Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Winter Thaw a Mixed Blessing for Micro-nursery

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Post your favorite recipes for homegrown produce on our In The Kitchen Page. Just scroll down to the bottom and post as a comment. We'll share our favorites from time to time, also. During the month of February, the best recipe posted will win a free copy of The New American Homestead.

Winter Warming Trend
It has been an unusually mild January, and the weather forecasters predict a continuation of the present weather trend right on up until the vernal equinox and beyond. In other words, we are going to have an early spring. While Jerry and I love warm weather as well as anyone, we are a bit concerned that the current conditions will bring out trees and perennials just in time for a late season frost. If you have lived in the Knoxville area for any length of time, you know we can have freezes in late April.

Nursery stock awaiting spring
One of our big concerns has to do with our nursery stock. Not only do we not want it nipped by a late freeze, we want it to be ready for sale when customers are ready to buy, not weeks before the gardening season actually gets underway.

From the photo, you can see that we place most of our plants in containers made from black plastic. These containers absorb the sun's warmth, and can be a couple of degrees warmer that the soil they are sitting on. This encourages the plants in them to break dormancy earlier than normal.

One way to avoid this problem is to cover the containers with a fluffy layer of pine needles to shade them from the sun and to insulate them from the heating effect of the unseasonably warm air. We have already done that for our Bletilla orchids, which were dug and potted just a couple of weeks ago. If you do this with your own container stock, here are a few tips:

1. If possible, wait for a cold, cloudy day to apply the cover, so the pots will be as cold as possible.
2. One bale of pine needles (ours come from Lowe's) is enough to cover 50-65 square feet of #300 nursery containers.
3. For added protection against severe freezing, always a possibility at this time of year, have a floating row cover or some old sheets ready to place on top of the pine needles. This will give you several more degrees of frost protection.
4. Make sure to pile up the needles around the outside edges of the pots.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Indoor Light Gardening

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If you are using any of our food products in a favorite recipe, please share it with us! Simply go to our In The Kitchen Page and scroll down to the bottom. You can post your recipe as a comment. From time to time we will share our favorites in the blog.                                                                                             
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Starting Seeds Indoors Under Lights
Even though the days are perceptibly longer now, there's still not enough light for many vegetable and flower plants. This week, for example, the days are about 9 hours and 45 minutes long. When starting seeds indoors for transplanting later in the season, a sunny window seldom provides enough light. But you can supplement or replace the sunlight with fluorescent lighting. Everything you need for an indoor light garden can be found at your local DIY store. 

A fluorescent "shop light," consists of a four-foot fixture holding two 40-watt fluorescent lamps. This is the minimum size we recommend for starting plants. Smaller fixtures have correspondingly less light output, and often cost more than the mass-marketed shop lights. Costing around $10 each, shop lights are affordable, and three of these fixtures will provide enough light to start even sun-loving plants like peppers. Our indoor light garden consists of steel baker's racks (also from the DIY store), several shop lights, electrical power strips and a couple of timers. We keep the lights on for a minimum of 12 hours per day, and have successfully started cabbage, chard, onions, leeks, celery and snapdragons so far this season.

We also tried a so wingof lettuce and learned an important lesson about indoor gardening. Even though the plants have plenty of light, they need to be kept at the correct temperature for proper growth. Our growing space hovers around 75 degrees during the day, and this has led to some disappointing results with lettuce, as the accompanying photo illustrates. The seedlings grew too quickly and fell over. We are going to move one of the shelf units to the garage, where the temperature averages about 10 degrees cooler. The nice thing about lettuce: it germinates so quickly that we have plenty of time to replant.

For the serious food gardener who wants to get the maximum jump on the season, an indoor light garden is the next best thing to a heated greenhouse, and a whole lot less expensive to set up and maintain. Each bank of three shop lights consumes 240 watts of electricity (6 times 40 watts per lamp). Running the lights for 12 hours per day, therefore, uses 2.9 kilowatt hours of electricity. So the electricity to operate each bank is 27 cents per day. The whole set-up will cost about $30 per month to operate, but we will only need it for three months. For about $100 in electricity we can grow enough plants to yield several times that much in fresh veggies plus have plants left over to share or sell. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Crop Rotation in Small Space Gardens

If, like us, you are working on your food garden plan for 2012, you are probably confronting the perennial problem of crop rotation. The smaller your food growing space, the more difficult it becomes to avoid growing the same crop family in the same soil year after year.
Corn needs a lot of space, and can be a challenge
to accomodate in a small garden.
Crop rotation is one of the best organic means of controlling vegetable pests and diseases and of avoiding severe depletion of soil nutrients.

