Monday, June 25, 2012

Lodge Cast Iron Grill

When we purchased our wood stove, we also bought a few key pieces of cast iron cookware from Lodge and for Father's Day we got Rob a new grill that can use charcoal or wood. We tried it for the first time last night and the grill is pretty amazing.  We used basically some kindling and started a fire, it heated up great and cooked the food beautifully.

I was hoping to find something that did not depend on a resource that we had to purchase. This will allow us to cook in Summer without using the cook top and without the use of gas, propane, etc. Basically our scraps from gathering and preparing wood for next Winter will cook our food all Summer.

Also, if we do any traveling or camping, it is small - although very heavy - grill that will not take up a lot of travel or storage space.  It is perfect!  I also like that we can have a fire in the city that is safe and controlled, but still a "campfire".

The only problem with this grill ... the book of more amazing Lodge pans that came with it! 

Snap Peas and Tomatoes

One of the ideas we read about was to plant Snap Peas very early in the season and also plant tomatoes in the same bed. Today we cut down and harvested the snap peas and composted the crate of shredded greens. This is a great learning experience - as everything is this year - some of the snap peas needed to be taken out of the pods because they were too far past the eating as a pod stage. Some were perfect and we enjoyed them last night with grilled chicken.

Observations from this experiment?  I would not grow tomatoes with this type of bean because of the dense growth.

The dense growth of peas on the green frame
We kept a couple of servings as snap peas (whole) and froze some to use as
peas in delicious curry :)

The bed now has small tomatoes that were able to grow underneath.
We also planted cucumbers and peppers in this bed in the empty spaces. In our list of things we'll plant again next year - I definitely want to grow at least one bed of the sugar snap peas - they are so delicious and grow well in our garden.

Poppies (2)

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and to endure the betrayal of false friends. To appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”    ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

These flowers are so beautiful and fragile, each morning they bloom and by the end of the day they are mostly gone. If there is wind or rain - they pass very quickly. They are the centerpiece of the garden and I am so happy that I planted them! It is a strange feeling to be so powerless to make something grow and then so powerless to make it stay. There can only be the short time of appreciation and observation...

Day One

Day Two

Day Three

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Hungarian Blue Bread Seed Poppy

I have never grown Poppies, and saw this beautiful flower on the Seeds of Change website and wanted to give it a try. They are grown from seed and the only attention they needed was a good garden soil and some watering.  And judging from the growth of almost 12" in the past week, they needed a good amount of heat and sunshine.

Yesterday the first arrived and then was gone by evening - this morning another bloomed and a few more look like they will be ready soon.  Such an amazing and unusual looking plant and flower. Bright purple flower perfect to go with the golds, reds and yellows of the Nasturtium, Marigolds and clover.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

How does your garden grow? warp speed?

Just a quick update because I am amazed at how quickly things are progressing. We ate some deliciously sweet snap peas in a stir fry yesterday and today the Marigolds and Nasturtiums are starting to open. With the expected weather at 95ish for the next two days, I am hoping the sweet potatoes will get the heat they need. can see for yourself. Not so bad for a first try at this thing. It makes me so happy to just watch the changes, even from morning to evening the growth can be seen. I have never loved Summer so much!

Delicious sweet Snap peas

Sunflowers, corn, beans and squash - will be taller than me soon!

view of the beds - peas, snap peas and the herb spiral - first Nasturtium flowers!
In the far back near the fence- potatoes.

Blue Poppies 

Cherry Tomatoes and Red Hopi Amaranth

Snap Peas- Sweet and Delicious

Broccoli, onions, and red onions 
Package of mixed lettuce

In case you are wondering...the lettuce is just a package of mixed seeds - literally just scattered in a planter - and I could have many salads.  Tomorrow we are planning a little salad with a radish or two and will be picking the shelling peas to see how that goes.  
We'll be eating/freezing this batch and planting another for seed for next year.

The only thing that has been difficult...the location of the eggplant and watermelon did not work, probably too shady, so I will be starting them again and hoping to have it work in a sunnier spot in the front yard.  The pumpkins, zucchini, and butternut seem to love it - 
so it's worth a try.

All in all, I am enjoying the watering each evening and the obvious growth 
from day to day. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


With the addition of so many plants, we are starting to define paths.
When they are definite, I will be digging to put the pine path into the ground to
make walking level and stable. 

Last Thursday the plants we ordered from Permaculture Nursery  arrived and we spent Friday and Saturday digging, planting, watering, etc.  The care in packaging and shipping was outstanding, I felt like a little kid at Christmas...needless to say, we are very pleased with the plants. Some are still adjusting, but just today the Sea Kale lifted its leaves off the ground and the spinach vine is not wilting.


