Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Catalogs Have Begun Arriving!!!

Today I received TWO gardening catalogs - An early Burpee catalog and one from the Gardeners Supply Company. So what you're asking yourself... That means that myself and gardeners throughout southeast Michigan have begun to get the "itch". It doesn't help that the cold and snow the past few days has caused some to grumble (not me though)...

I DID find a very cool raised bed "planting tool" on the Gardener's Supply company catalog - And it's something for FREE. Check it out. The tool will help you plan and plant eight types of raised bed gardens from plans for a children's garden, the kitchen garden, and even a high yield garden. I am planning on trying it out this summer for my two 3' x 6' raised bed gardens and my small 3' x 3' raised bed. Looks to be easy and educational!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Best Holiday Gardening Gift

YEA, I am so excited to write that I have been given the best gardening gift yesterday - And I CAN'T wait to use it. No it won't help me grow bigger, better plants, and no it won't make my summer gardening chores easier, but it is a FUN gadget!!! Yes that's right, mom gave me a time lapse garden cam, specifically the GardenWatch Cam by Brinno!

I can now spy on my growing garden... He he, better yet MAYBE in can capture images of my sneaky rabbit as he chomps all of my sweet, succulent lettuce to the ground... Grrr... Silly rabbit this is for kids!

No really, mom bought be a plant cam. I saw one in a catalog a few months ago, and casually mentioned it to my mom. I thought it would be a fun thing to use throughout the yard. it SO makes me want to begin planning and plantin', THAT'S for sure.

Here is a demo of some seedlings growing that is posted on YouTube:


What was the best gardening "gift" that you received from Santa this year?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Build Your Own Rain Barrel This Winter

A few years back my brother bought me my first rain barrel for Christmas. Yes a rain barrel in Michigan, in December is kind of odd, however if you think about it, planning your garden for the next season is a popular hobby, so why not plan on how you're going to water it. PLUS some communities give tax rebates for the usage of rain barrels!

So why not make your own rain barrel??? Take a look at a friends video of the experience her and her husband had while building their own rain barrels:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Gifts for the Gardener

I love Downtown Home and Garden in Ann Arbor, and don't know ANY gardener who wouldn't appreciate a holiday gift from there... So when planning what to get that hard-to-buy-for gardener, think of bringing them a garden in Winter!

They even have a great web coupon available for this month:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pumpkins, Pumpkins Everywhere

I've been lax on blogging for this site, I know I'll commit to posting one a week for anyone out there reading. I just got caught up in the harvest and then garden clean up, then we got sick, then, then, then... Let's face it, we have excuses for EVERYTHING, but the bottom line I made the commitment to put myself out there, so I'm going to do it

The end of the summer brought about several bountiful crops - small green peppers, a bumper crop of a few zucchini (that the squash bugs didn't destroy!), tomatoes, apples, grapes, peaches, small pumpkins - mostly pie pumpkins, and ice box watermelon. I was like a canning and cooking fiend. On my best days I put up 8-12 quarts of something or another - Typically some type of "garden marinara sauce".

When the tomatoes ran out (Or more likely when I ran out of steam for cooking them all) I was faced with the last of the green peppers and pumpkins! We ate a lot of pepper steak and I made several batches of the pepper/onion mix to freeze for use later. Pumpkins though they were a different story, and we had 30 small pie pumpkins and 4 presumably small carving type pumpkins, we carved 2 of them.

What does one do with pumpkins that's not "sweet". I knew I could make a killer pumpkin spice cake/cupcakes - But what else?! And so I went on the hunt...

I found several awesome recipes that I'll write about in the next few days: Pumpkin Noodle Bowl (courtesy of a Facebook friend), Pumpkin Ravioli, Pumpkin Pasta, and finally several Pumpkin Soups. When I got confident in the flavors of pumpkin I made my own recipe that turned out mild but very tasty. Here it is:

Delicate Pumpkin Soup

1/2 cup minced onion
1 1/2 T unsalted butter
2 cups of fresh pumpkin puree or 1 can of pumpkin puree
3 T Parmesan Cheese
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups beef, chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 t dried thyme
1/4 t dried tarragon
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste

Sour cream, creme fresh, roasted pumpkin seeds or fresh fried sage leaves for garnish

Brown 1/2 cup of minced onion in a pan with 1 1/2 T butter. Add 2 cups of pureed pumpkin and saute for an additional 2 minutes. Add 3 T of Parmesan cheese and a dash of nutmeg. Simmer gently until the pumpkin mixture is slightly dry.

Add approximately 1 cup of heavy cream and 2 cups of desired broth and whisk together until all ingredients are fully incorporated. Add a 1/4 t thyme, 1/4 t tarragon ad 1 bay leaf and bring soup to a gentle boil for approximately 30 minutes - Or longer to add more of the herbal flavor!

Season with salt & pepper to taste and top with a dollop of sour cream or creme fresh and couple chopped and seasoned baked pumpkin seeds or a fried sage leaf for garnish.

Yummy, hearty and warming... The entire family liked this recipe!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Make your own grape juice - It's good for you and tastes GREAT!

This year the kids and I have done a TON of foraging - I say they help me, but basically they run around the open field and play while I harvest! Sometimes I go just by myself - I just need to get away.. The other day I needed one of those days and I popped over to my friend Steve's to harvest the last of our pumpkins, and misc. garden produce. I also wanted to grab the grapes that i had seen earlier in the summer growing in several places along his property line.

As I arrived I realized I may be too late, as one of his new neighbors was hacking away at the fence-line at the uncontrolled and overgrown grapevines, mulberry trees and black raspberries. As grandma would say, I was a day late and a dollar short... However as I approached the fence-line I heard "So you must be the maple tree girl, Steve told us about you. He said you may be coming for the grapes." Luckily most of the most prolific vines were still in tact, so i was able to harvest a bunch.


After I stopped by to ask Steve about any large nearby Oak trees (as I was also on a Hen of The Woods mushroom hunt). He told me to check out the old cemetery adjacent to his property

I arrived and didn't find any elusive mushrooms HOWEVER I thankfully looked up and saw a whole lot of wild grapes. I spent the next hour and a half collecting as many as I could reach - Wish i had a ladder with me! In all I collected 15-20 pounds of grapes.

So what does one do with grapes? Make jelly? I already have so much of that put up for the year... Make wine? I didn't have everything I needed to make that happen... How about GRAPE JUICE!

Now if you think making your own grape juice is difficult, it's not, but like the I Love Lucy episode where she gets very messy from mashing grapes - It IS a messy project!!! The kids thought it was cool that I brought home these tart super dark purple gems - They didn't much like eating them though, as they were too tart!!! So I set about to make my juice

Grape Juice

*NOTE: Generally, a pound of grapes makes approximately 1 cup of juice.

Essentially all you do is wash the grapes and remove them from their stems - This is really a pain to do though given the size of wild grapes! After they were washed, I added them to a large pot and added enough water to cover the grapes. Next mash the grapes and bring the pot of water/grapes to a simmer for approximately 10 minutes.

Next prepare a fine mesh colander with cheese cloth or other fine cloth - Don't laugh but I actually used clean nylons that were no longer good - They really do the trick! Then strain and gently squeeze the juice out of the grape pulp and compost the remaining mash.

You now have pure grape juice...

Our final product could have stained shirts BLACK it was so dark and rich, and in all after we cut it with water some and added a little sweetener we got 3 gallons of a very tasty juice. be aware though that there is some sediment in the bottom, so if you like strain the juice several times, or avoid shaking it before serving! My favorite way to drink it was to add some red wine to it making a perfect fall wine cooler!

