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:


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


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:


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 :


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.


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.



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.

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.

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:


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?

Can you find the dirty white dog in this pic?