Friday, December 25, 2015

Happy Howlidays from our Pack to Yours!!

Wishing you a Very Merry Christmas filled with friends, fun, laughter and great food!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Garden Tip Thursday- Help For Compost Problems

So you've started your compost and it's doing great, Awesome! But you have a few issues or it's not going as great as expected. That's okay too. Let's take a minute or two to talk about problems and their fixes so you can get your compost back on track.

The first one on my list of questions we are asked deals with a the pile has a horrible smell. It could be a rotting smell or an ammonia type smell

The rotting smell is the most common, generally what we see is that there has been a large amount of kitchen scraps added to the pile and they are starting to rot, not decompose, there is a difference, the main issue is that the scraps were thrown into pile in a bunch, not chopped or there wasn't a corresponding amount of dry added at the same time. This one is a fairly easy fix. We recommend adding leaves or straw and mix the pile well. This relates to another issue we hear about, flies or other bugs. They are attracted by the smell and should move on to greener pastures as soon as the stirring is complete.

An Ammonia smell relates to too much nitrogen in your pile. This can come from too much fresh manure being added to the pile or too much of green matter such as a large load of grass clippings that are bunched up. Again go ahead and add brown materials to the pile and then stir generously.

If it's not wastes that are creating the stench it could be that there has been just too much water lately. We suggest the same as above, especially the  mixing it could help to allow some of the water to seep through, since it seems to be holded up into the pile. If your region gets high amounts of rain, be sure that any open pile you create is raised up off the ground, such as on pallets or small logs so that the rain can drain easily and not just pool in the bottom of the pile making a soggy mess.

The second contender is related to the problem above, the pile is just too wet and often this results in a slimy mess.  The best way to get back on track is add dry or absorbent materials, such as leaves, turn it more often so that there is air for the microbes to work.

Then there is the opposite problem the pile is just too dry. This is a problem that is easy to combat, just use a nozzle that will give you a rain effect and wet the pile down. It should only be moist and not saturated with water. As we talked about above, too much water causes it's own problems.

The next to last problem is that something is invading your pile. If you turn over the top layer as you start to stir your pile and you see itty bitty bugs that look like armadillos, we call them roly polys down here but they are actually pill or sow bugs. Pill bugs roll up into a ball hence the name and sow bugs don't. They aren't hurting the compost, but they aren't a good additive to your garden, they enjoy new roots and grow a bit too much to be welcome additions. Once you are ready to use your compost and you find you have they guys still you can spread your compost on a tarp in a sunny area and they will move along to cooler climates. No harm no foul. I admit to being a huge fan of "Roly Polys" so I do my best to help them when I Hey some kids just love bugs and we never grow out of it..

Another insect could be ants, in this case your compost is too dry, back to the water you go, they will move on once the pile is a bit moist.

Flies, gnats and fruit flies love spoiled foods, if you are having a flying problem make sure that you aren't just dumping food waste into your pile with out a corresponding dry or brown cover. A handful of soil works wonders.

If your invaders are a bit larger, possums, skunks or raccoons, depending on your area perhaps even a bear, you need to know that they aren't after your compost, they are after the treats hidden within. Tasty fruits, fresh veggies or even meat in some climates. If the problem has just started you can try mixing these items with something like ash or dirt, so they aren't as attractive. If it's an on going problem, the best bet is to convert to a closed system with a lid, so the buffet is closed. Unless it's raccoons, I swear we have some that can get the lid off the trash faster than I can.

One last thing you may see in your compost is volunteer plants, this could be good or bad. Tomatoes and squash are famous for this at our house, these we go ahead and transplant if they are in good shape. If it's a weed, we pull it, break it up or chop it and put it back in the pile.

Are these all the problems  or answers you could possibly run into probably not but hopefully it will get your compost moving back in the right direction. Every region is different and the are issues we have run into on our own or at other local composts. Check with your local Master Gardeners or Ag office for more info.

I hope the last few weeks of compost talk has encouraged you to try your hand at composting, big or small it makes a difference in your garden, the local landfill and the environment. It doesn't take a lot of work, can be done cheaply and the results can be very beneficial.

Check back next week for my last compost post, I'll give you one more idea of what to do with your compost....Make TEA!

Thanks for visiting with us!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Almost Wordless Wednesday

We have been gifted with some unseasonably warm weather this week and I thought I would take a second to share. We took a small break from finishing up holiday orders to take the dogs for a run down by the pond early in the morning. All I can say is "Thanks" to Mother Nature for this awesome Holiday Gift. So far I think that the wooly worm had it right!

That water was cold but it didn't stop her...

A little more cautious but the other one totally steered

Here's hoping you get a bit of a break in the weather extreme's no matter where you are!

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Taste of the Old South- Pickled Jerusalem Artichokes

We have some really awesome friends who are always sharing seeds and ideas with us, and a couple of years ago they gifted us with a few Jerusalem Artichoke tubers. I wrote a bit more about them back in April in the A to Z challenge, you can check that out here. They are also called Sunchokes and are related to Sunflowers, they grow a very tall stem that tops off with a  daisy or sunflower type flower in clusters. They grow mainly on the eastern seaboard and can be invasive so beware when you plant them.

To get the best flavor they say wait to harvest until the first frost. Well we had a bit of a small frost and we were working in the area where we had planted these tubers, so we thought it might be good ideas to dig around and see what we could find..

The first bit of the harvest was a bit less than expected

So we really dug in and the harvest got a bit better

After this I had to help dig so I don't have a picture of the whole harvest but we did end up with more than we expected. We had plenty for mashing and salads and then just enough small for a batch of Pickled. I'm going to walk you through my grandmothers recipe for the pickled version , it takes two days but it is totally worth it. They can also be boiled, roasted or eaten raw.

As you can see from above the hardest part about all of this other than the digging is the cleaning. One wash just isn't going to do it. I swish and washed but those nubbies just hang on to the dirt. 

Some people say that you can just peel them but these are on the small side so I decided to brush them so they could retain their bumpy personality. Of course I didn't have a vegetable brush so I had to make due with an old tooth brush. I knew I keep them on hand for a reason

Much better, don't you think? They're finally ready to go into the brine, which is the easy part.
Never fear, I'll give you the recipe at the end of the post just in case you can get your hands on some,
This is what you end up with early the next morning.

