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:

IMG_2111

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:

IMG_2115

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.

Well done, Brad Gates

This is a Lucid Gem tomato, an heirloom variety developed by Brad Gates of Wild Boar Farms. I had never grown these before this year and never eaten one until today. I gave it a five star review at Baker Creek’s site for flavor, looks and productivity. I also noted it resisted what looked like a blight creeping up on its neighbor (referenced in post Oh we got trouble from last month).

Here’s a Solar Flare, also new to me, very tasty, and impressive to PTA ladies who come to my parties 😉

solarflare

And a Paul Robeson that happens to be shaped like a tuchus:

butt
You’re welcome.

And just because the internet loves cats, here are some adorable barn kittens my niece is holding (sorry for the picture quality):

kittens

I love cats. We had a cat named JB for years and lost her to kidney disease about 5 years ago. We still talk about her. But if I ever get another cat (which will never happen according Metal Pig, who is allergic), s/he’s gonna stay indoors. I was wondering what had happened to the Bird Show, which is what I call it when a variety of birds congregate around my garden at dusk. There are noticeably fewer. Then I think I figured it out. My neighbor got a new cat this year, and I saw him drag the body of a young rabbit into his yard. I was traumatized and called him a bad kitty, like that helps. He just looked at me, back at the rabbit, and then at me again, like, “What?” I can’t blame him. Doesn’t matter that he’s well-fed, he’s just hard wired to hunt. And, like his predecessor Oscar, he’s probably an adorable bird-killer. I’ve seen Oscar take down a sparrow in mid-air. If you wonder what those mysterious pets and feral cats do all day, it probably involves sleeping and killing. That’s why people like them in their barns, but they don’t just chase mice. My friends with outdoor cats are wonderful, caring people, maybe they just don’t know how much impact the kitties have on our wildlife. I didn’t until I looked it up. JB’s favorite place to be was in the garden with me; I guess she just didn’t hunt when I was looking. Or maybe not all cats are so motivated, I don’t know.

Think my pear tree is doomed

This really makes me sad. I got this little Bartlett pear tree about 10 years ago and it’s produced a lot of fruit. Last year it got fire blight and I excised a lot of the tree hoping to keep it from spreading. But suddenly this week, when it’s been raining almost as much as it’s been not raining, the blight returned with a vengeance.

IMG_1905

 

 

This is bad. I might call a tree surgeon. I have medicine for this type of infection, but by the time I bought it the tree had set fruit. Label says not to use it once there’s fruit. I really let this tree down by procrastinating the treatment.

There’s a noticeable reduction of wildlife in my yard. At dawn and dusk we’re used to seeing something we call the Bird Show, where a community including (but not limited to) Robins, sparrows, finches, juncos and chickadees would be active in the yard and garden. I can still hear the chickadees and I know Robins and the others are around, but I’m pretty sure the action has died down this year. It’s not for lack of bugs or seeds, I think. And I’ve only seen one snake this year, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t around. They hide. Hawks and corvids (jays and crows) will eat them – you don’t want to be a snake in your next life. It’s tough.

Anyway, here’s a bean called Fort Portal Jade, which look like little beads of sea glass when mature and dried:

IMG_1909

I don’t think my crappy iPhone 6 camera captured their bluish-green tones. They grow and mature fast, having put these out in July. I imagine they’d be great for zones with short growing seasons. I did eat the green beans fresh for awhile in June, and they were good, but it’s worth letting them mature for these pretty seeds. I haven’t had enough dried beans to cook yet so I don’t know how they’ll taste. The only downside to growing these is that they’re a bush type, so it limits how much you can grow in a small space. Not that they aren’t productive, they are, but you really multiply your harvest with pole beans that have a small footprint and >6 feet of vertical growth. Some of mine are climbing the corn, others trellises, poles and the garden fence:

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:

IMG_1896

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

hopper

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:

IMG_1901

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 :

IMG_1764

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.

Oh we got trouble.

It is uncharacteristically cool and cloudy today. Summer in Colorado is dry and about 30 degrees F hotter, usually. The weather makes me gloomy (I am too old to be emo). I almost said I was depressed, but checked myself. I rethink using that word now since depression is a topic little EG has had questions about lately.

