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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Putting the garden to bed...

Here's an image I took yesterday morning. It reminded me that not everyone is sitting on the sofa watching Christmas movies - some are still busy at work. So since today is the first official day of winter, I thought I'd make a quick mention on getting your vegetable garden ready for the winter. You may have already done some things and if so we'd like to hear about them, if not, it's not too late to get started. If there is snow on the ground - wait until the next warmer day when it melts and get to work!

While not as many of us are ambitious enough to grow winter crops that doesn't mean there is nothing worthwhile to do in our gardens. Winter is a great time to introduce some compost so that throughout the coming months it can work it's way into the soil and introduce some much needed nutrients. If you fertilize it's also good to distribute that into the soil so it can really penetrate and be ready for the spring planting. So, if you've gathered in your last harvest and are ready to put the garden to sleep check out the following links for some good reading!

Here's some practical tips from the garden stew online community

Here's a link to a fellow gardener and her methods

And below is a video with some really helpful information:

For the rest of the clips in this series - click here.


Monday, December 8, 2008

Real Food Challenge: In Summary

My real food challenge is complete and what are the findings? You may be surprised by how many there were!

First off, I lost weight. Granted it was the week after Thanksgiving - but the few pounds I gained the week before quickly went away. That is a lot considering I'm pregnant. Second, I wasn't hungry! This was surprising because I love food and usually I feel starving at different times throughout the day but not this past week. I felt satisfied for several hours after each meal. Third, I have an irritable bowel that tends to slow down VERY easily - even though I get more than the recommended dosage of fiber every day! But this week - all of the problems stopped! I didn't expect that but I had no bowel issues what-so-ever! Isn't that interesting? I think a lot of that has to do with the "mostly vegetables" part of the challenge. Fourth, my kids didn't complain near as much as I thought they would. They treated it more like a game, asking me if this was a real food or a food product. They were even eating my strange made up vegetable concoctions! Fifth, I just felt better - maybe even happier. Last but definitely not least, the food tasted way better. I was expecting this but I think I was still a little surprised by the quality of it all. Even down to hot chocolate. We made our hot chocolate from scratch on a couple cold nights last week and then when it was all over my husband made some from a nicer mix we had and it didn't even come close to comparing. And in the end, taste is what really matters to me.

Now was it all easy schmeesy? Not completely. I wish I had prepared better. I had to make up most of my entrees and I wish I has some recipes with foods that are in season and all natural. That would have been pretty easy but I just didn't do it. Also, I should have planned by making some substitutions for things we eat instead of just going without. Like mayo and ketchup - those are simple things to do but you're not going to do them the night your making hamburgers.

So, in the end? I don't know. It's funny - it's not like you want to just start eating cheetos every day. So you wonder what to do next. I think we'll be keeping most of the new habits we picked up just with a little more leniancy - like...hmm, I don't know - I can't think of any one thing I want to give up but I imagine those things will come up - we'll just take it one meal at a time! All in all, I highly recommend that you do a little week long experiment yourself. Your eyes will be opened and your bodies will be happy. So, give it a try and let us know how it goes for you and yours!


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Real Food Challenge: Days Two and Three

Day 2 was a great day. I went to a store about a little less than a half hour away that sells organic and natural foods and was surprised by how little real food even they carry. But in the end we came home with a pretty good bounty. Click on the image to see more details if you'd like. So we ate our grass fed lamb with potatoes and curried brown rice for dinner. It wasn't the greatest meal since I kind of had to make it up with the things I could find at the store and at home but it was good enough.

Today(Day 3) has reminded me of why most people don't eat real food. It was one of those days that moms have every once in a while where everything is crazy and you wish you could just order pizza for dinner. We are supposed to have bison burgers for dinner but since I couldn't find buns without additives or white flour I knew I needed to bake my own. Needless to say that dinner is fast approaching and there are still no buns. And still no oven fries. Ahh! What does a mom do about real food dinners when she's in a pinch? Pancakes, perhaps? I'm still not sure but I'm not giving up yet. I'll let you know how it goes!


Monday, December 1, 2008

Real Food Challenge: Day One

My real food challenge based on Michael Pollan's book, "In Defense of Food" was originally going to be last week but I soon realized it would conflict with Thanksgiving. Because we were eating with a lot of my husband's extended family, I didn't want to be the jerk asking everyone what they used to make their dishes so I decided to hold off until today.

