The Dance of the Dragonflies

Photo courtesy of www.moorhen.me.uk
Photo courtesy of www.moorhen.me.uk

I hear it before I see it. The gentle, whisper-soft hum of lacy wings racing past my ears. The dragonflies have come.

Dancing in and out of of the misty spray as my hose sprinkles water down on my flowers, golden sun of late afternoon, the mist making rainbows where there were none, and the beautiful, gentle dance of these ancient creatures- glorious!

This is how it always happens. The dragonflies love the water, early in summer when I am still hand-watering with a hose. I never remember to look for them. Suddenly, they are just there, frolicking in the deliciously cool water, zipping in and out of the spray. Like the reliable rhythm of the seasons, of sunrise and sunset, of the peepers and their night time song, so, too, will the dragonflies come.

And for awhile, the mosquitoes will wane. The dragonflies will gobble them up, controlling that pesky population. But like most things beautiful, their time is short and sweet. The adult dragonflies only live for about two months before they lay their eggs and disappear, bringing life to a new future generation.

And this dance? The graceful flight of this magical insect has been around for nearly 300 million years. (That’s older than even dinosaurs, who date back about 240 million years.) Somehow, I find great comfort in this thought- that such a tiny, graceful creature carries the wisdom of the ages on its back, surviving even the most tumultuous of times here on earth. Which gives me hope that, perhaps, so can I.

Our Baby Plant Nursery

snowThis year we finally succumbed to the snow. To the white, burgeoning, growing snow piles, the mountains of cold frostiness that seemed to cover everything. At first, it was beautiful. Peaceful and quiet, like winter’s hush had lulled the world to sleep. But the weight of it all caught up to us, and we awoke one morning to a greenhouse calamity.

shed with snowOf course, we should have seen it coming. We should have known to brush off the snow from the thin and delicate greenhouse roof. But we had never had problems in the past, and it just didn’t occur to us. Until, of course, it was too late.

So when spring came late and came cold, I was a tad flustered. Where to put all my seedlings? Last year, we had an unusually warm spring, and I was able to set them outside when I ran out of room under our grow lights. But not this year, oh no- we still had snow on the ground around the time I was running around barefoot last year. I decided that I needed a baby plant nursery. Nothing fancy, just a raised bed that I allocated for this purpose. If and when the temperatugreenhouseres dropped too low (and would they ever!), I simple row cover could be thrown over the whole bed for protection.

I think next year I’ll make a proper glass and wood cold frame cover, but this year, there was no time for that. In the end, the nursery bought me space inside to start new trays of seedlings. They aren’t growing as fast as they would have in a greenhouse, but it’ll do.

Sometimes gardening isn’t perfection, it’s survival. And we make do and make do until somehow, it all works itself out. Or not. The beauty of it all is there will always be another season to try something new.

The Saga of Fruit

We realized early on that a huge part of planning a homestead is looking at the big picture, especially a good 5 or 10 years down the road. We are always so busy in spring, getting ready for the quickly approaching growing season, that it’s sometimes hard to include jobs that won’t produce immediate results. But those are often the most important!

planting fruit treesTake fruit trees for example. Our second year out here, we decided to start with 4 trees, two plum and two apricot. We bought our trees relatively small (=cheaper), so we weren’t counting on any fruit for a good 3-5 years. The next year, we added a few apple and peach trees, and the year after that, some peaches and pears.

Unfortunately, along the way, we forgot to baby those trees. No fertilizer. Not much water. Our little baby orchard was neglected and (almost) forgotten.

Six years passed, and still no fruit. That was our big “aha” moment. Obviously, we were doing something wrong. So we got serious about our trees last years, adding fertilizer, regular watering, and tree mats to suppress the weeds around the base of the tree. The trees starting looking better, stronger, happier.

plum blossomesThen last season we got a few blossoms on a few of the trees. Beautiful, delicate, promising blossoms! But then, after an extremely early and warm spring, a late frost hit, and though we tried to cover the blossoms, they perished. We would never know whether those blossoms would have made fruit or not. Mother Nature is like that sometimes. Fickle, fierce, unforgiving. Nothing to do but throw up your hands and plan to try just a little harder and be more prepared next season.

