Tag Archives: Meduseld

Sustainable Seed Company – Discount Code

 UPDATE:  Sustainable Seed Co may be offering a new code!  Check for a new Blog Post February 2015!!!!!!!

Recently I wrote an article comparing seeds purchased from two different seed companies.  What proceeded was an interesting conversation with “Farmer John” of Sustainable Seed Company about seed dates, quality, and their commitment to their customers.  Not only did they offer to do everything in their power to make sure that I am content with their product and service, they want YOU to be happy too.

They are offering a ten-percent off code just for Meduseld blog readers!  Go the their website at sustainableseedco.com and use this code at checkout - Meduseld14 – no quotes and no spaces.  This code is good for readers of Meduseld’s blog only, and expires April 6, 2014.  Thanks much Farmer John for extending this offer!

While you are at their website, read up about their heirloom seed varieties and about their committment to sustainable agriculture.

Click here to go directly to their seed potato page!

And while we are discussing seeds, here is our own garden, which I have raked and trimmed, all prepared for planting.  First in will be onion sets, fava beans, and spinach.

Permaculture garden with key-hole beds ready for 2014 planting

Permaculture garden with key-hole beds ready for 2014 planting

 

Growing Potatoes in Stackable Boxes

Potatoes are one of the easiest and most versatile vegetables to grow.  Even apartment dwellers can grow them if you have a balcony with several hours of sunlight.  They can also be grown in greenhouses, high tunnels, or even an enclosed porch, allowing you to harvest delicious potatoes year-around.

We used to only grow these in our garden, but have discovered how little space several plants can take if you use a stackable system.  Several options include using old tires, trash bins with drilled holes for drainage, or wooden stackable boxes. 

We prefer not to use tires due to the chemicals and petroleum product residues that can leach into food – and the same goes with plastic tubs and containers.  I saw a picture recently of someone planting lettuce directly in a plastic Miracle Grow soil bag, and it seems to defeat the point of growing something yourself.

You can buy stackable boxes and raised beds from garden centers, but these can be exorbitantly priced.  We have solved this with inexpensive and durable rough sawn oak boards.  You can make these boxes with any untreated wood from the hardware store.  Please don’t make the boxes out of pressure treated boards, that will also leach chemicals into your soil.

Take the boards and cut them into equal lengths – approximately 2 feet long makes a good-sized box.  If you have a dirt floor to grow this on, you won’t need a bottom, otherwise, cut a piece of plywood to fit your dimensions.  Make extra bottomless boxes in the same dimensions.  These will be your sides as your plants grow. 

We mix a soil mixture of approximately one-third top soil, one-third compost, and one-third seed starter mix with lots of peat.   Potatoes don’t like to grow in hard soil, so the peat mix makes the soil considerably more lofty.

Take seed potatoes, or even store potatoes that are beginning to sprout.  Don’t use potatoes from the store that are not sprouting since they may have been sprayed with a substance that will prevent them from sprouting.  These will never grow.  You can order seed potatoes.  Buying organic ones is also a good option.  Buy late season potatoes since they will continue to send out new potato shoots throughout the growing season!

Plant the potatoes in the lowest layer and cover with soil.  Before long, you should see potato plants pushing through the dirt.  Keep them evenly watered but not soggy.  As they grow.  Add anther wooden “box” and start building the soil around the base of the plants always leaving a portion of the plants exposed for photosynthesis.

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These potato plants have pushed up through their second layer and are now ready for a third box.  As they grow, they will put out extra roots that will form potatoes, filling the box as it grows taller.

You can start harvesting the potatoes when the plants have bloomed.  This is the baby potato stage.  If you want larger potatoes, wait another month or two.

Starlings

The other day I was on the phone with my friend Esther and observed that the starlings were starting to check out our house for crevices in order to start their new nests.  The conversation turned toward the way that people see them, mostly as a nuisance for farmers.   Even the Audubon Society’s website does not mention anything interesting or spectacular about the birds.  Esther  was surprised when I shared some stories of starlings I have raised.

First some background.  The name is actually European Starling or Sturnus Vulgaris (hardly complimentary).  One hundred of them were released around the turn of the last century in Boston, MA by an individual who wanted to introduce to North America all the birds that had been mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays – at least that was one of the versions I have read.  And the story would be consistent – since Shakespeare does mention the starling in Henry IV.

