Thursday, January 31, 2013

My New Addiction

I have had a thing for fairy tales as long as I can remember.  I particularly relish the dark, unpleasant ones.  Like, when the witch gets gobbled up or the naughty children get baked into a pie, or the wicked man gets devoured by dark things under a bridge...ooooh, scary!

Thanks to the beauty of Netflix, I've discovered another TV series to watch while I knit and relax the dark winter evenings away.  It's called "Once", as in "once upon a time..."  That may be perhaps the greatest opening line to a story, ever.

An evil witch, a dark and desperate curse, a cast of characters straight from a fairy tale (complete with neuroses and quirks).  Talk about good television.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Tax Man Cometh

In honor of the day when half the property taxes are due, the dog license fees are due, and the first quarterly sewer & garbage tax fees are due, a little anthem to lift our collective spirits (and remove the sting from the slightly emptied pocketbook):

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Everybody Loves a Road Trip

I knew it wasn't just me.

There is just something about hitting the road, driving down a winding highway, and seeing sights unknown.  You never know what waits around the next bend:  A toothless hillbilly selling melons?  The world's largest ball of twine?  A giant statue of some guy who discovered something once? 

Maybe it'll just be another stretch of road, but still, it's something to discover, just waiting out there.  And you'll be the one to find it, behind the wheel of your smooth ride.

Taking the road trip seems to be part and parcel of the American Dream, doesn't it?  Nearly everyone has gone on a road trip at least once in their lives, and they always have a story to tell about it.

Including, apparently, a rather famous former president:

I just finished reading this, and what a delightful book it was.  Funny and touching, with remarkably well-written prose, it was an insight to an adventure in post-war America.  It's hard to imagine, but it wasn't until the 1960s that Ex-Presidents and their families were guarded by the Secret Service, nor did they receive a salary after serving in office.  It wasn't the Big Machine that it is now, complete with book deals and speaking tours and seats on Boards of Control with multi-figure salaries.

Nope, when Truman finished his job, he went home with his wife and picked up where they'd left off.  And that, my friends, included taking a road trip.  You'll have to read the book to get the whole story, but trust me:  it is a very good read.

Monday, January 28, 2013


I usually give the ladies in the Big & Little Coops the scraps my kitchen produces, but this makes me think:  It sure would be nice to have some worm castings to supplement my potted plants with...

I may just have found another project.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Summer Berries in Winter

The snow and sleet is falling down outside, but inside, I'm baking up summer.

A rummage around in the freezer revealed a quart bag of frozen black raspberries, picked in long ago July from the canes in the south garden.  Wintry weather always makes me want to bake something, so this find was perfect for making a favorite dessert:  berry buckle.  A buckle is different from a cobbler and a crisp, and sometimes goes by the name of "grunt" (I know, it's another odd New England thing).  A good buckle involves quite a bit of butter, folded into a sweet and stiff batter studded with berries and spread in a good square baking pan.  Over all that goodness, you sprinkle a little more butter formed into cinnamon-scented crumbs and then it is baked.  It will puff up, and then "falls" into a crispy topped, spongy cake that is simply delicious.  It's a perfect dessert for a cold winter evening.

Berry Buckle

You'll need:  3/4 cup butter, softened; 1 cup sugar; 1 egg; 2 cups flour; 2 teaspoons baking powder; 1/2 teaspoon salt; 1/2 cup milk; 2 cups berries, your choice, fresh or frozen; an additional 1/4 cup butter, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup flour, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon.

Combine butter, sugar and egg, and beat until smooth.  Add flour, baking powder, milk and salt, mix until just combined then fold in the berries.  Don't overmix, this is a simple bringing the ingredients together and then patting it into a greased and floured 9-inch baking pan.  Combine the remaining 1/4 cup butter, sugar, flour and cinnamon into crumbs, sprinkle it over the batter.  Bake in a 375 degree oven until the center is just set (no longer wiggles when you gently shake the pan), which takes about 45-50 minutes.  Serve warm or cold, it is great plain or with a topping of ice cream or hard sauce.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Too Much Gov't?