I started the morning with my typical toast. Since the bread I buy has only 6 ingredients - all of which are real foods instead of food products - I got to enjoy my usual fair with some basic salted butter. For lunch I had some homemade macaroni and cheese with the addition of tomatoes to add some vegetables. I know, technically tomatoes are a fruit but oh well. That afternoon I knew I needed to head to the store to get some food as my cabinets were bare after the long week away. Because I live in a small town my options for shopping are limited and since my time was limited today I had to head to the big town Walmart. I spent most of my time in the produce section buying what was in season and what looked good. I didn't have any sort of list with me so I just grabbed a hodgepodge of things - spaghetti squash, tomatoes, and broccoli. I added some Parmesan cheese and was on my way out when I noticed that Walmart actually sells some bulk goods like beans and dried peppers. I had ever seen these items as they were tucked in between the donuts and the store made cakes! I decided that it doesn't get less "produced" than that and got some pinto beans and peppers. When I got to the checkout I soon discovered that I am not the only one that hasn't seen these items since after literally ten plus minutes of the checker trying to figure out what to make of them I gave up and told him to keep the beans and dried peppers!

For dinner I threw most of those things together except the broccoli, added some cooked cubed potatoes, olive oil, garlic, spices and red pepper flakes into some sort of squash goulash. It felt like some sort of food peasants in Italy might eat but I was happy since it definitely met the criteria of mostly vegetables. I knew I'd like it but was very pleased to see my kids enjoy it as well! So day one seems to have worked. My boys are already missing their honey-nut cereal and my husband cheated by eating some doritos for lunch but all in all it wasn't too hard to choose foods that make such a huge impact on my health and the health of the planet. We'll see how the next few days go!


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Game of Squash

Step right up, folks! Come guess the weight of this squash. Hey, you there -- you look like you want to play, come pick a number. What have you got to lose? Step right up!

Wow us with your squash estimation skills by sending us a comment. We'll let you know later who's closest! (And no, you won't risk winning said squash as a prize -- can you imagine the shipping charges?! Besides, I have big plans for this beauty.)

Yes, banana squashes can be big, but this one from my garden borders on freak show proportions. (For reference, it's sitting atop a standard-size patio chair.)

Squashes are broken down into two categories: summer and winter. Summer squashes have delicate skins and include crookneck and zucchini. Winter squashes store well at or below room temperature for several weeks, in part thanks to their hard rind. Banana, butternut, hubbard and acorn are a few of these varieities.

Winter squashes lend themselves to breads, pies, pasta fillings, soups and much more. Try them in your favorite pumpkin recipe in place of it, their more publicized cousin. After being cut into pieces and seeds removed, winter squash flesh can be baked, boiled or even microwaved until tender. Small squashes may also be cooked whole in a slow cooker. For baked goods, drain cooked flesh in a colander for about an hour to remove extra moisture.

Here's one of my family's favorite uses for squash, a soup that has slowly helped me convert my husband into a squash fan. The quantities below are just guidelines; I don't go by a set recipe. But that's the beauty of soup -- you can adapt it to your own tastes with great results.

Squash-haters' special request bisque

2 lbs. winter squash (butternut is especially good)
1 large onion
1-2 cloves of garlic
1-2 stalks celery
2 quarts good quality chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup cream (can also use evaporated milk)
Favorite herbs (sage or rosemary work well)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup chopped ham (optional)

Heat oven to 350. Prepare squash by removing seeds and stringy fibers. Place pieces cut side up in pan, uncovered, and put in oven. (It's OK if oven hasn't reached full temperature yet.)

Alternately, you can put prepared pieces in a covered dish in the microwave and cook for 10-20 minutes. This is quicker than oven method, but I think the roasted flavor the oven imparts is worth it if you have the time.

While squash is baking, mince garlic and chop onion and celery. Add vegetables, bay leaf and chicken stock to a large pot. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer, and let vegetables cook until extremely soft.

Check squash in oven for tenderness after about 40 minutes. When done, remove skins from flesh. (If it's too hot to handle, let cool while you do the next step.)

Remove bay leaf from stock mixture and discard. Ladle softened vegetables into blender or food processor and process until smooth. (Do so in batches if needed.) Puree squash with small amount of stock.

Combine everything back into your pot. Slowly stir in cream and warm over low heat. Adjust seasonings and add ham. Serves 8.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Eat food, Not Too Much, Mostly Vegetables....for a week.

Well, I just finished "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto" by Michael Pollan and it was excellent. I whole heartedly recommend it to everyone. It's a short read but jammed full of information that is likely to change to way you see a lot of things. Part of the book talks about "how to eat" - this is not a diet or a list of forbidden foods. Instead it recommends the three things listed in the title of this post:

Eat Food - this means no food products: i.e. imitation foods or foods that your ancestors wouldn't recognize as food. That also means if the ingrediant list is long and full of things you can't pronounce - it's probably not food but a food product. It's a lot more detailed than that but you get the idea...

Not too much - this means we enjoy our food and don't gorge ourselves on it. We eat more like the French who eat smaller portions of higher quality food.

Mostly vegetables - this means that we eat way too much meat in the country because it has become so cheap. Our ancestors ate a lot less just because it wasn't as available - as do people in other countries. We needs to eat more vegetables with meat being the side dish.

