Welcome to Growbox Hill

Welcome to Growbox Hill
Welcome to Growbox HIll!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

changing of seasons..

We went from true on cold as hell and got snow winter like we are supposed to last Saturday to full on early spring warm and lovely over yesterday and today. And dipping down in the next few days with snow storms likely

Been doing a lot of spring cleaning.. more like late winter getting ready for spring cleaning. Some rearranging of the furniture, tossing out stuff from the solarium to the garage or the curb. The solarium has gotten some attention, so I can start using the place more properly for potting and crafting again. It just gets too darn cold in winter, then stuff piles up... sheesh.

Anywho. In the gardening front... Some more major changes going on, heh. My brother and I got to talking the other day, and he wants a white chili veggie garden. He had no idea I ran a white year last year for tomatoes, hehe. I'm glad I did, so now I know which ones are the tastiest and best for chili. So I'm pulling a few other tomato plans of the list so I can grow white tomatoes. I have no white peppers, so I had to order some up real quick from Baker Creek. Three sweets and a white Hab. Now I'm changing pepper plans too, and pulling some off the list to just put into the sales pile. Like Sweet Banana and Hungarian Yellow Wax- those I can buy cheap and in plenty during the season locally.

Some of the beds are moving around more too. Not physically of course. But the time is long overdue for me to do some serious rotating, replenishing, and general attendance to all the beds. I'm learning a lot of things about all of this action. The different groupings and scheduling of rotation, what companion plants are what, what plants are for what bugs. I want to grow a bug patch this year, something to attract in beneficials and the baddies, hopefully get some bug control going on.
At the end I know at least a raised bed or two will be getting dedicated to the white chili garden. Still planning on going ahead with the black tomatoes- fewer of them, but still.
The lasagna beds- some of that space is being dedicated to growing Brussels Sprouts. Probably some broccoli and cauliflower too. But a lot of turning over and attending to kind of cleaning up and finalizing the borders more. We got the base layer materials built up nicely now.
I need to keep up on the beds down front- and I still want to add on another section to what I planted last year. I'm just not sure if I want to try to mimic the first section, or do something different.
The herb border on the fence needs a total overhaul I think. Serious amounts of work.
And want to keep up with keeping the pole barn bed cleaned up.
The kennel beds are getting the most overhaul. The garlic bed went in last fall, and the other leg of the L is getting cleaned out and the line of it straightened out before anything else. I'm thinking of doing a lot of container growing on the slab, but I'm unsure of just what I want to do there yet.
The FOH garden and kitchen garden will likely see more attention this year. The mint hill will also see some cleanup- last year was an establishment year, this year I'm hoping to train that into a fill in year. The solariam surround just needs a little cleaning up I think- I gotta remember to pull some irises for the bead lady. 

I'm thinking there might not be any real squash this year- I want to combat squash beetle. So melons, gourds, cukes are all out too. I might plant in some for trapping action, but I won't be anticipating any real fruiting off them.

And ah yes. That glorious gardening and preserving moment.. When at the end of February, I can fully restock the pantry with two cases of tomato products I put up last year. Another month or two of not having to buy any tomato product in the stores since last summer- priceless :)
Italian stewed tomatoes, crushed white tomatoes, and tomato puree are now out of the canning pantry. Still have the Rotels to pull out when there's more space in the kitchen pantry. And I still have several jars of tomato juice and a couple jars of dehydrated tomatoes so I can whip up more tomato goods as needed. Plus an ice cube tray or two in the freezer of other tomato stuff. Super concentrated pulp and refined juice. And a jar of smoked dehydrated tomatoes in the back of the fridge. I'm starting to think that perhaps I'm getting to around the right amount of preserving required to keep the household happy. 
I've been tinkering around with some other preserved food stuff lately too, wanting to eat out the pantries and freezers as much as we can right now. Been keeping notes on it all too, heh. But that will be another post for another day, it's already been far too long since I last posted.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

How I make Vanilla Sugar

So since I have vanilla beans on hand, and just picked up a few 4 pound bags of sugar on sale recently... And since I'm down to a half jar of Vanilla Sugar... I decided it was time to set up some more. Good vanilla sugar takes a while to really cure nicely. For me, it's a goodly couple months before I consider a jar steeped enough to use.
What is vanilla sugar? Why, simply white sugar infused with vanilla beans. What is it good for? All sorts of sweet applications that use vanilla. Like if you make pound cake, cookies, or meringues- use vanilla sugar and vanilla to kick up the vanilla. Works great for homemade ice cream, and is excellent in jellies. Makes a tasty addition to your coffee and several hot teas :)

Onto making it...

