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March, 2013

  1. Organic Gardening: Part 2 – Garden Planning

    March 18, 2013 by Jocelyn

    This is Part 2 of my Organic Gardening Series, Garden Planning.

    I’ve included a link to my garden plan, as well as a nifty seed starting timeline for folks in my hardiness zone!

    Today I’ll go over my earliest phases of garden planning, which I do before I even start my seeds. The level of planning that you do can vary, but after a few years of winging it, I’ve decided to try planning things out a bit more.

    I’ve got my seeds, and I’ll be ready to start some of them this week. As you can see, I have a good mix of flowers, fruits and veggies. Now that I’m going to be getting a CSA share, I’m planting fewer fruits and veggies, but more flowers.

    Heirloom Seeds

    It’s always difficult to get an exact estimate of how many seeds to start. Last year I went a little crazy with seed starting, and my seedlings did really well; there were a LOT of extra plants. I crammed more transplants into my garden than I had planned for, and even then, I still had leftovers. But after the flood, many of my community garden friends needed to replace some of their tomatoes and other vegetables, so I was able to give all of my extras away.

    Garden Planning 101: Things to consider:

    • How much food do you have space for? Not just in your garden, but in your home as well.
    • How many people are you trying to feed?
    • What will you eat or use the most (try to be realistic).


    Space
    First, you should calculate the square footage of your garden. I have 175 square feet of garden space. Then I like to get an idea of how much will fit into my garden. If you’re like me, and tend to plant things fairly close together, you could refer to a Square Foot Gardening resource. You can also choose to focus on a few important plants, and give them lots of room to grow.

    Next, take a quick survey of your pantry and/or freezer at home. If you have a lot of space, and aren’t afraid to jump into a canning, dehydrating, or freezing project, then by all means- plant as much as you can! If you’re like me, and have a limited amount of space and experience with canning, then you need to put a bit more thought into your plan.

    People
    Second, think about how many people you will be feeding with your garden. Also, what do they like to eat?  If only one person really likes beets, it’s probably not a good idea to plant a lot of them.

    Reality Check
    Lastly, be realistic. Think about the vegetables you want to plant, and how much of each you’re likely to use. I like to try out new and interesting vegetables, but if it’s your first time growing something it’s probably best to only plant a few. Remember that harvest time is usually pretty busy, and you will likely have a huge amount of veggies to put up all around the same time (this is especially true in Minnesota where we have such a short growing season). I grew Quinoa last year, and I was really excited about it at first. Then I didn’t have time for threshing and winnowing the grain.  Oops.

    My Plan
    I used the Mother Earth News Garden Planner to get an idea of how much I can fit into my garden. It’s a great piece of software, and anyone can sign up for a free 30 day trial. Here’s my plan, complete with a list of my vegetables and a handy timeline for when to start, transplant, and harvest each thing! Awesome, right?

    Keep in mind, this is NOT my final garden plan. I still have to take companion planting and crop rotation into account. I will probably do this in a few weeks, once it’s closer to the time I will be starting to plant cool weather crops in my garden.

    Most cold climate gardeners are gearing up to start their seeds, so I’ve attached a handy Seed Starting Timeline that I created for anyone living in between zones 3b to 4b. The dates were calculated using an average last frost date around May 31st.

    Free Printable Seed Starting Guide

    Free Printable Guide for Seed Starting

    We’ll get down to the nitty gritty of seed starting next time! I recommend reading some of my previous posts to get ready! You can order your seeds if you haven’t done so already, and find some quality seed starting soil. Both are very important to having healthy seedlings to put in your garden!

    Thanks for reading, and see you next time!


  2. DIY Friday: Make Vanilla Extract

    March 1, 2013 by Jocelyn

    If you want to learn how to make vanilla extract at home, but are intimidated by the process, it’s your lucky day! Let me be the first to tell you that not only is it very easy to make, but it’s much cheaper than store bought pure vanilla extract, and only requires a few ingredients. Overall, it ranks pretty highly on the awesomeness scale.
    Completed Homemade Vanilla Extract
    Making vanilla extract yourself is not only incredibly simple, but it also yields absolutely delicious results. Honestly, I can’t believe that I ever even considered purchasing disgusting imitation vanilla extract. I’m ashamed even thinking about it. It’s just that I thought that the “pure vanilla extract” was so expensive for such a tiny bottle. Well let me tell you, I’m never going to run out. Ever.

    Where to Get Vanilla Beans

    Most people don’t realize that vanilla beans are really easy to find (cheaply) online. They are likely very expensive at your local grocery store, so I recommend getting them from Amazon. I purchased mine from them, after a recommendation by one of my girlfriends. So without further ado, below are the links to the exact beans that I got, and they come in many different quantities. (They’ve got great reviews, and even better, they all qualify for free shipping!)

    You will need at least 3-4 beans per cup of vanilla extract that you intend to make.
    Premium Bourbon-Madagascar Vanilla Beans – 16 beans – $11.49
    Premium Bourbon-Madagascar Vanilla Beans – 1/4 lb. – Approx. 27 beans – $15.95
    Premium Bourbon-Madagascar Vanilla Beans – 1 lb. – Approx. 108 beans – $44.95

    I should warn you that the smell of vanilla beans is to die for; it really is intoxicating. If you’re still not sure you want to make vanilla extract yourself, I say you should do it just to smell the delicious aroma of freshly cut vanilla beans. Aah. I’m glad that I have a few left over so that I can just open the bag and smell them occasionally.

    The Recipe: Make Vanilla Extract

    This will make 4 cups of extract.
    12-16 Vanilla beans
    4 cups of vodka- the higher the quality, the better
    A little patience

    Supplies
    Knife
    Measuring cup
    Clean and dry glass jars
    Supplies to make vanilla extract

    Vanilla beans

    When you’re ready, leave the ends of the beans in tact, and cut a slit through the center of each one. Then turn the bean one quarter rotation, and slice through it again. This will help the flavors to infuse really well. Once you’ve sliced all of your vanilla beans, put them into your clean glass jars and add 1 cup of vodka for every 3-4 beans. Voila! You now have vanilla extract. Once you’ve completed this process, the only thing left to do is be patient.

    Your vanilla must sit for 2 months before it’s ready. Gently shake them once every week or two. It will get darker as time goes on. Once it’s ready to be used, you can simply add more vodka to replenish your supply!

    If you’d like, you can even print out cute labels for your jars, like this one!

    These are especially great for when you give some of your vanilla extract as a gift, or share it with friends. I put them on my jars too, just because I think they’re so darn cute! Now, time to get baking!

    Thanks for reading!