Posts Tagged ‘urban farm handbook challenge’

July’s challenge was about winter gardening and seed saving. Challenges included:

1. Winter gardening

2. Planting carrots for the fall/winter

3. Saving seeds

I missed the deadline for the link-up to the website (here if you want to check out what others have done), but here’s what I’ve done:

1. Winter gardening

Kale and broccoli for transplanting in a few weeks.

Kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts and some herbs for indoors.


I reseeded my polyculture beds with greens and other cold weather veggies.

Lettuce and arugula for the fall inside my bean tepee.


2. Carrot bed

Carrots and a few other goodies seeds and (hopefully) germinating. The sticks etc are to keep the cats out.

3. Saving seeds

I have saved some chive seeds and plan to try to get some lettuce seeds. I’ve let some of it bolt and I’m waiting for seeds to set. I also plan to save tomato, pepper and cucumber seeds, but I am afraid some are hybrid, so we’ll see. The corn is definitely a saver as are beans.

August challenge is out – preserving food. Whew, I have a head start on that one!!

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Round 1 Explore the dandelion

This one is pretty easy, given we already eat them every year as I described in an earlier post. But I have been exploring other ways to eat dandelion.

My mother-in-law makes dandelion honey. I am not sure how she does it, but I know she sends the girls out to pick 100 dandelion flowers, cooks them up in a simple syrup and then leaves them out to sit over night. She must then strain it and put it in jars. So, it’s basically dandelion flavored sugar syrup, but it’s yummy. We eat it on pancakes and use it to sweeten tea.

I have also been experimenting with dandelion muffins. I got the idea here, but use an entirely different recipe that I adapted from The New York TImes New Natural Foods Cookbook (published 1982 and stolen from my mother in about 1992).

Fabulous 3-grain Dandelion Muffins

1/3 cup corn flour

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup soy flour

1/3 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 cup plain yogurt

1/3 cup oil

1 cup dandelion petals

1/3 cup or so dried cranberries

Combine dry ingredients. Add in dandelion petals and mix well. Mix egg, yogurt and oil together and then add to dry ingredients. Mix in cranberries. Bake 25 minutes at 350F.

Mixing in the dandelion petals. The muffins never stick around long enough to photograph!

And, to top it all off, with all my talk about dandelions, a colleague made some dandelion jelly and brought me a jar. Delicious!

Round 2 Hunt for morels

Mushroom hunting is big in the Czech Republic. Very big. It has been quite dry here, though, notwithstanding a couple days of rain not too long ago and I haven’t seen the mushroom hunters out. I hope I can do some hunting myself this year and will surely post about it if I find anything. The problem always seem to be that the serious hunters are out at dawn (which occurs about 5am these days) and there is nothing left by the time normal folks roll out of bed and get into the woods!

Round 3 Cook a foraged meal

This is the one we really go into. Friend and neighbor, Andrea, my partner in all these crazy things I am doing these days (who is highly amused at being called “friend and neighbor,” though it is an accurate description) got in on this one with me. And once again, she sacrificed her vegan principles for a taste of our (not in the least vegan) foraged dinner.

Elder is flowering so we decided on a traditional German elder pancake for dessert and elder cordial to drink. For the main course, I proposed nettle gnudi and a salad. The salad is mostly from the garden, but we threw in some foraged lamb’s quarters.

Foraging is even more fun with a nice basket.

The nettle gnudi recipe comes from the Fat of the Land Blog, a wonderful source for foraging and home of this round of the challenge. The recipe calls for ricotta but there was none at the store, so I substituted tvaroh and cottage cheese and it turned out just fine. Of course, frying anything in sage butter and olive oil is bound to taste good!

Adding the chopped, blanched nettles to the cheese.

Roll it out and cut into pieces.

I made them by the plateful.

My helpful daughter cooked them while I rolled and cut. When they float, take them out of the boiling water.

Ninety nettle gnudi…try saying it 5 times fast!

Fry them up in olive oil, butter and sage.

I barely had time to snap a photo…those gnudi disappeared fast!

Now for dessert:

Andrea made a thin pancake batter, dipped the flower heads in and then plopped them into hot oil.

