Farm where you are....

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Planting with purpose

I realized that one thing that holiday retail has capitalized on is the ability to charge us from what really comes for free from Mother Nature. I know if someone doesn't have  a yard, it's  a necessary evil. I have no excuse.

   They don't think twice about charging $10 for a small bundle of boxwood branches.

 Or $8 for  a bag of pine cones.
They know they have you.

 I am taking this winter to look around my yard and what I like to decorate with, and make notes of all of the things I could plant to not only save money in the holidays, but make my own yard prettier, and greener.
 Pine trees, bushes, red berried plants, boxwood, more dogwoods.
While much of my vary is for fruits and veggies, there are yard places where I can't plant food that I could use.

So in a few years, I can also be independent in my choice to decorate naturally and green.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Only kind of crazy, trying to remodel green on a budget

I have found that it is very very difficult to remodel and stay true to health and environmental concerns when you are on a budget. It's all about concessions and compromise.
I can tell you when you tell some contractors that you don't want any press board or laminate materials in your house because of the off gassing, they look at you like you are crazy.
I opted for  a butcher block countertop because we couldn't afford natural stone. Laminate off gasses formaldehyde for up to 7 years and there is no way to dispose of it once you are through with it in an environmentally friendly way. Quite a few of the contractors I interviewed would only tell me about the down side of a wood countertop, or they didn't understand why I wanted to up grade to plywood frame construction on my cabinets, and I even had family that didn't understand the difference between engineered wood and regular hardwood.
And then I had the people that asked me why my kitchen wasn't going to be done totally "green."
Because I don't have  a million dollars, that's why. I would have loved to have done reclaimed lumber on my floor and special plywood cabinets with soy glue. I could drool over a vintage reclaimed sink and  even completely VOC free floor materials. But all of those things make the job 4 times as much and I needed to just make my house safe for my family on our really limited budget. So I conceded. And compromised. 
I've found that being green is about reasonable choices.

Plywood sub-flooring instead of OSB.
Plywood cabinets instead of pressboard so there were less VOC's and off-gassing.
Real wood flooring of local wood instead of engineered lumber. It was the second cut (grade b) (most people throw it away because it has too many flaws.) as well so it's using waste lumber from the first milling. I would love bamboo. Bamboo is gorgeous. But, Bamboo while fast growing and renewable, comes from far away.
Butcher block countertops so the material is easily recyclable, reusable, and less toxic.
Our sink was an enamel/ cast iron one but it was made from 93% recycled materials.
We painted the cabinets  and walls with No VOC paint.

We were able that way to keep our costs somewhat low, but not have our home be as toxic as it would be using other materials. With what we could afford.

Reasonable choices.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A what kind of farmer?

My husband told me the other day that if we wanted to get a farm one day  that we could do it , but he only wanted to be a vegetable farmer, no animals. 

I might have to sneak one of these little guys in though,

But if I can't I could always be a dill farmer; I seem to grow that great :)


Sunday, September 19, 2010

It's all fair... in pictures...

My family and I took a ride up in August to the Wisconsin State Fair.  I love that my children can get an opportunity to really see where our food comes from. Even I forget what the enormity of a  cow is until I stand next to one.
Look at these sweeties...

It makes me want to trade in this small bit of earth I own and get room for a few of these myself...
Until then, I am  a vegetable farmer...

Late September/ early October is a good month for planting new garlic, harvesting pumpkins, reseeding salad greens and most of all, planning crop rotation, companion planting and new planting beds.

Can you guess what  a planting bed and  a kiddie pool have in common?


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Some days....

Some days are faced with heavy hearts.

