Monday, November 16, 2009

Taking Work Home

Everyone tends to have the habit of taking their work home with them. Even gardeners. The work we bring home is a little different. Today I have brought home pumpkins. I need to clean them, cook them, save the seeds and freeze the pulp.
These are some of the pumpkins I brought home; Winter Luxury (far left) is the one with the cantaloupe like webbing, Cinderella (far right), Seminole, it's the small one with the writing on it (Pat leaves me notes on produce)Photobucket and Amish pie. The other small ones are some I grew in my garden at home but can't for the life of me remember the name.

Years ago I had the great idea that I would can my own pumpkin. I love making jams and jellies, pickling beets, canning fruit and making dilly beans. Pumpkin however is not a favorite for canning. As I found out it takes a pressure cooker. I have had a fear of pressure cookers ever since my Grandma's exploded all over the kitchen and I had to help clean up the mess.

So I came up with an alternative; freezing. It is so muck easier. I bake halved pumpkins, I puree, I pour into freezer bags, I freeze. Anytime I want to make a low-fat cake from a mix I pull out a bag of pumpkin, thaw it for an hour in cold water, open the bag and mix.

I use the pumpkin for pies, pancakes, Rachael Ray's Most Awesome Whoopi Pies, and cookies. I love anything pumpkin.

I save the seeds for work. We process them and then replant. We sell the extras at our seed sale. The baked rind gets put out in the compost and usually gets eaten by squirrels and raccoons. They love pumpkin too!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

And the Winner Is...

Since I am a softie I decided that everyone left a comment from the original date of the post (which for some reason says October 6, it was posted on November 2)for the cookbook until today will get one. That means knownbyname, Annette, Nora, Dandelionmom, Lisa@the cutting edge of ordinary, Kitty, and Shanae will be receiving a Heritage Garden Cookbook. Just email me at with your mailing address and I will send one to you.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Heritage Garden Cookbook

This year for the Autumn Pioneer Festival the gardeners put together a cookbook of recipes that represent the 5 gardens. The recipes vary from traditional 1800's recipes to the more "modern" (up to the 1950's) old family recipes. We offered it for sale at the Harvest Table at the Autumn Pioneer Festival.
I will be giving away two copies on the blog. All you need to do is leave a comment and after a week I will pick the names of two people who left comments and announce it. You then need to e-mail me with your address and I will ship them out.
There are recipes for Lefse, hops yeast and bread made from the yeast, pemmican, drunken crumble, and preserves; 60 unusual, heritage and really good recipes.

Thank goodness for sisters!

The Pioneer Festival was great this year. Lots of people attended, the weather was great and everything went smoothly except... I didn't get any pictures. That's where my sister saves the day. She took lots of pictures and posted them to her blog;
At Home With The Farmers Wife.(Click on this link for Day one of the Festival)

She even did two days on the Festival. Check it out.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Shortbread is Yummy!

Walker Shortbread Company is now an official Sponsor of the BCCD Cultural Heritage Gardens and the Scottish Garden! Their shortbread is a personal favorite. Yummy!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Rabbits, Potato Bugs and Heat, Oh My!

We have been out in the gardens for the last two weeks fighting weather (intense heat and humidity), Potato Bugs (the Irish Lumpers are leafless)and rabbits. There is a rabbit explosion this year. Not to mention the 6 cute baby grounhogs that are roaming the Yankee Garden, the cutworms wrecking havoc on the broccoli and the mosquitos dining on the gardeners and volunteers. Just another year in the gardens
Make sure you listen to the Potato Bug song in the music player lower right side of page. It's a hoot!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Busy in the Gardens

The Heritage Gardeners have been very busy this past month. We have been planting, replanting (thanks to hungry mice eating the squash seeds) and transplanting in the greenhouse. We have been rototilling the gardens, planting the potatoes and peas and other cool weather crops. We are planting the rest of the gardens now that the frost date is past. We scramble in between rains to get plants in the ground. The mosquitos have arrived and the weeds are popping up all over.

