Archive for the ‘Garden’ Category

I finally got around to making one small batch of Violet Jam.  I used syrup as the sweetener, and it tastes good, but lost it’s bright magenta color, as a result.  I feel as though Spring can continue on, as I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy both fiddleheads and violets.  I don’t want Spring to make way for Summer just yet, but I don’t feel a sense of urgency to gather.  This will free me up to move into the garden…hopefully.  I did spend time this afternoon potting up all the great plants I bought through the Strafford County Conservation District Plant Sale.  We got apple, peach and pear trees, hazelnut starts, Concord Grapes, Elderberries, Black Currents and a couple pussy willows.  We will have fruit and nuts in a few years.  I’m so bad at buying things that I have to wait so long to benefit from, but my friend pointed out if you don’t at least start them, you will never have your own fruit.  I took that good counsel and have officially “started”.

The permaculture group had a swap tonight, with a focus on plants, though there were other fun treats that were moved about as well.  I brought some  fiddleheads, peppers, a small jar of violet syrup and some basil.  I came home with rhubarb, comfrey, mullein, 2 different varieties of eggplant seedlings, mangle beet seeds, bell pepper seedlings.  It was fun to chat with everyone, and the trading was fabulous.  It’s a great group of people, with a wide range of experience, knowledge and interests.  A great way to spend an evening.

Well, off to bed early tonight, in anticipation of my favorite place to bring the girls…the Tidewater School May Faire.  It’s a fund raiser for the Waldorf School in Eliot Maine.  I have several friends and acquaintances who have children who attend the school, and between them and my own experience with the events the school has hosted or participated in, I’m immensely impressed.  We are very happy homeschooling our girls, and Eowyn has taken very well to “working on lessons and projects” with Mom and Dad, but Tidewater certainly seems like a lovely place to be a child.

The May Faire is taking place at Tuttle’s Farm in Dover NH.  I’m a little sad it’s not on the lovely school grounds, but excited to go to the new venue.  I think I might be more excited than Eowyn, in fact.

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Okay, bear with me here. I have a fabulous book recommendation, but it’s title is unconventional.  I’m sure the author very much intended this to be the case, but as with many things that we really should be more comfortable with, we aren’t.

The book entitled, Holy Shit: Managing Manure To Save Mankind, is all about manure.  Gene Logsdon is a lifelong farmer, writer, and manure expert.  The book gets to the heart of local farming.  Food and Manure go hand in hand, when done well, and when they aren’t holding hands we all suffer.  The local food movement has a great root in this area, and many people are learning more than they ever thought they would about where their food comes from, how it’s raised or grown and what goes into the cycle.  I am 2 chapters away from finishing this book, and to show you how awesome I think it is, I only bought it last week, and do not find reading it conducive to knitting, which means I chose to read this instead of knitting.  The book is very informative and also super amusing.

Some of our local farms are finding that combining livestock with field veggies is beneficial in many ways.  Not only does it diversify the farm, spreading the risk of farming over more products, like if your tomatoes are hit with blight, your chickens will still be laying eggs, or your pigs will still be putting meat on the bone.  Field grown veggies, in New England is a wild ride, with all the various possible reasons for loss.  A cold snap in Spring after the buds have come on, can wipe out an Apple Crop, a summer of rain can destroy the squash crop, as the field gets too wet for the gourds and they rot on the vine, or cool rain for weeks at a time can usher in blight and make tomatoes scarce.  Raising animals isn’t without challenges, and they can have their own set of concerns, but a well managed, heritage flock or herd, can weather a great many things.

Besides the diversification, a great asset to animals on the farm is manure.  Manure is something we often take for granted, and that truth is the basis for Logsdon’s book.  Waste should not be seen as, well, waste, or something to dispose of, but rather a bi-product/value added/ benefit of raising animals.  If you raise animals you have the best source of fertility for your land.  If you do so, in conjunction with field crops, you are maximizing that fertility.

Understanding how to manage manure will give you a greater understanding of, and appreciation for, the farmers that are working so hard to keep their loop closed, by not buying in fertilizers for their fields.  As a home gardener, it will give you practical insights into how you can utilize manure in your own little plot, and it might inspire you to raise some of your own manure creating critters, like chickens, or even better, rabbits.

