Thursday, July 25, 2013

Learn By Doing

The doer alone learneth.

-Friedrich Nietzsche 

Here we are again and it is time for some learnin'. Part of my new school of thought is "just do it, and figure it out as you go". I have the tendency to research the crap out something before I do it, leaving me, often times, with too many preconceived notions, and anxiety about the process. Which ends with me taking little or no action out of fear. While I still research (its my nature, can't help it), I set a limit, and focus on the overview, or any safety concerns. It has transformed the way I think about so many things. It doesn't have to be perfect or great, it may even suck, but I will have done it, I will have learned something, and I will do it better the next time. Now, on to garden business.

I recently harvested enough lemon cucumbers to actually make something with them. I only had four, so it couldn't be big, and, I wanted something that could stick around for a while. I settled on some refrigerator pickles, and couldn't be happier.

Garden Haul

Pay no attention to the fig, I promptly ate that. I did have a bunch of beans that was not enough to make anything else with (besides, I'm the only one who eats them), so I decided to pickle them too, along with that tiny walla walla onion. First step is to blanch the beans. Throw them in boiling water for a minute or two, then throw them in some ice water, or under cold running water to stop the cooking process. For the beautiful Dragon Wax Beans, this removed most of their fabulous color which was a little disappointing.

Blanch Those Beans!

Next, I halved and thinly sliced the onion, diced some garlic, and peeled and sliced my cucumbers. The pickle juice is easy. Water, vinegar, sugar, salt, and some spices. I used coriander and mustard seeds for the spice, but you could use whatever you want. I chose rice vinegar for its more subtle taste, however, a white wine, champagne, or even apple cider would work. Technically, any vinegar would do, but darker ones would likely overpower those delicate lemon cukes. 

Peel and Slice!

Then, you just throw it all in a quart mason jar, throw it in the fridge, and let the magic happen. I held out about 30 minutes and it was awesome.  The next morning, it was divine. Everything is transformed into a light, refreshing, condiment that is perfect for summer.   

Fill it up

Pickles! (and beans, yeah!)

On a side note, if you happen to not have an abundance of veggies, or, are getting one or two every few days, never fear! Just add them as you get them. I added in some beans the second day without blanching them and they were good, though not as good as the ones that were blanched.  You cannot mess this up, it will be fabulous, and you will wonder why you waited so long.

Refrigerator Pickles

3/4 c Vinegar

1 c Water

3 T Sugar

1 T Salt

1/2 t Coriander

1/2 t Mustard Seeds

2 Cloves Garlic, Diced

1 sm Onion, thinly sliced

4 Lemon Cucumbers, peeled and sliced

10-15 Wax beans, blanched

Blanch beans. Dice garlic, and thinly slice onions and cucumbers. Combine first 6 ingredients in a quart mason jar and shake to mix. Add in veggies and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

Food totals: 33 lbs since last post

10 lbs cherries
3 lbs beans
1 lb 2 oz strawberries
9.5 lbs  carrots
8 lbs onions
.5 lbs rainbow chard
1.5 lbs lemon cucumber
27.5 lbs plums
.25 lbs Blackberries

438.25 lbs to goal

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose...

Remember you will not always win. Some days, the most resourceful individual will taste defeat. But there is, in this case, always tomorrow - after you have done your best to achieve success today.
-Maxwell Maltz 

The thunder chickens got into my garden again.  Chickens have brains the size of my thumbnail.  They are dumb on a level that challenges reason, and yet, they keep getting in.  This time, Maven, the smart one, found a weak spot in the fence and pushed her way in.  Of course she couldn't get out. But, that's ok, my husband found her just when she had finished stripping all the Kale plants of EVERY leaf, and eating all of the cabbage seedlings. Not to mention making a mess of the rows.  

Sad naked Kale

Always reminds me of this...

Gimme that Kale!!!

Despite the girls' best efforts, I still have managed to make some progress.  Everything is growing, flowering, fruiting, and becoming generally awesome. Both apple trees are full of apples and almost ripe. The fig tree is fruiting, for real now, and I think its going to be ridiculous.  The pear tree has double the fruit of last year, and the plum tree has at least 1000 plums on it. No joke.

Plum Crazy!

The tomatoes are getting close. There are hundreds of them a week or two from being ripe. 

West tomato wall, almost 6ft!

Beautiful San Marzanos, soon to be paste.

