Monday, June 30, 2008

Taking a cue and finding a clue...

One of my dear friends keeps a running list of her solar-oven goodies. I thought I'd do something similar with my homegrown meals. It helps me to keep track and see very clearly the fruits of my harvest many moons after digesting them! Plus keeping records is an essential part of becoming more self-reliant. If I know what did well, when, and how, I can further refine my plant management system for next year. I also know what does well in this micro-climate and how it was impacted by our crazy weather (although everywhere seems to be crazy of late). It also helps me know when to buy more seed of what.

Here are some good examples of excellent record keeping here and here. That last link is to the energy conservation charts of my hero, Bob Waldrop. I can't sing his praises enough. He's like John the Baptist, only I don't think he eats bugs. He sure does shake the hell out of the Oklahoma status quo, though. He single-handedly started the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House delivering tons of food each month to the poor, created the Oklahoma Food Co-op, ran for OKC mayor, and moderates the Running on Empty2 yahoo group (since 2001)!!! I so would have voted for him had I been an OKC resident at the time. Bob - you're awesome! An inspiration! Thanks for all you do!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Brain Drain on Parade + Bug Extravaganza

So I just completed (hopefully) the last test of my job-related capabilities yesterday morning - an oral examination in front of a five-member panel at the State Capitol. Ouch. I stressed out so hard and then it went fine (I think! I'll hear the results later this week...). That's been on my mind quite a bit, though. Afterwards the Frau was kind enough to take me out for some restorative pho at my favorite joint, Pho Cuong. Thank you, Frau!

What has also been on my mind is bug damage! In addition to Those Little Bastards the Flea Beetles and the cabbage worms of yore, I've been struggling with the explosion of spider mites and aphids that accompanies hot weather. For whatever reason their numbers hit the bigtime when it it gets hot. So this morning I was out spraying with a hot pepper and soap spray which I let sit for an hour or so and then rinsed.

Flea Beetle Bastards
(image courtesy

I've also seen the first monarch caterpillars of the season, so beware! I frequently find them on my dill, fennel, and parsley - and those voracious buggers can take a plant down in a day or two! So watch out for them, but please don't kill them! Relocate to a plant you don't mind having gnawed on... Tree-of-heaven, anyone?

Monarch Caterpillar

I pulled a bunch of harlequin bugs off of my broccoli plants, which I finally decided to pull up, as well. I cut them off at the stalk with the hare-brained idea that I might be able to "over-summer" them until this fall if I cover them with enough compost and humus. They'll probably die, true, but it's worth the experimental value!

Harlequin bugs - nothing funny about 'em!
(image courtesy:

Naturally I've also picked and killed several of these dudes, the famed Cucumber Beetle of Death!

Spotted Variety
(Be careful - there's a multi-spotted ladybug with this spot pattern but a red background, which looks very similar!)

Striped Variety

The stink bugs have been hiding out in the cat-face scars on some of my larger tomatoes. Those cheap opportunistic bastards! Seriously, if you have deeply dimpled tomato fruit, check it for stink bugs, you might find some! I've found them in green and gray chez Lewru. There are also a greyish-red-brown stinkbug that is predatory and eats Mexican Bean Beetle nymphs, so be sure you know what you're about to smash. I'm just sayin'...

Stinkalicious Stink bug

I also saw one of these guys... beautiful but not a friend 'o the jardin!

And these guys will not leave me alone!

Domed Death Machine (i.e. snail)
(image courtesy

Nasty folks I haven't seen around here yet:

Colorado Potato Beetle

Mexican Bean Beetle - no this is not a yellow lady bug
(image courtesy

Squash bug

Squash Vine Borer

(In fact, I haven't seen the squash vine borers but I probably have them as one of my Eight-Ball zucchini was taken out recently and the stem was all exploded and gross with orange mush inside...I heard those guys add this sort of injury to insult. And incidentally, Frau, this isn't what we saw on your zucchini is it?)

Resulting damage from teeny-weeny bugs:

Aphid Damage (leaves are sticky, yellowing and may have brown spots, may be distorted in shape)
(image courtesy

Spider Mite Damage (look for tiny webbing best seen in sunlight)

Mondo Spider Mite Damage

Leafhopper Damage (look for pale veins, marginal yellowing, and downward curl)

And, naturally, there are rollie-pollies and mosquitoes and june bugs and grasshoppers and the like, but you don't really need pictures of those for identification, do you?

It's important to know your bugs, folks! Be aware of who you have visiting your garden. It's not hard for one or two interlopers to turn into an infestation. If you want to be able to reliably produce your own grub, get rid of your grubs!

Okay, enough of that. Be looking for a follow-up to this post entitled "Please don't kill that bug!"

