Saturday, March 31, 2012

Morris Arboretum in March

The cherry blossoms have been in bloom for about a week in South Eastern Pennsylvania. We seem to be in a cycle of sunny weeks and rainy weekends, but I was determined to see the blossoms before they were gone.

The day was a little cold and dreary but it was really nice to take a quiet leisurely walk around the Morris Arboretum. 

Friday, March 30, 2012

Learning to Make Cheese: Feta

As part of this month's Urban Farm Handbook Challenge I set the goal for myself to learn how to make 3 types of cheese this month. Last week I posted about making homemade mozzarella and ricotta cheese.
This week I decided to make feta cheese.

Before making the cheese I needed to make the starter culture. This involved using a powder that I purchased from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. First you sterilize a quart canning jar and fill it with skim milk. The milk is then brought up to temperature and the culture is added. After shaking the jar for 1 minute, the jar is left on the counter wrapped in a towel for 11-15 hours. It can be used to make cheese right away or can be kept in the fridge for a couple of days. The culture can be frozen in ice cube trays for up to a month, it can also be used to make more culture.

I made the culture on Saturday and started making the feta on Sunday morning. I used local goat milk, which was pretty expensive. I need to search around for a better source for the future.
This cheese was much more time consuming than the mozzarella was to make. There's a lot of heating and then letting it sit for an hour and the heating again and letting it sit and then stirring for 20 minutes etc....
Definitely good for a rainy day when you are doing various other projects inside and can keep an eye on the stove.

After the cheese is strained you cut it into cubes, add salt and then it is put into the fridge to ripen for 4 days.
I tasted it tonight and it was really good! I love a good Greek salad and my romaine lettuce is almost ready to harvest.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Azeleas are Ready to Bloom

It seems like all of the plants have recovered from the frost that we had the other night!

When I walked around the garden this evening there were new signs of blooming and growth.
The azalea bushes are getting ready to bloom.

The second wave of daffodils are blooming in the shade garden.

In the veggie patch the peas are starting to fill out the bed. 

A peek under the row cover and the broccoli and cauliflower are getting big!

It was hard to get a good picture but the beet and carrots have sprouted as well!

It looks going to be another cold night tonight (35F) and a rainy weekend. Hopefully there will be a break in the weather on Sunday so I can work in the garden. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Pepper Seedlings Turning Yellow

Over a week ago I noticed that dark patches were forming on some of the pepper seedlings leaves. The dark marks were only on the Buran variety. This is my first year growing Buran so I figured that it must just be the way the leaves of that variety look.
This morning I went down into the basement to check on the seedlings and noticed the leaves were starting to look pale and were yellowing. There are no signs of bugs or disease.

This is the way the seedlings looked on March 9th:

This is what they look like today:

You can really see the color difference if you look at the green leaves of the tomatoes to the right.
They look healthy except for the color.

This has never happened to my pepper seedlings before. I quick internet search said that the yellowing may be caused by:
-Over watering; which leaches the nutrients out of the soil
-Chlorine in the water

I did just water these, but they seemed to need it when I did. This morning I gave them a small amount of very diluted liquid kelp. The weather was nice today so I set them out in the sun hoping that would help.
I am guilty about watering them with chlorinated water. From now on I'll let the water sit out for several hours to evaporate the chlorine (I promise!)

I'm not sure what to do except to let them dry out and see what happens. Maybe I should start some back up peppers just in case? It's a shame if these don't pull through because they were doing so well. 

click here to see the status of the peppers on April 15th.
click here to see how the peppers were doing on May 1st.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Frost Warning Tonight and Seedlings

Tonight the temperature is supposed to drop to 28 degrees F.
Even though I know most of the seedling in the garden should be able to survive a frost I'm a little worried because of the recent warm weather. I brought the hanging baskets, container plantings and the fig tree inside for the night. I also covered all but 1 of the raised beds with a row cover.

In the basement the tomato plants and tomatillos are taking off.

I think the tomatillos have grown an inch a day this week. 

I decided it was time to buy a 3rd light. Now that I'm also growing plants for the community garden I'm going to need the space.

