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Seed Starting: Tomato Edition

Posted By on February 5, 2015

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Seed starting might seem like a momentous task for some people. If you haven’t done it before you might be unsure of yourself. So, we’re here to talk you through a few options and techniques we’ve learned in the past few years. We’ll start out with a bit about the supplies you’ll be using, method of planting, and continual care for your seedling plants.

 

Supplies

Seed Starting Mix
You can find this at most stores where seed is sold or you can make your own from home. Whichever you do, it is wise to wet the mix in a bucket before you plant so that water will easily absorb in the future and to cut down on the dust.

Homemade Mix:
4 Parts Finely Sieved Compost
1 Part Perlite
1 Part Vermiculite
2 Parts Coir or Leaf Mold
*Leaf mold is simply broken down leaves that will help retain moisture in your mix. It takes roughly a year to break down for use, but is another FREE additive for your garden

Container
It is really up to you what you’d like to use to plant your seeds in, but be sure there are drainage holes. There are many options out there from trays, cells, to homemade. Use what you’re comfortable with or experiment!

Trays provide an ease to the seed starting business. Space is saved by allowing you to start many seeds and/or varieties in a flat which can be pricked out and potted up later. This is especially useful when germination rate is in question. It also saves time with preparing the containers. You only need to fill one large container as opposed to filling up many small cells or homemade planters.

Cells are another option to start seeds in. The beauty of cells is that they give each seedling its own growing space. They can grow longer before being potted up and produce a larger root system. They’re easy to use and ad order to your seed starting regime.

Homemade containers are the final option you half. Using egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, and newspaper are all easy to use plantable pots. However, they do disintegrate easily with excess water. You can also choose to save used (and cleaned) dairy containers. These could be anything from yogurt to milk cartons. Use your imagination! Just be sure to poke holes in the bottom for drainage.

Water
There really isn’t a whole lot to say about what KIND of water you are using. Rather, it’s how you use it that matters. Watering seedlings is a little different than going out to water in the garden. We suggest that you water from below. Remember those drainage holes? This is another place the come in handy. Set your planted container in a couple inches of water and let it sit until you can see that the soil is evenly moist across the container. The reason for watering this way is so that it makes seedling’s roots grow downward, looking for water, and creating a larger root system.

One thing to keep in mind with tomato seedlings is that they sometimes start getting a purple tint to the underside of their leaves and stems. This is a sign that they are not getting enough phosphorous. The reasons could either be rusty water or they have depleted the nutrition in their soil. You can solve the problem two ways. Pot the plants up in a larger container with new soil or feed them a bit of phosphorous when you water.

Light
Light is not always important to germinate seeds, but once they burst forth into the world they really do need it. If you have a heated greenhouse or sunny south facing windows you can set your seedlings there. Your seedlings may stretch a bit with the shorter daylight hours, but don’t worry too much about it. If they get too leggy, you can always pot them up into a deeper container.

We suggest to use a high power florescent light for the best results.

Heat
Tomatoes need warm soil for germination. A soil temperature of 70-80 degrees is sufficient. The sunny window you use might be okay, but if not set the container on a radiator or heat mat. If it is cooler, seeds will take longer or might not germinate.

Seed
This is the fun part! There is a wide variety of tomatoes you can choose from in all sorts of colors and shapes. Pick your favorites and try something new each year! You can find a nice variety of tomato seeds in our Seed Shop.

All in all, the best advice we can give you is to experiment. What the ‘experts’ say (and even us) just might not work for you. Find what fits your lifestyle and go with it. Now that you’ve made all your important decisions, it’s time to plant!

Sowing

1. Prepare container and soil.
2. Use a dibber or pencil to make a small hole 1/4 inch deep in soil.
3. Drop seed into hole and carefully cover in the hole with soil.
4. Cover container and set in a warm place to germinate.

Sowing Time
To get good sized tomato plants for planting out, you’ll want to start your seed 6-8 weeks before the last frost date. Don’t know what that is? You can find your average last spring frost date HERE.

Germination
Germination is the time it takes for the seedling to awaken from dormancy and start growing. This generally takes 6-10 days to happen, but depending on the viability of your seed and the variety it may be more or less. You’ll see little green plants with two leaves popping out of the soil indication that the seed you sowed has germinated. The two leaves present at this time are called ‘cotyledon’ or seed leaves. Later on you’ll see a set of new leaves form in between the cotyledons that will look more familiar to the types of leaves you are used to.

