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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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?
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:
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.
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:
2 cups oat flour
1 cup wheat flour (or all oat flour for my friends who avoid gluten)
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups milk – soy, almond, oat, hemp, cow, whatever you use
1 cup applesauce
1/3 cup oil
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.
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.
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:
Overcook a little chopped onion in oil (because I hate them raw, they have to be cooked until sweet)
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
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.
I rotate my “crops,” alternating legumes (which fix nitrogen in soil) with other plants like tomatoes, peppers and squash (which suck it out). But that alone is not enough to replace nutrients used up in a season. My garden is a fenced collection of 4×4 or 4×8 boxes of untreated wood that look like square foot gardens (SFG) but are not exactly. It’s fenced because these adorable dogs love to eat vegetables, particularly green beans:
In case you’re wondering, the fence is 16′ x 48′ and cost about $500 in material but $0 in labor. We built it 3 years ago with the help of EG, his 3 cousins and my sister-in-law so it’s about paid for itself.
There’s a lot to be said for SFGs but they are basically container gardens, requiring a yearly investment in growing medium. My soil, if you want to call it that, blows. So I require seasonal infusions of soil amendments and nutrients, as well as some growing medium, but I think it’s inefficient to start with a fresh new load of dirt every year. Even if I weren’t such a tightwad, Metal Pig would see the expense on my spreadsheet and estimate the cucumbers’ worth at about $5 each.
But the headline says I’m suspicious of organic fert and compost, which is true. The first thing I think of when I see labels like “organic” or “all natural” is slaughterhouse waste. You might argue it’s a good use of waste, and I don’t really want to focus on that subject, but I’d rather avoid growing with animal parts if I can. There is a mushroom farm I can drive to and get a trailer load of compost that consists only of mushroom fragments and the wood shavings they’re grown in, and it’s been great for mixing with vermiculite and the existing crappy soil as a growing medium. I’ve also sucked it up and gotten city compost, which is made from stuff my fellow townspeople discard and I’m pretty sure that includes bones from chicken wings and other body parts, but it’s heavy on the nitrogen. I probably won’t do it again but I support the city’s composting program. Throughout the season I’ve added alfalfa meal, cottonseed meal, something called Texas green sand and compost tea. It’s been tempting to just use something made in a lab like Miracle Grow though.
The beans pictured below are being allowed to mature for drying; they might be the speckled ones pictured (Greasy Grits, from Baker Seed Co.):
Today I planted 70 seeds in little Jiffy pucks puffed up with water. It’s not the first time. I’ve been growing heirloom vegetables for 12 years and I’m starting to get the hang of it. Previously I’ve put 3 seeds in each, in case they didn’t all germinate, which is Mel Bartholomew’s instructions. But he snips 2 of the 3 if they all germinate. What has happened is usually all sprout and I can’t bring myself to cull two of them. So I’d scramble to find room for them all both inside and out in the garden, like a hoarder, although I’d let a few select people adopt some. This time I put one seed in each cell. If one doesn’t sprout in a week, I’ll replace it.