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The Edible Garden Project 2015 – part 3

Planting a fall and winter garden.

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Our Edible garden project is definitely a work-in-progress project now and we are slowly moving forward. After a huge fight with wild Strawberry runners I managed to empty almost the entire vegetable bed (apart from a few Calendulas that I left behind on purpose). I saved the Strawberry plants and a few runners to plant in my new Strawberry border along the fence by the terrace. After some deep digging and with added manure I planted Carrots, Beets, Chives, Garlic, some salads and some Rainbow chard. I never succeeded very well with Carrots, but after my studies this year, I finally found out why: you need to confuse Mr. Carrotfly! He is a clever little bug and he finds the Carrot seedlings and eat them before you even see them above ground! So for this fall/ winter garden I came prepared: I added some Chives plants and also some Chives and Dill seeds in the ground (hopefully something will come up before the frost comes.) Chives is a perennial so it will come back year after year to protect my Carrots. Yeay!

So, moving on to the other vegetable bed where I planted a few Broccoli and Artichoke seedlings that I planted from seeds in June. Artichokes can grow as a perennial here in Belgium, but I should have planted them in the spring already to be able to enjoy them next summer. Artichokes are just like Rhubarbs: they have to be left alone the first year to be able to come back as perennials. If you harvest them they will not come back the year after and the year after that and so on. So, it’s an experiment with the Artichokes, we’ll see… Oh, and don’t you think my baby Rhubarb is the cutest thing ever? I love Rhubarbs, it will be extremely hard not to harvest it next summer. I will need to ask my neighbour for a mature plant that I can harvest from immediately as well.

 

 

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We did a major harvest last week, but there are some vegetables that stay on as long as they are producing. I was getting tired of the Lemon balm and Mint spreading out their roots all over the place, so I put them in pots for now. I hope that they will stay happy there with some mulching over the winter. I re-planted Peas in a wine crate in July and they are now growing steady and I should be able to harvest some pods for salads already next week. The Rainbow Chard that I planted in June are growing so big now, that I thinned a few out and planted them in the bigger vegetable beds instead. The three Courgettes that I planted out in June are still producing 2-3 zucchinis/ courgettes per week now! As I didn’t have a lot of space this year, I hope you can see that I’m growing them upwards, on bamboo sticks. It works really great 🙂 Finally, my son really wanted a Jack o’Lantern Pumpkin for Halloween. But he told me in early July so I really didn’t think anything would come out of it if we planted. Still, I let him plant a few seeds just for fun and to my surprise one of the Pumpkin plants is growing fast now and is already growing a Pumpkin! It’s only about 8 cm wide, but there is still another month until Halloween so maybe, maybe… 

By the way, growing vegetables with kids is so much fun! I love seeing their expressions when they see the result of their planting and as they water and watch the plants grow. I can’t wait to get the chickens… It will be such a great experience for them.

 

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I also finished my Strawberry border this week! The Strawberries look a little sad, but it’s only because they haven’t rooted yet. I added the little Citronella tree here as well. The smell will keep the mosquitos away from the terrace I hope. A also store-bought a Rosemary and a Thyme, both herbs are frequently used in our kitchen.

 

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Now all we need to do is a rain-dance like my daughter here, so that this fall and winter garden will grow well and produce lots and lots of delicious and healthy vegetables!


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Garden food – Apple sauce

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äppelmosss-3The apple tree in our garden is now full of nutritious and delicious apples. There are so many of them and although we’re eating all of the fallen fruit, there is still so much left and if I don’t figure out what to do with them soon, they will rot on the ground … So at the moment I’m trying to figure out the best ways to preserve them over the winter and here is one way: homemade Apple sauce! In our family we use this apple sauce for everything; at breakfast over oat porridge and milk, sprinkled with cinnamon or as a apple pie filling, or just plain (warmed up) with milk as a dinner dessert or as a after school snack. 1 kg gives about 1 litre of apple sauce to be stored in the freezer or in sterilised jars in a cool and dark place over the winter. This apple sauce is super easy to make too, and will even be cheaper than the cheapest apple sauces on the market. It is also a much healthier alternative than the store-bought ones.

