Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Aphids attack in the Office Garden

The Office garden is just chugging along, and I even have a few bell peppers coming.

A few days ago, my coworker asked me if the eggplant was being eaten by bugs. I said, "not that I know of, but I saw the holes, too and wondered". Well, after she left that day I took a closer look and flipped out. Mother F! it's Aphids! The scurge of all the gardening seas! Aphids are my worstest nemesis out of all my nemesises!

(you can click to zoom in on this picture)

Man, no wonder the blossoms were dropping off. Since these aphids are green, they had been reproducing uncontrollably without anyone knowing! They had all sorts, Big, small, winged ::shudders::

Now I don't know about you guys, but I get hebbe jebbe about bugs.
I may have seen just a few, but to me, that's like millions. In fact my igination takes over, and then I start thinking there's aphids everywhere in my office and on my clothes...

Aphids have always been a mortal enemy to me, because they are SO hard to get rid of! When I had aphids on my pomegranates, I couldn't wait till spring to put them outside, because they would all magically disappear if I put them outside (maybe the winds or the rain, or the ladybugs, --- who knows). However, with it being November 17th, I have a long way to go until it's spring.

Insecticidal soaps, neem oil...
anyone have a scoop on how well they work? the basil seem unaffected by the aphids on the eggplant, but I notice the aphids have spread to my bell pepper.

So far, I am taking off leaves that have lots of aphids on them, and squashing a bunch of them by giving the leaves a "massage". My mind is screaming as I'm doing this. "EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE gross!!!"

I don't know what I have against spraying, but I will give the dish soap/water/vinegar solution a try on Monday when I get back to work.

<3 Holz

Sunday, November 14, 2010

$5000 on 1/10th of an acre?

Hi all,

It's close to 1AM, so I am just going to write a couple lines, and keel over onto the mattress. Recently, I've been toying with the idea of getting ALL my property taxes back to me in the form of food.

I came to the realization today that my property tax is almost like having a trophy wife. Paying thousands of dollars on land that is just sitting there. (I am not contemplating the what the tax money is used for, etc... but rather the fact that each square foot or whatever of my land is costing me $XX). Then there's the cost for accessories and procedures for making my land look pretty. My neighbors can choose to envy it, or hang out with it, or maybe sleep with it - JK on the last one, but you get what I'm saying here. My trophy wife is costing me money and just laying there.

WELL HELLO!!!?!?! Starting this coming spring, this land is getting off it's lazy butt and GETTING A JOB. I have given it an ultimatum. Pull your weight around here! Pay me rent money~!

The average duplex in my subdivision pays a tax of $5336.00
So how can I possibly make this land give me that much in groceries? Then there's the water it'll require. Hopefully the two rain barrels will help that (although there IS the cost of the rain barrels).

The Dervaes family in Pasadena makes $30k/year off their backyard, but that is selling to restaurants, and having California weather all year long.

If they can make 30k, I'm hoping I can make at least $5000 in veggies just for my family. I will have to get a scale, and a notebook to keep track of how many pounds or bunches of things I get and multiply it by the retail price at Dominick's (a local grocery where we buy food). I should also keep accurate detail of cost of supplies for the backyard. I have planted all the trees I will ever need or can cram into my place, so we can start calculating from spring 2011. By the fall of 2011, I hope to reach a nice sum of money saved on groceries.

Sigh... that is alot to ask out of a lazy person (me). Scratch that, My dreams are to be lazy, but I know myself better. I mean, I am dead tired, and thought I'd write two lines and go to bed. Yet here I am still blogging.

Ok world. I've declared war! and ...I'm going to bed :)!!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Surprise, it's Garlic!

After seeing the kids onto the bus, I took a look at my zombie garden.
The neighbor has been raking her leaves and putting it out to the curb for the trash to pickup. When I am able, I take a wheelbarrow over there and shovel up the leaves with the kids, and then proceed to dump the leaves all over my gardens. I figure it's free nitrogen and worm food. She has told me in the past to feel free to take her leaves :) (Whilst I sit back and wonder why she sprinkles fertilizer on her trees/lawn, and then bags up all the clippings and leaves for the trash to haul away. It's a vicious cycle of her losing all the fertilizer she's putting into the place.)

As I scanned the garden, the tomatoes were all droopy, and the sesame leaf stems were drying out to be stiff in the wind... and I saw something growing out of the leaf mulch. huh... looks like... GARLIC?! That's Madness!

I planted that in the Spring, and I didn't see it growing at all! In fact all summer, while I was tending my garden, I was somewhat disappointed that only 1 garlic stem was growing. By the time Fall arrived, I pulled that 1 garlic to find... 1 big bulb on the bottom. Wow that really didn't look like Garlic at all. But now, here... every single one of them are greeting me... WTFFFFF??

