Wednesday, July 30, 2014

It's Like Easter, But in July

Easter is fun, right? You wake up early, maybe sneak in a piece of chocolate before breakfast, and then go hunt for some eggs and other hidden treasures... and there's ham, later. That's always a plus. It's like that here, except I'm not getting any chocolate out of it. Or ham, darn it all.

I don't know what's up with the big girls, but all of a sudden it seems like no one wants to lay their eggs in the coop, where they're supposed to. Add to it that the new ladies should be starting to lay eggs as well, and I'm starting to have fits.

On the plus side, I did get a cool picture of a frog this morning, when I went to check one of the alternate nests. (That's the nest in the background. Under our deck, where we park the mower and store the hay for the rabbits. Just like Easter.) The barred rock was out there making noise like she'd just done her job, so I went to look- but this guy was all I found. Harumph.

We found a secret nest a couple of weeks ago that one americauna was using- our neighbor dog, Rosie, alerted us to its presence. We were sitting out by the fire, enjoying a couple of beers, when she strolled over to a patch of ivy at the base of a tree and comes up with an egg in her mouth. Totally nonchalant, like it was a trip to the grocery store. There were probably 8 eggs in there, and they weren't new... I put them in some water, just to check and see. Not like we were planning to eat them ourselves, but the dogs are always down for some scrambled eggs. These floated about halfway up, and were a teeny bit funky, so straight into the compost pile they went. Gross.

The irony that Americaunas are also called Easter Eggers isn't lost on me. Not one bit.

So, short of penning everyone up in the coop and run for the next couple of weeks, I need to figure out a) where all of our eggs are going, and b) how to get the new girls laying inside the coop where they're supposed to. I like letting them free range in the summer; not only are the eggs better and the yolks brighter, but it saves us some money in feed. And it's summer, for cryin' out loud! Everyone should be able to wander around in the sunshine when it's nice like this.

Have you found any secret nests from your free-range chickens? What did you do to get them back on track? Stop by Facebook and let me know- I'd appreciate the help!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Food Preservation: Freezing

Now that the garden is more or less on auto-pilot, it's time for me to focus on getting things brought in and stored for the winter. With the weather still being really warm, however, I don't really have an interest in breaking out the canning supplies and making up huge batches of... anything. I'd much rather put that sort of project on hold for a rainy day. So, I turn to my freezer. It's a great way to put up small batches of produce, keeping things manageable in the kitchen.

Berries lend themselves particularly well to freezing. Yes, the texture can change dramatically once thawed, but with frozen berries I feel like I have more options on their use. I can put them in baked goods, use them in smoothies, make fruit leather, or even make a jam out of them. If I were to can them up front, I'd lose that flexibility. 

Freezing berries couldn't be any easier. First, wash your fruit and let them dry a bit. I just leave them to drip dry in a colander for a few minutes, while I gather up my baking sheet and make sure there's a space cleared in the freezer. Then, I spread the berries out in a single layer, and pop it in the freezer. The next morning (or in a couple of hours, if I remember) the berries are frozen solid and can go into a freezer bag or your container of choice. Since they were frozen individually, they stay separated and I can just measure out whatever I need as I go. 

Veggies are also easy to freeze at home, but they generally need a quick blanch in some boiling water, in order to halt enzyme activity and keep the texture/color at its best. Here's a handy link to the National Center for Food Preservation website and their list of blanching times, by veg. Once the blanching is done, I treat them the same as I do the berries: freeze in a single layer, then portion out into vacuum-sealed bags. I even have a couple of bags of green beans left from last year in the freezer, and they still look and taste great!

I also like to make use of my freezer for pre-cooked meals. Whenever I make a batch of something that I'd consider a one-dish meal (soup, stews, chili, etc.) I like to make a little extra so I can freeze it for lunches or a fast dinner. I like using my straight-sided canning jars for this, as they can go right from the freezer to the microwave (minus the metal ring/lid), if someone's in a hurry.Otherwise, they thaw nicely in the fridge. I generally avoid using jars with a necked-down opening, just because it's harder to get something out if it's still frozen. 

