Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Arugula - wild seeding edition

No, I'm not going to stop talking about arugula. so just deal with it.

potatoes again, maybe

So my last attempt at potatoes failed (pretty badly it turns out) due to some pest, I think pill bugs, so I think that I am inspired by this to try again.  It involves building things, so that's good.  It is a great example of intensive gardening, so that's good.  I will employ some methods to keep pill bugs at bay, organically of course, so that's good too.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

White House Garden Quiz

I am obviously a little obsessed with the garden.  But not obsessed enough!! i only got an 86% on an online quiz about it!!!!

See well how you can do.


So yet another vegetable that I wouldn't know much about without home gardens. I vaguely remember my mom growing some and then a friend made some great rhubarb cobbler when I was in graduate school in Georgia. Then some other vague times to have some here and there, but now it is time for me to have some of my own. I planted some seeds in a cup on the window sill. ~6 weeks later, here we are:

You know what probably goes great with Rhubarb in a cobbler? Blackberries (just blossoms for now).

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

5 minutes 13 seconds

That's how long it took me to plant a new bed of lettuce greens.  Let me show you, because, we all are pressed for time.  Especially those of us with 3 kids.

I did this after putting the baby to sleep, before I put the big kids down.  They were brushing their teeth.

1. walk to garage to get a handful of bonemeal.

2. walk to veggie bed and level a 2'x2' patch of soil that had been previously cleared. take picture.

3. dump a pile of coffee grounds from Starbucks and throw bonemeal on top. take picture.

4. spread these over patch and slightly, barely mix in with soil. take picture.

5. scatter mesclun mix seeds evenly on patch. take picture.

6. lightly cover with loose soil. take picture.

7. done.

Lettuce is easy.  Plant lots of it.  Don't forget arugula.  This was actually supposed to be arugula, but at the last minute, I couldn't find my seeds, and I only had 5 minutes and 13 seconds!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ask FYV - Preparing the Soil

"Take care of your soil, and your soil will take care of you"

-some smart guy

For maximum growth of your vegetables, you must have loose, nutrient-rich soil.  Here is why:

Look at that picture and you see the roots of a carrot going down up to 7 feet down.  As I will show below, that only happens when your soil is well cared for.

I am clearly no Michael Pollan, but let me attempt to boil down my rules for soil into their bare essentials.

loosen soil. add organic material. cover well. stay off.

That really is it, but I will explain a bit.  Let me also note, that if the thought of doing anything to your soil is overwhelming for your first time growing anything, then don't.  I give you permission to make holes in the ground and put the seeds/plants in them and do nothing else.

soil structure - if you look at this picture, you can see the difference between loosened soil and compacted soil on the root structure.

Today I will cover just one aspect:

loosen soil

I do the following ONCE (as in ever) when I prepare a vegetable bed.  I mark out the area that I will be planting in, and start digging down ~1-2 feet and move all that dirt to the side.  Then I use a pitchfork and seriously loosen the soil a further 2 feet.  I throw in as much organic material as I can, then replace the top layer of soil and mix.  I then cover it with a couple of inches of (non-woody) mulch

That is a good bit of work and you don't have to do it.  In between nothing and what I do, you can simply cover the ground with lots of good compost, coffee grounds, mulch whatever.  Add some organic fertilizers and you are set.  if there is organic material there, then earthworms will do the rest over time.  If you really want to understand this approach then I recommend "lasagna gardening"  The entire book is summarized in the first 10 pages or so.

I will delve into more details on what to add to your soil next.

bad day for planting

So I went and bought a few plants for the garden (eggplant, melon, zuchinni, more basil), and THEN I looked at the forcast.  (this is the printout from the next day, you still get the idea)

Sunday turned out to be 97, today ~100.  I will wait until Wednesday to plant those babies...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

need more arugula

that is all.

uh, green beans too.

don't forget to pick up an eggplant either.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

the boy likes fresh strawberries

and he knows that they are in the front lawn.  He don't need no stinkin' clothes to go get them.

Monday, April 13, 2009

great new blog (to me that is)

So, if you are one of the many (many!!) people who read my blog AND People magazine, then you will already know about the blog,, but in case you are not, then I highly recommend his stuff.  It is great.  I will just point you to a single quick post about the blooming peach tree at his daughter's school.  It reminds me of my peach tree right now and the apricot tree that is now weighed down with over 100 apricots!!!!  OH YEAH!

Anyway, check out his blog.

Carrots and lunch

Well, yesterday was a fantastic Easter, and in the midst of the clean-up and gearing up for the upcoming week, I came across a sprouting onion in our kitchen that my mom had given us in case we could use it.  I thought, well now is the time to use it for something.  I realized I could use it a bag of lentil soup mix that also came from her. (I think!)  Along with a frozen ham bone from some holiday meal  a while back.  I needed carrots and remembered that I had a whole patch of them out front!!!  I threw in some of the last of the shallots and voila, I had a cheap, garden-filled meal that will work for at least a couple lunches, is super healthy and cost me nearly nothing:

Here is the soup at lunch today.  Yuuhhuummm!

So this is something of a milestone for me, though it sounds absurd.  This might be the first time that I have cooked with mine own carrots.  So, whooppee!  Usually I just eat them straight from the ground.  These ones were good fresh as well, though maybe a little overgrown.

