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.

Screenshot590 2018-05-03 09.34

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:

clouds

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

 

 

Time to hoard

My to do list for the day before the first snow of the year:

todo

I didn’t get to do any chalk art on the sidewalk but the kids did. I love sidewalk chalk art and cave paintings, because I’m primitive.

This time of year, my in-laws in Iowa are harvesting corn with giant, sophisticated combines (or whatever they are). The grain goes into silos several stories tall (I think) or maybe it’s made into fuel or corn syrup. The big green tractors are amazing. They are all green because these are John Deere people.

At my house it’s not exactly like that.  My garden is slightly smaller than a combine. I gathered five kids, who are also sophisticated, but kind of small. Then I gave them boxes, locked them in the garden and told them not to come out until all the tomatoes and beans were picked. I ended up staying in there with them to make sure it got done. Actually I picked the ones they missed. They found this fun, like an Easter egg hunt. They whined a little (“Mom? Can we have root beer?” “Auntie, I think we’re dehydrated” – not actual quotes) but we came out with 70+ pounds of usable produce. Then I gave them lunch, cake and root beer, so don’t alert CPS.

green_tomatoes

It was 77 degrees and sunny, but snow was coming in that night, so everything had to be brought inside. The weather pattern here is like this: it’s warm and sunny, then breezes bring in an agricultural smell associated with the cow towns to our north, then it snows. And that’s what happened Sunday. Now it’s warm again and the cycle may not repeat for another week. Fall in Colorado is less dramatic than spring.

That’s it for the season, except for greens which grow almost all year long. The mustard and cilantro has re-seeded itself and sprouted. Most tomatoes are green and will ripen indoors. The experience of eating them raw isn’t the same as it was in August or September but it’s still good. I cook and can a lot of them as they ripen. I blended a mix of all the varieties and cooked them down to about 2/3 their original volume and added only salt before canning. Some I canned whole to see what they’d be like, but I think cooking and reducing them is a more efficient use of space. Some are just sliced and frozen. The total weight of tomatoes harvested for the season is 179 pounds.

cans

The beans pictured were blanched and pickled. So now what do I do? Wash, dry and save seeds to plant in a few months. I actually do other things too. In fact, the other things are the vast majority of the things I do, they just aren’t nearly as exciting as vegetables, or if they are as exciting I’m not publishing anything about them.

I’m in the hypothetical black!

I was wondering when the hypothetical return on my gardening investment would start to show. As of today it’s $11.00 ish. How do you like me now, Richard Branson?

Is it annoying when there are pages and pages of essays about this one time this blogger had this one thing and it reminded her of this one time when something was fun and then there are ten captioned photos of food before you get to the recipe/photo/instructable you googled? I think so, but still do it.

 

 

Here’s a pretty salad my friends and I enjoyed last weekend. Paul Robeson, Pantano Romanesco, Pink Brandywine, something yellow and Kellogg’s Breakfast. The recipe is that you pick some tomatoes, slice them and I might have sprinkled salt on them:

IMG_2111

I really need to invest in a better iPhone or an actual camera. Maybe some photography classes.

Some of those are from seeds I saved from plants grown from seeds I saved the previous year. That’s why they’re called heirlooms. I’ve talked to people who save seeds by letting whole fruits get moldy and disgusting, but I’m not sure why. I don’t mean I’m not sure why I talked to them, I mean I’m not sure why people waste an entire tomato to save its seeds. I slice the best examples of the variety and there are seeds on the cutting board. I make sure the cutting board is clean and free of salt or other seeds so I don’t get the varieties mixed up. Then I put the seeds in a jar of water (my water is filtered but that probably doesn’t matter), label the jar and forget about them for a few days. Later I wash and drain the seeds, then let them dry on a paper towel. When they’re dry I seal them in envelopes and plant them again when it’s seed starting time. I have had them stay viable for two, maybe three years. Look at this Kellogg’s Breakfast; not many seeds but enough to grow a lot more plants:

IMG_2115

You could read this before you save seeds. I just did, after doing it like I described above for over five years. There’s a risk of the plants developing late blight or something. If I’m honest, my plants don’t look perfect this time of year, but they are still producing leaves and healthy fruit. I have the same experience whether I order or save the seeds, with the exception that the saved seeds tend to have a higher germination rate. That slice of tomato has like $2.50 worth of seeds in it.

