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Winter Garden Vegetables

Growing vegetables outside in the winter isn’t as absurd as it sounds.  There are several root vegetables that can be left in the winter for harvest and actually get better with the cold winter.  Two of these that we like are salsify (oyster root) and parsnips.  Another is Jerusalem artichokes.  Salsify tastes and smells a little like cooked oysters when it is steamed or fried in oil.  Parsnips smell and taste a lot like carrots.  Jerusalem artichokes are delicious sauteed and taste a lot like an artichoke heart.

Salsify and parsnips are planted as seed in the spring but Jerusalem artichokes are sunflower-like plants that grow from roots collected the previous year.  Actually, if you start a patch of Jerusalem artichokes, they will just come back each year unless you are very thorough at digging up all of the bits and pieces of the previous year’s roots.   The photo below was taken in November 2012 and shows some of these root crops that were dug from our garden for Thanksgiving dinner.


Shallot, Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips, salsify and turnips in November.

Shallot, Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips, salsify and turnips in November.

The root crops mentioned above don’t really “grow” much in the winter but there are some that do.  For instance, corn salad is a green that will continue to grow through the winter in areas that are relatively mild.  But if you really want to cash in on winter greens a cold frame is the way to go.

It’s great to get fresh lettuce from your own garden in the dead of winter.  A cold frame can provide you with fresh lettuce.   It’s possible to get lettuce all winter long if you plant in the fall and stagger your plantings so some lettuce is always maturing.

So far, the best crop for our cold frame has been the butter crunch lettuce variety.  It seems to thrive in the short days and cool temperatures and does not succumb to the very cold nights when the temperature in the cold frame can drop below freezing.

The cold frame shown below is built from outdoor plywood.  The door frames are made from strips of plywood and the the transparent door material is plastic that was scavenged from a big plastic bag that a mattress was shipped in.  The doors face south and the sun really warms things up in there.  It is even possible to germinate lettuce and spinach during the winter.

I’ve seen other people build cold frames that are made from glass doors sitting on some bricks or cinder blocks and those work just fine.  Of course you can buy a kit too but building a cold frame from scavenged materials is much cheaper.

Cold Frame - February 2013

Fresh lettuce in winter. At TFF we have a small home-built cold frame that we use to raise lettuce and spinach in the winter.  These photos were taken in the middle of February 2013.


Adventure Farm Participates in St. Louis Sustainable Backyard Tour

In May I wrote about visiting my sister’s urban farmstead, Adventure Farm. Her backyard was featured in an NPR report on the St. Louis Sustainable Backyard Tour.  You can read about the tour and see the slideshow which features her place.  In the slide show, her urban homestead is shown in slides 5-14.  Way to go Sis.

On the Road 2011 – My Visit to Mansfield Missouri and St. Louis Urban Farming

After school is out and the spring planting is done, late May is a great time for a journey.  This year I took a week off and I set my sights on Mansfield Missouri and points east. I can not recommend Mansfield highly enough as a destination for Ozark travelers.  While there, I stayed at a family camp ground named Mansfield Woods.  This campground is run by three local sisters and they were terrific as were the grounds and accommodations.

Mansfield is the final home of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the famous “Little House” series author.  She lived near Mansfield on Rocky Ridge Farm from 1894 until her death in 1957.  I visited Rocky Ridge Farm and took the guided tours and also visited the museum.  The museum contains many treasures including the actual fiddle that Pa Ingalls played in Laura’s books along with hand written versions of Laura’s manuscripts.  There are two homes at Rocky Ridge, one is the original farm-house and the other is the “Rock House” which was a gift from Laura’s daughter Rose Wilder Lane, a famous journalist and author even before her mother began to write the Little House books.  The Rock House was meant to be a retirement home for Laura and her husband Almanzo.  The homes have been beautifully preserved and look much as they did when the Wilders lived  there during the first half of the 20th century.  An interesting thing I learned during my visit is that Laura wrote a column for a periodical called the “Missouri Ruralist” from about 1911-1924.  Her writings have been collected in a book entitled Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Journalist:  Writings from the Ozarks and are quite interesting – revealing a side of Laura that does not come through in her autobiographical works.   In short, you can’t go wrong by visiting Rocky Ridge Farm if you are vacationing or live in the Ozarks of Missouri.  Also, I highly recommend the book mentioned above which is available at the Rocky Ridge gift shop or on line from Amazon.

 Mansfield is also the home of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds is a fabulous family-owned business venture that welcomes visitors (read more about Baker Creek below). 