I hilled, or "earthed up" the potatoes. Apparently, I was supposed to do that when they were about 4" and every 4" until the container is full. It is already time to do it again. Oops. They seem to be doing great though. I suppose I will find out when harvest time comes. Isn't trial and error fun? 

Hilling taters

I finally got a cucumber! And, there are easily 20 more coming right away. I am pickling some of these bad boys as soon as possible. Hopefully I will have enough to do several jars of a few types.

Lemon Cucumber!

Got my first ground cherry too. It is definitely on the small end of the scale judging by the later husks. I ate it, and it did indeed taste of vanilla and pineapple. Amazing!

Who knew?

Ground cherry growing outside of the husk

I have 7 tomatillo plants. They are all full of glorious globes of wonder! The husks look like lanterns, and the flowers have attracted more bees than anything else in the garden.


The front yard has ground cherries in it too.  My herb buckets didn't do as well as I had hoped, but, to be fair, I was overzealous and planted to early. And, from seed.  Should have started them inside. Next year.

Daisies, ground cherries, lavender, meadowsweet,
valerian, and a half finished bamboo border.

The side of the house is really coming along.  There are actually about 65 sunflowers in various stages planted here.  The Oilseeds have yet to bloom, they should have bigger heads. I also have dragon wax beans planted along the back and in between the sunflowers.  They are producing now after a slow start from being too leggy as seedlings. Again, overzealous. What can I say? I'm an anxious gardener.

Some things are working.  Some things are not. I am learning a lot, experimenting, and getting dirty. A few weeks from now, and I will be in harvest and preserve mode. Looking forward to trying new recipes, preserving techniques, and another hard cider attempt!

Food totals: 11.75 lbs since last post

10 lbs cherries
2 lbs beans
1 lb 2 oz strawberries
9.5 lbs  carrots
5.5 lbs onions
.5 lbs rainbow chard
.25 lbs lemon cucumber

471.25 lbs to goal

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Potato Buckets

One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today.
-Dale Carnegie 

I have wanted to grow potatoes for a long time. As in, many, many, many years.  I want to grow fabulous heirloom, rare, unusual, odd colored potatoes.  Until this year, I have not had the space in whatever garden I had to grow them.  During my garden research for this year, I looked at quite a few versions of the potato tower.  An easy way to grow potatoes out of the ground. Easy to water, easy to harvest. No brainer. 

There are "bags" you can buy that fit the bill. But, they were too expensive for me.  There are plenty of DIY's out there using everything from buckets to bamboo mats. There is a lot of debate about growing them entirely in straw, or straw lined with dirt/compost, or straw bottomed with dirt, or layering of all of it. I went with buckets as that is what I already have, and in abundance.  All the bucket DIY's say to use 5 gal buckets, but I happen to have 3.5 gal.  So, we will see...


I started with 6 buckets and drilled holes in the bottom for drainage. This, for some reason took way longer than I had anticipated, and made worse by a dying battery.  But finally, they were all drilled and ready to go.


I had in mind for some months now, to get some seed potatoes from a local feed store that is close to my house.  I get my hay and chicken feed there already, and they had seed potatoes for 2.19 lb.  Then, when I went to buy them (likely cause it is now July), they were half price! So, I bought  about 4 lbs of 3 different varieties, all organic, for about $4.50.

Organic Cal Whites

Organic Kennebecs

I added a layer of straw into the bottom of each bucket and placed in the seed potatoes. Then, I added a compost/soil mix.  As the potatoes grow, I will add in more soil, like traditional "hilling".  A very cool benefit of bucket growing is that when you are ready to harvest, you simply dump the bucket out and pick up your taters.  I am growing these in my front yard where they can get more sun.  In the back, they would have to be in the fenced off garden or my chickens would surely get at them.

Straw Bed

All nestled in

I had read that a pound of seed potato will yield 7-10 lbs of tubers. I don't know that I will get that much due to the smaller space, but, who knows? This is surely an experiment.  I may not even get a pound, but I will get a better understanding of growing potatoes, and that is worth every penny and ounce of sweat to me. I am excited that I finally got some planted.  I have no idea why I waited so long.  I supposed it seemed overwhelming or to space intensive before. It is my intention to "put on" all those things I have "put off" for the right timimg/circumstance/money/etc, etc, etc...  Potatoes, check.

Food totals:

10 lbs cherries
8 oz beans
1 lb 2 oz strawberries
5 lbs 2 oz carrots
6 oz onions

483 lbs to goal