Entropy is a bitch

Time, if you leave it alone, it tends to mess everything. Science says it is the natural state of the universe, “the entropy must always grow to the fullest”. But, why? Why should we let the flowers wither? Why must an illustrious life end as dust on the road? Why do friends separate to the point of not recognizing each other if they meet again? Why do fiery loves become ashes with the pass of time?

We spend half of our lives learning, building, arising, loving, consolidating… And without noticing, time passes by, and the bulldozer of entropy doesn’t stop. Still plowing everything in its path, spreading families apart, cooling hearts, distancing friends, undoing buttons.

This year we have one more day, a day that comes every four years. A day we don’t even know what to do with. Let’s use that day to give a little detour to the running of time, to slow down the growth of the infamous entropy. Let’s call someone that is far away, let us sow again another seed of togetherness, let’s water the garden of love and friendship, let’s look at the clock straight on and yell ” FUCK ENTROPY!!” Let us not turn to dust without telling someone that we remember him, that we miss her, let’s not waste that day without reminiscing times we lived together.

From this moment on, in my full mental capacity, I declare February 29th as THE UNIVERSAL DAY FOR STOPPING ENTROPY, let’s fight together to stop it, and let’s make it obey us.
‪#‎fuckentropy‬

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A mother of a day

I am writing this post on Mother’s Day eve, my shirt is filthy dirty, my fingernails are full of dirt, and my knees have the impressions of the wood chips I have been kneeling on as I plant our garden. In other words, I am happy!! IMG_8789

Just about every square foot of garden space has been planted or assigned for planting in the next week, for the first time I am ahead of the game.IMG_8784 IMG_8783 IMG_8668 IMG_8623 IMG_8652

This past week and a half the weather has been rather mild on Long Island, and since there was no imminent threat of frost I took the gamble and started putting some of the more tender plants in the ground last weekend. My tomatoes looked somewhat purplish at the beginning, a condition that can be caused by either lack of Phosphorus or by being exposed to too much cold and water.IMG_8616

I am not quite sure what did it, but after a few days with the mercury hitting in the upper 60’s (ºF) and having better soil to grow on than what was in their seedling cups,  they now look stronger and a healthier shade of green. Today I even started training them on to a string so they grow upright and without crowding each other.IMG_8776

As I had mentioned before, this year I am committed to growing more varieties in my homemade grow sacs. I really want to find out if these containers are a viable alternative for those with planting space limitations. I spent a few evenings making them, so our fleet of grow sacs has more than doubled this year. As of today we have 27 sacs in various sizes spread out in different areas of the garden. IMG_8764IMG_8691

All our peas, zucchinis and potatoes are being grown in this manner, but I also dedicated some sacs to grow a good portion of our cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, scallions and peppers.  If anyone is interested in learning how to make their own, leave me a comment.IMG_8759 IMG_8762 IMG_8787 IMG_8666

I wish all moms out there a wonderful day tomorrow and always.

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End of April, garden update

It’s been a while since I last updated everyone on the state of my garden. It seems I have spent more time than I originally thought necessary dog proofing not only my garden, but also building a 6′ fence to keep our pup in the yard, and then reinforcing it with wire at the bottom to prevent her from digging her way out.IMG_8491

However, little by little I am catching up on what I have to get accomplished in the garden before the start of the planting season the second week in May. As in previous years, I have changed a few things around to simplify the care of the plants and planting area, and the garden is starting to look pretty snazzy.IMG_8516 IMG_8517

Last year I had a bit of trouble keeping the green cabbage looper caterpillars at bay, in spite of the frequent use of neem oil spray they seemed to find their way into some of my cabbage and cauliflower and ended up destroying some of it. This spring I planted most of the brassicas in one of the narrow beds where I had sown lettuce seed last fall. I covered the bed with tulle fabric to prevent the white butterfly from laying her eggs on their favorite food plants.IMG_8478 IMG_8505IMG_8558

