Category Archives: Gardening

{this moment} Last Bell Pepper

{this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.

Last of the season.

bell pepper

The last bell pepper of the season

Butternut Squash Soup Recipe

Butternut Squash Soup Recipe

Butternut squash

Butternut squash, so fresh it’s still in the field

The first and second killing frosts came last week, first on Thursday and then on Friday mornings. Some of the winter squash and pumpkins weren’t quite ready to be picked but nothing goes to waste on the homestead. The pigs and poultry are happy to eat the unripened squash. The plants, nearly black a few days later, will feed the micro herd in the soil.

One of my favorite ways to use butternut squash is in soup. It’s creamy and rich, has a hint of nutmeg, and can even be a little spicy. If there’s a winter squash you like more than butternut you can use it instead. A variety that isn’t stringy works best.

Saute two cloves of garlic and one medium onion in EVOO
Peel and seed two pounds of butternut squash, and cut into two inch pieces
Peel and core one medium apple, sliced

Simmer the butternut squash and apple in four cups of chicken stock until squash is cooked. Add onions and garlic, and puree in a blender or with an immersion blender.

Sauteed diced onion and garlic until golden.  Add cider and simmer five minutes. Sautee apple in butter until tender. Add chicken stock and squash, cover and cook until squash is tender. Add apple to the pot.  Puree either in a blender or with an immersion blender until smooth. Stir in 1/2 cup of cream and nutmeg to taste.  Serve warm.

This stores in the fridge for up to a week.

For variations, you can add apple or pumpkin pie spice in place of nutmeg. To add a bit of spiciness, slice a four inch piece of Chirico or Linguica into 1/4″ pieces and pan fry to remove some of the fat and improve flavor, and add to the soup before pureeing.

butternut squash soup

A cup of butternut squash soup

Winter squash is simple to grow. You’ll need space enough in the garden for the vines to spread, and that amount of space depends on the variety of squash you grow. You can start seeds indoors three weeks before the average last frost date for your area and transplant the seedlings, or start the seeds in the garden. Plants should be from three to six feet apart. The longer the vines grow the further apart the plants should be placed. The soil should be rich with compost and as weed free as possible. The vines will grow together by mid summer and help control the weeds.

Watch for pests such as squash vine borer, cucumber beetles and flea beetles, and treat as necessary.

Butternut Squash

Butternut Squash

Harvest mature squash before first frost or cover the plants with a heavy sheet or blanket the night before expected frost. Wait until the sun has warmed the cover before removing.

Cut the squash from the vine and store out of direct sun and rain for 10 days. Most varieties of winter squash will store in a cold cellar, cool closet or even under the bed for several months. Check the stored squash every two weeks while in storage for signs of soft spots or spoiling, and use squash starting to go by first. If necessary, winter squash can be frozen.


Time Management Tips for the Homestead

I love reader questions. Did you know that? I love to open a reader’s email and see what they have to say. I’m going to answer a question here.

“You talk about having a lot to do this time of year but you haven’t told us everything you do. What do you do and how do you fit it all in?” ~Rhonda

Raspberries freeze well

Raspberries freeze well

This time of year feels like it’s busier than others but in reality, I’m probably feeling more rushed. Homesteading can be a full time job and if you’re already working a job, it can be stressful.

The first killing frost is hanging over our heads any time after the first week of September. It might be early or it might not happen until October. The first frost could come early and then we’ll be frost free for weeks. It’s too late for the tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and other warm season crops once they’ve been frost killed no matter how good the weather is after so there’s the rush to force the plants to produce.

The late raspberries are ripening and the wild blackberries are still going gangbusters. Making jam and jelly is simple but it’s time consuming. I have more time in the winter than right now they’re being frozen in a single layer on cookie sheets. I don’t think these berries make the best jam after they’ve been frozen but freezing them makes it easier to make jelly. They skins burst when they’re frozen so they let go of the juice easily as they thaw.

