Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Monday, October 29, 2012

All tucked in for the winter

For my entire garden career I have endured fall and winter as the "boring season" when the only gardening activity I could do was daydream about what to plant in the spring. But not this year! This year, fall and winter will be my season of soil amendment. I am determined to get my depleted soil up to snuff so I can grow huge fabulous vegetables in the spring. In the past I thought of all the composting and fertilizing hoopla as something only for gardening geeks, but this year I saw a definite decrease in my crop yields, and I believe it is because I have never done anything to replenish my dirt.

This was today's accomplishment. Titus and I spent the morning out in the pasture gathering sheep poop. I did my best to pick up the precious little pellets without getting too much dead orchard grass (don't want those seeds getting into my dirt!) and Titus helped by screaming in panic and trying to climb up my back in escape every time the sheep came anywhere near us. After we had a bucket full of poop, we spread it out in the smallest garden bed I have. Man, I'm going to need a lot more poop! A second layer of dry leaves went in over the poop and I gave the whole thing a good douse with the hose. I'm hoping everything will rot down over the fall and winter and I'll have beautiful dork rich crumbly soil to grow tomatoes in when spring rolls around. Now I just have to do the same thing for all the rest of my raised beds! How about you - do you put your garden to bed for the winter? Any special soil amending tricks you'd like to share?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Verdict on The Soup:

Three opinions were submitted.

1.) "This tastes green."

2.) "This tastes like something else."

3.) "This tastes like caviar - I would eat it every night even if it gave me the worst gas ever."

Everyone ate it super quickly, which may or may not have had to do with the fact that the Giant's game was on in the next room. I am chalking it up as a win - and plan on growing more salsify next year so I can make the soup more than once!

Monday, October 22, 2012


Early in the spring, as I was perusing the Baker Creek seed catalog, I came across "Salsify," also known as "oyster plant." I was immediately intrigued - a plant that tastes like oysters? That probably sounds terrible to you, but to someone like me who can pretty much eat only vegetables, a vegetable that tastes like a sea creature is a very exciting concept.

I ordered the seeds, planted them, and hoped for the best. About a month later I almost ruined all my salsify efforts when I thought the salsify sprouts were weeds. They look exactly like orchard grass - long, straight, green, and ugly. Not like carrot or parsnip tops, which is what I thought they would look like. Fortunately I realized that the "orchard grass" was ONLY growing in the spot I had planted the salsify seeds, and avoided pulling them all out.

Over the weekend I discovered the worst part about growing salsify: harvesting it. Those dang roots are almost impossible to get out of the ground. They are like a super long, skinny, hairy beige carrot. Carrots can be tricky to pull out of the ground, but salsify was ten times more difficult. I lost track of how many salsify roots snapped off leaving their bottom halves buried in the dirt. But I managed to pull everything out, and had just enough to make Roast Garlic Salsify Soup. That is, after I prepared the salsify for eating. The second worst part about growing salsify is getting it ready to eat. I scrubbed and scrubbed as much dirt off of them as I could, then meticulously peeled their bumpy hairy still-dirty skin off. By the end of it my hands were stained brown with salsify sap. But I held onto the hope that my oyster plants would turn into an amazing meal. And, happily, they did! I don't know if I would say it tastes like oysters, but the salsify lends a very subtle delicate umami flavor.

Now, the soup does not LOOK good. Cooked salsify and lentils combine to create stew the color of, well, old vomit. But it tastes delicious. I'm really not sure if you can find salsify in any stores, and I haven't even seen it at the farmer's market. But a packet of seeds will only set you back a couple of bucks, and this time next year, you too could be the proud owner of a garden bed full of oyster plants waiting to be dug up.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Sunflower Seeds part 2

Never to be outdone, my dad has completely upstaged my sunflower success. Early in the summer, he casually mentioned that it might be nice to plant a few sunflowers, and wondered if I had any extra seeds. My four sunflowers had happily sprouted, so I gave him the half-empty package of seeds and told him he could keep it. He proceeded to plant and grow TWENTY gigantic sunflowers.

