November 30, 2008
November 29, 2008
Winter is the perfect time to begin mushroom growing when everything else is quiet. This book, Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms, by Paul Stamets, gives detailed instructions on how to grow mushrooms for home use and for small commercial enterprises. It covers 31 mushroom species with information on gardening, soil mediums, the life cycle of mushrooms, a brief history of mycology, and a section in the middle with color photographs.
This would be a great addition to the library of any small farm or homestead and could help launch a new product to sell with all those tomatoes. Can you imagine someone at a farmer's market with tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and basil to sell setting up a little propane burner and sauteing everything together for customers to try? They would sell out!
Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms is available from Amazon for $29.70.
November 28, 2008
We're on a big kick with these mushroom kits - they are so cool!
Here's one for pearl oyster mushrooms. In 2 weeks, you'll be enjoying an abundance of home grown Pleurotus ostreatus. In the spring, spread it throughout your compost pile and keep harvesting mushrooms for a few more months. Available at Amazon for $24.99.
November 27, 2008
Have a wild Turkey Day!
(Photograph courtesy Gary M. Stolz/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
The wild turkey was one of only two native birds domesticated by the early settlers. The other is the Muscovy duck. Wild turkeys can fly for short distances up to 55 miles per hour and can run 20 miles per hour. Benjamin Franklin suggested the turkey for the United States national bird and was disappointed with the choice of the Bald Eagle because the eagle has a "bad moral character".
Americans ate 235 million turkeys in 2007, and 46 million of those were eaten at Thanksgiving. Turkeys are a great product for the small farm or homesteader. They take approximately 4 months to mature (twice as long as chickens).
For more information about this great bird, click here or here.
November 26, 2008
The Howard Ulfelder, MD Healing Garden is a 6,300-square-foot garden on the 8th floor in the Yawkey Center for Outpatient Care at Massachusetts General Hospital. It features an enclosed pavilion for use in all four seasons and an exterior section with pathways, a water fountain, and seating for patients and their families.
Perhaps you know someone who is sick and could benefit from a walk through your garden and a basket of freshly picked produce. It might seem trivial to you, but to them, it could be the lift that they really need to get through the next day, week, chemo treatment. The sights, sounds and smells are so familiar to us but can be so far away to someone who is sick. Even a winter garden is interesting and there is always something to do or see. Dig up a few leftover carrots if the ground isn't frozen yet, follow the footpath of a bird or rabbit through the snow, or sprinkle bird seed around to attract some winter feathered friends.
November 25, 2008
Here's another shiitake mushroom kit but this one comes with a soaking tray. The tray seems quite helpful and keeps the log self-contained. Harvest mushrooms from this log every 2 months for years if you water it every two weeks and give it a little light. These kits make great gifts although you must open it right away so it can get air and light. Wrap it at the last minute and make sure the recipient understands that it is a living organism and can't be neglected for too long. Available from Amazon for $30.50.
November 24, 2008
This is one of the coolest things I've seen in a while.
With the Shiitake Mushroom Kit, you can grow your own mushrooms. It consists of sterlized, enriched sawdust fully colonized with a select Chinese strain of Lentinula edodes (shiitake mushroom). Hmm, we're having shiitake mushrooms tonight in beef barley vegetable soup, although the mushrooms came from a plastic container wrapped with plastic wrap. It would be much nicer to pick some from my own patch!
This kit comes with illustrated instructions. Harvest every 2 weeks for 16 weeks. That just about covers the whole winter if you give it as a Christmas present. The Shiitake Mushroom Kit is available from Amazon for $29.99.
November 23, 2008
November 22, 2008
This is one of my favorite farm and garden related books. The author, Paul Correnty, gives a short history on cider, cider making and various types of apples and their attributes. The book is written in such a humorous, friendly way that you can't help wishing you knew him. There are recipes at the back of the book for the more advanced cider maker and the author makes suggestions about keeping costs down.
Unfortunately, this book is out of print! We heard from someone at Jasper's Homebrew and Winemaking in Nashua, NH that the Brewers Association owns the copyright and won't put out another edition and won't let the author do it either. This is a huge injustice to all cider makers of the world and a great disservice to the homesteading/do-it-yourself movement. So, get your pen and paper out and write to demand republication of this great book. Better yet, ask that they release the rights to the author so he can update and publish it on his own, not to mention receive well-deserved royalties from the sales.
