Archive for April, 2012

Drinking & Staking: Just Say NO

Apparently, the elation of Oakstone’s victory at the cook-off, coupled with the excitement of my successful and tasty first batch of home-brew, prompted me to have one too many West Coast Pale Ales?!

Case in point, staking system number two — the one on the left. 😦

EarthBox Staking Systems

The Left Is Wrong, The Right Is Right

I take this personally and hold only myself accountable. Jake bailed on helping me for the evening before I added the netting to the second one. I have only myself to blame. For the life of me, I couldn’t get the netting to fit. It’s like it didn’t stretch all the way across! The netting is rectangular in shape so there’s only one way it can go.

So, I asked Jake, “What did we do on the first one that I didn’t do on the second one?!”

He said, rather glibly, “You didn’t start it right.”

“Jake, there was nothing I could do. It didn’t fit.”

He scoffed, “Yeah! Because you didn’t start it right!”

Uh huhhh…. Whatever. I surely did enjoy those West Coast Pale Ales. Oh, and that reminds me… HeatherJ, I’m going to post about the process for your brother-in-law. I thank you for your interest!!

It’s a beautiful day so we decide to walk over to the office to see if the replacement for the “dead” grape has arrived yet, and then hit some tennis balls.  That will cheer me up. I cannot be deterred by a little faulty netting — although self-doubt is trying to creep its way into the corners of my psyche. I know I gave it my all last night. That netting didn’t fit!

We stop to appreciate the sunlight cast across the lily pads in the fish pond next to the office and all of its surrounding beauty.

lily pads on the fish pond

Lily Pads On An Ornamental Fish Pond
Birmingham, AL

Anyway, I know it’s Sunday, but I’m hoping there may be someone different in the office who can locate the replacement grape from Gurney’s. There is. According to the pink slip in my mailbox, it was delivered via USPS on Friday and was left with the office manager. However, when this new person looks, she can’t find it either. She said that she accepted the packages Friday, but doesn’t remember one for me. She advised checking back tomorrow. Another strike. Okie dokie then.

Hitting tennis balls with Jake was great, and always as I hoped it would progress. We can actually have a rally now! Before I know it, he’ll be acing me on his serve, little bugger. It’s amazing how quickly little boys become big boys, and how much we love ’em along the way.

So, at the end of the day, I feel better about the staking system. In the grand scheme of things, it’s really not that important.

To Mother Earth,

Heather's Homegrown Signature

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Happy Earth Day!

First off, I want to give a shout out to my peeps, Jonathan, Heather, Darren, and Michelle. Thank you for following Heather’s Homegrown. I soooo appreciate you!!

I’m writing today to wish you a happy Earth Day. I hope everyone takes a moment to appreciate the amazing planet upon which we reside. Plant something, rescue a chameleon from your cat’s mouth, hug a tree. It certainly is a beautiful day in Birmingham, Ala., and I’m happy to say that many beneficial and positive events have transpired since my last post.

On April 14th, I spent much of the day with Jake volunteering our time at a fundraiser for Girls, Inc. in Linn Park. It was a long, productive, and rewarding day starting with the second annual Cajun Cook-Off. I’m not ashamed to say our team’s vittles, Crawfish and Shrimp Po’ Boys, practically had a cult following by the end of the day. (Not bad for 3 Yankees, a Creole, and a trooper of a woman from Georgia named Kristi.)

I’m really proud of how the team did and I am compelled to share some footage.  You need to know, I wasn’t a cook (I wasn’t even allowed to touch the food according to the cook-off rules); I was a “consultant,” historian, and the Fran Drescher-esque laugh behind the video camera. I’m hoping the team doesn’t get mad at me for posting these videos and photos. One dude, who shall remain nameless, only wanted his hands in the video, hence the faceless-neighbor-from-Home-Improvement element. If you catch him, it’s because he leaned into the camera. However, I’m not thinking this will go viral so I feel our identities are safe.  😉

This first video is the cooking team in the initial phases of prototype creation, which we did on the Thursday evening before Saturday’s cook-off. The team had a ton to accomplish in a few short hours, including attempting to assemble a fish fryer after a long day at work and the grocery store. We decided to develop two recipes and three different versions, and then settle on a prototype for Saturday.

