Early Greens from the Garden

Early Greens from the Garden

Alas, my ground outside is still very much covered with snow and ice, and here I am ogling greens seeds old and new.  I love the variety you can find by shopping through seed catalogs.

This years planned greens include:

  • Lettuce – Rocky Top Mix
  • Lettuce – Red Romaine
  • Amaranth – Joseph’s Coat
  • Lettuce – Really Red Deer Tongue
  • Lettuce – Blushed Butter Cos
  • Lettuce – Summerlong Gourmet Mix
  • Mache – Verte de Cambre
  • Spinach – Bloomsdale Long Standing
  • Spinach – Bordeaux
  • Minutina – Erba de Stella
  • Strawberry Spinach (saved seed)
  • Spinach (saved seed)
  • Kale – Dinosaur (Lacinato)
  • Swiss Chard – Five Color Silverbeet
  • Kale – Nero de Tuscana
  • Kale – Red Russian
  • New Zealand Spinach
  • Bok Choy – Ching Chang
  • Chinese Cabbage – Michili

To get a jump on the season, I’ve got an indoor planting bench and a small greenhouse attached to the house.  This year, I decided to try something different and pre-sprouted and grew out some pea seeds just for use as greens.  The tender tops and little tendrils make a nice salad addition.

To sprout my peas, I placed them in a wide mouth mason jar, covered them with water and the sprouting strainer lid, and let them soak overnight.  In the morning, drain and rinse and leave them on the counter for a few days, rinsing once or twice a day.  By the end of they week, you’ve got something like this:

pea sprouts

As you can see, the peas have developed mice little root systems.  Some of them haven’t sprouted, so those get tossed.

sprouted beans

I put some potting soil in old organic salad mix trays, snuggled the little seedlings in and tucked them under the grow lights.  At the same time, I started some Rocky Top lettuce mix, some butter Cos, some spinach, some Alyssum and some Painted Tongue.

planted pea sprouts

Two days later, and the peas were coming along nicely.

growing pea sprouts

A week later, and the first  pea tops were ready to harvest.  The salad greens and flowers were poking up out of the soil.  As I said, it’s been really cold and dreary here, so I’m setting no records for rampant growth.  I moved all of these trays out to the greenhouse shortly after this photo, and they’ve really been creeping along.

Early Greens from the Garden

Here’s my first bowl of pea tops.

pea tops

I added them to a nice mixed salad with some organic store bought greens (a month later, and the lettuce and spinach are almost ready to harvest as micro greens – trying to be patient).  Here we’ve got some leftover shell peas from supper the previous night, greens, pea tops, crispy walnuts, raw milk bleu cheese from Nala’s, soaked sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, dried blueberries, balsamic vinegar and flaxseed oil.  I regularly enjoy having a big mess o’ salad like this for lunch.  Sometimes I’ll add sardines or pickled fish, or fresh sourdough bread slathered with plenty of butter.

homemade mixed salad

Temps are finally warming up this week, so I’ll be starting more seeds inside and hopefully be able to plant outside within the next few weeks.  I decided I’m going to use my sprouting jar to pre-sprout my early peas before plating them out in the garden (these really early ones will remain inside for greens) , since I regularly have germination issues with peas when the ground is cold and wet.  I’ve got some worm castings from Whitetail Organics to top dress the soil, which adds a nice little nitrogen boost that leafy veggies love (I also add it to my potting mix).  The worm castings don’t have the potential disease issues of improperly finished compost or pathogen potential of  other manures, which is another reason I like to use vermicompost if I have it.  Most greens do well in (or prefer) cooler weather, so they are great season extenders.

What are your favorite greens?  Do you have any tips for growing them that you’d like to share?

UPDATE:  The snow has finally cleared from the garden, and I can see the semi-permanent greens bed that had just started leafing out last fall coming to life.  I’ve been letting this corner of my garden self-seed with mache and strawberry spinach.  Last fall it was getting quite overgrown with inedible weeds (the dandelions went in the salad bowl, too), so I cleaned it and added spinach.  The little plants are about an inch tall.  Yeah!

How to Make Sauerkraut

How to Make Sauerkraut - Naturally fermented and filled with probiotics, sauerkraut is a time honored way to add color and flavor to your meals.

