Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Lotta Melting!

Although the highest we saw yesterday on our thermometer on the north side of the house in the shade was 37 degrees, we had a whole lotta melting going on. The sun was shining brightly all day and many inches of snow disappeared.

Here I am hanging out of hubby's second floor office window (again) looking at the yard area right in front of the house. Grass! I can see grass!

Look at those raised beds emerging from their long winter's sleep. They were still completely covered when we got up yesterday morning. This shot was taken at 3 p.m. in the afternoon.

That is actual water in the pond. Okay, so it's still solid ice right underneath, but it is water nonetheless.

Back down on ground level now, this is the roadway back to the wood sheds.

Going back to the wood working area, all surfaces that had been plowed are down to the gravel now. As you can see, we still have a few piled-up banks of snow that will be around for a while though.

This is the driveway as it enters our back yard. Shady spots are always so slow to melt.

Lastly, this is right off the front deck. I didn't edit the color on this picture at all. You can actually see green(ish) grass!

My faith in the coming spring has been reaffirmed. It may actually happen.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Into The Field Garden We Go

As much as I love my raised beds, there are some crops that simply don't lend themselves to the beds. That's why I feel the need for some gardening area that is in the more traditional field garden configuration.

Squash, pumpkins and other crops that send out long vines or tendrils before setting fruit certainly seem easier to manage and happier if not crammed into the confinement of a raised bed. If allowed to grow and roam as they should, they also tend to take up a lot of gardening real estate, and that's the main reason I wanted a separate plot of ground plowed up and designated as the Pumpkin Patch.

Of course, now that I have this special area for squash, eating pumpkins, jack-o-lanterns and such I've realized that it would be wise to rotate other crops onto the space every other year. But that shouldn't be hard to do as I could, for instance, plant it all out to potatoes one year or beans or peas. Then the squash and pumpkins could take up that vacated amount of space in the field garden proper.

We feed large amounts of sunflower seeds to the wild birds all winter long so I'd really like to grow enough sunflowers to supplement the supply we have to purchase. (Our growing season is so short I have a really hard time getting most of the seeds to mature, but I'm still working on that.) Besides wanting to be able to grow our own feed for the birds, what is cheerier than a long line of sunflowers in the summer garden? They lend themselves to planting in the traditional field garden quite well.

You've heard me whine often enough about not being able to grow full-sized tomatoes in our climate. But I keep trying. Bull-headed? Stubborn? Just plain stoopid? Whatever the reason, they usually end up planted int he field garden. I have tried them in raised beds under cold frames which gives them a good start, but they quickly get too tall for the cold frames and then in the fall when the fruits just start to ripen, they are definitely too tall for the protection the cold frames would offer. Besides that, to plant enough full-sized tomatoes so that I might (some day, some how, some way) have enough to can, I would have to use approximately half of my raised beds to hold them. So, they are better suited to being a field garden crop.

Pickling cucumbers, peas, beans and potatoes take up most of the space in the field garden.

I know that I need approximately sixty feet of pickling cucumbers to give me enough pickles for a year's supply and to share with others who enjoy making a few pickles. I always trellis my pickling cucs because it keeps them much cleaner, they are easier to pick, and take up much less space.

The above picture shows peas on the right (falling off their trellis and trying to co-mingle with), potatoes on the left. Some cabbages are in the foreground interspersed with marigolds.

I trellis my peas also as I have trouble getting a moldy/mildew on them if I allow them to trail on the ground. As with the pickling cucs, picking peas is much easier when they are on a trellis. Sixty feet of peas are also required for enough harvest to take us through the fall, winter and spring.

I grow both pole and bush beans but the bush beans make up the majority of our frozen supply. I typically grow one sixteen foot row of green beans and one sixteen foot row of yellow wax beans. So that's only a total of thirty-two feet required for beans. I must admit the only reason I grow pole beans is because I plant Scarlet Runners around a tee-pee trellis which is gorgeous when blooming.

Each year I plant eighty feet of potatoes, usually half whites and half reds. I probably don't need the full eighty feet but now and then we have a year when the potato yield is poor so I like to hedge my bets against that. There are very few years when I don't have enough potatoes left in the spring to use as sets for planting the new crop.

Although I have grown dill, cabbages and broccoli in raised beds, I feel they do better in the field garden.

I grow dill for use in making my dill pickles. (Well, duh.)

I can't keep the whole, harvested cabbages for very long in storage so I grow only enough for fresh eating and making sauerkraut.

Broccoli is my nemesis in the garden. No matter what I try, I cannot seem to keep worms out of it. I threw a hissy-fit last year and didn't even plant it. But it does grow well in our climate reaching the proportions of small trees so for that reason I plant it in the field garden.