Our entry had to be something that could be cooked and assembled outside under a tent. No advance prep allowed! It was quite a daunting task to undertake and I am extremely proud of the team, which was headed up by my friend and colleague, Marianne. By the end of the evening, I felt as if I’d been baptized with these folks. Dipped in the river. Little did we know how much the hard work would pay off, which is always rewarding in retrospect.

Anyway, in this next video, Marianne and Kristi explain the two different breading methods and recipes used.

The fish fryer was a pain to assemble and the gas grill promptly ran out of propane, so we moved the frying indoors.

Heating Up The Oil

The Hands Preparing For Frying

Assembling The Prototype

Assembling The Prototype

Long story short, we ended up falling in love with the first version we tasted, and not just because we were famished by that time of night. I cannot disclose the secret recipe, but it was a combo of ideas and techniques, which was adapted to become The MudBuggers own unique recipe. In my humble opinion, The MudBuggers Crawfish & Shrimp Po’ Boy was phenomenal.

On the day of the event, it was pretty obvious it was. We had a continuous line all day long. People even asked us where we were “located” – as if we had a restaurant! LOL

How’d we do in the cook-off?!

No less than Second Place in the Judges Choice Cajun Open category.

Here’s  a partial representation of the Oakstone Publishing MudBuggers – those who remained to attend the award ceremony. The four chefs are pictured front and center; our new, (and very cool) CEO is in the back center; and various and sundry esteemed colleagues scattered about.  🙂

cajun cook-off 2nd place judges choice with Crawfish & Shrimp Po'Boy

Oakstone Publishing MudBuggers
2nd Place, Judges Choice: Cajun Open Category
Entry - Crawfish & Shrimp Po'Boys

I had planned to continue with the rest of the day and tell you about the garden, which is the reason for this blog in the first place, but I have to run and stop the pitching process on a batch of homebrew I’m making in the here and now. My next post, entitled ‘Stake and Ale’ will be forthcoming.

Again, thank you followers and happy Earth Day!

I leave you with this:

life

Life

To Mother Earth,

Heather's Homegrown Signature

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Stake and Ale

So me and Jake drove home from the Girls, Inc. 2nd Annual Cajun Cook-off, weary…

cajun cook-off 2nd place judges choice with Crawfish & Shrimp Po'Boy

Oakstone Publishing MudBuggers, 2nd Place, Judges Choice – Crawfish & Shrimp Po’ Boys

..but WINNING.

It just goes to show what good, hard work, perseverance, and a positive attitude will get you. Now, it’s on to the next event. Thankfully, we can stay home for this one because we’re tired, thirsty, and in need of refreshment.

Much to my delight and wonderment, at the end of my last post, I left you with this:

life

Life 🙂

I had convinced myself it was dead.

So, with Gurney’s replacement (thanks again Gurney’s), I’ll now have three grapevines growing. Surely, that’ll be enough to make wine? Oh, which reminds me… I have a naysayer. Hard to believe, I know.

Of all people, Mum read my blog and chuckled incredulously at the prospect of me growing grapes in a box on my balcony.

She laughed, “Grapes take three years to get established. And even then, you have to grow them in the ground!”

She elaborated, “Don’t you remember when Martin chopped down one of the grapevines when we lived in Connecticut? And, how upset we were?!”

Seven years my senior, Martin is my brother and only sibling. I remembered.

The pitch rising in her voice, she explained, “We couldn’t figure out how he did it?! He was using the push mower for goodness sake!”

Apparently, my parents deduced that he blatantly and egregiously committed herbicide so he could get out of mowing the lawn henceforth.

Yeah. That sounds about right.

Undaunted (and a firm believer in miracles), I sensed it was time to assemble and install the EarthBox staking systems in the boxes containing the grapes. In fact, I sensed “The Stick” would be teaming with life before long and growing, growing, growing. Might as well get her started right, growing up the staking system.

But, first? Thirst.

I am thrilled to announce that I twisted the cap off my first ever batch of home-brewed beer that fine day! It took a month from start to finish, and I had been dying to see if it was carbonated, and how it tasted.

pouring beer

Pouring: West Coast Pale Ale

Nice pour. Good head. Lovin’ the bubbles.

west coast pale ale

Admiring: West Coast Pale Ale
My first bottle of homebrew ever!!

