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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Hit the Deck: Project 3

Hit the deck with us as we go in-depth on Project 3 this week. We're working with an approximately 8' x 12' area minus walking space needed to access the front door. There are various objects like this old rocking bench that need to be removed or recycled into structures that can grow food:


The plastic container will be filled with soil and used to grow root vegetables such as carrots, turnips, and radishes. The pot can be used to grow herbs, and the wood from the bench may be useful if recycled into a grow box for tomatoes, peppers, etc.

You may have caught a little glimpse of the deck resident in the first photo. She has been dubbed "Mommy Kitty" for having multiple litters of kittens. Since she isn't compatible with the cats inside the house, and we haven't been able to catch her between litters to take her to the veterinarian to be spayed, she is pregnant again. Every time she has her kittens, it's in a secret location, so caring for them while she's at the veterinarian  for a couple days is out of the question. This time, we plan to take her inside the house right before she has her kittens, then keep her there until we can take a trip to the vet with her.

Anyways, here are some pots that will be used to grow plants on this ledge to the left of the wooden bench. Chives actually grow in the biggest pot every year without any care whatsoever. This year, we'll give them a boost! You can see the deck resident's food dish underneath the wooden ledge. Also on the ledge is a white strawberry pot that will be used to grow - you guessed it - strawberries!

To the right of the wooden bench in the first picture, here is a piece of lattice that can be used as a light support structure and an old chair that may be able to provide recyclable materials for growing plants.



Our deck resident makes a final appearance in this last photo. (See her bulging belly? Totally pregnant.) Pictured here is the walkway leading to the front door. There is still plenty of space that can be utilized for growing food in this area, especially right up against the side of the house. The lattice in the last photo used to block half of the walkway, obstructing the path to the door. It's looking much more feng shui now!

So, there it is! Now you have a good idea of what we're working with in Project 3. As we transition to growing food on the deck, we will take updated photos from the same angles so you can see the progression. We're excited to make this transformation happen! 


Any ideas on what we could make out of the pictured objects? Have you embarked on a similar project on your own deck? How about the larger font size - more readable? We'd love to hear from you! Thanks for stopping by, as always.




Monday, February 25, 2013

Pumpkin Pecan Pancakes - Wheat Free, Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Paleo, Vegetarian

If you're gluten free, it doesn't mean you can't enjoy a pancake breakfast. Here's a simple recipe my family gobbles right up!




Halved Butternut Squash ready to bake
Note: If you don't have pumpkin, you can substitute just about any squash such as butternut or acorn. Instead of using canned pumpkin, I usually cut a squash or pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds and strings, turn both halves upside down on a glass baking dish, and bake them in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45-55 minutes or until soft. After cooling for about 15 minutes, I scoop out the insides and use in this recipe. This is the same way I prepare pumpkins and squash for use in my homemade pumpkin pies.
Mashed up squash ready to use in this recipe!
You can also puree it in a blender or food processor.


Pumpkin Pancakes


Ingredients:


6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups pumpkin
1/2 cup almond flour
1 Tbsp coconut flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup coconut milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup crushed pecans
3 Tbsp Butter or other cooking fat to coat skillet


Directions:


1. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl except the pecans.

2. Heat cast iron skillet to low heat. Just before pouring batter onto the skillet, coat skillet with butter or other cooking fat. 

3. Pour about 1/4 cup batter onto greased skillet. Sprinkle pecans on top.

4. These pancakes will not bubble like those made with wheat. Brown on first side for about 3-4 minutes, then flip with spatula. Brown on other side for about 2-3 minutes. Enjoy with maple syrup, fruit, or other topping.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Stop! Don't Plant Those Seeds in the Ground! Also, Projects 2 and 3

Are you planning to start your garden this year but unsure of when to start your seeds? Then, continue reading!

Growing Season
The length of your growing season is the number of days between the last frost in the spring and the first frost in the fall. You can research the estimated growing season of your area by visiting The Old Farmer's Almanac or Dave's Garden. My frost-free growing season is around 172 days long. 


Certain plants will die if exposed to frost, so it's important to know when it's safe to grow varieties that are intolerant of frost. In my area, the weekend of Mother's Day is a pretty safe time to plant. You can also visit http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/ and type in your zip code to find out what Plant Hardiness Zone you belong to. 

