Cleaning garlic late is better than never cleaning it at all

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Last summer when it was time to harvest my garlic, I was busy working 5 part time jobs.  When I finally got around to harvesting my garlic, a lot of it was past its prime.  In addition, I had a lot of cilantro, dill, and violet volunteers that made themselves cozy in my garlic beds.  Garlic does not like to share space with others.  I understand.  I need my personal space, too.  Because I was so busy, and in part because I have a hard time ripping plants out of the garden and getting rid of them, I did not weed my garlic beds.  The result was many of my garlic bulbs did not grow big and fat like they have forthe past few years.  My bad.  And so I declared a garlic crop failure for last season.  Not a total failure, but it was a huge disappointment.

I only harvested maybe one third to half of my garlic (out of over 600 plants) last summer because it was so late and many of the leaves were completely dead and straw colored.  Ideally, you should harvest garlic when 40-50% of the leaves are still green, especially if you want to store you garlic long term.  Why?  Each of those leaves on the garlic stem equates to one layer of wrapping around the bulb.  You need a few layers of bulb wrappers to keep your garlic in primo condition while it sits in your basement or cellar.  If you wait until all of the leaves have turned brown, then that means the bulb wrappers have already begun to disintegrate.   Green leaves mean the bulb wrappers are still in good condition.

So I only harvested a few varieties–out of the over 20 varieties I grow– and left the rest in the ground.  When they come up this spring, I will dig them, separate the cloves and replant.  I may or may not get good bulbs this summer by doing it this way, but I figured it was better to leave them in the ground to overwinter than to risk losing all of my garlic to rot or desiccation in storage.  Or worse–I could have eaten all of it!

Hubby was kind enough to help me harvest last summer, late at night when the sun was setting around 10pm, and I threw it all in the basement to clean after it had dried and cured for a few weeks.  Well, for most of the garlic, a few weeks turned into a few months…or several months.  This weekend I made a promise to myself that I would clean the remaining garlic because I risked losing it to desiccation and I should either clean it and eat it or it was going to go to waste.  And I hate letting things go to waste.  Especially garlic.

The nice thing about letting it sit for so long is the outer bulb wrappers are really dry, so cleaning goes very quickly.  But some of the bulbs felt soft and that means it is beginning to dry out.  Drat.  When it hits that state, it’s not good for eating, but garlic is a hardy plant, and if I throw some of those shriveled up cloves in the ground this spring, I’ll probably get a few bulbs out of them.  One of the reasons why I love garlic so much–its will to live!  Glancing at a few of the cloves, I noticed the basal plate is beginning to show some root budding.  And I’m sure if I sliced a clove in half, I would see a small green shoot in the center of the clove.  They are alive, after all.  So I saved a few bulbs that were still nice and big and firm, as well as a few of the not-so-firm, and put them back in the basement.  They will go out in the garden early this spring as soon as my raised beds thaw.  The rest of the garlic I threw into a bowl on my counter so I see it and put garlic in just about everything I eat.  Actually, most of what is remaining I will dehydrate to make homemade garlic powder, which, by the way, may be the best herb/spice on Earth.  But I need to be prepared for the entire house to smell of garlic for about 3 days while it dries.  Another reason I keep my garlic on the counter?  I love admiring the beautiful browns, purples, and pinkish-reds on the bulb wrappers.  Yet one more reason why I am infatuated with garlic–I think the bulbs are downright beautiful.

One of my favorite varieties that does really well in my garden is Duganski.  It’s super-hardy and has a great flavor.  This photo is from my first harvest of Duganski back in 2014.  duganski_compress

When I first started growing garlic, I got really nerdy with my harvest and measured every. single. bulb.  Then I created histograms based on bulb diameter.  I measured every. single. bulb. again in 2015 and graphed the data side-by-side to see if my garlic was larger or smaller, and thus giving me an idea of whether or not that variety was acclimating to my climate.  It turns out that Duganski didn’t get larger in 2015, but some varieties did.  Of course, conditions weren’t exactly the same–the bulbs were planted in different beds, the weather/watering regime was different in 2015, and weeds might have been different between the two years, among other things.  So I won’t say this particular variety doesn’t grow well in my garden, because it does.  In the long run I think having this data will help inform me which varieties will do well here.  And if at some point I need to scale back the number of varieties, or focus more on a few varieties that grow  big for market, then I can make a more informed decision.

