Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Garden Journal

The weather was a sunny 50 degrees today and was perfect for planting some seeds into the hoop house. The plants are looking good and showing signs of new growth. Seeds were planted close together in 2 ft rows and consisted of shallots, chiogga beets, golden beets, clindra beets, danvers half long carrots, purple dragon carrots, rainbow blend carrots, turnips, french breakfast radish, watermelon radish and sugar snap peas. I'll report as soon as I see the first signs of emerging plants.

The plants under lights are looking very healthy and some needed transplanting. A dozen tomatoes went into larger pots and 3 types of basil were started (purple opal, lemon and genovesse). My plan was to begin many more herbs but my husband decided to paint one wall of the basement and since I am extremely allergic to latex, I had to stop for a few hours until the paint dries. Well this give me enough time to figure out what to make for dinner and to write a quick blog entry.

Dinner tonight needs to be very soft since I had a tooth pulled yesterday. I thought a nice omelet sounded good. I found some chives, walking onions and oregano growing well in one of my permanent beds and cut some for the omelets. A nice treat later will be some biscuits with maple cream...that should be soft enough for me to chew. Now that I know what to make, I'd better get started. See you next time. Kim

Monday, March 30, 2009

Garden Journal

I was caught totally off guard yesterday by a rather large snowstorm. Thanks to my hoop house, all the plants outside are alive and looking very healthy. Hopefully in the next couple days, I will be able to plant out some early spring crop seeds as well. I will be planting out beets, carrots, peas, radishes, radicchio, spinach, turnips and rutabaga. I'm not sure the temperature of the soil will be warm enough to germinate but since I am trying to push spring a little bit, it will be worth the try.

The seedlings of tomatoes and peppers under lights in the basement are looking happy and growing well. Now that they are about 2", it is time to add a fan gently blowing on them to stimulate stronger stems so they can withstand the winds outside when they are a little older.

Spring is ever so slowly warming up which means much more planting to come so please come back and join me in My Little Corner of the World. Kim

Friday, March 27, 2009

Maple Cream

Since I have never seen nor tasted maple cream, I am hoping this is the real thing. Making the maple cream was very simple and not as time consuming as I thought it would be...well at least in comparison to making the syrup. The taste is so incredible!


thermometer capable of reading at least 240 degrees
very DEEP cooking pot (I used the one from the turkey fryer)
4 cups (2 pints) maple syrup
ice water bath
strong wooden spoon or Kitchen Aid mixer

Place 4 cups water into the cooking pot. Bring to a boil and test the temperature. In my case, water was at a full boil at 210 degrees. Carefully pour out water and dry pot.

Pour the maple syrup into the pot. You may add a teaspoon of butter if you like to keep the syrup from boiling up too high. WATCHING AT ALL TIMES!!! Bring syrup to a boil. It will foam up considerably and you DO NOT want it to boil over! It will make a mess that will NEVER come off your stove.

Continue to watch the syrup boil, but do not stir, until it reaches 24 degrees above the point your water boiled. It took me about 13 minutes to get my syrup to 234 degrees (remember your temperature may vary).

Once syrup has reached 24 degrees above the boiling point of water. Carefully place the cooking pot into a sink of ice water. DO NOT DISTURB! Allow to cool, undisturbed, until it reaches 80 degrees. This took about 35 minutes.

Once cooled to 80 degrees, begin to stir. You will need a lot of muscle at this point and may even have to ask the husband, kids and neighbors to help. I poured my cooled mixture into the bowel of my Kitchen Aid mixer and turned on the lowest setting. I mixed for approximately 20 minutes until it reached the consistency of peanut butter.

Pour into 1/2 pint jars, screw on the lid and refrigerate.

Enjoy! This is absolutely heavenly on fresh, homemade biscuits.

Garden journal

The lettuce I planted in the hoop house last week still looks healthy so I decided to give spring a little push again today and put out some more plants. I still have lots of seeds so if things don't do well, I can start again. Today I planted, 9 kohlrabi, 6 Japanese pak choi, 10 bok choi, 3 Michili cabbage, 2 pak choi, 2 swiss chard, 1 kale, 6 broccoli, 6 cauliflower, 4 purple glazer garlic, 1 yukon gold potato, 1 red potomac potato and the rest of my salad greens I was growing in the basement this winter. The salad greens that went outside are: red sails lettuce, grand rapids lettuce, spinach, mache', freckles lettuce and black seeded simpson lettuce.

