Happy (belated) Easter

The kids are back to school after a great 4-day Easter weekend. I love long weekends with the kids. They always go by too fast. We had 20+ degrees both Saturday and Sunday and I’m not gonna complain about that – I had forgotten what a nice warm breeze felt like. I spent hours and hours and hours outside pulling weeds and edging and transplanting and potting up. Oh, I did spend time with the kids too!

Here’s a small photo recap of the weekend. I didn’t take many pictures because I was mostly covered in dirt and I didn’t want to damage Maude (my camera – yes, she has a name. She’s very special to me!) or my phone (who will remain nameless).

In the Grow Zone:

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Herbs growing like crazy have now been potted up.
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Yes, I’m organizing my grow zone by colour. I love it!! Tomatoes are red, herbs and flowers are blue. Yay for multi-coloured solo cups! 
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I watered them and they all shot up and started touching the lights. I moved about 15 yesterday. I woke up this morning and had to move 10 more. Crazy kids!  
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Not everything is growing well. Here is a tray that just didn’t have great germination. I’ll direct seed the ones that didn’t work and cross my fingers that they’ll grow. 

In the Greenhouse:

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I transplanted this lettuce into larger pots last weekend and left it in the greenhouse to see what would happen. It’s growing! Yay for cold tolerant crops! 
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I planted ‘Winter Greens’ in the greenhouse last spring and let it go to seed. This is what happened. Yay for volunteers!

In the Great Outdoors:

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One of our 6 fruit trees. They’re all beginning to look like this. Yay for new growth! 
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Hanging out with the teenager and the dog. Yay for warm weather! 

That pretty much wraps it up for the weekend. We’re heading into a busy couple of weeks here, volunteering at the school even more than we usually do. Chad and I are both hanging outside with groups of kids this week. He’s teaching baseball skills to 8-10 year olds and I’m geocaching with 12-14 year olds. It has nothing to do with homesteading, but it does include getting kids outside and that’s something we’re both pretty passionate about. For three seasons anyway. Chad likes winter, but I struggle with that season so we tend to stay inside quite a bit. I’m going to put it out there into the interwebs that I’m going to try harder to like winter. I promise I’ll try. But first I’m going to enjoy spring, summer and autumn.

I hope you do too.

Beautiful Surprises (04/14)

Volunteers in the garden! I mean, volunteer plants, not people volunteering….I’m not sure I’d be comfortable with random people volunteering. 

I’m quite sure this is calendula popping up here. Thanks for reseeding yourselves – you saved me some time and money!
I’m really hoping this is the echinacea I planted last year that didn’t germinate. The package did say it could take awhile…

Ah, Spring…

I always think autumn is my favourite season. Until April rolls around. Then I remember why I love spring best of all. The grass is so green, the trees are full of buds, plants are popping out of the ground. Even when the weather isn’t so warm, I want to open all the windows just to hear the birds singing again. And when I do, Chad follows along behind me closing them all back up again. I opened a window just now because he’s not here.

Once again, the seeds I planted last month have exceeded my very low expectations. I’m not sure why I doubt a seedling’s ability to grow. It happens all the time. And yet I’m still shocked when it happens here. There are plenty of seeds that have done absolutely nothing and I will have to replant a few things, but overall, the growth has been amazing.

All of this growth means that our grow zone is bursting at the seams right now. I spent most of Saturday potting up tomatoes, which really crowded the shelves.

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‘Before’ all the potting up. Lots of space on the left side. 
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‘After’ and all filled up. Seats are limited at this venue. 

I apologize for these pictures. I know they’re terrible.

Potting up took way longer than I thought it was going to take, but it felt so good to have my hands in the dirt again. The radio was on, the girls came outside to enjoy the weather, and Chad was working on stuff in the greenhouse and the shop.

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My corner of the shop. 
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These tomatoes looked so good. I can totally picture them on my burger. 
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I love solo cups. They make such great pots. Plus, I can throw them in the dishwasher and use them again next year. 
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You  can see the ones on the left were really sad to leave their baby room. They definitely all went through a period of shock but quickly bounced back. 

 

The herbs are also growing like crazy and I think I’ll be potting them up this week.

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Even the peppers are growing. I hesitate to talk about them too much because I don’t want to jinx them. Maybe they’ll pose for some pictures later this week.

And now, even though the sun is still fighting through the clouds, I’m going to go hang out a load of laundry. Yay for spring!

 

 

 

 

Cookbook of the Month (04/17) 

Spring seems to be officially here, which usually kicks off a few months of us eating at odd hours and making very simple meals. We still follow recipes, but we don’t like anything that keeps us inside for too long.

Last month, I chose a cookbook that I wanted to read, and I thought maybe I’d be more creative this month, but no. No creativity this month in my cookbook choice. None, whatsoever. Last week, I asked Arianah to pick a couple of recipes to add to our weekly menu plan, and without fail, she went straight to our Chef Michael Smith section and chose from one of his cookbooks. So, that’s how I decided this month’s featured cookbook.

For April, I hope to try new recipes from Chef Michael Smith’s Kitchen. We cook from his books quite often, and I can’t remember a time we’ve been disappointed – kids included. And pleasing them is a nearly impossible feat!

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Chef Michael Smith is another Canadian chef (that’s two in a row, if you’re counting. I’m feeling very patriotic, I guess.) and he’s written lots of cookbooks to date. I don’t have a list in front of me and I can’t really be bothered to find one. Sorry. You can check him out at your local bookstore or online.

