Friday, April 6, 2012

Starting seeds and transplanting

I received free seeds from the URI cooperative extension.  Every year they give seeds (with financial help from Job Lot) to community and educational gardens.  Since I homeschool, we qualify as an educational garden....and I would say that it has been educational for my children.  They have all been interested and involved at some point in my gardens.

I started my seeds about mid-March.  I don't like to start them much earlier than 8 weeks before they can go out.   I usually start hardening the seedlings off around mid-May and get them in the ground the end of May or 1st week of June.  That might sound late, but I am paranoid that I will lose all of the time and investment in my seedlings by putting them out too soon.  I do direct-plant as soon as the charts say we have had our last frost, but for my seedlings, I wait.

I start my seeds in little "Jiffy" packs that you can buy at Walmart or Job Lot.   I just follow the directions on the box/kit.  I don't buy a kit every year, I just re-use the tray and buy new Jiffy pellets.  You soak the pellets and they expand to 1" netted soil chunks.  I put the seeds in each pellet and put the whole tray under a florescent work light on a shelf in my basement closet.  The light has one blue and one warm bulb.  I may eventually use two lights on different shelves or side by side.  I used pipe-cleaners to secure the light to the bottom of a metal shelf.

Just a florescent work light secured under a metal shelf.

I know they would germinate faster if they were warm.  I am thinking of buying a warming pad to put under them just for germination.  

Once the plants are large enough.  Which for me is about 4 weeks in for tomatoes, they are ready to transplant.   I have a picture of the tomatoes, but they are on another camera with dead batteries, I will add it later.

These are some herbs that I am starting.  I confess I have never had much success with herbs from seeds, but I think it was because the seeds are so small that i was afraid to thin them once they germinated.  I did thin these down to one plant by clipping away others with a pair of scissors.

I transplant my plants into plastic containers.  These are sour cream containers that I save for just this purpose. I washed all the containers with a little bit of bleach water to sterilize them.  I don't like peat pots because they wick-away the moisture from the soil.  I have used them several times and almost lost seedlings because they became too dried out.  The plastic keeps the soil and the plant moist for much longer.

I do put 2 holes in the bottom of each container for proper drainage. Also, write the name of the seedling on the container with a will not remember which is which of tomatoes and peppers, unless you plant all of the same kind (I have 3 kinds going.)

 I plop a seedling that is ready, right now just tomatoes, into each container and then fill around it with potting soil.   You can trim off the lower leaves on a tomato and cover the stem up to the first true leaves in soil.  Roots will come off the stem all the way down, giving your plant a good root system.   You can do this again when you put them in the ground.

Put a seedling in each container.

Fill around each seedling with potting soil. 

I put them in a larger container (I used a plastic salad container) to catch any drainage and to allow for bottom watering later on.   I watered them generously.

Put in drainage container and water generously.

And back under the light they go.

Put back under their light.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

My Chai

Well, I originally started making my own Chai from a "pin" that I saw, but now the link says that that page does not exist any more.  I guess credit isn't necessary because I have made so many changes to the recipe, but here's the link if it is ever working again.

The recipe was good, but it called for a lot of ground spices and loose tea which ended up as a big pile of sludge once you strained the tea.  It was actually difficult to strain.  It also called for a few whole spices, which were thrown away with the sludge spices.  I thought, what a waste, couldn't these spices be reused?  Well, yes, they can.  I have been using mostly whole spices in tea balls to make this recipe.  So far I have reused the whole spices in tea-balls about 5 times and the flavor is still good.  I rinse the tea-balls with clean water after each use.  Since the recipe does have milk, I don't want that sitting in with the spices.

So, this is how I make the perfect cup of Chai tea.

Place in pan on the stove:  4c. of milk and 3 c. of water.  Bring to a slow boil.  You should stir it often or the milk will start to stick to the bottom of the pan. 

Put into two tea-balls heaping portions of:
(The teaballs are those two little mesh things.  I got them at Walmart.)
1 tsp. of whole peppercorns
1 Tbsp. of whole cloves
1 tsp. of whole allspice
1 tsp-size chunk of peeled whole ginger root.

It doesn't matter which spices you put together, they just won't all fit in one tea-ball.  I'll be honest, I didn't really measure very well.  1 Tbsp of peppercorns was too peppery for me, so that I did decrease, I know.

Once the milk/water mixture is super hot, add:

5 Tbsp. sugar (you could decrease this and add another sweetener before drinking to your taste.)
4 regular teabags
1 tsp. cardamom (I didn't have this for a while and the Chai was okay, but it definitely is worth having.  It is very expensive, but I got some from Vitacost with my $10 refer a friend code.) 
1 tsp. cinnamon
The two tea-balls with whole spices in them.

 Keep it at a barely boil or low boil for about 5 - 6 minutes.  You want it really hot to get all the flavors. I tried making a single cup by pouring boiling water over the two tea-balls and adding lesser amounts of the other spices/sugar and the water just wasn't hot enough.

Pour the liquid through a strainer.  I'm not sure I really must do this anymore, I could just fish out the tea-balls and teabags and leave the cardamom and cinnamon in.  Rinse the tea-balls in water.  You may even want to carefully open them and rinse off the spices inside (I have not and it has been fine.)  I put the tea-balls with whole spices in a dry cup to use another time.  Throw away the teabags (I'm not that frugal.)

Drink your nice cup of hot Chai!  Enjoy!

You can put any extra Chai in a container in the fridge to heat and drink at another time, or share a cup with a friend. 

(An update:  I have been making this lately with just cloves and peppercorns in a teaball, then 1-2 t. ground cinnamon, and 1 heaping t. cardamom.  I have also been using Stevia instead of sugar.  A t. of vanilla is tasty too!  I have just been putting the pot of milk/water on the stove, throwing everything in and letting it simmer, stirring occasionally.  ) 

Here's the quick-look / print recipe:

Perfect Homemade Chai by Amy

Place in pan on the stove:
4 c. of milk
3 c. of water
Bring to a slow boil, keep stirring.

In two tea-balls place heaping portions of:
1 tsp. of whole peppercorns
1 Tbsp. of whole cloves
1 tsp. of whole allspice
1 tsp size chunk of peeled whole ginger root.

Once the milk/water mixture is super hot, add:
5 Tbsp. sugar  
4 regular teabags
1 tsp. cardamom
1 tsp. cinnamon
The two tea-balls with whole spices in them.

Keep it at a barely boil or low boil for about 5 - 6 minutes. 

Pour the liquid through a strainer or fish out the tea-balls and teabags and leave the cardamom and cinnamon in.  Rinse the tea-balls in water.  Throw away the teabags.  Refrigerate any extra Chai and reheat as desired.