So ends a run-down of what I plant in raised beds and what I plant in the traditional field garden plots. This is just what seems to work best for me. I've experimented planting all my different veggies in both locations but have come to these preferences I've outlined.

If I were forced to give up one or the other (I warn you I'd fight back!), I'd have to stick with my raised beds. (I'd be very sad not to have the field garden space though.) This is all a personal preference choice and you can be a very successful gardener sticking with what you have to work with or what works for you.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Flaked Oats Are Flyin'

I've been pulling out recipes that use oat flakes so we can enjoy the fresh flaked oats from our new roller/flaker. (The electric one that is. The manual hand crank unit has been sent back for a refund, but more of that in a later post.)

Seems to me I posted my recipe for Bannocks a couple of years back, but do you think I can find a post in which I did so? So I'm just going to go ahead and post it here again today. Forgive me if you clearly remember it from before . . . and pray for my brain cells that seem to be getting a little frayed lately.

But before the Bannock recipe . . . I recently mentioned I made Oatmeal Pancakes for breakfast with the home-flaked oats.

M-m-m-m, good! If you're interested, you can find the recipe in a post from last year about this time.

Okay, back to the Bannocks. I went through a period a few years back when I had to eliminate all wheat from my diet. I found this recipe using only oat flakes and oat flour and I used the Bannocks as my substitute for bread.

Bannocks, also known as oatcakes, originated in Scotland centuries ago. So this recipe, in one form or another, has been used for a long, long time. I happen to love the flavor of oats so this version has become a favorite of mine.


1 cup rolled oats
1 cup oat flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cold butter
1/2 cup water

(I make my own oat flour by putting oat groats through my flour mill. Some whole foods stores will have it on their shelves.)

In a mixing bowl, combine oat flakes, flour and salt.

With a pastry blender, cut in the 1/4 cup butter. When thoroughly and evenly combined, stir in the water and mix. Dump the dough onto a board that has been lightly dusted with oat flour. (If your mixture seems too moist and gooey, don't hesitate to mix in some more flour.)

Knead the dough about 6 times and then divide it in half. Pat each half into a circle about 1/4" thick and cut into 4-6 wedges.

Place the wedges on a greased baking sheet about 1/2" apart. Bake approximately 20 minutes at 400 degrees until lightly colored.

Cool on a wire rack and store in a tightly covered container. These freeze well also.

The Bannocks can be eaten in place of toast. I've spread them with peanut butter and jam and piled sandwich fixings on top for an open-faced sandwich. Egg salad is especially good.

I'll post a couple of recipes soon for meat substitutes using oat flakes in the mixture.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Would Somebody Give Me A Time Out?

I've cut my magazine subscriptions down to bare bones. If I get a catalog I'm not interested in, it goes directly into the recycling bin.

Still I ALWAYS have a stack of reading material waiting to be gone through. I just can't seem to keep up with issues of magazines and/or catalogs that I'm truly interested in.

Sitting down during the day to put my feet up and read isn't something I do. If I do sit down, it's in front of the computer here.

What I need is for someone to make me go sit in a "time out" corner for a half hour each day. (I can take my reading stack with me, of course.) I would then be forced to whittle down the accumulation of miscellaneous reading that collects on the corner of my desk.

So. Any volunteers? All you have to say is, "Okay, Mama Pea. I've had it with you. Take that stack of magazines and catalogs, go sit in that chair by the bookcase, and I don't want to hear a peep out of you for one half hour." 'Course, you may have to wake me up when the half hour is over because I tend to fall asleep whenever I stop moving.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Which Do You Prefer?

Are you hooked on raised beds for gardening or the more traditional field garden plot? I would be very unhappy if I had to garden without utilizing both.

I've written before in posts that when we moved to this piece of property about 15 years ago, the area to the south of the house was the best place to establish our vegetable garden. It was also covered almost completely with several inches of gravel. We scraped off the gravel but knew the soil underneath wouldn't be much good for growing anything except possibly weeds for a long while.

Our solution was to build several raised beds on the area, fill them with a mixture of purchased black dirt and various other additions. Each year after that we added more beds until we ended up with the present total of twenty-six 4' x 8' raised beds.

As soon as I got the raised beds up and going and growing some basic crops for us, I knew that there were certain plants that just naturally do much better (and are easier to plant and care for) in the traditional field garden plot. We hadn't been here for more than a couple of years when we plowed up the sod of an area approximately 35' x 45' and started working on enriching that soil for additional garden space.

Three years ago we also added another gardening area in which to plant primarily vining crops. Last year we grew a couple different cover crops on the spot and then turned them in to help enrich the soil.

So just what makes the raised beds so desirable? I'll tackle that first.