So what exactly did I do wrong? (O_o)

Well, I found out from Natalie, our local expert, that Garlic should be planted in the Fall to harvest NEXT Fall. So it has a whole year of growth underground. Wow, so all the garlic that are coming up now are ready for being in the ground next year :) ! HA! I totally am way better at this that I thought! In fact, I could maybe say I MEANT to do it. ::Evil cackle::

This actually makes me want to plant even more garlic, because now is the season to do the planting. That, and any of my friends will tell you I LOVE garlic. I love to eat it on pizza, with stir fry, roasted, and sometimes even raw with food (learned that from my Albanian neighbors).
This is much to the dismay of my friend who have to be around me after I've been eating a whole head of garlic.

Some other good news: I found the digital camera, and I can soon add photos to this bloginess!
In true digital camera fashion, I found it had drained the batteries that were in it.

Here's also a photo of the front of the house from Spring. We've since painted the white/primer parts a tan color, but the shape of the front yard is pretty much the same. This will be one of a few "before" photos used before the front yard is transformed by my friend Pam from four seasons, who has encouraged me over and over not to give up on the dream of edible landscaping.

Here's a shameless plug for such a sweetheart of a person!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Cold outside, and it's only November.

Whenever it starts getting cold outside, my feet start dragging to do anything outside.
The frost has been here for about a week now, and a part of me knows I am overdue to work on the front yard. Probably by now, I'm supposed to till over the front yard and add manure, paper, and dead leaves. Must also bag up the sod and put it into black trash bags, so it can "die" by the time summer comes, and it can be composted.
First, I need to snap photos and get measurements of the front yard to give to the landscape designers. From there, I'm guessing there'll be a mockup and I'll have some winter time to mull it over. I also need to observe the shady/sunny parts of the front yard.

Sorry for the rambling. That's my placeholder, and you all can hold me accountable :)

I read in the self-sufficient life by John Seymour that winter is a time for enjoying the stored foods/grains/meats etc from the summer/fall. While I don't have meat and a ton of stuff saved, I do have 5 bags of frozen apples taking up too much room in my freezer. This was the result of having more apples than we can eat from the fall. I imagined that I'd turn it into pie filling, but living the crazy life I have, I didn't have any time to do such a thing. So here I am trying to squeeze chicken leg quarters into my freezer, and taking out the 5 bags of frozen apples in a huff.

Can frozen apples me turned into "Canned apple pie filling"? Only one way to find out :\
I followed the recipe for making Apple pie filling and poured them into the canning jars.
This is where I admit I am not so good at canning. My blueberry preserves was too mushy, my crabapple jelly turned into crabapple sauce, I constantly have some jars that don't seal, and I need to put them in the fridge. However, I did well with peach preserves... :\

So I canned the pre-frozen apple, apple pie filling. And since I was doing this at 12am, I accidentally let it process for 2 hours. To my surprise there were still 2 jars that didn't seal. Ah well. Sometimes you lose some. I made 1 jar into pie, I put one jar into the fridge, and then the other 4 jars were sealed, and put into the pantry. Since I made 1 of the unsealed jars into a pie, I was able to taste and see whether pre-frozen apples were an issue in terms of texture and integrity. It was actually, delicious. Even the girls were going gaga over it :)

If any of you want to learn more about John Seymour, and his book about the self-sufficient life (which is a very "introduction to the urban homestead" kind of book) his website is:

I believe the author has since passed away, and the legacy lives on here through Will Sutherland:

there are courses you can take in:
Making bread
Making sausages
Brewing beer and wine
Making Baskets
Making jams and jellies
Planning your smallholding/garden
Creating a clean seedbed from weeds and grass
Laying paths, blocks and cement
Building composting areas, making compost and use of compost in the garden
Pig and chicken husbandry
Management and improvement of soil
Scything, Haymaking and Grassland management
Tree planting and management for fruit, nuts and firewood
Growing soft fruits, pruning and manuring
Control of weeds and pests
Cutting and storing firewood, including the chainsaw, its use and maintenance
Harvesting and storing food from the garden, drying, picking, and freezing
Use of the rotavator for controlling weeds and improving soil structure
Use of the greenhouse and transplanting
Tools for the garden
Knots and ropework

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Frost is here - and 2 more trees in the home orchard

Well, there was a preliminary light frost a couple days ago, but today I looked out the window to see the inevitable REAL frost. Everything was slightly whitish... beautiful yet deadly :(

On Sunday, I wanted to go to Home depot. The trees/shrubs were on clearance at 50% off.
Heeeey now, I can build my mini orchard for Half the price! LOL.
We ended up going to a home depot in Vernon hills off of Milwaukee and 60/town line road.
The kids found the trees, and they all looked pretty scraggly. It wasn't only because it was the end of the season. The stores around here buy trees in the spring, and again in the fall. Those are the times you're supposed to plant. I asked the kids to help me look for nice looking trees, with fruit that they'd eat... and surprisingly, we found some REALLY nice looking trees and took them home.

