Don’t Eat That!

The Deadly Nightshade (for REAL!)

You may remember my post from the other day where I asked what this plant was…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It had this tiny berries. I ate one, it was kind of sweet…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

It turns out that it is an honest to god nightshade. As in, don’t eat that, it will kill you dead, kind of plant.

Katie Nixon from the Lincoln University Extension came out on Wednesday and identified it for me. “You probably don’t want to eat any more of those berries,” she said trying to hide the worried look on her face.

“Yeah, no, I think I’ll pass on eating any more,” I told her, “But it didn’t taste bad at all, and I feel fine!”

I made sure to point out the plant and tell Emily, “That is POISONOUS, do NOT try to eat it.” I then pulled out the vigorously growing plants wherever I could see them.

Beets – Round Two

We planted beets this spring. Well, in May, because of the insane snow and freezing temps that hovered about until we were all well and sick of the cold. The beets grew to about the size of marbles. It was disheartening.

Dave dug them up at the same time we were harvesting the Yukon Gold potatoes and we just shook our heads, time for round two.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As I dug some of the red and purple potatoes out, I made a nice pile of dirt and began poking beet and radish seeds into it. I am crossing my fingers and hoping for a bumper crop of Bull’s Blood and Albino beets, along with some good salad radishes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The sky kept spitting rain and making promises of more rain, so I held off watering the newly planted seeds. C’mon rain, get on over here!

Fall Transplants- Nope, Not This Year

I checked with Katie about what plants would be good for planting right now and she mentioned broccoli, lettuce, spinach and cauliflower transplants. They need to be in the ground by 8/15 at the latest. It’s too late to start them as seed, and I’m tapped out for garden funds for the year, so we will just settle for the beets, radishes, and…

Cover Crops

Despite the poor soil, we’ve done well. And next year will be even better. We will have a nice layer of chicken poo and decaying straw, along with two cover crops.

On Thursday I purchased one pound of barley seed, and two pounds of Austrian Winter Peas. Barley will provide cover and prevent weeds, then act as a mulch for the garden in the spring. The Austrian Winter Peas are a dynamic accumulator. Katie suggested this and explained that dynamic accumulators are plants that send their roots deep into the soil pulling the nutrients from far below. The plants are then full of nutrients and can be added back into the soil to feed your spring crops.

I won’t need to add the cover crops for a while. After all, I’m still harvesting from the garden! But once the growing season is over, I will pull aside the straw from some or most of my garden, spread the seeds and rake them in. By early spring I can either mow the crops down, or in later spring simply bend them and push them aside when planting transplants. How cool is that?!

I don’t have a count on the potatoes, but my new harvest forecast is for 150 pounds of produce this year. Go, garden, go!

The Great Potato Harvest of 2013…Well…Sort Of…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA On Saturday, we had big plans to finish the new chicken coop for our laying hens. We needed some chicken wire, since the roof wouldn’t be safe from marauding varmints with just a tarp, and I was itching to get some paint for the rooms I have decided needed painting.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA But before we could leave, I took a good look at the Yukon Gold potato plants and realized it was definitely time to harvest.Everyone should grow potatoes. They are so darned easy to grow, and when they are ready for harvest they conveniently let you know by withering and dying above the ground. It’s kind of like the guy on the redneck comedy tour, “Here’s your sign!”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The purple potatoes and the red potatoes aren’t quite there yet, but the Yukon Gold definitely were.

I commenced digging…and digging…and digging.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In the end, we tallied up the potatoes and logged them in…17.65 pounds. I started with five pounds of each kind of potato, so that isn’t too bad for our fist year in new soil. There weren’t as many as I had hoped there would be, but I think that next year there will be far more, since we will have enriched the soil quality significantly.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I think we are in at about 30 pounds of tomatoes so far this year.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And I’m not sure WHAT these are, but I think they might be huckleberries. Can anyone verify this for me? The plant looks like this…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We still have a full row of blue potatoes and red potatoes to harvest in a week or more. I’m looking forward to tallying the totals!

