Featured Posts

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Backyard Garden

Back Yard
This is my first year planning and planting a garden that is big enough to actually require detailed planning. I gotta say it's kind of fun. My parents always had a garden in the backyard but the majority of it was filled with tomatoes and peppers and not much greens of any kind.  I also remember them growing peas which I did not care for and still don't to this day. It is one of the few things I will not be planting in my garden.

An afternoon harvest last year
Before moving last summer, my garden consisted of a bed of blueberries, zucchini, tomatoes, potatoes and herbs and I planted the same thing in the same place every year. With the exception of tomatoes, I did experiment with different varieties every year and also tried growing different herbs once in a while. So, my garden was pretty boring compared to the one at the new house which includes a greenhouse. It did not however include any compost bins so that was one of the first things we built. When I moved in at the end of the summer, there were many things growing and ready for harvesting: chard, kale, carrots, beans, tomatoes, peppers raspberries and eggplant. The backyard also has mature apple, pear and plum trees. I was sad not to see an herb bed but there was half a bed dedicated to mint and another half dedicated to chives. Why anyone needs that many chives I will never know. They ended up getting dug up and only saved a few which I re-planted in a different location and I will probably be making the bed of mint a little smaller to make room for more tomatoes.

You would think 6 large beds and a greenhouse would be enough garden space for someone used to having such a tiny garden but I found the more garden planning I did the more I wanted to plant but didn't have the room. We ended up adding a smaller bed dedicated for herbs and another bed on the other end of the backyard between the compost bins and the chicken run for miscellaneous items like squash that take up a lot of space.

Originally I had created a garden plan in Excel which worked ok but then I started looking into some online apps that make planning your garden a lot easier and decided to go that route. There are a few free ones and a few paid subscription ones. The one I settled on using is called GrowVeg and may be the most popular but there is a $25/year fee and a 30 day free trial, which I find very reasonable. I found it really easy to use and the plans just look nice and are very customizable. Here are a few of my favorite features of GrowVeg:
  • exensive database of plants and varieties of each
  • ability to add varieties that are not built into the database
  • database includes spacing requirements for each plant
  • easy drag and drop interface
  • charts recommending planting times (indoor and outdoor) for your growing zone
  • email reminds when it's time to plant something that is in your plan
  • crop rotation: saves previous years plans and shows where not to plant certain plants based on where you planted it and others like it the previous year
  • ability to make your garden plan public 
current plan for 2015
So far the plan includes the following fruits and vegetables:

Asparagus
Basil
Bay
Beans (6 varieties)
Beets (2 varieties)
Bok Choy
Borage
Brussels Sprouts
Burnet Salad
Cabbage (2 varieties)
Carrots (3 varieties)
Celery
Camomille
Chili Peppers (2 varieties)
Cilantro
Cucumber (3 varieties)
Dill (2 varieties)
Endive
Escarole
Garlic
Kale (4 varieties)
Lettuce (4 varieties)
Marjoram
Mustard (3 varieties)
Onions (5 varieties)
Oregano
Parsley
Parsnip
Peppers
Potatoes (2 varieties)
Radish (2 varieties)
Rhubarb
Sage (2 varieties)
Shallots
Spinach (2 varieties)
Squash (4 varieties)
Chard (2 varieties)
Tarragon
Thyme
Tomatoes (13 varieties)

You can see my full plan including plant list and varieties on MotherEarthNews. I'll be sharing more here about my garden's successes, failures and some of the methods I used.

Monday, March 02, 2015

2015 Northwest Flower and Garden Show

It's been a few years since we've been to the annual Northwest Flower and Garden Show at the Convention Center in Seattle and decided we were due for a visit. We ended up parking on the street with a 2 hour limit which meant we had to spend our time at the show wisely. We started by running through all the vendor areas, taking photos and samples along the way and finishing up with all the garden displays.

