Tuesday, March 30, 2010

More Tomatoes! And Artichoke!

Romanesco Artichoke
Schimmeig Creg Tomato
Sandul Moldovan Tomato

Catchin Up

Well, wow, was I sick! I had a mysterious stomach thing that first instantly laid me out (as in, one minute I was putting on my overalls to go and plant peas and the next minute I was curled up in bed practically unable to move)and then morphed into this weird alien presence in the abdomen causing all sorts of intestinal distress as well as the most incredible churning and gurgling. I swear, it sounded like there was a creature living in there and trying to fight its way out. It was miserable and nasty, and it took almost 5 full days to feel completely rid of it. I feel pretty normal now, finally, thank the heavens. I don't want to go through anything like that any time soon. Ever.
So, while I was at death's door, upstairs plant babies were springing to life. We had massive gains in the onion and tomato world, and even the first two eggplants have showed their cute little green heads! I tried to take some pictures of the actual sprouts but my camera was dying and they came out really purple---I'll try again later. For now, meet:
Amish Paste Tomato
Bedfordshire Onion
Listada De Gandia Eggplant
Purplette Onion
Ringmaster Onion

Hillbilly Tomato
Hahnstown Yellow Tomato
Cherokee Purple Tomato
Cannibal Tomato Eggplant


Walla Walla Sweet Onion
Martino's Roma Tomato

But wait, there's more!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Live Seedling Blogging

some times I find myself staring at them so intently and closely that I feel I must be embarrassing them.
But the few moments every morning and every evening that I spend with them make me feel immediately at peace.

An Exciting Development in the Tomato World

Costoluto Genovese Tomato
Just look at that thing. I love its ruffled shape. It is apparently a very, very rich tasting Italian heirloom. I can't wait.

By the end of today I think I will have some more onion news, as well as possible parsley and perhaps more tomatoes. Still nothing on the eggplant and pepper front, but that's okay. They have time.
I am driving myself crazy trying to decide if I should start any of the vining guys (cukes, squash, melons) inside. All their seed packets say "not recommended", but I did start my squashes indoors last year. Also, I think maybe if I get them going indoors it will give me more time for succession planting the cukes. As in, the cukes will take over the vine spot where the peas are going in (TODAY!!!) on a trellis in the middle of the biggest raised bed. If I start the plants indoors, I can let my peas go longer before I need to pull them up to make room.....Thoughts?
I'm committed to planting the corn, beans and squash in Three Sisters formation in hills around the garden. (not in the raised beds) I am hoping to alternate them with potato tires for a kind of vegetative/rubber fence effect. I watched a video on three sisters planting just the other day in which the woman did it super intensively (like 4 corn plants, 4 bean plants and 4 squash plants per hill) in a raised bed. I am totally down with that, but I wonder how necessary it is to start corn, beans and squash inside? Like I said before, I could spend all day puzzling over these things. And I've got work to do.
Today is a beautiful high in the sixties day after a rainy dreary yesterday. I think it is the perfect time to get in some peas, radishes, spinach, and salad greens. Whoop whoop!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Reds Come In To Their Own

After an early start by the purple vegetables, today's sprouters are a couple of reds.

Red Burgundy Okra
and finally! the first onion!

Long Red Florence Onion. I am so psyched about this onion because the long shape of it makes sense to me as a cook.
Oh! Speaking of onions, we seem to have a few still in the garden from the sets I planted last year. I am tempted to buy some more sets and stick them all around so that there is a somewhat steady supply of onions. They also might help to keep the neighborhood cats from using the garden as a potty.

Ladies and Gentlemen, We Have Tomato

I am in absolute awe of

Black Krim Tomato! Jumpin off after just three days! Way to go, bud!

Also making their first appearance today are the kohlrabis

I've got a mixed packet of purple and white kohlrabi seeds so hopefully I'll have both. The purple ones look SOOOOOOO freaky! Can't wait. What nice pickles you will make.....

Monday, March 22, 2010

More Purple Vegetables!

Rubine Brussels Sprouts, and

Violetta di Chioggia Artichoke.

Welcome, little purple guys!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Today's Sprouters

purple cape cauliflower. This is super exciting! I grew some really late in the season last year and just got a few florets. So VERY PURPLE!!!

christmas drumhead cabbage (I am not sure this is an accurate photo---some pictures showed it more cone shaped, but "drumhead" to me sounds more round. we'll just have to wait and see!)

blue curled scotch kale

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Meet the Babies

I spent part of today downloading pictures of all the varieties of vegetables I am growing, so I can introduce them as they sprout.
First up we have the broccolis:

This is supposedly the Calabrese variety of broccoli. I couldn't find a picture of Thompson's that looked any different, so I guess all my broccolis will look like this. Woo!
Today we also have escarole:

a bitter Italian salad green. I am learning to love it. I'm good with most of them except for frisee and raddicchio.
Three out of four kales have also sprouted as of today:


Nero di toscana (Italian Black Kale) and

Red Russian Kale. There are also a couple sprouts of red russian kale hanging out in the garden that rebby noticed today when she was starting to weed the patch next to the house. Rock!
Also making an appearance are:

Long Island Improved Brussels Sprouts, which I grew very successfully last year, and

White Wallaby Cauliflower

So far so good guys! I'll try to keep up with the introductions as things sprout, but once the eggplants and peppers and tomatoes take off it's gonna be crazy up in here!