If you are local and think raising rabbits for meat or manure would be beneficial for your garden, I’m teaching a class on how to get started with raising them for my local permaculture group on August 20 from 1-3.  You can find out more here: Rabbit Husbandry 101

As for Logsdon’s book, Holy Shit: Managing Manure To Save Mankind you can buy it in either paperback, or for the  kindle, on Amazon.

You can hear him in an interview with Robin Young on NHPR’s Here & Now.

If you live locally and want to support farms that are incorporating the principles of utilizing manure from their farms on their fields, check out Brookford Farm and New Roots Farm. I’ve had  great conversations with the farmers at both farms about their philosophies and how they are using their animals to provide consumers with nutrient dense veggies, as well as humanely raised meat…all with the biproduct of manure at the center of their operation.

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What a week…or so!  I got very tied up with work.  I’m running a sale, and over the weekend had a show…oops.  Didn’t think that through.  The upside is that I managed to do both, pretty well, I just had to drop everything else.  But I’m back to life as usual…whatever that might be.

What you’ve missed around the farm:

Maybelle kindled a litter of 6 big beautiful babies.  I was so proud of her.  One wriggled away from the group, and got too cold, so there are only 5, but she’s an amazing mom.  Really the best mom I’ve seen through here!  Needless to say, I really like that rabbit.

Mama Muscovy#1 hatched 3 ducklings on Wednesday, the 20th. A little sad about the numbers, but it was the first batch of the season, so hopefully the other two Mama’s have better luck.  This mama will have at least one more chance for another clutch later this summer.

Mama Muscovy #2 is about a week from hatching, and Mama Muscovy #3 just went on her nest of about 9 eggs Wednesday the 20th.

No chickens have decided to go broody yet, so there are no new chicks on the horizon.

The peas are up!  The spinach is putting on their first set of real leaves, as are the radishes.  The lettuce and beets are up!  My bed of neglected garlic from last year has garlic popping up all over.  I’m interested to see what that produces.  My planted garlic, properly spaced, with straw mulch is up now, too.

The seedlings, mainly tomatoes, basil and peppers, with some miscellaneous goodies like tomatillos and ground cherries, are doing great!

What you missed in the kitchen:

Not my kitchen, but Sunday April 17, the day after the show, I had the most amazing breakfast made from local ingredients.  Sharon and Ken invited myself and a few other friends over for brunch.  We talked about local farming, the ups the downs, what can be done, education that could be spread, all while enjoying some amazing dishes!  Baked goods with local honey and maple sweeteners, local flour, eggs, shrimp…it was delicious.  All of it.  We even had sugar that was made by one of the guests.  She just returned from a 10 day field trip with a local school to Costa Rica.  She harvested and processed sugar cane and brough that along with coffee she roasted.  Not local, but done with local hands, and we all enjoyed the special treat.

My own kitchen has been fairly lonely, but I did pull some sourdough out of the fridge.  I had placed a cup of Irma in the refrigerator last month, and exactly one month later, I pulled it out, put it in a bowl with water and flour and it was bubbling in no time!  I’m so excited to have such a hearty sourdough starter.  I have big, crazy plans for that starter, very soon.

I enjoyed scambled eggs topped with tat soi and arugula micro greens and some diced chives for lunch.  What a great Spring meal, and all from my yard.  I don’t think that will ever stop being a good feeling.

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Seeds arrived today!  I got them from my favorite seed company, High Mowing Seeds, in Vermont, and I picked up a few from Sustainable Seed Company.  I ended up at Sustainable Seed Company when looking for Organic Quinoa seeds, and they had a couple other things that interested me, that High Mowing didn’t have, like parsnips.  I got two kinds, All American and Hallow Crown.  Along with my pretty small order of 6 packets of seeds they sent a free package too!  What a nice surprise.  It’s Lolla Rosa Darky Lettuce.  It’s a loosleaf head variety that is slow to bolt.  It’s a dark Magenta color, and will look beautiful at the end of my walk with some flowers in my big green pot.  I’m excited.

In my excitement I broke out my metal trays and the soil blocker, and screwed together our seed starting shelves!  I now have 3 trays of seeds done.  There is a tray each of San Marzano Tomatoes, Moskovich Tomatoes and my favorite pepper, the Corno di Toro.  I still have 3 kinds of tomatoes and a pepper variety to start, along with some herbs.  I’m also planting a tray or two of microgreens since I’m itching for green, fresh food, and the lights will be set up anyway.

