Surprise Cabbage!

Image

A few days ago my middle daughter came home from school with a plant.  Not just any plant but a cabbage plant, and not a regular cabbage plant, but a “Mega-Cabbage”.  The plant was well watered, but some of the leaves were really drooping, so we snipped the drooping leaves.  Since we couldn’t plant it right away I figured that would help it survive some of the stress. I soon learned after the plants arrival that Bonnie Plants has a 3rd Grade Cabbage program. The letter that came home with the cabbage said “Bonnie Plants wants to share our love of vegetable gardening by giving you a healthy cabbage plant for your garden”.  Bonnie plants actually awards $1,000 scholarships to one student from each state.  The winner is selected through a random drawing of each class winner.  My daughter is pretty excited.  She says she doesn’t have to be the winner, but she really, really wants to grow her cabbage.  You can learn more about the program here: http://bonniecabbageprogram.com/.

It turns out the cabbage can grow VERY large, so large in fact that the it can weigh over 40 pounds.  It also suggests 4 foot spacing around the entire plant.  I was totally boggled when looking at pictures on the website.  While I think it is pretty great that there is a company encouraging kids and their families to garden, I keep wondering where this monster cabbage is going to go.  Frankly it sounds like it would take up almost 3/4 of one of my planter boxes, and I only have 2 of them for annuals.  So the race is now on to find a spot.  Questions have reeled through my mind like “Do we build another box?  I’ve been wanting more boxes anyway”.  Or thoughts like “I have a lot of rocks we’ve unearthed from the retaining wall project.  Do I build new beds along the fence”.  It is a conundrum.  I’m hoping the weather cooperates so we can find a special spot for the surprise cabbage.

Free Time

DSCF4972

We all need free time once in a while.  Tonight after dinner I sure needed some.  After a busy day with my job I needed some fresh air, so did my girls, and my hens.  Also, there were of course garden and chicken chores.  Now that the snow is melting the coop needed to be moved.  I never like to leave my hens in one place too long.  My two oldest girls are a big help moving our heavy coop.  My youngest likes to latch onto the nesting boxes and push will all her might.

DSCF4968

It is a good time to let the chickens out to free range.  They love to dig deep into the dirt to find goodies.  We have to watch them though because they like to go in the garden beds, and that could lead to disasters with our seedlings.  We scoot them out of the boxes while my youngest peals with laughter.

DSCF4970

Even the cat, sitting inside on the kitchen table looks on in interest.

DSCF4976

I showed my middle daughter how to pick up and hold the chickens.  She kept going from chicken to chicken picking them up.  She was a natural.  They sat calmly in her arms and didn’t try to flap away.

DSCF4974DSCF4979DSCF4981

Even after my two youngest daughters succumb to the cold the chickens kept on with their foraging.  One by one I picked them up and placed them back in their run.  They got excited about the new grass, since the coop had been moved, and pecked at the lush green shoots.  It is nice just to take a little bit of time to get out, get down with my girls and the chickens and slow the world down for a bit.

DSCF4982

Fresh Eggs and Frittata

I’ve always loved eggs, adored them really, even when I was young. My mom made amazing Saturday morning breakfasts. We would wake up to the smell of pancakes, some sort of breakfast meat and fried eggs. They were always fried and the yolk was runny. You’d cut into the egg disturbing the yolk and a gooey, sticky mess that would run onto the plate just begging to be sopped up with a pancake or piece of toast. It was my favorite way to eat them. As my sister and I grew and began experimenting with cooking she taught me how to make microwave scrambled eggs. We learned quickly that if not covered they make a horrible messy explosion, covering the interior of the microwave with pale yellow flecks.  Another thing we learned is that if the flecks of leftover eggs are allowed to dry in the bowl or cup they make a horrible crust, nearly impossible to remove.  My mother became quite exasperated at the egg crusted coffee cups that never came clean, even in the dishwasher.

