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Archive for June, 2011

Photo by Dontworry

So remember how a reader asked me how to feel more like a farmer in the city, and I answered her and said now this meant I had an advice column and you would all be justified in having fear feelings about this?

Yeah, well anyhow, remember how after that I answered a question about my potting mix recipe for tomatoes in containers and raised beds?

Are you starting to get the feeling that this advice thingy might be for real, and not just some passing fancy I entertained after 3 gin gimlets and a handful of tookies?  By which I mean, cookies?  By which I mean, tookies?

Good!  ‘Cause the questions keep coming, my adorable little misfits, and Bad Mama Genny ain’t one for leaving you in the homesteading dust, ‘kay?

Or any other kind of dust for that matter.  Who leaves people in dust?

So lest we all forget what this post was supposed to be about, (oh, honey biscuits, THAT SHIP HAS SAILED), I received a question from a Chicago reader named Mary yesterday, and it’s a query that I just know you city farmers are itching to hear all about:

“I keep reading that avocado trees are easy to grow.  I’ve heard that you can take them in the house in the winter and they’ll keep growing.  Do you agree?  What kind of tree is it that you said you have in your apt.?  Oh I would so love to have an avocado tree!” -Mary

Well, look, it’s out of the question for me to turn my back on a fellow guac-lover.

That’s just about the cruelest thing you can do to a person.  Deny them guac, I mean. That, or rip a run in their fishnets.  That’s pretty evil, too.

So here’s my answer for Mary:

Dwarf Avocados are entirely possible to maintain in containers in our Arctic corner of the Midwest, though they have a reputation for being finicky and many people can never get them to produce fruit.  If you’d like to do it, remember that quality plants can also be expensive.  If you’re looking for shade, starting a tree from a storebought avocado pit via that god-awfully tedious process with the toothpicks that we all learned in kindergarten (Shoot me.  Shoot me now.) is fine, though the growth habit may get out of control. This is not the way to go if you want fruit.  That’s because most storebought avocados come from hybrid stock that doesn’t produce true-to-seed: in other words, you won’t get the same avocado you got the pit from.  You may get a rock-hard, low-fruit avocado, or you may get none at all.

For fruit, contact a reputable nursery and get a quality plant, preferably one that has a year or two under its belt.  Little Cado and Holiday are a few of the varieties I’ve heard recommended; Don Gillogly is a variety that seems to a problem for just about everyone, so I’d steer clear.  A 5 gallon pot is usually sufficient for these guys, and they cap off at about 8 to 10 feet.  Thankfully, I capped off at about 5 1/2 feet, but then again, I don’t make avocados.  Dammit.

I don’t recommend investing in one of these unless you have a very sunny spot INDOORS.  These guys, like dwarf citrus trees (I have a dwarf Cara Cara orange tree), will happily go outdoors in the summer, but will need to be in a sunny, preferably southern-exposure spot in the house during the winter, or whenever nighttime temps are going to drop below 55.  At this point, the plant will be in dormancy and its water needs will be less–its feeding needs will be around zero.  In the spring, you’d start to fertilize here and there and increase watering to break the dormant period (but only if you have the sunlight to support new growth).  You’ll notice it taking off shortly after it’s moved outside.  Speaking of moving it outside, do this gradually–a few hours to start–and increase the outside time over the course of a week.

If space is limited and you just want to grow something tropical that makes you feel like a rockstar, I’d recommend Mayer Lemons or another dwarf citrus variety–they produce more reliably in containers than avocados.  But if you’re up for a challenge and an adventure, go for it!  Just remember that my advice here entitles me to a one third share in all resulting guacamole.  Sorry.  I don’t make the rules.

Well, whaddya say, misfits?  Have any of you successfully grown avocado trees in containers indoors?  If so, don’t be shy with the details–we wanna know how you did it and what varieties you grew!

Also, whether the resulting guac was mildly kick-ass, appropriately kick-ass, generous with the ass-kickage, mind-blowing ass-kicking, or leg-pulling mind-blowing skirt-flipping ass-kicking.

What?

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Sometimes you hit the too-much point.  You know what I’m talking about.  It’s just…all too much.  You feel wild.  You feel crazy.  You feel out of control, out of body, and like you just want someone to put you in a room full of glass and hand you a baseball bat.  You’re pissed at the world and its incompetence/lack of compassion/stupidity/unfairness/insert shitty attribute here.  You are awesome, goddammit–you kick ass.  Why doesn’t everyone agree on that?  Why is everything going to hell?

