Friday, December 30, 2011

Garden Planning and Records

       What to plant? Where? Where did the seeds/plants come from? When did I start the plants or set them out? What did I harvest?  These are some of the questions I ask myself every year. I struggled for years trying to figure out a planning and recording system where I could record the answers, a system that works because I actually use it. This is what I've come up with.
       It's that time of year. A library's worth of seed catalogs have shown up in our mailbox. My spouse busy checking our seed inventory, what we'll need for next year, and who offers the best deals for the items we want. Where in the garden will all that stuff go! Now's the time to figure that out.
       Each year on quarter-inch-square graph paper I map out what goes where in the garden. I refer to prior years' maps to check for crop rotation. If I make changes when the actual planting takes place, I change the map. The map itself becomes my garden diary, with notations to answer the questions above and more. This past spring and summer, the map remained taped to my kitchen wall, where I could see at a glance what still needed planting, or I could make notes on problems I experienced with insects and weather, or whatever. When I harvested, I recorded amounts, and how many packages of corn, green beans, carrots, etc. went into the freezer.  I can refer to that map to estimate quantities I will need next year, to see what problems might recur. All the information is in one place, and easy to find since I keep maps for all the years I've done this in a binder.
       I drew up the first map of this type six or so years ago, but it was only last year that I started making notes about more than planting dates. I keep track of the harvest on my wall calendar, then add amounts up when the entire harvest of a specific vegetable is in and record that figure on the garden map.
       This particular garden is "new." A few years ago it was an unused bull pen, overgrown with stinging nettle, poke weed, garlic mustard, brambles, other weeds and black locust saplings.
        These are photos of the bull pen garden area.  The one above was taken in 2003. At right is the 2011 edition, with strawberries in the right foreground. There's still ground clearing to do this side of that metal barn. That's on my to-do list for spring 2012. These photos are also a part of my record keeping as they remind me that I am making progress in my trials.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Victorio Grain Mill - Product Trial

       We've been looking for a hand-operated grain grinder for several years. We had looked at the Victorio Grain Mill but discounted it as too small. We decided recently to try it after reading that Jackie Clay of Backwood Home magazine fame recommends it. It just happened to be on sale at $54.99 through Emergency Essentials catalog.
       The company claims the mill grinds about one-half cup of fine flour or one cup of course flour per minute. Jackie says it takes her about twenty minutes to get enough for a bake.
       I started with five cups of wheat. Grinding took half an hour and produced eight cups. That's eight cups of fluffy, freshly ground flour, not equivalent to eight cups of prepackaged, settled flour, but adequate for most recipes that call for one hundred percent whole wheat flour. The crank was easy to turn, and I went for slow and steady rather than as fast as I could. I had no trouble using either hand even though I recently (Wednesday) had carpal tunnel surgery. The grain in the hopper seemed to take forever to go down. I suppose that's because I'm used to my Vita Mix, where the grinding action is apparent immediately. I use three cups of fresh whole wheat flour along with another four or so of unbleached purchased flour for three loaves of bread and am satisfied with the speed of the grinding process. Dismantling the grinder is easy too.
       Would I recommend the Victorio? Yup. It's so much quieter than the Vita Mix! More to the point, when we're without electricity (which happens all too often out here in the country) I can still grind and bake. It's not bad as entertainment for younger children who may be fascinated by the process while they're learning something about where food really comes from.
       The one caveat I would give is that the grinder must be attached to a stable, sturdy base.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Asparagus: Not Just Food

Asparagus planted last year from seed.
       I recall mentioning to another Master Gardener that I planned on starting an asparagus patch behind the rose garden. She responded with comments on how lovely that would look. Lovely? Asparagus? I'd never viewed this vegetable in that light. Only a couple of years later, and a little wiser, I now agree so much that I'm puzzled as to why I can't find asparagus in my encyclopedia of garden plants.
       Asparagus is a weed. It will spread from the pretty red berries produced abundantly on the female plant. I moved some seedlings to my apple guild. If I get usable stalks from there, that will be a bonus, but I don't expect much. Asparagus likes to be babied. To avoid self-seeding, you can buy all-male varieties, which are said to produce larger crops.
Ferns from stock originally planted over 30 years ago.
You can see a few red roses behind to the left.
       For something that requires babying, these plants are remarkably hardy. I found ferns still surviving from a bed my mother-in-law planted more than thirty years ago.  I dug these up and moved them behind the rose garden. I followed planting directions from my Master Gardener basic book, but not many of them survived. Turns out there was an error in the book. They should have gone into a trench eight inches deep, not eighteen. Goes to show, if it doesn't sound right, check it out before you do the work, regardless of the source.      
Asparagus ferns in November.
       Most people start asparagus from crowns, purchased mature roots, which they set in a trench about 16 inches apart. These are apparently heavy feeders and will benefit from compost added at planting and fertilizer added later. As the stalks grow, fill in around the plants, being careful not to bury the tips. Mulch and cultivate for a vegetable crop. Don't harvest anything the first year, and harvest sparingly the second year. Cut asparagus stalks at ground level and eat right away for best flavor. I never liked this vegetable until I tried it right-from-the-garden fresh.
       As tasty as fresh asparagus is, don't be blinded to the fact that this is an attractive plant suitable for use among ornamentals in you landscaping.

Chicken Cacciatore from Scratch

Home grown fixings: stewed tomatoes. pickled carrots,
strawberries, tomato sauce, chicken, onions.
 Oops! Forgot to include oregano and garlic!
       There are few activities more satisfying than providing well for your family. An example of doing this is serving a meal made (almost exclusively) from food you grew. I got such a kick out of gathering the ingredients and cooking this chicken cacciatore that I want to share the recipe.
       My recipe is a variation of one from a Betty Crocker cookbook. The first item on that ingredient list is two and a half to three pounds of broiler-fryer chicken, cut up. As I serve this dish over spaghetti noodles, I prefer bite-sized pieces of boneless, skinless chicken.
The Recipe: (Serves 4)
       8 oz boneless, skinless chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
       1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (more if desired)
       1/2 cup all purpose flour
       1 cup thinly sliced onion rings (or half rings)
       2 cloves garlic, minced
       1 cup thinly sliced portabella mushrooms
       1 pint jar home-canned stewed tomato
       2 cups homemade tomato sauce
       1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
       1/2 teaspoon oregano
       Wash the chicken and pat it dry. Coat with flour and cook over medium heat in preheated olive oil for a few minutes until brown on all sides. Set aside. Stir onion rings, mushrooms, and garlic into oil, Stir and cook until onions are tender. Stir in remaining ingredients. Add chicken. Cover and simmer for at least 20 minutes, longer if you're using an old bird. This is a good recipe to plan for a meal when you're not sure when dinner will be served. Just let it simmer until you're ready to eat.
       Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Do not overcook this! Two ounces uncooked pasta is considered a serving size.
       Serve the cacciatore over the spaghetti (or rice or noodles). If this isn't enough to fill your ravening horde, consider adding a salad or vegetable side dish, and/or cornmeal muffins. I'm generally cooking for only two, so the extra meat sauce goes into the freezer for a ready-to-heat-and-eat meal at a later date.
       I included the chicken in my homegrown photo because it was, by a relative. The onion, garlic, stewed tomato and sauce, and oregano were all homegrown. In the photo of the meal on the table, I also grew and pickled the carrots. If I served cornbread, it would be from homegrown and ground corn. I topped this particular meal off with homegrown strawberries from the freezer. This is so cool! I can't help but want to challenge you to go this route. Now's the time to start planning what you'll plant next spring so you can rise to the challenge! 
       A side note:  My hubby just called and pointed out that I didn't actually use Scratch in preparing this meal. "Scratch" is a kind of chicken feed. Why we use the term to mean starting with basic ingredients I don't know.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Wild Strawberries Flower in November

