Monday, June 30, 2008

One Local Summer NOT

OK, I'm bowing out of this OLS Challenge. I was supposed to make one meal a week with all-local ingredients. I've managed to make one, so far, in 5 weeks. The problem is not that I don't have local ingredients - it's putting them all in one meal, with obsessive attention to local detail. I just don't have time.

It's become more important to me to get stocked up than to fuss so much over everything being local and/or organic. I'm still gonna keep adding local stuff, growing my own, and hitting the producer market on Sundays. But I am not posting to the challenge.

I did make waffles, tho - Spelt Waffles with Strawberry "Greek" Yogurt

Yogurt: Seven Stars Farm, Phoenixville (27 miles)
Spelt Flour: B&H Produce, Morgantown (18 miles)
Milk: Clover Farms, Reading (4 miles)
Eggs: Reigle's Produce, Kempton (25 miles)
Lard: Christman's Meat Market, Oley (11 miles)

Not Local: Honey (Canadian), strawberries (didn't go to U-pick), kosher salt, baking powder, cane sugar.

I just substituted the spelt flour for whole wheat, and used lard for the melted shortening. I could have tried butter, but I like the shock value of lard.

I had gotten yogurt at Echo Hill Country Store, from Seven Stars Farm in Phoenixville (27 miles). I bought the 32oz plain organic grass-fed yogurt for $3.72. It was better than regular yogurt as soon as I opened the lid - there was a layer of yellow butterfat on top. I hung it in a tea towel for half an hour to drain it to the thickness of Greek yogurt, sweetened it a bit with honey and folded in sliced strawberries. I should mash them more next time, and let them macerate in sugar a little. I've since started making my own yogurt, so no more over-paying and driving too far for organic.

I do want to find a local raw milk source I can afford. I found out that the Horizon Organic milk I was buying at Giant may not be so organic. Horizon is the largest organic milk producer in the US, and are being sued for not following the organic certification rules with animal handling. Ugh.

Battleground: Garden

It's bad day in the yard.

I've been saying that this garden is meant to experiment with more veggies than I normally grow - a sort of "practice garden" to try out things I want to grow on a larger scale in a bigger yard. I am having just a few more "learning opportunities" than I wanted just now.

The lush green honeymoon of spring is over, and the long hot summer garden battle is being waged. Drought, bugs, nutrient deficiencies, and wayward neighbors with weed-wackers are all in play.

Yesterday evening, someone came along and weed-whacked the back alley behind our row of houses. Normally, each resident is responsible for maintaining the strip along their back boundary, out to the middle of the alley right-of-way. But SOMEONE thought they should whack along EVERYONE'S boundary. My neighbor and I lost all our spearmint. I also lost iris, salvia, and peony I was planning to transplant on a cooler day. The year's passionflower is probably gone, which will be a huge disappointment to all the solitary bees that loved it last year. I also lost the ripening larkspur seed I was going to save. I usually let the ones in the alley look ratty until I can save seed, so I don't have to leave them looking dead in the backyard proper. I have some seed from 2007 I am going to broadcast instead, to overwinter for next year.

I was at my Mom's when this happened, and my DH was waiting for me when I came home. He looked grim and said, "I have bad news." He and the kids didn't want me to see it unprepared and have a screaming fit. Apparently, the neighbor DID have a screaming fit, in Spanish. I wish I had been there to join in.

I think I saw a Japanese beetle today. I hope I am wrong.

The potatoes look like hell. I may dig some up and see if there are new potatoes, or if the pill bugs have just eaten them all up. The zucchini isn't pollinating - we must be more short on bees this year than last. I am going to try manual pollination. I've only gotten two zukes so far, and I should have had 6 or 8 by now.

At least the celery, parsley, and cowpeas look OK so far. The tomatoes are setting fruit and the eggplants are finally growing and blooming a little. Those mystery "lettuce" plants look more like a brassica of some sort, but they are at least robust in the fish boxes. The onions are looking dry, but that might be normal this close to harvest.

