Walking on a beach with friends in Otaki, New Zealand I mentioned I was interested in basket weaving. “Oh the man who made the baskets in Lord of the Rings is just up the street” said one of them. So off we went!

Mr. Douglas welcomed us in and shared tips for good baskets:

  • Don’t hurry your work; a well-made basket can last 40 years.
  • Use the cleaver tool to tighten the weave.
  • To test a willow variety for suitability. Hold it by the narrow tip and twist in a circle.
  • Good tools make good work.

How to grow willow in a small place.

Mr Douglas in his workshop.

Recommended tools – Felco sécateurs #8

Opinel knife

Cleaver to be sure the weave is tight.

A bodkin for making holes to feed strands through.

Soaking trough for dried willow.

Finished products

Flowering Rhubarb!

rhubabb2.jpgBy Garrett Okrasinski

Last year I planted a new rhubarb plant and excitingly awaited for it to grown large enough to make my favorite strawberry rhubarb pie. However, I was upset to hear that rhubarb take at least a year until it is large enough and producing beautiful stalks for consumption. So patiently I tended my rhubarb last spring and summer. This spring I was so excited to see it coming back and starting to send out beautiful green leafs, knowing this is my year for rhubarb!

It you are lucky enough to notice a young leaf before it emerges, it is one of the coolest things! Tightly bound up, a tinder green leave almost looks like a brain! Rhubarb is an exciting and rewarding plant to watch grow (especially if you have been anxiously awaiting to harvest it for over a year!!).

Today, I noticed my rhubarb had a tall stalk leading to an odd looking bud. Last year, I did not notice my rhubarb had any buds or flowers. Concerned, I first took a picture and then did some research on why in March my rhubarb could be flowering.

rhubarbRhubarb can flower for multiple reasons including; maturity of the plant, stress (lack of nutrients in the soil), variety of plant, or heat.

Due to the age of my plant and the warm winter and spring we are experiencing, I deducted that the heat was causing my rhubarb to flower. Flower heads are common on rhubarb plants during the spring but need to be cut out immediately. If left, the plant sends it energy to producing the flower instead of growing big juicy stalks.

So what is all this rain doing to your garden loving heart?  Are you just itching to get out and plant something?  Well here are some ways to calm that itch through indoor seed starting, using Reemay floating row cover and setting up some plastic covered hoop beds.

Now is a good time for cold season starts and, if you are patient, warm season crops like tomatoes.  To start seeds indoors you need pots with good drainage, clean soil to plant in and a good strong light source.  This can be a south or west facing window or better yet, a grow light of some sort.  I also like to use a seed mat and a mini-greenhouse to get faster germination.

Kale seedlings

Kale seedlings

Once your seedlings are a few inches high you can start planting out the cold hardy ones like collards, sweet peas, kale and so on.  The tomatoes, squash and other heat lovers need to stay inside until temperatures warm.  I like to use Reemay to both protect the plants from frost and from the crows in my neighborhood that just love to eat juicy little seedlings.  Reemay can also be used over newly planted cold season seeds, onion sets or potatoes.  Because the Reemay is so light weight I usually weight it down with soil or rocks. You can also use metal pins if you have them.

Using large binder clips keeps the Reemay from blowing away.

Using large binder clips keeps the Reemay from blowing away.

If you want to create an environment that is drier and warmer than what you can make with Reemay the next step is to do hooped beds.  I like to use one inch pvc pipe either bent over and put in to pipe brackets screwed to the outside of the bed or pushed deep into the ground.  This creates a warm place for your plants that really can help them to thrive.  One problem with these covered beds though is the issue of watering.  You either need to set up an irrigation system, remove the cover on a warmer rainy day or hand water.

Plastic covered hoops over a raised bed with irrigation.

Plastic covered hoops over a raised bed with irrigation.

Here’s a peek under one covered bed. The chives and peas are flourishing. I do hope the dog doesn’t figure out how to take the cover off; he loves to eat peas!

Grow peas, grow!

Grow peas, grow!

Good luck to you and let me know how it goes with getting a jump on the garden season!

Chive Flower Vinegar

Chives in full bloom.

Chives in full bloom.

Chive flower vinegar is delicious and easy to make!

  • Pick fresh chive flowers.
  • Pack a clean jar two-thirds full with the flowers.
  • Add white vinegar.

Let sit for two weeks in a cool, dark place then strain and enjoy!

Someone just commented that they like making a chive butter too.  What do you like doing with this versatile herb?

New Roots is a flourishing urban farm with much to offer.

Tended plots


Group area





California Citrus!

I’m visiting my family in Southern California and there is glorious citrus everywhere.

Young fruit and blossoms

Citrus themed apron to get in the right frame of mind.

Slicing for threaded garlands.

A garland ready for drying.

Sliced and salted for preserved citrus.

Salted citrus in lemon juice brine with bay leaves and pepper corns. This will be ready in 3-4 weeks when the rind softens.

Here’s a NYT recipe for preserved lemons.

Time to Make Orange Marmalade

Oranges are in season right now and staying inside on a cold, rainy day to make marmalade is a great way to pass the time.  Your whole house will smell wonderful!

