Friday, December 11, 2009

Fall Plantings

So, obviously, it's been awhile. I guess at some point, I just ran out of steam. The garden continued producing, might actually still give up some treasures if I should venture out and dig them out from under the snow, but, most likely, we are done for the season. Up until just a week ago (December 3), we were still harvesting some lettuces, a few radishes, and turnips from our garden. Turnips are new to me. I've never eaten them before. I like them. I've eaten them raw and roasted with potatoes and carrots. Not everyone here shared my enjoyment of them, but I'm thinking if I prepare them right, more might. They grew heartily this fall when nothing else really managed. It didn't really freeze until late, but was unusually cold. Of my fall plantings, they were the only things that really produced, aside from the second-to-the-last planting of lettuce. The raised beds, which were left untouched by rabbits in the spring, were feasting grounds (apparently, I never actually witnessed them) in the fall. I imagine those bunnies greatly enjoyed those precious radish, lettuce, and carrot seedlings when everything else was dying off or had grown too tough for their liking.

Also planted this fall, 3 lingonberry bushes, 3 blueberry bushes, half a dozen lipstick strawberries. The berry bushes are dwarf varieties that we are hoping will eventually spread and serve as groundcover on the hill. The lipstick strawberries are a shade variety with bright pink flowers. They are apparently not especially prolific producers, but I am hoping to fill in an area previously covered in myrtle in the front beds of the house. Hopefully, all of these and numerous new shoots from the strawberry plants we grew last summer will tolerate the winter.

Now, our garden beds and new plantings are covered in over a foot of snow. I am already thinking and planning for next year. Unfortunately, I didn't get the garlic and horseradish I had hoped to plant this fall.

I got a few seed packets when I ordered the fall plants and also pre-ordered a few things for spring planting. I can't even remember now what I ordered, LOL. I know there was bamboo in there.

I hope to post soon on our lessons learned this season.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Slowing down...

Things have certainly slowed down here. The corn plants (now empty of corn) are turning brown, the sunflowers as well. The cukes are nearly done. The lettuce continues, kale, cabbage and broccoli, though the broc and cabbages have been chewed up (I've never seen the culprit), and I'm not expecting much from them. We have some new sprouts--turnips growing quickly, little baby lettuces and spinach, baby onion sprouts, radishes. I'm not sure that the peas are going to do much. The snap peas are spindly and I am beginning to think that's just how they grow, but I always picture a big, bushy plant. Only a couple of the replanted peas have come up, and one of the original planting died, so there are maybe four plants.

The solstice is near. Today is cool. Lows are predicted in the 40s tonight. I don't know how far out we'll get without frost, I am hopeful, but not counting on much from here on out. I harvested all but one of our second planting of carrots, gathered enough scarlet runner beans for tonight's dinner (this took about a week, LOL), and pulled the last few little ears of corn left. So, that's pretty much the end of it. There are still the seedlings, but it will be some time before we see anything from them. The rest of the scarlet runner beans will be allowed to mature, and I'll throw them in soup or something. The beans are pretty and the kids will enjoy that even if they don't eat them. There may still be a few cukes left, definitely some salads, one beautiful rainbow chard plant that I haven't brought myself to harvest anything from yet, plenty of kale. Soon, we will take down the sunflowers and corn. I hope to make a shock with our corn for decoration. I will save some calendula seeds, though I am betting I won't need to plant any since they have been so prolific that they will probably reseed themselves.

We also have to prep for blueberries, lingonberries, strawberries, and bamboo coming in October. At least I think I do. I placed an order for some things, and some of them will come in the spring and some this fall. I did not keep track of what was coming when. So, I guess it will be a surprise. :0P

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


We have harvested all of our corn--there wasn't a lot, maybe 24 ears altogether. It was delicious! Perhaps due to the amount of real estate required, it isn't worth it for us to grow our own, particularly because our family eats that in about 2 meals. Especially because there is a local farmer that sells absolutely delicious corn at his stand near Ben's work. Now, ours was just as good as theirs, and it is awesome to know that we can grow it here. If we could not buy corn that was just as fresh and tasty, we would likely plan to grow it again soon. And, maybe since cukes are out for another year or two, we will anyway; I don't have definite plans for next year yet. The neighbors were entertained by the corn sticking up over our fence though, and we very much enjoyed the harvest!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

New Friends

This year, our garden has attracted some new friends to our yard. We have always had our share of wasps, but this year, our oregano made some honey bees very happy, and as Ben noted, probably made for some funky-tasting honey. Joining the honeybees at the oregano were plenty of bumble bees, which have also been quite pleased with the presence of lots of sunflowers. We have also watched several goldfinches perched on the sunflowers. And, we have had a tiny hummingbird visiting our scarlet runner beans in the late afternoons. I have only seen a hummingbird here once since we moved in about 8 years ago!


Well, the container tomatoes are quickly succumbing to the fall blight. Only a very few tomatoes will be salvaged from them. I did "harvest" two lovely tomatoes, one with only a small bit of blight, from my cardboard boxes in the garage on Wednesday, which I added to a double batch of Roasted Tomato Sauce. Aside from those that were ripe when I pulled up the plants, I've managed to harvest about 17 additional pounds of tomatoes that ripened on a table outside and on my windowsill. There are still quite a few in the boxes. Of course, I cut blight from these tomatoes generously, so quite a lot less than 17 lbs. was actually usable.

After a little peeking around, I see the cucumber problem looks more like this. It turned the cucumber plant in our "original" garden from a healthy-looking plant to a crispy pile of leaves and stems in less than two weeks. There are now spots showing on the pickle cukes planted up on the hill along the fence, but I, again, hesitate to pull them up as they are producing well. From the description, this can apparently affect melons, too. So far, our melons appear unaffected (all three of them, LOL). I'm hoping they will be ripe before that happens, or maybe it won't happen at all. In the meantime, we're munching on cukes as long as they keep fattening up in our garden.