The key to using glass in the freezer is to always remember that liquids expand as they freeze. In order to avoid any shattered containers, I do two things: first, I make sure to leave at least an inch of space between the food and the top of the jar. Second, I initially freeze the jars overnight without their lids on, and then cover them the next morning- no lid means that the filling in the jar has a place to go, if I happen to have overfilled it. If you're not keen on leaving something uncovered, then use some plastic wrap or foil in the interim. Once everything is frozen and the lids are on, the jars stack nicely in the freezer until you're ready to use them. 

Do you make use of your freezer to preserve foods from your garden? Stop by Facebook and tell me about it!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thursday Links

It's raining today- has been for the past three days, actually- and it's getting under my skin a bit. First, because it's July and this is the one time of year where we're supposed to be able to count on sunshine. Second, this isn't our usual rain... it's been absolutely pouring. This is the kind of rain we usually only see in movies about Seattle, not the misty drizzle we're accustomed to.

On the plus side, my rainbarrels are full again. (One was completely empty on Monday.) Also a plus- I can sit here in the studio with my spinning wheel later on, and not feel guilty about "wasting" any nice weather.
I'm also thinking about baking cookies. In July.

Anyhoo...Here's what caught my eye online, this week:

  • I love portable foods. These Spicy Tuna Cakes from Nom Nom Paleo look like they totally fit the bill.
  • It's pickle time! This giardiniera from Smitten Kitchen is at the top of my to-pickle list. (Yes, I actually have one.)
  • Alex loves using hot sauce. I think I'll make this one for him, from Nourished Kitchen.
  • Have you ever tried saving your own seeds? This article from Hobby Farms has some really good info.
  • A thunderstorm every night? I need to go visit Venezuela
  • (Affiliate Link Alert) There's still time left for fall planting! Cooks Garden is offering free shipping on any order to Acorn and Thistle readers through the end of July. Use Code AFFC74DD when checking out at
What's caught your eye this week? Any recipes, tips or tricks that you want to share with the group? Stop by Facebook and let us know!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

More on Square Foot Gardening

Welcome back everyone! Hopefully you got a chance to see my post over on Grit yesterday, where I wrapped up the two-part Building the Soil series. If not, don't forget to head over there later and take a look.

Today, as promised, I wanted to go a little more in depth on the Square Foot Gardening method, what I like about it and how it works, both in general and for me. I'll start off by saying I am not affiliated with the SFG organization in any way, but I have been thinking about their certification program because I do think it's that good.

As I mentioned on Monday, the key to the SFG method starts with the beds, and making sure they're sized appropriately for your reach. I have mine set up so that I never have to reach farther than 2 feet in, which is a real back-saver. One thing I don't have set up, that the method specifically states is a "must have" in order to be authentic, is a permanent grid over the boxes. I have a couple of pieces of lattice that I use to measure out my grids when planting, and I have used a piece or two of twine on occasion just to line things up, but I'm not keen on having a permanent grid in place. The less stuff that's in my way when I'm weeding or whatever, the better.

I also have not used the soil recipe that is touted in the book. I had been composting and mulching for years in that area before putting the boxes in, so the soil there was already really close to perfect, in my opinion. That being said, if I were to start a new raised garden in an area over grass, and I didn't have time to properly layer in the beds a season ahead of time, I'd give the mix a shot as it looks pretty good. I've said it before, and I'll say it again- find what works best for you, and do that. Plants and soil are forgiving, so experimentation is a great learning tool.

Now, on to the good stuff. The reason that SFG is so awesome is that instead of planting one straight row, we space the plants in one foot square groups. As an example, you'll recall that our original layout had roughly 2' x 6' rows. If I wanted to plant something that required 6 inch spacing, the most I'd be able to put in would be 12 plants, because the rows needed to be planted on center for watering. Now, when I plant on a grid, I can put in 15 plants in just a 2' x 2' area, and still keep the required 6 inch spacing. Talk about doing more with less!

If you're more visual, check out this link. You'll bounce out to Gardeners Supply, where they have a few preplanned SFG layouts as reference. Their beds are designed as 3' x 6' rectangles, which are also a very good layout, if you have the space for it.

