Harvesting Kale Seeds

Recent seed shopping has left me with a bit of sticker shock and I have resolved to get serious about seed saving. I picked up a couple books http://www.amazon.com/The-Complete-Guide-Saving-Seeds/dp/1603425748 and did some reading on the net.

I had some kale that wintered over and I let it bolt and produce seed pods. The pods look like little green beans, So cute! I pulled up the plants and hung them upside down in an old pillow case to dry. I usually hang things in the garage on a clothesline I have strung across. Any warm dry place will do though.

So here is what you end up with.

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Lay down some newspaper in a non windy area.  Make sure the plant is dry and crackly as a leaf, and pull all the seed pods off. Seeds will start to fall out of the pods immediately.

Seeds after pulling the pods off

Seeds after pulling the pods off

See the little pile of black seeds? Pick up a small handful of pods and rub them between you hands. Pick up the chaff and discard it and add the seeds to the pile.

Ready to roll!

Ready to roll!

After removing all the chaff on the paper, you should be left with a nice pile of seeds. Scoop them into an envelope, jar or baggie, label them with the name and year.

Seeds after removing chaff

Seeds after removing chaff

About the equivalent to 10 seed packs! and I didn’t even do them all. Wooo!

Passive solar window panel

I got this idea from YouTube  http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=YaydDmHMo9A but improved upon it I think. Here in the Pacific NW our winters are grey and wet and we have the heat on from October to May.  I’m pretty frugal and turn the heat off when I can to save some money, but have been thinking hard about how to be warm for cheap! So voila! Passive solar to the rescue. These can go in the west and south windows of your home.

How it works: Black things get hot in the sun, and heat rises. Leaving a space at the top allows the rising heat to escape into your room.

These will work even on an overcast day. Because these are so light and portable,  you can remove them whenever you want and store them under the bed or in the back of the closet.

What you need:

Inside window frame measurments

Wood or PVC to build a frame

Corner fittings if you’re using PVC

Black plastic (trash bags, tarp, roll from the hardware store)

Duct tape

Piece of string and a nail or screw (optional)

Build your frame to the size of your window opening. Be sure to factor in the size of the fittings. A little narrow is OK. Go place it in the window to see if it fits. Crucial – DON’T SKIP THIS STEP.

PVC frame for window

Frame

Lay your black plastic under the frame. Carefully fold the plastic over the frame and secure with duct tape.  Black plastic duct tapedReinforce the corners with more duct tape so the plastic doesn’t tear.

Reinforced corner

Your completed panel should look something like this. That white stripe was on the edge of the plastic – whatever!  Gives it a racy sporty feel.

Completed window panel

Now go put it in your window.

Panel in windowMy plastic has silver on the back so I can flip it around in the summer to reflect the heat.

The top needs to angle out towards the room so the warm air can escape into the room.  Mine is staying in place because of the curtains. Otherwise, find the center of your frame and tie an 8 inch piece of string to it. Put in a hammer or screw in the center of the window frame. Attach the string to it.

That’s it! Super easy.

PVC Seed starting rack

Seed starting rackAn excess of leftover PVC pipe and the need for a seed starting rack inspired this beauty. Mine is 4′ wide x 4′ tall. Of course design yours to fit your space needs, or use a thicker PVC, but not thinner.

What you will need (all 1′ PVC):

6 lengths 4′ long – cross sections

8 lengths 2′ long – upright posts

4 lengths 1′ long

8 corner connectors

4 “T” connectors

2  shop lights 4′ long

4 bungee cords 18″ long

Assemble PVC as shown. I did not glue any of it together so I can disassemble it for easy storage.

Wrap and hook the bungee cords around the cross sections. Two bungees per level.

Suspend the shop lights within the bungee cords. The fluorescent lights are cool, and won’t burn the bungee.

Plug the shop lights into a power strip so you can turn the lights off/on at your convenience.

Time to make, about 2 hours including goof ups, cat toting off bungee cords, looking for tools, booting the nosy dog out of the way and corrections. You of course see the beautiful finished project with the benefit of instructions!

Almost time to start seeds in the PNW.

Enjoy!

Gardening for the Unenlightened

I didn’t want to call it gardening for dummies, because you’re not dumb. You just don’t know how yet!

I’ve put together a little garden primer with three levels of expense – FRUGAL, AVERAGE, MONEY TO BURN.

Most of my garden is average or frugal. The whole point is to save $$ on groceries by growing your own stuff right? Well, for most of us.

Things to do ahead of time:

Save up newspapers, cardboard, small cups for starting seeds, buy white vinegar and a large sprayer, scout out locations for the mulch pile and garden plot(s), gather seeds, build your structures.

