Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Pulling Up Stakes

Get it? GET IT?

Actually, I put IN stakes today, but what I'm trying to get around to is that I'm going to put all of my gardenly, craftly, housely stuff over at I'm Not Hannah. I actually am going to move the whole shebang at some point in time over to Wordpress and get a new domain. Because I'm nuts. It'll be fun. Really.


There are already a few garden/yard posts up at I'm Not Hannah, and I'd love to see y'all there. So...yeah.

See ya.

Friday, May 29, 2009


(For those of you who don't go to I'm Not Hannah, this is a verbatim post from over there. I'm thinking about moving everything here over there somehow. Or keeping this as a holder blog. Or something. If you ARE an I'm Not Hannah reader, there is nothing new here for you to see. Bless your sweet heart.)

I think I've written about this before. The main fault with my labeling system is that it has a lot of vague, cute designations that offer very little in the way of search-aid. This particular post needs a label like, "contemplating the fate of my blogging universe" or "is having more than one blog a sign of schizophrenia?"

I have, over the course of my blogging life, had three blogs. The first is this one. I like this one. I'm bored with the template and know that I need some linkage overhaul, but I like it. I've made friends through it and it is a great way for me to keep track of my momentous occasions. I still love to go back and read about River's birth, because it was such a profound experience and it's hard for me to remember every moment of it when she's doing what she's doing right now, which is being curled up in a ball on the other side of the baby gate moaning because she can't get through, but won't ask for help, preferring instead to be as dramatic as possible. (For real, she's saying, "Oooh, nooooo. Oh, nooooooo. I will nebbuh see my mommy agiiiiiiiiin." As she stares at me.)

The second is NotHannah's Greenspace. I started it because I realized that not everybody gets all crazy-excited about the fact that my muscadine vines have overcome the idiocy of me dragging them out of my azaleas. Also, I often write with an eye to the funny and it's sometimes hard to write "and then I made the week's worth of pancakes" in a humorous way. I mean, it's pancakes, yo. They just kinda...sit there. I like having NHGS because it's a good way for me to (River is now accusing Frodo of being whiny. She is gonna make a hell of a psychological study one day.) chart weather and planting and what not. I could put it down on paper, I guess, and be one of those people whose kids have to deal with stacks and stacks of journals with entries like "March 22, 2010. Planted onions. It rained. I had a pimento cheese sandwich" when I die. Blogging seems easier and less likely to make my children break the Southern commandment to not speak ill of the dead.

The third was a now-defunct, never mentioned in the world of Not Hannah blog in which I discussed my spirituality. It's not that I'm ashamed of my spirituality, but the simple truth is that as I try to hammer out my own personal dogma, it's a lot easier to not talk about it with most folks. The personal religious freedom I value all Americans having is awesome, but I don't always need folks exercising it all up in my face, know what I mean? HOWEVER, it was nice for the few weeks that I wrote in it to be able to get some feedback from other folks walking the same(ish) path that I was and nice to have my musings down

Here's the problem, then. I have somehow convinced myself that it is stressful having more than one blog. It probably ISN'T stressful, but the two of them feel like one (two more?) more thing (things?) that I can't get to in the course of a busy day, and I think the pressure I have (idiotically) put on myself is feeding into the dangerous and ridiculous "there's so much to do ACK I can't do it all ACK maybe I should just play eighteen games of Bejeweled Blitz instead" procrastination cycle of doom and despair that I like to plunge myself into.

I am in an organizational phase right now, brought on by the fact that Will will be on vacation soon and will want to transfer his managerial skills from school to home and thus make me feel oppressed and anxious. (Bless his sweet heart for living with me. He deserves a medal and a Xanax.) So I'm all like, "Gotta plant the garden. Gotta wash the clothes. Gotta get rid of stuff. Gotta scrub and put away and FOR THE LOVE OF THE FILING CABINET PUT IT TO ORDER!!!!"

The blog is just a tee-ninecy, often neglected bit of my life and so restructuring it should probably be last on my list of priorities, behind "scrubbing the baseboards" and "finally cleaning out the flatware drawer." But I can't help but think that if I started streamlined, it would be better. After all, planting limas is just as much a part of me as battling snot monsters. Deciding whether making instant oatmeal from regular oatmeal is worth it from a time/cost perspective is as immediately concerning to me as the idiocy of people like Tom Tancredo (Note to his idiotic self: Hey, buddy. If it doesn't have hoods and nooses, it isn't the KKK, you massive, ignorant wanker.)

So. Would anybody here (all, like, 17 or so of you) be mortally offended if I mixed the gardening/thrifty/crafty part of me with the mommy/political/writery part? I mean, I don't want to bore anybody silly with posts about hills versus ditches for corn-planting. Additionally, I don't want to freak out anybody coming here looking for a discussion on biscuits and finding, instead, a discussion about nether regions. Personal nether regions. Or maybe spiritual nether regions. I mean, Hell is a fascinating concept and I'm pretty sure that my mailbox area is a Hellmouth, so it might come up.

I'm just saying.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Yet Another Smorgasbord of Blogicity

PEASSSSSS!!!! Actual, live, eat 'em right off the vine sweet peas. I eat the smaller pods, I open the older ones and lick out the peas in an ecstasy of gardening goodness. The ones above will be eaten for dinner tonight. (The ones left after River got to them, that is.)

So much has been going on in our "inside lives" that we haven't spent a lot of time doing anything outside. The garden is woefully underplanted, and I'm going to have to go ahead and get some plants from the store, as much as I hate it. You do what you can, right?

A couple of weekends ago, we took a trip to a local strawberry farm to pick our own berries. I've done berries here, and they'd be fine for a novelty for the kids, but I don't have enough space for a big patch. We wound up with an enormous mass of the lovely red fruits (including Jeffrey's "magic"--i.e. "unripe" ones)

and so later that afternoon, I set to preserving them. I made one big wad of them into strawberry jam. This was my third attempt at jam--the first resulted in a thick brownish sludge, the second resulted in a thin, goopy mess and the third:

I kinda wish I had a "TA DAAAAHHHH!" sound bite right now. Or, like, angel trumpets. The jam set beautifully and I made eight half pints of it! Huzzah!!

