Twenty gallons per day and a use for leaky old stock tanks

I wanted to know how much water I really needed to keep the plants happy when it doesn’t rain, so I hand-watered for 3 days. Not with a hose, but by filling a five-gallon bucket and distributing the water with a watering can, like in the old (really old, you might even say olde) days. Four trips to fill the bucket was required to satisfy them. We get threats of afternoon showers but they haven’t yet produced anything but a little thunder.

I don’t actually mind this process, although it costs me about a half hour. I can afford the half hour and probably the 20 gallons. I also might burn a few calories carrying the 40# bucket across the yard.

At the barn, which is the property of some friends, there are leaky old stock tanks. We filled them with straw bedding about 2/3 of the way, and the rest with growing medium (vermiculite, dirt, topsoil and compost). Six of my seedlings and some beans have gone into these beds. It’s the first time I’ve ever grown in a stock tank. Someone in my neighborhood has planted in very shiny new stock tanks, which seems like a waste of a good trough to me. Speaking of stock tanks, if you haven’t ever taken off your dusty boots and britches on a hot day and gotten in one full of cool, fresh water, well…you’re probably civilized. But don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Wish I had a photo of that I could post (of someone other than me).


Why you wait until late May to kick seedlings outside

I don’t know why but it annoys me when people refer to a certain season or time of year by a holiday, especially a minor holiday. I don’t tell people it annoys me when they do it, because it’s unreasonable to be annoyed but an innocent comment. But when people say something like, “It’s safe to transplant seedlings outside on Mother’s Day, right?”, what I say is “No! That will bite you in the ass. Don’t be fooled by the nice weather.” Wait until like the third, even fourth, week in May in Colorado to transplant tomatoes, peppers or squash. Actually you could plant squash the week before, and it will be OK if it doesn’t sprout before it snows one more time.

This was taken May 19, 2017:


The snowstorm ripped our shade sail and damaged trees. There actually was a tomato I was heartless enough to put outside before this, and I covered it with a bucket before the storm. It survived; here it is today, though smaller than its gardenmate behind it (that’s the one looking out the window at the snow).


This bed, on the other hand, was planted in March and weathered snow, sleet and hail, which you should expect from greens, peas and carrots:

There is corn as well, planted in early May, but it hadn’t sprouted before the weather turned on us. It sprouted right after the snow melted for good.

This is the orach planted from last year’s seeds. It’s a little like spinach but heartier and more interesting. It comes in green, purplish red and gold. It also grows higher off the ground than spinach, so you don’t have to clean so much dirt off of it. Spinach is so twentieth century.


Leaf scorch


I think I made a big mistake leaving my seedlings outside on a hot, breezy day. They are too little and the mile-high sun probably caused what looks like leaf scorch to me. Some of the leaves are dry and pale on the edges, a few ragged from being blown around a bit too. I don’t know what to do now but put them back inside under the lights and maybe feed them some watered down nutrients.

Planties get their first field trip and I make a weird cake


It was in the 60s and sunny the other day, so for the first time my seedlings got a field trip outside for a few hours. I counted 57 of them, which is good because it means I can count to 57. In previous years I’ve gotten used to them having a purplish cast to the underside of the leaves at this age, and for some reason only one of them does. I understand it’s sign of being low in phosphorous, but not low enough to warrant fert, and they always outgrew it.

What I should be doing right now is cleaning out some garden beds, adding growing medium and planting greens and peas. But what happened was it rained, and I took a nap, which I rarely do. In my nap I had a dream that I made a Sriracha cake with lime icing. So, when I got up, that’s what I did. Oh yeah, this is a blog about vegetables – Sriracha is made with vegetables. Peppers. I was going to work out, but made a cake instead, because the curiosity of what it would be like was killing me. It’s based on this recipe, which you should make exactly as directed. I’ve made it for birthdays, Kung fu belt tests after-parties and other excuses and it never fails. Even at my mile high altitude. But here’s my adaptation based on the unrecommended (I made that word up) decision to do things I dream about:

Dry ingredients:

1 1/2 cups AP flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

Wet ingredients:

1/3 cup coconut oil (this kind from Trader Joe’s tastes neutral, not like coconuts)

1/3 cup citrus juice, in this case 1 tangerine and 1/2 lime

2/3 cup water

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup agave syrup

1-2 tbs Sriracha (I didn’t actually measure)

As you know, you mix the dry and wet ingredients separately before stirring them together. Like it matters – who has high expectations for a Sriracha cake? It was baked at 350 F for 30 minutes. I was going to work out during that time but wrote this post instead. The batter tasted pretty good, and it looks like a normal cake:


I don’t do everything I dream about or I’d have gone to work in my underwear by now.

We love the Great British Baking Show (Great British Bake Off in Britain, but  here in the Colonies Pillsbury has a patent on the phrase “Bake off” – scroll down ) and it inspires 8-year-old EG to come up with original recipes too. He has used fiori di Sicilia (flowers of Sicily) essence in icing for cookies, which is very sophisticated. It’s an intense, almost gardenia-like flavoring that’s literally made from flowers of Sicily. I buy it at this shop but I don’t see it on their site. Obviously you can buy it many other places, but the Savory Spice Shop is fun to visit and worth adding a link to anyway.


Emo plants, dog and writer

I used to write between 05:00 and 07:00 (yeah, I have a preference for military time, I guess from a previous life as a night-shift medic) weekday mornings. When EG was a baby he’d nurse at 03:00 and sleep for another 3-4 hours. I’d take 2 of those and write stuff like this. Now, he’s 8, and this is our nighttime ritual: he reads in bed while Metal Pig and I stay there with him, he falls asleep, we go to bed, and sometime in the middle of the night he is scared and needs someone to sleep in his room with him. That’s usually me. The 50-pound dogs curl up with me. It’s uncomfortable. After awhile I go back to my own bed. He joins us very early in the morning and crashes hard, waking up at 7 with a residual dream narrative like, “These flying cats are trying to pat me on the head.”

I’m fully aware how much we’ll miss these nights and mornings. But I get a little drained of energy and inspiration. And this is a blog about plants, I think, and this time of year there’s kind of a lull. Things will really heat up when I buy mushroom compost in April. Oh yeah.

Thanks to the post I mentioned earlier from the indoor vegetable garden blogger I like, I realized I could cultivate a little celery and lettuce from the ends of previously eaten heads – wait, that phrase “previously eaten heads” could be interpreted so many ways… Anyway, I can grow a lot of greens outside in March and have stuff to eat May through November. But now I got nothing, and I can’t ever grow celery anyway. So for fun I put these in water that I change daily and they did start growing from the center in about 5 days:



Here are some month-old seedlings that are good examples of how their 50-some sisters look today. I’m still not cocky though. Well I am a little, boasting that I have them and might have SO MANY I’ll have to find them homes in my friends’ gardens. My friends tell me how excited and impressed they are, which is just sad.

They are Lucid Gem, a new variety I started for the first time, Speckled Roman and Pantano Romanesco. The last two are from seeds I saved and were the most eager to germinate.

Should we talk to the new girl? She’s not even Italian.

I can identify Speckled Romans from this point on without the tag because of their willow-like form. The first time I grew them I thought they were droopy and underwatered, but they are a regular-leaf plant that differs from the others by their spindly, long leaves. Do not think this is a sign of ill health. They normally drape in a way that’s almost emo, like my dog:

I’m so pale. And it’s so dark. I wish I had more eyeliner.

Growing new food from old food


Growing Cooking Reading Making

Did you know you can grow new plants from kitchen scraps you regularly throw away? I mean, you’re probably vaguely aware of the concept, but have you ever actually tried it? I hadn’t until recently and it’s been the biggest surprise so for. IT’S JUST SO EASY!