 

 

Boom and Bust

Although there are still a few weeks of growth left before our first official frost date – October 9th – I have begun to consider this year’s growing season complete. Due to the enormous amount of weeds and neglect, I doubt I will attempt to plant any fall crops. Instead my attention has turned to prepping the yard for next year and reviewing our accomplishments and failures – the booms and busts, if you will.

Rabbit Haus? Not This Year

I was pretty darned convinced that meat rabbits were in our future – and they still might be – once I figure out how to prepare rabbit meat correctly…and get past “soft and fluffy with oh so beautiful eyes” to “tasty and edible.”

That mental acceptance is simply not there – and combined with the fact that I apparently suck at baking or stewing rabbit and I will be waiting on this for a while. It doesn’t make sense to grow an animal for meat that I don’t like the taste of (like I said, I’m not good at cooking them) and get nauseous over the idea of killing.

Millions of Apples…Peaches…Even Nectarines

I stood in front of our Granny Smith apple tree early this spring and discussed cutting it down with my husband and a guy from the County Extension. For eight years it had done absolutely nothing – a few apples here and there, small and worm-ridden.

It went on to produce over 140 pounds of apples this year – large ones, juicy, and (with the exception of two of fruits) worm-free.

As my dad said, “I’ve heard that talking to plants makes them grow better, but I don’t think they meant for you to threaten its life.”

Hey, whatever works…right?

We also pulled 88 pounds of peaches out of the lone peach tree and it took over three days of peeling, pitting and chopping to get it all in freezer bags or canned.

The nectarines were both bust and boom. We pulled over 60 pounds of nectarines out of the tree, but every single one of them had worms, so the chickens got them. We stored them in our Pepsi cooler in the garage and gave them several pounds a day for two weeks straight.

Next year…more dormant oil applications and more reducing of fruit buds so that the fruit can grow bigger and be hopefully worm-free.

Dandelion Wine

A year ago…maybe two…I picked a whole mess of dandelion flowers. Dave bought some high-end grape juice, raisins and yeast – and we attempted to make dandelion wine.

As we were cleaning the garage on Saturday, I noticed the five-gallon jug. I pointed it out to Dave and he shook his head, “I tried it when the Friends (yes, we have friends who have last name of Friend) were here, it’s awful. We need to pour it out.

As he tilted it into the sink, he first filled up a small glass for me to taste it. I took one small sip and reached for my water, “Oh my god, it tastes like I threw up in my mouth.”

Dave just laughed. “No seriously, Dave, it tastes like stomach acid!”

So yeah, that was a bust.

Twig House

Except for needing to duck slightly while inside, I love the twig house Dave built me for my birthday. Love it, love it, love it!

Crops That Failed

I planted hundreds of seeds of zucchini and swiss chard – nothing came up. I also planted quite a few sets of onions – which promptly withered and died in the heat of the summer. I was bummed that I couldn’t make zucchini bread, until…

Crops That Surprised

I began harvesting massive amounts of yellow squash this year. Over 22 pounds out of one 2×8 raised bed. I attribute this to multiple applications of diatomaceous earth. It stopped the vine borers in their tracks, or sent them off to the pumpkin patch (I lost all of the pumpkins we planted).

The potatoes were a great surprise. The first 2×8 patch of plants died back in mid-June and yielded over twelve pounds of potatoes. The second 2×8 bed yielded 14 pounds of potatoes six weeks later.

I’ve put all of the potatoes to good use – mainly by eating my 25 cent breakfast each morning.

It’s Never Enough

No matter what I pull out of the garden, it seems that it is never enough. Or as a reader of mine wrote recently,

I’m still proud of what I got from the garden but I wish it had been more.

Isn’t that always the case? I have yet to see a year where I was satisfied with every aspect of gardening. I think it will always be a work in progress. And that’s okay – it seems that gardening closely resembles life – they are both works in progress.

