Saturday, August 29, 2009

In spite of blight

Well, I harvested the last of the potatoes today. They were the little red ones, about half of the bushes were still green when I dug the main crop, so I left them and they plumped up a lot.
My neighbor had a large crop of green tomatoes last week, and with the past 3 days of rain she now has a large crop of split ripe tomatoes. I got a basket of beautiful yellow and red tomatoes, to help save some from rot.
Cold and damp is never a good recipe for tomatoes. This year has been pretty bad, luckily I only had 6 plants this year, so I didn't waste too much garden space on them. But, the ones I have harvested have been wonderful, all juicy and sweet. That's something at least.
The butternut squash vine is quickly taking over the empty potato row and the cucumber hill. I'm glad I allotted a lot of space for it, as it is I've had to loop it's tendrils back in a circle. I've got a few good looking squash on the vine, so I'm excited to get them ripe and seasoned and ready to eat.
The purple green beans are still chugging away. I have a good bunch of seed pods set and drying for seed, and I'm getting more new pods set every time I pick. I'm going to make up some baby food from some today I think.

I was a really good girl and I got some seeds planted for fall last week.
In the empty onion patch at the Franklin plot. I hoed the weeds out and loosened things up. Then I leveled out a bit and I planted little 1 foot rows a few inches apart. I have beets, arugala, kale and spinach seeded. The past few days of damp followed by the waxing moon should have them sprouting this week. If it stays damp and chilly until fall these crops should still produce pretty well. If the goddess decides to toss 90 degree weather at us for a couple of weeks I'll have to provide them with some shade so they don't die. If I'm really on the ball I will plant another little bit next weekend to increase my odds of a good harvest.

Tis the season to be considering garlic crops for next year. Start getting your bed prepared, get your bulbs ordered, or picked out of your crop from this year. They'll need to go in sometime in October. I've picked out a few heads from this years crop to replant. It won't be as much as I'd like to grow, but I think it's the best balance I can do right now. They are safely in a little paper bag, clearly labeled with "Garlic Crop 2010." Covered and enclosed in something is important to keep them dry and dormant and at their best for planting. (And uneaten :-D )

Enjoy the last few weeks of summer, even if they are chilly.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Potatoes! The grand finale!

Well, I actually harvested potatoes. I think I got about 10pounds, maybe a little more.
I really thought the flowering was a bust and I wouldn't get anything, I thought the cold dampness was just rotting them out of the ground.
But, I stuck a pitchfork into the ground to investigate, and unearthed decent little potatoes. (Really, really glad the whole pitchfork in the ground thing worked, because I didn't have a clue how to harvest potatoes, I just had a vague memory of reading in a book somewhere that it could be done with a pitchfork.)
It turns out that the larger half, the southern half, of the row was the Yukon Gold potatoes. These turned out larger underground too. Very tasty. I love 'em. Potatoes were about the size of my fist.
The smaller plants in the northern half of the row were the little red potatoes. These are the favorites of several members of my family. They ended up as large fingerlings I think.
Both colors had a couple of plants that were busts, but equally, both had plants that were amazing.

Thoughts to take with me to next year?
Hilling up was a pain. Growing the potatoes vertically would compound that problem. Until that problem is solved, maybe I should plant the potatoes in a trench and then "fill in" instead of hilling up.
Try and get a potato/garlic storage bin out of one of the woodworkers I know. Something with a couple of large bins for potatoes and a couple covered baskets for garlic, or a space with hooks to hang braids of garlic.
This years experiment definitely broke even, I think in order to really save a significant amount I would need to plant more.

All in all a fairly easy and tolerant crop. I think I will be planting a row in future gardens.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Free food

I like to play a "game" when I'm cooking to see how close to $0 I can get and still have a balanced, satisfying and tasty meal.

Breakfast is pretty easy, oatmeal bought in bulk, flavored with raisins and cinnamon also bought in bulk. Literally pennies. Bonus points for easy to store and easy to find in bulk. :-D If I ever get to raise chickens, I'll be able to make free veggie/herb omelets. *drool*

Lunch of peanut butter and homemade jelly on homemade bread works out to <50cents. Lately I've been eating my zucchini relish with cheese and mustard on a sandwich, and that works out to around 50cents.

Peach Lemonade has been my drink of choice this week. I can't take all the credit for this one though, as my mother gifted me the lemons. But, the frozen peaches are all mine, bought and frozen last year.

Dinner tonight was pretty good, I fed 3 adults for a total of <5$. That's <$1.66 per person. Cheese tortellini with a fresh vegetable and herb tomato sauce. All I had to buy was the 4$ bag of tortellini and the cheese. I tossed together a gorgeous tomato, (the first off the vines this year!) an onion, a zucchini, a bell pepper and 4 garlic cloves with a handful of basil and oregano from my containers. Sauteed it all up in a pan, ladled it onto tortellini and sprinkled with a little Parmesan or mozzarella.

