Thursday, January 28, 2010

Herbal madness!

Today I looked at the calendar and was amazed how fast January flew by. I think it seemed that way because January was so sunny and snowless. I'm hoping February is the same....I usually wait until late February to start most of my seeds but this year I have decided I'm going for it... at least with the herbs. So far, I have approximately 65 herb pots started. They include Boxwood Basil, Basil Pistchou, Sweet Large Leaf Basil, English Thyme, Greek Oregano, Curly Leaf Parsley, Basil Red Rubin, Sweet Marjoram and Lavender. I will also be starting Sage, Tarragon and lots of Mammoth Dill but I usually start those straight in the garden. I do this partly because my experience is they tend to do better seeded rather than transplanted and I really don't use them as much until later in the season. In our outdoor herbal garden we have plenty of Chocolate Mint, Spearmint, Peppermint, Lemon Thyme, Oregano, Herb Burnett, Lavender and German Chamomile. These come back every year when the winter is mild. The only herb I usually buy as a plant is Rosemary. It usually won't survive the winters here and it takes a bit more time to grow. I am looking to add new herbs this season so if anyone has suggestions I would love to hear them.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Additions and upgrades to the family garden.

My dad finished constructing the third raised bed for the family garden and we got it set in place yesterday. Did I mention that I love my dad??? The new box will likely be used for the broccoli and cauliflower as we had great success growing them in the beds last season. The bugs always got to them when I planted them in the regular garden. Since they are especially prone to aphids we planted marigolds in with them and I think it really helped. I don't use pesticides. I think all of those chemicals are just poisoning us and causing all kinds of health problems....but that's just my opinion.....I have strawberries in the box on the right that need to be separated and replanted as they have many sucker shoots on them. The box on the left still has spinach in it which was just an experiment to see how long it would last in the elements. It actually did better than I thought it would. Notice the electric fence surrounding the garden...tons of deer roam through dad's property so we have to keep it protected. So far good. Knock on wood.

In preparation for spring planting we are also making some improvements inside the greenhouse. We are adding shelves on both sides so there will be more room for starts. I will probably have to rotate the seedlings since they may not get enough light but I don't mind. (gardening is not a chore to me) I can hardly wait to fire up the propane in the greenhouse. If this wonderful weather holds and the price of propane doesn't go up we might be able to start earlier than normal. Only 55 days until spring!!!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Cucumber Quandary : Stickman saves the day!

My indoor cukes are growing like much that I found myself in a pickle so to speak...(I know but I couldn't resist). I wasn't sure how I was going to support the growing vine. Initially, I thought I would makeshift some sort of trellis to allow it to climb or move it to an upstairs location where I have more room. (I just realized that I have this thing where I just start growing things without considering how much space I have.) Well, as luck would have it, I was taking a lunch break when I noticed my beautiful handcrafted walking stick leaning against the wall by the front door. This walking stick was a gift from a good friend of my husbands.
A little background on the crafter of these fine walking sticks : He is known as Stickman because he hand carves these beautiful pieces of art from various types of tree branches and even decorates some of them with various gems. You see, Stickman lives near a gorgeous wooded area in Coeur d' Alene, Idaho called Tubbs Hill. The area is a hiker's haven and everyone that walks by Stickman's house can get a free walking stick. Some of the area schools have even taken their kids on field trips to his garage. And yes...every child gets to leave with a handcrafted walking stick personalized by Stickman himself.
So back to my cucumber quandary....I wondered if perhaps the stick would fit perfectly inside the windowsill (in a horizontal manner) so as to allow my cukes to climb and have support. I figured my family has seen me do crazier things so I went for it....and lo and behold it fit perfectly!.... And the family thought it looked cool. As you can see in the pictures below, the cukes are happily wrapping their little tendrils around the stick.....What will I do when they outgrow this stick? Well, I have an may involve visiting the Stickman for a custom size stick or two.... :)

Thanks Stickman for saving the day!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

But you can never have too many seeds!!!

