Monthly Archives: March 2012


I got the best surprise this week when I was raking the mulch back into place.  The chickens apparently did not kill all of the asparagus!  I’m so excited.  They still have time mind you, but I now have hope.  This is the digginest bunch of chickens I’ve ever had.  I think they just like it.  I’ve supplemented their greens, gave them pig livers, everything I can think of to satisfy any nutritional deficits, but they still love to dig.

The south half of the patch is gone, but there are still a good eight plants sending up shoots.  It was a new patch I planted last year so it’s still very sparse.

The sweet potato slips are coming along.  I found a source for some white fleshed sweet potatoes and started those too, I hope they put something up.  Some of the potatoes haven’t sent shoots up yet, but they have lots of roots in the water.  Because of the weather I have moved them out to the “greenhouse”.  They are loving the sun.

Most of the flats are planted, I need to scrounge up another couple of dozen at least.  Hopefully, I can get a hold of those this week.  In the meantime, I need to go water all the flats I have planted all ready.  I’ve run out of rain barrel water sadly I think I need to add another storage barrel.  110 gallons has served me well until now and with all this recent rain I shouldn’t be out.  Oh well.

Here is my youngest son’s job for the next hour….

A bow tie and a superman shirt, how can life get any better than that???

Sunchoke, Guiness and Cheese Soup

I first made this over the winter, but it is so delicious and a great way to use your Sunchokes.  The grocery had some beautiful sunchokes today so this is what we are having for dinner.  I’m serving it with some wheat bread I made today topped with some of our home-made apple butter.  Tastes amazing.

Sunchoke, Guinness, and Cheese Soup

  • 1.5 lbs Sunchokes (Jerusalem Artichokes), peeled and cut into chunks
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 TBS butter
  • 1 1/2 C chicken broth, more if needed
  • 1 C Guinness or dark beer of your choice
  • 3 TBS flour
  • 1 1/2 C Smoked Cheddar Cheese
  • 2 tsp Dijon Mustard
  • 1/2 C Buttermilk
  • salt
  • Chili Powder
  • 1 TBS Worcestershire sauce

Place sunchokes in broth until ready to use.  In saucepan, saute onion and celery in 1 TBS butter until soft.  Add sunchokes and broth, cover, and cook for 10 minutes or until soft.  Puree with immersion blender.

In another saucepan, melt 3 TBS butter, add flour, and cook for a minute or two.  Remove from heat and whisk in 1 C beer, then cook for a few minutes.  Add cheese and mustard and continue to whisk until the cheese is melted.  Stir in Sunchoke puree and buttermilk, and cook until soup is heated through.  Season with salt, chili powder, and Worcestershire sauce.

Don’t have sunchokes?  They are a pretty awesome tuber to grow in the garden.  Extremely easy.  I picked some up at the grocery store one year and stuck them in the ground.  If you are worried about local laws, check with your local extension office to make sure they are not listed as a noxious weed in your area.  I grow them in a raised bed so they theoretically don’t spread everywhere.  It does make it really easy to pop out the ones that go out of bounds.  The picture is last year’s patch in June.  I start harvesting them after the first frost in fall and harvest all winter when the ground isn’t frozen.  My chickens love to sit in the patch in the shade.  There are pictures out there of blooms that look like sunflowers, but I have never had them bloom.  I think I would cut the flowers off before they go to seed since they can be spread so easily.


Old Garden Clean Up

Today was what felt like the last day to get the side garden cleaned up before it became overwhelming.  It was one of those days where everything suddenly leafed out.

The greenhouse is full of flats now.  We got some shelves up this week.

The collards are up and transplanted to little newspaper pots.  The tomatoes are up too.

The parsley is coming up nicely.  I’ve never had much luck growing parsley, this is giving me hope for this year.

The pears have set a ton of fruit.

The peaches have set a ton of fruit.  We will go out and thin them soon.  We leave one of every three or the fruit becomes too heavy for the tree.

The apples are still in bloom.

The quince are blooming, unfortunately the tree has a bacterial disease and I haven’t found a supplier of the chemical I need to treat it.  I’m very torn about it.  I really like Quince and would like to have them but I’m not sure chemicals are worth it.

Last year’s collards are blooming.

Garlic is growing strong.

The peas are up, the trellises are up, and I just need to string them.

The chocolate mint survived the winter amazingly well.  I’ve never had such lush spring growth.

The Akebia is in bloom.  It’s worth planting these for the one week of amazing scent they put off in the spring.  I could stand with my head in this plant for hours.