We are supposed to get one night this week below freezing so I will keep my fingers crossed that all my little babies will do well. I am running out of space under my growing lights with all the tomato, pepper and other vegetables! Hopefully, we have a bountiful harvest this year.

Medical news

For those of you who visit my blog, first thank you...it makes it worth writing. Just in case I seem to disappear for a little while, I wanted you all to know I will return. My husband is in very poor health and needs a liver transplant in the very near future. He is going through a lot of testing and as soon as they are done, he will be listed. Since his health is failing rather quickly, he will be near the top of the transplant list. Hopefully, he will be visited by an angel and receive a new liver soon. Please keep him in your prayers...love and hugs, Kim

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

New toy

My husband found this nice little battery powered chainsaw on the clearance rack at Lowe's for me. It is easy to handle and works great for trimming small trees. I usually don't use any type of power tools except the lawnmower, but I think this one is going to be quite handy. It made easy work of trimming the small landscape tree in front of the house.

Looks like I have a new toy! Next stop, trimming the fruit trees at my daughter's and mom's house.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Potato in a pot

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I saw a video on YouTube that showed a woman growing potatoes in pots. I wanted to give this a try also.

On February 20th, I took a large pot, approximately 2 gallon size, placed a 3" layer of potting mix into the bottom. I then layed a potato from a 10# bag into the bottom and covered with more soil and watered well.

On March 1st, the potato sprouted. As the potato grew taller, I kept adding more soil until it reached the top of the pot. As you can see by the picture, it looks very happy and healthy. I am now in the process of hardening off the potato so it can be placed outside in the hoop house until I need the planting space. The potato will then continue to be grown in the pot until the top dies off. At this point, the potato will be ready to harvest, in about 90 days or so, and I will know how successful this experiment was.

I'll post at that time how many potatoes I was able to grow this way. If successful, I plan on growing potatoes in pots in the house into next winter to extend the fresh potato harvest. Kim

Hoop house update

I needed a way to keep the side pieces of the hoop house from blowing around in the wind and I have to admit, my husband had a great idea. He took 2 more pieces of the 1/2" pvc pipe and used duct tape to secure the plastic to the pipe. Now I can roll it up and use some clamps to hold it in place when open. When closed, I use the clamps to secure the side pieces to the raised bed because they are so light weight. I keep the ends closed with old bricks.

I transplanted some of the lettuce I have been growing indoors for salads. I have been hardening them off for the past week in anticipation of placing them out in the hoop house. I have another flat I plan on planting out sometime next week. I just wanted to make sure these took off first. We are expecting a couple nights of below freezing weather this weekend which will be a good way to determine if the plants can tolerate living out in the hoop house.

Ok, now let me tell you the way I was going to make the hoop house in case anyone wants an easier option. (See previous post for materials list.)

First I would have taken the 3/4" pvc pipe and cut it down to 8' since I wanted to be able to move it to different raised beds...I plan on making 4 4'x8' beds as my next project...but this one will have to stay put since the measurements are off because my husband decided it was too much work to cut to 8 ft...lets just leave it at that :)

So again, take the 3/4" pipe and cut to 8 ft (if desired). Make a mark 2" from the ends. Then make a mark at 2', 4', and 6' from one end. (In order to use the type of clamps I used on the raised bed, I had to come in 2" from the end to properly secure to the wood of the raised bed.)

Take 5 of the 10 ft sections of 1/2" pvc pipe (ribs) and make a mark in the center, approximately at 5'. Using the 1/4" bit and drill, drill a hole at the marks on the 1/2" pipe.

Drill a hole through one end of the 3/4" pvc pipe (spine) at the 2" mark.

Now take a bolt and washer and place through the center hole of the 1/2" pipe then through the hole in the end of the 3/4" pvc pipe. Place another washer and then the nut and tighten down. Lay flat on the ground. This will allow you to drill the rest of the holes without the pipe rolling around so everything will line up properly.

