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Archive for the ‘winter gardening’ Category

My “track”:

Look closely; it’s there!  Yes, I ran yesterday.  Actually, I ran until the snow got too deep and I had to walk.  I got in 30 laps, until I looked like the Abominable Snowman.

My running buddy:

In fact, she shows up from the neighbors’ house, runs circles around me, begs to be petted, and then races off to chase deer, cats, birds . . . and then she catches back up with me and does it all over again.

The creek in snow:

Cold frames seems a particularly appropriate name today:

I’m not sure there’s still something growing under all that snow!

Is it delivery?

No, of course it isn’t delivery.  We can’t get delivery here in normal weather, much less when there’s almost a foot of snow on the ground.  If you missed the recipe earlier, it’s here.

So, the NWS claims we got 9-12 inches of snow.  Our thermometer read 1 degree F above zero this morning.  How’s the weather in your neck of the woods?

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There is no question that fall has come.  Actually, we had our first frost about two weeks ahead of schedule, at the beginning of October.  

I am extremely resistant to yielding to winter in the garden.  In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re still picking summer crops.  I used an old king-sized mattress cover for moving to protect my teepee, this year laden with trombetta squash and armenian cucumbers.  We picked several pounds after the first frost.

Sadly, a wind storm last week ripped off the plastic and collapsed the teepee.  I haven’t given up on everything else, though.  Last weekend was the real test, when temperatures plunged into the lower twenties.  Everything that stayed covered survived.  Tomorrow night, we’re expecting more freezing temperatures, but I’ve tucked in the garden and hope that it stays that way.  If so, we’ll keep harvesting for a few more weeks.

How do you let go of your garden as winter comes?  Do you have a ritual of putting the garden in hibernation?  Are you like me, trying to get that last tomato to ripen?

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.

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Our seemingly endless summer really is coming to an end.  Our oak leaves dropped a couple of weeks ago from the heat, lending a fallish scent, but we knew that they were not presaging fall, just yielding to our hot, dry weather.  Better evidence of the coming fall is the parade of animals through our yard, trying to fatten up for winter.  Days are still in the 90s here, but the past few mornings we’ve dipped below 70 degrees F.  This morning it was 55 degrees F when I got up.  It was bliss.  We’ve been sleeping with the windows open and feeling the need to snuggle under a blanket in the wee hours before dawn instead of sweltering without even a cotton sheet like we have been for most of the summer.

Along with these early signs of fall, we’ve seen “our” wildlife return from their summer retreats.  While one doe and fawn have visited regularly since July, this evening we had almost the whole herd of deer back to see what had fallen under the apple tree.  Last night, I found a big, fat raccoon on the porch.  I scared it off, as I see nothing good that can come from having coons around.  Tonight I surprised an armadillo, and bark rained down on me as another critter–I’m guessing possum or coon–escaped up an oak tree.

All of this relatively cooler weather is inspiring me for fall planting.  I hope to get in some seeds for lettuce and related greens.  I started craving turnips today, so I’ll put in some of those too.  And I’ll definitely start some cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower, preparing to cover them before they produce, in case of early frost.

Have you seen signs of fall?

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Arkansas is back into the triple digits with summer heat, after a couple of days of reprieve.  At least it finally rained here, after all measurable rainfall detoured around the homestead from July 13 until yesterday.  Today we actually got close to half an inch of rain, if the gauge is correct.  That rain was followed by air so thick with moisture that it fogged up our windows from the outside.  It’s easy for me to long for cooler days.  But then I remember how long and dark winter was for us in early 2010.  It was cold.  The garden wouldn’t grow.  We got cabin fever.  Maybe I can deal with a few more triple-digit days if it means the days of summer can continue just a bit longer.

Which is your favorite season?

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.

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We went from wondering if another ice age was on its way to believing in global warming again this week.  The unseasonably warm weather cried out for a cooler dinner, and gigantic chives and Asian mustard that went from salad size to mandatory cooking overnight made me think of some of our favorite pseudo-Asian meals.  Tonight we’re having spicy peanut-sesame noodles with broccoli, coconut-crusted chicken, and a mess of mustard greens finished with hoisin sauce.

I first had peanut-sesame noodles a couple of decades ago at a Chinese restaurant in a country house outside Madison, Wisconsin.  Come to think of it, I’m not even sure if the place was licensed as a restaurant, but it got a big following quickly.  The food was good, but the most fun was the owner’s enthusiastic teenage daughter, Sunshine.  After we’d visited a few times, Sunshine told us that she was going to order for us that night, not from the menu but one of her favorite things that her mother made for the family.  Out came the noodles.  I was in love.  These probably bear little resemblance to those, but I can make them with ingredients I have on hand.

Spicy Peanut-Sesame Noodles

This recipe will make more than enough noodles for a whole family of four (or more).  I used whole-wheat spaghetti noodles, but you could use udon noodles or thick rice noodles too.

