Stacking Functions Garden

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Here’s another random post about lots of things.

Firstly, the garden seems to be mostly sprouted.  Lots of weeds, too.  I’ll do a garden update sometime this weekend.

Second, I’m going to go ahead and tell you about three books that I recently started but did not finish:

An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes
by Jennifer McLagan

I requested both this and McLagan’s Bones from the library at the same time.  I found a lot more useful information in Fat.  I will probably purchase this book, when I find that I am ready to start making butter, ghee, lard, and things like that.

This book would also be really useful to anyone who hunts ducks or geese — it contains plenty of interesting information about and uses for duck and goose fat.

McLagan also spends a lot of time dispelling popular myths about fat.  She covers all the main types of animal fats and what you can do with them, and what their composition is in terms of saturated, monounsaturated, and polysaturated.  So there’s also a little science mixed in with folk stories and recipes.

The Backyard Homestead
Produce all the food you need on just a quarter-acre!
by Carleen Madigan

I got most of the way through this book, too.  It presents at least 100 topics, each in a short, easily digestible article.  I think this would be a great book if you want to try your hand at being more self-sufficient, but have no idea where to start.

Madigan includes everything from vegetable gardening to beer brewing to sourdough bread to raising poultry to milking goats.  There is just enough information about each topic to give you at least a general idea.  I read the poultry chapter with great interest, since that’s something I [eventually] want to do — but honestly, I’ll probably pick up a book specifically about raising chickens if/when the time comes.  And the author also advises getting further information and instruction if you’re going to try, for example, raising and slaughtering your own turkeys.

But, for an introduction to what homesteading — you could even call it home economics — is all about, this is a great resource.  This was much more accessible than other “making your home sustainable” books I’ve read in the past.

Deeply Rooted
Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness
by Lisa M. Hamilton

Here’s one that I really enjoyed, but just could not get all the way through in the 6 weeks the library allotted me.  Hamilton profiles three farmers in a deeply compelling, rich narrative.  I absolutely loved the only profile I read in total: the story of an African-American dairyman in Texas.  Hamilton has a gift for story-telling — I really admire how she weaved her narrative so skillfully from interviews.  This is long-form journalism at its best.

So that’s it for reading lately; I’ve been pretty dismal at finding time to read every day.  Spring is always a busy time of year and this year is my craziest yet — by far.  But the weekend is here and I am going to make time to weed and even go to my favorite Minneapolis event of the year.  Have a great weekend!

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Sod and blueberries

I got two new blueberry plants this week (one was a birthday gift and one was a replacement that Stark Brothers sent out for one that died last year).  I know I said we wouldn’t rip out any more sod this year, but… well, we didn’t have anyplace else to put those blueberries.  Plus we had some wide open spots in the backyard that needed some grass — and the U of M advises against seeding in the spring.  So we ripped sod out of the front yard and put it in the back!

Adam’s dad was here, so he kindly helped us.  The kids also kindly helped us by taking a two hour nap.

It seemed like it worked pretty well — the main mud pit in the back yard is now sodded.  It sure was nice of us to move all those dandelions, quackgrass, creeping charlie, and a couple of grass plants from the front to the back, yes?

Here’s the new area all dug up.  I haven’t drawn out an actual diagram of it, but it’s roughly going to be: two blueberries in the back by those other plants, and then along the sidewalk will be some alpine strawberries, and then a perennial flower or two near the front.  I don’t want to plant anything edible within 2-3 feet of the boulevard because so many dogs walk past.  I’m also going to edge with some lingonberries in various places.

The blueberries are already in, but you can’t see them because they are so tiny right now.  I also got a catawba grape plant for a gift, so we’ll find a place for that this week (it’s a vine).

One final picture for you:

Who said cilantro/coriander was an annual?  I let a bunch of it go to seed last fall and now it’s coming up pretty thickly in one area.  That’s my garlic in the background.  And I’ve got a bunch of dill coming up too.  Excellent.

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Seed starting update

My seed-starting experiments for 2010 began about a month ago.  Time for an update on how my indoor and outdoor seedlings are doing:

Tomatoes and peppers are doing fine.  Three of the tomatoes are getting downright large.  I’ve been taking them outside for an hour or two of sun whenever I can.  I left them out for 3 hours today, plan to leave them out for 4 hours tomorrow, and then starting Monday I hope to leave them outside all day every day when the weather is nice.

The seeds that I started outside in little mini-greenhouses have all sprouted… I think.  At least, plants are growing in each of the containers.  Some of them might be weeds though.  All are too tiny to tell for sure yet.

Today, I started some herbs in these little peat pots so that I can just fill into any open spot I find in my flower beds.  I started two each of: curly parsley, Italian parsley, sage, thyme, oregano, cilantro, and sweet basil.  I really want to grow enough thyme to last us all winter — this past year we ran out in about January.  I’m starting these outside on the deck as well, since the top of my ‘fridge is rather occupied.

