Monday, July 23, 2018

A Peek into Our Day

Showing Adam how to write the letter "A". He did super well for his first time!

Our garden pickings this week included the first tomatoes and cucumbers! Looks like we should be making some pickles later this week. Also, we got two summer squash which went out to the roadside stand. 

Lunch was zucchini patties (click here for recipe). So delicious! I could've made twice as much and devoured them all.

The kids enjoyed some leftovers from the much-needed rains we got the last couple days.

Playing hide-and-seek under blankets. 💕 Her smile is so charming, and her giggles of delight music to the ears!

 I did some research on a few topics, including my two budding hobbies. Hard cheese making, and sourdough bread. Of course this meant browsing some websites for money spending opportunities on some needed supplies. I'm waiting to start a sourdough starter until tonight, and the cheese might be awhile still until I'm ready to dive into that, since I need a few things first, including Aaron to make me a dutch cheese press.

Skimming cream for butter making!

I had a feeling the butter was going to be done soon, but continued to keep my back turned until this happened. I was RIGHT THERE, too. This wasn't the first time my butter has exploded everywhere, either. After the first time (a couple weeks ago), I decided to always pull the mixer away from the wall so any potential spills would land on the tabletop. Of course this was the one time I forgot to do that since the first episode. 

And at this moment my cheese was also done and ready to be squeezed out and salted, and baby woke up. So I left the butter and the cheese and headed to the living room for some baby cuddles. As I sat there soaking up the love, a chipmunk popped out from under one of our couches. I sat there watching until he finally saw me and darted back. HOW DID HE GET IN OUR HOUSE???? I grabbed a stick to poke and prod around back there and try to chase him out the front door. Of course Adam woke from his nap in this time, and excitedly joined us in the chipmunk hunting. Mr. Chipmunk was pretty terrified being chased around the back of the couches, but I'm pretty sure he ended up racing out the front door to his hole at the bottom of the porch. 

While I'm not the least bit excited that we had a chipmunk in the house, this may just confirm that yesterday's signs of a critter indoors was probably not a rat, as I had presumed. 

After all that, I went to finish rinsing the butter, and packaged away nearly two pounds!

And I finished the mozzarella cheese curds and stuck them away in the freezer so we can still eat pizza and casseroles when we have less milk available.

Not pictured: Random other moments like laundry, washing dishes, cleaning off one of my bulk food shelves in the kitchen, eating chocolate, and wondering what to make for supper. 

New addition

We are so excited to welcome another little baby to our family this winter! 

Current stats (since everybody likes to be nosey):

Gestation: 18 weeks.                                                                                 
Mom feels: Great! Sometimes a little extra tired, though.                          
Cravings: Hmm. Veggies I guess! Thankful for garden season.    :)          
Baby is: Pretty active.                                                                                

Friday, July 13, 2018

Summer Squash {plus recipe for zucchini patties}

We have been harvesting summer squash this week! 

This spring I planted four zucchini seeds, enough to supply us with some for fresh eating. About two days later my neighbor asked me if I needed any zucchini or yellow squash plants because she had a bunch she didn't need. I thought it would be nice to have some yellow squash to add another color to our summer meals, so I said I'd take one of them. Next thing I knew, my husband came across the yard with a 5-gallon pail full of plants from our neighbor! She didn't know which plants were what variety, so rather than guessing, she just sent them all.... 😳 And I planted them in my garden. All 16 of them. 

Because her plants had been started way before mine, they are a bit ahead, and have been bearing fruit already. I figured if nothing else I will be able to set up our roadside stand early to help get rid of some of it, since we don't need any more in our freezer.

But first, I have been trying to satisfy my cravings for fresh vegetables. One of my favorite summer dishes (although I've made it in the wintertime using frozen, shredded zucchini, too), is zucchini latkes, or zucchini pancakes, or patties, or fritters... whichever name you prefer to call them. A quick look on Google tells me Latke is more accurate, since most people add twice as many ingredients to their zucchini "Pancakes" as I do, while the recipes I've seen for Latkes are very similar to mine. A latke is basically just the yiddish word for pancake, although they usually make them from shredded potato, rather than grains like is popular for a pancake here in America. But I'll just call them patties, as I feel like that is meeting in the middle with a term everybody knows.

Now that we have that little tidbit of useless information out of the way, let me tell you how good these are!

They're addicting.

Need I say more? I have never tasted zucchini as yummy as I have in a zucchini patty. Not even fresh, warm zucchini bread slathered in butter compares. (Did I just say that?)

