Short on rupees? Aren’t we all.


I used to spend a lot of time on a message board at You Grow Girl.com  and there was a thread once about the advisability of re-using potting soil, and using fillers in the bottoms of pots to take up space, rather than filling an entire pot with soil. There was a lot of advice back and forth about using Styrofoam peanuts, or aluminum cans, in order to avoid buying that extra bag of potting soil. There was another poster, who was on the boards frequently, a guy from India, and he responded to this thread uncomprehendingly, “Why are you so worried, a bag of soil only costs a few rupees, just buy another bag of soil!”

Well, maybe you don’t have very many rupees to start with, or maybe you just spent a bunch of rupees on a really pretty flower pot, or ski tickets, or new shoes…

I do wind up buying new bags of soil every year, of course, because I have a lot of containers. I also re-use soil. I typically dump my annual pots out into a big bin, as well as the pots of things that were supposed to be perennial but didn’t get that information and died anyway. I dump the pots out, break up clumps and stir in more compost.

The other strategy I have been using is to fill space in the bottom of big pots with stuff other than soil. Like I said before, I have seen recommendations for using styrofoam peanuts or pop cans. The one time I tried styrofoam, it was really gross when I tried to dump it and reuse the soil- muddy foam chunks.  It was such a mess, I never want to try it again.

Last year, I read on the interwebs) about a development group  in urban Mexico which was helping people grow their own food in 5 gallon buckets. They got free buckets from stores, but their soil was in short supply, and they were low on rupees (er, I mean pesos) too. They did have access to weeds, sticks and branches. They experimented with chopping up twigs and weeds and filling the buckets most of the way, then filling to the top with good soil. Then they would plant tomatoes and other plants. By the end of the growing season, the sticks and leaves would have decomposed, and they would have rich new soil for the next time.

So, I read this last year, thought about my shortage of pesos, rupees, er, dollars… and thought to myself, I have weeds, sticks and branches… I tried it with two pots, I used twigs no bigger than a pencil to fill most of the pot, then a big wad of dandelions. Since I knew it would break down, I filled it to within a couple of inches of the top, then put in the decent soil and plants.

bucket of weeds- there's more where that came from

One pot held an artichoke, and it didn’t do well at all. I suspect it was because when we left town it got too dry. I was counting on all the organic matter in the bottom to be a reservoir for moisture, but the roots just hadn’t gotten that far down yet when we went on vacation.

The other pot had a pomegranate tree, and it is doing fine a year later. I brought it inside last fall, it went dormant for a couple of months, then woke up again and started putting out leaves with the sun that came through the basement window. The soil level did sink down- it started an inch below the rim, now it is probably 4 inches below the rim.  I had planned on re-potting the pomegranate anyway, the sinking soil just accelerated the process.

In the future, I don’t think I’ll use this method for perennials, it is kind of a pain to re-pot anyway, so doing it twice as often doesn’t seem to be worth it.  I have done it again this year, with a pot of lilies mixed with  sugar snap peas- I want the peas on the patio for snacking on, and the lilies are for color. I could say I want the lilies to act as living trellises for the peas, but that would imply I had planned ahead.  I have a couple other big pots that need filling, for geraniums and stuff, and we certainly have enough weeds and sticks.

You can grow this- microgreens


mmmm...microgreens

Yuppie chow. Rabbit Food. Microgreens. All the same thing- bags of tiny salad mix work out to 20 bucks a pound, but really, you can grow this, right now, on your kitchen counter.
I got a packet of seeds at the store- Botanical Interests is a local company. Their “mild mix” has beet, red cabbage, kohlrabi, pak choi and swiss chard in it. The sprouts are supposed to emerge in 5-10 days, and the leaves are ready to pick in around 25 days, once they get 1-2 inches tall.
You can cut them, toss into a salad or onto a sandwich, and the plants keep growing there in the pot. A few days later, there is enough for another salad- theoretically.
I put them into a 6″pot on the kitchen counter- they don’t need much light until they sprout, and once they sprout, I’ll move them to where they’ll get more light. There is enough in the package for a whole flat, but I don’t want to give up that much space for it. It suits me better to get a pot going now, then start another in a few weeks, that way as the first pot is petering out, the new one is coming into production.  As the weather gets warmer, I can grow this same mix outside as well. So can you- you can grow this.

I scattered the seeds thinly on moist soil, and I gently spray it twice a day with the kitchen sink sprayer.

Roasting Tomatoes


Tomatoes with tags. Sigh.

There are no more homegrown tomatoes in my freezer. A moment of silence please. Thank you.

I have been making this weird gruel to pack in my lunches- brown rice and lentils cooked in homemade chicken stock, with cherry tomatoes added after cooking. So yummy, and pretty good for me, but no one at home will try it. Maybe if I stop calling it “this weird gruel?” Who knows.

Last week when I saw that I had used up the last of my tomatoes, I bought some canned stewed tomatoes and added it to the weird gruel. Ack. Bleah. Disappointing. I still ate it, but I didn’t love it.

This just isn’t a good time of year for tomatoes, as I probably don’t need to tell you. I probably could  and should be eating some kind of winter vegetable instead, like squash or rutabaga or something. Sigh. Next summer, I’ll make sure I don’t run out of tomatoes in February…

I found some “hothouse tomatoes” from Mexico for 88 cents a pound, and figured I would roast them. Roasting vegetables concentrates the flavor by evaporating the water and caramelizing the sugar. These were monsters- a little under a pound each, and pale. I sliced them into wedges, put them on a sheet pan and drizzled them with olive oil and basalmic vinegar, then a sprinkle of pepper and salt.

