25 March 2013

Extending the Growing Season

We have a 240 day growing season here in the Piedmont of North Carolina, but because I know my climate and am prepared for its whims, I can garden 365 days a year. Of course, I am not picking tomatoes in December, but the garden beds are full of greens, cabbages, root crops and crops that have very long seasons like leeks and garlic, and we are eating out of the garden every day all winter long. We do this through plant selection, ground preparation and on demand shelter.

 In order to grow some of the more tender cool weather crops, or to give newly planted starts a little shelter while they get established, we devised a greenhouse tunnel system that we use on our raised beds as we see the need for them. We have similar systems at the ready during the sweltering days of summer, but since it is cold right now I will talk about our winter bag of tricks for extending the winter growing season. Our garden beds are French Intensive, deep dug, raised beds. The beds are never walked on and they are fed copious quantities of organic matter through mulching and applying compost. The beds are four feet wide and depending on their location, range between 15 to 25 feet in length. The green house tunnels can be set up in a matter of a half hour or so, any time we see the need and will fit any of the beds we have in use.
A simple and inexpensive way to extend the growing season.

The green house tunnels are simple to set up and the material costs are minimal, as long as we are careful to take care of the plastic from year to year. We use a 100 foot long by 10 wide roll of 6 ml. plastic for the tunnel covers. We cut the roll into 5, 20 foot lengths. We seldom need to cover more than 5 beds at a time since many of the things we grow in the winter aren't bothered by freezing weather, so five tunnels is plenty. We start with 1 1/4" PVC plumbing pipe 10 feet long and cut it into 2 foot lengths with a PVC pipe cutter, (which we happen to own since we did our own plumbing, a hack saw will cut the pipe without any trouble, if you don't have a pipe cutter.) Then we drill a hole in the pipe 1 inch from the end through both sides of the pipe slightly larger in diamater than a 16 penny nail., (this hole is useful later when we are wanting to get the pipes out of the ground...more on that later). For the hoops we use 1/2 inch PVC pipe which is sold in 10 foot lengths. We  cut the pipe to 8 foot for short tunnels and use 10 foot pipes for tall tunnels. The 1 1/4 inch pipes are driven onto the ground with the drilled hole end up, using a heavy rubber mallot, (if you don't have a mallot, then use short a piece of 2x4, rest the 4 inch side flat on top of the pipe and hit the 2x4 with a hammer. Don't hit the pipe with a hammer without something to soften the blow it will split the pipe). Drive them into the ground until 3-4 inches of pipe remain above the soil. The pipes should be set opposing each other across the 4 foot wide span of the bed and driven in the ground at 3 foot intervals on each side of the bed.
The 1 1/4" sleeve pipe with the 1/2" hoop set in place.

The 1 1/4" sleeve pipes are in place opposite each other in the bed and  3 feet apart along the length of the bed.

The next step is to determine whether a tunnel needs to be tall or short, tall for things like Fava Beans and peas. short for lettuce, and other greens.Then put the appropriate length pipe in one hole and gently bend the pipe and slide it into the 1 1/4 inch sleeve pipe on the opposite side of the bed. It is easier to do this with two people, one on each side of the bed. If only one person is available, then start in the middle of the length of the bed and work your way towards the ends. This way you are not trying to reach over a hoop that is already set as you work your way from one side of the bed to the other. It is helpful to have a plastic clothes hanger with you so that you can set one side of the pipe, walk around the bed, (never walk on the beds!!), and reach across the bed using the hanger to hook the pipe and pull it to yourself. Bend the pipe gently and slide it into the sleeve pipe. Try to set the pipes at an even height all along the bed by sliding them up or down slightly inside the sleeve pipe until they are a uniform height. At this point it is time to weed the beds, plant your seedlings and water well.
Romaine that was started inside under lights is now in its new home in the garden. They will be given some shelter from the cold while they get established.
 When the bed is planted pull the 6 mil. plastic sheeting across the hoops, making sure to have it centered on the hoops so that an equal length of plastic drapes over side to side and end to end. Anchor one side of the plastic to the ground by laying boards, rocks, or other heavy objects along the length of the tunnel, then repeat on the opposite side, being sure to take out any slack to avoid sags that could catch water. Then gather the plastic together on the ends and twist to pull up any slack. pin with a board or other heavy object.
Place the plastic over the hoops and draw up tight to prevent sagging that could catch water or snow and collapse the tunnel.