I have oversimplified the book's message by a million - there are health reasons to eat this way but just as importantly environmental, political, and social reasons. In my opinion this book needs to be read hand in hand with The Omnivore's Dilemma which I am still reading - it's a lot longer. Anyhow, my point being that I want to try it out starting this coming Sunday.

I wanted a little time to prepare so I could have it in my mind what I could make. You'd be surprised by how much isn't true food anymore - at least partly. Like today I wanted a tuna sandwich but when I looked at the can saw that it was partly vegetable broth - meaning soy flakes! I ate my tuna still but next week I won't be able to unless I buy the raw tuna and cook it myself. Anyhow...I'll let you know how it goes...I'm curious what my week will be like and I'm betting the food will taste a lot better - as long as I do my job right!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Late Bedtimes

All over the neighborhood gardens are tucked in for the winter. Summer’s bedding is ripped out, dirt is fluffed up, here and there are cushiony pillows of leaves to compost.

I’ve witnessed many such plots as I’ve tooled around town, seen these sleepy little yards with nice square corners. Wouldn’t you know it, though – my garden is the one up past curfew. And it’s a night owl, I tell you, still churning out produce.

For areas with distinct seasons, conventional wisdom suggests that when fall comes, and leaves and temperatures drop, it’s time to yank everything out of the garden. No questions asked. During the last spring, after all, many recreational gardeners may have planted everything at the same time, too – just because that’s how they’ve always done it. Plant at once, rip out at once. It almost makes sense.

Yet this view doesn’t take into account that different plants grow best under different conditions. Spinach, broccoli, lettuce, carrots, peas, chard and cabbage, for instance, are labeled as cool-season crops. Generally we take this to mean we can plant them earlier in spring, before established last frost dates. They like things on the cold side.

Quick question: How does fall compare to summer? It’s cooler, of course. Given the chance, these veggies can thrive beyond summer; fall marks a return to the climate they love. You can keep such plants mulched during the heat of the summer, or can sow seeds around July or August for an entirely new crop in autumn.
Garden crops still can flourish, even though it's late enough in the season that trees are stripped of leaves.

Fall: It’s the new spring. Or at least summer’s encore.

I just couldn’t stand to pull out a plant that was still pretty and green when everything else leaned to gray and decay. (Plus, I was too lazy – ahem – busy.) That’s why I hadn’t touched my upper garden bed yet. I nearly nipped my bonus harvest in the bud.

Instead, it was practically the opposite of “ya snooze, ya lose.” I was delighted that my broccoli plants offered several more side shoots, and I can tell the Swiss chard is also growing more stems. I plan to keep my chard plants well mulched throughout the winter just to see what happens.

Even some raspberries form a fall crop, as I discovered by chance. Naturally I was delayed in pruning. Lucky for me, though! I would have chopped away the bearers of deep red jewels. It has already frozen here on several nights, driving away the insects that kept me from fully enjoying earlier berries.

Consider having your cool-season crops in a separate bed(room!) from the rest of your garden. That way you can prepare one plot in early spring and let it lie undisturbed through fall when you want to pull out the rest of your garden.


Friday, November 7, 2008

My friend Dee sent me this postcard from China, and I just love it. She said that the farmers get small areas from the government for farming for 15 years. They make the most of what they are given and it is hard work. Isn't it just beautiful? Thanks for sending it Dee!


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Our best day ever...

About five months ago I welcomed my third son into the family and since then my life has been a whirlwind. Maybe you've noticed I have only posted like one time since then? Thanks Marisa for taking up soo much slack! And then, a couple months ago, when my new baby was three months old, I found out that once again I was expecting. Crazy stuff, eh? So needless to say, I've been tired.

This past weekend I was really ready for a break so we headed up north to Grandma & Grandpa's house. I love their place. They are probably my original inspiration for backyard farming. They have just under an acre but have turned it into an Idaho eden. At least in my mind. This weekend we were able to wander through their huge garden and pick and eat to our heart's content. We dug out huge red tomatoes from under their huge vines - tomatoes as sweet as strawberries and bursting with flavor in your mouth. We moved onto their yellow raspberries and I can assure you that only a handful made it into the bucket to take inside - most went quickly into our mouths. Their sweet flavor was better than any candy. Later both of my boys got to wander through the back and pick out their very own pumpkin. My seven year old son declared after the afternoon of filling our bellies with the bountiful fall harvest, "This is my best day ever!" And I have to admit, my day was just as good.

Gardens have healing properties beyond their nutritional values and herb teas. That day, just wandering down the wide rows of their backyard farm was rejuvenating. Pondering over the wonder of these treasures swept away my fatigue and replaced it with gratitude. The experience of tasting a tomato off the vine, still warm by the sun is like none other. It is life at it's richest and fullest. And it's moments like those that help us recognize the emptiness of television and other media. Those experiences help us distinguish between the deep and often complex flavors of reality and the manufactured saccharin sweet so readily available around us. And perhaps that may be the most important thing we harvest from our backyard farms.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The undead...

