Category: In The Garden

From Summer to Winter-Changing Seasons on the High Plains

Two days ago it was 105 degrees Fahrenheit, or 40 degrees Celsius and now the chill feels cooler than the 41 degree Fahrenheit (5 Celsius) and we have gone from Summer to Winter in 48 hours. This temperature swing is not unusual for the High Plains. But the timing is a bit earlier than usual. Since I moved to this part of the world, the earliest snow, a mere dusting, occurred back in 1995 the third week in September. The latest seasonal switch occurred about a half dozen years later on the Monday before Thanksgiving.

Two days ago the forecast was calling for snow and a frost. So many, many hours were spent in the garden harvesting everything ripe, or close. Now the forecast has backed off a wee bit. A slight chance of sleet but the temperatures should stay above freezing. The work is not wasted, and the delay-if it happens- will allow the melons to ripen.

The harvest was focused on tender plants. Those that freeze as soon as the thermometer registers 32. So a plethora of tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant and peppers were plucked from the garden. Batches of salsa, spaghetti sauce and Lemon Basil Eggplant Caponata filled the house. Jars cluttered the counter tops. And the smell reminded me of all the Sunday Italian meals I enjoyed during college.

Summer to Winter Chores

Not all the crops were harvested. The melons are a risk, but they need another three weeks to ripen. The sweet potatoes are still growing like gangbusters and also benefit if the temperatures remain above freezing. Likewise with the potatoes and the peanuts.

The beans are at a variety of stages. A small amount were picked from the bush beans ahead of this summer to winter action. But the pole beans I left unpicked. Both the Cherokee Purple and the Blue Lake Pole are heirlooms. They are setting seed now. This year’s Cherokee Purple plants were grown from seed saved off last year’s plants. They are a mainstay in my garden.

I mounded straw around the artichoke, just to be on the safe side. Plus, that area of the garden is slated to have the frost hoop. Hopefully, the double coverage will protect a few key plants from this first wild summer to winter swing. While the Rosemary can handle temperatures down into the teens, the basil will not last the night if the temperature wobbles around the freezing point.

These next two nights are critical for the garden. I am hoping for a near miss. But if the freeze happens I will begin getting the garden cleaned up for the colder months.Harvested Peppers Summer into Winter

 

 

Eggplant-This Week’s Meal of the Week Star

This week, eggplant was the main ingredient of our star meal of the week. Pre-Covid-19 we only ate out once or twice a week so the Stay-at-Home aspect did not really impact our meal time. However we have kicked things up a notch to paraphrase a favorite chef. The Big Garden is beginning to produce more than just greens and we are really enjoying the fresh produce,

Eggplant-This Week’s Meal of the Week Star

The Big Garden has only two eggplant plants, reducing our supply from last year. So as of this week I have yet to can any. But we are reaping enough eggplant to want to mix up the preparation a bit.

Today I looked up eggplant recipes online. Easily catching my eye was a Bon Appetit article citing 57 recipes.

So I found one that I could make without a trip to the grocery store. Most of the ingredients came straight from the garden. I did make a few tweaks. A key component in the original recipe is Labneh- which is a strained yogurt/cheese concoction. I only had ½ cup yogurt so I blended that with sour cream and added some Savory Spice Mt. Olympus Greek Style Seasoning and called it good.

Econogal Fails as a Cooking Blogger (Again)

Of course this dish was so good there were no leftovers. And no pictures. But I am sharing my version of the recipe anyway. The pictures would be similar to those in the above website. We did make a few adjustments. The older I get, the less I worry about making recipes exactly as called for. (The exceptions are all related to baking.)

Need a Name

This dish really needs a good name. Even Bon Appetit just used a description to name the dish. Maybe a reader can help. Naming kids and animals is tough, naming meals is nigh impossible. The key ingredient is the eggplant but the grilled lemon just about stole the show. For now I will just name it No Leftover Eggplant! We ate every last morsel.

No Leftover Eggplant

2-3 Eggplants- Cut into ½ inch slices

Small Red Onion- thinly sliced

Whole Lemon-sliced approx. 1/4 inch thickness

1 Cup Mint-chopped

1 TBS White wine vinegar

2-3 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 Tsp  Savory Spice Mt. Olympus Greek Style Seasoning

1 Small garlic clove minced

½ Cup yogurt

½ Cup sour cream

 

 

Directions:

Lightly oil grill. Coat eggplant and lemon with Exra Virgin Olive Oil, grill eggplant for 5-8 minutes and lemon for 3-5 minutes. While the eggplant is grilling, thinly slice the red onion, chop the mint and combine with one tablespoon each of the Extra Virgin Olive Oil and white wine vinegar. Add the Savory Spice Mt. Olympus Greek Style Seasoning and the minced garlic.

 

Mix yogurt, sour cream and arrange on plate. Layer the  eggplant on the yogurt mixture. Cut the lemon slices in half and stir into onion and mint topping, tossing well. Pour atop the eggplant. This served two hungry adults as a main dish. Enjoy!

 

 

Seed Saving Tips and Tricks

I began seed saving just a few years ago and I still have a lot to learn. But I have had quite a few successes and thought I would share some tips and tricks. If you have additional information feel free to comment below.

Why Save Seed?

While some may practice seed saving to cut down on expenses, my primary reason is the fact seed producers like fashion designers change-up their production lines. While I like trying new varieties (or buying new shoes) I don’t always want to let go of my favorites.

Both my Five Star Lettuce and my Genuine Heirloom Marriage Tomatoes fall into this category. Locally, the plants are no longer sold. In fact, I can no longer find the seed for the tomatoes available on line. So seed saving allows me to keep planting and eating my favorite produce.

Seed Saving Experimentation

For me, a key to success in sowing saved seeds comes from experimentation. The Peanut Experiment from this past spring is one example. Peanut seeds do not need to be soaked prior to planting. In fact, my findings showed they germinated better when they were not soaked.

I have made a note of this in my gardening log just in case I forget this fact over the winter. Other experimentation with seed saving is also remembered and used. My Potato Experiment using a bag to grow the spuds was a bust. The potatoes do much better in the ground or in large boxes.

Self-seeding Crops

Of course, I also have areas of the garden where annuals are allowed to self-sow. The most notable is the Italian parsley patch. In addition to the plants dropping seed at the end of the season, I occasionally give the parsley and similar plants such as marigolds a hand by dragging my hand along the seed head and sprinkling the seed in the bed.

Tips and Tricks

  1. Make sure seed is ready to be picked and saved. The seeds need to have progressed beyond the green stage. Letting the seed dry on the plant is best.
  2. Store the seed in a cool, dry, dark place. Do your research. While a refrigerator drawer may seem ideal, better places exist. Seed Potatoes should not be stored below 50 degrees F., so this eliminates the fridge.
  3. Make sure the seed is clean. This does NOT mean washing. But brush extra dirt off and remove excess vegetation.
  4. Label your seeds.
  5. Do not keep damaged seed.
  6. If keeping garlic cloves for seeding, choose the biggest cloves.
  7. Store small seeds in envelopes.
  8. Larger seed can be stored in burlap or in the case of beans, plastic containers with room for air flow.

Pictures

I am still learning about saving seed. This means taking chances. For example, beet seed and Swiss chard seed can easily cross. Commercial growers do not have their production close. I have saved seed from two types of beets, Chioggia and Detroit Red. I also saved red and white stemmed Swiss chard. We will see what happens with my saved seed from these family crops next spring.

Enjoy the pictures.

Seed heads of lettuce
This dandelion effect on the lettuce indicates the seed is ready to harvest. The small black seeds are at the base of the puff bloom.
Close up of lettuce seed
The black seeds are easy to spot at the base of the puff ball.
Lettuce seed and seed head
Leaf lettuce. The seeds form at the base of the flower. The chaff can be separated much like wheat or it can stay mixed with the seed until planting.
Two types of beets
The differing beet varieties are easy to spot by contrasting colors. But the seed looks identical.
Beet stalks with seed.
Beet seeds, Chioggia on left and Detroit Red in the middle. A beet wintered over, hence the ability to save seed.
Beet root
A look at the beet root. I did not try to eat this wintered over beet.
Green beet seed
This beet seed is still green and not ready to harvest.
Immature seed heads
These seed heads are still green. No seed can be collected at this stage.

Econogal versus The Flea Beetles

Battle of the Flea Beetles

I am losing the ongoing battle with the flea beetles. They conquered my broccoli patch overnight. Their march through both the big garden and the side garden is disturbing. I can see why commercial farms use non-organic solutions. But I still prefer organic grown produce.

Home-Made Deterrents

I had switched to a garlic based solution instead of the oil base mixture I wrote about here. The garlic solution is a good deterrent but not a natural pesticide. Yet, it worked on the first army of flea beetles encountered last month. Or at least I thought it did.

This second invasion has been particularly large. I think many tiny eggs must have been laid by the first group. I did not see them and I looked. However, the larvae can live underground. The small off-white colored worm-like babies can eat seeds and roots before maturing into the beetle stage. The life cycle is less than a month.

