Friday, February 26, 2010

Keeping a Gardening Journal

I have kept a gardening journal for about 19 years and I believe it is an indispensable tool for the home gardener as much as for the market gardener. I started keeping a journal for my garden the first year I set my foot on a spade in my tiny flower garden on Shelby street in East Nashville. I grew pink primrose, iris, lavender and hostas. I started from seed pink caterberry bells and bells of Ireland. My roses included Charles De Mills, Sarah Van Fleet and plenty of Fairy roses. Once I started to add fruit, in the form of Alpine strawberries I added square foot maps of the garden to remember what was planted where especially when it came to planting over the hundreds of bulbs planted in the fall. When we moved to the farm and began homesteading, gardening became more of a necessity and less of a hobby and my journal never left my gardening bag as I jotted varieties, location, problems, notes and yields. Some suggestions for the kinds of information you may want to include are:
  • planting dates for seeds and plants
  • transplanting dates
  • source and cost for plants and seeds
  • any guarantees and location of bills (if needed)
  • weather particulars such as rainfall, frost dates and results
  • plant characteristics, date of germination, date they emerge in spring, appearance of blooms
  • date of harvest (for vegetables) or cut flowers taken
  • date and type of fertilizer or other chemicals applied, and to which plants
  • observations
  • schematics for garden rotation
  • great color combinations for both veggies and flowers
My journals have been everything from 3 ring binders to beautiful, preprinted garden journals. They don't have to be expensive, just lovely. Try to find something that makes you feel good, something beautiful to keep track of all the beauty that happens by your hand. Be inspired.

Do you keep a garden journal?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A New Baby at Windy Acres Farm

Sunday morning we awoke to a wonderful surprise, a brand new perfect little calf. Although we are always happy to have a new baby on the farm, the thought of more milk is really what we all had in mind as we cheered the good news.

Thankfully Mom was able to have her during a very beautiful weekend when the temperatures were nice and mild.

For all you patient soon-to-be cowshare owners, we will milk Beauty while her calf is still nursing, thereby sharing the milk for about 10-12 days. Once the colostrum period is over we will contact you to come in and start getting your milk from your cow.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Organic Gardening: What would you like to know?

What have you always wanted to know about gardening?

What scares you about organic gardening?

What aspects of building and maintaining a garden confuse you or keep you from getting started?

Have you always wanted to try growing a particular type of crop but weren't sure how to get started?

Please give us your gardening questions in the comments and we'll try to answer them in future posts. Thanks!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tomato Sauce, Fresh from the Freezer

This past summer was crazy. I started a new life in Tennessee, moved my farm, opened a shop while continuing to homeschool and trying hard not to disrupt life for the kiddos as much as possible. Maintaining our normal lifestyle meant I still baked bread, made all of our dairy products, fixed three meals from scratch every day and tried to make a few of those meals somewhat gourmet, among other things.

When life comes at you that fast something has to give and for me it was canning. So, without the least bit of guilt I just packed up the produce from the garden into Ziploc bags and threw them into the freezer without any further ado.

Well, here we are now and things are slowing down a bit and we are getting ready to enter a long fast period with our church which means plenty of pasta and here I am without a can of tomato sauce in the house. Never fear, I thought, the garden is in the freezer! So here is my recipe for a delicious pasta sauce, fresh from the freezer.

This recipe is not for the faint at heart. There is no measuring or timing but this will help you to learn to cook from the hip.
I took several bags of frozen tomatoes, maybe 5 or 6 quarts and a quart of frozen green and red peppers. As you can tell from the photo I grew and froze several different types of tomatoes which gives the sauce a very rich flavor. To this mixture I added two very large onions, chopped, along with 1 head of garlic, minced, one bottle of wine (Trader Joe's Two Buck Chuck), oregano, basil and thyme, and a good amount of Celtic Sea Salt.

