Some night creature has been enjoying our pumpkins… if I see a Jack O’Lantern face being chewed into the side of it, then I’ll be setting up the night camera!
Update: I suspected that this was the culprit! Bon appetite, Madam Rat.
Our fourth-annual Finch Frolic Marketplace will take place Nov. 21 and 22nd from 9 – 2. We’ve been working like little permaculture elves, harvesting, preparing fruit and vegetables, canning, baking, and inventing new recipes for your table and for gifts. We have a curry spice mixture that is amazing. Our record white guava harvest has allowed us to create sweet guava paste and incredible guava syrup. We’ve pickled our garlic cloves, as well as zucchino rampicante, and our Yucatan Pickled Onions have a wonderful orange and oregano base that is fabulous. Of course there is Miranda’s small-batch Pomegranate Gelato, Whiskey-Baked Cranberry Relish, and a selection of curds (passionfruit, lemon-lime, and cranberry). So much more, too. We’ll also be selling plants from several sources, and some collectibles and knick-knacks from my home. Please come support a small business early – a whole week before Small Business Saturday! Your patronage allows us to continue teaching permaculture.
Our last two Open Tours will also be held that weekend, each at 10 am. The tours last about two hours and we should be having terrific weather for you to enjoy learning basic permaculture as we stroll through the food forest. Please RSVP for the tours to email@example.com. More about the tours can be found under the ‘tours’ page on this blog.
Finch Frolic Garden will be closing for the winter, from Thanksgiving through March 1. However, Miranda and I will still be available for consultations, designs, lectures and workshops, and we will be adding posts to Vegetariat and Finch Frolic Facebook (you don’t need to be a member of Facebook to view our page!).
Have a very safe and very happy holiday season. Care for your soil as you would your good friends and close family, with swales, sheet mulch and compost, and it will care for you for years.
Diane and Miranda
Here in Southern California, as in many other areas, we are finally legally recognizing the drought. There are rebates in place for those who take out their lawns, and here in Fallbrook there is a 36% water reduction goal. Many people just don’t know what to do with all that lawn. A very unfortunate continuing trend is to dump half a ton of colored gravel on it. Please! NO! First of all, once down gravel is nearly impossible to get out again. Gravel, like all rocks, is thermal mass. Instead of having a large rock heating up and radiating out heat, with gravel there are tens of thousands of surfaces radiating out heat and reflecting light and heat back up. It is the worst kind of hardscape. All that reflected heat and light heats up your home, making you use your air conditioner more frequently which is a waste of energy, and also dries out the air around your home. Desertification reflects light and heat to a point where moist air moving over a region dries up. There is less rain, or no rain. Most trees and plants trap humidity under their leaves. Gravel reflects light and heat back up under those leaves and dries them out, sickening your plants and trees. Pollen travels farther on humid air; it can dry out quickly. If you are relying on pollination for good fruit set between trees that are spaced far apart, then having some humidity will increase your chances of success.
By laying gravel you are turning soil into rock-hard dirt, because microbial life cannot live closely under it. That robs any plants you have stuck into the gravel of the food they need from the soil, which is opened up through microbial activity. You are adding to the heat value of the hardscape around your house causing you to cook in the summer and use more air conditioning. You have reduced habitat to zero. You have added to global warming by reflecting more heat and light into the sky. Although gravel is permeable, usually the ground below it bakes so hard that rain doesn’t percolate. I’ve read sites that want to you increase the albedo effect by laying gravel. In the short term albedo helps cool the atmosphere, but as a result of too much reflected light dries everything out. Think of the dark coolness and dampness of forests… that are now bare ground.
What do you do with your lawn instead? There are many choices that are so much better for the earth and your quality of life. First step, cut swales on contour on any slopes for best rain harvesting. Flat lawn? Easier still. Turn your lawn into a beautifully landscaped lush native garden. I’m not talking about a cactus here and there, but a creation with the awesome native plants we have in Southern California. Some of them such as Fremontia can die with supplemental summer water!
There is a chocolate daisy that smells like chocolate. Oh yes. And how can you not want to plant something called Fairy Duster or Blue-Eyed Grass? A native landscape planted on soil that has been contoured to best catch and hold water, and amended with buried wet wood (hugelkultur), will give much-needed food, water and breeding grounds to countless birds, butterflies, native insects and honeybees.
