Saturday, August 31, 2013

where i've been...

he helps me garden

... just popping in to say hello here! i know i've let thursdays here at tend go silent over the past weeks, but i've been a bit preoccupied. we welcomed our son, ethan sidney, into our lives on august 5! in the weeks before his birth, and since, i've had to let my garden go a bit wild. it's all i can do to keep it watered (especially during this crazy late summer heat wave). luckily, ethan seems to enjoy helping me water the tomatoes :) i'm grateful to have some wonderful neighbors at my community garden who have kept my plot mostly weeded. even still, i'm mostly calling this year's garden a wash, and i'm already looking forward to next summer. though, i suppose i'll have an almost-toddler on my hands at that point...

any tips on gardening with babies and small children? xo

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

a new day at the farm

good morning from the farm! 

we have had a late start planting our garden for the fall, but we plan to clean it up & plant some seeds this week. until then, join me in welcoming in a new day here at freckled hen farm...

hello, violet!

good morning, calamity!

oh, what a glorious day it will be!

how do you say hello to a new day?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


The late summer garden means baskets full of food and crowded kitchen counters. Our dining table makes me claustrophobic lately, covered with bowls of tomatoes and zucchini squash and not always enough time to deal with it as quickly as I should. I won't even talk about the fridge full of beans and cucumbers. I won't lie, it's a little overwhelming sometimes.

This week I hope to do some canning, but in the mean time we've been as creative with meals as time allows, and loving the fact that produce never enters our grocery bags.

I wanted to share a few tasty things we've been especially enjoying recently.

Our favorite summer treat is slow roasted tomatoes, which we add to sandwiches, pasta, pizza, and anything else we can think of. Seriously, we talk about roasted tomatoes all year long, in anticipation of the next tomato harvest.  They're a little bit like bites of ketchup (did you add ketchup to everything when you were a kid, too?) only 6.9 million times better. Natalie talked about her method here last week.

I was turned on to a recipe for zucchini pizza crust recently, and have since made it twice. I doubled the batch the first time, and tripled it the next. It's a great way to use up a couple large summer squashes, and it makes a delicious, moist-yet-crispy crust. Make extra because leftover pizza is always a great idea.

The recipe seems pretty forgiving, and flour substitutions have worked well for me. I use a combination of brown rice flour and flax meal, in place of the almond meal called for.

I've also been blending up improv tomato sauces. This one was made with a mix of fresh and roasted tomatoes (mostly orange, hence the color), fresh picked Walla Walla sweet onion, ground sunflower seeds, sea salt, dulse and fresh oregano, thyme and savory. This particular sauce was pretty thick, making it a versatile sauce or spread.

So in the end, I guess growing a garden all comes down to pizza (just kidding). But really, these have been some of the most satisfying pizza pies I've ever made. Almost completely home grown, and so representative of the season right now. And one single place to combine all our favorite things. Don't forget the pesto!

What are your favorite summer meals?
(And, any favorite ways to preserve green beans?)

Friday, August 23, 2013

Starting Fresh

Please welcome our guest today, Erin Little, of  Bluebirdbaby and A Love Supreme Photography fame. Erin is a lady of many talents, and I think it's safe to say that growing beautiful gardens is one of them!

I've been gardening for almost my entire adulthood. As a child, I used to help my mother and father in their garden. We grew all kinds of vegetables that wound up on our dinner table. The neighbors would walk by and tell me my mother had a "green thumb" and go on to tell me how jealous they were of our lush garden full of fresh vegetables and fruits. I never thought much about it until I had my first raised bed as a young adult.

I never quite got my plants to grow, which is a pretty essential thing. I was frustrated and thought maybe I hadn't inherited my parents' gardening skills. But I certainly didn't let it stop me. Since I was 19 years old, I have started and maintained five different gardens. Each starting from scratch. It's always a big undertaking: making raised beds, filling the raised beds with a combination of loam, peat moss, and manure, starting seedlings and purchasing some, planting, watering, weeding, pest maintenance…it all takes a lot of energy and time. But I have found the rewards are well worth it!

