Monthly Archives: January 2012

Blueberry Picking

Although I love the beauty of winter, and the fun of winter sports, I do get to longing for the long-sunned days of summer, and feeling the warmth on my skin.  I’ve been listening to a little too much “Knee Deep” by the Zac Brown Band with Jimmy Buffet: “Wrote a note, said ‘Be back in a minute.’  Bought a boat and I sailed off in it.  Don’t think anybody’s gonna miss me anyway…”  Well, you either know it or you don’t.  Anyway, I was reading this delightful excerpt from Farmer Boy that brought back good memories of picking huckleberries (wild, small blueberries) in the woods with my girls late this past summer:

“The leafy low bushes covered the ground in the open spaces among the trees.  Blue-black berries clustered thickly under the leaves, and there was a syrupy smell in the hot, still sunshine.

Birds had come to feast in the berry-patches; the air was aflutter with wings, and angry blue jays flew scolding at the heads of the pickers.”

“At noon the picnic baskets were opened by a spring, and all around in the cool shade people ate and talked.  Then they drank at the spring and went back to the berry-patches.  Early in the afternoon the bushel baskets and all the pails were full, and Father drove home.  They were all a little sleepy, soaked in the sunshine and breathing the fruity smell of the berries.”

 

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Make Your Own Hoop Bender

I’m really excited to share this video with you!  If you’ve wanted to make your own low-tunnel to protect your garden crops or extend your season, and you’re even mildly handy with tools, this is for you!  What do you do with a hoop bender once you’ve bent all your hoops anyway!  You can deconstruct your homemade hoop bender easily and re-use the scraps you made it with for another project.

I found this youtube video on instructables.com.  God bless the guy who made the tutorial and posted it for all of us to learn from!  Your homemade hoop bender will bend 1/2″ diameter conduit.  Note that a 10′ length of 1/2″ conduit will give you a 40″ high, straight-sided low tunnel with an arc that will cover a 3′ wide bed, or a 36″ high, straight-sided low tunnel with an arc that will cover a 4′ wide bed.

If you don’t want to make your own hoop bender, you can purchase one at Johnnys Seeds: http://www.johnnyseeds.com/p-7708-quick-hoops-low-tunnel-bender-4-diam-.aspx

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Plantmaps.com link update

Note:  A week or so ago I posted a link on my blog to plantmaps.com.  The link was not working.  It’s been fixed and you can now access the information directly from that post, or from here.  Thanks for your patience!

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A Potting Bench

The time for starting our spring seedlings is getting close.  Many of us are perusing the seed catalogs and placing our orders.  If you start your own seedlings, or are wanting to try your hand at starting some this year, let me urge you to consider buying, building, or borrowing a potting bench.  I bought this one at the end-of-summer clearance sales at a hardware store for around $60.

My daughter Cecily and I have been starting our seedlings out in the sunporch shown in the above photo for several years now.  And it has been no picnic kneeling, bent-over on the cold, hard, tile floor, scooping potting mix into seedling trays.  I sure didn’t want all that dirt in my kitchen, and there wasn’t really any suitable surface in the house that would catch and hold all the spilled dirt – so we just used the floor.

I’ve been keeping my eyes out for a potting bench for some time now. I figured I’d find something that would suit our needs at a tag sale of some kind, but scoring 75% off on this one at the clearance sale was great!  Now we can stand at the bench and all the excess dirt will fall right through the grid into the box below.  We can store our tools and supplies on the hooks and the shelf underneath, and it will be a much tidier operation altogether – and a much more pleasurable experience!  (I’m sorry the walls behind the potting shed are the same color as the bench.  It makes it a little hard to tell what is bench and what is wall.  Note that there is not any kind of back to the unit – just vertical supports, a couple cross braces, and horizontal shelves.)

We’ve also had a makeshift shelving system to hold our plants which we put up every spring and take down after the seedlings are all planted out.  Mostly we were using 2×4 lumber laid across any variety of side tables, boxes and whatever we could find, all along the south windows.  All in all our whole operation has been clunky and not terribly fun to use, but you do with what you have until you can do better, and that’s what we’ve been doing.  In the spring we re-vamped a built-in, floor to ceiling knick-knack cupboard with glass shelves into a floor to ceiling library in our living room.  (YES!)   And I kept the glass shelves we replaced.  Those will be permanently installed along the south windows in the sunporch and will make a great spot to put all our seedling trays!  Hooray for re-purposing!  I love the satisfaction of finding something to make a job more efficient, more streamlined, and more pleasurable!

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Top Secret Recipe: Chocolate Chip Cookies

Okay, I get it that after sharing my cookie recipe on my blog, it won’t really be top secret anymore.  In fact, even my eight year old daughter Betsy was a little concerned that I was considering sharing my recipe.  But as I told her, these cookies are so delicious the whole world should get to eat them.  And anyway, there’s no benefit to keeping it to myself!  Except maybe for patenting the recipe and selling the cookies for $3 a piece.  Nah.

This is one recipe that we have tweaked over the years to get just right.  And it is!  But I solemnly warn you, that if you substitute any ingredients (for example, using vanilla flavoring instead of real vanilla extract), it just won’t be the same.  So here goes:

Erin’s (Not So) Top Secret Chocolate Chip Cookies

Preheat your oven to 375-degrees.

