BC & AC... I am talking about chickens!

I I often hear newbies say:"I can't grow a garden because I have clay soil". To a seasoned gardener the problem really is that the soil is not properly "fed". Years of growing my own vegetable garden made me realize how important it is to add organic matters to the garden. So year after year I've bought compost from supply companies, fertilizers, and composted my own kitchen and garden scraps.
Longing for fresh eggs, we bought our own chickens this spring, and then it all hit me: I've got a gold mine for fertilizer! After just eight month of having the chickens, I realize that I will NOT need to buy any more compost or 16-16-16s for my garden! And the chickens practically compost everything for me, fast!
Here are some of the ins and outs that I found out about raising your own chickens...
The chicken coop:You will need some initial investment for raising chickens. You will need raccoon-proof chicken coop. My husband built a shed (12x9) for the chickens. He put a cyclone wire dog run in front of the door so the chickens have their "yard" during the day. I let them out to my garden around 3pm and they go back on their own by dark. I've seen someone re-purposed a plastic toddler playhouse for a chicken coop.
Selecting the right breed: A website I found has very good information on chicken breed (http://www.ithaca.edu/staff/jhenderson/chooks/chooks.html). Check the reference carefully before deciding what you'd like to buy. Each breed has it's own unique characters. Go to a reputable feed store to purchase your chicks, or you may end up with more males than you have planned...not a good thing.
Roosters: Roosters are not a must in a flock, however they do keep things interesting. Our flock consists of 19 regular sized hens and 2 bantie roosters and a guinea hen. The banties are smaller chickens, about half the size of the hens. One of them is obviously a manager, he likes to keep the hens together and call them when there's food brought to the coop etc. etc... I like the bantie roosters, as they are not as rough on the hens as the big ones.
Input:Straws and chicken feeds, including oyster shells and chicken grits, kitchen and garden scraps
Out put: eggs (usually after 6 month) and mountains of fertilizer, not to mention the joy of watching your own chicken channel.
Egg production: Our 19 hens produce anywhere from 13-17 eggs per day. Plan your flock accordingly if you do not want so many eggs. Rhode Island Red (brown eggs) and White Leghorns (white eggs) are known for their egg laying abilities.
Culinary delights: Eggs make such a good cooking material. If you are concerned about the cholesterol, you can remove the yolks. But egg yolks contain lecithin, which is beneficial to reduce bad cholesterol from your body. Fresh scrambled eggs is the best! Since I have the abundance of eggs, I have the luxury of learning to make meringue cookies, lemon meringue pie, creme brulee, flan cake....and there are still more to explore!

Chickens are an integral part of gardening, not only do they produce fresh eggs for you, they make the circle of growing, eating and feeding the soil complete. It is such a life changing event that I commemorate the event as BC (Before Chickens) and AC (After Chickens).

Savoring the winter

I've got 3 giant winter squashes from the garden, each weighs approximately 25 lb. As the winter approaches, I brought them inside from the garden, kept them in a dry airy place. Now that most of the fresh veggies are gone, I am working on these giant squashes. For thanksgiving dinner this year I made a baked winter squash dish with maple syrup, sage and prosciutto. It was unusually good with both savory and sweet flavors, and a lot less calorie compared to my usual candied yam...
Here's how I made it: precook the squash in the oven (or in a microwave, you will need to cut it up)until it is just soft enough to cut into. Make squash balls using an ice cream scoop, and arrange them in a 12"x8" baking dish. Place a pan on medium heat, melt 2 table spoons of butter, add a pinch of salt, 1/2 cup of real maple syrup, 1/4 C. finely chopped prosciutto, a few finely chopped sage leaves. Pour it over the squash balls, and finish cooking in a 350F oven. (cooking time will depends on how much your squash was precooked). I am elevating this one to my Thanksgiving tradition status...

Winter vegetables

Now that the gardening season is coming to an end, gardens are looking a little spent. Nonetheless, I can still find enough beets,leeks, Swiss chard, carrots, kohlrabi and not to mention lush parsley in the garden. I planted giant radishes at the end of August, Radiant Giant and Red Cloak daikon radishes, they are the size of softballs now.These add tremendous flavors to our winter table.

