Monday, March 30, 2009

recent happenings

Almost all of the tomatoes are planted! Hooray! There are fourteen total, which is two more than I originally planned for. I've had to get creative with placement. The self watering containers I've made are working better than I could ask for. The plants are bigger and look healthier than those in the ground.

I finally put the new strawberries in. I transplanted three aloes to the front bank and planted 8 strawberries in their place. I can see them from my kitchen window. I keep thinking how nice it will be when they fill in and create a cover of berries...provided they don't die of some disease. I have the worst luck with strawberries.

Greg had school tonight so it was Jonas and myself for dinner. I made orzo with frozen pesto from last year's garden and spinach and chard from this year's garden. Jonas was super cranky and tired (when I asked him if he wanted to go to bed he said yes and headed for his room, then threw the mother of all tantrums when I wouldn't let him go to bed. Poor kid.) so I made the mistake of just chopping all the greens and didn't bother to remove the chard stems. It was fibrous and gross. Strangely enough Jonas ate a very large portion.

On thursday I'm getting together with my gals, the mongeese, to make jam. I jam once a year, always in march or april. We eat quite a bit of jam. Greg eats a pb an j every day for breakfast at work. So the jamming is extensive. I probably won't get all of it done on thursday but it will be wonderful to get at least some of it done in the company of my favorite women.

I'm currently reading Made From Scratch and I love it! It has me all energized to start sewing and buying second hand. I don't know what I would do without a steady supply of motivating books from the library. They really inspire me to do more and to do it well.

Hope everyone is having a great day.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Gardening Class

On Saturday my mom (in law) and I went to Kniffing's Nursery to attend their gardening class extravaganza. It was wonderful. So informative. When we first arrived we decided to bypass the rose seminar and just walked around looking at what kniffing's has to offer. It was the type of place where you can spend the entire day walking around.
We returned to the seating area just in time for the tomato and vegetable seminar. It was taught by Steve Goto who opened with, "I used to be called the tomato king but have been promoted to tomato god." I really can't argue with that. He knew more about tomatoes than anyone I've ever talked to. I didn't agree with everything he said. For example he said that it was impossible to grow an indeterminate tomato in a five gallon bucket. Wrong! I did it last year and the year before and the year before. The plant last year was the first to produce and the last to die. It kept going after the cold season varieties froze out. Yellow Pear tomatoes are awesome.
Here are some things I gleaned from the tomato god:
Instead of getting one crop from determinate tomatoes you can remove the "old wood" which has already fruited and stretch out production into as many as 5 crops. Good news for canning. I will attempt this on my silvery fir tree tomatoes later in the summer.
Only determinate varieties of tomatoes should be grown upside down. (Richard/Ingrid this info is for you:)) Please note that this information stems from the "only determinates should be grown in 5 gallon buckets" idea, so take it with a grain of salt.
Green Tomatoes, how do you know when to pick them? When they first start to have a golden sheen. The more golden you let them become the worse they'll taste so pick them fast.
You should water tomatoes once a week for about 40 minutes. I was already doing the 40 minute thing, but every three days.
To get the best flavor you should pick tomatoes the day before watering, if possible.
Watering with chlorine filled tap water is bad for plants, it kills the good soil microbes. Makes so much sense. A good solution is to set a bucket of water out in the sun for 24 hours or so to work the chlorine out. while this is good for the soil it's somewhat impractical and I can't say that I'm going to do it all the time, or even often, especially when the garden is in full swing. Oh poo!
There is hope yet for my fusarium/verticullum wilt soil. There's a product called Penetrate which inundates the soil with baccillus (baccilli?) they break up clay soils and outnumber the bad viruses etc. Not unlike yogurt for humans. It's pricey, like 60 bucks, although you get enough to cover 4000 sq feet. however I talked to steve goto afterwards and it is my understanding that worm tea has very similar effects.
Another amazing thing about worm tea, it kills grasshoppers by smothering them with spores. Same for white fly. Which is awesome since we have a white fly infestation that will not be squashed with other methods. The shrubbery in our yard is soooo extensive that the white fly just go from place to place to place, no matter how much I spray. Oddly enough they leave the veg alone.
But it doesn't stop there. If you mulch with worm castings then the plant takes all of the goodness in for a systemic effect, meaning (allegedly) that harmful insects won't want to eat or live on the plants since spores and things will irritate them. One more reason I need to start that worm bin.
Steve Goto spent part of the class reccommending different types of tomatoes, the best canning tomato, the best black tomato, the best tasting all around tomato, the sweetest, etc. Here is a list of what I remember. I haven't tried any of these varieties yet so try them at your own will.


