Building a Cob Oven

On Saturday, April 2, I went to my friend’s place to help with building a cob oven.  My friends are Mike and Deborah Boehle, of Antiquity Oaks.  She put out a general message to those who might be interested in learning how to do this, and I, along with about a dozen other people, answered!

Cob building has fascinated me for a while.  The fact that you can mix together clay, sand, and water together, and then build stuff – as small as an outdoor oven, to as big as a house – is intriguing.  And I wanted to be in on this project.

Mike and Deborah had already planned this project with Jane, who has built and helped others build such things – so she was the project manager.

IMG_0116Earlier in the week, Mike had poured a concrete base, and when I arrived, he was putting the final layer of the brick base on.  He’d purchased these nifty-shaped bricks, and they were held together with construction adhesive to help prevent heaving and shifting over the years of freezing and thawing.  He also used a ratchet strap to help keep it together while waiting for the whole thing to dry.

Once that was done, the next step was to fill the brick base with empty bottles.  The Boehles, as well as others, had been saving wine bottles, Snapple bottles, beer bottles, applesauce jars – any kind of glass bottle they could.  I thought it looked like way too many, but I underestimated how many bottles it would take to fill that base!  IMG_0118We all worked together to fit the bottles in as tight as possible – biggest bottles on the outside, then the smaller ones.  It’s like a puzzle without a picture to guide you.  The bottles are there for insulation value, and to reduce how much sand is needed.  Once the base was filled, then sand was added to fill in the space between the jars and brought up to about 4″ below the edge of the bricks.IMG_0119

Then began our first cob making.  A tarp was brought over.  Bags of clay and sand were opened.  A hose was made ready.  Sand and clay were dumped on the tarp – about a 5-gal bucket of each – little bits at a time, while water was squirted over them.  Then the mixing began, first by using the tarp – lifting the sides alternately, dumping the mixture back and forth.  Then feet were used.  With boots on.  IMG_0120I’ve not mentioned yet, that it was crazy windy – about 30 mph winds, with stronger gusts – and only around 40 degrees.  Bare feet in wet cob was not going to happen.  After the first batch we got smart and started folding the tarp over the mixture and then stomping on it that way, in order to keep the mess off our shoes or boots.  When the cob was “right” as determined by Project Manager Jane, then it was placed on top of the sand, up to the level of the bricks and leveled.  Then another slightly raised area was made in the center.  This was to be the oven floor.  IMG_0121The dimensions had all been pre-figured by Jane and were based on the size of the base.  Once the oven floor was leveled and smoothed, it was covered by wet newspaper.  The reason for this was to protect it for the next step, as well as to help later.  I’ll get to that in a moment.IMG_0140

IMG_0143After the paper was in place, damp sand was then piled on top of the papered oven floor in a large dome.  (Again, the size of the dome had already been determined by Jane using a cob oven calculator for maximum stability and such.)  The point of the sand dome is to provide support for the cob dome.  When we were almost done with that, some of the group started to make more cob.  Jane had decided that we had enough time left before the coming lunch break to get the first thin layer of cob over the paper-covered sand dome.  With the wind being so bad, things dried out quickly.  By getting this layer on now, the paper would be covered and couldn’t dry out while we were eating lunch and warming up.  So, that was accomplished, we covered it all with a tarp that was secured with logs and cinder blocks – and we went in to eat lunch and thaw out!IMG_0144IMG_0147

(BTW – we had a wonderful lunch!  Deborah made quiche and Tim brought a vegetarian chili.  Oh, and there was an afternoon snack of creme brulee pie and banana bread!)

After lunch, hot tea and coffee and some fun conversations, it was back to work.  The cob making continued.  We took turns making cob and continuing to cover the dome.  The extra bottles that didn’t fit in the base were put around the sides for additional insulation.  IMG_0149After that layer of regular cob was on, it was time for the final layer.  This time sawdust was added to the mixture.  The purpose of that is that the sawdust will slowly burn away, leaving small insulating holes throughout that final layer.  So again, we split into two groups – three or four people would make cob while the rest put it on the dome.  Finally – it was done!IMG_0151

There was going to be a final, thin, decorative layer of regular cob put over it all.  But it was late in the afternoon, and everyone was tired.  The decorative layer was going to have to wait until the next day, and most of the helpers wouldn’t be there.  Jane decided that it would be ok to just make the decorations with the little bit of leftover cob.  After discussing it with the Boehle’s intern, Stephanie, it was decided to just make a recessed design instead of raised.  IMG_0154So Jane got to work making the outline of the sun design, then I worked on finishing it while she worked on the door opening to fit the door Mike had built.IMG_0156

By early evening, it was done as much as it could be for the time being.  It needs to dry out for a week or two.  Then the sand will all be dug out.  The newspaper under the sand dome and over it is the signal of when to stop digging.  Then small fires will be built in it daily for a few days or so to finish drying it out.  Then it will be ready to start baking in.  The Boehles plan to use it for all their summer baking.  I look forward to seeing how that all works out.