We are also organizing Friends Of The Gardens a new group of volunteers that will work on fundraising and community outreach. We are working to develop new programs for youth and adults.

The Heritage Gardens are open for group tours starting in mid-June. Heritage Garden staff in period clothing take your group to the 5 gardens and 2 cabins while teaching about the people and plants they used in the mid 1800's in the Boone County area. If you have a group of garden friends who would like to tour the gardens and cabins please call the Boone County Conservation District offices at 815-547-7935. Cost per person is $5.00.

Tours are given to garden clubs, ethnic clubs, schools or camps, families, friends, anyone with a group of 8 or more people!
We hope to see you in the gardens!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Last Frost Dates for Belvidere and Rockford

I have had many new gardeners ask "When is the last frost date for the Belvidere/Rockford area?" I usually plant with the date of May 15 as being safe. Belvidere and Rockford are in an area that gets different temps than Chicago. I consider us a zone 4 although many sites and charts list us as zone 5. I plant as if we are zone 4. After doing a lot of research on the internet, going to official government sites, the Farmers Almanac and extension sites, I will say that most of them had April 28th as the last frost date. The Farmers Almanac had at a 50% probability date; around May 15. I am planning on putting some lettuce seeds in the ground right around April 30 just to see what happens. Otherwise I'll wait till May 15th. Better safe than sorry.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Time To Sow.

This week Pat and I have been transplanting and sowing. We transplanted leek seedlings, broccoli and brussel sprouts. We have been planting seeds, lots of them, for vegetables, herbs and flowers. There were some teeny tiny seeds you almost have to hold your breath while planting, for fear they will blow away. Especially the German Chamomile.
I am always amazed that you sow these small objects and in a few months you have plants, in a few more months, food.
As I left the green house today I felt a great sense of accomplishment when I looked down the rows of flats. Rows of hope. Rows of wonder.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Recycling for the garden

I have always been one to reuse items in the garden. At our old house I had taken old pitchforks and stuck them in the garden. I attached bird houses on the top of the handle. That made them movable when I was weeding (as long as no one was living in them of course. I had an old iron bed that was a "bed of lettuce". I built a raised bed, attached the frame and plated my lettuce. I made a quilt of the different colored lettuces. When the lettuce was done I planted annuals then in the fall I transplanted the annuals for fall color to other parts of the garden and replanted lettuce in the bed. I have made old workboots into planters, taken an old iron heat grate and used the grate part of it to cover my cistern hole and the frame part was hung as wall art.
When we moved into our new home, a 50's ranch, there was a big brick planter that was attached to the front of the house.
I tried planting flowers in it the first year but the soil was dead and nothing would grow so I needed to come up with another solution. Since I love water in the garden I decided to make it into a goldfish pond. I dug out the soil to the depth I wanted and tamped the remaining soil to harden it.Photobucket
I then added a heavy pond liner.
I used a heavy duty contruction adhesive that bonded to cement. I added wood to hold it in place till the adhesive dried.
When it was dry my husband bordered the top of the liner with cedar, I added water and a filter and let it sit for a week before I added my fish. I added plants and was happy with it but it still needed more.
I wanted a fountain. I took an old fluorescent light fixture we had removed from our kitchen, removed the guts and painted the frame copper.
I added tiles I got from the Habitat for Humanity Reuse store and attched them to a cement board backing. I drilled a hole in the top tile and added a box for the water to fill up and I had a fountain. We hung it on the wall above the pond and it pathetically poured into the pond. I had wanted a wall of water.
So I decided to add fountains in the pond. What to use? I have always like stone and spheres and symmetry so I chose bowling balls! I went to the local resale shop and bought three bowling balls for 1.99 each. I had my husband bring home a masonry drill from work and he drilled the holes for me. Photobucket
You can also go to a bowling alley that has a pro shop and have them drill the holes for you. I sprayed on a primer. Then a spray on product that looks like stone, then a top coat of sealer.
I used pvc pipe, recycled from a work site dumpster, to hold them up to the right hieght in the water.
And this is the finished project. I love it! It will be even better when it warms up enough for me to add my fish and plants!

