Category Archives: gardening

How to recognize redbud blossoms

I learned about these local edible blossoms just a few days ago here, and the very day after reading about them, saw a tree next to my house that looked like the picture shared.  I was pretty positive the first time I walked by the trees after reading about them that these were redbud blossoms, but to be sure, we picked some to bring in and compare.

Redbud blossoms
Photo by Bob Gress – the blossoms above are mostly closed and just beginning to bloom

Sure enough, it was a match, and I’m delighted to have another wild edible to add to my list of local foragable foods!  The tree is beautiful, and now that I know what it looks like, see that they’re in bloom all over my city.

How can you recognize these lovely edible blossoms?  The tree is usually less than twenty feet tall, with young trees having a smooth, gray bark.  More mature trees have a reddish-brown bark with flattened scaly plates.  The flowers are a beautiful pinkish color, and the central petal (called a standard) is flanked by two more petals (called wings).  Below them are two more petals called keels.  (Tell your kids all about this when you’re picking them and you’re learning about science and botany!)  The leaves of the tree are like a heart shape.  (More details here.)

Since we have so many dogs locally, I don’t do much foraging of things that grow on the ground for obvious reasons.  Seeing the abundance of these blossoms growing on trees so close by has got my frugal juices flowing!  I’ve scoured the internet for ideas on how to use them, and seen some yummy sounding ideas.  Use them in muffins, pancakes, for dessert with yogurt and berries, sprinkled into salad, pickled, or made into jam!

Redbud blossoms have an almost nutty flavor; they more closed they are, the more tart they are; the open blossoms have a sweet flavor that is very pleasant.  I wasn’t surprised to learn that they are high in vitamin C, because the tart flavor makes one think in that direction.

The young pods of this tree are also supposedly edible, but since they come out after the flowers, I haven’t yet had a chance to taste them.  I often wondered when I saw these pods if they were edible, but didn’t know what the tree was called.  Now that I know what the tree looks like, I plan to experiment by using the pods in stir fries in place of snow peas.


A wonderful morning foraging with my boys

Last night I commented to dh that: 1) I really miss homeschooling (nothing like sending your kids to underscore how great homeschooling is!); 2) I missed ds5’s exuberant energy.  He’s seemingly adjusting well to everything, except this boy who used to be happy and excited about everything now is constantly whining, complaining, and crying – I realized yesterday that he hardly ever smiles from deep inside anymore.

This morning the whining started when a sibling gave him a spoonful of sugar in his second bowl of oatmeal, and it wasn’t a big enough spoonful.  You would have thought something terrible had happened, the way he began crying and yelling.  I asked him to speak pleasantly, and he really seemed unable to.

I explained to him that we don’t go to school when we are sick because it could make people sick, and it’s not fair to the people around us to go to school when  we are miserable; it makes people feel good when we smile and bad when we are unhappy.  So it became a ‘gan Mommy’ morning (‘Mommy playgroup’ – what staying home with me was termed for the sake of ds2.5 so he would feel like he was doing what everyone else going to school was).

He was upset about not getting to go to school, but within a half hour, he was smiling.  Really smiling.  I could almost see him unwind and inwardly relax.   It was so nice to see.  I told him at 10 am we’d take a walk and go to the park, but when we got there, the officials told us they changed the hours for the winter and wouldn’t be open until 3 pm.

I’ve recently noticed that it seems to be prime foraging season here – in the US it was after the winter – and lately I’ve had a hankering to get outside and just harvest something!  My motivation for this morning’s outing was that yesterday I noticed some rosehips when I was out with the kids, and wanted to check if there were more so I could prepare a big batch at once.  So it didn’t make much of a difference to me where we went, and when ds5 suggested another park, off we went.

We detoured somewhat, scanning the rosebushes that lined the streets.  On the way, I showed him what mallow looks like – I don’t usually pick any wild edibles around here that grow on the ground because there are lots of dogs.  But it had just rained and we were in an area that didn’t seem to be a dog spot, so we picked some.

Then we entered a big gorgeous park that has a playground but is mostly a huge beautiful natural area, and while the boys were running around I kept my eyes open for rosehips, but instead noticed that some of the olive trees had some ripe olives still remaining.  So when they finished running, I suggested we find an olive tree to pick from.  But ds5 said, “I don’t want to pick olives, I want to pick carob!”  He noticed right then that we were passing a carob tree, so I hoisted him on my shoulder and he picked a few nice long pods.  The three of us snacked on them as we went along, and then found some more mallow off the beaten trail.