For crop rotation purposes, it is helpful to sort the popular vegetables into their respective botanical families:
  • Potato Family--potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, tomatilloes
  • Squash Family--cucumbers, squashes, melons
  • Cabbage Family--broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustards, radish, turnip, watercress
  • Carrot Family--carrots, celery, chervil, cilantro, dill, parsley, parsnips
  • Onion Family--garlic, leeks, onions, scallions, shallots
  • Pea Family--beans, English peas, snap peas, snow peas, Southern peas, soybeans
  • Goosefoot Family--beets, spinach, Swiss chard
  • Daisy Family--endives, lettuce
  • Grass Family--corn
  • Hibiscus Family--okra
  • Morning Glory Family--sweet potatoes
The last three, corn, okra and sweet potatoes, need a lot of space, and are among the most difficult to accommodate in a small garden. Ideally, a given vegetable family should not occupy a given growing space but once every five years. To accomplish this, you obviously need at laset five distinct growing spaces. If you plan on growing more than one member of a particular family, tomatoes and peppers, for example, you will need additional room. Where garden space is at a premium, this quickly becomes a serious problem. Here are some strategies we use to manage crop rotation.

First, note that the majority of popular vegetable varieties come from only six families. These are the ones that will cause you the most problems. From any one of these families, then, decide which crop you will need in greatest quantity. Assign that crop to your main growing space. Repeat with each of the remaining families until you run out of space.

Next, go back to your list and decide what crops can be "tucked in" here and there. For example, you can grow scallions in between cabbage or pea plants or parsley between tomatoes or peppers. Swiss chard is a good choice for having just a plant or two here and there, as are bush beans and lettuces. Various herbs can also be tucked in, and often will do double duty in repelling crop pests.

If you can grow some crops in containers, you can supplement your in-ground space. Containers are great for all the "tucked in" crops mentioned above. Other crops that perform well in containers are peppers, tomatoes, celery, eggplant, spinach, watercress and cucumbers (if trellised). Root crops, including radishes, carrots, leeks, and beets, can also be grown in containers if the soil is sufficiently deep. Potatoes grow well in containers approximating the size of a 30 gallon garbage can or larger.

Miscellaneous green crops, although not included in the list above, offer some other great choices for container growing. Arugula, corn salad, dandelion, miner's lettuce, mizuna, purslane, tatsoi, and "baby" varieties of bak choi will grow in a window box.

The advantage of using containers is that instead of crop rotation, you can practice "soil rotation." You can empty the container and add fresh growing mix, if necessary. You can also simply keep track of which crop grew in which container last season and grow something else in it this year.

Another strategy is to try to rejuvenate the soil in your growing spaces. This will be much easier if you grow in raised beds, but can also be accomplished for in-ground spaces. Replenishing plant nutrients and trace elements is relatively easy. All you need to do is dig in plenty of compost and other amendments. The challenge is doing something about soil-borne pests and diseases.

One of the best options for "pasteurizing" soil is solarization. Cover the growing area with a sheet of black plastic. You can buy it in rolls at DIY stores and many garden centers. Leave the plastic in place during a period of warm, sunny weather. The soil under the plastic will heat up, destroying insects and microorganisms and encouraging dormant weed seeds to sprout. This technique typically works best from late spring through fall, when the weather is most likely to be sunny. You can, for example, dig potatoes in June, solarize the bed for a week (assuming it doesn't rain) and then plant peppers in the same spot to harvest in September.

Finally, allowing a growing space to lie fallow for a season does not mean you cannot grow anything there. Using a vegetable growing space for herbs or annual flowers for all or part of the season makes great sense.

Please use the comments section to share your strategies for small space crop rotation.

Weekly Local Food Report
This availability of local fresh food continues to dwindle this week. I found oyster and shiitake mushrooms from Sevier County, acorn squash from Macon County, and sweet potatoes from Grainger County in the produce section. Plenty of preserved foods from local and regional producers remain available, along with fresh, local milk and eggs. It is apparent that Knoxville needs some enterprising growers who can produce more fresh veggies during winter. Working in our little greenhouses, however, it is easy to recognize the challenge this presents. Mainly, it is the absence of sunshine that makes growing even the hardiest crops difficult at this time of year. Without the solar energy, crops simply cannot grow, and supplemental lighting not only consumes electricity, but greatly increases production costs.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Everything Mushrooms Really Is!

