The Backyard

The Backyard

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pennsylvania State Agriculture Department - Encouraging News!

PA government is doing it right in the Ag department -- check out the below press release from yesterday. Not on ly does it save families money, it promotes SUSTAINABILITY and LOCAL FOOD! Go PA Ag!

Ag Department Opens New Community Gardens in Selinsgrove
April 29, 2009
HARRISBURG – Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff discussed the importance of home gardening and consumers growing their own food today as families face tighter budgets as he helped open a new community garden in Selinsgrove, Snyder County.
“Recently, there has been an increased interest in home gardening as consumers are trying to stretch their dollars,” said Wolff. “Growing your own food is a great way to cut costs and local gardens decrease the distance food travels from farm to fork reducing carbon emissions and providing a nutrient-rich source of fresh fruits and vegetables.
“We also encourage gardeners to share their bounty by planting an extra row to donate to those with limited access to fresh produce through a local food bank.”
Because not everyone has the space to plant a garden, community gardens are becoming more popular and widely available, particularly in urban and suburban areas.
“Thanks to community gardens, consumers are learning about agriculture, Pennsylvania’s number one industry, by being in closer touch with where their food comes from,” said Wolff.
The new gardening effort Wolff helped launch today—the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture/Selinsgrove Community Gardens—is on a seven-acre parcel of the department’s 223-acre farm. The project is a partnership between the department, Penn State Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners, the Susquehanna River Coalition, and Susquehanna and Bucknell universities.
The 30’ x 30’ garden plots will be available to members of the community for $10 per season. To secure a plot, contact Joel Imgrund of Penn State Cooperative Extension in Snyder County at 570-966-8194.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Undressing a Salad

What's a salad without dressing? Oil and vinegar, homemade herb vinaigrette, ranch, raspberry vinaigrette -- always interesting recipes out there for dressings for salad. Some folks do not eat dressing on salads. I never really liked dressings to be honest. Occasionally, I'll make a dressing for a change (thus, the raspberry vinaigrette above), but always revert back to my old standby no dressing. Instead, for years I've gotten into the habit of feta cheese or some other sort of shredded cheese piled high atop the greens along with croutons. In January, I gave up cheese and found all commercial croutons WAY too processed with too many ingredients. Now that greens season is upon us, I'm missing the cheese and croutons, but have found a replacement and new ways to dress the salads thanks to my winter cookbook perusal. We had some leftover cookie filling from Christmas. The recipe is a family hand-me-down called "Banichas" which is very similar to Hungarian Nut rolls. The walnut filling that was leftover was frozen and I tried a bit on the salad and absolutely loved it. It satisfied my sweet tooth, and the walnuts add some nutrition to the salad too. Along with the nut filling "dressing", I'm experimenting with fruit atop the salad -- apples, raspberries, strawberries. The fruit, mixed with the sweet nuts, on top of spicy water cress, makes for a delectable salad. Here's the recipe for the nut filling. I strongly recommend making the called for amount (maybe half would be OK) and freezing. Why? Because in smaller amounts the consistency tends to dwindle because of the proportioned liquids getting too small - thus it tends to get to soggy from the liquids. It seems easier to simply make a pile, then freeze it and use as needed. Enjoy!

Nut Filling
2-1/2 pounds English Walnuts - grind (my hubby loves this part -- he uses an antique meat grinder and cranks, while I hold it in place and refill the hopper with nuts to be ground).
1-1/2 cups organic sugar
1/4 to 1/2 cup soy milk (or almond milk works nice too)
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix ground nuts in sugar, add milk until filling starts to stick together slightly. Freeze, use as needed.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Lots of Updates

Spring is definitely in high gear and the weather is being as unpredictable as it can be in April and May in northern Dauphin County in Central PA. It started semi-normal with a couple threats of extra cold temps (20's) that didn't materialize, but is ending with summer like temps in the high 80's. My broccoli and cold weather crops are NOT happy. The broccoli was just starting to adjust to being in the ground when the heat hit. It's now struggling to figure out what the heck is going on. I've never experienced a heat wave this early -- very odd (global warming??!?!)
The pictures from top to bottom: very happy pepper plants under lights, freshly rototilled garden just about ready for some summer seeding, crooked rows of peas, unhappy broccoli in the heat, and elephant garlic in its glory.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Killing Weeds With Vinegar