Now drill through the remaining marks on the 3/4" pvc pipe and secure the ribs to the spine as above.

At this point, it would be good to have a helper. Carry the soon to be hoop house to your raised bed and stand it up on the 5 rib pieces. Place a clamp over each of the ribs and tighten into place.

Now go to the other side of the raised bed and loosely screw your clamps into place...at the 2" mark, 2', 4', 6' and 2" in from the ends. Now bend the ribs and place into the clamps and screw down tight.

Place the plastic over top of the hoops making sure you have enough to be able to secure down the ends. Now take the remaining 2 pieces of the 1/2" pvc pipe and cut to 8 ft lengths. Place the pipe on the plastic at the sides of the hoop house and tape down well with the duct tape. You will now be able to roll up the sides as in the picture above and secure them with clamps when you want to keep it open to plant and on hot days.

Hope this all makes sense but if it doesn't, feel free to let me know and I will try to clear things up. Kim

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My adventure into hoop house building...

After 4 long hours, I finally have a completed hoop house. It should have been a simple project but you will soon find out that things at my house are not always simple.

Supply list:

7 pieces of 1/2" pvc pipe 10 ft long
1 piece of 3/4" pvc pipe 10 ft long
5-1/4" machine bolts with nuts and washers 2 1/2" long
10 pipe clamps (holders) to secure to wood frame
tape measure
marking pen
10 ft wide by desired length clear plastic
saw to cut pvc pipe to 8 ft (if desired)
duct tape
a couple clamps borrowed from the husband
20 1" or 1 1/2" deck screws

Now this is one item on the supply list that can either help or hinder any well thought out project. Sorry guys but I am sure you ladies know what I am talking about. The hoop house was supposed to be a simple project. Take a 3/4" pvc pipe, measure out where to drill holes and drill holes to make a spine. Take the 1/2" pvc pipe, mark the center and drill some holes. Now take the 1/2" pvc and bolt it to the 3/4" piece to look like ribs. Now screw the clamps to the raised bed frame, place the pvc ribs into place and tighten down....yeah it should have been that simple.

Enter the husband. It started out with something like "No, no, no, you don't just drill a bunch of holes and start bolting things together. Where is your measured drawing?" It was precisely then I knew I was in for a very long day. Now don't get me wrong, I love the man but simple is just not in his vocabulary! "Well dear," I say, "I was watching this utube and I know what to do. Would you like to see it?" Of course I knew exactly what he was going to say, "I don't need no stupid tube thing to show me how to make this thing". So I quietly explained what I wanted and where, pulled up a chair and grabbed a book and told him to let me know when he needed me to hold things or hand things to him.

A couple jigs, lots off cuss words, and a few hours later, my hoop house (and most of my book) was done. The only thing left to do is to place the plastic over the top. But then, someone insisted that he was positive he had enough so there was no need to buy another roll....

If you need a measured drawing just let me know and I'll see if my husband will share. Also don't forget, the little clamps need to be precisely down 2 1/2" from the top of the board and the bottom of the pvc pipe needs to be precisely down 4" from the bottom of the clamp and the center of the pvc pipe needs to be precisely 28" apart and...well lets just say I'm glad it was a nice sunny day outside.

I did get him to also agree to let me have another 10 ft of lawn to add 4 more raised beds so I am sure I will have another story to tell in My Little Corner of the World. Kim

Monday, March 16, 2009

Maple syrup

I have finally found a good way to boil down my sap into syrup. I first tried an electric frying pan since that is what I had. It did the job, but it was very slow and made an extra light colored syrup that tasted and looked like butterscotch. It was delicious, but the time involved prohibited it from my chosen method. The second batch was made with a large kettle on a hot plate outside on my patio. The sap never got to a good boil and was taking way too much time. That batch was finished off on the stove with all the windows in the house open to prevent extreme condensation on the windows and walls. My husband actually came up with the last and, for me, final way to boil down the sap. He suggested a deep fryer run on propane that is also used to deep fry turkeys. He has been wanting one for quite some time, so we purchased one. We both win with this solution. He gets his deep fryer and I get an easy way to boil down my sap.