Or put in a pond. Wait, a pond during a drought? Yes! Ninety-nine percent of California wetlands have been paved over, drained or are unusable. Where are all the animals drinking? Oh, wait, we are in the epicenter of extinction, mostly due to wetlands loss. There are very few animals left that need to drink. Those that are left have to take advantage of chlorinated water in bird baths and swimming pools. The microbially rich and diverse clean, natural water that fed and sustained life is just about gone. So what can you do? If you have a swimming pool, you can convert it either entirely to a pond, or into a natural swimming pool that is cleaned by plants.
Suddenly instead of having this expensive eyesore that you use only a couple of months a year and pour chemicals into year-round, you have a lovely habitat that you want to sit and watch, and even better, swim in safely without turning your hair green or peeling your skin. You don’t need to clean the pool all the time, and you don’t need to put in chemicals. If you are in the San Diego or Los Angeles area, call Dr. Robert Lloyd of PuraVida Aquatics for a consultation and conversion. If you don’t have a pool, then build one that is cleaned by plants and fish. You don’t need a filtration or oxygenation system because the biology does it all. Where do you get the water from to top off your pond?
Connect your pond to a lovely, planted stream that is connected to your laundry water or graywater system. You are buying water every day, so why not compost your water through phytoremediation and have a pond full of great healthy chemical-free water that is wonderful to look at and is an oasis for thirsty animals and insects?
Or install a food forest. With good soil building and rain catchment first, and planting in guilds with sheet mulch around trees and on pathways, you will be using a fraction of the water you pour on your lawn and yet harvest lots of food. Too much food? Share it with a food pantry!
Or start a veggie garden without digging any sod.
Layer cardboard, sticks, grass, food scraps, leaves, more grass, more food scraps, more leaves and top it with about 8 inches of good soil, then plant right in it! That lovely standing compost heap will slowly turn into good soil while killing the grass beneath and growing crops for you immediately.
If ridding yourself of a lawn just breaks your heart, then substitute the high-water use grasses for a native grass mix that is comparable. Look at S&S Seeds for prices or for seed choices. Water a few times with Actively Aerated Compost Tea using any rainwater you may have caught in those 50-gallon containers and your grass roots will travel so deeply that they will find groundwater. Check up on the work of soil microbiologist Dr. Elaine Ingham and see how easy AACT is to make and use.
There are so many alternatives to using gravel that aren’t expensive, that are an investment in your property and in reclaiming habitat while beautifying your home and saving money. So please, just say, “NO,” to the gravel. Tell a friend!!
Which one of these would you rather live in? Which do you think is better for the earth and for the future generations?
Footpaths and/or vehicle access paths are absolutely necessary for any yard. Unfortunately, weeds love growing in them. Worse, the pressure from footfalls, wheelbarrows and vehicles compress and compact the soil, pressing the soil grains together so tightly that oxygen – and therefore life – can’t exist often up to several inches or more deep. Any life, that is, except for the grasses and other weeds that nature sends in to help repair the soil. Bare ground will be greatly compacted by rainfall, which will then erode paths as it runs, unable to soak through that spaceless ground. Once wet bare pathways are often unwalkable until they dry out, and have to be resmoothed. In our hot, dry areas, bare earth or graveled pathways reflect heat and light back up. That reflected heat and light dries out the underside of plant leaves, where species such as Live Oaks have over the millennium developed leaves that curl to expose less surface to the hot sun and to gather moisture underneath. Reflected heat and light dries out the air as well, and any hope of slight humidity to help water plants through months of dry heat is gone. If you have open-pollinated vegetables that rely on breeze for pollination, all that open pathway actually decreases your germination because pollen – such as from corn – will dry out in arid conditions. Humidity that you can keep in your garden will keep pollen more viable longer.
What to do? Covering pathways with gravel is a common solution. I hate gravel. It heats up and becomes a thermal mass in the summer, further cooking your soil and air. It doesn’t suppress weeds and weed-whipping becomes an exercise in avoiding shrapnel. You can never get it out of the ground once you apply it, and chunks of gravel don’t do soil much good for planting. If you trip and fall on gravel it does terrible things to your knees – I had a piece lodged in my kneecap after a stumble some years ago (sorry for that cringe-worthy item).
