Stacking Functions Garden

1 Comment


Our lives are changing rapidly right now, so I decided we needed a new header as well.  The images are (left to right): hoar frost on my mother-in-law’s crabapple tree, our kitchen, my snow-covered raspberry canes, Anneke peeking at some pumpkin muffins, and the best bread I’ve ever baked.

This won’t be a surprise to friends and family, but for the rest of you kind readers: after eleven years I have decided to leave the Star Tribune and pursue an opportunity with the Minnesota Orchestra.  I’ll still be doing web design, but I am going to dip my toe into the non-profit world and see how much I like it.  I’m very excited!  I’m sad to say goodbye to my friends at the Strib, but the time felt very right to make this move.  The new job starts March 15.

The same week I got my job offer, Adam also found out that he will very likely be able to go full-time at his school next year.  So thus ends our 3 year experiment in having at least one parent be home part-time.  I’m nervous about the change, but I’m also grateful that we had as much time as we did.  Our financial situation won’t dramatically improve with Adam working full-time, but it definitely will ease up a bit.

My hope is that all the richness we’ve built up in our home over the last 2.5 years can continue, even when our lives become a little bit more hectic with both of us working full-time.  We have until September to find out, so for now I will focus on my new job, the start of biking & gardening season, and continuing with the Hennepin County Master Gardener program.  2010 is going to go down in history as my craziest year ever…

1 Comment

Recipe: yogurt cheese & whey

This isn’t really a recipe, so much as a general how-to.  Take any amount of plain yogurt.  I prefer the full-fat kind, but this works fine with low-fat as well.  Place a bit of cheese cloth or floursack towel with a rubberband over a bowl or cup, then spoon the yogurt on top.  Let it sit for at least 2 hours, or overnight, in the fridge.  Spoon the thickened yogurt into a separate container and use or store in the fridge.  The longer you let it sit, the thicker it gets.

So what do you use it for?  Anything that you can imagine using sour cream on, basically.  You could dip vegetables in it, or stir it into Indian lentil dishes to give them that nice creaminess.  Lately I’ve been spooning it on top of scrambled eggs in order to work a cultured or fermented food into our breakfast routine.  You could use it to top nachos or tacos, or even stir a bit into some chili.

An added bonus is that you end up with a bunch of whey that has drained off the yogurt when you’re done making it.  A couple of tablespoons of whey gets the fermentation process going nicely if you’re making sauerkraut, soaking grains, etc.  I made this the other night so that I could use the whey to help with some bread dough that I was attempting to sour overnight.  That bread was a giant fail, but that’s another story.

If you ever cook with the Nourishing Traditions cookbook it seems like every other recipe in there calls for whey, so this is an easy way to acquire some.

UPDATE March 16, 2010: Mark Bittman (my cooking hero!) talks about yogurt cheese in his “Minimalist” column in the NY Times today.  Read it right here.  He prefers a flour sack towel to cheesecloth, and he’s probably right.  I will try that method next time.  Silly him, though, for having absolutely no use whatsoever for whey.

1 Comment

Intensive hydroponics and another new movie

Oh, do I long for a time when I won’t be so busy.  My life is absolute craziness right now.  So I’m not going to spend a lot of time with you this morning other than to point out two cool things I read this week:

Aquaponics — a hydroponic gardening system that incorporates fish and uses their waste as fertilizer (and the fish themselves as food) seems to be gaining popularity.  Perhaps some of this is due to movies like FRESH, which featured a farmer who is using it rather intensively: Will Allen of Milwaukee.  Anyway, a NY Times article and a beautiful slideshow this week showcased a home-scale example of aquaponics in Colorado.

There’s another movie about the food revolution coming out this year.  This one’s about young farmers, and it’s called Greenhorns.  This documentary film is also connected with a grassroots non-profit out east whose goal is nothing less than to support, promote and recruit young farmers in America.  Here’s the website.

1 Comment

Using up old seeds

Got some old, unplanted seeds lying around in envelopes from last year, or even the year before?  Wondering whether they’re viable?  University of Minnesota Extension Service to the rescue!  Here are some general guidelines from my “Vegetables” textbook:

Seeds that last 5 years:
Brussels sprouts
Chinese cabbage
Cress, water

Seeds that last 4 years:

Seeds that last 3 years:

Seeds that last 2 years:

Seeds that last 1 year:
Sweet corn

I should put a giant * here, and say that these averages are based on storing your seeds in nice conditions — that would be room temperature, with low humidity.  If they smell rotten or funny they are probably no good.  If you kept them in your garage, the temperature swings probably did them in.

I would also still sow seeds just a little more thickly if they’re older.  You can always thin out the seedlings later.  But this should save you some money if you have some old seeds lying around that you can use up.


What I’m reading right now

A couple things that I read today:

10 simple truths about raising healthy eaters
And one of the ten is give them raw milk!  Alas that I have no access to it.  Does anyone know a source of raw milk in the Twin Cities metro area?  The rest of the nine “truths” are mostly very simple ones, such as: kids will eventually eat their vegetables — if they see you eating your vegetables.