I find it much easier to keep the soil loose and friable in the raised beds. That just naturally makes them better for growing any crop that requires a loose soil for roots that need to go deep (our beds have all been double-dug . . . and then some) and for space for the veggie itself to grow without having to fight through more compacted soil.

The raised beds lend themselves to planting intensively. (Something like square foot gardening, but even better I think.)

I plant many of the veggies in the beds in 4' long rows with the rows spaced only 6" apart. (If you do the math, in a bed that I plant to carrots that gives me sixty feet of carrots in a 4' x 8' space.) The leaves of the veggies cover the whole bed so that very few weeds have a chance to grow. I can get a tremendous amount of harvest from a single 4' x 8' bed.

With the raised beds I also have the capability of placing cold frames on top of the beds in the spring and fall. Besides the cold frames, we've made shade cloth covers for the raised beds and I use these in the hot, sunny summer time to keep crops that prefer cooler weather happier and producing better. (Lettuces, radishes and spinach especially appreciate the shade covers.)

The biggest disadvantage of the raised beds (and it's not a biggie for me) is that they dry out faster than the field garden plots. Even though I consider the soil in the beds very good, we need to get it to a point where it holds moisture a little better. (More humus, more humus, more humus!) Of course, this could also be called an advantage, too, because the beds dry out in the spring much sooner than the field gardens and I can plant in them all the earlier without having to deal with wet, cooler soil.

Okay, what do I plant in the raised beds? Here goes:

Because of our very short growing season cherry tomatoes go into a raised bed. I have to protect tomatoes both in the spring and then late fall. I put my started cherry tomatoes in a raised bed covered with a cold frame. The cold frame comes off usually about the first of July and then goes back on as soon as night time temps in the fall get in the 40s. (I've tried full-sized tomatoes with this method in raised beds but in the fall just when they are starting to ripen, they are too big for the cold frames to cover and protect them. I've experimented with various methods out in the field garden . . . so far unsuccessfully.)

Carrots, radishes, miscellaneous salad greens, turnips, kohlrabi, rutabaga, beets, lettuce and onions all get planted very intensively in raised beds.

Swiss chard and spinach I still plant a little more closely than most people would (so that their leaves touch on all sides) but space my 4' rows about 8-10" apart in those beds.

Slicing cucumbers go into a raised bed because they need the cold frames on them spring and fall. I form a raised mound down the center 8' length of a bed and plant seeds thinning to about 5 or 6 plants. The vines completely fill the bed and give me all the slicing cucs we can eat or give away plus extras that get fed to the poultry.

Our comfrey plants take up one permanent raised bed. I put them in a bed because if they aren't contained, they will take over northeastern Minnesota.

I know I could probably just as easily plant our bush zucchini in the field garden but I've become accustomed to putting two hills (spaced evenly in one 4' x 8' bed) in a raised bed. One zucchini plant would truly be enough but we always worry about not having a spare if something would happen to the one, don't we? Once they get growing, they fill the whole bed.

My sweet red and green peppers go into a bed because they, too, require the cold frames on them spring and fall. Pepper plants like to be touching their neighbors so I put eleven plants in a raised bed.

One raised bed is devoted to herbs. It's closer to the house than the herbs would be in the field garden so I put them there for convenience's sake.

Unless I've forgotten something, I think that covers everything I plant in the raised beds. We have enough of them so we usually randomly use two or three beds each year as compost makers. Not only does it improve the soil in those beds but gives us containers within the 7' high fence in which to process our kitchen garbage where no wild animals can get to it.

Lastly, we have enough raised beds that I can easily rotate crops from bed to bed each year so that it's actually several years before one crop is grown in the same raised bed and soil.

Next installment: What I prefer to grow in the field gardens.

Friday, March 25, 2011

It May Be Friday, But It Sure Feels Like A Monday

Oi Vey. What a couple of busy, crazy days! At least yesterday and today have been full of sunshine . . . even though the temps have stayed cool. Only in the 20s yesterday and today. But with the glorious sunshine our solar panels are cooking on all four burners and our storage batteries are being fed their fill.

As a prerequisite of our summer of remodeling, we've been working on our electrical circuitry (well, not OURS but our house's) and I haven't had use of my computer much today. Because of everything going on, I am completely off schedule having no sense of any routine today at all.

I did manage to get some Poppy Seed Bread made and baked but other than that no usual, daily homemake-y things have been accomplished. (Half the bread will go home with our daughter tonight and the other half has left the building already.)

Had to post a picture of our granddog, Tucker, as it's his fifth birthday today. Happy Birthday, Little Pooper (as he is affectionately called by Chicken Mama). He was not very cooperative in wanting his picture taken because I called him away from his post intently watching a deer walk along the outside of the fence.

