Sunday, December 4, 2011

“Gan-Green Thumb” Garden Tip: Save Your Leaves!

I haven’t actually tried this tip yet (I recently read it in a book), but it sounds like a great idea and if it works, it will help me to overcome one of my big gardening dilemmas.
First, the dilemma:  Since my dogs seem to lay barren anything that is growing in the ground in our yard, I have wanted to get more involved in container gardening.  The “experts” have given multiple reasons why container gardening is a great thing, and I suppose it is.  My main objection has always been that in order to have a container of any decent size, it takes so much soil!  Why not just use soil from our garden to fill them?  Because our clay soil is just terrible and is one of the other problems that we are working like crazy to resolve.  Therefore, container gardening just seemed like such an expensive proposition that I limited myself to just a few containers each year.
Now for the remedy:  Leaves!  If this works the way the book proposes, I will be so happy.  The idea is to save your fall leaves in bags and use them to fill the bottom part of your pots (about one-third to one-half full, depending on the soil depth requirements of your plant).  By only having to add potting soil and compost to the top portion of the pot, you can save some money.  (I am also excited to have another way to use the tons of leaves our trees drop each year; I never like to have organic material end up in a landfill!)    For containers that will hold my “permanent” plants, I will probably continue to fill them to the top with my soil/compost mix.  But for seasonal things (like tomatoes, etc.), I will use the leaf trick.  After the season is over, I will remove the soil from the top of the pots and then add the “weathered” leaves to the compost heap or maybe even directly into the garden soil depending on its state.  I’ll let you know how it works!
I can’t tell you how excited I am!  You see, last summer, I found the most wonderful container for the times that I want something a little larger.  It is just the right size, it’s strong and durable, and comes in a variety of colors.  Even better, I was able to pick one up on sale last summer at Wal-Mart for only $5!  Just drill a few holes in the bottom and add a little piece of old window screen and you have the perfect planter.  I am pleased to present to you my new favorite gardening container….the party tub (also marketed as a child’s toy bin)!

I just loved this orange one.  I’ve also seen them in red, purple, neon green, bright yellow, and for those who are of a milder taste, even black.  The leaf trick now makes it possible for me to have these babies sprinkled all over my yard, filled with vegetables of all kinds.  Yippy!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Stands, Cans, and a Brand New Plan!

I have been working on a food storage plan for a while now (half-heartedly, anyway).  There are many reasons that people undertake a food storage program.  If you are a Latter-Day Saint, then you know that your church leaders have been encouraging and counseling members to do so for many, many years.  Some people get into food storage as protection from economic or natural disaster.  (Sometimes the economic disaster is personal.  Most of the people I know who actually have lived off of their food storage did so after one or more family members lost a job.   All of them have said that not having to worry about feeding the family helped a lot!)  Some people use it as a hedge against inflation.  Some people simply like having a large supply of the basics on hand because for those who do a lot of “home” cooking, it makes it very convenient.  Some of us get into food storage for a combination of the above reasons.
My original approach to food storage was to simply store A LOT of the foods that we use on a regular basis.  I soon accumulated an incredible amount of cans, and keeping them rotated and organized was quite a chore.  This is when I originally became acquainted with a company called “Shelf Reliance”.   They sell a wonderful food rotation system.  I was able to catch them when they were having a sale and order the size and configuration that was perfect for my needs.  It has become my very favorite item in my kitchen (even better than my polka-dot bake ware):

It’s very simple to use; you load the new cans in the top of the row and take cans from the bottom of the row.  That way you are always using the oldest food first, saving you from having tons of stuff expire because it got pushed to the back of the shelf:

