Celebrating diversity and making lemonade...

Celebrating diversity and making lemonade...

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Christmas gift 2019 - Twelve Months of Mixes

In the Kitchen

For family Christmas gifts this year, we sent out a package of Twelve Months of Mixes.  As the name suggests, we put together a mix for each month of the year.  Here is a picture of the mixes:

Here is a list of each month:

January was  Hot cocoa mix  - basically a just-add-water recipe because we figured you probably baked enough during the Christmas holiday.

February - brownie mix with white chocolate chips (for your sweetie on Valentines)

March - Irish soda bread with raisins (to help celebrate St. Patrick's Day)

April - lemon pound cake (should go well with Easter fixins)

May - blueberry muffins (sent dried blueberries with this mix but can't wait for the real ones to be ripening soon...)

June - cookies with M&Ms (celebrate summer!)

July - buttermilk pancakes with chocolate chips (this is a mix I use for pancakes all the time...nice and fluffy)

August - banana walnut snack cake (bananas tend to get old quickly when the temps are high so put those old bananas to use in this cake - add a cream cheese frosting to take it up a notch)

September - coconut cream pie (this mix is for a pudding that you used to make the pie...who doesn't like pie?)

October - calico bean soup (temps are starting to cool down...cozy up with a bowl of soup)

November - pumpkin bread with cranberries (pumpkin everything this time of year!)

December - cornbread and chili mixes (more soup and cornbread...can't beat it...an easy meal when you have been busy preparing for the holidays)

I used the Make-A-Mix book for most of the mixes.  I have provided links (above) to the recipes that I used that did not come from this book.  I have this original book that was published in 1987 but I think it was updated in 2006...
At first I was going to send a mix to everyone each month...like a "Mix of the Month" club subscription.  Then, I realized how much time and postage it would take to get it together to everyone each month so I just put them all together for the whole year.  It still took a good amount of time to put together but it makes a nicer package to have everything together for the whole year.   Another great thing about making all these mixes is that we had lots of great things to eat as we sampled most of the mixes as we were putting them together!

That is it!  Keeping this post short and sweet...just like the holidays!  Enjoy!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Fall recap 2018 and a couple new items for the Farmer's Market!

Farm Updates

I guess "winter" is going to officially begin some time this week so it's probably best to do a Fall Farm update.  It was busy...of course...
Using the squeezo that Julie Skinner gave me to make apple BBQ sauce.  I LOVE this machine!
I am going to start with a list of items that I canned this past summer and fall.  This is not a bragging list.  In fact, I wish I could have done more.  It is more for me to know how much I put up and how long it lasted us so I can prepare even better for next year:
6 pints green tomato salsa
7 pints red tomato salsa
6 pints Rotel
8 half pints of apple BBQ sauce
4 quarts apple juice
2 quarts pears
14 pints pears (note to self...only can 1 1/2 pints of pears next year)
6 pints apples
3 quarts applesauce
6 pints applesauce
4 1 1/2 pints applesauce
10 quarts tomato sauce
2 pints tomato sauce
6 half pints elderberry syrup
6 pints pickled beets
3 quarter pints candied jalapenos
8 quarts apple pie filling
I made some pear preserves, apple cider jelly and apple pie jam for the Farmer's Market next year.  

The pear preserves and apple cider jelly will be new products next year!  

I just love the pear preserves.  I think it is my favorite jam!  I put the apple cider jelly in my coffee in the morning sometimes as a sweetener.  

I also have canned broth and garbanzo beans, but I just do this on a continuous basis when we need more.

In the freezer:
3 gallon bags of green beans
4 pints of pesto
3 quarts of corn
I cook down pumpkin and save it in the freezer as we need it.

I also dehydrated a lot of herbs, flowers, and vegetables.  I am planning to write a blog post about that so I am not going to expand on that right now...

Worm bin 

Last January, I started a worm bin.  It has been REALLY slow going.  I just added the 3rd bin last month.  I had been stuck at just 2 bins this entire year.  A total of 5 bins came with the unit.  I still enjoy feeding the worms and I am hopeful that they will continue to grow.  I think I had read that it takes 3 months for their numbers to double so, it is a slower process than I thought.  These are definitely not honeybees. 

