Live Life Farm

Enjoying the simple things everyday

Category: In the Garden

A fungus among us

The morels are finally coming up and ready to pick. This is my first experience with finding morel’s as we don’t have a great mushroom growing place on our land, with the exception of ones growing on horse poop (and you couldn’t pay me to try those). I guess it’s not what you know but who you know and a friend introduced me to finding where the bounty likes to hide.  I was out a week ago to check but they were still pretty small.

a bunch

What I learned about finding morels is that they seem to thrive in areas with moss and in the woods (obviously). But they can be anywhere and once you find a spot you will probably find them again in the same area. Some morel etiquette heard is that you should cut and leave some of the stem (like asparagus). It’s also recommended to use a basket so some of the spores are released back into the ground. It will help them spread!

My friend told me it’s best to look for “brains” in the woods. I have to agree, they do look like little brains. Very pretty. Still, how did people figure out that eating something like this would be good? Trial and error with mushrooms could be a bit scary. Nevertheless, these are a hidden gem in the woods of Michigan and the fun is in finding them.

This guy was trying to hide!

trying to hide

A cute little bunch

a bunch

Can you find the morel here?

Where's Morel

Tomorrow we are heading back to check if they are ready. I have heard they are in peak season now. Looking forward to trying some fried morels. And maybe some with pork and a sauce……or in eggs….possibilities are endless!

Asparagus is coming | asparagus

It’s official, spring is showing its first signs in our veggie garden. If you have never tried fresh asparagus from your garden you need to now! It’s tender and meaty and so easy to grow.  I have 3 spears peeping thru and expect more once it gets a bit warmer.

Asparagus is a really easy vegetable to grow and an added bonus is that they are a perennial! The male varieties tend to produce more but we chose the “Mary Washington” variety for its meaty substance. It tends to grill a bit better. The variety is your choice but I would recommend purchasing “bare root.”  The downside of production is that you have to wait a, very painful, 3 years to enjoy! Unfortunately,  we gave in and tried a few after 2 years and they did not fail our expectations. Additionally, soil preparation is vital.  Asparagus likes a well draining and fertile soil. Lucky for us, we have lots of great compost from our chickens, horses, and veggies. I recommend tilling the soil well and adding in your compost. You need a DEEP hole so be sure to till deep into the soil. Once prepared they are fairly easy to plant but spread them out. Every year they will spread.

Our asparagus garden is now 8 years old and thriving well. We continue to achieve a great spread and have more to eat and share. In the spring, we weed and prepare the garden bed. Once weeded we add a nice layer of nutritious compost (about an inch) and then I salt my beds. SALT!?!?!?! Yep, you read it right. I little “old wives tale” proved to be the easiest way to keep weeds at bay. Asparagus does not mind salt. This is somewhat of a controversial subject, I might add. Salt isn’t great for soil but I simply despise weeds and tried numerous other methods. It won’t eliminate weeds but it will help significantly.

The stalks you see are from last years crop. I am not picky about leaving those in. They add to the soil eventually. Here is one of the first tops showing.

peeping thru

These are so close to picking! I hope I can hold off enough to let them grow. There is something about picking that first asparagus. They do grow FAST so watch the ones that are close to picking. If it reaches 60+ degrees today they will be ready tomorrow to eat. They also “fan” out fast and will be inedible.

almost ready to cut

The bed is prepared. Still a few weeds to sort thru, but most was completed last week. The salt had a chance to disperse with the rain we had a few days ago. Soon, this bed will be covered in lots of asparagus. The best part? You really don’t need a ton of space to grow this perennial plant. It does well in limited garden space.

 

 

Happy Growing!

 

Early Gardening in Michigan! | cold-frame, early gardening

If you are looking for a less expensive option to start an early garden or extend your growing season a cold frame is a great option. Greenhouses are great but take a bit of time to build and are fairly expensive. We have raised bed gardens and built a cold frame to fit right in the garden. It’s almost April and I am ready to start growing my Kale, lettuce, snap peas, and broccoli.

First, a list of supplies.

