a temporary greenhouse

we're still a couple of years away from being able to build our "real" greenhouse, so husband decided to make us a temporary one. he actually built it of such sturdy materials that i suspect it will stand for longer than our regular house - and maybe only need its plastic changed out in a couple of years.

building a "temporary" greenhouse

our climate is such that the growing season is very short - too short for tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and eggplants to grow out in the regular garden like they can other places. our light and warmth simply don't last long enough for that. so if you want such crops, you have to have a greenhouse.

building a "temporary" greenhouse

over the past week, while it rained, husband constructed the skeleton of the greenhouse in his workshop and over in the big barn (where he was supposed to be working on matilde's new stall, but we won't go there).

building a "temporary" greenhouse

he revealed his inner swede, preparing i nearly ikea-style, so it could be popped together and easily fastened - he even drilled holes where the nails would go.

building a "temporary" greenhouse

he had prepared the ground in a different spot, but we realized that spot got an awful lot of shade, so we moved it to a sunnier place, next to the raspberry canes and beside the raised bed of brassicas.

building a "temporary" greenhouse

we covered it in heavy 20mm plastic, fastening it down well, as we've got awfully windy conditions around here most of the time.  it's 5 meters long and about 3 meters wide.

building a "temporary" greenhouse

the frame is so sturdy, we may eventually put in real glass or perhaps plexiglass, but the plastic should last a couple of seasons and create good growing conditions for our delicate plants.

building a "temporary" greenhouse

we're looking forward to it, as we've had a cucumber scare here in europe - with cucumbers infected with e-coli bacteria killing ten people in germany and making countless others seriously ill. what's worrying is that they know the cucumbers came from spain, but they can't figure out how they got the bacteria! i suppose having one's own veggies is no guarantee, but at least you know how they've been tended.

building a "temporary" greenhouse

we're looking forward to getting all of the plants in during this long holiday weekend ahead (we've got thursday and friday off). husband will bring in new dirt and we'll plant directly in the ground.  more photos of that when we've got it all planted!

what are you doing in the garden these days?


On A Jelly Roll

Over the past few weeks I have been making jelly. Lots and Lots of jelly. Maybe more jelly than we can possibly use, but it is fairly easy to make and the only ingredients that I have had to purchase are sugar, pectin and lemon juice. More canning jars were necessary too, but only one box since there were loads to be found around here.

Did you notice that no fruits were bought for my jellies? That's because the focus ingredient was found on our land. The garden isn't quite in yet, but there is a harvest out there if you look for it. Dandelions (got plenty here!), Lilacs were in full bloom last week, violets are plentiful in the pasture and our ancient apple tree is in bloom as well. The old gal gave us maybe 8, at the most, apples last year. The blossoms are so pretty and thinking that there might be a use for them...instead of having thousands of pretty petals go to waste why not put them to use and make jelly???? You can use crabapple blossoms as well, if you have them, I dont so apple it was for me.

First you need to pick your blossoms...I made a double batch of "Apple Blossom Tea" so I picked 4 cups of petals. Make sure there are no stems or leaves in the container, from what information I found on the internet it can make the jelly bitter.

The apple blossoms then got packed into a quart sized canning jar. For every 2 cups of blossoms you use 2 cups of boiling water, pour the water over your petals to steep. I let it sit over night and then strain it. I have milk filters from filtering our goats milk so I used that. Anything that will strain out the petals and bits of plant stuff will work, maybe a coffee filter would work too???

Measure out 2 cups of your "Apple Blossom Tea"

1/4 cup lemon juice, I used bottled concentrate

4 cups sugar. Put these first 3 ingredients in a heavy saucepan. Make sure there is plenty of room. Once the mixture comes up to a rolling boil, you will be glad that you have that extra room.

Here we are at a rolling boil. Now is the time to add a 3oz pouch of liquid pectin. Once it reaches a rolling boil again, boil for once minute and then remove from heat.

I skimmed off the foam.

Then ladeled it into my clean and sterilized jars. Leave 1/4" headspace and then put into a water bath and process for 5 minutes.

TaDa!!! Enjoy on your homemade bread, pancakes, thumbprint cookies, etc...mmmmm


Seeds Of Change

I received a catalog in the mail the other day. A seed catalog to be exact. Comstock Seeds has been in business in one form or another for 200 years, so how did I miss it? Am I the only one???

The man on the front is very very charming, from his dirty straw hat, scraggly beard, crinkly eyes, and those banana melons...I was hooked!