Mix the following together with a mixer:

1 c. butter flavored Crisco (for more rounded cookies) or 1/2 c. butter flavored crisco and 1/2 c. real butter (for slightly flatter cookies)

3/4 c. white sugar

3/4 c. firmly packed brown sugar

Then to your bowl continue to mix, adding:

1-2 tsp. real vanilla extract (an extra teaspoon of vanilla gives it a little richer flavor)

2 eggs

Now if you have a hand mixer, I’d recommend mixing the following in a separate bowl and adding a little at a time.  If you have a stand mixer, like a Kitchenaid, you can just slowly add the flours, then add the other dry ingredients while it’s mixing.

1 1/2 c. unbleached white flour

3/4 c. whole wheat flour -or- *oat flour (I prefer oat flour, but Cecily prefers whole wheat, so you’ll just have to make two batches and try it both ways.  Darn.  I also like to make it with half wheat and half oat – totaling 3/4 c. together.)

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

Finally, Add:

1 c. chopped pecans (if you’re allergic, just skip the recipe and make sugar cookies instead.  LOL!)

2 c. real semi-sweet chocolate chips (or more if you’re feeling naughty)

Now, if you’re not a food safety nazi, you could eat one of your cookies raw as dough.  But don’t say I didn’t warn you about the risk of botulism or some other nasty food borne disease.  But we usually think a nice case of food poisoning is worth eating at least some raw dough.

Whatever dough may remain after the initial cookie dough tasting thing you may have going on, should be scooped out into individual cookie portions – probably about 3/4 oz or 1 oz apiece. (I love my cookie dough scoop, but an old fashioned spoon will do the trick) and placed on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or tinfoil.  If you don’t line it you’ll just have to scrape the gunk off your cookie sheet later.

Bake 8 minutes.  At the end of the 8 minutes, look at them.  They should be a little gooey but not raw looking.  If they need to cook a little more, only put them in one minute at a time until they’re done to the texture and crispiness you like.  Do remember that they’ll be a little firmer and crispier a few minutes after you take them out of the oven because of residual heat from the cookie pan and the cookies “setting up.”  We like ours a little soft so 8 minutes is just about right for us.

* Oat flour is super easy to make.  Take some oats and throw them in the blender or food processer and turn on high for about 8 seconds.  Voila!  Now measure out the amount you need for your recipe.

** Note that we use this cookie as the basis for another delicious cookie we call “Garbage Cookies” because we throw whatever kind of sugary garbage we can find into the dough as the last step before baking: marshamallows, m&m’s, bits of heath bar, coconut, whatever we’ve got on hand, and we always include about 3 or 4 mix-ins total, usually including chocolate chips at least.

As a final note, when we make cookies, I almost always make just half a batch, because if we make a whole batch, we’ll eat a whole batch.  This way we each get a couple cookies and we’re done! 🙂

Now go promote world peace and make a batch of cookies so you can take half to one of your neighbors! 

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Cool Links! Personalized Plant Hardiness Info and More Potatoes

Here are a couple of cool resources for our Small Home Farm Radio listeners!

Sometimes those plant hardiness zone maps are a little hard to read … especially if you live near the edge of a zone.  In fact, when I order plants through the mail I am often exasperated because although we live in zone 4, they ship my items to plant during the zone 5 planting season, when our ground is often still frozen!  My address often shows up in their databases as zone 5.  So I try to make a note in the shipping instructions to not ship until the zone 4 shipping times.

Here’s an interactive plant, tree, and gardening map and data site for those of you who live in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K..  You just punch in your zip code and it pulls up your zone, the number of days where the temperature exceeds 86 degrees, the ecoregion you live in, your freeze data and your current drought data!  Pretty cool, huh? Check it out: plantmaps.com

Also, on this week’s episode of Small Home Farm Radio I shared with you how you can grow more potatoes in a smaller space by growing them vertically … in a barrel or in a wooden box you can build yourself.  I was so chirked up yesterday to find those very instructions in my 2012 Irish Eyes Garden Seeds catalog.  So I went online to see if they had the instructions online, too.  Yep, they sure do!  So here you go: Irish Eyes Garden Seeds Potato Grower’s Guide

~Happy Home Farming!

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The Snowstorm

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hill and woods, the river, and the heaven,
And veils the farmhouse at the garden’s end.
The sled and traveller stopped, the courier’s feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.
Come see the north wind’s masonry.
Out of an unseen quarry evermore
Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer
Curves his white bastions with projected roof
Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.
Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work
So fanciful, so savage, nought cares he
For number or proportion. Mockingly,
On coop or kennel he hangs Parian wreaths;
A swan-like form invests the hiddden thorn;
Fills up the famer’s lane from wall to wall,
Maugre the farmer’s sighs; and at the gate
A tapering turret overtops the work.
And when his hours are numbered, and the world
Is all his own, retiring, as he were not,
Leaves, when the sun appears, astonished Art
To mimic in slow structures, stone by stone,
Built in an age, the mad wind’s night-work,
The frolic architecture of the snow.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ‘The Snow-Storm’

 

Thanks to farmgirlfare.com for permission to use her photo.  You can check out her farm and cooking blog here.

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