The Washington Post carried an article in which they show the efforts to annihilate this bird from this continent.  The article discusses shooting, poisoning, and trapping these amazing talking birds.  Yes, I said TALKING.

I have raised several of these delightful, intelligent companions.  They are a member of the Mynah Bird family and capable of imitating speech.  Even in the wild, if you listen to one in the morning, you can hear them imitate the calls of assorted birds.  Well, they can imitate the human voice even better than parrots.  I have raised a macaw, a Senegal, an african grey, and none could come close in speech to the starling.

The first was a rehabilitation project given me by “Joan” who was a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Overwhelmed with animals to care for, she apprenticed me for several.  I brought home “Francis” who had suffered enough that he promptly lost all the feathers on his head.  With care they grew back.  What we did not expect though, was his intelligence and conversation skills.  Francis quickly learned his name, calling “Francis, Francesco” through the house.  He learned all our habits, and could anticipate where we would go in the house and would fly there before we got there.  He even learned to land on a water faucet – any of them in the house – as a signal to us that he wanted water.  I would cup some water in my hand and he would drink straight from it. 

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Years later I got another starling baby,and this one I named Terpsichore after the muse for song and dance.  It suited her personality perfectly.  She was joyful and sang constantly.  Her favorite words were “Terpsichore, Terpsichore, I love you Terpsichore,” said in exactly my voice, which unnerved visitors who did not know about her.  It was strange for them to look at me in one room and hear my voice coming from another.  One morning I was drinking coffee outside  and something startled her, and she flew away.  She never came back, but I felt in my heart that she was alright, and most likely causing a sensation in someone else’s yard.

I once raised a batch of three babies together and since they were raised with other birds they did not acquire the speech.  But they were endearing and closely bonded.  Once they fledged they were free to fly about outside.  They would greet me when I came home from work by flying out of the trees and landing on my head. 

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It turned out I was not the only person with the talking starlings.  I learned about another through a book called Arnie the Darling Starling by Margaret Sigl Corbo.  It was a beautiful story about her saving, and becoming attached to this little darling bird.  I was privileged to have a brief correspondence about our birds with Margaret.  Here is a link to her Amazon Biography page and I strongly recommend the book. 

Starlings are not protected, so you can raise them.  And you may even be doing a farmer a favor by having less out there eating their crops (and save it from poisoning…).  But the biggest winner is the person who gets to share the companionship of one of these incredible birds.

 

 

Jabuticaba

Exciting news in the conservatory!  First jabuticaba blossoms starting to push out!  These are the small greenish white “nubs” you can see on the branches below.

 

Jabuticaba

Jabuticaba

Jabuticaba is an unusual tree in that it bears its dark purple grape sized fruits on its trunk and stems.  The tree is native to Brazil and attempts to naturalize it in warmer regions of this country have failed.  It is excellent fresh, and can also be used for wine and jams.  There are even claims of cancer fighting properties in the fruits.  The tree has a graceful shape that can that be trained as bonsai, and the leaves are similar to the olive leaves.

Elsewhere in the conservatory, the orange tree has a few lingering blossoms, but look at what’s next; Gardenia!

Gardenia buds forming

Gardenia buds forming

And while the hibiscus does not have a fragrance like the oranges and the gardenia, it is stunning none-the-less. 

Hibiscus

Hibiscus

Frugal Tip – Plant Tags

When starting seeds trays, it is very important to label the seeds.  This is especially true with plants like cucumbers that have different picking requirements – some need to be picked small or they turn bitter, others can be left to grow long.  A “Paris Pickling” needs to be picked at gherkin size, and a “Bella” at ten inches.  How can you tell this looking at a vine?  Sometimes you can’t.  This is just an example.

Identify your seedlings

Identify your seedlings

You can solve this frugally by reusing your sour cream and cottage cheese containers.  We are very fond of Daisy sour cream and cottage cheese because they use no fillers or stabilizers or anything that you can’t pronounce.   With a large family, we eat a considerable amount of these weekly.  While many of the tubs are used over and over for leftovers and my husband’s lunches, we still end up with stacks of them that I am reluctant to throw away.

So I have found another use for them.  Using sharp scissors, I cut the base off about 1/2 inch up from the base.  This forms a little “dish” that you can use as a tray under small pots.  With the remaining sides, I cut strips just wide enough to write on with a permanent marker.  If you have seen the cost of plant markers in nurseries and gardening catalogs, you will see that your savings can be substantial.  When I am done using them, I put them all in a pot and often reuse them.