Serves 4-6

  • 1/2 box whole-wheat spaghetti noodles
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth (or veggie–also okay to use water, but then you’ll need to increase the other ingredients a bit)
  • 1/3-1/2 cup good peanut butter
  • 1 hot pepper (chile), diced finely–I used a red peter pepper I had in the freezer.  Feel free to use more peppers if you like it spicier.
  • 1 crushed garlic clove or several garlic chives, diced finely
  • 2-3 dashes rice wine vinegar
  • 6-7 dashes soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • optional:  freshly grated ginger or pickled ginger, slivered
  • 2-4 scallions or chives, sliced across the grain (both whites and tops)
  • carrot, slivered or coarsely grated
  • optional garnishes:  cilantro, coarsely grated radish, snow peas, shelled edamame

Begin by prepping the sauce for the noodles.  Heat the peanut butter and broth to get everything moving.  I heat them in a one-cup pyrex measuring cup in the microwave and then use the measuring cup for mixing everything else. Add in the hot pepper, garlic, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil.*

Now prepare the noodles according to package directions.  Pour off the cooking liquid and while the noodles are still hot, add the sauce and stir well to combine.  Stir in some of the scallions, carrots, and garnish and pile the rest artfully on top.  Set the noodles aside or refrigerate.  You’ll serve these noodles at room temperature or even cold.

Do you want to make this a vegetarian one-dish meal?  Use the veggie broth, and toss in shelled edamame or stir-fried tofu.  By the way, this sauce is an excellent appetizer dip for vegetables!  When we take it to parties, people love that it’s not the same-old ranch or bleu cheese dip, and it’s a lot healthier for you.

Go ahead and take a closer look.

Quick Broccoli

I used two cups of florets, fresh from our garden, and tossed them in salted water in the wok.  That’s all!  Then I used them as additional garnish on the noodles.

Coconut-Crusted Spicy Chicken

serves 2-4

  • 1 chicken breast, about half a pound, cut into strips (half of the thickness of the breast, about 3/4-inch wide each)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2-4 tablespoons lime juice
  • optional:  2 tablespoons rice vinegar (use if you only use 2 tablespoons of lime juice)
  • 1 large jalapeno or other chile, diced fine (or more to taste)
  • 1 egg, beaten  You don’t need to double the egg if you double the recipe.
  • 1/3 cup coconut

Start by making the marinade by mixing together your liquids and prepped jalapeno.  Process everything with a stick blender or in a regular blender.  It’s okay if some of the pepper remains unprocessed.  If you do not have a blender, just chop the pepper even more and let it meld with the marinade for a little while..

Pour the brine/marinade over the chicken breast strips and let everything soak for several hours, turning regularly to make sure that the marinade reaches all parts. (If you’d like to let the chicken soak overnight in the mix, add 1/4 cup water to make a brine.  Otherwise, the acid in the juice and vinegar will “cook” the chicken and make it tough.)

To have un-crusted chicken, pour off the marinade or brine and stir-fry the chicken in a little coconut oil.  To crust the chicken, pour off the brine, dry the chicken well, and dip it first in the egg and then in the coconut.  Place the chicken pieces on a greased cookie sheet and bake it in a 325 degree F oven for about 20 minutes, turning the chicken over half way through, until the chicken is golden brown on the outside (and, obviously, cooked through inside.)

I also served dinner with mustard greens in hoisin sauce (pictured in the upper right corner of the bowl).  Simply prep a mess of greens (see photos above and below for what constituted a “mess of greens” tonight!) by stripping off the tough stems, chopping everything roughly, stir-frying quickly in sesame oil, and tossing in some hoisin sauce to finish wilting the greens.  As hot as it’s been outside, the greens were really sharp.

*If you have a family member who’s a little leary of new things, reduce or leave out the toasted sesame oil altogether and add a bit more chicken broth and vegetable oil to thin the noodle dressing. Sesame oil has a distinctive (some say acquired) flavor.

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Tonight we’re feasting on sweet roasted root vegetables, beet greens, and roasted chicken breast.  Except for the chicken, goat cheese, and olive oil, the meal is coming from our garden, a harvest of root vegetables that got a head start over the winter and are now yielding Yum! Whether you’re feasting on fresh root vegetables from your garden, a spring-opening farmers market, Community Supported Agriculture, or a veg box, roasted root vegetables that are really fresh are a wonderful treat that may make the whole family like beets and turnips.

I roasted the vegetables in a cast iron fry pan, covered with a cast iron lid, at about 400 degrees F for about 45 minutes.  I included leek slices, beet wedges, radishes slices, carrot chunks, and turnip wedges.  I roasted the vegetables simply, with olive oil, salt, and a little dried oregano.

