Category Archives: Veggie Garden

Winter Seed Catalogs

Food Starts with a Seed

This post was inspired by a writers group daily prompt and was supposed to be about food. I suppose it is, but it starts at the very beginning of a foods’ lifetime. I am not a fancy cook. I tend to cook according to what is available to me now. Dinner will be found either out in the garden, on the canning jar shelf, down in the deep freeze, the pantry, or stored in pots in the garage. I grow a good bit of my food and it is only when I am feeling lazy that I plan a meal around a trip to the grocery store. I hate shopping.

So, to write about food, from the beginning, I started with my constantly growing pile of seed catalogs. It takes a lot of different catalogs to make good decisions about what to grow next. Some have better selections, more interesting blurbs, better photos, cheaper prices, better websites. My mind begins to wander to warm spring days and more interesting dinner choices.

Learn to Fly

It is so easy for me to get sidetracked. I planned to look for seeds to grow as sprouts and winter greens, but when I pulled the drawer out, the “Learn to Fly” magazine grabbed me first. I must have picked this up at the little Leesburg airport when I bought Jeff a flying lesson on his 50th birthday.  I sat there and read all about the necessary study materials, ground school, the cost of the instructor and airplane, the flight hours you would have to accumulate… Hmmm. The places we could fly! My dad was a pilot and I love to fly, but it is an  expensive hobby and would start us down an entirely different path.

Back to seeds and growing food. Oh, wait. A cup of tea would be nice while I sit by the fire. Better bring in some more wood…Okay, kettle is on. Fire is stoked. Feet are up.

A Scattering of Seed Catalogs

I sort my catalogs into piles. One for fruit trees, and berries, one for poultry, one for fencing and farm supplies, one for perennials and bulbs, and one for garden seeds.

With 21 laying hens, about 45 pullets that will start laying in March and 38 roosters ready to eat,  I have more than enough chickens, so those  can go back in the drawer.I am  looking for sprouts, greens and garden seeds now.

Ahh, the kettle is tick-talking over on the wood stove- time to fill the        teapot I made recently.  A slice of that apple pie I cooked up last night will taste good with some Earl Grey.

Homemade Tea Set

 

Seed catalogs are  great for researching the different seeds I can grow  on my fodder shelves. Currently I am growing barley and winter wheat sprouts so the chickens  can eat greens this winter. They love fresh greens and it keeps them laying.  I have 8 plastic bins in the sequence and it’s an easy morning chore to feed one out, refill it with fresh seeds, and then rinse the other 7. I started buckwheat seed in the empty bin today, left over from the patch I grew for the bees last year.

We humans need some sprouts too, so I started a small tray of leftover Kale seed to soak this morning and I will start some alfalfa (in a jar with a mesh lid) soon. We could clip the wheat for smoothies but I have not done that yet.   It only takes a few days for each bin to sprout and then they start to grow tall greens, like little bushy lawns. The roots all mat together and you peel them out of their bin like a carpet. I have the grow shelves by the sliding glass door in the basement, looking east, and have not needed to add lights.

Chicken Fodder Bins

I spent the next few hours studying the Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog. They can be expensive but many of the seeds are organically grown, and they breed good varieties for flavor and disease resistance. I grow all my veggies organically although I don’t always start with organic seeds. Cost is a factor, and quite often I end up buying my seeds at the local feed store, a few at a time, even though I pour over all these catalogs in the dead of winter. The catalogs are inspiring and make me think I  might actually grow something unusual. Generally, I stay pretty tame in the end.

A actually started reading the catalog in the middle and worked backwards, but here I will put my entries in Alphabetical order.

From Johnny’s Selected Seeds Catalog ,A-G

I planted 150 Asparagus plants the spring before last and should have a good harvest this year. One bed will last for years. I have to get out there, cut the stalks down, and then put some manure on them when I clean out the barn.

I want to grow some kind of Pole Beans that are good fresh, canned and dried. Last year I grew Fordhooks  on the (baling-twine-woven) hoops of my mini greenhouse frame. No more bending over to pick bush beans for me! I think I might try a round, brown seeded (Fortex) and a flat white seeded variety (Northeaster) this year. I want to grow an old heirloom variety for dried beans too.