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Truthfully, the scientist in me just loves geeking out on data.  It’s too bad I didn’t have any data for 2016, but I will try again next summer and hope I am able to add to my histograms next fall!

I just….need a salad!! Pronto.

I’ve gotten spoiled with my CSA share in the summers:  I hardly ever go to the grocery store.  And when I do, it’s mostly to get staples like sugar and flour…and the occasional can of black beans (if I’m too lazy to soak and cook dry beans) or mushrooms (which I do not grow….yet.).  By the time January rolls around and I haven’t gotten my weekly allotment of salad greens for a couple of months, I start to have major cravings.  So yesterday I broke down and went to the grocery store to buy salad greens.  And apples.  And pears.  And several other things.  It was the first time I’d had a major grocery outing in several weeks and it hurt.  Not in the pocketbook, but just from the fact that I had to buy grocery store apples!  Oh, the agony (Cue dramatic ‘damsel in distress music’ now)!  Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.  I don’t feel too bad about buying apples and pears.  At least the apples and pears are fall-winter ripening fruits that have a long storage time, thus they are sort of ‘in season.’  And the apples came from Washington, so at least they were a regional item.  And the greens?  Well, I could be growing them in my basement right now, but I’ve had a lot going on so it hasn’t made it to the top of my priority list yet.

I know it may seem extreme to not just go to the grocery store and buy some damn salad.  Especially in the wintertime when there is no salad growing in Montana, unless it happens to be in a greenhouse or in my basement under lights.  But it’s hard for me now that I’ve seen and tasted what local eating is like.  I’ve really gotten…militaristic?  some might say snobbish?  about eating as much locally-produced food as possible.  I guess I try to hold my food sources to high standards now that I have labeled myself a locavore, though I do have plenty of grocery store staples that are not local: cereal, crackers, chocolate chips, canned pineapple, the list continues (and it does include things that do not start with the letter C).  So I suppose I risk sounding like a hypocrite if I will eat canned pineapple but I won’t eat store bought salad?  Maybe it’s because I know I can’t buy a Montana-grown pineapple (though I do have a pineapple plant in my living room that has never produced fruit in the 4 years I’ve had it–but I’ll keep waiting) that I justify buying the pineapple but not the salad?  Hard to say.  I guess all I can do is try to limit my non-local foods as much as possible and not judge myself too hard even if it means I break down once and a while and buy a salad in January.

Oh, the internal struggles of a locavore…

Having said that, there are plenty of items that I don’t buy fresh when out of season.  As I walked through the produce section of the grocery store, I glanced at the dozens of plastic cartons of raspberries and thought to myself…”Why would anyone spend so much money on raspberries in the grocery store in January?”  First of all, even in season, raspberries are such a delicate fruit that they just don’t travel well.  By the time they make it to the display at the grocery store, they are on the verge of rotting, if they aren’t already.  And secondly, they just don’t have the same appeal as raspberries you pick yourself in the summer.  There is nothing quite like popping a warm, sun-kissed raspberry in your mouth that you just plucked from the vine.  That is the unadulterated taste of summer.  Not hot dogs.  Raspberries.  Of course, raspberries are thorny little buggers, so you often end up with a few scratches to show for your blood-red stained hands and lips.  But it’s all worth it.  And picking raspberries with friends?  Even better.  Let them crawl around on their hands and knees, hair getting caught in the brambles, arms getting scratched to hell.  Of course, they get the best, hidden berries so it’s a trade off.

But I digress.  We were talking about salads, weren’t we?

So I bought the greens and the apples and pears.  I took them home and I made a giant salad.  Even though I bought the organic, triple-rinsed greens, I just cannot in good conscience eat salad greens without washing them first.  Unless I pluck it from my own garden and know for a fact that a bird has not pooped on it, I must wash it.  I broke out the salad spinner that hasn’t seen activity for several months (Hello, old friend!), washed my greens, gave them a good spin, and plopped them in a bowl.

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I chopped up a pear and added half of it to my salad.  I pulled out some dried cranberries.  I added some goat cheese crumbles.  And I drizzled some honey-mustard dressing on top.  But perhaps the best part of my salad was the sweet-spicy walnuts and sunflower seeds I added to the top.

