Out Like a Lamb

The weather here is insanely wonderful. Usually the most miserable month in Minnesota, March has seen not a flake of snow and today the temperature is projected to be in the mid-70s. Wow. While I hate to impy that we should ignore all the bad implications of the messed up weather (global warming, plants that will probable get hit hard by an April frost...) and just enjoy the day...
This morning FGH and I have already had our hands dirty. We repotted some of the sunflowers (temporarily and very messily). He was pretty upset I didn't let him dump the plants out after we filled the pots, but he forgot all once the hose was in his hand. Yes, it's warm enough for hoses!

I even had a spare second to photograph some books outside. I've been using our little breakfast nook for my staging area but nothing beats the outside light. I was happy to have some new books to photograph,(getting a job has really cut into my studio time) and wedding book commissions have continued to come my way (thanks, brides!) and they seem to get added to the top of my to-do list. I'm officially attending a summer and fall show, so building my inventory is starting to become a necessity, which is why I made a set of 8 brag books. When I finished I thought, wow, 8 isn't that many. Maybe I'll starting doing sets of 20. Here's one of them after the outdoor photo session this morning:


Starting Seedlings, Part I

Ahhh, it feels good to have my hands in wet soil mix once again! Our first seeds are popping. I started a couple of weeks later than I had planned, but I figured since we don't have a greenhouse, there is really no need to be super early since we will be having a little trouble with leggy plants. I thought I would share a bit about our seedling setup since I have people asking about it on a regular basis, and since I'm doing a small garden-amount of plants, all the easier for sharing with other home gardeners.

1. Plastic trays with drainage holes, these are cheap at greenhouse stores, and you can keep reusing them. Forget any sort of plastic cell or peat pot.
2. Small Soil blocker, probably mostly found through the mail, Johnny's is a good spot to shop. This is the greatest. I will try to post photos next time I use it. We have the larger size, too. Once your seeds germinate they will be transferred to the bigger blocks.
3. Soil mix, we sell it at Mississippi Market, but you can find organic mixes here and there. We usually made our own soil mix at the farm, but wow, is it easier to just buy from a respected producer.
4. Clear plastic lids for your black trays. Find these at the same place you buy the trays. Seriously essential for keeping your seeds moist and warm. You will remove them after germination, so you don't need a lid for every tray, just have a couple for your germination station.
5. Light(s). We always used regular fluorescent bulbs, but we are being fancy this year and using purple full-spectrum bulbs. It's cheaper when you are buying 2 bulbs vs. 20.
6. Seeds. I ordered a lot of tried-and-true varieties. Hybrids are legit, but stay away from treated seeds if you are trying to be organic. Many hybrids are available as organic. I balance my tried-and-true hybrids with some artisanal heirlooms. Like all things in life, finding a balance is essential. You don't want to order all heirlooms and have a lot of trouble with production.
7. Heat. This year I am using an actual heat mat that is supposed to be used for germinating seeds. Peter was using it for his bonsai this winter. At the farm we actually used heating blankets which can be found on clearance this time of year. If you use a heating blanket, make sure you cover it with plastic. Space heaters help, too. We're having a warm spring thus far so the mat seems to be doing the job. Your lights will give off heat, too.
We have a darling table to use. My dad made our old CSA farm sign into a table. How fitting. It's in our living room. It's warm in there and really, we like to watch our seeds grow, it's way better than TV.
Plastic trays - one with the plastic dome lid still on top. Make sure you label! You will not remember what is what, especially if you have one more variety of pepper, or whatever. The heat mat is under the trays with a layer of plastic under the mat to protect the table. I may add a cookie sheet to catch more moisture.

The lights are low, this prevents some of the legginess. As the plants grow we will move the lights higher.
Peppers germinating. In this batch I started parsley, bell peppers, chiles (WAY to many but I will just pick the best when transplanting), and some flowers. The flowers are in one tray and the peppers in the other.
Some sunflowers getting huge already. I don't know why we started these already, for fun I guess. They will be giant before we're ready to plant them outside.

I'll be starting tomatoes, eggplant, and kale next. Stay tuned!


Green Man

We've been playing with some play-doh type stuff lately that is a little more foamy, soft, and stretchy (thanks Gma B!) This is the collaborative "snowman" that FGH and I made the other day. It may just be the scariest creature yet. There's a big duplo stuck up his...um...bottom, cookie cutters repeatedly smashed into his head and tummy, a blue chalk nose, and the pencil in his chest, that really takes the prize. For some reason, he insisted on the pencil being shoved in as hard as possible. Now this boy is not really into cuddling dolls or stuffed animals, but this green man really tugged on his heart strings.
Life is busy with the new job and lots of book commissions (yay!). The weather is so wonderful right now so today we opened up the porch and expanded our house with a whole extra room for playing. It's been very fun to get outside again. Our seeds are waiting patiently, it's getting to be a little late for peppers, so we're going to try to get them started this week in our spare time (my favorite and most used joke). Really, we aren't starting that many, but we need to get the set-up going. The yard is looking bigger with all the snow melted away and I'm trying to decide how I'm going to fit so much into our garden plot and also where to get some big pots for container gardening (Sarah???).


More Wedding Books

I just finished sewing together a couple new wedding books, the first is a commission for a "brown and burnished olive dragonfly" themed wedding. These wedding book commissions are so interesting, I love the endless combinations of color. The second book is going into my shop, not a commission, but I think suitable for many-a-wedding. White with a touch of soft blue, it could simply be the "something blue" for the big day.
I found a new printer to deal with, good riddance to fed ex kinkos. My new printer of choice is just 4 blocks away right here on our street. It's the opposite of kinkos. Old, small, dark, with friendly people and a big black shaggy dog. The price was comparable and they folded and trimmed my text blocks for me AND fully understood what I wanted them to print for me in about 10 minutes (compared to the kinkos fiasco: 65 minutes of me explaining over and over again what a signature is) so, again, local small business = good.

Other than books, mothering, a new job, and a slight thaw in the tundra outside, I've been baking a bit. I tried this walnut cake recipe, converting it to be gluten free. I used teff flour (an Ethiopian grain) plus a 1/4 teaspoon of guar gum instead of the 1/2 cup of flour the recipe calls for. The results were quite good, and FGH even ate it up. I was a little lazy about the jam. We did try it once with some peach jam and vanilla ice cream, but nothing as beautiful as the original post I found the recipe on. I think I'll make it again since really, it's a great kid food, especially for kids like mine who eat the bare minimum before heading off to play again. 1 1/2 cups of walnuts, 4 eggs, and 1 mass amounts of butter are good things for a developing boy (and for us big people in moderation) plus, the teff flour is crazy high in protein.


Early Birds

I'm excited to be back in the work force, but boy am I tired. I just started working at Mississippi Market, a Food Co-op in St. Paul. I'm a produce person. It's great, handling produce all day, trying samples (yesterday we had a citrus taste test where we compared the 12 or so different oranges, grapefruits, mandarins, tangelos, etc.) , and getting a paycheck. The downside? The hours, 6-2. I guess these same hours are the upside since I can find time to work on the weekends and early mornings when Peter is at home so he can be the parent-in-charge. It's a bit of a shock to have the alarm go off - at all - but 5:00 am, that's like the middle of the night! So, I'm adjusting and still finding a little time to doodle, which brought about the sad looking, yet cute, spring birds. I made the sketch into a new blog banner and also made some adorable little pamphlet style notebooks for my shop.