Sunday, March 17, 2013

Gardening: New Raised Beds!

Area Before Clearing
I am so excited that our weekend plans actually worked out! We were given and absolutely beautiful day; the perfect amount of sunshine, breeze and a wonderful balmy temperature that just beckoned us to go spend the day outside. It would have been an absolute "sin" to not enjoy the day given to us.

Newly Cleared Garden Space
 Today we cleared out the space that I decided to dedicate to more vegetable gardens and putting in raised beds along the length of it for ease of gardening, keeping the critters out, and in order to more easily build in healthy, organic garden soil in order to hopefully have a successful year. This section is also just off of the kitchen next to the patio so it will be more accessible, easier to water and hopefully to maintain and keep alive too.

The Foreman Hard at Work
The Boss Lady
Nathan and I spent most of the morning and early afternoon clearing the area of all the daffodils that have taken over the area for probably many, many years-there were several hundred of them, I also removed a couple of succulents, two rose bushes an azalea bush. We also removed lots of buried bricks, old landscape timbers, a couple of concrete stepping stones and lots and lots of weeds, roots and grass. 

Nathan, Matt the rest of the crew spent time laying out the area, and building the boxes. Benjamin played the role of the foreman.

The ducks and chickens have been really excited to see what has been going on too. They have actively been helping to mix in the soil and remove some of the bugs that have been happily living in the dirt.  

Matt and Nathan Working Into Evening
The frames are very simple 4' x 6' boxes built with untreated cedar planks. They have been constructed so that they can be easily taken apart and moved. Also, we left extra space on the stakes to add and extra plank if wanted/or needed. We are also leaving a two foot walking path between each box to easier access each edge. Although it is not complete and will probably be an ongoing project for a while, we now I have the beginnings of four new planting beds. We are so excited about the prospect of planting these out and filling them with loads of yummy vegetables, herbs, flowers and maybe some fruit of some sort. Now the hard part is-what do we plant. 
Jacob Hard At Work
Noah Lends A Hand

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Butternut Squash Apple Gratin

This is a new recipe that I am really excited about; it is very simple, very tasty, very quick and I think like many other recipes I come across it may even be adaptable too. After buying a bulk box of Butternut squash I had to start searching for ways to use it. One recipe I came across was a gratin using apples, leeks, and butternut squash. Personally I do not care for sage too much, and we didn't have leeks so I substituted onions and left out the sage and sherry. Here is what I did.

Butternut Squash Apple Gratin
1 small-medium butternut squash
2-3 tart apples 
2 onions
2 tablespoons of butter divided
ground coriander and/or ginger, nutmeg or other spices that you like to taste
salt and pepper to taste
bread or cracker crumbs(ritz would be good)
parmesan, cheddar, or other cheese that you like

Thinly slice the onions into strips and begin to caramelize them in a cast iron pot using a tablespoon of butter.

Thinly slice apples and butternut squash; I only used the neck part of the squash that was solid and saved the lower part where the seeds were for another dish. Layer the butternut squash on the bottom of the dish overlapping to cover the bottom. Sprinkle with the spices you would like to use and salt and pepper to taste. Layer the caramelized onions on top and then add a layer of apples. Add a layer of cheese, I used parmesan this time, but I think cheddar might be my next choice. If you have enough of the ingredients add another layer of each. Cover with foil and cook for about 30 minutes.

Uncover and top with the bread or cracker crumbs, more cheese, and thinly sliced pieces of butter evenly spaced over the top; bake under the broiler until the cheese is bubbly and turning golden brown on top.

Serve with sides of your choice, or use it as a side dish. We served ours with a side of sauted kale, and a fresh salad.

And just in case you are wondering, we are a typical meat eating family and there were no leftovers that night, most of the kids ate seconds.

This is a really good dish that I would like to experiment more with in the future. Adding potatoes or other vegetables might be worth trying.

Try it with your family and let me know how it turns out...What would you do differently?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Gardening: First Bed Finally Planted

Finally the cold wet dreary weather has been seen a lot less lately and Spring seems to be slowly peaking in here. In the last week, when the baby cooperates, we have started one of our gardens. 
The potatoes are in, although they don't seem to be doing much yet. Next to that purple and yellow onion sets have been put in. There are several kinds of lettuce, endive, swiss chard, radicchio, and broccoli. As a beginning companion planting experiment a square of spinach plants were also put in with strawberry plants placed among them for ground cover. One more small spot is left for a few kale plants to be added.

