Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sowing Seeds

I've begun sowing my seeds for this spring. Some seeds can be given a head start on the season by sowing indoors. All of my seeds are heirloom varieties. Buying heirloom varieties is extremely important. Seeds are the key to feeding yourself and many varieties have been bought up by large companies, destroyed and replaced with proprietary seeds. Which means if you save and grow these seeds you are breaking the law. Here is an interesting post on the matter. Do You Know Where Your Seed Comes From?

I bought my seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Hopefully I will have better luck with the tomatoes this year and be able to give a report. I'm excited to be growing Pineapple tomato. It's gotten really good reviews from other sites. Supposedly it's the best some have tasted. Hmmm.....Hopefully we'll see!
I've been saving the bottoms of my milk cartons for a while now. Last year I used egg cartons. I didn't like this so much. I found the egg cartons were too shallow. The milk cartons are deeper and usually I only use them for transplanting cuttings or individual plants. We'll see how it goes. I bought my seed starting mix this year. I've been reading up on how to make my own, but I'm just not ready for that yet.

Once they sprout and develop true leaves, I'll post on how to transplant. The brown carton like material you see in the picture is the packing material for the Cricut my brother-in-law bought the girls for Christmas. There were several pieces and they are really working out well as seed starting trays. Hey there's a use for most everything if you think hard enough!

(I even keep used disposable plastic bags that stuff comes in. When I clean the cat's litter box I put the clumps in one and throw it away. That way it serves one more purpose before being ditched. Also I don't have to purchase bags for this purpose.) Remember though, the best way to cut down on trash is to not purchase things that have an excess of it anyway.

These are free trees I got at our last New Orleans Garden Club Council meeting. The state forestry director was there and gave them out. I got five overcup oaks, six river birches and three bald cypress, all native Louisiana trees. I will be planting them tomorrow.

List of seeds that I planted:

14 Tomato Varieties:
S. Marzano
Cuor Di Bue
Egg Yolk
Pink Accordion
White Currant
German Red Strawberry
Cherokee Purple
Henderson's Winsall
Orange Banana
Aunt Ruby's German Green
Dr. Carolyn Yellow
Great White

6 Eggplant Varieties:
Black Beauty
Rotonda Bianca
Ping Tung
Louisiana Long Green
Thai Long Purple
Early Long Purple

7 Peppers Varieties
Sweet Yellow Stuffing
Purple Jalapeno
Sweet Chocolate
White Habanero
Purple Beauty
Thai Red Chili
Emerald Giant

Other Varieties Planted:

Tomatillo Purple
Ground Cherry

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

My Neighbor Sandy

My neighbor Sandy owns the beautiful orchard on the left side of my property when facing the Mississippi river. From October to the end of January she has a roadside stand. Unfortunately ordinances are making it difficult to have a permenant roadside stand by making requirements that are too cost prohibitive for local farmers to afford.
Small farmers also have difficulty selling to larger stores because of their own expensive requirements. Where does that leave a small farmer? Farmer's markets are a great answer, but there aren't enough of them. Local small farmers have the freshest produce available and still it is difficult to get it to the people who live close by.
Fortunately Sandy's stand has been there for many many years and is excused from much of the ordinances. It was originally her father's and citrus farming and tree grafting was all she knew as a child. Now her stand has a faithfull following during the citrus season. She sells all manner of Louisiana citrus, citrus trees, produce, nuts, and canned items. She also offers local crafts and gifts.
I love "shopping" at her stand. It and the people who come are always interesting and fun. I say "shopping" because Sandy never lets me pay for anything. "Oh, just take it!" and if I insist, "Oh you're so silly! Go away!" So I like to think we've worked out a sorta bartering thingy. I bring her eggs, crocheted dish rags, arugula, parsley, or whatever I have in my garden that she doesn't already sell at her stand. I offer to water her plants when she goes out of know stuff like that.
Each year I like to stock up on lemons from her stand. Lemons out of season are expensive in the store and usually have these thick peelings and are not too juicy. The lemons Sandy has at her stand are big, thin skinned and juicy. So I "buy" a bunch, juice them, pour the juice in ice cube trays, freeze, and store in the freezer in a ziplock bag. This bag gets used forever. The last one I threw away was when my freezer defrosted after Gustav (hurricane). Luckily we had used most of the lemon cubes.
Then we have enough lemon juice for summer lemonade, lemon bars, fish, guacamole, marinades, etc...until the next lemon season. You just take out how many cubes you need! Not only are we using local food, but we have a superior food and are saving on our family's food cost.

