Garden Planning

This year I have just a few things planned for the garden. To eat, I am planting tomatoes on the trellis next to the clematis, among a bed of basil and tomatillos. I am planting early, indeterminite (tall growing) vines. San Marzano paste tomatoes for canning and drying, and black cherry tomatoes for the kids to pick and eat. Tomatillos are for making verde sauce for my son, and my husband gets some early hot peppers, perfect for our cooler climate (Padron Peppers). I bought all my veggie seeds at anniesheirloomseeds.com which has a wonderful open-pollinated selection and doesn't charge too much for shipping.

Yesterday my family and I picked out flowers to surround the chicken run: morning glories, moon flowers and and fragrant sweet pea. We also bought cilantro to grow right away in a container. Kmart was having a wonderful "buy one get one free" sale on their seeds which is worth checking out.

I can't wait to get planting! Today is a dreary rainy day, but the maple sap is boiling away on the stove and I have a pile of peat pots waiting on the counter. Of course, it's still a bit to early here to start anything but cold weather crops -- but I am going to start a tray of cilantro today in an old salad container. Honestly -- I love my supermarket, but rather despise the fact that package all the salad inside these huge containers. Plastic bags would work fine, too! But I have found a great use for these containers -- seed starting. I use them every year before recycling them.


New chickens and a wattle run!

What? Wattle what? Wattle is a sort of free fencing you can weave from saplings, twigs and vines on your property. You can build houses, shelters, and furniture out of wattle, too. I've always particularly admired this sort of wattle on the left, and have been planning since last fall to make a wattle arbor on the property somewhere -- since we're not moving after all! At least not for a couple of years. So I've decided to give in and make my home all artsy rather than keep it simple for prospective buyers. Who know when the economy will really shift, and a girl's just gotta be able to DO stuff, you know?

So, along that vein, I have reserved a new flock of chickens, due to arrive mid-may. This time, I want to move their coop behind the house and build a huge run so they can be fenced in rather than free-ranging all the time. I've picked a spot under a bunch of pine trees that will offer natural shade in summer, and less snow burial in winter. It will also drop lots of needles for them to play in and help keep the run fresh and clean. I was planning on making the run with 2x4s and poultry wire, but as I was looking at my pictures of wattle trellises and pondering the vast forest of saplings out back which I neglected to prune last summer,  I thought, hey, wattle RUN! Some people do this by making solids walls (one man even calls his wattle coop a "castle" as it is son impenetrable) and others use nails to secure wattle, while some use loose wattle with wire between for their sheep. I still plan to use poultry wire, because I want to be able to sit and watch my chickens, plus I don't want anything sneaking in if I miss a spot. So the whole run will be wired in, all 6 sides, sort of like a box car. But a very very pretty boxcar!

I'm also buying a bunch of morning glory and shell vines to cover it with pretty flowers (one hopes). I don't generally have much luck germinating morning glory, for reasons unknown to me. I have tried everything, every method I know of -- if anyone has any suggestions, for the wattle or the vines, please do give me some. It'll be a pretty shaded spot.This year I will try nicking the seeds and putting them in a damp paper towel, see how that works.

I'm sure you're all just dying to know what sort of chickens I am getting (9 chickens, 7 kinds!) but I will just tell you for now that they are all rare or heritage breeds, and they are all know to be calm and docile, perfect for run-living and being around small children. More about the birds soon, I promise.


Shaping Up

For the next few months I have a  nice little side project: getting in shape! We received a Wii Fit for christmas, and have been using that quite a bit. At a Superbowl party my friends and I decided we could all use some incentive to lose a bit of extra fat, so we enetered into a small contest. We all weighed in, and the largest loser in 2.5 months and then again a month later will receive one-third and two-thirds of the proze money, respectively. We are basing the weight loss on percentages, since we are all wildly different in height and weight.

I don't believe in dieting for the most part. I've always eaten everything I want, and since I have a good metabolism  and am relatively active this has worked for me. I was curious how my calorie intake stacked up to me exercise caloric expenditure, so I found two great tools online: myfitnesspal.com, which lets you track calories and exercise online and through your phone, and a smaller "calorie counter" app for my google homepage. Both are quite easy to use and I'm finding that my calorie intake is actually quite lower than what I thought it was, despite large intakes of cheese (I'm an addict!).