By the way – because the oven is made of earth, it needs to be protected from driving rain, which would eventually wear it down and wash it away.  Some people use a tarp, others a permanent shelter, others a box they put around it.  I don’t know what they’re going to do yet at Antiquity Oaks, but if I remember, I’ll let you know when they have it figured out.

A Bright, Sunny Day!

Whenever we have a nice day, I think of these words from Winnie the Pooh.  Especially in the winter, when the sun is shining, and the wind isn’t blowing, because then the animals’ actions seem to reflect that statement.  IMG_8203

The goats come out of the barn and stand in a row along the south side where it must be warmer because the sun is hitting the white barn wall and reflecting it.  The same thing happens with the garage.  When the chickens are loose in winter, they’ll line up there to warm up when they’re not eating.  Or the cats will pile up there.  Though today, they decided laying on my son’s black jeep is a better option.

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Since putting a piglet pen between the driveway and the garden, I’ve noticed that whoever the current resident piglet is likes to lie behind the shelter on the south side.  Again, catching the reflection of the sun.  Being black in color, a detriment in summer, helps make the pigs warm on sunny winter days. IMG_8205

Spring!

Spring has FINALLY arrived in central IL!  We went from 20 to 40 in two days then up to 50s and even 60 in a week.  From ice and snow-covered everything, to mud puddles and flowing sap.  From the blessed rest of most farm chores to birthing and planting and boiling and planning and YIKES!  I wasn’t ready for the sudden change!  But hey, the Carhartt overalls are hanging on the hook waiting to be washed, and sometimes I can go outside without a coat – briefly.

So here are some pictures I’ve taken over the past month since my last post.  Kind of an update of what’s been going on around here.  They may be in random order.

IMG_5071You can’t have spring without new life – animal and plant.  About 6 weeks ago I started a small indoor salad garden.  It took long than I thought it would, but I’m harvesting a few things here and there.  This is my first salad.  I’ve also added the greens to smoothies now and then.  The basil is SO good, that it has me lusting after bruchetta.  Now that we have goat milk, I could actually make a batch of feta cheese, then I’d just have to buy tomatoes, because my tiny tomato plants aren’t going to produce soon enough.  If I wait about 2 more weeks, I’ll probably have enough fresh parsley available, too.

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You can’t have spring without chicks!  These are our meat birds.  The day they arrived, the weather was fine.  Then winter gave it’s last big hurrah for two days, bringing temps back to 0 or below.  We lost 14 chicks over the next 36 hours, so I brought them in the house for a day until the temp came back up.  I moved the “garden” to the top of the wood stove and dining room table to take advantage of the rack to hang heat lamps rather than grow lights.  We’re thankful that it was only for 24 hours.  Chicks sure stink the place up rather quickly.

IMG_5109Baby goats!  We had a baby boom here – 12 goat kids born in 15 days.  Well, actually 12 goats born in 3 days over a 15-day span.  Here’s the abridged version of the events:  It started on February 24 when I went out and found Petunia in labor.  I had to assist with the first two, then the third came right out.  Three bucks for her.  About 6 hours later when I went to check on them, I found 3 more bucklings – those were Nightshade’s.  I was very glad she did just fine without my help, after the drama of the morning.  Nightshade has turned out to be a great mom.  She’s nursing 3 kids (2 of her own, 1 of Petunia’s) and I’m bottle feeding the other 3 that no one will take care of.  We got a good routine going and then on the evening of March 8, Marigold had one doe.  All was fine, apparently, and they’ve done great without my help.  Then two days later, on the 10th, I went out mid-afternoon to feed the bottle babies and found 5 more kids on the ground.  Dandelion and Rosie both had their kids between 9:30, when I’d last been in the barn, and 2:30 when I came back.  Rosie had 2 does (that’s her with one of them in the picture) and Dandelion had 1 doe and 2 bucks.  Dandelion is also not nursing her kids, so I’m bottle feeding those three also.  At least they were all born close together so I won’t have to deal with bottles for months on end.

