Improving Our Soil

I’ve gone through a lot of different phases as a gardener. I started out being heavily influenced by the PBS television series Crockett’s Victory Garden. The host, James Crockett, was a huge fan of compost, and he called his three-bin composter his Brown Gold Cadillac because of the valuable commodity it produced. Crockett used a mix of organic and conventional fertilizers and pest control in his garden and for a long time I did too. I still have the book that Crockett wrote in response to the popularity of the TV series, and my copy is well-worn from frequent use.

my Crockett's Victory Garden book

my Crockett’s Victory Garden book

After that I began using even more organic methods in my garden, fueled by reading Organic Gardening magazine and other Rodale press publications. That was tempered somewhat by my living on a 40 acre farm that I rented out to a farmer who grew corn and soybeans using conventional methods. Fast forward a few years and I retired and moved to Happy Acres, where I’ve been gardening for the past eight years. This is my third garden spot in about 35 years of gardening, and while hobbies have come and gone, gardening has been a constant throughout my adult life. It is safe to say that growing things is in my blood, and it is difficult to imagine me not doing it, as long as I am physically able.

compost - a gardener's Black Gold

compost – a gardener’s Black Gold

These days I call myself an organic gardener, even though I’m not afraid to occasionally resort to non-organic approved methods or chemicals when there’s no better solution to a problem. And I also like to rely on as much scientific evidence as I can when it comes to making my gardening choices. That includes periodically testing the soil. The last time I did a soil test was back in 2010, and the results then showed our garden soil had a near ideal pH of 6.4, and contained 4.8% organic matter, which was also pretty good. However the soil also tested for slightly low levels of calcium and potassium (277 lbs/acres), and very low levels of phosphorus (102 lbs/acres). That basic test did not report on sodium, sulfur, or any of the so called trace elements, so I don’t have any idea of those levels back then. Note that different labs use different extraction methods, and the results cannot easily be compared to one another unless you know the methods.

2010 soil test report

2010 soil test report

Since then I’ve been adding as much compost as I can to the garden, and mixing in other organic material like leaves, grass clippings and straw. I’ve also applied liberal amounts of various organic fertilizers. The garden has produced well, and given us lots of vegetables to eat and give away. But I suspect it is not as productive as it could be. I’ve noticed several areas of the garden seem to be less productive than others, and several crops don’t do as well as others. That convinced me it was time to do another soil test, and to do some study on the science of soils and on growing better vegetable and fruit crops.

To that end, I just finished reading The Intelligent Gardener: Growing Nutrient Dense Food by Steve Solomon. In the book, the author makes a case for what he calls “remineralizing” your soil, and explains how to bring the mineral nutrients in our soil into balance in order to grow healthier, more nutrient dense food. He advocates gardeners do periodic soil testing and then apply the appropriate amounts and types of organic amendments as indicated by the test results. Considering how the overuse of fertilizers and other chemicals is polluting our waterways and aquifers, it certainly seems like prudent advice. He rejects the idea that merely throwing more and more compost and manure on our gardens is the answer to better gardening results. Once the organic matter is at a desired level, only a thin layer of compost is needed each year to maintain it.

I also recently re-read a chapter titled “The Living Soil” from Wendy Johnson’s Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate. The author is a Zen meditation instructor and an organic gardening mentor, and the book itself is partly a gardening manual and partly a love letter to Planet Earth and all the creatures (big, little and microscopic) living on it. Now I am reading Teaming With Nutrients: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to Optimizing Plant Nutrition by Jeff Lowenfels. He explains basic soil science and plant biology in (mostly) laymen’s terms, and then advises how to apply the science to our gardening practices and fertilizer choices. It’s hard reading at times, but fascinating and very informative. Hopefully my head will not explode from all my recent research efforts!

using soil auger to get soil sample

using soil auger to get soil sample

As for the soil test, the next step was to take soil samples, and send the soil off to a lab (Logan Labs) for testing. This time I got a test that reports on twelve different soil nutrients and minerals, as well as pH, Total Cation Exchange Capacity (TCEC) and organic matter. I am now studying the test results, and coming up with an action plan for the garden. I will be back soon and share my plan,  as soon as I get it all worked out.

