Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Impatient Person's Raspberry Jam

Perennials can be great instruments of torture.  No, really... it's true.  Take my raspberry bushes as an example.  They tease.  They start to produce berries, which causes all sorts of excitement.

Then they take what feels like forever to bring the fruits to the perfect level of ripeness.  For many people, this wouldn't be a problem.  I, however, have this really bad habit.  As they ripen, I pick them.  Then I eat them.

Again, this wouldn't be a problem, really, except that what I really wanted was to make raspberry jam. A great aspiration, of course, but when you eat every raspberry that ripens, rather than saving it for later, you run into problems.

Like having to wait ten days to make it, rather than the three or four that it would otherwise take.

Perennials have the wonderful talent of not producing all of their berries all at once.  This means that you don't have to worry about getting out and harvesting everything all at once, which means that you never have to worry about the berries spoiling.  It also, however, means that you have to save some of the berries when you pick them, rather than eating them whenever you please.  Torture!

For over a week, I'd gather the raspberries.  I'd munch on half of them, then hesitantly place the other half of the (small) harvest into my refrigerator.  Impatient, I'd constantly look in on my treasures, expecting the amount to increase via spontaneous cloning, or something equally absurd.

Finally, I managed to accumulate a whole 1/2 cup of berries!

Yeah, I know... that's a pretty small amount, but as I said, I was very impatient. It was time to make my jam.

I grabbed my smallest pot and dumped the raspberries inside.  There were so few of them that they didn't even fully cover the bottom!

I wasn't daunted by this, however, because there was one thing that I very clearly remembered about raspberry jam:

No jam is easier to make than raspberry jam!

See, you don't need pectin, first of all.  I mean, sure you can use it... if you really want to, but why bother?  Pectin is added in order to get things to coagulate.  Pectin keeps you from having a runny, oozing mess.  Raspberry jam doesn't need it.  As long as you get your proportions right, you're golden.  Raspberry jam thickens quite nicely without adding any pectin.

I decided to just throw 1/2 cup of sugar into the pot, which I had already placed on the burner (set to medium heat).  In the past, I always got the raspberries to a boil, then added the sugar, then brought it to a boil again.

But this time I was impatient.  I wanted raspberry jam, and I wanted it now

I then added a few drops of lemon juice.  I stirred it continually, until it came to a boil.

Once it came to a boil, I looked at the clock.  The time read 3:49 pm, and the raspberry jam mixture needed to boil for at least one minute.  I therefore elected to remove it from the heat after the time hit 3:51, just to be on the safe side.  

Upon removing it from the heat, I poured my raspberry jam mixture into the smallest mason jar that I own (Wide mouth jar.  It's less messy that way.), and closed the lid.

Since I was going to be eating it soon anyway, I really didn't need to seal the lid, but I feel the job just isn't complete without it, so I inverted the jar and let it sit upside down for a little over five minutes.

This is not something you want to do if you plan on storing your raspberry jam, however.  

This sealing method isn't very secure for the long term.  If you plan on storing it anywhere except for the fridge, you need to use another method to be safe.  My preferred method is the boiling water bath.  It's easy, and if you do small batches you don't even have to buy anything. has some easy instructions on how to do your own water bath sealing if you've never done it before.  (***Special note: the wire rack they mention is absolutely necessary, but I've always just twist-tied a few mason jar lids together, and they work just as well as a store-bought rack***)

The next morning, I decided to have breakfast outside.  The menu for the morning centered on toast with my yummy, much anticipated jam, of course, and it was delish!  

The most beautiful thing about making your own raspberry jam at home is that you can make it exactly the way your tastebuds want it.  How cool is that?

A Recap of my Method:

1.  Measure out the raspberries.

2.  Measure out the same amount of sugar.

3.  Stick them in a pot set on a medium heat burner.  Add a few drops of lemon, to taste.

4.  Stir like an obsessed person.

5.  Once it gets to a gorgeous boil, keep it that way for at least a minute.

6.  Pour it into a jar and seal.

7.  Pace around the house for what seems like an eternity as you wait for it to cool completely before serving.  There's no getting around this part.  If it doesn't set, you'll have ooze instead of jam.  To be safe, let it cool overnight.

Easy, right?  Well, ok... number 7 is kinda tough if you're as impatient as I was.  In the end, though, it's totally worth it.

Now go make some easy, yummy, raspberry jam!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Playdough: Toilet Paper Art Alternative?

Oh, geez... another pile of toilet paper.

I've been thinking these words quite often lately.

Why, you ask?  Because my daughter has gotten into the habit of taking toilet paper from the roll, wetting that paper, then using it to sculpt various masterpieces.  Strawberries, chairs, houses... the list goes on.

It's been driving me nuts.  Not only does it mean that I have toilet paper hanging out in places that nobody wants to find it, but it's a huge waste of resources, both trees and water.

Fortunately, This was an easy one to fix... after I got over my initial freak-out, that is.

Make playdough, of course!

My mom used to make playdough for me when I was a little girl, and I had written the recipe down a few years ago.  I went hunting for it.

