Wednesday, March 25, 2009


This was last fall preparing the beds for winter.
I would like to say I am cleaning in the house but alas garden time is here and the house will be here when cold winter is here and the garden won't. I am cleaning in the garden.
Actually we did a humongous job of cleaning last fall, which has turned out to be a major advantage so far. We have been building raised beds due to our clay composition soil that seems to eat good dirt for lunch. We clean all garden debris off the beds and proceeded to add amendments that would be needed this year.
The amendments we use are peat moss, dried manure (we still have a nice pile of sheep manure in an old shed), and broken down wood chips (sometimes we also use the leaves we vacuum up with the mower.) We mix them into the dirt with our small tiller.
We own a Mantis. We recommend a Mantis. This is our second one. The first one we bought from an auction. It went bad after a couple of years and we found out mantis had a trade in program for old machines. We traded ours in and got a "new" reconditioned one from the company. I know we have used this machine for at least 5 years. It is a real work horse. It is so light weight even I can handle it. My only problem, I've never been able to pull start any gasoline engine. So if I want to use it I have to plan for someone to be around, or plan to use it in the morning and have my Hunny start it as he leaves to go to work. the only thing I find it does not to an admirable job on is unbroken soil. If it is packed dirt it just bounces around on top.
This was another reason we started making raised beds. The soil stays so nice, requiring less tractor work. We have tried raised beds where the dirt is mounded up. They work the same but the dirt has a tendency to to drift away by the end of the year. Mulching didn't seem to make a difference.

Back to the Fall preparation of the beds. Last fall I mowed the pasture next to the garden with the riding mower. The next day after the grass dried I vacumned it up and made a huge hay stack on the side of the garden. After we amended the beds and raked them smooth we covered each bed with a comforter of the dried grass. the grass was mounded as much as the bed would hold with out sliding off. That usually was about 8 inches thick.

Hunny worried we would be harboring insects from 2008. I stated my case that I thought being we removed all the debris that the problem went into the compost pile. (all noxious weeds and squash waste were cardboard boxed and thrown into the trash didn't want to multiply either).

Spring delight: I removed the grass pile from the first bed. The dirt under the cover was light and fluffy, just about the same consistency I left it in November. The grass had prevented the heavy rains and snow melt from soaking the soil (the grass wasn't even soaked.) I put the hoe into the soil and was able to make a trough down the middle of the bed and plant my spring onion sets. There was no spring weeds (the henbit and chickweed run rampant on any open ground durning the winter). The grass that was removed from the beds will be composted.
I will update this with a picture of the undressed bed. So far it is a labor we will repeat at the end of this year. The bed was warm and ready for planting. Will keep you posted on the progress or the "distress" caused by the winter coverings.
Happy gardening, Sheepish

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Cooking from your garden can be a year round occasion. (even if you live in a climate with freezes.) I am very fortunate to have a green house with a smaller green house we keep heated in the cold winter. (We found it never needed heat after the sun was up.) We still haven't found a way to heat it efficiently during the night hours.) Inside the small green house I put sage and rosemary this year. It survived quite admirably. Anytime I have tried to grow them indoors they do not respond well dieing before a couple of months go by. I also planted chives inside the large green house. I thought they would make it all winter...NOT...but they did start growing again a whole month in advance of the out door ones.. It is definitely something I will do next year. I will also try my tarragon in the green house next fall. Yes, it will probably die back but it will probably be up sooner. (the tarragon is coming up outside right now.)
I have been using the fresh sage in the green house to make the following bread. Today I made a grilled cheese with the bread and inbetween the slices of cheese I spread sage pesto. Yes it was made from the sage in the green house. It was very yummy.
One change I made in the recipe below, this time I bake it in a loaf pan that was 13 X 4 1/2 X 2 1/2. I put it into a 400 degree oven and turned it down to 375 immediately. I baked it for 30 minutes. The crust was so tender and the graining in the bread so fine and moist.
This recipe comes from a cookbook published in 1974 by the Culinary Arts Institute (Chicago). It is "The American Family Cookbook".This is a yeast bread that adds to its appeal by being super easy to make.
"Old Fashioned Herb Bread"
One pkg dry yeast (I have the bulk bakers dry instant yeast and I use 1 1/2 Tablespoons) If you bake a lot or a little the yeast comes in 1 lb vacuumed packed packages from Sam's Club (Costco and other places probably have it too.) When you open the package pour it into a canning jar and screw a lid on it and place in the door of the refrigerator. I have had a package last more than a year. It is a big savings over the individual packets or the jar sold at the grocery store.

