Stacking Functions Garden


Growing soil sprouts indoors

I heard about Peter Burke’s book for the first time last spring. I had already started lettuce outside, so I figured I’d wait until fall to give it a read. I requested it from the library in late October, and honestly: this one’s a game-changer. I don’t say that lightly!

Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening by Peter Burke

Book: Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening: How to Grow Nutrient-Dense, Soil-Sprouted Greens in Less Than 10 Days, by Peter Burke.

What really excited me about Burke’s process is that is has a low start-up cost. He doesn’t use grow lights, and he grows his sprouts in reusable foil half-loaf pans, wonderful for people short on money, time, and space.

I read the whole book and it seemed silly not to give it a try. My initial investment was around $40—and even if it completely failed, I would be able to use everything I bought in my regular garden next summer.

Soil Sprouts - getting started, via The New Home Economics

It was a gorgeous fall day so I worked outside this first time. The seeds I sprouted, from left to right: radish, sunflower, buckwheat, pea, and broccoli. After soaking the seeds overnight and preparing some seed starting mix (you add compost and liquid kelp to it), spread the seeds out on the surface and cover with soaked, folded up newspaper. Place in a dark, warm cupboard–warmth is important to get them to sprout quickly and without rotting.

Newly sprouted soil sprouts, via The New Home Economics

Here’s what mine looked like after several days. My buckwheat (left) did not germinate very well at all this first round; I think it was because the furnace was not running very much that week, so the cupboard was not at an ideal temperature. At this point, they did not look appetizing at all. The kids said “EW!”

Soil Sprouts, ready to eat

After placing them in a bright window for a few days, they started to look much better!

Soil Sprout Salad, via The New Home Economics

Here they are all cut up and ready to eat. I was still very skeptical at this point. Would the kids even be willing to try them? Happily, the kids tried AND liked them very much. We ate our third sprout harvest last night. Next week, I’m going to increase my production from one to two meals per week. Burke grows enough to eat these every day… will I get to that level some day? Perhaps.

I did have to order more seeds already and soon I will have to order more seed-sprouting mix. But my total cost per meal is less than what I’d pay for California lettuce, and tastes fresher. Also, because these are the “seed leaf” of the plant and not the true leaves, the nutrition levels are higher than normal lettuce. They taste so good that Anneke has been sneaking sprouts before we even harvest them.

Soil Sprouts at Seward Co-op, via The New Home Economics

At the Seward Co-op the other day, I saw that I’m not the only one experimenting with these. The prices don’t seem too terrible, but suffice to say it’s still cheaper to DIY this one.

My favorites are the sunflower and pea shoots. The buckwheat shoots taste delicious but continue to be the poorest in germination rates, though I’ve seen improvement since that first round.

This book is now on my DEFINTELY BUY list. I highly recommend giving this a try.

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A Homemade Christmas

We’ve been elving quite a bit around here lately. Here’s a sample:

Rewiring the deerMost of the lights on Anneke’s doe were no longer working, so Adam and Rowan re-wired it with brand new lights and lots of zip ties (she had intentions of helping, but was too busy with some art project).

Popcorn and finger knitting decorate the treeThe kids have been really into finger-knitting, so we have finger-knit garland on the tree, as well as some popcorn that they strung Thanksgiving weekend.

Making calendula lotionAnneke infused some almond oil with dried calendula flowers from her garden for about 8 weeks this fall. Then she strained it and we made some homemade lotion with it. This recipe makes a slightly greasy but very effective lotion, and the calendula gave it a nice yellow color (we used lavender essential oil). Here are some more calendula-based recipes.

Homemade lip balm and lotion for ChristmasAs long as we were making lotion (finished product in ready-to-gift containers is on the right), I decided to try SouleMama’s peppermint lip balm recipe too (left). I love this lip balm! We’ve been using it for a couple weeks now, and we also made extra to give away.

Homemade toffeeYesterday we tried making toffee for the first time, with this simple recipe from Twin Cities Mix. It’s not a terribly hard thing to make, but be sure you have a working candy thermometer first.

This afternoon, we’re making more venison sausage. Have you been making anything homemade for the Holidays this year? Please share links to recipes or projects if so!



Yogurt: oven method

When I started making yogurt 3 years ago, I had a hard time finding information and recipes.  Now the internets are practically exploding with yogurt methods — crock pot, oven, yogurt maker, heating pad, back seat of your car, you name it. Yes, there is even heirloom yogurt now. (Thanks, Christina!)

Anyway, as my kids kept getting bigger I started having to make yogurt with my little yogurt maker twice a week. I have limited time, so I put the yogurt maker away for a while. Here’s how we’re doing it, three years later:

Start with a 1/2 gallon of the best whole milk you can get your hands on. Heat it to just around the boiling point, or 180 degrees F. Remove from heat, plunge into a sink full of cold water, and bring the temperature back down to 110-115 degrees F.

