Friday, July 30, 2010

Succession Planting and My Beloved TMX Elmo

Sometimes things don’t quite square. That doesn’t mean we don’t love them.
Think of the contrasts between ice cold sweet watermelon sprinkled with coarse salt or the jolt to your sinus passages when you apply to much wasabi to an avocado roll.

My Beloved TMX Elmo laughs and asks you to do it again. The do it again part is what I think of in the garden. Waiting until the spring of 2011 would be much too long.

So what do we plant now? I’ve already told you that I find it cold in the mornings. Most days this week I’ve taken to wearing a jacket. That didn’t stop us from putting in haricot vert and bush beans.

It also doesn’t stop me from laughing when I pull out Elmo.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sungolds' fight against the darkness

Do you see my sweet visitor on the flower?

There’s a coolness in the air.  I don’t like it one bit.  It’s not at all the "relief from summer heat" type of coolness.  It feels like (although it isn't yet) the waning of summer, and with it the slow and inevitable death of our garden. Why am I anticipating summer's end already? 

I asked my husband to join me on the deck a bit after eight.  I knew sunset was upon us, and the garden would descend through half-light into darkness very soon.   He said he would be there in a minute.  When he came outside he took over the filling of the water reservoirs on the Earthboxes, while I surveyed the melons, eggplant, incoming cucumbers, crowder peas, and stubborn heirloom tomatoes.  The tomatoes simply refuse to turn from granny smith apple green to their final vibrant reds and oranges.  The exceptions to the green tomatoes are the “time to harvest them again” Sungold tomatoes. 

They were the last bright things as evening darkened the sky. 

Monday, July 26, 2010

The opportunist in the garden

The other day a friend asked if the garden was ours, or our dog's.  I responded  that it was her garden.  My husband makes fun of me by reminding us that we are in her employ, and that our responsibilities include taking care of her garden.

This evening as I watered the Earthboxes, I talked to a friend on my cell.  I noticed the dog was sniffing around amongst the containers, as usual.  Then she walked in front of me, reached directly behind the loaded green fruit on the tomato plant, and... plucked a ripe Sungold tomato!  Unlike her usual M.O. of "gulp now ask questions later", even with large pieces of meat, she found a spot on the deck and began to chew her tomato.  She then went to another ripe plant and did the same thing as I watched in wonder.

Finally, the fog from my brain cleared and I warned her off of the vegetables for the family.  As she left the tomatoes I noticed she was sniffing around the watermelons.

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Trendsetter or Trendy? That's the question when it comes to urban vegetable gardening

I met a friend for tea this evening.  When she asked about the garden she said something like, she knew a lot of people were doing it this year, more than she could recall in years past.  I kinda, sorta wonder what she meant by that statement.  

Hmmm, maybe she thinks I’m trendy.  Maybe she thinks I’m a lemming.  Maybe she’s just making an observation.

I’m grateful that I started growing vegetables and fruit this summer.  Apparently, last summer sucked, was horrible for gardening.

One of the things I like most is the child-like wonder the garden evokes for myself and my family.  You really, can't blink because if you do, it has changed.    Do you remember last week when I mentioned the beautiful flowers at the Edible Gardens?

Today, I may not have enough okra to make gumbo or curry,

but I do have magnificent flowers on the okra.

This blossom reminds me an awful lot of an orchid or a lily, it is both unexpected and gorgeous
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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Do we have anything for salad?

My husband comes out onto the deck while I’m planting & boldly announces that he wants salad as he looks bewilderedly around the garden.

“Do you want me to make it now”, I ask with my hot pink gardening gloves on as I’m digging out old fertilizer from an Earthbox.

We were both happy with a bowl full of Sungold tomatoes, more cucumber salad, and some chili tofu and soybean noodle salad from the LTHforumVegetarian Small Household exchange.

“Outstanding, from vine to stomach in less than a half hour”, he says.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Cucumbers and watermelon really are related

Wow!  Just last month I was lamenting having to commit planticide on the cucumber seedlings I placed in the Earthbox.  Today, I have these delicious cucumbers.