I let this thaw slightly and put it on the stove for several hours to cook down. Keep tasting the sauce and adjust spices as needed. Trust yourself. Once you are happy with the results use a hand blender to mix it all up and blend in the skins. Once smooth, eat, can or freeze.

Voila! Thanks to the freezer you can eat fresh from the garden all year 'round.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Peace Of Yarn Fibers

Yak Merino Roving ready to spin

Once in a while a company comes along that you know you just have to support. It usually includes great products, a wonderful story and someone behind it that is the kind of person you just want to know. Peace of Yarn is one of the those companies for me.

From the first time I saw the quality of her fibers I knew I wanted to sell them in my store. Well, the wait is over. I have received my first order of Peace of Yarn products and I have been spinning away happily since the moment they arrived.

Peace of Yarn is a company that makes fibers available from around the world such as silk from worms that feed on mulberry trees in China, Alpaca from South America, Mongolian cashmere, baby camel and yak plus some of the softest Merino fibers available. All of these fibers are available alone or in blends. Baby Camel/Tussah Silk blend

Melissa's tag line for her company is "The world is spinning" which it is indeed. Hand spinning is on the rise and I don't foresee a slowdown in it's appeal.

Whether you spin, knit, crochet or just love the feel of luxurious fibers come on in to the shop to see what is available from around the world, around the block and around the farm in top quality fibers.

Monday, February 15, 2010

How To Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible

How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine is the one absolutely positively indispensable gardening book in my library. It is ripped, filthy, filled with notes and jottings and in desperate need of replacing but that's because this is not the type of book you sit in your overstuffed chair reading whilst sipping a cup of Lady Grey tea (although I have done that quite a bit), this is the kind of book that you take out into the garden with you while you plant. This book is hands-on, filled with charts and fill-in-the-blank sections to determine how many plants you need and when you will plant them in our area. If you plan on gardening - at all - you need this book.

John Jeavons does such a masterful job of guiding us through the process of really, truly gardening. He explains soil prep, watering techniques, intensive planting, harvesting, rotating crops and much more.

There are two things in this book that separate it from all other gardening books. The first is the complete list of page upon page of fruits, vegetables, grains, trees and cover crops with information on each entry as to planting requirements (depth, and spacing), possible harvest amounts, and any other notes. The second noteworthy section contains garden plans for everything from a mini garden to a full Feed a Family of Four garden that teaches you how to succession plant for continuous harvest. All you need is the first and last frost date for your area and a pen to fill in the blanks and you will end up with a complete gardening plan for your own garden. What more you ask, except so for someone else to do the double digging for you - and don't look at me I done enough for a lifetime!

How to Grow More Vegetables and Fruits (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine is now available in the Farm Shop.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Where in the World is Debbie

For the first time since losing my right hand gal in the store, I took last weekend off and attended a spinning retreat in Indiana. This was my 3rd year attending the retreat and now I am determined that I would not miss it for the world.

Every year around 30 of the most wonderful, fascinating and creative women gather from all parts to spin, knit, crochet and get reacquainted. Since moving away from Indiana this was a very much needed reconnection as well as a time of quiet renewal.

Each year when I attend I do so with some spinning need, a project or problem that needs fixing. The first year it was figuring out why my wheel wouldn't do what I wanted it to do. I wanted to learn how to spin thinner yarns and took some lessons in the fine art of fine spinning. After a year of frustration with my polwarth top ( a glorious Rookie Gift) I brought it back the second year to learn how to spin it. I also wanted to learn to knit socks from memory without a pattern and I can't tell you what a challenge that is after Bailey's in a chocolate cup at 2:30 in the morning. Rhayna's sweater - hand painted, hand spun yarn

This year I was able to show off the polwarth sweater that I finally finished from my spun yarn but I hoped to learn to spin more evenly and to learn the fine art of hand carding my fibers for more professional looking yarn. Thank you to all of you who have helped me over the years without making me or anyone else feel like we were a bother and for sharing your knowledge without reserve.

