Sunday, January 31, 2010

And so it begins

The wait is over, I sowed my first seeds of the year.  It was so fun to play in the starter mix.  Getting it to soak up the water and getting muddy was refreshing to my winter weary soul.  On the top shelf, only part of the flat is planted.  There is dill, basil and 2 types of lettuce.  The bottom is filled with yellow and red onions.  

This year I am trying to keep meticulous notes on what I've done.  In years past I've kept more haphazard notes.  Last year I was so sick that I was happy to just get things planted.  Every year I think that I'll remember all the details, but my addled mind can hardly remember my name these days. 

Better than candy

Ok, so I've said before that I have a bit of a seed/gardening supply habit.  It has now passed onto the kids.  These things happen.  I should have known that if I used these things in front of my kids, that they would think it was ok and start experimenting themselves.  They've branched out into flowers more than I usually do though.  They want to attract the bee crowd and possibly set up a hive.  They keep begging every time we pass a seed display.  The other day they decided that it would be cool to look at all my garden porn.  I guess I didn't hide it well enough. 
Seriously though, do you see that electronic soil tester?  It gives readings for ph and organic matter.  How cool is that?  I had seen one before on another blog, and now I have my own!  I had to get some new gloves as well.  I'm hoping that the red color will stand out better, so that when I set them down, I can find them.  

I now have everything that I need to start my gardening year off.  We got the lights for my new seed starting shelves, soil, containers and seeds.  I'm sure that I'll be tempted into buying other things along the way, but for now, I'm good.  Off to start some onion seeds!

Friday, January 29, 2010

There's a change coming

I woke up this morning in a wonderful mood.  That mood got even better when I logged onto my Facebook account.  Apparently Oprah had Michael Pollan on her show yesterday.  I didn't watch it, but have read great things on her site.  There were so many people talking about it on Facebook.  They were linking to Oprah, saying they needed to make a change and talking about Food Inc.    I had to join in and link to local Farmer's Markets that are running in the winter. 

It makes me feel hopeful for some significant changes.  It would be even better if these same people would look into planting a few edibles in their yard this year.  I swear that gardening is like crack, you get hooked and you can't stop at just the tomato plant, you have to have more!  Well, maybe that's just me.  If this groundswell from Oprah's show gets a real toehold, there could be major change this year.

There have already been huge numbers of new gardeners.  Anybody who tried to order seeds last Spring, quickly found out that things were rapidly running out and many were unable to get the varieties that they wanted.  I just got my Fedco order and along with it was a letter in Fedco style.  It talked about the politics of farming, how they are continuing to see record sales and struggling to keep up with them.  The types of veggies are changing too.  It seems that more and more of us are looking to grow veggies that are good keepers over the winter.  This is important.  If more of us have fruits and veggies in the basement, there will be less demand for those summer fruits and veggies from our Southern neighbors.  We need to get people hooked on the taste of fresh from the garden foods.  How can you even look at a grocery store tomato, when a little patience brings you a garden tomato. 

There are so many delicious things that people have forgotten about.  Take our dinner tonight for an example.  We'll be having roasted veggies.  They all come from either our own garden or the farmer's market.  With sweet potatoes, carrots, beets and onions, the taste is amazing.  Why have a tasteless imported tomato, when I can have those gorgeous root veggies.  The flavors can't even compete.

Then there is the taste of real meat.  The chicken that we've been eating lately are from the local slaughterhouse.  They aren't those quick grow chickens.  These are dual purpose birds that were running around in someone's backyard.  The legs tend to be a bit tougher, since they actually use their legs, but the taste is incredible.  It actually tastes like chicken.  This is the same with all the meats that we've gotten from there or other local places.  You don't need to eat as much of this kind of meat, there is so much flavor, you don't need to. 

I'm amazed at how far our local eating journey has taken us.  We still have a long way to go, but its been amazing.  If more people become interested, it can only get better.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

What I've Been Doing This Week

This is my kitchen.  It's not huge, but the space I had was not being used well.  It frequently looked like this.

That is the exact same corner.  With all the recycling, canning, baking, cooking and everything else I do, I needed more space to put my stuff.  It's amazing that with simplifying, you end up needing more space.  Odd, but in my case, true.  If I don't want to go to the store all the time, I need to have someplace to put all of the stuff needed to preserve and use all of our food.

I've always been a kitchen kind of person, so over the years I've acquired a good deal of kitchen stuff.  It all gets used and it all takes up space.  Before, I was storing a lot of this in my basement.  After I almost killed myself dragging things up and down the stairs, I decided it would be prudent to have it stored nicely up here.

The new shelving is Gorm from Ikea.  I was able to put it together by myself, but needed J to come over and bolt it to the wall.  The baking cart and other shelves have been around for a while and came from stuffmart.

