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Urban Homesteading in the Mile High City

From growing fruits and veggies to raising chickens, goats, and bees, we show you how to make the most of your backyard this summer.

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When the first pioneers rolled into Colorado via covered wagon, they had no alternative to growing, raising, and hunting their own food. Today, it’s by choice that an increasing number of Denverites are planting veggies, raising chickens, and even milking goats in their backyards. You may be wondering, Why bother?

“People are coming at this from a gajillion different places,” says Dana Miller, co-chair of the Denver Sustainable Food Policy Council, a group of appointed volunteers that advises the mayor. Think: preppers who want to be self-sustaining in case of the zombie apocalypse; do-gooders on a mission to help solve food-access problems; DIY-happy hipsters into handcrafted everything; parents worried about pesticides; and foodies craving the freshest flavors.

No matter your motivation, you’re in luck if you live in the Mile High City, where, over the past half-decade, urban homesteading restrictions common in other towns have loosened considerably. Hens and goats have been legal residents in Denver since 2011; Colorado’s 2012 Cottage Foods Act allows home cooks to sell low-risk foods prepared in their own kitchens; and last July’s residential sales ordinance means gardeners in Denver can now set up stands to peddle their produce in their front yards. On a larger scale, nonprofits are establishing community gardens in food deserts across town and hosting regular classes on beekeeping, raising goats and chickens, and preserving fresh produce.

In fact, there’s so much going on that in April the city hired a manager of food systems development who will try to wrangle these disjointed efforts to make progress toward Mayor Michael Hancock’s 2020 goal for the Office of Sustainability—that at least 20 percent of basic nutritional foods purchased in Denver will be grown or processed in the state. It’s a lofty (some say unreachable) goal, but it aims to decrease this startling statistic: On average, food travels 1,300 miles from its source to your plate. Unless, of course, your ingredients are coming straight out of your backyard. It’s easier than you might think to get started; let us show you how.


Myth Busters

As the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Urban Homesteading, Coloradan Sundari Kraft wrote the book (literally) on self-sustainable living in the city. We asked Kraft—whose journey began with three tomato plants in an apartment and grew into eight hens and two dwarf goats in her Wheat Ridge backyard—to debunk some of the common misconceptions about what it means to be an urban homesteader.

Myth: Homesteading is for hippies.
Truth: “There are ?all sorts of reasons why people enjoy urban homesteading. Some people do it to know where their food is coming from, or to save money, or to live more sustainably, or simply because they like really good food. Urban homesteaders come from every part of the political and socioeconomic spectrum.”

Myth: I don’t have enough space.
??Truth: “The? fundamental principle in urban homesteading is to start where you are. You can grow lettuce and peppers in a small patch of dirt next to your house. You can grow a tomato plant in a pot on your deck or herbs on your windowsill. Upcycling, canning, soap making—these are all things that can be done in a small apartment.”

Myth: Goats and chickens are too noisy.
Truth: “Actually, chickens and goats are prey species; if something startles or scares them, their response is to become very still and very quiet. Dogs are a predator species; their response is to bark bark bark. And, of course, Denver doesn’t allow roosters, which can make a racket.”

Myth: My yard will be smelly.
Truth: “Poorly kept animals of any kind smell bad, but well-kept chickens and goats—and we’re only talking about female goats and wethers, not stinky male goats—don’t smell. Chicken and goat manure doesn’t smell as bad as dog and cat manure.”

Myth: My neighbors will hate me.
Truth: “Having chickens and goats in my backyard and putting a garden in the front yard has actually brought me so much closer to my neighbors. The kids want to come see the animals; they’re in my backyard all the time. When you have a front-yard garden, the neighbors become almost invested in it. They like to walk their dogs by and see what’s happening, and of course you have to be out there working on it. And it’s a great idea to share those fresh tomatoes or eggs—that tends to go a long way.”

Myth: What I can do in my home won’t be enough to make a difference.
Truth: “It’s not about growing all your own food. It’s about doing what you can. People might grow produce and preserve some of it; some people like me might even have eggs and dairy taken care of. But most people don’t produce their own meat, and nobody in a city setting is producing all their own grains, salt, and oils. Every step you make—no matter how small it may seem—makes a difference. Grow three tomato plants like I did 15 years ago—look where it got me.”

Sundari Kraft with her three-year-old daughter, Ela


Farm City

Why the burbs are following Denver’s lead when it comes to food-producing animals.

A couple of dwarf goats graze on the lawn of a modest ranch home as a brood of hens wanders back to the coop to roost. If you had to guess where this scene is taking place, would you choose: A) North Boulder, B) Greeley, or C) Park Hill?

If you chose C—or wrote in a spot located anywhere in Denver County—you are correct. Boulder doesn’t allow goats unless you have half an acre to spare per animal, and Greeley’s city council shot down backyard chickens in 2010. But in the Mile High City? If you’ve got $20 for a permit and a few hundred square feet in your backyard, you’re free to house up to two goats (females and neutered males only) and eight hens.