And hunting.

And hunting.

After making a thorough mess of the kitchen, piling up recipe cards and papers in interesting new locations, I finally gave up.  The recipe was nowhere to be found.  I hung my head in grief, and went to the computer to do yet another recipe search.

Finally, I found one that looked like my mom's recipe on Moms Who Think.  I used the no-cook recipe, because running the stove adds to my ecological footprint (electricity use), but they have many to choose from.

I gathered my supplies.

You'll notice everything is non-toxic.  One cup of salt, 1 1/2 cups of flour, 1/2 cup of water,  2 tablespoons of oil, and food coloring until everything is colored exactly as you want it.  That's it!  Safe and cheap.  Bonus!

Now, I actually used a bit more oil and water than was listed on their basic recipe, so there's elbow room in this.  Use your judgement.  

Basically, just stick your hands in and mix everything together.  This will take a while, so make sure you have the patience.  It'll start looking like it's ready relatively quickly, but it'll feel grainy.  Maybe you're ok with that, but I'm not.  Don't stop until it feels smooth and firm.  This is where I added a tiny bit of extra oil and water.  I knew what I wanted my playdough to feel like, and I wasn't stopping until it got there, darn it!

The result?

Homemade happiness.  

Of course, I wasn't truly finished yet.  I mean, I had to test it, right?  Really... not because I wanted to play with it, or anything... really.  The playdough was for my daughter.  Not me.


So I made a chair for her lalaloopsy doll.  And a book.  My daughter created the hat.  Later, she molded a comfy playdough mattress pad for another doll.

Much better than her original toilet paper sculpting, I do believe!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

I Made an 'Oops'

I made an 'oops'.

Ok, in the grand scheme of things it wasn't a very big 'oops'.  It was a small, annoying, what-was-I-thinking kind of 'oops'.

I bought some moss.  I love moss, always have.  Watching the low cover of green inch its way over trees, rocks, or whatever else is in its path, is truly exhilarating for me.  It takes me right into the center of a really, really good fantasy novel, filled with dragons, fairies, and heroes on their quests toward glory.

Yeah.  I love moss.

Why in the world would I call this an 'oops', then, you ask?

Because I didn't buy just any moss... I bought moss that is best grown in zones 5-8

::cue eerie music::

No doubt, you wonder why this is such a big problem.

Well, I was planning on placing the moss at the corners of the retaining wall along the garden path.  Give them a bit of dimension.

Unfortunately, I live in zone 4.  This means that there's a possibility of the moss dying off during the winter.  Not only that, but when you plant something that shouldn't be grown in your area, you risk creating a haven for all sorts of pests that recognize that the plants is out of its element.


Planting it in the ground was not an option.  

Any pests that may be drawn to it would branch out into my other plants.  This would be very, very bad.  Remember, I don't use any sort of pesticide or herbicide.  My pest control is reserved for the house, and even then I only use safe, natural mixtures.

What I plant is key in ensuring the unwelcome insects go somewhere else.

I can't plant this.

Fortunately, things didn't go quite as I'd hoped when I visited my old home in the desert last month, and my husband didn't realize that he needed to water my begonia.  I came back to a very dead flower.

My treasure from World Naked Gardening Day was destroyed, but I could use the purse it was planted in to house the moss.

So that's exactly what I did.

Of course, since I planted my moss in a purse, I needed a good location.

I needed to place it somewhere a purse would normally be set down.

Et voila!
The corner of the bench on my porch was perfect for this!  Aside from the table, I think the corner of a chair or couch is the most common place to find someone's purse.

I added some rocks and a fake flower in order to give it a little extra aesthetic value.

I couldn't plant my moss in the ground, nor would I just toss the poor thing aside.  How cruel is that?!

I wanted it to get a nice amount of sun.  This option seemed to be the most viable choice, since I now have the option of making it either an inside or an outside plant.  Heck, with the straps, I can even make it a hanging plant, if I so desire!

I think I managed to turn my 'oops' into an 'ooOOOOoo!'

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Good Day... For Gnats

I could hear the birds sing in my backyard.  I smiled as I opened my eyes, and took in the wash of warm and welcoming colors throughout my room.  I woke up early, yet I was completely awake, and it was of my own volition.  Something like this doesn't happen as often as I'd like.  It's a good feeling.

It was still morning, so the day was cool.

Today will be a good day, I thought.

I walked downstairs and into the kitchen to make my morning juice.  Orange, carrot, celery, mint, and apple are my staples.  I often throw in a small amount of some sort of additional fruit, just to change up the taste a bit.

I think I'll use some fresh raspberries, I thought, a smile on my lips as I approached the kitchen.


Something hit my forehead.  Whatever it was, it was quite small.  I shrugged it off, then walked through the entryway of the kitchen.

It was then that I noticed.

I forgot to clean out my juicer, yesterday!!!  I was so distracted by the heat, that I just kept forgetting.  I'm easily distracted, after all.

Now, we all do this from time to time.  We all make mistakes.  Unfortunately, my mistake just happened to occur in an old, leaky house during a very hot time of the year.