It is suggested that we do not plant things in the cuke family for a year because this remains in the soil.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Fall Crops

So, I've been a little discouraged and unsure of whether I should even be putting seeds in the ground this late in the season. The last few nights, we have been just south of the frost line. It will be warming up, and I don't expect to see frost again until the usual time, which could be only a month away. I am late getting things in the ground, but hopefully the covered wagon feature on our bed will buy us a little more time.

This weekend, the new bed was moved next to our first, and in an effort to shake off the lazies that overcame us with days of rain and gray, we ventured out in to the sunny Sunday afternoon (still unseasonably cold, but very pleasant) and made a family project out of filling the bed with bags of peat, composted cow manure, and mushroom compost.

Tonight, I finally got seeds into the ground. In the new bed, spinach, romaine, and salad bowl lettuce, a couple rows of purplette onions, and a couple rows of turnips. I don't know if I've ever even eaten a turnip, but I thought them worth a try.

In the old bed, where the tomatoes were, I planted a number of rows of carrots, with radishes mixed in to mark and "hold" the rows while the carrots germinate and come up. The radishes will be grown and harvested before the carrots get very big. There is also a row of diakons. I had planned on two, but distracted by kiddos fighting over a butterfly net, I dumped most of the package of seeds on the ground. Such are the hazards of distracted planting, I suppose. ;) I planted a mix of carrots, one was an actual mix of purples, yellows, and oranges, the same that we planted earlier this spring, a couple rows of purple haze carrots, a couple rows of three different orange varieties. For radishes, easter egg mix, regular mixed radishes, and red meat radishes.

So, that's it. I left space on one end of the new bed for another planting of lettuce in another week or so. I'm not counting any chickens (or carrots) just yet, but I had the seeds on hand, space to put them, and am hopeful we'll have something to show for it.

I've made 3 quarts or so of roasted tomato sauce this week (it is yummy!), and tomorrow, I think another group of tomatoes should be ripe enough for another couple quarts. I'm planning on making a lasagna from one of them this week, but the rest will go in the freezer. The greens in newspaper aren't moldy or rotting or anything, so maybe they'll ripen up yet. I also made some roasted green tomato salsa with the greens, and, while Ben thought it was sour and didn't care for it, I thought it was good and ate most of it myself, LOL.

I don't know if planting in the tomato bed was the best choice after the blight, but it seemed like a safe bet since nothing I planted there was related to the tomato. I almost forgot--I replanted peas on the end of the bed next to carrots that are just maturing. Three of about 18 seeds I planted last month came up. I should have replanted a little sooner, but I guess it just adds to the excitement, eh?

Friday, August 28, 2009

How-Not-To #1--Dealing with Tomato Blight

I suggested that there might be some how-not-to's included in this lovely journey, and while, after working more seriously on our gardening this year, I have a few tips of that nature, this is likely my first big How-Not-To. I've not been faced with tomato blight of this nature before. Last year, I think some of our tomatoes were, in fact, blighted, but it was late in the season, and our plants weren't doing all that great anyway. This is primarily, I am convinced, because we planted them in the same spot two years in a row. They were fantastic two years ago, and last year, not so much. Having learned that, we put our tomatoes in a new place this year with new soil. We also added a lovely layer of leaves to the top of our old bed last fall, and threw a new layer of compost and topsoil on top when we brought some in to fill our raised bed. We left the leaves, not completely rotted, in the mix. That bed, holding corn, sunflowers, melons, and one lone cuke plant, has done quite well this year.

When one discovers their tomato plants are blighted, there should be no delay in removing as much of the blighted parts of the plants as possible, possibly applying a fungicide (organic if you feel the need). The blight is an external thing, not internal, so I am thinking that a fungicide might keep it from spreading, even on the same plant. I did not do this. I had a ton of green tomatoes, and practically no ripe tomatoes. But, if you look at the pictures I took the day I figured out they were blighted, the plants looked pretty good. If I were going to choose not to treat the plants, it might have been good to wait a few more days while the green tomatoes were growing nearer to ripe, then remove the green tomatoes and layer them in newspaper to get them to ripen. I might also see if I could find a few green tomato recipes so that I could get the best out of the crop.

However, I did neither of those things. After a lovely escape to the beach early this week, I came home knowing I needed to do something about those tomatoes. I don't really know (and won't ever) whether faster action might have saved more tomatoes, but, anyway... Yesterday, I took all the tomatoes off the plants, pulled them up, and threw them out. I threw out the worst affected tomatoes, kept any ripe ones without too much blight, wrapped a number of mature, apparently unaffected green tomatoes in newspaper, hoping that they will ripen (will have to let you know how that goes). I also kept a number of either apparently unaffected or only slightly affected nearly ripe tomatoes which I placed on my kitchen windowsill. I also have a bucket of slightly affected green tomatoes for which I am seeking out recipes.

I probably have 15-20 lbs of ripe, lightly affected tomatoes, and we'll have to see how the rest go.

I have not done anything with my container plants, and did not do anything preventative when they looked good when I saw the blight on the other plants. I should have. They are now infected. I pulled lower leaves off the plants, and have been unable to bring myself to pull them up as yet. I am pretty sure that the one cuke in the bed is infected, as it is pretty close to dead. I think I saw somewhere that they are prone to this disease.

So, today I am trying my friend Val's Roasted Tomato Sauce recipe to see how everyone likes it. One article I read advised against water bath canning blighted tomatoes, though, because the acidity level in the tomatoes may not be the same as that in healthy tomatoes, so if we like it (and have enough tomatoes ripening up), I will either pressure can it or freeze it. I am also seeking out green tomato recipes to use up the portions of the green tomatoes affected by the blight not likely to make it to ripe before they are overtaken. Most people seem to agree that it is safe to eat a blighted tomato with the blighty (I made that word up) part cut away. Some suggest that the healthy part of a blighted tomato doesn't taste as good, but I haven't noticed that.

