Category Archives: Food

The Raised Beds

We shoveled, wheelbarrowed and transported dirt this weekend from the greenhouse at the neighbors to our yard.

Because the greenhouse is, well, a greenhouse, the crew had to work early mornings and at dusk when the temperatures were not so high and the air was not so still.

Midday on Saturday, before quittin’ time, they brought the raised beds over.

I watched the skid steer lumber over the yard, that first bed in its metal arms and felt giddy.

Even with all the garden space we have, I’m excited about these raised beds. Most of them will go in the greenhouse when it is up, but a few will stay out along the deck holding lettuce, spinach and all the leafy greens.

Once we set up the first bed, I started preparing the soil. I raked in egg shells and vegetable fertilizer and watered it thoroughly.

Once the bed was ready, I planted:

  • 2 rows of kale
  • 1 row of spinach
  • 6 rows of four different varieties of lettuce
  • 1/2 row of lavender
  • 1/2 row of rosemary
  • 1/2 row of basil

I labeled everything, but as I don’t have much luck with labels staying in one spot (ahem…cats and kids), I also drew a map.

The “MG” stands for marigolds. I planted 3 rather sad looking specimens down the center and plan to get a few more to add this week.

I might be a little “off-schedule” with some of the varieties I planted, but it is definitely not too late to start a garden.

Most garden centers have a seed starting schedule specific to your area/zone that is based on the average last frost date.

All those greens, broccolis, cabbages, beans, brussels sprouts and other cool season crops can continue to go in the ground from now through mid-August.

So don’t give up if you think it’s too late to start a garden! Plant now and you’ll have fresh garden veggies for the fall.

Fall gardens are best
For yummy sides and salads
And the taste of sun

Kitchen Garden 2017

It’s only January, but with the seed catalogs beckoning me, I’m itching to get my hands in the soil.

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I know, I know. It will be awhile before that can happen.

But in the meantime…

I’ll be dog-earing the pages in my favorite seed catalogs.

I’ll be making lists for the kitchen garden, the vineyard, the fedge and the swales.

I’ll be looking at last year’s lessons learned and drawing up this year’s kitchen garden, fedge, vineyard and swale plans.

I’ll be dreaming of all the herbs, veggies, berries and grapes that are sure to grow on the homestead this year.

Will this be the year the apple trees blossom?

Will it be the year we finally get kiwi?

Will we, at long last, be cutting asparagus to eat rather than watching (mournfully) as it grows taller and taller so we can chop it down and shake out the seeds?

How I hope it will!

But before I can harvest all of this wonderful produce, the plans need to be drawn up and the seeds planted…starting with the kitchen garden.

The plans this year are not quite as aggressive as the past few year’s have been.

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I’m cutting down from 15 squares, to 8. For the past two years, I’ve let the weeds take over due to time constraints and a little laziness. I’m hopeful that with 8 plots, I’ll be able to better manage the crops as well as have time to do some serious chopping and dropping during the season.

I’m not planting as many tomatoes this year, not because I don’t want them, but because I know we will have a zillion volunteers that will need new homes.

I’ve planned for enough herbs and marigolds to help ward off pests, but the majority of the herbs will be in my herb spiral…last year’s big success.

I’m moving the squash arch closer to the deck. Why you ask?

Well…I did not take the chickens into consideration when I built it smack in the middle of the garden.

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I had to sacrifice the garlic I planted under it so that the chickens could continue their work fertilizing the soil, making it ready for the spring planting…I sure hope they enjoy it.

Kitchen garden plans
Sketched and colored in the cold
Drawn up in the cold

Rest, Brine, Freeze (or Cook)

There is nothing like fresh chicken…so we’ve heard and read.

I don’t mean fresh from the store or fresh from the freezer.

I mean really fresh chicken.

Ray, his dad and brother butchered 5 chickens on Saturday. Last year, we vacuum sealed them, labeled them and put them in the freezer immediately.

That was a mistake. Since they were older birds, we should have let them ‘rest’ in a brine in the fridge for a few days. That’s what we did this year.

After 4 days, in a salt water brine, we pulled two out to test.

I made vegetable chicken soup. I threw in whatever I had on hand. Carrots, celery, onion and mix of herbs and spices…garlic, oregano, basil, parsley, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper.

