My Best Garden Ever

My best garden ever is planned in January.

Sitting by the wood stove, cat in my lap, dog at my feet, thumbing through seed catalogs  planning and dreaming of juicy tomatoes, fresh herbs, and tall stalks of corn.  In this garden in my head, I have no bugs, no disease, no shortage of sun and rain, and plenty of time to take care of it all.  Hey, dreamers gotta dream.

sheldon

I’m sure he’s dreaming of catnip

But, for those of us that have gardened for a long time, you know all these factors never happen at the same time.  New gardener’s go into gardening with high expectations of growing enough food to feed not only their family but the whole neighborhood as well.  And, although I applaud these efforts and ambitions, it’s just not realistic and just might defeat your gardening spirit altogether.  I don’t want that.

So, if  you are new to gardening, or have decided to try gardening again, take time now to really think about what you want from the garden.  How much space do you have?  If not much, can you can grow tomatoes, peppers, herbs, or flowers in pots on your patio?  Are you wanting to devote part of your yard for a garden or flower bed?  Do you want just veggies or just flowers?  How will you break the ground?  Is the soil good or will you need to bring in some topsoil?  How much sun reaches your garden area?  All veggies need about 6 hours of sun a day.  Do you have a water source nearby?  Drought conditions can halt garden production very quickly.  And most important–how much time do you have to devote to gardening?

Although this is a lot to think about at once, tackling one issue at a time should make life a little easier.  Let’s start with time.

When I started gardening years ago, my boys were still young.  Time spent in a garden was not there.  I think I had one small flower bed that had a couple of tomato plants thrown in.  That was it and that was enough.  As they got older and began to drive, they stopped asking me to take them places and left me at home.   Kicked me out of the loop.  They were too cool to hang out with mom.  They didn’t need me anymore.  You see where this is going.  So, to keep myself from crying because they abandoned me, and worrying about their well-being constantly, my pity party turned into a garden.

swallowtail, butterfly bush

I now had a little more time to spend in the garden and  I have to admit it was very therapeutic.

The flower bed grew a little bigger.  I needed to do raised beds because we have about one inch of topsoil before hitting rock.  I wanted to use native stone for a border so that meant time looking for the “right” rocks.

Backyard Garden

I prepared the site, planted the site, mulched the site, and weeded the site.  Time, time, time, and time. Fortunately, all of this work does not have to be done at the same time.

purple coneflower echinacea purpura   While it’s easy to plan an elaborate garden in the middle of winter, try to fast forward to spring and summer and think of all the activities your family participates in.   My plan is not to discourage you from gardening, just to realize that it can be time consuming depending on what you want to achieve. It can be done, it has been done.  It just takes some planning.   I want you to succeed!

Just a little something to think about if you have some time on your hands.

Your friend in the garden,

Brenda

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Family, Farm life, Flowers, Garden, Home, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Winter and Bees

In the winter, bees cluster together in the hive, at their food source, to keep warm.  The cluster is very tight and their food supply is hopefully enough left by the beekeeper to last them through the winter.   Therefore, only essential bees get to stay for winter.

bee

When times are good, everyone gets to stay

Drone bees (males) are only needed for mating with a virgin queen in the spring.  They do no work in the hive or outside the hive and have to be fed and groomed constantly.  They are tolerated in the hive until nectar supplies run out in late fall.

Worker bees know who is essential inside the hive and who is not.  Unfortunately, for the drones, they are labeled nonessential and kicked out of the hive.

bees

Guard bees stay at the entrance to make sure they don’t get back in the hive.  Without someone to feed them, these drones eventually die.  The bees that are left, snuggle up and prepare for cold weather.

bees

Closed until Spring

Where I live, we usually have a few warm days thrown in with the cold ones.  On warm days, the bees loosen the cluster and fly out of the hive for some fresh air.  Bees are so picky about their home, they will not go to the bathroom in the hive.  These warm days allow the bees to take a much-needed potty break.

Warmer days also allow the bees to do some housekeeping.  Older bees die throughout the winter so on these warm days, the housekeeper bees remove the dead and tidy up the place.

bee

bees

these dead bees are right below the entrance

Warmer days also allow them to re-cluster around a new supply of food.  Even though the hive may be full of honey, if the cluster runs out of food and the weather is still very cold, they will not break the cluster to move to a honey source maybe an inch from them.  Many hives are lost due to starvation this time of year.