Some of the recipes I hope to try include a Potato Bacon Cheddar Breakfast Bake, Split Pea Soup with Smoked Ham Hock, Slow-Baked Salmon with Honey Mustard Glaze and Gruyere Mashed Potatoes. This particular cookbook of his doesn’t have a section dedicated to vegetarian recipes, but if you’re like me, you can find a way to make those Mashed Potatoes your entire meal. With a small salad maybe so you don’t judge yourself afterward.

I’ve already made his Oven-Roasted French Fries with Spicy Ketchup and if I didn’t have a husband and two kids, I would have eaten the whole tray. I’m actually drooling just thinking about those fries.

And now I’m hungry. Happy eating!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I’m Reading (04/17) 

The ‘To-Do List’ is growing now that Spring is officially here, so two of the books I’ve added to my reading list are mostly made up of pictures. The third book is quite skinny. That should make it easier to get through three books this month, right?

Because I’m an honest person, I need to confess that I do not read gardening/homesteading books cover to cover unless they’re written in a novel-like format. I always read the intro and then I jump around to different chapters until I have a good grasp on the book’s info. So glad I got that off my conscience!

On that note, here’s the list:

Digging the City is a book that was on a recommended reading list from a class I took last year. It’s tagline is “An Urban Agriculture Manifesto”. It takes a look at some of the common ways people are growing food in urban areas. This is something of concern for me as a mother raising kids who will likely be living in a large urban centre rather than an idyllic country setting. I think it’s also an important topic since so our culture is so food-centric yet so disconnected from our food sources.   It’s fascinating to me to see the innovative ways people are making changes to our food production to keep it local and accessible to everyone.

Chad and I have big plans for our front yard and in the next few months, we’ll be starting the transformation. To prepare for the project, I’ll be reading 100 Easy-to-Grow Native Plants for Canadian Gardeners. This will be one of many books I read for this fun project. More details and I’m sure a blog post or two will follow.

Since we began growing food, my interest in herbal remedies has increased and I’m excited to have enough space to grow a large herb garden. I found out about Homegrown Herbs on a book list somewhere and it looked like a great resource. It discusses garden design & maintenance, pest control, cooking with herbs and using herbs for medicinal and personal care.

As usual, I plan on curling up with a cup of coffee and a blanket to read these books. Now that it’s warming up, maybe I’ll even read on the back deck. Oh bliss!

If you have any book suggestions for me, please share in the comments as I’m always looking for new books to read.

Beautiful Surprises (04/07)

I was looking through old photos this morning and this one jumped out as cute and funny. This is a throwback to our first bunch of chickens when they moved in to their big girl coop.

I can’t be sure, but I’m guessing they’re discussing the total square footage and the choice of flooring.

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No wi-fi in the coop forcing these teenage chickens to have a face-to-face conversation.

The Grow Zone Project (How-to and costs)

Any homesteader will tell you that the number of projects is never ending. That’s probably the best part for me. I love building things, researching them, and coming up with new ideas on how to put them together. Our Grow Zone Project was no exception. Here is a quick peak at the final product.

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Last year the Blackwell Gardener (Christina) asked me to put together a set of shelves to grow our seedlings on. I know a bit about wiring so I put a set of two four-foot tube lights on four separate shelves. We had some of these kicking around so I re-purposed those for the grow zone. The results were not great. I had cords running all over the place and we had to remember to plug the lights in every morning and unplug them every night. Two lights was not enough to encourage good growth and the standard bulbs I used were not the right ones to encourage leaf and stem growth (more on that later). This year I decided to do things differently.

Christina needed more room this year to start more seedlings for ourselves and some extras in case anyone wanted to buy some. We started by purchasing a second shelf unit from Canadian Tire ($130 on sale). The next step was to move from two bulbs per shelf to four. We needed to buy additional light fixtures and thought we would check out the Habitat Restore here in Sarnia. Luckily they had some for $20 for each shelf ($20 x 4 shelves = $80). To hold the fixtures in place I drilled holes through the fixtures and ran zip ties onto the underside of each shelf (pictured below). This proved to be a lot easier than wire! I then started running wire into each of the fixtures. When I did this I wanted to make sure it was as safe as possible so, everything is grounded, I used proper fittings to secure the wire, and I used 14-2 wire ($30).

For the first shelf unit, I ran all the wires down one of the corner posts and into a junction box at the bottom.  Then while talking with a very kind employee at Home Depot, we came up with the idea of putting each shelf on it’s own switch ($26 – shown below). That would serve as my junction box and allow us to turn each shelf light on and off as needed (save on power where we could). We also plugged both shelf units into our Christmas lights timer to help with having to plug and unplug every day.

Lastly I picked up the bulbs. Since each shelf needed four bulbs, we needed 16 bulbs per shelf unit at $6 a piece ($6 x 16 bulbs = $96). While standing in the aisle at Home Depot (I was that annoying guy on his phone) I researched the best bulb and found out that the best bulbs are Daylight (5000 wavelength) or Natural Light (6500).

Some things to consider:

  1. We are currently using T12 bulbs which are the least efficient. When these bulbs are worn our we may replace them with LED.
  2. This shelf unit is NOT water resistant. We know we have to be careful, but it may be a good idea to put a layer of plastic on top of each of the light fixtures.
  3. Currently the lights are stationary. We are seeing how that goes and may make them adjustable. For now it seems to be working well. The plants are stretching toward the light a bit, but there seems to be enough power with 4 bulbs per shelf.

That was it! Two lighted shelf units for a grand total of $362 each. That’s not bad compared to a 3 shelf unit from Veseys for $800 plus shipping. The added bonus of getting to build something was icing on the cake!