Save Seeds…Save Life…Spread Some Beauty

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the critical importance of SEEDS.  It’s not something we think much about, but our very lives depend on seeds.  Without them, we have no food.  And we all know how important food is.  If you hold seeds in your hand…you hold life.  Monsanto and other companies hold patents on seeds.  Think about this: THEY CAN CONTROL THE WORLD’S FOOD.  If we want to ensure biodiversity and ample food for future generations, we need to preserve seeds and all the abundant varieties of foods they represent.  How can we do it?

Saving seeds was common practice for our ancestors, to ensure that there would be food even during lean times.  As mechanization and hybridization took over farming in the 20th Century, the practice was lost….but thankfully, not forgotten.

SEED BANKS are popping up in an unusual place…your local library.  There are more than 600 seed libraries in North America.  These collections will provide a free packet of seeds, information on gardening and seed saving techniques.  SEED SAVERS is responsible for much of today’s seed library stock.  It has 25,000 varieties – many of them rare or exclusive – dating before WWII. These seeds belong in the public domain and cannot be patented. The goal is to get these seeds into as many people’s hands as possible.  Why not visit your local library and plant some seeds?

For more information on this important program visit: http://www.seedsavers.org

http://www.libraryseedbank.info

You can spread some beauty in your own backyard by making some wildflower SEED BOMBS. 

http://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Seed-Bomb

For more garden crafts visit:  http://www.redtedart.com/garden-crafts-challenge-get-crafty/

Shiela Fuller Gets Corn-Y.

CORN FOR ALL SEASONS:  by Shiela Fuller

Originally cultivated in Mexico, corn was transported back to European countries by early explorers.  It was a plant that had the ability to thrive in a variety of climates, turning corn into a versatile crop.

In the northeast, corn is planted in spring after the last frost for a mid-summer harvest, but corn, in its many forms is enjoyed year round.

img_9853SUMMER 

Purchase whole corn on the cob from local farm markets or roadside stands. Bring it home, boil the water while you husk the corn. Drop the whole cob in the rolling water for about 4 minutes.  Carefully remove, and smear with grass-fed butter.  The quicker the corn goes from field to pot, the sweeter it will taste as corn loses it sweetness over time.

There are so many fun corn recipes to try. Here are a few suggestions to google:

*Make homemade salsa.  So easy, especially with added peppers, onion, and tomatillo, all fresh from the farm market. Don’t forget the corn chips!

*Grate corn off the cob, saute, and add to pasta.

*Make creamed corn. I’m sure it’s better than canned.

*Grill corn in husks on a BBQ or open fire.

AUTUMN

By September, the farmers sometimes offer the entire corn stalk for sale.  Tie a bunch up with some twine and tie it securely to a post.  Add a pumpkin or some raked up leaves, and have an instant fall decoration.  You may also find a variety of multi colored, dried corn cobs, also called Indian corn, for hanging on a front door.   If there are young children at home, perhaps a craft making Indian corn with bubble wrap would appeal to them.   http://www.notimeforflashcards.com/2008/11/lend-me-your-ear.html

Autumn days are sometimes spectacular and a good way to enjoy weather is at a local corn maze. 

http://www.cornmaze.com/Pages/Corn%20Maze%20Cornfield%20Maze.aspx   The older kids will love running around and “getting lost”.

WINTER

With everyone at school or work, winter is the time to think about comfort foods and what is more comforting than old-fashioned corn bread cooked in a cast iron skillet.   In Crescent Dragonwagon’s book, The Cornbread Gospels, there is a fabulous recipe, Sylvia’s Ozark Cornbread, so easy, Dragonwagon states, “…you could eat it daily.”    

Popped corn is fun no matter the season but have you ever popped it on a stove? As an after school snack, it’s easy and clean-up is quick.  Tastier than microwave versions and healthier, too, popping corn is different than the variety eaten off the cob but easily purchased at any grocery store.  http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/perfect_popcorn/

After the popping is complete add your favorite topping such as butter, salt, tamari or grated cheese. 

SPRING

Spring is a time for renewal. The farmers are thinking about preparing their land to support the summer corn plot.  The seeds planted may have been saved from the previous year crop or purchased from a supplier. Each kernel on a cob of corn has the potential to be a new corn plant.  

