Saturday, April 30, 2011

First Seeds in the Ground!

Today was a beautiful warm and sunny day.  When I came from the Urban Dare race, I found that J had erected the fence we were planning around our raised beds.  It's just made out of 4' metal stakes and some heavy duty chicken wire, but we think it will be enough to keep the wildlife out.  We get deer, rabbits and even turkeys wondering through our yard regularly.

We took (another) quick trip to Home Depot to pick up mulch for our flower bed and enough topsoil and manure to finish filling up our raised beds.  Once we got the raised beds ready to go, I planted our first seeds in the ground -- two squares (9 seeds each) of sugar snap peas.  For everything else, we will wait a few more weeks until the threat of frost is gone.  I am trying to start our peppers (both bell and banana) inside, but no sprouts yet.  I was worried that the pods weren't getting enough (or any?) sun in our office window, so I moved them downstairs.  Sadly, our house doesn't get much natural light because of trees and the proximity of our neighbors.

This year I ordered most of our seeds from PA Seed Savers.  There is apparently some restriction on the buying/selling of heirloom seeds in PA unless you are part of a club.  Consequently, $2 of the shipping fees we paid actually purchased our annual membership.  Kind of weird.  I'm very excited about the seeds though.  According to the website, PA Seed Savers serves to make more varieties of heirloom seeds legally available to PA residents, and heirloom varieties consistently grown here should adapt to our environment and become more fruitful.  

Monday, April 25, 2011

Yogurt Chronicles II

I've been pondering on earth did people keep up with making yogurt before they could order the cultures in neat little packets from  I know in theory that the previous batch can be used to culture a new batch, but my understanding is that the cultures will eventually die out.  Plus that means you need to continually make a new batch before the old batch is gone.  Hmm...

Anyways, this led me to my little experiment.  As usual, I divided 1/2 gallon of creamline milk between two mason jars and followed my usual method.  I followed the directions on the yogurt package and added the whole thing to one jar (previously I used 1/2 and 2/3 of the packet).  To the other jar, I added about 2 T of my previous yogurt batch, strained to make it a bit thicker.  I then let the yogurt culture for about 16 hours.  Of course, I forgot to add more hot water before I went to bed, but I don't think it made a difference.  One less step...

The yogurt made from the culture packet was noticeably thicker than my previous batches but still not as thick as store bought yogurt.  The yogurt made from re-cultured yogurt turned out exactly the same as the previous batch - relatively thin.  So that answers one question -- yes, the cultures can be reused.  I wonder how long that will continue to work?  Regardless, that should save a few pennies on purchased cultures.  If I use a full packet in each jar and then reculture it at least once, that should yield a thicker yogurt for the same price as using only a half packet in each jar.  Who said I wasn't frugal?? 

In the photos above, you can see that the yogurt made from re-cultured yogurt (left) has quite a bit more whey visible.

Flower Bed

During a trip to Home Depot this weekend, we got sucked in by all the pretty flowers on display.  We walked in planning to purchase a propane tank and walked out with a cartful of flowers (and the propane tank). 

We live in a rental with a large yard, but much of it is covered in overgrown shrubbery and scraggly trees.  However, there was a patch of dirt to the right of our front door where someone clearly had a garden at one point.  J did a great job clearing it out, pulling up old roots and turning up the soil.  Much of the patch only gets partial sun, so we had to be strategic in picking a variety of plants that would flourish in these conditions.

I'm most excited by the peony plant in the back right corner that was an Easter gift from my mother.  Once we get some mulch down and the plants establish themselves, I think the front of our house will look pretty respectable. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


I was so excited to see my first little sprouts poking up through the dirt this afternoon.  My lettuce is making an appearance.  See the little green specks?  I swear they are there! 

I'm getting a little antsy for the seeds I ordered to come in the mail.  I ordered them a week and a half ago.  I need to get my peas in the ground and my pepper seeds started inside.  Maybe they'll show up tomorrow...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

It's Spring!

Look at my chives!  We just left the pot outside all winter and all of the sudden they were 5 inches tall.  I had no idea that chives were perennials.  Nice!

It's only April and I'm already behind on my gardening plan.  I'm trying to catch up though.  I ordered pea, bean and pepper seeds earlier this week.  Tonight I sowed left-over-from-last-year lettuce and arugula seeds in containers.  I also re-potted a houseplant that has miraculously survived a too small container and my black thumb for over a year now.

J built our beautiful  2' x 6' garden boxes and dug out space for them in the yard a few weeks ago.  Now we just need some more dirt and warmer weather. (Before the boxes were in place, we were worried the neighbors were going to think we had buried bodies in our yard!)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Yogurt Chronicles I

I've made yogurt several times now, and I still trying to figure out the most efficient way to get the best yogurt.  Although I started with the crockpot method, lately I've been following Kitchen Stewardship's instructions.  My first few attempts at yogurt I used store bought plain yogurt as the culture, but now I'm experimenting with the awesome yogurt cultures I got for Christmas.  Yogurt naturally comes in different flavors...who knew?

On my first attempt using the cultures, I divided one packet between 2 mason jars of milk. (Per the directions, I should have added a packet to each jar.)  I let it incubate for probably 4 or 5 hours.  The flavor was fantastic -- sweeter and not as tart as regular plain yogurt.  However, the consistency was almost that of a drinkable yogurt.  I ended up straining most of it through cheesecloth.

This time, I divided 3/4 gallon of creamline milk between 3 mason jars.  After heating the milk to 185 degrees and then allowing it to cool on the counter to 112 degrees, I evenly divided two packets of cultures between the 3 jars (~1/4 tsp each).  I let the yogurt incubate in a cooler for about 14 hours, adding more boiling water after 5 hours (before I went to bed).  I'm pretty pleased with the results.  I wish the yogurt was a smidge thicker, but that's nothing that a bit of cheesecloth can't fix.