I was first introduced to them while under my parent's roof as a teenager, and I have no idea where my mom (or sister) found the recipe, but for years I didn't know of anyone else who made them. Then as an adult I spent a summer in Japan, and one morning I was served fresh zucchini pancakes as part of a breakfast smorgasbord, and they were as good as ever! They tasted just like how we made them back home, only my family always ate them with ketchup (except dad who likes his with applesauce), and in Japan we dipped them in soy sauce. Now when I make them myself I vary which dipping sauce I use depending on my mood. Either ketchup or soy sauce pairs nicely with these!

Here's how I make mine:

Zucchini Patties

1 medium zucchini, shredded
1 egg 
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. onion powder
dash pepper
1/3-1/2 cup flour 

Stir all the ingredients together, adding enough flour to soak up moisture from the zucchini. The longer zucchini sits, the more water seeps out of it, so you may need to add more right before cooking. The flour also helps hold the patty together.

Heat skillet over medium heat until warmed through. Drizzle somewhat generously with olive oil to keep the patties from sticking. Drop batter onto preheated skillet, making each patty about 3-4 inches in diameter. Let cook until the bottom is brown and crispy and sides start getting cooked. Flip them over, and let the other side cook until done. 

Serve with ketchup, soy sauce, or eat as is!

Now my mouth is watering, and I really want to go cook up today's picking into some of these! Yum!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

{a day late}

"Knee high by the fourth of July"

Here in Michigan, this is how farmers gauge how well their corn is growing. 
We have two holidays for this vegetable crop ... plant around Memorial Day, and it should be knee-high by July 4th. Our first planting is that tall and better, compared to my [short] legs. Our second planting is behind by almost two weeks, which we were hoping for so we could space out the pickings for our roadside stand, and to give us a longer corn-on-the-cob eating season!

Friday, June 8, 2018

Our 2018 Garden

Memorial Day weekend is known in these parts as official garden planting time! Our last frost was technically a week and a half earlier than that, but we have been so busy that even if I could've planted earlier, Aaron wasn't able to till until that last weekend in May.

I had already put our spinach and lettuce in weeks earlier, and it has taken off! Our first spinach picking needs to be today, and I expect to start harvesting lettuce sometime next week. By start I mean, picking enough to bring inside for a salad. Adam and I have been happily munching on our frequent visits to check on the plants! He is a salad boy all the way, and helps himself to all the lettuce he can.

It was high time we got our tomatoes transplanted, as they outgrew our little greenhouse before any chance of frost was behind us. I stored them all on cookie sheets so I could easily bring them in for the night until it was warm enough to keep them outside uncovered. In the picture above, you can see how much taller the plants were than the shelves! Unfortunately, the shelving isn't adjustable. 

We feel like we nailed it on our tomato plants this year. It has been the most successful year yet! I started them March 20 in little Jiffy pellets, and transplanted them into 16 oz. plastic sour cream containers that I had saved. They took to the transplant so well, it confirmed that the potting soil wasn't our issue last year. I really liked having the plants in the containers. It worked well watering them from the bottom so they only soaked up as much as they needed. It was also fun to be able to watch to roots grow and see if that size container was big enough for 4 weeks of growing. When I transplanted them, the roots were definitely ready for some more space, but I don't feel like the plants were harmed any from crowding. 

I labeled some of my pots so I could keep track of varieties and other notes I though were worth keeping. This tomato plant was one that grew out of the bottom of a Jiffy pellet that I had pulled out and decided to transplant just to see what it would do. This photo was weeks later, and even now after 2 weeks in the garden dirt, you can't tell the difference between it and the rest of the tomato plants! 

This was another exciting success! I have tried every single year, for 4 years now, to plant flowers from seed. I finally got one to grow and BLOOM! Granted, it is just one, but it's one success. This marigold was a welcome sight! Unfortunately though, it did not survive the transplant into the garden, and I'm not even sure why. I guess we can always try again next year....

Adam has been my faithful helper and was excited to help carry plants from the greenhouse to the garden. He decided it was much more fun to carry them on top of his head. :)

He also enjoyed running the shovel digging the holes for the plants. We transplanted most of them in the evening when Aaron was home to help (and the one year old was in bed for the night), and I realized as I went to finish the next morning just how much longer it takes when I have a 17 month old to look over while also supervising the ambitious 2 year old single handedly. 

I was so confident I could do it by myself, but it was Daddy appreciation day. 
He does way more to help with our garden than I realized!

Due to not having enough stakes (and not wanting to buy more), we decided to try a stake-less method to caging tomatoes. We drove the cages into the ground a couple inches, and packed dirt around the bottom to hold them. Since we have an electric fence, we shouldn't have to worry about deer running into the cages, which was a problem we ran into last year when we thought for some reason it wasn't worth it to put the fence up. 

One week and a good rain or two after putting our garden in, the tomato plants were starting to bloom, and the corn was two inches tall. We had the perfect germinating weather! Our green beans, cucumbers, and okra didn't get in until at least a week later, and I have yet to see one of those popping out of the ground.  

