Thursday, January 30, 2014

On Your Mark, Get Set, . .

GO! Gardening season is off. It might be 15F outside right now. Brrrr! We might be in a bad cold snap. And the ground will probably be frozen for another month and a half. But I'm thinking of warmer times. The first out of the gates was the Garnet sweet potatoes. Though I don't have them on the windowsill as you see here. I've got them by the fridge where it is marginally warmer.

Garnets don't break dormancy well I've found. They were about a month or so behind my Purples and Beauregards last year, so I decided to start them in January instead of the beginning of March. They usually are very productive, but they got put in late last year and the other plants that had been in for a week over took them and pretty much smothered the poor things. This year I want to give them a chance.

Next up are my onions. I planted my bunching onions in the back small container with just randomly scattered seed. Then I made two full flats of 1 1/2" soil blocks. Sadly I used some seed from 2011 as my Redwing seed hasn't shown up yet. It is on backorder. I hope it sprouts. But if it doesn't I'll redo the blocks when the rest of my seed gets here. Typically I buy onion seed every year or two as the seed doesn't keep its viability long. Three years is pushing it.

One flat was nothing but Copra. It is my mainstay storage onion. Half of the next flat was Ailsa Craig a sweet onion, and the other half was the aforementioned Redwing, which is a good red storage onion. I ought to put more into Copra and less into Ailsa Craig. That onion can only keep for about 2 months. And 36 very large onions (and yes they get very very large) is doable, but hard to go through. Last year I got more poundage out of these onions than the other two combined in 1/3 of the space. I wish onions froze well, but I just don't like frozen onions.

The onions were put under some cool white fluorescent shop lights. Since these are long day onions I have the lights on for about 12 hours. That will keep them from bulbing up prematurely. I'll put them out in early April. Starting onions from seed is a PITA. They take a long time to get to a reasonable size. And I need a lot of them to fill a bed. I keep thinking our area needs a bulk buy from Dixondale Farms. If you buy in bulk it is pretty inexpensive. But I'd have to find enough people that want to go in on it. I think about 10 bunches would make it cost effective over growing them under lights (two months of a shop light costs about $7-$8 I think, not to mention seed and soil costs). With 10 bunches it would only be $4.28 for 50-75 plants. I'd want about 2 bunches myself. Though that would be splitting a couple of the bunches if I kept my sweet and red onion level at half my yellow onion level. Sadly I don't know of any place here that sells onion plants cheap.

Hmm Are there any other Bostonians out there that would come to East Arlington for a bulk buy (3/4 mile from Alewife subway stop, on the 77 bus line, and 1 mile from Route 2)? If so I'll collect names and emails and ask again come November to see if people are still interested. If so send me an email at And tell me about how many bunches you would want - as low as a 1/2 and as high as you need (this is not a commitment, but just to get an idea if it is feasible). It can't happen this year as I've already ordered my seeds, and I'm just thinking about it now. But oh it would be nice to not have to do onion starts every year.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Harvest Monday, January 27th, 2014

Salmon and fava beans in a mushroom tarragon sauce with a side of spinach*

Every year I redo my side tally bar. And every year it starts out very negative. This year it starts at $-401.02. Ouch. The reality is that I spent most of that money to build the garden. I amortize costs that go over multiple years. Like the wood and hardware to build my beds. The soil that was put in the beds. And the other odds and ends that I use that last, like bamboo and the now useless tomato cages that I ought to sell to someone that could actually use them (but I maintain a weird denial about not eating tomatoes and don't want to believe that I can never eat them again - I'm sure at some point I'll get over it). I even add in the fertilizer costs since I buy big bags and use them over time. Most of these expenses will disappear over time as the minimum amount of time I expect the item to last will have expired.