I have to admit that I have this tendency to start ordering more seed when I haven't even taken a proper inventory of leftovers from last year. And, I'm not just talking about ordering a few packets... Just ask my family...they were beginning to wonder if I had a thing going with the UPS driver ...kidding Oh well my philosophy is you can never have too many seeds! This time, upon receiving my order, I made myself sit down and take note of what I have already. There are some seeds I don't plan on using this year and it's not that they didn't do well...I just like to keep trying new things so if anyone out there would like any of the following seeds or wants to trade seeds please send me a note and I will be glad to mail them to you.

I have Heart of Gold Cantaloupe, Sugar Baby Watermelon, Crimson Sweet Watermelon, Golden Sunshine and Emperor Runner Pole Beans (very pretty flowers on them), Serrano Tampiqueno, Detroit Dark Red Beets, and a very interesting spinach called Spinach Malabar Red Stern. The spinach is actually a vining spinach and it is very heat tolerant. I also have some Baby Bonus Corn seeds left. These are the baby corns you see in traditional Chinese cuisine. They turned out very sweet. I am growing lots more of this corn this year but I don't mind sharing some of the leftover seeds. We actually blanched and froze a lot of it and it still retained the great flavor. See below pic of the so called "baby" corn along with some of our gardening partners (my brother Rick and lovely wife Melanie.) Also see the actual corn husked pic below....they are cute little things. I will probably find more seed to share as I continue my inventory process so I will likely post more soon....just remember..... You can never have too many seeds!

Monday, January 18, 2010

How to cut your own top sirloin steaks - cheap

I have been promising for awhile now to post a how-to video on cutting cheap Top Sirloin steaks. I did these for $2.35 a pound, which is Costco's standard price. If you think about it, that is nearly as cheap as hamburger.

Anyway, with a little help from Daisy Girl, I finally got a video done. In this nine-minute tutotial, I'll take you through the whole process of cutting the steaks. Unfortunately, I ran out of batteries in the cam corder before I could do another video on tenderizing and grilling the steaks, but I was able to write a blog post on how to tenderize and grill these steaks on my brother Bobby's Blog "The Smoker Pit." You can read that article: here.

BTW, I have posted this video permanently at the bottom of this blog for quick reference. In fact, I am toying with the idea of doing a series of how-to videos to post down there in the future. Let me know what you think...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Harvest time!

Our Yugoslavian Red lettuce and other misc baby greens are finally ready to eat after spending a little over a month in the closet...under the grow light that is. Actually, I alternated the grow light with the natural light from a sunny window. I am still patiently waiting to see if the cucumbers and tomatoes will actually produce fruit. I have been reading up on force blooming and pollination so hopefully something comes of it. Below are the cucumbers which are called Cucino hybrids I purchased from Park Seed. They are supposed to be great for growing in the greenhouse so I am going to give that a try when we fire up the heat in early March. I also started a couple heirloom tomatoes and a couple cherry tomato varieties. Pictured below the cukes are the heirlooms. They may need a stronger grow light to actually get stocky...I have been pinching them back to try to ensure this but so far they still look a bit "leggy" to me....oh well ...this is just an experiment. I will just have to buy more lights if necessary.

Last week I started some Basil Red Reuben, Boxwood Basil, English Thyme, oregano, Supersweet Tomatoes, spinach and more lettuce varieties. At least I know the spinach and lettuce will do well.

Every year I have a large herb garden but this year I am thinking on expanding it as I am really getting into cooking with them. Like fresh veggies, the fresh herbs are so much better than you buy from the grocery store...and minus the chemicals!
I have been reading up on various studies that report just how many chemicals are used on your average supermarket vegetables..Sure you wash them but really how much of those chemicals are absorbed into the plant ? It is scary to think about. No chemicals for me. I will continue to harvest my own even if it means going back into the closet to do it. lol!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Grandpa's garden tools just keep on tickin.