Overwintering in the garden 

I am trying an experiment with growing overwintering onions.  The idea is that you start the onions in the fall and they start to grow and then stop growing when it gets colder and the days get shorter.  I planted the seed in August in the house and then transplanted them out into the garden in September.

Now, we just wait until the spring.  Once them temperatures start to warm and the daylight increases, they will start growing again.  It is similar to growing garlic.  Then, you should be able to harvest starting in May/June.  If you decide to do this next year, make sure you get the correct type of seed.  Onions are daylight sensitive so you need to make sure you get "overwintering" onions that will be stimulated to start growing more when the daylight increases.
I had some covers made out of Agribon and put them over the top.
I also did the same thing with some lettuce and spinach that I planted in the fall.  I got it started and covered it to let it sit until the spring. 

Taken from Our Stoney Acres website:
Lettuce seedlings planted that late in the fall will start to grow but won’t get terribly big. You are looking for seedlings that are maybe only 2 or 3 inches tall when you’re 10 hour days arrive in November. If you then protect the seedlings in a hoop house or a cold frame depending on how harsh of winter you have. The harsher the winter the more protection they need. If you live in a zone 6 or below I would recommend using a cold frame to protect the seedlings.

You will peak in on the seedlings during the winter and they look awful. They’ll be wilted and frozen looking but if your protection holds they will spring back and look fantastic as soon as the sunlight returns in the spring. These seedlings will then be ready to eat months sooner than seedlings that you had planted in the spring.
Also, I did the same with spinach.

I know, I should have gotten the covers on before the snow came but I had to have the elastic sewed into the it and I did not get them back in time.  I am not too worried.  I think everything will be fine.  I really wanted to get a cold frame built but I guess that will be a project for next year...

I made some new raised beds for the garden.  I actually made 3-4x8 foot raised beds.  Here a pic of when I was filling them up.  I also expanded the garden a bit to have a nice place for planting corn.

 In the Kitchen

I started to harvest my pepitos.  Pepitos are hulless pumpkin seeds.  You have to grow a "special" kind of pumpkin that produces these seeds.  

Taken from Grit Rural American Know How website:
More than 200 years ago, a multigenerational mutation took place in a pumpkin patch in Styria, a region of Austria. The unusual pumpkins had seeds without hulls. Since then, generation after generation of Styrian farmers have saved the seed from the pumpkins with the thinnest hulls, largest seeds and greatest quantity of seeds. The result was that Styrian pumpkins now have large cavities filled with hull-less green seeds containing between 40 and 50 percent oil. A crop can produce up to 1,000 pounds of dry seeds per acre.

The pepito pumpkins did not grow very big and I was concerned that I would not get many seeds or that they would all be little tiny seeds and it would be hard to harvest. 
However, I was pleasantly surprised!  The little pumpkins were loaded with nice, big, green, hulless seeds! 
We will be growing more of these!

We are thankful for our fall harvests and hope you were successful in your harvest too!

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Making apple cider

In the Kitchen

I decided to try and "juice" a bunch of apples to get apple cider to make hard cider.  I bought a masticating juicer.  There are 2 types of juicers available on the market..centrifugal and masticating.    When you compare masticating vs centrifugal juicers you’ll find that the biggest benefit to masticating is the higher juice yield.  I wanted lots of juice so that is why I went with this type.  
I just bought a juicer that cost less than $100.  It worked but it took a long time to get a gallon of juice.  If my "apple cider projects" work out good this year I think next year I will look for a larger one or just get a cider press.

Anyway, the initial juice was kind of green and foamy...

Fresh "green" juice.
 ...but then settled down and oxidized (turned the traditional brown color) once I heated it to pasteurize it.
Pasteurized cider
I wanted to use the juice to make hard cider.  You don't have to pasteurize it to make cider but then you don't know exactly what wild yeasts are in there and what you might get as a final product.  If I like the cider, I want to be able to replicate it year after year.  So, I pasteurized it and then I added pectic enzyme to clear out some of the pectins that make it cloudy.  

Cider after pectinase treatment...notice about an inch of sediment on the bottom of jug
 At this point, I took the pH (which was about 3.5) and did a measure of specific gravity (1.048) which lets you know how many sugars are in the juice.   You compare this specific gravity reading to the later reading after the primary ferment and you can get an estimate of the alcohol content (how much of the sugar was converted to alcohol).  Our apples are actually a bit too sweet for cider making but we are just using them anyways!  Most apples used to make cider do not actually taste very good.

