...Growing, Building, Cooking, Preserving, Crafting...

2006 began our urban homestead when I broke ground on a garden, which now includes perennial fruits, flowers, & many vegetable varieties. We dream of solar panels, keeping bees and hens. Until then we'll continue growing and preserving our own fruits and vegetables, building what we can for our home, cooking from scratch, and crafting most days.


Something's Coming Up!

I opened the coldframe the other day and noticed that the spinach seeds were starting to germinate. Warmer spring weather is near. Actually, I think it's just a tease from this unseasonably warm January we've had.

Although I can't do much in the garden these days, there is still much to do indoors to maintain the homestead. Did I mention we have worms? Vermicomposters that is. We keep a compost bin in our basement during the winter months so we can continue to compost our kitchen scraps (and Vera's wet diapers--good nitrogen source!) and have a pound or so of red wigglers to help. The outdoor composter sits idle in the winter and is then unloaded in the spring and the compost spread on our vegetable garden beds. The basement bin will become the beginning of next season's outdoor bin. With this system we've been able to create all of the compost we need for our vegetable garden each year. Something I finally learned last year is to crush up the egg shells so that there aren't big shells sitting in the garden (they don't break down as fast as we'd like.) So now I keep a covered bowl in the fridge and put my shells in it. Every few days I whizz them in my mini chopper and put them into the compost bucket under the sink.

We're preparing for a cross-country family vacation in the next few days. We'll be visiting Portland, OR. A 2-night train trip with an almost-eleven-month-old is sure to be an adventure. We'll spend a couple nights in wine country then check out the city of Portland. We're planning to visit one of Ben's friends from college who has CHICKENS! Ranchero and Foo Yung are their names and I can't wait to meet them and learn more about keeping backyard poultry. So I'm cleaning out the fridge before out trip. Using random ingredients to make something halfway decent reminds me of college days when I could whip up a mean casserole from just about anything in the pantry. Needing to use leftover steamed broccoli, ricotta, blue cheese and some egg whites, here's a recipe for Baked Pasta with Broccoli.

Baked Penne Pasta with Broccoli and Three Cheeses
Serves 4-6

1 lbs. rice penne pasta, uncooked
Kosher salt
1 t. extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. fresh broccoli crowns and stems, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and steamed
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 c. crumbled blue cheese
1 c. part-skim ricotta cheese
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 egg whites, beaten with the whole eggs
1 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. freshly ground pepper
nonstick cooking spray (I prefer coconut oil spray) or butter papers.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Spray a casserole with cooking spray or grease with butter papers. Salt the cooking water to "sea water saltiness" before boiling. Cook pasta to al dente and drain well. Toss with olive oil. Combine pasta with broccoli, 1/4 c. Parmesan, blue cheese, ricotta, and eggs. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into prepared dish and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until top is golden brown. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.


Plotting the Garden and Organizing Seeds

After my new seeds arrive and I take stock of all the old usable seeds, I begin to plot where everything will grow (or at least where it will be planted) this season. My goal this year is to, even more than in past years, really focus on growing in succession. I usally plot the first sowing of seeds, but after the lettuce and radishes are done I sort of haphazardly throw some other seeds in their places without thinking it out. After creating a checklist to outline all the groups of vegetable seeds I have, I sketched out this year's garden to include what will be planted early spring, mid and late summer.

Yesterday I finalized my seedstarting/transplanting schedule so that I have a chart of what I'll be starting indoors or out, or transplanting week to week late winter through fall. Today I organized my seeds. I found a large shallow box and put all the seed packets in order according to my seedstarting chart. This way I can reference the chart each week and know exactly where to find the seeds.

Ben and I have agreed on a small lean-to greenhouse to install on the south side of our garage. This will help with seedstarting and hardening off in the spring and perhaps even growing some salad greens during the winter. I'm very excited! I'm planning to design and build some trellises for growing pole beans, peas, and cucurbitae varieties and made a trip to Farm & Fleet last week to pick up supplies (poultry wire and pig panel). The next step is to order the greenhouse, get supplies for my custom-mixed soiless seedstarting medium, and prepare my egg carton cum seedstarting containers.


Happy New Year! Planning for the best garden yet.

As 2009 wound down and the holidays approached, I anticipated sitting down with my stack of new seed catalogs to dream, plan, and select vegetables to grow this year. The first pass through the pages, the sky is always the limit. I dog-ear every page that interests me, as if I had acres of land on which to grow. Then I go through my leftover seeds, see what's still usable and what was successful last season, then I return to the catalogs and pick out what I can realistically grow in my space and microclimate. This year I am excited to design my garden with a variety of color (i.e. red and green lettuces) and geometric plantings (not just straight rows, but perhaps some diagonals). I am also planning to use a lot more trellises for growing dry beans, peas, and cucumbers. Space is limited so to expand I must grow UP!