Bunnies and watercress

That’s not a recipe, I just accept that rabbits live in my backyard now for the first time in a decade. Because Pixie isn’t here, I guess. Dean will chase a bunny but stop if I call him off. They don’t seem to be eating the watercress, mustard, lettuce or coriander that’s sprouted though. Those flavors might be too strong for them, or they may just be waiting for the greens to get larger. I’m not really worried about them eating my plants, I was just always worried about their safety in my backyard, but that was when Pix was on the job. Without his sister egging him on, Dean doesn’t have strong feelings about prey.

A couple days ago it was near 80 F and yesterday we got about 5 inches of snow. That’s typical for this time of year but when it’s cold and grey, I feel like it’s just always cold and grey. I am in a horrible mood. Just because of weather.

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There is a lot to look forward to though. We now have a container for collecting rainwater, which isn’t really interesting-looking or attractive enough to warrant having its pic posted. But it’s big enough to make a difference, while small enough to be legal.  The seedlings indoors get filtered water or water from the rain barrel when it’s available. The unfiltered tap water some days smells like chlorine. It can’t be that good for them.

Waiting indoors:

About 40 tomatoes of these varieties:

  • The usual suspects: Pantano Romanesco, Lucid Gem, Striped Roma/Speckled Roman, Kellogg’s Breakfast, Golden Jubilee, Paul Robeson
  • And some I haven’t tried: Barry’s Crazy Cherry, Kentucky Beef, White Tomasol

A coworker who is going to be traveling this summer instead of gardening gave me his LED grow light. It’s very effective. There are also plants under a cheap fluorescent shop light and another small grow light. Some settle for the south-facing window and are doing OK. I know that when I start seeds as early as January I’m going to end up with big plants in my sunroom by spring if everything goes well, but sometimes it doesn’t and I have to start over. That’s why I start in January. You could get away with starting nightshades indoors in March.

When seedlings are about 4-6 inches tall I usually see the sign of phosphorus deficiency, which is a purplish cast to the bottoms of healthy-looking leaves and sometimes stems. I watered them a few times with plain club soda and the new growth was green in about a week. Do not use sugary soda, just plain club soda because it has a little phosphorus and is otherwise just clean water with bubbles. The pale leaves above are a sign they were overwatered previously, so I cut back.

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This is not an example of the purplish cast, but green plants under the blue and red LEDs:

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Other plants that look happy are:

  • Fish pepper: this is popular where I’m from in the mid-Atlantic US, but I don’t see it in the markets here. It may be hard to grow. The leaves and fruit are variegated and pretty and its heat is similar to a jalapeno’s.  I think it’s called “fish pepper” because if its common use in cooking seafood.

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  • Biquinho: This is a cute, sweet little Portuguese pepper I started for the first time this year. The reviews claim it’s a little spicy and therefore the seeds are not the real deal, which I would be OK with. When there were little kids around here I didn’t grow anything spicy for fear they’d pick some and then rub their eyes, but now that EG is 10 I think we can handle it. He makes a good hot sauce that will put hair on your chest.

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  • Poblano
  • Ghost pepper: EG’s idea; I brought this in from the garden last year and will put it back out in the summer. It took all winter and has two tiny, probably angry red peppers on it. I don’t think it’s reasonable to grow these here in one season without a commercial greenhouse because they want heat and humidity like in India.

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  • Persian basil, which I hope takes off outside
  • Chamomile, cosmos flowers, blue butterfly pea
  • Sesame: I have never tried to grow this but am excited about it. I read the plants are large and have pretty flowers which produce seed pods. It was be interesting to be able to grow my own fat. I mean, not just on my person – that’s easy – but as a food source. I don’t know where I’m going to put the plants if they make it yet.

