Thursday, February 28, 2013

Growing Uncommon Vegetables in Your Garden

If you stroll through the majority of supermarkets, you will see remarkably similar vegetable types and varieties wherever you live.  We sure do love our lettuce, orange carrots, white potatoes, broccoli and other staple vegetables.  It’s not surprising that when we set off to plan and plant our own gardens, we often stick with many of the standard crops we purchase in the grocery store.  While many of these staples are wonderful fresh from the garden, growing your own vegetables provides a special opportunity to try some of the less commonly known crops.  Even some of the more commonly grown vegetable come in an array of colors and varieties that you can’t find in the store.

Here are some less common vegetables to consider trying in your garden.  If you’ve never tried some of these crops, I suggest planting one or two each year and deciding which ones you like best, it’s no fun having a whole row full of something your family won’t eat!

Kohlrabi is related to cabbage and is a vegetable that can be eaten raw or cooked in stir fries or other dihes.  You can plant in the fall for a spring harvest, or transplant outside in the spring for harvesting in the fall.

Beets are a new favorite around our home.  They are sweet, can be canned, baked, added to salads, frozen, used as a natural dye, and you can even eat the green tops.  Plant them starting in the spring and throughout the growing season for continuous harvest.

Jerusalem Artichokes
Jerusalem artichokes, also called sunchokes, are related to sunflowers and grow beautiful flowers in addition to edible roots.  They can be eaten raw or cooked like other root vegetables and have a nice earthy flavor.   

Celeriac is related to celery and is grown for its roots and tops.   It is generally used much the same as potatoes, but can also be eaten raw, and has a nice mild taste.  While it does take a long time to grow, celeriac stores well.

Seakale is a mulit-faceted perennial vegetable with edible shoots, roots, and tops.  It is also a beautiful plant that can be used among flowers in your favorite garden.  Like asparagus, seakale thrives after several years and the same plant can be divided and enjoyed for years to come.

Tomatillas/Ground Cherries
Both tomatillos and ground cherries form and grow inside husks.  When removed from the husk, they can both be used in a variety of ways such as salsas, chilies, jellies, or eaten raw.

Bok Choy
Bok Choy is a mildly flavored vegetable perfect for stir fries.  It can be grown in the spring or for a fall crop and is not only delicious but beautiful.

Different Varieties
If you’re not ready to try some of these more unusual vegetables, consider trying some of the less common varieties of vegetables you already enjoy.  While only a few tomato varieties make it to the store, there are hundreds to choose from for your garden.  Even vegetables like carrots come in a multitude of colors, so don’t get caught up in planting a traditional vegetable, spice it up by growing interesting vegetables and fantastic varieties.

Do you grow anything unusual in your vegetable garden?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Homestead Highlight: Marci

  My greatest inspiration in my own backyard farming adventure has been to hear the experiences of others. I invite you to read along here as Homesteaders share their adventures and experiences from their own farms, backyards, and homes.
Want to be featured as a Homestead Highlight? I would love to hear about your experience. For more information follow the link to the information page and share your own homestead here at the Backyard Farming Connection! 
* * *
 Today I welcome Marci to this space.

Hello! My name is Marci. We live in an old rock farmhouse on one acre.
There are two greenhouses, a vegetable garden, herbs, several flower beds,
lots of hobbies and too many pets. Thankfully, our neighbors love us! They
say being our neighbor is like living next door to Old MacDonald and Martha
Stewart! My blog is Stone Cottage Adventures.

Come see us!

How long have you been backyard farming? 

 Since childhood, I was raised on a farm.  My parents always had a garden and did a lot of canning.  My maternal grandmother was an avid garden.

What got you started? 

 I think my maternal grandmother had the most influence.  Although her property was small, she had a lot of beds.  Her front yard held flowers while her back yard was for vegetables.  There were paths to walk, but mostly beds of either flowers or vegetables.  Her LOVE of gardening and caring for the soil was very inspirational.

What does your backyard farm look like?  We only have one acre.  The back yard has a garden, two greenhouses.  The dogs and chickens are loose together.  We also have a shed for rabbits.

Where is it?  Northwest Arkansas

What has been your biggest success and biggest mistake?  I think our greenhouses would qualify for both answers.  It took quite some time and lots of dead plants before we figured out how to control the temperatures in the greenhouses.

What plans do you have for the future?  I've just recently learned to make lye soap and artisan cheese.  Both are lots of fun.  I'd like to become skilled in both.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Backyard Farming Connection Hop #21

Things are picking up here in NY and we've been busy with some repairs, shearing and planning thi past week.  Here on the blog, it's also been an exciting week with a new series of permanent link ups on a variety of homesteading skills. If you missed the link up, make sure you check out the link here and share your posts as permanent links on my site here.

This week I'm excited to share to interesting posts:

If you've never heard of the new gardening method Hugelkultur, make sure to check out this interesting post from Animals Instinct.

