Archive for November, 2007

Winning and Losing CobraHeads

Thursday, November 29th, 2007

Our blog was launched to help us sell our CobraHead garden tool products. The Internet may prove to be the ideal tool for small businesses to let the world know they are out there without having to spend millions of dollars in advertising like the big corporations do. We are a really tiny entity, but with a website, a blog, an e-newsletter, and e-mail, we hope to reach lots of people.

We recently sent out our first e-newsletter, which only went to our list of previous online customers. We told our readers that if they had a good use for our CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator, one that we could use on our blog, we’d send them a free tool.

Our first reply was from Ruth Bauer of Hendersonville, North Carolina who sent us this:

“In addition to using it as my favorite weeding tool, I find the CobraHead invaluable for planting rows for seeds, and for planting smaller bulbs like chianodoxa, hyacinthoides, small allium, etc. CobraHead scoops out a great little divot to use for planting these small bulbs.”

Hooray for Ruth, she’s getting a free CobraHead!

Like Ruth, I do most of my planting with the small CobraHead. I never use a dibble anymore, and I almost never use a trowel. I find the CobraHead does the work of both. It’s also great for setting small transplants that come out of cell packs from the nursery or farmer’s market. I just pop out the root clump, pull some soil back with the CobraHead, insert the plant into the hole and use the CobraHead to tamp the soil and make sure the plant is sitting up straight.

Just about all my vegetable seeding and transplanting is done with the CobraHead. I even use it to plant potatoes and sweet potatoes. Starting with a totally worked up soft bed, I just pull the soil back with my hands and the CobraHead, drop in the tuber and push the soil back up.

I even planted a CobraHead once. The picture shows a CobraHead accidentally lost in the sweet potatoes in May and found when I was harvesting in October. It got a little rusty, but cleaned up just fine.

While the small CobraHead is great for drawing a furow, now that I have the CobraHead Long Handle, I find it easier to make furrows standing up with the long handled tool. I use a board to define the straight line and draw the furrow along the edge of the board. The older I get, the less I want to get down on my hands and knees. As they say, it’s not the getting down that’s so hard, it’s the standing back up.

Meatless Thanksgiving “With Gravy”

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

I thought I’d share a couple of recipes the Valdes Family uses to make our Thanksgiving as traditional as possible without the time-honored big bird as the centerpiece. In some ways it’s probably one of the easiest meals to make without meat because your favorite dishes usually associated with the meal don’t have to change – mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberries, salad, green vegetable, corn, pumpkin pie, whatever you like.

Usually our Thanksgiving meal is almost entirely composed of food that we grew in our own garden such as potatoes, squash, corn, brussel sprouts, onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, etc. We’ll also have other Wisconsin grown foods like cranberries and wild rice.

The last couple of years we have filled sweet dumpling squash halves with wild rice and bread stuffing and baked them to perfection. This year we started our squash late but still got a 17 lb. Hubbard so we will have a masterpiece in the center of the table!

Probably the hardest item to recreate is a tasty gravy. Here are a couple of ideas for you:

The first one uses chicken style seitan from White Wave.

1 package chicken style seitan in broth
2 T. Flour
2 T. Nutritional Yeast
1 tsp. stone ground or Dijon mustard

Drain the seitan setting aside the juice in a glass measuring cup and add water to make 2 cups. Heat a heavy bottomed or cast iron frying pan and dry roast flour and nutritional yeast until slightly browned and fragrant, stirring constantly. Remove from pan and blend with the 2 cups of liquid set aside earlier and mustard. Pour this mixture back into the frying pan and cook until thick. Add the sliced seitan heating until warmed through. Adjust seasonings with salt, pepper or veggie broth if needed.

Or if you prefer no seitan try this one:

1 T. Olive Oil
1 Shallot, chopped
1 Garlic Clove, minced
1 Cup Sliced Shiitakes
2 T. Cornstarch or Arrowroot
1 T. Tamari
1 T. Liquid Aminos
2 Cups Water

Sauté shallots and garlic in a little bit of olive oil, add some sliced shiitakes or other mix of mushrooms and cook for a few more minutes. Blend water with cornstarch or arrowroot, Tamari, and Liquid Aminos. Add to pan and cook until thick. Adjust seasonings with salt, pepper or veggie broth if needed.

Or experiment and try a combination of the two recipes. The amounts in these recipes are for 3-4 people so be sure to double or quadruple the recipes for larger crowds.

Have a peaceful and tasty Thanksgiving!

San Francisco Green Festival

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

This past weekend Judy, Geoff and I were in California to promote our CobraHead garden tool at the San Francisco Green Festival.

Judy and Geoff at the Booth

If you’re not familiar with Green Fest, it’s a very fun and inspiring event that features eco-friendly and fairly traded products, organic and vegetarian food, renowned speakers and various other environmentally and socially responsible exhibitors. The Green Festival is sponsored by the non-profit groups Co-op America and Global Exchange.

There are lots of great things to see and do at the Green Festivals, and there is always plenty of neat stuff to buy. Our friends from PurrfectPlay were there with dog and cat toys made from organic cotton and wool, and Tara and Winnie from NearSea Naturals (who I met at the Chicago Green Business Conference back in April) had a booth to show their organic fabrics and yarns. I’m turning into a bit of a yarn junkie, so when I saw that another exhibitor had hemp/wool blend yarn for sale right there, I bought a couple of skeins to try it out. I brought the yarn back to the booth to show off to Geoff, and his response was, “Cool! What are you going to make for me?” Which sent me right back to buy another skein since I certainly hadn’t planned on making anything for him. This yarn (along with 100% hemp yarn and other organic and natural fiber yarns) is available online from NearSea Naturals. If it turns out I like working with it, I know where to get more.

