Wednesday, August 18, 2021

More weather

 So my last post, the first in a really long time, was about weather and it seems that weather is still having a big impact.  My part of Minnesota is in a drought.  Last week there was an inch and three tenths of rain at the farm.  My sister 15 miles to the east had two and one-half inches and my mom, 15 miles to the west had an amazing four inches.  That rain was my only measurable rainfall this summer.  The field crops around the farm
are struggling.  I haven't seen anyone plowing them under but it is unknown yet if there will be much of a crop.  

My fruit trees were full of blossoms this spring but did not set fruit.  My grape vines are the exception.  They seem to be liking this heat.  The purple grapes are done.  I have been using a steam juicer to make grape juice.  Right now the juice is sitting in my freezer.  At some point I hope to make jelly or try to make wine from that juice.  The white grapes are a little later but seem close.  I ordered a refractometer which should arrive tomorrow.  Then I will have a more accurate measure of when the grapes are ready to be picked. 

My lawn is dormant so the time that I am not spending mowing I am spending watering.  We have had an unusually warm summer, second warmest on record for June.  Between the heat and the drought It is hard keeping plants from getting crispy.  Early this summer I purchased quite a few perennial and annual flowers which means even more watering.  

I have been having a pretty good summer.  I am not doing the farmers market this summer which is allowing me more time to do more things in my yard.  Some of my family was home in May for Mother's Day and we worked on rehabbing my neglected potager garden.  My big garden is idle this year.  I will be working on making it smaller, tarping it to kill the abundant weeds and fixing the deer fencing.  The snow has done a lot of damage to the end closest to the trees where the big drifts form.  I am planning to take down that end of the fencing and let the area return to grass.

I have been adding some round raised beds made from grain bin rings.  When done I will have seven of them.  So far I have four assembled and three are partially filled and growing stuff,  When the crops come out I will top them off, filling them to the top.  They are quite tall so they hold a lot of fill.  I have done some with a hugelkulture method putting branches and wood in the bottom then a wood chip layer and a layer of leaves.  The top layer is a mix of composted manure, peat moss and perlite.  I am doing some with a wire tube in the center and I am adding kitchen scraps to that for composting.  I am hoping it will be broken down by worms in the bed adding nutrition through their castings over the years.  The leaves and wood chips will break down over time so I expect a lot of settling.

 I will have to get some pictures and post them.  


Thursday, February 18, 2021

When All Else Fails Talk about the Weather

 It has been just over a year since I last posted my thoughts on this blog but even before I was posting only intermittently.  A lot went on in 2020 and it seems to be carrying over into 2021.  It was not my plan to rehash that dumpster fire when I sat down to type.  

So maybe I will talk about the weather.  The weather throughout the country has been horrible.  Here inn Minnesota the winter of 20-21 followed a cold spring and weird summer.  The fall had a couple of bigger snowstorms which melted.  Much of the year seemed to be more windy than normal.  In rural areas the wind can be a significant factor.  It contributes to wind chill dangers and it moves stuff around.  This winter one of our snowstorms created snirt (snow + dirt)  The wind picked up topsoil from the surrounding fields, mixed it with the blowing snow and packed it into hard drifts.  The snow was so dirty it completely changed the texture of the snow causing it to be sand-like.  Eventually we got another snow that covered it up with a new white layer but for awhile it was pretty ugly.  

And then there has been the cold.  I think it has been cold everywhere.  Minnesota is one of the upper Midwestern states known for the cold winters and this year we made it through January with only an occasional night that got a little below zero.  It seemed on a whole to be a pretty mild winter.  That changed a few days ago.  Yesterday after five days where the temperatures did not get above zero degrees and three nights in a row where it was -24 it was finally again above zero.  Today it is already a balmy 9 degrees and may get as high as 15.  Next week it may even get above freezing.   I will finish up with some pictures of snirt.

This is what many windows in the house looked like.  This was taken from the inside.  I needed to open the door and look out in order to see what was happening during the blizzard.

This is the side of a path.  The snow here is about 15 inches deep and the bottom half is snirt.  The entire yard was like this.

Some of it was darker, dirtier.

Another photo that I took while shoveling.  There were places in the yard where the drifts were so hard the snowblower would ride over them rather than through them.  This is the path I shoveled to the greenhouse.

This photo is taken from the same path looking through the fence to the pasture. 

This was in January.  We have had a few small snows since then so this has been covered with new pristine white snow.  Keeping all who are struggling with the ice, snow and cold in my thoughts and prayers.    

Stay safe,


Thursday, February 13, 2020

aebleskivers and madeleines

A couple posts ago I wrote about blue cornmeal and my quest to learn to use new pans, gadgets and ingredients that I have acquired but are sitting around.  My plan is to use a menu planning journal to "schedule" these recipes and gear.   I haven't gotten the journal going yet but I did make two recipes while I was snowed in during our most recent blizzard.

This summer I purchased a Madeleine pan and an aebleskiver pan.  After a quick online search I printed a couple of recipes for each.

A Madeleine pan is a flat pan with shell shaped molds for baking small cake like treats.  It is a classic French treat for tea or dessert. 

