Thursday, February 26, 2015

List of Seed Swapping Groups on Facebook For the Frugal Gardener

Seed swapping is a fun and frugal way to increase the diversity in your seed collection. Seed swapping is great if you are new to gardening and you are on a limited budget because you can buy a few packets of seeds and trade your way to a more diverse collection. Most seed packets come with more seeds than most small gardeners will realistically use before they start to decrease in germination.

I have had several wonderful experiences with seed swapping groups on Facebook. I have been able to swap seeds that I will not be using this year for seeds that interest me. I really like to use seed swapping when I want a small quantity of something to try out before I dedicate a large chunk of my garden space to something unknown.

Pictured above are some seeds that I got is some trades this year. I have traded for a lot of beans this year. I want to see how these various varieties grow in my garden before I plant a lot of them. Plus, the beans are really pretty! This year I have sent off seeds for cinnamon basil, green sausage tomato, baby corn bonus, and other seeds. Swapping smaller seeds costs me a stamp and a thank you card. Large seeds like corn, squash, beans, and peas cost me a padded envelope, a thank you card, and about $2.50 for postage. I usually swap multiple seeds with each person that I trade with to make trading more economical.

Here are some seed swapping groups that I am a part of on Facebook:

Edible Plants Preservation Society: This group doubles as a place where you can swap seeds and a seed bank where volunteers can grow out rare seeds for saving. This is my favorite seed swapping group on Facebook.

Seed Traders For Future Generations: This group sees a lot of daily activity as people post things they are growing in their gardens as well as trades.

Midwest Gardening and Seed Swap: I love this group because these are growers located in my region, so the odds are if they have a good experience with a seed, then I am likely going to have a good experience as well.

Seed Swap: This group is massive with people from all over the world (not just the US.) I have also seen people post bulbs for trade on this group as well.

Seed Swappers Paradise Group: This is another large seed swapping group.

The Trading Post: This group is strictly for trading seeds. Some groups will allow you to post gardening questions or show pictures of your garden for bragging rights, but this group is very narrowly focused. This group is great for people who want to spend a limited amount of time on Facebook.

Are you a part of any seed swapping groups on Facebook? If you are, then leave me a comment below! I would be more than happy to expand this list as I find new groups.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Dipping My Toe into Forest Gardening

A lot of changes have occurred in my life that bring about new opportunities. I have bought my first house! I bought the perfect house for me. The house has a green house attached to the house, raised vegetable beds, several blueberry plants, several currant plants, a crab apple tree, and a ravine. There are lots of plants that I have not identified yet in my new yard because the yard has been covered in snow.

The previous two owners were both horticulturists, so the yard has been well taken care of over the years. I do know that there is an elaborate succession garden in front yard with lots of bulbs. There is also a drip irrigation system set up, 2 composters, and a rain barrel. I am grateful for all the wonderful infrastructure that this house already has in place. However, the ravine is having an erosion problem, so I need to fix the erosion in the ravine. The ravine is going to the focus on my a lot of my gardening this year. I want to transform the ravine into an edible forest garden. The canopy layer is already mature, but I want to add some more biodiversity to the ravine. In particular, I want to plant some American Ginseng because it is an endangered species and needs at least 70% shade in order to grow. My ravine in the perfect spot for this endangered species. Thankfully, I live in a state with minimal restrictions on growing this endangered species. My only limitation is that I can only harvest the ginseng a few months out of the year which will not be an issue for a few years until the plant establishes itself.

Forest gardening focuses on perennial plants grown in a polyculture. The emphasis is on useful plants that provide food, materials for hobbies, or beneficial to wildlife. A forest garden mimics a natural forest ecosystem with multiple layers from the tall canopy layer, smaller trees and bushes, vines crawling up large trees, herbs growing under everything and mushrooms breaking down decaying material. Ideally, a forest garden should be self-renewing and low maintenance through careful planning of plants that work together in a polyculture and choosing plants that do not require a lot of maintenance. I don't think I will be able to create a no work forest garden since I do like things like peaches that require yearly pruning. I envision my yard to produce an abundance of food and still be beautiful.

My first goal of the year is to inventory what is already in the yard. This is going to take me all year long to figure out all the bulbs that are in the front yard, but I should be able to identify the trees in the ravine sooner.  The next step is to take very accurate measurements of my yard and beginning planning. I hope a lot of good planning and research on my part will help me avoid some mistakes, but forest gardening is still in its infancy. I look forward to this new adventure!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Get Your Free Hazelnut Trees

This year I am doing lots of tree shopping now that I own my first house! I get to transition from an annual gardener to a gardener that has perennial plants as well as annual plants. I am excited about this new phase in my gardening life. While researching nut trees that will work in my cold Midwest climate, I came across Arbor Day Foundation's Hazelnut Project. By joining The Arbor Day Foundation for $20, they will send you 3 hybrid hazel nut trees for free that will grow to 10 ft. The trees are being bred to have durable resistance to Eastern Filbert Blight and be cold and drought tolerant.