One of my daughter's has been officially diagnosed with Tourette's syndrome. Even thought this is something we were kind clued into from early on, we kind of skirted around the issue for a long time. Recently,we needed to bite the bullet so she can get what she needs in school. To finally hear the official diagnosis is something that makes my chest just  a bit heavy. 
Today was just a bit hard.
She's one of the main reasons that I have gone so into left field with organic/non-toxic living. There is so much about life I can't control for my children, that feeding them good food, and giving them a safe place to be is something I can control.
To me food is like medicine, and the fact that people are messing with it really upsets me, because it affects my children. And that it's not so accessible and expensive doesn't make me happy either.

Along with the organic food, we've had her on a  modified diet for  a while. I think it  has helped her immensely( organic food, no artificial dyes, preservatives,additives, high magnesium, balanced omega's). But it still breaks me to my core when I face up the reality of what faces her in life. And even though nothing is going to change with what we do for her, there's still a piece of me that wishes it were different.
Maybe it's more selfish on my part because it's just not what I want for her.

I know my kids are going to have challenges in life, I just don't want them starting from behind.
The thing is, she is really smart and funny, and bright.
But also just  a bit difficult as well. She doesn't have what you would think Tourette's is... the classic shouting swear words and uncontrolled uncensored thoughts that they show in movies.  It is classified in a tic disorder spectrum, and for her, it manifests as eye rolling, throat clearing, grimacing and a few other motor/vocal things.  We already have her in OT which has helped a lot, but it's  a long road. We've been told many times it's genetic and not caused by anything outside, they think, but that doesn't stop me from thinking back to my pregnancy and wondering if I should have done something differently; You know that classic mother's guilt.

I keep reminding myself that it's not a terminal thing and tons of people have this, and their lives are very happy and very normal. But, even though there's many things we are doing for her, there is nothing as  a mother I can do to take it away.

So for me the journey for cleaner and purer living is so much more that buying  into the hype. When I read studies that there is a direct link to pesticides and ADHD, I really sit up and take notice. Today was one of those days that really affirms that I am taking the right road for the right reasons.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The choice of GM food...Can it be taken away?

Genetically modified food.
We may soon not have  a choice.

I just read a report that GM canola has escaped fields in Canada and is found growing wild along the side of the road and in PARKING LOTS.
It makes me sick.

If they can't control their plants in farmlands surrounded by nothing else, who is to say when there are fields upon fields that eventually all canola and other crops will be GM and there will be NO WAY to actually grow non-GM, organic foods? Our choice is being taken away.
And people think it's okay.
Why does the government not do something about this? Why is it going to be okay for one company to own all of the food in the world someday? That certainly worked out well for the oil industry didn't it? They certainly are taking every precaution for safety, right?

Where is our right as a consumer and when will they realize; you cannot control a living thing.

MY other questions are: What happens when the plant dies? Do the GM genes remain in the soil? Can you ever get rid of GM genes and start over? What about cousin pants like broccoli? Can they cross like pumpkins and watermelons?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Summer rain...

One thing I love the most about summer is sitting up late and listening to the rain hit against the metal roof fan. I hate air conditioning, I could swelter all summer long and be happy. I feel like the warm times are much too short in Chicago. I hate the cold. I ache all winter from it and long to be outside in the sun.

I can hear it drizzling now and want to open the windows. It always amazes me how loud summer is. Between the different cadences of the cicadas, the trilling of the toads, croaking of the frogs and the crickets kind of chiming in; it actually makes for the loudest noise pollution ever.  But why is it a neighbors party half as loud would keep us up, but the nature lulls us to sleep?

And then the  heavy rain comes and for  a moment the night is still and quiet and warm.
But then suddenly the  rain subsides and everyone starts to put their two cents in again.

