The Results Are In!

We wanted to see which of three added fertilizers would result in more growth for our basil plants; a commercial powder, our own compost, and our own worm castings, with an a fourth basil plant with nothing added as a control.

Here is the ‘Nothing Added’ plant

The commercial powdered fertilizer.

The worm castings plant.

And above is the added compost one.

Hmm… Can’t tell the difference?

Well I figured out that the problem with my experiment was that as basil plants get bigger, you can’t help but want to make some pesto.

So the photos above are after I cut off the best leaves to use in my pesto. You’ll just have to take my word for it that the one with the added compost wins. All for the advancement of Science!

A gardening experiment

We’re experimenting with our basil this year. We eat a lot of pesto, and it usually costs something like $6 for a four ounce jar, so we’ve been growing our own. Homemade pesto is very inexpensive and any excess can be frozen too.

Basil tends to grow like a weed here, but I noticed that our plants have not been doing well so far this year. We have them in old kitty litter bins, to keep the dog from trampling them. It’s possible that the potting soil-dirt mix may just be played out, it’s been in the same bins for a few years now. So we’ve added some supplements to the bins to see which one helps the plants the most.

In this bin we have added some compost from our own compost bin. Decomposed fruit and vegetable peels and cores, grass clippings, leaves.

A commercial plant food. It’s a powder that is mixed with water.

Worm castings. We have a worm bin. C likes to say that he takes care of a thousand pets in addition to the dog. Possibly another post to come on that. The worms eat the same type of fruit and vegetable scraps that we have in the compost, they also eat paper, newspaper, and cardboard. We then gather up the finished castings.

And as a control, a bin with nothing added.

Each bin had about a quart of each supplement added to try to make sure each one is equal. Each one also receives about the same amount when we water them.

We’ll see what happens.

Vegetable Garden ‘18

Last year we had a plot in our town’s community garden area. We have a small yard and what do have planted will be trampled by our dog anyway so the community garden is a good option. We had been on the waiting list for about two years, and I had not planned anything ahead of time when they assigned us our plot in late May. So we had to rush to get seedlings in the ground and we just were not able to get much done in time, so by the end of the season we ended up with just some carrots and a few stalks of basil.

Once you’re in the garden you are automatically renewed unless you cancel so this year we were determined to plan ahead! Here’s what the garden looks like at the beginning of the season.

We have a 20 x 40 plot, located where the pile of garden tools are in the photo. In the distance are a group of guys playing cricket!

Here’s what it looks like now.

Several plots are in the photo, ours is the three rows in the center. The enormous cabbage in the foreground is C’s contribution, part of a school project. Whoever grows the biggest cabbage in his grade wins! I forget what the winner gets, but he’s determined to win.

Here’s our Brussels sprouts and swiss chard.

Here’s our zucchini.

Results are already much better than last year. We’re going to have more zucchini than we can eat. We’re already using it for zucchini bread.

Community Garden

After two years on the waiting list, we were awarded a plot in our town’s community garden area this Spring.  Even though we live in New Hampshire, we’re not in an area where the houses have large yards so we were looking forward to getting the extra space for a vegetable garden. 

We were informed about the garden plot very late Spring, so we weren’t very well prepared with seedlings ready or a well thought out plan.  We were then very much occupied by our dog, Scout, getting sick, so our garden plot does not have a very well tended appearance.  The garden area has at least two hundred plots.  Some people have been gardening there for many years, so they’ve had years to come up with the best plan for their area. 

Look at this one, for example.  Just look at the carefully planned rows of enormous vegetables and well tended paths with no weeds!   No, that’s not our garden. 

How about this one?  Don’t those cabbages look great!   No, not our garden.

This is our garden.  It’s close to 99% weeds with a row of carrots, a few beets, and some other random vegetables struggling through the jungle of weeds.

When talking to the other gardeners, I can’t help but feel a little self conscious in comparison.  Which plot is your’s? They will ask.  Ummm.. that one there, I’ll say.  Which is usually followed by a disapproving look and a ‘Oh, yes, I’ve seen that plot’ 

But within the weeds are the best carrots we’ve had..

and more basil than we can use…

With which we made chicken pesto with roasted carrots.  So it’s at least been worth it for the new recipes we’ll be trying. I had made pesto before, but this qualifies as new since it has both basil and carrot greens in it.  Roasting carrots is easy, but I’ve never tried cooking it, so that qualifies as new too.   I have this ambitious plan of trying a new recipe each week, so this would be recipes #1 and #2. 

Fixing the mixer

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that a project I’ve been meaning to get to is fixing my Mom’s old Kitchenaid mixer.

