Posts Tagged With: Food

Making the Most of Your CSA Share

CSA season is around the corner and I am very excited to start receiving a share again.  We have a month (plus or minus) until asparagus comes on!!  I would ideally love to grow everything we eat ourselves, but we just don’t have enough space.  And our CSA grows such beautiful, delicious food, I can’t resist signing up year after year. They take good care of their members, using a blog, Yahoo group and Facebook to help foster community.  They’ve even put together a cookbook full of recipes submitted by CSA members over the years.

All CSA’s are as different as the members and farmers who run them.  Since we are heading into our fifth year with Monroe Organic Farms, our CSA, I thought I’d offer up some of my best tips on making the most of your share.

1.  Open the bag and figure out what you have.  Most people get their share home after a long day at work.  It might be tempting to leave the bag sit until tomorrow, but it’s best to open your bag right away.  You will want to store some things right off the bat, and if there is anything delicate in there like lettuce or basil, you’ll want to get it in cool water or the fridge right away.  There’s nothing worse than waiting a day or two to get to your share and finding you let your green beans wither and die in the summer heat.

2.  Wait to plan your weekly menu until you get your share.  I pick up my share on Tuesdays, so I wait until Wednesday to go to the grocery store or market.  I spend a lot less this way, and I can plan meals around what we received in our share.

3.  Wash and store everything the day you get it.  I do my washing outside.  The potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips and onions all have a lot of dirt on them.  I used to do it in the kitchen, but then I had to sweep, mop and clean the sink too.  Instead, I dump my share on the lawn, hose it off and then sort it into what I want to eat right away this week and what I’m going to freeze for later.  Freeze what you’re going to save right away so it’s frozen at it’s peak.  It’ll be just as fresh when you go to use it this winter.

4.  Read the newsletter!  Every week you’ll get a run down of everything included in the share, plus important updates on upcoming distributions and events with the farm.  If you read it you’ll know just what that odd looking vegetable is, and you might even get a recipe on how to use it!

5.  Use the cookbook.  Don’t know what to do with a celeriac?  How should you freeze your extra beans?  It’s in the cookbook.  What to do with all those potatoes?  Not sure you like beets?  Try a new recipe.  All the recipes in the Monroe cookbook are from farm members.  They’ve all been tested by real people here in your community.  You might just get a new favorite dish.

6.  Get involved.  Read the farm’s blog and Facebook page.  Contribute to the yahoo group or the calls for recipes.  Come to the Harvest Festival.  This is the community in community supported agriculture.

7.  Understand that some things are out of our hands.  Some years will be bountiful pepper years, some will be tomatoes, some will be melons.  Usually never all three at once.  You might have been dreaming all winter of your strawberries only to have them hailed out (please no!!), or you might feel like you can’t shuck one more ear of corn.  But such is life when you are relying on the weather to bring you the freshest local food.  Enjoy your melon now, for in November it will be gone.

8.  Visit the farm.  See where things grow.  Check out the chickens, help load the shares onto the truck.  Connect with what you’ve invested in on every level.  Take advantage of the U-pick crops and the harvest festival.  It’s fun, you’ll learn a lot, and you’ll go home with even more delicious fresh food.

9.  Be gracious:  Be on time, return your bags, call ahead if you can’t make it.  Remember that your farmers and the volunteers at your distribution center are people too.

Do you participate in a CSA?  What are your best tips for making the most of your share?  If you’ve arrived here from the Monroe blog, share with us your experiences, favorite part of the CSA and what you are looking forward to most this year!

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Categories: Community, CSA, Food, Sustainability | Tags: , , , , , | 14 Comments

Easy Roasted Asparagus Soup

Since spring is around the corner, we are making an effort to ensure we have room in the freezer for the coming crops.  The first thing in the freezer each year is asparagus.  When the asparagus comes on, we try to eat as much of it as we can, but we usually put some aside for the dark days of winter when we need a soup to warm us and remind us that yummy green things are just around the corner.

The other night, I used the last of the frozen asparagus in this simple soup.  It’s a variation on one I posted a couple of years ago.

