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Farming

It All Started with a Seed

Or a pit.

As winter came and all my outdoor herbs and leafy greens started to die, Kay and I started growing a few plants indoors. At first it involved simple tasks like bringing my basil and oregano plants inside and buying a $40 grow light. But it became a bit more complicated when I decided to take a leftover avocado pit and grow it into a tree. Yes, an avocado tree… Here in New York.

At first, I watched this pit do nothing but sit in a cup of water, so I decided to try it again. Kay and I have been eating avocados in salads and smoothies so we have a lot of pits to spare. I set up 3 cups with pits which eventually became 6 cups with pits because… why not? Just in case some failed I would have backups. Well, pretty much each and every one of them, with a little bit of patience, has turned into a small baby avocado tree.  We even gave both our mothers small 2 foot avocado trees (with fluorescent grow lamps) as Christmas presents.

Now there’s no guarantee these trees will bare fruit, but it got me thinking: if it was that easy to grow a southern fruit plant up here in the north (in a cup of water!), why couldn’t I grow all of my fruits and vegetables indoors? All you need is the right temperature (heated house), light (sunlight or grow lights), and fertilizer for nutrition. So that’s exactly what I did. I started growing a bunch of herbs such as basil, chives, rosemary, oregano, and more indoors. Kay and I started on this “clean food” diet, trying to rid ourselves from the harmful chemicals and pesticides that larger businesses use in their food, and this was the perfect way to do it: grow our own food.

Then came the experiments with garlic, onions, scallions, and more… Most with success (still waiting on the garlic but it’s looking good!) Then it dawned on me, I could use my spare room as a “greenhouse” (or a “greenroom” to be a bit more literal) and provide not just myself but maybe friends, family, or heck even local restaurants and grocery stores with herbs and leafy greens all year round. Next thing you know I’m writing a business plan and registering a new company with the state of New York.

Currently I’m growing over 100 herbs and leafy greens, over a dozen tomato plants, and some garlic, scallions, and onions. Some in soil, and some hydroponically. I just seeded sage, beans, carrots, peas, and sweet peppers.  Most of these plants will be my “safety” crop that is guaranteed to grow. I also have my “experimental” crop like the avocado trees and more recently my new Lemon, Lime, and Pomegranate trees that are being shipped in from California. The other experimental part of this is that I’m slowly testing out and expanding the hydroponic part of the operation. There seems to be many benefits to it including less bugs, diseases, and uncertainty. Studies have shown that the plants grow better and are actually healthier because they get more nutrients through liquid fertilizers.

I’ve even already found a local restaurant who is interested in purchasing my first harvest. I’ve started contacting grocery stores and was approved to sell at the Stormville Flea Market this summer. Who knows, maybe by this time next year I will be selling locally grown avocados and pomegranates from my Greenhouse in New York!

Below are a few pictures from the early stages of development:

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Seedlings in early January

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Building the bato bucket hydroponic system for tomatoes.

 

Avocado Pits

Different growing stages of the avocado pit.

Avocado Tree

A small avocado tree grown indoors.

 

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Building the vertical hydroponic growing system.

 

In the next few posts I’ll explain the soil and hydroponic systems I’ve set up, including the vertical tower system (above) which is finished and up and running. It holds up to 80 different herbs and leafy greens!

 

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A Visit to Crown Maple and Madava Farms

Last weekend my partner-in-crime and I went over to Madava Farms in Dover Plains, New York with a few friends. Madava, named after the owner’s daughters Maddie and Ava, is a maple syrup manufacturer located on a beautiful 800 acres of farmland. Despite a sprinkling of rain and a few clouds, it was a beautiful time of year to go, probably the best weekend to see the fall foliage had it not been overcast.

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After being greeted at the entrance-way, our tour guide took us around the factory teaching us about its history, which is still in its infancy, and describing the maple syrup making process in pretty good detail. The owner purchased a house on the property in 2007, and when he realized, with the help of a friend, that he was surrounded by acres and acres of maple syrup trees, he started purchasing the surrounding land. By 2010 a state-of-the-art factory was up and running and currently as of 2014 the company has over 40,000 trees tapped, 30 employees, and yields over 18,000 gallons of syrup a year.

