Friday, April 06, 2012

Orangerie, Year Two

Dwarf Meyer lemon
My little dwarf Meyer lemon and tangerine are now a year old. They have successfully survived living outdoors for a Midwestern summer (humid! hot! forgetful gardener!) and a winter indoors (brr! she keeps the heat low! it's dry! no supplemental lighting! why do these cats keep trying to eat us?). The lemon tree flowered in mid-winter and filled our front room with a beautiful fragrance for days. We even have two tiny baby lemons growing.

I originally purchased the lemon and tangerine as edible houseplants. I wanted a little bit of plant life in our front room but wasn't really interested in a typical houseplant. After a year of living with them, I've gotten very fond of these citrus plants. I think I would grow them even if they didn't produce food. The glossy leaves are really beautiful and the blossoms were spectacular.

Dwarf citura tangerine
The tangerine has not yet flowered. I'm not sure if that is because its a bit smaller than the lemon or if they mature at different rates? Regardless, it seems to be flourishing. I even got brave enough to prune it up a bit so it looked more tree-like and less shrubby.

I was worried about whether or not the plants would survive through the winter indoors. They were both placed in front of the south facing windows of our front room, which get beautiful, bright light during the daytime. I misted them daily (or as close to as I remembered) as citrus likes a more humid environment than my house is in winter. I just recently started adding some organic fertilizer to the plants. I'm using Espoma Citrus Tone simply because it's the organic citurs fertilizer I can find around here

I added a third citrus this year, a key lime. Ouch! Apparently key limes have thorns. Here it is in the package and after being potted and pruned a bit. I'd love to add a few more similar plants...I understand dwarf pomegranates can be grown and fruited indoors as well as some other tropical edibles. We have three sets of large south facing windows (our front room, family room, and the master bedroom) so we definitely have the space and the light. At this point the limiting factor is finding ways to keep the plants close enough to the windows to get the light while keeping the cats out of them. Apparently kitties find citrus to be quite edible, and they don't bother to wait for fruit!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

And so it begins...

 Today's mail brought this...
Key lime from Springhill

And these...
Scabrosa rugosa rose and MSU kiwis from Fedco, precocious hazelnuts from Oikos Tree Crops

And a trip to the store resulted in an impulse buys of these...
Two varieties of bluberry plus Arapaho blackberry from Aldi of all places. Plus a little cactus.
 The Boy has been fascinated by cacti lately, so I let him pick out a little one from our local family nursery. Plus a half flat of pansies. And about 10 pounds of seed potatoes.

It's going to be a busy couple of days!

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Building a raspberry trellis

Now that The Boy is four and a half, he's becoming a great help with our homestead projects. He's my number one bread baking assistant, yogurt helper, plant seed placer, and walking and biking companion.
Today we used some scavenged lumber from the garage to build a simple trellis for our raspberry hedgerow. The previous owners of our house left tons of scrap lumber up in the eaves of our garage. Usually I can climb up there and find what I need for any small projects. We found two eight foot sections of 2x4s and cut them into six foot and two foot sections (Don't worry Mom, all dangerous stuff was done while The Boy was at preschool!). Thanks to my extensive random nail and screw collection, we were able to find enough decking screws to fasten the pieces together in a basic t-trellis shape. I think these particular screws were scavenged from the yard after our deck was rebuilt last summer (Aren't you proud, Dad?).

So, we ended up with a simple wood trellis at no cost but an afternoons work. We still need to dig post holes and set the posts. And pick up a little bit of hardware to fasten the wire to the trellis. Hopefully we can wrap that up in the next day or two and have a functional trellis by the end of the week!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

To Market, to Market or Our Week in Food

We're in full "stocking the larder" swing over here at Three and a Third Homestead. In addition to our weekly CSA box we also made a trip to a local farmer's market for a look see plus a trip to a local farm stand for a bulk purchase of potatoes.

Farmer's Market? Or "Farmer's" Market?
On Wednesday, we stopped by the Farmer's Market that is housed at our local mall. I know. I feel the same way, but thought we should visit it and see in person what it was like. Suffice it to say we probably won't make this a regular stop. It was very heavy on the crafty, home party sale-type stuff, plus Weight Watcher's packaged food. But billed as a "Farmer's Market." Yup. Out of about 15 vendors, I would say four were selling food that was grown or processed by the vendor themselves.

We did pick up some nice apples from Michigan and some lettuce and apples from the one veggie farm that is at EVERY market around here.

And, by special request of The Boy, we splurged on three little tarts. He choose tart cherry, pecan, and Dutch apple. Can you tell we don't eat much pie at our house? He was pretty excited.

On Thursday, we picked up our weekly CSA share that we split with a friend. This week it had plums, apples, spaghetti squash, radishes, kale, and beets. The picture above is our CSA's medium share, which we divide in half and share.