I am going to go buy some fish emulsion, a new hose watering wand, and some more potting soil for herbs. Maybe I need to visit a nursery. Shopping therapy, of the garden geek variety.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Yogurt in a Bag

I'm really liking my new yogurt-making habit. I've refined it from the awkward blanket-wrapped crockpot that I forgot to photograph. I found an insulted silver picnic bag in the basement, and I just used that with nice results. I am pleased to be able to make a quart of yogurt for $1 (commercial milk) to $2 (raw organic milk).

Method: Bring a quart of milk almost to a boil. I suspend a digital thermometer in the milk by slipping it between the tines of a whisk. Stir the milk frequently as it heats over a medium flame. When it hits about 210F, take it off the heat and let it cool down to 120F (took about 15-20 minutes). Put a tablespoon of your previous batch of yogurt in the bottom of a clean quart-size container, and pour in a little of the hot milk, whisking it smooth. Then pour in the rest of the hot milk and whisk to mix. Put on the container lid and pop the quart into the insulated bag. Then fill a bottle or jar with hot tap water and put it in the bag next to the quart. Use a dish towel to fill any empty space in the top of the bag, and zip shut the bag. Leave it alone for 7-8 eight hours, then take it out and put it in the fridge to stop the culturing process. Done!

Later, I will mix in a little honey and some of those cherries or raspberries we picked yesterday.

This morning, the ambient temperature in the kitchen was 80F, and the temperature of the yogurt in the bag was 95F. The water bottle was somewhat cooler at 88F. I don't know if the bag will be enough in the winter, when the kitchen air could be in the 50's. But the bag is simple and easy to store in our tiny kitchen. Liking it a lot.

Local Stirrings

Last night I went to a screening of the documentary Good Food, a film about the growth of organic food community in the Seattle area. Mark Dworkin and Melissa Young directed, and were visiting in our area, so locally-based film distributor BullFrog Films arranged a short-notice screening. Our church offered space and coffee; about 40 people came. The film was released just this month at the Seattle Film Festival and this was the first not-Seattle screening for them. The film is a series of interviews with farmers, produce distributors, local officials, professors, restaurant owners, and farmers' market operators. There were a number of times that the magnificence of the produce made us moan. But as wonderful as that looked compared to our own local disorganization, Dworkin readily admitted that organic production represented only small fraction of the agricultural output in Washington. The film is definitely worth watching, and gets your wheels spinning about what has to happen in a region to start building a better local food culture.

I got to talk to Dworkin, met John Hoskyns-Abrahall from Bullfrog, and met a guy that runs one of the community gardens (70 plots). Hoskyns-Abrahall told me he has heard of a group in Topton that is organizing to carpool for local food shopping - promised to send me an email address.

Lately, there have been a lot more articles in the local newspaper about gardening and stretching one's food dollar. Yesterday, there was a front-page feature about a retired woman that installed solar panels and now a windmill in her yard to go off-grid. She grows most of her own produce on her quarter-acre lot, and I bet she
has a basement stuffed with stored food. The reporter for the article was Michelle Park, and I will keep an eye on what else she covers. Could be a good connection for future event promotion, although the video she did about spending rebate checks was goofy. It would have been better to report on people using their checks to keep their gas and electric turned on.

I can just feel a project coalescing around me, something important that I could do. But things are just so uncertain family-wise right now. We have people who need care, people looking for jobs, and I really want to move out of this tiny house as soon as possible. I see us in a city - but what if we don't stay in THIS city?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Independence Challenge - Week 9

It's been a very busy and frustrating week that took me away from home a lot, but we still got a lot done.

Planted: More cabbage and broccoli transplants.