Potting On
Potting on is simply transplanting the young plant into a larger container that will provide for a larger, stronger plant. If starting in trays you will do this as well as if the plant has outgrown its container. To pot on you will need to gently prick out/remove plant from its container. Hold it gently by a leaf so you will not damage the stem or roots. Plant a little deeper than it was in the previous container, but be sure leaves do not touch the soil. Fill in any of the remaining hole and water.

Hardening Off
Once your plant is large enough to plant outside you will need to start ‘hardening it off.’ It has been grown inside its whole life so far, so think of this process as toughening it up until it is ready to face all the elements.

To do this, you will start by placing your plants outside in a partly shady area for half an our. Continue to do so every day for a couple weeks. Every few days add another half hour to the time outside and slowly expose them to more light. By the end of the process you should be able to keep your young tomato plants outside indefinitely, in full sun. You are now ready to plant them in the garden, provided the last frost date has passed.

Seed Starting

Posted By on February 1, 2015

Cucumber, Tomato and Eggplant Transplants
During the last few months we’ve had many questions on how to start ‘such and such’ vegetable or fruit from seed. To us, starting all sorts of varieties of fruit, veg., and flowers from seed seems second nature. However, we’ve soon realized that this is not the case for many people. The nurseries and big box stores have everything you need to create an ‘instant garden.’ All you have to do is pick out the variety you like from their small selection, pop it in the ground, and give the plant the care it needs to flourish.

But if the suppliers to those nurseries and big box stores can do it, why can’t you?!

Starting your own vegetables from seed gives you the opportunity to experience wonderful heritage food varieties that are too numerous to count and grow it organically. Your friends and neighbors will be in awe of those different looking (and tasting!) varieties as well as be impressed with your skills as a seed starting guru!

In the next few weeks we will be posting great educational tutorials on how to start your own seed. You’ll learn what supplies you’ll need, when to start, how to start, potting on (transplanting), hardening off techniques, and feeds to help your young plants grow strong throughout the year!

Weekend Projects

Posted By on January 20, 2015

The weather here, at our little homestead, was quite phenomenal all weekend long. We’re talking about sunny days with temperatures in the 40s. The sun lured us out of our blanket cocoons to do some much needed garden work!

The apple trees were our very first task. Right now is one of the best times to prune in our area. Our trees are pretty old and quite tall, being standards. To make the task a little less daunting we began by cutting out all the dead wood we could reach. Next, we pruned off any suckers that would take energy away from fruit production. Anything else we cut out was to let more light and air flow in. Here’s what it looked like at the end of Sunday afternoon.

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There is still a LOT of work to do in the top half of the tree, but that will be for another day. We’ll use our truck for added height, use the chain saw for the larger branches, and hopefully purchase a saw on an extendable rod to reach those places we can’t quite get to.

On Monday, Jonathan had the day off. If you didn’t realize, the holiday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Monday was even nicer than the weekend! 45 degrees and completely sunny for a majority of the day! We ended up deciding the next important project was to clean out and sanitize the chicken coop. Our coop hasn’t been used in a very long time. Within the chicken hiatus, there had been all sorts of wild animals living in there and defecating, junk thrown in, dirt built up, and all sorts of other things that happen with unused buildings. Our chicks are coming in April, so what better time to clean the coop? Our cleaning process was sweeping the entire coop, power washing the entire coop from top to bottom inside, sanitizing the floor and top 2/3s with a bleach/water mixture, and finally power washing the coop again. The early cleaning gave us the opportunity to check something off our list and look forward to other projects entailed to chickens. We’ll have to build roosts, nesting boxes, and set up feeder/waters. Here’s the final product!

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In the end we were thankful for a few warm January days to get some fresh air in our lungs and work in our gardens. Today they’re still fast asleep.

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But there are always some evergreen plants that echo their past life and provide a glimmer of hope to their future selves.

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Garden Redesign!

Posted By on January 15, 2015

As we sat down this past weekend to begin planning out our garden, it occurred to us that the way we had been growing was super inefficient. We had paths everywhere and medium sized beds mixed with small 2 foot by 2 foot beds and so forth. Plus we hadn’t really documented where we had planted everything each year. I can remember last year pretty well, but I’d have to think about 2 years ago! One of the cornerstones of organic gardening is crop rotation and our beds did not fit that at all. Its best to not grow any crop (or part of that crops family) in the same bed more than once every 4 years so you can avoid pest and disease problems. So we decided to completely redo our garden layout.

Inspired by Monty Don and his 4 raised vegetable beds at his home in Hereford, United Kingdom, we decided to put in 5 large garden beds that cover the entire swath of our garden. Monty rotates 4 groups around his 4 beds and so no group is grown in a bed more than once in 4 years. We are doing the same with our 5 beds and have divided our crops into 5 groups. This will also have the benefit of maximizing growing space also while minimizing paths.