Fry until golden

Nibble right off the stem!

They were great plain but also with a little dandelion honey.

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The garden is doing great and tonight we had our first strawberries and the best spinach I’ve ever grown. Our soil is just too heavy for spinach to do well, but last fall I added lots of shredded leaves and good soil to a bed to make it nice and light and it seems to have made a world of difference to the spinach. The other inspiration for tonight’s dinner was the hunk of cheese and bag of mushrooms I bought at the farmer’s market last week.

Menu for Monday, 28 May

crustless mushroom° quiche

spinach* with tomatoes

toasted bread

yogurt with sliced strawberries*

elderflower* cordial

The crustless quiche was a sort of improvisation since I didn’t feel like making crust. And since the crust is just slightly sweet, it made the tangy quiche even tangier.

Crustless Quiche

Sautee sliced mushrooms° and let cool. Place on bottom of quiche dish. Mix 1 1/2 cups of yogurt with 2 eggs°, 2 tablespoons of flour, a bit of salt and some shredded cheese°. Pour over mushrooms and bake at 350F for 30 minutes. I tucked a little left over asparagus° into one end – a little treat for me.

Spinach and tomatoes

My husband bought some really awful looking tomatoes – you know, the hard orange balls that don’t really look, smell or taste much like real tomatoes. Well, the only way to deal with those is cook them down, which I did with some garlic and olive oil. Then I added the spinach until wilted. The spinach was so good it even made these tomatoes taste alright!

Yogurt topped with strawberries

Can’t wait until the strawberry:yogurt ratio is reversed!

Elderflower cordial

An experiment inspired by the Urban Farm Handbook foraging challenge and all of the elders flowering right now everywhere you look.

I found the recipe here and made a batch over the weekend.

I think it turned out too lemony and sour, but over ice with a bit of dandelion honey to sweeten it, YUMMMMMMY! We will definitely be making more of this.

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Well, it’s the end of May and I’m finally getting around to posting about April’s challenge! That’s mostly because it’s taken me this long to complete it…kind of. It’s also because my time is limited and I’ve been spending it in the garden. The challenge was hard, too, because it has so many parts to it. Not that I’m complaining…I like a good challenge! Okay, enough preliminary small talk….

Challenge Round 1 Plant seeds.

I’ve been starting seeds inside for a few years and the big challenges for me are knowing how much to start with – I usually start with too much – and having room for it all. We started in two batches this year:

Batch 1

  • head lettuce
  • broccoli


The earliest starts

I know, I know…use grow lights. That will be on next year’s list of projects. Yes, things get a bit leggy and it will be much better once I have the grow lights, but things seem to have worked out okay without it for now.

Earliest seeds sown outside

Hardening off the lettuce and chard

New transplants

Batch 2

  • tomatoes
  • peppers
  • squash
  • cucumbers

Corn started in TP rolls – just pop the whole thing into the ground.

What’s new this year – Chinese greens, broccoli, potatoes, polycultures.

Challenge Round 2 – Pest Prevention

This is still a challenge that I haven’t quite gotten up to speed on yet. I tried to grow some catnip to deter flea beetles, but it didn’t come up. I’ll have to try that again. I did manage to plant some marigolds among the tomatoes this year. That’s supposed to be good, right?

Round 3 Build a Trellis

Finally got around to making an A-frame trellis for the cucumbers. Our neighbors bought the empty lot next to them and cleared the brush. When I asked if I could take some tree branches and sapling trunks, they looked at me like I am crazy – it’s just trash to them – but said yes. I am quite proud of the little trellis I built out of them.


Round 4 Grow food for your chickens

If only we had them…

Round 5 Be lazy

Build good soil, mulch, let things reseed and grow perennials is what I took from the challenge post. Hmmm…I am trying to build good soil, however inept I may be at it. Still trying to figure out what to mulch with. Planted some asparagus, have rhubarb…most of the rest is annual. Love reseeding! Happens mostly with weeds, though.

But I think I ace this round based on pure laziness. I could have all the dandelions in my flower bed, but didn’t. I now consider it my dandelion patch and since we eat it, it’s a nutrient accumulator and its roots open up the soil,  I am telling myself that it’s not lazy, it’s smart!