Finally, I headed out a bit to a farm stand a bit west of here. A couple of weeks ago I put in an order for a bulk purchase of potatoes and it was time to pick them up. When I got there, they also had whole wheat flour from the farm available to buy, so of course I picked some up.

This is what 20 pounds of potatoes and some flour looks like. It really isn't as many potatoes as it sounds. Since this is our first real experiment using our coal room as a root cellar, I thought it was best to start small.

Very little was produced in the garden this week. I used the last few baby zucchini in some "clean out the fridge" chicken soup. We still have tomatoes ripening indoors that have been added to various meals this week. Onions were harvested a few weeks ago and have been curing in the garage. I'll probably weigh them and bring them indoors this week. The fall greens bed is looking nice, with lettuce almost ready to harvest, and bok choi, arugula, spinach, and Swiss chard coming along nicely.

ETA: It was such a busy week I forgot to include the 15 pounds of Michigan sugar and 8 bottles of Michigan wine we added to the pantry. I sort of wonder what the grocery clerk thought ad she checked out our order...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Orchards and Orangeries

I started this spring with grand hopes of a planted orchard. I took two grafting classes, grafted three apple trees and three pear trees, propagated two figs from scion wood, and ordered dwarf citrus trees from a nursery.

Alas, none of the trees I grafted took. My figs took off nicely and then one just weakened and died. The other perished in the small time between me thinking, "Hmm...figgy needs water," and fetching the watering can.

But. But! I have an orangerie this winter.

Dwarf Meyer lemon and citura tangerine.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

How I Make Laundry Soap

There was a little interest recently about how I make laundry soap, so I thought I'd write up a post about it. I was very skeptical about homemade laundry soap for quite some time. It seemed like a lot of fuss for the money savings. But I'm so glad I finally tried it! It is very simple and quick...I usually mix up a batch at the kitchen table while my son is coloring or playing with puzzles. And if you know my son and how little he holds still, you'd realize how quick and easy this really is. :)

I switched to this soap about six months ago without telling the family. I wanted to see if anyone would notice the change. No one has, so I've kept making it. :)

So, why do we use this soap instead of a grocery store detergent or a purchased eco-friendly detergent?

1. We're saving money. I can make several large batches of this soap for much less than the eco-friendly detergent we had been buying. I haven't run a per load cost analysis, but my ingredients cost about $10 and we've been using them for over six months. I have enough supplies left to make several more batches.

2. We are minimizing packaging waste. My village's waste contract allows our waste hauler to landfill recyclables if they cannot sell them at a profit. So, even though I can place plastic and cardboard in the recycling, I have no assurance they are actually being recycled. With homemade soap my only waste in six month has been two soap wrappers. Once my borax and washing soda boxes are empty, the cardboard can be used as mulch in the garden or composted.

3. We are minimizing trips to the store. Now that we are buying the majority of our food through CSAs and farmer's markets, we are getting the grocery store a lot less frequently. If I can store the ingredients for a six month (or more) supply of laundry soap, I can save a trip to the store for detergent. I can store the ingredients for this soap in a small cupboard in our laundry room...over six months of soap making supplies take up less space than one of those big liquid detergent jugs. The ingredients are also small and light enough that I can pick them up on a walking trip to our local grocer. So, when it is time to stock up, I can do so without making a car trip.

4. There are no questionable ingredients or strong scents. I've never seen an ingredient label on laundry soap. When I make my own, I know exactly what goes into it. Also, since my family is very sensitive to strong scents, this allows me to control what, if any, scents are in our detergent.

I don't claim this recipe as my is available all over the internet in various forms, but they all seem to follow a basic recipe. 

1 cup Borax
1 cup Washing Soda (NOT baking soda)
2 1/2 ounces Soap (Zote, Ivory, Fels Naptha, or any basic homemade soap). 

Borax and washing soda are found in the laundry aisle of my supermarket. If you have trouble finding them, look for an independent, mom and pop type grocery and you may have better luck. I've also found them at hardware stores (family owned, not big box) and dollar stores. Zote is carried at the Hispanic grocer in my town, Ivory is found just about anywhere.

I start by grating the soap on my box grater. This actually works better if your soap is not brand new and has had a chance to dry out a little bit. Some people whir the soap gratings in their food processor to make them more powder like. I don't, and the gratings work fine for me. Next, measure and mix in the borax and washing soda. Find a container to keep it in, add a tablespoon scoop, and you're done!

I use between 1 and 3 tablespoons per load, depending on how dirty things are. Our normal loads get one tablespoon. If it's a load of gardening clothes or we've been playing in the mud, I add three tablespoons. Loads of kitchen linens usually get two. Experiment, and you'll figure out what works best for you.

A caveat -- this soap has no optical brighteners, like conventional laundry soap. If that's what you've been using, you may notice your clothes do not look as bright. We'd been using a natural detergent before this so we did not notice a difference. If you choose the Zote soap for this recipe, that type of soap also has the optical brighteners. I tried Zote the first time I made this recipe but found the fragrance to be too strong for us.