This weekend, we are putting up another raised bed (constructed last weekend by my dear husband with very little help from me) and planting some fall/winter veggies--carrots, peas, onions, lettuce, spinach, radishes. I will also add a bit of compost to the area where the tomatoes stood and plant there. So we go on....

Another thought--our tomatoes were a bit too close together, even with cages. We planted them about a foot apart, and they were lush, crazy plants, so they were crowded. I don't know if that really was a problem, except that when disease hit, it spread quickly and easily.

Making Change--School Lunches

There are a number of schools which have made real changes in food service programs, providing fresh, local food to their students. Sadly, this is not true of our school district.

So, action needs to be taken to make change. I have been thinking about this for a long time and was very recently encouraged by a teacher expressing her own concerns and asking parents to get involved. It was just the push I needed to get moving.

First, I got the following resources from a couple of people I know online who have worked to make changes in their own schools:

Then, I sent a letter to the head of food services, district superintendent, and the school board.

Dear ******,

I am writing to express some of my concerns regarding food service at ***. I am a ******** mom of four kids: my oldest begins sixth grade at ***** this fall, my second 3rd grade at ********, and my third will begin kindergarten this year at ******. My youngest is 2 and a half. Feeding my family good, healthy food has always been a priority for me. I realize that in this economy, providing good quality food for thousands of children must be a difficult and daunting task. I struggle to manage to do this for four. It is very important to me, especially as food becomes more expensive and the economy remains questionable, that I do what I can to feed my children real, fresh food, preferably from local sources. I would like to see *** make this a priority as well. I know that other schools, with cooperation from their communities and local farms, have managed to do so without a great increase in costs, with surprisingly visible improvements in student behavior and well-being. It would seem that in this economy, when schools are responsible for feeding children what may be their best meal of the day, that it is extraordinarily important that all be done to make these meals as healthy possible rather than just filling bellies. This may indeed involve limiting choices for children rather than providing them with the option of a fast food lunch daily.

I also have been disappointed with the kindergarten snack program. My budget is tight right now, and it is difficult to pay a sum for snacks and frustrating that I am paying for things I either have in my home and am sending to school with older children or would not feed my children at all. For 50 cents a day, I could send fresh fruit, whole grain homemade baked goods without preservatives or other additives, yogurt, cheese and crackers, and a variety of other things. I realize that it provides an easy option for both parents and teachers, but I would like to either have the option of sending my own snack or working with other parents to take turns providing healthy snacks for our children.

Real, local, fresh food has been a priority for my family at home, and I see it becoming more important for lots of families. I am certain I am not alone in my wish to see **** providing the best possible food available for our children. It would seem that here in Michigan, where so many products are locally grown and produced, that we could work together to make this a reality which would benefit our children, our local economy, and our community as a whole. I would be glad to do whatever I can to help in this effort.


We'll see where this takes us. ;)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Blight. It doesn't sound like something bad, does it? The tomato plants in our bed have it. Badly. They were green and huge and crowded, and I didn't catch the tomato on the end that showed early signs (of course, until just now when I did a web search, I didn't know what early signs were). They are loaded with huge, beautiful tomatoes, and hopefully, we'll still get a decent crop from them. Our container plants don't appear to have it at the moment, but they were pretty spindly to begin with (I blame a crappy soil mix--it is the same that is in the bed, but I think with the containers, there is a need for REALLY good soil). They actually looked great just a couple days ago, but the rainy, wet weather seems to have provided the perfect environment for it to take hold.

I'm pretty sure this might be the source of the problem. I noticed the yucky tomato weeks ago, but didn't think anything of it. I didn't consider the fact that it could be a disease-carrying leper in need of quarantine.

And the others...

I am really saddened by this, though I am hopeful that we will still get plenty of tomatoes. I'm trying to focus on other things in the garden that are doing well....


Strawberries in August! One of the other plants has been sending off tons of runners, and now we have more than double the number of strawberry plants we started with this year!

And our smiling sunflowers...I am working on a post about flowers.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Up in Smoke

Well, the kale chips didn't go quite as planned. I wandered outside to take laundry off the line and didn't get back in to the oven before the burning kale filled my house with smoke. Molly helped harvest and pull all the kale off its stems and was very excited to try them, too. She and Liam tried the raw kale and decided they weren't so excited about it--it tasted "like grass." So...1 lb of kale burnt is still 1 lb. of kale harvested, right? Darn it. Will try again later, hopefully, with better results.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Creating Community

No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee. --John Donne , Meditation XVII, English clergyman & poet (1572 - 1631)

Many folks in the sustainable living business (and if you were wondering, yes, there are folks for whom sustainable living is big business, and as Americans are turned on to "green living," it becomes ever more true, but I'm talking more about those who are in the business of sharing information on how to live more sustainably, not sell products for sustainable living) emphasize the need for community. There are those, of course, who feel an urge to go it alone, to try to produce all that they need and do all the work for themselves, but for most, it would seem there is a need for community.

So, I have a new idea brewing. I've been thinking about a Community Chest for some time. This is not my idea, but the basic premise is that you create a "chest" preferably from a plastic storage bin where community members can place items they no longer need or want and pass it around the neighborhood for other neighbors to take from and give to as desired. The chest would include a notebook for comments and contact information for all that use it.

