Saturday, January 30, 2010

Seeds I'm Growing This Year


I think there is a strong possibility that I might have gotten a little carried away with the seeds.  I counted the seed packets I have received so far:  it's 35.  Plus I am waiting on 3 backordered packets, plus seeds some of my twitter friends have sent, plus seeds I have leftover and/or saved from last year.  Several people have inquired to what seeds I ordered, so, may I present the evidence: (Sorry about the glare on the seed packets, I'm working with limited flash capability)

1. Pansy - Caramel Spice                                               2. Pansy - Bewitched
3. Nasturtium - Mahogany                                              4. Nasturtium - Peach Melba
5. Zinnia - California Giants                                            6.  Sunflower - Vanilla Ice
7. Spinach - Bloomsdale


8.  Bean - Speckled Cranberry                                      9.  Bean - Christmas Lima
10.  Bean - October


11.  Tomato - Blondkopfchen                                      12.  Tomato (kinda) - Tomatillo
13.  Tomato - Borghese                                                 14.  Tomato - Cream Sausage
15.  Tomato - Copia                                                      16.  Tomato - Nebraska Wedding
17.  Tomato - Mortgage Lifter (Halladay)


18.  Cucumber - True Lemon                                    19. Cucumber - West Indian Gherkin
20.  Popcorn - Two Inch Strawberry                         21. Cucumber - Japanese Climbing
22.  Squash - Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck            23. Squash - Spaghetti


24.  Celery - Mars Hybrid                                         25.  Onion - Yellow of Parma
26.  Onion - Long Red Florence                                27.  Kohlrabi - Korridor Hybrid
28.  Carrot - Dragon                                                 29.  Beet - Chioggia

30.  Kale - Lacinato                                                             31.  Eggplant - Rossa Bianca
32.  Sunberry                                                                       33.  Herb - Borage
34.  Lettuce -Forellenschuss

Like I said, I am waiting on 3 more packets, plus 3 kinds of seed potatoes.  So, the list continues...

35.  Bean - Tiger's Eye                                                        36.  Carrot - Paris Market
37.  Herb - Cumin

I realize this was a major investment, but I am hoping to buy a lot less starts this year.  Also, I will grow less of each kind of plant, since I have more varieties.  I will be able to save many seeds from the crop I get, and next year, I will need less, unless I change varieties a lot.  There is also the fact that I just can't help myself.  If I had the yard and the money, I'd probably buy everything I saw.  Do you let yourself get caught up in seed mania?  And is it really such a bad thing?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Making Butter

As you may or may not know, my latest food adventures have involved trying to turn milk into other things.  So far, I have about a 50% success rate.  My first attempt was cheese.  I managed to screw that up royally.  I misunderstood the directions and took way too much whey out.  Oh, did you catch that? Ha ha. Anywheys, oh, look there I go again...I'll stop now.  I get a little carried awhey with the cheese jokes.  OKAY, I WILL REALLY STOP.  So, I ended up with very hard, rubbery mozzarella that I probably could have bounced off my kitchen floor.  Needless to say, I was a little discouraged.

This last weekend I tried my hand at making butter.  This worked!  Even though I was a little worried for a while.  So, if you haven't ever made butter, this is how I did it.  I am by no means an expert, but here we go.

1.  Get some cream and chill it in the fridge.  I left mine in the fridge for a while, something I read said that older cream tended to churn better and have better flavor.  I got my cream from a local dairy that has 'happy cows' (free range, eat grass, not crammed in barn or standing in their own feces, no antibiotics unless sick, and no hormones). Also chill your mixing bowl in the fridge.  If everything is cold, this works much butter, I mean better. NOTE:  I started with the bowl that came with my mixer.  I used a half gallon of cream, which I thought would fit, but the cream expands so much at first, use a much bigger bowl than you have cream. You can see in these pics that the cream is about to overflow, so I switched to a bigger bowl.  


2.  Start whipping/beating the cream.  I used a mixer, but if you have a real churn, then go for it. The cream goes through several stages.  First it got really foamy, like runny whip cream (see above).  As I went, it got stiffer and stiffer, and started to make peaks, sort of like meringue.  All this was done on high, using the mixer. The cream finally got so thick that it started to clump a little.  It filled the bowl up quite a bit, and my arm was getting really tired.  Even with the big bowl, I was making quite a mess.  It might be wise to start with smaller amounts next time. I had a spatula with me, and pushing the cream back down into the center so I would be mixing it all at the same time.