Humans aren't the only ones that look for a way to beat the heat, so I had some happy visitors in the kitchen.

Gnats were flying about the kitchen.  Not just a few, but TONS of them.  They came in to take advantage of the decomposing fruit and veggie buffet that I had blindly ignored.  The gnats were joyfully flying about the area, completely oblivious to the fact that they weren't supposed to be there!

So what did I do?

I rushed to the computer, of course, and did a search for gnat trap recipes.  The gnats just had to go.  Don't get me wrong... I'm not squeamish about them, or anything.  They're actually pretty fascinating.

I mean, how can you not be fascinated by a a creature that reproduces by means of a single sperm cell that also happens to be larger by far than those of any other known animal on the planet?

Talk about bragging rights...

Anyway, I clicked on the first recipe I found that had a 5 star rating attached to it.  It was a simple one, and I had the ingredients:

3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and 2 drops of dish soap were placed into a glass jar (I reused a spaghetti jar that I had lid the lid from).  I slowly swirled it around to mix it a bit.  I then rolled a piece of paper into a funnel shape, taped it closed, and placed it in the jar ensuring that there were no openings along the rim.  The tip of the funnel did not touch the vinegar solution.

I honestly didn't think it would work, mainly because I remembered an old adage -

"You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."

I mean, gnats are flies, so it seemed plausible that it wouldn't work out.

Well, it did... and fast!  

The vinegar drew in the gnats, then the soap weighed down their wings so that they couldn't fly back out.  I walked away from it to help my daughter out with something, and when I returned to it around ten minutes later:

Five gnats had already met their vinegary death.  

That's not good enough, since I had TONS of gnats swarming about the kitchen, right?  I thought so, too.  These things take time, though, so I waited a few hours before checking in on it, again (don't worry... I washed the juicer).

Yeah, I'm totally not counting them this time.  Suffice to say, that's a lot of gnats.  This recipe was a good one, and I'm grateful that it was online.  Even though humidity caused the tape to become unattached to the paper, the trap still did its job.

Once I saw that it was working, I breathed a sigh of relief.  It was time to start that good day I was looking forward to.  A few hours late, granted, but better late than never!

Have you ever had a serious problem with gnats?  How did you handle it?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Hot Days and Water Ball Fights

People that were raised in the desert are not allowed to say it's hot after they move to the colder side of the country.  Period.  It's not allowed.  

If you've gone through summer after summer with temperatures over 105, you have no reason to complain about heat on a 90 degree day.  

Period.  End of story.

That being said...

It's really hot here, right now.

No, really.  See, what I've learned is that temperature is relative.  What's a little hot to a person in the desert southwest is scorching to a person in Minnesota.

Therefore, the past few days have been scorching.  I retain my stubbornness in this, however, and refuse to turn on the a/c, preferring to tough it out.   

So what have I decided to do to beat the heat in these summer months?  Well, the evening is easy.  After sunset, I open all the windows wide so that the very cool nighttime breeze can enter the house.  As soon as I wake up, I close the windows again, so that I can trap the cool temperatures inside my house.

This works for a while, but by about 3:00, it gets pretty uncomfortable in here, so I pull out my nice, new, technologically advanced cooling devices.

What?  Not technologically advanced enough for you?  

Seriously, though, these two little balls are lifesavers when it gets hot.  I fill that bowl with water, then drop them in.  The balls absorb a decent amount of water, so my daughter and I can have water fights without me having to worry about negatively impacting the environment.

 - Since the balls are reusable, I don't have anything to throw away.
 - They were cheap.  I paid only five dollars for them, which is much less than the cost of running the a/c.
 - That one bowl of water is all I need to accomplish my two missions: Having fun and cooling off.

It's actually perfect.  When the balls hit you, enough of the water hits your clothes to cool you off, but you don't have to worry about being drenched, like in the case of a water gun.  The dampened clothing cools you, even if there's no breeze to be noted, because you're creating your own airflow by running around.

And if you manage to get hit in the face with one, it doesn't hurt.  Bonus!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Saving Seeds of Chives

The green spikes shot toward the sky, reaching up toward the clouds.  Purple teardrops atop slender shoots slowly opened into magnificent feathered balls of violet and white.

Their splendid posture held for weeks, until time finally won, and the chives aged.  They did so gracefully, rather than suddenly, and the process was dignified.

At last, however, it was time for the chives to bow to the laws of nature, and their blooms began to dry.

Still, I waited.  Patience, after all, is a virtue.  It's also one that I really, really need to work at!

Finally, the waiting period ended.  I examined the once white and purple flowers, which had become beige.  All of the purple had washed away, causing the chives to look like a canvas that an artist had left out in the rain.

What looked like black pebbles had begun to jut out to the surface, breaking the washed-out monotony.

It was time.

I'd never worried about saving seeds before.  My favored plants had always been perennials, so all I had to do was wait until the following year, and - POOF! - instant happiness.  Things are different now that I'm renting a home, however.

Sure, chives come up every year if you just leave them alone.  They're great at re-seeding themselves, if you allow them to.  

