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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!
We eat these all the time! It’s a good, hearty weekend breakfast.
Ungreased Cookie Sheet
2 Dinner Knives (optional)
Sharp Knife or Bench Scraper
3/4 C Milk (you can also use buttermilk)
2 C All-purpose Flour
1 T Baking Powder
1 t Salt
2-3 T Cold, Unsalted Butter
Preheat the oven to 450F.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
Drop in the butter. This is the most important step! The goal is to get the largest pieces of butter to be the size of peas, with smaller ones more like bread crumbs. The challenge is to do this without melting the butter or allowing the butter to adhere to the flour and form a paste. Since your fingers may be too hot (thus causing the butter to melt), you probably want to cut in the butter with two knives.
Add the milk all at once, and mix with a fork or spatula, just until everything begins to become moist.
Lightly flour your hands. Then mix the dough with your hands, pressing it against the side of the bowl, to the point where the dough just adheres to itself. It should look like layered pieces of dough just barely held together. This is the second most important step, as you do not want to over-knead. (Over-kneading will take away the flakiness of the biscuits).
Place the dough on a lightly-floured surface, and press it into a circle about 1/2” thick. (Still minimizing your warm touch to avoid melting the butter.)
Cut the dough into quarters with a sharp knife or bench scraper.
Place the biscuits onto a baking sheet, at least 1” apart. Bake until golden brown, about 10-12 minutes.
I am out today dealing with a broken toe. Laugh. Laugh.… Ok, stop laughing now! I can’t believe how much a toe can hurt… sigh…
So, today, I’m opening it up for you to ask questions, report problems with your garden, troubleshoot with all of us, and in general check in! Any weird bugs, diseases, germinating problems, questions about new plants you haven’t grown before, gardening techniques? Anything and everything flies here.
If nobody here can answer your questions, I’ll look it up and see if I can’t answer it for you. We’re all friends here, and we’re all learning. So have at it! There must be something you’ve been wondering about…
What’s The Growing Challenge?
There are currently 164 people who are a part of this challenge. Head on over to The Growing Challenge Page and check out what it’s all about.
Ok, Go For It!
Don’t be shy…. Ask away! Feel free to leave links to your recent posts, or posts with pictures of problems you’d like to talk about. And those of you who have recently joined the Challenge, please introduce yourselves!
When I moved to Geyserville, California in May of last year, I was excited to grow my own food for the first time. But immediately my neighbors dashed my hopes. They told me that it was too late to grow much this year – that I’d have to wait until next year. Sure enough, I found a pamphlet put out by the local Master Gardeners, confirming that it was too late to plant most crops.
Fortunately, I didn’t listen.
Matt and I first amended the soil. Then we made garden beds. And then, between mid-June and mid-July, we finally got in our tomatoes, peppers, summer squash, winter squash, runner beans, bush beans, tomatillos, ground cherries, beets, carrots, radishes, scallions, corn, oregano, cilantro, fennel, and loads of salad greens of all different types. Plus worms and microbes to help them along. A few weeks later we planted kohlrabi, brussels sprouts, kale, more winter squash, melons, and started successional planting our greens and carrots.
What didn’t work? The melon plants produced tiny little melons that tasted awful. The corn never got knee high before it died. And my first try at carrots didn’t work. (But the second time they did better, and the third time they flourished.) Everything else thrived! Our first harvest was July 8th (below).
In September, our neighbors told us we would lose our garden to the rains any moment. In October, they said we would lose it to the frosts. In November, they gave up telling us about gardening, when we still had tomatoes on the vine and a full garden of veggies (which we shared with them). And it wasn’t just our neighbors, it was the nurseries that shuttered their doors, the hardware stores that put away their gardening supplies, and the conventional gardening books and websites that told us to dig up our old summer plants and mulch for the winter.
We harvested 240 lbs. of tomatoes from 4 plants. We consumed more zucchini and crooked neck squash than I care to think about (until I found the beauty of squash blossoms). We had many more beans than we could eat. We made loads and loads of tomatillo salsa, fresh even as a Thanksgiving appetizer. We had enough winter squash that we ate casserole, souffle, and pumpkin pie many times and still had two squashes left over in April. We ate out of our garden at every meal from July 2007 through the time we left in May 2008.
We didn’t listen. But we read. And we paid attention to the weather. We covered our tomatoes as it began to get cold and wet and when there was danger of frost (we were still picking tomatoes on the solstice!). We sheltered our greens with a shade cloth (above), which kept the sun off in the summer and the rain off in the winter. We put burlap over our carrots in the summer and took it off as the weather cooled down in the fall. We stored root vegetables in the ground, harvested their leaves as tasty greens, cellared our green tomatoes when the frost did hit one too many times in late November, carefully stored our winter squash and beans, dried our ripe tomatoes in the oven, froze string beans and summer squash, and welcomed fresh lemons in the middle of winter… Truth be told, if we had to, we could have survived on are garden alone through the fall and winter.
All because we really wanted to do it and nothing was going to stop us. So we found ways to extend the seasons, and to use them to our advantage.