Frugal Plant Labels

Frugal Plant Labels

 

Happy Gardening!

Daisy Plants Labels

Daisy Plants Labels

Meals at Meduseld – Cinnamon Rolls

It’s only 10 degrees this morning, and forecasters are threatening us with another snow storm.  The best response seems to be to snuggle up with a good book and some cinnamon rolls.

Ingredients:

4 cups King Artur Artisan Bread flour

1 1/2 cup milk

2 eggs

1 cup sugar, divided

1 stick butter, divided

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 teaspoons yeast

1 heaping tablespoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

 

Combine flour, milk, eggs, half a stick of butter, 1/2 cup sugar, vanilla, and yeast to form dough.  I place all these ingredients in my bread machine on the dough cycle.  If doing by hand, I recommend combining the moist ingredients (melt butter gently) and blend into the dry ingredients.  Add flour is dough is still too sticky.

Allow to rise in a covered bowl until doubled in size.

Knead dough and let sit for 10-15 minutes.  Letting it rest will make it easier to roll out with a rolling-pin. 

Here I have rolled the dough out on a silicone matt which I highly recommend to everyone who bakes with any frequency.   Melt the remaining half stick of butter.  Add the remaining half cup of sugar, cinnamon, and nut meg.

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Cut the rolled dough so that the swirls are exposed, in about 2/3 inch sections.

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Place them in a flat baking pan and allow them to rise until doubled, again.  Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes.  When finished we often pour additional butter or honey over the rolls, but this is optional.  In my opinion, more butter is better :)

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Conservatory Status

While we got seven inches of snow yesterday, it still looks and feels like paradise in the conservatory.  The plants have also noticed the lengthening days, and are starting to prepare for the new growing season.

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 The geraniums, while still green, were in a semi dormant state.  Now they have burst into bloom.

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The fig tree is pushing out new leaves, and has already started forming fruits.

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We have started the geranium cuttings for the summer window boxes.

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Seeds are off to a good start, at least the ones spared by the mouse.

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I wish this photo were “scratch and sniff.”  The orange blossoms have released a heavenly scent that fills the entire conservatory.

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A yellow pear tomato hiding in the foliage.

I have received some questions about our conservatory.  It was built by my husband.  His company builds these and new homes in the Northern Virginia and West Virginia Panhandle.  You can see some of his work here!

Seeds

I mentioned in a post last week that this was the time to start ordering seeds for Spring planting.  I tried a new company this year, looking to support local sustainable suppliers.  The company I tried was the Sustainable Seed Company, and I am rather disappointed.   Here are the things I noticed, and I will be comparing them with GourmetSeed.com, whose quality I am always pleased with.

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Take a look at this first photo for comparison.  Both are parsnip seeds, a vegetable we have recently fallen in love with.  The package on the left was from Gourmet Seed, and the one on the right from Sustainable Seed.  Observe the packaging.  One is in a protective sealed mylar that will preserve the seeds for years without exposing them to gains or loss of moisture.  The other is in printed paper, which has practically no protective qualities. 

Now, the obvious difference is size!  The packet from Gourmet Seed contains 25 grams of seeds and the other 2 grams.  While this packet from Gourmet Seeds cost $6.95, it contains over EIGHT TIMES more seeds than the other.  The other cost $2.75, (as of today’s blog it is on sale) and you can see that for the extra $3.00 the Gourmet Seed cost is the winner.   Even if I don’t use all the seeds one year, I can still reseal it with the built-in zip seal and these will keep.

Which brings me to the next issue.  I also ordered a pound of winter wheat seed from Sustainable Seeds, and look at the date!

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These were packaged for 2013, which means they were grown the year before.  Winter wheat is planted in the fall and harvested the following spring in July in the North or as early as May in the South.  Since these are dated March, it means they were harvested the year before.  These are two-year old seeds!  Another of the seed packets I received from them is also stamped “packed for 2013.” 

When ordering seeds, it is important to watch for companies that offer quality and back up that committment consistently. 

 

2014 Gardening Goals, High Intensity Gardening

I think practically every gardener spends January (in the northern hemisphere at least) pouring over seed catalogs and planning their spring and summer gardens, and I am no exception.  As soon as the New Year’s celebrations are over, seed catalogs start pouring in the mail enticing us with their bright pictures and promises of high yields.