The company offers other sizes and configurations, including small, single-row units that will fit on your existing kitchen shelves.  The one I got just happened to be the one that was perfect for all the stuff that I had (plus, it holds around 400 cans!).
For my staples, I frequently went to the LDS cannery near me.  If you want rice, flour, powdered milk, etc., their prices are really good (as long as you don’t mind canning it yourself).   In just a few trips, I was able to add lots of #10 cans to my stash!
I also have been trying to learn to garden – my dream is to someday live in the country and grow a lot of our own food.  We even bought a dehydrator so that we could have the option of dehydrating all of the wonderful things that we would be reaping from our garden.  There’s just one little catch:  I just can’t seem to get the hang of the whole gardening thing.  Granted, each year is a little better than the last, but there is still much to be desired.  (If you look through the archives of this blog, you can see the whole sad story unfold!)   I must say that I read many wonderful blogs with interest and amazement, and I find so much inspiration there.  For example, just the other day I was so very impressed (and just a tad envious) when I read about the harvest of blue berries that the maven from “Bee Haven Acres” enjoyed from her 100(!) bushes (to see for yourself, click here).
To make matters worse, in addition to my poor gardening skills, we live in the city, on a typical city lot…eighty-percent of which is totally shaded by two huge oak trees in the front and two huge oak trees in the back. Even though I am not going to give up on gardening (I will conquer!), I know that if we are going to live off of what we grow any time soon, I think we will be pretty hungry.  Therefore, I recently decided to really get with the food storage program.  After taking inventory, I found myself thinking, “I sure hope we like beans and rice and apple chips”.  Yep.  Variety was not abundant in that pantry.  Well, if I can’t grow it and the LDS cannery doesn’t have it, I was just going to have to find another source to get a better variety of food into my storage program.
I will tell you that there are other companies that offer food storage products, but I remembered the “Shelf Reliance” company and decided to check them out.  To supplement the items that I already had, they feature a whole line of freeze-dried fruits, berries, vegetables, dairy, and other products.  Did you know that there is such a thing as powdered eggs and powdered sour cream?  Yep, there is!  You can also buy a #10 can of the powdered cheese that is similar to that found in macaroni-and-cheese dinners (although a lot of people like to sprinkle it on their popcorn for some cheesy goodness).  One unique feature of “Shelf Reliance” is that if you buy at one of their home parties (or through an independent consultant), you are able to not only purchase the #10 can size, but you may also buy a size called the “pantry can”.  About three pantry cans fill a #10 can and it is perfect for smaller families or those with limited space, or to use as a “try me” size for an item with which you are unfamiliar or unsure.
Even more exciting for me was the Shelf Reliance automatic home delivery plan called the “Q”.  There is a feature on their website that will help you figure out how much food storage you need for your family based on the number of adults and children, plus their desired daily caloric intake.  Or, if you know what you want, you can go through yourself and make a list of items that you want in your food storage plan.  It will then ask you for a dollar amount that you want to set as your monthly budget, and using that budget, it will pull from the items that you have listed in your plan and set up automatic monthly shipments.  It is my own understanding about the following points:   The minimum dollar amount for your budget has to be enough to cover whatever is the most expensive item on your plan.  Another thing that you really have to consider is that once you commit to set up a plan, you are committed for at least three months.  After that, you are free to suspend shipments or leave the plan.  Also, once you commit to a monthly budget/dollar amount, you are not able to change the amount during the first 3-month trial period (although after that, it can be adjusted).  However, you are free to adjust which products you want with each shipment if you do not like the order of items the plan has set up for you.  Once you are set up on the plan, you will receive a shipment automatically each month.
Therefore, this is something to not commit to lightly, but I was ready!  I was so tired of saying each month, “I really need to order some butter powder and vegetables or something this month,” only to have the end of the month sneak up on me with no food storage ordered.  This plan was made for me!  I will always budget for something for which I am committed, and sometimes I just need a little kick in the tail to get me going.  I am so excited to have a plan and actually be working each month toward my goal!
In fact, I am so taken with this food storage program and the “Thrive” line of food products that I just signed up as an independent consultant.  If you would like to learn more about Shelf Reliance, you can visit my personal website (click here).  Also, I love teaching others about food storage and emergency preparedness, so if you are interested but not sure where to start, feel free to contact me with any questions you may have!
Have a wonderful week!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Homemade Granola Bars and a New Mission