OMG, it was Heaven in a glass. And not just because I was “starving of thirst,” as my youngest, Chuck, would say. And not just because I’d made it myself, although that did give me a huge feeling of accomplishment. It really tasted great! Please leave a comment if you are interested in knowing how to do this yourself, and I’ll blog about it. After this batch, I’m going to make a batch of Bewitched Red Ale. Just so you know, one batch produces 8 – 1.5 liter bottles.

So, I sipped my beer, read the instructions, assembled away like an eager beaver, and completed the first staking system — one down, one to go. I think I may have made a mistake in the top part of the assembly, but it worked nevertheless, so I rolled with it (plus, I couldn’t get the pieces apart again — Doh!)

assembled EarthBox staking system

EarthBox Staking System Assembled
(Somewhat Properly)

Good job, Heather’s Homegrown! Grow little grapes! Grow like there’s no tomorrow! And, now it’s on to staking system number two.

But, first? I think I deserve another beer for a job well done. Maybe two…  😛

To Mother Earth,

Heather's Homegrown Signature

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OMG (Oh, My Grape)! Me Thinks There Is Life In There

Well, my bébés survived the cold. Thank you, Mother Earth.

I don’t think it ever got below 43 degrees, and it was back in the 70s the next day and sunny. I received  confirmation that Gurney’s shipped the replacement for “The Stick,” and  Murphy’s Law: The day after that, what to my wondering eyes should appear? Buds. At least, I think they’re buds. It may just be wishful thinking on my part.

The stevia plant is definitely a goner.

early plantings

Can It Be? Is "The Stick" (gulp) Budding?!

I guess only time will tell.  In the meantime, you tell me. Feel free to leave me a comment. Does this look life-bearing to you? Here’s a close-up:

grape buds

LIFE?!

Perhaps planting it almost directly in the fertilizer didn’t burn it’s roots? Perhaps it is viable after all?! Gurney’s, I apologize; I’m pretty sure I owe you one.

In the meantime, I’m going to go check out the definition of self-pollination.  I know what pollination is, of course, and cross-pollination, but not self-pollination. I didn’t even know there was such a thing. Sounds kinda kinky!  😉

To Mother Earth,

Heather's Homegrown Signature

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The Librarian Who Couldn’t Read

There once was a librarian who couldn’t read. And, because she couldn’t read she made an egregious  error – not once, or twice, but three times. Me thinks she couldn’t see the forest for the trees, poor thing. What I do know is this. She owes Gurney’s a HUGE thank you for being so great about replacing the grape and stevia that bit the dirt. And, she should thank her lucky stars that there are any signs of life on her balcony at all.

I’m not beating myself up [as I’ve already forgiven myself] for my major faux pas, but I really am lucky. I planted the plants directly in the fertilizer! I know better than that! What’s worse is I experienced that same brain fart not once, but thrice. I know! It was the euphoria of EarthBox container gardening that got to me. I really do think so.

The last steps when setting up your container garden are to 1) plant the plants and 2) add the last batch of moist growing media, creating a 2-inch mound on the top of the box. Before you plant the plants, you have to decide where to put the fertilizer. I followed the directions and placed it as pictured on the EarthBox diagram – in a trough straight down the center.  It wasn’t until I planted the tomato and pepper plants that I realized my mistake. Since they are smaller and there are more of them, it’s okay to put the fertilizer down the middle because the plants go around the edges of the box. For the first three boxes, I planted the plants straight on top of the fertilizer trough, which had been filled in with a dirt. But still — OUCH. And, I can’t blame the instructions. They were fine.

No wonder “The Stick” of grape springest forth no life,  and the puny, half dead stevia plant bit the dirt altogether. Turns out, most likely, the dirt bit the plant. So, Gurney’s, thank you for your patience and understanding as I get the hang of this EarthBoxing thang.

After planting the tomatoes and jalapenos, I had to race off to my eldest son’s baseball game. No time for pics even. While at the ballpark, I felt a marked dip in the temperature. I didn’t have a jacket and it got downright chilly. Driving home, I heard on the radio it’s supposed to get down into the 30s tonight.

Oh, now, that’s just lovely.

frost covers for plants

Brrrr! Warm dreams, Bébés.

To Mother Earth,

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Wanted: Alive or Alive

Does this look right to you?!

dead stevia

(From Right To Left) Sweet Live Stevia, "The Stick", and Bitter Dead Stevia

Okay, so I’m pretty sure even Step #6 in the Gurney’s Grow It Guide (a.k.a. “Keep watering!”) won’t help this one:

Dead stevia plant

Bring Out Yer Dead!

