Archive for garden

Spring Cleanup

IMG_0184Time to clean up the barn from the winter!  The goats made a huge pile of hay and poop in their stall over the winter.  Usually we have to add bedding now and then, but this year they must not have been super impressed with the hay because they pulled out a lot on the floor.  It was 3′ deep in the stall they were all in!  The stall that was used only temporarily during kidding was about 1 1/2′ deep in the deep spots, less in the rest.  We couldn’t open the gates because they open INTO the pens.  Poor design on our part, due to our idea of what we thought we would do, which isn’t what we ended up doing – frequent clean-outs and letting the goats have full run of all stalls when they weather was at its worst.

The goat kids like to sleep in the hay feeder, and the hay in the pen was at the same level as the hay in the feeder (which still needs to get cleaned out, too).  I don’t have a “before” picture, but you can see how high it was, based on where the hay in the feeders is still at.IMG_0183

The theory is to do these clean-outs throughout the winter.  It doesn’t happen often, and this winter it didn’t happen at all.  Over the years we’ve relied more and more heavily on our teenage boys to do that job.  Keith used to do it more, but now it’s rare.  The last time he did it he reinjured his elbow.  Unfortunately, kids have this habit of growing up and getting real jobs and leaving their poor, middle-aged mom to figure it out for themselves.  Ryan works full-time and has his daughter to care for when he’s not working.  Brandon went to college in Minnesota and never come back, and Noah spent this winter in the Czech Republic.  He is back now, and he cleaned out part of a pen a few weeks ago, but he is working full-time and also has church youth group responsibilities and socializes now and then.  I still have 2 more boys, but they are 8 and 11 years old.  Their training in barn cleaning will begin soon.  This time around I had to resort to HIRING SOMEONE ELSE’S TEENAGE BOYS.  All this time other people hired MY boys.  Now I had to hire someone else’s.  *sigh*  Such is life.

So they came over yesterday and spent all day cleaning out the two stalls that needed it.  They did an awesome job!  The floor is back where it needs to be.  Unfortunately, our neglect has caused rust and holes in the steel barn walls that we’ll have to repair somehow or cover, but for now I’m just thrilled to be able to open the gates again so we can start milking the mamas for ourselves because the kids are old enough to be weaned.

IMG_0182The burning question was, “Where do you want all this to be piled up?”  Yeah.  Good question.  I’d been contemplating that for weeks.  The past couple of years it got piled in corners of the goat yards, but there are already three piles in various stages of composting in the north pen, and about 3/4 of the south pen has the piglets we moved in February to get them out of their pen that was a muddy disaster.  So, where to put it?? The north pen wasn’t half as deep as the south pen because it was empty most of the winter, so I told them to make a new pile in that yard.  They started on that, and that gave me a couple of hours to contemplate what to do with the other one…  Finally the moment came.  “Where?”  I decided on the adjacent garden, along two fence lines that have been a weedy mess for two years.  That will smother the weeds and also put the compost right where we want it later. The goats have access to it for now, to keep weeds from growing until we’re ready to plant there next month.  If you look closely at the picture, you can see them all grouped together in the corner to the right of the barn.  They got a little freaked out by the strangers in their barn yesterday, and are apparently afraid of the piles.  Normally every morning they are out in the garden looking for green things to eat.  They’ll adjust, I’m sure.

IMG_0177The pile is huge!  Lots of compost later :)  I just need to get chicken wire around the fence again to keep the chickens out.  I don’t want them spreading it out just yet.  They can do that in the fall.  In the meantime they were allowed in the dog pen where they are turning over all the dead leaves in corners and edges and eating bugs.  Yay for chickens helping with the yard work!IMG_0180IMG_0179

Spring Activities

IMG_0133Spring is finally feeling like it’s here to stay.  Some brief warm-ups in February tricked us, then some more cold and even snow brought us back to the reality that the calendar reminded us of.  It ain’t spring yet!

Now it’s mid-April.  Sheesh!  I’m not used to it being March yet, and now it’s April.  And the signs are everywhere:  Crocuses, tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, forsythia, and now our peach trees are (or have finished) blooming.  The lilacs are budding.  Perennial chives, lemon balm and oregano are growing.  Garlic is up.  We had a ton of rain a week or so ago, and it had been raining heavily for several weeks prior to that.  Here on our little place, last Saturday was a perfect day to do some tilling to get the onions and new strawberry plants in before they dried out in the house.  Here is a picture of what I’m going to call “The Spring Garden” this year, because it received all the earliest plantings – garlic went in in the fall, and it is up, onion plants were put in Saturday, as well as seeds for lettuce, spinach, cilantro, radishes, and I think something else…  Today I filled in the rest of the beds in that area with kale, parsley, swiss chard, and peas that don’t need to be near a trellis.  This is a picture of that area:  IMG_0134

