Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Importance Of Having The Right Information

Let's talk about information.

Where do you get most of your information from?
The internet?Books? DVD's? Family and friends?

No matter where the information comes from,you need to be able to rely on it.

Weather you're gardening,farming,sewing,or whatever,if you're jumping into it blind without the right information,disaster could happen.

I learned a lot about gardening from my Mom as well and trial and error,reading books,watching videos,and listening to what others around me were saying/doing and what worked and what didn't.I'm still learning too,I think it's something that you can never learn enough about.

While there are literally millions of sources of information out there,sorting out what you need from what there is can be a challenge.

Say you want to can those beautiful peaches you just brought home from the farmers market...from my stand point,it's a fairly easy task,but if you've never canned anything before,it can seem daunting to say the least.

When it comes to food preservation,I would highly suggest you get the most current,up to date information you can get your hands on.The Ball Blue Book is reprinted every year with new and updated info.It's cheap too,and available where most stores sell canning supplies.

However,what if you want to learn to raise and butcher your own meat animals?You wouldn't be able to find that information looking in the "animals" section of the book store,you'd more likely find a copy of a children's guide to raising pet rabbits.Sometimes what you need has to be special ordered,but I did find a wonderful book about raising meat rabbits at the local Borders store that's going out of business,however it was in the gardening/farming section of the store.

There are scores of books out there,Ebooks,PDF files you can download and print out.

If you do a google search for "canning peaches" you're likely to end up with thousands of results in return,and you must pick and choose which is the right information for you to use.

I'm a book person,I love books,and love reading them,flipping through for certain information and instructions,in fact,you'll find very few books on my bookshelf that aren't related to "how to" or "do it yourself" type stuff.

It doesn't matter WHERE you get your information from,but it does matter how ACCURATE it is....a quick guide to canning peaches will do you no good if it's missing important steps like sterilizing the jars....

SO,be careful and choose your information carefully,check for references,and double check things like PDF files and blogs posts in group forums.

You can learn a lot by trial and error in areas where safety is not a concern,such as experimenting with planting too close or companion planting,or raised beds versus standard in the ground gardens,etc,etc....

However if you are planning on preserving your food for later use,or doing anything where safety now and later will be of the utmost importance,do not take risks with using information that may be incorrect and dangerous.

I know this probably sounds like a scolding rather than my normal upbeat posts,but I wouldn't want anyone reading this blog to go away from here thinking they can just jump in without instructions and come out with perfectly canned peaches. :)

I know of people who believe anything they read on the internet,or anything that a person says,thinking how could anyone give the wrong information,well,it happens,and when it comes to matters of safety,why take the risk?

That guy at the farmers market selling "miracle fertilizer" that looks like plain water,is probably selling you plain water...those fancy bottles of "manure tea" yeah...honestly,anyone can water down manure, and it'll still be manure....

There is no right or wrong way to garden,compost,fertilize,etc..and you may find a way that works for you that others fail at,or find to be too much hassle,or you may find something that works awesomely for one person,but when you try it,you fail...and that's fine,it's called learning.That's what life is all about right? Learning?

Just don't put your health,or that of you family and friends at risk by using the wrong information.Do some research,and get the facts before you do it(canning,preserving,fermenting,butchering,etc,etc),so that no matter what,you'll know that what you're putting in your pantry,and bringing to the table will be safe for everyone.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Planning meals based around the garden

We are finally getting enough veggies ready out in the garden that we can start to plan some of our meals around what's ready.

Tonight's meal will mostly consist of veggies from the garden.

Going to make BBQ chicken,steamed green beans(from the garden)maybe mashed potatoes,but I'm going to go back out in a few minutes and see if maybe I can steal a few new potatoes from the towers to go with dinner,and sliced tomato.

Then we will have Zucchini Pie:

4 cups peeled,sliced,seeded zucchini
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 TBS flour
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 TBS cream of tartar
2 TBS lemon juice
1/8 tsp salt(optional)
1/4 ground nutmeg(fresh is best)
1 TBS butter,diced
1 pastry crust for 9 inch pie

1)Boil zucchini until tender,drain and dunk in cold water to cool,drain again.