Apple sauce (recipe inspired by Annas mat, Anna Bergenström, 1991)

1 kg apples

1,5 dl water

1 gram ascorbic acid

1 dl sugar

one tea towel

 

1. Start by washing the apples, peel them, remove stems and leaves and cut them into large cubes.

2. Add 1,5 dl water to a big pot, add the apple cubes and boil them for about 8-10 min while stirring occasionally.

3. Mash the apples with a potato masher or with a mixer for a smoother sauce.

4. Add the sugar and the ascorbic acid and stir thoroughly.

5. Freeze the apple sauce flat in zip bags (for an easy storage in the freezer) or in glass jars old fashion style (easier than you might think!)

 

To preserve in jars (IKEA‘s glass jars with a rubber lid is perfect for this, but any glass jar which has been sterilised will do fine):

1. Boil the glass jars and the rubber lids (or the metal lids) in some water in a big pot to sterilise them. 5 min will do 🙂 Save the water!

2. Add the apple sauce to the jars leaving about 2 cm of space left at the top. Put the rubber lids back on the glass jars while wet if you use rubber lid jars. If you use normal screw-on metal lids, just screw them on as tightly as possible.

3. Fold the tea towel in two and add it on the bottom of the pot in which you sterilised the jars. Put the glass jars on the tea towel and slowly bring the water to boil. Leave it boiling for about 20 min. This will make the lids stick to the glass jar, creating a vacuum and store well over the winter. Store the jars in the fridge or in a cool and dry place.




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The Edible Garden Project 2015 – part 2

Cleaning up and building a compost.

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Hi there! Welcome back to our Edible Garden Project 2015, part 2. If you want to know what this is all about, please have a look at my first post which explains everything 🙂

This week has been all about cleaning up and harvest the remaining crops before planting a few new vegetables for our fall and winter garden next week. We have a ton of apples and lots of beetroots, some salads and of course the entire freezer full of courgettes (zucchinis). I also finally managed to get in touch with the handyman who is suppose to come with his excavator to dig up the awfully looking and weed-infested gravel path leading to the garage. Hopefully he’ll be able to fix a tap close to the growing area for the garden hose. At the moment I have to drag the hose aaaaall the way around the house and into the hallway! Not the best solution… Anyway, I’m so exited to get rid of all the gravel and to deep dig (adding well-composted horse manure and compost in deep trenches) or make a “lasagna preparation” of the soil for some serious planting next spring.

I have managed to clear out that horrible space behind the garage with promised bruises, nettle burns and thorn cuts as a result. But so totally worth it! Next week I’m heading to Brico (Belgium’s store for gardening and building tools etc.) to buy mi’self a fence for that area. I need to keep the neighbours dog blind for the chickens, plus save them from an ugly compost area. I found so much trash all over the place, I also need to take a trip to the recycle station to get rid of some wood planks and rusty tools that I found on the ground. I also found a metal structure that will be perfect for my cucumbers next year!

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This week I also build us a seriously big and useful compost! I used two old pallets against the wall of the garage and I will ask my nice husband to nail them down in the ground with some poles later on. I like the idea of having the compost open in the front. The chickens will use the compost as a playground when they are out and about foraging, hopefully they will poop on it a lot to speed up the composting. Having the front of the compost open will also help when turning it, which is something you should do pretty often. I find the above image useful for knowing what you can and can’t compost. I should actually print it out and put it in the kitchen 😉 I also decided to give that wet and gooey old compost a chance to recover. I’m sure with a little balance of more dry material (cardboard, straw, dry grass, dry leaves etc.) it will be alright and soil nutritious.

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Finally I have been hanging out with this little lady: introducing my 2 month old daughter Alva! After all my hard muscle work in the garden, it’s seriously nice to sit down for a while, nursing her and laughing at her toothless smiles. Can you tell I’m completely in love? She is helping us in the garden by watching us work from her stroller and by sleeping so good outside, letting her parents work undisturbed. If she wakes up in the middle of a nap, all I do is starting to whistle or sing (or talk embarrassingly loud to myself!!) while working. Digging and stomping around very loud next to her also works… she falls back asleep straight away. Neat trick, huh? 😉 All kids really want to know that we are close by and that they are safe, right? Anyway, next summer she’ll probably be crawling around in our edible garden, getting dirt on her knees and straight into her mouth, and taking her first steps of course!


