It’s Still Winter

pexels-photo-371574.jpegAll month there has been a decidedly spring-like feeling in the air.

Above-average temperatures.  Growth.  Glorious sunshine!

I pruned the raspberries and the marionberries; I started getting some of the garden out from under cover and ready for planting next month.  I started my seeds indoors; I even planted a grapevine in the greenhouse!

Today it’s snowing.

I think I won’t be planting my peas until March this year.  Just to be on the safe side.

Fickle, fickle February.

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Seed Savers Exchange Order

IMG_E2464.JPGFor someone who really didn’t need any more seeds, I sure got a lot more seeds!

I actually went to SSE just to peruse their flower and herb offerings, but then of course I had to check out their tomatoes and by that point all my self-control was out the window.

  • Flower, ‘Kiss-Me-Over-The-Garden-Gate’  It was the name alone that drew me to this flower; it conjures up beautiful pastoral images of young love.  I’ve never seen this flower in person, but the pictures of it’s graceful drooping habit on the internet took my breath away.  I’m going to plant this around the house and on the north end of the vegetable garden fence, so I can see it from the kitchen windows.
  • Flower, ‘Night Scented Tobacco’  I grew this flower when I lived in Roseburg, and loved it!  The smell is absolutely intoxicating!  Also, hummingbirds love this flower!
  • Flower, ‘Zebrina (Cottage Mallow)’  My mom grows this gorgeous flower.  It’s a little reminiscent of hollyhock, but much less orderly.  Very cottage-garden.  I collected some seeds from her plants last year, but I wanted more, more, more!  So I got more.
  • Flower, ‘Moonflower’  Another fragrant night bloomer.  I want to grow this on our porch, so that I can sit there on a summer evening and just be enveloped by the perfume smell.  There’s also a bush version of this plant that I’d like to find.
  • Carrot, ‘Scarlet Nantes’  My favorite carrot.  I decided to buy it from SSE instead of Ed Hume because there were more seeds per packet for the same price.  Scarlet Nantes always does well for me, and the taste is perfectly carroty.
  • Cucumber, ‘Snow’s Fancy Pickling’  I’m still looking for a good pickling cucumber.  I’ve tried a few different kinds, but haven’t been 100% pleased with any of them.  So Snow’s Fancy Pickling gets a go this year, and I’m going to try growing them in the greenhouse as well as outside, to see if that makes a difference.
  • Tomato, ‘Wapsipinicon Peach’  This is a fuzzy tomato.  When I asked Jasper if he wanted to try a fuzzy tomato, he said no.  But I think he didn’t mean it.  Who doesn’t want to try a fuzzy tomato?!  Plus, it won a taste award.  So there.
  • Tomato, ‘Paul Robeson’  This is said to be one of the best tasting tomatoes out there.  A lot of the new bi-colored tomatoes being developed are measured against this heirloom for taste.  So of course I had to try it.
  • Tomato, ‘Amish Paste’  Last year, I had high hopes for my San Marzano tomatoes.  Those hopes were dashed.  The San Marzano tomatoes were the worst performers of the bunch.  If I had been depending on just those to make my year’s worth of tomato sauce, I would have been out of luck.  So I’m trying these this year.  The Amish know what they’re doing.  I hope their tomato does, too.

And completely unexpectedly, SSE sent me a free seed packet, too!  They didn’t the last time I ordered from them, but that was a couple years ago.  I imagine I’m not the only person who likes getting free seeds.  It’s a good practice, seed companies!  The packet I got was Dester tomatoes, which I’m excited to try.  This variety has also won lots of taste tests and has lots of good reviews online.  The only thing I’m worried about is that it is a rather large tomato.  Hopefully it will do well in the greenhouse, but typically our growing season isn’t hot or long enough for big tomato fruits to mature.  We shall see.

I have one more order to share with you that will round out my seeds for this year.  And then it’s time to get growing!

Delectable Pickled Garlic

GarlicHomemade garlic powder is good.  It’s amazing even, especially when compared with conventional store-bought garlic powder.  I just made it the other day, but I’ve already used it to make garlic bread, to flavor mashed potatoes, and in my homegrown spaghetti sauce.

But do you know what’s even better than garlic powder?  Like, a bajillion times better?

Pickled Garlic!

