Our weekly crate of goodies – the Abokiste

Back in December of 2017 we decided that we would finally register for the “Abokiste” – a local community supported agricultural program that delivers organic produce and products to your doorstep on a weekly basis. The Abokiste offers a large selection of different crates and you can always manage what you will receive the following week through an online shopping cart system. We have a crate that always has 5-8 regionally grown vegetables and we often let ourselves be surprised by what they send us, and every once in a while we will change items out for other ones.

This week we received white asparagus, an Asian salad mix, red Spring onions, multicolored carrots, cucumber, and potatoes. We were really excited about the asparagus and prepared it right away.

Recently, I have had different neighbors at my doorstep asking me about our little green crate filled with goodies that waits for us on our doorstep until we come home from work. It is really great to have fresh produce waiting for you after a long day of work. A friend of mine has been receiving her crate for over 10 years now and it’s sad to say that it took me so long to try it out. Now, I can’t imagine not having it. Do you CSA?

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Welcome to the Jungle

We have had an amazing Spring so far – with lots of sunshine and warm summer temperatures. This is quite a treat since we live in a pretty grey-sky-ladened region of Germany.

Here are some pictures of “the farm”. I was at our local garden market this weekend and couldn’t help but buy a few plants from my favorite organic farmers. Thank goodness that the balcony in our new apartment is much larger!

Now growing on the farm:

Flowers:

Peonies

Clematis

Tulips

Hyacinths

Achillea

Scarlet Beebalm

White flowering Catnip

Herbs:

Chocolate Mint

Grenada Mint

Spear Mint

Strawberry Mint

Lemon Melisse

Savory

Italian Basil

African Basil

Krim Basil

French Tarragon

Leafy Mustard

Lavender

Koriander

Parsley

Sage

Pineapple Sage

Mandarin Sage

Scented Geraniums

Chives

Green Onions

Bay Leaf

Thyme

Creeping Rosemary

Oregano

Fruits:

Raspberries

Strawberries

Pineapple Strawberries

Wild Strawberries

Blueberries

Cape Gooseberry

Tangerines

Grapefruits

Bergamot Lemons

Figs

Vegetables & Co:

Cucumbers

Tomatoes

Wild white Tomatoes

Brown Japanese Tomatoes

Tomatillos

Purple Jalapeños

Pimentos del Padron

Sweet Habaneros

Purple Potatoes

Pink Potatoes

Yellow Potatoes

mini Striped Eggplant

Cambodian Chilies

Cayenne Chilies

Expanding my mini urban farm & some good news

I am really excited to share that we will be moving! I have been living in downtown for the last 14 years and we are moving to a neighborhood on the outskirts of downtown – so still central with a bus stop in front of our new home and a train and subway stop a few minutes walk away – but it is green and there is no main road that runs by my bedroom window AND there is a really large balcony included! Yes, that means that our urban garden will be growing (even though we will be downsizing in living space – more on minimalistic living another time) and we will have a south facing balcony with enough room for outdoor dining and lots of planters to provide us with more food. Ideally we would be moving to a small house with a large piece of land that we could farm, but the time is not right. Luckily, this doesn’t have to keep us from farming our balcony. The move is not for another 2 1/2 months but there is a lot to do until then and planning the move of all my plants will take some thought.

So, I have decided to separate the wine crates that I have had stacked on eachother which originally allowed the roots of my plants to grow deep into the lower crates. At least that was what I thought my plants would do, but I recently realized that they were only staying in the upper crate and that I had 2 crates full of soil just sitting empty waiting to be used.

I have not decided how my new mini urban farm is going to look – I feel that I have to be there to make those sort of plans and it will be a project that will grow over time. I have to see how the sun shines on the different spots of the balcony and observe the wind and rain directions – there is a bit to take into consideration to get the most out of a small space.

Yesterday I visited a local garden market with a large variety of organic growers. I wanted to take at least half of everything I saw at the market home with me, but I decided that it would be wiser to just take a few plants and wait another few weeks for the next market since the danger of frost is still possible and would damage or kill my new plants. That would be terrible.

My youngest son loves raspberries more than anything, so we decided to take 2 raspberry plants home – a Summer and Fall fruiting one to make sure that we have fresh raspberries from July until the first frost (about mid November). The gardener that sold us the plants said that they would both fit in one deep planter that was about 60cm long and that a good companion would be strawberry plants. Both strawberry and raspberry plants like well drained soil and raspberries even like drying out periodically. So, when we got home we planted our raspberries in one of the extra wine crates with soil and transplanted 4 pineapple-strawberry plants that I picked up last Fall at my local organic grocery store. Then, we covered the soil with shredded wood to keep the soil from drying out so quickly. Usually, I would use straw, but I am all out and this is what I had lying around.

Using straw or other plants as ground cover in my planters is a valuable tip that I have picked up from my research on permaculture. It saves water and time and keeps plants happy. It tried it out on my plants this winter and it kept them from dehydrating especially when the temperature was too low to water. My experience over the years is that most plants don’t die from the freezing temperatures directly in Winter or Spring but rather of dehydration in winter or from rapidly warming temperatures in the Spring followed by frost and precipitation which damages the plants or even kills many of them.

