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Archive for April, 2011

We devoted April to gardening; April is the time to ready for the new growing season here in the frozen north (ish), and it was one for the records. Twenty-five straight days of gloom and/or rain does not make even the cool-friendliest plants feel very friendly.

Gardeners sometimes have blinders on; they see what’s happening in their in their own space, under their own feet, and in that one little hole in the ground. It’s helpful, in our wealthy and diverse society, to put it in perspective. I may have lost my broccoli, but I’ve got a grocery store down the street and four farmers’ markets in walking distance.  I may have had a month without sun, but a tornado did not knock my town off the map, and a fire did not force me into a car with all my livestock, and my well did not go dry (all things that happened to friends here at Not Dabbling, and on My Folia).

I’m looking out my back door right now at grass so green it’s almost a religious experience. I’ll have a garden, and food, and a roof over my head and a loving, whole family. We’re just getting started every day.

***

I don’t know about Xan, but for me, Jennifer, gardening season brings out the frantic in myself. I feel like there’s always something to do and there’s never time to rest. It’s not until all of those little babies are in the ground that I’ve started that I can actually stop to take a breath – and that’s sometime toward the end of May. By that time I’m ready to start picking! I suppose that’s the problem of  growing our own and doing the best we can to be self-sufficient.

In the past I’primroseve felt like a failure because I’ve had crops that didn’t make it in one particular year, or three in a row thanks to late frosts or droughts. I’ve had to make difficult choices like cutting back my rosemary bush so hard that it looks like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, or whether to stay organic or add topsoil to my garden beds just for the quick fix. There are years that no matter how hard you try to make something work that the end result will be for naught. Then there are those seasons that turn out so perfectly and abundant that you can’t find enough people to share with, and yet to put a finger on anything you’ve done differently is impossible.

Gardening is what I do to escape the rest of my obligations and take time out for myself. I actually enjoy the hard work, mentally and physically. And regardless of the sunburns, the sweat, those failed crops, the gorgeous blooms that got eaten by the neighbors :insert critter here:, most gardeners with that same kind of passion will come back to it with open arms.

***

Ah, I have to admit I tend toward the frantic as well over here at Tanglewood. I spend all winter planning and plotting and when spring hits I am so overwhelmed that I run around like a madwoman, never quite getting anything done. I suppose in addition to being a frantic gardener, I am also a gardener is transition.

Over the last few years I have gone through a sort of gardener’s metamorphosis. I began interested in simply growing plants. I planted seeds, grew them, potted plants and sold them (or tried) at the local market. Now I find I have become a true gardener. I not only enjoy growing; I enjoy cultivating and tending, shoveling and weeding and hoeing. 


This month has shown me that I will never have “enough time” and I can learn to accept that. My list of things to do in the gardens will never shrink, and I will always be coming up with just one more thing to do before the sun goes down. Despite being a frantic gardener, I find my ever-growing list of tasks peaceful in some way. I revel in never finishing; finishing wouldn’t be gardening. It would be gardened.

***

What kind of gardener are you?

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Spring is truly in full swing, and I thought it would never arrive. The weather is consistently above freezing, the wild turkeys are doing their hilarious mating rituals in the woods, the thunderstorms have begun to roll in, the orchard is flooded, the horses are antsy… all the signs are there.

Wednesday night we had some intense storms and wind here in Michigan. My friends, who are expecting two foals, were waiting at the ready, making checks regularly on their broodmares as often livestock choose the funkiest weather to give birth in. Unfortunately they didn’t wake to find any little hoof beats; little did I know what would be awaiting me the following morning!

When I woke Thursday morning it was to the frantic baa-ing of our ewe who is not pregnant. She’s a very smart girl and knew something was wrong with her best friend. By the time I got to the barn I could see little toes and a nose, and within a few minutes there was a teensy tiny little lamb at my feet! I know I’m always doing livestock posts, but bear with me.

Oh my gosh! This has been a huge learning experience for me. The little lamb was strong right from the start. I couldn’t believe she was a female – and a spotted badgerface (creamy body color/black legs, head and belly) as well! She’s nursing well ever since she figured out the whole udder location thing – she was convinced mom’s face could feed her!

Now she’s running around the field wreaking havoc on the lives of the older ewes. She’s a little spitfire and her name is Brighid. :) I can’t tell you how happy I am that she’s a ewe – we had decided if we had a ram we would raise him to either sell or for meat, and after our other sheep lost her only lamb as a stillborn a few weeks ago, the thought of raising our only surviving lamb for meat was kind of depressing.