Our tour, which only cost $10 per person, ended in the Tasting Room where we got to try Medium, Dark, and Extra Dark Amber syrups, one aged in bourbon barrels (which was delicious!), as well as maple syrup sugar. My personal favorites are the Dark Amber and Bourbon ones. They’re absolutely fantastic.

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crownmaple01

After our tasting we ordered lunch at their cafe, which obviously infused maple syrup into almost everything, followed by enjoying some ice cream (with maple syrup) and coffee (with maple syrup ;) ) while sitting outside on the patio which included a very nice size fire-pit. Overall it was a great trip and one I highly recommend taking if you live in the area or are passing through.

You can view an album of pictures here.

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Dutchess County Fair

I recently went with my Partner in Crime to the Dutchess County Fair in Rhinebeck, New york. I had never been before and have to say I had a great time. There was a wide range of things to do and see, including visiting farm animals at 4-H, shopping  through arts and crafts vendors, visiting wildlife exhibits, playing games through the arcade section, or munching down on some delicious food. You can view an album of pictures here.

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Herb Garden – Round Two

The Herb Garden is in full swing. Unfortunately my seedlings are not really taking off. The Basil died. The Rosemary looks too weak to be put outside. The Parsley is struggling to make it. The Thyme won’t grow any more and the Sage is the only one that looks promising. I had a 6th herb of Wild Peppermint that didn’t even sprout out of the ground.

I ended up going to Adam’s Fairacre Farm Market and purchased some potted herbs: Basil, Garlic Chive, Catnip, Lemon Verbena, and another whose name I already forget. Oops! I also picked up a tomato plant. One of my cats liked sniffing the catnip, but the other went crazy over the Garlic Chive. I left them outdoors in pots before transplanting them to the bed and the Catnip was gone after a day. Pot and all.

Below are two pictures from June 1st to June 8th. You can see each plant growing a bit.

June 1st

 

June 8th

Outside of my cedar bed I have several pots. Below you’ll see a picture from April 21st. The blue pot shows the Lemon Balm starting to come back from last year. The smaller white one has Chocolate Mint in it.

April 21st

By May 4th the Chocolate Mint started taking off:

May 4th

And here is a month later, June 8th, where you can see the Lemon Balm and Chocolate Mint growing strong (left). The small blue pot has Lemon Verbena in it and the far right baby blue one has tomatoes growing. The larger white pot (second from right) has some sort of peppers growing in it. I’m not exactly sure what they are, I received it as a gift. I guess it’s a surprise!

June 8th

Before I came in from checking up on the plants, I grabbed a few leaves to clean and dry. From left: Basil, Lemon Balm, Chocolate Mint (and one Lemon Verbena leaf at the bottom).

Basil, Lemon Balm, Chocolate Mint, and Lemon Verbena

Now if I could only expand my culinary skills to actually use all this stuff!

The 2013 Herb Garden

Sunday I was able to poke outside for a bit and check on the herb garden for the first time. I was curious what herbs, if any, had survived the winter and were growing back. Just to recap last summer I had:

Cedar Bed:
Rosemary
Oregano
Parsley
Basley

Pots:
Lemon Verbena
Lemon Balm
Chocolate Mint
Tomato

After cleaning out some debris and grass that started growing, here’s how it looks now:

Cedar bed. The dead herbs on the right are Oregano and Basil from last year.

Potted herbs from last year. The Dark Blue pot holds Lemon Balm which is alive and the Small White pot holds Chocolate Mint which is going strong too.

 

As of right now the only two which survived are the Chocolate Mint and Lemon Balm:

Chocolate Mint.

Chocolate Mint.

 

Lemon Balm.

Lemon Balm.

Just to clarify I’m not sure which herbs are even capable of surviving the winter. Maybe these are the only two. I’m going to research online when is a good time to transplant my new herbs outside. I received six herbs as seeds and started them indoors with a grow light. Unfortunately the Rosemary and Peppermint did not sprout but I did get Parsley, Thyme, Sage, and Basil. Below are pictures starting with March 24th and ending on April 15th. When you click to enlarge the dates will be labelled at the bottom.