There is a deep red Beet called Moneta that is touted as a mono-germ (one embryo per seed) so it will not have to be thinned as much. You can eat both the greens and the root.

Arcadia Broccoli is good for fall and winter, tolerant of cold and makes a lot of side shoots too. I like to go out and just pick a few shoots for dinner salads.

Diablo Brussels Sprouts are fun to grow and I might try some this year. The little baby cabbages grow from the bottom to the top up a long stem and look  alien. The hard part for me is remembering to start them in July so they will be ready in November/ December. They are so good, roasted in the oven with a little olive oil.

I may grow some Cabbage (Storage #4) this year, one that keeps well. I might go back to making my own sauerkraut too. The seed needs to be started in June and I will probably have to grow them under row covers to keep the cabbage moths out. That is why I don’t usually bother. I need to let my chickens in to the garden once I see the worms. It is hard to figure out how to do that and not have them scratch other things up. I see some kind of movable panels in my future. Winter meals of ham, cabbage and potatoes, or pork,  sauerkraut and mashed potatoes would be much tastier with home grown cabbages.

Carrots can be a pain to grow because they have to be zealously thinned and weeded, but once they get some growth on them, they are worth it. Bolero is good for storage and looks like a good solid choice. I don’t need anything fancy, or colored, just tasty and a good keeper.

I might grow some Romanesco type Cauliflower this year. Puntaverde is green and does not head to be blanched (leaves tied to cover) when heading up, but it may not be happy when it gets really hot here in August, so I might pass. We don’t use that much cauliflower.

Celeriac (Mars) might be fun to grow this year. It tastes like celery but grows like a beet, and stays tender, which is easier to deal with. I have not grown it since the 70’s.

Sweet Corn is a must and this year I hope I can grow some tomatoes early enough to eat them together. I have been starting my corn under row covers, in early April, the last few years, to avoid the major plague of Stinkbugs, which usually arrive about July 15th. They were not too bad last year though. I think they have hightailed it on south. Regardless, I will plant corn, maybe the Extra Tender and Mautauk,  both bi-colors, at least twice and will certainly have tomatoes ready for the second harvest, if not the first. I like the super sweet varieties because the sugars do not turn to starch as quickly. We can put 3 dozen ears in the fridge and it is still good a week later. The old types of corn lasted less than a day.

Right about now is when I tell myself that I should downsize the garden a bit. I have a hard time keeping up with all the weeding and thinning, and then in July it gets really hot, and we go on vacation and it totally gets away from me. Every year. Luckily, even when the weeds look bad, I still get great harvests and manage to put up a lot of food. It is not always pretty out there, but I never run out of things to do. Last year I expanded outside the garden fence, instead of downsizing. I guess we will see. Planting is the easy part.

Diva Cucumbers look like a possibility- and they are seedless and non bitter. I could grow them on the perimeter fence…

Orient Express Eggplant looks good. Long and narrow. I wonder if I could keep the flea beetles away with row covers? Hmmm.

Ah, finally got to the micro greens and sprouts section of the Johnny’s catalog.  Looking at the prices, though, I think I will have to search around some more.

Johnny’s Sprouting Seeds

I will keep using all the leftover seeds I can find and search around in my cupboards for other possibilities, like lentils, or quinoa. I can clean my cupboards out at the same time. Experiments in mass seed sprouting commencing…now.

And on that note, I am out of chicken feed and need to get to the feed store before it closes…

-Wendy lee, writing at Edgewise Woods, Gardens and Critters

Wendy

 

 

 

 

Foxes, Chickens, Dogs and Veggies

Blue Ridge Cabin in Springtime Fog

It can be hard to find time for all the springtime chores and harder yet to write about it, especially when the weather and my thoughts turn foggy and gray for days on end. I am much more productive when the sun is shining.

Wild Critters v Chickens

Our resident Mama Fox has six babies this spring, and they are more than the usual degree of hungry. She usually only takes about three chickens each spring before the babies learn how to hunt on their own, but we have lost seven hens, a duck and my rooster, who I have had for many years. He was such a good boy. The hens don’t seem to miss him but I do.

Baby Foxes
Baby Fox

The electric fence around the chicken pasture works great as long as there is no long grass zapping it’s energy away. It also helps to remember to plug it back in after clearing the grass off the bottom. The fox was able to dig under the fence because it was not plugged in. My fault. I feel so guilty when I fail to protect my flock.