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Gardening to save money

The Frau asked me how much I think I save on food by gardening. It's hard to say, really! I have been tracking my gardening expenses, but it's accurately measuring what I get back that's more difficult. Someday I might be on par with the folks at the Urban Homestead who track their produce in pounds (in terms of record keeping, not growing...not sure I have the ovaries for their operation, or at least not yet, anyway!). As of yet I don't even own a kitchen scale (note to self...).

It might be best to try to look at how much I spend on produce, which is a lot, I think, compared to most people. (Maybe? Perhaps I'm not sure about that statement...And I'm not referring to vegetarians or people who shop exclusively at Whole Foods, which I can't afford...Have you met Sallie Mae? She's my corporate sponsor.) I'm estimating $80-$110/month for two.

My expenditures have been reducing in a rolling sort of way since early April. First I replaced greens and lettuces and radishes, then came kohlrabi, turnips, turnip greens, arugula, cabbage, carrots, green beans, etc. Soon it will be more peppers, eggplant, and loads and loads of get the picture.

I think it would be fair to say that my produce expenditure are now cut by at least half. At least. Maybe more. I'm still spending money on potatoes and tomatoes until my ripen up, and of course we don't have any fruit planted at our rental, so we shell out for that (Frau, you lucky lady, I know all about your peaches and pears!). Once we land somewhere permanent that will be our next landscaping investment. Fruit trees, bushes, etc. and maybe also a small greenhouse... (I can dream, can't I?)

I'm also spending on supplemental salad materials since I eat a salad every day for lunch - bell peppers, cucumbers, celery, etc. I have a feeling that I'll be buying salad greens again soon, too, once the arugula quits for the summer. The NZ spinach hasn't exactly taken off yet and the last of the lettuces are now approaching two feet high! Luckily, the peppers and cucumbers I planted are waiting in the wings to offset that. I also tried to plant enough tomatoes to can some for the fall/winter. I plan to do as big a fall garden as I can to get some extra stuff out of it for storage.

All of our dinner vegetables have been provided by our produce for a while now, with the exception of garlic and mushrooms (and are mushrooms really a vegetable?). We've had greens and rice in numerous ways; carrot, kohlrabi, and turnips with meat; spring onion soups; lamb's quarter and basil risotto... Last night I baked Asian style pork chops with kohlrabi greens and okra, romano beans, garlic, onions, and a Hungarian wax pepper. With the exception of the garlic, all of the vegetables were from the garden. Tonight we're having green bean and eggplant pesto with wild rice (which, unfortunately, I can't grow!). Tomorrow it'll be that big butternut squash and a salad and whole wheat bulgur. This weekend we'll probably have some cabbage one night and a homemade pizza with Hungarian wax peppers and basil and onions.

Counting seeds, soil amendments, bamboo stakes, and a few plants here and there, I've probably spent around $125, give or take, for this season. I still have tons of seeds left and the stakes will remain viable for at least a few years. Plus, every year I learn a little bit more about seed-saving and save a little bit more over time. My largest expense was on soil amendments, which I probably wouldn't do every year, given that our homemade compost has been supplementing everything and is a continual process in and of itself. So is it a viable operation? Yes. And knowing where and how my food was grown, and being able to harvest it immediately before I eat it, makes that a resounding "definitely!"

If I were trying to turn this into a city program for low income folks, I would first try to get some sort of grant/donation money to help pay for seeds and compost. I'd try to get farmers to donate manure. I'd try to organize digging teams and present a brief workshop on watering, weeding, etc. using the local knowledge as team leads. Then I'd recommend high yield seed/plant varieties such as greens (turnip, mustard, collards), beets, turnips, tomatoes, beans, summer squash, zucchini, and peppers. Teaching composting, canning (not me, I'm a newbie!), and cover cropping would be important, too.

Man, that would be cool! And it will probably trend in that direction given the price of groceries and gas and energy bills and the diminishing returns on oil...

Lawns are for wusses. Give me a trowel and some dirt any day.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Political horticulture

Twice in the past week I've gone out to knock on doors with a friend of mine, Seneca Scott, who is running for State Congress. He is a solid Progressive Democrat and I really hope he wins! For the working people!

There are some pretty low income areas included in the vast area that makes up his district. We saw a lot of broken drainage pipes, mean looking dogs (including one pit bull that was loose and growled at us...I got back in the truck...), and abandoned houses, as well. That area - huge, like I said, lost its last grocery store a year ago. Even the neighborhood cornerstores have packed up and left. You want food? Drive several miles to the nearest SuperWalmart or hit up a convenience store (for expensive junk).