Do you have a problem with mites?  Try these solutions from Fresh Eggs Daily

 I want to know what's happening, in your garden, on your homestead, in the barnyard, and in the kitchen.  Whatever is in your backyard farm and home, I would love to hear about it.

Each week I will share some of my favorite posts in the newly formed Backyard Farming Connection Facebook page.  And in case you haven't seen, I have a new 'featured button' so if you've been featured in the past, grab a button.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Preparing Your Backyard Farm for Weather Extremes

No matter how much you prepare and plan, weather uncertainties are likely to occur in your backyard.  While nothing can prevent a hurricane from passing through your area, keeping in mind possible or likely weather events when you plan your backyard farm will give you a greater level of success.  This is part 4 in a 4 part series on Weather and Climate for the Backyard Farmer.

To start, think about the weather in your area, and divide the following weather events up into 3 categories: Unlikely to occur, may occur, and likely to occur

  • Hurricane/cyclone
  • Tornado
  • Flooding
  • Hail
  • Heavy/damaging Winds
  • Blizzard
  • Ice Storm
  • Drought
  • Heat Waves
  • Extreme Cold

Recurrence Intervals

If you are looking for information on how often these events are likely to occur, you may come across information about recurrence intervals.  This is an average (based on past data) of how often this event is likely to occur.  You may see something called a 100 year flood, meaning that on average this flood occurs 1 every 100 years).  It is very important to remember that this does not mean that the flood occurs 1 time each 100 years.  You may experience 3 years in a row with a flood of this magnitude and not have another flood for 300 years.  Just because you experienced a 100 year drought this year, it does not mean you won’t experience one next year.  In fact, you may be more likely to experience one next year since the climatic elements that caused the drought may still be in place the following year.

General Preparation

While many of these weather events take specific preparations, there are some general things you can do to prepare.  Here are a few items that will ensure you are better prepared for most weather events:

  • Assure that buildings and structures are sound, insulated where needed, and not overcrowded
  • Create drainage for areas that are likely to flood – especially places where animals live
  • Collect water in barrels, cisterns, or a pond
  • Plant a variety of crops, since certain types may survive specific weather event better than others
  • Have a generator on hand or another means to generate heat
  • Cut down or trim trees or branches that may fall on your home, barn, sheds, or garden
  • Prepare a disaster plan for when things go wrong
  • Consider which event occur most commonly in your area, and prepare for those events

Creating a Disaster Plan

Create a plan for weather disasters so you are ready before the event arrives.  Despite improvements in forecasting, we all know they get it wrong, so it is always better to be prepared.  When creating a disaster plan, write out how you will care for your animals and property, who you will contact in an emergency, what supplies you may need on hand for your family and your animals, and where you might go if you are forced to evacuate.  Injuries from weather events are just as likely to occur during the clean-up stage, so be prepared and careful.

Climate Changes

While extreme weather events can occur at any time, there are also slower permanent or temporary climate changes to consider as well.  The slow warming that is shifting agricultural zones northward means that different crops will fail or thrive than in past years.  It also means that weather events may increase or decrease with frequency.  While many changes may be permanent, it is also important to remember that locally, shifts in climate may be temporary and may revert back to a previous climate.  While it is difficult to predict local climates in the future, you can make observations and see how things have been changing in your area (you can look at last frost dates and see if there are any trends over the last 30 years that may give an indication of change in the future).  

How do you plan for weather extremes in your area?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Lally Broch Farm Scent Shots

A few weeks ago, Sonja from Lally Broch Farm asked if I would be interested in some scent shots, and I jumped at the chance!  Just like their goat's milk soap, these scent shots are incredible.  Over the last several days we've kept these scents melted almost continuously in our home (I say almost, because there are a few minutes after I get up in the morning before I can get the candle lit).  With a variety of scents to choose from, you will easily find something that fits your home.  I am not always the biggest fan of strong, overly fruity, artificial candles, but I can tell you that these scent shots are strong enough to last for several uses, but never overpowering. 

You can order your choice of 6 scents at Lally Broch Farm Etsy Store, or stop by here and enter to win 6 scent shots and  Harmony Home Flame-less plug-in warmer

Friday, February 22, 2013

Homeskills Link Up

Over the last several months, I've been posting animal specific link ups for people to share their knowledge and thoughts on raising a variety of different backyard animals.  If you missed linking up, you can visit the Animal page and share your knowledge there.  These link ups will remain on my site permanently as a way for people to find great, first hand information.

This week I'm sharing a series of link ups pertaining to homesteading/backyard farming skills.  Just like the animal link ups, these will stay on the site permanently, and will be available for people looking for specific topics, so dig back into your archives or share recent posts here.  You may link up to 10 posts on the topics below.  Please link back to the Backyard Farming Connection somewhere on your page.

By posting, you are giving me permission to feature your post from my site or on Facebook and share your photos there (this will only be done by crediting you with any and all information or photos, and is only a way to better share your articles).  You can also see my link up page for more information.  Starting this spring I will be featuring some of these posts on my blog.

