I’m in the hypothetical black!

I was wondering when the hypothetical return on my gardening investment would start to show. As of today it’s $11.00 ish. How do you like me now, Richard Branson?

Is it annoying when there are pages and pages of essays about this one time this blogger had this one thing and it reminded her of this one time when something was fun and then there are ten captioned photos of food before you get to the recipe/photo/instructable you googled? I think so, but still do it.

 

 

Here’s a pretty salad my friends and I enjoyed last weekend. Paul Robeson, Pantano Romanesco, Pink Brandywine, something yellow and Kellogg’s Breakfast. The recipe is that you pick some tomatoes, slice them and I might have sprinkled salt on them:

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I really need to invest in a better iPhone or an actual camera. Maybe some photography classes.

Some of those are from seeds I saved from plants grown from seeds I saved the previous year. That’s why they’re called heirlooms. I’ve talked to people who save seeds by letting whole fruits get moldy and disgusting, but I’m not sure why. I don’t mean I’m not sure why I talked to them, I mean I’m not sure why people waste an entire tomato to save its seeds. I slice the best examples of the variety and there are seeds on the cutting board. I make sure the cutting board is clean and free of salt or other seeds so I don’t get the varieties mixed up. Then I put the seeds in a jar of water (my water is filtered but that probably doesn’t matter), label the jar and forget about them for a few days. Later I wash and drain the seeds, then let them dry on a paper towel. When they’re dry I seal them in envelopes and plant them again when it’s seed starting time. I have had them stay viable for two, maybe three years. Look at this Kellogg’s Breakfast; not many seeds but enough to grow a lot more plants:

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You could read this before you save seeds. I just did, after doing it like I described above for over five years. There’s a risk of the plants developing late blight or something. If I’m honest, my plants don’t look perfect this time of year, but they are still producing leaves and healthy fruit. I have the same experience whether I order or save the seeds, with the exception that the saved seeds tend to have a higher germination rate. That slice of tomato has like $2.50 worth of seeds in it.

It can’t rain all the time

…but three days in a row is a lot. I’ve been sulking in my room for days in my plaid flannel jammies, listening to Alice in Chains. Just kidding, the only way I’d stay holed up inside for a weekend is if EG had a sleepover at a friend’s and Metal Pig and I could stay in our room and pretend we were still in our twenties. Sorry if that was TMI.

The sun is out for now though. It was actually kind of pleasant to be out in the garden in soft rain, not driving rain, and playing tag with EG. He likes the rain. Tag is a great workout too. I worry about blights and stuff when it rains this much. I recently cut out all the suspicious parts of the two plants I saw it on and wasn’t optimistic, but the remaining growth looks good:

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This creature is waiting for a tomato to get ripe, but he’ll have to wait quite a while.

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Grasshoppers don’t seem interested in tomatoes before they’re ripe. I manage my relationship with them by picking tomatoes when they’re like 85% ripe and let them finish ripening in a paper bag. He missed this one, though, picked ripe today. It’s a Great White, which is really lemon yellow:

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You can see the cracking from too much water. And speaking of yellow, I think there was a mixup in one of the seed packets I ordered. It was supposed to be a Solar Flare but looks like another Brad Gates variety with the disturbing name Pork Chop :

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But whatever, it tasted good and it’s pretty. The only issue is I’ll have to label the seeds when I save them as a “mystery yellow tomato.” I have gotten a few ripe ones here and there but most of them are still getting bigger before getting riper. It’s usually September, even October when I get the most ripe tomatoes. I don’t know why. I start early.

It is the time of year we hit the fresh snap bean jackpot. Here are examples of a Chinese long bean, Purple Podded Pole, Cherokee Trail of Tears (shiny black bean when mature and dried) and McCaslin 42 (shiny white when mature and dried, yang to balance the black bean’s yin). They’re all brilliant but I especially rave about the purple ones. This is the third generation I’ve grown them – bought the seeds three years ago and have saved them from the mature pods since then. They’re beautiful, plentiful and delicious fresh or dried. Very cheap nutrition too, with vines that climb as high as you let them.

