Taproot Events: Mother Earth News Fair ~ Asheville, North Carolina

We're thrilled to be back in Asheville, North Carolina this weekend for the Mother Earth News Fair. We've got exciting things happening in our tent all weekend LONG. If you're able, do stop by to say hello! We'd love to see you there! 

May 6-7, 2017
Western North Carolina Agricultural Center
1301 Fanning Bridge Rd.
Fletcher, N.C. 28732

May 04, 2017 by Amanda Soule

Taproot Contributors :: Ashley English’s The Essential Book of Homesteading

Editor's Note:

Ashley English has been a frequent contributor and friend to Taproot since our very first issue, SOIL. A mother, gardener, and writer, Ashely has written many books on the topics of food and homesteading. Today, courtesy of Sterling Publishing, we share with you an excerpt of one of her new books, The Essential Book of Homesteading

~Amanda Blake Soule 

(Excerpted from The Essential Book of Homesteading by Ashley English. Adapted with permission from The Essential Book of Homesteading © 2017 by Ashley English, Lark, an imprint of Sterling Publishing © 2017 by Ashley English. Photographs by Sterling Publishing)

Obtaining Chickens

You’ve chosen your breeds, checked to see if you need a permit to keep chickens in your area, and considered the space available. Now you’re ready to start assembling your motley crew! Consider whether you want chicks or more mature chickens, what you should be looking for when selecting birds, where to source your chickens, and what time of year might be best for chicken purchasing.

If your local pet store is anything like most, you won’t be finding White Leghorns or Japanese Bantams there any time soon. While most big box pet retailers will sell you salamanders, turtles, finches, and dog sweaters, it’s pretty unlikely you’ll score any Belgian Bearded d’Uccles there, either. Your local feed store is a much more likely place to begin feathering your nest.

Selection there may be limited, however, especially if you are after a specific exotic or endangered breed. Feed stores can offer a wealth of chicken advice, though. Ask a staff member who supplies them with their poultry and whether their suppliers are nationally recognized as engaging in sound and healthy breeding practices. Participants of such organizations often insure their flocks to be free of once-common diseases such as pullorum and typhoid, nasty bugs your chickens can literally live without. 

If you don’t have a feed store where you live (in, say, midtown Manhattan), or you have your heart set on a Lakenvelder that can’t be had at John & Jane Doe’s Feed & Seed, then move your search to the Internet. It is possible today to source chickens and chicks online from a number of highly reputable hatcheries. Some offer free catalogs, should you want to take your time ogling and contemplating chicken varieties over your morning cup of joe. These mail-order hatcheries also often sell housing, feed, and reading materials for those desiring a onestop chicken shop.

Finally, don’t underestimate the county fair as a means of procuring a desired breed. Owners of prizewinning birds, or any of the birds on display, might be in the business of selling offspring or could be talked into doing so. Take a gander, see who the chickens belong to, and try to track them down, either by the names listed on the bird’s cages or through the fair’s livestock coordinators. Score some chickens and ride the Ferris wheel—now that’s my idea of a good time! 

When you begin assembling your flock, you will have to decide how old your chickens will be when you bring them home. It is possible to purchase freshly hatched chicks, pullets (usually between 16 and 20 weeks old), or mature hens. If you are considering including a rooster in the mix, they may also be purchased as chicks, cockerels (male chickens less than one year old), or mature roosters. Although it’s hard to resist the ridiculously cute, fuzzy balls of feathers that are chicks, this decision should not be made lightly, as there are pros and cons to each scenario.

If you want the most birds for your money, chicks are the way to go. Depending on the quantity you purchase, chicks usually only cost a few dollars apiece

Chicks bought from a reputable source, either your local feed store or an online commercial hatchery, will generally be in good health when you get them.