I kind of got a bit of the microgreen bug because I enjoyed some freshly cut arugula microgreens on my mac and cheese tonight and that was so yummy.  Our mac and cheese is usually a mix of pasta, cheese, butter, milk and other random goodies.  Tonight it was sauteed onions, scrambled hamburger and diced carrots, so when I threw the microgreens on top it just seemed right.

They are predicting some ridiculous amount of snow tonight.  At the park today, some parents were declaring the total was to be between 6 and 12 inches.  Maybe, maybe not, but I did need to secure the low tunnels so that they don’t become filled with snow.  I took care of the bed that has all the peas, and started to secure the other one that was empty.  Then I decided that if Iplanted the bed, before I secured it, it could sit there with snow covering it, germinating away.  That seemed more time efficient as well as less bothersome than letting the snow come, clearing off the beds and planting the seeds.  So around 6pm I dragged out the overwintered hose, filled the blue water barrels, that I neglected to fill in the fall, and planted two kinds of spinach, 2 kinds of radishes, lettuce and beets. Watered, covered, secured and was putting away the hose when the cold snowy rain started.  Now I can sit in the house tomorrow, with the woodstove keeping my seeds warm, while I cuddle up with the kids, reading, coloring, crafting and knowing that my early Spring planting has a very good start.

Spring is here whether Mother Nature is on board or not.

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I have been working on a knitting project that, while I’m excited about it, is just Knit a row, Purl a row, continue…forever.  The gauge is 6 sts to the inch, the sweater is for me, this is going to be a lot of stitches.  I figure that it would be a good time to crack open a good book.  I can read and knit, if the pattern isn’t complicated.  After learning how handy it is to read on my computer using either Kindle or Nook for PC, I was super excited.  The problem with reading while knitting is that you have to stop knitting to turn the page, and since I prop the book in my recipe book holder it takes a little effort to do this.  The problem is that it takes away from knitting.  Reading on a computer, while really not romantic, is very efficient.  I simply set my cursor on the “next” arrow and tap the mouse pad from time to time.  Easy.

I turned to my Facebook friends for a recommendation and found out my friends like very intense books.  I was recommended The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Help, TORMENT – A Novel of Dark Horror, and Sarah’s Key.  They all look good, but they also all look intense.  So when my friend Jennifer recommended The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love, I decided that was the one I’d try.  It’s a memoir of farming.  I could use some farming inspiration. It’s, of course, not just about farming, it’s also about self discovery and falling in love.  I’m finding it to be a fun combo of the three, and it’s been great fun.

After pouring over the Homegrown Whole Grains: Grow, Harvest, and Cook Wheat, Barley, Oats, Rice, Corn and More, for the past several weeks, I decided which grain I’m going to try this year.  Quinoa.  It seems that it would be amenable to growing in this area, it seems to be easy to harvest, at least on the easy end of the whole grains, and we really like it.  The fact that it’s gluten free, and the plants are edible and really pretty also weighed in on the plus side.  I have a friend who is grown oats and my dairy farm, Brookford, grows two kinds of wheat and sells the flour, so this would round out my choices rather nicely.  Quinoa is great as a cereal grain, as well as a nice side dish or base for a summer salad.  I am excited to give it a try.

I have ordered my Quinoa seeds, a pack of each of the three varieties that the site carried.  I also ordered my normal seed order from High Mowing Seeds and my tree/shrub order from the Strafford County Conservation District Plant Sale.  I’m getting Peach, Apple and Pear Trees, along with Black Currents, Elderberries, and Grapes.  Lots of fruit!  I’m excited.  Sure the only thing that’s likely to fruit at all this year, is maybe the Elderberries, but in the next couple years we will have fruit, and that’s something to look forward to.

I watched a great video of Luke from Brookford Farm talking about his farm, and how it works.  It’s the first video on the page, and I think it will be interesting to folks who live nearby, but also to others who don’t just to see how a farm ecosystem can work.  I just can’t say enough good stuff about the Mahoney’s and those that work with them on that farm.  I’m so thankful to have them in my community of  food growers.

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Today was beautiful!  The weather was so inviting.  I worked outside in my nice wool sweater and was very comfortable.  I pulled the plastic off the winter growing bed, and removed the sadly abused leeks.  The flavor of the remaining stumps is amazing and the soup I made with it for dinner tonight was superb, but they were very tattered.  I did not secure the low tunnel, as I ran out of time, or ambition, or both, in October, so I put some sand bags to hold the plastic down and hoped for the best.  If I had harvested 2-3 weeks earlier, I would have enjoyed some lovely kale, arugula and tat soi, but I didn’t, figuring I’d wait another couple weeks, and during that time some sort of critter had a salad bar.  I was surprised not to see the little fella lounging on his back, hardly able to move from the full tummy, and if my life was a cartoon, I’m sure I would have, but there was no sign of him, or his comrades, when I found the sad little stumps that were once beautiful greens.  Lesson for next year: Secure the top, making it difficult for critters to get to the food.