First, cut three pounds of frozen asparagus into one to two-inch long pieces.  Peel and smash six to eight cloves of garlic.  Divide the asparagus and garlic between two baking sheets and toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and dried thyme.  Roast in the oven at 450° for about twenty minutes or so (keep an eye on it, I didn’t time it exactly), or until the asparagus starts getting nicely toasted.

The above picture isn’t quite done enough for me yet.  When you have roasted it long enough, transfer your roasted asparagus and garlic to a large pot.  Use a small amount of water in your baking sheets to get up all the brown bits from the roasting and pour that into the pot with your asparagus.

Add enough water to your pot to cover the asparagus and bring to a boil.  Make a slurry of 3 Tablespoons of flour and about half a cup of cold water.  Whisk into your soup.  Return it to a boil, reduce the heat and let it simmer for five or six minutes.  After it has thickened a bit, use an immersion blender to purée it smooth (or transfer to a regular blender in batches).

At this point you could actually cool and freeze the soup.  But if you are serving it right away (of course you are), ladle it into bowls and give each bowl a squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of heavy cream.  Serve with some cheesy toast and enjoy.

Categories: Recipes | Tags: , | 6 Comments

2012 Independence Days Challenge

Last week, Sharon Astyk announced that she’d be bringing back her Independence Days Challenge.  Whew!  I was excited about it!  If you’ve read my blog for more than a year, you know, I’ve participated in her challenge since 2010.

The challenge is to make small steps, every week, every day if you can, towards food independence.  And then record them.  There is no lamenting what you haven’t done, and in contrast to challenges where doing as much as you can takes the stage, the Independence Days challenge shows that small things do add up and everyone can do something.

The steps are recorded in several categories…

Plant Something: Planting isn’t done just once a year when you are looking to be independent.  Sharon tries to plant everyday from February to October.  Think seed starting, cold frames, season extension if you can.  February is a bit early for us, but we already have potatoes chitting so we can be ready to go in just a few weeks.

Harvest Something: From your garden, your nest boxes, the finished compost, foraging.  It all counts.

Preserve Something: In lots of parts of the country you can’t plant and harvest year round, including here in Colorado.  So you better put up what you can for the dark days of winter!  Canning and jamming, yes, but also drying, smoking, freezing, etc.

Waste Not:  Scraps given to the animals and/or compost pile fit here.  Also mending things instead of throwing them out.  Creating less garbage, making sure things don’t go to waste.

Want Not: Building up your long and short-term food storage falls into this category.  We bought a case of peanut butter, for example, or buying bulk grains goes here.  Also, I’ve put things like cloth diapers or second-hand clothes in this category.  Things that last and will need our needs over time.

Eat the Food: It’s tough to break the habit of buying a full menu’s worth of meals at the grocery store.  You have to think and make an effort to use up the book you have stored.  Eating from your pantry and your freezer, making full use of what you have.  Trying new recipes falls here too.  Eat what you’ve worked hard to grow and save!

Build Community Food Systems: Sharon sums it up like this: “What have you done to help other people have better food access or to make your local food system more resilient?”  I include things here like gardening with the neighbors, giving talks about gardening, CSAs, farmer’s markets, sharing food with people in an effort to get them to take their own steps towards self-reliance.

And a new category (I’m so excited about this one) -

Skill Up: from big things like building a beehive or cold frame, to smaller things like starting seeds or researching new ideas.  Record in this category what you’ve done to add to your own arsenal of skills.

Over the last two years, I have recorded our steps in a weekly blog post (see them all here).  But this year, I’m thinking of recording them a little differently.  Look to the right, over there in my side bar.  I’ve decided to keep a running total over there.  I’ll still post Independence Days updates, but probably less regularly than weekly.  We’ll see how it goes.  I’m flexible.  But I like the idea of watching it all add up in one place.

I’d love it if you decide to join the challenge too.  I really like seeing the small things add up.

For more info on the Independence Days Challenge, make sure to read Sharon’s post.

Categories: Food, Independence Days | Tags: , , | 10 Comments

Boot Camp Bonus: A Well Stocked Pantry

Yesterday I mentioned keeping a reasonably well stocked pantry in order to allow for some flexibility in my meal planning.  I got to thinking about what a well stocked pantry looks like.  It will probably different for every household, and it varies for us as well, depending on season, tastes, moods, how well we stocked up last year, etc.