As we followed the mallow trail, we happened upon a low growing olive tree with a huge rock underneath it. This was perfect since ds5 could reach the olives by climbing on this big rock.  Ds2 also wanted to pick, but it didn’t last long since it meant me holding him up high while simultaneously pulling the olive branch down low towards us.  I gave him the olives I picked to put in the bag (he was much slower than we were, so this wasn’t really suitable), then switched his job to holding the bag of olives open, but that wasn’t a great job for him either.  But I let him keep that job since he felt useful and ds5 and I filled our pockets as we picked, and periodically emptied them into the bag.  We ended up with 1 – 2  quarts of fresh olives.

It was a gorgeous day, the sky was a perfect blue and the sun was shining, and it just felt so marvelous to be out doing this.  I felt so happy I almost cried – I didn’t realize how much I missed the feeling of being out in nature.  And it felt so right to be with my littles, giving them opportunities for self-directed outdoor experiences, so unlike the kindergarten environment where everything is structured and adult-led.  I watched ds5 and ds2 find a huge ant hill, try to feed the ants olives, mash some olives with a rock and show me about the dye that resulted, all while soaking in vitamin D from the sun.  You can’t manufacture real experiences like this, and there’s something about these kind of things that is good for kids (and adults!) at a deep, soul level.

On the way out of the park, we found an abundance of rosehips concentrated on a few bushes  – all the other bushes we found were still in bloom.  Ds2 planted himself right next to one and got busy picking, and when I told him it was time to go a few minutes later, he looked at me seriously and said, “I’m not done yet”, and got back to industriously picking the rosehips and putting them in the sandwich bag we had with us.  He was so focused and felt so accomplished!  I let him pick a while longer, but then we really did have to leave.

On the way home we found a small lemon tree – they weren’t so big and I have lemons at home, but they were happy to be able to pick three of them.  We got home with all of our treasures, tired after being out all morning but only one of us ready for a nap (me!).

I don’t honestly find foraging to be about frugality for me.  We’re way too big a family and the amounts I can pick are so small that they’re not generally consequential, and the time investment – if looked at it strictly from an economic point of view – doesn’t usually justify the expenditure.  But from an experiential and empowerment perspective, it’s definitely worthwhile.  I like that my kids can identify plants and food that grow around them, and have a chance to be in touch with the physical world in a real way.

Do you ever harvest food growing in the wild?  What kind of things grow locally to you?  What do you like about foraging?  Do you share my feeling that it’s empowering on a personal level?  


(This post is part of Monday ManiaTraditional Tuesdays, Fat Tuesdays, Homestead Barn HopReal Food 101 and Real Food Wednesdays.)

The World According to Monsanto

Last night/this morning I was up until after 3 am with a couple of kids.  They weren’t complaining, but they had high fevers that I felt warranted a close eye on them.  In addition to giving them each a megadose of vitamin C, I applied cold washcloths to their foreheads, and simultaneously applied egg whites to their feet, afterwards followed by slices of potato to further draw the heat out through their feet.  Thankfully, they woke up feeling better this morning.

But this morning I was definitely tired, and with some kids being kind of out of it as well, I invited them into my room to watch a riveting documentary with me – The World According to Monsanto.  Well, riveting isn’t the word they would use, but it shows how media deprived they are that my two and four year olds sat with me and dd11 for almost two hours to watch the entire program!  And it shows you what kind of thing I watch for entertainment.  😛

Prior to watching this, I was aware of the global domination successfully being achieved by Monsanto in controlling our food crops, as well as the contamination of non GMO crops across the world.  But to watch this documentary opened my eyes even further.

For those of you who don’t know anything about Monsanto, they are a multi-national corporation that brought the world Roundup (herbicide), Roundup resistant crops, dioxin (key element in Agent Orange that injured so many US veterans), rGBH, the growth hormone that was given to cows, among manyother products.  They have genetically engineered many, many crops, which all fall under their patents, making it illegal for farmers to save their seeds from one year to another (if you watched King Korn, you know all about that), controlling the prices of seeds for planting by monopolizing the field (no pun intended).

I’ve often seen Monsanto referred to as ‘evil’ online, but I’ve resisted this kind of language. I’m pro capitalism and think it’s a great service to the world when hard working people get up every day to offer their products/services to the world – it makes the world a better place.  So I’m not anti-business of anti-profits at all – someone who does a good job deserves to be compensated well for it.  But it’s  deeply disturbing that so many people who run the company seem motivated far more by profit, and don’t seem to be concerned about the world they are literally endangering.

I wish I could say I was shocked that this company knew that their products were harmful to the health of consumers, but I’m a little jaded, I guess, because I wasn’t.