I harvested the leeks and ran a hoe along the length to create 4 little channels to plant seeds.  I planted Sugar Ann Snap Peas and Green Arrow Shell Peas, two rows each.  I pulled the plastic over and hope to see sprouts soon.  It was so good to feel dirt again!  It was also exciting to see what good shape the soil is in.  It was easy to plant in.

I decided on peas for that bed because they can be planted as soon as the soil can be worked, and can handle even a light frost, but under that tunnel they should do just fine.  They will like the walk to the house which will be nice.  But the most practical reason is they will be pulled around Late July/Early August, which will make for perfect time to plant that bed again, for the winter crop.  The peas will give the soil a nice nitrogen fix, and the bed should be in great shape for the winter greens.  I’m still trying to figure out planting schedules to get the most out of each piece of land, but I think this one bed will be timed well.

Dinner tonight was potato leek soup and rabbit sauteed in leeks and white wine.  If you have not tried rabbit, recently, I really can’t recommend it enough.  It is a very lovely meat.  It’s delicate and has a subtle sweet flavor.  Simmered in leeks and wine, it’s divine!

I also whipped up a little skunk themed pinafore, today.  Eowyn and Christopher are co-hosting a Skunk Zoo Party, along with the great folks at the Barrington Public Library.  Tomorrow there will be a Skunk Themed Game, winner of the Skunk Zoo Coloring contest will be announced, a  reading of the book, and a live Skunk named Stella will make an appearance.  There will be a couple copies of the Skunk Zoo given away, as well as copies on hand for purchase, part of which goes to support the Barrington Public Library.   Should be a great time.  Mama wanted Eowyn to have something special for her big day.

I used the apron pattern from Carefree Clothes for Girls.  Christopher cut out the skunk, from wool felt and I applied it to the finished top.

If you don’t have a copy of their book yet, you can get one here: Skunk Zoo

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2008 was my start on becoming more self sufficient.  Less dependent on the industrial food system, and the mall, is where I started.  I feel good about our progress.  I had my first vegetable garden this year.  We were quite successful and learned a lot.  I LOVE tomatoes fresh from the garden.  Fresh green beans taste nothing like frozen, canned, or even beans from the market.  Carrots left to be hit by a good frost (or frozen into the ground, even) are the sweetest, most delicious I’ve ever encountered.  You need to be very diligent with the squash seedlings, for it you don’t have them properly labeled you will not know what is what until they grow fruit…is that a Zucchini plant, a Pumpkin or a Butternut?  Tomatoes really need substantial supports, little bamboo sticks are not enough, even thought they are cute.  Root veggies need softer soil, with a little sand in there so they go deep and don’t just grow fat, and potato tires do not work well with hay and a rainy spring, nor do they work well with freshly fertilized soil.


We learned more, but that was a good recap.  We also started raising a flock of chickens.  I never knew how fun those little critters are to have around.  They are very amusing, low maintenance and quite friendly.  We are up to 8-9 eggs a day, enough for our family and my parents, right from the back yard.  This year we built a coop and a makeshift run that needs to be taken to the next level in the Spring.


I started my journey of putting up food.  Canning and freezing specifically.  I did a lot of borrowing of supplies, having never done this before.  I stuck to tomatoes and peaches for the most part.  I’ve had some very yummy meals made with those jars of tomatoes.  What a treat to have canned peaches with our oatmeal from time to time.  Enjoying blueberry pancakes and an occasional bowl of blueberry rice pudding with frozen berries we collected for free from the plants near our house.  I meant to pull out a bag of frozen homemade cider for Christmas, and forgot, but that’s okay, we have all winter to enjoy the 3-4 gallons we have in there.


Lots of crafting took place in 2008.  I think the items I’m most fond of are the Sweater Vest completed on the last day of the year, which is drying so has yet to be photographed.

