We have chunks of yard at our place, some of which the kids play around in, but most of which we complain about mowing more than anything. In particular, the fenced in back part where the former dog used to stay was a big waste of space. With the dog having run away, the canine treasures returned to earth leaving us once again with usable space.
Digging a ditch builds character…do well in school kids!
As with most of our projects, we decided to go big, heavy and expensive! Actually, we just went with big and heavy but I like the added drama. Anyhow,we decided to turn a mess of a yard into garden space using railroad ties to build raised beds. We spent a few days digging up the apparent underground rock garden that existed before we decided to make a garden in our yard. I leveled out space and added gravel for drainage under the railroad ties and we began to set them. It turns out that our railroad ties are 8’6″ and weigh around 200 pounds each. We used around 17 of them for our space so you can imagine how sore and tired
my mule Emily and I were just moving the pieces into place.
Abigail drilled a few of the holes we drove rebar through to bind the ties together. We used a lot of rebar to make sure they stay in place!
I laid cardboard boxes over the existing ground to keep weeds down and we lined the edges with plastic to minimize the leaching of creosote from the ties into the soil. The plastic does not cover the entire basin of the garden so water will still drain fine and worms can still navigate upwards without impediment.
The cardboard will eventually rot away but not before killing weeds and stuff from coming up through
I read a bunch about creosote and railroad ties before undertaking this effort. Creosote is pretty bad stuff and eating it would not be a great thing. I read a number of opinions on the subject and came to a few conclusions. First, used ties have probably leached out the worst of what is going to leach out already. Secondly, I didn’t have my soil tested for contaminants to start with and most people do not. That fact makes it apparent that we don’t really worry about our garden soil anyhow. Finally, my soil is still almost assuredly better than soil somewhere far away on an industrial farm and my food is not likely to pick up any more contaminants that what food that travels by train car and truck picks up. I added the plastic liner and have determined that I will not worry about it any further.
Those rocks were huge and buried. I suppose the digging was easier but only because the rocks took up so much space!
So, we had to buy a bunch of dirt (56 bags of .75 cubic feet top soil to be exact…plus 6 bags of manure) to fill in the space. It looks awesome and will hold a bunch of vegetable plants. Isaac, Abigail and I planted it over the course of a few days. We added marigolds for decoration and because all gardens are supposed to grow marigolds. We also have tomatoes, jalapenos, brussel sprouts, broccoli and bell peppers. It looks so much better than the yard that used to be there plus I get to eat all of my favorite vegetables right out of my back yard!
I cut the angles in the ties where they ended using a chainsaw. Creosote sawdust down your back will leave a rash!
For now we have some of the rocks I dug up holding the liner in place. I will eventually top it with more wood and make it look better, but for now, our new garden space makes me smile every morning when I see it…both for the veggies growing and for the fact that I do not have to mow that space! Yeah gardens!This entry was posted in Family, Food, Garden and tagged Eat your lawn!, Garden, I am a mule, Mowing sucks! by warren
I wrote a few weeks ago about wanting to grow, process and eat sorghum. The first step in that process is, of course, planting some sorghum seed. Really, before that, we had to prepare some ground to plant. Larry, Granny Sue’s husband turned over a bit of earth at our place. I don’t know if you have ever tried to cultivate a new piece of land for garden space, but it is bone jarring, punishing work if you don’t have big equipment. One could certainly take to it with a rototiller and it will work but you’ll feel a new kind of pain. Anyhow, Larry ran his plow and tractor over a nice chunk of our land to do the initial “turn-over” which I followed up with a smaller tiller to break up the ground further.
I got about half way done with the tilling when another neighbor, Tim, stopped by with his tractor which he used to
save my life finish tilling the land. Everything was bone dry and dusty which made this whole process a messy endeavor. Still, Emily and the kids pitched rocks into the woods while I set up the rows and drove row stakes. We carefully planted a dozen or so rows of Sugar Drip sorghum seed. Sugar Drip is an old-time variety good for our part of the country. It matures in around 102 days and makes nice sweet 8-10 foot tall stalks. I ordered seeds from 2 well known heirloom seed suppliers and one says it is a rare breed while the other says it is common across the South. Who knows?