But what struck me, as we knocked on door after door, was how many of these people were growing their own food. Two of the people we spoke with specifically mentioned "putting in a garden" to save money recently. I saw some nice looking plots that contained greens, tomatoes, peppers, etc. One gentleman looked to have an urban homestead going with rick upon rick of firewood and a huge garden full of okra, squash, tomatoes, potatoes, beans, etc. It was definitely enough to support a family. One woman was saving water in old milk jugs to water her plants with later when it dries up around here. She had woven together a lovely frame of sticks to cover up the five-gallon buckets in which many of her plants were growing. It looked really nice. And - to top it off, we heard roosters crow in 2 different areas!!!

I wish this was done more! Homegrown produce, homegrown eggs (I so want chickens!) and maybe even meat! But although we saw several places growing veg, most were not. Each time I saw a wide open plot with plenty of sun I had to mention that it would be a great place for a garden; I'm sure I grew tiresome. In one area the sidewalk banks are enormous - maybe 10 feet deep. That would be perfect for a full sun garden. And we saw a lot of free, wild edibles growing around the area, too (less needless mowing activity).

We need a homegrown cultural revolution. We need victory gardens! Defy the corporate mindset, corporate agriculture, and nameless, faceless, tasteless food! Get dirt under your fingernails! Get out into those psychologically healthy restorative spaces. Make your back hurt and your skin glow! Get off your duff and plant something!

"Hallelujah! Holy sh*t! Where's the Tylenol?" (Name that movie.)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Ecopsychology, the beginning for me

My garden made my recovery from my solar disappointment much more bearable. It's amazing to me how healing and centering it can be to put your hands in the dirt.

I first started seriously gardening while living in Florida. It was ideal real estate for a vegetable garden - smack in the middle of a 10,000 acre research ranch. I carved out a little 10' by 12' plot and plugged away. Cabbages, cantaloupes, collards, tomatoes, peppers, pennyroyal, New Zealand spinach, cleome, coreopsis, candytuft, sunflowers, and zinnias...and much more.

I also happened to work at the Center for Great Apes for 18 months or so while I lived down there. At the Center I mostly did office work but once a week I also got to help out with ape care, cut browse, help with grounds maintenance, etc. So I was outside a lot, immersed in nature, with beautiful views and plants and the vibrations of growth all around me.

I think it really saved me. I was in Florida because my first husband worked on the research ranch. Our relationship had always been rocky but in Florida it really went to shit. I was a young thing, a kid, really. Too young to be married and halfway across the country from my family and roots. It didn't last long and I eventually packed up and came back to Oklahoma to go to grad school.

Looking back I really believe that my connection to the earth (as cheesy as that sounds) got me through. Being able to sit on the earth, put my hands inside it, feel it under my fingers and under my fingernails...I felt connected to something deeper. I could feel the rhythm of the season and the passage of time felt inexorable. Like a deep core hum that this, too, will pass. And it did.

I don't know what the ending of my first marriage would've been like if I'd been city bound or (horrors!) suburb-bound during that time. While going through that really sucked, I think it happened in the best of all possible places.

I think this really gets at the idea of ecopyschology - that we are tied in very fundamental ways to ecology and the earth in terms of our most basic psychological experience. There are fascinating theories about ecopsychology. The most compelling to me is the idea that we evolved as a species over millions of years in concert with a growing planet. Prior to agriculture we were hunter-gatherers who recognized and used and saved the resources available all around us. And then suddenly, within the last 100 years, we've started this radical shift toward alienation from nature. What sort of profound implications can this have on our psyches? Our brains? Our lives?

I know that it's terribly complex and involves multiple factors, like more "free-time" with which to grow more neurotic, and more mobility which causes a loss of sense of place, etc. But how about the research that simply having a view of nature lengthens attention span, soothes the brain, and speeds healing? That is powerful magic!There are actual journal articles reporting on research related to these topics but they're only accessible via paid library subscription. Some to try if you have access:

  • Kaplan, R. (2001). The nature of the view from home: Psychological benefits. Environment and Behavior, 33, 507–542.
  • Kaplan, S. (1995). The restorative benefits of nature: Towards an integrative framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15, 169–182.
  • Kaplan, S., & Kaplan, R. (1989). The experience of nature: A psychological perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Kaplan, R. (1985). Nature at the doorstep: Residential satisfaction and the nearby environment. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research, 2, 115–127.
  • Berto, R. (2005). Exposure to restorative environments helps restore attentional capacity. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 25, 249–259.
  • De Vries, S., Verheij, R. A., Groenewegen, P. P., & Spreeuwenberg, P. (2003). Natural environments, healthy environments? An exploratory analysis of the relationship between green space and health.
  • Environment and Planning A, 35, 1717–1731.Frerichs, R. (2004). Gezondheid en natuur; Een onderzoek naar de relatie tussen gezondheid en natuur [Health and nature; a research into the relation between health and nature]. Graveland (NL): Vereniging Natuurmonumenten.
  • Hartig, T. (2004). Restorative environments. In C. Spielberger (Ed.), Encyclopedia of applied psychology (Vol. 3, pp. 273-279). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
  • Hartig, T., Mang, M., & Evans, G. W. (1991). Restorative effects of natural environment experience. Environment and Behavior, 23, 3–26.
  • Hartig,T.,& Staats, H. (2006). The need for psychological restoration as a determinant of environmental preferences. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 26, 215–226.
  • Ulrich, R. S. (1984). View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 224, 420–421.
  • Ulrich, R. S. (1993). Biophilia, biophobia and natural landscapes. In S.R.Kellert,&E.O.Wilson (Eds.). The biophilia hypothesis (pp. 73–137). Washington, DC: Island Press.
  • Van den Berg, A. E., Koole, S. L., & Van der Wulp, N. Y. (2003). Environmental preference and restoration: (How) are they related? Journal of Environmental Psychology, 23, 135–146.
It's fascinating stuff. I plan to write more about it here along the way.