Today I harvested some Radiant Giant Radish, Red Cloak Radish and Kohlrabi. The vegetables is juicy and sweet. I made an orange dressing to go with the salad. It was delicious! The radishes were planted in late August, after clearing out the bush beans I planted in the spring. Now they are about 5" across. I would try to plant them earlier next season, so they will be larger by now. The kohlrabi were planted in the spring. I will make an orange dressing to go with the salad. If you haven't planted a fall garden before, I hope this is enough of a reason for you to start doing so...

Caponata-Put Your Extra Eggplants to Good Use

This October I visited Seattle. Naturally, I headed to Pike Place Market. At the corner of the entrance is DeLaurenti's Specialty Food and Wine. I bought a couple of sandwiches some goodies headed out to the beach to have lunch with my husband. I bought some caponata from the deli, and it was delicious. Just so happen I over-planted my eggplant this year, so I have a ton at home. I have the round Opus Eggplants and long Asian Black Dragon Eggplants. As soon as I got back from Seattle, I made my own version of caponata with ingredients on hand. Here's the basic ingredients: Ingredients: diced eggplants, onions, celery, roasted red peppers, capers, raisins, green olives, pine nuts, garlic, fresh basil, fresh oregano, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sugar and home made tomato sauce. Place diced eggplant in a large sauce pan, add salt and weighing down with a heavy plate. Let stand for 30 minutes. Drain the liquid from the eggplant. Saute vegetables in olive oil until they turn soft. Add all other ingredients except fresh basil leaves. Cook until all blended. Add chopped fresh basil leaves. Serve with a loaf of nice crusty bread. Caponata will keep in the fridge for 2 weeks. It tastes good cold. You can free the extras in and used it for the winter.

October 2010 update:
5 lb. Opus Eggplant, cut into 1/2" cubes, add 2T salt, and allow to set for 4 hr., squeeze out as much liquid as you can (this will allow the eggplants soak up flavors later).
5 large ribs of celery stalks, cut into 1/2" cubes,
2 C. carrots, cut into 1/2" cubes,
1 large onion, cut into 1/2" cubes,
Side ingredients:
3 C. Green olives, cut up (I used the Italian Antipasto from the big box store),
1 bottle of 3.5oz. capers
1-1/2 C. raisins,
1 C. pine nuts,
Herbs and seasonings:
Basil: 2 C. fresh,
Garlic: 2 heads fresh, peeled and crushed,
Oregano: 1/2 C. fresh chopped,
Hot pepper flakes, to your taste,
Olive oil,
1/2 C. Red Wine or Balsamic vinegar, (or a combination of the two)
1 C. Brown sugar,
1 C. Homemade Tomato sauce,
Salt and pepper to taste.

Saute vegetables in batches until they are soft, making sure they are all well coated with. Add other ingredients gradually, mix well, allow to cook together.

Something else eggplant

My eggplant dish turned out to be a pleasant surprise! Here's how: Slice eggplants into 1/4" thin slices, dip the eggplant slices in egg and then herb flavored bread crumbs, then pan-fry the eggplant slices, pan-fry new potato slices, layer potato and eggplant slices in a baking dish, pour home caned tomato sauce on top, sprinkle with parmesan cheese and cover with mozzarella cheese. Baked at 350 for 30 minutes, voila!

Fall Garden Inventory

October is coming and almost gone. Time to clean up and gather all the veggies at the end of their live cycle and maintaining the fall/winter harvesting veggies. Here's the list of what I have done:

1.Garlic: Planted garlic in early October. Planted them in 3-feet rows, leaving 6 in. between each garlic clove;
2. Picked all the fresh eating beans before the chilling rain that would ruin them. Beans left for harvesting seeds can still remain on the vine.
3. Harvested all the soybeans, picked all the peppers, eggplants, preserve as much as I could, giving away what I can not use...
4. Harvested all the corns (this was the second planting, sowed in July. Strip the corns off of the cob, add to corn bread, delicious!
5. Harvested all the basil leaves and dried them all before the cold rain arrived. Leaves will turn black once frosted and are no good. Parsley, on the other hand, will be fine, they are cold hardy.

Currently harvesting and eating: (Fall/Winter harvesting veggies):
1. Veggies planted in August: Cylindrical beets, Fordhook Swiss Chard, Lucallus Swiss Chard are ready to harvest. They will keep in the ground for another month or so;
2. Red Cloak Radish, Radiant Giant Radish sowed in August are about the size of softballs. Thin the rows and eating the harvested radishes;
3. Carrots planted in spring are ready to harvest and put away; carrot planted in summer are still small, they will keep growing and will be wintered over.
4. Parsley is doing great, I picked some leaves when I dried my basil leaves. They are still growing new leaves. If protected they will be good all winter.

