I haven’t posted in almost a year. It has been a rough year for planting. Last winter, on the 24th day of January, I started onion starts, lettuces, artichokes, and kohlrabi. On the first day of February, I started about 50 tomato plants. On February 16, I started about 50 more. Early February I also started peppers and a few flowers. By February 23, 2004, I had planted radishes and snap peas outside in the garden because it was so nice and warm so early last year. Everything thrived and grew beautifully, with only a few minor setbacks. I had started my tomatoes a bit early for our area, southwestern Idaho, so I could do an experiment with trench planting my tomatoes.
Then we put our house on the market. I planted my garden anyway. I planted at the church. I gave some of the plants to my friends and family. Then we sold our house. And moved. And I lost my entire garden. I have no idea how the second year with the bark mulch (a.k.a. Back to Eden method) worked amended with chicken compost. I have no idea how the tomatoes did trench planted. I know that the tomato plants I gave to friends did fairly well. But I don’t know which of the new varieties were the best, or how they grew. I feel like I lost a year of knowledge. More, really, because I was in the middle of multiple year long experiments and will have to start those from scratch. But the good news is that I am getting settled in my new (colder) climate. This year, I will begin learning all over. I will try to share what I learn here and we can learn together. I have been reading up on Permaculture and SPIN farming (among other things) and will be sharing that information soon.
That being said, if you live in southwestern Idaho, now is the time to get cracking. If you want big, beautiful peppers by the time you are ready to plant them out, I would start your pepper starts as soon as possible (By the way for colder planting zones you either want to start more cold tolerant varieties like King of the North pepper or any of the small peppers – most bell peppers don’t grow as well in colder zones as the smaller sweet or spicy ones).
Also start your onions (if you haven’t already) and cold things you want to get a jump on – lettuces, artichokes, cabbages, broccoli, etc. The tomatoes can be started now if you want to trench plant them, or you can wait and start them more mid to late March, depending on how early you want to plant them out. Last frost date for the Boise/Meridian area is May 10 according to the Farmer’s almanac. I like to give my plants a pretty decent head start, and I also plant them out early because I use walls-of-water around them to protect them from late frosts. So I would probably start my tomatoes mid March. Trench planting might be something I will try again another time, but for regular planting, mid to late March is a good time to get things going.
In my new planting zone (4b-5a depending on the exact location in the valley), the planting season starts a bit later, but not too much, so I need to get busy here too. Although I am pretty sure looking out and seeing the snow still more than a foot deep in places, that I won’t be out there planting radishes and snap peas next weekend. Happy planting! If you have questions, feel free to leave a comment and I will try to address them asap. Thanks!
Last year I tried a new-to-me method for my tomato starts. Unfortunately, I moved and didn’t get so see the results of my experiment. This method has been recommended for either those who want to grow really strong tomato plants or those who end up with very leggy tomato starts. It is a method that utilizes an interesting feature of tomato plants. If you have a tomato plant and look closely at the stem you will see small, little bumps all along the length of the stem. If those bumps come in contact with the dirt, the tomato plant will send out a new root from each of the little bumps. Perhaps you have heard the phrase that you should “plant tomatoes up to their armpits” – meaning to plant them deep. The trench method goes a step beyond that to plant tomatoes in a trench, rather than just deep. Thus the name.
Start your tomato starts as normal, maybe a bit early to make sure the stems grow nice and long. You want to make sure that your plants have a decent length on the stem, which is why leggy plants work so well for this. When it is just a few days from planting time, take all of the lower leaves off the stem. Make sure and leave plenty of leaves near the top. Then take your tomato plants out to start hardening them off as you normally would but instead of setting them out upright, lay the whole planting cup on its side, so that the tomato is laying down on the ground. After a couple of days of being partially outside lying on their sides, the tomato will naturally turn and start growing up toward the sun. This is what you want. A long sideways stem, with a bit of tomato turning upward and growing up. When they are hardened off, you dig your trench. Not too deep (4 or so inches deep) that is as long as the main stem branching out away from where you want your plant to come out of the ground and you bury the whole stem in the trench (with your compost and epsom salts!) and just leave the bit of the tomato that had turned sticking up out of the soil.