I figure with all the natural goodness I got from that dark, rich juice, that I won't EVER die of any cancer because the juice was so full of so many good-for-you antioxidants

For a great step-by-step photo pictorial and directions for making your own grape juice, check out this site I found!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fall Mushroom Foraging

Last fall my husband and I headed out to a guided fall mushroom hunt with the Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation Program. We had a good time hunting for puff balls and were the only team that found the elusive Hen of the Woods.

I don't know why I had a craving to find them this fall, but the other day I decided I wanted to find my own Hen of The Woods. I packed up the car, loaded the kids and went to a local Township Park for the "hunt". We didn't hit the jackpot immediately, with Hen of the Woods, however we found TONS of puffball mushrooms all over the park. The kids had a blast walking around looking at dead tree trunks, in the open fields and along the trails - I think they found all of the mushrooms before I did. I COULD however smell the mushrooms as we headed along our way and told them to look out, and it's likely that walking ahead of me netted the most fungi, but I won't complain.

Along with finding mushrooms, I told my children never to pick any, except if Mommy or daddy were right there and said it was OK, and I told them to NEVER EVER eat any. I even said that they could die from eating mushrooms - I would tell ANYONE that. The two types of mushrooms I was hunting though are the easiest to identify and don't have poisonous look-a-likes really, so with my trusty guide-book in hand I felt confident in our harvest. Anything I wasn't certain of I took the "when in doubt throw out" route...

What was truly amazing was the next week while at my son's soccer game, my husband and daughter were roaming around, and my daughter netted a large cache of puff balls that hadn't gotten trampled - they were right in the middle of all the soccer fields!

We had a blast walking through the park looking for wildlife, falling leaves and all there is to see and do (I enjoyed tiring them out too!). I love teaching my children new and exciting things to do, and they enjoy spending the time with dear ole' mom!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Canning Across America

Yesterday I pulled 12 more pumpkins (can't wait to make more pumpkin ravioli and soup!), a half dozen ice-box watermelons, more green/yellow/red peppers, several handfuls of grape toms, and the end of the tomatoes... There might be a FEW more to pull from the garden, but thankfully the toms are coming to an end.

Don't get me WRONG I have thoroughly enjoyed the countless recipes and canning concoctions this year, and for the first time (because of the economy) I have canned more than ever! I'll have some awesome new recipes to share shortly too!

I also had a friend pass along something she heard on the Splendid Table on NPR this weekend - What a PERFECT site for me, and for the current canning trend. So if you've wanted to try canning, but were afraid to, check out Canning Across America. Maybe you'll be inspired to put up next years harvest!!!
Well folks, time to get back to preserving the fall harvest. The cool weather this week signals the seasons crops may be coming to a close...

Friday, September 25, 2009

Oops...

Hi All!

I realized that I have been lax in posting these past two weeks... I promise to get something up shortly. I have been busy with the fall harvest canning - Apples, peaches, more berries, pumpkins, watermelon, and more tomatoes!!! I have come across some great ways to prepare and preserve some of these gems that I will share later this weekend!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Tomato Canning Event This Weekend

Have you ever wanted to can your own tomatoes? Think "summer in a jar" in January sounds tasty? Maybe you would like to try a hand at canning but you are worried about food safety - What if I feed my family something I canned that makes them sick? Maybe you've had grandma's old canning jars forgotten, tucked into the basement just waiting to be used. Have no fear, for the next two Sundays at the Pittsfield Grange you will have the learning opportunity of a lifetime learning to can tomatoes - Actually I consider being taught to can by my grandparents as the "opportunity of a lifetime", however they're not available this weekend!

This introductory tomato canning workshop at the Grange is perfect for folks who have never canned before or are looking for a refresher course. Participants will discuss canning methods, food safety, and equipment, then have a hands-on lesson canning fresh tomatoes.

Tomato Canning Extravaganza!
Pittsfield Grange
3337 Ann Arbor-Saline Rd., Ann Arbor
Sept. 13th & Sept 20th, 2-5 pm

Suggested donation $5; free for members of the Grange

Participants are encouraged to bring 2 dry quarts of tomatoes and either one quart or two pint-sized canning jars with NEW lids and rings to take home some "fruits of their labor". Hint: You might also bring an extra jar or two, just in case there is extra 'maters!

RSVP for the Pittsfield Grange "Learn to can Tomatoes" event here!

Photo by Flickr user galant.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bumper Crop of Tomatoes?

I'll have to admit, I'm running out of energy to can, preserve or even eat tomatoes. I've made everything from Bloody Mary Mix, tomato soup, pizza sauce, marina sauce, and even sun-dried tomatoes. My family has eaten fresh 'maters over pasta, on sandwiches and on pizza... I'm beginning to feel like the Forest Gump of tomatoes! So the other day after coming back from the garden with yet another LARGE bag laden with the ripest, juiciest fruits I though - What now?! Even my family has begun to whine "Again?" So what's a girl to do?

It just so happens, I am an "experimental cooker". I'm not going to say that my cooking doesn't provide some "interesting" or not-to-be-repeated meals, but almost always I come up with a real hum-dinger of a recipe. In fact typically I'll try repeating it, only I have forgotten the "recipe". (Recipe is a vague term since it's really just my throwing in a pinch of this and a dash of that!) Yesterday after bringing yet another bag of tomatoes home though, I began to dream up a new recipe - Maybe it was the Rachel Ray coming out in me, but the first step was to see what pantry staples I had on hand!
I'll admit, this was a fun, easy recipe to put together AND to eat, and yes I did write it down!

Rustic Italian Tomatoes & Beef
Ingredients:
1 lb lean ground beef
1 shallot - chopped
6-8 medium tomatoes, cored, quartered and seeded, with the skins on
1/2 green, red or yellow pepper, sliced into small chunks
2 Tbs. Italian "season" mix
2 Tbs. Olive oil
1 Package (cup) instant tomato soup mix

Saute the shallot and beef together until the meat is cooked through, then drain the beef. (I actually drain it then gently blot with a paper towel.) Add the peppers and tomatoes to the pan. (I used yellow and red tomatoes and red and green peppers for lots of color!) next add your olive oil. Mix the cup of soup mix as directed and pour into the pan. Simmer on medium-low in a covered pan until the tomatoes are limp but not mushy.

I served the dish over whole wheat elbow noodles, however this would be great served over bow tie, twists or other "substantially" shaped pasta - It should look like a nice, hearty meal!
Photo by Flickr user Eric Begin.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Fresh Summer Ideas

I haven't had many opportunities to update this blog the past few weeks, I've been busy canning, preserving, cooking and baking. I can NOT imagine needing to do this to feed the family through the winter... I fall into bed each night exhausted and I'm NO WHERE near where i'd need to be for storage of food!

I was gifted four cucumers the other day - For whatever reason mine didn't do well, so these ones were a real treat. There's nothing better than fresh cucumbers in salad, soup or sauces to make it taste "fresh" and "vibrant". So tonight's dinner is grilled chicken breast with Tzatziki and Orzo Salad with Chickpeas, Dill & Lemon. There's no better summer meal!

Orzo Salad with Chickpeas, Dill & Lemon
1 cup uncooked orzo
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1 19-oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 T fresh lemon juice
1.5 T olive oil
1 T cold water
1/2 t salt1 clove crushed garlic

Cook pasta according to package and rinse with cold water and drain. Combine pasta, onions, cheese, dill and chickpeas in a large bowl, tossing gently to combine. Combine juice and remaining ingredients in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Drizzle over pasta mixture, toss gently to coat. Yields 4 servings - May be served warm or cool! (Recipe From Cooking Light)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Gardeners Combat Global Warming

It's no surprise that in michigan we've had a VERY strange (and cool) growing season in our gardens. For me that meant that my cool weather crops did very well, far into the growing season. It's been said that this is due to global warming - I'm not sure spending most of the summer in the 70's is "warm"...