I plan to purchase about 5-6 gallons of vinegar this weekend to start the weed-killing. I'm determined to try to get through a season without the aid of Monsanto's Round-up weed killer. My mom glared at me like I was truly going crazy, "What?" she said, "how are you going to keep things under control without Round-up? I couldn't live without it." Last year, I tried vinegar at a couple of spots and it worked beautifully. this year I'm attempting to use it exclusively. I'll keep you posted. The only downfall is it takes a lot of it and cost-wise, its actually probably still cheaper than a bottle of Round-up. But the true benefit no matter the amount it takes, is the benefit to saving the environment and NOT supporting Monsanto. Simple, Green, and Frugal had a good post on 20 Household Uses of Vinegar, one of which was weed killing.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In Honor of Earth Day

Today is Earth Day -- what are you doing to celebrate? It could be something as simple as not eating meat today... or recycling something... or planting a tree (which was popular for many, many years until we became more educated on the environment). I'd like to say I'm going to stop using plastic forever -- but that's a very, very tall order given just about everything we touch anymore is plastic. I read the most interesting article in the latest Patagonia catalog that has me thinking and talking about the article and plastic for weeks now. There's a location in the Pacific ocean, not far from Hawaii, that has been accumulating plastic for several years and it now covers a 1,000 nautical mile area. The article goes on to talk about fish ingesting these tiny particles of plastic that never disintegrate, and the birds eat the fish, and the baby birds eat the plastics from their mothers and die because the tiny babies can't digest the plastic...and the humans eat the fish who have plastic in them -- and so on, and so on. You get the picture. Bottom line, here's what we should do to stop it.

Stop the source of the pollution. We have created a synthetic polymer that lasts almost forever and we often use it to package one-time-use products. Stop buying over-priced plastic bottled drinking water. A reusable (glass or stainless steel) water bottle is better for the environment, for your health and your pocketbook. Make the choice to bring your own reusable shopping bag to the store. Pick up trash on your next visit to the beach. Simple steps, small lifestyle changes and concrete action multiplied throughout a community and a nation can have a big impact.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What's Greener - Shop At Store, Or Ship to the Door

Dr. Scott Matthews, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, got a little curious about the environmental costs of shipping vs buying books at a retail store. The culprit that got him and his friend Chris Weber researching was the astounding sales of Harry Potter books. This was extensive research -- factoring in things like printing costs, shipping costs, warehouse costs, consumer driving patterns/distances, the costs to run the bookstore, energy costs of the on-line data center, etc. He ended up with a complicated 18 page report, but overall determined on-line was better environmentally - at which doesn't have warehousing ( has huge warehouses). There are many variables and this isn't one-size-fits-all. Considering shipping of food, for example, its clear and obvious that purchasing from the farmer down the road or at a farmer's market is much better environmentally. Beware though -- not all produce is local at farmer's markets especially over winter and now as we gear up for the local growing season. Think about what might be in season now and go from there. Here's a nice chart to help you learn to buy by the season

