Artichokes and a Yummy Recipe

When it comes to vegetables, I would have to say that artichokes are among my favorites.  This weekend Ray and I were up on our soon to be homestead property and planted some artichokes.  I think we found the perfect spot next to the retaining wall in the orchard where they will get morning and early afternoon sun, but will have shade for the late afternoon heat.  We started with just a few plants for a couple of reasons, the first and most important being that we need more dirt in the area where the artichokes will reside.  So we robbed Peter to pay Paul – or should I say we took dirt from one side of the artichoke bed and put on the other.  That way we can go ahead and get a few plants into the ground now while we add soil to the other side.  We can plant the rest of the artichokes next year when the area has enough soil to make it fairly level.  Also, we didn’t plant in front of the big log retaining wall because we need to replace that log.  Munching insects (termites and carpenter ants) are already making it break down.  Does anyone know any way to organically control these wood eating pests?


Hopefully when this area of the orchard is completely level and filled in with dirt, we will have 24+ artichoke plants!    Mmmmmmm……….  chicken and artichoke pizza, ground turkey and artichoke heart stuffed shells, steamed artichokes dipped in olive oil…… my mouth is watering as I think of these.

So for those of you who have artichokes (and even those who don’t) and were wondering what new and yummy way to use them, I would like to share with you my favorite artichoke heart recipe.  I developed it from several other recipes, adding a little of this and taking away a little of that, until I got it to where I think it is just right!


4 cups of Arrabbiata Sauce.  Make this first:

Brown 4 slices of bacon, which has been chopped or cut into small pieces.  Add 2 cloves of minced garlic and sauté until tender, about 1 minute.  Add 4 cups of marinara sauce.  You can use either jarred or fresh.  Add 1-2 teaspoons of crushed red pepper flakes – 1 teaspoon for milder sauce or 2 teaspoons for a bolder and spicy sauce.  By the way; arrabbiato means angry in Italian—the name of the sauce is due to the heat of the chili peppers.  Let the sauce cool down a bit while you continue on with the recipe.

Cook large pasta shells as package directs, until tender but still firm.  Drain shells and let cool a bit.

While pasta is cooking, brown 1 pound of ground turkey in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat.  Add 3 cloves of chopped garlic and 1/2 small yellow onion and cook, stirring, until garlic and onions are softened.  Remove from heat and let cool a bit.

By now you should have your sauce made, your shells cooling and your ground turkey cooling.

Add 1 package (10 ounces) of artichoke hearts or one 15 ounce can of artichoke hearts (drained) to the ground turkey. If you use fresh artichoke hearts, steam or boil them first until they are fairly tender, then chop them into small bite sized pieces. Then add one 15 ounce container of ricotta cheese, 2 eggs, 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper to taste.  The addition of the cheese and eggs helps to cool down the mixture and it should be cool enough to handle at this point.

To assemble the whole dish, lightly spray with oil the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish and add about 1 cup of the arrabbiata sauce – spreading it around to just cover the bottom.  Now, holding a shell in your hand, scoop up about 2 tablespoons of the filling with a spoon and stuff it into the shell.  The filling should mound come just to the top of the shell.  Place the shell into the dish, then repeat until all the shells are filled up and in the dish.  You should get about 20-24 shells stuffed, depending on how much filling you put into each shell.  Cover the top of the shells with the rest of the arrabbiata sauce and then sprinkle with some mozzarella cheese (however much you like – we like a lot of cheese!).

Bake at about 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until the center of the shells are hot and the cheese is just starting to brown.

Instead of making one whole 9 x 13 dish of these shells, I like to freeze them in smaller portions of 6 shells – just right for dinner for my husband and I with a green or fruit salad.  This way I get four meals out of one afternoon of cooking, which works out great for those days when we have been working hard on the future homestead and I don’t have the energy to cook!  They freeze very well, just remember to either thaw them before you cook, or double the cooking time if still frozen.

Shared at: Home and Garden Thursday Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways; The Homeacre Hop #20Transformation Thursday #205; Simple Lives Thursday 

Just a Bunch of Fruits and Nuts!

When we had finally cleared the area that was to be our orchard and no longer parked our trailer there, we began to compile a list of the types of fruit trees we wanted.  My favorite fruit is the cherry, so of course we had to have a couple of those.  Ray likes apples the best, so we would have two of those also.  We both adore peaches and apricots fresh off the tree, cooked into cobblers and pies, and dried as snacks.   We decided to get a plum tree also, the kind that we can eat either fresh or dry into prunes.  We also wanted almonds and walnuts, though we don’t know how many we will harvest in a forest full of squirrels!  Does anyone know how to deter squirrels from nut trees?