But, I'm thinking about going a little further with this idea. Perhaps we could start an email list or even a message board for our community where community members can post wants and needs, offer items or services, and become better connected with their neighbors. It sounds kind of silly that people that live across the street or even around the block would require such a thing to communicate with one another, but such are the times (especially in the winter in Michigan, LOL). People could check in from work, peek in and out anonymously, and might feel more comfortable, actually, communicating with one another in this way than in person. This is a way for people to share. There might be limits to what people feel comfortable sharing, but, maybe you ran out of snacks for your kids to take to school, and I have a box of granola bars in my cupboard that no one in my house will eat. Maybe you have to attend a funeral unexpectedly and your kids have outgrown their dress shoes and there is not time to go shopping. Maybe you need use of a tool you might only use once in this lifetime (or this year). Last winter, I used my neighbor's sledge hammer to break up a huge chunk of ice blocking the way to my mailbox (Yeah, in my neighborhood, the "Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor gloom of night" thing doesn't apply). I really don't think I could have done it otherwise.

Maybe you want to plant a garden, but don't have a spot for it. Maybe your neighbor has a great area that was gardened for years but became overwhelming. This would also allow for coordinating with other neighbors to check in on elderly, take meals to a family with a new baby, or carpool to school. It would also be a great place to organize for requests for zoning changes in order for families to keep chickens or other small animals and possibly plan community areas for gardening.

Anyway, this is what I'm thinking. We know most of our immediate neighbors, but the older residents here will tell you that it's nothing like the early days of this subdivision, and, even then, except for a few, I don't think we've established any kind of network for helping eachother (and I think now'd be a good time, considering we're in Michigan in 2009, and economic predictions don't get better for us for some time). I might be mistaken about how many would be interested in being involved, but even if it's a few, I think it would be a good thing.

I'll keep you updated....

Independence Days Challenge

1. Plant something - I'm going to count the peas, carrots, and radishes, but I hope to get more in the ground before the end of the week--I'll likely count that next week though. ;)

2. Harvest something -one lone tomato, cukes , kale

3. Preserve something -chopped up some puny looking onions and froze them for later use.

4. Reduce waste - Using newspaper as mulch and under new beds, cloth dipes for little one (we've used cloth for all 4 kids), but just aquired cloth "Goodnights" (Happy Heiny trainers with microfiber inserts if anyone is looking for good ones) for older child who is still not dry at night. They will easily pay for themselves if I want to look at it strictly from a cost standpoint.

5. Preparation and Storage - Ben's back is out of whack this week. We want to put together 1 more raised bed for the back yard, and possibly a smaller Mel Bartholomew (Square Foot Gardening)style bed alongside the outside of the back fence where weeds grow better than grass. Learning to use a pressure canner/cooker.

6. Build Community Food Systems - raided neighbor's grass clippings (making it possible for her to fit what was left in one bin when it normally took two!), talked to said neighbor about her own small garden (downsized in her later years, apparently). Hmmm, that means there's more good garden soil available in our sandy neighborhood. Maybe I should consider talking to her to see if she would be interested in expanding again if she had help! Shared a boquet of our flowers with another neighbor.

7. Eat the Food -Cukes seem to be loved by all, as they're being munched as they come off the one plant that is producing at the moment (I only planted one non-pickler, and the picklers aren't producing yet). Kale chopped up tiny in spaghetti sauce is apparently not highly detectable. And I made Kale Chips and thought they were quite tasty. I'm having trouble getting anyone else to try them as they look scary, but I'm going to try again tonight. This time, I'm going to use a little garlic salt to season.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Fall Planting

The first frost for zone 5 is generally between October 6 and October 31. An early frost is generally not the end of decent weather here, so if plants can be covered or brought in, usually, we can have more growing time.

We have one raised bed (currently our only) with pvc brackets on the sides to allow for holding pvc pipe to be covered with plastic, covered-wagon style. We hope to put one more in (very) soon to allow for more fall crops to be planted.

Garbanzo bean plant!

I have already begun to plant a few things. I dug two beds along the fence at the top of the hill in the back yard at the beginning of the growing season. Those now hold scarlett runner beans (which are starting to form beans!), blooming sunflowers and zinnias, and garbanzo beans that I stuck in the ground from my cupboard with no idea as to what they would do. They are growing, and look nothing like I would expect a bean plant to look. They are pretty spindly, but I actually saw a bloom on one today. I put in a third bed a few weeks ago. This time I did not dig it, but laid cardboard down over the area and poured a layer of potting soil, peat, and compost over the cardboard. I moved two hills of pickling cukes that were being overwhelmed by the extremely hardy sunflowers I planted between the hills (note to self: bad idea, but the sunflowers are beautiful and have begun to bloom and look much hardier than the ones on the hill; I attribute that to much more heavily ammended soil in the main bed). I also planted a couple more cuke seeds. I'm hoping we'll manage to get at least a couple jars of our very own pickles this year. I also broadcasted some dill around them, and I don't know if that will work or not, but it is starting to come up. Dill takes a VERY long time to germinate. So far, what I have planted hasn't done much. And, last week, I filled in another bed along the fence, again over another layer of newspaper (5-7 pages thick) and cardboard (these are fairly small beds, about 2'X8', I guess). The beds are surrounded by rocks we have from the original owner's rock garden and some wire border fencing (deemed necessary after a little furry neighbor ate all of our spring peas and a few other freshly sprouted plants) that we've had for several years and roll up to re-use each spring. I'm hoping it will last at least another season... I planted snap peas, Thumbelina carrots, and Easter Egg mix radishes. The day prior, I planted shelling peas in the space that held our first planting of carrots in the raised bed.

I hope to plant more carrots, lots more carrots, radishes, onions, spinach, and lettuce. I am thinking that when the tomatoes are done in the raised bed, we can plant some of those there too. I'm hoping with the cover, we can harvest into December.

We have fall plants on order too, some dwarf blueberries and lingonberries that we hope to plant on the hill as an edible ground cover where the hill is too steep to mow, lipstick strawberries (a shade loving strawberry, not super productive, with pink flowers), horseradish (mmmm....), garlic (mmm...), and bamboo.