One of the fringe benefits of feeling like ka-ka and needing to spend some quality time on the sofa, is catching up on films & documentaries that I've been meaning to watch for some time.  I'm now up-to-date with Downtown Abbey, and I've seen all of the Beekman Boys, Series 1.

Perhaps one of the more disturbing, but very well done, films I saw was this one:

A series of stories told from the point of view of small farmers struggling to provide quality food in an agribusiness world, it's a shocking account of the sheer, unmitigated bullying they experience at the hands of the USDA, state health & farm regulatory agencies, and big agribusiness.  It is fairly horrifying.

I am not a fan of factory farming for many reasons, but I understand why people who want to be farmers generally feel the need need to follow the business practices handed down to them by the big corporations who care little for the actual quality or healthiness of the food product being produced.  If they want to farm "successfully", unfortunately it generally means bowing down to the business side of control and needing to follow the giant factory-farm model.  People who chose to do small, safe and organic farming often find themselves either being bullied out of business, facing huge legal action that drives them out of business, or being unable to continue financially because they can't qualify for government loans and programs (which are geared for huge agribusiness farming, solely), and the lack of educated consumers who value the actual, realistic costs of producing food that is usually reflected in the price of organic--it's really not much more than what food should cost in the general market, it's just "missing" the savings provided by toxic mass production.  This film was a litany of sad tales, of wonderful people with healthy farms, who would up being smashed into oblivion by the legal machine powered by the big business boys with all the bucks.  If you've ever wondered what kind of pressure little farmers are under, and why they feel so passionately about what they produce, the film.  It's available streaming on Netflix, or you can rent it through your local library system.

All that being said, I feel extremely lucky to count small farmers as personal friends, whom I can support by purchasing or bartering for wonderful things, grown on their farms.  Is some of what I buy "illegal" according to some statute or other, written with agribusiness conglomerates in mind?  No doubt it is.  Do I care?  Not particularly. I think bartering may even be considered illegal...isn't that sad?  I may not be able to change legislation geared to the protection of agribusiness, not real people, single-handedly, but by spending my dollars with local farms and supporting local farmers, instead of at a large box store purchasing commercially-grown products, I hope I send a message.  Dollars not spent at the store means dollars in the local economy.  So, in theory, where I spend my few dollars makes a statement, right?

Friday, January 25, 2013

One Job Done

I finally rendered that long-waiting pork fat, and wound up with four pint jars full of snowy white lard.  It was a satisfying project, although a bit smelly.  My house started smelling like fried fat for a while--it's a distinctly good thing that I've been suffering from the 'flu this week, as I couldn't smell the worst of it.  It's not a rotten kind of smell, really, just strange and odd.  I'm sure in the olden days it was much more familiar to folks' noses.  It certainly didn't smell enough to turn me off from ever making lard again!  That white gold is well worth the effort, and slight stenchiness.  Plus, the chickens really liked the crispy cracklings, skimmed off the top.  The five stove top batches went pretty quickly, and yielded a whole lot of cracklings--perfect "junk food" for the girls, to supplement their feed during this cold spell.  Its worth the lingering scent of rendered fat hanging out in my kitchen.  (A scent that my dogs think brings them close to nirvana, if their blissed out faces pointed to the ceiling, snuffling and wuckling away, give any indication of canine thoughts.)

I have been doing a bit of research on the uses of lard, and aside from its obvious application to soap making (which could be a delightful project), I think I'm going to buy a copy of this book:

If the preview recipes are anything to go by, I may have to wear a bib to keep from drooling on the pages.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Easy Care?

He sure makes it sound pretty easy.  While I don't have a heated (albeit only to 35 degrees) greenhouse, I should have a functional root cellar after this, maybe my fig dreams will really come true?

Oh, how exciting!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Comfort Food

When the weather gets cold and the nights still come early, there really isn't much better than settling down to a good, simple meal.  One of my favorite fast yet wonderful meals, perfect after a long day, is a simple combination of pasta, olive oil and garlic.

It doesn't get much better, or more simple, than that.  Pardon me while I go make a plateful.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Reality Check

I feel their pain, don't you?

Yesterday's high at my house: -10 degrees Farenheit.

Oh, the humanity.