The next day when the sun comes out and starts to burn all of the moisture from the grass, I love to go out and weed. 
It amazes me how good it feels to get down on my hands and knees and just start pulling out everything that just popped up over night. It's like perfect work for the soul. I love tall weeds the most; they come out root and all with the wet ground.We have these grasses that lay flat against the regular grass. I have to gather them up to pull them out and it always surprises me how long they really are because they lay so innocuous against the ground. Sometimes I have to dig my fingers into the  dirt to get the root, and then there's that damp loamy, earthy smell that comes up as the dirt kind of crumbles and clings to my fingers, mushing itself under my nails to be tortuously scraped out later. But in the moment, the smell is grounding and almost primal, and the minute I get that out, root and all, I feel just  a little bit accomplished.
There is something so satisfying about clearing even a small patch and seeing the possibilities of the bare earth. Whether it to let other plants get bigger, just clean up an area or even start something new, it's such instant gratification to toss a huge pile of green into the compost and think for just one moment that I beat nature; even if it's just  a little.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Corn woes...

I decided to grow my own corn. It is so hard to find non-GMO corn even at whole foods and I missed the summery flavor of eating it right off the cob.
Except bugs love corn, specifically ants and earwigs, as much as we do.
All I have to say about earwigs is eeeeeewwwww...gross.

After googling about a million ways to keep ants off of the corn, and find a deterrent for the raccoons who one year stripped my entire patch of popping corn clean, the day before I was going to pick it. I thought about hanging a 'coon skin Godfather style as a warning near my garden; but thought it might be a bit over their heads.

I did finally come up with a concoction of olive oil, cayenne pepper and crushed garlic dribbled on the silks, into the base of the silks. 
When I first poured it in, the ants went running for cover which I have to admit gave me some shameless satisfaction. I also dribbled it in the joints when the corn meets the stalk. It worked well for the earwigs, but in a couple of days  the ant's were back and I had to reapply. 
They obviously like their food a bit spicy.

I think it was the oil that really worked. So far my three sisters planting method with soybeans and squash  has managed to  keep the raccoons out, but my ears are only partially developed. They were full on the bottom of the ear but teeny on the top.

After some searching I found out it's from lack of pollination. What you are supposed to do in a small patch is feel up the tall stalk on the top and rub it into the developing tassel to insure proper pollination. Kind of like artificial insemination for veggies.
I did it, but then I felt a bit dirty.
I'll let you know if it works. I have a few I just did.
I need a shower now.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Garden surprises...

 Lately I have a few things in my garden that keep me guessing...
These are my compost pumpkins.Well, I think they are pumpkins. They look pumpkin-y. One day a small trailing vine started and I thought, let's see what happens. The next thing I knew, my poor compost pile was buried.
What's interesting is while I may have put a jack-o-lantern or two in the compost last fall, I did not put any on the other side of the yard where I have another gourd-like thing growing....
I may be doing pumpkin giveaways this fall...
And these guys.. Japanese beetles. Gah.
I sprayed my yard last year with a "very green" beneficial nematode for grubs, which worked, the grubs were gone. Grubs are what Japanese beetles come from. What I  didn't count on was my neighbors beetles deciding my yard was yummier. I am actually considering getting one of those traps, some people say it actually attracts them, but how many more can it possibly attract? I'm already"dispatching"30-50 a night in what we refer to as "the cup of death". It involves dish soap, a lot of swimming  and finally a watery grave. It's totally crazy. It's a regular beetle love shack in my backyard. I'll knock piles of 5 and 6 having "a party" at one time with each other at all hours. I have to say, they are very non-discriminating; it's all 1960's free-love in the Rizzo's yard, until I come along of course and stop those shenanigans.
It's a good lesson to learn, though.
Note to self: reaction times are slower when fornicating.
Though they might not be too happy with me for ruining their fun. They've actually started buzzing me when I approach.
And there's my lemon balm, I've heard it referred to as Lemon BOMB. Now I know why. Unlike me, it loves to run ( it is in the mint family, you'd think I would know better.) and is quickly taking over everything including my poor Golden Oregano. I've had it in it's neat little spot for the last 5 years, it smelled so nice when I walked past it  and this year... Kaboom! I swear it's in cahoots with the pumpkins. And the beetles.
And finally, I'm explaining to my girl's how to do the beetle control. They were very enthralled until they realized the little suckers don't go down without a fight and will hang onto your fingers for dear life  if you're not quick enough.
It was not a pretty sight.
There was a lot of screaming involved.
  But life's full of surprises, isn't it? :)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Summer reading

I am an avid reader and am trying to take full advantage of the kids splashing in our kiddy pool. There are a few books I've finished that are definitely worth browsing if you have the time.
I really enjoyed,
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barabra Kingslover chronicles the dilemma of eating totally local with a teenager.

