Ah, yes…Spring

Yep, Spring has finally hit the South Central Pennsylvania!  YEA!  It could go to winter again next week, who knows, but for now, it’s spring!

I’m experimenting with starting a few (maybe several) seedlings inside this year.  I don’t have a greenhouse, so I set up a growing room in my spare bedroom.  This is what I have going on as of mid April!  Zinnias planted in 72 cell trays.  I started the seeds March 19th.

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I’m also experimenting with soil blocking.  This is a European method of seeding that uses very little space.  Lisa Mason Zeigler of The Gardner’s Workshop has the low down on all things soil blocking.  She literally starts thousand of plants inside a 10×10 room with shop lights every year.  Its a very different process and I’m trying to figure things out, but so far, my snaps are doing great.  We learn from our mistakes, right……

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The seeds are planted into each 3/4″ block of soil.  They should be ready to plant out much earlier than if I would have started them in the plastic seed starting trays.  Much better for the environment, too.  I started soil blocking March 30th.

This is the equipment needed for soil blocking…

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I purchased the soil blocking mix, (the mix needs to be a special blend because you want the soil to stick together more than regular seed starting soil) seeds and tray from The Garnener’s Workshop.  The soil blocker I purchased from Johnny’s Seeds.  As you can see, I can get 40 seedlings on one 5×10 tray.

Lisa Mason Zeigler has great tutorials on her website and has written some very informative books on growing flowers. They are all listed on her website.

For the regular 72 cell seed starting kit, I filled the cells with wet (not dripping) seed starting soil, then seeded the tray.  I purchased my seed starting kits at Dollar General.

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I put the seed tray on a heat mat, purchased on Amazon, put the dome on that came with the 72 cell seed starter kit,  and within two days, yes, two days, 50% of the seeds germinated.  I then took the seeds off the heat mat and put it under regular shop lights.  The shop lights should be about 3″ above the seedlings.  Not all seeds will germinate that quickly. 

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Why a heat mat?  The room temperature in the spare bedroom that I’m growing my plants in (I don’t have a greenhouse) is about 68 degrees.  The soil temp in the seed tray is about 15 degrees cooler, so the heat mat brings the soil temperature up to about 70 degrees which is perfect.  Not all seeds want heat, so you need to read the back of the seed packets and research, research, research.

Why shop lights?  The seedlings need about 16 hours of light a day that way they won’t become too leggy.

I’ll fill you later with what made it and what didn’t…..

Talk to you soon!

Karen

P.S.  If you are interested in whats happening at Family Tree Farm, please click HERE for updates, tutorials, recipes sent to your inbox at least once a month.  Just for signing up, I’ll email you my free printable PDF – 5 Easy To Grow Flowers For Your Cutting Garden!

#Tomato

Do you follow #tomato on Instagram?  There are 5.8 Million posts of this most delicious fruit.  Yes, we can buy tomatoes all year long here in South Central PA, but how many of us can’t wait for those precious few months when we can grow or buy them local!  Count me in!  It’s finally spring and time to start thinking about planting our gardens!  YEASSS!

We recently had the great opportunity to visit good friends in Florida.  Knowing how much we love farming, they took us to a Florida farm where we could buy fresh picked flowers, strawberries, tomatoes, sweet corn and more.  Lordy, it was pure paradise for Rick and I.  We both grew up on farms.  As children, when our families took car rides (yes, it was an experience, not an every day event typically ending with ice cream 🙂  our dads were always observing other farmer’s fields.  I still crane my neck to see how all the crops are growing and wishing the farmer who planted them all the best as I pass by LOL!  Farming is not for the faint of heart….

Anyhow, I posted a photo on Facebook of a lovely pile of Heirloom tomatoes that were for sale at the farm we visited in Florida.  I had a lot of questions about what kind of tomatoes they were, so I thought there may be more questions that I could answer.  I am by no means an expert on tomatoes or growing them, but I do know what I like and a few things about the different types of tomatoes.  I’m still learning.  There is a lot to learn…

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Here is my little unofficial tutorial.   There are three different varieties of tomatoes:

Open Pollinated (non-hybrids):  This variety will produce the same tomato plant year after year if you save the seeds.

Heirloom:  They have a history.  Either a family history or commercial history.  The variety must be at least 50 years old (or introduced before 1940) and typically have a great taste!  All heirlooms are open-pollinated but not all open pollinated are heirlooms.  Confusing, right…?  If you save the seeds of an heirloom tomato, you will grow the same plant year after year.

Hybrid:  This is the variety that we have gotten used to.  It has been cross bred to exhibit the best characteristics of varieties.  They have been bred to withstand shipping and have a longer shelf life.  They are usually a very pretty tomato too.  We all like that, right?  The hybrid seeds can be saved, but you will not get the same tomato plant.

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Tomatoes can be determinate and indeterminate……WHAT???  No quiz later, I promise!