I kid you not they are highly productive and sweet.  The minute you bite into one you are instantly aware, without looking, that they are related to watermelons.

This is a watermelon, look closely you can even see the teeny weeny stripes

Cucumbers are perfect spa-style (thinly sliced into water) as well as picked and sliced with nothing on them. 

These taste nothing like the cucumbers in the store and that’s a good thing.

I’m already planning to make way next year for the traditional Kirby cucumber for pickling.   I can’t imagine not having the lovely bush slicer right next to it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Under Construction

Earlier this week I was in a hurry to eat.  I was hungry.  I finished this lovely melon in a matter of moments.  It was sweet, vibrant, and a bit musky.  I could eat this every day.

Then I had the old “V8” (the drink, not the engine) moment.  What if I did that cool thing that folks talk about and saved the seeds?

It wasn’t difficult.  You place the seeds in a mesh strainer to separate the fruit from the row of seeds. Rinse. Then you lay them out to dry.  I dried them on a glass plate lined with a paper towel. 

Once they finish drying, I will place them in an envelope and wait until the New Year to plant them. 

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Girl gone wild

This afternoon I saw my luscious green rooster spur pepper plant.  The roots were practically ripped from the box and the plant listed on its side.

“Lirio”! I exclaimed at the top of my voice.  She didn’t hear me because she wasn’t home.  She had become overly fond of this particular plant because I had staked it with some sticks I found after one of the big summer storms that had previously left this plant on life support earlier this summer. 

The plant had survived several harsh storms but not her desire to have the stick supporting the plant, not the plant itself, but literally the stick.

I quickly wet the earth with my bare hands and began to pat it down and get the plant upright.  I then topped it with more fresh potting mix and patted it again.

Let’s hope it works.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Last Supper

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This week my husband is gone.  I’m single parenting to the dog plus work plus gardening.

We both wanted to eat foods only from the garden before he left.  We inhaled (as my husband would say) that fantastic eggplant sauté again, cucumber salad, and sun gold and other cherry tomatoes.

Not a bad way to leave town.  I hope there’s enough okra when he gets back to make a bhindi curry or perhaps even a gumbo.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ladies, ladies everywhere

Today was difficult. I’m exhausted but I know I need to get everything watered before the storms start.

As I check on the Lady’s fingers I notice a distinctive looking critter crawling, busily all over my almost ready to be picked pods.  They are crawling methodically all over the okra.  Looking closely I get the heebie jeebees. My garden has been infiltrated. There I was singing the praises of organic gardening. Noting how great it was to share with God’s multi-legged creatures the bounty of our garden, but this looked like an invasion.

I reached out to the folks at Green Roof Growers and kept punching in the following into search boxes: Orange and black bug okra pest organic. I got hits right away but I couldn’t get pictures. Grrr, my garden has been infested with stink bugs that take everything and leave only when they are full. They have practically no natural predators and almost no natural pesticides get rid of them.

I then reached out to a master gardener I knew and asked him what he used to kill, er remove these unwanted visitors.

I’m so tired.  Panic is washing over me about this invasion and then I found a remarkable site here. As I typed in a description of the creepy crawler this site had pictures and I scrolled down until I found mine. Once I found mine I exhaled. My mailbox pinged and I got the following from H2 at Green Roof Growers:

Subject: Got it--and you'll never believe what it is
Ladybug larvae
There is an imminent metamorphosis for all of the ladies in our garden.

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Sunday, July 18, 2010

The hitchhiker is welcome anytime

 Today our garden had a visitor.  It didn’t seem to feel like flying so it hitched a ride on me.  Once we got to the garden I suggested a visit on the watermelon vines.

The visitor seemed quite comfortable there.  The visitor even permitted this paparazzo a shot.

Hopefully, more watermelons will appear and the hitchhiker will invite its friends and family over for a visit very, very soon.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Resources in Our Backyard

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Today we went to the Edible Gardens at Lincoln Park Zoo.  It’s always so odd the resources you aren’t aware of in your back yard until something catches your eye.

