Jul 21, 2014

Make Your Produce Last Longer

"My produce always goes bad before we can eat it all," I overheard a woman complain to her friend. "I spend all this money on healthy food, and most of it gets wasted!" She's not alone. Experts estimate Americans throw away 14 - 25% of their food, costing the average family $1,365 - $2,275. This is tragic, considering an estimated 842 million people worldwide don't have enough to eat.

What can you do to end food waste in your household? Check out the tips below. (And be sure to see the other articles I've written about food waste, too.)

"And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples,
'Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.'” 

* Buy only what you can reasonably expect to eat before it goes bad. Even if it means extra trips to the farmer's market or grocery store.

* Keep one drawer in the fridge for fruits, and another for veggies. Never store them together because many fruits release ethylene gas - —a ripening agent that makes veggies rot faster.

* Don't refrigerate bananas, garlic, apples, winter squash, potatoes, or onions. Tomatoes tend to turn mealy in the fridge, too. (Be careful to keep onions and potatoes apart, since onions hasten the demise of taters.)

* Freeze certain veggies. On shopping day - or perhaps the day after shopping - chop up produce you'll use for cooking, like onion, green onions, herbs, and sweet peppers. Pop them in a freezer bag, and you won't have to worry about them going bad.

* Use up the most perishable items first. For example, snack on bananas before you start in on the apples. You'll also want to plan your meals so the most perishable foods get used up first.

* Learn to use up just-about-to-spoil produce. You can make smoothies with them. Or freeze them. Or dehydrate them.

* Don't store countertop produce in a hot or sunny location. Keep them in a cool, dark location and they will remain fresh longer.

* Immediately remove produce that's overripe or spoiling. For example, if you keep an apple that has a spoiled spot in with the other apples, it will hasten the spoiling of them all.
I wouldn't want to have to do without my Progressive Keepers.

* Use Progressive International Keeper containers. They really work! There is a water reservoir at the bottom of the containers, plus adjustable venting - and all the information you need for correctly storing produce is right on the container itself. (Some people also swear by Tupperware Fridgesmart containers.)

* Don't wash fruits until you're ready to eat them; experts say water decreases fruit's life by 40%. Some people swear by rinsing them in vinegar and water; I've never tried this becauee I find fruits and berries last a long time in my Progressive containers.

* Remove ties and rubber bands before storing.

* Don't stuff fridge drawers. If you let produce have a little room to breathe, the food will last longer.

* Place plastic wrap over the stem end of bananas. Some people claim separating them makes them last longer, too, but I haven't found this to be the case. And while you're at it, buy green bananas and let them ripen on the counter. They'll last many more days this way.

* Consider whether it needs ripening. Avocados, tomatoes, stone fruits, mangoes, melons, pears, bananas, and apples, will continue to ripen if you leave them on the counter. Citrus, berries, grapes, and bell peppers will not ripen on the counter and will spoil quickly there.

* Buy from local farmers. The food is fresher than what you buy at te grocery store; therefore, it stores longer at home.

* Don't toss it just because it looks bad. With heads of lettuce or cabbage, remove the outer leaves and you'll find fresher leaves inside. Cut away bad spots in fruit, eat the rest.

* Compost! If all else fails, compost spoiled produce to feed the soil in your yard! Also, if you have critters (like chickens and rabbits) that can eat produce, it's fine to give them wilty, dry, or otherwise unpalatable produce - but never give them anything that's rotten.

 

Jul 16, 2014

Attracting Bees to Your Garden - and Dispelling Some Bee Myths

I know everyone keeps talking about the decline of bees - but if you could come visit my garden, I think you'd believe they've all come to live here! The truth is, there are a lot of misconceptions about bees. But the good news is, it is very, very easy to encourage bees to come to your yard - which benefits not only the country's bee populations, but also how productive your plants are.