And this spring? We are thrilled to see blossoms peeking through on the plum, apple, and pear trees. Will we get fruit? I’m optimistic, though I know better than to plan on anything with certainty out there in the garden. It’s a vast, unpredictable world all it’s own, and I’m still learning to navigate it.

 

 

Days of Asparagus

asparagusWe wait for it all winter. The honey warm sunshine, the cool sudden thunderstorms, the muggy buggy evenings spent barefoot in front of a campfire. Spring!

And nothing signals spring for us like the tender green stalks of asparagus peeking through the winter-weary soil.

I never knew I loved asparagus until I moved to the country. Picked fresh from the garden, it is juicy and sweet, not at all like the hard, almost bitter asparagus of my childhood. And once that first stalk appears- looking, oddly enough, just like a stalk, right there in the dirt, no leaves, no stem- suddenly, fantastically, the ground becomes covered in them. On warm sunny days, I sometimes have to pick twice, once in the morning, and once in the evening, because they grow c eating asparagusso fast.

Asparagus is actually incredibly easy to grow, but it does require, like many other perennials, a bit of patience. For the first three years, the stalks cannot be picked, but instead allowed to grow into tall, feathery ferns. Each year, these stalks will get thicker and thicker, and the ferns taller and taller, until you find, one glorious spring morning, asparagus stalks that are, well, thick enough to qualify as asparagus stalks.

Out here, the way to eat that asparagus is to slather it with mayo. Which probably cancels out all the health benefits (anti-inflammatory, anti-ocidant, Vitamin K, folate, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, zinc, protein- a superfood!), but my, oh my, is it ever dee-licious that way. Try it just once, maybe. Though you’ve been warned- it might be addictive….

Our Seed Order

SeedsI’ve done it! I’ve finished our seed order for spring! And well ahead of time, which, these days, is quite an accomplishment. It seems that life with a 1 and a half year-old has been an exercise in “catching up”.

In the past I have ordered from mulitple seed companies. Since we are not going to be selling seedlings at Farmer’s Market this year, just growing our own food, I opted to limit our seed purchases and order only from Baker Creek (one of our favorite heirloom seed companies). As much as I love to try new varieties of heirloom veggies, we just don’t need 25 varieties of tomatoes if we won’t be selling any of them. I must admit, though, it was truly hard to narrow down my selection!

Seed shopping can quickly get out of control- I mean, who can resist those gorgeous photos of oh-so-ripe fruits and veggies, a delicious reminder of warm sunny days to come?), so it’s best to come up with a budget BEFORE you start browsing. This year I decided to keep our order under $100.

Now, this may sound like a lot, but not only will the garden provide all of our veggies for summer and most of our veggies for the year, but I will also have tons of extra seeds to give away/save for next year.You certainly don’t have to spend this much, but at between $1.75 and $3.00 a packet for most seeds, it quickly adds up. Plus I am a sucker for trying interesting and unusual varieties, for not only fun, but also for growing for farmers’ market.

When you buy seeds, you usually get anywhere from 15 to 200 seeds, depending on the type of plant you will be growing. Small seeds, like lettuce, come in very large quantities, whereas bigger seeds, like beans, tend to come in smaller quantities. Then of course how rare the variety is also determines how many seeds/how expensive they might be.

Harvest
If you want a large selection of veggies for your garden, and especially if you want to grow more than one variety per veggie, chances are you’ll find yourself with an overabundance of seeds and a large cost to boot. The solution? Either find a friend or neighbor who would be willing to split an order of seeds with you, or properly store your seeds for next year. And by properly, I mean throw them in a bag or jar and store somewhere where they won’t get wet or eaten by mice. I theory, they shouldn’t get too hot either, but I have to be honest here: we have stored our seeds in the most horrid of locations (left in the greenhouse all summer, baking at 120+ degrees for months) and *still* had germination the following season.

