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 Big Garden now.

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

 

 

CloningTomatoes

I know you can clone tomatoes. Their stems have tiny threads covering them that look like tiny hairs or downy feathers on a baby bird. If you clip off a branch or sucker and stick it in water, soil or any medium that isn’t toxic to it, those little things become roots within days.

Previously I’ve done it during growing season because a branch had broken accidentally, or had to be pruned, and that seems to be too late to expect the cloned plant to catch up. This year I rooted some cuttings from seedlings I pruned and, a week later, the little seedlings look promising.

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Spring makes me nervous

Like a crazy person, I pruned some seedlings already. Unlike the other crap I do just to see what would happen, this has a low risk of concussion or dental bills. I do have shoulder impingement but I think it’s from something else, not pinching tomato leaves. Also I was sober (and TBH I typically am despite my declarations of “HMPaWT!” when doing something to see what would happen). It does make me nervous because I feel like I’m injuring my planties.

I planted nightshades in early February but some took weeks to germinate. I got nervous by March and put a heating pad under a metal baking sheet, and the little pods stuffed with seeds on that. It helped; I got a few more sprouts that way.

Last fall I was an idiot and labeled some of the promising seeds I collected as “P.R.” This could mean either Paul Robeson or Pantano Romanesco. You can’t really go wrong with either but I wish I were less of a dumbass.

Right now, what I have with true leaves are:

P.R. (whatever they are): 14 plants, ranging from 2-10 inches tall. I’ll give away a few to friends.

Lucid Gem: 6 little planties; planted later but look promising. I will be reluctant to share these.

Kellogg’s Breakfast: 5 healthy-looking 4-6 inch seedlings.

Golden Jubilee: Just sprouts, 2 with tiny true leaves

Striped (aka Speckled) Romans: 3 little ones with leaves, 2 sprouts…I’m going to need more of these. Hope the other seed sprout soon.

Anything else is a potential plant; either a little sprout or still a seed: 4 striped cherry tomatoes of some kind (heirloom like all my plants, but I bought the seeds and don’t know much about them); 12 peppers, a few Red Brandywines, one true Pantano Romanesco and more of the above mentioned tomatoes.

I’m not sure how I feel about pruning. The biggest of the P.R.s I just pinched off the little stem between leaves 4 and 5, and felt bad about it so I put the amputated parts in water. I know it’s easy to get tomatoes to root that way. I wonder how much of that cloning I can get away with. Like can I double my count of productive plants by cloning branches when they’re a little older?

I mixed quinoa and lettuce seeds with potting soil and water, thinking it less fiddly then planting individual seeds. Something is growing; I think lettuce. If I could really grow quinoa I’d save us like a whopping $7/week. Because the dogs and I have a diet based on quinoa.

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I should have more done by now. I should be digging up more space to plant. But it’s almost time for whatever that other stuff I was going to do today, after which it will probably be time to crack open a Prosecco.

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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Lemme back up

Candid thoughts about the daily life of a nine year old. Absolutely worth reading!

Everything You Need To Know About Me

Okay, the scene is set on christmas afternoon, and I am playing my new ocarina.

“What’s an ocarina?”, You might ask, well it’s a 6,300 year old wind instrument. That’s literally it’s entire summary. That’s it. Here, I’ll show you a picture of mine.

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Isn’t it pretty? it sounds pretty nice, too. Don’t think so? I’ll prove it :

Sorry, the audio is a little crappy because I recorded it on my kindle fire 7 with no equipment. But enough about my ocarina, let’s skip 15 days to now, I just finished seeing Paddington 2 in theaters, and it totally deserved it’s five-star rating, as for what’s to come, we’ll need a fortuneteller, or a gypsy or something like that. Or maybe the hero of time would be nice.

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Speedy the squirrel is trouble

 

There are squirrels who lives in my neighbor’s tree. EG named one of them Speedy when the squirrels were little. I actually can’t tell Speedy apart from his bros. Speedy’s grown now and has a mate he argues with. We’ll call her Mrs. Speedy I guess.

I don’t know much about growing corn but I planted some at EG’s request. He chose a type you can dry and pop which has kernels that look like multicolored jewels. Some people use them for decoration but I don’t, because they’re food. They grew very well and I went from having no expectations to being somewhat excited about them.

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But the Speedies were all over it.