IMG_5041This is the “before” picture, taken the morning of what was to be our first day in the 40s.  The next few are 2 days later.  Mud and water.  It’s like living in a swamp. But it’s warm! IMG_5114IMG_5115

 

What’s next…  Some random things.  Keith’s birthday.  No, he’s not 427!  That’s a funny thing we’ve been doing the past couple of years.  We’re missing a few of the number candles, so we put them together like a math problem.  The 4 for 4, then the 2+7=9 – so it actually means 49 :) IMG_5085

Andrew did most of the spring decorating for me last weekend.  It’s a much quicker process than decorating for Christmas.  Only one box of stuff, instead of 10 or so.IMG_5042

IMG_5052There’s our beautiful granddaughter!  Not the best picture, but I only took a few that day.  We just love her to death and the kids argue all day over who gets to hold her now.  Our son and daughter-in-law came over with her for the first time since she was born in November.  Heather got lots of pictures of Kilana observing the little goats and chicks and other animals for the first time.  We look forward to her growing up and playing out here with the animals.  If she’s anything like her parents, she’ll love them all.

IMG_5040Little Lucky dog – always finding a warm spot.  This was on one rare morning that we didn’t have someplace to go, so we relaxed a little on the couch looking at what Tasha has posted from her internship in Japan.

IMG_5129I started taking a permaculture design course in February, to get certified in permaculture design.  It was easy at first to fit in, now with all the spring things going on, it’s gotten more challenging, but it’s terribly interesting and exciting!  I’m learning so much about how we can improve this place and put our retirement property to good use.  Plus I will be able to teach others to do the same, or  hire myself out as a consultant/designer as an additional source of income.  I also foresee doing some charity work with those skills to help other people become more self-sufficient growing their own food.

IMG_5112IMG_5127IMG_5128With the sudden change in temperature came maple sirup time!  We don’t have sugar maples, but you can tap any kind of maple tree – you just need more sap to get sirup, and it will taste different.  We have one old maple that we can put three spiles into.  The wind wasn’t coming from a good direction to use our regular fire pit, so I found the least windy place in the yard and built this little temporary stove.  Keith was quite impressed with it, which made my day!  We both agreed we’d like it taller and not so close to the house, and to have a brick bottom, but time was limited and I just did what needed to be done for this one situation.  And everything was SO wet, the house was in NO danger!  Maybe this will be the year we finally build that brick stove/oven in the backyard we’ve been dreaming of since we tore out the old chimney in 2003.

 

While I was boiling sirup, the kids were doing their thing.  Some trampoline play, or just reading in the sun on the trampoline, swinging, going for walks, helping with goats and chicks, or – for the girl that prefers to be inside when it’s muddy – sewing.  Bethany has been very creative lately making her own skirts, and this time an apron – with no pattern!

IMG_5110IMG_5111IMG_5117Overall, it’s been a good week.  We all got some sun and fresh air, the stress of waiting for goats to kid is over, the chicks are doing well.  We just have piglets to wait for and need to fix their pen.  And we still have three piglets to take to the processor.  There are pens to clean out, hooves to trim, male goats need to be moved back to their regular home, garden clean up, then soon planting of spring crops will start, and on and on.  It never really ends.  The calendar is filling up fast and I don’t know how many blog posts I’ll get in.  I’m thinking of having the girls start to maintain the blog for me most of the time.  I take lots of pictures with blog post ideas that never get done.  Some get put on facebook, at least.  So, don’t worry if I’m silent for a while.  It just means I’m busy!

Enjoy your spring!  Get out and enjoy nature!  Check on us on facebook now and then and we’ll give you snippets here and there of the happenings on our little farm :)

Mushroom Harvest

IMG_4867This is going to be a short update on our mushroom growing adventure.  The top picture is of the portabellas I harvested 2 days ago.  They were pretty good sized, and meaty – just as they should be.  I used three of them in last night’s dinner which was a stew of goat meat, chana dahl beans, onion, garlic, basil, oregano, a can of tomatoes, and the portabellas.  As I’d hoped, none of the children (except Noah, but he eats anything so that’s ok) even NOTICED the mushrooms!  Noah almost gave it away, but at the mention of the word “mushroom” I gave him a quick “shh!” and the mom look.  Thankfully the other children were not paying any attention, and though Hannah asked what we were talking about, she hadn’t heard the cursed word.  Phew!  Everyone cleaned their plates – Andrew finished first – which was a big surprise.