Turmeric is a big part of the recipe and I was glad we decided to plant a bit this year.I'm saving a bit a to plant again this spring. I love have fresh ingredients for our cooking and canning. We'll be adding more herbs to our garden this spring, too. I had posted a picture of the Jerusalem Artichokes to our facebook page asking people to identify it. everyone was convinced that it was ginger, then to really throw them off I posted the Turmeric and no one got that, either. But they loved the finished product.

Here's what we ended up with, we went with some 12 oz that we had laying around and I think it makes a great presentation. I used all of the products shown below for a Relish tray this weekend, Artichokes, Pickled beets, Pickled Brussels Sprouts and Giardiniera, which to me are all rustic country flavors. Most people had never seen any of it before. It was met with a quiet skepticism but soon welcomed by all. I'm glad I can introduce a new generation to old food ideas. 

Finally here's the recipe, 
3 to 4 pounds of Cut Artichokes will make 12 pints

You need to start with the Brine:
1 gallon of water
3 to 4 pounds of cut artichokes (cut them into 1/2 inch bite size pieces)
1 cup of  pickling salt
 Onions (6 to 8 sliced thin) *Optional
1 Tablespoon of turmeric or one small fresh root, sliced

Place Brine in a glass jar and add artichokes,  They should stay in the brine for at least 8 hours,over night if possible.

After the brining time has passed it is time to start the pickling liquid:

3 Tablespoons Mustard seed
2 cups of sugar (or more depending on how sweet you want them)
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
2 tablespoons celery seed
2 quarts of White vinegar
1 Tablespoon of turmeric or one small fresh root, sliced

Mix all ingredients in a large stockpot and bring to a boil. While the solution is heating up drain your artichokes and rinse well. 

If you are planning to can these then you will go ahead and sterilize your jars, pack each jar with artichokes and pour hot liquid into jars leaving a 1/2 inch headspace. Hot water bath for 10 minutes. 
Place hot jars in a draft free area, covered until cool. Then place in an out of the way spot for at least a week to allow for the best flavor.

If you are not canning these then remove from the heat and allow the liquid to come down to room temperature. Still Sterilize your jars but pack when cooler. Can be kept in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks, 

Any questions or if I have left out anything please let me know. I appreciate the opportunity to share some of our family recipes that help keep the old flavors from fading away. Now is a great time to find these in your local farmers markets and specialty stores, so grab a couple pounds and enjoy!

Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Garden Tip Thursday- What Can I Put Into My Compost?

What I should say is "What should I trash and what should I keep for my compost?"

Creating a good compost is easy, think of it as a lasagna and you have to load in layers to get the best result! Turn or stir often to help the process along. By following a few rules of dos and don'ts you'll end up with a great additive for your garden!

Let's start out with the Don'ts since we want to get started on the right path. 

Do not add meat, fat, grease, bones or fish scraps (including scales, tails and heads) these often attract pests such as raccoons and insects. Most composters are not hot enough to kill any bacteria that could be present on these items, especially raw meats, and that's not something you want to come into contact when you are working in the garden..

Any plants from your garden that might have a disease or perennial weeds, the disease can spread to other plants and weed seeds would love nothing better than a new place to dig in.

Human, dog and cat manures are not to be put into a compost that will be used on food crops, due to bacteria that can pass thru the digestive system. I can't imagine using it but I had to put it out there, ya know..

If you are trying to keep your compost as organic or pesticide free as possible, avoid Peach and Banana peels and orange rinds. Unless you are getting an organic version these are the fruit with the most amount of pesticide residue.

Now on to the Do's.  The chemical benefits of compost are generally thought of as Nitrogen and Carbon, the garden and your compost will need a good mix of both.

These Items add Nitrogen to the compost:

Fruit and Veggie Scraps- cooked or raw is fine - Add a bit of dry items, such as a handful
 of leaves or sawdust to keep the moisture levels down.

Grass clippings - like the sawdust add in layers so that it doesn't mat, clumps slow down

 the process. 

Plants- dead or just pulled are fine, but make sure that any weeds have not gone to seed,

 no point in giving them a great place to germinate.

Manure- Chicken and Horse can be used but should be in a newer compost, one that hasn't aged.

 This manure will need to age a bit to be safely used around plants. Alpaca poop can be added anytime.

Coffee grounds and Tea, including the filter and bags, in moderation. Worms love coffee

 grounds so they are good for Vermicomposting too! Regular household amounts are fine, but if 
you are collecting grounds from work or in large quantities you might want to limit the grounds total
 to a quarter of the total pile.

These Items add Carbon to the Compost:

Yard Waste such as Leaves, Branches, Bush Prunings are great to add to your compost as dry items,

 and work best when either shredded or chopped into small pieces. They decompose at slower rate
 but the smaller the pieces the faster the process.

Straw, Pine Needles and Hay, are also good sources of carbon but make sure that you are using a hay

 that doesn't have seeds, you might end up with a crop of grain.

Paper and Cardboard when added to compost should be shredded or at least torn into small pieces.
This will help keep it from clumping up. Avoid using the colored/shiny Ad inserts, they don't break down
as quickly as normal newsprint, so just add them into the normal recycling bin.

Do you have a wood worker in the family, like me? Saw Dust is something that can be added but my

 advise is to add it sparingly or in thin layers so it won't clump. Kinda like cat litter is supposed to do
 when it gets wet.
 I will say we use  sawdust pellets in the chicken coops that soaks up wet droppings and goes from pellet
 to dust. When we turn the piles we always add a few shovelfulls to our compost, it's a good solutions for 
keeping new pellets in the coops and disposing of the old a bit at a time.

To round out this list, I'm adding one of my favorite options, Dryer Lint. Yes you read that right. 

We normal laundry contains mainly natural fibers, and as much of as I do I hate to throw it away.
So go ahead and add it right into the compost!

So we've talked about the science of composting, the equipment needed and what can safely go into
compost,the last installment on composting is what to do when it doesn't seem to working out the
way you had hoped. 

I've been cleaning up and getting the Jerusalem Artichokes pulled and canned, this week. 
Be on the look out for more information and a great recipe for these old fashioned treats!

