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The Edible Garden Project 2015 – part 6. The real thing now!

Early spring and square feet.

The gardening reading material that I have been plowing through this winter is Mel Bartolomew’s “the square foot garden”. I think this gardening method will fit our small garden perfectly as it enables you to squeeze in A LOT on a very small space. To quickly explain this method:

You grow everything in squares instead of rows.

By doing this you eliminate weeds growing and the endless weeding between rows. You avoid planting more than you need and there won’t be any more hard work or analyzing of the soil as you use a special mix, perfectly fitted for anything you want to grow, in raised beds.

The result is an impressive harvest in little space. Perfect for a small vegetarian family.

You plant by following a formula, a plant spacing guide, based on the size of your finished plant/ vegetable. For example: carrots are thin and don’t need a lot of space in between, so 1 square can fit 16 carrots. Beetroots are bigger, but doesn’t need a lot of space in between, thus 9 beets in 1 square. Squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage etc are bigger plants, so they need more space. 1 plant per square. See the diagram below.

March 2015 was spent building the beds, mixing the soil (Mel’s mix) and planting a few early seedlings that could stand the frost. I also gave my older kids 3 square feet each, where they can plant what they want. My son planted in each square: 6 pea plants, 1 cauliflower and 16 carrots. My daughter: 16 radishes, 16 carrots and 1 cauliflower.

My biggest challenge at the moment is to make my baby daughter understand that dirt is not meant to be eaten…

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Barbie house rehab!

barbie house-8barbie house-7 We have a beautiful wooden Barbie house, but they kids never played with it. The house had painted furnitures on the wall and my kids didn’t like that. They said they wished it had wall paper like in real rooms instead. We decided to do a mega clean up of the house we had instead of giving it away. First, we through away half of the dolls. Plus a lot of the half-broken plastic furnitures that came with it. All the small things that comes with a Barbie house; clothes, bags, food, glasses, make-up etc, was thrown into a big box next to the house where they had been long-gone forgotten. My philosophy when it comes to toys is: the less they have, the more they play with it! Therefore, they got to keep 6 of their favourite Barbie dolls, two boys and two girls, plus 2 small Barbie kids. The box went away. Anything they wanted had to fit into the house, if it didn’t we threw it away. I took down my old dollhouse furnitures and small things from the attic instead (I made lots of miniature things in my late teens) and we got to work on our new house. We found some pretty printed Japanese rice paper in DIY shop which we mod-podged to the walls. We added drawer lining to the floors, apart from the bathroom, which we painted. We also painted the outside walls in plain white. The plants are painted and cut masking tape glued to metal wire, put into a flower pot made of clay before drying. The closet of the balcony is made from a BBQ stick, attached to the ceiling with looped screws. The hangers are metal paper clips that we re-shaped. The shoes and bags are stored in a storage furniture for my old dollhouse. The result is an original and pretty Barbie house that they finally play with a lot. It feels like a real house now! barbie housebarbie house-2 barbie house-3 barbie house-4 barbie house-5 barbie house-6   barbie house-9


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The Edible Garden Project 2015 – part 4

Here comes the protein!

eggschickens-2 chickens-12 chickens-16 chickens-15Last week we bought three lovely chicken ladies and became proper urban farmers! They are so plump and adorable and I finally understand what chicken lovers mean when they say that chickens are funny. They are actually hilarious! They remind me of John Cleese doing his funny walk. And they are so soft! I love them already. We have been working a lot on the Chicken Coop this week, which was humid, damp and dirty. My kids and I did a big clean-up, painted some oil on the surface of the coop and built a brand new chicken coop door. We built them a nest in an old metal bucket and added a wooden egg (to trick them that this is where they should lay their eggs). And then it was finally time to go and get the chickens. We bought them for 8€ each at a local farm and considering that they will give us about 800 eggs a year, this is a very good deal. We are not planning to keep them in that cage. They will be free-range chickens, foraging and exploring the back of our garden, where the compost conveniently is located. So that’s it: we now have fresh and pretty much free eggs, the best fertiliser for our future plants and three cute pets to enjoy.

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In the Fall and Winter garden, everything is looking fine too. The broccoli and the carrots are growing inside a fleece tent and I hope it should protect them from possible early frost. We will still have a small amount of salads, a small pumpkin, chard and radishes to harvest, but just in case, I’m growing a few salad and chard plants inside, to harvest during the coldest months. We are still fine with vegetables though, the entire freezer is full of zucchinis from this summer. Our three zucchini plants were very productive! chickens-11 chickens-9 chickens-8 chickens-5 chickens-4 chickens-3


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Garden food – How to Sprout Lentils

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What to do with those dried lentils in your pantry… Sprout them! Add then them to salads, eat them as a snack, add them to smoothies or use them as micro greens in the winter (if you can’t grow your own salad due lack of light). They have a mild and slightly nutty flavour. Delicious! And so healthy… Try doing it with the kids: they will love seeing it grow so fast!

I’m cautious to what goes into my body nowadays, especially since I became a vegetarian two years ago. I like to eat “real food”, by that I mean that I avoid processed food, even for vegetarians and vegans. I want to make all the food I eat by myself. I buy organic produce, or grow as much as I can in my garden, I buy local and seasonal. I never thought it was difficult to quit the meat though, as there are so much delicious stuff to replace it with. And replacing the meat really helps our health and also the environment. What’s also interesting is that blood tests I’ve done lately shows that my iron and protein levels are so much better now since before, when I still ate meat.