For Halloween I thought I'd share a back from the dead, zombie story - at least as close as one can find in the garden! I can't tell you how many times I have "killed" this aloe vera plant. We first got it at a farmer's market from a woman selling lots of odds and ends. She came up to us as we were leaving and offered us a small grocery store bag. Inside was a near dead, smelly, soggy, little aloe vera shoot. She said she couldn't sell it since it was in such bad condition so we could have it. Ever since the hippies living down the street with their cactus collection would share their aloe gel with us I've wanted one. So I took it and wondered if I could get it to grow with my barely green thumb.

But it didn't grow. It just sat in a pot on our porch and gave off the smell of death. So I researched a little and thought that maybe the Texas humidity was too much for it. So I brought it inside and put it in my son's bedroom window since it got the most light. And it started to get strong and turn green again. I thought it must be the warmth and was pleased. I was afraid to water it too much since I had read that it needed drought like conditions with a watering every once in a while. And once it was strong enough again I once again moved it out on the porch only to find it dying again. What I didn't know was that every night when we'd give the boys some water to drink my son would reserve some for the plant and give it the last few drops. He knew how to recreate drought like conditions perfectly!

By the time I realized that my plant had turned completely brown and limp with it's few stalks hanging over the edge of the pot. I had completely given up on it but hadn't gotten around to getting rid of it yet when my son asked if he could water it. I told him it was dead but to go ahead since it couldn't hurt now. He doused it with water - like tons and tons. And to my HUGE surprise - a few days later there started to be some green patches appearing on the seemingly dead plant. And it started to come back! We went through this cycle a few more times but after a move across the country this plant was dead for real. This time it wasn't just droopy - it was shriveled, light brown and kind of crispy. I knew it was dead this time and moved it under a bench in the backyard and forgot about it. Well, a couple weeks later this is what it looked like. And it's been thriving ever since. This plant is one tough survivor - no thanks to me! I guess the conditions out west was just what it was looking for!

So now, I don't touch it - I don't even water it. Though I am wondering if it's time to bring it in since the nights are starting to dip below freezing. I am sure some of you wiser gardeners can tell me what my next move should be and how to better care for my little zombie.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Farming Game

A little while ago when visiting my sister in law we had a little bit of a "girl's night in". We had put the kids to bed and both of our husbands we out of town so we invited another sister-in-law over and decided to play some games. My SIL Jodi then pulled out this game and immediately I put my vote in the play it.
It's called The Farming Game and was first issued the year I was born! She played it as a kid and still has the old game around. Here's what wikipedia had to say about it:
The Farming Game is a board game simulating the economics of a small farm. Published in 1979, it was designed by George Rohrbacher, a rancher in Washington State. The Farming Game painfully reflects the real life difficulties of running a farm. Also, the names and places in the game are the names of families farming for generations in Yakima Valley and other parts of Central Washington. When Rohrbacher invented the game, it was a desperate time for his failing farm and small family, this is reflected in the difficulty of the game, and the multitude of points taken into consideration in farming that are often left up to chance. It is considered a board game which has educational value.
It's actually REALLY addictive and fun.

Each turn around the board is considered a season with planting and harvest dates you try to land on. You are also able to purchase land/cattle/seed/etc. in the spring and put it on your farm. You can see mine above - I went for the cattle and the orchards. They are harder to land on but make you more money. During the game you have to draw cards called "Farmer's Fate" & "Operating Expenses" that talk about typical challenges like your tractor has broken or like in the card above that the IRS has garnered your wages because you files your taxes wrong. Ouch! Over and over again we kept saying, "Poor farmers! How do they ever make any money?" And it also made me realize how much farming is a gamble - depending on mother nature for their livelihood!

In the end, I LOVED this game and found that it is still for sale online. I can't wait to share it with my kids so we can all dream about our future farms with a little bit of perspective!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Bring back the Victory Garden!

This is a film from over 60 years ago about Victory Gardening. If you don't know much about these Dale wrote an excellent article a while back that will get you really excited about them! I know this film is a little long but if you're like me you'll eat it up! Chances are that since you are at this blog you'll feel the same way!

