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Chives- you can grow that!


One of the first perennial edibles to pop up in spring, good old reliable chives.

Do you have a tiny amount of space, and want some herbs? Or, do you have a lot of space to fill and are looking for something cheap that will spread? One of the most reliable edibles that come up this time of year is chives.
They belong to the onion family, but the greens taste much milder than green onions- not as sharp. To start from seed, dump a whole packet on the soil of a small pot, water regularly. Very fine grass like leaves will start to come up, with a sharp bend in the end, and the seed coat still attached to the shoot. Leave it alone, it will fall off on it’s own. If you are starting the seeds inside, harden them off by leaving them outside for an hour or two per day- if you transplant them straight to the outside they’ll burn and die. Moment of silence…
Okay- if you buy a pot at a nursery, they will most likely be hardened off already, and you can plop them into the ground or into a container. They have such a shallow root system they can go into a container with other things.
Snip off individual shoots and flowers- the flowers are edible, and have a funky texture- funky in a good way. Eat them with potatoes, obviously, or deviled eggs. That reminds me, we need to get eggs and mess up the kitchen…there is still dye on the tablecloth from last year.
If you wind up not eating the flowers, let them go to seed, that way your patch will spread. As I said, chives don’t need very deep soil- in fact, when I build my dream shed, I plan to plant chives on the green roof. We just have to tear down that playhouse, mwah ha ha ha!!!

I have also considered the possibility of a chive lawn- it looks so grassy, and doesn’t take much water…and just think of the fragrance when you mow…yeah, maybe not.

 

Edited to add- I keep forgetting to mention that “You can grow that” is a meme created by C.L. Fornari, genius garden writer. If you came here via her site, welcome.  To find more blogs with growing tips, go to C.L.’s site! http://wholelifegardening.com

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You do have a compost pile, right?


I have a little raised veggie bed right outside my back door- it is only 2×3 feet, but super convenient. Last summer, I would go out, pull up a green onion or two for a salad and go right back in.  Next year, I plan to put in tomatoes, which are a heavy feeder- they like a lot of moisture, and a lot of nutrients. I put tomatoes in a different place every year, so disease organisms don’t build up.
Solution- make this veggie bed the winter home of the compost bin, then spread it out in spring.

Luke, I am your father...

I’ve written before about our bin(link to own post)- a Darth Vader head- very ugly, but pretty effective for boiling down organic waste into compost. I move it every few months, spread out the finished compost where it is, and put whatever is not broken down back in the bin in its new location. The partially broken-down stuff is seeded with the compost organisms that will help break down new material.
Because I want the soil to be super rich, the first layer of stuff I put in the bin was comfrey leaves. Comfrey is an amazing plant- it has deep roots that take minerals out of the subsoil and concentrate them in the leaves. When the leaves break down, in compost or mulch, the minerals are deposited in the topsoil. The plants can be whacked back several times a summer and keep coming back on just natural rainfall.

I  add kitchen stuff as it fills up the cup on the edge of the sink, and layers of leaves, too. Kitchen waste is usually high in nitrogen, and can be smelly if there isn’t high carbon material added at the same time. Compost breaks down all winter, although it is slower when the weather is colder.

In about March, I’ll lift the bin off and hopscotch it to another location. I’ll take off  what hasn’t broken down, and spread out the finished compost- moving some to other beds that need it, but saving a lot for the bed. My tomatoes will have a deep bed of good soil to feed on.

You don’t need a Darth Vader head, or any kind of container- compost will break down anywhere. I like my bin, but I recognize it isn’t  necessary.

A year’s worth of garlic, part 2


I saved the largest bulb of my “harvest” to plant, and ordered some from eBay.  The kind I saved from what I planted last year is soft-neck, which is ordinary grocery store garlic, and in fact, this came from an ordinary grocery store. The kind I got on eBay is a hardneck variety, which is supposed to have a different flavor (there’s a question- how different can it be, and still be garlic?) and also it forms flower stocks and blossoms, which are called scapes.

