Onions, leeks, and garlic are staple ingredients in just about everything we cook at the MitchaRachia Homestead. Known as alliums, these veggies are full of nutrients and antioxidants essential for our bodies and are especially beneficial to the cardiovascular system. Veggies that can be transplanted like tomatoes, peppers, celery, and all squash we purchase as hardy plant starts from a local nursery in the spring. Because we eat alliums all year long and want a larger supply than other veggies, we grow them ourselves. We grow garlic each year by planting in the fall grown from the most robust bulbs of the previous season. Onions and leeks, we grow from seed starting in February because we like to have the most diverse selection - varieties to eat during the growing season and varieties that are best for winter storage. We also like a variety of sweet, yellow, and red onions for our culinary masterpieces.
Growing onions and leeks from seed is a labor of love for sure, but we find it well worth the effort. We start with organic seed starter mix and fill flats. We water the soil and pat down. Onion and leek seeds are really small, so much effort must be taken to carefully place then in the soil, rather than sprinkle. Then we lightly cover the seeds and spray with water to keep damp.
When the tiny stalks begin to droop, it's time to start trimming. The trimmed alliums can be used in salads and trimmings should be taken until the roots are strong and stalks no longer droop - and when it gets close to planting them in early spring.
At this time of year, we also plant thyme, catnip, and parsley. Greens to eat are another favorite in the winter at the homestead. Micro greens, sprouts, pea shoots and sunflower shoots bloom in the southern windows all winter long and provide greens without having to buy them in the store. Also pictured here are our rosemary and lavender plants we bring inside from the deck each year.
In the first few years living at the homestead, we focused on spreading existing perennials throughout the different gardens and planting fall flowering and foliage plants to extend the garden color and splendor well into autumn. This year we also featured sunflowers in the garden bed. Enjoy the slideshow!
Still have summer squash lying around? Winter squash you're ready to eat? Leeks galore? Tomatoes close to rotting on the counter? Try your own variation of garden harvest lasagna:
Start with what you have. Pictured here are zucchini, crookneck yellow summer squash, leeks, garlic, tomato, chives, and parsley. If you use winter squash, make sure to bake first to soften and then cut into pieces. Kale, cabbage, carrots, turnips, etc. can all be used in garden harvest lasagna.
Next for the cheese! We prefer Vermont because it's what's local here, but I would suggest choosing cheese that is local in your area and if that's Vermont - celebrate your roots and be Rooted in Vermont! Pictured here are Maple Brook Farm ricotta cheese, and shredded cheddar and monterey jack from Cabot Cooperative Creamery. Mix it all together. Mozzarella is most popular for lasagna, but we like to try different variations.
After stir-frying the leeks, garlic, and squash/zucchini with some spiced sausage from our meat-CSA at Tangletown Farm, we added in the tomatoes with a little leftover marinara sauce that was in the fridge, and some salt, pepper, and dried basil. Cooked lasagna noodles are ready for layering pictured on the right.
Time to layer - a double layer will do - meat/veggie sauce, noodles, cheese mixture, repeat and top with fresh herbs and any extra shredded cheese - parmesan also works well here, but we didn't use it in this variation.
Bake uncovered, 45 minutes in 375 oven until bubbly and let stand 10 minutes before serving. We had some for dinner, leftovers for lunch and froze the rest for lunch for the following week.
I love to grow. And while it is very satisfying to grow food to eat, my heart belongs to the flowers first. Here is a intimate look at some of the glorious flowers blooming in the garden throughout the summer - both in the gardens and in the pots on the deck. Most of the flowers in the gardens are perennials, but the potted beauties change from year to year. Enjoy!
Peas and berries are two of the first summer crops to grace the homestead with their bounty. We waste no time harvesting these juicy gems, and while we eat our fair share when picked, the majority of the peas, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries make their way to the freezer to stock the larder.
Uley especially loves helping by eating fresh raspberries and blueberries straight off the bushes as we harvest these perfect mountain fruits.
This year we grew mostly snap and snow peas, both of which you eat in the pods, so it's important to harvest them every day for the few weeks in early July when they're ripe. This helps both extend the harvest and ensures peas will taste the best.
Peas are legumes and are a fantastic nitrogen booster for the soil. Check out this recent post on rotational vegetable gardening.