       I'm fairly sure wild strawberries don't normally do this but there they are, flowers on the plants I started from seed this spring, but didn't set out in the Evergreen Garden until August.  How did this happen? No clue, really, except that perhaps they've reached the stage in their growth when they simply must reproduce.         Why didn't I transplant them sooner? Gee, that was months ago and I'm supposed to remember now? Hm, I believe I was waiting until I'd made more progress eliminating grass where I wanted the berries to grow as an edible ground cover. At about that time I acquired a flat of wild strawberries and transplanted them, so I did these too. Those plants aren't flowering, but they are spreading like crazy, as I was told they would. These that I started from seed are flowering, but the plant forms a nice, neat mound. Could it be that there are two (or dozens for all I know!) types of wild strawberries? Looks that way.
       Sad to say, I snapped off the blooms so the plants' energy wouldn't be wasted on forming berries that had no chance of reaching maturity. But, man, am I looking forward to a spring crop, as well as to seeing my green mulch spread over the Evergreen Garden!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Wrapping Paper? Use Fabric Instead!

Fabric! Hundreds of choices in colors, subjects, seasonal.
       Too often Christmas is about spending money when it should be more about making memories. Here's a way to save money and make memories. Instead of buying expensive wrapping paper that will be torn to pieces Christmas morning and tossed in the trash, consider using fabric.
       You might argue that fabric is more expensive than paper. It can be, but not long ago I found two yards of new Christmas print at a thrift shop for two dollars. More often, thrift stores offer used items that can be used whole or cut up for wrapping. Sheets may be the best buy. Garage sales and in-store after-season sales are great sources for material.
       Even if you pay more for fabric than paper, fabric can be used again and again. Fabric pouches for holding gifts are easy to make. Merely cut out two pieces measuring a few inches larger than the gift, with right sides together, sew around three edges, turn the raw edges at the opening and stitch them down. Use string or a ribbon to close the package.
       Make memories by using the fabric that gifts came in to make a quilt. Don't let the idea scare you! Quilts don't have to be complicated or take years to make. Strip quilting is one answer to the quick and easy quilt top. Sew strips diagonally onto pieces of muslin measuring, for instance, eighteen inches square. Sew the squares together, after experimenting with their layout. Tape a backing piece (a sheet works) right side down to a flat surface, lay batting or an old blanket over the backing, then lay the quilt top down right side up. Working outward from the center, use yarn to tie the layers together. Finish the edges. Get more ideas and details on quilt making from a library book, the Internet, quilting store, local quilting guild, or a friend.
       I like the idea of collecting fabric over the years, noting on each piece the year, what it wrapped and who it was from and for, then later making quilts using the fabric. This would make a marvelous gift! Imagine the memories such a quilt would invoke. The problem is every family member will want one.
       One hundred percent cotton works best in quilts. You can find colorful, humorous, seasonal, nostalgic prints to fit any occasion, so consider using fabric year round. For my adult daughter's last birthday, she received a kitchen scale wrapped in a two dollar snuggy. I'm not sure which gift will get more use.

Winter Cage Protection for Special Plants

Pecan tree caged for winter.
       For me this year saw a change in direction in my yard work and, consequently, the addition of several trees and other plants that I had never before considered planting. To help these delicate young things make it through our tough Michigan winters without being consumed by hungry critters or damaged by a cute but rampaging puppy, I caged them.
       My choice for caging material is chicken wire. It's lightweight, not terribly expensive, cuts easily and as chores go, is right up there with cleaning the toilet. From a 50 foot roll of three feet wide wire I cut seventy inch lengths using old by-pass pruning shears. This makes a circle big enough for the plant to grow if I choose to leave the cage in place during the summer.  Working on a hard, flat surface makes unrolling the wire easier. So does having someone stand on the end while you unroll. I used the cut ends to secure the wire to itself to hold the circle shape.
Looking down at pecan tree base.
Note that the mulch does not touch trunk.
       To secure the cage in place around the plant, I dug a shallow trench in which to set the cage, then filled in with dirt and mulch. If your ground is firm, you can use stakes to hold the wire instead of the trench, but trenching makes digging under the wire a little more difficult for rabbits. Mulch is good, unless you overdo. Ever seen trees with several inches of mulch heaped around their base? Two inches is all that's needed. More can prevent water from getting to the plant's roots. More is also a invitation to damaging insects and mice. However much mulch you use, it should not actually touch the tree trunk as that makes attacking the tree so much easier for the critters that will inhabit it.
       To keep deer from browsing through the top opening, I cut another piece of chicken wire and secured this is place using small pieces of wire. I could have used the cut ends of the chicken wire again, but I want to be able to take the tops off with ease, and without too much damage to me. If you've worked with chicken wire, you know what I mean. Another option for holding the top on is small clamps.
      There are more than a dozen of these cages around my yard now. Fortunately, I like the way they look, almost like sculptures, so I may not take them down until the trees outgrows them.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

You Do Want Chickens. Really?