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Apple Cider Stop

I have been up to my ears in Holiday Shows, Church Bazaars and now this weekend it was an  Art Walk. First let me say I had a really great time, we were stationed outside of the Art Center and we met a ton of very nice people, got lots of compliments and had a great many laughs.

But the lead up to this is where my challenge started. We had attended a Festival in the same town earlier in September and they had asked if we would like to have a "Cider Stop" at their Holiday Art Walk in December. I checked our calendar and amazingly enough I was free, so I agreed. Fast forward to the last week in November and I'm stressing about having a perfect cider. I mean if I want you to buy my Jams and Spreads I should be able to impress you with my "free cider"..right?

So I do what everyone else does and I click over to Pintrest.. I can say I found a few recipes, but nothing really seemed like what I wanted, along with a another half dozen pins that  had nothing to do with what I was looking for nor will I ever get a chance to accomplish a third of them. So then I do what I should have done to begin with, I called my mom. I mean after all she makes a mean cider. I mean seriously, It's my favorite holiday smell, some people love trees and greens, or pumpkin pies, not me it's apple cider all the way. 

It's so awesome I'll share it with you. My mom does her's on the stove and lets it simmer all day, hence the holiday love of that scent. I was going to be a bit more mobile so I did mine in a crock pot.
I used our small version, I'm fairly sure it's the 3qt version. 

I took about 1/2 gallon of White House Apple Cider but really any would do.
Added a sliced clementine, two sticks of Cinnamon and in that strange looking contraption at the top I added  four whole cloves and a couple whole allspice.  You could use cheesecloth or a tea strainer, just because it's best to take them out if the mixture will boil or be on the heat for an extended amount of time since the spices can be overwhelming. 

After the cider was hot I transferred about 2/3 to a thermos and refilled the crockpot, leaving the oranges and the spices to mull another batch. 

If you are interested in the spice holder that we use, it's actually a Fresh Food Feeder, found in the baby department. We use it quite a bit in our canning. it's easy to clean and best of all it's reusable.

The Cider was a huge success, there were lots of guesses as to what went into it and I heard later that customers commented on it all around the area. The sale went well too, could I attribute that to the holiday atmosphere or the awesome cider. Try it yourself and let me know what you think...

Here's hoping that your holiday is filled with laughter and lots of great holiday smells..

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Garden Tip Thursday- Types of Composters

Okay so you have decided it is you New Years goal to start composting, I mean really why send all of that good stuff to the dump! It's free and it take a small amount of effort to create something you can really use! Now you need to decide what kind of composter will work best for you. Even if you don't garden, composting a good idea. Anytime something is kept out of the landfill it's a win, and I bet you know someone that would love to have it.

First you need to be realistic about your space availability, plenty of space, great! Only have a balcony or a small patio, that is still workable, no need to give up on your dream of having compost or a garden for that matter. Three 5 gallon buckets or a kitty litter pails will make a great composter for very small spaces. Drill small  holes into one of the buckets and then place it into the other bucket. The bottom bucket will act as collection for your run off and keep your balcony or patio clean. Put both buckets into the third, it's storage right now. After a week or so you can take the empty bottom bucket and dump the top bucket into it, instant aeration and mixing. Clean out your bottom bucket and place it back on the bottom for storage. You'll want to start with a layer of straw or leaves and then you can add your veggies.

If you are okay with worms, then think about a vermicomposting. That can be done small scale right in your kitchen or with a larger composter with layers. It's not as yucky as it sounds and works out great for you and the worms. Back in April I had a post about composting with worms, so you can get the details there. There are DIY options with bins and purchasable units that fit right into your landscape.
This is one we have and it expands, during the warmer months we add more trays when they are very active and take them out when the weather cools a bit.

Have a bit more space then try one of these options. Stationary or Tumbler. Still compact for those who might have a bit more room but don't have a ton of waste. We use these for house waste, well the stuff the chickens can't or shouldn't eat and we have a large free standing bin for yard and garden waste. 

This a a great free standing version, we had this over by the garden and this spring we thought we would move it over by the chicken coops, for convenience.  This one was easy to assemble, was a great price but is hard to stir, easy access to the bottom to take out compost, 

This our tumbling composter. They come in all different styles and sizes, best for homes with small amounts of compostable materials. Easy to use but more difficult to remove the compost once it's ready. You can see the small door on the top, drop in your wastes give it a good push, it rolls around on the base. Easy to hide in your landscaping if you are in an area that frowns upon things in the yard! Here's a great link to show you all of the choices in tumblers.

Of course if you have the area or have lots of waste there are always the large compost bins. Ours is just a three sided box made from old logs, we use it for limbs, garden wastes and grass clippings, with the occasional dump of chicken litter and horse manure. At our house this is a constantly growing pile. We built it up in the back and on the sides with a low front for easy of turning. Types of compost bins vary as widely as the people who make them. My father in law had one he made with chicken wire and tomato stakes. You are only limited by your imagination, just make sure it can breath, doesn't sit in water and can be stirred occasionally. Some are multiple bins so that waste can be turned into the next slot as it ages and new can be started, so you always have a pile in process. Rodale organic has a very easy to follow plan for a three bin here.

No matter what kind of compost you create or how you compost it, you'll still need to know what can and can not be composted. Check back next week and I'll have a great list and some ideas for you.
WE have lots going on this month, we'll be participating in a local Art walk as a Cider Stop as well as selling our Jams, so I've been working on the perfect cider recipe, and we've dug up some of our Jerusalem Artichokes and I've got some great ideas for that gardener on your Christmas list coming up. So check back and see what else is going on around Our Greene Acre! 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!!

I just wanted to post a quick Hello and say Thanks for stopping by today and all through the year!
I hope your holiday is exactly the way you like it, filled with family and food or just a few friends and snacks. Thanksgiving means something different to everyone.

No matter what kind of meal you sit down to today from Carnivore to Herbivore I ask that you say a Thank You to the farmers that ensure that we have the feast before us. While we are definitely on the small side (maybe mirco side) of farming we know exactly what it takes to get up and get it done every day and they are the unsung heroes of the food cycle.

 To all Farmers, big and small we send out an extra special Thanks for keeping the farming traditions alive and well here and abroad. We appreciate your hard work and wish you a Happy Holiday season!