Benefits of planting in Spring:
Warm Weather
Instant gratification
easier to tell if the tree is dead/alive so you can get a refund for it

Benefits of planting in Fall:
Roots grow during the winter, so growth is greater in Spring
Dormancy leads to less transplant shock
more productive tree, because of the larger roots

I like buying trees from Home Depot. Not only, because of the sales... the garden club gave out coupons via email that had "buy 1 tree, get 1 free", but because they carry dwarf/semi dwarf trees, AND they allow you to return it a year later no matter what the reason as long as you have your receipt.

I had to return a peach tree that was plain out dead on arrival, but I just thought it was dormant :( and I am contemplating returning the bartlett pear tree for a Semi-dwarf bartlett tree. I do, after all, only have a 10th of an acre to work with.

On Sunday, I picked up a Montmorency Tart cherry

and an Elberta peach

It was $10 each tree, so I can only hope that maybe next year I'll get $10 of fruit. The first year of fruits are supposed to be cut off, so the tree can concentrate on growth, but I don't see the fun in that. In Nature, they'd have fruited, and I leave it at that. let the kids pick the fruits and love the tree that gave it to them.

(I highly recommend people to read instructions even if you don't follow them. Then you'll know what you did wrong if things go awry. )

With the winter approaching, some of my posts from Edible Landscaping will cross with Urban Homesteading, because they are very intertwined with eachother.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Frost is coming! Batten down the hatches!

Lately, Chicagoland has been under some crazy wind storms. Gusts of 60 miles an hour, trash cans strewn throughout the strees, and Lawn chairs all over the backyard are only a snippet of the problems going on. I'm glad I took off the pergola cover one day before all this had happened, or the wind could have ripped the pergola off the deck or at least thrown the cover over the roof (which has been known to happen).

Well, I went out to the backyard to tidy up, while the wind was whipping around everywhere. I made the girls come out and help. We Pulled out the Jerusalem Artichoke, harvested all the green cherry tomatoes, and cleaned up some trellises.

Frost is coming, so we have to tidy up, and be prepared. I also checked on some of my Espaliered trees, and adjusted one.
Momsi: Mommy, what're you doing?

Me: I'm training this tree to grow flat
Momsi: But why!!! Why can't we leave it alone!
Me: Because then it'll take over the neighbor's yard. This way it can grow as Big as it wants, but flatter.

Momsi: Well, can we bring it inside? The apple tree is sad and cold.

Me: [Something about apples and Zone5A and required Chill hours]. It likes it out here, Momsi.
My version of Espalier is very informal. Basically, I'm just training the tree to grow flat. I don't have a particular shape in mind... Just want them to be flat, and not crossing branches. So for the most part, it's just growing on it's own with minor shape adjustments.

So far, we've planted:
4 apple trees
2 asian pears
1 Stanley plum
1 bartlett pear
3 nanking cherry bushes
2 blueberry bushes
2 chestnuts
Strawberries w/runners under the trees.

I have space for 4 more fruit trees on the side fences, so I'll have to give some thought on what I want. I'll ask the kids what they'd like to eat :)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Some interesting reads I've found.

I came across this today:

While it's not edible landscaping, it is a conference for landscapers to attend that focuses on using native plants. I never really gave that much thought, until my friend Natalie (who is more involved in that) mentioned it. Native and prarie grasses. Makes sense, as this is a "plain state". It also doesn't make sense to have your yard bend to the whims and fancies of plants that don't belong here.

I swear sometimes I wonder why people haven't stopped-taken a couple steps back- and thought "wait, what am I doing?".

I do find grasses to have some nice appeal... pampas grass, japanese forest grass. Just wish there was some way I could eat them. Ha, well that's just me :) I do have a few things in my garden that I can't eat. Japanese forest grass, and a japanese maple... but for the most part, I'm asking my plants to earn their keep.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pumpkin Carving

Had a few of our friends come over tonight, and we all carved pumpkins.
I've always wondered why the smaller pumpkins are pie pumpkins, and the bigger ones are just jackolantern pumpkins.
Most likely it's related to flavor, and sweetness due to size (is it like veal where the younger is more tender?), but when the pilgrims had giant pumpkins, did they only carve them and NOT eat them? I have no idea.