 

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This morning I looked again at the directions for harvesting the Lion’s Mane mushrooms.  I was waiting for the “fur” to get longer, but then I found that if they are starting to turn at all yellow or brown on top that they need to be harvested NOW.  And they were.  So I cut off the three that had been growing.  The first picture is before harvest, showing the furriness of the mushroom.  Picture two is what it looks like on the inside – much like coral.  They are much spongier than even button mushrooms.

 

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The third picture is my breakfast.  I cooked up one of the Lion’s Mane mushrooms with onions, garlic, and broccoli.  Then scrambled some eggs to keep on the side.  The mushrooms are supposed to taste like lobster when cooked with onions and butter.  I’m not sure I agree with that at the moment, though I did like them.  First, I don’t think I cooked them enough.  Second, the broccoli kind of took over the flavor.  So next time – no broccoli and a longer cooking time.

 

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Compulsive Homesteading and the 2015 Seed Order

IMG_4551Here it is:  The WISH LIST.  Four pages, three of which are covered front and back.  After going through the Baker Creek Seed Catalog, this is what I want.  Well most of it.  I don’t have enough room for it all, so it had to be pared down, but this was the first draft.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me.  I was SO DONE with gardening just 2 months ago, and here I am going through seed catalogs and planning the next one.  Some days I just want to be a “lazy” book reading, movie-watching suburban housewife.  Kind of like my summers as a pre-adult.  Before I had a job.  Minus the “wife” part.  And the kids.  I look back longingly at the summer I turned 16.  No job.  New boyfriend.  No school.  Just the behind-the-wheel portion of driver’s ed.  The boyfriend spent most days working with his dad.  All I had to do was wash dishes (there were only 3 of us and we used a lot of paper plates), eat, cook dinner (it was much less involved back then), ride my bike across town to driver’s ed, take a shower, read a book (I went through The Lord of The Rings that summer), and wait for the boyfriend to come over or pick me up.  It was so glorious!  No yard work – mom did it.  The only place that needed serious cleaning was my sister’s room – and that was her problem.  No dog hair.  No nasty toilets to clean from little boys who miss.  Now I watch my college student at home on Christmas break with envy…

But this homesteading compulsion just keeps coming back.  What exactly is driving that?  I suppose it has its roots back before that glorious summer.  (Actually, most of my summers were glorious back then.)  Despite being raised to be a good student, go to college, get a good job and make lots of money – all I REALLY wanted was to be a wife and mom.  Even when I entertained thoughts of an exciting career, the wife and mom thing was always there.  I wasn’t quite sure how that was all going to work out, but I didn’t worry about it.  I have always liked cooking and baking from scratch and back home with mom is when that started.  I enjoyed being with my grandma or grandpa in their little backyard suburban garden picking green beans.  I liked watching and sometimes helping grandma prepare apples for drying or sauce, and making whatever it was she was making.  I liked watching her or my mom iron clothes, and liked it when I finally got to iron clothes.  (I actually still basically enjoy ironing – it’s the loss of time for other things that annoys me at times.)   I wanted to dress my children in cute clothes and play with them and show them everything I could.

I didn’t have to wait long.  The boyfriend and I were married a week before my 19th birthday.  Baby #1 came 2.5 years later – almost to the exact date.  After high school I had gone to secretarial college for 9 months and had worked for about 2 years, but was THRILLED that it was financially possible for me to quit my job and stay home with my baby boy.  And except for a 3-year time frame after Keith was discharged from the Navy, I’ve always been a stay-at-home mom.

So, before this becomes a long memoir, I guess this thing that drives me is just who I am.  Who God made me to be.  Even when I’m outside climbing the wobbly fence to get in a pig pen to pull a muddy bowl out of a soup of mud so it can have clean food and water, or when it’s below 0 and I’m pulling frozen bowls off the frozen ground and throwing them down to beat out the ice, and when I’m saying “I’M DONE!  I HATE THIS!” – even then I’m internally thinking about what I want to grow, or a better way to deal with the animal issues.  I want to provide the best food for my family that I can.  It started with occasionally making homemade white bread for my mom and sister, and has morphed into making homemade whole-grain bread with freshly-ground grains that I ground here in my kitchen, fresh milk from the goats, fresh eggs from the chickens, fresh veggies from the garden – in my backyard.  It is a LOT of work.  A LOT.  But I have to do it, because it’s what I believe is best for us.  And I don’t always hate it.  Just sometimes.  Sometimes I LOVE it!  Most of the time it’s just life – no better, no worse than any other thing I could be doing.