Next, I added the yeast.  I decided to use an ale yeast (often used to make ale beer).  It is common to use a champagne yeast which will give you a dry cider.  I will be honest...I don't care for really dry wine/alcoholic drinks.  I like them to be a little sweet, not super sweet, just slightly sweet (basically, not dry).  I had read that the ale yeast will give you an "off dry" result.  Off dry (or semi-dry) is a fancy way of saying "mild or softly perceptible sweetness."  I did a bloom with the yeast which means I heated up 1 cup of water to 105 degrees and added the yeast and let it sit for 15 minutes.  Then, I added a 1/4 cup of the bloom to each gallon to start the fermenting.

I added 2 cups of a raspberry ferment that I had made in the summer to one gallon.  I added about 2 cups of pear juice that I just extracted the day before to the other gallon.  Another comment on "sweetness", I had read that pear juice has a sugar called sorbitol.  I guess the yeast can only eat fructose sugar.  If you add pear juice to your cider, the sorbitol will stay in the cider and naturally add a little sweetness to the final product.  You can also make a hard pear cider and that is called "perry"...maybe a project for next year.

I let them sit for 2 weeks and they really started bubbling!  Then, I racked them which means I transferred the cider out into a new jug leaving the lees (the yucky old, dead yeast) behind.  The lees settle on the bottom of the jug.  Next, I took another reading with my hydrometer for the specific gravity (1.009).  It is hard to see in the pic but basically it was definitely done!

Taking specific gravity measurement with hydrometer
So, I moved the cider to new jugs.  Now, it's time to wait for the cider to clear.  This step could take up to 4 months.  I started all this process on October 13th and on October 27th I put the racked cider jugs into the back room of our house that we do not heat for the secondary ferment and clearing.  It says it is best to let it clear at about 50 degrees.  It's not that cool in the back room but it will be cooler than in the downstairs kitchen where I had them for the primary ferment.  

Ready for secondary ferment and clearing.
Surprisingly the raspberry cider cleared in like 2 weeks!  The pear cider was close behind.  I was so excited so I got ready to do the bottling.  I wanted to make a "crackling" cider...yes, that is a real term used to describe the level of carbonation.  It is just be low "sparkling" and above "perlant".  To get a carbonated cider, you have to add a little sugar and yeast back in and then cap it off to contain the carbonation.  I used 3 grams sugar/bottle (this would be 6 g/L).  I am using 16 ounce bottles which are approximately half a liter each.  I put 24 grams of sugar into 24 mls of water and heated it up to dissolve the sugar and added this to the gallon jar.  Then, I heated up a half packet of champagne yeast in 1 cup of water at 105 degrees and let it bloom for 15 minutes and put 1/4 cup into each gallon.  I am writing all these details so I know what to do next year...

Then, I bottled it!
Now we wait...you are supposed to let it age for 2 years!  I don't think we will be waiting that long!

This is the book that I used to help with making the cider.  There are LOTS of great technical details in the book about the right type of apples to use, the correct amount of sugars and pH and much more.  It can get a little overwhelming.  I tried to keep it simple but wanted to make sure I had enough details so that I could replicate it in the future (if I like it...)

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Story about Mark in this book! United in Autism

In the Wetzel House

This is going to be a long and honest post about the "Good" and the "Bad" of what has been going on in the Wetzel household the past few months...

BUT before we get to that, I want to share something exciting.  Last year, I was contacted by an author in Texas.  She was writing a book about families with children with autism all over the world.  She ended up using the story about when Mark attacked me in her book (I know...not the most glorious story but this is the kind of stuff that sells...).  I have written about this before in the blog in May 2017.  This past September, she traveled up to Idaho and we had a book launch party which included a Mom's Night Out for mom's of children with special needs.  It was an amazing event.  Over 100 mom's registered to come and every mom that attended got a goodie bag (with about $50 worth of free items), dinner, dessert and drinks, a comedy show and then a chance to win a larger prize at the end of the evening!  The entire event was free!  
Some of the proceeds of the book sales goes towards putting on more of these events.  We have been given the opportunity to share a link to the book and for every book bought through this link, we will receive $5.  Any money that we earn will be put into our Future Farm Fund.  This would make a great Christmas gift for anyone that wants to read real stories about families with children with autism.