In conclusion, here's what makes me feel connected today:

Garden seen from the northside:

Ichiban eggplant ready to eat this week:

Jumbo Pink Banana Squash planted May 21-ish

Volunteer Sunflower

Okra flower

Hungarian Wax peppers


Eight Ball Zucchini

Saturday's Harvest (a squirrel precipitated the picking of the volunteer butternut squash)

Solar Oh-no.

Well, I, too, tried and failed at using a home-made solar oven (and a bunch of commas there at the beginning, see that?). I was disappointed. Vastly. Deeply.

I started with plans from Backwoods Home Magazine and from Cooking with Sunshine. I used two boxes, lots of foil, black paint, black cookware, double-strength glass, a car sun reflector, and newspaper and paper grocery bag insulation. But no dice.

It looked good enough:

So, bummer.

My partner helpfully stated that my "engineering" was off. I told him where he could take his engineering.

Then - in a much more helpful vein - he promised to help me try it again. His suggestions: smaller boxes. Maybe it's too big of a set-up? My guess is that the space between the two boxes is too large and that they need to be closer in size, that the insulation wasn't cutting it.

We salvaged a big old mirror that we might be able to rig up to a metal box - this was his other suggestion, to try to find a metal box. So we're still in the market for the home-made job. But who knows, with the rave reviews of the readymade product, we may eventually take that option.

In the end the pot of beans and the cornbread were about half done after sitting out 8 hours! I put them in the oven for a while and we still had dinner - it just wasn't as low-tech as I'd hoped!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Weekend projects and garden update

The rain has been crazy here, but we've been blessed with no flooding in our area. We've had over 12 inches of rain in the last month, which is 248% over normal!

So needless to say I didn't get to spend too much time outside over the weekend. I did putter around on Sunday, pruning bushes, putting down more hay, weeding, and cursing out the flea beetles. I also dragged all the leaf litter from the fallen limbs we had down from a few weeks ago back to the compost pile. I added that, some paper shreddings, and some charcoal to the pile to really start it a-sizzlin'. It's already shrunk down by about a foot, but I think that's mostly due to the water.

I was outside for two hours on Sunday, but I worked up the sort of sweat that looked like I'd been out there all day long. It's Florida humid here - you walk outside and it feels like you just stepped out of the shower. Add grime, dirt, hay, grass clippings, and leaf litter and it's not a pretty picture! But while I was rummaging around in the humus I had the pleasure of finding two toads and a small garden snake. I thanked them for hanging out in my backyard and left a small pile of twigs and leaves for them to call their own.

Instead of playing outside, I played inside and completed various projects around the house. First I braided all the good-sized yellow onions for storage and they're now hanging over my dryer (conveniently placed hook is the only reason why they're there). I'll probably just snip them off from the top as I use them. I'd originally planned to snip off the bottom ones, but that might unravel the whole braid. I also had a bunch of spring onion sized baby onions that I threw into an empty bottle of pickled jalapeños. There was still plenty of spicy-hot brine and it's making them into fabulous fridge pickles. In a week or two they'll hit their prime and we'll have a lovely snack on our hands (great with cheddar cheese).

Onion Braid

I also made lavender infused vodka! I had some extra lavender that needed to be used and that seemed like the best solution that the interweb could throw at me. It's pretty, too! After a couple of weeks I'll check it for flavor. If the flowers still look okay I'll leave them in, but I imagine I'll eventually have to strain them out.

Lavender Infused Vodka

The weekend before last I pulled some wild yarrow out of the ground and had set that to drying. I finished that and crumbled it into tea. Yarrow is an amazing plant. I'm so happy that it grows wild in Oklahoma. It's a good spirit to have on our side.