Other benefits to planting on a grid in a raised box:

  • Watering efficiency. I water my beds at the soil level (no wet leaves means fewer fungal issues) by "filling them up" with the hose and letting the water soak in. I flood each bed with about an inch of water (the space I like to keep between the soil level and the top lip of the bed) every few days. I don't water my paths, or any other area that doesn't need it, like I would with an overhead sprinkler. 
  • Hoops. It's really easy to make hoops out of pvc pipe, which you can then cover with plastic to create mini-greenhouses, or cover with bird netting or floating row covers to keep pests away. 
  • Manageability. By breaking a garden down into smaller chunks like this, it's a lot easier to manage the tasks of weeding, mulching and such. 
Some potential drawbacks:
  • Intensive planting requires diligence in monitoring for pests and diseases. Because they're grouped so closely, problems can spread quickly if you're not watching.
  • You MUST feed your soil at the end of each season. Because there are more plants pulling nutrients out of less space, it's an absolute requirement to put those nutrients back in. On the up side, it's really easy to layer on mulch or compostables at the end of a season. 
  • Overplanting. I don't know if this is really a drawback, but it's something to be aware of. You can put so many more plants in, that it's easy to end up overwhelmed with produce. If you're into preserving (drying, canning, freezing, fermenting...) then mentally move this up to the benefits list. :)
Want to learn more? Here are some resources for you to check out, in addition to the book itself: 
  • Grit ran this article written by the SFG creator, Mel Bartholomew, this past winter. 
  • Mother Earth News ran this one from Mel back in 2011. 
  • This website has a TON of information on sample layouts and even succession planting, if you're looking to really maximize your productivity.
  • Search "Square Foot Gardening" in your search engine of choice. My quick Google search yielded over 4 million results, including images. 

So... Are you interested in giving this method a try? Let me know what you think, over on Facebook. If you're already into square foot gardening, post a photo over on the page and tell us all about it!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Garden Design

The garden beds, earlier this year.
I've tried a few different layouts for the garden over the 9 years that we've lived here. The garden was originally one bed, about 6 feet deep by 10 feet long. I don't know how the original owner worked with it, because there was no good way for me to reach the center. Weeding was nearly impossible without a hoe, and I couldn't envision a layout of plants that made any sense to me, either. After just a few times working it, I knew it wasn't going to stay that way for long.

I gave it one year anyway, just so I could watch the new property as it passed through the seasons. Knowing that I wanted a big food garden, I needed to make sure that it was well thought out ahead of time because it wasn't going to be easy to just pick up and move. I also had a couple of constraints to work around: there's a utility pole over there, and they ran a water line up up to it from the well, in order to serve that one garden bed. The other main issue is that we have some huge cedar trees on our property, and the existing garden is in one of the few completely cleared spots.

In the end, we left the location alone, and just expanded the garden to the 20 x 50 foot plot that it is now. It's on a loosely east-west axis, and the utility pole is pretty much smack dab in the middle. Aside from the humming of the transformer, I hardly notice it any more when I'm out there- and as long as the technicians remember to close the garden gate, neither of us seems to mind that they have to go in there once or twice a year to inspect things.

When we first pushed out the garden, we tilled aggressively to break up the existing sod, and then laid out the beds in short rows- about 7 feet long, by 2 feet wide. They were raised a bit, maybe 6 inches at the center, if that. We left the paths as dirt, thinking that all of our walking on them would compact the soil enough to keep them weed free. (Um... no. I spent probably as much time weeding those darn things as I did anywhere else.) In addition to the paths driving me bonkers, the rows were hard to keep watered enough; since they were just mounds, the majority of the water just rolled off of them.

I fought with this layout for a few more years, despite the fact that it clearly didn't work for me. That, and every winter it looked like we had a graveyard located just beyond our front window. So, it was a teeny bit creepy every now and again. All in all, the whole garden eventually went fallow for one or two seasons- the combination of frustration and some health issues making the extra work pretty much impossible for me.

