Veg*n Cooking and Other Random Musings: Garden Update #14 - This Is A Long One

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Garden Update #14 - This Is A Long One

The gardens are continuing to progress nicely. We didn't have as much rain this week, the winds were calm, and we had a fair share of sunlight, so we've seen a lot of growth. The pepper plants in the container garden are starting to get very tall and weighted down with fruit, so Brett is going to try to figure out a "non-invasive" way of staking them up. We probably should have put something to stake them up on when we transplanted them, but we didn't think about it, we'll know for next year.

One of our vining squash at the community garden is going nuts. When we got there today, we noticed it had made its way into the neighboring plot. We may end up having to wind it around the plot if it keeps this up.

We also noticed what appeared to be some sort of aphid on our roma tomato plant today. Brett used the 'ol "thumb and forefinger" method to rid the plant of most of them today (or you could always do my "flick it off and hope it doesn't come back" routine, either way, I suggest something manual as a first attempt at solving a bug problem organically, unless you don't find the problem until it has reached the point of infestation), but we may have to use the boiled garlic-cayenne pepper solution. Brett also thought he saw some caterpillar eggs, he brushed them off, but we may need to keep an eye on that.

Oh, and we have our first squash! You'll see it in the pictures below, we think it's a yellow straightneck. We'll have to make sure to label our crops from here on out, you know, so we know what they are.... ;-)

As I've noted in some of my previous garden updates (and elsewhere), I have gotten very interested in permaculture and other types of "holistically" approached gardening. I've also become more interested in sustainable, ecological, and socially just food, and well, food self-sufficiency in general. As my interest has grown, I realized that one of the best things we can do, all around, is to grow as much of our own food as possible, while using as few resources as possible, I've done more research, and somewhere along the way, was introduced to indoor gardening for use during the winter months, or for growing crops not suitable to one's climate.

What I didn't know, is that for some plants, growth has more to do with soil temperatures and conditions than length of direct sunlight. I think what I've discovered is that it takes a thoughtful, mindful, and dare I say common sense approach to get the most out of the space and resources you have at your disposal. Sure, you can grow tomatoes and things like that inside, but it's going to take an awful lot of work and probably a lot of external resources. What you need to do is to look for things you eat on a regular basis in which hours of sunlight is not an issue (shade crops, dwarf crops), tolerant crops (cool weather, moisture loving/hating), self-pollinators, or ones that can be manually pollinated with little effort.

This is where Brett comes in and why we work together so well. He thinks plants are neat, yes, but determining what to grow, what companions grow well with it, ward off bugs, disease, provide soil nutrients, etc., how to start the seeds, care for the soil, how to tend to it, what to do with it when it's done growing, these kinds of things are not really of interest to him. What he is interested in are the "engineering" aspects of it. The design, the "irrigation systems", the apparatus the whole thing sits upon, all that kind of stuff. I hate that kind of stuff, so it works out well.

I was a little nervous to bring this up to him as we've had so many changes lately, I was afraid he'd think "when is this going to stop?!?!" So I waited for a little while.

The first thing I did was bring up the idea of indoor dwarf fruit trees. I did some research and found out that dwarf avocado, lemon, lime, and clementine trees can all be grown indoors and they will even fruit. Especially if you have Southern facing windows like we do. Granted they will not fruit nearly as much or as often as one planted in the ground, and there is the chance that they will never fruit, but it seems like such a neat idea. We've wanted more plants and greenery in the house, but we both have a hard time justifying something that isn't "useful". But when I brought this up with him, he seemed very interested, it could produce fruit at some point, other wise, it's a pretty tree. So a dwarf avocado and key lime (Mexican lime) tree, suited to container growing, comprise my birthday "wish list" (there you go Dad!).

Today, after some thinking, I floated the idea of some sort of indoor "winter garden", and Brett really liked the idea, so long as I decided what we grew, tended to it once the "system" was in place, and well, cooked with it. Seems like a fair deal to me. Now, I have to do some research on sunlight, soil conditions, temperatures, etc., but I've put a list together of "cool weather" or tolerant crops that I thought might be possibilities for inclusion in the indoor garden.

Herbs/Kitty "Distracters":
• Sweet Basil
• Thai Holy Basil
• Peppermint
• Wheatgrass (for the kitties)
• Catnip (for the kitties)

(We may add some beneficial legumes or flowers here if needed for soil maintenance.)

