An Organized Life is a Happy Life

January is most famous for making New Year’s’ resolutions. You know promises to lose weight, exercise 5 days a week, be more financially responsible, quit smoking, spend more time with family. Usually by Valentine’s day you have gained 3 pounds, are going to the gym maybe 2 days a week, or splurged on a new handbag. I know because I’ve done it. Made resolutions and failed to keep them.

This year I’m not making a single resolution. Instead I’m making my January all about organization. That’s right, organization. Instead of promising to do, I’m just going to start doing.

Some of you are thinking, aren’t we supposed to do that in the spring? Isn’t that the time of year to clean out the basement and garage and have a yard sale? You can do that too, but what I’m talking about is organizing so much more. I’m talking about organizing my life and environment.

I started off the year with a bang by organizing my pantry on New Year’s Eve. The previous weekend we had celebrated the Christmas holiday with my husband’s extended family. With siblings, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and the announcement of a new grand-nephew (so excited) there were 23 for dinner. Not only was the house overflowing with food, but my butler’s pantry was so overflowing I couldn’t shut the door! What a mess. I was so embarrassed.

Monday morning I got busy decluttering and organizing the shelves. I took the opportunity to make a useable space instead of a room where I threw stuff just to get it out of the way. The result is something I still smile about every time I open the door.

Email is another huge area that many people need an organizational overhaul. I’m receiving over 100 emails a day and I don’t read any of them. Everyone wants your email address so they can send notices, offers, etc. It’s gotten even worse because I have taken over all my Dad’s affairs. Since he doesn’t have email, it all comes to my inbox!

I went through and unsubscribed to any email that was just a promotional opportunity like a sale or coupon. I also changed the settings on my social media so I wouldn’t get an email for everything. I get the same notifications in the app, why get it in my email as well? I was also on lists for newsletters and blogs that I just don’t have an interest in anymore. I unsubscribed to those as well.

The final thing I have done is to organize my garden. At least my seed collection. Every gardener knows the seed catalogs start arriving in January. I got my Baker Creek Seed Catalog just the other day. In order to plan my 2019 order I need to know what I have left over from 2018.  I dug out all the leftover seed, made a list or what I had and arranged them in a logical order.

I have a lot more stuff that needs to be organized. Much of it is in the form of projects that need completion. Maybe that should be my real New Year’s resolution, finishing all the projects that I have started or planned. For that I need to be successful at the mother of all organizational chores, organizing my time.

Spring Inspiration February 2018

I intended this blog to be a dialogue about my life, at least the creative side, and for anyone interested in the same things as myself. I think there are quite a few of us that have a passion for beautiful things, gardening, good food and sustainable living. This post will be the first in that spirit.

I’m working on several posts that of “cornerstone” content. Some of that content will include a shelf painted with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint and swag lamps for the bedroom. The shelf is especially exciting. It is going to be gorgeous and I can’t wait to share it with you. In the mean time I have other ongoing activities.

Last week I posted about starting my garden seedlings. This week gardening inspiration struck me in the head. This time to plant herb seedlings. Ann at onsuttonplace.com had a great post about starting an indoor herb garden. Watch out inspiration incoming!

She used live plants to start her herb garden in mason jars, but I started mine from seed. Mainly because, I will need more than just a few plants for cooking. I want to sprinkle them throughout the garden and our landscaping. The essential oils in herbs gives them great flavor and also a great aroma. The aroma is good for cooking and for driving off some garden pests. I want to take full advantage of that feature. Plus, in addition to being tasty, herbs are really beautiful plants.

As long as I was busy filling plastic cups with dirt, I also planted some of the cold weather tolerant vegetables. I started my broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage. I’m a little late at getting them started, but I have a feeling it will be a late start to the garden this year. This rain is just wreaking havoc with any chance to get out and start getting the garden ready.

Now, time to start working on some projects. If anyone is interested, here is a link to the onsuttonplace.com article with instructions for the indoor herb garden.