In general, this is what I came up with for our version of a well stocked pantry (in no particular order).

  1. Oats – I keep a half gallon to gallon size container of oats on hand at all times.  Sometimes I switch between steel cut oats and rolled oats, but I have found that rolled oats are more versatile.   These whole grains make oatmeal, of course, but they can be added to desserts (cookies, crisps), muffins, breads, and are the base for home made granola.  They are insanely less expensive than boxed cereals, and better for you too.
  2. Rice – I use both white and brown rice, and at times I’ve kept quinoa on hand instead.  Rice is a great belly filler, another whole grain, and it keeps.  Good with stir-fries, in soups and stews, as a side dish, the star of risotto, and Rick even eats it for breakfast with butter and cinnamon.
  3. Canned beans – the hero of emergency meals.  Dried beans are far cheaper, and we keep them on hand too, but canned beans can be used instantly with no soaking or hours of cooking.  We add them to up the protein on pasta dishes and soups, sprinkle them over salads, as easy finger-food lunches for the kids, we let them star in vegetarian meals.  Keeping beans on hand saves the day if I forget to defrost meat for dinner.
  4. Olive oil & balsamic vinegar – Together, they make an easy, delicious and cheap salad dressing.  Separately, olive oil can be used for nearly everything we cook.  I do keep other oils on hand too, but if I had to keep only one, olive oil would be it.  The balsamic can be used in other ways too.  A friend brought over a dessert once of mascarpone cheese spread on sugar cookies, topped with sliced strawberries and drizzled with balsamic reduction (heaven).  I use balsamic as a secret ingredient in certain soups and other dishes.
  5. Broth – you can’t really make risotto without it and it makes soups super fast.  It’s a decent substitute for white wine in a pinch.  It’s a fast way to up your flavor without much effort.
  6. Canned tomatoes – if I’m crunched for time or feeling lazy, you can bet I’m reaching for a jar or can of tomatoes.  They can become anything.  I use them for enchilada sauce, pasta sauce, pizza sauce, soup, stew, chilli, roasted with other veggies, you name it.  This is a true staple for us.
  7. Onions and/or garlic – the other day I told Rick, “We’re out of onions.  I can’t make anything without an onion!”  I know, strictly speaking, onions and garlic are perishable, probably not really “pantry” food, but stored well, they last a long time and I really feel like I can make anything taste good if I have an onion or garlic.  This makes my mom laugh.  When I was a kid, I “hated” onions, I even gave my mom a homemade citation for using too many – her punishment was to not be allowed to use them for a whole week.  She was a good sport and went along.  I pray my children don’t ever punish me this way.  You can make rice and beans delicious with a little onion and garlic.  If times are tough, and your cupboard is nearly bare, you better have an onion.
  8. Dried herbs/spices – I love me some spices.  I can’t understand how people cook with nothing but salt and pepper.  An average spice rack should at least include thyme, rosemary, oregano, parsley, dill, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, savory, and cumin powder.  Mine better have extra red pepper flakes and Chimayo chili powder too.  You don’t have broth?  Make some with your meat, an onion, a bay leaf and some thyme, parsley, and savory.  Chili?  You need that cumin and those ground chilies.  Rosemary will make your plain ol’ rice and chicken amazing.  A bit of dried herbs go a long way, and they can make the most basic of meals delicious.
  9. Pasta – Another go-to for us.  It’s versatile, cheap, it keeps forever and I can buy it in bulk.  Sometimes I feel like the number of pasta dishes is limitless.
  10. Soy Sauce & rice vinegar – If you get tired of tomato based dishes, the cure is soy sauce and white vinegar.  The combo makes the best fried rice, and you can use them to make many Asian sauces.  Soup, Thai, stir fry, peanut sauce, marinade, jerky,  the list goes on.  Practice using the pair and you can impress anyone.

Obviously this list doesn’t cover baking basics like flour, which I almost added to the list.  But I’m curious how your pantry matches up to mine.  Is it similar?  Very different?  Did I miss something or surprise you?  Does your region or culture affect your list?  Tell me what is on your list of pantry staples.

