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Children and Nature Home Gardens Parenting Uncategorized

Spring Activities for Young Kids at Home

IMG_1682I think it’s safe to assume parents are spending A LOT of time home with kids.  Luckily, spring is here. I’ve looked back at my old blog posts and realized that there are quite a few about indoor and outdoor spring activities for kids.  I’ve linked to them below.  Enjoy!

One extra note: the #1 activities my toddler and I do together are housework and yard work.  Here are a few articles with more information if you’re intrigued and want to read more (one, two, three).  Toddlers LOVE to feel purposeful and they also LOVE to imitate the adults in their life.  My toddler would much rather learn how to use the intriguing brush that sits beside the toilet than do painting or a complicated craft.  It is important to remember that things might not be done exactly how you would have done them, and they might take a LONG time.  We often take turns so I can eventually accomplish the task.  This is fine by me.  I’d personally rather take a long time working towards the accomplishment of putting away silverware or cleaning the toilet than move all the toy trucks and cars to a new home for the 957th time.

If you’re playing outside with kids, take a moment to read up on ticks, tick checks, and proper tick removal

Here are some of my favorite spring time traditions:

signs-of-spring

Look and listen for signs of spring: Jot down notes on a calendar or a piece of paper that you can save.  Keeping a “Signs of Spring” list heightens my sense of awareness when spending time outdoors.  I pay more attention to the little things that are happening around me as the world wakes up from hibernation.  Sounds, smells, sights, tastes, and feelings can all point to signs of spring.  Saved lists from past years allow you to notice changes from year to year.

Learn new bird songs: Every spring I am reinspired to learn more bird songs.  First, I review bird songs of species are common around the house.  There’s a list of mnemonics here and a huge directory of songs to listen to at “All About Birds.”  Then, when I go for walks down our back dirt roads or hikes in the forest, I listen carefully.  As I walk I try to translate what I hear: “Cherrio, cheery me, cheery me,” for example. When I arrive home, I try to identify one or two of the songs I remember (that was an American Robin).  Slowly but surely I identify more and more songs in the outdoor chorus on my own.

mud-play

Play in the Mud: Yes, the extra laundry is worth it.  All sorts of learning, experimentation, engineering, and play can happen in the mud. Most days we’re still wearing our winter outdoor clothes up here in Vermont.  As temperatures rise, rain pants, rain boots, and rain coats will help keep indoor clothes clean and dry.  Hosing everyone off before coming inside can help keep that mud outside.

starting-pea-seeds

Start Seeds: Even if you don’t have a garden, starting seeds can be a fun spring activity.  All you need is a container with a hole poked in the bottom, potting soil, seeds of your choice, and some sort of dish or bowl for your container to sit in.  Grow lights or windows with strong southern sun will make for stronger seedlings that will do better if transplanted into your garden.  Plants like peas, lettuce, spinach, and herbs can be eaten as sprouts or “micro greens,” making this project rewarding in as little as 30 days!  If you do want to garden with kids, this post is full of really great tips.

Forage-Harvest

Taste the first wild greens of the season: As spring progresses, keep an eye out for wild ramps, fiddleheads, young nettles, or other edible wild plants.  Foraging is most rewarding and delicious in the spring when plants are young, tender, and mild.  They also tend to grow before anything is ready from gardens, satiating our cravings for fresh green treats after a winter of soups, stews, and casseroles.  Read more about the plants I look for here and check out this recipe for Cream of Ramp and Nettle Soup.

forced-dogwood

Force spring branches: All you need to do is clip branches and put them in a vase filled with fresh water.  Change water regularly, as you would for cut flowers.  Blooming branches, like forsythia, are great for forcing.  At indoor temperatures, your branches’ buds will open into new leaves and flowers.  My family clips the bright red branches of dogwood in March for a beautiful table arrangement at Easter.

Some more easy kids activity ideas: Playdough, tissue paper flowers, have a tea party with fresh spring herbs, and try cloud spotting.

Happy Spring!

 

*Please excuse funky formatting of older posts.  I recently changed the format of the blog to make it more mobile friendly.

