Well, after many many weeks of waiting we got our first egg! Just this morning Marisa was asking me if I had any yet and I had to say no. I honestly was beginning to think I had somehow purchased three unexplainably sterile birds. That would be just like me. But I am so glad I was wrong. I was just out there holding one of the hens and bothering her quite a bit when I looked into their coop and saw what I thought was the ping pong ball we had put in to encourage them in their egg laying. Like, "Hey, doesn't this small round thing stir up some unspoken primal desire in you to lay eggs?" That was months ago so today when I thought I was looking at it I didn't think too much about it until I realized their were 2 ping pong ball like things in there! So I didn't waste a minute and ran inside and shouted to my six year old to hurry and get out back to see our first egg! We were and still are beaming with pride at our hen's first attempt - though small - at laying eggs. Finally!~Megan
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Sunday, February 24, 2008
As the motivation from my New Year's Resolutions to eat healthy wears off, the threat of bathing suit weather ensues, and I am anxiously awaiting the fresh veggies from the garden. Most climates this time of year are not ready for the growing season, so I'm on the prowl for ways to appease my craving for super fresh and healthy greens. My friend Amy taught me a while back how to sprout beans so I thought I would finally give it a try. I made a trip to Wild Oats for some organic Mung beans you can purchase by the pound.
Step One: Fill a large container with beans and water, soak overnight.
Beware that seeds soak up 2 or 3 times their volume in water. I forgot this piece of information and had to keep adding water. I didn't put them in a large enough container, so in the morning, I found beans overflowing all over the counter. Some of the beans in the jar were so tightly packed that it was hard to get them out. Luckily it still worked out for me.
Step 2: Once they have absorbed their full capacity of water (2-12 hours depending on the size of the seed), or in the morning, drain the water from the beans, rinse them and place them somewhere warm (around 70 degrees) out of direct sunlight. Rinse the beans twice in the morning and twice in the evening until they reach the desired sprout length (usually up to 2-3 inches for sprouts that will be eaten raw).
Be sure to rinse the sprouts or they could get sour. Store them in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Sprouts are one of the most nutrient dense foods out there, meaning the ratio of nutrients to the total calories is very high (this is a good thing, more bang for your buck, or nutrient for your calorie). Sprouts quickly loose their vitamin density, so it is better to grow small quantities often, to make sure you are getting as much nutritional value possible.
Some ways you can use your sprouts
- Eat them raw
- Throw them in a salad
- Blend them in with smoothies or other drinks
- Include them in your tacos or burritos
- Add them to stews and soups just before serving
- Put into sandwiches
- Mixed in dips
- Cooked in meatloaf and casseroles
- Fried up with omelets and eggs
- Stir fried
- Baked in breads
- Don't be shy, throw them in whenever you can
Best Seeds: clover and alfalfa
Best Beans: mung, lentil, and garbanzo
Best Nuts: almonds and hazelnuts
Best Grains: wheat berries and rye
Thursday, February 21, 2008
At least once a week I have a conversation like this in my brain:
brain: "That's good information, you should write it down..."And then, of course, I TOTALLY forget it. The worst is with directions. For some reason I always think - I'll remember that address - and then three minutes later when I'm driving around the neighborhood in circles I kick myself because I haven't a clue what the address was. While I may have a particularly bad memory, I'm willing to bet I'm not alone in this habit. Marisa and I talk about how it totally happens every year with our gardens. Each spring we start seeds or plant transplants and fail to write down when or how and then the next year we can't remember any of it and have to start at square one again. Well, not this year! This year we are starting gardening journals.
me: "No, there is no way I'll forget that - that's totally in there and impossible to forget."
brain: "I've heard that one before. I really think you should write it down somewhere..."
me: "No, see, I'll repeat it three times or something, don't they say if you repeat it three times you'll never forget it? Or I'll make up a rhyme for it..."
Now, garden journals vary from simple folders where you save seed packets and papers with notes jotted down, to elaborate books filled with actual seeds, before and after photos, and your personal thoughts on the whole process. Since this is our first attempt and we don't want to be overwhelmed by the whole thing we are starting simple. This year I am going to focus on:
- Keeping all of my seeds packets together in a dry place by gluing them in - cut apart so you can see the front and back
- Dates - planting dates, maturation dates, and end of season dates.
- Methods - fertilizers(if any), watering times, pruning, etc.
- Amount of Harvest - notes on how many tomatoes per plant we got and then how many we actually used!
- Miscellaneous notes - problems encountered, plants that fared particularly well, and plants that we hated.
Here's what you'll need:
- (1) Mead composition book
- (2) sheets of decorative paper measuring at least 7 1/2" x 10 3/8"
- (1) sheet of heavy weight paper - we used card stock(for the binding)
- (2) sheets of heavy weight paper in an alternate color - for the interior of the cover.
