Spring (finally)!

I’m sorry to have dropped off the face of the planet for a while.  I’ve had the very best of intentions to keep up on the blog but it seems like life is constantly switching to a faster and faster gear!  (and I keep telling myself, it’ll slow down soon, ha!)

We are finally starting to experience some spring-like weather, though it continues to be colder than average (not to mention the incredible wind we’ve had as well as rain!).  Nights are bringing freezes and it has seemed like we’ll never get the garden in.  Last night we finally tilled the garden and spent a little time outside soaking up a warm spring breeze.  It was brief, but gave us a taste of what is to come!

Breaking the tiller out of hibernation--thanks to Wyatt's Dad for getting it started after a long, cold winter!

Sight for sore eyes

Catching some sunshine while Harper eats the backpack

Hello Chickies!

Four eggs a day!

We have been too busy to get our seeds started indoors but we did finally make it to the greenhouse use the other day and picked up some potting soil so we can get some of those longer-season crops started this week.  Wyatt wants to do one more round of tilling on the garden and after that I plan on dropping in some seeds immediately.  I sat down last weekend and cataloged all the seeds and made a list of everything that could go in now, what needs to wait, what we can start indoors ASAP, and what we need to buy as starts for transplanting.

Stacks of seeds waiting to be planted

Fedco was out of Sweet Mama squash (how could I resist with a name like that?), so they kindly included a packet of change to refund us. It included silver dollars!

Spring really is here because the FIRST Farmers Market of the season is Saturday!  Sooo exciting!  We are also planning on hitting up a few spring rummages to hunt down some good quality clothes for the rapidly growing munchkin and see if we can snag a bike trailer.

We did get a community garden plot at Falls Park, but the plots won’t be open until this weekend or so.  We’ll be putting the non-labor-intensive crops like potatoes, onions, and squash down there.  Sadly we found out that they’re closing the section of bike trail out here for repairs so we won’t be able to ride down to the garden or Farmers Market as we had planned.  Since the main artery from our neighborhood to the city doesn’t have sidewalks riding with the little guy on the bike lane-less roads doesn’t seem to be an option.  Truly disappointing, as we have been talking about using the trail for these family outings since bought the house.  Wyatt contacted the city council to voice his concern about this neighborhood not being pedestrian or bike-friendly and we did receive some positive responses back.

I have a few blogs in the works that I will try to get cranked out soon.  One will be on making our first batch of kombucha(!), and the other will be called The Great Cloth Diaper Review.  I’ve had some questions from friends about cloth diapers and that finally lit a fire under me to get this long-planned blog out.

What’s on your agenda this spring?  Are you feeling the spring rush?

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Energy Food: Peanut Butter Coconut Balls

Since we’re both training for a marathon/half marathon in June, energy food is something we like to keep around. This protein-packed recipe is something I made up, but there are many similar recipes out there. Wyatt absolutely loves these, and when they are on hand he eats them in the morning on his way to work, at lunch, as a quick snack before a run,  after a run…come to think of it, he doesn’t really need much of an excuse to eat these. He just does. Anytime they’re around. Until they are completely gone. (Glutton!)

I don’t really have any sort of exact measurement for these ingredients, so I’m just guesstimating. Feel free to add new ingredients once you get sense of the taste and texture you’re going for.  Everything below gets thrown into your food processor:

Peanut Butter Coconut Balls:

1/2 cup peanut butter (we use the Co-op Natural Foods’ peanut butter machine to get the freshly ground stuff, it seems to be the driest)

1-2 tsp. molasses

1/4 cup sunflower seeds or walnuts

1/4 cup dried coconut flakes (we buy the natural stuff since dried coconut has some weird chemical additives otherwise)

1/4-1/2 cup raisins

1 tbsp honey (optional)

a handful of dark chocolate chips (optional, Wyatt’s chocolate-fiending request)

a few tiny splashes of milk if the mixture seems too dry

Blend all ingredients in the food processor until smooth and well-mixed.

Scooping up a tbsp at a time, form the mixture into balls and coat with dried coconut.

These can be eaten right away, but I recommend refrigerating. They set up nicely and taste really good cold.

Quick, healthy, fresh, made from real ingredients, and YUMMY! What more could you ask for?