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Monday Recap: December Doldrums

The short days of December have slowed the garden down considerably here, and I have slowed along with it. We hit a spell of cold, gray days last week, which didn’t exactly help me to get going. It’s been my turn to cook, and I’ve relied on a lot of things from the freezer and storage. One night I baked a large Gold Nugget squash for a side dish. It was the biggest of the harvest this year, and after being in storage for several month it still weighed 40 ounces. I cut it in half before baking, then sprinkled with a little cinnamon. After baking I cut the pieces in half again to make four nice sized servings. That’s one half piece sitting on a full sized plate in the below photo.

baked Gold Nugget squash

baked Gold Nugget squash

Out in the garden, I’ve still got quite a few carrots I haven’t dug yet. I pulled some of the Cordoba last week to replenish our stores in the refrigerator. These wedge shaped carrots do quite well for me here. A four foot short row has yielded over four pounds already, and there are still a few small carrots left. I’m always happy if I get a pound of carrots per foot of row. This is my first time growing Cordoba, as it was a recommended substitute for Hercules which was unavailable this year. The fall planting of carrots I left in the ground seems to be doing well so I won’t dig them yet unless a deep freeze is forecast.

Cordoba carrots

Cordoba carrots

I cut up some of the smaller carrots and roasted them, along with potatoes from storage. The potatoes were a mix of blue and red ones, so we ate quite a few colors in this combo. When the veggies were almost tender I tossed them with some minced garlic, pepper and a little sea salt then roasted a few minutes more. For me that was all the seasoning they needed.

roasted carrots and potatoes

roasted carrots and potatoes

The roasted veggies went with some salmon cakes I cooked for dinner one night. I made a batch of cilantro pesto to go with the salmon, using some of the abundant greenhouse cilantro supply along with walnut oil, garlic and pine nuts.

cilantro for pesto

cilantro for pesto

The pesto went well with the salmon cakes, and I can see me making this dish again, as long as I have some good cilantro.

salmon cakes with cilantro pesto and roasted vegetables

salmon cakes with cilantro pesto and roasted vegetables

I harvested some of the last Red Sails lettuce from the cold frames. There’s a little bit left out there, but not much. It’s a little ragged from the freezing and thawing, but still nice enough to eat.

Red Sails lettuce

Red Sails lettuce

The lettuce went on some bean tostadas I made last week. I’ve been craving beans lately. I sprinkle the tortillas with a little homemade chile powder and ground cumin then oven bake them. This satisfied my cravings nicely!

bean tostada

bean tostada

To go with the tostadas I made a jicama and carrot salad, using the Purple Haze carrots from an earlier harvest. I love these carrots in raw dishes, where the colors can be appreciated. I shredded the jicama and carrots, added some chopped cilantro and tossed with some lime juice. After it sat for a bit, the purple from the carrots turned the jicama reddish purple. This would also be good made with kohlrabi or daikon radish instead of jicama. It was so simple and yet so tasty.

jicama and carrot salad

jicama and carrot salad

The cold, dreary weather has also made me crave comfort food. I made some turkey noodle soup one night, and a batch of Minestra Maritata (aka Italian Wedding Soup) on Saturday. Since the ‘wedding’ part of the name calls for a marriage of meat and greens, I harvested some lacinato kale for the greens and made meatballs with ground turkey breast. The kale was in great shape for mid-December, other than a few holes from early caterpillar damage.

lacinato kale

lacinato kale

The soup is a light, but filling favorite here, and in addition to the kale this batch had cabbage, cranberry beans, onions, celery and some of those Cordoba carrots.

Minestra Maritata

Minestra Maritata

That’s a look at what’s happening here in mid-December. To see what others are harvesting and cooking up, visit Daphne’s Dandelions where Daphne hosts Harvest Mondays.