I have also stared a rugosa rose (good for hips) and ginger root in pots. I can't tell you yet if they're going to do anything.

Limewater and Canning Jars

It's canning time, and a great time to find canning supplies in your local store even if they don't normally carry them! I've been looking for pickling lime for some time. I saw it online last winter, but never justified paying the shipping to buy a $3.29 quart jar of calcium hydroxide. Now, I could have bought a whole case, I suppose, but one quart will actually last me a very long time, probably at least until next summer when my grocery carries it again. That is, unless we decide to actually use it for pickling, in which case, we might need to buy another package, but I would prefer to buy it here to encourage them to stock it again next year!

Now, why pickling lime? I've also considered several times buying a bag of slake lime from the feed and grain store--yes, there is still actually one in existence in a neighboring town; at least, there was a couple years ago when I last enquired about slake lime. I would have to buy, like a 25 lb. bag there, and it is not food grade, as this is. And, I would prefer it be food grade for my purposes.

What are my purposes? Tee Hee! I'm not trying to be cagey...It's just coming out that way!
I want to make limewater to use for medicinal and supplemental purposes. I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on tv, so I the claims you may infer from this post are not approved by any medical establishment, yadda, yadda. I make lime water by adding one teaspoon of pickling lime to one quart jar of filtered water. Distilled might be even better. I shake it up and let it sit until the powder settles to the bottom. Then, one could pour the clear liquid off into a new jar, leaving the powder in the bottom of the old one, or if lazy like me, just leave it there, and pour a small amount off as needed from the jar gently to avoid stirring up the lime. Who taught me how to do this? My dad. He learned it from a friend very well-versed in nutrition (who is also not a doctor).
I use a little bit (like a teaspoon-tablespoon; otherwise, it will impart a funky flavor) in beverages as a calcium supplement. I say use, but I haven't done it in YEARS, not since I was, say, a junior in college. At that time, I mixed my limewater in a handy Rubbermaid container with a flip-top lid. Now, being much more leery of plastic, I am mixing my limewater in a quart sized Ball jar with a plastic lid found in the canning supply section of the grocery, hardware, or department store. And, while I'm jabbering, I should mention that we use canning jars for all sorts of purposes aside from the obvious--leftover food storage (to avoid plastics mentioned above), drinking, storing dry goods, you name it. They come in a wonderful variety of sizes (I can get them in 1/2 pint--that's a cup, son--to half gallon at my hardware store, and I think gallon sizes are available online) and now in a couple of shapes--those are a little more expensive, but terribly cool. The plastic lids are, obviously, plastic, but way handier to deal with than the two-piece canning lids for daily use and not prone to rust. And, if you think you might want to use them in your household, now's a great time to buy them since many places don't carry them except this time of year. They can likely be had year round via online sources, and I can special order them from Ace Hardware, but if you want to be able to see them in person, now's the time.

Now, I want to share a few links with you about limewater, which is apparently handy for all sorts of purposes, not to mention making corn to hominy and tortillas!
DrEddy Alkaline Diet Blog Hmm..I haven't read this thoroughly, nor can I vouch for it's credibility, but interesting, nonetheless.
CellSalts I'll say it again. Just collecting sites for your review. I hope to get a better look at these later, and I may revise this post as I review the info.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


This is actually the last bunch of our first spring planting.

I'll Follow the Sun (or what is that weirdo neighbor doing now???)

While we have some wonderful things growing here right now, we are still very much at the beginning stages of converting our property from average suburban lot to a homestead. I have been drawing up some plans for things we can do with our property, mainly focusing on the back yard. In an effort to fully utilize our space, I realized that I really need to evaluate what our options are for the whole yard, especially since we are financially going to have to do this gradually, and need to have a grand scheme in mind as we place plants and shrubs around our home.

So, today, I decided it was time to evaluate our sunlight hours. I placed some bamboo stakes in the yard at the points where the house shadows our front lawn at 8:30 in the morning. My short term memory is not what it used to be, so I decided I would make it very obvious to make it easy on myself. I also went out and took pictures of the whole yard for reference. I went out again at 9:00 and roughly measured (using my big ol' feet) what was now in direct sunlight. I will continue to do this throughout the day, marking both the front and back, taking pictures, and making notes in my notebook. I am also pulling my mortgage info so that I can get the square footage of my yard without measuring it. ;0)

Other things that must be taken into consideration when you are evaluating what you have available in your space:

soil--generally, with raised bed gardening, problem soil is not of too much concern, but if you are wanting to put things into the ground, obviously, you must consider what will grow in your soil.

zone--we are in zone 5. It gets cold here in the winter. First frost dates tend to be between early and mid-October. Most seed catalogs provide zone information to help you figure out what will grow where you live.

sun--my house faces west. The front of the house is shaded during the morning hours, and the back is shaded in the afternoon. The north side of my house is about 10 feet from my neighbor's garage, and we generally do not use that side of the house at all. The south side of my house has no windows (unfortunate for keeping any plants inside). The garage is also on the south end. We have a square of lawn next to our driveway that is problematic in that it seems nothing but weeds grow there. It is also unsuitable for any beds, though we might be able to add some containers out there, because the door to the fence is here as well as the door to the garage workshop. We have a large strip between the curb and the fence that is also problematic for lawn-growing, but I am thinking if we put beds all along there, we solve the issue of trying to get grass to grow there and can put some heat-loving veggies here where they can benefit from radiant heat from the fence.

Water--We live in an area where water is not rationed. However, if we were watering with city water, it would be pretty much cost prohibitive. Fortunately, we have a well for watering, so we're only paying to run the pump. If we did not, and from a sustainable perspective, it would benefit us to set up some sort of collection system. I am seriously considering putting in a couple of collection barrels for rainwater. There are a couple of places where water from our gutters is actually washing away (very sandy) soil from around our foundation, so this would serve two purposes.