  • Tip: Freezing strawberries saves time during the summer. You’ll make thicker jam with less pectic and sugar and have juice for jelly when the berries thaw.
Deluxe Stainless Steel Food Mill

Deluxe Stainless Steel Food Mill

Apples don’t have to be sauced, jellied, pied or otherwise put up immediately. You have at least a few weeks, and sometimes months, to get them processed. I picked a bushel of apples one day last week. They were roasted another day and then stored in the fridge. On day three I put them through the food mill (if you don’t have a food mill, you need one). I warmed the apples turned applesauce on the stove, added sugar and spices, and hot water bathed the batched. It took a little time on each of three days but I didn’t have enough time in one day to do it all. Do what you can when you can and it will come together. A little time here and there resulted in 18 pints of sauce.

Salsa Verde Ingredients

Salsa Verde Ingredients: tomatillo, Jalepeno pepper, garlic. Missing – onion and cilantro, to be pulled and picked in a few days.

  • Tip: If your tomatoes are not ripening fast enough you can push a spade into the ground around the roots to stress the plants. Cut 12 inches from the base of the plant, severing the roots. A plant’s mission in life is to reproduce. You’ll speed up ripening this way.

The garden is still producing well. Tomatoes, eggplant, tomatillos, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, kale, cabbage – just about everything is still growing. It all has to be weeded, watered when we don’t have enough rain, picked, preserved or stored – you know how it goes with the garden. This morning I picked close to a half bushel of tomatillos for salsa verde. It’s also hunting season. I can’t put hunting in the freezer so move over berries and vegetables, the tomatillos are coming in. Tomatoes can also be frozen. I like having the warmth from the oven early in the morning on a chilly day as the tomatoes or tomatillos roast. An hour or two with the oven on replaces the small, hot, quick burning fire I usually build on a late fall morning.

  • Tip: When your pumpkins and winter squash start to get soft spots, clean them up and roast them first thing in the morning, then freeze the flesh. This is usually a mid-winter project when I start checking on vegetables stored in the root cellar.

Firewood is weighing heavily on my mind these days. It was delivered late so I’m rushing to get it split and stacked to dry. Best made plans and all, I couldn’t depend on someone when it came to firewood so I was stuck with making the best of a bad situation. It happens. I’m working on eight cords of beach, ash, maple, yellow birch and white birch. The hydraulic splitter makes the work a lot easier but it’s still not an easy job on a hot, late summer day.

  • Tip: Secure next year’s firewood supply now and ask that it be delivered in spring. We burn up to six cords a year. I buy eight cords a year which means we a year “off” now and then without the expense and work, and won’t run out of wood.

Pigs, ducks and chickens are growing out back. They’re turning grass, insects, weeds, food scraps and a few commercial pellets into meat that will feed my family. Portable fences and chicken tractors need to be moved daily. Two people moving fencing takes me a third of the time it takes when I have to do it alone. Ask for help.

When did the paint start peeling off the hen house? I swear it was fine yesterday. Or I was too busy to notice. I’m not sure it’s going to get painted before the snow flies. If there are a few extra dollars I might hire someone to do it for me. It would take someone who likes to paint less than a day to do it. It takes me more than a day to fumble through scraping and painting. We can’t always do it all. Remember when you first started to daydream of homesteading? It was so idyllic. You’d spend days outdoors in the beautiful weather doing your chores? The mosquitoes weren’t part of my daydream. Neither was heat rash. Rainy days would be spent inside, cooking and ready. Painting the hen house was not in my day dream.

  • Tip: Neighborhood kids are often willing to do some work if you pay fairly, and you might be surprised at how well they work. I pay by the job rather than the hour. I don’t want to pay for the time they spend taking selfies and texting.

Plan to use the oven early in the morning or later in the day to warm up the house. It can do its work while you’re doing something else.

  • Tip: The final muck out of stalls and pens doesn’t have to happen when the animals leave for slaughter. Give your attention to the work that must be done at time and get to the stalls, pens and the hen house before the ground freezes and you’ll be all set.

