The Snarky Gardener grew some microgreens this winter so he could get some fresh nutritious greens while the snow fell outside
I read a blog post last summer that made me rethink my winter gardening. Normally I just grow herbs (and sometimes cherry tomatoes and jalapeno peppers) in my AeroGardens while I wait until it’s time (after March 1 here at Snarky Acres) to start my plants for the coming summer garden. For some reason, it never occurred to me to just fill some pots and plant trays with soil and seeds. Using an old AeroGarden and a sun lamp for light, I started with a Container Herb Mix from Burpee (parsley, borage, catgrass, basil, and watercress tangy) as it sounded perfect for indoor growing. The room I started them in is somewhat unheated (averages around 50 degrees F), so the basil never took off, but as you can see by the above pictures, everything else did very well.
A few weeks later I decided to fill a seed starting flat with organic soil (though seed starting mix would probably be better) and spinach seeds. Again, being a cooler room, the spinach sprouted within a week. About a month after that, the baby spinach was ready for dinner, though I ate some during this time as I thinned. The most difficult part of growing these is to remember to water every other day or so. I also used a spray bottle to mist them from time to time. I was hoping they would grow faster but I think the combination of chilly air and irregular watering have slowed them down. Then again, I might just be too impatient.
Microgreens are leafy greens grown just to the first true leaves. According to the USDA, they are several times more nutritionally packed than their full grown versions. So don’t be too worried about the their size (or lack there of). Just add them to your salads for a winter time boost of vitamins and minerals.
The Snarky Gardener toured Tierra Verde Farms, his favorite place to buy quality food, including grass fed beef, free range chickens and nitrate free pork.
Tierra Verde Farms (which roughly translates to Green Acres) is a local farm we discovered through a pamphlet at my doctor’s office of all places. A group of us from Kent Ohio Food Not Lawns showed up on a Sunday afternoon to get a personalized 2 hour tour from the owner, Mike Jones. We started in his store front as he explained that his farm is designed based on Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farms system of rotational grazing with chickens pasturing after cows, etc. It was easy to see from his presentation that Mike considers the animals part of his family, with all the emotions and attachments that entails.
After our talk, we started the walking part of the tour with the Thanksgiving turkeys. The Snarky Gardener had ordered one a few months back and wanted to meet him/her personally. We found them gobbling away out in the pasture. They came up to us as we looked like people with food. Sorry guys, no food here! Trying to find our specific turkey was impossible as they didn’t have name tags.
From the turkeys we moved onto the meat chickens. They were housed in “chicken tractors” that are moved every day so the chickens can get fresh stuff to eat. Mike’s tractors were very well designed as they had automatic waterers and lots of fencing to keep out predators (hawks, coyotes, etc.). Would love to have a smaller version here at Snarky Acres but I think that’s a few years away.
Next on the agenda were the pigs. They were fenced in under a stand of trees as pigs are forest dwellers in nature. With this type of farm, it’s important that the animals get to be themselves as much as possible so they are happy. These pigs are able to root in the mud and eat plenty of forage, including acorns and other nuts, just like they would in the wild. Mike let us go in to see the pigs closeup though I think his idea was to give the pigs people to play with as they kept nipping at the back of our shoes.
From the pigs we moooooved onto the beef cow pasture. Beautiful brown cows welcomed us by staying together as a herd and looking at us warily. Cows are herd animals and their ancestors survived by keeping together. These particular cows are hybrids, which helps them be productive, much like an F1 plant has hybrid vigor (an interesting concept in the least).
Our final tour stop was the egg laying chickens. They were truly free range with a portable trailer coop to lay eggs and receive shelter. The chickens have been trained to come in by a certain time before the automatic door leaves them out in the cold and vulnerable to predation. Mike told us that after the chickens reach two years old he sells them off for $5 a piece to home egg producers. These older hens don’t produce as many eggs per week (3 to 4 versus 6 for younger chickens), but for a home raiser that should be plenty. Never thought of buying a used egg chicken before (hmmmmm).
If you are interested in learning more or purchasing some meat products (but not Maynard, he’s ours), please visit their website http://www.tierraverdefarms.com/
The Snarky Gardener built raised beds using hugelkultur
Hugelkultur is the German term for garden beds made with buried wood. The wood breaks down over time, providing garden vegetables with nutrients and moisture (as in you don’t have to fertilize and water as much, if at all!). The wood does not have to be brand new as rotted wood is actually better is some ways.
This fall, I decided to utilize this technique to build four 8 foot long by 4 foot wide by 3 feet high raised beds. In general raised beds are beneficial as they warm up earlier in the spring, keep humans (but not my dog) from compacting soil, and allow plants better drainage. Usually raised beds are built with a frame around the soil, but my beds have no borders. After completing each bed, I planted cover crops (turnips, spinach and clover) to minimize winter soil exposure. My long term plan is to convert more of my garden into hugelkultur beds, but wanted to perform a trial first, as putting these beds in is labor intensive, with all the wood gathering, moving, and burying.
The Snarky Gardener is managing his herd of Jacob’s Cattle beans. Learn how to save bean seed.
Saving bean seed is really easy. Allow your bean plants with the beans still attached to turn yellow and die off. Collect the seed pods. Open up the pods and there are your seeds. You will want to let these dry out completely before putting them in an airtight container (I use old vitamin bottles though glass jars will work also). Make sure to keep an eye on them over the winter as they could mold up if there was any moisture in them.
After I do my “shelling”, I like to divide them up based how they look. Some will be deformed or have some flaw that makes them less than perfect. These will be put into the “eat me” pile. Jacob’s Cattle beans are specifically “dry” beans (think kidney or black beans), but I do eat some green.
So, you might be asking “Why does the Snarky Gardener bother with saving bean seed when it’s so inexpensive to buy at the store or online?” In a word, adaptation. These plants grew up in my garden with it’s specific conditions. Plus beans make the soil better, especially through their nitrogen fixing nodules.
The Snarky Gardener shows you how to save tomato seeds using a 5 step process
1. Let the tomatoes ripen. The riper, the better. I usually seed save from tomatoes that are too far gone to eat. Remember, every year tomatoes fall off into the garden and “volunteer” the following season. What we are doing is speeding up the process by fermenting them in the house.
2. Cut open the tomato and scoop out the seeds. A spoon will be of good use to you here.
3. Put the seeds (and the pulp that will be with them) into a glass, mug, or jar. Add water. Cover with something that will let a little air in and keep the fruit flies out. For me, that means plastic wrap with a few holes poked in it. You will also want to mark each vessel with a label or write directly on it with non-permanent marker. It’s really easy to mix up multiple cups with tomato seeds in them.
4. Let sit for 3 days or so on a windowsill or somewhere else warm, swirling the “gunk” around once a day. You might notice some mold forming on the top. That’s to be expected.
5. After the 3 days, pour the liquid through a strainer and rinse the seeds carefully with water. Put the seeds at the bottom of the strainer onto a plate to let dry for a few days. For me, this usually takes a good “smack” to get the seeds onto the plate. I use plastic covered paper plates so the seeds don’t stick and so I can write on the plate what the seeds are. Again, it’s very easy to mix up your seeds, especially when you have 5 or 6 plates going at once. During the drying phase, you may want to break up any seeds globs that form so they don’t all stick together. The end result should be seeds that look like the ones you buy from a commercial seed house.