The rest of the berries I culled and sliced for freezing. They were so pretty on the tray that I took a picture of them. After they froze on the trays, I popped them off and slipped them into some Ziploc Vacuum Freezer bags. I'd been thinking about one of those vacuum storage systems for a while, because I make ahead and freeze pancakes, muffins, cookies, biscuits, etc. and wanted to be able to preserve them for a bit longer if possible. And I hate it when my blocks of cheese go bad fast. But the price of the systems kept me from buying them, along with the fact that reusing the bags for anything is impossible. I had heard about a Reynolds product that worked on a battery and the last time I went to HellMart, I headed to the freezer bag aisle, where I found the Ziploc system. Four bucks got me some bags and a little handpump. At face, this is pretty low-tech: a handpump goes over a hole in the bag and you, um, pump the air out. But the storage potential made me go nuts. I would prefer to can our produce, but Jeffrey hates what he calls "olive green" green beans and peas that are canned. And the kids LOVE frozen berries. So the idea that I can freeze stuff without the frantic "suck-with-a-straw-hurry-to-seal-curse-the-invention-of-air" deal is awesome. The pump removes every bit of air in the bag and you can reseal them after cutting off a wodge of cheese or grabbing a few berries.

The package and website cautions against reusing the bags, although to be honest, I'll probably reuse the ones I keep fruit and breads in--at the very least, these would make great "keepers" for wet socks and clothes that the kids mess up while on the road. No more icky soured clothes!!! You can check them out here: Oh, by the way, I got five quart bags of frozen berries. I'd like to have more, but I'm going to fill out our fruit stash for the winter with blueberries (maybe even a few from our new rabbit eye bushes below),

peaches, and blackberries from the farm in Cowtown.

Let's see...I've given up hilling the potatoes...they grew all the way up to the top of the potato bin and I couldn't see using any more soil or straw. I'm hoping all the growth will mean lots of potatoes, but you know my skepticism with this concept. I was pretty surprised to see how close the blossoms of the potato are to eggplant blossoms and interested to find out after some research that they belong to the same family: edible Nightshade. Cool.

I decided to dig a corn trough this year instead of put them in a raised bed. Corn requires a lot of water and gets so tall that a raised bed made it difficult to deal with. The trough is roughly six feet by six feet, and I was able to get thirty-six kernals planted. I put mini pumpkins in each corner. The corn is starting to come up now, so tomorrow I'll put in some Henderson limas. YUM!! The corn trough picture is bad, I know. I think I'm going to call it: Large Lopsided Square of Dirt. You might be able to pick out the corn if you squint and say an incantation.

I dug out a BUNCH of the chocolate mint when I discovered it was started to invade the raised beds. Um. No. I transplanted some of it to a different spot, but was going to dry the rest until I decided to try doing some mint jelly with it. It has such a nice flavor that I thought it might do. The only pectin I have is powdered, though, so I have to make a HellMart run for some liquid stuff. Hope I can find it...

In other, horribly disgusting news, I have stinkwort mushrooms in one of my beds. I'm not sure what sin I committed to deserve the variety I have. They're nicknamed "Dead Man's Fingers" (charming) and emit an odor that is so gross and profound that you can smell it when you walk out the back door. Topping off the nastiness is a brown slimy wad of ook that apparently draws flies, which adds to the general grodiness. (Click on the pic to get a gander at the mushroom loogy. Shudder.) A Googling of the mushroom revealed that you can actually cook with these, which makes me want to yark. I I'll have to dig them out soon, once I gather the courage to do so.

Tomorrow is a planting day! Woohoo!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I Pea'd Myself!

Oh, garden humor. I am a laugh riot.

For real, I have finally managed to plant sweet peas in such a way that I get, you know, actual peas on the vine! Woohoo!!!! The trick wound up being: plant early, plant in the shadiest spot in the garden, and sing to the vines encouragingly every day. They prefer Bob Marley. I'm sure that this won't necessarily work for everybody, depending on your region. If you live in the Northwest, for example, you might do better with full sun and, say, Lyle Lovett. The point is: I HAVE SWEET PEAS!! To be sure, there aren't a lot of vines, probably because the seeds I planted were old. Next year, I'll put trellises on the back of every bed in the shade and try to get a bigger harvest.

In other garden news, the potatoes got a second layer of hilling, this time with mucked out straw from the school farm. Forking it into barrels made me so happy that I'm pretty sure the Ag teacher thought I was insane. I doubt any farm I have will have cows, but the smell of straw + cow + manure is lovely to me. The taties already need another hilling. I'm considering going to the Ag Center, which is a huge complex where the state fair and various animal contests and RV gatherings are held. They have a pile of shavings and manure that anybody can go and get for free. I don't know about hilling potatoes with it, though. Maybe I should just try to find some more grass clippings? I remain skeptical about the potatoes, although they look beautiful and healthy in their golden bed (I'd take a picture, but we've been under a weird little streak of thunderstorms since around five, so I think I'll stay in here so as not to get zapped...maybe later after the weather clears.) I wonder what type of music they'd like? Garth Brooks springs weirdly to mind.

The first batch of compost is officially ready. There are still some bigger strands of grass left over from last year before I realized you really need to shred your stuff before chunking it into the bin, but I'm not too worried about them. I'll use the compost on my seedlings, which will go in this weekend. Poor babies. Winter sowing, it turns out, is a science for at least one person living in the South. Again, it might be easier somewhere else with more predictable seasons. This spring has been fairly consistently coolish, but our winter was a wee schizophrenic, especially at the end. The plants sprang up fast and then have been hunched down in their pots for at least a month. Transplanting them seemed to have little to no effect on their growth, although most of them really seem puny now, like they want to stretch their legs. I'll be trying to find fish emulsion this weekend to perk up the squash. I've read that too much nitrogen makes for not a lot of fruit. And I want a LOT of fruit!! (Oooooh, the thought of fried squash is ALMOST enough to make me long for the heavy heat of summer.) The others will get some compost--and maybe some Andrew Lloyd Webber show tunes.

On the homefront, we've been doing good on the eating-in department. We took Jeffrey out to eat yesterday after a doctor's visit, but otherwise, we've eaten at home for the entire week. The rest of the month hasn't gone as well--we've done a terrible job of eating-in AND of keeping our budget. Sometimes I feel a bit like, "Dang, I'm growing a garden. How much do I have to pare down?" but this mainly comes on days when the kids are fractious or we have a packed schedule or when (to be honest) I'm just being lazy. Budgeting simply must be part of the homesteading effort, as well as doing a better job of using what we have here instead of buying something new. Baby steps.