Home gardeners can plant corn, too.  Browse the seed catalogs and choose heritage or heirloom varieties that will resist pests and require less need for chemicals of any sort.  In the catalogs you will also find useful information on the specifications of growing corn. You also can save seeds and learn more about it at www.seedsavers.org

https://kidsongs.com/lyrics/the-muffin-man.html/      Perhaps renew a time from your own past and share this traditional English nursery rhyme with the young children in your life.  And if you’re interested to know more about the muffin man and how he came about, read the Wikipedia article:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Muffin_Man

Dragonwagon, Crescent, and Andrea Wisnewski. The Cornbread Gospels. New York: Workman, 2007. Print.

Fun websites if kids are interested in learning more about corn:

http://kids.britannica.com/comptons/art-53137/At-the-top-of-a-mature-corn-plant-is-the

http://botany.about.com/od/PlantAnatomyAndMorphology/a/The-Anatomy-Of-Corn.htm

Johanna Staton, Me, Shiela Fuller at one of the NJSCBWI events.

Johanna Staton, Me, Shiela Fuller at one of the NJSCBWI events.

Got Tomatoes? Try Drying Them to Enjoy All Winter Long.

I don’t know about you, but as fall arrives, I’m still harvesting tomatoes from my garden.  If you have an abundance of tomatoes still available, why not try drying them to preserve that wonderful sweetness all winter long?  Today, artist, mom, writer, and blog follower  TERESA ROBESON gives us step by step instructions for doing just that.  Here’s Teresa:

Making your own dried tomatoes is so easy and produces a product that is tastier and far less expensive than what you can get at the store!  With a cutting board and some adult supervision, kids can help!

Some people use their ovens to dry tomatoes (directions for that method will follow), but we bought a dehydrator about 20 years ago and it has paid for itself many times over. Hubby did some research and found the Excalibur to be an excellent and reliable brand. We have not had any trouble with ours at all.                  DehydratorWhile you can dry just about any tomato, we have found that cherry or grape tomatoes are better for drying as they’re less watery and therefore dry faster. Any variety will do, but since hubby is not crazy about cloyingly sweet dried tomatoes (and the flavors intensify after all the moisture is gone), he doesn’t grow Super Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes anymore. These days, we grow a combination of less sweet cherries and grape tomatoes.

The dehydrator comes with 9 trays. We slice the cherry or grape tomatoes in half (or even quarters if they’re so large that they stick up too much and run into the tray above it) and space them out evenly on the trays.   Cuttingboard

Then we just slide the trays back into the slots…

…and set the temperature and time as advised by the instruction manual that comes with the dehydrator and let it do its thing.

Trays  Hubby likes to turn the trays around mid-way through drying as the fan is in the back, but sometimes we forget, and it’s been fine, too. Check it when it’s close to the end of the timed cycle; if it’s not at the dryness level you like, just add more time.

Here is the method by oven, shortened and adapted from “The America’s Test Kitchen D.I.Y. Cookbook”:

Adjust the oven racks to upper-middle and lower-middle positions. Preheat to 425F. Spray wire racks with veggie oil spray and set them in 2 rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

Toss cut up tomatoes with 1/2 cup olive oil. Place cut side down on prepared wire racks. Roast until skin is a bit wrinkly (20 minutes or so).

For dehydrating larger tomatoes, you can discard the skin and cook for 20-30 minutes more on 300 degrees before flipping over for 3-4 hours more until they’re visibly shrunken, dry and slightly dark around edges.

For smaller tomatoes, I’d just turn the oven down to 300 and cook for 3-4 hours, checking on it every half hour to an hour to make sure they don’t burn.

After removing tomatoes from oven, let them cool to room temperature. Lightly pack them into a jar with tight fitting lids. Cover completely with olive oil and seal the lid. Can be stored in refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.   Or, store your dried tomatoes in baggies in the freezer until needed.

And here they are, the beauties!    To use, you can soak them in water or oil for however long it takes to get them to the softness that you want. Pretty easy, right? Beats paying $5 or more for a tiny jar with less than two ounces worth. Plus you know exactly who has handled your food and trust that it was grown and handled to your specifications.

