All my life I have loved cooking and baking; what I don’t like are flops or blah recipes.  I realized long ago that premium ingredients gave me better results, and that using whole grains gave me healthier results.  In January I will be offering a whole grains,  REAL-FOOD approach to a healthier diet, sharing some delicious and easy recipes and methods for healthier cooking and baking.

The class will be held at Little Red Hen in Dassel, Minnesota, and class participants are welcome to browse the shop for after-Christmas deals.

Class info:


Really Good Real Food

Scrumptious, easy-peasy recipes that will introduce more healthy whole grains, nuts, and seeds into your diet.  Cheryl will demonstrate some delicious recipes while explaining the health benefits of using wholesome and premium ingredients.  From what you learn here, you will be able to go home and modify any of your own favorite recipes into a healthier version.  Ever wonder what the difference is between pure cane sugar, raw cane sugar, and beet sugar?  Or canola oil, olive oil, or coconut oil?  Come and find out.

Come prepared for a delicious sampling of:

Almond Fruited Chicken Salad made with whole grain pasta
Fresh whole grain Quick Mix Bread Sticks
Fruit Smoothies
Hearty Oats & Honey Granola
Bogus Mrs. Fields Chocolate Chip cookies

Each participant will receive recipes, helpful handouts, and granola to take home.

January 10th, Monday        6:30 – 8:30 p.m.        Cost – $16.00

Register for this class at Little Red Hen during the December sale (December 9 – 11), or call Cheryl Niemela at 320-286-5384.

Email me with questions –

Experience Spring for an evening – attend the Meeker County ‘Gardener’s Gala’ Event on Tuesday, March 16th, from 6 – 9 p.m.   Held at Litchfield High School, in Litchfield, Minnesota, this garden event promises an evening of education, fellowship and planning for the upcoming growing season.  Cost is $5.00 which includes a keynote speaker, breakout sessions, snacks and door prizes.

For more information on keynote speaker Dr. Mary Meyer, a list of breakout sessions and directions:  Gardener’s Gala Event March 2010

This event is sponsored by the Meeker County Master Gardeners, Meeker County Horticulture Society, Litchfield Community Education, and the Litchfield Public Library.

Make your own ice candle luminary to decorate the outdoors for pennies and a little time.  Materials needed:  a large plastic bucket, water, rubber gloves (optional), and a votive candle.

Step 1.  Fill a large bucket almost full with cold water and set outside to freeze, keeping them out of direct sunlight;  a six quart or two gallon size bucket is ideal.  I like to set them out in early evening and let them freeze overnight, usually they are ready in about 12 to 14 hours if the temps are between zero and 15 degrees.

Step 2.  When the top is completely frozen and you can see a ring of frozen ice around the outside of the bucket that is 1 to 2 inches thick, your ice candle is ready to remove from the bucket.  A 2 inch or thicker ice candle will be sturdier and last longer, and also have a more frosted appearance when lit; a 1 inch ice candle will tend to be clear and look like glass, allowing the flame of the candle to show through when lit.

Step 3.  Turn the bucket upside down in a sink and run warm water over the bottom of the bucket until the ice candle releases from the bucket.  You will notice that the ice layer that was on the bottom of the bucket is thinner than the rest of the ice candle, this will be easy to remove and now becomes the top of your ice candle.

Step 4.  Leaving the candle upside down so the thin layer of ice is on top, break the ice in the top center of the candle, either with your hands or a chisel type object, leaving an edge of at least one to two inches for the upper rim.

Step 5.  Tip the ice candle to pour out water and floating ice chunks – and there you have it!  Place outside and set a votive candle in the center; light the candle at dusk, then enjoy the beauty of candlelight from your ice luminary!

A number of years ago, an old timer told us that there will be rain six months following a hoarfrost.  So a few years back, we started paying close attention to when the hoar frosts occurred, and flipping the calendar six months ahead to see when we could expect rains.  Interestingly, most of the time it does rain within a day or two of the date we marked ‘hoarfrost six months ago’.  And if we had many days of hoar frosts in a row, we can almost count on as many days of rainy weather later on.