Electric Fence for Hens

Meanwhile, I am feeding the fox kits cat food over by their den in an attempt to stave off their hunger and hopefully prevent more chicken losses. The babies roll around and tussle with each other just like puppies and are fun to watch. I just hope they learn how to eat rabbits and mice soon.

Baby Fox
Who Me? Eat Chickens?

Yesterday I was finally getting around to cutting down the last dried Miscanthus grass and discovered a bird nest with five eggs in it. I had to prop the cut grass back up to protect it. The eggs were blue with brown speckles. I walked close later when I did chores and the mama was back on the nest but I did not get a good view and am not sure what kind of bird it is yet. I was glad she came back though.

Divided Hostas and Miscanthus

I managed to divide two of my Big Blue Hostas and the other giant Miscanthus grass recently and potted them up with compost from last years barn cleaning. Two Hostas yielded 12 extra plants which I can trade.

The Veggie Garden

The week of April 15, it was still getting down in the 30’s (F) and 40’s at night, but getting up in the 70’s and 80’s during the day. Frost was still possible, so tender plants needed the protection of the hoop house .

Little Hoophouse

 

I worked some compost into the beds and sowed tomatoes, basil, cauliflower,  lettuce, and peppers for transplanting out later. After covering them with a protective layer of cloth (a recycled wedding runner) I watered them in. The hoop house is open on both ends but I attached some cloth near the bottom to keep a little wind out.

My grandson got the tiller working again (rusty magneto) so I finally planted potatoes April 17th. I usually try to plant them around St Patricks Day in March but we had snow that week. I planted 6 short rows of Yukon Golds and Norland Reds leftover from last years bumper crop where I had buckwheat last year. This plot is outside the garden fence but deer don’t like potatoes, so it should be OK.  They are up as of April 26th.

A few days later,I planted two rows of pole beans along the insides, figuring on removing the plastic after frost danger, allowing the vines to climb all over the frame. The tomatoes and cauliflower are all up as of April 26th.

Remay Over Corn

The ground was a still little  cool for planting corn April 18th, so I covered the whole area with Remay cloth to help warm it and also to keep the crows from eating the sprouting seeds.

We are eating a little asparagus from the bed I planted last year along the fence and we are still eating the Kale that overwintered really well. The garlic that was planted last fall is also doing well.

Wintered Over Garlic and Kale

If the blossoms on the blueberries and strawberries all turn into fruit we will have a great crop. Last year frost damaged the blooms and we did not get as much as usual. I actually had to buy 🙁 some frozen strawberries this winter for Jeff’s morning protein shakes.

 New Dog Fence

After finally cleaning out the front barn, I set up a new solar powered, electric, woven fence for visiting dogs to play in. I ordered the 160 feet of poultry netting, the 10 watt solar panel, a 12 volt, 18 amp hour battery and the Hotshock charger ( uses either 110V or 12 volts) from Premier 1Supplies. I recommend this company. They answer all kinds of questions via chat so you can figure out your best plan, such as,  how big of a solar panel and what kind of battery are needed for your job.

Solar Fence Charger

I am using a ladder as the people access until I make a real gate. I take care of other peoples critters  and bringing the dogs home with me can make it easier to give them outside time. They are safely away from the chickens and have shady trees, grass,  sun and barn space.

Ladder as People Door

Spring is one of my favorite times of the year but there is so much to do before the hot weather sets in. In the meantime, it is gorgeous just walking around the yard and enjoying the flowers.

Phlox divaricata
Tree Peony

On the long rainy days, I must remember the lush green growth and flowers that will emerge because of the dreary days.

Fog on the Blue Ridge

 

 

Wendy lee Maddox, writing at Edgewise woods, Gardens and Critters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frozen Basil Cookies

Growing Basil

Basil is a frost tender annual herb which is easy to grow from seed. It can be  sowed directly into the garden after the ground warms up and there is no chance of frost. The seedlings will emerge in about a week and if grown in a solid row, will need to be thinned to about six to eighteen inches apart. You can replant the thinnings wherever you have space in the garden. I find that six to ten well spaced  plants  supply us with plenty of leaves to eat fresh, dry and freeze for the year.