3.  Finally, it happened.  All of sudden, the buttermilk fell out of the solution.  It rapidly separated into solid and liquid.  In the picture below, you can see the milk pooling amongst the butter. When it starts separating, turn the speed on the mixer down to low.  The whole whipping process took me about 30 min start to finish (longer if you count bowl switching time) .  Your time could vary depending on how you are churning and your cream. 

4.  Next it was time to drain off the buttermilk. I used a colander and drained the milk into a container.  This buttermilk can be saved to make biscuits or pancakes later on.  I used a spatula and shaped all the butter clumps into one large ball. 

5.  Next I washed and pressed the butter until no more milk would come out of it.  Milk left in the butter can ruin it. A good way to make sure the milk is out, is to rinse it with cold water while pressing it.  When the water stays clear, you know you have gotten it clean enough.  This is the time you could add salt or coloring.  I did add salt to mine.  Flake salt is a really good kind to use, because it is more easily absorbed.


6.  Now you are done!  I divided the ball I had into four equal portions.  I pressed it together into smaller balls and put them in containers.  I froze some of them to use later.  I tried out the butter on some fresh bread, with some honey.  It was delicious.  This kind of butter is called sweet cream.  There is another kind of butter called sour cream butter, which I have never made.  You could also add herbs to your butter to give it interesting flavors and to make it pretty. 

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Botanical Center: A Tropical Paradise in a Bitter Iowa Winter

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to go listen to a talk on using fruit trees in your landscaping.  It was given at the Des Moines Botanical Center.   The talk was incredibly crowded, and it was very interesting.  I was hoping they would talk more about smaller fruits mixed in with your flower beds and such, but I still learned a lot.  I am considering some dwarf fruit trees for the future.  After the talk, I took the opportunity to walk around the huge dome and side greenhouses, looking at the large variety of plants.  Above, one of the beautiful succulent arrangements created by the master gardeners. 

I love the wall of orchids in the Botanical Center. Right now, they are all white.  I have never seen so many orchid blooms anywhere.   I love the orchid's beauty and sensuality.  In some ways, they are like alien creatures.

This shot is currently my wallpaper on my laptop.  It is so beautiful and reminds me of someplace warm and tropical. 


At this time, Iowa was still locked in a deep freeze.  The temperatures had not come much above 0 for a few weeks.  To come inside here, take off your coat, and walk around breathing the warm, humid air, it was fantastic.  They have a stream and several waterfalls going through the dome.  Paths interweave between the water and plants and rockwalls.  It has a very 'Alice in Wonderland' feel to the layout.

This Christmas cactus just makes me feel inadequate.  Mine is just a pathetic nothing compared to this.  I wonder how old it is.  Are they giving it illegal cactus performance-enhancing drugs? 


I wished I had more time and I'd brought a book.  This just looks like the perfect place to plant yourself with a glass of tea and read for a few hours. I love the cut out table with the succulents in it.  I might have to steal that idea for my yeard this summer. 


My son's favorite part is the fish.  There are some really huge ones swimming around in here.  He will stand on the bridge and look down on them forever.  I am glad to know that I now have a membership to the botanical center.  I already had a membership to Reiman Gardens in Ames, Iowa.  They recently struck a deal with the American Horticultural Society to give us Reciprocal Admissions to over 200 other gardens and arboretums in the US.  Including the Botanical Center, and when I go to visit my friend Melissa in Chicago, I can get into Morton Arboretum for free.  That is really cool!

It was so wonderful to visit the Botanical Center.  It is like a tropical paradise, an escape from  the cold, nasty, Iowa winter.  It was so easy to forget about what was outside (except for the ice sliding off the roof of the dome in the sunshine).  I definitely should make more time to visit here.  Do you have any local winter escapes? 

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

An Ice Storm in Iowa

This has been a rough winter where we live in Iowa.  So far it has been mostly snow and wind, but today we got ice.  We got somewhere between .25 and .50 of an inch of ice today.  Of course school was canceled again.  This makes 5 snow days so far.  At this rate, I'm still going to be in school at the 4th of July!


This shot is out the back window.  You can see the ice hanging off the grill.  I know, we should put a cover on it, bad me. The grass is almost laying on the ground.


