Monday, November 30, 2009

One more weekend outside

We've been having an unusually mild fall so far this year.  Its really amazing considering last year we had already had several snow storms and below average temperatures.  This year I still have unprotected veggies growing.  Imagine what would be growing had I built hoop houses? 

The thing is that with the nice weather, I haven't had that sense of urgency to finish up all the fall tasks.  There were a few little things that still needed my attention.  Since our forecast is finally showing some winter on the way, I got out and got a few things done.

The compost bins were married together to finish off for Spring.  They were already doing quite well, but I had added quite a bit of green matter over the last few weeks.  This way the pile can heat up again and hopefully finish off for next year's garden.  That also leaves me an empty bin to fill up over the winter months.  I continue to compost over the winter because my bins are right out the back door and over the side of the deck.  They are looking a little rough, so next year I'll be looking to rebuild them.  I'm also realizing that I won't have nearly as much matter for the bins this winter, since we now have the chickens eating lots of bits and pieces.  However, I'll have some wonderfully composted chicken poo for the garden next year as well.

I also finally got around to weeding the edge of the garden.  This will allow me to plant my peas as early as possible.  Last year they didn't get planted until May and my crop was pitiful as a result.  We love sugar snap peas, so this was very necessary. 

Lastly the half made bed got the tarp layed over it.  This was originally where I had put the sod from the garden expansion 2 years ago.  It had composted down wonderfully and was used as an overflow bed this summer.  It also still has way too many weeds and seeds in it that need to die back.  The tarp will help to heat things up and kill of a lot of the seeds and allow me to finish off the bed early next spring.  Its final destination will be as an allium bed for all my onions and garlic.  I'll be adding lots of compost and sand to make it a light, well fed bed.  An online gardener friend tells me that I can keep it as a permanent bed for them.  As long as it is kept well fed with compost, it should be fine. 

There are so many plans I have in my head for next year's garden, I just can't wait. 

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Signs of life around the yard

This is something I found growing.  I'm not sure what it is, but it resembles rhubarb.  Its in a spot I wanted to plant rhubarb, but I don't remember planting it there.
Swiss chard still going strong in our warm November weather.
Eggs are getting bigger and more frequent.
Sage is still looking good.
Oregano is as well.
Peach tree is putting on new growth.
 Apple tree is still holding onto some leaves.

This has been my Sunday Stroll.  Check out who else is strolling at The Quiet Country House.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thoughts on next year's garden

I've been reading the posts on gardening over the The Modern Victory Garden blog.  They are so wonderful and thought provoking.  If you haven't checked out her wonderful blog, I encourage you to do so.  This week she is posting about intensive planting in raised beds.  Super stuff. 

I'm still new to the gardening thing, as I've only had a garden for 6 years now.  Its had quite a few incarnations over the years.  I started out with a few 4x4 squares surrounded by pavers.  The soil was amended in a similar fashion to what Mel Bartholomew says in his first book.  Each year I added more squares until 2 years ago when I expanded out to a 1000 sq foot block.  The first year I tried to do a complicated design of beds and traditional rows that was a disaster.  This past year I went back to what I know and had 7 4x12 sloped beds.  The edges of the garden were also planted in peas to take advantage of the fencing for trellising. 

If you've read my blog for the past few months you will be aware of the addition I built this year using cinder blocks filled with compost to add to the garden.  I'm really curious to see what kind of difference there will be in the production and ease of use between the 2 systems.  My eventual goal will be to add cinder blocks to the current sloped beds to make them raised as well.  I could probably double dig the sloped beds, but my back just can't do it right now.  I really need to make the beds as back friendly as I possibly can as I anticipate the problem getting worse before it gets better.  I don't want to give up my garden!

I'm also looking at trying the seed tapes/mats again.  The problem may have been a few things.  First I didn't test the napkins I was using to see if they would dissolve easily.  Second I was using old seed.  Probably not the best indicator of whether it was a viable option or not.  Since I'm again working with a bad back, the seed mat option is something I want to try again.  I have to say they worked well for the beets, but the seeds are much bigger and were fresher. 

Pouring over seed catalogs its always so wonderful to dream about next year's perfect garden.  Each year I learn a little bit more about what works and what doesn't.  The garden bloggers out there are a wonderful source of information as well.  I can't imagine doing this without their help.  Since there aren't a lot of old seasoned gardeners around me, it's wonderful to have the internet to take their place.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

MMM, pie

I'm thankful for Chocolate Pecan Pie.  It is about as non-local a food as I can get and I love it.  I'm so thankful for all that my life holds.  I hope your Thanksgiving is as wonderful as it should be.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Fun with paint

We are the house that the kids play at.  I really like that.  Its nice to see what they're doing.  Its nice to let the kids have some freedom to create and use their imaginations. 

