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Few gardening-related hobbies are as fascinating and satisfying as raising honey bees. Contribute to the health of your area's honey bee population. Buy this guide to learning bee culture and start your own bee hives.

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Raise adoring pets that pay you back with delicious and nutritious fresh eggs. This offer provides all the information you need to get started with your own backyard chickens. Click here today to get started in this rewarding hobby.

Kitchen Garden Store

Learn to preserve the produce you grow in your home kitchen garden. This home canning starter kit includes everything you need to can your first batch using the boiling water bath method for high-acid foods. Find it and other canning supplies at the Home Kitchen Garden Store.

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the cookie shooter at Your Home Kitchen Garden

Cookie press, jerky shooter… in my mind, it has become a cookie shooter. This very affordable kitchen implement is a caulking gun for cookie dough.

There is nothing to do with gardening in my home kitchen garden these days. It’s all about staying warm and trying to enjoy the holidays. We’re very big on Christmas cookies, and my wife usually bakes more than a thousand cookies of a dozen or so varieties. I also bake some, specifically two types of cookies I loved as a child: Cut out sugar cookies with stained glass windows, and spritz cookies.

This year, I set up my computer on the dining room table and visited with many imaginary friends as I mixed spritz cookie dough, shot cookies onto cookie sheets, and added dusting sugar and other sprinkles as decorations. I got a few questions from imaginary friends, and I offered that I’d upload photos to answer some of them:

Why do they call it a Spritz Cookie?

I don’t know. I like to believe it’s because the inventor of these cookies was Hans Spritz, a young baker in the mountains of Bavaria who, except for these cookies, has been obscured by time. I Googled the name, and one web site, The Cilantropist (a name that I love), provided a lot of personal history and way too much detail… but all it added about the name “spritz” is that it’s short for “Spritzgebackenes” which, with my limited knowledge of German, I translate to mean, Cookies invented by a man named Spritz.

extruder plates at Your Home Kitchen Garden

A cookie shooter should come with several extruder plates that restrict oozing dough to specific patterns. The most seasonally-appropriate extruder plate for Christmas cookies creates little evergreen trees on the cookie sheet.

What is a Cookie Press?

While digging around the kitchen for my cookie press, I found a cookie press I couldn’t identify. Then I found the cookie press I’ve had for years, and I realized that the other cookie press was a “jerky shooter” that had come with a food dryer I’d used when I wrote my book, Yes, You Can to be published in the coming spring (the link leads to Amazon where you can order it now for delivery once it’s available).

A cookie press is a caulking gun for cookie dough. Instead of a rubber nozzle that squeezes caulk into a continuous snake or ribbon, a cookie press has interchangeable  extruder plates each intended to produce a unique design. Here’s how it works:

  1. Fill the tube of the cookie press with a soft, sticky dough.
  2. Put an extruder plate on one end of the tube and a pistol-grip plunger on the other.
  3. Pull the trigger on the pistol grip until dough starts to come through the holes in the extruder plate.
  4. Stand the cookie press on a cool, ungreased cookie sheet and pull the trigger once and then pause.
  5. After a second or two passes, lift the cookie press straight up. Extruded dough should stick to the cookie sheet.
  6. Decorate cookies as you wish before baking.

I Dub Thee Cookie Shooter

As a result of mistaking my jerky shooter for a cookie press, I decided that from that day forward, I’ll refer to my cookie press as a cookie shooter. Can’t help it, it just sounds right. You call yours what you like. If you don’t have one, look for them at department and cooking stores. One of my imaginary friends said she bought one last year for $9.99. This is a very low price to pay for a very useful kitchen implement. Amortized over the years I’ve owned my cookie shooter, it has cost about 60 cents per year. By the time they pry my cookie shooter from my cold, dead hand, I expect that number to be about 20 cents per year.

I prepared a video that shows how I work with a cookie shooter. Please have a look to get an idea of how this all works. As well, here’s the recipe I use when I make Hans Spritz’s famous cookies:

Ingredients

1 and ½ cups butter (Not margarine or shortening. Use butter or go home.)