When I was back on track, I knew we'd need to change the layout of the garden, in order for it to be useable again. After reading Mel Bartholomew's book "All New Square Foot Gardening", I knew that was the way I needed to go. We put in our raised beds that spring, and have never looked back. We have three different sizes of beds: 4'x4', 2'x4', and 2'x2'. The paths are still wide enough to bring the wheelbarrow in, and having the various sizes was more of an aesthetic choice than solely practical. However, I find that having the different sizes works out nicely for things like mixed lettuces and herbs, where broadcasting seeds is just fine.

Approximately the same angle, this morning. 
There are a number of benefits to the square foot method, and some aspects that I don't agree with 100%. As with everything, I think it's perfectly fine to take what works for you and discard the rest. The thing that appeals to me the most is the raised bed layout. First, having beds no larger than 4'x4' means no struggling to reach the center of the bed. As someone who likes sitting on the ground and weeding, this is ideal for me. Second, the raised beds make watering much easier and more efficient. Last, but not least, is that by planting on a grid instead of in straight lines, I maximize the amount of food my garden is producing.

There are other benefits as well- aesthetically-speaking, I like my layout of little squares and rectangles. Another is that since no one walks on the beds (aside from the random dog) there's no more tilling. I pile compost on the beds at the end of each fall, and fluff it up a little in the spring with my claw cultivator (like this one; mine is older but I absolutely love it) and I'm done. No tilling, no fussing... it's pretty awesome. Oh, and in case you were wondering- we put down some weed cloth  in between the beds, and covered that with wood chips, so the paths are pretty much no-maintenance, as well. Perfect!

If you would like some additional information on square foot gardening, I highly recommend checking out the book or their website. Otherwise, check in here on Wednesday- I'll talk some more about my setup and experiences with the method, and why you should totally give it a try.

What's your preferred garden layout and why? Stop by Facebook and let me know!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Prolific Pods

My garden is being taken over by the Rat's Tails again. I planted maybe half of what I did last year, and I still can't keep up with all of them. I go out and pick some every morning and again in the afternoon, but the pods seem to grow exponentially, over night. It's like Invasion of the Body Snatchers over here.

I'm trying a different tactic today- instead of picking off individual pods, I'm pruning the plants back to a new flower stem, in hopes that it will buy me some time in between harvests. Only time will tell how that turns out, but in theory, it should work out nicely. I'll keep you posted.

For now, though- here's what I got from trimming:

Pile of Pods

All cleaned up
But what to do with them? Why, pickle them, of course! Last year I let them get way too big, and the pods got too tough and woody to really be enjoyable. I thought lacto-fermenting would soften them up enough, but it wasn't quite enough. The flavor was great, though- briny, spicy and they kept some of their radish bite, although it was toned down a bit. This year, I wanted to make sure to get a batch in while they're still small.

Fermentation Station
One of the things I like best about making fermented pickles is that it's really forgiving. I can make the batch as large or as small as I want, so it's excellent for experimenting. I got about 2 cups of tails today, so that was plenty for a little batch. I used a cup of brine from the sauerkraut I made previously, just to kick start it, but all you really need is salt, water, and whatever spices. Here's the run down of what's in my jar:
  • 2 cups rat's tail pods
  • 4 oz carrots, sliced 1/8th inch thick. 
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon mixed pickling spice (use whatever brand you like)
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 cup existing brine
  • 2 cups water
Everything went in the jar, in the order you see them above. I cleaned the pods, then sliced the carrots on my mandolin, and dropped them both into the jar. Next I peeled the garlic, and plunked that into the jar, whole. In went the pickling spice and salt, and I shook the jar really hard at this point, to combine everything and kind of bruise up the veg a little bit. The liquids went in last, and then I carefully sunk a smaller jar inside as a weight to keep the veggies submerged. Once that was in to my liking, I used a piece of cheesecloth and one of the rings to keep any debris out of the brine while it's fermenting. 

(If you want to try this, and don't have live brine to use, double the salt and use 3 cups of water total.)

This will sit on the counter for about a week- since it's so warm right now, it should ferment pretty quickly. I'll keep an eye on it to make sure everything stays submerged, since it's under the liquid where all of the magic happens. I'll also need to skim off any foam that may show up on the surface, but for the most part, this will be hands off from here on out. I'll start tasting the pods after 4 days or so, and when it's to my liking, stick a lid on it and put the jar in the fridge to slow any future fermentation. (Unlike a vinegar pickle, it never stops- but the cold will slow it down considerably.)

