Friday, February 28, 2014

Potting On, Wayne.

The chamomile forest was hiding a little secret.
Whoo!  Check out those roots.

Time for potting on, I think.  After teasing the roots free, I broke the forest into more manageable clumps.  They'll need to be thinned again, but they can grow a bit larger and I can figure out the most hardy of plants to spare.
Can't you just hear those little plants sigh in relief?  More room to grow.  Ahh.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

First Harvest

My microgreens experiment is a success!  After growing for a little over a month, the mesclun mix (combined with a bit of extra mustard) grew large enough for a first harvest.  A quick trim with a pair of scissors, and I had enough fresh greens for a side salad with dinner.  There is nothing quite like freshly harvested salad greens--and thanks to my lights, I don't have to wait until June's garden!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Coming in March

If you happen to be in the Wisconsin area, particularly in the Hay River Valley near Prairie Farm, you might want to come on out to the Fourth Annual Traditional & Green Skills Event in March.  It's a great day, filled with classes, new and old friends, and you leave inspired to tackle a project or try out a new skill.  I'm particularly excited about this year, where there are more classes than ever (including one taught by myself!)  It's quite a bargain, too: $10 gets you a day of four class sessions, lunch, and the opportunity to join in on various projects in the community.  You can even score some free seeds from the Hay River Seed Library if you come visit me at the table during lunch hour.  And if you are a family, it's $25 and includes free child care for the littler ones.

Don't live in the immediate area but have a group of friends who want to come?  Sending a couple of representatives is encouraged, so you can take back impressions of the day and recreate it in your own local community--Transition Initiative is all about making your localized community cohesive and economically sound, so why not take this model and run with it?  You'll be amazed at the talent, industry and skills that are hidden gems waiting to be discovered amongst your friends and neighbors.  It's truly amazing to participate in the planning process, to organize this kind of event, and discover hidden talents in people you've met and known for years.
To see a more easily readable schedule, go to this link and download a PDF copy. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Remember my re-purposing of those grapefruit peels after the Christmas holidays?  Well, they've been happily stewing away with some sugar and vodka and have been transformed (well, their essence has been transformed) into a gaudy little liquor called pompelomocello.  After straining through a fine sieve, it fills my little liquor bottle perfectly.  It needs to settle for a couple more months to mellow, but my initial sample suggests it has a lovely grapefruit flavor with a touch of sweetness and a bitter bite at the very end.  I think it is going to make for a fabulous summer cocktail, mixed with a grapefruit soda (oooh, an excuse to buy Blue Sky Organics grapefruit soda!) and served on ice with a cocktail of fresh summer fruit on a plastic sword.

Oh yes.  Drinks on the deck at 6, everyone!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Yeah, I'm a Fan Girl.

I admit it.  I adore Hugh Fearnsley-Whittingsall.

Who is he, you ask?  Oh, he's only the dash chef heading up the River Cottage series, encouraging a back to real food movement in the UK (and the US, for those of us who watch him via YouTube installments).  Tackling topics such as nose-to-tail eating of animals, good vegetarian fare, supporting sustainable fishing practices, and the importance of consuming healthy, organic fruits and vegetables that people can grow in their gardens, Hugh is a witty wizard in the kitchen.  I think I've seen pretty much every episode of every series River Cottage has produced.  At least twice.

Given my love of all things Hugh, it's little wonder that after watching this video I was inspired to track down this recipe for Pear & Almond Pudding Cake, and make my own version at home.  Anything involving butter, sugar, pears and a springform pan has me pretty happy mucking about in the kitchen, I tell you!
Rich batter awaiting caramelized pears...oh yes.
Before baking, with a sundial of deliciousness on top.
30 minutes later and it is golden-brown perfection.
How did it taste?  Oh well, the next picture says it all:

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Bread Baking Day

Once a week, I make a couple loaves of bread.  Two smallish loaves are plenty of bread to keep me in toast and the occasional grilled sandwich during the week, and I love the smell of fresh bread, hot from the oven.  While it is a little work to knead it, and it takes time to allow the dough to rise and the yeast to work its magic, I feel it is time well spent.
Smallish hand-shaped loaves, proofing to perfection.
I have, in the past, kept a batch of dough in the fridge (a la Bread in Five Minutes A Day method).  It worked okay, although I found being a household of one sometimes the bread would get condensation or turn an odd color/smell before I could use it all.  And then I was left with scraping out smelly, gooey dough and tossing it...well, the worms liked it, but no one else could eat it.  After a few attempts at this, I decided it was just better for me to make a two-loaf sized batch of bread once a week, and call it good.  One loaf stays out on the counter, while the other is wrapped and popped into the freezer until it is called into action.