Monday, January 21, 2013

It's So Easy...

So why am I still procrastinating getting it done?

It could be that I have probably twenty pounds of them out there, mocking me.

And how sick and twisted is it that I am contemplating another variety to grow this summer?

It's not my fault, they are super cool and look like little ying-yangs.

photo by
Oh, temptress beans.  I am powerless to resist you, in all your beany glory.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Winter Projects

It's roughly the half-way point of the cold winter season, which means it is time to get cracking on some projects I've been meaning to accomplish.  It's now or never, as once the warm weather hits, I'll be back in the garden and ramping up for a summer season of pulling chickens about the fields.

To that end, I've been doing a bit of reading about growing something rather exotic for this climate zone: figs.  Ever since I read that it's possible to grow them in pots, successfully, in northern climates, I can't stop thinking that I must attempt this.  I have a vision of bushy trees, fragrant with ripening fresh figs, in a row standing in the sunshine at the front of the house.  I blame it all on this book:

There is nothing quite like a perfectly ripe fig...which you can't find readily this far north.  No, the last time I had one of those was during a visit to St. Louis in summertime, visiting a farmers market in the park near the zoo.  Oh, that was a good fig...

Anyway, I am researching area suppliers for fig trees and need to sort through my plant pot collection for the best options for my future grove of fig trees.

All I'll need is a cabana (complete with cabana boy) and a pile of white sand to call a beach, and it could be a little Mediterranean oasis in the heart of Wisconsin.

I also have plans to render some lard from the frozen pork fat that has been waiting in my freezer for (oh dear) a whole year.  To psyche myself up, I've been perusing the tutorials on Youtube.  Here's one of the better ones:

Hmm, I really should go pull it out of the freezer.  That would be a start, anyway.  Oh, and I need to get some cheesecloth...details, details.

I'm in the midst of organizing the kitchen a little, after a failed attempt to knock down a decrepit spice cabinet.  After peeling off the top layer, it appears that it may, in fact, be crucial in holding up the old chimney.  So, rather than having a ton of brick and cinderblock come crashing down through the center of my little cottage, the cabinet will apparently be staying.  Now I need to figure out how to make it less than an eyesore.  I'm thinking paint. 

Lots of paint.

After all that, there is always shelling the dry beans from last summer.  I am embarrassed to say they are still hanging in the car hut, wondering when they'll be shelled and put to good use.  It's a good thing that beans, being seeds, will last for quite a while hung to dry.

There's never a dull moment around here, is there?  If you find yourself feeling bored, feel free to drop in.  I could use an extra hand shelling all those waiting beans.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


So many seeds, so little garden...
The 4th Annual Seed Swap went quite well this morning/early afternoon, if I do say so myself.  About twenty people turned out and made off with packets and packets of seeds (although I have a couple of plastic sacks full of the extras, which just tells you how many seeds turned up).  Several people went in on group ordering from Seed Savers, FedCo Seeds and St. Lawrence Nurseries, helping us all to save a bit on shipping and overall costs (FedCo offers you discounts of certain percentages off if your total is over a specified amount!)  They even seemed to like the soup and baked goods.

All in all, an excellent day!

Cris' Smoked Trout & Corn Chowder

You'll need: one filet trout, smoked and cured (preferably by a local outfit) and flaked into little chunks; two potatoes, cubed; 1 cup frozen sweet corn; 1 onion, chopped; 3 or 4 stalks of celery, chopped; 2 or 3 carrots, chopped; 4 cups or so chicken broth; 2 cloves garlic, chopped; 1 teaspoon thyme leaves; salt and pepper to taste; 1/2 cup cream.

Saute onions, garlic, celery and carrots in a little bit of butter and olive oil (I slosh a little o.o. on top of a tablespoon or so of butter) in a large stockpot until slightly soft and fragrant.  Add in the sweet corn and potatoes, stir and then add the thyme leaves. You can salt and pepper now, or wait until the end and season just before serving.  Pour in the stock (and I then add a couple cups of water) and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes or so, until the potatoes and carrots are cooked through.  Add the flaked fish, stir it in gently and simmer for another 5 minutes.  Add the cream, heat a minute to warm it up and then serve with good bread.