Chickens. To have or not to have, that is the question.
       My husband is trying very hard to convince me that I do, indeed, want chickens. I love fresh eggs and all sorts of chicken dishes, but the living birds are one of the few creatures I simply do not like. Why? Maybe it has to do with unpleasant childhood associations. Granted, some varieties are gorgeous, but this is counterbalanced by their stupidity. You don't agree? You could share stories about how smart they can be? I don't want to hear them. If we have birds, I'll be eating some of them. I'll feel guilty if I know I'm dining on an intelligent creature. I wouldn't name them, either. You name pets, not food.
       Riley tells me that in addition to eggs, meat, and guano, the birds could earn their keep by eating insects and seeds in the garden and by turning green areas into desert. Have you seen the movie Chicken Run? The lead hen laments never having felt grass under her feet. She doesn't mention that this is because chickens dig up anything green, either to eat or to search for something to eat. I get "irritated" at the thought of birds tearing up my carefully planned projects. But there is this big section of the bull pen garden that I want defoliated. I'm planning on using a shovel, like I have with the rest of my projects, but Riley insists on giving chickens a trial.
       So there you see them, chickens in the bull pen, "borrowed" from a relative to see if they can do the job. At a minimum, I'm hoping they'll find and eat overwintering tomato worms. Riley made sure I noticed too when he saw them dining on lamb's quarter seeds, I cannot really imagine them getting rid of the brambles and poke weed, let alone the quack grass. Naturally, at the moment, they're not doing anything. Well, sure,  it's night, but even this afternoon, they did nothing. Could be they don't like the several inches of snow on the ground. Riley claims they'll have plenty of opportunity for destruction come spring. We'll see. But, frankly, I think they'll have to have the garden plowed and ready to plant before I'll change my mind.
       Notice Sam watching the birds from the other side of the fence? Sam's intense interest reminds Riley of why his family "got rid" of chickens when he was a child. The dogs got them all. Nice imagery (not!) and yet another source of stress in dealing with dog/bird relationships.

      

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Strawberry Bed Settled for Winter

Patch with last of six loads of weeds (mostly wheat).
       With four inches or more of snow blanketing the ground, I believe it's time to proclaim the 2011 growing season finished. Earlier this month, I weeded the June-bearing strawberry patch one last time, with Sam's help of course. I wound up removing the volunteer wheat, which I'd intended to leave in place all winter. The cold would have killed it, but I decided I'd rather have it working in a compost pile than withering uselessly in place. Aside from the wheat, there wasn't much in the way of weeds, and the rows have filled out so well that I'm dreaming about harvesting a hundred quarts instead of a "mere" hundred, twenty-five pounds I picked this year.
Patch blanketed with straw for the winter.
      I can fantasize about endless strawberry shortcake, but the size of next year's crop depends heavily on the weather this winter and, especially, next spring. To help protect the plants, I've blanketed the rows with a couple of inches of straw. I'll need to rake this aside in the spring when the weather starts to warm, and probably, rake it back onto the rows when frost threatens. Then I'll need to be sure the awakening plants get plenty of water. But that's months away. For now, I've put the patch to bed, and like a mother watching her child sleep, can dream of what the future will hold.  

The Stool Project

Challenge: make this sad looking stool attractive enough
that a four-year-old will want to sit on it.
      When our daughter Chris was little, she often sat on that special retro red kitchen stool at
Grandma Lentz's house. Over the years, that stool's condition deteriorated and the sad remains were delegated to the farm basement. Years later, a mother herself, Chris found a similar red stool and simply had to get it for the newer Grandma Lentz. (Ah, that would be me.) Now there's a problem: one stool, more than one small grandchild who insists on using it to sit up to the table.
       So I took a look at the old stool. It was unsightly, but otherwise usable, just rusted and spattered with paint and other nasty stuff. It required new fabric covering on the seat and back as well as replacement padding, and some painting. So I gathered everything I could think of that I might need and went to work.
Covering the seat: secure opposite
sides, then ease and secure corners.
      First step was to remove the back and seat. I used a wire brush and steel wool (the pre-soaped type used to clean pans) to remove as much rust and yucky stuff as possible. I took the stool outside to wash and rinse it thoroughly.
      "Yucky stuff" is the technical term for the stripper I used to remove more than a hundred years of varnish and paint from this old farmhouse's woodwork. The stool, brought up from the basement ten years ago, was already in sad shape. Using it for remodeling projects didn't help its condition one little bit.
       I opted not to repaint the red part of the stool as I'd already purchased padding, fabric, and silver paint, and spent more than I wanted to. I suppose I was thinking, too, that I wanted to preserve some of the stool's original flavor. The goal was to have another stool the kids would use, not to make the old one look new. So I covered the red areas with newspaper and tape and sprayed. I'm forever amazed at what a difference a little paint can make!
Mission accomplished. My granddaughter is delighted
with "her" new stool.
       The hot melt glue gun warmed up while I used the old back and seat covers as patterns and cut padding and fabric. I found that smaller amounts of glue worked better than gobs at holding the fabric to the metal. I glued the two sides, then top and bottom, then eased the fabric to fit around the corners. I did wonder if sewing the fabric might have worked as well, but decided that thread would break when I fitted the metal pieces together. I reattached seat and back, being careful not to touch the still wet silver paint. That paint took a couple of days to dry thoroughly, but then the chair was ready for its debut. 
       My concern now is that the grandkids will fight over who gets the old chair.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Watercolors Show and Tell

This is Pharaoh, a long-haired sweetheart we lost
to cancer four years ago.
       All my life I've felt I had artistic talent, but my parents never encouraged the interest when I was a kid, and as an adult I never could find time to test the waters. When I turned fifty, I decided to find out if I was delusional. I enrolled at Lansing Community College in the Fine Arts program. My son started taking classes there about the same time. I remember his horror at the thought of being in the same Figure Drawing class with his mom. The models were human and nude! We wound up taking the class from the same instructor but during different semesters. He received an A, of course, and I was more than a little relieved to earn one also, one of only two the instructor awarded in my class. I freely acknowledge that my son is a better artist than I, but it was satisfying to have someone tell him (and me) that, yes, I am talented.     
Cockatiel, from a photo I took at the zoo.
      Drawing is cool, and what my prodigy does best, but my thing turned out to be watercolor.  I enjoyed all my art classes and earned an associate degree as a part-time student, taking most classes at night. My watercolor teacher was, of all things, a professional psychologist. He wouldn't let his students see any of his work until toward the end of the semester. He didn't want to encourage students to copy his work, but to develop their own styles. One of his first lessons involved dealing with "mistakes." You've probably heard that in watercolor you can't correct mistakes. Maybe not, but you can incorporate them into your work as part of the design. He tried to instill the idea of making the paint itself do most of the work, to "draw tight, paint loose." I have trouble with this. I want to be in control. I don't go for random drips, or paint running all over the paper.
        Have you ever seen a good nude in watercolor? It's amazing what can be done with this medium. No, I haven't done nudes, but have completed several portraits on commission. Getting a good likeness without overworking the paint is always a challenge. I do animal portraits and flowers too, and have included a few of those here.
       Most of my work, and all of these examples, is done from photo references.
       Truth to tell, I haven't painted in a few years, having been so tied up with gardening and landscaping. I hope to change that this winter. I could use some encouragement.
       As always, please note that for some insane reason I can't comment on my own blog or anyone else, for that matter. Your comments are welcome and will be addressed on my Wall.