Covering the soil is better, but not best. Bark will help rain bounce and then percolate, is dark so it won’t reflect light and heat as gravel does, and it decomposes. It is also expensive to buy, and because it decomposes you have to re-buy it every couple of years. Decomposing bark may be adding elements to your soil that you don’t want depending upon the source.
I have experienced all the options above. The best method of countering all these issues that I have found also repurposes and recycles. Sheet mulch. Yep. You’ve heard it from me before and it proves itself every year. There is more to it, though.
First of all, please, please, please never use plastic. You can read about white pollution and the layers of plastic merging with topsoil in China and cringe. Plastic will not last. It will always be around in pieces. You will be poisoning your soil.
At the most basic, you can cover your pathways with 1/2″ of cardboard and newspaper, and top it with wood chips. I obtain my wood chips from arborists who save paying a dump fee by dumping it in my yard. If you’d rather have a more uniform look then purchase your bark. Either way the cardboard and newspaper will make the chips last years longer. More importantly the cardboard and newspaper form a protective, absorbent layer that protects the soil from compaction. Have you looked under a log or sheet of abandoned plywood in awhile? All the white tendrils of fungus, insects, worms, lizards and roots are thriving there along with billions of soil microbes all because they have that protective layer that keeps moisture in and compaction out. That microclimate is what you are forming with cardboard and mulch pathways. Since microbes free up the nutrients in the soil from which plants feed, you are creating more food sources for your plants. Tree and plant roots don’t end at the dripline, they reach out towards whatever source of water and nutrition they can find. If you are top-watering rather than deep-watering, then roots are abundant closer to the topsoil. By sheet mulching pathways you are extending food sources for your plants and trees, which now can stretch underneath the paths, link together with other roots through fungal networks, and become stronger and healthier. You also are creating habitat which is a food source for the entire food chain. Cooler, humid areas are better for bees and insects that pollinate, and the predators that feed upon them such as lizards, toads, frogs and birds. Just by sheet-mulching your pathways you are improving your environment as a whole. How can you NOT want to do this?
Sheet mulched pathways hold moisture and create some humidity which allows for better pollination and helps keep your plants from scorching in arid areas. If you live in a wet area or very humid area, use thicker layers of cardboard and mulch, which will help absorb moisture from the air and deliver it to the ground. Decomposition is quicker in wet areas, so using several inches of cardboard with mulch will last much longer and will again keep down compaction. Compaction in rainy areas is just as bad as in arid areas because of the erosion and flooding it causes.
To catch rainwater and allow it to percolate into the soil rather than erode away topsoil, you dig rain catchment basins or swales. Swales are ditches with level bottoms, and can be a foot long (fishscale swales) or the length of your property. Swales should be positioned perpendicular to the flow of water. You can create swales across pathways, fill them with mulch, top them with cardboard or old plywood, and mulch on top to match the rest of the pathway. Water will be caught in the swales and won’t wash out paths on hillsides.
Going a step farther, you can ‘hugel swale’. Hugelkultur is layering woody material with dirt. This introduces organic material, oxygen and nutrient pathways into the soil and holds moisture into the dry season. You can dig deeply in your pathways, layer old wood (sticks, branches, logs, whatever you have) with the dirt, up to soil level, then sheet mulch. Your pathways are now waterharvesting alleys that you can walk on, and which will really feed your plants. And you just repurposed old woody cuttings.
In very dry areas plants and trees do better in sunken beds, especially those that require a long chill time. Cold settles in holes. Moisture runs downhill, therefore dew will accumulate at the bottom of holes. You can either plant in holes and have your pathways higher, or if you have an established garden (such as I do) you can build up your pathways so that they become slightly higher than your trees and planting areas. We are working on that at Finch Frolic Garden, here in drought-stricken San Diego county.
So before I launch into yet another long lecture, the idea for pathways is simple: sheet mulch with cardboard and wood chips. If you live in a wet area, use several inches of both. If you live in a dry area, use no more than 1/2 inch of cardboard (or else it will absorb moisture from the soil) topped by at least an inch of mulch (no limit there!). If you want make super pathways, bury woody material before you sheet mulch. If you live in a dry area, raise your pathways above your planting beds. If you live in a wet area, lower your pathways so water can drain away from your plants (unless they love wet feet). Never use plastic, and please rethink gravel.