Hemp/Wool Yarn

It’s difficult to go to a Green Festival and not leave with a lot more than you brought. There are just too many great things that unfortunately aren’t available just anywhere. Some very nice folks from Seeds of Change came by our booth and gave us generous samples of some of their great organic chocolate. From the vendor across the aisle, I picked up some organic cotton socks. Geoff found a natural anti-pest doggy shampoo for his newly acquired puppy and a pair of hemp pants that are actually long enough for his legs. Judy found an organic cotton baby sleeper for an upcoming baby shower. We all tried lots of tasty vegetarian and vegan alternative foods, including Coconut Bliss, a coconut frozen dessert and a hemp milk based frozen dessert from Judahlicious, a San Francisco restaurant.

Everyone enjoyed themselves quite a bit, unfortunately, the weekend was marred by the tragic oil spill in the San Francisco Bay. As we were flying out, my excitement over my first ever glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge was severely dampened by the fact that I could see discoloration on the water. I certainly hope the cleanup is swift.

Putting the Beds to Bed

Monday, November 5th, 2007

I grew corn and cucumbers in this bed. It is the worst bed in the south garden in terms soil workability. It is dense yellow clay. It becomes brick hard as it dries. While years of adding compost and rotating crops though the bed have made it softer than it once was, it’s still far from friable. The nasty soil doesn’t seem to have any negative effect on the vegetables I grow. This year the corn and cukes were superb and when I do break up the clay, it’s loaded with earthworms, which has to be a good sign of fertility.

The second picture shows the tools I use to get the beds in shape. These are, from right to left, a Japanese grass sickle called a Kama, a CobraHead Weeder, a poly rake, a steel tined rake, a Glaser Biofork, a scoop shovel, and a CobraHead Long Handle, being held by me.

I use the grass sickle to edge the beds where they meet the lawn and to chop off roots from the lawn that encroach the garden paths. This little tool is dangerously sharp. It’s ideal for edging and doing some small scale mowing. I define my borders with this tool and with the long handled CobraHead.

The Glaser Biofork comes from Switzerland. It’s not too well known in the US, but it’s a great tool. I use it to do the initial break up of the bed. This tool is a lot lighter weight and easier to use than U-bars and other clunky devices that, in my opinion, are overkill for areas that are already under cultivation. A good garden spading fork would also work okay for this task, but the Biofork covers more ground in less time.

I use the small CobraHead weeder to pull out roots once I’ve broken the soil with a fork. I also use it to pull up the heavy clods along the edge of the beds and scalp and define the paths.

The poly rake sweeps up all the weeds and plant debris I pull out. In my system I don’t worry too much about weeds and weed seeds. I try not to let things go to seed, but most years I’m just not on top of things, so I’ve learned to live with weeds. I think they do well for the garden by bringing up good things from deep in the soil. I compost them all and I don’t worry whether I’ve cooked all the seeds out.

The scoop shovel works better than other spades and shovels for cleaning the paths and throwing loose soil back into the beds.

The CobraHead Long Handle does most of the work in the operation. I use it for clod busting, for cultivating and for tilling. Dragging it through the soil brings weeds and their roots to the surface, so I can get the beds pretty clean.

I usually work in two five gallon buckets of compost just as I’m finishing things up.

The steel tined rake is used to define the bed. My beds are approximately 5 1/2 feet wide, but that includes the sloped sides. I rake the top growing area to a slightly dished bed that is 3 feet wide. I have 18 beds in the south garden. They are laid out in a rectangular grid and each bed is about 20 feet long. The paths define the garden. I can usually keep the paths clean by scalping with the CobraHead Long Handle and using the leaves I’ve bought in to cover the beds as a mulch.

Once I get the bed to the stage shown here, I cover it with leaves. In the spring I just peel the leaves back, scratch up the soil and plant. The leaves are excellent for weed suppression, and they eventually break down to add more organic matter to the clay.

One That Got Away

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Cucumbers, like summer squash and zucchini, can get past you if you’re not diligent. I found this one yesterday in the debris along the edge of the bed where I had planted three cucumber plants on the east side of a bed of corn.

The plants were bought at the Madison farmers market. They were labeled Burpless Bush Cucumbers with no brand name of any seed company. I think they were misnamed, since they set extremely vigorous trailing vines. The fruit was short (about 7″) but quite fat. The plants were great producers and didn’t quit until the first hard frost. The cukes were excellent in quality and taste and we had more than we could use.

A big benefit of growing your own food is that you get so much. It really doesn’t matter if you lose an occasional cuke, or the bugs get some of your crop. As long as you plant a lot of different stuff, most will come through. Since any failed crop goes back into the compost and thus back into the growing cycle, I don’t look at these losses as failures, but just part of the process.

Next Week!

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

Just a reminder to any Northern Californians out there that the San Francisco Green Festival is next weekend (November 9, 10, 11) at the San Francisco Concourse Exhibition Center. Judy, Geoff and Anneliese will all be attending, so please stop by booth 115 and say hello to us!