Louisiana lemons!
Don't forget to eat your greens! This batch I cooked from the garden had: collards, turnips, green onions, beets, parsley, carrot, broccoli, curly mustard, arugula, and another green that came in a seed mix. I haven't identified the last one yet. I seasoned it with onion, bell pepper, garlic, celery, cayenne, salt, pepper and smoked sausage. Extremely yummy.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Growing Your Own Food In Tiny Spaces

It's amazing how much food can be grown in tiny spaces. These urban gardeners are certainly an inspiration. Grocery store produce cannot compare to what you can grow yourself.

Part One

Part Two

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Climbing Tree

There is a tree in the Audubon Zoo that was meant to be a climbing tree. Maybe it didn't know it hundreds of years ago when it was a little tree just sprung from it's acorn cocoon.
It swayed too and fro in the hurricane winds. It tucked its leaves in and hid when the grazers passed by. Somehow it stretched above the swampy plants crowding around it and reached the sky.
The sun warmed it. The decaying plants nourished it, and It grew and grew. The deer scratched the velvet from their horns on it's ever thickening trunk. Even so it withstood.
It grew tall and then taller. It's twisted flesh and tough bark withstood the axes edge forcing the woodsman to go elsewhere. It's ever longer arms grew heavier and heavier until the weight and the atmosphere forced it to rest it's huge limbs upon the earth... providing a perfect spot for little creatures to scamper up into it's embrace. It wasn't a lonely tree. It couldn't be. Not with the welcoming reach of it's branches beckoning all to come. Come feel how it's scratchy bark bites into your knees.....
Come on up look at the large ant struggling up right beside you carrying it's heavy load....
There's higher places in my arms. You can see so far. You mustn't be afraid to climb a little higher...
Around the corner there's room....
for everybody....
There's room for everyone in my branches.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Around The House And Gardens

Kitty footprints in the garden. We were having trouble with a rabbit nibbling the cabbages as you might have seen in a past post. Not any more. Our dog Camira helped herself to a nice yummy rabbit. Byron scooped up the remnants and tossed them over the levee.
Frost kissed Asian Red lettuce. It has been unusually cold around here. My tomatoes sadly are a thing of the past.
A very chilly Vivian Romaine lettuce. I have picked quite a bit of this crisp yummy lettuce lately.
Beets. I used to always plant beets and not really know what to do with them. Now I peel them and eat them raw when they are young and small, roast them when they are larger, put the baby greens in salads, and toss the larger leaves and stems in a yummy pot of greens. I even pickled a few last year. This year I planted two varieties, Dutch Baby Ball and Bull's Blood beets. I've only harvested the Dutch Baby Ball so far and they were delicious, sweet and nicely rounded.
My peas are popping out and standing smartly at attention in my new long narrow beds. I just need to cut some bamboo poles and give them some support.

A recent harvest of arugula, Vivian Romaine lettuce and Rosita Romaine Lettuce.

A word about lettuce. Lettuce is so easy and simple to grow. Everyone can grow lettuce. You can grow it in a pot, crate or in the ground. It's not much more complicated than tossing some seeds on good soil, patting them down, keeping them watered and waiting. Just clip what you need for your salad without disturbing the roots and the lettuce will come again. If you do not have time to garden extensively, this is certainly a crop you can grow for yourself with little effort.

In Maryjane Butter's idea book she describes the interesting way in which she serves salad. I tried it with my family and they love it and eat a lot more greens this way. Instead of randomly chopping the greens in large chunks purposely chop the lettuce in smaller pieces. I cut mine in about half to a fourth of an inch squares. Toss in a few seeds, nuts, fruit, shredded cheese, etc....and a little dressing then stir it up. She suggests eating it with a spoon, but I still use a fork. I find you do eat a lot more greens this way.

The wonderful part of growing your own greens is that you are not limited to what you can find in the grocery. You can grow an amazing array of lettuces and greens. Don't forget you can put other greens in your salad too such as beets, arugula, spinach, mustard,.......

A recent salad we had:

Chopped Vivian and Rosita romaine lettuce

Chopped Arugula

Small pecan halves

Honey Orange chunks (this is a new variety the local growers are growing and I love it!)

Finely Shredded Cheddar

Herb Balsamic Vinaigrette

Seared Salmon chunks

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Stand By Me

Finding Places To Cut

A favorite topic of the times is "this economy". What is "this economy"? I'm so very ignorant when it comes to these big topics. I always tell my husband, "That's why God gave me you. To help me see the big stuff."

