Thursday, November 6, 2014

A New Season

Well, the (in)famous Seattle rains have begun in earnest, but wasn't our summer absolutely wonderful?? It was the best summer I've had in a long, long time. See, Hubby-san is a teacher, and has summers off.  When we lived in Japan, we were both teachers, and we loved our summers. I was a teacher here for awhile, too, but when I became a business owner, summer vacations all of a sudden went away. 

Well, I sold my business about two years ago, and this past summer was our first summer together in a very long time. It was just us two--all of our children have moved out. #1 Son got married and is living in Japan, #1 Daughter moved to Japan for 18 months, and #2 Son moved to Thailand for two years. Even our Chinese student of two years moved out.  It was really quiet around here.  Too quiet, actually. After 25 years of child rearing, hosting foreign students, housing boarders and having friends and sometimes even family living with us, it was very odd to have just us two rattling around this big house.

So we spent the entire summer vacation doing what we like to do best--gardening!  More raised beds, a greenhouse (finally!) and more delicious fruits and veggies. The weather was great, the company was great, and the results were great, too.  I'm looking forward to telling you all about it!

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Friday, April 6, 2012

Foraging for Nettles

My good friend, Kristine Farley of Herbal Momma, offered to take me foraging for Stinging Nettles (Urtica diotica). She watched and waited and finally they were up!  A group of us went to a wooded and damp area, and gathered basketful's of the very healthy weed. I forgot my gloves, but was told if I hold the very outside of the leaf, then cut the stem with scissors, I wouldn't get stung (the stingers are on the underside of the leaves). Well, I got stung anyway, so I must not have been doing it right.

Stinging nettles need to be harvested while they are still young. Anything taller than your knee is too tall and the stalks will be woody and tough. It's better to cut them rather than pinch or pull them up, and always leave several leaves on the plant so it can continue growing.

We each gathered several baskets/bags/containers of nettles, then headed home to process them.

I guess most people use rubber gloves to handle nettles in the kitchen, but I used my favorite cooking hashi (very long chopsticks). Rinsed them well in cool water, then blanched the nettles for 30 seconds to remove the "sting".

A quick dip into ice water after blanching and I ended up with quite a batch of nettles. (Don't throw the water out!  Drink it or give it to your houseplants.) Blanched nettles can easily be kept in the refrigerator or freezer until you are ready to use them.

Even after all this, I was left with three bags of fresh nettles. One bag went to #1 Son who was actually excited to experiment in the kitchen with them.  I decided to leave the other two bags to dry, shaking them a couple of times each day. If you use this method of drying, be sure the bags are only half-full to ensure good air circulation.

I have used the nettles in several dishes so far (I will post about these soon), and I love the taste!  A lot like spinach, but earthier and fuller. Nettles have more protein than soybeans and more iron than spinach. Naturopathic physicians prescribe nettle tablets for those with allergies to help ease the symptoms and strengthen the immune system. Nettle tubers are said to assist with prostate issues. It's a terribly invasive weed, and hard to get rid of, but perhaps we should change the way we look at nettles and embrace it's goodness instead. Pin It

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Making Compost Tea

Compost tea is liquid gold in the garden, and I have wanted to make it for quite awhile now. But I didn't have all the equipment that "they" say I needed, and it seemed like such a hassle with the pumps, tubing, aeriators, strainers, bubblers, etc., etc. I readily admit that I am a lazy gardener--if there is a quick and easy way to do something, I want to know about it.

Enter Marjorie Wildcraft of Backyard Food Productions. She interviewed Peter Paul about his compost/worm bin and how he makes compost tea. He calls it "worm juice" and it is incredibly easy to make once the set up is done.  You can watch the eight-minute interview here.

Peter used a water trough, so I watched Craigslist for a water trough. I found a couple for a good price, but someone else got them first. The others were too expensive or too big (my car will only hold so much).

 After three weeks of lurking on Craigslist, I finally gave up and bought two plastic bins on sale at Fred Meyer.
I drilled holes in the bottom of ONE of the bins. This will be the top bin.
 I put four one-gallon pots in the bottom bin.