The construction of the tulle tunnel was very simple, I drove six 1/2″x3′ pieces of rebar into the ground, just outside the bed, leaving 3/4′ still out of the ground. I inserted the exposed rebar into pvc pipe forming 3 loops over the garden bed, over which now hangs the tulle.  I am holding the tulle in place with plastic shop clamps. The best thing about this arrangement is that I can raise the sides of the netting and keep it up out of my way as needed, and when the weather changes I can easily transform the tunnel into a mini greenhouse by simply replacing the tulle with plastic.IMG_8553 IMG_8557 IMG_8555

I have decided to grow some of the most aggressive climbers, tomatoes, peas, beans, cukes, out of the garden beds. I have already planted some seed in my homemade grow bags,  and have moved the net trellises away from the beds so they are free standing on the west side of the garden where I had some bamboo contraptions last year.IMG_8564

I am trying again to grow potatoes in bags, the experiment last year worked quite well, and even though we are not much of a potato consumer family, it makes for a great show if you have kids come and visit for a harvest celebration.IMG_8570 IMG_8568

The plastic that covered the greenhouse I used last year did not hold for another growing season. I picked up the frame and brought it up to the new fenced-in garden area, and re-covered it with thick plastic, it should hold for a while.IMG_8549IMG_8522

The compost pile I left cooking all winter has started to produce some black gold, but mining it had become an issue. The screen I had made a few years ago was a bit heavy duty,  it was also rather large and just plain heavy.  I always ended up with lower back ache after using it IMG_8563 IMG_8552

At the end of last season I made a new one out of a 10 gal Rubbermaid plastic tote. I simply cut a rectangular section off the bottom of the tote, inserted a piece of 1/2X1/2″ wire from the old screen, and fastened it with zip ties (best invention ever).  This new gadget is very light weight, it has nice handles, and can be easily lifted and shaken to separate the fine stuff. With the rest of the wire I made seedling protectors to keep squirrels and birds from digging where I have just planted.IMG_8559 IMG_8561IMG_8537 IMG_8538IMG_8562

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Back on the horse.

Agriculture above the 40º of latitude takes some degree of trust, specially for anyone like me who grew up in the tropics. Planning  a garden when the ground is covered by a two foot layer of ice and snow always feels much like taking the proverbial leap of faith. Nonetheless, a few weeks ago I waded in knee deep snow to gather all my equipment and left over supplies from last year, and officially declared open the 2015 gardening season by planting our first batch of seeds.IMG_7838 IMG_7843IMG_8225IMG_8223

I have since continued planting seed, one flat at a time,  and as of this morning I counted over 300 tiny pots most showing seedlings at different stages of growth and development. I have already started hardening some of the sturdier plants out in the sun, and by weeks end will probably have even the tomatoes and peppers out for a sun tan.IMG_8149 IMG_8140 IMG_8230 IMG_8386 IMG_8405 IMG_8406 IMG_8294IMG_8293

The only constant in our garden is that there is always change. This year I have a new challenge to overcome, our new pup, Panda, is the new master of our backyard. She is extremely curious, and has shown a a great affinity for vegetation. The only solution has been fencing the garden area off from the rest of the yard, something I was always against doing, but it is the only way keep everyone happy. Needless to say I had to fence not only the garden area, but also had to construct a fence to keep the dog in the backyard. All that has taken some focus away from my plantings, but I am sure I will catch up by Mothers’ Day.IMG_8241 IMG_8281

Our production goal for 2015 is 250 lbs of produce. This year I am staying away from fancy varieties and focusing more on the veggies we do like and consume. I will try to dedicate more growing area to grow bags, as these proved very effective last year. Let me know if you would like information on how to make your own.

Wish us luck, I will try to share my our experiences with all. Now go and play in the dirt.

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Together again

Time flies when you are having fun, or just not watching. Time passage is unfortunately one of those constants in our lives, unstoppable, relentless, unexpected. As time passes, memories first become blurry, then fade into a thick fog, getting them back is hard and perhaps painful, but oh so worth it.

About a month and a half ago I received a call from someone who I had not heard from in a real long time. Lynn, I remembered her well, called me from FL to let me know that a few of our high school classmates were thinking about getting together to celebrate our 40th anniversary reunion. We graduated in Venezuela from Liceo Agustin Codazzi, the proud class of 1974. She had been put in charge of contacting those of us who had emigrated from Venezuela. She invited me to go to the reunion that was being held in Maracay, or if not possible, join in the celebration via Skype.