The first time I ever ate pickled garlic was at my wedding.  This was way way back in 2004.  I was only 21, a junior in college, and the love of my life was being shipped off to fight in that ill-conceived war in Iraq.  So, we did the only sensible thing we could do.  We got married.  And we served pickled garlic to our guests.

It was fantastic.

To cut a long story short, Jasper ended up getting injured and coming home, I graduated college, we moved a few times (finally to this farm), the marriage has lasted and so has the love of the pickled garlic.  In fact, it was the first thing we decided to do when faced with the task of preserving 200 garlic bulbs.

Pickling dilutes the spiciness and intensity of raw garlic, but still leaves the complexity of flavor.  In my opinion, it’s so much better than eating a regular pickle (or a regular clove of garlic, for that matter).  It makes an amazing appetizer paired with cheese and olives, and adds wonderful nuggets of flavor to vinaigrettes, salads, vegetable sautés and roasts.

It takes a little more effort than making garlic powder, but it’s so worth it!

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Pickled Garlic

If you’ve never made pickles or canned anything before, don’t worry!  I think the hardest thing about it is maybe just having the confidence to do it!

Ingredients:
  • Four cups of peeled garlic cloves
  • 1 tbsp pickling salt
  • 1-1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 tsp pickling spice per jar (if you don’t have pickling spice, you can also use a 1/8 tsp each of crushed bay leaves, whole coriander seed, black or white peppercorns, whole cumin seed, mustard seed and crushed red pepper flakes)
Equipment:
  • Four half-pint canning jars with lids and rings
  • Saucepan
  • Large stock pot or water bath canning pot
  • Jar lifter or tongs
Instructions:
  1. Wash jars, lids and rings in hot, soapy water
  2. Heat the water in the canning pot to a rolling boil
  3. Transfer jars and lids (not rings) to the canning pot to keep warm
  4. In the saucepan, combine the vinegar, water and salt; bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to low until it’s time to fill the jars
  5. Add the pickling spices to the bottom of each jar
  6. Tightly pack the garlic cloves into the jars, filling to 1/2″ of the top
  7. Add hot vinegar mixture to each jar, leaving 1/4″ of headspace
  8. Remove bubbles, wipe jar rims, add lids and screw rings on until fingertight
  9. Process in the water bath for 10 minutes (or adjust for elevation)
  10. For best flavor, let these cure for at least a month
Notes:
  • If you don’t want to process using the water bath canning method, you can also just fill the jars, allow them to cool and then store them in your refrigerator.  Let them cure for a week or so, and then they should keep for several months in there!

Enjoy!


IMG_2607 (1)It feels a little backwards to be pickling and preserving things now, at the tail end of winter.  At the same time though, it’s nice to know that we’ll still have lots of last year’s garlic to eat while we wait for this year’s crop to mature, and this pickled delicacy to crack open on our anniversary.

Garlic breath.  Pickled garlic breath.  That’s love, you guys.

Territorial Seed Order

IMG_2437I didn’t get much from Territorial this year, but then I really didn’t need much to begin with.  Just a few packets to round everything out.

  • Beans, ‘Soleil’  I picked the Soleil French beans to grow this year instead of my usual plain golden wax beans (although I do have an extra pack of those, too, in case these don’t turn out).  French beans are typically straight and narrow, and this particular variety is supposed to have a very buttery flavor.  I’m hoping these will be easier to can because of their straightness, and I can’t wait to try them pickled and sauteed fresh from the garden
  • Carrots, ‘Sugarsnax’  I’ve had huge success with the heirloom Scarlet Nantes carrots and will keep on growing that and the Danvers Half Long, but I did want to try this Sugarsnax hybrid, too.  I thought the girls would especially like to eat these fresh
  • Peas, ‘Lincoln (Homesteader)’  I grew these two years ago and found them to be the tastiest shelling peas by far.  They’re very sweet for a garden pea and were fabulous shelled and frozen to use throughout the year
  • Peas, ‘Super Sugar Snap’  Sugar snap peas could arguably be my favorite crop to grow and I’ve had the best luck with Super Sugar Snap.  I can’t wait to start eating these, warmed by the summer sun!
  • Watermelon, ‘Mini Love’  OK, being a maritime gardener on the Oregon coast is wonderful in so many ways, but it does have it’s limitations.  Watermelons, for one thing.  I’ve never grown a real watermelon in my life, not even when I lived down in Roseburg.  Then it was a matter of space, now it’s a matter of temperature.  It just doesn’t get hot enough for long enough here to grow those big juicy heirloom watermelons that look so tempting in the seed catalogs.  So when I saw Mini Love, a compact plant that is supposed to taste great, I had to go for it.  I’m going to grow it in the greenhouse, and if all goes well we’ll be having seed-spitting contests this Fourth of July!