Plants across the nation are affected by global warming - We have seen that many plants in your backyard are blooming earlier. Global warming will mean that many native and iconic plants may no longer find suitable climate conditions in major portions of their historic range. We, as gardeners can help combat this.

I found this download from The National Wildlife Federation - It's your's free to download!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Easy Summer "Marina"

I have a REALLY easy "pasta sauce" or marinara I create when the tomatoes start ripening. Really it's less of a recipe than an experiment of using your summer bounty in the crock-pot, however open a jar of this summer in a jar in the midst of the coldest January chill and you will understand WHY I create this dish!

To make it is really simple:

1) Wash your tomatoes the cut them into chunks and drop them into a crock pot. I leave the skin on and use several varieties including cherry/grape tomatoes. You COULD parboil them and drop them into an ice-bath to remove the skin however.

2) Add other garden veggies including green peppers, onions, shallots, or garlic - As much or as little as you may like!

3) Add Italian seasoning (from your pantry). I probably use 2 Tablespoons per large crock-pot.

4) Cook on high overnight with the top off to evaporate as much water as possible.

5) The next morning blend all of the cooked down vegetables - I use a stick blender however you could throw it all in a food processor or blender. the skins will blend down really well!!!

You can either can the pasta sauce or throw it into jars/baggies or plastic containers to freeze for several months! I promise that your family will love you when you open this jar and pour it over your choice of pasta!

There is no real measuring involved, however if you are adverse to seasonings, then add the Italian seasoning the next morning after blending the sauce. Also if you prefer a sweeter sauce, add a bit of sugar to taste!

ENJOY!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Frenzied Blackberry Fool

I (and the family) have been spending a significant amount of time this year foraging for things to eat in mother nature - Maple Syrup, black raspberries, mulberries, asparagus, mushrooms and most recently blackberries. Luckily I have found a friend as a result of my foraging requests, that has allowed me to ramble around on his property looking for mother nature's edibles.

Last week however, I received a message from my friend telling me that he thought he saw me on the property the day before. The thing was, he didn't see me pull up or even see where I parked my car, so he pulled out his spyglass to check it out and saw a woman with long-hair instead.

He thought that was odd, so he got on his tractor and rode out there to see what was up. Apparently the woman parked in the nearby cemetary and walked across another piece of private property to get to his blackberries. She said "Oh is this your place?" and "Where do you live?" (You can SEE the house from the back of his field, and you could plainly see where he came from on the tractor, so she must have been playing dumb.)

What I found very odd was that, there is in NO WAY that she could have SEEN the berries, or even followed the berry patch across the other property, as there were NO berry plants back there. In other words she must have previously KNOWN about the patch and trespassed into his property to get to it! Ordinarily I wouldn't say anything, except my friend is nice and told her he supposed it was OK that she was there - since she was ALREADY there picking. (He's much too nice in my opinion, i would have said to get lost - He didn't want the berries to go to waste though!)

Several days later I was out there picking again when suddenly another car drove back to the patch (It's at the very back of the property). I mean com'mon, once you get caught, shouldn't you just STOP with the pilfering? The woman pulled up and said "Hi mind if i join you?" I asked if Steve knew (my "provider") and she said Yes (which he really didn't "know" she was there that day) so I begrudgingly said, "I guess not."

I mean REALLY, what would you say to that? "Yea, com'mon over and pick where I am picking since you have already trespassed and KNOW that this field was here." Or "My berries are your berries, i'll just pick less today..." My friend even mowed around the bushes for the kids and I to better pick, which was also evident, so it's not like she couldn't have guessed that SOMEONE was already picking the prepped field!

Now I'm a pretty aggressive person when it comes to sportsmanship - My husband will tell you out-right to stand back because when I get into competitive mode it's a scary thing to see... So image this woman pulling up in her white truck and asking me "Do you mind company?"

I immediately jump into the super-speed mode, mowing around the blackberry plants like some frenzied fool - Pplucking ALL of the ripest, juiciest berries of the bunch and leaving the undesirable shriveled ones... I even plucked some that could have used another day in the sun, I was so competitive!

I'm sure she though "some nut-job", but I didn't like that this woman, who for all purposes DID NOT GET permission BEFORE she started picking, was back for more... That being said, it isn't my property, so I shouldn't feel this sort of entitlement, but I at LEAST had permission to be there!

So what does one do when a competitor moves into the field? Throw a curve-ball, spit-ball or other nastiness? Do you jump into the juiciest berries and leave nothing behind? I'm sure if you were nearby that day you would have hear the giant sucking noise as I went into vacuum mode - I can't believe the number of berries I picked that day. I even came back MUCH more often than I may have otherwise, just to thwart the pilferer.

I'd feel ashamed to admit this I suppose...

A few days ago I was chatting with a good friend about this encounter and mentioned the woman's name. My girlfriend said "Wait what was the name?" I told her again and she sounded rather puzzled. She asked again where my friend Steve lived, then asked about they type of car the woman drove, "Was it a white trailblazer?" "Oh I dunno, it was a white truck!"

My friend told me that her mother-in-law has been known to pick MANY berries, and in fact had a freezer filled with something liek 400 cups - YES 400 CUPS of berries!!! AND that was the general vacinity of where her mother-in-law MAY have been picking. My friend just couldn't understand why the woman introduced herself the way she had. A few days later, she asked her mother-in-law later if she had been "caught" (Although she is BY FAR much more PC than I!) and after a 30 minute conversation had her Mother-in-law admit that YES it was HER!

So my pilferer, the woman who trespassed and then played dumb, was none other than a very good friends mother-in-law!!! I laughed my butt off... What gets me though is that this woman felt there was nothing wrong with what she did in trespassing onto someone's property. Which brings me back to my original questions:

So what does one do when a competitor moves into the field? When another "forager" shows up what is the proper etticate? I know from shroom hunting that you simply don't walk into the area of the other 'shroom hunter, but in this case we were on PRIVATE PROPERTY! What should I, or could I have said?

Sometimes life just comes full-circle doesn't it?

Monday, August 3, 2009

How To Harvest Summers Garden Yield!

I read this article at the Lowes website and thought it is information was worth passing on, especially considering the weekend yield I plucked from the garden. So enjoy the excerpt or read the entire article at the Lowes website before heading to the garden ~ Enjoy all the baking, canning and cooking to come, I know I will!

Warm Season Crops: Plant-by-Plant Guide to Harvest

CornCorn—Start examining kernels after silks turn brown. Kernels should be plump and run milky when pierced with a fingernail. The milky color signifies that sugars have developed. Clear juices indicate not-so-sweet corn—if you find clear liquid, you may need to wait up to a whole week to pick. Check ears in three to four days. Sweetness starts to diminish the moment ears are picked. For best flavor, cook corn the same day you pick it. If you must store it for a day or two, don’t remove husks and keep ears cold.

Cucumbers—Pick fruit as soon as they appear fully formed and filled out. Cucumbers don’t always pull easily from the vine; carry kitchen or garden shears to snip stems. Plants produce more steadily when fruit is consistently picked. Avoid allowing early cucumbers to grow too large or the vine will yield fewer fruits overall. Use cucumbers within 7-10 days of picking. If you’re inundated with fruits, make some pickles.