So I hit that point today, and when I saw that a loaf of bread had gone moldy, I went over the edge, delightfully careening out of my gourd as a steady David Bowie soundtrack played in the background.  I slammed the loaf to the ground and stomped it into disc form while screaming and crying and uttering a string of obscenities that would surprise a grand total of nobody who knows me.  I howled about wanting to burn everything to the ground.  Yes.  Yes, this was good.  I needed more. And The Boy could tell.

He took a glance around.  There was a moldy orange in our fruit bowl.  He gingerly placed it in the center of my new Breaking Shit pile.  Then he got the fuck out the way.

Freshly-squeezed O.J., anybody?

But the pièce de résistance was a gingerbread village (yes, gingerbread, as in Christmas) that was laying in a pile of things to be “handled.”  Well, fuck, I could handle that village right here and now.  Godzilla-esque fantasies flashed through my head.  I slammed the thing to the floor and went on a killing rampage, complete with imaginary screaming villagers, as The Boy watched on with what I believe was genuine childlike delight.

My little misfits, I beat the shit out of that gingerbread village.

There is a beast that lives in each of us.  Suppressing it is what gets us into trouble, and into straightjackets.  Feed the beast regularly.  Let your crazy out.  Fly your freak flag.  Start a “Breaking Shit” pile at your homestead.  And if you want, show me your Breaking Shit pile.  Bonus points if you’re in the shot actually breaking shit.  And I’ll post it on this here site.

After the carnage had passed, and The Boy and I were standing there in quiet contemplation of my streak of destruction, he sighed deeply, saying:

“Your main problem is that you’re a goddess, and you’re among men and women, and you’re trying to be one of them.  You know, that’s what Jesus tried, and I’m not sure if you know, but it didn’t really work out for him…have you read the Bible?”

I love The Boy.

Until next time, my sweet, sweet misfits: break shit.  And love yourself.

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You must read this post, titled “When I grow up I’m going to be an old woman.”

I so hope that none of you read my blog or are into natural foods or homesteading because you think this lifestyle will keep you looking 25 for life.  Instead, how about we all just strive to be like Roxanna and be the coolest old ladies we can be?  I know I’ve been fortunate enough to know a few–those special women who laugh at the notion of “aging gracefully,” wear white after Labor Day, dye their gray hair purple, talk about sex with jaw-dropping candor, and just generally have a hell of a good time, no matter what anyone else says about how they should do it.  And mourning their youth?  Fuggedaboutit!  They’re having too much fun as devil-may-care, wheelin’ and dealin’ old ladies to give two skrits HOW old they are…or what anyone else thinks about what aging SHOULD look like.

I mean, the choice seems clear to me.  You can be this:

Photo by Hamed Saber

 

Or, you know…this. 

Are you a cool-as-hell old lady?  Do you aspire to be one?  Let’s discuss!

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Hey there, pumpkin muffins.

I’ve only met one of my grandparents, and none of my great grandparents.  But according to the tale I’ve been told, a great grandfather on my mother’s side was quite the Moonshine makin’ man during Prohibition.  Bathtub gin was on the menu, oh, pretty much every night.  Until that fateful day.

(Asshat Neighbors pound on door.  Great grandpa swears under his breath, gets up slowly–his knees just ain’t what they used to be–and hobbles over.  He opens the door and sees Asshat Neighbors.  Criminy, what do they want?)

Asshat Neighbors were all, “Give us some of that bathtub gin you make, or we’ll tell on you!”

And my great-grandpa was all, “No deal, Asshats!  Make your own.”

Well, maybe he didn’t say “Asshats.”  But who knows, he could have.  He is related to me.

And do you know what the Asshat Family did?  They told on him!  To the cops!  Now, where I come from, you don’t go tattling on neighbors, but I implore you to remember, dear readers, that these people were Asshats to the 10th degree.  Maybe even the 11th degree.  I’m not really sure what level of Asshattery happens at the various degrees.  I’ve also never been too clear over what the various sexual courtship “bases” are.  Which, actually, explains a lot.

Anyhow, the cops came and took my sweet little great grandpa to the slammer for making his sweet little bathtub gin and let him make one sweet little phone call to my sweet little great grandma, who had to show up to post his sweet little bail.

Wait…from what I’ve heard, there was nothing sweet, nor little, about the bail she posted.  Great grandma be pissed at great grandpa.  Great grandpa be pissed at the world.  Great grandpa sweared on the family Bible that he would have his revenge, mwahahahHAHAHAHA!

