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Food I grow and what it costs

Here in Colorado, suburban agriculture can be considered kind of a luxury. The soil, without amendment and nutrients, is worthless for growing those plump, colorful vegetables you see at farmers’ markets. It can go for months without raining in the summer or snow and flood in the spring and fall. Daytime temperatures can be double the nighttime lows.

It’s possible to grow a lot of food in a small space without using an unreasonable amount of water or other resources. This year I’m tracking the expenses as accurately as I can and will calculate or estimate the return on my efforts as I pick them. I grow a lot of beans, which are eaten fresh and dried, and the ornamental-looking plants produce a lot of enjoyment and nutrition in little space. Tomatoes and other nightshades are not so easy. In the past I’ve only weighed tomatoes, a good yield for one summer being 200 pounds. You could say that’s almost a thousand bucks worth of food when you consider that these types of heirloom fruits cost $4-$5 at markets (if you can find them). But that’s only a legitimate return if you sell them or would normally buy 200 pounds of heirloom tomatoes from August to October. I make damn sure we eat, share and preserve all of them, and it’s worth it. To me. But this year I’m going to look at the actual numbers and calculate some hard, cold figures. I’m not entering time as an expense, even though time is money, because I love gardening. So it’s not billable time unless I skip work to do it.

Spreadsheet tracking garden expenses and returns

 

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Leaf scorch

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I think I made a big mistake leaving my seedlings outside on a hot, breezy day. They are too little and the mile-high sun probably caused what looks like leaf scorch to me. Some of the leaves are dry and pale on the edges, a few ragged from being blown around a bit too. I don’t know what to do now but put them back inside under the lights and maybe feed them some watered down nutrients.

Planties get their first field trip and I make a weird cake

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It was in the 60s and sunny the other day, so for the first time my seedlings got a field trip outside for a few hours. I counted 57 of them, which is good because it means I can count to 57. In previous years I’ve gotten used to them having a purplish cast to the underside of the leaves at this age, and for some reason only one of them does. I understand it’s sign of being low in phosphorous, but not low enough to warrant fert, and they always outgrew it.

What I should be doing right now is cleaning out some garden beds, adding growing medium and planting greens and peas. But what happened was it rained, and I took a nap, which I rarely do. In my nap I had a dream that I made a Sriracha cake with lime icing. So, when I got up, that’s what I did. Oh yeah, this is a blog about vegetables – Sriracha is made with vegetables. Peppers. I was going to work out, but made a cake instead, because the curiosity of what it would be like was killing me. It’s based on this recipe, which you should make exactly as directed. I’ve made it for birthdays, Kung fu belt tests after-parties and other excuses and it never fails. Even at my mile high altitude. But here’s my adaptation based on the unrecommended (I made that word up) decision to do things I dream about:

Dry ingredients:

1 1/2 cups AP flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

Wet ingredients:

1/3 cup coconut oil (this kind from Trader Joe’s tastes neutral, not like coconuts)

1/3 cup citrus juice, in this case 1 tangerine and 1/2 lime

2/3 cup water

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup agave syrup

1-2 tbs Sriracha (I didn’t actually measure)

As you know, you mix the dry and wet ingredients separately before stirring them together. Like it matters – who has high expectations for a Sriracha cake? It was baked at 350 F for 30 minutes. I was going to work out during that time but wrote this post instead. The batter tasted pretty good, and it looks like a normal cake:

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I don’t do everything I dream about or I’d have gone to work in my underwear by now.

We love the Great British Baking Show (Great British Bake Off in Britain, but  here in the Colonies Pillsbury has a patent on the phrase “Bake off” – scroll down ) and it inspires 8-year-old EG to come up with original recipes too. He has used fiori di Sicilia (flowers of Sicily) essence in icing for cookies, which is very sophisticated. It’s an intense, almost gardenia-like flavoring that’s literally made from flowers of Sicily. I buy it at this shop but I don’t see it on their site. Obviously you can buy it many other places, but the Savory Spice Shop is fun to visit and worth adding a link to anyway.

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Emo plants, dog and writer

I used to write between 05:00 and 07:00 (yeah, I have a preference for military time, I guess from a previous life as a night-shift medic) weekday mornings. When EG was a baby he’d nurse at 03:00 and sleep for another 3-4 hours. I’d take 2 of those and write stuff like this. Now, he’s 8, and this is our nighttime ritual: he reads in bed while Metal Pig and I stay there with him, he falls asleep, we go to bed, and sometime in the middle of the night he is scared and needs someone to sleep in his room with him. That’s usually me. The 50-pound dogs curl up with me. It’s uncomfortable. After awhile I go back to my own bed. He joins us very early in the morning and crashes hard, waking up at 7 with a residual dream narrative like, “These flying cats are trying to pat me on the head.”

I’m fully aware how much we’ll miss these nights and mornings. But I get a little drained of energy and inspiration. And this is a blog about plants, I think, and this time of year there’s kind of a lull. Things will really heat up when I buy mushroom compost in April. Oh yeah.

Thanks to the post I mentioned earlier from the indoor vegetable garden blogger I like, I realized I could cultivate a little celery and lettuce from the ends of previously eaten heads – wait, that phrase “previously eaten heads” could be interpreted so many ways… Anyway, I can grow a lot of greens outside in March and have stuff to eat May through November. But now I got nothing, and I can’t ever grow celery anyway. So for fun I put these in water that I change daily and they did start growing from the center in about 5 days:

 

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Here are some month-old seedlings that are good examples of how their 50-some sisters look today. I’m still not cocky though. Well I am a little, boasting that I have them and might have SO MANY I’ll have to find them homes in my friends’ gardens. My friends tell me how excited and impressed they are, which is just sad.