Green beans—Once bean bushes and vines start blooming, check plants daily for ripe fruit. Pick beans when pods are small—about the thickness of a No. 2 pencil. French filet beans, however, yield thinner pods. Thicker pods, where the bean bumps are visible, can be chewy and woody. The more you pick beans, the more vines produce. Gather early beans as soon as they’re ready; if they’re allowed to ripen to maturity on plants, the crop will stop. Pull beans from vines with your fingers. Store beans in a plastic bag in the refrigerator and use within two weeks.

Herbs—For most herbs, flowering signals the end of the harvest. This is especially true of basil and oregano. Keep blooms snipped from plants to ensure flavorful leaves. Gather herbs by the leaf or stem. Strip leaves from woody stems of herbs like rosemary, basil, or thyme.

Sweet peppers—Pick green peppers as soon as they’re fully colored, shiny, and full size. Most peppers will continue coloring and turn shades of yellow, orange, or red. To harvest peppers, use a sharp knife or shears to snip stems. Leave a piece of stem attached to peppers, which helps them to last longer. Store peppers in the refrigerator, and use within three to five days. Harvest peppers before frost. Use any that get frosted immediately—they won’t store well.

Tomatoes—Ripe tomatoes don’t need to be fully colored—pick them when colored at least halfway. Tomatoes should feel heavy for their size and come easily off the plant. Ripen picked tomatoes on a counter or windowsill. Don’t refrigerate tomatoes, as they lose their flavor within two hours in the fridge. Avoid leaving tomatoes on the vine too long. Fully ripe tomatoes only keep two to three days on the vine.

WatermelonWatermelon—Determining watermelon ripeness is almost more art than science. Watch several items to gauge ripeness. The visible rind should change colors, from bright to dull green. The part of the skin touching the soil shifts from greenish white to cream. Tendrils nearest the melon shrivel and turn brown. Rapping on the melon should yield a hollow, low-pitched sound. Test some unripe ones to train your ear for the wrong sound. Uncut watermelons can store up to two weeks in the refrigerator, but it’s best to eat them at the peak of ripeness.

Zucchini—Pick fast-growing zucchini when fruits are 4-5 inches long. As soon as squash starts to form, check plants daily, looking beneath all leaves. Zucchini grows rapidly, and a fruit can easily grow to baseball bat size if it’s hidden under foliage. If you pick faithfully, zucchini vines will produce for about a month. For true zucchini lovers, sow a second set of seeds about a month after the first one to extend the harvest season.



Creative Commons License / photo credits: Lowes

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Creating Your Own Wildflower "Crown"

I received my latest issue of Family Fun and read with interest an article on making the CUTEST wildflower crown. As my son was off to day-camp, I decided this would be the perfect "something special" for my daughter and I to do - OK who am I kidding Gabby didn't do a whole lot except for picking out the flowers then modeling the final project. She's the cutest little model though (IMHO)!

Here's a video tutorial on how to make your OWN wildflower crown:


Name That Berry...

My daughter and I (OK mostly me!) spent the morning picking luscious "black berries" this morning - Two buckets worth of the gems! Actually my benefactor Steve (who is allowing me to forage on his property) says they are blackberries. The berries I harvested a few weeks back were apparently black raspberries...

The trouble is, one of the local Ann Arbor foragers in the area mentioned the end of last week that blackberry season is over. The berries I harvested today seem to just be beginning to ripen and will likely produce the majority of their load within the next two weeks - Provided they don't dry up!

These berries are a luscious deep black color that shine in the sun like the prettiest black pearls plucked from the sea. They are about the size of my thumb nail, although not every one of them gets that large. They have the typical thorns on the plants and the leaves look much like other types of raspberries - the berries themselves are plucked WITH their stems attached (unlike when a raspberry slides off of the plant leaving a small hole in the berry.). Generally they are clustered on stalks in large bunches, that often cause the laden heavy plant to droop to the ground...


So what are they exactly? Anyone want to chime in??? Gabriella sure has been enjoying them regardless...

Photos: by Tammy Mayrend. Photo 1 taken early July.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Upcoming Cheese Making Class - August 2

After taking my cheese making class this spring, I had several of you mention that I should let you know when the next cheese making class is. Kimberley sent me a message - The next class is Sunday August 2 in Linden, MI (48451).

For more information or to register, you can reach Kimberely at 810-210-4458 or Kimberleyemmert(at)aol.com.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

As I am sitting here, my youngest is screaming bloody murder - Loud enought that I'm CERTAIN if any neighbors overheard they'd be dialing 911. I'm also wondering what to do with the lovely blackberries that have begun to get ripe.

We actually ran across them today while picking wild black raspberries - There were only a few ripe today maybe a pint, but I would guess within the next two weeks they'll come in more and more. Looking at the patch I would guess we may be able to harvest 10-20 quarts of the buggers... I couldn't believe how many there were.

At any rate, I began looking for berry recipes and with the above-mentioned fit-throwing, thought this one might be appropriate.

Blackberry Mojito

INGREDIENTS
4 Blackberries
4 Mint sprigs
3 Lime wedges
1 1/2 ounces rum
1 Lime wedge
1 Mint sprig
Lemon lime soda

To Prepare:
1. Muddle together the blackberries, 4 mint sprigs and 3 lime wedges in a highball glass.
2. Once thoroughly bruised, add rum.
3. Fill with ice and top with lemon lime soda.
5. Garnish with 1 lime wedge and 1 mint sprig.


Sit back and enjoy... I know I will - Before the police arrive...

The Perfect Storm: Powdery Mildew

Against previous traditions, I BOUGHT zucchini plants this year. I was getting a late start on things and thought I'd get a head start. I wanted to have the first zucchini on the block and I wanted lot of it. Nothing like bribing neighbors with fresh produce!

In buying my plants however I can't say for sure if the seeds were well taken care of or the plants started properly... I also bought a 4 pack and planted all 4... And no, I didn't plant them 12-24" a part as they are in my raised beds... Some of you will know what this leads to and others will say "so what".

The so what is that this year I seem to have powdery mildew growing on my plants. It has even spread to my acorn squash that's growing in the garden nearby... Squash that can not properly breath with adequate air circulation, and even late day waterings can all add up to nastiness, as it did this year for me.

So what is powdery mildew?

Powdery mildew is a white/grayish white fungus that can grow on many varieties of plants and grasses. It rarely causes the death of plants, but can cause an off taste. Optimum conditions for powdery mildew are moderate temperatures with high humidity. Shade and poor air circulation along with overcrowding increase the chances for powdery mildew.

In other words, I have the perfect storm for powdery mildew - I got too far ahead of myself and in the attempt to have the FIRST zucchini, and lots of it, I caused powdery mildew in my garden.

In years past, before my kids, I may have used a spray on fungicide to kill the beast, but now I try more organic substances first. So today I mixed up a batch of 1T baking soda, 1t liquid dish soap and 1 gallon of water. I then sprayed the plants, and removed the leaves that were the most infected. I have also heard that a milk/water mixture can kill powdery mildew, so I may try that next...

On a positive note, there are no squash beetles effecting the plants this year - that's what typically gets my zucchini!!!


photo: Monroe County MSU extension

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Chickening Out...

I suppose it was inevitable - I should have known from the moment that we got comments about our girls - "Will they make a lot of noise?" "When they get stinky move them up-wind." or even "Why don't you move them to the other side of the house." But I didn't get it. My naivete that neighbors would WANT fresh eggs, or that if they had a problem they would come speak to me directly BEFORE the "girls" became pets to my children. But noooooo, that wasn't the case.