Prime conditions for the flea beetles exist. The days are quite warm and no rain of any significance. My big garden is quite vulnerable because it is watered by a drip system. Yet hosing off the plants in the side garden and then spraying with the garlic mixture apparently needed to occur twice a day.

Surrendering to the Flea Beetle

At this point I plan to surrender to the flea beetle. I have pulled the broccoli, disturbed the ground to remove or expose the larvae, and planted a different crop. My plan is too start new brassicas at the end of this month. Then I will plant them in August for a fall crop. The small hoop covering that allowed the Swiss Chard to winter over should allow a fall or early winter harvest.

Crop rotation did not work this spring. The side garden was not a previous home to any brassicas. So I think my strategy going forward will be two-fold. First, I will optimize companion planting. I had a lot of luck last year with the garlic and cabbage combination. Research will be needed to find out what plants have a natural protection from flea beetles.

Second, I will start using the brassicas as a fall crop instead of a spring crop. The flea beetles disappear around the 4th of July. Life cycles are key to this plan. If you can nip things in the bud, infestations are lessened.

Further Information on The Flea Beetle

For sources on the flea beetle, I found this article on the internet helpful:  https://www.planetnatural.com/pest-problem-solver/garden-pests/flea-beetle-control/

I also consulted several books in my garden library. These include the Ortho publication Controlling Lawn and Garden Insects, Rodale’s All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. Also, Andy Tomolonis wrote Organic Hobby Farming which I highly recommend.

If you have additional ideas to help me in futures battles with the flea beetles, please leave a comment. Growing seedlings only to lose them to an invading army of insects is disheartening. The pictures below show the damage from as well as the size of the flea beetles.

Broccoli plant damaged by flea beetles
Decimated Broccoli

Review of Herb Books

Three Herb Books Reviewed

I love cooking with herbs. But I do not own a single culinary herb book. Most of my gardening books have a section on herbs or information on individual herbs. Additionally, I have four herb books mostly based on medicinal uses. They are all quite interesting to read but I have yet to fully utilize their information. I am going to talk about three of the herb books today.

Ortho’s All About Herbs

Maggie Oster is the author of Ortho’s All About Herbs. I own the 1999 edition and find it a compact reference guide. Even though it is condensed, only six pages devoted to culinary use of herbs and a similar number for medicinal use, the guide is chalk full of information. Not much white space is left on the page.

What I like best about this herb book is the table of Common Herbs and Their Uses on pages 8-11. A close second is the detailed index. Since it is a how-to book there are plenty of pages devoted to educating a novice. About half the book is devoted to individual plants. While Basil earns an entire page, most of the described herbs share space. Much like in a garden.

National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs

National Geographic Guide to Medicinal Herbs: The World’s Most Effective Healing Plants was co-authored by Rebecca L. Johnson, Steven Foster, Tieraona Low Dog, M.D. and David Kiefer, M.D. This book is impressive. Gorgeous photography and beautiful illustrations accompany eight chapters of herbal information.

Since this herb book focuses on medicinal use, the plants are grouped by which part of the body they aid. For example, Chapter Four covers herbs useful for digestive ailments. However, each herb is only covered under one section. But the authors do indicate alternative therapeutic uses.

Readers may find it interesting to discover the inclusion of plants not considered herbs. Perhaps the inclusion of edibles such as tomatoes and various berries is the reasoning behind the long title. Whether herb or non-herb, the information contained is extensive.

Medicinal Plants At Home

The third book I want to share comes to us via Spain. Marìa Trànsito Lòpez Luengo and Carlota Màñez Arisò are the co-authors of the informative herb book Medicinal Plants at Home. I like how the authors organized the book.

First, there is an overall introduction. Then, the herbs are broken into groupings for subgroups of individuals, travelers, children, the elderly, etc. There is a short section on using herbs throughout the house and then the herbs are typed by how they affect the body. The authors discuss if the herbs are used for relaxation, anti-inflammatory purposes or as an immuno-stimulant.

Each herb is discussed and photographed. The authors indicate uses and include precautions and if/when the herb is contraindicated. Further, the plant is described and natural habitat disclosed. A recipe for each is included under the remedies section.

Herb Books for the Herb Garden

I am still expanding my herb garden. Currently, my herbs have more culinary applications than medicinal. While I have added both rose hips and lavender to my bath water, I have yet to make any teas or poultices. My horehound is a wonderful ground cover but I do not know how to turn it into a cough drop.

A fourth herb book is quite different and I am still reading it. Therefore The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Healing Remedies will be reviewed at a later date.

Modern medicine has replaced herbal medicine at the household level. I truly do not personally know anyone who mixes their own concoctions. My comfort level at this point in time is quite low with respect to preparing my own medicinal therapies. But, I am interested in adding herbal teas to my repertoire.

Enjoy the slide show.

 

 

 

 

 

Update on The Peanut Experiment

Back in early February I began the Peanut Experiment. Since I am not engaged in a science fair project, my notes and observations have not been detailed. But I do want to share highlights from the experiment. Since it is now almost two months later I feel an update on the experiment is in order.

Update on Peanut Plants

The original plantings included six non-soaked seeds and twelve soaked seeds. The soaked seeds were divided between good and bad quality. I fully expected the soaked seeks to do the best. After all we eat the seeds of the peanut plant and they do have a crunch.

Boy was I wrong! This update shares just how wrong I was. The initial phase of the experiment began February 11. Click here to view the blog post. My February 2020 Wrap-Up shared photos of the first sprouts. At that time it looked like the soaked peanut seeds had the advantage.

Success Rate

However, only one soaked seed ever sprouted. One out of twelve is not a good success rate, just 8 %. But on March 5th a second of the non-soaked seeds popped through the seed starter mixture followed by another on March 8th. By the 21st of March, no other peanuts had sprouted. So, I planted non-soaked seeds in the cells without growth.

As you can see from the photo update, the peanut seed pushes up through the soil surface. The first of these new seeds pushed through the soil a week ago. A few days ago, I gently tugged at the non-sprouted seed. Roots firmly held in place, so I decided to wait a little longer before writing an  update.

The wait proved warranted. Three new sprouts have sprung . Two more cells have indications that soil is being pushed up. The surface of the crust is breaking.  Each peanut seed is planted at a depth of 1 ½ inches. Thus, basically towards the bottom of the cell. Yet the seeds surface before the green sprout appears. The roots are quite strong. Since peanuts are legumes, this makes sense to me.

Tray with small sedlings
Green growth emerging from peanut seed
Tops of seeds pushing through soil

Transplant Update in a Month

Peanuts need warm air to thrive and are damaged by even a light frost. So, I will not transplant these peanuts until after Mother’s Day. (We have had snow on the ground to usher in Mother’s Day.) However, once I do pop these into my raised row garden, I will post another update. I am quite excited about possibly transplanting as many as ten peanut plants started by seed into my legume row. Rotating crops is a gardening priority. Soon these peanut seeds will follow the peas and precede the beans into the legime row.

March 2020 Wrap-Up

Flowering Pear Tree March 2020 has been a long month. Covid-19 is a pandemic and has caused widespread damage. Both lives and economies will be impacted in the near future. I cannot foresee the long term consequences, but there will naturally be repercussions. So, I spend a small amount of time daily looking to the future.

Socio-economic Impact of Black Swan Events

If you have not read The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, I highly recommend finding a copy. Even though the book was published over a decade ago, I think you will find it relevant. In simple terms a Black Swan event is one that is highly improbable.

Back in January, I took notice when the city of Wuhan was placed on lock-down. Even though the mortality numbers were not necessarily statistically significant, the sheer fact that a city of millions lost the freedom to move about created a concern in my mind. The few I discussed this with did not see such an event happening in a democratic country. New York City was often cited as a comparison. Even I had trouble picturing a quarantine covering the five boroughs. But, I did not rule it out. Unfortunately that has come to pass not only in New York City but in other cities I love such as Milan, Italy. Or in cities and countries I yearn to visit.

Now I have two immediate goals. The first is to stay healthy. Since I no longer work outside the home, I am somewhat hopeful. However, I live with someone working in an essential business. We are mitigating danger as much as possible.

Online Learning

The second goal is to analyze how society will change in response to Covid-19. Across the world students spent much if not all of March 2020 away from campuses and schoolrooms. I know this will have a long-term impact.  But I am not sure what that effect will be. So here are some possibilities.

I think at the college level and possibly at the high school level there will be a trend toward hybrid and online courses. Personally, I find hybrid learning an excellent method for adult learning. I have taught and taken courses using a hybrid method and find it preferable to a course totally online. However, I think a case for the merits of online learning will be presented by the educational response to Covid-19.

It is unknown how younger students will respond and that response is one I intend to study. One of my offspring works for Denver Public Schools (DPS) and has shared how they are handling the stay at home order. With a great effort, the school district scrambled and procured a Chrome book for each student.