Move along nothing to see here.. just a chicken hiding from the poultry centered holiday...

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Garden Tip Thursday- Compost Basics

Hey, I know as gardeners we are always talking about compost and the benefits of it. I know there are lots of people who are interested in composting and have little or no experience with it, other than buying it in a bag at the big box stores. Others think that they don't have the time, area, or expertise to make a great compost. Or you've tried it and it just didn't work out the way you hoped.

I thought it would be a good idea break down the whole idea of composting. From where and how to compost to what can be composted, and them of course how to use it effectively in your garden.

So you want to compost but it seems more complicated than you originally thought. You love the idea that your kitchen waste won't be going to the landfill but it's so much more than that! You don't want to end up with a mess that you can't use or that just seems  to not be breaking down and you're left with a horrible buggy mess. I've seen it at friend's houses, they have great intentions and it's not a difficult process but to get a good result you have to follow a few guidelines.

 There are tons of sites telling you what to do and what not to do but how about kinds of compost to start with. Then you can figure out what actually suits your space and your waste.

Composting at it's main point is about recycling, turning waste into a great soil additive. Nature does it every day.  Organic materials in forest and our yards are processed everyday by the weather, fungus, bacteria and insects, and is turned into a beneficial component of soil.

Aerobic or Anaerobic Composting, which works best? Aerobic composting is done with oxygen, generally above ground or in a holding container that has air circulation. Anaerobic is done by microorganisms that don't need oxygen to survive and is generally considered as pit composting.

Determining which is best for you depends on what you have available and how quickly you want to be able to use your compost.

 Are you working on a new garden space, have plenty of time, or can't leave a pile of what could be smelly scraps next to your neighbors fence? Then a Anaerobic or pit compost would work best for you. And if you have the time to wait it's the easiest option. Dig a pit or trench in the area that can be left alone and dump in your kitchen scraps, leaves or garden wastes and cover back up with a good layer of soil. And that's it.

If you are constantly composting scraps and waste, looking for a quicker turn around or have the area to keep a pile Aerobic is the choice for you. This can be done just as a pile, confined in an area or with a tumbler. The catch is that the organisms that work this way need oxygen, so to keep the process moving at a good rate you will have to put in a bit of work. Turning the pile completely or stirring often is necessary to keep the air flow into the pile. Also to get air to the bottom you can build your pile on a pallet, this will ensure a steady aeration from the bottom. Another benefit of the Aerobic is the heat that it generates, which will often kill weed seeds before they can sprout or transfer to your garden in the soil.

When a compost pile is ready it should look like and have the consistency of dark brown soil.

Neither way is right or wrong, and both are benefits to your garden, your community and the environment. So pick a type and star composting!

In the next few weeks I'll be talking about types of composters available, what should and should not be composted, different composting methods and getting the right mix to get the best out of your compost. I hope you'll stop by and share your composting knowledge and stories with us!

We are still working on our fall garden, creating plenty of compost and thinking ahead to spring seed starting in the green house!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Garden Tip Thursday- Leave the Leaves (for a bit anyway)

Yeah, I said it and I know lots of you are going "What?!" I can't just leave those leaves laying all over the yard! I know that we all want a nice lawn and in some places you don't have much of a choice.
There really is a good reason behind me saying that leaves on your lawn isn't such a bad thing and I'll give you a few reasons as to why that is;

1. Let them stay for a bit, until they are crunchy and mow them into little bits and then leave them. Really it is great mulch for your lawn. It will help keep weed growth down and add natural nutrients back into the soil. It's way better than the expensive bagged stuff.

2. Rake them whole into flower beds and around trees as mulch, as little as two to three inches can do wonders for over wintering bulbs and protecting native plants. The insulation it gives might make a difference for new plants, too. It also gives a home to overwintering insects (I hear ya but some are good bugs too) and small animals. Birds and squirrels often use these areas for foraging too.

3. They are also great to put them into your compost.. Not a composter, many others are, place a listing on craigslist or your community facebook page for free leaves. You'll be surprised how many responses you might get! Don't want strangers coming to your house wandering around , never fear lots of communities will pick up leaves for community projects and composting. Check with your local community garden they often welcome leaves for composting.

4. Do you have an area that you'd like to make into a garden next year or raised beds? Rake those leaves into that area and layer them with paper bags, newspaper and cardboard. Then walk away. Come spring you'll have a nice grass free area to work with, and ready made mulch!

5. And of course if you have a garden make use of the leaves by working them into the soil. Again leave a few inches on top for weed control. Earthworms will quickly move and work the soil for you!

6. Don't forget to pick up a few interesting ones for art projects while your out there too!

7. The  main thing is that they don't end up in plastic in a landfill! If you can't use them please pass the bounty on to someone who can! They aren't doing any good being buried in trash..

We have had the strangest weather this year, not much color in our leaves. Most are still hanging on and I can tell you that I won't be doing anything with them until they are all

Have a great Fall and don't be too hard on those leaves!

We've finally gotten some blue skies but not much else in the leave color scheme this year..

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Weather and Old Wives

I've been privy to lots of advise from old wives and I can tell you that there are nuggets of wisdom in some of those tales. Yes, I ran around barefoot for years as a child in the mud and the muck and I never got "ground itch", still no shoes and I haven't gotten it yet as an adult either. What is it you ask, I have no idea but it was a general threat/warning to me as a child. And personally I'm glad it never caught up to me.

My Grandmother always said that collards are best after they have been frosted on, hold off a bit and I think you'll agree. Ours are moving right along and should be ready for Thanksgiving, hopefully we'll have a good frost by then and they'll be just right. I'm making myself a note to post our awesome vegan collard green recipe for you guys!

Another common comment was if it Thunders in the winter, expect snow in seven to ten days. Sometimes it works out and other times  it doesn't. Thankfully we don't get much of either around here. Maybe the scarcity of both works for the tale.

I know there are  lots of tales about watching the birds, wasps and the sky to determine if it will be a cold or mild winter . My personal favorite weatherman is the Woolly Worm , (we call them woolly bears in our family) and we just happened to run across a few this weekend while cleaning up the garden. Isn't he cute? And he's got good news for us too!

