Sunday, February 27, 2011

Planning the Garden

This time of year, that funny little window of time between February and March, I find myself dreaming of the garden. It's hard not to: all those catalogs arriving daily by mail, each with farmer-porn pictures of all the lovely fruits and veggies you can grow "right in your own backyard!" It's hard to narrow down the order to what will actually fit into said backyard. So far, I think I am doing good. I have placed orders with Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Henry Field's, Jung Seed Company, St. Lawrence Nursery, and FedCo Seeds/Moose Tubers. From Jungs, I have ordered assorted small-space squashes and some miniature hybrid sweet peppers that I think will be good to grow in containers. From Henry's, I've ordered a pair of Manchurian Bush Apricots (pictured above), which are supposed to produce heavily on bushes, rather than trees, and are tolerant of very cold temperatures. I have two heirloom apple varieties (Duchess and Wolf River) and Northern Blue plum on order from St. Lawrence Nursery--so excited about THAT order, $20 per tree and sharing shipping with another local family! This year is turning out to be heavy on the orchard-side of things, with apple, apricot, plum, and crabapple joining the existing strawberry, blueberry and currant plantings. I figure I won't be in danger of getting scurvy. From FedCo (and the sub-company of Moose Tubers), I have all sorts of vegetables coming (shell beans, onions, greens, potatoes, tomatoes---not that I need them, but whatever...), which will add to my collection of heirloom varieties of squash, melons and cucumber that came from Baker Creek.
My garden plan is pretty simple: I try to plant good succession plants, in varieties that are naturally disease resistant (heirlooms) and will ripen before the summer growing season comes to a frosty end. I'll be building three new garden beds in the front yard, which will hold the squashes and sunflowers and some climbing beans, and having containers for the peppers and sprawling pickling cucumber. I am opting to dig up the latter end of the herb garden, between the mint and the black raspberry canes, and plant my basil and tomatoes right up against the side of the house. That bit always goes to weeds every stinking summer, so I have to turf it up again anyway--might as well make it productive while I am working on eliminating the recurring weed growth. I figure, it is south facing and against a reflective wall, so both tomatoes and basil (which LOVE LOVE LOVE heat) should be happy. Maybe I will not have so many predators going after my 'maters if I plant them in among the fragrant herbs. I don't seem to have many pests in there, since nothing much wants to eat the strong flavors of mint, taragon, chives or marjoram. (I'm hoping I'll do better keeping an eye on flowering amongst the basil with the daily walks past the herb bed to do chicken chores....) My list of spring "to-do's" is growing: Revamp the nest boxes and doors of the chicken coop; build 2-3 cold frames for greens; buy materials to make raised beds in the front garden area; arrange for a delivery of composted manure to fill said raised beds; clean up last fall's garden debris and prep beds for this year's season. All I need now if for the snow to start vanishing and warmer weather to show up, so I can get outside and work on these projects!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Good Times in Wisconsin

Today was the annual Ridgeland Chicken Fly, part of Pioneer Days. This is a wonderful, traditional small town festival, involving a greased pig contest, pork chop-and-chicken community feed, silver dollar search in the haystack, and my personal favorite, the Chicken Fly. Basically, a couple of guys stand up on top of the roof of the old feed store building (now a bank) and toss chickens into a crowd, waiting to catch them. No nets are allowed, folks, and if you catch it, you keep it. Things get a little crazy: This year, a couple of kids got flattened, someone got pegged in the head by a dive-bombing rooster, and one particularly smart bird shat all over the crowd as he flew around overhead, before landing on the roof of Jorstad's IGA. I didn't catch a bird this year, but I nearly got clobbered while filming (see the end of the video for details). Later on, there's a community dance. Pigs and chickens are not encouraged to attend.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Saturday's Garden Dreams