It may seem counterintuitive that those two more pastoral bergs have tighter restrictions on food-producing animals than Colorado’s largest city, especially given the stereotypes of Greeley (cow town) and Boulder (liberal locavores). But it’s not an uncommon scenario. “The change often happens in the more progressive urban centers first,” says Sundari Kraft, an early homesteading advocate for Denver. “Our success is affecting what’s happening in Arvada, Lakewood, and Littleton. They’re starting to see we can have chickens and goats, and it’s fine. We passed the food-producing animals ordinance in 2011, and how are Denver’s property values doing?” (If you don’t know the answer, please see our 2015 real estate feature, “Denver’s Best Neighborhoods.” The short answer: very, very well.)

One Denver suburb in particular is putting its fresh-from-the-backyard eggs in the homesteading basket. Wheat Ridge—or Carnation City, as it was called in the ’60s when it sent a weekly bouquet of its highly regarded blooms to the White House—is embracing its agricultural past in hopes of attracting homebuyers interested in more space for their homesteading endeavors. Looser building codes on structures like hoop houses, along with zero permits for goats and chickens, await those willing to cross Sheridan Boulevard. “We’re drawing attention to what’s already here and inviting others to build on that,” says Britta Fisher, executive director of the nonprofit Wheat Ridge 2020, which helps organize coop and homestead tours, harvest events, and free ag-related classes. “If you want to farm, if you want to have a few chickens or a beehive, Wheat Ridge welcomes that and welcomes you to our community.”


LOCAL RESOURCES
If you want…to meet like-minded folks
Try…the Greater Denver Urban Homesteading Group on meetup.com, which has more than 2,500 members

If you want…one-stop local shopping for your DIY homesteading needs
Try…Homesteading in the Hood, a specialty market being held in conjunction with the South Pearl Street farmers’ market on Sunday, May 17

If you want…how-to videos (think Craftsy, but for urban ag)
Try…Boulder startup Hatch Lab’s professionally produced 30-minute films, the first of which goes live this month ($5 each)

If you want…to keep up to date on the local food movement in the Centennial State
Try…subscribing to Local Food Shift Magazine, a bimonthly periodical that will publish its first issue this summer ($36 for an annual subscription/membership)

—Images (from top) courtesy of Brian Kraft; Sarah Boyum 


Before You Dig In

The foundations of gardening are good dirt and quality plants—two things worth giving a little extra attention.

Soil
For $35 plus the cost of shipping, the Soil Testing Lab at Colorado State University will analyze a sample of your dirt and send you a report alerting you to any potential issues—from the presence of heavy metals to pH imbalances. Plus, they’ll tell you how to fix it. You can pick up a free soil kit at many nurseries and garden stores around town; check the lab’s website for a list of locations.

Starters
In Denver, you can do better than buying your young plants at the big-box stores (some of which use potentially bee-killing neonicotinoids to treat their seedlings). On Friday, May 8, and Saturday, May 9, hit plant sales at both Denver Urban Gardens (hosted at DUG headquarters in Curtis Park) and Denver Botanic Gardens (at the York Street location). Or support budding entrepreneurs at the GrowHaus: Through early summer, Elyria-Swansea residents sell starters they raised from seeds as part of the nonprofit indoor farm’s microbusiness class.


Garden Secrets

Even if you can only find 32 square feet to plant in your front yard, you can still get an impressive yield. Bryant Mason, founder of the Urban Farm Company—which has installed nearly 500 raised beds across the Front Range—shows you how to get the most bang for your buds in a four-by-eight-foot container.

Choose Wisely
Leafy greens, such as kale, chard, arugula, and lettuce, will have a much higher yield per square foot than space hogs like squash, cucumbers, pumpkins, and melons.

Grow Up
Save space by growing tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, and pole beans on trellises.

Watch Out For Shade
Put taller crops on the north side of your bed so they don’t block sunlight to shorter plants.

Go Small
Harvest crops like cucumbers and zucchini when they are still “babies”; the smaller the fruits are, the better they taste. Plus, frequent harvesting means the plant will have a higher yield.

Save Money
Mason estimates a single healthy basil plant (about $4) will produce the equivalent of 30 of those little packets of organic basil at Whole Foods Market, which run about $3 apiece.

Consider Usage
Plant herbs—oregano, basil, parsley, dill, sage, and thyme are at the top of Mason’s list—on the outer edges of your bed for easy access.

Try Beans
Add some protein to your diet by sowing pole beans. Mason suggests the buttery, stringless Fortex green bean variety.

Follow Container Laws
Never place mint in a bed—the perennial will take over. If you must have your mojito fixings, plant some in a separate pot.

Pass On The Sprouts
As trendy as Brussels sprouts are, Mason doesn’t advise growing them yourself: They take around 110 days to mature (Colorado’s growing season is about 157 days) and are often pest-ridden by harvest time.


Water Works

The tide may be turning on H20 collection in the notoriously stingy Centennial State.