- (1) glue stick - we used Elmer's Purple School Glue Stick
- Scissors or paper cutter
Cut your decorative paper to 7 1/2" x 10 3/8" and paste each piece to the front and back - leaving a little lip to wrap around to the inside.
Because our composition notebook has rounded corners we needed to trim it to fit. Cut three small slits in the paper at each corner so it looks like this. Then glue each individual piece down - overlapping one another.
Now get your card stock and cut it to 9 5/8"x 4 1/4" and glue it to the outer edge to create a binding. (You can cut it smaller if you like that look better.)
For your inner paper cut each piece it to 9 3/8" x 7 1/4" and glue it inside each cover - overlapping the outer paper.
And voila! You've got one personalized and cute garden journal. We added some letters that we got from the craft store on the side just for fun.
I hope this all makes sense - it's a really simple project and should be pretty easy to figure out once you get going!
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Whether spring is months away in your geographic location or you already enjoy occasional spring-like days, this time of year is prime for garden planning. Here are some thoughts to get you going.
There is something for everyone when it comes to gardening. You need as little as a windowsill or porch to develop your green thumb. Some of the most rewarding gardening is done in containers. Try planting a selection of herbs and maybe even some mini tomatoes in a pot. Enjoy summer pesto and fresh tomatoes from small labors! There are many indoor and outdoor flowers that thrive well in various planters and pots. Many containers add ornament to plants. If you have land and ambition, you can grow on a larger plot, but container gardening is a great place to begin when space and experience are limited.
Seek Out a Mentor
Whether you are a newcomer in the gardening world, or an experienced grower, a gardening mentor can benefit your experience. Go to a local nursery on a weekday or early on the weekends when business is slow. Ask lots of questions and take notes! These professionals love to share their knowledge, and you likely will come away with a wealth of information. You can find mentors on the Internet as well. Find a gardening blogger from your town and bookmark his or her site. Maybe you have a friend or neighbor that loves to garden (it is easy to spot the neighbor who is a gardening hobbyist). Invite this person over for a Saturday brunch. Enjoy chatting over a meal, then look over your garden plot together. Your friend can give you advice on where to begin and add expertise along the way. Lastly, don’t neglect to spend some time at the library or a nearby bookstore to get inspiration and information on gardening. Gardening publications--especially seed catalogs--are great resources.
Explore Community Resources
One excellent way to immerse yourself in garden learning is to seek out the Master Gardener group in your community. Check out the American Horticultural Society index of Master Gardener programs in the U.S. (and even in some Canadian provinces) at http://www.ahs.org/master_gardeners/index.htm. Almost every community, rural or urban, has a Master Gardener program. Master Gardeners are volunteers trained by the Cooperative Extension Service, also known as the Extension Service of the USDA, land-grant university horticulturists, and local gardening specialists over a year’s time in gardening subjects. Consider becoming a certified Master Gardener. The certification requires a year commitment of one to two classroom instruction days per month as well as one to two practicum days per month in a demonstration garden. Class fees are typically around $150. Participants are also required to serve a number of volunteer hours as part of their training. If this commitment sounds too heavy, you can alternatively check the calendar of events or newsletter for the Master Gardener office in your area. Discover what lectures and demonstrations are offered to the public. Volunteers are also available over the phone for gardening questions. Leave your question in a message if you get an answering service. Master Gardener volunteers are very good at returning phone calls.
Friday, February 15, 2008
If you are sick of crummy winter weather, try this great salad and think happy spring time thoughts.
I've never grown edamame in my garden, but I have grown radishes and cilantro. This salad got me excited to get my garden going!
1 bag (16 oz.) frozen shelled edamame (green soybeans)
1/4 cut seasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 bunch radishes (8 oz.) cut in half and thinly sliced
1 cup loosely packed chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Toss the edamame, vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, radishes, and cilantro together in a large bowl.
Serve chilled or at room temperature
*recipe found in The South Beach Diet pg. 176
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Most of us were not around when the term “Victory Garden” was a household word. With food rationing in World War II, 20 million American families answered the call of the government to support the war effort by planting gardens in their backyards, empty lots, and even roof tops of city buildings. It’s estimated that these gardens produced 40% of the vegetables consumed during the war, stretching the food supply to feed the troops.
We are in a war now and we need Victory Gardens as much as we did in the 1940’s. Our battles are not fought in the islands of the Pacific or the fields of Europe but around the entire world and in particular across the United States and in our homes. I am not talking about battles of bullets, but epidemics of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other nutrition related illnesses. Our children turn their noses up at vegetables and vegetate in front of television, MySpace, and video games. Self-centeredness breeds isolation as we ignore our neighbors in our daily pursuits. Our degradation of the environment spawns air, soil, and water pollution. Depletion of fossil fuels and water tables threaten our food supplies. Biodiversity is sacrificed to monoculture food production. Our taste buds are assaulted by tasteless factory food.