Do you have a time management tip to share? Please leave them in comments!

Autumn Vegetables to Seed Now

Autumn’s coming. The stressed trees are showing a little fall color now. Nights are cooling down and if they haven’t already, day time temps will cool soon. The soil temperature will drop as the amount of sunshine decreases, and that means it’s time to plant the cool loving seeds. Decreasing sunlight and warmth slows growth compared to spring planting. It’s best to plant in full sun at this time of year.

Premier, also known as Early Hanover, is an heirloom kale. It takes approximately 60 days to maturity when planted in late summer or early fall. In spring, as the days are getting longer, it averages 45-50 days. You can cut  some as baby kale for salad and stir fry while leaving part of the plant to over winter under protection of a low tunnel in zones five and up. Not all plants will survive even with protection but those that do will start to grow again in March or April.

May Queen lettuce grows well in rich, moist soil. May Queen is an heirloom butterhead that needs 50+ days to maturity but only 30 for baby greens.

Inter-seeding Cherry Belle radishes will help you spread out your tiny seeds when direct seeding. They sprout quickly and will help mark your rows. Did you know radish leaves are great in salad and stir fry when they are young and tender? Save some of your seeds to plant in pots on the window sill for winter. 21 days to maturity.

Bloomsdale Longstanding Spinach

Bloomsdale Longstanding spinach

Bloomsdale Longstanding spinach is perfect for the autumn garden. It dislikes heat but thrives in cool, moist soil. It requires 55 days to maturity but at this time of year you won’t want to let the plant reach maturity. Enjoy eating the spinach until about a week before the forecast calls for several nights in a row below freezing, then make your last cut and mulch heavily with straw or leaves. You can pull back the mulch when the nights are consistently above freezing in the sprig and have a head start on the growing season.

Turnip thrives in cool, moist soil. Purple Globe White Top needs 45-60 days to reach its mature size of three to four inch roots. Pull all of these turnip before the ground freezes as they don’t over winter well. If they do survive they’ll go to seed early in the spring.

Scarlet Nantes Carrot

Scarlet Nantes Carrot

For late season carrots we like Scarlet Nantes and Danvers varieties. Carrots, like other roots, get sweeter as the soil gets colder. Pull what you’ll eat fresh and can store, then mulch the rest of the row heavily with leaves or straw before the ground freezes. As long as you can push the mulch out of the way you’ll be able to pull carrots. Move mulch when nights stay above freezing in the spring and start harvesting again.


Detroit Dark Red Beet

Detroit Dark Red Beet

Detroit Dark Red beets are treated in the same manner as carrots. Enjoy the leaves as baby greens in salad or larger leaves for beet greens. Cut only two leaves per root at this time of year to ensure the roots receives enough energy to grow.

Planning Ahead to Plant Garlic

It’s that time of year – garlic. It’s time to check on the garlic you planted last year and to choose and order your garlic varieties (unless you’re growing your own seed stock, that is!) and plan ahead for the day you plant garlic.

Garlic Bulbils

Garlic Bulbils

I pushed a garden fork into the damp soil this morning, loosened a head of garlic and gave it a tug. It’s small. I missed this plant when I cut off the scapes and energy went into producing lots of little bulbils in the flower rather than a larger head. We’ve had plenty of rain so the soil has never dried out. There was plenty of compost in the soil when I planted the individual cloves 10 months ago, and I mulched with more than enough hay to control weeds. It’s small but probably very tasty, and there’s still a little more time for the rest of the plants, which still have nice green leaves, to grow.

Look around the garden. What area will be open in late fall that will also be convenient next year? You won’t be able to drive a tractor through the place you choose for this fall’s garlic planting. Is there room to go around? Will the spot be inconvenient when you’re maneuvering the rototiller between rows next year? Does the soil drain well? If there are puddles in that spot each spring it’s not the place for your garlic.