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December Greenhouse Tour

It’s been quite a while since I gave a tour of the greenhouse. I like to show what’s going (and growing) on in there occasionally, partly for my own benefit to visually document things. I just got around to replanting the greenhouse beds in the last couple of weeks, and I can look at another tour from this time last year and see that things were a little further along then. This year I planted more fall salad greens in the cold frame beds, and less in the greenhouse. So we still have gotten plenty of greens for salads, but they have been coming from the cold frames and not the greenhouse. You can see the potting bench on the right in the below photo.

greenhouse in December

greenhouse in December

A peek inside the left side of the greenhouse shows my new red cedar potting table. Right now the top surface is mostly covered with overwintering herbs like chives, rosemary and mint. The bottom shelf is used to hold containers and potting mixes. Under the table I have still more containers and flats which aren’t being used at the moment.

a look inside the greenhouse door

a look inside the greenhouse door

I divided some of the mints back in late summer, and potted them up to have this winter. They won’t make much new growth now, but I can harvest the leaves for tea while they last. And then the plants will take off quickly next year and give us mint before the outside plants start growing.

Mint Julep mint

Mint Julep mint

I keep potted chives growing in the greenhouse year-round. I re-pot them at least annually, and occasionally cut them back to force new growth. I often reach for fresh chives to use in the kitchen. Tonight some are going in a homemade ranch-style dressing.

potted chives

potted chives

Also on the table top is a mini salad box I planted yesterday in arugula. It’s one hardy green that I try and have available year round, and also a favorite in the kitchen. This is my own Cold Hardy arugula strain that I got by saving seed from a bed planted with Even’ Star and Ice-Bred arugula. Those are supposed to be extra-hardy strains, though I have to say most arugula I plant seem to make it through the winter here just fine.

Cold Hardy arugula

Cold Hardy arugula

I planted another mini salad box with a mix of Asian greens including pak choi, tatsoi, komatsuna, mizuna and mizspoona. That should give us some baby (or micro) greens for salads and soups in a few weeks. I gave both salad boxes a good drink of fish emulsion water to give them some soluble nitrogen and get them off and growing.

salad box with Asian greens

salad box with Asian greens

Moving on to the beds, I still have a nice patch of cilantro growing from a June planting. It’s a strain called Calypso, and it has not yet bolted to seed, which is pretty amazing for cilantro. I planted another variety called Caribe that bolted some time ago, but Calypso is still going strong. I got the seed from Johnny’s. I don’t know when it will bolt, but until then we’ll enjoy having fresh cilantro when we need it. Some is going on a turkey taco salad we’re having tonight for dinner.

Calypso cilantro

Calypso cilantro

Right next to the cilantro I planted some komatsuna. This is a variety called Carlton which is supposed to have good tolerance to both heat and cold. We’ll see how it likes the winter greenhouse conditions.

Carlton komatsuna

Carlton komatsuna

Next to the komatsuna I planted Winter Density and Red Sails lettuce. Both are dependable performers in the winter greenhouse. Much of what I recently planted in the greenhouse will probably not be harvested until late January or February. Things just don’t grow much this time of year, what with the short days of winter and cool soil temperatures. But like the mints, they will take off once the days start getting longer.

Red Sails lettuce

Red Sails lettuce

Next to the lettuce in that bed is a planting of True Siberian kale I made back in fall. It’s my first time trying to overwinter kale in the greenhouse, but it should do quite well there. I got the seeds for this strain from Adaptive Seeds, and they claim the plants are “big vigorous monsters.” We will see how they look come next spring. Hopefully it will give us some early kale to eat.

True Siberian kale

True Siberian kale

On the other side of the greenhouse, that bed is mostly planted in spinach. I started the seeds indoors, then set out the plants about three weeks later. This year I planted Viroflay, Amsterdam Prickly Seeded, Giant Winter and Giant Noble. I set out about 90 plants in all.

young spinach plants in the greenhouse bed

young spinach plants in the greenhouse bed

Spinach does great in the greenhouse, and should give us some early leaves long before the ones outside are producing. The greenhouse spinach will also bolt sooner than the outside plants, but that’s okay. We love spinach so much that I always grow as much as I can. I’ll plant some more in spring to extend the season further.

young Amsterdam Prickly Seeded spinach

young Amsterdam Prickly Seeded spinach

At the other end of the spinach bed are some parsley plants that have been growing there since spring. I don’t care much for dried parsley, so it’s another great herb to have fresh throughout the winter. It will do just fine in the greenhouse this winter, but it will start flowering come spring and then I will have to replant. I also tucked in a few extra lettuce plants between the spinach and the parsley, which look tiny next to the huge parsley plants.

parsley

parsley

That concludes the greenhouse tour. I hope you have enjoyed seeing what’s going on there in early December.

