Thursday, July 31, 2014

Even the Porch has Purpose.

In my ongoing quest to get this joint a little less horribly disorganized, I spent yesterday cleaning the porch.

All Day.  Really.  It was pretty bad out there.

But now, it's so much better!  Whee!

This is the start of my summer kitchen corner--the vintage stove is in place!

This empty space will soon have a free-to-me fridge for ferments and seeds.

New improved canning storage, with all kinds of necessary gear.

Ernest Hemingway is soooo impressed.
Finally, a place for seed storage containers & all my egg cartons!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Pretty Pantry

It took two days, but my pantry is once again an orderly place.  Through the course of the year, it had gotten a little out of control. Dry goods here, there and everywhere.  Dried food mixed with canned food, jelly and jam as far as the eye could see.

Mayhem.  Sheer mayhem.

After purging a million-and-a-half jars of really, really old jam, jelly and pickles (only slightly exaggerating here, actually) it was time to figure out some way to better order the remaining jars and boxes. Thank goodness for labels and sharpie markers!

Soups, beans, chutneys, salsa and meats
Canning rings & lids, canned veg and dried fruits.
Flours, sugar, assorted dry goods.
Jam, condiments, pickles and beets!
After all this organization, it's obvious that I need lots more salsa, canned meats, beets, and pickles.  I think I'm good on honey for a while, and I really need to eat more soup.  I've already restocked my canned beans--black, Calypso, and garbanzo--and I really should make some more of my favorite tomato-basil sauce.  That stuff is seriously good...

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hot Weather & Bread

Oh, summer heat, how the garden loves you.

But oh, how you put a cramp in this baker's style.

Baking bread on an 80+ degree day is not something I enjoy, but man, do I enjoy baking bread.  What is a girl to do?

I suppose I could go buy bread, but that is never as good as the stuff I can bake up on my own.  Lucky for me, there's all kinds of information on the internet about using your crockpot as a bread baker.  Yes, the crockpot once again saves the day.  Yeehaw!  (Just FYI, I found a great resource here)

Now, I don't have room in my fridge for a bucket of dough, so I decided to bake up my favorite bread recipe and try that instead.  The picture above was taken just after plopping the round loaf into the preheated crockpot.  After a bit, it expanded and puffed and actually looked like a loaf of bread! I was so excited...and unfortunately, could not stop lifting the lid to poke at it.  Bad baker.  So, my final after-the-broiler loaf is somewhat deflated, but smells right and the texture is pretty dang good.  (I was too embarrassed by the after picture to share it.  Trust me, it looks like...squashed bread.)

Moral of the story: this technique does indeed work and does save you from having the hot oven on for a long time.  Sure, the broiler heats the joint a little, but far less than having a 400 degree oven on for 40 minutes would.  And, my favorite bread recipe did work, so huzzah!  The recipe, by the way, follows below...

Maple Oatmeal Bread from Harrowsmith's 'Country Cooking' cookbook

You'll need 1/4 cup butter, 1 1/2 cups rolled oats, 1/2 cup maple syrup, 2 tsp. kosher salt, 2 cups boiling water, 3 Tbsp. yeast, 3 Tbsp. brown sugar, 1/2 cup warm water, 6 cups of flour (I used half spelt and half AP)

Combine butter, oats, maple syrup, salt in a large bowl.  Pour boiling water over and stir.  In a small bowl, combine yeast, brown sugar, and warm water.  Stir, and then put the small bowl into the middle of the large bowl--it keeps the yeast warm, and if it foams over, no worries.

After the oat mixture cools to warm, pour the yeast into the oats and stir to combine.  Add the flour 2 cups at a time, beating well to combine after each addition.  Then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead about five minutes until springy and soft.  Plop into a greased bowl and allow to rise for about an hour, or until doubled.  Then, punch down dough and knead lightly.  Divided into two equal halves, shape into loaves or put into greased loaf pans.  Allow bread to rise for another half hour, and then bake in a preheated 400 degree oven (or, crockpot on high) for thirty to 45 minutes (or about an hour in the crockpot).  Makes two luscious loaves, great as toast or decadent french toast, but also good as a slightly sweet hearty sandwich bread.