Sadly, this little guy came out of the box like that. I don’t even know why I bothered to plant it. I guess that’s  my optimistic nature. Fortunately, I sent Gurney’s a picture  and the next thing I know, I receive an email confirming shipment of a new stevia plant. I didn’t even have to ask them to. Good ol’ Gurney’s! You guys got my vote! So, there’s a new grape and a new stevia en route as I write this post.

It’s probably advantageous that I rethink the plant placement this time around as I purchased a few staking systems when I bought the EarthBoxes and it will most likely be better if I have the grapes planted together in the same box. But, of course, who am I to know? This is experimental gardening. Educated guess gardening.

So, that’s where I stand at the moment. Stay tuned because the Roma tomato and Popper Whopper jalapeno plants will be arriving any second now. 🙂

To Mother Earth,

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Step 6: Keep Watering! To The Rescue

Thank goodness some more of the plants arrived from Gurney’s yesterday. Because if they hadn’t, I would not have seen the handy little guide that Gurney’s sends with all of its orders. I haven’t heard back from Gurney’s customer service, but I don’t need to now, thanks to the guide. So, Gurney’s, if you’re reading my blog (and I hope you subscribe), you don’t have to answer my email. THIS answered my question and eased my concerns:

Step 6 keep watering

Gurney’s GROW • IT • GUIDE
Easy Steps to Planting Nursery Stock

So, I’ll keep my faith in “The Stick” and pray it goes from this:

the stick

“The Stick”

To this:

seedless pink reliance grapes

Seedless Pink Reliance Grapes

Grow on, little stick. May the force be with you.

I’m happy to report that the Dwarf Tophat blueberry bush arrived yesterday along with the… mystery plants! Check it out. Time to soak for a couple hours, and then plant.

Blueberry and Mystery Plant

And The Mystery Plant Is….

Okay, so that’s the blueberry on the the left soaking. The plants soaking on the right are…

Here’s a hint, 300 times sweeter than sugar. I plan to start them outside now and bring them inside during the winter, if necessary. The leaves are sweetest when mature and temperatures are around 60 degrees F.

So, the mystery plants are…

You guessed it, Stevia plants, the natural sugar substitute.

The sweetener is best extracted by soaking the dried leaves in boiling water, squeezing them dry and removing them. The liquid can be stored in refrigerator and used as needed. The dried leaves are approximately 10 times as sweet as an equivalent weight of sugar (1/2 gram of dried leaves equals 5 grams of sugar).

According to Gurney’s, “it can be used in baking and to sweeten hot liquid such as coffee or tea—just chewing a few leaves is sure to knock out the worst sugar craving!”  Plus, and this precisely why I decided to grow it (after making sure it could be grown in zone 7), Stevia is a powerful antioxidant, which means it fights against cancer, as well as, the signs of aging!! Heck yah!!

I also decided to grow stevia because I read an article that said stevia has been used for centuries as a sweetener in Japan and many other countries around the world, but the FDA opposed its use in the United States because of big business and the competition it posed to the artificial sweetener industry, aspartame in particular.

The ban has since been lifted, but the stuff available at the grocery store (the white powder in the green bag that says Stevia on it) is an artificial “natural” sugar substitute; and I want natural natural sugar substitute. Plus, as the daughter of a self-employed portrait artist, when it comes to big business I’m all for giving the little guy a leg up.

Speaking of a leg up, the apartment complex facelift activities came to a halt for the day right smack at my balcony complete with scaffolding and a rudimentary pulley system. I must admit, it’s a bit tempting to go for a swing.

facelift scaffolding

Facelift Scaffolding Goes To Bed Outside My Door

But, it’s getting late and the plants have soaked enough, so it’s time to plant. In the next post, I’ll show you what the mystery plant looks like. They’re still in the box, so I don’t even know what they look like yet.  Oh, and just as I assured you in my very first blog post, the mystery plants are totally legal.

In 1995, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act forced the FDA to permit the use of Stevia (as a dietary supplement only, not a food additive). And, in 2008, the FDA “gave no objection” to Coca Cola and Pepsi for use in their carbonated beverage products.

So, see? Perfectly legal. Now.

To Mother Earth,

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