Victory Garden Film from the 1940's

Click Here to see the film

p.s. It's not really organic farming but you'll have to forgive them for that...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

My Lucky Day

I have been coveting boots like this for the last few months. Oh, those chores would be so much more fun if I got to slip on cute waterproof rain boots before going out to feed the chickens or clean their coop. Well today was my lucky day. I was on my way home from a soap making lesson with my friend Holly and called my husband Michael to tell him I was coming home. He told me to go and find something to do for a while and he would watch the kids. I didn't have anywhere I really wanted to go, and was low on cash so I told him I was just coming home. I spotted a Salvation Army and decided that maybe I would just take a peak in there, I'm a sucker for a good thrift shop and yard sales. I was hoping I could find some soap making supplies, possibly some soap molds, mixing bowls or a mixer that I could use for soap. I didn't find any soap making supplies, but I did find these cute boots, brand new for only $10! Oh the joy.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Canning grape juice

My mother-in-law Sandra is an expert at canning and over the years has canned quite a bit. This year she let me join her in her harvest of grapes to make some canned grape juice. Now, I don't know why we call it canning when we put it in jars but oh well, we do. Now, obviously this post isn't designed to be detailed how to instructions, but more to demystify the process and show you how simple it can be.

Sandra harvested her grapes before I got there and had three or four tubs full of grapes ready to go. The first step was to wash the grapes. You don't need to stem the grapes - it won't affect the flavor of the juice. But you do need to wash them unless you want the flavor of little spiders and dirt in your juice. We also took out the few dried leaves that had ended up in the batch.

Then pile them into your steamer juicer - all the way to the top. Put the lid on and start steaming them according to your steamer's directions - somewhere around 60 minutes.

During that time the juice will slowly flow out into your waiting container. In our case a pitcher for ease of pouring into our jars.

After your done you'll end up with some pulp that looks like this. You can reserve this pulp to get some diluted juice from it later on if you'd like. It must be good for something!

Once you've got the juice pour it into jars ready for canning. Make sure the top of the bottle is clean and free from juice so the seal can be nice and tight. We then went on with the canning process - boiling the jars for 15 or so minutes and then letting them cool and seal.

And voila! You've got homemade healthy juice to enjoy for a long time. Wasn't that simple? I thought it was and already my boys are begging me to open up yet another jar! By the way, we do dilute our juice a little bit - you might like it 100% or not - just play around a bit to see.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

From Russia

I am working in Russia this week and a coworker here was telling me about the summer at his dacha. Here in Russia as well as the other former soviet republics and even in other countries of the world, many people who live in the city have dachas in countryside. Here, city is for city folk and country is for farmers. There is no suburbia. When you live in the city you live in an apartment, town house or condo. You have no yard.
But those who can afford it rent or buy a small plot of land, usually less than 15,000 square feet (1/4 acre) in the country near the city. They will usually build a small dwelling called a dacha that is about 250 square feet. The rest of the space is used for gardening. They are very productive gardens. They grow fruit trees, bush berries, vegetables, and flowers. Their dacha is next to dozens of other dachas that also have fruit, vegetable and flower gardens. It is a Garden of Eden. The city folk spend the week in the city working. On weekends, they go to their dachas to tend the gardens.
It is a different mentality than we have in the U.S. They don’t want to commute. They want to live in the city. But they also want to have a little space in the country for gardening. Many of them would think our suburban lifestyle is silly. Why live so far from work and WHY MOW A LAWN!? Why not use that land for growing a productive garden!? Their dachas are usually very cute but most impressive is their gardens. It is not just a hobby. They want to grow their own food for health and economic reasons. It is a way of life.
Americans certainly would not want to give up our suburban life style. But think how we could improve our lives if we could give up our checkerboard mowed lawns and have our own little Garden of Eden around our home. The Mormon Prophet Brigham Young said to his followers who were pioneering a whole new ecosystem in the Great Basin of western North America “The soil, the air, the water are all pure and healthy. Do not suffer them to become polluted. Strive to preserve the elements from being contaminated. Keep your valleys pure, keep your towns pure, keep your hearts pure, and labor as hard as you can. Adorn your habitations, make gardens, orchards, and vineyards, and render the earth so pleasant that when you look upon your labors you may do so with pleasure and that angels may delight to come and visit your beautiful locations.” I don’t think he had in mind checkerboard lawns. I love this quote and it is part of the vision for my life.
Dale Maurice Johnson

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Green Eggs and Ham?

No, we are not getting ready for Easter in October, these is how my chickens lay them. My neighbor didn't believe me that the girls can actually lay green eggs. I had to have my son convince her that we bought chicks that would lay colored eggs.

I was beginning to think that the girls would never lay their colored eggs. They should have started laying by the end of August, it is now mid October. It is so frustrating when they are "over due". After I gave 3 of my chickens to my friend Holly, my Americaunas started plumping up and got considerably larger. Michael and I think it is because they were on the bottom of the pecking order, they were last to eat and didn't ever get their fair share. Now that they only have to compete with 2 other ladies, they get more time to eat and have plumped up, and have begun to start laying. It is so exciting!


Friday, October 17, 2008

Our Last Great Tomato Harvest

This time of year is always so sad for me. The weather gets colder and I have to watch my garden wither and die. We had one last tomato harvest this last week, I will miss seeing all the beautiful colors and different varieties of tomatoes we planted this year. It was fun to bring our purple tomatoes to friends homes and parties (pictured on the right), people would inform us that our tomatoes have spoiled or gone bad. Then we had the chance to educate them on heirloom tomatoes. They would taste the tomatoes and be so surprised at the amazing flavor. I will be collecting the seeds and sharing them with my friends in hopes that we will increase the diversity of produce being planted, and take some power away from Monsanto.