That evening I got a message via Skype from another old friend still in Venezuela, Ignacio, who was the spark and fuel getting the reunion off the ground. We talked for quite a while, catching up after so many years. He told me that he had already started a Whatsapp group with people he had contacted and wanted to include me in the group chat.

Getting into the group chat was like going to recess, every day more and more classmates were added as they were being found. Familiar, and some less remembered names popped up incessantly during the day and night, as everyone wanted in on the conversation. Faded old photographs, and old id cards were being shared to help people connect a blurry name to a face or vice versa.

IMG_7166 IMG_7457 IMG_7114IMG_7130IMG_7260 IMG_7032 IMG_6916 IMG_6890 IMG_7482 IMG_7474 Everyone uploaded recent pictures of themselves, their families and their pets. All shared their stories, their memories, and some even admitted to teenage crushes. Our cellphones became less mobile, as batteries were constantly being drained and it was necessary to keep the phones plugged to the wall. No one wanted to miss a thing. Busy, serious professionals spread around the world behaving like kids, embracing the togetherness that technology now afforded us.  The chats would start by 4:30 or 5 am in Maracay, and would continue non-stop until it was midnight in Seattle, when Abe would say good night to Jose Manuel, the last person still standing up a few thousand miles away in Venezuela. No one wanted to miss a thing, even if that meant reading 856 messages piled up since last time one checked the phone.

Ten days before the reunion, everyone living overseas was contacted via Skype by Ignacio, who by then was simply being called “Boss” by all 86 people in the chat. He wanted to make sure that he could make simultaneous Skype video chats with all of us. His plan was to surprise all party goers with the group video call being played on a big screen, so it felt like we were all together again. IMG_7365

It was hard to keep the call all business as he intended, as we were excited to see each other again after so long. I must admit, when we all finally hung up, I felt terribly lonely. My recently found old friends were going to a party and I was just going to watch them on a computer screen…

At one point, Darys, who lives in Miami, decided to have a BBQ at her home, and invited the other 4 classmates that live in South FL, so they could all be together at the same time as the big celebration was taking place in Maracay.  Just a few days before the reunion, Abe and I, with the help and encouragement of our friend Lorena who lives in Miami, decided to go to Dary’s party and surprise all in Miami and Venezuela.

Reunion day finally came, the group in Venezuela met in front of our old high school, and drove in a caravan to the party hall. Some cars had “Codazzianos 74” painted on their windows, the party had started.

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In Miami, we succeeded in crashing the BBQ, and received the warmest and most sincere hugs imaginable.  2015-02-28 10.19.502015-02-28 10.20.20

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As planned, we connected via Skype with the party in Venezuela and with other friends in other parts of the world. The excitement was obvious everywhere, there was lots of singing, and carefree dancing to 70’s tunes carefully selected for the occasion.IMG_7650

The celebration was going as planned until Nheriyda surprised everyone by bringing out what she called “The Treasure”. IMG_7704Out of a manila envelope she retrieved school id cards, newspaper clippings and report cards she had collected from many of us 40 years ago and handed them back to their owners. Her message was really heartfelt, “I kept them for the last 40 years, it is now time for your grandchildren to have them”  she said.IMG_7754

It’s been two weeks since our reunion. A great majority went to the party in Maracay, some of us got together in Miami, some joined from their homes via Skype, the important thing is that we were all there. The Whatsapp group is as alive and as well visited as it was the days before the celebration.

Boss, we really thank you. You not only succeeded in bringing us closer together, but also in reminding us what the value of friendship is.  AREPA, Te la comiste, hermano!

Dedicado a la memoria de Chavita Bravo, FranzJaramillo y Antonio Castro.

 

New love.

I did not plan on being there. I had no intentions of meeting any one. I was not looking for her, I swear. But I turned that corner, and she caught my eye. There was a small crowd gathered around her, engaging her, trying to get her attention. She is stunning, I thought as I got a second glance…I guess I have always had a soft spot for blue eyed girls.