Part of the permaculture gardening concept that I am trying to integrate into my balcony garden is a zoning plan. This zoning plan can be pretty intricate, but I am breaking it down into 3 vital zones:

  1. Zone 1 – a garden of edible goodies: this is closest to you and your home and where you plant fruits, berries, vegetables, and herbs that you harvest for personal use. For balcony gardeners this means keeping your planters with fruits, vegetables, lettuce, etc (when possible) in easy to reach places that make harvesting easy and enjoyable. You can keep cold-sensitive plants such as tomatoes in a pot or planter directly on an outer wall of your home to help extend the growing season because the wall will act as a battery when it releases it’s heat and will warm up any plants close to it when the temperature drops at night.
  2. Zone 2 – a garden of blooms: a flower “field” surrounding Zone 1 that attracts pollinators (such as bees and butterflies) to increase your harvest. For balcony gardeners this means integrating planters with local and native wild flowers and herbs. Many herbs, such as mint and chives, are good sources for bees while we enjoy their green leaves- a win-win for everyone.
  3. Zone 3 – a wild zone: this space surrounds Zone 2 and is living space for animals that helps keep your garden free of pests. For balcony gardeners this means bird and bat houses or maybe even a mini fruit tree large enough to house a nest. Did you know that a mother bird will collect up to 30kg (!!!) of insects to feed her babies in one season?

We bought a few plants for Zone 2 and are glad to have added: white flowing Catnip, Achillea, and Beebalm to our garden. I have always had various flowering herbs and plants in my garden, but the more I read about permaculture the more I learn how important this zone is.

If you are interested in reading (in German) about permaculture and homesteading, check out my favorite blog here or permaculture and insects here and here.

Urban Gardening Season is now OPEN!

The snow has finally melted away for the 20th time this year, the day’s sunlight is growing by leaps and bounds, the temperature is slowly warming up, the birds are chirping, and little buds are popping up all over my planters – my balcony garden is calling.

Cucumbers and Basil

March and April are fun yet “hard” months for the urban gardener. There is a lot of planning to do but it is mostly from indoors. I have already planned what will go in my planters this late Spring and have already sown seeds that are growing on my kitchen counter.

Wild white tomatoes

This year I have decided to take up organic and permaculture gardening and am making thoughts on how to live this out on my balcony so that I can have a mini-urban homestead on my balcony that supplies us with Mother Nature’s goodies all year long – yes, even in Winter.

Texas Tarragon

I just spent a wonderful two weeks listening to interviews from the Bio-Balkon Kongress (German) and am even more certain that my plan will work. In all actually, I have been gardening using similar methods for the past 15 years without having a plan. My hope is to make vegetable, fruit, and kitchen-herb production more efficient in the small spot that we have available.

Sage

Here are a few inspirational blogs that have great tips:

Biotopica Farm

Bio-Balkon

And, don’t forget that you can find tons of information in books for free through your local library. Here is my latest cache:

Gardening Books

Meine Mini-Farm

Grüne Stadtoasen

Die neue StadtGartenLust

Vertikal Gärtnern

Pineapple Sage

There is no time to waste. If you dream of homesteading but have no yard or land you can still grow food on you balcony or even on a windowsill. Just give it a shot – it’s worse not to have tried at all than to fail.

Buddha Bowl

This is one of my favorite dishes.  It’s crunchy and creamy and full of flavour.  So, what is so peacefull about this buddah bowl?  Well, other than the meditative mode that you will enter will enjoying the combination of flavours and textures, is that it is really a bowl of vegan leftovers.  Yes, it is the whole last week of little bits and scraps leftover after every meal ever so gently layed into a bowl, drizzled with a delicious tangy homemade sesame dressing that pulls the whole thing together.  Inner peace – another day not having to slave in the kitchen.
However, if you are all leftovers-out, or you find inner-peace in cooking (as I do), you can still put this delicious dish together in an uncomplicated amount of time.
So, make it for lunch or dinner, take it to work, or spread out all the ingredients buffet-style and let your family or guests put their bowl together as they wish.  It’s flexible and kid-friendly.
buddah_bowl_side

Buddha Bowl

Serves 4 / Prep Time 20 min / Total Time 1 hour

Ingredients:
2 Cups Cooked Rice (recipe bellow)
1 Portion Crispy Chickpeas (recipe bellow)
2 Cups Micro Greens
1 large Carrot, julienned
1 Avocado, quartered, and sliced
16 Cherry Tomatoes, halved
1/2 Cup Mung bean Sprouts
4 leaves Chicory
1 Green Onion, whites only, sliced
1 Portion Sesame Dressing (recipe bellow)
1 Tablespoon Black Caraway Seeds
Directions:
Divide up your ingredients among 4 wide bowls.
Start by layering the rice down the middle.  Then, work your way clock-wise starting with the micro greens and ending with the sliced avocado – gently nestling in each small portion.
Nudge in a whole chicory leaf on top of the rice, and scoop in a few spoon fulls of crispy chickpeas.
Drizzle each bowl with a good amount of dressing, and garnish with some chopped green onions and black caraway seeds.
Leave out what you like.  Add what you like. Enjoy.