  
Misconceptions about Bees, Pollination, and Colony Collapse

When you mention pollination to most people, they think of honeybees. But there are other pollinators (ants, bats, birds, butterflies, wasps, and more) - and honeybees aren't the only type of bees that pollinate. In fact, honeybees aren't even native to North America! Honeybees don't even know how to pollinate certain plants, like tomatoes and eggplant, and are really bad at pollinating others, like blueberries, pumpkins, and cranberries. To top it off, honeybees have a long history of illness and death in North America. They are just not designed for this environment, and are quite delicate compared to native bees.

And not only are our native bees much more hearty, they generally don't live in colonies - and they aren't suffering colony collapse. This is a great thing in general, but it will require commercial farmers to think in more old fashioned terms; instead of trucking in colonies of honeybees for pollination, they will have to consider how to attract native bees to their farms. (For more information about honeybee colony collapse and native bees as pollinators, please read "As Honeybee Colonies Collapse, Can Native Bees Handle Pollination?" at the University of Wisconsin-Madison website and "Are Native Bees Suffering the Same Colony Collapse Disorder as Honeybees?" at BayNature.)

From No Bees to Bees Galore!

So now you know the world isn't coming to an end because all bees (or pollinators) are dying. But there are still good reasons to encourage bees (native and honeybees) in your yard.

When my husband and I first moved into our house, we had virtually no beneficial insects and very few bees. Some of this was surely because there were very few plants to attract them. But once I started gardening, things didn't get much better. I was using chemicals in the garden - making it a place that wasn't hospitable to bees and other beneficials. But as soon as I stopped using chemicals (see below for more info on this), I noticed a change within about six months. Ladybugs began staying in our garden, for example, and bees started appearing regularly. Today, the beneficial insects are at an all time high in my garden - and there are bees everywhere! Here's what I do:

* I no longer use any chemicals in the garden - with the rare exception of a carefully controlled use of Roundup on invasive weeds that will completely overtake the garden if I don't spray them. I always try old fashioned methods of eradicating weeds first, and I treat all diseases (extremely rare in my garden) and pest infestations organically, usually with manual methods.
Borage
* I make sure to feed the soil with compost and organic mulch. Healthy soil makes healthy plants, which results in plants that resist disease and pests - and attract bees and other beneficials.

* I try to rotate crops. This is extremely difficult in a small garden, but I do my best because I know it helps keep plants healthy.

* I plant things just for the bees and other beneficials. Borage has made a tremendous difference in my garden. It's very pretty, can be eaten by people (I don't eat it, though), self-sows itself every year - and the bees absolutely flock to it. Other plants the bees really love include butterfly bush (though this is invasive in some parts of the U.S., so be sure to contact your local extension office before planting), lavender, and sedum. Other plants bees love include: basil, sage, thyme, chives, and oregano that are allowed to flower, sunflowers, asters, dandelions, clover, lilac, cosmos, black-eyed Susans, goldenrod, bachelor buttons, bee balm, honeysuckle, wildflowers native to your area - and of course they will love all your flowering edibles, too. Give them lots of variety.
Sedum "Autumn Joy"
* You can also create a place for bees to drink. A bird bath with stones in it is a nice choice.

Bee Killing Plants?

You may have seen something online about plants from Lowe's testing 51% positive for bee-killing pesticides. This is a bit unfair to Lowe's, because they get their plants at the same places almost every store gets their plants. But you can avoid buying chemical laden plants by shopping at local nurseries where you can ask - and get knowledgeable answers about - growing methods. Or just grow your plants from seed. Check out Starting Seeds - which is free - for instructions on how to do this.

Butterfly bush
Worried About Getting Stung?

Yes, I think about this; we have bee sting allergies at our house. But even with all the bees in my yard, I don't get stung. I am mindful of the bees - for example, I don't push past the borage to look for fruit on the squash plants. But I weed and water and so on - and the bees are so busy doing their work, they don't pay me any mind. Maybe they even see me as a collaborator in the making of the garden...who knows?