I have a new calling at church: I am now the Second Counselor in Relief Society (Relief Society is the women’s organization in our church). This means that I am responsible for all of the meetings that are not Sunday meetings. Our big “optional” meeting is held once a month, and in our congregation it’s every third Thursday evening. Many years ago it was called “Homemaking Meeting”, then for awhile they called it “Enrichment Meeting”, now it is just called “Relief Society Meeting”. During these meetings we focus on a variety of areas: spiritual progress, homemaking skills, family relations, service projects, crafts, etc. The “Gan-Green Thumb” and I will be reporting on the worthwhile things we learn there and we will share our new knowledge with you.

Last night we had several things going on, but something of interest might be the cooking demonstration that was given for a recipe using oats. Here is the recipe that was given at the meeting:

Homemade Granola Bars
4-1/2 cups rolled oats (regular, not quick)
1 cup flour (I like to use whole wheat flour)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed

Optional: 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (raisins, dried cranberries, and other dried fruit, whatever you like!)

Combine all ingredients but the chocolate chips (or whatever optional ingredients you are putting in). Mix and then add the chocolate chips in and mix again. Press into a greased pan (Pam works great!). Bake at 325 degrees for 18-22 minutes. Enjoy!!

**This is a basic recipe. . . if you like other things, try putting them in and make it your own recipe! Nuts, seeds, coconut, peanut butter. . . the options are endless! Note that if you add a lot of optional ingredients, you might want to increase the butter and honey in order for the mixture to be cohesive and not too dry.**

Sunday, October 17, 2010

So…How Ya Bean?

Dry beans are a great food storage item. When stored properly they have a long shelf life and they are a great source of protein. The food cannery that I utilize has pinto beans, white beans, black beans, and dehydrated refried beans. Since I do a little emergency preparedness/food storage newsletter for my group at church, I was on the prowl for some recipes using those items. I was surprised at how easy it was to find recipes using beans that are already cooked and then canned – those recipes are everywhere in abundance! But I was somewhat discouraged at how few recipes I could find using uncooked, dry beans.

The solution: I just needed to find a chart that would tell me how many dry beans equaled one of those cans of cooked beans so I could do a little “translating”. That was when I discovered that there is actually an agency that is devoted solely to dry beans! Can you believe that? Yes, it’s true – The U.S. Dry Bean Council is there to promote the consumption of dry beans, and they have a great website! On this website you will not only find some recipes, but you will find information on soaking beans, cooking beans, storing beans, and cooking with canned beans. And, yes, I was able to find what I was looking for; here is information from that website from an article they call “Counting Beans”:

One 15-ounce can of beans = one and one-half cups cooked beans, drained.
One pound dry beans = six cups cooked beans, drained.
One pound dry beans = two cups dry beans.
One cup dry beans = three cups cooked beans, drained.

There is a website for the University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County which also seems to find beans exciting. On this website you will find some recipes for beans, as well as articles with titles such as the following :

“What amount of beans should we eat to gain their health benefits?”
“Aren't dry beans considered an "incomplete" source of protein?”
“How do canned beans compare to dry-packaged beans?”
“How do you cook dry-packaged beans?”
“What can you do if dry beans give you “gas"?”
“Can one dry bean be substituted for another bean in recipes?”

So there you go…if you have wanted to have beans in your food storage, but weren’t quite sure what to do with them, there are resources, as well as a whole Council out there to help you! (If you really want to have some fun, type in “recipe for pinto bean fudge” into your internet search engine. You will be amazed at how many websites pop up!)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Summer Garden 2010 Final Report: The Good, The Bad, and The Really, Really Ugly

This was the third year of summer gardening for “Gan-Green Thumb” and I, and The Thumb was in fine form. There was plenty of devastation throughout the garden, a testament to the power of idiocy and a hidden mean streak targeting all things green. Here is our final report:

We cannot grow tomatoes. They start out great, and the plants even get some pretty good size on them. But they have two enemies that we just cannot seem to overcome, no matter how much we spray and treat. The first enemy is something called “blossom drop”. I’m pretty sure that our summer daytime temperatures of 975 degrees were to blame for this. I may try to start earlier in the season next year and just do some greenhouse/covered gardening. The second problem I encountered was what I think might have been “blight”, although I’m not totally sure. After being unsuccessful with various treatments, I pulled the plants up in order to prevent them from contaminating the rest of the garden, just in case it really was blight. If we are going to have tomatoes, I guess I will have to barter for them with something that I CAN grow.

