Thursday, March 20, 2014

Using a Cloche for Early Spring Gardening

Cloche: A cloche (pronounced "klosh") is a lightweight covering for a plant or plants that can easily be moved. A cloche is the simplest cover to build and use. It can easily be moved to different parts of the garden to cover different plants. When the cloche is put on over tender young plants in early spring, it's called a "hot cap." Unlike cold frames, cloches allow light to reach a plant from every direction. 

You can reuse cloches to cover as many as 3, 4, or more crops in the same year. Cloches are especially well suited for use in the maritime Northwest, where plants need protection from excessive rain and cold winds more than from very low temperatures. The weaknesses of cloches are their vulnerability to heavy wind and their inability to keep plants as warm as cold frames or greenhouses.

Cloche Materials. A cloche can be made of anything that transmits light, so the possibilities for design are nearly limitless. They can be made of cheap materials - cheaper than those needed to make a cold frame or greenhouse. 

To cover a row of plants or a section of garden, you can build one large cloche or a series of modular cloches that link together. The word "cloche" is French for bell. In Europe, gardeners have covered plots for centuries, and in the 1600s, French market gardeners used a glass jar in the shape of a bell to cover a plant. Now cloches for individual plants may be made of waxed paper, plastic, fiberglass, or glass. Or your cloche may be a big, plastic-covered tunnel or tent that covers entire rows of plants. A wide variety of cloches are available commercially, with an equally wide range in prices. When open-air gardening begins in the summer, wash your cover material, dry, and store in a shady place until needed in the fall.

Homemade Cloche Design. You can scrape together a cloche by making half-circle hoop rows out of old coat hangers and then covering them with plastic. Or cut out the top, bottom, or side of any 1-gal. plastic or glass jug. To cover a wide raised bed, use sections of hog-wire fencing curved to fit the beds and covered with plastic.
  • Tunnel: In general, the tunnel style is made by stretching 4-mil polyethylene plastic sheeting over a line of half-circle hoops. The hoops are bent and fastened to strips at the top and bottom sides so they will stay put. For example, you could put the plastic over 6 x 6-inch mesh concrete-reinforcing wire. The reinforcing-wire cloche looks like the tunnel style except the wire is arched from where it is nailed to a 10-foot lumber plank over to the other side, where it is nailed to a parallel plank. Then the plastic is put over that. The 2 end openings are covered with more plastic.To ventilate a tunnel cloche, on cloudy days you open the end away from the wind. On sunny days you can open both ends. A breeze is created by the warm air leaving the cloche. As the weather gets warmer, you'll be able to leave one end open continuously. When the weather gets hot, of course, you take off the plastic and put it away until fall, when the weather gets cold again.
  • Tent: This cloche is lighter, portable, and easier to build than the tunnel. It has 4- or 6-mil polyethylene plastic sheeting stretched over an umbrella-tent-style support.
Using a Cloche. Cloches can be placed over any area of your garden, large or small, that you want to protect. To water, weed, and harvest, you lift the cloche off the bed, tilt up one end, or take off the plastic. If your cloche has no natural opening, you must remember to ventilate by propping up one side.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Homemade Treats for Valentine's Day

This Valentine's Day, don't worry about buying flowers or making dinner reservations — show your love with these thoughtful homemade (and delicious) gift ideas from Carla Emery.

Kisses: Beat 2 egg whites stiff. Add a pinch of salt, 1/2 cup of powdered sugar, and 1/2 t. vanilla. Drop from a teaspoon onto a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Bake in a 300 degree F oven about 30 minutes until firm and dry. Variation: Add 1/4 cup coconut, or 1 square chocolate, melted and mixed in.

Brandied Cherries: Boil 5 cups sugar with 2 cups water for 12 minutes, or until you have a clear syrup. Pour that syrup over 5 lb. cherries (the small sour kind) and let stand over night. Drain off the syrup and boil it again. Add cherries and boil about 5 more minutes. Take out cherries with a skimmer (the kind with holes to let the juice drain away) and put the cherries into canning jars. Boil the syrup down 15 more minutes. It should be getting pretty thick. Add 2 cups brandy. Remove from heat. Pour over cherries and seal.

