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.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

An Easy Way to Preserve Mulberries: Freezing Mulberry Puree

I am very fortunate to have a delicious mulberry tree in my backyard. I loves these fragile purple little fruits. They taste like a cross between a blackberry and a Concord grape. The fruit will stain you hands easily, but you can rub your hands against mulberry leaves to help fade the color away. I usually make a delicious mulberry jam, but this year I needed a quicker method to preserve the mulberries.

At first I considered flash freezing the mulberries like I do strawberries, but this seemed like a lot of work to wash the fruit then gently place them on a cookie sheet without touching one another and freezing each one individually. In fact, this seemed rather silly when I considered that my end use for the mulberries was going to be smoothies. There was no point in having perfect little mulberries since I am going to puree them anyway. Then, I had an obvious epiphany to just puree the mulberries first then freeze them in an ice cube tray for smoothies later. I have no idea why I did not think of this the first time through since I already do this for other things like pesto. I pureed the mulberries stem and all since the little stem does not come off without making a mess. Inside a smoothie, I do not notice the little bits of stem, so this was a quick and easy solution. After the puree is frozen, I pop the mulberry cubes out of the ice cube tray and transfer the cubes into a bag in the freezer.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Freezing Rhubarb

Preserving season is in full swing! I am so excited about spring and rhubarb! Rhubarb is the first thing I preserve every season. While I do can rhubarb and dehydrate it, I do freeze a few quarts every spring when I am pressed for time and want to get outside and work in the garden. I do not blanch my rhubarb because it falls apart so easily when cooked.  I have had rhubarb last up to 1 year frozen. I flash freeze it on a cookie sheet so the individual slices do not get stuck together over time in the freezer. Do not preserve rhubarb leaves. Rhubarb leaves are poisonous, so only the stalks can be eaten.




1. Wash the rhubarb and dry it well. Dry food freezes much better than damp food, so I make sure to dry it really well.

2. Slice the rhubarb to your desired size. I slice mine into 1/4" to 1/2" slices. Remove any tough parts. Some varieties of rhubarb have a tough outer layer that peels off easily.

3. Place the rhubarb on a cookie sheet leaving a small space between the slices.

4. Place the cookies sheet in the freezer for 3 hours.

5. Remove the rhubarb from the cookie sheet and place the rhubarb in its permanent home in the freezer. I find Pyrex containers work well for rhubarb because they stack easily in the freezer and you can pull out a few pieces at a time as needed. You could also use repurposed containers like yogurt containers as well.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Tour of Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company Review

Back in December I went on a long road trip, and I was able to fit in a side trip to Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company in Mansfield, Missouri. Winter time is not the best time to visit a farm because plants are not in their full glory, but the seed store was still amazing. There were row after row of seed packets. This will make even the largest seed displays at your local nursery look pint size.

The old town displays were cute. My kids enjoyed going inside the model shops and seeing the homemade soaps and candles. My kids also enjoyed seeing the animals on the farm which surprised me a little since Baker Creek sells a vegan cookbook, The Baker Creek Vegan Cookbook, by Jere and Emilee Gettle. The other thing that surprised me was that very few seeds are actually produced on the farm in Missouri. Most of the seeds are grown by hand selected growers around the world where the seeds originated. If you are coming to the farm to see lots of different types of plants all growing in one location, then you will be disappointed. The demonstration garden was not producing anything when we went because it was winter time, but I am sure during summer you will be able to see at least a decent variety of plants growing but do not expect to see a sample of every plant they sell seeds for being grown on the farm. I am bummed that we did not show up on Friday to be able to eat at the on site restaurant.

Here are some photos from our trip:
Farm animals
Canning jars
More farm animals
Old town demonstration stores
Fields where some seeds are produced
The restaurant is open daily expect during winter when the restaurant is open only on Fridays


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