This picture is looking up the hill from our driveway.  We are on the dead end, so this is the only way out.
The drive is a pretty good pitch, and it is solid ice, so it ought to be interesting trying to get up the hill in the morning. Notice all the broken limbs and branches on the street.


One of my fiance's cars had to sit outside last night.  You can see it is coated in ice.  Hopefully it will melt before he has to get in there.  Hacking a car out of ice like this can take up to an hour.

Check out the branches hanging down at the top of this picture.  You can see quite a lot of thick ice on them.


Not sure if you can see the ice hanging on the power line/cable line up there. We have had the power going on and off all day.  The power was off for an hour at dinner time. We had to eat our beef stew by candlelight. I was very concerned about all the pets. Most of them need heat lamps or water heaters.  No electricity means I may be moving tanks in by the kerosene heater, trying to keep little crustaceans alive.


This day has been kind of a mess.  Hopefully the power will stay on through the night.  Ice storms seem to be common here in Iowa, what about where you live?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Funny Things You Find When You're a Mom

I found this little guy when I was vacuuming tonight.  I thought it was kind of funny.  He looks like a little backpacker/mountain climber standing on top of a tin on my plant stand.  My son must have left him there when he was playing. Cute.

Friday, January 15, 2010

GardenMom Deals Out the Honest Scrap

Yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised to see that my friend cityslipper from Your Small Kitchen Garden had nominated me for the Honest Scrap Award.  I respect him very much, and I know he sees a lot of blogs, so that he would pick me to be one of his nominees means a lot.  I am also honored to be among the ranks of the other fantastic bloggers he mentioned.

Recipients of the Honest Scrap award are supposed to reveal ten truths about themselves, and then extend the award to seven other bloggers.  This was somewhat dificult for me, because I tend to use my blog as a online journal of sorts. On the other hand, I am usually talking about gardening, cooking, or my son, so this is a great opportunity to bring out some more random things that you may not know about me.

Here goes nothing...

1. I used to be quite the tarot card reader.  I own several decks, and when I was younger, would go around reading people's fortunes at parties, and even work.  I got really good at it, and while I felt I was just using good intuition and common sense, people were quite surprised at my 'accuracy'.  I still have a somewhat superstitious regard for the tarot, which is why I hold onto the cards.

2.  I have several tattoos and piercings. I was always a 'good' girl.  I'm not sure why I decided to express myself with body modification, but maybe it was a way to be 'bad' without actually getting in trouble.  I have 3 pairs of ear piercings in my lobes, and two piercings in the cartilage. My naval and my nose are pierced.  I have two tattoos on my back, and one on my ankle.  I am 100% positive that I am not done.  I'm already planning a tattoo for my foot and my ankle.  It will be garden-related. My father is so proud.... (probably not)

3.  I have an unhealthy obsession with high-heeled shoes.  I used to own many, many pairs. Everyone that knows me jokes that I don't own flat shoes. My fiance thinks I even garden in heels (a two-inch stacked wedge sandal is NOT a high heel).  I tell people that I have to wear those shoes because my feet are shaped like a barbie doll's. I have paired down my shoe collection in the last year or so.  However, shoe shopping remains high on my list of nongarden related pastimes.

4.  Prior to 2003, I was a plant murderer; I couldn't even keep cacti alive.

5.  I HATE being cold.  I HATE it.  I live in Iowa, so I must be some kind of masicist.  When I think about being cold, I use the word HATE.  HATE HATE HATE HATE. Any questions?

6.  My absolute favorite food in the world that is not a real food is the Triple Chocolate Utopia from Dairy Queen.  I will drive far out of my way to find one that still carries it.  It is the perfect combination of ice cream and perfect chocolate goodness. There is no hormonal imbalance that this thing won't cure.  I guarantee.

7. I am somewhat addicted to Star Trek Voyager.  Don't always care for any of the other ones.  However, I can watch Voyager for hours on end.

8.  I married for the first time at 20.  We moved from Missouri, where we grew up, to Illinois, where I went to school.  I lived in the dorm and 2 different apartments before I graduated and got my first teaching job in Des Moines, Iowa.  After a year working in Des Moines, we bought a house and had a baby.  Unfortunately after that, we separated and divorced when my son was 1 year old.   I started dating my current fiance while living in an apartment with my son.  We realized we were made for each other (we are both nutty, just in different ways) and moved into a house together, blending our families. Now, two rentals later, we are finally buying a house and hope to get married sometime in the future.  No, I don't have a date.  We will figure that out later.  After getting married young and fast the first time, I am in no hurry now.

