Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The world is my buffet table: Dandelion

   "Mama had a baby and it's head popped off."  We used to sing that all the time as kids and pop off all the heads to the dandelions.  Now here I am 30 years later doing it again.  No, I don't have kids.  I love dandelions and I noticed they are blooming everywhere.
   I was too late to get the leaves or roots.  The leaves are great in salads, sandwiches or even juiced or thrown in a smoothie.  Diuretic, good for digestion, and cooling.  They contain vitamins A and C, and antioxidants.  I was even told "You should pick those dandelion leaves now, before it's too late, they're ready."  I thought that was crazy!  They weren't ready yet.  They needed more time to fill out.  It wasn't so crazy.  Within 2 days, there were the flowers, all yellow and smiley.  So I did some research, and sure enough, you want to pick them before the flower comes up.  After the flower comes up, they get more bitter and stringy.  Damn.  I'll still pick them anytime I need a fresh green, regardless of a flower being there.  But they are better before they flower.
   Well, maybe I can harvest the root.  The root is so good for the liver, it increases iron levels and enhances iron absorption, it helps with nerve transmission, and is also cooling.  I had a feeling that was going to be something for the fall.  I was right.  You want to harvest the root from late fall to early spring.  The temperatures may feel like early spring, but the day length tells a different story.  Nuts!
   But... It turns out you can eat the flowers!  I wasn't sure what to think about this at first, but I just had to give it a try.  Here's what you do to enjoy these smiley bits of lawn sunshine.
   My first suggestion is to pick the flowers early in the day.  That is usually the time to harvest an herb. Usually.  I went out late in the day, because that's just when I finally got my act together on this project.  It was part of dinner, of course.  The wind had picked up and a cold fog was rolling in.  The flowers just didn't look as cheerful as they did earlier in the day.  Whatever, I had to try it today!  I picked just the head off.  No stem.  I didn't worry about removing the small green leaves.  Then I rinsed them really well to get any bugs or dirty stuff off.  Not that I'm too concerned, I'm sure there have been many little bugs in my salad or dinner.  It's fresh and organic!  Most of the flowers came from a fenced in area, but some were from other spots.
        Important note: You want to be careful where you wildcraft.  You don't want to eat things from a lawn that is sprayed or maybe has runoff from a road or other gross source.  Plants are kind of like filters and will suck up dirty things, so a good, known, clean area is best.
   Then I laid them out on a paper towel to dry.  I made a batter
with 1/2c. heavy cream (it should be milk, but I forgot to buy some), 1/2 c. flour, and 1 egg.  You could definitely get creative here.  Maybe cornmeal or some herbs?  I forgot the salt and pepper.  That would have been nice.  Beer could be used for a beer batter, or you could get creative with the flour and liquid.
   I got a pot and put about 1/4" to 1/2" of oil in it and got that hot.  I used sunflower oil.  Any oil could be good.  Coconut oil could be very tasty!  To make it a healthier fry, use a healthy oil, and keep it at a high temperature throughout.  You can do this by making sure you have enough oil in the pot so that when you put a cold item in there, it doesn't cool down the oil too much.  Also don't throw them all in at once.  Just fry a couple at a time and then do another batch.
   I drenched these little flower heads in the batter and threw them in the hot oil for a few minutes.  When they looked nice and golden, I took them out and laid them on another paper towel to drain and cool.
   I made a honey mustard sauce for dipping them in.  Any dipping sauce would be good.
   They were great!  We ate them too fast to get a picture.  It was so fun to eat something that seems so strange.  Something that people spend so much money and time getting rid of.  Something that is everywhere.  Perhaps we should embrace what the world offers us, rather than try to kill it.  Maybe their resilience is a sign that we need to make the most of it, and use them.  If my entire lawn was dandelion rather than grass, I'd be so happy.  Maybe my neighbors wouldn't.  But I wouldn't be mowing and I could eat my "lawn".  And they are just such happy mini sunshines!  Now I walk around wondering what else is out there for me to eat that I don't know about yet?  I imagine I could feed the entire city a little snack with all the flowers that are out there.
   It's tough to find information about the nutrients in the flower, but from a few sources I've seen, I think dandelions contain vitamins A, B and C, phosphorus, and calcium, betacarotene, iron, zinc, potassium, and lecithin.
   There are recipes all over the internet for different ways to fry them up.  There are recipes for cookies, a syrup, and teas.  You could even just sprinkle them over a salad.
   I also tried making some dandelion syrup.  Not knowing what I might be in for, I just made a small batch.  Also, I've been so excited about these flowers, but I wanted to leave some to go to seed (some people might hate me for that!).  I picked 15-20 flower heads, once again not worrying about the small leaves.  I put them in a pot and covered them with some water.  I only wanted to bring them to a boil and then let them steep.  A watched pot never boils, so I did a little vacuuming.  Thanks to my boyfriend for seeing it and shutting it off.  Next time I will at least stay in the kitchen.  I let them cool and then put the infusion in the fridge overnight.  The next day I strained the infusion making sure to squeeze out all the liquid I could.  It turned out to be about 1/2 cup of liquid.  I put this back into the pot and added a little less than 1/2c. sugar.  I heated this up until the sugar was all dissolved.  You can add lemon, but I wanted to see what it tasted like plain.  It was like honey!  You can add this syrup to some water for a tasty drink.  I'm thinking of adding it to some vodka with a little lime, for a nice cocktail tonight!
   I hesitated on posting this, thinking it needed more pictures, thinking I would make that cocktail and talk about it, thinking there should be more.  What I got is another link for eating dandelion flowers.  These are fritters, not fried, more like pancakes with stems poking out.  Fritter recipe