Okay, that didn’t happen.  But the bail part did, and the getting pissed part did.  And you know what else happened?  My sweet little great grandpa kept making his sweet little bathtub gin.  ‘Cause you know what?  Eff The Man!  Who is he to come between me and my gin!?

I mean, between great grandpa and HIS gin.

Well, thankfully, Prohibition eventually ended (where alcohol is concerned at least.  Did you know that weed was wiped out with alcohol when Prohibition began, and that it was never allowed back?) and when Jimmy Carter was President (remember my thank you to Jimmy Carter?) he legalized home brewing, making adventures like these (and The Boy’s career) possible!

Now, remember when I was talking about how I’m saving the pods from shelling peas in the freezer for a batch of peapod wine?  Well, I also loaded up on beets when my CSA began trying to clear them out.  Really, you don’t need too many–about 3 1/2 pounds will do just fine for a gallon of wine.  AND you get to eat the beets after you’re done with the boil.  AND it’s a great way to use up the beet boiling water that you’d otherwise have thrown out or tossed in with the compost!

People, this is free wine.  FREE WINE.

Mostly free wine.  I had everything home for this, but I was out of wine yeast.  So The Boy picked up some wine yeast for me.  For $0.36.  Then came home.  And went, Oh.  I brewed all day.  And now we’re going to brew some more.  Okay.  It’s fine.  It’s not like I wanted to sit.  Or anything.

Actually, The Boy isn’t passive-aggressive at all, nor would he ever turn down a brew project.  In fact, I ordered him to the couch and slipped the remote into his hand, but he jumped back up to bring out his sanitizing buckets and fancy tools (which you will not need).

If ever you have lied to yourself and assumed that wine making would be, OMG like sooo hard!, you can forget it.  This will take you an hour of active time to get started, tops (not at all like making beer, which, admittedly, can take kind of a while).  Even less time than an hour if you count the beet boiling time as part of dinner prep.

Which I did.  Because I like cheating the system.  Also, because I forced mass quantities of beets down our throats last night and I feel like I should get some extra credit out of that.

In case you’re curious, the finished wine is like a deep, dry, earthy red.  Or more like fuschia.  I likeses that.  I want to go to there.  Do you want to go to there with me?

Then shut the blinds and cast a suspicious sideways glance at your neighbors!  Gather round, children!  It’s beet wine we be makin’ tonight!  Bathtub optional!

No Asshats allowed.

Beet Wine
Makes 1 gallon

Go Get:
3 1/2 to 4 pounds of beets, peeled, with the tops and a sliver of the bottoms cut off (I used a mix, which will influence the color somewhat.)
5 3/4 cups sugar (I myself think it would be kinda awesome to use beet sugar for this part.  Just for parallelism.  Or something.  Whatever, I used evaporated cane juice.  I’m betting you could also tweak this and use honey.)
Juice of 2 large lemons, or 3 small ones
1 1/2 cups strong, cold black tea
1 packet wine yeast
1 teaspoon yeast nutrient (not strictly necessary, but recommended.  Hit a home brewing store–I like Brew & Grow in Chicago.)

Stuff You Should Have on Hand:
1 gallon glass jug
Another glass jug or food-grade bucket
An airlock
A siphon (or a ladle)
Wine bottles and corks

Go Do:
Hi!

Cleanse, rinse, and sanitize any equipment that’ll be touching wine but that isn’t getting boiled.

Okay, so now you put those rough and ready beets into a pot, cover ’em with, oh, 12 cups of water or so, and bring it to a boil.  Then lower the heat and simmer the beets until they’re tender enough to eat (for me, this took about 30 minutes).  Take out the beets and eat ’em or save for another use.

Stir in the sugar until it’s completely dissolved.  Now cover it and let it all cool to somewhere in the area of 70 degrees F.  When this happens, stir in the tea, yeast nutrient, and lemon juice.

Pour the liquid into your bucket or first jug (use a funnel if you need to), and fill with enough filtered water to make a gallon (but leave some room for 1/4 cup liquid).  At this point you can take a hydrometer reading to determine the original gravity of your mix.  Why?  Well, ’cause if you know it, you can take a final gravity reading after fermentation and determine the exact alcohol percentage of your finished wine.  Click here to figure out how to use one properly.  But admittedly, this is a totally unnecessary step.  We have a hydrometer that gets pretty regular use around here, so I took a reading.  If all goes according to plan, my finished wine will be between 12 and 13 percent alcohol.  Sweet!