The rest of the flower seeds will be started soon. The marigold seedlings are making nice progress.

I knew the warm weather was not likely to last. Hopefully the little seedlings outside are well protected and will make it through the night. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Walk Around The Garden

Tonight I took a walk around the garden to see what is growing and popping up.

I was so happy to see the Bleeding Heart plant. Somehow I managed to kill one at my old house and I'm looking forward to having one in the garden again. In all fairness to myself I think the one that didn't survive was in really damp clay soil and it just rotted.

Here's the one that we planted in the shade garden last year. You can see the little pink flower buds starting to take shape.

Another favorite of mine is this variegated Jacob's Ladder.

In the front yard the rose bushes already have leaves and perennials are popping up everywhere.

In the vegetable garden the peas are continuing to grow...

 ....and the radish seeds have sprouted.

We are expecting a rainy weekend so not much gardening will be happening. Tonight I'm starting some Kermit Eggplant seeds that I just got in the mail. These were a request from my mother for me to grow. She has a recipe in mind for them. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Learning to Make Cheese

Cheese making is an art form that until I started to shop more locally I never even thought about attempting to learn.  In recent years I've been thinking more about supporting local farmers and wanting to know more about where my food comes from.

I live in a suburb of Philadelphia but I work about an hour north of the city. This area is rural and it's easy to find fresh milk and vegetables, but finding a local source of cheese and yogurt has been more of a challenge.
I started thinking about trying to make my own cheese about a year ago, but it look the Urban Farm Handbook Challenge to motivate me to try it.

The monthly challenge for Februray was Soil Building. I spent some time learning more about how to prep the soil in my raised beds and built a temporary compost bin. It was an inexpensive, fast way to get my pile started (I had one of those black plastic towers at my old house.) Later this year I plan to construct a multi-bin system.

This month the challenge is Home Dairy. Besides the Urban farm Handbook I also purchased another book Home Dairy  by Ashley English from the Homemade Living Series. I have to say I love this book. The recipes are simple, straight forward and easy to understand.

Before making cheese I needed to buy a few cheese making supplies:

I decided to try to make mozzarella first. It was much easier than I thought it would be.

I used 1 gallon of fresh local milk and ended up with good sized piece of mozzarella. I also made some ricotta from the whey that was left over from the process. 

This is the harder type of mozzarella. Not the type that is softer and in a brine.

Perfect for making pizza!

I would call this adventure a success.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

First of day of Spring

Today Spring is officially here and thanks to the great weather I've been able to get a jump start on the list of projects that need to get done before the summer.

But before I get to all of that here are a couple pictures of flowers that opened up in the shade garden today:

I have a long to do list that I really would like to complete. This includes a variety of projects, some are garden related and others are not. I have so many interests it’s hard to keep track of projects. Last year I turned the garage into and Art studio and I need to finish the exterior trim and add an air conditioner before the weather gets too hot.

I’m including on the list some goals that I’ve already finished (crossed out if done.)

To be completed before the summer:

-Start and plant early spring crops 
-Find a community garden plot
-Purchase and transplant fig tree
-Build 6 raised beds on the side of the garage and driveway (4 completed)
-Learn to make 3 types of cheese (2 completed- posting about this tomorrow!)
-Construct fence extension next to driveway
-Reshape the flower bed in the front yard, add stone border
-Plant hanging baskets with pansies
-Mulch the garden walkways
-Clear community garden plot and mark out placement of beds
-Fence off community garden plot
-Plant Blueberries
-Plant Blackberries
-Paint Garage/Studio exterior
-Install Studio AC Unit
-Touch up porch paint
-Take inventory of the canned goods in the basement and decide what to preserve for the winter.

Here's to a productive growing season! Happy Spring.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Potting Up the Tomatoes

Today the temperature reached 75F. Tonight we have the windows open in the house and I can hear the birds chirping happily outside.

The first batch of tomato seedlings have been growing like crazy this week. I was going to wait another week to pot them up but then I tried to lift one up out of the tray and found that the roots of all of the plants were starting to intermingle and grow together.

I saved all of the 4" pots from the perennials I bought for the shade garden last year. They ended up being the perfect size for the seedlings.

