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Homemade Organic Blueberry Fertilizer

October 12th, 2017

Around here we like blueberries, high bush blueberries. Maine is famous for their low bush blueberries, which are good, but I much prefer the high bush with their balance of sweet & sour. In Ohio we had six bushes, here in Maine we inherited a few that were not doing so well. Last year I added a few small ones to the garden, this year I added three more.

Blueberries have their own special likes when it comes to fertilization and treatment, they will perform much better if given the acidic conditions that they like. We naturally have acidic soil, but the blueberries are planted in garden areas where the native soil has been improved enough that it’s not as acidic as it could be. This is where sulfur comes in. Blueberries will apprciate a bit of sulfur. I mix up my own blend of fertilizer for the blueberry and other acidic loving shrubs (like rhodadendrons).

My recipe is as follows: 5 pounds sulfur, 5 pounds Tennessee brown phosphate, 5 pounds granite meal, mineral blend (I use Azomite, which I buy in 44lb bags and add to the entire garden as well as feeding it to the chickens), compost. If I have them, I add a small scoop of zeolites as well (these increase water and nutrient retention as well as keep nitrogen in the soil). I purchase all of my amendments at Fedco Grower’s Supply, which is close enough that I drive up and pick up my order.

Each blueberry plants gets a cup of my three ingredient fertilizer mixed into a bucket of compost. If I have mineral mix and zeolites, I add a quarter to a half cup of those as well. Mix well and spread around the blueberry plants. They will thank you for it with robust growth and lots of fruit.

Finding organic options for fertilizers can be a problem. I’m happy to have a large flock of birds to provide lots of fertilizer and a source for good compost. Most soils can use a few extras to help plants grow healthy plants.

Do you have a favorite homemade fertilizer mix for your garden?

Homegrown Goodness for the Felines

October 5th, 2017

I always grow catnip in the garden. Little sprigs are picked throughout the growing season and brought in for the cats. This time of year I harvest armloads of it to dry for the stuffing of cat toys, which I make and give to friends & family. I found the fantastic Cotton & Steel fabric to use for the cat toys I make. I simply cut the cats out, back with scrap fabric, and sew a piece of cotton string in for the tail. So far all the recipients have fallen in love with their toys. As you can see, it’s hard to keep our cats away from the toys I make for others.


Catnip is also valuable in the garden because it’s a great insect deterrent. If the mosquitoes are bothering me while I’m working, I harvest a handful of the catmint and rub it on my exposed skin. This works splendidly for me (the cats love it too). I once went to a friend’s home and her cats were rubbing on me and licking my legs. We got a good laugh when I remembered that I’d rubbed myself down with catnip that morning because the mosquitoes were thick in the garden. Perhaps I’ll make a few to sell someday, until then, all of our cats and our friend’s cat will be happily enjoying the homegrown catnip.

What fun gifts are making? Are you able to use any garden items in them? 

Reaping Rewards

September 26th, 2017

This year I feel like I’m finally starting to reap the rewards of all my hard work over the past five years. The main vegetable garden is stunning, simply stunning. Every time I head up there to work I’m amazed at how lovely it looks this summer. It makes me stop and enjoy the garden on a daily basis.

This garden features a mix of flowers (both perennial and annual) and vegetables (both perennial and annual as well). As I start to think about the final design for this space, I take notice of plant shape, color, and structure every time I look at the garden.

I follow a no-dig gardening method, which has been an amazing discovery. This bucket of weeds is all I got from weeding the entire garden (which is roughly 70×80). It was the first time I had weeded in a month. If you want to know about the no-dig gardening method, I highly recommend books by Charles Dowding, No Dig Organic Home & Garden is a fantastic one.

The brussels sprouts are sizing up beautifully, I’m thinking of pruning half and leaving half as is. I’ve read that a little pruning can make them produce bigger, better sprouts. We shall see.

The Scarlet Runner beans that my dad gave me have bloomed beautifully for most of the summer. The hummingbirds enjoyed them until they migrated south. These were always a staple in my mom’s garden, she planted them just for the hummingbirds.






All three varieties of broccoli are still producing like mad. The ‘Happy Rich’ mini broccoli is producing loads of side shoots, as are the heirloom variety ‘DeCiccio’ and the hybrid ‘Marathon’ are producing side shoots as well. ‘Marathon’ produces side heads, that are actually quite large. We’re eating broccoli every evening from the side shoots.



Overall this year has been a grand success in the main vegetable garden. The potager has been neglected a bit, but the plan is to give it a complete overhaul with pathways, rock walls, and more. So it has become more of a nursery area than an edible garden space. Hopefully next year I will have extra time to get it headed in the right direction.