As long as the days stay around freezing the plants will be safe and warm under the plastic, if the day is above 45degrees, then the plastic should be pulled back on one side to allow air circulation. It can get very warm inside the tunnels if the days are much above freezing, and you don't want to cook your seedlings, so make sure to monitor the daytime temps inside the tunnel. The other end of that is not to forget to cover the tunnels before nightfall if the night time temps are below freezing. As long as the tunnels are in use both day and night to cover the plants you won't have to water very often, since it creates it's own weather inside.Water will condense on the plastic during the day when the sun warms the air inside the tunnel and then when the temps. begin to cool off the water will "rain" back down on the plants. I check periodically every other day or so by sticking a hand under the plastic and poking my finger in the soil to see if it is moist. If it feels dry then I will pull back the plastic enough to get the watering wand in and water end to end. I haven't had to do that very often though. If you are pulling the cover back during the day then you will need to check the soil to see if you need to water before you cover them for the night.

These greenhouse tunnels can extend your growing season so you can grow crops all during the winter. Even in coldest climates the tunnels should give enough protection to grow cabbages, kale, greens, chard, and root crops, where it is too cold for growing things like lettuce, even with some shelter. The tunnels can be used for many seasons as long as care is taken to properly clean and dry the plastic before storing for the summer. The poles will last for years if they are cleaned and stored properly.
An unexpected snow storm covered the winter garden in several inches of snow, which didn't bother our winter hardy crops like cabbage and kale, but without the tunnel, our more tender salad greens may have been ruined. Fortunately, they were snugly tucked in to their greenhouse tunnel, safe and sound.

The tunnel may be covered with snow and the outside temps below freezing, but inside the lettuces are are protected from the inclement weather and the air temp is above freezing.

By using greenhouse tunnels, I have salad greens, herbs, and other cool weather crops fresh out of my garden all winter long. I see substantial savings of my grocery dollars, since I am not buying produce during the most expensive time of the year. The tunnels pay for themselves the first season I use them and then my savings continue to grow with each season they are in use. But the best thing is that  I can pick colorful, nutritious and delicious produce throughout the winter, for very little money or effort.

**When ready to remove the 1 1/4" pipe from the ground slide a 16 penny nail through the drilled holes and pop it up out of the ground by using the nail as a leverage point for a shovel. To extend the life of your PVC pieces and plastic sheeting clean them and store in a dry place out of the sunlight.

Blog Hops that this post is linked to:
Clever Chicks Blog Hop #27
Farm Girl Blog Fest #25
Wildcrafting Wednesday #81 
The Busy Bee's 10th Thursday Blog Hop 
Farm Girl Blog Fest #26 
Farmgirl Friday Blog Hop #102

18 March 2013

Seed Starting Indoors

Years ago I dreamed of having a greenhouse to start my garden veggies in, but our available land does not allow room for one. If we had a green house, even a small one, it would subtract from the available growing space, which is a step backwards. For a short period of time I had a small potting shed where I attempted to start seedlings, but since it was unheated, I could only start cool tolerant crops in it. I limped along with the potting shed, starting cabbages, lettuce and other cool weather crops in the fall and spring and in late spring, and I bought my tomatoes and other warm weather seedlings from the garden center, I hated to buy nursery seedlings since I know they aren't grown organically, but at the time it was a necessary evil. Over the years as the gardens grew in scale and the stomachs I had to feed demanded  that we grow more food, I needed the space where the potting shed stood, so we had to take it down.

I decided to figure out a way to start my seedlings indoors. I had read about several possible options in Organic Gardening Magazine and Mother Earth News, back in the day before the internet, (yes...I am a dinosaur...), but they took up so much room. My space being at a premium, since we live in a small cottage, and we home schooled, (which takes up a surprising amount of room), I needed a space efficient way to start a lot of seedlings. I found a nice looking wire shelf at Sam's and purchased some shop lights and florescent tube "grow lights". I could fit one shop light per shelf and I  two trays would sit end to end on a shelf. That gave me room to start 6 flats of seedlings at a time. Which was great, but there were a few problems... with just one light per shelf there was a lot of fall off of light along the outside of the seed flats. The seedlings around the edges were a little spindly and leaned inward towards the center where the light was stronger. The other problem was that the "grow light" tubes were really expensive, only kept adequate strength for a short period of time, (a season or two), and were difficult to find locally. But still I was able to start many of or veggies from seed and once the spindly, bent starts were out in the ground they seemed to bounce back pretty quickly.