Funny, one minute I am content with my life, the next I am thrown out for a spin.  I pretend to not to look at her, but I get closer. Look cool, look cool, don’t make eye contact…I noticed her looking at me…did she wink at me?   No! Can’t do that! Not at my age? What am I thinking of? What would Beth and the kids say? We’ve got plans… It is useless, now I am standing in front of her, she turns her head to look away from me, I cannot resist reaching out to touch her.

My hand is met by her shiny wet cold nose. She shyly licks my fingers, and I see a sign on the crate, it reads “Adopt me, PANDA”. The name fits like a glove, her striking gray-black markings on white fur do remind me of the cute bears, but her one ice-blue eye and bandit face mask give her an intriguing sort of mischievous look. “Do you want me to take her out of the crate” a nice volunteer offered. I am confused, I have resisted the urge to have a dog for over 30 years, I do not want any attachments, not now, we are almost empty nesters… “Yes, please” I answered immediately.

Her coat was as smooth as it looked. She felt a bit on the thin side, but looked alert and happy to be held. The lady let me pet her and said “she is only 4 months old, she needs a nice home”. Can’t do this, not without talking to Beth… “can I take her picture” I ask the lady, and right after send it as a text to Beth with a simple question “Yes?”. IMG_5969

No immediate response, few minutes pass NOTHING! It was a crazy idea anyways, it would not work, but I really want her, and Hunter has been asking for a dog since forever…No text back. “If I wanted to adopt her what do I have to do?” I ask the volunteer, somewhat not really sure what to do if she’d say ” here, just take her”. She gives me a form and tells me, “please fill this out first, and I’ll have the manager evaluate it”.

It was not easy, while I was filling out the form a couple had stopped to look at Panda, they wanted to fill an application too. I failed the adoption interview, the manager had to make sure all people in the household wanted a dog. Beth was nowhere to be found, and Hunter was at home, both of them clueless of what was going on.

I left the adoption tent, not even looking at any other dog. A few minutes later I got a call from Beth “so, what’s going on?”. I explained, and asked how soon could she get to the adoption tent. We agreed to meet back at the tent once I had a chance to get Hunter from home. I ran back to the tent to tell them I was bringing my family in but the manager told me “sorry, the couple that was here right after you is taking her, I have your number in case it does not work”.

On a hunch, I still decided to go home to get my son, and drive back to meet Beth at the tent as planned. When we got back, I see the couple walking outside with Panda and another dog. They recognized me, and came by “we went home to see if she would get along with our dog, I am not sure it will work” she tells me….Yeah!!

On our second interview with the manager, this time as a family, we nailed it! We were allowed to adopt her. Our older sons came home to meet her the day after we got her. They reacted as I had hoped, everyone has embraced her as a part of our family.IMG_5853 IMG_2034 IMG_2033

In two days, it will be 4 weeks since she moved in. What an awesome pup she is. We are still not sure what kind of parents she had (best guess is Husky-Terrier mix), or even how big she will end up being (the people from the shelter guessed about 70 lbs, but the vet thinks she will top off at 45 lbs). She is an active dog very strong and lightning fast. Panda is also very smart, in the short time she has been with us she has already trained us to a few-times-a-day walking routine, and for that she has rewarded us with very few mishaps in the house. IMG_5911 IMG_5932

We have also taken her hiking, and because of her we are finding more reasons to go out on a hike early in the morning on Sundays. We are all learning to play fetch, and even have fun going to the dog park.IMG_2976IMG_2975IMG_2964IMG_2990 IMG_5899 IMG_5948 IMG_5957

Owning a dog is certainly not easy, it is a long term commitment, but it feels like we were overdue for it. I have caught Beth a couple of times sitting of the floor petting and talking to Panda, they both seemed to be smiling.IMG_5777

 

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Keeping It Real

Gardening season, even extended one, has about come to an end around here. We have had a couple hard freezes already. All left in the ground is about 6 square feet of assorted salad greens, and our 2015 garlic crop which I planted a couple of weeks ago (see video).

