A bit about us...

We are a modern family of three, living on less than two acres with a 3,000 square foot garden that meets our produce needs and allows us to share with friends and neighbors. Our laying flock of chickens seems to expand each year as we raise chicks each Spring to replace older hens. This blog is more of a journal, if you will, for us to chronicle and share our experiences in the yard, garden and kitchen. It is our hope that along the way a few folks might learn something, be entertained, or simply enjoy sharing in our stories and the lessons we learn on a daily basis. I named the blog after the times when I am the happiest, when I am elbow deep in earth.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Kitchen science experiment

I read about it on Lou's Penny Pinchers Pantry Blog; making Sauerkraut at home.  It seemed easy enough and I thought it worth a try.  Since my cabbage never made it in the garden this year, I picked up a nice head from my favorite local produce stand.  Mom and I attempted to use my little mandolin to shred it, to no avail.  The enormous head of cabbage we chose just would not fit on the blade neatly.  As always, my ever helpful prep artist, Mom finely chopped that whole head of cabbage by hand.  I can see now why people invest in (or rig at home) full sized slaw slicers.

Monday, August 29, 2011

I planted garlic and got onions... What?!

I know that garlic is supposed to be planted in the fall.  I know that.  Unfortunately, I did not get any in the ground last fall.  I have had some luck planting it in the spring. The result is typically much smaller cloves, but they are tasty just the same.  I hoped for the same result this year.  I decided that I could accept smaller cloves if I could store some homegrown garlic for use as the weather gets colder.  When the leaves began to fall over and die on my garlic, I took my cue to dig up the precious little bulbs to investigate my bounty.  They nearly all looked uniform in size and beautifully round.  I was excited.  I cleaned them up, dried them out a bit and brought them in the house to use and store in my cool cellar.  I began peeling one to use when I discovered a couple of fairly major differences about my cloves.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Perfect? Please! Pshh....not so much

Most recipes and canning guides tell you to use ripe, firm fruit, cautioning that it not be too ripe, not under ripe, etc.  It seems like a tremendous amount of pressure for fruit perfection.  I cannot say that I have ever harvested a mess of perfect anything.  My beans, tomatoes, onions, berries, and the like are always less than perfect.  That is largely due to our refusal to use chemicals on our garden.  Consequently, we "share" with the common garden pests, leaving less than perfect produce.  The upside is that ours taste even better and the harvest is always chemical free.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Which Nightshade should I eat?

As is evidenced by my ramblings in Family Resemblance, I am a bit of nerd when it comes the garden, plants and preserving things.  When I see something I don't know about, I photograph it and/or research it until my heart is content with gobs of information swimming in my brain.

Poison Berry Blossoms
Plants of the "nightshade" family range from edible to extremely poisonous. They include plants such as potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos, eggplant, tobacco, petunias, datura and many more.  The botanical family name is Solanaceae, with the most common garden varieties falling into two genus's: Solanum and Physalis.  I was inspired to learn more about these plants as I noticed the similarities in blossoms during yet another walk through my garden and surrounding property.  I have a plant growing in the compost (needing to be pulled) and near the creek that my grandmother always referred to as "Deadly Nightshade."  In looking into the science side of this interesting family of plants, I discovered that this is not the accepted (although commonly used) name of the particular plant that grows in  my yard.  In fact, it is actually called poisonberry, bittersweet (much to my surprise), felonwood, and a host of other common names.  Its scientific name is Solanum dulcamara.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Family resemblance

In most families, you can see a resemblance from family member to family member. Pictures of me when I was little look shockingly similar those of my maternal grandmother when she was a similar age.

The same is true in the animal world, when it comes to similar species.  This concept carries over into the plant world as well.  The family Malvaceae is one that members of my family have long loved and didn't even know it!  My Grandma H. had a tropical hibiscus that she loved and tended to for years.  We used to think her silly, laughing at how she wrote down the date of each and every blossom, often noting the size of the bloom.  I now know it was with love and a sincere appreciation for each gift of beauty that she did so.  I am certain she never knew the family it belonged to, let alone all the beautiful cousins it had!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Babies having babies

It's proud moment for any parent when their offspring begin having babies (provided they wait until the right time in their lives).  :-)  Knowing the babies that you lovingly tended and cared for for so long have begun reproducing and bringing their babies to you... it's deeply rewarding.  I grew a number of plants from seed this year and they have finally begun making babies for me!  I guess you could say I am a proud "Gardenparent."

My once little cucumber seedlings are making pickling cukes for me, my yellow squash are bearing their fruit almost faster than we can pick and use it, and the tomatoes are finally getting ripe!  I have Athena Cantaloupe that will soon be ripe and ready and even my Orange Giant Amaranth is getting its plumes to make a delicious crop of grain for us.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

My first true marathon

In my recent internet travels, I happened upon a paragraph that really resonated with me. When it comes to the love of canning and preserving the harvest, I could not have said it better myself.  
From www.lifeinrecipes.com:

"I think for some of us there is an ingrained need, an inherited proclivity, to put food by. Not so much out of physical necessity or fear of running short of foodstores come winter, but because we have a genetic predisposition to do so. Whether it’s because we want to ensure the ability to eat local produce year-round, or because we are control freaks who need to know exactly what ingredients go into every little thing that we eat, when we see mounds of fruits and vegetables we immediately get excited at the prospect of standing over a hot stove in the high heat of August so that we can load our pantry shelves with gleaming glass jars of jams, jellies, tomatoes and other assorted foodstuffs. It may be hot, hard work, but for us the reward is far greater than the effort needed to achieve it."

This has to be the best explanation of the drive to preserve I have ever seen. I have tried and tried to explain it to folks, but have never been able to capture it quite like that! Now, this is important, as it explains my behavior this weekend. S and L were gone to visit his mother and that left me alone to play in the kitchen. I invited Mom up to have at it with me. We took a trip to the Saline Farmer's Market (as we do as a family every Saturday), and then headed toward Ann Arbor to the rather large Kerrytown Farmer's Market. On the way there, we thought better of dealing with the crazy crowds and decided to head back to the Saline Market for the ingredients we would need to do some canning. We picked up onions and bell peppers of a couple colors and made our way home.