Before you rush to your nearest feed store and gather up the fluffiest chicks you can find, remember that, at least in the beginning, chicks do require more care than older birds. During their first few weeks of life, chicks are at their most vulnerable. Like any young animal, chicks can be rather unruly. Left to their own devices, things could get pretty messy, and potentially hazardous, fairly quickly. They frequently stomp around in their food and water, spreading fecal matter throughout. Savagely enough, they can peck each other to death. Be certain before you purchase your chicks that you will always have someone available for “chick patrol.” Furthermore, they are susceptible to a host of illnesses and health conditions. 

Another thing to consider is that, unless you purchase sexed chicks, where the sex is determined for you by a poultry sexing expert, the precious chicks you brought home might leave you with several roosters too many, which you don’t want. If chicks are your choice, be certain to request sexed chicks and develop an appropriate rooster-to-hen ratio. (Unsexed chicks are also listed as “straight run” and “as-hatched.”) If you live in an urban or suburban area, remember that roosters are most likely prohibited, so choose your chicks accordingly. 

Started Birds
Although they will cost more than chicks, usually by several dollars apiece, pullets and cockerels require a good bit less care than newly hatched chicks. If your goal is to have a regular supply of fresh eggs to eat, pullets will be that much closer to point of lay—by six months they may already be  laying. Accordingly, they will cost you less in feed as they mature. Birds purchased as starts will offer more eggs over their lifetime than those purchased as hens. Also, started birds require less in the way of specific housing and care than do chicks. Pullets can immediately be placed in their run, needing no regulated heat or special chick feed.

On the other hand, started birds are often not as readily available at feed stores as are chicks. If you plan to raise chickens for table, started birds are too old, as table birds are generally slaughtered around eight to 12 weeks. If you want to ensure yourself stewardship of affable, sociable, guest-and-family-appropriate chickens, then selecting chicks from a breed known for their friendly personalities may be your best bet. 

Mature Birds
When electing to purchase a mature bird, as either a hen or a rooster, the clear advantage is that you generally are able to see precisely what you are getting. Older birds are clearly sexually mature and have their plumage in. Like pullets, they require less in terms of housing, critical care, and constant observation than do chicks.

Mature hens, although they will continue to lay, will never produce as many eggs after their first laying season. Older birds are also more susceptible to diseases as they age. Finally, purchasing mature birds will cost considerably more than purchasing chicks, as their entire lifetime up to that point will have been maintained on someone else’s dime.

When purchasing chickens, be on the lookout for visible cues to the birds’ health. If you are purchasing chicks by mail, be certain to open the box in front of a delivery person to make sure your flock all survived the journey. If purchasing chicks in person, look for alert, energetic birds. Pick them up and examine their rear ends for pasty butt, which is exactly what it sounds like, a backside with excrement dried around it, preventing elimination. Be certain to choose chicks with straight beaks and toes.

Older chickens should have clear, bright eyes, waxy combs and wattles, shiny feathers, and smooth legs. There should be no visible parasites, which an examination under the wings and around the vent should easily disclose. Internal parasites will cause diarrhea, which a quick check at the vent should indicate. Pick up any bird you are thinking of buying. The breastbone should be flexible and covered with flesh. Listen for any coughing or wheezing, as this could be an indication of a sick bird. Examine the entire flock, looking for any listless or isolated birds. One sick bird could affect the entire crew, so pay close attention. Lastly, if you can, try to have a look at the bird’s droppings. Healthy birds will have firm, well-rounded feces, brown in color and tipped in white (this is the urine).

April 15, 2017 by Amanda Soule

Taproot Contributors :: Ashley English’s A Year of Picnics

Editor's Note:

Ashley English has been a frequent contributor and friend to Taproot since our very first issue, SOIL. A mother, gardener, and writer, Ashely has written many books on the topics of food and homesteading. This week, she released not one - but two - books into the world (not to mention a baby! Congratulations English Family!). Today, courtesy of Roost Books, we share with you an excerpt of one of her new books, A Year of  Picnics. 