Our manual roller/flaker arrived yesterday. On the website of the company we ordered it from, they talked about the best made, highest quality one (the Marga made in Italy) and the fact that there were copies being made and sold as "just as good." They even gave the names of a couple of the knock-offs.

Um-uh, wait just a darn minute here. The manual hand-cranked roller/flaker we received yesterday was NOT the Marga we ordered, but one of the "other" brands. Needless to say, we are trying to get this situation straightened out. I just hope the company is a reputable one and we didn't get taken. Stay tuned and I'll let you know what's up on this.

Okay, time for me to get back to whatever it is I'm doing that makes me feel I'm not accomplishing much. Just one of those days . . . what time does it have to be before it's okay to have a glass of wine?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Look, Ma, I Made My Own Oat Flakes!

Getting a grain roller/flaker has been on our wish and want list for quite a while now. Last week, we finally made the final selections, took the plunge and ordered both an electric model and a manual hand-crank model.

The electric one came today. Talk about a new toy to play with. Outta my way, I wanna see what this baby can do!

Our electric version is in the form of an attachment that fits on our KitchenAid Stand Mixer.

A grain roller/flaker is not the same as a grain mill that will grind flour. The one function of the roller/flaker is that it enables you to put any grain (and many seeds) through it and out comes the grain in the form of a flake. We'll probably use it mostly for making oat flakes out of oat groats. However, I used to make a cooked cereal with a combination of oat, rye and wheat flakes, but I can no longer find the rye or wheat flakes to buy. I also used a mixture of these same flakes in my granola mixture. Now I should have the capability of making my own rye and wheat flakes.

Here I have a handful of oat groats (otherwise know as oat seeds or grains).

Here are the oat groats after they were put through the roller/flaker. Viola, oat flakes to use in making oatmeal!

In the above picture, on the left we have the flakes just made in our new roller/flaker and on the right some oat flakes I had purchased. The difference (biggify picture to see more clearly) seems to be that the purchased flakes (on the right) look more "pressed" while the ones we made last night (on the left) are more "crimped."

I could hardly wait to see how the flavor of these homemade flakes would be in our oatmeal this morning. Do you think there will be a noticeable difference from oatmeal made from the purchased flakes that have been oxidizing since they were smooshed who-knows-how-long ago?

Okay, this is what we thought after making and taste-testing the oatmeal with our freshly made flakes. First off, the oatmeal cooked up to a creamier consistency. Why? Dunno.

Next, we could both detect a different flavor to our bowlful of "oatiemeal," as my mom always called it. I labeled the flavor "nutty" with my first couple of spoonfuls, then almost in unison we said, "It tastes oat-ier!" Yup, that was it. There was more flavor of oats to the oatmeal this morning. Well, that makes sense because along with any vitamins or minerals any oats (made into flakes a looong while ago) might lose through oxidation, flavor would probably be lost, too. But the actual taste of the oats wouldn't have time to oxidize and/or disappear in the freshly made flakes.

All in all, I definitely feel I will be making and feeding us a superior quality of grains in the form of flakes from now on.

This talk about flakes reminds me of the fact that when we were following a vegetarian diet, I used oat flakes in many, many recipes including one for a delicious "meat" ball and a burger. I'll post some of those recipes in the near future. Even for those of us who claim to be dyed-in-the-wool meat eaters, if there were ever to come a time when procuring and storing meat was difficult, knowing how to use more grains in our diet might come in handy.

So tell me true. Do you think there is something seriously wrong with me because I'm so excited about being able to make my own grain flakes??

Next up: To try making some flakes from other grains and seeds. And to patiently wait for the hand-cranked roller/flaker to arrive to see how good a job it does.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Breakfast Idea with Leftovers and the Incredible, Edible Egg

This may not be anything special but I know I always appreciate coming across ideas for using up leftovers in a tasty way.

I had lentils and brown rice languishing in separate containers in the refrig this morning. And, glory be! Our chickens have finally taken the hint that it's high time to start earning their keep and we're finding ourselves with enough eggs again.

Although I did make this for breakfast, we've been known to eat it for any meal of the day. So take the idea and do with it what you will.

First I saute sliced, fresh mushrooms. (IF I have them, that is. I did this morning. The dish is fine without them though.) I use a fair amount of butter because it will be needed to keep the rice and lentils from sticking when they are added.

Then add the lentils and rice, enough for as many people as are waiting patiently at the table. I stir and saute the lentils and rice a couple of minutes before adding the eggs.

Break an egg for each serving on top of the mixture in the skillet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and maybe a little dill weed or parsley. Put a cover on the skillet and cook/steam until eggs are done to your liking.