This Organic Life: confessions of  a suburban hometeader by Joan Dye Gussow. I love Joan, she was recently in my last issue Organic Living and discussed how we accept toxic things in our food because we don't know any better.. she's brilliant, that leads to this segue...

If you really want to read an interesting book on where all of our popular food additives come from you can pick up Twinkie:Deconstructed.

I have to be honest though, as interesting as this book is; it made me want to throw up just  a little bit when I realized some of the thing's I had been eating. We are 85% organic at my house, but there are things I let slip by. I don't know if I can ever touch a Dorito again after reading that book. I cry over that. Also, my brother had brought us some boxes of Pastaroni. After I made it for the kids thinking what the heck?... then I read the box...half of the ingredients in it were chemical based. It really affirms whole food eating on an entirely new level. I've now branched out to making my own jarred brownie mixes and cookie mixes. If I have to give up my favorite snack food (sniff,sniff I guess Oreo's are out now too.),  I sure as hell am not giving up the sweets, so I might as well find a new way to make my fat quota with out all of the extra crap.

What ever happened to food being food, not full of chemicals? When did it become okay to wash trees with hydrochloric acid to give us cellulose gum or make imitation butter flavor out of nothing that is really edible, just chemicals and petroleum? No wonder people are so sick or overweight and have all kinds of weird allergies or even strange new syndromes. We as a population are putting things in our bodies that were never meant to be there.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Strawberry summer...

In Chicago, it's a fleeting strawberry season. In fact, so quick that it's only around for two weeks before the peaches move in and reign. This is the time of year when the berries have that full, sweet, "real" strawberry taste, and not that bland, disappointing, dense nothingness when they are out of season.

Even though I've made freezer jam;I wanted to make strawberry syrup. My kids love that crappy, junky goop in a squeeze bottle that is stirred into milk and I wanted something natural that they could put in instead. I must admit, 2 tablespoons in milk is pure heaven.
I love this syrup recipe. It can even be poured over ice cream, pancakes, almost anything, and I keep it in my deep freeze in little freezer-safe canning jars to have summer memories all through the dark winter months.

All you need is 2 cups crushed, hulled strawberries ( I used a hand blender.)
(After you puree it, you can run it through a sieve to get the pulp and seeds out.We don't mind it and I am lazy, so I left mine in.)
1- 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups sugar depending on how sweet the berries are.
1/4 teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice.

Put the puree and the other ingredients in a sauce pan and cook it over low heat, stir until the sugar melts.
Bring it up to a boil over medium-high heat. Once it comes to a boil, simmer over low. Skim the foam from the top. Save it though! You can still use it!
(Be careful on the stove not to splash, because it's basically a boiled syrup and burns can be bad.)

This recipe made enough to fill 8 of those mini-canning jars. Let cool, pour in, put the lids on and keep in the freezer for up to 1 year or the fridge for 3 weeks. So easy!
Take the left-over stuff you skimmed and give it a quick 30-40 second zap in the microwave, making sure it doesn't boil over and let it cool before handling. The foam will settle and there will be much less to skim off and less syrup wasted. You'll end up with almost one extra jar.

Eat that one first, and then enjoy the fresh, sweet summer taste all year 'round.

: ) Jen

Sunday, June 20, 2010

In the garden....Late June

 I have been battling the black ants for these beauties; super sweet, Fall Gold raspberries. Those ants suck just enough to start a bit of mold on each berry with all of the rain we have been having.