He was really affected by the deaths of singers Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington. We’ve been fans of Cornell for years and EG liked Linkin Park. He was sad the day he heard on the radio of Bennington’s suicide and wanted to talk about it. I wish I could have protected him from that news. He couldn’t wrap his brain around someone feeling that way and I can’t either, because it’s not the state of my head. I wanted him to understand depression is an illness, not a contagious one, and if you see someone with signs of it to help them…it ended up being a good talk and he was usual cheerful self again. He processed it over a few days and discussions. But as a parent I don’t know if I did a great job addressing it. Such a heavy subject for a little kid.

That didn’t have anything to do with my garden. Let me tell you about the trouble, which is relatively minor and possibly managed.

  1. Squash bugs. Saw these little guys in June when the squash were wee little planties. I thought they were screwed (the plants, that is). I sprayed them every day with soapy water for about a week and they powered through it. IMG_1343IMG_0435

2.  Is this some kind of blight? Most plants look healthy but this concerns me. I see some spotting on the Solar Flair with the weird heart-shaped tomato and a little on its neighbor, the Brandywine. My Brandywines have always gotten some kind of issue toward the end of the season, but are usually so big by then it doesn’t seem to spread far. But it gives me a creepy feeling. Still, I can’t seem to cull a plant unless it’s a case of sacrificing the needs of the few for the needs of the many. I don’t even kill ants.

IMG_1814

On a happier note, the shotis puri Metal Pig made last night is good. It looks like the real deal to me, but it doesn’t remind him of the breads he ate in Georgia. He needs to lower his standards. Traditionally, as he described to us, it’s made in a kiln-like oven called a tone, which we will not be building or buying. The dough is slapped to the sides of the oven and scraped off when ready. This was made on a pizza stone in a typical residential range.

IMG_1813

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.

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:

cookieheart

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.

pupheart

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?

wheresmydog
Can you find the dirty white dog in this pic?

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:

stems

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.

seedlings2016

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:

mr_waffle
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.

img_0662

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.

img_0672

Why is this tomato soup so good?

Yesterday EG and I got an after-school snack at one of our favorite places in town, a cafe called Eats and Sweets. It was cold and humid, like I imagine Seattle in the dead of winter. There was a treacherous, barely visible coat of ice on everything and the sky was the color of a tooth needing a root canal. I had gotten to school to pick up EG just in time to hear the bell chime and see 5 or 6 kids come running out and immediately fall on their poor little butts. The soup of the day seemed like a good idea. It happened to be vegan tomato basil, so things were looking up.

I wasn’t even hungry, but when I got to the bottom of my cup and the soup experience was over, I was kind of sad. I have to know why it was so delicious. I grow my own tomatoes and make my own soup and it’s not as good. EG tried it and said it was the same as mine but it was better. Here’s how I make soup:

  1. Overcook a little chopped onion in oil (because I hate them raw, they have to be cooked until sweet)
  2. Blend the onion, a clove of garlic (I don’t like that to be overwhelming), handful of basil or cilantro, and about 4-5 large, ripe tomatoes
  3. Add salt and pepper and simmer until, I don’t know, it smells done.

And it’s good enough for Metal Pig and me. EG’s pickier. He doesn’t like tomatoes raw and I do. I’ve used Brandywines, Speckled Romans, Kellogg’s Breakfast, and Pantano Romanesco for a pretty hearty soup. I’ve added other stuff to the blender like leftover baguette (Andalusian style), tortillas, roasted peppers, lime juice and even sugar to try to make EG like it better. But it’s winter, so I know the cafe isn’t using fresh tomatoes. And they probably aren’t frozen either, because I think I’m the only one who freezes tomatoes. We have a lot of freezer space so that’s my preferred method of preserving food. I’m assuming they used canned, and it makes me wonder if cooking with canned tomatoes is better than using frozen when you can’t have them fresh. I’m kind of lazy but if my harvest is successful this year I might can more than freeze, or maybe can half as much as I freeze. It’s more effort up front but if the power goes out you don’t have to worry about the canned stuff going bad.

More than 12 hours after eating it, I’m still thinking about that soup. I wonder if I’ve ever made, or said, or done anything that people couldn’t stop thinking about for a day and a half.