On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of visiting with Bob Hess, owner of Everything Mushrooms on Sevier Avenue near downtown Knoxville. The name says it all: dried mushrooms, mushroom art, books about mushrooms, mushroom growing kits, mushroom growing supplies and more. I found whole canned black truffles, truffle oil, and truffle-infused salt. (Note to foodies: gourmet salt is one of the top food trends of 2012, according to USA Today.) Bob is a charming and knowledgeable guy who kindly spent an hour discussing fungi with me, when he probably had plenty of more important things to do.

He was quick to explain that his company's primary business is producing and selling mushroom starter cultures for people who want to grow them. He does not sell fresh mushrooms. He only allows cultures to produce mushrooms in order to insure that all his products perform as expected. At any given time, he has around 20 different varieties of edible and medicinal mushrooms growing in his laboratory.

Mushroom cultivation differs in several ways from growing other types of food products. Fungi spend most of their lives as mycelium, a pale, hairlike growth that spreads through whatever type of organic matter the fungus is feeding upon. When conditions are right, the mycelium "fruits," producing the mushrooms that humans can harvest. The biological function of the mushroom is to produce and disperse the spores that will eventually grow into the next generation of fungi. Bob's job, in a nutshell, is to maintain cultures of the mycelium and provide them to growers in an appropriate form.

For example, one of the most popular mushrooms is shiitake. It grows on wooden logs, preferring white oak, but accepting a few other species. Freshly cut logs are inoculated with shiitake mycelium by drilling holes in the log and hammering in a wood peg with the mycelium from Bob's lab already growing in it. The opening is sealed with wax. After the log has been incoulated with pegs spaced about every six inches over its surface, it is left to incubate, usually for a year, in a shady, protected spot outside. The log can then be induced to fruit by various means, or allowed to fruit naturally during periods of mild, wet weather. One log can continue producing mushrooms for months, depending upon various factors.

These logs have been plugged with medicinal reishi mushroom mycelium, then sealed with red wax.

Everything Mushrooms produces growing kits for several types of mushrooms. These are not only great gifts but also provide a good way to experiment with mushroom growing before you take the plunge. Kits contain everything needed to produce a small harvest when you follow the included instructions.

Enoki mushrooms under cultivation
Depending upon how much room and time you have, it is possible to grow any variety of cultivated mushrooms at home. Most people, according to Bob, start with shiitake and oyster mushrooms. Common white button mushrooms and their relatives, crimini and portobella, are more finicky about their growth requirements, but can be produced at home, too. Other possibilities include maitake (hen-of-the-woods), blue, yellow and pink oyster mushrooms, beech mushrooms, garden giants and enoki.

Bob has begun an outdoor demonstration area where he hopes to grow several mushroom varieties this year. He showed me stacks of reishi and shiitake logs, and a small shaded greenhouse where he will be growing oyster mushrooms in plastic bags of wheat straw. I love the delicate flavor of oyster mushrooms, and plan to try this at home myself. With a little advice from Bob and the materials I need from his company, I feel confident of success.

Like any small business owner, Bob looks for new ways to grow his business and increase his customer base. Recently, he has branched out into producing the starter cultures for kombucha, a fermented beverage made from tea. This ancient beverage originated in Korea, but has spread worldwide due to its anti-aging and immune-boosting properties. It is easy to make at home, and requires about two weeks from start to finish. The starter culture, pictured below, is known as a "mushroom" to cooks, but it is actually a colony comprised of several types of bacteria and yeasts growing together.

Bob says he hopes to branch out into other types of starter cultures for fermented foods, such as those used for preparing soy sauce, miso, and kefir.

Home food growing can take on new dimensions when you add mushrooms and fermented foods to your repertoire.

For more information call Bob at 865-329-7566 or visit online.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Regional Cheese

On Sunday, I had the pleasure of meeting Kenny Mattingly, cheese maker at Kenny's Farmhouse Cheese, in Austin, KY. He was visiting at Three Rivers Market with samples, recipes and plenty of friendly chat with customers. Not only do the Mattinglys produce 25 varieties of artisanal cheeses, they do so using only unpasteurized raw milk from their own dairy herd. The family has been raising cows sustainably, without synthetic hormones, on feed produced on the farm, for over 30 years.

