Friday, April 9, 2010

I'm going to grow me a garden in tin cans and old clothes....

The other day  a couple of the blogs I read on a normal basis had posted a link on their sites to a power point presentation on rooftop and urban gardening. I browsed the site that day, read the presentation and posted a link to it on the face book group. I actually watched the presentation the following day while it was raining.

All I can say is wow!  They have given me all sorts of crazy ideas to try and use around the homestead as experiments to see how they do in our environment and hopefully pass on to other folks down the line. The picture above is one of those crazy ideas. It isn't a pile of dirty laundry but some really ratty  old clothes  that are going to be re-purposed with some old tin cans and grow us some food.

Though the   foundation that made the presentation caters to third world  countries I feel  that many of the ideas given in itcould help many people here in the USA if this sort of thinking "outside of the container," to borrow Dr. Prices  phrase, is made more available to our citizens. I don't like being all doom n gloom but I don't see  the "green shoots" that  our government does and believe that we all should be  learning to grow and growing as much of our own food as possible. The only way  I see out of this mess is  building strong communities, keeping it local  and getting back to our roots. Food  is one of the best ways I know of to begin this process  but at the same time we all can't afford to have or have the space for designer gardens and the solutions offered in this presentation could prove to be life saving for people in our near future. It also  had some really good ideas for displaced or even homeless people to make some very simple but also portable garden beds.  

Any who, if you have a spare 80 minutes or so one day  I highly recommend listening to the presentation and viewing the slides. There are also  added notes at the end of the presentation that are interesting.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

dandelion cornbread

It was a fairly cool day today and rainy  and going down to the high 30s tonight so I knew we would light a small fire in the shack  this evening. It gave me the perfect opportunity to try out the  mill and make some dandelion cornbread with our almost easily fresh ground corn  and fresh picked dandies. I honestly cant say that the flower petals give it any real flavor, but it does give the bread a neat appearance and  they are chock full of nutrients so why not use  what Mother has given  to us.
dandelion corn bread
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup white flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1 cup  fresh Dandelion blossom petals
2 tbsp bacon grease or butter
  Mix dry ingredients together.
  Add all the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth.
  Pour batter into a 9x9 pan, or 10-inch cast iron frying pan.
  Bake at 375° for 25 minutes.

April showers....

April showers may  bring May flowers but it sure brings out the vibrant spring colors in April  too.It seemed like even while it was still raining you could see leaves  opening and plants growing.
As the sun was going down a few more clouds rolled in and provided a pretty early evening sky.
A pretty little grouping of white flowers I have been  taking pics of as they opened. Today they  all were open and they were beautiful.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

out of the stone age ...

We have just acquired  a new appliance (thanks to our partner in homesteading crimes, further referred to as PIHC) around the homestead. A brand spanking new  grain mill and boy will it make my life simpler as we have really been  in the dark ages when it came to grinding grains and  making flour.

Any one that tells you to pick up a rock and smash your grains into flour has obviously never done it or done it for long enough to  be able to make a few loaves of bread from it. It is not the easiest of tasks and  although I could do it if needed  it is not something I would  choose to do on a daily basis unless I just had to. Finding  a suitable rock to smash and grind onto is a task within itself unless you enjoy finely ground rock dust in your food as any I have tried to use have made finely ground rock dust interspersed with the  flour.

A mortar n pestle or mocajete is a wonderful tool for grinding and smashing. I love my mocajete but for things other than herbs and spices, again, it is a grueling task . Another issue with a mortar is that of space within the vessel itself.  Mine is a medium sized household one and one can only  grind about a half cup of corn for each  fill up, it is also messy because of the pieces n parts flying about.   For both the rock and mortar grinding methods, grinding enough corn (1 cup) would take me several hours.
 This old beast is small and convenient to use, it is also technically a meat grinder but it does grind grain too. It takes several rounds of passing the grain through the grinder  and then leaves you with a  large particle size grain. As you can see the hopper is also very tiny so little can be ground at once  and the handle is very hard to turn before the grains  are broke down some. Keeping it attached to  a base is difficult at best and  the same cup of corn took about 40 minutes to grind.
 Here is the new mill. It is the country living grain mill and  though I have not used it much yet it is wonderful to operate and use. I ground  about 5 pounds of barley the other day in about 10-15 minutes and felt like I was in heaven while doing it. The hopper on  it seems to be a decent size. In my trial grinding the other day I could fill a quart sized freezer bag with one fill of the hopper. Cranking is simple in comparison to the tiny corona I had  and  the grains don't fly all over  while grinding  (although the output area is a bit odd and flings stuff).