Monday, April 20, 2009

It's Festival Time -- Rhubarb In Its Glory

Michael Pollan would be proud of all you rhubarb lovers out there -- its something all of our Grandmas had in her backyard and she'd recognize it in an instant. And we all ate it at one time or another -- and decided at a very early age if we love it, or hate it. Rhubarb, technically, is a vegetable and grows celery-like stalks that are harvested, chopped, and cooked in a variety of ways. Pie is the most popular manner as the sugar sweetens the bitter taste of rhubarb. Jam is another popular foodstuff. And then you get into the vast realm of unusual ways to cook rhubarb -- sauce (like applesauce), chutney, smoothies, syrup, cooked with meat/lentils, in cake, in other desserts (rhubarb crisp), and the list goes on. Kitchen Kettle in Intercourse, PA, has been holding a rhubarb festival for 26 years now. They even published a cookbook at one point showing the range of rhubarb uses in tasty dishes. Its not a vegetable often seen at farmer's market -- I'm not sure why; possibly its not as popular as I like to think it is? All in all, its easy to grow and is a beautiful plant with its huge leaves. Give it room though -- one plant will grow to cover a 4-foot area in a year's time. My family (yes, the entire family!), falls into the love it category. So much so, I just removed some of my 70-foot border of rhubarb plants to make room for Strawberries. I figured 12 feet of rhubarb with two plants now in the rose garden, might be just enough. For many years, my mom (and of course both grandmas when they were alive) made pies, jam, and sauce and we never ran short of rhubarb, and she's asking about already this year. The plants should be ready in a week or two, and you should be finding it at the farmer's markets shortly also. There's green, and ruby red stalks. Mom prefers the red as most people do because of the attractiveness of the coloring. I actually prefer the green - mainly because its more prolific, grows bigger stalks, and I personally think it tastes better. It really looks ugly in dishes though (Green pie?). Enjoy your rhubarb!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

What's at the Local Farmers Markets in Central PA?

It's coming kids...the local produce is about ready to start making it's debut in Central PA. Move aside winter veges and make room for fresh, spring produce. Farmers that have hoop houses have probably already been providing greens -- kale, spinach, collards, turnip greens - and maybe even some of the root crops like carrots, beets, and turnips. But for those that don't grow all winter, you can start to count on rhubarb, asparagus, some herbs (chives, sage, fennel leaves, maybe some rosemary if they were able to keep in alive this winter - mine bit the dust this year) watercress, and a spattering of other early greens. I'm in Zone 5 (1 hour north of Harrisburg) and I'll be picking asparagus and rhubarb this weekend. I found this incredible-sounding recipe for rhubarb and lentils that I'm dying to try and this weekend will be the test. The cookbook is Flexitarian Table, by Peter Berley, and it has wonderful recipes that mix fruit with vegetables in grains, but then also has a "side" of meat for the meat-lover in the family. Hubby's in heaven.

Lentil and Rhubarb Curry with Potatoes and Peas (Flexitarian Cookbook, by Peter Berley)
Spice Blend
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground fennel
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large shallots, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chopped peeled fresh ginger
sea salt or kosher salt
3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 cups coarsely chopped green cabbage
2 cups diced potatoes (1/2 inch)
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced rhubarb
1 cup French lentils, soaked for 4-6 hours and drained
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
1 bay leaf
1 cup thawed frozen peas

For the Spice Blend: In a bowl, stir together all the ingredients.

For the Lentils: In a heavy 3 to 4 quart saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, shallots, ginger, and a large pinch of salt, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, 8-10 minutes. Uncover, stir in the garlic and the spice blend, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.

Add the cabbage, potatoes, rhubarb, lentils, brown sugar, and bay leaf, along with enough cold water to cover by 1 inch. Raise the heat to high and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently, uncovered, until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Stir occasionally and add more water as necessary to keep the dish fairly soupy.

When lentils are tender, season with salt to taste, stir in the peas, and simmer until the peas are just tender, about 4 minutes.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Shameless Seven - They Claim They Are "Organic"

Man oh man... I'm tired of reading this stuff! Lately there's been a bunch of hoohah about "organics" not really being "organic" -- that the cows in some organic milk products are still raised in feedlots (No USDA Organic standards regulate the conditions the animals are raised in -- only that they eat organic feed and do not receive antibiotics) and the fuel consumption in the production process of these industrial organics is huge -- more costly to the enviornmental than not using the pesticides. Now, I come to find out, the Silk soymilk is also "tainted" and the source of the soybeans is as far away as Chile and Brazil according to the Organic Consumers Association. What the heck are we to drink? Local milk is best, but I still have a problem with veal production and saturated fat and whole milk is the best because the processing to remove fat, then put garbage back in to replace the fat is less than desired). Stoneyfield claims their local organic farms raise their beef for organic meat which may be ok. Oh... the confusion! Will have to look more at non-dairy sources for calcium (and non-SILK soymilk) too! Here's a list of the best sources of non-dairy calcium.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sustainable Food Budget Challenge - An Eye Opener