Nutritionally, lentils and brown rice compliment each other and the home grown egg will give you lots of protein to get up and do what needs to be done.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Produce I Produce

I've been gardening for so darn many years now that I've got it down to a science as to how much I need to grow of any one fruit or veggie to give us a year round supply. And I do consistently grow enough to make it from harvest to harvest. I either can, dehydrate or freeze our bounty for use throughout the year. I know how many beds of onions will give us a year's supply, how many rows of beans or peas I need to harvest and freeze to get us through the year, how many feet of pickling cucumbers I need to can all the pickles we'll eat in a year's time, etc.

We share our garden produce with our daughter. Neighbors and friends find grocery bags of fresh veggies and baskets of berries foisted upon them whether they want them or not. I think it's because I love gardening so much that over the years I've gradually come to the point where I'm producing way more than we can use. This probably is not the wisest use of my time.

We have an active Farmer's Market every Saturday morning in our small town during the summer season. Hubby and I were part of the organizing group years ago when the market was first set up. I could sell my extra produce there. But I would have to figure in the four to five hours spent each Saturday manning a booth (let alone the extra time to harvest and package produce, plus travel and set-up), and I know I certainly couldn't pay myself anything for those hours. My days are never long enough to fit in everything I want to do, so my choice isn't to spend hours selling produce for a small amount of cash reimbursement. (It's a curious thing that people feel that any food available at a "farmer's market" should be priced more economically than that at a grocery store. Seeing as how the food products at the market are grown locally, are fresher, are most of the time organically grown and free of poisons and definitely healthier, one would think customers would be willing to pay a reasonable price.)

I've sold extra produce to our organic co-op (an organization which has become so successful it functions as a bona fide third grocery store in town) but there again, they say they cannot pay me any more for my produce than that which they pay to their wholesale suppliers from whom they purchase in bulk.

Two years ago we tried some market gardening (I grew even MORE than I usually do!) to sell to a restaurant in town. The owner happily took virtually everything we offered. I did all the growing, harvesting and packaging while my husband did the actual delivering. Bottom line, the trade off of time expended for cash earned was not our wisest investment. If for some reason we were to try market gardening again, we would do it differently having learned a lot the first time around.

Our local "food shelf" has just this past month gained the equipment needed to offer fresh produce. I'm thinking that would be a good place to take extra vegetables from my garden.

I do so love the personal satisfaction and physical exercise gardening gives me and would miss it greatly if for some reason I no longer gardened. But the main reason we choose to garden is to provide ourselves with the freshest, healthiest, organically grown food possible. And to that end, I'm proud to say we are succeeding.

Now it's time to rethink the whole gardening scenario so that I'm working smarter rather than harder and proceed from there. I know it's time to cut back. Can I do it? (Ah, so many seeds; so little time.)

Next garden post: Why I prefer raised beds for some crops and the traditional field garden plot for others.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ugh . . . Monday

This may not be the most energetic start to the week I've ever had. I feel totally exhausted right now and it's not even 9 a.m. Had to get out of bed for a potty stop at 5 this morning and then knowing the alarm was going off at 6 (we had someone stopping by at 7 to pick something up), do you think I could fall back asleep? Nope. Not until 5:45, that is. Then I didn't regain consciousness until hubby threw that bucket of ice water on me at 6:15 to ascertain if I was dead or just in deep, deep sleep.

Tried a new egg casserole for breakfast this morning. As my sweet husband said, "Well, the bacon was very good. And so was the applesauce." We both ate the portion of casserole I doled out onto our plates, but the remainder went into the chicken bucket.

Now, truthfully, it doesn't LOOK that bad, does it? As they say, win a few, lose a few.

We didn't get snow yesterday, just rain all day. Well, okay, there was that one brief period in the morning when the snow came down in huge, beautiful flakes that kept me glued to the window for several minutes. But then the flakes disappeared and the rain started again. Temp stayed at 34 degrees all. day. long.

This morning a blizzard is forecast for south of us. So far it doesn't look as if it will reach up here near the tundra so we may escape the possible TWO FEET OF SNOW predicted. Now is that a cruel late March joke for the folks south of us or what?

Hubby and I weighed in this morning. I stayed the same. Lost nada, gained nada. He lost three pounds. Do you sense a pattern here?

On with the day. I can do this. I know I can. If someone will . . . just . . . give me a . . . boost to get . . . outta this chair.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Life Is Just a Bowl of Berries

Okay, let's finish up this lollygagging in the strawberry patch.

Something that enables me to keep my strawberry plants bearing well over many years is that I never let any runners grow from the mother plant. This allows all the energy to stay in the original plant. As I'm picking berries, it's easy to snap off one to two inch runners as they start to grow. Every now and then though the runners can get a head start on me and I go out to the patch with my pruners and spend an hour or so cutting off any and all runners.