And I wasn’t surprised about all the people who were threatened or suddenly found themselves without jobs when they dared to speak out against, or even question, the safety of Monsanto products.  The stretch of their reach is hard to fathom; they are an incredibly powerful company with connections to top people all over the world.

What I wasn’t at all aware of was how this company is changing the lives of  small farmers in India, Paraguay, and Mexico (no doubt other places as well) dramatically for the worse.  The GMO soybean and cotton crops that they are forced to grow (no other seed options are available to them anymore) require not just the purchase of Monsanto overpriced seeds, but also their herbicides and fertilizers.  None of these costs were necessary to farmers when they saved seed from year to year, and planted on healthy soil that supported plant growth.

Do you think these poor farmers have proper protection from the incredibly powerful herbicides that they are using?  Obviously not.  Even those who choose to remain independent and refuse to grow GMO crops are being affected, as the runoff and pollen from GMO fields contaminates and poisons their fields, their animals, and their families.

Watching these villagers having meetings to understand the issues with Monsanto, and trying to figure out what they can do make me think that every time we make a choice to buy or not GMOs (genetically modified foods), we’re making a choice that helps the people who can’t help themselves.  But whether people care about people in another part of the world or not, we ourselves need to understand that foods that are highly unnatural have been introduced into our food supply, and they’ve never been tested on humans before – we’re the guinea pigs.

Right after I watched this, I noticed another short video pop up, Millions Against Monsanto, leading up to World Food Day, which was yesterday.  One of the goals of this advocacy was to get labeling in the US of GMO foods, so consumers can make an educated choice.  I don’t know what is happening with this, but I think it’s a wonderful thing to make people aware of how dangerous GMOs are, and to encourage them to lobby for change.

The documentary was a full length film, and unusual for youtube, it was featured in its entirety.  Here’s the link if you’re interested:

Have you ever thought about the dangers of GMOs?  How did you learn about it?  Does that affect your food shopping in any way?


Woman threatened with jail due to front yard garden

This is a story I’ve been wanting to share with you when it first began several weeks ago – particularly as it is happening to one of my regular blog readers and commenters, who we’ve had the pleasure of hosting for a holiday meal and whose daughter visited dd16 a few weeks ago.  I’m embarrassed that it’s taken me until now to share about it with you, but with all that’s going on around here, everything is taking me longer than usual to get to it. :) 

Julie is a homeschooling mom of 6 who decided to grow some vegetables in her front yard after her yard was ripped up as a result of sewer repair.  She had raised beds built, and mulched the paths around – it’s an attractive and tidy looking garden.  So what’s the big deal?  That what she’s growing in those raised beds are vegetables, not flowers.  When I told my kids about this, they couldn’t understand what the big deal was – when I told her she is going to fight this in court and faces more than 90 days in jail as a result of growing vegetables on her own property, within the legal guidelines of her city, they were horrified.  As we should all be.

Here’s a recent news report – this story is getting bigger by the minute and I expect to hear the major talk show hosts talking about it in the coming week.  To read more details, visit her blog at and see what you can do to lend your support. 

It’s a travesty that our government wastes tax payer dollars persecuting people doing good things, when there are cities filled with criminals and major issues needing to be dealt with.  Kudos to Julie for not giving up and not giving in!  It takes a lot of moral strength to stand up for your rights; people are very quick to give in and give up on what is theirs and say it’s not worth fighting for.  I hope the city representatives back down and see what an embarrassment they’ve created for themselves – after all, the President’s wife planted vegetables in the front yard of the White House!  And now they want to prosecute someone for doing the same thing somewhere else in the country?  Absolutely ridiculous.


Lambs quarter – free for your foraging

Something I’ve felt especially aware of lately is how being frugal and innovative truly requires a certain amount of headspace.

Last year I took the kids on a private tour of a eco-farming community that is in the works, and at one point the person I was speaking to pointed out a wild edible, lambs quarter.  I was so glad to learn what this looked like since I had been specifically wanting to identify this particular weed for a while.  It turns out it’s something I frequently see growing, even in my own yard! However, it was the end of the growing season at that point so I had to wait until spring in order to be able to pick some for myself.

Soon after spring began, I noticed lambs quarter springing up.  Do you think I picked any?  No, I didn’t.  I just didn’t have the extra head space to pick it and prepare it – even though you could legitimately ask, how much energy did it actually take?  I wasn’t willing to spend even that tiny bit of energy on something extra.  So it wasn’t until this past week that I finally prepared some for my family for dinner.

