Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Part 3: Sweet Potato Vines

Sweet potato bed
The sweet potato vines will always need their own bed, aside from some early spring crops like lettuce and spinach.  Early in the season, this bed felt like a waste of space.  Now, I frequently walk along the edge of the bed and trim the vines back off the paths. 

Peanut plants amidst the shade of the sweet potato vines
This year I planted peanuts for the first time and put them on the edge of the sweet potato bed.  Next year I will try giving them some more room to expand and see what happens.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Part 2:The Squash and Zucchini Plants

The squash and zucchini were one of the worst pathway-overtaking offenders this year.  They can thrive on the pathway because they grow out from the base, which is firmly rooted in nutritious dirt.  These are another candidate for softening a corner boundary of the fenced-in yard.  While harvesting the produce of these beauties does not cut back on the space they take (in contrast to yesterday's lemon grass), if I put them in a corner at the back of a path, it will be okay if they overtake their section of the path because I will not need to pass by them to get to anything else.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Photo Record Keeping for Edible Landscaping

Earlier this season, I was moaning to an urban homesteading friend (see "Sustainable Urban Living Inspiration") about how much space I was wasting in my new beds and that I needed to plan other things for next season.  In his experienced wisdom he assured me the space would fill in and that I should take pictures of the gardens once things were full size.  Then, he advised, I could use the pictures to plan my space layout for next year.  Brilliant!

Committing to edible landscaping means managing an ever-changing landscape.  The next few posts will cover pictures of several of my plants at peak size and the space adjustment plans for next year.  This will avoid the landscape looking lopsided, with lots of empty dirt one half of the season and overrun paths the other half of the season. 

Today, we will look at the lemon grass:

This gorgeous edible grass grew much larger than others I've seen - must be my rich new soil!  It is currently shading my herbal perennials, stunting their growth, and growing over my path on the other side.  Some of this could be reined in by more frequent harvesting, but we all know I'm behind on keeping up with all the produce right now.  Be looking for a post on harvesting, drying, and using lemongrass in the near future.

Since this is an annual that has a chance of surviving a move indoors over winter, I plan to uproot it in a couple months anyway.  I will either center it in a bed next year, or more likely, move it to a corner to soften the boundaries of the backyard.  I may even try to split it this winter - wish me luck!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Quail Habitat

Once again, the quail have taken more than their share of my time!  Just when I had them all settled in, I added a few more a couple weeks ago, which meant more pecking wars and hours of monitoring my attempts at safe setups.  Below is the process (a big thanks to some chicken-owning family members for guiding me through some of this):

Day One:  Introduced new quail by letting all free-range around the yard under my supervision against cats and other predators (all wings clipped to prevent escapes that would only end in death-by-predator).  Figured out which were male much quicker than last time and passed them on to a neighbor who will raise them for meat.

Night One:  All quail in original pen for a "safe" overnight.  

Day Two:  Found new quail badly pecked in the morning - one's eye was swollen over and heads of both were bare.  My only hope of their survival was letting them free range, but I had plans for the day.  So, I took my chances, let them have run of the backyard, and left for church.  That afternoon, I brought my chicken experts to the backyard for a consultation (all quail were accounted for - we rarely get backyard intruders).  The injured ones were safely hiding for recovery and the former crew were hanging out together eating my freshly planted pea seeds.  Basically, this free-ranging was just allowing them to separate, not letting them adjust to each other.  My sister and brother-in-law informed me that they needed to be forced to be in close proximity, where they could see each other but not be able to reach each other to avoid injuries.  They also said they would need to stay that way for a couple weeks.  Great!  That means building a temporary setup that is stable enough to last a couple weeks against predators.  A walk through the basement brought a brilliant idea - that metal cube organizer I have kept since college - I knew it would come in handy someday!  I rearranged the cubes so that I had two sections for quail, put bricks on top of it to make it hard to overturn, and called the project finished.

Night Two:  No problems with the setup.  Our dog chased a stray cat away first thing in the morning. 