When I was finally able to get my own chickens I couldn’t wait to have my own fresh eggs.  I’d heard about their wonders and fantasized about my own wonderful eggs right out of my backyard.  When you buy your chicks though they are a long way off from making those glorious eggs.  They are small, puffy, and quite adorable, and quite a bit of work.  Our chickens matured into pullets and we waited anxiously for our very first egg.  A chicken will usually start laying around 18-20 weeks.  Since the chicks were hatched in April we knew we would probably not be getting eggs until August or September.

DSCF4924

After what felt like an eternity we did in fact get fresh eggs.    We get four different colors; dark brown, light brown, olive-green, and blue-green.  There is something so beautiful to a full carton off fresh eggs.  Now that our girls are older they are laying pretty regularly and depending on how often we use them we can get quite the stockpile. When we do have a surplus I love to make Frittata.

DSCF4925

Frittata is not only fun to say but is delightfully delicious.  It is similar to quiche but has no crust, which also makes it easier to cook.  I love to use tons of veggies.  I’m especially looking forward to make frittata using veggies from my garden this year, but seeing as we have nothing from the garden in March the store produce will have to do.  Tonight I chose kale, bell peppers, a zucchini, asparagus, red potatoes, and green onions.  I used a lean turkey sausage, our fresh eggs of course, some skim milk, and a soft flavored cream cheese.

DSCF4944

Aren’t the cracked eggs an amazing sight!  The orange yolks are so different from regular store-bought eggs.  I was blown away by the difference when we got our first egg.

DSCF4947

First I brown the sausage in a large pan.  Once it is brown I put in a bowl.  I add a few tablespoons of butter and deglaze the pan.  The butter may defeat the purpose of the lean sausage, but I never said I was logical.  I have been reading a lot about Julia Child recently so perhaps I am just channeling her.

DSCF4948

I then cook the chopped asparagus, zucchini, and bell peppers until they begin to soften.  I cheat with the potatoes.  I put them in whole into the microwave after stabbing them a few times.  I cook them for 8 minutes until they are soft and chop them and set them aside.

DSCF4949

I throw in the chopped kale and green onions until they are soft.  Then I add the meat back in, the potatoes and the soft cheese.

DSCF4955

Once everything is incorporated I pour in the eggs, which have been scrambled with the milk and seasoned with salt and pepper.  I mix everything again until it is well incorporated.

DSCF4958

I then turn the heat to low, and top the pan with a lid to allow the eggs to start cooking.  I lift up the edges of the frittata occasionally to allow the raw egg to flow to the bottom.

DSCF4959

As things are beginning to set I turn the oven to broil and put the entire pan into the oven.   I watch it closely so it doesn’t burn.  Once the egg is completely cooked and the top develops a crustiness I pull it back out, cut and serve.  I love to serve frittata with salad and fresh fruit.

DSCF4962

I save any veggie scraps, like the zucchini ends and the woody ends of the asparagus for the hens.  I love being able to give my hens the scraps and in return get lovely eggs.  It’s a wondrous cycle.

DSCF4957

The Fourth Day of Spring

DSCF4926

Welcome to the fourth day of spring.  This is my little backyard after being pummeled by snow.  As I shake my fist in the air at the Utah spring, my husband keeps reminding me that my anger is unwarranted.  He keeps telling me that it isn’t uncommon for snow to dump on us in March.  I’m in denial though.  The bad weather was actually one of the reasons this blog began.  I had plans to dig into our retaining wall project this weekend.  We have big plans for the area behind our free-standing garage.

DSCF4937

As you can see though, those plans will have to wait.

Temped by the beautiful weather the previous two weeks I began my seeds.  This really is the time to start many crops if you are starting from seed.  Kale as I have learned from research is actually best started in the winter, but seeing as I only fell in love with this veggie recently it went in the ground as an early spring crop.  As it is exposed to frost and cold weather it actually tastes better as the plant produces more sugar to protect it from the cold, thus making the kale sweeter to eat.  But since my plants are only small seedlings it is good that I had the sense to cover them.  In the same spot of ground I have also planted peas and spinach.