After the unwrapping

Alpine Strawberry
Sea Kale

Hazelnut Hybrid (bush)

Kiwi Vines


Tea Bush

Turkish Rocket

Clove Currant

Dwarf Comfrey

Building a new bed

Arugula, Sorrel, Ramps, Horseradish, and in
the back - Spinach Vine ( all Perennials )

Mint Root

Concord Grape 

Not pictured:  Jostaberry, Chinese Yam, Pink Champagne Currant and Russian Comfrey. 
The work involved this year installing the perennials is just about complete. The fruit trees, vines and bushes. Nut trees and bushes, perennial greens, etc.

What is next? We wait for everything to grow....

Corn and Sunflower bed is happily growing!

Zone 0 - Small Home - Big Changes

It’s a lovely rainy day today – rain barrels are filling and the garden is growing. I am home to tackle a few projects that seem to have taken over the house.

I have been thinking and reading about three topics that today come together for me:  reducing our carbon footprint, living in a tiny/small home, and the Permaculture idea of Zones. Zones are areas of your property that are designated for certain purposes, and because this post is getting really long, I will post separately about what our zones include and represent for us.

When we bought our home 10 years ago – the appeal was price, it is in the area my husband grew up in, the fact that it was in “move in” condition.  We were sharing a home with our in-laws at that time to save for our own place, so we had money saved when the opportunity presented itself. When we walked into the house for the first time, I knew I wanted to live here. The process of buying was so smooth and problem free and we love our home. At that time, however, we were not aware of the level of consumption we were at, the level of energy we needed to keep the house functioning and the cost of a few repairs that would eventually be needed.

You could say that our life focus was just to do what everyone does – work hard, pay our mortgage and other bills and enjoy the evenings and weekends with our family and friends.  It doesn’t sound like a bad plan, but, it did not take the future into account at all, and now the future is here. At that time, I never thought about Peak Oil, grocery prices going up 30%, that one of us at any time could lose our job, that our children would probably live with us until they were into their late 20’s – because of the slow collapse of our economy and raising of prices for everything we need to live. We are happy to still have a home to share with our children and friends, and fortunate to weather the last few years when so many have lost so much.

When we moved in, people said things like “this is a good starter home” or “this is a good first home” and I would just smile because I know we will probably never leave Worcester, or this house. I am sure that the size is one of the main reasons people thought we would eventually move. It is only 900 sq. ft.  Sure, I dream of vacations in a cabin in the woods of Vermont, (in a yet smaller building) but I really and truly love this city and being around neighbors, and having access to community that I think is very important when times are tough, and let’s face it – times are rough now for many people!!

Now, one of my favorite topics to research is the Tiny House/ Small Home movement. For instance:  Tiny House Blog. People all over the world are living in much smaller spaces and require much less of a footprint, and when I think of all we do in our home, I know now that their lives can be full and complete without a huge house. Over time, especially in the past couple of years, we have made an effort to cut back our expenses and consumption of resources. We recycled extra appliances, bought a couple of new energy efficient (and smaller) appliances – like our refrigerator. We have replaced all the light bulbs with energy efficient, replaced the roof (new insulation, etc.), purchased an Elmira cook top wood stove for cooking and heat, and energy efficient replacement windows. We tackled each of these things one at a time and paid it off and started the next.

So, with these things all in place, our heating is reduced, our cooling isn’t necessary (no more air conditioning needed with the new windows) and we have learned to unplug, turn off, and require less energy in general.  For our “night light” I have solar charged lights in the house, for the yard – solar lights lighting the walk and back yard.  We are not opposed to using energy when needed…we put our outside lights on motion detectors and use lights if the solar don’t charge – because we live in the city and we also have to consider security and safety. But I am always looking for ways to do these things with less power. One of the best ways I have found to cut unnecessary use of electricity is to put everything into surge protectors that can be switched off when not in use and turned back on when we need to use something.

With the functional and energy issues being addressed, there is a major consumption issue inside our home – of space. In the day to day of living, we accumulate so much. Gifts, junk mail, regular mail, catalogues, holiday d├ęcor, recreational equipment, gaming and games, clothing, school paperwork, pieces and parts of crafts and projects and general living projects that we have taken on, such as canning, food storage, wood working, gardening, music, etc. etc.

After reading many blogs, websites and books, I see that living in a small home, it is necessary to consider each item individually – pick it up, think about it’s value and either find a practical use or storage, or pass it on to someone else.