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Winter Gardening Fix

As a gardener living in Northern Illinois, winter can seem like forever. Perusing garden catalogs fills the void in January, making garden plans helps in February, but by March I am just itching for the smell of soil and plants. So the only solution is to head out to the Chicago Garden Show.
Pat and I went on a cold and rainy day into Chicago, which is a 2 hour drive (in Chicago traffic) from Belvidere. As soon as we walked in the smell of flowers hit us. It was wonderful. We were instantly drawn to the displays and oohed and aahed over all the plants. My particular obsession is with water gardens. Anything with water draws me in. Below are just a few of the many pictures I took of the water features.
This was a small waterfall that went into a rock depression instead of a pond.
This picture shows a downspout filter that saves water to be used in water features. A pump and hose can be attached sends the water to a pond, fountain, stream.
This fountain is made up of rock formations that have been drilled and put together to form a grouping. Pricey for the poorer gardener!
This is a fantastic alternative to the above fountain. Concrete forms were used to make the 3 pillars in this version. I love this idea!
Mood lighting, water and fog, what more could you add?
This guy is just plain funny!
Simple and calming.
This was a Mexican fountain. The water came out of the structure and poured out over the stone slab.
This is a picture of my house, an old 50's ranch. See the brick planter attached to the front of the house? Next post I will show you how I turned it into a fish pond and show you my recycled fountains.
I know this has nothing to do with Heirloom plants but I can't resist sharing!

Friday, March 20, 2009

It's Spring! Time to Start the Ground Cherries

It's official. The first day of Spring. To celebrate I am going to start the ground cherries.Photobucket
Ground Cherries are in the tomato family. The ones we grow in the BCCD Cultural Heritage Gardens have a pineapple/strawberry taste. They are in a paperlike husk and when ripe the husk falls off the plant. That's when you pick them off the ground. Try not to eat them as you are collecting so you have enough for a pie or preserves.
The seeds you see here are from the BCCD Cultural Heritage Gardens.Photobucket
Last Fall Pat and I gathered some ground cherries. When they started to rot we processed the seeds by placing them in water. We let the water get moldy, slimy smelly, then strained and rinsed them. We then dried them and packaged them for our sale. Pat was the patient one who cut out the squares of waxed paper, placed the seeds in the middle, then folded it into nice packets.
I am starting my seeds by presoaking them. It is a good way to give them a head start. Seeds need to soak up water before they can sprout, so by presoaking I can save a few days in the sprouting process.Photobucket
I wash old plastic containers from yogurt, margarine, whatever I have, in the dishwasher to sterlize and then drill 1/4" holes in the bottom for drainage. I add my soil mix which is not potting soil but seed starting mix which you can buy in bags at the local hardware store. I even out the soil, add my seeds then put a light layer of soil on top of the seeds. I set the container in a pan of water till the soil turns dark. That means the soil has absorbed the water and is wet. I then put the container in a plastic bag, seal it up and put it in a warm spot. On top of a refrigerator works great. Keep an eye on them. As soon as they sprout you need to move them to full sunlight or a grow light. Remove the pot from the bag, place in a tray (I use sterilized old Styrofoam or plastic meat trays)and fill with a small puddle of water to keep the pots moist.
That's how I start my tomato and pepper plants too. I use my ground cherries to make a great custard pie. I got the recipe from an old 1800's cookbook I have.

Ground Cherry Pie
2 unbaked pie crusts
3 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg white
2 1/2 cups scalded milk
2 cups ground cherries

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Mix together eggs, sugar, salt, and vanilla. Stir well. Add the milk
3. Line pie pans with pastry, and brush inside bottom and sides of shell with egg white. Divide custard mixture in half and pour into piecrusts. Put 1 cup of ground cherries on top of each pie.
4. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on rack.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Heirloom Seed Sale

Saturday we woke up to SNOW! The one day of the week we wanted, no needed, sunny skies, we got snow. Despite the blowing, drifting and sometimes heavy snow in the morning, by noon it seemed that it would let up. So we opened the office for the sale and then the snow started falling again.

