recipe: growing grace farm’s kale chips

I love to hear my child exclaim “Yay!” when I announce I am making kale chips.  As thin and crispy as regular chips, we love to make these in the summer time.  Different kale will offer you different texture–needless to say, the thinner the kale, the less like a potato chip it will be.  We grow Vates kale and Russian kale for their hardiness, long season, and flavor.  They do make a thinner chip, however, which can almost melt in your mouth.

growing grace farm kale chipskale in dehydrator

ingredients:  raw kale washed and patted dry, olive oil, kosher salt, dehydrator

additional options–garlic salt or garlic powder, Italian or Greek seasoning (sometimes, I use Cavender’s)

In a large bowl, throw in 2-3 large handfuls of kale.  Pour olive oil in the cap or a teaspoon then drizzle over the kale.  Using tossing spoons or hands, toss the kale to distribute the oil.  Take a large pinch of kosher salt and sprinkle on the kale.  Toss again.

Place on dehydrator tray without much overlap (use as many trays as needed based on your dehydrator’s size).  Dry on vegetable setting for length of time that creates a crisp kale chip.  (Temps and times vary based on dehydrators.)

babying the berries–tips for springtime care

Two years ago, my out-of-control wineberry bushes began bullying my blueberry plants.  In an effort to call them off, I trimmed and tugged until the unruly characters ended up on their side of the garden patch.  A couple of months later, the birds and I enjoyed more berries than any of us could eat in one sitting.  I couldn’t believe the sheer number of them given the small area I had relegated them to.  For weeks on end, the juice stained our fingers as we grabbed handfuls coming and going to the car.

So, what are other ways you can baby your berry bushes?20130606-203950.jpg

  • In the Spring, pinch off the tops of the plants.  I can do this with gloves on–you’ll know where the tops are by looking for two things:  brighter green leaves that are smaller than others on the bush and the stems will be so tender you can literally pinch them off with your fingers
  • Berries like “deep” watering–make sure they get plenty of fluids in hot, dry weather.  Be careful, however, of oversoaking or having a lot of rain–they are prone to mold/rot.  I learned about it the hard way last year with all the rain we had.
  • As far as water retention, I also learned the hard way about too much mulch/compost around the base of the plants.  In a damp season, the roots cannot dry out properly and again, will mold/rot.
  • If space is limited, keep your berries trimmed to create bushier plants or build a vertical trellis for them to climb.
  • Cut out any dried, old canes (stems).
  • Berries love compost.  I usually sprinkle a shovelful around each base before winter.  We have a lot of trees as well so leaves offer a nice source of protection while allowing air around the base of the plant.
  • Prune only in Spring or Autumn.  My rule of thumb is cutting back plants (if needed) in Autumn then in Spring, clear away any dead branches/canes and pinching off the new growth tips at the top.
  • For new plants, especially blueberries, the first year may need to be spent establishing the plant–making all the bush’s energy to go into the plant itself and not berries.  Clip off any buds that form or flowers that blossom.

Most importantly, don’t forget the other reason berry growth is important–to provide nutrients for your fine feathered friends.  On our farm, we have intentionally planted wineberry canes in the woods near our bird feeders.  We don’t eat off these for they provide summer treats for the birds.  We know that it works because as we eat dinner on summer evenings, most of the birds in the neighborhood come to feast at our house.  It is just delightful!

10 ways to turn off the technology and turn on nature

With the advent of Spring, I thought this one might be appropriate to repost.  Happy Saturday~cameron

So last night, our Just Be women’s group met at the community garden at church for a night of prayer, fellowship, and laughter.  We started this garden a couple of months of ago, but it’s been slow to take shape given weather and time constraints.  Last night, we were determined to get weeds pulled and plants mulched.

Lucinda being loved on

Well, I couldn’t imagine leaving the Sisters at home in the guest bathroom all evening after being there all day so I decided to bring them to the garden.  Needless to say, when two boys under the age of 8 arrived, the Sisters took on their first playmates!

As I was hoeing around the tomatoes, I heard small voice say to his friend, “Ya know, when I bring my guinea pigs outside, they’re never like this!”  These two youngsters spent close to 2 hours chasing chickens, digging holes, and hoeing weeds.  Oh yeah, and they breathed fresh air, laughed their heads off, and probably, slept really, really good that night.

Why?

Because they were outside–outside enjoying the earth, outside learning about hens, outside making memories.

So how do we get kids to turn off the electronics and turn on nature?