These babies are some pricey gadgets to have  but if you are a from scratch cook or you grow all your own grains, I can already say that they are worth the price. The time alone that this will save me will  have paid the purchase price in a year or so. Once I spend a bit more up close and personal time with  it I will write up an actual review with my thoughts on it in the mean time we are talking about hooking it up to a pulley system to make it bicycle powered for when we need to grind up larger amounts.

 Has anyone ever tried roasted barley as a coffee substitute? The other day I was grinding up the PIHC's  barley for his beer brewing and the aroma was heavenly and just like coffee. It was quite a nice  flavor and although I am sure it  could be cost prohibitive for most, it may at some point be a caffeine free viable option to try out as a long term replacement.

gardens 2010-update

With all this beautiful weather we have been having it has made me want to get the gardens all in the ground. It is still way too early for most things even though we have had 80 plus degree days for a week or so now. Our average last frost is the last of April. Looking through the record charts on line  we found that in 8 of the last 13 years we have had frosts after the 19th of April ( with  a couple into May) so as much as I would love to push  planting up a couple weeks I won't, at least not quite yet.  I may however try  a bit of corn and some beans this week as I have oodles of seeds and if they get nipped  and die, replanting will not be an issue.

  We have been able to till or work up all the beds now. The only one left to till is the garden area down in the holler for the tobacco and we won't be ready to plant down there for at least a month.I had a big OOPS with four of the tobacco trays last week and had to replant them all. Luckily two trays were salvaged but one of those was for  a friend of ours. To make up for my oops I will just plant an early crop and slightly later crops of tobacco. We don't need the seed so it wont matter if the flower heads mature on the latter bunch.

Everything planted is now up and growing well.The only thing I don't think is going to amount to anything is the small crop of alpine strawberries I started in the loft. I still continue to water the soil in the container though  in hopes something may emerge. Taters are  poking through  the soil so maybe the terraces will start to look a bit prettier and manthing will stop talking about all my "tiny graves."

The gh veggies are doing quite well too. I am a bit worried that the peas will not produce well   because of the heat we have had but everything else looks good so far. I open the door, vent  and turn the fan on each morning but it is still staying about 90-95 inside during the day. I don't like losing crops but we learn each season by our mistakes and screw ups and hopefully we don't repeat them.
I now have turnips and  turnip greens going to seed along with  all the types of greens in the mesclun mix  of greens I overwintered. The flowers on each are pretty  but leaving the "useless stuff" in the ground   gnaws at me  because I   don't have the patience to sit   and wait while they mature hogging up  completely good space that other crops could be growing in. The collards  are the only crop that was overwintered that has not  gone to seed.
 The strawberries are coming out of their winter slumber and looking healthy. Asparagus still has not poked its head out as yet. One thing we have noted this spring is that that everything is screwed up timing wise. The trees are coming in to their leaves, while the dogwoods have not blossomed yet.  The daffodils and early spring flowers just peaked in blooming the other day and  the weeping cherry tree that bloomed in December is blooming again.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

wild edibles-dandelion

The lowly dandelion is  another one of our favorite early spring time additions to meals. Much like the violets more often than not I add  very young tender greens, buds and flowers to salads.When we have greens dishes I often add the young greens to our harvest  from the gardens. Our newest dandelion dish is poppers or deep fried dandelion flowers.