Anyway. I couldn’t help but share her with you, despite the fact that I already posted about her on my separate blog over at A Pinch of Something Nice.

She definitely has her father’s personality and her mother’s stubborn streak. Within hours of birth, she was demanding to play with both her mother and the other ewe. She would run up to them, mini-headbutt them in the face, and run away. Of course by running I mean she would scramble. Her legs are SO long and she definitely doesn’t have the hang of them yet!

Do you have any new additions to your home this spring?

Want to read more from Tanglewood Farm? Check out Emily’s blog over at A Pinch of Something Nice where she writes about her experiences with her gardens, her livestock and her leased historical home in SE Michigan.

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Poultry has become a big part of our life here at Unearthing this Life. When Hubby was young and in the Future Farmers of America and 4-H, he raised a large number of chickens. He even went so far as to grow much of the food for the fifty-ish birds he had.

fluffy butts

Fast forward about twenty years, and we decided to raise chickens again at my prodding. Like many others, I’d gotten tired of the seeming deception of the marketing of eggs. I also wanted the waste for my gardens since our soil is so poor. Also, we have a tremendous tick problem and so I knew having birds would be a boon to many of our “issues”. Hubby was hesitant. His memories of poultry weren’t necessarily positive. He was a ::cough:: rebellious teenager, and being tied down to such a huge responsibility wasn’t what he wanted. The birds stank, they were loud and obnoxious, he had his own opinions of the way things should be done and his parents didn’t listen much. Overall, they were a chore.

Last year I talked him into letting me start with eight chicks. He thought I’d hate them; having to feed and water them multiple times a day, cleaning out pens and coops, the obligation to a bird. I believed it would be an excellent way for our daughter to learn about where food comes from. What neither of us would understand until just recently, is just how much I would fall in love with chickens. Yep. I adore them.

chicken coop

We allowed our girls to free-range around our yard. It’s nice having eight acres, even if half of it is wooded. Our tick issues cleared up quickly, but so did my mulch. My gardens were a mess as well as our porches. The chickens ate all of my potted herbs and then had the gall to take dirt baths in the remainder. Unfortunately that wooded area on the side of the yard was an excellent hiding spot for wild dogs, and our girls started disappearing by twos. By the beginning of March, all eight of our chickens had been killed – even after we’d started keeping them in what we thought was a safe environment.

What?

chickens and whey

I actually cried for my chickens.

Now that spring is here, we’re starting a new family of birds. This year we have eleven chicks, including Barred Plymouth Rock, Rhode Island Red, “Araucanas” (Easter Eggers), Gold-Laced Wyandottes, and Buff Orpingtons. To keep the fluffy butts safe, we’ve hired, er, purchased some Guinea fowl as well. These loud ground birds startle easily and will help to warn the chickens of any oncoming danger. (Guinea fowl babies are called “keets”). Finally, I couldn’t resist a few broad breasted bronze turkey poults which we’ll harvest in 3 more months. We’re doing our best to stay as close to heritage breeds as possible. Any more poultry will come directly off the Slow Food USA, Ark of Taste list and be a heritage breed.

poult

birds

Thanks to my… impulsiveness… we’re working on a new design to house all these birds. First off, turkeys really shouldn’t stay with chickens because they can get an illness called “blackhead”. It’s not pretty, but it can be cured. It’s best to avoid it by keeping them separate though, especially if you’re trying to stay organic. Secondly, because we have so many birds, the coop we built for our eight last year won’t hold them all. Thirdly, guineas and turkeys prefer to roost in trees. Chickens will roost in trees as well, but they are better of protected by a coop or fencing since their natural defenses are weak and they can only sprint for short distances.

spoiled birds

Finally, next year we intend to begin raising our own production birds for meat. Our hopes were for this year, but we had to put it off one more year until we could deal with housing first. The design Hubby’s come up with is great, and I can’t wait to see it in action. It will allow the birds to pasture without being completely free-range and in danger. We’re still in process of building and painting as they’re portable permanent structures. When they’re complete I’ll be sure to share some photos. Our hopes are that the Orpingtons will be broody Mums for the chicks or eggs we get next spring so that we humans will not be emotionally attached to any of the production birds. Only the egg layers will have any kind of relationship with us.