So, we marked our rows and planted the beautiful little seeds (which we will collect from our plants this year and save for next year) and covered them carefully with the freshly tilled
dust dirt. Luckily, it rained some this week so things should start growing well. Sorghum is an African native so prefers warm temperatures but does well in heat and dry once it is established.
I have learned that sorghum is one of the top grain crops grown around the world. Varieties can be used for syrup but most sorghum is planted as fodder for animals or as grain for daily consumption by humans. Many people are considering using it to make biofuel as it thrives in most warm locations. For folks with gluten allergies, it also is a common grain source for gluten free beer (hmmm…another project?).
So, our sorghum is in the ground though possibly a little early. I will keep a close eye on its progress but am hopeful for some awesome looking cane in a few months. Now, I really have to get back on track with restoring those cane mills I have sitting out in my yard!This entry was posted in Food, Land and tagged Food, Garden, Nature, Pa Ingles I ain't!, Sorghum by warren
I mentioned mountain color in the last post and as much as I like green, I think purple has to be a close second. We have thousands of wild violets in our yard this time of year. They make a really nice blanket of purple in the still-alive-until-summer green grass we have. I hate cutting grass with a passion and my excuse is usually something along the lines of, “I hate to lose all of the pretty flowers that the bees need so much right now.” It has nothing to do with my being lazy of course…it’s for the bees!
Anyhow, I was perusing the interwebs the other day and a blogger I follow, Woodridge, posted a recipe for violet blossom jelly. Check out the original there but I am going to include the recipe here for my own reference too. Woodridge writes from East Virginia, the lesser cousin of West Virginia…
So, Abigail, Emily and I set about picking violet blossoms the other day. Abigail wanted to take some creative license with the recipe so she included a generous helping of green grass also. I picked it out…I have eaten both violets and grass before and only one is really suitable for my palette. Evidently I misread the recipe too as I insisted we pick twice as many blossoms as we needed. We just made a double batch. Many other recipes I found used less blossoms for a single batch but I figured if some is good, more is better which was in line with this recipe anyhow:
Yield: 5 half-pints.
Anyhow, the jelly is a beautiful light purple and is some of the prettiest food I have ever seen. It has a super mild flavor and is a little earthy…maybe. I am not sure if that is the right word. Wild is more like it maybe? But that sounds bad…like eating poorly cooked ‘possum or something. Anyhow, it is a light, subtle flavor and will be a really nice addition to our breakfast toast. If you have some violets, whip up a batch and let me know how you would describe the flavor!This entry was posted in Food, Nature, WV and tagged Eat more violets!, Flowers are food? Of course!, Nature, Recipe by warren
So over the weekend, Emily and I went on a road trip to Pleasureville, KY. Thumper told Bambi what his Mom had pounded into his head, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”. In regard to Pleasureville, KY, I will follow the Thumperian Principle and let you visit sometime to make up your own mind.
Anyhow, back to my main purpose…let me give you some back story… Sorghum is a plant native to Africa that was first raised in the United States in 1853 or so. Much like sugar cane, sorghum cane has a sweet core that can be pressed and boiled to make sorghum syrup (some people call it molasses or sorghum molasses. Molasses is technically made from sugar cane only).
It was commonly grown on farms in the south where sugar cane wouldn’t thrive (i.e. the mid-south) so families could have access to sweetener. Anyhow, as family farms declined in number and as artificial sweeteners grew in popularity and cheap labor (I read this as large farm families) became less accessible, sorghum fell by the wayside.