**Other business in the garden:
1. Grapes are turning color and ready to harvest. Made grape jellies with the Concord grapes
2. Asian pears are ready to be harvested and put away for the winter.
3. This year apples did not do well, except the Fuji, which always does well.

Tomato Sauce the Easy Way-My Secret


With the tomatoes maturing all at once one could feel overwhelmed. No worries, this is the perfect time to pack away some delicious tomato sauce for the winter. I learned this trick from my friend Maegan, it sure made tomato sauce making a lot easier. I hope it helps you too...
Gather 15 lb. assorted tomatoes from the garden. They don't have to be perfect, just remove any blemishes and the stem ends. Cook in a large stainless steel stock pot until the tomatoes are soft and easy to break down. Run the tomatoes through a colander to remove the seeds and skin.

Transfer the tomato sauce (at this stage very runny) in two oval shaped crock pots (5Q), add garlic, herbs (I use oregano and basil from my garden), lemon juice and salt. Let it cook overnight. The next morning, it should reduced by half. Pack the tomato sauce in clean jars, put lids on and process in hot water bath for 15 minutes. This will be the best tomato sauce you will ever eat! Great for making pizza.

Green Bean Southern Style

Years ago my family and I visited Philadelphia. By the time we got to the city it was already dark, we decided for dinner we would order something and take it back to our hotel. My husband is a big rib lover, so we found a southern soul rib joint, a typical "hole in a wall" place. The food, was incredible! We ordered smoked ribs and chicken. For side dish I ordered some kind of bean stew with corns, tomatoes, peppers and a whole bunch other stuff. The meats were good, but what stuck to my ribs was that side dish. Now I've got abundance of green beans, corns and other veggies from the garden, I attempted to recreate the side dish I've been craving for all these years. I know it was not the same as what I had, nonetheless delicious! It's especially good serving with corn bread.
6 C. garden fresh beans, wash, trim and break into pieces;
1 large tomato, cubed;
1/2 onion, cubed;
1 small zucchini, cubed;
1 ear of corn, striped;
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed, thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic;
1/4 C. vegetable oil;
1 t. onion powder;
Ms. Dash, salt and pepper to taste.
Place beans in a pot, add enough water to cover. Bring it to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Add all other ingredients, cook until beans are tender (5-10 minutes). Serve with corn bread.

Heirloom Tomatoes: Make it easier by selecting the right varieties

To say gardening is hard work is an understatement, but there are things you can do to minimize the efforts and maximize the return.
First and foremost is the variety selection. After years of testing vegetable verities in my own garden, I know that all tomatoes, cucumbers and beans are not created equal.
Select the varieties that matures early in your area; select the varieties that are more productive for the size of the plant; next, select the varieties taste good to you. Keep in mind no matter how tasty it may be, if it doesn't mature in time, you will not taste it. If you insisting on growing these varieties, be prepared to start them early and baby sit them longer. This year, I grew an assorted heirloom tomatoes. Some I really liked and will grow again.

The winners are:
1. PICK RED:An early, determinant plant, produces large slicing tomatoes with great taste.
2. PERON:An early, indeterminant plant,produces large slicing tomatoes with great taste. Very productive.
3. SUN GOLD: An early golden cherry tomato. Indeterminate, thick foliage. Produces golden cherry tomatoes with exceptional taste, sweet and tangy. Plant tend to get big.
4. PINEAPPLE: An mid maturing large yellow tomato that is very tasty. indeterminant,lots of foliage.
5. JET STAR: A hybridized early maturing variety. Produce LARGE sized tomatoes with great taste. Indeterminant.
6. SUPER MARZANO: A great Roma type tomato,indeterminant, very productive.
7. OLD GERMAN: An mid maturing yellow-orange tomato with red stripes. Great flavor.

The ones came in second include:
1. EARLY GIRL: Very early, hard fruit. The taste resembles super market tomatoes (the best kind)
2. OREGON SPRING: Very early, determinant. Hugs the ground. Produce one wave of tomatoes and then quits. Taste is good.
3. CHEROKEE PURPLE: Mid maturing. Good flavor, soft fruit.