 I used this system for years, until I read something in a Rodale publication that said to grow seedlings, you can use a regular daylight florescent light, in combination with a "sunshine" florescent tube and that would give you a "full spectrum" of light. Since these were readily available at places like Lowe's or Home Depot, and were a fraction of the cost, I jumped at the possibility and bought some to replace the expensive grow bulbs I had been using. I still had the light fall off problem, so I searched for a shop light that would allow for two lights to be hung side by side. During the years since I had purchased my original shop lights the design had been changed to a much lower profile and narrower casing on shop lights, so I was able to replace my clunky, large shop lights and get two trim new lights per shelf. Thus eliminating the light fall off. So now I had an affordable way to grow sturdy straight seedlings for my garden.
This growing system has served us well for many years and I have grown comfortable with it being in our regular living space. It may seem a little odd at first to have seedlings growing next to the  the kitchen table, but I enjoy getting to watch the plants grow and they create a fresh buoyant atmosphere, it is also easier to care for them since they are in plain sight and I can see when they are getting dry or need a height adjustment.

The next problem I encountered was that seedlings grow, but the lights were difficult to adjust in height, without having to take the whole thing apart whenever the plants grew too close to the lights.  So I set the light at the maximum height of the shelf and brought the seed flats up to meet them with an array of different plastic tubs , stacks of egg cartons etc.
Lights at a fixed height

When the plants got too close to the bulbs I would adjust the stacks of tubs and egg cartons to allow more room for the plants to grow. This was an adequate system and has worked for many years, although it is not that attractive.
A configuration of shoe box sized plastic boxes and egg cartons used to adjust the height to varying degrees

 Recently, my son told me about a place that he had found that had adjustable light hangers and a lot of other wonderful goodies for growing plants indoors. The name of the store was HTG Supply, (High Tech Garden Supply). They have an online store as well as several brick and mortar locations throughout the USA. We are fortunate enough to have a store in Charlotte, so my son and I went there to look at what they have available. I was like a kid in a candy store! Oh-h-h... they have special grow lights for starting seedlings, lights for growing veggies to maturity inside, hydroponics, grow tents and a vast array of other wonderful goodies as well like specially formulated organic fertilizers and self watering propagating buckets for growing  roots on plant cuttings. But for now I am just going to talk about the adjustable light hangers. I purchased enough hangers to do all the shelves. They were $15 a pair, but since I will use them year round for many years to come, and simplifies taking care of my seedlings,  I felt is was well worth the cash outlay.
The Agromax light pulley
My lights are now adjustable in small increments. without having to remove everything and juggle shoe boxes and egg cartons!
Pull up to raise the lights
To lower,  hold the cord, push the button and slowly lower to desired height, then release button and tug gently to set in place.
The complete set up
The new hangers at their lowest position to provide closeup light for seeds that have just sprouted.
Top view of the seedlings under lights.

Newly emerging Tatsoi Bokchoy and Perpetual Spinach

Here is a list of things you will need to set up your own seed starting light stand:
One adjustable wire shelf unit, (I have recently found one at Walmart for about $40, it is slightly smaller than mine but would probably still be OK, I got my shelves at Sam's years ago for about $75, I think the price has probably come down since they are not a "new item" anymore.
Two low profile shop lights per shelf (Lowe's Home Improvement Store and Home Depot both have them).
One regular daylight florescent tube and one "Sunshine" tube per shop light, (also available at Lowe's< I am not sure about Home Depot since I bought mine at Lowe's).
Four Agromax  Adjustable light pulleys per shelf (One on each end of the two lights) **available at 
HTG Supply or www.htgsupply.com
To attach: Count four shelf wires in from the side edge of each light, clip D Clip over the fourth wire. Attach other D clip to the S hook hanger that comes with the light, making sure that the D clip with the knotted end  closest to the pulley is attached to the shelf and that the adjustable end  with the length of cord is attached to the light.. Adjust the light to desired height.  See close up view in photo titled "Agromax Light Pulley".