1/2 inch 4×8 treated plywood
4×8 twin panel greenhouse panel (this will be enough for 2 cold frames)
An 8 foot 2×4
(2) 8 foot 2×2’s
(2) door hinges
1-5/8 inch deck screws
2-1/2 inch deck screws for lid
1 inch box of screws for greenhouse panel (they are sold special next to greenhouse panels)
duct tape to tape sharp edges of greenhouse panel

Expect to spend around $80 to build 1 cold frame, but you will have another greenhouse panel for another cold frame.

We used the following tools: circular saw, cordless drill with #2 phillips and drill bit, utility knife, pencil, tape measure, 4′ level (for straight edge to draw cuts)

First cut the plywood, cuts should look like the below

We built ours to be 4 feet long (to maximize the plywood) and 33 inches to fit within our raised bed. 1 foot tall in front and 2 feet in the back.
Materials

Now you want to assemble the frame. Use the 2×4’s to attach the plywood. Use the 1-5/8 inch screws to attach sides. The cold frame should now start to look like something!

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Now you need to build the frame of the lid. We found the double paned greenhouse panels to resist hail and snow best. Previously, we used plastic and were replacing every year.

Measure and cut the 2×2’s so they fit on top of frame perfectly. Also, cut one of the 2×2’s to put horizontally in the middle of your lid. This will help support the lid frame. Attach the lid frame to the cold frame box with the hinges making sure the lid will be able to open and close easily. Place greenhouse panel over the lid and cut with utility knife. If you are making 2 cold frames be sure to take the size into consideration. Once cut, wrap edges with duct tape. Then fasten the panel to the lid frame with greenhouse screws.

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Now you have the finished product! Just move to the garden and start planting seeds. Later we will talk about how to use the cold frame and when to plant.

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Making Maple Syrup in fresh spring weather

The weather in Michigan is prime now for making maple syrup. This past week we had some beautiful days and I can’t think of anything better to do in nice weather than to cook over a campfire. It’s bringing me back to last summer with all of our campfires.

The easy part of making maple syrup is tapping the trees. Then you soon find out that buckets are FULL of sap that will yield a wee bit of liquid gold. Now, we admit this is our first venture and we are, by no means, experts but it was fun and tasty.  Once we drilled the tree it was easy to tap the trees and lightly hammer the taps into the tree.

These taps are our favorite.

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going out to collect sap

The kids loved participating in collecting sap. And we still had snow on the ground….but not for long!

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our first tap in

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all of the taps in place

We have puny sugar maples. They are not yet ready to tap…..maybe in, ohhhhh, 30 years. But we do have these 3 silver maples. The sugar is not as plentiful in silver maples but it still tastes good. We checked the trees about every 12 hours and the buckets were fulllllllll of sap! Lots of sap that even the kids enjoyed drinking.

Now, don’t be like us and try this venture over a gas grill stovetop, it won’t boil and you will sit around stirring sap until the cows come home (and we don’t have cows, so that tells you a lot).

Next we got smart, or smarter, and built a fire. Added a little more work but it does pay off….that sucker was boiling as long as I fed it all day long.

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Lots of steam, lots of evaporation

The important thing is to keep that pot boiling and skim the foam. The fire can add a funny taste but I just kept skimming the foam off. I didn’t notice any undesirable taste with the syrup. One reason to make your maple syrup outside is that it takes around 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup….unless you have silver maples, then maybe even less. I wasn’t sure I really needed 39 gallons of steam (sugary steam) in my house so it’s best to cook outside. Once you see the below color and it has reduced significantly you should get a temperature gauge ready.  Once the temperature is at about 210 I bring the syrup inside to strain and finish. It took us about 12-14 hours outside to boil. Inside, about an hour to get up to the ideal temperature of 219.1.

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maple syrup getting close!

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strain before last boil

We are still playing around with the straining process. I used a coffee filter but will probably use a cheesecloth next year. I found it was really hard to strain once it was the finished product at 219 degrees. After straining boil again until you reach 219. Then you can put in HOT prepared jars and hot lids. I get everything ready while doing the last boil and made SURE the jars were hot. Maple syrup is really easy to can! You can fill (leaving 1/2 inch headspace), apply lids, and tighten. Then just flip upside down for about 2 minutes, flip back and listen to the “pop” of the lids. Super easy!

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The finished product, the light enhanced the ones in back

We maybe made a gallon this year but stay tuned for next years adventure!

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