Rice Against

We got about a foot of snow twice this week. I’m not sure it’s necessary to cover lettuce, radishes, beets, carrots and cilantro before a snow, but I did because it was going to be in the teens at night (Fahrenheit) so I let the snow be an insulator. Today I removed those covers, it got warm, and an avalanche from the roof slammed down on these beds, so there was no point. But I did get a cute pic.

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Here they are the day before this snow.

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“Rice Against”, like Wicked Garden , is a nod to one of those rock, punk or pop bands I like to reference. I guess that started since the name Deathplow was inspired by a fictional metal band a coworker made up for fun.

I don’t actually know if rice is one of the grains in the steaming mix of beer by-product I got from a local brewery today. I don’t know a lot about making beer, but brewers like Liquid Mechanics in my area are happy to donate the spent grains to farmers and gardeners. What I scooped into buckets and an old cooler was fluffy, still warm and smelled kind of nice. I’ve never used this as a soil amendment before but I did some research and it seems safe.

For starters, I dumped a load of the grains on my new experimental hugelkultur mound. Beneath that, besides snow, is a layer of cottonwood logs, sticks and bark, then upside-down turf I removed from nearby, then grass clippings and other biodegradable material including dirt from the yard. This does *not* include last year’s nightshades or squashes, as they may (and probably will) have and transmit blights or undesirable fungi. Stalky, seedy greens like orach I did include, and when they sprout in there, it’s a bonus.

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I don’t want to dig and till; I’m trying to stick to the philosophy of building up, not digging down. On top of that, a bag of store bought cottonwood compost.

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It doesn’t look impressive so far. But I have a pretty good feeling about this becoming a hill of beans, then a hill of greens, then a site for more complicated plants like peppers. Because last year was pretty good for my peppers, I’ve gotten more into them, with a second generation of fish peppers, anchos, and some exotic spicy ones. I joined the hot peppers subreddit.

Periodically I come across heart-shaped instances in nature, like this bit of snow that dropped from an overhead branch.

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Before the snow, it was hot and sunny and I was able to dry a load of laundry including our homemade pandemic masks. One of the old shirts drying has a message for our neighbor’s kitty, Boo, who is adorable but seems to be stalking our birdy friends:

Here is our actual fish, Twerp.

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He has plants in his underwater garden, too.

I didn’t put this on the spreadsheet as an expense, but I ordered a case of canned sparkling mineral water, and most of it went to the seedlings.

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Quench yourself

Wicked Garden

This is the weather that ended 2019’s growing season, October 19:

It wasn’t a great season to begin with, except for peppers, which is a first for me.

 

The seeds saved from Ancho and Fish Peppers are sprouting now. I started planting seeds January 12. This will cause a problem later if the plants grow successfully because I won’t have room for them inside under lights until late May. I’ll cross that bridge if and when I have to.

Number of what is planted, with amount germinated and growing in parentheses:

-Tomatoes 74 (19):

  • Pantano Romanesco: 12
  • Striped Roman: 12
  • Orange Jubilee: 13
  • Orange Jazz (this is a new one for me): 4 (2)
  • Pink Jazz (also new): 6 (5)
  • Brimmer (new): 6 (3)
  • Paul Robeson: 7 (3)
  • Kellogg’s Breakfast: 5
  • Cherokee Purple: 9 (6)

-Peppers 49 (22):

  • Jimmy Nardello: 8 (2)
  • Aji Pineapple: 4
  • Leysa (package said low germ, rare, not much hope for these): 5
  • Aji Charapita : 4
  • Ancho (Poblano): 8 (8)
  • Fish: 8 (8)
  • Striped bell pepper I got at the store and saved the seeds from: 4 (4)
  • Corni di Toro: 8

-Other 82(8):

  • Sesame: 18 (8) – these are tiny seeds and that is the count of little puck-like things they are growing in. There are several seeds sprouting per puck. If they mature, and that’s a reasonably-sized if, they will cover at least 20 feet of ground. I planned for this.
  • Basil and Cilantro: 17
  • Celery, Chinese Pink: 12
  • Celery, Utah Tall: 6
  • Celeriac: 12
  • Moss Rose (it’s a flower, I don’t even think you can eat it): 8
  • Artichoke: 5
  • Cardoon: 4

I’ve spent $84 on materials and seeds this year (spreadsheet needs updating), so if those listed above were all I grew, and all thrived, that would be a cost of $0.41 per plant. I don’t know why I bothered calculating that because there will be more plants and more materials such as growing medium. I will end up paying for mushroom compost from Hazel Dell Mushroom Farm because I avoid growing in animal parts such as feathers and fish corpses. It’s hard, really hard. I’m trying not to pay a lot for dirt or anything else, but our soil is hard-packed and devoid of nutrients and the weather is often extreme. I’m trying to build up soil with somewhat intensive gardening methods rather than raised beds with ideal soil that are effectively huge container gardens. There’s nothing wrong with that and gardeners get beautiful and delicious results that way. But I’m too cheap and I guess I like a challenge.

This summer we were on Long Island, New York, visiting family. To prepare for an afternoon boating we shopped at this absurdly bountiful, colorful farm stand in Amagansett. My cousin dared me to get out of there without spending at least $100 on picnic foods. I spent $90, just because I was challenged. And, frankly, that’s an extremely cheap lunch for the Hamptons. I think we spent that much just going out for ice cream.

Little EG relaxing after swimming and picnicking:

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Still to plant: Beans, squash, cucumber, greens, maybe carrots, maybe a new apple tree. This should increase the return, but also the work, quite a bit.

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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.