Root Crops
• Garlic
• Onions (Red, Green, Yellow, White)
• Carrots (short, small variety)
• Beets

• Mesclun Mix (various baby salad greens)
• Spinach
• Swiss Chard
• Kale

• Broccoli
• Cauliflower
• Sugar Snap Peas*
• Snow Peas*
• Green Beans*
• Blueberries*
• Acorn Squash*

Brett has some really cool ideas for how to rig this whole thing up. The * denotes crop he wants to attempt trellising or vining. He had an awesome idea for the blueberries and acorn squash, we could try a long, fairly shallow (though deep enough to allow an adequate root system) potting container backed by a trellis against a wall in our apartment that gets full sun. We could then train the berries and squash to climb up the trellis. I had the idea of wrapping blankets around the pots to help them maintain a constant, warm soil temperature even on cold days.

I learned that beans and peas grow well indoors from this Canadian gardening website. We love stir-fries and snack on fresh, sweet peas, so we might give these a chance too. I'm not sure, but I think that beans might help fix nitrogen in the soil. Like I said, I still have much to research.

Brett also has an idea for using old coolers as little microsystems, where we can plant a variety of herbs, root veggies, greens, other veggies, and cat greens. We thought this system might be a great application for a new "irrigation system" we learned about that is used in India to get the most absorption with the least amount of water. You take a clay container with a small hole in the bottom of it, and bury it in your soil or container, fill it with water, it slowly trickles out from between the pores and crevices in the clay and keeps the soil adequately watered without overwatering. So simple, yet so rarely discussed, let alone used.

Anyways, so there is definitely interest and we are going to attempt a small indoor garden over the winter. I don't what'll happen, we may get nothing out of this experiment, but it has worked for others so it seems like it's worth a shot for us. If anybody out there who reads this blog has any experience with indoor gardening or growing dwarf fruit trees in containers, please leave any tips and hints you may have and feel free to email us.

Back to the garden update at hand! Here is the Community Garden:

The original two tomato plants we had, the Brandywine and the Better Boy, didn't end up making it, we've also lost a couple of squash and other unknown crops along the way, so we picked up two sad looking tomato plants lingering at the market. They are doing quite a bit better than they were when we planted them last week, and they both even have some little tomatoes on them. We might have enough tomatoes to can with after all!

This roma plant is going absolutely wild! We've never had too much luck with tomatoes, but up until now, we've only tried them in containers, so I've never seen anything like this. We've lost a few already, they're so close together they stab each other and start to rot!

Here's the other new tomato plant.

Our first little squash!

Now onto my brief weekly moment of excitement over OPGs.

I thought I'd show the whole garden. It really is beautiful, all the crops growing, a nice little patch of forest behind it. We've seen deer there when we've been at the garden. Such a nice sight, I just hope they don't make a snack out of our plants. You can see the fun painted rain barrels off to the side in one of those pictures, those are nice to have.

It's corn! Sadly, this person's few stalks of corn seem to be faring far better than most we've seen in the Midwest. When we were driving to St. Louis a few weeks ago, fields with corn "growing' in them looked so pitiful, so small.

Onto the container garden:

And now for your weekly dose of "Pepper Porn", courtesy of this pepper fanatic. I know there is always a disproportionate amount of pepper pictures in these posts, but I can't help it, the peppers are so photogenic....

Chocolate bell pepper. I hate when this happens, this plant seems to be devoting all its energy to growing this one pepper. There is no new growth, no blooms, nothing, just this pepper!

Cayenne peppers.

More of those lovely cayennes. Don't they look kind of mean? :-)

All the Hungarian Wax peppers have started upside down. This plant has a lot of peppers on it, and it still growing strong, with new buds on it daily.

The banana peppers. They haven't really seemed like they are going to be too prolific thus far, despite their reputation and even our experience with them in the past. We've already gotten a few off the plants so far (probably because we have six sad looking plants), but there are never more than two peppers growing at the same time.

I can't wait until all these sweet, petite, orange bell peppers mature. Mmmmmm.

Our jalapeno plant is really taking off. I like that the pepper seem to be progressing at roughly the same pace, so they might all mature at roughly the same time which will allow me to make a bunch of salsa out of them.

I don't know what kind of flowers these are, but they are some sort of native wildflower. We got some flower seeds awhile back at a peace rally and decided to plant them, thinking they might bring beneficial insects. They are also pretty.

