Mountain Day.

Today was a holiday I wholeheartedly embrace. There isn’t any run up. No gifts or cards. But the anticipation, well, it’s palpable.

Mountain Day has been celebrated at my alma mater, Smith College, since 1877. One random Autumn day, the president of the college surprises the students; bells toll in the early morning signifying classes are cancelled – on the honor that you will take the day to enjoy the natural world (not catch up on homework). Part of the tradition includes at least one evening of pre-Mountain Day convenening where restless students carol and cajole at the steps of the president’s house, begging (all in good fun; a pantomime) for classes to be cancelled. The residents of Emerson House, the house I lived in all 4 years, have the honor of blasting the 1812 Overture from the balcony into the Quad as early morning revelry (c’mon you know you do that now). We were a rowdy crowd, and embraced the opportunity to purposefully annoy wake up our rival houses. On the sacred day, bagged lunches are provided by the dining halls and you head out to hike an Appalachian ridge, pick crisp apples, explore, inhale the day.

As an alumna, you get an email from the college president letting you know – and we do what we can to celebrate, recall, reflect. I for one, throw myself behind this tradition with vigor. Although much of each of our days is spent out doors, and today it was particularly drizzly and wet, we made a special space to celebrate, just the same. WV and I planted rows of veggies in the drizzle (E slept, wrapped on my back), practiced safe chicken handling (E slept, wrapped on my back), and picked peppers by flashlight, despite the rain, for dinner (E and daddy waited inside, stirring the sauce). It was a beautiful day.

We all need more Mountain Days.

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Rad Radish Green Soup.

One of the nicest things about eating seasonally is that you are forced to get creative with what you harvest from the garden. This is how zucchini bread was born, I’m convinced. Boiled/sauteed squash, well, it can get tiring. Over the last week we went from a light chopping of radishes on our salad to all-out radish salad. Enough! W had an idea…soup? Why yes! And did you know, because surely this isn’t recondite only to me: you can eat radish greens! I promise! I did an exhaustive search to make sure I wouldn’t poison us all (and Lynne Rossetto Kasper says it’s ok), as I know you should never eat rhubarb greens, for one. And it seems the jury’s out on carrot greens. But radish greens are delectable.

Anywho, I browsed several recipes and came up with my own version, below (permanent link here)! It has one-pot simplicity, is rather quick to make, fills the kitchen with a scent of “deliciousness” according to husbands walking through the door, and was mighty tasty. I hope you enjoy it too!

20140609_182149 20140609_182735 20140609_193204Ingredients:

2 cups radish leaves
3 radishes
5 medium yellow potatoes
1 medium onion
3 Tbsp butter
1 cup water
6 cups milk
1 chicken Boullion cube
salt, to taste

Directions:

Begin by washing potatoes and radish leaves and bulbs thoroughly. Radish leaves wilt promptly after being cut from the root, so do this just before you want to make the soup, not hours or days before. Peel potatoes and radishes and slice them along with the onions. No need for perfect slicing…everything will be blended in the end! In a large soup pot on medium heat sautee radishes, radish greens, and onions in the butter until they are wilted/translucent. Add potatoes, water, and bullion (truth be told, this is what I use instead of bouillion…it’s organic and awesome), and cover for ~20 minutes, or until potatoes are easily forked. The water should be mostly evaporated. Add milk and stir, deglazing a bit. When it’s all hot again, use an immersion blender to puree all the ingredients (if you do not have this kitchen tool, transfer to a blender and blend). Salt to taste. Serve with crusty home made bread!

This recipe was shared on The Prairie Homestead’s Barn Hop.

It’s time!

Seed starting time!