IMG_5734 IMG_5741All our beds are now covered for the winter, as pretty soon it will be way too cold to be enjoyable digging through our beds, or the ground will feel just like rock. In fact, as I write I am watching the news tracking the Noreaster that is about to lash us later this evening. We are in the far South East corner of New York State, and near the ocean, but trust me, we do get a fair amount of snow around here…So no matter how much we may want to continue gardening, we must stop and concentrate on enjoying what winter brings ahead, and at the same time dedicate some time to planning our future garden.IMG_5742 IMG_5743 IMG_5744

 

This year I was quite happy with our tiny farm. We not only had a great and long lasting season, but I kept busy experimenting with different plants and growing methods, and implementing interesting ideas. In the end we were able to harvest a fair amount of vegetables from most of the beds and pots. We reached a final production of 230 lbs of food, most of it got consumed fresh at home, but we were also lucky to have extra to share with some friends and neighbors. However, not everything grew as I had expected. Some plants did not make it or failed to amaze me with their production because I was not prepared to provide them optimal growing conditions, some others because I had false expectations. Below is my 2014 lessons learned and keeping it real list.

1) Beets, can’t grow them!! I better forget growing them.

2) Root air pruning containers are great to grow many plants, but not if too small. Never use pots less than 5 gal capacity.

3) Do not buy seed on impulse because the photo on the pack looks great. This is specially true with funky colored or odd shaped varieties of regular fruits and veggies, like multicolor bell peppers, super skinny eggplants, rainbow cauliflower, etc. I must stick to the basics, they usually grow better.

3) Location, location location… I should have known that, I am a Realtor…. plan where plants are to be grown, who is next to who? avoid competition, interference, inhibition…

4) Did we need so many Swiss chard plants?  what was I thinking?

5) I do like hot peppers, but my esophagus is not lined in asbestos…next year tone it down a notch, will you?

6) Never stop composting, it’s the name of the game!

7) Neem oil  does a lot of good. Spray, spray, spray, even when you can’t see any bugs.

I wish all a wonderful Thanksgiving, and a great gardening season to all of you in the tropics and Southern hemisphere.

 

 

 

 

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100 Kg of food…not too shabby

I figure at this point in time, we may just have another month or month and a half left of growing season here on Long Island. This year we have stretched our production considerably longer than in the past, and as of this last weekend we had harvested over 221 lbs of food (just over 100 Kg). Whatever we squeeze out of our yard from now on is just gravy, but I do hope to scratch the 250 lb mark before it is all over for this year.

Fall is a pretty boring season when you think of it in terms of gardening, not much to really do apart from cleaning up and start getting things somewhat ready for 6-7 months from now…I have spent the past couple of weeks removing and chopping plants that seemed to beg for a quick yanking out of the ground, and feeding them to our ever growing 2015 compost pile.

I am  now tending to a garden that is barely growing at about 20% capacity. As I remove spent plants I am discovering those that hid and had so far eluded our salad bowl. I am getting a better sense of what is worth growing again, and what is not worth saving the space for next year.

Our main attraction at present is the cut-and-come-again lettuce. We have been eating it regularly out of a 4 sqft section that I planted about a month ago. IMG_5400 IMG_5401

This weekend I decided to add 4 more sqft so we do not run out once they start growing at a slower pace. The spinach in my garden grows very slowly for some strange reason, but thankfully we have plenty of radicchio and chard to cook with in its place.IMG_5381 IMG_5398 IMG_5382

This year I experimented with a few different brassicas, most of them already did their thing a couple of months ago. The only plants of this family that we still have in the ground are Brussel sprouts, which seem to slowly be forming their tiny buds, and the fabulous kohlrabi which we have really enjoyed throughout the whole season.IMG_5383 IMG_5450

At present, we still have carrots and celery growing nicely.  Last week I pulled all the bell peppers out, and left some cubanelles and a mild hot pepper with a nice flavor to finish their show for the year. IMG_5402IMG_5377IMG_5376

Just about two weeks ago my friends Dawn and Mike gave me a small plant that produces about inch long slender but extremely hot peppers (no kidding). I hope to use these in some of my “picante” hot sauce  to see if I can harness and tame their incredible fire power to an edible level. IMG_5395

My plan for the next 7-8 weeks includes topping off my garden beds with the compost I have been cooking all season, plant the 2015 garlic, and perhaps build one last raised bed. I am not sure what is the best way to maintain the raised beds during the winter, should I cover them up or leave them exposed? If I cover them up, should I use plastic, cardboard,  hay or wood chips? Or  should I perhaps  put a thin layer of horse manure on top and cover it with leaves? Any ideas will be appreciated.