Yarrow: Weed or First Aid Kit?

Yarow in the Apple Guild.
       Yarrow is an invasive weed. I wasn't aware of this years ago when I discovered the flowering plant in a flower shop. I liked both the white and pink blooms and the feathery leaves and, in my ignorance, purchased a few plants and added them to my landscaping. They made themselves at home and spread before I learned their true nature and started deadheading and digging them out. "Digging" is the operative word, because it spreads through roots as well as the 1600 seeds a single plant can produce in a year.  I was, of course, unsuccessful in eliminating what I believed to be a nuisance plant.        Fast forward a few years and copious reading about herbs. Yarrow's nature hasn't changed; it's as invasive as ever. I've learned to recognize the plant growing wild in the fields around our farm, and I marvel that I actually paid money for what nature provides so abundantly. What we know as common yarrow is not native to the U.S. Apparently, its ancestors immigrated and inter-bred with a related native species and ones imported from Asia. What I purchased is something different, as common yarrow, I read, doesn't survive cultivation. I'm relieved now that my earlier efforts to eradicate it failed. I moved some of the survivors to the apple guild, where they can thrive and spread with my blessing. As plants in a guild should, yarrow provides more than one function. It's a ground cover. It repels Japanese beetles, ants and flies; its root secretions help the disease resistance of nearby plants; and its presence increases the essential oils in nearby herbs.
       On top of all this, a single fresh, finely chopped yarrow leaf  added to a wheel barrel of raw compost will speed composition.
       The plant has a history of conjuring powers. Want to identify your future true love? Sew an ounce of yarrow into a small flannel square and place it under your pillow, recite the requisite poem, and see him/her in your dreams. Druids used yarrow stems to predict weather and Chinese I Ching masters foretold the future by reading fifty thrown yarrow stems.   
      With all these uses, how can we possibly classify yarrow as a weed? And there's more! Finely chop young leaves and add to salads and soft cheese dips for a peppery, slightly bitter taste. Use leaves as a garnish. In a pinch, substitute yarrow for cinnamon or nutmeg. Chewing fresh leaves helps to relieve toothache. A leaf infusion can prevent baldness; so one source claims, anyway. Sources agree that an infusion flavored with honey and Tabasco sauce will cause profuse sweating to help break a cold-related fever. Yarrow has been used as a hops substitute in making beer. A flower infusion serves as a facial steam and tonic lotion to treat greasy skin.
       Last year my husband and I were checking on some seedling trees we had planted in one of our overgrown fields. I scratched my hand on the wire cage protecting one tree from deer an rabbits. Since I didn't have anything to treat the wound, I ignored the bleeding. Later the same day, I learned that yarrow is used to staunch blood flow. Legend has it that yarrow was used during the Trojan Wars to treat Achilles's warriors' wounds, thus the name Achillea millefolium. My seedling trees nested among yarrow plants. A decoction made from leaves treats wounds, chapped skin and rashes.
       Don't forget that the flowers are attractive, suitable for cutting and drying, and the plant makes a terrific border--if you don't mind that it spreads. Flowers appear from June to October, and even into November when the photo above was taken. Unlike many weeds, frequent mowing doesn't kill yarrow. Instead it adapts, and becomes a ground hugger. One source suggested using sheep as a control. Or let deer browse on it.
       For the uninitiated (I had to look this up) an infusion is boiled water poured over herbs and left to steep, covered, strained and used or refrigerated (up to three days). In a decoction water is added to the herb and brought to a boil, simmered until the liquid is reduced to half, then cooled, strained, and used or bottled and refrigerated. I recommend more research before you try this. Keep in mind that too much yarrow use can make your skin sensitive to light, and beware of possible allergic reactions like rashes, dermatitis and eczema.
       I  consulted more than one source for this post, but mainly used The Complete Book of Herbs, a practical guide to growing and using herbs, by Lesley Bremness.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Weigh In from the Garden for 2011