And finally, some cucumbers (not sprouted yet) and some cauliflower.  I have no idea where the two wee cauliflower plants will go; a Master Gardener friend gave them to me.  But the cukes will go in their usual spot in the garden.  This year they will be surrounded by cabbages.

Nothing that I planted this week out in the garden has sprouted yet, but I’m expecting to see radishes any day now.

I also noticed that some of my perennial flowers haven’t sprung back yet, so I might have more open spots than I originally thought.  I am hoping I can squeeze a couple more edible perennials in without having to remove more turf.  I don’t have the energy to take on turf removal this year.

Which brings me to this: I have many, many extras of the following plants that I would just love to give you.  Seriously, if you live nearby, let me know if you’re interested in:

purple phlox
– yellow “sundrops
– raspberries
– 5-6 foot tall mystery sunflower-like plants

I don’t have a lot of extra pots, so if you can bring your own pot you’re welcome to any of the above.

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New cruiser (Adam’s Bike Shop update)

Adam bought a pair of cruisers this winter from some guy on Craigslist.  Using parts from both of them as well as a couple of used parts from The Hub, and a couple parts he had lying around the garage, he built me a really sweet cruiser:

And now the detail shots:

I guess these bikes were originally made for Sears Roebuck, but they were made in Austria.  (Weird, yes?)  The chain ring says “JC Higgins.”  Tough to tell when they were made, but most likely 1950s.

An authentic Dutch seat for an authentic Dutch… um, well, you know.

Not sure what he plans on doing with the remains of the other cruiser.

One of the cool things about this bike is it has an internal 3-speed hub that still works great.  The hub is from a 1979 Raleigh Limited that Adam took apart this winter, but it fit this bike perfectly.  A perfect cruising-around-town bike for the summertime.


Garden update

Aah, the first official garden update for 2010.  It’s great to be back at it.  We are having such a warm spring that I really could have planted my early crops a week or even maybe two weeks ago.

Here’s the garden, freshly worked up with a half bin of compost.  You can see there are four “beds” within the garden and three aisles.  I am trying to do two things here:

1) minimize the amount of space dedicated to walking
2) grow greater quantities of fewer varieties

The last two years I grew just a few plants of many different veggies and we just ate them as we went.  That doesn’t work as well when you also get a CSA box every week, so this year I’m trying to grow greater quantities of some things that I like to preserve.

In that vein, I’m growing cabbage (kraut), green beans (freeze), and banana peppers (pickled).  I’m also growing celeriac and parsnips, both of which keep well either in the ground or in a root cellar.  I also planted radishes and I plan to put some cukes in our cucumber cage as usual.

So today I planted: peas, cabbage, celeriac, radishes, and parsnips, all from seed.  The package instructions for both the celeriac and the cabbage say to start them indoors and transplant later, so I’m kind-of taking a bit of a gamble here.  My method for all was to scatter seeds over the entire area, then sprinkle with dirt, then water.  I will have to do some thinning when they come up — especially the cabbage.

Last year I had really bad luck with my peas: only about 2 of the 20 or 30 seeds that I planted actually came up.  So this year, I soaked them in a wet paper towel for a full 48 hours before planting:

Oops, some of them are already sprouting!  They’re in the ground now so hopefully I didn’t soak them too long.

Finally, my garlic is all coming up!  Check it out!

It seems quite high for only the second week in April, but I’m not complaining.

One last thing: I’m going to be re-acquainted with the Friends School Plant Sale this year.  I looked at the catalog online and immediately started estimating exactly how much of the lawn I can talk Adam into ripping out…  They have a lot of unusual plants that are difficult to find anywhere else.


The perfect is the enemy of the good

This phrase has been in my mind lately — I read it in reference to farming several times over the past few months. It makes sense: there are many really great family farmers out there who may not be certified organic but are still doing right by their animals and their land. Many of them can’t afford the lengthy and expensive process to become certified organic.

In my own life, it has become painfully obvious that I have really overstretched myself lately.  The Master Gardener program + starting a new job + trying to get my own garden efforts for 2010 underway + parenting two two-year-olds is really taking a toll.  I have been really short-tempered lately and my heart is just not in everything I’m doing (at least, not as much as I’d like it to be).

I usually try to be as positive as possible on the blog, but on the other hand I don’t want you all to think it’s constant sunshine and lollipops around here, either.  Here are two recent big FAILS and the silver lining in the second one:

Firstly, this pizza.  What a disaster.  We had some bread dough in the refrigerator that needed to be used up.  Adam was not around and I tried to make pizza with the same method I’ve seen him use: assembling the pizza on the wooden peel and then sliding it onto the hot pizza stone into the oven.  Well, it stuck to the peel and the only way I could slide it off was to fold it up and turn it into this horrible-looking calzone.  Which I then baked and served anyway, even though it was super doughy in the middle.  Nice to know I can be relied upon for a simple meal when Dad’s not at home, eh?