I've settled officially on a biscuit recipe for the family. It yields yummy, tender, buttery, soft, crunchy on the bottom bread that everybody loves. It's a variation of Mama's recipe, one I read in "Better Homes and Gardens" by Scott Peacock, and one from Alton Brown, my culinary boyfriend (and fellow UGA grad.)

Not Hannah's Biscuits O' Joy
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Combine 2 cups all-purpose flour, three teaspoons baking powder, and one teaspoon salt. I use a whisk, other folks use a food processor. Eh.
  3. Pour one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar into a measuring cup. Add milk to make one cup. I use 1 percent milk, for what it's worth. This is a replacement for buttermilk. I don't know that I make biscuits enough to buy buttermilk since I don't know how long it lasts in the fridge, nor how much it costs. I'm perfectly happy with this substitution.
  4. Cut a half stick of cold, unsalted butter longways and then shortways. You're aiming for little butter cubes. Plop those into the flour mixture.
  5. Squoosh the butter cubes around in the flour mixture to break them up. "The experts" say aim for pea-sized pieces combined with smaller bits, which always makes me go, "Ack! Are we talking sweet peas? English peas? Crowder? PURPLE-HULLED PINKEYES????" Dude, you just want some bigger bits (field peas) and some smaller bits (graham cracker crumbs) and some flour. Don't have big hunks of butter in there.
  6. Stir up the milk and cider mixture. The acid in the vinegar will combine with the baking powder and make a nice fizzy dough that rises in the oven.
  7. Pour about 3/4 of the milk mixture into the flour and butter mixture. Some folks say make a well in the middle. Eh. I just pour slowly and hope for the best.
  8. Stir gently with a fork. This is the "Do this part carefully or you'll wind up with tough, dry, disks o'sadness" part. I mix until it's all just combined. Depending on weather, I sometimes have a bit of milky stuff in the bottom of the bowl. This is okay--I can always add a bit of flour during the kneading part.
  9. Plonk the dough out onto a floured surface. I use a wooden cutting board and I sprinkle maybe an eighth of a cup of flour onto the board. I have no idea if this is the "lightly floured" surface the experts go on about. This is what works for me.
  10. Now the kneading part. I flatten the dough out to about an inch and a half, fold it in half, flatten it to an inch and a half, fold it in half, repeat and repeat and repeat maybe six or seven times. I've heard you should knead eleven times, that you shouldn't knead, that you knead only enough to coat the back and front of your dough with flour. Whatever works, y'all. This works for me.
  11. Roll the dough out to about half an inch. I use a fairly large biscuit cutter and with a bit of smooshing the cut out parts together, I can get eight big biscuits and a little wonky one that I call the "sample." Don't spin the cutter; just push it down (I love the poofy little sound it makes) and lift it up. Put the biscuits on a parchment sheet lined pan so that they're almost touching, like maybe a centimeter between them. Poke holes in the biscuits all the way down to the pan with a fork, twice. Top each biscuit with a tiny piece of butter.
  12. Bake for, oh, eleven or so minutes. I never time it...I always go by sight.
  13. Eat and experience bliss.
Still working on the Cracker O' Joy. Will report when I've figured it out.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


I actually wrote few days ago. Wednesday? I don't know. Will's been on break and it screwed my sense of time all up. I did another homestead-y thing today and I'll document it tomorrow maybe, after a trip to our favorite herb farm.

Guess what I just did? No, really. Guess.

I ate a homemade graham cracker slathered with peanut butter. And it was AWESOME.

Or at least very, very good.

The recipe from Baking Bites proved to be spot-on and even when I totally mixed two steps up and wound up with largish blobs of butter in my rolled-out dough, they still taste good. Jeffrey is kind of squicky on the texture (he doesn't like crunchy at all and still speaks with longing of the thick, chewy slabs o' dough that were my second batch of crackers) and River refused to eat hers at all (it was sweet, you see, and I have decided this child might actually be a foundling--she eats neither chocolate nor peanut butter and...) BUT--Will and I liked them. Next time, I'll do a few things differently, starting with, you know, combining ingredients in the correct order. I also think I'll to process the graham flour a bit and try to break it down. The biggest difference between these and storebought was one of texture--storebought are smoother and...flakier, maybe? I also will substitute one of the tablespoons of molasses for honey. It won't change anything but the taste and I feel like, especially for the little ones, molasses makes for a more complicated taste. All in all, this was a successful test. I'm really stoked to think that in a few weeks I'll be able to mark one more item off my shopping list. Woohoo!

Now guess what I just did? It's about six hours later and I'm finishing up the post that work kept me from. I'm not snuggled down in bed because I had my very own Laura Ingalls Wilder moment and got up to water down the plants because of the expected frost. To my relief, it doesn't appear that it got down to freezing. NOAA has the temp at 35 degrees and while that's cold as poo poo, there's no frost on the car or the plants. I'll check again as it gets closer to twilight, but I think we were spared. (I have my fingers crossed for the peach farmers.)

The anxiety the forecast frost caused me was considerable; I'm not really sure why. Certainly, I don't depend on my garden for sustenance. And with our warm climate and long growing season, there's plenty of time to plant seedlings or even grow some crops straight from seed. I suppose it's that a lot of work went into my little seedlings--physical work, but also planning and hoping and dreaming. I'm starting to consider this venture to be less something fun to do because my Daddy gardened and more an actual lifestyle change, and the threat of frost threatened that lifestyle. Just checked the veggie garden frost! Yay!

So now I have a slew of newspaper-potted tomatoes and cukes and peppers sitting in my kitchen for no good reason. Ah, well. Better safe than sorry.