Ones I didn't like:
1. RED PEAR: Late, indeterminant, lots of foliage for the amount of fruit you get. Taste blend.
2. ISIS CANDY: I had high hope for this one, but it was mid mature. Somewhat soft fruit and taste plain to me. Update: 9-5-09: Isis tomato finally ripened up. It was quite sweet with very little acidity. I guess they were not ripe when I tasted them back in August. It sure takes a long time to mature, but it was worth it.

Trim away the foliage at the bottom of the tomatoes, remove suckers. This will reduce the moisture, nutrient consumption by the plant and allow air to flow through and reduce the chance of rotting.

Champoeg State Park_Oregon

I visited Champoeg State Park last week. The Pioneer kitchen garden there was fantastic. It demonstrated how gardening was done 150 years ago. It is filled with heirloom vegetables and they plant the garden in wide rows, leaving grass in between the rows. There are tomatoes, beans (both bush and pole), turnips, beets, melons, tobacco, squashes, old fashioned concord grapes and various types of flowers. It is indeed a very interesting place to visit. And, the camping facilities there is one of the best!

Almost Ratatouille-Sooo Delicious!

Today's finds from the garden: eggplants, Speedy Silver Zucchini, Yukon Gold potatoes, small onions, fresh garlic and fresh basil. Using the veggies from the garden and a few ingredients on hand, I made this delicious ratatouille.

Here's how: (Note: I replace the peppers with potatoes, as my peppers have not yet arrived;)
Slice the eggplant, zucchinis lengthwise to 1/4 slices;
Slice potatoes in thin slices;
Finely chop the onions and garlic cloves;
Cut basil leaves in thin shreds;
Heat a large skillet with olive oil on the bottom, pan fry eggplant, zucchini and potato slices until they take on some brown coloring. Remove vegetable slices from the skillet. Heat a little olive oil in the skillet, saute onion and garlic until they turn translucent. Add the basil and homemade tomato sauce (from last year, will explain how in future blog). Add the veggies previous removed from the skillet. Cook until sauce thickens a little. Add salt and pepper to taste, Stir. Garnish with freshly shredded Parmesan cheese.... enjoy!

My First Egg-A Perfect 10!

Went to check my chickens this morning, a brown egg was in the box on top of the straw...It was perfect, about a size medium. I picked it up and here comes Red. I am so proud of her!

Pepper Jelly

I took the Master Gardeners Food Preserving class a few days ago and learned how to make pepper jelly, wow it's good! Here's how: 2-3/4 C. chopped peppers (use a mixture of hot pepper and bell pepper, make it as hot or mild as you please) 1-1/2 C. cider vinegar 6-1/2 C. sugar 1 pouch of liquid pectin. Make pepper jelly same way as jam. Serve with cream cheese and crackers, YUM! (Tip: I bought the "Onion Chopper" after the class. It is a rectangular box with a steel grid, it worked really well for chopping peppers.)

Fresh veggies arriving in a steady pace

Now it is early summer, my garden is going into its maturing stage. The early Xupar No-string bush beans are in full production, shelling peas planted along side of it is also maturing. I decided to plant the two together in April under the Minihooper, it certainly paid off. They appear to be crowded together by normal standards, but they really don't mind, and surely I don't mind it if they don't!
Cucumbers and pole beans were trellised us last month. I had my first Stallion White Cucumber yesterday, I got so eager to bite into it I forgot to take a picture first! It was DELICIOUS!
I used the re-bars to train up the tomatoes this year. The result is very good. I am getting some Sun Gold tomatoes, they are sweet!
Other things coming out of the garden include: a few eggplant, a few peppers, beats, swish chard, peas, baby bok choy, Chinese cabbage thinning that are good stir-fry material, new potatoes and onions.
Oh, let me not forget mentioning the fruits, we've got a BIG cherry year. The Lambert were the first to mature, then came the Rainier, we still have the Queen Anne arriving as of now. Blueberries are turning, raspberries are ripening, and a few varieties of blackberry, including Marion berries. They are sooooo delicious! I love summer! Others might think its a good time to go on vacation, for me staying here and enjoying all the fresh goodness right from my backyard is the best vacation! Ciao!