I worry about how much honey they do have left.  I really didn’t know how much they had going into winter.  The hives still feel heavy, but I will probably leave out some sugar-water for them today as we have several days of sunny, 50 degree temps forecasted.  That way, if they need it, it’s there.

bees

rocks in the sugar-water keep the bees from drowning

The little, brown glob to the left of the feeder is my dads contribution of bee food.  It’s some peanut brittle he tried to make but it never set up so he stuck it in the freezer and then broke it into pieces.  He NEVER wastes anything and he thinks the bees will love it.  They won’t touch the peanuts, of course, but the chickens will take care of that.  So far, I’ve not seen any activity on either one.

A favorite, important, and often overlooked flower for the bee is the dandelion.  A weed to most people, this flower provides critical late winter food for bees.  I saw some in the yard today, but they were too far away from the bee hive.

dandelion

Bee don’t venture out very far when it’s cold.

bees

If you are an anti-dandelion person, please think about the severe decline of the bee population before killing every “weed” in your yard.  I understand you probably paid a lot of money for sod, but pesticides and herbicides are the biggest killer of bees and other pollinators like butterflies.  So much of our food supply depends on the little bee for pollination, the least we can do is leave them a dandelion or two not drenched in chemicals.

bee

Have a great weekend,

Brenda

This blog post is linked with the Chicken-Chicks Blog Hop

 

 

Posted in Bees, Farm life, Garden | Tagged , , , , , , | 13 Comments

A Good Time To Look Back

My preparations for New Years Eve included a trip to the library for books, rushing home to  put on my flannel pj’s, and crawling into bed at 7:30.  As I checked my emails, I noticed that WordPress had sent me a summary of my top posts for 2014.

I found it interesting that  the most views on my blog this year was the page on raising and processing your own meat chickens.  (Click here for this page)  Since this was my first year to do this, the learning curve was high.  Lots of ups and downs and ins and outs, but in the end, I had fresh pasture raised chickens in my freezer for winter.

chicken in the freezer

Another frequently viewed post was From Wild Plums to Jelly which was basically a how to guide to make jelly from start to finish.

wild plum jelly canning

Growing garlic was also a top contender for most read post of 2014.  Garlic has by far been the easiest vegetable I have grown and I am still using it from my summer harvest.

elephant garlic

This summary got me thinking that maybe people are beginning to think more about where their food comes from and how to be more active in growing their own food.

elephant garlic

Making jelly from wild fruits is not that hard, you just have to be willing to learn how and devote some time for the process.   Growing your favorite veggie can be done with a little knowledge and time.  Raising and processing meat chickens was a big step for me, but I achieved it and take great pride in saying I know how to do this from start to finish.

chickens 5 weeks old tractor

For 2015, my goal is to expand on and share what I have learned from years of garden and kitchen experience.  I never want to stop learning and I want to be willing to try new ideas.

Here’s wishing you a Happy New Year and best of luck for your 2015 garden adventures!

Brenda

 

 

Posted in canning, Chickens, Farm life, Garden, Garlic | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

I wanted to compile a list of things (or gadgets or do-dads) that have made my life a little easier over the years and maybe give you some ideas for last-minute shopping.  One would think, since I garden so much, that many of these would be related to  this subject.  Instead, I have found that most of my favorites refer to cooking.

First of all, I love my garlic press.

kitchen garlic press

It’s a very simple tool that minces a clove or two of garlic (depending on the size of the clove) and leaves the skin behind in the press.  Insert, press, scrape, done.  I love easy.

This measuring cup is different from the pourable ones. kitchen measuring cupIt works best for solid to semi-solid ingredients like shortening or applesauce.  Simply push the yellow tube down to the desired measurement, add your ingredient and while holding it over the bowl, push the yellow tube until it stops.  Scrape the top and move on.  No more licking scraping the sides of the measuring cup to get every last bit.

kitchen measuring cup

My cast iron skillet is a must for cooking.  I most often use it in the oven for cornbread, but I’ve also used it for chicken pot pies and apple pies.  For the stove top, it’s a must have for bacon, fried squash, and okra.  It takes some special care for clean up, (no soap) but not enough to deter me from using it every week.

This is called a mandoline.

mandoline

It’s great for slicing onions, cucumbers and even lettuce. Mine has 3 widths and the smallest is super thin.

mandoline

paper-thin is the smallest width

mandoline

widest width

It comes with a do-dad for holding the veggies (not shown because I couldn’t find it) so you won’t slice your fingers which my daughter-in-law knows about first hand (or finger)and several stitches later.

Flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegars can add a twist to your cooking.

oil and vinegars My Thanksgiving turkeys were coated with a Chardonnay Garlic oil before roasting.  I’ve recently tried (and loved!)Tuscan Herb olive oil on my roasted chickens.   Flavored oils can also be used in place of vegetable oils in your favorite recipes.  Try mixing some dried herbs with these oils for bread dipping and you won’t be disappointed, I promise.

oil and vinegars

This one was mixed with strawberry balsamic vinegar for a yummy salad dressing.

