Growing Something New – Stone Creek Trading!

It has been a very busy spring for us, although it seems like every spring is busy.  Our garden hasn’t been our main focus for this year, as we have been busy growing something else – our business!

Kryz & I are extremely excited to announce that we have opened our online store – www.stonecreektrading.com.

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At Stone Creek Trading, we will be selling a variety of housewares & toys, all made from natural materials.  We feel that this business is a perfect combination of our unique talents and capabilities.  All of the products are imported from Kryz’s native Poland.  We have focused on natural products as a reflection of the way we try to lead our lives.

We offer stoneware fermenting crocks to make your own naturally fermented pickles or sauerkraut (favorites in our house!).

We also have kitchen products and wood utensils that we use everyday in our desire to eat as many homemade meals as possible.

But the products we are most excited about are the wooden toys!  These are the type of toys that we are thrilled to have our daughter playing with.

We have recently launched the website, and would love for you to check it out.  We are constantly researching new products to add and have a few ideas of products we would like to develop as well!

We still have a garden of course, as eating homegrown food is a passion of ours.  But we are taking a much more laid back approach this year.  Being more relaxed about the garden has also made it much more enjoyable.  We will continue to add updates about the garden, but will probably be focusing mostly on the business for now.

So head on over to stonecreektrading.com and check out what we’ve been growing this spring!

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Seed Binders: Easy Seed Organization and Storage

When we first dove into the world of starting our own seeds, it quickly became essential to find a way to organize all of our seeds.  And when we started to see how many seeds we had left over at the end of the year, the idea of storing them came up as well.  We created this quick and easy way to organize and store our seeds, using 3 rings binders and other items purchased at an office supply store!

1 Y - P1060203The first thing you need is a 3 ring binder.  We had a few left over from our college days, so we re-purposed those.  These are a 1″ size, but if I was purchasing new I would probably get 2″.

2 Y - P1060207We needed 3 binders to fit all of our seeds, but then we have 12 varieties of carrots (and a bit of a seed buying problem perhaps?).

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You will also need baseball card sheet protectors.  We found ours at our local Staples, but you can also get them online here.

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If you have a lot of seeds, like us, I would also suggest getting some tab organizers like these.

Y - P1060242Finally, you will need some small zip lock bags.  We use the ones found at the link, but I recently saw some at the Dollar Store as well.  As long as they are 2.5″x3.5″ or less they will fit in the pockets of the sleeve protector.

c y - P1060276So now that you’ve gathered your supplies, it’s really very easy to get set up.  First, grab a seed packet and a small zip lock bag.  Transfer the name of the seed and the year you bought it from the seed packet onto the bag.  You can be fancy and print labels like we did in the beginning, or if you don’t have time you can just use a sharpie like we do now.  Cut open your seed packet, empty the contents into the zip lock and seal it.

c y - P1060274Next, take your seed packet and cut out the picture on the front and directions on the back.  I try to keep it to 2.5″x3.5″ to fit in the pocket, but sometimes I have to make the directions larger and fold it to fit.

c y - P1060272Now place the zip lock bag with the seeds in the first pocket in the sheet protector.  Put the directions and the picture in the other 2 pockets in that row.  Once you have filled up the rest of the page with other seeds, put the sheet protector in your binder.  Rinse & repeat!

c Y - P1060214 If you have a lot of different seeds, I suggest using the tabs to organize your binder.  It saves a lot of time in the garden when you can quickly flip to exactly which vegetable/herb/flower seed you are looking for!

3 Y - P1060210Our seed binders have made our gardening much more efficient.  No more rummaging around searching for a hidden seed packet!  We are also saving money by not having to buy new seeds every year.  By storing our seeds this way, we are creating an environment which will promote seed viability.  The zip lock bags lock out moisture, being in a binder protects them from light and we store our binders in our basement – a cool environment.

If you are looking for a fast, easy and organized way to store your seeds, I hope you’ll create your own seed binder!

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Seed Catalogs!!

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2013 Seed Catalogs

One of my favorite parts of gardening is thumbing through the gorgeous seed catalogs that arrive each year, deciding what new things we will grow!  Between our simple seed organization and storage system (which I will share soon) and the amount of seeds we ordered last year, we really don’t need that many new ones.  But of course, we have to order something fresh & fun each year!

