Tennesseetransitions


Hope Springs Eternal

Last Saturday our temperatures here in NE TN were a perfect promise of spring, so I got to my plot in the community garden and spent a very pleasant hour or so turning under the green manure crop of Crimson Clover while adding some organic amendments to the soil. The next day’s rain was the perfect finish. Now it will have a couple of weeks to break down before I plant ‘spring things’ there. It’s a rare fall that I get the planting of my winter cover crop timed perfectly so that it will fill in, without going to seed, before the cold weather fully hits, but I managed to last fall. Remember this?

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The now-brown quilt of clover served as a natural cover through the winter, and will now finish its’ part in the garden’s life by adding nitrogen-rich organic matter to my slowly improving soil. I added blood meal, rock phosphate powder and homemade compost to the bed and then tilled it all under. I plan to try a no-till method in some of my beds this year, in hopes that the earthworms will drag the compost and other amendments down deep to the plants root area where it’s needed most. I vowed when I started these beds from scratch last spring that as soon as the clay was broken down I’d stop tilling. I hope that time has come, for using a tiller is not sustainable and my goal is to garden productively without using fossil fuels or the pesticides and fertilizers that are made from them. I’m still not there, this picture proves it, but I do hope to be some day soon.

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In the meantime, I’m babying my starts of onions, kale, chard, cilantro and parsley that are growing on a make shift book case-turned-plant-rack.

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They’ll get transplanted to 4″ pots, slowly hardened off, and tucked into the prepare beds by the end of the month, along with potatoes, peas, beets, carrots, cabbage and broccoli-all ‘cool season crops’ too. After many satisfying meals this winter using our stored, canned and frozen fruits and veggies it will be wonderful to once again have fresh foods to add to the table. While I wait for the lettuce, peas and strawberries, I’ve started sprouting seeds in the kitchen to give us ‘something fresh’ right now. Sprouting is easy-peazy- something even I can’t mess up!

The winter was really tough on the fall-planted kale, chard and lettuces. The ‘polar vortex’ ripped the plastic off both hoop houses the night it blew in and all that survived was the spinach. This picture was taken on December 17th, when those things were holding some promise for spring:

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All that’s left of that promising bed are the spinach plants, (lower left) which are still too small to harvest. Hopefully, not for long.

In writing this post, I realize how many times I’ve used the word ‘hope’. My garden is always full of hope, if nothing else. I hope the seeds will sprout, I hope for a bountiful harvest, I hope the food we grow will nourish us and I hope that by showing you, my reader, how much can be grown with so little time, space and energy that it will inspire you to try your hand at growing something this spring too. All indications are that we will definitely see rising food prices as the year goes on. We already are actually. Hoping that won’t happen isn’t enough for me though. In a world where I often don’t feel I have much control over much of anything, growing my food empowers me like nothing else does! Right along with filling my pantry and my belly, gardening fills me with peace of mind and the knowledge that regardless of what happens in the world, I’ll always have the knowledge and skills to provide for myself and others. Hope really does spring eternal in the garden!



A Mid-Winter Festival of Bannocks, Roots, Seeds and Groundhogs

groundhog-day-groundhogA little history lesson today dear readers:  February 2nd was an important day in the Celtic calendar. This ancient holiday earmarked the midpoint of winter.  As winter stores of food began to be used up, Imbolc rituals were performed to ensure sufficient food supplies until the harvest six months later. Imbolc was a feast of purification for the farmers, and the name oímelc (“ewe’s milk”) is likely in reference to the beginning of the lambing season, when the ewes came into milk. Imbolc celebrations were marked by bonfires, special foods, and the old tradition of watching to see if serpents or badgers came from their winter dens~ perhaps a precursor to the North American Groundhog Day.  One of the special foods that was prepared for the feast was bannocks, or bannock bread. A blogger that I like to follow posted a recipe for these last summer and today was the day I finally tried my hand at it. These little breads were quite good!

Easy Bannocks

  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil or melted butter
  • 3/4 cup water

Measure dry ingredients into a large bowl.  Stir to mix.  Pour oil (or melted butter) and water and stir to make a ball.

Turn dough out on a lightly floured surface, and knead gently about 10 times.  Cut the dough ball into 4 equal balls and pat into a flat circles ~ 3/4 to 1 inch thick.