This weekend we tilled the entire front yard and will add more fruit trees to it. We also tilled the O.G. (original garden) to remove turf and weeds and basically start over. I’m not a fan of tilling and was going to rent a sod cutter instead, but Metal Pig brought home a rototiller and I wasn’t about to argue. It should be fine. It seemed like it weighed more than I do and I wrestled with it – he did about 80% of the work.

Blurry, crappy pics of dirt:

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I usually avoid using animal products but here are two I will use: llama manure from a couple of nearby farmers I met who love their llamas and eggshells from our chicken friends next door. I may use chicken manure and bedding but it needs to be composted. Whatever gets used is pending soil testing to see what is needed.

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Next post will be about food preservation and fermentation.

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This is not a food blog

How did I make pasta for decades without knowing I could stop the water from bubbling over by simply placing a chopstick over the pot? I learned this recently from one of our favorite shows, Chef & My Fridge

A wooden spoon works too. A stick would work. The bubbles pop when they hit whatever item you rest on the rim of the pot and it doesn’t boil over onto the stove. My dad lived his whole life without knowing that, and he made a lot of pasta. Is there anything else simple and obvious I should know? About cooking, gardening, parenting, putting my pants on, anything?

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Here’s another stupid thing I did. Somehow I mislabeled seeds either when I collected them or planted them, and came out with plants I didn’t expect. A lot of them are cherry tomatoes, which is fine. They taste very, very good and make an excellent sauce. They just don’t impress your friends with their size and aren’t some wacky color, and it’s easier to harvest a few large tomatoes than 100 small ones.

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I also have a variety I can’t even identify as one I previously planted or bought seeds for. It’s pinkish and medium-sized; looks a lot like a bald peach.

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I wonder if I hybridized something, although I don’t know how. It’s shaped like a German Orange Strawberry but not golden in color and frankly not as tasty. And I haven’t grown those in several years because they were susceptible to disease and not very productive. I won’t give them a bad review, I just might not have the right climate for them.

Lucid Gems are as expected, and a couple Brandywines I didn’t have much hope for are producing. Almost no large tomatoes are ripe yet, and most are still getting larger. We had a party last weekend and I was unable to impress the other parents with a tomato salad, but there are some decent Marketmore cucumbers. These and a zucchini make pretty good, inoffensive low-carb noodles. I recommend eating them raw. They have a nice, crisp texture and that’s about it. They taste only as interesting as the sauce, oil or whatever you put on them.

Here, we’ve had smoke from the California wildfires and several downpours they could use in California. To get an idea of how bad it must be there, this is Boulder, CO on a clear day, which normally means the sky is a saturated blue and mountains are visible:

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I am starting to see something like Septoria Leaf Spot on a few leaves but that doesn’t freak me out. I excise the affected leaves knowing it won’t eradicate it completely, but I have seen it this time of year frequently and healthy plants usually overcome it for the rest of the season.

 

Peppers are doing unusually well. I don’t know what the ones that look like Ancho chilis are – they might be Ancho chilis. The seeds are from a plant a coworker gave me last year, and he didn’t know what it was either. The long curly ones are Jimmie Nardellos , grown from seeds I removed from ripe peppers I bought at the farmers’ market. They are sweet and not spicy at all.

 

I used about 4 cups grated zucchini to make 2 bundt cakes, which were very good.

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Metal Pig made Kolaches (traditional Bohemian pastry) with cherries from my friends’ tree. But I didn’t get a pic of the cherry ones before they were gone. This has poppy seed filling:

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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) 🙂

 

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.

 

 

Out Standing in my Field

I’m digging up and terracing 200 square feet of lawn to create a second garden. I think the biggest expense will be a fence around it, which may not need to be as substantial as the one around the bigger garden. It will be > 200 SF of turf on a slope I won’t have to mow anymore. This area faces east – southeast and will have a little morning shade from pine trees on the eastern perimeter of the yard. Most of the day it will get unfiltered sun like the original garden – I’ll just start calling that one the Original Garden, or OG, if you will.