Group 1 – Nightshade Family
Tomatoes
Peppers
Eggplant
Potatoes

Group 2 – Brassica Family
Broccoli
Cauliflower
Chard
Kale
Collards
Kohlrabi
Rutabaga

Group 3 – Carrot Family
Carrots
Parsnips
Celery

Group 4 – Cucurbits
Squash
Pumpkins
Cucumbers
Melons

Group 5 – Everything else
Corn
Beans
Peas
Alliums

2015 North Garden Bed

2015 North Garden Bed

We are also planning to do the same for our second garden bed which is on the south side of our veggie area and so can get two different rotation schemes going. So not technically one bed would not come back to the same space for 10 years! That is super crop rotation.

On top of being great for rotation, this will make planning a lot easier as well. We simply just move everything over a bed! We will clearly change things up within each bed, but we know approximately how each bed will be and drawing it up in the sketch pads we bought will give us a track record of what we have done through the years. We highly recommended you purchase a large sketch pad dedicated to your gardens. They can be found at any office supply store.

Hello 2015!

Posted By on January 7, 2015

New Year, New Goals. At least that’s what we think and hope will happen.

We plan to implement new garden schemes and plantings. In the veg. garden this means using bean poles in tripods to grow our beans and peas. New tomato cages will be built, since last year they clearly overgrew the size of the cages we have now. Who knows we may try another method, too! We’ll also be trying out a new covering Jonathan made for seed saving. Nature will be used more to our advantage this year as well. Nettle and comfrey feeds will be used to fertilize all areas of our gardens. Which is especially exciting since we’ll be hitting two birds with one stone: weeding.

In truth, much of what we’ve done in the past will most likely be repeated. We’ll be overjoyed with our first seedling, we’ll cheer at the bluebird’s song of arrival, and we’ll want to plant anything and everything even if we don’t have the time or room. There will be times where our plans go awry and times where nature surprises us.

For now, the two of us are hunkered down as the snow blows and the winds howl, reading through seed catalogs and making our lists.

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Goodbye 2014

Posted By on January 5, 2015

Hello All!

After a 6 month hiatus from blogging we’re back. 2014 was a busy year for us and we just didn’t take to the time to put blogging at the top of our queue. Sorry about that folks. So, here’s a little list of what DID happen at Sheltering Woods last year.

1. Increased Space
-From the beginning we increased our edible garden space by about two thirds of the original layout. This meant we had more room for all sorts of veg. New varieties that we grew included Utah Tall Celery, Red Sicilian Tomato, Amish Paste Tomato, Gypsy Tomato, Scarlet Red Runner Bean, Turnips, Salsify, Spanish Black Radish, Jalepeno Pepper, Chilhuacle Rojo Sweet Pepper, Fatalli Yellow Hot Pepper, Tequila Sunrise Sweet Pepper, Trinidad Congo Hot Pepper, Bulgarian Carrot Hot Pepper, and a plethora of onion varieties.

2. Created Structure
-A long term goal we have is to have most of our edible garden completely enclosed. This means building or growing barriers around that area. In 2014 we finally started planning and implementing those ideas. Along the North side of our gardens we planted a lilac hedge that transitions into a native tree and barberry hedge closer to our wilder zone and orchard. Along the West side of the gardens that face our house we built a fence out of reclaimed wood from one of our decks. The idea is to give the front of a garden a cottage-esque look. In the future we’ll add an arbor at each of the openings planted with climbing roses and clematis.

3. Fixed up the Coop
-At the end of 2013 we mentioned that we moved our chicken coop. What a task that was! Well, in 2014 we took the time to do a little fixing like re-shingling, supporting the foundation, and fixing some broken boards. We also built the chicken run. Now we’re almost ready for our chicks that will arrive in April.

4. Expanded the Perennial Fruit Garden and Orchard
-One goal we have at Sheltering Woods is to implement permaculture in our gardening scheme. For us, this meant adding edibles around our property and not just the designated area. Closer to the house we planted two Pawpaw trees that are definitely tropical in look, but are actually natives to our area! We also planted some beautiful ever-bearing strawberries with PINK flowers near the shed, two honeyberries along the inside of our new fence, and a hardy kiwi along the fence line as well. In the orchard we added sever new sweet cherry trees, a couple pear, a couple peach, a new plum, and a couple pecan trees.

5. Saved New Seed
-Finally, we were able to save several new varieties of veggies and flowers that will be available in our shop in 2015. We had quite a few learning experiences from the process, too. It seems that there is always something new to learn whether it’s from your triumphs or your trials.