2)Add sugar,flour,cinnamon,cream of tartar,lemon juice,salt,nutmeg,Mix well.Put into pie crust,dot with butter,place crust on top.

3)Bake at 400 degrees for 40-50 minutes.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Laundry day

OK,ok,I know this has nothing to do with gardening.However,it has everything to do with being more self reliant as well as leaving a smaller foot print on our planet Mother Earth.

Where we used to live an outdoor clothes line was forbidden,now that we have a place to call our own,the clothes line is in place.This was actually a Christmas gift from my parents a few years ago,but it wasn't until after they gave it to me that we discovered they were against the rules of the park where we lived.

With the high of 97 here yesterday it would have been just plain dumb to run the electric clothes drier.I don't like using it,but it has been difficult to convince my husband to hang the clothes out on the line,until yesterday.Since I'm home far less than he is,he does the majority if the household chores,and sometimes it takes a little prodding on my part to get him to change the way he's doing something.

Everyone has a reason either using a clothes line,or not,but for the vast majority,it's because they're lazy.It takes effort to take the clothes out of the wash,put them in a basket and haul it outside,then to hang them up on the line,and when they are dry,go out take them back down and bring them in....yep,much more work than tossing them into an electric or gas drier and hitting a button....

BUT,look at it from my prospective for just a moment.

Are you really so busy that you can't take an extra 5 minutes to hang a load of laundry outside on the line?

Have you shopped for newer energy efficient appliances lately? Notice that there aren't clothes driers labeled with the energy star rating? Yep,they don't exist,at least not the last time I went shopping for one.That may have changed,or it may not have.That's because it takes SO MUCH energy to dry one load of laundry,that they can not be labeled Energy Star Rated.

How much electricity does your clothes drier use?Look into it,it might surprise you.Somewhere on your appliance should be a little white or yellow label,on there it will state the approximate monthly cost or yearly cost to run it. What does it cost you per year to run the clothes drier?

What about the environmental costs? It takes fuel from coal,nuclear power,hydro stations,etc,etc to get the electricity to your house to run that machine so you can have dry clothes.The major part of where we get out energy from in NON RENEWABLE sources,meaning,once it's gone,it's gone,there is no more.Remember too that it take additional fuel to get the coal,etc, to the power plant to create that energy so you can run that appliance.

If everyone who uses the electrical utility system were to do just one thing to reduce energy usage,cutting out the clothes drier could be the easiest,and have the biggest impact on energy usage.

I'm not saying that clothes driers are all that bad,I mean,when it's raining,the clothes won't get dry,or in the winter,they will "freeze dry" in a few days,so there are a few advantages to using a clothes drier.but in the spring-fall parts of the year,it only takes an extra few minutes of effort to reduce your energy output.

In times like this week,where we've hit nearly record highs for Michigan temps,even just a small effort can help ease the burden of our over taxed,outdated,electrical system.

I'm not saying turn off the a/c,and get rid of the clothes drier,but what I am saying is take baby steps,if every household did just a little bit to reduce their energy output,there wouldn't be as many outages as there have been,rolling blackouts,etc, do just a little....

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The wonders of mystery plants

Anyone who's ever had a garden knows that sooner or later you end up with mystery,volunteer plants that come up just where ever they feel like,and leave you with a couple of choices.You can pull them up with the weeds,you could transplant them to another part of the garden,or you could just let them grow where they are.

I chose to let most of them grow right where they sprouted,since most of them were either growing up through the holes in the cinder blocks,or like the stray zucchini,growing in between the two fences,not in the way of anything.

So now we have several plants growing here and there,some,we know what they are,others surprised even let's take a look at what we have discovered so far.

This turned out to be Lemon Squash,and is growing healthy and strong,and is starting to produce for me.YEAH! WIN!

This one turned out to be zucchini,and has already given me 4,and as you can see,is still going strong.

We're thinking this may actually be a type of zucchini hybrid,time will tell I guess...I have since harvested this one,and it's sitting on my kitchen counter,waiting for me to figure out what it is.But the general opinion among my gardening friends is a type of zucchini,which it shouldn't be,since this was a store bought plant,and was labeled as "Hubbard"....

Lastly we have a new mystery to solve,while I suspect that this is a type of Gooseberry,I'll need to confirm it before I proceed any further,it's not in the garden,but is actually growing along the back edge of the property,under the shade of some trees.