Ten Reasons To Grow A Four-Season Organic Garden
Growing your own food reduces the distance your food travels from the farm to you (10 feet, say, versus 250-2,500 miles). That means you’re eliminating the petroleum products used in farming equipment, fertilizers, pesticides, packaging, storage, and transportation.
By reducing the distance your food travels from the farm to you, you also reduce your overall carbon output, taking a bite out of your impact on climate change.
In the winter when most farmer’s markets close up shop, you’ll still have fresh, tasty produce.
When you grow your own food, you also know where your food is coming from (no weird salmonella strains in your tomatoes and spinach, for instance).
Home grown food tastes many times better and has more vitamins and minerals than vegetables raised in a monocultural setting.
You can choose to grow various heirloom crops that you just can’t buy in a grocery store.
You can choose to grow crops that aren’t genetically modified.
You can save seed and create different varieties that are best suited for your little backyard microclimate.
Knowing how to grow your own food makes you much more adaptable to whatever economic or environmental hardship that comes your way in the future.
And lastly, it’s fun, it tastes better, and gardening nourishes your soul.
When To Plant Fall and Winter Gardens
Plant in early to mid-summer for a fall garden.
Plant in the late summer and early fall for a winter garden.
Obviously this is a general rule of thumb. Some of you in the lower hardiness zones will want to be planting your winter gardens asap – yesterday even. I know I sound like a broken record, but seek out your local Master Gardeners and get your hands on a planting schedule for your area. It won’t be perfect, but it will be a general guide for you.
Then find out your average frost date. You can find this in the Farmer’s Almanac, or a good local nursery, or farmers in the area. When you find this out, you will know the date at which – more or less – your winter crops should be matured. You can work backwards from that date, looking at a seed packet for the “dates to maturity.” If your seed packet doesn’t tell you, a good gardening book will (see references in Part 2).
For example, if your first frost date is October 15th, and you’re planting something that needs 30 days from seeding until maturity, you’ll want to plant it at around September 15th, maybe a bit later depending on how warm your fall days are. But having said that, don’t be afraid to experiment and see if you can get more out of your garden – if it’s September 15th and your seeds don’t mature for 60 days, try planting a few anyway – they’re just seeds! Alternatively, you can plant seedlings from a nursery and gain at least 2-3 weeks.
Your fall crops will also grow a bit faster if you mulch them and/or cover them using one of the season extensions discussed in Part 2.
Fruits: There also some fruits that are harvested in the winter, like apples, pears, persimmons, and citrus fruits. But you’ll need to plant these in late fall, winter, or early spring.
Summer Crops: Almost every summer crop can extend into November, if you live in a temperate climate. Tomatoes, tomatillos, winter squash, berries, beans are all good candidates for fall season extension.
Over-Wintering and Cover Crops: I’ll reserve these for another post. Over-wintering crops are ones that are planted in the fall, are then left well-mulched over the winter, and become your first crops of the early spring. Cover crops are those that protect the topsoil from rains and snow, and add nutrients to the soil – either through their roots or when dug into the soil in early spring.
Note: this is by no means a complete list – if you have other suggestions, please let everyone know in the comments. And do forgive my loose taxonomy.
Also, I was thinking about creating a new challenge for growing a winter garden. However, I think we cover it pretty well with The Growing Challenge. So, if you’re thinking about growing a fall or winter garden and need some extra incentive, join us in The Growing Challenge!
Please Share Your Knowledge And Experiences
What else do you all grow in the fall and winter? What books and other resources do you use? What is your favorite method of season extension? Any of you who haven’t done this before, do you have specific questions about it?
Last week I wrote about vinegar and its many uses around the house. It is an cheap, non-toxic alternative for all sorts of household needs. In a comment on that post, Kendra wrote about her reasons for using vinegar. I was touched by her story, and asked her to share her story in a guest post – the following is her experience.
While I was doing online research for cloth diapering five years ago, I heard of how you can clean your house using simple products like vinegar and baking soda, and I dabbled with them for a while, but two years and a half years ago something happened that turned me into a complete ‘safe-cleaning’ convert. Though I experimented in using things like baking soda and vinegar, I still had things under my kitchen sink like bleach, Cascade and Comet. But it was all tucked under safely behind childproof cabinets, or so I thought.
Two years ago, when my son was barely two, I was making lunch in the kitchen and my son was playing on the floor with the pots and pans as we frequently did. I was telecommuting from home at the time and had to be active with my e-mails, so while he was playing peacefully I stole away for a moment to run to the office to hit ‘refresh’ on my Outlook.
Just seconds later while I was quickly reading an e-mail, I heard him wail. Now as a mother, you quickly get to know your baby’s cries. Some are just cries of frustration, and others are ones that make your adrenaline start rushing immediately. His was the latter. I bolted into the kitchen to find that he had broken through the childproof locks on our sixty-year-old rickety cabinets with the jar of Comet in his hands and a mouth full of that horrid green powder.
