Sunday, March 29, 2009

Now the reward....Gardening tips

It's now time for Gardening ideas. And that really is the point, ideas to bounce around in your head. It may be Spring on the calendar but outside the Winter still rages on! Let's talk about weather then.....

What do you think plants need to grow and produce food?

Well I know what they don't need and that's a freeze. It will kill exposed parts of the plant and if it doesn't have a full deep root system the whole plant will die.

Where I live the last Frost date is May 13 but Everett closer to the water has a last frost date of March 23. You can learn your last and first frost dates (my first frost is Oct 5Th) a couple of ways. Washington State University hosts the Cooperative Extension in many county's here in Washington and they provide a valuable service including the frost dates. Sadly we may be losing these great services as the college has announced cutbacks on services. So don't wait to get information you need while it's easy to get. You can check with your local agriculture office or the college agriculture dept. Try online you may find your area on line. Know your city, and county.

OK put your thinking caps on and here is some other basic things you need to understand to be a good gardener.

1. Frost dates

2. micro-climate

3. Minimum winter temperatures

4. Accumulated heat units

5. Days of Sunshine

WOW just the list looks interesting doesn't it?

Let's start with Micro-climate.

The city my frost date is listed with says last frost Mar 23. This never worked out for me and so I called the extension office and they told me why. I live in a mirco-climate. A little area with it's own climate. I'm on the East side of a hill and across from me is another hill. This pockets the air, cold, wet, snowy, what ever we get and give me a different climate than the norm. So are you in a mico-climate? See the list below for ideas:

A. If you live near a large body of water you are less prone to frost and often cooler on warmest days

B. Elevation, the higher you are the cooler and wetter in many parts of the county, surely here in the Pacific Northwest

C. If you live between hills as I do, cold air is more dense than warm and it flows downhill. That makes my springs very late and my falls very early. Study out the land around you! Is there a tunnel for wind?

D. North-facing areas receive less heat from the sun and southern exposures have more heat. This may change your length of growing season. North areas grow slower, Southern areas grow faster giving me time to grow things that take longer to mature (be eatable!)

Look around see what you have that might change your climate. Are there lots of dense trees? A large rock formation? Hills? Is your land East, West, North, South facing, where do you receive most of your light from? I'm at a disadvantage as my property is on an east Hill and doesn't get much of the western light, but I do get some Southern so that helps.


Minimum Winter Temperatures

There is a map that tells you what Zone you are in and what your low temperature is. It's wild to try to see the little bands of color and figure out what Zone you garden in. Try this web site to find your location close up. Also go to the home page for tons of great gardening ideas.

Each Zone designates an average annual minimum temperature.

Knowing your zone will only tell you the average least temperature.

I am in a Zone 7b with a mico-climate, the pacific ocean near by and lots of mountains. This means that in a zone 7b we get down to 5-10 degrees F. in an average winter with lots of other considerations. There are 11 planting zones across the U.S. and Canada. Don't place too much value on your Zone, they have to keep redoing these and there are so many other helpful considerations.


Accumulated Heat Units

Plants need heat to grow. We didn't have any heat last year and everyone had tiny carrots. They just couldn't grow with so few hours of heat. Plants require a certain number of accumulated heat units to mature. If you can't get enough of your accumulated (meaning over the growth period of the plant) heat you may not be able to ripen tomatoes, pepper, grapes etc.

Knowing this number can help you be prepared to trick Mother Nature. The right kind of plastic under tomatoes adds heat, putting peppers on the South wall of your home adds heat units. Lots of tricks to try and they do work.

Where I live in Western Washington we gets 1518 units of accumulated heat, where as over the mountains where the wheat grows they get 2,500 units.

OK some heavy stuff for serious people. 50 degrees F is the most frequently used base temperature for warm weather crops (I will cover those in another posting)

To figure the Heat Units you take the difference between the *mean temperature for the day and 50 degrees F. If the *Mean temperature is below the base of 50 degrees then there are NO heat units for that day. OUCH

Example: a day with maximum temperature of 72 degrees F and a minimum 50 degree (base) would put the mean temperature at 61 degrees. That makes 11 heat units added to the accumulated for that day.

(*Mean temperature is found by adding the maximum and minimum temperatures and dividing the sum by 2)

Now don't trouble yourself with this unless you find it fun but do know that plants can't mature for eating without a certain amount of accumulated heat!