Bean burger with steamed purple sweet potatoes and green beans*

Since I haven't shown it in a while I'll show you the table I have right now:

DescriptionYearsCostCost/yearYear BoughtYear Expires
Bamboo 4 261.50 65.37 2011 2015
Nofa 2 236.83 118.41 2013 2015
2x6x8 5 386.92 77.38 2011 2016
Screws 5 42.52 8.50 2011 2016
Corner brace 5 101.66 20.332 2011 2016
Composter 10 50.00 5 2010 2020
Tomato cages GHS 20 86.06 4.303 2010 2030
Tomato Cages TC 20 274.30 13.72 2010 2030
soil 30 223.13 7.44 2011 2041
concrete bricks 30 24.30 0.81 2011 2041

As you can see a huge portion of the cost of the garden was from the wood that makes up the garden and the bamboo poles. NOFA is the Northeast Organic Farmers Association. They do bulk buys every year for things like fertilizer, potting soil, netting, etc. I participate occasionally and buy more than I need. Though I've amortized though this year, I'm guessing I'll be set for at least another year after that.

So if you add all those costs/year up I come up with 321.28. This year I've only spent 79.74. Which is actually more than typical for me and seeds. I ought to control myself more where seeds are concerned, but you just know that isn't going to happen.

Black bean and sweet potato soup with a whole wheat quesadilla*

You might have noticed that I've been better about photographing my meals this week, but I was also better at planning. At the beginning of last week I actually made a menu that goes out three weeks. I like to cook, but I just hate figuring out what I'm going to make for dinner. So now I have something to follow. Though I've written it down I reserve the right to play with my food when I want and change it. Sometimes I get things into my head and I want to do something new.

This week my new thing was the first photo above. I've been trying to get more fish into our diets due to health concerns. But buying fresh fish from the store in winter is a pain. I don't have a car. And this January has been really cold. So I was trying to make a healthy meal from canned salmon. I think it turned out well. It is made with soy milk and don't tell my husband but there are vegetables ground up in the sauce. Oh and he didn't get any fava beans. Not his cup of tea. It was still good for him though.

*All of the vegetables and beans shown above are from my stores - even the tarragon from the salmon dish.

Harvest Monday is a day to show off your harvests, how you are saving your harvest, or how you are using your harvest. If you have a harvest you want to show off, add your name and link to Mr Linky below.

Friday, January 24, 2014

And Yet More Fruit

I've been thinking a lot about what to do about next year in several areas. The major two being fruit related. I've slowly added fruits to my garden over the years. The majority came in 2011 when the yard was finished. But last year I looked sadly at my Green Gage plum and wondered if it would ever bloom. It is a poor, sad tree. The aphids like to take it over and it hasn't been healthy. I do spray it with insecticidal soap when it gets bad. But after reading about it I found that the European plums tend to have more trouble. I know I love the Japanese plums as that is what they sell in the farmers markets. I should have taken that as a hint about what grows well around here. I'm not quite at the point of giving up on the Green Gage, but I really wanted to see if a Japanese variety would grow better.

So I thought about what spot I could tuck a tree into. Plums typically are about 20 feet tall and our yard is totally planned and planted. So it had to be in the vegetable garden. I've grown less fond of the sunflowers over the years, but I like to have something tall along the southwest wall of the house. It at least pretends to keep us cooler since we lack shade (the flaw of having a vegetable garden against the southern part of the house). I've thought about growing vines up the wall. But that is bad for the longevity of the house. So maybe a tree would work.

The area in question is only 3' across and right against the foundation. The path goes right next to this. I really don't want a standard sized tree as it wouldn't grow correctly. So I finally decided on a shorter plum. A Weeping Santa Rosa. It doesn't produce the prodigious quantities of fruit a real Santa Rosa can produce, but the fruit is supposed to be even better. And it is self pollinating. It only gets 8'-10' high naturally, so I can probably keep it pruned to 7'-8' easily enough. I thought about pruning it to an espalier, but I honestly think contorting the plum to a linear shape would be easier than that. Instead of 3-4 main branches, I'll have two that go along the line of the house. I might need some support early on to get the main branches to go where they need to go, but once the main branches are set, the tree ought to be easy to keep pruned. At least that is my hope.

