Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Independence Days 6-23-2006

Turnips! Pretty Purple Top Turnips! I pulled 8 or 9 turnips out of the garden yesterday evening. Added to the Kale and Peas I pulled out a few days ago, plus the container of raspberries from across the street and it's not a bad harvest.
We don't really like turnips in my house. :-D I know I know, why grow things you don't like. The fact is they grow REALLY well in our area. They grow with practically no maintenance, I literally put the seeds in a relatively straight line, casually scrape a bit of soil over them and water them a couple of times. They grow so well I always have to thin them, but turnip leaves are edible in a couple of different forms, so even the thinnings have their use. Plus, they are VERY healthy food, with a good balance of nutrients and crazy good amounts of Vit A, C and K.
Turnip roots I usually hide in soups and stews. They usually keep awhile, so I don't feel rushed. Small turnips will occasionally hide out in salads. I might even try some turnip in my oriental stirfry dish next time.
Have I posted that recipe? It's one of my favorite veggie user-uppers. We had a delicious stir fry two days ago with garlic scapes, canned corn (The last jar from '09), onion, garlic, green peppers, chicken and waterchestnuts. Then with the leftover rice I made some of my "Mexican fried rice" yesterday, another great veggie using meal that I stole from my friend Claire.

Preservation has slowed this week because I was working on that flower bed. I hope to make some jelly soon. Any day now. Really. :-P I'll get some more greens dried too, hopefully kale and turnip leaves.

I've planted almost all the herbs, finally got some squash seeds in the ground, even if it is too late to get maximum harvest, a few fruits would be worth the time and space.

My radishes are putting on seed. Which confuses me a little bit because I thought they were biennial, but I'll do some research and double check that. Lettuce is about to flower, same for spinach.

The potatoes are huge!!! They are 3-4 feet tall and covered in blooms. I'm hoping for a really good harvest.

I did mend something this past week, I mended one of Rowen's shirts that we got second hand with a hole in a shoulder seam. It was quick and easy. Dave has a pair of shorts with a busted zipper that I'm avoiding.

Garage sales over the weekend netted me a few books for Rowen to read someday and a couple of macrame books because they were a dime and looked interesting.

I've started on my flashlight round up. It has already produced valuable information. I would have sworn we had a large D cell Maglight in the house, but Dave says no. Perhaps I'm thinking of my father's or something. Who knows. That has moved up to the top of my list of things to acquire. One of our LED flashlights bought last year is broken, and I'm going to attempt to repair it. More on all of this later though.

It's always amazing to me how the little things add up. Hope everyone has a great week.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Prep Exercise

Here in NW Iowa we have myriad small disasters that can happen. We're at the top of tornado alley and we see a lot of thunderstorms with high winds, excessive rain, hail, lightening, you get the idea. We see the same weather patterns in winter, when temperatures alter the precipitation form to snow/ice/sleet. Add in fires, floods and freak industrial accidents and power outages are a distinct possibility. Usually at a most inopportune time, like o'dark-thirty.

We've had a few bad storms the past couple of weeks, so it's been on my mind. Every time they hit, I'm sure about the location of 1 flashlight (out of 3 or 4) and my storm lamp, but I'm uncertain what our battery situation is or where exactly the extra fuel for that lamp is.
This is a little worrying. So, this week I'm designating a recently cleared shelf as flashlight haven, and I'm going to find EVERY flashlight we have and all the batteries. I'm going to test them all, assure myself of their backup batteries and then store them in their proper places. To a lesser extent I will do the same with our candles/lamps. They don't need batteries, but why can I never find a match when I need one? :-)
After rounding them all up and evaluating their condition I can make a list of needed items to make our emergency lighting situation more robust and fail safe.

When was the last time you checked your flashlights and batteries? Easier to do it on a sunny day than in the middle of a bad storm.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Baby and Me - Landscaping

I know we're renting, and I know that any changes I do to the landscaping not only have to please the hubby, they also have to please the landlady. I also know that it's not in my best interest to invest money into said landscaping as chances are high we'll be moving on in a year or two or three. None of this stops me from altering my surroundings to better reflect my values, but it does make things interesting on occasion. :-) Double that when Rowen is out there "helping."Here's a nice shot of the not so nice bed on the East side of our house. It gets seen by a lot of walkers, and a lot of church goers every Sunday, and by me twice daily on the walk to and from the car. So, status quo was not acceptable.