Since I don't know any better, I keep all cut pieces of pumpkin from pumpkin carving, Minus the skins, and liquefy it in the blender. The guys were nice enough to put all the pumpkin seeds in one bowl, and the pulp into another.
I ended up with about 8 cups of pumpkin mush for future breads, or pies.

Once in the past, I froze a gallon size ziplock of mush, and BOY WAS THAT EVER A MISTAKE! chiseling out pumpkin ice to make 1 loaf of pumpkin bread... ugh.
Now I've been freezing them in sandwhich size bags... 2 cups at a time.

The seeds were rinsed, salted, and roasted at 200 degrees for an hour or so.
Every so often, I took a spoon and scraped the seeds around the pan, so they wouldn't get stuck to it. In the past, I've used recipes that say 350 degrees, and have burned them. This year, I just put it on 200, and kept tasting them until they were the correct mouthfeel. I like to eat the shells, so it needs to be exceptionally crispy! :)

OH you know what else I've learned in the last few months. I've been saving the Dessacant (sp?) Packets from some other food bags and putting them in with my dried foods (nuts, seeds, and nori). Wow that stuff is magical! It keeps them crispy, and not a chance of mold anywhere! Why didn't anyone ever tell me this secret?!?!

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Chrysanthemums - Fall mums, and flower tea.

The mums blooming in my front yard reminded me that we are completely out of Chrysanthemum tea. I never knew such a thing existed, until I met my husband. He is the chinese version of Kenny Chesney. He tells me stories of his childhood barefoot, on the back of a cow, or herding the ducks in at night... The stories of the first person in the village to have a TV, and how all the kids would come and peek through the windows to watch tv. Some stories of how they lived without electricity. WHAT?! Who would believe the guy is 33. Sounds like a story out of the 1900s in America.

Well, all that to say, we had a pot of chrysanthemum tea at his great aunt's birthday and I thought to myself "Chrysanthemums? Isn't that what we have growing in the front yard?" I googled to find that the white or yellow flowers are used for tea, and my flowers were purple and red/orange. Did it really make that much of a difference? Are the lighter colored mums ok, and the darker ones poisinous? No idea, but I went to Home Depot last night in search of mums. There are so many varieties of white and yellow mums!!! AAARG!
White with yellow center, white with white center, white/yellow with no center, white/purple with a center/with no center. I resorted to tasting the petals of the flowers.
Tasted the white ones, Bleh. Tasted the Yellow ones, BLEAUGH.
The cute home depot guy comes over "can I help you miss?"::He sees me with petals sticking out of my mouth:: Uhmmm... yeah Uh. I'm looking for the mums you use to make tea?

Him: ........
Me: ....
Him: well..uh..
Me: Here Taste this.
Him: He actually eats it
Me: Tastes like flowers, right?
Him: Yeah.
::he shifty eyes like he's wondering if he's going to die::

I tasted quite a few flowers there last night, and out of them all, there was 1 that tasted the best. Unfortunately, it wasn't 1.99 Dangit was like a 10.99 big pot.
And it was full of teeny white fluffly flowers that had a pollen middle.

I'll probably cave in and go buy it. Hopefully they'll have some kind of sale. I'd definitely plant it in the ground to have it come back as a perennial tea garden-next to my mint.

Will take a picture when I go get it!! I promise!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Piggy banks: Received!!!

A couple posts ago, I was talking about teaching my children about money, and mentioned these 4 compartment pigs that were 16.99... I was talking to my Edward Jones guy about the pigs, and he was like

Tony: Did I not give you these pigs?!
Me: Huh??
Tony: Don't you worry, because Edward Jones has got what you need!

Tony stopped by my workplace to drop off the piglets! Here they are on my desk. YESSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!

Can't wait for the kids to start putting money in them! We have change lying all around the house, because I was waiting for these piglets to arrive :)!!! Ha and they even say Edward Jones on the box and the body... cute.

In Gardening news, I've been contemplating the location for chestnut tree seedlings.

When we went chestnut picking, I received 4 seedlings from Roy, the owner of the orchard.
He said if I can get them to grow, he'd give me more. Wow. With that said, I am overwintering two of them in their pots which I've put into the ground, and covered with leaves. The other two, I am trying to plant in my backyard somewhere. I am not exactly sure where to put it so it doesn't affect all my fruit trees I've planted, or the neighbors. I can just Imagine them cursing me under their breath because of the burrs, or the fact that Chestnut tree pollen smells like semen in the spring(that'll be fun to look forward to).