I dug out most of the seedlings from their winter-sown homes yesterday. (I had to leave some because the kids were clamoring for supper and my fingers were numb from making newspaper pots.) First, I needed to bring them in from the cold and second, they were getting a bit root bound and nitrogen-starved in the containers. It was odd to look at my garden sans containers. This has been an interesting experiment. I'm not sure what I'll do differently next year. I expected the peppers to go great guns, as I've frequently had volunteer peppers come up from missed fruit, but I only got two California Wonders and no banana peppers at all. I expected no eggplant, but yesterday I lifted two healthy seedlings and two "trying hard" seedlings from the container. (More than enough in our house, as I'm the only one who eats it.) The tomatoes got a mixed review, although I had to restart the seeds after a hard freeze. The Jelly Beans went pffff (I think I have three?), the Romas and Better Boys did okay, and the Cherokee Purples surprised me by going CRAZY and springing up all six. So...I'm set for tomatoes. (Will doesn't know this yet, but I'm thinking I'm going to be stuffing some of these jokers into a flower bed or two. Or, you know, seven.) I'd like to experiment a bit more...starting the seedlings earlier, bringing them in for frosty nights, etc. But I'm also going to look at a small grow-light set up for my herbs and peppers next year.

On Monday (again, ahead of the expected freeze), I hilled my potatoes. I had been meaning to do it, but I didn't get around to it and I had a good foot or so of plant sticking out of the soil.

Good old Ed and Daddy both recommend mounding soil or (in Ed's case) marsh grass around the plants as they grow to increase production. My soil being less than satisfactory in the organic matter department and lacking any marsh grass (or marshes, for that matter), I elected to do a hodgepodge and make my own marsh grass. I mixed soil from the big pile left from last year with grass clippings I got from friends and piled it all up around the plants. There was something so pleasing about the process: the rhythm of of shoveling the soil, stirring the clippings and soil together, forking it out of the wagon. Hilling potatoes is hard when you're using a box bed. The potatoes are crammed in as it is and mine are close to the edge. The answer was using a vinyl-wrapped chicken wire to create a sort of cage around the outside. I have no freakin' clue if this will work, but if it does, I figure I will have roughly eighty blue million pounds of potatoes. This means figuring out how to build a small root cellar, finding out if potatoes dry well, and unloading mounds of taties on all friemily who'll take them.

I think I'll head back to bed for a few more moments of snuggling with the hubs before the day gets going. It'll be warm today and there's still so much to do to get the garden ready. (Not least of which is figuring out what to do with a laundry room full of misplaced seedlings.)

Bonus shot of my precious little farmer boy:

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Um, About the Rain

Sheesh. I really got what I asked for. A pretty much whole week of blinding, stay in the house rain. Right now, I'm chilling out in the library waiting for the first of the severe storms expected today to arrive. More rain. Ahem. The rain in question will usher in a blast of frigid air--we're expecting cooler temps all next week, with two nights dropping to or below freezing. Argh.

With the coming cold (and rain), I elected yesterday not to set any of my winter sown babies out. The cukes and squashes are getting pissy in their containers, though, so I may try to get some slightly larger pots (or make some out of newspaper) to transplant them into next week. I've just realized that there's supposed to be an intermediate step between the place you first sow your seeds and the place they'll stay. Oh. Huh. It makes sense, I suppose. I have plenty of used newspapers after the weekend, so I think I'll roll some pots tonight after the kiddies are in bed while Will is watching the Braves. There are a few different ways to do it, so I'll hopefully have a veritable armada of pots come Monday. (BTW, omalawsy at the last link, I have found another urban gardener and she rocks my socks off. I think I'll be spending all of today poring over her site and pretty being lazy as she talks about all the work she does.)

I don't feel all too upset about the laziness today, as I worked a good bit outside yesterday. Having abandoned my setting out plans, I elected instead to do some transplanting of various plants around the yard and beds. First up were the lavenders I've been growing for about a year in the transplant bed. I dug them all up and used them to line the walkway of the cottage garden. Darryl from Olive Forge told me last year that he thought they might be Spanish, and a quick Google proved this to be so. Spanish lavenders aren't typically as fragrant as French lavenders, but these particular lovelies have a wonderful, honey-tinged scent as they leaf and bud out in the spring. The two (rather straggly) plants that I had in the front flower garden greeted me every day with that scent and it made me smile, so I decided to haul them all out front. I was able to get eight plants from the original four or five. I hope they'll grow into a nice little hedge for me. Research shows that they just might, providing the very moist soil in the bed allows them to. (Research also shows me that the name comes from the Latin word "to wash," which makes me long for a bathtub deep enough to steep myself with a few sprigs of lavender...sigh...) Hopefully, removing a few of the bordering blocks to allow a path through the bed will help with drainage. I'll be trimming them back hard after the rain to give them a break from making flowers and to encourage root growth.

I've decided to turn the front bed from herbs (with the exception of the lavender) to straight flowers. There are a few reasons for this. The first is that I have yet to find an organic solution to blackspot and the Joseph's Coat is prone to it and I need to go ahead and treat the bed. I want anything I use in my cooking or home solutions to be organically grown, so I need to move the herbs back to the main garden. After the lavender, I took out a sweet grass I got last year from Olive Forge and a tiny itty bitty jewel weed that self-seeded (oh, I hope I find some more later in the season.) I rearranged the stokesia into an orderly cluster (stumbling upon a truly gigantic dark brown spider scurrying around with her egg sac tucked under her...yay, Mama!--also, *shudder*) and moved an aster from the path's edge.

Then back to the back to put in two rabbit-eye blueberry bushes. They're covered already with blooms and berries, so I have much hope for at least a handful of berries for a snack come early summer. (The raspberries also have a few buds on them, which makes me SMILE as we edge closer to the kind of self-sufficiency I crave. I'm hoping to get a couple more blueberry bushes, some blackberry brambles and maybe some self-pollinating kiwis next week--unless the nurseries say it's too late to plant. FRUIT! Woohoo!) Anyway, I put them in the transplant bed after removing the last small lavender and mulched them with the grass clippings Will swept out of the yard.

What few clippings were left were added to the Phase One composter (the aluminum trash can). I'm trying to be very good about chopping everything into smaller bits, because I've realized that has been the primary problem in my composting history. I also am more careful to layer dry and wet stuff. I checked on the contents of the Phase Two composter (actual tumbler-style bin that Will got me for my birthday) and was THRILLED to realize that (drummmmmrooolllll) I'm getting some compost!! I finally did it right and I'm so excited because that means that if all goes well, I'll be able to use it when I put my transplanted seeds in.