On seed packets, the hardiness of the plant is indicated to help you decide if that variety is a good fit for your area. The higher the number, the longer the growing season and/or the warmer the climate the plant requires. For example, I am in Zone 6A. Growing a plant that requires a warmer climate such as cotton would not be a good idea. If you want to know exactly which plant varieties do well in your area, contact your local agricultural extension agent

When to Plant
Here's a list of common garden plants and when to put them in the ground. The When to Plant in Ground field refers to the Day of Average Last Frost. Say your average last day of frost is on May 9th. In the case of peas, you would be safe to plant them 4 weeks before this day, so around April 11th. 



To Start Indoors or Buy from a Nursery...That is the Question
If you're trying to get a head start on the growing season, I see two main benefits to starting your seeds indoors rather than purchasing them from a nursery: 

  • You save money, as plants in the nursery are more expensive than buying a packet of seeds.
  • You know exactly how your seeds were raised, eliminating the worry that your seedlings were exposed to synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.

If you don't want to go through the hassle of growing your seeds indoors and have access to a nursery that grows their plants organically (or don't mind that your seedlings may not have been grown organically), purchasing your seeds from a garden center may be a better option. 

In future articles, I will go through the process of starting seedlings indoors with a soil blocker, as well as explaining the benefits of using a soil blocker vs. a seed tray with individual cavities. 

Announcing Projects 2 and 3!

Okay, I told you I'd let you in on the details of Projects 2 and 3 last week, so here they are!


Project 2: Urban Garden

Pictured is the backyard we are going to be converting into a garden this year. Our friend and client, Hannah, is currently renting, and the landlord has given her permission to use it in it's entirety for gardening! We are hoping to inspire those with small spaces who are thinking about mini farming their yards! Further details will emerge when I have the exact measurements of this space. Follow along in the 2013 Projects page for regular updates! 


Project 3: Deck Garden


Pictured is part of the deck we will be converting into a container-based garden this year. Do you have a small deck? We are hoping to inspire you to grow some food in the space you have. As with Project 2, follow along in the 2013 Projects page for regular updates!




We're very excited to bring you specific projects and hoping that at least one of them will inspire you to take action and make the most of the space you have if growing food is your goal. As always, thanks for dropping by!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Cow Photo Bomb

I apologize, but the update I was planning for today is not ready. It will be up tomorrow! Instead, here's some farm humor. 



Tomorrow, I'll post a seed-starting guide so you know when to plant your seeds or start them indoors. I'll also announce the details of Project 2 and Project 3. Until then, thanks for dropping by!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Coconut Flour Chia Seed Crackers - Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Paleo, Vegan

Do you need a good, gluten free cracker recipe? My son found these to be irresistible! 

Coconut Flour Chia Seed Crackers
I used a puzzle-shaped cookie cutter to give the crackers a fun shape.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup coconut flour
1/4 cup chia seed meal
1/4 cup coconut oil
3/4 cup boiled water
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning


Directions:

1. Mix the dry ingredients until well incorporated.


2. Add the coconut oil into the bowl.


3. Add the hot water a little at a time, stirring as you add it in.


4. Mix well with a spoon, stirring and mashing out any lumps that might still exist.


5. Once you have a uniform dough in a ball, place it on an unbleached, parchment-paper lined tray (or baking stone without parchment paper) and roll out. Keep rolling your dough until it is as thin as you can get it without seeing through or tearing it. (Covers an approximate 14.5" x 10" area)
Feel free to remove pieces of dough to fill in other areas that may need more dough to make it more uniform.

6. Slice into squares with a pizza cutter.

7. Bake for about 20 minutes.

8. Cool and enjoy! 



I love baking stones!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Get Your Gardening On! Project 1

I told you I'd be back today with detailed garden plans, so here they are. Last Thursday, I helped you make a seed list. This week, I'll show you how making a garden plan will help you figure out how many of each type of seed you'll need. Next week, I'll tell you when to plant.

Let's start with Project 1: The Large Garden. For many people, the space pictured below will provide a lot of food for their family.

I'm going to be completely honest with you. This is a crappy picture. But that's alright! It allows me to have a clear plan and know what I'm planting and where. Also, I burnt myself out taking on too many seed varieties last year, and I fizzled out mid-season. I had two part time jobs, my two-year-old son to take care of, and a large garden to tend. This year, I am determined to keep the seed varieties to a minimum and have a clear plan as to what I'm doing where and when. Here's my Master Plan for Project 1:


I always put the North direction at the top of the page, and I try to arrange my plants for maximum sun exposure, since the sun's rays are strongest from the south. This means that trellised plants could block the sun from smaller plants if not placed on the north edge of the beds.

