Thursday, March 06, 2008

All the good weeders are gone

Every year, around this time, I have the best intentions for the garden. I imagine all sorts of ambitious garden projects. And in my mind, our garden is green and lush, without one single weed. There's this guy at the garden plots who figures prominently in these fantasies. He's the gardener I'd like to be when I grow up. He's out there every morning. He pulls the weeds before they even surface. We used to think he used some sort of chemicals. Nope. Just a really active, dedicated weeder.

I am not this guy. Typically, by early July, I'm talking a lot about how much I plan on weeding. But in actuality, I'm climbing through two-feet high tangles to get to the Black Krim tomatoes. Scratched and sniffling, I keep bitching about the weeds. Then, planbreaker and df head out one sweltering morning to actually do the weeding.

All of this is simply to say that I'm really going to miss df and planbreaker this year. They're kind of like my gardening conscience. Now that they live in an important node point in the global economic system, what will become of the garden?

So, I did some research, trying to figure out how to minimize the weeds. I found this helpful little article, which praises the benefits of mulching. We've sort of been mulching, by laying down straw, but it appears that we can it one step further. Mulching not only controls weeds, but also helps to increase your crop yields (scroll to page 7 to read about an organic mulch experiment in Peoria). This is because mulch enriches the soil and helps to retain moisture. Since we've had problems with blossom rot in the past, as well as weeds, mulch really seems like an all-purpose answer.

The cheapest mulch, and one that seems to be very effective, is made from shredded leaves. You spread this around the plants, and it diminishes the number of weeds substantially. I have tons of leaves in my yard, and am wondering if we could use these. Apparently, you're supposed to gather and shred them in the fall, which I didn't do, but I wonder if this is really necessary. I mean, do you think we could just rake up the leaves out there now and then shred them? Or is this crazy?

Overall, what do you guys think of mulching? It's no replacement for planbreaker, df, rj, or js, but it seems like our best shot at weed-control this summer.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

True leaves are emerging!

Yep, that's right folks, this gardening stuff actually works. Right on schedule, our baby tomato plants are growing their first "true leaves":

That's them, in the center of the plant. Almost all of our plants have sprouted their "true leaves." Soon, it'll be time to transplant to bigger pots.

Also, this is Sophie the cat, who hates the baby tomato plants, because they're blocking her favorite sun-spot, the kitchen windowsill. She's retreated to the kitchen shelf, where she's planning a major attack:

Poor Sophie. My money's on the baby tomato plants.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Get your garden on

It's nowhere near spring yet in the mid-west. But in my kitchen, garden-time is here. We have baby tomatoes!

I think I'm in love. They're so cute, I can hardly take my eyes off them. Those little leaves are called cotyledons. Once they're replaced by "true leaves," we'll be transplanting them from these small containers to larger ones.

It's no doubt over-kill, but EJK and tfoster and I have opted to grow 72 plants. We have 7 varieties, including some of our all-time favorites: Black Krim, Brandywine, Beefsteak, Yellow-pear, and a crazy-new yellow and red-striped concoction. I can taste the tomato tart already!

The plants look healthy and happy, but I'm nervous about the light situation. That seems to be the biggest pitfall with home grown plants--it's hard to get enough light. EJK and tfoster purchased an excellent (and cheap) flourescent light, which I'm running 16 hours a day. It looks like a space ship:

Keep your fingers crossed! I'll be starting the pepper plants in a few days.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

African Peanut Soup

This is from Vegetarian Times Complete Cookbook, and it's always been a crowd pleaser! Plus, it calls for bell peppers and over a 1.5 lbs of tomatoes... I'm adding it to the blog b/c I think that using fresh tomatoes would be better than canned ones.

2 bell peppers, chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
2 TBS canola oil
4 garlic cloves minced
1 28 oz can whole tomatoes, chopped
1/2 tsp. chili flakes
1/2 tsp. balck pepper
8 c. veggie broth
1/2 c. brown rice
2/3 c. no salt or sugar creamy peanut butter.

in oil saute onions, peppers, and garlic (until almost brown). add tomatoes with juice, broth, chili flakes, pepper and rice. cook covered until rice is soft (about 1/2 hour). add peanut butter. stir until disolved.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Tomato Tart Recipe

So, I'm not going to go so far as to claim that this is the best garden recipe EVER, but I think the argument could be made.

A couple of notes. As I mentioned before, you can add more tomatoes if you have a lot on hand to use up. I think I regularly use about 5 lbs rather than 3. You may want to add more cheese and seasoning, accordingly. Also, the recipe calls for shredded fontina. If you haven't dealt w/fontina before, you should know that there are 2 kinds commonly available in town: Danish and Italian. They both taste good, but the Danish is way too soft to shred. So, ask for the Italian. If you're not in the mood to visit a specialty store, you can substitute "fontinella," which is easy to find at Schnuck's, etc. It's a sharper cheese, but still tasty in this recipe.

Enjoy folks...

Rustic Tomato Basil Tart

1 ½ lbs medium yellow tomatoes, cut into ¼-inch thick slices
1 ½ lbs medium red tomatoes, cut into ¼-inch thick slices
1 ½ teaspoons salt, divided
1 cup fresh corn kernels (about 2 ears)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
¼ cup yellow cornmeal
¼ cup chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon yellow cornmeal
½ cup thinly sliced fresh basil, divided
1/3 cup (1 ½ ounces) shredded fontina cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper

1. Arrange tomato slices in a single layer on several layers of paper towels; sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt. Let stand 20 minutes; blot dry with paper towels.