This double corn plant is compliments of Adam, who thought he needed to plant his corn seeds right next to mine. 

Something we did different this year was take a little extra time for a better looking garden. We squared the edges, made it a little smaller for efficiency (we never planted the whole thing anyway), and made sure our rows were straight. Every year previously we thought we were planting straight rows only to realize the were at a terrible angle because of the odd shape of the garden. We have enjoyed looking at our garden this year already more than any other just because we took the time to do it right, which really wasn't much extra time, it just needed to be done. 

I'm looking forward to seeing what a difference these next couple weeks make, when we can see a garden full of neat, green rows!

Monday, May 7, 2018

New Adventures

One of our mutual dreams and goals back before we were married was to have a small farm where we could grow and raise nourishing food to feed the family we hoped to have one day. Now four years later we have a family, a garden, and as of this weekend, we finally have our jersey cow.

Our two year old is so excited to have a cow and a source for our very own fresh milk. He asks about the cow every day and has taken it as his responsibility to help dad milk in the evenings. After watching the routine only one time, he knew all there was to know about taking care of the milk after bringing it back into the house.

We started the cow on the pasture but after the first night when she just paced the fence line and bawled, we felt it was better for both the cow and our neighbors to put her in the barn to get her comfortable with us and her new surroundings before expecting her to stay calm out in the wide open by herself. She has been doing much better in the barn! We can't wait to get her out on the fresh spring grass though!

She is a very friendly cow who willingly follows and sticks by Aaron. She had been bottle-fed as a calf and somewhat babied by her previous owner. It's nice that we haven't had to work to get her to like people, but she's still not very comfortable with us milking her yet. She's got some stubborn mother in her that won't let all her milk down because we're not her babies! Hopefully she'll get used to the idea before too long, because we're certainly not overloaded with milk at our current yield of +/- 1 gallon a day. And I can't wait to have extra cream for butter! Now we're talking about getting another small animal so the cow isn't all alone out there. We enjoyed raising a lamb last summer, but haven't decided what else we'll get this year, or if we'll be adding to our farm for sure just yet.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Transplanting to Bigger Pots

Our tomato plants have taken off and are growing like crazy! It was high time we transplanted them into bigger pots before their roots were all intertwined in one big knot, so that's what my garden helper and I did over the weekend. 

Last year when I transplanted tomatoes, I used the little biodegradable cardboard cups. Those things can be pretty pricey, and we didn't have very good success with them, so I opted for a free pot option this year. 

We've been getting locally made butter in these little 16-oz. plastic containers. Instead of throwing them out, I saved them to use as transplant pots! Between these and some other random 16-oz. sour cream containers, I had more than enough for this years' crop. 

One of the biggest issues we had last year with the biodegradable pots were that we had a hard time controlling the moisture. The pots ended up soaking up all the water and rotting, leaving the soil inside either really wet or dry. Maybe I just didn't know how to take care of them, but one fail was enough for me to try something different.

In effort to get my watering and moisture levels better, I poked about 6 holes in the bottom of each of the containers with a nut pick. I made the holes more at the bend of the container rather than directly on the bottom so they wouldn't create a seal as they soaked up water. My idea was not just to drain excess water, but to be able to get watered from the bottom, so they could soak up just as much as they needed, and also to encourage the roots to grow deeper to find the water source. This should also eliminate any stem rot due to overwatering.

I started the seeds in these little Jiffy starter pellets (the best way to start seeds in my experience!) You can see the roots were ready for more soil! 

And this is what they looked like re-potted.

Here is what I used for transplant soil. I had told myself last year (after an unsuccessful growing season while using it) that I wouldn't be buying this stuff again, but I didn't know what else to get. Since I'd heard good things about it from other gardeners, I decided to give it another shot. And I went big and bought a cubic foot of it! It was much cheaper in bigger quantities and I figured between this year and next it'd get used. (Providing it actually did well for me this time!) 

So far I think it has been a major success. I am loving my new watering method! These plastic containers have worked so well! I'm beginning to wonder if it wasn't the cardboard pots that were my problem before, and not the soil.

My little buddy was a great help transplanting our seedlings. He has so enjoyed being a part of the gardening process! I was a little nervous letting him help with the fragile little plants at first, but we had extra and I wanted him to be able to help and learn, and he did really well! I could hand him the plants and leave him to do the rest on his own. He was so careful! 

Sadly, our peppers aren't doing so swell. They are only this tall after 5 weeks!!! Some of them just popped out of the soil a week ago. I'm kind of disappointed, since I need peppers but have never done well with them. I think I'll have to change my ways next year and either start them a month or two earlier or else put a heat lamp up. I'm tempted to go out and buy a couple plants from a greenhouse just to raise our chances of harvesting some.