Dreaming of Spring

Image

This time of year during winter’s short, gray days, I dream of spring. And summer. Seed catalogs arrive daily to inspire. Like a kid in a candy store, I begin to circle my favorites. New plants, new flowers, new herbs. New ideas and new beginnings.

Image

After going crazy with the sharpie, I do a quick inventory of seeds I already have. Some from last year that never got planted, and the seeds I save every year, from the plants I grow. Each year, this last category grows, which is great. Theoretically I should be buying fewer seeds… However, I seem to have a problem. Some women collect shoes, or handbags. I collect seeds. Can’t help it. It is always fun to try one or two new plants.

Image

Image

Image

We love to eat sweet and hot peppers. And this Poblano chile is calling my name. He says, ” Chile rellenos for dinner this summer” and I say, “Si, como no!” Chilies, peppers, beans, and squash are great for seed saving on your own. Buy once, and you are set.

Image

 

The garden is quiet now. The citrus trees and the savoy cabbage are the only producers right now. The frost sort of burned the blood oranges. I hope the fruit is still sweet. I plan to pick these, and the tangerines soon to make marmalade.

Image

Image

Image

Oh, and our chickens! They are producers too. We have really depended on our chickens for fresh eggs this winter. Considering the short days, three out of five are laying eggs daily. Not too bad. Thanks girls!

Image

Image

We eat a frittata at least once a week. Last night I made one with sauteed bell peppers, potato, and feta cheese. Yum. You can eat this for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Image

The chickens were also helping me today, in the garden. They were helping me to prepare the soil for an early spring garden.

Image

Not only by their digging and helping to get the soil broken up after I did some digging. By using their composted chicken manure, the chickens are helping to replenish and restore the soil. If you don’t compost, you should. It is like gold for the soil. And by cultivating healthy soil, you can grow healthy plants. My husband built this compost bin a few years ago. It has three bins. We put leaves from the yard, vegetable scraps from the kitchen, and chicken poop in the bins. After a few months, it all breaks down. You have to turn it once or twice, to move things along. Well worth it if you have the space.

Image

I plan to plant romanesco broccoli, napa cabbage, savoy cabbage, leeks, onions, and lettuce in our new hoop house. I have never used a hoop house to extend the harvest. My husband made it for me for Christmas.

Image

It may be too early to attempt this, but I am dying to plant something today. Might start the seeds indoors, on a heat mat. It helps them to germinate.  Set up in the laundry room, they get natural sun light in the morning as well. Hopefully, the plants can be transplanted outside under the hoop house once they are big enough. I have never started spring plants so early. We shall see how this works out. Hopefully we will get a jump on the growing season. I am excited to try lettuce too.

Image

 

Goals for 2014

Like many people, the new year is a time to reflect on what is important, and what you hope to accomplish in the coming months. I have three goals, all related to this blog.

1.  Grow more food– Not only do I hope to increase production in my garden this year, but I hope also to extend the harvest, and grow more throughout the year. This poster should say grow MORE food in your organic garden.

Image

2. Make more things from scratch– There is a long list of things I want to learn to make from scratch. Not just learn, but become proficient at. Top on the list, cheese. And bread. And I want to learn to preserve more of the harvest, canning, freezing, and possible sun drying tomatoes and packing them in oil. Lost arts! A few generations ago, people knew this stuff. I want to educate myself and become more self sufficient in the process. And I was given a cheese kit for Christmas from my Uncle Dan. He must have read my mind. Goals for cheese making include ricotta, chevre, and feta.

Image

3. Buy local produce and meat- Without a fresh supply of home-grown organic veggies this winter, we have relied heavily on our local farmer’s markets. I find myself really wanting to show off what Sonoma County has to offer. Olives are in season now, and there is stellar olive oil locally made. I bought a quarter pig last year from a local farm in Petaluma, Green Goose Farms. It was delicious! I can’t tell you how great it was. I hope to highlight some of the local farms on this blog this year. Our local farms have such a great variety of food. Can’t wait to share the bounty of my garden and Sonoma County with the blogging community!

Happy New Year!