Colorado was still the only state in the nation with a ban on rainwater harvesting in municipalities at press time, a result of our complex water-rights laws. (CliffsNotes version: Water that falls on your property actually belongs to people with claims downriver.) But change could be coming. In March, the state House passed the “rain barrel bill,” which would allow for the collection of up to 110 gallons of water on residential properties. If the legislation makes it past the Senate and the governor’s desk, it will be the second big policy pivot in recent history: Before House Bill 1044 was signed by Governor John Hickenlooper in May 2013, Colorado was the only Western state that didn’t explicitly allow gray-water recycling (e.g., sprinkling your flowers with used bathwater). The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s final public hearing to establish minimum guidelines for gray-water use took place in April; the next step will be for the City and County of Denver to adopt an ordinance giving its thumbs-up to the practice, which could help a four-person household save 58,000 gallons of water a year.


LOCAL RESOURCES

If you want…to buy high-quality organic planting or potting soil
Try…Denver-based Maxfield’s product line

If you want…help getting your raised garden bed going
Try…the Urban Farm Company, which will install your bed, fill it with high-quality soil, sow your plants, and educate you on gardening (pricing starts at $350 for a four-by-four-foot bed)

If you want…to learn how to save your heirloom seeds
Try…Feed Denver’s Vegetable University: Seed Saving Edition on May 16 ($35)

If you want…to trade your saved heirloom seeds
Try…the GrowHaus’ annual seed swap in March, where $10 gets you in the door to give and take seeds as you please

If you want…to learn how to compost
Try…Denver Urban Gardens’ and Denver Recycles’ joint composting classes

If you want…to grow mushrooms
Try…classes at the GrowHaus, which will debut midsummer

—Images (from top) courtesy of Sean Parsons (vegetable graphic); iStock


Extra! Extra!

Anyone who’s ever had even a miniature garden knows that excess produce is inevitable. Check out these ideas for what to do with your abundance this season.

EAT IT
Overwhelmed by kale? The three-year-old outdoor kitchen at the Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield’s working farm hosts hands-on cooking classes on how to use up all that produce. (See “Use ‘Em Up” below for recipes from the instructors, including herb-infused vinegar and butter for that surplus basil.)
When you just can’t stomach another fresh-from-the-garden beet salad, remember: There’s nothing better in the middle of winter than a jar of preserved produce. It’s worth your time to carefully save summer’s bounty for later in the year (see “Canning 101” below).

SHARE IT
Fermenting is a supersafe food-preservation method—more so than canning—making the finished products even better for gifting. (See “Fermentation” below.)
Local nonprofit Produce for Pantries was founded in 2013 to help connect gardeners with food pantries in need of fresh fruits, veggies, and herbs; more than 42,000 pounds were donated last year. Call Produce for Pantries’ Hunger Free Hotline at 1-855-855-4626 to find a pantry near you that accepts produce.

SELL IT
In July, the Denver City Council passed a residential sales ordinance that allows anyone who obtains a $20 permit to set up a farm stand in his or her yard. Combined with the 2012 Colorado Cottage Foods Act, which says you can sell certain low-risk foods—including jams, teas, eggs, honey, and some baked goods—made in your home without a license, you could easily set up a farmers’ market just steps from your front door. (Note: Produce must be sold by the grower, and cottage foods must be labeled and traceable to the maker; sales per item can’t exceed $5,000 in a year.)


Use ’Em Up

Susan Evans, founder of Chrysalis Herbs and an instructor at the Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield’s outdoor kitchen, shares a few ways to make those extra fresh herbs and veggies last a little longer.

Herb Butter
8 ounces butter (you could also use cream cheese, goat cheese, or feta), softened
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped chives
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, minced
1 tablespoon marjoram, minced
2–3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan

Mix together well, put into an attractive bowl or crock, and decorate with fresh edible flowers or herbs. Great with bread, crackers, or added to sauces.

Herb-Infused Vinegar
1 cup fresh herbs, whatever is rampant in the garden
1 pint organic apple cider, champagne, white wine, or rice vinegar

Coarsely chop the herbs and put into a wide-mouth glass jar. Add the vinegar, making sure all of the herbs are completely covered. Stir with a knife to release any air bubbles. Tightly seal the jar and let sit for at least 2 weeks. Strain through cheesecloth and put in a decorative bottle; insert a sprig for decoration. Use in marinades, stir-fry, and vinaigrettes; splash over sautéed greens; or dilute with 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water and use as a hair rinse to add shine and body.

Quick-Pickled Veggies
¾ cup water
¾ cup wine, rice, or apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoon sugar
2–3 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon dried oregano, thyme, rosemary, and/or chile flakes
2 cups chile or bell peppers, red onion, carrots, green beans, cauliflower, or broccoli—whatever raw veggies you have on hand—washed and cut up

Bring all ingredients other than the veggies to a boil; add the veggies and remove from heat. Let sit for 10 minutes. Pack the vegetables into a glass jar with the vinegar, cover, and store in the fridge, where they’ll last two to three weeks.


Fermentation

The hottest, hippest method of food preservation happens at room temperature.