Ridiculously good, really.

Friday, January 18, 2013

End of the Week

I may, quite possibly, be the most happy creature on the planet to reach the end of this week.

Before you starting thinking, oh no, what horrors befell our beloved Chicken Lady in the past few days??, rest assured that nothing bad happened. 

Really.  It was a pretty good, albeit short on quality sleep, kind of week.  I actually got some stuff accomplished, AND got chinese take-away the other day.

Excellent stuff, I tell you.

No, the reason that I am excited to be done with my week is because of this:

4th Annual Seed Swap

Saturday January 19th
11:00 Am – 1:30 Pm
Prairie Farm Elementary School
Multipurpose room

That's right, it's seed swapping time! I am making soup, and bringing rolls, and other folks are baking bars. There's going to be seeds everywhere, including catalog ordering and sharing of shipping fees all-together. Talk about a fun day (for gardeners). 

Watch for photos in the next installment!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Adding to the Larder

I decided it was time to replenish the pantry a bit, and as I had more dry beans than ready-to-canned ones, I thought:  Heck, let's break out the pressure canner!  Since I've gotten over my fear of pressure canning, I just looooooove breaking out that giant beast and canning up all sorts of low-acid goodness.

Yes, I know.  I need to get out more.

Anyway, I decided it was time to make a batch of Mexican-Style Black Beans. Into each pint jar, you put:  1/2 cup of dry black beans; 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt; 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin; 1 teaspoon dried minced garlic (or you could use fresh); 1 Tablespoon minced onion (dried or fresh--I only had fresh on hand); and hot pepper additions of your choice--cayenne pepper, or as I used, a couple rings of dried jalepenos. You should wind up with a pint of joy that looks like this:

 Next, you add hot water (I boiled some up fast in my little electric kettle) to within one inch of the top, pop on a lid and tighten down the band.  After parking it into the pressure canner and processing it (according to manufacturer instructions, please--safety first!) for 90 minutes at 15 pounds of pressure, you should wind up with something that looks like this:

These beans are a really great addition to tacos, or a plate of Mexican Potato Nachos or added to a southwestern salad.  Good stuff, I tell you!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Preach It, P. Allen!

Is there anything quite so entertaining as a video about the joys of keeping chickens?

I didn't think so.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Growing Light

It is subtle, but the days are slowly getting longer.  The angle of the sun isn't tucked so far to the south, and it is rare that I do morning and afternoon chores in complete darkness, wandering the frozen yard by light of my headlamp.

The surest sign, though, that the days are growing more light, is the return of eggs laid by the ladies of the Little Coop.  Once again, I am collecting large speckled eggs and the occasional blue-green wonder from the nest box.  While the entire outdoor world is still frozen and icy, and presently small flakes of snow are drifting down from dull grey skies, I feel a thrill of spring when I find these little wonders waiting for me in their straw-filled nook.  More than the daily influx of seed catalogs into my mailbox and the shifting of the sun, it's the girls' daily march into the coop to lay a little egg or two after a long wintry hiatus that tells me the promise of Spring is in the air.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Pest Control?

courtesy of

I've been pondering pest control in my hoop house.  Last summer, there was quite the invasion of beetles and slugs and assorted horrible things that ate at the bottoms of the jungle. Not that it caused too much of a dent in slowing down the growth, but still, they were there in droves.  I'm a little worried that this summer, all of their offspring will emerge to throw a party and devour  my little baby plants.

I've thought about tucking a chicken or two in there, but the girls aren't the most dependable insect eaters.  They tend to eat their favorites, and ignore all the others.  Besides, that's only effective if they get them all, and no new ones move in later in the summer.  I certainly can't have the girls in there when I'm trying to garden, as they would devour the plants in no time flat.

So I did a little reading, and came across discussions of using quail as pest control in greenhouses.  They eat bugs, not plants, and they don't dig heavily--hence, no uprooting of growing plants.  Plus, they are quiet.  Small, too--only about the size of your fist when fully grown.  My only conundrum is preventing them from scooting out when the doors and side vents are rolled up, to allow for air flow and cooling during hot summer days.  I think some fine gauge hardware cloth stapled across the long sides would work, and maybe the same made into modified screen doors for the doorway openings?