Hope you’ll give it a try!
Dried

Teresa Robeson is a writer-artist with published illustrations and works of short stories, poetry, and nonfiction appearing in the SCBWI Bulletin, Ladybug, Babybug, and other magazines and anthologies. She lives on a small hobby homestead with her husband, two boys, and varying number of chickens. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest via the links her website: http://teresarobeson.com

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Teresa Robeson
writer, artist, illustrator
 teresarobeson@gmail.com | w:http://teresarobeson.com    photo(10)

Composting 101

This blog has had many posts celebrating Mother Nature and the outdoors, as well as recipes using the fruits and veggies grown in our gardens.  In an effort to reduce our carbon footprint and enrich the garden soil, here is the low down on starting a simple compost pile.  I’m not talking about anything time consuming or expensive to maintain. This is just a simple way to reduce household waste and provide you with free fertilizer for the garden.

There are three basic components to COMPOST: Browns: which include dead leaves, shredded newspaper, used coffee filters and wood chips; Greens: These include grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, egg shells and coffee grounds; and Water.  The interaction of these components with beneficial bacteria produce a nourishing substance that enriches the soil and improves your garden.   Using organic scraps that have not been sprayed with pesticides will ensure that your soil is in even better shape for growing food.  Avoid such things as meat and fish scraps or dairy items since they cause odors and attract pests.

You can collect the scraps in a small covered container you keep under the sink or on the counter. If you eat a lot of fresh veggies and fruit like I do, you will empty it into the compost bin several times a day.  I use a simple chicken wire cage that is set at the edge of the garden to corral the scraps. 

To get the basic idea on how to set up your own system and what proportion of ingredients to use, consult some online sites such as: http://www.EPA.gov   or    http://www.planetnatural.com

There are many options on how to collect and store scraps, so check out the sites for specifics.  There are even options for apartment dwellers using small patio containers that will produce enough compost to enrich your potted plants.

Chicken wire cage with vegetable and fruit scraps and grass clippings.

Chicken wire cage with vegetable and fruit scraps and grass clippings.

So why not give COMPOSTING a try?   Your garden will thank you by producing some delicious food and beautiful flowers. And, you’ll be minimizing your contribution to the local landfill.  Mother Earth will be proud!

How to Make Maple Syrup in the Woods by Marilyn Ostermiller

Discover How to Make Maple Syrup in the Woods by Marilyn Ostermiller

Here’s my writer friend Marilyn with an interesting post on how maple syrup is made.

Something magical is happening deep in the woods from now through mid-March throughout the Northeast and Upper Midwest. One special tree, the Sugar Maple, gives us a sweet, clear liquid that can be boiled down into maple syrup to enjoy over pancakes, waffles and French toast. Sap runs from the roots up through the trunk when the temperature reaches at least 40 degrees during the day, but still slips below freezing at night.
Legend has it Native Americans discovered how to extract the sweet treat from these trees. They were making it long before the Pilgrims arrived.
Many parks and nature centers offer hands-on demonstrations that are ideal for families. Even young children enjoy it.

They learn how easy it is to:

• Identify and tap maple trees
• Insert the correct spouts for the sap to drip out

A staffer at the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center in Chatham attaches a spout to a sugar maple tree so the sap can drip out. The demonstrations, which continue through March 8 attract a lot of families.

A staffer at the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center in Chatham attaches a spout to a sugar maple tree so the sap can drip out. The demonstrations, which continue through March 8 attract a lot of families.

• Collect it in a pail
• Use a wood-fired stove to boil the water out of the sap to create buttery smooth maple syrup
Before you go:
• Confirm the demonstration will be held as scheduled
• Dress for the weather. Wear warm clothing and waterproof boots
• Be prepared to be outdoors for at least an hour
• Plan to arrive at least 20 minutes before demonstration
• There is a charge for some demonstrations
• Check to find out whether advance registration required