Here is a picture of my syrup made with the deep fryer. It is very rich and flavorful! The tree at my house is giving me about 5-6 gallons of sap a day while the tree at my daughter's house is giving me another 3-4. The process of boiling down the sap is simple but time consuming. My neighbors must think I am pretty strange sitting out in the garage for hours at a time reading a book. Oh well, I don't care since I am the one enjoying the wonderful taste of spring in a jar.

More to come soon as spring is finally near so please come back and join me in My Little Corner of the World. Kim

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tomato madness

It's official! My yearly tomato madness has begun! Each year I cannot wait for that first ripe tomato exploding with flavor in my mouth. Jordan and I planted all 20 varieties yesterday along with 5 varieties (so far) of peppers. Now I will obsess over the little tomatoes until well into the summer months. I have many new varieties this year and cannot wait to try them out. The varieties this year will be: zapotec pleated, Kellogg's breakfast, green zebra, Italian market wonder, cabot, garten perle, opalka, yellow pear, roma, nyagous, Brad's black heart (so far my favorite!), cherokee purple, Oleana's, Ludmilla's red plum, rutgers, New Yorker, brandywine, marmande, black cherry and mennonite orange. This is a nice variety of color, texture, and taste. I'm not sure where they will all be grown and know for sure I must expand the garden to accommodate the larger assortment of tomatoes and the other vegetable seeds I acquired this year.

Looks like we will be eating good in My Little Corner of the World. Kim

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


I thought you might like to know how some of my little experiments are going so I think an update is in order.

Winter Gardening
I saw the first green in my winter sown containers yesterday. The radishes are already putting on their first true leaves. The other containers are in a slightly more shaded area and are still pretty much frozen solid.

Lettuce under lights
I am thrilled at the amount of greens I have been able to produce under the cheap shop lights. I planted in early January and am able to eat a large dinner salad every night from the containers I have growing. In fact things were going so well, I added more lettuce containers, spinach, mache, beets for greens and radishes.

Potatoes in pots
My large pot containing a store bought potato that sprouted is now full to the top with soil. Since the pot is full I will just have to wait a couple months for the plant to finish growing and for the top to finally die off to see how this experiment works. I have the pot sitting so it is just barely under the end of the shop light. I wrapped the end of the light and the pot with foil a few days ago to give the potato as much light as possible. It really greened up and looks really healthy.

Garden planning
This is still ever changing. I am in a swap for cuttings and have lots of different food items coming. I also received an incredible variety of seeds through friends from Garden Web and I want to plant at least a 1 foot square of each of them. Looks like I need to get the plans out once again.

The propagator I made works beautifully! I used it to root things to send out in the cuttings swap. The geraniums rooted well and some of the hard wood cuttings had little root nodes starting. I did learn that the geraniums did not like the top on the container yet the hard wood cuttings did. Next time, I will simply make more than one and keep the different types of plants separated.

Worm bin
The worms appear happy and are doing their magic. Things are getting broken down on the bottom and I have a thin layer of castings. Not bad for only a half pound of worms. I am positive that next spring I will have enough for all my little seedlings.

Simple sprouter
I am enjoying different types of sprouts pretty much daily in my salads. These are a great addition to the lettuces and greens for added flavor and nutrition. I especially like the radish sprouts which add just a little bit of zing to the salads. I am not a fan of a cut up radish but really enjoy them as sprouts.

Maple syrup
This is working out so well. Yeah it takes a lot of sap to make just a little bit of syrup but for me it is so worth it. I simply put a pot on outside and keep adding sap a little at a time while doing spring clean up chores outside. The first batch was at more of a simmer than a boil and made a flavor like a cross between honey and butterscotch. It tastes amazing and is wonderful on biscuits. I actually prefer this to the taste of maple. I may make another batch later on and put it away just for me!