One of the difficult decisions is which catalog to order from.  This year we had 6 to choose from – Territorial, Pinetree, Johnny’s, Bakers Creek, Seed Savers Exchange and Sand Hill Preservation. There are so many great ones, but because of shipping charges, we try to place an order from only 1 or 2 each year.

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Beets and Broccoli from Seed Savers Exchange

Last year we ordered seeds from Seed Savers Exchange, a favorite of ours.  The company  is located in Iowa, our neighbor to the west which also has a similar growing climate.  We have ordered from them a few times over the years and have always been pleased with the results.  They offer a wide variety of seeds and have even more available if you become a member.

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Beets & Brussels Sprouts from Bakers Creek

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Beautiful Cabbages from Bakers Creek

We also ordered from Bakers Creek for the first time last year. The photography in this catalog is so beautiful.  It makes me want to grow every seed, plus cut out pages and hang them on my wall!  The prices at Bakers Creek are very reasonable and I appreciate the philanthropy work they do with their seeds.  However, Bakers Creek only offers heirloom seeds – no hybrids.  Last year we had a lot of problems with disease and pests, so we wanted to try a few resistant hybrids.

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Pinetree Garden Seeds Catalog

This year we decided to order from Pinetree Garden Seeds.  We haven’t ordered from this company before, but are impressed by their low prices.  I have heard that the quantity of seed in the packets is smaller.  Since we don’t need much this year, we don’t really want big packets anyway!  They offer both hybrid and heirlooms, so we are able to get a mix of everything we need, plus a few extras that we are excited about!

P1060200Now we are just anxiously awaiting our seeds to arrive so we can share with you the new varieties we are trying!

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Seed Starting 101 – Keep them growing

Last year was our first attempt at starting seeds indoors.  We didn’t know exactly what we were doing and ended up with weak and spindly seedlings.  Over the winter we did a lot of research and determined what our main problems were – not enough light or nutrients.

Our new lights are directly above the seedlings, and only 1-2 inches away from the tallest plant.

So this year we are learning from our mistakes.  We purchased better lights and installed them directly above the seedlings. We also have the lights much closer to the actual seedlings, only 1-2 inches above.

The seedlings on the left have just emerged from the soil, and have their first set of leaves - so we put them under the lights. The seedlings on the upper right are just starting to develop their first true leaves. On the bottom right, you can clearly see the first true leaves - usually the second set of leaves to appear. The true leaves are the first leaves that actually look like the plant.

Last year (and with the first seeds we started this year), we waited too long after the seeds had sprouted to put them under the lights.  Now we have been moving the trays under the lights as soon as we see the first couple seedling peeking up from the dirt.

Pepper seedlings in their larger containers

We are also transplanting the seedlings to larger containers much sooner.  After the first true leaves (the ones that actually look like the plant, usually the second set of leaves to appear) have become a decent size, we start transplanting.  If you take your plant out of the cell pack and notice that the roots are densely packed or all trying to get out the bottom, you waited too long!

The organic water soluble fertilizer we are using. I believe we got this at Home Depot. A little bit goes a long way.

We also purchased a water soluble organic fertilizer.  When we transplant the seedling to the larger container, we mix potting soil with water which has the fertilizer mixed in.  The seedling will double in size within a week after getting all those nutrients!

A newly transplanted tomato seedling in the foreground, and a forest of strong, healthy tomato seedlings that were transplanted a couple weeks earlier in the background.

The combination of these changes has resulted in some strong, stocky, thick-stemmed plants that look so much healthier than last year’s variety.

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Weekend Update – 4/15/12

The last few weeks have been very busy with a variety of  non-photo worthy projects in our house.  We did a lot of behind the scenes things that needed to be completed before we can get started on the bigger projects we have planned.  But the garden kept on growing, and we did get a few things planted.

A few blossoms on the Alpine Strawberries.

We added a make shift bunny fence around the alpine strawberries as well.  Something – we’re guessing a rabbit or squirrel – decided that the leaves were delicious and had almost eaten all of them when we discovered the issue.  We also had 3 nights with frost warnings last week, so we applied a heavy mulch to the strawberries.  They seem to have survived just fine and we even have some blossoms.