Lambs quarter is nice because it can be used raw or cooked – I chopped it up into a salad with some cucumbers and tomatoes, dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, and Real salt.  It was tasty – not one of the kids made any negative comments.  Lambs quarter can be used in place of spinach – one nice thing is that when you cook it, it doesn’t cook down as much because the water content is so much lower than spinach – so you end up with more food to eat. To use raw, I prefer the leaves and not the stems, but if you’re going to cook it, you can go ahead and use the stems as well – steam it until it’s soft.  It has a whitish coating on the underside of the leaf, which is pollen, and I prefer to wash it off – there’s nothing wrong with it, but it lends a grainy texture when eating it.

If I were staying here, I’d allow some to take root in my garden beds, as I have with plantain, in order to have it conveniently located along with my other vegetables that are growing.  Though I’m not doing this, I’ll still continue to keep an eye out for it so I can enjoy it while we’re still living in the US.  And maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover it growing in Israel!

It’s fun to learn to recognize the free food that is all around us!  Sometimes I look at a big area of weeds and wonder how much food is there that I just don’t yet know how to recognize as such!  If you’re interested in learning about wild edibles that you can enjoy for free – and are organic to boot! – you can take a look at youtube to see videos that will make it easier to identify the particular plant you’re wondering about.


An early start to the morning

This morning my baby woke up at 5 am, and after nursing him he still wasn’t interested in going back to sleep.  At times like these I figure I’m being sent an opportunity to get an early start on my day – no use bemoaning not being able sleep as much as I’d like!

I got up with him and we sat outside on the front porch for a little bit, enjoying the quiet of the early morning. We got a little damp while sitting there since yesterday (naturally soon after posting about how hot and dry it’s been) we had a fantastically wonderful day of rain, rain, rain!  It was quite a downpour and within a half hour, all three of my empty 50 gallon rain barrels were full.  My plants have gotten a wonderful soaking, which they really needed.  So my porch seats were damp, too.  But I didn’t mind a bit – I was so glad to enjoy the beautiful morning!

Then we went inside and I set the table for breakfast, then started making pancakes – ds11 made the batter last night before he went to sleep so it could soak overnight.  I thought I’d feed the baby some pancakes, make enough for everyone else for breakfast, and go back to sleep with him before either of the other littles woke up, but things didn’t work out quite like that. The boys woke up and went to shul, dd9 woke up and chatted with me a while and helped me make pancakes, and then ds4 woke up.  That was the end of my thoughts of going back to sleep!

He came downstairs and earnestly told me, “We have to do something about my sheet – it keeps making my clothes wet!!”  He’s usually dry at night but a couple of times in the last week he hasn’t been, and he really thought it was the sheet that was doing it!  When I explained to him that he‘s making the sheet wet, he indignantly told me, “Nah uh!  I hold it in!”  😆  I asked dd9 to keep an eye on the pancakes while I gave him a quick shower and dressed him.

We headed back downstairs together and ds4 helped me flip the pancakes and remove them from the pan when they were done.  Little opportunities like this make kids feel like a big help while building competence. A sense of accomplishment helps build self-esteem, too.

Then we needed to take the ducklings out of the hay-lined box where we keep them at night and put them in the yard; ds8 woke up and helped me with that since dd9 was busy feeding the baby bird we found (feeding baby birds is very intensive – they have to hand feed him frequently) and then had to daven (pray).  The kids have been teaching the baby bird to fly and are really enjoying having it as a pet.  We borrowed a cage for it yesterday but it seems to be sitting on someone’s finger most of the day, so it doesn’t spend too much time in the cage.

Once we were outside and finished getting the ducks set up with fresh food and water, I took the opportunity to do some much needed weeding in the garden beds.  Since the ground was so moist it was easy to do.  I had to pull up the spaghetti squash plant (that yesterday I mentioned getting two large squash from) since it was the first casualty of the season from the dreaded squash borer.  I saw another squash plant this morning that will be dead in the next couple of days because of this bug, and decided to just be happy to get anything from my squash plants before they’re wiped out by the squash borers.  It would be nice, if as the ducks get bigger, they eat these bugs before they wreak havoc on my garden!

Ds2 woke up around now and came out, and he helped me plant some onion bulbs, which he enjoyed.  I have about fifty tomato plants that I didn’t get around to planting a few weeks ago when I planted the bulk of them, so I planted a few of them today (only four or five).  Then I pulled up a few plantain plants by the roots, which grow wild and are considered a weed – probably about three pounds of it.  I never thought to eat these until a year ago, when someone here on the blog commented about it when I mentioned harvesting it for medicinal use.  Today I’ll prepare them as a cooked vegetable for lunch, chopped and sauteed with butter- it’s packed with nutrition and is tasty prepared like that.