Laura and Almanzo Wilder’s Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield Missouri. Rocky Ridge Farm is a must-see for any fan of the Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House” books. This is the place where they were all written. Counter clockwise from upper left. My 2003 Triumph Bonneville at the front gate of the farm after 300 miles of which 150 were in rain. The main farmhouse was expanded through the years and is open for tours. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed inside. The Rock House is also on Rocky Ridge Farm and it was a gift to Laura and Almanzo from their daughter, Rose. This is the house where “Little House in the Big Woods” and “Little House on the Prairie” and possibly some others were written.

The reason I was originally drawn to Mansfield Missouri was to visit Baker Creek Heirloom seeds. They are located just outside of Mansfield. Their seed warehouse, store and mail order operation are located here.  It’s a bustling family business with a lot to see and they welcome visitors.  Additionally, I saw a lot of folks working there which must be a terrific boon for the local economy.  I arrived there around lunch time and was able to eat at their restaurant which is only open for lunch.  While there I walked through their “Frontier Village” and visited their seed store.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds – At Baker Creek the operation is set up to resemble a frontier village that features stores, stages and rustic demonstrations. Some of the out-front workers dress in period clothing and some appear as if they may be Amish or Mennonites. The photo at top is of the main entrance and hotel. The lower left shows a cute little shanty and the lower right is the door to the hotel and restaurant. If you are lucky enough to get there around noon, you can get a home cooked vegan meal for the price of a voluntary donation. I had a salad and some lemonade.

At Baker Creek the seed company was in full swing but the Frontier Village was dead.  I think the best time to visit for interactive activities is on the first Sunday of each month when they have special events.  For me, I enjoyed browsing in the seed store and seeing the rows and rows of seeds.  Actually quite a few were sold out due to the business of their mail order operation.  If you want an online peek into the Baker Creek Inventory, visit their web site which you can reach from this page (see links on right).

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Store. The seed store is the center of activity at Baker Creek. Stepping inside is like entering their fantastic seed catalog (which is available free from the web site). I purchased several packs of seeds and had a nice time chatting with the women that work there.

After departing Mansfield I traveled east, crossing the Mississippi at Ste. Genevieve.  After motoring around southwestern Illinois for a few days, I went to St. Louis to visit two of the local urban farmers who also happen to be my brother and sister.  My sister runs Adventure Farms which is headquartered at her home in the Richmond Heights area of St. Louis.  You can visit her blog by following the link on the right hand side of this page.  She is actively involved in urban farming, bee keeping and permaculture.  My brother lives near Forest Park and has carved out some beautiful gardening spots in his small urban backyard.  Visiting them was a treat that included a tour of their gardens, a birdwatching trip to Forest Park and a home cooked meal of fresh garden greens and a farm-fresh egg omelet flavored with locally gathered chicken mushroom.

Urban Farming in St. Louis. The photos in the left column were taken at Adventure Farm in Richmond Heights. The photos in the right column are from my brother’s home in University City.

These photos were taken at my brother’s and sister’s homes.  The left column shows the backyard of Adventure Farm where my sister Deanna raises a wide range of vegetables to help feed her family.  The middle photo shows her clever use of cattle panels as trellises for vine crops.  In a small yard like this – going up is a great option for optimizing crop yields.  The lower left panel shows her new bee hive which was successfully launched this spring.  While I was there the bees were busily flying in and out.  She tells me that the bees not only work in her own yard but can be seen flying off to other parts of the neighborhood – thus benefitting surrounding yards with their pollinating efforts.  The right hand column shows photos from my brother’s back yard.  He lives in an upper scale older neighborhood near Washington University.  This is not the kind of neighborhood where you can get away with a lot of messy farming, but he has tailored his yard well for food production while maintaining a nice appearance.  The top panel shows some raised beds that includes a covered sandbox for his kids.   The middle panel shows his use of a hinged cover to protect his beds from the local bunnies. In the bottom panel he has used a south-facing fence to support trellises for growing beans, peas and squash.

Overall, it was a fun trip.  Nothing beats hitting the road and visiting cool places except returning back home.   It’s always fun to return to the farm and see how things have grown and changed, even during a short time away. 