Indoor Mason Jar Herb Garden

Starting the 2018 Garden

The snow may still be flying, but it is time to start thinking, planning and planting the vegetable garden. If you don’t plan on growing your own seedling starts, you won’t have to worry about planting just yet. If you are planning on growing your own seedlings, now is the time to begin planting some of them. This is especially true for the cold tolerant vegetables. In fact many seed packets recommend starting your seeds 6-8 weeks before the last frost. Here in Zone 6 the average last frost date is usually around April 15th. The 8 week mark for me is next week.

To find out what the average last frost date for your area will be head on over to the Farmer’s Almanac Average Frost Dates page.

My planning process

A crucial step in a successful garden is taking the time to plan. What are you going to plant? Where are you going to plant it? How much room will you need? This is just some of the questions I ask myself when planning my garden.

I usually start my planning process by taking inventory of my freezer and canned goods. If I have 20 quarts of pickled red beets sitting on the shelves I probably won’t be planting a large amount of beets.

I also need to think about what does well in my garden and where in the garden it grows well. For example, I have a horrible problem with cucumber beetles. I’m still working strategies for defeating them. But until I do, I don’t plant a whole bunch. Instead I rely on other sources for my preservation needs. I also have a corner that gets some afternoon shade. I don’t want to put heat loving plants like tomatoes in that area.

Starting my seedlings

I have already started my pepper seedlings. For some reason I have found that peppers take forever! Especially some of the hotter varieties. I made sure I started them nice and early.

My next priority will be to start the cold tolerant vegetables I have planned for the garden this year. I’m completely out of sauerkraut so I will be planting a large cabbage patch. I’m also going try growing some Brussels sprouts and broccoli. Both are tolerant to the cold and can be set out fairly early.

In the past I have planted the cold tolerant vegetables as early as mid-March. This has been in my raised beds. I have frames that I use to put plastic over them for the colder days. Unfortunately I won’t be able to do that this year.

My garden will be getting a big revamp this year. I’m very excited to get started. I’ll be posting more updates soon!!

 

Cooking for the Freezer November 2017

food-pot-kitchen-cooking

It is a seriously dreary day out there, but I’m in the kitchen cooking for the freezer. Unfortunately this blogging gig and vintage collectibles business is just part time. So far a hobby that nets a little profit. For my full time gig I work as a registered nurse. For a variety of reasons I spend 3 days a week away from home. However, the Handy Hubby still needs to be fed. I accomplish this by being seriously organized with meal planning and keeping a well stocked freezer (I actually have 3).

I thought I would write a quick post to give you a little insight into my process. Maybe you can use some of my techniques.

Why cook for 2 when 10 will do?

Today I am taking advantage of one of my favorite techniques for stocking my freezer. I always cook extra of freezable meals. Earlier in the week I made cabbage rolls. I used 3 pounds of ground meat for making the filling. Plus I had a huge cabbage with huge leaves. It made a pretty large batch. Naturally Handy Hubby and I didn’t come close to eating all of them. So this morning I got out the handy vacuum sealer and divided the portions into 2 different meals and voila! Now I have 2 ready made meals in my freezer.

I do the same thing when it comes to soups. I love making soups and it is definetly the best time of year to make soup. Sometimes I will make REALLY large amounts and can them using my pressure canner. However, even when I make a regular size batch it is often more than we can eat before it spoils. If I just have a quart or 2 I will ladle it into freezer bags and pop it into the freezer.

Holiday Stuffing

There is one more thing I am working on this morning. Let’s talk about the holidays. Yes they are upon us. It was signaled by my purchase of 10 pounds of butter when it was on special this week. The Handy Hubby thought I was a little nuts. But I am starting to think ahead to the family celebrations headed our way. With my work schedule I cook as much in advance as I possibly can. One holiday staple you can make in advance and freeze is the stuffing.

With that in mind, when I purchased my butter I also purchased 4 large loaves of bread to make my stuffing. My mother, who often hosted both sides of the family for the holidays, would have to make 3 different types of stuffing for the holiday table.