Hot Composting…and how to save $120

Since we have been harboring a rather unsightly cold  compost pile (made of  lawn and garden waste) in our backyard for about a year now, we’ve decided to make the switch to “hot” composting for the sake of tidiness as well as an opportunity to utilize our food scraps and the deep bedding that has accumulated in the chicken coop all winter.

Hot composting is a method that rapidly speeds up the decomposition process.  It is done in a contained environment and requires creating a ration of “green” and “brown” ingredients that should be added at a specific ratio (usually 3:1 or 4:1 browns to greens, browns being paper, leaves, cardboard, etc.; and greens being fruit and veggie scraps, chicken manure, etc.) and  mixed and watered at regular intervals.  It’s more involved than just a plain compost pile, but *should* yield usable compost in about six weeks.

We had our eyes on one of those slick-looking compost tumblers found in gardening magazines and had even found a couple models down at the local Tractor Supply.  But the price sticker, on-sale for $140, was seriously absurd for something we were planning to put umm… sh*t into.  Plus, as we were looking at the design we noted that the whole apparatus was really just a plastic cylinder with a few holes on each end sitting on a mount that allowed it to be turned easily.  Something sparked in my memory from composting book about making a “trash can composter” that could be turned by rolling it across your yard a few times…

We came home, googled “trash can composter” and quick enough came upon this handy link explaining the process.  So we headed back to TSC, picked up a $14 plastic trash can, a $3 roll of duct, and some $2 bungees and came back home.

Here we are, babe bundled up for a warm but breezy April afternoon, with our materials.

The essentials:  Trash can with lid, duct tape, apoxy, bungee cords, old ripped screen, happy baby, coffee (life elixer)

Wyatt used a kitchen knife to cut holes in the sides and top of the can.  One of our dilapidated window screens served perfectly for creating little screens to cover the holes.  We affixed these with some apoxy letfover from a home improvement project and then covered the apoxy with some duct tape for extra measure.  To finish the project we put secured the lid  with a few bungees that will allow us to tip the can over and kick it around the yard a few times.  Easy Peasy.

Technical skills at work

A demonstration in fine craftsmanship

It ain’t rocket science

Then on to filling it up.  I volunteered to be the one to clean out the chicken coop, which was full of a winter’s worth of nastiness.  This turned out to be a much larger job than anticipated since there was probably two feet of bedding in there.

After filling the can we added our kitchen scraps, some of our old yard compost and a few shovelfuls of garden dirt .  We’re not sure of the “ratio” we’ve got in there, but the chicken straw is considered “brown” and the chicken manure  is “green” so after making the additions we’re hoping we’re around the right level.  Planning to just watch the process and adjust as needed.  Wyatt’s been rolling the can around several times a week and it seems to already be losing some mass.

Will give you an update on the process!  Hoping this $20 investment will yield some fully composted black gold to top dress our early garden beds this spring!

What the World Eats

Some definite food for thought!  This slideshow from the book Hungry Planet takes a look at a week’s worth of food for families around the world.  What would your week look like?

What the World Eats

Seed Order

Just completed our 2011 seed order. Like last year, we went with Fedco for an awesome variety of seed AND free shipping, bringing the cost of everything below to a whole $36.
Here is our seed order:

Sugarsnap Snap Pea
Sweet Mama Winter Squash
Scarlet Nantes Carrot, Red Cored Chantenay Carrot
Early Wonder Tall Top Beet, Chioggia Beet
Easter Egg Radish
Bleu de Solaize Leek
Evergreen Hardy White Scallion
Space Spinach, Tyee Spinach
Summer Lettuce Mix
Fordhook Giant Chard
Rainbow Lacinato Kale
Sweet Dani Lemon Basil
Caribe Cilantro
Lemon Balm
German Thyme
Zefa Fino Fennel
Wild Bergamot
Purple Coneflower
Brocade Mix French Dwarf Double Marigold
Green Heart Sunflower
The Joker Sunflower
My Castle Red Russell Lupine

Left over seed from last year:
Red Russian Kale
Dragon Langarie Beans
Tiger Eye Dry Beans
Waltham Butternut Squash
Marigolds
Greek Oregano
Sweet Basil
Dill
Chives
Italian Parsley
Lavender

We’ll be picking up our seed potatoes, onion sets, and starts of eggplant, tomato, cucumber, and peppers locally, as well as our strawberry plants and raspberry canes.