There really isn’t anyone making sorghum presses, at least not in the old style, so the only ones left are 100 or more years old. There are a few old cane mills left but they are becoming more and more scarce as old-timers pass away and old farms rot back to the land. There are a few people still willing to turn loose of an old cane press they have laying around, but it is hard and expensive to find them. That brings us to our trip to KY. We bought an old sorghum cane mill made by the Chattanooga Plow Company from a guy who had one there.
I have another bit of info you didn’t ask for but I am going to tell anyhow…Chattanooga Plow Company made plows and basic cast iron farm equipment and was a very large producer in the mid to late 1800s. They were bought by International Harvester when it appeared John Deere was going to get into the harvester business. JD had been absent in that market while focusing on plows and similar implements. When IH got word that JD might be getting into harvesters, IH decided to get into plows. (Read a really interesting history here). So, ultimately, my cane mill is in the International Harvester family.
I also have bees, as you may know, so you could say I have a thing for sweets. What really made me think about raising sorghum though, is a recent article in Mother Earth News (here’s the article). Basically, as folks long to understand old ways and to eat natural food or produce their own “stuff”, sorghum has enjoyed a bit of a revival. I read the story in Mother Earth News and read a bunch more online and was hooked on the idea. Getting started in any new endeavor can be a problem if you do not have folks around who understand how to do things, like, say, grow and process sorghum.
I am very fortunate that Granny Sue, my neighbor, used to process sorghum on her farm and the man who originally owned both her land and mine, also ran sorghum. I think this new project was meant to be! I have a few months to restore this old cane mill while our sorghum grows, and I will be sure to keep you up to date on that process. I hope some other folks in the area will plant sorghum so we can have a regular old fashioned sorghum cook-off. I think that’s a big part of the old ways too…doing thing as a community.This entry was posted in Food, History, WV and tagged "Pour some sugar on me!" - Def Leppard, Cast Iron, Old ways, Sorghum by warren
We planted a garden at our property this year (we used to garden at Emily’s grandparents’ place) and it was a terrible failure…mostly. The only semi-success was a patch of sunflowers we planted. I really love sunflowers (and really, pretty much all yellow flowers) so I was delighted that if only one thing could succeed, it was the sunflowers.
Sunflowers are absolutely beautiful when in their prime, but I don’t know if you ever noticed just how cool they are when they are done flowering and ready to harvest. I love looking at patterns that sort of draw your attention and refuse to let you look away…know what I mean? Ripe sunflower seeds create just such a pattern.
I don’t know if they are like snowflakes, but if you look at several sunflower heads, each is a little different. A month or more ago, my Dad and I harvested the seeds. It was sort of sad to mess up the patterns but I really love to eat sunflower seeds too! Although the sunflowers are way past yellow, they are still about the best flowers I know. I mean seriously…flowers you can eat?! Awesome!This entry was posted in Food, Garden and tagged Food, Garden by warren
I was headed home from harvesting honey on Sunday when I passed a friend on the road as I was coming off the ridge. I skidded to a stop on the gravel road (which is always a thrill!) and we talked about bees and stuff. Last week, my friend had offered for me to come pick grapes from his vines. I ran out of time last week, but my friend offered again and I took him up on it!
We picked a basket full of grapes without even working at it and I have to tell you, the smell of freshly picked, perfectly ripe grapes is incredible. I sort of hated to get out of the car, the smell was so incredible. If they made fresh grape cologne, I would consider wearing cologne. I would not consider it long as I do not like cologne at all, but I would consider it…it was that incredible.
Imagine my surprise Tuesday night when I walked into the house and smelled the grapes that Emily and Abigail were cooking into grape juice (and soon to be jelly!). The house was heavenly! Have you noticed how bad store-bought grape jelly is? It used to taste grapey and pretty good but now it just tastes purpley. It is awful.