I had originally planned to get rid of the shelves, but I think I may keep them.  The jury is still out.  The baking cart is staying.  J really wants it, but he can't have it!  It holds my Kitchen Aid and all my baking supplies.  I just wheel it over to the counter and do my thing.   You can see that my kitchen leads into my school room.  That is my main bookshelf for my school supplies.  The wall hanging was made by my very talented mother. 

So, that took me a bit, and will continue to take up quite a bit of my time.  It is however, functional now and I can actually cook dinner without a major breakdown.  Hubby will be very excited. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lights and More Seeds

Ah, yes, J comes through again.  He built me these fabulous shelves for my seed starting.  There are 3 levels each about 20x30.  The shelves stack, so that I can move them relatively easily.  They are each electrified separately as well.  I can't believe how much space I now have to start my babies!    For the past few years I've been using 2 elevated grow lights, each about 30 inches long.  You should have seen the tin foil contraptions I made to try to grow more seedlings under my very small light space.  These will now be my back ups.  If I run out of space here, those will be put into use.  Since I had J put 2 lights on each shelf, everything will get plenty of light.

As you can see they are in my school room.  This is wonderful for a few reasons.  It is right off my kitchen, which is where I do all my seed sowing.  It is also right off my deck, which is where I do all my hardening off.  The room is full of windows as well, so that should help to further supplement the light for the seedlings.  It is warmer than the basement by a good 10 degrees as well.  Finally there is a good amount of traffic here, so the movement should be good for toughening up those baby plants.  It is certainly not what one expects to see in a school room, but it works for me and that is all that matters.  My house will never make it into House Beautiful.  (is that still a magazine?) 

I also received my seed order from Pinetree, which is actually the bulk of my order this year.  I'm a little sad, because my Cascadia peas were out of stock.  Hopefully they'll be here before March, so that I can get them into the ground.  I may be scrambling for a replacement though.  The last order to arrive will be Fedco.   My onion seeds are in that one.  Those will be the first things to be sown, as soon as they get here.

I'm in the process of a major reorganization project in the house right now.   I'm trying to get that finished in the next week, so that I can concentrate on the spring projects later.  I'll post pictures of what I'm doing when it's finished.  My friend S and I had a lovely field trip to Ikea for the project.  She is a wonderful help with all things shopping and organizing.  For those of us who are shopping phobic, it's nice to have some help sometimes. 

Monday, January 18, 2010

The First Seeds Arrive

Baker Creek was quite speedy this year.  These wonderful seeds arrived on Saturday.  As usual, they sent along a free pack of seeds, this year it was Mizuna.  It was awfully thoughtful of them to realize that it would fit nicely in my garden this year!  Many of these seeds will go to friends.  Beans and spinach to K and J.  Cukes to K. 

You may notice that there is a very silly little girl trying to get in the picture above.  I thought she needed her own picture.

She can't wait to help Mom plant the garden this summer.  She is my best helper.  As soon as the onion seeds get here, we'll see those inside.  Dirt in the house.  Does it get any better?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Staying Home

I've always been a bit of a homebody.  Every few days or so, I get the urge to go and do something.  Overall, I'd rather stay home.  In the winter, there is not much that draws me out of the house.

All that squirreling away of food that I do over the course of the rest of the year, comes in mighty handy.  I used to go grocery shopping frequently.  It felt like the thing to do every few days.  Of course, with all that shopping, came lots of waste.  The packaging alone filled a huge barrel from the trash company to overflowing each week.  I bought all kinds of things that I meant to use, but forgot, or wasn't in the mood to eat them.  They got tossed with the packaging to rot. 

I've gotten a lot better at not wasting these days.  The grocery store is rarely darkened by my shadow.  Hubby picks up the odd item for me while he is out.  The remainder comes from bulk purchased ingredients, my garden, animals that were purchased from local farmers and stored in the freezer and a coop that a few homeschooling friends and I participate in.

It all adds up to help me not have to run out.  My car sits in the driveway, warming in the sun.  The kids and I stay in our pjs for much of the day.  The chickens are quite used to me in my bathrobe.  The neighbors are too, for that matter.  It's kind of nice being thought of as eccentric already, people don't question you being in your pjs at 3 in the afternoon, outside in the snow. 