Here are the details: Use this link: http://www.UnitedinAutism.com/ambassador/
and use this Code: AUTISM33

Here is some more information about the book:

"The book, United in Autism: Finding Strength Inside the Spectrum, brings together thirty inspiring and heartfelt stories from parents raising children from all places on the spectrum and from all corners of the world. These mothers and fathers have experienced some of the worst of what this disorder can do, but in seeking help, they found it…and more. Now they pay it forward, by sharing their accounts and giving back to the autism community. United in Autism: Finding Strength Inside the Spectrum (Foreword written by Dr. Temple Grandin) offers families living with autism understanding, comfort and hope."

We felt honored to be included in the book! I have often thought about writing about our adventures with the kids. Of course, I would have someone else write it because that is not my strong suit. Who knows...maybe this blog will morph into a book some day. Okay, now that we have that shameless plug out of the way, I want to give you an update on what has been happening in the Wetzel house. I have to give a little bit of background...

In March, our youngest son, Joshua, spent 3 weeks at a psychiatric hospital. The treatment did not go well and they wanted to send him to the state hospital in Boise but we refused this. We brought him home and worked on counseling, Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR), and psychiatric medication management. The issue was actually similar to the situation with Mark that was written about in the book. Joshua was attacking us and the police were called several time and we ended up in the Emergency room a few times trying to get him to calm down. It was so upsetting to have to go through all this (again) but the salt-in-the-wound was when the social worker at the hospital told us that we just need to take some parenting classes...

I have been working with Crisis Prevention with the Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) since March to try and line up some services for Joshua and get help for me and Henry. It has been VERY slow.

Bad = The CBR was unsuccessful. Joshua just completely refused this help. He can be defiant and when he doesn't want to do something, he really digs his heels in.

Good = After being switched between 3 different counselors (one quit and one had health issues), we finally got a counselor that Joshua likes and will talk to. She mentioned to me this past week that he showed some empathy...this is HUGE!

Good = In July, we found some medication that seems to work well for Joshua (thank God! I was really getting tired of the "call 911, police arrive and we are escorted to the ER routine"...).

Good = The new medication worked so well with Joshua that we decided to try it on Mark (we started it in September with Mark). Mark has had sleep problems for the past couple of years (a lot of kids on the Spectrum have sleep issues). Some nights, he is so manic he will not sleep at all. For example, I remember this past August there were 3 nights within one week that he did NOT sleep at all. The new medicine is working for Mark and we have not had any sleepless nights since we started it (knock on wood...).

Good = In September, the Crisis Prevention with DHW was able to identify a Habilitative Interventionist (HI) to work with Joshua. He has worked with a lot of "difficult" kids. There was the traditional honeymoon period with the new HI and then some resistance from Joshua but that seems to have smoothed out and it is going better.

In August, we started meeting with a Behaviorist to work on a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA). Just this past Friday (11/16/19), it was completed. The FBA suggested that Joshua has difficulty with his Executive Functioning and Social Skills. This is not new information. A lot of kids on the Spectrum have these issues. The big question for me is: How do we help him develop these skills?!?

Bad = the Behaviorist that could have helped us with setting up some goals/methods to help us with Joshua is moving out of the area. I was given a book to read. So, now, in all my spare time, I have to read a book to learn how to work with Joshua. Fingers crossed...I do want this to work...I need to work on my attitude...

Speaking of spare time...this is another issue for me BUT I am working on it. In early September, I was given Mark's budget for his adult services and it hit me like a ton of bricks that I have not even started preparing for our home to be certified to be a Certified Family Home (CFH) to care for Mark when he turns 18 in January. I am the Executive Director for a small nonprofit and I have been trying to quit this job. We hired a ED in May so that I could train her to take over and she quit the end of June. So, we had to start over with finding a new ED. We identified someone in September and I started training her right away. I also work as a Support Broker to help people with developmental disabilities and their families to get services. I have over 50 clients. I have a hard time telling people "no". This has kind of gotten out of control. One of the supervisors in the program told me that 40 clients would be considered full time work and I am treating this as a part-time job.