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Children and Nature Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To Uncategorized

Start Gardening at Home

cilantro babies

Are you at home more and wanting to go to the grocery store less?  This might be a good year to grow some of your own food at home.

When I started this blog I was the School Gardens Coordinator in the most densely populated city in New England: Somerville, MA. I’m now living (and still happily gardening), in rural Vermont.  Over the years I’ve posted many articles about how to start your own garden, whether it’s in raised beds, pots on a porch, or a large plot tilled in a field.  I’ve gathered the posts below in the hopes that they might help you get started or answer some of your questions.

*Please excuse funky formatting of older posts.  I recently changed the format of the blog to make it more mobile friendly.

making-quick-work-of-a-weeding-chore

Gardening with kids: If you have kids at home, this article has a lot of really helpful tips.  When I wrote it I was coordinating the weekly programming and maintaining the vegetable gardens at 8 Somerville public schools.  Gardening is an incredibly rich sensory activity that allows for movement and engaged outdoor time.  Watching seeds grow into plants and produce food is magical.  I strongly encourage you to try it with your family!

Pic 1006

Making a Raised Bed Back-Yard Garden: I wrote this series of posts when Evan and I built raised beds in the backyard in Brookline.  Raised beds can be a good idea if you want clear boundaries between play/yard space and garden space.  This can help family members understand where they can walk and where they can’t, can help lawn mowers avoid veggie plants, and can keep lawn grass from creeping back into your garden.  The “Planning” post has the most information on how to get started in your backyard space.
Bakyard Gardening: The Idea
Backyard Gardening: Planning
Backyard Gardening: The Shopping List
Backyard Gardening: Construction Day
Backyard Gardening: First Harvest
Backyard Gardening: Putting The Garden To Bed

7d

Seeds vs. Seedlings: Sometimes it’s best to buy vegetable seedlings from a nursery.  Sometimes it’s better to buy a packet of seeds to start yourself.  Check out this post  to decide whether to buy seeds or seedlings.

IMG_4437

Consider planning a Container Garden: If you live in an urban setting with questionable soil, rent or are planning to move, or have a nice sunny porch, you may want to consider a container garden!  Containers are a great way to try out vegetable growing on a small scale, and can help you determine if you’d like to do more the next season.  If you start gathering materials now, it can also be a very affordable option!  This post lists all the things you should consider to grow a successful container garden.

Seasonality Tips: In April it’s still quite cold and only certain seeds should be planted.  Check out this post to know what to plant when.

Let me know if you have any vegetable gardening questions!  Questions from friends, family, and neighbors inspired every one of these posts.  Happy Gardening!

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Home Gardens Recipes Uncategorized

A Perfected Pickle

It was feeling ironic that dill pickles were my least successful naturally fermented vegetable.  Whenever I tried pickling cucumbers, their taste and texture seemed less than ideal.  So I dove into an information rabbit hole.

My technique was perfected thanks to the facebook group called “Wild Fermentation Uncensored.”  It is a information treasure trove and open forum for everything fermentation-related (if you join, be sure to check out the files, specifically the document “fermentation basics”).

naturally fermented dill pickles2

Here’s how I perfected my pickles:

-I aimed for a pickle between a half and full-sour.  To do this, I mixed 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon of sea salt (Real Salt brand) into one quart of water (weigh out 38g of salt if you’re using a different coarseness).

-I cut off the blossom ends of each cucumber (they apparently have softening enzymes in them) and soaked the cucumbers in ice water for about an hour (this is supposed to prevent mold from forming in the fermentation process).

-As I had done in the padt, I put some wild grape leaves in the bottom of my jar (they provide tannins to the ferment which helps keep pickles crispy).

-I used less garlic.  I find that fermented garlic is one of the main sources of “funkiness” in natural ferments.  If trying to appeal to a general audience (and my husband), I’ve found that most of my pickles are received more enthusiastically if I cut back on garlic.

-Our house was below 75 degrees, which is ideal to create good pickles…. above that and things can get quickly out of control.  Below 68 or so and things start to slow down and take a lot longer.