The downside is that you do not get to pick the varieties of hazelnut trees that you receive, but you will be aiding research being performed by the Hazelnut Consortium that includes the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Rutgers University, Oregon State University, and the Arbor Day Foundation. The long term goals of the research is to create new cultivators of hazelnuts for food, feed, and biofuel with a focus on sustainability.

Hybrid hazelnut trees dig strong deep roots that pull up nutrients from deep in the soil. If you have erosion problems in your yard, then hazelnut trees are an excellent choice especially if your slope leads to a water source such as a river or lake. Hazelnuts have been deemed by the USDA and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) as a riparian buffer zone species meaning that they act a filter for aquatic environments preventing polluted run off and erosion. Hazelnut trees help prevent nitrogen leaching which will allow you to use less additives in your gardening.

The hazelnut lover in my loves the idea of growing my own hazel nuts. I can't wait to snack on some roasted hazelnuts in a few years! Do you plan to join me?

The photo above is licensed under GNU Free Documentation License. The authors of this photo are 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

How to Put Together a Seed Starting Rack

Over the years my seed starting has gotten more sophisticated. I have used everything from little premade seed starting kits when I only needed a few plants to cups with soil and a grow light and now to racks with grow lights attached. As my garden has grown so has my seed starting ambitions. Starting your garden from seed is lot more economical than buying plants and I can have a larger selection of vegetables to grow in my garden.

My current set up is a metal rack that I got at Sams Club, but I have also seen them at Lowes. The rack is 4 ft long. The shop light fixtures are 4 ft long as well with florescent grow lights installed. I got the grow lights at Mendards, but Home Depot also sells them. The lights are attached on with cable ties that you can get at any hardware store. As the plants grew I tightened the cable ties so the lights would rise up. You could also use a chain and hooks. I got my flats and cell inserts from Growers Supply. Growers Supply had the best bulk prices and their customer service was fantastic. I would recommend them to anyone who needs bulk seed starting supplies. The shelves can fit 4 flats on them. The flats do hang over the shelf a bit, but I have never had any trouble with the flats hanging over the edge a bit. I underwater the plants (meaning I put the water in the flat under the cells.) I have found this to be most efficient method for watering the plants. I do use the floor as one of my shelves so I can get a full six shelves worth of plants started at once. The top shelf is usually used for storage of any extra supplies that I have on hand.

I still use the same seed starting mix that I have used in the past. The mix still works well after all of these years, so I do not see the need to change things up when nothing is broken. I do not cover most of my seeds with plastic anymore. In the past, I always covered my plants with plastic to increase the humidity, but I no longer do this because I had some trouble with damping off, a catch all term for fungal diseases that little sprouts are susceptible to during the beginning stages of life. The only cells that I cover now are the ones with plants that take a long time to germinate. I have found when I set up a large system like the one pictured above that the humidity of the room increases just because of all the plants in the room.

I hope this photo has inspired you to build your own seed starting rig in your house. None of the links above are affiliate links. I am not affiliated with any of the links above. I have had a lot of questions on how I set up my seed starting racks and where I got the supplies from, so I linked up to places where you can purchase supplies for this project.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

How to Grow King Stropharia (Wine Cap Mushrooms) In Full Shade Where Vegetables Will Not Grow

I have a spot of full shade under my deck. I have tried growing vegetables and shade loving wild flower mixes under the deck multiple times. At best I have grown a few puny lettuce heads towards the end of the deck. I love having a deck for our grill, but I hated wasting precious land! Then, it occurred to me that maybe I could grow mushrooms under there. Upon further research, I learned that wine cap mushrooms or King of Stopharia will grow in full shade and a bed of wood chips. I inoculated the wood chips in spring, and 4 months later I had my first crop of mushrooms from a location that was previously dead space! With any luck the mushrooms will produce again next year. I am excited and optimistic about this new garden project going on in my yard. My mushroom plot is approximately 4 ft by 6 ft. As it turns out under my deck is a great place to grow the mushrooms because there is no direct contact with sunlight, the area is not windy, and the space under my deck is humid. This makes for the perfect environment for mushrooms!