Fresh garlic

Just dug…

Garlic likes soft soil that has been enriched with lots of compost. You’ll need to turn over the top 8 to 12 inches of soil. If the spot you choose has a weed problem now’s the time to get it under control. Garlic doesn’t like competition. If the weed load is light you’ll have an easy time planting and can skim ahead past solarization. If that’s the case, a lot of gardeners are envious!

Solarization will kill tender annuals and some perennials, and kill a large portion of the seed bank. The seed bank is the ungerminated seeds in the soil. Seeds can survive for years before germinating. The Hairy Galinsoga you thought you got rid of five years ago might germinate next year because it’s been sitting dormant the seed bank.

Prepare the soil for solarization by harvesting whatever you have growing, and pull all of the weeds you can possibly get out of the ground. Smooth the surface, leaving no room for gaps between the soil and the plastic you’ll use.

Soak the soil deeply, at least 12 inches. Moist soil will retain heat better than dry soil. You don’t want to have to remove the plastic for the next four to six weeks so be generous with the water.

Cover the area with a single sheet of clear plastic unless you live in an area that doesn’t get very hot. In that case, it’s probably best to use black plastic that will prevent germination in seeds that require light to germinate. Weeds that germinate under clear plastic will “cook” and die. Choose 1.5 to 2 mils (thickness) for larger areas. It will stand up to wind and light foot traffic from wayward pets and wildlife better than 1 mil. Painters plastic will last three to five weeks. Keep an eye on the plastic for signs of breaking down and remove it before it starts to crumble. If your seed bank is extreme you might opt for UV treated plastic (greenhouse plastic) that won’t break down so that you can leave the soil covered from now until planting time.



Gardening with Kids

Getting kids into the garden isn’t always easy but once they’re in, getting them out might be a challenge. As much as kids love to play in the dirt, gardening isn’t quite the same.  Let’s make gardening with kids fun and easy.

Small hands don’t grasp adult-sized tools easily. For a few dollars each you can buy child-sized tools. They’re typically rugged enough to last the entire season but not so expensive that when they disappear half way through that it’s a big loss. Kids like “diggers.” Trowels and spades are great. A hoe and garden rake should also get a lot of use. Spend a little time showing kids how to use these tools properly so they don’t become discouraged. Store the tools conveniently near the garden so they aren’t misplaced when the child gets distracted on the way to the house.

Black Krim Tomato

Black Krim Tomato

A lot of vegetables come in kids’ colors. Carrots are available in red and purple. Purple and lime green cauliflower varieties could be what it takes for kids to love this often passed up veggie. Bright Lights Swiss Chard grows in six main colors. Tomatoes aren’t always read. You can grow yellow, orange, striped and speckled varieties. They also come in different sizes and shapes from tiny cherry tomatoes to varieties that grow to weigh more than a pound.

In winter months where it’s too cold to garden, online seed catalogs are a good way to start developing a child’s interest in gardening. Seed displays in the garden department of stores are fun and the reward is immediate; you can take the seeds home and plant them the same day now that the weather is warming up.

Gardens need water. Kids plus water plus soil equals mess. It’s okay. Kids, clothes and floors wash. Our kids had small watering cans and a bucket of water. Let them water their seeds after planting and as they grow. Older kids who understand not mowing over nearby plants with the hose should be able to use the hose. Control the water flow by adjusting the faucet accordingly.

Grow what kids eat and eat what kids grow. You don’t have to love purple carrots but you’ll set a good example if you eat them, or at least try them. Be creative. Lime green cauliflower becomes Alien Brains when you get creative. White turnips are cool eyeballs if you cut the top off one-eighth inch above the bulb.

If you give kids their own spot in the garden you should consider wider than normal rows to walk in. The smaller the feet the bigger the foot prints left in the soil, or so it seems. Plants will get stepped on, and they’ll probably survive.

We sometimes asked our kids to choose and harvest the vegetable for supper. Occasionally we had a medley of tomato, broccoli, spinach and cucumbers in one meal, and it was always delicious.  We mix it up in the salad bowl so why not on our plates?