Easy peasy! Have you ever tried making fermented pickles? 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Composting Links

Yesterday, over at Grit, I wrote about how building soil is the most important part of sustainable gardening and growing healthful food. If you missed that post, here's the handy link-  go check that out, first.

There are loads of resources online about building a compost pile, so I thought I'd curate a selection just for you, so you don't have to get mired down in research. I happen to enjoy doing that, but I also know that not everyone else does and/or has the time. Consider it a gift! :)

Articles About Composting

  • Different types of compost bins, from the Whatcom County WSU Extension office.
  • What can and can't go in a home compost pile, and why.
  • What's better than a list within a list? Not much! Check out this collection of resources on small-scale composting, courtesy of our friends at Cornell University.

Videos and Other Resources

  • If you aren't sure where your local Cooperative Extension Office is, this locator at the USDA webpage can get you there. Extension offices can help provide you with information specific to your region and unique growing situation.
  • Supplies: It amazes me how many things you can buy for composting. Truth be told, you don't need to buy anything. But if building a bin isn't your thing, then click over to Gardener's Supply (there's also an ad in the right sidebar) and type "compost" into their search box in the upper right hand corner. They have everything from bins and tumblers, to little crocks to keep in your kitchen to make collecting scraps easy. (Disclaimer- I am an affiliate of theirs, so anything you purchase through that banner sends a small commission my way, and in turn supports the blog.)
  • For us visual learners- here's a great video from Kitchen Gardners International about setting up a compost pile. 
  • Here's an entertaining TED talk on composting from Mike McGrath called "Everything You Know About Composting is Wrong".  
Whew, that's quite a lot of info- I hope it helps get you started on the road to composting, if you're not already there. Next week, I'll do this same type of companion piece to the upcoming Grit post, so if you have any composting resources that you would like to share, let me know.

Still have questions about compost? Drop by Facebook and ask away! 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Garden Update

Our garden has definitely seen some challenges this season!

First, there was the (admittedly typical) cool, wet spring, which put us at least a month behind in planting the early veggies, like the peas and potatoes. The first round of peas never did germinate, rotting in the cold, wet soil in early April.

Next, along came the rabbits, who mowed down the green beans as soon as the first little green shoots poked their heads out of the ground. Ditto on the second flush of growth, and again on the succession planting. The one bed of carrots never did recover from being eaten completely down to the ground. None of my usual deterrents worked: I finally had to put chicken wire fences up around certain beds, in addition to the outer fence for the garden proper!

What isn't being eaten above ground by the rabbits and slugs is getting harassed underground by the moles. Normally, I don't see a ton of mole damage during the summer months. Usually they're active in there only in winter, which is okay by me. Moles serve a purpose, eating grubs and other insects from the soil that I'm perfectly fine to let them take care of. I'm less pleased with the giant holes that open up while I'm watering the raised beds, so I've been dumping in mole repellent before filling them back in. Unfortunately, I can't do anything about the tunnels without relocating the established plants. I just have to make sure to keep on top of the watering, to make up for any exposed roots, below.

Despite all of that, though, things are moving right along, as gardens tend to do. I can't remember ever having such a good year for strawberries; we ate as many as we wanted to and still had enough to freeze a couple of pounds. I even dehydrated some, which turned out nicely as well. This is the first time I've tried that, so it was a small batch- I want to see how well they hold up over time, before I commit to a lot of them. The raspberries are loaded, and I have to pick some every day just to keep up. I've probably got three pounds in the freezer already, and they haven't slowed down yet!

The Rat's Tails are in full swing, now, as are the summer squashes; I can barely keep up. Our cauliflower are looking good (despite a mole tunnel directly beneath them) and I'm looking forward to harvesting some this week. I might even get some peas soon; the vines are about 4' high and starting to bud up.

I had my first green bean of the season over the weekend... the bean was a perfectly tender 4 inch pod- from a 10 inch tall plant. Sad. I'm going to get more seeds and put in another planting before the end of the week, in hopes that we'll get some to pickle and freeze for the winter. I just don't see how the ones that are in there will be able to produce anything substantial, even if they are loaded with flowers now. We'll see.