Today I am starting that process (again) at a deeper level than I have in the past. If we do this periodically, I find (for myself) that I need less and less. When there is less stuff crowding me – I feel like room opens up inside creatively and I can write, sing, etc. But, when I am cluttered around me, it clutters up my mind and consumes too much time – finding things, and recently injuring myself and ended up in the emergency room because this clutter creates a frenzy of searching and distraction that results in injury.

Why we do this to ourselves, I will never understand.

So, today is about this process of picking up each item and figuring out what has a genuine meaning to me, or a practical function and how it can be stored in a way that we have as much space as possible available to us when these things are not in use. And the rest will be passed on.

I have decided to tackle this a room at a time. Front Hall and Closet, Bedroom, Living Room, Kitchens, Baths, Back Hall, Basement Storage. I am using the space in our basement to sort the things I need to donate, store or throw away.

The plan is to give myself an hour for each room – to gather the quick decision things like trash/recycling/laundry, etc. and deal with them, and then to take the not so quick decision things and bring them downstairs. Every hour I will take one rooms “clutter” downstairs and sort by use, project, donate, storage, seasonal, etc. I also will designate an area for each person in the family so they have the opportunity to sort through their own things.

Okay – I am 2 hours into this and just finishing one hall  - there is a huge misconception that 900 sq. ft. is small.  It just sounds small until you have to clean it. I would say the same about our property…100x50 doesn’t sound big at all until you look at the list of 50+ plants we have growing so far. (not including weeds and volunteers). And I would say that we are only using about ½ of the available space in the yard, as well as the house.  The house I want to pare down and create beauty and space, and the yard I want to fill with beauty and food.

Adaptation is probably the most important thing about this process. Clearly the halls are the storage for the other rooms – so I really am cleaning two halls of clutter and just straightening the rest of the house.  Scrap the hour in each room – today is about cleaning the clutter out of two halls and then sorting through storage in the basement. Most likely, and realistically, it will just mean cleaning out halls and sorting another day. This is better than any gym!

So the front hall is transformed from a dumping zone to a dressing room/closet and hallway for coats when people visit. This is just the first step, I can think of many different uses for the hall and am leaning toward a bench window seat for reading and storage. Ideally, I would like to find or make a coat rack, window seat/bench and find a good storage system for office supplies and crafts, but keep the crafts downstairs. It would be most beneficial to find them at a yard sale or consignment. But, first, we’re going to live with the space and see if we even need to put anything else there. 

A small note of importance is the flow of air that was blocked by clutter in front of the windows. Without air conditioning - the flow of air in the house becomes very important and right away I could feel the change. When I could get to the windows easily and open them, it creates a flow of air from the back of the house that is refreshing and can quickly air out the house and cool it. 

Piles accumulated

A place for shoes and clothing

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Easy Breakfast...

My version of this uses Oscar Mayer pre-cooked bacon, free range eggs, seasonings and cheese.

On such a beautiful day, I didn't want to spend a lot of time cooking breakfast and cleaning up, etc. so I looked on-line and found a million different versions of this idea and made it my way. No prep - 15 minutes of cooking time and easy clean up. Everyone can eat them the way they like...just plain or with sandwich thin for a great breakfast sandwich. Next time, I will probably scramble the eggs and add some veggies for a little more bulk and variety.  Also, I would definitely try a curry version.
You can't really go wrong with this. 

Lightly butter or spray muffin tin - put 1/2 piece (or more)
bacon in each cup

Put an egg in each

Season to taste - salt, pepper, and grated Parmesan

Bake for 15 mins. at 350F


If you didn't want to run the stove in the Summer - or were camping - this would be super easy to cook outside - just prepare the same way and wrap the muffin tin in foil and cook on the grill. 

Protein for a day of working in the garden, and not in the kitchen! 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

First Fruits

Last night, the laughter of our "children" and their friends hanging out and talking filled up something in me that is emptied by the time we all spend apart and busy. It pleases me so much to have them enjoy our home as much as we do. A couple of drinks in the garden and laughter through the window. It's all a parent really can ask for - that their children get along and like each other, enjoy and respect the home they live in and are grateful. Everything else is just working out details...

Even though today is June 2nd, it is raining and only 60 degrees out - and tonight is supposed to be only 50! It reminds me so much of vacations when there would be a rainy day and we would light a fire and make the most of the rain. So, when the rain let up Rob & I went out to look around the garden and picked a radish for our salad! Then we got some wood from the shed and built a fire to take the damp and chill out of the house. It felt like a real day off today of sleeping in and hot coffee perked on the wood stove.  Time slowed down and rest so desperately needed with the rush of life lately. 

Our little cabin in the city is such a refuge from every storm.

This radish was sweet and delicious - nothing like the dried out radishes
from the store. 
If you have never grown anything - I would suggest planting radishes. Easy to grow and so delicious and good for you!