Last year, I planned to double dig 8 garden beds that were 23 feet long by 3 1/2 feet wide. That didn't happen. The soil was clay, and digging in it by hand was slow-going. I only completed the 3 beds you see running from East to West, but they were tilled and surrounded by cinder blocks. I then added soil amendments and planted what I could. The rest of the garden space remained uncared for, and weeds took over, spreading even to the inside of the raised beds. Really bad!

I'm going to leave these beds where they are, but take a half a foot away from the width and one foot away from the length, making them 22 feet long by 3 feet wide, a more manageable size. On the Southwest side, I'm adding 5 garden beds using the Mittleider Method. They'll be 15 feet long by 18 inches wide. On the Southeast side, I'm adding six strawberry beds. You can't see the sixth strawberry bed, because I ran out of space with the graph paper. The strawberry beds are 10 feet long and 2 feet wide, and the strawberries will be planted on hills 8 inches high.

The Mittleider Method is supposed to be very effective at producing high yields, even in poor areas for growing. I'm going to use this method while simultaneously growing the same plants in my existing raised garden beds using intensive gardening techniques I gleaned from Brett Markham in his book Mini Farming: Self Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre. I look forward to the results!

Here's a closeup of the Mittleider Method garden beds:


I based my plant spacing on Mittleider's recommendations and companion planted based on my online research. Some plants don't do well planted next to certain varieties for various reasons. Maybe they transfer pests readily or they both consume a lot of nitrogen. This is why it's good to do a little research before you make your plans and make lots of notes in your garden journal!

Your needs may vary from mine. Maybe you only want 1 zucchini plant, because you had way too many last year and couldn't even give them all away! As you grow each year, you'll be able to adjust your garden plans based on your needs. With these plans, you'll know exactly how many seed packets to buy of each variety. 1 packet of each variety will usually do the trick, but some seeds are sold 5 per packet, and in that case, you may need multiple packets.

Here's a closeup of the strawberry beds: 


I'm going to plant 2 different kinds of strawberries: June bearers and Ever bearers. As you may be able to guess, June bearers produce their fruit at the beginning of the season. Ever bearers produce a steady supply of fruit in smaller quantities all season long. I'll go into more detail in regards to their care in future entries.

Here's a closeup of one of the existing raised beds in 10-foot sections:


I'm spacing the plants further apart and fertilizing mainly with compost throughout the growing season. Of course, I'll detail how this method differs from the Mittleider Method as I update in future entries.

Are you feeling inspired to make some plans of your own? You could follow these to the letter if you wish, but your growing space may differ from mine, and you may want to plant more of some vegetables and less of others. Don't have any graph paper? Here, I'll share! It's not the best, but it'll do until you can buy some of your own from an office supply or craft store.

                           

I'll announce 2 more projects next week (adequately named Project 2 and Project 3) and explain what types of seeds you should start indoors (or buy from a reputable garden center) and which varieties are best sown directly into the garden bed. As always, thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sneak Peak and a Cute Baby Goat

I've been hard at work creating garden plans this week, and I'd like to give you a sneak peak. Tomorrow, I'll release more details.


Each square on this graph paper represents 6 square inches. We're using a different technique this year, constructing beds that are only 18 inches wide by 15 feet long. I've grouped the plants I'm growing together according to compatibility and plant spacing requirements, which I will explain further tomorrow.

The second part of my post has to do with cute, baby goats! Easton Mountain is raising money to fund the purchase and initial setup costs of housing 5 milking goats this year. These little guys will be born in April. As of 3:30 p.m. EST today, the campaign has raised $2,070 of the $5,000 goal. That's awesome! If you're interesting in contributing, click HERE.


Thank you for reading. Don't forget to stop by again tomorrow!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Monday Cupcakes! Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Paleo, Vegetarian


Monday Recipe Time! 