I finally decided to put a small bowl of sugar water out and am moving it away slowly, a bit farther each day. They, of course, don't even bother the tarter Red Heritage variety. Damn ants.

I'll let you know if it attracts them away, or just brings more ants to the party.
The good news is is last year we put a biological nematode control for grubs and this year , so far, knock on wood, I've seen hardly any Japanese Beetles. I'll have to let you know farther into July if it's a fluke or if it really worked.

I have no clue what this is. It's a weed that sprouted in my yard and I thought it was too pretty to pull. There are a few of them. It's about 3 feet tall with what almost looks like a pink grain with a leaf with a ruffled edge. Any ideas?

The corn is definitely knee high. And the soybeans and squash are slowly filling in too.

My potatoes are finally blooming and the new potatoes will... umm should, be ready to dig out soon. Though I will admit, I tried to find some today to cheat a bit and I couldn't find any. They are either still really tiny, or really deep. Damn potatoes.

I also cut some lavender today. I am going to make lavender sugar once it dries.

And I have this rambling mystery vine happily growing from my compost pile. I am pretty sure it is from last years pumpkins. I think so. I hope so. Otherwise, It might be a bit scary.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Jen's Organic Chocolate Chip Cookies...

I was tired of all of the extra junk in fun foods.
Why can't fun foods be good? So when I stuff my face with 3 a day I don't have to feel guilty?
I have to admit. I loooooooove my sweets. This recipe came about after tweaking and trying and realizing my store bought cookies, as sad as it is, were really bad for me.

I promise you'll love it and it's yummy enough and good enough to eat for breakfast sometimes (Did I say that out loud?). Your kids will never know it has whole wheat. Plus chocolate comes from a tree so technically, it's a fruit.
I prefer to use almost all-organic ingredients. The only non-organic part is the chocolate chips and the vanilla. You can also make this with conventional ingredients with no problem.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup extra virgin olive oil ( yep EVOO)
1 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs
3/4cup whole wheat flour
1 1/4 cup white flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 package (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips.

I'm lazy
I forgo the traditional creaming and throw it all in a bowl together as I assemble it.
It will be a bit wetter than regular cookie dough, but you need it for the whole wheat part.

Spoon it onto baking sheets in a with a teaspoon and bake for about 10-12 minutes. Since it has whole wheat you don't want it dark brown because they will be dried out.
A very light golden brown is perfect.

Let cool.

To keep them fresh in your cookie jar, throw a piece of bread in there. It really works to soften your cookies.

Then enjoy.. for breakfast. :)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Grow potatoes

My grandmother had always grown and stored her own potatoes, but I never realized there was more to it than just plopping them in the ground.

While you can grow them in a container or in the ground, dirt or straw, I like the ground in the dirt, it give bigger yields. Even though it takes up more space, I like the sensation of getting in the soil and pulling out a bit of buried treasure.

You start with these little cutie's , either
a whole certified seed potato , cut into 3 or four chunks with an "eye" each, or you can buy "sets" already cut and ready to plant from a mail order catalog, on-line or nursery. Potatoes from the grocery store have growth retardants sprayed on them so they may not sprout for you correctly.

If you decide to cut your own from a whole potato, cut them into 3 or 4 pieces each with an "eye". Let them sit on your garage for a few days exposed to air so they scab over. They will look moldy and gross; but they are perfect for planting.

Put them in the ground a few inches down and cover them with soil. I put the "eye" sideways. Put a stick in where the potato is so you can remember and don't dig it up by accident.

As it comes out of the ground it will resemble tomato leaves a bit. as the plant grows, you want to mound the soil up around the stem, probably about once a week depending on how fast they grow so only about 6 inches is above the ground. This keeps the potatoes out of the sun. Potatoes exposed to sunlight become green and bitter and toxic. Never eat green or bitter tasting potatoes. This can happen in the grocery store too, so the same goes for them as well.