The Lady February Sweater for me:


The Advent Journey ornaments:


Mini’s Quilt:


Making the pattern and tutorial for the reversible wrap around baby/toddler dress:


Using my craft to help others is something I tried my hand at this year, with coordinating the Knitting to Keep Warm event at my Local Yarn Store.  This is something I’d liked to do more of next year, both with coordinating events for others to get involved with, and doing things on my own to donate to those who need them.

I’ve taken cooking and baking more seriously this year.  Our life circumstances never had us eating home cooked meals, cooked by me at least.  We worked in a group home where we had a cook.  We ate out a lot.  Then we moved to the country and had a baby.  Well, 2008 was the year to learn how to cook at home.  It’s gone pretty well, and I’m looking forward to diving deeper in 2009.

We entered the year of 2 with our daughter.  She has been a lot of fun, lots of talking, puzzle making, reading and coloring.  She helps daddy make breakfast, and is a fabulous chicken farmer.  She is creative and needs little stimulation from us or her toys, to play happily, but enjoys time with her parents and likes to help with the sewing machine.


Looking back on 2008 I am pleased to say I enjoyed this year.  It has been a year of reevaluation, change and new adventures, all of which, while challenging, have definitely enriched our lives.  Thank you for being here, reading, commenting and taking the journey of 2008 with us!

2009 is ahead.  I have no idea what it will bring, but I know the direction I’m starting in and intend to be flexible on how that path is followed.  My plans include:

Having a garden again this year.  It’s being expanded to the piece of land that lies at the other end of my property.  We’ve tilled, and will be planting a large tomato crop.  We did buy a lot of tomatoes this year, and we don’t want to have to do that, so we know we need to plant more.  Lots of Roma and sauce style for sure.  Dad and Mini will be looking for the Sun Globe sweetness of those beautiful orange cherry tomatoes, and of course some nice big cutting tomatoes for sandwiches and salads.  The seed catalogs have arrived so January will be spent pouring over those and deciding what to buy again this year, and what to try for the first time.


Chickens!  We have decided, with the help of our local heirloom chicken farmers to expand our poultry focus.  We will be raising some chickens for meat purposes, along with maintaining and probably adding to our egg layers.  We enjoy eating chicken, and while we are fortunate to be able to buy chicken from local raisers, we feel the cost and experience of raising our own will make sense.  We are also going to be trying our hand at a half dozen turkeys, Narragansett breed, the old New England Turkey, to be shared with my parents, and a couple ducks.  Duck eggs are great for baking, very rich and delicious to eat on their own, and we think it would be fun to have a couple ducks wandering about, eating slugs out of our garden.  We are looking at the beautiful Blue Cayuga.

Lots of crafting!  I look forward to incorporating mini into more of my crafting now that she is able to follow directions and understand what we are doing.  She bakes and has become a fabulous egg shell puller (Husband cracks she pulls them apart), and is quite proficient with a whisk.

Clothing is a big focus in my crafting.  I don’t tend to get into a lot of crafts for crafts sake, but rather am looking for crafts that are fun to make and fun to use later.  Kitchen items like potholders, and an occasional pin cushion are about as “frivolous” as I tend to get.  Though I won’t say never.    I have plans for some exciting sewing projects, both to create from patterns and to create from scratch.  I love to see my family members enjoying comfortable clothes I’ve made.  I also enjoy being able to put on an outfit in the morning knowing that most, or all, of it was made by me.  It’s just a fun feeling.

Knitting has become my favorite crafting endeavor so there will be lots more of that.  Especially baby knitting!

The most exciting plan of 2009 is that we will be welcoming our second baby girl into this world.  I am 6 1/2 months into a very smooth sailing pregnancy, due in March!  Mini is excited to be a big sister and kisses her good night and talks to her through my belly every night.  We have not had to do a lot to prepare this time, so it seems it’s flown by.  We have most everything we need, as we kept all of mini’s clothes (all the garments I sewed and knit will have a new life) and toys, car seat, co-sleeping crib, breast pump and the like.  But the baby does need her own hand knits, so the purchases I made yesterday are, in large part, for her.

I want to focus this year on contentment.  I have found myself content far more of the time, than ever before in my life.  It’s a feeling I enjoy and one I want to foster all the more.  I’m going to be sharing my journey in that area, as well.  Contentment seems to be a mindset, one where even though there is more to have or experience, what you have is enough and you are satisfied. I want to enjoy what I have, personally, relationally and materially, rather than worrying about what else I could have.

I hope 2009 provides pleasures and contentment for my family and yours.

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