Day Three - Day Twelve:  Uneventful.  Injuries healed over. 

Day Thirteen:  I decide it is time to come up with a permanent setup for the quail that has enough square footage for six quail to roam happily, cozy laying spaces with egg retrieval access, and ease of access for changing bedding, feeding, and watering.  I went to the basement and looked over our scrap wood, leftover metal fencing material, and leftover plastic chicken wire.  After dragging everything out and assessing the space, I am suddenly able to come up with a creative solution that doesn't require all the material and work of building an entirely new setup.  I realize that I can connect the cube organizer (that is too covered in quail filth to ever use as an organizer again anyway) and the original quail pen - allowing a space to run outside and a sheltered space with nesting holes for eggs.  I can also then add a roof to the original pen for protection from rain and snow without taking away their access to the sunshine and the rest of the natural world.  I still need to make a few improvements to make the passageway between the two fully predator proof, but I believe I have a setup that will work long term. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Lotion on Less

Out of cash and out of lotion = time to make a new batch of homemade lotion.  The process is amazingly easy, and it makes great lotion.  I began my lotion-making ventures based on a recipe at, one of my favorite blogs, so I must give them credit.  However, I like a very thick lotion, so I've adapted it and made my own recipe.

What you will need:

Bees Wax (2 Tbs)
Olive Oil (1/2 Cup)

Aloe (1 Cutting)
...and some water.
        (1/2 Cup)

1.  Grate the bees wax - of course, I do this with my food processor.  I grate plenty of bees wax so that I can just pull it out pre-grated for a quick lotion refill session.  If you want a workout, feel free to grate by hand! Not sure where to get bees wax?  Connect with me...I have a few family members who raise bees.  Or find a local beekeeper - (s)he will have wax.
Grated bees wax
2.  Next, heat the wax and the oil together in a double-boiler until the wax melts.

3.  Add goop from inside your aloe plant into the hot oil mixture...or you can purchase a small container of aloe vera at a craft store and use that.  This is also the time that I add a few drops of tea tree oil and sometimes vitamin E if I have it on hand.  Tea tree oil has a very specific odor - if you don't like it, add a scent that you do like...or just embrace the smell of olive oil.
5 drops

4.  Dump the hot oil into a warm blender and turn it on.  Then quickly pour in lukewarm water all at once.  It will congeal like magic within seconds!

Lotion in a Blender  ;)
 5.  Pour off any water that does not bind itself to the lotion.

6.  Put lotion into clean container in which you want to keep it.

7.  Just rub any lotion in that gets on you in the process and clean up.

I've had a lot of requests for my lotion, so now you know the process and ingredients.  If you are not up to making it yourself, I will make you a jar and sell it to you for $6.50. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Freezer Space Running Low

Oops - forgot to check on my zucchini for a few days.
 I have always found throwing things in a freezer bag and into the freezer much easier than canning, and to be completely honest, have wondered why anyone bothers with canning. Well, I believe I have found the answer.  Space.  We have spent hours on end making peach desserts and preparing peaches for the freezer.  I have made applesauce.  I have made zucchini bread.  I have frozen several bags of zucchini and squash.  I have frozen broccoli.  The list goes on and the hours pass by.

The "problem" is that I still have this table full of produce, plus a backyard with many more tomatoes, cantaloupe, green beans, and herbs ready for the picking, not to mention the entire bed of sweet potatoes that will be ready in another month.  I still have more planting space, but I am falling behind on processing and storing my produce.  My refrigerator, counters, and freezer are all nearly full.