This is the first recipe I want to share with you, because it's one of the most exciting, especially if you're on a gluten free diet like me! I added dark chocolate chips to these vanilla cupcakes, as I was feeling adventurous. Blueberries would be a welcome addition, as well. Anyways, here goes:

Vanilla Cupcakes (Makes 12)


Dry Ingredients
2/3 cup coconut flour, sifted
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp baking powder
Wet Ingredients
7 large eggs
2 Tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped (optional)
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Place the dry ingredients in a medium bowl or food processor. Combine well.
3. Add the wet ingredients, except the coconut oil, to the dry and mix well.
4. Slowly pour in the coconut oil, mixing thoroughly. Here's where you could get adventurous and add some blueberries or chocolate chips to the mix! About 1 cup should do it.
5. Divide the batter among 12 paper-lined muffin cups (I use If You Care Brand).
6. Bake 23 minutes, or until the center of the cupcakes spring back when pressed lightly in the center.
7. Cool in the pans 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack. Frost only when completely cool.

Vanilla Frosting

Ingredients
1/2 cup palm shortening (or butter if you're alright with dairy)
1/3 cup maple syrup
Pinch sea salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp arrowroot powder
2 tsp coconut flour
1 Tbsp coconut oil, melted
Directions
1. Place all the ingredients, except the coconut oil, in a medium bowl or a food processor. Blend well.
2. While mixing by hand or with a food processor, slowly add the coconut oil, blending until completely smooth.
3. Store frosting in the refrigerator up to a week. Let it soften a bit at room temperature and fluff it up with a hand mixer before using.

Rohnin enjoying a gluten-free cupcake.
Definitely give these a try! You'll love them and won't even miss cupcakes made with wheat flour. I love them, because they aren't overly sweet, and my son loves them because they're cupcakes. 
Coming up on Thursday: I'm giving you a big mess of garden plans! Future updates will include exciting details about our mini farm projects for 2013. We'll show you how to set up a garden on your deck using containers, which is helpful for anyone who can relate to having a lack of yard to grow their food. Subscribe to our updates via email at the top right of this page to get the latest information. 
I hope your week is off to a good start!


Friday, February 8, 2013

Food is Free

I had to share this video by the Food is Free Project.


What an amazing concept happening in Austin, Texas! One neighbor shares a 4x4 pallet converted into a garden bed full of winter greens with his neighbors, and it slowly spreads through his community. How do you think a project like this would do in your neighborhood?


Happy Friday, everyone!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Choosing Seeds

If you've ever seen a seed catalog, you know the pictures can be very inviting. The mouth-watering varieties of tomatoes, green beans, lettuce - the list goes on and on! It can be overwhelming as you contemplate how you're going to plant everything you want. How do you narrow the list down? I'm here to help!

Plant What You Eat


The first step in figuring out what you should plant is to go to your refrigerator and look in your cupboards. What do you and your family eat? Do you have mashed potatoes and green beans frequently? What about salsa, pizza sauce, or jelly? Think about the foods your family eats at different times of the year. Do you bake pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas? How about herbs for stuffing?

Here's a piece of my list:

  • Pickles
  • Salsa
  • Salad
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Pumpkin Pie
  • Blueberry Pie


Would you be willing to learn how to can, vacuum seal, or preserve your fruits and vegetables for later use? If so, this could save you thousands of dollars per year as well as several trips to the grocery store.  Do you have a space in the basement that stays at a cooler, consistent temperature? What about your freezer space? Purchasing a freezer that costs a couple hundred dollars could help you save thousands the first year if you have the space to store your precious bounty.

List Ingredients You'll Need


Once you have a comprehensive list, start listing the fruits, vegetables, and herbs that correspond with those foods. For salsa, your list would include tomatoes, onions, sweet peppers, and maybe some of the following vegetables and herbs, depending on what flavor you're after: jalapeno peppers, garlic, cilantro, and chipotle peppers. Feel free to look up recipes to get an idea of what you'd like to try and what ingredients you'll need. Online recipes frequently include ratings from those who've tried them as well as helpful tips to improve on the original recipe. You could also follow an old, tried-and-true family recipe!

Again, here's a piece of my list:

  • Pickles: Cucumbers, Dill
  • Salsa: Tomatoes, Onions, Sweet Peppers, Jalapeno Peppers, Cilantro, Tomatillos
  • Salad: Lettuce, Carrots, Parsley, Dill, Spinach, Chard, Kale
  • Mashed Potatoes: Potatoes!
  • Baked Sweet Potatoes: Sweet Potatoes or Yams
  • Pumpkin Pie: Pumkin, Ginger
  • Blueberry Pie: Blueberries, Honey (if you'd like to be really adventurous and try bee farming! That's another topic for much later)

