Archive for the ‘garden’ Category

little hands, big help

It has been rather dry here.  I think it has rained once in the past two weeks.  Needless to say, we have been watering our square foot garden.  My older two girls like this chore, so long as they can wear those old hats.  They usually get wet, on purpose, and the plants get a good soaking.  I love having an extra set of hands or two around here for chores like this!


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In the summer, you will often find this on my kitchen table:

Growing roses is a family tradition on my side that my husband picked up as a hobby.  It makes me smile to see and smell them every day.  It makes him happy to be able to bring in beautiful bouquet for me.   The small pink roses in that bouquet are from a couple bushes called “Simplicity.”   They are transplants from my grandparent’s garden.

My dad’s parents were very good at raising roses.  Their last home had over 200 rose bushes.  In the summer, you could spend a couple hours browsing through them, noticing all the scents and colors.  It was a lovely place that I miss.  Why didn’t I take photos before Grandma moved?  Grandma moved in with my parents soon after Liz was born nearly 8 years ago.  They kept maybe a dozen roses at that location.  Their new house, though, doesn’t have any.   

“Touch of Class”  was one of my grandfather’s favorites.  We do not have the bush from their yard, but purchased one of our own after we put the addition onto our home.  It is a bit easier to care for and rewards you with beautiful, fragrant blooms like this:

My husband proposed to me, under grandma and grandpa’s climing rose arbor in the moonlight nearly 12 years ago.  Perhaps that is why he works so hard to keep the traditional alive.  It is a fair bit of work to keep roses disease and bug free.  I’m sure he questions if it is worth it or not.  Thank you dear for all the beautiful flowers you put in our home!

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The next couple days are supposed to get warmer and warmer, topping up in the 60’s!  Mind you, I am not under the impression it will stay that way.  I can think of at least two years in the past that we had snow on the ground in April.  My mind can’t help but drift here:

and here:

and here:

Okay, so that isn’t a garden, but it reminds me a long sunny days, fresh wash on the line, and just how tiny the twins were last summer. 

I am dreaming of berries, spinach, lettuce, beets, radishes, tomatoes, onions, and herbs.  They all grew so well last year I can’t help but do it all again.  Then there is the hope of potatoes, garlic, shallots, carrots, and peas.  Our CSA gives us plenty of peppers, corn, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cukes and green beans.  Then there are herbs, oh I can not wait for fresh herbs!  I’m starting to put together what my garden will look like this year.  My little 2x8ft bed might need expanded.  I’m thinking a 3×3 or 4×4 bed on the other side of the back doors might be nice.   I’m also trying to formulate a small cold frame or hoop house to jump start the growing season.  I’ve never had good luck with starting seeds indoors and transplanting them.  I’m hoping the direct sowing in warmed soil will give me an extra couple weeks with success…that and I am really anxious to get some spinach, lettuce, and herbs going!

In reality, the wind chill is 14F right now, though there is the promise of warmth a few days out.  Meanwhile, I browse sites like Tim’s Square Foot Gardening Page and this message board

What are you planting in your garden this year? Have you joined a CSA yet?  If you are interested in a CSA, be sure to visit www.localharvest.org for more info and farms in your area.

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 Keeper of the Home is having an Organic Gardening Carnival.  Join in the fun and learning!


This was my first year gardening.  Well, I planned one before (you can read about it here), got it planted, it was huge and quickly overgrew with weeds when I discovered that caring for a newborn while pregnant made the garden quickly lose priority.  The only thing I got from that garden was more cucumbers than a person could dream of eating or preserving.  Why is it that the standard garden wastes all the row space, produces so much harvest that your begging family to take some of it off your hands, and takes hours in weeding?  I need simplicity in my life, not another time consuming task, but then again I want fresh, healthily, responsibly grown produce for my family.  What’s a girl to do?

This year was a different story, I found a book called Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew and decided to follow his method.  It worked and I can’t wait until next year.  Forest made me two “boxes” to plant in that are each 2 ft by 4 ft.  Here they are planted and growing mid-spring (with egg shells crushed onto the surface to help get rid of slugs/snails):

The main idea of this method is that if you have good soil your garden will grow.  The area I live in is clay, lots of clay.  So with Mel’s formulated mix of peat, vermiculite, and compost your garden grows in a rather small, but nutrient dense space.  I know there is some question as to how “organic” the mix is, but for me this was the route to take as I knew it would be much more organic than what I was buying at the grocery. 