I slathered red pepper relish (red peppers, vinegar, sugar, salt) on our chicken breast (briefly brined) and then baked and sliced it after it rested.  Even though the breast was boneless and skinless, the relish helped it retain moisture.  The breast was really juicy.

I braised the beet greens in a little oil and then added a little of the chicken cooking liquid.  Finally I sprinkled on the goat cheese.

The sweetness and savoriness of the red pepper relish and  the vegetables balanced with the tanginess of the goat cheese made for a delicious meal.

Beware any woody vegetables.  Roasting will not make them better.  If you can’t easily cut through the veggies when they’re raw, they are woody.  Discard them.  Feed them to your farm animals or your compost pile.  They’ll appreciate them.  And, yes, I learned this the hard way.

What are you favorite preparation for root vegetables?  What sort of seasoning do you like to use?

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  Short excerpts with full URL and attribution to Ozarkhomesteader are welcome.  Please contact me to use photographs.

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Wait!  Stay, while I move you beyond thinking about yellow mustard for your hotdogs or overgrown, overcooked, bitter, abused mustard greens and into the realm of mustard greens bursting with flavor and health.  When I was a kid, my mother would send my sister and me to the garden to pick mustard greens–in high summer.  We would invariably come back claiming that there were none ready, but she could look out the window and know we were fibbing.  She’d cut the greens, wash them, and then cook them to death.  The whole house would smell.  They tasted awful, but I ate them because that was what a good kid was supposed to do.

Fast forward many years and a culinary lifetime later.  I’ve had mustard greens lightly braised, and I’ve eaten them fresh in salads.  And I liked them.  Today I want to encourage you to like them too.  As I understand it from around the web, a lot of people have been getting mustard greens in their CSA baskets and veg boxes.  Hopefully this little primer will help you enjoy them like I do.

Why Eat Mustard Greens

Mustard greens are phenomenally good for you.  In my post-operative state, the high rate of Vitamin K in mustard greens (more than 500% of the RDA!) is excellent news.  Mustard greens are also chocked full of other vitamins, and they are superior for fighting cancer and aging.  Like kale, they pack a huge wallop of nutrition for a tiny number of calories.  I don’t just eat them because they’re good for me.  I eat mustard greens because, properly raised and properly prepared, they also have a wallop of flavor.

The Flavor

Step one in thinking about whether you’ll like mustard greens is thinking about whether you like prepared mustard, which is basically mustard green seeds and vinegar.  If you’re okay with prepared mustard, you can like mustard greens.  The trick to enjoying them is eating them in season–that is, before it gets too hot outside.

Using Mustard Greens

You can eat mustard greens fresh or cooked. Just please, please don’t boil them to death.

  • Fresh baby mustard greens give a kick to salads.
  • A few days ago we had fresh medium-sized mustard greens one of my favorite ways, instead of lettuce on turkey-ham sandwiches.
  • You can also braise more mature mustard greens.  Just remember that you’ll need what Southerners call a “mess of greens”–that is, big pile–because they’ll cook down so much.  Begin removing the tough center rib.  Then roughly chop the greens and wilt them in a little hot oil (or bacon drippings, if you have any around) in a large pan.  As the greens start to wilt, add a lighter vinegar (balsamic may be too strong) and, if you want, a squirt of honey or splash of soy sauce or sprinkle of salt.  Some folks add tabasco too.  Serve them as soon as they get tender.
  • Consider add mustard greens to Asian-inspired stir fries.  They’re classic!

Growing Mustard Greens for the Sweetest, Mild Flavor

Mustard greens naturally have a sharp flavor, but that flavor is balanced by a green sweetness when you pick the greens in cooler seasons.  If you want to start liking mustard greens, try them when they’re growing temperatures have not exceeded 80 degrees F for the daytime high.  Honestly, I do not think that variety makes that much difference in mustard greens’ sharpness, although some Asian varieties (mizuna) may be a little sharper.  Mostly it’s the temperature.

A Few Recommended Varieties of Mustard Greens for the Home Garden

Mustard greens are incredibly easy to grow.  Three versatile favorites in our household are red mizuna (the purple Asian mustard featured here), mizuna (a lacier leafed, more delicate Asian mustard), and Southern giant, a bright green, frilly edged mustard.

Do you have questions about cooking or growing mustard greens?  Would you like to know some of the seed sources I use?  Do you have a favorite recipe for mustard greens you’d like to share?  Please let me know in the comments area!

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  Short excerpts with full URL and attribution to Ozarkhomesteader are welcome.  Please contact me via comments for permission to use photographs.

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With temperatures running 10 to 15 (and even 25) degrees F below normal for weeks, snow on the ground, and most days looking like twilight at noon, I’ve found myself slipping into the Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that I used to battle when I lived in the northern tier of states. Once I recognized the problem, I vowed to stay in control of my life.  Scientific research over the past decade or more has given us the tools to fight SAD, wherever we live:  get out when we can, increase cardiovascular exercise, and find (or make) green spaces.

