Monthly Archives: December 2011

Organic Gardening Seminar ~ January 21, 2012

 Organic Gardening Seminar

Saturday, January 21

9 am-3 pm

Kittle Hall, 863 W Kittle Rd, Mio, Michigan

Call 989-826-2115 for more information or to register

Cost: $10 per person, includes a light, organic lunch

Presenters Craig Schaaf and Dave Schleicher 

  • Intro to Organic Gardening
  • Composting
  • Seed Starting and Transplanting
  • Mineralizing Your Soil
  • Extending Your Growing Season

This seminar has been designed to promote and build community awareness of organic growing techniques

and practices for area farmers and gardeners.  We hope you can join and learn with us!


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Blueberry Me

We love Bette Midler’s song, “Blueberry Pie.” It’s an upbeat, fun song and the kids and I enjoy singing along.   But you may not have any blueberry pie if you wait too long to establish any blueberry bushes at your own small home farm.  While raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and other small fruits take only a year or two to establish, blueberries take much longer – and are more challenging to grow.

Blueberries can be a bit fussy.  They need acidic soil and protection from wind.  Pruning must be done very carefully – in the colder north (zones 3 and 4) they must rarely be pruned, only every few years at most, and then only the tips pruned back in late winter before new growth begins.  Even then the pruning may reduce your crop.  Further south, however, where the growing season is longer and warmer, severe pruning of a portion of the older wood every year ensures that the producing part of the bush is completely new every four or five years.  Blueberries are also sensitive to over feeding, and can be susceptible to viruses in the soil.

At Aspendale Farm we’ve lost (and replaced) bushes completely three times. Only one of the bushes from our original planting remains.  We added a fourth bush in 2010, and I’ve finally succumbed to interplanting them with garlic to keep them from dying from a virus or contracting any kind of mold or fungus.

And finally, blueberries take a long time to establish themselves and produce well, reaching peak production capacity at about ten years of age.  Granted, you will get some berries by the second or third year after planting, but not many.  Our first “blueberry crop” consisted of exactly one berry.  Hard to share amongst six people!

Don’t let the bad news discourage you from growing blueberries, but do let it convince you to start them as soon as possible, and to tend your blueberries carefully and faithfully.  Feed them with compost or farm manure in late autumn or early spring, before growth starts, and mulch them heavily with pine needles if you can get them.  Have your soil tested if you need to, to ensure it is acid enough – a pH of 4.5 is ideal.  And don’t forget that adding used coffee grounds to the soil around the base of the plant will make the soil more acid.


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Northern Michigan Small Farm Conference

Saturday, January 28, 2012

8:00am to 5:00pm

$50/person, $35/additional person from same family or farm

located at the Grayling High School, in Grayling, MI

Local lunch provided by Mike Everts/Blackbird Gardens!

For information about session topics, visit:

Print Registration Form – click here!

(full brochure here)

Northern Michigan Small Farm Conference is now on Facebook!


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Culinary Wisdom

Last night my family and I watched the 2009 movie, “Julie and Julia” about the parallel lives, loves, and cooking of Julia Child and Julie Powell.  It was excellently done – particularly Meryl Streep’s masterful portrayal of Julia Child.  But the best part, perhaps, was the commentary in the special features section.  Real-life author Julie Powell is commenting on what made her year of cooking through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking so important to her.  It meant, more than just learning to cook well, learning to live well.  She says it was about learning to “live bravely and actively.”  I get what she means.

We can be carried along by the tide of life, never finding satisfaction or purpose.  Or we can grasp life with both hands with a “hang-it-all” attitude and do those things we “always meant to do”.  I refuse to be carried along by life, allowing it to turn me, by happenstance, into someone I wouldn’t necessarily choose to be.

Choose what you will do, and savor that which you do.  That is living bravely and actively.

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A Good Foods Reminder

A fresh-greens salad with wildcrafted violets and greens added to it for beauty, health, and fun!