Last week we had four days in a row of beautiful hoarfrosts, and this week two days, so it looks like a rainy spell in mid-July, which is perfect for the crops and gardens, and a reminder that we should have all the cultivating done before then.  Our last two summers have been exceptionally dry, so any hint of moisture, even by old timers predictions, gives hope for the upcoming growing season.

Check back in six months to see if the old timer was right………

Polka Dot Pumpkin Project

October 23, 2009

pumpkin project 3

Here is a fun and easy pumpkin project to do.  You need a few different color pumpkins, squash, or gourds, and a rubber mallet and an apple corer with plunger.

pumpkin project 4

1.  Tap apple corer with rubber mallet until through the rind, remove the apple corer.  Then use the plunger and rubber mallet to remove the core from the apple corer; save the core/dots.  Remove as many or as few circles as you wish.

pumpkin project 1

2.  Trim the rough pulpy ends of dots with a knife, then place a dot of hot glue inside an empty hole to help keep dots in place; then fill the hole with a different colored dot.  Repeat until all holes are filled – then enjoy your polka dot pumpkin!

pumpkin project 2

A fun project for kids and adults!  Besides orange pumpkins, I grew a gray pumpkin, Jarrahdale, and a white pumpkin, Valenciano, to use for this project.

Last winter we went to a workshop about apple orchards, put on by the Minnesota Fruit and Vegetable Growers AssociationDavid Bedford, the chief apple breeder of the University of Minnesota’s apple breeding program, gave the presentation on growing apple orchards.  Since David is such an expert on apples, we asked him for advice on choosing apple tree varieties that would make a tasty fresh apple cider.  He suggested the following apple tree varieties:

Frost Bite
Chestnut Crab

After doing a lot of online research, we also added Cox’s Orange Pippin to our apple tree wish list.  This Spring we were able to locate and plant most of the apple tree varieties on our wish list.  In five years or so, we should be cranking out our own fresh apple cider ……. yummmm!  Does anyone have a brand of cider mill they have used and would recommend?

After being featured in the Customer Spotlight with for our product labeling, we have been contacted by many small businesses asking us to share how we have achieved the look of ‘professional’ labels.

When I was researching printers, I found the Canon Pixma iP4300 to be highly rated and reasonably priced, less than $100.00. It prints in resolutions of up to 9600 x 2400 dpi, printing in microscopic picoliters for exceptional detail.  It also has five ink tanks, which helps keep the cost down as you only have to replace individual ink tanks when they run out, and offers borderless printing, which allows me to print labels right to the edge.

It took me some time experimenting with the settings to get my labels crisp and sharp, and this is what I have found works the best for the white glossy labels, and the clear matte labels that we get from OnlineLabels. These settings will NOT work for clear glossy labels, and I do not know about the plain white non-gloss labels.

When printing labels with the Canon Pixma iP4300 printer:

Under Main Setting Tab, for Media Type choose Photo Paper Pro

For Printer Quality choose Custom, then click Set, in the box that opens up click Diffusion and slide the number bar to #1, then click Okay to save setting.

For Color Intensity I choose Manual, then click Set, under Brightness I choose Dark in the drop down box, then Okay to save the setting.  Normal or Manual setting will work also, I prefer to have the most colorful label I can print.

On Effects Setting Tab, I check Image Optimizer for sharpest printing results.

For borderless printing, click the Page Set Up Tab, in Page Layout check the Borderless Printing box, then under Amount of Extension, slide the bar all the way to the right.

1.  When seedlings have one or two sets of leaves, it is time to transplant them into individual containers.  Start by watering the seedlings well before transplanting.  Loosely fill containers or cell packs with moistened potting soil, then make a hole for the roots with your fingers in each container or cell.

2.  Gently remove the seedlings from the tray.  While holding onto the leaves of the seedling, use a butter knife or popsicle stick to gently lift up under the roots to remove the seedling.  Always handle the seedling by the leaves or the root ball; the stem is very fragile and can easily be injured.

seed starting transplanting seedling in cell2
3.  Place seedling in hole of individual cell or container.  For very small plants like lettuce, I often put two plants in a cell.

seed starting transplanting lifting seedling
4.  Firm soil around seedling, adding soil to fill container or cell to the top.

seed starting transplanting packing seedling
5.  When transplanting is finished, water seedlings with a weak fertilizer solution, and let them rest for 8-12 hours before putting them under grow lights or in a sunny window.

