Archive for self-sufficiency – Page 2

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!

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.







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.


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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IMG_3580 IMG_3566


Yes, getting fancy with the terminology.  It makes a more impressive title than “Garlic and Onions”.  Garlic an onions are both members of the allium family.  Your word of the day :)

This afternoon Keith and I were in the “kale” garden weeding for about an hour.  Now that the kale is so huge, there are only weeds in the spots where the kale didn’t come up the first time.  Or the second time.  About half of the gaps are filled now, but those gaps gave a few weeds free reign for a while which made the young kale difficult to find.  We have actually done a very good job weeding this year, so there really weren’t many – they were just large.  Because there were so few, we got the whole garden done in just an hour.  Two months ago it took 2 or 3 hours.

The “kale” garden, though mostly kale, also has a row of onions and two rows of eggplant.  While weeding I found one spot where somehow I’d planted 4 onions in a 6″ square area.  I’m not sure how I did that, but 3 of the 4 were pretty large and the 4th is pretty small.  So I picked two of the largest to make room for the other two.  Then there was another very large one at one end of the row I just had to pick to keep ready for dinners this week.  I’m so impressed with how well they did this year!  IMG_3089That large onion is 4″ in diameter.  That might not sound like much to some people, but we haven’t had any get that large in years.

Something that’s been on my list of things to do all week was to dig up garlic.  In the fall I planted garlic in two old compost piles.  Two years ago a bunch of barn litter was dumped in two spots outside of the garden fence.  I figured they would be perfect spots for the garlic.  After 2 years of composting, the soil was nice and soft and would make the harvest quite easy – unlike the strawberry patch where it was last time.  Ever dig garlic out of concrete?  Not fun.

Each pile had a different variety of garlic.  One softneck, one hardneck.  Apparently they finish growing at different times, too, as the one was almost completely dried up and the other is still green and standing tall.  Today I finally took a few minutes and dug up the one that was obviously done growing.  I got 16 bulbs.  A few less than I planted, but back in the spring I weeded while they were still small and uprooted several of them.  Some of the bulbs didn’t have their stalks anymore, but most did, so I looked up “How to braid garlic” on the internet and found a 2 1/2 minute video to show me how to do it.  I went out, braided my garlic, and now it’s hanging on an old curtain hook on the back porch.  Since the porch is all cleaned up after Wednesday’s cleaning event and I can open the windows again, it’s a good place for the garlic to hang and cure.

IMG_3092 IMG_3091

This kind is Broadleaf Czech.  It’s a softneck variety that is able to be braided for drying and storage.  According to the Seed Saver’s catalog, it’s sweet and mild when cooked and has a full, pungent garlic flavor when raw.  To be honest – I chose it just because of the name.  I am about 87% Czech and Keith is half.  Cute story – when he and I had just started dating  in high school and his grandma found out what my last name was, she asked what nationality I was.  When she got the answer she said, “Oh!  She’ll bring it back to the family!!”  I guess she knew something we didn’t, because we’d been dating only a few weeks :)  Since the half of his family that he spent most of his time with was the Czech side, and because his name is Czech, that’s what he considers himself.  So, now and then I’ll choose a particular seed variety simply because Czech is in the name.  Silly, maybe, but how else do you choose between 20 different kind of garlic and 100 different kinds of tomatoes?IMG_3090 IMG_3089







I’ll be harvesting the other garlic in a few weeks after the stems start to dry out.  That one is a hardneck called German Red.  Did I mention that half of the tiny part of my heritage that isn’t Czech is German, and so is part of the other half of Keith’s??  He, he :)


Rethinking Thomas Lincoln

100_1265I believe that in the past I have judged Thomas Lincoln too harshly.

You know Thomas Lincoln – the 16th President’s father?  (I was going to post a photo of him here, but I’m not sure I can find one that’s not copywrited, so if you want to see a photo, you can google it.)

