Monday, April 09, 2012

Green and Cheap Plant Starters

I have been experimenting with making seed starters and planters using materials I would otherwise throw out. I wanted it to be something that would be disposable, as I am getting tired of finding space for all my plastic containers. I also wanted it to be something that I could possibly just plant in the ground with the plant. Here are a few of my creations.

I have seen some people using paper rolls for planters, so I decided to give it a try. I used mostly toilet paper rolls. I cut them in half, took a small square of paper, pushed the paper into the bottom using a tall glass that was just smaller than the inside diameter of the roll, and...

voila! A small plant starter!

I did find the paper roll planters tend to get moldy, which was disappointing, but it ultimately didn't seem to affect the plants that much. Although the mold is gross, I haven't lost a plant yet, and all these tomatoes were started in the roll planters.

I tried my hand at origami. Origami is very difficult to do with newsprint!

So I improvised a little on this one, using a few cuts and one staple. It works, and is a great size for starting tomatoes.

Paper mache seemed like it might be easier, so I gave that a try. I used flour as glue. Although is was fun and did give me some good results, it did take about 15-20 minutes to make each one - and it was messy!

And although these I wouldn't plant directly into the ground, this was the fastest and easiest of all - fast food containers! Rather than throw them out, just wash them out and plant!

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Simple Pleasure

I like to hide happy meal toys around my garden so that when I'm weeding I get a happy surprise.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Making Cultured Buttermilk

Continuing on my "living like a peasant" kick, as my son calls it, I have tried my hand at making cultured buttermilk. Buttermilk runs about $2 a quart and milk is $4 a gallon. It just makes sense to make it myself.

It is EASY!!

I buy cultured buttermilk about every other week to make pancakes, mostly, but I also use it in cakes and biscuits. One week, I decided to replace what I used with regular milk. By the next weekend, I had a somewhat thinner version of what I had started with - but it was still very much buttermilky.

I did a little research online and found that to get the thick buttermilk, you had to let it culture at room temperature for about 24 hours after adding the milk. This thickening is called clabbering. The cultures get their best activity at about 70F, which is why it was thickening so slow in the fridge.

I was a little nervous about leaving dairy out for that long, but the website I was visiting, created by a chemist, assured me that it would work and that he had done it for years. So I poured a little buttermilk in a quart jar and filled the rest with 2% milk (because that is what I had - he recommends whole milk). I put the open jar in a crock pot, put the lid on the pot, and waited 24 hours.

And it did work!

What you should be seeing here is the thickened buttermilk pulling from the side of the glass. Can you see how thick it got? And it smells so good!

I can't wait to use this in blueberry pancakes tomorrow!
Now I will always have fresh buttermilk and it will cost half as much!

Monday, February 06, 2012

I Am Not Myself...

I have no idea what has come over me, but I have become obsessed with tea cups!

I was in a thrift store and they had a bunch of tea cups in the display case at the register. I saw one that really struck me, and the guy in line ahead of me said that he had been thinking about buying it too. I didn't have the money to get it then, so I left without it -- physically, but it was with me mentally as I couldn't quit thinking about it!

So I went back the next day and bought it and two others, since there are three of us in the family.

My husband suggested that we have "high tea" that weekend. We have an old fancy silver tea service and now had cups to go with it. We set up the table for tea, threw in some Vivaldi -- because nothing says hoity-toity like Vivaldi. My son thought it was so weird that at first he couldn't quit giggling. But everyone had fun and we decided that we would try to make it a regular thing.

Then I started trawling eBay sneaking peaks at other tea cup and saucer sets. You know, just to see if I got good ones.
But then before you know it, I had placed bids on 5 sets!! Agh, what was I thinking? I openly said that I probably wouldn't win them all. Yet secretly hoped that I would.
I did! So, in a few weeks I will be the proud owner of way more tea cups and saucers than I have room for!

Here are the three I bought from the thrift store - the last one is my favorite.
I will post pictures on the ones I just won as soon as they arrive!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

I Love Bread

I have been working on developing my bread making skills over the last few months and it is starting to pay off.

My Very Own Yeast
I had always wanted to start my own wild yeast culture, but had never been successful. It always seemed to get to a stage where it was smelling wonderful, and then the next day or two it went completely wrong and kept going more wrong.

Then I found this great recipe for a starter at The Fresh Loaf. The secret ingredients are whole grains and pineapple juice. The yeast lives on the surface of the grain, so by using whole grains and grinding them yourself, you increase the amount of yeast that your mixture will have. The pineapple juice makes the environment of the mixture such that bios other than yeast do not find it appealing. I did not follow their recipe exactly. Here's what I did:
1/2 ground rye grain
1/2 pineapple juice from canned pineapple (I made an upside-down cake with the fruit)
mixed in a pint jar I had a lid for - just set it loosely on top.
I checked it and stirred it every day, but really did nothing else to it. In less than 2 weeks, I got the bubbles and yeast smell I was looking for.
At this point I watched for liquid buildup on the top, then proceeded with the dividing and adding steps - pour off the liquid, take some of the mixture out, add wheat flour, add equal amount of filtered water (you don't want tap water chemicals in the mix). In another week, my yeast was strong enough to make a loaf.
My yeast is now over 2 months old and I have made many loaves with it. Yummy sourdough loaves.
Don't worry if you don't like rye. After a bit of dividing and adding, it all becomes wheat. And I have found that when I want to make bread, I can just pour the entire mixture into my recipe, swish the jar with some filtered water, add equal amounts of flour, and the yeast that was in the residue just takes right off again. I occasionally switch jars for cleaning, in which case I swish the water around then pour it into a clean jar and add flour.