My Mother was going to throw it away because it was making a grinding sound and shaking when she used it.  I’d like to try to keep it out of the dump so I said that I would try to fix it.  It’s a forty year old machine, it probably weighs about twenty five pounds, and I doubt that newer models are as sturdy as this one. New models can cost about $500, so it could be worthwhile to try to fix it.

After doing some research, I found out that a common problem is that the gear lubricant can dry out, causing the gears to grind, eventually the motor will wear out if the old lubricant is not replaced. I bought some new lubricant, hoping that it wasn’t too late to save it.

The first thing to do is to knock out the pin that holds in the rotary. The little top pin, not the one on the stem below the spring. I almost knocked out that bottom pin, which would have been a big mistake as it’s very difficult to get back in.

Then you take off the rotary.

Then you remove all of those screws. I had to get some screw de-locker oil as those things didn’t want to budge after forty years. 

That brown gunk is dried out gear lubricant. 

I didn’t get a photo of the cleaned off gears as my hands were covered in that old gear goo.  The new lubricant cost $15.  The old screw de-lockenizer oil cost $2.50.

Then you put it all back together and check to see if that fixed it by mixing up a batch of chocolate chip cookies!

Whirrr!   Whirrrrr!   Good as new! 

Let’s bake some cookies!

Autumn Hill Orchard

We’re all out of the apples we bought recently, so it’s off to visit another orchard. You’d think that after living in New Hampshire for fifteen years, we would have visited all of the area orchards, but every year we find at least one that is new to us.  This year it’s Autumn Hill Orchard, about fifteen miles away in the town of Harvard, Massachusetts.

Autumn Hill is located on a steep hillside, with a great view of the White Mountains of New Hampshire off to the west.  That’s Mount Monadnock on the horizon below.  I’ll go off on a tangent about my iPhone camera – I’ve found that one of the limitations of this camera is that it isn’t so great for photos with a long distance perspective.  The view is really much more dramatic than it would appear in the photo below, but the iPhone seems to somehow flatten out distances or perhaps it just can’t provide as much detail to a photo at this distance.  It’s really great for portraits and middle distance, but not for long distance.  I really should use my other digital camera more often.


Here you can at least see the curve of the hill the orchard is on.  The soils of New England are so rocky that it’s amazing the early colonists could grow anything.  I think they found out quickly that the rocky hillsides are best used for orchards instead of vegetables.


Years ago, Ms. J visited Ireland and Scotland and had some apples of a variety that we just can not find anywhere in New England anymore.  There’s an orchard in far northern New Hampshire that used to grow it, but a few years ago a hard frost killed all of the trees of this variety.  Autumn Hill Orchards specializes in some of these hard to find varieties so we thought we’d try to find it here.

While we were walking around the orchard, I saw an elderly man walking with a little girl. He looked a bit confused.  We had a map of the orchard listing all of the varieties in the orchard so I asked him if he needed any help finding something.  It turned out that he had emigrated from England many years ago and he was looking for the same apple variety that we were.

Up and down the hill we walked, the owner of the orchard had placed signs in each row identifying the trees.  It would seem that the signs and the map would make if easy to find, but it still took us some time.  C and the girl, who was the man’s granddaughter, ran ahead of us and shouted that they had found it.  Cox Orange Pippin, here it is below.


Of course Ms. J was very happy to now have a source of this variety that’s fairly close to us. Our fellow Cox Orange Pippin searcher was also excited as well, we both quickly filled up our bags.


Here’s their version of the Empire apple.  It’s so dark that I thought it was a plum at first.



Once we had a bag filled with apples we went back to the barn to weigh them.

C was thrilled to use this antique scale to weight the apples.  There’s still time for more apples, I’m sure we’ll be back!






Fall Apples

It’s apple season here in New Hampshire,  and since Mr. C can eat two or three apples a day we always make a few trips to area orchards every Fall.  

Here are a couple of very old apple trees, they might be some of the oldest at the farm.

There’s always a lot of apples that drop to the ground before they can be picked. 

The farm’s chickens like to look for the worms in the fallen apples, or maybe they’re just eating the apples and not the bugs.

 These were just out of reach! I tried holding C up for him to grab them, but he’s getting a little too big for that now. I could only hold him up for a few seconds before I had to give up.

Recently, a local radio show interviewed a botanist who specializes in trees. The station asked listeners to post photos of their favorite tree to the station’s website. I meant to send in a photo of the tree below, but didn’t get to it in time.  It’s a huge old Maple in the apple orchard nearby. In a week or so the leaves on this tree will turn bright golden yellow and red before falling.  The drought we’ve been having will most likely mean that this year the colors won’t be as dramatic.  I’ll have to find a photo from a previous year and post it.

