Friday, August 31, 2012

Celebrating our Farmers this Labor Day

I'm in Columbus this weekend visiting my family! Some of my aunts & cousins, granddad and extended family are coming to my parents house and we'll be playing games and hanging outside, hopefully. It'll be a lot of fun!

My parents are nice and they've humored my desire for a mostly-local Labor Day meal. Really- I can't think of a much better way to celebrate local Farmers- some of the hardest working laborers in our country with the most important jobs; feeding our families & our country!

We're starting to gather the ingredients for the big Sunday cookout. I brought some freshly-harvested produce down from my garden to share. 

The Labor Day menu so far includes:
  • Caprese Salad w/ tomatoes from my parents garden 
  • My fav Potato Salad w/ pink potatoes & garlic from my garden, & onions from my CSA 
  • Sweet Corn
  • Mango Bean Salad w/ peppers from my CSA & garlic from my garden
  • Hamburgers 
  • a fruit plate, with my one prize cantaloupe :)
We're heading to the Clintonville Farmers' Market tomorrow morning and hopefully grabbing some of the 'missing pieces' - sweet corn, hamburger meat, and maybe some peaches for a special dessert. I've already got some good input from Columbus buddies on what vendors I should hit up first at the market before I go. I'm looking forward to seeing a new farmers' market here in my hometown!

Here's hoping that your Labor Day is relaxing and maybe even invigorating. If you can, find a way to appreciate and support your local farmers this labor day!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What's Up Wednesday!

Lots in bloom in the garden this week! All of my plantings for the Fall are really starting to grow- carrots, onions, broccoli, swiss chard, prize choy, lettuce, and sugar snaps. The tomatoes are starting to produce a bit less, so I thinned out the dried and dead stalks to try to make some space for new growth. Here are some pictures of what's up this week:

My one lone sunflower is blooming!

The fall broccoli is looking healthy and getting taller every day

I think it's about time to pick this cantaloupe!

I transplanted some of the "walkers" from the Egyptian walking onions I got this spring.
They are now popping up everywhere in the designated "fall section" of the garden
that will later be covered with a quick hoop. 

 Made and canned some cucumber pickles this past weekend!
Used the Dill Pickle recipe in the Freshly Packed Pickled Foods section of the
Blue Book of Preserving. It's a new recipe for me- we'll see how they turn out!

What's up in your Garden this week?

Monday, August 27, 2012

The importance of supporting U-pick Farms this year (& every year!)

Fresh picked raspberries from Makielski's!
I finally got around to doing some U-pick this weekend!  I've been getting great local fruit from my Farmers' Market, but it seems like each summer-fruit has passed me by before I could catch it U-pick style; strawberries, tart cherries, blueberries... since raspberries are my favorite summer fruit, I wanted to make sure I got some before the season ends!

While it's unfortunate that there aren't any organic fruit farms in this region (that I know of), I think it's important to support the local fruit crops we do have- strawberriesblackberries & raspberries, blueberries, cherries and apples just to name some of the local availability.

I've made a decision that for me, locally grown produce is what I'd rather purchase, vs organic produce from California. At least I know my money is staying in the region, and many times even farms that aren't certified organic are "no spray" or at least a less-toxic pesticide plan that big conventional farms.

My little sis Sam picking at Wasem Farm

U-pick is one kind of farm I'm used to supporting: growing up, my family didn't really do farmers' markets or farm stands, but we picked some type of berry almost every year, and apple and pumpkin picking with family friends signified fall for us. I've continued the tradition now that I'm settled here in Ypsi: Raspberries in the summer, Apples and Pumpkins in the fall. Over the years, my husband and my sister have joined in the tradition of picking apples, and carving pumpkins. My first "date" with Sam after being newly matched as Big Sister and Little Sister in October of 2004 was pumpkin carving in my residence hall's kitchen at EMU :)  As an adult, I've also added new traditions of my own, including canning, freezing, and growing some of my own fruits!