W and I have been determined to do things slightly less chaotically this spring than usual. Every spring, suddenly we’re behind, it’s super warm, and we’re a hot mess of “when are we going to find time to start seedlings” and dirt on the kitchen floor. But, for the first time in my 9+ years of having a full garden, I believe I ordered my seeds BEFORE they were supposed to be planted! Also, we started a garden journal where we can keep track of our planting schedule, garden plots and other garden tidbits each year. It has helped to make room in advance on our calendar – after all, this is a priority!

wpid-1020131723.jpgThis year, we’ll start out with 4 garden beds, hoping to add more. They are pseudo-raised beds, made from salvaged timbers we found strewn around and under the barn when we moved. We’ve filled them with grass clippings and leaves in the fall and sprinkled in chicken manure over the winter to kill the underlying grass and enrich the soil. A month before we plant – so, soon – we’ll rent a tiller and till in the compost to prep for planting. Then we don’t plant to re-till, but instead find some sort of balance between a raised bed and a no-till bed. We’ll let you know how this all works out, of course!

wpid-20140225_065740.jpgOur go-to potting system in the past has been to create small, compostable newspaper planters, filled with organic potting soil to start our seeds. It’s easy to do, albeit a little messy. Roll a folded piece of newsprint around a wine bottle (about half-way up), tuck the ends into the divot in the bottom of the bottle, slide it off and then fold down the cup’s edges to make it more secure. Adding dirt holds the cup in place. Plant, whole, or slightly broken up, when the time comes. However, my mom gave us dozens of small seed-starting pots that she had been collecting, so we’re nixing the above method for something a little less wpid-20140225_064423.jpgDIY and a little more time saving. Another aspect of seed starting that has been a struggle in the past is seed markers. I’ve used color systems, charts, popsicle sticks, and markers of all shapes and sizes…to mediocre luck at knowing what I’m planting come transfer time. This year I found an ingenious solution that I think will weather the 8 weeks and beyond – lengths of Venetian blind slats (I want to get rid of all the old blinds in this house, anyway; cutting one up was very satisfying) with permanent marker notations. Not only are they sturdy, but they look rather professional, if I do say so myself!

Two weekends ago we started our earliest seeds – tomatoes (8 varieties, half pastes), radishes (2 varieties), arugula, bell peppers, Serrano peppers, onions, cabbages, and eggplant. We also started about 50 asparagus seeds, which is going to be interesting – we’d like a permanent asparagus bed, but know it takes time. Everything we’re planting is either heirloom or organic (or both). Most of what we’re planting is from seeds we’ve kept from previous years. WV and I use a turkey baster to gently water them every other day. The radishes and arugula popped up within a few days (!) but the tomatoes were worrying me…on the 7th day I looked up some info and found that covering them with plastic to trap moisture would help them. I also turned on a space heater nearby to warm things up. Two days later, and we had baby tomatoes!!!

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This weekend we’ll plant beans, Brussel sprouts, collards, kale, and swiss chard. In mid-March we’ll plant cucumbers, pumpkins, summer squash, watermelon and other melons. We’ll direct sow carrots, corn, soy, hops, spinach and lettuce. We’d like to build some frames for training cukes, beans and hops up. And the flowers, oh the flowers. We’re going to till up a strip of space between the house and garden beds for some serious fleurs. Sunflowers, coxcombs, Yorktown onions, zinnias, lupine, and a variety of wild flower mixes. Also, there’s a little secret garden tucked away in the corner of the house (have already planted a fig tree, a honeysuckle vine, and a rose bush there) where some more flowers can go.

We have spring fever, clearly! Do you? Have you started your garden planning/planting yet? What are you doing differently this year?

This post is shared with Crafty Garden Mama’s Tuesday Greens, the Backyard Farming Connection’s Hop, Back to the Basics Tuesday’s With a Twist Hop, Maple Hill 101’s Hop, Tilly’s Nest Down Home Hop, Montana Homesteader’s Green Thumb Thursday, Oak Hill Homestead’s HomeAcre Hop, and Grassfed Mama’s Simple Saturday Hop.

My Favorite Month.