My friend ,Manuela ,helped me to take the spud plunge with her great advice.
I imagined organic, fresh, white, creamy, fluffy mashed mounds at Thanksgiving.
Two years ago, this was my entire potato harvest...

I mean my lame harvest. I planted after July, Waaay too late. For best results, plant them as early as possible, In Illinois I put mine in this year in late April.

As they grow you mound and they become sprawling. Some will develop seeds which looks like mini-green tomatos. Never eat these, they are extremely toxic with high contents of solanine. I cut them off right away so my kids don't get a hold of them.

After the plants flower, you can " carefully" dig for new potatoes , you know, those expensive gourmet kind. You want to be extremely careful not to scratch other potatoes you aren't digging up . The skin is very fragile. Cover back up the rest of the potatoes until you are ready to harvest them again.
Last year, when I stared digging, I wasn't sure what I was going to get after the previous year's harvest..

It was kind of like a treasure hunt. But, I had images of last years results and didn't set my hopes too high...and then....

Hey! Look at that! Holy cow! Is that what I think it is?! A real potato! My neighbors probably thought I'd lost it the way I whooped and hollered; it was like I had never seen a potato before.
I squealed every time one came out of the ground.

I ran in the house with a bowlful yelling "Look! Look!I grew these! Real potatoes! From our garden! How awesome is this?!"
My hubby looked at me for a minute,
and then I think he rolled his eyes.

Who can blame the guy?
All that for a root vegetable. Imagine if I had won a million dollars?

I had 4 plants and probably got about 6-8 potatoes per plant. This year I planted Russett and Yukon Gold varieties.

The full size potatoes are ready to harvest about 2-3 weeks after the tops die back. Brush off any dirt, but do not wash. Store in a cool, dark place until ready to eat.


Monday, April 26, 2010

growing asparagus.

Our little asparagus patch has finally produced enough spears for a family meal!
There's nothing like the first vegetable of the spring!

I put in more crowns (roots) last year, and
I am putting in more crowns this year in hopes
that over the next few years that we'll get enough for several meals.
Some places say to harvest after the second year, some after the third. The best rule I've heard is don't harvest anything smaller than your pinkie finger the first two years.

There are several varieties you can plant. Actually put in ones that my local grocery store had. Some are more resistant to damage and disease than others, so check in your area to see what is available.

For a decent patch I would estimate you would need about 12 -15 crowns. and then wait 3 years.

Anything smaller you have to leave to mature for the following year.
This is my fourth year for my first patch, so I should get almost 6 weeks of picking.

I don't have any pictures, but if you let a spear go, it becomes a large feathery plant as a male or berries as a female. After it feathers and berries, it becomes inedible, mildly toxic and can even be a skin irritant; but it protects the underlying shoots for the following year.
In the early, early spring, you cut back all of the dry foliage to the ground and get rid of it incase it has any beetle eggs.

As for the The beetles, I just hand-pick and put them into soapy water.

There are two kinds of Asparagus beetles you can get. Even though a lot of sites recommend spraying, I never spray. I just pick into soapy water and if I see the feathery branches with eggs, I strip them off them. I do ware gloves though because the larvae can be a bit squishy. It's gross.

One thing I didn't know is that even thought they are the first veggies up in the summer; they can still get ruined by the frost ( you can tell by their bendiness and translucency.). So after those first shoots come poking out of the ground, cover them with a towel every night until your frost date has passed.
To pick, I prefer to snap mine off at the ground, then you don't accidentally cut the other emerging spears.

When you find it starts coming in a spear here and there, but not enough for a meal; I pick the ones that are ready over 2 or 3 days and keep them in the fridge in a glass with a bit of water at their feet. This way they will stay fresh until you are ready to eat them.

If you have any patience, it's well worth it. Fresh asparagus from your yard is nothing like what comes from in the store.

*image from gardengate magazine