It was so hot out there at 9:30 am that half of the lecture was done in the shade of the building next to the garden.  I woke up in a panic at 9:17 that we would be late for the workshop.  I got this characteristic about arriving on time from my husband who kept telling me to settle down and all would be fine.

Yep, it started late.  Despite the heat I was so pleased to recognize the signs of an organic garden that I had seen on my own deck… clearly eaten by bugs kale.  Yep there were holes in it.  Funny, that it made me feel better to see signs of critters in the vet patch but it did.

Then I saw a broad leaf plant on a tall reed-like crimson stalk. Hmmm, that looks a lot like my Lady's fingers except for the color.  I walked up to it and there was the most amazing flower emerging from a crimson pod.  The outer petals were a silky looking cream and the center was a dramatically crimson/blood-stain.  I can’t get the beauty of that flower out of my mind.

  Succession planting occurs when you plant again in the same space during the same growing season.  Sometimes you re-plant the crop that was previously there and sometimes you move on to plant something different.  Our teacher talked about the uncertainties of succession planting. You just can’t predict when it’s going to cool off or when the first frost will occur here.  Heck, I know folks who were still picking tomatoes in November.  After her rousing disclaimer she suggested planting cucumbers.  She also suggested planting beets, carrots, haricot vert, and yes my beloved collards.

The seminar was short and there weren’t a lot of questions.  I think everyone was just too hot out there to say much.  Remember when you were in class and a teacher would ask at the end of class if anyone had any questions?  Everyone just held their breath so there would be no suggestion that anyone, anyone would ask a question. 

Class dismissed with a big exhalation.

Friday, July 16, 2010

I saved a bug today

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I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't be a part of the urban gardening cognoscenti (I heard the Diva Denyce Graves use this word last night in a PBS special and I just loved the way it sounds coming from her) and use lots of jargon that doesn't make sense if you aren't a planter.  You are probably a lot like me, sure you could look it up or ask me, but gosh darn it -  must reading these posts be like reading a Brief and Wonderful Life of Oscar Wao for those who don't speak Spanish?  The answer is no.

I wanted a green smoothie and thought I could still use the kale that has, wait for it… bolted.  Bolting is a term of art in gardening circles.  When I tried to ask people what it meant they would tell me something like I would know it when I saw it.  That wasn’t very helpful, but they were right.  So imagine you have some sweet organic lacinto kale in your Earthbox.  Earlier in the season you plucked leaves and sautéed them or threw the young ones into salads or a green smoothie.  Then one day you take a look and that kale looks like a bonsai kale tree.  It’s still small, but way bigger taller, than it was before.  It still puts out new leaves, but they are utterly inedible. 

So I had to pluck out the handful of kale I had thrown into the Vitamix this morning for my Green Smoothie. These bolted kale greens were a complete throwaway.  They look the same but the taste is far from pleasurable. 

God’s little creature up above, the green one with a lot of legs was in my sink after I rinsed the bolted kale.  I don’t mind, yet, sharing with the insects because they just remind me that I’m not using any pesticides aside from the spiders that hang out in the garden and the ladybug that seems to be partial to living on the okra.  So free gardening advice, if you get vegetables or fruit from a fruit stand or your garden, you may want to rinse and pick through them just to make certain that you don’t eat an insect that was living on your produce.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Beautiful and Inedible Greens, Part II of vegetable gardening

We are in for a bona fide heat wave.  I didn’t harvest any of the vegetables today.  I do have cucumbers, eggplant, Sungold and another cherry tomato that I could pluck today but I will wait another day.

I just admired them and planned. It's time to put some food back in these boxes.   This weekend we will do some Successive planting since most of our greens have bolted. 

The weird thing about bolting greens is they look beautiful and wild and nutritious.  They taste really bitter, at least to me, and I don’t mean in a sophisticated palette for frisee way, either.  Also when you pick leaves on a bolted plant, you get a white sticky substance that reminds me of Elmer’s glue.

 This Saturday, during the Green City Market, we will attend the Edible Garden’s session on Successive Plantings.  I hope it is helpful.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood; won't you be my neighbor"?