seed starting transplanting place in window
6.  If growing on under lights, have the lights 1 or 2 inches above the top of the leaves, and move the lights up (or plants down) as the plants grow.  Placing a fan to blow on the plants will make them sturdier, as will growing them on in cooler temperatures.  Check your seed packet directions for recommended growing on temperatures.
7.  Monitor for moisture; let the surface of the soil dry before watering again, and feed once a week with a very diluted solution of water soluble fertilizer.  (Such as 1/4 teaspoon granular Miracle Gro to 1 gallon of water.)
8.  A week before planting outside, begin to harden off the seedlings.  Move the trays of seedlings outdoors in a shady location, and a protected area out of the wind.  Bring them back indoors each evening for the first few days.  After a few days, move to a half sun location, and a few days later to a full sun location.  Keep them well watered, and move out of the sun if they show signs of wilting.  Now you shouldn’t have to bring them indoors overnight unless the weather turns cold.  After a week of hardening off, your transplants should be ready to get planted in your gardens or outside containers.

Germination of seeds

April 13, 2009

seed starting sprouts

Just one week after planting seeds indoors, I have hundreds of seedlings that have germinated.  The little green things just make my heart sing!  Now I will be monitoring them for moisture, and waiting for the true leaves to appear so I can start transplanting into individual pots.

1.  Read packet information for seed starting directions:  how many weeks to start before last frost, temperature needed for germination, and how many days to germination.  Keep a journal of what varieties you started on what date, and how long it took until germination occurred.

seed starting seed packet
2.  I use recyclable, disposable aluminum lasagna pans to start my seedlings, they will last a number of years before you have to replace them.  Poke holes in the bottom for drainage.

seed starting pan with holes
3.  Use a seed starting mix to start your seeds.  Seed starting mix is sterile and will help prevent damping off disease, and the light texture aids in germination and rooting of the seeds.  Add warm water to your seed starting mix, approximately 1 to 1½ cups of water to four cups of starting mix.  Mix thoroughly to get soil evenly moist, it should be damp but not soggy; you should be able to squeeze out a few drops of water when you squeeze a handful.

planting seeds starter

4.  Fill your tray almost to the top, patting down to make a firm layer of soil.

seed starting fill tray
5.  Make shallow rows in soil about 1 inch to 1 ½ inches apart; using a pen or pencil push down to make an indentation.

seed starting making rows
6.  Cut open seed packet, and evenly distribute seeds in the rows; for very small seeds hold the packet sideways while lightly tapping the top with your finger to control the flow of the seeds.

seed starting planting seeds
7.  Read packet information to find out whether the seed should be covered with soil.  Some require covering and others do not,  and it will affect the germination of the seeds.  If the seeds require covering, cover with a fine sprinkling of DRY seed starting mix, then press firmly so soil makes good contact with seed.

seed starting covering rows
8.  Lightly mist rows of seeds, both covered and uncovered.

seed starting misting rows
9.  Label variety of seeds on outside of tray.

seed starting labeling rows

10.  Place a well fitted cover over the tray, or place tray in a clear plastic bag and seal.  Place in a warm area (not in direct sunlight) to germinate, unless your packet directions specify otherwise.  I place mine on a shelf with a florescent shop light above it; the lights give off a little warmth that speeds germination.  I use one cool florescent lamp and one warm florescent lamp, I read once that using both will benefit the seedlings.

seed starting under lights

Most seeds require about 70 degrees to germinate, and every seed variety has a different time length to germinate.  I try to plant seeds together that need the same germination temperature and have the same length of germination time.
11.  Monitor for moisture; you should be able to see moisture on the cover and the soil should appear damp.  If watering is needed, always water from the bottom, and don’t over water to prevent damping off disease.

seed starting moisture cover
12.  Remove cover when most of seeds have sprouted.  If growing under lights (florescent shop lights will work fine, no need to invest in expensive grow lights), keep the lights just a few inches above the seedlings, this will produce stockier plants.  Set a timer to deliver at least 12 hours of light per day.  If growing on in a window, choose a bright window that receives a lot of daylight.   Monitor daily for moisture.  Transplant when seedlings have 2 or more true leaves to individual pots.