Okay, this is getting hard...

9. I managed a McDonalds for 4 years in college.  It wasn't my dream job, but when I went to college I needed money.  They would work around my college classes and I could walk to it from my dorm.  Showing once again that all being responsible gets you is more responsibility, they promoted me to a manager.  Again, not my dream job, but I was good at it. My crew respected me, and my boss knew the restaurant would be clean, and the work would get done.  Too this day, I could step behind the counter at a McDonalds and probably be back in the swing in very short time.  That was before my eating and consumer values changed, I didn't know or care where my meat came from back then.  It is quite a different perspective now.

10. I have been teaching for 10 years.  I teach blind and visually impaired children of all ages. That means that I teach my students things like reading braille, using talking computer software, how to use magnifying equipment (depending on their vision), daily living skills, social skills, and many other blindness techniques.  I got into this field because I did a Lion's Club Kids Kamp for Blind and VI for 5 years when I was a teenager.  I love my job and I am very involved with my students' school lives. I can follow a student from grade to grade, or from school to school.  I have one 7th grade girl that I have been working with since she was 4 years old.  Most of my students are in a regular classroom.  I go daily or several times a week and pull them out to give direct instruction in necessary skills.  As a result, I drive to several buildings every day.  I love the field I'm in, but will probably round out my skills with a master's degree in learning disabilities and/or behavior disorders in a few years.  This degree would compliment the training I already have. 

The following are the seven people I am passing the Honest Scrap Nomination onto.   They are people whose blogs I always enjoying reading.  I don't always have time to check all the blogs I love every day, but these are ones I try to stay up to date on.  I know that you will love them too if you give them a visit. 

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Resolutions: 2010

I hadn't given much thought to the idea of resolutions this year, but it seems that is all anybody talks about at this time after the holidays.  I reflected for a bit, and this is what I came up with:

1.  Make more of our own food.  Anybody who knows me knows that this is a MAJOR priority in my life. At this point, I have almost $100 worth of seeds sitting in my cart at Seed Savers Exchange.  I am reading books like "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver (for the 4th time) , and "The Backyard Homestead" by Carleen Madigan (for the 2nd time).  I am at this moment haunting my mailbox, waiting for rennet to come in the mail so I can make mozzerella. I feel like I made such great changes in our eating habits in 2009.  We switched over to almost all free-range and local meat.  I found a local egg source, which I plan to use exclusively once we move. I found a local dairy that sells product in some area stores.  I bought a breadmaker and haven't bought store bread since June. I grew a huge garden and canned. froze, and dried a great deal of food.

In 2010, I want to take it even further.  I am going to make trips to the dairy and purchase cream and milk to make my own cheese, yogurt, and butter.  I am expanding my garden to include several more vegetables that we eat frequently.  I plan to find more sources for local flour and pasta. I am researching options for adding fruit to my garden as well, so I can produce all my own jam ingredients.  If I can't make it myself, I want to find a local source for it. I'm hoping that I can double my production this year.

2.  Continue to Lose Weight/Improve My Health.   Last summer I acknowledged that I had gained some weight from stress and overeating  in 2008.  I cut back my eating, spent a LOT of time outside in the garden, and walked all the time.  I lost about 10 lbs from July to September.  I pledged to not gain the weight back over the winter.  I have a serious problem with getting lazy once it gets cold.  My exercising stops dead in its tracks with the first frost.  This year was no different, so I have not lost anymore weight.  However, I have managed to curb my eating back some from previous years, so I have only gained 2 lbs since September.  If I can keep the weight off until spring, I know I can lose another 10 lbs this next summer.  Of course, this would put me back into the healthy weight range for my height (and back into almost all the clothes in my closet).

My major emphasis is on eating more fresh things during the months that fresh things are growing, and trying to eat things I have made that are more healthful during these colder months.  Granted, I did have my share of Christmas cookies this year, but I don't think I did too bad.  Things I make, that have less fat and high fructose corn syrup have to be better than the processed stuff.  Also, I just seem to eat less these days, which definitely helps.

3.  Move into a new house and start a garden that is going to stay in one place for a while.  Since I've been a gardener, I've had to move my entire garden TWICE.  This is rather frustrating.  So in 2010, I resolve to design and plan a garden that can prosper and grow long term. Plus, after moving, I resolve to unpack everything right away, and not live in a world of boxes for months.