Ok, sorry…sidetracked. Anyhow, I used to freak out when I saw my mom and grandma canning grape juice. They always added a few grape into the jars and as they sat upon the shelves in the cellar, I swore it looked like jars of eyeballs. No, in our grape juice, there will be no eyeballs. Our jelly will be grapey and the sun will continue to rise in the east. This is just how things should be.This entry was posted in Awesome, Canning, Food and tagged Awesome, Canning, Food by warren
We are like the Olympics here Among the Hills (.com!). With much pomp and circumstance, we harvested the honey so laboriously produced by my bees. I use both my English and my French when I work the bees and I always win gold…liquid gold! Emily’s Dad helped me harvest about half of the frames of honey and then I got the other half on Sunday morning. Usually pulling the honey off of the hives is a hot, hard, stressful job. Beesuits are made of heavy cotton and we usually seem to time the harvest for the hottest day in August. The bees are rarely happy about having their stash removed and honey is heavy. This year was a little different…it wasn’t hot. Not very hot anyhow. Honestly, it really is hot and hard work but this year was probably the best and easiest honey-pull I have ever done!
Click above for videos of how we remove the cappings from the honey.
Sunday afternoon Emily’s grandparents helped Emily, Abigail and me extract 2/3 of the honey. Extracting honey involves a good bit of work and it is quite sticky but the benefits are awesome! This year’s honey tastes better than any honey I have ever harvested!
I am not sure what nectar sources the bees found out at the property (I can call it a farm now…we did agriculture out there!), but besides the awesome taste, most of the honey is as black as coffee. We actually got two different colors of honey but the dark sort of intrigues me. It’s unlike any honey we have ever gotten!
Anyhow, we took a bunch of pics and a few videos of the extraction process. It’s hard to get pics of that part of the process when we pull the honey from the hives. As you might guess, my mind is focused on other things. You will have to imagine that part. Anyhow, aside from being exhausted, it is fantastic to spend time with family, working together. For me, that is the real gold medal for me!This entry was posted in Bees, Family, Food and tagged Bees, Family, Food, Honeybees by warren
As many families do, we ate breakfast for supper the other night. We had a bunch of biscuits, eggs and sausage. It is not uncommon for us to eat that sort of thing, especially when we are going to be busy. It’s fast and sooooo good. Anyhow, we made a mess of biscuits. I mean, we made a bunch of good-sized biscuits because we like to eat the left-overs the next day for breakfast.
So, I will come back to that in a minute. But have you met my son, Isaac? Isaac is going on 13 and most certainly in the transition from boy to young man. It takes a tremendous amount of sleep and food to fuel such a transition apparently. We have noticed that Isaac tends to graze all day long and still sit down and eat a full meal by adult standards. In fact, he may eat a full meal by a giant’s standard. He almost always eats more than I do and I am not a bean pole. I suppose I was like that around his age too but I certainly do not remember it being so.
Anyhow, back to the biscuits…we started with 15 nice sized biscuits. Emily and I had each had 2 and Abigail had 1. As we cleared the table, we noticed the number remaining in the basket…now if your math is up to snuff, you will quickly calculate that Isaac ate 7 biscuits along with his two eggs and 4 pieces of sausage. Seven biscuits! I think the only reason he stopped at 7 was that Abigail fussed at him, complaining that she would have none to eat for breakfast the next day!
Well, I am glad that we are in a position to feed the boy what he need to fuel his growth into young-manhood. I only hope that the store and our garden can keep up with the demand!
EDIT: Emily just informed me that she only had 1 biscuit so Isaac actually had 8 biscuits!This entry was posted in Family, Food and tagged Family, Food by warren
Across the street from the building where I work, a new Middle Eastern market opened. My company recently moved to the new location as well so we definitely wanted to make friends with the folks who own the market…you know, being neighborly. The guys who own it are super friendly and a lot of fun. A co-worker and I were in there the other day and one of the owners took us around through the store and showed us a lot of the goods they sold. We talked about different foods and cooking and a little bit of everything. As we were talking, he opened a bottle of olive oil and a bag of bread and another of green za’atar (which I learned, is wheat, thyme, sumac and sesame). We dipped our bread and ate way too much standing around goofing off.