I don’t remember when I got this impression – probably in elementary school when we first learned about Abraham Lincoln.  I just remember thinking that Abe’s dad was a bit controlling.  And it seems that they didn’t have a good relationship, by all reports.  All the boy wanted to do was grow up and live his own life.  But his dad wouldn’t let him go until he was 21, which was the age of adulthood in the early 1800’s.  He mostly kept him working on the homestead and also made Abe give him any money he earned elsewhere.  I know, I know – that was normal at that time.  Life was hard, yada yada.  But sheesh!  It wasn’t fair.  Let the boy live his life, keep what he earned, do your own work for pete’s sake!

Yeah – typical response of a late 20th Century American – and suburban – child.

Well, now I’m 46.  And I’ve been at this “farming” thing for just over 15 years.  I put “farming” in quotes, because we only own 1.65 acres.  Though we produce a good amount of our own food when things work out well, we are FAR (FAR!!!) from self-sufficient.  My husband has a job that keeps us from being homeless, naked, and hungry.  Which is a very good thing.  We are working at making our little place profitable, but we could give it up tomorrow – sell all the animals, replant grass where the gardens are, and go back to buying all our food someplace else – and survive just fine.  But we like raising as much of our own food as we can.  We know where it came from, if there were any chemicals sprayed on it (usually not), we pick it fresh and eat it almost right away, or preserve it for winter.  We like being able to walk out the back door and collect our eggs from our free-ranging chickens, and get milk from our dairy goats.

100_1298Back to poor, misunderstood Thomas…  We have only 1.65 acres.  I have no serious idea of what it was like to TRULY be self-sufficient.  To travel, by foot, from one state to another with just a wagon-load of belongings to find a piece of land and start to carve out a homestead out of it.  To have to grow, glean wild plants, or hunt all my food.  How hard it is to have to cut down – with a HAND-powered saw – EVERY tree you need to build your little log cabin.  And to cut down more trees, or dig up prairie grasses, to make a garden.  There were no seed catalogs, with hundreds of varieties, to order from.  They had to go long distances to find livestock to buy to start their farms off with.  And if all went well, in a few years they’d have a small herd and maybe be able to sell or trade some extra animals for money or something else they needed.  After doing this little farming thing for over a decade, and visiting many historical, pioneer sites, I have much more respect for the people that settled this land.

And I have more understanding of the elder Mr. Lincoln.

He had ONE son to help him.  With all that work, I can seriously understand why he wasn’t too keen on the boy leaving.  Especially now, after my THIRD boy has started to work part-time for ANOTHER farmer.

100_4849He’s 16 years old and can be really helpful around here.  When Keith isn’t home, he’s my right-hand man.  He’s almost as strong as his dad, so when I need to catch pigs to sell, which always happens on days when he’s at work – he’s the man.  He does most of the stall cleaning.  He hauls the water in buckets in the winter, through the snow, because the younger kids can’t.  He helps me dig holes when we have an animal to bury, fix fences, catch loose animals, etc., etc.




Our oldest son helping burn brush on a recent visit home.

Our oldest son helping burn brush on a recent visit home.

I’ve been through it before.  He has 2 older brothers, both of whom started working outside the home at the same age.  Sixteen.  They get their driver’s licenses, then they start leaving me to fend for myself with all these little children who are still in training.  JUST when they are the most useful to me.  They start disappearing.  So I have to do more work myself, while working on training the younger ones to do the work he was doing.  And I let them keep the money they earn.

Keith says that’s what we had them for.  Raise them up to know how to work, take care of themselves, and go live their own lives and  be productive members of society.  Sure.  That’s true.

But, after starting to lose son #3, I’m starting to think that maybe Thomas Lincoln wasn’t as bad as I first thought.

Small Acres – Part 4

The "Greenhouse"Basics of Transplant Production – Setting Up Your Greenhouse

The third session of the Putting Small Acres to Work brought us to this talk by Hans Bishop of PrairiErth Farm, in Atlanta, IL.  I was very impressed with how large Hans and his Wife, Katie, grew their small farm business in a relatively short period of time.  They plant between 7 and 9 acres of vegetables that they sell at a farmers market in Springfield.  One of my notes is “specialize in diversity.”  They don’t just grow carrots – they grow orange carrots, yellow carrots, purple carrots.  They grow beets in red, white, and orange.  And more.  Diversity!