Here's the address:
P.O. Box 1679
Boulder, CO 80306
To email them, use this address: email@example.com
The Association of Brewers lists 3 other cider books (Cider, by Proulx & Nichols, Cider, Hard & Sweet, by Ben Watson and Real Cider Making on a Small Scale, by Michael Pooley and John Lomax) but nothing about this book. Why? Is it too regional? Too good? Too funny and down to earth?
Oh, well. You'll have to settle for another book. I'm not suggesting they are inferior, it's just that I really like this one. There are a few used copies of The Art of Cidermaking through Amazon but prices start at $65.92. As a frugal Yankee, I cannot endorse that kind of spending. It is a paperback after all. You'll do better to buy one of the others,take the rest of the money and buy a carboy, yeast and some cider, and start brewing.
November 21, 2008
Parts of New England have already received their first snowfall, but there are still apples being picked and crushed into delicious sweet cider. Now, there is only so much sweet (not fermented) cider one can drink before turning into an apple or before the cider turns to vinegar. You could preserve some by freezing it but chances are there is no more room in the freezer at this time of year because it is already stuffed with pork, beef, vegetables and stashes of flour and cornmeal.
Another delicious way to preserve the apple harvest is to make hard cider. This is an easy process that doesn't require any fossil fuel. Also, the initial investment is low and you make your money back with the first batch.
1. The first step is to buy a carboy which is a glass, 5-gallon container. Water used to be delivered in these until they discovered they could save a lot of fuel by shipping in plastic. A frugal Yankee can still find glass carboys at the dump, salvage yard or antique store. Otherwise, plan on spending $37 for a new one.
2. Find a source of freshly pressed, preferably unpasteurized, cider. Lull Farm in Hollis, NH is the best we've found and they are pressing (and filling carboys) every Friday through December. It costs $20 to get 5 gallons filled directly into your container. This is a savings of $7.50 when you compare buying it in 1 gallon, plastic jugs with expensive stickers on them.
3. Locate the optimal space for your cider to hang out in for the next 10 months. It should be relatively dark, free from funky odors and around 55 degrees F. The basement immediately comes to mind but an unheated closet will work as well.
4. Make a mini-fermenter by putting a cup of warm water, (not hot or you'll kill the organisms) and the packet of yeast into a jar with a cup or so of cider. You might want to add a little sugar to really get things going.
5. After a day or so, "pitch the yeast" or add the contents of the mini-fermenter to the rest of the cider. Also add 1/2 - 1 cup of sugar per gallon of cider. This will make the cider more alcoholic so that unwanted bacteria will not take up residence in your cider while it is clearing and aging over the next 10 months. Notice the plastic gallon jugs in the picture- we found out later that we could have our carboy filled directly.
6. In a week or so, the vigorous fermentation will have stopped but tiny bubbles will still be visible on the sides of the carboy.
Put a rubber stopper and fermentation lock (also called water or air lock) on the top and forget about the cider for a few months.
Notice the different colors of the 2 carboys. The lighter one was pressed on 10/13 and the darker one was pressed on 11/14. Lull Farm uses a variety of their apples to press the cider depending on what is ripe and they don't use "drops" (apples picked up off the ground) so the likelihood of contamination from anything such as wild or domestic manure is extremely low.
7. When the cider has cleared, it's time for bottling and tasting. I don't have pictures of that yet since we haven't done it yet, but you will siphon the cider out of the carboy and into sanitized beer or champagne bottles. At this time, you will decide whether or not you want a sparkling cider or a flat cider. If you want a little sparkle (more fun I think), add 1/2 tsp of sugar to each 12 oz bottle before you add the cider. Be exact when measuring the sugar because adding too much could result in a "loaded" bottle that could explode without warning. Then you might really need some hard cider while someone extracts glass fragments from your eye.
8. Let the bottles of cider sit until they're carbonated. (Try one to see if it is.) Some ciders are good now but some need 3 months of aging in the bottle to really mature. Cider keeps for a year or more if temperatures are cool but, for longer storage, keep them in a refrigerator.
November 20, 2008
If you've been reading here for any length of time, you know that I'm a big fan of the Taylor Guides. This one is no exception and it is the same size as all the others. There is nothing that annoys me more about a book than to find that it doesn't fit on any shelves. The Taylor Guides all stand nicely together on the bookshelf like soldiers ready to guide or inspire me with their great photos and information.