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It is our tiny farm

Woohooo!!!! As of this morning we have harvested a total of 201 lbs (91 Kg) of fresh and delicious vegetables from our tiny suburban farm. Although calling it a farm may be an overly optimistic exaggeration, as I have planted an area just under 200 square feet, and I have no livestock,  I makes me feel much better than calling it a garden. Our original hope of reaching a production of 150 lbs this season, has so far been surpassed by a heaping 30%, and if everything goes according to plan, we may even be able to reach the 250 lbs mark before winter arrives.IMG_5322 IMG_4140 IMG_3270

One pound of food per square foot of soil… not quite sure if I should brag about this or not, but the way I see it is that for one whole season, my family has been able to eat produce as fresh as it gets, knowing that no harmful chemicals have been used to grow them. Was it cheaper to produce them than to buy them? Well if you factor in the investment to build the raised beds, irrigation system, and other structures that I could not re purpose, probably not. But the way I see it, all that was an investment, not a cost, and the structures will still be there for a few more years.IMG_5337 IMG_5348 Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset IMG_5250

Our tiny farm provides us with much more than food, it is my laboratory, my school, and a place where I can be creative, daring and resourceful. It also makes me humble, I must admit not everything I try works every time, as a matter of fact I still have to grow one single beet to at least the size of a ping pong, or even smaller… Gardening has lit the fuse of my curiosity again, it has made me want to discover and learn new things, it has made me dig through (pun intended) and try to apply knowledge I gathered while working on fish farming a few decades ago, and best of all, it has made me want to share whatever little I learn or experience.IMG_2169 IMG_2140 IMG_2158

If you live in Suffolk County NY, let’s get together and exchange experiences and ideas over a cup of coffee. If you live elsewhere, let’s start talking, I really don’t bite. Please also visit, like and follow my facebook page.

 

 

 

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But we got ugly tomatoes

Summer is ending, as I clean up my garden beds and mulch the rest of plants that reached their term I am giving extra room to those that did not get a share of the spotlight just yet. We finally have a steady production of peppers and eggplants which seem to have waited until now to start presenting us with their gifts.IMG_5200 IMG_5199 IMG_5198 IMG_5158 IMG_5159 IMG_5154 IMG_5144 IMG_5146

Our pole bean are about to reach their term. They are now rewarding us with a massive production of pods which we pick daily as they  turn from green to creamy. The pods are heavy with beautiful white seed which we are collecting and drying out to prepare soup this fall. IMG_5149IMG_5150IMG_5164

It is amazing to see how much we have already harvested from just 6 sq feet we planted, we first picked the green beans until we could not eat them anymore, and so far have over 4lbs of beans saved for the fall.   IMG_5151IMG_5168

Our tomato plants seem to be begging to be yanked out of the ground. They do not look beautiful and happy, instead, they appear as if tired of bearing the fruit still on their branches.IMG_5213 IMG_5214

The tomatoes themselves do not ripen as beautiful as they used to, some end up with cracks, or yellow tones on their shoulders. They are still good to eat, and we have been enjoying them nonetheless, but find us making more salsas, sauces and stews with them than before.IMG_5216IMG_5156 IMG_5166

To date, we have harvested a total of 169 lbs (76.8 Kg) of food from our garden, and we are still getting a nice production. The most surprising plants this season have been the cucumbers, which have given us 45.8 lbs (20.8 Kg) of large plump and tasty fruit from only 6 sq ft of garden space, and they keep on going strong. IMG_5182

I have already started our fall garden, and once all is done I estimate our production will likely surpass 100 Kg for the year. It takes work, no doubt, but for us it is nice to have such a nice extension of our pantry or vegetable drawer, where we just go for as much as we need to cook just before using it.IMG_5175

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A Harvest Celebration

A couple of weeks ago, our garden started showing definite signs of seasonal maturity, many plants were in full bloom, some others were steadily producing fruit, while a few, like the lettuces, had already called it quits. One very interesting group were those of the onion and garlic family, which after putting out their funky looking flowers were begging to be pulled out of the ground. It was time for a harvest party!