I made bread yesterday that refused to rise and ended up a brick.  (my yeast was getting too old)  I woke up this morning thinking that I would just go and buy some bread.  Instead I pulled out the freshly ground flour and my kitchen aid and the kids helped me make some better bread.  It's currently rising on the counter.  That fresh brick of yeast I had in the freezer did the trick nicely.  No need to go out.  I can remain in my pjs a bit longer.  There's no place like home.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Seed Ordering

It is done!  My friend K and I sat down today and ordered our seeds.  She is a fabulous gardener, but new to veggies and wanted some input.  I got quite a few old favorites, but am also trying a few new things this year.   Among them are Tatsoi, and Prize Choy from Fedco, I'm excited to get into some of the Asian varieties.  Hubby is as well, since that means more Asian food on the menu. 

This is my first year buying spring and fall versions of some things.  Namely Nutribud Broccoli for the spring and Waltham for the fall from Pinetree.  Also from Pinetree will be Early Jersey Wakefield Cabbage and Danish Ball head cabbage. 

I'm interested to try a New Zealand spinach that is not a true spinach, but a perrenial.  K is from New Zealand, so this is very exciting for both of us to try.  The fact that it is a perrenial is fabulous as well.  I can't wait to try it.  Now, I just have to wait patiently for our seeds to arrive so that I can play with them!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pumpkin Muffins

I'm almost out of pumpkin puree.  These little yummies are most of the reason.   The recipe comes from a very old friend who I haven't seen in many years.  One Christmas she decided to make a bunch of little pumpkin loaves for all of our friends over college break.  This recipe makes a lot and I think she made 3 or 4 batches when all was said and done.  I've been hooked ever since.

Over the years I've played with the recipe a bit.  My family can't seem to get through a whole loaf of quick breads, so I made them into muffins.  We also like a hint of chocolate, so often add mini chocolate chips.   Now they are also made with home grown pumpkin and home ground wheat flour.   The recipe makes 3 loaves or 24-30 muffins.

Pumpkin Bread

4 C flour (whole wheat, white or combo)
3 C sugar
2 t baking soda
1 1/2 t salt
1 t allspice
1 t cinnamon
1 t baking powder
1 t nutmeg
1 t ground cloves
1 C oil
2/3 C cold water
1 can pumpkin or 2 C pumpkin puree
4 eggs

Mix dry ingredients well.  Add oil, pumpkin and water.  Add eggs one at a time. (my friend was very adamant about this instruction)

Bake loaves at 350 for 1 hour.  Bake muffins at 325 for 20-25 minutes.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Baby it's Cold Outside!

This is what my thermometer read this morning.  Now, mind you its 8:15, so the temperature has already risen a bit in the past hour or so.  Normally, I've already done all my outdoor, morning chores by now, but I'm waiting for it to get above 10.

The chickens are feeling it.  A few of them have some frostbite on their combs.  It isn't bad, but must be kind of painful.  I'll be going out to attempt to put some vaseline on them, to prevent further damage.  Their eggs are freezing in a very short time, so we have to be quick or they end up frozen and cracked.

Toby loves the snow and is thrilled to be home, but even he doesn't want to be out for long.

The water dripping off the house splashes up into the most beautiful designs.

The trees look pained.  Like arthritic fingers, brittle from the cold.

Reaching for the sun and whatever warmth they can get.

The garden sits, lonely, waiting for Spring.

See who else is strolling over at the Quiet County House

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Walking with Toby

This morning Toby and I went for our morning drag walk out in the beautiful fresh air.  Here are a few pictures that he allowed me to take.

The ice hasn't formed on the stream here yet.  It's been a relatively mild winter so far, only in the upper 20's and low 30's for the most part.

There was a lot of sniffing of bunny trails.

Aren't the icicles on the roof pretty?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Vacation, all I ever wanted

I am currently sitting in the living room of a friend's cottage in New Hampshire.  Morgan is taking a break from coloring to give me hugs and kisses.  Noah is playing a game and Hubby is helping Noah with the game.  Toby is relaxing at my feet and there is a fire going in the woodstove.  We've just finished having chowder for dinner.  It's heaven. 

We have been desperate to have a break from the chaos of our everyday lives for a while.  It would have been lovely to relax at home, it would also be impossible.  Hubby runs 2 businesses out of our home, I homeschool the kids and do multitudes of other things daily, including helping Hubby.  We also happen to be the house where all the kids come to play.  For these and many other reasons, we needed to go away. 

So Edas Escape it was.  Our friend D has this wonderful place that once belonged to his lovely grandmother Eda.  We've come up here before and it is such a refuge.  Since it has a kitchen, we can bring food up from home, or go to the grocery store 20 minutes away.  Then we don't have to leave, unless we want to.  Just what we needed. 

We plan to hibernate here for a few days.  When we're good and ready, we'll go out exploring.  In the meantime, I plan to take a few walks with my camera.  Hopefully I'll have some good pictures to post in the next few days.  Ahhh, this is heaven

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Food Goals for the Year

Going right along with my garden goals from yesterday are my food goals for the year.  They certainly go hand in hand with the garden goals.  These are things that we've been working on for the past few years and every year I try to expand on things. 