Categories: Food, Simple Living, Top 5, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Tips to Make Menu Planning Manageable

To tell the truth making up a menu can be easy for a week or two, but then it can sometimes become a chore.  When it gets daunting, it helps me to remember a few things to make it a bit more manageable.

1.  Take turns.  At least two nights a week, my husband does the cooking, and plans what we eat those days.

2.  Make a routine.  During the summer especially, we have homemade pizza every Friday.  I make large batches of pizza dough and freeze it in one pound balls.  We use it as a way to clean up any left over veggies.  That means we have weird sounding, but delicious tasting pizza.  Steak, onion, and bell pepper;  tomato, basil and chard; potato and rosemary; eggplant, thyme and Swiss cheese; etc.  This makes every Friday a given on the menu.  Combine with whatever my husband has planned, now I only have to think of four more meals.

3.  Be flexible.  Keeping my pantry reasonably well stocked means that if I really don’t feel like fixing what I had planned on the day I planned it, I can usually go another direction without impacting the rest of the week’s meals.  Also, if your neighbor invites you over, feel free to delay you menu by a day.  It’s ok to plan take out once in a while.  Give yourself a night off.  The plan is more like a guideline, really.

4.  Use those bulk purchases.  The elk needs to get used up.  So I make sure to plan one or two meals a week using elk meat.  This removes still more brain damage in coming up with a plan, because I only have so many meals I can make out of red meat.  In the winter, there are lots of stews, chilli, steak.  The summer, we use less, mainly grilling, always with a big salad, sometimes stir fried or fajitas.  When I had to get us through a hog, we had pork a couple times a week too.

5.  Cook once, eat twice.  Plan for left overs.  Your pork roast on Monday becomes Wednesday’s pulled pork sandwich.  Tuesday’s left over pasta becomes Thursday’s frittata.  Cook a little extra early in the week to make it easier on yourself later, when your willpower starts wavering.

What tips do you have for making and sticking to a menu plan.

Categories: Menu Planning, Thrift, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

UH Boot Camp: Eating Well without Breaking the Bank

Yesterday I talked about the basics of making a budget.  For today’s urban homestead boot camp, I wanted to give you my best tips for saving money on your food bill while still eating well. Some things, to really save money, do take some investment up front, but the pay off in the long run is well worth it.  Other things are simpler, they can be started right away.  But first let me share what I think eating well means.

By “eating well” what I mean is eating real food.  Food that doesn’t come out of a box, that was raised and prepared with care.  Top Ramen is not eating well.  To me, sustainability is important, as is cost.  Eating sustainably means different things to different people.  To some, it means eating all organic, even if your bananas came half way around the world.  To others, local is most important.  And I know what it’s like when you have really limited funds.  Sometimes whatever is cheapest starts to look appealing.  For me, the most sustainable means locally grown without chemicals and pesticides.  An organic certification is optional.

So, how to get those things while not breaking the bank?

Things that take some investment upfront:

A freezer.  This is a tool that can save your bacon.  And beans.  And everything else.  You can freeze most things.  If you find a really great deal on some chicken, it makes sense to buy a little extra and put what you’re not going to use right away into the deep freeze for another day.  Freezers are pretty inexpensive and run more efficiently than most refrigerators.  Check craigslist or freecycle.  You can get a great deal.  Even our chest freezer from the 80′s runs more efficiently than our fridge did.  We have two.  Both were given to us; hand me downs from relatives.

Joining a CSA.  Community Supported Agriculture, where you buy a “share” of a farm’s predicted crop before it is even planted.  You and the other CSA members front money for a farmer to plant and then, along with the farmer, share in the risks and rewards of the weather.  In my experience, this is an incredible investment.  The farm we’ve been with for the last five years has never had a bad year.  Of course you are betting on nature, a crop might be totally wrecked by hail.  But you are also sharing in the reward when things are good.  Some are bumper years for bell peppers or corn, while the beans didn’t make it.  But we always get WAY more than we paid for.  Local and organic.  Our CSA also sells optional shares of fruit, honey, eggs and meat.

Oh, and when you are getting way more than you can eat in a week, you can put the surplus in your freezer for the winter.  January is the time to call CSA farms.  Farms are filling memberships as I type this, so check around.  Some farmers will even work out a payment schedule with you if the fee is too much for you to pay all at once.