Last fall I purchased an old church to live in on a busy road in midcoast Maine. I spent the winter renovating and painting the inside, but spent a lot of time dreaming about what I planned to do with the yard. We had established perennial gardens out front, but no vegetable garden. I opted for 6, 4x8 foot raised beds. I have found in the past that 6 beds that size are perfect for our family's needs. The beds went together in an afternoon. We used hemlock and screwed them together. We reinforced the corners with an extra piece on the inside. We were planning on digging up the sod on the insides, but we figured that 12 inches of soil would probably be sufficient enough to kill any grass on the bottom, so that saved us tons of time.

My favorite combo to fill the beds with is 6 parts organic loam, 2 parts peat moss, and 2 parts alpaca manure. I don't actually measure these, as I tend to eye what the composition looks like and how it feels running through my fingers. But I swear, alpaca manure (if you are lucky enough to find some!) is the magic part. It makes my plants grow like crazy. 

We also purchased a few self-pollinating fruit trees. I made the mistake in the past purchasing fruit trees that actually needed a pair to pollinate and produce fruit! This time we went with self-pollinating pear, plum, and peach. Also, three high bush blueberries were bought, each producing a different month so we'll have berries all summer long. We have a large apple tree that was already on the property, and we've been enjoying munching on those already! We also added a flock of chickens (16!), so by next spring we'll be enjoying fresh eggs daily! 

So these are all pictures from my new garden. The plants went in late May/early June, and well…you can tell how they're doing. My gardens tend to look more like jungles, which basically means I don't prune, I water like crazy (thanks to our rainy Maine summer this year), and I just let things go nuts. Our friends constantly comment on my "green thumb" and how beautiful it all is.

Maybe I did inherit my parents' gardening talents? Who knows…but I am very excited about enjoying this garden for at least the next twenty years! And it's nice to feel like we are supplying the majority of our fruits and veggies on our little 1/4 acre lot!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

ideas for tomatoes

i have been a stranger around these parts for over a month now. that doesn't mean the happenings around the farm have slowed down. not one bit, really. the work is never ending around here, but it brings about a feeling of satisfaction that can't be matched. there's always a project to complete, an animal in need of care, a garden to weed, produce to harvest & a bounty of delicious summer goodies to put up. we are thankful for this work & this season of abundance! 

abundance is indeed the word to describe this time of year. every day we come in from the garden with a basket of tomatoes, peppers, basil & cucumbers. i have pickled, canned, preserved & frozen baskets of deliciously ripe produce this summer. 

this summer i have also found two new, family-approved ways to enjoy these favorites in our garden. 

inspired by a flurry of women on social media, i tried that one pot pasta that so many have talked about. i was a bit hesitant at first to serve this up at dinnertime for fear of soggy noodles & flavorless sauce, but i can now confidently share that it was indeed a hit. that martha is a genius!  we mixed some garden tomatoes, purple onion, basil & garlic in with the noodles. easy cooking, easy clean-up & a delicious dinner. win, win, win!

i also tried my hand at roasting tomatoes. i chopped up tomatoes skin & all, both small & large, & placed them on a cookie sheet with parchment paper. i spread a bit of olive oil on the top & then added a mix of salt, pepper, fresh rosemary & whole cloves of garlic. the small tomatoes roasted for about 3 hours at 225 degrees in the oven. the larger tomatoes took about 4 hours. 

we have enjoyed these slow-roasted tomatoes on salads, in leftover pasta & as a snack. i froze the leftovers on a cookie sheet & placed them in a freezer bag for the winter. just another way to enjoy this season of abundance during the cold winter months!

what are some new ways you have found to preserve the summer harvest? please share!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

saving garden seed

This is a great time of year to think about saving seeds. A number of garden plants are either starting to bolt and flower, or are already bearing seeds at this time. Rather than pull plants once they're past their prime, consider leaving some to complete the cycle of growth in your garden.

I have been been focusing almost 100% on growing heirloom varieties, which makes seed saving feel even more rewarding. For example, the melons I'm growing are from seed that dates back to the 1800s. There is quite a history in that plant! I take it as a responsibility and a challenge, and one that I enjoy.

I thought I'd share some of what's happening in our garden right now, in terms of seed production.

Sage seed is ready for harvest. See the dark, round seeds inside the dried flower heads?