I've decided to experiment with "High density Planting", and I will plant 2 seedlings in the same hole. Hopefully this makes 2 trees in the space of 1 with almost guaranteed wind pollination.
Here's a little video on the same topic w/the same layout.. 2 stems in the same hole.

The only spot suitable seems to be where the children's swing set is. I asked the kids if I could plant the trees right in lieu of the (what is that called???) trapeze bar, and they very reasonably said yes, because the trapeze bar is cracking, and they'd rather have chestnuts. My theory is that by the time the tree is old enough to have burrs, that the kids wont find the swing set that interesting. We'll see...

Another option is to put one tree on one side of the swing set, and one on the other side 10' away, so the kids can enjoy more of their swing set, and double the production and growth of the trees. This will produce even more chestnuts, but that also includes double the spring smell, double the burrs, and double the shady space in my backyard. I'll think about it for a few more days. It's at times like this I wish I had a panel of experts tell me what's better :)

In the next month, I will be getting the 5 hazelnut trees I ordered. 2 of those will stay here, and 3 will go to Barrington (My parent's house). the Barrington house has rampant Deer, so I will probably overwinter the hazelnuts at my house (outside in pots, and under leaves). Once it's warm enough, and the deer have other things to eat, I'll move the 2 chestnut seedlings, and the 3hazelnut seedlings over there.

Lately, I've noticed a chipmunk running around my back and front yard. Hrrrrrrrrrrrrmmmm
that is an arch nemesis if I e'er did see one. Must find some way to trap that guy. He also successfully chewwed through the rubber bottom of our garage door. Not only does that make my garage a huge chipmunk mansion, but allows his mousey friends to come in and party down. WTF! Mental note: Gotta fix that up, and put out traps in the garage to catch him. Chipmunk stew?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Fall Cleanup

I just realized I wrote a whole thing on here, and forgot to post it, yesterday!!! Yarrrg.

Lately it's been a lot of fall cleanup in little snippets of time. My neighbors get the advantage of watching me do yardwork in small amounts. They'll see a wheelbarrow and a shovel sit in the backyard for a week, before I finish what I was doing. Chickenwire on the ground for a week before I pick that projectup again... Eventually, it all gets done, but since I'm not a farmer, it's a balance of working all day, being involved in organizations, the kids stuff, and lastly my landscaping :\

I've been cleaning out my garden in the past week. I don't want to yank out my tomatos, because there are still baby tomatos growing on there, but ALAAAS if I do not, it's worse once the frost comes. The garden looks like plant zombies complete with skin sloughing off, and oooooozie things. In case you haven't noticed by now, I don't take many pictures (compared to many awesome blogs I've seen out there). It never occurs to me to go "Hey honey, snap a photo of me cleaning out the garden!", but I'll use my best MS_Paint skills to draw you a dramatazation of the sunflower yanking.

Ha ha! Awesome... that's me yanking the sunflowers out of the garden. I've also yanked out all the popcorn we grew, and tied them up to a basketball hoop that is on the side of the driveway. Not the hoop itself, but the big metal pole that holds the hoop up (is there a name for that?). It makes an excellent, and free autumn decoration for the house :)

In other news, My husband and his coworker (Groogalino as I call him) acquired some oak logs, so they will try growing shiitake mushrooms at Groogalino's house as well. Awesome. Apparently, Groogalino's dad has grown shiitakes out of logs before, so he is very familiar with mushroom growing.

I'll chart his logs process on here as well as my logs. It'll be cool to see when they start popping up - Most likely this coming spring.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Update on the office garden.

In late winter, I will start seedlings in my office. They are started on the windowsill, and transplanted into plastic solo cups (that my company uses for water), and then planted into my garden :)
I've been incredibly blessed to have a boss that not only lets me do this to my office, but he somewhat encourages it. We hold meetings in my office, and he says the air must be fresher in here because of all the plants. Who knows! But they are nice to look at when the sun lands on them.

I'm currently growing 6 pots of Basil, a pepper plant, an eggplant, and soon to be a bell pepper plant. I've harvested the basil and given them to an accountants office down the hall, and I do see some eggplants coming.

The only problems I've come across so far is, they turn kind of like houseplants or other officeplants that have crystals on top of the soil. I notice they grow alot slower than ones I have in the ground, and the growth is restricted most likely because they are in small plastic cups.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Nuts for nuts

After spending a whole week on chestnut overdose, I still have many chestnuts left at home.
I stored some in the garage in drawers, but quickly realized it gets too warm in there to store fruits and veggies/nuts until it's REALLY cold outside. This is where maybe having a basement would be advantageous. Although my parents have one, and it's always kinda humid in there, which would also lead to spoilage.
Man! This storing stuff isn't all that easy.