An aebleskiver pan is a pan that is used on the stove.  It has seven depressions used to cook a type of a pancake ball.   The aebleskiver is Danish.    Scandinavian baking always appeals to be.  The aebleskiver batter is poured into each depression and when the bottom is cooked it is turned partway over.  While it is partway turned a small amount of filling can be added.  My batch of batter made five pans and I was planning to make them all plain and dust them with powdered sugar but when I got to the last pan I decided to try adding a bit of jelly and they were good too. 

Both pans worked well.  The treats were yummy.  I have a couple more versions of each recipe that I might try again but I am happy with the ones that I used.

aebleskivers after the first turn

finished aebleskivers

madeleine pan

finished madeleines

Monday, February 3, 2020

my garden planning progress

I have been a fly by the seat of my pants gardener, winging it, going forward without a real plan.  When my garden was small it wasn't as much of an issue, but when I decided to do a big garden, planning became much more important and my lack of planning more obvious and more consequential. 

This time of year for many inspires resolutions, organization, reflecting on the past and planning for the future.  I have not typically been one of those people but this year, disappointment in last year has led me to embrace the planning season and see if I can try to not repeat last year in 2020.  Not all of last year can be blamed on things I could control.  The weather was terrible for gardening and also for my farming neighbors.  It was so wet.  And that cold spring.  But I did find that I always seemed to be playing catch up and that is something that is within my control. 

This January I decided to try a bullet journal and set about putting one together.  In the brainstorming I decided that an additional garden journal and a journal for meal planning might provide for a better to do list and a place for documentation. 

So where am I at in my garden planning?  Well, I am started. I start a lot of seeds indoors for transplanting out into my garden and sharing with other gardeners.  Seed starting will be starting soon.  I gathered together all of my extra seeds from previous year's gardens.  I have ordered and received a storage container to hold my seeds.  I have sorted those seeds into the separate boxes that fit into my storage container.  Yet to be done is to label the boxes, inventory the seeds that I have.  I need to make a list of crops that I want to grow and cross reference that to my seed inventory and prepare a seed order for the seeds that I do not already have.  I want to order my seeds by end of the week.

Seed starting has a lot of moving parts.  Some seeds are planted in the garden, some before the last spring frost and some after.  Some seeds are started indoors under lights and transplanted into the garden, some before the last spring frost, some after the ground warms up, some in the summer for a fall crop.  Some seeds are planted every couple of weeks for successive harvests.  Lots of moving parts.  It is not hard, just a lot to coordinate and keep track of.  Other years I have scrambled to figure out what I needed to be doing when.  I have lost count of how many times I have counted back on the calendar from that last frost date to figure out when to start a particular type of seed. 

When I was working on my bullet journal I made three perpetual calendars.  They are set up to be three months on a page so four pages for a year.  Mine are arranged so the first half of the year are on two facing pages and the second half of the year on the following two pages.  Each month is a  column with the numbers down the left side of the column. The first calendar is for birthdays and anniversaries, things that are the same from year to year.  The second calendar is where I track my dad's medical appointments and treatments.  The third is my perpetual garden calendar where I have indicated the dates of the last frost in the spring and the first frost in the fall.  I then counted backward and forward to get the weeks before and after.

Next I took the information from the perpetual calendar and started a spreadsheet.  This will be a master calendar from which I can generate a To Do list.  It is set up with a column for each week of the year.  The dates of the week are at the top of the column.  Below the dates row is a row counting the weeks before and after the last frost in the spring.  And below that the next row counts the weeks before and after the first frost in the spring.  The next section has a list of vegetables, listed alphabetically, one vegetable per row on the far left column.  Across the columns of the spreadsheet I am entering codes for different activities involving that vegetable in the column when that activity should happen.  I have a book that lists lots of vegetables and includes the information and I am using that as a starting point.  I will add additional information as I glean it from seed packets, company websites and other resources.  I am up to peas in my alphabetical list.  Because I grow greens in my passive solar greenhouse in the winter I am going to list all of the greens together after the vegetables.  I will do the same with herbs and flowers.  My goal is to be able to look down the column for the week and know what needs to be done and add those tasks to my To Do list in my bullet journal.

I have chosen to use a smaller 3 ring binder for my garden journal.  It has some dividers and loose leaf paper.  I have several different growing areas, vegetable beds, a potager, perennial fruit, an herb garden and areas with flowers. I am not sure exactly how the journal will be arranged but I do know that I want to have maps of the different areas so that I can keep track of which perennial varieties are planted where.  Right now I have scraps of paper that have my notes as to what is planted in some of the areas.  My goal is to transfer all of the information on those scraps of paper to the journal, perhaps with a separate page for each area.  I would like to have a list of vegetable varieties grown each year, where they were purchased and any notes about them.  So far I have used it to make notes on pruning techniques, recipes for fruit tree sprays, trellising techniques and suggested varieties of English cucumbers.  Having a ring binder instead of a bound book will allow me flexibility to take notes and then then organize them later.  I imagine that I will rearrange it a few times until I find a method that works best for me.  I have a 8.5x11 graph paper pad that I think I can punch holes across the top to fit my rings and if I turn it sideways I should be able to use that for maps.  We will have to see.    