Gardening is EXPLODING in popularity
New research from the National Gardening Association shows that:

“Seven million more households plan to grow their own fruits, vegetables, herbs, or berries in 2009 than in 2008 — a 19 percent increase in participation.”

The full report is a pdf; click here to download it.

Coming soon: spray-on liquid glass
I have no idea what to make of this.  I’ll pull the same quote that Jason Kottke did:

The liquid glass spray produces a water-resistant coating only around 100 nanometers (15-30 molecules) thick. On this nanoscale the glass is highly flexible and breathable. The coating is environmentally harmless and non-toxic, and easy to clean using only water or a simple wipe with a damp cloth. It repels bacteria, water and dirt, and resists heat, UV light and even acids. UK project manager with Nanopool, Neil McClelland, said soon almost every product you purchase will be coated with liquid glass.

Here’s the rest.  One of the things I love about glass is how endlessly and easily recyclable it is (unlike plastic).  I’m sure there’s a horrible downside to this that I’m not thinking of, though?


Garden plan 2010: letting go of rows

My “big idea” with the vegetable garden this year is that I am finally going to let ye olde row system die.  It’s fine for people with acres, but for small spaces, you’re just wasting valuable growing space by putting a walkway between each single line of plants.  So here’s my tentative layout for 2010 (click to enlarge):

As you can see, I have four areas, and plants will be scattered throughout each area to maximize numbers.  I plan to make each area slightly “raised” by scooping a good inch or two off of each aisle, and also by adding extra compost.

So, here are my big plans, from left to right:

1. Bush beans and peas. This irregular-shaped area has had heavy feeders for a few years now (tomatoes in 2008, parsnips in 2009) so it deserves a little legume-love.  Added bonus: the peas will [theoretically] climb on the chain-link fence.  And then they will die, before my tomatoes get big enough to want that area’s light.

2. Celeriac/Cabbage/mint. We tried celeriac for the first time last year and loved it, so this year I am planting it.  It was not easy to find the seed.  We’ll see how it goes.  I’ve never grown cabbage, either.  I’ve been reading my Companion Planting book again and it talks about the benefits of planting various herbs near cabbage, so I might actually spread the celeriac out to several different locations to make room for a little mint in here, which apparently repels white cabbage moths.

3. Banana Peppers/herbs/celeriac (?).  I want to grow a few more banana peppers this year, so we can pickle them.  We have become a pickled pepper addicts.  I am going to mix in some oregano and maybe another herb or two.  Oregano is a very beneficial herb to have in your garden, according to the book.  (It doesn’t really say why, though?!)

4. Radishes/parsnips.  Doing the same combination that I did last year, but this year I’m not doing them in rows.  I will “broadcast plant” this area with the seed, crossing my fingers all the while.  This is the spot where I grew beans in 2009, so I’m hoping that extra N in the soil will give me a better parsnip harvest this year.

What’s new and different this year?
1. No more rows
2. I’m starting both tomatoes and peppers from seed, which I’ve never done before.  My seed-starting experiments of a year ago had mixed results, so I’m going to need to improve my set-up a bit this year.
3. I’m growing determinate tomatoes for the first time ever (determinate means all the fruit is ripe at the same time).  We canned 25 lbs of tomatoes last August and we just ran out about a week ago.  This year I want to can 50 lbs.  I don’t want to have to buy them all, so I’m growing some of my own to can as well.
4.  All of my planning has been done with CSA in mind.  We’ll be getting a CSA box again this year, so I am planting things that we do not get enough of in our box (such as green beans), and things that I can preserve/pickle (such as cabbage, banana peppers, dried beans).
5. Fresh from my Master Gardener training, I tried to choose mostly varieties of vegetables that are recommended by the University of Minnesota because of their known resistance to various diseases.
6. I ordered seeds from Victory Seed Company, who I’ve never used before.  It’s still very early so if they don’t work out I should still have time to get what I need locally.

Are you as nerdy as I am and want to read a whole list of the varieties I’m planting?  I thought so.  Here you go!

Seeds I ordered last night from Victory Seeds:
– Tomato, Roma VF
– Pepper, Hungarian Sweet
– Celeriac, Giant Prague
– Pea, Oregon Sugar Pod
– Bush Bean, Contender
– Parsnip, All American
– Radish, French Breakfast
– Cabbage, Glory of Enkhuizen (A Dutch cabbage!  Be still my beating heart.)

Still need:
– Another pole bean for dried beans
– Cucumbers?  (not sure where I’d put them)
– Mint
– Basil

Seeds I have on hand or am ordering that I’m not sure where I’m going to put them:
– English Sorrel
– Fennel (Florence)
– Dill
– Kale
– Beet
– Parsley
– Chives
– Thyme
– Oregano

Seeds I have that I will likely not use:
– Mesclun lettuce salad  (relatives/friends: holler if you want these)

Leave a comment

Makin’ stock

I’m back!  Master Gardener Core Course is over, and I’m kinda relieved.  Sorry things have been a little slow around here lately.  Here’s a quickie link to an article about making what sounds like a delicious stock from shrimp shells.  Never thought of this, and the soup looks great!  I love the way the writer describes her parents: thrifty epicureans.  My kind of people, precisely.