First, EG and I measured the rise and run and calculated that the slope is only 1 degree. Here’s his TinkerCad model of this simple plan. The stones that = 1×2 feet are his suggested footpath down the middle, but I changed that to a 2′ wide path horizontally instead of steps down/up the center. That removes 80 SF of planting space but I need that to reach into the  planting beds without stepping on them.

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This will allow two 4 x 10 beds with a short retaining wall on the downslope sides of the top bed and the path. There will need to be a perimeter on the outside as well, so I can access the beds from all sides, so I might as well remove the turf there too. I don’t know what to use for those paths; maybe pea gravel. Removing turf, Minecraft-style with a pickaxe, is burning a few extra calories.

How much can I grow here? This is a rough draft of a goal:

-8 tomato plants, potentially 80-100# of tomatoes or $280-$350 worth (Market value $4-5/pound in my area, but I’m conservatively valuing mine at $3.50 because I’m not a market grower)

-2 pepper plants, which I am never optimistic about, at best providing 10# of peppers or $25 worth

-4 rows of legumes grown vertically, providing about 2 cups per day fresh green beans  in June, July and August (and a few pounds of dried beans in the fall

-Steady supply of mustard, kale and some other greens that grow throughout the summer; maybe $30 worth. I love lettuce but the ship for planting that here has sailed. It’s May and I haven’t gotten this bed ready for planting. Lettuce I already planted in the established beds in March.

-A cucumber vine or 2, maybe 3, hopefully giving us 10# of fruit in June and July. My experience with these makes yield hard to predict. I feel like I have little control over the success and much has to do with the weather.

Speaking of weather, this is what the sky is like today, and I wish I were collecting the rain for when it’s dry later:

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That is a sculpture made of trash (plastic or Styrofoam cups) we saw on a recent trip to Boston, where it’s cold and rains all the time. Apparently. It was at a place called the MFA, which turns out to be an acronym for Museum of Fine Arts. I thought the MF stood for something else. I am fortunate enough to have been so saturated with the experience of fine art museums in my childhood that I hate them. Still, this sculpture made an impression on me. I hope it makes an impression on other parents who run lemonade stands and could use compostable cups. They do jack up the price of your lemonade though.

Here is the new Garden ROI spreadsheet for 2018: Garden expenses 2018

 

 

Stuff to do so I’m not tempted to start seeds too early

I’m a busy parent. There are kids to play with, horses to ride and this Prosecco isn’t going to drink itself. It’s all I can do to fit in a 2-hour workout.

That’s not really me. I would never wear that. Also I don’t really have that much time on my hands. I don’t even have a string of horses. Just access to a string of horses. And I bought several bottles of Prosecco but it was for our holiday party. There were two left over and I made jelly with one and used half the other in risotto (see this blog for risotto recipes and pics). Don’t remember what happened to the other half.

Making jelly is fun. I wouldn’t normally waste a good bottle of wine on a batch of jelly, but it was Christmas and I sent some to family members. I added lemongrass and basil to the Prosecco jelly and rosemary to some I made with Moscato (EG colored it green). That’s not really relevant to this gardening blog, is it. I didn’t grow the wine, it was just left over from a party. But I did make jelly from the raspberries that grow in my front yard, and that got good reviews. I also happened to score a cheap case of blackberries in the fall and made insanely good preserves out of those, which was almost too pretty to eat.

My friend Mean Charlene (ironic nickname) grows a variety of hot peppers, which she shared with me. I combined them with heirloom tomatoes, cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper for a decent salsa.

I would grow peppers, but as long as Mean Charlene does every year, I can just trade with her. I did have two plants outside this year, one I planted and another that was a surplus seedling a coworker gave me. Right before the first frost, I made a last minute decision to dig those up and bring them in. They blossomed in November and have little peppers on them.

And here’s a blurry pic of the owl in my neighborhood, who has little to do with gardening but I was just so excited I got this close and s/he let me take pics, I’m posting one.

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