The last adventure was making more of my super-vitamin-green-powder that I mentioned at the end of a previous blog. So far I've dried cabbage, broccoli, carrot, kohlrabi, and radish leaves for the powder and have about half a jar full. I dumped a big spoonful into the barley stuffing for stuffed peppers that I made last week. It added flecks of color, but no real flavor difference that I could tell. Hopefully there is a nutritional component to this or it's a lot of work for nothing! However, I do feel some margin of satisfaction that I'm getting to use these leaves for something other than compost.

Super Vitamin Green Powder

In garden news I've got several Hungarian wax and habanero peppers that are skating on the other side of being ripe. I also found some cherry tomatoes that are starting to turn an orangey red, too. I'm betting that in a couple of weeks I'll have all the makings of a great salsa! (I need to replant cilantro, though, and Frau, if it bolts be sure to save the coriander seeds. They're delicious in soups, stews, and Indian food and for flavoring beer! Plus you can regrow next year...Marvelous stuff!) My sunflowers have opened, the nasturtiums still look great (I'm trying to resist picking them all for salads since I love the little seed node that comes up behind it - great pickled!).

Let's see what else, still getting some broccoli side-shoots and I have six or so softball-sized heads of cabbage that will come up soon. The beets are kaput - never made, the leaves only got 5 inches long or so (I read that they're heavy feeders and the soil on that side of the garden was not well-amended. Maybe that's it.) The burgundy okra is coming up but still looks a bit spindly from being planted in the thick of the turnip leaves. It's starting to fill out, though, now that all the turnips are gone. The three winter squashes all have two or three sets of leaves and will probably explode any day now. The volunteer squash has taken over the back yard and has two or three viable looking butternut squash on it.

The zucchini and Suyo long Chinese cucumber keep making plenty of flowers but none of the fruit has yet been properly fertilized that I can tell. I know this is normal at first, but I thought there'd be something at this point! They were victims of the transplant fiasco, however, so maybe that has something to do with it. And the stem on the zucchini looks like it might have some squash borer damage except that the plant hasn't wilted and doesn't look bad at all. I love the mini-mysteries included in a daily dose of gardening. I find myself thinking, "huh," quite a bit. The two cucumbers left in quite a lot of shade (they get about 4 hours of sun/day) have started producing and we harvested a tasty cucumber last night. It had some squirrel damage - little bite marks - on it, but I just cut those away and it was fine! I'm supposing our harvests will be low from these shaded plants, but at least we got one! Maybe we'll get a few more - that would be a lovely surprise (and good to know cukes can grow in that little sun).

We also harvested the second big helping of beans. Tonight I'm planning to make a mushroom, lamb's quarters, and basil risotto with pistachios, a garden salad (literally!), and green beans. It'll be an almost 100-foot meal (except for the pistachios and rice!). Now that's satisfying.

Romano Pole Beans & Provider Bush Beans

Since the root crops are gone I'll probably spray the spring side of the garden with fish emulsion and pepper/garlic/soap spray this weekend. That side is slowly transitioning to a deep summer garden, hosting winter squashes, okra, and New Zealand spinach. I'd still like to try some cowpeas (black eyed peas) which people grew right through the summer sizzle in Florida and left them to dry on the vine. Maybe some collards, too, although it might be too late for that. We'll

Dragon Carrots flanked by De Cicco broccoli and bifurcated honor guard

Kohlrabi, turnips, and buttercrunch lettuce

A local bowl

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Wedding bling = Eco-bling!

Today we made our first official purchase with our wedding booty:

Woo-hoo!!!!! You're looking at the All American Pressure Cooker/Canner, 25 quart, which doubles as a moon probe (it looks sturdy as hell)! (Technically we allocated some cash to join the Oklahoma Food Co-op, but that wasn't an actual hold-it-in-my-hands purchase, so I'm calling this the official!)

To accompany it, I got this book:

Now hopefully the tomatoes will cooperate (and then there are the beans and carrots and peppers and salsa and spaghetti sauce and soups...)! So far the Green Zebra, Amish paste, Paul Robesons, Golden Queens, and Ananas look great - covered in medium-sized green fruit and no more BER to speak of. But alas, the Opalkas, the paste tomatoes I am so excited about, aren't making! I have 8 of them, too! I've found one or two thumbnail-sized fruit on each of the plants, but that's it. The plants are all good sized but have serious blossom drop and now the tops of the tomato plants are getting frilly (which I've researched and suspect is tied to too much water or 24D herbicide drift damage but nothing conclusive yet). They're a Polish breed so maybe the Oklahoma spring/summer is squashing them (Others who've grown it here, please give me hope!)