Stir in a cup or so of yogurt from your last batch. Whisk.

My oven has a setting called “proofing” — for people who have time to bake bread (some day I’ll get back into it, sniff) — it holds the oven at around 100-110 degrees.  Perfect. I bake my yogurt overnight usually, around 8-9 hours. Simple, and it makes quite a bit — usually around 80 ounces.  Still no plastic to recycle (though now the city of Minneapolis does take yogurt containers).

A little chunky for ya? That’s what happens when you use non-homogenized milk. Doesn’t bother me, honestly. A solid week’s worth of full fat yogurt from grass-fed cows who live less than an hour away (and who I’ve actually met) for only about $5. Cool!


DIY mini hoop house

We took advantage of a beautiful February day to build our wee hoop house today! Here’s the materials list:

(3) 6 foot 2×4 pieces of construction lumber
(3) pieces conduit
(6) 8 inch galvanized carriage bolts
(6) nuts
(12) washers
Roll of plastic sheeting (we used 6mm)
(4) corner brackets

First, start with a plan:

hoop house plansAdam was not satisfied until we could come up with a plan for a hoop house that could be taken apart, so this was where we finally landed:  a wooden frame with a lip that would fit snugly on top of the stock tank, with 6 bolts sticking up from it that the conduit pipes could slide on to. Plastic on top.  So we will be able to disassemble it relatively easily and store it over the summer months.

mini hoop house construction

We started by building the frame. The exact size depends on the raised bed/stock tank/whatever you want to cover.  Ours was very specific: 5.5 feet x 2 feet, with curved edges. Kinda tough to fit, but we got it to work. Note the lip, this is so it fits securely over the edges. This was similar to  making a picture frame.  45 degree angles, corner brackets, a bit of wood glue.

bending the conduit for a hoop house

Next it was time to bend the conduit pipe into the hoop shape. This turned out to be surprisingly easy, since we had the stock tank right there to use as a template. The kids were amazed at Dad’s superhuman strength.

Cutting the conduit hoops down to size…

mini hoop house construction

Measuring, marking, drilling holes…

Adding the carriage bolts…

Hoops in place!

mini hoop house constructionFitting it onto the stock tank (to be filled with more soil and compost later).

Plastic, stapled along the bottom of the long edges, main access/venting will be through either end of the tunnel and also by lifting off the entire hoop structure — it’s quite light weight.  We simply tacked down each end with a thumbtack.

hoop house on a stock tank

And there you have it — a mini hoop house-style green house for our little stock tank garden.  We’re starting with one this year, and if it performs spectacularly, we will make two more for our smaller tanks.  Next up: I will start seeds for lettuce and greens this week, to plant them out in late March or early April, depending on the weather.  What a fun project!


Recipe: hot chocolate

hot cocoaLike popcorn, hot chocolate is one of those things that you can make from scratch with the exact same effort as with a mix from the store, and the results are tastier and free of nasty chemicals. See how easy it is — there are endless variations besides these few that come to mind.

1 qt of hot cocoa (4 servings)
2 generous tablespoons unsweetened baking cocoa
4-6 generous tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (optional)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (optional)


1 single serving of hot cocoa in a mug
1 teaspoon unsweetened baking cocoa
1-3 teaspoon sugar
1 pinch sea salt (optional)
Couple drops vanilla (optional)

Instructions for either one:
Stir together sugar, cocoa, and salt in a mug or in a quart jar. Fill mug or jar 1/2 – 3/4 full of boiling water.  Stir well. Fill the rest of the way with milk. Add vanilla. DONE.  The less milk you use the hotter it will be. For kids, I usually go 1/2 and 1/2 with milk and boiling water so they can drink it right away. Or if I’m feeling like a really nice mom, I heat up the milk gently on the stove and use just milk.

Play around a bit with the ratio of sugar to cocoa — when I make it just for myself I like it a little bitter.

And now for the funnest part of making your own: the endless variations.

Super creamy and amazingly good hot chocolate in the style of Blue Moon Coffee Cafe in south Minneapolis (thanks for the recipe CJ!)
For a single serving in a mug, mix 1 teaspoon high quality Belgian cocoa and 6 teaspoons sugar (SIX!), then add steamed hot whole milk to fill the mug. Top with whipped cream (WOW).

Pre-mixed hot cocoa mix to give as gifts:
It’s all about the ratio: mix 1 part cocoa to 4 or 5 parts sugar. Place in jars, and instruct gift recipient to mix 3 teaspoons full with hot water and a bit of milk.

Other simple variations:
Replace vanilla extract with almond or peppermint extract.
Add some Kahlua, Baileys, or whatever you like.
Replace milk with egg nog.
Replace sugar with brown sugar, honey (use less), or maple syrup.

Can you think of more variations? Also: Merry Christmas, all of you.