 

I’m excited to get them outdoors so I can spend more time in the fresh air. It was fun and relaxing last year. I wonder if I should try growing something indoors with the grow lights. We shall see….

Indoor Seeding

Last weekend I finally got around to planting the herb seeds my mother bought me from Williams Sonoma. The seed sticks came with: Rosemary Basil, Sage, Thyme, Parsely, and Peppermint. It has been incredibly cold this Spring, so planting them outside isn’t an option. On March 25th we actually received some snow again. The week prior we got dumped upon with snow. Due to the weather I started researching Grow Light Systems. I never planned on starting plants from seeds, but since I have the room (and seeds) now, I guess it’s a perfect opportunity. After potting them and setting up the light rack I am very intrigued as to how well they do.

The Grow Light System I bought is called the Jump Start T5 Grow Light System from HydroFarm. Amazon.com had a pretty good deal on it and it qualified from Prime shipping. Setup as very easy, except for the fact that the polls that connect (one inserts into another) were hard to join. I actually had to use a hammer at points. All is well and good now. I just have to reorganize my office and find a place for it.

According to William Sonoma’s website germination should take 1 to 3 weeks. Hopefully soon I will have some new herbs to cook with. I’ll keep you posted.

Raspberry and Lemon Verbena Drink

So I finally got the courage (and time) to do a little herbal drink experiment. Last weekend I was on a roll accomplishing household chores, and food shopping was on my To Do List. While I was outside trimming the herbs I thought, “Why not try that Lemon Verbena / Raspberry drink I learned about at Stone Barns?” So aside from harvesting a bunch of herbs to dry, I trimmed a bunch of lemon verbena for a drink. When I ran to the store later, I picked up the raspberries.

I won’t bother listing the exact amounts needed for this drink because the instructions I have call for $20-$30 in raspberries. The lecturer at Stone Barns was from Brooklyn Soda Works and his instructions were for mass production. (Their Apple / Ginger drink is really good!) Anyway, when I tried to divide it down to a reasonable amount, it called for only a teaspoon of water.

Needless to say, this is a very simple creation: I boiled about 3 cups of water, then lowered the heat and placed 2 containers of raspberries into the pot. I stirred and mashed them for about 5 minutes, then cut the heat and added the lemon verbena. I let that steep for 10 minutes and then cooled it in the fridge. (His instructions call for carbonation as well to make it a soda.)

It actually came out really good. I definitely could experiment a little more to perfect the flavor. I tried this two days ago with grapes and lemon balm…. and let’s just say I was not a fan. ;)

Hopefully in the future when I own a house with property I could grow some raspberries, or at least find the time to bug my friend Adam to let me go pick some of his.

Here are a few pictures:

The Lemon Verbena about to be added to the Raspberries:

The Finished Product:

 

Daily Stuff 7/2/12

So… not much to really write. Let’s see what I got:

HERB GARDEN

The herbs are doing well. I replaced the infected Rosemary with a new organic one from Adam’s Fairacre Market. I couldn’t bring myself to buy the genetically modified hybrids at Hell’s Depot. The two herbs I’m worried about are the Parsley and Lemon Verbena. I’m not sure if I mentioned this, but Copilot bought some verbena and her mother gave us some Chocolate Mint. They are both in separate pots outside the planter. The Parsley leaves are turning yellow kinda fast, and the Lemon Verbena doesn’t look as healthy as it should. The weather here has been rather hot recently. I may not be watering them enough.

We also picked up a tomato plant which I’m not sure how it’s doing. I started trimming dying branches to give all the nutrients to healthier ones. We finally got our first growth this week. I don’t know if this is a late bloomer or if it typically takes this long:

REFINANCE

Still waiting. No new news. But a commenter on the blog said they finally made some headway. So that’s good news for the public. Hopefully HARP refinances with LPMI become easier. I think the general public needs to wake up and realize how much refinancing can help them (and the economy). I have two friends at work who purchased homes right after me, I hope they look into this. It would save them a lot of money.

I think my Rate Lock created a deadline in mid August. Hopefully the bank speeds things up and we close soon. It’s not like they could blame me for slacking. They’ve had all my paperwork for over a month. Plus rates are still low, if not lower than when I locked. Then I could buy my Mazda CX-5!