The only thing I ended up purchasing at the show was a bag of coir. I use coir for the Worm Factory 360 that I got for Christmas. It makes for great worm bedding and also works great as a seed starting mix too. I compared the price to Amazon and just couldn't beat the price at the show and was thinking we should have bought more than just one.

The coir isn't the only thing we came home with though. There were a lot of vendors giving things away. I picked up two packets of gourmet lettuce seeds from Cedar Grove, Dr Earth fertilizer, chicken treats from Urban Chickens and a bag of Groco compost made with Loop. My chickens enjoyed the treat and I used some of the Groco compost on my seed starts.

We also spotted Ciscoe Morris doing his radio show but it was so loud that we couldn't really hear what the questions and answers were so we just walked by.

Below are a few of my favorite booths and displays.

 vinegar tasting fungi mulch gravel Gardening with Ciscoe pot pourri flower arrangements plants Shrrom For Rent Cozy Outdoor Room water feature Beekeeper House

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Other Nine Months at Rainier Beach Urban Farm - Aquaponics 101

We went on another outing with The Other Nine Months group. We had to go a little futher for this one but it was the same day as the Flower & Garden Show, which wasn't too far from Rainier Beach Urban Farm. I'll be posting about the show a little later.

I always thought aquaponics and hydroponics were the same thing but it's really not so I learned about the differences during this aquaponics tour.

Hydroponics is growing plants in water and using mineral nutrient solutions added to water to help the plants grow.

Aquaponics is growing plants in water without the use of chemicals. In Aquaponics there are fish and worms involved to create the necessary nutrients for the plants.

They aquaponics system at Rainier Beach Urban Farm is in its infancy and they have big plans to expand the system. They are using a 3 container system. The first container has the fish. They have it stocked with tilapia and goldfish. Most people use an edible fish like Trout, Largemouth Bass, Blue Gill, and Catfish for aquaponics but you can use just about any fish you want. The water from the fish tank drains into another tub filled with rocks and worms and will also be used to grow strawberries which we got to plant some of ourselves. The rock bin then drains into a third bin filled with water and plants floating on top. The water keeps recirculating through these 3 tubs at a pretty fast speed, about every 20 minutes.

Seth Connell of Green Horizon Business Solutions and Anthony Reyes from Seattle Tilth did a great job explaining how the whole system works.

Aquaponics System Plant Bed Strawberry Planting Strawberry Bed Rainier Beach Urban Farm

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Other Nine Months at The Herbfarm

Since moving to my new house with a huge garden and chickens, I've joined Sno-Valley Tilth and lots of homesteading type facebook groups which allows me to hear about all kinds of interesting events happening around the area. One of the groups I heard about through tilth is a new group called The Other Nine Months and they are dedicated to sharing information about growing food in the Fall/Winter months. I believe this was their second event. We probably would have attended their first event had we heard about it.

I'm a big fan of The Herbfarm so was excited at the opportunity to visit their 5 acre farm in Redmond. I've not only eaten there a couple of times but I've also helped in their local vineyard, did a project on The Herbfarm Cookbook, received ozette potato seeds from herbguy, which I've been saving and replanting every year, and last year got a Latah tomato start which I saved seeds from that I plan on planting this year. You would think I'm obsessed. I just like what they are doing there. It's not just a restaurant, they do a lot of things to involve the community and I like that they have an ever changing menu with various themes to feature local ingredients.

Last Saturday, we arrived at the farm with about 20 other people from The Other Nine Months group and met with Bill Vingelen, the head farmer for The Herbfarm. He gave us a tour of the farm and their newest addition of a huge greenhouse. We learned quite a bit from the event and got some good tips on what to do and not do. He also teased us with some dried Pellegrini heirloom beans that you can only get on the Herbfarm website. I've already put in my order for some as if I don't already have enough beans to plant this year. What's one more variety? Have you heard of the Green Zebra tomato? I've been hearing a lot about it recently though it didn't make the cut for this year but it's definitely on my list for next year. It so happens that Tom Wagner from Everett, WA is who we have to thank for this tomato. He runs trials of new varieties of tomatoes at The Herbfarm every year.