It's so important to continue to patronize our local farms, especially in years like this, where in Michigan most of our tree fruit crops were destroyed by a late spring frost. Just one example of the devastation that occured is at Wasem Fruit Farm, the farm that Mike and I have gone to for the past 4 or 5 years. The owners sent out this email to their customers just a few weeks ago, essentially stating that their apples and other tree crops were lost this season. While they do grow other non-tree fruit as well as pumpkins, apples are a big part of their farm, and the delicious apple cider they make will be also un-available this season.
In the email, the owners reached out to their customers, to ask how they could continue to retain our patronage in this tough year- would we come out to the farm to buy doughnuts still? What other kinds of features could get us to come out to the farm? I truly believe that each person's support can make a difference. Having farms like these is a big asset to our communities, and I plan to go out of my way to support Wasem and other local farms in whatever way I can. 

As you're grocery shopping this season, think about the alternative ways you could get your fruit fix! U-Pick operations are a bit of work for you, but they're usually cheaper than retail fruit prices. They also give you a direct connection to your food- the only more direct thing you could do is grow it yourself! If you're looking to try out a U-Pick, there is a nice state-by-state directory here and an Ann Arbor area directory here.
Happy Picking!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Silent Sunday

Just a few photos to share from my raspberry picking today. Beautiful day, delicious berries :)

Happy Sunday :)

Friday, August 24, 2012

2012 Local Eating Goals

Now that (I hate to say it) we've passed the middle point of summer, I am thinking about and preparing for Fall. This year, more than ever, I am trying to live in the moment and truly enjoy each day and revel in the season- the sweltering hot days, the strangely-cool days, and everything in between. 

However, part of appreciating these summer days is putting up some of my favorite fruits and vegetables for later on the in the year, and planting in preparation for fall. Every year I have a sort of mental list of Homestead-y things I'd like to accomplish- things to grow, things to can, things to freeze, things to dry and store through winter. I'm proud to say that this year, I have actually done some significant fall planting, and I've also done a pretty fair job at "putting up" or canning/preserving/storing & locally sourcing a good deal of the things that were on said mental list! 

I will say that I've give myself some exceptions- this list applies most to food that is eaten in my home. While eating out and about, I do try to have a strong focus on local food, supporting local businesses, and avoiding questionable meat (essentially, it's questionable unless I know where it's sourced from). BUT it's hard to find places to eat that meet all of my strict qualifications! So while I am an intentional eater at restaurants, I am my best locavore self at home, where I can better control what comes into my home, where it comes from, and what I spend our $$$ on.

As I have moved towards eating more and more locally, there is a natural shift towards eating things in the season they grow in. For example, when I say that I eat only local potatoes all year long, it is because I plant potatoes in the spring, I harvest them in the summer, and store them to eat throughout summer, fall, and into winter. Then I stop eating potatoes until I can find them locally again in the spring, or grow them myself once again!

With all that stuff in mind, here's an attempt at a typed version of my 2012 Local Eating Goals.

Happy Home 2012 Local Eating Goals
* crossed off= already preserved or ready to store

Veggies to store/source locally for the entire year-
(successfully achieved this part of the list last year!)
Sweet Potatoes
Acorn Squash
Garlic (50 heads)

Other food products to source locally for the entire year-
Meat products

Herbs to dry & store/grow indoors for the entire year-

Locally grown veggies & fruits to Can-
6 pints Pickles
5 pints Tomato Sauce 
10 pints and 12 half-pints Corn
10 pints Green beans
25 half-pints Peaches
15 half-pints Pears
6 pints Apricots

3 pints Cranberry Sauce
15 half-pints Applesauce
3 pints Blueberry jam

Locally grown veggies & fruits to Freeze-
5 quarts Blueberries 
1 quart Cherries 
1 quart Raspberries
2 quarts Strawberries 

3 quarts Corn

Locally grown fruits to Dehydrate-
2 bags dried cranberries

If you'd like to set some local eating goals for yourself, I have a few tips:
  • Set some perimeters for yourself- be realistic about what you think you can do
  • Have strategies in mind- Where will you shop/how will you grow things to meet your goals?
  • Think it out- If you want to can 60 pints of tomatoes, when will that actually happen and do you truly have the time & resources to do that?
  • Pat yourself on the back, even if you don't accomplish everything you set out to! You're still making progress, and you'll have a better idea of how you can improve in future years.
What do you try to eat locally year round? 

Are there things that you think are more important to source locally than others?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What's Up Wednesday!