So take a few minutes and share your posts by visiting each of the topics below!

Share your made by hand items by uploading photos here.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Late February

The end of February is tough for me.  Here in the northeast, winter is still firmly in place and mud season hasn't even started yet.  While I'm ready to get planting and shake out the cobwebs with some spring cleaning, it's not quite time.

In case you missed these on Facebook - here are a few thoughts and some inspiration for your late February day.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Homestead Highlight: Krystyna

 My greatest inspiration in my own backyard farming adventure has been to hear the experiences of others. I invite you to read along here as Homesteaders share their adventures and experiences from their own farms, backyards, and homes.
Want to be featured as a Homestead Highlight? I would love to hear about your experience. For more information follow the link to the information page and share your own homestead here at the Backyard Farming Connection! 
* * *
 Today I welcome Krystyna to this space.

 Marine Corps Veteran, brain surgery survivor and mother of two active boys, Krystyna stays busy helping her husband (and best friend!) with the daily demands of life on the farm. With a family to nurture, food to grow and preserve and animals to raise, there is never a dull moment in her life. Krystyna is a city girl gone country and natural living enthusiast who is passionate about sharing her homesteading experience with others.
You can connect with Spring Mountain Living on the blog, find us on Facebook follow us on Twitter or find us on Pinterest

How long have you been backyard farming? What got you started?

My husband has been doing some variation of backyard farming his entire life.  I'm lucky in that sense - he already had some experience when we started venturing in this direction, because I had zero experience with farming or gardening before getting married.  We started years ago, when we first got hitched and were living in Japan.  We both worked full-time in the Marine Corps and had a small apartment, on the top floor, of an apartment in town.  The produce available to us at the local grocery store was extremely expensive and the options at our military base were very poor quality, due to being shipped from the U.S.  We dove into container gardening and set up pots of tomatoes and peppers.  That was over a decade ago, and since then we've continued in our progression over time.  Our first home was a comfortable acre, and we were able to till up a garden and supplement our food purchases.  As the years passed, we moved regularly, due to the military, but always tried to have a small space for herbs, tomatoes or other items easy-to-grow food plants.  It's all paid off, allowing us to learn slowly and improve from our (many) failures.  We are in the middle of a move to a 50+ acre homestead now, to become our "forever" home.

What does your backyard farm look like? Where is it?

Right now, our backyard is in (way) upstate New York, nestled on the Canadian border.  We have just over a handful of acres, some wooded and some clear.  When I look outside, I can see a large barn that my husband built, our livestock guardian dog (LGD), Athena and our goats peering out at us.  I can hear roosters crowing and hens singing as they lay an egg.  A short walk through the woods would let me see the place our pigs spent many months growing before they filled our freezer.  I can see the snow dusted over our old veggie garden, tucked in for the winter. 

If all that doesn't sound (& look) beautiful enough, our forever homestead is in Spring Mountain, Ohio, sandwiched between Columbus and Cleveland.  It's a dreamy 55 acres, perched at the top of a little mountain.  There are lucsious woods for forraging and hiking, a small pond for fishing, a spring and lots of open space for farming and livestock to range.  There are barns and buildings, built my my husband's family, and in just a few months, the rest of our animals will travel to their new home.  And we'll begin building our "forever" home, and continue to cultivate the land.

What has been your biggest success and biggest mistake? 

I believe our biggest success has been a combination of setting reasonable goals combined with self education.  Setting goals that you can reach is important.  Instead of deciding, "I'm going to homestead," one day and going out to purchase a large plot of land, try starting slowly, taking things one step a time.  It's a better way to set yourself up for success and avoid the aggravation of trying to do too much at once.  Education is a key factor in our success as well; we research, research, research.  And when we're done researching, we do some reading (to research).  Reading can similar books or articles can feel redundant when you're trying to learn, but one of the best ways to be prepared is to be educated.  Knowing as much as you can on a subject will help you be more prepared, make less mistakes and be able to react faster.  For example, before we decided to raise goats, we made sure we knew what they required to survive, as well as how to care for them when sick, kidding, etc.  When we had a goat that became ill, we were already prepared to treat her, vice running around frantically trying to figure out what to do.

I think our biggest failure, initially, is not working together as a team.  For a long time, my husband handled the firewood, I was the seamstress and cook, the children had simple chores and schoolwork to work on.  Having separate (and stereotypical) jobs caused us to butt a lot of heads, feel unappreciated and generally didn't accomplish all that was needed.  Recently, we've taken on homesteading as a family experience and it has drastically improved things.  Everyone in our house is now responsible for participating in the daily demands of life.  We can all help with the firewood, even the children can help with cooking, my husband can stitch a ripped seam in a pinch.

What plans do you have for the future?
In the short-term, we will be finishing up our move to our "forever homestead," in Ohio, building a green home (cobb), adding solar, cultivating a spring, and working more land.  And of course, we plan to continue to educate ourselves, and help pass on new knowledge to others wishing to lead a similar lifestyle.