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Motivation? Motivation?

   Oh motivation, my good friend, where are you?  I really need you right now.  There are still many jobs to finish.  Are you hiding, wrapped up in blankets, avoiding the cold damp weather?  Are you taking a break after a week of hard work?  Are my authoritative powers not strong enough to keep you working?  Please come back!
The dogs answered the call of the nap!
Not helping my battle.
   Hopefully I just left you in the greenhouse and you're responsible for waking up those seeds and getting those seedlings to grow so fast.
   I thought since I couldn't motivate myself to do some of the things I needed to do, I could at least write about this little problem.  As I sit here trying to write, there's a tug on my left arm.  "Oh, well hello there Procrastination!  Thanks for stopping by!"  Now here I am searching online for tips on how to stay motivated.  They're not helping.  I feel like my brain has quit.  Focus? Why don't you stop on in?
   Let's get to the real roots of the problem here.  I am stuck in this spot of being somewhat recently unemployed and not quite yet self employed.  I no longer have that structure of having to be at work at a certain time, in a certain type of clothing, to do a certain job.
   Oooh, the mailman!  What paper treats does he have for me today?
   Not having a job is great!  Starting your own business is exciting!  But also scary and some of the tasks are, well, boring.  I've spent a year or so on this business so far.  Four years if you count the other ideas I had and decided not to follow through with.
   I'm at that boring point now.  I've created my recipes, sampled them out, and got mostly great reviews.  I've adjusted the recipes according to some reviews and I'm happy.  I've designed the packaging.  I've created a website, even if it is a rough work in progress.  I've gone to the lawyer to get the business filing started.  What's left?  Details.  Boring, ugly details.  Writing up return policies, terms of agreement, and other not so exciting stuff.  Ugh.
   It's easier to find motivation when you have a result that is exciting.  I wanted to work on the package design, website, and recipes because when it was done, I could proudly display it and show it off.  I'm staring at the box right now and smiling.  I can't wait to get the finished package back so I can take pictures and put it on the website!  But return policies?  Where's the reward there?  The only reward I can see is crossing it off the to do list.  It's an important piece of the pie, but ugh, who cares.  How about I just start also making these things to sell too!
   And now I'm overwhelmed.  I've gone from selling boxes of herbal tea at farmers markets to overtaking an entire craft fair with all of my potential products.  Focus.  Get back to the tea.  Ok, the tea and the blog that you have neglected for 3 weeks.  Neglected because I have procrastinated, avoided, and lazed out of everything to the point that I didn't even have anything to write about.  All I want to do is take a nap, which, interestingly is one of the tips people gave for regaining motivation.  I refuse!  Even though it is rainy, cold, dreary and still brown outside and that quilt and pillow look so good right now.
   I think I feel it coming back! Motivation?! Is that you? Did forcing myself to write about not wanting to write inspire me to write more?  I think so!  That check mark next to policies will look great!
   After I make some lunch.