<- see how fluffy the dough gets!

Chewy, Crusty Bread
I became hooked on crusty bread when I was traveling Scotland. It was damp and cold, so every so often, I would find a nice coffee shop and enjoy a mocha and crusty bread. Heaven! Since coming back to the States, the only bread that has compared to that bread has been the New French Bakery baguette. Since first finding it though, it has been hit and miss to obtain. So I have been trying to recreate the bread.

For months I have been reading bread making article on the web describing how to get the crusty crust from steam. I tried spraying the dough while baking and leaving a pan of water in the oven - it works best to use both. I also read about the need to develop the gluten. There are many different techniques, and I have tried and failed at a lot of them. Then I ran into this seemingly too-good-to-be-true technique: No Knead Bread.

Let me assure you, it is NOT too good to be true! I just baked my first loaf last night using the recipe and technique. Other than the fact that I burned it due to the fact that I was baking while also watching a very funny, and strangely appropriate to the situation show - The Worst Week of My Life - it came out beautifully. The technique calls for a cast iron dutch oven or Pyrex, of which I had neither. BUT, I had read in comments on other no-knead sites (see the New York Times YouTube video) that some had used a clay pot cooker.

I have several of those! And it works! Soak the pot as you would whenever you are cooking something in it. Oil it. Add the shaped dough to the pre-heated clay pot. Cover it for 30 min, then bake uncovered for 15 (not another 30 like I did!).

The crust was perfectly crusty. The interior had that perfect crumb that crusty bread should have. And it was delicious!!

<- This is not the loaf I burnt, and was even more delicious :p

Monday, December 19, 2011

No New Tulips?!

I just realized that it is now nearly the end of the year and I did not plant any new tulips! This is a first in 14 years. The fall bulb buying season just sneaked past me.

That's OK though. I still have at least a hundred bulbs in pots that I didn't get around to actually getting into the ground this spring. That will still give me lots to do in the flower garden next spring.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Strange Coincidence

For this weekend, I had on my "to do" list obtaining a piece of 4" piping to extend my downspouts since I had taken down the full length of downspout and installed shorter pieces to accommodate the rain barrels I had purchased a few years back. I usually take the short pieces off and reinstall the normal lengths, but I thought it might be easier to just get extenders.

My husband and I had made plans to go shopping on Saturday for the material.

On Friday, as I sat parked waiting for my son to come out of his dorm so I could take him home for the weekend, I noticed that the construction dumpster next to me had a piece of piping laying on top - the very diameter that I was looking for. I jumped out of the car and checked the length. It looked like it was the perfect length!

I climbed up on the dumpster in my dress clothes as my son was approaching the car. "Mom?"

"I can't believe my luck!" I shouted happily back at him. "They're just throwing this away. I'm taking it!"

He just shook his head laughing.

Turns out it was exactly the diameter and length that I needed. No waste and it freed up more time I could spend with my son this weekend. Win-win-win!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Planning Big for Next Year

And by big, I mean tall and wide. I want to increase the amount of perennial fruit that I have growing so that I can put up more preserves for the winter - and even have some to give away or sell.

I need a second pear to pollinate the Luscious that I have right now. Luscious is a very crisp, non-grainy, candy-sweet, pear with wonderful floral notes that is best eaten right off the tree. I need a good second pear. I like really sweet pears and would also like one that keeps fairly well. Any suggestions?

I also want to start growing my own apples. I love Honey Gold, Honey Crisp, Fuigi and Golden Delicious. I also had some Chestnut Crabs that were awesome. Sweet, crisp, juicy apples are my thing. I would also like my apples to be maggot resistant - but who doesn't.

My blackberries were not very good this year. Tart and not very blackberry. I'm hoping that they will be better next year as this was still only their second year. But if they don't drastically improve, I may be having a give-away on this blog!

I really couldn't ask more of my raspberries. I'm not a huge fan of raspberries, but I really like these. I had more than enough to make several pint jars of jam, as well as having plenty for fresh eating and giving away - and that is just from a 4x8 bed.

I want to build an arbor over my raspberry bed next year to help shade the area a little, and to grow kiwis! I ate some cold hardy kiwis recently and LOVE THEM! Hardy Anna and Ken's Red are supposed to be good. If any of you have experience with these plants please let me know. I have read that they can be stubborn to fruit and that under the right conditions, they can grow 25 feet a year. Not sure I know what I am getting into with that.

