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Posts Tagged ‘Gardening’

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A burgeoning dandelion wine farm you ask? Oh no. That is our backyard. And every year I look onto this grassy wasteland of rocks and weeds hoping for inspiration. Every year I seek inspiration from the usual places; Martha, Country Living, Gardener’s Supply, etc. This year, we get serious. Stay Tuned: From Wasteland to Secret Garden in 2012.

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As I prepare my last batch of hot pepper jam for this season and plot out the holiday baking madness for the upcoming season I am also preparing to put our garden down for an extended rest.   That’s right, for Garden Season 2012 we will not be planting anything in our garden plot.   Does that mean this Farmgirl has given up only 3 years and 6 chickens in?  On the contrary,  this Farmgirl has been inspired by a great book that I picked up at my local Tractor Supply  The Backyard Homestead:

This book is a must have desk reference for anyone who wants to start a backyard homestead or begin to dabble in producing  their own food from scratch.    Upon purchasing this book I had some AHA moments about  being a bonified urban homesteader.    I have not mastered anything mind you (as clearly illustrated by this year’s less than bumper crop of carrots and beets),  but I do feel that I have a good handle on growing vegetables in a garden.    So 2012 our goal is to make our yard a well-rounded food bearing garden retreat.   We would like to add apple trees and perhaps some pear trees.  We would like to clear out the random and useless rock garden next to our pool and create a blueberry patch.   We would like to plot out a location for  raised strawberry and raspberry beds.   Perhaps a deck and real live fireplace and/or bread oven.   Perhaps a door yard full of berries and nuts.  Boxed herbs and of course a handful of containers loaded with tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.  Oh and maybe, just maybe we might actually get that compost system set up that we have been threatening to put into operation for 3 years now.

So,  you ask what will these homesteaders do for fresh and local produce next year?   Well, we will start by getting a full share in our CSA, Maplewood  Organics.   My final calculation after this last pick up of what we received for this season was nearly $350 of organic potatoes, peppers, onions (which, I might add, organic onions were going for $2 a lb. today at the grocery store) brussel sprouts, broccoli, tomatoes, fresh-cut flours, swiss chard, kale, radishes, lettuce, green beans and more.  Given that, I am super excited to see what a full share will garner us.  Of course there is always our local farmers markets and farm stands where buying in bulk is encouraged.  Having  just filled my belly with Gluten Free Lasagna made with delicious homemade tomato sauce, we will make sure to do whatever it takes to get our hands on fresh tomatoes.  So. long story not so short, we will do what our ancestors have always done and give our garden plot a rest after what can only be described as a “challenging” season for growers across the nation.    We will fill it with winter rye,  and host a potato sack race over the top of it for leap year in July!!!  We will build the backyard homestead/haven of our dream and in 2013 recreate the veggie magic of old.   And by then, ideally, I will be picking my first apples from our own tree, making my own soap, jewelry and clothes (try to contain your envy) and munching on homemade yogurt and string cheese.   At the end of the day, homesteading is an attitude and a lifestyle.  Gardening is a huge part of that, but anyone can grow a vegetable, a true homesteader grows and decorates an entire buffet.

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Fall Sunday’s are the best!! Breakfast is always delicious, especially when you are never really in danger of running out of fresh and delicious backyard eggs. Baking becomes one of my favorite hobbies and today gfree cupcakes fill the house with warmth while weight watchers approved end of garden veggie soup simmers and football graces our tv!! There will be coupon clipping with hot tea and much to my joy, Price Chopper is allowing digital coupons to be uploaded to their advantage card. It is an autumn miracle!! And of course if no day is complete until you put your kid in a bucket!!
Welcome fall!! Welcome!!