Days of sunshine

Because I live with a lot of cloud cover and moisture in the air I have a very low light intensity most of the year. What that does is make me consider where to plant things. Plants that do well in part shade may need to be planted in my full sun area's. This can affect food in several different ways. Apples may not get red, hot pepper may seem mild, peaches won't be as sweet and Vitamin C in plants will be reduced. You can compensate for this problem as you can for too much sun. Move plants into more protected areas and in partial shade. I have gardened in both kinds of climates and they have their blessing and challenges.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Let's be smart about Gardening

Here was the headlines on NBC news;

First lady breaks ground on 'kitchen garden' Students will help plant fruits, vegetables to supply White House kitchen

At the end of the article it said this:

Mrs. Obama then led a cheer with the children, shouting, "Let's hear it for vegetables!" and "Let's hear it for fruits!"

This has prompted me to speak out. I agree Gardens are wonderful and more people should take up vegetable gardening. Some important issues need to come forward. It's not easy to garden. some points in case. If you see video of Mrs. Obama's school group they are digging, but do you see they are digging in the lawn, the grass. Oh my are there some difficult issues with gardening in a plot surrounded by lawn. Next point all that fuss over vegetables and fruits being planted didn't in any way include planting those fruit trees. At first I thought the media missed that all she was planning on planting was vegetables and herbs but no she has the kids yelling for vegetables and fruits, which come from trees after all! Don't we know where fruits come from?

There is so much our nation no longer knows about gardening. There has been a lot of reference to the Victory gardens grown during World War II. We are different as a population now. Never before has more people lived in the City for longer times. We have lost touch with our agriculture genes! We don't even know who grows our food or if it's even safe.

Am I crying doom here? NO just a warning. If you think in all this excitement with the falling of our economy that you will save money with a big garden you are WRONG. If you think that growing a garden will give you some good things to eat you are RIGHT. Garden for the right reasons. There are no Victories in Victory Gardens. All you do is put some other business OUT OF Business. During the War the farms in our nation were needed to supply the war effort. We have taken this out of context. Gardening now should be about safe and tasty food for our families.

It is not easy to grow food. Learn all that you can and even then you will not have a great first year in many cases. Here are some suggestions on what you need to learn.

1. What growing zone are you in? Don't try to grow citrus outside the citrus zone. Learn what grows best in your climate and stick with that while you are learning to garden.

2. I recommend container gardening for a good start. It lets you control a few more things, like is my garden in the best a container.....move it. It lets you work without big tools like a rotor tiller which you may not have. A little hand shovel is all you need with a container. It uses less enrichment's. Just a good way to start so consider containers!

3. Buying any package of seed may not be useful for your needs. I promise to address seeds soon but if you can't harvest a few seeds for next year what good is a garden? I plant only seeds that are non-hybrid and reproducible. Yes if you have a favorite sweet pea that is hybrid surely buy and plant it, but my food I have to be able to keep it going with out the expense of buying seed each year.

4. Learn what to do about your soil, the bugs, water, sun, shade and be sure you have time for keeping the garden weeded, fed (yes you need to keep feeding a food garden) and then when harvesting more beans than you know how to eat learn what to do with them to eat them in the non-growing times.

5. Work on a plan and have an idea of what you will plant, how long it needs to grow, when it needs to be planted to avoid frost on both sides of the calendar. Be sure to plant at those times best for each plant.

Does this seem like a lot to think about? OUCH! If you think so then let me tell you to encourage the local growers in your own area. Buy from them, pay a fair price, tell them you want organic, let them know you are glad they have the knowledge to grow your food and be glad they do. Find that spot that the locals sell their food, flea markets, street corners, the valley over the hill. Find these hard working people selling their food.

You may be very successful in gardening and that is my hope but many of you never grew up with a garden and may have no idea what to watch out for and how to make it work. Keep at it year after year and you will get good at it but please don't put a bunch of money you don't have into a garden that you are not ready to take care of. Give those smaller container gardens a try. Grow some lettuces, carrots, garlic, green onions etc and next year try a few more things. Be a success at gardening.


There is more to come I promise to reward you for putting up with my warnings!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Fun goodie for kids

I was happy to enjoy the Parent's magazine from it's beginning. This was one of the recipes I enjoyed over and over.

Popcorn dollars

Parent's magazine 1982

1/4 Butter

1/2 peanut butter (choose a safe one)

1 10 ounces bag of mini marshmallows

10 cups of freshly popped popcorn unsalted

1/2 cup chocolate chips

Melt butter in heavy kettle, stir in peanut butter and marshmallows.