Of the two blueberry plants I got last year, one is still alive and doing well, and who knows, maybe I will have some berries next year. But I LOVE blueberries and a small handful off one bush will not suffice - so I need to get more bushes. I bought Friendship last time since it is a wild Wisconsin native. If they are like the wild blueberries I used to pick as a kid in the North Woods, I will be happy. They were small, but sweet, with amazing flavor! But, I'm thinking that I would like to get one or two other varieties. I like lots of flavor and sweet (sensing a pattern here?).

That's all I have planned so far. I already know where I will plant everything, which puts me way ahead of the game as I usually buy the plants and THEN try to figure out where to put them (which is why I only have one of the two Friendship blueberries that I originally purchased). If any of you have suggestions on which varieties to get, or even warnings against, let me know.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Like the Gardening Season Never Happened

I lost nearly the whole growing season. I've been more than a bit preoccupied with other things this year. But I still managed to do some things.

My raspberries produced two batches of berries this year. And I thought planting them in November would kill them :) I have been able to make two jars of jam from them so far. The berries have a very good flavor and produce a lot. I have no idea what variety they are.

My blackberries produced one berry. So far I am not impressed with the flavor. A bit too tart. I will give them another year or two, but if their flavor does not improve, I am replacing them. I know someone who has wonderful blackberries that are in zone 3 so they should do just fine here. They aren't thornless, but neither are my raspberries.

I got a bunch more apples from a friend and have been canning applesauce when I get time. Two years ago I burned out the connections in my electric stove canning - I think the canning pot was too big for the burner and overheated that side of the stovetop. Apparently a pan can be too big! I got a smaller pot this year from the local hardware store. It has still been slow going since I am down to two working burners on my stove - I desperately need a new stove! I received a fairly new gas stove for free recently ( is awesome!), but only have electric hookup. To get a gas hookup will cost me between $280 and $360. That will have to wait for now.

I did get a couple of fruit roll-up accessories for my dehydrator. I haven't tried them yet, but when I do, I will let you know if I like them or not.

I still LOVE my electric mower. We have not had any problems with it at all and I think that it mows the lawn even better than the gas mowers that we have used in the past.

I also love my leaf vacuum/shredder. I saw it a couple years ago in a hardware store flyer for $20 so thought, "Why not?" I have not been disappointed. It sucks up the leaves, shreds them and collects them in an attached bag. I put the shredded leaves in my garden as mulch. The worms love it!

I have to plant garlic yet this year and harvest the rest of my kohlrabi and beets.

I got a volunteer tomato that has beautiful tomatoes and appears to be extremely cold hardy. The rest of my plants succumbed to an early frost; this plant didn't even seem to notice! I haven't tasted the tomatoes yet as they are still ripening, but I will update once I find out. If they are really good, I will be saving seeds to grow them again next year. Who couldn't use a cold hardy tomato? Most of my tomato volunteers have been weird Romas, so this is a really nice surprise.

I also put in another patio. There is a space next to my house that has been a bed of weeds forever. I tore out all the weeds and laid in a brick sitting area. It is perfect for drinking coffee and surfing the web in the morning as it is out of the wind and sun. And now that area doesn't look like an abandoned lot.

I did not buy hardly any plants this year, nor did I plant many vegetables. Next year, though, is going to be a stellar year. I can feel it!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Electric Mower

We had tried out a reel mower for nearly a whole season. I love how quiet it is and that it is always ready to go with no start-up, but if your yard is uneven, or your grass gets too tall between mowings, the reel mower can be quite difficult to use.

So we were off to the store to find an alternative. I was very skeptical about electric mowers because I never liked managing the cord with our corded weedwhacker, and I was certain that I would either be constantly re-plugging it back in, or running the cord over all the time. But my husband was leaning hard toward an electric mower.

There were some cordless ones, but you had to plug the mower in to charge and I wasn't entirely sure that you would be able to continue using it while it charged. That would be inconvenient if you had a window of opportunity blown because your mower needed several hours to fuel up. So I was leaning hard toward a gas mower. And we had one all picked out when I changed my mind and decided I really wanted to try the electric one - cord and all. I do that. He's almost used to it.

My worries about the cord were pretty much put to rest when we started using it. It wasn't hard at all to keep track of and the very movement of turning the mower allowed for a smooth repositioning of the cord. You will see me move my leg out on the turns which moves the cord enough to keep it out of the way. And even though it may look a little awkward during some turns, it wasn't. Most of that was just the awkwardness of turning a mower in general.

The mower that we got was a Task Force 12A mower. We got it on sale at Lowes for $170, and a 100' cord for $17. It came with a 2 year warranty.

Things I loved about the mower:
  • The easy start. I no longer dread having to empty the bag as I know that restarting will be a snap.
  • This did not bog down in our tall grass; it went through like a hot knife through butter.
  • I didn't get vibration arm.
  • It is quieter than a gas mower.
  • It doesn't stink like fuel and neither do you!
Things I hated? Nothing. The only thing that could make it better would be no cord and that it would mow the lawn itself. But I really don't have much of a problem with either.

I feel much better about using electricity than gasoline as our electricity is local and made via water power. Clean and homegrown!