I don't know if I'll be here to enjoy it next year, though, so it's better to save a few seeds from this amazingly healthy herb so that if I do move, I can still enjoy them wherever I am next.  

Knowing absolutely nothing about seed saving, however, meant that I had to learn how to do it.  Can I just grab the seeds and place them somewhere cool to await the next year, or is there some strange mystical methodology that needs to be used?

Onward I went, on the quest for enlightenment.

That was when I found FarmTina.  Tina's blog had a post on saving seeds from chives, and it turns out that no magic wands or test tubes are needed, much to my relief.  Indeed, all I needed to do was wait as long as I did, then flick the seeds out into a container.


Naturally, I ran outside with excitement and did that very thing.  Looks like I'll have seeds to plant next year if I'm in a new home!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Milkapalooza Happiness!


Now, seriously... who can resist saying that word?  Mil-ka-pa-loo-za.  It just rolls off the tongue.  The only word, I believe, that's more fun to say than that would be 'supercalifragilisticexpialidocious'.  As a matter of fact, my daughter ran around the house, saying "Milkapalooza!" over and over, this morning.  We were both very excited.

We piled into a very full car, since it was a total of five of us:  My husband and myself, my parents, and of course, my very happy daughter.  I also loaded up my empty milk bottles, so that I could drop by the farm store to exchange them for some more non-homogenized milky goodness.

When we got there, we discovered the area was filled with enjoyable things to do.  

Once we got to the main event, my daughter was given a small notebook.  The key was to find the 4 learning areas that were scattered about, and get a stamp and a sticker placed on each page of the notebook from those areas.  The learning areas were all marked with a printout that was framed by green cardboard.  This scavenger hunt type of event was called the Cow Crawl.

There was a petting zoo set up with sheep, ducklings, and a calf.

There were also two full grown cows out there, but it appeared that adults were the only ones to get very close.  There's just something a little intimidating about standing beside an animal that makes a great dane look tiny.

There were also pony rides!  

Children lined up to have their chance at riding one.  My daughter was very excited!  Until it was her turn, that is.  Sitting on the back of a moving animal just wasn't her thing, she decided, and she clung to her father with a vengeance when he tried to place her on the back of one of the equines.

Oh, well.  There's always the 2013 Milkapalooza, right?

There were also stands set up for local farmers so that people could sample their wares.  Cheese, jams, honey, and much more awaited the eager participant.

Live music?  Yep, that was at Milkapalooza, too!

We also took a brief hayride out to the pastures where John, the farm manager, told us all about the cows.  They graze on the pasture until the winter, when the snow makes that impossible.  At that point, they eat the hay bales that have been gathered all year for that specific purpose.

No grain at all goes into their diet.  The result of this, as discovered by an independent study by The Milkweed in 2008, is that the CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) and Omega 3 content of Cedar Summit's milk far surpasses the content within other organic milks that were studied (such as Horizon and Stonyfield).

These cows were very obviously happy.  The had a very large area to roam in that was filled with grasses.  While I've always had a nice amount of respect for the cows that provide us with our yummy supply of dairy products, I had never seen any real beauty in regard to them.

These cows were beautiful.

Not only that, but every one of those cows in the field had a name!!!

Somewhere around the time that the cows hit the age of six months, the people on the dairy farm name each cow based off of its behavior.  If I remember correctly, that's 140 names.  Wow!  How cool is that?

It was a great event, and we all had a great deal of fun.  The best part?  Aside from buying lunch, the entire thing was free!!!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Milkapalooza! Yay!

It's Milkapalooza day!  We spent a few hours at Cedar Summit Farm, where the cows are grass fed and happy, and had a great time.  Full post tomorrow!

Naturally, I couldn't resist a teaser photo...

Soybeans, Bugs, and Green Leaves Turned Brown

What in the world?!

I stared at the once green leaves, which looked as though they had gone through a blender on pulse mode.  Brown along the crinkled edges, the leaves were dried out husks of their former selves.

I had bugs.

Lots of bugs.

The thing is, though, that I have never actually seen a bug on my soybean plants.  Naturally, that makes identification of the problem bug a wee bit difficult.

Is it some kind of wormy thing?  A beetle?  Has the chupacabra turned vegetarian and moved up North?

I took a Deep breath and rationalized the situation at hand.

Actually, it's probably none of these things.  As mentioned previously, there are huge ants up here.  One of the things I've noticed on other plants, is that these ants love to eat my leaves.

Or, perhaps they're not actually eating them.

Maybe they're just tearing pieces off to build a masterful piece of technology that will be used in their takeover of my yard.  Ants are much more intelligent and organized than we give them credit for, after all.

So much for being rational...

Regardless, though, the soybeans that I had planted in my Earthbox were not in the best shape.  Bugs had been quite voracious.

I had such high hopes for my soybeans.  The two transplants I had placed on the left side of the Earthbox had grown tall, and the seeds I had planted in a line to their right had sprouted up beautifully.

I reminisced about the day the transplants were first placed there.

