Wild Gourd Farm

Organic Gardening in St. Louis City

Tag Archives: self-sufficiency

Up-Potting: It Never Ends!


We’ve been up-potting tomato, pepper, and other herbs and veggie plants for several weeks, after starting over 800 from seed. From grow lights in the basement, the plants are transplanted into larger pots (4″ diameter) and placed in our greenhouse as an intermediate step before hardening off. We had a pretty hefty stash of plastic pots saved from previous years and managed to scrounge lots of pots from several other sources, but we finally ran out. So we bought some Solo cups from the dollar store and drilled holes in the bottom for drainage.

2013_04_14_102It’s been pretty cold here in St. Louis (especially compared to last year), so we’re glad we have the hoop house to help store them- temperatures inside have soared over 100°F, so we keep it vented.


2013_04_13_083We built this make-shift shelving unit from wooden crates and boards (all free). 

2013_04_13_079 We’ve designated the left side of the hoop house for the potted plants, and the right side has salad greens, cilantro, and kale, which we seeded last fall.

2013_04_14_103Here are some tomato plants hardening off outside of the hoop house.

We’re planning to plant about 100 tomato plants and sell the rest at the Cherokee Street International Farmers’ Market, which starts May 3rd! Varieties include our favorite yellow cherry and other cherry varieties, Arkansas traveler, Costuloto Genovese, black giant, a bush variety we’ve saved seeds from for years, and several other heirloom varieties.


Slow Time of Year for a Garden Blog…

We haven’t posted in a while… it’s winter here so there isn’t much growing, but there’s still a lot going on.  We’ve gotten a lot done since our last post on November 1. Here are some of the highlights: 2012_12_02_221Eric spotted some wild oyster mushrooms living on an oak tree in early December. We harvested about 4 pounds of them, leaving some behind. 2012_12_02_228We used the Missouri Department of Conservation’s book Missouri’s Wild Mushrooms to make sure we identified the mushrooms correctly. Just for fun we also made a spore print by placing a mushroom gills-down on a piece of paper (we did one black and one white sheet of paper) and letting it sit overnight. The spores are naturally released and create a colored print on the paper below; matching the color of the spores lets you positively identify your mushroom. The oyster’s spores were a milky lavender hue. 2012_12_02_229We ate our fill of mushrooms, shared them with friends and family, and still had about 2 pounds extra, which we sold. They were some of the best mushrooms I’ve ever eaten, so much meatier and nuttier than cultivated oysters, and absolutely delicious raw. mushroom logsMeanwhile, our inoculated mushroom logs are showing signs of mycelium growth- the logs are being colonized. We’ll have our own mushrooms this spring! black beansWe harvested a late crop of dried beans from our Iowa Ave. garden in early November. This was our first year growing varieties of  beans that are meant to be dried, and we didn’t devote too much space to it. We were pleased to have enough of these black beans to save some for seed and we cooked the ones pictured above for burritos. gingerThis fall we also dug up the ginger we had planted. Another great experiment! We used some for cooking but are saving some to replant next year.

Our other big experiment this year was growing peanuts. We finally dug up our crop and ended up with a nice harvest. Definitely something to try on a larger scale someday.

Also not pictured is our sweet potato harvest from Iowa Ave and our newer garden space. Both harvests went well, and we’ve got a big box of ’em stashed away in our basement for use this winter. half hoop houseIn preparation for cold weather, we also re-covered our half hoop house in the side yard, with the same plastic sheeting we used last year. It hasn’t gotten terribly cold yet, but it’ll be useful this spring to house our tomato seedlings. mulched garlic bedIn Sunset Hills, we mulched our new garlic bed in mid-November, before it got too cold. 2012_12_19_318 We’ve also been keeping busy (and paying the bills) with some landscaping projects. We custom-designed this for a neighbor who loved our original herb spiral, and included a large paver patio, whimsical reclaimed brick pathway, and free city mulch. This spring we’ll plant the herb spiral and landscape the surrounding area with native perennials and whatever else she might want. 2012_11_15_090aIn our free time we’ve also been doing a lot of crafting, including these wooden gnome doors. Before the holidays we exhibited at some local craft fairs, and we started our own Etsy shop. When we’re stuck inside over the winter we like having a creative outlet, and the extra income doesn’t hurt.


I’ve also made a bunch of miniature morel mushrooms to accessorize our gnome doors, as well as jewelry and wallets made out of discarded bike tubes.

Suffice it to say, we’ve been staying busy! And now seed catalogs are pouring in… can’t wait to get back into the soil in 2013!

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

Wild Spring Salad

Harvested from the garden: spinach, beet greens, garlic chives, kale leaves and flowers, broccoli florets and flowers

Foraged in the side yard: wild onion, wild violet flowers and leaves, wild strawberry buds and leaves

Our wild strawberry and violet patch, next to our cultivated strawberry patch

Just a note: We always check to make sure our foraged foods are safe to eat. The  Missouri Department of Conservation has a great field guide organized by flower color (you’re out of luck if the plant hasn’t flowered yet), and we also like Green Deane’s site Eat the Weeds. Just in clicking around a bit we learned that redbud flowers and wild pansies are edible, so more wild salads to come!