Super chilies.

These are our two little starts, still going strong. We have a serrano and a New Mexican Chile in here, we'll probably need to separate these soon. One of them has a bud on it!

This serrano has been very prolific this year. We used two of the larger ones this weekend to make an "Asian-ish Cole Slaw" which I will be posting about sometime soon, it was fantastic, and the chilies tasted wonderful. I love leaving chiles on the vine until they mature and become red. I find this to be their best point of flavor, but they do increase in spice as they mature as well. But they don't have to be mature to pick them. For example, the serranos on our plant don't generally get any longer than about 2 inches. So once they are fat and plump, they are ready to pick. You can also get an idea of ripeness by pressing lightly on the wall of the pepper, if it is very firm, it is not ripe, if it gives ever so slightly, it's ready to go. At least this has been my experience.

Check out this week's CSA:

We've got a cucumber, a zucchini, what I think is another cucumber, but to be completely honest, I'm not sure, some leaf lettuce, beets, a yellow onion, some gorgeous looking little new potatoes, fresh dill, and collard greens (which are excellent shredded, steamed, and used in a stir-fry.)

Here is the rest of our farmer's market booty.

We've got an eggplant, some local shiitake mushrooms (!!!!! This is a rare treat, the restaurants usually buy all of her (the local purveyor) mushrooms leaving none for the market. I'm really happy local restaurants are serving her goods though!), fresh garlic, sweet basil (Phil's organic greens just rock), cucumber (I was feeling the cuke yesterday I guess), snow peas, red cabbage, and tomatoes.

Lots of yummy stuff, I have a lot to work with this week. And I am taking a long(er) weekend, we already had Friday off due to the holiday, but I also took Monday and Tuesday off. I am very fortunate to get a lot of vacation and personal time at my job, and that our work load is slowest during the summer. Not only do I have plenty of time to take off, I'm actually able to use it - a common problem workers here in the US have. It makes having to have a "regular" job bearable. Don't take that the wrong way, I actually really enjoy what I do, it's intellectually stimulating, flexible, it nourishes my love of continued learning, but my heart's not in it. My dream would be to sell my salsa and homegrown veggies at the market to make any additional money I needed, but mostly, just to homestead.

Coming from a self-professed "city girl", this is weird, but I have changed. We are working towards, at the very least, being far more self-sufficient. Our goal is to live very simply and frugally so we can pay down our educational debts quickly, purchase some land (hopefully just a small house with a decent yard here in the city that we could retrofit), and get to the point where neither of us have to work full-time, or at the very least, where only one of us does. That isn't to say we wouldn't work, but we want to spend our time doing more simple things, growing and preparing food (in my case), building, creating, and maintaining things (in Brett's case), living simply with less - even when that means damn hard work (both of us), dedicating more time to joy, music, company of friends and family (both of us). This is not, in any way, an unachievable goal, quite the contrary. You just have to rethink what is important to you, what you can give up without sacrificing your quality of life, when you think in a manner that reduces burden, clutter and thus frees your spirit and your creative nature, you think of all sorts of ways to "trim the fat", and suddenly ideas such as these don't seem quite so far fetched after all.

That's all for now.

'Til next time.


shellyfish said...

Oh how exciting! I can feel your enthusiasm through your post! Please do keep us up to date as to the practical aspects of your indoor garden- I have been thinking about doing something similar for a while now, but with a toddler and a matchbox apartment, haven't found the perfect solution...yet.

Lisa (Show Me Vegan) said...

Your indoor garden idea sounds fascinating. I look forward to following your progress. And lucky you for growing jalapenos, with the new scare that possibly they are the salmonella culprit.

jessy said...

i hope you enjoy your days off! :) and hooray for another garden update. everything grow'n like crazy - happyface! we have some vining squashes that go a little banana pants, too! they do seem to creep all around and get into things. i'm always directing them in the garden so they don't take over too much!

you're so right on growing your own food. it's so sustainable & earth friendly and it really is one of the best things you can do! i love growing veggies (and i love eating them, too)! a winter crop sounds awesome, and i had no idea dwarf fruit trees would fruit indoors. maybe i can have avocados. hmmmmmmm?! :) i need to talk to dan about planting a fig tree outside though - i love figs so much!

i'm sure you've checked out cornell's gardening site and this great site on home food preservation - but if you haven't they're both full of some awesome information!

happy gardening! i'll keep my fingers crossed on those aphids not returning, and thanks again for another wonderful update, Jennifer!