May it inspire you to pack up a blanket, a bird book, a journal and the ones you love for a springtime picnic to the sound of bird song! Enjoy!

~Amanda Blake Soule


Bird-Watching Picnic

(Excerpted from A Year of Picnics by Ashley English © 2017 by Ashley English. Photographs © 2017 by Jen Altman. Reprinted in arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO.)

When I was a teenager, likely around age fifteen or sixteen, I started designing the type of woman I hoped to one day become. Informed by female characters found in film and literature, as well as iconic artists, writ­ers, and other creative types, I began mentally crafting a checklist of whom I hoped to grow into. On that list, along with a woman who enjoyed listening to chamber music, baked a fine cake, and enjoyed a daily cocktail, I knew I wanted to become a naturalist. 

My mother, though possessed of a number of skills, could never be called much of a “natural woman.” The same can be said of my father and of most members of my close family. Perhaps in part motivated to know things they didn’t, I decided early on to learn plant and animal identification, as well as other types of botanical and biological information. I’ve been on a quest ever since. 

While I can now distinguish an oak from a maple, and yarrow from Queen Anne’s lace, I still have a good deal to learn about birds. I’m not an avid birder, but the idea of languidly sitting in a portable chair, warm drink to the left, identification guide to the right, and a pair of binoculars fixed squarely on a tufted titmouse or yellow warbler calls to me in the most pro­found way. Tuning in to birdsong also appeals to me, especially having recently learned that the calls of birds give a good overview of what is happen­ing in the area. 

This picnic celebrates birds and their awe-inspiring contributions to ecosystems. Incorporating foods made by birds as well as those meant to honor them, a picnic with a birding focus is fun, visually arresting, and, at least for me, humbling. Birds can do astounding feats with their bodies, and, in the process, aid the rest of the habitat they reside in. For example, bird calls alert other creatures to predators or threats. Their lofty position and literal “bird’s-eye view” give them keen insight into their entire environment. We humans would do well to learn from their example and help others as we help ourselves.

Make & Do 

select a site
Choose a location known to house a great number of migratory birds. This could be your porch or backyard or a bird sanctuary, botanical garden, or arboretum. Anywhere that’s a known thoroughfare or habitat for birds would work wonderfully.

bird sketches
Whether you’re a third-generation birding enthusiast like my talented friend R. Brooke Priddy Conrad, featured in these photos, or simply a budding naturalist, bring along some paints and pens and a sketchbook, and do your best to render images of the birds you see. Then you’ll have a keepsake of the occasion long after the day has passed.

journal notes
Alongside images of the birds, jot down notes relevant to their physical and auditory characteristics. Making note of colors, plumage patterns, calls, and other distinguishing traits will aid you in being able to properly identify specific species in the future.

There’s a reason multitudes of people the world over enjoy watching birds. It’s entertain­ing, educational, and calming, and it’s all free. Do consider investing in a decent pair of binoculars, either new or used. Turn your gaze to the trees and behold the splendor of the many winged beauties above.

birding guides
The appearance of different bird species in an area is informed by climate, environment, and topography. A birding guide specific to your given location will prove indispensable in identification. There are also auditory guides available, either to purchase in CD form or to download online. Sometimes it’s the uniqueness of a bird’s call that is the deciding factor in deciphering who’s who. 

Birdseed Cookies

Early every December, I host a cookie exchange at my home. Several years ago, my friend Rachel’s contribution was what she called Birdseed Cookies. This is my homage both to Rachel’s cookies and to the mix of nuts and seeds in birdseed blends. Though it may be “for the birds,” it’s amazingly tasty for the human set, too. MAKES 2 DOZEN COOKIES

you will need
3⁄4 cup rolled oats
1⁄2 cup millet
11⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄2 teaspoon baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt
1⁄2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3⁄4 cup (11⁄2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 cup roasted and salted peanuts
1⁄2 cup raisins
1⁄3 cup roasted and salted sunflower seeds