Comstock offers over 250 varieties of vegetables and flowers, all of them are non-GMO, non-patented and non-hybrid. Many of them are well over 50 years old! Am I the only one who didnt know that there are black radishes (Black Spanish) that can be stored in your cellar all winter long if kept in sand. They will "keep good until spring"...I am not a big radish fan, but this certainly sounds interesting. They also have Blue Podded Peas, they are both ornamental and can be used as a shelling pea and cooked like snow peas, who knew? There is a fascinating selection of melons, a nice selection of green beans and a some nice cucumbers. The catalog is free....the prices I thought were very reasonable and they have free shipping.

If you would like to see what they have they can be found at

Next year I will be ordering all of my seeds from them...If I lived closer to Connecticut I would totally be there.


Calling All Bees

I have been concerned about the honey bee population since I first began to hear about colony collapse disorder. I thought that Bee Movie was a great way to illustrate what a bee free world would look like for my kids. An interesting question; are even those of us most conscious of our footprint on the world, just as guilty of ‘advancing’ these things that threaten us?

I came across a link today through a facebook contact. I thought the article was thought provoking and I was surprised that I had not heard this information, as it ties to cell phone towers before. I Googled it, and the theory has been around for quite some time, so I guess that I just somehow missed the bus on this information. What I like about this synopsis and commentary, is that it has lots of links to sources so it did a good job of compiling lots of resources in one place.

I know that as with anything on this journey to sustainability, there are baby steps and some things that are more conceivable than others for my family to accomplish. I wonder what alternatives are available to fix this problem. Is anyone researching it?

What do you think?

Cell phone towers may be ultimate cause of honeybee population collapse



Hello from North Eastern Iowa. I am excited to be the newest contributor to this great blog!

Just a brief introduction for this first post. The husband, son and I have lived on our 5 acre farm for going on 7 years now. We are surrounded by corn and soybean fields and like it that way. We have goats, a horse, loads of rabbits (both for meat purposes and the son also shows them) chickens for eggs and due to be processed next week are our meat birds. The garden isnt huge but provides us with a very nice crop with enough produce to can, dehydrate and freeze (and some to share with friends).

The garden has just started to come up, but I have been busy harvesting flowers from our pasture for delicious jellies. Lilac, dandelion, violet and apple blossom jelly have found a spot in the pantry. I am wanting to make more, but we probably have way more than enough :D

I like to make cheese (when the dairy goats have extra milk to share), we harvest our own rabbits, will soon be collecting farm fresh eggs, the garden will be in full force soon, I like to make homemade bread and do the occasional dehydrating. I am hoping that we will have some interesting bits of information to share.

And finally a question for you....while researching online other flowers that I could use for jellies I found out that lilies are eatable. Has anyone tried them??? We have lots of them in our ditch!


a little bit of steampunk in the garden

back in the depths of winter, husband decided he had to have one of these old planet jr. planters from the early part of the last century. and if at all possible, he wanted a cultivator too. so we began a search online. we quickly realized there weren't any here in denmark (they were a US phenomenon, after all). husband had originally seen it on DR's bonderøv (bumpkin) - a program that follows a young danish man in his quest for self-sufficiency and going back to basics. but frank, the bonderøv, is a t.v. guy, so people send him stuff. we knew we'd have to track one down ourselves.

many ebay sellers refuse to ship abroad, especially if it's a rusty old hunk of metal you're asking them to ship, so even tho' we saw several of the coveted pieces of machinery on ebay, we couldn't bid on them. but, my sister could, so we enlisted her help (although it may have confirmed her in her opinion of our insanity).

one of the things that worried us about buying one on ebay was that you wouldn't get to look at it before it was sent. what if it was all rusted shut and unusable?  so my sister placed an ad on craig's list, saying she wanted a planet jr. no. 3 seeder. she got an answer almost immediately and was able to go look at it in person before buying it for us.

then, my sister (who still thought we were insane), photographed it, carefully took it apart, boxed it in two boxes (one for the handles and one for the actual machine) and sent it to us. our postwoman would have commiserated with my sister as to our insanity as she lugged it to our door. but it even made it through customs without us being charged anything for it. apparently you can import a rather significant quantity of rusty metal without incurring duty.

we used it this week to plant beans (these are borlottis) and carrots and beets and peas. it was a little bit challenging getting to know it and get the right seed distances for the right seeds (seeds must be quite different now, as the hole sizes suggested on the lid are WAY off). but in all, it was very fun and worth all of the effort.

and even children can use it, no problem. and look how it has a clever little attachment that stakes out your next row while you're planting the previous one. then, you just follow the line it made. very efficient.