So what does the future hold for us here? Well, a lot of eggs, poultry poop, and very few slugs, ticks and mosquitos. Perhaps even a few ducks and definitely more turkey. Hubby’s even begun to adore the birds and has promised to help take better care of this batch and the Kid wants to be Mommy to be responsible for the Wyandottes this year. It’s funny. I always thought I was a “cat person”. I never imagined I’d be a “poultry person”.

You can find Jennifer at Unearthing this Life blarging about living a modern life in rural Tennessee. There she homeschools, raises birds, keeps bees, gardens, and somehow manages to stay sane.

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The velveteen gardener

Gardening is a complex activity, and easy to out-source at many steps, from design, to installation, to seed starting, to care, to harvest.

Many food growers, myself included until just a few years ago, “outsource” their seed starting, buying nursery starts at various stages of growth (the bigger, the more expensive, but also the more reliable). There are plants, like peppers, onions, leeks, and tomatoes, that you simply can’t start in the ground in a place like Chicago with its late frost date and unreliable late spring freeze danger (well into May). We don’t have a long enough growing season, and small backyards like mine lose the sun to close-in buildings late in the season, shortening it further. Always in the past, I only started the easy plants that will grow anywhere direct from seed– peas and beans and turnips.

So what makes a “real” gardener? Garden walks and competitions often disqualify anyone who has had a professional plan and/or install a garden, except for hardscaping.  Can you be a “real” gardener if you let someone else start your seeds? What if you have someone else take care of it, even if you do the planning and management? Do “real ” gardeners know scientific names and whether a seed needs light to germinate? When I started journaling my garden on line at MyFolia I initially developed quite an inferiority complex because everyone else seemed to be a “real” gardener (my definition, not theirs!), despite the fact that I’d been gardening since most of them were in diapers.

In the last couple of years my day job has gotten smaller and my garden bigger, so that I now have enough time to go the extra mile and seed start indoors. I also can’t afford anymore to buy nursery starts. I guess I’m a “real” gardener now due to time and necessity.

At Folia, where this essay first appeared, the consensus was that a “real” gardener gets his or her hands dirty, so I guess I qualify. But I think like our old friend The Velveteen Rabbit, a gardener becomes real, not through her methods or involvement, but through the love she feels for her plants, and the feedback of friends; through the flowers in her vase, and the food she shares.

Visit my “real” garden at MyFolia.com. Check out some real garden tours (including mine) at MySkinnyGarden’s virtual garden tours.

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There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.

- Rachel Carson (The Sense of Wonder)

On Friday night Mr Chiots and I watched the PBS special A Sense of Wonder about Rachel Carson. It was the perfect Earth Day viewing, I really enjoyed it. I think that the repeated refrains of nature is one of the things I love most about living in an area with distinct seasons. I feel like I appreciate each season all the more because I know they’re temporary. Each season brings with it a different feeling, mood, view and taste. Now that spring is here, we’re enjoying fresh greens, asparagus, morels and all the lovely tastes of the season. We’re enjoying the feeling of spring, the crisp mornings and evenings, the warm afternoons, the dampness in the air, the fresh earthy smells that start to fill the air after a winter devoid of any smell. We’re enjoying the beauty of color in the garden again through the flowering bulbs and trees.



***

Although I’m not a believer, the Easter greeting of my childhood still rings for me on this day. It is how my mother and grandmother always greeted each other on Easter Day.

Christos Anesti” and, in response, “Alithos Anesti”  (Christ is risen, Indeed He is risen)

This little guy was waiting for me this morning

Xan

***

Sorry for the late post. I’ve been desperately scrambling to get stuff done outside before the terrible weather hits this week. Fortunately we were gifted two days of unforecasted sunny weather and I was able to get potatoes and asparagus planted, raised beds filled and raspberry beds prepped for the arrival of our 30 new raspberry bushes.

***

What are you enjoying this spring?

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Earth Day!

Well folks, it’s Earth Day, today.

Hopefully.

You see, I’m setting this up ahead of time to automatically post on Earth Day because we’re trying to use as little electricity as possible today. Ideally I’d like to be spending my Earth Day with my toes in the dirt and my head in the clouds…

Unfortunately if the forecast was correct, I am probably sitting in the house, whining about the rain and either reading a book aloud to Jeremy while he draws or banging my head against the wall.

I don’t really expect to make it all day without electricity, no. We have baby chicks that need their heat lamp for survival, and I probably shouldn’t leave my raw goat’s milk in a silenced refrigerator all day… but it’s a start to just unplug everything for a few hours and to avoid the computer for as much of the day as possible.