The one thing to remember about trench planting is that you need to mark where your trench is so that later in the season when you start weeding you don’t accidentally sever your tomato’s strong root system with your hoe! Happy planting! If you happen to try this method, I would love to hear how it worked for you!
Well, free as long as you are a milk drinker. Or if you know people who are willing to give you some of their recyclables. All you need is a clean, empty milk jug, a pair of sharp scissors, and a black Sharpie.
After my close call with dampening off I wanted to get away from using any materials in my seed starting cells that would rot in the damp conditions seeds need to germinate. I came across the idea from an article I saw on making plant markers from empty yogurt containers. I tried the yogurt thing and all of the markers were curved and weird and it just didn’t work for me. So I thought of using the milk jugs instead because we go through a ton of milk around here with 4 kiddos and it worked perfectly.
First you want to cut out all of the areas on your milk jug that are mostly flat. It will then look something like this.
Then simply cut each flat section into as many little plant markers as you can. I cut mine into strips 3 and 1/2 inches long and a little over 1 and 1/2 inch wide. Then I tapered the end that would go into the planting pot. This is what they looked like when finished.
I swished these babies around in a 1:10 part bleach and water solution, just like I do with my planters to make sure and kill any bacteria that may have been remaining on them. Then I wrote on them with a black permanent marker to label my plants and they have been great. Much better than the wooden popsicle sticks, as they can’t rot in the damp potting mix while I wait for the seeds to germinate. Plus, you can’t beat free!
Here is a shot of my seed trays with the plastic markers, after I took out the rotting wooden ones. Sorry the pic is a tad fuzzy, but you can still see that they are so much better! This was actually done about a month ago and they still look just as good. They moved right along with the plants when I transplanted them into bigger “homes” just recently and now are the labels in large solo cups. I will post the pics of the plant craziness at my house very soon.
Happy planting! And a super happy St. Patrick’s Day!!! Gotta love a green holiday, eh?
Yeah, I told you I would keep you posted. I totally didn’t eat the over-wintered beets. I was worried that something might be wrong with them. I probably should have. I’ll bet they were fine. So, sorry about that. I will stick to trying to eat all the beets in the season in which they were grown for now. Or taking them to the local food bank.
On another note, I did venture out to the community church garden where we had over-wintered some carrots (planted in the fall, covered, and harvested the next spring) and I pulled one up. I did eat that and it was really good. Super sweet. And just as crispy as if I had grabbed it out of the ground in August. It did have a few extra of those little hairy things that carrots get, little tiny roots I guess, but they peeled right off. So over-wintered carrots are a yes. Over-wintered beets? Still no idea.
Ok. I planted my tomato and pepper starts. Done. They look so awesome all lined up in a row. I am trying them in the small growing cells this year. But I am planning on transplanting as they get bigger and outgrow their little cells.
Everything was looking good. I went to put them under the grow light and guess what I saw? On the tray I planted last week, there were two cells with a tiny bit of white, fuzzy…mold. Ewwww. Dampening off is one of the most frustrating things that you can deal with when starting new seeds. In fact, this plant disease prevented me from starting seeds on my own for YEARS. It seemed like every time I tried, they would grow and grow and then just up and die on me. I told you that I wasn’t very good at growing things indoors. I am honestly completely challenged at it. However, the last couple of years, I have found success using a very cheap and easy solution. Hydrogen peroxide.
So I pricked the teeny tiny bits of mold out of the two affected cells and then busted out my bottle of hydrogen peroxide and a bottle of bottled water. I drank about half of the water (because it’s good for me and I didn’t want to just dump it out) and then added a bit of hydrogen peroxide to the remaining bottled water (I didn’t measure – just dumped some in. I have heard ratios to mix the peroxide with the water from just using straight peroxide (which I don’t recommend as I think that would be way overkill) – to a 10:1 ratio water/peroxide – to 1 – 1 1/2 tsp. per cup of water – use whatever you think best) and popped the cap back on. Then I took a safety pin and poked about a dozen tiny holes in the top of the cap. I gave it a quick swirl and then watered all of my cells with the peroxide and water mix. The peroxide should kill any bacteria and since my seedlings haven’t been affected yet, I think they will be fine. I will try and keep you posted. I think I will also sprinkle some cinnamon on the soil surface just to be on the safe side. Cinnamon is a natural anti-fungal/anti-bacterial agent. Plus it smells nice, which is always a bonus. Another thing to remember is to water your seedlings from below once the seedlings emerge if possible. That also reduces the risk of dampening off.