The Taylor's Guide to Orchids by Judy White gives a good overview on orchid care from feeding to potting to humidification. Alas, it only includes the 300 orchids in this book but, then again, 300 is a lot to choose from. How many can you really fit on your windowsill anyway? Available from Amazon for $21.34.
November 19, 2008
Understanding Orchids: An Uncomplicated Guide to Growing the World's Most Exotic Plants by William Cullina, is a great book for beginning and advanced orchid growers. It explains light and soil requirements, why certain orchids need things that others don't, tools and the importance of sanitation, reproduction and humidity levels. The pictures are beautiful, the printing is of high quality and it's a hardcover so it would make a great gift for an orchid loving friend or relative. Available from Amazon for $26.40.
November 18, 2008
Indoor plants are at a disadvantage when compared to outside plants for several reasons. They miss out on sunshine, fresh air, rain, and worms turning over the soil near their roots. All these things bring needed nutrients to the plant and, to make up for this, gardeners usually use fertilizers. Here are some Growmore fertilizers for your orchids. There are several different kinds depending on what kinds of orchids you have and what time of year it is.
The Growmore 20-10-20 orchid food is an urea free, general purpose feed for all year round.
The Growmore Orchid Fertilizer 30-10-10 is for feeding during the growing season (February through October).
The Growmore Orchid Fertilizer 20-20-20 is a water soluble, urea-based, all year round orchid food.
This is the fun one! The Growmore Orchid Fertilizer 6-30-30 is for FLOWERS! That's the whole reason we put up with these strange plants with their bark and persnickety needs. Feed this from September through February to encourage blooming.
November 17, 2008
Now is a good time to give some attention to those long forgotten orchids. The bark they are potted in loses nutrients over time. Repotting them with new bark will ensure their continued health and growth. And, it's easier to clean up than dirt so not too bad of a project for the indoors. This Whitney Farms Orchid Bark is double-screened fir bark and the pieces are 1/2" - 1". Available at Amazon for $4.99.
November 16, 2008
November 12, 2008
Apparently, the EU just threw out 100 pages of rules and regulations about selling only perfect fruits and vegetables. Before, the bumpy carrots and warped zucchinis got pitched into the compost because it was - can you believe it?! - illegal to sell them. They wanted to ensure properly sized and shaped vegetables and fruits. Now, due to the food shortages around the world, they feel it is irresponsible to limit what can be sold as food and have done away with these regulations.
This is so ridiculous I can hardly stand it. Clearly, they need to get outside in the fresh air and play more batminton and polo. To read the full article at www.boston.com, click here.
November 10, 2008
Here at GardenSnob, we are busy preparing for the winter. There is so much to do and never enough time. One thing that's on our list today is to set up the bird feeders. We don't fill them til after the first snowfall but it's good to get them set up while it is still "warm" out.
This Droll Yankees feeder is a simple, yet functional bird feeder that does its job and lets you focus on the birds. It holds enough feed for a few days and the bottom tray is weight-activated and tips down when a squirrel is on it. The squirrels only have time to get a few seeds before they fall off. The feeder is easy to fill and the metal cap fits well. We really like the sleek design and the fact that it doesn't have a lot of extraneous parts to break off or colors that break up the view. Now we can sit back and watch the beautiful birds without the distraction of a brightly painted feeder.
November 9, 2008
November 7, 2008
11/03/08 India - More than 1,000 farmers kill themselves every month here in the "suicide belt" in Maharashtra state. Millions of Indian farmers have been promised great profits and increased yields if they use GM seeds instead of the seeds they've used for centuries. But, crop failures and spiraling debt have left many of them with no income and nowhere to turn. An estimated 125,000 farmers have committed suicide since the onslaught of GM seed companies into rural India. Read the full article here.
November 5, 2008
This 30-gallon Gardening Container from Fiskar's is a great help when doing the fall cleanup chores. It is made of heavy duty polyvinyl and has a hard bottom. The handles on the bottom make it much easier to empty and the toggle closures are more effective than the typical velcro ones. It collapses into a large pancake 2" high. Very easy to store!
If you've improved your landscape by planting shrubs and trees that deer eat, now is the time to protect them. If deer are a problem in your area, your plantings will become a mid-winter salad for them and all your hard work and money spent will have been wasted.