Hunting or buying meat in bulk.  Both of these methods do the same thing; receiving a whole animal at one time.  You better have a freezer first.  When we bought a hog a couple years ago we paid about $400 for the whole animal.  This worked out to about $1.33 a pound for bacon, hams, pork chops, shoulder roasts, pork loin, lard, everything.

Hunting requires a skill set, equipment, time and licenses.  It’s not complicated, but you will need to attend a hunter’s safety course and get access to land (and a gun) in the fall.  The cost is slightly harder to figure, but not counting the gun my husband already owns to hunt with, we spent about $360 on licenses and gasoline for various hunting trips.  We have an entire elk in the freezer to show for it.  Roughly $1.44 per pound of lean red meat, said and done.  Some years, it’s much less expensive, depending on success rates.  And some years, we’ve gotten nothing.

For either meat option, now is a good time to look into it.  Local farmers and ranchers are taking orders, and you need to buy hunting licenses in advance (April here in Colorado).

While I’m talking about buying in bulk, I’d also like to mention that once a year we drive to an orchard to pick peaches.  It’s a far drive, to the western slope, so we make it count.  We spend about $400 on 300 pounds of peaches, including gas.  We race home with the A/C blasting and then spend the next week slicing and preserving peaches.  The majority of them get frozen, though we jam and can some too.  But these peaches last us a whole year.  So investigate local U-Pick farms.  We do the same on a smaller scale for berries and cherries.

Things that everyone can do now:

Make a meal plan for the week.  I used to plan a month’s worth of meals at a time, but that can be daunting, and over time I’ve realized that weekly works better for us.

Plan meals that are in season.  This is easy with a CSA.  Apples are least expensive in the fall, strawberries are cheapest in the spring.  If you want asparagus in August, you’re going to pay a lot for it at the market (and it won’t taste all that great).   This puts us eating things that are in season the majority of the time.  In season means relatively inexpensive.  We pretty much don’t eat bananas.

Use up what you have.  Until you get into the habit, it’s easy to keep ignoring the beans in the back of the pantry or the sausage in the bottom of the freezer.  Get into the habit of planning meals the use what you’ve already purchased.  You’ll spend less at the grocery if you aren’t buying what you already have.

Plan to eat less meat.  Meat costs more than other forms of protein.  Use meat more like a side dish.  Try adding one more vegetarian meal to your menu per week than you normally make.  Try making chili with black beans or stir fry with eggs.  Over the last few years we went from eating meat at dinner every night to eating meat only three – four times a week.

From your meal plan, make a grocery list.  And stick to it. This keeps me from impulse buying.  Also, it cuts down on incidental/emergency trips to the store which end up costing a lot more over time.

If the store that I’m going to has a double ad day, I’ll go on that day, but I don’t usually plan my meals around the ads.  I just figure if I go on that day I double my chances of finding things on sale.

I don’t use coupons at all.  There are never any coupons for bulk rice or apples or pork loin.  I can’t recall seeing one for milk.  Coupons usually make me feel compelled to buy things that I would not normally put on my list.  They are always for things in boxes or bags, things with weird ingredients.  Things that are processed and full of chemicals…

Buy whole foods. Processed foods are expensive.  Potato chips cost more than potatoes.  Rice-a-Roni costs more than rice.  Pasta and milk is cheaper than a package of noodles with a powdered sauce.  Not to mention a billion times better for you.

Buy foods from the bulk bins.  When you buy a pound of rice or oatmeal in a box or bag, guess what.  You care paying for that box.  And for the marketing of that box.  It’s much less expensive to buy oats from the bulk bin.  There is no packaging to pay for.  No labels, no marketing, and no weird ingredients.  And if you buy or make your own reusable bags, there is no waste either.

There you have it.  Those are my big tips for saving money on food.  Between the meat in the freezer, the vegetables from the garden and the CSA, and eggs from the chickens, there are times I can spend $30 at the store for the week.  All I’m buying at that point is dairy and grains.  But it takes time to get to that point.  And I’ve already invested money up front.

What does your family do?