Monday, October 13, 2008

So many (green) tomatoes, so little time

New tomato blossoms dangle beneath darkened, frost-nipped leaves.

So what’s it going to be, Mr. Tomato Head? Are you coming or going?

This sight in my yard, the utter juxtaposition of the garden’s life cycles, amused me. Within hours it’s supposed to snow here. (Psst . . . don’t tell this guy. He’s banking on many more sunny days ahead.)

It’s not a bad philosophy really, to be filled with so much optimism that we never shut down. But I know the cold, hard truth. Emphasis on cold.

Unless you’re fortunate to live in a temperate climate, cold will come, and your tomatoes will not like it. It can break a gardener’s heart to see a plant not reach its potential! Yet don’t despair when forecast frosts come up against plants still full of fruit.

Squeeze more out of your plants by covering them with blankets at night, or by harvesting green tomatoes to ripen indoors. Covering your plants at night is helpful when you know that an early freeze will be followed by warmer temps again, in which tomatoes can still develop. In preparation for a hard frost (the sure sign of winter), an early harvest is the only way to go.

The best candidates for ripening off the vines are those tomatoes that already show a slight blush. Teeny green tomatoes most likely will not turn red; they have to be full-size to ripen. If you’re picking tomatoes to avoid a hard frost and aren’t sure if one is full-grown, go ahead and harvest it anyway; you have nothing to lose.

Store your tomatoes in a single layer in a dark place with a steady temperature (best on the cool side). Garages or unheated basement rooms are ideal. I like to use black plastic planting flats or the shallow cardboard boxes from cases of canned goods to store my tomatoes.

With large quantities, sort tomatoes by degree of ripeness, or shades of the rainbow, into your trays. It makes sense that all tomatoes of similar colors should ripen about the same time.

If you are bursting with green tomatoes, wrap them individually in a sheet of newspaper before placing in your storage tray. Open a few every week to assess level of ripeness. You may also bring some into your warmer kitchen to ripen when you’re ready to use them soon. Although I can’t explain why, I know this method works to preserve your tomatoes well past Christmas! Sure, these tomatoes may pale compare to those at the peak of summer, but it still beats grocery store fare. They are particularly good in cooked dishes.

Another option, if space allows, is to rip up your entire plant and hang it upside down inside, like in your furnace room. Hanging provides good air circulation, and another bonus is that this step may appeal to you as a faster way to harvest.

Rather than waiting for tomatoes to ripen you may also want to try recipes using green tomatoes. I haven’t done this yet, but would love to hear any of your tried and true favorites.

I have had great success with my end-of-season tomato harvests, often times exceeding the amount of tomatoes I gleaned during the summer. What a great way to extend the joy of gardening.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Lemonade from Lemons

This year my garden did not perform well. It looked healthy and grew unremitting, but did not yield. I did not harvest ONE squash, zucchini, or heirloom tomato. I would check my plants, they were green and thriving and producing dozens of blossoms. Then the next day my blossoms would be on the ground, as if they were perfectly snipped from the stem. Even my hibiscus were doing the same thing. There must have been a thief in the night (but I'm not sure who the culprit was).

Lemonade from lemons,

check out this lovely recipe that utilizes all my bonny blossoms. God bless Jamie Oliver:

Zucchini Flowers

And a little side note:

There is a patch behind my garage that would be perfect for a garden. It's a nice open rectangle, and when we bought this house that was what I envisioned for the space. The reality, however, was quickly revealed, after moving in, that this space does NOT get enough sun. I know you've heard me whine about this before, but I couldn't seem to let it go. I had no available space for a garden, and no good gardening sun. How could I live with out a garden? I had just discoursed myself to the idea that this space would never be a garden and I needed to work with what Mother Nature had provided. I decided to be content, and utilize my main flowerbed in the middle of the yard as my organic shaped vegetable garden. It bothered me a little, but I surrendered. I surrendered control, I surrendered having to have everything go my way, and I surrendered the idea of everything being "perfect" or "just so". Enter Hurricane Ike...knocked down an enormous tree in my neighbors yard. While I'm sad my neighbors had to use their hard earned cash to have the tree completely removed, I'm ecstatic because it cleared the shade and now my patch behind the garage is a SUNNY PATCH! Hello, garden! It just goes to show you once again good things can come out of less than ideal situations: lemonade from lemons. We don't know what awaits around the next corner. There are forces unseen and unbeknown to us that can change the course of our life, and sometimes all it requires is surrender.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I think I got my seeds mixed up with Jack's magic beans

It seems as if I'm growing a magic beanstalk rather than basil.
This picture was taken back in June

I had heard that basil was so easy to grow, so I thought I would try it, it sure didn't look the way I thought it should. I started asking around about it and jumped on a gardening forum. They probably thought I was an idiot. It is obvious from the picture that the pot was too small. They told me to transfer it to a larger pot and chop the top 4 inches of it off.