These things are mammoth! The stems are probably 4-5 inches in diameter, like small tree trunks. And I can't even fathom how many seeds he is going to have once they are all dried up.

The boys and I had a blast harvesting the flowers with Papa. Each newly cut flower was a challenge of strength: who would be strong enough to carry THIS ONE to the basement??? By the end of it we were completely covered in dust and sunflower sap, but it was the best kind of fun. My dad seemed pretty proud of his haul - and his basement is looking like a real farmer's larder. One shelf full of pumpkins, another of winter squash, and twenty enormous sunflowers hanging from the ceiling waiting for their seeds to dry out. It is awesome.

Friday, October 12, 2012

On Housework:

3 year old: "Mom, folding laundry is not very fun."

Me: "Well, it isn't that exciting, but there are things that are worse."

3 year old: "Yeah. Like hitting your head on the sidewalk."

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Sunflower Seeds

Speaking of seeds, how about some sunflower seeds? Sunflowers are my all time favorite thing to grow. They are easy, hardy, and there really isn't anything quite like the look of a gigantic sunny yellow flower towering over your vegetable patch to bring a smile to your face. Plus, after they get all brown and shriveled up, there is a treasure trove of delicious (and nutritious!) seeds inside of them to be eaten. Oh, and the dried up sunflower stalks make excellent ninja swords.

Since I actually planted my sunflowers in the spring this year, they blossomed at the same time all my other vegetables blossomed, so I think the bees they attracted really boosted pollination in my garden. As soon as those huge flowers opened up they were absolutely swarmed with bees (we're hoping they are the bees from my husband's new bee hive... more on that later).

If you grew your own sunflowers this year, here is how to tell when the seeds are ready to be harvested. Once the petals are gone and the back of the flower turns yellow, like this:

you can cut the flower head off - leave about 12 inches or so of stem. If your flower is 8 feet tall, be careful how you cut it because that thing is dang heavy and could hurt if it came crashing down on top of your head. Hypothetically speaking. Anywho, the seeds are not quite ready to be removed from the flower at this point, so if you have nice dry weather and can keep the birds away from your seeds, you could opt not to cut off the flower head and allow the seeds to cure in the garden. Last year I did that and a couple unexpected rains got the seeds wet which resulted in mold, so this year I cut them and brought them in. Hang your cut flower somewhere warmish and dry - I have one in the food pantry and three in the barn. Once the back of the flower turns brown, you are ready to harvest your seeds. They should come out pretty easily, but you will make a mess, so it's best to do that part outside.

I plan on using these tips to roast our own seeds - looks easy enough. Of course I'll save a few to plant for next year too.

So here's my quick list of why you should plant sunflowers in your garden next year:

1.) They are super easy to grow - just poke in a seed, water it and watch it grow.

2.) They don't require much space. Yes, they are tall, but not at all wide. I have a friend who lives in a tiny apartment and she grew a gigantic sunflower in a pot on her tiny outside porch. They fit nicely amongst your vegetables.

3.) They will make you smile.

4.) They will make your neighbors smile.

5.) You get approximately a bazillion seeds from one gigantic sunflower. That's a pretty high yield on your investment of one seed and some water.

6.) Sunflower seeds help lower bad cholesterol, raise good cholesterol, are very high in protein and amino acids. They also contain high levels of anti-oxidant, B vitamins, calcium, iron, manganese, zinc, copper, magnesium, and selenium.

7.) They attract pollinators to your garden which will give you hight vegetable yields.

8.) Think of all the ninja swords you could make out of one 8 foot long sunflower stalk. Or you could skip the cutting and just make a javelin. The possibilities are endless.

9.) Cheese. That's right. You can make cheese out of them. And anything that can be made into cheese simply must be grown.

And now I will step off my sunflower soapbox. :)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Harvesting Seeds

Do you ever harvest seeds from your garden? Aside from harvesting and eating the actual vegetables, harvesting and saving seeds from your mature plants is one of the very best things about gardening. Today I harvested the leek seeds - this took a while since leeks are biennials, meaning that they take 2 years to flower and produce seeds. Luckily, these were planted in a part of my dad's garden that has been neglected for, yes, two years, so the seeds were left to mature unharmed. Above you can see the dried up leek flowers (it was all I could do to not pick them when they were huge fluffy purple balls of beauty. But I held strong, waiting for the seeds to form.).