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My family has just returned from an amazing 4 day excursion to the Adirondack Mountains in New York.   We were totally off the grid and it was amazing and relaxing.  If the dream of owning an organic farm falls through, you may find us running an inn/b & b in the mountains, but that is a tale for a different day.  As it turns out, however, the garden did not tend itself while we were away.   Naturally, the days preceding our departure were some of the hottest on record so to even pick a cucumber off the trellis was exhausting, therefore weeding more or less, or really  just more, did not occur.    And there it is, the dirty word amongst all organic gardeners:  WEEDING.    As much as you mulch and till and try to ban non edible seeds from the garden plot, there is just no way around it, you will weed or you will drown your garden in pesticides.  I will take the weeds.   In fact, I find weeding to be fairly cathartic.  Nothing works out the stresses of a bad, bad day like ripping an invasive garden invader out by its roots and throwing it to the side of the garden.   Weeding also provides you with a sense of accomplishment on a day like today where my only goal was to have a goal.   Finally, it helps you to have a connection to your food, which is the primary reason I got  into gardening.   So today, as I approached what was my garden 4 days ago, I felt like a conquistador of old approaching the jungles of the New World, minus the machete.  In truth, a machete would have been super helpful, but I simply did not have one on me.  So I spent the better part of this vacation day plucking weeds and uncovering a trove of garden treasures that were not there when we left.  It was hard, hot work and it often seemed that the weeds would regrow immediately after I pulled them out.   Despite being neglected for 4 days and becoming an Amazonian forest, the garden exploded with healthy, happy and some ripe tomatoes.  Spaghetti squash was everywhere to be found.  Full size cucumbers that will become delicious refrigerator pickles tomorrow.    Herbs, peppers, lettuce and cabbage all thrived underneath the overgrowth.  Despite being attacked by Japanese beetles and being surrounded by weeds, the green beans were beginning to pop.   Peas, kale and swiss chard were almost overwhelming with their presence.     Our sugar snap peas, after an alarmingly slow beginning, seemed to appear out of nowhere.   At times, pulling out the weeds was like uncovering a secret treasure trove of plentiful veggies.   In the end, the garden looked like a garden and my kitchen was full of fresh veggies to eat, freeze and pickle.   So while I might be more likely to get back on an every other day weeding plan, it was reassuring to know that while the gardener was away the veggies would still play AND more importantly, that if you don’t get to that weeding every day your garden will not fall over and die.

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It is hot.  Stupid hot.  I am quite certain that my brain is melting.  In this kind of heat there is not much you can do but turn the sprinklers on and hope for the best.  The lettuce might bolt and the peas will slow to a grinding halt.  The tomatoes will ripen and the peppers well go gonzo.  I will float in the pool and pick when I can.  I will drink lots of water and wear lots of sunscreen.  We will use the grill and hang out in the A/C.   Take a break.  The plants will be ok until the heatwave breaks.  Stay Cool!!!

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Although slightly behind due to the weather, harvest season is starting.   For the women who came before us this was a full-time job that required a full-time commitment and more.  This was also a time when women had to wake up before dawn to stoke the fire, start the bread, milk the cows, churn the butter and patch the dungarees.  Sounds nice doesn’t it?  Regardless of what used to be,  my typical day currently looks something like this:

1. Wake up with alarm.  It may or may not be dawn.  Depends on the time of year.

2. Let dog out, brew coffee, take shower, dress child prepare lunches, breakfasts, etc. Turn on Disney Channel/Nick Jr. and pray for a meltdown free morning.

3. Rush off to office and punch in just under the wire.  Work a full day.

4. Leave office.  Make any and all last-minute stops.  Funny how last-minute turns into last 20.  Barely make it home/to daycare on time.

5. Get to house, find solace in an adult beverage.  Try to come up with a nutritious tasty dinner that does not come from a box and takes only 20 minutes to make.  Often experience big, fat failure.

6. Catch up on house work, MAYBE, watch a favorite tv show. pass out while trying to read your favorite book, wondering where the devil the day went.

7. Spend your weekends trying to cram an entire week’s worth of “home-work” in.   Inform your family that if they would like to eat they need to pick up the phone or open a box of Cheerios.  You are done.

If this looks at all like a typical day for you, adding harvesting and preserving your vegetables may seem like the straw that will crack your spine.  When I add things like jam, relish and pickle making and blanching and freezing pounds of greens and peas to an otherwise ridiculous day it seems physically impossible to do it all.   When I tell friends that I stayed up until midnight making salsa, they look at me like the elevator stopped traveling to the top floor. I would be lying if I said the harvest was not time-consuming or did not mean burning the candle at both ends.  There have been many a tear shed on a Tuesday night when the salsa was barely going into the jars at midnight, let alone being processed.   I can tell you, however, that it is worth every tear-stained, pepper burned, sliced finger of it.  If you are thinking about giving preserving the season a try with goods from your own garden, CSA share, or routine trips to your local farmstand/farmers market, here are some tips that will help you keep your sanity and enjoy your hard-earned goods.