Apples and Mums at the farm stand.

The pumpkin patch. 

The farm cat.  The farmer tells me he’s a very good mouser.

Some of the apples we picked.  I think we have thirty or so apples, enough to last C a week or so!

Mr. C’s Cooking School

We’re lucky in that Mr. C is not picky about food at all, he eats everything, and he likes to cook too.  So something we’ve been trying to do is to come up with a new recipe a week to try, with Mr. C helping out with the cooking if possible.

The first recipe I thought we’d try is for fruit roll-ups.  Not very adventurous, just two ingredients, but I’ve never made it before so I wasn’t at all sure what would happen. All you have to do is put three cups of berries in a blender with two tablespoons of honey, blend it up until smooth. Then spread it out on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake in the oven for two to three hours at 300 degree F.  When you take it out of the oven you’re supposed to have a delicious treat that can be cut into thin chewy strips.

We only had two cups of berries, so we had to cut back on the recipe a bit. Into the blender they go. C is always happy to help if a blender is involved in the recipe, but will often forget to make sure the top is completely on. So after cleaning up the berries that went flying out the top of the blender, they were spread onto the cookie sheet.

One hour after being in the oven it’s still a watery goo spread thinly on the cookie sheet.

Two hours later, the blueberry goo is somewhat less watery, and now the kitchen smells really, really bad. Like a burnt blueberry muffin.

Three hours later, the blueberry goo is a bit less watery, and now the kitchen smells even worse, and it’s starting to get smoky.

Four hours later, the blueberry goo is even thinner, but it’s not at all sticking together at all.  And now the kitchen smells awful, and it is now filled with a blue haze.  I open the back door to air it out and scrape the rubbery sludge from the pan.

Here is the result:


Mr.C’s verdict:  “Tastes like a tire”

My verdict: ” I’m glad I only wasted two cups of berries on this.”

Mr. C’s involvement: 50%

My involvement: 50%

Did C have fun making it:  Any recipe involving a blender is fun.

Will we make it again:  Maybe in the Winter, when it’s not 90 degrees out, which only added to the heat in the kitchen.  I should probably add more honey or sugar to make it stickier.

Source:  “Cooking Class” by Deanna Cook, which is a fun cooking book for kids.  It’s not the fault of the book though,  I don’t think there’s a problem with the recipe, it was probably just something we did.  Into the trash can with you, vile blue tire goo.




Hickory Nuts


On our recent trip to an apple orchard here in New Hampshire we saw a few shagbark hickory trees mixed in with the apple trees. Shagbark hickories are normally found nowhere near New Hampshire. They are usually found much further south of here, sometime they can be found in New York, I could be wrong but as far as I know they are rarely found in New England.   So the trees stood out among the apples, and since it was a windy day the big heavy nuts were making a loud thunk sound as they fell from the trees.

Ms. J recently read a memoir about life on an Iowa farm during the 1930’s, ‘Little Heathens’ by Mildred Kalish. The Kalish family children would spend many long dark winter nights cracking open hickory nuts, which apparently taste like pecans.  They can be used in a variety of deserts and can be ground into a flour and used in pie crusts, or they can be eaten raw.  So we asked the owner of the orchard if we could gather up some of the nuts.   After getting the OK to go ahead and gather up as many as we’d like, Mr. C enthusiastically went to work.  The owner did say that we “had a lot of work to look forward to before you get to any of those nuts”, and we soon found out why hickory nuts are not a commercial nut crop.  We’re do it yourself types here, so we were up for the challenge.

From the photo above, you can see how big the husk of the nut is.  It’s thick, very hard, and will pop off the nut fairly easily.  The husk seems to be just about as hard as the hickory wood itself.  Mr. C tried to break some of the husks using a nut cracker and they refused to be broken or even damaged.  Within that husk is the much smaller and even harder nut.  Unopened, the nut is about the size of a hazelnut, and seems to be as hard as the hickory wood itself.  Hickory is often used in tool handles like hammers and shovels since it is so hard.

After all the nuts are out of the husks, they are then dunked in a deep bowl of water.  If any float, they have most likely been eaten by a worm and are discarded.  We only found a very small number of bad nuts, I think there were just seven floaters from the group in the strainer below.


A standard nut cracker will not work vey well on a hickory nut, so the best thing to use is a hammer. We used a small piece of polished granite to rest the nut on, while we hit the nuts with a small hammer, that just happened to have a hickory handle.