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I made them myself: maple syrup, cayenne pepper, olive oil, a dash of chili powder and salt–into the oven at 225 degrees F for about 25 minutes, stirring once.  Yuuuuuuuum!  They were spicy for sure!  I used a LOT of cayenne pepper.  But when added to the salad the heat was dampened a little by the salad dressing and goat cheese and they were the perfect addition to my salad.  I like something a little crunchy-nutty in my salads and I’m often throwing a spoonful of raw sunflower seeds in my salads in the summer time, so these were a special little treat.

I inhaled that salad.  And I felt so much better getting some raw greens in my body.  I just needed them.  It’s funny how I tire of salads sometimes in the summer because we get greens of some sort every. single. week.  But then once they’re gone, it doesn’t take long before I pine for those crisp heads of lettuce or spicy bags of arugula we were getting inundated with weekly for 5 months.  Fortunately, June 6th is only about 19 weeks away.  Not that I’m counting…

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That salad was so good that I ate it again for dinner tonight.  Maybe I’ll even have it again tomorrow, this time with that regionally grown Washington apple.

 

Mission Accomplished…though really it’s just the beginning

Now that my Urban Farmgal business is finally registered with the state of Montana (Yay! Small victories!)  it’s time to apply for a TIN from the IRS, open a bank account, and get my business plan finalized.

I’ve been working on my business plan all week and it’s taken several attempts and re-writes, but I think I’ve finally nailed down my mission statement:

To inspire a happy, healthy, & sustainable farmgal lifestyle in today’s busy world.

What do you think?  I have yet to actually run this by anyone outside of my own head, so this is as fresh as it gets.  I know it says ‘farmGAL’ which makes it sound like my target audience is women (and perhaps 90% of my audience WILL be women) but that’s not to say you couldn’t substitute ‘farmDUDE’ or ‘farmBOY’ and still make it work if you happen to be one of those guys running around with a Y chromosome.

Right?  Okay, I’ll sleep on it.

At some point I probably will run my business plan by someone who is smarter about business than me, but for now this is my working mission–to inspire those who visit my website to seek a little slower pace of life, one where you stop to enjoy the small pleasures in life that don’t involve an electronic device (which, ironically, you will get by reading my blogs posts on an electronic device).  BUT!  Read it then go away!  Go read a cookbook and try a new recipe for dinner.  Go outside and go for a sunset hike with your dog or a loved one.  Go take a picture of a beautiful thing, place, or event that brings you joy.  Go pick up those knitting needles that have been sitting in a basket in the corner for years and teach yourself a new stitch.  Go talk to your plants in the garden and then go talk to your chickens.  Don’t worry about what the neighbors think.

And it’s not just about slowing down the pace of life.  It’s about being conscious about your impact on the planet as well.  Think sustainably, then ACT sustainably.  Grow your own food.  Join the CSA.  Don’t go out and buy the newest-latest-greatest-most popular thing that’s in the Sunday  newspaper ads just because.  We humans have placed a pretty heavy hand on Mother Nature, and all those shiny, pretty, new things you see in the Sunday ads require tons and tons of resources to manufacture.  It’s mind-boggling if you think about how many pairs of shoes ONE store carries.  One store!  How many pairs of shoes have you seen in your local Wal-Mart?  There’s probably hundreds of pairs of shoes.  And there are thousands of Wal-Marts and other stores that sell shoes.  Do we need all of those shoes?

That’s the sort of thinking I do these days.   I think about all the shoes.  The purses.  The sofas.  The computers and cell phones.  Think about how much stuff there is to buy.  And not to be extremist about it, but how sustainable is it to keep buying all this stuff?  Do we really need it in our lives?  Does it make you happy?  What if you didn’t have it?  Would you miss it?  And what would happen if it all went away?  Think of it this way:  if tomorrow rolls around and there are no more Wal-Marts or Whole Foods grocery stores, how well off would you be?  How well off COULD you be?  Could you survive another day?  Probably.  What about another week?  A month?

Maybe my little blog can be an inspiration to someone thinking these same thoughts.  Someone who wants to simplify their life and moderate their footprint on the planet.  Someone who just wants to raise chickens in town.  Or someone who would love to grow basil on the balcony of their apartment building just because they love pesto.  All of these things fit into the urban farmgal lifestyle.  I hope to be a source of useful, inspirational information for you to do just that.

So I leave you with these thoughts to ponder as you focus on your farmgal zen while knitting a chicken sweater for your city chickens!