The first was what I called the hillbilly dressing. It was a sage dressing like my father’s mother made. My father’s family came from deep in the West Virginia coal fields, hence the name hillbilly dressing. It was my favorite. The second was the Amish dressing. It was very similar to the hillbilly dressing, but it did not contain any sage. Much like the Amish it was very plain in dress. It was her favorite dressing.

Finally she would have to make oyster dressing. This was basically the hillbilly dressing, but you mixed raw oysters into the mix and baked it. This was my father’s favorite and if it wasn’t on the menu he’d say, “You’re not going to make oyster dressing?” in a sort of childlike voice. It was not my favorite and my childhood palette refused to eat it.

My mother never used pre-made stuffing mix. She always prepared her own bread and added her own spices. It was one of the reasons her dressing was so good. She did this by first frying the bread. She would butter both sides and put it in a skillet and brown it on both sides. When you are making that much stuffing it is a long and tedious process. She would spend the entire night before the meal frying bread for the dressing. But it was this fundamental step that made it so delicious. But who wants to stand in front of a stove frying bread for hours on end?

Less work, same great taste

However, I have discovered a short-cut. It wasn’t the actual frying that made everything so yummy, it was the 1/2 tub of butter that she used to butter the bread. I discovered that I could get the same great taste if I toasted the bread in the oven, cut it into cubes, and then poured melted butter into the mix with all the rest of the ingredients. Absolute genius!

As part of my holiday preparation, today I am toasting all of my bread. I will cut it into cubes and then I will vacuum seal it to freeze. When I’m ready, I just need to thaw out the bread, mix up the ingredients and then bake. I pack it into amounts needed for a small 8×8 casserole dish. This is the perfect size for Handy Hubby and me. If making a larger amount I just use more than 1 bag.

How-To Guide to Growing Garlic


Pinterest Pin Growing Garlic

Garlic is one of the easiest things to grow in your garden. It really is hard to have a black thumb when it comes to planting this culinary delight. The best part of growing your own garlic is the wide variety available for growth. Different varieties of garlic have their own unique taste profiles and characteristics. Garlic grown commercially mainly come from artichoke garlic. Artichoke type garlic is a softneck variety known for its large size and long storage life. Two traits that are commercially desirable. However, commercial desirability rules out a whole spectrum of flavor dense garlic available to home gardeners.

Garlic has literally been cultivated for thousands of years. It is mentioned in the writings of the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. The Chinese have used it as a medicinal herb for centuries. It grows wild in many regions (including my backyard). My point is with this long, rich tradition there are many subtleties of flavor in each variety of garlic. Why limit yourself to what is commercially available?

 

From Medical Botany published in 1793 by William Woodville courtesy of Wikipedia.org

 

 

Garlic Classification

Garlic is a member of the genus Allium which also includes familiar favorites like onions, shallots, leeks and chives. The full botanical name is Allium sativum. This species is further divided into 2 subspecies: ophioscorodon and sativum. Why is this important? Other than being important information for a 10th grade biology class, the 2 subspecies of garlic have characteristics important when choosing which variety to cultivate. The more common names for the 2 subspecies are hardneck and softneck varieties.

Hardneck Garlic

Hardneck varieties got their name because of the hard stem or neck that grows out of the center of the bulb. When you see those big bunches of braided garlic in charming European kitchens you can be sure that is not hardneck garlic. Because of the hard stem it is not suitable for braiding. Hardneck garlic also is considered to have a “hotter” flavor than the softneck kind. Another unique characteristic is the production of garlic scapes.

Garlic scapes are the curly-cue shoots that are essentially the flowering bud of the garlic. Growers cut off the scape so that all the plant productive efforts go towards bigger bulb production. But don’t throw them away! They have a delicious mild garlic flavor and can be prepared in a dish all to themselves.

Another important fact about hardneck garlic it its hardiness to colder winters. If you live in a northern latitude you probably will want to choose a hardneck variety. Especially if you are planting in the fall.