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Blue cornmeal

One of my goals this year is to learn to use new ingredients, gadgets or tools that I have acquired but are still sitting around waiting for me to get to them.  One of the ingredients is blue cornmeal.  My sister first expressed an interest in finding blue cornmeal.  We looked locally and close by but did not find any, so we ordered some online and shared it when it arrived.  I hadn't used it yet but decided that it was time so I searched out recipes for cornbread. 

I don't have a go-to recipe for cornbread.  I  haven't made it very often and when I have I have used the recipe on the cardboard container.  Being snowed in and not expecting to be able to run to the grocery store for a couple of days I was looking for recipes that called for buttermilk since I had that and didn't want to use the last of my milk.  I ended up combining ingredients from a couple of different recipes and the results were pretty good.  I am in my second day of nibbling on the cornbread.   I think I will make some of the cornbread into croutons for adding to salads, soups and chili. 

I am not out of cornmeal yet so I think my next project will be learning to use the tortilla press that I bought this summer and make some homemade corn tortillas.  Stay tuned.

If you are interested in the cornbread recipe it can be found here.


Friday, January 17, 2020

Snowed in

Typical Minnesota January.  We have already had several significant snow events and our ground is pretty well covered.  Some of the animals that live in our grove have been bolder in their search for food.  A couple of days ago I had a bunny checking out the dogs' food bowl.  Usually this time of year the Blue Jays are interested in any left over food in the dishes but I haven't had rabbits before, at least not that I know of. 

And then the next day I had three pheasant hens up in the yard digging and scratching just out from my front door.  I hear them in the grove and sometimes see them fly in there from the road but this was the closest I have seen them to the house.  Of course as soon as I opened the side door they flew off.  I walked over to where they had been and saw that there was an empty ear of field corn.  All of the kernels has been removed.  I imagine the dogs brought it up from the field across the road at some time. 

I have decided to try to feed them, but trying to find a way to to do it so that they can eat without harassment from my two dogs.  I put food out yesterday, but now I will wait until the current weather passes.  We are in the middle of a three day weather pattern.  The last couple of days have been cold with windchill warnings.  It was -14 I think at the lowest.  Today and tonight it is warmer but we are getting snow.  One prediction is 4-7 inches and another is 8-12 inches.  Schools were cancelled and people were encouraged to stay home.  I don't know how much snow we actually got.  It has been snowing for much of the day.  It is still snowing and looks like it will snow much of the night.  It is windy and so the snow is deep in some spots and absent in other spots.  Tomorrow it is supposed to be even windier and a blizzard warning is next.  By tomorrow night I am hoping that it is done.  So far everything is working, no power outages or branches down.  I have these nifty new heated hand grips for my snowblower, a Christmas gift from my kids that help keep my hands warmer when I am snowblowing--probably my Sunday project. 

I haven't minded staying home.  I have gotten started on some projects that I have needed to do.  Today I sorted my garden seeds into a new container that arrived this week, a baby step in getting better organized for the garden.  

Keep warm!


Thursday, January 9, 2020

One week into the new year

Well, we are one week in. How am I doing?  I am started.

Bullet Journal

My bullet journal is a blank book and I am customizing the pages hoping to meet my needs.  Some of the journals are beautiful with artwork and fancy lettering.  Mine is going to be more minimalist.  If I can get the hang of this I can try and add fancy later but that is not one of my strengths.  I started out with three year at a glance type calendar spreads.  In each of the calendar spreads I have the name of the month and the numbers but not the days of the week, so they are not specific to one particular year.  I am not going to necessarily start a new notebook next year so I can keep using this calendar ongoing. 

On the first four page spread I am putting recurring things like birthdays and anniversaries.  The second four page spread I will track my dad's medical tests and procedures.  I go with him to all of his appointments and I am hoping this will be an easier way to stay on top of his tests and procedures.  My third year at a glance calendar will be the garden calendar.  I debated on placing that calendar in my garden journal but since I will be generating a to do list from the bullet journal I will start out with it here.  I plan count back from our last frost date and label the weeks before our last frost, and going forward after the last frost date and the weeks leading up to our first frost date in the fall.  I will also track the 'seasons' of the winter growing in the greenhouse.  This will help with knowing when to start the different seeds so that they are ready to be transplanted at the right time. 

My bullet journal next has a month at a glance.  This will have appointments and other nonrecurring things that are specific to one particular month.  I will also have a week at a glance which is where my to do list for each day will be.

I am going to give a habit tracker a try.  My friend Kim is using a gratitude journal.  I like that idea and so I am adding a gratitude page.

I have so many things that I want to accomplish this year and unfinished projects from last year.  So starting in the back of my book and working forward I will make a brain dump page for each of the areas of the farm that needs some attention.  (That would be all of them!)  From those brainstorming pages I will pick and choose and prioritize projects and make a list of goals that will span the year.  24 goals would be two per month.  So far I am getting titles on the brain dump pages, not much brainstorming has happened there yet.