WELCOME TO WISCONSIN MICROFARMER's BLOG
Our GARDEN BLOG covers all things garden, including planting, organic strategies, and things relevent to the season.
Our HOW TO blog teaches you how to do things like plant seeds or make jam.
|Posted on May 3, 2014 at 12:30 AM||comments (0)|
So Maple Syrup season has again come to a close. The winter flew by and dragged on forever at the same time. It's time to pull the taps, and start planting in the open garden. Time to get out the sheets and prepare for late spring frosts.
But first, let's look at Maple Syrup for one last entry, as the last drips of sap "tik tik tik" into the milk jugs my bohemian grandfather taught me to catch tree sugar in.
Wisconsin is 3rd in the Nation for Maple Syrup production. Following Vermont and Maine, in 2013 265,000 gallons were produced in the Badger state last year. This years numbers will be lower than that I am sure. It was a poor and strange sap run this year, with many stops and starts, and the wrong combination of warm days and cold nights. The temperatures that are ideal for spring sap flow are 25 degrees at night, and 45-50 degrees during the day.
Accordning to a Cornell University study-
Around 300 different natural flavor compounds have been found in pure maple syrup, though not all in the same syrup. Your nose detects most of these compounds. There is a compound linked to maple flavor that is present in all pure maple products, but varies in amount between producers and time of year. Other prominent flavors are sugars, caramel, and vanilla. Nutty, buttery, floral (honey), cereal, chocolate, and coffee flavors can be found in some syrups. As is the case for most natural products, maple syrups have complex flavor chemistry to delight your sense of taste and smell.
Maple syrup can be substituted for white sugar in cooking. Use 1 cup maple syrup for 1 cup white sugar. Reduce liquid in recipe by 3 Tablespoons for each cup of syrup used. Maple sugar can replace white sugar in equal amounts.The sugar in maple syrup is sucrose with small amounts of glucose and fructose sugar. White sugar is sucrose. There is no direct scientific evidence that maple syrup is healthier than white sugar. Diabetics need to treat maple syrup and sugar as they do other sugar products. Because it is a less refined sugar, maple products contain minerals, antioxidants, and other compounds that have been shown to have health advantages in other foods.
We waded through almost 100" of snow to set our taps in late March, and then waited patiently through more subzero temps, and more snow, before the trees began at last to drip sap through our taps. The snow was deep, but I didn't realize how much there really was, until it began to melt....The last few sap runs of the season, standing finally on bare earth, there are taps that Luke, who turned nine years old over the winter, can't reach! They were set in the trees while I stood on the record breaking snow fall accumulations.
We did make enough syrup to make it through the next year, and it tastes, as always, better than I remember.
|Posted on December 27, 2013 at 6:35 PM||comments (0)|
So as always, summer flew by in a blur. The weeds raced, the zucchini took over, canning and harvest filled our golden days to bursting. And then with a flash, frost came, and the garden was finished. Or is it?
For us, here in Wisconsin, the garden has not yet gone completely to sleep even now. We have crisp green kale, and mache/corn salad still in our coldframes. On a sunny sunday afternoon I don all my winter gear and venture out into -15 F weather, and sweep snow from the top of the cold frame. With a scissors in my mittened hand I cut a few bunches of kale (siberian variety) to put in our inside warming Portuguese Kale and Sausage soup. (recipe to follow) I tuck the greens back into the coldframe and put abit of the snow back around the edges to insulate my precious winter greens.
This past Tuesday was Christmas eve, and lunchtime found me digging in the snow at the south corner of the greenhouse. I dug about 2 feet into the snowbank and came up with an especially precious treasure, fresh thyme for our Christmas Eve pork loin roast. With rosemary from the windowsill (potted and brought in this fall), our roast smelled fantastic in the oven all afternoon, and it tasted even better!
Much of the winter garden is not for winter eating though, under fiberglass row covers sit, waiting for spring, greens, and cabbages, and young beets, just biding their time until the days begin to lengthen. Until then, we'll eat the swiss chard and kale, and dream of tomatoes and scallions.
Portuguese Kale Soup
1 lb spicy Italian sausage, sliced and browned.
When the sausage is browned well, add 1 cup diced onion, and several cloved of minced fresh garlic. Set aside.
In a large stockpot boil 4 cups of diced potatoes of your choice ( We like red ones) in salted water.