This is just lazy…

Round 6 Share the Bounty

Giving some away…I give away lots of zucchini when the time comes, but let’s face it, giving away zucchini is not an act of sharing, it’s a necessity! But I am inspired to look into giving some of our harvest to a food bank or soup kitchen. More on that later, I hope.

So that’s the April challenge, long since passed, but still working on it here in my garden!

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Urban Farm Handbook March Challenge – Home Dairy

I really didn’t think we’d be able to make cheese. I thought we’d need some special ingredients that we wouldn’t be able to find here, even though it turns out that getting worms  was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be (last month’s challenge).

How wrong I was…The first part of the challenge required only milk and lemon juice, and yes, you can buy lemons in the Czech Republic. The milk had us a bit worried. It’s supposed to be milk that hasn’t been “ultrapasteruized.” We hoped that the organic milk we found wasn’t, though we couldn’t tell for sure. Turns out it was fine!

And it was so easy. Really, really easy. So easy I couldn’t believe it… Even without the thermometer they recommend you use. SO easy I think we’ll do it again soon. Here’s us following the directions:

Step 1: Heat up the milk, stir constantly.

We took turns…

Wine goes great with cheese.

After the milk reaches a certain temperature, about 80C, you add lemon juice. Without a thermometer we really don’t know if it reached that temperature, but we figured cheese was made way before people used thermometers to do it. We stopped heating the milk when it started getting that pre-boil frothy look on top.

Add lemon juice.

Sofie did the honors.

Never have we been so excited to see milk curdle!

You let it its for 15 minutes, then pour it into a cheesecloth-lined colander.

You can see the curds have separated from the whey.

Blessed are the cheese makers?

Make a bag out of the cheesecloth and hang it over the faucet.


We finished our dinner, drank more wine, talked…and after an hour…


Full from dinner, but unable to wait, we sampled with only some added salt. Yummy!! So yummy that neighbor and partner in challenge, Andrea, might actually be re-evaluating her vegan diet.

The recipe says to add herbs, but so far I am just eating it plain.

Breakfast the day after cheese making.

As we marveled over how easy it was to make the cheese it occurred to me that this was all very sad in a way. We’ve become so far removed from the process of making our food that we need someone to show us how to do something that a couple of generations ago almost everyone knew how to do. It’s not so much the loss of knowledge, but the loss of power over our food choices that has me worried.

Making cheese makes me feel powerful again.  Making cheese is so simple (have I mentioned that?!) that I don’t need anyone to make it for me. So, if I don’t like what Big Ag and transnational food corporations are doing to food, and I don’t, I can opt out. Ditto for growing my own food, baking bread, making things. That’s really why I’m doing this (I know some of you have been hoping that it’s not just insanity on my part).

So, I’m feeling powerful and ready for Round 2 next week. Dairy gurus – bring it on!

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Part of the Urban Farm Handbook Challenge is to try worm composting. I was sure we could make a composter out of plastic bins – there are so many places to find instructions for this on the internet – but I was not so sure we could get worms.

I searched and found on-line providers, but was skeptical of mail ordering worms in winter. One of the providers, Ekodomov (Ecohome) is located nearby and I’d long wanted to visit their ecology center, so the girls and I set off on our adventure to find worms. If this didn’t work, I was ready to try hunting/fishing stores hoping they’d have the right kind of worms for sale as bait. A long shot, but I couldn’t think of anything else.

We found Ekodomov’s front gate, but it was locked. No opening hours were posted. Maybe it wouldn’t open until spring. There were signs pointing to the ecology center, but we couldn’t find it. We returned to the gate just to check and somehow daughter #2 pushed it open.  We went inside but seemed to be in someone’s back yard. I’ve lived here long enough to know

1) it’s easier to apologize than ask permission,

2) things rarely look like I would expect them to, and

3) it isn’t that unusual for two houses to share a common driveway and gate.

We went on through the garden and the next gate.  Still no sign of anything that looked like an ecology center, only homes. I even saw someone through the window, making lunch. We walked around a little but saw nothing.