After sampling several of the cheeses, I can wholehearted recommend every one. I left with a wedge of Gouda. It offers all the rich flavors of the Dutch product, with fresh, grassy undertones and a hint of sweetness. I plan to enjoy it tonight with greens from our cold frame and the Florida strawberries that are now in season. I took inspiration from one of the many recipes posted on the farm's website.

The brie, named "Awe-Brie" in memory of a family member, is, if anything, better than some of the ones I have eaten from France. Alas, the last round was snatched up by another customer before I could lay hands on it. I'm not worried, though. Kenny will make more.

Other familiar varieties produced at the farm include Asiago, Havarti, Cheddar, Colby, Swiss and a version of Gruyere, named "Norwood," that is next on my list to try. They also offer several blue cheese varieties. If you cannot find their cheeses at your favorite market, the company offers mail order with a 2 pound minimum purchase.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Time To Start Seeds

Although it's hard to believe with icy winds blowing outside, the 2012 gardening season is underway. We received our seed order from Southern Exposure this week, and spent a fun hour last evening dividing up the order with a friend who has a great little food garden within walking distance of downtown Knoxville. Here are the new cultivars we picked to try this year:

Beet, Chioggia--An Italian heirloom that is red and white striped, like a target, when cut into rounds. Organic seed.

Lettuce 'Oakleaf'-an old favorite
Lettuce, Deer Tongue--Also known as "Matchless," this looseleaf  variety is renowned for flavor. Organic seed.

Lettuce, Oakleaf--An old favorite that is very reliable.

Pea, Blackeye, Whipporwill--We picked this heirloom Southern pea because it was grown by one of our heroes, Thomas Jefferson. We plan to grow it on a new section of garden bed that has not yet developed good soil fertility. Not only will we get a crop, hopefully, we will be adding nitrogen to the soil, thanks to the bacteria growing on the plant's roots.

Pepper, Red Cherry--Ideal for pickling, this variety is also being grown for plant sales. Organic seed.

Pepper, Ashe County Pimento--Another one destined for relish that we will also offer through the nursery. Organic seed.

Pepper, Anaheim--Besides offering them as plants, we intend to make chilies rellenos out of these, at least a couple of times during the season! Organic seed.

Pepper, Fish Pepper--We were sold by the catalog description, offering variegated foliage and plenty of heat. We want to offer these as plants, too, but you never know until you try how they are going to like growing here. So, no promises, but we will try.

Tomato, Marglobe Improved--This is a classic canning tomato that people have been growing in the Tennessee Valley for many years. Hard to beat for taste, too. Hybrid.

Tomato, Amy's Sugar Gem--A sweet salad tomato that sounded too good to pass up.

Tomato, Black Plum--A paste type with the flavors associated with "black" tomatoes. Rich and complex, like Cherokee Purple. Organic seed.

Herb, Summer Savory--Seed for this annual herb, delicious in green bean dishes and elsewhere, is sometimes hard to find. We hope to offer plants. Organic seed.

Greens, Watercress--We ordered seeds in hopes of growing this at the edge of our new pond, if we ever get the pond finished!

We will be starting lettuces, onions and brassicas next week. Time to get gardening!

Local Food Report
This week's check of local produce on offer at Three Rivers Market turned up another beautiful batch of oyster and shiitake mushrooms from Sevier County. For those interested in growing their own shiitake, there were also pre-inoculated logs, with instructions, from Everything Mushrooms. I will be visiting their store on Sevier Avenue next week.

Organic leaf lettuce from Loudon County, and sweet potatoes from Grainger rounded out the fresh offerings.

The market has a great selection of meat and dairy products from local and regional producers. Benton's Country Ham is back in stock, for example, and it probably won't last long.






Saturday, January 7, 2012

Winter Gardening Compensates for Weather

Having a place to garden indoors, along with a couple of walk-in coldframes, has helped compensate for the cold, gray weather we so frequently experience during winter.

 
What We're Planting Now
This week, we are starting seeds indoors under flurorescent lights. Here's what we are growing:
  • Celery
  • Leek, American Flag
  • Scallion, Parade
  • Chard, Rainbow
  • Dill, Dukat
  • Parsley, Dark Green Italian
  • Broccoli, De Ciccio
  • Cauliflower, Summer Harvest
  • Cabbage, Round Dutch
  • Cabbage, Salad Delight
  • Lettuce, Red Romaine
  • Lettuce, Freckles
  • Lettuce, Lolla Rossa
Stored sweet potato roots can be brought out now to start them growing for transplants later in the season. Suspend one end of the tuber in a jar of water, place it in a warm, well-lighted location, and sprouts should begin forming within a couple of weeks. When sprouts have plenty of roots, carefully cut them from the potato and transplant to a small pot to continue growing. They will benefit from a weak dose of organic fertilizer while small. (Overfeeding older plants will reduce the crop, however.) Keep them warm and water the pots with lukewarm water. Cold soil is the enemy of sweet potatoes.