HAWAII

So our travel agent is crazy! I’ve gotten repeat e-mails, I’ve been told I could do excursions I really can’t, she booked two rental cars for me for the same day, and she almost booked 2 grand in excursions when I was simply asking her opinion about them. She’s a friend of Copilot’s mom, and a very sweet lady, but I just feel like there’s a middle-man involved that doesn’t need to be. Especially since I enjoy researching this stuff, and now with the internet at our fingertips, I think travel agents are only good for a certain clientele. If you are someone who has no time (or will) to research when and where to go, they could serve a purpose.

Anyway, there’s only 1 day left. I’m excited!

Medicinal Trees

mt19Last Saturday I went to Stone Barns for a course on Medicinal Trees. I had expected to learn more about a variety of plants, including the herbs I am growing, but it was solely about trees. It was still rather interesting, and pretty cool since it was only $10.

At first we talked over to the market area where we had some homemade tea made with trees from the area. It was rather weird seeing a jar of tea which had leaves and sticks in it, but the tea was pretty good. My natural instinct woulda been to add a little sugar though!

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As we started to walk around we first saw Sumac, which oddly enough is in the Poison Ivy, Mango, and Cashew family. It’s loaded with Vitamin C, and can be infused well with lemonade. It has medicinal uses to help with acne. You can cut it up fine, and try to make a tea in either cold or hot water:

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Sumac

Then we walked over to these two trees here. On the left is a Black Cherry Tree, and on the right is a Black Birch:

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Black Cherry and Black Birch

Here are some Black Cherry leaves:

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Black Cherry

And here is a piece of the Black Birch. If you scrape the bark off, it smells (and tastes) pretty good. It has a very potent smell reminding me of spearmint. You can boil the bark to make a tea, which will act like a cough syrup. You can also use it to make an elixir, adding it to one part honey and one part alcohol. If you take it as a tea, many people believe it  can reduce risk of heart attack and relieve the pain in muscles.

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Black Birch

Next we went and saw Witch Hazel, which is good for skin irritation or poison ivy. This is another one you use the bark of:

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Witch Hazel

Then we saw a Lindera Benzoin Tree. It’s very deer resistant, and the trees actually turn into male or female trees! You can make a tea with this that will help with a cold or the flu.

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Lindera Benzoin

We then came across some Elderberry, which to me sounds like a potion in a Harry Potter book. You actually shouldn’t use the green parts of this plant, but rather the flowers and berries. Making a tea from this can help with flu prevention.

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Elderberry

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Elderberry

We then came across a Spruce Tree, which I was surprised to learn about. Back in the day the Native Americans used this to cure scurvy, which it is believed they taught to Europeans as they came to the Americas. It has tons of Vitamin C, and in the early spring when the leaves are a bright green you can peel them off. You can pick it by using the smell. The stronger the better. This is another one that you can scrape the bark off of to use.

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Spruce

Next we came across Lindin Trees. These are to harvest when the flowers first open. You can dry and steep in hot water. The tea from this tree is rather mild and sweet. Good for bringing peace and calm, especially to a person in grief.

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Lindin Trees

We then saw Sparkle Berry, a tree which bees absolutely love. As we approached it we could hear the bees buzzing around. This is good if you want to attract bees to pollenate or create honey nearby.

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Sparkle Berry

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Sparkle Berry

Finally we came across Sassafras. This is a very funny looking plant, and when you crumple several leaves together in your hand it smells like Fruity Pebbles! They tend to grow on the edges of woods. The best thing to do is to use the root of this plant. In fact, Root Beer was originally made from the root of sassafras plants used as the primary flavor.

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Sassafras

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Sassafras Grove

At the end of the tour the teacher told us to fill a jar with the plant we’d like to use (whether it’s leaves, bark, roots, flowers, or berries). Then top it off with water (or add oils like Olive Oil depending on the tree). You want to seal out any air and remove all air bubbles. Every few days open up the jar and remove the air bubbles. Wait several weeks or months and you will have a strong medicinal tea for the drinking. I may try something like this later this summer.

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