I had a great spring harvest of spinach, radishes, green onions, and lettuces.  Then for summer I harvested beets when the tomatoes started growing too big.  I don’t have a picture of it, but I planted my tomatoes in the back row and then trained them to grow up a trellis.  The fall plans had to be set aside seeing as our fall has been consuming with family and school.  I had planned to plant and harvest more greens, broccoli and a few other goodies.  I almost forgot my herbs.  In these little boxes I also grew two types of basil, lemon thyme, vicks plant, lemongrass, rosemary, sage, parsley, 2 cilantro plants, chives, and lavender.

The size was perfect for us as it supplemented where our CSA lacked in greens and herbs while providing extra tomatoes and onions for preserving.  Plus, it was manageable with our current lifestyle.  I think that I could do double the size next year just as successful so long a there is nothing else on my daily schedule.  Next year I wuold like to try my hand at carrots, potatoes, garlic and more herbs as well as a few other non-starchy veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, and maybe even some green beans.

Wrap-up of what I grew for the early and summer season in my 8ft by 2ft space:

  • radishes
  • different lettuces
  • spinach
  • onions
  • 3 heirloom tomato plants
  • beets
  • thyme
  • vicks plant
  • chives
  • lemongrass
  • rosemary
  • sage
  • parsley
  • cilantro
  • lavender

 Neat and tidy, no bending down and digging through for fruits, and minimal to no weeding!  I can’t recommend it enough.

Don’t forget to go to the end of this post and register for my little giveaway….Christmas is coming!

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CSA (oops)

For the last two weeks I have not posted a CSA report.  I am so sorry and am not sure where my head is.  Well, I do, my FIL is in his last days and fielding questions from the girls is nearly a full time job.  Death is so hard, even when you are “prepared” for it coming. 

For the last two weeks our boc has been nearly the same.  Here is what was in each box:

  • head of cabbage
  • cauliflower
  • 8 tomatoes
  • 2 butternut squash
  • 12 turnips (not big ones)
  • 6-8 sweet potatoes
  • 3 eggplant
  • 1 acorn squash
  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 12 apples

Needless to say we have enough squash to fill a whole freezer and ours is full.  Thankfully, they store well in our unfinished basement in milk crates.  They will keep nicely down there for months on end.  When I manuver my way down there (ick, we have a low ceiling, through the end of the garage, trap door, yucky (but dry!) basement) I get 2 or 3 of them.  They get cooked all at once and the extra frozen for in pancakes, soups, etc.  1 cup at a time works well as that seems to be the smallest quantity I use. 

I am pretty sure we will get a CSA tomorrow as well, but I do expect it to be the last or next to last.  We had two nights this week that dipped below 30.  I feel completely un-prepared for winter and it seems to be knocking on my door.  Food-wise I am good.  It’s more the garden, boots, coats, mittens/hats, etc. that I really need to get cracking on.

These next two weeks, I am once again going to be “boycotting” the grocery again with all my might.  Things are so tight, too tight and I can either whine about it or do something.  Since the food budget is the only  flexible one it is the one that goes on a diet.  Tomorrow I’ll head there for cheese, bananas, and other odds and ends necessary for the next couple weeks, but I plan on spending less tham $50.  Other than that I plan on buying my produce/eggs/milk from the farm and that is it.  I find in doing this that I pull things out of the back of my cupboards to use as well as planning ahead more.   If I am able togive our budget a $100-$200 cushion it will be well worth it.

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lavender, herbs, leafy greens, and strawberries with my garden helper

lavender, herbs, leafy greens, and strawberries with my garden helper

We try to preserve what food we can around here. In the season of life I am in, there is little time for a garden. We have tomatoes and herbs planted this year. Our CSA supplies us with enough to eat as well as a bit to put away for later. Any additional food stores I feel the need to prepare I can get from the local Amish or the Farmers Market.  My preferred methods of preserving food are my chest freezer, dehydrating, lacto-fermenting, and if I really have to this year I’ll try canning. 

While freezing and canning are a given to most people, lacto-fermenting and dehydrating are not your typical methods.  I touched on lacto-fermenting awhile back in my salsa post and will be talking more about it in the weeks to come.  It’s easy and so long as you have cool storage it’s a great way to increase your nutrients and enzymes in your diet.  Dehydrating is something I’ve really been trying to do the last 6 months or so.  I’m learning as I go and plan on sharing.  I have a post in the works, though it might be a few days until I get it finalized.  I do have some tips and suggestions that I wish I had known when I started. 