Now mix the packet of yeast into about 1/4 cup lukwarm water…around 100 degrees F.  Let it sit for 5 minutes and re-acclimate to the liquid world.  There’s a science-y reason we do this, but I won’t bore you with that now.  Scrape down the sides of the yeast bowl and pour it into the beet stuff.

Mmm…beet stuff.

Even Bad Mama Genny makes messes. It's okay. Calm down.

Stick a sterilized airlock (filled with a little water) into the jug’s neck or a tight hole in the lid of your bucket.  The airlock allows CO2 to get out without allowing bacteria in.  And you need to let CO2 out.  Otherwise, I hope you like exploded glass.

‘Cause I know I heart exploded glass!

Put your jug in a dark place that’s between 70 and 75 degrees.  Let the whole thing sit and ferment for about a week, or until activity slows down.  What activity? you might be asking.  Well, about 12 hours after the yeast is pitched, you’ll notice signs of fermentation.  The jug may produce a gurgling or bubbling sound, or a clicking from the airlock.  You’ll see lots of air bubbles moving around, perhaps some foaming up top, and lots of gas bubbles rising up out of the airlock.  Once the little yeasties have eaten lots of nommable sugars, though, they’ll get tired.  Their environment is full of alcoholic waste, and there’s no more food.  Man, this really sucks!  Fermentation slows.  Some of the yeast will drop to the bottom of the jug and die.

<Sad trombone sound>

So after fermentation has slowed to a stop, use a sterilized siphon or ladle to move the liquid from the first container into another sterilized jug.  Be careful to leave the yeast sediment and general STUFF on the bottom of the first container.  You’re going for a clear wine, and muddy stuff does not aid this process.  Stick that airlock back on top (again, with a little water inside), and put it back in its dark, happy place.  You’ll want to leave it until the wine clears itself.  If you’re not sure, there should be no signs of fermentation, and no air bubbles in the air lock.  This usually takes about 8 weeks.

Dios mio, you mean I have to wait to drink this wine?!

Yes, yes, I do mean that.  And you’ll have to wait longer:  After that 8 week thingy happens, use that sterilized siphon (or ladle and funnel) to transfer the wine into sterilized wine bottles.  Leave a little less than an inch of space at the top.  You can take another hydrometer reading now–click here to figure out how to use one properly.  Cork or seal the bottles and move them into a cool, dark place to age for ::drumroll::…

4 to 6 months!  I know, I know, waiting to get drunk is NO FUN, DUDES.  No fun at all.  So I recommend having other alcohol on hand to meet your party animal needs.  Don’t try to drink the beet wine before this time has elapsed, though, and leaving a little more time will generally make it even better.  Wine that’s way too young?  Not as tasty, my friends.  Not. As. Tasty.

So whaddya think?  Sure, it’s a wait, and sure you can buy wine, but this is fun!  It gives you bragging rights, and it will make people at BYOB places think you’re a total badass.  Not to mention it’s waste-preventing and almost free!  How can you turn down free wine?

I’ll tell you, my sweet little cucumbers–you can’t.  You just can’t.

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Sexy, Sexy Vegetables

Bags of bok choy and a huge bowl full of Egyptian Walking Onions.

This is just the bok choy that’s getting frozen.  The rest is being pickled, fermented, sauteed for dinner, and turned into Hot and Sour Cabbage.  Wanna grow your own bok choy next year?  They have shallow root systems, so you could pull it off in windowboxes!  We started harvesting at 30 days after transplant…not too shabby, eh?

Speaking of pickling and fermenting, why not take the classes I’m teaching in those very subjects?  Sign up for the Creative Connection Event in St. Paul, MN, September 15th through 17th!  It’s going to be a blast!  My classes are Pickle It! and Let’s Ferment!   If you’ve ever wanted to know how to make the easiest ever vinegar pickles, naturally fermented vegetables, apple cider vinegar from fruit scraps, sourdough bread, and a heck of a lot of other things (ooh, mysterious!), you’ll love these classes.  Plus, I’m hearing about all the fun social stuff (Cupcake Farewells?  Craft Markets?) that’ll be included in your pass, and, uh, it sounds freaking delightful.

FREAKING DELIGHTFUL, I TELL YOU!

Register today!–class size is limited to keep everything hands-on and fun, fun fun!

What are you harvesting?

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