      Because of the strange weather we experienced this summer, my garden's production was anything but typical this year, so naturally I chose this year to tally everything I grew for the first time. I plan to follow through with tallies in the years to come. Doing so, and knowing I'll be sharing them with you, will provide the extra incentive I need to keep better records.
       Rhubarb. I started the plants two years ago so this is the first year I could harvest. Ten pounds.
       Strawberries. One hundred, twenty-five pounds.
       Tomatoes. Brought into the house for processing and eating, 175 pounds. An equal or greater quantity went to compost because of splitting, blossom end rot and other problems, mostly attributable to gross under- and over-watering. I did drip water during dry spells, but when it rained here this summer, we had deluges, almost ten inches of rain in one weekend. Last year I processed over 550 pounds.
       Potatoes. About 190 pounds. I planted three kinds: Pontiac red, 120 pounds; Russian blue, 45 pounds, and a white variety, only 25 pounds. They grew in rows side-by-side in the garden. This was their first year in this spot. Last year was their third year in the same site, which is the maximum that's recommended. The soil ph in that area was adjusted down from 7.4 with the addition of sulfur. I added sulfur to the new site, but perhaps it wasn't enough. Last years' potato crop totalled 330, down from the prior year of over 400.
       Rutabaga. I chopped up an eight pound rutabaga for the freezer to use in pasties and wrapped a few whole ones in plastic wrap for storage in the extra refrigerator. I planted too many for our use, as in past years I've had disappointing results with rutabaga. That was in the old veggie garden, which I'm rejuvenating this year. This is the first year I've grown nearly everything in what used to be the old bull pen when my in-laws raised black angus cattle. The more fertile soil probably made the difference here. Call it 25 pounds for actually usage for this crop.
       Carrots. This is another crop that I had trouble getting started last year in the old garden. I planted three times before I had germination. We thought slugs might be eating the new plants as they appeared so I spread a few pounds of fresh coffee grounds over the entire garden. I don't know if this helped because my husband sprayed with a organic pesticide too. In response to last years trials, I over planted this year, and of course, had great germination and over 100 pounds of carrots. I'm pleased to report that most of these wound up in someone's freezer or canning jars. I planted Tendersweet, Scarlett Nantes, and Danvers half long. I  plan to plant Tendersweet again next year, but not the others. I'll look for varieties recommended for canning.
       Peas. Peas were the only crop I planted this year in the old garden, figuring their nitrogen-fixing property would enrich the soil. I froze 27 pounds of shelled peas, and saved another three pounds of dried ones for seed.
       Green beans. Forty-three pounds of beans went into the freezer. Another four pounds of dried beans were saved for seed.
       Corn. I froze 18.5 pounds of shelled corn. That was 77 ears. I failed to pick the rest of the crop, planning to let it dry on the stalks for later harvest and use as cornmeal. The deer had other plans. My husband is at this moment out there hunting. I hope he brings me some processed corn in the form of venison.
       Beets. I planted a short row of these, because the only way I really like beets is pickled. After I pulled what I wanted, the rest went to my daughter. Call it 17 pounds.
       Onions. I planted Walla-Walla and yellow. Both did well, but I lost some when they got wet lying on the ground curing. My fault for not bringing them in in a timely manner. Still, bagged and hung 25 pounds. I save the mesh bags Tom turkeys come in to storing onions.
       Sweet potatoes. First time I've grown these and I got them in late. In spite of this, I harvested 21.5 pounds. Some of the tubers were long, some fat. I didn't try eating the leaves and vine tips although they're edible so I'm not counting the greens. Not all of these were planted in the vegetable garden, and with the ones planted elsewhere, I wasn't careful to dig up everything. It's said if you leave any part in the ground, you'll get another crop next year. That's what I want because sweet potatoes make a sweet ground cover!
       Miscellaneous.  Green, chili and paprika peppers, 10 pounds. Ground cherries, 20 pounds. Herbs, hm, pounds doesn't tell the story with herbs, but say five.
       Sugar beets. Now we're adding on the pounds! Eighty-two! As soon as I find the time, I want to process some of this into sugar.
       Mangol. Never heard of it? Neither had I until my husband bought seeds last year. Before people used grain to feed livestock, they used mangol. It's a beet that grows over a foot long, often half out of the ground. My husband wants more livestock and wanted to experiment. That's another 90 pounds.
       Wheat. This was an accidental crop, but one I welcomed. About four pounds from volunteers from mulch in the old garden.
       I'm sort of disappointed that this totals to less than a thousand pounds. Because I relocated the garden and didn't feel I had the space, I didn't plant the usual vining plants. No squash, pumpkins or cucumbers. Those would have put me over the top!
       I expect a much higher total next year, especially if tomatoes and potatoes do better, and I get the viners in. I'd say I'm looking forward to seeing what the new season brings, but, frankly, at this point I'm ready for a break.
        You won't find any answers here to comments because for some reason I cannot comment on any post, mine or anyone else's, perhaps because of something to do with security stuff my husband has on this computer. I respond to comments on the Wall. Sorry for the inconvienence (yours and mine!).

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Annoyances in the Kitchen--And What to Do about Them

       I have enough to do in the kitchen without having to search for a pencil, combat fruit flies, or deal with a slow-running drain. Don't we all. So I thought you might be interested in reading about what I do about these and other little problems that can dull your pleasure of preparing good food for your family.
Dobie pad for non-abrasive cleaning,
food sieve for sink, Goo Gone

       I'm a list maker. If I don't write it down, I'll forget to do it, whatever "it" is, so I NEED that pencil! I purchased this cute little metal basket with a magnet on the back and stuck it on the refrigerator, high up so small persons can't remove it or the pencils in it. The wall calender where I record appointments and other plans is nearby. I make sure after I write on it, that pencil gets back where it belongs.
      Dealing with fruit flies is more complicated. You know already that if you leave any sort of very ripe fruit, including tomatoes, on the counter for more than a day, you'll get fruit flies. The obvious solution is not to leave fruit out; keep it refrigerated or in an enclosed container. Now lets consider the real world, where you're working all day peeling those pears and don't get around to disposing of the waste, or one of the kids leaves an apple on the coffee table and it gets buried and forgotten under papers, toys, or whatever, or someone tosses a piece of fruit in the wastebasket, or spills juice on the carpet. So now what do you do? After getting the offending fruit out of the house, vacuum up any little buggers you can find, then set a trap for the rest. Be sure to empty your vacuum outside so that the flies don't escape into the house. For the trap, in a small jar mix a tablespoon of warm water, a teaspoon of molasses, and a pinch of yeast. Form a paper funnel with a quarter inch hole and attach it to the jar with tape. Set it near the worst infestation and wait. I rinse the trap out with hot water and reuse the jar if (when) I have the problem again.
       Ever see those advertisements for the spray to kill the trashcan odor because you don't want to take out your garbage when the bag isn't full? Someone in product sales came up with this one, and the product isn't trash bags. Use smaller bags, for Pete's sake, or just take the garbage out more regularly, or put what you know will stink in a bag in the freezer until garbage day. Why add more chemicals to the air you breathe? And an air freshener isn't going to eliminate the bacteria that's causing the odor.
       I rarely use that metal stopper that you'll find in most kitchen sinks. I've replaced it with a food strainer that really stops even small food particles from going down my drain. This does a lot to prevent clogs, but doesn't stop them all.  Our drain line may be particularly sensitive because of a right angle turn or two. It doesn't take much to start a clog and I suspect grease is what contributes most to the problem. I've started wiping off any grease, solid shortening or butter before washing measuring spoons and cups, skillets or the butter dish. I never pour hot grease down the drain! Instead of using a commercial chemical cleaner to clear a drain, try a cup of baking soda followed by a cup of hot vinegar. Wait a few minutes, then flush with very hot water. For an overnight fix, pour half a cup each of baking soda and salt down the drain, followed by a cup of boiling water. Flush the next morning with hot tap water. Following this procedure monthly could prevent a huge plumber's bill or having to use one of those drain snakes.
       Want to take a label off a jar? For some labels, filling the jar (or milk jug) with hot water makes peeling easy. Sometimes soaking works, though this may require a little scrubbing with a Dobie or steel wool pad to remove all the sticky. For really hard cases, I like Goo Gone. I've used this to take off masking tape that was used decades ago to label canning jars.
       I label my frozen food and those little white plant labels with a Sharpie pen. Since I rarely reuse a container or plant label for the same thing, I want the old markings gone. A wet finger tip dipped in baking soda and rubbed over the marking will remove it from some surfaces. I admit sometimes I'm forced to use Comet Cleanser to get really good results.
Organizers stretch storage space.
       When a recipe calls for half an onion, I refrigerate the unused portion in a snack bag. Works just as well for other small portions and takes up very little space.
       There's no such thing as enough storage space. I use plastic-coated organizers to stretch cupboard space, and I have two baskets in the freezer portion of the refrigerator to hold Ziploc bags of vegetables, cheese, meat or whatever. Ziploc bags don't stack well, and used to slip out and fall onto the floor whenever I opened the freezer door. Caused quite a bit of cussing on my part. The baskets pull out like drawers.
Drawer organizer: I love it!
       Speaking of drawers, before we remodeled our kitchen, my silverware went into a box where every piece had to be sorted into its niche. I hated doing that. Now silverware unloads quickly from the dishwasher into the sectioned holder in a drawer dedicated to such things. Such luxury!
       Keeping my glass-topped range clean is a challenge. It gets hard use and scrubbing it with harsh cleaners is a no-no. The Dobie cleaning pad is my answer. I use it to clean my no-stick pans too.
       These are some of the kitchen annoyances that I've found solutions for. Do you have suggestions or alternatives you'd like to share?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Stoned (And How to Move the Big Ones)