Categories: CSA, Food, Hunting, Menu Planning, Thrift, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments

Vegetable Gardening Basic Training Part II

Welcome to part two of your first week of Urban Homesteading Boot Camp.  Yesterday I talked about the basics of selecting and preparing a site for your vegetable garden.  Today, we’ll cover layout, crop rotation, and, the best parts: planting and maintaining.

If you are planting in pots, the scale on all of this will be much, much less.  ;)

Garden Layout
Once you have decided what to grow in your garden, you need to decide where in the garden to grow it.  One of the first things to consider is the height of the plants, at their maturity, that you intend to grow.  This is more important than companion planting because, as some friends of mine learned the hard way, while carrots do love tomatoes, carrots also love sunlight.  So first think about what grows high up and what stays low.  Tomatoes can get very tall, so can pole beans, corn, and cucumbers if you trellis them.  Summer squash can also shade out neighbors with their big leaves.  Most of the root crops  stay low, as well as the peppers and lettuces; even peas can be kept pretty compact. You will want to plant low growing things to the south of high growing things (here in North America, obviously).

You can see from my garden plan that I made in 2009, I did just that:  Tall tomatoes in the back along the north border, middle size squash next, and short onions, kohlrabi and beets at the bottom on the south edge.  It worked great.

But I bet if you read my post in October on crop rotation, you spotted the problem with the layout.  If not, here was my 2010 garden plan:

See the problem yet?  Tomatoes up top, squash and peppers in the middle, and onions and kohlrabi along the bottom.  I did this also in 2006 and 2007.  Yeah.  Some people are thicker than others.  It took me a while on this one.

Finally, finally, I wised up.  I had to turn my beds 90 degrees.  You can see this year’s plan is much better for crop rotation.

Crop Rotation
So yes, it took me years and years to find a way to rotate our crops.  But why is it so important?  Most of the veggies we like to grow in our gardens come from certain plant families.  There are about nine families for the main crops most people like to plant.

  1. Tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant
  2. Peas and beans
  3. Cucumber, squash and melons
  4. Spinach, beets and chard
  5. Cabbages, kale, kohlrabi, turnips and broccoli (the brassicas – they only “real” family name I know)
  6. Onions, leeks and garlic (oh wait, I know two, these are alliums)
  7. Sunflowers, lettuce and other leafy greens
  8. Carrots, celery, parsley, parsnips
  9. Corn, rye, oats, wheat

The varieties in each family need similar nutrients to grow, and they are susceptible to the same diseases and pests.  So if you plant your tomatoes in the same place year after year, you can expect them to deplete their soil and/or die from a disease.  If you rotate things though, the nutrients that the tomatoes take from the soil in 2012 will get replaced by another plant, say beans, the next year.  And if a tomato disease came knocking at the end of 2012, the 2013 beans might not get it, since they aren’t necessarily open to the same sicknesses.  Make sense?

Clearly, it is pretty important to switch things up.  Your original layout needs to accommodate this, and you have to think a few years ahead.  Here is what I’ve done with our 2012 garden.

First I oriented the beds so the tall stuff didn’t always have to go in the same place (North is at the top of the page).  Then, the coup de grâce – sticky-notes.  Yep. Instead of writing in my plants, I put each thing we want in the garden on its own sticky-note.  You can tell, I love tomatoes.  The little circled letter corresponds to a plant family.  Now I can arrange and rearrange, and rotate. 

Yes, I know, I have more veggies than room in my garden for them.  Decisions are hard around here.  That’s why I’ve enlisted the neighbor’s yard.  ;)

When playing with your layout and rotation, don’t forget about plant height.  In 2008, I tried rotating things in that old layout by switching the tomatoes to the bottom (the southern edge).  Guess what – nothing grew because the tall plants shaded out everything else.  Learn from my mistakes, grasshopper.

Here’s where I want to take a minute to mention square foot gardening.  Square foot gardening is a very good way to get a lot of plants into a small space.  It would probably be a great way to keep things rotating as well.  I am not very good at it, I’ll be honest.  I lack the self control.  ;)  But if you have a very small space, you should consider it.  It looks like a great way to pack a lot into a small area.

So, to the planting.