Freezing peas is pretty simple. First you need to blanch the peas to kill any bacteria that might settle on the peas and to prepare the peas to handle the deep freeze. To blanch, first cut the tips off the end of the peas (kitchen scissors work best) and be sure to add the little stems to the compost. Next plunge the peas in a metal colander into boiling water for two minutes, remove from the boiling water, and rinse with cold water. Wrap the peas in towels to dry and they're ready to freeze. We use a vacuum sealer to get the air out of the plastic storage bag, but freezer bags can be used as well - just try to get as much air out as possible as air encourages freezer burn.
Freezing berries is simple too, but the trick is to freeze the berries on a baking sheet first, and then transfer frozen berries to freezer bags. It is also best to only freeze full, unblemished berries and eat the tarnished ones fresh. We enjoy berries and peas all winter long - such a treat come March!
Two winters ago, when planning the gardens and ordering vegetable and flower seeds, I asked Mitch what flowers he would like to see more of and he answered: Blue. So, I looked through the catalogs for blue flowers and delphiniums topped the list with their feathery yet dramatic spikes of blue flowers. I ordered a pack of seeds without knowing that growing delphiniums from seed is not as easy as growing marigolds.
Upon receiving the seeds from Johnny's Selected Seeds, I read the directions which said: Seeds must be stratified to germinate. Stratification was indeed a new term for me!
When the herbs and greens were ready to plant in the ground, I felt the delphiniums were too small and fragile to go in the flowers gardens, so I transplanted them to bigger pots and took care to attend to them throughout the summer and into the fall, when I then transplanted them into their new homes among our perennial flower beds. Last fall, the delphiniums were able to establish themselves with a gentle fall, compost tea, and some good mulch because...
This spring, the delphiniums sprung strong and bloomed blue and bright, adding color, height, and gentle drama to the gardens. Mitch is pleased with the beautiful blue flowers and I am thrilled with their blue blooms which helped the garden transition from the bold peonies of late spring to the daylily showcase that is about to explode an array of sunbursts over our Plainfield, Vermont homestead.
Crisp, tangy, spicy, or buttery greens add zing to stir fry and zip to salads. When I first started gardening on my own in my early 20's, a fresh garden salad was one of my earliest inspirations to take to the trowel. Ironically, it would be 16 years later when I finally mastered the art of both growing greens and succession planting so the lettuce was still growing when the rest of the garden veggies were ready to be harvested.
Greens like cooler weather, making them a perfect crop in Vermont. I start as soon as the soil can be turned in beds prepped the previous fall and plant spinach and arugula. I also plant winter hardy varieties in the fall so they can over-winter and are already growing when I plant the first spring seeds. Cold frames help drastically with this effort - we're still working on a permanent cold frame. Spinach and arugula can handle frosts and being patted down with rain. They doesn't like to grow so much as it gets warmer, so I switch to different lettuce varieties.
Lettuce is what I have routinely had trouble growing. It only takes a few weeks to harvest and in years past, that left me with either only lettuce in my salad or other veggies in mid-summer and no lettuce. It took a while to realize I have to plant small amounts over the entire growing season.
While I figured out succession planting, I was still having trouble with lettuce in particular. It took a solid lesson from one of my dearest friends, a Vermont woman farmer who owns and operates Foggy Brook Farm, to teach me to barely cover the seeds and DO NOT PAT DOWN. Once I followed her instructions, greens have been abundant all season.
After learning how to grow lettuce accurately from Foggy Brook Farm, I also learned how to harvest. I wanted to go to my fridge and grab a bag of greens to prepare for dinner, not go to the garden to pick a few leaves here and there. Fresh greens in spring are my number one defense against allergies - eating seasonally for our health is one of the main reasons we garden!
Harvesting and putting up lettuce and greens is intense and I now completely understand why a bag of greens costs $5 a bag. "Triple washed" takes time!
I bulk harvest the entire lettuce/greens crop either first thing in the morning or late in the day. I yank the whole plant and cut the roots off for the compost, then dump the greens in a strainer. I rinse the greens and soak them in cold water, then repeat twice more. Then I return the greens to the strainer and let them drip dry with the strainer resting over the bowl. When the lettuce has dried to only be damp, I wrap it in compostable paper towels and then store (in the towels) in reused plastic bags. This helps keep greens fresh for almost a week in the fridge.