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Smoked Peppers

For the last few years, I have had fun growing lots of different pepper varieties, both sweet and hot ones. Along the way I have dehydrated them, grilled them, fermented them, and oven roasted them. Lately I have been intrigued with the idea of smoking them. Since I’m always looking to make things myself, I thought it would be great to have homemade chipotles and smoked paprika.

Sweet Happy Yummy and Dulce Rojo peppers for smoking

Sweet Happy Yummy and Dulce Rojo peppers for smoking

With a freeze predicted back in late October, it was a good time to harvest all the remaining peppers left on the plants. I had several good candidates available for smoking. Dulce Rojo is a sweet, thin-walled paprika pepper that dries to a dark red color and a lovely flavor. Tolli’s Sweet Italian is a red pepper with medium thick walls. And our own Sweet Happy Yummy is an orange when ripe pepper that is shaped like an Anaheim type, but has no heat. In the hot pepper department I had red ripe El Jefe jalapenos and some green and red Anaheim types. I also chose a few of the ripe Aji Angelo peppers to see how they would be smoked.

assortment of hot peppers for smoking

assortment of hot peppers for smoking

A couple of bloggers I follow have already experimented with smoking peppers. Last year Mark (Mark’s Veg Plot) used his stove-top smoker to smoke some sweet red peppers for paprika (Smoked Sweet Peppers). This year Michelle (From Seed To Table) used her Big Green Egg to smoke a variety of sweet and hot peppers (Smokin’ Peppers). I was encouraged by their results, and decided it was time to try my hand at the process.

apple wood chips

apple wood chips

The goal is to smoke the peppers over a fairly low heat, and then dry them in the oven or dehydrator. You can use a variety of different materials to produce the smoke. Based on my prior experiences with smoking meats, I decided to use apple wood chips for this round of smoking the peppers. I think apple, cherry and alder are all great woods for smoking milder flavored foods. I wrapped up the dry chips in heavy-duty aluminum foil, then poked a few holes in the foil to allow the smoke to escape.

smoking peppers on gas grill

smoking peppers on gas grill

Since I don’t have a stove-top smoker or a BGE, I had to do my own experimenting with what I did have to work with, which is a gas grill and a Weber kettle charcoal grill. I decided to start with the gas grill. Since you want to keep the heat fairly low, I thought the gas grill would give me a greater control over regulating the temperature. While that part was true, it proved to be quite difficult to get the wood chips hot enough to smoke. I had to turn up the gas so high that by the time the chips were smoking, the peppers were overheating and roasting, even though I was only using one of the three burners. The foil packet was just too far away from the heat source.

smoked Dulce Rojo peppers

smoked Dulce Rojo peppers

For this first attempt, I had tried cutting some peppers in half and leaving others whole, and the whole peppers did better.

smoked Tolli's Sweet Italian and Sweet Happy Yummy peppers

smoked Tolli’s Sweet Italian and Sweet Happy Yummy peppers

The thicker peppers also held up better than the thin ones. I had cut all of the thin Dulce Rojo peppers in half so I could remove the seeds, and more than half of them wound up burned. The thick, whole Sweet Happy Yummy peppers wound up nicely smoked, and not at all burned. It was a learning experience for sure!

smoking peppers on the charcoal grill

smoking peppers on the charcoal grill

For the next round, I used the Weber charcoal grill. I built a fairly small fire on one side, using some good quality hardwood charcoal chunks. Once again I used apple wood chips, but this time I made two small foil packets. I wanted to be sure I got some smoking going this time! I laid the packets directly on the coals, and they were smoking in no time. For this batch I left all the peppers whole, figuring I could always remove the seeds later after they were dried. I let them smoke for about an hour and a half, and by that time the chips were done smoking.