 Sam has discovered water below the waterfall.
       Hard, cold rocks. Soft, colorful petals and tender greenery. What a wonderful contrast, and one I love using in my landscaping. When we inherited the farm, the only landscaping here that included rocks was a rock garden in the back yard. Heirloom iris grew there among lots of weeds. The iris are still there, along with lilies and a variety of hosta, and the mums I planted there a few days ago. I downsized that garden shortly after we moved here, but now want to add a second rock garden near it, with a path between it and the old garden. I've located only about ten of the fifty large stones I figure I'll need.
       The water feature project we set up several years ago used up a huge number of stones. The hill pictured above is terraced, with rocks stabilizing the dirt. I didn't want to fiddle with a pond so there's a "dry" well under the creeping thyme at the left in the photo. That's filled with rocks, truckloads of them gathered from the fields around the house and along the road. 
Driveway in front of house.
Water feature is in background.
          
       After we added this porch in 2004, I built a retaining wall along the front. It was needed because the house sits at the top of a hill; the wall keeps dirt from washing down over the drive. Finding enough stones after finishing the water feature turned out to be a challenge. Since a huge black locust tree shades this spot, I planted more hosta here, along with hydrangea and bleeding heart. The hydrangea are survivors from some sticks I could barely identify as such when I found them many years ago. I believe my father-in-law must have planted them by the front door. My husband's family rarely used the front entrance, and the plants had been neglected. The porch addition changed that.
Stone path from lilacs to garden
with a large stone for a sundial.
       I started using small stones in landscaping the farm before we moved out from town. It was a case of using what was available, and after finishing the rather ambitious task of putting in a drain field, I  had a pile of stones left over. That pile disappeared into several projects. The first was a path from the lilac bushes in front to the vegetable garden. The big stone on the right was one my father-in-law had set out near the lilacs to hold a sundial. He bought the sundial but never set it up. The lilac bushes grew and shaded the stone.  I had it moved. I have the sundial. Someday I'll get the sundial onto that stone!
        You'll note that this large rock is set deeply into the ground.  If left on the surface, it would have looked like it just rolled off the truck. Buried, it looks like it belongs where it is.   
Stones at base of kitchen porch steps
      Leftover stones also went into a circular path around the flag pole in the front yard, a pathway from the side drive to the milk house, an edging around the rock garden in back so I could mow without hitting the larger rocks, as mulch around the water faucet in the back yard, and as mulch near the house's foundation.  Mixed with the drain field stones are ones I gathered during other projects around the yard.
       A few years ago, the farmer who rents our fields reseeded them. That meant he had to "harvest" the copious crop of rocks that have pushed to the surface since the last time the field was planted. He piled those rocks at the edge of the field and I moved them two year ago to the ditch by the road in front. I'd like to line the entire ditch with stones, but to do so I'll need four times what is there now. That's not going to happen any time soon.
       The same farmer offered to move some BIG rocks into the yard for me. That was this spring before the weather went nuts. He hasn't had time to act on that offer yet, but I sure hope it still stands next spring! As you might guess, I have ideas for the placement of several, the bigger the better.
       When I move large rocks without help, fifty pounds is as much as I'll try to lift and carry. Even then, I don't carry that much for more than a few feet. To "lift" a large half (or more) buried rock out of the ground, I lever it up, pack dirt under it, and lever it up again, repeatedly packing dirt under it until it's no longer buried. To move it, I tip a wheel barrel on its side as close as possible to the rock, roll the rock into the wheel barrel, and tip the wheel barrel upright. Using this method, I can relocate rocks weighing a hundred pounds or more without assistance.
      




Mum's the Word

        My red mum hedge is so bright and cheery that it inspired me to buy some of these plants. That's right, I haven't purchased any mums before. I "inherited" the red ones from my son. The other colors came from drawings at my spouse's class reunions. But I bought five plants the other day, and planted fifty.
       In the past I've divided my mums in the spring.  I don't know if fall division will work as well. I'm not even sure that "divided" is the correct term to use here, but I went ahead and "divided" (or whatever it's called), all in the spirit of experimentation. Left alone, mums will self-propagate vigorously. I've moved mine around so many times that they haven't had a chance to take over any one spot, but I'm hoping that will change in the near future. I love the masses of color mums produce! And they do so with so little care! 
Mums and salvia
       To propagate, I break off a stem, being careful to insure that some roots are starting at the base of the stem. In the spring there are no flowers, so I simply stick the soon-to-be-new-plant in the ground and water it. For these fall purchases, I snapped off all the flowers, leaving four or five inches of stem, before putting them in the ground. The one thing mums do need to grow well is plenty of sunshine. I nearly lost the red mums years ago before I figured this out.  
       I couldn't leave all those lovely blooms lying on the ground! I brought handfuls into the house and plopped them into a tub, considered, then added some blue perennial salvia for height and color contrast and took a photo.
       I placed a row of yellow mums alongside the feverfew that grows along the fence at the east end of my herb garden, with a few more yellow ones under the trumpet vine in the center of the herb garden.  White mums now edge the single reddish mum (from one of those reunion drawings) at the west end of that same garden. I'm looking forward to viewing these from my east-facing kitchen window next fall.
Feverfew.  Next year, with luck,
there'll be a row of yellow mums on the
other side of this fence,
       The entire almost-lavender mum plant now resides in the rock garden where lavender and calendula grow.  I'll want whites in the Moon Garden, but for now I've put starter plants in a nursery near the strawberry patch. The magenta mums are near the old quince tree outside the west-facing kitchen window, with the rust-colored ones not far away in a rock garden that's been in the back yard for well over a hundred years.
       While I'm delighted at the prospect of all these colors next fall, I don't want to wait that long for a colorful yard. I expect hundreds of daffodil blooms in the spring, but what about the summer? I'm going to have to think about that.
       If you want to grow mums in containers, keep in mind that the size of the plant depends on the size of the container.  An eight inch pot can give you a blooming plant two feet across.

Note. Few fall mum starter plants made it through the winter. Best to wait for spring.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Black Locust Trees Burn Me!