Although a lot of seed companies will tell you that you should buy new seeds each year, we’ve had great success with continuing to use our old seeds for up to three years. Sure, the germination rate goes down with each year, so you’ll need to be sure to plant extras, but you should end up with at least some plants. This can save you a lot of $$$ on seed purchases. In 2010, I bought approximately $125 worth of seeds (we were selling at Farmer’s Market that year). I was very lazy about storing them, and so some of them ended getting ruined throughout the course of the year, but in 2011 I bought absolutely NO seeds. I simply used leftovers from the summer before. And actually, we used leftovers from 2009, too. That means that for less than $65 per summer, we were able to grow two years worth of food and over $1000 worth of plants to sell at market. Not bad!

So, the big question then is what to grow… Here is our shopping list from this year, just in case anyone is interested. I always like checking out other gardener’s lists, looking for cool new varieties to snag.

Have any favorite varieties that you will be growing this year? We’d love to hear about them!

Affordable Superfoods

BlueberriesIf we were all living on unlimited resources, we could certainly find some amazing superfoods from all over the world. There are a number of tropical fruits that fit into this category (acai, goji), but  they are just too expensive to fit in on a tight budget. Thank goodness we have some amazing powerhouse fruits and vegetables that are native to our own backyard, which means you can either grow them or find them locally at a great price. (OK, I’m going to cheat and include a few tropical items that are still reasonably priced and so give good bang for the buck….:)

Here is my list of superfoods that you should include regularly in your diet:

1. Sweet potato: OH, this is one of my favorites. Cheap, delicious, nutritious. The Big Three. Sweet potatoes are loaded with fiber, vitamins and minerals, and they have the added benefit of stabilizing blood sugars, which helps curb your appetite. Not to mention anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, and the amazing ability to add a little zing to an ordinary potato recipe.

2. Free-range eggs: Yes, there is a difference. Regular eggs are OK. Free-range eggs are superfoods. There is a huge difference between the yolks of free-range eggs and conventionally-farmed eggs (which are laid in “chicken warehouses” with thousands upon thousands of chickens smashed together): free-range yolks are a brilliant, vibrant orange. Yes, that’s right- egg yolks are SUPPOSED to be orange, not yellow! Though they may cost a dollar or two more a dozen, they still come out in the affordable range (a good free-range egg costs 30-40 cents a piece, so if I eat two for breakfast, I am still under $1- a cheap meal!). Rich in anti-oxidants, choline for brain development, and protein, eggs are a food to include!

3. Broccoli- Loaded with cancer-fighting anti-oxidants, vitamins, and fiber, broccoli is not only cheap, but also incredibly nutritious. When we are in the midst of the winter doldrums, I’ll load up on the broccoli for a good nutritional boost.  If you garden, blanch and then freeze as much broccoli as you can grow. Organic broccoli is much preferred, since there is no skin to peel off.

4. Bananas- Potassium! Fiber! Protein! Vitamins! Need I say more? Bananas are good for your bones, blood, organs, and even mood. They are dirt-cheap, and though a tropical fruit, so shipped a gazillion miles to get to your door, I had to include this one. In a rush? Grab a banana, it will buy you a bit of time until you can get a good meal. And remember to go organic- bananas are sprayed with some pretty serious fungicides that leach through the peel. I’ve even seen organic bananas at Walmart lately- so it’s getting easier to find them.

5. Blueberries: We are in the middle of Michigan blueberry country, so I’m biased. But seriously, blueberries are a major brain food. Antioxidants, vitamins, fiber, taste. Yum! We grow or buy all of our organic blueberries in the summer (when organic blueberries are a mere $2.50 per pint), and freeze them for year-round use. Go blueberry picking! It’s a lot of work, like many fruit-picking experiences, but boy does it feel good to eat those blueberries, knowing exactly where they came from! My 18 month-old son LOVES frozen “babooms”. I keep them on a low freezer shelf so he can grab the bag himself. He thinks they are a treat (aren’t they, though?), and I think they are just awesome!