I don't replace plants until the first season that I notice a marked reduction in the size of the berries. That signals me that the plants are getting tired and it's time for some new blood. By not replacing all the plants in the patch at once, I've always got a certain amount bearing.

Each summer, after I've stopped picking strawberries, we mow down the whole patch. Mow as in run the lawn mower over the plants. We do this with the blades set high enough as to not damage the crown of the plant. After giving the plants this buzz cut, it's amazing how fast they put out new growth. I like to think they go into winter stronger this way with new , strong growth. By the time we cover them for the winter, they are lush, bushy, green plants.

Now to mulching the plants for winter. I did a post last November ( which details my method for doing this.

In the spring, the mulch doesn't come off the strawberry patch until we're no longer having freezing temps at night. Again, I don't want the plants to have to experience the repeated thawing during the daytime and then freezing at night.

Once uncovered, I go through the whole patch trimming off all the dead stems and leaves of each plant left from last year, pulling out any newly sprouted weeds and generally giving the whole area a good cleaning. Then I let the patch soak up sunshine for several days. The plants will start to send out small, new green leaves almost immediately. I wait until I see this new growth and then apply the sawdust mulch around the plants and heavy mulch between the double rows.

Once the patch is prepared for the growing season, all I have to do is keep the weeds under control until harvest starts. Here in our location, we typically get the first ripe berries right around the Fourth of July.

GOL-ly, I didn't expect this explanation of how I grow strawberries to be so long. But cultivating strawberries is intensive requiring a lot of time and attention if you expect to get good harvests. They grow low to the ground so most work you do with them is done in a bent over or on-all-fours position. But the taste and nutritional value of home grown strawberries is hard to beat and, I think, worth the effort.

You Can't Beat "Spring" In NE Minnesota!

What an absolutely gorgeous day today . . . for being inside with a crackling wood fire to warm the house and the bodies in it!

When hubby got up this morning, it was raining. When I dragged myself out an hour later, it was snowing. Now it's 34 degrees and so gray and damp and foggy and drizzly you wouldn't believe it. Without lights in the house, we wouldn't be able to see a thing.

The forecast is for falling temperatures and up to 6" of snow this afternoon/evening. Possibly mixed with freezing rain. If that happens, the red banner across the top of the weather page says we should be prepared for hazardous conditions on the roadways. Well, I would suppose so.

Yessir, it is a PERFECT day for being home. And baking!

Applesauce Muffins.

Lemon Pound Cake.

Almond Cookies.

Poppy Seed Bread.

Sour Cream Chocolate Cake.

Hard Rolls.

Please send mailing addresses. I will need to get rid of the baking immediately or I WILL EAT IT ALL.

P.S. Last of the "growing strawberries" post up a little later today.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Having My Way With Strawberries

I've always had good luck growing strawberries up here in Minnesota. (Knock on wood.) This possibly has a lot to do with the fact that wild strawberries are prolific in our area. Something obviously is right for strawberry growth.

Last year, as some of you will remember, seemed to be a bumper year for my strawberries. At least I think it was. What I mean is that this was the first year ever that I actually weighed each and every bowl and/or bucketful I brought in from the garden. The grand total when I quit picking for the season . . . yes, there were still some small berries out there but I was TIRED . . . was 174 pounds and 6 ounces. I honestly don't think this was an extraordinarily huge harvest because I didn't can, freeze, dry or give away many more strawberries than usual.

What do I do with all my berries? We eat as many fresh as we can while they are in season. And I mean we eat them every day, sometimes more than one serving. No one has ever turned me down when I offered them a bowl of fresh picked strawberries, so we give quite a few away. We have sold some to a restaurant in town. I freeze the bulk of them to use in our kefir/yogurt smoothies during the year. I dehydrate a certain amount each year. And I make a lot of strawberry jam much of which gets gifted at Christmas time.

A few years ago I had some kind of mold in the strawberry patch. It wasn't a particularly wet year so I don't think I can attribute it to that. But it was indeed disheartening as I picked as many moldy berries as I did ones that were edible. After the season was over, I followed the same procedures I always do (I'll detail that further on down), crossed my fingers and was absolutely elated when the mold was gone the next year although, truth to tell, I remember that year's harvest as being a bit less than usual. The plants must have suffered some stress from the mold disease and needed time to bounce back to their usual vigor.

Other than the above described mold problem, I've never had any big problems with the strawberries. Some springs I've found a few plants that are deader-than-doornails which I suppose can be attributed to freezing or winter kill.

I plant my berries in double rows with three feet between each double row. The berries within the double rows are spaced one foot apart in all directions and staggered so they aren't directly across from each other. The double rows could be as long as wanted, obviously, but mine are about 16' long. (I have four double rows of plants.)

There are approximately 145 plants (give or take a few) in my strawberry patch right now. Two-thirds of them are five years old and about one-third of them will be three years old this year.