Jul 14, 2014

Kristina vs. Knife. Knife Wins.

So I was going about my Sunday as usual, feeling really tired - but also excited to pull the first pattypan squash out of the garden and share it with my hubby at dinnertime. Then I decided to try slicing and grilling the squash. I got out my new, truly sharp chef's knife and began cutting the squash into thick slices...when, OWEEEE! I cut myself. Not just that - I cut the tip off my pinky finger.

There was so much blood, I couldn't tell if bone was exposed. A bit panicky, I told my daughter to run outide and fetch daddy. She must have looked quite panicky, because my husband raced in awfully quick. Long story short, I couldn't get the bleeding to slow down, so my husband took me to the emergency room. By the time a doctor actually saw me, the bleeding had nearly stopped. ("It bleeds and bleeds and bleeds when you do this to yourself," the doc said.) Fortunately, I didn't expose any bone. But because I entirely cut off the tip of the finger, leaving no flap of skin, they couldn't do stitches - so they bandaged me up, gave me a tetnus shot, and sent me home. It's gonna take quite a while to heal completely, and they tell me it will hurt a lot.

Right now, it's not painful...but keeping it dry while housekeeping - and typing with any kind of speed - isn't easy.

So...please be patient with me. Posting might be slower because my typing is sooooo much slower.

As for the knife...I suppose I'll use it again. But I doubt I will ever slice pattypan squash again!

Jul 11, 2014

Chocolate Zucchini Cake Recipe

I use lots of healthy zucchini recipes  (#1 and #2 are what my family craves most!), but sometimes I like to splurge. I'll make zucchini chocolate chip cookies for the kids (they LOVE them; you'll find the recipe in A Vegetable for Every Season) or I'll make chocolate zucchini cake. Oh yes. It's yummy. Here's the recipe. You're welcome.


Chocolate Zucchini Cake Recipe


1/2 cup milk*
1 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar*
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour (or 1 cup whole wheat flour and 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour)
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil or melted extra virgin coconut oil
2 eggs
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
2 cups zucchini, grated (about 2 medium zucchini)
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and lightly flour a 9x13 in. baking pan; set aside. Combine the milk and vinegar and set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the sugar, butter, and oil. One at a time, add the eggs and beat until blended. Beat in the vanilla extract.

4. Pour about a third of the flour mixture into the butter mixture, beating just until blended. Add about a third of the milk and vinegar mixture (which should now look lumpy) until just blended. Repeat two more times, until all the flour mixture and milk and vinegar mixture is gone.

5. Fold in the zucchini.

6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the chocolate chips on top.
Bake 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool 15-20 minutes; serve warm.


* If preferred, replace the milk and vinegar with 1/2 cup of buttermilk.


Jul 9, 2014

No Fail Lemonade Recipe

Lemonade is one of summer's most refreshing drinks. But please don't buy the powdered stuff in a can. (Have you read the ingredient list?! Plus, it doesn't taste like real lemonade!) Making lemonade is way too easy for you to waste money and health on store bought. Just use this no-fail lemonade recipe, which tastes just like Simply Lemonade.
No Fail Lemonade Recipe
3/4 cup to 1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water + 3 - 4 cups cold water
4-5 large lemons

1. Begin by juicing the lemons until you have 1 cup of juice. Set aside.

2. Make a simple syrup: Pour the sugar and 1 cup of water into a saucepan placed over medium heat. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat.
The sugar-water combination before stirring and heating.
The sugar-water combination when the sugar is completely dissolved.
3. Pour the simple syrup into a pitcher. Add the lemon juice. Add 3 - 4 cups of cold water, depending upon how strong you want the lemonade to taste. Stir well.

4. Refrigerate for at least a half hour before serving.

Easy peasy!

Jul 7, 2014

Controlling Aphids - Organically

As soon as summer's heat hits, aphids appear in my garden. Some are gray, some black, some green, and some yellow. All are tiny and literally suck the life out of my plants, if I let them.