It's not always easy to understand why things are the way they are or why certain things happen. Sometimes frustration fogs up my mind when trying to sort out reasons and facts so all that big stuff gets pushed to the back until inspiration to deal with it hits.

What I do find easy, is to evaluate the things I do understand and try to improve in that department.

Sometimes I am asked, "How do you find time to do all that?" Make my own laundry soap, tend to a fairly large garden, raise three children, take care of my home, make my own bread....and so on. You know all the stuff you read about in this blog.

I view all the stuff I do around here as my "job". Just as cost cutting and time management was important when I worked a secular job, it is equally if not more important since I made the decision to not work.

When my second child was born, I simply quit work and informed Byron I wouldn't be going back. Somehow we would have to make it on his salary. I needed to be with my children. As much as others wished to help, no one would love them or care for them like me. I needed them and they needed and need me. I am an event florist and I still do events when and what dates I want to.

Byron being the man he is was actually happy that I made this decision. It wasn't easy, but working together we identified those things we could do without and we cut cost where ever we could. Contentment is so much more important than stuff that it cannot be compared. It's amazing, but we are better off and happier now than we have ever been. We eliminated debt, cut up ALL credit cards (we do not have even one), and only buy if we have saved for it. For a great plan on how to do this look up Dave Ramsey.

The first step to cutting home costs is identifying what really is a need. Most of our Neeeeds...are wants. Does everyone in the household neeeeed a cell phone? Do you neeeeed television? Do you neeeeed a manicure? Do you neeeeed a four wheeler? Do you neeeeed lots of "friends" and parties? I have an acquaintance (a real sweetheart) who has admitted to not having saved a cent, but has a huge house and note, she gets a manicure every week, her toes done, her skin sanded, she eats out all the you see a ticking time bomb? By the way she also takes anti-depressants. These very same type people loudly complain about "this economy". Which I know is bad and worsening.

I find that when someone grows up and figures out the difference between a want and a need they just naturally know where to look to shore up the family budget and cuts costs. They also naturally will find contentment and in contentment they will find God. See I Timothy 6:6-8 at the top of my side bar.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Hard Topic - Fixing Blame

After President Bush's speech yesterday there has been quite an uproar in New Orleans. It seems everyone is desperate to fix blame for the tragedy of Katrina on someone else. I liken it to trying to pour water into the skinny end of a funnel. They are starting at the wrong end to fix blame.

If there is any blame we in the area must first point at ourselves. Help must first begin with your neighbor, then local government, then state, and then federal. Most of all you must prepare and depend on yourself and God for your basic needs.

A lot of excuses for the failures of Katrina are cloaked in the shroud of the poor. They are too poor to evacuate. Maybe New Orleans isn't a very good place for the very poor to reside. Yearly evacuations are part of our lives here and they can be quite costly.

I do live in an area where potential disaster is a threat we deal with every year. It's something that in the past had been relegated as a vague menacing shadow in the background. Almost like a mugger that lurks in the murky shadows of city alleys, they always mug the other guy.

Katrina changed all that. We know that we can relive Katrina any hurricane season. My family and I constantly make plans on how we can keep our family safe and those who depend on us - elderly, the sick, our animals etc... Because we can. I believe one day I will reap what I sow. If I help my neighbor one day they will help me.

If blame can be fixed, (as far as the humanitarian aspects) this is how I fix it: (In order of the most to blame to the least)

1. Those who could and refused to leave.

2. Those who left and didn't bring their elderly and sick or assist the poor they knew. (Emergency responders had their hands full with those in hospitals)

3. The local government. (Mayor Nagin (Democrat) left a fleet of city buses to drown in the flood that could have bused the poor out of the city.)

4. The State Government (Governor Blanco (Democrat) for not shutting down Louisiana immediately by calling a state of disaster, then mobilizing the resources of our state to evacuate and care for their neighbors in the south. She stalled and called meetings after the storm hit. These resources should have been mobilized and working at least 48 hours before the storm hit.)

5. The National Government (President Bush (Republican) In my opinion the least blame belongs on them. Although they can improve as well. They provided the residents with temporary housing. Fema trailers which the residents complained about incessantly. I guess they've never seen refugee camps in third world countries. They have provided our local and state government with the funds needed to rebuild most of our lost infrastructure and to keep local government functioning until the tax base was back in place. They also provided individuals with funds to rebuild their lives and homes. I know that there was a lot of red tape to go through to get the help you needed, but with any government entity, that is to be expected to screen out fraud.)