4.  Do more cooking and gardening with my son.  And be nicer while we do it. Sometimes, I think God giving me my son was both a blessing and his idea of a funny joke at the same time.  I say this because I am somewhat of a control freak and a perfectionist. My son is stubborn, strong-willed, and very ADHD. Let's just say we clash sometimes.  We both get frustrated. So one of my resolutions is to continue spending lots of time with my son, but to try to be more flexible and see things his way sometimes. Even if it means whispering, "It's okay, even if it's not the way I'd do it..." over and over again. He is totally and absolutely worth it.

5.  Start and MAINTAIN a garden journal.  Every year my fiance laughs at me because I say, I need to start writing this stuff down.  He says, "Didn't you say that last year?"  Well, this year is the year it's gonna happen. I've already started one today.  I'm also going to track my garden-related spending.  That ought to be interesting. I am really excited to see a whole year of records of my garden. I want to be able to look back and see when I started something the year before, how well it did, how much fruit I got from it, how long it bloomed...Right now, it's all in my memory, which, truthfully, ain't what it used to be.

So, that is it.  I personally think 5 resolutions is a bit ambitious, but they are all things I will be working on.  I hope to report back every few months on my progress.  I hope that will make me more accountable to my goals. What are you changing in 2010, what are you doing to change for the better? I'd love to hear about it.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Ordering Seeds: How Much is Too Much?

I get excited looking at the seed catalogs.  Maybe excited is the wrong word.  How about giddy?  No, that's not right either.  I know...I get REALLY FREAKIN NUTS.  People that don't garden don't quite understand this feeling I have towards seeds.  They look at me with bewildered or condescending expressions and wonder if I am on drugs. Perhaps she has been snorting compost again...maybe she has been licking the new frogs? Anyways, ordering seeds gets me excited for several reasons.

1.  The possibilities.  When I look through the catalogs, I am filled with wonder thinking of all the things I could grow. Names like Christmas lima beans, Rosa Bianca eggplants, and lacinato kale sound like so much fun to grow!  I imagine planting nearly every variety and watching them fruit and mature.  Nothing seems to farfetched or impossible (until I am actually trying to grow it).

2.  I want to grow everything myself.  My ultimate dream is to grow all my food on my own land.  Since I probably won't ever own a farm, that most likely won't happen. But that doesn't stop me from growing as many different kinds of food as possible. Some of it is being a perfectionist, or wanting to be a master of all things.  All I know is the list of things I grow and eat gets longer every year.

3.  The stories.  When you order heirloom seeds, they often have a history, or a story.  People have saved them in their families for generations, carefully preserving them and protecting them from mixing with other varieties.  Heirlooms can be decades to hundreds of years old.  It feels really neat to grow something that people were growing two hundred years ago, in almost exactly the same way.  It is a way of connecting to the past.

4.  Expanding my gardening abilities.  I have only been gardening for about 5 years.  Everytime I look at the seed catalogs, I am excited about learning to grow so many new things.  Sometimes I bite off more than I chew.  I also tend to buy first, worry about what I'm going to do with it later.  I love growing something that most people just buy in the store.  It also connects me to the past in a way.   

Here is what I'm planning on ordering this year:

  1.  October
  2.  Tiger's Eye
  3.  Speckled Cranberry
  4.  Christmas Lima

  5.  Chiogga Beets
  6.  Paris Market Carrots
  7.  Dragon Carrots
  8.  Strawberry Popcorn

  9.  Japenese Climbing
10.  True Lemon
11.  West Indian Gherkin

12.  Farellenschuss Lettuce
13.  Lacinato Kale

14.  Yellow of Parma
15.  Long Red Florence

16.  Pennsylvania Dutch Crookneck
17.  Tomatillo Green

18.  Blondkopfchen
19.  Nebraska Wedding
20.  Mortgage Lifter

21.  Sunberrys
22.  Borage
23.  Cumin

24.  All Blue
25.  La Ratte
26.  Yukon Gold

27.  Kohlrabi
28.  Mars Celery
29.  Copia (a tomato)
30.  Spaghetti Squash

And I'm sure there are more that I will end up buying here or there, but these are the ones I am ordering from Seed Savers Exchange and from High Mowing.  Do you get a little crazy at seed time?  What are you ordering this year?

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