Cucumbers in ice bath

dil pickle jar prep

The process:

Starting with a half gallon mason jar, I packed the bottom with a bunch of dill, one sliced up garlic clove, and several grape leaves.  I then packed in my cucumbers, fresh out of their ice water bath.  I then poured my brine over the top so everything was completely submerged.  I used a half cup mason jar as my weight – it fits perfectly into the wide mouth of the half gallon jar and keeps all the cucumbers below the brine.  I then loosely covered the jar with a cap and placed it in a bowl on my counter in case the brine overflowed.

Every day, I screwed the cap on tight and tipped the jar back and forth so bubbles hiding under pickles and leaves could come to the top.  I then re-loosened the cap.  After about a week, I put the whole jar into the fridge and let it sit there for another week before tasting (in the fridge fermentation is slowed dramatically, any fizziness can work its way out of the pickles, and the flavors can continue to meld together).

The results: 

Yum!  The flavor was mildly garlicky and dilly, sour and salty.  Most importantly, the pickles were crisp and crunchy!  I quickly set off to the garden to pick more cucumbers for a second batch.

naturally fermented dill pickles

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Home Gardens Musings Recipes Uncategorized

Summer Garden Bounty

The end of July and beginning of August are an exciting time for Vermont gardeners.  Finally we enjoy a huge diversity of sun-ripened fruits, berries, and vegetables from our gardens and farms.  We’ve been savoring first raspberries, blueberries, cucumbers, fennel, tomatoes, peppers, green beans, broccoli, onions, garlic, and beets.  Waiting all these months, of course, makes it all much more exciting and delicious.

garden goodies

After several long rainy weeks, we’ve been enjoying a stretch of sunny low-humidity days and cool nights.  Though it’s meant fewer lake swims, it has been perfect weather for daily weeding sessions, keeping up with the ever-growing lush green lawn, and kitchen cooking projects.

End of July Garden

In the kitchen, I excitedly pickled a batch of kohlrabi, fennel, and beets.  They flavors and colors are blending wonderfully, turning bright pink (click here to learn more about natural fermentation).

July Pickles

buckwheat pancakes

I’ve also been LOVING a newly discovered recipe for Sourdough Buckwheat Pancakes.  Buckwheat is a really interesting “grain” and  offers a unique alternative to wheat.  This recipe sprouts and sours the buckwheat, making it even more nutritious and digestible.  The pancakes were nutty and tender with crisp edges (be sure to use plenty of grass-fed butter in your pan), and a perfect vehicle for the delicious fruits and berries that are now in season. 

Happy harvesting, happy feasting!

lake sunset

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Home Gardens Musings Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes Uncategorized

July in the Garden and Kitchen

Vermonters are basking in a string of sunny summery days after many many (many) days of rain.  The change in weather means I can finally deal with the grass and weeds that have been happily growing in our lawn and garden.  I’ve also been able to enjoy the best part of summer in VT: after-work swims in Lake Champlain.

Lake in July

Over the past several weeks I realized I’d posted blogs in previous years about many of the seasonal tasks I was busy with in the kitchen and garden.  I’ve included a recap and links below, in addition to a delicious nourishing shortcake recipe we’ve been enjoying with our freshly picked strawberries and whipped cream.  Enjoy!

Nourishing Strawberry Shortcake: This recipe involves soaking the flour in yogurt 24 hours before baking.  To learn more about how this makes flour products more nourishing and digestible, check out this article and video.  (recipe adapted from Nourishing Traditions)

Ingredients: 2 cups white flour, 1.5 cups whole wheat flour, 1 cup yogurt/buttermilk/kefir, 4 tablespoons melted butter, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 3 tablespoons maple syrup.