The Easy Gardener X-Treme Deer Barrier is made from strong black mesh that is 8' tall. The deer will not be able to jump over it or crash through it. Because it is black, it is virtually invisible which is good for aesthetics but you should probably tie some silver or sparkling ribbons on it to warn birds so they don't get caught in it. Although this fence is more difficult to put up because it is so high, it is the most effective and the best bang for your buck (no pun intended).
November 4, 2008
Are you wondering how to take care of your trees now that they are planted? With proper placement, water and nutrients, your trees should thrive for a long time. It's hard to beat your own homemade compost but second choice is Espoma Holly-tone Plant Food.
Holly-tone is a good way to make sure your acid-loving trees and shrubs have enough nutrients, especially after being transplanted. This stuff contains vitamins and beneficial microbes that are slowly released into the soil and won't burn the roots. 25 lbs available from Amazon for $22.51 (and also available at most garden centers).
November 3, 2008
Gardensnob bought six Weeping Alaskan Cedars to create a living screen from the road. These trees weigh 450-500 lbs each and would be very difficult to plant without the help of a tractor. After planting three of them, I've decided that the tractor is just about the coolest tool in the gardener's collection. I know, I know, it pollutes and uses diesel fuel and promotes an unsustainable way of living but I LOVE IT!
As a smaller person, I don't have a chance at doing some of this stuff without the help of our Kabota 3010. Figuratively, I have the strength of thirty horses while operating it. In a perfect world, we would live in small communities where everyone would help everyone else and we would team up for the difficult chores. But, for now, I can move 1,500 lbs tree stumps, 1/2 cords of wood and 500 lb trees all by myself.
Here's how the cedars are planted:
1. Mark the final position of the tree on the lawn with lawn/landscaping paint. The lines have to be long enough for you to see when you are on the tractor.
2. Scrape away the sod. This stuff is unbelievably heavy and just gets in the way when you are filling in the hole.
3. Dig a hole 2-2.5 times the size of the root ball on all sides. Turns out our 5' wide bucket is just the right size for these big trees. The depth of the hole should be only as deep as the root ball. Always keep the trunk at the same depth as it is in its pot (or burlap).
4. Measure the depth of the hole accurately by placing a 2x4 over it and taking the measurement at the center of the hole.
After the correct depth has been achieved, add some compost and a few shovels full of peat moss to the hole.
6. Bring the bucket as close as possible to the root ball. Tie a rope around the base of the trunk and hook it to the top of the bucket.
7. Tilt the bucket slightly and raise it 6" or so. The tree is now off the ground and ready to be moved to the hole. (Trees this size are usually planted in clay, not loose, crumbly soil. The root ball will stay intact even with just a small portion of it being lifted by the bucket as long as you also secure it with rope.)
7. Lower the bucket into the hole and tilt it slightly until the back side of the root ball touches the ground. Maneuver the bucket gently until there is slack on the rope. Remove the rope and back the tractor away from the hole.
8. Adjust the tree in the hole. Make sure it's plumb by looking at it from several angles and checking it at the base of the trunk (ignoring the grade of the root ball). If necessary, get in the hole with your back against the side of the hole. Prop up the tree with one foot while shoveling soil at the base to stabilize the tree in the proper position.
Step into the hole and cut the burlap, ropes, cords and any other foreign material away from the root ball. Don't worry if you can't get at the burlap that's under the tree. It will decompose. Then push soil into the hole with the tractor bucket, stopping to add compost as the hole is filled. When the hole is approx. 1/2 full, water it and compact the soil around the tree to prevent air pockets. This is where those Muck Boots really come in handy!
9. Fill in the remainder of the hole so that it is even with the lawn. Put the sod back where feasible and put the rest of the sod on the compost pile. Water thoroughly and water daily for the next few weeks.
Stand back with beverage in hand and admire your hard work. What a beautiful addition to the landscape!
November 2, 2008
November 1, 2008
After the clocks fall back and it's getting dark at 4:30, there is no way to ignore the fact that winter is coming. It's time to put everything away for the season. With that in mind, here is a great cover for the backyard grill. It's made with very durable material that will protect your grill through many blizzards. It has handles for easy removal and a large pocket for storage. Available in medium, large, XL and XXL from Amazon for $32.99.
And if you are a charcoal diehard, here's a cover that will fit that grill.
It's made with the same durable material. Available from Amazon for $17.99.