I hope the irony of the situation is not lost on you...I help other people find services for their children and yet I had trouble finding help for my own son. Kind of like...
But wait...there's more...

In October, I took Mark to the pediatrician for his annual physical. The doctor was concerned that his blood pressure was too high. He had us check Mark's blood pressure several times over the next 2 weeks (we would walk to the Rite Aid).  Mark went to have an ultrasound of his kidneys. I was worried because Mark had to lay down and be still for an hour during the ultrasound but he did well!
Good = the ultrasound came back that Mark's kidneys were fine.

The pediatrician still did not like the blood pressure readings that we had taken at Rite Aid. So, he gave us a referral to a cardiologist. They did an EKG at the cardiologist office and Mark's heart beat was fine (yeah! more good news). The cardiologist said that the blood pressure is borderline but that we did not have to start medication unless we really wanted to. Of course, he suggested a low sodium diet and weight loss. The cardiologist did not feel the Rite Aid readings were accurate so he advised that we buy a cuff (which we did) and use it in our home to monitor the blood pressure. We meet with cardiologist again on December 17th.

Of course, I feel awful because both of the boys weights are up (Joshua's is due to the sedating medication he is taking). Mark used to have a worker that would come each day and take him out for walks and jumping at the trampoline park. We had a great guy last spring and he said he wanted to work with Mark this fall but when I went to contact him, he did not respond. I have been so busy with work, Joshua, and getting things set up for the CFH, that I have not had time to try and find a new worker for Mark. As a result, he just comes home from school and sits on his bed watching YouTube videos.

Good = I have given over all duties of Families Together to the new ED. I only have one more small task to complete with that work (which should only take a couple hours) and I will be completely done with that. I have also been letting go of some of my Support Broker clients (if any of my clients are reading this, sorry, but I need to start putting my own family first).

As my time frees up, I have more time to concentrate on Mark. We are starting to monitor Mark's intake of food more and working to get him more active. The last 2 Fridays, I have taken him to the trampoline park and he has worked up a good sweat. Last night, we walked to church (it is about a 1 hour walk).  We will work more on his diet and encourage him to eat new foods (I introduced him to Larabars and kombucha yesterday). I am taking his blood pressure and weight every other day.

Things have just been a big mess these past few months but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I feel that we are finally on a good path to getting the right support for Joshua and I have the time to dedicate to helping Mark eat more healthfully and get more exercise.

One more piece of REALLY good news to end on: Henry and I both "caught" Mark typing independently on his iPad!!! When I saw him, he wanted to watch a JumpStart video on YouTube and I heard him sounding out each letter and typing it in to the search bar! I couldn't believe it. We have worked for years at typing and he is finally starting to do this independently! This is so amazing (but probably not book material...LOL)!!!

I am just SO excited to get our farm together in 2019 and get Mark busy on the farm. I have been looking forward to this for years and, sometimes, I can't believe it is finally going to start happening!

We have MUCH to be thankful for. I am still just so grateful that we were able to purchase this little farm property! I am so thankful for our little garden this past summer! We feel so blessed to have friends and family that care about us. We will be counting our blessings this Thanksgiving and wish the best to your family during the upcoming holidays!
Happy Thanksgiving
~Denise and boys

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Getting the bees ready for winter...


It's time to get the beehives ready for winter.  I have two different hives - a top bar hive and a (traditional) langstroth hive.  I have been checking the hives on a pretty regular basis this fall and both colonies have decreased in size.  This is to be expected.  The hive will shrink down to a cluster the size of a large grapefruit.  Although the temperature outside may be freezing, the center of the cluster remains a constant 92 degrees F. The bees generate heat by “shivering” their wing muscles.

One thing that can harm bees in the winter is condensation in the beehive.  As you can imagine, if it is 20 degrees F outside and 92 degrees F inside the hive then where that heat meets the cold, there can be some condensation forming.  Water may form inside the hive and if it drips on the cluster, it will be deadly.  By adding a layer of insulation on top of the hive, it can help with moderating this effect and absorbing the moisture.