Best tasting all around: Momotaro. Candi, my mom (in law) bought one to try out. I hear it's the perfect combo of acidity and sweetness. Wins hands down every time Steve has a tomato tasting.

Best For Canning: Red Pear Italian Special, this tomato has good production paired with low amounts of seeds. Candi bought some of these to try out.

Sweetest: sungold. A small yellow variety that has such a high sugar content that it will "explode" within half an hour of picking. The sugars ferment and the tomato sort of cracks open. To avoid this cut the tomato from the plant with the top greenery still attached, remove greenery when ready to eat, obviously. I planted one of these the year I got pregnant with Jonas, I was too sick to water it and it died. :(

Fun One: The Big Zach. These are now sold out in southern california. Kniffing's had the only two flats of them and they sold like hot cakes. I got two of them...suck on that! Greg and Candi think I'm nuts and here's why. Big Zach's grow to about 8 feet tall and consistently produce 4-6 pound tomatoes. I can't wait.
Best Black: Black Trifele. I've got some of these started in peat pots right now. I'm ahead of the game. Cherokee Chocolate is supposed to be really good too. All the flavor of Cherokee Purple and none (okay little) of the shoulder cracking.

Beyond tomatoes I've been doing a lot in the yard lately. I planted a bunch of cucurbits along the wall on the right side of our yard. The soil is very poor over there is most places, I haven't done anything to improve it, so we'll see how the poor plants do.
Jonas and I ate our first peas of the year and they were amazing! Sweetest things ever. There are many more pods still on the vine and more appearing every day. Green Arrow Peas are a variety I'll be sure to use again next year.
After the garden seminar on Saturday Candi came over and we looked around my yard for a bit, talking about the oleanders that need to be taken out, the white fly problem and possibly turning the small lawn off to the side into a raised bed. That would be the coolest thing ever.

So much to do. Hope everyone is enjoying spring.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Gardening Motivation For Siobhan...and anyone else who would like it.

Our garden is well under way. I wish it was summer already, I'm dying for tomatoes and basil and all of those good things.

Our raspberry plant has a bud on it, Hooray! Also, all three of the cane fruits have sent up new plants! The Boysenberry has sent up three! Impressive.

I simply do not have enough compost fodder to sate my appetite. Over the weekend I looked into whether or not it's safe to compost oleander and I've decided to skip it, which saddens me because we have so much stinking oleander! I can't wait until they're all gone.
The two houses that face ours across the street are very neatly kept. The owners are out there every saturday doing upkeep. This past saturday I went out and chatted with them. I love our neighborhood, and our neighbors. I told them any time they want to donate their yard wastes to a good cause I'll take them. Greg, Jonas and I had to leave to go to a birthday party but when we returned there were bags full of compostables waiting for us in our driveway. I'll have to remember to thank them with produce this summer. How sweet of them.

One of the bags was full of grass clippings! Compost gold! I actually ended up using it to prepare the sunberry plot. It was perfect, I spread out a layer of grass clippings and then a layer of horse manure (yes I loaded it into the corolla again, laugh it up nikol) then I soaked it all down and stomped it into a nice even plot and planted the sunberries. 14 plants total.

On Saturday I also went to the nursery and had a vexating conversation with the manager over my dead, diseased strawberries. He claims strawberries don't get verticullum and that they died because I didn't water them enough. I guess watering them every day just didn't cut winter! He asked where I got my information and when I told him online (several university agricultural study websites) he scoffed saying "you never can trust the internet." Of course when I claimed that a few weeks ago all of the other strawberries in their nursery had verticullum too he didn't believe me, and they're all sold out now. Lovely. They did however have all new strawberries of a different variety. And to the nursery's credit they replaced the dead strawberries. The guy was nice enough but vexating in so far as he didn't believe a word I said and kept insisting that I NEVER watered them.

I planted a cayenne pepper and a yellow pear tomato today. Then I mulched everything with compost and weeded the carrots. I'm becoming very antsy with the winter vegetables. Some days it takes everything I have not to tear them out and start the grow heap. I wish they'd hurry up and finish growing already, I've got me some squashes to plant! I've decided to plant all of the winter veg in containers next time around, and let the ground spend the down time recovering. The four self waterers should come in handy. The one self waterer that is already up and running is working wonderfully.