 It sounds like they like heat, so as long as they have shady spots to hang out in and plenty of water, they should do okay on hot sunny summer days.  (I have a plan to lower the temps in there anyway this summer, as 100-plus degrees seems to be a culprit for no tomato fruits.)  As for the winter, it sounds as though they are pretty adaptable.  I can always pop them in a spare rabbit cage and house them in the Big Coop for the winter, if it gets too harsh out in the hoop house. (Although, I have a plan for keeping it a little warmer in there next winter...all these plans, don't you know!)

I think it would be a hoot to collect teeny, tiny quail eggs for breakfast:

 It is like eggs for a fairy feast!  Simply adorable.

If it doesn't work out, well...I hear they are pretty good roasted, too.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


This weekend, I traveled into the Big City for a belated birthday hootenany.  It started with meeting my bestest sister-friend at our favorite joint for a plate of Swedish meatballs:

Oh, how I love those meatballs.  They come with potatoes and lingonberry sauce...drool.

This feast was followed by checking into our room at the Hyatt, and then getting all glammed up for a night on the town.  Dinner at the Loring Pasta Bar, and then off to the Drag Queen show at a little spot known as...

It was a hoot.  Well, a little loud (which I realize does make me seem like an old fart saying that a night club was "too loud", but seriously, the bass vibrations from the amp system set off my asthma by making my lungs vibrate), and I am so not able to stop yawning after 11 PM (again, yes, I know, I am skating close to edge of old fart-ism).  There is something to be said for a night out, and heck, if it includes a good show at a lively nightclub with exotic performers, heck, sign me up!  (But not for a little while, because I am freakin' exhausted from staying out so late.)

After a restorative night's rest in a comfortable bed, marred only by the whistling wind shrieking through the vent system (the weather changed overnight, and boy it was breezy), I was off for a couple more adventures around town.

I stopped at a little shop in St. Paul, called Eggplant, an Urban Farm supply store.

Super cute little shop, filled with all kind of implements and buckets and seeds and canning supplies and worm bins.  I loved it!  Of course, I had to pick up some tomato seeds and a seed sprouting kit that works on a regular mason jar.  I can hardly wait to try sprouting!  I've had such a hankering for green fresh food lately, it'll be nice to pile them on salads and such.  This was just up the street from a Whole Foods market, so I had to pop in there too.  After drooling over the cake and tart options in the bakery case, I opted to buy a loaf of Finn Bread, a very dark rye bread slathered with wheat berries, and some little rounds of mozzarella.

And of course, I had to stop at my perennial "last stop" before coming home:

I am addicted to their Indian food options, and then I saw that they had fresh basil and vine-ripened tomatoes...and I was lost.  Anyway, I did resist the Peppermint Sipping Cocoa and Chocolate Covered Whatsits, so perhaps my out-of-season splurge wasn't quite so bad?  Locavore contrary or not, it did make my winter chilled soul happy, so there you go.  Another case of cabin fever, averted.

Now I am back at home, watching old episodes of the Vicar of Dibley and feeding my little fire so the animales and I can stay warm.  It's been a fine weekend of fun, but my little Farmlette is truly the place I want to be. 

I have tomatoes and basil to eat, after all.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Friday, January 11, 2013

Look at 'em go!

So I've been continuing in my perusal of that seductive poultry catalog that arrived the other day, and doing a bit of internet searching to see what folks are thinking about the Red Rangers.  They go by different names--red broilers, Freedom rangers, colored rangers--but it all seems to be the same bird. 

Check out how busily they search for food!  My usual white guys never get that enthusiastic about looking around for new eats.  It's more a slump to the new resting spot and poop all over the grass kind of enthusiasm.  Not as inspiring to video...

