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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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Hanukkah in August

I didn’t get any suggestions for different ways to enjoy fresh beans, so I’m posting one. Disclaimer: this is not a food blog.

I batter-fried some beans in a pool of oils – avocado, coconut and sesame. The pool was only about 1/2 inch (2-3 cm) deep in a non-stick pan. My pans are non-teflon, non-stick and I used a smallish one to make the pool deeper and use less oil. I dredged the beans (also sliced peppers, but they are not the subject of this, because I didn’t grow them) in:

-1 cup mixture of Ener-G egg replacer (potato and tapioca starch) and AP flour

-tsp salt

-tsp baking powder

-1/2 cup-ish ice water

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Then I fried em in the oil (you saw that coming, right?)

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I served them with a dipping sauce of:

-tsp miso paste

-1 or 3 tbs soy sauce

-2 or 3 tbs Thai chili sauce (sweet chili sauce)

They were crisp, sweet and a huge hit, even without the sauce. Part of a complete dinner with baked tofu, Chana chaat (lovely Indian chick pea salad) and naan:

Recommended beverage, smoothie made with seasonal Colorado peaches:

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What would Saint Francis do?

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For the first time in 10 years, I see bunnies in my yard. They couldn’t get through or under the fence since we built it, and I assumed wouldn’t want to anyway because of our dogs. But last week I saw a big bunny and a baby bunny and EG found a depression in the gravel under the fence they must use as a portal. EG’s dog Dean chased one out through it. They hide under the shed, where I think they might be living.

That’s St Francis on the left, and one of his little friends perched on a plank on the right:

 

 

Here’s another interesting creature I found in my entryway. I didn’t think he wanted to be there, so I put my hand in front of him and he climbed on. I was like, “buddy, I have just the place for you” and placed him in the bean jungle. I wished him well and hope he finds a mate who won’t bite his head off.

I drank this Vinho Verde at sunset while picking beans and wondered about the Mantis’ love lives.

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How do they find each other? It must be so hard get together with someone of your own species that you’d take the risk she might eat your head. I hope they don’t have an appetite for ladybugs. There are little grasshoppers in there, and I don’t even kill them, but someone will eat a few – probably the Mantises. I have so far avoided using any kind of bug repellent or killer and everything seems to work itself out. It’s tough in the spring when I think sowbugs (pill bugs, roly-polies) eat newly planted beans, but the beans that tough it out catch up with a vengeance in June.

As usual, I don’t have large, ripe tomatoes yet, and probably won’t for another 2-3 weeks. I just get a late harvest, maybe because I don’t feed the plants enough early, or the soil is tough to get established in? They look good though. We are having a party next week, and I may resort to picking some large green ones and ripening them in a paper bag so I can make a salsa. Ditto the peppers, which I never see ripe before September.

 

Request for inspiration

How many ways can you prepare and serve these lovely, fresh snap beans that are in season now? I use them raw as a vehicle for dips and treats for the dogs. I also saute them with just oil, salt and pepper or something more complicated, like Old Bay seasoning. And cook them in the canned tomatoes from last year (not really getting ripe ones yet this year). Another fun thing to do is fill the holes in penne pasta with them, when I want a time-consuming manual task.

I’d love to read your favorite ways to enjoy them, whether traditional or weird. I’m not in a rut, I just usually have so many in July and August I can afford to experiment with them.

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The purple ones, Purple Podded Pole beans, are very young now. In a week or two there will be some as long as 10 inches. They are green when fully cooked. I love the purple color because not only is it pretty, it makes them easier to find and pick. For the same reason I don’t grow green tomatoes or anything else that matches its foliage when ripe. As far as I know, no peppers are green when ripe, though you can eat them green. If that’s your thing.

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About 5 days ago I fed all plants except beans with alfalfa meal and Tiger Bloom 2-8-4 fertilizer (Tiger Bloom isn’t made with animal products except earthworm castings). Then we had several stormy days and they are all really happy.

It’s not just foliage, there’s fruit too, including a few ripe cherry tomatoes. I should have tested my soil but I’m lazy so I just looked at the plants and figure they have a pretty good balance of minerals.

So…recipes, suggestions, inspiration anyone? I’m especially looking at you, chefs and cooks (you know who you are) 🙂

 

It’s not a food blog but I made these oatmeal cookies…

My family loved them and thought they should be shared.  It’s probably like most of the oatmeal cookie recipes out there, though vegan and gluten-free. Came out of the oven lovely, thick and moist, and cooled to be thick and chewy.

Note that my experience is at a mile high altitude, and if you live much lower you may want to adjust your recipe with slightly less flour and slightly more sugar, but frankly I don’t know how much. I just pulled this recipe out of my @ss today and it worked.

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Gluten-free vegan oatmeal cookies:

Wet ingredients:

5 tablespoons Earth Balance (or any solid fat, probably)

5 tablespoons peanut butter

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup coconut sugar

2 tablespoons chia seeds soaked in 1/3 cup water

1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Dry ingredients:

I cup oat flour

1/2 cup almond flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

Ingredients added last:

2 1/2 cups rolled oats

1 cup raisins or chocolate chips, or whatever you like to add to oatmeal cookies

Step 1.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Step 2.

Cream fat and sugar for about 2 minutes.

Step 3.

Add other wet ingredients to creamed fat and sugar.

Step 4.

Whisk together dry ingredients.

Step 5.

Add dry to wet ingredients and beat until combined.

Step 6.

Mix in the oats and other additive(s). Raisins, dried cranberries or cherries, chocolate chips and any of those things people like in cookies are welcome!

Step 7.

Use an ice cream scoop or spoon to drop batter onto baking sheet. I put parchment on a baking sheet for cookies, but you could just use a little lubricant or whatever on a bare sheet. Bake for 10 minutes.