6. Oatmeal: Proven to lower the “bad” cholesterol and full of fiber, oatmeal is cheap, filling, hearty, versatile, and nutritious. Steel cut oats are the best, but take longer to cook. Try grinding them up in a coffee grinder to shorten the cooking time to a mere 7-10 minutes. You can cook a big batch and freeze in individual portions for a quick and nutritious breakfast. Otherwise go for the old-fashioned, which are better than the quick cooking (nutritionally speaking). Add some raisins, “babooms”,  craisins, cinnamon, molasses, and/or yogurt – all of those boost your nutritional bang and your taste bud zing. Alternative: add in some multi-grain cereal for a truly wholesome breakfast.

7. Quinoa- One of the world’s oldest and healthiest grains, this ancient rice substitute is a powerhouse of protein. In fact, quinoa is a suitable protein substitute because it has an amazing array of amino acids. It is also fairly easy to cook, makes a great stuffed pepper recipe, and can be used to boost up dishes like meatloaf without even knowing it’s hiding in there! If you’ve never cooked with quinoa before, it’s time- and it’s a great food to get your kids to like.

8. Purple cabbage, beets, and other “purples”- Rich in anti-oxidants (purple cabbage has 36 anti-oxidants alone!), the purples are always a great bet. They contain an especially beneficial antioxidant, anthocyanins.

9. Avocado: OK, here is another tropical gem. Avocados are rich in vitamin K, dietary fiber, potassium, folic acid, oleic acid, vitamin B6, vitamin C, copper, and healthy calories. Some developing countries use avocado as a main source of nutrition, because they are THAT healthy. SO many ways to enjoy them, too. I think here in the US it is more common to turn them into a salty dish such as guacamole, but when I was in Sri Lanka, we ate avocados fresh from trees with a sprinkling of sugar on them. I was surprised at how tasty and refreshing they were that way. You can add them to smoothies for an extra boost, or eat them with mayonaise like they do in Japan (you can add tomato, chicken, or tuna that way). Yum! You can find them in the summer cheaper and fresher, and if you mash them up you can freeze them for later.

10. Leafy greens: THese green plants are SO easy to grow, and if you grow them yourself, they are super cheap. Kale and chard will keep growing all summer if you pick off the leaves regularly and provide a bit of shade, and they will still grow well past the first frost. That means you can have a source of leafy greens from as early as March until well into November. Chock full of nutrition, greens are a powerhouse of health: low in fat, high in dietary fiber, and rich in folic acid, vitamin C, potassium, iron, calcium, and magnesium, as well as containing a host of phytochemicals, such as lutein, beta-cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene. A daily serving of leafy greens can significantly lower your risk of many ailments, including diabetes, bone disease, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer!

11. Healthy supplements: A quick and easy way to boost the nutritional value of almost anything you eat is to add one or more of the following, all rich in vitamins and minerals: nutritional yeast, sea kelp, wheat germ, flax seed oil, and molasses. Nutritional yeast has a light cheesy taste and so works well in anything “cheesy” like pastas and meatloaf, but a little bit is undetectable in yogurt, smoothies, etc. Sea kelp is salty and slightly fishy, so works good in Japanese food, or anything with a strong flavor that will hide it. Wheat germ and flax seed oil are mild and hidden well in most foods, and molasses is perfect in anything slightly sweet or earthy.

 

 

Making Your Food Go Further: Freezing Leftovers for Baby

Since we’re talking about growing your own food, I thought I’d take a day here to talk about making your food, and making it go as far as possible, especially when it comes to babies and toddlers.

Thinking that you don’t have the time to make healthy, nutritious meals? Over the years, we’ve learned what is probably the easiest, and most obvious, trick to saving money and time (although, in truth, we don’t always use it…don’t ask me why…). By making food in large batches and then freezing the extra, you make multiple meals in just a little more time than it would have taken to make just one. It also means you might be able to buy your ingredients in bulk, which saves money, too.

Where we really use this is with baby food. Our 16-month old son can be picky. It can be somewhat disheartening to create a healthy meal that I was so excited to put together, only to discover that he just isn’t into it, at least not today, at this meal. We’ve found the most expensive part about feeding a baby or toddler is the waste. *Sigh*.