Over the years, though, modern growing methods have left most of us feeling disappointed.  On our farm, we have been trying new methods of organic techniques, incorporating permaculture, and avoiding quick solutions such as pesticides and herbicides.  So, I was thrilled to come across a new method of gardening called High Intensity Gardening which can literally help the plants to express their full genetic potential, while improving the condition of the soil and the nutritional content of food.  For example, a tomato plant has the genetic potential to produce 400-500 POUNDS of tomatoes, but due to our growing methods, toxins, nutritional deficiencies,etc., we fall short of its potential.

John Kempf is one of the greatest advocates and educators of High Intensity Agriculture.  He has formed an organization called Advancing Eco Agriculture.  You can listen to him here in an interview with Dr. Mercola offering a brief explanation of the methods and outcomes. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQDbkSn9rpo#t=1533

Last year, I demonstrated in an article called “Compost” the amazing results of using compost in the garden.  Mr. Kempf discusses the benefits of compost “tea,” a liquid made by fermenting compost in water, generating an enzyme and beneficial bacteria-rich liquid for the soil.  Kempf draws the similarity with Dr. Mercola, that just as humans’ digestion benefits from beneficial organisms, the soil is the plants digestion and benefits from pro-biotics as well.  Here are two videos showing Kempf’s Plant Health Pyramid.

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As I consider my seed choices, I will also be researching recipes for compost tea.  And with a few exceptions, I will not be ordering from most of the major seed catalogs, who provide overpriced packets with scarcely any seeds.  Ever since starting this blog, we have provided a link to Gourmetseed.com where we buy our seeds.  The majority of the seeds come from Europe where cross-pollination with GMO crops is not as great an issue.  The packets are reasonably priced and usually contain hundreds of seeds in each.  I am awed by the quality and quantity. 

It is increasingly necessary for small farmers to embrace these natural growing methods and seeds.   Top soils across this country are microbiogically dead, and can only produce if given chemicals, yielding nutrient deficient food.1  Since Big Ag has not responded to the call for better farming,  small farms are leading the way.  Please support your local farmers!

1. http://www.soilandhealth.org/02/0203cat/royal.lee.lets.live.articles.htm

 

 

We’re back!

Good Morning Friends and welcome back, I mean me! My sincerest apologies for the absence but we have literally been without internet for 31 days! What didn’t help was lots of snow and icy road conditions, making going out difficult, too. In this rural location, we rely on the cell tower for our businesses’  communications, internet, weather, news, etc.  (In one conversation with an AT&T representative, “Paul” remarked that he was looking at a computer map that shows cell strength.  He said that around us it was completely white.  I asked, “What does that mean?”  “It means nothing, it means you have nothing,” was his reply.)

As you know, we had already been having AT&T tower problems for the last few months. The entire tower crashed, however, exactly two weeks before Christmas. I had several Christmas blogs in mind that will have to wait for next year, such as how to make Christmas Stollen, a German holiday bread studded with candied fruits and filled with almond paste. 

So time to catch up on some other news, as well as four weeks of Emily Estrada’s Fibretown Podcast :)

Meduseld is thrilled to be an advertiser inWild Fibers Magazine’s Tenth Anniversary Issue. I have been reading this magazine since before we even started up making yarn, and it is like traveling overseas without leaving the comfort of your living room. It covers diverse natural fibers all over the globe. My only complaint is that they don’t cover the wonderful domestic farms very often, but hopefully there will be more attention given to our own country’s fantastic (albeit struggling) fiber industry in the future.   Look for our ad in this issue, which contains a link to our free Icicle Shawl Pattern

We were not idle while the net was down. I started some seed trays for a friend who is firing up her own “high tunnel” or hoop house. While most of the seedlings are coming up fine, I have had the most frustrating time keeping a mouse out of the cucumber and squash trays, having to replant each time some four legged creature makes a feast of my seeds. I even put the four legs of the table in buckets of water and the little varmint still gets to them. BTW, sprinkling hot red pepper over the dirt doesn’t stop the mice either. I have now planted those trays for the fourth time. Please keep your fingers crossed for me!

Coming up: Maple syrup making, new yarn I am expecting from the mill, gardening plans for 2014, and some recipes I have been testing while things were “quiet.”