Imagine if you will, shooting the riding lawn mower and replacing the checkerboard mowed lawn around the house with a fruit, vegetable, and flower garden. If everyone did this, imagine the impact on our world. The exercise of gardening and eating the resulting fruits and vegetables would dramatically improve our health. Our children’s minds and bodies would be stimulated and strengthened. We would gain lifelong friends as we exchange ideas with our neighbors over the garden fence. Instead of burning 10 calories of fossil fuels in producing, processing, and transporting every calorie of food we eat, we’d conserve our natural resources as we burn our fat calories in producing our own food. As we intensively manage our multi-cropped gardens, we’d increase biodiversity and avoid polluting the air, soil, and water. Instead of corrupting our palettes with tasteless uniform hybrid vegetables, we’d savor the flavors, colors, textures, variety, and nutrition of heirloom vegetables. Through Victory Gardens, we win all of these battles and make the world a better place for our families. Sow the seeds of Victory! Now is a great time to plan to plant & raise your own vegetables this summer. Grow a Victory Garden. Anyone and everyone can and should do it!
~Dale Maurice Johnson
*images found on Wikipedia
Saturday, February 9, 2008
I rather consider myself a kindred spirit to Jack, he of the famous beanstalk.
Were I in his shoes and sent on an errand to sell our dried-up milk cow so my mother and I could eat, could I pass up the allure of magic beans? No way! Not a chance.
I love seeds. I love handling them, rattling them in my palm. Sifting them through my fingers. Comparing their shapes and sizes. Picturing what they’ll become.
I love being able to buy them this time of year, which right now in my neck of the woods is a stark snowy winter at its fiercest. On a recent trip to the drug store to buy nasal spray and cough drops and flu medicine for those sick at home I also found a cardboard display of seeds, glorious seeds. I snatched them up. The neat, pretty packets, each with a photograph of sunny promise, did as much good for me, I think, as the medicine did for my family.
Magic beans indeed. In all my years of planting seeds I’ve never quite gotten over the miracle of it all. Just imagine – a single shriveled-up pea unfolding into a strong vine with dozens of shiny green pods. Or your dining table punctuated with a homegrown bouquet that started out the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Amazing.
It’s the potential within that makes seeds so fascinating. Growing them can be a highly satisfying hobby. For the last several seasons I’ve delighted in starting seeds indoors, increasing the amount I plant each year. There is no better antidote for the winter blahs, for me at least, than to watch my seedlings grow.
Other benefits of starting seeds are cost, greater variety and being able to lengthen the growing season. Of course the best part is the enjoyment of having a hand in the growing process.
Starting seeds indoors is really easy. Truly. Don’t be deterred because you don’t have a green house or even a light table. I don’t. Yes, those things can help, but if you have a sunny window, you’re on your way.
The Internet is a wealth of information on this subject. I found this article to be very helpful on explaining the basics. Keep in mind that the timelines given in this article apply to Missouri. To learn more about climate zones, including how to learn which zone you are in, check out this site. Also, Johnny’s Selected Seeds offers a highly informative seed catalog.
From my own trial and error I add these tips:
• Start out small. You’ll feel more successful with one container of well-tended seedlings than with multiple neglected flats.
• Zinnias, marigolds, alyssum, cosmos pumpkins, squash and even tomatoes are among the easiest seeds to start indoors. Plus they’re readily available. Beans are also easy, but are better suited to planting directly outside.
• Keep your eye open for good seed deals. My drug store excursion was 10 packets for $1. This is a great way to first tint your thumb green, then you can move on to more expensive, specialty seeds. Also consider sharing seeds with a friend. (Do you really need 20 zucchini seeds? NO!)
• Think of the ultimate planting conditions you have to offer. For example, is your yard or patio shady or sunny? Devote your seed efforts to plants with similar light needs. (Seed packets will detail this.)
• Look for warm areas in your home, since for many seeds temperature may be more critical than light. (After all, when you bury a seed, it’s in the dark! Again, the seed packet can tell you whether seed needs light to germinate.) Good warm seed-starting locales include the top of your water heater, dryer or refrigerator, and also the bathroom sink cupboard (especially if above a heat vent).
• If you lack a green house or grow light, be willing to move your seedlings around the house to maximize their sunlight exposure.
• When outdoor temperatures allow, take your seedlings outside for improved light and air circulation. (Think: if you don’t have to wear a jacket, it’s a good day to do this.) Start with about an hour a day in a sheltered (partly shady) area, increasing the amount of time and sunlight each day. This is called hardening off. Trust me on how important it is to do this gradually. I “burned” an entire flat of impatiens last year on a first sunny April afternoon. Now, who was the impatient one?