My compost crock is pretty enough to keep on the counter and hold all your scraps for the compost pile.

compost crockThe lid is lined with a charcoal filter to eliminate any smells. Special liners made from cornstarch are available and will dissolve in your compost pile along with your scraps.

Now on to gardening favorites.

For any gardener, gloves always come in handy. I usually go through 3-4 pair a season.  I like a good fitting glove (size medium–hint. hint.) and prefer the ones with the leather fingertips as these areas always get holes and get my fingernails dirty.

Another tool I can never have too many of is pruners.  I usually keep mine in my back pocket while working, but occasionally I lay them down and lose track of them.   Most handles of pruners are green or brown-same as grass or dirt which is one of the reasons they are so hard to find if they are put down.  Here’s a  little trick I have learned over the years that has helped with this.   I wrap my handles with hot pink duct tape.  This way if they are put down in the dirt, I see them instantly.  Nevertheless, it’s always nice to have backup pruners just in case.

And last but not least, the tub of all tubs.  The King of Tubs in my world.

garden trug tubIf you want a tub that can hold leaves, feed, tools, or baby chicks, this tubs for you. I’ve washed many a flower pot in these tubs as well a puppy or two.  It can even do this

garden trug tubfor easy one-handed carrying.

This particular tub is called a Trug Tub and was purchased from Gardener’s Supply.  It’s made from a very durable plastic and comes in three different sizes and a variety of colors.  I’m pretty sure this is the largest size and I love them so much I have three.  Red, blue and pink of course.

There you have it.  Just a few of my favorite things.

What are some of your favorite things?

 

 

Posted in Christmas, compost, Cooking, Garden, Garlic | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Vanilla Extract Update and Hot Chocolate Mix

An update on the vanilla extract project.  Last month, I added 20 vanilla beans to a 750 ml bottle of plain vodka.

vanilla extract

After doing the math, and adding more people to the gift giving list,  I went back to the liquor store to buy more vodka and discovered vanilla vodka!  So, to this bottle, I added 10 vanilla beans, (because I didn’t think I would need as much) shook it well, and placed it in a cool, dark place.

Once a week, I shake each bottle (because the beans sink to the bottom),

vanilla extract

open them up and take a swig sniff and check on their progress.

Almost one month later, the vodkas have taken on a pretty amber color.

vanilla extract

vanilla vodka on the left, regular on the right

I could probably drink use it now, but I will practice my patience skills and leave it alone for a few more weeks.  As a diversion, I will concentrate on finding pretty containers for packaging.

I found these bottles and labels at Hobby Lobby.

vanilla extract vanilla extract chalkboard label vanilla extract lable pen vanilla extract label and pen

I waited until they were 50% off and loaded up.  I used 13 bottles for gifts and still had some vanilla leftover for me.

Another gift that is super easy to make is homemade Hot Chocolate Mix.  This has been a long time favorite in our family.  I remember my mom making this for us years ago and, even though I’ve tweaked the recipe over the years, it’s still a winter time staple in my house.

To begin, you will need a very large bowl.  To this bowl,  add 3 cups confectioners sugar (I sift mine through a fine mesh strainer but you don’t have to do this)

hot chocolate mix

3 cups non-fat dry milk and 1 cup coffee creamer (I used French vanilla)

hot chocolate mix

Add 2 cups miniature marshmallows (optional)

hot chocolate mix

and 1 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder (once again, I sifted mine but you don’t have to)

hot chocolate mix

At this point, the mix is done.

hot chocolate mix

However, if you so desire, you may add any extras you want.  Mini chocolate chips are a good choice for an extra jolt of chocolate.  Do be forewarned that chocolate chips don’t totally dissolve when hot water is added.  Instead, it forms a fudgy sludge layer in the bottom of the cup.  Problem?  I think not.

Mix well.  Use 1/4 cup of mix per 6-8 oz. of hot water.  Makes about 8 cups of mix and needs to be stored in an air-tight container.

hot chocolate

my 30 year-old Tupperware container still does the trick

For gifts, a 2 cup container is a good size for this, but you can use anything as long as it’s an air-tight container.  I like to use mason jars because I always have these on hand, and they can be painted or wrapped in a variety of ways. Be sure and label your creation with directions (I’m loving the chalkboard labels) or make your own with stencils or scrapbook paper.  You might even save room inside the jar for extra marshmallows or chocolate chips. Oh, and don’t forget the scoop!

Enjoy!

Brenda

 

 

 

Posted in Christmas, Cooking, Garden, recipes | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Bread in a Jar

Let’s face it.  As much as I love cooking and eating around the holidays, it can become mighty overwhelming when there is food everywhere you look.  What if there were a way to make treats you could eat up to a year later?