One step closer…

img_1578Yesterday I got my Urban Farmgal labels in the mail that I will use to identify my hats, bags, scarves, neck gaiters…all the things that I create and sell.  I really like the look of them.  I don’t have a logo yet, so I went with a generic daisy, but I like it, I really like it!  This means I am one step closer to being a “real” business, right?  Like this label will make me legitimate?  Something like that.

The first thing I did when I tore open the package was grab a needle and matching green thread and sew a label into my knitted bag that I made years ago.  It was the prototype for all the bags I have made since then that I have given away as wedding gifts, birthday gifts, and Christmas gifts.  I just wanted to put my little label on something and this seemed like an appropriate christening, if you will.

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And yeah, maybe bright green sort of doesn’t really go all that well with a red and black knit bag, but I don’t care.  I love my little labels.  They add a bit of formality and identity to my bag.  Next I put one on my hat that I made this summer, the one that inspired my gift to the CSA member whom I wrote about in my last blog post:

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And green DOES go with purple…

I’ve decided to put my labels in places that aren’t all that conspicuous, like inside the bag on the liner, or along the back seam of a hat.  It seems less in-your-face there, and as much as I love my little labels (have I mentioned that?), I don’t want them to be too noticeable or pretentious.  I just want them to be there so if someone asks “Where did you get that hat/bag/neck gaiter?” the tag will do some of the talking.

Curious where you get tags like these?  A Google search led me to The Dutch Label Shop, located in Philadelphia, PA.  And the company isn’t just headquartered in Pennsylvania, they also produce their labels there.  I found a few companies that are based in the U.S. but outsource the actual production oversees.  Finding a company that made these labels in the U.S. was something that was important to me.  In designing the tags, they have a boatload of colors for the background and text, lots of pictures if you want, or you can upload your own picture/logo.  The price was incredibly reasonable, the production time was reasonable, and the quality is fantastic.  I could not be happier with my labels!

Now I just gotta get busy and sew these into the bags I’ve got waiting to sell.  One step at a time brings me one step closer…

An act of kindness repaid many times over

This summer, while working the CSA pickup, I made use of my downtime by knitting myself a new hat for this winter.  I was in need of a new hat and I found the yarn and pattern that I thought would turn out nicely (always the gamble to take what seems like a good idea in your head and turn it into reality).  Interestingly, when I knit in public places it always seems to draw attention.  I guess people think no one knits anymore, which isn’t true–there has been a resurgence of knitting in the past decade or more–but for whatever reason, people are always drawn to ask questions.  “What are you knitting?  Is that knit or crochet?”  or my favorite: “When’s my hat going to be finished?”  One new member of the CSA commented on the progress of my “beautiful” hat every week when she came to pick up her share.  While wearing the completed hat this fall during the pick up, she commented that she “wanted my hat.”  And that got me thinking…why not surprise her and make her a hat?

And so I did.  I knew she liked the colors of my hat, but I decided to make hers a little different.  The pattern was for a fair isle style, but instead of using 3 or 4 different colors of yarn, you instead use a variegated yarn, thus incorporating 3 or 4 colors into the pattern with just one strand of yarn.  Pretty brilliant (thank you, Amy King, for this design!).  For my hat, I used the variegated yarn as the background (main) color of the hat and the solid color as the accent color.  But for her hat, I decided to reverse the colors and use the solid color as the background and use the variegated yarn as the accent color.  The color scheme was purple:  plum for the background and a variegated pink-lavender-violet yarn for the accent.  I think the finished hat turned out pretty nice, if I do say so myself:img_1443

As an added bonus, I sewed in a fleece ear band to add a little extra protection against these Montana winter winds:img_1444

I conveniently finished the hat a few days before Christmas.  I packaged up the hat, wrote a quick little card wishing her a Merry Christmas/Happy New Year/Peace on Earth, looked up her address in the CSA member directory, and mailed it off with 2 or 3 days to spare before Christmas.

Making this hat for this woman made me so happy.  She was a new member who just joined the CSA in 2016.  She bought just about every share we have to offer.  She was so excited every week to see what we had in our shares, and she also loves my dog, MaeBelle, the newly appointed official CSA greeter dog.  She is genuinely a pleasant and decent human being.  I was so excited that I could surprise her with the coveted hat that it made me giddy.  All I hoped for in return was a little note acknowledging she received the hat (even a quick email would have sufficed), as her address was a P.O. Box, and you just never know with P.O. boxes–what if she didn’t pay the rent fee because she no longer used the box?  What if she didn’t get the hat?!