Happily, it's usually not too difficult to get rid of aphids organically. But you really must catch them early - when there are just a few. The best way to spot them - or any type of gardening problem, for that matter - is to make sure you're in the garden regularly. A stroll every day or every other day, examining plants for problems, is excellent. Then, if you spot aphids...

The First Line of Attack Against Aphids

The minute you spot aphids, get out your garden hose and give them a good, strong spray. It helps to have a nozzle on the hose that you can set for a hard spray. Blast those aphids off, looking especially under leaves and at new growth. This may mean carefully peeling back the center leaves of a cabbage, for example.

For the next several days, check the garden carefully for more aphids. Blast them with water again if they re-appear. But if their numbers seem higher, or if blasting the leaves of certain, tender plants destroys the leaves, move on to another method.
You'll often see ants near aphids. Ants will disappear once aphids are gone.

Other Methods of Controlling Aphids

* Vinegar spray. Vinegar kills aphids on contact, but it can also burn plants, so it should be used with care. Fill a spray bottle 1/3 of the way with white distilled vinegar; fill the remainder with water. Spray directly on aphids. Watch out for ladybugs and other beneficial insects, since they won't like the vinegar-water, either. To be extra safe, I let the vinegar-water sit on the plant for a few minutes, then I spray it down with water.

* Dishsoap. A gentle dishsoap, like Dawn, kills aphids by clogging up their bodies. To a pint of water, add 1 teaspoon of Dawn. I don't recommend a higher concentration, because that can burn plants. Spray directly on the aphids, avoiding beneficial insects.

* Lemon.  Like vinegar, lemon kills aphids right away. To make a spray, first grate the rind of a lemon into a saucepan. Fill a spray bottle with water, then pour the water into the pan and bring the mixture to a boil. Remove from the heat and allow to sit overnight. Strain and pout the liquid into the spray bottle. Spray directly on aphids, avoiding beneficial insects.

* Neem oil. Neem trees produce neem oil - a classic organic pest control substance. The oil works against aphids by making plants taste unpalatable to aphids, and by preventing larvae from maturing. Neem oil is readily available at garden supply centers, or online. Spray it over affected plants.

* Nasturtiums. I love these sunny, vigorous plants! My only gripe against them is that aphids adore them - to the point where they will often (but not always) hit nasturtiums before chomping down on other plants. So nasturtiums planted near edibles often sacrafice their lives for the sake of your edibles. Do note that aphids are extremely difficult to eradicate on nasturtium plants (because there are just so many leaves for them to hide under). And once they destroy your nasturtiums, there's no gaurantee they won't move on to other plants. But ideally - if you don't use chemicals in your garden and you have a reasonably decent ladybug population - ladybugs and their larvea will feast on the aphids while they feast on your nasturtiums, thus eradicating the problem.

What Doesn't Work:
A ladybug devouring aphids.
* Smashing them. Some people claim smashing aphids sends out a warning to other aphids to leave. Been there, done that, it doesn't work.

* Garlic, chives, and onions. Some say planting these keeps aphids away from anything nearby. Again, I don't find that this works. (This year, I have cabbage planted among wild onions and chives. Yet the first plants the aphids attacked were those cabbages.)

* Marigolds. Marigolds are pretty in the garden, but I've never found they keep aphids away, as people claim, even when planted year after year and left to sit in the garden throughout winter.

* Bringing in ladybugs. One year, I purchased ladybugs at a local gardening center and released them among my aphid-infested nasturtiums. They flew away. So I bought another batch and - in desperation - gently sprayed them with Pepsi, which makes their wings stick down, so they can't fly. They still didn't control the aphid population and flew away as soon as the Pepsi wore off. It's really ladybug larvae who eat the most aphids, so a better bet is to encourage ladybugs in your yard by planting lots of flowers they love and never using chemicals in your garden.

