Have you been curious about what’s happening at Growing to Ground?

I’ve been so busy go-go-going since I founded Two Wishes Child Care in January and STEAMer Trunks in April. I’m also continuing to offer services through EmSun as well (transcription, writing, editing, photography, etc.). It seems like every day I’m waking up to another 2,000-item-long to-do list!

Even with all that, though, we’ve been making progress at our tiny 0.3 acre in-town farm.

Chickens

Ramona, Buffy, Willow, Snow White, A Da?, and Ashley are all doing quite well. They’d started to not lay as well and then dropped down to not laying at all, but we think that might have been due to an autumnal molt followed by the dropping daylight hours. All six are healthy, though, and clucking around their little yard like the tiny dictators they are. If they don’t start laying again in the spring, I think we’ll be having chicken stew.

Rabbits

We added two rabbits in mid-April named Banjo and Alice. Banjo and Alice are Netherland Dwarf rabbits and were purchased primarily for the high-quality black gold coming out their tush, but also in case our daughter wanted to participate in 4-H projects. Our daughter “accidentally” (jury’s out) messed up and put Alice in Banjo’s cage sometime in early June. On our daughter’s birthday she came out to find that, sadly, Banjo had expired. He seemed healthy and we had no real understanding of what had happened. We decided to clean and sanitize both cages just in case there was an illness of some kind, and in doing so I found a precious little bundle in Alice’s cage. She had had precisely one baby rabbit (we couldn’t find any evidence of others) while we were on vacation in the days leading up to our discovery.

Laylee

A photo taken of Laylee about a week after she was born.

We decided to name this surprise gift Laylee – short for Ukulele after her Banjo father. Sadly, in November Laylee went the way of her namesake and passed on. We don’t know why, but it was her first winter and it had gotten quite cold that evening after being surprisingly and unseasonably warm.

We had added two other rabbits in late August, which we haven’t named yet. The person who sold them to us told us it was a male and a female, but in looking at them, I was pretty sure they were both female. Just recently I had them professionally sexed and it turns out they’re both New Zealand females! They have been doing quite well. Today, we bought a New Zealand male. Our four rabbits (Alice and the three New Zealands) are living happily in our new greenhouse for the winter. When it gets too warm in the greenhouse, they’ll move out to their summer runs. Lucky snowbird rabbits!

Greenhouse

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Our new greenhouse in the first snow of the year.

Yes, that’s right. I mentioned a new greenhouse! I will go more in-depth into how we built (and are still building) the greenhouse in another post, but for now, I just wanted to state that we did build a walpini-style greenhouse on our property in November. So far, it is showing more warmth inside the greenhouse despite it being uninsulated with large gaps. We’re tracking the temperature with wireless tags placed at various locations within the greenhouse and collecting data right now.

Ornamental-to-Edible

A columnar apple tree in front of our raised beds. The tarragon did fantastic!

A columnar apple tree in front of our raised beds. The tarragon did fantastic!

I’ve slowly been removing invasive buck thorn from our yard and replacing it with edible plants. This year we planted two apple trees (to go with our four columnar apple trees), a cherry tree, two hardy kiwi, and two honeyberry bushes. Next year I’m hoping to plant some more fruit trees and a lot of fruit and nut bushes. I’m thinking currants and hazelnuts.

Raised Beds

I didn’t get nearly as much as I expected out of my raised beds this year. It was a really odd growing season for me and plants just didn’t flourish. I did get a lot of grapes in summer and a lot of garlic late in the spring, though, which was exciting given it was my first time planting garlic. This fall I took cloves that I’d saved and braided, cured them, and then planted them in the garden. If they come up again next spring, I’ll have completed an entire circle. I won’t dissemble; this makes me giddy. I’m looking ahead to next spring, now, and dreaming ahead to when I start seeds in my new greenhouse.

The garlic swayed in the breeze as the rain fell.

The garlic swayed in the breeze as the rain fell.

Little Ass Farm

Things at Little Ass Farm progressed, but we got a lot less food from it than we’d hoped as well. Lots of growth, but not as much fruiting. We also had an immense amount of weeds that we’re hoping we can get under control for next year. Or maybe in ten years. There really are that many weeds out there!