So tell you have any mystery plants growing in your garden this year? Did you let them grow or pull them up?What have they turned out to be?

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Ok,I am not a big fan of broccoli,but my husband loves the stuff,so we have it growing in the garden this year.

I only put in four plants,and so far have gotten enough for two meals(what was left after hubby snacking on it raw)put in the freezer.

Freezing vegetables is the fastest way to preserve your garden's harvest for later use.Although I also can and dehydrate a lot of foods,for certain vegetables,canning and dehydrating just do not work out well.

Dehydrated broccoli turns out leathery and bitter once re-hydrated.I would imagine something delicate like this would turn to complete mush if you tried to can it,so in the freezer in went.

I had also read somewhere in my gardening books that if you leave the broccoli plants in the garden after you harvest the first big crown,that it will sprout more smaller ones next to where you cut the first ones,so I am trying that out.
As you can see from the photos,that there are a few smaller crowns growing around where the first main crown was harvested.I'm going to take these off and just leave the plants to see what happens.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The cost of feed

So,here we are with a new rabbit that needs rabbit food and some good hay.

Well,ok,yeah,I could go to the pet supply and get everything I need,after all,it's only one rabbit,right?

Rather than hopping in the car and loading up a shopping cart with plastic bags of rabbit pellets and plastic bags full of fancy named hay,I looked online for pricing....and knowing what I'm willing to spend on food for this little project of ours.

Well here we are:

Petsmart a 24oz poly bag of hay is $4.99....sounds cheap right? Well guess again.
That's 24 ounces of hay,less than 2 lbs of food....well,you can go straight to a local farm,and buy a full bale(which is anywhere from 40-50lbs)for around $3.00,same hay,no fancy plastic wrap,and yes,you have to store it somewhere,but for less than the pet store cost of a 24oz bag,you get 640(average)ounces of the same hay for the rabbit.

Now on to the rabbit pelleted food,the pet store cost is anywhere from $10.99 all the way up to $33.24 for rabbit food....the largest bag being 25lbs.The 5lb bag was the $10.99....not so bad though,you get a lot for your money right? Wrong again...

The local feed store price for not 25lbs,but for 50lbs is $17.49(no plastic bag either).One rabbit goes through at most a cup of pelleted food a you can guess just how long a full 50lb bag would last.

Let's not forget the bedding,we need bedding for the little guy too.With prices starting at around $7.99,and going all the way up to $34.99....with fancy things like recycled paper or chopped corn cobs,sun dried grass and cotton,ok,folks,this is just a rabbit,and not even a pet,as he will be earning his keep.

Plain old straw bedding,the old standard for horses,cattle,sheep,you name it,even dog houses,for decades.It's completely natural,eco friendly,decomposes in the compost pile,and is pet safe...the highest price I've seen locally is $2.50 for good clean wheat straw,that's for aprox 40-50 lbs per bale,enough to change the rabbit's bedding a dozen or more times.

While sometimes you may actually need something from a pet supply store,but mostly pet supply stores are designed to make you spend way more money than you need to.

So the hay,and straw are in the shed,just a few feet from the rabbit hutch,and the rabbit chow is in an old dog food storage bin,tightly sealed.I have enough food and bedding to last the little guy for a few months at least,for less than the cost of 25lbs of some fancy branded rabbit food from the pet supply store.

My advice,shop around and only buy what you really need for your animals.You need bedding,not recycled paper product,you need food,not fancy labels and plastic bags.

Some food for thought,so the next time you need something for an animal,be it a pet rabbit,a horse,or whatever,it pays to really look at the costs rather than the labels and fancy eye catching wrapping.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Snakes have their place

I was out watering the garden and scared up a little garter snake,though not uncommon,I have been seeing more and more of them.In fact,the larger the garden gets,the more of them I see,there's a rather large one living in a small brush pile near the garden,we decided to leave the pile there and let the snake have it as his home for the summer.

I know,I know you hate snakes right?Well these little garden guards really are good to have around.They will help keep small pests out of the garden/yard that could damage your plants.Although they will catch a frog or toad once in a while,for the most part they will snack on some insects,small mice,things like that.