Transplanted seedlings in their larger containers. These are mostly eggplant & peppers - but we also have tomatoes, ground cherries and herbs.

We have been doing a lot of transplanting as well.  All of our peppers and tomatoes were started in small cells, which they were quickly outgrowing.  So we moved them up to larger pots to survive the next 3-4 weeks before we can set them out.

The cabbages and peas have been enjoying the cool weather.

The cabbages seem to be growing well.  This is our first year growing them, so I’m not really sure – but they are huge!  I just hope they start forming heads soon.  The peas are in desperate need of a trellis.  We have been working on building one this week, and hope to post plans and photos soon.

Broccoli, Cauliflower, Lettuce, Spinach, Kale, Celery Root, Parsley Root & Radishes.

Our “greens” are slowly growing.  I am getting very impatient to have our own fresh harvested lettuce, spinach and kale.  We are also trying a lot of new cool weather crops in this bed, and so far have had mixed results.  We started the parsley and celery root inside in February and it’s still tiny.  I’m not sure how it will turn out.  Plus we have already lost half of the cauliflower we transplanted.  We will have to try some more again in the fall.

Currant blooms

Our berry bushes are starting to bloom – which means berries aren’t too far off!  The currants were purchased at a Polish garden store in Chicago.  This was the first nursery where we found currant bushes stocked in our area.  We didn’t discover it until early fall though, and the nice man at the store was a little concerned that we were getting them in too late.  But thanks in part to the mild winter, they survived and it seems like we might see our first fruit this summer.

Blueberry blossoms

Last year we bought 4 blueberry bushes.  Two of these were purchased on clearance at a hardware store that was going out of business.  They looked pretty much dead at the time.  One of these was chewed off by rabbits this spring.  However, it looks there are a few leaves growing on it now, so it might make a recovery.  The other one is growing, although is still fairly small.  The other two blueberry bushes we got from Whole Foods.  They were about 3 times as large as the clearance ones, and cost about 3 times as much ($15 a piece).  The smaller of those two actually had berries last year (their first season in the ground) which Maggie thoroughly enjoyed.  The blooms above are on that same bush, so it looks like we will be getting more blueberries this year as well.  The other bushes don’t have any blossoms yet, so we will see.

Newly purchased gooseberry bush.

When we were visiting my parents over Easter, we stopped in at a favorite small town nursery.  We were excited to find 2 large gooseberry bushes for only $12 a piece.  Both the gooseberries and the currants are very nostalgic for Kryz.  He remembers his Grandpa growing both of these in Poland and making them into syrups and jams.  We are excited to be able to grow some in our garden now too.  We have had a hard time finding either gooseberries or currants locally, so I’m glad we found these.  Both bushes were covered in blossoms when we bought them, and now you can see the little berries developing as well!

So that’s a quick update on our garden progress over the last few weeks.  This weekend is our frost free date, so we have a long list of things to get in the ground.  I’m sure we’ll have a lot to update soon as our garden keeps on growing!

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Homemade Polish Apple Fritters

Even though we try to eat healthy most of the time, it’s important to  treat ourselves to something special occasionally!  These Homemade Polish Apple Fritters are a favorite in our house.  The crunchy puffed fried batter creates the perfect contrast with the soft sweet tart of the apple.

Homemade Polish Apple Fritters

This recipe is a translation and adaption of a Polish recipe that Kryz remembers enjoying growing up.  While kids in Poland would often enjoy these Apple Fritters as a special treat, you can also make into a full meal.  We like to prepare these for Sunday evening dinner, a meal we typically reserve for something fun and unique – a tradition adopted from Emily’s family.

I hope you find a special time with your family to make these delicious treats – Homemade Polish Apple Fritters.

Ingredients –

3 eggs, separated

1/2 cup sugar

2 1/2 tablespoons half and half

1 cup flour

1 T cornstarch

4 medium granny smith apples

1-2 cups frying oil (canola, vegetable, etc.)

powdered sugar for serving

1.  Beat egg yolks with sugar and cream until combined.  In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until very stiff.  Fold egg whites into cream mixture. Sift together flour and cornstarch. Add to wet mixture, stirring until just combined.