In addition to plants at the farm, they also have a few animals. We got to see the chickens and one of the two cats, named Chicamu. They tried ducks at one point but they were very messy so it appears they got rid of them. Here are some of the important lessons learned at the event:
  • PVC is a very common frame for hoop houses but he warned against using them because they deteriorate the plastic too quickly. Instead, they use a metal frame which lasts much longer and is more sturdy too. 
  • For winter gardening in a hoop/greenhouse, transplant existing plants to the greenhouse in the Fall rather than starting them from seed. That was the mistake I made last year. I attempted to start seeds in the greenhouse in Fall (kale, lettuce, arugula). That did not go well and the only thing still alive is the arugula and it's very slow growing. 
  • He prefers the plastic coverings for hoop houses rather than the fabric kind. He's been using a plastic covering with slits in the sides to allow for some airflow within the greenhouse, something I hadn't seen before.
  • He recommended always sprouting beans and peas before planting in the ground, a tip I will definitely use when the time comes.
  • He gave us a list of crops that do well in the cold weather which will come in handy.
Frost Hardy (transplant by July 1): brussels sprouts, burdock root, beets, cabbage, celery root, mashua-tuberous nasturium, leeks, oca-tuberous oxalis, rutabaga, salsify-scornzonera, yacon, winter thyme, winter savory.
Semi-Frost Hardy (tunneling recommended when temps dip below 20 degrees): carrots, broccoli cauliflower, greens (arugula, chard, cress, kale, lettuce, mache, mustard, raddicchio, spinach), herbs (chervil, parsley, rosemary, sage), radishes, turnips.

I plan on doing a hoop house over my bed of greens in the winter to prolong the growing season as well as get some other stuff growing in the greenhouse earlier in the season so they are well established before it gets too cold.

The Farm Big Greenhouse Greenhouse Starts Pea Shoots Farmer Bill V Containers Fuzzy Cat The Herbfarm Chickens

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Herbivoracious Cookbook Review

Herbivoracious Cookbook Project
Herbivoracious is a vegetarian cookbook authored by Michael Natkin. I've been following him on social media and his blog before this cookbook came out and even tested out the otsu noodles recipe. I did a little video to go along with each of my blog posts for this project, something I hadn't done in any of my previous cookbook projects. For my projects I take at least one recipe from each of the sections, photograph it and blog about it.

Herbivoracious is filled with beautiful photography though not all recipes include photos. Michael was nice enough to put photos up on his blog for all the recipes in the cookbook that didn't include them so if you really want to know what the dish looks like before you make it, you can look it up on his Missing Images blog post. A lot of his recipes can also be found on his blog but there may be some variations to what was printed in the cookbook.

I can't really think of much I didn't like about this cookook. It was well written and put together and there are some recipes I tried that I keep going back to. I've made the beet tartare recipe several times and is one that I will continue to make over and over again.

Pros:

  • recipes are easily noted if they are vegan and/or gluten free
  • serving size and amount of time noted on each recipe
  • each recipe has a few paragraphs of commentary with a description, tips, history and/or side dish recommendations
  • sample menu plans (I personally didn't use this but some people may find it helpful)
  • sections for ingredient and cooking equipment notes
  • pages of notes scattered throughout the cookbook printed in maroon color such as knives, salt, flavor profiles from different countries, dried herb and spice storage and many more

Cons:

  • I would like to see more gluten free recipes
  • I found some of the recipes took longer than indicated on the recipe
Below are the recipes I tried.

appetizers and small dishes 
     smoked asparagus and panko crusted eggs
     aloo tiki with banana raita
soups
     pozole rojo de frijole
salads
     beet tartare and gluten free rosemary mayo toast
main-courses sandwiches and tacos
     mushroom tacos with pear slaw
main-courses pasta and noodle dishes
     sicilian spaghetti with pan-roasted cauliflower
main courses from the stovetop
     quinoa cakes
main courses from the oven
     chermoula-stuffed eggplant
side dishes
     brussels sprout and apple hash
desserts
     maple pickled pears
breakfast
     huevos ahogados

Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas Wreath Treat for Chickens Recipe

Buff Treats 
This is a recipe I made for my chickens for Christmas. I have been hanging it up for them every day while they are free ranging and bring it in at night to keep the rats away from it. It's a quick and easy recipe I found via Fresh Eggs Daily which is a great resource for any poultry keeper. At first I hung it up fairly high to make them work for their treat but decided to lower it later to make it a little easier for them and the little ones to get.

Christmas Wreath for Chickens


Ingredients:

Cooking Spray
Unflavored Knox gelatin, 3 packets
1/2 Cup cold water
1 1/2 Cups boiling water
1 Cup coconut oil or bacon grease, melted
8 cups scratch, seeds, nuts, grains and/or dried fruit
24 fresh cranberries

Instructions:
  1. Spray bundt pan with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Stir gelatin into a measuring cup with the cold water and set aside for 1 minute.
  3. Pour boiling water into medium sized bowl and whisk in the gelatin.
  4. Add 8 cups of scratch, seeds, nuts, grains and/or dried fruit to a large bowl. I used 7 cups scratch, handful of mixed dried fruit (raisins, cherries, cranberries) and a little farro.
  5. Add melted oil and gelatin to the bowl of seed mixture and mix well.
  6. Place 3 cranberries in a row in each crease of the bundt pan.
  7. Carefully add the mixture to the bundt pan and press to compact.
  8. Place the bundt pan in the fridge overnight.
  9. Remove from fridge and turn pan over onto a cutting board and tap lightly.
  10. Tie ribbon around the bundt pan and hang for your chickens to enjoy.
Chicken Treat

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Huevos Ahogados en Salsa Verde

TomatillosSalsa Verde This is the last recipe for my Herbivoracious Cookbook project. It came from the breakfast section as one of the only gluten free recipes in this section. In Spanish, huevos means eggs and ahogados means drowned. I had to look up that last one. So I guess in English this would be eggs drowned in green salsa.

Instead of going the easy route and using store bought green salsa I decided to make my own. Luckily I was able to find some tomatillos at Fred Meyer though I doubt they are local. They aren't in season so I couldn't be too picky.

My salsa ended up being a little more spicy than I would have liked. I used two jalapenos but they were really big ones so one probably would have been enough. I scraped out most of the seeds and ribs which helps lessen the spiciness. I ended up overcooking the eggs a bit so the yolks weren't runny. It's a little difficult to get the egg just right. My eggs ended up sinking down into the salsa so the eggs aren't as pretty looking in the finished photo as what was in the cookbook. Will have to try this one again with a little less heat and try to get the eggs cooked a little better. Instead of cooking the eggs in the salsa I might try making the poached eggs in my sous vide machine.

Recipe: Salsa Verde

Yield: 2 servings
Total Time: 30 minutes
Ingredients:
  • 1.5 lbs tomatillos
  • 1 1-2 jalapenos, chopped
  • 1 lime
  • 1 clove of garlic, diced
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Handful of cilantro

Instructions:
  1. Cut tomatillos in half and pulse in blender until smooth
  2. Add remaining ingredients and blend until smooth
  3. Add mixture to a saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes or until desired consistency
  4. Serve hot or cold

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Honey Apple Plum Butter

Brooks Plums 
My Brooks plum tree produced tons of plums last year and left me with more than I knew what to do with. I ended up making plum smoothies for breakfast, freezing some, giving some away, selling some to the nearby farm stand and made two batches of plum butter. My cardamom plum butter recipe is also on my blog.

For this recipe I wanted to try using a slow cooker as I've seen many use this method for making butters but I have to admit, I do not prefer this method. Even after 8 hours in the slow cooker the butter seemed as thin as when I put it in. I was running out of day light and decided to scrap that method and finished it off on the stove top which took another couple hours to finally thicken to my desired consistency. So I don't think I'll be using that method again in the future.