Winter Reading: Off The Grid

As future farmers and homesteaders, Eric and I aspire to live off the grid- providing our own electricity, water, and sanitation needs without the power and utility companies. Nick Rosen’s Off the Grid, tackles the complex question: why do people live off the grid? The first section of the book provides the reader with a bit of a history lesson, describing the early days of electricity, explaining the industrialization of electric and water suppliers, and discussing the new era of the so-called “super grid.” There were more than enough reasons in just the first chapter to make me want to live off the grid.

The second (and larger) part of the book chronicles Rosen’s adventures around the US, seeking out and meeting people who live off the grid. Rosen has categorized the off-gridders based on their motives- some choose to live off the grid to be more in tune with nature or to be self reliant, while other people have no choice, unable to pay for the utilities (or even a place to live), or living in an area not serviced by the grid.  Through the journey, Rosen shares a lot of reasons why people live off the grid, but I wish that some sections had been more detailed, specifically how some off-the-gridders implemented their self-reliant lifestyle. There is little mention of how his subjects access water or handle their waste, though Rosen includes water and sanitation in his definition of the grid.

Fortunately, Rosen has a website, with a blog, forums, and other resources that have answered all of my concerns. If you’re interested in homesteading and self-sufficiency, you should really check it out at off-grid.net.

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.

Winter Reading: Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs

Similar to Possum Living, this book outlines a process by which one can become self-sufficient; however, the context is radically different. Instead of choosing a stress-free life outside of the “money economy” like Dolly Freed, Wendy Brown labels herself a “thrivalist,” a term which she uses to describe “survivalists” who plan to thrive in a post-apocalyptic, petroleum-free world, otherwise referred to as “the end of the world as we know it” (abbreviated to TEOTWAWKI).

Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs presents a perhaps-not-so-hypothetical situation: there are 21 days before the apocalypse, and we must prepare for a future without electricity, grocery stores, and other modern conveniences. The book is divided into 21 chapters, one chapter for each day of “prepping”- starting with the basics of shelter, water, and food, and progressing to more complicated issues like healthcare, education, and waste disposal. Wendy does make the assumption that the reader lives in the suburbs, which renders some of her points, like storing human waste in a septic tank, moot for some readers.

Overall, the book goes into more detail than Possum Living and is every bit as easy and interesting to read. The tips on gardening, herbal remedies, laundry, and staying entertained were especially enlightening. You can preview several chapters of the book on Google here.  Wendy also has a blog about her thrivalist activities and thoughts, which is worth a look.

Winter Reading: Possum Living

This winter- thanks to our unemployment- we’ve had the time to tackle projects we’d been putting off and plan new projects for the spring. We’re also reading and researching as much as we can to prepare us for the future.

Becca's favorite book so far

Possum Living was published in 1978 by eighteen-year-old Dolly Freed. She had dropped out of school in 7th grade and detailed the life she and her unemployed father lived outside of the “money economy.” They already owned a house and land outside of Philadelphia, and spent money only on essentials and taxes. Without jobs, they happily spent their days gardening, fishing, raising chickens and rabbits, bird watching, running, cooking and preserving, and doing other jobs around the homestead (including making wine and distilling their own whiskey). In the book Dolly provides helpful step-by-step instructions and recipes that are still relevant to homesteaders and survivalists today.

The new edition of the book includes an afterward from Dolly over 30 years later.  She joined the “money economy”– to become an aerospace engineer at NASA. No kidding! Soon after the original book was published, she earned her GED, studied for and aced the SATs, put herself through college, and ultimately was awarded her dream job at NASA. (It turned out not to be her dream job, and she now works as an environmental educator at a nature center.) Though her true homesteading lifestyle lasted only about 5 years, she still incorporates a lot of it into her life.

For more info, check out PossumLiving.net or this thorough review. There’s also a delightful 3-part documentary made after the book’s publication, which can be found on YouTube here.

Our First Produce Stand

Our produce stand outside Labeebee’s yesterday was a great success- a big thank you to all of our friends and family who stopped by! We enjoyed talking to people about our gardens and the chickens, and we actually sold a good amount. We’ll be back there next Saturday, too!

Our first produce stand

Radishes, beets, eggs, alfalfa & mung bean sprouts, bell peppers, 3 types of kale, carrots, salad greens, basil, thyme, rosemary, and sage. We also had yellow cherry tomatoes, banana and jalapeno peppers, and lemongrass, not in the picture.

The best part of the experience yesterday is the confidence it’s given us in our chosen path. We’ve both dreamed of having a farm and leading a self-sufficient and sustainable lifestyle on our own little homestead, and yesterday we took a big step toward that goal. Good timing, as we’re both losing our jobs soon and were unsure whether we should find new employment or start pursuing our dreams. After yesterday’s success, we know that we should follow our hearts. We’re nothing but excited for the future!

Frugal Friday: Food Foraging

You may think that an urban setting is not conducive to food foraging…

…but if you know where to look and what to look for, you may be pleasantly surprised.  These apples, blackberries, and plums were all found in our Soulard neighborhood, many in our very own (well, Sallie’s) side yard. (We juiced these fruits and are in the process of fermenting the juice to create a hard cider. More on that later!) We’ve also found edible greens and flowers.  Mushrooms are easily foraged, too, but you’ll want to make sure they’re safe for humans to eat. The Missouri Department of Conservation has a great guide here.

Want to learn more of the art and science of food foraging? Check out Green Deane’s website, Eat the Weeds, and his YouTube channel here.