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Friday, July 3, 2015

How Much Does a Garden Grow: June 2015

Nothing quite so pretty as a June garden, made even prettier by some harvests!

June brought over 3 pounds of garden harvest worth more than $14. With no expenditures, we are crawling our way out of the red and into the black, which we typically achieve some time in July.

Notable harvests in June included 4 ounces of garlic that grew over the winter and 3 ounces of cilantro, along with a few peas, leeks, and greens.

The big harvest, however, was from our two producing blueberry bushes.  By the end of June, they had given us 38 ounces of blueberries, for a comparative retail value of $9.50.  This is certainly a substantial harvest from just two bushes, and there will be more to harvest as the season finishes up in July.

As I write, I'm eagerly awaiting the first tomato and cucumber.  High gardening season will be here for sure!

Cumulative Totals

Harvest, Ounces: 55.0
Harvest, Pounds: 3.4375
Harvest Value: $17.50

Expenditures: $141.40

Total Saved: (123.90)
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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Blueberry Pie for Two

One of the nicest things about having a couple of productive blueberry bushes out back is the fact that we can bring in four to six ounces of blueberries by weight every other day during the season (late June/early July).  However, we're never going to really bring in the quart of berries needed to make a nice standard-sized pie, nor do we need that much pie all at once for a two-person family.

This weekend, we took about 8 ounces of blueberries and made a wonderful small blueberry pie that was just enough for two small pieces each. What a wonderful way this was to showcase our entirely-local and organic blueberries while getting some much-needed fruit into our diets!

Mr. FC&G's Flaky Pie Crust: We made a half-recipe, which was enough to fill and top a small glass pan that was five inches in diameter. The crust in the photo looks brown because we used unbleached organic flour and organic sugar.

8 oz. blueberries (by weight)
1/2 cup organic sugar

Preheat oven to 425.  Line small pan with crust, fill with blueberries mixed with sugar.  Apply top crust and crimp.  Make your holes for the steam to escape.

Bake 20 minutes or until crust is starting to brown.  Makes 4 small servings.

The Analysis

Fast:  The smaller pie is easier to make and quicker to bake than a larger pie.

Cheap:  We paid for flour, sugar, and lard, but the blueberries were free!

Good:  Blueberry pie is my favorite; it always tastes like confirmation that summer is here.

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Beef and Pork Meatloaf with Fresh Cilantro

It's always feast or famine for the self-employed. And, although I think I see feast on the horizon, both Mr. FC&G and I have been experiencing just a bit of famine. Time to employ those money-saving techniques I'm so fond of!

As I've written before, one of the classic ways of saving money is by stretching your expensive foodstuffs, and the classic in this regard is meatloaf. The addition of an egg and a bit of cracker crumbs will make your expensive meat last into several meals. Since we buy our meat through a meat CSA, we have a "meat budget" of sorts in the form of our monthly allotment from our subscription. In times of plenty, we'll supplement with additional purchases, but in lean times, we try to make do with just what we have available for the month.

This recipe is dead simple but has a unique flavor thanks to the addition of cilantro, an herb that lends a Latin flavor to the dish. Since cilantro grows so fast, and since you have to cut it regularly to keep it from prematurely flowering and forming coriander seeds, this is a great time to use it in cooking.

According to some sources, cilantro is said to help chelate or remove heavy metals from the body. Since it's difficult to control your exposure to heavy metals depending on your geographic location and lifestyle factors, any little bit of help is a good thing. If the chelation properties aren't your top concern, you can comfort yourself with the idea that fresh herbs, at minimum, make a dish yummy!

For your reference, I harvested about an ounce (by weight) of cilantro stems, then stripped the fronds off and mixed them into the meat.  You could use more or less depending on the state of your garden and how much you like cilantro.

1 lb ground beef  (pastured, organic)
1 lb ground pork or mild pork sausage (pastured, organic)
1 egg (from pastured and organically-raised hens)
1 cup cracker crumbs
1 oz fresh cilantro on the stem (from home garden)
1 cup ketchup, optional (organic)

Remove the cilantro "fronds" from the stem and roughly chop if needed.  Combine remaining ingredients (except for ketchup) with the herb and mix well. (Mixing with your hands is traditional and faster than using a utensil.)