It's a little late, but here's what's up this week in my garden!! Lots of the Fall plantings are doing really well- I'm excited to see how they perform in the colder weather when it gets here. In the mean time, I am still enjoying lots of tomatoes, peppers, cukes, and the occasional onion!

Swiss chard! It's so pretty, and I don't like to eat it. I'll have to do a neighborhood trade, I suppose!

      A second round of sugar snap peas is establishing nicely

I'm now able to pick late-summer lettuce! :)

Will the pumpkins and zucchini grow big enough in time?

Last of the chamomile is blooming. 
This summer I've harvested about 2 half-pints for tea this winter!

 The mystery squash thing that I couldn't identify is a cantaloupe- What an awesome surprise!

The canning pantry is quickly filling. I've spent 5 or 6 evenings in the last month 
filling it up with goodies- canned corn and canned peaches just recently- yum! Time to set some canning and local eating goals for the season, I think!

What's up in your Garden this week? 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Choosing Garlic for Late-Fall Planting

If you're going to plant garlic for next year, it's just about the right time to buy your planting stock! There are lots of different types of garlic- I didn't even really think about the different varieties that exist under the larger type categories, let alone the types themselves! In addition to there being hardneck and soft neck types, there are 9 different types (that I know of) of garlic, and a bunch of specific varitieies of each type! There is actually a good list of different types of garlic here: check it out!

I've put together a list of varieties of that I'm interested in planting for next season- overall I'd like to plant about 6 heads of garlic, or roughly 50-75 new heads of garlic.

Artichoke (3)
Lorz Italian
Inchelium Red
Italian Late

Silverskin (1)
Silver White

Porcelain (1)
Romanian Red
Chesnok Red

Rocambole (1)
Spanish Roja

Here in the Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor area, we have several choices for purchasing locally grown garlic- I hope you are as lucky and that you have local growers to choose from as well! 

There are several good options for organically grown garlic from seed companies like Hood River Garlic, Seed Savers Exchange, and Seeds of Change. I like all of these companies, and I often purchase seeds from these companies, but there are several perks to buying local garlic vs. seed company garlic for your planting stock:
  • Local garlic supports a local farmer-
    This one is not a surprise, hopefully, but local growers are often hand-selecting the varieites you are choosing, screening for the best performance. The success of these local growers depends on your business.
  • Local garlic is often cheaper-
    I've seen local garlic at the Farmers' Market that costs between $2 - 2.50 per head for a large size. I averaged out how much garlic from Hood River, Seeds of Change, or Seed Savers Exchange costs, and the answer seems to be about $3.70/head. That's not even including shipping prices!
  • Local garlic is well-suited to your growing region- Because you are purchasing garlic that is grown close to where you live, it's unlikely that you could pick a varitiety that won't perform well in your garden (at least not because of normal climate issues)
  • Greater variety of garlic is available to you- My go-to Garlic family grows 40 + varieties of garlic each year. That's a LOT! Most seed companies I looked at offer 3-10 varieties.
Again, not every grower will specialize in garlic like the Dyer Family does, but if you can find a farm or a farmer that loves garlic as much as you do, I can't think of a single good reason not to run out to your nearest Farmers' Market, Farm Stand, or Farm visiting day and snatch up some of that garlic!

I've grown garlic at home for several years now, and each year, although I'm able to save a heads to plant, I make a point to buy some from local growers too. That way, I can try new garlic types, and do my part to make sure that garlic lovers in my city & county get to by from those local growers for as long as they'd like to sell! Planting occurs around (Hardiness zone 6a) at the end of October-beginning of Novemeber, but it's not too early to start stocking up now! Good luck selecting :)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What's Up Wednesday

Laundry is up (literally)! I only recently discovered the joy that is line-dried laundry.
For me it falls into that 'retro and awesome' category, along with canning and apron-wearing.

The tomatoes I started in the spring that weren't doing well are now finally starting to ripen-
I guess I'll have a sort of staggered tomato season!

 My one lone sunflower this year, getting ready to bloom!

 Prize Choy! A new addition to the garden for Fall.

 'Parade' Bunching onions, and pumpkin plants in the background

 The canned goods shelf is starting to fill up!
Apricots, Blueberry jam, Raspberry jam, Corn, & Green beans!