What do you eat? What do you want to grow? There's not much point in growing things you will never eat. Now, certainly if you know someone that loves zuchini or have a food bank nearby that will gladly take your excess and you have the space, then grow some zuchini, even if your only consumption might be two or three zuchini muffins a year. Otherwise, reserve your space for things you will use and love!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

1. Plant something -more basil and parsley into a pot that is easily brought inside this fall. More dill, since a lot of what I planted did not come up. It's almost time for fall plantings! :) This week, I'll be transplanting some baby cabbage plants from their container to a garden bed. I may scope out some broccoli seedlings today at the store, just to better guarantee our chances of success. I'll also be cutting some mint to mulch it with to deter pesty pests.

3. Preserve something -Making lavender oil. Next will be plantain oil.

4. Reduce waste -Well, it may be a cop-out, but I feel that when I'm harvesting and preserving herbs and "weeds" from my yard that would normally be left, I am reducing waste. I'm trying to better manage our pantry, fridge, and freezer and plan meals to use up what we have.

5. Preparation and Storage -Reading The Herbal Home Remedy Book by Joyce Wardwell. Planning next year's herb garden to include a few more useful medicinal herbs. Making herb oils and tinctures from herbs we have or can gather for future use (see "Harvest Something").

6. Build Community Food Systems -Nothing here this week....thinking....

7. Eat the Food -The girls have enjoyed a few tiny raspberries from our bushes. More spinach, a few baby carrots (just to see if they're ready), we've been carefully watching Killian's strawberry plants, but it appears that while we were away for the weekend someone (or something) else enjoyed the first of our little strawberry harvest.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Things I realize...

I grew up and still live (albeit in a more urban area in another state) in the Midwest. For many Midwesterners, I don't think this "Urban Homesteading" thing is such a stretch. It is not uncommon here to see a small garden in someone's backyard or a tomato plant on someone's patio. There are plenty of U-Pick farms where families make a day of picking (and eating) berries or apples. My brother-in-law and his bride gave away home canned preserves and pickles as favors at their wedding last month. While we, as a nation and a society, have strayed so far from the founding fathers' utopian farmer ideal, I think those areas that have traditionally been farming communities have stayed closer to those ideals. Others have not, including farmers themselves, but that's another discussion.

So, my grandparents had gardens, canned fruits and veggies, had wood stoves, kept and butchered animals, darned socks, sewed and crocheted clothing, quilts, afghans, and basically were skilled at making something from very little, fixing and maintaing their own cars, homes, and anything else that required fixing. They passed many of these skills on to my parents (and aunts and uncles), who also became very skilled at them in their own ways, adding their own talents and interests along the way. Sometimes raising chicken for eggs and meat, having a garden, keeping bees, etc., meant the difference between having food or not, but often they only served to improve the quality of life. None of them, ultimately, became farmers, nor were my grandparents farmers by trade. My maternal grandfather worked in a factory, though he did own a small farm and shared farming with his brother. His children, none of them farmers, still keep gardens. My maternal grandmother, in her 70's, still cans. My paternal grandfather was a postman, and my paternal grandmother sewed clothes for eight children, cooked for an army (even when there wasn't much to work with), washed clothes with a hand-wringer and pressed out wrinkles without electricity, crocheted and knitted huge afghans, and, I am sure did numerous things that I don't even know about. Their children, all eight of them, became doctors and lawyers, PhDs, physical therapists, nurses, landscape designers--among their employers have been such companies as McDonnell Douglas, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the HRSA.

We were blessed, growing up, knowing the origins of food (sometimes a little too personally). To some, we might have been considered deprived, but this knowledge makes seeking a more self-sufficient lifestyle feel entirely doable. I think, too, my own parents and their siblings benefited from their own upbringings in that they always felt capable of taking things on, of being able to do whatever needed doing themselves.

Now, I have learned, also, that sometimes it is easier to leave some things to others. Also, in a limited amount of space, there are limits to what we can do. We are exploring, of course, all that we might do, and the point is, we can do much more than one might think. Currently, there are ordinances forbidding chickens or small livestock in our neighborhood. So, maybe someday, I trade baked goods for milk. Ideally, we make connections with other like-minded folks and find ways to work together as a community to meet our needs.

There are those that believe that we will have to live sustainably to survive in the future, that for whatever reason, it will become difficult to go to the grocery and buy produce and meat. Heating and electricity, city water, and transportation may cost too much for the average person to afford. I don't know if I believe in any of the theories and ideas out there, and certainly, I can think of none that I agree with completely, but I know that where I live, jobs and incomes are dropping, so, even if prices don't rise, some people are going to be struggling. Living sustainably, whether you buy into global warming, peak oil, plague, or zombie invasion, will allow us to live comfortably even in times of financial stress. And, if financial or other stress does not occur, we live all the more comfortably and can do other things with our money than buy food shipped from foreign countries.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Sustainable Crafting

I've been trying to carefully evaluate my trash and recycle bins lately. We are very good about recycling items and don't produce an average American pile of trash every week (not that that's saying much), but being thrifty as well as seeing no need to produce more trash than necessary, I have been trying really hard not to toss or recycle anything that could be of use. I have been using newspaper and cardboard that is not suitable for continued use in box form to use as mulch and placed it over areas where I plan to put in new garden beds.

I have been hanging on to a lot of cans lately. Especially any time I happen to have a bigger one, I hesitate to just throw it in the recycling. Looking for something holiday-themed, I realized I had the perfect materials!

