Sunday, March 21, 2010

Under the Snow

Some of my fall mums survived the winter and have little green starts. I trimmed them back and we'll see if they survive. I also planted some seeds late last fall and one of them seems to have survived. It may be a sort of freakish suspended animation, I'll let you know.


A bunch of people have asked me about the process of homebrewing and I decided that you really need pictures to understand what is happening. Here are just a few quick snapshots to give you a sense of what is going on in our apartment:

These are the grains. They are literally grains that are mixed and cracked. For us beginners you pick and buy a recipe and they give you everything you need.

You steep the grains in a large mesh bag. We didn't have a proper bag the first time we brewed and had a rather hilarious conversation about the use of some argyle stockings, pantyhose, an athletic sock, medical gauze and a bag that some stereo equipment came in. The second time around we bought what looked like a knit cotton stocking. I still vote for the argyle stockings but I am seldom right in these situations.

You remove the steeped grains and then add a whole bunch of other stuff provided by the nice store down the street. You choose a recipe and it feels like a cross between cooking a really fussy and messy recipe and a chemistry experiment. As a chemistry teacher I find the instructions provided by the nice store down the street horribly written and lacking key details. I am tempted to bring back my annotated instructions and offer to fix their recipes. We have a bunch of books and the internet is a good resource but we are still winging it a large portion of the time.

You spend a lot of time sitting next to it as I am demonstrating in the picture. The stakes at this point are really high because you have a large pot filled with boiling liquid as sticky as melted sugar. When it bubbles over it bakes on and takes a lot of scrubbing and cursing to get it off. Luckily, you can completely dismantle our stovetop, a feature that I was unaware of at the time of purchase but am eternally grateful for after this experience.

The house also smells like a brewery which is a mix of wet dog and wet farm. If you grew up in NJ, you may recognize it as the smell of Newark Airport, which has a brewing facility right next door.

Finally you transfer it to this lovely glass carboy. There are a lot more steps along the way but I only included those for which I have good pictures. Our first batch, a Belgian, is taking a time out to "think about what is has done" (according to my lovely husband). We bottled the chocolate stout last weekend. It tasted like beer and will hopefully carbonate properly (unlike our belgian). If it's good we'll share with everyone, if it's bad, we will never speak of it again.


The weather is always so unpredictable this time of year. A few weeks ago we were under feet of snow, last weekend it rained for what felt like weeks, and the past few days have been t-shirt and shorts weather. I resisted the urge to run out and buy a bunch of plants this weekend but I did get my seedlings started.

Last year I bought this mini greenhouse system and failed in my task of starting plants from seed. I think I have a black thumb in growing houseplants but a perfectly acceptable green thumb in anything outdoors. Instead of spending money on some large plastic tray and dehydrated soil pods I resurrected a trick that my Auntie E told me about, using egg shells and cartons to start seeds.

It's as easy as it seems to set it up but it does help to eat a lot of eggs. I eat two soft boiled eggs every morning and delicately crack the shell and scoop out the runny delicious yolk and white and end up with a cleaned out shell. For the past few weeks I've been saving those shells. I tucked them out of the way but apparently they broke my husband's "no experiments in the house" rule so I felt like I had to transition them from what looked like a science experiment on growing mold to a gardening project.

I nested two shell halves and filled each one with some loose soil. I dug a shall hole and dropped in a seed or two and covered the seed with some soil. I then wrote the type of seed and the date planted on the top of the carton. My main concern is watering them enough for them to sprout but not too much that the paper carton gets gross. We'll see what happens.

Monday, March 15, 2010

First Gardening of the Season

I'm sure if I looked back I would see that every mid-March I just in the car and head down to the nursery and prematurely buy some plants. I just can't help myself! Most everything was closed so I ended up at the horrible big box store down the street and got some pansies and a small azalea bush. When I got home I cleaned out the tree bed, pulled the old decorative cabbages and trimmed back the surviving plants.

In spite of the large amounts of trash, dog poop, and lord knows what in the tree bed, the bulbs were beginning to push through, the vinca had survived and the ground was crawling with worms. I really need to get in there with a rake and pull out all the leaves before I decide what to plant. It will take a while to get a tree from the City and I'd love to do something interesting either with tall grasses and other plants. The easiest thing would be to buy some small bushes but that isn't terribly interesting.

I'm starting to formulate a plan for my window boxes. My succulents continue to do well so I want to put more of them in my front full sun, full wind, and zero rain window boxes. I'm also going to start some lettuces and herbs in doors. Last year's indoor starts were a complete failure so this year I'm trying a different approach. I'll post some pics when I get it set up.

All in all, I'm very excited for my first dirt manicure of the season.