I heard her say, “it’s beautiful, isn’t it”?  I’m on the fourth floor and the woman’s voice was quite near.  I stood up out of my own Private Jungle and saw a woman on a balcony facing me.  She lives next door.  “What are you growing”?  I tell her tomatoes, cucumbers, cow peas, peppers, eggplant, watermelon, and okra ( I know that the English call them lady's fingers, because her accent was definitely not native to the U.S. and it wasn't English either).  I wave at the bolted greens and let her know they have to be replanted.
Emerging Lady's finger 
She smiles and says it reminds her of the garden she had in her country.  She says her mother gives her reports daily on how much everything has grown.  She says I should be pleased.
I thank her.  As she turns to leave her balcony I ask her for her name.  She says, “Kasha”.  I tell her my name.  Now I know the name of my next door neighbor.
This melon is safe from having its heart ripped out by my sister
Who would have guessed that planting some containers with fruit and vegetables on my deck would cause my neighbors to speak?  Sometimes, just minding your own business is all that it takes in this City to be unseen.    It’s like getting a dog and walking down the block all over again.  People always want to speak to you when you have a dog.  Actually, they usually want to talk to the dog.  I think I’m grateful I can’t walk my vegetables and fruit.

Monday, July 12, 2010

From vine to table, the very first time

Saturday night I went with some friends to see The Kids are Alright. In the movie one of the characters is an organic/local restaurateur with his own garden. There are a few suggestive mentions of just picked foods in a sexual way. There’s a tender moment where he is working in the garden with his daughter. He picks a pepper, breaks it open with his hands, and gives her half. They eat it joyfully right there in the garden.
Today I cut three nice size cucumbers, about two dozen Sungold and mystery cherry tomatoes (the plant was sent to me as if it was a Sungold but it definitely isn’t), and a beautiful lavender and white streaked eggplant.

I knew these items would round out our Chinese-American leftovers. I didn’t know the leftovers would sit on the bench while these garden stars shined.

The eggplant, about 6 ounces, was cubed and then placed into a non-stick skillet with a tablespoon of avocado oil, ½ teaspoon of cumin, and 4 or 5 shakes of chili powder. After about 15 minutes the eggplant was tender and a sprinkle of sugar and freshly minced clove of garlic were added. This was delicious and we can barely wait to harvest more eggplant to eat this dish again.
I wanted to make some sort of quick pickle with the cucumbers but I couldn’t type up a fast enough search online. I settled on using seasoned Japanese rice wine vinegar, a bit of sugar, and red chili flakes plus a bit of minced red onion as a pickling/marinade for the cucumbers.
Finally, the tomatoes were served as they came, warm off the vine and contrasting bites of sweet and sharp tomato goodness.
Remember way back when you first heard your parents, or grandparents, tell you nothing tastes better than food that you’ve grown?

Cucumber salad,  just-picked tomatoes, sauteed eggplant, House Chili Soy Gluten with rice

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Water, Water Everywhere and Not a Drop to be Found

It’s been hot here.  It’s also been cool.  This has been very good for getting vegetables & fruit to appear.  Even the wily watermelon’s attempt to hide from me has been foiled.

Then there is the problem of making sure these sweet young things get all of the water they want.  It’s even more of a problem when you have 11 Earthboxes filled with thirsty vegetables & fruit bearing plants.  Did I mention our water source, if we don’t continuously refill the water can from the tub, is a few floors away from the Earthboxes?

My husband carried up our trusty old hose & then hoisted it from over the side of the garden to connect with the water source about 25 feet below.  He then tied a knot in the hose so that all I would have to do is run down the stairs (assuming he wasn’t around) and turn on the faucet, then run back up four flights to start filling the water tubes in the Earthboxes.

It seemed like there was an awful lot of water being wasted if I manned this operation alone.  Then I had a Eureka moment.  When we were staying at our friend’s cottage stalking wily wild trout on a beautiful spring-fed stream, we ended each night's fishing talking around the blazing firepit.  One night we extinguished the fire with the hose.  It had a spray gun attachment.  No water came out of the hose until a lever was pulled on that attachment.  I thought I could just get to Pamida and pick up a hose attachment to attach to our trusty hose.