I don't know why, but I cannot get this picture to flip. I painted these with acrylic paints and a coat of crafting varnish. I had the acrylics on hand, but I did buy the varnish. I bought a little bottle of it at Meijer's, but will head to the craft store next time and get a big ol' bottle. I think they would be great with some sand and votives, used to hold goodies, or even as planters!
I guess if I were a proper crafter, I would have taken pictures of these with something in them in all their 4th of July glory, but, then, I can't even get the picture turned the right direction.

Purslane and Wood Sorrel

I have pulled lots of purslane out of my garden. I knew it was edible, but I also knew there was another plant that looked much the same that is not edible. Having found that most weedy edibles taste, well, weedy, I didn't make any effort to figure out what plant was what and give it a try. Until yesterday.

I happened across a link with edible weed information and took a look. I found purslane and wood sorrel in my garden. I'd also been pulling up a lot of wood sorrel, presuming it to be clover (which, upon closer inspection, obviously, it is not, though we have clover with yellow flowers too). I plucked up some purslane, checked the stem for white liquid (which is in the inedible purslane imposter), found none, and, along with some wood sorrel, rinsed it off in the kitchen sink and gave it a try. The purslane was actually quite tasty! How sad that I've been spending so much time weeding it out of my garden rather than letting it grow to a decent eating size! The wood sorrel has a lemony-sour (as in unripe) apple taste, which is also good, but I'm trying to decide on a really good application for that. The little yellow flowers would look pretty in salad.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


We have a calendula flower! It looked like it was about to bloom for days, and today, it finally opened! These are commonly called marigolds, but are not the same as the typical marigolds. The seeds are little curlicues and the leaves look almost like big spinach plants. We are a long way from several handfuls of flowers to make calendula tincture, but I'm going to be sure to pick up some Everclear while we're in Indiana this weekend. ;) I've been buying calendula cream and tincture for years; it is great for use on burns, scrapes and diaper rash, etc., but I'm very excited to be able to make it myself!

Another great tincture I discovered last year is plantain. It is also wonderful for scrapes, cuts, and burns.

How do you do it? Fill a quart jar with calendula flowers (several handfuls), or plantain leaves (be sure wherever you collect them has not been sprayed or treated) and cover with grain alcohol. Let sit in a dark area. You may want to give a shake once in a great while. After 2-6 weeks, strain the liquid and store in a dark glass bottle. If kept out of heat and sun, this should last a long time! Dilute as needed for use.

What's up with the raspberry bushes?

We have quite a thicket of raspberries in one of the front flower beds. We were going to move them this spring when we noticed that there was a mass of blossoms on them, so we figured we'd leave them in place until after we harvested them!

I never saw many petals, some of the blossoms look dried out, and only a few berries are forming. One was actually ripe today, and it was pretty seedy (well, you know, more than usual for a raspberry, LOL). I don't know if you can get a good look at them in this pic. What happened here? Was there a lack of water at a critical time, is there a disease that might cause this? What?


Independence Days Challenge

1. Plant something - new crop of lettuce, spinach, a few more chard plants as only a couple came up, more broccoli, a handful of garbanzo beans from my pantry--I have no idea what these will do, but at the least, I figure they'll be good for the soil (legumes fix nitrogen in the soil). I put them where the wascally wabbit ate off all the peas. The runner beans are recovering nicely, but the peas aren't coming back. Wire fencing is in place and will hopefully deter the varmint.

2. Harvest something -a couple more handfuls of snap peas. I'm going to try a different variety of snap peas this fall. I haven't had much luck with this package here. A few more radishes, some spinach.

3. Preserve something -well, not really preserved, though I could can it. Made some mint syrup for sweetening tea.

4. Reduce waste - "rescuing" 5 gallon buckets destined for the trash at our local grocers' bakeries to make more self-watering containers. Determined it is OK to put banana peels in the compost and around the rose bush in the front (it's been so neglected, it deserves a treat ;) ).

5. Preparation and Storage - drew out a plan for placement of more beds. Does cleaning the refrigerator count here? Thinking, thinking, researching.

6. Build Community Food Systems -Considering putting together a "community chest" of items that can be passed around the neighborhood. Will post more about this later.

7. Eat the Food -snap peas are being eaten as fast as the bushes can produce (sadly, they're not producing much); we ate some day lilies this week! Molly is especially fond of the day lilies. Ate spinach on top of sandwiches.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Frost Dates....

I've barely finished planting things for spring, but I'm still trying to figure out what else we can put in the ground here, and thinking about what we can do to make our garden last as long as possible. We have one raised bed that with some pvc pipes can be covered ("covered wagon"-style). Currently, it houses tomatoes, radishes, and carrots.

Our average last frost date is October 8 here, and we are zone 5. For a late summer planting, I am hoping to put in some lettuce, spinach, kale, chard, broccoli, and peas. I also want to plant bunching onions and garlic this fall. I am still considering adding some bush beans and pumpkins to our current gardens, though it is getting late, and I will have to put together another bed to do that--I am considering a New Square Foot Gardening approach using some 2X6 lumber in the rafters of our garage left by the previous owners (um, yeah, 7 years ago).

Skippy's Vegetable Garden has a great Online Vegetable Garden Planting Calendar which definitely helps with figuring out the timeline!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Finding Uses for Things We Already Have

Today for the first time, I made some mint syrup. We have a massive (all the more massive for not having been pruned or harvested in the six summers we have lived here) patch of mint in the front flower bed that was planted by the previous owner. This is the first year I have harvested more that a few mint leaves from the patch, and we have really been enjoying them!

Also, for the first time ever, today we ate daylilies from our back yard. We have a couple of different types of daylilies growing in our backyard (also planted here by the previous owners). Right now, it is the orange ones that are just beginning to bloom. Molly (5) and Liam (8) tried one with me. Molly ran up the hill to pick the only other bloom to eat! I'm wondering if we'll see any blossoms for long this summer! They don't have a strong flavor, and are even slightly sweet.
They would make a beautiful garnish!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Independence Days Challenge

1. Plant something - I'm thinking I'll plant a few more scarlet runner beans on the east side of the house; the ones in front (the west side) are looking a little droopy with the heat of the sunset these last few HOT days, and the other patch out back has been apparently very much enjoyed by a critter that left behind a trace of fuzzy gray hair, so I'm betting I can identify the culprit. I will be placing wire fencing around that bed.