My two special guests were M and B, both 7 years old.  B you may remember from her internship last year, when she helped me by taking care of the garden (B Is The New Farmer In Charge.  and  Meet B Our Interim Farmer), and also  when she planted all the garlic bulbs (Planting Our 2014 Garlic Crop). I met M last fall, he is a member of the track team where I assist coaching. M is a great kid with a happy face and a curious mind, much like B.IMG_2173

I had thought of bringing B back to harvest the garlic she had planted, as a way for her to see the result of her work last fall. In conversation with M’s mom, I learned he had shown recent interest in gardening, so I thought he would perhaps also enjoy spending an afternoon picking fruit and veggies, and learning about worms, bees and where some of the food comes from.

It was a great afternoon, the stage was our garden, and mother nature set it up perfectly for us to find amazing goodies in every corner. We started by emptying out one of the soft containers where I grew potatoes. B and M had fun digging with their hands through the soft soil in the wheelbarrow looking for nice bright red potatoes.IMG_2140 IMG_2136 IMG_2141 IMG_2177 From there we moved to the zucchinis, tomatoes, and cucumbers searching for fruit ready to be picked. With amazement, they pulled carrots from the ground, and also picked beans from the vines.IMG_2144IMG_2146 IMG_2149

We stopped to look how the baby cantaloupes and water melons were forming, and made sure to smell some of the herbs growing. At the far end of our garden we found cabbages, onions and a small forest of garlic plants to pick from.IMG_2157

IMG_2165 IMG_2169We finished work by digging through a compost pile usually frequented by sub-foot long night crawlers to see who could find the biggest worm, and later took a look at how the worms in our worm farm recycle some of our kitchen waste.IMG_2175

It was a great afternoon, we gave the children bags to put in all their goodies to take home, and B proudly commented “I don’t eat any of this stuff…I am just taking it home for my family”. I often think how interesting it would be to include gardening as part of the elementary school curriculum, children could learn so much by getting their fingers back into the soil.  IMG_2153 IMG_2136 IMG_2158

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Paper? or plastic?

During the winter I became interested in a planting technique used to stimulate plants to grow  extensive root systems. The benefits of this technique translate into stronger plants that are better able to utilize the nutrients in the soil they live in.  The technique is known as root air pruning.

Root air pruning occurs in containers made out of materials that allow the roots to enter in contact with air once they reach the container walls.    At such point of contact  the tip of the root dehydrates and dies. However, the plant compensates by growing secondary roots in other directions inside the container. As these secondary roots further develop, and in turn come in contact with the container wall at a different spot, the process is repeated. The end result is a very well developed, very dense root system inside the container, as opposed to the single root that circles around and around and becomes pot bound inside a traditional container . There are many commercially available root air pruning containers, and perhaps just as many DIY suggestions available on line, (I particularly enjoy watching Larry Hall’s videos ).

Since this year I was using raised beds which limited the space we have available to grow vegetables, I decided to experiment growing zucchini in root air pruning containers, to gain the precious gardening real estate in the raised beds that would otherwise be occupied by the giant summer squash plants. I initially made four large containers (17 gal each) to house my zucchini seedlings. I made the containers by sewing heavy duty landscape fabric into a 16″X16″X16″ square-bottomed bags, which I then filled about 1/2 of the way up with the same soil (Mel’s Mix) I used in my raised beds. IMG_3377

Early enough it could be noted that the bags were doing a good job, the seedlings were growing strong and healthy with the extra heat they were getting in the dark containers. At that point I decided to try growing potatoes, so I made three more bags for that purpose, and I also made a long sausage like container which I planted with watercress seed, lettuce and celery.IMG_3502

Soon after  I though to make a few smaller bags out of the material trimmed off when making the original larger bags.IMG_3484 IMG_3485