So that's one big giant bummer. Maybe I can get the six in the back garden through August - they get a lot of shade back there - and have fall tomatoes? Maybe that's wishful thinking, but that's okay with me. I really want a tomato that looks like this and they're supposed to taste out of this world:

In other news, the garden is producing well! Today I went over to my co-workers office to show off my completely-backyard-grown-salad (except for the cheese!). It consisted of buttercrunch lettuce (which is almost done and starting to bolt), dragon carrots, kohlrabi, cilantro, and broccoli. Yes, I wanted to brag a bit. But my lovely co-worker is no newbie to homegrown produce and she also has a heart of gold (three weeks ago she rescued a baby bunny that had been abandoned by its mother and took it to a wildlife animal shelter). So she let me brag in good cheer! :)

Notes to self regarding future pest control: floating row covers are a must for brassicas! And I need to watch the eggplants for flea beetles - the three I have now have been riddled by those little bastards. Other than that I've found a few cucumber beetles, some sort of unidentified bugger, and of course, aphids. Not too much out of control with those...

How do you other organic gardeners cope with pests? What's your favorite remedy or stand-by prevention method? Would love to hear it!

Until we meet again!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

And speaking of giveaways...

My blogging buddy at The Sustainable Backyard is celebrating her 100th post with a drawing for a subscription of Mother Earth News! How fun!

Plus - rumor is she may be posting a blog on how to make your own laundry detergent in the near future. Stay tuned for disco!

Do you love to cook?

I do! Constantly!

Last night I made 21st Century Tomato Basil Bisque with the sweet basil from my garden. It was delicious! I need to get in the habit of taking pictures when I cook, because it's also a very pretty soup - green and red and glistening!

21st Century Tomato Basil Bisque

Very easy instructions:

Heat 1 1/2 to 2 Tbsp olive oil
Add 2 leeks (or one medium onion) chopped,
...let soften (5 mins-ish)
Add 3-6 garlic cloves (we opt for a lot chez Lewru!)
...saute until golden (2 mins-ish)
Add approx 2 lbs tomatoes, chopped (seeded and peeled if you're fussy)
Add 1 regular-sized can stewed tomatoes for extra juice
Add 1 tsp sea salt
...let cook for 15 minutes on medium/low
...the tomatoes should break down a bit
Add approx 2 cups chicken broth (or veggie broth)
Add 1/8 c dry quinoa
...let cook for 30 mins more (or as long as you like, at this point)
Add 1-2 oz fresh basil, snipped in ribbons (we use a lot here!)
...let cook for a minute or two (you can turn the heat off at this point)
...puree if you feel like it (or don't if you like the chunkier texture)
...bowl it up!
Add a squirt of lemon and shaved parmesan to each bowl!
Eat with good crusty bread slathered with pesto!

If you love to cook and you love giveaways, you have to check out this site: My Wooden Spoon! She is currently giving away a KitchenAid Stand Mixer...this is too fabulous! I would love one.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Blossom End Rot, Cat Facing, & Blossom Drop! OH MY!

Oh, my precious tomato plants are having their fits-and-starts growing pains right now!

It's been unseasonably hot and uncommonly windy for this windy state! It's been damp with loads of rain, too, demonstrating that with climate change, Oklahoma is the new Louisiana (would that we had the same lovely cuisine!). Last night it rained about 2 ½” and since March 1, it’s rained 24 inches - TWO FLIPPIN' FEET!!! Outside it’s green and humid and smells like growing things. And it’s been raining since midnight last night which means over twelve hours!

It also means trouble for my tomatoes…I’ve found blossom end rot on a couple of Green Zebra tomatoes and the Opalkas are having trouble with blossom drop. Several of the Paul Robesons are showing cat-facing. The first two problems have to do with weather. The second is likely caused by some jack-ass spraying herbicide. Did you know that herbicide can drift up to 5 blocks (did I mention it’s been windy?)??? It’s probably damage from 2-4 D. Now my tomatoes are paying the price for some yay-hoo who wanted to get rid of weeds or grass in the cracks of his driveway. Thank you for your consideration, yay-hoo! Next time, bend down and pull them out yourself. It’ll help with the beer gut. (Rant ends here.)


(Picture from Purdue Plant & Pest Diagnostic Library)

This post is more about the other two problems, though. I found out quite a bit about blossom end rot. I knew it was caused by calcium imbalances and that it could be triggered by fluctuations in soil moisture (this was the extent of the info offered in my old stand-by edition of Rodale’s. I was kinda disappointed!). Beyond that brief bit of trivia, I was a babe in the woods.

To start off, blossom end rot is a physiological problem rather than a disorder. It can be caused by a number of different factors and can be made extra-nasty by a combination of these factors. These include: low calcium in soil (uncommon), too much nitrogen spurring excessive early growth (common), soil temps too low when tomatoes are set out, repeated soil drying, sudden interruption of moisture, or way too much moisture (as in our case currently, in OK). A sudden lack of water is the usual suspect but too much water early on can effectively drown the plant, smothering the root hairs and leading to BER during sudden hot weather. One source mentioned that it might be more serious on the windward side (it’s drier) than on the leeward side of your plants. That’s exactly where it hit mine – on the poor fellah who’s acting as a windbreak!

