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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.