Carrots are one of the first vegetables people mention when I ask them what they want to grow. The problem is that they are one of the hardest to grown and are not a good place to start for the beginner gardener.
There are many different ways to plant carrots, and one year I decided to try a bunch of them and figure out a way to get a reliable harvest. The following is the method I use that works for me. Really, whatever works for you is the right way for you.
First, carrots are slow to germinate. They typically take up to 2-3 weeks to pop up their little heads. This causes a lot of problems, mostly in watering and weeding.
The first thing you need to do is prepare a bed that has as few weeds as possible. I struggle with quack or orchard grass. I use a pitch for tup pull up all the roots I can so that the grass doesn’t come up before the carrots do. You also want the bed as light and fluffy as you can get it, giving the roots a loose soil in which to grow straight and long.
I like to plant my carrots on both sides of a drip irrigation tape. I make a small trench on either side of the tape, about 4 inches away. I lightly scatter the seeds in the trench and then take my finger and just run it along the trench. I don’t lover the seeds. The really don’t want to be buried, only maybe covered by a little bit of soil. Covering them will be too much. They just won’t be able to come up.
And the most important thing is to keep them watered. They need to stay wet until they come up. That means a good soaking every day if you have sandy soil, or every couple of days if your soil has more clay. I watch the dirt, and if it’s dry, it’s time to water. I get up in the morning and I if I still see the wet path around the drip tape, I know it can go another day. And by a good soaking, I mean you want that soil to be saturated at least a foot down. Not a light sprinkle. With a light sprinkle the water evaporates off the surface and doesn’t plump the seeds, giving them the moisture content they need to germinate.
When the seedlings are up, about 4 inches or so, it’s time to thin. I usually weed and thin at the same time. It takes a while, but is worth it. Thin to one carrot every 1 1/2 to 2 inches. The patch will look a bit pathetic, but give it some water and wait a week and you’ll see a sea of little carrot seedlings thriving. I usually don’t need to weed much after that, only wait for a big harvest.
Scott had a very special relationship with his grandfather, Pops. Pops was a wonderful man. Kind, generous, but feisty and full of fight. Nothing could crush his spirit. He had an aneurism that killed him, but they brought him back from the dead to give him 15 years of life. A life that he enjoyed despite severe emphysema. It was at the end of those 15 years that I met him. He couldn’t do many of the things he once enjoyed, so he set out to find new things to enjoy that he could do with his reduced health. His wife lived those 15 years as borrowed time, enjoying every minute with him, wasting not even a moment on the things that aren’t important.
We were living in Chicago, pursuing graduate degrees at the University of Chicago. At least once a year we’d make the treck up to Northern Michigan to visit Pops and Grandma. They were very social people, and we loved to see them as much as they enjoyed us visiting. On on of those visits, after listening to Grandma’s story about visiting Chicago, Pops said “The city is no place to raise a family.”
That phrase stuck with us and has been a large driving force in our lives. Dreaming, planning and working towards a life that Pops would be proud of.
We’ve done it, Pops. I know he’s looking down with pride in the life we are able to give our children. Not in the city and the rat race, but on an island in Northern Michigan, at home with their parents, surrounded by friends.
We have been dreaming of moving to Beaver Island for years. 8 years ago we bought 10 acres with the intent of building a home on it and moving to the island. All we needed was a job to bring with us. The last 8 years has been dedicated to finding that job to bring with us so we could live on the island.
And now Annie’s is big enough to support us, and we are able to make our dream a reality. Construction prices were so high that it was a better idea to buy an existing home, so that’s what we did. 39 acres of semi-wooded and semi-cleared land on one of the old Mormon farms on the island with a small farm house. Perfect for us, well perfect after a lot of hard work. The land hasn’t been farmed in at least 50 years, so no fear of stripping it of nutrients or it being full of chemicals. But the soil is sandy and acidic and the grass is sparse. We have years of lime, green manures, and compost to apply. But it’s exciting to start from scratch, creating the perfect farm.
I’m not on the island yet, but Scott and the kids are. They are loving it, tending the few gardens I’ve put in, and preparing the land. Junipers and pine trees will be removed from the cow pastures in the next few weeks. We hope to turn the initial 10 acres into a certified organic seed farm. A few acres there will be cleared to start the green manures and pastures for the livestock that will provide the much needed manures for the organic seed production. There are already goats and chickens there, grazing what little grass is available and starting the long process to soil fertility.