Our corn burned up. Especially the corn that the Old Coot had put in containers – it is hard to garden in containers when it’s 975 degrees. You just can’t keep things from drying out in two hours. I can’t explain what happened to the corn in the back of the garden. I’ll be bartering for that, too.

The little cherry bushes that we planted were massacred by the Golden Marauder. They are coming back up from the bottom, but I don’t know how they will EVER contend with her. She’s tenacious and unyielding, and seems to have some major grudge against them.

The Golden Marauder:

The green beans were a mixed bag. They started off great, planted in a little planter which was placed just outside the protection of the garden fence. They grew and grew, using the fence as a trellis, and making little green beans like crazy. Then the leaves started turning yellow. I checked for pests and disease – nothing. “Gan-Green Thumb” swore innocence in the matter. There was no explanation. Then my mother came in from sitting on the back porch.

“I know what’s wrong with your green beans,” she said. “I just saw Toffee lift his leg and pee all over them.”

Eeeewwww! I decided to leave the green beans for the birds and the squirrels. Even they didn’t want them. Next year we will plant green beans INSIDE the fence.

Here is Toffee, The Leg Lifter:

The cucumbers that I planted died (I think the Old Coot had sprayed some forbidden chemical in the spot in which I planted them earlier). The cucumbers that he planted lived and grew, but we are still waiting for cucumbers (I have picked ONE so far). I’m hoping that cooler weather will help pull them through.

Our strawberries did just what they were supposed to do, and they put on some pretty good growth. I look forward to watching and picking them next year.

Once again the blueberries did GREAT! The birds in the neighborhood had a beak-smacking good time with them. Next year there WILL be netting placed over the blueberry bushes.

The blackberries were quite productive also, not that we got to enjoy them. Next year there WILL be netting placed over the blackberry bushes.

The grapevines recovered from the attack by the Golden Marauder which occurred early in the season, and they put on some really good growth. I look forward to seeing some grapes next year (I think I will need more netting!)

The bell pepper plants have me confused; they grew tall and wide early in the season. A couple of them are taller than I am. But no peppers, all summer long. I decided to keep them alive anyway, and now that it is no long 975 degrees, there are peppers popping! I look forward to actually picking some soon.

And now, for the greatest success of all: My black-eyed peas. They did great! No bugs, no disease, just peas, peas, peas. The only problem was that I only planted only one small row, so there was never enough at any one given time to do a lot of good. Next year, I will just forget about those stinking tomatoes and give all of that space to black-eyed peas.

So there you have it. Another summer garden has lived and died, and I learned a little more this year. I have not yet decided if I want to mess with a fall garden (although logic says that would be the thing to do when living in the heat of Hades). However, I have a lot going on this fall. Of course, there is always time to read and attend some classes and garden club meetings. “Gan-Green Thumb” and I will keep you posted!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Injury Alert: Heat Exhaustion!

As the season has progressed, “Gan-Green Thumb” and I have done our best to fight the bugs and fungi that have threatened to creep into our garden. Things have gone pretty well on that front so far, although my plants will probably never be featured in a magazine that shows pictures. I am beginning to wonder if my tomato plants might be showing signs of “early blight”. After reading more about it, I am pretty sure that my tomatoes last year might have fallen victim to this. So I’m spraying and doing what I can to try to save my tomatoes (once it starts, can you ever really stop it?) "Gan-Green Thumb” strikes again!