I suppose I may have to tackle this thing called canning.  After all, I do live in Muncie, Indiana - home of the Ball jars.  I must admit, one of the issues that has kept me from canning is fear.  I'm just always a little uneasy that I will ingest botulism when eating home-canned goods.  I know, I know, this is the horrible impact of industrialized agriculture on my psyche, but it's the truth.  Another issue I have with canning is flavor preference.  I tried canning with some friends one year when I had an overabundant tomato harvest but didn't end up liking the salsa or tomato juice that we canned.  People tell me that canning preserves summer flavor better than freezing, but I prefer frozen veggies at the grocery better than the canned veggies.  Thus, I'm just not convinced that I will end up using the things I can.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Camping Diet Redefined

With camping season kicking off at the peak of harvest season, I have decided that there is no excuse this year for the awful diet we usually have while camping.  This year I took a few extra minutes before leaving the house to fill some skewers with produce from local farms and my own backyard.  As usual, the little bit of planning was well worth the payoff.  I actually enjoyed the weekend without feeling like I had a rock in my stomach.  Between these and the veggie hotdogs, I actually felt good in the morning .  Good enough for some pancakes and bacon over the fire!  :) 

*I know, veggie hotdog is an oxymoron, but I see nothing logical to start with about eating a hotdog.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Rabbit Meat

Preparing my Rabbit for the Fryer
Something about seeing that whole guy intact - minus his head and feet - makes him less appealing.  Nonetheless, I was determined to give it a chance.  However, after cooking it the best I knew how, I've decided I'm just not a fan of eating rabbit.  It's a little expensive, a little chewy, and alot of work for a little meat.  If you want to bring me a perfectly cooked, gourmet dish of rabbit to prove me wrong, feel free.  But until then, I think it's back to other entrees for me.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Never Ending Homesteading

Grapes juiced, check.
Entree of locally raised rabbit, check.
Side of squash from backyard, check.
Homemade bread, check.
Front yard peaches into dessert, check.

Dozens of peaches still need attention.
Dozens of apples still need attention.
Red raspberry starts still need to be planted.
Fall seeds still need to be planted.
Quail pen renovation needed.

How in the world does one keep up with all this? Whose idea was this to live off our little plot of land? It's really starting to look nice and pay off, but this is certainly not the easiest path.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What to Do With All Those Peaches

The problem with edible landscaping is that with every additional food-producing plant that I put in the ground comes additional maintenance, harvesting, and "putting up" work.  Since we are up to our elbows in peaches (and apples and grapes) here at the Draper homestead, I think it is due time for a Top 10 Uses for Peaches list.  You may notice the absence on the list of eating them straight away after picking them.  This is because my peaches are not very sweet this year (likely due to the drought), so I will be primarily using them in things.

10.  Peach Crostata
 9.  Upside Down Peach Cake
 8.  Blanch, Peel, Slice, and Freeze in Light Syrup
 7.  Puree and add to iced tea (good for those peeled, sliced peaches that start to brown before you can use them).
 6.  Puree and add to quick breads.
 5.  Peach Pie
 4.  Peach Cobbler
 3.  Peach Crisp
 2.  Smoothies
 1.  Mash into yogurt.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Fall Planting

A second planting for a late fall harvest has been a major goal of mine this year as part of my Learning to Live Local on Less  journey.  Since I'm new to this second planting, I was thrilled to find that Mother Earth News has an app specifically designed for timing your plantings and has an option to split your planting schedule into spring and fall.  It was only $2, so I figured I can't go wrong and went ahead and purchased it.  I feel quite confident that it will help me expand my produce-growing power.  Without the app, I would have stuck with a few simple basics like leafy greens.  Now, I may try some braver endeavors as well, such as purple sprouting broccoli and oats.  Next step:  mustering up enough self-discipline to keep planting while harvesting, pruning, and weeding are all in full swing. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Quail Eggs

Quail eggs ready to be scrambled.

The empty, cracked shells on a spoon drip catcher.

Many of you have been asking questions about my quail eggs, so today I've brought you some pictures of quail eggs in use.  I tried to include other objects in the pictures that will provide a frame of reference for scale.  They have the same flavor and consistency as chicken eggs, just much smaller.  I estimate that it takes about four quail eggs to amount to one chicken egg.  I have not had to buy any eggs from the store since my quail started laying, which was the goal.