Anyway, I am thinking that perhaps I will give this a go for this season.  As I have decided to go small this year (due to feed prices), it should give me the opportunity to see how this breed of meat bird really does in a Wisconsin summer environment.  (A lot of testimonials have said they had zero percent mortality rate, which is waaaaaay better than my usual 20% die-off with the faster growing, less cardio-enthusiastic giants.)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Red Ranger

I've been thinking a bit about raising meat birds this coming summer.  With feed prices still high, I don't know how many I'll raise.  Probably just enough for myself and a couple of friends' freezers.  I've also been contemplating that perhaps a different type of meat bird might be more cost effective.  After all, if I can find a variety that grows fairly quickly (meeting the summer break time frame) and can also forage for its own food better, perhaps this would be the ideal.

I've been intrigued by these Red Rangers offered by McMurray Hatcheries for this season.  I think I'll have to decide soon, as they don't seem to have a huge quantity available and I think they will go fast.  They are more expensive per chick than the "barbeque specials" I usually buy, but I really like the idea of better foraging ability.  Combine that with the glory of the chicken campers I built, and this could be the best summer of meat chicken raising yet.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Oh, Sweet Temptation!

This arrived the other day.

I can't stop looking at it.

Is there a support group for poultry fanciers?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Love Affair

I have a "thing" for fizzy water.

Oh, I'll drink the ice cold well water straight from the tap readily enough.  But man alive, I adore that fizzy, strangely effervescent yet sour taste of fizzy water.  It could be club soda, it could be old fashioned seltzer, or fancy schmancy Perrier, but it is all the same to me.


Now, my problem is the massive amounts of plastic bottles my little addiction carries with it.  Not so great for the environment, even if I do recycle them, nor are all those chemicals slowly leaching into my favorite drink likely doing my innards any favors.

What is a girl to do?

I've been contemplating one of these:

courtesy of

 Of course, it sounds like a great idea.  But then I read all these horror stories of exploding shrapnel from the CO2 cartridge, and ill-fitting gaskets. Most of the reviews are raving about what a fantastic investment it is, and how they love how easy it is, how reliably it works...and then you get one posted that says "it was all fun and games until Jimmy lost an eye..."  Good heavens.  Really?  An eye?

Ouch.  Poor Jimmy.

 Still, one can't believe everything one reads on the internet, right?  It seems like it would be a deal:  fizzy water from my own well water, made at home when I want it.  And, you can even buy refill CO2 cartridges at my local Walgreens drugstore.  Less plastic, less trips to the recycling center, less chemicals.  Not a bad bargain, if you think of it along those lines.

Too good to be true?  Perhaps.

I think I'll go read some more reviews and ponder my options:  Buy one of these, or just by stock in Perrier?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Odds and Ends

It is amazing what I can pull out of the freezer and pantry, and whip up a meal.  I never got around to doing shopping this past week (it's not like I didn't have time, I just didn't go...vacation-induced inertia, perhaps?), so when I realized that I had eaten up all the holiday leftovers and actually needed to cook again, I thought:  Huh.  Well, might as well have a bit of a rummage!

Here's what I found: a chicken, some bacon, a couple of pork chops, quinoa, amish-made egg noodles, copious amounts of rice, broth of all kinds, frozen swiss chard packets, basil pesto, eggs (of course), goat milk chevre in a little frozen log of goodness, and potatoes.  Oh, and some premade frozen naan, otherwise known as Indian-style flat bread.  Combine that with a bit of romaine lettuce and some longhorn colby cheese and there's not much more you need, is there?  Well, maybe some milk and coffee...hmm, I suppose I should go buy some milk.  I get my coffee automatically delivered every couple of months, straight from New Orleans.  Have I mentioned my addiction of coffee with chicory in it?  Oh my.  Good stuff, I tell you!

Anyway, out of what I pulled together from my at-home grocery store, tonight's menu included toasted naan, fried eggs, and swiss chard.  Good, simple eats.  I have no idea what I will do with that chicken, but I am pretty sure it will involve the crock pot. 

Oh, the possibilities...I'm sure that I can pull some other stuff out of the pantry that will work wonders.

Gathering Ideas

If you remember from last summer, my new hoop house was successful in growing one heck of a jungle.  Tomatoes and tomatillos the size of small saplings, pepper plants with three inch thick stems.  It was very impressive, but unfortunately not a whole lot of fruiting going on. 

This summer, I plan on an improvement.  I need more tomatoes, dang it.  I only have a few quarts left, and then I shall have to (gasp! the horror!) buy some at the grocery store. 