Then sit back and enjoy your yard and all the food and nutrients and abundance you have set the stage for, all using recycled materials that will last for years. Congratulations!
Due to popular demand, we’re having one more short Marketplace this Saturday, 9 – 1.
Join us on Saturday, November 29nd from 9-1 for the annual Finch Frolic Marketplace, the Extended Version! We’ll have for sale fresh and prepared foods straight from our permaculture gardens. All are excellent gifts, or will grace your holiday table. We’ll have the much-desired Pomegranate Gelato again, and new this year, Passionfruit Gelato! Squash, fruit, veg, preserves, passionfruit curd, baked goods, and much more.
Finch Frolic Garden is located at 390 Vista del Indio, Fallbrook, CA.
Finch Frolic Garden is open by appointment only for tours, lectures and other activities. The address is 390 Vista del Indio, Fallbrook, CA 92028-2548. Please call only if you are lost or delayed; we use our house phone only and are often not inside. Please use the email above for any other communication.
From the North (Temecula and above): take 1-15 South to Exit 51 and turn right. Make the next right onto E. Mission Rd/County Hwy-S13. In .8 of a mile turn left onto E. Live Oak Park Rd. In 1.6 miles turn right onto Alvarado St. In .7 miles at the top of the hill turn left onto Vista Del Indio, at Roja’s Succulents. Make the very first right; 390 is at the end to the left.
From the South (Escondido and below): take I-15 North to Exit 51 and turn left over the freeway. Make the next right onto E. Mission Rd/County Hwy-S13. In .8 of a mile turn left onto E. Live Oak Park Rd. In 1.6 miles turn right onto Alvarado St. In .7 miles at the top of the hill turn left onto Vista Del Indio, at Roja’s Succulents. Make the very first right; 390 is at the end to the left.
From the West (I-5): take CA-76 East, Exit 54A and drive for 12.6 miles. Turn left onto S. Mission Road/County Hwy S13 for 4.1 miles. Turn right onto S. Stagecoach Lane (at the high school). In 2.8 miles turn right onto Alvarado St. At the top of the hill turn right onto Vista del Indio, at the Roja’s Succulents sign. Make the very first right; 390 is at the end on the left.
Jerusalem artichokes aren’t artichokes nor are they from Jerusalem. They are also called sunchokes, which sounds something like an unfortunate cosmic event to me. We grew them this year and I have only great things to say about them.
I ordered organic tubers from Peaceful Valley in California. By the way, all of the strawberries and rhubarb that I had ordered from them were inexpensive and yet of prime quality. The tubers grew into tall, sunflower-like plants that graced an area of the new kitchen garden that didn’t have the best soil in it.
They flowered most of the summer and just this month – October – began to die off. The plants had some difficulty with lace bugs, but with good soil fertility and some actively aerated compost tea foliar spray they rallied exceptionally.
Today, for our Halloween lunch, we thought some creepy-looking tubers would be appropriate. They share a basket with Black Beauty zucchinis (caught them small!) and our first sweet potato of the year, Spanish Red Improved, which we also steamed and ate – heaven!
The ‘chokes are supposed to sweeten up after a frost, but here in San Diego county that might take awhile.
The chokes grow tubers all around the base of the plant, and also spread them underground. They are very easy to harvest; the plant wants the tubers to make new plants so they break off easily.
Although they are knotty, they wash off easily and the skin is thin and mostly easily removed with a vegetable peeler. I didn’t scrape all of it off and it wasn’t bitter or unpleasant at all. I roasted them after just washing them with a vegetable brush and the skins were a little firm and the insides very soft. There wasn’t any unpleasant taste.
Steamed, the JAs become very soft and – by gosh! – taste very similar to soft, buttery artichoke heart! Wonderful! My daughter and I ate them down with a little vegan butter . So wonderfully good. They can be easily mashed as well. We also roasted them along with other vegetables.
I mix all the veggies in olive oil with dried rosemary, minced fresh garlic and pepper, spread out on a tray and roast at 425F for about an hour, depending upon the size and thickness of the veggies. Roasting keeps them more solid yet tender, and sharpens their flavor a little. Absolutely fantastic.