So green, so full of life.  The leaves didn't have a hint of brown marring them.

I kneeled beside my soybeans, pained that they had gone through so much destruction at the hands of an invisible pest.  I stared at the plants, examining every inch of them.

That was when I noticed something.

Sure, the leaves were brown husks of their former selves.  Sure, bugs had preyed upon them without mercy.

But life goes on.

And I have soybeans growing, soon to be picked!

It's good to have such a reminder that no situation is ever hopeless, don't you think?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Cucumbers Among the Weeds

I decided to take a break from cleaning out the grass and weeds from the path leading up the hill.  Uprooting a colony of ants can have that sort of effect on a person, after all!

Understand, I don't suffer from myrmecophobia, or anything.  My nervousness around ants is perfectly rational.  I don't scream, nor do I run.  I simply have a healthy cautiousness around tiny little creatures that have a talent for biting me and producing itchy bumps that I scratch for days afterwards.

Causing the temporary upheaval of an entire civilization of arthropods seems to be a good reason to stay at a distance for a while.  The peacemaking process can begin later.

Instead, I decided to plant a few bush cucumbers that I bought at a local nursery (This one is called Donahue's).  There was a 40% off sale, storewide, and the temptation to buy even more plants was overwhelming.  Normally, I can resist this temptation, but I really love cucumbers, and the ones I've seen for sale at the grocery stores here just don't appeal to me... they feel soft, rather than crunchy.

I went off to the wild area of the yard and opened up two new sections of soil near the grey zucchini, which, by the way, is producing huge amounts of flowers now!

Remember, I'm trying to garden with nature, rather than against it, so I allow wildflowers to grow where they want, unless they're encroaching on what I've planted... or on my garden path.  I do trim the wild plants, but I try to stay away from plucking them by the root unless I'm planting in the specific area that they happen to be at.

So two (1.5' diameter) circles of soil were all that I touched.  I also added additional soil, since bush cucumbers prefer to be grown in mounds.  I transplanted them, being careful to leave the native "weeds" in between the mounds alone.

The cucumber mounds are situated near the zucchini,
which can be seen at the bottom of this photo.

I know this seems a little crazy to most people.  "Get rid of those nasty weeds!" is what a few of you are probably saying.  I've noticed, however, that gardening with mother nature, rather than against her, actually produces some very favorable results.  I end up with fewer pests... or even none, at all.  The soil retains more moisture.  Plants grow higher.

I don't use fertilizer.  Instead, I allow dead leaves and plants to lie where they fall.  The decomposition process feeds nutrients into the soil, keeping my transplants perfectly happy.

This is the process that I will continue to use on my cucumbers.  I can't wait to see how much they'll grow over the next few weeks!  They're small now, but soon they'll be glorious!

Unless, of course, the cucumbers are sensitive to black walnut toxicity.  Cross your fingers for them!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Grass, Ants, and That Darn Murphy

I think the fates are conspiring against me.

Last time, I talked about how I transplanted a couple of blueberry bushes.  After taking a photo, I came to the realization that I really, really needed to clean up weeds and grass that were growing into my path that leads up the hill.

I know, I know... you saw this yesterday, but I feel this is a big enough mess that it needs to be shown twice.
It's that bad. 

This is all very simple:  Pluck the grass and plants that are growing within the edges of all of the bricks, remove bits and pieces that have begun to grow within the retaining wall, then pour boiling water in those areas (being careful, of course, to avoid the blueberries).  Again, simple.  It's time consuming, yes, but easy.

At least, it should be.  I seem to have a habit of turning easy things into complex situations, however.

I began the cleanup, and things were going quite well.

I was feeling pretty proud of myself.  Perhaps that's the reason that shortly after taking this picture, I ran into a huge obstacle.  You know, Murphy's Law, and all.  Darn that Murphy!!!

I began plucking out grass that was growing through cracks in the upper edges of the retaining wall.  It was then that it happened.

I angered some ants.

Ok, I know... big deal, right?


See, when I say that I angered some ants, I really, truly enraged them.  How, you ask?  I plucked the wrong tuft of grass.  The thing that made this particular tuft of grass so important to the ants was that it's roots had grown deep into the colony.  So deep, in fact, that when I uprooted it, I showered large amounts of pupae onto the tops of the retaining blocks.

Yeah, they got a little upset...

The workers swarmed the area for a bit, in complete confusion.  Then they began to pick up each individual pupa and carry it back underground.

There aren't very many oval shaped, cream colored pupae in this photo, largely because it took me longer to get over the shock of this (and grab my camera phone to take a picture) than it took the ants to start picking them up to carry them underground.

And they worked fast.

In under thirty seconds, every single pupa was back under the ground and safe.

These pupae will soon become worker ants, and the cycle will begin again.  Hopefully this time, however, I won't disrupt them.  I may be perfectly happy walking right up to a bee swarm, but ants are a different story entirely.  I'm quite happy to leave them in peace, thank you very much!

And unlike the ones in El Paso, where I used to live, the ones here are huge!!!