Tomorrow will be the mid-way point for the Sustainable food Budget Challenge and I’m $4.00 away from my limit. I didn’t pass this test. But I can pinpoint where the extra costs were and know I could do this. Here’s how: 1) Easter dinner at a restaurant – total failure, it wasn’t organic, it wasn’t vegan, and it wasn’t local, AND it cost me $15.00. We’ll never eat out again, both of us (Rick complained about the prices mostly). 2) Industrialized organics – I’ve learned a lot about organic produce offered at a decent price by the agribusinesses like Earthbound and Cascadia Farms – the only difference with the big companies is they don’t use pesticides, which is a good thing, but all the processing/use of diesel in huge tractors/hiring of migrant workers to work the fields, etc. isn’t any different that commercially produced food. No more industrial organics for me – its better for the environment to simply eat locally. 3) The food from my freezer and storage was absolutely the cheapest way to go – for $1.79 in a pack of seeds, I can grow 9 tomato plants and can about 30 quarts of tomatoes. Each quart costs about $3.00 if I would buy it (28 oz can) – There’s $90.00 I’d save just on tomatoes alone. Hmmmm… I think I hear my backyard calling– there’s money to be saved back there!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Manure - Mainstream? has an interesting post on manure suddenly being in demand. Why? We wish it would be for an increased demand in organic gardening, but the demand is more about economics. Seems commercial fertilizers are getting pricey with some ingredients getting scarce; thus, farmers are heading to the manure piles. Provoking thoughts for the future -- will commercial fertilizers become a thing of the past?

Friday, April 10, 2009

400 Stuttgarters - Let the Spring Planting Continue

I'm forever grateful to my boss for allowing me to take the 3rd Friday in a row off to plant, plant, and plant some more. Thursday evening was about as pretty as it gets -- 65, sunny, dry, and a big box of even more stuff to plant was waiting for me -- the 100 strawberry plants and 2 blueberry bushes I ordered (my onions and potatoes came on Monday). What perfect timing being off on Friday. Taking advantage of the beautiful evening, the Stuttgarter onion sets went in the ground as did the broccoli. Broccoli can take a light frost and they got their first icy christening this morning. Planning on some rain, I got up early and was planting the strawberries and blueberries at daybreak. I hadn't expected it to take two hours -- even with well prepped soil (I just dug out a bunch of rhubarb which grows fairly deep - so the ground was very well dug). But again the timing was perfect as the rains started just as I finished up around 9:00 am. But it only rained a short time and I was back out prepping the tater patch.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Sustainable Food Budget Challenge Week 1

I cant' say I kept it totally honest with the start of the challenge. I'll admit my guilt -- I ate a banana, some non-local or organic spaghetti sauce, and some nutritional yeast. Nope, none of them are on the sustainable food budget list of things to eat. They fall in no categories other than off limits. Can I blame my husband? He has to eat too, and the banana is actually his fault 'cause he bought too many and it was going bad and he told me to eat it or it'll get thrown. God forbid we throw food out. The same was the case with the spaghetti sauce... it went on home-made pizza (which had the nutritional yeast for the cheesy flavoring and nutrition on my half). The sauce was a left-over bottle in the fridge that also was gonna go bad if we didn't use it up. The point being made here is as long as you eat sustainably most of the time, are a whoopsies ok? I'd say yes. And I'm also saying yes to required vegan nutrition that may not be organic or local -- like the nutritional yeast (although it IS non-GMO which is ok in my book). Once again, another food challenge is an eye-opener and the food knowledge database is filling up. If you're wondering what the heck I'm talking about, I'm participating in a Sustainable food Budget Challenge for the Month of April -- trying to keep the budget under $176 a month eating only sustainable (local) or organic food. And since there are very little local foods in early April, I'm buying organic and it ain't cheap -- thus, the challenge. And how is that budget coming along? Well...we'll see how it ends up at the end of the month. I'm 2/3 at my limit already one week into the challenge ($110 of $176.00), but that includes a bunch of bulk (its cheaper buying bulk) items that I may not use by the end of the month (10 lbs of potatoes?). So there will likely be some recalculations. I found it very interesting that many folks are concerned about staying in the budgetary guidelines. Read some of the other challenger's comments here.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Spring is Popping Up Everywhere