On Saturday we dug up the sweet potatoes. In the spring, I had found a place online that sells sweet potato slips. Apparently, you could eat the leaves as well as the sweet potatoes, so that sounded like an awesome plan. Plus I've always wanted to grow the Korean sweet potatoes that were purple and had yellow flesh. They are so sweet and so good! Turns out grocery stores spray sprouting inhibitors on their sweet potatoes, so they last longer on the shelves, but maybe also so you don't grow your own at home ;)

The kids were excited, as were the hubby, and even my mother in law. It was like finding gold. We dug up some foot long potatoes, and some fingerlings. In hindsight, I need to grow this in some light/easy to dig soil, not the hard clay soil of chicagoland. The potatoes snap right in half if we try to yank them out of this thick soil! The answer may be pots. I grew some in a big "party cooler" tub, and although they weren't that big, all I had to do was flip the tub over and rife through the dirt. We'll see... the ones in the ground were way bigger, and I'm pretty sure there are some that I just can't find and will stay in the dirt forever. Also need someone to tell me how to dig these up without inadvertently slicing them with the shovel.

I have some chestnut seedlings, and after reading about them online (what would I do without the internet), I've decided to plant them at my parent's house. Simply put, They have more land than I do. One day I'll claim that house and have a minifarm there, so they can grow there in the meanwhile. Too bad their house has tons of deer and rabbits with no fence...

Instead, for my 1/10th of an acre suburban duplex lot, I've decided to keep Allegheny chinkapins (which look like mini chestnuts) or hazelnuts. Those nut trees only grow to about 15' and my neighbors will appreciate that, as would I.
I paid $30 for 5 hazelnut trees from the Vitory Garden Initiative.

Don't know much about them aside from hey, they have hazel nut trees for sale, and darn close to my house :)

I was reading in this "Self sufficiency" book that not only veggies, but fruit and nut trees are all a part of a well balanced lifestyle. Well tru.dat, I may as well get some free fruit and nuts! Trees are practically "Set it and forget it", as are the fruit bushes. Wish my veggies were that way...

Friday, October 8, 2010

Urban Homesteading

I love goat milk. So do my kids.
I love gardening - I think I got that from my grandparents.
I love looking for unappreciated mushrooms/nut trees/fruit trees in random parks.
I love fresh eggs. Tastes WAY better than the store bought kind ---
I am contemplating a wood burning stove to heat my home while I cook on it...
Hey I just thought I was saving money-but wait- there's a name for this love??

Apprently, it's "urban homesteading".

I went to the local library with the kids, and picked up a few gardening books.
I was surprised to find a few books on urban homesteading in the same shelf.
Even more surprised to see chapters on raising chickens, and edible landscaping, honey bees and alternative energies.

It was a little bit like Harry Potter finding out he's not just a wierd kid, but that there's others much like him out there. Up until now, I'd just ramble my ideas/hopes/dreams to my friends and co-workers which would give me varied responses that ranged from nodding approval to a sideways glance. A quick search of Chicago and Urban Homesteading didn't bring up anything. Closest thing was a meetup group about permaculture.

I'll put those thoughts on the back burner for now...

On another note, I've found a landscaping company to work on the Edible front Yard I keep envisioning. The work starts in the fall, and we'll see what we get by Spring of 2011. I've always had a running battle with the thoughts of:

1- removing my lawn
2- contemplating an edible groundcover to take over my lawn
3- contemplating an actual edibles garden in maybe raised boxes...
4- mixing regular flowers w/edible flowers...
5- trying to accomplish this without being the neighborhood eyesore.

It's important to me to have a nice looking edible frontyard, because I know my neighbors will appreciate it, and it would really help the movement. Emphasize HELP THE MOVEMENT. Even win over some of the hard corest lawn lovers - if it just had some oompf of design to it.

As much as I am "yeah! You go girl/guy!" when I see a full on veggie patch in the frontyard, I know I will probably get lazy at some point, and it might look scraggly (Esp half the yard beign in the shade) so I think the best way is to have some nicely designed landscape that is using edible fruits/veg in a way that has people go:

first glance: what a beautiful house!
second glance: wait a second, is that a.... pepper? hey there's also an eggplant!

We'll see what happens, and I hope to have some pictures/video of this all happening.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Edible Landscaping, the Front yard Movement

I've seen the glorious pictures of frontyard edible landscaping, and it makes me starry eyed.
Unfortunately, I figured this was a california thing...
until I saw this article

An elderly grandma has involuntarily become the poster child of front yard gardening movement in Chicagoland! That's awesome :) Northbrook was my old stomping grounds. Infamously known for nosy neighbors and uptight richie riches. Not to mention the scandalous video of the Glenbrook North High school Poms team hazing...