We have some new layout plans for the kitchen garden and will hopefully be utilizing a community garden plot for our storage and space-intensive crops like squash, potatoes, and onions.

Also have some chicken home-improvement projects that we’ll be diving into within the next few weeks. More on that later.

Hoping to do a lot of food preservation this year. Bring on the growing season!

Spring Fever

Will sell soul for fresh lettuce

Even though the official start of spring is a few weeks away, I have finally succumbed to spring fever.  I was doing really well at staying accepting of the lingering winter, not getting angry or resentful about the below-average temps, and just remaining quite zen-like about the seemingly never-ending situation.  But yesterday I picked up two new books at the library  that have fully unleashed all the green yearnings  I had buried under a deep blanket of cold and snow.

Perusing Grow Vegetables by Alan Buckingham and Made from Scratch by Jenna Woginrich has unleashed upon me a fever of wild excitement that led me to draw up a list of outdoor-related urban homesteading plans that I thought I would share with you.  Here they are, organized categorically of course, and without any reality-induced censorship:

Last year's garden mid-season

Garden Plans:

  • Complete seed order, buy some nursery plants later on
  • Purchase all potting materials and start seeds (next month!)
  • Plant kitchen garden in backyard (more time-intensive and often-used vegetables such as tomatoes, kale, spinach, peas, carrots, beets, beans, basil, etc.)
  • Plant storage crops at community garden plot (potatoes, onions, squash, possibly melons)
  • Plant annual and perennial herbs in containers and barrels
  • Buy composting bin/barrel  (we ‘ve realized we need to do something more than a casual “compost pile” in our urban environment)

Sweet, sweet cherry tomatoes...can you taste them?

Fruit:

  • Create raised bed to plant strawberries
  • Plant raspberry bushes
  • Plant an apple tree

Flowers:

The chickens also want it to be spring, they told me so last time I trudged out to feed them in 13 degree temps

Chickens:

  • Build a “shade hut” alongside the chicken coop
  • Paint coop
  • Spruce up the chicken run, fix fencing, and clean out winter deep bedding from coop
  • Plant sunflowers along west side of chicken run

Other:

  • Install gutters on garage and create rain barrel to catch water for garden and chicken usage
  • Hang shutters back on the house
  • Re-pot houseplants  that need it
  • Buy a canner
  • Purchase a small chest freezer for garage
  • Dig a small backyard root cellar like this one
  • Purchase that long-awaited bike trailer for Harper

Family aglow in Vitamin D

I have visions of warm days outside in the garden with the little one, suppers on the grill, evenings around the fire pit with Wyatt on the guitar, hikes at Great Bear and Newton Hills, Saturdays at the Farmers Market,  sunset rides along the bike trail, and running outdoors.  Oh man, bring on spring!!!

So have I passed along the fever?  What spring plans do you have?

Cookie Monster

We’re not necessarily big on sweets around here, but I found this recipe for a one-pan dark chocolate chunk skillet cookie, and the absolute deliciousness had me in the kitchen whipping this up the same day.  Homemade cookies have been one of our indulgences this winter.  Again, I blame the milk.  A steady supply of that ice-creamy goodness just BEGS for cookies.  Plus, is there anything more enjoyable on a cold winter evening than filling your house with the sweet, warm fragrance of baking cookies?  I think not.

The entire recipe is made in a cast-iron skillet, making clean-up a cinch.  You start by melting butter in your pan and then adding your vanilla and sugar.  After your pan has cooled a little, you then add your egg, followed by your dry ingredients and then the chocolate.  The recipe calls for chocolate chunks, but I just added dark chocolate chips and also some dried cherries and walnuts…chocolate, walnuts, and cherries….YUM.

The entire mixture is then baked in the skillet, in the oven.  The recipe says 15 minutes, but ours wasn’t ready for about half an hour.

The result was the most delicious cookie/cake/brownie goodness from sent straight from heaven.  We savored it over the next couple of days by cutting small slices and enjoying it with rich glasses of milk.

Oh the warm chocolately, sugary, goodness!  Just the thing to help you make it through these last cold days of winter!