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I cooked it all afternoon on a low simmer, removed the bones, shredded the meat and put it all back in the pot. The meat was a little tough, but not nearly as leathery as last year’s birds.

We tasted it.

I thought it was delicious, but Joe told me it needed more salt…and broccoli.

Farm fresh chicken soup
Simmering on the stove top
Delicious and warm

Oven Roasted

I love roasted veggies. The caramelization brings out those natural sugars and crisps up the edges, and there are so many combinations of herbs, spices and oils to use.

It’s (almost) the only way I’ll eat cooked brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower on their own.

With our bountiful brussels sprout harvest and the overwhelming amount of Jerusalem artichokes we have…what better way to eat them up?

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I sliced up around a pound of sunchokes into 1/2 inch rounds. You can go thinner or thicker depending on how crispy you like them.

I didn’t peel them, and I don’t recommend you do either. The skins are thinner than a potato skin and it are packed full of nutrients. Plus, it would be really annoying to peel around all the little nibs and nobs.

Next, I rinsed and dried the sprouts, cut off any yucky parts for the chickens and threw them in with the sliced sunchokes. They weren’t very big, so I left them whole.

Then I started to play.

I crumbled freshly dried rosemary and thyme over the veggies, sprinkled them with salt and pepper and garlic powder and tossed the whole mixture in oil. I used liquid coconut oil, but any oil would work.

I spread the whole mess on a large cast iron skillet, as close to a single layer as I could, and roasted them in the oven at 425* for around 20 minutes.

I kept checking them to make sure they weren’t getting too burnt after the 10 minute mark.

The aroma was delicious. My mouth watered and I could hardly wait to taste the dish.

I wasn’t disappointed.

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Harvest in the Fall

We’ve been waiting for the brussels sprouts to get bigger, but it seems that they’ve grown as much as they are going to.

The boys were excited to harvest them and, truth be told, so was I.

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I have purchased fresh brussels sprouts, still on the stalk, at the store. Our stalks are larger and taller but our sprouts are smaller than storebought.

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I worried that they were not ripe, but the leaves were starting to spread so we tasted one…or two…or three.

They were delicious and sweet, with a slight bite. Joe absolutely loved them. He could not stop eating the ‘baby cabbages’.

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While harvesting these tiny wonders, we found some kale ready to pick.

I’d forgotten that I’d planted it so it was a nice surprise and, since it is soup season, will be a tasty addition to vegetable chicken soup.

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There were also cherry tomatoes red and sweet on the vine and a random cucumber, but the kale and brussels sprouts were the most exciting fall harvest.

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Pumped up by our discoveries, we prowled the homestead in search of more produce ready to pick.

We were rewarded. Our autumn olive had red and pink berries that were sweeter and slightly bigger than last year’s crop.

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They were only on one side of the shrub though. The other side is all new growth thanks to the ice storm that split the plant in two last year. I’m just happy that it grew back instead of dying.

The boys burrowed in and refused to leave until they picked and ate all of the ‘delicious berries’.

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Next, we harvested ‘a few’ Jerusalem artichokes.

My niece and I spent an hour or so digging them up, but we barely made a dent.

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There are so many still in the ground and I don’t know what I am going to do with all of them.

I froze around half of what we collected, but freezing them changes the consistency. They’ll be mushy so I’ll have to mash the frozen ones in with potatoes and puree them into soups.

They can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks so I’ll be sharing them with friends and family.

I’m not too worried about how far they’ve spread. The yellow flowers are beautiful and the tall green stems lovely.

Plus, we do have several acres for them to spread and pop up and we may be able to sell some of them next year.

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In all, we’ve had a successful fall harvest. Now on to planting garlic before the ground freezes.

Some kale right here
Some berries there
Artichokes are everywhere

Sprouts all around
More than a pound
I’ll roast ’em ’til they’re crisp and brown

Fall veggies grow
Until there’s snow
And bitter winds howl loud and blow

Saving Seeds…Finally

We always say we are going to save seeds.

We know it will save us money.

We know the plants grow well with our soil.

We know the saved seeds will be unique. They’ve adapted to our growing conditions and there will never be another seed quite like it.

Yet each year, time gets away from us. By the time we remember that we planned to save seeds…it’s too late. Or at least, we think it is.

But this year, we actually did save seeds.

Okra seeds.

