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Friday, March 20, 2015

This Year's Tomato Varieties

Going from a teenie garden to a big one has made me go a little overboard on planting stuff. Even after adding two additional beds to the six I already had, it seems I don't have enough room for all I want to plant. I used to plant typically 2 tomato plants in a container but this year is a little different. I'll be planting 14 different tomato varieties in my garden this year that I've already started from seed. I got my seeds from saved seeds, seed exchanges and seed catalogs. I started all of them between 3/6-9 and had a pretty decent germination. I did have one pkg of seeds from 2006 that took longer to germinate than the others but it eventually came up and they are all sitting under lights and will get transplanted into bigger pots in a few weeks. I plan on only planting one of each variety in the garden but started 3 of each just in case. If I have any left over I hope to sell or trade them.  I'll be planting 4 of the determinates in the greenhouse, 2 in a container and the indeterminates in garden beds.
  1. Black Cherry - Seed Savers Exchange 2015 - 65-75 days - Indeterminate
  2. Bradley - Seeds of the Month Club - 75 days - Determinate
  3. Cassady's Folly - Duvall Seed Exchange - 75 days - Determinate
  4. Costoluto Genovese - Baker Creek 2015 - 80 days - Indeterminate
  5. Dester - Seed Savers Exchange 2015 - 70-80 - Indeterminate
  6. Green Zebra - Halfdimehomestead Seed Exchange - 80 days - Determinate
  7. Latah - Saved seed - 55-60 days - Determinate
  8. Purple Bumblebee - Baker Creek 2015 - 60-70 days - Indeterminate
  9. Red Pear - Seattle Seed Co 2014 - 70 days - Indeterminate
  10. Roma - Sarah Seed Exchange 2015 - 75 days - Determinate
  11. Washington Cherry - Sarah Seed Exchange - 60 days - Determinate
  12. White Cherry - Seed Savers Exchange 2015 - 70 days - Indeterminate
  13. Yellow Gooseberry - Baker Creek 2015 - 75 days - Indeterminate
  14. Yellow Pear - Ed Hume 2006 - 75 days - Indeterminate

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Meet my Chickens

I currently have 9 hens in my flock of chickens and each one of them has their own personality so I wanted to introduce them and provide a little bit of info about each one. I have four different breeds. The buff orpington and production reds came with the house I bought last summer and were already laying eggs when I moved in. I raised the black copper marans and easter eggers from 1 day old chicks from Baxter Barn.
  • Buff Orpingtons: Orpingtons have a gentle personality and extremely fluffy butts and are commonly broody which makes them a good mother. They lay a light brown egg.
  • Production Reds: A hybrid of Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire Red and sometimes Leghorn. They are not as gentle of a breed and are known for their high egg production. They lay darker shades of brown eggs.
  • Black Copper Marans: They are a large feather legged bird that lays a dark chocolate brown colored egg.
  • Easter Eggers: Some also call them Americanas, in various spellings. They are a smaller bird with puffy cheeks and a beard and come in a wide variety of colors and lay a blue, green or pink colored egg.


Queen Bailey is a fluffy buff orpington and is the boss lady but the nicest boss you'll ever meet. She doesn't pick on and chase others just for fun like Lucy. She will win any staring contest though and will give a little head bop to get her favorite treats to herself. She likes to sleep up high and look down on everyone provided she can jump high enough. (My buff orpington's aren't the highest of jumpers.) Her favorite hobby is kicking wood chips into the grass and not putting them back where she found them.


Buffy is my other Buff Orpington. When I had 3, it was always difficult to tell them all apart. The only way I can tell the 2 I have now apart is by their combs. Buffy's comb has a twist at the back of it and the points are a little further apart. Orps are a large bird and have the fluffiest of butts. It's hilarious to watch her run and shake that booty. Don't let her size fool you. She's the sweetest girl and doesn't pick on anyone. Her favorite activity is searching for worms. She sleeps on the floor of the coop instead of up high in the nesting boxes or roost. She took a break from egg laying over the winter and is just starting to lay again.