Anyway, I have plans to improve the situation this summer.  To that end, I've gotten a copy of this book:

I've only glanced through it, but I like what I've previewed so far.  It came highly recommended on Amazon, by readers who have had the same problem that I've experienced. 

I have plans to round up some shade cloth as well, to keep the heat down a little in the height of summer.  I'm hoping that this helps keep things from being too hot, which I think (from what little I've read) leads the tomatoes to grow more plant and not set any fruit.  Funny little plants, tomatoes.  First they want it hot, but not too hot, wet but not too  wet, and then they succumb to some dreadful disease or other.  I don't know why I bother.

It must be because there is nothing that compares to the deliciousness of a home-grown tomato.  What can I say?  I'm lost on the quest for a good tomato!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Oooh...What A Great Idea!

Hmmm....just what I needed, another idea for building a garden bed!  I think I might just adapt the hoop house construction to my current raised beds.  The idea of starting a garden super early is sooooooooo very appealing right now!  (As it is approximately -5 degrees outside, this whole plan is going to have to wait for a bit, but it sure is nice to dream!)

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Garden Watching

When it is cold outside, and the garden catalogs are piled around me, I like to watch programs and movies about gardens.  The video clip above is from a favorite show of mine, The Wisconsin Gardener, which airs on Wisconsin Public Television.  This show travels around the state, stopping in at various gardens and showcasing the lovely things that perhaps, if you are lucky, will grow in your garden, too.

Here's some other options for garden viewing when you are snowbound:
  • Enchanted April, a simply lovely film with a glorious Italian garden involved in it
  • The Secret Garden (1999 version), the classic tale of the redemptive and magical powers of gardening.  In this version, the cinematography is overwhelmingly beautiful!
  • Saving Grace, set in Cornwall, England and full of quirky characters, the heroine of the tale is a spectacular gardener with a greenhouse to lust over...albeit used for nefarious purposes!
  • A funny little series of videos called Around the World in 80 Gardens, which can be found on YouTube.  This lovely Brit travels around, exploring the gardens of the world...what a great job, don't you think?
  • The Hidden Face of British Gardening by Sir Roderick Floud, a recorded lecture from Gresham College in the UK.  Not exactly lightweight material, but a fascinating account of the history of British gardening.  If you are a documentary junkie like myself, you might just enjoy it!
  • The BBC series Rosemary & Thyme, a mystery series with two plucky gardeners as the leading ladies.  I love this show!
  • Keeping with the BBC theme, and mysteries, the Miss Marple episodes from Masterpiece Mysteries not only involve some garden loveliness but some excellent sleuthing and dreadful murrrrrdeerrrrrs.  Bwah hah hah hah hah....
  • An a perennial favorite of mine:  GardenGirl TV, a creative and fun show streaming on YouTube about an urban gardener who keeps glorious gardens, goats, chickens, and more.  It's a fun watch!
P.S.  The movies and television series that  I mentioned above can all be found streaming on Netflix!

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Little Bit of Organization

I've had a rather nice lazy break the past couple of weeks.  It is wonderful to have long days with plenty of time to putter around the house, doing little projects, baking and making hot soups, and feeding the fire to keep the house toasty warm in the teeth of cold weather.

One of my better projects accomplished has been to inventory and sort my garden seeds.  I've tried various boxes and bags and envelopes of all sizes in the past, but I think I have finally hit upon the ultimate solution:  Seed packet sized boxes, grouped by seed varietals and labelled in bold Sharpie marker.

Ahh, there is nothing quite so lovely as a well organized drawer, is there?  I think I now have an idea of what seeds I own, and what seeds I need.  I can tell you I definitely don't need any more Early Jersey Wakefield Cabbage Seeds, as I found two packets that I forgot I had ordered last year.

The other exciting tidying up project I finished was to add some hooks at the entry in the back doorway.  I had three smealzly hooks upon which I crammed all my coats and jackets and bags.  Half the time, they would fall off onto my muck boots and the other half, they'd fall into the dirty wood box.  But now, I have these available:

Don't you just love the little mirror?  It was a birthday present from my lovely mom...does she know me or what?  Pink and sparkly!!!  The best of both worlds.