Once reserved for traditional Korean eateries, kimchi—a fermented veggie dish often starring cabbage—is popping up everywhere. You’ll find it atop Uncle’s steaming bowls of ramen, in a torta at City O’ City, and in MM Local’s recently launched lineup of fermented goods (try the spicy kale version). In fact, restaurant industry pundits predict that 2015 will bring even more chef experimentation with fermentation, an ancient method of preserving that, at its most basic, involves a crock, salt, water, and vegetables that sit on the counter for anywhere from three days to six weeks. But why let the pros have all the fun? “In some ways it is easier than canning, and safer too, as fermenting is a process that makes sure the good bacteria are the only ones left,” says Willow King, CEO of Lafayette’s three-and-a-half-year-old Ozuké, which distributes seven flavors of kraut and kimchi across the country. As with canning, you should always use vetted recipes; start with Ozuké’s Napa cabbage kimchi recipe (see below).


Try It At Home

To jump on the fermentation bandwagon, follow the recipe below, or head to Hatch Lab’s website to view a 30-minute, step-by-step video featuring Ozuké founders Mara King (pictured left) and Willow King (who happen to share a last name and a passion for pickling and probiotics). It’s the first in Boulder startup Hatch Lab’s planned series of professionally produced how-to videos, which will focus on urban homesteading topics. Bonus: Mara and Willow provide cultural context, background information, and tips as they make the kimchi, adding even more value for your $5 (which also includes a PDF of the recipe).

—Courtesy of Willow King

Ozuké’s Napa Cabbage Kimchi
2 large heads Napa cabbage (or 3 small ones)
1 ounce sea salt by weight (approximately 4 teaspoons)
1 cup Korean red chili pepper flakes (gochugaru/kochukaru)
1 ounce ginger by weight (or ¼ cup thinly sliced)
1 garlic bulb
2 onions

1. Cut the cabbage lengthwise into quarters. Remove the core, but cut and use the edible portions in the recipe. Cut each quarter into 1-inch-wide strips.
2. Place the cabbage in a large bowl and add the salt. Use your hands and/or a pounding tool (meat tenderizer, rolling pin, etc.) to massage the salt into the cabbage and allow it to release its moisture. Put it aside, and let it stand for 30 minutes.
3. Prepare the paste by rough-cutting the garlic, ginger, and onions and combining them in a food processor or blender. Blend briefly. After an initial processing of the other ingredients, blend in the gochugaru chile flakes to make a smooth paste.
4. Using gloved hands (optional), combine the cabbage and paste in the large mixing bowl. Mix until the two are thoroughly combined.
5. Pack the kimchi into canning jars, pressing it down as you go to allow the brine to rise above the vegetables. Leave at least 1 inch of headspace, and seal the jar with a tight-fitting lid.
6. Let the kimchi ferment at room temperature for three to nine days (depending on the temperature). For the first three days, open the lid and press down on the vegetables with a clean finger or spoon to keep them submerged under the brine and to release the fermentation gases. Check the kimchi daily to track the fermentation process and identify the taste and texture you like best.
7. When the kimchi tastes just right, put it in the refrigerator. It will keep at this temperature for at least several months (opinions vary), though the taste will change over time.


Canning 101

In the past year, the preserving maestros at RiNo’s six-year-old MM Local have launched online ordering, expanded to the Pacific Northwest, and sold more than 300,000 pounds of Colorado produce. We spoke with co-founder Ben Mustin (pictured) to get his top tips for home cooks who want to save summer flavors safely.

DO:
Find recipes from proven, reputable sources. Jar-maker Ball’s website and the USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning are great, free places to start.

Start with the water-bath method—ideal for high-acid fruits, tomatoes, and pickling—rather than investing in a pressure canner (used for low-acid veggies and meats). You’ll want two big pots with racks inside; a canning funnel; and canning tongs.

Adjust for altitude. Most recipes will include specific instructions, but for water-bath canning, typically you will need to add one minute of processing time for every 1,000 feet in elevation (round up!).

Use produce at its ripest point. Generally speaking, canning preserves existing flavor (as opposed to improving it).

DON’T:
Fiddle with recipes. Canning and pickling are precise and scientific arts that are more like baking than cooking. Deviating from recipes can cause food-safety problems, including botulism, which can be fatal.

Skimp on the good stuff. Remember that whatever you’re preserving will cook and shrink in the jar, so pack it tightly.

Reuse lids. You can, however, use the jars and rings again. You’ll simply want to purchase new lids separately.

Be intimidated. If you can follow a cookie recipe, you’ll be able to can. However, nervous newbies can check MM Local’s Facebook page for classes on preservation around harvest time.

—Images (from top) courtesy of Getty Images; Alison Vagnini


Go Fish

Aquaponics is poised to be the next big thing in organic, sustainable farming. The basic idea? Waste from fish is converted (via microbes and worms) into food for plants, which then filter water for the fish. (These can be decorative, à la koi, or edible, such as tilapia, catfish, or trout.) Once installed, a system—envision a tank and plants connected by tubes, with a pump to cycle the water through—uses around 10 percent of the water a regular garden does and requires about five minutes of daily maintenance, plus a once-weekly 10-minute checkup. And between the Aquaponic Source in Longmont—a retail shop that also runs North America’s largest online aquaponics forum—and Commerce City’s Colorado Aquaponics, which harvests 500 to 1,000 heads of greens per week, year-round, the Front Range is quickly becoming an epicenter for the national movement. Sylvia Bernstein, owner of the Aquaponic Source and author of Aquaponic Gardening, gives us the lowdown on what a setup could look like in your backyard.