I was reading over some of my blogs from last year and taking into account the things I've learned. The biggest success so far this year is the sweet peas. The vines are so healthy and tall (worried about them come Tuesday and Wednesday night), I know I did the right thing by planting them so early. Next year, I'll do the same for the Swiss chard. The winter sowing/heat fiasco this year and the lack of seedlings last year taught me that they need to go in the ground at the same time as I do my lettuce and peas. Live and garden and learn!

Plans for the upcoming week (despite the fact that it's supposed to be really chilly):

  1. Figure out what to do with all this chocolate mint. (It's the darker green stuff bordering the beds.)I don't mind having a bunch of it around (it's my favorite mint to use in charms and cooking) and in fact was afraid I had killed it dead, but this is ridiculous!! I might try to encourage it to grow around the little flower bed/not very much used spot under the bigger crepe myrtle. We're thinking about putting a little zen fountain out there, so it might work nicely.
  2. Decide on the zen fountain. :)
  3. Finish trellising the Joseph's Coat.
  4. Fix the front bed gate.
  5. Repot the seedlings.
  6. Start working on the sidewalk bed--the foundation will be transplanted rosemaries. I'll fill in with a few trellises of mini-pumpkins and some inexpensive annuals for right now.
Off to do laundry and attempt some homemade graham crackers from the recipe over at Baking Bites.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Rain, Rain, Please Don't Go Away (Random Garden News)

The weatherpeople keep teasing us with promises of heavy rain, but so far we've just had light showers. My garden NEEDS some heavy rain.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about the winter sowing. I think that the concept of throwing seeds in a pot and waiting til Spring probably works best for colder climates--ones not prone to freak warm spells followed by freak cold spells followed by freak warm spells followed by...On the other hand, one can't deny the head start I've gotten on my squash and cukes. However, by the time the second round of seeds went in, it was already too warm for much more than sizzling death inside the containers. The tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant are up, but I'm not sure I'm going to be able to get enough growth to justify a transplant. Does that make sense?

So. I think I'll do this next year BUT I'm going to add a wheeled cart into the mix so that if it DOES look like we'll get a heavy freeze after freak-warm-spell-induced-seedlings come up, I can just push the babies inside for the overnight hours and return them outside during the day. I also am thinking about expanding the container sizes so that I literally have little mini-greenhouses. Am thinking about green ways to try to finagle this.

I'm feeling a bit slumpish about the garden right now. I feel as if my soil isn't "alive." Things are green at first when they come up, but then seem sort of tired and spent soon after, which just depresses me. (I am perhaps a wee too emotionally attached to my garden. :)) I plan to use the next few weeks adding as much organic material as I can to the soil and hooking up my watering system again. I also might work a little "live it up" charm with this girly. Isn't she precious? I got her at a yard sale last week from an African woman who does wire work. I luff praying mantises (manti?) and think she'd make a good guardian spirit for the garden.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Decisions, Decisions

I've got a couple of gardening quandaries that I'm working on right now. Maybe some of y'all can hook me up with some advice?
  1. My winter composting consists pretty much of me chucking bits of kitchen waste out the backdoor. (A method that Will simply ADORES.) Sometime in January, I realized this was not very efficient, so I went outside and hacked some of the larger bits of kitchen waste into smaller bits to ensure better breaking down. A few of the bits were actually whole mini-pumpkins given to the kids by my mother-in-law at Halloween. They hadn't broken down at all, probably because of the coating of waxy stuff used to preserve the painted on faces that decorated them. I chopped them into pieces, noting in passing that they sure were full of seeds to be so small. Can you see where this is going? The fruit of the pumpkins broke down beautifully, but I am now the proud owner of at least ten mini-pumpkin seedlings, with more popping up every day. Some research shows them to be edible and full of uses, from the aforementioned painted on pumpkin doohickeys to autumnal candle holders. BUT--I can't use ten vines...I'm not even sure if I could find room for two or three. I have considered potting them individually and trying to sell them at the Farmer's Market. Or maybe using them as a vine in the as-yet-to-be-decided front flower bed. I love the IDEA of mini-pumpkins and think that they could be a good cash crop, but I'm not up for an entire garden of them. What do y'all think?
  2. My winter-sown heirloom white scalloped squash is rapidly outgrowing it's container. I've got EIGHT (because I'm a nut) plants that are growing like gang-busters and which really need to be transplanted soon. However, squash is notorious for being difficult to transplant and I really want to baby these guys. Tomorrow is the last date for average spring frosts in my area, but the temperatures are expected to fall to the upper thirties on Saturday night. I really want to get my watering system in soon, which would be best done if the plants are in. Ackk!!
  3. Also in the self-seeding category are a whole menagerie of tomatoes: Romas and Better Boys. Below is a wad of Roma seedlings.Daddy has asked for a few of them, but I might be able to get as many as twenty out of all the little seedlings. I've winter-sown both varieties--as well as Cherokee Purple and Jelly Bean, so I'm pretty sure that I'm not going to need any more tomatoes. Should I just chunk them in the compost? Try to sell them at the Farmer's Market?
The biggest issue here is that I HATE to waste plants and money, so when I lose a plant or can't use one, it makes me nuts. What would YOU do?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Catching Up...Again

Seriously, early spring is a BAD time for my blog.

How about a list to catch y'all up? I think yes. (Also with a bit of stream of consciousness thrown in. Woohoo!!)