Our friend watched us eat every bite, trying to tell if we liked it or if we were about to run out the door. He suggested some spicy pickles and awesome hummus and all sorts of other things. We loaded our baskets with all sorts of things. I think we passed the test because he finally took us over to the jars of makdous (check this out…Arabic for makdous: المكدوس It’s sort of pretty. I love wikipedia). I am not sure if you folks have ever seen a jar of makdous but it looks as if it belongs in a biology lab. I could only describe it in fairly crude terms which I won’t directly mention…hmm…let’s just call it the dead things in oil.
Our friend showed us one brand and said that we could bring them back if we didn’t like it. I am not one to shy away from much of anything so we bought a jar and headed back to the office. I read the label and makdous is in fact, eggplants stuffed with walnuts and spices and packed in oil. I ate the pickles and the hummus and za’atar. Finally, the makdous was calling to me. I tried one…and then I had to have another…and then another. Holy moley, makdous is awesome. Not everyone in the office who tried the foods that day liked them, but I think that was to be expected.
I went back the next day to buy another jar of makdous and my friend smiled. He said that he and his business partner debated after we left whether our tongues would be suited to their foods. Jar #2 sealed the deal that I was adventurous and interested. I went in again on my favorite holiday of all (Groundhog day), and my friend called me over to the cooler. His wife had made tabbouleh and he brought a container for me to try. I ate the entire container for supper tonight (along with hummus and all sorts of other things). I want to take him some uniquely American dish that he might not have had. I suspect that we will have lots of fun sharing food and conversation! It’s bad to have a food place right across the street though…both my tongue and my wallet may be pushed to their limits!
This entry was posted in Food and tagged Food by warren
It just doesn’t have a ring, does it? We watched Julie and Julia the other night and it just has a ring that makes it perfect. But forget the ring. I really really liked the movie. Now don’t tell my guy friends but I might even buy a copy of the video for my collection. I am not sure what made me like it so much but I have been walking around the house talking like Julia Child.
There were all sorts of neat things that Julie and Julia made in the movie but one thing in particular stood out to me. I guess I needed to shoot for my something in my ability range but I really liked the scene when Julie was trying to make poached eggs. Unlike Julie, I have eaten a lot of eggs in my life but never have I had a poached egg. Julie struggled cooking poached eggs so I thought the challenge would be fun for me. So, I consulted Betty Crocker and followed her recommendations.
Betty and I are like peas in a pod I guess. We even had the exact same custard dishes that she used in the pictures in the cookbook. Perhaps I channeled Betty but the steps seemed pretty simple. I boiled 2 inches of water, cracked my eggs into custard cups and poured the eggs (quickly..that’s the secret) into the water. They foamed a little bit but I let them boil for 4 minutes and scooped them out with a slotted spoon.
I didn’t have any trouble like Julie did and I am so glad. Poached eggs are a lot like hard boiled eggs without the shell except they aren’t quite hard boiled and they do seem to taste a little different to me. I am not sure why but it was a good taste and I will definitely make them again!
So, after eating my poached eggs, it occurred to me that there are probably other things that are kinda well known but that I have never cooked or eaten. I started making a list but I would really like it if you, my friends, could suggest some stuff that I should cook and eat that are sort of famous…I am going to make Eggs Benedict next.
Yosemite Sam always used to say, “Sufferin’ succotash” and it occurred to me that I have never had succotash. And then I got to thinking about fancy stuff that people are supposed to know about…like bananas foster and cherries jubilee. I have never made ratatouille either…it’s a cool movie for sure but I have no idea what it tastes like…not like the rats/mice in the movie I hope but I am willing to try.
Anyhow, I promise I won’t go down some cooking-blog-road (not that there is anything wrong with that) but can anyone help me with some more things I need to make? I am not trying to find myself or escape from my job like Julie was, but I could probably use a new excuse to sample a little wine and eat too much. Help!This entry was posted in Food, Thoughts and tagged Food, Thoughts by warren