By the time I came back in at 8:30 am for breakfast, I had gotten lots done!  While I’d love to be able to get up this early on a regular basis, that’s not something I’m currently able to do, so I’m grateful that I was able to enjoy the opportunity today.


Building raised garden beds on a budget

There’s been a good amount of yard work going on here lately – planting, building more raised garden beds, putting up the playset, and most recently, building teepees for our plants to climb. I want to maximize my growing space, and by having them grow vertically instead of horizontally, I can plant things closer together.

I like raised beds since the yard looks more organized. They also are nice since you can put whatever growing soil you want in them instead of trying to amend your existing soil, and they are higher off the ground, making planting and harvesting more comfortable. It also helps children at play be clear about where they can and where they can’t run! (And it’s a bit of a deterrent to foraging ducks. :))

The only soil amending I’ve done has been composting by burying vegetable scraps deep in the dirt. Last year I got a half a truck load of wood chips, planning to use them for paths between the beds. But since I didn’t yet have raised beds built, the chips ended up getting mixed in with the composting so my soil isn’t as rich as I would like. I could probably use more wood chips for the paths now, but I don’t feel like making the effort at this point – too many other things to do.

We built the raised beds and teepees for free using recycled wood (we also used recycled screws that were removed from the playset when we took it apart). A while back someone was giving away fence sections that had been cut in half vertically, so they weren’t good for using as fencing. We got a bunch of the sections, and then took them apart (because they were old this was lots easier than it would have been if they were new). Then they were rebuilt into the raised beds, which I think have an attractive rustic look, kind of like logs.

There are seven new beds – two sections each with three beds (the one you see is the first, then there are two more parallel behind that), then another one against the back fence. Oh – you can also see part of our lovely new fence beautifully installed by dd13 and ds16. :) Doesn’t it look nice?

With the remaining wood we made teepees for trellising the plants. How many teepees we’ll build will depend on how much wood there is – so far we’ve built 11. Ds17 (today’s his birthday :)) had an idea of how we could attach four of the boards with one screw, and then when we take them down for the season, they should be able to lay flat without having to be dissembled. That’s the idea – if it works out, it means we have just the one time effort of building them and then we’ll store them compactly in the garage until next season when they can be used again. We’ll see if it works out that way when the end of the growing season rolls around!

I had another idea of how I wanted to trellis the plants but the materials I preferred didn’t come to me for free so that clearly wasn’t what I was meant to use! I hope that the last of the teepees will be built today, and then I only have one more building project in the yard to do. (I want to build a pergola for the berry bushes to grow over, but it will have to wait until I have enough free wood to build it.)

Frugality and creativity often go hand in hand – you have to look at what you have and think how to make it meet your needs. It’s satisfying to look at the yard and see what was a pile of junk wood headed for the dump being put to good use and looking attractive!


New ducklings and duck update

A week ago I got a call from the post office that I had a special package waiting to be picked up – our new order of baby ducklings!

The lady at the post office was a little freaked out by it, and refused to let me open it in front of her (which you’re supposed to do so someone official will vouch that they’ve all survived transit).  It was so cute to hear the little cheeping coming from the box and open it and see them all eight of them healthy as could be (this was the minimum number I could order – usually the minimum is ten but I was able to get just 8 since it’s so warm now).  I ordered from Holderreads in OR since I heard very good things about the quality and health of their birds.  I was lucky to have called in time to place an order for the very last batch of ducklings available this year.

If you’ve been reading here a while and know that we incubated duck eggs a while back and hatched out three ducklings, you may be wondering what happened to those ducks!  As of now, those three ducks are reaching their adult size (they’re 6.5 weeks old now and are adult sized at 8 weeks).  I’m planning to take them to their new home in two or three weeks on a 27 acre farm where they will be able to free range with the other chickens, ducks, and geese that have a home there.  We wanted to wait to see the final development of feathers and growth, which is why we haven’t given them away yet – and after the entire incubation process and seeing them freshly hatched and every day since, you start to feel attached so we’re not rushing to give them away.

Ducks make such nice pets!  I know it might sound funny, but they’re fun to watch, easy to take care of, and they are relaxing to have around.  I enjoy sitting outside and watching them.  We kept them in a straw lined box the first few weeks during the day and night, then transferred them outside for the day and then finally outside for the night as well.  We didn’t do this until the yard was fenced, but now they free range (though they still love when we give them the duck feed once a day) throughout the day.  They also eat pesky bugs and slugs that you don’t want in your yard.