Not long after everything was set into the ground it began to rain...I love it when gardening just works out, we didn't have to use the tap water and the plants got a good drink. 

I am really glad that Matt was able to enclose the first garden area during the weekend. the ducks and chickens were patrolling the area trying to figure out how to get into it. It is definitely not deer proof, but my hope it that because it is closer to the house they won't be very interested, but that doesn't stop the raccoons from visiting, so we'll see.

This week I am hoping to build our first raised bed and put in some sugar snap peas, but not sure what is going in with them yet. We found several ideas, but first we will try using fence pickets to build a 4' x 6' bed raised two pickets high, so about 10" high. Something very easy to assemble and disassemble so that it can be moved when needed.

How is your garden progress?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Juicing Dilemma

In trying to live our lives in a more traditional way; going back to the land, gardening, raising some of our own animals for eggs and meat, learning sustainable practices, using organic practices, and other such things. We have recently been watching quite a few documentaries. One in particular had really gotten me thinking during this last pregnancy. Having Gestational Diabetes and being older with a possibility of staying diabetic and having to deal with the cost of testing, testing supplies, trips to the doctors, daily insulin injections, etc. was/is very unappealing to me. 

So back to the documentary; one night we came across Fat, Sick, And Nearly Dead. It follows Joe Cross who is on a quest to reverse the toll that years of eating unhealthy, process laden, fast foods. Being nervous about the outcome of this pregnancy and being really careful of  foods that I ate so that my blood sugar numbers stayed in control, this film inspired me to look further. Matt and I began juicing and are continuing to juice along with adding lots more fresh healthy vegetables into our diet and backing off on the meats and unhealthy processed foods. In the last month this new diet change has really been beneficial. We are not exactly following Joe's extreme measures of drinking juice only for a month, we are eating meals and drinking juice to replace some, but anyway, I have been losing quite a bit of extra weight and feeling quite a bit better.

So what is the Juicing Dilemma you might ask? Well, what do you do with all the vegetable matter that is "wasted". That is one thing that I have always absolutely hated about juicing all the rest of the fruit and vegetables just get thrown out and some of that is very good.

Ideas for what's left:

1) Feed the Chickens-That way you know that you are still getting benefits from the left overs with great healthy eggs and chickens.

2) Compost- Feed the soil so it can feed our vegetables.

3) Eat it! - Eat it-wait didn't you just take it out of the juice to drink it why would you now want to eat it. Well at least turn it into something else so that is isn't completely wasted. Apples/pears: Apple/pear muffins, apple/pear cake, apple/pear butter, add it to oatmeal. Carrots: Carrot cake, Carrot muffins, add to soups, tomato sauce. 

That being said, I am making pear butter today, because I had to quickly juice and freeze pears that ripened too quickly. Not ideal, because the fresher the juice the more beneficial, but it had to be done. Now there is lots of pear leftovers. The chickens have already gotten lots of pieces and the cores, and I am relatively happy because I didn't waste the pear that was left.

Monday, March 4, 2013


Finally we have a break in this cold, wet, cloudy and yes even snowy weather. The last few couple of weeks have been a mixture of  rainy, damp, cloudy and cold snow flurry filled days. Today we are having a beautiful day that is actually leaning toward warm, so today begins our planting season.

Right now I have onion starts, potato sprouts, several types of lettuce, some spinach and hopefully a few other cool weather tolerant plants. to get us started. This years garden will also be an attempt at companion planting mixed in with organic practices. This way we can experiment with natural pest deterring methods adding interest to the garden with flowers, adding natural mulch and nutrients to the soil with cover crops to shade the ground and help keep in moisture, not to mention combining vegetables with herbs that compliment each other and help to enhance the flavor of the vegetables.

Today I dug trenches and some of the kids and I set out some of the potato sprout starts. Because of rain we had to take a break, but hopefully soon everything will get re-tilled, the greens, and onions will get planted, then the kale and swiss chard. My goal is to always have something new growing throughout this season.

What do you have growing in your yard? How are you planning out your garden this season?