* Fantastic soil. Some say aphids only appear on plants growing in poor soil. I have to disagree, since I've seen aphids attack plants in fantastic soil. But I am sure weaker plants are more susceptible to all types of insect pests - and that plants growing in fantastic soil are stronger and more able to fight off aphids.

Jul 2, 2014

How to Get the Most From Your Freezer

Want to be frugal and cut down on your grocery bill? You need a freezer - and not just the one attached to your fridge. Having a dedicated freezer allows you to save money by stocking up on food when it's on sale, preserving your home grown foods (if you don't can or you don't like certain foods in canned form), and freeze extras for quick, easy meals later (a much cheaper - and healthier - alternative to pizza or fast food).
But many of us don't use our freezers to their greatest advantage. If you want to save money, energy, and time using your freezer, keep in mind these things:

* Upright vs. Chest Freezers. Yes, upright freezers save space, but chest freezers are far and away more efficient. So if you're thinking about buying a freezer, you definitely want to go with a chest style.

* Temperature. Keep it at 0 degrees F. or below. This will preserve the food best.

* Keep it Full. A full freezer is a more efficient freezer. And if the power goes out, the food will stay frozen longer. Don't have enough food to fill the freezer? Fill empty milk and juice containers with water and pop them in the fridge.
* Maintenance Matters. Once every year or so, defrost the freezer to keep it running efficiently. That's also a great time to clean the freezer (it's amazing how dirty it can get!). I like to use Windex for this job; it's easy to use and the ammonia in it kills any bad germs. If you prefer, ordinary soap and water works, too. In addition, you should vacuum the freezer coils about once a year. Dust and grime on the coils makes the freezer work harder, making it use more energy and wear out more quickly.

* Stock It. Freezers make it possible to never pay retail on food. Why pay full price for meat, for example, when you can stock up when it's on sale? Freezers also prevent waste by making it easy to preserve leftovers - including things like enchilada or pizza sauce. Some people also keep a special freezer container where they put extra, leftover veggies; I recommend putting the extras on a baking sheet, then popping that into the freezer; once the veggies are frozen, add them to the container. When the container is full, it's perfect for pot pie, shepherd's pie, or soup. If you really have your act together, you can also stock your freezer with complete meals. There are two ways to to do this. The easiest is to cook double; for example, if you make lasagna, make two: One to eat that night and one to freeze. If you're really ambitious, you can plan out a lot of meals and spend a day cooking and freezing them.

* Keep Inventory. It is way too easy to loose track of what's in the freezer - and if it gets left in there long enough, it will become unappetizing. Truly the best way to keep track of what you have is to write or type up a list, like this:
Then keep this list someplace handy. You could tape it on the outside of the freezer itself, or on the inside of the pantry door, or on the front of the fridge. (I've seen some blogs suggest keeping your inventory on the freezer itself, written with dry erase pen. The problem with this is the ink can wipe away with one careless finger - and over time, the ink is difficult to remove.)

To make this list really work, though, every time you remove or add something to the freezer, you must mark it on your list.

* Organize It. Even if you keep an inventory, it helps tremendously if you organize your freezer in a logical way. That is, instead of just cramming stuff in wherever there is a hole, assign each area a type of food. For example, you might have one area that is beef, another that's chicken, another that's herbs, and another that's vegetables. Some people like to use plastic bins to keep everything neat and tidy. Others find plastic bins get too brittle and hard to handle, and use fabric bins or bags instead.
Canning jars without shoulders are suitable as freezer containers.
* Contain It. I like freezer bags better than containers, mostly because I don't have any space for storing extra freezer containers. Bags also take up a lot less space in the freezer if you fill them, seal them, then lay them flat until they are frozen. Additionally, it's easier to remove excess air from bags, which makes the food last longer. Just seal the bag most of the way, leaving enough room for a straw to fit in one corner. Put your mouth on the other end of the straw and inhale the excess air. If you do prefer to use containers, though, you can save space by using square and rectangular ones only. For liquid items like soup or stock, canning jars (real ones - not just ordinary glass jars) are a handy freezer container. Be sure to avoid jars that have "shoulders;" jars that are straight at the neck are much less likely to crack or break in the freezer. Also, be sure to leave an inch of "headspace" (empty, unfilled space) in the jar.