Ok, well, maybe not that huge, but you get the picture, right?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Blueberries Transplanted

Since moving here, I had told myself that I would not plant blueberries.  I love blueberries, and would love to have them in my yard.  Realistically, though, I couldn't see planting a fruit bearing perennial in a yard that I wouldn't be living in for long.  The chances of reaping the benefits would be slim.  I was not willing to pay $10 per plant because of this.

So, as always...  I changed my mind.

In my defense, my largest argument against buying blueberry plants was that they cost way too much.  That argument got thrown out the window when I parked beside a greenhouse that had everything on clearance for 50% off.  Ten dollars was too much to pay for something that I may not be able to enjoy the fruit of, but five?  Five I could do.

I decided to buy two of them to plant on either side of the path that leads up the hill.  Whether I get any blueberries out of it or not becomes inconsequential, because, at minimum these plants will provide me with gorgeous aesthetics.

I cleared an area beside the path and planted my first bush.

It looked glorious, so I went to the opposite side of the path and planted its twin.  

These blueberries would make for a glorious hill-path entry point.  This variety of blueberries has a 30 inch spread, so they'll do a great job of filling out the area.  I look forward to what they'll look like later in the summer.

Of course, staring at these beautiful new plants caused me to take notice of something that I had been ignoring for quite some time...

I recognized that my hill path had become quite a mess, due to my habit of ignoring it in favor of more interesting things.

Which, you know... would be like... anything else.

Looks like it's time to clean up this mess so that my blueberries can be enjoyed to the fullest extent!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Raspberry Plants, Ready for Harvest!

A while back I had mentioned that raspberry plants had once been placed on the slope of my yard, in the section that I designated as 'the wild area'.  They had been left to their own devices, and reseeded themselves throughout the area.  They sprouted out from between rocks, they grew out from piles of leaves that were long ago raked into piles, and they covered any other soil they could get to, crowding out even such aggressive plants as dandelions!

Since then, they've been growing like crazy, and now they're in full-out berry mode!  The area is thick with raspberry plants, and there are dozens upon dozens of raspberries being produced!

This is just one very small section.  If you peer closely, you'll notice several raspberries in the process of ripening.

As well as one that's ready to be picked!  Yum!

Unlike raspberries that are farmed for sale, the raspberries in my yard won't all ripen at the same time.  Even on individual plants they'll ripen at various times, rather than all together.

This is a very good thing.

I have many, many raspberry plants growing in the yard.  If they were all ready to harvest at the same time, I'd be unable to eat them all before they spoiled.  With the amount that have grown in the area, I'd have berries spoiling even if I gave large amounts to my neighbors.  That's how many raspberry plants are growing here.  Wow!

I'm really lucky that they aren't all ready for harvest at the same time!

The really nice thing about raspberries is that they're easy to grow.  Give them enough water and they'll do their thing - and do it well.  Even in the desert southwest I was able to grow raspberries.  I had to place them in an area that got large amounts of shade, in order to keep the ground moist, but even in those conditions they'd reseed themselves.

Another glorious thing about growing your own raspberries is that they taste better.  I know, I know... everybody says that about every plant.

With raspberries, though, it's really true.  I'm not a fan of store-bought raspberries.  To me, they're too sour, even at the best of times.  I'll very rarely buy them, because of this.

Homegrown raspberries, however, are sweet.  They're so amazingly, tantalizingly, deliciously sweet.

And I have tons!

They're delicious, easy to grow, and they add a beautiful swath of green to any setting.  Is there really any reason not to grow raspberry plants?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Beautiful Blooms Abound!

Beautiful blooms abound!!!

Since supporting my peas on their picture frame, they've continued to grow, and grow tall.  Indeed, two of the vines have reached up above the frame, and have begun to produce vibrant blooms.  Since I'd never planted peas before, I wasn't expecting the surprise that awaited me when I went out to check on them.

Who knew peas could produce such gorgeous flowers?  Well, all right... most people probably know that.  I, however, did not, so glimpsing this beautiful treasure brought a huge smile to my face.

I then went to the wild area of my yard so that I could check on my zucchini plants.  Again, blooms awaited me.

These made me particularly happy.  Not only are the blooms gigantic, but in this photo you can see that there are even more flower buds preparing to open.  These are the plants that I had started from seed in a strawberry container, then totally forgot about.  The fact that even after an emergency transplant into the ground they continue to grow healthy is a constant source of amazement for me!  So far they haven't succumbed to black walnut toxicity, so I'm hoping zucchini may be a black walnut tolerant plant.  Only time will tell!

The creeping charlie is encroaching on it, yet again.  Of course, that's something that I'll always have to deal with.  Creeping charlie grows quite fast.  It sure is a good thing that it smells so beautiful after rain falls, considering its fast growth rate!

My garden is very quickly taking on a vibrant and colorful quality.  These beautiful blooms are transforming my yard into a small paradise!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Farmers Market Tokens: Strike Two

I didn't go to the farmers market last weekend, due to my frustration over the lack of fruits and vegetables on opening morning.  While I greatly appreciate baked goods, jams, and crafts, I want fresh produce when I go to a farmers market.  I was, therefore, totally prepared to go to one in a different town.