Lesson plans revolve around established content. Classroom teachers have regular “office hours” so that students (and parents) can reach out to them. The individual teachers have leeway to expand on existing lessons. In addition to DPS curriculum, information on supplementary online learning resources is provided. I hope this is a success.

Self-regulating and Sick days

I am also interested in how sick days are handled going forward. Not all workers get sick days. I know as an adjunct instructor I had to make up any days missed due to illness. Most of the time the make-up days were poorly attended by the students. And students often came to class sick worried about getting behind. I taught adults. Sick kids are even more complex because of sick care issues.

In the case of Covid-19, there is a possibility that individuals may be asymptomatic and still spread the disease. Perhaps this is in part why voluntary social distancing is a failure in my part of the world. But there is danger in the inability to self-regulate. I fear the lack of self-control will increase big government. I prefer local control.

March 2020 Mental Relief

I found relief from the mental stresses of March 2020 in a number of ways. Since I am a reader I spent a lot of time with cozy mysteries and romances. I thoroughly enjoyed all five books in the Ivy Malone series by Lorena McCourtney. Other books enjoyed were penned by Nora Roberts, Iris Johansen and Janet Evanovich.

On the most depressing of days I turned to sitcom and old reruns. The Big Bang Theory almost always makes me laugh out loud. My husband and I also enjoy watching Magnum P.I., both the old and the new versions. So, even if Covid-19 continues a filming hiatus, I will have ample options.

March 2020 In the Garden

From time to time we have a very warm March followed by colder temperatures in April and May. This is one of those years. Both the pear and peach trees are already blooming. We will still have below freezing temperature nights and so the fruit production will be impacted.

Early season greens have made an appearance in the garden. We have enjoyed Swiss chard in our lunchtime smoothies. The lettuces are not far behind nor are the radishes and spinach. Additionally, I have started a variety of seeds indoors. Everything from artichokes to tomatoes are growing in pots throughout the house. I am still concerned that the pandemic will affect supply chains on a variety of levels. Starting the plants by seed will act as a back-up if I cannot buy bedding plants next month.

Quilting in March 2020

I am working on the final border of a Train Quilt. To be honest I am stuck. The current train cars will vary from the original pattern. I plan to make the train a circus train. However, I am having trouble blending the fabrics. Specifically, the clowns. They are primary colors and the overall design is more pastel. Also, the elephant and giraffe come from a baby fabric with a blue background versus the mauves and greens I am using. It will be interesting to see how I tie everything together.

Covid-19 Reports

I have readers across the globe. Please share any experiences you may have with this pandemic in the comment section. While I have personally met individuals battling this novel corona virus, no close friends or relatives have contracted Covid-19 so far. I sincerely hope this continues. Take care everyone and pay attention to your health!

Finally, those with interest in economics may find the following interesting:

https://www.permanentequity.com/writings/viral-prohibition-eminent-domain-and-the-path-ahead?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=prohibition_eminentd

Jerry Baker’s Fast, Easy Vegetable Garden Book Review

I checked out Jerry Baker’s Fast, Easy Vegetable Garden from the library late last week when we were in between cold fronts. The book was published in 1985 and has nary a photo as you might expect from an older publication. But the illustrations more than make up for a lack of photography.Page with emoji of gardener

For starters, Baker was way ahead of the curve when it came to personalizing the text. Thanks to the photo on the cover page, it was easy to see the resemblance of the gardener illustrated within. Thirty years before emoji’s became popular, Jerry Baker’s Fast Easy Vegetable Garden is strewn with these humorous illustrations. Furthermore, emoji’s for vegetables and garden critters also dot the pages.

Charts and Diagrams

On a more serious note, the gardening manual provides great charts throughout. In addition to the often found last and first freeze charts, Jerry Baker’s Fast Easy Vegetable Garden also has tables breaking down by percentage the amount of primary and secondary elements in the different types of manures, tankages, rock powders and vegetable waste.

Primary elements are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potash- Potassium (K) while the secondary elements are magnesium (MG), manganese (MN), and copper (CU).  There is also a short discussion on minor elements. In addition to the percentages found, Baker includes a discussion on the specific fertilizers.

Other charts differentiate between fast and slow growing plants and types of pests as well as beneficial insects. Baker includes a chart with vitamin content and calories of each type of vegetable. A few simple diagrams explain the importance of spacing and location of the vegetable garden.

Jerry Baker’s Top Tips

I do not consider myself a novice gardener nor a master gardener. Since I am somewhere in the middle there is still plenty to learn. Jerry Baker’s guide may be 35 year’s old, but I found it a valuable resource. In addition to the jargon glossary and the wonderful charts discussed above, the tips for starting seeds are great. Until just recently, I either planted seeds directly into the ground or bought plants.

Last year, I had some success growing from seed a type of tomato that the nurseries were no longer distributing. This year I plan to branch out as discussed in The Peanut Experiment. Jerry Baker’s Fast, Easy Vegetable Garden will be consulted frequently.

The book has a good question and answer section as well as a few recipes. The section on herbs is extensive. Also the one on container planting is quite thorough. This just over two hundred page book is so well written I read it in an afternoon. If your library does not have a copy, do a quick Internet search. There are plenty of used copies available for sale. This book is a winner.

Jerry Baker's Pages illustrating types of garden bugs

The Peanut Experiment

There was a smattering of snow on the ground this morning. Just enough to know moisture fell overnight. But my peanut experiment was already started. So I will just carry on.

Why Peanuts?

The High Plains is known more for grains. Legumes planted in the area tend to be soy or pinto. Peanuts are not grown commercially in this area. But they can be grown in the home garden.

I first planted peanuts in 2018. A nursery in a nearby city of 30,000 had some peanut plants for sale. Impulse buying struck and a four pack of peanuts made it into the cart. They survived in the raised bed but only a handful of peanuts were harvested.

peanut in raised bed
2018 Peanut Plant

Last year, I returned to the nursery specifically looking for the plants. After finding them, I doubled the purchase amount. The plants joined the garden on Mother’s Day. A late frost a few days after nipped the garden and delayed the growth.

However, the end result was a positive one. The peanut harvest yielded over a pound of peanuts. Not bad for about six feet in a raised row. So this year, I am hoping for another successful season.

The Peanut Experiment

Peanuts need warm soil and a long growing season. Starting the seeds indoors should help me get a step up on the planting. Plus, I will know before May if my starts are viable. If I fail, I can always make the two hour trip to the nursery for the professionally grown bedding plants. (Yes, a two hour drive gets you to a “nearby” city.)

After last year’s harvest, the peanuts were hung to dry in the garage much like the garlic. I then sorted through the crop before storing in a recycled flour bag. Pods that looked iffy were pulled aside. My thought was to use those for seed.

The Method

Last night after extracting the peanuts from the culled shells, I questioned the viability of the seed. So, I pulled some of the good pods from storage. As you can see from the pictures, they look much better before soaking.

I then decided to create the peanut experiment. I divided the nice looking peanuts into two groups. One half was soaked overnight and one left dry. Further, all the poor looking peanuts were also soaked overnight. I was amazed at how much they plumped from the soaking.

I picked the best six from each group for planting. Each type is in a separate container and the containers are clearly labeled. Small pebbles were placed over the drainage holes. This keeps the soil from escaping during watering but allows for drainage.

The same seed starting soil is in each of the containers. The soil was moistened before the seeds were place about 1 ½ inches deep. Additional soil was scattered over the seed. It should be noted that I did not use an inoculant. I want a baseline to measure by. Inoculants can be beneficial, but that is another post!

During the day, the growing pots will be kept near a South facing window because I do not have “grow” lights. Last year, my started seeds were placed on boxes and the boxes stood beneath the LED light above the cook top overnight. Once seeds have sprouted, I may repeat this if the stems seem spindly. However, the larger seed pod makes me think this will not be needed.

Legumes and Soil Enrichment

In addition to enjoying the peanuts as a snack, growing legumes is good in the garden. To be honest, the harvested peanuts are secondary to using the plants as nitrogen fixers. Peas are also good for the soil, but they seldom last past late June as the heat becomes too much.

However, the peanuts thrive in the heat. Their pretty yellow flowers attract pollinating insects. Last but not least, they remind me of the Deep South.

Enjoy the slide show.

  • Peanuts in shell
    Culled Peanuts set aside for seed.
  • Shell peanuts for eating
    Peanuts originally saved to eat
  • Bag of Peanuts
    Bag of Peanuts
  • Shelled peanuts poor quality
    Shelled peanuts from culled group.
  • Peanuts soaking in measuring cup
    Peanuts soaking overnight
  • Shelled peanuts
    Shelled peanuts from edible group
  • non-soaked peanuts
    Non-soaked peanuts
  • Soaked peanuts
    Soaked peanuts from culled group
  • Edible soaked peanuts
    Soaked peanuts from edible group
  • Three groups of seed
    Comparison of soaked and non-soaked seeds
  • Pots Labled
    Pots Labled
  • Small rocks plugging holes in bottom of pots
    Rocks plugging holes in pots
  • Pots and rocks
    Getting ready to plant
  • Seed Starter Soil in Pots
    Adding Seed Starter Soil

October 2019 Wrap-Up

The October 2019 Wrap-Up showcases a roller coaster month with many highs and lows. But that seems to be the status quo for me. In fact a long time ago, a wise man told me that life had to have a few low points in order to enjoy the good times. Perhaps living on the High Plains offers the steadiness I crave in response to the path my life takes.

