Garden Status Report 2012

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

After an almost non-existent winter and a March that felt more like June, the garden is already taking off on its own. Many plants that would normally not last our traditional Canadian winter made it through without issue. Kale, Swiss Chard and Sorrel are greening up. Parsley, fennel and thyme made it through without any problem. And we already have dozens of foot-tall asparagus shoots dotting our young asparagus patch.

The garlic, which we nervously watched for its appearance last year, is a bright patch of green and a few inches tall. Cloves we forgot in the ground last year now have a half dozen sprouts coming up out of them. We're not sure what to do with them. I guess we'll transplant them somewhere else.

The garden beat us to spring. We haven't even started any seeds yet this year, but we're in no hurry. Tomatoes are easy to start too early, so we have lots of time. Peppers are slowpokes, so they'll be started in the next few days along with our onions. After all, it's still March.

This year we're going to try things a bit different. We're going to focus on tomato quality and stake them well, while growing fewer plants. We're going to try to trellis our cucumbers and melons, and we're going to grow a small amount of heritage wheat.

We're also excited about adding some fruit trees to the garden. We bought Jesse's dad two apple trees for his birthday. They're an old apple variety called Tolman Sweet, which are greenish yellow when ripe and have a wonderfully unique flavour. We also ordered another old eating variety as well as two different cider varieties which we'll press some fall in the future once the trees are producing. We're excited to pick them up in the next few weeks and they'll add another dimension to the garden.

This year is only the second year of serious gardening for us, but already, the perennials were so worth it. We're going to have lots of strawberries, and we're going to sneak a few tastes of asparagus from our still-young plants. We're truly blessed to be close to Jesse's parents' land and to be able to plant things that might not give us a return this year, but will more than make up for it in the years to come.

Homemade Ice-Cream

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Since the time we decided to do more at home and be more self sufficient, one of the things on my checklist was homemade ice-cream. Homesteading brings to mind home-grown meat and potatoes, but I'm sure homesteaders also enjoy the occasional treat. We're always going to eat some amount of junk food, so why not take control of that too? When you make ice cream at home you are in charge of the ingredients and whether or not you want to add propylene glycol monostearate. What, don't you have propylene glycol monostearate in your pantry at home? After looking it up, the internet assured me it was a food-safe additive commonly used to thicken ice cream, but why add these things if you don't have to?

When you look at the ingredient list of a homemade ice cream recipe and the ingredient list of a typical tub of the stuff from the supermarket, you'd swear they make completely different things. Actually, they kind of do make completely different things once you taste your own.

We always toyed with the idea of buying an ice cream maker, but there were always other things we needed more. Finally this year for Christmas my dream came true. My wonderful parents who gave us the pasta attachment for the KitchenAid very generously gave us the ice cream maker.

It's not fast, but it's simple. You start by making the "batter" which, in our case involved heating some half-and-half cream, whipping up eight egg yolks with some sugar, and then adding the heated cream to this mix.  We heated the mixture again and then stirred in some whipping cream, vanilla and a tiny bit of salt. This batter is chilled for at least 8 hours. In the meantime you need to freeze the freeze bowl. It's a double-walled bowl with a layer of some sort of liquid, that once frozen, goes on to the KitchenAid mixer and the batter is added and slowly churned. Right before your eyes, it starts to freeze, thicken, and turn into ice cream.

After about 20-30 minutes you essentially have "soft serve" and not the soft serve you get at a fast food joint. This is real soft ice cream. (Have you ever noticed that they never call soft serve "ice cream"?) To make the familiar hard ice cream, stick it in a sealed container in the freezer for a couple hours. We recommend pre-freezing the final container or the barely-frozen ice cream will start to melt the second it's transferred.

Our first batch was pretty big and surprisingly lasted quite a while in this household. We love ice cream, but a single scoop is more than enough for us. Even though on our first round the kids demanded vanilla, I am excited to branch out a little in terms of flavour for the next batch, and I'm especially looking forward to making blends with fruit straight from the garden this summer.

Getting Ready for Spring

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Well, it's not really spring yet, but with the weather we're having, it sure feels like it. Sunday was the first truly spring-like day of the year. There were robins flying every direction when we got to the farm, and the rest of the birds sounded like they were pretty excited about the weather.

You can already feel the strength of the sun any time it comes out from behind a cloud, so we cleaned out our homemade greenhouse and put it in place. If you haven't seen the post about building it, check it out here.

The garden still stands more or less as it was at the end of the year. It's strange to think that we were still picking brussels sprouts and digging potatoes in December. It doesn't feel that long ago.

I've been so busy working that I haven't had a chance to start planning this year's garden, but I don't want to stress about it. Once April comes, I'll start the peppers and maybe some herbs. After that, it's a pretty fun day to start the tomatoes and everything else. Once again we'll focus on heirloom vegetables and we're looking forward to trying new varieties and finding new tastes.

If you want to know more about heirloom seeds, read this and this. And if you need some help sourcing heirloom seeds, visit our seed and plant sources page here, or you can always find it at the top right of the blog.