The tomatoes are loving their little greenhouse, and are trucking right along. There are lots of flowers and new fruit on the vines, so I topped them off with some extra rabbit manure the other day,  for a bit of a boost. Speaking of greenhouses, the eggplant is still growing and the sweet potatoes are making a run for it as well. With our temperatures staying in the mid-to-high 80s this week, I expect we'll see a bit of a growth spurt in there, too.

Let's see, what else? Oh! I have itty-bitty cucumbers on the vines; there's another plant I haven't had oodles of success with over the years, but they're doing well this time around. The rest of the brassicas are also doing well- there was a lull in the cabbage moth activity for about a month, but I've been seeing them around again so we're back to daily egg/caterpillar checks. That's okay, though- I like keeping close tabs on the plants that way.

I'll have to take a wander out there later today and shoot a quick video tour to document the season so far. Despite some of the challenges, things are still looking pretty good out there and I'm pleased overall with the progress.

How does your garden grow? Are you experiencing any challenges this summer, or has it been smooth sailing?

Food Summit: ENCORE!

Good morning, everyone... I hope you all had a wonderful weekend! I'm excited to say that the Food Summit folks have released an encore presentation of some of the top speakers. Take a listen, while things are still free! Here's the lineup:

Paul Gautschi
Paul Gautschi, Sustainable Farmer for 55 years; Documentary Star, Back To Eden
Grow Your Own Healthy Food Easily by Modeling Mother Nature
  • Growing organic food sustainably and simply.
  • Why you don’t have to water your garden!
  • Picking and eating seasonal foods the natural way.
  • Tips on how to eat more raw and live foods.
Joel Salatin  
Joel Salatin, Sustainable, Maverick Farmer; Lecturer; Author
Why Our Current Food System “Just Ain’t Normal” and How to Change It
  • Joel has authored such books as Folks, This Ain't Normal, You Can Farm and Salad Bar Beef.
  • The farm as a romantic, magical place of awesome mystery and beauty.
  • How to promote the cowness of a cow and the tomatoness of a tomato!
  • Why decomposition keeps us alive.
Paul Stamets  
Paul Stamets, World-renowned Mushroom Researcher; Inventor; Entrepreneur
How Mushrooms Created, and Can Save, the Living World!
  • Paul fell in love with mushrooms and became the world’s authority on them!
  • Humans have 100 trillion cells in their body, 90 trillion of these are non-human cells--we’re outnumbered!
  • The importance of mushroom mycelium as our planetary immune, nervous and digestive systems
      • Mycelium as the keystone group of organisms and foundation of the food web.
Marjory Wildcraft  

Marjory Wildcraft, Training Course Creator, Grow Your Own Groceries
Growing Your Own Food for Self-Reliance
  • Marjory’s DVD has been used by 300,000+ people around the world!
  • Why Marjory is called the “most dangerous woman in America”.
  • Grow, prepare and preserve your own food and medicine in less than one hour a day!
  • Cha-ching! Why growing your own food is like printing money.
Mark Forman 
Mark Forman, Master Composter, Teacher
How to Build a Simple Home Composter to Supercharge Your Garden Soil
  • How Mark stumbled into composting, then told the world!
  • Using kitchen and yard scraps to boost soil fertility.
  • The different ways to compost in your backyard.
  • How Mark’s children never knew soup came in cans!
Click here to register, if you haven't already. If you've missed any of the presentations and want to buy the series of 34 interviews (and all of the bonus material that comes with it!) while they're still on sale, click here. It's $47 for the download, and $67 if you want them to send it to you on an 8GB flash drive. 

*Disclaimer: I am an affiliate of the summit, and would receive a small commission on any purchases made through that link. That being said, these are some really knowledgeable speakers sharing a ton of great info, which is why I chose to promote the summit rather heavily while it was available for free.  