Tell me- What's Up in your Garden this Week?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Importance of Experimentation in Gardening + DIY Lemon Balm Cleaner

I'm admittedly picky at times. I'm not always a try-er of the newest things. However, I think experimenting, testing, and "giving things a try" is really important to continued success in the garden.

Our gardens are affected by so many factors- pests, weather, water and soil conditons.. as gardeners we have to be ready and willing to adapt, change our plans, and accept the results that nature gives us.

I've been reading Founding Gardeners (which is a great book, btw) and thinking about experimentation and observation. Jefferson, Washington, Adams, Madison and Franklin all had very high regard for the role of trials and experiments in the garden, and devoted whole sections of their land and gardens to that very purpose. This has gotten me thinking about all the little ways I've experimented in my garden over the few years of its life.

Lemon balm in my garden
 Almost every "experiement" I've done in the garden or in the kitchen has probably been done before many different ways, but I still think there's merit in trying things for oneself. Most of my awesome projects; concrete block raised beds, my DIY 5 gallon bucket Root Cellarshomemade Vanilla Extract- those were all "experiments" or trials that I got an idea to do, and did!

Sometimes the idea occured to me first, sometimes I was looking for a solution for a problem and found ideas that I figured I could try out. Either way, because of the room I've given myself to try these things, I now have products and advantages I wouldn't have otherwise; an awesome urban garden with extra space for herbs, a successful way to store carrots and potatoes right up until late spring, and high-quality, low-cost vanilla extract!

An experiment I just stumbled upon recently is this Lemon balm drying project that I wanted to try out.

DIY Lemon balm Cleaner

I planted Lemon balm this year, with no real thoughts on how I would actually use in, whether in cooking, medicial or other useage. I was googling how to dry Lemon balm at home, and I saw a few methods- oven drying, a electric dehydator, but one method stuck out in the reading- laying the Lemon balm out on a towel in front of the dehumidifyer- what a creative idea! We already run a dehumidifyer nearly 24/7 in the summer, so why not use the hot air that is getting sucked in to the machine to dry the herbs? Yesterday night I picked some Lemon balm from the garden and laid it out on a kitchen towel. I spread out the towel on top of the ottoman in the basement, and scooted it up in front of the dehuminidifer, as pictured.

When I came down this afternoon to check, less that 24 hours later, look what I found:

Perfect, right?

I thought the leaves would take at least 2 days to dry out! It's taking a lot of restraint not to fling out into my garden and just start harvesting all my herbs to run the same experiment! I do think I'll try drying some Lavendar this way, as well as some bundles of Thyme, as our nice weather draws to a close in late Fall.

Because the Lemon balm dried so nicely, I was already able to start an infusion to make a Lemon balm scented cleaner this evening!

I crushed up the leaves a bit and add them into a bottle of white vinegar (1 cup) in a spray bottle. Supposedly, the leaves can be left in the bottle for few days to infuse, and then I can strain them out and I'll have a great, fresh Lemon balmy scented vinegar. I'll add 2 cups of water to that, and have a great homemade cleaner! As someone who regularly ulses a just vinegar + water mix, I am definitely looking forward to a more pleasant scent- maybe Lavendar or Rosemary scented cleaner will be next on the list?

I'll definitley report out on my facebook page about the results- I have a feeling I might have to try a different preportion of vinegar to water in order to get that lemony-fresh scent I want.

Keep trying things, even if they don't always work out- Our Founding Fathers would applaud your efforts :)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Planting in Late Summer for Fall & Spring Harvests

This is the year that I'm going to do it, guys- make the leap and do some serious Fall planting! I think I'm usually tuckered out by the time the end of the summer rolls around. Before I know it, the time to plant for fall has passed me by. Not this year!

I'm been direct seeding Fall veggies in my garden for the past 3 weeks now, and I will finish up the last bit of planting tomorrow. If you're in S.E. Michigan, Northern Ohio, or a place with a similar last frost date (Oct 7th), you still have a few days to hop to it!