They do quack a lot at about 6 or 7 am, which is the main problem we have (since I don’t want my neighbors to be disturbed).  I thought it was because they got thirsty and needed to have their water refilled, but then we realized it wasn’t the water they were missing, but us!  Even though they have each other, they get lonely for us after a night with no company.  So I’m trying to preempt the noise by having someone go out early in the day to see them.  Otherwise they’re not especially loud.

As far as their droppings (in case you’re wondering about that!), it’s really not a big deal since they are waterfowl and their wastes are pretty liquidy.  So it’s quickly absorbed in the ground and we don’t have lots of smells or piles of fly attracting stuff around.  I think the main reason this isn’t a problem is because they have the entire yard – if they were confined to a small pen, it would be different.  When they were younger and in the box with straw every night (like the new ducklings are now), we’d use the ‘fertilized’ straw to mulch around the garden plants that weren’t yet fruiting.

If we like these ducks so much, why are we giving them away and why did I buy more?  It’s because I’d like to use the eggs from the ducks eventually – I’m not keeping them around just for the fun of it. I don’t know what kind of ducks I have, since I got the eggs via a friend of the person who raises ducks, and I don’t know what breeds she has.  I only know that she has a number of breeds and that the eggs could have been crosses of any of them.

I specifically want Welsh Harlequin ducks, since they are fantastic layers (comparable laying rate to the best chickens), very pretty, and have a number of other advantages.  (Here’s a site I found yesterday with more details, which sums up a lot of the benefits of Welsh Harlequins.) They’re not very common, and I couldn’t find anyone within a two hour radius who was selling any, so at the beginning of June I turned to Holderreads, a high quality hatchery, to aquire them.  Initially I was planning on Khaki Campbells, which are also top egg layers (along with Runner ducks, which my kids don’t like the look of) but then learned about the Welsh Harlequins, which are bred from the Khakis for their coloring distinctions and have all the same advantages but look nicer (in my opinion) and are calmer.  If I knew any of what we had were Khaki females, I would keep them.  But I don’t know anyone to ask about it, and I can’t figure it out on my own – the internet pictures aren’t enough and because they could be crosses of any number of breeds, it makes it impossible for someone inexperienced like me to work it out.  So buying ducks of the breed I wanted is what I decided to do.

I was planning to post pics of the new ducklings and older ducks, but my brand new camera that I never used has disappeared without a trace.  Sigh.  Such is the reality of life in a big family.  So I have to wait for dd to be around to use her camera.  So for now, here’s a link to the site where I bought our ducklings; you can see what the ducklings look like at the very bottom of the page. They are extremely cute!  When I have the use of a camera I’ll add some pics. (Edited to add pic below.)

I’m not planning to keep more than four of the eight ducklings, though if I had room and the zoning allowed it, I’d keep more.  Someone is interested in buying two and wants to come by tomorrow for them.  Due to an eye injury yesterday of one of the new ducklings, I’m not sure what I’ll do with the remaining two that I planned to sell.  I won’t sell one with an injury but I can’t sell them individually, since they’d be lonely without a companion.  I could always give them to the same farm where the older ducks are going, but I’d really like to offset the purchase cost by selling some.  I’ll have to see!


Busy in the garden

On Friday and then again this morning, I was able to get out into the yard for a solid chunk of time and do some gardening!  I really enjoy gardening – I find it very relaxing (even though often it’s a lot of work), centering, and just enjoyable.  My husband came out and saw me working in the yard, and he said he loved seeing me outside.  I asked why, and he said that I seem very happy then, and it’s true – I’m not walking around with a big smile on my face, but it’s more like an inner enjoyment that I guess is reflected out.

Last week I did my monthly shopping and succumbed to purchasing some vegetable starts for planting – even though the price was fairly good, I have plenty of seeds already so I considered this a splurge.  But I used part of my grocery budget for the plants, figuring that it fits best into that category since I’m buying them with the intent to grow food.

Right now I have a variety of tomatoes – 6 Early Girl, 6 grape tomatoes, 4 yellow tomatoes, 2 roma, 1 beefsteak, 4 cherry, and I’ve started seeds for three (four?) more heirloom varieties.  I have seeds for two more varieties, and I saw the first volunteer tomato plant (ie coming up on its own from tomatoes that fell on the ground last year), and am expecting a LOT more – last year I had about 50 volunteers.  They were seriously like weeds, except that I was happy to have them!  I have several kinds of peppers that I already mentioned putting in, and seeds for another couple of kinds that I want to try.