My dough mixture is usually some version of a peasant style bread: a few different flours mixed together with salt, all rising with a yeast-honey-warm water starter.  I don't really measure any more, as I've figured out by eyeballing how much water and honey to start with (I always add three teaspoons of yeast, though), and the amount of flour varies by how humid it might be in the house.  I've mastered the trick of kneading in the final bit of flour, so you wind up with a sticky but not too wet nor too dry loaf that rises to perfection.
After baking, two perfect oval loaves for the week.
The latest loaf used all-purpose, dark rye, and whole wheat flours, with a handful of rolled oats kneaded into it.  Sometimes I'll add herbs, like dill or dried lovage leaves, or even a bit of dried winter savory.  But mostly, I like my bread to be "plain", so it can serve as a vehicle for butter and jam at breakfast, or a more savory salsa-esque bruchetta topping at dinner time.  It's also perfect for eating a fried egg breakfast while driving off to work on a weekday morning.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Herb Update

My herb starts are doing well, although I am still waiting on some slow-to-germinate seeds to pop and start growing.  As you can see in the above photo, the stems of the rosemary cuttings have turned a rosy shade of pink and a little new growth is beginning.  Both of these signs suggest that rooting has started, which is wonderful.  In another week or so, I'll check them and pot them on so they can continue to grow healthy roots and get a little larger before warm weather arrives.
Sage is starting to form their classic fuzzy, veined leaves.

My lone lavender is doing well--hopefully, the new seeds will sprout and I'll have more!

Check out the chamomile jungle--nearly big enough to thin.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Snow Day

Schools are cancelled and roads are drifted, so that means today is a snow day on the Farmlette.  After digging my way outside (both doors were drifted and frozen shut) and excavating the chicken coops and Bunny Barn, it was so nice to come back inside where it was warm and coffee was waiting on the stovetop.

I'm taking advantage of my day to do a bit of baking, and I'm planting a few more onion seeds.  Today's batch is Ailsa Craig, a  heirloom onion from the island of Ailsa, off the Scottish coast.  These onions are famed for their tremendous size--according to what I've read, they can weigh up to two pounds each--and short shelf-life.  I decided to only start 36 little pods, as I do eat a lot of onions but I'd prefer to commit more space to good keepers.  I started those a few days ago (once my peat pods finally arrived), and I have 112 little pods planted with Yellow of Parma, another heirloom variety that is a good keeper.
112 pods, just waiting for Y of P to sprout.
In past years, I have had very good success with growing Copra, a yellow onion F1 variety.  I really like them, and I will likely grow them again sometime, but like all hybrids it means I need to keep buying seed from the seed company.  Someday, perhaps, I will want to break away from that cycle and use onion seed that I've grown and saved--I'm not quite there with that particular project, of course--and I thought this would be a good year to see how I like a couple of the more commonly available open pollinated heirloom varieties.  You know me and my garden experiments, there is always something I'm trying out.
In other allium family news, the leeks are shooting up.  In just a few days' time, they've grown to be three inches tall.  While slender, they are quite sturdy and seem to be really happy with my homemade planting mix.  Ahh, the powers of worm poop!  I'm going to have to adjust their lights soon, or they will grow up and curl around the bulbs.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Coal House

I am such a sucker for a good, historical-reality show.  Imagine my joy today when I discovered this gem--perfect for a winter evening, when the dark comes early and several tons of snow are pelting down outside.  I think I'll brew up a pot of ginger tea and settle in with my knitting.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Granola Goodness

I am not a huge fan of granolas.  I find them, in general, dry and horrible, too sweet and tooth-achingly tough to chew.  I use granola sparingly atop greek yogurt, and I don't eat it, ever, as a cereal.

In fact, I loathe cereal for breakfast.  If you're going to do breakfast, it should be hot, in my opinion.  None of this cheerio-flake-fiberous-twigs for me.  A cold breakfast of pseudograins just makes me want to crawl into bed and stay there, until someone makes toast, like a sensible, rational human being.

But, I do like granola on my yogurt, from time to time.  I can either buy it at the local co-op, which gets a little spendy and they still seem overly sweet to me, or I can make a batch of my own.  I found myself with a surplus of oats this past weekend, so I made up a batch of delicious maple-vanilla granola.  It keeps for a couple weeks in an airtight container in the cupboard, or (if, like me, you only eat small bits at a time) you can pop it into pint sized mason jars and store it in the freezer, taking out a smaller jar as you need one.