The difference between a greenhouse and a high tunnel (see Part 1 of this series) is heat.  A high tunnel (or hoop house) relies on the heat that can be captured from the sun.  A greenhouse has an added heat source.   The greenhouse is used to get plants started.  When the greenhouse gets too full and the plants are larger, they move some into unheated hoop houses until it’s time to transplant them into the field.

So, here are my notes:

Set up.  You need to figure out how many transplants you want to make in a year.  You don’t want to outgrow the greenhouse too fast, or have too few transplants and waste money on heating a greenhouse that is too big.  You need to figure out how many plants will be in there at any one time.  This is where having hoop houses, too, comes in handy.  Different plants need to be started at different times.  You may be able to have a smaller greenhouse for starting some plants, and then move them into a hoop house when it’s time to start something else, but the first plants aren’t able to go outside into the field just yet.  What will your heat source be?  Propane, electric, etc.  And what is the greenhouse going to be covered in?  Plastic sheeting, polycarb, glass, or something else?

What’s important?  Have systems ready to go.  Have backup systems.  Plan, plan, backup, backup.  Keep records from year to year so you can see what works and what doesn’t.

Air circulation is very important to prevent disease and produce stronger plants.  They need some exposure to gentle wind to grow strong.   You can use fans, open doors, roll up the sides if you have plastic sheeting.  Air circulation also makes the temperature inside more constant and prevents hot and cold spots.

Effective use of heated space (to save money).  Use of a germination chamber  is more practical for starting seeds in the early months.  Heat mats with a thermostat are very helpful.  You can also hang a sheet of plastic from the ceiling of the greenhouse to create a germination chamber so you’ll need to heat only that small part of the greenhouse.  A bucket heater can be used to increase humidity and moderate the temperature.

Benches.  They use 2×4’s and sawhorses to set boards on to make benches.  They’ve obtained bread trays to put the soil blocks in and those trays sit on the benches.  He believes that building your own benches is best – cheaper and you make them the size you want them.  Plywood on the top can be used to add a flat work surface where you need it – and is easily moved to another area as you work.

They make their own soil blocks to put the seeds in.  Currently they buy a mixture from someone else, but they started by mixing their own.  It’s basically 3 parts peat, 2 parts compost, 2 parts perlite or vermiculite, 1 cup of sand, blood meal, cottonseed meal, and a dash of lime.  For germination, he uses 50-cell trays and places 7 seeds per cell.  Then I wrote, “heavy duty white plastic.”  I don’t remember why…  Is it for covering the trays to keep moisture in until germination occurs?  For seeds that are difficult to germinate, he sows them in 10×20 flats or broadcast sows them in a tray.  They use bottom heat to speed up germination time.  The plants are separated into one of three different sized soil blocks when the first true leaves appear.  Most go into 1 2/3″ blocks – chard, fennel, lettuce, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, herbs, cabbage.  These are smaller plants and plants that need a shorter start time.  In 2″ blocks go tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucurbits, okra – larger plants, anything that will be in the greenhouse a longer time.  He doesn’t use 3″ blocks much, except for plants that he doesn’t think he’ll be able to plant very soon, and crops with a higher value.

To prepare the plants for the field you need to harden them off by exposing them to some wind, changing temps, and water stress.  Check for diseases.  It’s better to transplant a smaller, more vigorously growing plant than an older, stunted one.

Record keeping is crucial.  Use a field journal and then transfer that information to your computer.  Record your plans, at least what you want and how many you want in the greenhouse.  Record the germination dates, how many germinated of each variety.  That tells you what kinds do best and how many you need to restart to meet your goals.  Create a spreadsheet.  Make sure each tray is labeled clearly.  You’ll never remember all the details.

I appreciated hearing the details of greenhouse growing.  Some of the things he mentioned I wouldn’t have thought of.  He had pictures of his greenhouse, the plants, the soil, and blocking tools – which is good because I had no idea what he meant when he first talked about using a “blocker”.  There’s always new terminology to learn in this farming thing!  I don’t have a greenhouse, so I have no picture of one.  The picture above is our seed-starting table in our dining room last year.  So far this year we have only tiny cauliflower leaves and a lot of dirt.  Not a fun picture.