Potatoes, potatoes, potatoes…

We harvested 14 pounds of potatoes on the 4th of July. It doesn’t look like we will be needing to buy potatoes anytime soon!

I’ve still been working through our 12 pound potato harvest from over a month ago. I think this harvest will last us well into fall. And any that have the temerity to sprout will be promptly relocated outside to start another round of potato growing!

I’m very proud of the fact that none of these potatoes were ‘seed potatoes’. Instead, we would get a small bag of red or Yukon Gold potatoes at Aldi’s, turn around twice, and have one or two that had sprouted on us. I grabbed a paper bag, shoved the sprouting potatoes inside it, and stuck it down in a dark room in the basement. This went on all winter. By late February, the shoots that were poking out of the bag were nearly two feet tall. Yikes!

Thanks to a ridiculously early spring, we planted everything in early March. We filled two 2×8 raised beds with the sprouted potatoes and covered them with dirt. Except for tossing some used coffee grounds on one of the beds to deter the dogs from lying on and smothering the plants, we did absolutely nothing else to the beds.

I hardly remembered to water them!

At the beginning of June, all of the plants in one of the 2×8 planters suddenly died back. It seemed rather early, but we went ahead and dug up the potatoes. Twelve pounds of them, in varying sizes from itty bitty to the size of my hand. And I’ve been eating them ever since!

On the 4th, I walked out the side door of the garage and noticed that the second 2×8 bed was looking rather…dead. Time to dig!

And despite their location (on the shady north side of the house) and nearly complete neglect, we pulled out over 14 pounds. Pretty darn good for maybe 30 minutes total of work (prepping and planting, spreading coffee grounds and watering once or twice, and then digging them all up).

This bunch down below were slightly injured (well, they were ‘forked’ by the pitchfork) during the harvesting. We ate these right away, thus ensuring there was no waste.

All of the washing of potatoes made me wish for an outdoor sink. One that drains directly into the garden. I hated washing all that perfectly good dirt and water into the sewer!

And this also pushes our grand total of produce to…251 pounds for the year. We won’t just be making our goal of 300 pounds of produce, we will be breaking it by leaps and bounds!

How awesome is that?!

Harvest Tally

I really wish the farmer’s market were open right now in Belton. I’d be there with an armload of yellow squash. I am absolutely dumbfounded by the amount of yellow summer squash we have harvested. Over 13 pounds so far and it shows no signs of stopping.

We stopped counting at 30 pounds of strawberries and let loose any and all visitors to pick what they wanted.

The cherry tree only produced three pounds of cherries. But those were some very yummy cherry cobblers I made!

To date we have gathered over 58 pounds of produce, and that’s not counting the eggs we get on a daily basis. Our girls are producing anywhere from 8-11 eggs per day. Which is very awesome and keeps me busy hardboiling and pickling them.

We harvested three pounds of beets and slow-roasted them in olive oil and rosemary. Once they were done, we pickled them with some onions sliced in rings. Mmmm…yum!

I had never enjoyed beets…until I made my own.

We took a jar of pickled beets to a friend’s house last Sunday and Dave noticed that no one was eating the pickled onions. He pulled them out and put them on his burger. Intrigued by the deep purple color I had to have a bite…and another…and another. Soooo good!

We brought the almost empty jar back home and used the purple beet pickling juice to pickle some hardboiled eggs. Take a look at these gorgeous creatures…

Mmmm…tasty too…

Just look at these potatoes we harvested on Thursday morning. Over twelve pounds of potatoes!

Over the winter I would intermittently buy red potatoes and some Yukon Gold potatoes from Aldi’s. I would turn around twice and the doggone things would be sprouting on me! I would take them down to a dark basement room and put them in a pile, hoping to slow the sprouting process somewhat. By the end of February I had some with shoots that were 18 inches high!

These potatoes were all planted in early March. Another bed full of potatoes is going strong and shows no signs of stopping, but these plants died back last week for no apparent reason. When the plant dies, I harvest. Some were fair sized, a few were large, and many of them were this size…

Emily thought they were terribly cute!