All it takes is a good soaking rain, sunshine afterwards, and temps in the 60's and there's no stopping spurts of growth all over the place. Herbs, perenniels, weeds, and of course all the seeds I planted have sprouted -- lettuce, spinach, radishes, turnips, carrots, beets, kale and greens. And on the doorstep when I got home were the heirloom onions and potatoes, but they'll have to wait a week or so until I get some time to plant. The potatoes surprised me. Since this is my first experience at growing potatoes, I expected tiny little potato "sets", like onion sets. Instead, there's full size potatoes in the bag, and only about 5 of them. Say what? I paid good money for something that looks like a potato I get at the grocery store? My dear hubby had to set me straight on the potato growing education. "Honey, you have to let them sit in the warmth and let them sprout, then you cut the potato into a couple pieces and plant the pieces." Geez, thanks hubby -- I didn't know you were a potato grower in another life. "Yup, me and the Irish." What a jokester. So the next couple weeks will be busy. My wonderful boss was already forwarned about the need for a day for planting - it might be next Monday since Easter Sunday will be a little busy with family stuff.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Bee Balm "Mess?" Hardly!

One of my favorite plants of all time is Monarda Didyma, more commonly known as Bee Balm. It's a favored flower for hummingbirds, but herbalists like it for the fragrant tea it makes. In my 17 years of growing it, the plant has moved no less than about a dozen times because of its mint-like prolific, sprawling nature. It started in the appropriate place -- the herb garden (yes, it's a perenniel herb), but was moved to the back of the house at one point (it tolerates shade), to the native plant bed (yes, certain varieties are considered "native" to north america), and more recently in the rose garden just because I had a space that needed some summer color and the Bee Balm fit the bill. The plant is making its move again and is slowly creeping from one corner of the rose bed to another. But this time I'm letting it go. The patch has grown SO big, that I can't fathom trying to dig it up. So yesterday was spent cleaning it up and tidying up the edges so it doesn't sprout in the walk-way. It makes a mess! The tall, 3-foot sturdy flower stalks hang around long after the flowers fade and need removed come spring. It also makes a lovely cut flower in arrangements. If a neighbor offers you a start, take it! It's worth the effort. The hummingbirds will entertain you for many weeks enjoying the flowers.

Friday, April 3, 2009


"Volunteers," in the gardening world, are plants that volunteer coming up and growing without your assistance of planting the seed or seedling. They usually are reseeded from nearby plants of the previous year. Sunflowers, and some of the easy-to-reseed herbs like Lamb's Ears, garlic chives, and dill happily volunteer just about anywhere and make me crazy each season pulling and ditching them. Cherry tomatoes also enjoy volunteering at the oddest of spots. It's been probably 15 years since I bought and planted Sweet Annie (artemesia annua), a fragrant herb used in wreath making, but also a host plant for beneficial insects like ladybugs. Some folks use the herb medicinally. I'm still finding volunteers growing in the strangest of places. The plant in the pic was dug up in the rhubarb patch. Sweet Annie doesn't get ditched... it was replanted in the herb garden so the ladys have a home for the summer.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Staying in the Sustainable Food Budget - Growing Pains

Damn this is hard. If I don’t lose weight this month, I never will! Keeping the focus local and/or organic really changes up the daily habits. No more reaching for the sugar-free candies to settle the hunger pangs. No more grabbing a bag of pretzels at the vending machine… no more digging in the snack drawer and munching on the soynuts or other nuts – because they ain’t organic! No more heading to the cafĂ© for an order of onion rings, or a bagel. My snack today was fried potatoes from home. But that’s ok… I sorta planned it that way knowing I’d be hungry. I’m seeing already I’ll have to think more about consuming fulfilling foods – foods with fiber – so I don’t crave anything and feel fuller all the time. Oh, and that cup of coffee I constantly have in my hand? It ain’t organic, so it ain’t there. ARGH!!! This is painful… but I’ll endure. Habits will truly be changed -- all for the better!