Maple-Vanilla Granola

You'll need: five cups or so of rolled oats; 1/2 cup chopped pecans; 1/2 cup sliced almonds; 1 teaspoon salt; 1/4 cup maple syrup; 1/4 cup brown sugar; 1/2 cup oil of your choice; 2 teaspoons vanilla extract; 1 teaspoon cinnamon.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, nuts and salt.  In a separate bowl, combine maple syrup, brown sugar, oil, vanilla and cinnamon.  Whisk to combine, then pour over the oat mixture and stir well to coat.

Turn out granola mixture onto foil-covered baking sheets (I use two, and spread half the mix on each--it makes it easier to stir.)  Bake at 325 degrees for 10 minutes, then stir well and return to oven to bake about ten minutes more until crisp and browned.  Cool completely, then break up any clumps and store in a tight lidded jar (or pint jars for freezing).  Granola should last a couple of weeks if stored in an airtight container in your pantry cupboard.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Pantry Gold: Crystalized Ginger

I generally have a tremendous stash of crystalized ginger in my pantry stores.  It keeps forever and a day, and it can be used for so many wonderful things.
  • Ginger Tea:  I simmer about a half-cup of crystalized ginger in a quart of water, for at least twenty minutes.  This is then strained and can be served hot with a touch of honey (if you want it very sweet).  I tend to store the tea in a jar in the fridge, and then half-fill a tea cup with it and top with hot water.  It keeps for about a week in the fridge, if it lasts that long.
  • Adding to baking:  I particularly love to add finely chopped crystalized ginger to molasses cookies, gingersnaps, and spice cookies.  It is also delightful in a classic Hermit bar, such as this recipe.
  • Savory soups and curries:  Finely sliced crystalized ginger adds a lovely pop of sweet-hot flavor to soups (like Carrot-Fennel or Pumpkin soups), and it is really nice in a curry, such as Butternut Squash Curry.  There's just something about the sliver of sweet spicy ginger, squash, and coconut milk that makes for a fabulous dinner...I think I know what I might make tonight!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Happy President's Day!

While it seems like today is just a good excuse to go buy furniture, a new car, or some sheets for your bedroom, it is actually a day to remember the contributions of the presidents of the United States, past and present.  So, thank you, gentlemen.  You may not have been perfect, good or profoundly wise, but I'm certain you did your best with what you had to work with.  We are a muddled funny country, and I certainly would not have wanted to be in your shoes at certain times in our nation's history.  But because of your contributions, we are where we are today: imperfect, flawed, yet beautiful and unique amongst all the other nations of the world.  Aren't we lucky?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Getting Taped

I'm contemplating this for my carrots this year.  There is nothing I find more tedious than thinning carrots.  I'm thinking that if I can space them a little better with the tape, then there will be far less fiddly thinning needed.  That's my theory, anyway.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Yarrow in the Garden

One plant I am adding to the garden this summer is white yarrow.  Now, as it creeps by rhizomes and spreads by seeds, I'm planning on putting it in areas where I don't mind it growing into a largish clump.  I have a couple spots in the yard that are prone to weediness, so I think it should do well there (full sun, not so great soil) and give the weeds I don't want a run for their money.  Not only will the flowers attract pollinators and butterflies, but you can use yarrow as a medicinal herb as well.  Apparently, yarrow is a good addition to homemade healing creams to staunch bleeding and heal wounds.  I've also read where it can be used in a tea, to help combat colds.  However, it can also cause nosebleeds--I'm not sure why I'd want to cause a nosebleed--but conversely, it can also stop nosebleeds.  Either way, with a nickname of "sneezeweed", I'm not sure I want to try it in my nose.  It is also reported to have a peppery flavor, which could be interesting in summer salads.  Mostly, though, I'm looking at it as a pollinator-attractor, possible herb for homemade wound ointment, and I know the rabbits will eat it.  It's one of the first bits they like to pull out of their grassy hay and devour.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Friday Fun

It's a snowy, chilly February weekend here, but that's ok.  I can listen to John Denver and start some seeds this weekend, and it'll be nearly as good as being able to go outside in warm air, sunshine, and diggable dirt.

Well, nearly.

But hey, it's Friday!  Yippee!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Homegrown Herbals

I have plans this summer to re-vitalize my herb garden.  Again.  I made the mistake years ago of planting mint directly in the ground, and it now runs wild.  It doesn't taste very good either--its a blend of several kinds of mint--but it is beloved by the honeybees and bumblebees.  My plan is to again dig it all out and start over with mint in containers.  Then, I'll have space to plant other things.