When they are tender, drain and add chicken or vegetable broth, sufficient to cover, homemade about 4 cups, or two cans.
Then add in the sausage, onion and garlic mix, along with some fresh or dried basil and oregano ( you can also use Italian seasoning). Let simmer for atleast half an hour.
About 15 minutes before serving add in about 3 cups of washed kale, torn into small pieces. Let simmer another 15 minutes, on low.
Serve hot with a crusty bread.
|Posted on June 24, 2013 at 4:30 PM||comments (0)|
So for most of us, the garden is in. That's not to say you dont still have seed packets in every shirt pocket, stack of bills, and even a few in the freezer. However, by late June, the lion's share of the actual planting is done. Our vegetables are up and running, most of the berry bushes that we put in as bareroots in April are out of dormancy, the fruit trees blossoms have fallen and they are making fat little green apples and pears. So at what point are you done? The answer is a tricky one really.
Now that the garden is in, the real work begins. Of course you know I'm mostly referring to weeding. The weeds somehow always stay one step ahead. I weed for atleast a half hour every day. No sooner than the onions are surrounded by clean dark soils with out any crabgrass or purslane, than I look over a row, or three to the broccoli I weeded over the weekend, and find it is overrun. No sooner have I picked the peas than i notice the beans are ready to pick and the lettuce needs cutting. A gardener (or farmer)'s work is never done. So for most of July I am weeding, hilling, thinning and picking, (not to mention, blanching, freezing, and drying).
After spending several 90 degree days weeeding, I see weeds in my dreams. My knees are perpetually stained earth colored, and there will be soil under my fingernails until the snow flies. In short, in the hot July days, weeds overrun not just the garden, but the mind as well. Not all weeds are an evil though: many such as, purslane, plantain and lambs quarters, make it into our dinner salads daily. The chickens and the rabbit convert many pounds of weeds weekly into fertilizer and eggs. We also use them in the compost pile to create free nitrogen.
How to weed is a common question. There are many tools on the market, meant to remove weeds, hoes, and hooks, and even one named after a rodent. There are attatchements for tractor and mowers meant for cultivating. If you grow your plants as densely as I do however, you are left with one choice. Your hands. For the most part, only my hand can get between the plants in our gardens, with out also ripping up the plants that belong there. I some times use a small hand rake to loosen them, and early in the season I can use a hoe or rake to scratch out weeks, but in just a few weeks, there is too little space between rows and plants to use any kind of tools. There are additional benefits to intensely close plantings, besides more yield in a small space than with a more conventional (as directed on the seed packet) layout. Much of my garden is self mulching, meaning that the vegetable plants over lap each other so much that there is not enough sun,water or space for weeds. This is particularily true in the tomato, bean, and squash beds, where the plants are large and leafy.
There are always weeds in the lettuce, carrots, onions and garlic bed, no matter how vigilant we are . It can be disheartening to look across the garden and see weeds marching throughout. It is much more gratifying to look at the one or two beds you just weeded, and admire the dark unbroken soil that lies between the cabbages.
|Posted on June 18, 2013 at 5:55 PM||comments (1)|
If you've found your way to our blog, you are probably doing something, or many things to live a greener life, such as eating organic foods, and properly disposing of hazardous wastes. Most of us also put out a separate bin on garbage day for our recycling. What are we putting in that bin however? It bears a second's thought. The majority of us who recycle put our glass, such as pasta sauce jars or wine bottles, as well as our metal cans from veggies or canned fruit. Then you get to plastics, which is a hazier area, even for an avid recycler. Recently I decided, enough waffling about which ones to put in the bin, and which ones to toss. I went on the website of our recycling service. What I learned surprised me.
The service in Eagle River accepts all plastics numbered 1-7. They also accept and recycle things like toasters (small metal appliances) and faucets. They also accept most kinds of paper. They cannot recycle cellophane, carbon paper, or the backing from computer printed labels.
Until now we were not recycling paper, most often it was used to heat our garage in the winter. Upon learning it is recycled here, I did as I usually do, a little reading on the subject. Here is what I learned about recycling paper.
According to the EPA- every ton of paper recycled saves enough energy to power the average American home for 6 months., saves 7,000 gallons of water, and saves 3.3 cubic feet of landfill space or carbon put off by incineration. In 1990 the US Forestry and Paper industry (represented by the AF&PA) voluntarily set a recovery goal rate of 40%, meaning that they would collect and reuse 40% of the paper used by consumers. In 2007 the actual recovery rate of paper passed 56%. As of 1994, officially, more paper was recycled, than found its way to landfills.