Looking Ahead

This isn’t a true goal-setting post, so I won’t make specifics. I will say that next year we’re hoping to add more edible perennials to our property, we’ll be fixing up and landscaping around the greenhouse (the area is currently a mud pit covered by snow), we’ll add some evergreen bushes around the property to block the view of the greenhouse from unhappy neighbors, I’m hoping to expand my annual garden space for more plants, I’ll be gardening out at Little Ass Farm again (as long as they let me!), and we might even start having New Zealand litters! The jury is still out on the chickens and whether or not they’ll be replaced with the newer, younger model. I’m also hoping to get a system set up for red wiggler worm farming down in the bottom of the greenhouse and maybe even some aquaponics!

How did your gardens fare this year?

 

Fall Salad with Cabbage, Spinach, Oranges, and Almonds

We have been absolutely delighted with our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) share at Spring Wind Farm this year. We’ve had plenty of delicious vegetables and fruits (botanically speaking – unless you’re on the Supreme Court), and we enjoy the atmosphere of the u-pick selection of herbs, vegetables, fruits (again with the scientific language), and flowers.


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This past Thursday I picked up another beautiful red cabbage and a half pound of spinach (and a lot of other things, of course). I’d had a delicious orange cabbage salad months back from the spring crop and knew I wanted to do something very similar. Luckily, a quick Internet search led me to a spinach, orange, and cabbage salad on VegKitchen, a site I’ve visited many times before. I altered the ingredients a little to suit what I had on hand, but followed the directions from her recipe.

My ingredients:

  • 8 ounces spinach, sliced into thin strips
  • 4 cups thinly shredded red cabbage
  • 3 navel oranges, peeled, deseeded, sectioned, and cut in half
  • 1/2 cup roasted and salted almonds, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

This made me about 9 cups of non-compacted salad. We promptly ate about a third of it and I stuck the rest in two wide-mouth quart jars for the next two days. This is so simple to make and alter, but the taste is amazing. All the kids like it (from 11 to 1!)

This salad is so delicious that combined with our experience with cabbage soup (we are studying medieval times over at Our Learning Lab for history, and one of our lessons included making the soup), I’ve decided I need to get serious about growing cabbage next year. We’ve gotten several from “our farm” (as we refer to it) and it’s never been enough. Boy has my opinion on this vegetable changed!

 

Garden Helpers

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I was digging in some day lilies I’d received from Freecycle, and it was taking some effort due to the clay content in our soil. After a few grunts and an arm slung across my forehead wiping the sweat away from my eyes, I glanced up to see this:

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I’ve been very fortunate to have my helpers out in the garden (especially the Bigs – not pictured in this post). They run and grab me tools or help me move plants.

Gabe with Shovel

Sometimes they sling a little mud here or there. I don’t mind. Some doctors and academics suggest a little dirt is good for their immune system, and some suggest that a lot of dirt is good.

 The results so far suggest that simply inhaling M. vaccae—you get a dose just by taking a walk in the wild or rooting around in the garden—could help elicit a jolly state of mind. “You can also ingest mycobacteria either through water sources or through eating plants—lettuce that you pick from the garden, or carrots,” Lowry says.

Is Dirt the New Prozac?” by Josie Glausiusz [Discover Magazine]

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I will admit that upon gazing at my one year old, I did let out a small gasp. We grabbed the hose and gently washed off most of the mud, undressed him in the middle of the yard, and in he went for a bath.

Yup.

We’re those people with naked babies in their front yard.

 

Meet Helix, Our Hardest Worker

Sourdough Pancakes & Violet Syrup

 

Yesterday morning I sat myself down to a wonderful breakfast of thin, airy pancakes topped with syrup. These weren’t just any pancakes, though, and this wasn’t just any syrup. These were Helix pancakes with violet syrup.

Meet Helix

Helix is one of the hardest workers at our home – wait, thousands of the hardest workers at our home. Helix is comprised of flours, water, lactic acid bacteria, and yeast.