The solution? A muffin pan and a freezer. I take the leftovers and freeze them in muffin-sized portions, then throw the “muffins” in ziploc bags to pull out another day. And usually, another day finds Chris more in the mood for whatever it was that he refused the first time.

This works for whole foods, like cous-cous, mac-n-cheese, spaghetti, chicken parmegiana, and such, but it also works for smoothies, yogurt and fruit mash-ups, oatmeals and other cooked cereals, and even baby food jars or pouches that I’ve opened but he won’t eat. Just freeze in a non-stick or silicone muffin pan (silicone works great, because stuff just pops right out when you bend the pan), and pop out (using a spoon, if necessary).

DSC_0057Here is an example of the last meal I froze for our son. I had made Annie’s Homegrown Organic 5-Grain Elbows & White Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese, which I then mixed with spinach, carrots, granulated kelp, and nutritional yeast for a healthy boost. Mac-n-Cheese is his absolute favorite, but for some reason (and, oh my, are there lots of reasons with toddlers, as you probably know!) that night, he wouldn’t touch it.

I froze the leftovers in a muffin tin, which left me with 12 muffin-sized servings (anywhere from 6-12 meals, depending on how hungry he is). The next night, he asked for “nunus” (noodles), so I popped out a portion, thawed it in the microwave, and voila! He gobbled up the whole bowl in minutes. (FYI, the macaroni in this is made from super healthy grains like quinoa, spelt and amaranth, so it’s super high in protein. The dish itself is a little high in sodium, like all packaged foods, but the other healthy stuff makes me feel a little better about it.)

And if you do the math,  at about $2.50 per box, the macaroni and cheese I made comes out to between $0.20 and $0.40 a meal for Chris. Not bad!

Wilton brownieIf you need to freeze stuff in smaller amounts, for a younger baby or for  smaller snack-sized portions, we’ve found the absolute perfect method involves using this Wilton Silicone Brownie-Squares Baking Mold. Because it’s made of silicone, it bends, and the cubes just pop right out. Then you can throw them in a ziplock bag or airtight container, label, and freeze. They won’t stick together, because they are already frozen, so you can easily take out cubes one at a time. This is how we made Chris’s baby food from the time he was 6 months old, and actually, I still use it for freezing his 10-grain breakfast cereal and yogurt. He happens to really like frozen foods, so we let him chew on just slightly thawed cubes, which are reminiscent of frozen yogurt, and which, I think, feel good on his sore teething gums.

And while we’re on the subject of baby, I should mention our two favorite baby food books: Super Baby Food and The Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook. The first one has the healthiest “super porridge” recipe I’d ever seen, made from all sorts of ground whole grains (which, surprisingly, was much easier than I thought it would be). Our son thrived on and actually quite enjoyed this addition to his diet.

So do you have any tricks to freezing food, or other ways to save time and money, that might make it easier to make nutritious, homemade food? We’d love to hear!

 

Seed Starting Basics

Grow shelfIn my previous post, I mentioned some of our favorite heirloom, organic seed companies. Now is the time to start browsing, dreaming, planning, and getting excited about your garden!

But what do you do when your seeds arrive? Those tiny little bundles of garden promise must be planted and nurtured indoors until the cruel chill of winter has passed. Although every plant has its own timetable for germination and transplanting outdoors (which means that not all seeds should be started at the same time), and some seeds can be sown directly into the grown, mid-March through mid-April is roughly the appropriate time indoor seed starting here in Michigan. Before that time comes, you will need to  determine which seeds to start indoors and gather all of your supplies.

First, what to plant your seeds in? We have about a gazillion of the 72-cell plant trays which we purchased for peanuts at a local farm auction, but you don’t have to be that fancy. You can use empty egg cartons, which are perfect and since repurposed, very eco-friendly, but you need to start stocking up if you want to have a decent collection of plants. You can also make cute little pots out of newspaper using this cool handy-dandy Potmaker PotMaker® The Original Pot Maker tool, which we actually did one summer. (OK, I have to be honest here… our friend Ron was staying with us at the time, and he was the one who made all the pots, over 600 of them…. I’m not sure I could have had the patience for that many, but if you don’t need 600, it might be a  great solution! A good job for kids?).