Anyway, my new favourite source of protein nowadays are lentils and beans. I make salads with boiled lentils together with chopped red onions and add a really tasty sesame dressing (2 tbsp brown sugar, 2 tbsp Japanese soya sauce, 4 tbsp toasted sesame seeds and 4 tbsp tahini sauce). Or you can make this quick salad dish above from sprouted lentils: a chopped up apple from the garden, sprouted lentils, cherry tomatoes and some basil leaves. And again, the sesame dressing. Yummie!

 

 

 

You need:

– a big glass jar

– a rubberband

– a loosely woven piece of cloth (like cheese cloth, but any cover that lets out water will do, a small sieve for example).

– lentils: black, red, green… any kind will do.

 

How to do it:

– rinse and put the lentils in your jar.

– add water almost to the top, grab the cheese cloth and attach it on the top with the rubber band. Keep it close by so that you don’t forget about them. I keep my jars in the kitchen, by the window, as that’s where I am several times per day.

– in the morning, add water through the fabric, and shake them lightly, then remove the water again. They need to constantly stay moist, but not wet.

– keep adding water, shake and remove for a few days. Morning and night will do. It will take about 2-3 days until your sprouts are ready to eat, but you can leave them to grow as big as you want them.


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Garden food – Dried apple rings

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Did you know that you easily can dry the edible produce that you find maybe in your garden and in the forest? It takes very little space and it will store for a very long time if stored the correct way. If you think about it, a lot of products in your pantry are actually dried: pasta, müsli, oats, flour, nuts, raisins, spices, rice etc. There are lots of different ways to dry products: in the oven on very low temperature, over a heat source, hung in a paper bag (best for herbs) or on a long string or wooden stick, which is what I’ll be telling you about today 🙂

 

DIY Dried apple rings (made into a decorative garland!) :

1. Gather your apples. Pick about 5-6 for this project and check them for worm holes, rot or small stains. Only pick the prettiest ones. You can peel the apples or leave the skin on. If you have kids and want to make them eat it, kids usually prefer peeled apple rings. Then, with a corer, remove the seeds, leaves and stems until they look like the apples in the picture.

 

3. Cut the apples into 2-3 mm wide rings, but throw away the top and bottom ring as they easily mould and are basically only skin anyway.

 

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4. Grab a 1metre long thread (strong enough to hold 6 apples!) and a needle. Pierce a few apples at a time and pull the thread through. I made a knot around apple number one to make sure they stayed on the thread and saved about 30 cm on the same side to be able to hang it.

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4. Between two securely attached nails, hang up the garland. Spread out the apples evenly on the thread and give the apples a week or two before eating or storing them. For storage information, see below. Good luck!

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Storage advice: Dried products must be protected from moisture, light, dust and excessive heat and the best storage place is a dark and dry place with a temperature of 10-20 degrees Celsius. Packaging materials are brown paper bags, plastic bags, cloth bags of dark and dense fabric, glass jars and wooden boxes. It’s good to write down the content and packaging date on all the packages, it’s so easy to forget 😉 Vegetables, berries, fruit and mushrooms can be packed tightly, but herbs are packed loosely. Brown glass jars can be store in the kitchen shelves, but transparent glass jars must be kept in a dark place, a cupboard for example.

 

Alternative drying method for a quick snack: Spread out the apple rings on an oven plate and dry them overnight on the lowest heat, at 50-100° C.

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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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DIY – All natural heating pad

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Did you know that heating pads are CRAZY easy to make by yourself? You can do them in any size you want and using any scraps of fabric you might have lying around, even old and broken clothes, which is why this project is perfect for recycling. You could also make very small ones for you children and have them decorate them with textile pens. Any kid will love a warm little bag on their bellies before bed time, especially if they helped making it.

Here is my version of a microwaveable rice (sweet lavender-smelling) heating pad that you can use for your neck, belly, leg or head! Or just to cuddle with 😉 Heat it up by putting it in the microwave oven for about 5 min on full speed.

 

 

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What you’ll need:

 

* Cotton or linen fabric (if you use anything else, it might melt!)
* 1 kg – 2,2 pounds- of any kind of rice from the supermarket
* matching thread
* sewing machine
* scissors
* lavender oil (optional)

 

 

How to do it:

 

1. Iron your chosen fabric. Cut out as much as you need, following the grain line of the fabric. A good size to start with could be 20×40 cm (7″8 x 15″7).

 

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2. Fold the fabric right side to right side and pin the edges. Leave an opening of about 10 cm (4″) on the short side. (I always mark out my openings with double pins so that I don’t miss them 😉 )

 

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3. Stitch around (remember to leave the opening open!) with normal straight seam, about 1 cm from the edge. Zig zag the edges. (again, not on the opening!)

 

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4. Get help from someone to fill the pad with rice (my daughter is always my extra hand!). A good trick is to “hook hold” the opening with your fingers and then carefully pour in about one kilogram of rice (2,2 pounds). If you want to add lavender oil, now is a good time to do it. A few drops will be enough. Drop the oil into the rice, close the opening with your hand and shake so that the rice will mix with the oil.

 

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5. Close the opening: Fold down the seam allowings of the opening with an iron or with your fingers and pin the edge nice and neat. Stitch on top of the pad, from the right side with a normal straight seam, about 3-5 mm (0,2″) from the edge.
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Finished! Now you can go and warm up that aching belly of yours. Good luck!