Black locust grove in the back yard.
       Black locust is a fast-growing tree, attaining a height of seventy feet or more with a diameter that can exceed a yard. Nothing excels black locust for longevity when used in contact with the ground.  Posts have been known to last a hundred years. It makes excellent firewood when cured, and will even burn when wet. When my husband's family ran out of firewood during the winter, they could cut down a black locust tree and use the wood immediately. The tree fixes nitrogen in the soil, and bees use the flowers to make a famous honey. Its leaves are so small that it's rarely necessary to rake them in the fall; the wind disperses them. Sounds like a perfect tree to grow in your yard. 
Black locust at the edge of a garden,
growing from a root runner.
                                        
        It's not. The young trees and new growth sport thorns.  Large limbs on older trees have a deserved reputation for becoming widow makers. The tree spreads by seed and roots. This makes it invasive. A newly cut stump will produce dozens of sprouts. While you're trimming back the new growth, new trees will be coming up dozens of yards away. Want to clear ground for a garden? If you have black locusts in the area, you may run into a latticework of roots that will have to be dug, chopped, pulled, burned. Whatever it takes to get them out, and you won't get them all. 
       I've tried all sorts of tricks to get rid of specific trees.  To control the black locust invasion in the barnyard, I'm using a strong herbicide.
The tall growth around the silo is black locust trees.
The barnyard is choked with younger trees in a broad line
from the silo all the way to the left side of this photo.
There's no way I could begin to control them with my usual shovel work.  Even bulldozing wouldn't stop them.  Actually, bulldozing is what brought about the mess in the photo on the right. The machine tore out the bigger trees, but new growth sprouted from every little piece of root left in the ground.
         My most successful ploy for getting rid of a single tree has been to cut it down and cover the stump with heavy black plastic (the leftover pool liner I've mentioned in other blogs).  It's unsightly and must be left in place for months, and I still need to cut away anything the grows outside the covered area, but the stump does actually die, eventually.
       Oddly, as invasive as the tree is, it hasn't spread onto neighboring property. We have our own little copse around our old farmhouse. What I suppose is the mother of them all stands in the front yard, with a trunk easily three feet in diameter.  Black locust isn't native to this area, but that tree was big when my husband's family moved here over sixty years ago. I think of it as part of the history of this old house.  Bees have a hive in another black locust tree down by the road in front. Last year I observed bees there getting ready to move, a swarm five feet wide with a solid, living basketball-sized mass in the center. Awesome. As much trouble as the species is, we haven't made an effort to get rid of it completely. It's too useful for posts and as firewood.  I have to admit that the yard would look naked without it.
       Since the original post, I've learned a few more things about black locust, including an additional way to get rid of it--bring in the goats. We haven't done this yet, but maybe, hopefully, someday.... And of course, now that I may have a workable way of erradicating new growth, I've found another use for it. Slim, long, flexible black locust twigs make outstanding withies for wattling. I'm imagining really cheap-to-make fences for privacy and less ambitious ones for keeping the dogs out of certain areas. I want to make tomato towers using them. Then I've seen black locust listed as a source of poultry forage. Gaia's Garden says the seed pods can be ground and fed to chickens. Live and learn! (Isn't it fun!)
  

Monday, October 17, 2011

Homemade Pasties Made With Homegrown Vegetables

       Food for the body as well as food for the mind: that's what one of the organizers of my basic Master Gardener class called for. The class was held once a week, for four hours. We were encouraged to help provide edibles to keep our strength up during the training. Many people came directly from work. There were lots of cookies and nibbles, but few people had the time to prepare much more, especially dishes with protein. I volunteered to provide pasties.  I was told by several people that they had eaten pasties before and not been impressed.  My recipe changed their attitude.  
Pasties fresh from the oven, in jellyroll pan.
       I met my spouse at Michigan Technological University, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where signs advertising pasties are a common sight.  My father-in-law, brother-in-law, and sister-in-law's spouse also attended Mich Tech so it's not surprising that my mother-in-law had a pasty recipe. This is basically her recipe, personalized by me.
       I don't recall ever actually seeing a written recipe.  It was more "cut up the five main ingredients, mix them, encase them in pie crust and bake."  That works for me; that's the way I cook a lot of dishes; but for this blog I measured and weighed those ingredients so I could give meaningful directions.  Before I start that, though, I'd like to point out that a pasty can be made from nearly any grade of beef or any variety of meat, or even with no meat.  I've used pork, chicken, turkey, and stew meat, or whatever's on sale or cheapest.  I suppose ground meat would work okay, though the idea doesn't appeal to me.  I've made vegetarian pasties with asparagus instead of animal protein.  Whatever meat you use, you'll be delighted with how moist and tasty a pasty is when made with fresh-from-the-garden vegetables. 
      When I make pasties, I generally make extra to freeze.  Oven-ready frozen pasties are the perfect answer to what's for dinner? when I don't have time or am too tired to fix a meal from scratch.  The amounts given here make three dinner-sized pasties, each with about one and a quarter cups of filling.  Size is another thing you can adjust to fit your own family's appetites.
Meat Pasties:   One cup (1/2 pound meat), cut into small pieces    
                       3/4 cup potato (5 oz), cut into 1/4 inch pieces
                       1/2 cup carrot ((7 oz), cut into smaller pieces
                       1/3 cup rutabaga (2 oz), cut into small pieces
                       1/3 cup onion (2 oz), cut into really small pieces
       You may laugh (or groan) at the "small pieces" but small helps the flavors meld and makes for much tastier pasties.
        In a bowl, mix everything well.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add herbs if desired.  I don't add any to beef pasties, but sage with pork and garlic, parsley, and paprika, for example, are good with poultry.      
       Prepare pie crust.
Pie Crust:   In a bowl, mix 1/3 teaspoon salt with one cup all purpose flour.  Cut in 1/3 cup shortening.  Stir in about 1/3 cup cold water.  I like my dough a little on the sticky/soggy side.  Too little water makes for hard-to-work, dry crust.  If your dough seems too wet to handle, let it sit for a few minutes.  The flour will absorb the extra moisture.    
       Make a ball using a little less than 1/2 cup (about 4 oz) of dough.  Spread some flour on your work surface.  Flatten the ball a little in the flour.  Turn the dough over to repeat the process for the other side.  Sprinkle more flour if needed.  Roll the dough into an 8x12 oval.  Place 1/3 of the meat/veggie mix at the closer end of the oval.  Wet you fingers and run them over the dough around the mixture, except the back side.  This will help seal the dough.  Pull the far end of the oval toward you, over the filling.  With your other hand, gently roll the whole thing toward you to firm up the back of the pasty.  Trim the raw edges, leaving about an inch of both top and bottom crust.  Roll the edges toward the center, pressing the two layers of crust together to create a seal.
       Place the pasties on a lightly greased shallow pan.  If you use a cookie sheet, put the pasties on aluminum foil with the foil edges crimped up to catch escaping juices.  Bake at 425 for fifteen minutes. Reduce heat to 375 and bake for about 25 minutes more, or until inside of pasty reaches a temperature safe for the meat you're using.  (Yes, an instant food thermometer is really handy for this.)
       Serve hot, or cool, package and freeze.  If you plan to freeze, loosen the pasty in the pan while it's still warm.  If you wait until it's cool, you'll have a fight on your hands if juices have escaped.  If you package it before it's cool, it will fall apart as you work.  You can freeze the pasties raw if you haven't used frozen food in their preparation.  To reheat, use a conventional oven at 375 degrees for about forty minutes.  If you microwave, you'll get a soggy crust.
       Don't throw out extra pie crust.  If there's enough, you can line a pie pan for a single crust pie or a quiche, cover and refrigerate, but use within a day or two.  Or do what my grandma used to do: roll the crust out, cut into squares, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, and bake at 425 for a few minutes on a cookie sheet.  We used to eat these as they came out of the oven; now I wonder how they'd taste with a dab of jam on the warm square.
       Now comes the question of whether or not to top your pasty with catsup.  To my mind, doing so is an insult to the cook.  A good pasty is moist and tasty enough without drowning it with another flavor.  I hear that long ago workers carried this meal to work and heated it on a shovel over a fire.  I doubt they used catsup.  But (sigh) most people insist on it now.  Some non-traditionalists even opt for gravy or cheese.  My husband says the members of his American Legion post almost lynched the cook who suggested cheese on pasties at one of their dinner meetings. 
        When my daughter was near delivery time for her last child, she was still living with her mother-in-law.  She didn't need me to come help with the kids; instead, she asked for a freezer full of pasties to ease the burden of preparing meals.  Even the then-two-year-old could eat this meal without help from Mom, and it was a food the children were familiar with and liked.
        I realize I've included some really basic methodology here.  My intent isn't to insult you if you're an accomplished cook, but to help those who fear working with pie crust. 
        Somehow it doesn't seem appropriate to wish bon appetit for a meal suited to heating on a shovel, but, well, bon appetit.      