Harvested: From our yard: Beets, carrots, green onions, zucchini, herbs. Black raspberries (5 lb.) that were free for the picking from a Freecycle posting. Cherries from Weaver's U-pick orchard: 5lb. of Ranier fabulous yellow cherries) and 8lb. of dark sweet cherries (all $2.75/lb). We just got back from picking this afternoon, so I see some jelly and pie filling in my immediate future! Some members of the picking expedition ate more than they put in the pail. If you think her teeth are raspberry-colored, you should see her hands:

Preserved: Dried beautiful sage and tarragon from the farmer's market. Dill, parsley, spearmint, chocolate mint, and lemon thyme of my own.

Cooked: Continuing to make my own yogurt and experiment with flavors everyone will eat. DD15 now brews her own sun tea in mason jars. (The rest of us still make ours with hot water). DH is experimenting with sweet potato pie to take to a picnic. He used coconut milk instead of dairy milk, and it was fabulous. I am bringing Pickled Red Beet Eggs, made with my own beets. I am betting I will also be bringing cherry cobbler!

Prepped/Managed: Stocked a year-plus of corn starch, baking powder, baking soda, kosher salt. Rumford Corn Starch now boldy reads "Non-Genetically Modified Corn." I bought extra raisins and prunes, but not sure how much we need for a year.

Bought 8' bamboo poles from the herb lady that sells them at the farmer's market; only $1 for four. Good for stakes, bean poles, trellis-making, and for framing tarps and other temporary construction. Will get more a few more sets this summer. When I live somewhere else I can let a bamboo patch spread.

Reduced/Reused/Recycled: I had found 10 berry boxes at a sale earlier this year, and intended to use them as give-away planters. I didn't get around to that, but we did just use them as... berry boxes! I am saving the for u-picking from now on. I also got a nice 5-drawer lingerie chest from the Freecycle list - perfect for a narrow space in DD11's room. Put all our phone and battery chargers on a surge protector with a switch. Cut more grass and mulched with it, hopefully leading to less watering. Wish we could have a water barrel, but we rent and cannot cut the downspout.

Systems Building: An economic justice group at our church is talking about projects, and I've urged something to do with food security. We have a long-standing food pantry that now serves more than 350 people at each monthly distribution. We are an urban church, and I am passionate about increasing food quality and choice for urban residents, which is, after all, the largest concentration of eaters in our county. I believe we will start with a tour of the city's community garden projects with a professional community garden organizer.

Planning to invite some other people to go u-picking with us next week - we can share the gas expense and stop at some nurseries and farm stands I saw today (but was out of cash). Maybe the start of a car-pool for local farm food shopping.

The little girl up the street rushed up to me the other day to tell me that something was wrong with the tomato we planted at her house. Turns out "these yellow things" were her plant blooming. She's never seen a tomato plant in action before. I took her to my yard and showed her the different flowers and explained what the bees do for them. Got her to stand still while solitary bees flew near her in the plants.

Learned: That my beet harvest could have been better with earlier thinning and more nitrogen from coffee grounds. That two young girls and I can pick $40 worth of cherries in about 10 minutes - even tho' we were slowed by stuffing sun-warm cherries into our faces at the same time.

Library: Saving my book budget for the mid-July AAUW library sale here. I am selling a bunch of homeschooling books to raise money for that.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Independence Challenge - Week 8

Been thinking about the conflicts between wanting to stock up, wanting to buy local, and wanting to buy organic - all on a very limited budget. Each of those efforts requires extra spending. I am thinking that all of my spending needs to go toward stocking up, for now. Once I have good tools and at least a few months of supplies, then I can spend more on organic and local sources going forward. I will continue to go to the markets, to garden, and to buy local/organic at every opportunity that does not cost me a lot more. But I am really worried about the effect of the flooding in the Mid-West. I feel like I need to simply get more food put by, faster.

Planted: Planted zinnia seeds in a tray. Cowpeas sprouted within days. With reluctance, I decided not to plant for fall, at least not in the ground. I may have moved by then. Will keep filling movable pots with herbs and greens, and harvest what I already have growing.

Harvested: The first zucchini, and a few young carrots. A black swallowtail butterfly caterpillar from the volunteer dill in the compost pile - for observing, not eating.