1.  Expand my repertoire of breads.  I can already make a rather nice loaf of bread, so it's time to move on to bigger and better things.  We're talking bagels, pita breads and crackers.  I've been having a great time grinding my own flour recently.  I only grind a small amount (say 3-5 pounds) at a time, so that it can be used up before it loses its freshness.  I would love to not have to buy bread or crackers from the store.  I also need to perfect my tortilla making skills.  When I made them the first time, they were yummy, but a bit thick and oddly shaped. 

2.  Learn to make cheese and butter.  We are fortunate to live near a wonderful dairy farm.  We get raw milk from pasteured cows.  The price is amazing as well.  I guess when you don't pay for feed, you can sell for less.  It's wonderful stuff.  Now to learn to make some other wonderful things from it.  There is a woman in the western part of my state who does classes.  It will entail a weekend away, I guess I'll have to suffer through it. 

3. Learn how to forage for wild edibles in my area.  Again, we are fortunate to have a man nearby who does classes on such things.  I have self identified a few things in my yard, but would like someone who isn't looking at a computer picture to tell me what they are.  I think it would be wonderful to use some of the weeds growing quite plentifully in my yard and garden for something other than compost.  It is really amazing how many weeds one has in their yard when she doesn't use chemicals.  It is also really amazing how many weeds one has in their yard when they just simply don't care.  The neighbor with the perfectly manicured Scotts lawn loves me.

4.  Try my hand at fermentation.  I keep reading all these wonderful tales of fermented foods and the wonderful things they do for our bodies.  Being someone who loves pickles, saurkraut, kefir and kombucha, it would be wonderful to be able to make these things myself.  It should save me quite a bit of money as well.  That is always a great side effect.

5.  Learn to make my own pasta.  I have the machine, I just need to do it. 

Now looking back at this post, I realize that I'm slightly off my rocker.  I think that most of the people that read this blog are slightly off their rocker as well.  So, here's to being off our rockers!  Rock on!!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Garden goals for the year

Like every gardener, I'm always dreaming of the perfect garden.  In reality, there is no such thing.  The perfect garden will only exist in my imagination.   So every year I spend my time planning what I can do better next year.  Some things can't be controlled.  This year the weather was a major factor.  There wasn't much I could do to improve the fact that we got rain for the entire month of June.  All I can do is work with  what I'm given.  My plans for this year will include dealing better with what I'm dealt. 

1. Plant more storage and cold weather crops.  I live in New England, not an area well known for long hot summers.  The more I read, the more I realize that I need to stop concentrating on things like tomatoes and peppers that are really forced to grow here.  I'll still grow them, but want to increase the crops that really thrive here.  I'll be looking to grow more root veggies and greens.  Which brings me to.

2.  Work on season extension.  We have a relatively short growing season here in my zone 6 garden.  Those who have read my blog for a bit know that I added some beds made from cinder blocks.  I will be making some of them into hoop houses.  With some electrical conduit or PVC pipe and heavy duty plastic, I should have a nice large area to nurture some spring crops and keep fall and winter crops next year.  This is something I've wanted to do for 2 years now, but haven't had the nerve to try.  I'm certainly someone who needs to think about things for a while before I do them.  My inspiration came from Eliot Coleman's wonderful Four Season Harvest.  I highly recommend this book for anyone who dreams of having fresh veggies in January.  Its certainly my dream.

3.  Increase the perrenial fruits and veggies.  I've been doing this for a few years.  So far in my tiny suburban yard I have 5 apple trees, 2 peach trees and a cherry tree.  Last year I also added 6 blueberry bushes, 5 of which survived my kids.  This year I'll be adding strawberries at the least, but would also like to add asparagus and possibly grapes.  Herbs have been added to as well and will continue this year as well.  I have thyme, oregano and sage.  I'll be adding more oregano, mint and some medicinal herbs as well this year.

4.  Increase my own seed saving.  I've been slowly learning to save my own seeds.  This year I saved tomato and pumpkin seeds.  Next year I'd like to try my hand at saving some more difficult seeds.  I love the thought of saving all my own seeds.  As much as I love looking at seed catalogs each year, it would be nice to only have to buy one or two new varieties every once in a while.

5.  Keep better track of, my harvests.  It's been neat to watch so many bloggers weighing their bountiful harvests.  It's truly amazing to see how many pound of produce come from relatively small plots of land.  I'd like to see how much I can get from my little suburban plot as well.  This will also help me to see where I can make improvements. 

I'm sure I'll be adding more goals along the way, but this is a start.  What are some of your garden goals for the year?