* Label It! Never, never, never, ever put a container or bag in the freezer without labeling it clearly! Trust me; later you will have no idea what it is or when you put it in there. Be sure to write the contents and the date on every package.


* Portion It. A huge container of food is usually harder to use than smaller containers of that same food. It usually makes sense, then, to freeze food in portion-sized amounts. That could mean freezing enough soup for the whole family, or it could mean freezing just enough for one person. If you want to freeze a larger bag of anything, use this little trick to keep the food from becoming a solid, frozen-together mass: Lay the individual pieces (whether berries or chicken legs) on a baking sheet and pop it into the freezer. When the food is frozen, transfer it to a bag.

* Prevent Freezer Burn. Using freezer bags (and getting the excess air out) really helps here. If you have things that won't fit in a bag, double wrap them in heavy foil or butcher's paper that's well sealed.

* Use It! Aside from having an inventory that you look at when planning meals, it helps to place newer foods in the back of the freezer and reach for the things in the front first. Rotating food ensures nothing will be forgotten and wasted.

Jun 30, 2014

How to Buy Half a Beef (or a Quarter, or a Whole!)

Once you realize grass fed beef is better for you, it's not long before you understand you need to find a more affordable source for it than the grocery store. I think it's fantastic our two local grocery stores carry grass fed beef - but it's pricey! (An example: Our Walmart sells wee packs of grass fed ground beef - enough for maybe two tiny hamburgers - for $9.)

In the past, we'd often thought about saving money by buying beef from a local farmer. Now that we've made the commitment to eat grass fed for our health, we knew we needed to stop thinking about it and just do it. But if you've never bought a quarter, a half, or a whole beef before, it can be a little intimidating. So let me walk you through the process. (Incidentally, the process is the same for grass fed bison, which is becoming more and more common for farmer's to raise.)

How Much Do I Need?

First things first; you need to consider just how much meat you want to buy. This really depends upon your family's eating habits. Some people eat very little meat - and some eat meat every day. Also, if you can buy meat in bulk and save money doing so, consider that you might eat more beef than you currently do.

For an idea of how much beef you eat in a year, approximate how much meat you consume each week, then multiply the number of pounds by 52 (the approximate number of weeks in a year).

Finding the Beef

Now to find beef! Sometimes a local, old fashioned butcher shop (not attached to a grocery store) can help you with this. Either the butcher can connect you directly with a farmer, or he can act as a go-between. I recommend dealing directly with the farmer, as the cost is likely to be lower. (Although the butcher will come into play later, as I'll detail in a moment.)

Other places to connect with farmers selling beef include:

* Craigslist
* A local farmer's market (Ask around!)
* The county fair (Again, you'll have to ask around.)
* The Local Harvest website
* Or, if you have a friend who raises cows, ask them to raise a cow just for you

Questions to Ask Before Buying
Butcher paper wrapped (left) vs. plastic wrapped (right)


If you're fortunate, you'll have more than one farmer to contact. Give him or her a call and ask:

* Is the beef entirely grass fed, or has it been given grains at any time? (Some cattle are entirely grain fed, which you should avoid; others are fed grain most of their life, then allowed to graze on grass before being butchered; again - avoid that. What you want is cattle that's grazed on grass all its life.)

* Is the beef hormone and anti-biotic free?

* What breed does the beef come from? (It should be from a meat breed or a dual purpose breed, like a Holstein.)

* How is the beef available? (Usually you can buy a quarter, a half, or a whole cow. Don't panic if only whole cows are available; you may be able to find a few other families who are willing to buy the cow with you.)