Preserved: Dried oregano and sage from the farmer's market.

Prepped/Managed: Bought food service size canisters of bay leaves and black peppercorns. Bought 6 sizable jars of spices at an estate sale. Includes 2 each of whole nutmegs, ground cinnamon, and ground ginger. They could be years old, but it was 50 cents and I stuck them in my pantry for future testing. Also scored four heavy aluminum cookie sheets. *Just* missed getting a reel mower for $5; a man stepped in front of me and picked up the handle. I watched in case he didn't buy it, but he snapped it right up after testing it in the grass. Darn!

Tried garlic scapes from the market - good roasted with balsamic vinegar, like asparagus or green beans. DD15 made stir fry with them, too. Bought a jar of raw honey to try. Made a new crockpot sausage recipe that would also work in a solar oven. Pickled fresh beets from the market (instead of canned), to make red beet eggs (a local PA Dutch delicacy) - good practice for my own beets, which will be ready soon. I might try to pickle and can those.

Finally made yogurt - whoo hoo! The crockpot method worked. I used an electronic thermometer with a probe to monitor the temperature of the yogurt on this first batch. Temp might be harder to maintain when ambient room temperature is below 60 in cooler weather. Used a half a gallon of regular store-bought whole milk and half a cup of organic yogurt as a starter. Next, trying it with lovely un-homogenized organic milk.

System-building: Planted basil, marjoram, and marigolds in another neighbor's front planter. Since I am out of space in my own yard, I have to farm other people's yards! Hauling water may be an issue. The little garden we planted with girl up the block is doing well.

Reduced, Reused, Recycled:
Freecycling and eBaying extra junk from cleaning the cellar, recycling cardboard. Electric usage is down a little - the girls finally caught on to using the clothesline for almost everything.

Learned: That I was not doing a good job of growing celery. Read up on it, and have now tied the stalks for blanching and am watering more. Found great jam-making website/guru on my food storage list. Researched Bokashi composting.

Berks County Cook Book of Pennsylvania Dutch Recipes. Copyrighted in 1934 by J. Levan, this collection of recipes "from yesteryear", appears to have been sponsored by a department store, Pomeroy's, which advertised itself as a purveyor of fine foodstuffs. (I worked in that department store when I was a teen - it's gone now.) It promises to be a treat to read. A recipe for Stewed Rabbit starts, "Dress and skin a rabbit carefully." Imagine, it was once assumed that one already knew HOW to do that! This treasure, complete with authentic mouse-chewed corner, cost me 50 cents, along with a book of bread machine recipes. Also ordered a used copy of Kitchen Witchery, at the suggestion of another Independence blogger.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Birthday Excellence

Today was filled with pleasant birthday surprises. I had some business to attend to this morning, but the afternoon was devoted to celebration. DH took me out to lunch at Smokey Bones - I love their smoked turkey, each bite eaten with a bit of baked beans. Then we saw a movie, Iron Man.

When we came home, my mother was there with the girls. DD11 greeted me with her gift, a watercolor garden painting. I will try to scan it and add an image later. It is a very detailed watercolor of gardens and patio. DD11 also spent much of the day secretly baking a cake for me in our neighbor's kitchen. She was helped to bake a chocolate cake with white icing, from scratch, very elaborately decorated with my age spelled out in sprinkles and spiral candles that looked like fireworks.

Mom and I went out to tour the latest garden developments, and she ooh'ed and aah'ed in all the right places, like the celery tied up into little bunches to blanch.

We opened a few gifts on the back porch while dinner was developing. DD15 had sewn me a new tote bag, cleverly made from a pair of black twill capri pants, and lined with grey satin. The pockets had become slots for cell phone and keys. I saw her working on a sewing project right under my nose, but I thought she was making something for herself. My mother gave me very nice Foxglove gardening gloves, and DH gave me a Leatherman Gardening Multitool.