smoked hot peppers (Anaheim, Aji Angelo and jalapeno)

smoked hot peppers (Anaheim, Aji Angelo and jalapeno)

After smoking, I used the dehydrator to dry the peppers until they were leathery. That’s dry enough if you want to use them whole, or store them for later use, but if you want to grind them up then they need to be crisp-dry. That smoky aroma permeated the house while they were drying, and I wound up taking the dehydrator outside to finish that job. The dehydrated hot peppers are in the above photo. I was pleased with the results this time. There was no burning at all, and the peppers were nicely smoked.

sweet peppers after smoking and drying

sweet peppers after smoking and drying

The sweet peppers also turned out great. I was careful to keep the hot ones and the sweet ones separated – at least I hope I did! The peppers look quite a bit different once they are smoked and dried.

smoked paprika

smoked paprika

So far I have enjoyed the smoked peppers in several ways. The Dulce Rojo peppers made a killer smoked paprika. I have been sprinkling it on everything! And I crumbled up the Aji Angelo to make smoked pepper flakes. I used some of that to flavor up our Turkey Chipotle Taco and Burrito Filling we made with leftover Thanksgiving turkey. Aji Angelo is a good pepper to add flavor and just a little heat.

ground chipotles and green Anaheim peppers

ground chipotles and green Anaheim peppers

I ground up some of the jalapenos to make chipotle powder, and a few of the green Anaheims, which turned almost black after smoking and drying. The chipotle powder is super hot, though it has a great flavor. The green Anaheim powder is less hot and has a wonderful smoky taste. I can see me making more of these next year, though I may grow a milder variety of Jalapeno. I removed the seeds for all the peppers before grinding up. I found that makes for a darker colored paprika, and for milder flavor when you are using the hot peppers.

Overall, I am quite pleased with how the smoked pepper project turned out. Next year, I will know to use the charcoal grill instead of the gas grill, and to keep the peppers whole before smoking – at least the thin walled ones. And I can do the smoking earlier in the season when the supply of peppers is better. I’ll also keep smoking in mind when I decide what varieties of peppers to plant next year. I already have some ideas in mind. Thanks again to Mark and Michelle for sharing their experiences, which certainly helped to get me going down the right path!

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Monday Recap: Gobble Gobbled

I think it is safe to say my wife and I have gotten our fill of turkey for a while. Last week I picked up a fresh local turkey from Uebelhack Turkey Farm that weighed almost 18 pounds. I baked it for Thanksgiving, and we’ve pretty much been eating on it ever since!

Rosemary Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Rosemary Roasted Sweet Potatoes

It was just the two of us celebrating Thanksgiving, but we tried to do it in style. In addition to the Big Bird we had Rosemary Roasted Sweet Potatoes and cooked up some frozen Derby green beans for side dishes. We used our Beauregard sweet potatoes for roasting. I know folks (some of them relatives) that won’t eat a sweet potato unless it is swimming in butter and loaded with sugar and marshmallows, but thankfully my wife and I agree that simple is better when it comes to most vegetables, including sweet potatoes.

pumpkin pie

pumpkin pie

My wife baked one of her yummy pumpkin pies for dessert, using our frozen Canada Crookneck Squash puree. It was the best tasting squash in our recent Pumpkin Smackdown, and I need to do another tasting of the remaining varieties soon. It was great in the pie.

taco salad using leftover turkey

taco salad using leftover turkey

We had leftovers of all the above on Friday. Saturday we took part of the turkey meat along with some frozen tomato sauce and made Turkey Chipotle Taco and Burrito Filling. Some of that went into a taco salad for dinner, and the rest went into the freezer for later meals. We made broth with the bones, and froze the broth along with meat for soups. We will be enjoying this turkey for some time to come! The lettuce for the taco salad was some of the Spotted Trout that I harvested a couple of weeks ago.