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It’s not like our dogs, Pixie and Dean, were laying down on the job of chasing them, it’s just that they can’t be there all the time. I picked most of it today, mature and immature, and feel like a jerk. Metal Pig said, “You can’t use the corn anyway, why not just let them eat it?” But I can use the mature kernels to grow more next year. If you’re curious about the maturation progress of corn, here it is, left to right – kernels start developing at the bottom.

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I think corn silk is beautiful. This silk looks like a ginger ponytail – really, I have a ginger pony with a tail that looks like that:

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Oh, and I think I’m getting better at canning tomatoes. This morning the Pixie woke me at 4:40 to go out, which is common, but I had gone to bed so early I just stayed up and processed tomatoes. There was also a cricket who had been chirping at an astounding volume for hours. When tired and quiet, at 5-ish, the cricket walked boldly across the kitchen floor. I took him outside. He’ll probably be back tonight.

These are jars of cooked and raw tomatoes, including cherry tomatoes with coriander seeds and a jalapeno and sauce processed in a pressure canner.

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I don’t think zucchini “bread” is a way to get people to eat vegetables. Yeah, that’s a real thing I’ve heard. Come on, it’s it’s cake.  So I made 3 cake loaves with a zucchini about 2′ long, which is bigger than I normally let them get before picking them.  I quarter them and remove the pithy core of seeds. This is important because the seeds can taste bitter.

This is 1/3 of the recipe, just a basic zucchini “bread” recipe I veganized. Spellcheck says “veganized” isn’t a word – I say it is.

Dry ingredients:

3 cups flour

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp salt

Wet ingredients:

1 1/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup fat (this time I used Earth Balance because it’s for my son’s lunch box, and I can’t use nuts, so I was afraid to use coconut oil)

1/2 cup applesauce

2 tsp vanilla

zest  and juice of 1 lemon

Substitute for 2 eggs (I used Ener-G; other options include bananas, more applesauce, flax and other stuff or just chicken eggs if you eat them. Duck eggs if you know people who keep ducks.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare two loaf pans with whatever your non-stick method is.

  1. Mix dry ingredients with a fork or whisk
  2. Mix the fat and sugar until sort of creamy, then add the rest of the wet stuff.
  3. Mix by hand the wet and dry ingredients
  4. Pour into pans

Mine took a solid hour to bake. This recipe has not been tested much, and the moisture in zucchini and applesauce varies, so precision isn’t reasonable. Whatever, my kid loves it.

 

 

Golden load*

Technically, it’s still summer for a few more days. I hate letting it go and try to hoard the sunlight as the days get shorter. I stopped wearing my Tilley hat and let my normally dark hair get as sun-bleached as possible, hoping for a surfer look. My birthday is in the fall, which makes it even harder because I’m reminded of getting older, a fact I deny all summer long. But once I let it go and talk myself into looking forward to more harvests I appreciate fall. It’s like summer, with shorter days and fruit instead of flowers. Like summer got older and wiser, but stayed somewhat pretty and fertile.

Dried beans start piling up. I like the way they feel; it’s some kind of tactile stimulation.

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They don’t require any prep or refrigeration, just stay in jars until whenever we want to cook them.

I cooked down and canned tomatoes in a pressure canner, separated by color. Some are orange and yellow, which get a little darker when cooked, and some are red and purple, which just turn into a basic red sauce. In the past I’ve just frozen them all but I think I like canning them now. I also canned some raw and they look so watery after processing I’m not sure I did it right. There’s a food blogger I’m a fan of who would probably never make the amateur error of allowing her reflection on the shiny jars (her site is Cooking without limits). But maybe I could insert Easter eggs that way, like by having someone take pics in the nude.

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Zucchini cake is popular right now. I made one with yellow squash that was bright yellow and moist, a huge hit with my friends who came over on Labor Day. On EG’s birthday last October I made zucchini and chocolate cakes, and the kids chose zucchini over chocolate, which surprised me. I don’t eat chocolate because it triggers migraines so I usually make some non-chocolate option I can enjoy for dessert. That probably explains my muffin top, which I will not be posting a picture of.

Here’s Pixie licking every last crumb off the picnic table:

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It’s a terrible pic but it reveals her true self so well. I accept her for who she is.

*The phrase “Golden load” is from this poem by William Blake, “To Autumn”

O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stained
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou mayst rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.

“The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hang round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust’ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather’d clouds strew flowers round her head.

“The spirits of the air live on the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.”
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat;
Then rose, girded himself, and o’er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.