There is!  Bread in a jar is the perfect way to enjoy your favorite quick bread after the food rush of the holidays.

First, you will need a good quick bread recipe.  I wanted to try this Pumpkin Gingerbread because it called for spelt flour and I just happen to have spelt flour I didn’t know what to do with.  (For more about spelt flour, check out this info.)  If you don’t have any spelt flour hanging around, I believe you can substitute all-purpose flour or wheat flour.  Just in case, you might want to use a different, more familiar recipe.

Pumpkin Gingerbread

Ingredients
3 cups sugar
½ cup canola oil
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
4 large eggs
2/3 cup water
1  (15 oz) can pumpkin (not canned pumpkin pie)
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 ½ cups spelt flour

pumpkin bread in a jar

or whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon baking powder

Directions
Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Grease, with shortening, however many wide mouth canning jars you would like to use.

pumpkin bread in a jar

make sure there are no chips or gouges along the rims

pumpkin bread in a jar

(I only did three because I wasn’t sure I would like the recipe)  If you used all of this recipe in jars, you would probably need about 10-12 jars.

In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar, oil, applesauce, and eggs;  beat until smooth.

pumpkin bread in a jar

Add water and beat until well blended.

pumpkin bread in a jar

Mix in pumpkin until combined.

In medium bowl, combine ginger, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, flours, baking soda, salt, and baking powder.

pumpkin bread in a jar

Add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture and blend until all ingredients are mixed. The batter should have a thick consistency. Place jars on a shallow baking pan and fill about 1/2 way full.

pumpkin bread in a jar

Bake until a knife inserted comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes.    While the bread is baking, wash and heat the canning lids and caps.  Keep them simmering on the stove until you’re ready for them.

pumpkin bread in a jar

When the bread is done, take one jar at a time out of the oven.   Often times the bread will rise over the top of the jar.  If this happens, cut the bread even with the top of the jar.

pumpkin bread in a jar

And of course, eat any excess because that’s the number one kitchen rule.

Wipe the rim off with a damp towel to remove any baked bread that happened to spill over.  This is a very important step in canning!  If your rim has any food on it, there’s a good chance it won’t seal.

Place a lid and cap on the jar.  Tighten as much as you can.

Even though it’s best to seal one jar at a time, I took all three out at once and capped them quickly before the jars cooled off.  Hot jars and lids also ensures a good seal.

Place jars on a folded towel and wait for the popping sound that indicates the jar has sealed.  After a few hours, run your finger along the middle top of the jar.  If it’s solid and does not move, your jar has sealed.  If the middle of the lid can be pushed down, the jar did not seal and needs to be eaten.  If jars have sealed, let them sit for 24 hours.  Don’t forget to label the bread and decorate your jar if you so wish.

pumpkin bread in a jar

Since I only used 3 canning jars, I had quite a bit of batter left over.  I divided the remaining batter in 3 small loaves,

pumpkin bread in a jar

increased the temperature to 350*, and baked for about 50 minutes or until a toothpick came out clean.
Cool completely on a wire rack and store in an airtight container.

And now you’re done with yet another homemade gift that can be enjoyed anytime throughout the year.

p.s  this bread was awesome!!

Related posts:
Making your own vanilla extract

 

Posted in Christmas, Cooking, Garden, Home, recipes | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Frost Flowers of Fall

There is a point during our fall season that borders on the winter side.

For the last week or so, NW Arkansas has been bombarded by freezing, cold air.  Before this cold snap, the weather had been pleasant and mild.

When these conditions happen,  frost flowers appear.

At first glance, these flowers look like little pieces of trash on the side of the road.  Upon closer examination, you will discover this.

frost flowers

Frost flowers form when the water in the ground has not frozen but the air temperature is below freezing.  As the water creeps up the stem, it freezes and bursts through the stem.  Between the outside cold air and more water freezing up through the stems, ice crystals form sometimes swirling around the plant like cotton candy.

frost flowers

This phenomenon only occurs on certain plants.   In our area,  dittany or false oregano (Cunila origanoides), yellow ironweed (Verbesina alternifolia),  and white crownbeard (Verbesina virginica) are the most common.

frost flowers

Once the ground has frozen or the stems of these plants have ruptured completely, the frost flower season will be over until next year.

frost flowers

Do you have frost flowers in your area?

 

p.s. I know this is not a “real” flower but I’m linking up today with May Dreams Garden for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.
p.s.s I am also linking up with the Chicken Chick for her weekly blog

Posted in Arkansas, Garden | Tagged , , , | 27 Comments