6-8 inch lengths of chain, 12 2" pieces of plastic tubing to keep chain from slipping or damaging shelf paint.
To attach: Slip the chain through the tubing, count four shelf wires in from the side edge for each light and place the tubing to span from the 3rd to the 4th wire,( look at close up photo captioned "Light at a fixed height"). Take loose ends and place them over the s hook  hanger that comes with the light. Do this on both ends, for both lights on each shelf.
 You will also need Plastic shoe boxes , eggs cartons, recycled plastic lettuce containers (I ask people who buy lettuce from Sam's if they will save their empties for me) or whatever you have on hand that is water proof and can be used to raise the seed flats up to the lights.

Solid bottomed seed flats and growing cells I get mine from a local Feed and Seed for about $1 per tray and $1 for 36 seed cells. Sometimes I can find them at Lowe's but the price is higher unless I catch them at the end of the season on sale. I reuse the solid bottom seed flat trays over and over, and if the seed cells are still in good shape when I pop the seedlings out I wash them in a grapefruit seed oil solution to kill any fungus that might be lurking around and reuse them as well. I have never had a problem with fungus or disease from reuseing cells, but that is your call.

When I water the seed flats I take them out of from under the lights and use a plastic cement mixing tub (Lowe's for about $5), to set them in to water. This way I don't get water raining down on my lights. I raise the light to mist them once or twice a day, but I don't move them for that, I just raise the light to avoid getting cold water on the florescent tubes.

Seed starting mix I mix my own using equal parts of fine peat moss, and our home made compost and 1/2 same quantity of organic cow poo. You can also add perelite or vermiculite to the mix, but I don't usually find it necessary. I don't like the store bought seed starting mix, since it has wood chips in it that make the soil impervious to watering and are prone to mold. Also most of the Home Improvement store varieties these days have Miracle Grow or other chemicals in them , so I won't use them.

I hope that this information will equip you to set up your own indoor growing system. If you already have one of your own design, I would love for you to comment and tell me about yours! Please feel free to leave me a comment if you have any questions or comments. I always try to answer you comments. Also if you follow me and leave a blog address, I will come and check out your blog and let you know I came for a visit. Hope to see you around! Elle

Blog Hops that I have linked this post to:
Clever Chick Blog Hop #26
Hearthfelt Hope #2
Monday's Homestead Barn Hop#103 
Busy Bee's 9th Thursday Blog Hop 
Farm Girl Blog Fest #25

14 March 2013

A Long Time In Coming... Part 1

In 1989, Da and I bought a circa 1944, 750 sq. ft. cottage with the intention of living in the existing structure while we added on three bedrooms and a second bath. We did this rather than just buy land and build a new house, since in the county where we live, you can be your own general contractor and can be certified to do your own plumbing and electrical work if you are adding on to an existing structure.This would save us thousands and thousands of dollars, since we could do all of the work ourselves. So we bought the little cottage and started working on it.

As I have mentioned before, in the fall of 1989, Hurricane Hugo came for a visit and changed the face of our lives for years to come. The new construction was dried in, we had sheathing on the outer walls and plywood and tar paper on the roof. In normal inclement weather that would have been enough to keep the inside dry, but since we had 110 mph winds for hours, plus several tornadoes spawned by the hurricane tore across our property, so the roof and siding were easily compromised. The winds skinned off the sheathing, tar paper and much of the roof to the old and new structure and deposited it in the woods behind our house. This left the whole of the new construction and much of the vintage 1944 structure exposed to the deluge of rain that lasted for days after the winds had blown on up the east coast. Needless to say it was a disheartening mess. But we were young and really didn't have any idea of the scope of our dilemma. It is probably a good thing, since we might have gotten discouraged if we had been able to see how profoundly it would affect the next several years of our lives. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.
 Ceiling down and water standing in the floor days after the hurricane. Circa 1989
The new construction was under water as well. Circa 1989
Things went from bad to worse for awhile. We had a lot of damage to the new structure, floor decking that warped, building materials and appliances that were stored in part of the new structure were a total loss... In the existing structure, all the sheet rock was soaked and began to slump off the walls. I spent the month after the hurricane shoveling ruined sheet rock and flooring out the windows into a duce and 1/2  dumper that was parked next to the house. My husband and brother-in-law, (God bless he and my sister-in-law for all their help, we couldn't have managed without them), started to get the structure under cover again as quickly as possible. Since there was a shortage of building materials due to all the damage done to the Charlotte area by the hurricane,  it was difficult to get supplies into the area and what did make it in was rationed. There was a limit to how many sheets of plywood you could buy, as well as other building materials, and there wasn't a tarp to be found for 100 miles in any direction! You had to be on the waiting list for plywood and many other building supplies, when you received your limit of materials, your name went to the bottom of the list and you began waiting again. Needless to say, getting the house closed in again was a slow process.
Shoveling wet sheet rock and debris from the collapse of ceilings and walls after days of rain on the exposed interior. It was a disheartening task but had to be done before work could begin inside.