We hardly need to save calendula this year, as I harvested an enormous amount last year, but I have been keeping a few seed heads here and there. Calendula seed is ready to harvest when the seeds easily rub away from the flower head.

I have had this enormous Bull's Blood beet plant in the garden all spring and summer (I should have taken a photo of the whole plant!). It's actually been kind of an unsightly nuisance, in the most inconvenient location, but I have been patient. There will be hundreds, maybe thousands of seed pods to harvest soon. Beet seed is also shown above in the first image.

 Some of the earliest of the pea vines I planted have a few pods coming close to harvest. With peas and beans, simply leave some pods on the vine until they are completely dried. Then you can remove the inner peas/beans and store.

Coriander (cilantro) seed is coming along. I will use some for cooking, and save some for planting. Cilantro flowers also add a delicate beauty to the garden bed.

Kale, planted last year, is another monstrous tangle that I have been waiting patiently for. The pods are now dry and the seeds fully mature. There is more than enough seed on this plant grow countless gardens full of kale.

 Honey bees like when plants are left to go to seed, too. They are completely crazy for the leek flowers shown above, and at most any given time you can go out and find 2-6 honeybees on any given flower head.

Here is a brief post I wrote about seed saving last year as well, if you are interested.

Do you save seed? I'd love to know anything you'd like to share about your own experience.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Late Summer

Each day we take our bushel basket down to the field garden in hopes of harvesting tomatoes, pumpkins, or melons. We often bring back basil, broccoli shoots, or kale.

My mom sent me several dahlia tubers this year. This is the first one beginning to open. It looks rather goofy, like it has bunny ears. I love its vibrant color. 

Baby Pam pie pumpkins, we are forever loyal to you. This variety is so reliable. We harvested our first this weekend.

New this year: Eden's Gem melons. We tried this variety because the seeds were local and the description promised that they would fruit and ripen before the frost. We have six melons that are almost ready! I'm excited, though I am having a hard time determining when they are ready. Any tips? I've been smelling the blossom end for fragrance. None yet.

Abby: these are our spilanthes plants. Every day I pop a flower in my mouth. Herbalists say eating one fresh a day is better than mouthwash. It's an acquired taste but I really like it. It basically makes your mouth feel tingly.

Chamomile in abundance. I've been drying some for my apothecary shelves. Thinking of making a chamomile tincture or a chamomile heavy bitters formula.

The onions are just about ready for harvest. We've already pulled our shallots.

What's happening in your garden this week?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


 A recent rainy day presented the perfect opportunity to finally do some pickling. I’m growing Boston Pickling cukes this year, just for this reason, and they have been producing pretty well. I’ve been stalling on this project for a while. Being my first official foray into canning of any sort, I admit I felt a tiny bit intimidated. The worst that could happen though, is I would lose a few pounds of cucumbers. So!

 I followed the garlic dill pickles recipe from Marisa McClellan’s site, Food In Jars. This is a quick pickle (she recommends letting them sit 2-4 days before eating), so you won’t have to wait for weeks to try them. The only modification I made was I added 1/2 tsp coriander seed to each jar. I also followed her guide for salt substitution, and used the sea salt I had on hand in place of pickling salt.

 These were pretty simple to put together, just as I was assured they would be. The hardest part was just waiting for the water to boil to sterilize my jars, and then again for the water bath.  I realized halfway through sterilization, that I shouldn’t be using the canning pot on a glass cook top (indicated on the pot, and in part, because the base of the pot is not flat), so we moved outside onto a propane camp stove for the water bath. The water bath process can be skipped if one wants to keep their pickles in the fridge, but I’d rather have the fridge space.

 I waited about 36 hours to pop open the first jar. And yes, this is a great pickle! Classic dill pickle flavor, with quite a kick of heat. If you like it spicy, I think Marisa hit it just right (I think my 1/4 teaspoons were overflowing a little). If spicy is not so much your thing, you may want to tone it down on the chili flakes. I noticed that as soon as I finished making these, I felt excited about sharing them. I especially can’t wait to give some to my pickle loving sister.

I can see how people get really into canning. It’s a fun process, and the results are so satisfying. I am already looking forward to more. Next up? Maybe some tomato jam.