M said...

Your pepper plants are gorgeous! Here I was getting all excited at finding a couple of hot banana peppers growing in my garden, when you're in pepper nirvana. I can't wait until mine are laden with as many as your plants. Darned shorter growing season. Heheh.

selina said...

you are seriously the coolest person ever. i think you need to move to indiana. :)

i love the idea of a winter garden. i've been thinking of ways to make one work for me. unfortunately our house only has 1 south facing window. really i'd love to build an inground greenhouse in our back yard.

what resources have you been using in your research? i'm very interested in attempting it this winter. i'd definitely be growing salad greens in the winter garden because i could eat a salad every day. and the idea of an avocado tree sounds awesome. also... broccoli is one of my faves so i'd like to try that. and piper eats carrots as treats vs. doggy biscuits so i'd like to try those as well. not too much as i don't have too much space.

also... i've been trying to figure out ways for jason & i to live with less as i'd like to not have to work at a desk 40 hours a week. i'd like to be able to make money working from my home. and when it's time for a family, i don't want to have to be away at work all the time.

well this comment is kinda ranty, so i'm done. :)

Alice (in Veganland) said...

I've loved this post. Not only I admire you for having such a great beginner's garden, but also for wanting to live better with less. I really like your point of view of life!

Cookiemouse said...

As a city girl you seem to be doing just fine with your garden. The peppers look lovely. Growing your own food is a very satisfying thing to do. Somehow the taste is always so much better.

Jennifer (of Veg*n Cooking) said...

Shellyfish - I'm kind of obvious aren't I? ;-) I spent a good portion of my time last night "nerding out" as Brett calls it, researching soil conditions, requirements, lighting, temperature. I enjoy it so much.

I will, in the coming weeks, I will probably add the winter garden to the regular outdoor update. I might even try to convince Brett to get on here and discuss his design and all that stuff too. Small spaces shouldn't limit us in most efficiently using the space we have. Ooooh, I bet gardening would be a wonderful activity for a toddler, with close supervision of course!

Lisa - Thank you! I hadn't heard that about jalapenos! Geez, so many problems, probably mostly a result of such a large scale homogenous food system, another testament to the "buy local/grow your own" mentality.

Jessy - I really am so far. Gonna go to the library tonight so I can "nerd out" (see above comment to Shelly) a little more, stop by the farmer's market, have some simple, good food.

HAHAHAHA! I laughed out loud when I read the phrase "go a little banana pants", can't say I've ever heard that one, you are too funny! I didn't realize how nuts they would go, if it keeps growing at this places it's going to have to be wound around the plot and back around again!

Did you ever notice that gardening isn't as hard as you thought it would be either? It's so rewarding and I truly enjoy it too, it's a very peaceful activity for me, and I love my plants, it's so neat to watch them "do their thing"/

Dwarf fruit trees are fairly difficult, but,especially citrus, will do fine inside, as I noted in the post, the yield will just be fairly minimal. There is a variety of avocado that has been bred for growth in a container now.

You guys should plant a fig tree, how fun! And imagine how great it would be to go out to your yard and get fresh figs!

I've seen the Cornell gardening site, but not the food preservation one, so thanks very much for the link. How did you get the link in a comment?!

Me too, I didn't realize there were so many different kinds and they'll eat just about anything.

Oh, thank you for enjoying it, I really never thought there would be an interest in them. Most of the time when I try to talk to friends, family, co-workers, etc about gardening, their eyes glaze over and their boredom apparent. :-)

M - Thank you! I'm quite proud of them this year, it's the best Brett and I have ever done with peppers. The peppers on the porch are flourishing, but the banana peppers we planted in the ground are about as far along as yours are. I think it's all rain we've had this year and the mild weather.

Selina - You are so sweet! Hahaha. I do like the Colts.... ;-)

Do not feel like you were ranting, I didn't think you were. I would be more than happy to provide you with tips, any experience I have, and resources about indoor gardening, dwarf fruit trees and simple living. If you wouldn't mind, could you email me your email address (for your privacy's sake), otherwise I will be leaving a ten page long comment here.

On living simple, a couple of things to start thinking about. For one: look at your spending habits, what categories of consumption requre the laregest expenditures? What "fun" stuff do you spend your money on? Are there services that you pay others to do for you that you could do yourself? Would you have time to? Would the savings of money be worth more than the time/energy expended in doing said thing yourself?