When I put in new plants I always pop off all blossoms the first year so all the strength can go to the new plant. It is the second year the plant is in the ground before I'll get any berries off of it.

Heavy mulching of strawberries during their growing season is essential for me. They are not happy if weeds are allowed to grow in or around them. My biggest weed problem is the dandelion. We grow mighty healthy dandelion plants up here and they have a penchant for growing right smack in the middle of individual plants! Also prevalent is quackgrass which will choke out any berry or vegetable if allowed to go unchecked.

With sawdust (strawberries like an acidic soil, somewhere in the range of 5.5 to 6.5) I mulch around and right up to each and every plant. If I have access to enough sawdust, I spread it to cover the three foot wide paths between each double row, too. If sawdust is not available, I use straw. Usually the sawdust right around the plants will hold up for the whole season, but I often have to do some hand weeding and reapply a new layer of mulch between the wide rows.

Although it takes a lot of time, I'm vigilant in keeping the weeds out of my strawberry patch and I do think that contributes to the good harvests I'm able to get.

I'll stop here (this is getting pretty long) as the first installment of how I handle my strawberries, and continue on next post.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Poor Man's Fertilizer

I grew up hearing the old farmers' saying, "Snow is poor man's fertilizer."

Well, Mother Nature is delivering another load of poor man's fertilizer to us again today.

We've got comin' up on two inches of the stuff so far and it's still coming down.

This is our driveway as it comes into the back of the house. Sure hope we don't get enough that we have to think about plowing again.

This picture taken from hubby's second floor office window shows most of our twenty-six raised garden beds, a corner of the pumpkin patch and most of the field garden. (Whaddaya mean it looks like Antarctica?)

Excuse me. I must go now and plant my peas. (Insert hysterical laughter.)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

You Can't Always Trust A Map

Just had to share this with all of you. Chicken Mama was here for dinner tonight and over a glass of wine or two (ahem), our conversation led from one thing to another, and we decided to see how far it would be from our location in NE Minnesota to Fiona's homestead (Rowangarth Farm) in Ontario, Canada.

We went to Google to print out a map for us and this is what we got. Remember, we were just trying to get from northeastern Minnesota to Ontario.

We couldn't help but go into fits of laughter when we saw that the map told us to start in Louisiana (somewhere on the gulf coast), travel northeast through North Carolina, drive directly into the ocean for a while, then back to shore and through Maine before turning back into the water again heading straight for . . . where? Greenland??

Fiona? Fiona?? I fear we may never find you by following this map!

P.S. Don't worry, Fiona dear. The wine has now worn off and we are NOT going to appear on your doorstep any time in the near future.

Dirty Thoughts (Or Thinking About Gardening)

Even though our snow on the ground is still measured in feet rather than inches, I've been thinking a lot lately about our veggie and fruit gardens. I don't know if any of this will be of interest at all to you, but I'm hoping getting my thoughts written out will help me. Feel free to skip on by as I blather on. I think the log jam in my head may fill up more than one post.

Our gardens are comprised of five different plots or parts. We have the raised beds, the field garden, the pumpkin patch, strawberry patch, blueberry patch and raspberry patch. Whoops. That counts up to six. But since the strawberry patch is currently located within the area I call the field garden, I'm not counting the strawberry plantings as a separate plot. But maybe I should. Confused yet?

When we first moved to this piece of property fifteen years ago, a large part of the area to the south of the house, which was the best orientation for gardening, had been used as a huge parking area for trucks and was covered with gravel. We scraped off the gravel but knew the soil wouldn't be worth much for immediate gardening use. So we built a series of 4' x 8' raised beds, had some black dirt hauled in, started composting with a vengeance and built up the soil for the beds as quickly as we could. We currently have and use 26 of these garden beds.

I knew I wanted a more traditional area for growing certain crops not as well suited for raised beds so in the next couple of years we plowed up the sod in another spot that became what I call the field garden. It measures 35' x 45'. Within this space is our permanent strawberry patch which measures about 16' x 16'.

Just three years ago, we plowed up a 14' x 23' piece of ground, the pumpkin patch, where I can grow pumpkins and squash without their vines encroaching upon other veggies. As soon as we get the soil in good enough shape, I plan on rotating crops between this area and the field garden so I'm not always growing only pumpkins and squash on that plot.

We have a raspberry patch containing three 14' long rows of well-established raspberry plants.

In a plot next to the raspberries are 22 blueberry plants which are finally coming into their own.

So the raised beds, field garden (containing the strawberry patch), pumpkin patch, raspberry patch and blueberry patch make up the five parts of our garden.

We also have eleven fruit trees scattered over what is lawn/yard area. They have just recently started to contribute significantly to our food stock.