Cook in a greased frying pan over medium heat, allowing about 5-10 minutes for each side. Best when served hot.navajo-fry-bread

This is a perfect recipe to round out a meal that may be a bit on the lean side, and has ingredients that most of us have already on hand. (Other recipes suggest adding a bit of sugar or blueberries to the dough) They were more biscuit like than I imagined them to be, so next time I’m going to flatten them more, cook in less time and I imagine it will make more than four that way too. I’m going to try making them over a fire the next time we go camping! Imagine-hot bread when  you’re camping!

To go with our bannocks, I made a  stew of sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, cabbage and tomatoes simmered in a quart of  home-made veggie broth, all of which we’d produced ourselves, so the only thing store-bought was the peanut butter, soy sauce and spices that made this recipe from my favorite old Moosewood cookbook perfect for the affair!

As we ate this ‘root crop’ feast, we were reminded of how concerned over their stored food supplies the ancient Celts must have been at this time of year, hoping the rituals they performed during Imbolc would protect their food and their farmers and  see them through ’til spring. We were also very thankful that we live in a time when food supplies are available year ’round.

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To ensure my own crops were ‘sufficient to last until spring’,  I decided today was the day I’d go back to my plot at the community garden and dig those parsnips that I’d deliberately left behind, so I could see how they would fare with the minus zero temps we were expecting at the time. The parsnips were crunchy and in good shape!  They had actually begun to sprout new green growth underneath that 2″ layer of leaves I’d piled on!

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I found one more Imbolc-like reason to celebrate today:  Our annual seed order arrived in the mail AND a local nursery donated lots of seeds to our community garden, so there’s PLENTY to celebrate and look forward to!

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To everything there is a season… and for every purpose under heaven. During these dismal final weeks of winter, I sometimes have to look really hard for those signs, but they’re there! The sun was out just long enough this morning that when Phil the groundhog poked his head out, he saw his own shadow, so, according to the legend, spring will arrive early this year. If that’s not something to celebrate, nothing is! Join me next year for the SECOND ANNUAL IMBOLC FESTIVAL-you’re all invited!

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And the beet goes on…

My beloved grandmother died 10 years ago today, at the age of 100. She taught me a lot of things growing up; from useless nonsense like: “Never wear white shoes after Labor Day”,  to priceless information on how to cook vegetables and raise “Food”…

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But this Southern girl had never eaten, nor even seen, a parsnip, until I married my London-born husband. Nor did I care to. His love for this carrot-like root vegetable prevailed however, and now I love them as much as he does. So much so that I now plant them in my fall garden. Much like cool weather greens, parsnips ‘sweeten up’ after a few hard frosts. Since we recently had some nights down in the teens, I figured that was cold enough to sweeten them, so I walked down to my plot in the community garden today and harvested some of the parsnips and carrots I’d planted there last August. Aren’t they beautiful? They look good enough to eat, huh?

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I harvested 5 pounds of those fat, stubby carrots that grow so well in the fall, and 3 pounds of the parsnips, along with some ‘spring’ onions too! None of these veggies were protected in any way except for a 2″ ‘blanket’ of shredded leaves, proving that you don’t have to use expensive greenhouses or heavy cold frames or even plastic covered hoops for these cold-hardy varieties. As an experiment though, I decided to leave some of them in the ground because I’m curious to see how they fare after being in the ‘deep freeze’ we’re expecting next week-temps are predicted to be -4 Monday night! I’m hopeful they won’t freeze and get mushy but the only way to find out is to let them be. I’ll post later to let you know how they fare. I couldn’t bear to lose a single beet though so I harvested all of them.

Even though this time of year can certainly cause the window of locally grown foods to narrow considerably, there are still many fresh foods that can survive winter growing conditions or can be stored fresh without any or much preservation. Last week I took the fourth cutting of broccoli side shoots since the main heads were cut in early October and harvested 2 fresh heads of cabbage at the same time. Brussels sprouts look like they’re surviving with the sheet of plastic I put over them around Thanksgiving. I’m harvesting kale and parsley from my hoop house twice a week, but I’m pretty sure I lost my Swiss Chard during the recent cold night when the wind took the plastic off the hoops that covered the plants. That happened a few years ago, and even though the plants looked completely dead I left them in the ground, and because they are biennials, they literally came back to life the following spring in a beautiful flush of growth! I’m hoping for the same this time too, because I failed to save the seeds from those plants that reinvented themselves in spite of the odds, but you can be sure I will this time if I get a repeat performance. I did notice that the tiny spinach and bitter greens that were in that same hoop house didn’t seem to be bothered too much by the unfortunate exposure so I fully expect to be eating them by late February. 