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DIY – Polka dot water bottle

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Living eco-friendly and zero-waste, we often buy juice in glas bottles. As we didn’t have a lot of serving carafes and because I love these bottles (they look like old milk bottles!) I figured that I could make something cute with it and use it on the dinner table.

You need: 

-A water pitcher, glas bottle or something similar.

– Ceramic or glass paint (or nail polish! I’ve heard about people using that although it might not stay forever…)

– Small brush.

How to make a Polka dot water carafe:

– If you want your dots to look evenly round, you can use some sort of template. I used the label stickers below, but you can draw by hand or cut out any size of polka dots that you want on plain paper, although you might have to tape them to the bottle. Add your templates on to your bottle, randomly or with a calculated distance, whatever you want.

– Paint inside your template and let dry for 24h. Once dry peal of your stickers or taped templates. You can also strengthen the color by putting your glass bottle on a plate in the oven on medium heat for about 15-30 minutes. The glass / ceramic color will indicate further.

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Garden food – Thé à la menthe

The beauty of having a herbal garden on the terrace is of course to be able to make my favorite summer drink: The à la Menthe. In Brussels you can find it in any café, but it’s really easy to make by yourself:
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for one cup you’ll need:
around 10 leaves of mint (peppermint)
1 tsp of sugar
2 dl hot water
Put the leaves in a tea cup, add a teaspoon of sugar and pour the water. Let it rest for a few minutes. Enjoy!!

 


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The Edible Garden Project 2015 – part 1

Our present garden.

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This is our garden. Welcome! It doesn’t look amazingly inviting, does it? That’s because our garden is far from finished. Let me explain:

We moved here a few months ago (in the middle of the growing season!) and when we arrived, I made sure most of my plants from my old vegetable garden came with me. It’s hard to move, to get your roots pulled up… literally! My vegetable plants really didn’t like to be moved, but with some heavy work and some fresh pot soil, they survived at least. Still, because of the move, we ended up having a pretty pathetic crop this summer so I focused on learning and studying about growing your own food instead. I tried to learn as much as I could about the plants I was growing, about plants I should try to grow and also what I could have done better. But what I realised after all this studying is that it is really easy to grow your own food! Much easier than I thought. So we decided to start this project for real and I am so exited to share this with you now:

The Edible Garden Project 2015!

Max and I have decided that we will make our garden as productive as possible for next summer (2015) and we are starting with a few fall-friendly vegetables already this fall! We don’t have a lot of space to grow on yet, but with a little planning we think we might be able to grow quite a lot and seriously cut our food expenses as well as decreasing our carbon footprint by growing organic and save the waste we would create by buying food in the supermarket.

The plan is:

– to try to grow as much food as we can by ourselves.

– to eat mainly vegetarian (although Max and the kids will eat meat occasionally).

– to buy what we can’t grow in bulk and locally grown (flour, oats, cheese, butter, milk).

– to have our own eggs (there is a chicken coop in our garden already!)

– to cook and bake everything by ourselves and really avoid processed food.

– to create a peaceful, organised and beautiful garden full of flowers and food.

So let me take you on a tour of our garden as it looks at present and let me explain what needs to be done to get started.

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First: this is what our vegetable garden looked like this summer… Not very impressive, right? I just planted them in pots, buckets and what-not … what I had available really.

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This is the second year I grow corn and still no success! The mistake I made the first year was not to give them enough sun and this year it was a combination of being uprooted three times (!!) and vicious slugs.

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I like to mix my vegetables in the vegetable beds. Not only does it look interesting, but they all grow in different speed (fast-growing radish is great to grow while you are waiting for a slow-growing cauliflower). It also helps to grow certain vegetables next to each other as companion planting repels and confuse pests. I’m growing potatoes in those big pots in the background.

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Broad beans, Cresse, Sunflowers and Lemon Balm, extremely productive courgettes in the background.

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A yellow zucchini plant and popcorn (!!). My kids played around with popcorn for fun and they actually started growing! Although no cobs grew, they were still decorative.

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I grow garlic and peas in wooden wine crates on the terrace. It always worked fine for me and it gives a little space in the precious vegetable beds for other goodies.