Zucchini Pancake elevated to a new level

Zucchini season is undoubtedly here. I have been making zucchini pancakes for breakfast every morning. Bored of the same ol thing, I added some variations to my original zucchini pancakes. I made these little ones and put fish row on top of it, it made perfect appetizer. I also added other fresh veggies from the garden, elevated the zucchini pancake to a whole new level. I grated the zucchini, new potatoes, fresh onionlets (small onions just big enough to eat) and fresh snap peas, mixed in with an egg, salt and pepper and just enough flour to form the batter, and a touch of freshly grated nutmeg. The result is this delicious zucchini pancakes with a new twist.
The Original recipe is as follow:
Here's the recipe:
Two 5" long zucchini, grated,
One medium new potato, grated
(in this case, I used the Yukon Gold I grew)
1/2 C. tempura batter
One large egg
Dash of garlic powder, dash of onion powder
Salt and pepper to taste, and oil for cooking.
Mix all ingredients together and let set for 15 minutes. Cook on stove top same way you cook pancakes. Serve with Tabasco sauce.

Summer Good Eats: Savory Zucchini Pancakes

To me savory zucchini pancake represents the true beginning of summer vegetable season. This morning I made it again with my Speedy Silver Zucchini. I absolutely LOVE this variety. The plant is small and compact and produces zucchinis just 40 days from sowing, unlike the traditional varieties that will almost get too big for your garden before producing anything.
Recipe: combined the shredded zucchini with new potatoes and fresh onion from the garden, added salt to draw the moisture out of the vegetables and added one egg and just enough flour to bind everything together. Cook it like you would pancakes on a flat non-stick pan with a small amount of oil on the bottom. Yummmmmmm! You can make your own versions of zucchini pancake, adding parsley, Parmesan cheese or what ever you like. Here's to summer good eats!

Making Soy Milk

Soy Milk is easy to make and everyone who could should make it. I made soy milk and took some pictures to demonstrate how it is done. Here are the steps:
1. Soak 1 C. dried soybeans (preferable organic soybeans) with ample amount of water overnight.
2. Place soaked soybeans in a food processor, blend until soybeans are pulverized.
3. Scape the soybean paste into a large bowl, add 2 quarts of water.
4. Run liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a cooking pot.
5. Bring the liquid to a boil
6. Add 1 t. pure vanilla and 1/2 C. of coffee creamer of your choice, let cool.
Now I hope you will make your own soy milk soon :)

Another Year of Radish

I harvested 5 lbs of Crimson Ladyfiner Radish (New Dimension Seed) this morning. Made a radish pickle that will go with the sushi I will have for lunch. All I did was to slice the cleaned radishes, added flavored sushi vinegar, let it set for a while. It is making my mouth watering right now.... I trimmed and cleaned the rest and bagged them up for later...Radish season is short, yet it's so goood!

Drip irrigation up! Time to sit back and relax?

My drip irrigation system done! The garden is about 50'X50' and it took us about 4 hours to set up and is well worth the efforts. I have cucumbers, corns, peppers, eggplants, beets, Chinese cabbage, watermelon, sweet musk melons, squashes in this garden. I sowed Asparagus beans and more cucumbers after the drip irrigation is up.

2009 Melon Trial, beans...

My melon trial this year consists of: Green and Yellow Ice Box watermelon, Oriental Petite Watermelon (New Dimension Seed), Sweet Secret (Oblong musk), Money Box (musk), Beauty Jade (sweet melon) and Mike's heirloom (sweet melon). I transplanted them today.

Also planted are the beans. They all peeked out of the soil. This year I have Xupar Snap Beans and Ruby Crest Broad Asian Beans from New Dimension Seeds, French Fillet Beans (skinny pencil sized beans) from Cooks Garden, Romano Beans and Selma beans, a green pole bean with purple striations, should be nice.... Xupar was planted in April under minihooper, it already has blossoms on, should be ready in a couple of weeks.

Chickens: An intergral part of the home Eco cycle

Chickens are great. Since we got chickens this year, our compost pile has almost no food wastes. Chickens loves table scarps, vegetable waste from the garden and even the dandelions growing in my lawn. My daily routine now includes making nutritious and delicious chicken food every morning. I chop up some greens like radish tops, dandelions, bolted spinach and mix it up with the leftover food from the day before and mix in some chicken feeds. The chickens LOVE it. They come running every morning when they hear me coming. I change the straws in the chicken coop every week, and put them in my compost pile. I am expecting some super rich compost with all the nice chicken manures that will enrich my garden. So having chickens makes my mini home Eco system more complete.