And there you have it!  The end of my 2018 seed purchases!

JUST KIDDING!  What gardener can resist the siren song of seeds this time of year?!  There will be more, don’t you worry.  Even if I didn’t need them!

Homemade Garlic Powder

IMG_2527Do you remember when we harvested our garlic?  There was so much of it, more than 200 fully formed bulbs; a profusion of garlic!  Despite some niggling doubt, I was confident our garlic-loving family could plow right through that, no problem.

Well, as it turns out, we had a problem.

Even loving garlic the way we do, even fully curing it and properly storing it, even incorporating garlic into almost every single dinner we cooked, there was absolutely no possible way we could eat 200 heads of organically grown garlic before it started to sprout.  With no sprouting inhibitors sprayed on them (like on conventionally grown grocery store garlic), our bulbs were feeling the pull of spring just like the rest of us.

We grew hardneck garlic, which give us those wonderful scapes in June, but which don’t store as long as softneck varieties.  Normally hardnecks will store well for 6-10 months, depending on where you keep them.  Garlic keeps best in the dark at a cool room temperature, from 60-65º Fahrenheit with moderate humidity.  Our pantry is dark and cool, but not very humid.  We got seven months of storage from this garlic though, which I consider pretty good.  I just had to figure out how to process and preserve what was left to last an even longer amount of time.

First things first, we had to separate and peel each and every clove.  Cured hardneck garlic is not easy to peel – the skins are hard and surprisingly tough.  Shaking the cloves in a glass jar won’t work.  It takes just digging your fingernails in and cracking it apart, bit by bit.  It’s tedious and time-consuming, but it works.  After that we cut each clove down the middle and took out the green shoot that was starting to grow.  This is important, because to leave it in will add a very bitter flavor to your garlic.

We ended up preserving our garlic in a few different ways and I’ll be talking about those throughout the week.  Today, I’m sharing an incredibly versatile way to use it: homemade garlic powder.

IMG_2572


Garlic Powder (in the oven)

Homemade garlic powder is so easy and useful, it’s a wonder more people don’t make it.  The flavor is so much more intense than store-bought, and there are no questionable additives or preservatives.  You can use it in almost every way and in almost every recipe that calls for fresh garlic, but it really holds its own in dry rubs and marinades for meat and veggies, sauces, and when making garlic bread.

Ingredients:
  • garlic (as much or as little as you want)
Equipment:
  • cutting board
  • sharp knife (I preferred using a paring knife)
  • oven
  • baking sheets
  • parchment paper
  • blender or grinder
  • airtight jars
Instructions:
  1. Preheat the oven to lowest temperate (170º if possible)
  2. Separate and peel the garlic cloves
  3. If they’re starting to sprout, halve the cloves and remove the green shoot
  4. Slice the garlic into thin, evenly sized slices
  5. Place the slices on baking sheets covered with parchment paper
  6. Let dry in the oven for 3-4 hours, or until completely dried through
  7. Blend or grind the dry slices until they make a fine powder
Notes:
  • You can also use a food dehydrator if you have one.  Check the instructions for cooking temperatures and times.
  • There’s no need to turn the slices while they’re in the oven, just keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t burn.
  • If you prefer, you can also store the dried garlic slices without blending or grinding them.  They’re great for adding to soups, stir-frys and other meals.
  • Homemade garlic powder contains no additives or preservatives, but dried properly it can keep for up to a year.  For best results and flavor, I would keep just a small amount in your spice cabinet and freeze the rest of it.

Enjoy!


IMG_2562Is anyone else busy in the kitchen preserving last year’s harvests before it goes bad?  Do you make your own garlic powder?  What are your favorite recipes to use it in?