What I had to work with:
- A few clumps of pretty Iris, blue, needing to be separated.
- 6 Asiatic Lillies
- free pavers from the landlady
- Rhubarb that I've carted around in a container for 2 years now, much to the rhubarb's dismay
- Russian Sage, again carted around in a container for too long
- Salvia, pretty blue, from Walmart. :-P
- weedsSo, I dug a new border for the bed, if there ever was a border it was long gone, with only hints to show where it might have been. Straight is boring, so I dug a nice curved border, turning the dirt/sod back into the bed and leaving a nice trench for the pavers.
I placed my pavers in, trying to keep level and tight and back filling with some of the dirt as I went. The type of pavers I had worked really well with the curved border and I think it turned out great.
I clumped my Lillies together, left a couple of spaces to put the divided irises, (that will have to happen this fall), put the Russian Sage, Salvia and Rhubarb in a section, left room to seed native flowers early next spring and put in a hill of squash to help cover the bare spots this year.
It looks much better, but will be patchy this summer. After dividing the irises and begging some divides from neighbors this fall and seeding flowers early in the spring, the bed should look 300% better next summer.

I left a corner free near the downspout in case I get around to making water barrels.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Water Filtration II

Well, I didn't win the water filter. Oh well.

I'm still thinking about water though. Perhaps because it's been raining so much the past couple of weeks.

Here's a few of the things I've been mulling over.

Rain Barrels. Oh how I want some rain barrels. Iowa is blessed with copious rain fall and it just drives me crazy to watch it all go down the drain. We have 3 downspouts, 1 of which lets out right at my garden, and I might leave that one as is, it has the smallest part of the roof and I feel like I trap most of that water in my garden and there's not much need to mess with it. The other two downspouts empty the majority of the roof catch, and they both empty onto weedy gravel that's not being used for anything. I'd love to have rainbarrels at those two spouts. I can't afford to buy a ready-made barrel for both, that would far exceed my budget, so creative DIY is in order. I've contacted the Ice Cream plant in town and they have a Material Reclamation department or some-such that I've been advised to ask about used barrels and buckets. Depending on what I can scavenge, I'll use the window screen I already have, some basic hardware (spigot and small hoses) and either stack or daisy chain the buckets or barrels to make something big enough to actually be useful. Useful in my mind is something on the order of 100 gallons. (200 would be fantastic, and is a good goal for the future. ) With any luck I'll be able to find a couple of 55 gallon drums and meet that goal with one drum under each spout.

Filtration. Rain barrels are great for veggies and other plants, but for cooking or drinking, more filtration would be required. Again, most filters are out of my budget, and not being one to reinvent the wheel, I've found some really promising DIY water filters and instructions for building them on the web.
The basic thought is spend the money on the Good Filters, and DIY the containers that hold both the water that's filtering and the finished water. I like the plastic bucket look. Not as shiny as the finished product that Berkey puts out, but with a couple of their Black Berkey filters inside, buckets will do just as well.

I'll update again when I actually have some containers and I start building something.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Independence Days 6-16-2010

Another Independency Days update. The garden is really starting to pick up steam. Spinach, lettuce and radishes are bolting, but the peas are starting to pull their weight, and herbs are only a couple of weeks away from harvestable size. I thinned the turnips and got a few baby turnips that we ate right up. Onions are going great, tomatoes are all looking healthy, kale is ready to pick up the slack when we exhaust our lettuce stores in the fridge. Beans all have 2 pairs of real leaves and the potatoes are growing so big I've run out of soil to mound on top of them and I'll have to go and buy a few bags this weekend.
It's been really rainy here, which means the slugs are out in force, I mostly just hand pick them off since I have enough of everything to share a few bites. Some garden friends have armies of slugs they're dealing with and I'm glad mine aren't that bad.

Plant the food: Various herbs got planted, Basils, oregano, mint, catnip, lavender and cilantro for Dave. I failed to get my squashes in, and I think it's probably too late now to mess with it. I'll just buy them at the market like everyone else. Although, if I'm really on the ball this weekend I might plant one hill just for kicks.

Harvest the food: Lettuce galore! Peas and baby turnips and radishes. Lots of greens.

Preserve the food: dried greens for potherbs, dried red raspberry leaf for tea.

Waste not: organized the storage area where soil amendments had been stacking up. Eggshells and containers of worm compost are now tidy.

Want not: finished some sewing projects with material from my stash. Used leftover pavers that my landlady donated to redo the East flower bed. I'll post pictures and details soon. Becky will be proud of my landscaping. :-D Dave finished the last of the yeast that I bought over a year ago and we invested in a large amount of yeast to restock that vital component. Honey was restocked with a medium sized container of local honey. I'd like to get a larger container before winter.

Eat the food: Rhubarb compote on pancakes, salads of every shape and size.

Local Food Systems: Still volunteering with the 3rd graders, I met 2 gardeners in my neighborhood this week. One is new to the hobby and one is a long time addict. I'm hoping we can trade excess veggies this summer.