October 2019 In the Garden

The big garden is only partially ready for winter. Unexpected trips back East made it difficult to complete all the chores before the snows began to arrive. Garlic was not planted nor were the onion seeds I like to put out in order to have an early spring crop. However, I think there will be some self-sowed plants popping up next March.

I am quite worried about the trees and bushes in the yard, especially the old peach tree. The late September freeze was harmful. Extreme temperature swings have happened before and it never bodes well for the vegetation. The yard is stressed when a high of 92 degrees Fahrenheit is followed by a low of 14 degrees just 36 hours later. The last time this happened there was a lot of winter kill.

Bumpiest Ride Ever

Both spring and fall are accompanied by severe weather here in the United States. In the fall months, one often experiences the cold fronts sweeping down from the Arctic. Toward the end of the month on the way to Kentucky, my flight encountered turbulence. The type where you definitely needed a seat belt on.

Catching up on my Twitter feed a few days later, confirmed that the bumpy ride was not unique to the plane I was on. Bumpiest flight ever was posted on multiple accounts. I am very grateful the plane landed safely and amazed at the skills needed to operate these flying machines. But, I can definitely see the appeal for a better connected train system.

October 2019 Hobbies

Acrylic Painting from a Mountainside down to the Plains
A New Perspective

Just a few years ago, I began dabbling in acrylic paints. I was at a conference with my husband and the wives had a break-out wine and paint session. I loved how relaxing it was, and not because of the wine. So, I set-up a small work space in the front room of my house.

The latest painting is finished. It is the first that I have a name for-View of the Plains. Since I usually paint the mountains in the background, I thought I would reverse the scene. It was quite difficult. I have a long way to go in my development and really need to focus on the correct techniques. But I find the painting a wonderful avenue for expression. I just wish I had the talent of my great-great grandmother.

Waiting is the Hardest

We are still awaiting the final lab report from my Dad’s surgery. Unfortunately, the early test confirms the presence of cancer cells in the breast. Now we wait to see how advanced the disease is.

Serendipitous is the word that comes to mind regarding the timing of events. October 2019 saw many groups getting out the message concerning the early detection of breast cancer. Furthermore, support for those afflicted is everywhere.

Pink is everywhere. I am not sure when the colored ribbons for various cancers began, but the pink color has been adopted by sports players to T.V. announcers to paramedics and businesses. Many media outlets ran stories concerning this disease. I am particularly appreciative to CBS, my Dad’s go-to source of information. Their highlighting of male breast cancer was very helpful. Now we just wait.

September 2019 Wrap-Up

The month of September 2019 flew by. Two conferences, one in Billings, Montana and one in Vail, Colorado created havoc with scheduling. Furthermore, the garden once again provided an abundance of produce. So, it was tough to squeeze in time to read.

September 2019 Travel

I expected to see lots of color change in both Montana and Colorado as both conferences were in the second half of the month. But that was not the case. I am glad my primary goal focused on the conferences and not sightseeing.

The last time I visited Billings was back in the spring of 1985. Much has changed. The population is close to double. My visit included visits to both Montana State University-Billings and Rocky Mountain College. Both institutions of higher learning were very impressive.

The Vail trip included information on detecting incidents and breaches with respect to online activity. One break-out session reiterated the importance of unique passwords. Please read my post on passwords by clicking here.

Fall colors were almost non-existent in Billings and in the early stages at Vail. Higher elevations in both states displayed more of the typical color I expected. Unfortunately, my October schedule will not include travel to see fall color.

September 2019 Garden

The big garden as I like to refer to my raised row garden is growing like gang busters. The only crop not living up to expectations are the beans. The runner beans have put out a mass of flowers but not much in the way of fruit.

The root crops are great. An abundance of garlic is in storage in the basement. Pickled beet jars line the pantry. The onions were combined with tomatoes and peppers to make the family recipe salsa. This salsa is always gone by February. Additional tomatoes not eaten fresh are used for spaghetti sauce.

Eggplant has also produced well this year. We have fried them and made multiple batches of eggplant parmigiana. I also canned some eggplant in a Lemon Basil Eggplant Caponata. This is a multi-use dish. We had the Caponata atop noodles, but rice works too. Plus, I think it would make a great spread for crackers or bread.

September 2019 Books

I struggled to finish books to review this month. Part of this was due to the above mentioned items. Additionally, I have spent time on fall cleaning. But the month did bring a review of Things You Save in a Fire which I highly recommend. This past weekend I finished two books on my night stand so check in on Friday for another review.

Foreclosure Re-model

A lot of my spare time has been spent coordinating long-distance on the re-model of a foreclosure. The storms in the Atlantic delayed a tile shipment-still not here. So, we chose an alternative. Of course this changes other selections.

I am anxious to see the progress in person and plan to make a trip back to Florida soon. I could use a break from the Central Plains heat and from canning! Plus, I can check on my family member with Alzheimer’s.

I hope all of you had a productive month! My September 2019 was quite eventful. Thanks for reading.

August 2019 Wrap-Up and Labor Day Greetings

August 2019 was long, hot and eventful. So eventful that this is just now posting on Labor Day. Of course, that means the calendar has moved to September. Such is life when one is busy. Enjoy this August 2019 Wrap-Up!

August 2019 Wrap-Up

Road Trip

A road trip to the East Coast and back took up over half of the month. It was a quasi-business trip so no time to sight see. But plenty of time to observe. Since it is summer time in the Northern Hemisphere, lots and lots of road construction all along the way. However, that was not the only construction.

Small towns and big cities alike appear to be adding restaurants, stores, houses and apartments. Of particular note is the new trend of Big Box complexes. For those of you in other countries, a Big Box complex is a variation of a strip mall. Stores such as Home Depot or Best Buy anchor an area of restaurants and smaller retailers. Lots of choices for the shopper or one looking for a place to eat.

Of course no trip across country is complete without a stop at a Buccee’s. This gas station on steroids is geared toward travelers in cars. Semi-trucks are limited to the refueling tankers. Of interest to me, was the fact that attached to the fuel tanks were Help Wanted signs complete with information on pay. As you can see by the picture, the starting rates are above minimum wage. Yet another indicator of current economics.

Image of a help wanted sign
Looking for employees

Foreclosure Project

The long road trip allowed me to transport some building supplies and equipment. The newest project is coming along. In addition to finding specialized contractors for the AC, plumbing, electrical and roof repairs, we are using a general contractor for much of the work.

Econogal using a jackhammer to break tile floor
Breaking up the tile

However, we did get in on some of the deconstruction. Removing the existing tile from the kitchen floor was quite a chore. Taking the cabinets out required care since each came with under cabinet lighting. The wainscoting in the formal areas was actually a thick cardboard made to look like wood on one side. But the ancient and painted wood paneling in the fireplace room was the real deal. It too is no longer present.

The walls are down and the preliminary work is done on expanding the kitchen. I am looking forward to seeing everything progress. A walk-in pantry will anchor a peninsula with enough space for cooking and eating.

Perhaps the biggest accomplishment was the successful trapping and relocation of the armadillo making a home too close for comfort. These animals cannot be lured with bait. Thus it took a few days for the animal to wander into the cage.

Armadillo
Cute but destructive.
Armadillo in a cage
Ready for a new home

 

Spider Update

For the faithful readers of this blog, the mystery of the spider is partially resolved. After releasing Mystery of the Resident Spider (Click here to read) I patiently watched as the spider “ate” its web. Research leads me to believe the spider belongs to the Orb family of arachnids. They take their webs down each day.

We enjoyed the spider for the better part of a week. Then a new mystery. A double web stayed and stayed. But no spider. The only clue was a small bit of a down feather caught in the web. My best guess is the circle of life continues.

 

In the Garden

Meanwhile, the garden continues to produce. But, the successes are not the same as last year. For instance, I have only harvested one cucumber to date. Fortunately, other crops are keeping me busy. The cabbage is fantastic as are the various types of tomatoes. The concord grapes are ripening and I believe I will be making grape jelly in the next week or two.

However, my beans continue to flower without producing beans to eat. Perhaps it is the heat. We expect another triple digit temperature on this Labor Day.

 

Labor Day Festivities

A quick trip to the Front Range started the Labor Day weekend. Gathering with family from far and wide is always a treat. But, it is good to be back home for the actual day. Travelling on holidays is stressful. So returning home early alleviates the stress. Plus, the Floridian in the family needed to return home in order to prepare for a potential strike from Hurricane Dorian. Remember September is National Preparedness Month.