  1. The garden is coming along swimmingly. I have learned sooo much from the winter sowing experiment. Like, cucumbers sprout so quickly. Why in the world would anybody ever start them as seedlings? I probably won't do this again with cukes. I also learned that Swiss chard grows in little clumps from one seed and is pissy about being transplanted or thinned. It will transplant, but it isn't all that thrilled about the whole thing and the primary leaves will turn a sickly yellow before agreeing to green up. Not sure I'll winter sow them again, either, maybe just start them earlier. Last weekend, I planted a vast assortment of stuff; everything from three different kinds of basils to four different kinds of tomatoes. I'm not exactly sure where I'm going to stuff all of these seedlings along with the beans and peas and carrots and onions that will come along with them, but I guess I'll figure something out. I also put out some more lettuce and spinach seeds, which have sprouted and been dug up (by me AND Frodo) and sprouted again. Still actively growing are the lettuce, spinach, and arugula I set out as plants. I doubt I'll do plants again when it comes to greens. It seems redundant and expensive now that I'm on this side of the winter. Still, we've had several salads off of the greens, so the investment was worth it. The broccoli is also growing well, but hasn't gotten any heads yet. On Thursday, I "rearranged the furniture" in the garden in order to take advantage of the light better. I realized when I saw this picture that the bird netting I use to grow cukes and peas shadows the plants behind it more than I previously supposed. (Note how much smaller the broccoli in the back is.)So I'm moving all of the trellises to the back of the various beds. Anything tall will be on the north and east side of the garden, mainly in the back beds where there's more shade. I know from last year that peppers and cukes will do okay in partial shade and I think some of my beans will, as well. Here's a shot of the garden complete, which isn't too different than it was a few weeks ago. What you can't see from here are the raspberries planted along the newly moved trellis and the transplanted sorrel and cutting celery. We love raspberries with a passion and Jeffrey would make himself sick on sorrel if I let him, so I'm trying to put a lot of "nibblies" in the two beds closest to the house. I'll be putting a "Jelly Bean" grape tomato in the bed on the left for River.You also can't that a potato (and a random, unknown weed?)It is! (And, unfortunately, a highly identifiable bit of nut grass. Argh.) BUT!!! The potatoes are up! I am just THRILLED about this, as potatoes still seem like some sort of new and insane piece of craziness to grow--and I'm still worried about my soil. Further worries involve a disconcerting lack of earthworms. I seriously am earthworm deficient. My feeling is that the number of fireants in my garden is keeping the population low, and my soil is probably STILL organic material-deficient. So I have two plans of attack. The first is that I've found an organic fireant control that has good reviews. (I'll let you know if it works.) The second is that I need to get my compost cooking FAST and add it as a top dressing ASAP. Then, you know, I'll add worms. The leaves are doing a great job of controlling weeds in the paths so far, but I'm getting some in the beds. I'll have to do some weeding when it dries out. I also discovered (HORROR) that one of my beds has termites...the price to pay for untreated lumber, but not cool at all so close to the house. I read that some beneficial nematodes are used to control termites, and I found a seller who combines nematodes that work on ants, termites, fleas, thrips, loopers, and some beetles that were problematic for me last year. So...I think I'll do a double whammy on the beds and see what happens. I've also been cleaning out the front bed and readying it for spring. Still mulling over the idea of making it all medicinal and tea herbs. And then zinnias and other cut flowers for the strip next to the house? Not sure if I can convince Will of this. He's pretty anti-flowerbeds, because they always seem to get weedy and produce well. He thinks bushes are always the way to go.
  2. In non-gardening news, I have FINALLY figured out a biscuit recipe that makes me happy. The winner is: Mama's recipe. For years, I've fought against it, because I wanted to have MY recipe, the thing that I do. But it really is the most workable. I've made changes to it, the first being that I use all purpose flour versus self-rising like she does. I also use my fingers to sort of smoosh the butter into the flour--and I'm going to start using unsalted butter because I feel that they're a bit too salty. I knead the dough a bit and then I poke holes in the finished biscuits for extra rise. Mama doesn't do all of the above, so I feel like I have my OWN version of the recipe and it makes me happy to have reliable biscuits every time. I'm contemplating getting a cast iron biscuit pan just because it seems cool. I also might try to do my own buttermilk with lemon juice thing next time to see if a tangy taste is better for my family. The pictures below are a fairly flat batch--it was very humid that day and I added too much milk. They still tasted great!
  3. Still working on the organizing thing. It might actually make me go crazy really, really soon. I've developed a new way of cleaning, one that works for me when I'm not sitting on the computer writing blogs all day. I just take my timer from room to room and force myself to only work five minutes at a time on each room. It takes forty minutes to do the whole house and then I vacuum each room. You would think that this would mean every room is just a little bit messy, but I'm actually finding that I'm starting to have time to get a deeper clean and do stuff like wipe down baseboards or scrub windows with the leftover time. Each room has a day when I give it an extra thirty minutes for a total dust and vacuum and scrub down. The kitchen is different, of course. I work on it during meal times and when I get a spare second. I seriously doubt that it will ever be clean enough. Sigh.
So, here I'll make the obligatory "I'll do better about posting" statement. And I WILL try. When I'm not going mad on sunshine. Or dusting. Whichever.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Springing (and Cleaning) Out All Over!

The sweet peas and bunching onions are up! Yay!

Tiny lil sweet pea

Baby onions in a row

(Is it wrong that I kinda want to smooch on them?)

Clearly, the rain from the storms last night (which I apparently and uncharacteristically slept through, which is scary because Will never checks the Weather Channel and we'd be halfway to Oz before he realized we were having a tornado) helped them out. I really need to get my garden planned out so I can get my watering system set up. Last year I tailored it to each bed, which meant a lot of sweating in the pathways after everything came up. I'll still use the soaker method this year, but I'm going to try to configure it in such a way that I can set the lines up without having to plant around them OR move them around the plants. Hopefully I'll be able to salvage the lines and all of the drippers as I start dismantling the system in the next few days. Having them will keep me ahead of the game.

The winter sown seedlings all got a good soaking last night and are looking good--even the blown-over Swiss chard. Another Lemon Cucumber is coming up. I'm actually worried about all of the seedlings, winter sown and otherwise, since we're expecting a hard freeze (or several of them) over the next few days. I can always rake some leaves over the peas and onions and maybe "bank" some around the containers. The theory is that nothing will come up that isn't ready to, but our weather is so temperamental in the late winter/early spring that it makes me wonder.

In other (and far more boring and unpleasant, in my opinion) news, I'm still working on my Imbolc-inspired inside overhaul. The office is awash in discarded CDs and papers. I feel guilty throwing so much JUNK out, but at the same time, paring this down will help me be more efficient in running the house and garden. I'm planning on making binders for home projects and our schedule and budget, much like the one I've already made for my recipes. (One project will be using bills and envelopes and other junk mail to make paper, as I recently came across my old paper-making frames. Viva la organization!)