I wish I could show you a picture of it healthy and bushy, but I never did take a picture of it, and in our moving effort, the herbs got neglected. It did get nice and lush and provided us with lots of flavor for our meals. So, the moral of the story is, don't be and idiot and plant your basil in an itty bitty tiny container.


Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Brandywine

My daughter Maya came running in the house at full speed yelling, "Mom, look at this cherry tomato!!!" Her job all summer has been to collect the tomatoes. So far, we have only really had success with the cherry tomatoes, the yellow pear tomatoes, and our purple tomatoes. The cherry tomatoes are right next to the Brandywine Tomatoes, and somehow she mistook this large Brandywine tomato for an itty bitty cherry tomato.

The flavor on this baby was AMAZING!!! I went out there to look at the Brandywine plants and we have a ton of green ones. If the cold weather holds off for a week or two longer, we will have a whole bunch of them. Pray for good weather for me! These tomatoes are heavenly!

We will be saving the seeds from these heirloom tomatoes to plant for next year, I think I'm going to have to plant a week or two earlier to ensure we get all the fruit before it freezes.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Good-bye Girls

If you didn't know, my husband and I have put our backyard farm up for sale. Legally it isn't supposed to be a backyard farm, given our postage stamp size lot (.11 acre) and zoning laws. We have prepared everything inside our home to look just perfect, uncluttered, cleaned, organized, etc. I realized that there was one feature of our home that may not be as appealing to prospective buyers. A chicken coop. Now to most of the readers of this blog out there, it is probably acceptable, but I have found the general population does not want a flock of chickens in their backyard. I just couldn't bare to get get rid of all my chickens, so I decided to keep two of the seven. This was somewhat of a difficult decision for me to make, who do I keep, who do I give away, and who is going to get the ax?

I contacted my friend Holly who just got her first flock of chickens this year. Her husband built her an amazing chicken coop, she has a great backyard, and I trust her to care for my chickens. When I asked her if she wanted them she was glad to take them, but asked if she could give two of them to a mutual friend that didn't have chickens, but would like some. Well, of course! If I can get someone started with their backyard farm, that is great! So Shannon is getting two of the girls and Holly is keeping one of them. I couldn't be happier. The ladies are going to good homes. Holly and Robbie when they came to pick up the girls.
Every little boy needs chickens
Holly is holding Jane Doe, she got her name because she wasn't named for so long, I ended up calling her that. She got Jane Doe and Red Hawk (not pictured) both are Red Sex Links. She also took Power Ranger who is a Rhode Island Red (not pictured).

Now, I did mention that someone was going to get the ax. It wasn't hard to decide who was going to be sacrificed. I have two Delaware Whites that I bought when they were 12 weeks old. I never got to properly bond with those girls. They had never been held as babies and were not fond of us picking them up. There is just something extra special about raising your chickens from chicks. Plus, the Delaware Whites are very noisy at 7am, their poop is extra wet and it is stinky, and they are a dual breed meaning that they are good egg layers and good for meat as well. They are still pretty young, so the meat should still be good.

My Chilean neighbor is willing to teach me how to.......you know.....I'm starting to get cold feet.....I don't know that I can go through with it......killing a chicken. I thought I would try to take advantage of learning a new skill from my neighbor before we move. We will see if I can go through with it or not.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Dairy Perspective

I sometimes like to go and look and see who is reading this blog, I'm so honored that we have so many amazing readers. Many of our readers have their own great blogs documenting their own farms. One of these readers that I came across recently is A Dairy Perspective. The blog is a journal of Zachary (25) and Jennifer (26) of Bear Creek, Wisconsin "documenting their life as a married couple balancing the challenges and rewards of running a dairy farm, and still finding time to enjoy life".

When I contacted Jennifer to get permission to feature their blog she gave me the following information about them: "We've been married for four years and in August 2007, we took the first step towards owning our own farm and purchased the cattle from my parents. Our milking herd is about 55. Together with my parents we raise crops for our animals. This way, my parents can "slowly retire" and we can "slowly" grow our farm. Zachary is full time on the farm and I have a full time job off the farm and help out on the farm on the mornings/evenings and weekends. We always plant a large vegetable garden, but it always seems like we are over our heads in produce and weeding! We are learning... We hope to start our own flock of chickens in the spring for laying, we will be sure to read up on your blog for tips."

Go check out their blog, I think you will like it.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Liberate the layers!