spinach

I went to the grocery store today and noticed price increases in canned beans, tomatoes and milk. I suspect that may be due to the continuing severe drought in California. It’s been said that our next wars will be over water instead of oil. Those of us lucky enough to live in a place with an annual rainfall of 52 inches don’t have to worry too much but that could change tomorrow. I like knowing that I can grow fresh food year round with very little irrigation necessary, but a few rain barrels under the downspouts is still a good insurance policy! But there’s been no increase in the costs of my beans and tomatoes-in fact, I want to show you the last four Longkeeper tomatoes I have been waiting on to ripen-we ate fresh tomatoes in our salads the day after Christmas and I suspect these last ones will fully ripen in the next week or two… note to self: plant earlier next summer so we’ll have enough to last through more of the winter.

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Starting the new year with boxes of locally grown apples and tangelos from Florida, white and sweet potatoes that still have our garden’s dirt clinging to them, baskets of butternut squashes, garlic and shallot bulbs, and all the other canned, frozen and dried goodies that I’ve put up and written about in the pages of this blog gives me a sense of gratitude and comfort. Having the skills needed to provide yourself with good food, regardless of winter storms or droughts, regardless of Peak Oil or ruined Fukushima nuclear reactors, will hold you steady all your life. No doubt I’ll suffer some losses to this extreme cold snap that’s headed our way-probably my beautiful rosemary bush or some of the fruits and berries that were planted last summer. But it’s not the end of the world, and the setbacks continue to teach me new lessons that were begun by my grandmother 60 years ago. The BEET goes on.

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In the ‘Nick’ of Time

Even though the full moon that’s been keeping my kitty-kitty prowling and meowing around the house during the night is postcard beautiful…

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the cold, short days really are cause for prayer and Prozac. For those of us that love to garden this is the time of year that we begin to truly miss kneeling at our weedy altars. The answer to this annual crisis is found in my mailbox, right there with the Christmas cards and end-of-the-year requests for charitable donations. Just in the ‘nick’ of time, the seed catalogs arrive! The colorful, mouth-watering, dream-inducing wish-books can transport me right back to warm days and garden plots.

Today’s ‘crop‘ of catalogs…

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inspired me to get outside and remove the plastic from my hoop houses so I could harvest some fresh kale and parsley… 

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to add to tonight’s soup…

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In my winter hoop house and in the kitchen, kale is king. After some hard frosts, it sweetens up, is easy-peazy to grow, and hearty enough to withstand serious cold with just a little protection. And check out the nutritional qualities of this super food:

kale

While I was in the garden, I took a peek at another bed that I’d planted with Red Sails lettuce, chard, spinach and some micro-greens called Claytonia and Mache’. Here’s that bed on Oct. 25th:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here’s what it looks like today, Dec. 17th:

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Come late winter, when I feel like I can’t possibly look at another plate of kale, the spinach and chard will be filling this space with their tender sweetness that can’t be duplicated with winter varieties. Just in the Nick of Time.



Do You Know What Today Is?
October 25, 2013, 8:31 PM
Filed under: Canning, fall gardening, Frugality | Tags: , ,

Well it’s Frugal Friday of course! OK dear readers, I loved reading your comments last week about what you’d been doing to enable yourself to live better on less and I hope you’ll share again now. This week was fairly ordinary, but there always seem to be opportunities to save a bit of money. For example:

Monday- Added some water to the liquid soap that was so thick it wouldn’t pump out of the dispenser. It’s still PLENTY thick and now there’s more of it.

Tuesday- Made some hot pepper jam with THE LAST of my hot peppers. It makes a good hostess gift and people seem to love it poured over a block of cream cheese served with crackers.

Wednesday- When I got out my winter PJ’s, the elastic in the waist had somehow magically stretched out while they lay in the bottom of my winter clothes box this summer. Anyway, it was easy to remove the old piece and install a new one using a safety pin to run it through the casing. Here’s the best part: I was able to use waist elastic from an old pair of yoga pants for this project. And while I had my sewing machine out, I fixed a couple of other things that were needing repaired.

Thursday-After (im)patiently waiting for weeks for the pine needles to fall, I gathered enough at a friend’s house to nicely mulch my newly created blueberry and elderberry beds. Both of these berries like acidic soil and annual mulching with pine needles provides them with a fair amount. She got her side yard raked, I got free mulch!