It is always good, to remember if you are starting seeds using planting supplies from last year to give them a good washing – either a trip through the dishwasher or with a diluted bleach water solution to prevent bacteria from forming. (I did this – and yet still, the mold came anyway. Go figure.) So it is good to know some techniques to keep your seedlings alive.
A couple of more ideas that I have heard of but not yet tried myself…
1. Chamomile tea – also an anti-fungal/anti-bacterial. You can just brew the tea straight in your sprayer. Warm water and a tea bag. Mist your plants and the soil with the tea mixture.
2. Thyme – another anti-fungal, anti-bacterial. Use dry thyme and brew it like tea. Strain and use on the plants/soil.
3. Sprinkle a dusting of sand on top of the potting soil – dries out quickly and reduces moisture on the surface which is a major cause of plant diseases.
4. Sprinkle sphagnum peat moss on the top of your potting soil. Also an anti-fungal/anti-bacterial.
So, there are a few thoughts on saving our seeds from the dreaded “dampening off.” If you have any other methods on preventing this problem and want to share – please do. I am always curious to find out what works for others. Happy gardening peeps.
If you want to grow anything unusual or unique this year, it is definitely time to get your seeds ordered, (if you haven’t already.) I got my seeds in the mail last week. The seed companies I worked with this year (Botanical Interests and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds) were awesome and got my stuff to me super fast. These have been two of my favorite seed companies to work with but I have also heard great things about Seed Saver’s Exchange, Bountiful Gardens, and High Mowing Seeds. I get an amazing variety from Baker Creek and their catalog is a beautiful and amazing, yet the packaging from Botanical Interests just makes me feel like I got a present in the mail. They are both great companies and I have never had a problem with either one of them.
See how pretty the Botanical Interests order is? The Baker Creek catalog trumps the Botanical Interests catalog, but they have nothing on their packaging. The Baker Creek order came in a plain bubble wrap envelope. But hey, it’s not what on the outside, but what’s inside that counts, right? And I am pretty darn excited about what is inside both these packages.
I ordered more than usual this year, as I am in the process of converting all of my plants over to be open-pollinated and sourced from companies that take a firm stance against GMO crops. Open pollinated basically means that you can save the seeds from your plants and grow the same plants again next year, as opposed to Hybrid (or F1) seeds that you could plant, but you are probably not going to get the same traits of the plant you saved them from. Hybrid crops aren’t bad, they aren’t necessarily GMO – I make sure that I use companies that don’t sell GMO seeds, but I still want to be able to save my own of most of my seeds to use again. So theoretically, my expensive (mostly open-pollinated) seed order should end up saving money over the long haul. HOWEVER, we all know that when those seed catalogs start showing up every spring, I can’t help but find all kinds of new things I want to try growing. So it may not be much of a savings in the end.
I ended up starting one flat of the early, cold weather things – onions, lettuces, artichokes, etc.
I think that in the next few nights I am going to start my tomatoes and peppers and a bunch of pretty flowers. Technically, it is quite a bit earlier than the seed packets recommend you start them inside, but I find that (possibly because I am extraordinarily-challenged when taking care of indoor plants) they need the extra time to get to be properly sized to go in the garden. Mostly, you just don’t want them flowering yet before you go to plant them. From what I understand, if they have already started to bloom and then you go to transplant them, you won’t get as good of a yield as you would otherwise. But, then I have also read that this is not necessarily true for tomatoes. They will usually transplant fine, even with a few small fruits. So, take it with a grain of salt I guess. Either way, I have never found this to be a problem for me. My plants are no where near flowering when I get them in the ground. I started a bunch of my tomatoes and peppers last year around February 4 and they were just right going in our soil in early May.