Garter snakes are not poisonous,although they will bite when given a reason to,but if you just leave them be,they will go on about their path and not bother you.In fact most any snake,as long as you don't bother it,won't bother you,even rattlers,which can be found here in Michigan.

The above photo gives a good example of what a native Massasauga Rattle Snake looks like,it is the only species of rattler in Michigan,it is also the state's only poisonous snake.We came across this one on a hiking trail last fall.If you see one,just give them plenty of room,they will go on their way without even stopping to look at you.If you see one curled up,just give him plenty of room and make a very wide path around him.If you're going to be out hiking in areas where there are tall weeds and lots of low lying brush it's a good idea to wear high cut boots and a good pair of jeans,if you surprise a snake,it will most likely strike at ankle height,a thick leather boot will help protect you from it's poison,but just be careful while hiking/walking outside in heavy brush,and watch where you step.

If you'd rather not have snakes in your yard,you don't need to invest/waste money on those snake repellants,you just need to clean up your yard a bit.Snakes like cool dark places to hide,under sheds,under brush,inside dense plants.Keep your lawn cut short,any brush piles picked up,and keep animals from burrowing under sheds to keep snakes from taking up residence in your yard.

If you do see a rattle snake in your yard,it's because either he's just passing through,or you have mice or rats hanging around,his favorite food,eliminate the food source,and the snake will have no reason to stay around.This is as easy as making sure that all people and pet food is kept in sealed containers,including feed for animals like horses and goats.Mice like grains,and if you have it available to them,they will come,and multiply,and where there are mice and rats,there will eventually be snakes.

For me,snakes are welcome in my yard and in my garden.There is nothing out there that's so important that it can't wait until the snake moves along on his path and out of mine.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The big reveal!

I've been watching these stray plants grow all spring,not knowing for sure what they were and not wanting to pull up what seems to be perfectly healthy plants.I hate pulling up volunteers unless I have to.

We have Zucchini,this plant is growing between the electric fence and the poultry fencing(rabbit barrier),and now has about 6 little zucchini on it,so I think it's safe to say we have another zucchini

The other appears to be Lemon Squash,actually I'm about 99.9% sure it's Lemon Squash at this point.The tiny yellow dot growing in here tells me it is.Lemon Squash,for those who've never seen it,is right up there in production with zucchini,giving tons of slightly roundish to lemon shaped summer squash.They are quite tasty,and being small in size,one is just about right for one meal,depending on what recipe you're using that day.

The photo of the big cluster of plants is the Lemon Squash,which started out this spring growing up through the holes in the cinder blocks we used to build the sides of the raised beds.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


Well,the first part of our rabbit project is home and in his cage.
We're going to let him settle down for the rest of the day before we bug him anymore,he's had a rough day,being separated from his litter mates,put in a cat carrier and driven in a car for nearly an hour....

We decided on getting a New Zealand,as they are a very good meat breed of rabbit,and hopefully will pass on those big muscles to his offspring.

I'm not sure exactly when we'll add a female rabbit to the plan,but sometime later this summer,with a first litter planned for next spring.

For now this one's primary job is going to be to produce manure,which will go into the compost pile,and then into the garden least until the gardens are done for the season,then we'll decide which garden bed will remain empty next year,and that will be where we either place the hutch,moving it as needed,or where we dump the contents of the catch tray and let it sit for a year to help build up the soil.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The pay off begins.

I was able to get out to the gardens and for the first time harvest something other than Kale and radishes,although they made it into the basket too.

In previous years we have always had tomatoes,peppers,green beans and the like,in smaller amounts due to it being grown in containers on our patio,but this year I went a little nuts with the planting,and it is starting to look like I'll have plenty to share.

Pictured in the basket are, Kale,cabbage,broccoli,hot banana pepper,zucchini and an assortment of radishes(when planting,took 3-4 packets of different types,mixed them together,and planted).

I just made my first ever batch of kale chips we'll see shortly if those are on the keep list or not.Tomorrow will be fried zucchini,and we'll probably just cut up the broccoli and snack on it with the radishes.the cabbage I am going to take over to my parents and hopefully my Mom will make some cole slaw for all of us to enjoy.