The honeyberry is blooming for the first time since I planted it.

Lilies are coming up strong.

Apple mint has spread everywhere.

I leave violets in the beds.  I love them.  I’m on the fence about dandelions though.  Both have edible parts.


Tons of sweet cherries have set on the shrubs.

The aronia will set tons of fruit, it’s about to bloom like crazy.

I’m about to have my first rose as well.

Today I got the remaining seeds in the mail as well as the spore kits from Fungi Perfecti.  The Three Amigos kit puts three edible strains of mushroom in the garden.  It’s supposed to help increase yield on your vegetables as well.  The kit needed to get put in the ground today which is another reason the garden had to get cleaned up now.

So, the cold frames made out of hay bales are down.  I put arugula, cress, and corn salad in the ground today.  Tonight I need to get the coleus and the remaining annual flowers in flats.  I will probably jump the gun and go ahead and plant the annual garden fruits as well.  I love ground cherries and want to get those going.  I usually order starts from Seed Savers, but this year I thought I would try to start them myself.

Hopefully, we will get the rest of the garden across the street dug in the next few days.   This mild spring is speeding things up in unexpected ways.



Farmer Wisdom

gleaned from the checker at Buchheit’s….

“Put your tomatoes out when the Oak leaves are as big as your thumbnail”

I would love to be a checker at Buchheit’s if it were closer.  The young lady on the register was telling us what she had learned that day from another customer.  The gentleman stated this and his rationale was that the Oak trees have developed to be able to tell when to put their leaves out and won’t do it until the weather is sufficiently clear.  Makes sense to me.  What other nuggets of information are we losing with our consumer culture?  This sounds like a great “rule of thumb” that should be passed on.  Even if it doesn’t work 100% of the time, I bet it provides for a fairly good success rate.

What are the flowers in your neighborhood?

Adventures in the Plastic Bottle Greenhouse

Putting together structures out of scrap is a difficult process.  Another difficult process is communicating your vision to your spouse.  Plastic Bottle Greenhouses are not for the faint of heart.

First, you have to acquire all those bottles.  Seems like it would be easy right?  People drink soda, people recycle, and I live very close to a city recycling center.  I go there every day to pick bottles.  Occasionally, I even get lucky and find some aluminum the regular pickers have missed.  Someday I may even find enough aluminum to pay for the gas I’ve spent getting to the park.  I end up with about a regular garbage bag full of two liters at the end of each day.  You could even say that is the average over all.  What do I have to show for it?  About 1/8th of the bottles I need to finish this project.  People in south St. Louis just don’t drink enough soda, or just don’t recycle enough of them.

I will not be deterred though.  I will keep collecting.

Anyway, when I decided to do this, my intention was to run a piece of bamboo through the bottles and nail each end of the bamboo to the frame at each end.  My husband came out to help because I am short and he envisioned it with the bamboo nesting into the greenhouse frame.  He cut the bamboo and wedged it into the walls.  If there was a plan to hold it in place we were unable to communicate it with each other.  I needed a lot more bottles and it’s been raining, so I let it sit for a couple of weeks.  While I was sleeping I came up with what I thought was a brilliant idea.  We could put a dry wall screw at the top and the bottom and thread the wire through the bottles.  Then pull the wire taught to hold the bottles in line.  I’m not invested in the bottles nesting inside the framing.  So I told my husband what I though.  He’s an ironworker.  Wire is his thing.  Holding things together with wire is one of his special job skills.

He came up with a brilliant solution that involves nesting the wires within the frame.  The flaw in this is that he doesn’t believe it is possible for the bottles to line up next to each other and has left large gaps between the rows.  To me this seems like a waste.  If the bottles aren’t going to hold in the heat and let in some substantial breeze, it won’t work very well as a greenhouse.  I don’t expect this to be air tight, but better would be good.  The problem with this design is that he drilled holes to do it.  The holes just are not close enough together for me.  Now there is a debate….  if we put them closer, would they just bow out and cause similar gaps?

So the wiring is actually brilliant and would work well if the spacing was ok I think.  Now to decide what to do.  I apparently have time since the bottle collecting is much slower than I had expected.

Plant Your Potatoes, It’s St. Patrick’s Day!

Family tradition says to put the potatoes in the ground on St. Patrick’s day.  I always aim for that week, so Thursday the potatoes went into the ground.  I got a great deal on a sack of potatoes at Rural King this year.  I’m planting Red Pontiac, nothing too far out sadly.  But I like them and they grow well for me.  Maybe in the future I will get some heirloom to grow, but not this year.