The last frost date in my area is supposed to be around May 10. But the weather feels weird to me. I went outside today to play with the kids because this was the first sunny day we have had in forever and there were hyacinths coming out of the ground on the south side of the house. It’s not even February yet. What the heck are the hyacinths thinking??? I know they are cold weather, early spring flowers, but I haven’t even seen the crocuses yet. Usually they are the first green things I see. I looked back in my files and it was clear into March when I first saw the crocuses in past years. So I am going on a hunch and betting that it is going to be an early spring in my area at least. I will throw my bet in with the flowers. I suppose they know more than I do about when it is time to wake up in the spring.
Plus this weekend is Superbowl Sunday. For gardeners, this is also known as Super Sow Sunday. So get your seeds started. Soon. And if you don’t have any, get them ordered or see if you have a local seed bank in your town. Apparently there is a seed bank in our town at our local library that I just found out about. A free seed exchange. You might check around. I have no idea how I didn’t already know about this. I plan to check ours out in a couple of days. Happy sowing!
So, I had an earache the other weekend. Earaches are the worst. Well, maybe not the very worst, but really, really bad. My husband suggested that I go to the quick care doctor before it got worse (it was a Sunday and my regular doctor’s office was closed.) I hate the quick care doctor’s office. I always feel that even if they fix the problem I go in with, I will probably pick up some other germ on my way out and have to deal with that too. Soooo, I decided to look into alternative care. My family went to church and I went online and started to research. There are some pretty odd home remedies out there: sticking cloves of garlic in the outer ear canal, holding a freshly cut onion to your ear, and the very worst possible with an “ew” factor of 10 – sticking a urine soaked cotton ball in your ear canal.
I decided to try one of the less offensive options. I wanted to leave the garlic alone because I had to take my kiddos to co-op the next day and didn’t want to smell like the local pizzeria. I went with the onion, and baked it to reduce any offensive odor. One idea was to bake the onion and use a couple of drops of the baked onion juice in the ear canal. Then you lie down to let it absorb in for about 15 minutes. I threw an onion in the oven and went to rest with a heated rice pack on my ear while my onion baked away. About 45 minutes later, I managed to squeeze out a few drops of liquid and put them in a teaspoon. I went to lie down and administer the onion juice – I added a touch of warm olive oil because that was also recommended. Tried it once. Sort of soothing. No other real effect. Still had ear pain. Tried it again with straight onion juice when my family was home from church. My three year old looked at me like I was from another planet when she found out what I was putting in my ear. Then she laughed and told me my ear was smelly. So much for the baking process neutralizing the onion smell. No effect.
I was about ready to throw in the towel, but decided that evening to give one more thing a try. I asked my husband to try putting a few drops of hydrogen peroxide in my ear while I lay on the couch. It felt very nice. Weird, bubbling sounds, but good. It felt better for an hour or two, but the pain came back. We tried a reapplication of the peroxide a few hours later. Again, it felt better, but the pain came back just before we went to bed. I took two advil and went to sleep. The next morning, I woke up expecting misery, but the pain was gone. There was no more pain. I felt a couple of twinges in my ear throughout the next day, but the earache pain had disappeared. So. There is my introduction to useful home remedies. I think the peroxide method worked. I suppose it could always be a coincidence. Before I bank on it, it will have to happen again. But I, generally skeptical of such treatments, was pretty impressed with what appears to be a good result from the treatment. I wonder if the onion juice just took time to work properly or if it was the peroxide? Hmmmmm. Food for thought.
*No picture this time. I kinda figured no one really wanted to see a picture of my ear.
Remember how I had a bajillion beets this summer? Well, guess who was too lazy to harvest everything before winter? Yeah, it was me. BUT I convinced myself that it was okay because I had heard that beets will last in the ground over the winter. So, technically, I am not lazy. I just have an inquisitive mind.
It has, however, been extremely cold this winter. Guess who also doesn’t like to go out and play in the dirt in freezing temperatures? Yeah. Me again. And again I, the master of rationalization, have come up with a perfectly reasonable reason to wait until now, when some days are actually above freezing to harvest the “winter beets.” Obviously, it would have been extremely difficult, if not completely impossible, to dig in ground that was too frozen. And I am sure that it would damage the soil structure. Surely. And I might break my shovel in the frozen ground. That would really suck.
