Saturday, July 16, 2011

Public Library, Here I Come!

The Truth About My Rattlesnake Beans

I was so excited when I peeked into my tee pee bean poles and saw that my rattlesnake pole beans had finally come.  We didn't have much luck last year due to our compost still being too active for almost everything in our garden.  Taylor harvested them the other day and steamed them up for dinner.  They were the most delicious beans I've had this summer, sweet, wonderful texture, but something surprised me;  when the beans were steamed, the beautiful purple striations on the beans dissipated and my rattlesnakes beans became green beans.  Not a big deal at all, just surprised.

Deworming the Chickens

I noticed something very unappetizing when I was on poop duty that led me to deworming the chickens;  I don't really feel the need for a detailed description here.  Taylor dosed their water back on July 6th and we haven't been consuming the eggs since then.  About four more days and that will be the two week mark and we can enjoy the fresh, daily eggs.  We have noticed that all the chickens have put weight on since we dosed them.  We are keeping the chickens in their run while the medication works on them, and that means that they don't have run of the 3/4 acre hillside they like to strut around.  Their main food is the feed we have for them and they aren't expending all their energy walking around, pecking around for bugs and little rocks. Also, their eggs look bigger and the shells look more smooth.  Once we are done with the deworming process, I think we will keep them in their run for the majority of the day, and then let them out into the rest of the yard for the last couple of hours.  Their run gives them plenty of room, more than enough in fact.  I still like the idea of giving them a few hours of no fences.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Never Buy Lamiaceae Again!

Taylor here for Mary.  Most of you out there are thinking, "What the French, toast!?  What's a Lamiaceae and why should I care about it.  The answer to that question is because as urban farmers and backyard homesteaders we use our buddy Lamiaceae all the time.  We put her in our stews and on our pizzas.  We make teas, infusions, tisanes and tinctures from her.  Medicine made from her is antioxidant, antispomadic, antiviral and antiseptic.  There is even evidence that compounds contained in her have potential uses for cancer preventing and treatment therapies.

So who is she and why does she have all this good stuff going on with her?  Lamiaceae is the name of a family of plants known commonly as the Mint Family.  Backyardigans (that's us) use her all the time in the form of herbs such as basil, mint, rosemary, sage, savory, marjoram, oregano, thyme, lavender and catnip among others.

The reason this family of useful plants is so very special to the backyard homesteader is because of one very special little trick that makes these plants so very easy to grow.  These plants can be propagated practically forever by simply cutting of a chunk and sticking it in a glass of water for a while.  This property makes growing Lamiaceae not only incredieble easy but fun.  Here is a photo of some basil cuttings I placed in jars by the window.

Pardon me, would you happen to have any basil propagating by the kitchen sink (Yes, that's a Grey Poupon jar)
Once the cutting have sat in water long enough they sprout legs, er, roots and are ready to plant out.  It's a good idea to cut back foliage after planting and keep them out of direct sun for a few days to help the new roots get established in it's new dirt.  Here is the same basil happily growing in some compost on the back deck.

Basil has a tendency to send up flowers alot.  If you pinch them off you can keep the stems from going all woody.  Sometime though it's just determined to bolt, in which case you can take a cutting, start it over in a jar of water and viola, more basil.  By this method you can propogate and grow many Lamiaceae without ever buying starts or messing with seeds.
A few of my favorite Lamiaceae growing in the sun (from right to left, basil, thyme, peppermint)
Try this trick with your favorite Lamiaceae at home and see how easy it is to propogate these wonderful plants without ever having to go to the store.  Enjoy!

The Carrot Harvest Is In!

Taylor here filling in for Mary today.  So after much debate, we decided yesterday that we should pull up our carrot patch to make room for some new types of veggies.  Mary had planted some mixed kinds of carrots back in April that turned out to include both orange and yellow varieties.  Both are delicious but the yellow ones have a strong parsnip flavor to them.  Here's the basket of goodies fresh from the garden.

As for how to store our bumper crop I was going to research and build a root cellar under the house but alas, work takes too much time and I have too many unfinished projects already.  So instead I will freezing these beauties for future use in chicken stocks and on dinner plates.

Our Carrots Detopped (Is that a word?) and Scrubbed Down
 For those of you out there interested in growing carrots and freezing them like we do, here is a little info on the specifics.  The types we planted were Yellowstone (yellow) and Nantes Forto (Orange).  Seed spacing is 1/2" so you can really load them up in a bed like we did. 