DD15 made dinner - succulent porkchops with horseradish mashed potatoes and peppery gravy. We all enjoyed an episode of Doctor Who, after which I fell asleep in my chair, very satisfied with my day.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

June Boom Day Photos

This bloom day seems to come just before a lot of things start to bloom. But I do have blooms, at my house and at Mom's. Larkspur, Coreopsis "Creme Brulee", and two Veronica "Alba" that have gotten droopy. There's a shovel hiding behind the larkspur, where I clearing space for some cabbage starts. Here are some marigolds I grew from saved seed, and some Profusion Zinnia in Apricot, just getting started.

The salvia and my few roses are just ending for now. The guara is about to start, and I see buds in the monarda. The Stellas are really going to town. That stake in the photo is for an eggplant slowly coming up next to it. The Evening Primrose on the other side of the Stellas really had a good year, too.

The Lamb's Ear is just starting to bloom, and the Yarrow "Moonshine" is still holding up nicely. The unknown sedum that I have going from a cutting is starting to bloom already - I left the buds on it to see what it might be.

Mom has a lot of the same stuff I do, and her yard is "between blooms" to a large extent. Her Campanula Glomerata "Joan Eliot" and Snow-in-Summer are ending, daisies mostly not started. She does have some nice lilies starting, and some robust rose campion that did not photograph well. I spotted a great mass of Red Hot Pokers down the block from her. When my yard seems dull, I look at what other people have blooming, and plant some of whatever it is, for next year.

Market Sunday

DD11 and I got up fairly early this morning and headed out to the West Reading Market. Good day. Faller's Pretzels has a stand - hooray! Couldn't bring myself to pay $4.75 for strawberries, so I hope there are still some to pick at Ontelaunee. But we got some great oregano and sage that I plan to dry. I spent time talking to the flower-and herb lady and completely forgot that I meant to buy bamboo poles from her. The guys from Two Ganders Farm that brought live bees, and we bought a pint of raw honey ($7) and some garlic scapes ($1). We also got more organic hot dogs from B&H and a dozen eggs from the Reigel stand. After the market, we went to a car wash and spent two hours washing, vacuuming, and detailing the car for Father's Day.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Independence Challenge - Week 6

This is a 2-week catch-up post. Between work and family stuff, I was too busy last week to do more than make some fast notes. Mom saw her doctor and is doing a bit better; 85-yo aunt is not doing so well. Weather was suddenly record-breaking hot, close to 100F. The tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, onions, and potatoes seem to be loving it.

Planted: Sweet potatoes at Mom's. Scored whole flats of broccoli, romaine lettuce, and cabbage starts for free. They were half-dead but have revived nicely with regular watering. I fish-boxed most of the lettuce (almost 40 plants); digging up a new spot for cabbage - but 60 plants is too much for me - will give some away. Getting more fish boxes for broccoli (about 50 plants). Some may bolt or die after the stress and heat wave, but it's worth a try. I also planted cowpeas to replace the English peas that were done, and potted up some basil and marjoram sprouts.

Harvested: PEAS! My first English peas, shelled by DD11. I can see that I would have to plant a LOT more to have peas to freeze. DD15 ate the whole harvest this weekend, raw. Granted, it was only 2.5 cups. I need to get some innoculant for the next batch, to increase my yield - and plant many, many more vines. DD11 keeps pulling sweet baby carrots. She won't get any mature ones if she keeps it up.

Picked parsley and thyme for cooking. Harvested mulch by shearing grass and clover. I dry it on the sidewalk and then use it to mulch my beds. I watched birds eat a whole lot of those inedible "white" mulberries from a neighbor's tree. I didn't harvest the berries myself, but I benefit from it, since the birds help keep the bugs down in my yard.

Preserved: Drying more peppermint and lemon balm from my yard. I wanted to report that I canned my first strawberry jam, but the heat made us postpone the u-pick trip until tomorrow. Bought a food dehydrator for $3 (woot!) at a yard sale. Expect posts about dehydrated stuff as I figure out how to use it.