Sciency stuff: Normal cell development requires fairly large concentrations of calcium. Soluble calcium moves through the vascular system from the roots to the leaves. With moisture distress it moves quickly to the leaves where it is transpired (sweated) out into the air. Tomatoes (and peppers and eggplants and melons) don’t transpire as much as the leaves do – their cellular structure is different. When a tomato lacks access to calcium, the tissue breaks down, leaving the ugly patch at the blossom end (opposite the stem end, where you can sometimes find the little dried bits of the original flower).

(Picture from: The Ohio State University Extension Office)

So in effect, calcium can be present in the soil and present in the plant, but might not be making it down to the precious blossoms/nascent fruit. One site called this a localized calcium deficiency. Even a brief amount of water stress can cause it since the fruit are last on the receiving end of the calcium train.

Interesting tidbit: “Ninety percent of the calcium that the mature fruit will contain is in the fruit by the time the waxy suberin layer (the waxy layer on the final skin of the fruit) has formed, when the fruit is about thumbnail size. When this calcium deficiency occurs in the end of the fruit, an area of rapid growth, it causes cells to collapse producing the sunken lesion symptom of blossom-end rot.”

It was mentioned in several places that blossom end rot usually hits your first tomatoes (the ones you lust after) and then clears up. A logical fallacy made by many, as pointed out by Dr. Carolyn J. Male, is that adding eggshells or using a calcium spray after the first sign of blossom end rot takes care of it. Rather, she says that adding calcium doesn’t work and that plants largely take care of it themselves. (And we thought we were so crafty and had such green thumbs!) From this perspective, BER is caused by rapid plant growth coupled with water stress and inadequate root development to support the plant and take up the necessary calcium. When the roots develop adequately, they’ll take care of the job, thereby clearing up the BER. It’s not the eggshells! (They are good soil conditioners, though, and may help deter slimy bugs.)

It was also noted that infected tomatoes should be pulled off. They won’t be any good and the nasty patch can play host to other infections and fungi that can seriously foul up your plant. So pluck them off, say adieu, and wait for the next crop, which should be okay (longer growing time, better root system!).

I particularly liked this excerpt, again from Dr. Male:

“Many books and magazine articles tell you that by adding Ca++ in the form of lime or eggshells, for instance, that you can prevent BER. That does NOT appear to be true. University field trial experiments have so far failed to show that BER can be prevented by addition of Ca++…Some data strongly suggests that foliar spraying with Ca++ is of no use because not enough gets to the fruits to do any good. And it's known that the sprays for fruits that are sold are useless. No molecules can get across the fruit epidermis…So, BER is a physiological condition, cannot be cured, and current literature data suggests it cannot be prevented. It occurs on some, but not all varieties of tomatoes, is usually seen early in the season and then stops, for most folks. It would be nice to say that you could even out your watering, prevent droughts and heavy rainfalls, ensure even and not rapid growth of plants and not disturb the roots by shallow cultivating. But on a practical basis, I think we all know that's almost impossible. So, BER has never bothered me, I just ignore it, and it goes away with time.”

Now that’s a sensible woman!

Here is a catch-all of the recommendations I found to address BER:

· Don’t force you tomatoes to grow up to soon! Let them have a nice, easy-breezy childhood. Too much nitrogen can stimulate too much early growth and cause BER.

· Don’t be too hardcore with your hardening off when you move your transplants outside. Be gentle.

· Hot, drying winds can contribute – try to plant in protected areas or provide a windbreak.

· Definitely use mulch! For multiple reasons, but in this case, to even out water moisture and prevent BER. Avoid plastic sheeting in hot, wet environments.

· Don’t plant too early when the soil is still cold.

· Remove affected tomatoes to prevent secondary pathogens.

· Select cultivars that are appropriate for your region or be prepared for some headache.

· Prepare deep soil to aid with root development.

· Be careful when you’re cultivating or pulling weeds near the tomatoes. Watch the roots!

· Too much pruning can apparently lead to BER.

· Tomatoes need 1 to 1 ½” water per week. Aim for that!

· The addition of Epsom salts to acidic soil can aid in the uptake of calcium.

And now just for a short little bit on blossom drop…Helpfully, it can be caused by temperatures that are too low or too high, too little or too much nitrogen, too little or too much humidity, lack of water, lack of pollination, insect or disease stress, or too many tomatoes already set. Not much doesn’t contribute to blossom drop, it seems. I’m chalking mine up to the winds and the heat. Given that it’s just the Opalkas, they might have a sensitivity in this area (any other Okie gardeners have experience with Opalkas in the past?)