In some of my articles I have expressed my opposition to industrial layer houses. Agriculture is my profession and commercial egg production is one of the technologies that I am critical of. I have seen them first hand (visitors are justifiably no longer allowed in them for biosecurity reasons). In layer facilities, 5 or 6 hens are jammed in a cage so small that they can’t spread their wings. Thousands of cages are stacked in a building so that even with air ventilation systems it is difficult to breath. The hens never see natural sunlight or eat a fresh plant or insect during their two years of life. They go through 2 production cycles, the second one following a forced molting through reduction or complete withdrawal of food and sometimes water. View a slide show at the following address that explains the entire egg production process.
http://ag.ansc.purdue.edu/poultry/publication/commegg/sld001.htm I believe that layer housing is cruel. I encourage everyone to adopt one of the following strategies: 1. Buy free range eggs in the grocery store. They are usually only $0.50 to $1.00 per dozen higher in price – about the cost of a diet Coke. These facilities liberate the layers from the small cages. They are still fairly congested but it is a good compromise. 2. Buy your eggs from a local producer where you can actually see how the hens are raised. 3. GROW YOUR OWN! This blog has over 20 articles with great ideas for raising chickens. You can do it under most conditions – even in the inner city with cooperation from your neighbors (threaten to turn them in for their marijuana production if they turn you in for your egg production). Order your chicks today. Liberate the layers!

“Let me out!”

A commercial pasture layer operation in Maryland

Dale’s layers stroll through the grass

Dale from Maryland visits Marisa’s suburban Utah chickens.

~Dale Maurice Johnson

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sorry for the lack of posts!

This sign represents why we have been so slow with our posts, we have been scrubbing, cleaning, painting and organizing. Michael and I have decided that it is time to expand our backyard farm. Currently we are on .11 acre and our chickens are outlaws. We are hoping to find a little bit bigger lot where our girls can run free, (not that they don't now) but they can run free legally. Hopefully in the future when I see Animal Control I won't cringe and pray they aren't stopping at my house.

We will keep you updated on our search for our new backyard farm!


Monday, September 15, 2008

Tomato Salad

I love fresh tomatoes and this salad is a fresh and flavorful way to eat them. It doesn’t matter what kind of tomatoes you use. For this recipe I used a bunch of heirloom tomatoes that we harvested from our garden. In this tomato salad we have the following tomatoes: Mexican Midget’s which are a little smaller than conventional cherry tomatoes, Cherokee purple tomatoes, Brandywine tomatoes , and some Bean’s yellow pear tomatoes. We were also able to use some of our Basil from our garden and a cucumber one of our neighbors gave us from their garden.

5 cups tomatoes (or diced to bite size)
1 medium cucumber
1/3 cup of balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
4 cloves minced garlic
12 fresh basil leaves
1/ 2 teaspoon salt

Mince garlic and add to balsamic vinegar. Allow to sit for 10 minutes. This softens the flavor of the garlic.
Mix vinegar mixture with olive oil.
Finely chop Basil and add to your liquid mixture.
Slice tomatoes and cucumbers into bite size pieces
Add balsamic mixture to salad and enjoy

Variations: You could add greek olives, mozzarella, or artichoke hearts to this recipe as well.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Saving the Earth, One Bag at a Time

Isn't she lovely?

This is my husband Michael's grandmother Doris, this is also Dale's mother. She is so kind, generous, sweet, loving, witty, and crafty on top of all that. At a recent family reunion I saw her crocheting what looked like strips of tissue paper. I then asked her what she was doing and she explained that she was crocheting strips of old plastic shopping bags together to make a sturdy waterproof bag. Wow, what an idea!

Here is how you do it:

Lay a plastic shopping bag flat(the type you get from the grocery store). OK, it doesn't have to be perfectly flat, because I am nowhere close to a perfectionist and it worked for me.

Cut the handles off as well as the bottom.

Now cut the bag into about 1 inch strips, again, no need to be a perfectionist on this!

You should end up with a bunch of loops like this...

To make the "yarn" you link them together. I don't know what type of knot this is....any boy scouts out there know what this is? I just remember linking my jelly bracelets together like this.

I spread out the loops so you could see what it looks like, but you would just crochet as if it was a piece of yarn, you don't really spread it out like that.

Now, here is the part that hopefully you crochet masters will understand because I'm not great at explaining things.....

To make the bag.... You will chain until you get the length you want the bag. Then start your rows. You will continue doing rows until you get the base of the bag as wide as you would like. So you might chain 30 and do 8 rows to get the base. Once you get the base the size you want, you will start going around and around the base in a circle, as you start doing this, it will make the sides of the bag. You will keep going in circles making the sides until it is as deep as you want. To make the straps, you can braid the bag strips or you could double crochet them.

Leave a comment if you have questions about it. If you try it, send us your pictures so we can post your creations.

Tip: if you use bags with different colored logos on them, you will get a speckles of all different colors, which can be fun.

Now go out there and save the earth one bag at a time!