So here we are at 2015 – and a new garden is waiting to be started!  A clean slate to fill!  Our goal this year is to eat only what we produce as much as possible, so variety was in the back of my mind as I shopped.  We’ve used various seed companies in the past, but I’ve been leaning more towards heirlooms the past several years, and this year I ordered from three companies.  All the seeds came from Baker Creek.  IMG_4550I got their FULL print catalog – and it’s a beauty!  Lots of articles and information, in addition to full descriptions of all the seeds.  The only thing I’d like better would be to have a photo of EVERY plant.  Seed Savers has a photo of everything they carry, which I like.  I’ve used them for the past few years and this year decided to try Baker Creek, just ‘cuz I like a change now and then.  They both have quality heirloom seeds, and are priced about the same, so I feel equally good about purchasing from both of them.

As I was going through placing my order, I decided that I didn’t want to go through the trouble of starting my onions from seed.  I tried last year and it didn’t go well.  So I decided that going back to ordering onion sets would be a better option this year.  Baker Creek doesn’t have sets, so I found my Territorial Seed catalog.  I’ve never actually ordered from them before, though I get one of their catalogs every year. IMG_4552  While I was looking for the onions, I found the mushroom kits.  Hmmm……  I’ve wanted to order one for 16 years and never have.  What am I waiting for??  So I ordered two:  Portabella, and Lion’s Mane.  The Lion’s Mane says it tastes like lobster when fried in butter and onion.  I can’t wait to try that!  The good news is I will be able to start those as soon as they arrive, as they are indoor kits.  So in about 6 weeks I should be starting to harvest fresh mushrooms!

And last, but not least – potatoes.  We haven’t grown potatoes in a few years.  We generally have low yields.  Our soil is hard, they’re difficult to dig up as a result, so we quit.  But this year I decided I really want to eat some all-blue potatoes.  Those are our favorite ones!  And since the tomatoes-in-a-5-gallon-bucket didn’t work like we’d hoped, I think I’ll try the potatoes in the buckets.  Then we can just dump the buckets and pull out the potatoes!  I’ll let you know how that works out in about 9 months.  Sorry I don’t have a picture of the catalog.  I bought them from Wood Prairie Farm in Maine.  When we were ordering potatoes regularly we got their catalog every year.  But since we quit a while ago, I guess they decided to take us off their mailing list and save a tree or two.  Thankfully the internet makes that not so much of a problem.

So, that’s it – the garden plan for 2015.  Stay tuned for results as the year goes by!

CHRISTMAS SALE!

IMG_4335This will be short and sweet :)  It’s just 9 days till Christmas and I’m selling all 7 Christmas scents of soap, lotion, and scrubs at 25% off!  Even if you don’t need more gifts, it’s a great time to stock up for yourself!

There is a limited supply available, and the sale applies only to these 7 scents and only to the items on-hand, ready-made.  (If you want a lotion or scrub in one of these 7 scents that I’ve run out of, I can mix it up for you, but it will be full-price.)  Soap can’t be made and ready that quickly – so when it’s gone, it’s gone!

 

 

 

Here’s the list of what’s available.

Christmas Tree – 8 soap, 3 scrubs, lotion: 2 – 8oz, 3 – 4 oz, 1 – 2 oz.

Frankincense & Myrrh – 5 soap,  lotion: 2 – 8 oz, 2 – 4 oz.

Gingerbread & Spice – 3 soap, 2 scrub, lotion: 1 – 8 oz, 3 – 4 oz.

Candy Cane – 5 soap, 1 scrub, lotion: 1 – 8 oz, 3 – 4 oz.

Bayberry – 8 soap, lotion: 1 – 8 oz, 3 – 4 oz, 2 – 2 oz.

Pumpkin Pie – 6 soap, 1 scrub, lotion:  2 – 8 oz, 2 – 4 oz, 2 – 2 oz.

C’Mere Deer – 7 soap, 1 scrub, lotion: 2 – 8 oz, 2 – 4 oz, 1 – 2 oz.