Monday, July 28, 2014

New Shed

The directions said "This kit will take 2 people 2 hours to complete."

Liars.  It took most of a Saturday--but it did only take two intrepid women to complete (and we improved upon the directions, too.)  For all the fun of putting together a giant shed-in-a-box, it's great to have a new storage space.  It can hold all kinds of stuff: holiday decorations, garden stuff, chicken gear.
I opted to put a couple old pallets on the ground, and top them with some chipboard plywood on top, to make a floor.  I had a few spare plastic shelving units, so those are on the right side with smaller bits and bobs on them.  And, now all my outdoor rakes and hoes and such are in one spot, out of the rain.  All this organization has inspired me to tackle the porch!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Good Books

Of the various community-minded projects I've decided to do, one of my most favorite is the Little Free Library.  Perched on a post in front of the house, it's cheerfully painted and tin-roofed.  It also holds a ton of books.  Really good books, by the way.  There's stuff on gardening, on goats, on greenhouse building.  There's classic food preservation manuals, memoirs in the farming-country-living genre, and treatises on self-sufficiency.  There's an impressive array of chicken manuals, and a handful of DVDs about food production, living simply, and seeds.  I may just have the greatest collection of classic 1970s Storey Living Guides this side of the Hay River.

And, it's all available for free.  That's the best part, really.  No library card needed, no late fees, no dues.  Just come, pick out a book or two, and take them home to enjoy.  Return them when you're done with them, whether that's two weeks or two years.  Come during the day or after dark, week day or weekend, and you'll find the Little Free Library is open and available to you.

I don't always see folks come by, but I know they do.  Books disappear, return, and occasionally, a new one gets dropped off.  Right now, I'm relishing the Book of Gardener Quotations.  Oh, and I snagged the copy of Stocking Up!, to see how it compares to my more current preservation manuals. (As steward, I do treat the LFL as an extension of my own bookshelves...but I don't think anyone would mind.)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Miracle of Broth

I've been cleaning out the freezers to make room for this year's harvest to squeeze in there.  It's amazing what you can find--pesto from 2011, peas from 2009.  Far too old to eat now, but they make fine compost additions.  Aside from vegetables, frozen and forgotten, I unearthed several remains of former roast chickens.  I save the bones (in the freezer) to later combine with odds and ends of vegetables and make decadent homemade broth.  Of course, when you cram multiple carcasses in there, sometimes you lose track of a few...

Anyway...I dug out the three most recent (and tossed the older five), popped them in a giant pot with onion, garlic, and the odd frond of herbage, let them simmer away, and I was left with this: four quarts of lovely homemade stock.  I followed the directions in my canning book and after cooking them under 11 pounds of pressure for 25 minutes, I have stock that can hang out on my pantry shelf until called into action.

That reminds me, I really need to reorganize the pantry shelves. I sense another project?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Bringing in the Hay

Its been a lush summer, with plenty of rain which has been making the fields grow and grow and grow.  Unfortunately for us, it's been so wet and cool that its been hard to cut the fields, let alone have the hay dry and be ready for baling.  I think if you can serve up silage, you're jumping for joy.  But those of us with flocks and herds that need hay are having a teensy bit more of a struggle. 

Lucky for me, I have a great hay connection with a local dairy farmer, who has actually been able to bale up quite a lot hay in the past week (when it finally stopped raining for a while).  I was able to pick up six fresh and lovely, fragrant bales plus two bales of straw (for chicken bedding) a couple days ago.  The Hay Hut is now restocked, much to the delight of the rabbits.  My only wish would be that our dry spell will continue, so more hay can be gathered up...and perhaps bring the price per bale down a little bit.  $5 per bale is a bit much for any budget, so it would be nice if the market would swing a bit lower as the season progresses.  Not that I begrudge the farmers an income, its just when you buy six bales and spend $30, you start to commiserate with people who have larger herds of even bigger hay eaters!  Thank goodness the rabbits don't run through their stash in a week.