Prepped/Managed: Bought extra bleach on sale. Ten pounds of Goya's Thai Jasmine Rice ($1.24/lb in 5lb bags). They were the last two bags in that store, and I was worried they were the last we would see. But no, they were restocked - at a 54% increase! From $6.20 to $9.55 ($1.91/lb) in ONE week. There was an 11-lb burlap bag of Indian Basmati for $19.95, but my experience with that brand was weevil-y. Basmati and Jasmine have been out-of-stock at Aldi. American basmati and jasmati are grotesquely expensive. I am trying a small bag of Giant-brand organic brown long-grain at $2.50 for 2 lbs.

Found a sprouting lid that fits mason jars at Echo Hill ($1.99). I had been wanting one, but didn't want to pay for shipping. Now I need to find something to sprout. One step at a time.

Cooked: Shopped at the opening day of the West Reading producer market. Enjoyed our first all-local meal for the One Local Summer challenge: grass-fed eggs, grits, bacon, toast and nectarine jam. Decided to make my own yogurt, and while looking for a yogurt maker on FreeCyle list, I was sent instructions to make yogurt in my crockpot, so I am going to try it. Worst case, I lose a gallon of milk.

Bought some of that local spelt flour for experimenting. Tried waffles first, with good results, substituting spelt flour for whole wheat. In looking for spelt recipes, I found another local source of flour, Daisy Flour, spelt and white/wheat pastry flours from a historic mill in Lancaster County. The pastry flour seems like the best deal, with a 50-lb bags for less than $40. Have to work that into a Lancaster provisioning trip. Soft Red Winter Wheat for pastry flour is grown here most frequently.

System-building: I asked a 7-yo neighbor child if she wanted to grow something for her mother. We planted romaine, basil, a tomato, and some marjoram in containers (photo at the top of this post). We carried them up the block to her front stoop, and when I left she was asking passersby to stop and smell the marjoram. She agreed to water it every morning (unless it was raining) and I gave her a watering can and showed her how to use it. We will document her efforts with photos. I am going to ask some other neighbors if I can plant stuff in their barren front planters. They have soil going to waste, and the small beds are easy for idle neighbor children to tend.

Also attending a series of discussions about economic justice at our church. The small group is moving toward looking for a project, and I am going to try to poke them in the direction of something with local food. We already run a monthly food pantry, and many members are food-conscious, so we would be adding to an area of competence. Perhaps we could prepare a directory of sources of fresh food in the city. It could be handed out in Spanish and English at the food bank, and might also get some press coverage.

Reduced, Reused, Recycled: Fixed a weed-whacker I thought was broken. FreeCycled a computer monitor and printer; replaced DD11's mattress via FreeCycle. Sold unwanted clothing on eBay. A neighbor gave me a wooden pallet for Mom to more neatly store a pile of salvaged vintage cobblestones. Found an egg producer that can use my big stack of egg cartons. Salvaged flats of empty 2" and 4" pots from a neighbor's trash to use for rooting cuttings. Not only did I get the dehydrator at a yard sale, I also found a good knife-sharpening steel and some metal hooks for hanging things from rafters. Trash-picked the planters for the neighbor kid's garden. Made the kids stop sneaking clothes into the dryer.

Learned: More about yogurt-making, spelt, the usual gardening research. Researching more on urban farming and spending a lot of time looking at various cities to which we might move.

Library: Had DD11 catalog my cookbooks on the book-tracking website Still need to work on manually adding books that don't have ISBN numbers, like my vintage regional and church cookbooks. I will put her to work on the reference shelves next. I will then be able to print a catalog of my books, with comments on each volume. Borrowed library books about canning, to see if I want to buy one beyond the Blue Book.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Spring Veggie Review

This week's record-breaking temperatures in the upper 90's have pretty much ended "spring" for us, even if Summer Solstice is not quite here. This seems like a good time to review the spring veggie season. For spring harvest, I planted lettuce, spinach, mustard greens, green onions, and peas - all for the first time.

