Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Seed Starting

I have spring fever bigtime, and so T and I have been planning our summer garden--the garden will be a big step towards self-sufficiency for us, plus growing things is happy and figuring out how to grow things for cheap/free + with little waste is a challenge.

A freecycle ad landed us a jackpot--50 varieties of vegetable, herb and flower seeds for free from an organic farmer. We are SO GRATEFUL for these seeds, I can't even tell you. It's a small farm's worth. I'm still trying to figure out what we will do with the surplus seeds.

We made a successful dumpster run to TJ's a few weeks ago, which yielded several dozen muffins in plastic muffin containers. These containers and empty egg cartons have been converted into mini-greenhouses to house those seeds that we are starting indoors.

Now, we spent some money on growing medium, but not a lot. We bought a bag of perlite and a bag of potting soil (which, as it turns out, we can't use because it is full of dustmites and makes Tristan sneeze uncontrollably). Instead, we are using natural compost from under the trees in the backyard. We put a little soil in a mixture of mostly perlite (we are using the Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner theory for starting plants, which recommends a light soil that is not too rich for starting seeds).

To ensure that the seeds get enough light, we're using a full-spectrum growlight (compact flourescent) that Tristan used to cope with life in a cubicle back in Philly. If you were to buy this, it would be a substantial purchase by our standards ($25 or so). We cleared a shelf and lined the walls and "ceiling" with tinfoil to maximize the light's reflection, and placed our mini-greenhouses on the shelf.

In accordance with my timeline, we currently have kale, collards, lettuce, tomatoes, 2 kinds of chile, onion, kohlrabi, lemon balm, chives, and chamomile started. We also started broccoli, even though it's too early, because we got antsy.

And when the seeds are ready to transplant? We've been reading up on companion planting and are fortunate enough to have a large established garden in the front yard. But because our lease is up at the end of June, we will be experimenting with planting in containers as much as possible. We scored a 5-gallon planter from a plant store dumpster and about 20 2 gallon planters from TJ's. We also have two recycled wooden boxes that we may use as beds for shallow-rooted things like lettuce. Though I wish we had more very large containers, we will try to make do with the 2-gallons and see what happens. We plan to plant in the garden as well, and either get permission to return to the house for harvest or simply leave the crop for use by the people who remain at the house. Hey, the seeds were free, and gardening is fun.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Hard Cheese #1

Tristan and I decided to start making cheese for a number of reasons. First, it's fun--you get to inoculate things, and who knew you could actually make cheese? Next, it's economical (sort of). You end up paying less for a good homemade cheese than for a fancy organic cheese from the store. And finally, there's much less packaging involved. Just like with the yogurt, you can buy milk in a returnable glass bottle. Buttermilk comes in a recyclable (or reusable) container, and one carton will last you many many batches of cheese (you can freeze it in an ice cube tray so you don't have to use it quickly). There's no packaging other than that, unless you count the wax used to cure the cheese.

So, that said, Tristan and I have made a few batches of fresh, soft cheese. They were really good but a little but annoying to make because of the squishy consistency of the curds. This time, we're making a hard cheese. We followed the instructions on the best website ever, Fankhauser's Cheese Page. We forgot to take pictures of the early stages, but here's a picture of the pressed, salted cheese about to go into the fridge for 2 weeks. After that, we'll dip it in wax and cure it for a month.

We're also currently embarking on Ricotta attempt #2, this time with fresh whey from cow's milk. We should know shortly whether it worked this time...

Saturday, February 16, 2008


This blog is lacking cohesiveness and direction. Could this be a reflection of my own mental state? Hmmmmm....I see the connection between my postings, but can you? Well, can you?

I'll have to work on this...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Food Not Lawns

For the past couple of days I've been immersing myself in H. Flores's great book, Food Not Lawns. It's a great introduction to permaculture/guide to community development with a real focus on practicality and creative use of limited space. A lot of other permaculture books I've read are designed for someone with a lot of space (at least an acre or two) and 10 years on their hands. Food Not Lawns encourages you to start planting and sharing food even if you can only plant in a few containers for now.

Soooo...Tristan and I scrounged up some containers from local dumpsters, and caved in and bought (as opposed to acquired from neighbors) some seeds to get our itching green thumbs started. Tonight we planted a bunch of onions, some romaine lettuce, and some roma tomatoes in empty toilet paper tubes and egg cartons. Tristan whipped up a greenhouse for some of the seedlings, so I'm curious to see how that impacts their growth. In 5-10 days we should start seeing lettuce and tomatoes sprouting, and in 10-15 some onions. I'll be sure to update then.

Once the seedlings are established, we'll plant them in big containers. Unfortunately we have to keep most of our garden portable for the time being, though we might plant some things in the big garden in the front yard as well. We also have plans for a big bin of potatoes. Apparently you can plant potatoes in the bottom of a barrel, and when the shoots are 4" high or so, you cover them up and wait for them to shoot up again, and repeat. This way you get many layers of roots that will develop a whole barrelful of potatoes!!!

UPDATE: I put out a call on freecycle and craigslist asking for seeds, and lo and behold an organic farmer responded!!! I'm set to pick up a surprise assortment of seeds on Monday!!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Goat's milk ricotta

Ricotta is Italian for re-cooked, and it's made by cooking the whey that remains after cheese making. The process sort of squeezes out the last bits of potential cheese that are suspended in the whey. I made goat cheese 2 weeks ago, and I've had this unwieldy container full of whey sitting in the fridge since then. Today I decided to try to make ricotta with it, following the instructions from my favorite website ever, http://biology.clc.uc.edu/Fankhauser/Cheese/Cheese.html

So far, the curds seem to be separating from the whey, but are so fine that I can't strain them. Is this because the whey is old? Maybe it didn't get acidic enough before I put it in the fridge. Or maybe I didn't heat it up quite enough. I'm not sure how to proceed now...

Zucchini Bread

This morning I made zucchini bread with some dumpstered zucchini. Even now, I still have 2-3 pounds of zucchini to deal with! I used a recipe off the internet, used about 1/3 whole wheat flour, and sunflower seeds (also dumpstered) instead of walnuts. I didn't have any cinnamon, but it tastes pretty good anyway. Next time: less sugar.

The zucchini bread is in honor of my friend Steven, who is coming to visit this weekend!