I use some form of Basil in a lot of what I cook and I put it up in different ways, according to how it will be used. Fresh, it is really good with sliced tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese and is great mixed with spinach as greens on sandwiches or salads.

Dried Basil

Once your Basil plants are about eighteen inches tall, you can start cutting them. Take a heavy pair of kitchen scissors and a basket out to the garden and cut each branch of Basil back to a nice pair of leaves so it can keep on growing. It is better to cut about six inches each week or two than it is to cut it back too far all at once. Fill the basket, and using cotton twine, gather about five cuttings in a bunch and tie them along the length of string. Tie a loop in one end that will fit over your peg or drying arms and let them hang until dry and starting to crumble. 20160926_105218

Do not hang them in the sun, but indoors in the shade. If the weather is too damp for it to dry properly, you can lay it on a cookie sheet in a warm 200 degree F oven with the door open a crack to crisp it up.

Once it is dry, strip the leaves off the stems over a cookie sheet and then rub through a big sieve. Fill small half pint jars and save some of them for presents to give to family and friends.

I use dried basil in omelets and scrambled eggs and add it to sauces and soups.

Frozen Pesto Cookies

For a fresher flavor, especially in Lasagna or sauces, I really like to use frozen Basil cookies.

These savory cookies are made by picking the leaves into the food processor, adding a little olive oil and periodically giving it a whir. Add more leaves, whir again. Keep adding leaves until you run out or it gets too full. The oil helps it to mix and holds it together so you can spoon cookie sized rounds out onto cookie sheets. Place the sheet in the freezer overnight and in the morning, remove them with a spatula and load into quart sized freezer bags.

Processing Basil Cookies
Processing Basil Cookies

Drop a couple of these cookies into a pot of simmering tomato sauce, steam with spinach and stuff into a pork roast,  or add to the cheese filling of spinach lasagna, drop into stews. Add pine nuts and cheese fora fresh tasting winter Pesto over rice or spaghetti squash. It is very easy to use a cookie or two at a time.

-Wendy lee, writing at Edgewisewoods, Gardens and Critters

 

How to Freeze Spaghetti Squash

I have volunteer squash all over the yard in odd places from tossing out bad ones last year. The vine out in the raspberry/ buckwheat patch has turned out to be a Calabash, or Vegetable Spaghetti squash.

Squash Hiding in the Buckwheat Patch
Squash Hiding in the Buckwheat Patch

Quite a few of them rotted before I realized they were ripe but I still have a good pile of them to deal with. These particular ones won’t keep because a rabbit injured them in small spots so I need to cook and save them for later. Since I wasn’t sure how best to freeze them I Googled “How to Freeze Spaghetti Squash” and got this great link to the site Pioneer Thinking which has some good recipes. 

So, I will cut them in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and bake them at 375 F for 30 minutes. Then fork out the strands, let them cool, pack into quart size freezer bags, label and freeze. I save some of the seeds to plant again and if you like you can roast them in the oven to eat. You can even eat the blossoms if you want. Tempura is a good way and Alexandra’s Kitchen has a good stuffed Tempured Blossom recipe.

Squash Blossom
Squash Blossom

I love Spaghetti squash and use it like pasta or rice for our standard “Stuff on Rice” dishes, which varies according to what is available in the garden and the fridge. I usually saute onions and garlic, add sliced mushrooms, then whatever veggies I have- like broccoli or tomatoes-add some broth, thicken it up with a little cornstarch/ cold water paste and spoon it on top of the hot spaghetti squash.

I also have a volunteer Patty Pan squash vine by the garage door, which is producing well, and found some recipes for it here at Delishably 

volunteer summer squash
Crookneck Squash in the Tomatoes

Yellow Crookneck squash volunteered in the middle of the tomato patch in the veggie garden and also mini gourds along the fence. I was hoping for some Blue Hubbard or Butternut but will have to plant them instead- right away, as soon as I dig the potatoes out to make room.

Most summer squash can be used interchangeably in recipes. One of my favorite ways is to slice them and cook them on the grill with a spritz of olive oil and herbs.

Happy gardening and eating

– Wendy lee at Edgewise woods, gardens and critters