2. Harvest something -oregano, mint, one lone snap pea

3. Preserve something -drying more oregano

4. Reduce waste - composting, harvesting more oregano from my big patch to take to the local food bank...maybe I'll take some mint too.

5. Preparation and Storage - filling up my oregano jar, planning more beds from scrap lumber left in our rafters, collecting buckets for more self-watering containers.

6. Build Community Food Systems -sharing oregano harvest and a small bucket of oregano plants for their garden with local food bank

7. Eat the Food -enjoyed mint leaves with iced tea--took some to the baby shower we threw last week. Um, and, yeah, I ate the one lone snap pea. It was good.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Where I started....

We’ve made the effort for years to live frugally, simply. But, in the meantime, we still managed to rack up some debt. We always planned to someday soon buy a place with some acreage and plant a huge garden, but the state of the economy and its effect on our personal finances has left us owing more on our home than it could ever bring, if we could sell it at all. In addition to that, we have not progressed far in paying off accrued credit card debt. Of course we knew better than to use credit cards, but we used them with the assumption that our incomes would remain steady or continue to grow, and they would be easily paid off.

So, what now? For years, I have been reading and learning how to live green, how to live frugally, I’ve studied lots of theories on nutrition and learned to cook from scratch. I grew up on a farm. My parents did the best with what they had, which wasn’t much. My dad is a bit of a renaissance man who can do just about anything and has done just about everything. He’s built homes, farmed (and all that entails), fixed cars, tractors, boats, and airplanes, not to mention wells and pumps and furnaces. When I was a sophomore in high school, he went back to school (he earned his bachelor’s in horticulture when I was a baby) and earned his J.D. He has now been practicing law for over 20 years.

My mom also taught me self-sufficiency and nurtured in us creativity. She was very young when I was born, 17. She worked hard alongside my dad. If anyone ever made me believe that women could do anything, it was her. She carried five gallon buckets full of feed to the pigs, held squirming baby pigs as my dad, um, castrated them, hung laundry on the line, cooked meals from scratch, and baked pies that were works of art. She is an artist, has always been, I suppose. All through my childhood, she was always creating something, painting, forming lumps of clay into incredible sculptures and pots, and later, taking up woodcarving. She made us elaborate Halloween costumes and piñatas shaped like animals and cartoon characters from papier-mâché. There were always art supplies to be found and used, something I took for granted until I was grown and realized that not everyone grows up with access to clay and paint and papier-mâché . When I was twelve and my youngest sibling was 8, she had my baby sister. I don’t remember her slowing down during her pregnancy. She gardened and mowed the lawn(we lived in the middle of nowhere, LOL) in a bikini at 8 months pregnant. She nursed my baby sister until she was nine months old, when she came down with mastitis and received the bad advice from her doctor to wean. I mention this because I was old enough to remember and really have learned about parenting of a baby and infant. She started college the same year I did and has been an art teacher now for over 12 years.

Now in my 40th year, I have been married to my sometimes reluctantly green hubby for 14 years, and I am a full-time mama to four beautiful children, two boys, ages 11 and 8, and two girls, ages 5 and 2. While this blog will have little to do with child-rearing, I imagine they will come up. I teach college-level English online part time from home. I, with my husband's help, am working to make us as self-sufficient as possible in the face of limited budgets and resources. I want to share with you our success (and failures) in this adventure.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Independence Days Challenge

1. Plant something - 2 more rows of sweet corn

2. Harvest something -radishes, oregano, mint

3. Preserve something -going to dry some oregano!

4. Reduce waste - yard and kitchen waste going to our garbage can composter

5. Preparation and Storage - does putting up oregano count?

6. Build Community Food Systems -Dropped off info at our local food bank on They are creating a registry for food banks and backyard gardeners so that gardeners may donate to their local food banks.

7. Eat the Food -Nobody but me eats radishes. I've been enjoying them, though!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Independence Days Challenge

Sharon Astyk of Causabon's Book has created the Independence Days Challenge. Tuesdays will be the day for sharing progress in the following categories:

1. Plant something -

2. Harvest something -

3. Preserve something -

4. Reduce waste - This category covers both the old “Reduce Waste” and “Manage Reserves” group.

5. Preparation and Storage -

6. Build Community Food Systems -

7. Eat the Food -

See the link above for more details on the categories and the challenge.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Remaking Suburbia

As a young couple, we found ourselves drawn to the suburbs as we sought housing a reasonable distance from work. For a long time, we have planned at some point to move to the country, to claim some land of our own where we could lead a more sustainable lifestyle. Having grown up on a farm, I have always longed to share with my young children the joys of living in the country—of being able to wake up in the morning and pick berries for breakfast, watching things grow, knowing that we do not need to be entirely dependent upon utility companies and grocery stores. The reality, though, is that a move to the country is not going to happen for us right now. And it’s quite possible that in a number of ways our suburban space is far superior to a more remote location. Our home is located on the edge of a small town (which is not far from a larger city). We have numerous amenities within walking distance—an excellent library system, public schools, doctors’ and dentists’ offices, parks, swimming pools, post office, grocery stores, restaurants, and specialty shops all lie within 2 miles or less of our front door. We are surrounded by kind and caring neighbors. Our children are growing fast. Our oldest just turned eleven. So we realize the time has come, not for making a new home (no matter how appealing sometimes it sounds to “move away from it all”), but for re-making our current home—for remaking suburbia.