DSCF4930

As you can see this spring snow is blanketing my crops and covers, erasing all signs of effort.

DSCF4929

I did take a risk though planting some crops directly in the ground without any sort of cover.  Kale, spinach, dill, cilantro, and other herbs are unprotected.  None of the seedlings had emerged yet, so they may pull through.  My strawberry plants were starting to awaken from the long cold winter, and I had recently pruned the sage bush, but since they have weathered storms before I hope they will be okay.

DSCF4927

I do worry about these large pots though.  Much too big to bring into the house they will have to fight for their little seedlings lives.  I have Kale in the left and spinach on the right.  They weathered a smaller storm yesterday.  If they make it through I may just have to save their seeds!  I purchased open pollinated, heirloom seeds so it is a possibility this year.  I will take a post to talk about seeds later, but back to my frozen spring wonderland.

DSCF4928

Here stands my pitiful greenhouse.   This was a purchase last year and it has been the staging ground for many of my garden mistakes.  Though the greenhouse was put away into the garage, I didn’t store it zipped.  The plastic has now shrunk and tightened until I am now unable to zip one side.  My attempt to make the greenhouse usable has left me resorting to binder clips, which then allowed for the smallest amount of snow to filter in and land upon a soon to sprout yellow zucchini.  I worry I may need to plant all over again.  It has never stopped my though.  Last year I planted some seeds three times.  Once the greenhouse toppled, easily caught by the wind, spilling dirt and seeds everywhere.  That is why the greenhouse is now secured to my house with blue rope.  Like Anne of Green Gables, I usually never repeat the same mistake twice.  The second mistake was not unzipping the greenhouse on a hot day.  I cooked most of my seeds.  Gardening has been a learning experience.  Most people will start their seeds indoors, but with my limited space it is very difficult to manage.  Hopefully this year’s spring snow will not prove to be another garden mistake.

DSCF4933

Last but not least in my spring saga are my feathered girls.

DSCF4931

The hens have already weathered the winter storms so snow is nothing new to them.  It doesn’t mean they like it though.  They hate stepping in the wet, cold stuff, and I guess I really can’t blame them.  Their little toes are entirely exposed to the elements.

DSCF4941

They do like eating it though.  I know from experience that they will not venture out at all today unless the snow melts enough to expose the grass under their coop, or enough pine bedding falls beneath their coop covering the unpleasant stuff.  Since they are cooping themselves up today I need to make sure that they are well taken care off since they won’t be venturing down to the water down below.  They have a built-in food container attached to the back door, thanks to my ingenious husband.  Water is a more complicated mater.  I don’t want my chicks to entirely rely on snow eating to quench their thirst.

DSCF4932

Instead I take this great little invention, dump the current water that has begun to freeze, and fill it with warm water.  This little bottle has been with us since the girls were little chicks.

DSCF4936

They eagerly peck at the nipple at the bottom getting their water.  It probably isn’t refreshing as their usual water container, but if I were to put a bowl of water in the coop the hens would quickly knock it over soaking their bedding and making their coop a cold popsicle.

DSCF4935

I know that the sun will come up, the snow will eventually melt, and before I know it spring will be in full swing.  Summer I’m sure will be overly hot like last year, and part of me will yearn for white landscapes.  For now though I will say a little prayer over my seeds and if they fail I will replant.  I will never give up.