The neighborhood kids like coming to my house even though I almost never let them play video games (we have a Wii), or watch TV.  They are free to climb, run, bike, make forts and just play.  I'm not very picky about my yard.  In back of the play house they have dug an enormous hole in the hill.  I only stopped them when I worried about the playhouse falling down the hill.

This wonderful playhouse was built by the previous owners.  The gentleman did lots of carpentry, including building the addition that now houses my schoolroom/office.  When we bought the house, they asked if we wanted it to stay or be torn down.  We looked at them as if they were crazy.  Noah was 20 months old at the time and we were thrilled that it was there.  As soon as we moved in we bought swings for it and Hubby built the slide onto the side.  It is getting a bit rickety over time, but we keep fixing the broken steps as they need it. 

Over the weekend the kids decided they would like to paint it.  They got out the paintbrushes and tempera paint and went to work.  Its washable paint and as I type this its raining.  The paint seems to be holding up well so far.  I love how they personalized it and had so much pride in their work.  If the paint washes off, it will be a great project for them another day. 

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Making pumpkin puree

One of the things I'm asked a lot, is how to process pumpkins.  Its very easy and while the whole process takes a while, it doesn't take much of your actual hands on time.  We got these pumpkins on a field trip with our wonderful nature club.  They've decorated the house for about a month and its time for them to do their part. 

First you need to wash the outside of the pumpkin.  They can get dirty and you don't want that in your food.

Then cut them in half.  This is actually harder than it looks.  The shells of pie pumpkins are very hard.  Hubby used my cleaver to whack these pumpkins for me.  We ended up with shards of pumpkin and seeds all over the place.  You then scrape the guts out.  I saved some seeds for next year's garden.  I'll show the process in another post.  The remaining seeds and insides went to the chickens, although you may want to roast the seeds.  My family isn't big on pumpkin seeds, but the chickens are.

Then lay the pumpkins cut side down in a baking pan.  I slide it in the oven and then put about a quarter of an inch of water in the pan to help them steam.  Let them bake at 350 for about 50-60 minutes.  Then pull them out and let them cool for 30 minutes so that they can be safely handled.

Scoop the flesh out and put it into the food processor or blender to break up the strings.

I then put the pureed pumpkin into a colander lined with paper towels or cheesecloth.  There is a remarkable amount of water in that pumpkin, so be sure to do this step.

Lastly, package it up.  I like to put mine in bags with 2 C of puree, the same amount in a can of pumpkin.  They can be stored in the freezer for quite a while.  Ours is usually gone by the following summer.  I got 6 cups of puree from 3 medium sized pie pumpkins.  Considering how many pumpkins will grow from just a few seeds, its not a bad option for the garden.  

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pasta e Fagioli soup

One of my readers, Karen Sue, requested the recipe for this soup.  Its a knock off of a similar soup found in a certain restaurant that serves soup, salad and breadsticks.  My kids have loved it forever and a few years ago, I decided I'd rather make my own.  This is what I've come up with.  Its been adjusted several times over the years, but is pretty easy.  It ends up being like an Italian chili with pasta.  Mine is pretty thick, but you could certainly thin it out. 

Past e Fagioli

1 lb ground beef
2 carrots grated
1 small onion chopped
3-6 cloves garlic
4 cups swiss chard (this will melt down to about 1 cup of cooked chard)
1 qt pasta sauce (use anything you like)
1 qt tomatoes
1 t oregano
1 t basil
1/4 t hot pepper flakes
1 can kidney beans
1 can cannelini beans
2 cups beef stock
pasta of your choice

Brown beef and veggies in large stockpot.  Add remaining ingredients and salt and pepper to taste.  Let simmer for 2- 3 hours.  Serve with pasta.

I always keep the pasta and soup separate until serving.  This will allow the pasta to retain its shape and not get soft if the soup is not all eaten at once.  I also will can this up without the pasta.  To do so you need to thin out the soup, so that it is less chili- like in consistency.  Pour into prepared jars and process at 11 lbs pressure for 75 minutes for pints and 90 minutes for quarts in the pressure canner.  If I'm making a large batch for canning, I also don't let it simmer for 2 hours since it will cook so much in the pressure canner.

This post is part of Whole Foods for the Holidays.  Hop on over to Gnowfglins to check out what others are cooking up.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


This morning the chickens were making a lot of noise.  I didn't want to get too excited and decided I would go out in a little while to see if they had done anything.  A half hour later, I got a knock at my front door.  There stood J and his whole family with this beautiful egg.  They decided that they wanted to see my face and wanted me to have the first one.  I've done the lions share of the day to day care for them, so they felt that was fitting.  The girls are still making lots of noise, so hopefully we'll have some more soon.