N. my oldest son helping with the reconstruction.

E.M. helped too...

Winter was approaching and we still didn't have enough materials, (or money for that matter...), to get the house closed in. When the cold winds and rain started in December, the gables were still open and the wind howled through the house undeterred. We were living in the one room in the house that was mostly intact. We had a wool army blanket over the door to try to keep some of the cold out, and we had an old Benjamin Franklin stove in that room to heat and cook by. We punched a hole through the brick facing on the old coal burning fireplace and put in a terra cotta thimble to use as a vent access for the metal stove pipe. The chimney had been damaged in the hurricane so the draw wasn't good and it smoked like crazy, but at least it was drafty enough in the rest of the house for us not to die of smoke inhalation. As time passed and we began to get the basics under control, we got the chimney repaired and the stove smoked less. We used the old wood stove throughout the whole reconstruction process. Once we got power back on 6 months after the hurricane, we didn't have to rely on it for cooking anymore, but still used it for heat.

A couple of years later,  we finally got enough of the construction done to allow us to wrap the "to date" reconstruction debt into a new mortgage. With finished sheet rock in all the rooms and paint on some of the walls, we had a sense of relief and accomplishment for persevering through much hardship and endless late nights working on the house.
The master bedroom suite was part of the addition to the original 1944 structure. We designed it to have a vaulted ceiling and gable windows. There were two other bedrooms and another bath in the addition.
Since we had to completely gut and redo the 1944 part of the house we took the opportunity to make some modifications. We reconfigured  a couple of small rooms to be a big open kitchen/dining/family area that echoed the look and feel of the bedroom addition. We vaulted the ceiling and put in skylights to add extra light and make the space feel bigger. In a way, the hurricane allowed us to have a much nicer design to the total house than we would have had otherwise.
E.M. was 6 months old and N. was 7 yrs. when Hugo hit in September of 1989. This photo was taken in April of 1991, E.M. was 3 yrs. and N. had just turned 10. They spent a lot of their early childhood living in a construction zone.

To celebrate our successes, my husband and I built a fire in the stove and settled back with a glass of wine to toast the closing of our refinance. We were feeling very merry, laughing and telling stories about the all that we had been through, when we heard a strange whooshing sound. Then we saw flames shooting out of the thimble around the stove pipe. To our dismay we realized that the chimney was on fire. I ran and snatched the kids from their dreams and tossed them over the fence to a neighbor, called 911 and then assisted my husband in carrying as many of our important belongings out of the house as we could safely grab, while we waited for the fire department to arrive.
The Franklin stove that we heated with and I cooked on for 6 months before we had electricity. By the time of this photo we were almost ready for paint, but it would be another 2 years before we had flooring. This photo was taken just before the fire.

We live in an unincorporated area, where there is a volunteer fire department. This was pre- GPS and it was dark, so the fire department had difficulty finding us. We could hear them driving around, sirens blasting, but they drove past us twice. After they passed our house the second time, I stood in the road and waved my arms as they whizzed by yet a third time. Meanwhile, our newly finished sheet rock was being covered in soot, and the flames were shooting up 15 feet or more above the top of the chimney, flickering and flashing wildly against the blue-black sky. When the fire truck drove by us the third time, my husband gave up hope of help and took matters into his own hands. He ran and got the extension ladder, grabbed a garden hose and shambled up the ladder in the dark to hose down the roof to keep it from catching fire, then he sprayed water down the chimney and eventually got the fire out. The fire department arrived as my husband was climbing down the ladder. The only thing they had left to do was set up some big fans to evacuate the smoke from the house.