I’m sure there are many more activities we did, but the above are just our highlights. As for 2015 we’re already planning our edible garden and developing new ideas for our perennial beds. Stay tuned for all the happenings in the New Year!

Freezing Bread

Posted By on July 31, 2014

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Here at Sheltering Woods we make all our our own bread. From loaves to tortiallas, we make it. It may seem like a lot of work, but it really only takes a few moments of our time in the long run. The time spent mixing, kneading, rising, and baking can all be done while doing something else (listening to the radio, watching a television show, book on tape, etc.) and you get amazing bread in the end that contains only the ingredients you’re comfortable with. For us, it’s organic, fresh, and local if we can!

To make the whole process a little less grueling, we have started to freeze loaves for later use. We’ll make a batch of dough for four loaves and freeze three. You can purchase frozen dough at the store, so why can’t you freeze it at home yourself? Easy and great to just pull out of the freezer and thaw/rise when you’re needing a new loaf or have unexpected house guests.

The recipe we use for our breads, and really it’s a perfect recipe, comes from 1961 edition of Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cookbook. It’s our go to cookbook with simple and tasty recipes and history.

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To freeze bread dough:
1. Mix up your favorite batch of dough, double or triple it for the number of frozen loaves you want to store.
2. Let dough rise only ONCE.
3. Punch dough down and form into desired loaf shape.
4. Wrap in wash paper.
5. Freeze on tray until loaves are completely frozen through.
6. Pull out of freezer and store in a freezer bag or heavy duty tin foil.
7. Put back in freezer and use within 3 months.

Voila! Simple as that. Now, to use the frozen bread at a later date you have two options of thawing.

1. Place frozen dough in a greased bread pan, cover with greased plastic wrap, and let rise for 4-7 hours (depends on how warm your home is for rising time). Bake as you normally would.

2. Repeat the above, but place pan in a warm oven (about 175 degrees Fahrenheit) or in the oven with a bowl of boiling water. Let rise for 2-4 hours. Bake as you normally would.

Garden Update: 7-10-14

Posted By on July 10, 2014

It’s been a while since we’ve done a proper garden update. As you can imagine, all things green have boomed with early summer rains, weeds included! Lots of time has been spent pulling unwanted plants, putting in new crops as spots open up, adding new beds for flowers and veggies, and enjoying our hard work.

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Above is our original veggie plot, but if you can see the back and side have been expanded and planted with tomatoes and corn! Here’s a look at some of the wonderful heirloom tomatoes we’re growing this year.

Rosso Sicilian Tomato

Rosso Sicilian Tomato

Rosso Sicilian Tomato Bunch

Rosso Sicilian Tomato Bunch

The Rosso Sicilian Tomatoes are a fabulous large, paste like tomato. Actually, it’s pretty good for stuffing, too! We currently have seed for it in store and will continue to have it for years to come along with all the tomato varieties we’re growing this year.

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These next two we’re not entirely certain what they are. Yes, we labeled where we planted each variety in general. No, we don’t know the exact spot for similar looking kinds. We’ll be able to tell more once the tomatoes ripen. These are either Gypsy or Wisconsin 55, leaning more to the prior.

Roma Tomato

Roma Tomato

Sweet Baby Tomato

Sweet Baby Tomato

Sweet Baby is a cherry type tomato. Very vigorous in fruiting and growth, but absolutely deliciously sweet as the name implies.

Marvel Striped Tomato

Marvel Striped Tomato

Marvel Striped is a funny one. It’s a large, orange/yellow tomato that has deep creases. Very funky and fun to grow in the garden. Plus, it reminds us a bit of our favorite comics with a name like ‘Marvel.’

Roma Paste Tomato

Roma Paste Tomato

Amish Paste Tomato

Amish Paste Tomato

We’re growing two varieties of paste tomatoes this year. We’re looking to do more sauces and ketchup with them. They’ll be good eating, too!

From tomatoes let’s skip to our corn. We’re growing a sweet corn called ‘Tri-color Sweet Corn.’ It’s an interesting variety, because it gets blue and yellow multi-colored kernels. We grew this kind our second year and decided to go back to this delicious heirloom. It was a great choice, too, since the crop is looking to be the best we’ve had yet! Below are pictures of the ears and silks. As you can see, they’re two different colors! The yellowish ones are the newly emerged silks. As the ear gets pollinated and begins to mature the silks turn a beautiful purple color.

Young silks

Young silks

Mature Silks

Mature Silks

Last year we grew cucurbit family plants but this year it’s our bean arbor! We have Scarlet Runner Beans growing up it.