I am really glad, though, that there is hay this year.  I can remember last season (or two) when rain was scarcer than hen's teeth and there was no hay.  Man, that was a whole different kind of worry.  Its nice to not have that particular one this season.  The rabbits are quite happy with their current stash.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

On Soil

"A real gardener is not a man who cultivates flowers; he is a man who cultivates the soil...If he came into the Garden of Eden he would sniff excitedly and say: 'Good Lord, what humus!'

It's a constant cycle of rebuilding the soil in the garden.  Each season, the plants work their roots into the deep rich blackness and draw out the nutrients they need.  If I don't work in more compost, eventually the garden would lose its vigor.  Lucky for me, I have a constant supply of things to add to the compost heap.  Between rabbit poo, spent hay, and cuttings/weeding from the garden, its a great source of nutrition for the garden soil.  All I need to do is pile things up, stir it around occasionally, and wait.  After about a year, I'm left with a smaller pile of very rich, delightful compost that gets worked into the garden soil.  Then its back to the cycle of growing, harvesting, and returning back to the compost heap to start all over again.

I've found some really great resources on the internet for composting, as well as the classic Rodale Book of Composting (which I think of as the Compost Bible).  I highly recommend adding this particular book to your resource library.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Garden Produces

The weather has decided to warm up a little and behave like summertime, and the garden has responded by growing giant leaves, reaching for the sky, and starting to crank out the harvest.  Already this week, I've picked swiss chard (variety Five Color Silverbeet), tronchuda kale, teeny radishes, fistfuls of lettuce, red and black raspberries, and assorted herbs. 

It's only Wednesday.

I'm hoping to pick my first harvest of Champion of England peas before the end of the week.  The vines have stretched to six feet long and they are laden with pods.  Now those pods just need to fatten up, and I will be slathered in teeny,delicious fat green fresh peas.  Is there anything better than a freshly picked pea? Well, there likely is, but I've been waiting a loooooooong time for this one!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Weekend Fun--Seed Geeks R Us

So, how was everyone's weekend?  Good, good, so glad to hear it.

Mine?  Oh you know...

I went to Seed Savers Exchange!!  Wheeee!!

Because of my rampant seed-geekery and enthusiasm for community seed projects, I was asked to attend the 34th Annual Campout and Conference, and talk on a panel about the seed swap, seed library and community garden projects I steward/coordinate.  Since being able to attend the event was included in the invite, I jumped at the chance.  Seed Geeks Unite!

Who says you can't glamp in a tent?
I got to attend sessions on the importance of "memory banking" (recording seed stories), homemade threshing devices, long-term seed storage tips, the gardens of Monticello, and how to save seed from biennials (such as alliums, beets, and carrots).  In between classes, I met dozens of wonderful, fellow seed/gardening afficionados, shared gardening war stories, and had some great food (as well as shopped the store on site for new seeds and such fine things as leapt into my shopping bag.)

I think our panel was well received: my lovely friend Raine spoke about the work she does with the Ojibwe peoples across five reservations here in northwestern Wisconsin, and a librarian from the Decorah Public Library spoke about the seed library project now in its second year.  I was my usual, very enthusiastic self--mainly, I wanted people to leave with the idea that even if they start small and don't think it will grow, their seed project may just launch into a really wonderful addition to their communities.  I mean, heck.  Everything I help coordinate started with ten people sitting around my kitchen table, eating soup and trading seeds on a winter's afternoon!  Now, there's a big seed swap every year, an annual plant swap, a fledgling seed library and a community garden going on.  I had NO idea that would happen when I had some folks over for lunch six years you never know, right?  Plus, you might get invited to really cool national seed-saving conferences, get to camp out under the stars, and meet dozens of new friends from all over the place.  If THAT isn't motivation to give a community seed project a try, I don't know WHAT is.