Had I bought all the veggies that went into it, the meal would have cost around $9. So, I saved my family $4. I easily do a meal like this 100 times a year, that's $400 I'm skimming off the already thrifty habit of cooking at home. That's not a bad return on an investment of a few hours a week into the gardens.

It's money not going to giant farms in California, it's money not being added to the tab with Chile, it's gas not being used to ship me fresh veggies or jars of sauce. Plus, it's ridiculously healthy and tasty. What's not to love?

You know you want that kind of excitement in your kitchen. Fall planting of garlic is coming right up, and it's a great time to get a garden started.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Party underground!

I love parties. Even when (especially when) it's for a 3 year old. :-)
It was little Willie's birthday Weds, so Becky and Adam (my best friends) hosted a party in their newly completed shell for their bermed house.
Becky has been building this house for a year now, and she has at least a couple more months of work before they can really start living in it. The project is huge and amazing and I've been fortunate enough to get to help her a little bit. From the first guidelines hammered into the field, through the massive hole digging and endless rounds of support, insulation and concrete pours, I've got to see it all. When she's finally done she'll have a 1200 sq foot house, made out of insulated concrete and half buried. Even without windows or doors or the berm, that shell is breezy and cool even in 90+ degrees. And the view from the roof... *drool*... awe inspiring.
So, it's been a lot of work, and it was really nice to get friends and family together and see more of the transformation from construction site to home.
Here's some shots taken during the roof pour:

I made Willie a stuffed alien for his birthday, as Becky plans to do his new room in a space/rockets theme. It turned out a tiny bit lopsided, but not so much a 3 year old would notice. Half of the fabric I used was free, given to me as a scrap from one of my mother's friends. A little bit of hand sewing, some buttons for eyes, stuff it and voila! An almost free present.

I'm reminded of a conversation I had with my father once. He would always make these elaborate valentines for us girls, every year, by hand. One year it was a spectacular butterfly made out paper and holding candy. I asked him, "How do you make it look like a butterfly?" He told me, "I just keep cutting till it looks right, then I stop."

It's good advice. Whether you're making a butterfly, a stuffed alien or a giant concrete house. The trick is to just start cutting and when it looks right, stop. :-)

Becky, I love you, you've done a great job, it totally looks like a house, and it feels like a home.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


As promised a week ago, another installment in my thoughts on bad habits.

Everyone has bad habits. Things you do because it's easier or cheaper, even though you know it's bad for you and you'll end up paying for it in the end. Things you do because it's routine, even if that routine doesn't make any sense.

In my opinion Americans have a driving habit. For decades government subsidies have assured the American populace cheap gas. Combined with urban planning that has focused primarily on the freeway, and you have what Kunstler over at Clusterfuck calls a state of happy motoring. Drive ins, drive ups, drive throughs, all depending on ever increasing amounts of fossil fuels coming from ever decreasing supplies found on the other side of the world. This habit is so unsustainable it's laughable. Pipe dreams of electric cars or hydrogen cars or cars that run on corn, just aren't going to cut it. The cold hard truth is Americans are going to have to figure out how to drive less in the near future.

This is not a comfortable thought for most people. Even with my dear husband it's a hard sell sometimes. Our family has only one car, a small two door Honda Civic. When our dear son was born, Dave was sure we needed to get a larger "family" car. Now, I'll grant him, the infant rear-facing car seat is a pain with the small car. The front passenger seat can't recline back when the baby is in the car. But, that small inconvenience will be gone once Rowen hits 1 year old and then we'll all fit quite nicely in the car. Most of the time, Rowen isn't even in the car. Most of the time, that car takes Dave to work and gets him home, and that's it. Needless to say, we didn't get a bigger car. But most Americans just assume that everyone needs their own car and preferably something big enough to fit a soccer team in. This is a problem. As a nation, we can not afford the cost of all these cars. The cost to the environment, the cost to import oil, the cost to maintain our expensive highway system, the personal ownership costs... I could go on, but I think you get my drift.

So, that brings us to the question, how do we break these habits? How do we ease ourselves into a transition before we find ourselves looking at 6$ a gallon and no concept of how to get to work?

Start slow. Look into bikes for the family. Most children can probably get themselves to school on a bike, since most neighborhoods are built around schools. Do you live within 6 miles of your work place? You could probably bike to work. With a little practice 12 mph is not a hard pace to keep up on a bike in town and that means a nice 30 minute commute on a bike. Not only do you get to work for free, but you save money on a gym membership too. :-) If you routinely have to carry a laptop or briefcase, look at the wide assortment of panniers available for bike commuters. You'll easily find one that holds your laptop and a change of clothes.