Heat very slowly, stirring constantly, until mixture is smooth; remove from heat. Stir in popcorn, stir until evenly coated.

Now comes the fun, kids can help. Butter your hands lightly, take a full tablespoon of the popcorn, flatten into a popcorn dollar.

Place on wax paper and top with a 2 or 4 chocolate chips.

Let stand until nice firm popcorn dollars. If popcorn starts to harden in the pan, turn on low and stir until it's warm.

makes 3 1/2 dozen

These are tiny and perfect for tiny hands. We loved making these.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patricks day

Can you believe this lucky coin says "china"?

I'm not Irish, but my last name YELLS IRISH! So to all my green loving family and friends

"Happy St. Patrick's day"

And may you all find your pot of Gold.

We attended The Evergreen State Fair's kick off dinner tonight and along with cooked cabbage we enjoyed an evening of Irish dancing. Such dazzling outfits and toe tapping and clapping enjoyed by everyone!

So if you are not Irish as I'm not, join me and find someone who is and...........................

Saturday, March 14, 2009

I'm Back.....with Pizza

Did you think I'd given up blogging? No just took on a little too much and with the drop in readers I thought I'd take a brake. While I was away I took on babysitting a neighbor child, I was given an online pattern design class that took a busy 5 weeks. I loved it and am sorry it's over but it was a lot of study and work. On top of that I hurt my shoulder sleeping on the floor and had to baby it for a few weeks then got a cold (most likely from the little kids in my life!) then there was the week of feeling so down I couldn't cheer myself up so I just lived with it, and now I'm fine! As you can see I can stuff a lot into a little bit of time.

So I'll start with my favorite thin crust pizza. Everyone who eats this pizza asks for the recipe. Now it's your turn. It's not the easiest recipe, but it's not hard, just a few steps.

Ok follow the steps and you will have a crispy thin crust pizza.

Make the dough and roll it on a floured pastry cloth until as thin as you like

Recipe: makes 6 ten inch thin pizzas

dough keeps nicely for about 2 days in fridge

2 package of dry yeast (1 tablespoon each)

pinch of sugar

1 1/4 cups of warm water for the yeast

3 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 teas salt

1/4 cup of olive oil

Sprinkle the yeast and a pinch of sugar into 1/4 cup of lukewarm water. Let it stand for 3 minutes, then stir to completely dissolve yeast and sugar. Set in a warm place to get bubbly. If it doesn't in about 5 minutes start over.

In large mixing bowl put flour and salt. Pour 1 cup of warm water and 1/4 cup olive oil and prepared yeast mixture.

Mix with a fork, until mixed. When you can gather dough into a rough ball it is time to knead it. Flour a firm surface and knead for 15 minutes until smooth, shinny and elastic.


Place in a clean large bowl and cover and keep warm until about double in size. Approx 1 1/2 hours

Preheat the oven with a baking stone inside to 500 degrees F.

Break off a ball of 1/6 of the dough. On a well floured pastry cloth pat into a circle turning as you go to keep it round. When it is 7 or 8 inches big start roll with rolling pin until 1/8 inch thick or less.

With your thumbs crimp or flute the edges until you make a rim around the pizza,

brush edges with olive oil if you wish

Collect the toppings. I don't load these pizzas up. If you do the crust just won't be as crisp. You can use this dough for thicker pizza if you wish.

Here we have peppers, Canadian bacon, onion slices, canned pineapple, sliced olives, a bag of mozzarella cheese and a bag of cheddar and some Parmesan cheese.

These are the things I use in my sauce below

This sauce is perfect for a crisp crust. Use a good olive oil mixed with a spoonful of tomato paste, a dash of parsley, dash of dried hot peppers and as much crushed garlic as you like!

This is brushed on the crust after a brief pre-bake

Once your baking stone is good and hot, open the oven and you will drape your arms under the two ends of the pizza dough. I couldn't manage a photo of this process but your arms keep the dough from sticking on it's self . Lower onto the hot baking stone (Move the dough to your hands and just place it down without touching the stone)

Tap a fork all around the circle of dough to keep the bubbles under control.

Bake briefly until just a little color comes into the crust. This is not a time to walk away from the oven!

Brush all of the pizza with the above sauce.

quickly as you have the oven open at this with a sprinkle of cheese a bit of the toppings and a shake of Parmesan.

Close the oven

This is how it looked as I closed that oven door.

Bake approx. 10 minutes or until bubbling and brown as you wish

Here it is coming out of the oven.

Yummy crisp crust with melted cheese Ohooooooo