I also got to tour lovely gardens:

Sigh...such a wonderful time! 

Now, back to life on the Farmlette.  First order of business, wander the gardens, run the hoe around, and figure out what can be tackled on a rather warm day.  Second order of business, sow a few seeds for fall plantings of spinach, carrots, lettuce, and (possibly) beans.  Then, a nap.  It was a long, full weekend, after all.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Gardening, Aussie Style

Crossing the world from my usual garden programming searches, I've found a new show based in Australia.  So far, I kind of like it--although, I've got to get used to the shift in accents.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Summer Gardens

Summer is moving along, and the garden is doing beautifully.  Every day, there are new things to harvest, weeds to pull, and thirsty plants to water.
The pole beans scramble higher, and the squash plants spread new vines along the ground.  With all the wet, cool days, my sweet potatoes are growing slowly--but they are growing.
The potato barrels are growing like mad, ready to flower at any moment. I can hardly wait to dig out a handful of new potatoes, tender and delicious.
The tomatoes are setting fruit.  Eventually, I should get loads of delicious Orange Banana, Pink Brandywine, and Principe Borghese. 
Even the sunchokes are growing to the skies.  It's hard to see in this picture, but the garlic has started to dry back--that's a good thing, as I could use more for my dwindling stores.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

View of a Meadow

My cheery pollinator meadow is doing beautifully.  Not only is the foliage glorious, and the flowers beautiful, but the little bees, butterflies and moths have been frolicking in it daily.
Cosmos, my favorite cottage flower.

Daily, more calendula open their happy faces to the sun.

There are poppies everywhere, golden, red and this beautiful, sweet pink.

Calendula and bachelor buttons, a lovely combination.

Scarlet Runner beans--food for hummingbirds, and shade for the bunnies!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


While I wait on more veg to grow in the garden, I've been having a nice wander about and harvesting herbs.  I've got bunches of catnip, ginger mint, lemon balm, lemon verbena, and dill drying in the doorway--it's perfect for herbs that can hang and dry.  I've also had luck with the calendula this year.  Between the front flower strip and the back meadow, I've been quite happy with these cheery little flowers.  And of course, the chamomile is doing well.  Chamomile always does well. 

In a few more weeks, I'll be able to harvest these, as well:

Sunday, July 13, 2014

If you do nothing else this weekend...

Go to the Fork and Good site and make. this. cake.
yeah, it's that good.  go to the site, and bake.
Happy Sunday, everyone!

Saturday, July 12, 2014


Yesterday, I was driving down the road after running into town to fetch supplies to make a host of delicious things (Victoria Sauce, Banoffee Cake, and Cherry Chutney...oh my, yes).  I was pondering nothing much at all, vaguely thinking about some summer projects, when it hit me: you know, I don't really need the big Car Hut any more.  What I really need, is something smaller, like this:
Of course, this means I get to purge more crap I don't need (yay, purging!) and rehome the frame of the old Car Hut.  So this morning, I'm headed outside to excavate all the crap, park it on the curb with a big "FREE" sign, and sort through what I want to keep.  I've got a new shed-in-a-box ordered, which was ON SALE (wheeee!!!) for under $140, and someone has already claimed the old Car Hut.  It only took three minutes to find it a new home, yippee.  And, they know that they need to come and disassemble it and cart it away.  I figure that's only fair, as it is Free to a Good Home.  It would make an excellent hoop house, I think...for someone else!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Project Planning

Yes, summer is in full swing...and here I am, planning my knitting projects for fall and winter gifting.  So far, I've started working on this:
photo from
This is a long-time promised project for my young friend who is obsessed with Harry Potter and the world of Hogwarts.  Apparently, the plan is to be Hermione or someone for Halloween, and since I had oodles of gray yarn from a project I opted not to do, it seemed like the thing to do was to get this sweater done, blocked, and gifted to the girl in question before throwing anything else onto the needles.  (You can check out the pattern here.)