In keeping with my current theme of non-starchy vegetables, I’ll list some of my favorites and how we store them:

  • Celery- If your house is like mine, you buy celery for a recipe and then there it sits until it gets all rubbery.  I’m the only one in the house that is interested in eating raw celery (especially with PB and dried fruit on it…a kid at heart.)  I’ve taken to chopping it up with carrots and onions so that when I am preparing meat or soup I have a ready-to-go set of chopped veggies in the kitchen freezer to help start some good flavors.
  • Herbs-Most herbs get dried.  I do make some into oils, but I am not sure how much of the nutritional value of the herb is transferred into the oil.  Herb’s I’ve done into oils so far: Basil, Thai Basil, Lavender, Calendula, and Cayenne.  The Basils are both in olive oil and are used for food, the Lavender is in coconut oil for a lotion, the Calendula is in olive oil to be made into a salve, and the Cayenne is in coconut oil to be used as a salve.  I am sure if I wanted to use the Lavender or Cayenne for food purpose I could as with the coconut oil I do not plan on adding beeswax or any other additives…just strained and as is.
  • leafy greens-  Aside from spinach and lettuce I have little to no experience with other greens.  I do freeze spinach, though, as we often toss it into eggs, soups, or pasta dishes.   I intend to start including other greens in our diet.  I suppose some of these could be dehydrated as well. 
  • Broccoli and Cauliflower get frozen.  I cut them up a bit, wash well, and then freeze into meal sized portions.  Then those portions gets double bagged to help prevent freezer burn.  These go out in the garage freezer.
  • Cabbage- So far sauerkraut is all I’ve done to preserve cabbage and that seems to work well.  You chop it up, add some salt,whey, and Caraway Seeds in the jar and let it sit at room temperature for a couple days.  We store ours in the fridge and usually end up eating it in soups.
  • Cucumbers-Pickles are another thing that only one or two of us enjoy.  I made some last year and this year they still sit in the fridge (lacto-fermented again.)  I have a new recipe to try this year that I will photo-document for you.  Lacto-fermenting really is very easy and anyone can do it and gain those added enzymes and good-for-you extras.  Cucumbers abound this year and I’m not sure what to do with them all.
  • Peppers-Green Peppers are chopped and frozen for easy additions to meals.  Chili peppers are dried and ground into chili powder.  I would like to roast some red peppers this year at some point. I’m not sure how to preserve those.  Other hot peppers get preserved in our salsa.
  • Summer Squash and Zucchini-Most of this gets shredded and frozen.  From there I can make breads or muffins, squash cakes/patties, or throw it in casseroles, soups, or pasta.  I’m considering drying some of it this year as my freezer gets so full towards the end of the year. 
  • Green Beans- Last year I froze (surprise, surprise) a bunch of them.  We used them all.  In soups they tasted fine, on their own they were less than stellar.  This year I will dehydrate some and am going to try to lacto-ferment the others.  We all like canned green beans so I’m hoping the fermented ones will turn out more to our liking…even if we do end up cooking them and losing some of the lacto-ferment benefits.
  • Tomatoes-technically a fruit, on some non-starchy lists and not on others.  I’m throwing them in though as the nutritional benefits of tomatoes are great and they show up on some of the lists.  Last year tomatoes were made into salsa and then they were pureed whole (no core) and frozen as is.  The puree has been used to reduce into sauce.  This year I am going to dehydrate tomatoes as I had a friend give me a jar full of sliced dried tomatoes and I’ve used them in bread and on pizza’s.  They are very thin, I’m thinking of doing some in two thicknesses just to see.  I’m also thinking of attending an Amish produce auction and having a canning day with another friend and canning diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato juice.  It’ll be a lot of work, I’m frightened as she has a pressure canner, but I end up buying so much of this at the store and I would rather be doing it myself for cost and quality concerns.
  • Onions- We never have enough onions around here.  Some make it to get frozen for convenience and others into salsa.  I would like this year to buy a bunch and dry some and store the others in the basement and see how long I can get them to last (same thing with potatoes though they are not a non-starchy item…just something we tend to eat a fair amount of and spend too much money on in the late winter and spring.)

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I have never “canned” in the traditional sense of canning.  No steam bathing, no wax, no pressure cooking (I once had a bad experience with a pressure cooker…they scare me.)  To preserve things around here we lacto-ferment.  It sounds funny, but it is easy to do and a good way to not only preserve it but also give it a nutritional boost (much in the form of healthy gut flora.)  Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon is my go-to book for lacto-fermentation though I would like to get my hands on a copy of Wild Fermentationto see if it is my cup of kombucha (anyone get the pun?)  