I am nearly done with organizing my yarn stash, although it would be hard to tell.  It is nice to think that eventually, it will be all sorted and I will be able to find my yarns when I need them, not when they fall out onto me as I reach for one tucked at the back of the cupboard.  I have an idea that should help them stay tidy as well.  I guess we'll all find out if that plan works!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Summer Extravagance

Sometimes, a meal of winter veg and good meat gets a little "samey".  And when you have days and days of bread-and-cheese or chicken-and-potatoes or roasted-beets-and-cabbage-slaw staring you in the face, you start pondering a riot to protest the lack of fresh diversity.

Unfortunately, protests don't really work well when you happen to be the cook.

Lucky for me, there are opportunities of occasional splurges.  Local hydroponically grown basil and tomatoes offer the hint of summer flavors in the depths of winter.  The tomatoes are lacking that particularly perfect tang that they can only acquire during long afternoons of summer sunshine, but they are fresh and fragrant nevertheless.  And the basil...oh, the basil!  After making a lovely caprese salad to share on New Year's Eve with good friends, I was left with two little plants (yes, they have roots!) to nurse along for a few more days before I devour them at top homemade pizza.

Hmm...perhaps someday I'll have a little hydroponic operation of my own?  Right after I start my tilapia farm in the backyard, I believe.  After all, the floating roots of my basil and tomato plants will need all that lovely fish-poo generated nutrition to grown strong and lovely in the cold winter weather!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Promise of Spring

It is ten degrees outside and snowing a bit.  Inside, the fire is happily popping away but still, parts of the floor are cold as ice.  The rabbits and chickens are grimly surveying the frozen tundra and iced-over water dishes, and muttering vague demands of more warmth and more green eats.  The dogs are happy to curl up on sofas and chairs and snore away the grey afternoon.

And what am I doing?  Oh, a little light reading and plenty of dreaming of spring days and emerging sprouts.  One of the highlights of the holiday season is receiving more seed catalogs that one gardener could ever plant.  It is so lovely to page through the glossy pages, reading about all sorts of fascinating varieties that exist, with wonderful names like "Brandywine" and "Rossi di Toscana".  I have plans to sort through my seed stash, which helps to narrow down my options a bit.

I always get seduced by something wonderful, but I do try to stick to the important items.  When you grow as much of your own food as possible, it becomes vital to focus on produce that will store a long time, be highly versatile in meal incarnations, perhaps double as gifts & animal feed, and consistently perform well in my humble little garden.  No small order, eh?  So mostly I choose a good selection of greens, kale, beets, turnips, potatoes, onions, beans, carrots and tomatoes.  Squash makes the cut as well, as do some small fruits and herbs.  After that, perhaps something exotic will be chosen:  loofahs?  Popcorn?  Sweet corn?  Oh, the glorious options!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A New Year

Another year has turned the corner, and here we are, with a fresh new one stretching before us.  Time to hang the new calendars, change out the smoke detector batteries, and break out the 2013 copy of the Farmers Almanac as bathroom reading material.  I am sure many people are spending today making resolutions of things to improve in the coming year, or whiling away a hangover of significant proportions in front of football on the t.v.  I prefer to make new year wishes, which I write down on a piece of paper, and then set alight outside at midnight on New Year's Eve to send them out into the cosmos.  I never reveal all of them, but I suppose I can let you know a couple of my hopes for 1/4 Acre Farm in the coming year:

  • To successfully grow watermelon in the garden, because this will be THE YEAR it will happen, dang it.
  • To expand the Bunny Barn, and add a few more feet of living space as well as better ventilation for my little herd of furry friends.
  • To find the perfect shrubbery that will grow some kind of delicious berry, with minimum fuss 
There are others, obviously, but if I reveal all my wishes, they won't come true, will they?  I have a couple more that I'll cash in on my birthday, so between those and the ones I burnt last night, something wonderful is sure to happen this year.  So before you spend all your time worrying about reducing your waistline and improving your bank account balance, don't forget to make a couple gratuitous wishes to ring in the start of a brand new year.  Anything can happen...