  1. Mix yogurt and flour.  It will be a very stiff dough, don’t worry.  Cover and leave at room temperature for 12-24 hours.
  2. Melt butter.  Mix butter and maple syrup into dough.  In a small dish, mix baking soda and salt, breaking up any little balls of baking soda.  Sprinkle dry mixture onto dough and mix, just until ingredients are barely combined.
  3. Divide dough into apx. 12 balls and place on baking sheet.  They will spread a bit while baking.
  4. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes, or until bottoms are golden brown.
  5. Enjoy with fresh strawberries and whipped cream!

biscuits

strawberriesStrawberry Season in VT: This year’s strawberry season was admittedly rain-drenched.  Luckily I was able to sneak in a few mornings of before-work picking.  We’ve been enjoying plenty of fresh berries in all our meals, and froze several gallons for the winter.  Check out this blog post to learn how to quickly freeze berries so that they stay delicious and easy to use in the future.

Other Firsts from the Garden: The last several weeks have brought the first crunchy harvests.  We’ve been enjoying kohlrabi and sugar snap peas in addition to plentiful lettuce, spinach, chard, and herbs.  And just a few days ago we picked the first handful of raspberries from our bushes.  It’s really starting to feel like July!

Crunchy first harvest

And Speaking of HerbsI’ve been enjoying going out to the field and garden each morning to gather leaves for my pregnancy tea blend (also gentle and delicious for other people): nettles, raspberry leaf, and mint.  ‘Tis the season to harvest herbs you’d like to freeze or dry.  Harvest most herbs now – they’re best when young and tender.  Check out this blog post to learn about harvesting and preserving herbs.

Tea Leaves

Garden Pests: Many flying garden pests are busy laying eggs at this time of year.  If you monitor your plants closely, squishing mating pairs of insects and any eggs they’ve laid (often on the undersides of leaves), you can prevent their population from booming in your garden.  This post has more information about pest control in the garden.

squash bugs

Granola: In the summer I find myself wanting something cool and fruity for breakfast – a big swing from my savory broth, soaked oats, and egg-based breakfasts of winter.  Unfortunately store-bought cold cereals and pasteurized milk are a pretty tough way to start the day for my digestive system.  Plus, they are often loaded with crazy ingredients and sugar and leave me craving more.  Thank goodness for my favorite nourishing homemade granola, homemade kefir or yogurt, freshly picked berries, and local raw milk!  Note to self – next year make a lot of granola early in the spring when the oven heat is appreciated in the kitchen.

Homemade Granola

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Home Gardens Musings Personal Sustainability: How-To School Gardens Uncategorized

Trellising and Suckers (aka Keeping Tomato Plants Under Control)

Caged Tomato

By the end of June, most gardens are fully planted and have had several weeks to settle in and start to grow.  If your rows were fully weeded when you planted, you’ve probably had a few weeks of vacation from this ongoing garden chore.  Pests can start to be a nuisance, praying on small vulnerable leaves and stems (read more about pest control here).

Right about now is a great time to get ahead of the game and create a plan to sucker, trellis, or stake any plant that will likely grow tall and may become top-heavy with fruit.  In our garden, I tie pepper plants to stakes; make sure beans, peas, and cucumbers have a trellis to climb on; and sucker and cage my tomato plants.  Most of this makes sense to the average person, except: what the heck is suckering?!

tomato sucker

Plants that are naturally bushy and sprawling, like tomatoes and tomatillos, grow new “heads” (or “suckers”) at every point where a leaf grows from the main stem.  When I worked in school gardens, I would tell the kids that suckers grow out of the armpits of the plants.  If you want a huge sprawling bush, that’s great!  BUT, if you want to be able to find all your mature fruits, keep the plant from sprawling all over the row and plant neighbors, and want to keep it off the ground to avoid disease, you’ll need to take action.

caged tomatoes

There are many trellising techniques for tomatoes.  What you choose should be based on the amount of space you have, the number of plants you want to grow, and how many extra supplies you’ll need to invest in.  Feel free to let me know if you want my thoughts on your specific circumstance!  In general, I recommend starting with a large tomato cage, and suckering your plant to keep it airy, growing up, and focused on producing fruit off its main stem.