1/4 cup warm water + 1 teaspoon sugar stirred in(the original recipe doesn't add the sugar but I have found the yeast is more responsive when you do)
1. Sprinkle the yeast on the warm water and stir in. Set aside to proof. For those who are new to yeast baking, proofing gives the yeast a chance to grow and bubble up before you add it to your recipe. BTW, if it doesn't bubble up, you have yeast that is no longer alive. Pour out the mix and start over with a new packet. (It takes about 10 minutes for the yeast to grow and double if it is set in a warm location.)
While the yeast is proofing do the following:
3/4 cup whole milk heated very hot in the microwave. (the recipe says scald, but in this day and age of pasteurized milk it is unnecessary)
2. Place 3 tablespoons butter in the mixing bowl, with 3 tablespoons sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (if you use salted butter only add 1 1/4 teaspoons salt). For new bakers, do not leave out the salt. Salt is necessary to control the growth of the yeast.
Pour the very hot milk over the above and mix until everything is dissolved and incorporated.
3. You will be using a total of 3 to 3 1/2 cups of flour. All purpose flour works but bread flour works even better. (Every since I started using bread flour I have had a more consistent finished product.) Stir 1 cup of flour into the milk mixture. Mix well.
4. Beat 1 large egg in a cup. (the egg should be room temperature.)
Chop fresh sage very fine use 3 Tablespoons. (Dry sage from the store works well too, use 3 teaspoons). You need 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg. Stir these ingredients into your beaten egg.
5. If your milk mixture has cooled to about 115 degrees or very warm to the hands (Not hot you'll cook the egg), beat in the egg mixture into your milk mixture.
6. When well incorporated add your bubbling yeast. Mix well and start adding the last 2 cups of flour. You will have a very sticky dough (unless you live in a real arid part of the country where your flour is naturally drier right out of the bag.
7. Sprinkle the last 1/2 cup flour on your table or board. Brush the major amount over to the side leaving a heavy film on the table. Scrape your dough out of the bowl onto the flour. Start kneading the dough in the flour adding a coating on the ball if it is too sticky to work with. This is a very soft dough and you do not want to work it till it is a firm dough. If you add too much flour you will have a very dense loaf.
8. Place a tablespoon of oil in the bottom of a large bowl. Roll it around till the sides are coated. Put your dough ball in the bowl and then turn it over, you will have greased the ball to keep it from drying out. I cover my bowl with plastic wrap and set aside to double in bulk. (It seems to take longer to double than most yeast doughs.)
9. While your dough is rising you can do clean up duty and grease the pan you will bake it in. I have used a large ceramic baker (looks like a souffle' dish) I grease it with Crisco and then sprinkle corn meal on the bottom. Yes I know what they say about saturated and trans fats. But I have tried Pam, olive oil and other forms of fats and have had very unsatisfactory results with the bread sticking.
I have used the 9 inch pie pan the recipe suggests. It makes a low round loaf. I prefer the higher loaf of the ceramic baker. It looks like a chefs hat when finished. I also have used loaf pans. Makes a great sandwich loaf but doesn't have the flair of the pie pan or the ceramic baker when served.
This last time I made the bread I used some glazed flower pots I have that were made for cooking. (only use flower pots you know do not have clay that contains lead.) I don't know if you could foil line some pots and make them safe to bake in or not. Anyway, the results were fantastic. It made 4 (4 inch) pots. Each resulting "roll" that easily serves two or you can if you are really hungry eat one by yourself.
10. When the dough has doubled, punch it down and let it rest in the bowl 10 minutes. Then take it out and give it a quick knead and shape into a round ball. Place in the middle of the container you will be baking it in and let it rise till double in bulk. When you see it is near completion of rising, preheat your oven to 400 F degrees.
At this time you can take a beaten egg white and brush the surface of the dough and sprinkle it with caraway seeds. (This is totally unnecessary but if you are serving to company is a nice touch.) If you are not using the seeds then it is unnecessary to brush the dough with egg white.
11. Place in the 400 degree oven for 10 minutes and then lower the heat to 350. (the recipe book says 375 but I have found this is too hot in my oven.) bake 25 minutes more. This loaf is very dark on the crust.
Note: the book says you can add 1 teaspoon of caraway seeds to the dough when you add the sage. I never have tried this. I imagine you could use other herbs instead of the sage but why this is so fantastic.
This bread served with homemade tomato soup WOW...BTW...tomato soup home made is just about as easy as opening a can of the canned kind...and so much more satisfying.