to make
1. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Spread the rolled oats and millet over a rimmed baking sheet. Toast in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until fragrant and slightly browned. Set aside to cool. Turn off the oven.
2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat together the brown sugar, butter, vanilla, and eggs until pale and creamy, around 3 to 4 minutes.
4. With the mixer on low, beat in the flour mixture just until fully combined. Stir in the toasted oats and millet and the peanuts, raisins, and sunflower seeds. Transfer the dough to a lidded container. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
5. Heat the oven to 350°F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with silicone mats or parchment paper. Spoon 1 tablespoon of batter for each cookie onto the baking sheets, spacing cookies 1 inch apart.
6. Bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned, rotating the baking sheets halfway through the baking time. Let the cook­ies cool for 10 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to cooling racks to cool completely.

April 08, 2017 by Amanda Soule

Join us for Taproot's WEAVE Makealong!

Is Taproot's latest issue WEAVE in your hands yet? Has it got you itching to make something? Let's get to it! We hope you'll join us for our first ever Taproot Makealong! It's easy, all you need to do to join is make something from the Hands section of WEAVE, and share it with us for a chance at the crafty grand prize (pictured above).

~ Make anything from the Hands section of WEAVE, Issue 21 of Taproot. Knit, bake, crochet, weave, whatever your passion is, go for it! 

~ Post your progress and finished creations on Instagram or on Facebook with the hashtag #taprootmakealong

And that's it! We'll draw a winner from the posted photos by May 1st, and send the grand prize off to the lucky winner! The grand prize, which includes: A one-year Subscription to Taproot Magazine, A Taproot Tote Bag, Taproot Ceramic Mug, 5 skeins of Quince & Co's Tern (for making the Rosemond Scarf in WEAVE), 1 skein of Stone Wool (for making the Quill Hat in WEAVE), plus four books by some of our WEAVE contributors! This bundle is sure to keep your hands busy...until the next issue of Taproot finds its way to you! 

We hope you'll join us! 

PS. We wish it weren't true, but mistakes DO happen! Be sure to visit our WEAVE issue page to see if there are any errata from the patterns or recipes in this issue. 



March 09, 2017 by Amanda Soule

Taproot Contributors :: Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden

Editor's Note:

Erin Benzakein has been a frequent contributor and constant friend to Taproot since our beginning, sharing her ideas, inspiration and tips for growing beautiful flowers whether for your kitchen table or for market. She has just released her first book Floret Farm’s Cut Flower Garden: Grow, Harvest, and Arrange Stunning Seasonal Blooms. We are thrilled to carry her new title, as well as to have her in the pages of WEAVE, sharing her tips on growing Cosmos. 

Here today, she shares with us an excerpt of her new book (courtesy of Chronicle Books), timed perfectly for the upcoming spring season of May Day baskets and Maypole dances! Enjoy! 

~ Amanda Blake Soule


Spring Flower Crown

(Excerpted from Floret Farm's Cut Flower Garden: Grow, Harvest, and Arrange Stunning Seasonal Blooms by Erin Benzakein. Chronicle Books, March 2017.)

There’s nothing quite like a crown of fresh blooms to put you in a celebratory mood. These floral accessories are no longer seen only at weddings—a flower crown can be worn to just about any special occasion.

All you need to create one of these pretty halos is a few handfuls of flowers and greens and some basic floral supplies. Once you learn how easy they are to make, you’ll likely be making crowns for you and all your friends.

You will need:
2 feet (60 cm) of paper-covered wire
Ten 6-inch (15-cm) pieces of floral or paddle wire
A roll of floral tape
6 to 8 feet (1.8 to 2.4 m) of decorative ribbon
2 stems of viburnum, with 8 to 10 blossoms removed
12 stems of muscari
9 or 10 stems of ranunculus
1 stem of Canterbury bells (Campanula medium), 8 blossoms removed
8 to 10 small stems of larkspur


1. Determine the crown’s diameter by wrapping the paper-covered wire around your head where you want it to sit. Leave a few extra inches/centimeters on either end for fastening together later. Make a loop on one end and leave the other straight. (After fitting the crown to your head, straighten it out before adding materials.)