If you are a complete newbie to seed starting, you might want to go the easy (albeit slightly more expensive route) to seed starting and purchase a starter kit. Hydrofarm makes a nice starter kit, theGermination.station Hydrofarm CK64050 Germination Station with Heat Mat, that includes a 72-cell tray, a heating mat, and a dome lid for around $25. With this kit, you will still need to purchase your planting medium, but that gives you some choice and flexibility to choose organic , which is nice.

Light.warriorWe use and love Light Warrior® Agro-ponic® Grow Medium   for starting our seeds (on Amazon, about $25/bag with shipping). It is so chock-full of nutrients that we do not need to fertilize the little guys. When we transplant to pots, we use the Light Warrior again, providing a burst of fresh nutrition, and it is quite some time before the plants are in need of fertilizer. You might want to find a hydroponics store locally, to save on shipping, although we still pay almost $20 a bag at our favorite local organic grow store, Horizen Hydroponics in Kalalmazoo. If you use soemthing like peat as a starting medium, you will need to fertilize regularly, since peat has no available nutrition. A great fertilizer to use would be Bonide Fish Emulsion Plant Food, 16 oz..

Where to keep your seedlings once they germinate? In most cases, simply setting your tray of plants in a sunny window will not provide adequate light, and your seedlings will be tall and spindly, if they grow at all. My husband is quite the handy guy and was able to build us a grow shelf out of 2 x 4s, pressed board, and standard shop lights (photo above, post to follow soon with instructions). Building your own grow shelf is by far the cheapest way to go, and you’ll also end up with a much sturdier product, but if you are not inclined to building your own, then check out the
Hydrofarm JSV4 4-Foot Jump Start T5 Grow Light System
. It gets pretty good reviews and should provide ample room for starting seeds for a small to medium garden.

Once your seedlings have reached a height of a few inches, they will need to be transplanted. You can use plant pots, or you can use paper or plastic cups, or you can be super eco-savvy andHydrofarm.grow.shelf recycle household items like empty yogurt and cottage cheese containers, coffee cans, frozen juice cans, etc. Whatever you choose, it should be able to withstand at least a few weeks of watering without completely deteriorating.

Once your seeds are planting, you should mark them with the name of the plant and the date you planted. There are special wooden plant markers that they sell for this purpose, but they are outrageously expensive and unnecessary. We buy a jumbo box of popsicle sticks and use those. Voila! Any leftovers can be used in a kids’ log cabin building contest.

And finally, you will need to provide ample water and and nutrients to your little babies. A simple watering can is all that’s needed. This OXO 1069727 Good Grips Indoor Pour & Store 3.17-Quart Watering Can, Blue is a nice little one if you want something sturdy and attractive. But why not be eco-friendly, and turn an empty 2-liter bottle into a watering can following these simple directions? So easy, free, and green! (Just make sure your holes aren’t too large, you don’t want to drown your delicate seedlings.)

Whatever you choose for watering, I recommend a spout with mutiple small holes, as opposed to a can with just one larger pouring spout, so that you don’t flood your tiny plants. Some people mist instead of watering, but in my experience, it takes an awful lot of misting to keep those babies damp, especially if you are using a very bright light.

So start browsing, planning, arranging… planting time will be here before you know it!

 

Hearty Winter Potato Cheese Soup with Leeks and Bacon

DSC_0024Winter.

Cool, crisp air, the crunch of snow under foot, rosy cheeks and frozen fingers, snowmen and snowhoes and layers and layers. Short, happy days… long, chilly nights cuddling cozy under warm blankies.

Steaming bowls of hearty soup that warm the soul. Homemade bread slathered in butter (decadent, lavish amounts of butter).

Some days, I just love winter.

Here is one of my favorites. Simple, tasty, hearty.