A greenhouse is the ideal setting because it keeps the fish warm enough through the winter but still uses natural light (eliminating the need for, and cost of, grow lights). If you don’t mind adding lights, you can set up a system in your garage, basement, or shed—pretty much anywhere.

The rule of thumb is one pound of fish per five to 10 gallons of water, so a 200-gallon tub could hold anywhere from 20 to 40 fish. Start with 50 fingerlings ($1.50 to $2 each from Longmont’s Beavers Fish Farm), a one-time investment as they’ll reproduce from here on out. Put them on the dinner menu when they’re around 12 inches long, or about 1.5 pounds.

There are two primary aquaponic methods: raft-based (roots dangle directly into the water) and media-based (plants are grown in an inert planting media).

Leafy greens and herbs are ideal for beginners, but you can grow just about anything, including fruit-bearers like tomatoes, once your system is established, which takes a few months.

Pumps vary by gallon count and height, but unless you’re going for a really big system, most cost less than $100. Save a few bucks by using a recycled or repurposed container, such as an old bathtub (try Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore).

The Aquaponic Source has a mechanical engineer and master plumber on staff who will create a custom design for your space ($100 up front for the specs, but it’ll be applied as a credit to your equipment order).

You’ll have some daily chores: sprinkling fish food—about $1 per pound for conventional, $3 per pound for organic—twice a day and plucking what you need for your salad.


LOCAL RESOURCES
If you want…
to learn how backyard aquaponics works
Try…Colorado Aquaponics’ monthly classes

The Pursuit Of Hoppiness

Hop plants aren’t the most practical crop: They grow like weeds, and they’ll make Fido very sick if he eats them. But, hey, this is Colorado, and our pint glasses are half full. We found five great reasons to start growing hops next year*:

1. They make your yard smell awesome. Imagine sipping an IPA in the sun while hoppy, piney scents waft your way….
2. They’re really cool-looking. Hop bines—yes, they’re called bines, not vines—will grow up to 25 feet tall in one season.
3. You can brew beer with them. Serious homebrewers often prefer store-bought pellet hops because without pricey testing, there’s no way to know the amount of alpha acid (read: bitterness) in homegrown hops. But you can at least add them for aroma after the fermentation stage.
4. You can use them to infuse your pint. Whether it’s homebrew or something you grabbed at the store, let the suds marinate with your hops in a French press, then push the top down to filter out the plant material but keep the fresh hop scent.
5. You can donate them to AC Golden Brewing Company. The first 700 Coloradans to sign up this year for its Colorado Native Brew Crew will be mailed a rhizome. During end-of-summer “hop drop” events, you can trade in your harvest for a commemorative patch. The hops will then be used in batches of Colorado Native (specially marked so you can find the brew you contributed to at local stores).

*Baby hops, called rhizomes, are generally harvested in March. The Brew Hut in Aurora takes preorders through late February; the rhizomes cost $4.99 each and arrive ready to plant in early April.

—Image courtesy of iStock

Nature’s Candy

Just because you don’t live on an orchard doesn’t mean you can’t grow the sweet stuff. You just might have to look beyond the usual fruit-bowl suspects. “Because we have a lot of transplants, people from California or New York, they’re used to what grows where they’re from,” says Adam Brock, co-founder of the nonprofit GrowHaus and board president of the seven-month-old Denver Permaculture Guild, a group that looks for ways humans can positively impact their natural surroundings (such as cultivating species that are well adapted to Colorado’s climate). “But there are lots of really tasty fruits that grow well here that you won’t find in the grocery store.” Here, eight varieties you can plant in your outdoor space to make it both beautiful and fruitful.

—Images: iStock (6); Shutterstock (clove currant and pawpaw)

Editor’s Note 4/28/15: An earlier version of this story included an inaccurate photo to represent the pawpaw fruit. We regret the error.


An Apple A Day

Food writer Eugenia Bone’s first book, a memoir infused with 150 recipes, was inspired by her time spent restoring a ranch in Crawford (15 miles south of Paonia). Serious urban homesteaders will want to look for her latest cookbook: The Kitchen Ecosystem (Clarkson Potter) details how to use every last bit of 40 common ingredients, including preserving. But for now Bone, who splits time between New York and Colorado, shared the following Spiced Apples recipe with us from her James Beard Award–nominated Well-Preserved (Clarkson Potter/Publishers). Although it calls for Golden Delicious apples, you can experiment and substitute whatever is in abundance.

Spiced Apples
Makes 4 pints

6 pounds Golden Delicious apples (about 24 medium)
¾ cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons citric acid (I use Fruit Fresh)

Wash the apples. Line a colander with a thin cotton dish towel or a triple thickness of cheesecloth. Place the lined colander over a bowl. Using the large holes of a box grater, grate the apples, including the skin, into the lined colander. Grate the apples down to the core. Or peel, core, and quarter the apples and grate them in the food processor, then dump them into the cheesecloth-lined colander. Juice will start dripping through the dish towel into the bowl below. This is good. Add ¼ cup of the sugar, the cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves on top of the grated apples and toss gently.