In addition to attempting to go without electricity, I’ll be running around between raindrops to plant our new cherry trees. We have two of them to plant: Bing and Black Tartarian. Hopefully the weather will break long enough that I can get them in the ground, and hopefully the temperatures will hold so I don’t have to wrap them up in old sheets to keep them happy at night!

Spring has finally sprung here at Tanglewood Farm. The pussy willows are covered in their dramatic yellow pollen. The squill are nodding in the breeze. The gooseberries are getting their itty bitty adorable leaves.

It’s exciting to see all of my perennials yawning back into life – especially the perennial fruits and veggies that I always forget about! The current and blueberry bushes seem to have doubled since last year and the raspberries are thick and strong. We still don’t have any asparagus emerging from their wintery beds, but there are onions and garlic just starting to peak above the soil – some where they planted, and others in mysterious new locations (thank you squirrels!)

One of my favorite things about spring is the emergence of new grass for the livestock. Our sheep got to go out on their grass pasture for the first time yesterday and in order to acclimate them to such lush greens I only allowed it for an hour or so. After luring the ewes back into the barnyard, Gertrude was SO upset that she could no longer get to the grass that she stomped around the whole yard, all four feet at once… *Plomp plomp plomp* she stomped on the ground like she was making a statement. When I laughed at her antics, she stopped, stared at me, and then proceeded to do a sheep cartwheel… I kid you not. She lept into the air, her hind legs over her head, and flipped sideways like a gymnast. I’ve never seen anything like it, nor do I expect I ever will again.

How are you celebrating the Earth today?

Want to read more from Tanglewood Farm? Check out Emily’s blog over at A Pinch of Something Nice where she writes about her experiences with her gardens, her livestock and her leased historical home in SE Michigan.

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I get asked this question a lot, but I find answering it would pigeon-hole me – almost brand me.

Organic Formal Sustainable Straw-Bale Orchid Greenhouse Conventional Succulent Mulch Forager Guerrilla Potager Traditional Medicinal Rock Cactus Citrus Hydroponic Grass Compost Farmer Shrubbery Mushroom Orchard Ornamental Herbaceous Native Community Container Roof-Top Indoor Drought-Tolerant Vineyard Landscape Allotment Moss Urban Terrarium Houseplant Master Bonsai Hobbyist Bulb Earthworm Lunar Aquatic Arborist Companion Berry Heirloom Seed-Starter Edibles 


Strawberry Hat
moss
echinacea
grape
columbine
peach blossom
pea tendril

I’m not one to be branded.

You can also find Jennifer blarging away at Unearthing this Life where she attempts to keep up with the realities of a big world in a small, rural town.

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Here at Chiot’s Run we started growing more edible food only 4 years ago. We started with one raised bed that was 4×10 ft. We had a bountiful harvest of beets, lettuce and broccoli our first year and we were hooked. As we’ve expanded our gardens we’ve been trying to grow more and more of what we eat. I love the seasonality that growing your own provides, vegetables and fruits can be enjoyed at the height of their season. During the spring we gorge ourselves on tender asparagus, none of it goes in the freezer as I want to enjoy it in it’s prime, not as a shadow of itself in mid-December. The same goes for green beans, I plant a small amount for us to enjoy during the summer months, but I don’t can or freeze any since it’s not nearly as good this way.

The more we garden the more we try to live seasonally instead of growing 5-6 crops and preserving them. One of the joys of growing your own is that you don’t have to limit yourself to what everyone else is growing. You can grow new and interesting things. You can also save a lot of time and money by focusing on eating seasonally and growing foods that preserve themselves naturally without any extra effort from you. Things like pumpkins, squash, cabbage, dry beans, potatoes and onions. I look that these things as staple crops that we can count on while filling in the gaps with other fresh crops, like lettuce, beans, broccoli and peas. Of course there are those things we’ll always preserve because we enjoy them, like tomatoes and peppers. But the longer we garden the more we try to live within the bounty of the seasons.

There are a few staples however that we eat almost all year long and are trying to figure out how to provide for those needs from our garden. Sometimes this means thinking outside of the box. I started growing onions a few years ago and my harvests are always meager because of our lean soil. As I’ve been improving our soil the onions have been coming around, growing to a more normal size. I don’t know if we’ll ever grow all the bulb onions we’ll need, but I’m learning to supplement our bulb onion harvest with other varieties of onions. I have some Egyptian Walking Onions that are producing lovely green onions for harvest right now. It’s perfect timing because there are no bulb onions left in the pantry. I also have a nice row of leeks that I overwintered in my mom’s garden that will be ready to harvest soon. If I have started my leek seeds early in the summer last year I would have been able to harvest leeks all winter long to supplement the main onion crop.