Slice apples perpendicular to the core to create rings

2.  Peel and core apples.  Cut into 1/4″ thick rings by slicing perpendicular to the core.

3.  Heat oil in frying pan over medium heat.  Add enough oil to cover pan in 1/2″ of oil.  Dip apple rings in batter until coated and drop into oil.

Frying apple deliciousness!

4.  Fry for 4-5 or until bottom is golden brown.  Flip to other side and continue frying for another 2-3 minutes or until second side is also golden brown.  Place on paper towels to drain.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar and enjoy!

5.  Arrange fritters on plate and sprinkle with powdered sugar.  Enjoy immediately!

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Weekend Update – Let the planting begin!

Because both Kryz and I work full time during the week, the weekends are our busiest gardening times.  The unseasonably warm spring we’ve been having so far means that we were able to get a lot done in the garden this weekend.  And we weren’t the only ones working hard in the garden – quite a few plants were already showing new growth and buds!  I just hope that a late frost doesn’t destroy all this early progress.  We’ll be keeping a close eye on the forecast in the coming weeks in case we need to add some protection to our early sprouts.

Here’s a brief overview of what our weekend looked like –

Alpine Strawberries

  • Alpine Strawberries – We started these plants from seed last year, and by August we were picking berries.  Alpine Strawberries are a much smaller berry than the traditional berry most people are used to buying at the supermarket, but the flavor is far more concentrated.  While you will rarely be able to pick more than just a handful or two at a time, these powerhouse plants will produce from early summer through the last frost.  It seems our Alpine Strawberries got the warm weather message because they are breaking right through their winter mulch with some gorgeous new leaves.

Garlic

  • Garlic – This is our first year planting garlic.  So far it looks like the mild winter and warm spring have stimulated a lot of growth in these guys!  Garlic is planted in the fall and overwintered under a thick bed of mulch.  In the spring they send up their green stalks and continue to grow until they are harvested mid-summer.  Hopefully what is growing underground looks as good as what we can already see.

Bunny Fence

  • Bunny Fence – We added some chicken wire and fence posts around 2 of our raised beds to keep the bunnies out.  Last year they were very good at finding all our cabbages and peas and chewing them to the ground.  We tried adding chicken wire to the bottom of our existing fenced backyard, but the bunnies out smarted us and went in through the gates!  This year we decided to plant their favorite veggies inside individually fenced raised beds in hopes of foiling their evil plans.  Now if the bunnies manage to jump this 2′ high fence, I think we will have to resort to more drastic measures!

Cabbages

  • Cabbages – The cabbages that we started indoors were ready to head outside, so we got all 24 of them in the ground this weekend!  Kryz has big plans to make our own sauerkraut this year.  These cabbages fill up a majority of one of our bunny protected beds.  I love how neat and organized our little plants look right now.  I hope they look this good in a month or two!
  • Lettuce, Spinach & Kale – We also direct sowed some greens in another of the bunny protected beds.  These seeds can be planted fairly early and with the warm weather, we hope to have home grown salads in a few weeks.
  • Peas –The remainder of the cabbage bed and part of the “greens” bed also contain peas.  We planted these last weekend and are just starting to see some sprouts today.  We have a trellis planned that will span between the two bunny protected beds to provide a support for the peas, and later beans.  We are working on the plans for the trellis now and will be sure to document the build process to share.

Onion Transplants

  • Onion Transplants – Our onion transplants also made their way into the ground this weekend.  We started these from seed indoors in early February, so we are happy to see them going into the garden.  This is our first time starting onion from seed, so we are trying to document the process to learn what works, and what doesn’t!  Throughout the garden we are using the Square Foot Gardening method this year.  This cardboard spacing template made planting much easier.  More about that in a later post.

Our mini-gardner

Perhaps the best part of the weekend was the help from our favorite little mini-gardner.  She only pulled out 2 onion transplants and managed to confine her digging to her own sand box – not Mommy & Daddy’s garden beds.  She also had lots of fun filling up her watering can to help make sure the new seeds were nice and wet.  I’m not sure why she thought her shoes also needed to be watered, but it’s best not to try and understand the mind of a toddler.

Overall it was a very productive weekend.  We just hope this warm weather holds and we can get even more done next weekend.  Hope you had a great garden weekend too!

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