Tonight I made us some Buffalo wing style poppers and boy were they good. To make them simply cut fresh, just opened dandelion flowers as close to the flower head as you can. The stems have milky sourness in them so be sure to cut as much  off as possible but not so much that the flower falls apart. Rinse well and strain.  Dip in your favorite deep fry batter and deep fry. For the Buffalo  wing sauce I use  tobasco , mix in a dab of butter and touch of salt and coat the  poppers  well and place in 350 degree oven for 10 minutes . Serve hot with ranch or bleu cheese dressing.  For a more dessert like popper try coating the cooked  flowers with cinnamon and sugar.

My next foray with the dandelion is going to be  making a coffee  replacement. To make  "coffee"  dig the roots up wash, wash  and wash again.  chop fine in a food processor and bake  at 225 for a few hours. The dandelion root  will go from a light beige color to a rich coffee like color when done. Cool the dandelion grounds and store in air tight container.Start with a blend of 1 tbsp grounds per cup of drink, adjust to your liking.

I enjoy making vinegars with dandelions as well as vinaigrette. I find it a good way to get some of the  health benefits of the dandelion all year long. Dandelion helps both the liver and gall bladder to break down fat, by stimulating the flow of bile thus helping to  prevent gallstones. Dandelion also helps the liver with its process of detoxification as well as  benefiting kidney function,( as it has diuretic properties,  which makes it beneficial for anyone suffering from a urinary infection).  Dandelions also contain  potassium, magnesium, niacin, calcium, phosphorus, proteins, iron, sulphur, zinc, vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12, C and E. They are also  a richer source of provitamin A (beta carotene) than carrots. Because the leaves are rich in readily available magnesium, dandelion is also a great herb for improving bone health. Magnesium increases bone density, so dandelions may actually help to prevent bone disorders such as osteoporosis.

Medicinally dandelions can be used  as a liver tonic and as a mild diuretic. The roots may be dug in fall or early spring and tinctured. A dropperful of this alcohol extract twice a day is a time-honored remedy for liver complaints. The milk from Dandelion stems can cure warts. It should be applied three times each day. Teas can also be made from the leaves and flowers and drank for liver and gall bladder  cleansing. I personally do not  care for the tea much  but for medicinal use, it is not something I would like to drink a cup or two of every day.The milk from Dandelion stems can cure warts. It should be applied three times each day. Dandelions are currently being studied for control of blood sugar because of the inulin contained within them.

There are many more things that dandelions can be used in both culinary and medicinally. For some really nice and different recipes from cakes, to cornbread, pancakes and wine amongst others check out

around the homestead-gutter garden

A few months back I posted a couple of great ideas for gardening in limited spaces. One of those I posted was  gutter gardens. I thought it was a really neat idea  and decided that I needed to have me one. When we remodeled the chicken coop over the winter I knew immediately where I wanted to  hang my gutter garden project that I was eventually going to have and today  I have  my gutter garden planted.

I should have taken a photo of the pieces of gutter we had to use. One section was smashed flat and the other was sliced,  had a few rust issues and was so loppy jawed it wasn't funny. Again we beat and banged, yes I can include myself today, chopped, sliced and hammered and  we now have a fully functioning  12 foot long section of garden area on the chicken run fence line.
 All we did was splice the two pieces of gutter,  fabricate  a couple end pieces (remind me to NEVER choose this as a career), attach the gutter hangers to the wood rail on the chicken run and add a couple wires for good measure. Cost to us was nothing  as we had the scraps lying around and it took about an hour n a half from start to finish. I then filled it with  soil, some compost and planted it out with  3 types of lettuce and some spinach. The area it is located in will be somewhat shaded once the trees come in to their leaves and I am hoping to prolong our lettuce and greens season.  To go with the theme of cheap garden, the seeds were   from DG and cost a total of a buck.  We have  discussed putting a little walk way on the inside of the chicken run   at the level of the gutter garden and making a chicken  buffet of sorts, I think they would love it!

If someone had to go out and purchase the gutters new this could be a bit costly to  set up especially if you were running more than one  run of gutter. At the same time gutters are hung every day all over the world so  finding some used ones shouldn't be too difficult. With craigs list and such these days I imagine in an urban or suburban area, these could be readily found.