Coalition Mix Kale

Coalition Mix Kale

I did harvest some of the Coalition Kale Mix last week. My wife cooked it up for a side dish. I love this mix, and I will be growing it again for sure. I have no idea how winter hardy it will be in our area, but it has made it so far.

large kale leaf

large kale leaf

Though it’s a mix of quite a few different kales, several of the plants I wound up with this year have huge, flat leaves that almost resemble collard greens. The taste is all kale though, and after a few frosts it got even better.

harvest of turnips

harvest of turnips

I also pulled a few turnips yesterday, which I plan on cooking up tonight. The white ones are Hakurei and the long purple ones are an Italian heirloom variety called Mezza Lunga Bianca Colletto Viola. We had the greens from the turnips last night, along with a grilled turkey sandwich.

Cream of Asparagus Soup

Cream of Asparagus Soup

Though we both worked on the Thanksgiving meal (and its aftermath), it was my wife’s turn to cook last week. She used some of our 2014 frozen asparagus to make a batch of Cream of Asparagus Soup. Despite the name, there is no cream or milk in the soup, and only a little bit of butter. It is mainly asparagus cooked in chicken broth, then pureed until nice and smooth. It was a great change of pace after our turkey-thon! My wife stirred in a bit of plain yogurt in hers, but I sprinkled on a little bit of my smoked paprika, which gave it another nice layer of flavor, not to mention a bit of color.

Dark Rye Potato Rolls

Dark Rye Potato Rolls

Since the soup was the main (and only) attraction for the meal that night, I volunteered to make some rolls to go with it. I made a batch of my Dark Rye Potato Rolls, which gave me another chance to tweak the recipe a bit. I will share it here once I get it worked out to my satisfaction.

chipotle peppers

chipotle peppers

Last week I used a few of the smoked jalapenos to grind up for chipotle powder. And let me say it was h-o-t. I was sneezing and coughing while grinding them in the spice grinder, and that was before I took the lid off! I love the flavor of them, but they are so hot I may have to tame them down a bit by adding some of the milder smoked peppers. I think I may try growing TAM jalapeno next year. I’ve grown it before, and it is a milder jalapeno that registers about 1000 on the Scoville scale. That’s still plenty hot for me, but less so than the El Jefe variety I grew this year. It is an o/p variety developed by Texas A&M University, hence the name TAM.

That’s a look at what’s happening here at HA. To see what others are harvesting and cooking up, visit Daphne’s Dandelions where Daphne hosts Harvest Mondays. I’ll be back later this week with a review of how my smoked pepper project turned out.

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Planting Green Garlic

Today I took advantage of a sunny but cold day to plant some garlic for green garlic. For those not familiar with it, green garlic is to garlic what a green onion (or scallion) is to a mature onion. I think it sort of resembles a scallion, but the taste is all garlic. Both the green and white parts of the young garlic are edible, and it can be harvested early on before the main crop of garlic is ready.

green garlic

green garlic

Green garlic can be planted any time from fall on up through late winter and early spring. I like to use garlic that is already sprouting, which will be up and growing in no time. It is also a good way to use any of those small cloves you might have, since you’re not trying to grow a big head of garlic.

sprouting garlic for green garlic

sprouting garlic for green garlic

I prepared an area where radishes had been growing earlier, adding some compost and a little organic fertilizer (3-4-4). I planted the green garlic fairly close together, about two or three inches apart. Since the soil was fairly loose, I just poked a hole with my finger and then dropped in a clove of garlic. After they were all planted I covered them with a little soil, and then added a bit of straw for mulch.

green garlic after planting

green garlic after planting

I also sometimes grow green garlic in containers. It is easy to grow that way, and can be grown indoors or in a greenhouse to supply a little taste of green garlic even in the middle of winter.

green garlic growing in container

green garlic growing in container

I love garlic in all its forms, and my goal is to have homegrown garlic year round. With a fresh, garlicky flavor, green garlic is great way to enjoy the taste of garlic early in the season. And it’s also easy to grow!