The idea really appeals to me since it is helping to cut down on food waste, therefore being good environmentally, but is also free, which my student budget definitely agrees with. Seeds are expensive sometimes…

I’m currently growing the following from scraps on my windowsill:

I’m also growing chickpeas and black beans, which while not from scraps, are growing from supermarket bought dried beans I had in my cupboard anyway.

I could write out instructions for growing from scraps, but instead I’ll link you to this lovely video from Buzzfeed, which tells you everything you need to know.


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Spinach dough

Spinach ravioli are so pretty! I wish I could get mine to come out this good.


As you may have noticed from my posts, homemade ravioli makes me happy. It actually became a Sunday habit. There is something about the process of combining just a few of very simple ingredients, that once mixed together the magic begins. Even though it is very simple to prepare the pasta dough, the whole process of ravioli making can be time consuming. Nevertheless, this process is therapeutic to me and I enjoy it to the fullest. What is interesting is that the ideas can be endless. In an earlier post, I explained you how to make your own Garganelli. Now it is time to color thins up and make some green ravioli with fresh spinach.Spinach ravioli are not just beautiful, but also very tasty.

How to prepare the pasta dough:

You will need 30g of fresh spinach. Saute the spinach with some salt and pepper. Drain it well using a…

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I’m suspicious of organic fertilizer

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.):

Seeds started for 2017 growing season

Here are the varieties planted Jan. 22:

  1. Golden King of Siberia: I’ve never grown this before but it’s going to be the one early season variety I’ll try this year. In the past I’ve also grown Stupice, a red, golf ball sized Czech tomato that’s pretty prolific.
  2. Speckled Roman: I’ve grown these for I think 9 years in a row, some with seeds I saved and some from seeds ordered from Baker Creek seed company . They’re actually striped red and orange, not speckled. They’re strikingly beautiful and taste way less boring than other Roma tomatoes.
  3. Old Italian: Never grown these. Old-fashioned big red tomatoes I’m hoping will remind me of my grandpa’s garden.
  4. Golden Jubilee: I’ve grown these for 10 years and save the seeds, which germinate even 2 years later. They’re not picky about our extreme temperature fluctuations and seem somewhat disease-resistant. They aren’t very seedy and the flavor is sweet but not insipid. When ripe they look like oranges. They make a pretty soup too.
  5. Pantano Romanesco: I started growing these 5 years ago; I save these seeds too and get good germination. They are a saturated red color and a little seedy, but robust and not watered-down tasting at all. I will always have room for these.
  6. Cherokee Purple: These are pretty purple tomatoes with green shoulders that remind me of Brandywines, but are regular leaf. I like them raw although when they get too big I think they’re kind of watery.
  7. Solar Flair: This is the first time I’m growing this round, yellow and red striped variety.
  8. Lucid Gem: I’ve never grown this either. It’s a new type developed by a guy named Brad Gates who must be a real tomato nerd. It looks like a bright yellow and pink tie-dye.
  9. Kellogg’s Breakfast: This is another big orange tomato that never lets me down. I saved the seeds from 2 years ago and if they don’t germinate I’ll use the ones I ordered as a backup.
  10. Paul Robeson: It’s a “black” (really purple-dark red) tomato named after this amazing performer and overachiever which Metal Pig jokes that he thinks is racist. Because it’s a black tomato. Whatever, it’s beautiful and slightly smokey flavored, and a respectful tribute to Mr Robeson.
  11. Great White: This big, lemony, pale yellow “white” tomato is also a regular, and named for a misunderstood and endangered ocean creature. It has never bitten me.
  12. White Wonder: Just trying this out to see if I can tell the difference between it and Great White.
  13. Pink Brandywine: BW is the only potato-leaf variety on this list and the biggest plant. I only have 3 and if they all make it, they will be taller than I am and take up a lot of space. The fruits are also big, so that’s impressive if size is your thing, but they’re also delicious or I wouldn’t make room for them.