DIY inexpensive path

The back yard is finally getting some much-needed attention this year. I don’t have fully-formed plans for it, but they’re starting to take shape. To start with, we had a dirt path from the deck to the back gate that was often muddy. Here’s how we made it into a real path for less than $50:

Adam, his dad and Rowan widened and flattened the dirt path, removing the sod on either side and making nice edges and smoothing out the bottom. This included removing some very stubborn old tree roots from trees we had cut down almost two years ago.

OK, Rowan did not actually wield the ax. But he did help a lot with hauling away loads of dirt and sod in his little wheelbarrow.

Here’s the part where we got lucky: Adam’s aunt had a load of patio pavers that she didn’t want and gave them to us for free, which was so nice. And then Adam’s dad hauled them down to Minneapolis in his truck. So this project was made possible in great part by the kindness of relatives.

Adam and Rowan set the patio pavers along both edges of the path, making them nice and secure with some sand borrowed from the sandbox.  Then we filled in with $45 worth of cedar chips.  The final project:

The yard looks so much nicer already! A wood chip path is not necessarily a permanent installation, but that’s perfect: if I change my mind about the layout of the backyard, it won’t be an ordeal to move this path. I plan to put wood chips down on a fairly significant portion of the back yard this summer — there are several areas where grass just doesn’t grow very easily, so I see no point in trying.

We will maintain some grass for the kids and dog to play in, don’t worry!




How to: inexpensive garden trellis

We made a trellis for the garden last fall, but my post about it was rather light on details. We built 3 more of them during our spring break, so here are detailed building and installation instructions.

Materials for 1 straight trellis:
Three 2 in. x 2 in. x 8 ft. pieces of cedar
Welded wire fencing (like this or this), 4 ft. x 6-7 ft. (we bought a whole roll)
Two 3 in. pieces of copper tubing
Two 6 in. heavy duty wood screws (like these)

Materials for 1 corner trellis:
Above materials, plus one more cedar 2x2x8

For the straight trellis, cut one of the pieces of cedar into two 44 in. lengths. Using a power miter box (chop saw) cut a 45 degree angle into the bottom of each of the other two 8 ft. pieces (to make them pointy at the bottom). Lay out your pieces like this:

Fasten the pieces together with standard decking screws:

Next, roll out your fencing and cut to size with a wire snips:

Staple the fencing to the cedar posts:

Finished straight trellis:

(see the pointy bottoms?)  Now for the corner trellis variation:

For this, you have three 8 ft. pieces and four 21 in. pieces. Lay it out and fasten the outside corners with the decking screws, but only fasten one side to the center piece.  It’s much easier to staple the fence on when the structure can be laid out flat on the ground.

After you’ve stapled on the fencing, flip the whole thing over and fold it up.  Fasten the final screws and you’re done building.  We had to then store these in the garage for two more weeks while we waited for the snow to melt.  Today we finally installed them!

Pound them into the ground about six inches with a mallet, about 4 inches from the foundation.

Make sure they fit in the spot where you want them because this is a permanent installation!  Attach them to the house using the copper tubing and 6 in. screws, like this:

The copper tube protects the screw and makes things look a little nicer.

Total cost for the straight trellis: around $30. Corner trellis, about $36, depending on the price of cedar. Please, use cedar if you plan to grow edibles on these!  It’s significantly more expensive than green-treated, yes, but you don’t want any chemicals leaching into your vegetable garden.  I’m not 100% anti-green-treated lumber — can’t afford to be — but where edibles are concerned it’s worth it.

So, so jazzed about these trellises. I plan to plant cucumbers, two different varieties of pole beans (including Christmas Lima Beans!) and hops on them. Yay!  Questions? Bonus points to anyone who guesses correctly how many drills Adam actually owns.


Recipe: Eczema cream

My little guy gets eczema every winter on his cheeks, and I’ve not had a lot of success with various creams from stores, even from the co-op.  Here’s one we’ve been using all winter that actually works, and it’s homemade from stuff I had on hand anyway.  Nice!  I made up the recipe myself, but it was based on information I’ve read in Nourishing Traditions and Herbal Medicine.

Homemade eczema cream
3-4 T. virgin or extra-virgin coconut oil
1 T. olive oil
20 drops lavender essential oil

1. Melt everything together on the stove over very low heat — takes about 5 minutes.  This is the easiest way to incorporate the olive oil with the rock-hard coconut oil.

2. Chill it out in the refrigerator until set.

That’s it!  I added the olive oil to make it a little softer and easier to apply.  If you keep your house very warm in the winter, you might find that it’s too runny with the olive oil in it, so adjust the recipe accordingly.

Update, 2/14/2011: Clarification: I am not claiming that this cream cures eczema, only that it relieves symptoms better than any other I’ve tried.  We still have to apply 1-2 times a day to my son’s cheeks to keep them clear.