Fortunately, there was no actual fire damage to the house, only the chimney was damaged. The soot on the walls was able to be cleaned off for the most part and with a couple of days of airing the house smelled normal again. We were very grateful that we didn't lose our house to a chimney fire after all the work we had done! But we would never be able to use our Franklin stove again. We had been told by the fire department, that spraying water on the fire in the chimney could have caused cracks to form that would make the chimney unsafe. So we sold our faithful old Ben Franklin stove, blocked up the thimble and for more than 20 years the fireplace brick was nothing more than a backdrop for plants, our floor standing brass candle sticks and some of the pottery we have collected from our travels. But all those years I dreamed about repairing the chimney, refacing the damaged brick facing and having a vintage wood stove in our sitting room again. I felt like our cottage with all of its quirky charm was missing something without the wood stove. But with all of the things still left to be done on the house, it was not a priority to spend money on a new chimney, so my dreams of having a functioning wood stove again were just that... dreams... That is until a year or so ago, when a gift from a friend opened up a new chapter in the story of Heart's Ease Cottage, and a renewed hope for me to one day have a functioning wood stove to warm the cottage and make it feel complete.

Please visit again and hear the rest of the story... Part 2 will be coming along shortly!

11 March 2013

Quick Tasty Pickled Things

Yesterday was Sunday and a designated "kitchen day". I recently made a visit to may favorite oriental market and stocked up on a variety of fresh mushrooms, daikon radishes, and a sundry of the other beautiful produce they offer. I left with six bags of produce stuffed to the gills and a couple of bags of other things like hoisin sauce, green and jasmine tea, nori, hijiki and black tree fungus, all for $55! I definitely get the best bang for my food bucks when I can shop at this market.

With my stash of daikon and mushrooms taking up space in my cramped fridge, a kitchen day was in order. Since it was the weekend, my husband was able to help me out in the kitchen. We lit a fire in our "new to us" 1890's wood stove, put Baroque and before music on Pandora and spent a happy day preparing various goodies to have on hand in the fridge for this week. One of the things that we prepared was several variations on the theme of pickled daikon radishes. We also made a huge pot of mushroom stock, (which made the house smell wonderful), roasted oriental eggplant for making Baba Ghanouj, and filled the dehydrator with onion slices to dry, for the long term storage pantry.

My husband peeled the daikon radishes with a vegetable peeler, cut off the top and bottom, and then made three lengthwise cuts from end to end. He then cut the daikon to a length to fit just below the neck of a wide-mouth canning jar, the shorter piece will be turned into cubes and treated to a different brine than the long pieces. The long thin slices were then be cut into julienne strips. I have a Mandoline slicer, which I use a lot, especially for preparing vegetables for the dehydrator, but for the daikon, I like the hand cut julienne strips better. Once the strips were finished, and arranged in the jars, a brine was made to cover the radish strips. The brine consisted of: 1 cup of water, three to four cloves of smashed and slivered garlic, 1/2-3/4 tsp. sea salt,  1/2-3/4 cup agave, or 1 cup organic sugar, (make a simple syrup if using sugar), plus one cup of white vinegar, Braggs Apple Cider vinegar or whatever other vinegar you choose. Pour mixture over the daikon strips in the jar. I use a plastic wide mouth jar lid instead of the twp piece metal lid, since the daikon will gas a little during the pickling process and the plastic cap isn't as tight a fit as the canning lids, so the gasses can sneak out. If you don't have the plastic lids that is fine, just don't screw the two piece lid down tight so the gasses can escape. The jars will sit in the fridge for at least 3 days and then I can use them for adding to salads, for use in vegan sushi or for my favorite use, to be the sparkle in the Vietnamese-style spring rolls that I make to go along with vegan Pho... yum!

The cubed daikon will be treated in two different ways. I will put some of the cubes and in a jar with finely chopped red bell peppers add 6 garlic cubes smashed and slivered, then covered with seasoned rice wine vinegar, (I usually use Maruchan), which is more mellow than the white vinegar and allows the garlic flavor to take center stage. The rest of the daikon were layered in a jar with blanched cauliflower, blanched baby carrots, onion slices and Thai bird chiles, (I grow my own, but they can be found in most oriental markets during their season, or  you can use dried cayenne peppers soaked and split, or red pepper flakes). The brine was the same as for the daikon strips, except that I cut the sugar quantity in half. These also should be left in the fridge for at least three days before use, more if you want the Thai chiles to have time to impart well developed bite to the veggies. We add the cubes to salads, or eat them as a side dish or use as a condiment for flavoring steamed rice.
The veggies are packed tight in the jars. I layer them because I think it is pretty, but you could just mix them all together and then pack into jars. When I do this I also add halved Brussel sprouts which are quite tasty pickled!
When pouring in the cooled brine, be sure to gently tap the jar to dislodge air bubbles that get trapped between the veggies. If they are stubborn and won't come loose, I use a bamboo skewer to slide down between the veggies and knock the bubbles loose.