 
Outdoor Gardens
On sunny days, the temperature inside the coldframe climbs into the 80s, but it can drop to freezing by morning. The plants inside, mostly cold-hardy greens and herbs, have not made much growth, but at the days lengthen things should pick up. Out in the garden we still have lovely spinach, cilantro, parsley, thyme and carrots. The lettuce and celery have both succumbed to hard frosts, however. Next year, I plan to move some celery inside the coldframe for winter harvest. Slugs have been the only problem with growing celery late in the season, and we will deal with them next year with a copper barrier and iron phosphate bait. Despite the slow progress, we should be able to harvest greens in the next few days.

 
Corn Salad 'Vit'
As mentioned in an earlier post, one of my favorite winter greens is corn salad, also called mache or lamb's lettuce. It will survive down to 5°F. Sow seeds thinly in rows about six inches apart, covering them with ¼ inch of fine soil. About six weeks after sowing, thin selectively as you wish to harvest. Leave the remaining plants to overwinter in place, spaced about six inches apart. For spring planting ouside start very early in cell trays and transplant to outdoor beds in March, spacing them about six inches apart. Mache grows well in containers, owing to its small size. Mature roots run over four inches, so provide a suitably deep pot.

 
Lettuce 'Michelle'
One of our best winter lettuces is shown above. Michelle has grown slowly but is producing lovely loose heads tinted with red. We have grown this lettuce for the first time this year, and will definitely grow it again.

 
Best Winter Gardening Tip:
Besides cold tolerance, look for early maturity dates when selecting seed varieties for winter growing under cover. These cultivars are the ones most likely to produce a satisfactory crop with the limited sunlight available during winter. For example, during January we average only about 9 hours of sun a day. This is further reduced by frequent cloud cover. The amount of solar energy available for vegetable production lags behind what would be available in June, when the days will be over 15 hours. Therefore, it makes sense to choose plant varieties adapted to mature a crop in fewer days than typical for the species. In the case of lettuce, days to maturity among 29 varieties offered by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange range from 40 to 68, almost a full month's difference. The earliest one, Salad Bowl, should be worth a try for growing with limited sunshine.

 
Indoor Garden Spots
A tiny new ginger plant is finally peeking up from the soil in the pot where it was planted a month ago. It won't go outdoors until around Memorial Day. Sage cuttings, purchased for the Thanksgiving dressing, are now well-rooted in a small vase near the kitchen windows. I'll pot them up soon, to await spring and the renovated herb garden outside.

 
The garage windows are home to three other perennial herbs. A lemon verbena struggles along in its ten-gallon pot. I will prune it back in spring, then move it to one of the in-ground beds. The prunings will be used to start new plants for subsequent grow-out in containers. I find that a single lemon verbena shrub wears out after a couple of years, requiring replacement. Nor is it reliably winter hardy in this climate, although I have had plants survive in a protected spot.

 
Bay laurel also can survive a winter here if it receives sufficient protection. Nevertheless, I am taking no chances with the small plant I purchased last spring from Stanley's Greenhouses in Knoxville. It doubled in size in a 12-inch terra cotta pot on the front porch last season, and I plan to move it to larger quarters in the spring.

 
The third plant spending winter in the garage is French tarragon. It flourished in a pot on the front porch until August, when it became scraggly looking. After Labor Day, I cut it back to the soil line. It responded with a flush of new sprouts during the cool weather of autumn. If I can protect it from frost and keep it alive until March, I should enjoy a fine harvest next spring. It will go in a companion pot to the bay laurel.

 
Herb Garden Plans for 2012
The space that will be devoted to herbs in 2012 has been used for leeks, garlic and scallions for the past three seasons, so it is past time to rotate something else in. I had already planted several clumps of French thyme along the outside edge of the bed last spring, along with a cascading form of rosemary that I picked up at a local garden center. The rosemary was stunning this fall when it bloomed along the face of the masonry retaining wall that supports this bed. We propagated some cuttings in the hope of adding them to the border in 2012. A few weeks ago, I divided a pot of chives and used the divisions to fill in the gaps between the existing thyme, rosemary and curly parsley plants. When the parsley bolts next spring, it will be replaced by two lemon thyme plants currently wintering in the greenhouse, and the rosemary starts, if they survive the winter.