Okra seeds, along with pea and bean seeds are some of the easiest seeds to save.

First, just let the pods dry on the plant. When they turn brown and start to split at the ridges, cut them off, open them up and shake the seeds out. Let them dry for a few days and, voila! They are ready to store.

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So far, we’ve saved seeds from three large pods and filled a small medicine bottle.

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Old prescription bottles are one of the best containers for seed saving. They are easy to label and easy to store in neat little rows.

Sunflowers are also good candidates for saving, although there are a few more steps involved.

Tomato seeds are a bit easier than sunflower seeds, and pepper seeds even easier…at least there are fewer steps involved.

Since we ate the three peppers that actually made it this year (slight exaggeration), and our tomatoes were devoured by the chickens, the okra seeds…and maybe marigolds…are the only ones we’ll save this year.

At least it’s a start!

What seeds do you save?

So easy to save
Okra and marigold seeds
Cut, shake, dry and save

Sprouts!

I love brussel sprouts…especially fresh.

For the past three years I’ve tried to grow them without success. The ones I started indoors never made it much past the seedling stage and the ones I direct sowed never sprouted.

But just look at them!

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I didn’t do anything different this year except get a really, really good seed starting mix. One of the plants survived my winter sowing experiment, one was started indoors and one was from a nursery.

They are all almost ready to harvest!

What are our plans for these gorgeous sprouts?

We are going to roast them with garlic and olive oil, mix in a bit of bacon and then sprinkle the whole thing with parmesan.

YUM!

The sprouts have grown tall
Each one large, green and gorgeous
Roast ’em and enjoy!

Unintentional Gardening

We discovered a strange squash in a spot where no squash should be.

We waited, wondering what on earth it was.

There is no way we would have ever planted anything there.

Really.

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It just appeared one day…twining out from under the trailer in our side yard.

We had no idea how it got there.

When we had the makeshift playpen up, the little chicks were in that spot, but we didn’t start to give them kitchen scraps until they were much older and in their permanent pen.

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It’s weird.

It’s big.

It’s…bumpy.

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We didn’t water it. We didn’t weed it. We didn’t fertilize it.

We. Did. Nothing.

And yet…it grew.

And grew.

And grew.

We could have mowed it.

We could have pulled it.

We could have destroyed it.

But…we didn’t.

We left it alone.

We let it grow into a pleasant, bumpy, yellow, orange and green surprise.

 

What is this strange thing?
So bumpy, orange green and weird.
Nature’s lovely gift

New Eggs

The new girls have started to lay!

We collected two eggs on Thursday before we left for Michigan.

Our chicken sitters collected few more on Friday, and on Saturday they collected 10 eggs between our 5 Red Stars and our 16 Leghorns. Way to go ladies!

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As a special treat, Joe and I took them a few large borage plants and some fresh clover this morning.

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Pecky strutted around, making sure all his ladies were getting plenty to eat before eating some himself.

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The eggs are pretty small now and, although they will not be as big as our Red Stars’ eggs, will get bigger as they grow. We are guessing that when they are at their peak, we’ll get at least a dozen a day from them.

Plenty to share!

Our girls are growing up
They lay more every day
They’re white and tiny now
The size is just ok

As these hens get bigger
The eggs will grow large too
They taste the same regardless
Of breed or size or hue

Fill ‘er Up!

The medicinal herb spiral is built and filled.

All materials used for the construction were free.

Cardboard and newspaper for weed control, landscaping bricks from our neighbor and good, black, worm filled soil from our pasture.

The labor was free too.

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The seeds that we will be planting were the only cost, and that was minimal…less than $15 for all.

  • Cilantro (saved from last year’s crop)
  • Sage
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Lemongrass
  • Lavender
  • Chives
  • Lemon balm
  • Bee balm
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Chamomile

We’ll also throw nasturtium and marigolds in for pest control and maybe some lettuce for filler.

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Our neighbor has more bricks for us, so we’ll build this up a little bit more before we start planting. If possible, I’d like the top to be flush with the stump.

I’d also like to plant some sort of ground cover over the whole thing to help with unwanted weeds, but for this year, we will mulch with straw.

We’ll top the whole thing off with a planter or some sort of garden statue on the top of the stump.

Let the growing begin!

Herbs in the spiral
Tempting butterflies and bees
A fragrant garden