Left to right, front to back: pickled mixed veggies with bird chiles, daikon cubes in rice wine vinegar, and in the back, sweet and sour pickled daikon strips.
The pickled veggies are good to dress up every day food, or add a little sparkle to left overs. But the best reason for having these crunchy, tasty and easy to make pickled goodies in the fridge, is that it makes it possible to make some of our favorites like vegan sushi or Vietnamese spring rolls in short order. I cook up large batches of sushi rice, season it and freeze it in serving sized packages, (quart sized freezer bags). The rice can be thawed in a few minutes by immersing the tightly sealed, bag in hot water. While the rice is thawing I prepare the vegetables by cutting thin strips of cukes, thinly julienned carrots, mung bean sprouts, and avacado strips, or really whatever is in the fridge... red bell peppers, jicima, thin strips of celery, steamed asparagus... and of course I drain some of the daikon pickles and have everything ready and waiting to roll up in nori sheets by the time the rice is thawed. I will do a blog post on making sushi sometime soon. They are fun and easy, and cost pennies to make. I hope you will give the daikon pickles a try, and if you do, please stop by and let me know what you think and how you used them... I would love to hear what you came up with!

Blog Hops this post is linked to:
Clever Chicks Blog Hop #25 
Monday's Homestead Barn Hop #102
Busy Bee's 8th Thursday Blog Hop
The Country Home Blog Hop #58 
Farm Girl Friday #100
Farm Girl Blog Fest #24

05 March 2013

Daring to Dream

 I was reading blog entries on my blog feed recently, when I ran across  this blog post by Rachael at  thealisokitchen.com. It made me think back to the days when I was just starting out on my adult life and dreaming about what I wanted my future to hold. I was working as a hairdresser in Blacksburg, Virginia where my family landed after my dad retired from the military. I was 20, living on my own, working hard and dreaming of the day when I could have my own little piece of the Appalachian Mountains, where I could live a simple life, bake bread, raise animals and grow my own food. At that moment in my life I was very far from attaining my dreams, since I lived alone in a tiny little trailer in a college town trailer park, worked 12 hours a day standing on a cement floor, cutting hair, and had little practical experience in doing any of the things I was dreaming my future would hold... but living with your dreams for awhile before you try to make them come true is not a bad thing.. time and experience will help to clarify what you really want. There were many lessons I needed learn while I was waiting to find the piece of land and make my dreams come true.

While I was working, saving and dreaming, something happened to change the course of my life... I found my soul mate. My dreams needed to be blended in with his dreams, to become "our" dreams... We met in the late 70's during a terrible recession, and jobs were not easy come by, so we both joined the military. Since traveling the world was something we both had on our Bucket List, this was a way for us to get started. We lived in the Philippines for 3 years and it was during this time that we would learn many of the life lessons that we would need for our big dream to come true. Living in a third world country taught us much about living a simple life. It changed us, and matured our dreams, it also gave us time to equip ourselves with the skills necessary to make our dream of self sufficiency a reality. We studied and practiced on a small scale, growing plants in pots on our stoop, or in an on base community garden plot, reading everything that the base library had on organic gardening, and animal husbandry. I improved my baking skills, and learned to cook meals over a 8" charcoal burner. I watched our Philipino friends as they lived out their simple, self sufficient lives and tried to take back with me the valuable lessons I learned from them.
Bath Time! Merlyn my close friend and I bathing my son. Philippines Circa 1982.