And so it is that we are giving up the fight... No more Mrs. Nice-Guy neighbor though. I won't be outwardly hostile or anything, that's not my way. I simply won't give up ANY of my summer produce no matter how much I have in abundance.

If you've read earlier posts, the Homeowners Association sent us a note, which we responded to since "caged birds" were not considered as part of the "rules" we had to live by. I'm guessing they had no leg to stand on and called the township offices. (I READ all of the ordinances about homes before getting the girls, I would never have guessed to read about "farms" in the township though.) Then late last week we received a note from the township that said we were "farming" and that farms in the Township needed to be 5 acres or more, and we couldn't have a "chicken farm".

I had a friend tell me that the township MAY have done us a favor by saying we were a "farm" since there is a law on the books (The Michigan Right to Farm Act), but I've run out of steam and am going to roll over and take it - As much as it pains us, we'll give up our girls.

OK I haven't completely exhausted myself, I just can't afford the emotional drain or legal ramifications of sticking it to the man. Maybe I DO have the right to "farm" chickens for the health of my family, however the township only gave me 6 days to remove the girls before we'd see fines. We're JUST getting back on our feet with my husband finally getting work, and I don't think legal fees and fines are the smartest thing to do right now...

Instead we have an offer of $100 to take the $325 coop & run, the chickens and their feed off our hands. So we'll take what we can get, with an awfully expensive lesson in raising backyard chickens.

It kills me though that Ann Arbor and surrounding municipalities are beginning to allow backyard birds, yet some righteous neighbor has deemed otherwise for our family. We weren't bugging her (oops I mean "whomever" since I can't officially say WHO it was that complained) or anyone else who could have possibly seen or been disrupted by 4 hens that were kept in a clean coop/run, next to our home, IN OUR YARD!

Stepping off the soapbox now. I need to console my children who have been hysterical all morning about loosing Penny, Princess, Peeps and Beakie...

If we could get just 1 $300 egg before next week... Start squeezing them out girls...


Area Municipalities that Allow Backyard Chickens:

Ann Arbor City
Milford
Saline
Ypsilanti (pending - The Council's notes have not yet been approved for publication indicating the status of the fight. The ordinance would allow for backyard chickens and bee hives though!)

I'd like to keep this list going for anyone in the Ann Arbor area who may be interested in back-yard birds. So, please send me a note or add a comment about additional Ann Arbor area city/townships that allow for backyard birds!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Who knew!?

Of course Mulberries are on my brain... OK, maybe in my case, it's more correct to say they are on my fingers and toes (as previously mentioned in the blog!). But did you know there are a TON of really good nutritional benefits that includes essential amino acids, fiber, Calcium, Phosphorus, potassium and Magnesium. And while I can not attest to all of these, Mulberries are knows to help in these ways as well:
  • Enhancing the body's immunity.
  • Strengthens eyesight.
  • Improves digestion.
  • Mulberries sooth the nerves.
  • Mulberry helps in containing hypertension.
  • They strengthen the liver and kidney.
  • Mulberries are helpful in treating constipation.
  • Can suppress carcinogens.
I realize all this Mulberry talk goes off on a tangent, but picking this ripe summer bounty is fun for the entire family and provides us with fresh nutritious meals. OK so this next recipe we adapted may not be considered "nutritious" but it sure was a GREAT recipe to try with our Mulberries...

MULBERRY PIE

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups mulberries
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 5 Spice seasoning
  • 1 pie pastry for a 9 inch double crust pie
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon milk

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl, mix berries with sugar and flour.
  3. Prepare pie crust as recommended for a double-crust pie, or use a frozen pastry crust.
  4. Place berry mixture into bottom pie crust and sprinkle with 5 Spice season mix.
  5. Dot with butter and then cover with top pie crust.
  6. Crimp edges, cut slits in upper crust, and brush with milk.
  7. Let pie rest in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  8. Bake pie in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for an additional 30 minutes.
  9. Remove pie from oven and let sit on wire rack until cool.
  10. ENJOY!!!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

More Mulberries...

Grandpa is here visiting us for a few days so we took him out to pick more Mulberries and check out how the raspberries were coming along. We ended up with three large buckets of Mulberries and a quart of black raspberries or wild blackberries (whichever one there were they tasted awesome!).

We used the same technique of shaking the tree but were smarter about not standing, kneeling or walking in the berries - Or so we thought! Gramps got the messiest, followed by me, then the kids. But what does one DO with so many berries? We made a bunch of jam that last go around... So I began the search!

I actually found a really good Bisquick scone recipe - and substituted Mulberries into it. They look, smell and more importantly taste REALLY awesome. It is actually a really easy recipe too:

Mulberry Bisquick Scone Recipe

3 cups Bisquick
2 tbsp. Sugar
1 cup fresh Mulberries
1/4 cup milk
2 eggs

For Glaze:

1 egg, well beaten
2 tbsp. Sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In medium bowl combine the baking mix, 2 tablespoons sugar and the berries.

Pour milk in measuring cup. Add the eggs to the milk and mix well with a fork . Stir the liquid into the baking mix until moistened. (Dough will be crumbly - I even debated adding a tad more milk and may do so with the next batch.)

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured baking sheet and pat into a 9 inch round. Brush the dough with the beaten egg, then sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar. Cut the round into 12 wedges. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until golden. (I actually had to add another 5 minutes for the right "look". That could be my oven or it could be the moister berries.)

I actually needed to re-cut the circle after baking since it baked "back together" too...

Serve immediately with butter, jam or the more traditional clloted cream.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Farm???

Apparently I am a farmer? Did you know that? A FARMER!?

Tonight when we got home from being out all day to find a note taped to the front door. It was from the townships ordinance officer. I'm guessing that our Homeowners Association couldn't deny that our backyard chickens were indeed "caged domesticated birds" so they called the township for an official ruling. I had read the ordinances before keeping the girls, and didn't find anything specifically about chickens - I never read the ordinances specific to "farming" though, WHY would I, we're not living on a farm! HOWEVER in order to get us to remove the girls they are claiming that we are farming and as a "farm" we are breaking ordinance rules by being on less that 5 acres.

As of next Wednesday, if the girls are not removed the fines begin - $100, $250, $500, etc...

So is the next door neighbor, who likely began this whole mess, "Farming" since she is raising a FARM CROP of corn??? Too bad the ordinance officer isn't fining the homes in the neighborhood that are considered blight, or the VERY LOUD neighbor's dogs that bark incessantly... This is persecution I tell you!!! We're being singled out for sure...

*Sigh* so much for the kids learning experience - I was HOPING for eggs before we'd need the girls gone but that hasn't happened yet. Any time now... So we'll be looking for a home for the girls, I'd love it to be a temporary thing but i doubt it. I don't think we can jump on the new Ypsilanti Chicken permit thing - since we're in the Township and not the city. But I'll be looking into that as well. Not sure I can work that fast anyway...

Monday, June 29, 2009

Shake The Sugar Tree!

I had a familiar song going through my head this afternoon:

"Here we go 'round the mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush, the mulberry bush.
Here we go 'round the mulberry bush,
So early in the morning.

This is the way we wash our clothes,
Wash our clothes, wash our clothes.
This is the way we wash our clothes,
So early Monday morning."

And believe me after an impromptu Mulberry picking session, wash the clothes we did!

I stopped by my friends house to plant more bean seeds and harvest the last of the summers asparagus. I mentioned wanting to check on the Mulberry trees out back when he said "Oh yea I forgot, they started to ripen just the other day!" Hate to say it but berries wait for no one...