  1. Plant a family garden–since I began my little farm, I have had more friends attempt gardens in their yards and noting that their kids really did have fun participating.  I spent one Saturday afternoon helping a mom and daughter build their first container bed.  At the end of the summer, the mom said that they didn’t necessarily harvest much, but it made for good conversation and valuable learning opportunities.
  2. Build a birdhouse–there are some ideas under my Thrifty Thursday projects, or you can find plans online, or you can go to your local hardware/craft store and buy a kit.  Not only is it a project than can include everyone (the carpenter, the artist, the naturalist), it will also be there to provide entertainment and discovery as long as you keep it filled.
  3. Raise a pet that needs to get outside (and I don’t mean placing a fish bowl out in the sun)–we actually inherited several pets from our yard who lived inside for some time then went back out into nature.  Animals are not only great opportunities for exercise, they can also be wonderful motivators for kids who are not “outdoorsy.”
  4. Fill a bug box or tadpole jar–doesn’t matter how dirty you get or how stinky something smells, bugs and tadpoles are preschoolers’ best friends.  Want to go bigger–find an old fish tank on Craigslist and create a terrarium which can bring the outdoors inside for winter months or rainy days.
  5. And speaking of rain, get out in it–splash in puddles, build creeks/dams, catch water in a rain barrel, measure the rainfall.  Kids will be totally amazed that you as an adult are going against the grain by playing out in the rain.
  6. Take a hike–make it even more of an adventure by having a list of 10 things they collect in a bag or look for on the trail.  Take paper and crayons and make rubbings or bring back items from the hike for crafts.
  7. Visit a new park, pond, lake, creek, arboretum, etc.–even in our most urban areas, green spaces are coming back “in style.”  When my daughter was little, she would say she was bored at our neighborhood park, but by golly, take her then park in the neighborhood over, and you’d thought we’d gone on vacation.  Often local greenspaces that are protected, such as a bird sanctuary, national forest or arboretum often have programs for families on the weekends that are free or at a minimal cost.
  8. Build a fort, treehouse or put up a tent–create “livable” spaces outside that gets are relegated to for play and hanging out instead of staying inside
  9. Go fishing–one of my most favorite memories is sitting at the lake with my dad fishing off a small wooden pier.  Now, I only had a stick from the yard with a string tied to it and a large earthworm on the end, but it wasn’t really about catching the fish–it was about sitting there with my dad.  Growing up, he taught me how to fish in the ocean, and we’d stand there together at dusk casting out beyond the waves.  My dad is not a sports fisherman–he only does it when he’s with us.  What a great opportunity for connection.
  10. Plant a tree–when I was young, I brought a maple seedling home from my friend’s house.  My parents let me plant it in a pot inside until it actually sprouted, then we put it in the ground in our yard.  Even as a pre-teen, I watched that tree grow, providing colorful leaves in the fall and cool shade in the summer.  I was always proud of that “project.”

As always, folks, share your ideas here–clearly, there are so many more than 10 ways to turn off the technology and turn on nature.  Don’t we owe it to our children and the generations to come to share with them all of the memories we made outside as kids?

sugar snap peas: spring’s candy

A few years ago, I started a batch of sugar snap peas on our deck and in front on the triangular trellis.  By late May, we had fat sugar snaps dangling from the vine.  I was so excited that I came running in and made my daughter come outside.  She humored me, but when she saw the green pods on the vine, she refused.  She reminded me that she didn’t like sugar snaps.  I encouraged her to try just one, and when she did,  her eyes lit up.  She looked at me and gushed, “These taste nothing like those things from the grocery store!”  She then proceeded to gobble up every pod that was ready for the picking.sugar snaps 2

Sugar snap peas are a good choice for beginner gardens.  They grow quickly so kids get quick results.  They prefer cooler weather so they give you something to look forward to as you wait for the tomatoes and squashes.  They’ll climb just about anything thin enough to wrap their tendrils around.  Most importantly, they are simply sweet and delicious!

So some tips for sugar snaps:

  • Plant in early-mid Spring–where I live, I can put them in the ground early-mid March.
  • They will need something to climb, but make sure it is thin, like wire, string, or twine.  On my deck, I zig-zagged wire in and out of the rungs.
  • They will be sweeter if you let them “puff up” rather than eat them when they are flatter.  Don’t let them go too long though, or they get a drier texture.
  • Since the seeds are hard, they will need water regularly at first or to be soaked to encourage sprouting.

How to eat sugar snap peas:

  • Straight off the vine
  • Sauteed in some sesame oil with garlic and a splash of tamari
  • With a summer dip–I like sour cream, dill, salt, pepper, minced onion and garlic
  • Chopped in half and tossed in a spring salad with a light vinaigrette
  • Marinated in a citrus vinaigrette

Sugar snaps are so flavorful and sweet, they are ideal for kids.  My two godsons came over to tromp around my farm last summer, and in spite of a fort, an art project, and a homemade creek, their fondest memory of that day was eating my sugar snaps then planting their own.  Needless to say, those were the first seeds I checked on my order form this year.