This is your whole list of everything you need.
Vanilla Beans and a 4 pound bag of sugar
jars to put the sugar into
a bowl, whisk, and spatula to stir your sugar up
a knife and cutting board to slice your beans on

 Mmmmm, I use five beans for this. One bean per pound of sugar, plus one bean for the batch.  These are lovely and fresh, very flexable and easy to cut.

 After you slice down the bean, use the back of your knife to scrape your bean. Yes, the back of your knife. Works easier this way, trust me.

 Mmmmm, lot of beanie goodness just piling up on that blade.

 5 beans yield of guts, yum. this gets stirred into the sugar. Yes, the pods and all their remaining clinging goodness are getting used later on.

 Now to start the sugar. Use about a third of the bag to start off with, and use all the bean guts.

 Before the first whisking. You are going to whisk it it because it will break up the vanilla blobs easier. You use less sugar because it's easier that way too. Once the vanilla is well distributed, add another third of the bag of sugar and whisk that in. Once that is well distributed, use the spatula to stir in the last third of a bag of sugar.

This is the whole bowl of sugar, after stirring. Now to fill the jars :)

 The stripped pods, with much goodness clinging to them, yum.

 Cut them up into 5-6 segments, you will be distributing them equally among your jars.

 Two quart jars, filled about a third of the way full of sugar, ready for the first batch of beans.

 Here's about a quarter of the beans in one of the jars. After tossing in your beans, close up the jar and shake well. Open jar up, add another third of sugar and another quarter of the beans, close up the jar and shake well. Add the final third of the sugar to the jar and shake well again.
Keep in mind that you are doing this to two quart jars.

This is what a full jar looks like. Nice distribution of little black flakes, and you can see some of the beans. There will be about a cup of sugar left over. If you really want to pack it into the jars, you can make it fit. I don't bother, I just use a pint jar for the leftover sugar. That sugar will receive my leftover beans from the last batch of vanilla sugar, sort of start a mother. But you want to make sure you use all 5 fresh bean pods between the two quart jars.

Now all you have to do is seal the jars, set them aside in a cool, dark, and dry place.. and in a few months when summer baking and sweet preserving comes in, you will have some sugar ready for use.

And that's how I make vanilla sugar.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Winter composting bin project

Last fall I read around about winter composting, and bins, and worms, and.. came up with my own winter composting scheme. One that hopefully would yield up a couple big garbage cans of compost over the winter- or at least a good way of storing up the compost over the winter so I don't have to walk all the way down to the yard pile. And getting in on having spring straw on hand as I need it that has already gone through it's freezing period.

12 straw bales
2 large garbage cans with strap down capable lids
1 large box of 45 gallon contractor bags
couple bungee cords
roll of packing tape

A drill with about 1/4" big, to drill a ton of holes in the cans with

 Figuring out the layout, and starting to wrap the bales in plastic. We did a double layer of bags on the bales, and finished off the open end with packing tape. As the bales were snugged together, the taped together ends all butted into another bale to ensure the flaps would stay closed.
Where this is located is right outside the kitchen porch. It gets a lot of good southern sun in the winter.

 Bagging up the bales. These bags fit perfectly.

 The first row snugged together. Then we went and picked up the second load of straw bales. And did it all over again :) Note that the orientation of the garbage cans isn't correct in this pic. We were just making sure stuff was going to fit right before moving on. The cans ended up with the handles back to back. This way when one lid opens, it's supported by the other can.

 Top view of the drilling I did. This helps with air flow. The bungee cords are super snug. At the time of writing this, I'm only using one per lid because the bins are remaining surprisingly undisturbed.

 Side drilling detailing.

 Bottom drill detailing:

 Empty and ready to start filling.

 Got some leaves, AKA brown matter.

A heap of kitchen clean out scraps I saved up to kick the batch off with.

And.... heh, I apparently never took follow up pics on this. We filled three of the big bags full of brown leaves while they were super dry, and stacked those over the top of the whole heap. This is to help keep the bins a bit clear, and provide the brown stuff needed to layer in with the kitchen scraps.

So I just took a pic out the laundry room window at the thing.

At first in the fall when it was still drier and quite blustery, we had the top bags blow off a couple times, but they didn't ever go far. Used up about a half bag or so to fill up the bin on the left, that one is now sitting for a while. Started up the right hand bin a week or so ago.
I didn't use the garden claw at all in the left hand bin. Last time I checked it was when I started the second bin, and the total volume had dropped by an inch or two maybe. So I finally gave it a clawing, and the top couple inches was still mostly loose leaves with a bit of other underneath, so that all got a good stir finally. I used the claw right off the bat on the right hand bin.

Have a lot of pics..

So I finally downloaded my camera today. Heh, just a smidge over 100 pics since last October. I really should not do that.

Anywho, all the Halloween Village pics are now pulled, as are a couple tutorials- one on how I set up the winter composting bins, and another about how I make vanilla sugar.