I’ve been holed up in my bedroom, doing a bit of reading this morning:  some articles and books about gardening.  And I am reminded of some healthful eating principles many of us already know … but tend to forget.  I thought I’d share these good reminders with you:

  1. Eat foods made from scratch: pre-made foods are very often full of preservatives and have had many of the nutrients and enzymes processed right out them.
  2. Eat more raw foods:  Our bodies need the enzymes found in “live” foods.  Additionally, live foods, especially picked fresh, have more nutrients than cooked, frozen or otherwise processed foods.
  3. Eat real foods: Anything with a shelf life longer than a comparable item made at home has too many preservatives and too few nutrients to be worth your while.
  4. Eat in season: They’re fresh, most likely local (or you at least have the option of getting them locally), and definitely more flavorful and healthful!
  5. Learn to wildcraft greens, berries, and other foods (carefully): Not only are you harvesting free foods, they will add diversity of nutrition and taste to your diet and increase your sense of self-reliance.
  6. Buy Local – especially at the farmer’s market or a CSA program: Not only are you supporting your local economy, you can talk directly to the grower and ask them if they grow the food you’ll be eating without pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides.
  7. Start your own small garden:  You’ll control what’s in your food.  And the sooner you eat after the food is harvested, the more complete a food it is.  And like many gardeners, you may find a great satisfaction in providing for yourself and your family.
  8. Learn to preserve foods or winter garden: By preserving food you’ve grown or purchased at your farmer’s market or CSA, you know what you’re getting, and you know there aren’t preservatives added to the foods.  Winter gardening has the same benefits as summer garden, albeit with different food varieties.
  9. Recycle your plant waste (compost or feed to your livestock): By adding nutrients back to your garden soil in the form of compost or animal manure, you’re upping the nutrition quotient of your foods, increasing the production capacity of your garden, and cutting costs associated with purchased organic fertilizers such as bags of dairy doo.

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Honey Hot Cocoa



Some years ago I ran across a recipe for “healthy” hot cocoa.  I say “healthy” because it doesn’t contain any refined sugar, and while honey is certainly still a high-calorie, high-glycemic food, it also contains healthful enzymes and minerals, and it hasn’t been processed – particularly if you are eating raw honey from your own (or some neighbors’) hives.  This recipe has been living on a green index card on my refrigerator for several years, really, and has finally made its way to the great index card graveyard beyond the refrigerator (or more likely – under the refrigerator.)  So I thought I’d better write it down for posterity … before I get older and can’t remember it anymore!


Honey Hot Cocoa

1 c. milk

1 heaping Tbs. baking cocoa

2 tsp. honey

1/8 tsp. vanilla

dash salt

dash cinnamon (or more to taste)


Heat the milk on the stove to scalding, turn off heat, add rest of ingredients and whisk until well blended.  Top with whipped cream, mini-marshmallows, or enjoy plain.  Cheers!


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Corned Venison

As we approach the winter solstice, the days are so short!  It’s a great time to enjoy home comforts … a warm fire, a good book, and definitely good food!  Hunting and fishing are some of the biggest activities up here in the northwoods, and I’ve heard more recipes for venison since I moved up here than I knew existed!  Here’s a recipe for Corned Venison that my neighbor Kathy passed on to me.  (You can also corn a beef roast if you prefer corned beef.)

Corned Venison

4 qt. water

1 1/2 c. Morton’s Tender Quick Meat Curing Salt*

1/4 c. sugar

2 Tbs. pickling spice

2 tsp. paprika

1 1/2 Tbs. coarse ground pepper

1 1/2 tsp. Salt petre or sodium nitrate (available at a drugstore)

4 whole bay leaves

3 garlic cloves, crushed

5-6 lb. boneless venison, any cut, with fat removed

Place meat in a large stoneware crock or enamel pot or roaster.  Put all other ingredients in a separate pan and simmer 5 minutes.  Allow liquid to cool to lukewarm.  Pour over meat.  Weight meat with a saucer to keep it submerged.  Cover.

Refrigerate 3 weeks, turning meat every 5 days.  A noted taped to the lid with a “begin date,” “turn dates,” and an “end date” can be really helpful!

Meat is then ready to cook or freeze for future use.   Lightly rinse.  Can be used in any corned beef recipe for cooking.  Or prepare this way:

Place meat in bottom of crockpot.  Fill remainder of pot with cut up cabbage, carrots, onions, and potatoes.  Cook on high 2 hours, then reduce to low and cook another 3-4 hours.  No seasoning necessary.

*Note, you must use meat curing salt.  Any other kind of salt will only brine the meat.


Filed under The Country Kitchen