Sunday, July 24, 2011


Awhile ago I wrote a post entitled "
Dealing With Weeds" about my attempts to find an organic way to kill the weeds growing on my rock path. I tried all kinds of things at that time, including spraying them with pure bleach, pure vinegar and dish soap, etc. They turned yellow but didn't DIE. People told me then that it will work but I have to stay on top of it. I think they meant that it has to be reapplied all the time.

This is not what I was looking for. I have searched for an organic way to KILL weeds DEAD not just slow them down. I know gasoline will do this very well, but I don't really want it in the water table, especially since we are on a well right beside the rock path. (I wouldn't use gasoline anyway.)
Well, I found something that kills them DEAD and it's so simple. Boiling Water. Nothing else is added, just boiling water. I have read that you can use boiling salt water, but the salt doesn't seem to be necessary. I don't want to use salt because it will sting Shdow and Abby's feet and not be too good for them to lick off, either.

This is a picture of what just boiling water poured directly on the weeds has done.
I am very excited about this find! I discovered it while blanching beans outside on the BBQ in the heat. I poured the boiling water out on the path, just because it was handy and wouldn't hurt any thing there.

Now I have been boiling the kettle outside just to kill the weeds!
I wonder if it will work on the BIG weeds. We are drowning in burdock this year. Maybe next spring, just as they are starting to grow, I will give it a try.

Friday, July 22, 2011


This is purslane (Portulaca oleracea). I am sure most gardeners have seen this plant growing in their gardens. Most of you have probably been pulling it up and tossing it like a weed. I was too, until recently, when I became aware of it's nutritional value. Now I encourage it to grow. I even transplant it into the flowerbed as a ground cover. I like that it does well in dry conditions, like the non stop heat and no rain we've had for weeks now. I am also glad it does not form such a thick mat that the perennials cannot grow through it.

The stems, leaves and flower buds are all edible. It can be eaten raw, stir fried or cooked like spinach. It's good in stews and soups too.

According to Wikipedia, purslane contains an extraordinary amount of EPA, an Omega-3 fatty acid normally found mostly in fish, some algae and flax seeds. It also contains vitamins A, C, B, cartenoids, magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron. In addition to all of this, it has two pigments, red and yellow, that are potent antioxidants and have been found to have antimutagenic (anticancer) properties in laboratory studies.

Purslane is tangy if you pick it in the morning, but mellows out more in the afternoon. It's the malic acid that makes it tangy but this converts to sugar as the day goes by.

As well as great to eat, it also has a deep root system that bring up moisture and nutrients for surrounding plants, and some, including corn, will "follow" purslane roots down through harder soil than they cannot penetrate on their own.

Known as Ma Chi Xian in Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is used to treat infections or bleeding of the genito-urinary tract as well as dysentery. The fresh herb may also be applied topically to relieve sores and insect or snake bites on the skin. (Get that, INSECT bites! Must try that... )

I, myself, am going to start cultivating it. It am going to chop it and freeze like spinach and use it as a ground cover in the ornamental gardens.

Ok, people, with all of this information, how many of you are still going to consider purslane a weed? Lets save it for the garden!

I might even have seeds for sale this fall, maybe.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Beer Butt Chicken

You've heard of "fluffy butt chickens"? Well, these are a little different!

Chickens sitting on an open beer can full of beer. It will boil and continually baste the inside of the chicken. The can should fit tight enough that the beer doesn't leak out the bottom.

The sauce recipe:
1/2 cup real butter
2 Tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of cayenne
4-6 cloves fresh garlic minced
1/4 cup parsley

Freshly dried parsley from the garden!

OK, this was my chicken BBQ post. The following is an excerpt from hubby's, who actually did the prep and cooking, as he usually does. I do the baking...usually.

"I took my chickens for a walk today. I closed the lid so I guess they won't go far. That's 3/4 full cans of beer they're sitting on, a place to rest if they get tired. I'll come back in a couple of hours and see how they're getting on. I hope they enjoy the exercise!"

I had to post it. His is so much more colourful than mine! lol!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Drying Herbs

It's the middle of July!! Yikes!! I still have a lot to do! One of the things I have to get moving on is drying the herbs for winter use. I grow a lot of herbs for the ktichen and to use medicinally. That is lemon balm drying on a screen above.

I prefer to dry them naturally, in the outside air, rather then use a dehydrator, oven or microwave. I have read a lot of bad things about drying herbs in the microwave. Many sites say the microwave partially cooks the herbs and doesn't leave a lot of the natural oils intact, so I am staying away from that. This is much easier anyway. Even though it takes longer to achieve the desired result, it's not MY time being used, so I don't mind.