Step 8.

Share cookies. This is an important step! They will taste much better if you share them.

I like sharing. Sharing’s my favorite.

 

To be consistent with the theme of my garden, I’ll post a pic of some guacamole made with avocado I wish I could grow, cilantro and a green Jimmie Nardello pepper which I did grow, lime juice, salt and pepper.

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Chef friends who follow me: first, thanks for following! Second, I know I’m not a chef so I post my simple, kid-friendly recipes most humbly. Your comments and criticism are welcome.

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Holes

Metal Pig is helping me finish the fence. I tried to do everything myself while he worked on projects that actually needed to be done, like remodeling. I got to a point where I just wasn’t man enough to dig the last post hole and I can’t plumb fence posts alone. I was hoping for some child labor but the kids were useless, playing soccer, video games or whatever. Metal Pig, who is twice the man I am by weight and volume, brought his big muscles to the project and it’s finally almost done.

I’m reminded of a book and movie in which boys were forced to dig holes in the desert. This is Colorado dirt and these are the tools I used to dig 2-foot post holes, and the mixture of sunflower oil and white vinegar used to treat the bottoms of the posts to prevent rotting:

 

 

There’s no setting the posts in cement because I don’t want the toxins from it in my garden. They have to be set in packed, hard dirt, which we do have a steady supply of. The O.G. posts were set that way 4 years ago, and are still solid, plumb and level.

This hardly ever happens, in the kitchen, my professional life, my pursuit of being ripped and muscular, but my vision had become real.

 

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I do need to be small to tend the plants and harvest in the fenced area, so my size is an advantage in that way.

I’ve heard of zucchini races, where kids add wheels to zucchini and race them downhill. It’s a cute and fun idea, but I can’t stand to see food wasted. I love sauteed zucchini. It also makes an amazing cake, like carrot cake, which at my last party was more popular than chocolate cake. There’s also the low-carb noodle impersonators you can turn them into, which aren’t like actual noodles no matter what you read, but I love them. You can use a spiralizer but I don’t usually spend money on unitaskers so I use a knife and vegetable peeler.

A spiralizer would make them look more like linguine. I need a real camera, don’t I.

Sunday: Olivier Giroud’s hair won the World Cup and it rained in Colorado

Those unrelated situations were the biggest news of the weekend. It was a great match. I almost didn’t care who won, but was leaning slightly to the underdogs of Croatia. They were so cohesive and tough.

I know kids are all gonna want Mbappe jerseys now, but Giroud’s hair did its part too.

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Look at the French, with all their vowels and hair

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In other news, there was a 30-degree F temperature drop to 70-something. Some rain finally soaked my area, although based on the smoke that remained visible after it cleared up I guess it didn’t fall on the parts of the Southwest that are on fire.

I had to pull up a tomato plant that looked like it was going to succumb to a blight. A strong plant could have overcome that I guess but this one was small and already compromised by her hail injuries. I feel bad for the plant and, while I’m at it, the fungus or whatever was killing it. I had to remove it to save the others. Pulling it up seemed like a violent act. I didn’t even let my 9-year-old son see me do it, because he’s sensitive like me.

There’s no way for me to know if or how plants feel. It’s not a stretch to relate to another mammal of a different species or a bird, but it’s a little more of a challenge to try to get inside the head of a fish or reptile. Understanding beings from the plant kingdom – the other kingdom – requires some real outside-the-box thinking. I know they don’t have a nervous system like mammals do, but they are living. I love them, raise them and eat them, which is a relationship many people have with some mammals and birds. I only eat plants, because I have to eat something. I feel like I owe them respect and stewardship, and I’m not sure how benevolent it really is for me to raise them up to die in the winter. Well, some don’t die, and virtually all of them live on via their seeds.

 

Having written all that, I still find this article about plant abuse hilarious.

 

 

I’m getting too old for this shirt

 

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Everyone in my office was given a Deathplow shirt as a tribute to the longtime employee who invented “Deathplow” as a fictional heavy metal band. He gets credit for it, not I. He grew up on an actual farm, not a “farm” like mine. When he left the company after 10 years, we all wore these shirts on his last day.

This is really a stupid obsession. Digging two-foot post holes into hard, cracked clay with my analog tools and cussing the whole time didn’t help me pack on the muscles that atrophied when I skipped workouts. These little buggies kept eating stuff I direct sowed, reminding me that my “thou shalt not kill” policy is sometimes unrealistic. And day after day, with 3-digit (Fahrenheit) temps and sometimes 1-digit humidity percentage, it keeps not raining. Except that one time in late May we got a hailstorm that injured my established plants. It was like they were getting punched, over and over, although I covered as many as I could.

It’s not an unusual summer here, it’s just the first time in 10 years I’ve tried to crack into new dirt and plant a fence.

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I couldn’t give up and leave a pathetic pile of dirt in the backyard which I’d have to explain to kids who come over to play. Besides, the OG (original garden) doesn’t have much more going on than cover crops and salad greens.

The good news about the blazing sun is it’s now powering our house because we just got solar panels.

Somehow, those direct sowed seeds and most of the transplants I nursed from seeds are growing and producing.

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Holy shirt.

I planted a cover “crop” of buckwheat (soba) for the first time. I always plant legumes, because I love them and they are good soil conditioners, but that alone isn’t going to help turn this worthless slab of dirt into somewhat fertile soil. And the buckwheat addition won’t either. I’ve mixed in topsoil, vermiculite and compost about six inches under the plants that are thriving. I’ve had to water them with a hose. I can’t imagine how original growers in what is now the American West survived. I mean, I know millions of them didn’t, but many did, and I’m here today struggling even with better tools.