Spinach and Radishe Salad

If you time it correctly, you should have spinach and radishes come out of your garden now. Both radish and spinach are cold tolerant vegetables, meaning they can be planted before the "end of the last spring frost" whenever that happen to be. I made a perfect salad for lunch today with the spinach and radishes I harvested from my garden. Dressing is 1/4 C. ranch, 1 T. pesto and 1 T. butter milk. Yummm, it was a very edible salad!

Spinach and Onion, happily grown together

Spinach is one of the first things you can eat out of your garden. They can be sown as soon as the ground is workable. Mild frost would not hurt them. I usually sow my spinach the same time I plant my onion sets. This year, to experiment with inter-cropping, I sowed my spinach in between my rows of onions. The result is great. Spinach grow fast, they cover the ground when onions are still small-saves space and suppresses weeds. It is a win-win!

When the spinach is 3-4" tall, I just cut the leaves with a pair of scissors and let the plant grow more leaves.

Tomatos planted

From end of March to the beginning of May, soil temperature remained at 50F. Under the minihooper, it is 6By now the soil 60F. Now the soil temperature is a steady 60 F, and inside the minihooper it is 70F. I have transplanted my tomato plants, beans are about 3" tall, both are under the minihooper. This year I got quite a few heirloom varieties of tomatoes, looking forward for a taste test in the summer. The Sungold already has a cluster of blooms on.

At 60F, the soil temperature is still too cold for cucumbers. Since there is a lot of space inside the minihooper, I placed some cucumber trays inside the minihooper. This way they will be germinating inside the minihooper and can be hardened off easily. I also started a bed of lettuce that has green and red lettuce and mizuna. The arugula I planted in early march are spent, and needs to be replaced.

Seedling Inventory in April

New Pepper Trial: I sowed some Red Rocket Pepper seeds yesterday. This is a new variety that I have acquired from China. It possesses may characteristics that I am looking for for a home garden: sweet small fruit with thick meat, early maturing and a robust plant.

Eggplant Starts: I've had a great success in my eggplant starts. I sowed Black Dragon Eggplant and Opus Eggplant (Both from New Dimension Seed) on April 1.

Tomato Plants: I purchased this years tomato starts from Columbia County Master Gardener Sale. They varieties I got were: Sungold, Sweet100, Roma, Giant Valentine, Isis, Saucey, Green Zebra, Cherokee Purple and a few other varieties. 7000 tomato plants were sold out in 4 hours! I believe that is a new record. Anyway, I've got mine. I will be transplanting them as soon as the soil warms up, and I will cover them up with Minihooper so they will get an early start.

Vegetable gardening: Things you can do to trick nature

Seeds need certain conditions to germinate. Temperature is one of them. If your soil temperature is too low, your seeds will not germinate no matter what. But, there is something we can do to change that. Minihooper (From New Dimension Seed) is a great device that can be used to modify soil temperature, and allow your the pride and joy of an early harvest. It will raise the soil temperature by 10 degree, and allow you to plant many things that you otherwise couldn't plant.

Get a instant dial thermometer and take a few readings around your garden. I did mine this morning. The soild temperature is between 40-50F. I sowed my spinach and peas last week, they are already up.

Vegetable Gardening: Soil Temperature vs Temperature

Spring arrived, as the temperature is warming up it is tempting to go out and plant your vegetable garden. But, don't be fooled by the warm sunshine, what really matters is the soil temperature. When spring arrives, it takes a while for the soil to warm up. Our temperature fluctuates from the mid 80th to the low 30th, the soil temperature lies somewhere in between. Frost is still a possibility. Cool crop (ie. peas, spinach, beets, radishes, baby bok choys) will do fine, but the frost tender (cucumbers, squash and watermelons). Small seedlings of the cabbage, broccoli and Brussel sprouts should not be transplanted until later. The warm season crops (the nightshades including tomatoes, peppers and eggplants) should be still in your greenhouse, or better yet at the garden centers. It is still too early to sow beans, carrots and basil when the soil temperature is between 40-50F. However, if you can do something to modify the soil temperature, you will be greatly rewarded. More to come tomorrow....

Garden Planted, too early?

As April is warming up, Daffodils are blooming like mad, tulips just started to bloom. Nothing like the spring flowers bring smiles on my face. We had a couple of 70 degree days already. I have started my usual tomatoes, peppers and eggplants in pots under heat mats back in March, they are coming along just fine. The soil is dry enough to work on, so I planted my peas, baby bok choys and onions (sets). The warm weather made me boldly go where few has gone before, I planted my cucumbers and beans.... Will report later and let you know what happens. I covered my sowing sites with some straws bought for the chickens.