Due to crazy kidling stuff, we got behind on the digging and borrowed a tiller to get caught up.  It’s a terrible nuisance.  It won’t run consistently, but we loaned it to our mechanic and hopefully it will come back in better working order.  We have the best mechanics on our block that anyone could hope for.

A note on tilling.  I very much am a fan of double dig followed by mulching.  It cuts down on the amount of labor you will spend on your garden later in the year.
Another reason is the superior results.  On the left you can see a bed that was cut solely with the tiller.  Lots of weeds, lots of clods of dirt to work around, and not very deep.  On the right is a bed my husband tilled that I had double dug.  It is beautiful.  Since this is new land it’s low on organic matter and probably nutrients.  After these pictures, we put a 3-5 inch layer of compost down and a 1-2 inch layer of composted horse manure, then tilled them both again.  The one on the right is now a dream and the one on the left will do for this year.

For the potatoes, we tilled the soil and laid out the potatoes on it every 6″.  The beds are 4 feet wide, so I put the potatoes in two rows, one foot in from each side.  I find this makes it much easier to mulch as they grow.  By the end of the growing season this will be a pretty impressive pile of straw and potatoe leaves, last year it came up to my chest.

As you can see, I laid out whole potatoes.  Many people recommend cutting them into pieces and letting them cure before you put them out.  I don’t have that kind of space or time and I was planning to plant 40-50 lbs of potatoes.  I’m not sure how to accomplish that sort of curing without one of those bun carts like bread companies use.

After you lay out the potatoes, put on a layer about 6 ” thick of compost.  This is the free compost from our city park.  Sometimes you have to pick a little trash out, but it’s never very much, mostly plastic water bottles and sometimes wires.  So, fill out the bed with the compost and move onto the manure.  This batch came from just across the river at a riding academy.  Free off of Craigslist.  We lay the manure on 2-3 ” thick over the whole thing.  Dr. Ron’s 1000 cats think this is the best thing we’ve done so far.  When I look at the window at night there are always cats laying around in this bed now.    We don’t mix this up, we don’t dig holes for the potatoes or a trench, we just make it as simple as we can, there is a ton more gardening to do and we need to conserve our energy.

Lastly, we put on straw mulch.  Right now we don’t have it on thick enough yet.  There is a knack to getting the right amount of straw mulch on a bed.  You don’t want to completely smother everything, but you need enough to keep the weeds down.  I can see the compost through the straw so I know there isn’t enough on.  We were battling incoming rain though and needed to get as much done as possible.  I will go out soon and add some more straw.

We also got mesclun mix planted and green onions.  I wanted to get my onion sets in too, but the rain started and we didn’t make it.  The leeks I planted are up though and most of the other flats are planted for this week.  I also put in some gladiolus and a few other bulbs to pretty up the place.  It occured to me last year I get too focused on the vegetables and neglect filling the niches with flowers.  They certainly make the place more enjoyable.

See also:  Potato Upkeep

Sweet Potato Slips

Time to start your slips.  I did this last week and then forgot to blog about it.

Take your sweet potatoes, cut them in half, and put in jar of water with half the potato below water.  I use toothpicks to hold them in place.  Then place them in a warm well lit place.  Mine are on top of a radiator.  They still may not be warm enough since we already have the heat turned way way down, but I’m hoping.

In a few weeks you should have slips ready for planting.

This weekend I am getting my flats started.  I have no idea where I will put them, but it looks like I have a week before cold weather again.  So this is what I am planting this week:

  • Broccoli
  • Rooted Parsley
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Head Lettuce
  • Leaf Lettuce
  • Parsley
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Leeks
  • Green Onions
  • Chives
  • Collards
  • Regular Tomatoes
  • Kale
  • Mustard

What is going directly into beds:

  • Potatoes
  • Onion Sets

So, what does Rodale say to do this month?

  • Plant asparagus and give Pulverized phosphate and potash rock.
  • Cole crops can be planted out in hot bed or sheltered location.
  • Plant out horseradish, onion, and rhubarb.
  • Dig last year’s parsnips.
  • Plant early potatoes in hot beds.
  • Plant Garden sage and Tomato seeds.


