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So far I’m having a raging success with my indoor seed starting venture this year. I have 6/12 artichokes, 12/12 ping tung eggplants, and 2/12 casper eggplants popped up. I planted peppers about 5 days ago and already a few varieties are flinging their first leaves into the air. The trays get checked several times a day by me and our boys because it’s so much fun to see all these little greens poking up out of the dirt! While I’m not terribly impressed with the germination rate of the artichokes and casper eggplants, the peppers are renewing my hope. I planted 2-3 seeds in each pocket and some look to have a 100% germination rate. I’m going to be doing a lot of transplanting as these things get bigger!

Care to see my green babies?

From left to right: Ping Tung eggplant, Violetta Precoce artichoke, Casper eggplant.

From left to right: Ping Tung eggplant, Violetta Precoce artichoke, Casper eggplant. The nine cells in the back are all asparagus that I just planted. They won’t pop up for a few weeks, I think.

Left, back to front: Cayenne, Pepperoncini, Purple Beauty, Purple Beauty, Hungarian Hot Wax, Golden Marconi. Right, back to front: Cayenne, Albino Bullnose, Albino Bullnose, California Wonder, California Wonder, Cubanelle.

Left, back to front: Cayenne, Pepperoncini, Purple Beauty, Purple Beauty, Hungarian Hot Wax, Golden Marconi.
Right, back to front: Cayenne, Albino Bullnose, Albino Bullnose, California Wonder, California Wonder, Cubanelle.

Left, back to front: Cubanelle, Hungarian Hot Wax, Hungarian Hot Wax, Red Marconi, Red Marconi, Red Marconi. Right, back to front: Golden Marconi, Golden Marconi, Jalapeno, Jalapeno, Jalapeno, Jalapeno.

Left, back to front: Cubanelle, Hungarian Hot Wax, Hungarian Hot Wax, Red Marconi, Red Marconi, Red Marconi.
Right, back to front: Golden Marconi, Golden Marconi, Jalapeno, Jalapeno, Jalapeno, Jalapeno.

The second and third pictures are all the peppers I started. It seems like a lot, but I’m growing several varieties for my parents’ garden as well. If I still have extras after they pick through, I’ll probably sell them to neighbors like I’ve done before.

Other than the plants, I’ve been trying to keep busy with little projects on the house, cleaning, and cooking. Our big butcher block island counter top is finally starting to reject some of the mineral oil I rub on it, so I decided it’s good enough to bring my Country Living grain mill up and start making bread again. 

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Woohoo! I’m back in the bread-making business! My arms are now all rubbery from grinding out about 12 cups of hard red winter wheat and then kneading it into a rather large ball of dough. I should be able to get four loaves of sandwich bread out of this. As I type, it’s rising in a big metal bowl by the wood stove, covered with a damp tea towel. I’m debating whether or not to also make some roll dough. I’m so excited to have my grinder back! I felt like a failure as a mom packing my kids’ lunches with store bought bread these past couple months.

 

What are you up to on this -20 with windchill day? Brr! Hurry up, spring!

As I type, it is 41 degrees outside. 41! This is the first time in months that we have been above freezing, and I’m so happy I’m dancing all around the house! What are you doing on this glorious spring-like day?

Despite this turn in the weather, we still have over three feet of snow in the yard and the driveway is still one big sheet of ice. Obviously I won’t be getting any outdoor chores done just yet, but I am cruising through my to-do list:

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I made that list the day my husband went back to Afghanistan, meaning to get around to most of them within a couple weeks. Then I came down with a wicked cold and spent nearly two weeks shriveled up on the couch surrounded by kleenex and cough drops. The sunshine today is picking up my spirits immensely! I’m ready to start tackling all these things one by one. I am going to set a goal to get at least one of these things done a day. I finished grouting the last of the tiles today. Still have lots of time left in the day, so I might try knocking out another item or two now.

I also finished grinding up my first batch of eggshells to use as a calcium supplement for my garden this summer. I have started saving all of my shells, rinsing them under hot water at the kitchen tap, and drying them in front of the wood stove to get them nice and brittle.