Learning more about the chickens

The chickens are getting bigger, so now they are living in a big wooden box in our garage. We are going to build a chicken house soon... Among the chickens we have are: laying hens (White Leghorn, Golden Comets and another unknown kind), a couple Ginnie birds and a couple bantam roosters we adopted. Someone lives inside of city limit could not keep them. They are an English Game bantam cock and a Sebright Roost. Both are small breads, they are beautiful birds.
My discoveries about chicken this weeks are: they eat a lot and grow fast; they are a lot like high-schoolers, hanging out by age group, regardless of what kind they, they are faster than me but slower than my cat.
I remember my grandma used to chop up vegetable scraps and mix with corn meals to feed chickens, that's what I am feeding them every morning besides the medicated chick feeds we bought for them. The farm store people recommended the medicated feeds because it suppose to prevent diseases for young birds. They can hear me coming in the morning and get all excited. I have also noticed I've been watching a lot less TV. I now watch my reality show: the chicken channel.

The chicks are here!

We are getting our chicks from Linnton Feeds. The first three we got are MOYERS. We will get a few more as they become available. Right now they are staying inside our house as it is still cold outside. They are in a box lined with straws with a table lamp for warmth. They are already getting a little more capable just in a few days. Two of them can jump out of the box, so I have to keep a lid on. I used one of my plant trays with lattice so they can get some fresh air.

Update: 3/26/09 We got five more chicks, they are GOLDEN COMETS, was what we were told. They lay brown eggs. These are very tiny chicks. When we got them home they were not looking very happy. Thanks goodness for Lucas' quick thinking, he set up the heat lamp right away and gradually they were back to their chippy selves. One thing for new chicks owners, they can't really eat off of the chicken food try and water bottle that you buy from the store. I scattered some food on the floor and placed a shallow tray of water, they were able to eat out of that :)

Pepper seeds, sowed!

As I have learned throughout the years, pepper is one of the most economic veggies to grow. They are easy to take care of (once they are in the garden) and can give you fresh peppers for about 5-6 months out of a year, not to mention you can pickle, freeze the extras and use them later. Growing peppers from seeds is not hard, and it can save you a lot of money considering each pepper plant in the store can sell up to $3.50. You can grow your own pepper starts for a fraction of the cost. You will also have the luxury of picking the right varieties yourself.

The peppers I choose this year are : Sweet Eda Bell Pepper and Estella Bullhorn Pepper(From New Dimension Seed). Sweet Eda is a great quality bell pepper, the plant is low and robust, producing tons of peppers with thick meat and great flavor. Estella is a great pepper for making chili rellenos. It matures extremely early and has a long producing season.

2" pots and trays;
Packets of pepper seeds;
Fresh potting soil;
slow release fertilizer (the kind with polymer coatings).

1. For every bag of potting soil add 1 C. of the slow-release fertilizer.
2. Place the 2" pots in the trays. Fill the pots with potting soil.
3. Place 2-3 seeds in each pot, lightly press the seeds into the soil.
4. Cover the trays with a thin layer of the potting soil.
5. Water the trays with a watering can that will distribute water evenly and gently.
6. Place the trays in a nice warm spot, preferably on a south facing window or on top of a heating mat (Most gardening supply stores have them). Keep the pots moist, but not soaking wet. And wait for your pepper seeds to germinate.
The ideal germination temperature is 80F, if the temperature is lower it will take longer to germinate.
Note: If the temperature is too low (say below 55F consistently), then you might not get them to germinate no matter what.

When pepper seeds germinate, remove all seedlings but the strongest one in the pot. Remember: only one (1) pepper plant per pot. This can be hard for beginning gardeners, but absolutely essential! As in a 2" space only one pepper plant can develop healthy and strong. When pepper plants are 2" tall, Transfer them to 4" pots. Then await for spring to finally arrive and transplant them to your garden.

Winter Salsa

You don't have to settle for the store bought salsa from the jar just because you don't have fresh tomatoes in the garden. Here's my "semi-fresh" salsa:
1 pint of home canned tomatoes (canned at peak of tomatoes producing season last summer);
1 small white onion, finely chopped;
1 clove of garlic, finely minced;
1/2 C. fresh cilantro, chopped;
Juice of 1 lemon;
Juice of 1 lime.
Mix all ingredients together, viola!