I’m about 2/3 done with a second Permaculture Design Course.  Though I got a certificate 2 years ago, I wanted some more information – more depth.  This year’s course hasn’t disappointed me!  I’m still finishing up the section on Soils, and while going through it, I decided I wanted to really improve the garden even more this year by creating permanent raised bed that won’t need tilling.  We have a pile of wood chips that we used to fill in paths between the beds.  I bought straw from a nearby farmer and used whole flakes of that around the perimeter along the fence line to suppress the grass and weeds that continually plague us.  The problem with free-range chickens is that they like to go through the garden, so we fence them all in, but then keeping the edge weed-free is a nightmare.  I hope the thick straw will help tame that.

Down at the south end of the garden I put in a new strawberry patch.  The “old” one that is adjacent to The Spring Garden is multiple years old and full of grass and other weeds.  Production was very low last year.  I decided to let that one be for now and get whatever berries we can out of it this year, and then till it and use it for something else – maybe green beans this year, since they can go in as late as mid-June and still give us a good crop.  This one was actually our second strawberry patch.  The first one was about 20′ north of the current one.  We moved it because of A) weeds taking over, and B) ants eating them all.  The move was a good one for a while as the ants didn’t follow, but now the weeds are out of control, so it’s just time to change things up a bit.  I surrounded the new strawberry bed with flakes of straw again, and a few feet away from it I made one more raised bed with straw in the path.  I made only one, because that is as far as the tilling got done last week.  The strawberries didn’t take up all of the tilled space, so while it was still loose, I created one 3′-ish-wide bed for carrots.  When I ran out of carrot seeds, I finished the rest with beets.  It’s supposed to rain every day for the next 5-7 days, so I’m hoping they get a good start without daily watering from me.  Though it was supposed to rain all afternoon and night yesterday and that didn’t happen…  Here’s hoping!

Once all the plants are up to a few inches tall, I’ll loosely mulch with more straw to keep in moisture and keep down weeds.  Over time, as more mulch is added, it will break down and increase the humus in, and fertility of, the soil.  Some of our garden soil is already nice and loose and tills very easily.  And though I knew this before, the permaculture lessons I’ve been doing over the past 2 weeks, have driven home the reality that tilling really destroys the structure of the soil.  Doing it somewhat to get it started can be necessary, but shouldn’t need to be done year after year, decade after decade.  With good mulching and adding of compost, you should be able to just separate the soil a little to put in your plants and seeds.  I really wish I’d kept with it long ago, but I didn’t really have all the knowledge of HOW to do it right.  So – better late than never!  As the summer goes on, I’ll try to keep you posted on the progress and results.  Since I’m not always good with blog posts on here, be sure to find us on Facebook – Farmer in Odell LLC.  I post little notes and comments along with pictures far more frequently there!

Happy spring!


Permaculture – What is it?


I don’t remember when I first heard about permaculture.  I want to say it’s been about 4 years, but don’t hold me to that.  Nearly 20 years ago when my husband and I started dreaming about moving out the country we began some research into what we wanted to do with whatever land we’d have.  We subscribed to Mother Earth News and Countryside.  Then the internet grew and we were able to learn even more.  When I first read the word, permaculture, I thought this was a new concept.

From the little bit I saw it looked like it might be a way to eventually reduce the amount of physical labor we’d have to put into our homesteading and still have enough to feed ourselves.  Since I was in my mid-40’s and starting to get tired of all the work, I needed to know more.  Is there a way to do this easier?  So I found what I could on the internet.  I bought a couple of books at the Mid-America Homesteading Conference that my friend, Deborah, had started putting on a year or two earlier.  I discovered there is a small permaculture community not too far from my house and I was following their activities online.  But at that point I was only looking at techniques – mulch, companion planting, using chickens to till your garden, etc.

IMG_4348Finally the name, Geoff Lawton, arrived in my world.  I started watching some of his videos.  He worked around the world helping regenerate depleted farms and the results were impressive.  At the end of 2014 I got the announcement for the online Permaculture Design Course he was doing in 2015.  I was excited, because the other PDCs I saw required you to go a permaculture farm and live for a week or two while taking classes and doing projects.  And they’re not cheap.  That’s not to diminish their value, but it wasn’t an option for us at that time – leaving our children with someone for a week to go a couple of counties away, or for two weeks to go to Australia to study under Geoff.  So this was right up my alley.  I could study at home in the mornings before the children got up and I’d never have to leave.  And the course was a little less costly since they wouldn’t be providing room and board for that time.  Still it was an investment.  I got Keith’s approval and signed up.  And now I’m starting week four of my second PDC with Geoff to deepen my understanding.  There is a lot to learn.  The course is 20 weeks long this year and takes a minimum of 2-3 hours per week to just watch the videos once.  Then there is online discussion, a Facebook page just for students for more discussion, and of course, you can always dig in even deeper.  I am SO glad I’ve taken this class because I get the “why” behind the “how” and you find out the “how” is much more complex yet flexible than I thought.