But a couple of days ago I took the dog outside and noticed that I was stepping in mud. Not rock solid frozen ground. I guess I am running out of excuses. Joe and I headed out tonight to check on the chickens and looked again at the winter beet bed. Honestly, with all the greens dead and spread over the tops, they didn’t look appetizing at all. We pulled aside some of the dead greens and saw some beet tops sticking out of the partially frozen ground. I kicked at one gently with my toe and knocked it loose. Joe scrounged around in the mud/frozen dirt and managed to twist it off in his hand. You will notice that it still has some frost on the tip…but it does look like a regular beet. It was still hard as a rock – not soft or anything. I had suspected they would be yucky and inedible. We shall see…soon. I promise. I’ll let you know when I get around to it. But I don’t think we should rush this. After all, it’s still pretty cold out there…
Have you ever had an old fashioned bowl of homemade noodle soup? Real noodles? Made with love by your mom or grandma or (gasp!) you??? (Recipe at bottom of post.)
It really isn’t that hard to do. Grab the essentials and clear your countertops, ‘cuz we’re about to make a big mess up in here. I actually took plenty of pictures to walk you through…here we go…
Eggs. 3-5 of them depending on how many noodles you want. My family of 2 adults and 4 children always does 5 (or more).
Canola or other cooking oil. 1-2 T. We use 2 T. with the five eggs.
pinch of salt
Flour. Enough to make the right consistency. (Don’t you love it when Grandma gives you a recipe? No real details.)
That is it folks. That flour thing is really annoying. To be honest I have never measured it myself. If you get the drift of the recipe though, you can clearly see that everything is very loose and easy going. It is hard to mess this up, honest. You can either do it like Grandma does – make a pile of flour (a few cups to start – maybe 3 or so) in the center of your counter, then make a dent in the top so it looks like a little flour nest and add everything to that nest – proceed to squish and knead everything together with your bare hands and your tough arm muscles. Or you can go all modern – throw 3 cups or so of flour in your big mixer and then add the eggs, oil, and salt and turn it on. I go with the later, because trying to scrape egg dough off your hands is not a fun way to spend an afternoon. But it can be done if you don’t have the mixer or you want the exercise.
Mix all that up until it comes together. It should form a dough that is not dry, but not too sticky. If you pat it into a ball and it sticks all over your hands, you need more flour. If it is too dry and crumbly that it won’t form a ball or you can’t work with it (like a tough playdough) without it falling apart on you, then you may need to work in a touch more oil. Once you get it the way you like it, put it in a bowl, cover it with saran wrap and let it rest for 20 min. or so while you grab a drink or tend to your hordes of fighting children (in my case).
Once the dough has rested a bit you will need to roll it out. This can be done by hand. Flour your surface really well and roll it out in sheets to maybe 1/8 of an inch thick. Flour again. Lots of flour will be flying everywhere. Then roll the sheet up cinnamon roll style, cut it into strips 1/2 inch or less wide and unroll the strips, keeping everything well coated with flour to prevent sticking. You can do this by hand. But you really don’t have to. If you like homemade egg noodle soup, you will eventually (sooner, rather than later) be getting a machine like this…
Mine is called the pasta queen. This is (in my humble opinion) the only way to do this. Here is a link to a similar well-rated machine on Amazon – they no longer sell the exact one I have brand new. If you have such a machine, you will set it up on your counter, divide your (well floured) dough ball into 4 pieces and flatten slightly with your hand, set your machine on the thickest setting on the dough roller end (mine starts at “7”), and feed it through the machine.
Once it has gone through once, it will be a bit lumpy and bumpy. It might have a hole in it or two. It’s okay. Fold the strip into thirds like this…
Then, give it a pat to flatten a bit more, flour it again and roll it back through like this…
Repeat several times. Fold, flour, roll. Repeat.