Shape into a loaf in a cake plate or similar pan and top with ketchup.  Cover with foil and bake at 350 for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Potatoes will bake alongside this very nicely, if you'd like to maximize your oven time.

The Analysis

Fast:  Prep is pretty easy, and it's even easier around here:  Mr. FC&G does all of the mixing with his hands, since he knows I don't like to touch meat.

Cheap:  All told, this is probably $12 or so worth of ingredients.  We buy fairly expensive meat and eggs, which is why stretching is a good idea.  Mr. FC&G will eat for several days on this one batch, however.  There are probably 6 to 8 servings here.

Good:  I like Latin flavors, so I will eat a small piece of this as part of my once-a-week meat consumption routine.  Mr. FC&G seems to like the addition of the cilantro "just fine," as he says.
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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Dealing with Blossom End Rot

Well, I spoke too soon last week; my wonderful now-five-foot container tomato has spent the week fighting blossom end rot.

I remember one of the first times I ever mentioned blossom end rot to Mr. FC&G.  I was reading Facebook and noticed one of my fellow gardeners complaining about the dreaded tomato condition.

"Oh, no, [Name] has blossom end rot!" I declared to Mr. FC&G.

He replied, "Just so we're clear, that's a tomato thing, not a personal thing, right?"

Yes, folks, blossom end rot is a tomato thing, although gardeners do tend to take it like a personal failing of some sort.  You'll know you have it when you see a dark spot appear on the bottom of your tomato, like you see in this photo.

The good news is, blossom end rot is a physiological problem, not a viral or bacterial one. It happens when tomatoes don't have enough calcium while they're growing, or sometimes when the water level varies too much or too quickly. Given that we just had a relatively dry week followed by a week of torrential downpours during which this plant grew another foot in height, I think it's no surprise that there are some structural problems going on.

Generally, I prevent blossom end rot with egg tea, made by soaking egg shells overnight in water, then dumping that water on the plant along with the crushed shells.  This poor guy will be getting extra egg tea attention this week (if it ever stops raining).

Also, since the damaged fruit can't communicate the disease, I'll still be putting any fruit I remove into the compost pile. I have read that you can allow the fruit to continue to mature and eat it after cutting out the bad spot once it's ripe, but that's often not a very appetizing idea.  I have been known to do it with very small spots of damage, however.  Needless to say, I never use a damaged fruit in canning, because starting with perfect fruit is the first step in canning safety.

Are you fighting blossom end rot this year?  (In your tomatoes, silly!)
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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Triumphant Container Tomato

See that monstrously large tomato sitting right in front of my dining room window?  That's one of my experiments for the year, and, if things keep up, it may change the way I grow tomatoes.

This year, I decided to grow several tomatoes in containers to see if I could have success without the actual garden soil.  Last year, I ran a similar test, but I didn't get my container tomatoes in until around the first of June, which is about two weeks past the traditional planting date.

This year, I started seeds around the first of March and got them out into containers around the first of May.  That giant in the middle is a Cuor di Bue from saved seed.  It is in the process of out-growing a 4.5 food tomato cage, and that is including the fact that at least six to eight inches of stem are buried under soil to allow for extra root growth.  To compare, the container on the left of the photo shows some other healthy tomatoes grown from seed that are also taller than anything found in the garden, coming in at about 2.5 feet tall.  Everything in the garden is currently standing at about two feet tall.

As far as early production, my giant Cuor di Bue is also out in front.  When I took this picture about a half an hour before I wrote this post, I counted eight tomatoes the size of dimes or larger, including one that is about the size of a golf ball.  There are also a couple of dozen blossoms.  Compare this to the other container tomatoes, which are just now starting to show the smallest tomatoes, and the ones in the garden, which are heavy with blossoms but have not yet set fruit.