How it all began

002

It is hard to pinpoint exactly when I became so obsessed about gardens and farm animals.  My earliest connection with gardening probably would have been at age four or five.  One year my family, probably prompted by the prophetic council to be self sufficient, grew a garden.  I hardly remember anything about it.  It really is all a blur.  I think I remember the tall corn stalks reaching high over my head, but that is it.  The family garden did not continue.  In fact, not much maintenance continued in our backyard.  It was a sprawling meadow with two peach trees, one cherry tree, and one apple tree.  The rest was a meadow of weeds.   I think my busy father did try and bring some order to the space.  Grass had been planted not long after my parents moved into their brand new split-level home, but behind our house was a huge field, which at various times was farmed. Seeds from the weeds in the field quickly took root in our Magna soil and were as happy as could be.  That was just fine by me, in fact I loved that yard.  I could lay down in the tall grasses, catch bugs, and create my own magical world.  I usually played outside from sun up to sun down, and the backyard was the most fascinating place to spend my time.

I also fell in love with fresh produce.  Thanks to local farm stands, and our backyard fruit trees I grew up on sweet corn, flavorful tomatoes, and the most succulent peaches.  Oh the glorious peaches!  Thanks to the irrigation water that would often flood our property our peach trees were very productive.  Each summer and fall the branches would get so heavy they would droop under the heavy weight from the soft, sweet fruit.  Some years the branches would actually break, because we never pruned.  We just let nature take its course, which lead to many of my first garden follies, but I digress.  The fresh produce, especially those fresh peaches were heavenly.

As I grew up, moved out, and started doing my own shopping I was sadly disappointed at the lack of tasteful produce in the grocery store.  It would be years before I could even attempt to grow my own.  I lived in apartments for the next 7 years and didn’t give much thought to gardens.  I’m sure if I’d had the passion I do now I would have attempted some little patio garden spot, but overwhelmed by life’s responsibilities it never entered my mind.

Fast forward several years to 2005 when my husband and I bought what we thought would be our starter home. A quaint little fifties bungalow, which is just a fancy way of saying small and old enough to need serious repair from time to time. Despite its problems though my little house has grown on me. After all of the years of apartment living I will never again take for granted having my very own space to do my own thing, and make my own. We didn’t start gardening right away and I don’t even know if it was my idea to start out with. I think my husband first mentioned the idea. He dug up some ground in the backyard at the very top of our very sloped hill. Not much grew. The cornstalks were small, and the ears it yielded had just a few large kernels. One year we got spinach and not much else. We let the weeds overrun most of the bed and our anal neighbor so afraid our weeds would somehow drift onto his property applied weed killer to our garden, including the spinach. Thankfully he no longer is our neighbor. His grandmother who owned the house moved and the house was sold. The grandson, our spinach killer, purchased a house up the street and now has his own immaculate yard far away from our less than perfect one.

In 2009, my husband made us a raised bed. We purchased dirt form our local garden store, and hauled it in my father-in-law’s old trailer. It was a dramatic day including flat tires, dirty faces, and sore muscles, but by the end of the day we had our very own raised garden bed. Joyfully we planted blackberries, raspberries, what we thought were seedless grapes, and other herbs. It lay just outside my kitchen window and I fantasized what it would become. I saw myself happily preparing dinner and flitting outside to gently clip herbs for the night’s dinner.

Planter Box May 2009 021It did not work out as perfectly as I would have liked though.  The blackberries and raspberries after a few pitiful years died.  The grape was in fact full of seeds, and the sage liked it’s spot so well it thrived and each year threatens to take over.  It is a work in progress.  We eventually built two beds at the top of the hill to replace our dug out garden and gradually the task has fallen onto me to garden.  Each year the promise of fresh produce, especially tomatoes calls me back to the garden to try again, despite last year’s mistakes.  I even added chickens to my backyard, a story I can’t wait to share.  Each year the desire to spend hours digging in the soil and working outside has strengthened until it is almost like an itch I can’t scratch, especially the days I’m stuck at my desk working long hours.  I view it almost as a fever, a farm fever.  I imagine my next project, lush vistas, my clucking birds, and a simpler life.  I can’t wait to share with you a little bit of what I obsess over, so at least perhaps they can live here instead of invading so much of my thoughts.  I hope you’ll stick around.