Then stacked the top bin (the one with the holes) on top.
Since I have an abundance of shredded paper (the joys of having a home office), used that instead of leaves for the first layer. The worms from our compost bin were then moved to the new bin on top of the shredded paper.
I have a friend with rabbits, and she gives be manure, so I layered the Bunny Berries and worms with grass clippings, leaves and other yard waste. Put the lid on loosely, and in the corner it goes. Now I just have to wait.
After about four days, I wondered how the worms were doing. I checked the bottom bin, and there was already compost tea!  I need a little bit more before I can start using it, but I am really looking forward to big, healthy plants in the garden this year!

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Power of Fresh Eggs 新鮮な卵の力

I love having fresh eggs every day! Our chickens give us 4-6 eggs a day, and we share the eggs between my cousin's family and our family. Not only are they absolutely delicious, I have found they are great bartering and bargaining tools.
For example, I ran out of brown sugar right in the middle of a recipe. I know my friend down the road always has brown sugar, so I send #2 son to ask for two cups of sugar. But one cannot go empty handed--what would make an appropriate trade? Two eggs, of course!

#1 son now lives in Seattle and we don't get to see him as often as I'd like. With school and work, I understand he's busy, but I still want him to come visit. How to bribe encourage him to come visit his mom? A dozen eggs (and some gas money) works wonders!
Our next door neighbor is a bit OCD about mowing his lawn. So much so, that he just keeps mowing over to our front lawn. I don't think we've mowed our front lawn in the five years he's been our neighbor. How to repay his kindness? We weed his front flower beds and give him fresh eggs.

Fresh eggs have "paid" for tools, epoxy glue for a shed (we ran out just before the shed was done), house sitting, halibut, and has helped make friends and repay the kindness of others. I love repaying others with something that is genuinely appreciated!  This alone makes taking care of those ridiculously silly chickens so worth it.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Planting Strawberry Crowns いちごの植え方

Who doesn't like a big bowl of fresh strawberries?  They are one of the easiest fruit to grow, and if conditions are ideal, one plant can produce at least one quart (one liter) of berries in a season.  If you order strawberry crowns, you probably received something looking like this:

So, now that you have your strawberry crowns, how do you plant them?  Well, first you need to make sure their new home is ready. Plan to plant your crowns after all danger of freezing is past and the soil can be worked, but not waterlogged. Strawberries are big eaters, and love lots of nitrogen.  If you have poor soil, add compost or manure to add nutrients. Also, don't plant where potatoes, tomatoes, peppers or eggplant have grown the last three years (there is a risk of Verticillium Rot). For those of you who want the nitty gritty details, the soil should be a sandy loam with a pH between 5.8 and 6.2. They also benefit from a raised bed, but that doesn't mean you have to go out and buy lumber and nails. Here is what we did:

As you can see, we just piled up the soil and raked it flat. Hills also work well. They need lots of sunshine, too, so plan your strawberry patch in a sunny spot.

Plan to plant your strawberries about 18 inches (40cm) apart, with rows about 3 feet (1 meter) apart. Place the crowns approximately where they need to go (on top of the soil) and dig a hole. Place the roots in the hole, with most of them going straight down to the bottom the hole. Sometimes you'll get roots that are very long--they don't need to be completely straight, but mostly straight. You don't want to plant a root ball or have them going to one side.

As you fill the soil back in the hole, be sure the crown doesn't get covered. The crown is the little "knob" of green right at the beginning of the roots. These will grow to become leaves, and it's important that they be above the soil level.

The diehards will tell you to pick all the blossoms the first year to prevent any fruit from forming. This will supposedly result in stronger plants and bigger fruit the second year. I, however, have never been able to do that and enjoy the fruit the very first year. Remember to give them 1-2 inches (2-5cm) of water each week if it doesn't rain, especially the first year, and get ready for the best strawberries you've ever tasted!

My favorite variety of strawberry is SeaScape.  They produce big, sweet berries from June til September!
(I used the board so I wouldn't stomp the soil)
Do you have strawberries in your yard or garden? What is your favorite variety? Pin It
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