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After a day in front of the fire, I crush them in my hands and put them into the coffee grinder. Why do I bother going through the trouble of grinding the shells up really fine? Because the eggshells contain calcium that can’t be used until it is broken down. By grinding, I am increasing the surface area and ensuring that the calcium can be freed as quickly as possible.

 

 

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Once it is all ground up, I toss the powder into a small, lidded container that is clearly labeled. What you see there is two dozen eggs worth. Doesn’t make much, does it? Good thing we eat so many eggs here. I should be able to fill this container up by the time summer is here.

 

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When I need the calcium supplement, I will add vinegar to the shells to activate it. Why vinegar? I’m glad you asked. You see, the calcium in the egg shells is in the form of calcium carbonate. Acetic acid, found in household vinegar at about a 3% solution, easily breaks down the calcium carbonate into calcium, water, and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide bubbles up out of the solution, leaving you with a calcium and water solution that plants will readily be able to use. For those who are curious, the reaction is: CaCO3+ 2H+ -> Ca+2 + H2O +CO2.

The bonus? When this reaction is complete, it has a neutral pH, so you don’t have to worry about it being too acidic for your plants. Science is cool, huh?

What plants will need this homemade calcium supplement, and why? Most plants use calcium to build cell walls and membranes. Without the proper supply and intake of calcium, plants can develop conditions such as blossom end rot. This is a common affliction for pretty much all fruiting vegetables. It looks like a squishy, rotten spot on the blossom end of the fruit. I will be using this calcium solution on my tomatoes, peppers, melons, squash, and eggplants. When I transplant the plants into the garden, I will sprinkle each hole with a bit of the solution, set the plant in the hole, water it in, and settle the soil in around it. Easy peasy, and a foolproof way of making sure that my harvest isn’t spoiled by something completely preventable.

While I’m on the topic of gardening, I see my planting date for the onions and peppers is coming up. Maybe I can cross another item off of my to do list by planting those seeds tonight with our boys. Spring, I hope you come soon! I’m getting antsy and impatient to dig my fingers down into the soil!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately on my garden and pantry. I’m excited to be able to grow as much as I can handle, but I don’t want to go overboard and end up with more than I can eat in a year. I once planted several zucchini plants naively thinking that I would only get a couple fruit from each plant. Haha! Yeah, anyone who has ever grown zucchini knows that I had the damn things coming out my ears that year! I’ve done the same with green beans, cucumbers, and peas. I’m pretty good at over-doing the garden. This year I want to be smarter about it, so I’ve started calculating out what we go through in a year.

Some are much easier to calculate than others. Like carrots, for instance. We go through about a half pound of fresh carrots a week, but I can see us going through up to twice that if I have them on hand. A half pound times 52 weeks means about 26 pounds of carrots a year. I’ve only ever grown about 10 pounds at a time, so I’ll be planting at least three times as many seeds as I have in the past.

Tomatoes are my biggest hangup right now. I need them to can up diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, ketchup, salsa, spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, whole tomatoes, and chili. I’d also like to have an abundance of dried tomatoes for various recipes and snacking. It seems like no matter how many tomatoes I grow it won’t be enough. We eat a lot of tomatoes! As I have my list right now, I’ll have 72 plants. A few are new varieties, a few were free, and a few are tried and true. Of the 72, 32 are the tried and true. I’m grappling with whether I should even bother with the new and free ones this year. I could always sell or give away the extra fruits, I suppose. I’m so torn! I hate not planting perfectly good seeds. I guess for now I’ll plant them anyway (in a few weeks). I can sell extra plants along the way.

Thinking about food for a year got me going on the things I can’t grow, like sugar and flour and rice. Yes, I will be growing tiny plots of rice and wheat, but nothing on a grand scale yet. This year is going to be an experiment to see how much I can get from how many square feet. Anyway, this summer I’d really like to get a jump start on the next year’s groceries. It’s so nice not having to run to the store multiple times a week, and to have that food security would be a wonderful gift. I’m anxious about my husband coming home because we don’t know where he’ll work or what he’ll make when he comes back. We have been in rough patches before, and I want to mitigate the risk of that happening again. I have many reasons for thinking about stocking up on food, and those are only a few.