oh, and we did get a cultivator as well:

planet jr. cultivator

the cultivator came from ebay - as there were less things that could be wrong with it. its handles weren't in such good shape, but perhaps next winter, husband will make new ones in his workshop. and in the meantime, it's the perfect size for weeding between the rows.

those of you who live in the US and have big gardens, check your local flea markets, i'm sure these beauties are around and it's so much fun to use a bit of history. i love feeling both connected to the soil and to the ingenuity of past generations. plus, it digs a hole, plants the seeds for you at the right distance from one another and covers them up, all while it's marking the next row for you. very helpful object. and just a little bit fetching in its steampunk design.


gardening is an exercise in hope

the big overview
husband and i were laughing yesterday as we planted a few more things in the vegetable garden and looked back a year and thought about the few seeds we threw at the ground when we first moved here. we hastily prepared the soil, planted before it was warm enough and most of our peas and beans were surely eaten by birds before they ever came up. this year, it's a different story. tho' the garden isn't there yet, we're moving in the right direction.

the main garden - 12m of healthy strawberries on the left.
the strawberries are going to be a bumper crop - you can see the healthy robust 12-meter row of strawberries on the left and the smaller new ones in the foreground. next to those are rows of potatoes and various kinds of fancy beans. the green weedy-looking bits in the middle are rows of little oak trees and little christmas trees that were left behind by the previous owners and which we haven't had the heart to dig up, except to begin an oak allé across our field and down to the lake. in the top photo (and below), there's a raised bed filled with various brassicas (my new favorite word) - cauliflower, broccoli, white and red cabbage. per amy's advice, i've planted marigolds here and there, since we don't want to use pesticides (or herbicides for that matter).

brassica bed (and tiger the cat)
we've got artichokes down at the far end and a row of asparagus next to the rhubarb (visible on the left of the top shot). asparagus is a vegetable that requires patience. you can't actually begin to harvest it before the third year (talk about slow food!). i even planted some asparagus seeds, completely not following the directions, and every single one of them came up, so much more asparagus will be going in as soon as it has roots enough to set it out. the asparagus should love our sandy soil. we prepared the area last autumn, digging in plenty of good horse manure, and the asparagus seems pleased so far. and it's a good exercise in patience, to wait three years to reap the benefits.

we've planted peas, carrots, four kinds of onions, leeks, tuscan kale, curly kale (which the bunnies and chickens that i hope will come this summer will love next winter), garlic, zucchini, pumpkins, butternut squash, corn, parsnips, beets and several kinds of salad. they keep promising us rain and we got a bit today and hope we get more in the coming days. then we hope the sun returns.

gardening is a kind of exercise in hope. you hope conditions will be right, you hope for sunshine and rain in the right quantities, you hope those tiny seeds will grow into big, beautiful edible veggies, you hope no bugs or slugs will eat it all up before you can. hope and a lot of hard work. but already i think it will be worth it.


Want to move?

Most of us are moving due to job opportunities or whatever during our lifetime. Sometimes this move needs to take place fast and than all of a sudden owning a home isn't as much fun. Yep, you first have to find a buyer to move on in the direction you want. Maybe there is a solution to fix this owning a house-problem. Just a minute ago I was reading a Dutch newspaper and found this article about taking your home with you when want or need to move. Since I had never heard of it before I thought let's share. The company is called Habitaflex and if you click here, you can see what it is all about.



Companion Planting

One of the many tips when working on organic gardening, is companion planting.  This can range from the types of crops that you plant in the same row, to different flowers that you can inter plant with your food crops.  There are many good reasons for companion planting ranging from the types of nutrients that different crops add to the soil which can benefit one another to natural forms pest control.  

We add no chemicals in any way to our garden and are religious about tracking what crops we grow in what row, so that we can rotate rows from year to year.  But, in the past have made only basic attempts at companion planting.  We have done some easy stuff.  Onions tend to be a good plant to have around lots of other plants, and we are careful not to plant crops in the same row that negatively impact one another.  We have been so overwhelmed by all of the structural work in the garden over the last couple of years, that we just did not have the energy to do more.

This year it feels like we have made it over the proverbial hump.  Even though we are still expanding, it feels like we have as much or more completed than we have left to do.  There are enough beds and areas that are permanent that we can add some bling.  We may also be spurred on a little by the fact that our garden will be on a community tour this August.
So today,  I planted the mother of all blingy companion plants.  Marigolds.  We have three good walkways that run through the garden between rows of beds.  At the end of each bed I planted three marigold plants for a grand total today of 72 plants.  By mid-summer they will be large pretty bits of reddish-orange to line the walkways of the garden as we meander through picking loads of veggies for farm boxes.   If you are interested in some good information on companion planting check out the Seeds of Change website.