February Chores

pexels-photo-296230.jpegAt first glance, February doesn’t seem like a busy garden month.  It’s cold and rainy, and still very much the dead of winter.

But!  It’s also just a mere matter of weeks before the first seeds get planted into the ground, and so it’s high time to get everything ready.  Cleaning up and preparing the garden for the plants that will go in later in the spring can be a dirty full-time job, but it’s absolutely essential to get it done if you want to have a successful growing season.

Here’s what I’ll be doing this month!

In the Garden

Lift the remaining rutabagas:  The rutabagas, those hardy Swedish root crops which I let overwinter in the garden, are probably extremely woody and tough by this point.  It’s time to take them out of the ground and gift them to the chickens.

Uncover the garden:  We’ve had the garden covered with plastic sheeting since practically last year.  It has looked incredibly ugly and I have hated it.  But, hopefully, most of the weeds and thatch will have been killed and reabsorbed into the soil, giving us a clean slate to work with.

Define and build permanent beds:  My ultimate goal for the garden is to implement no-till permanent raised beds.  I know the terms “permaculture,” “back to Eden,” or “lasagna gardening” can sometimes be thought of as hippy-ish, but honestly it just makes sense to me.  Rather than tilling and weeding and amending the entire garden area, slowly depleting the nutrients and eroding the soil despite what we amend it with, we’ll layer defined planting areas with newspaper, manure, leaves and compost and then cover it all with wood chips.  These will slowly break down, feeding the ground beneath them, and we’ll just keep adding more good stuff on top.  The soil will be healthier, it won’t be compacted, we’ll weed and water less and we’ll be using free, sustainable and natural materials.

Dig in lots of well-rotted organic matter:  February is the month of love, and gardens love manure!  They love compost!  And I love gardens!

Cover with tarps again:  Just in case.  To kill any weed seeds.  But it won’t stay on all summer this year, I promise!

Sow early seeds indoors:  Despite the cold weather outside, now is the time for me and other maritime gardeners (zone 8, right on the cusp of a and b) to start sowing seeds inside.  I’ll be starting all my tomatoes, eggplants and sweet peppers this week, as well as my first sowing of brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and cabbage.  I’m also going to start some green onions and lettuce, and hopefully get them into the greenhouse by early next month!

IMG_2518.JPGIn the orchard

Prune the fruit trees:  This chore honestly scares me little, because you’re basically cutting off parts of your tree and what if you do it wrong?  The trees could die!  But really though, pruning actually helps reinvigorate trees, reduces problems with pests, and boosts fruit production.  Jasper and I are going to start with the easy stuff, like getting rid of suckers, dead  or injured branches and water spouts, then we’re just going to give them a haircut!

Prune the marionberries and blueberries:  As with the fruit trees, so with the fruit bushes.

Feed all the fruit trees and bushes:  Now is the perfect time to feed all your fruiting things, too.  I  spread a very little bit of wood ashes from the fireplace around the base of our apple and plum trees, and I will be adding well-rotted compost to all these, then a layer of mulch of some kind.

In the greenhouse

Clean up, clean out:  The greenhouse is so, so messy.  And dirty.  And filled with stuff that we didn’t put there but never bothered to take out, either.  So first and foremost, we need to clear it out completely, and then give it a really good deep clean.  Scrub the walls and sweep out the cobwebs.  And weirdly, I can’t wait.

Dig in lots of well-rotted organic material:  The greenhouse has a dirt floor, so we plant directly into the ground.  That means we need to pile on more manure and compost each year, to keep the good stuff coming.

Cover walkways with something:  Last year, not knowing any better, we laid straw over the walkway in the greenhouse.  The plan was just to keep the dust at bay.  Then we turned on the automatic waters, and the walkways grew!  We had a nice crop of grass all along the walkway, from seeds that managed to survive in the straw.  So, this year we’ll either be putting down cardboard and wood chips, or plastic.  Something.  Anything but plain straw.

Direct sow the carrots and radishes:  I don’t know if these will start growing in an unheated greenhouse in February, but the weather has been rather warm and I’m up for an experiment.  So I’m going to sow some and see!

IMG_1942February is the shortest month of the year, and it certainly feels that way as we scramble to get everything done on time.  But it’s a good scramble, knowing that at the end it will be spring.  Spring!