Not from the south? Never fear I'll explain. The woolly worm tale says that the color bands predict the length and the temperature outlook for the winter. A larger area of brown as compared to the black should forecast a milder winter. A smaller band of brown, you guessed it, a harsh winter. So we should be in for a milder winter in our neck of the woods, as you can see the larger brown section on our friend here. Here's hoping he's right, we had an unusual amount of ice and snow last year.

I wanted to check and make sure I was right about the markings and I found out this little guy is so popular that he, well maybe his relatives, are the theme for a festival in Banner Elk, North Carolina.
As well as forecasting the weather they also have  Caterpillar races, that's different!

Just for you scientific sort, I'll let you know that this little guy spins a  fuzzy cocoon in the spring and comes out as a Isabella Tiger Moth. I guess I'll be on the look out for them come spring and then we can have a discussion on just how accurate he was!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Cute Overload Update

If you missed the first Cute Overload post this is your opportunity to go back and see what all of the fuss was about..If you don't have the time, here's a quick rundown..

We have an awesome hen named Matilda and she was really wanting to be a mom, she was so desperate she tried to hatch a bucket of pecans. In her defense they are egg shaped and confined, she figured she'd give it a try. While this was going on we had friends who have ducks that were um on the active side we'll say but didn't want the parental responsibilities of the sitting and hatching part. In steps Matilda and she kindly volunteers for a bit and Surprise she hatches the whole bunch.

They were wonderfully cute and she loved them dearly but there is something to be said for the birds of a feather theory. They wanted to swim; she wanted them to scratch, it was causing a bit of heartburn for us all.

So we gave her a chance for one last hurrah and we loaded them up.

This was the plan to begin with, them going back to their origins, that is. I didn't expect it to happen as quickly as it did but to save my and Matilda's sanity they needed to move on and be ducks. Chris and E really wanted to keep two but I prevailed, when they thought about the cleaning that comes along with water fowl they agreed they would enjoy a pond over a kiddie pool any day. 

So of course time flies as it does with any baby and when we had a chance to visit with them in September I was excited to see them, Luckily, they had just been put up, for their safety, for the night. I was shocked to see that they are real ducks already! I know that sounds strange but Chickens take much longer to mature but ducks just take off. These guys have a pond and farm to wander during the day but at night they come in for dinner, nighttime brings in the coyotes and bobcats but they still have a pool for a bit of moonlight skinny dipping if they so choose..

All in all we ended up with three boys and one girl,  They will always be chucks(chicken/ducks) to us and we're glad that Our Greene Acre and Matilda could help these guys get a good start. From our side we miss them but are glad they are safe and happy.(And that I'm not the one who has to clean out a kiddie pool of duck poop every night!)

Thanks for hanging in their with me, I hope that seeing these guys all grown up brings a smile to your face and a laugh to your heart. We've been playing catch up a bit lately but I've got lots of information to share so hang on, lots of great stuff is coming up!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Book Review - The Broad Fork

If you have ever visited your local farmer's market and seen strange vegetables that you think you'd love to try but just not sure what in the world you would do with it, I've got a cook book for you.

It's The Broad Fork, written by Hugh Acheson, who is famous in our house as a judge on Top Chef.  I admit we often  give lame advice and recipe recommendations at the local markets we attend, and I apologize for not encouraging those that are new to the different vegetables that we grow. We have done you a disservice. But no longer. We'll be doing better this fall, we're recommending The Broad Fork!

My main complaint with cook books, other than I could never make dinner look as good as they do, is that vegetables and fruits often take a sideline. And if you can find a recipe for them you really have to search. This book is organized by season and by vegetables. So like now we are heading into fall and you've got Brussel Sprouts, I generally tell people they are great roasted. But this book has 5 recipes, yes 5,  that I would have never come up with. Brussels Sprouts Risotto, seriously? I can't wait to try it. 

Not only are the recipes easy to follow and the book has ease of  navigation but the layout makes it hard not to add to your list of coffee tables books. The photography is by Rinne Allen , and I love that he went local with that too. Keep in mind he's living in Georgia and the seasonal timelines are from there but the foods can be found any where. Just check out the cover, you'll see what I mean!

So I can say that I got a copy of this for free from Blogging for books but I have bought a couple as presents for friends and family for the holidays. I'd recommend checking it out, before your next trip to the market. You might just find something special for your holiday cooking and help out a local farmer too!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Garden Tip Thursday- Cover Crops

So you've decided that you won't be planting a fall/winter garden or at least a portion of your garden will not be used this fall. Don't just let it sit, plant a cover crop and give back to the soil!

Cover crops, also called "Green Manure" are a great option for your garden during the fall winter months. Of course there is the benefit of nourishing your soil, replacing vital nitrogen and other nutrients back into your soil that all of the plants took out this year, but there are other advantages that a low on labor and resources, too.Cover crops also help protect the soil from erosion, and keep weeds from establishing themselves. Those two things are great by themselves! And if you are like us and have free range poultry there are cover crops that are good for them too!

Here's where the low labor part comes in. Once you have removed all of your summer plants go ahead and rake up the top layer, making sure you have removed any roots that might have been left behind and spread your seeds by hand or with a spreader. Go back over the plot with the rake and cover with an at least two inches of soil, this will help protect your seeds from the migratory birds and other locals looking for a quick meal. Mist a bit with water if it's been dry and that's it. The latest you want to start most seeds would be about a month out from your first frost, this will ensure that the seeds will get a chance to have a good start before the cold weather sets in. Let it grow until late winter or early spring then depending on what you have planted it can either be mowed and then tilled into the soil or just directly tilled in depending on the length of the stalks. Sounds easy right?

So what are your options for cover crops? Here are a few ideas for you. each garden has it's own needs and weather so check these out or contact your local, garden centers, seed catalogues or the ag office in your area.

There are three main types of crops and each one has a different job.

Legumes: This is your pea and clover category. They will reintroduce nitrogen into your soil. Some varieties will bloom in early spring and the blooms are welcomed by bees venturing out early in the season. Look for Crimson or White Clover, Fava Beans (I keep thinking we should get some just so we can insert the line from Hannibal into conversations), Hairy Vetch and Bell Beans.