Got some random pics to share too :)

This is a random winter dinner around here. A fussy one, but hey, sometimes fussy is nice. We were torn between open face grilled cheese or maybe some scrambled eggs and hash browns? Hmmm..

 In the front left corner are the little grill pans for the raclette grill. Butter, cheese slices...

 Mmmm, cheese. An assortment of white tomatoes and Dwarf Wild Fred black tomatoes. Fresh sliced onions, and a wee bit of sliced yellow pepper.

 This is a raclette grill. It has this nice grill on top, a potent heating element underneath- that serves as the broiler element for the little pans that were in the first picture. I put it on a block to help keep it safe and raise up the platform a bit.

A small loaf of homemade herb and wheat bread, sliced thin and ready to toast. Hash browns and scrambled eggs are in dishes sitting on a tableside dish warmer.

So dinner was fun and fussy, all of us chatting as we made our little sandwiches and mini egg dishes and ate them up.

Heh, I should post up more food stuff. I post a lot of gardening and preserving stuff, but not enough food stuff. We do a lot of good food stuff here. I did a stellar beef soup last night- we had one last package of a lovely beef roast that needed to come out of the fridge and get eaten up. The broth was so thick and rich, we left it as is and didn't bother thickening it into a more hearty stew form.
Found out that sweet potatoes require a lot more flour and a bit less mild when making scalloped potatoes and ham the other night. I wanted to use some of them up- they were ones grown in our own garden, and they were damn delish. I still have a small heap of fingerlings left to eat up too.

And little bits to use up... I found out recently that I can build a perennial garlic patch. Or rather, a couple of them, lol. We so run out of garlic scapes way too soon now that we have discovered them. Anywho. I came across a tidbit where some folks grow out their tiny garlic cloves, use them like chives in the late winter/early spring when your stored garlic sometimes wants to start sprouting.. then after a spring snipping, plant the clumps out into the yard where they want garlic to grow in the future.

So I potted up a bunch of little bits in an 8" pot.

On day one, not much to look at. But hey, any good gardening juju I can get going on, I'm a taking it.

And today, it's been a puttering kind of day. Snowing on an off, sometimes pretty bad, other moments the sun is totally out. So I cleaned out the fridge, and dinked around with my camera. I need to get out and refill some of the wild critter eats, but nuh-uh, it's shitty out right now, lol.

On a whole nother random note.. We had a sewer problem yesterday. Well, actually a couple weeks. The toilets on the main part of the house were gurgling. Then the laundry machine made the lines super gurgle. Then nothing, the toilets quit working. Well shit. Turns out the main drain line needed reaming again. This is something that is going to need to go onto a yearly schedule. I did actually remember to change the furnace filter at the beginning of the month :) That too is something not to fall behind on again. Now what needs attention next is our well, it's getting rather bad. I got the phone numbers of a couple local well companies from Town & Country. They steered us right with the furnace guy, figured I'd get reference again.

So, now I'm up and about again. Got lots to do any only so many hours of daylight to burn, even if we are getting delightfully into actual evening for sunset now.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Bee growing like that..

So the plant race is on, lol. Been doing some action around here already. So much so I can actually give a kitchen window report.

Some of the earliest herbs are coming up, basil and lime basil I planted last month. A no show was the lemon basil, I have now sowed the last of the seed that I had. New up in seeding is thyme, oregano, lemon balm and wormwood.
No sign of hyacinth seedlings, but I think the first of the alliums has sprouted. Now if only all the rest of the tray would do something, lol.
Been shufling around some tomato cuttings. One each of silvery fir leaf and totem tomatoes have their own red solo cups. The others are not showing such favorable development, and I've lost a few plugs too :( But hey, if I can get these ones to really go, it's a win. And so far with the planting of the seed testing- the totems are leggy as hell, the freds are really good, and the Snow Whites are leggy.  I don't plan on starting up more tomato seed for a couple weeks at least though. And I moved both the totem mother plants out to the solarium- if they make it, great, if they don't oh well. At this point I have stable and high germinating seed stock and cutting action going on.
Started all the peppers. Yes, all of them. A dozen kinds too. Sigh. I can't seem to help myself. Not the scorching hot deadly weapon round that last year was, though there are plants coming back this year. It is indeed a bit early, but I have some pretty darn good season extending going on now, and I would rather get peppers off to their action a bit earlier than later. And really, it's only about a week earlier than last year. Anywho, enough second guessing myself with this one, lol. All the overwintered pepper plants- Aji Lemon, Fatali, Costeno Amrillio, 7-pot brain strain yellow, and Martians carrot- are in excellent health.