To make marmalade follow these steps:

  1. Peel off the skin by scoring the orange with a knife so you can carefully remove it in sections.
  2. Cut the peeled juicy oranges into 4 pieces.
  3. Scrape the white pith off the inside of the peel so you are left with the orange part. Put the pith into a cheesecloth or net bag. This pith has pectin in it that will help with the gelling process.
  4. Take a sharp knife and slice the scraped peel into 1/4 inch wide strips.
  5. Put the peeled oranges, bagged pith and sliced peels into a pot and just cover with water. Let sit for 12 hours.
  6. Take out the bag of pith and measure how much orange and peel mixture you have. Add one cup of sugar for each cup of liquid.
  7. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. To test if it’s done you can put a small amount of the liquid on a cold plate. If it holds together it’s ready.
  8. Put in sterilized jars. Water bath can for 10 minutes.
Peeled oranges ready to be cut in quarters.
Here’s the pith scraped from inside the orange.
Slice into thin strips. Sliced peels.
Cooking orange, sugar, peel and water mixture.
Finished product.
It can take a few days for the marmalade to set.  It tastes great on a slice of hearty bread. 

Darn That Sock!

“Oh there’s a hole in my sock dear Liza, dear Liza…”  Wait, wrong song but the hole definitely is in my daughter’s sock;  we’ve all moved to mainly wool socks and with each pair running about eighteen dollars it’s time to darn that hole.


Instead of using a darning mushroom I am using a handy grapefruit.

First turn the sock inside out and put something round into the sock to stretch the wool tight.  Next weave back and forth, being sure to put the needle into solid material, to create the longitudinal warp.  Pull the stitches taut but not too tight.


Use like colored yarn to fill the hole.

Once the warp is established weave the yarn back and forth, pushing the strands together to create a tight pattern.  Once you’re done turn the sock back right side out and check your work.

I would hand wash darned socks or wash them in a cold water cycle and not put them in the dryer as the new wool may shrink differently from the old sock material.

Good luck and happy darning!

Beanie Brownies

A cold dreary day like today calls for Beanier Brownies! They are fabulously easy to make and great for people who want to cut down on dairy and boost their protein and fiber intake.

Get a mix that doesn't include transfat, (many still do) and salt free beans.

Get a mix that doesn’t include transfat, (many still do) and salt free beans.


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Open the powdered brownie mix and put in a bowl.
  • Open the can of beans and add water to the existing beans and liquid to the top of the can.
  • Put the beans and water in a blender and puree.
  • Add the bean puree to the powdered mix and stir.  There is no need to add eggs, oil or anything but the beans.
  • Grease a baking pan.
  • Pour in the mixture and bake 20 to 30 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Ready for the oven topped with bittersweet chocolate chips and pecans.

Ready for the oven topped with bittersweet chocolate chips and pecans.


Bake for 20 to 30 minutes and your healthier treat is ready!

Bake for 20 to 30 minutes; until a toothpick comes out clean.


All set!

Let cool then cut into squares.  Bon haricot!

I fed these to my husband and kids and asked how they liked them and if they could guess the “secret” ingredient.  They all liked the rich, chewy texture and no one guessed they had beans in them!


By guest writer, Rae Steinbach

While winter might not be the busiest period of time for a farmer, it’s a season that can be tough on a farm. The freezing temperatures, snow, sleet, and ice can put a lot of stress on the land and outbuildings, and it can also be tough on livestock. 

If you are facing a long winter on your farm, you need to do what you can to make sure the land, the animals, and the buildings are ready. The following are a few tips to help farmers prepare for winter.

Provide Shelter for Livestock 

Most farm animals can deal with the cold well; the real problem is when they get wet or windblown in cold weather. If you want to help your animals make it through winter healthy, you need to build them some shelter. 

A barn obviously works well for providing animals with shelter, but you may also want to consider windbreaks for any areas where the animals may spend time. Consider using an electric chainsaw or multi-tool fitted with oscillating saw blades to build a winter shelter. You should also stock up on straw for bedding.

Plant Cover Crops

Planting cover crops can be a good way to maintain the soil for the next growing season. The winter can be hard on soil, and without live plants there, the soil can lose nutrients and moisture. Along with that, the land can also experience problems with soil erosion. By planting some cover crops before winter, you can combat these effects. Furthermore, some of the cover crops can provide additional food to your livestock.

Feed Animals Late in the Day

When the temperature drops to extreme cold, livestock animals need all the help they can get staying warm. Shelter is obviously one way to help them stay warm, but you could also feed them late in the day to help the animals produce more heat once the sun goes down.

Prevent Freezing Water

Livestock animals need a lot of water in winter, and this can be one of the toughest challenges when the temperature drops below freezing. Fortunately, there are several winter watering systems that can help you prevent tanks from freezing. There are devices you can buy and install and there are even some DIY watering solutions. If electricity is an issue, you could also try insulating the tanks to prevent freezing.

Provide Exercise

In the same way that humans need exercise to stay healthy, so do your livestock animals. One issue in winter is that animals tend to spend more time in shelters or huddled near windbreaks. This means they are getting less exercise. 

If you want to keep your animals healthy, you need to provide them with some exercise. Even if you are just letting them out on an open piece of land, it will do a lot to help maintain their health and overall wellbeing.

Keep Pests Out of Feed

Beyond being a tough season for your livestock, winter is also a hard season for rodents. When the temperatures drop and natural food sources become scarce, pests are much more likely to come looking for an easy meal. Make sure to protect your feed supply by storing everything in rodent-proof bins.

Maintain Your Home

With all of the time spent preparing your animals and land, you can’t forget to take care of your own home. Develop a winter home maintenance checklist to make sure your house is ready for the cold temperatures and rough weather conditions. Common steps for maintaining the home include caulking around windows, checking the weather stripping around doors and windows, and maintaining your heater.

Winter can be tough on a farm, but being proactive and taking necessary steps before the weather turns will help ensure your livestock, land, and family come through unscathed.