• Be creative in your use of pots and other containers. I will detail some of my ideas for this in a future article.
Most of all, have fun! Include the children in your life in this process. The world needs a few more visionary Jacks.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
I have this little motto K(eep)I(t) S(imple) S(ister). It helps me to prioritize what is important. Imagine how delighted I was to come across this book the other day. I've been practicing the 3R's since I was waist high to a grasshopper, and we were good stewards, fixers, savers, and re-users long before it was chic and trendy, but in my quest to "get back to the basics" I'm really intrigued by the amazing versatility of vinegar. In this book there is a whole chapter dedicated to "nature's most practical liquid".
- Erase Ball Point Pen Marks- pen ink (or crayon) on the wall? dab on full-strength white vinegar using a sponge, repeat until the marks are gone
- Unglue Stickers- to remove a sticker or decal saturate with full strength white vinegar (i've used rubbing alcohol for this too)
- Remove Water Rings on Furniture- to remove white rings off wood furniture, mix equal parts vinegar and olive oil and apply it with a soft cloth while moving with the wood grain. use another socft cloth to shine it.
- Clean Your Microwave- fill a glass bowl with 1/4 cup of vinegar and 1 cup of water, zap for 5min and then dip a rag and clean off the splatters
- Stop Reds from Running- soak new brightly colored garments in a few cups of undiluted white vinegar for 10-15min before first washing
- Remove Pit Stains- pour undiluted vinegar on the stains and rub gently before laundering
- Ease a Sunburn- to cool a bad burn dab with a cotton ball soaked with white or cider vinegar
- In the Garden- vinegar can treat rust, black spot and powdery mildew~mix 1tbsp cider vingar in 4 cups water into a recycled spray bottle and mist in the early morning or evening until the condition is cured
If you use any of these and they work let us know. Good Luck, and thank you, Reader's Digest for Extraordinary Uses for Ordinary Things.
Fill a spray bottle with 5parts water to 1part white vinegarFill another spray bottle with 5parts water and 1part ammonia
Saturate the stain with the vinegar solution, let it set for a few minutes, then blot and dryNext spray on the ammonia solution, and blot. Repeat until the stain is gone!
Well, it is still winter and still too early to be doing many things out in the garden so I bring to you another book review that can help in that planning phase.
Now, while this book may feature chickens on the cover don't assume this book is about chickens only. In fact, that is just one small section in an excellent book for anyone interested in adding some simple tasks to help improve the environment and simplify their own lives.
The book is divided into three chapters or sections. The first is entitled "No Need for a Yard" and has articles ranging from "Grow Salad Leaves in a Bay Window" to "Bake Bread" to "Make and Freeze Baby Food". The second section is for those with a a little more space - "Roof Terrace, Patio, or Tiny Yard." It's articles contain notes on raising veggies or fruit trees in pots/containers to square foot gardening and more. The third and final section, "Yard, Community Garden, or Field" gives some instruction on keeping chickens, ducks, geese or pigs; making "Freshly Churned Butter"; or making a "Wildlife Pond". This is just a very brief overview of the topics it covers - it really is quite a resource with many different ideas and projects to explore!
One of my favorite quotes from the book comes from the chief editor, Sheherazade Goldsmith:
"Working with nature rather than against it only helps to simplify and enrich our lives."I found this book in a local book store but it is available from Amazon for quite a reasonable price and I'm sure will help inspire you this season as well as become a great addition to your coffee table book stack! The book provides plenty of practical instruction as well as beautiful photos - which is a big deal to someone like me! So, whether you live in the city, a suburb, or out in the country this book and it's organized articles is sure to give you plenty of inspiration in your quest for a backyard farm. Or patio farm - or perhaps even a kitchen window farm!
Friday, February 1, 2008
Now, you may be wondering why someone would want chickens. It seems that the people that I tell about my chickens, most respond in one of three ways: 1)They either laugh and think I'm crazy, which is pretty much true, I am a bit crazy. 2)They are fascinated by it, want to know all about it, but would never actually do it. 3)Then there are the people that are fascinated by it, want to know all about it, and actually want to try it out. It seems that there are an equal amount of each type of person.
Now, I am a bit of an idealist. When I think of chickens, I don't think of stinky chicken coops, predators, the cost of keeping chickens, or the reality of it all. I picture beautiful Cinderella doing her chores singing while she is throwing feed to the chickens. I think of waking up and collecting beautiful brown eggs each morning. I imagine feeding my family eggs for breakfast that were freshly collected that very morning. I envision myself giving away beautiful fresh eggs from chickens that I have raised. I imagine my children selling the eggs to earn a few dollars during the summer. The best part of raising chickens, is that it really is all of those things I dream about. Yes, you do have to worry about the day to day chores that go along with having chickens, but their upkeep and cost is very minimal. It makes me feel that I have a piece of this: