Wild Gourd Farm

Organic Gardening in St. Louis City

Tag Archives: around the house

Our Digs

Our house is situated on about 1/3 of an acre, with a large double lot to the east and a smaller single lot on the west side of the house.

Here's our house!

Here’s our house! This is looking south, so the East double lot is on the left side, the West lot is on the right of the photo.

Some before photos of the West lot:

West lot, facing southwest

West lot, looking southwest

From the back of the West lot, looking North

From the back of the West lot, looking North over some weeds.

Back of the West lot, looking South to the alley

Back of the West lot, by the garage and shed, looking south to the alley. This is where we had planned to build a new chicken enclosure.

The first thing we did in our new yard? Start an orchard in the West lot. There was already a 3-4 year-old peach tree over there, and we wanted to add to it. We ordered the trees online soon after we moved in last September, but they weren’t delivered until November. So we planted our trees right before Thanksgiving 2013. Two plum, two cherry, three apple, and one peach tree to go along with the one already there.

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We worried that the trees wouldn’t make it through the worst winter we’d seen in a long time. Come spring, though, we started to see some signs of life.

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The peach tree we inherited.

The peach tree we inherited.

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We got enough peaches to eat fresh, share with friends and family, and make 3 pies. Not bad for our first year!

The second thing we had planned was to build a new chicken coop and enclosure. Sallie was nice enough to keep the chickens in her yard after we moved out. We wanted to build a new home for them but ran out of time before it got too cold and the ground froze. So we moved them into our yard using the same chain link pen and dog-house-turned-chicken-coop set up, seen wrapped in the green tarp in the photo below.

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Mother, Yolko, and Chica

 

Here's a view of the West lot from the front as of today.

Here’s a view of the West lot from the front as of today (our house is on the left). The trees up front are plum.

We tilled and replanted the old, overgrown garden plot with lettuce, salad mixes, Red Russian kale, lacinato kale, and romanesco.

We worked the soil and replanted the old, overgrown garden plot with lettuce, salad mixes, Red Russian kale, lacinato kale, and romanesco.

Surprise lillies next to the house

Surprise lilies next to the house.

We've also found several nice patches of medicinal, native yarrow growing wild in the yard, lucky us!

We’ve also found several nice patches of medicinal, native yarrow growing wild in the yard, lucky us! (Yes, Rosco loves to be in photos!)

 

Our plan for the rest of the yard: more food production. We’ve got big plans for the future, including a food forest, outdoor kitchen, and a water feature.

We leaned our mushroom logs against the North side of the garage and did get some shiitakes this spring.

We leaned our mushroom logs against the North side of the garage and got some shiitakes this spring. We also have lots of herbs in pots until we find the right spots for them.

Our future berry patch, housed in pots for now until we find the right spot!

Our future berry patch, also housed in pots for now until we find the right spot! Elderberry, raspberry, and blackberry.

We’re planning to till up and farm a large section of the east lot, but for now it’s mostly lawn. We got rid of the dead yews and started a small garden in the back for this year.

View of the East lot, with Maggie and her beloved frisbee

View of the East lot, with Maggie and her beloved frisbee.

Dead yews are gone! Garden and native perrenials in their place.

The new garden space in the back.

Tomatoes in the back.

We planted some of our extra tomato plants.

Black bean teepee trellis

Black bean teepee trellis

Black beans!

Black beans!

One of our wild gourds

A baby wild gourd

More wild gourds. It's been really interesting to see the fruits' differences in this second generation.

More wild gourds. It’s been really interesting to see the differences in this second generation. Some are much darker and even striped!

Sweet potato patch

Sweet potato patch.

We are also growing pumpkins, watermelon, zucchini, bush beans, pole beans, and basil in the back.

The rest of the East lot is mostly grass, though Eric did decide to build a brick pizza oven on a random brick pillar that was already in the middle of the yard.

New pizza oven in action

New pizza oven in action

We landscaped around the side and front of the house a little more formally, but didn’t lose our sights on edibility.

We transplanted feverfew, mint, oregano, asparagus, cala lilies that were already there, sage, thyme, and azaleas, as well as a really beautiful blue cedar tree.

We transplanted feverfew, mint, oregano, asparagus, sage, thyme, echinacea, azaleas, and a blue cedar tree (the calla lilies were already there).

There are two patches along the front steps down to the sidewalk that we dug up and replanted as well. We transplanted some yarrow we had grown at Amy’s last year, as well as some bibb lettuce, curly kale, and a few wild gourd plants. There was already a weird rose tree there.

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Wild gourd growing on our front fence.

Wild gourd growing on our front fence.

More wild gourds!

More wild gourds!

A volunteer pumpkin took over one of the little plots.  Again, lucky us!

A volunteer pumpkin took over one of the little plots. Again, lucky us!

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Outdoor Washing Station

2013_06_02_445We took some time off from the gardens on Sunday to work on a project we’d been planning for a long time- an outdoor washing station.

2013_06_02_436It all started falling into place a couple weeks ago when we found this cast iron double sink- complete with faucet and sprayer- in the alley while walking the dogs.  Around the same time, a neighbor of ours started leaving lumber from his home remodel in our side yard for us to use (he somehow got the crazy idea that we collect and re-use materials like that). All we’d need to buy were fittings to secure the sink faucet and adapters to hook the sink up to our hose.

2013_06_02_432 So Eric drew up a plan to build a frame to fit the sink. We had it measured, cut, glued and screwed in under two hours. The sink rests on top of the frame securely.

2013_06_02_438We set the new washing station in the side yard, elevating it off the ground on some flat stones to keep the wood from rotting (we’ll probably paint/finish it some day). Next we added the fittings and adapters to secure the sink faucet and connect our garden hose.

2013_06_02_442It works! We’ll still need the hose for watering in the side yard, so we won’t keep the sink hooked up all the time. It’s easy enough to connect and disconnect the hose from the back, though.

2013_06_02_445The bottom shelf will be used for storage and to hold a couple of buckets to catch the water from the drains.  I’m excited to use our new washing station, with its double sink and ample draining space, to rinse off greens and scrub root crops without having to get our nice, white porcelain kitchen sink all dirty. All in all, I’d say it was a pretty good use of our free materials and a Sunday afternoon!

Frugal Friday: Homemade Yogurt, Surprisingly Easy!

Working in a small, locally-owned grocery store that specializes in organic produce and other local products has its perks. The store itself has very little waste- everything that can be recycled gets recycled, produce at the end of its shelf life gets sent to the cafe, given to employees, or composted, and day-old bread and some expired products get passed on to local food pantries. But when it comes to dairy, people are wary of expiration dates. I’ve experienced the putrid, smelly consequences of not respecting those little stamped dates, but in my experience milk that has officially expired is still usable for quite some time, especially if it’s kept sealed.

Needless to say, this frugal girl takes advantage of the nearly continuous supply of milk. We’re not big milk drinkers, and there’s only so much baking I can do before an open container starts to spoil. I’ve made a simple cottage cheese, & I’ve been meaning to get my hands on some cultures to make other cheese (rennet-free, of course). In the meantime I’ve been making yogurt.

Making yogurt is really surprisingly simple. All you need to do is heat up the milk, introduce the yogurt culture, and then keep it at a constant, warm temperature to incubate for several hours. Here’s the basic process:

  1. Heat your milk to about boiling. I use a quart at a time. I’ve read that you can keep your yogurt “raw” by only warming it up to about 115ºF, warm enough to incubate the yogurt culture. I’ve been using pasteurized milk, and heating it to almost boiling (~180ºF) because it yields a thicker yogurt.
  2. Allow milk to cool to about 115ºF. If you don’t have a thermometer, dab a little on the inside of your wrist, if it feels hot it’s not ready. It should feel warm, but not too warm.
  3. Add your yogurt culture. You can purchase this, but the most frugal option is to just use previously-made yogurt, one tablespoon per quart of milk. You can use commercial yogurt as long as it says it contains active, live cultures. I froze some expired yogurt I got from work in ice cube trays and drop 1 cube in each batch I make. Once you’ve made your own you can freeze that and use it instead.
  4. Keep the mixture warm, ideally about 115ºF, for 4-8 hours. There are many ways to do this, the easiest being a yogurt-maker. I found one for free on Freecycle- it’s not the prettiest but it keeps a constant temperature. You can also try incubating in a crockpot (often bundled in towels for extra insulation), though my attempts were unsuccessful. The internet is full of other ideas for incubation too.

    Free yogurt maker!

That’s it. Seriously. Now you have yogurt! You can add vanilla or other flavors after incubation, but I usually leave it plain. I’ve been freezing some, too. The consistency suffers a bit after thawing, but it’s great for use in cooking and baking!

Frugal Saturday: Homemade Goat Cheese

Sorry, dear readers, for the lack of posts lately. Have no fear, we’re still working tirelessly in the gardens, it’s just my blogging time has been constrained since I’ve started working (outside the home) again, at a small, family-owned grocery store. I have a huge amount of respect for the owners and all of the employees there; the store’s slogan is “Know Your Food” and everyone is committed to the mission of supporting local farmers and providing organically grown, sustainably-raised products.

You probably know that I identify as a vegan, though I do sometimes use the eggs from our own chickens in cooking or baking- I know they have a happy life. My ethics haven’t changed, and I will always vehemently oppose factory farms and CAFOs, but I have started consuming dairy products, in very limited quantities. I’m not talking about straight-up buying Velveeta or Cheez-Whiz or anything- at the very least the dairy at the store is nearly all produced humanely and sustainably, though I’m still hesitant.

The thing is, given the time and energy that goes into producing the product and its packaging (plastic is made from petroleum after all, and petroleum is inevitably used in the production of glass and cardboard as well), it hurts my soul way more to see that product go to waste. In most cases, expired dairy products from the store aren’t just discarded like at most grocery chains- they’re up for grabs by employees before being donated to a local food pantry. However, this week there was a whole case of organic goat milk that expired, which the food pantry didn’t want. So what’s an ethical vegan to do?

Make goat cheese, that’s what!

Read more of this post

Book Review: Radical Homemakers

Like Nick Rosen in Off The Grid, Shannon Hayes begins her book, Radical Homemakers, Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture, with a history lesson in Part One: Why. Hayes discusses the role of homemakers and how the position has changed so drastically in so little time. Skilled homemakers who used common knowledge to provide for their families were replaced in the rampant consumerism and convenience craze that started early last century. Electric appliances, packaged (processed) food, and the automobile turned skilled homemakers into consumers instead of producers. The problems only grew worse as more women- many seeking more meaningful lives outside of buying and chauffeuring for their families- entered the workplace.

Part Two: How presents the many ways radical homemakers are reviving skills that were once universally-used, common knowledge. Read more of this post

Frugal Friday: Homemade Seitan, a Versatile Meat Substitute

Seitan is a high-protein, vegetarian meat substitute that has, along with tempeh, allowed us to minimize our consumption of processed tofu, which is best eaten in moderation, as there are several studies debating its health effects. Seitan is wheat gluten that has been separated from the starch, leaving a protein-rich, elastic material.

You can buy seitan already formed and flavored (expensive), make your own using vital wheat gluten flour (still somewhat expensive), or make your own from flour (cheap!). We had been following this recipe to make a tasty seitan log from vital wheat gluten until yesterday, when we finally made our own from flour. It was incredibly easy. Here’s how we did it:

dough ballWe followed the process from this how-to on Forkable, though we changed it up a bit. We mixed 12 cups of unbleached flour and 6 cups of water to form a ball of dough, and kneaded it for a few minutes. We put the dough in a large bowl and covered it entirely with water and let it soak for about half an hour. The water turned milky white as the starch started to leach out of the dough. We put the bowl in the sink and kneaded the dough in the water until it started to feel rubbery.

making seitanAfter the underwater massage, we dumped the dough into a colander in the sink and began a half-hour long rinsing and kneading session.

As you knead and rinse to remove the starch, the dough starts to get denser and more elastic. You can control the texture of your seitan by kneading more or less. For our purposes, we wanted a chewier result so we aimed for a texture like the smaller ball at the top right, while the the bigger mass in the middle still needed some kneading.

Most seitan recipes at this point will instruct you to form the gluten into a ball and boil it in broth. Then you can pack it into containers with the broth and refrigerate or freeze it. We had a different plan.

not the most appetizingWe wanted to try an approach more like the above-mentioned seitan log recipe. So once the gluten was formed, we worked in a marinade of tomato paste, olive oil, soy sauce, and seasonings, then oven baked it in a loaf pan at 325°F for about an hour and a half. We had it wrapped in foil like the log recipe but saw the seitan wouldn’t hold its form and the foil began to stick, so we dumped it in the loaf pan, added more marinade, and covered it with foil. Every twenty minutes or so, we stirred and turned the seitan to keep it from sticking to the pan. We also split some of the bigger pieces into smaller chunks to cook more evenly.

seitanWe ended up with about 4 cups of chewy seitan chunks from the original 12 cups of flour. Overall, the process took about 3 1/2 hours, most of which was cooking and waiting time. Next time we’ll try incorporating the marinade and seasonings before the gluten is completely formed so the seitan will be more infused with flavor and maybe achieve the log texture.  To be extra frugal, we’ll also re-use some of the starchy water from the rinsing stages to thicken soup stocks and sauces, instead of letting it all go down the drain.

We love to make protein-rich wraps with sauteed seitan chunks, quinoa, cucumbers, red onion, avocado, hummus, and parsley and salad greens from the garden.

You can use seitan to substitute any sort of meat, or tofu for that matter. Throw it in a stir fry instead of cubed tofu, crumble it in pasta sauce or add it to chili like the commercial soy crumbles, bread it and fry it for a chicken nugget type snack, we might even slice it in strips and put it on a barbecue pizza! With bulk flour from our co-op, we may never have to buy meat alternatives ever again.

Frugal Friday: Free Apples

If you know where to look you can find a lot of valuable things for free. This week we saw an offer on the “Free” section of St. Louis Craigslist for 10 pounds of organically grown apples. The offerer had a large apple tree in his yard and couldn’t eat all the apples himself.

They’re not the prettiest apples, but considering the price (free!) we took them gratefully.

We juiced most of them, though we found our juicer was not terribly efficient. We got a gallon of juice (to be brewed to make hard cider) but also a large bowlful of apple pulp as a byproduct. We were already planning to give the cores and seeds and bad parts we cut out of some of the apples to the chickens, so we wanted to make use of the extra apple mash. The solution:

Homemade apple butter. We followed a recipe online (but reduced the sugar drastically) and used our crock pot. Then processed the jars in a water bath to keep fresh all winter long.

And we still had apples to go through! So we made some apple pie, and there are still a few apples left. That free box of apples more than paid for itself!

Frugal Friday: Beat the Heat

We’ve had a week of 100º+ days here in St. Louis, and the weather service says 33 states are currently under a heat advisory. We do run our air conditioning, but there are some other fun, frugal ways to beat the heat.

Shot-cicleShot-cicles: We’ve been making some homemade popcicles lately. We don’t have popcicle molds. so we use shot glasses- or you can use anything where the rim isn’t narrower than the rest of the glass. Fill with three parts juice and one part almond or coconut milk (you can omit these milks, but we like the creaminess they add). Get creative-  throw in dash of vanilla or cinnamon depending on the flavor, or mix in fresh fruit. Freeze for about 10 minutes until the juice is frozen enough to support a popcicle stick (or chop stick, like we used above).  The popcicles will be ready in just a couple hours.

Ceiling fan adjustment: The direction of rotation makes a difference because each fan blade has a tilt. Most fans have a switch to change the direction. In summer, you want the leading edge of the fan blade higher so the air is pushed downward (this is counter-clockwise for most fans). In the winter, the leading edge should be lower, so the air is pulled upward and the warmer air above is displaced. Just having proper air circulation makes a big difference in your indoor comfort.

Heating Cooling pad: Some heating pads can be used as cooling pads, like this one I made last winter. Keep it in the freezer and it’ll be ready when you need it!

Anyone else have cheap, creative ways to stay cool?

Frugal Friday: Homemade, Homegrown Pizza

We love making things from scratch, especially when we end up with a high quality meal that cost us significantly less than out at a restaurant. Pizza comes up on our menu fairly regularly, not just because it’s delicious, but it’s also pretty easy to make.
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Our favorite pizza crust recipe is this Quick Beer Pizza Dough– it’s just flour, yeast, baking powder, salt, olive oil, and 1 bottle of room temperature beer. This recipe is enough for two 12″ pizzas. We prefer to make the dough fresh, but it does freeze well. A couple weeks ago, Eric happened to open a bottle of beer he didn’t like; not wanting to waste it, I took it and made up a batch of this dough and froze it in a ziplock bag. It sat in the freezer until yesterday, when we harvested these beautiful tomatoes:
Before we made our pizza sauce, we de-seeded the tomatoes to save for next year. Then we made up a quick sauce by sauteing onion, garlic, tomatoes, and the hot pepper from the garden in oil until everything was soft and fragrant, then we added fresh basil, oregano, and parsley from the garden, and of course salt and pepper to taste. We prefer a smooth pizza sauce, so we blended it in a small food processor- you can keep yours chunky if that’s your thing. Keep in mind, the longer your sauce cooks, the more flavorful it gets.
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Next, the fun part: assembling your pizza. Eric has experience at pizzerias, so he rolls out the dough by hand; you can also use a rolling pin. As for toppings,  Eric uses high quality cheeses and I’ll throw on some Baetje Farms goat cheese or vegan cheese or opt for a tomato pie (cheese-less). We try to use as much from our gardens as possible. Even if you do have to buy some toppings, it’s still way cheaper than having to pay for each topping at a pizzeria.
Enjoy!

Frugal Friday: Clean & Green

It’s great that commercial cleaning products have jumped onto the eco-conscious bandwagon, but there’s an even better way to clean your house without making a huge impact on the environment or your wallet. Plus, you probably already have all the necessary ingredients in your pantry!

Baking soda is a natural deodorant and mild abrasive that helps scrub and whiten in the kitchen and bathroom. We make a paste with baking soda and a little bit of water and vinegar or lemon juice.  Let it sit for 10 minutes, then scrub away!

Vinegar is effective in controlling mold, bacteria, and germs. Make your own homemade all-purpose spray- just add equal parts water and vinegar in a spray bottle, then use it on surfaces around the house and in the bathroom. Don’t worry- the smell will dissipate as it dries. Or you can add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to give it a nicer fragrance.

Add 1 tablespoon of rubbing alcohol to equal parts water and vinegar to get a quick, streak-free window and glass cleaner! And instead of using paper towels, we’ve found newspaper cleans glass efficiently, without leaving any lint behind.