The mulch pile is the source of rich nutrients for your garden, and best of all it can be free. A note of caution – do NOT locate this next to your bedroom window. Just don’t.

1. If possible establish a location for a mulch pile. Anything biodegradable goes on the pile – shredded junk mail (set the kids to work with the shredder – they are low to the ground and have limber backs), toilet paper rolls, tissues, food scraps, tea bags, etc. No people or animal waste! There is no need to worry about balancing the browns & greens. Just give it the occasional watering if you need to, and let nature do its work. Once or twice a year, shovel out the black gold on to your garden beds.

FRUGAL – Just throw everything in a relative pile shape

AVERAGE – Make a 3 sided enclosure with pallets, chicken wire, scrap wood or cinder blocks (free or cheap on Craig’s List)

MONEY TO BURN – For a mere $229 this fancy schmancy compost thingy

2. Pick the garden site. It should get full sun or close to it, drain well, and be out of the traffic zone (kids, dogs, path to the clothesline). Consider the front, back and side yards.

FRUGAL – The sun is free! So far.

3.  Water source. In most places you will need to water your garden on a regular basis.

FRUGAL – Rain water and watering the base of the plants with the hose.  Also use bath, kitchen sink or cooking water. You paid for it once already, you might as well get all the use you can.

AVERAGE – Set the sprinkler up and let it water the plants, the sidewalk, and the sky.

MONEY TO BURN – Install a drip irrigation system and timer. The upfront costs can be $200-300.00. It’s fairly easy to install.  You will need to repair and replace components periodically. In the long run, it could save money by watering JUST the plants, and not the neighborhood.

4. Prepping the planting beds

FRUGAL – Spray the grass in the desired area with white vinegar. Lay many layers of newspaper down, and top with card board. Hold it down with rocks or whatever you have handy.  Vinegar will kill the grass and any other living plant. BEWARE!  In a couple weeks remove the newspaper and cardboard. The grass should be dead.  DO NOT till this up, because it will only bring weed seeds to the top. If grass isn’t all dead, repeat. The longer you leave this on, the better. Die grass Die! Spread one bag of manure thinly over the top. Cost $5.00 for manure.

AVERAGE – Kill the grass per the instructions above.  Create raised beds with scrap wood or rocks in your desired shape. Fill the beds with soil from the mulch pile, or dirt from another area in the yard. Spread one bag of manure thinly over the top.

MONEY TO BURN – Buy pressure treated wood at the lumber store. Create your desired shape. Spray grass with natural weed killer made with clove oil. Spray again. Hire someone to till it up or rent a tiller. Lay down a thick layer of newspapers. Fill the great smelling beds with store bought garden soil, compost, and manure.  Cost? at least $400.00

5.  Get some seeds! Only pick things you actually LIKE to eat. If you get food stamps, you buy seeds with them. How cool is that?

FRUGAL – You can save some seeds successfully from things you buy at the store. Potatoes, garlic, winter squash, and watermelon are the best bets. Dry them thoroughly, and store them in an envelope – you get free envelopes in the mail all the time. Look for local seed exchanges, get extra seeds or plants from friends, buy seeds on sale at the end of the season.

AVERAGE – Buy some seeds at the store or nursery.

MONEY TO BURN – Order your seeds from an organic heirloom seed catalog. If you want to try something new and different, this is the place to go!

6.  Start your seeds! Look up your zone to see when the last frost is and start you seeds about 6 weeks ahead of that.

FRUGAL – Get a bag of potting mix or seed starter. Use any kind of container you can find to start the seeds following the directions on the back of the package. You can use egg cartons, paper milk cartons, yogurt cups or make your own out of newspaper.  All plastic containers must have drainage holes. I use the plastic party cups from the Dollar Tree, and then reuse them for next year, and for as many years as they hold up.

AVERAGE – Buy plastic containers at the garden or home improvement store, and use potting mix or seed starter following the direction on the back of the seed packet. Throw out the plastic containers after you transplant the seedlings.

MONEY TO BURN – Go to the nursery and buy vegetable and herb plants in 1 gallon pots and plant after last frost date.

7.  Controlling weeds after planting is crucial unless you have all the time in the world and a strong back. For the rest of us, here are some suggestions.

FRUGAL -Put grass clippings, leaves, paper shreds (more junk mail) all around the base of your plants. For big plants like tomatoes and squash, lay cardboard around the base. Spray white vinegar around the edges of your garden, on the foot path, or by the fence. DO NOT get it on desirable plants.