I'm not much into cooked veggies,I much prefer them raw,as straight from the garden as one can get.I will fry some zucchini,and cook veggies here and there,but if they can be enjoyed in the raw form,that's the way I like them best.

So how about you? What's your favorite veggie? How do you best like it prepared?

I've never had a garden this big,but I can already see where I can make improvements for next year,I think I've got just about the right amount of space(5 beds that are each 3 feet wide and 35-40 feet long).

Sunday, July 3, 2011

How could anyone hate a garden?

I've just finished reading about a woman in Oak Park Michigan who has locked horns in battle with the city over her vegetable garden.Of all the things a city could site a property owner for,they've chosen her garden...

While I haven't been to Oak Park in quite a long time,I would say that the city officials could find other properties to complain about.I'm sure it has it's fair share of run down or abandoned properties,yards with trash in them,things like that,that to me it seems would take priority over someone who chooses to plant vegetables rather than flowers.

Follow the link here,and show this woman some support,maybe even write/email the city and tell them how stupid it is to go after someone who's simply choosing to grow some of her own food on her own property.In a type of silent protest,maybe all those neighbors who said they support her could plant at least one tomato plant in their own front yards as a show of support?

In the big picture it's regulations like those in Oak Park that discourage people from making any attempts at all the be more self reliant,and know where their food is coming from.

I drove around my neighborhood yesterday evening,and honestly,there are only a few households that have a veggie garden,sure most have flowers,or other landscaping,but no food plants.

SO we took a drive out to the area countryside,thinking surely people who live further out from town will be growing some of their own food....the answer,few and far between did we see a garden of any kind.

As a society in general,we have become so detached from our own food that it's kind of scary.We have children,and some uneducated adults who don't know where meat comes from,they really don't understand that when they have steak or hamburger,that they are eating part of what was a living animal.

Children don't understand that milk comes from an animal,and apples grow on trees.

It's this line of thinking that has allowed companies like Monsanto to take over agriculture,do some reading on your own,watch Food,Inc,it'll open your eyes a bit.

We've come to a point in our society,especially here in America,where we're so dependent on others to supply our food for us,that we don't care where it comes from as long as we can buy it at the grocery store.

The average grocery store only has enough stock for three days,and a larger portion of households don't even have three days worth of food in the pantry,we've set ourselves up for disaster,really.

Ok,I'm rambling now,I'll stop for now,more on this topic later as it's one that I hold close to my heart,but for now,go to this woman's website,and show her some support.If you live in her neighborhood,go ahead,plant a veggie in your front yard too.If enough people were to do that in support of what she's doing,maybe the city will see how stupid this fight is and leave her and her garden alone.

Here's the link again in case you missed it at the top of this post.

Ok,I see the links are not working for some reason,but you can still copy and paste it to your search engine to bring it up,sorry.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

There's a rabbit in my garden!

Had you scared didn't I? Thinking how could a rabbit get through four strands of electric fence and 24 inches of poultry fence?

Well,because I put him or them there.We don't have the rabbits yet,we picked up the rabbit hutch(basically a cage designed for rabbits)this afternoon,and then we'll decide what we're going to do.

What I would like to do is set the hutch up right out in the garden,on top of the compost pile,or over top an empty garden bed,so that the dropping go right into the garden(less cage cleaning).

Local rabbit breeders charge $20-$40 per bag for bagged bunny poop.It's costs a lot less than that to keep a couple of rabbits in your own backyard.Rabbit manure is like black gold,as the pellets are like tiny nitrogen bombs to feed your garden with,it does not need to be composted,and can be spread directly into the garden,unlike most animal manures.

So here's the plan: Place the hutch directly over top either the compost pile or an empty garden bed(the one I'll be resting for a year anyway)and as needed move the hutch along the bed to evenly distribute the manure.In theory it should work.
Then,in the fall we'll mix it into the soil,and let it sit all winter,working it in better in the spring,several weeks before planting time,much like farmers do when preparing fields for planting.

I'm thinking that in the winter months we'll have to move the hutch closer to the house,inside the privacy fence to give the little critters more protection from the harsh winter winds,in that case,we'll just dump the droppings onto the chosen garden bed or the compost pile as we clean the cage.

I've never done this before,never even had a pet rabbit before,but this is all about learning what works and what doesn't.