Ingredients:
Approximately 1 lb. of potatoes (I usually use 5-6 medium to large potatoes)
1/2 cup of chopped leek
1/2 of an onion, chopped
4-6 strips of bacon (really good bacon makes all the difference in the world)
3 cups milk
3 cups chicken broth
1 tub of Buitoni Alfredo Sauce
2 bay leaves
Dash of red pepper (optional)

Dice the bacon and fry in a large cooking pot with the onions and leeks until bacon is almost crisp.
Peel and chop the potatoes into smallish cubes. Add potatoes to the the cooking pot, add the bay leaves, cover with the broth and milk, and bring to a boil. Cook at a light simmer for about 20-30 minutes, until potatoes are very tender and can be mashed, and desired thickness is achieved. Add water or broth if soup gets too thick. Add the alfredo sauce and simmer for 10 minutes more. Serve with warm bread and yummy salad, and you have quite a meal!

Just so you know, this recipe is not an exact roadmap to soup perfection, but more of a … rough guide. I tend to “wing it” in the kitchen, adding a bit of this and a bit of that until it works, which sometimes makes it difficult to share recipes. Hopefully, though, it will get you on the right track to a most excellent soup. And if you found you needed to alter something, by all means, please share!

DSC_0008
I have an urge to add asparagus, which I think would go well with the cheesiness. I also think a little bit of chopped carrot and celery might be a nice addition. Maybe next time. And perhaps cream cheese? So many possibilities….

Here’s hoping your winter days end with many warm soups and full tummies…

 

 

DSC_0036

 

 

Just so you know, this recipe is not an exact roadmap to soup perfection, but more of a … rough guide. I tend to “wing it” in the kitchen, adding a bit of this and a bit of that until it works, which sometimes makes it difficult to share recipes. Hopefully, though, it will get you on the right track to a most excellent soup. And if you found you needed to alter something, by all means, please share

Planning Your Garden: Time to Start Browsing Seed Catalogs

Cherokee-purple-mWhether you are a seasoned gardener, or a brave, intrepid soul looking to grow some of your own food for the first time, it’s time to start thinking about starting your own seeds. If you intend to buy plants at a local nursery instead, you still have awhile before you need to make garden plans. But if you want to experience the joy and miracle of watching your own food burst forth from the tiniest speck of a seed, now is the time to get into garden mode. And, besides, nothing whisks away those winter doldrums like the gorgeous colors and delicious promises of a seed catalog. We spend many a chilly winter eve in front of a blazing fire, sipping hot cocoa, “oohing” and “aaahing” over the gorgeous and unusual varieties that heirloom seed catalogs bring right to our door.

 

Imagine the delicious juiciness of a purple cherokee tomato, so ripe and wonderful that one bite sends your taste buds into a frenzied state of happiness, tomato juices drizzling down your chin. A dash of salt, a splash of olive oil, and my, oh my… a gourmet snack fresh from nature! Seed catalogs offer the promise of heaven, of fruits and veggies that no grocery store can ever offer, tastes and smells and colors that will burst forth from your garden and decorate your dinner plate. And the best part? Starting plants from seeds costs pennies per plant!

 

Rosa.eggplantIf you don’t have one already, you will need some sort of grow shelf for starting your seedlings, and we will show you our DIY, easy-peasy pumpkin squeezy grow shelf in a later post. For now, it’s time to start requesting catalogs so that you can give yourself some delicious motivation to get serious about your garden.

Hands-down, our favorite paper catalog is from Baker Seeds. Their catalog is a masterpiece (and yes, we know it is more eco-friendly to browse seeds online, but I promise you, there is nothing quite as wonderful as flipping through this catalog, all curled up under a warm blankie, photos popping off the pages with their vibrant colors and yummy gorgeousness). Other catalogs worth perusing include Seed Savers Exchange, Peaceful Valley (with its artist-rendered drawings instead of photos, and excellent gardening tips), Bountiful Gardens, and Fedco Seeds (no photos in this one, but once you know what you want, they are very affordable, particularly if you are buying seeds in large quantities).

Lemon-cucumbers-recipes-5-550x365So go ahead, request some catalogs, and start dreaming your garden to life. Spring will be upon us before we know it!

 

So long big city, hello rural Michigan! Our journey to find the simple, the green, and the good in life.

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