When temperatures warm into the 40's and 50's, the bees will slowly move the cluster around to get to the honey to eat and keep up their energies.  That is why it's so important for there to be a good supply of honey in the hive for the winter.  I have been feeding my bees sugar water since the end of August to make sure they have enough honey in the hive for the winter.

This is my third year of having the top bar hive.  The first year, my bees did not make it through the winter.  This past year they made it!  The hive just exploded with new bees in the spring and then swarmed because it was too crowded for everyone.  I caught one of the swarms and put it into a langstroth hive. 

I have never done anything to overwinter my top bar hive in the past.  This year I heard that you can put some insulation in the top.  So, I grabbed some old burlap sacks out of the barn and cleaned them up and layered them on top of the bars in the hive...
 Then, I closed the lid.  That was easy!

For the langstroth hive I added a quilt box to the top of the hive.   First I took the inner cover and top off of the hive.  Last time I looked in this hive the bees were in this middle section that you can see in the picture.  You cannot tell it but I also added some follower boards on either side of the bees to make the space smaller so it is easier for them to heat it up in there.
 Then, I added the quilt box.  It has a screened bottom.
 On top of the screen, I added some wood shavings.  This is to help in moderating the temperature and absorbing any condensation that may occur.
 Then, I replaced the inner cover...
 ...and put the lid back on the hive.

Now, we cross our fingers and hope for the best.  I really have no idea if either hive will make it through the winter...time will tell! 


Sunday, October 21, 2018

Growing mushrooms

In the Garden

I have been wanting to start a mushroom patch in our garden for a while.  I had heard about growing King Stropharia mushrooms in a podcast a while back.  They are also sometimes called wine cap mushrooms.  They are easy to grow and are prolific.  I ordered my spawn (that is what you use to inoculate your patch - it is like seed) in June.  I had a special place under some trees that stayed pretty shaded that I used to place the spawn.  You put the spawn out in wood chips and water, water, water.  

It is important to keep it all moist for the first couple of weeks.  The suggestion that came with my spawn was to water 15 minutes every morning and evening for the first 2 weeks.  Of course, we did not get much rain this summer so I continued to water on a regular basis.  

At the end of July, I started to wander if all my watering was even paying off.  It's not like a plant that you can see growing above ground.  So, I pulled back some of the top wood chips and saw the mycelium...it is hard to see in this picture but the mycelium is the whitish threadlike/stringy stuff...

 Now, I knew that my spawn had spread and was alive.  I kept watering and waited some more and then one day in August I saw baby mushrooms starting to come up...

Then, the mushrooms got bigger.

More mushrooms grew!  They were almost all in the middle of the patch.  I think this area got the most water from the sprinkler that I had on them so maybe that is why they grew best in the middle.
I didn't actually pick any of this first batch.  It was fun to see them grow.  They grow rapidly once they get started.  A couple of weeks ago (it is October now), three more grew along the edge of the patch.  

I am going to put some new chips on top of the patch soon.  Then, next June, I am going to take some of the chips and use it to inoculate a different area.  The directions that came with the spawn said to put it in a shady spot.  I have also read they they can tolerate partial sun so maybe I will get more mushrooms in a sunnier location.  Also, I am curious if we would get a lot of mushrooms in the spring because that is when you usually see a lot of mushrooms growing in this area with the spring rains.  It has been an unusual fall...we have not had much rainfall at all.  It has been hard to know if I should keep watering my food forest and herb garden.  Today, the temps got up into the 70's...that's unusual for this time of year.  I watered my lettuce, spinach and overwintering onions.  Don't misunderstand, I am not complaining about the temps!  I worked on my compost bins today and still have a LOT of cleaning up in the garden area to get done!

Here is a nice collection of blog posts all about King Straphoria mushrooms.  

A fun fact for you taken from Wikipedia:  In Paul Stamets' book Mycelium Running, a study done by Christiane Pischl showed that the king stropharia makes an excellent garden companion to corn. The fungus also has a European history of being grown with corn.  Maybe I should try inoculating my corn patch next year...

~ Denise

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Food Forest

Food Forest

I started a food forest along the fence back behind the garden.  A food garden/forest as defined by Wikipedia is: a low-maintenance sustainable plant-based food production and agroforestry system based on woodland ecosystems, incorporating fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vines and perennial vegetables which have yields directly useful to humans. 