I'll be growing several things in pots, like lemon balm and lavender, but other things can be planted in the garden directly.  They may not winter over (sage, for example, doesn't always make it through the very cold winters) but they shouldn't spread quite so wildly.  I should have good luck with the winter savory and angelica.  They tend to form a large "clump" instead of a spreading mass of insidious rhizomes.

I rounded up some new reusable seed pots, which came with trays included, and I think they will work well to give my herbs a head start on growing.  Herbs take a long time to germinate, and as I've mentioned before, can be very finicky.  It's a good winter time project, and with luck, I'll soon have trays of green herbal sprouts greeting me under the grow lights.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Foot Update


It's been a few months since I last mentioned my foot and ankle, so I suppose a brief update is in order.  The short story is, its healing...slowly.  I can now flex it up and down (mostly) and wiggle it from side to side (somewhat).  I don't limp too terribly, except for when I first get up, out of the car, or if I've been doing a lot of walking.  Stairs, unfortunately, continue to be problematic.  I can go up them alternating feet per step, but coming down, it's still two feet per step.  Sigh.  It's coming along, just slow and plodding.  I still can't stamp very well, or stand solely on that foot, but I'm hoping to be able to dig a nice hole or two come spring time--it's all about stomping on that spade, people.  I've been getting a lot of work building back the muscle in my calf, hauling full carts of wood up into the yard to stack--my Achilles will stretch again before spring, dang it, it will!

So, since October, I've graduated from the cast-cast, the supportive plastic cage cast, and tossed aside both crutches.  I may never wear fancy girl shoes again, but I have some killer purple-and-turquoise sneakers.  They are shiny.  It's an okay compromise...although I've been wearing my winter boots for weeks on end.  Eventually, it'll melt enough that I can wear sneakers outside again.  Right now, I get to do the whole gym shoe change over thing with the kindergartners in the school hallway.  We bond over tying our shoe laces and compare cool glittery decorations on our snazzy sneakers.

There you have it.  I am mobile, although pokey, and shoe-fashion challenged.  But I'm moving, man.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Too Much Cold Medicine?

For the past week, I've been a bit under the weather.  I never got around to getting my flu the 'flu found me, instead.

Cough, cough.  Snuffle.  Wheeze.  Fry me an egg, on my forehead.

I finally kicked the fever on Saturday, and aside from a continuing cough, I feel pretty much okay.  I have been having some very odd dreams, however.  I'm not sure if it was the fever, or the Nyquil, but take this one, for example:

I'm in a garden, filled with vines and little shrubs and the sound of dozens of twittering little birds.  It's peaceful, with dappled sunshine and a light breeze making the shadows dance.  I'm digging with a trowel--not sure what I'm planting, but I need a little hole--and just enjoying being outside.

Suddenly, the ground shivers.  Out of the corner of my eye, I see a fat furrow of earth being pushed up from underneath.  It's big, whatever it is--not carnivorous sand worm from LA big, but bigger than a mole.  I'm not entirely scared, but still, this THING is approaching from under the earth.  Just when I start to think, maybe I should be scared now, the ground heaves open and out emerges...

An enormous earth worm.  Somehow, I know his name--Harry, Horace, something like that.  And I wave at him.  And Harry the worm grows a little hand and waves back.

And that is it.  A friendly earthworm, waving at me.

Yeah.  I think I need to lay off the Nyquil.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Fruit Intrigue

I am endlessly fascinated by the varieties of fruit in the world.  Some, I'm not so fond of--bananas, I'm looking at you--and others, well, I wouldn't mind giving a try if I could lay my hands on them.  While I'm not sure exactly what I would do with them, I half-wish I could find a medlar tree that would grow in my Zone 3 yard.  Just to have something as cool as a medlar in my orchard would be fairly nifty...well, maybe I'll just keep seeking a dwarf pawpaw tree that will survive our cold, cold winters and call it good.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Growing Things

After a couple of weeks, little seeds have started to sprout.
Little round sage seeds, with fat cotyledon leaves waiting to unfold.

Skinny leek leaves, still folded in half but stretching tall.
And still, only one lonely lavender start.  At least it is starting to grow a couple new leaves, and who knows, maybe more will be popping up soon.  It can take lavender up to one month to germinate from seed, and these were relatively older seeds. 
I suppose I will just need to be patient.  That's the thing about seeds, you can't rush them.

Friday, February 7, 2014

A Little Celebratory Giveaway

So my Facebook page hit 100 Likes--something I was not really ever expecting to happen--and I decided, it was a great excuse for a fun little giveaway.  It took me a little while to figure out what to include, but finally, I figured it out: a chicken hat, a 2014 weekly "diary" for tracking projects, a box of favorite tea, and a couple gift certificates to two of my favorite places to shop--McMurray Hatchery and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Gosh.  Now that's some nice swag.

