Taking advantage… of the weather.

Like many of you, I’ve been taking advantage of the unusual Spring-like weather. For the past several days, I’ve been working in my garden, raking, pruning, thinning plants and overall clean-up. Oh boy, I can feel those achy muscles I forgot I had!

Here’s the trimmings from my sage and Greek oregano plants! Don’t be shy to clean-up those woody stems of sage and cut back the runners from the oregano!

My trimmed Greek oregano and sage, neat and tidy.

I’m anxious to get a few seeds into the ground: a mix of salad greens, spinach, radish, leeks – basically, many of the cold weather crops. Do you know the website SproutRobot?  It will help you to plan your garden and advise you when you should start seeds indoors or plant directly outdoors. Pretty cool!

If you’re planning a veggie garden this Spring, don’t take shortcuts and neglect your soil. Remember – SOIL is the building block for all life! Soil is composed of: organic matter, clay, silt, fine sand & coarse sand. The organic matter contains the NUTRIENTS and improves any kind of soil texture!

Begin preparing your garden by amending the soil with organic matter. While you may purchase soil amendments, I prefer to use my own home-made compost!

Did you know…? When you use fertilizer, do you know what those three numbers, side-by-side tells you? The numbers tell you the amount of nutrients to be had — N-P-K — N is for nitrogen, produces green leaves & ‘above-ground’ growth. P is phosphorus (the second number) helps plants bloom flowers and make fruit or, root growth and flower development. Last, K is the third number, potassium, overall plant vigor, stress resistance, stem strength. Simply put (and easy to remember) N-P-K, above, below and all-around…. generally! (I used to ‘teach’ junior master gardeners). 🙂

Now, back to my photo. First, I harvested the rest of the carrots that over-wintered. We always plant lots of carrots for all the critters! Then, added lots of compost & double-dig – to aerate the soil & mix well… removing any debris. I found lots of worm (that’s good) and only one grub (that’s bad).

My favorite garden tool – a garden fork! I use it to break up the soil, dividing & transplanting plants and finally, harvesting potatoes!

This is my ‘BEFORE’ compost. We use three-stage compost bins: one bin for  accumulating garden debris, one that’s in-process, and the third bin, for finished compost. Plant waste goes into the bin throughout the growing season. Late Fall, The Big D, normally processes the garden waste through his chipper/shredder (that operates off his tractor PTO) to reduce the particle size, increasing surface area and accelerating decomposition! It’s much easier to turn-over (to aerate) the pile, when it’s well-mulched!

This is my finished compost: rich, black gold that’s  full of valuable nutrients for healthy growth of the garden plants. Depending on it’s use, I may screen it, but more often, I just add it direct to the garden… tossing out the stone or stick.

You can see my 3-stage compost bin…the empty bin, when not in use, provides space for additional plants.

Composting is a must-do, if you have a garden!

Finally, I’ll rake out the bed nice and level and it’s ready for planting!

Happy gardening!

A Working Weekend

Matt was home over an extended 4-day weekend (mid-terms) so I spent lots of time rattling the pots and pans in the kitchen preparing his ‘favorites’. Used up the last of my goat’s milk cheese with baked manicotti…YUM! I made meatloaf –  it’s always a family fav – for another supper, and last, stuffed green peppers with a basil/tomato sauce with pick’ns from the garden just before the hard frost.

For dessert, I had to bake an apple strudel…but not the type you’re probably most familiar with…light airy filo-type crust? This ‘apfel’ strudel is my mom’s recipe from the ‘old country’, Nieder Osterreich (Northern Austria) from a little farming village called Rastenfeld where my mom was born and raised. It’s a simple-folk farmer’s hearty-type dough, made with flour, sugar, butter, sour cream, milk and egg yolks. It rolls out easily and is then filled with fresh sliced apples, sprinkled with sugar and dotted with butter (I toss in a few raisins and a little cinnamon). Another BIG Y-U-M!