So – what IS permaculture?  The term was coined by Bill Mollison (recently deceased), a lecturer at Hobart University, and one of his students, David Holmgren, in the early 1970s.  Bill’s book Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual was published in 1988.  The PDCs that are currently being taught are built on what is contained in that book.  Geoff Lawton learned about permaculture directly from Bill Mollison and they worked together for a long time.

The concept and techniques that are permaculture were created to address the worldwide soil degradation that was occurring as a result of modern industrial-level agriculture.  It looks to natural sustainable ecosystems as an example of how to rebuild soil and grow crops.  It uses diverse landscapes involving plants, animals, and humans to accomplish this.  Let me share a little of what I’ve learned so far in this PDC.

Lesson 1 is an Introduction, and I’ve actually already shared some from that lesson.  THE most important thing about permaculture are the 3 Ethics.  These are the basis for design, as the design should always refer back to the ethics.  Earth Care is the first.  The designer must insure that all living and non-living things in the environment we are working with are carefully considered.  The goal is to enhance and preserve, not degrade or deplete.  People Care reminds us to look out for each other.  We need to promote self-reliance as well as take on some responsibility for our community by not exploiting or abandoning.  Return of Surplus is the result of good design – so much abundance that we are able to return it to the earth in such ways as composting, feeding animals, or shared with people.  Keeping the 3 Ethics in mind gives a solid foundation allowing us to help the environment AND the well-being of people. We look to the “old” ways – how traditional people lived off the land sustainably, and we merge that knowledge with newer methods and technology to achieve the desired end.  We use nature as a model, not a thing to control.

Permaculture can be used anywhere and on any scale.  35,000 square kilometers in the Loess Plateau of China have been completely regenerated.  If you go to Geoff Lawton’s website ( and click on “Videos”, look for “Greening the Desert”.  It can also be applied in farms of many acres, in rural, suburban, and urban backyards – or front yards, rooftops, abandoned lots, and so on.  The design is customized to the property’s size, location, climate, and inhabitants.

One of the main goals is to maximize the use of water on the property before it leaves the property by directing through multiple places so it is conserved and retained in the soil, thereby increasing production.

Guilds can be formed, which is kind of like companion planting on steroids.  Instead of just ‘carrots love tomatoes’, you can create a small community of plants that all help each other, with permanence as the goal.  For example:  A highbush cranberry, surrounded by 4 fruit trees and 4 hazelnut trees, planted alternately.  Then in between and around these you put spring bulbs to hold nutrient that spring rains would wash away.  Horseradish, comfrey, evening primrose, and milk vetch help bring up minerals from deep in the soil making them available to the fruit trees.  Garlic and chives are used in cooking and can be used to make sprays to ward off pests.  You can also add strawberries in the sunny places, and wild ginger in the shady places.  Asparagus goes around the edges with lemon balm and even lettuce interplanted to be used when the asparagus retires for the summer.  Other flowering herbs like dill, coriander, fennel, and yarrow can be placed around edges to attract beneficial insects – pollinators and predators.  This guild will take up from 20′ – 60′ in diameter, depending on whether you use standard or semi-dwarf fruit trees.  Look at the beauty of this system.  You have multiple crop plants that all help each other in a beautiful set up that won’t need a lot of care once established.  They are all perennials that will keep on giving year after year.  Eventually you will probably have to dig up some of the extra herbs and bulbs to keep the system from being chaotic.  You could give these to friends to plant in their yards, or sell the plants at a farmer’s market in the spring for people to do the same.  This is much more beautiful, and much less work than keeping your herbs in one place, your fruit trees in another (with grass that needs to be mowed), your other perennial food plants in another – generally taking up more space.

Lesson 2 is on Concepts and Themes.  It starts to put a little meat on the bones of the introductory ideas.  Permaculture is based on science – laboratory and life sciences.  We learn here that we need to use scientific tools such as soil testing, finding out the slope and contour of the land, discovering the micro-climate details of the property being designed (sun placement, wind speed and directions throughout the year, how much precipitation the property gets, temperatures throughout the year), and more.  But we also need to spend a lot of time walking the property and observing.  What animals are there?  How does the water flow through?  What is adjoining the property?  Talking to neighbors and other people in the area gives an idea of the long-term picture of the area.  This is especially important when someone is moving to a new place.  If you are redesigning a place you’ve lived for several years, you may already know a lot of this.  Or not.  Maybe you never paid attention before.  Now’s the time to start!