And how could you win this?  Oh, it's pretty simple.  If you're already a fan of The Chicken Lady's Farmlette on Facebook, all you need to do is track down the original post--easy enough to do, just scroll down to yesterday--and "like" it.  Tah dah.  You're in.  Not yet a fan, but signed up on Facebook?  Like my page, and then like the post.  You're in.  Whee!

If you don't do Facebook, well--for this particular giveaway, I'm gearing it for Facebook fans because, well, the page hit 100 Likes and there you go, the reason for the celebration.  But next time, which will be soon-ish, there will be another fun little giveaway and it's open to everybody who follows all the doin's on the Farmlette.

Oh!  The contest closes at 11:59 PM on February 22, 2014, so be sure to "like" to enter soon!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

In Today's Mail!

I've been looking forward to this giant tome arriving for weeks--its just the thing to cheer me up as I languish through the last dregs of the 'flu bug that's kept me in bed all week.  Cough cough...ooh, look at all the seeds!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Thank You, Herman!

Check out what came in the mail the other day--a box full of donated seeds!  There are corn seeds, radishes, lettuce, peas, beans, carrots, salsify (can't wait to try that one...), squash, melons, spinach, tomatoes, peppers and more.  The incredible bounty of possibilities is so beautiful and generous.  I love this program, organized by Seed Savers Exchange.  This is the second year that I've been able to get a box of loveliness, which I share with the folks who plant spaces in the Community Garden as well as with the Hay River Seed Library, which "lends" seeds out to the greater community.  I plan to split up some of the packets so that more people can share in them, and then out they go!  If you're in the area and wanted to see what's available, send me a message (there's a spot on the right sidebar to wing one off to me) and you can check it out.  There's certainly more here than I can grow on my own, so the more gardeners the merrier!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Good Golly, Greens!

Just look at these beauties grow!  I think it is time to have a little salad, don't you?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Long-Distance Seeds

One of the best things I have discovered about the internet age is that you can connect with people, and become friends, simply by sending a few emails and getting to know them virtually.  I think it is pretty amazing to be friends with people all over the world, who I may never meet in person, but get to share similar passions and pass times simply by typing some keys and clicking a mouse. 

I have been having such fun trading seeds--usually it starts with an email or a Facebook post, and then before you know it, a fun little package comes winging your way and lands in your mailbox.  This particular trade involved purple jalepeno peppers and Lower Salmon River squash seeds coming from my friend Kathie of Homespun Seasonal Living, while I sent her some cool Hillbilly tomato and Champion of England pea seeds.  Both of us are delighted with our new additions to the seed stash, but I think I really lucked out with the lovely card and homemade seed packets that were in my envelope!

I've also had luck trading with folks through Heirloom Seed Swap.  I obtained some lovely Earth Tones dent corn and Mandan Bride Indian corn, as well as some lemon balm seeds, all in exchange for seeds I had going spare in my seed stash.  I find through sites like this one, it helps to set up a profile and use a dedicated email account--not that I'm particularly worried about hacking from seed folks, but it always pays to be a little safe when networking with people you don't know at all.  And with anything internet related, it is important to be friendly yet reticent with personal information--some individuals seem to look at the 'net as their own private hunting grounds of a sort, which can be terribly unpleasant.  If you feel uncomfortable with where a conversation is going, or someone suddenly wants you to send them money or provide financial info, just don't do it, okay?  I have yet to have a seed trade go weird, but hey, you never know.  Mostly, I've just found nice folks from all over who really want what I happen to have, and we strike up a friendly deal to swap out seeds.  Everybody winds up happy and gets exciting fun mail in the box, instead of just sales flyers, catalogs, and bills.  And who wouldn't like a change from that??

Of course, seed swapping in person is very nice, but I do love trading seeds far across the miles, too!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Happy Groundhog Day!

I'm not sure if he's going to see his shadow, but I'm certain that we do have about six more weeks of winter.  I'm planning to break open a bottle of Woodchuck Cider and watch Groundhog Day the movie today--it may not bring spring any faster, but it'll make the cold a little more bearable!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

I Spy With My Little Eye...

Little green specks!

After less than a week, the chamomile seeds have begun to sprout.  Here's a closer look:
And even more exciting, check this out:
See that one teeny seedling, slightly right of center?  That's one lavender seedling!  I'm hoping I have quite a few more coming...but I am pretty excited to have successfully gotten lavender seed to germinate.  Yippee!