By the end of the summer I will be up there. Just in time to build the winter livestock housing and prepare all the raised beds for the garden. Compost materials will be gathered, and we’ll start the long road to a very lush and fertile farm. I can’t wait!
Brussels Sprouts and Bacon and an Egg
We just finished eating dinner. The kids are mad at me for eating the rest of them. I grew up disliking brussels sprouts. My mom would boil them until soft and put a pat of butter on them. That’s it. Slimy outer leaves, slightly salty, and really not very good. And then I watched Jacques Pepin and Julia Childs cook vegetables, and I had to try them again. Boiled lightly and then chopped and either fried in butter, stirred with sour cream, or flavored however you’d like. They taste sweet and good instead of bitter. No slimy leaves, and a little firm but not hard.
This recipe is a mix of several recipe’s I’ve made. Start by preparing the brussels sprouts. Cut off the bottom and peel off the loose outer leaves. This is the next step that I learned from Julia, cut a small plus sign into the stem part of each sprout. This allows the hot water to penetrate the sprout, allowing it to cook through properly instead of getting that mushy, slimy leave and a hard inside. Cook in salted boiling water until they are starting to soften. It’s usually around 10 minutes. You don’t want to cook them until they are super soft, just soft enough to stick a fork into them. When they are cooked, drain them and put them on a cutting board. Chop into small or large pieces, whatever you prefer.
Meanwhile, chop up some bacon. Cook it in a saute pan until it’s almost cooked. When it’s almost finished, add some diced shallots and cook everything until the shallots are soft and the bacon is cooked. If there isn’t enough fat in the bacon, add a little olive oil or butter. Stir in the chopped brussels sprouts and cook for a few minutes, until all the flavors blend and the sprouts are hot throughout. Remove from the heat.
For the final step, stir in a little romano cheese. I’ve been using a wonderful sheep’s milk pecorino romano that adds a nice salty and tangy flavor.
Top each serving with a sunny side up fried egg. This is the best part. We went to a wonderful Asian fusion restaurant in Chicago last year. I had brussels sprouts with miso topped with a quail egg. The runny yolk makes for a wonderful sauce with the sprouts, adding creaminess and that wonderful mouth feel that only a raw yolk can do. Yes, you can eat brussels sprouts without a fried egg, but why would you?
Preparing for Winter – the Livestock
There’s a lot to be done to prepare for winter. For those of you who live in the South, it probably isn’t as big of a concern. For those of us who live in the North in places with several months of freezing temperatures, cold winds and snowstorms, it’s a big concern.
Every year we change something with the livestock. It takes a long time to figure out exactly what species and breeds you want to keep. I know I like keeping egg laying chickens, but I’m always trying a new breed, or 6. I tend to run experiments, testing 6 or more breeds against each other to see which one I like best. I still haven’t decided. We’ve had layers for almost 10 years now, and I still can’t decide.
Last year I tried ducks. I love ducks. They are neat birds, and the eggs are great. So now I have to decide if I want only ducks or ducks and chickens. I think I want both. The farm is a work in progress, and I’m not sure I’ll ever have it all figured out. I’m not really sure I want to ever have it all figured out. I’d get bored and have to start something new if I didn’t have something to learn.
We have finally settled on a breed of cow, the Dexter. They are miniature cows from Ireland. They are very hardy and graze well on less than ideal forage. We have a sweet little bull, with a huge body and stubby little legs. One reason I like them is that the bulls are really gentle. I don’t worry about the kids walking in the pasture with him. He just isn’t aggressive. You can milk the cows, and the fat globules are smaller, making Dexter milk easier to digest. I do much better with Dexter milk than other breeds. And the cows are nice. The breed is just a little more like a dog in behavior than other breeds of cows.
This year I also got some Dwarf Nigerian goats. I love goat milk, and I find my body just prefers it. Goats are difficult to fence and their personality tends to be contrary. They do everything you don’t want them to do. The Dwarf Nigerians are tiny, easier to fence, and have a nicer temperament. I got a few Pygmy goats, which are meatier than the Dwarf Nigerians. I like them too. I’m loving the milk, too. It’s high in butterfat and tastes amazing. And I also love it that the kids can play with them. Our 3 year old climbs the fence to go play with the goats. They come up for a scratching but don’t jump or knock her over.
Because the animals I keep changes a little every year, I need to make adjustments to the winter yards and sheds every year too. We used to have pigs. Now the goats are in the pig hut, and I built a different yard and pasture for them.
I needed a more predator proof chicken house, so we buried chicken wire around the inside wall of the chicken house. It’s a nice, tight structure with chickens and rabbits in it. This winter I’m going to be having a bunch of baby goats born, and I need a good place for them to spend the night away from their moms. I’m thinking that a nice little dog house inside the chicken and rabbit house will work well. I’m going to build a little yard for them to play in and have the chicken house to keep them warm at night. The more animals sharing a house the better. They keep each other warm.
One final problem that we keep struggling with is where to keep the calf. We only have one this year, and he really needs to be kept away from the rest of the herd. The rest of the herd usually drives away the calves from the hay, making it hard for the little ones to eat. That, and sometimes not being allowed inside the shed, means that they have a difficult time surviving the winter. But being alone in a yard isn’t good either, since one calf can’t stay very warm when it’s alone. This year we’re going to try keeping him with his mom in their own little shed and yard. She’ll let him eat. Hopefully she’ll also prevent him from nursing once she gets close to calving in the spring. I’m in the process of building their new shed. I’m cobbling it together out of pieces of other sheds that are no longer needed. So far I have the frame and roof up. Today the walls go on. It should be a nice little place for mom and calf to spend the winter.
We had our first really hard frost last night. I harvested all the tomatoes and peppers a few days ago. I had a sheet over one pepper plant, we’ll see if it survived. If not, it’s not a big deal. We had a good summer with pretty good harvests. We had a pretty warm start to the summer with a cooler finish. As a result we had lots of peppers, but they stayed green, not ripening to beautiful yellows and reds. I have a big basket of green peppers. I much prefer the super sweet flavor of a ripe Golden Treasure pepper, but the green ones are good too. The tomatoes ripened reasonably well, giving us a lot of great tomato soups and salsas.
That’s one of the great things about gardening. It doesn’t get old. Every year is different. Drought, heat, cold, winds and storms, they all bring their own challenges. Add in critters that eat stuff, bugs that help or hurt, and the specific weather patterns that intensify everything, and you won’t find a year that is routine. I like the challenge. I like learning something new. I know that each year will bring it’s own ups and downs, and I look forward to the possibility that it brings.
Fall is upon us. The weather is cooler. It’s time to get the garden ready to go to sleep for the winter. Tearing out the tomatoes and peppers to prep the beds for next spring and then mulching all the roots that will overwinter. After a summer of hard work, it’s nice to have this down time too. The shelves are full of tomato sauce and soup, the freezers full of asparagus, peas and corn, and the basement is full of potatoes and onions. We’ll eat well, remembering all the bounty of the garden all winter long.
I don’t really know what Gumbo is. I know it has flour in it, and you can’t really make it without, so I haven’t really given it much thought. I’ve been looking at some Andouille chicken sausage sitting in the fridge, and I just had to try something. The sausage is decent. It has a kick, tastes acceptable, and doesn’t make the family sick from weird preservatives. I looked around the fridge and saw the lima beans, some frozen corn, onions, the tomatoes and a few sweet peppers, and I was inspired.
The start is like my favorite corn casserole. Saute a chopped onion in olive oil until starting to brown. Meanwhile I boiled some lima beans in salted water until they were tender. I also threw the sweet peppers under the broiler to roast them. After they blackened, I peeled them and chopped them.
To the cooked onions I added some chopped tomatoes and cooked for a few minutes until they were tender and a part of the sauce. I threw some frozen corn in with the onions, enough sour cream to coat them and make a nice sauce. After the corn was thawed I threw in the limas and peppers and some Andouille chicken sausage that was cut into disks. I salted it to taste and served after everything was heated through.
Delicious and fast. Sometimes you just need a one pot dish that can feed the kids fast. And they ate it all up, fighting over the seconds.
My health story – introduction
I haven’t really talked about my health story. I am not healthy. I am actually quite sick. I don’t like to dwell on it anymore. It can be depressing, and that isn’t good. I like to focus on the good, and my daily box of pills isn’t what I like to think about. But I do have a daily box of pills, a huge box of pills. And it drives everything about who I am and what I do. It’s the major reason for why we moved to the country and raise our food. It defines me.
And it defines a lot of people. A lot of people who don’t really know what’s wrong. And that’s why I’m going to write about it. So that you can understand what drives me, and so that others who suffer can get better. If they can’t get better, at least they can know why they are sick and might be able to do something to improve their lives.