What are your tricks to get yourself up and at 'em and to pull yourself through the doldrums?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Our Dream Garden, but only the small dream

    I've had a lot of time on my hands lately.  I lost my job, which is so great because I really wanted more time to work on my herbal tea and recycled object business.  Now I've got too much time.  That leaves a lot of room for staring out the back window and dreaming.  Thank you Grow Write Guild for encouraging this and asking me to write it down!
     I have many dreams of my garden.  Some involve more space than others.  So I don't get too crazy, I'll just stick with my dream for the space I have now.  We only started here two years ago, so it was a clean slate and it's still a work in progress.  I like to stick to the attainable dream so I don't drive myself crazy.  I'm not ready to move again yet.
     The first part of our dream involves food.  Probably the second and third part, or just about all of the parts involve food.  We love flowers, but we find we're often moving them somewhere else so a food plant can go in that spot.  Food plants have flowers too!
  So, food.  We have our vegetable beds as well as a strawberry patch, blueberry bushes, a cherry tree, a fruit cocktail tree (peach, apricot, plum, and nectarine), an apples tree (fuji, golden delicious, and gala), a marion berry, and soon schisandra berries.  In our dream, they are bigger and bear many fruits!  We want too much so that we have to invite friends and neighbors over for feasts.  And then there will be extra for canning/drying/pickling for the winter.  Last season the squirrels got fat off our peaches, our single apple blew off during Sandy (I'll take that loss over what other people lost), and we had a small snack of blueberries.

We also want to add grapes, almonds, goji and citrus in pots.   One side of the house, you'll walk through a gate under grape vines, and on the other side, schisandra vines.


     Part two also involves food.  Chickens!  Maybe ducks too!  Although I'm sure they'll end up more like pets and we will only eat the eggs.  These chickens will be running all over the yard eating the bad bugs and pooping out good plant food!  I've been dreaming of chickens or ducks for years, hopefully by the end of this summer, or next.


     Now we need a place to cook and eat this food.  The deck is built, but we need nice furniture and perhaps a bar.  The deck has gentle fans to keep mosquitos away, and repurposed sails for sun blocks and privacy screens.  An old boat is docked next to the deck and is used as a planter.  We have a slight nautical theme for this deck.  Maybe we'll have a fire pit below the deck, or a brick oven.  There's also a nice front porch with curtains and plants hanging all over.  It will be a nice place to watch the sunset.

     Since I am an herbalist and make teas, there will be many medicinal and culinary herbs growing in gardens and wherever else they might be happy.  Chamomile, echinacea, calendula, yarrow, raspberry, valerian, hops, roses, mints, basil, and a million more!  They might be vertical, or spiral, or just scattered.

     We'll have bees and all kinds of birds and butterflies fluttering around!  We can collect honey and bee pollen from our hives.  This might take a while since I first have to get over my fear of bees.
     We have a bat box, but in our dreams, bats actually live there!  We put two up there because one just wasn't big enough!
     We have a small greenhouse.  But in our dreams it is heated!  Then we won't have to lug huge pots of aloe and citrus in and out every year.
     We have rain barrels set up to help with the watering.  We might need to add some more in other places.  There will be lots of plants needing water!
     We'll have an aquaponics setup.  Maybe tilapia are in there.  Maybe ducks are swimming around.  Probably a dog will jump in at times to cool down.
     We'll have to use vertical arrangements to fit more in.
The back yard is very private with all kinds of edibles or medicinals growing everywhere, forming fences and walls.  Winding pathways guide you throughout the yard into little pockets of heaven.  It's definitely not a huge yard.  But every space will be used but not overcrowded.  Much of the building materials will be re-used or re-purposed.  Paradise on a quarter acre!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

