Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

As you enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner today, I wanted to quickly share some of the things I'm grateful for today:

  1. Health and happiness of family and friends.
  2. A beautiful garden that gave me so much joy this year.
  3. A beautiful compost pile that fed it.
  4. A cozy house and a wood pile to keep it that way.
  5. Readers like you!
May you have a blessed day, no matter how you celebrate!

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Results of the Mulch Experiment

Time for a little update!

As I promised this summer, I withheld doing an analysis on my new garden mulching strategy until the season was over.  Well, the season is most definitely over, and the results are in!

As you may remember, I elected to start mulching my garden paths with grass clippings in order to minimize my weeding time.  This became necessary because Mr. FC&G was on a five-week business trip out of the country, leaving me to do all of the outdoor work instead of just maintaining my garden.  (And you know that I'm too cheap to hire a lawn service!)  I spent every day he was gone doing outside work (mowing, weeding, hauling wood, etc.) along with my indoor jobs and my actual paying work, so any efficiencies were appreciated!

I was initially afraid the mulch would compress the soil and make a mat of un-decomposed grass, but that didn't happen.  The grass decomposed at a slow but steady rate, and it certainly kept the weeds down!  I'd say I had about an 80 percent reduction in amount of weeding I had to take care of.

Overall, I'll try this again next year.  I will be lightening the soil a bit because I believe it has gotten too clay-y, a hazard in this part of the Midwest.  However, I don't think the mulch made that problem any worse, and it did make a ready source of compost that will finish decomposing and enriching the soil over winter.  Certainly, I will be sure to spread some humus, or finished compost, around as well.  I expect next year to be better than ever.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Lemon Ginger Honey Syrup

This is one of those ideas I'm pretty confident was making its way around Facebook some months ago, but I've lost the original link.  In any event, it is for homemade "cough syrup," and it is fantastic.

With cold and flu season ahead, it is nice to have something that around to help you fight off the bugs.  This combo of raw honey, organic lemon, and fresh ginger might do that; it certainly is a great flavoring.

Raw honey is typically said to have some antibacterial properties and to help you maintain a resistance to your local pollen allergies.  (That seems to be the case for me.)  Ginger is also reputed to have antibacterial properties as well as stomach-calming properties, while lemons are thought to be antibacterial and antiviral.

Put a healthy spoonful of this into a hot toddy made with organic tea and a splash of your favorite alcoholic beverage, and you have a cold remedy that boasts an awesome taste!

Lemon Ginger Honey Syrup
1 organic lemon
a few slices fresh ginger
raw honey

Wash and slice an organic lemon and place (with peel on) in a half-pint jar  Slice the ginger and place in jar.  Fill to the top with raw honey and store in the refrigerator; give it a couple of weeks to blend flavors, then use a tablespoon or so to flavor tea.

For food safety reasons, I would recommend starting each batch with a clean jar, fresh lemon, and fresh ginger slices, regardless how tempting it seems to just fill the jar back up with honey.

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Quick Pollo Saltado

One of my favorite local Latin American restaurants recently started featuring the cuisine of Peru, and I have fallen in love with their pollo saltado.  This Peruvian-style stir-fried chicken dish is a wonderful mix of flavors and textures.

Classic pollo saltado involves stir-frying fresh chicken, then mixing it with seasonings and adding a handful of fresh fried potatoes (French fries, if you prefer) at the end.  The whole dish is served with rice to absorb all the juices.

Most of the quick pollo saltado dishes you will find out there call for frozen French fries, but I hate the idea of adding that sort of processed foodstuff to my dish.  Instead, my version uses packaged gnocchi, which you can find in the pasta aisle.  It is a little bit lower in calories and fat than the fries.  My version also makes use of leftover chicken, making this a great weeknight dish after you've made a whole roasted chicken on Sunday.

Quick Pollo Saltado
1-2 cups shredded, cooked chicken (basically, whatever you have leftover)
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 T. olive oil
1 large can (28 ounces) whole tomatoes, chopped, or diced tomatoes (or, use a quart of your own home-canned tomatoes)
3 T. soy sauce
1 t. chili powder
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 package gnocchi, cooked
white or brown rice if desired

In a large saute pan, cook chicken, garlic, and onion in oil until onions are translucent.  Add tomatoes and the juice, soy sauce, chili powder, and fresh cilantro, and cook until simmering.  Add cooked gnocchi, and cook until all ingredients are blended and hot.

Serve over rice if desired.