Hardware Issues

Finally a note on computer hardware in this August 2019 Wrap-Up. I use a HP Envy 360 for my work. It has served me well. But, the machine dates back to 2013. So it was not too surprising when a hardware issue popped up. Or maybe I should say popped off.

The on/off switch on the outside of the laptop should connect with a button which in turn presses down on a circuit. However, the inside button broke off. This tiny piece is critical. For a temporary fix, I can unscrew the keyboard and hold the button in place. But this is not very practical.

So, I have ordered a replacement power-on board. Hopefully I will find You Tube as helpful replacing the board as I did when I was troubleshooting the problem in the first place. In the meanwhile, my posts may remain sporadic.

Size comparison between a penny and a computer part
Broken hardware piece compared to a penny

 

 

 

Swiss Chard with Raisins and Almonds

Swiss Chard with Raisins and Almonds Recipe

I love this recipe based on sautéed Swiss Chard. Beth shared the recipe with me last summer. She had adapted the recipe from The Gourmet Magazine. Now I am sharing my version which has been further tweaked. My almond tree is not producing nuts yet, and I have not learned to dehydrate grapes into raisins. But the onion, garlic and Swiss Chard are products of my garden.

                                                 Kitchen Items

                                     You will need the following items from the kitchen to prepare the dish. Cutting board, sharp knife, measuring spoons, measuring cups, and a skillet with lid. I use a cast iron skillet. Optional tools are a garlic press and a hand held food chopper. If I am cooking alone, I utilize the last two items. However, my husband prefers cutting everything up with his chef’s knife.

 

Ingredients

4 to 5 large leaves of Swiss Chard, leaves finely sliced and stems chopped
1 small to medium onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup slivered almonds
¼ cup raisins
2 TBS olive oil
2 TBS balsamic vinegar

Directions

Heat olive oil on medium until warm. Saute the minced garlic and chopped onion until the onion is translucent. Stir in the almonds. Then stir in the Swiss Chard. Cover with lid and reduce temperature as needed. Cook 4 to 5 minutes or until the chard is wilted. Stir in raisins. Finally stir in the balsamic vinegar.

I use a scant two tablespoons of the vinegar. This recipe serves two hungry people. I have omitted salt because I think the balsamic vinegar is the only needed flavoring for the fresh ingredients.

As you can see by the picture, the sautéed Swiss Chard with Raisins and Almonds yields about a cup per person. We enjoyed a summertime meal of a turkey sandwich with fresh lettuce from the garden. Later in the summer we will naturally add slices of tomato. Also from the garden were golden beets. The pickle was made from last summer’s cucumbers with a recipe from Small Batch Preserving. But the best part of the meal is the Swiss Chard with Raisins and Almonds!

Garlic Growing in the Garden

Cabbage and garlic side by side
Companion planting of garlic and cabbage

Garlic Growing

Late last summer I went overboard ordering and planting garlic. For years I just used the kitchen garlic that had begun to sprout. Needless to say my past results were lackluster. But this year I have garlic growing in the main garden, garlic growing in the herb garden and garlic growing among the flowers. Truly garlic is everywhere.

Learning About Garlic

I am still learning quite a bit about garlic. Some of my resources include the following books; Organic Hobby Farming and Garden Secrets. I also consult two key websites. The first is www.sustainablemarketfarming.com and the second is www.thespruce.com and I highly recommend both. To be honest I planted the garlic late last summer without much thought.

Last August through November was a bit of a whirlwind and I made several mistakes from an organizational point of view. First of all, I did not label garden signs with the types of garlic. I planted multiple varieties of both soft and hard neck garlic. I did try to keep the types separate. But I did not organize them in such a way that those in one row were soft neck and another was hard neck. Fortunately, nature provides some clues.

Differentiating Between Soft Neck and Hard Neck Garlic

The two types of garlic growing in the garden appeared at the same in the early spring. But in early May, scapes appeared. Hard neck garlic sends a scape up three to four weeks before the bulb is ready to harvest. The scapes are considered a delicacy. I don’t recall ever eating scapes before this spring. They are delicious!

Additionally, the scapes allow one to determine which garlic plants growing are hard neck. This is important because another key difference between soft neck and hard neck is the storage life. Soft neck garlic stores two to three times longer than hard neck. Since I have a large amount of hard neck, my family and neighbors will share in the bounty.

Another way to determine the type of garlic growing in the various gardens is by the stem. Hard neck garlic has one central stem. It is quite sturdy and straight. The soft neck varieties have leaves that are more pliant. Their stems tend to fall over much like onions when they are ripe.

Harvesting The Garlic

Since I have a large amount of garlic and most of the garlic growing is in the raised row garden, I bought a garden fork this spring. I am not sure how I have lived without one! The fork loosens the soil which makes harvesting easy. Because of succession planting I was careful harvesting two of the garlic groupings.

In one of the soft neck beds, I planted some cucumbers by seed. Two cucumber plants emerged before harvest. So extra care was called for around those plants. I also inter-planted cabbage among some hard neck garlic.

I harvested the garlic from around one cabbage head before noticing the beneficial properties of the garlic. The cabbage plants came in a six pack. So I split the pack and three small plants are among dill and near the chocolate mint. My research indicated this deters the moths that lay eggs of the cabbage worm. The dill strategy was a failure but the garlic has worked like a charm.

Cabbage with holes in leaves
Cabbage planted near dill under attack
Cabbage plants in a bed of garlic
Little to no leaf damage on cabbage planted with garlic.

 

 

Garden experiments are important even when they are accidental. The photos show how little damage the cabbage planted among the garlic has compared to the hole riddled cabbage alongside the dill. I will definitely combine cabbage and garlic again.

Drying

Currently I have over one hundred garlic heads drying in my garage. I live in a very dry climate so this is possible. However, from what I have read, fans are used in areas with greater humidity. I still have four groupings of garlic growing in the garden. So, I am watching them closely to make sure they do not over mature.  Garlic left in the ground too long creates cloves that pop out of the skins. This ruins the ability to store the garlic.

I have learned a lot from this garlic crop. This has been a big success so far. However, I won’t know for a few months just how well the bulbs store. I have read several conflicting reports on how to best store the bulbs. Thus, I need to experiment and see what works best for me. Let me know your garlic tips and thoughts in the comment section below. I hope you enjoy the slide show. 

 

 

Cabbage with holes in leaves

New Kitchen Herb Garden

Establishing the New Kitchen Herb Garden

Last year’s garden extension was the raised row garden which fills a great bit of space in the side lot. But this year’s addition is a new kitchen herb garden. It is located on the back side of the new patio. This allows the new kitchen herb garden to face east. The patio wall provides shade from the afternoon sun. Always a bonus out here on the high plains.

The poured concrete raised garden has a PVC pipe running beneath which allows the patio to drain. Currently the planter is hand watered. This keeps me checking the progress of the plants in the new kitchen herb garden.

Transplants from Divisions

Two of the plants growing in the garden are divisions from existing plants. The lemon balm was relocated in the fall of 2017 from a spot now incorporated into the patio. Then in the fall of 2018, the plant was divided and a small amount placed in the new kitchen herb garden. I was very excited to see it appear this spring. We use lemon balm in our hummus.

Our other transplant was a division of chives. These herbs are the first to appear in the spring. They are an easy plant to divide. I have them centering the bed. If you have never divided plants, chives are a great plant to practice on.

New Plants

Perennial herbs are the focus of the new kitchen herb garden. I have two types of sage in the garden. The common sage is a perennial while the pineapple sage may or may not make it through the winter. This is a first year for me to grow pineapple sage and I can’t wait for the red blossoms. The local hummingbirds will love it.

The thymes, a lemon and German will winter over easily. I love using thyme in my cooking. The two types give me a savory and a citrusy option. I also have two mints, an orange mint and a Corsican mint. The Corsican is very low to the ground with extremely small leaves. I will need to keep an eye on the orange mint since I do not want it to overtake the entire box.

Tender perennials like the stevia and lemon grass will be interesting to watch over the winter. The placement of the new kitchen herb garden might create enough of a micro-climate that they make it through the winter. Of course, the type of winter will have a say as well. The same holds true for the two rosemary plants and the lavender.

My lone annual is a purple leaf basil.  I planted it in front of the chives for a dramatic effect. The textured deep purple leaves are perfect in front of the lavender blooms of the chives. The majority of my cooking basil remains in the side garden. We live on basil in the summer so the dozen traditional plants would over- take the new kitchen herb garden.

Diagram of Garden

Diagram of new kitchen herb garden
Diagram of New Kitchen Herb Garden

 I hope you enjoy the slide show!

 

 

 

 

March 2019 Wrap Up

March 2019

The old saying is March comes in like a lion and leaves like a lamb. This year, the month is leaving like a lion cub. Yesterday, a skiff of snow on the ground greeted the dawn. But spring is in the air in the form of singing robins and tiny crocuses.

