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Showing posts from March, 2013

Happy Easter!

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Most of our Easter weekend was celebrated out in the garden, digging and planting and enjoying the first warm, sunny weekend of the spring. I'll share more on our progress later, but today I wanted to show off the ways in which our chickens contributed to the day:

We saved a dozen of our cleanest eggs for Easter egg painting. This wasn't easy over the last couple weeks, as our chickens have been out working, scratching up the dirt in our garden beds to prepare them for planting. Kirk and I leave for work earlier than the chickens are accustomed to laying, so that often means they end up laying their morning eggs in the dirt. It's not typically a problem, unless you want really pretty eggs (which, of course, we did).
The eggs above are the ones I painted. I used a white paint pen. That's not an approved food-safe method, I'm sure, but I only used an itty bit, and I lived to tell the tale, after noshing on these:

Because really, the only appropriate use for Easter e…

New Cold Frames

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Over the weekend, Kirk built a new cold frame:

Our old cold frames (one of which you can see to the right of the new one in the photo above) are full of plants from the winter and some salad-y seedlings we started at the beginning of March, so we need a few more to keep our early succession plantings going. Also, our old cold frames were built for our old garden, so they have a few weaknesses that we wanted to correct with the new ones. 
First, our old cold frames are only three feet deep, which doesn't exactly cover four-foot deep beds. 
Second, they are covered with a fairly random assortment of old storm windows. While these are effective, we have also lost several to the wind since they aren't attached, but rather held down by bricks.
Third, they are really, really heavy. They're about eight feet long and made of 2x12 boards, so once they are a giant pain to move around. 
They certainly work, but we wanted to customize the new ones for our current garden space.

Obviou…

Finally, A Flower

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The snow hasn't completely melted from last week's final-day-of-winter storm, but look what I found in the perennial border this afternoon:

That is one small Siberian squill that has opened. Lots of others have popped up in the border, and by Easter we should have lots of these friendly little blue faces to remind us that spring is here.
At last.
And that is all.

Working Girls

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If you're not interested in dirt, this might not be the blog post for you. But if you are, you might be interested in our fine-tuned chicken tractoring process.

First, our fall-planted cover crop is winter rye:


This is probably a much tougher cover crop than we needed in our raised beds, which don't face much of an erosion threat. I chose it mainly because we planted it pretty late and it was sure to germinate even in colder temperatures. Next year we will probably choose something with a much lighter root system so it will be easier to turn. 
With the snow we've had, there are some intermediate steps about shoveling off beds to let the sun melt the rest of the snow and dry out the soil so the chickens aren't mired in mud, but in general the next step is to get the chickens on the rye grass in their portable run:

Our chicken tractor is about four feet wide by eight feet long, and with four chickens in it for the day, we've discovered it takes them about two days t…

Forcing It

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Over the weekend, we put a tunnel over half of our asparagus bed:

To do this, Kirk hammered a stake into the dirt first to make some guide holes for the PVC. We don't normally need to do that, but this early in the season the dirt isn't thoroughly warmed and soft. The idea here is that the heat that is strapped under the plastic will trick our asparagus into coming up earlier than it normally would. This will hopefully extend our harvest by a few weeks, and we'll still have the other half of the asparagus coming up at its natural time. 
Good thing we got that in place, because we are suffering all kinds of soil setbacks, with yet another day of snow yesterday. Here's what it looks like today:

So at least half of our asparagus bed is protected and warming on this, the official first day of spring. As you can see in the photo above, we had to shovel snow off of the raised bed in the foreground. We didn't do that for the whole garden, but we did take the time to clea…

Onion Haircuts

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It is cold. It's been cold all weekend. Tomorrow it will snow, and we are expecting so much that the state had to reschedule the MCAS exam (our statewide, bullshit standardized test). 
Major prognostication fail, Punxsutawny Phil.
And so we wait. Seedlings are popping up in the cold frames and on the windowsills, and they are doing well despite the freezing temps. So well, in fact, that the leeks and onions are rather in need of a haircut:

These are our red onion seedings, which we planted about six weeks ago. As you can see, they are floppy and unruly. (The leeks are far better behaved, standing upright like good little soldiers — yet another example of their superiority.)
Once onions and leeks get to be over four or five inches high, you can trim them back so they aren't so top heavy. This is a finesse job, because you have to ever-so-carefully untangle and lift up individual leaves, which are still pretty delicate. After their haircut (which I performed with kitchen shears…

Sweet Winter Parsnips

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Now that the ground has softened up, we can get to our parsnips again:

They are still alive and perfectly well under the straw mulch. After frost and freezing, they are much sweeter, so if you can wait — and don't mind working in the cold and chipping through some semi-frozen ground at times — it's worth it. Fall crops like kale, arugula, turnips, and parsnips create a lot of sugar when the temperatures drop because sugars keeps the plants from freezing — and therefore from dying. Think of how juice just gets slushy when you put it in the freezer, and you have an idea of how this works as a natural protection. All of that extra sugar makes these crops worth waiting for, especially if you protect them further in a cold frame, tunnel, or under mulch. Nothing from a store tastes like these:

If you've never had one, parsnips taste kind of like a cross between a sweet potato (ours do anyway — that's how sweet they've gotten), but with the texture and aroma of a carrot.…

Herbal Apothecary: Conditioning Vinegar Rinse

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Remember when I made my own shampoo? Well, now I have some conditioner to go along with it. It's an herbal vinegar rinse, and it's really easy to make — as long as you're not in a hurry.
Mine is based on Rosemary Gladstar's recipes for vinegar rinses from her book Herbs for Natural Beauty, but you can also check out an adaptation of that basic recipe here. All you need are enough herbs to fill a quart jar half way up, then enough cider vinegar to fill it to the top. Easy.


The herbs I chose were sage and rosemary, and a bit of comfrey, which are the same ones I used in my homemade shampoo. The comfrey is for conditioning; the sage and rosemary for scent and for brunette hair. You could also try chamomile and calendula for conditioning blonde hair, which I may try in the summer for a seasonal change of pace when my hair gets more sun-bleached.
It's a little hard to tell in the photo above, but I came up with a simple system for keeping the herbs submerged in the vin…

Upgrade: French Leek Soup

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Winter is drawing to a close — yes! — and that means that we are down to our last leek. That means we'll be out of onion-y flavors in our cooking until we have scallions next month. What to do as a fitting memorial to the last leek? 
French leek soup.
I know that you've had a cheese-laden crock of French onion soup at a restaurant. It's yummy, but most of what you're tasting is probably just salt. You can do better by upgrading to homemade French leek soup. It's easier, healthier, and has a much more subtle flavor. Here's what you need:

1 large or 2 medium leeks (what I have here really isn't big enough, but it's all I had left) 3-4 tablespoons of butter  1 tablespoon brown sugar 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce salt and pepper to taste PLUS 1 carton of low sodium beef broth 
Step one: Cut the leek in half lengthwise and put the flat ends face down. Then slice into thin strips:

The leeks will separate into their layers when you cook them, and they will …

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Another Day, Another Foot of Snow

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Just when we thought we were out of the woods — snow from the blizzardalmost all melted, chickens making short work of early spring tilling chores, and seeds planted in cold frames — this happened:

We're coming up on another foot of snow falling here. Sheesh.
I know that weather forecasters aren't infallible, but maybe they could dispense with the hype so we'd take them seriously when it counts. The forecast for this snow went from being kinda accurate, to major eye-roll-enducing "snowquester" hype, to backpedaling from the hype, to actual reality.
Which is worse than the original prediction, which we were all told to ignore. 
Anyway, a foot of snow is a (pretty big) inconvenience for us, what with school being canceled and the inevitable shoveling (paths and now garden beds, so we can continue turning and prepping them once they dry out a bit). Also a snow day for the ladies, who were put to work yesterday thanks to the addition of the tarp on their chicken tra…

The White House Kitchen Garden

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Taking care of a sick kid opens up a little reading time, so I've been able to finish American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America, which Kirk picked up from the library a few weeks ago. 
As always, the best part of a gardening book is the photos, and this book has really beautiful ones, plus some nice renderings of the planting plans per season. There are also profiles of many other community gardens across the country, plus some seasonal recipes.
I liked the fact that this book shared the learning curve of maintaining a big vegetable garden — apparently even having the National Park Service on your side doesn't guarantee that things always go right! I also picked up some ideas to improve our hoop houses over the winter. Check out this photo from obamafoodorama:

These use giant wooden battens along the ground over which is rolled the ends of the plastic. Then those are held in place with sandbags. I'm not quite sure off the top o…

Planting Cool Season Rows

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This weekend we got our cold frame back in place over the soil we managed to turn last weekend:

As you can see, we added a new frame on the end. We have what seems to me much more than our fair share of blustery days here, and back in December the wind took out more of the old storm windows that we use to cover our cold frames. That incident finally left us with no more back-ups, and one less than we need to cover the whole cold frame. 
For a free fix, Kirk used some scrap wood to build a frame the size of the gap, then stapled some plastic around it. It's not at all pretty, but it should serve the purpose. We'll see how it holds up in the rain and snow — we may need to put some leftover chicken wire or a crosspiece to support the plastic if it starts to get weighed down in the middle. This should get us through the spring, and over the summer we plan to build some new cold frames that will be sized properly for these beds anyway.
Once the cold frame was ready to go, all we n…

Aerial View: March 1, 2013

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All that snow from the blizzard (three weeks ago now) is mostly melted. We've been able to work some of the soil, have sown a few seeds, and are planning to start work on beds in the swingset and driveway quadrants this weekend. We'll start with the spots where peas will be sown at the end of the month. Once the chickens dispatch with our cover crop, things should look much nicer for next month's aerial view.

The swingset quadrant.

The patio quadrant.

The driveway quadrant.

The workshop quadrant.