1 cup sugar

1 egg

2 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ teaspoon mint extract (the more traditional recipe calls for almond extract)

4 cups sifted flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

spritz cookies from Your Home Kitchen Garden

Spritz cookies barely change shape when they cook, and they shouldn’t change color. If the darken in the oven, they’re likley to taste burned.

Beat the butter and sugar till they’re smooth. Add the milk, egg, vanilla, and mint extract and continue mixing. Stir the baking soda into the sifted flour and add it gradually to the butter and sugar. Continue mixing while adding and for a bit longer until you have homogenous very soft dough.

Divide the dough into four parts and add two drops of food coloring to each part—usually a different color for each. Use a strong-handled spoon to mush the coloring through the dough until each portion has uniform color.

Load your cookie shooter, shoot dough onto UNGREASED cookie sheets, decorate, if you like, and bake for 8 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. If the cookies start to darken, you’ve cooked them too long.

Let them cool on the cookie sheets. Then pop them loose with your fingers.

CAUTION: If you make your spritz cookies minty like mine, don’t store them with other types of cookies. All the cookies in a container will pick up the mint flavor after just a day or two of storage. This isn’t a problem if you use almond extract instead of mint extract.

Here’s a video that demonstrates how to shoot Christmas cookies onto a cookie sheet:

 

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Nearly centered in the photo are three rows of peas in my home kitchen garden. Immediately to the left of the left-most peas are lettuce and spinach with carrots and cilantro to the left of them. When the spring crops- the peas, lettuce, and spinach – wilt in summer’s heat, I’ll remove them, making an 8′ by 14′ clearing in which to grow winter squash. I expect the squash to grow well beyond this 112 square foot area.

When I’m feeling ambitious, I manage multiple plantings in my home kitchen garden. By this I mean I plant the same garden zones two or three times through the growing season. When weather cooperates, cold-weather vegetables planted early grow themselves out as summer approaches. I remove the dying plants and introduce other crops.

Usually, I plant peas, lettuce, and spinach in adjacent rows so there will be space in which to plant something large in June… and my first choice is almost always winter squash. Squash is a great late-season vegetable that stores well; it’ll keep for months on your dining room floor unless your spouse makes you move it to the garage.

Awkward Spring for a Home Kitchen Garden

Weather has not cooperated. This has been an unusually cold spring for my zone 5/6 home kitchen garden, and I’ve heard similar observations from gardeners all over the northeastern United States. I’m used to planting summer crops in April, but we had so many cold days in April and May that my spring crops are about a month behind where they’ve been in past seasons.

It dawned on me this could become a problem when it’s time to plant the winter squash: if the spring crops are still hogging garden space, where will I plant four hills of squash?

So, for the first time in my life, I started squash seeds in containers. When they go in the garden, they won’t have lost the month the cold weather crops lost in April.

Time Lapse Silliness

As my squash seeds started to sprout, I got the urge to capture some of them popping out of the soil: I wanted to create a time lapse movie. I don’t have the best equipment to film such a sequence: my video camera shoots at only one speed, and my digital picture camera has no features to simplify shooting a sequence of photos over an extended period. Here’s what I did:

I mounted my camera on a tripod, and set it on the ping-pong table pointing at my squash pots. I shot one photograph every fifteen minutes for 24 hours. The 24 hours were deadly; I pulled an all-nighter to complete the sequence, and it wasn’t long enough.

About two weeks after popping out of the soil, my squash babies are putting out a second tier of leaves. I may need to pot them up (meaning, plant them in a larger pot) to buy time given how late spring actually started this year. On the other hand, recent summer-like heat may burn off my spring crops before I’ve gotten complete satisfaction from them. It’s been a difficult season for kitchen gardeners in the northeastern United States.