So I called the hubby and had him gather my "stuff" for picking, and pickin' clothes for the kids and I. I use the term pickin', but harvesting Mulberries can be as easy as shaking the tree to loosen the ripe fruit. We just added a drop cloth under the tree and gathered the fruit into buckets - Having perfectly unblemished fruit is NOT ones goal when making jam!

So here I sit, blue fingers and toes (I wore sandals!) and the kids in the tub. But the fresh warm jam that was drizzled over vanilla ice cream was well worth the mess!!!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Egg In Our Faces???

It seems that someone has decided our caged, backyard birds is causing them grief. Today we received a letter from the association telling us to remove the girls or they would remove them - The thing is, I read the bylaws of our neighborhood and investigated the Township ordinances before moving forward (after mom presented the fluff-balls to the kids) and found nothing denying us the opportunity. Really it is fresh eggs and a HUGE learning experience.

The section of the neighborhood rules are really to be left to interpretation. It says that homes can only have (2) dogs or cats, or one of each, yet spells out later in the section that “… The term “animal” or “pet” as used in this Section 6 shall not include small domesticated animals which are constantly caged, such as small birds or fish.”

Well our girls are, and will always remain "CAGED DOMESTICATED BIRDS".

Furthermore, we are not maintaining these pets for breeding or commercial purposes, provide appropriate care, and they make little to no noise - they are certainly less noisy than many of the obnoxious neighborhood dogs! And we keep their coop clean, because I don't want nasty smells infiltrating my home and entertainment space.

So now it comes down to this one fact - How much of a fight do I want to pursue? I'm not sure of the legality of someone coming into my yard and removing anything, but that's what we have been warned of. That and of course some monetary penalty against us. Do I want this fight over fresh, abundant eggs? And what kind of learning experience will this end up being for my kids?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Attantion All Gardeners - That's a DEAL You're Smelling Not Your Compost!

A friend of mine brought this offer to my attention - Receive your FREE "green gardening book" by answering 7 survey questions. That's TOTALLY free even with the shipping!!! I answered the questions myself (took all of 5 minutes) and am now waiting for my book to be delivered.

Check it out, but hurry, the website indicates they're only giving 250 copies away. To get you're free book visit the Gardener to Farmer website.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Lavender

I LOVE Lavender and have several varieties throughout my garden to assure me that it will be blooming throughout the summer. I was reminded of what we can DO with it the other day as I was speaking with a friend.

She had lavender plants lining her walkway and as we stood there chatting our daughters began throwing the typical 3-year-old-I-want-attention-now-fits! That is NOT saying our precious princesses were brats, only that they were beyond tired from a day of bouncing in my friends industrial bounce-house.

My friend lamented that she had to bathe her daughter. That's when it hit. I said, "why don't you grab a big sprig of your blooming lavender, tie it into a bunch and use it for your daughter's bath?"

She tilted her head and looked at me oddly (which of course is not uncommon) then I said "Lavender in the bath sooths and relaxes and may help her sleep." That's when the light bulb went off for her!

I have used this method MANY times myself. Tie the bundle tightly together, bruise the flower buds gently to release the aroma and oils, then allow the bundle to hang where the warm running water cascades over it. You'll be surprised!

Lavender is a WONDERFUL medicinal herb - While it may be too "flowery" for the manly types out there (You know who you are!) it can REALLY help in many ways. Did you know that lavender is a general tonic or antiseptic, sedative, diuretic, and digestive aid and can be useful in treating acne and other skin conditions, headaches, and insomnia?

I'll post some great "lavender projects" in another post, but suffice to say I have done everything from adding it to honey (smells and tastes yummy), making quick and easy soap balls that smell divine, used it in baths, made lavender "wands" as a sachet or other use and have even made a lavender cheesecake (a recipe that SOUNDED awesome but unless you enjoy eating strong smelling flowers I advise against this one - I'll pass on repeating it!)... So enjoy your lavender as it blossoms and think of the many ways you can enjoy it beyond watching the buzzy-bees swirl and twirl among the buds!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mail Order Poppies

A few weeks ago one of my Facebook friends mentioned having excess poppy's she was giving away. I casually mentioned that I wished I were in her area and I'd take her up on some of them! The other day my phone rang and an unfamiliar voice said "Hi Tammy it's Pam, I have some poppy's I'm going to mail you, what's your address?"

I think we both realized that plants CAN be ordered through the mail, however I have never thought to mail some of my more aggressive plants. She mailed them when the weather was not to hot and they arrived ready to plant.

The best comment is, when I mentioned receiving the plants, Pam asked "How do they look?" "Like I would expects plants that have gone through the mail and postage stamping machines to look!"

They're planted and we got a little rain last night, so we'll see...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Stop and Smell The...

My neighbor and I were out for a walk the other night when we brushed past a beautiful fluffy lilac bush with large white flowers. At first I couldn't believe it was a lilac bush. With white flowers? But the aromatic perfume could NOT be mistaken for anything except what it was a LILAC! She picked a small branch off just to carry and inhale as we walked. it got me starting to think though, could I take a clipping of it to propagate a new lilac bush. Sure enough he answer came to me through my online research, and as it happens, it's the same technique I have used with some other cuttings.

Simply cut a stem and add rooting hormone powder to the stem, then stick it in the ground and water. I'm CERTAIN it's a little more complicated than that, but I'm willing to try. Just have to walk past the correct bush and make my clippings...

I'll keep you all posted, sometimes propagation with rooting hormones doesn't do well for me!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Pea Trellis

One of the best (in my opinion) early spring crops are fresh sugar snap peas - Yummy. My kids love them, Buggs (or resident wild bunny) loves than and I love them. If I'm lucky, and I do mean IF, I'll get out to the garden earlier than anyone else to grab a few handfuls of them... I've learned over the years too that a great pea trellis (or pea fence) can make accessing the sweet gems even easier. So let's talk about pea fences here...

One to the easiest things I have used to support the growing peas are the short metal fences sold at local hardware stores. the trouble is, they were never tall enough and often the peas swept back towards the ground and grabbed onto one another making it a jungle to pick through.

A few years ago I got the inspiration to build a pea tee-pee. My son was around 2 and I thought he might enjoy playing inside it. The trouble was the peas don't last long enough into the season, so it really didn't work for play - I think I'll save the play-house or tee-pee to pole beans or other summer crops!

Another year I used a collapsible trellis and leaned it against the house - it worked but it still wasn't perfect. So this year I decided to simplify.

I took 4 long sticks. They were each 8+ feet long and pretty sturdy. All I did was use heavy duty ties to create a square, then added string up and down for the peas to climb. The peas are just poking through the ground (I have sprayed them with red pepper spray to deter Buggs) and hopefully soon will begin to climb upward. I'm hoping this year's trellis will allow us to harvest the peas easier...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

What Can I Do With Chive Blossoms?

Today I walked out into the garden and found blossoms on my chives. They make the garden look so pretty and add the burst of early spring color that's otherwise missing in a sea of "shades of green"... Most people miss though that chive blossoms are also a tasty treat ~ They are strongly flavored though, so a little goes a L-O-N-G way... Here are a couple of my favorite things to do with chive blossoms.

CHIVE BLOSSOM VINEGAR
(a great gift as well as a wonderful treat!)

2 cups white vinegar
2 cups fresh chive blossoms

Bring vinegar to a near boil and pour over the chive blossoms. Let stand in large glass bowl or bottle in a cool, dark place for one week. Strain the vinegar and discard blossoms.

Serve as a herbed vinegar & oil dressing or transfer to pretty bottles adding a fresh chive blossom of sprig of fresh chives to each bottle.