Then when the dough is looking more pliant and squarish rather than rectangular, you can adjust the thickness setting on your pasta maker to however thick you like your noodles (“5″ or so for our noodles, we like them pretty thick – they will swell a bit when you cook them), add another dusting of flour, and roll it through again.
At this point, you will have a long, thin piece of dough. I usually cut it in half and work with just half at a time. Roll it through a couple of more times with flour if you want to smooth it, but I usually don’t fold it anymore. (If at any point it all bunches up and gets ruined, just remember that it’s not really ruined, it just needs to be rolled out again, starting from the top and making sure to use enough flour this time so it doesn’t stick.)
Now you need to switch your machine to start cutting the noodles. Dust again with flour and feed dough through the noodle cutting side of the machine.
As you cut the noodles, immediate separate them with your fingers and dredge them through a pile of flour to coat them.
If you don’t want to use them immediately, you can freeze them. Spread them out in a single layer on a large pan or cookie sheet and freeze. Once frozen, the noodles can be transferred to a gallon size ziplock bag. They may clump up a little in the bag as they sit in your freezer, but usually separate again without any problems when you add them to hot broth (providing they have been well floured.) When ready to use, add them frozen into hot broth and stir gently to help separate them.
Usually though, you will be using them right away. Here is our favorite way to use homemade egg noodles. Super easy and delicious…you will notice it has no veggies in it. My kiddos much prefer it this way. They prefer their veggies (carrot sticks) uncooked, on the side.
Basic Turkey (or Chicken) Noodle Soup
About 8 cups turkey or chicken broth
2 packages turkey gravy mix (we use Durkee’s Turkey Gravy mix)
Homemade egg noodles
Turkey or chicken meat if desired.
Chicken bullion, dried parsley, salt and pepper to taste.
Stir gravy mix into cold chicken/turkey broth to dissolve. Heat to boiling. Add noodles. Cook until done (usually about 20 min.) Add turkey/chicken meat if you like. Add bullion, salt, and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with dried parsley. Serve.
The noodles can also be used in other chicken soup recipes. And if you don’t have time or don’t want to hand make your noodles, you can always use dried store bought egg noodles (Costco sells them in a giant bag – no surprise there) or frozen egg noodles to make the soup. However, they just don’t taste quite the same. Happy noodling!
*This post contains affiliate links.
Have you ever seen a molting chicken? Neither had I. I didn’t realize chickens went through an annual molt. And I think I have the dumbest chickens because apparently they usually molt in the fall…mine waited until January when they could lose all their neck feathers and freeze to death. Chickens aren’t the smartest animals. Seriously. Like a rock.
Probably taking the chickens to Montana for the Christmas holiday didn’t help. My poor chickens probably got stressed. Well, Butterfly and Angel anyway. They look much worse than they did when they were in their awkward teenage state. Here is a photo of Angel. Check out her feather loss on her neck. She looks ridiculous – like her head is about to fall off her body.
At first, Joe was worried that she was dying. I had to do some research, checking for parasites and the like, but you can see new feathers growing back in if you look carefully. I assured him that she was not dying.
Here is a shot of Butterfly. She is also losing neck feathers, but she doesn’t look as bad as Angel.
Sorry the images are a touch on the blurry side. It was a bugger to get the girls to hold still today and I was a butterfingers. Anyhow…that is what a molting chicken can look like, although I searched the web and saw some much worse looking birds. Molting without any regard to decency or decorum. Here’s to hoping those feathers grow back sooner rather than later, grow babies, grow! We want to get more eggs again. (Another fact I did not know – when a chicken molts, she stops laying in order to put protein reserves toward feather production. And it hurts her new feathers to pick her up, so handling the birds during molting is a no-no.)
Courage and Dragon must be a bit smarter. They aren’t molting as far as I can tell. They must realize it is still freezing at night and that would be STUPID. Well, I am off. Happy chicken keeping and if you have any chickens dumb (or travel stressed) enough to be molting in January, I wish you the best of luck and super fast feather growing speed!
"We're all mad here." - Alice in Wonderland. Yep. Pretty much sums it up. Mad about gardens, homeschooling, family, art, latest obsessions...whatever. Enjoy the journey with me.
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