How it all started

     It's funny how things just come together sometimes.  I'm new to blogging, and never even really read one, let alone follow one.  I felt I had things to share, ideas, mistakes, lessons, and so a blog just made sense.  Hopefully it will also be a way to practice writing.  Being new to this blog world, I decided to go out and see what other people were doing.  In this search, I came across You Grow Girl. I was so excited to then find Grow Write Guild!  I definitely don't have any problem with material to write about.  There's years of stories and gardening and DIY stuff to write about.  I could write a couple thousand pages.  But who wants to read all of that.  I needed FOCUS!
     The first topic is to talk about what got you into gardening.  Once again, funny how things come together as I was just thinking about this and talking to friends about it.  The problem is, they have a story.  They remember the first tomato they grew or the first houseplant they didn't kill.  I feel like for me, it all just fell into place.
     I don't remember how it all started, but I remember having plants in my bedroom.  My mother always had some houseplants and I do have memories of being out in her garden when I was very small.  I don't think she had much time for a garden once my sister was born, so I was probably only a few years old.  I remember it looking huge!  Everything is huge when you're small.  Earthworms looked like snakes.  Or maybe they were snakes?
     Back to that bedroom.  My room was on the southeast corner of the house.  It was always warm and sunny.  Somehow my room became the plant hospital.  If a houseplant was sick or not doing well, it ended up on a little table or in the windowsill and I would nurse it back to health.  I had no idea what I was doing, but I did it right.  I loved those plants.  I don't even remember what they were now, but they were loved!  This must have been middle school or high school.
     In elementary school, I remember my sister coming home with seedlings she started.  One was even a tomato that went to space!  But why do I only remember her plants?  Did I never get to do these projects?  Or was it just that a space tomato can make everything else seem like nothing?
     What I do know is that by the time I was 12, I was in the back yard digging up the grass in the back yard for a veggie garden.  It was nowhere near as big as the one I remember my mother having, but it was huge for a kid who wouldn't eat a vegetable to save her life.  And I mean that.  My father used to tell me at dinner, "You'll die in your sleep tonight if you don't eat those vegetables."  My mother took a different approach and told me the vegetables were sad and crying because I didn't want them.  Death was not scary to me.  Making a vegetable sad was just horrifying.
     I grew tomatoes, and zucchini for sure.  Over the years my garden got a little bigger to fit some herbs.  I'm sure there were other veggies too.  I remember tilling the garden every year only to find more and more rocks.  It was amazing how I could pull these large rocks out, and still have to do it again the next year!  We had a rock bed near the veggie bed from all those rocks we pulled out. It still blows my mind when I think about this.  Geology is a magical thing!
     Soon I was helping a friend start a garden in her yard.  We must have been 13 or 14, the two of us digging and digging.  We didn't pick the best spot.  It was surrounded by trees or shrubs and those roots were just exhausting!  We finally got it done and got some seeds and plants in the ground.  I'm happy to say that she still remembers this garden too.  I don't know if she's still gardening, but she did go on to become a nutritionist.  I like to think there is some connection there!
    I survived not eating veggies, and now I eat them all (although you'll probably never find cauliflower in my back yard).  I've had many gardens now from Mass to Chicago, Southern Cal, to the Jersey Shore, and there will be many more.  I'm lucky to share this garden with someone who enjoys it as much as I do.  His story is different, but we end in the same edible paradise.  He was even out there today starting beds for potatoes in the snow!  It still feels like winter, but we have our seeds planted for this summers garden, which will be our best one yet! Until next year, that is.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


     We collect A LOT of material for compost.  I work in the juice bar at a health food store.  It is amazing how much good material gets thrown in the trash there.  I just can't take it all.  I'd love to, but there is just too much!  I sometimes feel like it is a problem, like the problem people have on the tv show about hoarders.  It pains me to see a banana peel, avocado shell, or rotten tomato get thrown in the trash.  Sometimes I watch it happen and sigh.   Other times I convince a coworker to pull the stuff out of the trash and put it in my collection box.  I kind of have them trained at this point.  Every day that I work, I bring home a 10 gallon totes worth of celery and lettuce ends, carrot and beet tops, banana peels, wilted greens that didn't sell fast enough in produce, avocado shells, tomato pieces, egg shells, and whatever else comes along.  I see about the same amount I bring home each day go into the trash.  And then there's the juicer pulp.  I can't help but think about all of the other grocery stores and restaurants that throw away the same or even more across the country.  It's saddening.  Not only is it just thrown into the trash, it is wrapped in plastic a bag or two.  Plastic is another thing I have a problem with.  I've been taking this compost for a little over a year now.  Co-workers wonder how big my compost bin is and think I have acres.  We live on a regular sized lot for this small city, about a quarter acre.  But there are two houses on it, so not much yard left.  I think it's plenty.  There is still so much unused space.
     Back to the compost.  Where does it all go?  We have a couple of bins...

store bought and home-made,
re-purposed materials bin
We started with these.  One is an old store bought bin, the other we made from scrap metal from the old furnace vents in the cellar.  This was obviously not enough.  So we bought another plastic bin.  Then that one quickly filled up, so we built a large holding cell.
     There are so many ways to compost.  You can do the lazy method that my family did years ago, which is to just throw things in a pile.  Those things can be fallen branches, christmas trees, egg shells, yard clean-up, and kitchen scraps.  I only recommend this method if you can pile things quite a distance from the house.  We had a large yard then, and the pile was down hill from the house.  It was also far from neighbors houses.  This method has no way of keeping out critters, so be ready to share.  I don't remember having rats then, but we did have some bunnies who probably kept nice and toasty in there over the winter.