I decided we should probably leave, we must be in the wrong place, and it was then that I saw the tiny little sign on the tiny little building that I at first thought was a garage. We walked up to it so see if the hours were posted and someone opened the door from inside and asked what we wanted. I kind of stuttered and smiled and he said, “You want worms, right?!”


The 3 men working there were very friendly and helpful, showing us a homemade worm composter and discussing the right kinds of bins to use. We left, promising to send photos of our finished work.

We headed triumphantly off to the hardware store to buy bins.  There was quite a selection, though all of the bins were transparent. All my internet sources say not to use transparent bins, but the guy at Ekodomov had said he’d tried it and it worked fine. So, transparent bins it is1

The girls were very excited (or perhaps just amused at their strange mother) and gleefully announced to their father that we have worms, our first farm animal! We enlisted his help in drilling holes in the bins, invited our neighbor to come watch and went to work.

Wetting shredded newspaper and putting it in as bottom layer.

Bottom layer done

Adding worms

Next a layer of compost

Another layer of shredded paper - do they REALLY eat it?!?

Finished bin in place in the entry hall.

Making dinner was especially exciting as we could feed our worms for the first time! Both girls had a turn.

Daughter #1

Daughter #2

The first thing I did this morning was peek inside – no worms in sight.

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I saw this posted on another website and thought, “What a great way for me to explore all the things I’ve been reading about. This will push me to do it!”

I signed up.

I asked my green friend/neighbor to sign up so we can do this together.

I put a little button on my blog sidebar to declare my intentions (see it over there?!).

I excitedly read the February Challenge. It’s about…


the scariest thing in my garden (why? read this).

Deep breath. I can do this!

Soil Building Challenge #1: Plan for Compost

My not perfect compost

I already do this. I already have a compost area and 2 compost bins made out of old pallets. I’m sure I don’t compost very skillfully – all the talk of aeration, green/brown ratio, moisture, etc. is intimidating to me, so I mostly ignore it. And almost everyone ends by saying that it’s okay if it’s not perfect. Whew! I can do “not perfect” really well!

Soil Building Challenge #2: Buy fertilizer in bulk or make it from scratch.

Joshua McNichols, author of the challenge, says, “Here in Seattle, I just drive out to so-and-so’s store…” to buy all the ingredients to make organic fertilizer. Mmmhmm. Well, here in Prague, I am stumped. The shopping list includes: alfalfa seed meal, agricultural lime, gypsum, Dolomitic lime, fish bone meal, cal phos and kelp meal. I’m thinking I should be able to find lime. The Dolomites are, after all, a lot closer to me than they are to him…

Luckily I am on holiday this week and maybe I can start to track some of these things down. First step: translate!

alfalfa seed meal = mletá vojtěška osivo

agricultural lime = zemědelské vápno

gypsum = sádrovec

Dolomitic lime = Dolomitský (just guessing here) vápno

fish bone meal = mleté rybí kosti

cal phos = fosforečnan vápenatý

kelp meal = mletá čepelatka

Searching the internet for “organic fertilizer” in Czech, I found:

AgroBio. It is unclear whether this is organic fertilizer, though they do say their products are as safe as they can be for the environment. There is a liberal sprinkling of expressions like “bio” which usually means organic, but in this case I’m not sure, and “organicky” which might not mean the kind of organic I want. They do sell Borax, however, which I have also been looking for!

AgroNatura. These guys really do seem to be organic and they sell fertilizer, but it is expensive! I don’t see any of the ingredients for sale, either.

Bat guano fertilizer. Guaranteed to be organic and easy on the environment, sold at a local “grow shop,” a shop for Cannabis growers (this really is leading me to new and strange places!). They do seem to have a nice assortment of other organic fertilizers, though.

Biozahrada. Translates as “organic garden.” Very promising! They have many brands of fertilizer, insecticides, mycorrhizal  mixes, compost and even organic seeds (not a huge selection). On-line shop and a store not so far from Prague.

Well, at least some place to start. Perhaps my partner in all this and I can visit a few of these places and make some fertilizer by spring.

Soil Building Challenge #3:  Build a Worm Bin

I can do this! The instructions are pretty easy and I finally found a source of worms (at Bio.cz). I think the girls and I can manage this on Monday! Look for photos soon.

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