The most surprising thing is that there are no exact rules, unlike so many other gardening/homesteading things you’ve learned about.  Permaculture is very flexible.  The goal is to keep putting back the excess into the system to improve the soil and conditions of the plants and animals and people living there.  If you have too much of anything, eat it, store it, feed it to livestock, sell it, or if there’s nothing else, then compost it.  Often you can just compost in place.  Just cut the extra down and lay it on the ground for mulch.  As it breaks down it feeds the soil and everything in it.

I think that’s enough for now.  In a week or so I’ll post on Lesson 3, which is so rich in information that it’s taking two weeks to get through!


100_4432Cheryl Zacek is a homeschooling mother of 8 (and grandmother to one) who has been married to her high school sweetheart, Keith, for over 30 years.  They live on 1.65 acres in central Illinois where they seek to grow as much food as possible with the space they have, while raising dairy goats, heritage hogs, ducks, and chickens – not to mention making goat milk soap and other personal care products.  Cheryl is also available on a limited basis for permaculture consulting.  You can read more about them at, find Farmer in Odell on Facebook, or email at


August Challenge – The End?

IMG_2700I’m sorry I never posted last week.  We came out of the weekend of the 5th Annual Livingston County Farm Crawl, and were headed into preparation for a camping trip with our new-to-us camper.  With us leaving on Thursday, I had only 4 days to clean up from one busy weekend and prepare for another.

It probably doesn’t need to be said that we fell “off the wagon”, so to speak, on living ONLY off of the food in the house.  What’s in the house is mostly ingredients.  Translation: High-labor foods.  Farm Crawl weekend doesn’t allow for high-labor foods.  So I bought lunch meat, chips, and (gasp!) store-bought bread.  Plus frozen pizza.  I did use some of what we already had by throwing some meat in the crockpot one morning for that night’s dinner.  Yay me!

You can probably also guess that camping weekend isn’t exactly when I want to try to live out of the pantry either.  Besides having 4″ of counter space, plus a small table for a food-prep area, there are just some things you *have* to have on a camping trip, and I didn’t have those on-hand.

We did cook both dinners in the Dutch oven, using our own garden veggies.  I had to buy the meat, though, as we were out of anything even remotely convenient, or small enough for the smaller crowd coming on the trip.  I used mostly our own ingredients for any bread-type things – pancakes, biscuits.  I used our eggs for anything that required them.  I bought breakfast sausage and bacon, since our sausage and bacon are still on the hoof, not in the freezer.  Soon.  Very soon :)

Lunches were the same as Farm Crawl weekend – sandwiches and chips – so I didn’t have to cook and so they’d be easily portable in case we were going to take them with us on a hike.

So, August ends tomorrow.  I think we did pretty good, all things considered.  We spent far less on groceries than we normally would.  We will continue into September, since you can see that kitchen freezer is still full to the gills, and we still have a garden to continue harvesting from.  Stay tuned :)

(And if the picture is sideways, I’m sorry.  I don’t know what’s up with this thing lately, but it’s driving me crazy.)

August Challenge – End of Week 2

IMG_2479Well, as you can tell by looking in my refrigerator, we are in no danger of starving after 2 weeks of only minimal grocery shopping!  I’ve bought butter, lunch meat (mostly for my son so he can take sandwiches to work), and a few necessary basics, but nothing else.  We HAVE been given some bread and party leftovers twice now, which has helped satisfy the potato chip monsters and kept the thought of mutiny far from their minds.

We’re getting close to being out of chocolate chips so on Sunday I made pancakes (GASP!) without them.  Surprisingly, they didn’t complain.

The Farm Crawl is coming up this weekend and I need to decide how I’m going to handle it.  The days are long and busy and making a big meal isn’t a happy thought.  Lunch is the most difficult, since we have to try to eat while showing people around the farm.  In the past I’ve bought frozen pizza, bread and sandwich things.  I will probably do that again, since we won’t have time to cook anything else.  Though I could cook some things in advance to simply be reheated.  Dinner can be put in the crockpot in the morning so it’s ready at dinner time, though mornings are a little crazy with us making sure everything is taken care of.  I’ll let you know next week how it went.

So, we’re doing pretty well.  Saving money, still eating just fine.  Maybe we’ll extend this a few more weeks after August 😉



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.


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.





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.



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.



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!

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!