After returning from a pre-birthday ski trip to the Swan Valley over the weekend, I saw a card with her return address.  She got the hat!!  The envelope felt a little fat for just being a Thank You card.  Intrigued, I opened the envelope and stuffed inside a lovely little Thank You card were 2 gift cards for $25 each!  This was beyond anything I ever could have expected!  I was truly shocked and humbled by her generosity.  It brought tears to my eyes.  I never intended to reap any sort of benefit from my gift other than the satisfaction of surprising her with a hat that I knew she would enjoy. #sneakyninjaknits ?  img_1577

So with all the craziness going on in our world today, it just goes to show one small act of kindness can be rewarded in ways you never expected.  My mantra for this year is this: BE KIND TO OTHERS.  That’s the true farmgal way.   It may seem there is no kindness left in the world, especially if you read the newspapers.  But it is out there. Searched high and low and still can’t find it?  Create it yourself!  Surprise someone with a loaf of homemade bread or batch of cookies.  Write a letter to an old friend whom you haven’t seen in years, or to a stranger at a nursing home or a veteran’s hospital.  Smile and say hello to someone you pass on the street.  Shovel the snow off your neighbor’s sidewalk one day.  Did you know there is a World Kindness Day?  It’s November 13th.  But why wait 10 more months to shower someone with a random act of kindness?  Make kindness a part of your life.  You never know how your gift of kindness could make someone’s day.  And couldn’t the world use a little more kindness right now?

Caring for Urban Chickens in the Winter

It’s been really cold in Helena lately.  This week we had our second arctic blast of the season–this morning when I checked the thermometer on the back deck, it read -14.9 degrees F.  Brrrr!  When it hits 0 degrees F, we turn on a heat lamp for them.  Most domesticated chicken breeds are pretty cold hardy, and providing too much heat in the winter can supposedly induce molting.  But when it gets below 0 degrees we like to provide a little additional heat to prevent things like frostbite on the comb.  Our Rhode Island Red (Miss Rhodie) is our old gal–she must be 5 or 6 years old now and she no longer lays eggs–and she has lost a few claws from each foot over the years.  During the winters?  I’m not sure.  But it’s plausible.

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When I walk home from work, I can see the red glow of the lamp in the coop.  You can see the silhouettes of a couple of The Girls settling in on the perch for the evening.

I always feel a little bad for The Girls in the winter.  They don’t like the snow (I don’t know that any chickens do) and their run doesn’t get much sunlight in the depths of winter because it is located on the north side of the house.  They spend most of their time in the coop.  Although they don’t like it, they do come out to eat and drink.  We use a large  heated dog bowl in the winter so we don’t have to break ice off their water.  With the recent cold snap we’ve had, even the heated bowl has frost around the rim, but it doesn’t freeze so The Girls have access to water all the time.  Their food and water are located underneath the coop where they can stay out of the snow, but they have to jump from their ramp onto the snow in order to get under the coop.  It’s funny to watch them crouch, hover, and make that leap of faith trying to get under the coop without touching the snow.  Sometimes they jump on top of one another in their comical attempt to avoid the snow.  A couple of The Girls don’t mind the snow too bad, and they will come out to eat scratch and other goodies I bring out for them.  This morning, for example, I gave them some cooked lasagna noodles for a treat.  They love pasta of every kind.  They are spoiled, but they are worth it.

They are especially worth it this winter because they continued to lay eggs all through the month of December…at least some of them.  We got some new breeds this past spring, and they must be more day-neutral (to compare them to onions) than the other breeds we’ve had in the past because we’ve never had chickens lay continuously through the winter–a couple of The Girls took about 3 weeks off during the shortest, darkest days last year.  But this year?  We are swimming in eggs!  It’s been great!  This morning I collected 3 eggs before heading off to work.  When I got home from work there were 2 more eggs in the nest box, but it was so cold that they both froze and split open.  Bummer…

I’m not sure exactly which gals are the laying troopers, but I’m pretty sure the Buff Orpington, the Brahma, and the Silver-laced Wyandotte were involved.  My Ancona and Araucana began laying last week, which is earlier than normal for them.  We specifically don’t put a light in the coop in the winter to promote egg laying–I like to give them a bit of a break if they want to take it.  But some breeds lay year-round, and so I like to reward them with special treats like lasagna noodles.  Why not?

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The Girls have pretty cozy digs to get them through even the coldest Montana winters.