Fruit butter can be used for a lot of things whether it's spread on toast, slathered on pancakes, spread on your sandwich,  baked in cookies or as I've done most recently, spread on Lesley Stowe Raincoast Crisp crackers with cheese.  I got this package of cranberry hazelnut crisps from IFBC this year and they are some of my favorite crackers. They are indeed crispy and are perfect topped with fruit and cheese. They even make a few "wheat free" crackers made with oat flour. 

I created a video this time showing each step of the process including the canning of the plum butter.

Recipe: Honey Apple Plum Butter

Yield: approximately 8 pint size jars
Total Time: approximately 3 hours

Ingredients:
  • 90 oz apple/plum purée
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ground clove
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 orange, zest & juice
  • 1 3/4 cup honey
  • 1 orange, zest & juice

Instructions:
  1. Cut plums in half and remove seeds. Peel and core apples. Add plums and apples to blender in batches and blend until you have 90 oz of purée, adding water if needed
  2. Add all ingredients to a bowl, stir and refrigerate for a couple hours or overnight to allow flavors to meld.
  3. Taste the mixture and add more honey, spices and/or plums if you'd like.
  4. Pour the pixture into a large sauce pan and bring to a gentle boil and then reduce to a simmer. Or heat on low in a slow cooker for hours and hours and hours. If it doesn't thicken as quickly as you'd like, transfer to a sauce pan to thicken.
  5. Stir the mixture often and more frequently as it gets thicker. After about an hour you may use an immersion blender to make it more smooth
  6. Continue cooking for another hour or longer or until desired consistency. You can put a bit on a plate and refrigerate a few minutes to check consistency as it does thicken more when cool.
  7. Store in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks or process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes for longer storage.
  8. My batch ended up making about 8 pint sized jarss of butter. You may get more or less depending on how thick you make it.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Gregarious Cellars 2012 Release Party

I just discovered Gregarious Cellars during a trip to Pine Creek Nursery in Monroe, where they do tastings on the weekends. Pine Creek Nursery also does "Taste from the Garden" dinners during the summer and Gregarious Cellars is always there to pair their wines with the four course meal. We attended three of the dinners this year and got to try different wines each time. The dinners are only $40 per person and come with a complimentary glass of wine. Any additional glasses are extra.

Gregarious Cellars hasn't been around for very long but word of mouth is getting out there and their business has been steadily growing over the past couple of years. They've doubled their wine production in the last year. The wines are very impressive for such a young winery and it's no surprise that they have grown so much every year.

Two of their wines deserve special mention because they are wines I typically don't care for and actually ended up buying bottles of them.
  • 2011 Roussanne: A white wine that we actually preferred served at room temperature. Mark and I are not normally white wine drinkers though we drink it on occasion and we were talked into trying it at the first "Taste from the Garden" dinners we went to. It seemed very different from any white wine we've had before. It didn't seem to have as much acid. We liked it so much that we bought a bottle to bring home with us for $15. Before I move on to the 2nd one I also had to mention that the 2011 Syrah is fabulous. It is very peppery, just the way I like it. Unfortunately they are sold out of it and their 2012 doesn't have the same amount of pepper but they promise that with age that peppery taste I like will be there.
  • 2011 Merlot: If you know me, you know Merlot is probably my least favorite red. I don't like the dry chalky coating most of them leave in your mouth.  I tried Gregarious' 2011 Merlot during the release party paired with mushroom cream cheese puffs and wouldn't you know it, it was my favorite wine of the whole release party. They have very limited quantities so if you want a bottle you better hurry on down to Pine Creek and get one because as of last Friday they only had a case and a half left and I went home with a bottle for $25. I think I will store it for a year or so and see if it gets better with age.
They had a 2012 release party at Pine Creek Nursery where they served 6 different wine and food pairings all for free! My favorite bite was probably the dark chocolate brownie and as mentioned before. the 2011 Merlot was my favorite wine. The best food and wine pairing however probably went to the 2012 Cab Franc with Tuscan Bean Soup. We had the Cab Franc again at the last "Taste from the Garden". It was recommended as a good pairing for the entree which was pork tenderloin, butternut squash and potatoes and it was a good pairing indeed. It might be my next bottle of wine purchase.