Another thing we're working on as a family right now is an itemized budget. We've always had a budget--but I use that term loosely, as we never followed or tracked it at all. I suggested we itemize our budget for February so we could see where the money's going. No big shocks so far--we're already over our monthly grocery limit AND we've eaten out A LOT. This is my fault. I need to do better on planning and cooking our meals. We over-budgeted for gas, though, and had a big "miscellaneous" chunk, so we can adjust as needed. Still, I'd like to do better on groceries next month. Cleaning out the pantry today will help me plan better for next month--I won't buy extra of those things we don't use.

Fascinating stuff, no? Sigh. I'm going to have to roll up my sleeves and take to the office again before I put myself to sleep.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ugh and Woohoo!

Friday morning I went to get the recycling bins from the curb and did my standard "check under the rims of things for evil, scary, monster spider evidence." Lo and behold, I found this:

Why, NotHannah, you might be saying, that looks a lot like a cluster of brown widow egg sacs. YES, I KNOW THAT, THANKS.

After losing my mind all over the driveway, I used a stick to pull the sacs loose and then proceeded to grind them to less than a smear on the asphalt. After girding my loins and swallowing my tonsils, I then poked around at the little shmoodge of web looking thingy at the bottom right part of the picture because I was pretty sure that's where Mama Brown Widow was hanging out waiting to bite me. But, no. A pretty pissed off grass spider popped out and scurried away, leaving me with no Mama Brown Widow, which isn't as awesome as you would think it is. Sigh. Shudder.

Opting not to attack the recycling/trash can area with a flame thrower, I instead packed for our weekend trip to Chattanooga with the kiddies. (I'll try to post something about that over at I'm Not Hannah soon.) Much fun was had by all, in addition to a few hives and a case of bad belly.

When we returned, I took my standard return home-walk around the garden to see what miracles have happened in my absence and discovered to my frabjous joy that WOOHOO! Some of my winter sown sweeties are up!

These are Boston Pickling cucumbers. Loved these last year. I have nine of these up. My Lemon cukes are up, too...well, one is up. I realized when I tried to put a picture of it on the blog, though, that it might require superhero vision to see it yet.

No superhero vision needed for these guys. These are Swiss Chard, and the seedlings you see are far and away more than I got last year in my Swiss Chard patch.

I am a gardening goddess.

So far, the winter sowing is working bee-yootifully. I don't see a difference in the containers--I used soda bottles and milk bottles and both seem to be germinating the seeds equally well. I'm intrigued that the cukes have come up first...this seems to support my idea that I should have set them out earlier last year. I'll put out a few more "greenhouses" next week when the signs are right again for bedding crops; probably more peppers and tomatoes...maybe my Cherokee Purples will be here!

I also planted a bag of Yukon Gold potatoes today. I'm skeptical about taties. It seems so difficult to grow them. I'm not sure why--maybe because I can't see the "magic happening" under the soil? I meant to put out onions, but I'm still waffling about where I want them. I'll wait until the 21st.

Picked a mess of lettuce, spinach, what sorrel Jeffrey hasn't munched to the ground (I'm pretty sure I'm the only mom in America who actively worries about her child getting oxalic acid poisoning), and a few sprigs of cutting celery for a salad tonight. We wound up not eating it yet--we went with waffles and eggs--but I'll eat it for lunch tomorrow, maybe with a tuna salad sandwich (made with leeks from the herb bed.)

The broccoli continues to grow and look lovely. Neither the sweet peas nor the onions are up, but I am keeping my fingers crossed. We'll get rain tomorrow, so maybe that will get the seedlings going.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Taking Advantage of the Loveliness

This weekend was one of those perfect clusters of days of warm sunshine and fresh breeze at the end of winter. You know it will get cold again, but you can revel in the loveliness while it lasts and get some prep work done in the meantime for actual Spring. (As I've been moping around about the bizarre weather, I wonder if Mother Nature is reading my blog!)

Saturday I puttered around the garden, cleaning up bits and pieces of miscellaneous trash that collects in a yard with children. I planted some lettuce and spinach and broccoli seedlings in late January and all are fine, having come through the bitter cold spell with ease. While I was picking some of the greens for a salad (with leftover salmon--yummy AND frugal AND green!), I noticed a yick smell--like a dead animal. But Frodo has occasionally ventured unwelcomed into the garden for a potty break, so I just sort of shrugged it off as puppy poo.

Here's a shot of the broccoli bed:

After a few more hours spent futzing around the garden and planning out the beds with the help of my trusty Vegetable Gardener's Bible, the whole family headed off to the park to do some exploring with Jeffrey's metal detector. This is the park we cleaned last year in preparation for the Earth Day that didn't quite get off the ground. They recently got the paths refurbished and it was so nice. This would be a great place to run. We only found one treasure--a rusted Pepsi can.

Alas. We had a great time anyway, running on the path and spotting Canada geese, a Great Egret, and one confused white duck.

I also thought I saw an alligator:

Sunday was spent much like Saturday was. We were outside almost the whole time. After a lot of messing around, Will brought his iPod outside and we listened to Jupiter Coyote and Jimmy Buffett as I started Winter Sowing Project 2009. Farmer Cathy gave me the idea, and I'm so excited to see if it works. I planted three kinds of tomatoes (Better Boys, Romas, and a grape variety--which I'm pretty sure will be a bust as River "helped" today by shaking the bottle up), some California Wonder peppers, eggplant, summer squash, Boston Pickling and Lemon cucumbers, some cantelope and some Swiss Chard. You will note that a lot of these names sound familiar--I'm using some seeds from last year. Ed Smith from VLB says that most seeds will last a few years, so I'm going to believe him. It seems as if I'm combining two unknowns and hoping for the best, but isn't all gardening like that? After filling up my WS containers, I set them in a nice sunny bed and pulled some of the leaves around the bases. The strip in between I planted with bunching onion seeds, yesterday being the last day the signs were right for planting above ground crops for a few weeks. I think it looked nice and tidy when I was finished, although I will say that I felt a lot like my daddy when I surveyed the reused bits. Daddy is a FAMOUS reuser.