Here you can see that each flower is made up of tons of buds, each of which produced one tiny black leek seed. When the buds crack open and you can see the seed inside you are ready to harvest.

I still haven't gotten all the seeds out - I think I'm just going to rub the flowers between my hands and sort out the seeds after everything is all crumbled up. Now I have to decide if I want to do the messy job in the house and deal with the dusting and sweeping, or outside and deal with the scavenging chickens and wind. Hm.

These are rutabega seeds that I gathered from the same neglected section of garden. I'm actually not even sure what to do with a rutabega, but now I can figure that out after these seeds grow into a nice crop next year. Rutabega seeds are a lot easier to harvest - they just come off clean in your hand when you gently squeeze the dried up flower.

Have I inspired you to harvest your own seeds yet? Well if I have, there is just one more thing to know. You can only harvest and reuse the seeds from open-pollinated plants. Many seed companies sell you seeds that have been genetically tampered with so that plants grown from their harvested seeds are inferior and not able to produce vegetables. Sometimes they won't even grow at all. Why would a seed company do that? So that you will have to buy more seeds, of course! Here is a brief article that will tell you a little bit more about open-pollinated seeds. Because people have been getting more and more interested in growing heirloom, open-pollinated crops, there are more and more places to get these seeds. My very favorite is Baker Creek; they have an amazing selection of seeds for your traditional garden vegetables as well and tons of rare things you could never eat unless you grew it yourself. Plus they always seem to send me free seeds with my orders. AND their catalogue is as beautiful as a coffee table book. Did I mention I love them? (And, no they didn't bribe me to say all those great things about them either.)

I'm especially proud of my kale seeds. I grew them all by myself (rather than foraging them from my dad's neglected garden!) and it took great self-control not to pull those plants out of the ground before the seeds were mature. I have pretty limited gardening space and there were many times that I wanted to pluck them out and stick in seeds for something different. Now I have a ton of pretty little kale seeds that I can plant in the spring next year - enough to share with my friends even. It is such a great feeling! It's funny how something so simple and, well, old-fashioned, could make someone feel so good. It's right up there with making a batch of jam. :)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


I love these pictures of the heirloom popcorn my dad grew a few seasons ago. He grew so much that there are still a few ears in a basket decorating his kitchen table. The colors encapsulate fall for me. I remember the day he and the kids and I harvested this popcorn. It was a gray day and we shuffled around through the dry corn stalks pulling off everything we could find and shucking them. It was like a treasure hunt - every ear we shucked was a different color. The best finds were the ears on which every kernel was a different color like a mosaic.

Today marks the third day in an above-90-degree heat wave for us. It was very weird - I picked the first two pumpkins of the season in flip flops with sweat running down my back. Not quite the way I like to usher in the "fall" gardening season. But I think my tomato plants are enjoying the long summer season, so I won't complain. I just keep watering my baby kale and broccoli hoping they won't decide it's June and give up. Hang in there little cole crop - cool weather is just around the corner! (right?)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Chicken Molt

It is the first day of October ... naturally it is 95 degrees outside. What? I had to pull the summer clothes out from under the bed so we could all shed our extra fall layers. Seems the chickens have the same idea - everyone is molting! I actually thought this chicken had been attacked when I saw her yesterday - she has shed her feathers down to the skin over most of her body.

It is really weird seeing a plucked chicken running around acting like it has no idea it is naked. Normally when our chickens molt they go into hiding and act grouchier than usual. You can tell they are embarrassed just by looking at their bald dejected heads. But not this lady - she seems to have a double dose of either self-esteem or oblivion. She has been pecking her way merrily around the yard leaving a trail of fluffy feathers behind her as if she hasn't a care in the world.

The other mature chickens are molting too, but not to this extent. When we got home from picking up kids from school they were all huddled under the rose bushes, trying to cool off in the shade. Only this hen was out and about, for once not having to compete for the bugs and seeds in the yard. Seems there are benefits to running around naked on the first day of October.