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.