Almost 40% of the raw materials used in paper mills is post consumer (recovered) material. More than 3/4 of paper mills in the USA use some recovered paper to make their products. More than 140 paper mills use exclusively recovered paper as their raw material.
About 70 million tons of paper and paperboard are used in the US every year. Every page of electric bill, or notice about the football program at your child's grade school that we casually toss into a trash bin can and should be recycled. Also every cereal box and envelope. In many communities, you do not even have to keep separate bins, recyclables are co-mingled, meaning that you can put all of your glass, paper, and cans, and plastic into one bin, and they are sorted later at the recycling facility.
What kinds of things are made from recycled paper? It may surprise you to learn that in addition to writing paper and folders and the like, all of the following are commonly made of recycled and recovered paper. Masking tape, Paper money,Globes,Bandages, Dust masks, Hospital gowns, Coffee filters, Lamp shades, Car insulation, Animal bedding, Planting pots for seedlings, Egg cartons.
In my eyes, it is a much more responsible use of our trees, water, and landfill space, to reuse the paper that comes thru our house every day. So let's put that junk mail to work!
What can you do? According to the EPA more than 23,000 communities offer curbside pickup an d paper recycling services. You can visit www.earth911.com to find services near you. Go to recycling search at the top right of the screen and enter your zip code. Earth 911 also offers many innovatives ways to reuse things, rather than putting them in the landfill.
|Posted on June 4, 2013 at 12:55 AM||comments (0)|
So it's June. Last night we covered plants, for hopefully the last time, as temperatures dropped well into the low thirties, and frost advisories were announced on the local public radio station. There is a lot to cover now!! We have all of the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants in, having worked straight through Memorial Day (our taditional day for planting tomatoes). Our cabbage and broccoli, put in early in April are coming along nicely, and after some much needed rain, the first planting of beans is up. (I stagger those plantings throughout June to keep from being buried in beans in July).
We have planted most of the squash, (winter and Summer types), the cucumbers(5 types), and four types of melons. These later warm crops are not up yet, but in probably a few days the cukes will start to pop through the soil. The flower seeds scattered at the edges of our beds and paths for the bees are popping up more and more each day. The corn and pumpkins are tucked in thier hills, with some turkey craw pole beans that we bought on the Cherokee Indian Reservation in NC poked in around them. With every rain, the garden's ratio of brown to green tips more heavily in the green's favor.
Also we (and Annabeth) survived our first chicken health scare. The longer grass available to our hens with the rain resulted in a case of sour crop. The hen's crop holds grit and digests (chews, if you will) their grain and greens. If a hen gets a long string of grass in their, without sufficient grit, or a lump of undigested grain, it results in something like an acid stomach in a human. Unlike we humans, though, a chicken cannot burp, or vomit. The process to clear a sour or obstructed crop is not a pretty one! It involves two humans, a towel wrapped upside down chicken, and quite often green slime on your shoes. Several days later howerver, our blonde hen is no longer drooopy tailed and moping in a corner, she is vocal, social, and perky once again.
So all is well in the garden and the chicken run, and today's project is to make several rhubarb jams for the farmer's market.
|Posted on June 3, 2013 at 3:55 PM||comments (0)|
Variety may be the spice of life, but at our house herbs are the spice that gives our lives variety. From dry chile powder and basil flavored olive oil in the cold months, to the green fresh marjoram and mint on the hot summer evenings, Our lives and our palates would not be the same with out them. Herbs and spices though? What are they and how to grow them? How to use them? Which parts to cut?
Herbs, strictly speaking are the leafy parts of plants that we use for seasoning, or medicinally, or for scent (perfumes etc). Examples of common herbs grown by the home gardener are thyme, basil, parsley, cilantro, mint and dill. Spices, are often other parts of plants, like seeds (coriander), fruits (peppercorn, chile powder), or even bark (cinnamon). Herbs are used both fresh and dried. Most spices are dried.