We cleared out the bed, along with two others and planted 60 slips of sweet potatoes last night. Twenty each of Henry, Beauregard, and Purple Japanese. Bring on the sweet potatoes!

And now I’m off to a cleaning and a garage sale in Lenexa. If you are in the area, stop by 9032 Dice Lane and purchase a Lemon Thyme crisp and a glass of mint tea while perusing the garage sale.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Git Yer Sweet Tators A-Growin’!

I’ll be busy teaching a class tonight, but this came through an update posted by Steve Mann on Facebook’s Food Not Lawns Kansas City site. The Kansas City Sweet Potato Project will have sweet potato slips available for pick-up at Reconciliation Services at 3101 Troost Ave, Kansas City, MO 64109 from 6-8 pm.

I’m sending the hubby and child to pick up at least 20 slips, maybe 40, maybe 60. My attempt to sprout the sweet potatoes was an unmitigated failure…probably due to my inattentiveness. I should have been changing the water regularly – instead of letting it sit and fester.

Chalk it up to too many irons in the fire.

I’ve made room in at least one raised bed for the sweet potato slips…and harvested over 12 pounds of red and Yukon Gold potatoes while I was at it.

Git yer sweet potatoes today!

 

Making My Own Sweet Potato Slips

I forgot entirely about sweet potatoes when planning my garden. But we love sweet potatoes, I have a simple recipe for them that is rather addictive, and I fix it at least once a month.

Sweet Potato Bites

  • 2 sweet potatoes, medium-size
  • 1 packet onion soup mix
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil

Peel and chop the sweet potato into bite size pieces. Toss in a bowl with the oil and soup mix and then lay out on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 425 degrees Farenheit for approximately 25 minutes, or until well browned.

Mmmm…they are a tasty snack.

Anyway, realizing I had forgotten all about sweet potatoes I went to eBay to see how much sweet potato slips were going for. $17 for 25 slips? Yikes!

Keep in mind my budget for this year’s garden was $100 – which has been well and spent months ago.

And the thought occurred to me, How do you start sweet potato slips?

I love the internet.

I love Google.

Here is what I found on the DIY network. Easy and straightforward! I thought to myself.

So I gathered some materials and got to work…

I knew keeping those cast off pickle jars and peanut butter containers would come in handy for something!

Here they sit on the baker’s rack in the kitchen. Grow, babies, grow!

and

Even an empty black pepper container is put to use. Which reminds me, has anyone got any empty spice containers (metal only) that they don’t need? I’ve got more thyme to plant…

This and That

Greeting to New Readers

My recent article on Keeping Chickens in a Backyard Flock at Survival Blog has brought a spike in readership. A big hello and welcome to all of you. Stick around – I discuss a lot of DIY, self-reliance and urban homesteading concepts here.

Nice Email from Reader

A recent email from a reader brightened my day and left me with some challenging questions…

First off I’d like to say a big huge thank you to you for your blog and information, you have made a world of difference to my anxiety…I am the the brownest thumb I have ever come across, I honestly believe I could kill a fake plant, I talk to them, water them, love them and still they die. I can even kill bamboo, and that takes talent… Jayson came home a couple of weeks ago and told me he had purchased me some heirloom seeds, basil, cilantro, and two types of tomatoes and mint. I told him I was excited and was looking forward to trying it out. However I am scared to death. My first thought what if he has spent this money and they all die? Then he came across your blog and your information, he shared the link with me and let me tell you I have learned more from your information then anything else I have researched, your a real woman who is pioneering this and your experiences are real, I have very much enjoyed your weekly blog.

However I do want to ask, I live in Washington State, all it does here is rain and in the summer we have maybe a couple of days a year that is over 90 degrees, do you have any pointers for me as a first timer for my planting? I have my seed starters ready to go and hopefull will begin that process next week. I have made my diagrams per your suggestion, but I am nervous and wondering if you yourself might have any suggestions on something that I might obviously do wrong.