Well, that settles it! I'm going to work with a local landscaping company to figure out how I can make an edible yet aesthetically pleasing frontyard!! This dream must be accomplished or it will be doomed to the benchwarming seats of mediocrity!

I also have a couple more ideas for this coming Spring. I have been searching high and low for coop plans and either the coops are too ugly, too bulky, or way too complicated for someone like me who doesn't know how to build. I found this awesome site:
YES! Finally, some easy instructions.

2011 will be an interesting year indeed. :Evil cackle:

Monday, October 4, 2010

Chestnut Festival

Over the weekend we drove to South Haven, MI to go to out annual chestnut picking place.

The taste is far better than the grocery store nuts, and no WORMS! It's about the only thing at the store people can sell for 3.99 a pound with worms. I mean, WTF?! YUCK!

There's a couple of things I've learned over the past few years with chestnut picking.

1- those burrs hurt! You need gloves-good gloves. Maybe the kevlar ones at the hardware store that cost $17/pair. A good pair of leather gloves will last you a lifetime. That and a pair of good shoes / boots- NO SANDALS. Kids should wear their winter snow boots to go chestnut picking.

2- No matter how expensive those gloves are you still get poked by the burrs. LOL
The burrs look like sea urchins, so what can you do... occasionally you do get pricked if you hold too tight. The best way is to stomp a burr with your foot, and then pick out the nuts with your gloved hand... OR pick up the nuts that are already out on the ground. Those are excellent, and have nothing wrong with them-They just dropped out of the open burrs.

3- The smaller ones taste better than the bigger ones. Dunno why... but they do :)

4- Chestnuts have to age a little. I didn't know this, and ate many bland/hard to peel chestnuts the first year. Just like any other nut (Walnut/peanut/hazelnut), they hare hard to eat when they're fresh. They need to lay out a little and lose moisture. Walnuts taste much better after they've dried out... this is true for all nuts! So just the same, the chestnuts need to be laid out in an open container or counter to lose moisture. Maybe a 2-3 days until the shells give when you press on them. That is when they are OK to eat. They are sweeter and 5000% easier to peel.

That beign said, my thumbs are sore and chapped. This happens every chestnut season. I'm such a chestnut addict, that I have been eatng them raw. Might roast some later this week after they've dried out some.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


In my own mind, the definition is when the haves of surplus share with the have nots. I've been trying to teach my kids about donating time and talents. Lately we have been picking up apples for the nearby food pantries. They have a field day running through the orchard getting a few apples while mommy and daddy does most of the work. Tonight I'll be dropping the apples off w/the kids at the Fremont Assesor's office.

Along those lines, I have been looking forever to get 4 small piggy banks... one for spend/save/invest/charity. When I grew up, the piggy bank had one in and one out. All of it was spent. My parents going through some serious financial storms, and me realizing they live way beyond their means was a wake up call to myself. Why wasn't I ever taught there was more to life than "make and spend"? I was excited to find this on the internet yesterday.

YAHOO! a four compartment pig!

To my kids, I have always called the needy "sad kids" so they could relate, but a hilarious story reminds me that I should just call it "The needy". When the girls outgrow their clothes, I've been putting them into bags and donating it to goodwill. Their toys, also. When the girls ask where it's going, I said "the sad kids".
"Why are they sad, Mommy?"
"Because they are cold, and some do not have homes or mommies and daddies".
"Oh. "

One day I received some hand-me-downs from a cousin. Their kid is exactly 1 year older than Kelly. I pulled a dress out of the bag, and was folding it when Kelly skipped into the room. She looked at the dress, and -elated- she quickly changed into it and started twirling aorund. She noticed a small hole and said "Mommy this dress has a hole in it!"
"Just a small one, Kel. Mommy can sew that and it'll be good as new".
"This isn't new?!"
"No, it was your cousin Katie's"
"........" With big eyes, and a sudden look of realization she says slowly to me:
"Mommy... are we sad kids?"

LOLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL awww it was hilarious. And cute. I will probably tell that story till I'm on my deathbead.

All in all, the apple roundup yesterday was a success! Thanks to those who came out for the cause. :)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Nuts for Walnuts-Ha!

Went back last night w/the kids to the walnut tree. Loaded up half of a cart with as many walnuts as we could find. Mental note: have to go back in a few days with nets or poles to knock down the higer ones.