This ancient gardening tool is a push along weed tiller....This was originally my grandfather's tiller but as he got older and could no longer garden he handed it down to my dad. We figure it is around 70 to 80 years old...(of course my dad made a few upgrades to it along the way.) Over the years the tiller was eventually shoved to the back of the old shed and forgotten. After all, there were new and improved tillers (especially the kind that had a motor) that could do a much more efficient job. Last spring the family starting reminiscing about old-time farming and about how our society has become so dependent on motorized equipment that we tend to take a lot for granted. Needless to say, that prompted my dad to pull out the old tiller from the back of the shed to show us kids that it still did a fine job of tilling! We actually used it a lot this past summer... and yes does a wonderful job even after all these years. Dad found another old time hand-me-down tool in the shed that we also used during spring planting...the corn planter (below). I'm not so sure it isn't more efficient to just use a shovel but it's still kind of cool to utilize the old timers that my grandparents used back in the day....not to mention I have had brand new tools break within a year's use but these old tools they just keep on tickin....

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What winter?

It's sunny and 21F here in beautiful Post Falls, Idaho. What better way to start the day than a walk with the pups at the park. To the left is Buddy and to the right is his sister Stella. As you can see from the picture, there is no snow!!! Yep, it's all in the high mountains... for now anyway. With the last two winters bringing us record snowfall I am relieved to have a mellow one ....finally...knock on wood. When I got back from my walk I had a nice surprise waiting for me in the mailbox....more seed catalogs and the tomato seeds that I ordered in January finally came. I am trying 6 new tomato varieties this spring; For cherries I will plant Marcellino, Golden Gem, Peacevine and my tried and true favorites Sweet Million and Sugar Snack. For paste tomatoes I will plant San Marzano, Amish and Gilbertie. And for slicing tomatoes, I have ordered Costoluto Genovese, Brandywine and I'm still debating on a couple more.... Any reader suggestions would be welcome as I am selling at the farmer's market this year and want a good variety.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The cure for spring fever!

I'm not much of a winter person but I try to get through it and one thing that really helps is to start planning the garden for next spring. I have been receiving what seems like a seed catalog a week since mid November so I have lots of seed purchase decisions to make. (I don't know what it is but opening the mailbox and finding a seed catalog just really makes my day....)

Not only are there seed purchases to decide upon but the garden layout changes every year as well. This spring we are adding a raised bed and three potato boxes to the "family garden" at my dad's house. We determined which crops thrived best in the raised beds; namely the cabbage, broccoli and the cauliflower and decided not to change that up. In fact, the new bed is for more of the same. My theory is you can never have too many vegetables.....Below is a picture of the raised bed that my awesome dad built for me.

Last summer in one raised box we grew all of our herbs; basil, thyme, oregano, tarragon, lavender, and sage to name a few. We also threw in a few marigolds and some petunia seeds (my mom's favorite) and the petunias nearly took over the entire box. I think that was mom's way of telling us she is still with us in spirit. This year we will have one box for strawberries and two for the broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. I am going to find a new location for my herbs since they really don't get bothered by many pests anyway. Below is a picture of the herb box from last spring. My daughter "daisy girl" found the angel you see hanging at a thrift store and since my mom was a collector of angels we thought it was a perfect addition to the garden.

In addition to the "family garden" at my dad's house my husband and I have our own backyard vegetable and herb garden to tend to. It is approximately 1000 sq feet and while much smaller than the family garden it is still time consuming. Not that I's just hard to keep up the canning when everything comes on at once. This year we decided that our backyard garden is going to be the experimental garden...that is we will grow only new crops that we have never tried before. The regulars will still be grown and perhaps "weeded out" of the mix at the family garden should I find a better suited plant along the way. (I am open to plant suggestions)
Well.... according to my spring countdown clock there are only 75 days to go....I guess I will continue garden planning and seed purchasing and before we know it we will all be digging in the dirt once again!