I screamed, he was still screaming and I was just certain that I had poisoned my dear son beyond repair. I grabbed for the nearest dishtowel and started wiping out as much powder as I could out of his mouth. I used water to get as much out as I possibly could. Luckily when my childbirth coach years before had instructed us to put the Poison Control hotline number (which is 1-800-222-1222) on our refrigerators, I dutifully did so and I immediately called it.
The nice man on the other end of the line calmly told me that my son was going to be okay, I had done the right thing by getting it out of his mouth and to call if he started to have trouble breathing. I needed more reassuring so I called our local ER and a wonderful nurse also calmed me and said that he probably didn’t get much, if any, down his throat and that the reason he was crying was because of the awful taste in his mouth. As per her instructions, I gave him a glass of milk to get the taste out of his mouth and put him down for his nap.
As soon as he fell asleep and while my body was still racing with adrenaline, I went through our house like a madwoman, throwing out any and every cleaning product that was toxic. And if we couldn’t live without it, I placed it way up high where he could never reach.
I was lucky. He turned out to be just fine, but it was certainly a call to action. We harbor things in our cabinets that we don’t even realize are poisonous. Did you know that many mainstream body lotions have a warning that if swallowed call Poison Control? And adult toothpaste is all too tempting (and fatal) for a toddler to squeeze into his mouth.
It may be impossible to rid our houses of everything dangerous, but cleaning products are an easy thing to change. And I’ve come to find that baking soda plus a little lemon juice is even more effective at scouring sinks that Comet ever was. You just sprinkle the bottom of the sink with baking soda, squeeze half a lemon over it to moisten and scrub with a damp sponge or dishcloth. For many more ways that you can clean with baking soda, try this site and please do refer back to Melinda’s earlier post on how to clean with vinegar.
Now if my youngest son, who’s now almost two, breaks into our cabinets all he’ll find is a squirt bottle of vinegar and a sealed jar of baking soda. And I never leave them alone in the kitchen! Lesson learned!
Seattle is banning free shopping bags, San Francisco is banning plastic bags (with Boston, Santa Monica and LA soon to follow), Paris has banned non-recyclable bags, and China, Ireland, Israel, western India, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Taiwan, Singapore and Bangladesh have also banned or are moving toward banning the plastic bag. These are great strides and inspiring changes. (Read more about plastic bags here.)
However, it’s important for all of us to understand that paper bags have just as many issues as plastic bags, if not more.
Paper bags come from trees that are often clear-cut, leaving gaping holes in our forests. Up here in the northwest, we are intimately aware of this fact (Seattle will be charging for both paper and plastic bags). I cannot tell you how disheartening it is to look up a beautiful hiking trail in a book, and go there with kids and friends in tow, only to find a half hour into the hike, that the whole forest is gone. Nothing but stumps remain.
Clearcutting devastates wildlife habitats and important migration corridors. And when trees no longer hold the topsoil in place, our rivers and streams become full of sediment, which impacts water life.
Additionally, the paper processing requires an inordinate amount of fossil fuels, water, and a variety of chemicals to produce. Just south of Seattle, there is a pulp mill in Tacoma. The odor that is emitted from the processing is so bad (putrid) that many people won’t live nearby – we call it the “Tacoma Aroma.”
Once used, paper bags are unlikely to be re-used. They tear easily and are made for one time usage.
80% of all paper bags end up in landfills. There, they do not biodegrade because of a lack of oxygen. They also cost more to landfill because they take up much more space by weight and volume than plastic bags do.
Since it is just plain more environmentally sound to bring your own bags… It’s time to bring your bags to the store with you.
Where To Find Reusable Bags
People seem to really love Baggalini’s or other fold-away knock-offs – I always have one in my purse just in case I stop unexpectedly to pick up a few groceries or other items.
We also use old cloth bags that we had for other purposes once upon a time – like a school bag, beach bag, or gym bag.
Plus, look for bags in thrift stores and garage sales – you can usually find one for $1-2 at the most.
You could buy an ugly but functional bag at the grocery counter for about $1. But, they aren’t pretty, they aren’t built to last a long time, and I wonder at times why they only cost $1… do you?
2. Here is a bag I made entirely from a pair of jeans. This was my favorite pair of jeans a year ago, but since I have been eating locally, I have lost a lot of weight (!!). So this bag also has a personal history. And it was all sewn entirely by hand, too (my sewing machine is broken). I didn’t make it with a pattern, I just sort of made a skirt with it, sewed the bottom, and made handles out of the extra fabric.
All you need is some fabric, which you may have lying around the house (or your mother’s or grandmother’s house), or you can find some very cheaply at thrift stores or at a sale at your local fabric store. More patterns can be found here.
More Tips Tricks & Ideas?
Note: Updated with a few new ways to make your own bags on 8/26/08 at 12:00pm.
Allright, y’all – had a few glitches so it’s not Thursday as promised, but I’m hoping you’ll forgive me. And also go easy on me? Normally I have a whole crew working with me, but this film was directed, produced, filmed (except for the shot where I handed the camera to my mom – go mom!), audio recorded, and edited by yours truly. We made this film yesterday.