Among the upcoming demonstrations scheduled in New Jersey:
• Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center, 247 Southern Boulevard, Chatham, N.J. Program Saturdays and Sundays through March 8, 2 p.m. Fee: $3. Call (973) 635-6629.
• Somerset County Environmental Education Center, 190 Lord Stirling Rd., Basking Ridge, NJ. Saturdays 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m.; Sundays at noon and 2 p.m. every weekend through March 15. Call (908) 766-2489.
• Howell Living History Farm, 70 Wooden’s Lane, Lambertville, NJ. Feb. 21, 28. tree tapping, 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m.; Sap gathering, noon, 2 p.m.; Sugar house open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call (609) 737-3299, http://www.howellfarm.com
• Tenafly Nature Center, 313 Hudson Ave., Tenafly, NJ. Sundays, through March 15, 12:30p.m., 2 p.m., 3:30 p.m. Members $5/Non-members $10 per person. Pancake Brunch and Maple Sugaring, March 22, 10:30 a.m., $10/$15 per person. Call (201) 568-6093, http://www.tenaflynaturecenter.org
• Nature Center at Washington Crossing State Park, 355 Washington Crossing Pennington Rd., Titusville, NJ. Saturdays and Sundays, through March 14, 1 p.m. Call (609) 737-0609,
• Lusscroft Farm Maple Sugarin’ Open House, 50 Nielsen Road and 4-H Trail, Wantage, N.J. March 14-15, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call (973) 22-4732 http://www.lusscroftfarm.com.

A volunteer at the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center in Chatham cooks the water out of sap over an outdoor cook stove until is becomes buttery smooth maple syrup.

A volunteer at the Great Swamp Outdoor Education Center in Chatham cooks the water out of sap over an outdoor cook stove until is becomes buttery smooth maple syrup.

Among the children’s books on maple sugaring, available online:

• “Sugaring” The story of how a young girl helps her grandfather collect sap from sugar maple trees from a Vermont farm to make maple syrup. It is 24-pages and likely to appeal to children from four to eight years old. Written by Jesse Haas, Illustrated by Jos. A. Smith, Published by Green Willow Books.

“A Day at the Sugar Camp”: This illustrated book for children four to eight years old tells of the tradition Woodland Native Americans had of returning each year, late in the winter, to their sugar camp to make maple syrup. Written by Jessica Deimer-Eaton, Published by the Woodland Indian Educational Programs.

This post was prepared by Marilyn Ostermiller, a long-time business journalist who has begun writing for children. You can follow her on Twitter @Marilyn_Suzanne.       Marilyn Ostermiller

Help Fight Hunger With These Service Projects.

On this day of honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, one of my own weekly service projects is working at a local food bank.  It’s no secret that many people here in the Land of Plenty often go to bed hungry.  One in five children struggle with hunger every day.  What can you do about it?

Besides donating canned goods to local food banks ( an important and wonderful thing to do!), here are some other ways you and your children can help.

1. Host a BAKE SALE with the proceeds going to: Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign  http://www.nokidhungry.org

2. A contribution to:  http://www.wholesomewave.org   provides fresh fruits and vegetables to underserved communities and helps support small and mid-sized farmers.

3. Buy items at the design store West Elm and support the hunger organization FEED.  Proceeds from many items go to local food projects. I bought two beaded bracelets for $36.00 and provided 10  school lunches for children in need.   http://www.feedprojects.com

4. Action Against Hunger   http://www.actionagainsthunger.org   helps feed more than 7 million people every year.   At this site you can choose from a variety of options, from $49.00 for a fishing kit, to $100.00 for a dairy goat.

5.  The site:  http://www.greatergood.com  facilitates donations to hunger programs such as Mercy Corps, Food Recovery Network and other agencies.  See how you can get involved.

Together, let’s make 2015 the year when no one in our great country goes hungry.

Celebrate…Tomatoes!

If your garden is anything like mine, there are still plenty of fresh tomatoes to enjoy before the chill of fall settles in. No garden?  Head out to your local produce stand and sample the heirloom varieties that are becoming popular. Why not have a simple TOMATO SALAD for lunch or dinner?     Eat them alone or with some crisp cucumber slices.

summer saladAdd just a drizzle of olive oil, salt and basil leaves (if desired).  I like it at room temperature to get the best flavor from the tomatoes.  You can also dice them and make a fresh SALSA by adding diced onion, diced green peppers (it’s up to you how hot you want them to be), and some chopped cilantro.

Celebrate nature’s bounty and enjoy TOMATOES!