Speaking of quail, a brief update for those of you who have been following for awhile:  I managed to identify two males and return them to the farmer.  He will use them for meat and bring me two females in exchange.  I was also able to identify the aggressor who killed one of the other quail.  She disappeared from the box in which I was holding her while deciding what to do with her, so that solved that problem!  :)  Now I have four happily laying females and will soon have six.  Life on the urban farm has calmed down in this regard.  I still hope to improve their pen at some point and will let you know when I do.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Bidding Farewell to Grocery Store Jelly

Our grapes are ready for harvesting, and I am determined to make good use of the produce as part of my Learning to Live Local on Less journey.

Less than half of the first round of harvest from one vine.
First step:  systematically clipping each stem of grapes off the vine as it becomes ready. 
Second step:  washing the grapes.  This is urban homesteading, folks, so my grapes have been entangled with Slurpee lids, chip bags, and other neighborhood litter.

Third step:  pluck each grape from its stem to prepare for processing.

Fourth step:  slightly boiling the grapes with a little water to extract more juice.  Plus, that rinsing just didn't calm my sanitation fears like a good boil!

This juice strainer was found at Meijer.
Fifth step:  strain the juice from the grapes.  Helpful hint:  do not allow grapes to accumulate in the strainer. They eventually become too heavy, causing the strainer full of grapes to fall into the bowl of scalding grape juice below.  This results in scalding grape juice splattering all over yourself and your kitchen.  Learn from my mistake!!

Sixth step:  boil grape juice with plenty of sugar and pectin. Stir until it thickens to the consistency you desire when pulled out and cooled on a spoon.  If you want it thicker and firmer, add more pectin. 

Seventh step:  put the jelly in storage containers.  I used canning jars and put them in the fridge. I did not fully process with a water bath, but I did sanitize the jars and boil the liquid.  Thus, all the lids sealed, and the contents will be fine for quite awhile considering the high sugar content and the refrigeration.

Hoping to master growing peanuts, so that next year our entire pb&j staple can be grown on our own little city plot.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Homemade Salsa

For those of you who love chips and salsa and live in zones 5-7, there is simply no reason at all not to enjoy homemade salsa made from locally grown produce. 

Ingredients:  tomatoes, peppers, onions, cilantro...hmmm...if you don't have these items growing in abundance in your own kitchen garden, you can certainly find heaps of them at your local farmers' market.  Adjust the amounts of different types of peppers to find a heat level that suits you.  You may want to throw in a few other favorite ingredients to customize your salsa, or add a flavor absorber like yellow squash to stretch your salsa (a handy tip from my sister-in-law since I don't really like squash on its own). 

What to do:  throw it in the food processor, and voila, you have salsa.

The other day my husband thought we forgot to buy salsa at the store.  No such thing happened - we are just Learning to Live Local on Less!  :)    Even with minimal homesteading kitchen equipment, you can simply chop up the ingredients, stir them together, let it set long enough for the flavors to mingle together, and you will have a nice chunky salsa that looks closer to a pico de gallo than what I have pictured. 

I hate to admit, but in the interest of keeping it real, I must confess that I still use discount brand tortilla chips.  Maybe someday, I'll be fully self-sufficient and make those too, but it's all about the journey, right? 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Ponderings on Pruning

Pruned Apple Tree
Pruning is not something that comes naturally for me.  I hate to cut off all those nice branches just to send them to the compost pile.  I am learning.  I am learning that removing branches from my apple and peach trees equals more fruit.  I am learning that when I cut off the old wilted rose, new roses will continue to flourish for a longer season.  But I feel like such a traitor to that nice old rose that has lived out its life cycle in peace. 

I really am no good at pruning in any area of my life.  It takes discipline.  It takes slowing down to work through a mental process of why pruning is necessary and how it will be beneficial in the long-run.  You see, for me, gardening is full of spiritual moments.
Pruned Peach Tree
Fall Pruning Project