The sourdough bâtard, on the other hand, is a product of natural fermentation involving wild yeasts and bacteria. Almost all the bacteria are lactobacilli, cousins of the bacteria that curdle milk into yogurt and cheese. “These lactobacilli outnumber yeasts in sourdough by as many as 100 to one,” Sugihara says. It’s the acids they make that give sourdough its tartness. Not only that, say European researchers, the bacteria also contribute carbon dioxide as well as aromatic compounds that infuse bread with flavor and delicious smells.

The Biology… of Sourdough by Patricia Gadsby and Eric Weeks [Discover Magazine]

Helix

When I started Helix over a year ago, I did so by following this tutorial by Jean Nick over at Rodale’s Organic Life. He started his existence as a gluten-free starter made from Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All Purpose Baking Flour (without xanthan gum and guar gum) inside of a half-gallon Ball jar. This, however, left a very potato-y taste to everything we made with him. I switched to a coconut flour soon afterwards because I had oodles of it lying around. This caused Helix to bubble and overshoot the jar with so much enthusiasm that we were enthralled. I had originally started Helix as a gluten-free starter so that I could experiment with gluten-free breads for my mother who has Celiac’s disease.

Helix

Lately, I’ve been feeding Helix with a rye flour. He’ll probably eventually switch back to a gluten-free flour blend, but we had a lot of rye flour lying around. Somewhere in between the coconut flour and the rye flour, Helix started to develop this wonderful, heady crumb. He smells like bread baking when he ferments. It’s intoxicating.

When I first started a sourdough starter a handful of years ago, I had to toss it multiple times as each time the local gnats got the move-in notice and turned it into a rent-by-the-hour hostel. By taking flour sacking and cutting it into squares and then securing it with the wide mouth band, I’ve solved that problem. In the past year I haven’t had a single gnat problem. Some day I’ll come up with a more attractive solution, but this has been imminently functional.

Eventually I got really busy with working and teaching our kids, so there were a few months where I kept Helix in the back of the fridge. He hibernated beautifully and came right back out without any troubles at all.

All in all, he’s been a very hard worker and we’re all grateful to have him.

The Pancakes

A few weeks ago I went searching for a pancake recipe that would use oodles of starter on a regular basis. Helix is a great producer and we often have more than we need. The same goes for our six hens. We’re constantly swamped with eggs. This recipe by What’s Cooking America seemed like a good start. It takes two cups of sourdough starter, two tablespoons of sugar, four tablespoons of oil, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in one tablespoon warm water, and eggs. The author recommends a minimum of one egg, but states that she’s also used two eggs for added protein. I used three yesterday morning and it yielded eighteen thin pancakes (1/4 cup of batter for each pancake). They tasted lightly of rye with a tiny amount of tang, and went very well with the violet syrup. Click the link to read the recipe and instructions.

Sourdough Pancakes

Violet Syrup

We made the violet syrup a few weeks ago from Viola flowers found in our backyard. We have a few different varieties with white and purple flowers. After cleaning the blossoms, we steeped them in water following the basic outline of this recipe at Chiot’s Run. I packed a quart jar with violet blossoms and then covered them in boiling hot water. I poked down the blossoms with a wooden spoon and shook it a little. It sat overnight. The next morning, I strained out the blossoms with more flour sacking and turned the stove to simmer. I added in one and a half cups of honey and one and a half cups of sugar. (See recipe link for more in-depth instructions.) After it had simmered longer, I poured it into my old-fashioned flip-top milk bottle. The syrup has a delicate flowery flavor with hints of honey and tastes amazing in lemonade or tea or on pancakes. Delicious!

Sourdough Pancakes

Let me know if you try any of these recipes!

 

Farewell and Greetings

We spent six years working on our little urban homestead in Mount Vernon, Iowa. With much emotion, we said farewell in July of 2013 and moved to our new home in Northfield, Minnesota. After the dust settled, we started to transform our new yard into something that would be more sustainable for our lifestyle.

Our immediate wishlist included a chicken coop, temporary compost bin, and raised bed – by harvest 2014, we’d had those set up. Now it’s the beginning of the growing season here in Minnesota, and we’re ready to get serious. Greetings and welcome to Growing to Ground, our modest journal of our recent seedling urban homestead.

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