Also, the best advice I can give to you for being able to support yourself in an "untraditional" way is to look at the skills you have, no matter how simple or menial they seem to you. Can you garden? Cook? Sew? Repair things? Play music? Anything like this, whatever it is, strengthen it, those will be your commodity - your skills, what you know how to do that others won't. Especially if the folks talking about peak oil, climate change, and our population being too large and affluent are right, our society will be forced to contract and it will need to relearn the basic skills they contracted out to others for so long - this is where you could come in. And gardening in particular done right, can be done in small areas, provide enough to feed yourself, and have some left over for a bartering tool for goods you want but don't produce yourself.

Alice - Thank you. And THANK YOU! I was so nervous at the beginning of the year that each week I would be bringing you guys another dose of failure. I think the fertility of the soil we have at the community garden has a lot to do with its success, and the container garden, well, we are finally learning what they need.

Again thank you, I just feel its the right thing to do. I enjoy it and Brett and I are happier people since we've been going down this path.

Cookiemouse - Thank you! I'm blushing with all this praise being heaped on me, when I feel I've had very little to do with the success of the gardens. They do most of the work themselves and the conditions have been really good this year.

You're right, it does taste better. You know what went into it, and almost have a connection with the fruit since you watched the plant grow and prosper.

Courtney said...

Your indoor gardening is intriguing...I am going to have to look into fruit trees now! It never occurred to me that you might be able to have one inside.

Your garden looks like it is doing great! And your CSA--yum! I bought some snap peas this weekend at the farmers market too, and they are so sweet and good to snack on!

I agree about wanting to live a simpler life and not have to work full time--it is my dream. At least you have a job with good vacation time that you are actually able to take! I hope you enjoyed your very looong weekend!


Veggie said...

You must have a green thumb! Everything is growing so nicely.

Jennifer (of Veg*n Cooking) said...

Courtney - You can't grow a whole lot, and they have to be things that can tolerate cooler temperatures. If you have a lot of sun, there is more you can do, if you don't, you are limited. As far as fruit trees go, you want dwarf fruit trees, and apparently citrus grow best indoors, and do even better if you can put them outside over the summer.

I know about the snap peas, I could just eat and eat them!

I think, deep down, a lot of people want that. We just have to be willing to give up some things in certain areas, but we don't have to see it as a loss, I can say at least myself, I have gained as I've also sacrificed. And I am lucky with my job, I work with a great group of folks too, so even though I have to stay in the "regular workforce" right now, I couldn't think of anywhere I'd rather be.


Veggie - Haha, thank you. The plants do most of the work, I just try to keep the bugs off of 'em and make sure they don't stray too far.

Erin said...

I'm very interested to follow your progress as you try to move toward a simpler life, it sounds so appealing. I am so wanting to try my hand at gardening after I move, but I'm SO BAD at growing things. Or keeping them alive, I should say. I'm hoping some good solid research will lend me a hand, but sometimes I get sad to think there might be nothing I can do about my black thumb! You are clearly blessed with many green thumbs.

Jennifer (of Veg*n Cooking) said...

Erin - I'm glad you enjoy these musings and garden updates. It's better to post it to the world than yapping Brett's ear off about it more than I already do. :-)

You should! Don't say that, I kill things that are "impossible" to kill, like cacti, they just do not like me. Start small, with herbs or something. It took us three years before we ever got a decent yield of peppers - and that year was this year! I used to think I had a "black thumb" too, but you just have to understand what the plants you are growing need. I would either tend to them too much or not enough, basically, whatever type of care they needed, I would inadvertently give it the opposite.

And living simple is very easy and rewarding. I have all sorts of tips and hints, even though I am still only a "beginner". If you ever have any questions or want ideas, need to rant about your journey, please just email me. I'm here to help. I refused to follow my calling and become a "real life" psychologist (Didn't want to dammit! And screw the APA!), so whatever way I can help people in their daily lives is something I am always up for.

John said...

Make sure that you prepare the soil correctly. This factor can come between you and the success you make out of your garden. Different plants need different soils – an important point to remember. For growing vegetables or herbal plants, use organic fertilizers as they would not affect the natural flavor of the food. Use any good compost or wooden chip mulch instead of ordinary fertilizer.

ofertas de muebles said...

Thanks so much for your post, pretty helpful material.