St. Louis Region Sustainable Backyard Tour

June 24th, 2012 will be the 2nd annual St. Louis Region Sustainable Living Backyard Tour.  I got involved with this last year through a girlfriend who read about it on a Backyard Chickens Meet-Up group.  Best thing I ever came across accidentally.  I had been working on having an edible backyard for about 8 years.  I had no idea what I was doing was “sustainable”, I was just trying to do ecologically sound things.  I also like growing my own food.  It was a fun challenge for my brain.

Last winter, my girlfriend called me up and said I really, really needed to sign up for this thing.  She was sending me the link for the info.  I didn’t think my yard would be up to snuff, but at her insistent urging I signed up.  Best thing ever.

The day of the tour I spent the day meeting fascinating people interested in the same things I was.  We shared stories, I learned a ton, I hope they learned a ton.  It was great!  I had such fun being a host on this tour.  Apparently, I had enough fun, that the organizers noticed and kindly invited me to help with this year’s tour.

The night before the tour St. Louis apparently got about two feet of rain in half an hour.  When I got up that morning, my basement had flooded.  I put that out of my mind and went on with the day.  This is where my mom sat and handed out seeds to everyone who visited our home.  Wasn’t the cabbage gorgeous that day???  I hope I can grow cabbage that well one more time in my life.  I had a great garden year last year.

Here’s another feature of the backyard…. the original sink from the house.  It’s about a million pounds.  We’ve tripped over it for years on the back porch and finally decided to make a potting station out of it.  The biggest bonus of this is that we only had to carry it 30 feet and not the 60 feet to the alley.  It works wonderfully.  Over to the right you can see my straw pile for oyster mushrooms I had last year and leaning against the fence, some of the logs I have plugged with mushroom spawn.

Our house came with a tub in the back yard and another on the back porch.  We have the worlds worst tub on the first floor, but outside we have two beautiful claw foot tubs.  This one was too far to salvage for the house, so I converted it into a pond.  I really like it.  I hope to have a regular pond in this summer and possibly run a waterfall out of this tub across a little stream to the new pond.  Who knows.  I’ve thought I’d dig that pond for a few years now.

We are looking for more backyards for the tour!  Do you think you might have a few elements of sustainable living in your backyard?  Contact us and we will have one of the node leaders come out and vet your yard.  All of our node leaders are really great folks who love this stuff and love meeting other people who love this stuff.    Send me an email @ and I will get you the application straight away!  Please give it a thought.

This is a free tour and is put on by a bunch of people who like to promote sustainable living.  We don’t make any money off this tour, if you would like to volunteer some time, please let us know as well.

Now, because Google won’t let me send this file to the planning group on Google groups, I’m posting a rough draft for some literature on the tour here:  tour cover.

Grateful Veggie Sandwich

My favorite lunch is a veggie sandwich and a piece of fruit.  It’s an easy way to get raw veggies and stock pile on vitamins and minerals.

Start with a bagel, a bagel thin, or a sandwich thin.  My favorite is the bagel thin with everything.  Hopefully I can learn how to make them sometime soon so I can stop buying them.

Next spread on some hummus or lentil spread.  It’s really good if you do hummus on one side and lentil spread on the other.  Today I only have hummus, I need to thaw some lentil spread out from the freezer.

Next I put on some cilantro and kale.  I’ve used tons of other greens for this, raw collards are really good too.  Parsley is a good addition and it is also a good choice for nutrition.

Next I put on sprouts and whatever else I can find in the stores to round it out.  I prefer mixed sprouts or onion sprouts, but broccoli, alfalfa, and clover are all good.  The sprout mix I use has fenugreek sprouts in it and I really love the extra flavor.  On the left you see today I put on cauliflower from the gallon jar of Giardiniera I keep on hand.  I prefer the peppers out of it, but I ate them all. 

Put the halves together and you have a great sandwich.  I like it best with grapefruit, but any fruit is good. 

I keep sprouts, hummus, and curry dip on hand in the house.  I mix buying sprouts at the store and making them.  Sometimes I’m just not going to be home enough to keep the seeds rinsed and I get them from the store.  The last couple of years have made me more active on sprouting my own.  The contamination recalls on sprouts have made them difficult to get at times.  I picked up a really nice seed mix from a local store last year too.  It is really tasty.  Johnny’s seeds seem to have the best online ordering for sprouting that I have found, I’m always looking for more sources and hopefully can incorporate growing the seeds into my garden.  I’d love to hear about any local sources to St. Louis if you know of any.  I’ve had a hard time finding good places to buy them, it also doesn’t help that once you buy a bag you don’t need to again for a long while.