Email me at farmerinodell@gmail.com to order or send me a message on Facebook.

CYBER MONDAY SALE!!

Small Business Saturday is over.  Now it’s time for Cyber Monday!  Yes, it’s a little early, but it’s my sale – so I can do what I want! 

You get the same 15% discount the Small Business Saturday guests received, PLUS if you need your order shipped to you, you’ll pay only $5 for any size order!  To order, send me an email at:  farmerinodell@gmail.com or send a private message to me on our facebook page:  Farmer in Odell LLC, or my personal page if you are my “friend”.  There is a limited supply of all items, so first come – first served!  I can take payment by check, money order, Paypal, or Credit Card through Square (Visa, Mastercard, Discover, American Express).

Soap, lotion (2-oz, 4-oz, and 8-oz sizes), and scrubs are all available in the following scents:  Hinoki Wood, and Cherry Blossom – both of which are still being sold to raise funds for our daugher’s trip to Tokyo in 2015; Tangerine Lime, Monkey Farts, Vanilla Musk (1 left), Eucalyptus Mint (2 left), Luffa – Almond scent (2 left) or Osmanthus scent (1 left), Plumberry Spice, Bitter Orange Orchid, Oatmeal/Milk/Honey, Pumpkin Pie, Unscented, Bayberry, Candy Cane, Gingerbread & Spice (4 left), Frankincense & Myrrh, C’Mere Deer (Anise-Licorice scent), Christmas Tree, Patchouli, Coconut Lemongrass, Lavender, Tahitian Vanilla (2 left), Lily of the Valley, and Lilac.

Also available are Oily Skin Soap and Shaving Soap.  The shaving soap is also available in a gift pack with a mug and shaving brush for $12.75 after the discount, regularly $15.

Let’s not forget lip balm!  Available in the following flavors:  Root Beer, Buttercream (smells like vanilla frosting!), Orange Vanilla, Peppermint, Chocolate Cream, Vanilla, Lemon Lime, Watermelon (5 left), and just ONE Black Cherry.

And last, but not least, are our two herbal products:  Herbal Salve in either a 4-oz tin, or in a lip balm tube.  This is great to use on very dry skin patches or to put on a minor cut or burn.  I’d mention the bug bites, but unless you’re in the south, that isn’t a likely need right now.  But it will still be good in the summer, so you could stock up on it now while it’s on sale.  We also have Bath Tea sachets in packs of 3.  You just drop one sachet in the tub and pleasant aroma and the properties of the herbs are released.  There are three kinds:  Lavender Bud, Rose Petals, and Baby Bath.  Baby Bath Tea is a combination of lavender buds, rosemary, red rose petals, and yarrow flowers to soothe and cleanse your skin.

If you want to add a unique touch to any gift, for an extra $2 I can pack your gift into an old-fashioned tin with tissue paper.   I have a couple of dozen tins here.  I’ll pick one that will be the right size for your gift.  I’ll just need you to let me know which items are to go into a tin.  Some are very small and will fit just one bar of soap, a small lotion, or a small bunch of lip balms.  Some are larger and will hold several of the large items.

Here are some photos of our little store-on-the-porch:

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The LAST Zucchini

IMG_4047This is it.  Today we cut into our last zucchini for 2014.  So sad.  But, it was a BIG one, so it’ll serve a few purposes.  We baked zucchini fries to eat with our BBQ ribs for lunch.  I just tossed the slices in a bag with some olive oil, broil them till they start to brown and then salt them.  YUM!

Then for dinner I made Zucchini & Cheese Latkes – one of our favorites.  Actually a surprising favorite.  I knew I’d like them – but wasn’t so sure about the rest of the family.  Especially my squash-hating husband, but everyone likes them!  I picked up the recipe 14 or 15 years ago while on a homeschool field trip at the Rosenbaum ArtiFact Center in Chicago.  The kids were doing a pretend archeological dig of a tell, and while the kids were playing with that I was looking around the area and they had a few recipe cards.  This was one of them.  Sometimes I add ground beef for a more hearty meal, but today we just made them according to the recipe.  Since I already told you that I had one very large one left, I obviously didn’t use 6 medium zucchinis.  I used about half of the super huge zucchini.  I usually make some other substitutions based on what I have available.  The nearest grocery store is 6 miles away.  The nearest one likely to have what I need is 11 miles away.  So if I don’t have an ingredient, I substitute or leave things out.  I’ll put my substitutions in parentheses.  Here’s the recipe:

Zucchini & Cheese Latkes – Recipe from the Rosenbaum ArtiFact Center

6 medium zucchini, grated
3 eggs
5 scallions, thinly sliced widthwise (I just use a small onion, diced)
1/2 c. chopped parsley, without stems
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint leaves (I actually have this growing outside, so no subs needed!  Unless it’s winter.  Then I just leave it out.)
1 c. shredded mozzarella, Gruyere, or Swiss cheese (I never have Gruyere or Swiss, so it’s always mozzarella at our house.)
vegetable oil
1 to 1-1/4 cup flour
salt and pepper to taste.
 