I’m saving small tubers to plant ALL OVER THE YARD! What a great perennial vegetable – perennial in that you leave some tubers in the ground and they keep coming up every year. They are attractive, give shade to smaller plants, are great for attracting pollinators, create good mulch when the tops have died down, and have wonderful tubers. The tubers may be eaten raw as well; they are crisp and mild.
If you have a corner for some tall flowers, definitely try growing some organic Jerusalem artichokes. Yum.
When planning a garden for lots of any size, be especially aware of vertical spaces. Have an unsightly fence? A wall that needs protection from the sun? A hot, bright patio? All of these areas are perfect for growing vertically.
For an existing wooden fence, string wires vertically or in a crossed pattern, depending upon what you will be growing. For a chain link fence… just plant! You can certainly grow annuals such as beans, squash and peas, but for perimeter fences I’d advise long-term plants that fill other functions as well. Heirloom climbing roses can cover a fence, create a barrier for trespassers, provide habitat, be ascetically pleasing, and provide edible flowers and vitamin C-rich hips. Remember that in permaculture everything should serve at least three purposes.
Passionvines are evergreen perennials with rampant growth and provide good crops of heavenly-smelling nutritious fruit, as well as being the host plant to the Gulf Fritillary caterpillar. Even the perennial scarlet or golden runner bean would provide you with food and flowers for about six years.
Do you have a cement porch or patio where the sun reflects heat and brightness into your house in the summer? Cover it with a simple trellis, sturdy enough to hold vines. There are many ornamentals that would work (wisteria, trumpet vine, virgin’s bower, morning glory, etc.), but think about passionfruit, kiwi or grapes. Outside a west-facing wall is a perfect place for a planted trellis, that will help cool that side of the house during the summer. The sides of sheds can be used vertically, either with simple wire that can be removed later or with wooden lath (preferably recycled).
If you have existing trees, use them as vertical space. One faction of a plant guild is a vine. Vines act as groundcover, shading the soil and retaining moisture while producing mulch. Vines also can grow up trees and help shade their trunks from weather extremes.
Meanwhile the fruit and vegetables are off the ground and won’t suffer the predation by animals or ground insects that it may normally receive. Plus, it is fun to see squash up in a tree.
A small fence around your kitchen garden is inexpensive, recyclable, keeps nibbling critters out, and can double the size of your growing space.
One project that I’d like to do this winter (just one? Ha!) is to nail up old rain guttering on the outside of my little shed and make a small natural pond at the base. I’d plant the gutters heavily with strawberries, and maybe greens, and then install a pump that circulated water from the pond up to and through the gutters. The water would then empty back into the pond. The fish and plants in the pond would be fed and happy, the plants in the gutters would be watered and fertilized, and I’d have unnibbled strawberries that were easy to pick, as well as repurposing the old gutters.
Please choose only organic, and if possible, heirloom seeds. It is so important to not poison the wildlife and ourselves with chemicals and plants whose DNAs have been tampered with to withstand more chemicals. I buy from Baker Creek (the catalog is to die for.), Seeds of Change, organics from Botanical Interests , from organic seed savers and from Peaceful Valley Organics (which have terrific prices on high-quality bare root plants such as strawberries!).
So when planning your next season’s garden, don’t just think outside of the box, but think of growing up the sides as well!
Just when I was mourning the fact that our household didn’t create enough food waste to generate lots of compost, I received an email from a former visitor to Finch Frolic Garden. She volunteers at the Fallbrook Food Pantry, where they distribute balanced food supplements to over 800 families a week who earn less than the US poverty limit. They receive raw, outdated fruit and vegetables from grocery stores and other sources, sort through it and have to discard what isn’t safe to hand out. The volunteer knew that I composted and wondered if I’d like to pick up the residue so that they wouldn’t have to throw it out. She and the director had been taking it home, but it was too much for them. Four times a week I’ve been picking up buckets of smuck, or what I call the rotting fruit and vegetables, and often its too much for me as well.