 

Advertisements

Transition time in the Garden and Saving Seeds

IMG_0493

September is always a busy time in the garden. On the one hand, we have the summer bumper crops of tomatoes, squash, and eggplant rolling in. Half of my brain is thinking about recipes and preparation. The other half of my brain is looking and thinking ahead, to fall and winter. I want to plant kale, beets, cabbage, cauliflower, chard, and spinach like, now. Planning where to put it all can be stressful, when you are also dealing with an onslaught of fresh produce. AND my apple tree is over-flowing with tiny green apples. Have to deal with that too. Ok, deep breath.

One of the best things about having your own home garden is seed saving. Right now, as the summer season is winding down is an excellent time to rummage around the garden and see what seeds are available for next year. Saving seeds can save you money and time. And you get to keep what your really like to eat and produce well.  So far, I have found five plants that are giving up a good number of free seeds for next year.

The cilantro plant was very lush and beautiful this year. I had it on a drip system, and it really enjoyed that treatment. Here is a photo of the plant, dry as a bone. But look at all those seeds! I will save some to plant more cilantro next year. And I will use some of the seeds in the kitchen, ground up as coriander.

IMG_0425

When saving seeds two things to remember: they have to be clean and dry. If you store wet or damp seeds, you will end up with a moldy mess. I picked this plant, and let it dry in the sun for two weeks before I picked all the seeds off. Find a shady spot in the garden, and have a seat. It takes a little bit of time, but it is worth it. Saving seeds will save money and allows me to keep my favorites around for a while.

IMG_0510

I like to use tea tins to store seeds. They are stronger than plastic, and won’t crack over time. Plus they look cool. I like to use Mason jars too.

IMG_0509

After about an hour, my tin was half-full. The chickens couldn’t figure out what I was doing, and why I wasn’t giving them any seeds. These are mine, all mine.

IMG_0512

More investigation in the garden lead to more seed collecting, mostly flower seeds. I grew some gorgeous zinnias this year. The petals looked like parrot feathers. They love hot weather and are a summer flower I love to grow.

Image 25

When they dry completely, they look well, dead. But if you cut the heads off, and carefully pull the petals out, or just use your thumb and start to take the head apart, the little seeds emerge. They look like black spearheads. Very fragile and small.

IMG_0455

This is how full the tin of zinnia seeds is! I will have a lot next year, which is great. Flowers help to attract bees and birds to your garden, bees help pollinate and the birds eat bugs. It’s a win-win.

IMG_0517

Hollyhock grows very well here, and there are plenty of seeds to go around. The birds like to eat them too.

IMG_0434

IMG_0439

Nasturtium are another favorite. My Mom always had them growing in her garden. They are edible and beautiful.

IMG_0437

Do you see those funny little white round things? Those are the seeds! They usually start to appear as the plant is dying, but this year, because of the heat, they started early.

IMG_0438

This is what the seeds look like dry, on the ground. I like to gather them, and take them inside. You could just plant them, and they will come back in the springtime.

Finally, I have harvested the leek seeds this year. They are planted in November, and grow over winter. We harvest them in the spring time. This is what they look like when we plant them.

IMG_0290

This is what they look like when we harvest them. If you have not tried growing or cooking with leeks, I encourage you to give them a try. Milder than an onion, they are delicious in soups and egg dishes. Potato and leek soup is heavenly (Vichyssoise). Leeks are very easy to grow and do very well in cold weather. You only eat the white and light green parts.

Image 3

And this is what they look like if you let them go to flower. The bees love them, by the way. Aren’t they lovely? I just love the pom-pom look of these flowers. We left about twenty in the ground.

IMG_0384

You must wait till they are dead, dry, and brown. Cut the tops off, and then let them sit in a shaded place out of the sun for a few weeks. Next, you need a table, and a big bowl.

IMG_0470

By gently shaking the flower head, tiny black seeds start to fall off. They look like fleas, so very small. If the flower head is not dry, the seeds will not come out. Needless to say, we have hundreds of leek seeds. I think these are King Richard or American Flag (terrible I can’t remember what I bought last year). I buy my leeks and a lot of my seeds from The Natural Gardening Company, in Petaluma. They are certified organic. You can check out their online catalog at Natural Gardening Company.com

Ok, now what am I going to do with all the eggplants? Wait, didn’t I say that last week? I have to start researching recipes…