It's as simple as this: You may not ever live where you will be hit by a devastating hurricane, but there is not an area in our country that doesn't have some type of natural disaster. Whether it directly affects millions of people like Katrina or several hundred in a small town, you must be aware of the danger and make plans to deal with it if you ever have to. It is not the government's responsibility to coddle us nor do I want them to. It is your responsibility. You must care for yourself, your family and your neighbors who are in need.

If you would like to know more about our personal story, our church is selling a cookbook with a free DVD that chronicles our church families' stories. The cookbook also contains personal stories of individuals. You can click on the picture in the side bar of go here to find out how to purchase one. We are using the proceeds to finish the details on our church's reconstruction.

This is my brother (in the yellow shirt) who who was able to get in through homeland security shortly after Katrina and a friend. Their shell shocked look just epitomizes the feeling everyone had.
My parents house. It is built up off of the ground and it still had about four feet of water in it. This is their portrait my sister did of them. It has since been cleaned up. It didn't just flood, the water sat there for days and days turning everything into a soupy muddy mess.
The four wheelers floated and turned upside down. I guess because they are light and the air in the tires flipped them.
Some photos from one of the neighbor hoods. Yes that truck floated or was pushed there by the wall of water. That is how high the water was. Anyone who stayed in this neighborhood had a tough time surviving and many did die.
There were houses here. They recieved the brunt of the storm surge coming up from the Gulf, lakes and Mr. Go (Mississippi Gulf Outlet). This manmade outlet was blamed for flooding St. Bernard Parish. It is a large manmade canal that is rarely used and recently approval was obtained to shut it. This hasn't happened yet. In a lot of ways this was a man made disaster. Much of the wetlands have been lost because of canals built to accomadate the oil industry. So our country can be supplied with cheap oil. Maybe our whole nation deserves a little bit of the blame.
The inside of Ms. Riyas house. You can see her blog here.
Now our houses are rebuilt and things are looking better, but.....that's a whole "nuther" story. Let's see who tries to take credit for that!!!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Compost Sifter

Aren't you jealous of my luscious magnificent compost? Mmmm Hmmm? You too can have rich dark compost for your garden. Just start with all those organic house, garden and yard scraps... add a compost corral....then.....
Have some crafty woodworking person you know build you one of these nifty compost sifters....
Pitch that clumpy decomposed organic matter right on top with a pitchfork....It's preferable to get a strong handsome man to perform this task....It's nicer to watch than have to do it.
Then sift away. I did help with this part using a small hand cultivator.
Then you have the best wormiest richest compost to spread all over the spring garden. Happy seed catalog reading! (I already have my seeds!!!!) Can't wait.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Quinoa and Roasted Beets

In a search for grains I can grow in our sub-tropical climate, I have run accross quinoa and amaranth. The first time I saw a recipe for it was in Mary Jane Butter's Idea book. She likes to eat it with dried fruit and nuts.

There are a lot of recipes out there for quinoa and it is very easy to cook. You basically cook it like rice, one cup of quinoa, 1 1/2 cups of water and a tsp. of salt. First you must soak the grain to remove a soap like coating on it. 15 minutes is the least you must soak it and then rinse it several times. You have to use a small seive as the grains are tiny.

Quinoa originated in South America. You can read more about it here.

I fixed mine with a little butter, a dash of sugar and dried cranberries. It was a different taste, but is was delicious. Quinoa is certainly something I will prepare again and attempt to grow in my garden. I'm going to try amaranth next. I allready have seeds for amaranth.
This is one of the most delicious new things I have tasted in quite a while. Thanks to my sister Terri for introducing me to this yummy simple treat. See the three beautiful beets I harvested from my garden? First peel them, slice them thin and spread them on a pan drizzled with olive oil.
Drizzle a little more olive oil on top and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Don't you just love my flip-flopped foot in the corner? Yes it's been warm enough for flip-flops, although a cold front did move in last night so I have on my furry boots now. Then pop the prepared beets in an oven pre-heated to 400 degrees and cook until tender and the edges are crispy.
Very Delish!

Monday, January 5, 2009

First 2009 Harvest

Mixed Lettuce Greens: Vivian and Rosita Romaine lettuce, endive, arugula and oak leaf lettuce
A big basket of mixed greens: beet, curly mustard, carrot, green onion, Asian greens, and parsley. Habanero peppers, Cayenne peppers, five big drum head and Dutch Early Wakefield cabbages and the morning's gathering of eggs. The cabbage in the front has been munched on by some little critter. I believe a rabbit. The Dutch Early Wakefield cabbage has a pointed oval shape and is quite dense. The drumhead cabbage is flat and round and not as dense. After we eat them, I'll let you know how they taste.