PrairiErth Farm is another place I’d love to visit one day.  If you live in or around Springfield, you could buy their produce from the farmers market they go to.  Check them out at their website:

Small Acres 1

The "Greenhouse"On March 23, Keith and I attended 4 workshops designed to help people with few acres make their farms more profitable.  It was called Putting Small Acres to Work and was put on by the U of I Extension at Lincoln Land Community College.  There were three breakout sessions, each with 3 workshop choices, and then a general session for everyone.  Because some have asked, I’ve decided to write a series of blog posts on the workshops we attended.  This will not be comprehensive, but just general, and focus on what we learned and what we are thinking of doing with that information here on our farm.

The first workshop we attended was Growing Vegetables Year-Round, by Nathan Johanning of the U of I Extension.  The focus was on using high tunnels to extend the growing season.  A high tunnel is like a greenhouse, with the difference being that a high tunnel has no heat source other than the sun, whereas a greenhouse has some other additional heat source.  We also attended a workshop on using a greenhouse, but that will be post #4.  I apologize that I don’t have a photo of a high tunnel to put here, so I had to settle for one of our seeds that we started last year.  You can easily Google pictures of one online.  They are very similar to a greenhouse.

In the fall and winter we not only lose daylight, but the angle of the light is lower, which makes the sunlight much less effective than in the summer.  The goal of the high tunnel is to capture as much light as possible.  We want to capture the heat as well as the light as both are needed for plant growth.  The plants need to be planted early enough so that major growth will be finished by December and then the light and heat available should be sufficient for maintenance.  The plastic you use is also important.  Thicker plastic, or a double plastic wall will protect the plants from the temperature changes better, but also reduces the amount of light that can get it.  In addition, row covers are also generally used on the coldest nights, but need to be removed in the morning after the plants thaw so they can receive the light.  They then need to be replaced in mid to late afternoon to trap heat before the temperature drops too much.

The types of plants you choose is important.  As much as I might want tomatoes in mid-winter, they are a poor choice.  Cold-hardy crops need to be used.  Cole crops – broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower are good, as are greens like spinach, kale, chard, lettuce.  Root crops like carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips and radishes work.  So do leeks and green onions.  You can look at seed catalogs for descriptions to see which are best in colder temps.  You will also need to do some experimenting on your own to see what works best for you – be sure to keep notes because you’ll probably forget a lot of what you’ve done.

Besides what type of plants to grow, you need to figure out when to plant them, to get the majority of the growth finished before the daylight gets too low.  This is where the surprise was for me.  We have to plant much earlier than I thought we would in order for certain plants to do well.  Here in central IL, things like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower would need to be started in mid-July.  Beets, lettuce and turnips need to be started by August 1.  Fall spinach and kale in mid- to late-August, and spring spinach the first week in September.  I mistakenly thought we’d be planting everything in Sept or October.   Our thought was to put up a high tunnel in the fall over our existing garden, but that isn’t going to work, since our summer crops will just be getting into their prime producing season.  Now I’m wondering where to put one.  Maybe in front of the garden between the driveways?  The bigger issue there is that it’s more open to the wind, which can be quite nasty here.  We’ll have to think on it more.

Other details on planting and caring for the plants is that the seeds should be planted deeper than in the spring, as well as closer together.  Direct-seeded crops may be more cold tolerant than transplants.  Watering is important, but when it’s colder, the plants won’t need as much as in the summer since the crops grow more slowly and it’s more humid inside the high tunnel.  Drip tape is useful until it starts getting below freezing.  Watering in midday is best when the night is going to be a little more mild to prevent freezing of the crops.  Ventilation, when possible, is also important to prevent mildew.  Harvesting should also be at midday.  Be careful to not harvest more than 40% of the leaf area at any one time.

I don’t know if we’ll get a hoop house this year.  Another option is low tunnels.  They are cheaper, though more difficult to manage since you can’t just walk into the building and shut the door.  But we may try one little row of broccoli, lettuce, and spinach and see how it goes.  Having fresh greens in the winter would be nice.  Any maybe we will actually have broccoli without worms :)


Fall Afternoon

Yesterday Keith let me know that today, in the afternoon after church and lunch,  that he wanted to get more wood cut and split.  The shed was about 3/4 full, which generally gets us through the winter, but he wants the shed full to make sure.  It turned out that today was a great day for such a task, as well as other outside chores, with a high temp around 50 degrees and not so much as a breeze.