Last night for dinner and today for lunch I had salads from the garden. I had to pull out a parsley plant to put in the yellow pear tomato so today's salad was lettuce, spinach, chard, mustard AND parsley. It was wonderful. This week of hot weather just may send the lettuces into seeding mode so I'm eating my fill while I still can.

About half of the tomatoes and basil are in their permanent homes now. And all of the sunberries. There's still so much to go in though, the soybeans, the pole beans, the squashes and melons and cucumbers. Again, I wish it were summer already.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Two in one day, you're so lucky!

As mentioned in the previous post I just finished looking through food from small spaces or whatever it's called. In the book the author gives detailed instructions on making your own self watering planters. JACKPOT! While the article I just read in Mother Earth News on container gardening touts commercial self watering containers as "inexpensive" I think fifty bucks is exorbitant. So this make it yourself solution is ideal. There are several models in the book, one of which I've already done with success, and another I plan on trying very soon. The one I've already made is a sterilite storage container from target, while not the prettiest thing it gets the job done and houses one of the brandywine tomatoes and three basils. It will be perfect for carrots and greens and peas next winter. I've obtained three more sterilites to guessed it, three more selfwaterers. Basically what you do is create a reservoir in the bottom of the container by cutting the lid to fit inside and sit ontop of two bricks or woodblocks. You then cut a hole in the lid (which is now actually the "bottom" of the planter) and insert a basket extending down into the reservoir to act as a wick from which the rest of the soil will draw water. I didn't have a suitable basket so I punched holes in a plastic gallon flower pot. You also cut a smaller hole in the lid to put a piece of PVC piping through, this is where you'll be putting the water into the reservoir from. you fill it all up with soil, add water through the pvc, add plants and you're set. Oh, also drill holes through the sterilite at the top of the reservoir for drainage.
The planter I intend to try soon is a variation of the same thing but with 2, 5 gallon buckets.
If this makes no sense whatsoever, check out the book.
My planter costs 16 bucks total, including soil, and it's ritzy soil...suck on that Mother Earth News!!! Just kidding, I love them.

Springtime, lollipops and rainbows...

This post actually only includes springtime, I just included the other things in the title because Greg keeps singing this song over and over. By song I mean, he knows the first four words and repeats. But anyway, spring is here, hooray!

Jonas and I have tired of muffins for now. Well I have at least. I don't know that Jonas will ever tire of muffins, he'd probably eat them non-stop if I let him. So we made granola last week. It's delicious. I lack the motivation to go and find the recipe right now. Laziness. I'll post it later.

My seeds from burpee have finally arrived. The peppers were really the only time sensitive thing I was waiting on. I should have started them weeks ago. The watermelon seeds will wait until I make the grow heap before getting in the ground and the black truffle tomatoes are going to be late and I've come to terms with it.

I read (and lost AHHH!) a book from the library called food from small spaces or something like that. Since reading it I've started growing our own sprouts for things like stir frys and salads. A lady in line at Sprouts, seeing me with a tub of mung beans asked me "how do you cook those beans." I told her that they were for sprouting. She looked quizzical and so I explained further that I sprout them and put them in a stirfry. Still quizzical. "You know, like, chinese food." Still quizzical, I opened my mouth to explain still further when she said abruptly, "I got it." The end. That was weird.

In case anyone is wondering here is how to grow your own sprouts:
place a quarter cup of mung beans in a quart canning jar, fill the jar with water so that the beans are covered and add a tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide (the book says bleach but that doesn't jive with me so peroxide it is) soak for fifteen minutes. This is to sterilize the beans so you don't get e coli or something equally unpleasant. Put a clean piece of cloth over the top of the jar and attach with a rubberband, strain, rinse, and fill the jar with water again, leave the beans to soak 8 to 12 hours. strain. Rinse the beans everyday, twice a day if neccessary to keep them from drying out. Keep the jar in a dark place with absolutely no sunlight. in 3-5 days you should have sprouts. There will be a lot of little green hulls in the sprouts, remove them if you want or leave them in. Leaving them in can increase chances of bacterial contamination so if you're eating the sprouts raw it's probably best to remove them. If you're cooking them it's not that big of a deal. Cook them no longer than three minutes to retain nutrients.

Enjoy People! :)