Specifically, blossom drop can be caused by high day temps (above 85ºF/29ºC), high night temps (below 70ºF/21ºC), or low night temps (below 55ºF/13ºC).

Some recommendations:

  • Gently shake the plant to help with pollination (no need here, did I mention the wind??).

  • Set out at the appropriate time – don’t try to rush it and don’t wait until it’s so late that it’s too hot for fruit to set.

  • Watch the fertilizer (leads to leaf growth and not flowers).

  • Hose the plants if humidity is low (but watch out for overhead watering during full sun which can cause sunburn…water droplets act like magnifying glasses). Probably don’t want to do this if there are a lot of diseases in your area which can be transferred through wet foliage.

  • Plant varieties that like your weather.


Saturday, June 7, 2008

Onion Harvest!

I'm doing the lyric transposition thing again, this time with Kool and the Gang. Try this: Onion Harvest! To the tune of "Jungle Boogie." I can't explain why this happens in my head, but it's completely without any control or contrivance on my part. It just pops into my head: "Onion harvest! Do-de-lee-doo. Do-de-lee-doo. Onion harvest! With the get down! Onion harvest! Do-de-lee-doo. Do-de-lee-doo. Onion harvest! Chah! (awesome brass solo)..."

So yes, today it was an onion harvest day. Most of my onions have either plopped over or flowered, as you may remember (unusually popular google term, that). A few days ago I pulled them up a bit to break some of the roots and slow their growth. It's been so freakin' wet around here that I was afraid they might start to rot in situ, so today I pulled all the onions that had given up their growing ghost. Now they are lying on my deck, drying in the sun:

That is approximately 50 onions and a few peas drying. As you can see the yellows did really well. The reds did okay, but never really got up to size. The whites did poorly. Almost exclusively they were the ones that flowered so early, although a few reds flowered, too. None of the yellows did. Curiouser, and curiouser!

There are probably still 15 or so in the ground that are still growing strong. Another 15 are in my fridge - I saved out the tiny ones that keeled over to make pickled spring onions. We've been pulling and eating scallions for weeks now, so I have no real idea how many I got altogether. I know that I planted three standard size clumps of sets.

I also let a few continue to flower in the garden for possible (long shot) seed and/or volunteers:

You can see them from afar here as the leaning towers of pom-pom:

Some of the stalks winded up in the compost (you know, I use "wind up" or "winded up" a lot in my common parlance, but written it sure looks like something to do with weather. Anyway...).

Part of me wishes I'd planted more onions, because frankly, Mr. Shankley, I just can't get enough of them. It seems like any meal that I make calls for at least ONE onion. And some, like luscious French Onion soup, calls for at least, at least, 3 pounds of onions. I make a wicked concoction that is an oxtail soup and French Onion soup hybrid. It is the stuff of the gods... And yet, I digress, again!

Next time I plant onions, I'll plant more and I plan to order sets from a reliable source. As I discussed here, my sets from Lowe's were not necessarily trustworthy.

The rest of the garden is getting ready to explode with fruit flavor...make that vegetable flavor. Notice how much the sunflower has grown in three weeks!

Here she is from atop (she's a volunteer, remember, or I would have been more thoughtful with her placement):

Beautiful okra:

New Zealand spinach sprouts in the shadows of the lettuce they will replace:

Arugula + culprits:

Lamb's Quarters...To us it tastes like a cross between asparagus and artichokes. Fantastically delectable with butter and garlic:

And finally some Provider bush beans, which I specifically ordered due to Pinetree's description of them as "beanier":

The onions are loaded with little green fellas and the peppers are starting to carry some baby fruit, too. I'll try to take some pictures of the bean teepee and the tomatoes soon for that update. I've been busy trying to assemble a sun oven, because Hausfrau has me so jealous. And also today we said goodbye to our sweet adopted stray kitty, Rigby, (Eleanor is another one of the strays who frequents our block). My cousin's friend kindly offered to adopt her and she and her 9-year-old son came to pick up The Riggs today. It was a bit emotional for me, which sort of caught me by surprise.

Goodbye, Rigby! I didn't realize how attached I'd become to you as my backyard buddy, my chaser of birds, my friendly garden pal who liked to lounge on the straw and occasionally smush my tomato seedlings. I hope it works out for you at your new home. I hope you enjoy (finally!) getting to go inside like you always wanted to here. I hope you love them and they love you. We loved you well.

PS: We would have totally kept The Riggs except that we've already got two indoor cats: Miso, who has feline leukemia, and Tavi, who doesn't. (Thank god for the vaccine!) Plus, I'm allergic. One more kitty in the house would've damned near killed me. But believe me, it was a tough decision, nonetheless.