Rose Geranium Cake: Sift together 2 cups flour, 1/2 t. salt, and 1 t. baking powder. Cream 1/2 cup butter and 1 cup sugar. Add alternately the flour and 2/3 cup water. Finally, add the unbeaten whites of 4 eggs. Whip hard for 5 minutes. Line a loaf pan with buttered paper and rose geranium leaves. Pour in batter. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30-45 minutes. Pull the leaves off with the paper when the cake is done. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Feeding the Team: Cornbread and Chili for Super Bowl Sunday

Are you feeding the 12th man (plus some) on Super Bowl Sunday? Try Carla Emery's recipes for a simple and delicious cornbread and chili that will keep everyone full and happy until the final field goal.

Combine 1 cup cornmeal, 1 cup home-ground (or whole) wheat flour, 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and 1 tablespoon baking powder in a bowl.

In another bowl, stir together 1 egg, 1/2 cup honey, and 1-cup milk. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ones and stir together. Add 2 tablespoons of melted butter (or lard). Stir a moment more, but don't over stir, because you don't want to stir your bubble out.

Pour into a greased 8-inch square-baking pan. Bake at 425 degrees for about 25 minutes.

Soak 2 cups dried kidney beans overnight (or use canned kidney beans).

The next day, pour off water. Simmer beans with 2 onions and 2 peppers (both chopped), 6 crushed garlic cloves, 1 pound skinned, chopped tomatoes, 2 cups tomato sauce, and 2-4 cups water, depending on how soupy you like it.

Seasonings could be 1 tablespoon each of chili powder and soy sauce (tamari). Optional ingredients are 1/2 pound slices mushrooms or 1-cup corn kernels (add those just a few minutes before serving). Simmer all for about 2 hours before serving.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

How to Start a Fire in a Wood-Burning Stove

Whether you live year-round in a home with a wood-burning stove, or if you're just cozying up in one for the winter, be sure to follow Carla Emery's step-by-step instructions for starting a fire in your stove. 

You want the wood just dry enough at burning time. It takes 6 months to a year to dry wood for burning. So spring-cut wood would be burned the next winter. Freshly cut (green) wood is about 50 percent water. It's heavy and burns "cold" (because all the energy it takes to evaporate that water). It also deposits a lot of flammable creosote in the chimney. Even well-dried wood is still 12-20 percent water. That's just right for burning. It's still damp enough to be a calm and manageable fire. If the water content is under 10 percent, you have to "tinder-dry" wood. This makes great kindling because it burns fast and hot. To burn tinder-dry wood you may have to damp down the airflow regulators to reduce the oxygen supply to keep from overheating the stove, or your home, and that lack of oxygen for the fire also tends to deposit creosote.

On very cold mornings, if there is no other heat, I let the children build the fire. It keeps them occupied while the house is warming up. Otherwise, they just stand around the cold stove and complain. The basic idea is this: You strike a match to get enough heat to light paper, which will burn and create heat enough to light kindling, which will burn and create heat enough to ignite bigger, and then bigger, hunks of wood, which will burn with enough heat to kindle coal. That's because each thing has its "kindling point," meaning the lowest possible temperature that has the lowest kindling point (the match) and work your way up.

Laying Burnables into the Stove. Separate sheets of newspaper. Wad them up individually and put them into the firebox. Or use any discarded papers or paper containers. Add some of your most finely cut kindling on top of the paper, then a few bigger chunks of wood on top of that, then a couple of yet larger sticks on top of that. Arrange all the wood in as open a style as possible, not pressed together so that lots of air can get in there. Not only does the fire in general need air, but at first every individual stick needs an air supply. I carefully arrange them log cabin or teepee style to ensure this. Once it gets going you needn't be so particular. And start with plenty of sticks. One stick of wood never burns well alone. (There's some profound philosophy there if I ever get time to ponder it--a sermon even.) Now light the paper with a match as near the bottom as you can.