Herbs are not fussy growers as a rule. They are not picky about soil fertility. That is not to say that they they wont grow more lushy in well amended soil full of organic matter, they will. However, if you have a kind of sandy spot, or can only afford manure or compost or fertilizers for part of your garden, don' t wast the rich soil on the herbs. They'll do just fine with out. Put your hungry beans or pumpkins in the richer soil. Herbs weill mostly do well in a few hours of sun. They'll do well in direct sun on your sidwalk in a bucket too. They like water, but do not need nearly as much as your fruit producing powerhouses, like tomatoes or cucumbers. Herbs, in short,, don't need pampering. Plant them, keep them moist while they are germinating. Then let them do their thing. You can spend that time reading recipes to try them out.
Common Herbs Grown Easily at Home
|Posted on May 30, 2013 at 4:15 PM||comments (0)|
Living in the Northwoods, which is for all intents and purposes, a totally tourist based economy, you hear some funny statements. "Where's the nearest Walmart ?" " What's a good restaurant?" and "What do you guys do all winter?" I am happy to tell them we don't have a Walmart, help them pick out a restaurant, and explain to their incredulous children that we fish, on the ice, in little huts. i am less thrilled with the ever present, "I hope it doesn't rain", however. No one wants it to rain on their parade, or their vacation either, but do they really think that the Northwoods can survive, and stay the lush, green lake country they come to visit year after year, with constant sunshine?
Let's talk about rain. Our County has an avarage annual precipitation rate of 31" . For gardeners this is vital. Every drop of rain that falls naturally is water you dont have to apply from your well (or worse, pay by the gallon municipal water supply). In addition, Rainwater contains many things that municipal water supplies do not. For instance, the evaporation process, which causes rain, collects natural sulphur, which plants need, and rain collects nitrogen from the environment (free-natural fertilizer). When lightning strikes during a storm, hydrogen bonds with nitrogen to fertilze your garden even more efficiently. The dust captured by rain adds vital minerals and nutrients to your soil, which cannot be bought in any bag of fertilizer. Many of the things that make a home grown, or real, farm grown in real dirt vegetable taste so different than a hydroponically, mass produced one, are those micronutrients that are contained in every raindrop.
Last night we had the first "big" thunderstorm of the year, and the garden soaked it all up like a sponge. Everything was greener and the asparagus had visibly grown this morning. Most exciting of all though, be it from the electrical activity, fresh rain, or just good timing, the year's first beans peeked out of the soil to greet me as well.
So I say, Let it Rain.
|Posted on May 28, 2013 at 9:50 AM||comments (0)|
All of us are aware of course, that bees pollinate things. The image that most often comes to mind is the big, dopey, fuzzy , bumblebee stumbling around the inside of a tulip in your flower border. There is more to it than that however. The result of pollination, is one of two things; a seed, or a fruit. For example, a bee will polinate both broccoli and pepper plants. To the home or food gardener, one is more important. When a bee pollinates a broccoli plant, the plant is already past eating, and has bolted and gone to little yellow flowers. The bee (or moth or other pollinator) polinates the flower, causing it to go to seed. This is vital if you are saving your own seeds, and of utmost importance if you're place in the agricultural world is seed production.
For most home gardeners and homesteaders though, the pollination of the pepper and its "family" is more vital. The peppers flower needs pollination to SET fruit. In other words, if no buzzing pollinatiors visit you pepper while its blooming, it will stay just a handsome green plant in your garden, and nothing more.
Different plants have different pollination outcomes (seed or fruit) as well as different pollinations requirements, 1 being that polinatiors have little impact on production, and 4 being that pollination is essential. Some of the crops grown in the home garden that require (number 4) the most pollination, are the melons, watermelon, cataloupe, the curcurbits (squash family), and the cucumbers. Also all of your fruit trees, apple, pears, and berry canes, raspberry blackberry etc.
What can you do (besides have a bee hive of your own) to ensure pollination of your crops? Well to encourage passing bees to visit your garden, interplant flowers, marigolds and nasturtiums are both great, right in the rows. We do this in particular in our squash and cucumber patches. Those blooming varieties are more fragrant than the squash and cuke blossoms, bringing bees in for a closer look. (The are also edible and beautiful!)
Also a source of water for visiting bees can help, a dish or pan with some gravel or marbles with a little water in it willl help. An old birdbath can work nicely for this too.