I’ve been suffering since childhood, but when I was 19 I was finally diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. I was always tired. My college roommates would drag me in to the health center because they were convinced that there was something wrong. And finally one of the docs diagnosed me, right before exams of my sophomore year. I was put on elavil, and that was it. I lived like that for 4 years.
A lot of you might know someone with Fibromyalgia. It’s becoming a common diagnosis. Chronic pain and chronic fatigue are only part of it. Depression and anxiety plague the mind, which in turn makes the doctors think that if you just took an antidepressant and exercised, that it would all go away. But it doesn’t.
My road from this diagnosis to my current one is a long one. It took at least 10 years for me to figure most of it out. But I did, and for those of you who have been diagnosed with this, you too can get better. Fibromyalgia isn’t some mysterious disease with no treatment. It’s endocrine disease that has been mis-diagnosed and not treated. There are real tests that give real answers with real medications that successfully treat this disease. There is no cure, but there is a very real treatment that can restore your quality of life. My diagnosis is pan hypopituitarism. Some people are hypopituitary, others have adrenal fatigue and hypothyroidism. The treatment is the same and the symptoms are the same, just the root cause is different.
The path from diagnosis to proper treatment is a difficult one. Most doctors don’t believe you. They’ve been taught one way to look at the tests and one way to treat it, and that doesn’t work. You have to fight for the right tests, fight for the right interpretation of those tests, and then fight even harder for the right medications. I found a doctor who gets it. There are truly only a handful in the world that really get it. There are more that get parts of it, and sometimes that’s enough. For me, I needed someone who understood the entire picture and is willing to trust me and work with me to figure it all out. It’s a complicated mess, and I’m not sure I’ll ever get all the pieces. But I try. Each day I try to figure out something else that’s wrong and correct it. Someday I’ll be better than today. But this is far better than before, and I have hope. Hope that tomorrow will be better than today, and that’s what I need to know to keep pushing forward.
So it came last night. I wasn’t prepared. Forecasts were for lows at either 54 or 38. I figured it would be between those, not down below 32. I was really lucky that it was light enough to not damage the peppers too much. I have 2 Golden Treasure pepper plants that I really want to see ripen up a bit. I’d say there are over 20 peppers on each plant. I want to freeze some, roasted and in strips, for salads and in fajitas. I also want to make an aribata sauce. I have a bunch of p0blanos that will be ready to freeze in a couple of days. Otherwise, I’m ok with a frost.
We have too many tomatoes. With raising varieties for seed as well as experimenting with new varieties, we just have to plant a lot of tomatoes. I have enough sauce left from last year for this year, so I didn’t make any sauce. I made some enchilada sauce and salsa, and the rest is being made into soups. Today I’m making a tomato-basil soup. The basil was damaged by the frost. I had to go pick the bottom leaves because the tops were splotchy with brown.
I’m also going to dry the cherry tomatoes. I like to cut them in half and put them in the dehydrator. Our youngest loves tomatoes. If there are tomatoes sitting out, I can be sure that she’s taken at least a few. Her favorites are the yellow ones, but any tomato will do. She has such a restricted diet, and it’s good to find a snack that she can eat without any problems.
I’m going to have to get out the row covers and sheets to cover those peppers for the next week. The peppers should be ripe by then, deep golden yellow. I can’t wait!
Pico de Gallo
I’m going to admit it. We don’t like raw tomatoes, at least we didn’t until today. I can stand the flavor, but don’t really enjoy it, and Scott hates the flavor of a raw tomato. Cook the tomatoes, and they become a favorite, but raw, not so much. And then we tried Burraker’s Favorite tomato, and we changed our minds. It was sweet and fruity, with a nice, firm texture that was smooth. And I just had to do it. I had to make Pico de Gallo to go on top of some Antarctic Queen fish that arrived today.
There are a few ripe poblano peppers in the garden, and the onions are large enough to eat. I chopped up the tomato, some sweet onions, and a finely diced poblano pepper. I added a splash of cider vinegar and some sea salt. It was amazing. The tomato was yellowish orange with red striping, and when mixed with the white onion and bright green pepper, it made for one of the prettiest salsas I’ve seen. There really isn’t a recipe, just mix them up and serve. A wonderful topping on fish, but I’m sure it would be great on anything. And our 3 year old daughter just had to take a spoon to what was left. Can it get any better than that?