Homegrown Eating Diary or My 2011 New Year’s Resolution

Tanya Tandoc is the foodie-in-residence at KMUW, the NPR station in Wichita.  Recently she gave a little rant about the hardships of eating local in Wichita in which she stated, “eating seasonally in this area is challenging, since for eight months we have nothing at all and for four months we have too much of everything.”   This is where I tend to disagree so in this running post I will attempt to dispell Tandoc’s misconceptions by testing my ability to eat local and in fact I will attempt to eat self-grown for as many weeks as possible.  For the complete transcript of Tanya’s portrayal of eating local in Wichita please see:

This brings me to my New Year’s resolution for 2011 in which I decided to eat something homegrown in every meal that I prepared.  However, I have not kept rigorous records and that is what I plan to do here.  The growing season in Kansas is lengthy and when you include things like winter squash, turnips, Jerusalem artichokes and the use of cold-frames along with canning and drying – I believe one can provide some food for themselves all 52 weeks of the year in Wichita.  So here I begin my 52 week tally.  The running list below will itemize the homegrown foods (including eggs and meat) I eat each week in 2011-2012 and I will make special note of things that were put away and eaten later, i.e. things that are canned, dried, or frozen.

Week 1 May 30 –  Spinach, radishes, Swiss chard, mustard greens, salad onions, green peas (snap and shell types), potatoes,  eggs. All were fresh picked.

Week 2, June 6 – Radishes (pickled), salad onions, garden peas (sugar snap), butter crunch lettuce, collard greens, turnip greens, garlic, eggs, chicken (grilled and  chicken salad).

Week 3, June 13 – Collard greens, turnip greens, Swiss chard, spinach, garlic, salad onions, butter crunch lettuce, radishes (pickled), garden peas, eggs (pickled and hard boiled), chicken (baked).

Week 4, June 20 – butter crunch lettuce, tomatoes (1st two of the season), garden peas, salad onions, potatoes, radishes (pickled)chicken (baked), eggs (salad and pickled)

Week 5, June 27 – butter crunch lettuce, Swiss chard, turnip greens and turnips, zucchini, cucumbers, salad onions, sweet onions, garlic,  potatoes, radishes (pickled)chicken (baked), eggs (boiled).

Week 6, July 4 – green beans, okra, Swiss chard, turnips, potatoes, sweet onions, salad onions, garlic, jalapenos, cucumbers, squash (yellow and zucchini), radishes (pickled), chicken (smoked), eggs (all sorts of ways).

Week 7, July 11 – turnips, okra, butter crunch lettuce, Swiss chard, jalapenos, cucumbers, potatoes, tomatoes (cherry and Roma), salad onions, eggs(scrambled and boiled).

 July 18 – Out of the country.

Week 8, July 25 – Cucumbers (fresh and pickles), sweet corn, okra, tomatoes (many types), green beans, lima beans, squash (yellow and zucchini), turnips, sweet onions,  salad onions, jalapenos, bell peppers, chicken(smoked/grilled) eggs (all sorts of ways).

Week 9, August 1– Apples (frozen from 2010 ), sweet corn, okra, tomatoes (many types),  squash (yellow and zucchini), potatoes, sweet onions, garlic,   jalapenos, Scotch bonnets, bell peppers, chicken(smoked/grilled) eggs (all sorts of ways).

Week 10, August 8–   Squash (yellow and zucchini), potatoes, sweet onions, salad onions, tomatoes, jalapenos, bell peppers, eggs.

Week 11, August 15 – Tomatoes, squash, potatoes, leeks, okra, sweet onions, garlic, bell peppers, Scotch Bonnet peppers, cabbage (from 2010 harvest), peaches (from 2010 harvest), duck, chicken, eggs.

Week 12, August 22 – Potatoes, leeks, garlic, bell peppers, Scotch Bonnet peppers, cabbage (from 2010 harvest), peaches (from 2010 harvest), duck, chicken, eggs.

Week 13, August 29 Lima beans, green beans, okra, potatoes, leeks, garlic, bell peppers, cabbage (from 2010 harvest), chicken, eggs.

Week 14, September 5 – Okra, zucchini and yellow squash, potatoes, leeks, sweet onions, garlic, bell and Habanero peppers,  chicken, eggs.

Week 15, September 12 –  Yellow and zucchini squash, leeks, sweet onions, bell peppers, eggs.

Week 16, September 19 –  Yellow and zucchini squash, sweet onions, bell peppers.

Week 17, September 26 – Sweet onions, okra, bell peppers, green beans, Jalapeno an d Habanero peppers, chicken, goose, eggs.

Week 18, October 3 –  Sweet onions, okra, bell peppers, cucumbers (pickled), zucchini, chicken.

Week 19, October 10 –  Okra, green beans, green tomatoes, zucchini and yellow squash, leeks, bell peppers, jalapenos and habaneros, chicken and eggs.

Week 20, October 17 –  leeks, bell peppers, jalapenos, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, habaneros,  and eggs.

Week 21, October 24 – basil, yellow, zuchini and butternut squash, sweet onions, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, turnip greens, leeks, arugula, duck eggs.