 

If EG and his buddy Mad Max (not his real name) get our lemonade and produce stand out while it’s still summer, the purple and yellow produce might attract attention. Not as much as the homemade toffee the boys down the street made, but I can’t compete with that. And this is a blog about gardens and money. Mostly. What would be fun is if we accept cryptocurrency at our stand, which is possible (we invested in litecoin) and would make a less boring blog post.

Yield

I just brought in as many beans as I could pick in a few minutes, which weighed about a half pound. I estimate I’ve picked about a pound a day for a week, and price per pound around here varies but $1.50 is reasonable. So I got a return of $10.50 this week. Kids love to eat them raw and I like them cooked Turkish style.

 

Here’s a tool to help you price your veg, if you’re a market grower or even a lemonade stand grower.

If I could grow quinoa, wheat and oats we’d save a lot of money. Quinoa is the basis for the meals the dogs and I eat, and 8-year-old EG is into baking with flour made of different grains (mostly wheat and oats). He doesn’t like quinoa, unfortunately. Like many people, we have friends who don’t eat gluten and oat flour is especially useful. Even if you do eat wheat, oats are good, cheap nutrition.

Right now I’m going back to checking on the dough for a home version of shotis puri, traditional ciabatta-like bread Metal Pig remembers from a trip to Georgia. Not the US Georgia with NASCAR and peaches, the fascinating Eurasian country of Georgia. They may have peaches as well, actually.

 

 

Cage engineering

My plants live in beds I put together with discarded, untreated wood from my barn owner friends. They got the wood from an area company that produces wind energy and transports the fan blades by setting them in giant wooden cradle-like things on flatbeds. My friend got the cradles for free, and has about an acre of them. He has used some of the wood to build shelters for turned-out horses and said I was welcome to any of it.

So I’ve screwed together boards to create 4×4 and 4×3 boxes. They look like planting beds, but they mostly just define the space plants live in. Unlike a raised bed with weed barrier, these beds combine 6-8″ of native dirt below the surface with vermiculate, compost and other amendments.

For supporting plants with heavy fruit and giving beans something to climb, I bought cattle panels from the local ranch store. They are heavy-gauge wire panels that are 16’x4′. At the store they cut them into 8’x4′ for me. Then, using leverage and all my bodyweight, I bend them into arches. Originally I forced them into the 4×4 boxes, where they’re held firm by the wood; this requires not skimping on screws. This works, though they are more or less permanent structures.

I didn’t build the cages for all the boxes last year, so I continued the project this summer. The cost was about $60 for 5 panels (they gave me one free because it was slightly bent). This time, I decided to make them more easily moved from one place to another, because I rotate crops. Again using leverage and bodyweight, which was at least 5# heavier than before since my recent vacation, I bent the panels and temporarily secured them by tying the ends together with baling twine. Then I asked Metal Pig to buy something more substantial since he was going to the hardware store and he came back with lightweight chains. They’re perfect. I cut them to desired lengths and cut only half the links on the ends to make them hooks. Then I simply hooked them to the ends of the panels on each side and cut the twine. Again they are held together by tension, but I can pick them up and move them without releasing it. This example is an 8′ panel held together with a 3′ chain on each end:

These plants have grown up through the openings in the panel and are comfortably supported.

Germination 92% so far

I immediately put the tray of sprouts under lights. Because last year, for the first time ever, I lost all the little planties I started in January to damping-off disease. It’s something that usually only n00bs let happen. After that I planted a second round, which flew across the sunroom when I tripped on the door jamb while carrying them. A third round gave me a some plants, but not until April, which is late. I managed to get 90# of tomatoes over the whole season, which isn’t terrible.  I harvested lots of other food, like this example of a morning’s typical greenbean haul; I believe this includes Cantare, Henderson Black Valentine and McCaslin 42 varieties, all of which I recommend:

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The sunroom used to be all windows, which is why it was called a sunroom, and it was terribly inefficient. Blazing hot on nice days and you could see your breath on really cold days. So Metal Pig changed the floor-to-ceiling windows to walls and installed an operable window. This didn’t let in enough light and may have contributed to the damping-off disease, but mostly I blame the commercial potting mix I bought, which I hadn’t used before.

 

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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