Determinate Tomatoes are short bushy types (can still get up to 2-3′ typically) and the fruit matures within the same time frame.  There are early, mid and late season varieties.

Indeterminate Tomatoes provide fruit all season long till frost, however will grow quite large and need a lot of support (can get up to 6’ish).  I believe most heirloom varieties are indeterminate so you would need a lot of room in your garden for them.

When you are shopping for your tomato plants or seeds, all the info about whether it is a determinate, indeterminate, hybrid, heirloom, open pollinated, etc will be on the tag or on the seed packet.

Here at Family Tree Farm, we have sold heirloom varieties (which, in my opinion, are the most delicious and have that wonderful tomato taste that we long for all winter) at our roadside stand.  They are not big sellers.  It’s so hard for the heirloom to compete visually against a hybrid.  We all want those beautiful red, round, large slicer tomatoes for our BLT’s.  The heirlooms come in all different colors and sizes and can develop some really weird shapes!

Last year I snuck in a couple Cherokee Purple heirloom tomatoes along with the hybrids we planted.  Their taste was divine.  The plants got crazy big and I didn’t do a very good job of keeping them off the ground, but still harvested lots of them for my own delight!  I did share some with Rick.  He had to agree, they were delish!

I’m going to sneak more heirlooms in this year…..shhhh, don’t tell Rick.  I just have to do a better job of keeping them off the ground……

If you want to know more about heirloom tomatoes, I would recommend www.tomatofest.com.  They have an awesome site with lots of heirloom info and seed varieties.

Happy Spring Folks!

P.S.  Make sure you never miss out on the latest happenings at Family Tree Farm.  Click on the link to receive updates, recipes, tips, tutorials and more delivered to your inbox about once a month.  Just to say “Thanks” for signing up, you will receive my latest freebe printable “Five Favorite Easy Cut Flowers“.

 

Sentimental Christmas Tree

Is your Christmas tree sentimental?  Is it a walk down memory lane?  If you take a look at our tree, you can read us like a book!

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Every year, when it’s time to get the Christmas ornaments out of storage, my eyes are looking for a special box that brings us great joy.  The box is filled with all the little pieces of precious art that our children made when they were young.  The little angels, once colorful paper chains, a pipe cleaner candy cane, an angel’s golden halo worn for a Christmas concert long ago, the adorable fuzzy little lamb, a reindeer with our artist’s name written completely backwards (he eventually figured it out).  Although you may think this looks like a box full of trash, all of these ornaments are very special to us.

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My husband and I were married mid-December almost thirty, #ack, years ago. I carried a bouquet of beautiful silk flowers that I saved and we put onto a very sentimental second tree that we named the “wedding tree”.  Every year, it reminds us of all the fun we had with our family planning our wedding here on the farm in the farmhouse I grew up in.  Over the years, my mother gave us a few very special glass ornaments from her prized Christmas possessions.  They too, have a very special place on our “wedding tree”.  It’s something we can look at every day during Christmas and remember……oh, what sentimental fools we are LOL!

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All of these ornaments and all the ornaments that were given to us as gifts give us great pleasure to see year after year.  It’s really like re-living all those special moments with family (tears streaming down my cheeks as I write this) again.  We are just a sentimental family.  How about you?

It’s Cold Outside, Eat Bread!

I’m a big fan of podcasts and like to listen to them while I’m working on the farm.  This spring, while planting, planting, and re-planting everything that rotted in the ground, I found a podcast that I fell in love with.  Living Homegrown’s “Live Farm Fresh Without the Farm” podcast really speaks to me and I enjoy listening.  Theresa Loe,  discusses the art of canning, growing vegetables in very small spaces, fermentation, making cheese (next on my bucket list), organization and she interviews the most amazing cookbook authors and experts of the food world.

I can remember the day I was listening to Living Homegrown’s podcast #139 “The Magic of No Knead Bread” where Theresa interviewed Alexandra Stafford.  Alexandra has a blog, “Alexandra’s Kitchen”.  She is also the author of “Bread Toast Crumbs“.  The book was one of the top five cookbooks of 2017.  I thought to myself – that bread recipe sounds darn easy and delicious.  I’m gonna try it as soon as I have a little time.  Who doesn’t love bread.  I know, I know, we are all (LOL) trying to keep carbs to a minimum, but bread, especially fresh baked…..  Who can resist the freshly baked rolls that are plopped onto our dinner table when we have an evening out?  YIKES – I forgot (wink, wink) to tell the waiter not to bring bread to the table!

Fast forward four, yes, four months later.  Fall has finally arrived here in South Central, PA – well it went from 85 to 55 quicker than seeing a state trooper on the interstate.  LOL – full disclosure – saw that post on Facebook.  First cool day, and I’m thinking BREAD!  What your subconscious doesn’t do, right?