There are 7 layers to a food forest and even more if you start to count mycorrhiza (fungal/plant) interactions.

I will be the first to admit that I do not have all 7 layers in my food forest.  I do not have vines or root crops (actually, I forgot that root crops should be a part of a food forest)! 

Here is a picture of the food forest in May.  Everything was so small and I thought it would never fill in but things did grow nicely as you can see in the video below.

The plants in a food forest are chosen to benefit each other.  Some are nitrogen fixers, some are dynamic accumulators (pull up nutrients from deep in the soil and bring them up to the surface), some are to attract pollinators, some are to detour pests, some provide shade and some provide food!

Here is a quick walk through of my food forest:

Here is a nice article about forest gardening.  It would be fun to have a food forest around the perimeter of our property but that would take a LOT of work but could be a goal for the future...I like the idea of mixing beneficial plants together and I have SO many more trees I want to add to the property.

The past couple of weeks I have been putting wood chips down on the food forest.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Summer recap 2018 and garden lessons learned...

In the Garden

Our first big garden and there were lots of lessons learned:

The wind can do more damage than the cold/hot temperatures.  
I didn't realize how damaging the wind can be.  In the spring, I was so concerned about cold temperatures and the possibility of a freeze wiping out plants that I had planted early.  BUT the wind can do more damage with knocking plants over that do not have a well established roots system.  Also, the wind can dry things out quickly which can be damaging to the plants.

Seedlings this past spring waiting to go out and be planted in the garden.
Water, water, water is so important.
In north Idaho, you HAVE to have a plan for watering.  The past 3 months, we have had 1 rain of about 1/3 inch.  In August, we had a few days where it got up to 100 degrees.  I implemented some drip hoses and I will need to buy more for next year.  This was a bit of an investment but it will pay off in the long run.  I need to figure out a better system for watering the raised bed stock tanks.  I have an idea already...

Over plant and then thin...seed is cheap but losing 2 weeks of growing weather is expensive.
I was a bit stingy with the seed when planting.  Then, the slugs came in and ate most of the small seedlings.  So, next year, I will plant more and then thin out (or let the slugs thin it out).  The growing season is so short here that you don't want to have to start over.  I am also going to start looking for and buying the shortest season plant seeds I can find.

Slugs are the worst! 
For such a dry climate, I could not believe how many slugs I had eating my sunflowers and lettuces and anything else they could get to (this was mostly in the spring)!  I am going to have to be more proactive about the slugs next year. 

Here is a pic of the celery that I am blanching (that is why I have the paper bags around them).  I harvested them yesterday and cut up put in the dehydrator.  What you can't see is that I had to throw away over half of the celery due to slug damage.  I still got a lot of celery but will set things up differently next year...

I will need to grow a LOT more if I want to preserve things!
We did fine with providing vegetables all summer for our family.  We had fresh spinach, lettuce, beets, green beans, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, summer squash, tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, onions, garlic, corn and peas during the growing season.  This was our first attempt at having a large garden and I was a bit limited on the planting space since I was mostly using the hay bale gardening.  I think once we have the raised beds up and going, we will have a lot more space to plant in them.  Henry built a couple raised beds already and I am just shocked at how much growing space there is (compared to the top of a hay bale).  I did get to dehydrate a few things and I will can some salsa and freeze some corn and green beans.
Veggies growing in the top of hay bales.
Sunflower recap
The peach and white sunflowers just did not work.  The bugs just LOVED the peach sunflowers.  I may actually keep planting them strictly to use as a trap crop for the bugs.  As I mentioned previously, I had trouble with slugs eating the seedling.   I made the rows WAY too close together and I have already taken steps to expand the sunflower growing area for next year.  The voles still got in and got a few of the sunflowers but overall the sunflowers did well! 
Vole damage on end of sunflower stalk.
Birds, Bats, and Bees...
It appears that something is using one of the bee blocks I made!  Nothing is in the other bee block.  I will move it to a better location.
I know several of the bird houses that I made were used.  I have not seen any bats.  I think we are going to move the bat house too.

We made some time for fun at Silverwood.  Mark did not want to get out of the wave pool for like 2 hours!
Joshua, Henry, and Mark in the wave pool at Silverwood.