Lettuce: directly sown into styrofoam fish box, very early in the spring. I over-sowed, and while the lush carpet of sprouts looked great, they were very hard to thin and I failed to be ruthless. The lettuce was productive, but would have grown larger if it were thinned better. The bigger problem was that no one really liked the "Black-Seeded Simpson" variety. DD15 and DH both thought it was bitter.

Spinach: directly sown into styrofoam fish box, very early in the spring. Again, over-sown and under-thinned. The plants are starting to bolt, without ever having gotten large enough to pick. I do still have some transplanted into the carrot bed, and they may still produce leaves.

Spinach Mustard: winter-sown in a tray enclosed in a bag. First thing to sprout in March. Way, way too densely-sown and hard to transplant. I had no place to go with these. A few went into the ill-fated Mom-box and are still growing - the critters didn't like them. The rest of the tray bolted (photo above) without getting more than an inch high - the crowding must have been too stressful. There are also a few in the ground near the carrots, but I think they are bolting, too.

Green Onions - directly sown in prepared ground in March. Slow to germinate. Fairly robust, but still not large enough to harvest. Seems to be a success. Could have been sown more evenly. Requires little labor beyond some weeding. I also planted lots of yellow and white onions from sets, to harvest later in the summer. I find the onions all to be low-labor and easy to weed. Onions may be cheap to buy, but they are also easy-peasy to grow. It felt very productive to have something to plant in the earliest part of the season.

Peas: directly sown around St. Patrick's Day. Pear tree twigs later added as pea trellis. These were a lot of fun to watch sprout and bloom. Pretty plants and flowers. We have already harvested all the peas and eaten them the same day. I need to add innoculant next time, to increase the yield. I would need to plant many more of them, if we want to have peas to freeze. I count the peas very much in the success column.

However, if our overall goal was to reduce our spending on produce, the spring was a failure. I've harvested and dried thyme, lemon balm, and mint. We ate a little of the lettuce, and about 2 cups or so of peas. But much was learned at little expense, which is valuable before we start growing on a larger scale. The germination was very successful, and the fish boxes are great containers. I need to work on less-dense sowing, better thinning, and more containers for transplanting. We would have been fine with 8-12 full-sized plants of each variety of greens, and I sowed hundreds. For lettuce, I think I want to stick with growing romaine, which everyone likes, and was grew nicely last year. I will have another shot at spinach and lettuce in the fall garden.

I've pulled out the lettuce in one fish box, and planted transplants of a head lettuce I hope is heat-tolerant. We also pulled out the pea vines today, and planted a short row of 20 cowpea seeds in their place.

So... on to summer gardening!

Monday, June 9, 2008

To-Do List Update

Things are on hold until this heatwave breaks Tuesday night, but then we have things to do in our yard:

- replant fish boxes with broccoli and lettuce
- start cowpeas to replace peas
- harvest remaining peas and compost vines
- harvest dill, bee balm, and mint
- pot up coleus and plant marigold starts
- water everything with epsom salts - 1 Tbl to 2 gallons
- shear the grass again later this week
- root cuttings of salvia, sedum, baptisia
- expand veggie bed for cabbage plants
- find source for food-grade 5-gallon buckets
- figure out peony problem - Phytophthora?
- move - bee balm, salvias, sedums, small peony, iris

And in Mom's yard:

- sort pots
- plant parsnips & sweet potatoes
- plant something new in fish boxes
- borrow pick-up truck to haul brush and scrap

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Highlights of a busy week

Busy week, not much time to post.

