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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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Spinach dough

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

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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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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.

 

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.):

Germination 92% so far

I immediately put the tray of sprouts under lights. Because last year, for the first time ever, I lost all the little planties I started in January to damping-off disease. It’s something that usually only n00bs let happen. After that I planted a second round, which flew across the sunroom when I tripped on the door jamb while carrying them. A third round gave me a some plants, but not until April, which is late. I managed to get 90# of tomatoes over the whole season, which isn’t terrible.  I harvested lots of other food, like this example of a morning’s typical greenbean haul; I believe this includes Cantare, Henderson Black Valentine and McCaslin 42 varieties, all of which I recommend:

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The sunroom used to be all windows, which is why it was called a sunroom, and it was terribly inefficient. Blazing hot on nice days and you could see your breath on really cold days. So Metal Pig changed the floor-to-ceiling windows to walls and installed an operable window. This didn’t let in enough light and may have contributed to the damping-off disease, but mostly I blame the commercial potting mix I bought, which I hadn’t used before.

 

First round

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.

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It looks like a butt