I planted 8 green beans in a couple of pots on the front porch (4 in each); they had each had a tropical plant that I left outside over the winter, and all that’s left of them are the sturdy stems.  I thought it would be a good use of the space to plant the green beans around them so they can grow up the stems.  I also planted five green bean plants into the yard, and started another packet of seeds – yardlong asparagus beans.  I guess that was about 40 seeds so hopefully a good number of them will sprout. I have to look at the dried beans I have in the house and see what else I want to plant – did you know that you can just use any dried beans for planting?  Pretty cheap to do it like that – instead of paying $1 -2 for a small packet of seeds, you can get a pound for under a dollar.

Thanks to the inspiration of my littles (opening my seed packets and getting them wet while I was transplanting), I decided to plant the package of purple carrots and really need to do the solar yellow carrots since they opened that as well, but haven’t yet – at least those aren’t wet.  :)  Generally I don’t think carrots are worth the effort because they’re so inexpensive, but I got three types that looked interesting, so it’s worth it to me for the novelty (the third type is called Parisian Market carrots, like small round balls).

I casually planted basil, Italian flat leaf parsley, thyme, lettuce leaf basil, and garlic chives along the front walkway.  Casually planted means that I loosened the soil, then sprinkled the seeds in a haphazard way and stirred a little dirt around.  I’m not the most systematic gardener in the world when it comes to tiny seeds!  It will be interesting to see what will come up.  I figured that herbs look attractive and are almost all perennials, so they’ll grow back year after year and will be a nice addition to the front yard walkway next to some other perennials (non-edible) that I planted last month, instead of taking up space in the raised garden beds.  I have a few other herbs still waiting to be planted – Forest Green parsley (the curly kind), marjoram, Greek oregano, cinnamon basil, sage, Italian large leaf basil, Finocchio fennel, and catnip (to make my cat happy).

Ds2 planted the remaining lavender plant I bought last month – it’s not really quite enjoyable yet planting with him, since he throws the plants in the holes, or manages to lose all the dirt around the roots before it gets into the hole. When gardening with my littles, I have to remember to shift gears from getting something done to making it fun for them, and putting my energy into helping them learn what to do.  When I do, we all enjoy it; otherwise, they feel like a nuisance!

I also planted 7 gold zucchini, 7 regular zucchini, 8 delicata squash, 7 watermelon (the big red ones), 4 small yellow watermelon, 7 spaghetti squash.  I have seeds for yellow summer squash that I plan to plant soon, in the next few days, and a few other winter squash – butternut, Gold Nugget, and Sweet Meat.  Squash are easy because the seeds are big and you can plant them directly into your yard.  Also I moved a bunch of squash seeds that sprouted in the compost – not sure what kind they are, but I’ll see when they fruit!

While I was in the garden I met a neighbor who lives across the alley when her dog escaped into my house!  She’s been living here for three years and I’ve been here for four but you don’t really see neighbors across the alley much except at a distance.  She just started a garden and we got to talking about lots of interesting things – she also had a pet box turtle that she brought out for the kids to watch while we were talking, and we had the three ducklings in the back yard while we were working there that she asked about and held.  I offered her some volunteer squash starts with the caveat that I didn’t know what kind they were, and she was happy to take some for her yard – she got about ten, I guess.

Oh, and I can’t forget about the cucumbers; I planted maybe 7 of those, too.  I have three more kinds that I want to plant from seed (Armenian cucumbers, Tendergreen, and Sumter), plus one kind that I started in mini pots that I’ll transplant when they’re ready – I think they’re called Meditteranean.  I like those best – they’re the very thin skinned ones that are crisp and delicious, with very small seeds.

The ducklings are being kept inside in a large plastic container covered with straw that we change daily.  I’m putting the straw around the plants that are in the garden, to discourage weeks.   We try to take them outside when we go out – I think everyone and everything is happier outside!  We have a grating that goes around a grill but we’ve never used it for that – it’s like a metal screening about two feet high connected all around.  We put the ducks and their water dish inside that on top of some grass, and then cover the top with a piece of metal screening left over from my composter (I saved it when I took the rest of it to the dump when it rusted through).  They’re very happy there and protected from prowling cats; I put them on a different patch each time we go out, though they’re so tiny it’s not like they eat up all the grass around them.

If you’re wondering where in the world I’m going to plant all of this in my not so big yard, the answer is that I’m planning to grow things vertically rather than taking up space on the ground to maximize the yield.  Gardening is an enjoyable hobby and part of the fun is that it’s so productive!