In a day when we seem to have forgotten the art of asking for help we must make time for getting together in an environment here you are expected to ask for help. I had a friend tell me that she didn't want to come to the knitting circle on Saturday because she needed too much help. Where did we get this idea? I think we lost it around the time we sent our children off to expensive colleges instead of apprenticeships. In this self-sufficient culture, buck the system and ask someone for help and revel in the fact that knowledge was passed from one friend - a real friend - to another.See you on Saturday!! Bring your wheels, needles, yarn, questions and fiber needs. Also, feel free to bring along project to inspire others. The Knitting Circle will meet from 9am to close on Saturdays.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Growing Seedlings Indoors

For the adventurous and the thrifty minded among us growing your plants from seed is the way to go those plants that require a longer growing period or are harder to raise outdoors from seed. In the Nashville area those plants include, but are not limited to, tomatoes, peppers, onions, leeks, celery, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and some herbs and flowers. The information on the back of the seed packet will always include very basic information on growing that plant. This week I will start tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cabbage, and thyme, lavender.

You will need a plastic flat or recycled plastic jugs (with holes in the bottom to allow water to drain) to hold your potting medium and a spot with plenty of light. Don't use any potting mixture with added fertilizers as they do more harm than good.

It is always best to start with just a couple of new plants each year to that you can learn about their likes and dislikes. So maybe start with tomatoes this year which are fairly easy to grow inside and you won't have to settle for the same old, same old plants available at your local big box store.

Just plant in moistened plant medium and keep moist, not too dry or too wet and keep in a well lighted place. In about 5-10 days you will see the seedling emerge from the soil. For more information on starting tomatoes from seed go to Garden Web where you can find some great pictures to help you.

I will plant these seeds between the 13th and 22nd of February, when the moon is right to get them off on the right foot.

If this seems a little to much for some of you, worry not!! Windy Acres Farm Shop will have plenty of started plants available at the correct planting times.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Getting Ready for Planting

One of the most frustrating things that kept me out of the garden when I first got the gardening bug was missing the planting dates of my favorite foods. It always seemed that I would buy pea seeds and then find that the pea planting time had passed me and no one told me.In thinking about all the new gardeners this year who have contacted me I have decided to post a schedule, with reminders, for planting in the Nashville, TN area. For those outside this area I will be posting a review of my favorite gardening book later this week that includes a fill-in-the-blank schedule.

The last date we can expect a frost in our planting area is April 5 and the first frost will hit us somewhere around the 29th of October. This is the window that we need to use in conjunction with our knowledge of the plants we want grow to determine what we will direct seed and what will be transplanted into the garden as plants.

So here in the Nashville area we need to be thinking about getting seeds into pots for those plants that will not be direct seeded into the garden, those that require a longer growing period to set fruit. In my garden those veggies include tomatoes, peppers, onions, broccoli, cabbage, melons, pumpkins and celery.

So get yourself a note book and list all of the plants you want to grow in your garden and the next blog will list dates for planting in our area. Have fun.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Where to find heirloom seed potatoes

One year, many moons ago, I found some Russian Fingerlings, Yellow Rose and Blue Fin potatoes at Smith and Hawken (when they were a great store with great tools and no Scott "Organic" fertilizers - please, don't get me started!!) Well, the harvest was really spectacular and the difference in the flavors were out of this world. The range of flavors and uses for heirloom potatoes go far beyond the usual types you find in the grocery store.

Last year Rhayna, Brittany, Nicole and I harvested 700 pounds of potatoes that we are still eating daily. Eating your own organic potatoes is wonderful and a serious money saver, but one of the things I tend to leave too late every year is the purchase of my seed potatoes. If you don't have a local source, you must order seed potatoes from the internet (using potatoes you get from a store won't work very well because they are treated to prevent eyes from developing - ask Catherine how she knows!).