 

Now I’m guessing that Chantelle lives in or around Seattle, which is known for its rainy weather. I gave her some basic tips, but would love to hear from readers in the area who might be able to give her specifics on the tomatoes and basil – which are warm weather crops. Has anyone had any luck with growing tomatoes in Seattle?

I was suggesting possibly growing them indoors under lights…but…

Feel free to comment below, use the Contact Me form, or post on the Forum.

A Chocolate Ale Adventure

Here in Kansas City we have a great local brewery – Boulevard Brewing Company – which teamed up for the second year with Christopher Elbow, a well-known chocolatier to make Chocolate Ale.

Despite making more than triple the amount that they produced last year, this year’s chocolate ale was sold out within hours of its landing on supermarket and liquor store shelves.

I experienced this firsthand when my husband Dave called our local HyVee at noon on February 1st. “All sold out” was the line we heard again and again. We called Berbiglia, Metcalf Discount Liquor, Lukas Liquors, and finally I got the bright idea of calling the Raymore Price Chopper. The farther out from the city, the better your chances, it seems.

“Yes, we have it,” they told us and we literally ran to the van and drove straight there. I’m not a big fan of beer, but Dave is, and I figured with me along for the ride, we could get two bottles. After all, they were doling them out at a limit of one per customer, so…I’m a customer too, right?

We literally bought two of the last four bottles in the store. As a clerk rang Dave up she said, “I’ll be glad when these are gone. What a circus!”

I walked up behind Dave, coolly ignoring him and our daughter standing there and said, “Why that is the chocolate ale I’ve been looking for!” and with that scored a second bottle. I’m considering it his Valentine’s Day gift.

He’s going to need it…I’ve planned out our pre-Valentine’s Day date (V-day is on a Wednesday and an inopportune time for obtaining a babysitter for the kiddo) for this Saturday. It includes a massage for me, dinner for two at Aixois, and a sappy movie. After all of that, my man is going to need his Chocolate Ale!

Living in the Future

Check out this site Living in the Future – these self-styled eco-village pioneers are going back to the land, back to basics, and creating a sustainable present and future for themselves. Due to time constraints I’ve only made it through a handful of their videos but I’ve been quite impressed by them.

What I’m Reading

I’m currently reading Joel Salatin’s latest, Folks, This Ain’t Normal: A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World and enjoying it. I also just finished Novella Carpenter’s book Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer. Both of these books are excellent. I hope to discuss Novella’s book in a later post in more detail. Meanwhile, dig ‘em up at your local library or buy them for your own home library. They are well worth the investment.

and

Sprout-Rific!

So a while ago, I posted about sprouts. Specifically, my husband’s love for them. And considering that corn and broccoli are the only vegetables he is willing to consume on a regular basis, I welcome this opportunity to get more fresh veggies into him.

Now apparently there are micro-greens and there are sprouts. According to The Mulch,

Microgreens are tiny leafed vegetables that are grown from seed and require very little space. Microgreens are not sprouts or simply young vegetables but grown from plant seeds such as beets, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, kohlrabi, mustards, or radishes, then harvested when less than two inches tall.

This confused me a bit. I had no idea that sprouts were different from microgreens, however, this article from the Christian Science Monitor explained it a little better for me.

Call them sprouts, call them microgreens, whatever, I’m on it. For convenience sake (remember, I’m a lazy gardener) I decided I would focus on sprouts, since I wouldn’t have to mess with soil AND they would be ready sooner.

I quickly realized that my seed sprouter from Thompson & Morgan was waaaayyy too small. So was every other sprouter I could find, even a four-tier I found on Amazon…

Dave loves his sprouts. And while he has been tolerating tiny little amounts of them on his daily sandwiches, he prefers a nice large clump, around 2 ounces, on his sandwiches. I’d be lucky if the two-tray seed sprouter produced two ounces in one week, forget daily (and twice on Mondays and Wednesdays when he is in class at night – that’s a double-sandwich day) Basically, I need to produce 14 ounces of sprouts per week

The answer came in the form of my friend Dotty (small surprise there, the woman is a wealth of information and really needs to be writing her own blog – hint, hint)). She said, “I just use mason jars to grow my sprouts.”