Friday, April 10, 2009

White House Garden Update Update

Yes, they did have the planting day, and it was with the same kids who helped dig up the patch of lawn a couple weeks ago.  Apparently, they will have them return yet again and cook some of the food and eat it together.  That is cool.  A few notes:

  1. The emphasis that Michelle is putting on the symbolism of the kids' participation is simply fantastic along with the connection to eating the food they grow.

  2. Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, was present for the planting.  That is really a big deal, because the Dept. of Ag. has largely been focused on the politics of food growers, whereas his presence at this event emphasizes the politics of food consumers.

  3. I love this last little picture, because it captures what I have striven for in my garden and the garden at my daughter's elementary school.  Grow things that are visceral: good taste, good smell and visually appealing, because that is what gets embedded in a kid's mind and becomes the memory and guidepost for the adult in later years.

  4. Uh, it is nice to see Mrs. Obama wearing something more akin to grubby clothes for the gardening.  Turning over the sod in her black dress last time was just not right.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

White House Gardening Update

Apparently, today is the day!  I will update as I find out anything!
Thursday, April 9: The First Lady will host an event in the White House Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn of the White House to plant the garden. She will be joined by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and students from Bancroft Elementary, the school that participated in the groundbreaking of the Garden on March 20th. Students from the school will return later this year for harvesting and cooking with the food grown.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Feed It, Then Brace for Bounty -

This is a Teaser for what I am working on.

Ask FYV - Pests: Pill Bugs

A friend writes:

do you think Pill Bugs are bad for the garden. I have quite a few; found this snippet on internet and wondered if you agreed:

Pill bugs (or roly poly's as I have always called them) feed primarily on decaying matter. I have observed them in my garden for long periods of time, and done a little research, just to figure out what they are doing (I obviously have no life (but am afterall, a geeky scientist)). In my garden, they are certainly prolific, but appear to chow down on the remnants of my compost pile that hadn't completely broken down. These observations have put my mind at rest, and confirmed that these crustaceans are actually beneficial to the health of my garden. However, I might also point out that my small garden consists only of peppers, corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuce--that is to say, they may have an appetite for other plant varieties and thus could potentially wipe out a garden of other plant species (although I think this is rare and unlikely). Most crustaceans in this world (be them terrestrial or aquatic) are primarily scavengers--they are the "garbage men" of the microcosmic insect world. They eat fungus, molds, and other dead things and play a beneficial role in the cycle of nutrients. If you have vegetative plants that are dying, it is likely the cause of some other perpetrator--likely one that you cannot see with the bare eye. Roly-poly's in your garden, in my opinion, are a sign of a healthy nutrient exchange. Look in to other likely pests such as aphids, parasites, or even vegetative diseases.

So, I did a lot of research about this a few years back as I was having a terrible time with "something" eating lots of my seedlings in particular.  I turned to the forums about pests and (this sounds ridiculous) there was a RAGING argument about pill bugs, with people in both camps either that they only chew up dead/dying leaves and others (including me) insisting that they were killing live plants, particularly seedlings.  Someone finally noticed that everyone that claimed pill bugs killed live plants lived in a southern state, particularly CA & Texas. It seems that in the warm climates, especially with heavily mulched beds, the populations become very large and voracious without a strong winter chill to knock back the population. I personally observed one night with a flashlight an entire 4'x4' planting of bean seedlings that were just beginning to germinate  get eviscerated.  Basically every seedling that was beginning to unfurl was covered in a few pill bugs each.  Also I had a  young, tender basil plant get stripped in a single night. They seem to also destroy my potato leaves. The best organic solutions are either submerged cups of beer (usually a slug remedy) which get filled with pill bugs on a nightly basis where they drown. Also large dustings of diatomaceous earth seem to work. I am pretty sure that this worked, though it is harder to tell. I am just now having a lot of problems again, so this is a good reminder to set things up again.

So there you have it, if you live in a part of the country with a real winter, don't worry too much.  If you live in a glorious part of the country with no freezing winter, watch out!

What I would really like is to put some chickens in the beds for a couple days to decimate the populations.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

yeah, still want to be a farmer someday

things like this don't help the itch.  cool website too.


organic oreos - still bad for you - but better for farmers!

I was alerted to the existence of these:

by this post at the internet food association.  It raises, especially in the comments the entire issue of the "paradox" of organic junk food.

Michael Pollan has discussed this at length as well, using hypothetical "organic Coke" as an example.  He concludes that there will be positives and negatives. Likewise, I think that at one level, organic oreos are great! A ll those wheat and corn fields that will no longer have nitrogen and pesticide runoff really do translate into improvements for farmworkers and ecosystems. They will still be unhealthy as ever except perhaps the absence of some barely detectable levels of residual pesticides.  And they are still bad for your health.  However, it's not as though organic Oreos are going to spark a sudden increase in the amount of junk food eaten.

I think the problem is that ultimately organic is a word that we think means "wholesome and good for the consumer", when in reality it is a word that refers to a relatively dry list of technical regulations about how various foods must be grown. These regs have some implications for health of consumers, but in reality they have much more to do with the impacts of agriculture on those who do the growing.

Healthy eating really is largely a distinct issue from sustainable agriculture.  People who care about the latter almost certainly care about the former, but the reverse is much less true.  A lot of confusion comes from that relationship.