I feel like its Christmas, I'm so excited.  The kids were so thrilled, they both wanted to have their hands photographed with the egg.  So above we have Noah and below is Morgan.

The egg is about 1/2 the size they will be in a few months.  Its so neat!  I just can't stand it!

Friday, November 13, 2009

First catalog of the year!

Something for me to pour over this weekend in the rain.  I love seed catalogs.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Who doesn't like homemade bread?

I love bread.  Its something my mother has almost always made from scratch.   Although she will deny it, she was a bit of a hippy in her day.  I grew up with homemade bread made from flour that she would buy in huge bags and store in trash barrels in the basement.  She would make white, oatmeal, rye and cinnamon raisin breads.  She has never been much of a whole wheat girl.  I remember when I was 8, going to school with my tuna fish on homemade white bread.  It was delicious, but everyone else had wonder bread, and so I thought I should too.  Silly me.

Now, it seems ridiculous that I would want something so awful.  There is nothing better than the smell of rising and baking bread.  The anticipation of that first slice to be slathered in butter, honey or homemade jam.  I can never wait as long as I should.  What I make however, is wheat bread.  Warm and nutty.

Since I had the canning class this summer, I've been asked to teach bread baking.  Time has gotten away from me, so I thought I'd post the recipe here.  The recipe is my mother's, but I've made quite a few changes over the years.

Whole Wheat Bread

3 C warm water ( you can use milk)
1/4 C honey
1 T salt
2 T yeast ( I use active dry)
7- 8 C flour ( can be all white, all wheat, or a combination)
Whole grain bread improver  1 T per cup of whole wheat flour used (optional)

Combine first 4 ingredients in bowl with 2 cups flour and whole grain bread improver if desired.  Beat for 2 minutes.
Add remaining flour until you have a nice cohesive dough.  You do not want it too dry.
Knead with Kitchen Aid or by hand for 8- 10 minutes.
Place dough in greased bowl, rolling dough in oil to make sure it is coated on all sides.  Place a clean kitchen towel on top and place in a warm place for 1 hour, or until dough has doubled in size.
Divide dough in half.
Gently flatten dough into a roughly 12x 6 rectangle.  Roll dough into a cylinder and place in greased bread pan.  Do this for each half.  You will now have 2 loaves.
Oil the top of the loaves and place kitchen towel on top.  Allow to rise for another hour.
Bake at 375 for 35-45 minutes.
When done, remove loaves immediately and allow to cool on a rack.
Try to be better than I am and don't slice into it for at least 15 minutes.

I generally make this with water instead of milk.  You can add up to 1 cup of oats, or other grains to replace some of the flour.  I almost never make this 100% whole wheat.  My family likes it best 50/50.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mommy, please?

This is my latest project.  Morgan got into my stash of yarn the other day.  She found a few different colors of wool that she thought looked nice.  "Mommy, I LOVE the blue yarn"  Then she begged for an afghan of her own. She found three colors and arranged them in the pattern that she wanted me to knit them.

Last year I made an afghan for Noah.

This one for Noah was made with the most horrible acrylic yarn that he picked out.  The reason he loved it, was  that it was bright red and very soft.  He likes soft, very soft.  So, I struggled through this horrid yarn doing the pattern that he picked out.  I have to say that it is pretty.  In the end, it is much shorter than it should be, but I couldn't take it anymore.  He loves it, but is now complaining that it has holes in it from the pattern.

Morgan decided that she loved the yarn that Mommy had and wanted that.  She didn't want any holes though.  So, I'm tearing through this afghan for her.  It will be as long as it can be with the yarn that I have.  She found three colors and arranged them in the pattern that she wanted me to knit them.  I think its pretty cool that my kids love getting an afghan made for them.  It gives me something to do while they are taking swim lessons and gymnastics.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

I'm a pot head

I was walking through my yard today, realizing that I still need to get everything put away.  There are pots everywhere.  This one is by itself on the deck.  Its a leftover from a project for the kids Nature Club.

This is a pot sitting just outside my garden.  My brother was quite upset that I bought it.  You see at the time he worked for a large pottery company located nearby.  I told him he needed to give me more pots to satisfy my addiction.

So he gave me this one.  Its just outside my front door in the herb and flower bed.  Once upon a time there was mint growing wildly in it.

I haven't a clue where this one came from.  My daughter decided that she and her friend were going to plant some flowers.  The got this pot, filled it with dirt and planted some zinnia seeds in it.  Its been sitting in my garden for the past few weeks.  Do you think anything is going to grow?