Alternative solutions to buying: quick eye mask

First, a quick apology for my absence for the last little while. There was a trip to the UK (by ferry, another blog post) and then my mother came to visit for a month. I've caught up on the posts and it's been so nice to see everyone's preparations for spring and, well, to see spring!

Thought that I would do a little post about a quick item I made last night. So, last night, I decided to make an eye-mask for my son. Although we live at the bottom of Denmark, we are still north (about 54 degrees north) and at this time of year the sun sets sometime after 9.00 and it isn't really dark until nearly 10. Trying to convince a 9 year old who hates sleeping anyway that he should go to sleep when it is light out is difficult. So, I had been thinking for a while about how we needed to buy black out blinds for his room. And then it occurred to me, that there was a cheaper (yay!) and more sustainable option, a homemade eye mask.

I began by searching for some crafty inspiration and patterns. As you may know from other posts, I have, shall we say, issues, with patience. I can be patient with many people and some things, but not with sewing or crafts. So, I ignored all the suggestions for "fabric covered elastics fancy dancy have to use a sewing machine to make" eye masks and simply made one with found items at home. (The photos are from today though).

Goofy modeling of eyemask

The fabric: an old flannel pillowcase that was starting to thin and was in the 'to be repurposed' box. The advantage of this fabric was that  it was soft and already doubled up. It needed to be doubled up to be dark enough.

Not everyone can pull this look off.

The elastic: the strap of an old bra that was in the 'things I should throw away but might come in useful' bag. Advantage: elastic and heck, who doesn't want a bra strap around their head?

What I did: simply cut out a rectangle of fabric from the pillowcase making sure to do so from an edge so that two sides would already be sewn up. Cut off the bra strap. Sew the bra strap onto the rectangle fabric. Try on. Cut a triangle out where the nose is (on the open side of fabric). Do a running stich along the open side and bottom. Ta da. In about 10 minutes, there was a eye mask. It's not the most beautiful thing in the world but it used materials I already had, didn't involve measuring, took no time at all, and best of all the little boy was asleep before 9.00pm!

For me the lesson is not about crafts but about how to think alternatively and sustainably about solving problems. The conventional solution is to buy black out curtains. The alternative is to make an eye mask out of materials at home. I like the creativity involved in solving problems the alternative way.



beekeeping: a word about the investment

checking the frames in our bee hives.
 one of the things we're doing with our little bee adventure is that we're trying to keep track of how much we're spending on it (not something we're usually very good at, i have to tell you). i was thinking that a good way to do that would be to share the tally of it so far with all of you here. of course, these prices are what it costs in denmark (where everything's shockingly expensive), but they may give you a rough idea, or at least a comparison, should you decide to investigate in your area.

lighting the smoker with my williams-sonoma kitchen blow torch!
thus far, our investment has been as follows:

membership in the danish beekeeper's association: 670DKK ($133) for 2011. this is a family membership, so we can all 3 go to the meetings and the lessons if we want to.  it also includes a very informative monthly magazine.

once you are a member and you are assigned a local branch of the association, the lessons (bi-weekly from april 2 - september 12) and your mentor are included, so it's very good value for money.  the lessons take place at the school hives, which are near a little museum about 15 minutes from our house. it's very hands on, learn by doing. or what those of us who have worked in the training business call legitimate peripheral learning. :-) 

the bees are looking good.
as you know, our mentor, who is 84, has not messed around - he took us very seriously when we said we wanted bees already this year. we've been to two lessons and we've already got two hives in full swing. because he's been a beekeeper for years, he has connections and he was able to get us our hives for a song. we paid 250DKK ($50) each for the two - so a total investment of 500DKK ($100) in the hives (they can be around 2500DKK ($500) for new ones!). as you can see, they're used and not the prettiest ones ever, but they're perfect for us as a beginning.

looking for the queen - she's got a blue dot on her back.
we got two bee families as well, which each cost 700DKK ($140) for a queen and 500-1000 bees. tho' both are hard at work, one family is thriving better than the other and working faster and it's an interesting contrast. but our bee mentor says that's quite normal and the family that's not growing as quickly is just fine, so he says not to worry about it. some are just stronger than others.

a view of the frames down in the hive. later in the summer, there will be two "stories" of these.
in order to work with the bees, especially when you're new like we are, you need protective clothing. we bought a set for husband - it's a jacket with a built-in net hat and it cost 350DKK ($70). a pair of good bee-handling gloves for 120DKK ($24) and he was ready to go. we'll eventually get jackets for me and sabin, but for now, we know that husband will be the one handling the bees, so his is enough.