Softneck Garlic

Softneck garlic is the milder flavor cousin to the hardneck variety. This is the type that you will see braided in the charming European kitchens. Softneck garlic has a soft flexible stem growing from the center that makes this possible. Another key difference is softnecks do not produce garlic scapes. You don’t have to worry about removing them, but you also miss out on the yummy goodness.

Softneck garlic is suitable to more milder climates. It is not as tolerant to harsh winters as the hardneck varieties. It doesn’t mean you can grow it in more northern latitudes, but you will have to take care to protect it from harsh winter elements.

Planting Garlic

Garlic is usually planted in the fall. Think tulips and daffodils. The hardneck varieties especially need the long period of cooler temperatures in order to grow. If you live in a northern latitude and want to grow a softneck variety, you may want to wait and plant them in early spring, much like you do onions. If planting in the fall use a thick layer of mulch to help protect the cloves during the winter.

To plant, separate the bulb into cloves. Plant each clove 1-2″ deep about 4-6″ apart. Leave about 1 foot between rows. Plant the pointy end up and the blunt end down. Water if the soil is dry. You want to give your cloves a nice environment for the roots to grow a little bit and settle in for the winter.

Your garlic should be ready to dig in July or early August.  When the leaves start dying back it will be ready for harvest. If planting hardneck garlic, the scapes should start to appear in late May into June.

Garlic has very little to worry about in terms of pest and disease. In fact garlic is a key ingredient in many organic pest repellent recipes. One thing you do have to watch out for is fungus and nematodes. Plant in well-drained soil to minimize the risk. Also mulching appropriately in the fall will help to protect the cloves. As with most fungal infections there is not much to do but remove the infected plants. Do not put them on your compost pile! Nematodes and fungus can remain in the soil after the plants have been removed.

I have had a lot of success growing garlic in my raised beds. I mulch in the fall and then in the spring when the days start to get longer I use a hoop house to really give them a jump start on growth.

 

Fall Garden Clean-Up and Bonus Garlic Bed

Fall Garden Clean-Up and Bonus Garlic Bed

Yesterday was an absolutely gorgeous day in my area. Lots of sunshine, mild temperatures and a day full of fall garden chores. On my to-do list was to get the garden ready for the Handy Hubby to mow everything flat with the tractor and mowing machine. It was a great day to be outside and get some of my planned tasks done for the season.

This past summer has been kind of an off year for our garden. Because we were building the new house, I made a conscious decision in January not to plant a large garden. My homemade canned goods were in good supply and I thought I could make it through another year without needing too much. What I did need I could purchase locally from either the produce auction or local Amish farmers. I did plant my 3 raised beds, green beans, potatoes, tomatoes and some peppers.

Benefits of Fall Garden Clean-up

You may be asking, “Why do I want to clean up my garden in the fall?” Come spring you’ll just plow it or till it under anyway (if you aren’t using a no-till method, but that is an entirely different subject). There are a couple of different reasons for tidying up this time of year.

Leaving all that dead vegetation provided nice winter time beds for insects, bacteria and fungus. Taking away those nice winter hiding spots and throwing them out on the street can help reduce their population and save you headache next year.

Removing items like trellises and stakes to store under cover helps to extend the life of the item. Winter conditions can be harsh. Freezing and thawing, exposure to wind and rain all takes it toll on equipment. Let’s face it this stuff ain’t cheap! Who doesn’t want to extend the life of their investment? Plus, you’ll have to do it in the spring if you don’t do it now. If you get it out of the way now you’ll have more time for the fun stuff in the spring.

Finally, I think it is just good for the soul to have a nice tidy space. I didn’t want to look at all that dead vegetation all winter. How depressing.

Green Bean Trellis and Tomato Stakes

The first task I checked off my list was pulling up my bean trellis. I always plant green beans because I can never find the particular variety I like unless I plant them. We eat an heirloom variety called Half-Runners. I have eaten them all my life. Any other bean just tastes, well, anemic to me. Half-Runners have an actual bean inside. You can let them on the vine and let the pod ripen fully and just harvest the white bean or you can pick it earlier when the pod is still tender and eat the whole thing. This is what we do and the results are delicious.