Anyberry Cobbler-Delicisou!

Anyberry Cobbler
I made a boysenberry cobbler with a bag of frozen boysenberry (about 2 C). This recipe is based on a recipe I got from my friend Kathy a long time ago, with a little improvising. It turned out delicious! It goes like this:
1 stick of butter (1/2 cup),
2 C. fresh or frozen berries (or other fruit),
2 eggs,
1 cup of sugar,
1 cup of flour,
1 t. baking soda,
1/2 t. baking powder
1 C. of white or yellow cake mix (this was the improvising part),
Melt butter in a large bowl, sift dry ingredients, add to butter, add eggs. Stir until the mixture is incorporated (it's ok to have lumps). Pour berries in a 9x9 square pan, top with flour mixture. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 F for 40 minutes.
(It tasted so good, it was gone before I busted out my camera. So I had to make another one just to take the picture...)

Garden: Time to start your pepper plants!

Pepper is one of the most economical vegetables to grow. With proper planing and timing, you can harvest peppers for 4-5 months out of your own garden, and you can preserve the excess peppers by freeze or pickle them.

February is time to start your pepper plants. Select varieties you like and pick the early kinds. The following is a few varieties I grew last year (see blog titled "Battle of the Pepper Field"):

1. Estella Pepper: The Estella Pepper is a bullhorn shaped one that is mild when young and develop more pungent taste when matured more. It is ideal for Chili Relleno. The pepper is a lot like Anaheim pepper with one distinct benefit-the skins are a lot easier to come off when charred. I also used this pepper a lot in my salsas. It is a extreme early maturing variety and was ready to harvest before any others and lasted until early December.

2. Sweet Eda Bell Pepper: This is an early maturing bell pepper. The peppers are very meaty and sweet. A good tasting pepper. The plant doesn't get very tall, and is sturdy and robust. It sets fruit easy and has high yield.

3. Jalapeno Pepper: I started this one from seeds in Feb. I thought the small pepper may be maturing earlier, but it didn't. The plant is 50% taller than the Sweet Eda and peppers matured after both the Estella and Sweet Eda. However, it was well worth the wait. I got tons of jalapeno peppers and they have this sweet taste on top of the hotness. I made many many snacks of jalapeno poppers and they were ALWAYS popular.

4. Yellow Banana Peppers: This is a bullhorn shaped pepper but is not hot. Plant is very productive, maturing later the Estella. I made a lot of pickles with this one and I also used them for salsa to add flavor and bulk.

5. Super Hot: This is a super hot pepper, super productive, early maturing. Grow waives of peppers like cloud. The peppers are milder when young and get VERY HOT when old. I couldn't eat the red ones, and I consider myself have good tolerant for heat in food. I got a good recipe from Kim, my Korean friend, of stir fried super hot with anchovies... it was mouth watering good and also burns coming and going....

That't all the peppers I grew last year. I think now I should go get the seeds in the pots so I can have peppers again this year!

Spring is right around the corner, so happy gardening!

Each time you try a new recipe, it's like .......

Each time you try a new recipe, it's like blazing a new trail. Today, I tried a Yucatán version of slow cooked pork using Fenugreek seeds. It turned out AMAZINGLY GOOD! I like to try anything once (with very few exceptions....) This recipe is inspired by a Youtube clip with significant modification....I cooked mine version in a crock pot, without the banana leaves. So, it's not exactly the original cooking, nonetheless, it turned out great for me ^-^.

Note: Fenugreek seeds ( to read more see: http://www.theperfectpantry.com/2006/12/fenugreek.html). I got a packet of it from an Indian guy I met at a market. It didn't come with instructions or anything...

2 lb. pork lion (or any cut), cut into 2" cubes
Juice of 1 lime
2 T. lemon juice
1 t. Fenugreek seeds
a pinch of ground clove
a pinch of ground allspice
1 hot pepper, chopped fine
1/2 C. orange juice
salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in a crock pot, let cook until meat is tender (about 2-3 hr.). It will produce its own juice, use some of the juice in the rice and beans below.

Meanwhile, make rice and beans:
2 C. jasmine rice
1 can (16 oz.) kidney beans
1/2 C. tomato sauce
3 C. Water
1/2 C. juice from the crock pot
Place all ingredients in rice cooker. Cook until done.

Serve pork over rice and beans. Top with chopped jelopeno pepper and cilantro. Enjoy!