Well done, Brad Gates

This is a Lucid Gem tomato, an heirloom variety developed by Brad Gates of Wild Boar Farms. I had never grown these before this year and never eaten one until today. I gave it a five star review at Baker Creek’s site for flavor, looks and productivity. I also noted it resisted what looked like a blight creeping up on its neighbor (referenced in post Oh we got trouble from last month).

Here’s a Solar Flare, also new to me, very tasty, and impressive to PTA ladies who come to my parties 😉

solarflare

And a Paul Robeson that happens to be shaped like a tuchus:

butt
You’re welcome.

And just because the internet loves cats, here are some adorable barn kittens my niece is holding (sorry for the picture quality):

kittens

I love cats. We had a cat named JB for years and lost her to kidney disease about 5 years ago. We still talk about her. But if I ever get another cat (which will never happen according Metal Pig, who is allergic), s/he’s gonna stay indoors. I was wondering what had happened to the Bird Show, which is what I call it when a variety of birds congregate around my garden at dusk. There are noticeably fewer. Then I think I figured it out. My neighbor got a new cat this year, and I saw him drag the body of a young rabbit into his yard. I was traumatized and called him a bad kitty, like that helps. He just looked at me, back at the rabbit, and then at me again, like, “What?” I can’t blame him. Doesn’t matter that he’s well-fed, he’s just hard wired to hunt. And, like his predecessor Oscar, he’s probably an adorable bird-killer. I’ve seen Oscar take down a sparrow in mid-air. If you wonder what those mysterious pets and feral cats do all day, it probably involves sleeping and killing. That’s why people like them in their barns, but they don’t just chase mice. My friends with outdoor cats are wonderful, caring people, maybe they just don’t know how much impact the kitties have on our wildlife. I didn’t until I looked it up. JB’s favorite place to be was in the garden with me; I guess she just didn’t hunt when I was looking. Or maybe not all cats are so motivated, I don’t know.

Think my pear tree is doomed

This really makes me sad. I got this little Bartlett pear tree about 10 years ago and it’s produced a lot of fruit. Last year it got fire blight and I excised a lot of the tree hoping to keep it from spreading. But suddenly this week, when it’s been raining almost as much as it’s been not raining, the blight returned with a vengeance.

IMG_1905

 

 

This is bad. I might call a tree surgeon. I have medicine for this type of infection, but by the time I bought it the tree had set fruit. Label says not to use it once there’s fruit. I really let this tree down by procrastinating the treatment.

There’s a noticeable reduction of wildlife in my yard. At dawn and dusk we’re used to seeing something we call the Bird Show, where a community including (but not limited to) Robins, sparrows, finches, juncos and chickadees would be active in the yard and garden. I can still hear the chickadees and I know Robins and the others are around, but I’m pretty sure the action has died down this year. It’s not for lack of bugs or seeds, I think. And I’ve only seen one snake this year, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t around. They hide. Hawks and corvids (jays and crows) will eat them – you don’t want to be a snake in your next life. It’s tough.

Anyway, here’s a bean called Fort Portal Jade, which look like little beads of sea glass when mature and dried:

IMG_1909

I don’t think my crappy iPhone 6 camera captured their bluish-green tones. They grow and mature fast, having put these out in July. I imagine they’d be great for zones with short growing seasons. I did eat the green beans fresh for awhile in June, and they were good, but it’s worth letting them mature for these pretty seeds. I haven’t had enough dried beans to cook yet so I don’t know how they’ll taste. The only downside to growing these is that they’re a bush type, so it limits how much you can grow in a small space. Not that they aren’t productive, they are, but you really multiply your harvest with pole beans that have a small footprint and >6 feet of vertical growth. Some of mine are climbing the corn, others trellises, poles and the garden fence:

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:

IMG_1896

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

hopper

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:

IMG_1901

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 :

IMG_1764

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.

IMG_1814

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.

IMG_1813