Easier yet, walk more. How many times have you driven the 2 blocks to the nearest gas station just to get a coke or coffee? That's utterly ridiculous, stop it. Just put on some sneakers and walk. I try to do most of the errands during the day with Rowen in his stroller. We walk to the grocery store, the post office, the hardware store, the library, my doctor, one of my garden plots and occasionally to the laundromat. We've lived in two places since Rowen joined us, and both places I was able to do this. Most urban dwellers live within a few miles of these staples. And a few miles is walkable. 100%, not a pain, barely break a sweat even with a baby, WALKABLE. The average American needs to walk more anyway. Studies show that a healthy adult should walk close to 6 miles a day to stay healthy. You're not going to get that by walking from your car to your cubicle. Why pay someone 30$ a month to do it on a treadmill when you can get out and meet your neighbors and smell the flowers and get your errands done all at the same time!

If you absolutely HAVE to use a car to get to work, whether it's too far away or there's 3 feet of snow on the ground, there are still ways to minimize your usage. Carpool, with your spouse, with your neighbor, with your co-worker, there are lots of ways to make this work. Next time you're sitting at a red light during rush hour, amuse yourself by trying to find vehicles with more than one person in them. Keep your car in good condition, properly inflated tires, clean air filters and proper levels of oil can improve your gas mileage significantly. Make do with a smaller car. Sure it's nice to know you can haul the entire soccer team, but how often are you actually driving around with your car full? If 80% of the driving is you and your carpool buddy getting to work, perhaps the Excursion SUV is unnecessary.

Look at your car habit. Is it out of control? Is it using up too much of your monthly budget? Are you totally dependent on your car? What are your backup plans? The day gas hits 6$ is NOT the time to try biking to work. You need to start now, start new habits, work out the kinks before you have to rely on them. Get involved with your local bike community and work to increase the bike lanes in your town. I know here in Des Moines our local bike group has successfully lobbied to put a bike lane in on Ingersoll. It went before the city council last night in fact, after passing unanimously in committee. Or start scoping out bus routes if you're not up to biking. Bus systems take time to adjust to demand, if every American waits till the last second to switch to buses, the buses are not going to be able to handle the influx.

It is possible to break the driving habit, and I argue it's healthier for our country and healthier for ourselves.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Buried in produce

Well, I think my gardens have finally gotten over their soggy blahs. In the past 4 days I've harvested:
Downtown West -- 7+ pounds of green beans
Downtown East -- 14 squashes, 5-10 pounds of potatoes
Franklin -- 2+ pounds of carrots, 26 garlic, ~75 onions, 8 kohlrabi
Containers -- 2 eggplant, 1 bell pepper, handfuls of herbs

So, yesterday I was a good gardener and I preserved some of the excess.

My pretty purple green beans made 5 quarts, plus dinner and I still have a couple pounds to eat on for the next few days. I love how pretty the colors are when I pour the boiling water over the purple beans and they turn green.

Carrots made 3 quarts, plus an ice tray full of tasty baby food.
I'm hoping this weekend to make pickles and relish out of a bunch of the zucchini.

The potatoes, onions and garlic are all outside curing. This step is important so they'll dry out a bit and store better.

Of course, now I have huge sections of my gardens empty of veggies. I'm going to try and plant some root veggies for fall harvest. It's tough to get seeds started in the summer, but worth the effort I think. I'm going to try for carrots and beets and parsnips and some greens.
I'll leave you today with a picture of my Cthulhu carrot.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Mmm Beans!

Well, it took until August, but I finally got my first crop of green beans out of the Downtown West plot. I filled a grocery bag half full! There's at least 5 pounds of beans in there. I also harvested 10lbs of squash. I'll have to try and can some of them this week.

Speaking of, Mom and I canned corn this weekend. We got a bushel of corn from a local farmer, we grilled a few ears up with lunch and still got 22 pints of corn. It worked out to under 1$ a pint. Mom and I halved the pints, so I have 11. Should do just fine for my family's corn needs this winter.

Best tip ever for getting corn off the cob -- Use a Bundt pan and a sharp knife. I've yet to try a corn gadget that actually works to get corn off the cob quickly. The Bundt pan is a stroke of genius though. Put the ear of corn on end on the center peak of the pan, use the knife to cut down one side, the kernels fall into the large bowl of the pan and the ear stays up and out of the pan and easy to cut.

I'll be digging up a potato bush this week to check on things down below. Keep your fingers crossed for me. :-)