Now that my tomato plants are over a foot high, they’ve started to grow suckers.  At this age, I can simply pinch them off with my fingers.  If suckers get very large, you’ll want to use snippers or scissors so you don’t rip the main stalk of the plant.  By removing suckers when they are small, I encourage the plant to focus on growing up rather than out.  In August, this will result in a more orderly tomato row with plants that are (mostly) growing within their cages.  This makes for easy harvesting, less spread of disease (which usually happens when rain splashes dirt up onto your plant or when leaves are densely packed together), and less breakage if there are high winds.

Suckering tomato copy

Suckering is an ongoing chore throughout the season, but is quick and easy, and fits into walks through the garden when you can also keep an eye out for maturing fruit, find new pests before they cause much damage, and take a moment to pluck a few weeds.

IMG_6824Want to get creative?  Let a few suckers grow in a strategic way.  Tomato espalier anyone?  Last year in my garden I planted a single plant at the base of a trellis.  I let one sucker grow up each wire, and then removed the rest.  I used string to periodically tie each branch to it’s assigned wire – tomatoes don’t send out tendrils or curl around wires like peas, beans, and cucumbers. My yield per plant was very high because I was essentially growing multiple “trunks” from one plant.

Happy Gardening!

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Home Gardens Musings Uncategorized

Ahhhh, The Garden is Planted

Every spring as the ground thaws, my list of things to do in the garden grows longer and faster than my weeds.  I can generally be found wondering: why does it keep on raining, making garden tasks impossible?  How are those weeds growing SO fast?!  And don’t even get me started about how much grass grows when it’s drizzly and un-mowable.

Luckily I’ve gotten some amazing help weeding (thanks Mom and Dad!) and a Memorial Day Weekend of amazing warm dry weather.  Because I’m spending most free moments outside, I’ll fill you in on the garden progress with a few photos.  Happy Gardening!

Weeded Garden

This was the moment when the last wheelbarrow load of weeds was rolled down to the the compost.  Finally I felt victorious (surely temporarily) in our battle with the horsetail forest that grows vigorously in our garden plot.  I clearly didn’t want to remember my weed forest because I didn’t take any photos.  The good news was that the grass, parsnip, and dandelions we battled last year didn’t come back nearly as much.  Slowly we will succeed in turning a fertile field into a bountiful garden!

Planted Garde

Planted Garden2

And then, we got to work planting.  It’s now warm enough to plant nearly everything, especially if you keep your eye on the forecast.  What a relief to see those seedlings happily settling into their homes!

asperagus grilled

Since May is coming to a close, I shouldn’t forget to mention that we’ve been enjoying our first harvests of the year: young greens, tender asparagus shoots, and a variety of rhubarb desserts.  Evan’s determined to have as many grill days as possible this summer, and I’m certainly not going to get in his way!

sunset

Of course, good things do come from all those spring showers.  We’ve been blessed by many rainbows this spring, including this one: the most vibrant double rainbow I’ve ever seen.  We live in a truly beautiful bountiful place!

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Home Gardens Musings Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes Uncategorized

Let the Foraging & Gardening Begin!

April from Philo

Our landscape is greening more and more every day.  Buds swell and flower, new birds arrive daily, and early greens are emerging.

Pussy Willows

The first cold hardy seeds and seedlings are planted in our garden.  Whenever it is dry enough, I try to get into the garden to stay ahead of weeding and garden bed preparation.  It’s best to work the soil when it’s not too wet, which can be tricky at this time of year!  By having several garden beds ready to go, there’s always space when I’m ready to plant the next thing.  Seeds and seedlings I plant in April include: peas, spinach, arugula, lettuce, kale, chard, cilantro, beets, radishes, and onions.  I’ve started most of our brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts) inside – they will be the next to go out.  Carrots and parsnips are also on my list to plant in the next few weeks.

nettles-growing

Stinging nettles and dandelion greens have emerged and are young, tender, and delicious at this time of year.  They also happen to be loaded with nutrients and are exactly what our bodies need as they awake for spring.  I love this post by Urban Moonshine about harvesting dandelions in early spring.   Dandelions’ bitter qualities are what make them health-giving but can also turn people off from foraging and eating wild plants.  Nettles, on the other hand, are quite mild and can be used instead of spinach when cooking.  Here is a post with harvesting instructions and numerous ideas for using nettles in your meals.  Check out this post if you’re interested in other yummy plants to forage in the early spring.

dandelion-familyHappy foraging, happy gardening, happy spring!