2. For large, heavy blooms like ranunculus that need extra support, wire the stems individually for added stability before securing them to the bundles. Make a hairpin with floral wire and slip it gently down through the center of the flower head. Then tape the wire and stem together.

    3. Put together mini bouquets of roughly 4 to 6 stems each, using a mixture of the listed greens and blooms. I generally use 8 to 10 mini bouquets for an average-sized crown. For a delicate crown, make the bundles petite; for a fuller finished piece, make the bundles bigger. Cut the stem ends so that 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) of stem are remaining.

    4. Wrap each mini bouquet’s stems together with floral tape, starting at the base and going around each mini bouquet until the stems are fully covered. Floral tape gets sticky when gently stretched, so be sure to pull on it slightly as you work, and it will adhere to itself.

    5. To build the crown, take one of the mini bouquets and lay it along the paper-covered wire. Wrap floral tape around the mini bouquet and the wire a few times until it’s thoroughly attached.

    6. Add the remaining mini bouquets, facing them in the same direction as the first and placing them so that each hides the previous mini bouquet’s stem ends, until the paper-covered wire base is covered.

    7. After all of the flowers are attached, tie a few pieces of ribbon on either side of the clasp in the back.

    8. Place the crown on your head and secure the two ends together by looping the straight end of the wire through the loop on the other side and twisting to secure it.

    9. If you won’t be wearing the crown right away, store it in the produce area of your refrigerator for up to 2 days to keep it fresh. 

      March 07, 2017 by Amanda Soule

      WEAVE Sneak Peek

      A look at what's to come in Issue 21::WEAVE!

      February 27, 2017 by Caitlin Bell
      Tags: In The Pages

      From the Archives :: Rose Petal Rice Pudding

      From Issue 17::MYTH. Recipe by Holly Bellebuono.

      Rose Petal Rice Pudding 

      1 tablespoon packed fresh rose petals, or 1 teaspoon dried
      ½ cup hot water
      1 cup cold water
      1 cup uncooked Arborio rice
      Pinch of salt
      1 teaspoon butter
      2 tablespoons dried rose petals (in tea strainers)
      2 cups milk
      Two 2-inch cinnamon sticks
      ¼ cup sugar
      1 teaspoon vanilla extract

      First, make rose petal tea: Place the fresh rose petals in a small bowl and cover with the hot water. Set aside.

      In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the cold water, rice, salt, and butter and place over high heat. Bring to a light boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, until the rice is mostly cooked, 15 to 20 minutes. Add more water if necessary. Set aside.

      In another medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the milk, rose petals in strainers, cinnamon, and sugar and place over high heat. Bring to a low simmer, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, until fragrant and the sugar is dissolved, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the rice mixture into the milk mixture and increase the heat to medium. Strain the reserved rose petal tea into the pot. Cook, stirring frequently, until the desired consistency is reached, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the vanilla extract and remove the cinnamon sticks. The finished pudding can be served hot or chilled. (Makes six to eight 1/2-cup servings.)
      February 09, 2017 by Amanda Soule

      From the Archives :: Simple Upcycled Mittens

      From Issue 16::SHELTER. Pattern by Amanda Riley.

      Making Simple Upcycled Mittens from Out-of-Use Sweaters

      Note: Use the bottom hemline or the cuffs of the sweater as the bottom edge of your mittens. This way the edges will be finished already, with no extra sewing required. Even better, if the hemline or cuffs are ribbed, the edge of your finished piece will have a nice stretch that allows for a good, close fit without being restrictive.