I've ordered in yarn to make two lovely, luscious things for myself:

This shawl by Stephen West, called the Boneyard Shawl--which I'm going to knit up in a delicious silk-merino blend in a rich purple shade called Blackberry:
photo by westknits on

And, this hood in a similar deep rich red-burgundy.  Lord, how I love this pattern, called Through the Woods (one of several in a delightful ebook of pretty patterns):
photo by Kalurah on
Aside from those, there's a handful of other things I am contemplating knitting up.  A lovely and simple christening gown for a dear friend, a pair of Ood face masks for Dr. Whovian brothers, a pair of thick, warm socks for my mom's traditional holiday gift, more industrial strength mittens for winter chores, a host of neckwarmers and fingerless gloves, always good to wear or to gift.  Its a good thing there's plenty of time stretching ahead until these items will be needed, as I always have a long list of things I plan to throw onto the needles.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Salad Days

My garden has reached the epitome of salad delights.  While the tomatoes are just starting to set fruits, I can still manage a harvest of tender greens, fresh herbs, and edible flowers. 

Yesterday's lunch (pictured above) featured a salad of buttercrunch lettuce, lemon and large leaf basil, tender pea shoots, nasturtium flowers and leaves, viola blossoms, and calendula petals.  Combined with some herbed feta crumbles and local greenhouse tomatoes, with a quickly whisked up vinaigrette of white balsamic vinegar and olive oil, it was simple, fresh and delicious.  Add a side of toast and a cool, bubbly glass of homemade strawberry lime shrub, and you've got yourself a fantastic lunch.

When hot weather arrives, typically the lettuce will become bitter, the flowers will shrivel, and the herbs will grow like mad into a more mature leaf.  Until that happens, I'm going to savor every bite of the seasonal delights from my backyard.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Settling In

I've been on summer break for two weeks now, and slowly we're settling into a routine around here.  On a typical day, here's what happens:

7:30 AM: Wake up, release the hounds, start the coffee.
8:30 AM: Wander out to water the rabbits and chickens.  While filling the water jugs from the hose, squish whatever potato bug larvae that is visible on the potato plants.
9:00 AM: Decide which garden needs to be weeded today, and head out with gloves, hoe and gardening hat.
12:00 PM: Noon whistle blows, meaning it is time for a break. Lunch and a shower are in order.
1:30 PM: Contemplate afternoon nap, post-lunch.  It's too hot to go outside and work, anyway.
3:00 PM: Wake up from afternoon nap.  Wander downstairs, check the Facebook feed, contemplate dinner.
4:00 PM: While dinner starts its thing inside, wander outside to poke at whichever garden is shady.  Pick salad, or better yet, fresh raspberries.  Somehow, the raspberries don't usually make it back inside...
6:00 PM: Evening gardening commences.  While the dogs frolic in the yard, I haul watering cans full of water around and give anything needy a good drink.  Sometimes a little heavy digging is involved, resulting in Shower #2 of the day.
8:30 PM: Knitting and binge-Netflix watching time.  Currently, I'm addicted to Haven.  Somehow, Stephen King just speaks of summer entertainment to me.
10:00 PM: The dogs rise from their snoring positions and poke me, indicating they want out and then for me to go to bed.  Up the stairs we climb, bedtime biscuits are distributed, and everyone is snoring (including the cat) by 11 PM.

That's about it.  Thursdays are the day where I run errands in town, simply because that's the day of the Farmers Market and if I'm going there, I might as well schedule things like the dentist or the eye doctor, and do whatever in-town shopping needs to be done.  Weekends, I may connect up with friends and go on adventures.  I'm hoping for a trip into the Big City to visit a botanical garden or two this summer, or maybe just a good hang-out session on someone else's porch.  I love my summers to be lazy and long and full of days that drift into one another, with nothing much to do but garden and nap and eat fruit while wandering about.