While you're checking them out, I'll be clacking away over here on the keyboard, getting things ready for this week. More to come shortly!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Friday Photos

Between playing catch-up from last week, having the Grow Your Own Food Summit to listen to, and two different online learning events, this week has been one of the busiest I've had in a long time! Despite feeling as though there just aren't enough hours in a day, it's been great- I've learned some really interesting things about gardening, real food, and (thanks to CreativeLive and Dr. Art Markman) some key insights into how habits are formed and how I can make the most of them.

In between lots of hours on the computer, though, I did manage to snap some photos. Here are some of the highlights from the last two weeks- enjoy!

Carrot flower



First Eggplant, Ever!

Lovely hydrangea

Monarda... a.k.a. Bee Balm

My office... beats the heck out of my old cubicle! co-worker snores a bit, though. 

Potatoes are taking over! I've even run out of bins; hooray for compost. 

Volunteer chamomile
That's it for this week! Time for me to get over to New Moon Goat Farm & Sanctuary, before the mercury rises- we're looking at temps in the high 80s through the weekend, so I need to get the chores done while it's still cool. (I know that the 80s aren't that hot, and there's not even any humidity to speak of... but it's abnormal for here and people will be freaking out all weekend about how Incredibly Hot it is. I think it's pretty funny, personally, so I play along in public.)

What's on your agenda for the weekend?

Food Summit: Day 5

Happy Friday, everyone! 

We're halfway through the Grow Your Own Food Summit and I can't say enough good things about the presentations. Yesterday's talk with Joel Salatin was inspiring as always, and today looks to be awesome as well!

One of my real food heroes, Toby Hemenway, is on the agenda, so I'm really looking forward to listening to him speak today. 

If you need to register, click here. If you've missed any of the presentations and want to get back in on the action, the entire series is available for purchase. These presentations contain a wealth of great info and thought-provoking commentary, so don't miss out!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Getting Ready for Fall

I know... it's finally summertime, and here I am talking about fall already. As much as I enjoy living in the moment, there are some things that do require some advance planning if you want to do them well. For me, this means making the most of our summer gardening season, because I haven't had much success with winter gardening yet.

It's not hard to plan for fall crops, once you know your first frost date. Ours here usually falls somewhere between October 15-30, with some lighter frosts leading up to a killing freeze. If you don't know your frost dates offhand, go here and punch in your zip code.

Once you have a date to work with, grab a calendar and count backwards to today's date. Alternatively, you can use a countdown calculator online and punch in the dates. Using October 26 as my target date, the countdown tells me that there are 107 days left in my growing season- and that's plenty of time to get in a few more cool-season crops before putting the garden to bed for the winter.

Now, it's time to get out the seed packets. There are a lot of plants out there that mature in under 100 days, so there are plenty of things to choose from. If you aren't sure where to start, check out one of our affiliate links- both Botanical Interests and The Cook's Garden have plenty of seeds that will take you through to fall.

Here's a short list of plants to try: Arugula, Beans, Beets, Bok Choi, Broccoli/Broccoli Raab, Carrot, Kale, Kohlrabi, most Lettuces, Mustard, Parsnip, Peas, Radish, Swiss Chard, and Turnips. Each of these will mature in under 100 days, except the parsnip, which ranges from 100-120 days- but it can stay in the ground all winter.

I found this Fast Food Seed Collection while I was looking up plants to suggest- it's a collection of veggies that all mature in under 50 days. Beans, beets, broccoli raab, lettuce, radishes, spinach and an early summer squash- they look great! I wouldn't have thought to include summer squash, but that's because I always plant more than enough early in the season, so I can dehydrate a bunch for winter use. (I still haven't finished my stash from last year. I need to hurry!)

Fall is also prime time to get some garlic in the ground. I've tried a few times, without success, to grow garlic as a spring planting... it just doesn't work. I mean, it will grow, but you're not going to get anything substantial come harvest time. I'm digging mine up this week to dry out the bulbs, and will be replanting them come October.

So, what are you thinking about planting for fall harvest? Stop on by the FB page, and let me know!

PS: It's Day Four of the Food Summit! If you haven't registered yet, DO IT NOW just so you can listen to Joel Salatin. Click here for the handy shortcut.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Food Summit: Day 3

Happy Wednesday!