Sauerkraut has been around for at least a couple of thousand years.  If you’d like a more detailed history, you can take a peek at this article.  It was eaten by workers on the Great Wall of China, packed by Captain Cook to prevent scurvy, and valued by Northeastern Europeans as a staple food through the long winters.  While the name may mean “rotten cabbage”, if you do it right it should be quite the opposite, staying fresh for an extended period of time. [Read more…]

A Day in the Slow Life

A Day in the Slow Life @ Common Sense Homesteading

Annette at Sustainable Eats (a truly inspiring woman with very interesting blog) tagged me in a meme that asks participants to share a day in their slow lives.  I have to say, from what I’ve read so far, most of the “slow life” folks have pretty busy days.

In an effort to get this posted in time for Simple Lives Thursday, I’m going to try to recollect this past Monday.  The days sometimes seem to run together.  There’s always so much I’d like to do, and then there’s what can reasonably be accomplished (at least by me, an individual who requires sleep).

6:00 am-ish – Hubby gets up to shower and head out for two hour drive to work.  Since having to take a job out of town last year, he now comes home on weekends and stays in a small condo near work during the week.  It’s been tough being apart, but for now a lot of things are still up in the air and we’re hoping to hang on to our current home (our “dream house” built on 35 acres in the country back in 2005).  I say a little prayer each day that eventually he’ll be able to find a job back in the area.

While hubby is in the shower, I gather the trash and recyclables for him to drop at the end of the driveway on his way out (we have a really long driveway), and pack some food stuffs for him to take to the condo (this week it’s homemade gluten free vanilla cookies).

6:30 – Hubby is gone.  Eat a tablespoon of coconut oil.  Put on exercise shoes and do about a half hour of aerobics followed by 15 minutes or so of stretching.

Snap and minipig
Minipig (left) and Snap

7:15 – Feed inside and outside cats.  Put away dishes left to dry from previous night.  I usually do dishes/run the dishwasher in the evening and let things air dry overnight.  Went downstairs to go out to the garden to grab some kale for breakfast (we have a walk out basement and the basement patio door is the closest one to the garden), got sidetracked cleaning up the basement.  I have an eight foot folding table down there that was covered with four types of shell beans, melons, seed heads, tomato ties, clippers…uh…well, it was a mess.  We’re talking with some homeschool friends about blowing things up down there instead, so I had to make room.  Melons to the counter (there’s a kitchenette), beans upstairs to be shelled, seed heads upstairs, tie bands to the laundry room, clippers to their storage bin, etc.  Grab a gallon bucket of walnuts from where they’re curing in the greenhouse and take them upstairs to shell, too.  Go back down and outside to finally grab the kale I’d forgotten earlier.

8:15 – Dice up kale and throw it in a pan with some organic butter and the last of the cherry tomatoes.  Usually I have tomatoes that store a little later, but I got hit with late blight at the end of the season and my remaining tomatoes did not keep as well as usual. Once the kale is tender, shove veggies to the side of the pan and throw in a small duck egg from the neighbors.  Cover and cook a few minutes for sunny side up, then dump the whole mess on a plate and add a little bruschetta for extra kick.  Boot up the computer and munch breakfast with a side of Toffee Apple kombucha (kombucha w/ apple cider and a little English Toffee liquid stevia).

8:45 – Boys awake (yes, they are night owls).  Get them some breakfast (bagel with cream cheese and coconut oil (not homemade), peanut butter and strawberry rhubarb jelly sandwich (all homemade), apple slices on the side.  Let them play a while and munch breakfast, have them sort the laundry.  Get the laundry going, pay some bills, catch up on email, do some research.

10:00 – Get the boys started on bookwork for the day.  We homeschool, but we keep a pretty relaxed schedule.  Dunc starts working on adding and subtracting decimals, August on algebra.  Hang up the laundry on the line and start the next load.  It’s a sunny day, so even though it’s cooler the laundry should be almost dry by evening.  We’ve got a porch that runs along the south side of our home and acts as an overhang for the passive solar aspect of the home, and I’ve got my laundry line right on the porch so it’s very convenient.

laundry on line

11:00am – The boys shift to handwriting, grammar, and vocabulary.  I hang up the second load of laundry, and help out as needed.  I put some milk kefir and chia seeds in the Vitamix to soak in preparation of making a green smoothie for lunch.  Start another batch of milk kefir.