And then we will be in thick of it, happy with dirt under our fingernails once again.

Goals For 2018: Ducklings!

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Alas, this is not my duck

This time of year, if the temperature is right, we can hear the first of the season’s honeybees out buzzing around.  The frogs are starting to chirrup in the lengthening twilit evenings, and the chickens are clucking and scratching and crowing all the day long.  But there is one sound lacking here on the farm, and without it this place just doesn’t feel or sound complete.

I’m talking about the quacks and burbles of ducks.

When I was a little girl, my mother would regale my sister and I with tales of hatching a duckling in her kitchen oven when she was a child, and how wonderful and sweet that pet duck was.  He would follow her around and wag his little tail whenever she gave him treats.  I was captivated by this story, and by ducks themselves.  There’s just something about them, from their smiling bills to their happy bottom-heavy waddle.

I just love ducks!

I also love that I get to tell you that this spring we’ll be adding ducklings to our farm, including one of each type of:

  • Welsh Harlequin
  • Silver Appleyard
  • Pekin
  • Fawn and White Runner
  • Chocolate Runner
  • Cayuga
  • Buff
  • Blue Swedish

I’ve reserved a late March hatching of eight eggs and I honestly just can’t wait!

duck-drake-water-bird-lake-158112

Also not my duck

Why are we getting ducks?

There are lots of reasons why adding ducks to a homestead is a good idea, not least of which is because they’re just so adorable as babies and entertaining as adults.  There are some great websites out there that go into all this in a little more detail, but here are the main reasons we’re getting ducks:

Eggs:  Ducks produce far more eggs than the average chicken,  as many as 350 per year from the more prolific breeds.  As an added plus, those eggs are bigger and have higher nutritional values than chicken eggs.  I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a duck egg, so I don’t know what I’ll think of the taste.  But my tentative plan is to use them in my burgeoning baking hobby, as their higher fat content should make baked goods fluffier and richer.

Pest Control:  “You don’t have a slug problem, you have a duck deficiency” — Bill Mollison.  I can’t remember the first time I heard that quote, but I do know that it’s genius.  The chickens have been OK when it comes to eating pests, but they disdain slugs, caterpillars and many of the other bugs that wreak havoc in the garden.  They are darn picky.  Not so, ducks.  They will happily and enthusiastically eat all those buggies that the chickens won’t, especially the slugs.

Gentler on Land: This is the big, number one reason we’re getting ducks (besides the cuteness and indulging my childhood fantasies)!  The chickens are no better than pests themselves when it comes to destroying the vegetable garden, or any landscaping, or just the lawn.  They’re not picky when it comes to scratching things up and they do it exceptionally well.  Now, I know that ducks, too, can destroy delicate seedlings in the garden, and will make mud holes anywhere given half the chance.  But overall, everything I’ve read agrees that ducks are much less destructive.

Hardiness: I live and garden on the northern Oregon coast.  I’m a bit inland from the ocean, but not enough to make any real difference in the weather.  It can be wet and cold and miserable here for more than half the year.  The chickens hate it.  Hate it.  There are some days they don’t come out of their coop at all – they just huddle together in their filth – which can obviously negatively affect their health.  We always have to keep an eye out for sickness and signs that the chickens are suffering from any infections.  Ducks, on the other hand, have an internal temperature of 107 degrees (Fahrenheit), which means that their bodies are pretty much inhospitable to parasites and bacteria.  And bad weather doesn’t phase them.  It’s raining outside?  Perfect!  It’s cold outside?  Who cares!  Ducks just go with the flow.

ducklingsNow don’t worry!  The chickens aren’t going anywhere!  Well, OK, to be perfectly honest we are going to move them down to the lower field, where the orchard will be.  All fenced in it will be about half an acre or more, and it will give them much more room to roam.  They’ll still get loads of delicious table scraps, and we’ll still use their eggs.

Meanwhile, we’ll convert their current coop and run to accommodate the ducks, and we’ll be able to give the ducks straight access into the garden once the plants have reached a certain height.  That way they can do their pest control thing, and keep me company with their chortles, quacks and honks.

The perfect soundtrack to working on the farm.

Will anyone else be starting a flock (or is it a brace?) of ducks this spring?  Does anyone who already has ducks have any pointers for an excited new owner?!