There has been a grace period where my daughter and I nearly broke our backs picking up cardboard boxes sodden with fruit juice that stained our clothes and our car, and spent lots of time cutting produce out of plastic bags and containers, but the Food Pantry staff have been wonderful about usually opening the packages and using only old pool buckets.
My back, my clothes and my car thank them. Fortunately others have been picking some smuck up. The man in my life happily takes lots of it to feed to his compost worms. We’re a great match.
My daughter and I empty the buckets into the chicken coop.
The girls love it. I make sure they eat lay crumble and calcium as well to keep laying, but with the smuck they’ve reduced their intake of crumble and hence have lowered my expense.
I pitchfork straw and weeds over the top and within a few days most of it except some citrus and a coconut or two is pretty much gone. There is a fly problem, but with the flies there have come more flycatchers and lizards, and the hens eat the insect larvae that emerges in the compost.
The picking up of smuck, hauling it down the hill and into the coop, de-packaging, cleaning buckets and fighting flies and ants, three – to -four times a week has been a time-consuming and very, very icky job, but the thought of all that free waste going into the dumpster keeps me at it. This is bacteria-heavy compost material, which is excellent for growing non-woody herbaceous plants such as our own vegetables and herbs.
I’ve also layered the smuck with cardboard, paper waste from the house (tissues, paper towels, cotton balls, Q-tips, junk mail, shredded paper, etc.) under the bananas.
Bananas love lots of food in the form of moist compost around their roots; in fact, they are commonly planted in banana circles with understory plants and the center of the circle is a place for waste products to deteriorate. In our dry San Diego climate we don’t have that kind of tropical moisture to help it rot, but the compost does become a sheet mulch and really helps create soil.
One inch of compost reduces watering needs by ten percent, so a pile of wet smuck layered with carbon items such as dry cuttings and cardboard is excellent. I throw cuttings and pine needles over the top to keep down the rotty fruit smell, which doesn’t last long anyway.
When creating new impromptu trellises for melons and squash in unimproved soil, Miranda and I dug trenches, threw in wet wood and dumped buckets of smuck right on top then covered the trench with dirt. We planted seeds in handfuls of good compost and away they went. We also used some of the mostly composted soil from the Fowl Fortress directly into the kitchen garden .
Due to the wide variety of fruit and vegetables in the smuck buckets we’ve had some interesting volunteer plants. Tiny tear-shaped tomatoes that had been sold in plastic containers for natural snacks, a sweet potato, other tomatoes, and melons. At least we thought they were melons.
Miranda was wondering about pulling them out of the kitchen garden because they were taking over without apparently producing a flower. A couple of days ago she investigated further and found a real surprise. We have about thirty kiwanos growing under the foliage!
I’ve never eaten a kiwano. Wikipedia says: Cucumis metuliferus, horned melon or kiwano, also African horned cucumber or melon, jelly melon, hedged gourd, melano, in the southeastern United States, blowfish fruit, is an annual vine in the cucumber and melon family, Cucurbitaceae. I’ve seen them in the smuck buckets, and it just figures that of all the green melons and orange melons that we’ve thrown in there, something like these would grow! None have ripened to the light orange color as yet, which is good because it gives us time to figure out what to do with them.
Normally tours of Finch Frolic Garden are held by appointment for groups of 5 – 15 people, Thursdays – Mondays. Cost is $10 per person and the tour lasts about two hours. By popular demand, for those who don’t have a group of five or more, we will be hosting Open Tour days for the first 15 people to sign up in August and September. They will be Sunday, August 10 and 24, Sept. 7 and 21, and Thursdays August 7 and 28, and Sept. 11 and 25. Tours begin promptly at 10 am. The tours last about two hours and are classes on basic permaculture while we tour the food forest. I ask $10 per person. Please reserve and receive directions through firstname.lastname@example.org. Children under 10 are free; please, no pets. Photos but no video are allowed. Thank you for coming to visit! Diane and Miranda
I’ve labeled myself an ‘ethical vegetarian’ for nearly two decades. I stopped eating animals when I became horrified at the dichotomy of having glue traps under the house to catch wild rats and mice (and any poor, poor animal that happened upon it, such as lizards. Glue traps are horrendously cruel. I hadn’t put them there.) and a cage with an exercise wheel and specialty food for ‘pet’ mice in the bathroom. Justice is a man-made effort, and by not eating animals I was no longer approving of mass torture by buying into it. Although I no longer ate animals, I have still indulged in animal products, namely dairy products. Slowly it has sunk in how badly animals are treated for those, too. As someone who loves cooking, it has been difficult for me to wean away from dairy products. Butter is especially difficult. Unlike hens who have been bred to continuously lay without needing the services of a rooster, dairy cows must be lactating to produce milk. Cows are usually artificially inseminated, then after giving birth their calves are replaced by milking machines. The calves are most often slaughtered for veal. This process is repeated until the cow is used up from the constant pregnancies and lactating, and then she is slaughtered. This horrible practice is disguised by advertisements showing happy cows grazing in fields. That is a fantasy. ‘Grass fed’ and ‘pasture raised’ are sly terms that give you an image that is nowhere near to the truth. Please read Michael Pollen’s Omnivore’s Dilemma to understand where your food comes from and why.