Tonight the fam and I will be rounding up apples from a nearby orchard to donate to a food pantry. It still amazes me that this all is a result of "just ask". Being a member of the GLMV Jaycees (our local Jaycee chapter) is really useful for those situations... like when we were apple picking and thinking "Boy there sure are alot of apples on the ground that are perfectly good". Got to talking w/the owner of the orchard and they said they would like to donate to the local foodbank, but lack the manpower- ENTER the Dragon!!! er... the Jaycees! local volunteers :)

Just a :30 minute to 1 hr session of rounding apples surprisingly fills 10+ Boxes for the needy. Amazing what we have within our power to do...

Monday, September 27, 2010

Been a busy fall so far....

Last Friday, I finally found oak logs to put my shiitake dowels in.
This all happened when I read a book on veggie gardening, and saw a chapter on growing mushrooms. As a kid, I always saw those "grow your own mushroom" kits in the back of the magazines and secretly wanted them. I may, in fact, try that out with the kids... the button or the portabello kit. However, for now I read of the ease of growing shiitakes and wanted to give that a try. I bought the spawn dowels on ebay 9.99 for 100 qty. Not bad at all, and all I needed was Oak Logs. It seems people always have logs on the side of the road until I need them for Mushrooming. HA, but recently I saw a home on 45N that has been sawing down all the trees in their property including GASSSSPPPPP! Oak! So after eyeing it for a few days, I mustered the courage to go up there and ring the doorbell. This house was teeny, and the windows were kinda boarded. The door had a towel over the window, so I was kind of afraid what kind of person would answer the door. No answer. I tried the neighbor's house... the hispanic lady told me that the home was recently purchased, and that I am welcome to take a few pieces of wood.

YESSSSS!!! I threw as much as I could into the car in 5 minutes and skedaddeld outta that creepy place. I took maybe about 8 logs. Yesterday after church, we drilled holes, put the dowels in, and coated the holes with wax. It was very educational, and hopefully everything worked out. I hope to harvest some mushrooms this coming spring :)

In other news, I was thinking of all the times I saw black walnuts just lying on the ground getting rotten, and thought for sure this year, I will gather them up for the winter. Unfortunately, I don't have a walnut tree in my yard, and the only one I knew of for sure was behind the Edward Jones in Barrington, IL. When I stopped by there on thursday, I saw no nuts---ANYWHERE. what?! I must've missed it! Noooooooo a quick drive around confirmed this. The trees must've dropped the nuts early this year. So when I took the kids to the playground, I walked around a little, because I remembered a few walnut trees being around the park and LO! There was one solitary walnut tree that still had freakin'nuts on it! all over the place! The kids and I filled up a 5 gallon bucket, and may go back tonight for more - while the gettin' is good. They love black walnut meat, and hey.. it's just going unappreciated...
I have never harvested these things before. In fact, I've only seen videos on youtube using tools to hull them. I read someone I could back my car over them, but I decided to don some boots and stomp them one my one. Rinsed them a couple times and poured the black water somewhere that the tannins wouldn't poison the veg garden... The neighbor kid asked me why the water is black and (correct me if I'm wrong), I told them that the Native Americans used to dye cloth with this black water from Black walnuts. My hands are lightly dyed as well, but I tried my best not to touch the water or the hulls. The hulls outside the nut can't be composted either, because of the tannins. I threw them away, and now my counter is full of nuts "Drying".
I imagine I'll go home today to find the kids had thrown them all over the house.

Before leaving for work today, I found a shady spot of my backyard and piled the oak logs in a neat stack. "Seey ya, loggies. Make big mushrooms for mommy!".

If anyone has 2 cents to add about the nuts or the mushrooms, I appreciate the advice.
I really have no mentors minus Youtube.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Out of my head and onto the 'net!

I've been meaning to blog, but barely finding the time. Alot of madness has been going on in our house this summer. Joining the Edible landscaping/Urban farmer revolution, we borrowed a tiller from home depot and made an area for grandma to grow some food. Thanks to Greg who tilled with me and the hubby... we were sore for days afterwards. Along with my area, and hers, I'd say we have at least 100 sq.ft of growing space so far.

In the Spring, the lake county extension office gave me 13 chicks. All of them have been given away to other homes, and we kept one as a pet. Unfortunately, our pet chicken who was supposed to give us eggs turned out to be a rooster. "Bully" is his name. He thinks he's people.
He came over to our back door, and peered in while we were eating dinner (Coincidentally it was chicken). Since chickens are not allowed in our village, a rooster would definitely be a no-no.
He was sent off to Grandpa's house and is probably surrounded by vegetables in a stewpot.

Future plans are in the works for a Beehive, and pet chickens (for eggs) in our little patch of heaven.