2. Preheat oven to 400.

3. Place corn, juice, and sour cream in a food processor or blender; process until smooth. Combine 1 ½ cups flour, ¼ cup cornmeal, and ½ teaspoon salt in a large bowl; stir with a whisk. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add corn mixture; stir until a soft dough forms. Knead gently 3 or 4 times.

4. Slightly overlap 2 (16-inch) sheets of plastic wrap on a slightly damp surface [A large, rectangular cutting board works well here]. Place dough on plastic wrap; press into a 6-inch circle. Cover with 2 additional (16-inch) sheets of plastic wrap. Roll dough, still covered, into a 14-inch circle; place on a large baking sheet in freezer for 10 minutes or until plastic wrap can easily be removed. Line baking sheet with parchment paper; sprinkle paper with 1 tablespoon of cornmeal. Remove 2 sheets of plastic wrap from dough. Place dough, plastic wrap side up, on baking sheet. Remove top sheets of plastic wrap.

5. Combine ¼ cup basil, cheese, and oregano. Combine 2 tablespoons flour and ½ teaspoon salt. Arrange cheese mixture on dough, leaving a 1 ½ inch border. Using a sifter or sieve, sift 1 tablespoon flour mixture over cheese mixture. Arrange half of tomatoes over cheese mixture. Sift remaining flour mixture over tomatoes; top with remaining tomatoes. Fold edges of dough toward center; press to seal (dough will only partially cover tomatoes. Bake at 400 for 35 minutes or until crust is brown [Check it frequently toward the end of the bake time—it usually doesn’t take the full amount of time in my oven]. Let stand 10 minutes. Sprinkle with ¼ cup basil and pepper.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

new watering schedule!!

here's our new watering schedule:

8/1 DF
8/3 SC
8/5 MG
8/7 TG
8/9 RT
8/11 AW
8/13 SC
8/15 DF
8/17 MG
8/19 TG
8/21 RT
8/23 AW
8/25 SC
8/27 DF
8/29 MG
8/31 TG
9/2 RT
9/4 AW
9/6 SC
9/8 DF
9/10 MG
9/12 TG
9/14 RT
9/16 AW

I'm not sure how late in the year we're actually going to need to water so why don't we just stop it there for now.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Update - weeds. 'maters, etc.

Just a little update for everyone, since poor MG has been pretty much the only one watching the garden and I'd guess she is sick of thinking about it. So, I'll try to step in. There is some good news and some OK news and maybe some less than great news.

Good news. So far there are seemingly no large beetle problems, although as you can see from my previous post there are lots of other people in the area who are not so lucky. I've seen a few here and there, but so far, so good.

The weeds, on the other hand, are thriving. We've done a fair amount of weeding in the past couple days and have made quite a bit of progress (I've been just leaving the dead weeds on top of the straw as a second layer of mulch). As we've cleared the weeds, we've found some good surprises (the cukes and one plot of yellow squash look great) and so-so (some of the replanted squash plants seem small but healthy. Brussel sprouts look good. I think the cabbage and broccoli may be toast. I haven't looked at the beans (that area still needs some weeding).

Now, tomatoes. As MG, planbreaker and I have noticed, the tomatoes do not seem to be turning red very quickly (we had a lot of red tomatoes by this time last year). We've also cumulatively thrown out probably 40 rotten tomatoes that have turned red; essentially it seems like if they turn red they rot instantly. There is a similar, though less pervasive, problem with some of the peppers -- although in general the peppers look pretty good. This seems to be only a problem with the regular tomatoes, the cherry and grape varieties seem fine.

However, I talked to a friend who is a big gardener, and got some news that may be better than MG and I had hoped. Turns out a lot of people don't have many red tomatoes yet this year, some people think it has something to do with the weird spring and the effect on bees, which in turn has an impact on pollenation of the plants. However, things are starting to look up in that regard. And, the rotting is likely blossom end rot, which, from what he said and from what I've found online, is caused by soil composition and soil moisture, neither of which there is anything we can do about. HOWEVER, it often solves itself as the season goes on and the roots get better established. I guess for now all we can do is keep an eye on things and hope for the best. The only thing he suggested is more regular watering, but not drowning it when you do (do we need to move to daily watering? Seems excessive, but I dunno...)

I picked a couple good tomatoes today (good sign!), a couple cukes, and a couple beets because I didn't want them to go bad out there. If you want them, come and get them--we're kind of overloaded with food right now. We are probably to the point where there will be good new stuff daily, so people should start picking away. There's also a ton of chard out there and the kale is really good too.

Lastly, planbreaker and I think we should just tear out all the lettuce, maybe plant something new in its place? Here are the things that the UI Extension says can be planted now, and hopefully we could get it harvested by the time they close the garden:

Leaf lettuce
Snap beans
Mustard greens
Mesclun mixes (If weather is unusually hot, plant these greens in partial shade.)

Well, that about wraps up what's been going on. It should be pretty obvious what needs to be weeded, if anyone wants to go out. An hour or so can really make a dent. I'm up for going, with a little notice, if anyone wants company.

We also need to plan a harvest "feast" sometime soon. Anyone wanna suggest a date?