To find an acceptable butter substitute has been an expensive and frustrating endeavor. For awhile I used a dairy substitute from Trader Joe’s, who I swear keeps tabs on what I buy the most and then discontinues it. All other butter substitutes either taste horrible, can only be used for spreading, or more commonly contain palm oil. The sudden fad for palm oil has created extreme clearance for the growing of palm in the areas which are habitat for the orangutan; indeed, if we don’t curtail our consumption of palm oil quickly the orangutan will go extinct within our lifetimes.
I finally found a recipe for a butter substitute that works pretty well for both spreading and baking. It is made mostly of refined coconut oil. At this point coconut oil is sustainably produced – please make sure that you support companies that do so. Refined organic coconut oil has no flavor or scent; unrefined has a mild coconut flavor and a toasted coconut scent. If you are using a batch of this butter for baking where coconut flavor is desired, then use the unrefined.
This recipe is by no means my own. I found it and a detailed description of the science behind it at VeganBaking.net . There are several options listed and a lot of cooking science behind the butter.
I used the basic recipe, Regular Vegan Butter, Coconut Oil Base. The recipe calls for curdling the soy milk, which will drive the butter flavor. I tried the full teaspoon of cider vinegar, then half cider vinegar and half coconut vinegar, then just half a teaspoon of coconut vinegar, and finally no vinegar, and thus no curdling, at all. I found for my taste that the vinegar flavor carried through and was much too dominant. Even at just half a teaspoon it was so noticeable to me that I didn’t like it on toast. It was good, however, when my daughter used it on sourdough and topped it with fresh avocado. The slight vinegar flavor enhanced the avocado deliciously.
The batch I made without vinegar seemed perfect. The mouth-feel of this butter with or without the vinegar is creamy and all that a high-fat butter should be. It looks, cuts and spreads like butter. The flavor is creamy and very mild, almost like a slightly salted sweet butter. This was a winner for me. For the soy milk I used Trader Joe’s Organic Plain, which does have some sweetener in it. I’ll try with an unsweetened plain organic soy milk another time.
I keep my butter on the counter. I know that organic butter holds its shape better in the heat than processed butter, but both stay stable unless the temperature is in the 80’s. Coconut oil melts at 76F, and in my summertime Southern Californian kitchen, this vegan butter must be kept in the refrigerator. The butter is hard when needed, so the next batch I will take the author’s advice and swap out a tablespoon of coconut oil with regular oil to make it more spreadable.
I wanted to test the butter in cooking and baking. I melted it in a pan and cooked eggs and other breakfast items in it successfully. I used it on toast and on mashed potatoes with great success. The experiment with shortbread cookies went wrong, however, but I don’t think that that was the butter’s fault. These were lemon rosemary shortbread cookies, and contrary to my baking sense I followed the author’s (another blog) directions and didn’t sift the powdered sugar before adding it. There were lumps, therefore, in the batter and I mixed it extra to try and beat them out, which I believe was responsible for making the cookies tough. They were flavorful, but not crumbly. Oh well, I’ll just have to try again! The cookies rolled out, cut, and baked well, retaining their shape and performing as well as with cow’s butter.