Grasses: This is your grain Category, They can be most helpful if you have poor hard soils, since their root systems help break up even clay. They are very cold tolerant and stand up well in northern climates as an overwinter crop. The main benefit from them comes from the crop being tilled back into the soil, which composts easily, returning nutrients back into the soil. Rye, Alfalfa, and Oats are all good options for a cover crop.

Brassicas: This is your "other" category, it includes buckwheat, which isn't wheat at all, Phacelia, which is a type of succulent and oilseed radish. These often have large taproots and can help to increase drainage. Buckwheat has a large broadleaf and is good to help choke out other weeds and is used to help put phosphorus back into the soil.

Don't think you have to stick to one kind of cover crops. Lots of places carry nice selections of premixed seeds. We'll be using a mix of Rye, Red Clover  and maybe Alfalfa in our on used sections this year. Not only will we be helping the soil but we'll give the chickens a place to forage, bring in helpful bugs and in the spring we'll have blooms for the bees.

I have included a list of sites where you can buy seeds, if you don't have a good selection or option in your area. I am including companies that we use but only because we have had good luck with their seeds and we believe in what they do. They have no idea that I recommending them, nor do I get anything in return, except for knowing that maybe we helped someones garden out this winter!

High Mowing Seeds  Nice variety and free shipping

Grow Organic Lots of options and they even have options to help you find the right seeds for your area and problems, from attracting the right bugs to size of plants.

Seven Springs Good option if you are working with a large area.

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange  Great Selection of unique options including lots of varieties of Sorghum

It's strange to be thinking about fall and winter crops now, especially today when it's so hot outside but planning ahead is often the best thing you can do for your gardens! So here's hoping you'll have a great weekend for harvesting and digging in the dirt for a bit longer..

Check back in with us for detailed information about compost hows and whys and more information on growing your own great garden!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Garden Tip Thursday- Saving Your Summer Seeds

Saving your own seeds can be easy and well worth the time, but only if your plants were heirloom or traditional varieties. Seeds from Hybrid plants very rarely produce the same result in following years. The seeds have been engineered to produce a certain kind of plant and that doesn't always pass along fully to the seeds.

Not seeing any seeds from some of your produce, not to worry not all plants produce seeds their first year. These are your biennial varieties, like cabbage, beets and other root vegetables. Some climates are friendly enough to plants that they can survive the winter and then produce the greens and seed pods for collection. Most areas this isn't possible, so go ahead and order your carrot seeds for next spring.

When collecting seeds from fleshy vegetables, such as tomatoes and melons, you will want to wait to pick them until the are fully ripe, maybe even a bit over ripe. This will give the seeds time to mature. 
Beans and corn should be left to dry on their own before being picked for seeds. Make sure to be picky about which plants you pick from. These will be your basis for next years garden and you want the ones who are the most robust and healthy, these are also the ones who have shown that they have adapted well to Your Garden's environment.

Fleshy seeds can be scooped out by hand or with a spoon and then spread over a paper plate or paper towel to dry. Remove as much of the moisture and flesh (veggie) as you can, so that you have mainly seeds left.  Make sure that they have a good current of air so they don't mold. We use the paper plate idea because we can write the variety of seed right on the plate. Small seeds all tend to start looking like and I know I have so much going on I can often forgot exactly which plate had my favorite Cherokee Purple Tomatoes on it.

 Corn can be picked when the kernels have "dented" tops, this confirms that they have dried. Beans should be hard and the pods crackly. Keep any eye on them this can happen quickly at the end of summer and you don't want to share all of your hard work with the birds!

Also if you have planted marigolds, keep an eye on them also. They often produce a wispy seed on the flower heads. one flower can produce a lot of seeds and can be blown about your garden. They are great for your garden but you'd might not like to have them every where..

How  you store your seeds is also important. If it's a smaller seed, like tomato or pepper you can keep them in a small coin envelope. We get ours from an office supply store, the size fits well into a trading card holding page that we then put into a binder. For larger seeds, Pumpkin or squash they can be kept in glass jars with a tight fitting lid. But only once they are dried. No matter how you store make sure that you list the variety of seed and when it was harvested. If kept in a cool, dry place seeds can last for many years. This year we planted pumpkin seeds that we harvested 4 years ago and they are growing great. We did have to hide them from E, roasted pumpkin seeds are one of her favorite fall treats! So when you are harvesting your pumpkins make sure to get enough to go around..

As with every thing else that is related to growing your own foods, prices are climbing every year. We get a couple of very nice seed catalogs and I always buy a few exotic seeds as well as seeds for our root veggies but we have come to depend on our saved seeds to save us just a bit more. I hope this information helps you to save seeds and a bit of money at the same time!

Check back next Thursday for another Fall garden idea. Cover Crops!!
I hope you're enjoying your share of dirt this week...


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Garden Tip Thursday- Direct Sow for your Fall Garden

Last week we talked about starting seeds but there are also other seeds and bulbs that can be direct sown right into your garden late in the summer.

In northern climates your soil is starting to cool off a bit and it's time to plant your garlic. Hardneck varieties do well with colder winters and the softneck are more adapted to more moderate winters. If your temps are falling a bit it's time to go ahead and get your cloves in a well drained loose soil. If it's warm where you are you still have time to put in your orders for your garlic. Garlic has a long growing season but it's worth the wait. It can often be the last thing you plant in the fall. Hardneck varieties are what we grow even though we have a more moderate winter, because you get the added benefit of scapes. Two products in one! For more on Garlic check out a prior post here.

Beets and other root crops are also a great for a fall garden. The benefit from being directly sown into your garden. Parsnips rutabaga and turnips will give you delicious veggies for those fall stews. Radishes are also good for fall gardens, they have a quick turn around of four weeks, so go ahead and put in a few seeds now and a few seeds later to space out your harvest. Celeriac or Celery root has a longer growing season but can withstand cooler temperature and some light frost,

Beans also have a quick turn around and expect a larger crop than your spring growth due to the reduction in beetles during the fall. Beans are easy to dry for later use. So they make a smart addition to your fall garden as well as to your pantry! Be sure to look for a short season pea, shelling or snap, they freeze well and will definitely be enjoyed when the weather turns cooler.

While you are doing all of this work in the veggie garden make sure that you take a bit of time to plant flower bulbs for the spring, too. Flowers such as crocuses and hyacinths will give bees an early boost as they are coming out of winter.