Planting
First off, I’m totally skipping the starting seeds indoors thing.  I’m sorry if this is a big disappointment.  I only began gardening when Rick and I moved to this house 8 years ago, and we have no good place at all to start seeds indoors.  I’m thinking of getting some lights this year, but so far all my seed starts have failed.

Because of this, we buy seeds to sow directly in the ground for most things, but we buy already started tomato and pepper plants from the garden center.  The growing season in Colorado is a bit short to start these outside if you want much of a harvest.

To plant your seeds, read your seed packets.  Planting depth is important.  From the tip of your finger to your first knuckle is about one inch; the depth you would want to plant peas.  I am somewhat flexible with plant spacing, however.  If my packet says to plant seeds every six inches in rows 18 inches apart, I just go with six inches in any direction.  I know, I’m a rule breaker.  But it seems to work just the same for us, and I want to conserve space as much as possible.

Some seed packets tell you to plant in hills.  Squash like hills.  Tomatoes do too.  So, for the first timers, this is what a row is (notice Henry, spacing rows with a yardstick – it’s ok to measure if it helps you):

And this is a hill:

I use my fingers or the side of my hand to make rows for most seeds, but I use a hoe to make a row for things that should be planted deeper than an inch.  I just drag one corner of  the hoe in a straightish line where I want the row to be.  The line is sort of a valley with the extra soil piled up along the sides.  Drop the seeds into the valley and use the soil next to the line to cover them.  Don’t use all the extra soil, especially if your seeds should be planted shallowly.  Some of that soil will be used to make the sides of your row so that it will hold water.  Tap the soil down well with your hands, making a long trench that will retain water to feed your seeds.

To make a hill, I use the back of a rake.  And by I, I mean Rick.  Not that it’s hard, it just seems to be Rick’s job.  Anyway.  Rick pulls the soil with the rake into a mound, and then we use our hands to sort of flatten the top, and move the dirt until it’s sort of a crater.  You plant inside the crater, not around the sides.  This is a nice bowl to hold water for your seeds or little baby plants.  We usually plant one tomato per hill and we plant three summer squash in a (larger) hill.

Then what?  You guessed it – water your seeds.  Water them well.  Give everything a good soaking.  Then wait a couple of minutes and soak everything again.  Don’t use hard jets of water – sprinkle or use a soaker or drip hose.  You don’t want to wash your seeds away.

Now is the time to set your tomato cages and trellises around your plants.  As the plants grow, thread them up through the cage, so they don’t break off any vines, or so the tomato doesn’t shoot off to one side.

Maintenance
After planting, there are three things left to do to keep your garden on track: watering, thinning, and weeding.

Your baby seedlings and newly planted seeds need to stay moist.  We like to use a drip system for our garden, which basically consists of a back-flow preventor at the spigot, and a bunch of tubing with little plastic drip heads on the ends where each plant is for the hills and lengths of pre-drilled drip-tube for the rows.  The heads release so much water per hour.  We love it because it conserves water and only puts water at the plants so it cuts down on weeds.  And, I just have to step out the door, turn on the spigot, and it waters everything for me.  I have three kids, people.

The drip system is not complicated, but explaining it thoroughly could be a post in it of its self.  (Perhaps in the near future?)

Anyway, that is one method for watering.  We have also watered by hand with the hose many a season, and last year our neighbor put his corn and potatoes on a timer connected to his sprinkler system.  Bottom line is during the summer you need to water.  Here in Colorado, we need to water everyday.  Technically, it’s an arid climate here.  If you live in the rainforest, gauge your water accordingly.

All that water will make your seeds sprout into seedlings.  And you will have to thin them.  That means, heartlessly grabbing those tender green shoots and ripping them from the ground (gently – don’t kill the ones you want to leave).  You have to give your plants room to grow.  If you leave every carrot seedling growing, you’ll get lots of tops and no carrots.  So leave one strong-looking seedling every few inches for your root crops.  And for heaven sakes, thin your zucchini.  It’s really, really hard the first time.  But just do it.  Now is the time to nut up or shut up.  ;)

And weeding.  You have to rip ‘em out too.  They will grow fast and steal your veggie’s water, sunlight and room.  Take ‘em down.  Show no mercy, troops.  Defend your hills!  And your trenches!  If you do a little everyday, the enemy won’t gain any footing in your garden.