However, more than bugs and fungi, my biggest foe this year has been something that I can’t do a whole lot about: Texas heat. I don’t even know what this month’s water bill is going to be. I once watched a home gardening show produced out of Utah, and the hosts were actually talking about watering ONCE A WEEK! Were they kidding? Everything here is just absolutely baked, even with constant watering. Here is a picture I took at 5:00 p.m. of ground that had been soaked earlier in the day (about 8:00 that morning):

The Old Coot Who Married Me has been doing some experiments with various kinds of container gardening, but Texas is not conducive to that. These pots were thoroughly watered the night before (about 8:00 p.m.), yet this is what his plants looked liked by high noon the next day:

Fighting the heat has been my biggest struggle this month. So how is everything else going? Let’s take a look:

One of The Old Coot’s peach trees has major problems:

Is it the heat? That was my guess, although he has found some evidence of damage on the tree that he suspects was caused by the 10 million squirrels that live in the neighborhood. This is likely, since “Gan-Green Thumb” and I have found lots of peaches on the ground that have been enjoyed by the squirrels:

The grape vine is recovering (thanks to a barrier put up by The Old Coot), but there will not be grapes this year:

My bush cherries were finally planted, and at first glance seem to be doing okay:

But closer inspection reveals that the Golden Marauder has struck again!

Despite their struggles, the tomato plants are seeing a little progress:

The birds and squirrels got most of the blueberries, but there are still a few left. Occasionally the Old Coot and I find a lone ripe blueberry (they never ripen at the same time!), and whoever is lucky enough to get it will giggle like a kid while chewing that ONE berry for all that it’s worth!

The pepper plants have a lot of growth on them, but I’m not really seeing any peppers yet:

The strawberries have a little growth on them, but they sure look hot sometimes:

The corn in The Old Coot’s “experiment” is hanging in there:

His green bean experiment is hanging, too:

And joy of joys (for a Southern girl!), the black-eyed peas are coming along, too (Mom and I picked some this morning):

The Old Coot pushed his blackberry bush underneath our tree, and it is doing well. (I asked him if he was trying to make it easier for the squirrels to get to them and he laughed):

The Old Coot also scored big when he passed by a house that was getting rid of an old-fashioned claw-foot bathtub (it was missing a foot). His was tickled to death when the owners said he could have it, and we planted some of our raspberry bushes in there. They seem to be pepping up a little now that they are out of their little pots:

And the plants that are doing the best out of everything in the whole yard? The plants that were planted by the squirrels! You see, I buy a wildlife mix that has “pumpkin” seeds in it (although it was cantaloupe that grew from them last year) and the squirrels always have to “hide” a few:

Maybe I should just forget gardening and turn the whole yard over to the squirrels!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

INJURY REPORT! The First Casualties of the Gardening Season!

When “Gan-Green Thumb” and I planted our garden this year, we knew that there would be problems, but we didn’t know that they would come so soon! As you know, at last report, things were going well, but sadly, there are injuries, and possible casualties, in our garden. Come view the sad evidence with us:

The first thing that struck me was the condition of the grapevines. What on earth could have happened here:

“This looks like the work of Molly Hatchet, aka: ‘The Golden Marauder’!”

“I’d be willing to bet on it!”

“It looks like the Golden Marauder struck the raspberry bush, too! Absolutely diabolical!”

“I don’t think the Golden Marauder did this. It might be time to do a little spraying!”

Is anything going right in the garden? The lone blackberry bush, safely out of reach, seems to be doing okay:

They Old Coot’s experiments seem to be doing alright, too:

The strawberries and tomatoes are growing:

The corn and black-eyed peas have popped up, but I think that they were planted to far apart to qualify for “companion planting” (I never get anything right on the first try!). The marigolds are good and stinky, and hopefully will keep the Mexican bean beetle at bay:

The blueberries actually look like blueberries now:

Yet, the Golden Marauder continues to do her dastardly deeds. Here she is with some of her newest handiwork:

I have a feeling that if we actually were to have to live off of what we could grow, we might just starve to death!