I cooked the greens and we ate them Saturday with baked chicken and Sunday with pork chops and Byron brought them for lunch today. Talk about not wasting! My family loves greens. I have no problem getting them to eat them when I cook them this way. Of course the recipe varies according to what I have on hand, but generally the more varieties of greens you use the better it tastes.
And....oh yes...I bought the All American pressure cooker I've been wanting with the money I received for Christmas from mine and Byron's parents. I'm a bit scared of it and have read the manual through and probably will again before I use it. With all the stories my Mother-In-Law has told me of exploding pressure cookers......eeek. Then after this she tells me, "But don't worry about it. They're perfectly safe." Huh?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Evolution Of The Front Garden

One of my goals of 2008 was to work on the front garden. It needed to be bigger. Basically gobble up most of the front yard. Do I hear less grass cutting and tedious weed eating? I wanted more perennials and a more coherent design that complemented our home. A spot to put a bench or bird feeders would be nice as well.

Sooowah...I began by doing the last thing first. Not odd for me. I planted butterfly bushes, irises, hibiscuses, datura, aztec grass, firecracker bush, sweet olive, ginger, roses.....Then I began throwing over the grass all the clippings from the garden......
and cardboard and newspaper. Next came the pine straw (Why I do not use Cypress mulch.) Which I added as I covered the grass with the clippings and cardboard. I used any kind of cardboard: cereal boxes, cracker boxes, regular boxes ...etc. Next I hired my now very tall nephew to dig a six inch by six inch trench around the entire perimeter of the laid out garden. The trench was filled with mulch as well.
Now look at it! I'm really pleased with the outcome. The cardboard mulch did a great job in smothering out the grass and weeds. Only a few grass tendrils and weeds persisted through the mulch and had to pulled. The garden has even grown since this picture!
These are the two most recent beds Byron built for me. This is my Christmas present from him.
I planted them with Lincoln peas, Sugar snap peas, Tom Thumb lettuce, Amarillo carrots, Tokyo Long White bunching onions, Carentan Leeks, Old Spice sweet pea flowers, mixed Asian greens, Long Island improved brussels sprouts.
Elsewhere in the garden I recently planted: Early Purple Vienna kohlrabi, American Purple Top Rutagaba, New Zealand Spinach, Japanese Minowase Daikon Radish, Harris Model Parsnip, Bulls Blood Beets, Pacific Beauty Calendula, and Asian Red Lettuce.
There really isn't a good garden book on vegetable gardening in the New Orleans area. There's such a unique climate here that changes once you travel 30 or 40 miles north of us. Our biggest obstacles are the heat, humidity and the rare frost. The frost threatens most of the tropicals we usually easily grow here.
So for 2009 I am going to blog on the progress of all the new vegetables I am trying. I will try planting them more than once at different times to see when and where they do best or if they will even produce here.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Ode To Byron

I love New Years. Nothing is really new. It just seems so! The New Year brings feelings of new beginnings and new possibilities, a chance to evaluate the last year and plan the next.

After evaluating what we have done in the last year....something kept repeating itself: "and Byron built me this....and Byron built me that....Byron did this...."

Please allow me just a moment to sing my husband's praises. He deserves it. Whenever I ask him, "ooooo....Byron could you build me one of those?" he always says yes....and then he does. He does all this while working a demanding full time job. O.K. all together now!:


Luv ya Babes!

Now for the gallery of Byron's creations:

He built all these raised beds and the cute little blue trellises.
Chicken tractor number one Byron built.

The most wonderful compost corral Byron built.

And here's the chicken house and coop that Byron built....and the chickens that Byron feeds and cares for before leaving for work at 6:00 am everyday.

Here's the bench that Byron built so I could look at "my chickens" that Byron cares for and built a house for.

Here's just a bit of all the wood Byron has chopped this year.

Here is the clothes line that Byron built and the little stool for the girls to help them reach the line. May I mention that he does not hang out laundry.

Here is chicken tractor number two that Byron built for the now big little chickens that were hatched this year.

Here is just a few of all the trees Byron planted this year. It includes about 14 citrus, 4 pecans, 2 persimmons, 6 mulberries, 4 pear, 2 plums not to mention all the shrubs and perennials he dug holes for!
And this is my lovely log bench overlooking the veggie garden Byron created using a chain saw from a huge pecan tree that fell during Katrina. May I present my husband, Byron the chain saw artist, builder, and planter extraordinaire!

Blueberry picking in New Hampshire this summer. (Tera, Talia, Seleste, and Byron)

Without Byron, I'd probably still be gardening in five gallon buckets. Thank you Byron.