This is my post for the Sunday Stroll.  Check out who else is strolling at the Quiet Country House.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Baby, its cold outside!

It was 22 degrees when I woke up this morning.  We've had quite a few good frosts already, but this is the first real freeze.  The really crazy thing is, we're supposed to be in a warm up in the next 4 days or so.  There will be highs in the mid 60s at least.  The parsnips couldn't care less.

The chard is probably going to care a little bit more.  We'll see how it all goes.  I've never had chard this late, so I have no idea what this will do to it.  If all else fails, it will go to the chickens.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Veggie egg rolls

These are a favorite at my house.  Last night I took them to a potluck dinner our homeschooling Moms had.  Everyone loved them and I was asked for the recipe.  Aside from a bit of chopping, they are pretty simple to make.

Veggie Egg Rolls

1 T olive oil
1/2 small onion diced
1 small head cabbage chopped
2 cup carrots shredded
2 cups green beans chopped
3 cloves garlic minced
1 T veggie bouillon (or chicken)
2 T hoisin sauce
2 T brown sugar
2 t toasted sesame oil
2 T soy sauce
3 T cornstarch
black pepper to taste
1 egg beaten
1 package egg roll wrappers

Saute veggies in olive oil until just softened.  Add bouillon, hoisin, brown sugar and sesame oil, stir to combine.  In small dish combine soy sauce and cornstarch to make a slurry.  Add to mixture until thickened.  Season to taste.  Let mixture cool slightly then fill egg roll wrappers.  Place the wrapper so that it forms a diamond.  Place 2 T of filling in the lower half of the wrapper.  Fold bottom corner up and tuck it back against the filling.  Fold in the sides to keep filling in.  Brush beaten egg on top corner and fold the egg roll the rest of the way up. 

These can be baked or fried.  They are pictured baked.  To fry heat oil to 350 and fry until golden brown.  To bake, grease cookie sheet and place rolls onto greased sheet.  Brush tops with olive oil and place in 400 degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. 

Dipping sauce

1 t crystallized ginger finely diced
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 t red pepper flakes

Combine ingredients and let sit for a few minutes to meld flavors. 


I've played with this recipe a lot and have found that you can use just about any kind of cabbage, most veggies and can even add meat.  If you wish, you can add up to 2 cups of meat or chopped shrimp.  My family loves this the best with 1/2 cup of shrimp added.  This filling is also good over rice or rice noodles. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Holiday lighting for chickens

J and I have been talking for a while about how to set up some lighting for the chickens so that they will lay.  For those who don't know, chickens lay eggs depending on the amount of light they get daily.  In the winter they lay very few if any eggs, so many people supplement the lighting to make their bodies think its ok to lay eggs.  The other day I had a lightbulb moment (I know, bad pun) and thought to use the Christmas lights that we no longer put on our house.  So far it seems to be working, the chickens are staying up later and eating and drinking later.  There are no eggs yet, but they are making what appear to be nests in the house.  I'm hoping this is a good sign. 

I'm happy to see the lights get used.  We used to be good little decorators and put them up on the house every year.  Then we got lazy and figured that it was good anyway, since then we weren't using the electricity.  Now we're using electricity for a good cause, not throwing these in the landfill and not buying anything new.  Pretty good option in my book. 

The plan for next year is to get more chickens.  We want to build a bigger, more permanent coop for all of them.  The tractor would still be used for the new chicks, until they're big enough to go into the larger coop.  We can also use the tractor to graze them when it suits our purposes.  The long term goal is to not have to supplement them with light over the long term.  If we let them lay like crazy during summer, then we can preserve the eggs for  the winter.  I have no idea if this will work, but it would be great if it did.  Eggs keep for a long time and can also be frozen if need be.  Has anyone else done this and had it work?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Almost done for the year

The kids were a huge help yesterday.  It cost me some candy and a few bucks in the end, but was well worth it.  They finished filling all but one bed.  I had already done a lot of it, but they did 3/4 of 1 and 1/3 of another of the big beds.  Then they decided that wasn't enough and raked my leaves, spreading them over the tops of the beds.  The little ones helped me plant 200 bulbs out as well.  I'm just amazed.  My back is still killing me, but it feels much better than it would have.  It would have taken me at least another day or so to do what they did in an afternoon.  Great kids.  Last Friday they raked another neighbor's leaves up as well.

All I have left to do is turn the last bed and fill it, weed the edges of the fenced garden and rake out the rest of the soil.  If my back was feeling better, I would get some cow manure spread, but its not the end of the world if I don't.  The garden is put to bed well and will be ready for me to plant the early things like peas, onions, lettuce and cole crops.  Maybe I'll get the kids to help me spread the manure...