Week 22, October 31 – potatoes, tomatoes, basil, arugula, beet greens, beets, michihili (Napa cabbage), sweet onions, leeks, garlic, bell peppers (from freezer), chicken stock (from freezer), chicken, eggs.

Week 23, November 7 – Leeks, michihili (Napa cabbage), sweet onions,  turnip greens, bell peppers, zucchini, chicken stock (last three from freezer), chicken, eggs.

Week 24, November 14 – Leeks, michihili (Napa cabbage), arugula, butter crunch lettuce, spinach,  sweet onions,  turnip greens, turnips, butternut squash, pumpkin, bell peppers, summer squash, chicken stock (last four from freezer), chicken, eggs.

Week 25, November 21 – Salad onions, sweet onions, leeks, arugula, spinach, turnip greens, michihili, turnips, winter squash, sweet potatoes,  pumpkin (from freezer), bell peppers (from freezer), sweet and dill pickles, pickled peppers, turkey, and eggs.

Week 26, November 28 – Leeks, Swiss chard, michihili, turmips, winter squash, pumpkin (from freezer), pickled peppers, pickles (sweet and dill),  turkey, chicken, eggs.
Week 27, December 5 – Leeks, Swiss chard, michihili, turmips, pumpkin (from freezer), pickled peppers, chicken, eggs (duck and chicken).
Week 28, December 12 – Turnips,  pickled peppers and dill pickles, winter
Week 29, December 19 – Turnips,  sweet onions, pickled peppers and dill pickles, winter squash, bell peppers and okra from freezer, chicken and  eggs.
Week 30, December 26 – Turnips, leeks, salad onions, arugula, butter crunch lettuce, spinach, sweet pickles,  goose, chicken and  eggs.  From freezer:  peaches,  pumpkin, peppers, okra.
Week 31, January 2 – Leeks, goose, chicken and  eggs.  From freezer:  peppers, okra, zucchini.
Week 32, January 9 – Leeks, turnips, goose, chicken.  From freezer:  peppers,  zucchini.
Week 33, January 16 – Leeks.  From freezer:  peppers,  zucchini.
Week 34, January 23 – Leeks, dill pickles, bean sprouts, chicken, eggs.  From freezer:  peppers,  zucchini.
Week 35, January 30 – Leeks, salad onions, chicken, eggs.  From cold frame: arugula, cilantro and spinach.
Week 36, February 6 –  Salad onions, eggs.  From cold frame: arugula, cilantro and spinach.  From freezer:  yellow squash and zucchini.
Week 37, February 13 –  Chicken, turkey, eggs.  From cold frame: arugula, buttercrunch lettuce and spinach.  From freezer: bell peppers and okra.
Week 38, February 20 –  eggs.  From freezer: bell peppers and okra.
Week 39, February 27 –  Leeks, eggs.  From freezer: bell peppers.
Week 40, March 5-  Leeks, Jerusalem artichokes,  chicken, eggs.  From cold frame:  spinach and buttercrunch lettuce.  From freezer and pantry:  chicken, sweet peppers and sweet pickles.
Week 41, March 12-  Chicken, eggs.  From cold frame:  spinach and buttercrunch lettuce.  From freezer:  chicken and sweet peppers.
March 19-  out of town.
Week 42, March 26-  From cold frame:  spinach and buttercrunch lettuce.
Week 43, April 2 – Salad onions, spinach, buttercrunch lettuce, cilantro, chicken, eggs and pickled peppers.  From Freezer:  Okra, turnip greens and habaneros.
Week 44, April 2 – Buttercrunch lettuce, chicken, pickled peppers.
Week 45, April 9 – Buttercrunch lettuce, spinach, radishes, salad onions, chicken, pickled peppers.
Week 46, April 16 – Buttercrunch lettuce, spinach, radishes, salad onions, chicken, eggs,  pickled peppers.  From freezer:  Okra, peppers, squash.
Week 47, April 23 – Lettuce, salad onions, chicken,  pickled peppers, fish from pond.  From freezer:  Okra.
Week 48, April 30 – Lettuce, salad onions, chicken,  pickled peppers, eggs, radishes, pak choi, fish from pond.  From freezer:  Okra, peppers.
Week 49, May 7 – Salad onions,  pak choi.
Week 50, May 14 – 
Week 51, May 21- 
Week 52, May 28-

Earth Day



April 22, 2011

Dear Planet Earth,

This is Earth Day.  It’s a day we have set aside to honor you.  While I’m just a speck on your surface and you probably haven’t noticed me I am writing to say how much I appreciate you.  I love your gigantic magnetic field that protects me from the cosmic rays of interstellar space and the solar winds of our nearby star.  I love your thin crust upon which I dwell heated by the mantle beneath and the sun above and covered by sights and wonders that are rare in this universe.  I appreciate all the other life that dwells with me on  your surface and the accumulated riches of minerals, topsoil, fossil fuels, ores and other treasures left here by you and the millions of years of life you have made possible.  Most of all I appreciate your water.  Thank you for gathering it and keeping it here in abundance.  Without it, I would not be here to send this note of thanks.