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Getting Nettled

       Nettled? My dictionary says this means being irritated, or arousing a sharp but transitory anger.This works for me. I can't begin to count the number of times I've been innocently pulling weeds or harvesting veggies, and been attacked by this vicious plant.
        Okay, it's just a plant. Plants aren't vicious; they just are. But still....
        The stinging nettle grows everywhere on our farm, often to a height of six feet or more. For a time I was merciless about ripping it out and tossing it on the compost pile. Actually, this is an excellent place to toss it, as its high nitrogen content aides composting. But I've mended my ways. Stinging nettle is a genuinely useful plant to have around.

Dried nettle, no longer stinging.
       First of all, it's food.  When my kids were young and game about experimenting with wild edibles, I cooked up a potful, boiling it like spinach. Cooking destroys the stinging properties. The kids ate it so it must have been reasonably tasty. I suppose I tasted it too at the time, but the experience must not have made much of an impression on me. I can envision eating it now in a quiche. First growth in the spring, to about ten inches, is supposed to be best for human consumption. Can't you imagine pioneers watching for this after a hard winter, eager for the first greens since the previous fall?
       The entire plant is used to make a soft gray green dye.  It has cosmetic applications and is said to stimulate hair growth. The stems provide a flax-like fiber for making fabric. It's rich in iron and useful in low-salt diets.
       But the main reason I hesitate to get rid of all of it, is that dried nettle is an excellent winter addition to stock feed. Wearing gloves and a long-sleeved shirt, I've gathered several bushels of nettle leaves, dried them in our commercial-sized drier, and buzzed them into powder in my Vita Mix. It makes a very fine powder; so fine that I let it settle for several minutes before I very carefully decant it. Half a bushel grinds down to only two cups or so. Seems like a lot of work for little product to me too.
       If you plan to gather stinging nettles for any reason, keep in mind that bruised dock rubbed on the sting serves as an antidote. And if you don't already have enough of this wonderful plant on your property, you can order seeds and plants from Richters Herb and Vegetable Catalogue.  Really.

      
    

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Children's Garden Update

West side of Children's Garden, July 2011
       The grandchildren haven't visited much this summer because their mother has been so busy with her own garden (http://adventuresofathriftymama/) but when they have come, they've spent time here.  We added the tire swing last year after Chris, that's our daughter, told us she's always wanted one.  She had never mentioned it before.  This is where the kids head now as soon as they go outside.  The littlest one likes the turtle sandbox.  When the oldest spent a few days with us during the dog days of summer, he had the slide positioned so that he could land with a splash in the pool.  None of them has taken a particular interest in the plants, but I'm hoping that will change as both the plants and the kids mature.  I've heard that Skyler already grows his own catnip stash.  I don't know if he's actually tasted catnip tea, which is a mild sedative for people, if not cats, and helpful for treating colds and fever.
West side of Children's Garden, late September, 2011.

       As with the Moon Garden, this project is awaiting completion of that darn pipeline to the barn.  I don't figure there's much point in planting anything on the east side of the garden until that's finished.  Meanwhile, this corner is filling in nicely.  Counterclockwise around the tree are lemon balm, day lilies, chives, parley, catnip, and violets.  I actually harvested and used some of the catnip and have dried enough to fill two quart jars.  The black post that appears to cut thought the slide is a maker for one of the red currant bushes I want to put in next spring.  There'll be one behind the tree and a third to its left.  I dug out existing soil and replaced it with an organically rich blend.  Sam helped with the digging.  While I was getting the replacement soil, he was actually in the hole, challenging his older adopted brother, Nightshade.  The post isn't to remind me where I intend to plant; it's to keep the dogs from digging in that lovely, rich soil.  The future currant site to the left of the tree is both dogs' favorite resting place when watching me work in the yard.
       I planted red creeping thyme in the background, just this side of the lilac bushes.  It's not doing well under the bench (behind the slide) where it gets too little sun, but among the lilacs it's doing fine.
       I'm still concerned that the black locust trees may be stunting the growth of some things I've planted.  Neither the nasturtiums or hostas are doing as well as I'd like.
       This corner of the garden has a daffodil border, which I've read is a barrier against grass.  I have grave doubts about that, but expect lots and lots of yellow blooms next spring, here and elsewhere in the yard.  I'd claim that I can't wait, but actually, I'm looking forward to some down time this winter!