There was a 2012 Red Blend that was paired with a sausage pizza that was pretty good too. The blend was actually created by a guy named Mike at one of their blending parties. They had a little contest to see who could come up with the best blend and he ended up winning. They may be doing another blending party next year so I'm going to have to keep my eye out for that, it sounds like a lot of fun.

Rosato and Hemplars Sausage
2013 Rosato and Hemplar's Sausage

Merlot with Mushroom Cream Cheese Puffs
2011 Merlot and Mushroom Cream Cheese Puffs

Cab Franc with Tuscan Bean Soup Mike's Red Blend with Spicy Italian Sausage Pizza 
Left: 2012 Cabernet Franc and Tuscan Bean Soup  Right: 2012 Red Blend and Spicy Italian Sausage Pizza

Cab Sauvignon with Hearty Beef Stew
2012 Cabernet Sauvignon and Hearty Beef Stew

Gregarious Cellars Release Party

Be sure to follow Gregarious Cellars and Pine Creek Nursery on Facebook to find out about upcoming events.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Garden Carrot Soup

Garden Carrot Soup Recipe I've got a bunch of carrots in my garden that are over due for picking and thought a soup would be a good way to use them up. I coincidentally got an email from Blendtec today with a carrot soup recipe and was my inspiration for this recipe.

I normally make my own broths and stocks but I received a box of Aneto chicken broth from the swag suite at the International Food Blogger Conference (IFBC) so thought it would be perfect for this recipe. Aneto is all natural and doesn't contain any MSG or unrecognizable, hard to pronounce ingredients like many others do. Ingredient list only contains water, chicken, onion, carrot, leek, cabbage, celery and marine salt. This is stuff I would use to make my own broth and tastes just as good. Another thing I got from Aneto on the first night of IFBC is a nice personalized apron with my blog name on it.
Aneto Broth Aneto Self Portrait
Another item I picked up at IFBC was one of my favorite olive oils, California Olive Ranch. It's my go to olive oil and almost always have a bottle of it on hand. California Olive Ranch was at IFBC in 2013 too and did an olive oil tasting that opened my eyes to what makes a good and a bad olive oil and how to taste the difference. Olive oils don't age very well so it's important to get the freshest bottles you can and store them in a dark cool place. You always know what you're getting with California Olive Ranch because they put the olive harvest date right on the bottle so you know how fresh it is. I wish all olive oils had dates like that. It's just something to look out for when you're olive oil shopping. Most olive oils are imported from Italy so it's nice to know there is a good olive oil made right here in the US with olives grown in California.
Chopped Veg Blendtec

Recipe: Garden Carrot Soup

Yield: 6 Cups
Total Time: approximately 1.5 hours

Ingredients:
  • 4 cups peeled carrots, chopped
  • 1 apple, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp rosemary, chopped
  • 1.5 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 box Aneto chicken broth or 4 cups homemade chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 tsp thyme, dried
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp celery seed
Instructions:
  1. Preheat oven to 425ᵒF.
  2. Add chopped carrots, apple, onion and rosemary to a 9x13 baking dish and drizzle with olive oil.
  3. Bake until carrots are tender, approximately 45 minutes.
  4. Heat broth in a saucepan and add cooked vegetables, thyme, salt, pepper and celery seed. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  5. Pour half or less of mixture into a blender jar and blend until smooth. Empty into another container and blend the remaining mixture in one or more batches.
  6. Add additional salt and pepper to taste if needed.
  7. Sereve, topped with a fresh herb garnish of your choice.