1.  Get a Foodsaver or one of the knock off’s.   We have a Rival and it is amazing.  I am not sure how I ever got by without it.   Freezing raspberries this evening took 15 minutes and they look like they will last forever and taste good too.   Preserving the season is done in vain if your frozen goods taste like yucky ice.

2.  Make something you have never made before.  With part of our raspberry harvest this year I made GF raspberry cupcakes with raspberry buttercream frosting.   This is not some thing I would normally make, but I was inspired by the fruit and my family loved them because they tasted like summer in a cupcake.  It did not seem like hard harvest work when I was licking the frosting.  off my nose, and my fingers, and my lips.

3. A blanch a day keeps the doctor away.   If you can blanch and freeze one set of veggies either from garden or CSA a day, you will have a freezer packed with fresh and delicious vegetables in no time.

4.  There is always room for more kale.  Or swiss chard.  Or beet greens.  If you get a lot of greens (there is more in this world than spinach), you can add them to pretty much every casserole, make a great bed for poached eggs or make a yummy addition to a salad or a sandwich.  Kale chips are an amazing snack that is super easy to make.

5.  Do what you want.  If you don’t like salsa, don’t make salsa.  If you really hate Kale, give it to a friend or donate it to a food pantry.  Preserving the harvest is about wanting to enjoy the taste and health benefits of the growing season.    If you don’t like it now, you will not like in weeks or months.  If you don’t love making jams, jellies, relishes and preserves don’t do it.

6.  If you take the time to freeze..take the the time to blanch.   Blanching your vegetables is key to keeping them fresh and tasty by killing enzymes.  Over-blanching kicks them into high gear.  Under does not completely destroy them.   Take a peek at the Ball Book or the Better Homes and Garden cookbook.  Both places give you a detailed charts on how long to boil and when to throw them into the ice-water.   It takes time and can be hot, but is worth every minute.

7. A food processor/grinder is a must have.   It can take hours to chop by hand and it doesn’t make it taste better.  It just makes you angry and no one will give you a medal for it, because no-one cares.

In the end, it is a lot of work. and it can take a lot of time, as clearly evidences by the 6 days it has taken me to write this. Women 100 years ago did not have all the conveniences we have now, but did not have all the same stresses or time consumers we have now.   In the end however, when you are craving a homemade blueberry muffin or a reuben with homemade thousand island dressing there is nothing like finding and tasting delicious items from your own stores.  The best advice I can give:  Try it.  If you don’t love it, let someone else do it for you.  If you do, keep trying new and fun things with new and fun vegetables.  I promise your palette and your health will thank you.   I was hoping to have some sumptuous photos of some of the delicious things that harvest season has brought to our kitchen, however, I am having some photo difficulties.  Stay tuned for some specific recipes and photos.

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Here in Vermont, in case you haven’t heard, we had what some folks, biblical or otherwise, might refer to as a FLOOD.   While most people were drawing up architectural plans for an arc, our family was figuring out how we  might push a roto-tiller through a swamp or wondering if the chicken coop would float with a dog, cat, toddler and two adults on top.   In the end, the water did recede, but alas, took all of our soil’s nutrients with it.  As a family, we are currently in the process of turning chicken poop into black gold.  If that sentence makes no sense to you visit this article to learn more, but in the meantime, our gold has not yet come in and our garden went into spring nutrient free (at some point I will give you more information on all the ways chickens rock, right down to their pooh, but that is for a different night).  This year we planted with high hopes and short seedlings.  It is mid-July and  we still have short seedlings.   The good news, with some love and Epsom salt we are starting to see our plants spring to life.  The tomatoes and peppers are booming with fruit.   The broccoli plants look good, they just need broccoli.  The cucumbers are coming and by the weekend we may have our first batch of sweet relish.   I can’t really talk about lettuce, because this year the lettuce not only adapted but spread.  If only the rest of the salad would arrive, then we would be in business.   Tonight, however, my hope was renewed when I pulled the seasons first zucchini out of the garden.  Sautéed in butter with caramelized onions it was the perfect addition to the chili rubbed pork chops that were flaming up on the grill.   If you have ONLY ever eaten zucchini from the store, you have no idea what you are missing.  The flavor and texture were like fireworks in our mouths.  So in short, if you have a garden, do not let this late season get you down, the veggies are coming.  Perhaps some more than others, but they are coming nonetheless.  If you don’t have a garden, late or otherwise, than get to your local farmer’s market this weekend and get some fresh zucchini of your own, because it was well worth the wait!!!

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