Gather up the dish towel and squeeze the juice out of the apples. You don’t have to squeeze out every drop. This will produce about 3 cups of juice. Set aside. You will have about 8 cups of apples.

Bring 2 cups of water and the remaining ½ cup sugar to a boil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the apples and boil them in the syrup for 3 to 5 minutes.

Have ready 4 scalded pint jars and their bands. (To scald, simply dip the jars in boiling water. You don’t need to sterilize the jars, as you will be processing them for over 10 minutes.) Simmer new lids in a small pan of hot water to soften the rubberized flange. Place ½ teaspoon of the citric acid in the bottom of each jar, then add the apples, leaving ½ to ¾ inch of headspace. Wipe the rims, set on the lids, and screw on the bands fingertip tight.

Place the jars on a rack in a big pot and add enough water to cover the jars by 3 inches. Cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to medium and gently boil the jars for 25 minutes. Remove the cover and then, after about 5 minutes, remove the jars. Allow the jars to cool, untouched, for 4 to 6 hours. Check the seals and store in a cool, dark place for up to a year. Refrigerate after opening.

In the meantime, pour the juice into a sterilized quart jar (to sterilize, boil the jar, its lid, and its band for 10 minutes) and refrigerate until you are ready to make the granita.* The juice will hold in the refrigerator for about 3 days.

*Just add a bit more sugar and orange juice to taste, and freeze, breaking up the ice crystals with the tines of a fork over the course of a couple of hours until you have granulated ice.

Strawberry Fields

Denver-based Puff’s Preserves combines two of life’s great pleasures—booze and fruit—in a line of delicious jams (such as raspberry whiskey chipotle and apple beer cardamom). Here, owner Kirsten Farabi tells you how to work this magic in your own kitchen. (Disclosure: Farabi is the longtime girlfriend of one of 5280’s editors.)

Puff’s Strawberry Preserves
This preserve highlights the candy sweetness of spring to early summer strawberries. You can choose to complement the sweetness of the berries with an herbal spirit or tangy balsamic vinegar. Both versions are best served on crostini with fresh ricotta and garnished with basil—but your regular morning toast works just as well.

Materials:
– Canning jars, metal lids, and bands (Ball, Kerr, etc.); this recipe yields approximately four eight-ounce jars, eight four-ounce jars, or two pint jars
– Water-bath canner or a 21-quart nonreactive stock pot
– It helps to have a jar lifter, magnetic lid lifter, bubble remover/headspace tool, and funnel to safely can
– Large, nonreactive pot for making jam (or, even better, a copper jam pan)
– Small pot for simmering lids and bands separately from the jars
– Candy thermometer
– Nonreactive large spoon for stirring preserves
– Large bowl for macerating strawberries
– A few small metal spoons, or small plates, for the freezer to test the gel
– Labels

Make sure all of your items used for canning have been properly sanitized. Tip: Ball makes a great kit containing a set of canning materials (try their website or retailers like Target).

Ingredients:
3.5 pounds (about 8 cups) fresh, just-ripe strawberries, diced
4 tablespoons lemon juice
5 cups sugar
1 ounce Chartreuse or, my favorite, Leopold Bros. 3 Pins Alpine Herbal Liqueur (if you want a more tart jam without the booze, omit the herbal liqueur and replace it with 3 tablespoons of aged balsamic vinegar)
5 teaspoons Pomona’s Pectin
5 teaspoons calcium water (follow instructions included in your small box of Pomona’s Pectin to make this)

Preparation (be sure to follow the order of events below):
Rinse and hull the strawberries (remove the leaves and white flesh from the middle of the berry), then dice as evenly as possible for a more consistent preserve. Add the diced strawberries and 1 cup of sugar to your macerating bowl. Macerating fruit in sugar releases the juices and softens the fruit. Stir, cover, and let sit for at least 2 hours. You can also refrigerate this mix for up to 48 hours.

About a half hour before your strawberries are ready, prepare your jars and lids. Wash and rinse your jars and lids in hot, soapy water. Add your jars to the canner, cover with water, and boil for at least 15 minutes. Also add the lids and bands to your separate pot, and bring to a simmer. Try not to boil the lids and bands, as it may weaken the seal. After your jars and lids have been sanitized, leave in the hot water until ready to can. Place your metal spoons or small plates in the freezer. (Note: If you have a dishwasher with a sanitizer cycle, you can skip all of this and run them through the dishwasher instead! Just leave it on heated dry until you’re ready to can.)

In a separate bowl, mix the remaining 4 cups of sugar and pectin with a whisk. This evenly distributes the pectin to avoid globs. Set aside.

Cooking:
Finally! You’re ready to jam! Add the strawberry mixture, lemon juice, and calcium water to your jam pot and stir well. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. If you like a less chunky preserve, you can use a potato masher to smash the berries at this point. When your fruit has reached a boil, slowly add the sugar mixture while constantly stirring to avoid clumps. Return to a boil while continuously stirring to avoid scorching. Add either your herbal liqueur or balsamic vinegar, and keep stirring until your preserve reaches 221° Fahrenheit.