AVERAGE – Sprinkle Preen weed control all around your plants. Pull some weeds by hand. Give up and let the weeds have their way.

MONEY TO BURN – Hire someone to come in and weed every week or lay weed cloth down and around every plant, then cover with decorative bark for a very Martha Stewart look. I love you Martha, but for the rest of us “common folk” we have to keep it real.

8.  You will probably need some structures throughout the garden such as something for the cukes and green beans to climb on, and tomato cages.

FRUGAL  Plant the climbing plants next to an existing fence or pound found poles/branches into the ground and make a trellis with string between the poles/branches.

AVERAGE -Build a tee-pee with pvc pipe and string for the beans, buy tomato cages. If you’re lucky, have you spouse build a trellis or two. Football season should be over by then.

MONEY TO BURN – Buy beautiful wood trellis and other structures from a catalog or local nursery. The structures will have lovely glass or carved wood embellishments and cute motivational sayings for the gardener.

With basic maintenance ( water and weeding) you will receive a lot of reward for your work.  You can save on groceries by picking your own fresh picked produce.

Plant what you like to eat. Plant things that are expensive or hard to find, trade produce with a friend or two. Plant in every speck of ground that you can. Go vertical. Dry, can, freeze.

Strive to do more, plant more every year.

Good luck, and I welcome your questions!

Cranberry/Lemon Vodka

Isn’t it Pretty? You can use any fruit, but here’s what I did…

1 bottle vodka

1 bag cranberries

1 lemon thinly sliced

Put all into a large jar. I used a gallon canning jar. Pulverize with a stick blender.

Let this marinate for a few days. The more the merrier. This is after only 2 days. No refrigeration necessary.

Strain and press out the liquid. Really mash it, to get out all the liquid. This is the point to add sweetener if you like. Honey, sugar, whatever floats your boat! My boat is lame, I used Splenda.

Nice! Now pour the juicy vodka into a bottle.

Mix this baby with sparkling cider, ginger ale or 7-Up over a few ice cubes for a festive and refreshing cocktail. Enjoy responsibly.

Oatmeal To Go

bowls of dry oatmeal mix

Blueberry, Plum, Apple

Some mornings I just can’t get it together and wander the kitchen trying to figure out what to have for breakfast. Lunches are taken care of, because I freeze left overs and portions of things I make for dinner. So I came up with…..

Oatmeal To Go!

Get some 1 pint or approximate size containers.

Into each goes the following:

3/4 cup oatmeal

1 Tbsp bran flakes

1 Tbsp ground flax seed

Dry sweetener to taste – stevia, splenda, sugar, maple sugar, etc

2 Tbsp dried milk

1/8 cup dried fruit cut in small pieces – I used blueberries, plums,  apples

Spices to taste – cinnamon, nutmeg, etc

Put lid on and shake to mix.

Label.

*** Of course modify this to your liking.

I’d like to hear what varieties you come up with.

Pack up and eat at work, or make it now.

In the morning – while your coffee is in the microwave, put on the tea kettle. Pour boiling water over oats to cover. Stir.  Add milk and sugar to your hot coffee. Wait a few minutes. Eat!  Way better than that packaged junk in they sell in the store! You control the ingredients. No preservatives, no artificial anything. All yours.

 

Winding Down for Winter

Sadly the signs of fall and winter have started to creep in here in the Pacific Northwest.  The garden is winding down, the days are getting shorter, the nights cooler, and the squash leaves are getting that “powdery” look about them. Sigh…

On the to-do list is:

  1. Finish up the harvest in the next couple of weeks and put it up by canning, freezing, or drying.
  2. Take out the window air conditioner.
  3. Put up the tarp wall on the covered patio (thus making it a year round spot to hang out.
  4. Cover the crawl space vents with foam or plastic plugs. A trick here – grab some of those signs the politicians use around election time, cut to size, and use them to plug the holes. I was using the Styrofoam plugs, but the chickens ate them like cotton candy and destroyed them. (I had visions of little pieces of Styrofoam every time I cracked open an egg).
  5. When the garden is done, pull out the sad plants and cover the beds with black plastic. The heat kills weed seeds and warms the soil in the spring.
  6. Prune the blackberries and raspberries back.
  7. Check the insulation around doors, windows and pipes.
  8. Do a good cleaning since we’re going to be stuck in the house for months. Once it starts raining it doesn’t turn off until about May. SERIOUSLY. What you have heard is true. Rain, rain, rain.

We will enjoy the last golden days of summer and relish the sun which will go into hiding for months.

What steps do you take to get ready for the next season?