Questions?

Categories: Garden, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

Getting Kids to Eat Their Veggies

This weekend our boys, once again, amazed friends by eating vegetables.  And it wasn’t even pizza. They ate winter squash, green beans, salad (with garlic, cilantro and cabbage), sliced kolhrabi, beets…

We always get comments on this, apparent, oddity.  Our five-year old and two-year old beg us for carrots and green beans.  I’ve been known to complain to my sister that H ate all  the carrots and now I don’t have enough for tonight’s dinner.  And I’ve had to hide tomatoes from them.

People always ask how we got them to be this way.  My number one rule is that I’m not a short order cook.  What I make for dinner is what we all eat together.  No exceptions.  Besides that, here are my tips on how to get your kids to eat their vegetables:

  1. Grow Veggies.  It is cool to see something go from seed to plant to fruit to table.  Let them plant.  Let them water.  Let them harvest.  I betcha they’ll eat it.  If I ask H which vegetables taste the best, the ones from the garden or those from the store, his answer is not surprising… the garden!
  2. Let Them Shop.  After the garden, H likes vegetables in this order:  “The Farm” (our CSA), the farmer’s market, then the store.  He loves knowing where his food comes from.  Our dinner conversation typically involves some, “where is this from” Q & A.  He is more invested in the farm vegetables, because he has seen the ground it was grown in.  The farm is fun.  He like the farmers market because we talk it up, and because he usually gets to pick something out to take home.  But even at the grocery store, he gets to weigh in on choices.  “Would you rather have kale or broccoli for dinner this week?”  Making a choice, gives them an investment in eating the vegetable later.
  3. Let them cook. Even little kids can pull up a step stool and wash carrots and potatoes.  Older kids can stir the onions as they sauté.  If they’ve helped make it, they are more likely to want to help eat it.  Putting work into it makes it more appealing.
  4. Eat YOUR Veggies.  Kids don’t buy the “do as I say, not as I do” garbage.  They will do what you do.  If I hear my kids saying something I don’t like, chances are they heard it from me first.  Same goes for food.  If you don’t like something, only eat a bite or two.  But eat some, and eat it with a happy face.  This applies to your partner too.  If Dad doesn’t want to eat the green stuff, you kids probably won’t either.
  5. Offer Veggies.  I know that I’ve already grown tired of hearing “Can we have a snack?”  But I know I can grab the bag of green beans from the ice box and they can go to town.  This is because I say, “Sure, would you guys like green beans or carrots?”  They usually say yes to both.  If I offered green beans or bunny crackers, they’re going to pick the crackers.  So I don’t offer the crackers.
  6. Remember, Tastes Change. Remind them of that too.  Just because they didn’t like it last time, doesn’t mean they won’t like it this time.  Babies and children need to try foods several times before they really know if they like them or not.  At every meal, they have to at least try every thing that is served.  This is good practice as adults too, and it’s great for teaching good manners as a dinner guest – just because you don’t like Mom’s potato salad, doesn’t mean you won’t like Mrs. Dickinson’s.  You need to at least try a bite.  It’s polite, and you might be surprised.
  7. Don’t Buy Junk.  Just don’t.  If potato chips aren’t available, they’ll eat an apple instead.  You will too.  ;)

The recurring theme here is investment.  The more work they put into their food, the more they will want to get out of it.  And you can’t argue with delicious results.  We don’t draw battle lines with food, but we do negotiate.  This summer, the only vegetable H really didn’t like was zucchini.  That was tough at first.  I still made lots of zucchini.  But at every meal, I told him, he didn’t have to eat all of it, but he had to try it.  By the end of the summer, he had no problem with it.  It still wasn’t his favorite.  I put one into a late ratatouille, and when he asked for seconds, he said, “but no zucchini, please.”  I’m ok with him picking it out, especially on seconds.   Especially because he ate some with his first serving.

It’s not automatic.  We still have to remind them to try things.  Sometimes although I offer two veggies, they ask for crackers.  But generally, it works.  You too can amaze your friends!  ;)

Moms, what are your tips for getting the greens into your kids?

Categories: CSA, Food, Garden, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

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