Half-Runners are kind of in between a bush bean (meaning it grows low like a bush) and a pole bean (meaning it sends out runners and climbs anything it can). Beans that grow low to the ground have a tendency to get dark spots on them from the moisture in the ground. I have found that by putting up a fence for them to climb and actively training them to grow on it I have very little “fouling” or dark marks. It also makes them easier to pick.

My trellis is made of some inexpensive livestock fencing. I just zip tie it to sturdy stakes and stretch it out in a long row. I then plant beans on both sides. The fencing is flexible and every fall I pick the old dead vine off of it, cut the zip ties and roll the fencing up into bundles. Once that is done I tie it with some old hay twine and store it with the other garden supplies.

I also gathered all the tomato stakes. I stored the ones that were decent enough to use next year and sent any of the broken ones to the burn pile at the farm. Luckily there weren’t too many that needed thrown out. I inherited some metal ones that will last long past my lifetime, but in recent years I have started purchasing bamboo ones and a few of them were damaged during the season. Luckily I should have plenty for next year. I like bamboo because it is a renewable resource and I got the stakes for a reasonable price. Tomato cages are not something I recommend. I just don’t understand the concept of reaching into the small holes of the cage to harvest what I hope are really bid tomatoes. (Obviously I understand how to do it, but why?)

Finally the last thing I did was to pull all the old dead vegetation from my raised beds and transport it to the compost pile.

Bonus Garlic Bed

The bonus of the day was the installation of a garlic bed and a new onion bed for next year. The garlic bed has been brewing in my mind for some time now. As I get farther along in my adventure with raised bed gardening, I have discovered it suits my gardening needs more to plant beds dedicated to one vegetable. One of those “vegetables” was garlic and I have been wanting to establish a dedicated garlic bed. While working up in the garden I discovered an old weathered frame that came off another project. It had everything I needed, four sides and about 4-6 inches in height. This is all you really need to start a garden bed. Oh yeah, you also need soil, but I covered that in the next step.

Excavation for house construction required we relocate our existing raised beds. We moved them to a spot that is less than ideal. Because of where we located them and the torrential rain we received in the month of July, everything I planted in them turned black and died. They were sitting in a bit of a low spot and with all the rain they had too much water. When we moved them I had suggested just spreading out the dirt and starting new with fresh compost. The Handy Hubby replied “that’s good dirt”. Being a farmer all his life he would know. For this reason and the fact we have a tractor with a loader bucket we moved soil and all when relocating them.

Knowing that we were going to relocate (again) the raised beds, I shoveled some of the dirt from one of them to use in the new garlic bed. Now I just need to order some garlic and plant it.

Tractor Tire Onion Bed

The other bed happened at the spur of the moment. Our contractor completed the chimney on our new house about two weeks ago. Left over from the chimney construction was a large pile of sand. The sand pile was preventing the Handy Hubby from doing some grading to stop water getting into our barn. He asked what should we do with it? I said, “if you got an old tractor tire we could make an onion bed out of it”. He thought that sounded like a pretty good idea. Off he went and returned with an old tractor tire from the farm. He used the loader bucket to dump a bunch of sand into it. Voila! I’ll mix some compost in with and it will be ready to plant next spring.

Cleaning up the garden for the year is just one of the chores that gardeners find themselves doing this time of year.The type of gardening and location will determine what is on your list. For example, if you live in Florida you certainly wouldn’t want to plant bulbs this early, but here in Ohio it is the perfect time.

Some of the many things I didn’t mention was cleaning and winterizing tools and lawn equipment, pruning fruit trees, cleaning out flower beds, gathering herbs and nuts. Fall is a busy time for gardeners and homesteading types like me. If you’d like to explore the topic further here are a couple of great resources:

https://www.motherearthnews.com/

https://www.farmersalmanac.com/

Search “fall garden chores” on both sites for some good articles. Mother Earth News also has some articles on what to plant for a fall and winter garden.

Let me know what your thoughts and comments are below. I’d love to know what you are working on this time of year and I’m always looking for new resources.