Since we have a small yard and countless critters, 2 of them being vegetable loving dogs, we had to use  closed bins.  These bins either come in black or are painted black to gather more warmth.  In CA, where we came from, temperature wasn't a problem.  Compost pretty much stops its breaking down activity at temperatures below 40 degrees.  The black color gives you a little more time during the year for active compost.  The only problem with these bins is that it is difficult to turn the compost.  You want to turn your compost regularly to aid in the breakdown of material.  This shouldn't be done every day.  We are somewhat lazy composters and do not turn it much at all.  Perhaps they wouldn't be so full if we were a little better at this chore.  Gardening is not at all about rushing things though.
     The picture here is another type of store bought bin.  This one was given to us from a friend who was moving and no longer used it.  It is probably pretty old and still had a little compost in it.  This is a good bin for the lazy composter because it has a crank on the side so you just tumble the compost.  however, we have two potential problems with this bin.  One is its advanced age.  We are a little scared to fill it much and have visions of it's stand collapsing and the bin rolling away.  Another problem is that it is raised off the ground.  Why is this a problem?  How are all those little creepy crawlies that do much of their breakdown work in the dark cover of the soil supposed to venture up into this bin?  The reason compost stops breaking down below 40 degrees is that the crawlies are too cold and hibernating.  The crawlies are the ones that do the work.
holding cell
      Here is our holding cell.  Since our other bins were full, we just dump material in here.  This one we made out of scraps of wood from various projects around the house and yard.  This area is safe from the dogs, and since it is winter, there is not much smell.  It's also located in the back corner of the yard, behind the barn, and away from all neighbors.  It is also under shade, so it will probably break down slower due to the cooler temperatures.  The squirrels love it!  We often find avocado shells, their favorites, scattered around the yard.  We don't mind sharing a little as long as it keeps them away from the bird feeders.  Compost is free, winter bird seed is not.  We have many hungry birds around.  And I guess they're part of the compost cycle in a way too!

 Now we can see some of the contents.  You want to make sure that you have enough green material as well as brown.  Green material is the stuff that's high in nitrogen.  It also tends to be a little more wet.  It can include your fruit and veggie scraps.  We have ended up with a lot of green material.  Everything I take from work is green.  We cook a lot, and those scraps are green.  We don't have many trees on the property and we haven't been putting our spent tomato plant pieces into the compost because of a problem with anthracnose, so we definitely don't have enough browns, or carbon.  Because of this, our compost is a little more wet, and slightly stinky.  We tried gathering grass clippings from a landscaper friend (no sprays used, of course), and letting them dry out a bit before adding them.  You can maybe see some of this on the right side above.  Another good way to get browns is from newspapers, cardboard and junk mail.  Just shred it up and throw it in.  We'll try this idea out soon.

As you can see to the left, we have some sticks for browns.  This is the bottom of the bin, and you can also see it is slightly broken down.  Browns often take longer to break down.  cutting them into smaller pieces will help the process.
     So, the bins are full and it's winter.  What else can we do with this compostable material that I can't throw in the trash?  Throw it directly into the garden!  We wanted to add to our growing space through building some raised beds.  But since they are raised we need to add material to fill them.  We started with a little native soil, dug up in order to lay our recycled pavers down.  This only filled our 200 square feet of bed less than a quarter of the way.  We collected some already composted material, humic compost and mulch from a nearby town that supplies it to residents.  Cardboard also went in.  And then we just mixed in those same veggie scraps.  Since it is winter still, there's plenty of time for it to break down.  It may be cold on the surface, but under all those layers can be nice and warm, so action is still occurring.

To the right you can see our newly constructed raised bed.  There are two now.  We built them out of leftover material from our deck building project.  You can see the green veggie bits mixed in with the nice black humic compost.  The cardboard was used to prevent critters from stealing this material, but it is also a good additive because earthworms love it.  They feast on the glue and break it down real quick.  I'm not sure if you can ever have too many earthworms, another important piece to the breakdown party!

The left picture shows the two beds waiting for spring.