I also have bunching onions that I planted last fall that will be ready to harvest soon. These will also play an important role in supplementing my main onion crop as well. I’m also growing shallots for the first time as well. My potato onions are harvested before the main crop of bulb onions and help fill in the gap between the using the last bulb onions and this year’s harvest. Since they don’t store well they’re perfect for this. We eat them up while waiting for the main onion crop. I’m working on developing a plan for fulfilling my onion needs from my garden. This not only will help me grow more of what we eat, but it helps me maximize my small garden space by growing smaller crops throughout all the seasons rather than one large crop during the summer. My onion plan will go something like this:

I encourage you to think outside the normal growing/preserving box. Learn to love fruits and vegetables at their height of flavor during their season. This may mean eating things you don’t especially love at the moment, but trust me. The more you eat braised kale the more you’re going to love and appreciate this hardy winter green during those long cold winter months. It’s definitely tastier and fresher than a quart of green beans from the basement pantry!

Not only is eating seasonally going to save you some time and effort on the preserving front, but it is much healthier as well. I’m a big believer in eating locally and seasonally because these vegetables provide you with the nourishment you need at that particular time. Thick winter soups filled with healthy bone broth good saturated fat helps keep us warm and healthy during the long dark days of winter. Spring dandelions help detox the liver after a that long winter indulging in bread and more fatty foods.

What crop does your family consume that you’d like to grow more of in your garden? Are you learning to love the seasonality of growing your own?

I can also be found at Chiot’s Run where I blog daily about gardening, cooking, local eating, maple sugaring, and all kinds of stuff. You can also find me at Ethel Gloves, Simple, Green, Frugal, Co-op, and you can follow me on Twitter.

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My mother grew up in the Greek Orthodox tradition. She threw out all the religious stuff, but happily kept the food. My daughter and I make these together every Easter, just as I did with my mother, and she with hers.

Greek Easter Twists
(Koulourakia)

1/3 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup milk
4 cups cake flour
2 tsp. baking powder

Cream sugar, butter and vanilla thoroughly. Add 1 egg at a time, beating well after each addition. Add milk and flour alternatiely, beating vigorously until well blended. I like using cake flour rather than all-purpose flour for these cookies; it makes a nicer texture when done. You may need to work the dough with your hands at the end as it will be quite dense and springy.

Break the dough off in small portions, rolling it on a cutting board until you have a roll about the width of your finger and 6-8″ long. Form into traditional shape- a circle with the ends pressed together, or a twisted “braid.” Beat an egg and coat each cookie (I use my fingers rather than a pastry brush). Bake them plain, or sprinkle with sesame seeds first.

Bake on a greased cookie sheet at 400F/200C for 20 minutes, rotating the tray once to ensure even cooking. Makes about 28 cookies.

What are your Easter/Passover/Equinox food traditions? Share them here or on the Not Dabbling Facebook page.

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Carrot Cake Oatmeal

carrots and oats

I’ve recently become “addicted” to an easy and very healthy breakfast perfect for all of those carrots we’ve seen winter over. This is such a healthy and fulfilling – and filling! – meal that I’m satisfied for hours. It has lots of complex carbs, protein, omega-3s, lovely vitamins A, B1, B6, C, E, manganese, folate, zinc, potassium, calcium, iron,  and lots of fiber.

Don’t let the name fool you though. This is in no way a sickeningly sweet breakfast. Just a touch of syrup is all it takes to brighten up this dish. Sorry, cream cheese frosting not included!

  • 1/3 cup steel cut oats
  • 1 cup water (with 1 tsp whey*)
  • dash salt
  • 1/4 cup carrot shredded, finely
  • 2 Tbsp raisins
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 Tbsp walnuts, chopped
  • 1/4 cup whole milk or cream (less if you like it thicker)

*The night before, soak your oats  and carrot in water and 1 tsp whey. This will cut down in cooking time and help make the oats and their nutrients more digestible. If you forget to do this step, add 20 minutes to your cooking time and wait to add your carrot until half the cooking time is complete.

  1. Add oats, carrot, salt and water to saucepot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover for 10 minutes.
  2. Stir in milk, raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg and walnuts.
  3. Serve in bowl and top with maple syrup.

You can also find Jennifer at Unearthing this Life blarging about raising poultry, family, and working on her one-day farmette.

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