Another problem is my strawberries. I have some disease that is killing off my strawberry plants. Earliglow seems much less affected though its production has lowered a lot. Whatever it is doesn't seem to affect the figs, pears, or apples. The plum is a poor sick thing, but doesn't seem to show signs of verticillium (lower branches dying - I tend to have more trouble with the newer growth where the aphids love to be). So maybe it is red stele. Or maybe not. I'm going to replace Sparkle with Surecrop. Not as tasty maybe, but more reliable. I'll probably remove all plants from the plum section just in case it is verticillium as the stone fruits are so susceptible. At my last house I never had disease problems in anything really. The soil was so clean. But it was also clay with its inherent problems. This sandy loam we have here grows things so well, but I swear there are so many diseases. I don't know if it is from the soil itself or the warmer area with everyone and their gardens so close.

And since I had spent yet more money on fruit I decided I needed to update my tally for 2014. It is the new year after all. It really seems every year I spend more and more money on fruit, but still haven't seen the payback. I have in the little fruits. Even the dying strawberries more than paid for themselves. At some point I'm going to have to quit buying fruit trees. Though I'd still love a persimmon. And I so wish I could have two paw paw trees, but there are certainly no spots for two large trees (a very under used tree that is so delicious). The persimmon might happen though. I'm sure there are small persimmons out there. Maybe if my Paradisio fig never ripens any fruit or if I give up on the Green Gage plum a persimmon could go there.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Harvest Monday, January 20th 2014

This is a hard time of the year to be hosting Harvest Monday. I won't see a harvest for months. And though I am eating from my preserved stash, none of my recent meals have inspired me to take a lot of photos. It is just same old, same old. I have been having fun with making crackers, but no great successes. Though my last attempt had my husband happy. Of course crackers aren't from the garden. I'm also trying to transform some of my recipes to healthier versions.

Turkey meatloaf, purple sweet potatoes, kale

Take meatloaf. It has always been a family favorite. I finally got a version that we all liked that didn't have tomatoes (since I can't eat them). Then several months ago I decided I needed more fiber and made a version that was vegetarian. It was just OK. I think all bean "meat"loaf has a weird texture. I'd eat it but the rest of the family wouldn't even try it when the regular version was on the table too. So I'm trying to work out a turkey version. The two versions I made the other night were decent. One was all turkey and the other had black beans substituting for half of the ground turkey. I liked the bean version best. Half beans and the texture is right and the meatloaf is more moist. Now I just have to not over cook it next time. Maybe next week I'll try again and tweak it a bit too.

So I'm hoping my posters do better than I. In the middle of January with a long winter still ahead, I could really use some eye candy so I can dream about next year's garden and harvests.

Harvest Monday is a day to show off your harvests, how you are saving your harvest, or how you are using your harvest. If you have a harvest you want to show off, add your name and link to Mr Linky below.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Harvest Monday, January 13th, 2014

This last week or so has really been a seesaw of temperatures here. I keep hoping my plants can all survive this. We got down to negative temps (in F not C, -18C=0F), then it went back up to the 50Fs. The next day it was in the single digits again. Then we got a high of 57F. Just wild swings. We keep swinging back and forth from our typical lowest lows to our highest highs. The plants just have to hate that. I hope my rosemary lives. And I'm trying not to think about my poor fig trees.

Though nothing is getting picked in the garden, I am eating from it as you can see above. The top photo is a bean and mushroom burger with some Boston baked beans, pickles, and chard. The only thing not homemade was the bun. I used to make my own buns, but recently I've been buying them as the last three bun attempts had me burning them. I know how easy they are to make. But I seem to be cursed. The bottom photo is some cabbage soup. I put up a lot of it since I had so much Chinese cabbage and I'm really happy about it now. The biscuit is a kale and cheese biscuit that I made ages ago. They seem to hold up to freezing well too.

Harvest Monday is a day to show off your harvests, how you are saving your harvest, or how you are using your harvest. If you have a harvest you want to show off, add your name and link to Mr Linky below.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Harvest Monday, January 6th, 2014

I'm not here right now, but you can all have fun without me. Happy New Year!

Harvest Monday is a day to show off your harvests, how you are saving your harvest, or how you are using your harvest. If you have a harvest you want to show off, add your name and link to Mr Linky below.