I started thinking about simple things that I make, like bread. I’ve had a few months of a break from making my own bread due to not having the time or space to do it, but I’ll be getting back into the swing of it in the next week or two. Once I do, I’ll be baking at least three loaves a week. Each batch takes about 2 pounds of flour, so over the course of a year I’ll need 104 pounds of wheat to keep us in bread. Each batch takes a half ounce of yeast, so I need 26 ounces of yeast for a year. Each batch takes 3-7 ounces of sugar or honey, so I need about 23 pounds to last a year. That’s all for bread alone! I also make biscuits, rolls, tortillas, pizza dough, breadsticks, pies, cookies, cakes, and muffins. I think I could easily breeze through 400 pounds of wheat in a year if I baked all of our own goods, which I plan to.

Sugar is another big one. I need a bit for breads and baked goods, but it’s also a main ingredient in jellies/jams, preserves, ketchup, sweet pickles, and many other recipes. If we do get started on bees this summer, we’ll need to stock up on powdered sugar for keeping track of the mite population in our hives.

While I was making all of these calculations, I came across a great chart with conversion rates for basic baking ingredients. It has been very handy for calculating how much I’ll need of certain ingredients for each recipe. I’m going to put it here on my blog so I can come back to it in the future.

Dry Goods

 All-Purpose Flour: 1 cup = 4.5 oz
Bread Flour: 1 cup = 4.8 oz
Cake Flour: 1 cup = 3.9 oz
Pastry Flour: 1 cup = 4.25 oz
Whole Wheat Flour: 1 cup = 4.25
Cornmeal, coarse: 1 cup = 4.85 oz
Cornmeal, fine: 1 cup = 6.3 oz
Oats, rolled: 1 cup = 3 oz
Walnuts, chopped: 1 cup = 4.3 oz
Walnut/pecan halves: 1 cup = 3.5 oz
Coconut, dry shredded: 1 cup = 2.5 oz
Chocolate Chips: 1 cup = 5.35 oz

Eggs and Dairy

 Egg: one large egg = 1.7 oz
Egg Yolk: one egg yolk = .7 oz
Butter: 1 cup = 8 oz
Milk: 1 cup = 8 oz.
Heavy Cream: 1 cup = 8.4 oz
Cream Cheese: 1 cup = 8.2 oz
Sour Cream/Yogurt: 1 cup = 8.6 oz

Sugars, Syrups and Oils

 Granulated Sugar: 1 cup = 7.1 oz
Brown Sugar, packed: 1 cup = 7.75 oz
Powdered Sugar, sifted: 1 cup = 3.6 oz
Powdered Sugar, unsifted: 1 cup = 4.4
Corn Syrup: 1 cup = 11.5 oz
Honey: 1 cup = 12 oz
Molasses: 1 cup = 11.6 oz
Vegetable Oil: 1 cup = 7.7 oz
Solid Shortening: 1 cup =7.25 oz

I know I’ll still have to run to the store for the occasional things even if I am able to store up flour, sugar, rice, beans, canned/dried fruits/veggies, etc. There are perishable things like dairy products, exotic fruits (bananas and citrus), meat, and whatnot that I will need to replenish on a weekly basis at the very least. We’ll have chickens for eggs and meat in the start. That should help. We’ll be able to hunt deer and turkey on our own land, too. If I didn’t have so much on my plate already with the house and garden, I’d probably be pestering my husband for a dairy animal like a cow or goat, or some more meat animals like rabbits. For now, the best I can do is try to hit sales and stock up for what is likely to be a low-income year. Plan ahead. Maybe in a few years we’ll work our way up to being self-sufficient for our meat and dairy.