I apologize for greedily gobbling up too much  of your treasures and spewing their by-products into the thin layer of nitrogen and oxygen you hold in place so I can breathe.  I apologize for the waste and chemicals I have carelessly allowed to pollute your precious water.  I’ll try to do better by you.  I’ll  consume less.  I’ll grow more plants in a responsible way to replenish the oxygen and capture the carbon.  I’ll do all I can to return what I use to your soil in a healthy way that promotes and preserves life for my fellow travelers.  As you know there are almost 7,000,000,000 of my species living on you right now and I think it is fair to say we have not been as good to you as you have been to us.  In fact, you amaze me in your graciousness and resilience.  I only hope we can keep this relationship going for another 10,000 years or so, only a blink to you, but for us it means everything.  

Finally, just know we don’t mean any harm.  We are simple and subject to the same laws of nature as you.  And regardless of how you feel about us please know that every single day we, the denizens of Earth, are all thankful that you are the Earth and you are here.


and the winner is….

The very appropriately named winner of my Tomato Race is Champion.  This tomato was the first to produce ripe fruit this year and gave me the two small tomatoes shown below on June 28.  In an earlier post I listed the tomato varieties I planted.  Unfortunately Jet Star and Cherokee Purple did not finish the race, they both suddenly wilted and died.  Not sure why, but my hypothesis is gophers.

0.07 lbs of "Champion" tomatoes! They were yummy. Hoping for a few more and larger ones.

Burning the Prairie

There is not much to report from the garden except that the arugula and radishes I planted last weekend all came up and look great.  I had to thin the arugula and probably will have to thin more.  Also, we had a nice big salad of mixed greens on Saturday to accompany the delicious chicken noodle soup that Kathi made on Friday.  

On Sunday morning I made eggs-on-toast using bread and eggs from our friends at the farmer’s market and topped them with some fresh spinach from the garden.  That was nice wholly Kansas-grown breakfast.  After breakfast I went to Coe to cut down some 10-12 year old oaks that the previous owner let grow too close to the house.  The oaks were beautiful straight-trunked trees and I kept several of the long trunk pieces so I could use them for bean and fence posts. 

After I finished sorting the posts, fire wood and brush, I was preparing to cut the maples down that shade my garden in the back yard.  Then I got a call from my friend who is a field biologist at the Ninnescah Prairie Field Station which belongs to Wichita State University.  They had finally gotten the go-ahead to burn the prairie that afternoon and had to act quickly while the wind was right.   The team was called into action.  I hopped on my motorcycle and drove the 30 miles to the prairie station.  Seven of us showed up and we burned all day under light winds.  Toward evening the wind died to nothing and burning became difficult to control.  This was my first prairie burn and it was extraordinary how fast and hot the fire burns.  Here are some photos with captions. 

This fire had been burning for just a minute or two. This was early in the day while the wind was still blowing lightly from the southwest.

This was at the back burn which acted as a fire break for the larger burn.

A lot of the day looked like this. This is at the main fire line where we were working on the flank of the line keeping it from moving south.

This is a photo looking from east to west across the area we burned after the fire out was out. I estimate about 50 or 60 acres of burned prairie and you can see the smoke in the distance where the main fire line was. A front was moving in and keeping the smoke near the ground.

 All together we burned for about 3.5 hours and burned around 50 or 60 acres.  The burn crew consisted of 6 biologists and 1 chemist.  The research site is a total of 330 acres and it had not been burned for seven years.  The trouble is you have to get permission from the county and this requires very specific wind conditions.  The wind has to be greater than 5 mph and less than 15.  The burn season is limited to the spring, so they burn when they can, i.e. any windless, rainless weekend in burn season when you can get a team up on short notice. 

By the way, the tool I am holding in the photo above is called a “flapper” .  It is sort of like a truck mud flap on a long (not long enough) rake handle.  There were times when we had to rush in and beat out flames that were going in the wrong direction.  I think my face  has minor burns today.  This morning when I got up my forehead had leaked out some yellow fluid while I was sleeping.  Also, I can still smell smoke from my hair when I shake my head!  If you want to see where we burned put these coordinates into Google Maps: +37° 32′ 9.85″, -97° 40′ 20.18″.  You can just cut and paste them.