Germination is 10-20 days so an easy way to start them in an already established garden is to sprinkle them over the row/bed mixed with some sand then cover them with burlap to retain moisture.  Water right through the burlap and pull it up when they start to germinate in two weeks or so.  This saves you from having to water them twice a day or more to keep them from drying out. 

Days to harvest is about 90 days so this a great set it and forget it crop you can have 4 times a year.  We probably pulled ours a little early this time so I'm excited to try another rotation soon.

For all things canning and freezing I rely on an old book that I got from my Grandmother.  Being a Great Depression survivor she understood the value of self-reliance and being able to put food by the way without having to rely on electricity to do it.  She has since merged with the Infinite but her knowledge is continued through me. 

The book I rely on and a great resource for any backyard homesteader is the Farm Journal's Freezing and Canning Cookbook published by Doubleday, ISBN # 0-385-13444-4.  My edition is ridiculously old having been published in 1978 so there is probably an updated edition available somewhere. 

This book is a magnum opus for all things canning and freezing (the two most realistic storage mediums for home crops).  It will teach you everything you need to know about these methods and has tons of yield tables and recipes to boot.  Here's what the FJ has to say about freezing carrots.

Carrots: Harvest smooth, tender carrots before roots are woody.  Plan plantings so you can harvest them in cool weather.  The small, immature roots often harvested in hot weather contain less carotene and they rarely are of good quality when frozen.  Remove tops, wash and scrape.  Dice or slice 1/4" thick.  Blanch 3 1/2 minutes.  Chill in cold running water or ice water; drain, package, label, date and freeze.

For those of you out there of the culinary persuasion this technique is known as clean, blanch and shock.  You do it for lots of veggies for a couple of reasons.  The cleaning is obviously but the blanching (dipped in boiling water) kills surface bacteria which would shorten storage time but it also deactivates certain ripening enzymes that would otherwise turn your produce to mush during storage.  You shock them (ice water bath) to keep them from overcooking and to set the skin.

Hope some of you find this info useful.  Now go out there and build a better world! :)

And The Winner Is...

Hi All!  Taylor here.  Mary is working today and I have off so I offered to update her blog for her.  So as she may have mentioned before the Marin county fair had a backyard compost competition this year and we entered a bucket of our very own stuff.  Here's a pic of our system in action.  The wooden thing on the left most U is sifting crib I built recently to reduce the particle size down to 1/2" pieces, pretty cool huh?

We expected a nice honorable mention or maybe a participation ribbon for our $2 entry fee and effort.  But guess what?!  WE WON!!  Not only did we take first place for backyard composting but we even won Best In Show for the whole division!  Best In Show!!

Mary Pleased As Punch
  Obviously we were totally surprised but extremely happy we did so well.  We intend to display our ribbons proudly just above our shovels and rakes in the garden shed :)  Here's a pic of the winning bucket.

Black Gold, Baby!

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Tomatoes Are Coming! The Tomatoes Are Coming!

We planted four different types of heirloom tomatoes, all started from seed:  Jasper Violet, Roma, Arkansas Traveler, and Moneymakers.  I also bought my mom an heirloom Italian Beefsteak.  With the temperatures soaring through the nineties these past weeks, the fruit is starting to bloom and the excitement is growing!

We used every planting vessel possible when we transplanted our tomatoes back in April.  We used terra cotta pots, glazed pots, plastic 20 gallon pots, and even an old basket we used for hauling wood.

We planted mom's Italian Beefsteak in a half wine cask, and as you can see, it is the biggest and happiest of all the tomato plants. 

Violet Jasper


From above, here is the tomato experiment on the lower deck.  They are all planted in empty plastic oil jugs that Taylor brought home from work.

Beautiful Bees

I finally caught a glimpse of the queen!

Summer Garden Lovin'

Isabeau cruising through the pumpkin patch

We had to cage the starts so the deer and chickens didn't destroy them.  Now they won't/can't be contained.

The corn has started to tassle and produce silk.  This is further along the corn growing process than we had  achieved last year at this time, so I am very excited! 
The potatoes next to the corn is an extremely happy crop.  To the right of the corn I planted some California Cow Peas, aka, black eyed peas.

I am waiting for the beans to produce more pods, but right now, there are a few of the Rattlesnake Pole Beans.

Right in the middle of all the beans, a pumpkin was accidently planted.  It is doing great, but it has choked out a few of the struggling bush beans I had planted.  Again, this pumpkin is doing better than any of the pumpkin starts from last year.  We have squash blossoms galore, and I am starting to think I should pluck a couple of them, stuff them and fry them up.