Remove the pot from the burner and test the gel by dipping a frozen spoon into the jam and setting it aside or putting a dollop on a frozen plate. Let sit for a couple of minutes. Does your jam form a syrupy glob, like jam? If so, it’s ready! If not, return to the stove to boil it a little longer. Skim any foam from the top—but don’t discard it! You can keep it for making cocktails.

Canning:
Remove a jar from the hot water bath with tongs or a jar lifter. Ladle preserves into the jar, using a funnel to avoid spilling. Get rid of any air pockets with a bubble remover, and fill until you leave about ½- to ¼-inch headspace. Clean up any spills.

Remove a lid and band from your other pot (this is where magnetic lid lifters come in handy) and place on your jar. Tighten the band so that it is just closed—not too tight—and return the jar to the water canner. Repeat until your jars are filled. You can save any leftover jam in the refrigerator for 2 weeks. Make sure your jars are covered with at least an inch of water. Cover and process the jars in the water canner by bringing water back to a boil for at least 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let the jars sit on a flat surface, at least an inch apart so that they get enough air flow to cool and create a seal (you may hear them pop). Label your jars with the flavor and the date, and store in a cool, dark place for up to one year.

Lastly:
Fix yourself a cocktail with that extra foam. You deserve it!

LOCAL RESOURCES

If you want…to do even better than reducing your footprint
Try…joining the Denver Permaculture Guild ($6/month or $60/year), which looks for ways humans can improve and work with, not against, local ecosystems

If you want…to find fresh peaches for a pie
Try…tinyurl.com/denverfruit, a crowd-sourced map of Denver foraging locations

All Abuzz

Last spring, Pete Marczyk, who’s been keeping bees at home for four seasons, installed a hive atop a storage container at his East Colfax Marczyk Fine Foods location. That swarm lost its queen and died—but the grocer turned beekeeper isn’t discouraged. We asked him about his experiences with the buzz-worthy insects.

5280: Some people might think hosting thousands of stinging creatures in your yard is kinda crazy.
Pete Marczyk: We live with bees all around us. Once you’ve closely observed bees, you realize the last thing on their agenda is stinging. Bees are busy! Stinging is a distraction.

Have you ever been stung?
Every year it seems I get stung a couple of times, usually due to my less-than-perfect handling. Last year I got stung twice trying to collect a swarm [to relocate to a new hive]. I decided we didn’t like each other enough and left them alone.

Do you wear the full space suit?
No, but if I had one, I would. I always wear the veil and hat; it’s just prudent. Gloves sometimes, but I’m working on going bare-handed [for dexterity].

Is it really worth all the effort?
If we were to look purely at economics, at our scale, no. But we get a lot out of the experience of beekeeping, and there is a tremendous amount of satisfaction in the consumption of honey from one’s own bees. We literally could not use the volume of honey our bees produce in a year; we end up giving a bunch away as small gifts.

Are you going to try to have bees at the Colfax store again?
Yes. We are ready to try to establish a colony and bring new meaning to the phrase “Colfax working girls.”


The Bee’s Knees

For a numerical look at the esoteric art of beekeeping, we turned to the gurus at To Bee or Not To Bee. The new owners of this decades-old business (formerly located near I-25 and I-70) moved its storefront to Littleton in February; the larger space hosts classes and beekeeping club meetings, as well as houses all necessary supplies.


Sweet Deal

A honey extractor, a device used to spin the honey out of the combs, will set you back $300 (for a hand-crank version) to $2,000 (electric)—and collect dust for most of the year. Come time to harvest in August and September, for 75 cents a pound (with a $25 minimum), you can take your frames to Denver Urban Homesteading’s commercial kitchen at 200 Santa Fe Drive for processing into raw, unfiltered liquid gold. Bonus: If you have extra, Denver Urban Homesteading will sell it at its year-round Saturday markets and give you a cut.


LOCAL RESOURCES

If you want…to save the bees
Try…joining the Living Systems Institute of Golden’s Bee Safe Neighborhoods program, which asks clusters of households to pledge they won’t use systemic pesticides

—Images courtesy of iStock


Got Milk?

As of 2011, Denverites can keep up to two dwarf goats (does and wethers only, no unneutered males; 130 square feet each, plus shelter). But just because you can doesn’t mean you should. “Raising backyard goats for milk is a bigger commitment than getting chickens,” says Sundari Kraft, who recently moved to Wheat Ridge and helped update the suburb’s goat policy. “But goats are very easy to take care of, and they’re as smart and personable as dogs.” With Kraft’s help, we offer a few things to consider.

Upsides:
Dwarf goats are small enough to be manageable, about the size and weight of a golden retriever.
You’ll have fresh milk for drinking and for making cheese, yogurt, and ice cream.
Goats make fantastic pets; many people keep them for this purpose alone. In fact, they’ll happily carry your water and snacks on a hike.
Goat manure makes great fertilizer for your veggie garden.

Downsides:
Goats crave companionship; one by itself might become ill from the stress of being alone.
They love to climb and can be escape artists—you’ll need to have a very secure fence that’s at least four feet tall.
Does must get pregnant annually to continue producing milk, which means once a year you’ll be racing to get your goat “serviced” by a buck at the first signs she’s in heat and then cutting umbilical cords in your backyard five months later.
For optimum production, someone will need to be home to milk your goat twice a day (usually a five- to 10-minute process) at 12-hour intervals.