So, what else can you do with compostable material?  Raise worms!  We've been doing this with our share of problems for about 4 years.  They even made the trip across country with us!  Worms you can't be so lazy about.  Here are some good sites to go to for info on worms:
We've had our best luck with the worm factory.  We've built our own bins.  The first was slightly successful.  This one was a large wooden box we had in CA.  Our problems with that were other bugs. It was difficult to keep the ants out.  Ants and worms do not get along, the ants will eat the worms.  One spring some bees decided to call it home.  That was quite a dilemma.  A roommate was allergic to bees and the pest guys were going to kill all of the bees and the worms.  We took care of it ourselves, but wish we could have kept them both.  In the end, the big box was too big and heavy to move around much, and didn't make it to NJ.  It might still be intact and a home to a new bunch of bees.  We've also tried using plastic bins.  Not much luck yet, but that is due to other problems.  That other problem being feeding material.  We were feeding them pulp from the juicer.  They seemed to love it, but too much of a good thing.  This material is nice and small, so easy to break down.  But given the small particle size, there's not enough air space.  We drowned many worms, sadly.  They are now in the raised beds.  Ahh, the circle of life.
   Now what to do with the juicer pulp.  A few customers have been coming in asking for what we have.  It makes a beautiful compost for the top of the veggie garden.  We covered our entire garden with a thin layer, maybe 1/4 inch or so, back in early winter.

pulp Jan 3
pulp March 14
Hopefully you can see the colorful mulch on the left.  Two months later, on the right, it is a nice dark brown, just waiting for some seedlings.  Use caution though, that pulp is slippery to walk on!

That was one of my longer stories.  I hope it's been informative.  Let me know what you're doing with your scraps.  I'll keep you all updated on how this all progresses through the spring and summer!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A walkabout and summer dreaming

     We took a walk around the yard today dreaming.  We were kind of dreaming of spring, more of summer, but even more of distant summers.  We're new to this yard, so it's still very much in the works.  Sometimes it's hard to see all the progress you've made when you're thinking of the things yet to come. The yard is brown, plants are dead, and not too exciting yet, but spring is coming and the crocuses (or is it croci?) are blooming and the daffodils are close to popping.  There were supposed to be tulips somewhere, we don't remember where.  Perhaps they didn't take to the sloppy planting. It was a quick, last second job before the deck was built over them, never to be seen again.  Well, turns out they're never to be seen again anyways.
     It's not the warmest or sunniest day, so inside we go to draw out plans for where to plant all our little seedlings that are finally starting to come up.  It was a little slow going due to some timid watering.    
     While perusing some garden notes we also happened across some photos of the garden and yard.  Now we see the progress!!

The picture on the left is a small grassy field probably May 1, 2011, the day we arrived at our new homestead.  The trailer is still parked in the driveway.  The picture on the right is today.  It sure looks better in the summer when all that brown is green with splashes of red tomato, yellow zucchini, and purple flowers.
One of the first things we did was plant the vegetable garden.  I don't think we even had many boxes unpacked before we tilled our garden plot.  Normally we wouldn't bother tilling, choosing the slow but effective lasagna method, but given it was May 1 and we needed to get stuff planted and quick!
     Below on the left is, once again our first day.  Big slabs of cement that formed a wacky, crooked and slanted driveway.  To the right we have the garage now painted to look like a barn.  People saw it and said "All you need now are some chickens running around the yard."  Soon.  Very soon.  Just have to check with the city on that one.  For some silly reason useful animals are often not allowed. Not that a dog isn't useful.  They're great companions, entertainment, and exercise.  But they don't feed you.

Barley dog, who pops up in many pictures makes sure everything is doing ok in the yard.

We also installed our greenhouse, which I've mentioned in an earlier blog.  The cement was all dug up and relocated to be used as pavers around the vegetable garden and to guide you through the yard.  And of course, we built a back porch.  The left picture is the before.  It just had a small cement slab for a porch.  We love to be outside, and since our house is not too large, and the kitchen is not great for entertaining, we just had to have a nice big porch.  This is also a work in progress, as is everything on the property.  Hopefully this summer we will get around to building a bar and finding some furniture!