P.S. Our naturally dyed deviled eggs came out great!  This year’s notes: my green is in need of improvement, and I learned to be cautious when playing with salt, baking soda and vinegar for my blue dye…avoiding blue volcanos in the kitchen is generally a good idea 🙂

Natural Easter Eggs

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Home Gardens Musings Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes Uncategorized

Winter Weekends Around the House

This winter we’ve had the luxury of being able to enjoy calm weekends at home.  Our time is structured with projects and forays outside supplemented by plenty of relaxation and reading by the fire.  Having time and lacking garden surplus foods that must be used up has given me the space to experiment with some new recipes.  We also enjoyed the results from our first attempt to process garden-grown dent corn into authentic tortillas.  Yum!  Here are some (food-focused) glimpses from our winter weekends at home:

defrosting-elderberries
Elderberries defrosting in the sun (Elderberry Syrup recipe here)
sweet-potato-brownie
Sweet potato brownies: we’ll definitely be making this again! (recipe here)
brownie-plate
Oops: meant to take a picture of the beautiful brownie plated on strawberry sauce with a drizzle of maple syrup sour cream on top… 
saved-cilantro-seeds
Sorting seeds and making our order for the 2017 garden!
windowsill-herbs
And then planting a few for some early spring windowsill cilantro
bone-broth
Bones defrosting for crock pot broth (recipe here)
skiing
Two amazing things happened last week: it snowed AND it was sunny
sauerkraut-angel
Appreciating this beautiful cabbage angel while making sauerkraut (recipe here)
making-tortillas
Homemade garden-grown blue corn tortillas (recipe here)
homemade-tortillas
Success!
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Home Gardens Uncategorized

November in the Garden

*Note: In light of the election results, seasonal rhythms, gardening, and food might seem unimportant.  My thoughts: to most effectively champion the causes we believe in, it is crucial that we stay grounded, healthy, inspired, and strong.  When we take time to nourish ourselves, we will find greater success in our work to make the world a better place.*

November is the month to finish up any last “to-dos” in the garden.  Though many of the tasks could be done in the spring, checking them off the list in November is a great way to close the growing season and set yourself up for an easy start to the next one.  November is also a more relaxing time to preserve any last vegetables and fruits from the garden, enjoy stored harvest, relax by the cozy fireplace, and take a bath!

I’m feeling tired but pleased after our first year gardening at our new home.  Years spent as cow pasture, Southern facing slopes, loamy soil, and high ground water all contributed to a huge harvest yield.  Of course, hours and hours of spring time weeding and early summer pest control helped too.

before-garden-to-bed
The garden after our first hard frost

We put the garden to bed this past weekend.  This involved pulling dead material out of the garden and piling it into a compost heap, thoroughly weeding the beds that work best for early spring planting, and covering bare rows and paths with grass clippings and hay.  Our garden site is exposed, so covering the beds with mulch will help keep our topsoil in place and protect it from being washed or blown away by the winter elements.

fallen-and-standing
The fallen (unripe tomatoes and watermelon) and the standing (kale and Brussels sprouts)
compost-heap
Dead plant material to be composted
after-garden-to-bed
Cleaned up and mulched garden rows, garnished with flourishing kale and hanging-on calendula and fennel.

In order to completely clean out their row, I harvested the last few cabbage to make kimchi.  The next day I chopped and pounded the cabbages along with ginger, garlic, turmeric, hot pepper, black pepper, and salt.  img_6813

After all that pounding, I decided to rest.  Out of curiosity, I started scanning back through this blog, reminiscing about the growing season and remembering the projects, harvests, and beautiful scenes from the past year.  What a surprise to discover last November tenth’s post: November in the Garden and Kitchen.  The subject?: Putting the garden to bed and making kimchi!  For me, this serves as a happy reminder of how settled into our new home and environment we are.  Today I am grateful to feel in synch with the natural rhythms of the home, yard, garden, field and forest I call home.