole peas. The color looked a little off and I should have know better. I only got about a 30% germination rate when I tried to sprout some. The rest got cooked and the flavor was stale. I ended up tossing them.

Testing beans and other seed items for germination rate is also a good way to see if the food you are getting is fresh. If your stuff doesn't sprout, it has probably been sitting on the store shelf for a long time and you may want to buy a different brand or shop at a different store. You may also want to be a little more careful when looking at the clearance bin.

The potential money savings you can get by buying 1 lb bags sold as food vs. the seed packets is incredible. Take the quinoa for example. A few weeks ago I bought a 2 gram package of rainbow quinoa for $1.89. The 1 lb bag of white quinoa in the grocery isle was $3.89. I bought it for dinner, but there is plenty in a 1 lb container for eating AND planting your entire yard and even a few neighbors'. Looking at the math, there are 453.59237 grams per pound. Quinoa seeds in a garden packet work out to 95¢/gram. Purchased as a bag of food, they are less than a penny/gram.

I've had great luck at the local Vitamin Cottage Natural Grocer. Their bulk beans, seeds and grains usually come in 1 lb bags, move quickly enough to ensure freshness, and are even organic. Other stores will have bulk beans and seeds or prepackaged bags, just make sure the items are whole and not cracked, split or otherwise processed.

Others have tried growing their groceries and have had great results. Here are a few reports from members of www.TheEasyGarden.com.

"I grew wheat and amaranth last year from seed from the grocery store. We also got started on our millet by planting the seeds from the sprays sold for bird food. I planted lentils and they grew well, but the seedpods only hold one or two lentils. Not really worth growing, but it was a fun project, to see if we could and what they looked like. I figure it still was good for the soil, since they are a legume....
I planted popcorn that I got at the healthfood store. It was organic popcorn and it grew very well. We now have several jars of our own popcorn, from a handful that I planted." - FarmerDenise

"And we have terrific Yukon Gold potatoes that we hold over year after year for our own seed potatoes. They were originally a 10 lb bag of store bought. I know, lots of people say that's risky and you should only plant certified seed potatoes. But it's worked out fine for us. We get a great crop every year with many very large potatoes, and they store really well." - Kim_NC

"I've done various beans and dried peas with success. Organic wheat and oats sprout well. I grow them into grass for my cats. (I buy bulk whole grains to make my own flour so I get it by the 50-pound sack, plenty to grow) I always grow potatoes and sweet potatoes from store bought ones. Also garlic, I buy whole cloves of garlic in the produce aisle and break them up and plant them." - Ariel301

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ducks for meat

If you are a vegan, vegetarian, or someone who likes to pretend that meat spontaneously generates out of styrofoam trays covered in plastic, you may want to skip this post.

Still here?

Ok, lets talk about ducks as a meat source. The main reason I have ducks are for the eggs, but when you raise ducks, there is always an issue of not enough hens and too many drakes. Since you only need 1 drake for every 4 or so hens, and ducks hatch out at about 1/1 male to female, what happens to those extra boys?

This is where the meat thing comes in. Lets face it, duck is delicious. Duck breast has a flavor closer to steak than chicken. The duck fat you get off a roasted duck can be used to cook other meals. The thigh and leg meat makes excellent sausages. The carcass makes a fantastic, nutritious bone broth. To put it simply ducks = yum.

The only problem with getting the duck to the point of being meat is that you have to kill the duck. Killing something is hard enough. When it is cute and you know it on a first name basis it is even harder. But the cold hard reality is that if you eat meat, something had to die for you to get a meal. Eating meat from an animal you know has received the proper food, lived in uncramped conditions, was perfectly healthy, and was allowed to live as naturally as possible is reason to be happy, not sad.

Meat that is raised on fresh air, sunshine, and natural food is going to be way more nourishing than factory raised meat fed corn and soy that is typically available in the super market. Butchering an animal might not be something most people are able to do, but it is something anyone who eats meat should consider. A chicken had to die for you to eat a McNugget, even if you can't identify what part of the chicken a McNugget is. Meat comes from somewhere, and it isn't from those yellow trays.

Having butchered 2 ducks so far, I can say that the quality of meat and knowing how the animal was raised is a big consideration. I am confident that the ducks had a great life, I know what they ate, and I know that is reflected in the nutrition value of the meat. As we get to the time of year when we hatch out more ducklings, the excess drakes will end up as food. I doubt many of my friends will be able to eat duck meat if they know I raised it. Even discussing butchering makes them uncomfortable. This is sad really. Why can they eat store chicken and not a chicken they saw walking around? What makes my duck inedible but crispy duck at a restaurant perfectly OK?

By removing themselves from the true origins of their food they can live in ignorant bliss. I guess I am much happier living in reality. I know where my food came from. Do you?