Next up on my walk of shame:

Last fall, when I pruned out all my dead raspberry canes, I must have been completely brain dead afterwards because it seems I put the entire giant pile of them into my compost pile.  Many of them were very thick and woody — these things do not break down quickly or well.

So after the entire winter, this part of the compost bin, which should have been completely full by now of beautiful, dark, rich, compost… was full of… soggy sticks.  However, when I pulled out all the sticks and put them somewhere else, I did manage to find a little bit of good stuff:

I’m going to try and plant the garden this week!  We’re having such an early spring, there’s no reason not to get a jump-start on some of cold-tolerant veggies like peas, cabbage, and radishes.

My goal for this week (aside from getting my garden in) is to be kind to myself.  Silly that this must be a conscious goal, yes?


A home improvement project

Our kitchen has a cute little breakfast nook that unfortunately featured somewhat dysfunctional fluorescent lights with cheesy 80s-style plastic diffusers.  They have bugged Adam since we moved in.  We’ve had an old “booth” style table in the nook since we moved in, that Adam’s parents gave us (later we added two Ikea chairs):

It worked pretty well, but the whole thing was getting very rickety and it was never really the style we intended for our house.  So, a couple weeks ago the table went to a grateful family from the craigslist free site, and the diffusers went out to the curb.

Adam framed up the hole in the ceiling and installed a couple of light fixtures.  Then our neighbor helped him lift a large piece of sheetrock into place:

A couple smaller pieces and it was ready for what seemed like two full weeks of constant mudding and sanding.

In the meantime, we also found a table and 4 chairs for $80 on craigslist that was the perfect size and style for our spot.  The only problem was that the chairs were in pretty bad shape — the one shown in the picture was one of the better ones:

So Adam decided to further complicate the project by trying his hand at upholstery.  A 50% off coupon and $40-some later he had some sparkly red vinyl from Jo-Ann Fabrics, and away he went.  They turned out great!

As soon as all the taping/mudding/painting was done and dry, Adam installed two new light fixtures (they’re Martha Stewart schoolhouse-style ones).  And project =  complete!  Well almost.  The fourth chair is still in limbo because it needed to be glued together and Adam has not yet found a glue that works well for this.  We might end up having to buy a replacement for the fourth chair.  But other than that, we are done.  And pretty cheaply too, I might add.

This seems like a relatively small project compared with what we used to do before we had kids, but at this point, after having done almost no home improvement for nearly 3 years, it feels great just to get something done: the first of many projects that we can finally check off the list.

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Mini book review: Food Rules

Here’s my first mini book review for April.  If I stay this busy, it might be mini book reviews forever.

Food Rules
An Eater’s Manual
by Michael Pollan

This slim, inexpensive little volume is really just an expansion of the popular slideshow from the NY Times that was published sometime last year.  He left out some of the sillier ones (don’t eat egg salad from a vending machine), and expanded a bit on some of the smarter ones (only eat desserts on days that start with an S).

This is a really fast read — I think it took me maybe one 30-minute sitting.  Some of my favorite “rules:”

“Plant a vegetable garden if you  have the space, a window box if you don’t.”

“Pay more.  Eat less.”

And my favorite: “The whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead.”

So much good fodder for annoying things to say to my kids around the dinner table for the next 16 years.  Thanks Michael Pollan!

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My top-o’-the-fridge seed starting system is working great!  The tomatoes and beets sprouted in about 4 days, and the peppers in about 7-8.  A couple of the peppers might end up being duds, but other pots have 2 seedlings in them so I could always transfer the extras in the next week or two.

Absolutely nothing happening outside, except I am having to occasionally water when they get a bit dried out.  What a warm crazy early spring.  I’m planning on putting my early garden plants in two weekends from now, April 17-18.  Between now and then will be Easter celebrations, Master Gardener activities, and learning my new job.  So yeah, I’ll be keeping busy.

I am also reading about 4 different library books right now — I am inundated.  I put too many requests in at the same time.  I already know I’m not going to be able to write up full reviews of each book, but I will at least do some mini-reviews in the next couple of weeks.

Other upcoming stuff:

– Adam’s gone crazy making salad dressing.  His ranch dressing was so good I secretly licked the container in my cubicle, glancing over my shoulder the whole time.

– We’re also in the middle of a wee home improvement project that involves taping, mudding, light installation, and upholstery.  Pictures to come!

– The weekend that we put in our garden, we’re also going to put a trellis together, so we’ll see how that goes.

– Adam also has a really cool vintage 3-speed cruiser project in progress for me.  Of all the hobbies he’s ever undertaken (and there have been MANY), I think this whole “building bikes” one is my favorite.