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Monday Recap: Return to Normal

I am not sure what normal weather is anymore, but after ten straight days of colder than usual weather, our snow is all gone and temperatures here have returned to more seasonal levels. I didn’t do a lot of harvesting last week, since we still have quite a few veggies in the refrigerator from the previous week. I did pull a few carrots though. That’s Yaya in the below photo. I got them out after the ground thawed, and while the tops were a bit ragged the roots were just fine.

Yaya carrots

Yaya carrots

My wife roasted those carrots, plus kohlrabi and potatoes from storage. She also threw in a couple of ripe peppers (last of the 2014 harvests). I had to buy a bag of onions, since our stash ran out. One of those joined the mix. Then she added some of our garlic (of which we still have plenty) and tossed them all in oil before roasting. I love roasted vegetables. The combinations are endless and almost all vegetables work with this simple treatment.

roasted vegetables

roasted vegetables

We are not big chard eaters, but I cut a few leaves from the greenhouse to saute for a side dish one day for my lunch. I let Verde da Taglio go to seed in the greenhouse this spring, and now I have volunteers in there.

Verde da Taglio chard

Verde da Taglio chard

And though they were harvested months ago, let me give a shout out to the blueberries. We have some nearly every day with our breakfast cereal. It was a great year for them, and my wife froze these all summer long. I had a dream about moving the other night and in it I kept thinking “what will we do for blueberries?” Of course we are not planning on moving any time soon. I mean, what would we do for blueberries?

frozen blueberries

frozen blueberries

One of the smallest harvests of the year was from the Elephant Head Amaranth plants. The total amount of seed was slightly less than one ounce. I really harvested the seed for replanting and for sharing, but I would like to try popping some of it and see how it does. I do want to try growing amaranth for seed, and maybe next year will be the year.

Elephant Head Amaranth seed

Elephant Head Amaranth seed

Saturday I managed to get some planting done in the cold frame beds. I planted one bed in spinach, a mix of Viroflay, Giant Winter and Amsterdam Prickly Seeded. I’ve been having good luck with starting spinach seed indoors, then setting it out when it’s about three weeks old. The plants are not as big as they look in the below photo, and you can see the seed leaves are still attached.

planting spinach

planting spinach

Another bed got some spinach plants plus Mizspoona, which is a Frank Morton cross between mizuna and tatsoi. The leaves are supposed to look more like ‘dark green monster mizuna’ than tatsoi. Since it’s quick to mature like both its parents, I should know what it looks and tastes like in about a month or so.

Mizspoona Salad Select plant

Mizspoona Salad Select plant

Also on Saturday I baked some of my Multi-Grain Seeded Dinner Rolls to go with cauliflower soup my wife made that night. I was actually craving these crusty rolls, since I hadn’t made any in a long time. They were a nice companion to the soup, and together it made for a great dinner meal.

Multi-Grain Seeded Dinner Rolls

Multi-Grain Seeded Dinner Rolls

We also found time to make soap last week. One batch was a new recipe for a Neem Peppermint Tea Tree soap. That is our version of the Neem soap we bought on our Asheville trip. It has lots of organic cold-pressed neem oil plus neem leaf powder, which adds a greenish tint. The other soap we made is our Sunny Calendula, featuring our own calendula flowers infused in olive and coconut oils. The calendula turns the soap a lovely and natural orange color. That one has lemongrass essential oil in it. After cutting they need to cure for several weeks before we try them out. The neem soap is pretty stinky at this point, and hopefully it will be less so after it cures. Anyone who is familiar with neem oil should know the smell!

soap cut and ready to cure

soap cut and ready to cure

And speaking of calendula, I let some of the flowers go to seed this year. Compared to the amaranth seed, the calendula seeds are giants! Our calendula plants bloomed all summer and fall until a hard freeze finally did them in. Their dried flowers are now starring in the infused oils we use to make soaps and salves.

calendula seeds

calendula seeds

I hope you have enjoyed this recap of current happenings here. To see what others are harvesting and cooking up, visit Daphne’s Dandelions where Daphne hosts Harvest Mondays.

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