At the rate I'm going, I'm not sure if I'll have a tomato on the Fourth of July, but I'll be close.  And, if this works as well as it has so far, I'm seriously tempted to fill the back patio with containers for tomatoes and dedicate the garden to beans and cucumbers, both of which love it there.

Anyone have 30 large containers they can spare next year?
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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Cheers to Target on its Grocery Revamp

As you may have read, Target has announced that it will shift its grocery offerings to minimize it's reliance on packaged foods from large conglomerates toward a mix of fresher foods from smaller manufacturers and providers.  The move is said to be undertaken to allow Target to better compete with Whole Foods, which is a smart business choice.  After all, the customer base of Target, who often jokingly refer to the store with the French pronunciation "Tar-zhey," are more likely to do their grocery shopping at the affluent consumer destination like Whole Foods and even Costco than they are big box stores like Wal-Mart.

This is good news, though, for those of us hoping to influence food production with our food dollars. I know I cannot generalize from just my own area, but our suburb has seen the opening of several organic and fresh food-focused grocery stores in just the past year.  Adding Target to the mix of options for those of us wanting more control over what we consume is another triumph.

Of course, it still pays to read labels and do your homework.  We try to buy as many organic and local options as possible.  But, in the past six months alone, I have seen an influx of organic blueberries available in our area grocery stores where before I didn't even know if it was possible to grow blueberries organically on a large scale.  And I have seen several signs on traditional brands committing to no GMO ingredients and no HFCS.  Those are major wins for our health.

Although large grocery and store chains still have the problems of large distribution networks to deal with, it is nice to see them committing to providing better, more local, and more sustainable options.  I'll be looking more favorably at the Target grocery section from now on, and I hope you also support these stores taking positive steps toward making safer and healthier food available for everyone.
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Friday, May 22, 2015

Five Late May Garden Tasks

As I write this, it's 54 degrees outside.  It's been 54 degrees so many mornings in a row, I'm starting to think my weather app on my phone is broken.

It feels a bit chilly for late May, to me, but I know late May weather is variable around here.  That's why we spend so much time hurrying out into the garden the minute it's sunny and 70; the next day, our gardening will be interrupted by rain, chilly temps, or paying work that demands to take priority.

But, as we move into Memorial Day weekend, I thought I'd share five things I will be doing in the garden to hopefully encourage a huge future harvest of healthy, inexpensive, sustainable food.

  1. Keep nurturing the cucumber and zucchini seedlings.  I got a late start getting my cukes and zukes started this year, but I'm kind of glad.  I think our chilly mornings would have stunted the fragile baby plants, and I'm happy enough to let them sit in their plant incubator under a grow light, happy and warm until I can plant them.
  2. Keep sifting compost.  The winter has given me a bumper crop of finished humus for the garden, and every chance I get I'm running through the sifter and applying it where needed. This "black gold" goes on the main garden, in the potato containers, and in the other containers that hold plants.  The rapidly-growing tomato you see in the photo is planted entirely in finished humus from my compost pile.  It is easily six inches taller than its siblings in the garden, which are in a combo of humus and garden soil.
  3. Make egg tea.  This is the season to make the egg shells do double duty.  When tomatoes get blossom end rot (that horrible black, soft, flat blemish that ruins a tomato), it is generally from too little calcium.  We soak our egg shells in water overnight, then use the "egg tea" to water the tomatoes.  We also crumble up the shell and put it at the base of the plant to get even more calcium into the soil.
  4. Tent the blueberries.  Since the blueberries have set fruit, it's time for me to get out the bird tent and try to keep the critters from pulling at the ripe berries from below and the birds from taking the ripe berries from above.  Last year, I wasn't very successful, so I'll be fortifying my tent this year.
  5. Plant beans.  Green beans can be planted pretty much up until the Fourth of July around here, but giving them a later start than the rest of the garden gets them a bit out of sync with the Japanese beetles, so they incur less beetle damage.  I have one planting of beans in the ground already but hope to put in a few more over the next week so that I have plenty to can for the winter.

What are you doing in your garden this weekend?
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