Kitchen Update

The refreshing of the kitchen is almost complete. New wall paper, a new chair rail and a back splash are complete. Only a change in curtains is lacking. But the material for the curtains has been purchased. Surely there will be a cold day or two in April allowing for completion of the curtains.

Tile Back splash being torn out
Tearing Out the Old

There will be a post dedicated to the new kitchen and breakfast room. The labor is intense but the result is great. Unlike the current trend to have one huge open space, I like the coziness of a kitchen and breakfast room nook.

Garden

There were a few days toward the end of March 2019 that resembled a lamb. I took advantage of these moderate temperatures to put up the deer fence and rabbit guard. I made a modification to the fence. I no longer need to move the recycled skirting. Instead I have a gate made from a stiff wire mesh.

The only downside is the height. At about five feet, a deer could jump it. But, I am hoping there is not enough distance for a running start. There is also the possibility that a raccoon could gain entrance. They are aggressive critters.

I think I planted too much garlic last winter. Plus we have had more moisture than usually, so little if any winter kill occurred. There is probably enough to take to a farmers market, but I have never been a vendor so I do not know what is involved.

Spring crops have been in the ground for almost a week. So I expect to see new shoots soon. Peas, radishes, beets, spinach, lettuce, Swiss chard and kale must have loved the thin blanket of snow. The newest tree to the yard, a North Star Cherry was planted just in time for the wonderful moisture.

I like to plant trees this time of year. April still has some freezing weather, but none of the triple digit weather that occasionally pops up in May. The young transplants have a tough time with hot weather. Dry wind added to high temperatures can be a death sentence before the plants have a chance to establish themselves.

Quilting

I am making steady progress with the hand quilting of the Love Quilt. For the most part I am quilting a quarter-inch from seams and along pattern details. But some of the fabric needs extra. So, using a chalk stamp, I have added rows of hearts. A king size quilt has been layered and is ready for the quilt stand.

Finally, I have designed a two-sided quilt. One side will have the Train Quilt pattern with a twist. The other centers on a panel. Taking cues from the many Trip Around the World Quilts I have made, squares will radiate from the panel to give a natural shading effect. I am quite excited to begin the piecing.

I hope your March 2019 has been as productive as mine! I am off to a baby shower, a great opportunity to continue my Lenten promise of connecting with others. Happy Spring!

Overwhelmed by Spring Projects

Chair rail under construction.
Spring is officially here by the calendar. The weather outside sometimes agrees. We have enjoyed some warm afternoons the last few days on the high plains. But this season is unpredictable and there are several chances for snow over the next ten days.

Perhaps the hardest part of spring is dividing the time up between indoor and outdoor projects. For example, the breakfast/kitchen revival I have been working on is almost complete. The new back splash will be grouted today and a pencil trim will be installed between the counter top and walls. Yet the pleasant spring weather is calling my name.

Garden Forays

So, I have squeezed in some work in the garden. The fence that I take down in the winter is back in place. While this adds to my labor, the temporary deer nets and recycled rabbit guards are no match for the harsh winter winds.

At some point a permanent fence will go in. But, I am still researching both what will be allowed by my small town and what I think is economically reasonable. Until then, the re-establishment of the garden fence will be on my spring project list.

The above work took most of a weekend, delaying the inside work. Additionally I have squeezed time to start a new asparagus bed. While the old one still produces, the trees now shade it quite a bit. So, I found a sunny location for a second planting. Asparagus are among my favorite vegetables and I hope to have a better harvest in a year or two.

Some of the Five Star lettuce went to seed last year and two plants emerged. Since I rotate crops, these were transplanted into the row for “leafs” as the row they were occupying will be earmarked for my root vegetables.

Quilts

In addition to the remodel and the garden projects, I am working on two quilt projects this spring. The Love Panel quilt is near completion. But I just sandwiched a king size Lover’s Knot Quilt. I will begin quilting it soon. (I hope!) Plus I still have another baby quilt to design. The goal is not to have too many unfinished quilt projects.

Spring Cleaning

Last but certainly not least on the list is a thorough spring cleaning of the house. The garage was done in early March. But I still have work to do in the basement. I confess, a lot of items make their way downstairs when I just don’t know what else to do. Many are items that I think will be useful someday when kids move into houses of their own. Some are items that I am overly sentimental about. Still others, like the back patio furniture need an indoor home for a few months.

But it is time to reclaim my basement. Two boxes of books are now ready to go to the local library book sale. The patio furniture will have to weather any spring snows. I did manage to toss enough items to fill two trash bags. (Really hard to do.) I have made some progress but still have more to do.

Physically Overwhelmed

All these spring projects are taxing. I certainly haven’t needed a trip to the gym for a workout. The wallpaper and new chair rail included lots of squat repetitions. The back splash tile put the shoulders to work. Hammering and more squats were involved with the fence. My body aches from head to toe.

Weight lifting occurs whenever I move the wet saw into place. Or rearrange boxes in the storage cabinets. The only thing lacking is cardio and I did sneak in a two-mile run last weekend.

Staying busy is easy when all your helpers have left the nest. Each spring the projects loom. Somehow everything is accomplished. But I yearn for my helpers, even though they all have busy lives elsewhere. Each learned the value of hard work through various spring and summer projects. Now they have their own projects to finish.

Organic Hobby Farming Book Review

Organic Hobby Farming

Andy Tomolonis shares gardening knowledge and so much more in his text Organic Hobby Farming: A Practical Guide to Earth-Friendly Farming in Any Space. Even though the sub-title includes the term any space, most of the book is geared toward gardening on a slightly bigger scale than most households. However, the author himself lives in suburbia. Thus, anyone can gain from Organic Hobby Farming.

The first six chapters focus on the organic. Tomolonis starts with evaluating the land. He gives tips an assessing both grounds and property structures. He focuses on small amounts of land. The book includes tips on finding farmland. Furthermore, questions to ask about zoning if you plan to stay within city limits are included. Also, references to websites and agencies both in the United States and in Canada that provide further information are cited.

After extensively discussing elements needed for a good property to farm, the second chapter turns to tools of the trade. Again the information is useful and the tips provide actual value to your pocketbook. In addition to describing various tools, both hand and machine, the author shares how the implements must be cared for in order to comply with organic farming.

Soil Care

Chapter three discusses the science of the soil better than any book I have previously read. The diagrams and photos gave a great understanding of soil composition. The information given by ph table and the points on soil typing are easily understood. Tomolonis incorporates the natural ways to improve soils into the chapter. This informative chapter includes composting, soil sampling and testing.

Calendar of Farm Chores

Organic Hobby Farming gets to the heart of organic gardening in chapters four, five and six. Chapter four contains a calendar of farm chores. Tomolonis shares the fact he is in zone 6 and explains how readers in other zones can adapt the information. Each month goes into detail what needs to take place on the farm (or in your yard) that month. For example, the book highlights floating cover crops during cooler weather and pests and diseases once the temperature warms up.

While chapter 5 extends the discussion on bugs and distinguishes beneficial from bad, the information focuses on individual plants. Not every vegetable known to man has its own spotlight. But the book details those typically grown at home or found at a farmer’s market. Also, the chapter discusses herbs.

Tomolonis gives great information on each highlighted edible. He begins with the basics. The reader learns about the plant family, key points about sowing, growing times and harvest lengths. Then Organic Hobby Farming details soil temperature, ph needs and germination.

The author indicates the ease of growth, shares varieties and my favorite, discusses companions. (For more information on companion planting, click here.) But the information does not stop there. Tomolonis gives tips on growing, pests, diseases, challenges and harvesting. He concludes each synopsis with marketing tips. Organic Hobby Farming is geared toward selling produce.

Chapter six focuses on berries and fruit trees. A caveat about what can be planted gives readers a glimpse on why this chapter is quite a bit thinner than the preceding one. The advice is good and Tomolonis is spot on with the information shared. However, if you want to grow grapes you will need to find another source.

Switching to Animals

The author begins discussing farm animals and their potential income in Chapter 7. Chickens are the topic of this chapter. Tomolonis shares the requirements to label both eggs and meat organic. This is timely information for those living in America. Across this country, many cities are allowing chickens back into the backyard. Organic Hobby Farming is a great resource to read before you build a chicken coop.

Next in the animal section is a chapter on honeybees, rabbits and goats. After chickens, these three animals are most likely to be found on a small homestead or even in suburbia depending on zoning laws. Once again, the author provides outstanding information in the “Easy Does It” sidebars. Other tips and tricks are abundant throughout.

Organic Hobby Farming Marketing Tips

The final two chapters are business related. Tomolonis has one chapter with information on marketing your organic produce. Much like the beginning chapters much of the information shared is specific. Quite a bit of time is spent on Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA). These co-operatives are located across the country.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in the book is the last chapter. Tomolonis stresses the importance of developing a business plan for your Organic Hobby Farm. The advice is good. If you plan to sell any of your produce, or even just have honeybees, you need to think about liability issues. I found this chapter as important as those focused on the crops.

If you are serious about gardening, especially organic gardening, I encourage you to buy this book. It is quickly becoming a go-to book in my home library. Andy Tomolonis provides great information applicable for any serious gardener.