I made a dozen 4gal bags, where I planted our squash, melon and water melon seed. The bags were great for starting seed because they could be closed at the top and provide a dark, warm and humid environment for germination  while at the same time preventing squirrels and other critters from getting too curious and messing everything up.IMG_3488 IMG_3487 IMG_3492IMG_3744IMG_3743

To date, the 4 zucchini plants have produced almost 8lbs of food so far. We had some degree of success growing potatoes, and after emptying the bags we have already re purposed them to grow pumpkin, sweet potatoes and carrot. IMG_4418 IMG_4541

Our sausage shaped container is going strong and we still take cuttings of watercress and celery as needed. Our melons, squash and cantaloupe look awesome and we already have some fruit forming.IMG_3676 IMG_4326 IMG_3569 IMG_4416 IMG_4317IMG_4594IMG_4592

These containers are so versatile, that I have also made 1/2 gal bags to root perennial herbs to share with friends, I am sure this size will also work great to start seedlings next spring. The bags are great for gardeners with limited land, for apartment dwellers with just a balcony, or even to use in areas that cannot be easily converted into gardens (patios, decks, lawns,etc). Next year I plan on expanding our bag farm to grow  plants in a sunnier location of our yard, and to re-locate lettuce to a shadier area once the mercury starts climbing… the possibilities are endless.

Please visit, like and follow our Facebook page for almost daily updates on our garden and what we are up to.

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You want me to do what with that zucchini?

Mid summer  brings unyielding heat, fireflies, and more zucchini that most people can handle. Yes these plants are a fantastic morale booster to any gardener, they give and they give and they give.  IMG_4472 IMG_4471

At the beginning, you hoard all you can harvest, but after a week of eating it in ratatouille, omelets and stir fry you cannot even bear the sight of another group of yellow flowers sprouting in the garden. IMG_4467 IMG_4470

At that point you suddenly become generous and start sharing your bounty with your neighbors… your offering is welcomed at the beginning, but soon enough they stop opening the door when they see you coming up their driveway…IMG_4230

I am quite certain this is the same scenario that prompted the first person to add zucchini to bread mix, and that is how zucchini bread came about. I do love the stuff myself, but the great majority of recipes out there pack so much sugar, carbs and calories, that you are better off eating a slice while running hard on a treadmill.

Today I adapted a very good and very healthy bread recipe  to handle some of my zucchini production. The result is quite good, it has a ton of protein and very little carbs,  so you can eat it with less worries. I also find that by baking it into muffins instead of bread, it is much easier to stop at one portion as opposed to polishing the whole loaf in one sitting… so without further ado,  here is my “Nutty Zucchini Muffin” recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium eggs or 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup shredded and drained zucchini
  • 2 1/4 cups almond meal
  • 1 cup dried unsweetened cranberries (craisins)
  • 1/2 cup slivered or chopped almonds or pecans
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1 TBS vanilla extract
  • 1 TBS fresh orange zest
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Directions:

Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl. Distribute the mix among 8-12 cupcake baking cups  in a muffin tin (no need to grease anything). Bake in a preheated oven at 350ºF until the muffins are fully baked (poke a muffin in the center with a knife and it comes out clean) and golden on the top. Once done, remove the muffins from the tin, allow them to cool on a rack, and they are ready to eat… Super easy, right? Let me know if you try it and like it.IMG_4512 IMG_4513

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Something Different – Roasted Cauliflower

Town & Country Gardening

roasted cauliflower
Source PureWow Recipe roast the whole damn cauliflower
Fresh from UK’s The Telegraph news media is Roasted Cauliflower. I’m not a big cauliflower fan, but this looks and sound like a real winner.
It has a rather long list of ingredients that may not be found in many American kitchens.

Roasted cauliflower? Been there, done that. But roasting a whole head of cauliflower? This recipe has you slathering cauliflower in a spicy yogurt marinade and roasting it at a high temperature. The result is an amazingly delicious dish that’s as dramatic in presentation as it is easy in preparation. Serve it with a big green salad (we suggest lime juice and olive oil for the dressing) for an easy weeknight supper or your next “the vegetarians are coming to dinner” party.

Spicy Whole Roasted Cauliflower
Makes 6 servings — Start to Finish: 1 hour

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 head…

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