I re-listened to the podcast and pulled the recipe off the show notes.   Five ingredients.  I like it simple in the kitchen!  Flour, Yeast, Water, Sugar, Salt…that’s it!  I felt nervous, but confident that I could do this.  I don’t have a bread machine and I believe the last time I made any type of bread it was Zucchini or Cranberry bread during Christmas a very long time ago!

After gathering my supplies, I started the process.  The smell of the yeast brought me back to the farmhouse I grew up in.  My grandmother baked every Saturday.  Sunday was visiting day and she always had plenty of goodies to nibble on for those who came to see her.  My mother didn’t have the chance to bake too much – she and my dad were dairy farmers, so there wasn’t a whole lot of time for baking, except for Christmas cookies.  Ahhhhh…..

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This bread is sooo easy to make.  The instructions were easy to follow.  Didn’t take a lot of time at all.  The only wait was a one hour rise, then a quick 20 min. rise.  I was so nervous!  What if my bread didn’t rise!  It did – I uncovered it after the first rise, and there it was.  Beautiful!  I was so excited, that I went onto the next step without taking a picture of my perfectly risen bread.  I snapped a quick one before I punched the bread down too much, but it had already deflated quite a bit…

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After punching the dough down, I used two forks (as recommended) to turn the bread onto itself and divide it.  Again, I was nervous about doing this step; however, it was remarkably easy.  I used a 1 quart pyrex bowl and I had a mini 4 loaf bread pan in my baking stash collecting dust (probably from the Cranberry bread I made as Christmas gifts ages ago).  I wasn’t sure how the mini bread pan would work, so I only used 2 of the 4 pans.  The next time I make this bread, I will skip the pyrex bowl and just use the mini bread pans.  They worked perfectly.

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The bread rose again in less than 20 minutes!  I plopped it into the oven and in no time at all, the smell was incredible!

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My hubs made a killer chicken corn soup with some left-over fried chicken and our very own frozen (thanks to good friends) sweet corn.  What a feast!

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I will make this bread again!  Super easy, my family loved it and btw, I’m muching on it with a slab of irish butter while I’m writing this blog.  Heaven! I would encourage you to listen to Living Homegrown Podcast #139 “The Magic of No Knead Bread“!  The story of the bread recipe is quite cute and Alexandra gives great tips for perfect bread.   Alexandra Stafford’s recipe is HERE.

If you would like to make sure you never miss out on the latest happenings at Family Tree Farm, be sure to subscribe HERE and receive updates, recipes, tips and tutorials delivered to your inbox about once a month.  Just to say “Thank You”, for signing up, you will receive my latest “On The Farm, Farm Fresh Fall Recipes” printable.

Talk to you soon!

Karen

Let It Bee….

Did you know honey bees are not native to North America?  I had no idea!    I first learned of this in a book by Lisa Mason Ziegler, “Vegetables Love Flowers.  Great read! I highly recommend it if you love to garden.

Lisa does a great job educating us about companion planting, what the beneficials are in the garden (even spiders and snakes….oh my), succession planting and the photography in her book is just beautiful. She even has an on line book discussion.  Loved it!

There are apparently 4000 different types of native bees to North America, and they are in danger too – it seem the honey bees get all the press.  We need bees to pollinate our fruits and vegetables.  Believe it or not, native bees can be better pollinators than honey bees. I am in no way dissing honey bees – I love their local honey!!!!

Honey bees came to North American from Europe with the colonists and have been managed as an agricultural resource ever since.  When a farmer needs bees, honey bees are the easiest to bring in and go away when finished.

Honey bees cannot pollinate tomato plants – wow – who knew!!  The humble bumble bee can! Some plants have their pollen on the outside (like a lilly’s anther, you can see the pollen).  The tomato plant’s pollen is inside the flower – the bumble gets in there and shakes the pollen out!

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I’m an avid podcast listener, are you?  One of my favorite podcasts is “Living Homegrown” by Theresa Loe.  I recently listened to podcast # 141 (www.livinghomegrown.com/141 ) where Theresa interviews Lisa Mason Ziegler and podcast # 147 (www.livinghomegrown.com/147 ) where author Paige Embry is interviewed by Theresa regarding our native bees.

Both podcasts are full of educational facts about our native bee problems.  Paige Embry has written “Our Native Bees: North America’s Endangered Pollinators and the Fight to Save Them”. This book looks fabulous and is on my Amazon wish list!

Please know that I, in no way, make any $ off of any of the books or podcasts I recommend.  I find the books and podcasts highly interesting, and want to pass on what I have learned to you.  If we work together, we can all make the world a better place! Yes?

If you would like to receive more info about our farm, what I’m learning (you’re never too old to learn, right???), tutorials, etc., please hit the yes, please button on our contact page.  For subscribing, you will receive my little recipe “TASTY” pdf of Family Tree Farm’s Favorite Summertime Recipes

Happy Summer!

Karen Doyle