This is yarrow drying on a couple of screens. I have a lot of screens for drying things since I have an online seed store. The screens are a great way to dry seeds and herbs. I am hoping to get all the herbs dried before I need to start drying large amounts of seeds on them. I need more screens!

I can also hang herbs to dry. A few years ago I strung wire under our large porch. This is only half of it. There are three strands that run the entire lengh. They are high underneath the roof so out of the sun, wind and weather. Half of our porch is enclosed with glass above the chair rail and this is where the screens are set up, also out of the wind and weather but they do get the morning sun for a short time. They get air circulation from the open part under the chair rail. It's a good set up for drying things, unless the racoons pay me a visit. (They come by occasionally just to tear things up a bit and keep me from becoming too complacent.)This is also where we plan to hang the tobacco to dry this year.

I tie the herb stems to coat hangers and hand those up onto the wires with my handy hooked stick. I just screwed a hook onto the end of a broom handle and it works great! We will do this with the tobacco, as well.

This is the set up. I also use open wire basket drawer things for drying smaller amounts of seed on paper towels.

This is parsley ready for the jar. I plan to keep my dried herbs in sealable glass jars on a shelf in the kitchen. The kitchen is usually the coldest room, in the winter anyway. The heat from the wood stove never reaches it. I have previously kept them in the freezer but will not have room this year.

I don't wash them before cutting, preferring instead to rinse them with the hose the day before so they are dry and fairly clean when I cut them the next morning. Clean mulch helps to keep the clean when rinsing. I use shredded computer paper for this and it works great!

I still have a lot of herbs to dry yet. Tomorrow I plan to cut a lot of prunella vulgaris (heal all, self heal) to dry and some echinacea, oregano, thyme, cilantro, lavender, St. John's Wort, hibiscus, choc mint, more lemon balm, more mint and a few others. I amd going to need more screens!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Wild Grapes

Look at all those wild grapes! I would love to pick them when they are ready and make either wild grape jelly or wine!

This picture was taken from an upstairs bedroom window. The grapevines are growing on a old TV antennae just outside the window. The ground is a long way down!

Any suggestions on how to harvest these grapes without actually climbing out there and breaking my neck? If I pulled the vines down from the ground, would the grapes still be attached and intact?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Pruning Tomatoes

To prune or not to prune, that is the question. Some people throw a cage on their tomato plants and just let nature take it's course. This means that their tomato plants will grow into a bush with a dozen separate branches.
I prefer to prune off the suckers and secondary branches, most of the time. If it is still early in the season, I will let a tomato plant split into two and sometimes three, if it gets ahead of me and I miss one, but I try to take off any suckers that grow.This is my Gordon Graham tomato plant. I have let it split into three stems only because it got ahead of me when I wasn't watching.

Pruning makes the tomatoes plants grow taller, so most of my tomato plants are staked instead of caged. I have tried caging them but they just grow over the top of the cages and fall over. I have seen tall homemade tomato cages that will do the job well, however. I still prefer to stake them and prune off the suckers. I find that this makes the tomatoes larger, with less per plant, and easier to see and harvest. These are my Portugal tomatoes, staked and producing wonderful, large tomatoes!

We were blessed with a pile of strong metal fence posts that I have used in the garden. I have hammered these into the ground and strung heavy coated wire between them. This is where I am growing the tomatoes this year. I just tie the plants to the wire as they grow up. Since I rotate the plants every year, I won't be growing tomatoes on this wire next year. I will probably grow cukes and pole beans on it. There is always something I grow that has to go vertical.

Suckers are little stems that grow in the leaf nodes. If left alone, they will split the plant into separate stalks, each growing tall, making a bush. About twice a week, I play in the tomatoes and nip off the suckers and tie up the stalks. It's an enjoyable activity and gives me a chance to keep a close eye on them.

I also prune the leaves on my tomato plants. I don't cut them all off, just a few. I trim off the ones that touch the ground. I think this might help to keep slugs off the plants. I also cut off any that interfere with the development and room needed by growing baby tomatoes and I prune leaves to open up the plant and let light and air circulation into the fruit. I do think it is important to leave a few big leaves on the plants to make food.