Our favorite nursery Peaceful Valley, in Nevada City, CA, has a great deal every year on bare root fruit trees – 10 trees for $199. Sure, I know I can find fruit trees for less, but I don’t believe they would be the same quality as the ones at PeacefulValley.  Besides, the Peaceful Valley Nursery resides at about the same elevation (3,000 feet) as our property, so they offer a great variety of trees suited for our milder climate.

A little bit of research lead me to choose our first 10 trees using the criteria of taste, frost/cold tolerance, uses (to eat fresh, cooked, canned, dehydrated), bloom time (for pollinating) and harvest time.

A Fine Place For An Orchard

A Fine Place For An Orchard

These are the ones we chose:  Honey Crisp Apple, Yellow Newton Pippin Apple, Indian Free Peach, Redhaven Peach, Chinese Apricot, Gold Cot Apricot, Italian European Plum, Black Tartarian Cherry, Utah Giant Cherry and a Franquette Walnut.Because we have noticed quite a few gopher/mole/vole holes here and there on the property, we decided to buy the 15 gallon gopher cages for each tree see here.  Supposedly these prevent the mole/vole/gopher from eating the roots of a young tree, allowing it to become more established.  Our only concern, however, was whether the tree roots would eventually get choked off as they grew through the cage.  One of the friendly folks at the front desk of PeacefulValley explained that as the tree got larger, the metal cage would eventually rot away, having already served it’s purpose.We dug the holes for the trees a few weeks in advance of their arrival, filling the holes with compost and mulch, hoping to make the heavy clay soil a bit more hospitable for the trees.

Digging Holes for the Trees

Digging Holes for the Trees

Ray and Stephen
After the trees were planted, Ray put on the spiral tree guards.

On the day of planting our eldest son, Stephen, came up to help.  Very quickly we discovered that our holes weren’t big enough because the roots of the trees (and the trees themselves) were bigger than we thought they would be, so while Ray and Stephen enlarged the holes, I followed behind them planting the trees, which wasn’t the easiest thing to do.  While on my knees I had to lean into the bottom of each hole (which was pretty deep at this point) to place the gopher basket and then form a soil “cone” for the roots to spread around, place the tree in the hole spreading the roots while making sure the graft was facing north, add soil and then lightly compact to make sure there weren’t any pockets or holes in the soil.    After those 10 trees were planted my back was aching!  After each tree was planted, we placed spiral plastic tree guards on the trunk of each tree, watered the tree with a root promoting product, and then placed a 5 foot high wire fence around each tree to prevent deer from eating the tender branches.  Voila!  Whew!  The fruit trees were planted.Knowing that walnut trees get pretty big, we planted our walnut tree in a different area that would be a little closer to our future house. That was the hardest one to plant because it was so big!  I dream of the day when I can walk outside and sit on a pretty bench in it’s shade.  In the future we plan to plant another walnut (for better pollinating), a 3 in 1 pear and some almond trees.  We toyed with the idea of putting in a pistachio tree, but when we learned we would have to plant a male tree with female trees, and that they are massive trees, we decided to stick with just the walnut and almond for our nut trees.

  • Rolling out the Wire Rolling out the Wire Stephen rolled out the wire and cut it into 10 foot lengths, which we then wrapped around each tree to prevent deer from nibbling at the tender branches.
  • The Black Tartarian Cherry The Black Tartarian Cherry This is the Black Tartarian Cherry about to be caged up. You can see the gopher basket peaking out of the ground, the spiral tree guard in place, and soon the tree will be enclosed with the cage. Wait, do you see it? I think the tree is smiling!
  • The Redhaven Peach The Redhaven Peach This is our Redhaven Peach tree all snug as a bug in a rug. By the way, that's a five foot tall wire fence around this tree! We had never before seen such quality bareroot fruit trees at such great prices until we visited Peaceful Valley nursery - and I'm not being paid to tell you that!
  • The Orchard in Snow The Orchard in Snow A couple of months after we planted our orchard we happened to be up there when it snowed. It was such a beautiful sight we just had to take a picture!

Now we had to figure out a way to water the trees automatically for times when we just couldn’t travel up to the future homestead to do that.  Ray is pretty ingenious and put together an entire gravity flow water system with automatic timers and rain water collection.  You can see how we did it here.