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One of our prized plots is this onion plot. It holds 19 varieties of heirloom onions that we will be trying to get to seed in a couple years. The beautiful thing about it is that we’ve finally found out how to grow nice big onions. Lots of water, lots of sun, and a weeded plot are ideal for ultimate health of the plants.

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The rest of the post will be photos without our added banter. Enjoy the garden eye candy and get inspired!

Potatoes

Potatoes

Romanesco Broccoli

Romanesco Broccoli

Di Cicci Broccoli bolting

Di Cicci Broccoli bolting

One of the Pepper plots

One of the Pepper plots

Ripe Tequila Sunrise Pepper

Ripe Tequila Sunrise Pepper

Congo Trinidad Chile

Congo Trinidad Chile

Jalapeno

Jalapeno

California Wonder Bell Pepper

California Wonder Bell Pepper

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Nardello Sweet Pepper

Nardello Sweet Pepper

Cucumber Vines

Cucumber Vines

Fruiting Cucumbers

Fruiting Cucumbers

Golden Sweet Peas

Golden Sweet Peas

Fall Time Leeks

Fall Time Leeks

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes

Utah Tall Celery

Utah Tall Celery

Dragon Carrots and Rutabagas

Dragon Carrots and Rutabagas

Dragon Carrot root

Dragon Carrot root

Rutabaga root

Rutabaga root

Eggplant Blooms

Eggplant Blooms

Salsify

Salsify

Siberian Kale

Siberian Kale

Ground Cherry

Ground Cherry

What’s growing in your garden?

Red Currant Galette

Posted By on July 8, 2014

10513467_299237866917404_7186273805735110875_nThis year is the first time we’ve had a substantial harvest of currants here at Sheltering Woods. We planted our Red Lake currant in 2011. The first season it hardly grew, the second it showed some hope, last year we got a few fruits, but this year we had masses of little red gems in long tendrils of clusters. the entire harvest was about a quart and a half. We ate some fresh and froze some as well. The frozen ones will allow us to enjoy their tart delight in the dark of winter.

The beautiful thing about currants, though is that they’re considered a ‘superfruit.’ They’re high in antioxidants and vitamin C. They also have a decent amount of calcium, iron, protein, and dietary fiber. They are wonderful when eaten fresh and raw, or cooked like in the recipe shared today!

This galette is delicious and simple to make. Beautiful with its rustic charm and a wonderful way to use up some of your currant harvest.

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Pie Crust
1 cup White Flour
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1/3 cup Shortening (I use soft coconut oil)
6 tablespoons Ice Water
1/4 cup Oatmeal

Filling
1 cup Red Currants
1/4 cup Sugar (I used Sucant, giving it a darker flavor)
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Directions:
1. Mix Flour and Salt into large bowl then cut in shortening with fork or pastry blender until mixture looks like a coarse meal.
2. Add water in one tablespoon at at time until dough completely sticks together. Be sure not to add too much water or over mix. A little crumbly that can be pushed back together is fine.
3. Roll dough out into a 9 inch round. Transfer to a baking sheet.
4. Mix currants, sugar, and vanilla together. Pour into center of rolled out dough.
5. Gently fold up sides of dough over the currant mixture, so that you have a nice edging and currants still show through the middle.
6. Sprinkle oats onto edge of crust.
7. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes or until crust is lightly brown.

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Getting More Out of Your Radishes

Posted By on June 29, 2014

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA Spring is officially over and summer is just starting to come into its own. That means a whole new season of foods are starting to ripen and our lovely spring crops are setting to seed fast. Summer’s hotter and longer days are causing our lettuce, spinach, arugula, and radishes to bolt here at Sheltering Woods. While this may be a melancholy event for some of you, it opens up the opportunity for new life and new food!

One food in particular that we would normally chuck in the compost bin or save a few for seed is the earthy radish. By now the roots are too woody for any delightful eating, but there is something else we enjoy!

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As you can see in the photo above, our Purple Plum Radish are going to seed. The sight starts as long, spindly spires that open up to beautiful purple flowers and then into seed pods.

Radish Flowers

Radish Flowers

Radish Seed Pods -- Rat tails

Radish Seed Pods — Rat tails

Both the flowers and young seed pods are additional edible parts of the radish plant. The pods in particular are quite wonderful! In the culinary world they’re referred to as ‘Rat Tails.’ Sounds appetizing? Haha, not so much. Don’t let the common name for these delectable little treasures lead you astray, though. The taste is quite delightful. We consider the taste as a cross between an edible pod pea and radish. There’s a nice crunchy sweetness followed by a zing of spice that you usually get from the radish root.

So, next time you see your radishes go to bolt, don’t pull them up quite yet. Let them fruit and harvest the young seed pods for salad, snacking, or cooking in stir fry.