The 'San Marzano' tomatoes grow huge leaves that cover the entire plant. They have to be cut back some.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Using Herbs

I have begun to use the medicinal and cooking herbs that I grow more this year than in previous years. I have spent years doing research into the various herbs and what they are used for today. There is a lot of information and dis-information out there regarding what they were used for in times past and what they are thought to do. This type of stuff doesn't interest me. I want documented, tested uses. Wikipedia has been a valuable source of today's recommended usages for just about anything!

My favourite method of using the herbs that I grow is in tea. I like drinking tea, usually with sweetener of some sort. Honey is good and I also used Splenda. I know, it's not that good for you but it is definitely better than aspartame or cylamates!! I did attempt to grow stevia this year from seed. Two sprouted but only one made it into the garden. It has long since disappeared. :-( I think I will buy a stevia plant if I can find one reasonably priced somewhere. Then I will take cuttings from it to grow a garden row of them next spring for drying.

I also, occasionally, make infused oils.

Because I sell a lot of herb seed, I have added a page to this blog that contains information on what each herb is used for, how to recognize them and recipes for using them. You can see the link to it across the top of this page, just under the header picture.

Later this year, I will have seeds for sale for most of these herbs. I do not have borage but will be growing it from seed next year.

Because I have begun to enjoy herbal tea mixes, I usually dry them on screens on the front porch. This works well for most seed, as well. The squash seeds and other seed that the squirells enjoy eating, will dry indoors in a spare room upstairs, although I have not had a problem since Shadow has begun living outside on the porch during the growing season. Shadow is our male cat and great dark hunter (He's really a mama's boy but he likes to pretend).

Monday, July 4, 2011

Squash for 2011

Upper Ground Sweet Potato Squash
I gave a great deal of thought to the variety of squash that I wanted to grow this year, for the freezer, for the seed, for fall decoration and for sale. I decided on the Hopi black (of course), Turk's cap, Hopi pale gray, sweet dumpling and upper ground sweet potato squash.
I planted 7 hills of our best Hopi Black Squash with 2-3 plants per hill. I planted one hill of the Hopi pale gray with just 2 plants, 1plant of the upper ground sweet potato squash, one plant of the sweet dumpling and three plants of the Turk's cap. They grew well this spring and began to bloom a few days ago. Now we come to the hard part - keeping the C. maximas from cross pollinating.

I have been using the masking tape method. You can see it here:
"Hand Pollianting Squash". I considered a few other methods this year, bagging the flowers, using screen boxes but settled on what I considered to be the simplest.

I have been going out to the squash field every afternoon and taping all flowers shut that were due to open the next day, then going out at dawn and hand pollinating them, then bringing the used male flowers into the house and putting them in the compost bucket. While this will work well, it's not ideal, especially for someone as busy as I am.

This morning I decided that I was too busy to keep doing that. We also have so many new things on the go here this year that I just don't have room in my stress quotient for it and the continued worry that I might miss one and sell seeds that were crosses. I made the decision today to grow only four squash each year, one from each family: maxima, mixta, moschata and pepo, since they don't cross between families. No more worry and work to keep the seed pure!

No more worry about cross pollination!! I will still hand pollinate the squash to get a bigger yield but I can rest assured that the seed is pure.

Next year I will add a large striped cushaw (C. mixta).  That means I don't grow zucchini or large pumpkins, since both are pepos like the sweet dumpling, but I'm ok with that. It's worth it to save myself the hassle and worry that I might miss something. We don't eat a lot of zucchini. As a matter of fact, I didn't plant it this year at all just because I didn't have the time.

Next year I might consider large, walk-in screen boxes that enclose the entire hill, maybe, if I want to grow more than the four squash varieties.

What a relief! Some things are just not worth the work and stress it takes to achieve them.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Making Yogurt

We love yogurt and it's so versatile! You can eat it plain, with fruit on it, put it on cereal and cook with it. It makes all kinds of great desserts and it is so good for you!

We use so much of it that we make our own in a 2 litre bucket. It makes quick and easy, much faster than buttermilk, but not easier.
It doesn't make at room temperature like buttermilk does, however, so it has to be heated up and put into a container that will hold the heat long enough (about 8 hours). We ordered our 2 litre bucket yogurt maker from a cheese company in New England many years ago. It's just like the ones that used to be in every home in the 70's and 80's. It is a simple styrofoam cooler, not electric, that the plastic bucket fits in, so it can be made anywhere. I know people who have pur their yogurt containers in other small styrofoam coolers that hold in the heat and covered it wth a warm quilt or blanket. This seems to work and would do in a pinch, if you didn't have an actual "yogurt maker".

We let our yogurt "make" about 8 hours. If you like it less tart, you can take it off earlier.