Noon – Lunch time.  The boys put on a special about earthquakes to watch while they munch.  I make up some toasted cheese sandwiches and tomato soup for them (they’re not big on green smoothies, but I keep trying).  For myself, I raid the fridge and freezer – green beans, cucumbers, dried coconut, nutritional yeast, Superior Reds powder, blueberries, strawberries, banana, peach (last four all frozen) – everything goes into the Vitamix.  Turn up the power and I’ve got a smoothie.  I pair this up with a few slices of raw cheese and Nuthins, and that’s lunch.

1:00 pm – Science time.  We’re studying geology right now.  We read a section about ocean vents, and then watch some cool footage on YouTube.  I love the internet.

2:00 – The weather is nice, so we’ve got to make some progress in the garden today.  The boys work on pulling the last of the tomato trellis parts, and I work on cleaning the pathways around my center wagon wheel shaped permanent beds.  The herbs and weeds went a little nuts this year with all the rain, and the garden got rather overgrown.  The center-most herb bed is still a thicket, but at least now the paths are walkable.  We start putting down cardboard, old newspaper and bird food bags to block the weeds, covered by wheat straw.  We manage to get about half of the paths done.  The bean plants are clipped back, a few more stray dry beans are found.

This year we had Calypso, Bumblebee, Tiger Eye for dried beans, and Emerite pole beans for green beans.  I brace up the cilantro plants, hoping that more of the seeds will ripen yet this season.  We’ve had a light frost, but the plants survived.  I grab a dill weed seed head, and take that inside to save, too.  We have cabbage, kale, and Swiss chard ready to harvest.  We’ve been digging up carrots and sunchokes as we need them, but will dig up the remainder of the carrots before the ground freezes.  We eat some sunchokes, but the patch produces way more than we care to eat now.  The parsnips will stay in the ground over winter.  There’s still celery and parsley, too.  I’ll dig those up and move them into the greenhouse soon.  The green beans are still alive, and I grab about a gallon of beans to eat.

kefir brewing
Kefir brewing

5:00 pm – We head inside.  The boys crack some walnuts and grab the laundry off the line while I cook supper (and eat a tablespoon of coconut oil).  Tonight’s special is modified breakfast leftovers – tomorrow I cook “for real” again.  We’ve got diced and reheated breakfast sausage from the little meat place down the road with scrambled duck eggs from the neighbors and a side of the green beans I picked earlier.  The boys are drinking local apple cider and I’ve got some heavily fermented raspberry lemonade water kefir.  This bottle was forgotten in the basement fridge for about a month and has a heck of a head on it.  Thus far I prefer my water kefir flavored with citrus (lemon-lime, raspberry lemonade).  The boys will drink root beer flavored (I currently use extract, but did recently buy some roots to experiment with).  I want to experiment with hibiscus and other herbs, too.  That’s what winters are for.  :-)

nutcracker boys
Nutcracker boys

6:00 – Sneak in a dry brush and shower (with hot/cold rinses at the end – I’m working on detoxing).  I’ve got some lovely vanilla mint soap I made with a friend, and I use coconut oil to clean my face.  Sort laundry, do the dishes, tackle the rest of the stacked up mound of paperwork (more bill paying, balance bank statement), more email, visit with friends.  The boys like to play online games.  We are all in one room together, so I can keep tabs on what they’re up to.

9:00 pm – Head the boys off to their showers and bedtime prep.  Somewhere between 9:30 and 10, we all pile into my bed and read some history.  This week we’re covering the 1900’s, and that night was about President Roosevelt.

10 – ish – The boys head off to their beds and I get a little reading done.  I’m working my way through a new whole foods cookbook, but I’ve been a little disappointed.  Way too much soy, no soaking or sprouting of grains (although it is gluten free, which is why I bought it in the first place), no soaking their nuts to reduce phytates, and heavy use of spices (I know they’re good for you, but our palates are just not into overly spiced food).  Fat use is minimal – I like my fats, and they like me.  Lots of use of fresh fruits and veggies that are not available in my area for much of the year.  Very little fermenting – a couple of sauerkraut recipes.  Sigh.  I guess I just keep assembling recipes off the internet.  A big thanks to all my real food blogger friends who share their awesome recipes (and the problems they’ve run into :-).

10:30 or so – I use some coconut oil I keep by the bed to coat my feet and hands.  They get so dry in the cooler months.  Another goal I have for this fall is to make a couple more dry skin salves to try out.  I want to make one with burdock root (we have a TON of it around here) and one with hibiscus flowers (I found a recipe online and the flowers were on sale recently through Frontier).  Lights out.