Welcome Spring!

It's the equinox, and I celebrated by spending most of the day in the nursery with the babies. In fact, I started a whole bunch more babies! The peppers were on schedule to start today, but according to my chart tomatoes aren't due until April 2nd. But I figured a)everybody's doing it and b)I was up there anyway with potting mix all over me and c)it disturbed my sense of symmetry to have 5 trays instead of six. So I went for it. I hope they will appreciate the extra couple weeks to get started. I also hope they will not punish me with legginess. It's my worst fear.
Anyhow, starting heirloom tomato seeds feels like very important work. When you have an envelope of 10 tiny seeds, you have to be extra careful and make sure any extras go back in the envelope instead of all over the floor, like the kohlrabhi did. I am a little concerned that anything else I may start out of this potting mix will have a dose of kohlrabhi in with it. The seeds spilled out the bottom of the envelope onto the floor and into the potting mix bag. Murphy's Law style.
Aside from that little mishap, the day was delightful. I listened to Rhapsody's "Big Hair" radio while I planted, and I hope the babies appreciated the Motley Crue and Accept as much as I did.
After everybody was planted, I spent another half hour with the radio making a seed starting spreadsheet. Oh, excel. I used to know how to use all of it's features but now I pretty much just use it to make charts. But oh, the charts! Love it.

This photo captures not even HALF of the spreadsheet. I have thus far planted 56 varieties of vegetables. This is insanity for two people, but I plan to use a lot of the produce at the restaurant. So not sooooooo crazy. And, I am keeping in mind the reality that not everything will succeed. So having a few backup varieties is not a bad idea. Still. I feel a little nuts.
Here's how it's looking so far:

Everybody gets rotated between the grow lights and the sunny window. The early sprouters got first dibs on the spring sunshine today!

Tune in to the next post to meet them!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Some Undocumented Failures

I know I only talked about one success, but I'll get to some more later.
Let's talk about failure.
First of all, remember how cocky I got about my yogurt? How it was just the easier thing ever? Well, it was----the first time. The second batch did not set up at all, and I am still not sure exactly what I did wrong. I think I might have just not been precise enough about the temperature or the measuring---I think what I must have done is put the yogurt culture in to the milk when it was too hot, thus killing all the beneficial guys. Whoops. I was totally humbled in a matter of minutes. I decided to try to salvage it by heating it up again, but at that point the milk totally separated.
So-----yogurt cheese! It's actually really delicious. I drained all the whey out to use in future fermentations and then rinsed the curds and put them in a container with some onion and dill. Real yummy. So although it was a total FAILURE of a yogurt, it was a resounding success of a yogurt cheese. Cool. Next time I get a gallon of milk I really want to make paneer. That seems to be a super simple cheese too.
The next failure I am sorry to report is my latest batch of saurkraut. I kind of had a feeling when I was cutting it that something was not working out right---in contrast to the juicy explosion of the previous batch, I had to WORK that cabbage to get any liquid out. I made sure that the liquid level covered the veg when I put the weight on top, but then I did not go back and check it regularly. Today I realized that there was some mold growing around the lip of the crock, and when I took the weight out the kraut was totally dry. It smelled fine, but I am paranoid enough to just put it on the compost pile and try again the next time I get my hands on a cabbage. So, kraut fail. Luckily I have some pickled radishes and carrots in the fridge if I need a fix. Which I just might tonight cuz my throat is feeling scratchy and I am a little run down. I always seem to crave fermented foods when I'm starting to get sick. Kombucha to the rescue!

The Thing About Gardening Is....