We got some scapes in our CSA veggie box a few years ago and I had never seen them before- they’re really interesting. You could wear them as bracelets to ward off vampires- long green spirals. I sliced them for stir fry, and they had a bright, super-garlicky taste. Growing hard-neck garlic  means you get an earlier harvest, something to pick before the garlic is actually ready to dig. This helps with the year’s worth deal. Once the bulbs in the basket have either been eaten or started to sprout, there is something to pick that tastes like garlic.

Yes, I know I could just go to the grocery store.

Why bother growing my own? Honestly, carbon. How much diesel fuel is used to plow, plant and harvest garlic in California, or China?      http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=11613477  how much energy to ship it here?

I am okay buying olive oil, because I can’t grow that here in zone 5, but I swear, garlic grows itself.

Before the fall equinox, I loosened some soil, broke the garlic heads into individual cloves and planted them. I put them in an area where the compost pile was, so there’s plenty of humus. I’ll cover with mulch, and wait until spring. I won’t water at all until next summer, and then it will still take less water than most people use on their lawns.

Grow garlic!!!!! Seriously!

No photo on this one- better artists than I can take beautiful pictures of bare soil.

Vanilla Vine Update


So, I built this whole elaborate trellis, and posted a tutorial, for a vanilla orchid vine that is supposed to get to 20 feet tall.

I do think having the sheetmoss-filled tower was helpful in raising the humidity around the plant.

It turns out, I could have waited a while.
The humidity tower/trellis is two feet tall. The vanilla orchid is 6 inches tall. Assuming I can keep it alive over the winter, I am going to hope it grows faster next summer. If you got here through Google, researching the care and feeding of homegrown vanilla, rest assured that you don’t need a huge trellis for your vanilla cutting right away.
If you are just a friend or relation, well, I guess you already knew I was an optimist.
We had a frost warning at around sunset last week, causing me to whine and moan and get out the dolly so I could move big flowerpots around, and whine and moan some more. That is when I brought in the vanilla, and took a quick picture, under the lovely fluorescent lighting of the kitchen.
I had picked all the ripe tomatoes I could see, and put a giant duvet cover over the trellis, so I wasn’t too worried about that.
The stress is bringing in the houseplants- tropicals that love the summer weather but can’t take the cold. I usually spray them off so fewer hitchhikers come inside with them- the occasional spider is fine, but no aphids or scale, thank you very much. I couldn’t face doing that last night. This week has been busy for DH and me, and I was hoping I could wait and move flowerpots on Sunday…
It turns out the frost alert was a false alarm, and predictions are for temps in the 70’s and 80’s. Next week,  I will have the strength to wheel flowerpots with citrus trees inside, heave them up to the sink, spray them off, mop the floor….Just thinking about it makes me tired.

I do think having the sheetmoss-filled tower was helpful in raising the humidity around the plant.

DIY yoga mat spray


I’ve been doing yoga a lot lately, and one of the facts of yoga life is that the mat starts to smell funky. Research on the interwebs reveals that people spray with Febreze, or with store-bought yoga mat spray. Further research tells me that these sprays are pretty much alcohol, which kills most of the bacteria,and fragrance, which covers up the smell of the alcohol.

I hate the smell of Febreze, too strong, too fake. ( I had a student a few years ago whose mom put Febreze in his Christmas stocking. What was she trying to say, do you think?)
This is another of those non-recipe recipes. I hate to say this even is  a recipe, or a project, because it’s so simple.

Step 1: Buy cheap vodka.  You might already have some, I don’t know.

Step 2: Get a spray bottle (thank you, dollar store)

Step 3: Half fill spray bottle with cheap vodka, add tap water, add “some” drops of essential oil. How many drops will depend on how strong you want it.
Step 4: spray onto stuff that’s stinky.