    Our three years in the Philippines were well spent and upon our return to the states we tried to go back to the mountains of Virginia to apply what we had learned, but that wasn't to be... there was no work to be had in the area where we wanted to live, so we had to look elsewhere. My husband was offered a job in Charlotte, NC and we bought a little house in a residential area in the city. One of the first things we did when we had settled into the house, was to start veggies from seed in a sunny window and dig up the front flower bed and plant zucchini, tomatoes, herbs and flowers.
Spring garden planted in the front flower bed. Circa 1984
Zucchini and pink petunias, front flower bed. Petunias are supposed to deter squash bugs... it seemed to work, we had no bug problems at all. Circa 1984
 Over the course of the 5 years we lived in that house, we terraced our steep back yard into 3 levels, formed up raised vegetable beds, built a 3 bin composting system and rabbit cages, laid brick paths and created a permanent herb garden on one side of the house.
Growing our food in a terraced garden on our steeply sloped back yard. The compost bins and rabbit cages are on the flood plane below the garden. Photo circa 1986
My husband laying a brick path through the herb garden with recycled bricks.

  We put our newly learned skills to good use in the yard and the house and the gardens were much improved by our efforts, but it was time to move on. My brother was living in a small community 35 miles south of Charlotte. So we found a little fixer-upper cottage on an acre of land and moved to Waxhaw to be closer to my brother, who was terminally ill. By then, we had two boys, one who was 7 and an infant of 4 months. We were planning on adding on to the house, living in the old part while building the new addition. All was going as planned and the addition was "dried in", (which means it was under a roof and protected from the elements), or so we thought... Then 18 days later Hurricane Hugo blew in and destroyed all of our hard work. We spent the next several years trying to get back on our feet.Our recovery took time, but we kept plugging away. Our boys grew and the house was eventually finished.
   During all that time we worked very hard to establish the "bones" of our gardens and enrich and amend the soil. We sowed and harvested, built outbuildings and barns to house our goats, chickens and rabbits, and planted fruit trees, berry bushes and strawberries. Somewhere along the way we realized that we were not going to have a homestead in the mountains, instead we already had a homestead in the Piedmont!  Our dream of having a homestead and living a "self-sufficient" lifestyle had come true, but it happened over time and progressed naturally, developing and changing with the needs and interests of our family.
When the kids were too old for their playport, we turned it into a goat barn. Circa 2006

Mouse and Sweet two of our young dairy herd. Circa 2006

My youngest working on the second barn. Circa 2007

E.M. milking "Jelly" on a stanchion that he designed and built himself. Circa 2007
Sisters Izzy and Sunny having breakfast. Circa 2007
E.M. with the girls... he was happiest when he was outside working in the gardens or hanging with his animals. Circa 2006

Comice pears. The pear trees and our apple trees are trained as espaliered trees to most efficiently use our limited space.
This plum tree was one of two standard sized "sentinels" that stood at the opening to our vegetable garden. Both had to be cut down due to a freak accident while we were living in Costa Rica... I still grieve their passing.

   It is important to dare to dream, to follow your heart and live life with direction and purpose, but it is also important to realize that life is an organic process and there is only so much we can do to influence the outcome. We can work hard to shape our dreams into reality, but life will add its own twists and turns and in the end you may not end up where you expected... Our journey has been full of twists and turns and we have enough stories to fill several volumes. I may not have ended up where I hoped to, but I am delighted at the way things turned out!
This young pullet was one of 6o birds we kept in the Taj Mahal ( a three run multi-roomed hen house that my youngest son and husband built. It had three roomy hen rooms, three nice long runs and a "hospital" for birds that might need extra attention, there was also a foyer with a fridge for the eggs and equipment storage Sorry..we never took any good photos of the Taj)

Our youngest son had an egg selling business that he ran as part of his home schooling. He kept the books, managed the flocks, collected and prepared his eggs for sale and sold all the eggs the hens could lay. He did this from the time he was 6 until after he was out of high school. He had a waiting list of people who wanted to buy his eggs... so as a household, we ate the culls, those that were too small or too large, misshaped etc. since the rest of the eggs were claimed by his faithful customers.
We ground our own wheat and made six loaves at a time to feed the household. I still grind my wheat, but now that the boys aren't at home anymore I don't have to bake 6 loaves at a time!
Snap Dragons in the rose bed bloom cheerfully all summer long
    So, I've talked about my dreams... what about yours? Leave an comment. I would love to hear about what you are doing to make your dreams come true! Thanks for dropping by!

Blog Hops that this post is linked to:
Clever Chicks Blog Hop#24
Frugally Sustainable Sustainable Ways Blog Hop #66
Monday's Homestead Barn Hop #101 
Farmgirl Friday Blog Hop #99
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