On tap today are some more fantastic speakers... I hope you'll check them out. Today's topic is Connecting to the Local Food System and presentations like growing your own groceries and getting started gardening are sure to get the ideas flowing at home. I'm looking forward to learning more about seed saving, myself!

If you're not already registered, click HERE to get your free access.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Food Summit: Day 2

Good morning! Here's today's Grow Your Own Food Summit lineup- if you haven't registered yet for the free series, today's the day! With Erika Allen and Paul Stamets in the queue, it's sure to be another information-packed day.

Click here to sign up right now. All of the presentations are available for purchase at the end of the event, in case you hear something that really resonates, or if you aren't able to make time this week to catch it while things are free. The replays are on sale this week, but I'm told the price will go up later. This link will take you to the purchase page, if you're interested in buying the collection.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Pardon the Interruption

Good morning, everyone-  I hope you all had a safe and wonderful Independence Day!

I'm still regrouping after being sick last week, but I have every intention of being back on track later today. I don't know what it is, but summer bugs always seem to be tougher than winter ones to shake. Anyone else feel the same?

While I work on getting my act back together, you should head over to the Grow Your Own Food Summit and check out the great presentations available today. I'm looking forward to watching them, myself- so much great info in one place!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Grow Your Own Food!

Time for a real food shout-out: I wouldn't be promoting this event if I didn't believe that a) this will provide something of value to you, and b) that growing your own food really is one of the most important things that we can do. I'm pleased to be an affiliate for the event, and I hope you'll take a moment to register today! 

The Grow Your Own Food Summit will teach food-growing people, both novices and experts, how to improve the world more than any other event in the last decade. Learn step-by-step instructions for what you can do today to put healthy, trusted food on your table in the future! Plus, it's ONLINE and FREE from July 7-14, 2014.
Enthusiastic food growers and community builders, Valerie Kausen and Gary Heine, have created 34 presentations to show you how growing your own food can change your life. This event is truly for everyone... because growing your own food contributes to improved health and connected community. It’s also an activity for the whole family that builds friendships in your neighborhood as you share each other’s skills and interests.
Register for FREE now at the following link:
Don’t let anyone else decide what’s in the food you eat! Change your life. Gain access to the information you need RIGHT NOW to optimize your health and connect with both nature and those you love. It’s that simple.
  • Learn how to grow and eat healthy, local food.
  • Change your health and life, and that of your family, friends and neighbors.
  • Feel satisfied that you can depend on yourself.
  • Trust your own ingredients.
  • Learn how growing your own food helps make your local community stronger.
There are serious issues to address related to our health, our community and our planet. The answers begin in your backyard–growing your own food reduces toxicity, transportation and pollution, and gives you a trusted, sustainable source of nutrition and increased happiness.
Here are a few of the incredible presenters:
  • The Good Food Revolution is Here... Take Action!, by Will Allen, Founder, Growing Power; Winner, McArthur Genius Grant; Farmer; Author, Speaker
  • Why Our Current Food System “Just Ain’t Normal” and How to Change It, by Joel Salatin, Sustainable, Maverick Farmer; Lecturer; Author
  • How Mushrooms Created, and Can Save, the Living World!, by Paul Stamets, World-renowned Mushroom Researcher; Inventor; Entrepreneur
  • Saving Seeds, Growing Food and Ending GMOs Can Save the World, by Vandana Shiva, World-renowned Indian Activist
  • The Food Revolution and How GMOs are Disrupting It, byOcean Robbins, Co-founder, Food Revolution Network; Author, Speaker, Educator
With 34 presenters sharing their wealth of knowledge, this invaluable (and FREE) resource is intended for you, whether you live in a city or on a farm!
Better yet, if you register today, you'll have access to the following FREE GIFTS as soon as you register!
  • Food Growing 101, eBook by Gary Heine and Valerie Kausen
  • Saving seeds, growing food and stopping GMOs can save the world, 17-minute presentation by Vandana Shiva
  • How to create a simple home composter to supercharge your garden soil, 57-minute presentation by Mark Forman 

Come listen to the Grow Your Own Food Summit ONLINE for FREE and be inspired from July 7-14, 2014.
Register for FREE at the following link today:
We’ll see you at the Summit!