Since I am Mr. Safety the fear of seeing Mr. C hit his little fingers with a hammer made me want to make some kind of holder so he would not crush his fingers before turned seven.   So I drilled a small hole in a scrap piece of wood to hold the nut.  Even with the holder, I still could not watch Mr. C hit those nuts with the hammer, for fear of him hitting his fingers, so I had to leave the room while Ms. J supervised!


And here’s what an open nut looks like once it has been hit four or five times with a hammer.   No fingers were damaged in opening any nuts.

Now we have to get the nut out of the shell.  I looked and looked for a nut pick and could not find one, so we used a tiny screwdriver instead, the kind that are usually used on tiny computer parts.


Very rarely, you can get a nut half out of the shell in one complete piece.  Those are apparently called ‘perfectos’. Ms. J read about a restaurant in Boston that serves slices of pumpkin pie with a single perfecto hickory nut on top for $12.   In the pile of nuts from the strainer in the photo above, we managed to get two perfecto nuts.  “Perfecto!”  Mr. C shouted.


Most of the nuts came out in bits and pieces.  There are still a lot to crack, but here’s a few of the nuts from the cracked ones below. After all that work, how do they taste?   Just about the same as a pecan, so this was very worthwhile.  Now we have to make something with them!


Homemade Mozzarella Cheese



Part three of the new food resolution is our attempt to make homemade mozzarella cheese. We eat a lot of cheese, and mozzarella is a common ingredient in a lot of my recipes. So while not a new food, we had never tried to make it ourselves.

It is surprisingly easy to make your own cheese at home. The easiest kind to make is a fresh cheese like ricotta.  For ricotta, you need just whole milk, cream, and some lemon juice. Mozzarella is a bit more complicated and takes some specialized ingredients; rennet, and citric acid, some recipes for it will also call for calcium chloride as well.  It’s also a good idea to have a very good thermometer as well, such as a specialized candy thermometer.

Like so many of these new food adventures, when I say “we”, I really mean Ms. J.  I didn’t really do a whole lot in the making of the cheese, but I did track down the rennet, citric acid, and calcium chloride.

It turns out that finding a supplier of rennet is just about impossible here in New Hampshire.  No local store had it.  No gourmet food store, food making supply store, or even beer making supply store had it.  I tried our local organic food supermarket where I spoke with several people who had no idea what rennet was until I explained that it was an ingredient used in making cheese.  ‘Oh, ok, you should talk to Brian, he’s the cheese expert, I’ll go get him.’   Brian soon appears and explains that the best way to get rennet is to contact a local farmer to see if he has a sheep stomach available soon that he could give you. You then can make your own rennet at home from that sheep stomach.  How exactly you make the rennet I have no idea since I became a bit nauseous listening to Brian the cheese expert explain how to make rennet at home using some kind of giant sheep stomach grater, so I stopped listening to him after a few seconds.  We might be do it yourself food makers, but we’re not quite as hard core as Brian is.

I finally was able to find it on the internet.  Of course I should have just tried that to begin with, but even there it was not very easy to find.  I finally found it on a home sausage making ingredient website, which is where I found not just the rennet, but also the citric acid, and a lot of other very specialized stuff.  And yes, at some point we plan on making sausages too, so I went ahead and bought some of their sausage making ingredients as well.

I found all the ingredients before Christmas, so guess what Ms. J received as a gift ?  Nothing says ‘Merry Christmas’ like a bottle of rennet, thermophilic starter culture, citric acid, mesophilic starter culture, and calcium chloride!!

Anyway, I had little to do with the making of the cheese, I was occupied with shoveling snow, and then trying to fix the broken toilet supply line that conveniently broke during last week’s blizzard.  I do know that Mr. C had a great time helping to make the cheese since I at least heard Ms. J and Mr. C making the cheese as I tried in vain to fix the leaking pipe in the bathroom.  I had reached the limit of my do it yourself skills and had to call in the plumber on that one.    Once the cheese was made we had to decide how to use it.  In a lasagna, or some other dish ?  We couldn’t wait that long to eat it, so we just had it with slices of tomato and olive oil.  It was very good, with a much fresher taste than store bought cheese.  This new food gets a five star rating.

For a recipe, I would suggest checking out the book ‘Artisan Cheese Making at Home’ by Mary Karlin.   Or you can check out the best food blog I know:  Jovina Cooks Italian .   She writes in such detail that it helped to inspire us to try this to begin with, she really does make it look easy, as long as you can find that rennet.