Gardeners are a hardy lot. Tempt them with free seed catalogs and they will brave snowy, drifting roads. And that's what 52 gardeners did! We were very pleased that despite the weather we had a decent turn out. We had catalogs available from Seed Savers, Baker Creek Seeds, Territorial Seeds, and Sand Hill Preservation Center. By the end of the sale we had only 4 catalogs left, and those were being saved for people who had called and couldn't make it to the sale. We sold over 200 packages of seeds. Considering the weather it was a good turn out.

We have a good variety of seeds left. They are for sale in the Roger Gustafson Nature Center at 603 Appleton Road, Belvidere, IL. Office hours are M-F 8:00-4:30.

Also because of the weather the Gourd class was rescheduled for March 14. There are still openings for that class.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Legend of the Corn Beads

In 1838 the Cherokee people were forcibly removed from their home land and their homes. As the soldiers came to each house hold to gather the Cherokee people for the removal, many cried tears of sadness over the loss of homes and personal belongings. Most were only allowed to take what they could carry. As the people were taken from their homes they would cry out asking the Creator to send a miracle.

As they walked along the trail, their tears fell to the ground. At the place where the tears fell, a shoot that looked like a cornstalk grew. As the plant bloomed and opened up, seeds of gray fell to the ground. Creator said, “This will be a sign unto all who pass that my children will always be a part of this land. The cornstalk represents life for my children and the seeds of gray represent suffering and sorrow.”

The trail the Cherokee people walked is now known as the Trail of Tears and the seeds are known as corn beads.

Corn Beads are actually Job's Tears or Coix lacryma-jobi a plant in the grass family. Photobucket

This plant comes from Asia and has been naturalized in the southern United States. The tears or seeds are hard shelled but have a natural hole in them which makes them perfect for using as beads. They have been used to make necklaces and rosaries.


I received these corn beads from one of our volunteers who grows them in her garden here in northern Illinois.


Below I show the beads being strung on stretchy cord and being made into a bracelet. I added some green stones that had holes drilled in them.


If you would like to be entered into a drawing to win this bracelet, e-mail your name to I will pick a winner on March 17, St. Patrick's Day.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Heirloom Seed Sale

Here is a copy of the flyer that we are sending out for our seed sale on Feb. 21. The sale will be held at the Roger Gustafson Nature Center, 603 Appleton Rd. Belvidere, IL. Time 1-4 Feel free to copy the image and print it out.

The sale will be held in the afternoon because in the morning we are having a gourd craft class. For $5 you get a large gourd and learn how to transform it into a bowl, vase, water bottle, birdhouse, or whatever your imagination comes up with. Space is still available. Call the BCCD office to sign up at 815-547-7935.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaguration Day

Today starts a new day in the history of our country. Like any Inauguration Day we come to the event full of hope for the future of our country. This time we are being asked to give. To volunteer our time and talents. As gardeners we can volunteer by sharing our knowledge or by sharing some of the food we grow. The Winnebago Master Gardeners have joined in to help with a national program called PLANT A ROW. This is an easy way for us to get involved and help feed the hungry. Another way to use your talents is to volunteer in the Boone County Conservation District Cultural Heritage Gardens. There are plenty of weeds to go around. You can also volunteer at the Boone County Conservation District helping with prairie restoration, building projects and a host of other needs. To volunteer, contact Bev Kalas, Volunteer Coordinator at 815-547-7935

You can also donate open pollinated heirloom seeds to the gardens. We are always looking for new (old) varieties.

Wherever and however you volunteer, remember that by working together we can make a difference.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Gardens in Winter

It is cold, bitter cold today. There was a thaw a few weeks ago and a lot of the snow melted. What was left behind was a dirty gray mess. Then it got bitter cold and all the melted snow turned to ice. Pretty it was not. Last night we got a nice dusting of snow. Not so much as to be hours of shoveling but enough to make everything look clean and fresh.
I decided today was the day I would go out and take pictures of the gardens in winter. No one had disturbed the snow yet. So off I went camera in hand. The first picture I took is of the Murray cabin. The Scottish gardens are located behind the Murray cabin.