After talking to my Minnesota-raised grandmother, however, I decided to give the local farmers market another chance.  She told me that farmers markets in this state always start that way.  Harvests are later in the season, so there's really not much at the beginning.  My neighbor said basically the same thing, adding on that the sweet corn that's there later in the season is wonderful.

Armed with this knowledge, I decided to give it another go.  

Slight problem, though.  A carnival had set itself up in the park, so naturally I spent all of my cash there in under two hours.  

My family had fun, though, so it was totally worth it.

I began to worry about my lack of cash, but then I remembered that I could use my debit card to get chips that could be spent at the farmers market, courtesy of United Way.  The idea was wonderful!  I could purchase tokens so that in the future I wouldn't waste cash that I had set aside for the farmers market.  

I was very excited.  So excited, in fact, that I went ahead and purchased $30 worth of these tokens.  I knew that I wouldn't spend that much this time, since I was only going to buy a bottle of amazing salsa for my mother, and a bottle of pure maple syrup for myself.

Excitedly, I walked out to the vendors in anticipation of my glorious purchases.

The first vendor I went to was the one that sold the salsa.  This woman is amazingly talented, producing salsa that even a desert rat from the Mexican-American border can love.  She stared at my farmer's market tokens in complete confusion, and told me that she'd never used one before.  She took the token, against what I'm sure was her better judgement, and I continued on.

And on.

And on.

Nobody else accepted the tokens!  Now, there may have been a craft vendor that would've accepted them, but since I wasn't there to buy crafts, I wouldn't know.  All I knew was that none of the food vendors would take them.  Once I realized that I had bought nothing more than 6 pretty wooden chips with my $30, I nearly burst into tears.

I left with my bottle of salsa, and nothing more.  I'm beginning to worry that this will be the equivalent of her giving the salsa away for free.  I really hope not.  That would end up making this as unfair to her as it was to me.

What in the heck would cause this to happen?  Has anyone else reading this run into this kind of problem?  

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Flooding My Co-op Plans

Last week I bought non-homogenized milk from Cedar Summit Farm.  My plan on Thursday was to buy more, since I'm on the last half gallon bottle.

One thing that had concerned me, however, was the distance I had to travel to buy the milk.  While 22 miles isn't a long drive for many people, it's huge for me.  Since moving here, I've kept my driving down to a minimum, largely due to my location being so close to everything I need.  I even walk to the grocery store, although that's been put on hold until the store reopens under new ownership.

Regardless, this was a huge distance.  I worried about my ecological footprint.  I have to burn fossil fuels to get that far, after all.

I did some research.  It turns out that I can drive half of that distance and still buy Cedar Summit's milk!  There's a business that's only 11 miles away from me that stocks it!  Not only that, but it's a co-op!

What's a co-op?

For those of you that aren't familiar with the concept (to include me, up until a few months ago), a co-op is a member owned, member run business.  The members are local, and the business is run for their benefit.  Members vote on issues directly related to the business, get discounts on some purchases, and even get a check when a profit is made.  There's a lot more to it, but the basic gist is that it's locally run for the benefit of the community.

So my plan was to visit Just Food Co-op.

Plans, however, have this tendency of going wrong for me, and that's what happened this time.

See, we got a lot of rain.  Indeed, when I looked at a weather map, there was a line of bad weather throughout several states.  Flooding, flooding, flooding.  Rain was pouring down pretty hard, and streets were closed throughout the county.

That's my driveway.  I was very lucky.  First, my driveway is on a slope, so what you're seeing is a rush of water flowing down, rather than flooding.  Second, my entire street is on a decently steep hill (something I can't show in pictures, no matter how hard I try), so the water continued to flow away.

Low lying areas were the ones that got hit hard.  Many roads were impassable.  Even by Friday morning there were areas along rivers that were off limits.  Yes, I was lucky, indeed.

The problem for me, though, (aside from discovering a very leaky roof) was that I was unable to go to the co-op.  We were hit hard, but the town that the co-op is in was hit even harder.  My decision was to try to make my run to the co-op on Friday.

I know... I sound so selfish and unconcerned.  There's flooding all over the place, and here I am worrying about my milk supply.

People around here, though, seem to be unaffected by things like flooded streets.  They just continue with their lives, totally ignoring something like a newly formed lake smack in the middle of the road.  To me, this warrants attention.  I appear to be the oddball, however.

The weather in this area is so strange for me.  Thursday night I saw clouds zoom by at a rate that I found alarming.  The locals, however, are used to it.  Perhaps I, too, will get used to it someday.  Every region has its weather quirks, after all.  My old home had sandstorms that would probably panic someone from this side of the country, whereas they weren't the least bit concerning to me.  Heck, the sandstorms even helped clean my teeth if I was foolish enough to open my mouth!

It's all about what you're used to.