  apfel_strudel

Here’s the recipe, made the old-fashioned way – BY HAND. NOTE: MAKES TWO APFEL STRUDELS: In a large bowl, add 4 1/2 cups flour, 2/3 cup sugar, pinch salt. Stir with whisk. Now, make a hole in the center of the flour and add: cut in 2 sticks butter, 4 tablespoons sour cream, 4  tablespoons milk, 4 egg yolks (reserve the whites to brush on top of the strudel if desired). Now comes the fun part! Push up your sleeves and with your hands, begin to pull in flour from sides and incorporate into the ‘wet’ ingredients. Once you have formed a ball of dough – of sorts – turn out onto a floured dough board and work gently adding a bit more flour if needed until ingredients are all incorporated and smooth. Put finished dough aside under the bowl while you prepare your apples. Peel, core ‘n slice 7-8 large apples (I use Northern Spy but any good baking apple will do. Now, back to the dough…cut the dough in half (makes 2). Roll out half the dough to fit lengthwise on a parchment paper lined 11 X 17 baking sheet, approx 1/4 inch thick. Arrange sliced apples down the center of dough. sprinkle on sugar to taste, add cinnamon & raisens if desired, and dot with a few bits of butter. Gently fold over dough to center and pinch ‘n tuck ends closed. Brush on egg whites and sprinkle with sugar if desired – OR – when baked, just dust strudel with powder sugar. Repeat process with second half of remaining dough (for second strudel). Transfer from wood board to baking sheet, next to first strudel (see pic). Bake at preheated 350 degrees F until golden brown, juices should be flowing, approx 45 minutes – 1 hour. Remove from oven and allow to cool before slicing. Enjoy!  

Since I had man-power available, we managed to perform necessary flock management, worming, feet trimming, etc. getting everyone prepared for the winter and breeding(?). I also managed to skirt, wash and pick Reeces’ fleece, my ewe lamb – whom I sheared this past September. I was hoping beyond hope for a nice warm day to perform this ‘chore’ when it turned so unseasonably cold! Nevertheless, I accomplished the task in two days…well, I had to let the fleece dry overnight in my drying barn before I could ‘pick- it’. That’s kind of like teasing the wool apart – in preparation for spinning. But first…

drying fleece

Before I could USE the drying barn (I forgot to mention sequencing) – remember ALL that lavender drying all over screens and racks in the drying barn??? Well, it took me two days, but I finally ‘garbled’ (that is, removed all the leaves/buds from the stems) every bit of lavender I had harvested this past summer and temporarily stockpiled in the barn. YEAH – well done! Smells heavenly. I saved some of the longer lavender stems to bundle and use as scented ‘faggots’ for the fireplace.

And, I also made another batch of goat milk soap – this time I used peppermint and rosemary essential oils and some of my farm-raised organic peppermint for color. TIP: I use a ‘dedicated’ electric coffee grinder for grinding herbs and other botanicals for creating various herbal sundries. I always look forward to soapmaking day – the kitchen is usually filled with wonderful scents. After the soap is allowed to “set” for approx. 24 hours, I remove the soap (in this particular batch, a 10 pound loaf) from the mold. TIP: Use freezer paper to line your mold for easy release. I immediately cut the soap ‘loaf’ into individual bars. TIP: A non-serrated knife/blade makes a clean cut and/or a cheese-cutter (straight or curly/fancy blade cuts the soap nicely. Sometimes you can find them at the dollar store. I usually get anywhere from 24 – 30 bars depending how I cut the loaf. TIP: A small old wood drawer makes a nice soap mold! The bars of soap are placed on wire racks where they’re allowed to cure/harden for another 3-4 weeks before the soap is used/sold.

cutting_mint_soap

Last, but not least, hubby also mulched our veggie garden compost with his chipper/shredder that operates off the tractor PTO. We have a 3-stage compost system. One bin accumulates, one bin is in-process/cooking and one bin is the final ‘product’ …which is usually always empty because we put it right back into the garden beds in the Spring.  Since we already got hit hard with frost several times, I’ve been cleaning-up the garden beds and accumulating lots of garden debris. You increase the rate of decomposition by increasing the surface area…that is, chop up your veggie waste. Here’s the final product – it looks almost ready to place back into the garden – full of nutrients for next growing season!

compost

That’s flat leaf parsley in the foreground – normally lasts in the garden ’til Thanksgiving. I’ll pick lots and share with family. I’ll use some to make a parsley pesto and prefer to freeze the rest since ‘dried’ parsley begins to loose its flavor quickly. 

3-Stage Compost Bins
3-Stage Compost Bins

A busy, blessed weekend!