...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.


Reminders of Spring

Ah, Forsythia...
My favorite spring bloom is forsythia (I always think of the holiday song "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth" as I say the word.)  These delicate yellow blossoms finally popped out around our neighborhood within the last week and will forever conjure up memories of the forsythia bushes between our house and our neighbors', Cliff and Vera Schroeder (who our little V is named after), when we lived in Racine.  I'm hoping to clip a few branches from somewhere this weekend--maybe our across-the-alley neighbors who are also the parents of a close friend--because I don't have any in my own yard.

Umbelliferae family bed--parsley, carrots, parnips, salsify

Last Monday when we had all that sunshine and warmth I took advantage of the day and got a running start on direct sowing some vegetable seeds.  The raised beds I installed last year looked crusted and lifeless.  In hindsight I should have gone with the organic topsoil source recommended by my friends from the Victory Garden Initiative, but at the time the gentleman's truck was out of commission and of course I needed my topsoil now!  Instead I called a southside mulch and topsoil company who unloaded several cubic yards of both mulch and topsoil at my house.  The mulch was great, but the topsoil was like that of the nutrient-depleted, crusty clay I've seen in conventional farmers' fields.  When the sky came down last July and all that rain flooded our city--though we were the lucky ones--it was all my veggies could do to hold on.  The drainage in these beds was horrible.  So I hand-tilled the soil this week, spread a thin layer of compost, and topped it off with some nice fluffy organic topsoil that I picked up at our neighborhood hardware store.  Not ideal because of all the plastic packaging I had to throw away, but I know that this topsoil will give better results.  The original raised bed I installed six growing seasons ago and filled with this same topsoil is still the best soil in our garden.  I may not know much about soil fertility, but I know crummy "dirt" when I see and feel it.  

V's path
So our overwintered compost bin is now empty.  Every year as I'm pitchforking all the wonderful nutritious goop out of it I get to a point where the best way to completely empty it is with my good old hands.  Not the most ideal activity to get involved in shortly before preparing dinner because the stink doesn't want to come out of my fingers and already very short nails, but at least I know where that stink comes from.  As I was loading the compost into the wheelbarrow V stood by watching and said "Ew! I don't want to eat compost.  It's gross!"  Perhaps it's too early to explain to her that this is the good stuff that's helping grow the food that she does eat (or at least will hopefully taste more of this summer...still practicing eating our veggies.)  But it gave me a better idea of how I can use our garden as a learning tool this summer.  I'm so excited.  V loves being outside, even in her small available play space.  As I was cleaning and organizing my garden shelf yesterday I watched her from my periphery as she very carefully transported a tiny plastic shovelful of dirt (from an unplanted raised bed, thank goodness) to the wheelbarrow a few feet away.  I realized that there are so many opportunities to sharpen her balance and hand-eye coordination out there.  We're going to have a blast come warmer weather.  So far I'm trying to draw some boundaries for her.  As in "please don't trample what Mommy has planted."  I just amended a ground level veggie bed (the one area I've kept free of structure JUST in case that backyard hen ordinance passes and we need the space for a chicken coop/run.)  I used the last of the beautifully gnarly ash twigs and branches from the huge tree our neighbors pulled down a few summers ago.  Held together with several twist ties, I made a natural edging that will hopefully stay together for at least this season.  I made it clear to V where her path is and so far she's been very obedient--and rather enthusiastic--about hopping only on the stepping stones.  (Anyone want to wager how long this will last?)

The Swiss Chard/Dill/Cilantro bed

Aside from our outdoor activities, V and I had more fun indoors this week.  On Monday we made egg salad with the hard-boiled eggs we dyed last weekend.  I did most of the peeling--though she wanted to help for a minute.  She cut the eggs with my Gram's old egg slicer, I tossed the main ingredients into the bowl (homemade mayo, home-brined "Midwest capers," celery), she mashed (with a potato masher...then I helped with a pastry cutter) and mixed and shook in some dried dill, then I seasoned.  I had no idea what a great kid-friendly activity this would be.  The egg slicer is not sharp--just a series of taut wires that cut into the hard-boiled heuvos--and the mess was minimal.  Too bad it's not on my list of kosher foods these days, but Daddy likes it so perhaps V will grow up perfecting an egg salad recipe.  (My favorite quote as she's pulling a celery stick through the globs of mayo along the edge of the bowl, "Should we add more mayo?"  I love her suggestive nature these days.)

I hear the weather will be nice this weekend.  I still have two raised beds that are empty.  The main (original) bed on the south 1/3 of our backyard will house most of my bush beans, some greens, cabbage, and brassicas this year.  I usually direct seed my pole and bush beans but because most of them stood little chance against the slugs last year I've started some of them indoors and will attempt to transplant so at least they'll have more body before those slimy creatures can nibble away at the first true leaves.  I placed my beer-filled tuna/sardine can "slug traps" a little late last year, but over the winter I gathered many more cans and as long as I can convince B to buy a sixer of "cheap beer" for once, I hope to create an obstacle course for these garden pests.  But I'm also considering planting some hills of beans outside this weekend.  I wouldn't normally do that for another week or so, but as I took stock of my garden supplies yesterday upon cleaning I realized I have a lot of homemade cloches I could use to protect the seeds/seedlings from the potentially harsh weather we might still encounter.  I'll have to report back on this.  At any rate, I'm planning to be outside for as much of the weekend as possible.  Yay!

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