I noticed that I get a crop of mushrooms when my weather is chilly and wet. I notice a nice uptick in mushrooms two days after a hard rainstorm. King of Stropharia mushrooms are easy to identify within your mushroom patch. When they young, the caps are round, redish, and can be speckled. As they grow up, the mushrooms turn brown. The gills on the underside are charcoal gray. The stems of mature mushrooms will have remnants of partial veil called an annulus that looks like a king's crown. I harvest my wine cap mushrooms when the mushroom moves from a rounded top to a flat top. Over time, new mushroom species will move into your patch, so you much know how to identify the mushrooms properly. This page has a nice diagram of the parts of a mushroom.  This video shows how to identify King of Stropharia mushrooms in your patch, as well, for those that prefer video.

Wine cap mushrooms must be eaten cooked. The first time you try the mushroom, try just a small piece because a small percentage of the population can have a terrible reaction to the mushroom. I liked the mushrooms sauteed with a little olive oil. They make great pizza toppings. You can freeze the mushrooms by sauteing then flash freezing on a cookie sheet. Once the mushroom pieces are frozen, you can move them to another container for longer term storage. The flavor and texture remind me a lot of portobello mushrooms, mild and a bit earthy and a touch chewy. The mushrooms are a bit delicate to clean, so you do not want to put them under running water. To clean my mushrooms I brush off any dirt with my fingers or a small paint brush.

You can build a mushroom patch in fall or spring, but you want to make sure your patch has plenty of time to establish itself before the ground starts freezing. I set up my mushroom patch after all danger of frost had past in Spring.

The perfect spot for you mushroom patch is:

1. In a shady location. Your mushroom patch does not want to be in direct contact with the sun.

2. In a humid location with access to water. Our deck gets enough rain water that drizzle down in between the wood plants to make my patch happy and productive.

3. Not in a windy location.

4. A place that you visit frequently but do not walk upon. You do not want to accidentally crush young mushrooms.

How to set up your mushroom patch:

1. Remove any vegetation from your mushroom patch. Wine Cap Mushrooms do not like to grow with plants.

2. Lay down a nice 2 inch layer of hardwood chips. Make sure that the wood chips are not sprayed or colored with anything. I used a mixture of sizes from chunks to small pieces.

3. Water the hardwood chips. Make sure all the chips get moist.

4. Spread the damp inoculate all over the wood chips.

5. Add another layer of wood chips and water again.

6. Water your patch every few days if you are not getting enough rain. I live in zone 5a, and I did not water my patch at all this spring or summer. However, we had a very rainy and cool summer.

How to know if your inoculate worked:

After a few weeks, lift up some of the top layer of the wood chips. It should look like little white strings are running all over the wood chips.

In 4-12 months you will get mushrooms!

Do you grow mushrooms? If you do, tell me about your experience.

Where to buy King of Stropharia spawn (spawn is any substance inoculated with mycelium):

Field and Forest Products
Everything Mushrooms
Bountiful Gardens (this where I bought my spawn)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Peach Rosemary White Wine Jelly

This is a sponsored post from which is a community-oriented endeavor of the Northwest cherry growers and soft fruit growers of Washington state aimed at promoting home preservation of Northwest grown stone fruits. is a great website canning recipes, information on the health benefits of stone fruits, and tips on buying the buying the perfect fruit. One of my favorite features on the site is a preservation party page with music suggestions for a canning party and a page full of canning jar labels to help you keep your jars labeled and organized.

Locally we had another year of scarce peaches which bums me out, but we still have a beautiful Washington peaches to fall back on when local crops fail. The peaches I received from Washington were gorgeous. Each peach cut up produced approximately 1 cup of cut up peaches. These peaches were sweet, juicy, and delicious. They were free stone peaches, so they fell off the pit easily.

This year I decided to make a jelly from the peaches using some rosemary and white wine that I had on hand for a unique combination that you can never find in the grocery store jelly section. The jelly turned out to be a beautiful tangerine color because I decided to keep the peels on the fruit to speed up the jelly making process. The rosemary added some nice piney undertones to the jelly that was unexpected and delicious. The dry white wine complimented the sweet peach flavor perfectly. This jelly is perfect on an English muffin.