Weekly menu plan

It’s been so busy around here that I haven’t posted my weekly menu plans for the last two or three weeks – generally I do my planning for the week on Saturday night but now that Shabbos is over so late, there’s not much time to do it and I have to get used to setting aside time on Sunday mornings.  I’ve said it before, but life runs so much more smoothly when I have the menus decided on in advance!

Sunday – breakfast – fruit, bread and cheese; lunch – split pea soup; dinner – squash apple bake, tomato salad, zucchini in sauce, and something else I still have to decide on :)

Monday – b – breakfast tacos; l – rice with pigeon peas; d – chicken chili

Tuesday – b – raisin walnut scones; l – lentil tomato pie; d – chili con carne

Wednesday – b – muesli; l – lima bean patties, salad; d – pizza, salad, fries

Thursday – b – almond muffin loaf; l – CORN (clean out refrigerator night/day); d – black bean tamale pie

Friday -b – polenta; l – leftovers

Breakfasts are supplemented with fruit and milk; lunch and dinners with some kind of fresh or cooked vegetables.  Now that the weather is turning hot, my kids have really been enjoying main dish salads for lunch – I make a huge amount of salad, and then we throw in eggs, nuts, chicken, or cheese, and top it with a nice dressing.  There are many variations to what you can put in and everyone likes how satisfying but still light it is.  Ironically, making a huge salad like this takes more work than things that seems much more complex – all that checking and chopping!  I may end up substituting a main dish salad for one or more of the planned lunches, depending on the weather this week.

I mentioned several weeks ago that I was seriously considering the GAPS program for my kids stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome, a dietary protocol that restores optimal digestive functioning), but dh felt that I shouldn’t do it.  Our diet is pretty good and most meals above actually fit according to the GAPS recommendations (GAPS doesn’t include grains and some beans, which I still use a bit, but most recipes above use nut flours); he has been doing GAPS for over two months and felt it was unnecessarily burdensome  to limit the food options for them when they’re all thank G-d healthy and not in need of it (though of course it would benefit everyone).

Something else that is different now that the weather is warm is that the beans need less time to sprout before being used in their respective dishes.  Today I’ll be soaking pigeon peas, lentils, and chickpeas so they’ll be available for the meals they’re called for on Monday and Tuesday, but I’ll be soaking the limas on Monday and the black beans on Wednesday – in the winter you need more time to think ahead but two days is enough for beans to sprout now that it’s so warm.

In my garden, I have kale, chard, spinach, and lettuce, which I’ll be using this week.  I’m also thinking of using the last of the turnip greens and pulling them up so I can plant something else in that spot.  When you use your garden space effectively, you can get three seasons worth of crops out of each planting space – that’s what I try to do.  When I did my monthly shopping I saw some small pepper and tomato plants at such a good price (.50 each) that I decided to get them even though it’s really too early to transplant them.  Yes, I did transplant them. :roll:  I cover each of the tomato plants on cold nights with a five gallon bucket and so far they’re looking great.  It will be nice to have tomatoes earlier in the season than in the past (usually I don’t transplant until the end of May, so this is a month in advance).  I got four kinds of peppers (4 banana peppers, 2 Big Bertha, 2 CA Wonder, 2 of something I can’t think of right now), and a couple different tomatoes – they only had grape tomatoes and First Ladies – I got four or five of each.  I included all of them in my grocery budget for last month. I also picked up a couple lavender starts and two sage for the same price (there wasn’t much of a selection beyond what I got) – I couldn’t remember if sage came back up on its own last year or not.

I also just sent off for an order of seeds on Friday, and am really looking forward to getting those.  I should get the tomato and cucumber seeds planted this week so they’ll be ready to transplant as soon as possible, but there seem to be so many things to do right now (particularly with graduation plans for dd and ds, their plans for next year, and the conference) that I can’t say with confidence that I’ll really do that this week.  I’m pretty relaxed about the garden piece  – you do what you can when you can, and if the plants go in later or not at all, it’s not the end of the world.  I also want to put up a fence this next week or two, which is a big project.  Got to keep in mind priorities!

My strawberry plants look amazing!  Last year I bought 25 of them and hardly got more than 10 strawberries, but this year they’ve spread, plus I got about another 20 plants for free from someone last year, and there are signs of lots of berries forming.  Now if I could just keep my two year old from picking them and telling me they’re dandelions.  :)  When I bought blueberry bushes last year, I got three kinds that would bear fruit at different times, and this year the early bearers are showing signs of blueberries – we can’t yet eat them this year (have to check this with a rav) since they are only three years old, but it’s still nice to see them blooming.

Have a wonderful week!

(This post is part of Menu Plan Monday.)