there is just no right answer. Gardening is about trying, doing, failing, succeeding, making notes, making plans, trying something else, reading, talking to people, getting advice, applying it judiciously.
An example: way back when I first started looking at seed catalogs because they started coming in the mail (this was like October) I stumbled across this nice online planning calendar calculator where you plug in your last frost date and then it calculates for you when to start/plant various things. I thought this was super cool, and I filled it in and printed it out and stuck it on my wall. I entered a last frost date of May 15th as per various and sundry resources I found on the web. According to this planner, beginning of March is the time to start onions, cole crops and eggplants, and tomatoes and peppers shouldn't be started until mid April.
Then I come across this very interesting and informative site which basically tells me I've already missed the boat on my onions and in fact should have started them in JANUARY!
And, I've seen lots of people starting their tomatoes now. And, people are planting peas already! These are all people in my area. They are all doing different things which are contrary to the things I've read.
And you know what? That's fine.
The best way to learn is to try and the best way to improve is to try something different. If we all always waited until April to start the tomatoes, we might never know that they'll do fine going out a couple weeks earlier. If I was to throw in the towel on my onions now and go buy sets, I might never know if there is such a thing as later season onions. Maybe they'll be small, but I'm willing to give them a shot.
Some other things I've done WRONG: buried a bunch of parts cut out of sprouting potatoes from the cabinet in the middle of the garden bed, after reading a very quick Martha Stewart instructable about potato planting. I did not have high hopes, but despite the fact that I didn't do a great job of hilling up the dirt, and the sprouts were just pieces cut from taters that I otherwise used.....POTATOES HAPPENED. In abundance. Probably not the abundance that they would have had I used proper seed potatoes and hilled up the dirt correctly, but they happened. Same with corn: I planted only five corn plants, which every reference will tell you is not enough. Somehow all five of them managed to produce one cute little tasty ear. This year I plan to do better by my corn, and squash, and beans, by following a three sisters garden plan for them.
I had a bunch of failures last year too: strawberries(killed them in strawberry pots---this year I'm putting in a proper bed), root crops in general(soil too compacted--this year I am adding sand and trying to dig LESS as one of the workshops I went to at PASA suggested that double digging actually causes the soil to compact and stunt the roots!)kohlrabis I started way too late, pumpkins I totally forgot about, salad greens decimated by groundhogs, and everybody's favorite late season tomato blight.
BUT, each one of the failures taught me something important, and made me more dedicated to my garden. I don't think anything brings out my inner new age flake more powerfully than gardening. For me it's all about honoring the earth and honoring our ancestors and preserving biodiversity and improving the foodshed, and respecting the hell out of the tiny life that is in every plant. Even the damn weeds.
So here we are at the middle of March.

It's like being a painter with a blank canvas. I've got so many plans and schemes. I've got to figure out a way to trellis 14 different kinds of beans. Today when I was walking home past the church on the corner, I actually contemplated for a second how hard it would be to rip out a section of the cast iron fence. Really, they're not using it, and it would be perfect. About six months ago there were several sections of cast iron fence sitting outside of Construction Junction, getting cheaper and cheaper until someone with more forethought snapped them up. Oh well, I'll wait my turn. I've got to start gathering tires for potatoes! I've got to get some strawberry crowns, and some dirt! If I let it, gardening could take up every single waking moment of my day. I am starting to feel like I am becoming what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Some Undocumented Successes

I've been making a lot of things in the kitchen lately and not photographing them.
Partially this is because I don't really like my camera phone picture quality, and partially just because I've been trying to spend less time nerding out in front of the computer and more time snuggled in bed with my honey watching RuPaul's Drag Race. Still, I do want to record these things for my own benefit at the very least.
First up, I made yogurt. I followed Sandor's instructions from Wild Fermentation, and it could not have been easier. Here's exactly what I did:
1)poured milk(hormone free, pasture raised non homogenized and "gently" pasturized, from the co-op---I am pretty sure it was Hartzler's) into a quart sized mason jar.
2)poured it from the jar into a copper bottom saucepan.
3)stuck the candy thermometer I got inherited from a friend's parents' divorce about 7 years ago into the pan.
4)heated the milk gently to 180.
5)when it reached 180, took it off the burner and let it cool to 110.
6)when it was almost 110, I rinsed out the mason jar and the playmate round beverage cooler I got for $2.75 at the thrift store last weekend with hot water.
7)added 1 tablespoon of plain whole milk brown cow yogurt to the hot milk and stirred it up.
8)poured the innoculated milk into the jar, screwed the top on, and dropped the jar into the cooler.
9)screwed the top on the cooler and set it on the stovetop above the pilot light for about 9 hours.
10)opened up the cooler, took out the jar, opened it up, and spooned out some creamy delicious yogurt!
It was that easy. I will say that my yogurt has a slightly weird viscosity, somewhere between honey and store bought yogurt. However I only noticed that when spooning it out---the 'mouthfeel" is fantastic. The fact that I made this yogurt myself makes me want to eat it 1000x more than the yogurt from the store that is always sitting in the fridge. Plus it looks so pretty in the mason jar. I am a convert.
Before I made the yogurt even, I made some granola to eat on top of it. I make granola all the time for the restaurant so it is pretty much intuitive for me now, but I did stumble upon the magical addition of just a little bit of molasses to the brown sugar and vegetable oil mix I usually use(don't use honey for the restaurant granola so it can be vegan.) The dark sweetness of the molasses seemed to help the oats toast even better and seriously upped the crunch. Love that crunch. To this home batch I added slivered almonds, cinnamon, ginger, and then after the oats and nuts toasted, some dried apricots and cranberries. I am making a serious effort to incorporate fruits and vegetables into my life. 5 a day? are you kidding me? Not in the winter. Not without some serious planning.
I've got more undocumented successes to share but right now I have to get ready to go to a Bioneers planning meeting! And then to a Local Foods Showcase! And maybe a trip to the Strip District! And bonus Walk In The Sunshine!