—Image courtesy of Richard Bailey

Diary Of A Hen Owner

One Denverite discovers the trials and delights of keeping chickens—from coop construction to poop cleanup to gathering brunch eggs from the backyard.

It started with a single blue egg. When my family joined a farm-share program, I was surprised the first time I opened my carton: Nestled among the neat rows of brown, white, and speckled orbs was an egg the shade of a Tiffany box. It was so beautiful, I decided I would never buy plain old supermarket versions again. That, of course, meant I would have to find a place to source enough eggs to fully support my growing sons’ omelet habit.

So I did. My backyard.1

After sketching coop designs and Googling exotic bird breeds, we headed to Wardle Feed2 in Wheat Ridge one Saturday in March 2013. We ducked under a heat-trapping tarp hanging in the back corner of the store to find dozens of tiny fuzzballs cheeping and tottering in their pens, and any lingering doubts—Would our dog gobble the chicks in front of our kids? Would our neighbors hate us?—melted away. We picked out a rainbow flock,3 cranked the heater in our Pathfinder, and drove home like parents leaving the hospital with a newborn.

For the next two months, the chicks peeped in a cozy homemade brooder box4 in the study. We scooped poop twice a day and fussed over the temperature. While the chicks5 grew into gawky pullets, we fine-tuned our coop design. We took into account our 900-square-foot Congress Park yard, garden beds, and penchant for backyard parties. In the end, my DIY husband designed and built a sturdy double-decker (pictured) with a living succulent roof, wainscoted walls, vintage windowpanes, and a rooster weather vane. The residents couldn’t care less about the design details, but we appreciate that our outdoor entertaining space doesn’t look like a barnyard.

When our flock graduated to the backyard, maintenance got a lot easier. We top off their food6 and water every five days and muck out the coop once a month. There have been low points in our chicken adventure: syringing medicine into a sick bird’s beak, soaking crusted poop off chicken backsides, and, dare I admit it, slinking into the vet7 with a hen in a dog carrier. But the day we discovered our first egg,8 we shrieked like a miracle had taken place. There is nothing like the round, warm weight of a just-laid egg in your palm. And no store-bought version can rival the fluffy richness or fat orange yolk. Frittatas, Dutch baby pancakes, snickerdoodles—every family recipe tastes better. Two years later, the kids still love their daily chore of peeking into the nesting boxes. When their friends come over, they run straight to the coop to hunt for eggs.

It’s not just children who flock to the coop. Our neighbors have been intrigued, if sometimes bemused, by our urban petting zoo. When we leave town, they keep an eye on the coop in exchange for fresh eggs. This past Thanksgiving Day, our neighbors discovered a fist-size double-yolker the color of faded denim. Elderly visitors often reminisce about their childhoods, when backyard chickens were commonplace.
Although we got into keeping hens for the eggs, they’ve quickly—if unintentionally—become pets. They’re not on the same level as our beloved English springer spaniel (who, unlike most dogs, skitters away if the chickens so much as squawk in her direction), but I doubt the wizened farmers at the feed store would approve of their pampered lifestyle. They flock to the sound of my voice, and Cluck Cluck—a two-year-old hen with cobalt and copper feathers—tries to cuddle on our laps like a cat. When they cluster around a treat of worms my boys just dug up, their fluffy bums remind me of a gaggle of bustled Victorian dames.

This morning, when I gave my sons the day off and went out to look for eggs myself, I found three: Goldie’s creamy pink, Baby Zebra’s chocolate oval with a smattering of black freckles, and one of those robin’s-egg blue ones that started it all. —Christine Bayles Kortsch

1. Denver’s ordinance requires 16 square feet of permeable (ground) space per chicken, plus adequate coop real estate. 2. This feed store has been family-owned since 1938 and sells chicks ($3.50 to $5 each) from February to Labor Day. 3. Rhode Island reds, Plymouth rocks, and Ameraucanas are good choices for Colorado because they’re cold-hardy down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit and strong layers (four to seven eggs a week). Plus, Ameraucanas lay green or blue eggs. 4. Use a large wooden or cardboard container; allow about two square feet per chick. You can find the rest of what you need to get started—a feeder, heat lamp, pine shavings, etc.—at Wardle for around $60. 5. Raising chicks is more work than buying adults, but the birds are more likely to bond with you and get along with one another if you bring them up together. 6. Feed from Wardle will run you about $2.50 (commercial) to $6 (organic) per month, per chicken; the folks at Denver Urban Homesteading also sell organic feed at 370 Kalamath St. seven days a week. 7. Call around before your bird is sick; most vets in Denver will not see chickens. A few that do: Washington Park Veterinary Clinic and University Hills Animal Hospital in Denver, Homestead Animal Hospital in Centennial, and Broomfield Veterinary Hospital. 8. Hens will lay eggs on their own, no rooster required—which is a good thing since the noisy males are outlawed in Denver.


LOCAL RESOURCES
If you want…to get rid of a chicken or goat
Try…Wardle Feed’s chicken swap, every third Saturday from March to October in Wheat Ridge

—Images courtesy of Daniel Kortsch

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