Cinnamon is a production red that came with the purchase of my house. My mom named her Cinnamon because she was the darkest of the 3 reds. She appears to have been moved down to the bottom of the adult's pecking order after a hard molt this winter. She frequently eats from the younger girls' food dish to avoid conflict with the other girls. She is the most skittish of them all but is improving a little now that her molt is over and she has started laying again. She lays the smallest and darkest eggs and has been laying nearly every day since her molt. Her new feathers have some black lacing that does not appear on any of the others and her comb is the shortest so it's easy to tell her apart from the others. Her favorite activity is searching for worms in the compost bin.


This is naked neck Lucy the bully, a production red. She is the meanest of them all though surprisingly not at the top of the pecking order but she wishes she was. She was the only one to pick on the new girls when they joined the flock and continues to chase and peck them every chance she gets. They go running the other way anytime she is near but now that the girls are laying they will sometimes do the squat and Lucy takes full advantage of them and will sit right on top of them. She has the biggest comb and the biggest voice. She gets very upset anytime someone is in her nesting box and doesn't like to share. Her neck is missing feathers but I have not figured out if it's her plucking them out or someone else. I hope one day she will welcome the new girls and not be such a meanie. If she doesn't change her ways I may need to put her in chicken jail for a couple of days.


Sarah is another production red, named by my mom during her visit last summer. I'm not sure where she came up with the name but it seemed fitting. I call her "Silly Sarah" because she is a funny girl. She is the friendliest of my reds and rarely picks on the younger girls. She likes to be by my side and helps me when I'm working in the garden. She loves to pick at your shoes and your pants when you are standing still. She is a great layer and gave me eggs all through winter though she likes to take her time in the nesting box and sings after she lays her eggs. She lets me hold her and doesn't make a fuss like the other reds.


Miss Molly Marans is a very mossy coppery black copper marans and looks nothing like her nearly all black sister. Some say she may even be an Olive egger (marans x blue egg layer) but she does in fact lay a dark brown egg. She is my little poser and beauty queen, the easiest of all my girls to photograph. She's the adventurer/ranger of my youngsters, always being the first one to scope out new places to make sure it's safe. Her favorite spot is sitting in the doorway of the coop to keep a lookout for trouble. When rats were getting into their house, she would sleep in front of the food dish instead of roosting with the others so the rats would have to go through her first. She is so brave.


This is Miss Mary Marans. She's a black copper marans but has no copper to speak of. She had a little twist in her comb when she was younger but as she aged it straightened out. She used to have a few white wing feathers but they've grown out and she's all black except for a little white dot on the back of her head. Her feathers are the softest chicken feathers I've ever felt and they shimmer a green hue in the sunlight. She was the first of my little ones to get her wattles. When she was younger her favorite resting spot was on my shoulder and loved to peck at my ears. Now she loves to eat my hair if it's in reach. She's usually the last one to the food dish but first to the hand fed treats.


Little Ali Bug is a less common colored Easter Egger breed. She seems to get picked on the most by Lucy, the bully. She's a master escape artist and can run the fastest and jump and fly the highest. She likes to jump on the other girls when they least expect it. She loves attention and picking things up and running around with it just to get others to chase her. She's the smallest of the 4 younger girls. She started laying her pretty blue eggs just a couple of days after Mary and Molly.


This is Ari, an Easter Egger, and is the baby of the bunch. She seemed to be the last to stop chirping and the last to lay an egg. She likes to cuddle up under a wing, not her own, when she sleeps.  She was always the most difficult to pick up because she would just flap her wings so hard and it was hard to keep hold of her. She loves to fly and roost on the highest of places.  She likes to eat grass and sometimes gets too preoccupied and next thing she knows her family is across the yard. She squawks, runs and flaps her wings until she catches up with them. She likes to jump on Mark and his camo jacket when ever he is around because she thinks he looks like a walking tree. Ari just laid her first egg this week and it is blue just like Ali's.

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:

Beans (6 varieties)
Beets (2 varieties)
Bok Choy
Brussels Sprouts
Burnet Salad
Cabbage (2 varieties)
Carrots (3 varieties)
Chili Peppers (2 varieties)
Cucumber (3 varieties)
Dill (2 varieties)
Kale (4 varieties)
Lettuce (4 varieties)
Mustard (3 varieties)
Onions (5 varieties)
Potatoes (2 varieties)
Radish (2 varieties)
Sage (2 varieties)
Spinach (2 varieties)
Squash (4 varieties)
Chard (2 varieties)
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.


  • 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


  • 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
     pozole rojo de frijole
     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
     maple pickled pears
     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


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

  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