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Friday- Harvested 3 HUGE carrots (of about 30) from my fall sown plot at the community garden:

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Right before dark, I scavenged for fallen tomatoes underneath certain-to-die-tonight tomato plants at the community garden to add to tonight’s salad, made with our just picked lettuce and dressed with our favorite pennies-per-serving dressing:

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Here’s the recipe for that dressing:

Michael’s  Vinaigrette

1 large clove garlic, peeled and chopped

1/8 tsp salt

1-2 T balsamic vinegar

1-2 T red wine vinegar

1 tsp Dijon mustard

2 dashes Worcestershire sauce

4 T. Olive Oil

Black pepper to taste

In a mortar with a pestle mash the garlic with the salt until they form a paste (or mash the garlic in a press) Transfer the garlic paste to a small bowl or jar, and add the remaining ingredients, whisking or shaking them until the dressing is well combined. Tweak to your own tastes, adding chopped finely herbs if desired.

But here’s the BEST thing of all this week: After waiting (im)patiently for a couple of months for Netflix to stream the remaining 8 episodes of the ‘Breaking Bad’ TV series, and refusing to pay $16 to see them, (after receiving a free year’s subscription as a birthday gift from my daughter), she tired of hearing me whining about it and found this link so that I could watch them for free: 

http://www.ddotomen.com/?s=breaking+bad+season+5

You’re welcome!

Alright, your turn! Let me know how you were able to live better for less this week! In the meantime, I’ll be watching the Breaking Bad finale-for free 😀



Fall Has Fell

“Fall has always been my favorite season. 

The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year

for the grand finale.” Lauren DeStefano

 Fall is my favorite season too, even though it’s bittersweet for me, knowing what lies just beyond it. I’m still working on my summer to-do list, and now I’m in the midst of my fall list! Many of you have asked me to let  you know what’s going on in the garden during each season, so I hope this helps, although I suspect I should’ve written all this out back in August.  I hope it will give you an idea of where you need to be now anyway.

All of my raised beds in my community garden plot are now planted to either fall crops or crimson clover, which I like as a cover crop for winter.

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I’m harvesting broccoli and lettuces, beets, August-planted potatoes, and carrots there, with the kale, cabbage and cauliflower ready in another couple of weeks. Brussels sprouts remain a mystery to me, but I still plant them anyway. Maybe someday I’ll actually get some sprouts from them! 

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At home, I’ve started harvesting bok choy:

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I always feel like it’s a race to get the late summer plantings almost to harvest stage before the fall equinox, because things really slow down by then. This proves to be especially tricky with Longkeeper tomatoes! I have full-grown plants  loaded with green tomatoes now that were set out in August,. If they can just begin to turn pink before our first frost, they will slowly continue to ripen inside the house, allowing us to have fresh tomatoes until about Valentine’s Day- if we don’t eat them all before then. The key is that they won’t ripen if picked green, they must have at least a slight blush of color to continue ripening. I usually plant them out in July,  so don’t have as many this fall as in years past, but we’ll still have enough to last til Christmas with any luck. Longkeeper -the name is accurately descriptive. Even though they’re not as sweet and juicy as a summer ripened fruit, they are far, far better than ANY grocery store tomato you might buy in mid winter. And by golly, they’re local 😉  Some Farmer’s Market vendor is missing the boat by not selling them during the winter months.

I finished preparing my final bed today, turning in compost and shredded leaves. I’ll add some bone meal to the holes when I plant my garlic there at the end of October, but today I just raked it smooth and planted winter lettuces and spinach, neither of which will be ready until spring. With a simple little hoop house over that bed, those plants will just sit there, almost dormant, right in the row, until late winter. When the days begin to lengthen just a bit, that spinach and cold hardy lettuce will burst to life and offer us fresh greens, just about the time the kale and swiss chard grow tough and we’re tired of them anyway. Last, but not least, the parsnips that were planted way back in July won’t be harvested until after several hard frosts, but before the ground freezes solid (boy did I learn that the hard way!). The freezes sweeten them, and then they’ll keep in the refrigerator for a very long time; I consider it one of nature’s mysteries that just as my vegetable drawers are finally empty of all the fruits and veggies they held all summer, along come the greens, apples, nuts and root crops to fill ’em up for the winter.

I set up another compost bin today, and will let the one we filled during the summer cook and decompose all winter, hopefully ready for use in the spring, with this new one full and ready for use by next fall. And so the gardening cycle continues. After all this intensive digging, planting, harvesting and storing it’s nice to know we’re moving into a quieter, slower pace in the garden for a few months. God willing, the wheel of good health and fortune will continue to turn and the seed starting trays will be full again come February. Happy Fall Ya’ll!