      1. Lay the sweater, inside out, flat on a work surface.
      2. Have the recipient place a hand on the sweater near the cuff or bottom hem, and use chalk to trace around the outside edge of their hand. (Alternatively, you can use a reusable template: trace their hand on paper or paper board first, then cut out the template and use it to create an outline on the sweater in chalk.) Be sure to leave enough length between the existing hem and the tip of the recipients fingers so that the mittens will cover their wrists well.
      3. Draw a ¼- to ¾-inch seam allowance all around, depending on the thickness of the sweater material: for a cotton knit, a ¼-inch allowance should suffice, but for a thick wool, such as the red sweater in the photos, I’ve found at least ¾ inch is necessary.
      4. Cut through both layers of the sweater along the chalk lines, making sure to include the seam allowance. Align the edges and pin together.
      5. Sew the two pieces together, either by hand or with a sewing machine, taking care not to stitch the bottom edge closed.
      6. Once the sewing is completed, turn the mittens right side out and carefully push out the thumbs. Present to the lucky recipient.
      January 14, 2017 by Amanda Soule

      From the Archives :: Old-Fashioned Fruitcake Recipe

      From Issue 12::BREAD. Recipe by Kirsten K. Shockey.

      Old-Fashioned Fruitcake
      Makes 6 (5” X 3”) or 2 (9 ½” X 4 ¾”) loaves

      The above recipe card is available as a free download to print at home. Includes both 3" by 5" & 4" by 6" formats. 

      3 pounds of dried (not candied) fruit, a combination of your favorites
      ½ pound nuts (walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, or almonds)
      ½ cup dark rum, or peach brandy
      ½ pound butter, room temperature
      ½ pound unrefined sugar
      6 eggs
      2 cups unbleached flour
      ½ teaspoon salt
      1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
      1 teaspoon ground cloves
      1 teaspoon ground mace
      ½ teaspoon ground allspice
      ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
      oil for greasing pans, parchment paper
      ½ cup milk
      ½–1 cup dark rum, or peach brandy to brush on finished loaves

      1. Chop the larger fruit to the size of raisins. Put the fruit, nuts and ½ cup rum in a large bowl. Stir, cover and allow to rest overnight.
      2. The next day preheat oven to 250° F. Cream together the butter and sugar. Stir in the egg yolks (be sure to save the whites). To this add the flour and all of the spices and mix these ingredients to create the dough. Stir in the soaked fruit and nuts. Whip the egg whites until stiff and fold into the firm dough.
      3. Oil pans and line with parchment paper.
      4. Divide the dough evenly into the pans. Brush the tops with milk. The large loaf pans - will take about 3 ½ hours to bake. The small er loaves will take about 2 ½ to 3 hours. Use a toothpick or fork to test the center, when it comes out clean they are ready.
      5. Cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before you peel off the parchment paper. Once the loaves are thoroughly cooled, brush each side with rum, or peach brandy. For long storage, soak a clean piece of cheesecloth in rum or brandy and wrap this around your fruitcake. Store in a cool dark place.
      December 20, 2016 by Amanda Soule

      From the Archives :: Rich Winter Herbal Hot Cocoa

      From Issue 4::WOOD. Recipe by Holly Bellebuono.

      Rich Winter Herbal Hot Cocoa
      The combination of bitter dandelion root and silky chocolate is enlivening and restorative. This recipe calls for 2 to 3 tablespoons of sugar, which is just enough to take the edge off the natural bitter flavor; try using beet sugar, sucanat, or even molasses. Since you’re using powders here, there is no steeping time required.

      2 tablespoons cocoa powder
      1 tablespoon powdered dandelion root or powdered chicory root
      ½ teaspoon powdered cinnamon
      2 to 3 tablespoons sugar
      4 cups boiling water
      ½ cup heavy cream

      Put the cocoa powder, dandelion root, cinnamon, and sugar in a kettle. Pour the boiling water over them and stir well. When blended, add the heavy cream and divide into 2 to 4 mugs.
      December 13, 2016 by Amanda Soule