So by lowering my calorie intake by a couple hundred a day (easy to do by substituting pitas for breads, and grabbing smaller portions of desserts and cheeses) I am aiming to make my exercise routing much more effective. Let the love handles dissolve!

For exercise I am on the wii for at least an hour a day -- 35 minutes of strength and yoga exercises in the "my routine" area of the wii fit, at least 10 minutes of running and hula hooping, and then another 20-30 minutes of games like sword fighting, boxing, segway courses and balance training. As the weather warms I am taking to the roads and trails with the kids and dog, as weather permits.I hope to start running in a few weeks, tho I'll be needing to find a jogging stroller first. Today it I am getting over a cold and it's snowing outside, so I'll just stick to the 35 minutes of yoga and let the rest slide.

I must say, the wii is just about the best present I ever asked for in terms of how much we're using it and how much we're getting out of it. I don't have the time or money to get to a gym, and it's too cold and yucky out most winter days to get out and exercise. My house is on the wee side (just under 1200 ft, with a big wood stove in the living room) so there's no room for home gym equipment. The wii is compact, fun and the whole family enjoys it. Even my mother-in-law has gotten one after enjoying ours.

What are you all doing for exercise and fitness during these winter months?


Choosing and Buying Heirloom Seeds

My very first blogpost ever was about buying seeds, and I love to re-post that article around this time each year because it is so appropriate. What are you going to plant this year? 
I am going to focus on tomatoes and tomatillos, and I plan to put them in a sunny corner of my herb garden on some trellises against the house among the clematis. My son has developed a passion for Mild Verde Sauce, so I hope to can some this summer, and make a whole bunch more tomato sauce (we are almost out of what I canned, just one jar left!) I do still have a couple quarts of my dried tomatoes left which will last us until the local hot-house tomatoes begin to come in. They go in our pasta sauces, on our salads, in soups and stews, and are gobbled up plain for snacks.
This year I've decided to look into some new seed companies, I'll let you know how that turns out! If any of you have any suggestions for great climbing, heritage tomato breeds or a favorite seed company, let me know.

This winter has been particluarly hard on most of the people in my region, with leaking roofs, collapsing barns and 12 foot snow drifts on everyone's mind. So spring and seeds are a welcome focus! Enjoy the rest of my article, and have fun buying seeds.

"Having turned the corner through the dead of winter, our days are getting longer and everyone (at least here where I live) is dreaming about Spring and days that don't begin with a stoking of the fireplace. Seed and plant catalogues are a great way to feed the mind and soul during winter, with beautiful images of flowers and vegetables, herbs and exotic grasses. I recently found a great article from Mother Earth News that had links to seed companies all over America. This is a fantastic resource, because when you buy seeds locally you are accomplishing two things: you are supporting local business communities and your plants are more likely to thrive in your soil, having been bred for generations in that spot of earth.

When you are reading about seeds, you will come across the terms Hybrid (F1), Open-Pollinated (OP) and Heirloom. Hybrid seeds produce specially bred varieties that are often disease and drought-resistant, or have special production properties. They are also usually designed to create more seed buying and protect the seed company's economic interest in their stock, which means that they will not breed true: if you want the same plant next year, you'll have to buy the seeds again. If you try and use seeds you collected from the plant, they will grow into a different plant, generally with different fruit production, or not even germinate at all.

Open-pollinated seeds breed true, and are often organic or grown without pesticides. You can save seeds from an open-pollinated plant and expect the exact same plants the next year. Environmentally, they present a better heritage for our children because these seeds are dependable and safe. Heirloom seeds are generally considered open-pollinated seeds which have been growing true for over 50 years or plant generations -- these are the seeds of our grandmothers, and theirs. Some heirloom varieties are endangered, and I love knowing that I am preserving a little bit of istory by planting these varieties in my garden. Here in Connecticut, I often choose to order from two companies. The first is Comstock, Ferre, which had many OP seeds to choose from, does a lot of their own growing, and is the oldest seed company in the United States. How cool is that?? The other is a small company just a few towns aways from me, in a really tiny town, actually, called John Scheeper's Kitchen Garden Seeds. I also have some seeds from last year from Park's and Seeds of Change that I will use up."
Another great resource for those of you who are uber-serious about saving and using your seeds for next year is the fabulous book, Seed to Seed.