July 2018 Wrap-Up

July 2018

July has been a whirlwind! So many things to share and I hardly know where to start. So I think I’ll shoot for a mix between chronological and focus events.

Cataracts

The month began with my second cataract surgery. I did not feel outwardly as apprehensive as with the first surgery. But my vital signs contradicted this feeling. My blood pressure was quite high for me. So I think I was given a little more relaxant. I don’t remember nearly as much this time. No visions of pretty colors. Just my husband waving from the viewing room after the surgery.

However, the recovery has been much easier. I experienced some of the same irritations as the first time. But knew those were signs of healing and did not panic. I even managed to give myself the regimen of eye drops during some of the post-surgery days.

Wheat Harvest

Immediately following the surgery, we visited with relatives during the Fourth of July celebration. This is a favorite holiday of mine. I live on the edge of wheat country and our visit was in the heartland. Many years harvest coincides with the nation’s birthday.

Wheat harvest is a bustle of activity for the farm communities. This year was no exception. Custom harvesters work alongside the resident farmers. Many custom cutters follow the harvest from South to North. These travelling harvesters fill the hotels and restaurants adding economically to the small towns. Of course there is outflow money too. Payments vary from flat rates to percentages.

This year I watched from inside the vehicle. As is typical for that part of the country, the wind was blowing. I did not want any wheat chaff to blow into my eyes. So no combine ride for me. Maybe next year I can visit and capture the view. For now I can only share a photo of the grain transfer.

Grain cart dumping wheat into truck.
Grain falling into truck.

Des Moines

Immediately following the July 4th visit to the wheat fields, I journeyed to Des Moines. This beautiful city deserved a post all its own. If you missed it click on Destination Des Moines. I consider this state capitol a hidden jewel. Maybe you can visit sometime.

Econogal’s Garden

Returning from Des Moines, I could devote time to my garden. The production continues to amaze me. I easily doubled the amount of produce from June. By the end of July, most of my salad greens bolted. I am letting a few plants go to seed. Each year I try to learn more about saving seed.

However, the Swiss chard is coming into its own and we are using this green along with beet leaves in our smoothies and salads. Other fruits and vegetables harvested in July include tomatoes, peppers, acorn squash, zucchini, yellow squash, peas, green beans, peaches, green grapes, eggplant, beets, cucumbers, cantaloupe, and tomatillo. We also continue to enjoy our many herbs. Because of a week-long visit to Orlando, I do not have an exact amount on the harvest weight.

Orlando

My trips to Central Florida are frequent. I have family there. My Mom is in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s. She receives good care at a nursing home. But best of all for her, she has my Dad visit every day for hours at a time. So sometimes he needs a respite. That is where I come in. I am her other security blanket.

Many of you know someone who is affected by some form of dementia. Brain disease is at the forefront of scientific study because of the growing numbers impacted. I write often about brain health. If you use the search bar at the top of this blog for brain, numerous posts will pop up. Now you know why I have such a personal interest. I intend to keep my brain as healthy as possible for as long as possible. One way is by Maintaining Physical Health. So I jumped at the chance to sponsor a triathlon.

Rocky Ford Melon-Man Triathlon 2018

Saturday August 4th is the date for this year’s triathlon in Rocky Ford. Proceeds from the event are used to support the town’s swimming pool. I love fundraising linked to improved infrastructure as much as I do those events that raise money for research. So Econogal is proud to be a sponsor for this event.

A triathlon is a competition involving three sporting events; swimming, biking and running. The Rocky Ford Melon-Man Triathlon is designed for both individuals and teams. For example, if you are a runner who hates to swim, you can partner with a swimmer who can’t stand running.

The distances are doable. The swim is 250 meters, the bike ride is 10 miles and the run is a 5 K. So if you are in driving distance of Rocky Ford, Colorado consider entering the triathlon this weekend. Click here for a link to the registration. If you can’t compete this year please share this post so the word can spread and consider entering next year!

Learning New Skills

Green beans piled in front of a pressure cannerMy New Year’s resolutions for this year included learning six new skills. At my age, learning anything new can be tough. Both the body and the mind tend to prefer the status quo. But the benefits are great. New skills stimulate the brain cells in a positive way.

The raised row garden has provided one outlet for learning. Just establishing the garden took research. This compilation of new knowledge definitely made the brain waves dance. Constructing the rows took a lot of labor too.

Furthermore, maintaining the garden has generated a few new skills as well. I learned how to make organic bug killer when battling the flea beetles. For the first time I used an inoculant on my peas. Now I am about to add pressure canning to my list of skills.

I have been canning and preserving for years. But I have only used the water bath method or frozen the produce. To be truthful, I find the idea of pressure canning downright scary.

Water Bath Canning

Jams, jellies, salsas and pickles tend to be quite acidic and thus lend themselves to processing through the water bath method. Some of the items have natural acidity. Others are put up using an acidic ingredient which helps make the recipe safe. Some of my lower acid fruits have lemon added and the pickles and salsas recipes tend to have vinegar added.

My favorite canning book Small-Batch Preserving focuses on water bath method recipes. This type of canning utilizing highly acidic ingredients reminds me of my Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors. I seldom worry about spoiled food put up in this fashion.

New Skills- Canning Low Acidic Foods

However, low acid foods and recipes intimidate me. I worry about food poisoning, specifically botulism. So I am about to learn a new skill. I bought a pressure canner. Plus I have researched several websites such as the Wells Can and the Ball and Kerr sites. I also consulted Better Homes and Gardens Complete Canning Guide. Since visiting their test garden I wrote about in Destination Des Moines, I feel very motivated and slightly less nervous.

My raised row garden is yielding multitudes of green beans. So that will be the first vegetable I put up. Check back on the blog when I post the July 2018 Wrap-Up to see and hear about the results!

June 2018 Wrap-Up

Purple and green basil.
Oven Dried Basil

Cherries pitted and in baking dish.
June cherries for a crisp.

First harvest of Beets

This year continues to fly by! Now that June has run its course we are officially half-way through the year. Here in the Northern Hemisphere we are now experiencing days shortening. However, summer still has many hours of sunlight ahead.

June Garden Update

My part of the United States has already experienced multiple days of triple digit heat. So many in fact that I have lost count. However, the garden continues to produce. During the month of June almost 50 pounds of produce was harvested. The edibles included various greens, root vegetables, squash, peas and the first of the cucumbers and tomatoes. Also included in the harvest;cherries and gooseberries. I did lose the broccoli crop to the flea beetles and the pesky pests shortened the harvest of the kale.

Planting seeds continues as spots come open. I even plopped some old seed into the ground and will report on whether or not the seed is still good at a later date. My potato bag experiment may be headed for a second year of failure. One plant did not withstand the 1.1 inches of rain we had one night. Roots did not drain well.

Cataract Surgery

The first of the eye surgeries is behind me. The clarity now that the cataract is removed is unbelievable. I am still anxious about the next surgery but hope the outcome is just as good. My reading remains a bit behind my usual pace. Since my regular glasses no longer work on one eye, I limit reading time to an hour at a time. (Computer time follows the same limit.) This helps eliminate headaches from eye strain.

Travel included trips to two Garden Cities. Please visit the post on Summer Street Fairs from Garden City, New York. The other Garden City served as the location for my cataract surgery. Both cities are thriving.

Reading Materials

Due to the eye surgery, I have focused on reading newspaper articles and blog posts. The Wall Street Journal continues to serve as my go to newspaper source. There was a very interesting article on the equality of the bottom three quintiles. The article posited this emerging equality as the reason President Trump won the 2016 election. Very interesting.
Blogs are some of my favorite reading sources. I especially enjoy those that discuss books or gardening (or both.) One blog I like for the honest reviews is Life of Chaz. Another post which I loved paired wine and summer books, you can click here for that post. I do miss reading my mysteries and all the new books at my library. Thus, I am looking forward to getting my eyes back to normal.

June 2018 has come and gone. My month was super productive. What about yours?

Crop Rotation, Succession Planting, and Companion Planting

Planting a home food garden takes more work than plopping in seeds and watering. Planning the garden is a critical component. However, some of the most important planting techniques can conflict. Primarily, I am talking about crop rotation, succession planting and companion planting. While the first two seem to go hand in hand, the last of the three can make planning and implementing a garden tricky. If, that is, you want to keep the soil healthy.

Crop Rotation

The best way to keep soils happy and pests at a minimum is to practice crop rotation. I have seen charts for various cycles of planting. Some involve rotating through a cycle of three years and others for four years. Also, some rotation plans include a fallow season. Currently the big garden is designed for a four-year cycle. I best remember the cycle with the chant Root, Fruit, Leaf, Legumes. The rotation follows the line. Thus, a fruit crop follows the space a root crop was in, the leaf crop goes behind the fruit, the legumes behind the leaf and the roots follow the legumes. Sounds easy enough, but that does not allow for succession planting in some of the row. Nor does the sequencing allow for companion planting.