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Just Sayin’…

hopi beans

It’s time again for a little of this and a little of that…things I’d like you to know about if you don’t already, things that interest me, things that might help you in  your own personal journey to freedom-however you might define that. None of these things would make a full length post, but still-I thought you might want to know -just sayin’...

1. Tennessee’s annual tax-free holiday weekend begins at 12:01 a.m on Friday, August 2 and ends Sunday, August 4 at 11:59 p.m. If you’re planning to buy school clothes, school supplies, or a new computer, THIS is the time. Here’s a list of everything that’s eligible:

http://tn.gov/revenue/salestaxholiday/One%20Pager%20Overview.pdf

2. It’s time to start planning for a fall garden. My friend Emily wrote today: “There’s still time and so much more to plant! •Beets • Kale • Broccoli • Kohlrabi • Chinese Cabbage • Lettuce • Cabbage • Radishes • Carrots • Scallions • Cauliflower • Spinach • Chicory • Turnips • Collards • Swiss Chard”. Like she says, there are a number of things that will do well before really cold weather, if your soil is vibrant and healthy.. I was left with seed potatoes from this spring so I planted them last night and should get a crop of ‘new potatoes’ (the small ones that don’t develop tough storage-quality skins) before cold weather. PLUS we are in a waning moon phase, which is the best for planting underground crops like beets, onions and yep, ‘taters! I plan to start seeds tomorrow for bok choy and will set out my late June planted Longkeeper Tomatoes next week. They’re about this high now and should produce a good crop of fresh tomatoes that, with any luck, we’ll be eating fresh on Valentine’s Day! They’re not as good as summer grown tomatoes, but a whole lot better than Florida grown winter tomatoes. AND they’re not GM tomatoes. AND they’re locally grown. AND I’ll be eating them fresh this winter. Just sayin…

3. So, what if your soil isn’t vibrant and healthy? I think the best advice I could give you would be to clear it off of old plant debris as soon as your plants have spent themselves, add chopped leaves, compost, aged or composted manures, and then plant a green cover crop of buckwheat. It’ll flower in a month and give the bees something to eat during the waning days of summer when not much else is blooming. Once it blooms, but before it goes to seed, cut it down, and replant the area to a cold weather green manure that can stay in place until spring. My personal favorite is Crimson Clover, but many folks like winter rye or hairy vetch. The clover seed was $3 a pound this year-last year it was $1.65 a pound at the same store! I’m thinking I’ll plant a separate patch and let it go to seed so that I can harvest my own next spring-just in case it shoots up to $5 a pound next fall. Seed saving is the most critical gardening skill you can have if you want to be self-sufficient and sustainable. Just sayin’…

4. I was recently honored to be asked to be a member of the Board for the  Tweetsie Historic Trail Association (THTA), a local non-profit organization whose objective is to assist in the creation of the multi-use Tweetsie Trail between Johnson City, TN and Elizabethton, TN, a neighboring town 10 miles away. Here’s a link to our website:

http://www.eteamz.com/TweetsieHistoricTrailAssociation/

Johnson City purchased the old Tweetsie Railroad System last year and has now formed a powerful Task Force that is charged with seeing the former route become a biking, hiking and recreational reality. The Task Force met this week at the Memorial Park Community Center and I was frankly AMAZED at all that’s going into this project.  Here’s a link to a story about the meeting, written by a Times reporter that was also there, so I won’t bother to rewrite it for you now: http://www.johnsoncitypress.com/article/109866/rails-to-trails-task-force-sets-pace-for-new-10-mile-recreational-trail-between-johnson-city-elizabethton

So what do sales tax exemptions, fall gardens and rails-to-trails conversions have to do with the focus of this blog?  A lot actually. Finding ways to lower our income and energy needs, whether directly, like using money-saving strategies or indirectly, like learning  to grow and preserve our own food and health, can offer each of us a sense of self sufficiency and resiliency that many of us are seeking in our lives. Preserving green spaces and utilizing energy-free transportation methods are investments that we’ll all reap the benefits from, long after the last oil well is dried up. Participating in groups like these offer us an enlivened sense of community well-being.  Another THTA board member told me that the railroad retains the right to reclaim this railway, should the need ever arise to resume rail car deliveries of goods and/or people. The assumption is that Peak Oil will indeed necessitate the need for the railroad to reclaim it eventually. Just sayin…

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