The thickness of the finished yogurt depends on the milk solids in it. If you want a really solid yogurt, add powdered milk to the milk before putting it in the maker. We used to do this regularly until powdered milk got so expensive. To the 2 litre bucket we make, we added about 1/2 cup of powdered milk. Now that I don't use it, our yogurt is a bit thinner and wetter, but it's still great yogurt. What we make now is similar to many brands of store bought yogurt.

I have discovered that the addition of plain gelatine will help keep it from watering, so now I add about 2 tablespoons of gelatine to the 2 litres of milk when it is very hot and use the hand blender to dissolve it. If you are adding powdered milk to it, the hand blender would be useful too. If you wanted to get creative and you like fruit yogurt, I suppose you could use flavored gelatine, but I have never done so. You can also add sugar, sweetener, jam or fruit to it at this stage. Freezer jam makes great yogurt. It's the sugar and almost fresh fruit all in one.

I use yogurt to start it. I rarely ever buy actual "yogurt starter". Any yogurt will do, as it has the live bacteria culture (acidophilus) in it. I usually make yogurt when there is a little left in the bucket. It doesn't take much (1/2 cup to 2 litres). I spoon it out of the bucket and set it aside, then wash the bucket before making new yogurt in it. I also buy a small plain yogurt when I need to, in order to start a new batch.

Here is a list of what you need to make yogurt: milk to fill your container(s), powdered milk (if using it), gelatine (if using it), thermometer, yogurt starter, and a container/arrangement that will hold the yogurt and hold the heat in for 8 hours.

To make the yogurt, gently heat the milk to 190 degrees F, stirring more or less continuously. Turn off heat. Add the gelatine and powdered milk and blend until dissolved. Cool the milk to 112 degrees F, then add the yogurt starter. If you add to starter to the milk when the milk is still too hot, you will kill the bacteria and it won't make yogurt. If you let it get too cool, it won't make yogurt either. Anywhere around 110-112 degrees going in, with everything added, will make good yogurt. If you don't heat the milk to 190 degrees, you might get yogurt and you might not. It's risky. You might get another bacteria in there that will make something other than yogurt.

Being exact with cleanliness and temperatures is something one gets used to if one makes wine or soap regularly. Making yogurt is much easier ! Try it! Yogurt is so good for you!

Good, solid yogurt without a lot of water.

Friday, July 1, 2011


We are considering acquiring a couple of goats to keep the brush down around here. We have empty fields full of brush that we'd like to clear.

It would be such a waste to just cut it down when it would make great goat forage. we could also have some meat for the freezer and milk, if we had goats. There are only a few of us but I would like to make cheese and we do make a lot of homemade buttermilk, yogurt and soap. I would also want butter.

I know milking is a lot of trouble with the sterilizing and so forth. I already make large quantities of wine. Can the cleanliness be more exacting than that? I have had chickens for years so I know about water in winter and daily care and feed. I have a vet tech for a friend who will give me lessons in trimming hoofs. I could let the milking dry off for a few months each year and share the milking job with the babies for awhile. We could have goat meat in the freezer and sell a few babies too. We could also have a bit of cashmere, maybe.

I just don't know what kind of goats to get. I don't want babied, spoiled barn goats. I want goats that forage outside all year but I want some milk too and meat. Is there one type of multi-purpose goat that lives well outside foraging in the north, gives enough milk for us and has enough body weight for meat and possibly hair that we can breed up for a bit of cashmere? What about Spanish goats? Does anyone keep these for milk, as well as meat?

Should we get a mix of breeds, maybe one dairy goat and one meat goat to start with? What is a good, outdoor hardy, northern goat for milk and for meat? There is a farm nearby with Spanish goats which are bred to produce cashmere. That's why I am asking. Will I be able to get enough milk from a couple of Spanish goats to do what I want with it? Any breed can produce cashmere, or so I have been told, if bred for it. They will also have to eat a lot of brush! I know we need sheep for the little grass but we are not concerned about lawn, we want the brush eaten. We are over run with thistle, curly dock, burdock, goldenrod, mustard and wild raspberries.

I have researched goats for years, but more for care than breeds.

Is there anyone out there nearby with a couple of goats we could acquire that would meet out needs? Am I asking too much from one breed of goat?

I know about the fencing problems. Been there, done that! I know there is no such thing as a goat proof fence. We are installing a double wire live electric fence.

I am more concerned at this point with getting the right goats for us.

Anyone have any advice on breed and locating them?