We've still got too much lawn to mow, but that's another problem to tackle farther on down the list. Most likely, we'll add more fruit and (if possible) nut trees in the lawn area. A good-sized garden shed somewhere near the gardens would be very handy and eliminate some grass that presently has to be kept mowed.

The soil in our garden beds is excellent and enables me to plant very intensively in them.

Soil in the field garden is very good and we keep improving it every year. The soil currently grows good crops with few problems.

The pumpkin patch soil is coming along nicely and gets better each year.

So you can see we're not lacking for gardening space. Matter of fact, I've finally come to the realization that I have to cut back on growing so much. I'm putting a lot of effort into growing way more food than we need.

More on all of this in another post as soon as I get more thoughts straightened out so I can set them down in sensible form.

P.S. Hi, Marja!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Happy Birthday, Old Girl!

Our pup is fourteen years old today. Happy Birthday, Zoey!

Of course I can remember the day she came home at ten weeks of age. I remember thinking how big she looked for that age; not a puppy-look but more like a teenager. I thought maybe she was going to be bigger than female Pudel Pointers are supposed to be. But she didn't become a big dog. Remaining on the smaller side is how she turned out.

She's the first dog we've ever had who wasn't a chow hound from the word go. Always rather finicky about her dry food, but eager to inhale the raw venison she's been raised on. We'd manage to fatten her up a wee bit over each winter but then summer would come and she'd spend her days outside patrolling our big fenced in yard when she wasn't out running in the woods with us.

We thought she would never outgrow her puppy personality. (Hyper and frustrating at times!) And she didn't until about age eleven or twelve. Then last summer, almost overnight, we noticed a remarkable difference and she started acting like an old dog. Sadly, her eyesight and hearing seem to have checked out to a large degree.

In the morning she gets a little dish of kibble which she sometimes eats, sometimes doesn't. At night we've started feeding her a mixture of cooked rice and ground cooked venison with a couple chunks of her raw venison meat on top and she consistently devours it and then checks the floor surrounding her dish for anything she might have missed. But she's still not putting on any weight; rather she's lost quite a bit and isn't much now but bedraggled fur and bones.

She's still enjoying life though. ( Mostly enjoying sleeping, I admit.) The second hubby sits down at night for a little recreational reading before bedtime, she plops at his feet giving him the old evil eye until he gets up and gives her a small treat to munch on. Then she says good night and goes to bed.

Sometimes she doesn't want to go for a walk at all and then other times she's eager to go and exhibits some of her old pep and energy.

Her new habit is to go through the whole house scrunching up any small rug she can. Maybe it's harder to find a comfortable spot on which to rest her bony frame these days. (Although she does have three comfy dog beds in various rooms of the house!)

Most importantly, the old girl exhibits no pain so we'll keep catering to her. Let's see, fourteen years times seven to equal her age in human years? That would make her ninety-eight today. Maybe I'll feel like going through the house messing up rugs when I'm her age. I do hope I get something else besides rice and venison as a steady diet though.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Great Minds Think Alike

In the comments section of my last Sunday's post about getting in wood, Claire left a comment saying she had always thought having an outside opening (on the exterior wall) to an inside wood box would be a smart idea. That way you would be able to fill the box from the outside without hand carrying the wood in to the wood box traversing the whole length of the porch (as we have to do in our particular layout), This would obviously eliminate the mess made on the porch floor from debris dropping off the wood and mud and/or snow from the tromp, tromp, tromping of boots.

I was way ahead of you, m'dear! Your idea was something that always appealed to me so I specifically designed just such a door located on the exterior wall in the back of our wood box on the porch.

We even made an inner cover to further insulate the back of the box and insure no little mousies would seek refuge in our wood box.

The above is an open view of the filled wood box.

Unfortunately, this idea (like so many designed by architects but not tested out in reality) didn't work.

I struggled filling the box from the outside for probably more than a year before I decided it was akin to banging my head on a brick wall because it felt so good when I stopped.

Can you see the problem? In order to fill the box, I had to be down on my knees bent over in a less than comfortable position. The pieces of wood needed to be stacked in going the other direction (north to south rather than east to west) to keep them from falling out but that was no big deal. But having to be on my knees and reaching up into the wheelbarrow next to me for every piece of wood was.

Basically, it really is a good idea. But the inside wood box needs to be designed in a different configuration. Instead of being in the shape of a chest or bench (that we frequently sit on in the porch to put on/take off boots, etc.), it would have to be designed in a more tall, slender shape . . . sort of like a closet. That way you could stand outside and stack the wood in there from a much more comfortable position.

Just shows to go ya, we live and learn. And what looks so good on paper doesn't always pan out in day to day reality. So, Claire, our common idea was good; we just need to retrofit it a smidge!