Whew! Meant this to be a quick post to keep those conversion rates handy. Rambling over. Hope y’all are enjoying this beautiful winter day! I know I am, because we finally get to see something green sprouting…

Artichokes are popping up some cute little cotyledons!

Artichokes are popping up some cute little cotyledons!

I’ve been sick the past few days, so in lieu of heavy lifting and hard work, I’ve sat down to organize and craft. I have A LOT of seeds, and I wanted a way to keep track of where they went in the garden. I plan on separating varieties throughout the garden so cross pollination is less likely, and I’d like to have something a bit more permanent than pen writing on a popsicle stick. My solution was to go down to our enormous pile of scrap wood in the basement and cut up some small planks. and stakes to hold them above the ground.

This is how they turned out. Pretty cute, huh?

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I have to find some smaller screws to attach them to the stakes. This should keep me busy for a few days at least. I have a lot to make.

How do you label your garden?

I might be getting a little ahead of myself using that S word in the title, but according to my planting schedule, spring is right around the corner. The estimated final frost date for our area is the week of May 25th, so as soon as our seeds arrived in the mail I went through and organized them by planting time. This is what I came up with.

Feb 16 – eggplants, artichokes
Mar 2 – onions, peppers
Mar 16 – tomatoes, celery, rice
Mar 23 – amaranth, daisies, delphinium, lavender
Mar 30 – brussels sprouts, sage, basil, , thyme, marjoram
Apr 6 – cabbage
Apr 13 – broccoli, cauliflower, marigolds
Apr 20 – dahlias, zinnias
May 11 – melons
May 25 – everything else 🙂

I might have jumped the gun a few days since it’s only the 9th today, but can you blame me? I’m excited! I foresee myself planting many things early in my exuberance for spring to be here.

Now, I promised y’all some pictures of the seed shelves I was working on. I finally brought them upstairs from the basement yesterday and started putting them together. I wasn’t satisfied with my original plans (too much space between shelves), so I moved things around and added another shelf on top. You can tell the new one because it’s the only one not painted. Ah well. I’ll get it next year.

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It’s kind of a monstrosity. It stands 8′ tall because that’s how tall the wood was and by golly I wasn’t about to let that extra length go to waste! I figure I probably won’t use the very top unless I really go overboard. My husband reads this, so I am going to try to rein myself in. I built it all out of scrap wood we had laying around in the basement. Except the 8′ pieces – those I had my husband pick up. They’re just standard wood, so they were pretty cheap. The lights, chain and trays were all things I had on hand from previous seed starting ventures.

The last time I did this, I was able to raise enough seedlings to sell and pay for most of the seeds. I might try that again, especially if I just can’t help planting too many.

Before I planted, I made sure to wash all of my equipment in a mild vinegar/dishsoap solution. I use a sterile seed starting mix of peat moss and perlite. It doesn’t make sense to go through the trouble of having a sterile medium to plant in, then toss it all into dirty trays with who-knows-what still clinging to them from previous gardening years. It sucks to see seedlings all die from damping off or mildew – experience talking.

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Tonight I planted 12 each of Ping Tung Eggplant (my favorite!), Casper Eggplant, and Violetta Precoce Artichoke. They didn’t take up much room in the tray – just 9 little squares. I’ve never tried growing artichokes. I’m not sure if they’ll actually fruit this far north, or what I will do with the roots. I might have to dig them up and store them in the basement to keep them from winter killing. I figure for a couple bucks it’s worth a try. I used to love when my mom made artichoke and fondue when I was younger. What a treat!

My next planting will be onions and peppers. Those will take up at least four trays. Our family eats about an onion a day, and I want to have extra for dehydrating, powdering, and giving away. We can easily go through as many peppers or more depending on what I cook. When I make fajitas, for instance, I use 3 large bell peppers. More if we have company. Salsa and sauces will use a lot of peppers, too. All in all, I think onions, peppers, and tomatoes will make up the bulk of our garden this year. Oh, and beans. I’m trying a lot of new varieties of dry soup beans.

Have you started planting yet? What varieties are your favorites?

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