How is your garden growing this year? Do you feel like you’re starting to reap the rewards of all your hard work?

Drying Herbs

September 21st, 2017

I’ve been cutting and drying herbs, mostly by hanging them on the back porch. After walking through the hot front porch many times a day, it dawned on me that this spot would be perfect for drying herbs. On sunny days, it hovers around 100 degrees, which is perfect for drying herbs.

I didn’t have an easy to hang herbs, so I put in a few nails, string a string between them, and starting clipping bouquets of herbs from it.

At the moment I have loads of catnip (more on what that will be used for later), oregano, and sage. These herbs will keep our winter meals savory and our cats happy all winter.

What herbs do you grow and dry during the summer?

Making Tomato Conserva

September 19th, 2017

Many years ago, I purchased the book ‘Cooking by Hand’ by Paul Bertolli. This book is part cookbook, part biography, part cooking theory; recipes are interspersed with stories of how they came about and recommendations and theories for making food even more delicious. While reading through the section on tomatoes, I came across the recipe for Conserva and immediately knew I wanted to make it. It’s not a difficult recipe, but it does take some time. The final product makes it worth every single minute, you won’t find a better way to preserve tomatoes.

This rich, concentrated tomato paste (though calling it paste is a bit derogatory as it’s nothing like canned tomato paste), is like a ripe summer tomato intensified in a jar. Because it’s not cooked at a really high temperature, it has a completely different flavor than many cooked tomato sauces. The sugars seems to intensify and the fresh tomato flavor comes through quite clearly. Overall I’d say it’s much brighter than other cooked and canned tomato products, which almost end up with a heavy bitterness from the heat of cooking. Conserva is a bit of summer tomato heaven in the middle of our long Maine winters. It is such a versatile pantry staples; a small spoonful can be stirred into sauces to add a richness and depth of flavor, add it to canned tomato sauces to make it thicker, a spoonful in broth will add another layer of flavor to soup. We really enjoy it spread on sandwiches made of olive bread, eggs, arugula, bacon, and cheese (a bit of a BLT with conserva taking the place of fresh tomato).

In the book his recipe starts with 5 pounds of tomatoes, I find this size of a batch to be way to small. The final product is only about a cup of concentrate. I always double it, both because I want lots of it in my pantry, and because I like to maximize my time. If I have the oven on for 7 hours, I may as well have it full. Typically, my batches start with 10 pounds of tomatoes (though I make two 5 lb batches separately and put them in the oven together), from this amount I end up with a pint of conserva. Generally, I make 3-4 batches each summer. I also add a branch of a tomato plant in the pan, it adds a wonderfully deep tomato flavor to the final product. Contrary to popular belief, the stems and leaves of tomato plants are not poisonous.

Here’s the basics recipe:
Dice 5 pounds mixed tomatoes, some paste, some canning, into small pieces. Add a splash of good olive oil to a large pan, pour in tomatoes, add a small tomato branch with leaves, sprinkle with a teaspoon or so of sea salt. Bring them to a rapid boil and cook for 2 minutes. Put through smallest plate on a food mill, there should be no seeds in the final puree. (If you’ve been looking for a nice stainless steel food mill, I highly recommend this one from Matfer. I bought mine 7-8 years ago and LOVE it. Previously, I was using an old aluminum Squeez-O and wasn’t super keen on my food coming into contact with the aluminum. I use this one all the time, for making applesauce, pumpkin puree, tomato puree, and pureeing soups.)

Lightly oil a large casserole dish, I prefer to use glass since tomatoes are very acidic. (My favorite are these borosilicate glass pans from Marinex, I have several of them and use them constantly.) Pour puree into pan, place into a 300 degree oven, convection is best, but not necessary, but it will take longer in a regular oven. Cook for 3 hours, if not using convection add another hour or two to the time. Stir occasionally with a spatula, when you notice the surface start to darken, reduce heat to 250 and continue cooking for another 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until it is thick, shiny, and brick-colored. Your final amount will be about 1/10 of what you started with, 1 cup of paste is about what you will end up with this batch (which is why I always double it).

Put conserva into a glass jar carefully pressing out any air pockets, cover with 1/2 inch of good olive oil. Paul recommends keeping the conserva in the pantry if you have a cool, dark space. As long as you maintain the 1/2 inch layer of olive oil on top it should keep. I keep mine in the fridge because my pantry isn’t always cool. Mine always lasts a year in the fridge if I am careful to maintain a layer of olive oil on top.

It seems a little complicated, but it’s not at all. In fact, most of the time is spent waiting and occasionally checking on the conserva in the oven. I make 3-4 double batches each year, it’s a staple in our pantry.

What’s your favorite way to preserve tomatoes for winter?

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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