Ingredients makes 6 pints

10 cups (1800 g) of peaches cut into chunks (about 10 peaches)
6 cups water
2 sprigs rosemary
6 tbsp bottled lemon juice
7 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup dry white wine
8 tbsp powdered pectin


1. Place the peaches, water, and rosemary in a large sauce pot. Bring the pot to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes. The fruit should be soft and fall apart easily.
2. Strain the fruit and rosemary out of the juice. You can do this with a jelly bag found at the grocery store canning section or with a fine mesh sieve and cheese cloth.
3. Add the juice, lemon juice, and pectin to a clean large sauce pot. Bring the mixture to a boil while stirring. Add the sugar to the mixture while stirring. Boil hard for 1 minute. Add the white wine and boil hard again for 1 minute.
4. Ladle the jelly into hot, sterile jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace.
5. Adjust two piece caps until finger tip tight.
6. Process in a boiling water caner for 10 minutes for half pints and 15 minutes for pint jars.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Drying Peas Three Ways With and Without a Dehydrator

We have been having a very mild summer here this year, so we are just now finishing up our pea crop in July! We have been bringing in bowls full of peas to freeze and blanch. However, towards the end of pea season we start switching to drying peas to put in soups and to seed save for next year. I have been growing some beautiful heirloom purple and yellow peas that I wanted to seed save for next year. The yellow pod peas (Golden Sweet) are the best peas I have ever tasted!

To dry my peas, I either leave them in the pod and allow them to air dry in a cool dark place or I place them in my dehydrator. Dehydrating is not every exact like canning. Canning is very exact. When the directions say to process for 10 minutes, you process for 10 minutes not 8 minutes or 12 minutes. When you dry food, the amount of time needed depends upon how much moisture is in the food and how much moisture is in the air. My peas air dried in 3 days, but yours might take 2 or they might take 5. If you live in a very humid area, then you will need to take care to place your peas in an area without a lot of humidity. Basically, you just have to learn by trial and error. The peas are ready to removed from their pods and stored in an air tight container when the pods make a crackle noise when you press on them. They should be crunchy. When you break open the pods to remove the peas, you should not feel any moisture left in the pods. For seed saving, I only use air drying methods since adding heat will affect the germination of my peas next year.

If you have lots of extra garden space, you could just let your peas dry on the vine. I am usually impatient and want to plant something in their place long before the vines dry out, but that is an option if you have ample garden space. Simply let the vines and pods dry out until brown and crunchy. Then you can remove the peas from their pods and save them in an air tight container. 

To dehydrate my peas in a dehydrator, I use an Excalibur dehydrator. According to the book, Dehydrator Bible by Jennifer MacKenzie, Jav Nutt, and Don Mercer peas should be dehydrated at 130 degrees for 8 to 10 hours F after a 3 minute blanching period. According the manufacture's instructions for my dehydrator, vegetables should be dehydrated at 125 degrees F, so I use this setting for my peas, and I have had wonderful results using this temperature in my dehydrator. I would recommend using the temperature recommended by the manufacturer of your dehydrator over outside advice for your first time dehydrating. I do blanch my peas before dehydrating in a dehydrator. Blanching kills off any enzymes in the peas that will cause the peas to break down over time. In a dehydrator, my peas take 8 hours. At the end of the dehydration period my peas are slightly shriveled and brittle when cut open. If you take a handful of dehydrated peas in your hand and shake your hand, then it sounds like a handful of little pebbles rattling around inside in your hand. I have also found that some varieties of peas shrivel more than others when dehydrated due to differing water content of different types peas. For example, my Blue Podded peas shrivel much less than the Golden Sweet peas.

Directions for Air Drying Peas not on the vine

1. Place the pods on a single layer on a cookie sheet or plate. Paper plates do not work well for drying because they hold moisture which can cause your peas to mold during the drying process. 
2. Place the peas in a cool dry place until dry.
3. Drying can take anywhere from 48 hours to 1 week.
4. Store dried peas in an air tight container.

Directions for Air Drying Peas on the vine

1. Leave the peas on their vines in the garden.
2. When the vines and pods turn brown and crunchy, harvest the dried peas and store in an air tight container.

Directions for Drying Peas in a Dehydrator

1. Remove the peas from the pods.
2. Bring a pot of water to a hard boil.
3. Submerge the peas in the boiling water for 3 minutes. Do not start timing the peas in the boiling water until the water is boiling again. Ideally, your pot should be hot enough that the boiling only stops for a few seconds before resuming. If you are having trouble getting the pot to go back to a boil quickly, then try small batches of peas.
4. Submerge the peas in a bowl of ice water to stop the boiling. The peas should remain in the ice water until cool, about 3 minutes.
5. Drain the peas from the water and place in a single layer in your dehydrator.
6. Dehydrate the peas at 125 degrees F or the temperature recommended by your dehydrator.
7. After 8 hours check on the peas. They should be wrinkly and brittle when cut. If they peas are still too moist, then place back in the dehydrator for another 1 hour.
8. Check the peas hourly until they are done.

Cooking with dried peas

1. Rinse the dried peas and soak for 6 hours before cooking.
2. Dried peas will burst and make a puree when cooked. This makes a lush silky soup. The exact amount of time of cooking will depend on recipe.


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