This year I am making it my gardening goal to have plenty of different varieties of heirloom potatoes available at the farm store for my customers because I know first hand that the best laid plans of mice and men...and women... get set aside if you need to order on the Internet. So, my gift to my customers will be to make these potatoes, prized for outstanding taste, available without the hassle.

If you want to order your own seed potatoes please visit the Seed Savers Exchange for more information about this pioneering organization and to peruse the many amazing heirloom varieties of potatoes available.

Please stop by the store or leave a comment if you have any further questions about getting started with potatoes in your garden or what types of heirloom potatoes to try. We'd love to help! Happy gardening!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

How to plant and harvest heirloom potatoes

Many people think of growing potatoes as a laborious undertaking but I have a simple, easy way to grow potatoes. I have planted my potatoes this way for about 10 years so I know it works, and works well whether you are planting five pounds or 50 pounds ( or 150 pounds as we did last year) and you can start getting ready right now.

First, I use the lasagna gardening method and lay down several inches of cardboard and newspaper on the sunniest part of the yard usually where I have fought weeds last year since this is great for weed suppression. Then I open a few bags of peat moss and spread it in an even layer over the newspaper. For the next lasagna layer I bring in bags of leaves or bales of straw and pile that on the peat moss. Now, just leave the garden undisturbed until the temperatures outside are around 55-60 degrees and won't be dropping much below that. The potatoes can handle a light frost but nothing too heavy.

Around the beginning of March I take out my seed potatoes and put them out in the sunny place to start to sprout. After a week or two when I see several "eyes" sprouting I cut the potatoes into several 2" square pieces. Be sure they have one or two good "eyes". Leave the cut potatoes out in the sun for a couple of days to develop a good callous to discourage rot.

Here you have a couple of options. If you have a good organic fertilizer or kelp just spread some around for extra nutrients for the potato's root system. Obviously don't use chemical fertilizers (poisons in - poisons out) or fresh manure which can cause scab and ruin your harvest. Place the cut potatoes cut side down with the eyes pointing up, on the straw, compost or just on the ground (although that is not as good of a "bed") approximately 15" apart in rows 2.5-3 ft apart. Next, cover the potatoes with mulch, composted leaves or straw until they are covered about 2-3 ft deep. Water well.

As the potatoes grow stems upward and roots downward the potatoes form on the stem. As the vines grow continue to cover the potatoes with mulch material leaving only 2-3 sets of leaves showing. The more stem is covered, the more potatoes you will be able to harvest since there is more of a growing space. Keep the entire pile well watered.

Here is a good picture of a pile of potatoes that are well mulched.

Open flowers on the vine let you know that immature "baby" potatoes are ready for harvest. Once the vines start to turn yellow and die the potatoes are ready to harvest. Just move the mulch aside and harvest. The potatoes are clean and your your back remains unscathed.

As the season goes on I will take pictures of my planting to give a clearer picture of the process. So start dreaming of red, white and blue potato salad or just fun and fluffy blue mashed potatoes and get out the newspaper!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Heirloom Varieties of Potatoes

Imagine running out to the garden and digging up some Rose Fin Apple potatoes or German Butterballs or some Purple Vikings with their deep purple skin and their creamy white insides. Or think about your picnic potato salad on the 4th of July with red, white and blue potatoes. Come on, even a Canadian would be envious of your patriotic culinary and gardening expertise!

Did you know that years ago housewives planted certain potatoes for different uses? Some are best for storage, some for baking and mashing. Some give up the ghost (and the starch) if you try to bake them like an Idaho-style while others lend their hearty flavor to stews and hold their shape all the way to the bowl. This is the kind of information that we are missing today and deep down, we know it and it worries us. Now is the time to change that. Start planning now for an exciting potato harvest in 2010! This week we will show you how to plant potatoes (it's much easier than you thing) and talk about where to get potatoes for seed.

Have you planted potatoes before? What did you think of the experience?

Photo courtesy of