I have a bunch of different varieties of essential oil; the last batch I made I used geranium and lavender- refreshing and “green”. Tea tree oil is also supposed to be anti-bacterial, but I’m not in love with the smell. I guess I’m picky. Peppermint would be refreshing, rosemary smells kind of like cheap men’s cologne.
Here’s the thing- if you don’t already have cheap vodka and some essential oils, you might be better off just buying some official yoga mat spray and just be done with it. Amazon has different varieties for around 10 bucks, but it strikes me that you can buy a lot of cheap vodka for that, and some essential oils, which you can use for other things.
For example, I use the oil for homemade handcream, and just adding drops to my bathwater. I use the cheap vodka for…cheap vodka. Nah, I’ve made homemade cherry liqueur, and limoncello.  You know, not just screwdrivers and jello shots.

A year’s supply of garlic


A bucket of garlic, with the dirt still on it.

Last fall I planted around 50 cloves of garlic- just the boring kind from the grocery store. How do I know how many? Because I just harvested 50 heads of garlic, each of which started from a clove.
I don’t know if this will be a year’s supply- I know we don’t buy garlic every week, so 50 should certainly get us through the year, but many of the bulbs I harvested are smaller than the typical grocery store bulb. And, I need to save out some to plant again this fall.
Late September last year, I got a few heads of garlic, broke them up and put them into the ground- half into a brand new bed by the hillbilly goldfish pond and the other half in the Boy’s garden- a 2×2 space that I dedicated to him a couple of years ago so he wouldn’t dig holes randomly. Also, I was hopeful that if he was participating in his vegetable growth, he would be less picky. Not so much. I talked him into the garlic because he does like garlic bread… I planted the cloves about 2 inches apart, which was too close, it turns out. Next year, more space between.
Last week, the leaves were going brown, so I researched when to harvest, and discovered that the time to harvest was in fact, when the leaves were going brown, and while the soil was dry. The thunder was starting to reverberate while I was on the internet, so I went out before the rain came, so I could dig while the soil was still dry. I was extremely conscious of the metal digging fork in my hand as the storm moved in. Got it dug up and into a bucket before the rain, driven diagonal by the wind, came in.
The garlic is curing now- I knocked most of the dirt off the roots, and put the plants into bunches of about 20. I tied twine around the bunches, and I’ll hang them up in the garage, hopefully somewhere where I won’t bump into them every time I go in there. After they cure for a couple of weeks, I’ll trim off the roots and stems and store them in the basement.
I got most of my info from the fine people at http://www.gourmetgarlicgardens.com/growing.htm  which has great quirky information- more than you think you need to know about garlic, the native american flute and southwest US petroglyphs. it’s a rabbit hole right after my own heart.
I also plan to order some “boutique” garlic to plant this fall- with a bit more space, in a different location (rotate stuff in your garden, you know- the best way to avoid pests and disease is not plant the same stuff in the same place year after year.)

You might be wondering, why grow your own? it is cheap and legal at the grocery- per pound, it might be the cheapest produce around. Think about this- if your garlic comes from California, or China, what does it take to ship it here? What kind of pesticides and fertilizer? What’s the carbon footprint of your garlic butter? With very little work, and very little space, I have what I hope is a year’s supply.

Surprising Cilantro


I’ve been planting cilantro for years, enjoying the young, lower leaves in salsa, pad thai, and other yummy international dishes. I’ve always cursed when it would flower and go to seed, I’d pull it up and plant something else in its space. I even bought “large leaf” cilatnro seed, with promises from the seed catalog (oh, seed catalog writers, let me believe your sweet, sweet, lies…) that it was “slow to bolt.” Bolting means flowering and going to seed.
But this year, I let the cilantro in the boy’s garden flower, and it is lovely- cilantro is umbelliferous, cousin to carrots, queen anne’s lace and yarrow- beautiful white flowers that dance on the wind. Now, the seeds are forming, and once they turn brown, I’ll harvest the them. At this point, they’re called coriander, for some reason. I’ll plant some next spring, and use the seeds this winter to put in dry rubs, stir fries and maybe bread…I wonder if they’ll sprout, like alfalfa sprouts….that might be weird, actually,on a sandwich. Anyone tried sprouting coriander?

The leaves are called cilantro, and used in ethnic cooking

You can see why the type of plant is called "umbelliferae" the flowers come out of the stem in a shape like an umbrella.

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