All of the ingredients are garden fresh organics from our CSA (minus my own cilantro.)  The recipe uses whey, not a common kitchen ingredient, though I bet you have some and didn’t think about it.  I get my whey from our home-made yogurt.  I line a sieve with a piece of muslin and pour some yogurt in.  Back in the fridge it goes for a couple hours to drain.  The remaining yogurt cheese is usually put into a smoothie or popsicles and the whey is used for fermenting. The whey is important as it gives a boost to the good guys in preserving your product. 

The salt we use is Real Salt with all kinds of good extras in it.  If you salt is nice and white it isn’t as good for you as it could be.  Celtic Sea Salt, Real Salt, Sea Salt, whatever you use it should have flecks of good extras in it. To think all this time people have been taking what is good for you out of the salt!  The salt is important as it inhibits the growth of putrefying bacteria for the days you let your product ferment until enough lactic acid is present to preserve the veggies for months. 

Lacto-fermented condiments can be kept in a cool, dark place.  Cellars are ideal.  We do not have one, so I keep a box of stuff packaged and in our crawl space for winter.  In the heat of summer what I have left that is fermented is kept in the fridge.  Makes for a small fridge along with all the summer produce. Some day I’ll have a better set-up, though for now it works.

Here’s the process with pictures courtesy of my husband.

You need to start with washed produce, notice how unperfect my homegrown goodies are and please do not look too hard at my horrible knife skills.  I think after I take a photography class I should take a knife skills class as well….I know I’m dangerous. 

I use my Cuisinart to help chop so I start by quartering my two onions.  Here I placed them all in, don’t do that…one at a time works much better.  Pulse about 5 times and then once at a time checking consistency.  You don’t want them pureed, just chopped.

Do the same with a green pepper or two (I like to do this with yellow peppers just for more color variety, but alas green was all I had.)  Add to the bowl and mix as you go.  You’ll want to find a good mix for yourself.  Some people like mostly tomatoes, some want lots of peppers.  I’m not sure where we fall, but I know we like it how I make it.  This is a good time to add garlic, three healthy sized cloves went into this batch.

Tomatoes are best done by hand, they get too mushy and watery in the Cuisinart.  Core your six tomatoes and cut them in half at the equator.  Use your fingers to scoop out some of the seeds and juice leaving the flesh behind to chop up and add to the bowl.

Keep mixing it up to make sure it’s looking tasty to you.  Be sure to save your scraps for your compost pile.

Another lesson for you.  See me slicing those jalapenos without gloves all nice and slick.  Didn’t feel so slick when hours later I rubbed my eyes.  Wear gloves, I did a sink full of dishes and scrubbed with the veggie brush right after this photo.  Next time I’m wearing gloves.  6 jalapenos went into this batch, adjust according to your heat preference.

Cilantro, one of my favorite herbs.  You need LOTS of cilantro for this.  I had two good sized fist-fulls of it and in tasting the end product I wished I had  more.  Rinse well and dry (salad spinners are great for this part) before chopping up and adding to the mix. 

Next you need to add your whey, lime or lemon juice, and salt. 

Taste it to make sure it’s good, but know that your flavors will be individual at this point.  It takes time for the flavors to get to know one another and mix well.  These things don’t just happen at first meeting you know.  If you think it’s the heat you like and your pleased with it, ladle it into clean jars.  I have 3 quart sized jars waiting for this batch.  You want to be sure to leave an inch at the top as this will be fermenting and might build up some pressure.  The vegetables should be covered by their juices, if not add a little filtered water to cover them.

Ooops, it looks like we sampled a little too much!  That is the price I pay for having husband take photos for me.  He’s worth it though.

Fermented Mild Salsa

  • 2 large onions
  • 6 large tomatoes (peeled if you like, but I just don’t have it in me to peel them)
  • 2 green peppers
  • 3 big cloves of garlic
  • 6 jalapenos or to taste (seeded)
  • lots of cilantro
  • juice of three lemons or limes
  • 1/2 cup whey
  • 2 Tablespoons of Real Salt
  • water if necessary

Chop all veggies and combine in a bowl.  Add juice, whey, and salt.  Stir well.  Put in jars leaving an inch at the top.  Make sure juices cover top of veggies, adding a bit of water if necessary.

Let set at room temperature for 2 days before placing in cool storage. 

Keeps for months, though the longer it keeps the more flavor it has.  Our jars we opened at the end of winter left a bit of a fizzle on your tongue…interesting but still very tasty!

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