Combine zucchini, eggs, scallions, parsley, mint, cheese, salt, pepper, and 1 tbsp. oil in a large bowl.  Add the flour, a small bit at a time, and mix well after each addition.  Use enough flour to give the batter body but not too much to make it thick.  Heat 1/4″ of oil in a large heavy skillet.  (I actually use just enough to coat the bottom of the pan or they’re too greasy for us.)  Using a tablespoon, spoon the zucchini mixture into the hot oil and flatten with the back of a wet spoon.  (I use more like 1/4 cup or so for bigger pancakes.)  Cook on both sides until golden brown.  Drain on paper towels or brown paper bags.  (If you use less oil, you won’t need to do this.)
 

Give it a try :)

And, by the way.  I still have a little bit of that monstrous zucchini for one more meal or snack.  I’ll have to think about it.  Maybe chocolate zucchini muffins for breakfast :)

 

Harvest in Early Fall

IMG_3892THIS is lunch today.  Well, for Noah and I anyway.  Because he’s the only child still living at home that will eat pretty much anything.  Seriously.  A boy who eats baby octopus at a Chinese buffet can’t possibly balk at anything I make :)  But before I tell you more about our yummy lunch, I want to show you what I did BEFORE lunch, which brought this meal to the table.

For the past month the only garden products I’ve dealt with in any way, shape, or form, are eggplant and zucchini.  The eggplant has been going to restaurants in Chicago, with one now and then on my table.  The zucchini has been getting canned as pineapple-zucchini which is a very tasty treat.  Well – I did pick 2 cabbages to cook for dinner for Tasha’s college roommate, Gabby, who was with us for a weekend and wanted a yummy farm meal.  Back to the point:  I knew there were a few beans out there still, but that was ok.  I could lose a few.  The chard was looking great, but it keeps, so I ignored it.  The broccoli – yeah – pretty much done.  Cauliflower – picked.  Turnips and beets – too small to worry about yet.  And, mentally, I was “done” with the garden.  Didn’t care.  Fed up.  Time to enjoy some warm weather before the snow flies.

But, today it’s cool, and I wanted some chard for my lunch.  And ratatouille sounded good.  How about a combo of the two???  So out to the “other” garden I went.  First I picked a few leaves of chard. IMG_3886IMG_3891 Then I picked more and gave it to the goats.  They REALLY liked it.  Here is a pic of me with the chard.  Some of them are over 3′ tall!  (Ignore the bad hair and clothes of the woman holding the chard.  She doesn’t care much about her appearance until chores are done.)  Then I decided to see if there were any cucumbers that were NOT orange.  Uh, yeah.  About a dozen of them.  That brought me to the row of dragon tongue beans.  Yikes!  Tons of them!  So I started picking.  There were too many to fit in the crate, so I brought the crate to the house and got my big bowls.  IMG_3885By the time I was done, I had an overflowing LARGE bowl of dragon tongue beans, half a large bowl of lima beans, some broccoli, peppers – sweet and hot and a few tomatoes.IMG_3884

 

 

I also found the brussels sprouts starting to sprout.  We’ve never harvested any before because they always get a late start.  Maybe this time?  IMG_3888

 

 

 

Looking through the rest of that area I saw that our other two beans haven’t stopped producing like I thought.  This is one row of purple pole beans.  IMG_3887There’s another just like it.  And a thick row of another type of green bean.  No time today to deal with them though!