Book Release One Month From Today

The New American Homestead will finally be available one month from today, on February 7th. Amazon and Barnes & Noble already have it in their catalog for pre-order. I will be talking to Knoxville area booksellers and urging them to add the book to their inventory. Having been in the book business in several roles over a period of roughly 20 years, I am always fascinated by the factors that make or break book sales. For example, common sense would suggest that the best place to sell your book would be a big store with a lot of traffic, such as Barnes & Noble. However, it actually turns out that you will land more sales in a smaller store, such as an independent book shop. One obvious explanation is that in a larger store your book gets lost among the hundreds of other pretty dust jackets clamoring for the reader's attention. But there is another advantage to smaller bookstores, from the author's point of view. Small shops must necessarily limit their inventory, and thus carefully choose titles that they think their patrons will want to buy. Ergo, the customer arrives in the shop expecting the offerings to have been "screened" for the value of their content, placing the lucky authors at an immediate advantage.

Because my books are nonfiction, they will appeal only to people with some prior interest in the topic covered. For this reason, a specialty store, such as a garden shop, is a great place to offer gardening books. Aquarium books do well in aquarium shops, too.

E-publishing, of course, may change all that, but printed books will be around for a while yet.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Happy New Year!

The new year has begun, and we are excited about the upcoming gardening season. Believe it or not, we are going to be starting some of our seeds next week. Indoors under the lights, we will be starting celery, scallions, leeks, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, parsley, dill and snapdragons. We have chosen some new cultivars to try for 2012. They are: cabbage Salad Delight (red) and Early Round Dutch (standard) and cauliflower Summer Harvest. These will join broccoli Di Ciccio (produces many side shoots after the main head is cut), dill Dukat (high essential oil content for leaf use), parsley Dark Green Italian, and generic varieties of leeks, celery and scallions. The latter come from Mayo Seed, a local company that has been selling garden seeds for decades.

It will soon be time to start a few crops directly in the ground. Spinach and corn salad come to mind. We have fall sown corn salad (Vit cultivar) ready to harvest in the coldframe. Corn salad is one of our favorite cool season greens. It is delicious on its own or combined with other greens. It goes especially well with a few nutmeats for garnish, as the flavor is somewhat nut-like. Corn salad, also known as lamb's lettuce and mache, comes in two forms, one for spring sowing and the other for fall sowing. The spring variety we will be growing is Salad Zing. Both selections came from Burpee seed racks at our local garden centers.

Our weekly visit to Three Rivers Market turned up a few local veggies, the best of which was a tray of huge oyster mushrooms from Sevier County. Shiitakes were also available from the same source, but we have trouble resisting the flavor of oyster mushrooms. Lettuce, bak choy, and cauliflower were on offer from Loudon County, and some nice little butternut squash from Macon County, TN. There was also plenty of Cruze Farm milk, Tennessee Cage Free eggs, and Benton's (Madison County) bacon.

Winter is a great time to sample the growing selection of local and regional cheeses now available. Three Rivers Market has a wide selection, including: Sweetwater Valley Farm (Madison County, TN), Sequatchie Cove Farm (Sequatchie County, TN), Blackberry Farm (Blount County, TN), Locust Grove Farm (Knox County, TN), Kenny's Farmhouse Cheese (Barren County, KY), Meadow Creek Dairy (Galax, VA) and Boone Creek Creamery (Lexington, KY). Many of the cheeses offered compare favorably with the European artisan cheeses upon which they are modeled. Hopefully, we will have even more selections available in the future.

Here's a shot of one of our favorite lettuces, Buttercrunch. It is hard to beat for quality, and in cool weather is among the most productive varieties we grow. We are out of seed at present, but plan to order more. Speaking of seeds, we have begun receiving catalogs. The first is among our favorites, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in Mineral, VA. They are a great source for cold-tolerant greens, heirloom tomatoes, and many other seeds. Most of their offerings are organically grown, too. We also like the information dense catalog listings with complete growing instructions.

We'll have more gardening and homesteading news, information and tips as the season progresses. Please ask your friends to follow the blog. Thanks!

PS--We will soon be announcing an exciting new homestead project for 2012! Stay tuned.

John and Jerry