And now I can pull greens anytime for salads, stir fry, or anything that strikes our fancy!
Good food and beautiful flowers start with nutrient rich soil. Just like how people need vitamins and minerals for our own vitality, plants need nutrients to grow strong. And just like how we need to continue to nourish our bodies to stay healthy, soil needs to be continuously amended to remain rich in nutrients. In other words, the nutrients in soil get depleted as plants grow and that's where compost comes in - to give soil boosts of nourishment to help fruits and veggies grow strong which we then eat for energy and return the unused parts back into the soil. It's a beautiful cycle and one that has intrigued me from a young age.
Mitch and I completed the UVM Extension Master Compost program to help us better prepare compost and grow our own soil at the homestead. Part of being a Master Composter means educating others about composting, so here are some of our composting tips:
We also purchase compost until our infrastructure and ingredients can produce all the compost we need. And, we give our gardens bursts of energy with our secret compost tea sauce. YUM!
Vermont spring (May-June), summer (July-August), and fall (September-October) are magnificent times to visit and we invite friends and family to come stay with us. We schedule these visits in late winter/early spring since we plan months in advance so we can work with our budget, ensure all of our homesteading projects get done, and work around our summer vacation.
Visiting someone who lives on a homestead is not like visiting someone in a neighborhood with a garden. Read more about our lifestyle in Mountain Folk Part 1. Homesteading chores on the land, in the gardens, or in the kitchen must go on whether we have company or not. So, we thought we'd offer a checklist to help you prepare:
What To Expect
What Not To Expect
What To Bring
Homesteading, by definition in Wikipedia, means "a lifestyle of self-sufficiency."
We enjoy sharing the MitchaRachia Homestead on our blog and with friends and family who visit. Homesteading is a choice we make and self sufficiency is a value we live by. Some people choose to raise a family, some to travel, some to build wealth, some to live off the grid, and so forth. We choose to live in the mountains away from a consumer-driven society where we grow and produce as much of our own food, fuel, and other products as we can while both working full time jobs.
We strongly believe in reducing our consumption and waste, reusing all that we can, and recycling what we can't reuse. We are not farmers - a farmer produces or aims to produce for their primary source of income. We produce for our own use at a much smaller scale than a farm and we barter our surplus or time with friends and neighbors before heading to the store. We do not believe a stronger economy is based on being a consumer of more stuff we do not need, but rather supporting local farms, businesses, companies, and services for what we cannot make/do ourselves. Rachel does have an affinity for clothes, but has primarily only shopped at thrift stores and reusing/recycling other people's purchases since she was 16 and only throws away what really doesn't fit anymore - hence the big closet.
Yes, we do think a self sufficient lifestyle is the best way for us to live on a planet that does not have the resources or capacity to sustain its outrageous population growth or societal demands. However, we know the ability to make the types of lifestyle decisions that we make are not feasible for everyone. We try not to pass judgement on individuals, but rather work towards more system level societal shifts and help educate those we are connected to along the way. We judge the system and not our friends and family and we ask that we are not judged in return.
We live in Vermont to be in Vermont which means we do not often travel out of state. This is hard for some folks to understand. Why you may ask? Because it takes a lot of time, energy, and resources to develop and manage our homestead. Working full time leaves us with most weekends to work on the land - we do not have the fortune of unearned income sources. It is also very expensive to live in Vermont and wages do not balance the cost of living the way they do in other states. This presents us with a minimal leisure budget outside of nature, which is our primary source of leisure as it is of sustenance. We are able to plan a few visits in the late fall and winter, but must balance visits with homesteading responsibilities, finances, and days off. We also do not have a credit card by choice, which means we really have to plan for extra travel costs as we keep our debt limited to cars, mortgage, and insane student loans.
Lastly, in spring, summer, and fall, we WANT to be in Vermont - to work our land and to play here and anywhere nearby. A common phrase Vermonters use to share this sentiment with their out-of-state family and friends goes like this: "We don't live in Vermont to vacation in other state." Stick season, winter, and mud season are just too long. Although this year, winter did seem to skip us over. All good, all the more to get done now for summer enjoyment.
Come visit us!!!!
Mitch and Rachel are a groovy, retro-fit couple stewarding
7-acres of woodlands halfway up Spruce Mountain in Plainfield, Vermont.
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Farm to Plate
Vermont State Parks