 

 

Just for fun, here is our trellis with gourds.  I sure wish I hadn’t planted so late.  I can’t believe how many I have even though half the seeds didn’t germinate added to a late start.  It’s very exciting!  IMG_3882 IMG_3880

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And LOOK at this radish!  I don’t know if it’s good to eat, but I picked two of the ones that are full of leaves and flowers but have small roots and fed them to the goats, too.  They were thankful for the treat.IMG_3883

 

 

 

Back to lunch.  So what is this concoction on my plate?  One small eggplant.  One extremely large leaf of chard.  Half of a medium zucchini, one small onion, three cloves garlic, two small tomatoes, bacon (and a little bacon fat), lemon juice (fresh), and salt.  What I did is chop the bacon and then cooked it in a large skillet till browned.  While that’s cooking cut the chard first – cut the leaf away from the stem.  Chop up the stem like celery, and cut the leaf into large pieces or strips.  Chop the onion, zucchini (seeds removed, peeled, though you don’t have to peel it), eggplant (I left the skin on), tomatoes.  When the bacon is browned, remove it with a slotted spoon and put it in a bowl or on a plate with paper towels to drain.  Pour off most of the grease, but keep a tablespoon or two of it in the pan.  Add the chard stem and onions and saute on a low-medium heat.  After about 2 minutes, add the zucchini and eggplant.  After several more minutes add the tomatoes, chard leaves and garlic and continue to cook until all is done – about 5 more minutes.  When it’s all cooked, squeeze the juice of half a lemon over it all, and sprinkle on some sea salt and some of the bacon pieces.  I’d cooked a pound of our American Guinea Hog bacon, but didn’t use it all for this.  The rest of the pieces I’ll save for another meal.  Then I divided it up onto two plates – one for me, and one for Noah.  YUM!

Garden Update – End of August

Here are a bunch of pictures that show the current status of our garden – good, bad, and everything in between.

IMG_3583  We’re getting several quarts of tomatoes every few days, but most are cherry tomatoes, so we eat what we can and if they go bad, they are chicken food.  Next year I’ll have to make sure I plant more paste tomatoes instead.

 

 

 

 

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The zucchini is doing wonderful in the straw bales.  I might not use the straw bale gardening for other things, but it sure worked well for zucchini.  No squash bugs or borers!  This is the first year in 2 or 3 years we’ve had enough zucchini to make Hannah’s favorite pineapple-zucchini.

 

IMG_3577Some acorn squash are arriving.  We won’t get a lot, but there are a few.

 

 

IMG_3585IMG_3588The kale has been taking quite a beating the past few weeks.  Cabbage moths like all the cole crops and kale is one of them.  Today the kids and I stripped all the old leaves off half of the kale and fed it to goats, chickens, ducks, and compost piles.  The picture above is after we stripped the leaves.  On the left is the other half that we’ll take care of tomorrow.  (It was lunchtime and we were hungry.)  I’m hoping that it will continue to grow up from the middle and in the meantime the moths will die off.  Or at least that we removed all the eggs and worms so the kale will be healthy.  Soon it will be colder and the worms will die off anyway.  But some of the kale stalks were rotting in the middle, so I’m guessing it won’t all come back.  I’ve considered replanting some, but it’s a little late and I don’t want to do all that work and then be disappointed.  Plus, I don’t have low tunnels to protect it when it gets cold anyway.  So I think we’ll just hope it comes back, at least for a little while.

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In the middle of the kale is a bunch of eggplant, and between the two rows of eggplant were onions.  The onion tops were all dead or dying, so we just picked all of them and set them on the benches to dry.  With them is a bowl of tomatoes and a large bowl of super big cucumbers.  That’s what happens when you don’t pick them but once a week or so.IMG_3560

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On an arch next to the driveway we planted some gourds.  They are just starting to form, as they were planted rather late in the season.  I’m not sure we’re getting anything out of them, but we tried.  The vines and flowers sure are pretty, though!IMG_3563 IMG_3564

 

 

 

 

Out front the sunflowers are finally blooming.  I planted a variety of colors and sizes.  They are so pretty along the road.  And the bumblebees are loving them!  IMG_3574 IMG_3572The VERY short one was knocked over by a garbage can that blew into it last week during the storm that dumped 5″ of rain on us.  We thought the two that got knocked down were dead, but they have bloomed anyway and are just continuing to grow up from where they are.IMG_3578

 

 

 

Other miscellaneous shots:  Sage.  Blackberries still ripening.  The arch leading to our back door which is covered with morning glories.  The black-eyed-susans which are slowing taking over our yard.  Dill and cilantro.  Cabbage.  Two large bowls of two green bean varieties.  I forgot to harvest the third kind.  Guess I’ll have to do it tomorrow.  It was a very pretty morning :)

 

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