A quick note to those who might be new, Independence Days is an ongoing activity sponsored by Sharon, over at The Chatelaine's Keys. The basic premise is we're all busy people. Sometimes the thought of growing our own, making our own and other such self-sufficient activities overwhelms even the most well meaning people. No one has the time to do it all. What we do have is the time to do little bits. Those little bits add up. I have the time today to plant a couple of seeds, tomorrow I'll dry a couple of handfuls of greens, etc. When you add up all the little things you end up with days where you are self-sufficient, Independence Days, and those make it all worth while. The blog posts get linked back on Sharon's site and we all celebrate the small things and know that they *do* add up and that every little bit helps. Join us! It's easy, there are no commitments, no minimums or deadlines, just people doing what they can to do things for themselves.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Pollinator Week

Pollinator week is coming up! June 21-28th. Mark your calendars! Tell the neighbors! Plan a party! Ok, maybe not, but a girl can dream right?
Pollinators need our help, and we can't survive without them. Take some time during Pollinator Week to do something nice for these garden helpers.
Check out these AWESOME solitary bee houses if you need ideas to get you started.

There are over 4000 species of native bees in North America. It's assumed that they are suffering the same loss of habitat and food sources that's stressing honey bee populations. I say assumed because sadly no one keeps track of solitary bee populations.

Bee boxes are easy to build and can make great projects for kids.

Solitary bees and wasps are very non-confrontational, so watching them as they nest is quite safe and can be very entertaining. They will reward your bee condo construction effort with an increase in pollinators visiting your garden.
Check out for more information on your area's pollinators and specific guidelines for best success.

Some of the ways I help pollinators around my garden: growing borage and other pollinator friendly plants, avoiding the use of chemicals or poisons on my land and providing various nesting areas for them.

Sew Nice

I've been getting some sewing projects done lately. I love that feeling, it's addictive. For those of you interested in such things, here's the run down on what I've been stitching

Two baby shirts. One large for Rowen, one small for the newborn daughter of a team mate. These were really easy and turned out really nice. I used cotton knit fabric and velcro closures. I will definitely be making more of them.
My first apron!
This fabric and pattern book was bought as a birthday or xmas present when I was huge and pregnant. I put the project on the back burner until I A) felt more myself and B) had a kitchen again. Fast forward 2 years and I knew it was time for the apron. It turned out beautifully, if I do say so myself. I modified the pattern a little bit, using the body of one apron and adding trim from another. I ran out of binding, probably because of the cute trim I added. But, I had extra length on the ties that I had cut out, so I tweaked the tie attachment to cover the sides where I didn't have binding. I cut out the fabric over one weekend and sewed it together this last weekend. The cute butterfly panel on the front is a pocket.
Other sewing projects coming down the project pipeline:
Napkins: I'm making a large set of napkins, some will be for my table, and some are going as presents for a housewarming and a wedding coming up this summer. This is the second set I've made, as the first set, made of linen, turned out really well and made a nice gift.
Mending: I have a large pile of things that need a bit of repair to them. Including a cushion on our rocker that my mom made and some pants for hubby. I'm really bad about doing mending, it's not very glamorous and it can be trickier than a project started from scratch. I vow to get one thing mended by the end of June.

I'll leave you with a picture of Rowen wearing his new shirt. So handsome! (Did I mention he's starting to walk?)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Independence Days 6-7-2010

Plant the food: Tomatoes, Basil, Cabbages, into the garden. Assorted herbs into containers.

Harvest the food: Lettuce Lettuce Lettuce, radishes, spinach, weeds

Preserve the food: nada

Waste Not: Just trying to eat greens on everything. It can be hard to get back in that habit after a long winter. I have some rhubarb set aside for jelly making hopefully this week.

Want Not: Finished Rowen's shirt, started on an apron and a napkin set. Tried some basic water conservation this weekend, and the cat promptly spilled it all over the floor. *sigh*

Eat the Food: rhubarb compote on pancakes, spinach on my burritos, anybody got a nice recipe for radishes?

Community Food System: Working with 3rd graders in Sioux Center, they have a veggie garden they planted this spring, I'll be helping out over the summer while they're on break, keeping things weeded.

Garden Buddies: The End of Lettuce Approaches

No, not a doomer prediction on the state of our nation's lettuce farming. Merely a reminder to my garden buddies to start watching for bolting on your lettuces.
Lettuces and spinach will bolt, or go to flower, once weather gets hot. Different varieties have different temps that trigger it, but once it starts the lettuce goes down hill in taste. You'll want to check out the middles of your lettuce heads, that's where the flower stalk starts. It'll be thick, with smaller leaves and will start to get some height to it. You have two options once that flower stalk starts forming.
1) pick everything and toss it in a container in your fridge to enjoy over the next week or two
2) mark a head or two for seed production and leave them in peace to flower and go to seed.

