Before You Plant Sunchokes, You Need to Read This Post

Before You plant sunchokes, you need to read this post.  What are sunchokes? What are the health benefits of sunchokes? Why you shouldn't plant sunchokes in your regular garden.

It all started innocently enough.

Somewhere I read about this native vegetable that was great for diabetics – or maybe it was that episode of Top Chef where one of the contestants made a sunchoke and spinach puree that the judges just raved about.  It could have been an article on easy care perennial vegetables.  I honestly don’t remember.  Whatever prompted me to grow sunchokes, there’s a few things I need to share with you so you don’t make the same mistakes I did. [Read more…]

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Introduction to Permaculture

Introduction to Permaculture - Permaculture (permanent agriculture) is an ethical, sustainable food system. Learn how one family is transforming their own land and helping to teach others.

I was busy in June ’14 cutting swales all over the garden. It is up to almost 2 acres of hand dug swales in under 8 months. It can be done for free and by one person!


This is a guest post by Matt Powers, author of “The Permaculture Student”.

Have you heard of Permaculture?

I hadn’t until I really began exploring organic gardening and saw a divide between those that were just changing their inputs to organic and those really gardening naturally. I was on a mission to find clean and healthy food for my wife, a 3 time cancer survivor. I was not going to be satisfied with good or better; I was going to find what was best. That’s what permaculture is for a gardener – it’s the best way to garden, but it’s also a whole lot more than gardening. In fact, gardening may end up being just a small part of it. [Read more…]

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Growing Asparagus and Rhubarb

Growing Asparagus and Rhubarb @ Common Sense Homesteading

It’s that time of year – no, not Christmas, it the time when the seed catalogs start coming in the mail! While you brainstorm next year’s plantings, consider growing asparagus and rhubarb.  Because these perennials live for years, they are worth the time investment.  They often provide the first garden harvest of the year.  You may not even need to plant asparagus, as it grows wild in some places.

If you’ve never had fresh picked asparagus  – steamed, stir fried, or even raw – you’ve missed how good asparagus can be.  I would say the flavor is kind of like snap peas, but different in a good way. Here in northwest Wisconsin it grows wild in places, along fence lines and under power lines where birds plant the seeds after they eat the fruit during the summer. The mature plants are the easiest to spot along roads and walking sunny fence lines. You can map them out and then come back in the spring. This is what last year’s mature plants look like: [Read more…]

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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.

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Asparagus and Rhubarb

cut rhubarb

In spite of our cool weather, spring-bearing perennials such as asparagus and rhubarb have been producing tasty edibles. The rhubarb patches are largely unhampered by the cold. We don’t have a patch at our current location, but the neighbors are always happy to share. Once a patch is well-established, I have yet to meet anyone who has been interested in using up their entire patch production. I enjoy the tartness combined with some sweetness, and sometimes some dairy. Mine usually goes into sauce (lovely on toast or ice cream), muffins (these freeze well and stay nice and moist) or desserts (I have a rhubarb custard recipe that everyone in the family likes).

Asparagus is also in season, but the cold has slowed it down significantly. I’m garden tending for neighbors who are traveling for a couple of weeks, and part of my job is to find the asparagus spikes (they have patches scattered around the yard) and harvest them so they don’t go to seed too early. Most sources I’ve seen suggest harvesting for around three weeks before allowing the spikes to grow out and flower to put energy into the roots for the following season. With the dry May we had, some of the first spikes harvested were a little bitter, and they were few and far between in the patch. Since the rain, growth has picked up and the flavor has sweetened back to normal.

Fresh local asparagus is an entirely different vegetable than the store bundles shipped from across the country. If you’ve never been an asparagus fan, you need to try fresh, locally grown. The taste is more like garden peas with just hint of asparagus “wildness”. Good and good for you, I hope you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy these spring treats.

Pork with Rhubarb Sauce recipe 

3 lb Pork loin center rib roast (8 ribs)
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon Pepper; coarsely ground
1/2 lb Rhubarb, fresh; chopped (2 cups)
1/4 cup Apple juice concentrate; thawed
2 Tablespoon Honey
Nutmeg, ground
2 Tablespoon Water
1 teaspoon Cornstarch

Have the butcher loosen the pork roast backbone, if possible, for easier carving. Rub the roast with salt and pepper. Place bone side down in a small, shallow roasting pan. Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest portion of the roast; make sure bulb doesn’t touch bone, fat, or the pan. Roast, uncovered, at 325 F. until the thermometer reads 150 F., about 75 to 90 minutes.
For the sauce, in a medium saucepan stir together the rhubarb, apple juice concentrate, honey, and nutmeg. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat, cover, and simmer ten minutes or until the rhubarb is very tender. Mix the water and cornstarch; stir into the rhubarb mixture. Cook and stir until the sauce is thickened and bubbly. Continue cooking for two minutes more.
When the meat thermometer registers 150 F., spoon some of the sauce over the roast. Continue roasting until the thermometer reads 170 F., about 30 to 45 minutes more. Spoon on additional sauce occasionally. Let the roast stand 15 minutes before carving. Heat any remaining sauce and pass with the roast.

Cream of Asparagus Soup recipe

1/4 cup butter
1 onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups water
1 (10.5 ounce) can condensed chicken broth or homemade chicken broth
4 tablespoons chicken bouillon powder

1 potato, peeled and diced
1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and
coarsely chopped
3/4 cup half-and-half
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1. Melt butter or margarine in a heavy cooking pot. Add onions and chopped celery; saute until tender, about 4 minutes. Stir in flour, mixing well. Cook for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Do not burn, or let it go lumpy. Add water, chicken broth, and chicken soup base; stir until smooth. Bring to a boil. Add diced potatoes and chopped asparagus. Reduce heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes.
2. Puree soup in a food processor or blender in batches. Return to pot.
3. Stir in half and half cream, soy sauce, and black and white pepper. Bring soup just to boil. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve hot.

Ready In: 1 Hour
Servings: 6

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