Fall Planting list:
Super Sugar Snap Pea
Prize Choy
De Cicco Broccoli
St. Valery Carrot
Grandpa's Admire Lettuce
Winter Density Lettuce
Parade bunching Onion
Rhubarb Red Swiss Chard

I've tried to seed most everything in the new, larger bed (pictured on the left)- it's closest to the side door of our home so if I need to dash out during the winter I'm one or two steps closer, and it already has crazy, thriving Kale there.

I'm planning to put up some quick hoops over the first 8 feet of the bed, enough distance to cover up the Kale, fall onions, and sugar snaps. I might want to do another 8 feet of hoop down at the other end (by the lovely garbage bins), because there are broccoli, a few carrots, and some speckles lettuce down there!

I'll be sure to share pictures of the quick hoops once I get them put together, as well as some guidance and assembly photos. I've been wanting to do serious season extension for a long time, and it will finally happen this year! One step closer to that ideal Badass Garden that's always floating in my mind...

What are you planning on planting this Fall?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Warm Kale Salad with Peppers and Onions

A recent favorite recipe to whip up has been what I'm calling Warm Kale Salad. I'm not sure about the techincal details of what constitutes a salad, but this one includes greens as a base with other featured vegetables, which is good enough in my book to qualify as salad-esque.

My mother-in-law can take the real credit here; she first made a version of this for us years ago, and I remembered it this year as I began drowning in a sea of abundant kale. It's another Kale-hiding recipe, which I am fond of, as I like kale in small pieces in tandem with other veggies.

Without further ado..

Warm Kale Salad with Pepper and Onions

3 large Kale leaves, de-stemmed and chopped up
1 large Red Pepper, cored and sliced into strips
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1 cup of corn
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

Heat the oil in a frying pan on medium heat

Add the onions and the peppers to the pan once the oil has heat, let the peppers sear on the fire.

When the peppers start to get nice and tender, add the corn, and the garlic to the pan. 

Once the corn has cooked for 2-3 minutes, add in the kale, pepper, and salt, and stir for 1 minute.

Empty the mixture onto a plate.

Serve and Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What's Up Wednesday!

Peppers are blushing and slowly turning Red!

Ah Speckles, my old lettuce friend :)

If anyone knows what this is, input is appreciated. 
This is what I get for not labeling things until July. A squash of some kind?

Cukes! These are on the top of my list of "Things that I don't like from restaurants 
or big groceries but are delicious when grown at home". 

Garden Peach tomatoes are so pretty, and just the right amount of acidic!

What's up in your Garden this week?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Mid-season Garden Observations

As we roll right into the heart of the growing season in S.E. Michigan, I'm already making lots of mental notes about the garden- what early season crops I loved, which ones didn't do that well, what I didn't plant enough of, what I ended up with an over-abundance with. I think its a good time to make notes about Spring and early Summer plantings so when I start seeds in the winter, it will be easier to recall these insights!

In no particular order, here are some garden observations:

Sugar Snap peas-
They are amazing!
Mike said they were his favorite new garden addition this year
Need to start outdoors earlier, under half-pint mason jars.
Expand a section for them

Way too much, although I love it! Could scale back a bit next year.

Started some indoors too soon: cilantro and basil
German Chamomile has been great
Adding other herbs for tea

Loved them, cannot plant too many: ran out already!
Little Finger carrots and Imperator carrots- I think the Little Fingers grew better.
Planted 8 rows of 10 for each type, next year need to plant more like 15 rows of 10.
Stagger planting dates better

Need to plant more
Find a good source for onion sets- onions from seed did all right, but were reaaaally slow.
Bunching onions did nicely- could start those from seed for early Spring.

Kidney beans dried really well
Saved them all for a large dried bean crop next year
Provider beans did not dry well- eat more of those fresh next year!

Possible potted additions for next year:

Dwarf Fig: Petite Negra
Dwarf Mulberry
Hardy Kiwi: Anna
Paw Paw Tree
Meyer Lemon Tree

What's going well in your garden? Any decisisons about what to keep or do away with for next year?

Friday Favorites

Good morning! Here are some of my favorite things this morning- things I'm loving, and things I'm thankful for!


Tomato basil & mozzarella salad- lunch or dinner every day this week!

Canning- it is pretty awesome.

The garden is still looking green, despite the heat. 
I think the straw mulch is helping!

Happy Friday! What are your Friday Favorites?