As with all substitutions, there is always a difference and vegetarians and vegans have to embrace it. Of course fake bacon and ground ‘meat’ is not quite the same: the great part is that it is far more healthy for your body (lower fat, few preservatives if any, often organic, and not the pesticide-drenched and drugged animals that people eat) and doesn’t perpetuate the extreme cruelty to animals about which humans have become nonchalant. Yes, other animals aren’t kind when feeding off of other animals (those which aren’t vegetarians). Yet we as humans have the option the others don’t, to make eating choices.
Here is the basic revised recipe; please see the original blogpost on VeganBaking.net and give the options a try. I found xanthan gum from Bob’s Red Mill at my local grocery store, and liquid lecithin and coconut vinegar online through Amazon.com.
You can double or triple the recipe with no problem! Enjoy.
Recipe update: I’ve since made some changes to the recipe, exchanging some vegetable oil for some coconut oil for more spreadability, and adding a little more salt for a more satisfying (to me) taste when spread on toast. I’ve been using this butter for a month now, and have noted that: when melting in a hot pan it will brown faster than regular butter, so keep the temperature down, that it will melt and separate at room temperature (its summer now, so the kitchen is usually in the 70’s – in the winter it will be different) so I keep it in the refrigerator. I found butter stick molds that have the teaspoon markings along the side, so I’ve made 8x the original recipe and poured it into the butter molds, then wrapped each unmolded stick in wax paper and frozen them.
I’ve also poured it back into the cleaned coconut oil jars and frozen them, keeping one in the refrigerator for unmeasured use. I’ve used it along with a non-dairy creamer in the Chocolate Ganache recipe and it is very chocolaty, but not as rich as the original. Part of that is due to the creamer; heavier creamer will produce creamier results, but in no way was it disappointing. It was very tasty, but not as heavy. When refrigerated it didn’t solidify as much as the other, so more chocolate might need to be added depending upon the type of creamer used but it was still spreadable and yummy.
Another Recipe Update:
I’ve been making the butter with unsweetened organic rice milk and it turns out well. At first it tasted too light to be satisfying, but when I had dairy butter at a restaurant it tasted greasy and heavy – my taste buds wanted the vegan butter! I found out that even when the kitchen is colder than the melting point of the coconut oil, it isn’t a good idea to leave the butter refrigerated because unlike dairy butter it will grow mold. The rice milk butter with the increased vegetable oil makes it perfectly usable from the refrigerator. I make sticks and freeze them in a freezer bag for baking and pour the rest into glass jars with screw-on caps for spreading. The jars are kept in the freezer until needed, then switched to the refrigerator. I’ve made biscuits, cookies, cakes, scones and breads with this butter, and with proper handling they all come out just fine. We offered both dairy and vegan butter to our holiday guests and they didn’t detect much of a difference. Since vegan butter is so much lower in calories, and coconut oil is so good for you, I don’t have to hesitate to use it. It is actually part of my weight maintenance program!
Ethical ButterAuthor: Mattie, at VeganBaking.netRecipe type: CondimentCuisine: VeganPrep time:Cook time:Total time:A wonderful vegan butter with no palm oil, but lots of options. My version is without curdling the soy milk. Please see the original excellent post for more explanations and options.Ingredients
- ¼ cup + 2 teaspoons organic plain soy milk
- ¼ + ⅛ teaspoon salt (I increased the total salt to ½ t. for spreading butter)
- ½ cup + 2 Tablespoons + 1 teaspoon (130 grams) refined coconut oil, melted to room temp. (For more spreadability, I used ½ cup coconut oil and changed the 2T and 1 t to vegetable oil, along with the following 1 T for a total of 2 Tablespoons and 1 teaspoon vegetable oil.)
- 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil or light olive oil
- 1 teaspoon liquid soy lecithin or liquid sunflower lecithin or 2 ¼ teaspoons soy lecithin granules
- ¼ teaspoon xanthan gum or ½ + ⅛ teaspoon psyllium husk powder (I used xanthan gum)
- Combine soy milk and salt in a food processor or blender.
- Melt the coconut oil until it is just room temperature and barely melted.
- Add the coconut oil and the rest of the ingredients to the soy milk.
- Blend or process for about 2 minutes on low.
- Pour into ice cube trays, or into butter molds or trays.
- Freeze until firm, about an hour.
- Keep wrapped in refrigerator for a month, or frozen for a year.
- Makes one cup.