So earlier this week (nope I didn’t pick up the attachment from Pamida) I hit the biggest Ace Hardware store in Chicago! And chose a spray gun attachment.  Did you know there are several different types of wands (for the peaceniks) and guns (for you 2nd Amendment lovers) that you could use to quench the thirst of your garden?  I didn’t.  After about 15 minutes of thinking about the options I chose a gun and then I also picked up an 8 cup glass pyrex measuring cup & one of those programmable thermostat devices as well.

I rushed home and raced upstairs to the garden.  I then fought with the frakking packaging on the gun attachment.  I gave up trying to remove the gun from its packaging and gave it to my husband to remove.  He couldn’t get it out either.  The garden was doused with lots of wasted water that evening. 

The next day it rained.  My husband and I disagree on how thirsty the garden is.  I insist they need to be personally watered.  He reminds me that a typhoon just hit our back deck.  He wins.  The plants are left without additional watering.  They plot their revenge.  I am still inside during this typhoon trying to remove the packaging from my new spray gun.  I pull and pull and tug and twist at an inaccessible plastic disc that attaches my spray gun to its cardboard packaging.  Finally the stupid plastic disc comes out; my spray gun is now unholstered.  The sheets of rain have stopped. 

I rush out the back door to the garden and greet the spiders, yep they are the only pesticide I use, along with the ladybugs & they just appeared as the garden grew.  I manage to move my sprawl culture tomatoes & bolting mustard and kale out of the way so that I can reach the railing where our hose is knotted and waiting.  I untie it and prepare an introduction to the spray gun.  The spray gun is attached, dawn has occurred and the husband is on a conference call.  I figure I can do a quick watering before I head out to work.  The dog joins me.  She adores the garden and its produce.  She likes being there. 

I bolt back down the stairs and the dog follows me so that she can hit the surf, I mean her backyard while I turn on the faucet.  As I make my ascent back up the stairs I see water falling from off the deck. Tarnation!  The spray gun is attached but leaking.  I water the plants and most importantly myself because I always bathe with my clothes on outside in the garden.  Once the water supply is shut off, I take off the spray gun and try to figure out the problem.  The hose connection is bent.  The spray gun will never be in synch with our old hose.  Onward and upward, I did say the hose was old right?

Buying a new hose was a lot like my husband’s thoughts on purchasing toothpaste.  Way too many choices at my nearby big box hardware store.  There were coiled hoses, black hoses, hoses for hot water, light duty hoses with 3 year warranty, medium duty hoses with 7 year warranty, 6 feet, 25 feet, 50 feet, 75 feet, and 150 feet hoses.  Then the coolest hose of all, a flat hose, it moistens through some sort of secreting through the hose concept, so I gathered from the drops of water on the hose but none coming out of the connecting ends pictured on its packaging.  After what seemed an eternity of me picking up hoses and putting them back down a woman helped me choose the never kink style of hose.

Once I got it home I raced upstairs to the garden and vegetables’ revenge was evident.  Many of my plants seemed to have shriveled, while complying by continuing to put out produce.  Now where is my spray gun?  Where’s the spray gun?  It’s not between the sorrel & chard on top of the Earthbox like I thought.  It isn’t on the floor of the Earthbox that is filled with okra and crowder peas either.  Oh, is it on my desk?  No.    It is just inside the door where I keep garden ties, mulch covers, scissors, and remnants of organic potting mix.  I’m now ready to cook with gas right?

 I easily get a secure connection between the spray gun and the new hose.  Yep, I tossed the hose over the side of the railing and contemplated shimmying down said hose like they do in those cat burglar movies.  I didn’t.  Instead I knotted off my new rope, er hose, and headed downstairs to connect the hose to the faucet.  The old hose refuses to be replaced.  I can’t disconnect if from the faucet.  Thwarted, again, I ask my husband where are the pliers.  He’s too busy to say much more than “I don’t know.  Wait.  I’m busy with work right now.”  So I wait.