And now I’m tagging Pamela of Seeds of Nutrition, Paula of The Chicken Coop (see, this is what you two get for chatting with me regularly on Facebook) and YOU! I’d love to read all of your “day in the slow life” posts in this Thursday’s Simple Lives. Please consider it – we all learn so much from each other.

Root Cellars 101- Root Cellar Design and Use

Root Cellars: The Low Cost Way to Store Over 30 Fruits and Vegetables Without Electricity.  How to design a root cellar?   What can I store in a root cellar?

We built a root cellar under our front porch.  Typically, if you’re building new your porch floor is formed out of a concrete slab, you need to put a foundation wall under it anyway, so why not put this area to good use?  Even if you can’t deal with (or don’t want to deal with) traditional root cellaring (storing vegetables and fruit), you could use the space as a wine cellar, gun cabinet, place to brew beer, a battery room for your PV/Wind system or simply more storage.  I highly recommend including a root cellar as part of your emergency preparedness planning if you can, as it’s a great low-cost, no-energy way to store food and extend the shelf life of fresh produce. [Read more…]

Corn Party!

I wasn’t sure how much of a corn harvest we’d have this year, as we were hit with heavy wind and rain about the time the corn was tasseling out.   July 15th found much of my corn nearly flat on the ground.

knocked down corn

Comments were flying around Facebook about how to cope with this, and most folks said just to leave it and hope it came back up, but the ground was so wet and the corn was so tall that I knew if I didn’t get it upright the stalks would grow curved.  (I have had this happen before and ended up with a tangled mess.)  The boys and I pounded in stakes at intervals along the rows.  We then tied twines/ropes between the stakes, bracing the tipping corn against the twine.

corn stalks

We got hit bad one more time, but most of the corn stayed upright.  We did end up with a few curved stalks, but nothing too serious.

My sister and her husband came to visit recently and were kind enough to pitch in with round one of corn harvesting (variety – Spring Treat from Fedco Garden Seeds).  Never let it be said that I don’t know how to show someone a good time. ;-)  We ended up with a bumper crop, harvested in high heat and humidity.  Husking the corn was sticky work.

husking corn
boys husking corn

Two five gallon tubs turned into a pretty sizable pile of corn – over twice the size of last year’s harvest.

lots of corn

I won’t get into the picking and processing details here (you can look at last year’s post for that information). As I said above, we ended up with more than twice the amount of corn harvested last season.

processed corn

With this and second crop (Tuxedo), we should be more than set until next harvest.

I do want to point out something that is frustrating to me that I can’t do a darn thing about – genetic contamination.  Take a look at this close up of a corn cob.

genetically contaminated corn

Every strand of silk forms a kernel.  Corn pollen to fertilize those silks is borne on the wind and can travel for miles.  Look at the center of the photo.  See the darker kernel?  That’s likely GMO (genetically modified organism) contamination from my neighbor’s field corn.  The majority of field corn planted in the United States is now genetically modified.  Although I’d prefer not to eat this, it’s not a huge deal for me on such a minimal scale.  The same can’t be said for others.  Bt corn (corn that is modified to produce it’s own insecticide) is making pests resistant to Bt, one of the only natural pest control methods available to organic farmers.  (Bt is a naturally occurring organism that gives caterpillars “fatal tummyaches”.)

I’ve been suspecting for some time that the recent rise in allergies is influenced by the increased amount of GM corn and soy in our diets, and I’m not the only one.  Further, for those that save seed, GMO corn is destroying heirloom varieties that have existed for generations, and contaminating non-GMO fields around the world.  My favorite seed catalog, Fedco Garden Seeds, tests their seed corn each year for contamination.  They regularly have to pull some varieties because they have been contaminated with GM seed.  It’s pretty frustrating.

What can we do?  Educate yourself.  If you have a garden, look for seed sources that are not owned by the agri-business giants (my sidebar has my personal favorites).  Try heirloom, open pollinated and standard hybrids.  Buy organic when you can.  Organic products (as of this writing) cannot use GMOs.  The corporations are dominated by profits.  If we won’t buy products, they loose money.  If you feel inclined, write to the food manufacturer of your choice and tell them that you don’t want to eat genetically engineered food.  Write to your congressman and tell them you support labeling of GM foods.  It’s slow going, but people demanding real food are making a difference.

Want to know more?

This post has been added to: Simple Lives Thursday