They are Lucid Gem, a new variety I started for the first time, Speckled Roman and Pantano Romanesco. The last two are from seeds I saved and were the most eager to germinate.

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Should we talk to the new girl? She’s not even Italian.

I can identify Speckled Romans from this point on without the tag because of their willow-like form. The first time I grew them I thought they were droopy and underwatered, but they are a regular-leaf plant that differs from the others by their spindly, long leaves. Do not think this is a sign of ill health. They normally drape in a way that’s almost emo, like my dog:

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I’m so pale. And it’s so dark. I wish I had more eyeliner.

I love you, little planties

Look at my babies:

We were out of town for a few days and I left them under a light 24/7 while we were gone. I don’t think that’s normally recommended but I don’t have a timer and without the lights they’d be doomed. Now I’m back to turning it off at night. Still not getting cocky about the plants though.

We were at a family-friendly camp in the mountains we go to twice a year. You can rent cabins, yurts, campsites or stay at the lodge. We always get a cabin, which is far from fancy but comfortable and enables us to prepare our own food. I brought cookie dough and we improvised by using an empty glass bottle to roll out the dough and sprinkling clumpy powdered sugar from a spoon. This is what we came up with:

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Our dogs Pixie (right) and Dean (left) made a heart shape with their butts instead of with cookie dough. Pixie might have eaten some dough. There’s no chocolate in it (chocolate is toxic to dogs). Pixie eats everything. Dean eats pants.

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They don’t provide many kitchen tools, a TV or a dishwasher, but that’s OK with us. We don’t go there to stay inside all day anyway. Right, Pixie?

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Can you find the dirty white dog in this pic?

Growing new food from old food

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The Indoor Vegetable Garden

Did you know you can grow new plants from kitchen scraps you regularly throw away? I mean, you’re probably vaguely aware of the concept, but have you ever actually tried it? I hadn’t until recently and it’s been the biggest surprise so for. IT’S JUST SO EASY!

The idea really appeals to me since it is helping to cut down on food waste, therefore being good environmentally, but is also free, which my student budget definitely agrees with. Seeds are expensive sometimes…

I’m currently growing the following from scraps on my windowsill:
Onion
Garlic
Carrot
Parsnip

I’m also growing chickpeas and black beans, which while not from scraps, are growing from supermarket bought dried beans I had in my cupboard anyway.

I could write out instructions for growing from scraps, but instead I’ll link you to this lovely video from Buzzfeed, which tells you everything you need to know.

If…

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True leaves, still not counting potential tomatoes

Even though my planties look healthy today, with a few true leaves starting, I’m nervous about the possibility of the damping-off disease that killed so many last year. This time they’re started in a new tray with no residue from previous plants, and are under fluorescent lights. I’ve always been confident that I don’t over- or under-water but maybe I’m wrong about that. The damping-off fungus that strikes early can be diagnosed by the base of the stems becoming skinny and weak near the top of the soil, like that guy at the gym with huge pecs and lats and sad chicken legs trying to support them. So far I don’t see any weakness here:

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Still, too early to get cocky. Below are the survivors from last year’s second, maybe third, attempt (the ones I dropped when I tripped while carrying the tray). I don’t think there are ever survivors of damping-off disease – these just didn’t get it.

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And because this post is kind of boring, only slightly funny and not sexy at all, here’s a pic of Mr Waffle (from when my kid used to like his breakfast to be funny) and my waffle/pancake recipe:

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Mr Waffle
  1. 2 cups oat flour
  2. 1 cup wheat flour (or all oat flour for my friends who avoid gluten)
  3. 3 tsp baking powder
  4. 1 tsp salt
  5. 2 1/2 cups milk – soy, almond, oat, hemp, cow, whatever you use
  6. 1 cup applesauce
  7. 1/3 cup oil
  8. 1/4 cup sugar, syrup or other sugary substance (I’ve used ginger ale, because I’m not some kind of health nut)

Note that I live at about 5280 feet above sea level. That, and the fact that I don’t value accuracy when measuring ingredients, means your results may vary. Combine first four ingredients in one bowl and remaining ingredients in another. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix with a fork; don’t overmix. Leave it for at least 5 minutes so the dry ingredients can soak up the liquid and you can heat your pan or waffle iron. For pancakes, you may or may not thin the batter with more liquid like ginger ale. When I make pancakes, sometimes I sprinkle a few chocolate chips in them while they’re in the pan. I usually make a lot of these and freeze them for quick breakfasts during the week.

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And here’s a bonus pic of a cute little horse, not relevant at all but she was in the same folder of pictures. Behind her are stacks of untreated wood including a lot of 2×6 boards. I’ve used some to build SFGs and may use more this spring on that farm to make as many raised beds as I can. I got my friends who own that property excited about growing vegetables out there. They scored those pallets free from a company that makes wind turbines and uses the pallets to transport the huge blades. They’ve used some in building horses’ turnout shelters and there is a lot left. There’s no shortage of horse manure, but a lot of things to consider before using it as fert or soil amendment.

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Spinach dough

Spinach ravioli are so pretty! I wish I could get mine to come out this good.

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As you may have noticed from my posts, homemade ravioli makes me happy. It actually became a Sunday habit. There is something about the process of combining just a few of very simple ingredients, that once mixed together the magic begins. Even though it is very simple to prepare the pasta dough, the whole process of ravioli making can be time consuming. Nevertheless, this process is therapeutic to me and I enjoy it to the fullest. What is interesting is that the ideas can be endless. In an earlier post, I explained you how to make your own Garganelli. Now it is time to color thins up and make some green ravioli with fresh spinach.Spinach ravioli are not just beautiful, but also very tasty.

How to prepare the pasta dough:

You will need 30g of fresh spinach. Saute the spinach with some salt and pepper. Drain it well using a…

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