Turning on my digital camera consumes a lot of electricity, and I had to turn it on for each photo I took. It ran through three battery changes. Also, to get consistent framing and focus, I had to push buttons on the camera about thirteen times per photograph. Unfortunately, all this button-pushing caused tiny but perceptible reorientation of the photo frame.

After shooting the photos, I expected to load them into Windows Movie Maker (free software you can download from Microsoft’s web site) and package them as an AVI file. But Windows Movie Maker couldn’t sequence the photos as I wanted. The shortest period it will display a photo is an eighth of a second… but the shortest transition from one photo to another is a quarter second. Whatever settings I chose, the time lapse sequence was choppy.

So… I Googled. My search uncovered a handy piece of free software called Photolapse 3 (you can download a copy at the Photolapse web site). The programmer built this software specifically to create time lapse movies in AVI files. The download was painless, and the software proved easy to use. Within minutes I had built an AVI file that was no better than anything I’d done in Windows Movie Maker.

Through experimentation, I learned it’s important to use small image files when making a time lapse movie. That became the second biggest chore of my project: my photo-editing software doesn’t have a batch mode for reducing an image’s size and jpeg compression, so I manually adjusted all 99 images down to 640 by 480 pixels. For future time lapse sequences, I’ll shoot the photos at that resolution in the first place.

Photolapse 3 produced a lovely movie.

Finishing the Video

The output from Photolapse 3 was just a time lapse sequence of seeds sprouting. To add titles and a soundtrack, I pulled the time lapse movie into Windows Movie Maker. There, it was easy to dress it up and save the assembled components as a new AVI movie file. It was a lot of work for a 33-second video, but it was also a lot of fun for a gardening/photo/technology geek. In any case, I expect to harvest a lot of squash in October.

Here’s the movie:

 

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Home Kitchen Garden Chickens

I’m starting to succumb to the backyard chicken movement. Do you have chickens in your garden? I may soon.

When I started blogging about your home kitchen garden, it hadn’t occurred to me that there would be an enthusiastic gardening community well-established on-line. Moreover, chickens were not in my thinking.

Chickens? As I’ve become familiar with on-line gardening resources, I’ve “met” gardeners of nearly every stripe. Some garden primarily to produce food. Others garden to surround themselves with flowers and ornamental plants. I’ve met people whose gardens are metaphors for their lives, some who relate to gardening spiritually, and others who dig in their gardens simply to escape the grind of corporate jobs or the occasional chaff of family life. I’ve also met gardeners who raise chickens.

Chickens in a Home Kitchen Garden

One of my new chicken-loving friends, Robin Wedewer, writes Bumblebee Blog and contributes to www.examiner.com where she recently published an article presenting the benefits of raising chickens. Please check it out; it may start you down a new garden path.

I actually got introduced to the backyard chicken movement a few years ago when a poker buddy built a moveable chicken coop and started several birds in his garage. The coop’s design let him move it into the yard where chicken droppings would fall directly onto the lawn. After several days, he could move the coop and fertilize a different patch of grass. Of course, when I met the chickens, I figured my friend had blown a gasket and I got on with my life.

The on-line garden chicken community is changing my thinking. Because of their enthusiasm, I recently visited with hundreds of chickens at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg. There, I came to appreciate the charm of these useful animals. They aren’t as cuddly as dogs, but they certainly develop attachments and genuinely seem to enjoy interactions with their human caretakers. Oh, and they lay eggs you can eat.

Your Garden Chickens

There are many sources of information about backyard chickens. Of course, check out Robin’s articles, and when you decide to set up your own garden chicken operation, go here: Chicken Coop Plan.

In the meantime, I’ve prepared a video in appreciation of all of my on-line chicken gardening enthusiasts. It’s a collection of intimate portraits of chickens at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. It runs just under three and a half minutes, and I call it Sixty Chickens:

 

If you get a chance, check out the site Life in the Lost World for some terrific chicken-related humor and further discussion about backyard chickens. Here are a few other articles to help inform you about backyard chickens:

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