Not too bad for doing it all yourself, well, with some help from friends and good neighbors.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Cold Windy Days in February

The sun is shining and it looks beautiful outside, from the inside of course.  Step outside and the 25mph wind helps the 35 degree temperature just bite right through.  It's a great day for hanging out the laundry, as long as it's pinned on tight and you do so with gloves on!  No dryer sheet can compare to the smell of line dried clothes and sheets.  And it's free!  There are so many variables to calculate this, but my guess is our small household saves $50-100 each year.  That equals a few free bottles of gin in our book.
On these winter days we're also dreaming of the garden.  We put up our greenhouse in the fall, but  heavy winds warped it slightly.  We also failed to properly grade the area on which it sits (we placed it strategically right in the middle of the river that flows past the house during heavy rain).  Now the ground is frozen and the door won't open, so that's pretty useful.  We are always learning.
Back to dreaming of the garden and having an abundance of peppers for eating, freezing, canning, and roasting.  Peppers, we have learned, take a LONG time to germinate and grow.  For many years we've ended up buying pepper plants from the nursery because by the time ours are big enough to produce fruit, the season is about over.  Or the one fruit that does grow on the tiny plant is actually larger than the plant and ends up sitting on the ground, pulling the rest of the plant with it.  Well, this year we were determined to get it right, ourselves.  So the first weekend in February we planted our pepper seeds along with some other cool season veggies for early spring.  We usually like to plant according to the moon phases, but in our haste, we ignored that this time.  We'll see how that effects things.  We like to plant with the moon for shits and grins.

Here is a simple explanation on how to plant with the moon.  
Here is another site that is a little more involved.
And here is a link to the Farmers Almanac's take.

trampled wheatgrass
Okay, the seeds are planted.  But there is a problem.  A cold night, fuzzy grey refugee problem.  We have an older house that has gaps here and there.  Some gaps are small, but they don't need to be too big for fuzzy grey refugees, other gaps are huge, as in the back door is open all day.  We'd like a doggy door, but a Newfoundland mix is not much smaller than the original door anyways.  So, these fuzzy grey refugees have found our dixie cup seed pots and our wheatgrass tray.  We woke up on morning to find wheatgrass trampled, soil scattered in odd spots, and little dimples in each cup and in the larger pots holding our citrus trees.  It makes me think about all the other seeds that never sprouted out in the field, and who they may have been feeding.  Luckily we also have a problem maintaining healthy window screens, so we have a lot of extra screen material around the house.  We wrapped those seedling cups up so good, nothing's getting in or out!  Turns out planting seeds in pots rather than straight into the ground has so many benefits.  You can get an early start, and you can easier protect these babies from fuzzy grey monsters or other pests.

seeds are safe

A couple of the seeds have sprouted so we took them out of their safety net, and moved them to a temporary safe spot with plenty of light.  It's been 18 days since the first seeds went in right around 2 weeks since the seed replacements have gone in the soil.  It always feels like it takes forever for those seeds to sprout, but we're looking good.  Pretty much everything should be sprouted by next Friday.  Fingers are crossed!
sprouted seedlings in safe location to get sun


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Challenge: Blog

We enjoy a good challenge.  Since (and prior to) moving to NJ, we've been taking on various challenges on our own.  This blog is a huge challenge itself for many reasons.  Dogs are hungry.  Dog needs to go out.  Dog needs to come in.  Dog needs to go out. Dog drank all the water.  Dog threw up all that water on the carpet.  What do we write about?  Where do we start?  Let's get a workout in now.  Sometimes we're shy, definitely introverted.  But here we are sharing away.  We can figure this out.  We managed to move ourselves and 4 dogs across the country, from 2 houses down to one that is smaller than the previous smaller house.  If we could do that, and not have a house that looks like one you might see on a hoarding tv show, we can do anything.  Unless it involves electricity or perhaps knocking down a wall in the house.  That is for the professionals.
We love gardening!  Gardening is an everyday, all year challenge.  Our back yard will be paradise one day.  One day.  It's getting there.
We love nature!  The garden is included, but so are all the other creatures that you invite or don't invite in.  It also includes mother natures giant garden.
We love a happy, cozy, inviting home.  We do this through furniture, lighting, and liquor.
We love animals!  Making them happy is a fun challenge, that literally bites you in the ass if you don't try hard enough.
We love being healthy!  This includes home grown and cooked meals, dog walks, herbal medicine, exercise, yoga, swimming, surfing, and learning.  Perhaps learning is the reason we like to try to do it all ourselves.  Well, it's that and the satisfaction of saying, "WE did that."
And so, Challenge: Blog is accomplished.  Not finished.  Some challenges are never-ending.  But blog one=done!  Sometimes that first step is the hardest.