Photo credit: The Girl

I roasted them at 225 for about 2 hours. Then I forgot to take a picture.

This is another one of those non-recipe recipes- it is more about technique than ingredients. You can roast pretty much anything this way- peppers, squash, probably even rutabagas.

CSI- Meyer Lemon


Now, that's what I call a dead parrot.

A corollary to the idea that I should be knitting (and skiing) at the top ten percent of my ability, is that if I am not killing plants, I am not challenging myself as a gardener. Well, I killed my Meyer lemon tree, so I guess that counts.
It isn’t terribly mysterious why, though. Not enough water.
Interesting fact, more houseplants are killed by overwatering than underwatering.

Not in my house, you say, well maybe. Usually, overzealous plant owners water too much, which waterlogs the roots. Roots need oxygen, and when they can’t get it, the plant dies.
Not in this case, however. The Boy’s room has windows facing south and west, and he is generous enough to let me keep my plants in there- in the winter he lives in the jungle room, essentially. I usually go in there every few weeks with a jug of water and splash everything. Most of the plants are in fairly large ceramic pots, but the Meyer lemon is…was in an 8 inch diameter clay pot. The splash of water every couple of weeks was not enough to keep the soil moist.
When I discovered the wilty leaves, I overcompensated by thoroughly soaking it in the kitchen sink. It died anyway.
Cue the sad music.
I’ll get another Meyer lemon- try to keep it going. I can’t decide whether I should buy a larger size than what I started with (I paid roughly $10 for a tiny plant in a 2.5 inch pot) so I can just pretend I didn’t lose a year’s growth…what do you think?

Bagged Apples, update


It isn't beautiful, but it isn't as visually intrusive as I thought it would be. That is, I never looked at the tree and thought, "dang, that's ugly!"

Back in June, I wrote a post about growing apples organically by using paper lunch bags to form a barrier against the critters that might want to lay eggs in my apples.  I just picked the apples a few weeks ago, and it worked pretty well.
Some of the bagged Golden Delicious fell off in July or so. My total “harvest” from the Golden Delicious tree is only 7 apples. Sigh.
My other tree (name unknown) had a zillion apples on it, and I only wound up bagging a dozen or so before my stapler died. The bags have to be removed before I pick them so they have a chance to redden. I did pick one, to test for ripeness, and it did need more time.

I will definitely do this again next year, with two differences.

I will put the bags on earlier, and thin the fruit at the same time. I’ll get bigger individual apples, without spraying poisons.

I will pay better attention to when to harvest. The sour apples, from the tree that was here when we bought the house, need time in the sun to ripen. I’ll have to pull the bags off well before the first frost date, which on average is mid September here on the Front Range of Colorado although we didn’t freeze in my yard until October, which is crazy.

Actually, one more difference- I’ll get a better stapler.

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.

She’s a sad tomato


One lonely ripe tomato was all I had as of August 29.

Up until this past weekend, I had only picked one ripe tomato off the Mexican Jungle that my veggie garden has become this year.  Because of the Mexican Jungle effect, I can’t tell you the name of the variety, because the little tag got swallowed up by greenery. Let’s just say  I planted things too close together, again.

On Friday, before we left for the mountains, I picked some beautiful chocolate cherry tomatoes, and a couple of Romas, and some more of these, whose name I don’t know. There are a ton more green ones, threatening to knock over the trellises. As long as we don’t get an early freeze (average first frost date here is September 15, but last year it didn’t happen until early October) the green ones will get a chance to ripen and become salsa, and salads and tomato sauce, and maybe dried tomatoes. Nom nom nom.

The grape tomatoes ripen a deep purple, and taste great on their own, but with these, I sliced them in half and threw them in with some pasta and vinaigrette. Now I have lunch this week.

According to my journal, these are "Chocolate Cherry", started from seed by a friend. They go dark, almost army green before they go purple. They are rich and sweet and filled with jelly.

Tinto de Verano


Tinto de Verano- summer wine. Waaaay classier than Bartles and Jaymes...

” (alcohol) is a common disinhibitor that works against the prioritizing capabilities of the forebrain… It helps transform shy people into gregarious ones, and can make the shy vivacious.”  “Thumbs, Toes and Tears” by Chip Walter

I’m not a beer drinker, and I have tried many of the non-beer options for when I’m at a party or barbecue, and would like to drink an adult beverage, but not get blitzed. There is a time and a place for blitzed, I guess, but a family barbecue is not either.  Well, maybe your family. When the weather is hot, sweet stuff is too cloying, most mixed drinks are too strong for me- nobody wants me to sing another chorus of “Margaritaville.”

Enter Tinto de Verano.  It’s fizzy lemonade mixed with red wine over ice. Yeah, that’s the recipe. Tall glass, lots of ice, red wine, top with fizzy lemonade.  It isn’t too sweet, or strong at all, but I can get a little loopy, get some nice social lubrication at the pool party. It isn’t enough of a “disinhibitor” to get me dancing on the table, and that’s a good thing.

You might be thinking that this is essentially a wine cooler, and you’d be right.  It is not nearly as sweet as most wine coolers, or hard lemonades or whatever so you can drink it all afternoon and not feel rotten.

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.

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