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I grew my first tomato plant this year and at first it looked very productive as about 20 tomatoes started to show. Unfortunately I learned at harvest time that there is something called “Blossom end rot” and all my tomatoes had it 😦 Apparently it is due to a lack of calcium in the soil. You learn by your mistakes is what they say …

To continue our tour, here is what we have to work with and ideas I have to change or re-make to the better:

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1. The entrance: This used to be a little gravel path leading to the garage you can see in the background. This will all be made into a lawn and growing beds. The garage has flooding problems, so the only thing we can store there are pots and maybe a seed growing table and a shelf. The ornamental grass hedge is gorgeous! It looks like Fountain Grass and will have featherlike flowers in the end of the summer. I’m planning to dig up the ground here to create a long vegetable bed along the grass all the way to the garage. That should give us about 20 square metres of growing space. I’m thinking that I will build a tall trellis structure with beans climbing between the house wall and the grass, creating a pretty entrance into the garden.

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2. The chicken coop: If I was a chicken I wouldn’t want to live in this coop… It’s dark, disgusting, dirty and it needs a big clean up! I have already removed some old and moulded wood planks that was covering and weighing down the roof, plus taken down a scary looking tarp that looked like that sail on the Black Pearl in Pirates of the Caribbean! I’m planning to wash the entire coop, inside out, add wood shavings all over the ground and make a “dust bath tub” out of an old tire. I also need to add a door to the coop to protect the chickens from all the foxes that are running around in our neighbourhood at night. The cage can be closed, but I heard incredible stories about foxes. They can get in anywhere! So another door to the coop itself would be a good idea I think. As you can see the coop stands inside a cubic cage, so we could technically keep them shut in that cage with still some space to run free. I’m not to fond of the idea to close an animal in a cage though, so I’m planning to let them run around in the back area surrounding the garage. There is a closed fenced to “the house garden”, so they won’t be able to get to the vegetable patches and mess around, so I’ll be able to control their free range to the closed “garage garden”, the chicken coop area and the composts (where they are more than welcome to play!).

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3. The compost: To continue the tale of dirty and disgusting … well, the present compost is the most disgusting compost I have ever seen. Apart from lots of flies there was no sign of life, no worms, no caterpillars, no beetles… I thought that was  pretty strange for a compost, so I decided to … ehh … have a look inside. And as I suspected, after some turning of the wet and gooey material, I found whole egg shells, plastic pieces, bones and even better: the remains of a pig foot with some rotten flesh still on it. yup. So I think I’m going to make a big hole and bury the remains of this compost, and start a new one. With crushed eggshells. Here is a great list of what you can and can’t compost.

Around the garage is a really wild area, full of nettles and thistles and facing the neighbour’s garden. I think this could be a great area to make a few composts actually. We also need to put up some sort of fence as the neighbours have a dog, I’m scared his constant barking will scare the chickens to death… Anyone with experience of barking dogs and chickens? Please tell me about it in the comments below. Anyway, the first task here is to pull up all them weeds by the roots. It’s gonna sting and cut me, but it will be nice and clean once it’s done 🙂 And then I’m going to build a huge compost.

ediblegarden-214. The ornamental grass: The first part of this grass hedge is so pretty! And then the above happens. Thistles, nettles, wines and un-trimmed lavender has taken over! I actually feel exited to arm myself with a long-sleeved sweater and garden gloves and get it there to pull! There is life in there though… I’ve heard a mouse (please don’t let it be a rat!) running around in there squeaking and also some angry buzzing from what I believe is a wasp-nest. Gulp. You can imagine how nice it will look once there is a lawn and vegetable patches in front of this hedge instead of weed-infested gravel.

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5. The good things that needs some tweaking: There are two fruit trees: one apple tree and one cherry tree, both very productive. For seasonal thinking it’s great. We can harvest the cherries in June and the apples in September-October. Both can be stored, canned or frozen and will give us a big supply during the winter.

There is a semi-shaded spot against a straw fence/ hedge next to the apple tree. I’m planning to plant strawberries and herbs there. We have a small citronella tree standing in the middle of the lawn, I’m moving it here as well. The citronella is a mosquito repellant so it will be a good idea to put it next to the terrace.

There is also some bamboo next to the chicken coop. Great for those important bamboo sticks to create growing structures.

So there you have it! Our garden. I’m so exited to do this project and I hope you want to follow us and see what happens and how we progress. Now I’m off to build a compost!