Simple White Rice

Serves 4 / Prep Time 3 min / Total Time 15 min
Ingredients:
1 Cup Long Grain Rice
1/4 teaspoon Salt
2 Cups Water
Directions:
Place the dry, uncooked rice in a small pot and through in the salt.  Give it a whirl with your hand to disperse the salt.
Pour in the water – do not mix – do not stir – just pour it in.
Cook over high heat.  The rice will come to a boil and the water will start to reduce.  Once the water is even with the level of rice and it gives the appearance of foamy soap bubbles emerging from large holes between the rice, reduce the heat to low.
Cover and continue cooking for 10 minutes.
To check for doneness, after the 10 minutes are done, pierce the surface of the rice with a spoon until it reaches the bottom of the pot.  Pull it.  If it is shiny and slightly wet, then cover it back up and cook for another 3 minutes.  If it’s mat and dry and only slightly pasty, then it’s done.
Fluff the rice while hot with a spoon or fork to loosen the grains.

 

Crispy Chickpeas

Serves 4 / Prep Time 5 min / Total Time 50 min

Ingredients:
400 grams canned Chickpeas, drained, rinsed
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Garlic Powder
1 teaspoon Onion Powder
1 teaspoon Cumin
1/2 teaspoon Pimenton de la Vera (Spanish Smoked Paprika)
Directions:
Preheat oven to 250°C (480°F).
Layer a baking pan with parchment paper.
In a large mixing bowl combine all ingredients by hand.  Make sure with get the spices all over each chickpea!
Spread the chickpeas out in a single layer on the baking pan.  Bake on the top rack of the oven for 45 minutes, or until the chickpeas are nice and crispy, but not black.
Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature before enjoying.

Tangy Sesame Dressing

Serves 4 / Prep Time 5 min / Total Time 10 min
Ingredients:
1/3 Cup Tahini
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
2 teaspoons sugar (or agave syrup)
2 teaspoons Rice Vinegar
Zest from 1/2 a Lime
Juice from 1 Lime
1 Knob of Ginger (the size of your thumb!), peeled, and grated
1 teaspoon Siracha (or Frank’s Red Hot)
1 pinch of Pepper
1 pinch of crushed Red Pepper flakes
Directions:
Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl.  Let sit to allow flavors to develop.
Find peace in this explosion of flavors!

Quick Peanut Noodles

This peanut noodle recipe practically saved my life.  I know it sounds ridiculous, but this recipe has seen me through thick and thin…12 hour work days, kids’ soccer tournaments, pick-nicks, late nights, long and strenuous hikes, and short lunch breaks.  What makes it so amazing…other than tasting awesome?

It is a wholesome meal that can be made in 15 minutes…or even the day before.  It’s flexible, spicy, full of energy, filling but light, and loaded with vegan nutrients – a perfect pre-excersise meal.  And, if you want to change up the flavors or quadruple it, go ahead and be creative!  On many occasions,

I have left out the sambal oelek and added BBQ sauce, or replaced the fresh squeezed lemon juice with lime juice, or added tomatoes…

After countless requests from friends, work colleagues, and family members…here we go!  Comment and let me know how you make it your own.

peanut_noodles_above

Quick Peanut Noodles

Serves 2 / Prep Time 15 min / Total Time 15 min

Ingredients:
~6 Cups Boiling Water
100grams Cellophane Noodles
1/4 Cup All-Natural Peanut Butter
juice of 1/2 a Lemon
1 teaspoon of Sambal Oelek
1/2 teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/2 teaspoon Ginger Powder
1 Cup chopped Cucumber
2 Cups thinly shredded Iceberg Lettuce
1 Tablespoon chopped salted Peanuts
1 Tablespoons sliced Green Onions

Directions:

Bring your water to a boil.  If you have an electric water boiler, this will be your quickest bet.

Place the cellophane noodles in a large mixing bowl, and pour the boiling water over the noodles, until covered.  Loosen the noodles slightly with a fork.  Set aside, and set a timer for 12 minutes.

In a small mixing bowl, stir together peanut butter, lemon juice, sambal oelek, garlic powder, and ginger powder.  The sauce will thicken the more you mix.

Prepare your cucumbers, lettuce, peanuts, and green onions.  Go ahead and get creative if you feel the itch – add tomatoes, mushrooms, roasted eggplant, broccoli, radishes, carrots, black beans, bbq sauce, sesame oil…the sky is the limits.

Once your timer has buzzed, drain off the water from the noodles.  Cellophane noodles are usually very long, so, at this point, take the time to just cut through them a few times to make things manageable.

Scrape the peanut sauce into the warm noodles, and mix it in.  It will be very thick, so use a fork and spoon to “comb” it it.  This will take a minute or two.

Through in your fresh veggies, give it a quick toss, and garnish it with green onions and chopped peanuts.

Done.

Quick. Simple. Delicious. Vegan.

If you want to make this a day in advanced, go ahead.  Just keep the noodles, sauce, and veggies separate from each other until you’re ready to serve to keep it from getting soggy. Heat the sauce up for 30 seconds to soften it up before mixing into your noodles.