CHIVE BLOSSOM OMELET
4 fresh eggs 4 tablespoons sour cream pinch of coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper 2 teaspoons fresh chopped parsley 1 tablespoon fresh chopped chives 2 tablespoon unsalted butter 12 rinsed & dry chive blossoms
Lightly beat eggs, sour cream, salt, pepper, parsley and chives.
Preheat omelet pan and melt butter. Pour in egg mixture and leave undisturbed until omelet begins to set. Lower heat and, tipping pan slightly, lift edges to let uncooked egg run underneath. When omelet is firm, sprinkle with chive blossoms and fold in half.

CHIVE BLOSSOM SALAD WITH MUSHROOMS (although chive blossoms make an excellent addition to ANY salad!)

1 pound fresh raw mushrooms (I like a variety for a fuller taste, but the original recipe called for white mushrooms! Maybe use seasonal Morels too...)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
About 12 chive blossoms
1/3 cup chopped chives
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Wipe the dirt off the mushrooms with paper towels. Slice the mushrooms and arrange them on a serving platter. Drizzle the oil over the top. Sprinkle the mushrooms with blossoms and chives and season with salt and pepper.

A variation on this would be to slightly saute the mushrooms and sprinkle with a goat cheese or other farmers cheese too!

... Don't miss out on a seasonal treat. Use what Mother Nature gives you to adorn your plate, tempt your palate and please your tummy!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Update on Aeroponics Growing

I wanted to update any readers on my experience with the AeroGarden 3. I'll have to say I was disappointed. I KNOW that things never work as advertised, but I suppose I had high hopes for this, after all it IS growing plants with aeroponics and proper lighting. it should be a no brainer.

I first planted (sometime in January) chives, parsley and a green basil. The basil never made it so at a later time I added purple basil - Neither basil grew or produced anything. My chives we weak and spindly and my parsley while it produced enough to snip here and there it did not grow a bushy parsley bunch.

Here is a photo of my chives (although they have mostly been clipped) and my parsley! If I had to do it all over would I buy this product? Considering I got an AWESOME deal, yes I would likely buy it again. Am I going to shout my joy from the roof-top. No, I can't say I would endorse this for someone else UNLESS they could get the same great deal, or may be able to pick up one very inexpensively used...

The AeroGarden 3 will give me a few fresh herbs during the winter months when I otherwise can not grow squat!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Blooming Lilacs

I went on a foraging expedition the other day to our local county property - I was HOPING to find Morels, but instead found several wild strawberry patches and raspberry brambles. I also returned home with a LARGE bunch of powdery purple old-style lilacs. The kind that have SO MUCH fragrance (insert smell-o-vision) that the entire house is filled with the sweet heady scent when the bouquet is brought into the house. The lilacs I cut are from an old bush near a farm house that was recently tore down.

Lilacs are my FAVORITE summer flower and it really is a shame they don't bloom all summer long. I haven't tried growing any of the ever blooming type lilacs, I'm just not sure they'd smell the same!

I learned through experience, how to keep my lilac bouquet fresh the longest:
  • Collect flowers in early morning just as the dew starts to dry, or in the evening.
  • Carry a small bucket of lukewarm water to place the newly cut stems immediately into water.
  • Harvest "cluster-type" flowers before all the buds have opened.
  • Once you have the lilacs at home, remove any foliage that would be submerged in water and re-cut the stems on a slant before putting them in the vase.
  • One final tip I was taught was to split the branches, slitting them so that the water can more easily move up the woody stems!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

FREE (or very cheap) Compost for Ypsilanti Area Residents!

I decided to increase the size of several of my raised beds this year (much to the chagrin of my husband) - Essentially I "connected" them together creating one really long bed, but in doing so I gained (2) additional 2'x4' areas for planting. They are not HUGE areas, but to any backyard gardener they are perfect to add several summer crops! I also looked at the flower and veggie beds throughout my yard and decided several needed to be augmented with organic matter to make the soil more "rich".

Luckily I can get up to 2 yards of FREE compost each year through Ypsilanti Township - Yes that's right I said FREE!!! Other residents from cities around Ypsilanti Township can get compost from the Township for very reasonable rates - granted you have to shovel it into your own containers (we used our city recycling bins for several trips to the compost yard) or your own vehicle, but it's worth the work!

So get your "dig" on this season and get dirty - You'll be glad you did!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Flowers, Flowers Everywhere...

Like many local gardeners, I began to get the incurable "wanna plant" itch. It comes on so strong throughout much of the Michigan winter that I plan and visualize what my upcoming year's gardens will look like. Like other gardeners too, what we plan and what is our reality are two different visions. This is because of one thing, and one thing only - plant and flower sales.

I LOVE planting "newest" the "greatest" and even the "not expected". I wander many a plant and garden sale seeking out what (hopefully) other's won't find. And I look for the perfect specimens. So for all of you Michigan Backyard Gardeners, here is a partial list of Plant and Flower Sales for the month of May:

Friday May 8:

  • 29th Annual Matthaei Botanical Gardens Spring Plant Sale. More than 1,000 varieties of perennials, annuals, native plants, and kitchen favorites at SE Michigan's destination plant sale fundraiser. Plus: free gardening demonstrations for kids and families during the sale. Join Matthaei at the sale and receive 10% off!
Friday May 15:
Saturday May 16:
  • Growing Hope Plant Sale, Ypsilanti. Growing Hope, an Ypsilanti-based nonprofit organization, is holding its fifth annual plant sale May 16 from 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Some of the items available for sale include raised beds, vegetable and herb seedlings, edible planters and youth-made hand balm. All proceeds benefit Growing Hope, which aims to help people improve their lives and communities through gardening and healthy food access.
Sunday May 17:
  • The annual Eastern Market Flower Day - Admission is free. Attended by more than 150,000 people annually, Flower Day at the Eastern Market is one of the largest flower shows in the country. Hundreds of flower growers from Michigan, Canada and neighboring states fill the market with their colorful array offerings. Over 15-acres of the highest quality annuals, perennials, foliage, shrubbery, trees, exotics, tropical plants, flats, hanging baskets and more will be available for purchase.
Let me know about additional May 2009 plant & flower sales and I will add to the list as I receive them! Happy planting...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Update on Backyard Birds!

Since I have been asked many times over now, I thought to post an update on my girls.

They moved to our new coop this week, at just over 8-weeks of age - They've adjusted wonderfully, entering and exiting the coop into the run at will. It was only the first morning where they all wanted to exit the coop at the exact same moment that was rather comical... Imagine 4 of them getting stuck trying to exit door!

The family enjoys watching them, and as my husband says, the coop is like TV to our dog. He will sit for HOURS watching the birds! So long as he doesn't try tormenting or eating them, I'm good with that!

Hopefully we'll get some eggs sometime in mid-July, I'll keep everyone posted!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Summer Pest Control - Without the Pesticides!

I spent the day hunting for non-pesticide sprays, specifically mint-oil spray! I LOVE the way the spray smells AND kills nasty bees and wasps that bother us while we are enjoying the backyard. About the ONLY complaint I have, is that if you spray it too near your prized plants, it MAY cause them to burn since oil intensifies the sun. Otherwise I feel it's a MUCH better product to use than traditional pesticides. Who need more chemicals anyway. We use Victor® Poison-Free® mint oil spray - It seems to be about the only one we can sometimes find!