Linked up with:  Transformation Thursday, Home and Garden Thursday, Natural Living Link-Up, Thursdays at Stone Gable, Weekly Homemaking Party, Homeacre Hop, Simple Lives Thursday, Somewhat Simple Hop, Eat, Make Grow Blog Hop

Level Ground

Once our trailer had a spot of it’s own, it was time to get the area we planned to be our orchard ready for the trees. 100_3002 The area had too much of a slope to it, so we knew we would have to level it out a bit.  But oh, that hard clay soil!  When that stuff gets compacted it is like concrete.  To help break it up a bit, Ray devised a type of harrow out of an old pallet that he drove some very large nails through, then weighed the whole thing down with some big pieces of oak.  He attached this to the back of our quad with chain and then drove around and around, breaking up the soil inches at a time. This worked for a while, but eventually the hard clay broke the nails away from the wood. 100_3381 So, a more heavy duty harrow had to be made!  This time he placed the nails through bags of cement that were then placed on the pallet, and then wet the cement down.  When the concrete had hardened the next day, Voila!, we had our own harrow! This actually was a quick and easy way to break up the soil and it was actually a fun “chore” for Ray!

Next we had to devise a retaining wall to hold all the dirt in.  Unfortunately the previous winter had been pretty hard, toppling over several pine trees.  Luckily for us, we needed some large pine trees.  100_3418So, using our truck and also our quad, we were able to construct a retaining wall, positioning it against some pretty large oaks on one side and a couple of landscape poles imbedded in concrete on the other.  We had some tar paper left over from the roof we put on the shed, so we lined the inside of the retaining wall with it so that the soil would not wash away through the gaps.  Ray cut a couple of notches in two of the retaining wall logs to get a “custom fit”, allowing the logs to rest against the landscape poles and not the small black oak tree we wanted to save. At this point we hauled the loose dirt from the upside of the orchard area to the lower side against the landscape timbers. Retaining Wall When all the raking, shoveling and hauling of loose soil from one side of the orchard area to the other was done, we were ready to plant our fruit orchard, and I had the most beautifully developed biceps any 55 year old woman would be proud of!



Shared at:  The Homesteading Hippy Hop

The Worm Farm – Our Opinion

It has been almost six weeks now since we set up our worm farm (see how we set it up here ), and I am glad to say that we are very happy with it so far!

The only problem we had was when about half of the worms crawled out because I inadvertently drowned them (see post  here ).  I believe I was right in thinking that with two trays the worms can crawl from one to the other when necessary for the right environment, be it wetter, drier, more food, less food, etc.  The bottom tray has almost completely composted already with dark, rich looking compost.  There are still a few worms in the processing (bottom) tray, and I think I have found some worm eggs there also.

This is the bottom or "processing tray" of our Worm Factory 360.  You can see how dark and moist the organic matter is, and hardly anything is recognizable anymore!

This is the bottom or “processing tray” of our Worm Factory 360. You can see how dark and moist the organic matter is, and hardly anything is recognizable anymore!

Last week when I was feeding the top tray (called the working tray) I noticed some little wriggly worms in the compost mix.  I quickly got online with the company that produces the worm farm – – and found that these are potworms, are very common and completely harmless.  Apparently the only problem I might have with the potworms is if they over populate themselves and compete with the redworms for food.  According to the website Q&A, all I would have to do is soak some break in milk and place it in the worm bin.  The potworms will flock to the bread and then I can easily remove the bread with a lot of the potworms.  Neat!  The potworms may be, however, an indicator that the organic matter I am adding is a bit too acidic, which is easily fixed.

This is the top or "working tray" of our worm factory 360.  You can see a coffee filter that the worms are actually eating!

This is the top or “working tray” of our worm factory 360. You can see a coffee filter that the worms are actually eating!

Is there a bad odor?  No.  At least not yet!  I have added my kitchen scraps faithfully in each corner – apple cores, shriveled lettuce, rotting tomatoes, coffee grounds, banana peels and old leaf litter – about once a week since I started.  When I examine the bins, all this vegetable and fruit matter is decaying – there is even a little mold in spots – but the only thing I smell is the scent of the ground after a fresh spring rain!  Believe me, if it smelled the worm farm would not be in my kitchen.  But there it is, right in the corner where I see it every day so that I don’t forget to feed my wriggly pets.

It’s not time to harvest yet.  That won’t come for a few months when all four trays that come with the Worm Factory 360 are full.  Fortunately that will be just in time to dress our backyard garden!  Would I buy this again?  You betcha!  To see the whole story, visit here .

I have not been compensated in any way for this post.  My husband and I bought the Worm Factory 360 for each other with our own funds for Christmas!  If I am ever compensated by a product, I will certainly disclose that fact.

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