While I was at it the 4 Tomatillos were also potted up.

The Ground Cherries are getting much larger now, they started off very tiny. They were planted at the same time as the tomatoes and tomatillos.

2 weeks ago I started the sweet potato slips and only 2 sprouted. I decided to start a few more to give it another try. I think the others might have been too dried up.

Outside the lettuce is looking really good! 

I see lots of yummy salads in my future!

A Weekend of Gardening

I spent the entire weekend in the garden, trying to get all of the cool weather crops planted and the 4th raised bed finished. 

After picking up some more compost the bed was finished and then the square foot grid was added. I didn't quite stick to my plan, but I actually think this layout will work better. Since making the plan I decided to grow more cabbage and after reading more about companion planting the onions were moved further away from the peas. I tried to keep in mind where the earlier summer veggies would be planted and either left them empty or they were planted with the fastest growing varieties.

The peas are up! So I also decided it was time to add the trellis support.

I pre-sprouted all of the peas this year and it seems to have paid off. I'm growing 3 types of peas. 2 are bush varieties so the only support they need are some sticks, stuck into the ground to prevent them from falling over in the wind.
I'm also growing a row of vining peas. For the vining peas I constructed a bamboo and twine trellis.

Rabbits are plentiful in our yard but they seem to be lazy rabbits. Because my raised beds are already 11" high and rabbits typically won't go over a fence 18" high; I needed to find some kind of rabbit fence that was at least 7" tall. It also needed to attach to and be easily removed from the bed (by me and not by the rabbits!)

I've seen on several websites that others have had success with plastic fencing on raised beds. While I'm sceptical because I know rabbits can chew through plastic, I decided to give it a try. If the plastic works it will be easier for me to disconnect the fence from the posts and bend down the fence when I need to harvest and replant.

When I bought the pvc pipe for the hoops I had them cut to 8'. The pipes were 10' before so there was a 2' section of each pipe left over. I used these 2' sections as my fence posts. The plastic fence was attached to the bed with galvanized staples every 6 inches. The fence was attached to the post using twist ties. I'm only 1/2 way finished with the fence but you can see what it looks like here:

Besides the cabbage and onion seedlings I also planted beets and carrots and radishes.

Seeds started 3/18/12:
Beet Detroit Dark Red
Beet Bulls Blood
Carrot Short and Sweet
Carrot Little Finger
Radish Sparkler

Friday, March 16, 2012

Community Garden Update

I received  my community garden plot assignment in the mail a week or so ago and can't wait to get started over there. The garden is located behind a church in a historic area about a 5 minute drive from my house. The community garden is small, about 100 20'X20' plots. About half of the plots are annual plots which are tilled by a tractor each spring. The other half are perennial plots. With the perennial plots you have to do all of your own tilling but you are able to keep your fencing up year round. Some people have multiple plots.

I chose a perennial plot because I want to have control over the soil, be able to mark off the beds and paths and plant perennial plants like raspberries and asparagus. 

My plot is marked in red on the aerial shot below:

Each row has it's own water tap, I just need to supply my own hose. The area to the top left is an open space. In my mind I picture deer taking a running jump into my plot. (Yikes!) Here is a picture of my plot:

It looks like this area hasn't been occupied in a while. It's going to to take some effort to clear the weeds and get it set up. The garden organizer needs to go out and measure off the plot before I can get started. 

I took a walk around the garden to see what type of fencing my future neighbors are using. 
The plot below is covered on all sides and on top with fencing and netting. After a closer look I discovered blueberry bushes and strawberry plants inside. This section is a berry patch. The same gardener has a vegetable plot in the next plot over. They have high fencing in that plot but no netting on top.

I'm not sure what they grow on the trellis, but I'm curious to find out. 

Most of the perennial plots have 6-8 foot fencing with rabbit fencing on the bottom. I also saw some handmade garden gates, I think I might try to make one of these.

As I was leaving through the churchyard I saw these beautiful blooming trees.

As eager as I am to get started I still have quite a bit of work to do at the house garden. I expect that work at the community garden will start in early to mid April.