Adjusting the Dampers. Fire travels up. Always start your fire with all the dampers wide open. As the fire gets going, keep it supplied with fuel of the appropriate size for the stage it's at. As it gets going better you can gradually cut back on the draft. You will waste fuel and have a hard time heating your stove and oven if you let all your hot air go directly up the chimney, which is what it will do with all the dampers left open. So when your fire is going really well, cut back the draft--by turning the damper in the stovepipe--until it starts smoking. Then turn it back enough so you have no smoke. If the chimney damper is shut too tight, you'll have smoke all over the place. If it's open too wide, the fire will roar and consume like crazy--but it won't make the room warm. Close the damper at the back or to the side of the firebox, shut or almost shut. Adjust your front damper to the point that the fire's health seems to require. The hotter your fire the more dampening it can stand. If your fire is too slow, give it more air. If your fire still isn't burning well, try loosening up the pile of fuel.

[Adapted from the "Wood Heat" section of Chapter 6: Tree, Vine, Bush & Bramble. Other topics include: Managing an Existing Stand of Trees; Reforestation; Harvesting Wood; Air Pollution; Stove Shopping; Repairing a Wood Stove; and Cooking on a Wood Stove. Illustration copyright 1994 by Cindy Davis.]

Monday, December 23, 2013

Winter Weather Beverages: Spiced Cider, Mulled Red Wine and More

Hosting a holiday gathering? Keep your guests full of Christmas cheer with Carla Emery's recipes for delicious mulled beverages. 

You can mull any juice by adding sugar and spices and heating to a boil. Then simmer 10 minutes, strain, and serve hot. Grape juice, orange juice, cider, and red wines mull especially well. Spices invariably include cloves and cinnamon sticks. Whole allspice, nutmeg, and ginger are other possibilities. Lemon juice and lemon slices are good too. Sweeten with your favorite sweetener. Be sure to strain unless all will be consumed immediately. The longer the whole spices are in it, the stronger the drink gets--and it soon becomes too bitter to enjoy!

Put 2 qt. water, 4 T. sugar, 3 cloves, and about 2 inches of stick cinnamon into a pan. Bring slowly to a boil, strain, add the juice of 4 lemons, and reboil. Serve with a slice of lemon in each glass.

Use the cheapest red wine you can find (it will still be good). Heat 1 qt. wine and add 1 stick cinnamon, juice of 1 lemon, 1/2 c. sugar, 8 cloves, and 1/2 lemon sliced into sections. Strain. Serve with a slice of the lemon in each cup. Good for the old, cold, weary, and disheartened--a medicinal substance. Mull port or sweet wines without adding sugar.

Mix 4 c. cider (or grape juice) 4 c. cranberry juice, 6 cloves, 1 stick cinnamon, 4 whole allspice, and 1/2 c. brown sugar. heat until the sugar dissolves, and serve hot.

Mix 4 c. cider, 2 whole allspice, 2 whole cloves, and about 3 inches of stick cinnamon, and boil 5 minutes. Add 1/2 c. brown sugar, boil 5 minutes more and serve hot. 

Squeeze 1 orange and 1 lemon. Combine the chopped peels, 1/2 c. sugar, 1 stick cinnamon, 1/2 t. whole allspice, and 4 c. water. Boil gently 30 minutes. Strain; add the orange and lemon juice and 2 qt. cider. Reheat and serve.

Combine 4 c. grape juice (dilute if it is very strong), 4 sticks cinnamon, about 1/4 c. sugar, and a dash each of nutmeg, cloves, ginger, and powdered cinnamon. Bring to boil and serve hot.

Combine 3 qt. boiling water, 3 T. tea leaves, 2 sticks cinnamon, and 1 t. whole cloves. When your tea is strong enough, strain and add 3/4 c. sugar, 1/2 c. lemon juice, and 1 c. orange juice. Reheat. The "tea" leaves can be whatever kind you prefer--raspberry, strawberry, rose hip, etc.