Pick the Variety That's Right for You


Once you have your list of plants you'll need to grow to make the food you want to eat, then it's time to search for the seeds you need by pouring over seed catalogs, whether in print or online (most seed companies offer both). Here's a site that has a wonderful list of seed companies: Monsanto-Free Seed Companies

Let's look at the most commonly-planted plant in gardens across America: the tomato! How do you decide which variety to plant? Read the description of a tomato variety that looks interesting. Does it taste good when canned or is it a better variety for slicing and putting on a sandwich? Again, think back to why you want to grow tomatoes in the first place. Next, you have to take your growing environment into consideration. Do you live up north where the winters are longer and you have a shorter growing season or in the south where the summers are harsh or somewhere in between? How hardy is the plant for your zone (e.g. does it grow well in drought conditions, sunny, rainy, etc) This may require a bit more researching than reading the description, but you'll be happy you did the research to find a tomato variety that suits your needs.

I'm planting the Burbank Slicing Tomato from Sustainable Seed Company this year, because it's supposed to do well in dry conditions. I could not water the garden every day last year, because I live 35 minutes away from where I grow my food, and the soil has a high amount of clay. The tomato variety I planted, Black Krim, withered in the heat, and I didn't get much of a harvest.

Don't overwhelm yourself with too many varieties of the same plant. Pick one, maybe two varieties of the fruits, vegetables, and herbs that you want to grow. This way, you can focus all of your efforts on helping one or two varieties thrive and see if they're right for you. You can save the seeds from the most bountiful, healthy plants and sow them next year to get even better yields! If the variety you picked did really poorly, you may need to plant a different variety next year like I will be doing by planting the Burbank Slicing Tomato instead of the Black Krim.

Garden Size


Now you need to take a look at your garden space. How many square feet do you have to plant and what space does each variety need? I posted Garden Schematics last winter that you could use as a guideline, but I will be posting more next week to further aid you in figuring out what type of configuration would be best for your plants. This will also help you decide how many packages of seeds you should order of each vegetable, fruit, and herb you intend to plant. In most cases, ordering 1 packet of each is sufficient.

Let's take a look at the tomato again. Tomatoes do well in tomato cages where they can be contained to a predetermined area as they grow, both supporting their weight and helping to keep your garden more organized so you can get to the fruit at harvest time! I tend to space my tomatoes about 18" apart  in order to choke out the weeds and to grow more in a small space. It is also important that you plant your tomatoes in such a way that they do not block out the sun for other plants in your garden. This is why it's a good idea to plant them on the north side of the garden bed, also as discussed and illustrated in my Garden Schematics post.

Keep a Journal


In conclusion, go easy on yourself! Especially if this is your first year of planting, realize that you will miss certain things and make mistakes, even with the best planning. This is why it's a good idea to keep a journal detailing when you planted, how far apart you planted everything, what types of fertilizers and compost you used and how much, etc. Next year, you can try something a little different. Keep learning, and keep trying!

Next week, I'll show you how to companion plant and share my garden plans for 2013. What are you hoping to grow this year? Let me know in the comment section. Happy seed shopping!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Purple and Red Potatoes, Yum!

As I mentioned in my previous post, I'm focusing on fewer plant varieties this year to simplify life and to get better at growing those few varieties. That doesn't mean things are going to be boring, as I'm growing 2 varieties of potatoes from Potato Garden: 5 pound of Purple Viking and 5 pounds of Red Lasoda.

 


I highly recommend Potato Garden as a source of seed potatoes, as their potatoes are certified by the State of Colorado to be disease free or in the process of being certified. Though the potatoes are certified "Naturally Grown", they are all produced using the same philosophy and methods as contained in the Certified Organic Program.

There is a helpful section at the bottom of their main page that helps you figure out how many pounds of seed potatoes you need to order for your garden and what your yield should be per pound.

When a customer places an order, they are asked to indicate what week they would like the potatoes to ship. I chose late March, as I want to get a head start on potato growing this year. Last year, my order included instruction on how to plant and care for the seed potatoes. Following their instructions, I successfully grew a few potato plants. Unfortunately, the potatoes became contaminated when my landlord sprayed them with RoundUp, a potent herbicide, so i was not able to taste the fruits of my labor. This year will be different! I'm not planting anywhere close to where RoundUp will be sprayed.

Is anyone else planning to plant potatoes this year? What varieties have you enjoyed in the past?

Disclosure: I was not contacted by Potato Garden to promote their website, nor was I compensated in any way. I just love their seed potatoes!