Yesterday, I hosted a Seed Share: a bunch of folks, all dreaming of growing things in the soon-to-arrive spring, came over with all their extra seeds and catalogs and knowledge, sat around my kitchen table, and dug in. It was incredible how much gardening lore I acquired in just a couple of hours. I even seemed to have some ideas that others' hadn't heard before. Not bad for a novice gardener! It was so fun to dig through everyone's spare seeds--I got some new pepper seeds, new sunflower seeds, new pea and bean seeds, lemongrass and basil and sweet marjoram. It was gardening heaven! Several of us have plans to go in on potatoes and onions and garlic. And, I think I have found someone to combine a tree order with!
After everyone went home, I sat down and narrowed down my own personal seed order. From Jung's, I am ordering miniature red bell peppers, bush acorn and butternut squashes, and a collection of round zuchinni. From FedCo, I am ordering teeny tiny seed packets of green deer tongue greens, organic beet and radish and shell beans, the "classic keeper" seed potato collection and both red and yellow onions (which should keep all winter into next summer!). That leaves me with today's project--starting to plan out the garden, and deciding how to build a couple more beds.
I can hardly wait!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Just Peachy

Today, I am home with a sore throat. I am so tired of plain yogurt, glumpy cream of wheat, and probiotic-laced cottage cheese. If I look at another mushy noodle, I may just scream. It is definitely time to rummage the cupboards and find something different.

I rediscovered the bags of sliced, fresh-frozen peaches that I tucked away into the freezer last July. After adding some brown sugar and spice, stewed peaches (with a dollop of yogurt to help the Antibiotics Fairy do her thing) and I had a happy lunch, dreaming of summer.

Cast-Iron Skillet Stewed Peaches

Melt one tablespoon unsalted butter in a small cast-iron skillet. Add three tablespoons brown sugar and one teaspoon ground cinnamon. Stir to combine, allow to perk a bit on low heat. Add about a cup or so of frozen, sliced peaches. Swizzle the peaches around in the sauce, cover with a spare lid or strip of aluminum foil, and allow to work away on low heat for about 15 minutes. Stir it once in a while, to be sure nothing is sticking and burning. Once the sauce is thickened and caramelly, allow to cool slightly (hot sugar is like lava), spoon into dish. Very good served with plain or vanilla yogurt, or a teensy scoop of ice cream if you have this as a dessert. You can play with the spices, too--ginger and peaches go really well together!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Mango Kind of Day

Mmmmmmm. It's February, which means that it is that time of year when tropical fruits are in season. Limes, lemons, pineapples, papaya--and my favorite, MANGO! I don't like eating them fresh, but frozen and made into smoothies, or cooked in a luscious concoction, and I am one happy gal. Today I made a batch of mango chutney--full of ginger, red onion, spices, and just a touch of jalepeno for hotness. After simmering for hours, I made 6 pints. My whole house smells like something wonderful happened.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

It just takes a seed

Tonight, I celebrated the current heat wave (it's going to hit 30 degrees above zero tomorrow!) by spending the evening purusing the most luscious seed catalog I have ever read. Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, which is out of Mansfield, Missouri and kind of part of the heritage village there, produces this masterpiece of photography yearly. The best part is, you can buy the seeds, too. So I whittled down my list of "must have" heirloom seeds, and wrote out my check for $25.25 including shipping. Come summer, I am going to have a garden filled with the most interesting looking squashes, vining beans, bicolored tomatoes and giant, 8 foot tall pale yellow sunflowers anyone has every seen.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Oh, How Do You Decide?

After debating for weeks, I have finally decided on my new layer chicks. And furthermore, I have ORDERED them, so there is no more wishy-washy changing of my mind. I am so excited! Included in the order are Speckled Sussex, Araucana, Silver Laced Wyandotte, Partridge Cochin, and Cuckoo Marans pullets. Aren't those gorgeous names? And they are just lovely as well (see photos!). All of them are described as being "docile and gentle", which hopefully will mean a coop full of happy cluckers, all laying fresh lovely eggs. In this batch of birds, I should see everything from pale brown to chocolate brown to green or blue eggs. It will be like Easter every morning!
Speckled Sussex hen
Silver Laced Wyandotte Hen

Partridge Cochin hen

Cuckoo Marans hen

Araucana hen

Aren't they all just gorgeous? I love chickens!