Now I'm going back into what feels like a forever holding pattern, lol. Now I have hit some of my earliest on 12 week action, it's just hover and wait for weeeekkksss at a time. Lol, patience is not my virtue at the moment.
I cleaned up all of my trade seed today- and tossed 95% of it into the IDGAF bucket. The bucket is now just about full enough for me to make some mega seed bomb action out of it. I want to bomb the living beejeebers out of the north line of the wild walk this year. I got more than enough random seed in the bucket now to make an actual impact on this plan. I also have a heap of good popcorn seed and a heap and then some of black oil sunflower seed too. With a lot of wild luck, I will be establishing some rather nice foodly growing border action. I still have a bunch of commercial seed bombs to use this year as well nicely enough.

And on a general whining I want note. Seriously want to procure and learn how to use a scythe well. For real.

Back onto yard and garden, lol. All the indoor growing is going well in general, and looking forward to good bounty come summer.

Another day, another entry.. I think the above is from the third, and today is the 5th..

Been doing a bit of plant cleanup. I potted up more tomatoes to red solo cups. From six each of Totem and Silvery Fir Tree, I now have three Totem and two Silvery Fir Tree  that have graduated up to solo cups. The SFT mother has been cut for a while now, the two Totem mothers are now out in the solarium to see what happens with the chill.
Took six Beaver Lodge Slicer cuttings off the three struggling mothers. I nixed the weakest one, willing to sacrifice the one almost bigger tomato for the good of the cuttings I got. The other two are healthier, and are well staked. And both have either fruit growing or strong bud clusters opening, so it looks possible to still get seed stock as well as clones going on.
The Copper River is vining along, a single 4 foot vine now. And finally starting to show both flower bud sign and has a sucker or two that would be suitable for cuttings. It got moved to the floor today because it's getting so tall, lol. And it got a couple new 6 foot bamboo rods to grow up onto.
I pulled the Dwarf Wild Fred and Snow White Cherry seedlings today. I couldn't kill them when they passed their germination test, but the are simply tooo leggy, and I will start again in a few weeks. The Totem seedlings are stubby and looking great.

Took a half dozen cuttings from the Aji Lemon pepper today, and got those under the dome. The plant needed trimming, and no sense in letting good cuttings go to waste since I currently have the space for them. The 7-pot Brain Strain Yellow required a harsh cutting today, all of it's new tip action. It was infested with something that were tiny, white, and made webs. We shall see if the harsh cutting is good or not. 

And on the food front.. it's citrus season. Seriously. In the depths of cold as a mutha, it's citrus season. Now is the time to perk up on massive doses of tart and sweet juicy sunshine. Over the last few weeks grapefruits and massive naval oranges have been 1/10, clementines are going on clearance here and there, and limes and lemons are running around two bucks a bag.
So we had a lot in pitchers of lemonaide, and a lot of fresh eating. But now we are starting to run down on the glut, lol. That meant it was time to take time for some preserving.
I took two grapefruit, four clementines, three lemons, and about a dozen limes to make up three cups of juice. Whew. Made a pitcher of aide right away, but the other two cups are in a bottle in the fridge, awaiting either more fresh goodness or to be frozen into cubes for later use.
That left me with a lot of citrus rinds. So much so that I felt I should be doing something more than just tossing them into the compost pile. So I took the ones that had been best rendered out of flesh and juice, and filled a gallon jar about half full with the rinds. Then I used about 3/4 of a gallon of white vinegar and filled up the jar, totally submerging the fruit. This will sit for 4-6 weeks in the cool dark floor corner of the pantry. Then at the end, I will filter the vinegar, and it will be an excellent homemade cleaner. Yum. Just in time for spring cleaning and thoughts of throwing the windows open :) Still had a few rinds left, and so I'm dehydrating them to a crisp so they can be ground up and my sister can use them in making soap.
It is also avocado season, and I picked four very nice ones the other day while they were still rock hard. Now they have ripened on the counter and we have been snacking those up, mostly tossed with lime juice, yum. And of course now the pits are balanced on toothpicks in glasses of water.

And just as a random cool thing to think about promoting..

Do you realize, with the Superbowl coming up..
If every single person making guac this weekended saved their avocado pits, and gave them to local schools for spring growing programs...
We could potentially teach thousands or even tens of thousands of kids about how seeds grow. Give them a really cool science project to look forward to in school.
Think about it. Right now, there are lots of schools throughout the country that have no current growing program. But a lot of those areas still see the influx of fresh avocados for the Superbowl every year. Kids that normally would not see any sort of growing program could now do so.. thanks to football. 

If you don't have any avocado pits... but you do have leftover red solo cups or perhaps empty jars from salsas and cheezy dips, or plastic tubs from other dips and salads.. Perhaps consider saving those up and then schools don't need to buy any pots- those are being recycled and kicked in too!

Support your football team through local farming.. Grow an avocado. Support your local school through your love of Superbowl.. Get your school on the avocado pit program.