I walked over to the site of our Norwegian garden next. This garden is huge! It is the full size that a normal family in the 1800's would have planted to feed themselves. As you can see in the picture one of our shovels is out there standing guard. One of our volunteers had been in the garden digging up some root crops right before Thanksgiving and left the shovel there for us to collect. We forgot and there it stands frozen in the ice and snow. In the background you can see the Newhouse cabin. It was built by a Norwegian family in the 1830's. It was also moved to our site in the 1980's.

I walked over to the Potawatomi Garden area where the wigwam, drying rack, tobacco circle and sweat lodge are located. It was there that I discovered the sheet of ice lurking under the snow. I was down so fast I couldn't even react. I was sore for days!

I decided to head into the office after that and sat next to the pellet stove and thawed out. I will wait till we get another snowfall before I venture out again.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Mystery Squash

This is the mystery squash,. It was planted last spring and after a group of children visited the gardens we noticed that some of our tags had disappeared. Then we noticed squash growing in with the Noir de Carmes Cantelope. We identified the extremely large green striped squash as Cushaw but this one has us stumped. It has a pale orange skin with webbing on it almost like a cantelope or melon. As you can see it has a beautiful bright interior with lots of seeds. I cooked it in the oven then pureed the flesh and it has a very good taste. I made a low fat pumpkin loaf which turned out very tasty. I think it might be a Winter Luxury Pie Pumpkin. Does anyone agree?
Low Fat Mystery Pumkin Loaf
1 cup organic or sucanut sugar 1tsp. baking soda
1 cup cooked pumkin 1tsp. baking powder
1/4 cup canola oil 1/2 tsp. salt
3 egg whites 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3 Tbsp. low fat milk 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
2 cups sifted unbleached, unenriched flour 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Combine sugar, pumpkin, oil, egg whites and milk. Mix well. Add dry ingredients. Blend well. Stir in nuts. Pour into a well greased large loaf pan or 4 small loaf pans. Bake in 350F oven for 1 hour for large loaf.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

January is planning month

January is planning month in the gardens. We are busy looking at seed catalogs, processing seeds that we harvested and packaging them for our seed sale in February. We get a portion of the seeds we plant in our gardens from Baker Creek Seeds and Seed Savers. We also have seeds sent to us from friends and volunteers. The remainder we process from the gardens.
We are busy writing letters and planning for special events this year. We are going to be adding new events and updating the old events. We will be applying for grants and looking for garden sponsors. With all this to do the month should fly by.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Today is the first day of the blog journey for the Heritage Gardens. We thought it would be interesting to share with you what the garden year is like. There is a lot of planning as well as planting that goes on. It is interesting and hard work. There is great joy in standing in a garden surrounded by plants that you have grown from seed, tending and watching till they burst from the soil. There is great frustration when you are trying to weed and the mosquitoes are sucking your blood. There is great sorrow when your entire crop of heirloom corn is destroyed overnight by raccoons. Taken as a whole it is worth the time and effort to see the beautiful heirloom vegetables, fruits and herbs. To know that we are planting the same crops that were planted over a hundred years ago. To research and learn about the people who lived here for hundreds of years and who watched as new people came to settle the land. To read about the people who came here with nothing but what they could carry in their wagons, to a new and frightening home in the 'wilderness'. We are all connected.
Every time I walk in the gardens I am reminded of the past. I am part of the legacy left by the people who lived here. I wander around the cabins, there are two, and wonder what life was like for the families who built them. I walk to the wigwam and long for a time when life was closer to nature. But I do not delude myself into thinking it was easy or romantic. It was a hard life, dangerous.
We try to keep alive the stories of the people who lived in Boone County through the gardens. By doing so we hope to also educate future generations on the joys of working along side the natural world while growing food that is healthy and has minimal impact on the environment.