Each region has a different timing for planting and these are just some suggestions, Check out your local garden centers and see what is available in your area!

Thanks for stopping by next week we'll be talking about saving some seeds from your own garden for use next year. Not only is economical but now you have a seed that has been personalized to your area.

Dig Happy and wear your dirt with pride!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Garden Tip Thursday- Starting Seeds for Fall Plantings

So you've got your area worked up and have add some nutrients back to the soil. While we are waiting for that to work in, we can go ahead and get some seeds started for that Fall Garden.

It sounds counter to what you would think but your best bet is to start your fall seeds indoors. In most climates it's just been too hot for seeds to germinate properly outdoors. I've fallen into the trap of thinking that the warm weather would act as a green house and get them moving faster but in all actuality it's just too hot for them.

What should you start from seeds?
 Kale, Cabbage, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Collards, Mustard,  Swiss Chard, and  Spinach.
Don't forget to try something new too, like Kohlrabi, Rutabaga and Bok Choi.

Depending on your Zone, You will want to start your seeds about 12 weeks before your first frost. Not that those come with a handy schedule but you can check the Farmer's Almanac for an estimated date. For us here in North Carolina that would be August. Some areas will get a longer season and northern climates you are closing in on times to get your cabbage plants out. Other greens will still fair well if started now in the colder climates. But with the weather we have had this year, we might have a bit longer than we think!

Make sure to use a good starting soil, plenty of water and once the sprouts are up use a good organic liquid fertilizer that has been diluted a bit. If you have a protected patio or porch those are both great places to keep your seedlings until they are ready to go out. A couple of weeks in you should have seedlings with true leaves coming out. Be sure to place them in a protected area where they can get a small amount of breeze to help stiffen up the stalks, if you don't have a place safe from birds, direct sun or in our case Chickens, leave them inside and use an oscillating fan for a bit each day.

About three weeks in the plants should be ready to place out in the garden. Plant in the afternoon or on a cloudy day so the seedlings have a bit of time to adjust.

For your rows, fall planting is a bit different that spring. Since the  soil is already warm you'll want to make your rows a bit taller than normal. While the soil is warm now, we will start seeing shorter days and cooler nights soon. Taller hills have more area to warm during the day and this helps for those cooler nights. Also plant a bit deeper than you normally would, the top layers don't have as much moisture available this time of year. Make sure you water your transplants well, less frequent but deeper watering is better than quick watering every day. Mulch is as important now as it was in spring plantings, it will still help keep the moisture in the soil, weeds down but it will help to also keep the heat in around the roots so they can continue to flourish during those cooler/cold nights.

Enjoy getting your Fall crops started and check back next week we'll be talking about what can be directed sewn into your fall gardens!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Thursday Garden Tips

It's all ready August and I just can't believe it! Fall will be here before you know it and never fear great gardening opportunities are still available.

This weekend would be a great time to get your tired summer garden ready for a great fall garden!

Your first step would be to take out and vines or plants that have passed their prime, if they are still in a healthy shape with no molds or other issues go ahead and put them in your compost. They'll get a another turn in the garden next spring just in a different form. If the plants seem to be diseased or bug infested go ahead and bag them up for disposal. We don't need that in our fall garden!

Now that you have some open space go ahead and add back to your garden. If your spring and summer were as tough as ours has been your going to want to build the soil back up. Use your own compost or your local garden center often has bags available. One local center near us sells compost made by the city. They have a drop off point for yard waste and they grind it up and let it sit. You don't always know what's in it but is encouraging that they are offering this service! If you don't have a compost that's easily available check out "Black Kow". It's a great manure mixture that has been composted and comes if different size bags so there are options for any size garden or gardener for that fact. If you are wanting an organic option I've seen an organic mushroom compost at Lowes and even at our local Harris Teeter.

I know it seems soon but you are going to want to give it a bit of time to settle in and work it's magic before you start the planting season over again! It needs to be done at least two weeks in advance to get a good start for those fall plants.

Now that you've thought about the soil, we'll be thinking about starting fall seeds next.

Check back Next Thursday for tips on starting fall seeds to get the best germination and results in your garden!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Figs are on!

And they are taking up all of my spare time. Not that I normally have much but I do have a couple of other projects I'd like to work on this week.

And I'm not the only one who has realized they are on.Anyone have a good recommendation for getting rid of June Bugs or Japanese Beatles for those of you not in the south?

These monsters have found the fig tree and are swarming. The tree is rather huge and I really don't mind sharing a fig or 5 or 6 with them but when you are below them picking and you wiggle the branch they all fly out and inevitably some will run into you and at least once during each picking, one will get into my hair and I'll just say the outcome isn't pretty for either one of us..They all bunch up on one fig, which I should be grateful for since there are so many hanging around this year. I have those bait bags but they have an attractant in them. I don't need to attract any more. I wonder perhaps if my neighbors down the road would mind if I put a few bags up at their house? 

June Bugs aren't our only guests, we have plenty of crows, wasps, spiders, and butterflies. Some of these I mind more than others. 
This guy is okay, I think he wanders back and forth from the front yard butterfly bush to the back and the figs. Maybe I should put out one of those shallow basins for butterflies to drink from. I have seen quite a variety of them but only when I don't have a camera handy. Of course.

This is one of the nasty visitors, I'm hoping the birds won't fill up on fruit and decide to have a bit of a wasp side dish to round out their dinner.

This guy I saw last night and he is always welcome! 
In fact this is an open invitation to bring his friends!

So I'm going from this to..
This.. Strawberry Fig Jam among other flavors. So I guess it's almost worth bugs in your hair..

Hope you're having a really great week, check back soon for Duckling Updates, Fall Garden ideas and an easy fruit butter recipe!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Family Outing Day

It's been a crazy couple of weeks, harvesting, canning and crafts, not to mention markets and marketing too. Did I mention we both also have full time jobs other than the farm...
So since our fuzzy kids have felt a big neglected we decided to was time to take a quick trip out to the pond. It's been too hot for much outdoor activity for them so they were ready to go!

Abbey and Kama Immediately set off  exploring.. Ness must have been in the shade.