- Lots of new things blooming, mostly yellow.
- Rescued free flats of broccoli, cabbage and lettuce.
- Picked the first of the peas.
- Everything is growing like crazy.
- The climbing rose won't bloom because I pruned it last fall. Duh!
- Helping a neighbor kid plant a tiny veggie garden for her mother.
- Found a food dehydrator at a yard sale for $3.
- Spelt waffles.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Drying stuff for herbal tea

I used to be a fanatical drinker of tea, Earl Grey in particular. Drank huge quantities of iced and hot tea every day. But then I had to decaffeinate a few years ago, for health reasons. A difficult transition, but now I am happily addicted to iced herbal Red Zinger instead, and getting interested in growing stuff to make my own blends.

I hung up some lemon balm to dry last week. Early this morning, I harvested a lot of peppermint and stripped the leaves to dry. I recently read a discussion about using your car as a giant summer dehydrator. You put screens or baskets in there and by the end of the day, things will be dry. You know, I bet you could fit a lot of screens in an SUV. Maybe that is what we can all do with the big-ass vehicles when they become too expensive to drive.
"Hey, what kind of dehydrator do you use?"

"A Cadillac Escalade."
I miss real tea - black, green, and white. Smokey Lapsang Souchong. This fabulous smooth Chrysanthemum Tea I once got in Chinatown and now cannot find - you could brew it forever and it never got bitter. It's like quitting smoking (which I also did a few years ago) - you always feel a little cheated that something so satisfying should be unhealthy.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

One Local Summer - Week 1 - Brunch

I wanted to make brunch for this first challenge meal. Our family often makes a leisurely brunch and sits down to watch a movie after we come back from church on Sundays. We caught up on DVR'd episodes of The Riches and Battlestar Gallactica today.
Roasted Corn Grits
Scrambled Eggs
Toast with Nectarine Jam
Absent: Strawberries
I learned how to make grits this past year, so I knew I'd found my meal when I spotted Brinser's Best Roasted Yellow Corn Meal at the Echo Hill Country Store in Fleetwood. It was $1.40 for a 2-lb bag produced in Manheim by Haldeman Mills (37 miles). I made the grits with pork stock, high-index garlic powder, salt and pepper, and cream cheese. It was my homemade roasted pork stock, from neckbones gotten from a local butcher and herbs from my own yard. My usual garlic grits recipe calls for a head of roasted garlic, but there is no local garlic yet. Still, these grits were saturated with pork, corn, and garlic flavors.
FAUX PAS: The cream cheese wasn't local. I usually have something local, but I checked all my cheese and came up with nothing. The grits were cooking and there was nothing to be done.
The eggs were from a pastured flock at the Echo Hill Farm outside Fleetwood (12 miles) They were $1.25 for a dozen small, and we used the whole dozen to make eggs for three of us. They were cooked in butter from Sommer Maid ($2.40/lb) from Sommer Maid Creamery in Pipersville (60 miles), purchased at Echo Hill.

We used Hatfield Sliced Bacon, a regular commercial brand produced in Hatfield, 40 miles away over in Montgomery County. We won a membership to the Bacon-of-the-Month Club from, but I couldn't use that premium bacon - it gets shipped to me in an insulated box every month. Delicious, but certainly not local food.

Like the bacon, the bread for toast wasn't "special." It was Maier's Seeded Italian. The bakery itself is local, but it is part of the larger Stroehmann Bakeries group. I picked bread that everyone would eat, which sometimes requires a compromise. The point of this challenge is to eat local, not organic or artisan.

But the jam was definitely special. Nectarine Jam ($6) from Riegel's Produce (25 miles) at the West Reading Farmer's Market this morning. The stand was staffed by a lovely family with girls close to my girls' ages. We bought eggs ($2.75/doz), fresh chocolate chip cookies ($4/doz), and the jam from them. We also bought green onions ($1.50 bunch), spelt flour ($3/2lb), and beef hot dogs ($2.50/lb) from other vendors. I expect to see a OLS meal that involves that spelt flour.

The meal ended up being heavy on protein. I had counted on finding strawberries at the market this morning. But it was a cool spring, and they are not quite ready - maybe next week. Pick-your-own starts on Monday at Ontelaunee Orchards, so I expect we will find some this week. I want to make jam.