Well spring is in the air so I am sure there will be much more action to come so please come back and visit me soon in My Little Corner of the World. Kim

Tree Honey

I finished making my first couple batches of syrup and they taste great! The first syrup looks and tastes a little more like a light butterscotch and less like maple syrup but is wonderful on biscuits. The second batch looks more like maple syrup but now has a slightly butterscotch/maple flavor. Either way I am very happy with my little experiment and will be boiling down the sap a couple times a week. Don't they look delicious?

Since I didn't have the money to purchase a lot of equipment, I wanted to find something I could use that I already owned. The first batch was boiled down in my electric frying pan out on the picnic table. It took quite a long time and I am not sure if that is why the first batch is so light in color. I decided to purchase a hot plate for the second batch and it cooked down much quicker. For both, I finished the boiling process on my stove in the kitchen so I could control the temperature better and keep a closer eye on them. Looks like I can expect approximately 3 gallons of sap a day from my 2 trees which will make a little less than a pint of syrup. I am happy and plan on approaching a couple of neighbors next year to see if they will allow me to tap their trees as well...a nice pint of syrup may help in convincing them to let me tap them.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Tapping Maple Trees

We had a sunny, warm day today which is supposed to last for the next few days. Jordan and I were looking for something new to try in our food production experience. Just to see if we could do it, we decided to try making our own maple syrup. I didn't want to spend a lot of money and did a lot of research to find an inexpensive way to collect the sap. My total cost was less than $1 for the materials we needed.

Supply list:

1/4" poly tubing
large cup hooks
drill with bit to match tubing
zip ties
recycled milk jugs
food grade 5 gal. bucket
garden snips

The first thing I did was to drill holes into the tree about 12" apart. It is very important that the hole not be too large or you will lose a lot of the sap. I then cut the poly tubing with the garden snips so one end was angled and pushed it into the hole about 1/4 to 1/2".

I then screwed the large cup hook to hold the milk jug. The jugs fit just a little too tight on the hook and were difficult to remove so I placed a zip tie on the handle of the milk jug to hold it on hook. I drilled a hole in the lid of the jug and placed it so the tubing went through the hole and into the jug so no water could get inside if it rains. Jordan and I then hung the jugs into place and started collecting the sap.

In just 3 hours we were able to gather just under a gallon of sap today from the large tree you see in the picture which is at my daughter's house and a smaller tree I have in my front yard. I hope we can continue to gather the sap at this rate because it will take about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. Even if we only get a few cups of syrup, I know this will be an awesome experience for both of us...especially when we sit down to our first taste of our own syrup on a big stack of pancakes.

I'll keep you updated as we progress in collecting the sap and of course when we actually make our syrup so remember to come on back and join us in My Little Corner of the World. Kim

From the Michigan Maple Syrup Association:

The Algonquian Indian Legend
We don't really know who first discovered maple syrup, though most people believe Native Americans in the northeastern part of North America discovered the sweet sap of the maple tree. Several legends have been handed down over the centuries which tell of the first discovery of maple syrup. This legend comes from the Algonquian Indians and relates how a the wife of a chief discovered maple syrup quite by accident while preparing venison during the "Season of the Melting Snow."

Woksis, the Indian Chief, was going hunting one day early in March. He yanked his tomahawk from the tree where he had hurled it the night before, and went off for the day. The weather turned warm and the gash in the tree, a maple tree, dripped sap into a vessel that happened to stand close to the trunk. Toward evening Woksis's wife needed water in which to boil their dinner. She saw the trough full of sap and thought that would save her a trip to get water. Besides, she was a careful woman and didn't like to waste anything. So she tasted the maple sap and found it good-a little sweet, but not bad. She used it to cook her venison. When Woksis came home from hunting, he smelled the unique maple aroma and from far off knew that something especially good was brewing. The water had boiled down to syrup, which sweetened their meal with maple. Woksis found the gravy sweet and delicious. He spread the good news how the Great Spirit had guided his wife in making the delicious new food, Sinzibuckwud (meaning, "drawn from the wood" in the Algonquian tongue). Soon all the women were "sugar-making" ("seensibaukwut"), and the braves began performing the "Sugar Dance." Thereafter, maple sugar was produced and celebrated each spring after the long, cold winter during the "Season of the Melting Snow."