The Analysis

Fast:  Another 30-minute meal that comes together quickly from leftovers.

Cheap:  Leftover chicken and home-canned tomatoes make this dish very budget-friendly, although it is not terribly expensive if you have to buy everything.  The cilantro may be an issue in winter; it can be omitted, but the flavor will be less intense.

Good:  Although not exactly the Peruvian original, this is a nice option for some different flavors after a big weekend chicken dinner.  I'll be experimenting with turkey if I can score some of the Thanksgiving leftovers!

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

How Much Does a Garden Grow: October 2013

First, welcome to everyone who found us from Grit magazine!  I'm so happy to have more readers who care about using their gardens to save money!

As promised, here is the second part of the recap I started last week -- the garden tallies for October.  This month, we had our first expenditure since May:  $25.18 for some peat moss and sand to start lightening up our soil in our grow boxes and the main garden.  To recap, for those of you who are new, I include expenditures of "perishable" things, like seeds, plants, and garden soil improvements.  I do not include expenses like tools or trellises that I will use year after year.  After all, no gear, no hobby!

As far as harvests, October is always modest.  We brought in the last of the tomatoes, with 57 ounces of green tomatoes coming inside to ripen.  We had a substantial basil harvest as we put up the last of the pesto, and we harvested nearly a pound of potatoes from our container potatoes.  Otherwise, the harvest included leeks and the last of the peppers.

Moving into November, we can expect a few more herbs and leeks, and some produce from our indoor grow beds and our "micro-orchard" trees.  I have a few things that I really have my fingers crossed on, so stay tuned!
2013 Tally to Date:
228.8 pounds harvested to date
$763.67 retail value
$459.79 net profit in grocery savings
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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How Much Does a Garden Grow? September 2013

Wow, am I ever behind on this column!  But this is the week that I catch up on my garden tally, and it is time to talk about September!

September was all about finishing up the big crop hauls, and that meant squashes and tomatoes.

Butternut:  191 ounces (11.9 pounds); retail value $36.29
Other squash (spaghetti, pumpkin): 201 ounces (12.5 pounds); retail value $38.19

As always, the squash gave an enormous return on investment; I bought about 3 packs of seeds and had the rest from my seed-saving efforts, so I spent at most $6-7 on seed.  The squash will be an incredible bonus through the winter, because they keep so well in a cool, dry place and become the basis of soups, side dishes, and baked goods.

Brandywine:  55 ounces (3.4 pounds); retail value $12.10
Hungarian: 80 ounces (5 pounds); retail value $17.60
Ox Heart:  92 ounces (5.75 pounds); retail value $20.24
Italian:  212 ounces (13.25 pounds); retail value $46.64
Big Daddy:  234 ounces (14.6 pounds); retail value $51.48
Black Krim:  109 ounces (6.8 pounds); retail value $23.98
Amish Paste:  97 ounces (6.1 pounds); retail value $21.34
Super Sauce:  81 ounces (5.1 pounds); retail value $17.82

I grew the Ox Heart from seed, and I had about four plants going.  Otherwise, I ordered all the plants, and I had three of each variety.  Counting shipping, you can estimate that each variety cost about $12 in plants, so at least all of my tomatoes turned a profit.

On the other hand, my goal is to get 10 pounds of tomatoes from each plant, and none of my plants did that.  The closest were the Big Daddy and the Italian.  Big Daddy is a definite keeper, because it produced lovely tomatoes (I believe most of the tomatoes in the photo are Big Daddy).  I was not crazy about the Italian tomato, which was unremarkable in taste or looks.

Both Super Sauce and Amish Paste are wonderful tomatoes, so they remain on the list for next year, and Black Krim is my gourmet favorite that I would grow at a loss if I had too.  I probably will not grow the Hungarian again, for the same reasons as the Italian -- given that I failed last year with Ukrainian Purple, I am officially calling a halt to tomatoes named for places.  The Brandywine was a luscious tomato, and I will grow that again.

What will I do to increase yield?  Well, I realized from other gardeners that I've let the soil get too dense, as it has been a few years since I've added peat moss.  I will do so this coming season.  And I will discipline myself to remove some of the suckers; I understand they can be rooted to form additional plants.  Again, the goal is 10 pounds per plant next year.

Final September tally for the year:
Total Ounces of Harvest: 3,523
Total Pounds of Harvest: 220.1875
Value of Harvest:  $724.94
Total Profit:  $446.24

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