Here’s a synopsis of our afternoon.

Duck reunion

While we were eating lunch, we got a phone call from a church friend whose car was dead.  She needed Keith to tow it to the shop for her.  So, while he was gone with Noah – and Andrew (who insists on being present for anything remotely exciting) – I caught all of the second batch of ducklings that we hatched.  They are big enough and feathered out enough to go out with the big ducks outside.  When the oldest ducklings got put out with the adult ducks there was some minor conflict between the two “clans”.  But both the older ducklings out there and the ones I was moving today used to be in the brood pen together.  They must have remembered each other because when I let the younger ones out, they ran right to the older ones and they had a little reunion.  The 4 adults still keep to themselves.  Apparently they are too mature to be socializing with the children.


Next I had Bethany, Hannah, and Ben rake up the leaves along the driveway so we could feed them to the goats.  The goats really like dried leaves.  It’s a special treat for them.  Before giving them to the goats, Hannah had to jump in them and bury herself in them.  Then Ben put his kitten in the pile and said, “Mom!  You have to take a picture!”  Sorry for the light rays.  I didn’t notice them till tonight and I’d only taken one picture.

Leaf PileHannah in leaf pileKitten in leaf pile

While we were finishing with the leaves, Keith and the other 2 boys arrived back home and got started on the wood.  We have several large tree trunk sections that have been lying in the yard for over a year.  Keith cut up four of them with the chainsaw and stacked them to dry better.  They will be split and used next year.  Noah was working on splitting the smaller pieces, and I used the wheelbarrow to roll them to the shed and stack them.  Here are the results of our labor:

Logs waiting to be splitFirewood Shed

The youngest four children were exploring the creek while we were working.  Better than computer games or Wii all afternoon!  When they came back, Hannah gave me a “creek bouquet” that she picked.  She’s so sweet!  I put it in the vase that came with the flowers Brandon sent me for Mother’s Day.

Creek Bouquet

I don’t know how long I’ll keep the cattails inside.  My mom had cattails in her house for well over a decade before getting rid of them.  When she was told that they’d explode, we all thought the person was nuts.  After all, they’d been in the house for many years with no problem.  But several years later she decided to not push her luck any longer.  I’ve only been able to keep cattails in the house for a year before they started to look suspicious.  And they regrow every year, so there’s no sense in risking the fluffy mess.


Speaking of fluffy things, here are milkweed pods exploding – outside.  Since I’ve heard about monarch butterfly habitats disappearing, I’ve been letting milkweed grow wherever it wants in my yard – unless it’s in a really bad spot, which hasn’t been a big issue so far.  Here is some on the edge of our asparagus patch.  And then a bigger picture of the asparagus.  I love the soft, dainty, fern-like asparagus greens in the fall. Asparagus Patch


Next are just a couple of miscellaneous pics.  First are the apple and pecan trees that we ordered to plant on our property in Missouri where we plan to retire.  We’re hoping that by planting them in the fall, their root systems will get established when there’s actually rain and by the time we move there we’ll start getting fruit.  Pecans are a little slower than apple trees, but still, maybe by the time we’re 60, we’ll start harvesting pecans.  And if we’re fortunate enough to live a long, healthy life, we could be harvesting those pecans for 30 years or more!

Missouri Fruit Trees

Here is our trailer.  Keith bought this car trailer last year for any hauling we need to do.  He’d already put some fencing together to strap down to hold animals, but that is only really good for summer time.  Since we had to haul 5 pigs to the butcher 3 weeks ago and it was cold, he didn’t want them to freeze on the hour-long drive at 60 mph with just open fencing.  So he designed and built some pretty good sides to box it in nice and tight.  It can also be taken apart and off the trailer for those times when we need to use it as a flat bed.  He’s pretty smart that way.


Thanks for listening to me ramble about our afternoon.  I don’t expect many more nice afternoons like this one before next spring comes, so I really enjoyed it – work and all.  I hope you all had a good weekend, too!