Now I have plenty of mason jars, folks. Oh my oh my, do I ever! Even better, I accidentally bought some wide-mouth mason jars and never did find more replacement lids for them. So they have just been sitting there, unused. The wide mouths are much easier to reach inside than are the small-mouthed ones.

I pulled out three and got the seeds to soaking, then drained the excess water off and set the jars on their sides. I rounded up more jars out of the recycle bin in our garage and put them to work as well. Now my Chicken Tikka Masala jars have a double use!

And I bought more seeds. I’ve still got some of the ‘rocket’ arugula left, but I needed a LOT MORE seeds! I hit eBay and bought one pound of alfalfa seeds and one pound of radish, both organic, for $32.55 (including shipping).

That might sound like a lot, but I was paying $3.00 for four ounces of half-rotted alfalfa sprouts from the grocery store. And if I had wanted the broccoflower sprouts, those would have been an extra dollar!

Instead, according to that article in the Christian Science Monitor…

“One pound of alfalfa seed, for example, produces 10, 14 pounds of fresh ‘mini-salad’ greens,”

I will now have enough seeds to produce 20-28 POUNDS of fresh sprouts. If I bought that much sprouts in the store I would be looking at anywhere from $240-$336…just for alfalfa sprouts.

Jeez, so an investment of $32.00 is about equivalent to 10 packages (40 ounces) worth of half-rotted alfalfa sprouts. And the result, 20-28 pounds of fresher-than-fresh sprouts…makes the decision to invest in seeds and grow my own quite clear!

Now it is simply a matter of figuring out timing and production levels. Stay tuned, I’m going to spend the next few weeks trying to figure out how many jars it takes to keep my man in sprouts!

For the Love of…Sprouts

My husband loves fresh sprouts on his sandwiches. I personally have found them rather repellant. Perhaps it is the ‘not as fresh as I would like’ smell that I get off of the alfalfa sprouts in the grocery store.

Emily, having had them once, has begged us to never put ‘grass’ on her sandwiches again.

Then there is the challenge of remembering to BUY the doggone things. Which I seem to have a mental block (probably due to the horrible ‘not so fresh smell’ and my own complete lack of interest in them) against buying. Dave rarely remembers to put things like that on the grocery list, and I never remember, so…

A few years ago I had actually bought a seed sprouter from Thompson & Morgan. Like many impulse buys it sat on my kitchen counter for months, then was relegated to under the kitchen sink for even longer than that.

I recently (maybe six months ago) looked at it and thought if I’m not going to use this I should just get rid of it. And the two packages of seeds that I had bought with it were sitting there gathering dust and looking…old.

In the store the other day, on one of the rare trips where I actually remembered to get his nasty old sprouts, I saw there were some brocco-sprouts next to the alfalfa. I had them in my hand and then saw the price…$4.99 for four ounces. WHAT?! I looked at the half stinky alfalfa sprouts, which were around $2 for four ounces and thought this is ridiculous, I’m hauling out that seed sprouter!

And so last week, that is just what I did. I had Dave choose from the seed packets. He chose ‘rocket’ which I think is a radish sprout. I followed the directions and this is how they looked on New Year’s Eve…

Not bad for a few days growth and the first time we have ever done this.

I had a taste of them and they are incredibly good. They have a nice bite to them. I’m actually looking forward to trying out some different sprouts and keeping plenty producing for Dave to regularly have fresh sprouts. What a change from those packaged half-rotten nightmares you get in the grocery store!

I think this little container (which only has two 5 inch square growing spaces) is rather limited in space. Anyone have any good ideas for a better sized sprouting container?