 

Dill and summer squash side by side
Growing dill and summer squash together in effort to deter squash bugs

Succession Planting

Succession planting has multiple definitions. One involves growing a late season crop after an early crop. For example, both radishes and spinach are usually finished by early June. This gives plenty of time to plant a second crop. Following the rotation chart, the next crop should be from the fruit or legume family as the case may be. But now your row is no longer consistent from within.

Another type of succession planting is placing plants with different harvest dates side by side. An example would be putting beets and butternut squash side by side. The winter squash takes much longer to grow and develops above ground in contrast to the root vegetable which will be harvested at a much earlier date.

Companion Planting

I use the technique of companion planting throughout my yard. I have garlic planted at the base of my fruit trees. In theory, this wards off borers. Also, my tomatoes are grown side by side with both onion and basil. One can see quite easily what this latter grouping does to crop rotation. But I still plan to rotate the rows in the big garden.

In addition to preserving soil nutrients, crop rotation helps battle pests. The flea beetles were aggressive this year. Even though the rutabagas and broccoli were planted in different rows, the little bugs attacked both. I certainly don’t want to plant the rutabaga in the same place next year.

So far, no signs of squash bugs, but I know they are lurking somewhere. If all my squash were next to each other, they would just chomp down the row. Thus companion planting is essential to my gardening.

Garden Compromise

My intentions are to loosely follow a crop rotation through the rows. So, next year the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants will reside where the beets are now. I will still inter-plant the basil and the onion alongside the tomatoes. The plants are too happy not to. I do plan to take very close notes and lots of pictures. Sometimes I lose my sketched garden plans from one year to the next, so it helps to have photos.

Succession planting will still occur. Our late spring, early summer heat triggers bolting by June for some of the early crops. I do not want to have a lot of the rows idle. However, I will try to follow a mini crop rotation with the succession planting. Perhaps I will follow the radishes with tomatillos next year.

We eat from our garden all summer long. The health benefits are only outweighed by just how great fresh fruits and vegetables taste. To insure the garden keeps producing, we will combine the various techniques of crop rotation, succession planting and companion planting to keep both plants and soil thriving.

 

Organic Gardening

By definition, Organic Gardening is growing plants without the use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizer. I try to grow edibles using this method as much as possible. This natural gardening method can take some extra time. Unfortunately, sometimes infestations get so bad, one either needs to use pesticides or replace the plant or tree. Compost and growing plants native to the area can reduce or eliminate the need for commercial fertilizers.

I have battled various pests over the years. My biggest enemy is the peach borer followed closely by the squash bug and grasshopper. I also deal with crickets and this year flea beetles have made an appearance. They are attacking the rutabaga.

The flea beetle is on the war path. I am aiming for natural deterrents. First, I have planted radishes nearby to act as a catch crop. I have done this in the past. The radishes are sacrificed for plants that have more value to me. The rutabaga is growing well and will be harvested soon. Second, I also plan to spray with a homemade solution of liquid soap and olive oil. I will let you know if this works. In the meantime I am carefully checking the undersides of leaves for egg deposits. Research will be done to find a succession planting that will not encourage the flea beetle. Additionally, more nasturtiums, sunflowers and herbs will be planted nearby. All these approaches are organic in nature.

Peach Borer

Last year we had a late freeze which wiped out the peach crop. Therefore, I took advantage of the situation and treated the trees for borers. I admit I used chemicals. But I believe there will be no residual in this year’s crop. So far only a few fruit have signs of trouble. Nature’s sign is even better. For once the wasps have not built a nest in the trees. Wasps are beneficial insects and they feast on peach borers. I am taking their home building elsewhere in the yard as a sign the borer crop has been dealt a severe blow.

In addition to the wasps, tiny green metallic flies are making a home in the vegetable garden. I believe the ones in my garden belong to the Family Dolichopodidae. I am unsure of the genus or species. But the information I have gathered is that they are very beneficial and voracious eaters. Beneficial insects are naturally organic.

Go Organic

Each summer we enjoy organic produce straight from our garden. The vegetables and fruits just taste better when they go from garden to table on the same day. In fact much of the time we eat the food within the hour. Vegetables I used to turn my nose up at take on a fresh flavor from my garden. I encourage everyone to plant and grow an organic crop this summer.

Instead of commercial fertilizer use compost and grow native plants. Encourage beneficial insects. Remove fruit or leaves that look infected. Spend a few minutes each day in your garden focusing on trouble signs.

The following slide show gives you a peek at my garden. The peach trees are thinned of peaches to reduce the stress on the limbs. Some show signs of damage from a brief hail storm. You can see the flea beetles and the damage to the leaves but no sign of eggs of any type underneath. Additionally, there are some close up of the tiny flies. If you think I have misidentified them please let me know in the comments. Happy Gardening!

Groundbreaking Food Gardens Book Review

Groundbreaking Food Gardens Book cover of Groundbreaking Food Gardens

Niki Jabbour is the author of Groundbreaking Food Gardens. This great garden planning book contains 73 garden plans to inspire you. Jabbour gives a brief introduction to her 72 contributors. Then each designer provides a layout and tips for their garden. Groundbreaking Food Gardens comprises a wide range of gardens. There is truly something for everyone.

The table of contents allows the reader to pinpoint the type of garden they are thinking about without reading from cover to cover. But reading straight through benefits the serious gardener. Each of the contributors explains the how and whys of their design. Additionally, the garden experts provide lots of information. Tips on succession planting, soil amendment and water rates add to the book.

Eclectic best describes the multitude of garden designs. The sections include potted gardens, roof top gardens as well as large-scale operations. Some of the gardens are strictly focused on edible plants. Others combine food and flower. Still others are designed with backyard living in mind. Quite a few plans are geared toward kids. Both the Chicago Hot Dog Garden and the OTTO Pizza Garden incorporate familiar shapes into the garden. This visual approach is fun for kids (and adults.)

Groundbreaking Design InstructionsDescription of garden reducing grocery bill

One of the best elements of Groundbreaking Food Gardens is the instructions for implementing the designs. Details for achieving the same or similar look are provided in an easy to understand manner. For example, a step-by-step guide for planting a knot garden explains the spacing and layout of the plants along with the materials needed. Diagrams are provided for individual plant layout. Other structures such as containers and pallet gardens also include instructions.

There are sidebars sprinkled throughout the pages. Some, like the one on Lasagna Gardening are page long and appear in the table of contents. Others like the snippet on square foot garden give the reader just a taste. Many of the contributors share their personal knowledge gained through years of gardening.

Groundbreaking Food Gardens covers so many possible ways to grow nutritious food. I knew some of the techniques such as the Lasagna Bed and the Square Foot Gardening. But many others contained new information. While several of the garden designs require some experience, quite a few were geared toward beginning gardeners. This book has something for everyone.

Book pages describing kid friendly gardens

 

 

May 2018 Wrap Up

The month of May is one of the prettiest and after October is my favorite month. Those lucky enough to get April showers are rewarded by nature with an abundance of blooms in May. This year the roses have been stunning. But the edible plants are also taking off.

The raised bed garden is in full swing. Harvest has already begun. The early spring crops of various greens, radishes and peas have made it to the table. Not only are sprouts popping through the soil, but blooms are here and there throughout the beds. It won’t be long before the first zucchini is picked.

The lasagna beds also contain plants. A potato came up volunteer in one bed. I think it is a white potato but not sure. So I’ll have to wait awhile to find out. Sweet potato slips arrived. Unfortunately, they were very dry at the roots. So, I placed them in a jar by the sink and let them revive for three days before planting. I split them up between a raised bed and the second lasagna garden. We will see if they make the transplantation.

May 2018 Travel

Travel was limited to a quick trip to Kentucky. The Bluegrass State is a favorite destination even when the weather is less than desirable. Spring seemed to be a few weeks behind in Central Kentucky. We enjoyed a tour of Kentucky Artisan Distillery. This bourbon specialized in small batches. The tour allows visitors a close up view of the process. Our tight timetable did not lets us participate in the tasting but I give this place high marks for the information shared. If you are in the Louisville area consider visiting the great people at Kentucky Artisan Distillery.

Other trips afield were to neighboring counties. Most were work related but one trip up the valley was in celebration of a high school graduate. It is so rewarding to see the next generation setting out. Their future will impact us in so many positive ways. Congratulations to all 2018 graduates!

Cataracts

My reading has slowed quite a bit this month. My right eye is compromised by a cataract. Surgery is scheduled for mid-June. Let me know if you have any advice in the comment section. I am very apprehensive about the surgery.
Headaches are a byproduct of the condition. But I am reading in small bites of time. The Friday reviews may reflect that with some old favorites. Stay tuned.

Slide Show

The slide show focuses on my yard. The roses are spectacular this year and I don’t think my photography skills do them justice. The same holds true for the vegetable gardens. I have also included a few slides showing some features of our outdoor home improvement. The final slide is a beautiful flower arrangement I received for Mother’s Day.