* Approximately how many pounds is each quarter, half, or whole? (The number varies a lot, so this is a vital question! Be sure to find out the hanging weight, not the live weight of the animal.)

* Exactly what are all the costs? (Typically, there is a kill fee, which varies according to how much of the cow you a buying. There is also a price per pound of hanging weight, which should pay both the farmer and the butcher - or there may be a price per pound of hanging weight, plus a butcher's fee per pound.)

* When will you butcher? (Often butchering happens in late summer or early fall.)

* How will the meat be packaged? (Usually the choice is between butcher paper - which does, indeed, prevent freezer burn - and shrink wrapped in plastic, like a FoodSaver does.)

* At pick up, is the meat frozen or fresh?

* How does payment work? Will I have to pay in full up front? Part up front? Or can you pay in full upon pick up?

Grass fed eye fillets.
Storing the Beef

Before you commit to buying beef in bulk, you need to consider how you're going to store it. Most people freeze their beef. But how much freezer space will you need? 1 cubit feet of freezer space hold approximately 35-40 lbs. of wrapped beef.

Of course, the amount of space needed also varies according to what types of cuts you decide to buy. (More on that in a moment.) For example, ground beef takes up less space than, say, roasts. Remember, too, that you won't want to keep the beef frozen for more than about a year, or there will be some quality loss.

Another option is to can some or all of the beef - but you will still need freezer or refrigerator space to store the beef while you're working on the canning.

Comitting to Buy

Once you've figured out how much beef you want and who to buy it from, call the farmer and commit to buy. It's best not to wait too long to do this, because farmers usually only raise as many cows as they feel sure they have customer's for. So if you wait too long there might not be enough beef to go around.

Deciding What to Buy

Once you've comitted, you can expect to hear from the farmer's butcher shortly before butchering day. He will want to know how you want your beef packaged and what type of cuts you want.

This last part can seem pretty intimidating; most of us have no idea how many cuts we can get from a steer. To help, look at a cut chart, like this one. Bare in mind, too, that you can make your own ground beef with an inexpensive meat grinder. (If you have a KitchenAid mixer, you can also buy a meat grinder attachment for it.) That said, the butcher will probably recommend grinding the tougher cuts into ground beef.

Other Considerations

* If you're ordering steaks, be sure to specify the thickness you desire.

* Consider how much meat you want per package. For example, do you want ground beef in 1 lb. or 5 lb. packs? What about stew meat?

* On average, butchers usually age the cow for 7 to 14 days. You can request a longer aging, although it might not be available. Experts often recommend 10 - 20 days. (Aging gives the beef more tenderness and flavor.)

* Be sure to ask for the bones! It's very easy to make your own beef stock for freezing or canning. If you have dogs, you might want the bones for them, too.

* Think about any organs you'd like to have, also. If you're not buying a whole cow, not all organs may be available (if the person buying another part of the cow wants them). Some organs to consider: shanks and oxtail (for stews and soups), liver, tongue, heart, and cheek. You can even ask for the suet (fat) for rendering tallow (lard) or making soap; the butcher might even grate it for soapmaking, if you ask.

Bringing it Home

When your beef is cut and packaged by the butcher, you will receive a call to come pick it up. Be sure you have your freezer all ready to go! You may also want to bring a few coolers for transporting the beef.

And How Much Does it All Cost?

I have yet to find a farmer who is selling bulk beef for more than the grocery store - especially if we're talking grass fed beef. To give you an idea of the savings, below I've detailed the costs of the half beef we are purchasing this year. These prices are VERY competitive because we're buying from a family who raises beef for themselves, plus a few extras to pay for the cost of raising their own meat. Expect to pay at least a dollar more if your purchase from a professional farmer.

Weight for half beef (Holstein): about 270 lbs.

Kill fee: $27

Price per pound: $1.90, hanging weight

Butcher's fee: $.50/lb., hanging weight

Total cost of half beef: $675

Total price per pound: $2.50

And this is for grass fed beef! What a deal!