Abbey spotted the fish and decided to wade in. She doesn't go much farther than this. So much for labs being water dogs. She is the only one who really likes to splash around, Ness is also part lab but no water for her, thank you very much. Kama is mostly Chow and he is convinced that he will melt if gotten wet. No rain, dew or bath is safe in his opinion.

I saw this while we were walking around the waters edge. I'd say this area has the dogprint stamp of Actually it's a "Cypress Knee" as we call them, they come in all shape and sizes but this was an interesting shape. Normally they are pointy and thin. I'm not sure if anyone know why Cypress trees send out these protrusions but there are all kinds of ideas from all kinds of people. 

Here's a few more picture of the area for you, we love to take the furkids out to run and play but we've been so busy lately they haven't had much of a chance. Do you have a special place for your "kids". Also I'll have an update soon the Ducklings who are not so little anymore..

If you are looking for crafts check out my other blog Everything But A Moose.

This dragonfly keep Kama busy for a while, he really wanted to sniff it (or eat it) but it was out over the water and he wouldn't chance it..

I'm always a fan of Mother Nature, can't go one way she'll try another. 
Tree falls over, that's fine it can always change directions..

I thought I might had caught a couple of the little fish that were hanging around in moss, I know they are there just can't quite see them,,

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Putting up Beets

We have had a really hot and dry start to our summer this year. We generally get a warm May and a wet June before it turns to really hot July and August. Not so this year. We totally skipped spring and ran straight headlong into summer. May was warm and June had over 20 days in a row of over 95 degree heat! July is not doing any better on the heat front and we are happy to see rain clouds, any aday but Wednesday that is since it's market day.

Having said that we generally get two plantings of Kale, Swish Chard, Bok Choi, Beets and Kolrhabi.
We did for go most of those but we did try another planting of beets, we really do go through a bunch of them. They were looking pretty rough so I decided to pull a few to see where we were. Tiny, that's they were. I had watered but not enough it seems so I decided to take a chance and see what we had and just can them.

So I should have taken a before picture to add to the between and afters, beet greens are quite pretty but it was hot and we're were all looking a bit limp by the time I was done so it was skipped.

I know that beets are one of those things you either love or hate, not much middle ground for these guys. My personal opinion is that while they are very pretty plants and roots, they smell like dirt when you cook them and that just turns me off. BUT to each their own, on that note in cause you are on the pro beet side, I'll share my grandmothers recipe with you. This one I have worked out a bit of the trial and error for you already. She was one who used a bit of this and a handful of that, seriously that's how they are written out. And they are only written out because the female grandchildren (there are only two of us) made a fuss about it. And while I'm at it let me admit that no matter how many times I watched her do it, to this day I can not duplicate her biscuits, (it's super simple I know, but maybe when I'm 80 I'll get the hang of it). I'm southern and it's seriously a crime what I can do to a biscuit.

On to beets..This is a pickled beet recipe and is done with a water bath canner. If you don't have a canner any large pot will work. You'll need one large enough to cover your jars by about an inch of water. My mother never owned a canner but used a large stock pot with a round metal rack on the bottom. Canners are cheap and easy to find if you plan on doing much canning, Check walmart and Target as well as amazon for supplies. Jar lifters and a funnel are two other items that make canning much easier than when my grandmother did it and they are widely available with other canning supplies.

 Gather your supplies,other than the beets you'll probably  have all of this on hand already.

You'll need approx:
 8lbs of beets. The smaller the better, less than 3 inches across is best. Larger beets tend to be fibrous.
1 1/2 tsp of Canning Salt.
2 Cinnamon Sticks (you can use a tablespoon powdered if you'd like)
12 Whole Cloves- about 1tsp
12 Whole Allspice Nuts - about 1 tsp
4 Cups of  White Vinegar (5% Acidity)
2 Cups of Sugar ( Splenda can be substituted if you'd like
2 Cups of Water
 4  Medium Onions- This is optional and you can use more if you're an onion fan

On to Processing 
Scrub your beets, they do grow in the ground after all. Trim the greens to an inch or so above the beet, don't cut the top completely off, the beets will "bleed out" when boiled if you do.  Next you'll place your beets in a stock pot with enough water to over them. Boil for 30 minutes or more, they should be fork tender but not soft. Dump the water and place your beets in iced water to stop the cooking process. You'll then want to trim off the tops, peel them or scrap them depending on their size and cut into slices or chunks, your preference. They should look like this:

If you're adding the onions now is the time to get them sliced and ready.

Combine the water, vinegar, salt, spices and sugar in a stock pot and bring it to a boil. Add your Beets and onions if you so chose to the mixture and simmer for 5 minutes. 

This is a great tip that I read about a while back and we use it for lots of things. Find a baby food holder, pictured in the pot below, they are sold at Target and baby supply stores. They will hold a ton of spices, are dishwasher safe and are plastic so it doesn't react to vinegar. You can also use Cheesecloth if you have that handy.

While you are simmering your beets go ahead and heat your jars, we'll be "hot packing" these beets.
Take your jars out and pack the beets only tightly in the jars. Leave a 1/2 inch headspace, generally that's the raised ring on the jar under the screw top. This is used for the expanding liquid during the canning process. After the jars are filled, go ahead and ladle in the hot liquid just enough to cover the beet and leave your headspace. Be sure to wipe your jar rims, this helps to ensure a good seal. Place your lids and screw on your rings finger tight only, don't over tighten.

Place the jars in the canner, and process in boiling water for 30 minutes for pints, if you use Quarts add 5 minutes to your processing time. If you are at higher elevations you will want to add to your time also. I think it is 5 minutes for each 3000 feet you are above sea level. You might want to double check that, we are very low here so I've not had to worry about that.

Once the processing time is up remove your jars and place them in a draft free area, we put them on a table and cover them with a towel. Be Careful they are very hot! We leave them alone for at least 8 hours up to overnight, but we listen for the POP of the lid telling us it has sealed. Give it a week or so to really soak up the flavors and then Enjoy!

 If you have a jar that doesn't seal put it in the fridge and eat over the next few weeks. Canned jars left in a dark place are good for at least a year, but I promise these won't hang around that long.

How pretty are these? I  can't wait to dig in!

Do you have a favorite family recipe you'd like to share. Post your links in the comments Please!
Thanks for stopping by, if you are interested in the crafty side of Our Greene Acre check out my other blog Everything but a Moose.