While I was at it, I decided to put in a row of Sugar Snap peas in the broccoli bed. I have terrible luck with sweet peas. Last year, I managed to get the vines going for the first time, but it was too hot for any flowers by that time and so I was pea-less yet again. Starting earlier must be the key, I figured. While I was planting, I noticed, yet again, the dead animal smell. No poo was in sight. Hmmm...As I poked holes for the peas, I also discovered that some creature has been tunneling in my bed. And... as I bent forward to put in a pea, I realized that the dead animal smell was coming from the tunnel. Urk. I figure one of several things is happening. Either I've got a mole or mouse or something which died in there (barf) or I have a snake in there who took over a mouse or mole tunnel (not as barfy, but still not pleasant to consider.) I don't want moles or mice in my garden, although I wouldn't mind a king- or rat snake. They keep away mice and bad snakes, such as the copperheads I REALLY don't want to be tangling with. I'm not sure what to do about this...should I dig the bed up and risk running up on a snake or yicky dead things? This doesn't seem good for gardening...won't it pose a risk to our health? Blah. Maybe I should call the extension agency. Ideas?

Jeffrey got into the spirit of reusing while we were outside and went through the recycling bin until he found an old soda can. He got Will to help him cut out a piece of it and filled it with birdseed for a bird feeder. Will it work? No clue, but it was sweet that he came up with the idea all by himself!

Later that evening, Will and I were discussing the smell. Referring to my habit of tossing kitchen scraps directly into my beds in the wintertime, he said, "Yeah, all that rotting fruit and food seems like the ideal habitat for a snake."

My eyes didn't QUITE roll out of my head at this--um, YEAH, snakes are just MAD for some soggy carrot peelings--, but it was a near thing. I let it go, but I did go out this morning to take shots of our two respective areas of the yard.

Which looks more "snakey?"

My orderly, tidily-leafed garden

or his brush-cluttered, Christmas tree-piled, stacks o' wood-laden man camp?

That's what I thought.

A new kink has come into my plan to turn our yard into a semi-viable homestead--a piece of property at a crazy-low price. I'll be wigging out about it over at I'm Not Hannah later on.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Girl Gourmet Cupcake Maker OR Satan's Cupcake Maker From The Hot Stinky Place

I am planning, some year, to do green reviews here. Or reviews of catalogs. Or fun household products. Something. What follows is a kind of review of something that's neither green nor a catalog and which didn't even work correctly. However, we learned some stuff and wound up having a good time.

Jeffrey asked for one of those cupcake baker thingies for Christmas. Then he saw a commercial for them and realized it was called Girl Gourmet and lost his mind. (Pause for a mini-rant about why in the heck with folks like Emeril and Bobby Flay and that dude in orange plastic clogs do we still have baking toys marketed only to girls? Why?) Will and I explained that it was perfectly fine for him to ask for the cupcake baker thingy and he would have a grand old time with it. Well, Nana hooked him up and a few days ago, I broke it out.

And by "broke it out," I mean actually got out my pocket knife and jimmied that sucker out of all of the plastic twist ties and flat holdy pieces and tape all that mess necessary? I washed all the silly little bowls and spoons (pink and teal as the 80s, y'all) and waited with bated breath for the Bug to get home.

He was excited to try and pour out the packets of mixes by himself and measure out the water. I bit my lip practically through, but I kept my hand still by some miracle and let him do his thing:

River was clearly as skeptical as I.

We got the cupcake in the cupcake cooker mahoojy and then waited the requisite minute and a half until it was cooked. Jeffrey sneaked a lick of batter out of the bowl and immediately gagged. I reasoned that uncooked batter isn't always yummy, although...honestly, have you ever tasted bad cupcake batter? Yeah, me neither.

The cupcake cooked and Jeffrey was impressed by the whole thing. I personally thought the cupcake looked like a piece of poo. And smelled odd. Jeffrey was very proud.

While we waited for Jeffrey's cupcake to cool, we mixed up one for River. Her's, while not looking like poo, gave off the distinct odor of sweetened Play-Doh. More concerning, it sort of tasted like that, too.

*Can I pause here to comment on the loveliness of my bebes' hands?*

When the cupcake was cool, Jeffrey and I started mixing the frosting per the instructions. It must be said that it smelled like artificial strawberry death. Also, the amount of water recommended by the instructions rendered a bowlful of small pink pellets but not anything even remotely resembling frosting. More water had no effect at all until suddenly, I was stirring a puddle of pink ooze. It was like a magic potion gone terribly, strawberrily wrong. The only thing to do was to add a bit of the vanilla frosting powder.

Now, I've been baking for a month and a half straight, using good vanilla and pure chocolate and freshly shelled pecans. That must be the reason why that frosting smelled (and tasted...holy egg beaters, the taste) so...wrong. As in, "This frosting is not of this world and must be sent back to whatever alien factory produced it." Still, I was going to do this thing. So I stirred and mashed unholy vanilla lumps and finally produced a frosting-ish substance that we spooned into the cupcake frosting mechanism.

Here's where the fun began. The purpose of the frosting mechanism is to produce puffy swirls of frosting atop the cupcakes. Our frosting wasn't puffy to begin with, but even if it had been the right consistency, it never would have swirled while riding along on the cupcake holding tray doojywhopper. Our cupcake looked sad, my friends. And then Jeffrey discovered that if you pumped the mechanism with any kind of enthusiasm whatsoever, it splattered frosting EVERYWHERE in swirling arcs of fake pink sweetness.

For a moment, Jeffrey and I sat in silence as frosting dripped off River's ears.

Then we burst out laughing. I laughed so hard with my boy that the entire thing became worth it, especially when River joined in with a few artificial "hahaha"s of her own. We sputtered over the definition of "gourmet" and generally acted like fools all over my kitchen.

The cupcake, when "frosted", was hideous.

Jeffrey ate it anyway.

Rivers was only marginally prettier, probably because I used less water and the frosting looked like fat white caterpillars versus oozing pink death-ooze. But it smelled like vanilla-flavored Play-Doh and tasted the same. In fact, it sort had the same texture, too. Shudder.

To sum up: the Girl Gourmet Cupcake Maker does not produce gourmet cupcakes, although Jeffrey and I have now taken to calling any disgusting sort of food gourmet. It doesn't produce gourmet frosting, either. I'm thinking, though, that if one used a homemade butter cream in the mechanism, it might work as long as you didn't get too excited while pumping the mechanism.

Or, hey, get a can of ready-made. Cupcakes are pretty easy to whip up from scratch or from a box and really, that was the whole purpose of the cupcake maker in the first place: to spend some fun learning time together.

And we DID have fun.

Speaking of, must go...I need to to scrape some more frosting from the walls.