an old basket carries the new frames - you can see the wax plate is attached.
the bees are really busy here with the spring in full bloom, so we needed to quickly get our hands on some frames. the frames cost 6DKK apiece (we bought 25, so 150DKK). you could probably make them yourself, but it would be fiddly and for $1.20 apiece, we think it's totally worth it to just buy them. we bought a roll of the thin wire you have to string on them for 52DKK and a thread tightening tool for 109DKK ($21). you also need a package of wax plates - the bees can build them themselves, but you help them out by starting with a wax plate base. as you can see above, it's already got the hexagon-shapes started to help the bees. and it is made of beeswax, so it's quite natural. we got a package of 100 of those for 300DKK ($60) (included in that price were two boxes where you can hold the frames that are full of honey until you process them). in order to attach the wax plates to the frame, you need a device that heats the wire so that it melts fast. those cost 600DKK at the bee store (yes, there is a beekeeping supply store), which struck me as ridiculously expensive for an ugly piece of MDF with a lawn mower battery attached to it, so i didn't buy one. husband has made one himself, using an old computer cord and some neat ceramic insulators that were lying around in his workshop, so we got a much more steampunk one for free! (strangely, i can't find it in his workshop to photograph it, so i'll have to show it to you another time.)

a gentle puff of lavender-scented smoke calms the bees.
smoke calms the bees and moves them where you want them to be, so we needed a little smoker. it cost 240DKK ($48). i bought a big package of tobacco to put into it for 35DKK ($7) and some little starter blocks that help you get it started for 25DKK ($5). the packages i bought should last us throughout the season. husband appropriated my small kitchen blow torch for starting the tobacco, so we didn't need to buy that. the tobacco has lavender in with it as well, which makes it smell very nice and has a relaxing effect on the bees.
the smoker is going very nicely
so for a total of 3951DKK ($787) we are in business with bees! of course, there is a lot of equipment for extracting honey that we don't even know about yet and i can see a price range on that of anywhere from about $400 for a hand-operated separator to $6000 for a fully automated centrifuge. i think that this year, we can learn how it's done on the bee association equipment and decide what kind of investment we'd like to make.

at the moment, we don't really see this as a business, more as a way of covering our own honey usage and even upping that...i intend to learn ways of using honey in recipes instead of sugar. but we have quite a honey habit already - we use four 450gram containers a week in our tea alone. since our bee families can produce anywhere from 40 to 80 kilos of honey in a season (it's a wide range because it depends on so many factors), we should have plenty for our own use and as presents. i'm looking forward to having the wax to use as well - for candles and possibly to embark on some experiments in encaustic art.


we're in bees-ness

last evening, a little after 9, there was a knock on the door. i opened it and there was a man in full bee-protective clothing, saying he was here with our bees! i practically jumped up and down for joy. there's something so exciting about this bee adventure, i can't really describe why it makes me feel as joyful as it does. that these little buzzing creatures can transform pollen into the golden elixir that is honey and do so in perfectly mathematical wax combs that they build themselves is somehow magical. and it makes me unaccountably happy to think that we will be experiencing it firsthand.

we placed our bee "stalls" as they're call in danish out in the shelterbelt, facing east, to catch the first rays of the sun as it comes over the horizon. our bee mentor (that's him in the bee garb) told us to do that and we've spent several days observing precisely when the sun is best and moving and placing the bee houses so that they'd be ready when our bees arrived. he said if the sun warms the hive, it gets the bees up and out collecting nectar up to two hours earlier than hives that don't face east!

our bee mentor handled the whole thing, transferring the frames from their carrier into their new home. he has a hand smoker so calm the bees (i wonder who ever discovered that, as i would think smoke would make them angry). he said they were a little agitated by the car ride - we joked that they get car sick, but there probably is some truth to it.

these photos aren't great, as it was really getting dark - my camera at 3200ISO looks deceptively light, but night was definitely falling fast, so that's why these were a bit blurry. there was no time for a tripod (not that i've had been likely to use one anyway). but i couldn't resist sharing them with you anyway!

we got one bee family of around 1000 bees for each of our two bee "stalls." our bee mentor said it's also best to move them in the evening, when they're all back in their box, so you get most of them along, which was why he dropped by so late.

we're already excited about taking out the drone frame in a week and putting in a new one. he also said they really had a good start on the honey, so we'll have to set new honey frames in as well! i'll definitely be sharing more as we learn how to do all of this!  (we're still not entirely clear as to which frame is which and we kinda wonder how the bees know.) i think husband is going to be our official bee handler in our family, but i'm looking forward to the part with the honey!

stay tuned!

~ julochka