Here at our place, the fruit trees are in full swing. We have two apple trees, two pears , a crabapple, and this year we planted a cherry and two saskatoons. The mature trees are in full bloom, and as I sit out with my coffee this morning, im thinking, "Go bees, Go!"..
|Posted on May 18, 2013 at 11:40 AM||comments (2)|
Today is Bee Day!! After a long and anxious day yesterday, as the bees were enroute from Georgia, we are beekeepers! The local post office called at 6:35 this morning to say that our bees were here, and would we please come quickly and pick them up? The postmistress sounded a bit stressed, so I got right in the car and drove over there. As I came in the rear door of the post office, the lady shrieked a little and said "Oh good, I think a few got out! " She looked ready to jump out of her skin. Actually, none had gotten out, there were just a few hangers on who traveled along on the outside of the packing crate.
So my bees and I drove home. They were silent in the back seat, none of the humming or buzzing that I expected. I took them in the house, in our front porch, as it was rainy here this morning. I readied the hive, removing a few bars, to make an opening to put the bees into , and mixed up some sugar water to spritz them with (it keeps them from flying and busies them licking it off). A bit apprehensious, I donned my bee coat (modelled below by my niece), and carried the box of bees to the newly set aside apiary (bee yard).
The act of getting bees out of their box isn't nearly as frightening as I had imagined it to be. I read (naturally-this is how I prepare for things) many bee keeping boks from the library, as well as many internet blogs and magazine articles about how to install your bees in their new home. It seemed in my mind, a mammoth task, but in reality, you pretty much just dump them in. first i pried of the cover, and removed the sugar can. A few bees did fly out at this point, but I slid the cover back over the hole, and that was that, then I unhooked the strap which holds the Queen (in a little box) and removed her, again, setting the cover back over the opening. Then, through the mesh sides I spritzed the colony with some sugar water (1:1 ratio of sugar to water). Then, there's no nice or gentle way to do this, I tapped the crate on the driveway a few times to knock the bees to the bottom. Then easy as pie, I opened the top, tipped the crate over, and dumped the bees into the hive. Most of them poured out, nice and smooth, and clustered into a ball around the Queen's box. Some stayed in the box, and I've read that they will eventually find their way over to the hive, so I left the box there underneath.
As I deposited the bees in the hive, a few landed on my gloves and hood, 3 or 4, not the cloud you'd envision. The ones on my glove were buzzing, andt through the goatskin of my gloves, I could feel that humming vibration. Somehow, it wasn't threating at all, but friendly and facinating. We've provided them with a jar feeder, made from a pasta sauce jar full of sugar water, so now we leave them in peace, to establish their colony and begin making comb.
|Posted on May 11, 2013 at 11:55 AM||comments (0)|
So after a weekend of high winds, and a snowy Mother's Day, I'm ready for spring to settle in for real. There are about two weeks until our normal "last frost" date. What that means to me is that I can start seeding those things that are a little cold tolerant, as well as those that will take about two weeks to sprout.
First, your seed beds need to be prepared. There are many different ways to do this. First, are you just readying an exsisting bed? Then you can really just use a spade, turn the soil a bit, to loosen it, and rake it smooth. Of course remove any debris, stones, and weeds and grass roots that may have snuck in while you were busy canning. However, if you are creating a new bed, or reclaiming an abandoned one, they you have a bit more work to do. As my garden grows a few feet on each side every year (the boys appetites are growing faster), I clear and ready quite a bit of lawn into garden each season.
When you turn over new beds, especially in early spring, it is important to get as many grass and weed roots out as possible. I actually do this by hand, which is painstaking and slow, but cuts down greatly on grass sprouting all over the garden later in the season. if you are in a hurry, or cannot sit at ground level, or just dont want to get that dirty, a rake with closely spaced tines will do the job fairly well. Also take out any large twigs, rocks bigger than a marble, pinecones, and weeds leftover from last year.
If your sand is predominately sand, or clay, this is the time to fix it. A few bales of peat moss (6$ a bale) with lighten clay soils, and make sandy ones hold water a bit better. if you have finished compost, you can mix that in, say a 5 gallon bucket per 6 foot row. Or you can purchase compost or manure in bags, which will help soil texture as well as fertility.
Then with a rake, level the soil a bit, and you're ready for seeds. Small seeds, like carrots and lettuce are easily sprinkled into a trough of soil. Larger seeds, like peas and beans and corn, can easily be just poked into the soil with a fingertip. Check my entry on planting times to see what can be planted at this time of the season. We are currently about 2 weeks before the last frost for our area.
I'm off to plant some swiss chard and kale!