If you are going for seed production, choose a head that's well formed, with not too much harvested from it, and one that's in a good place. The lettuce head will need water and light as it forms flowers and seeds, so you don't want it to be too crowded. Lettuces will cross pollinate, but I've never had a lettuce sprout that I didn't like, so I never worry about keeping the genetics clean. The flower stalk can get as tall as 2 or 3 feet, depending on the variety. A little bamboo stake to tie the stalk to can come in handy to keep things looking tidy, but it's not required. Flowering lettuce can be quite pretty, shortly afterward the seed will start to set. Late in fall I'll remind you to gather the dried seed stalks and show you how to clean them.

Beans should be sprouted, if you have holes in your bean rows, pop another seed in the ground, if there's space where your lettuce has all been harvested, put another bean row in. Beans work great as succession crops, especially if they are bush beans.

We're coming up on the heat of the summer, do you have your mulch in place around thirsty tomatoes? Beans will thank you for some mulch too.
Potatoes needed a hilling last week for me. They need hilling with every 6 inches of growth. I hill them up with a combination of compost and top soil, use what you have, just keep those spuds out of the sunlight.
Radishes are filling up a container in my fridge.
Turnips and Kale probably need some thinning, I know it's hard to kill the little baby plants, but keep in mind how big you want the veggie to grow, and make sure they have room to get that big. If you had fantastic germination on carrots or parsnips or beets, they'll need thinning too.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Meeting my son in the garden

Another post for the Kindergarden series.

Rowen and I spend a lot of our time together these days in the garden. I feel like I learn a lot about him as we quietly do our business amid the dirt and the veggies.

He loves dirt. Not surprising, if you consider we're all made of the dirt that our food is raised on. He likes to poke it with a stick, he likes to eat it and he likes to throw it around on occasion.

He loves to self direct his garden time. He'll politely stay in my arms if we're just doing a quick watering mission or a fast lettuce grab, but he really prefers to be left to his own devices if we're going to be any amount of time.

He's never met a plant he didn't like. I was watching him earlier this week and he was standing next to some grass that was as tall as he was, and he would run his little hands across the seed heads, smiling as they tickled his hands and waved back into his face. He likes clovers for their cool cushioning, dandelions for their bright flowers and poof ball seeds, nothing escapes his attention. :-)

He doesn't need much in the way of accessories. No fancy tools necessary, he'll gladly grab a stick for poking, but mostly he leans towards hands-on gardening. :-) I'm the same way.

I love meeting my son in the garden, and all the little things I learn about him.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

2 cloudy years later...

"I will stay with it and endure through suffering hardship, and once the heaving sea has shaken my raft to pieces, then I will swim." -- Ulysses, the Odyssey

So, we've been swimming the past year. Life threw us some curve balls, some hard decisions were made and things were rough for awhile. I had faith that the shore was close though and faith that swimming would get us there.
For the first time in almost 2 years my small family is caught up on bills, with money leftover to go into savings. For the first time in almost 2 years, next month will likely see that savings increase. I finally feel like there's solid ground under us again. Things are of course still tight, with Dave staying home with Rowen and our personal credit basically non-existent. But, austerity measures, steadfast resolve, loving support for each other and strategic aid from parents saw us through the worst of it I think. We're looking forward to rebuilding our finances and security nets. Having had to use them once, we are even more adamant about them being in place before austerity measures are loosened.
I know some of my friends thought I was crazy when I left my job shortly after the conception of Rowen. I'm sure some of my family thought it was irresponsible. Looking back now though, I'm sure I did the right thing. If anything, I should have left that job sooner. I am working in the same field as I was back then, with a new company. I was worried about the job because of how the last one turned out. Thankfully this company has shown me that I was absolutely correct in my criticisms. Thankfully I'm now with a team that's excited about my contributions, interested in my development and willing to answer my questions. I'm now with a company that cares about family, cares about wellness and is properly managed.
It was a rough way to start a marriage, and not the quickest path to career advancement. But I was home with Rowen for the 1st year of his life and I got to breastfeed for most of that time, those two things alone almost make it all worthwhile. It's also nice to know that even weeks when we had no grocery money, food that I had grown and preserved helped to keep us fed. Maybe that's a skill I'll never need to know again, but chances are it will come in handy some day and I'm happy to know I've got it.

Other silver linings to these cloudy years, my sewing improved exponentially, my cooking skills improved and in general I'm more comfortable with my own abilities. It's nice to have a steady paycheck and the comfort that brings, but it's nicer to know I don't need it. I can make it without it, *we* can make it without it. We are stronger than we were 2 years ago, and more sure of our worth. I wouldn't have made it without Dave, and our partnership is my rock.

Maybe next year we can finally take that honeymoon. :-)