Most people, it seems, sigh a collective groan in February. I get it. I mean, can you think of another month in which an entire country founded on rational thought suspends reality to anthropomorphize a rodent and infer his weather opinion? Yesterday it actually thundersnowed, Punxsutawney Phil. These waves of wintr’y weather the south has been blanketed with (predicted by the Farmer’s Almanac, I might add) makes it seem like it’s a long slog towards spring. Especially when the alarmists say things like “catastrophic” and “crippling” and things turn slushy; I’ve found that people everywhere have a special loathe for slush. To boot, I fear the mid-month love fest of Valentine’s Day can lose its sweet panache in slush, subsumed by Hallmark consumerism. I cringe a little when I see hearts and chocolates pushed just past New Year’s. Having been out (in the real world) infrequently this year though, and having no tv (and, would you believe it, no snow-shovel!), I’ve noticed less of that and am happy to celebrate the heart of it today, of course, for it’s lovely romanticism. I mean this IS True Love and Homegrown, after all! Annnnd, I was born in February, so in actuality I’m in the camp of February not being such a bad month at all. Don’t stop reading.

I am itching for spring, to be sure. And so I’ve searched for February’s signs of stirrings – listening for a green hum beneath all this white sog. For instance, I discovered the other day, a few little rootlets budding from the withered brown loop of hops that I’d hopefully dug up and carried from our old house! W was pleased – now we have to find a place to plant them where they can grow high! Our order of seeds came in from Baker Creek, and we’ve placed an order for several more fruit trees and flowering bushes (lilacs! hydrangeas!). Before this last snow hit, WV and I found strong green shoots (which WV trampled only a little) of either crocuses or daffodils beside the house – which just whets our anticipation of all the blooming and blossoming we will discover this spring at our new house. And, accordingly, we’ve been choosing spring reads…you know, to get the sap flowing.

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wpid-20140211_162924.jpgSo, think of it this way: February (in the Northern Hemisphere) exists to prove you’re strong. You can take it. You have survival in your blood. It’s a time to think and be creative (’cause flying piglets, sometimes you want to stay in to keep your snout from freezing). These cold moments will be interrupted with punches of warmth until all we have is spring coming on strong, with open windows, longer days, and fragrant breezes. Love your person today a little bit extra, or your baby, or yourself, or your four-legged friend, or whomever you think deserves a special reminder. And love ya, February!

This post was added to a collection at The Prairie Homestead’s Monday Homestead Barn Hop. and to Crafty Garden Mama’s linkup, Tuesday Greens.

Polar Vortex Planting.

Single digit degree weather is the perfect time to plant lettuce…indoors.

Over New Year’s a friend was interested in how I double the lettuce I buy by regrowing it after I eat it! I thought I’d share my technique with you to save you money and green up your blistering cold winter, too. It escapes me who first showed me this neat trick.

P1070606First, I buy organic romaine hearts. Instead of ripping off the leaves, I cleanly chop off the bottoms, then score them and put them in a bowl of water for a few days to begin rooting and sprouting. After 24 hours you will see the new growth, which is pretty sweet. After a week, you’ll notice tiny rootlets sprouting from odd places on the bottom nubbin. I change out the water so it doesn’t get yucky as frequently as I can. After two weeks (or so, as in the pic directly below), they’re ready to plant in soil.

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In our county, even though plastic produce containers are labeled as recyclable, they are not, so I’ve been saving them for seed starting. WV and I punched a few holes into the bottoms and cut off their tops, to be used as drain trays. Then we filled the containers about 2/3 of the way full with dirt (after we defrosted it by a vent for most of the day), planted the growing lettuces I’ve had sitting by the sink and some seed lettuce as well! We had fun making a little bit of a mess inside, since it was too cold to go outside and dig in the dirt.

Keep them well watered, in full sun (if possible) and harvest when you see fit! Mine don’t seem to ever achieve the size of the originals, but they get close.

And it’s like there’s a little bit of spring in here; houseplants and giant cactii do not have the same aura as veggies growing.