Another product I use through MOST of the summer is a red pepper spray (or a hot pepper wax spray) to deter Bugs (that's Bunny) from eating the tender shoots and plants sprouting so lovingly from my garden. I know that I can MAKE some of the hot pepper concoction however my one and only experience in doing so left me with stinging eyes and lips for DAYS!!! So I simply buy a bottle that lasts through most of the summer. Once I chase Bugs away he (or she) rarely comes back! I've also used a version of this with garlic that works well and even tried one with tobacco juice (YICK) I'll never do THAT one again...

The thing that gets me though, as we become a more "green friendly" society, why is it still so HARD to find these products. I had to order my mint oil spray from an online vendor this year after NOT finding it at 5 stores!

If I feel ambitious in the next few days, I'll post some of the concoctions I have successfully used (before having the kids!).
Red pepper

Monday, April 27, 2009

What's A Seed Potato?

The other day while reading a friend's Facebook posting, I ran across this question, "What's A Seed Potato?"

No potato's don't come from seeds, so please don't run to your local hardware or seed supply store looking for them, seed potatoes are simply regular potatoes that are "growing"... "So does that mean I can plant the potatoes I bought at the grocery store into the ground to grow MORE potatoes?"

The answer is really, yes AND no. Most store bought potatoes have growth inhibitors so they DON'T sprout as well - But you may be able to look for potatoes that are not treated - Think possibly organically grown potatoes or ones from your local farmers market! It's best though to get authentic seed potatoes from your garden center as potatoes found in other resources may not be disease resistant!

"How to I plant my seed potatoes?" It's a simple answer really, cut your seed potatoes (sprouting potatoes) into small chunks with each piece containing at least (1) eye - Or in layman's terms, one area where the potato is beginning to sprout. Aren't you glad you asked?

You CAN plant the potatoes into the ground, a raised bed or even a potato bag. I purchased my potato bags from the Gardeners Supply Company, but they are simply a bag that can hold soil and has great drainage. A friend even told me of planting them into an old trash can that had holes added into it, and I have even read about someone planting their potatoes INTO their purchased bag of compost (emptying it and filling it as I describe below.)!

I harvested (oh I don't know) 10+ pounds from 1 seed potato per bag - pretty good return in my opinion!

To start, cover the bottom of the bag with a thin layer of compost. Plant the seed potatoes in the bottom of the bag and lightly cover with loose soil, compost or straw. When the potatoes begin to sprout, add another thin layer of soil, comport or straw, then add another after more sprouting, and another after even more sprouting, until the bag is full. In the fall when the foliage begins to yellow and the flowers have faded, dump out your bag and harvest yummy home-grown new potatoes. (This should be a no-brainer, but don't forget to water your potato plants!)

This is a GREAT kids project in the garden too!!! My kids LOVE seeing how many potatoes they get each year...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

"When Can I Plant In My Garden?"

My one neighbor asks me every year, "do you think we can plant our gardens yet?"

I'll admit. I plant early most years, but it helps that my raised bed gardens are snuggled up to the house. Most people think "no big-deal" right? Wrong. Having the garden beds that close to the house means they get warmer much sooner and benefit from the heat radiating off the house. It's not unusual for me to have VERY early crops and a much longer growing season ~ My asparagus seems to come up earlier, my strawberries ripen sooner and my tomatoes will stick around sometimes well into October!

So my answer to my neigbor is often "I don't think so, you're a bit early."

She probably thinks I'm being crabby or not helpful, but the bottom line is her garden is at the back of the yard and does not benefit from some weather protection.

One thing you can consider when planting your garden is Mother Nature's cues. I use some of the spring signs to tell me that it's time to plant. I figure Mohter Nature knows what she is doing right? I also use my journal to tell me when I planted LAST year and the years before that. (I have a GREAT 10-year journal called Journal 10+ that allows me to write an abbreviated update of what I did that day the year before and it tracks 10 years of information!) It's a good way to have a successful veggie garden every year!

Farmers have use the signs of spring to indicate when it's time to plant the garden for eons - It's even mainstay of the annual Old Farmer’s Almanac. This type of planning is called phenological planning. Some think it's considered Old Wives Tales, but these natural signs may be a good indicator that the timing is right.

I noticed the other day that the forsythia blooms came out - What does that mean? Time to plant the peas!

Here are some interesting Farmer's Almanac planting tips:

  • Plant corn and beans when elm leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear, when oak leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear, when apple blossoms begin to fall, or when dogwoods are in full bloom.
  • Plant lettuce, spinach, peas, broccoli and cabbage when the lilacs show their first leaves or when daffodils begin to bloom.
  • Plant tomatoes, early corn and peppers when dogwoods are in peak bloom or when daylilies start to bloom.
  • Plant cucumbers and squash when lilac flowers fade.
  • Plant potatoes when the first dandelion blooms.
  • Plant beets and carrots when dandelions are blooming.
  • Plant peas when the forsythia blooms.
So there you have it - Use some of these signs to plan your garden this year and see what happens!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Putting My Education to Good Use With Free Milk

Kroger had a great promotion running with General Mills products this week. If you bought two General Mills products, you were able to get up to $4 in free milk - At Kroger's current price that's 2 gallons! I was able to do even better, since I had coupons for the products I purchased, so I got a GREAT deal...

The kicker was, I already had a gallon that had hardly been touched by the family - sometimes we'll suck it all down in one day and other times it will last forever. My freezer was too full as well, so I thought "What should I do with all the milk?"

As it happened my neighbor mentioned wanting to make periogies with fresh farmers cheese while she lamented on how difficult it was to find and complained about the price. Since I had recently taken the cheese-making class however I put my learning to good use and made a basic Queso Balnco cheese.

For added flavor, I added a tiny nit of roasted garlic to the end and had FABULOUS results! I made a great frsh lasagna in addition to the periogies!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Signs of Spring...

For some the best signs of spring are having soil that's dry enough to rototill, others look for blooming flower bulbs and still others look for fuzzy pussy willows and lemon yellow forsythia blooms...

I on the other hand watch for the first asparagus to poke up through the ground - For me that means I can begin reaping the rewards of my labor. And guess what... As I surveyed my garden late this beautiful Easter Day, I noticed the first asparagus reaching towards the fading sunlight greeting me! Yes indeed it's a sure sign spring, and more importantly a sign that the planting season is just around the corner!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Product Review: Topsy Turvy Grower

I really like to try anything that simplifies my life - My husband will accuse me of being a gadget-guru! And even though I love gardening, who can say "no" to a product that says it will simplify your gardening... So a few years ago I bought the Topsy Turvy Tomato grower on eBay.

It promised high yield, disease free tomato crop and alleviated the back-breaking work of getting on your knees to harvest the fruit, plus my best friend Lynn raved about growing tomato's upside down. I thought what the heck...

In my two summers of experience though, I can't say anything I was promised came true. The planters, while in theory, should grow better were difficult to keep moist and I certainly didn't get a LOT of tomatoes growing. That first summer they hung alongside the southern side of the house and every time we had a strong wind blowing, we'd hear "thump, thump, thump" and thought a small plane was crashing into the house. Last year they were along the deck since I THOUGHT I could keep a better eye on them for watering. I even added the moisture crystals to the soil to help with the moisture levels, with no luck!

I did see a new and improved version at the Gardeners Supply Company that fixed the issue of keeping the plants moist - I won't be trying the new and improved product anytime soon, but thought to throw out my ten cents on the Topsy Turvy grower. Who knows maybe the third time's the charm, and possibly I can adapt mine further to keep the planters from drying out.

I did purchased mine VERY inexpensively on ebay, and they were a fun experiment. My rating on a scale of ten though, is a 4 1/2 to maybe 5! If anyone has had better successes with them, please let me know I'd be happy for better advise!