SAD is caused by a deficiency of light.  The most obvious way to fight it is to expose ourselves to as much natural light as possible.  Folks who live in the far north sometimes park themselves in front of full-spectrum light boxes.  I prefer just getting out and walking.

Brisk walking has a second benefit, that of cardiovascular exercise.  Research has indicated that 45 minutes of cardiovascular exercise several times a week is more effective at lifting depression than all of the front-line anti-depressant pills–and exercise costs you nothing and has no nasty side effects.  Moderate cardiovascular exercise can boost your immune response too, making you less vulnerable to the viruses that can bring you down in the winter.  Taking your cardiovascular exercise as walking or jogging outside can also give you glimpses of green, another mood lifter.

Much more recent research has found that 71% of people with depression were less depressed after spending time in green space.  I’m surprised how much green our landscape has even in winter.  While it’s not spring green, it’s still green.  If you live in a big city, consider seeking an indoor garden, such as St. Louis’s Climatron (Missouri) or Madison’s Olbrich Conservatory (Wisconsin).  To find an indoor garden near you, try googling “conservatory” and “garden.”  Chances are you may find an indoor oasis of green in the midst of snow.  I also find great joy in starting my summer garden seeds indoors at this time of year.  (For more on seed starting, see here.)  Even that little bit of new green life perks me up.

If the dreary days have you down, get out, work out, and find some green.  You’ll live happier and longer for it.

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  Short excerpts with a full URL and attribution to Ozarkhomesteader are welcome.  Please contact me for permission to use photographs.

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Although family needs out of town prevented me from starting my tomato seeds in early January like I’d hoped, a seed-starting heat mat still got my seedlings going pretty fast this week.  I planted on Monday.  By Thursday I had Camp Joy seedlings, and within hours several other varieties started poking their pretty green heads out of the seed-starting mix.

I was absolutely determined to have no nursery-purchased plants this year, after the nightmare of the Bonnie plants last year.  In case you missed the news (and don’t want to click the link), a major nursery supplier, Bonnie Plants in Alabama, shipped thousands and thousands of plants that had been contaminated with blight (the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine).  Given the extraordinarily wet weather last summer, the blight spread like a wildfire through gardens in the eastern half of the US as well as places a bit further west like Arkansas.  We only had a few Bonnie plants, but that was enough to wipe out our entire tomato planting.  Blight is especially scary for organic growers because organic controls do not work that well on blight, and blight can remain in the soil for years to come.  Your best bet is to abandon the land for tomato growing and any other nightshade plants (potatoes, eggplants ) for several years.

You can also avoid contamination in the first place by starting your own seedlings at home, using a seedling heat mat (if you keep your house as cold in the winter as we do), grow lights, and mini-greenhouses, like shown in these links to Burpee products.  I’m not advocating that you buy all of these things from Burpee, by the way.  My seedling heat mat did come from Burpee, but the rest of my growing kit came from the hardware store.  I reuse my starter pots every year, taking time to thoroughly clean them, including using bleach. Although I ordinarily do not use bleach, I do use it to disinfect all of my garden pots.  Getting seed-starting equipment will set you back a bit, but your cost of producing plants from that point forward will be much less expensive, and you’ll be able to grow greater variety.  That makes starting seeds at home frugal in the long run.

Have you started your seedlings and aren’t sure what to do next?  Read here for my next installment in growing tomatoes.

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  Short excerpts with a full link to this site 
and attribution to Ozarkhomesteader are welcome.  Please contact me for 
permission to use photographs.

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After more than an inch of ice and at least half a foot of snow precipitated on us and then lingered for four days in late January and early February, I had my doubts about whether my veggie tunnels would still have viable veggies in them.  Temperatures, after all, have been running about ten degrees below normal for several weeks, and adding ice and snow on top of that did not bode well for plants that like sunshine.  It took some time to brush off the snow and break off the ice, but I’m delighted to report that almost everything survived.  Given that it was still quite cold when I took photographs, I didn’t want to take the tunnels all the way off, so “after” photographs are through the tunnels.

On November 29:

January 31:

Are those really veggie tunnels under all of that snow and ice?

Yes, and those are cold frames in the distance.

February 1:  time to take off the snow

They’re looking pretty sad.  Did anything survive?

Yes!  the veggies live!

I also dug several radishes and some carrots from the cold frames yesterday, so those too continue to thrive.

We’ve already got at least four inches more snow today (February 8), and radar shows a heavy band of snow moving in within a few hours and then more overnight, for a total of 8-12 inches.  I’ll sleep easy through this storm, though, knowing that my winter garden is surviving, snug under its tunnels of veggie love.

If you’re in the path of this latest storm (or any other) make sure you tuck in your veggies before you tuck in yourself.

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