I wonder how long it's going to take for me to get used to all of this wet stuff falling from the sky?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Being Environmentally Friendly is Child Friendly

I once mentioned that homeschooling is environmentally friendly.  I'd like to take that a step further today, and talk about how being environmentally friendly is, in and of itself, child friendly.  I'm sure many of you are nodding your heads, thinking, "Well, duh..."

But how often do we think about why that is?

I thought about this for a while, but it wasn't until I really dove into trying to be environmentally friendly that I was truly able to see the effects on my daughter.

Here are a few things I've noticed in the past 4 months:

1.  Increased responsibility
My daughter has become very serious about litter belonging in the trash, rather than on the ground.  I haven't actively taught her to be concerned about this.  She's simply noticed that when I see trash that has blown into our yard, I pick it up and throw it away with a look of disappointment in my eyes.  She now has a habit of picking up litter wherever she sees it, and throwing it in the closest receptacle.  "That's bad for plants." She explains.

2.  Increased curiosity
When I first began my quest to become more environmentally friendly, she would bring a doll outside with her and simply follow me around, occasionally asking me to change its dress, or something to that effect.  No real interest in what was going on around her.  So I began pointing things out and explaining them to her.  Now, she examines everything around us, not just in the garden, but everywhere.  Her favorite phrase has become, "I wonder why...?"

3.  Longer attention span
We all know that technology is just about everywhere in our society.  Wherever we go, we will find a television, a computer, or something else that generally has very pretty, shiny lights blinking on and off.  It's very distracting... especially when you're a three year old child.  Part of becoming more environmentally friendly is taking yourself away from that for a while.  Getting in touch with nature.

My daughter and I spend hours outside every day now.  Removing her from our very technologically heavy home for a few hours at a time has caused her attention span to double.  We can now have entire conversations without her becoming distracted by pretty lights or sudden changes in volume around her.  This isn't just outside, where you don't have those distractions, but inside the home, as well.

4.  Stronger Health

My daughter hasn't been sick once since we began the quest to become more environmentally friendly.  Well, ok... there was one time a few days ago, when her digestive system went nuts, but that was because I made the mistake of going out with the family to eat greasy fast food.  Oops.

Becoming environmentally responsible means changing your eating habits.  We eat very few processed foods, now, and most of those are organic, so we're not getting stuff like that nasty cellulose (aka cardboard).  We've increased our nutrient intake because of this, as well.

Furthermore, my daughter gets dirty.  Really dirty.  There have been studies showing that this can be beneficial to a developing child, building up resistance to germs and bacteria in the soil.  

5.  Complex creativity

Because my daughter doesn't get to enjoy a large amount of brain-numbing tv or electronic toys that think for her, she has to rely on herself if she wants any excitement.  Sure, I'm there, but mothers that are busy working on their gardens can get boring rather quickly.  This has caused my child to come up with her own stories.  It has also caused her to build any of the props that she needs, as well as do her own stunts.  Her stories become very complex, having necessary elements such as beginning, middle, and end, as well as protagonists, antagonists, problem solving, and discovery.  Every now and then she has some sort of deus ex machina occur, as well.

While I'm sure that all of these growth changes would have occurred over time, anyway, but being environmentally friendly has helped me get her to this point a lot faster than she otherwise would have.

My daughter thoroughly enjoys learning, is healthy, and cares about the world around her.  Being environmentally friendly is clearly child friendly, as well.  I can't wait to see what new surprises she has in store for me, next!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Potato Grow Bag Progress

I figure it's probably about time for a progress report on my potato grow bag.  Things are going quite well!  The potato plants have gotten huge, and there's even a small flower bud on one of the stems.  The flower hasn't actually opened yet, but give it time!  It's not actually potato harvest time in this region until July, so I'm happy to wait.

That's quite a lot of leaves for one reusable grocery bag, don't you think?  I'm actually a bit worried as I look at this.  I mean, sure... the potato plants are happy in their DIY grow bag,  but I'm concerned about the harvest itself.  How big (or small) are my potatoes going to be?  I'm not sure there's enough dirt surrounding them for adequate growth.  I honestly didn't expect to have quite so much greenery shooting out of this bag!

I also noticed that potato plant stems are heavy.  These things are about half an inch thick at the visible base, and the stems are very long.  This has posed a problem.

At some point during growth, soil got jostled around, and I ended up with a larger amount of dirt toward the center of the bag than on the edges.  This would have worked out just fine if the potato pieces had all been placed in the middle, but since they were spread out, I ran into a bit of a problem.

I discovered a broken stem.

Strangely, that potato plant is still alive.  It's still green.  The full stem is growing as though nothing bad had happened.  There is still a small portion of the potato stem that's attached, but it's such a small portion that most plants wouldn't even consider surviving in this situation... and certainly wouldn't thrive!

I'm not sure what to make of this.  It's just... odd.

Of course, I'm not complaining.  This is rather exciting!

I went ahead and grabbed some more dirt so that I could help secure the stem.  I didn't want to press my luck, after all.

Overall, I'd say I'm making pretty good progress.  My potato grow bag appears to be working as it should, if not better, and I'm still looking forward to a great harvest... even if I do end up with itty bitty potatoes!