Archive for April, 2011

494 Peas – More or Less

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Here’s me, yesterday, atop a bed, planting peas.  We had a nice little break in the rainy weather, so I took the opportunity to get my peas seeded.  I’m using a large piece of plywood to kneel on.  The plywood disperses my weight and allows me to get right on top of the bed.  It makes the work much easier that trying to reach in from the sides to set the peas in place.

The bed has just over 36″ of flat planting width across the top.  I’m planting the peas 2 inches apart and planting a double row using back to back yardsticks as my guide.  So I end up with a double row of peas with 19 peas in each row.

This year I’m spacing the rows 18 inches apart.  Last year I used a 15″ spacing, which worked out fine, but I think the extra 3″ will allow a little more sun in and give me more room to plant lettuces and salad greens in between the peas.  I did that last year with good success.


Once the peas begin to sprout, I’ll set up trellises using T-posts and 24″ fencing.  Here’s a picture of last year’s peas showing the trellises in place and lettuces around and in between the peas.

I ended up with 13 double rows – roughly 494 peas.  I planted six varieties, various snap and shell peas, capuciner soup peas (our favorite),  and some snow peas.  I’ve got the shorter sugar pea varieties planted in the south end and the tall capuciners and snow peas to the north.  I don’t ever get 100% germination, although the home-saved capuciner peas sprout extremely vigorously, and I normally don’t have to thin the pea seedlings.  This year I’ll be diligent about protecting them from woodchucks and other varmints. I’ve had some issues with critters when I did not get fencing up quickly enough. This year, with luck, we can expect a bountiful harvest not too many weeks away.


Pierogi with Savory Sweet Potato Filling

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011
Finished Pierogi

Savory Sweet Potato Pierogi

What can I say…. we still have sweet potatoes from last year’s harvest so it was an experiment waiting to happen. It was Geoff’s idea. He’s been wanting to learn how to make pierogi. There are lots of traditional fillings that can be used but he thought it appropriate for our CobraHead blog post that we fill them with sweet potatoes.

I admit that I haven’t made pierogi in years. The first time I ever had them was back in Detroit (just before we were married) when Noel’s mother made them with various fillings (cottage cheese, cabbage, sauerkraut, mushrooms, mashed potatoes, prunes) for Easter dinner.

I found the following dough recipe from a cookbook that Mrs. Valdes used – Treasured Polish Recipes for Americans, Published by Polanie Club – Minneapolis, MN in 1948. The book is an excellent compilation of recipes put together by Polish immigrants seeking to preserve their heritage through food. Give the following recipe a try and add to your traditions.

Dough Recipe

2 eggs
½ cup water
2 cups flour
½ t salt

Mound flour on kneading board and make a hole in center. Drop eggs into hole and cut into flour with knife. Add salt and water and knead until firm. Let rest for 10 minutes covered with a warm bowl. Divide dough in halves and roll thin. Cut circles with large biscuit cutter or a glass with a diameter of 2 ½ to 3 inches. Place a small spoonful of filling a little to one side on each round of dough. Moisten edge with water, fold over and press edges together firmly. Be sure they are well sealed to prevent the filling from running out. Drop pierogi into salted boiling water. Cook gently for 3 to 5 minutes. Lift out of water carefully with perforated spoon.

Never crowd or pile pierogi. The uncooked will stick and the cooked will lose shape and lightness.

Making Pierogi

Pierogi in Progress

Savory Sweet Potato Filling – a CobraHead Original

2 cups roasted sweet potato, mashed/sieved
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 T. Butter – may be half olive oil
2 tsp. cumin
½ tsp. chile powder
½ tsp. oregano
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground pepper
Cook the sweet potato earlier in the day or the day before, or even make the filling the day before you’re ready to make the pierogi.

Sauté the onion in the butter for about 10 minutes until softened. Add to the mashed sweet potatoes along with the spices and mix very well. Follow instructions above for filling and cooking the pierogi.

When ready to serve gently sauté the pierogi in butter until heated through. Best served with sour cream. Delicious!

Pomegranate Border

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

Over the last few years I’ve been developing a pomegranate border along the north side of my vegetable garden.  So far I have planted four pomegranate trees spaced tightly at 4-5 feet apart and plan on extending the border with another two to three trees.  The initial plant that I put in three years ago is now about ten feet tall, with the second one already up to six feet.

Pomegranates behind Onions

Pomegranates behind Onions

Unless pruned to take on a tree form, pomegranates grow more like a large shrub, putting out suckers and many low branches and reaching a height of about twenty feet.  Since one of my goals with the border is to have more privacy, I appreciate the hedge-like qualities of this plant and for now I’m only pruning branches that extend into the vegetable garden.

The varieties planted include Wonderful (the most common commercial variety), Granada and Angel Red.  I took some cuttings this year and am trying propagation for the first time.  It looks like one of the cuttings is rooting which makes me happy.

Pomegranate Flower

Pomegranate Flower

This is not just a single species hedge row; it’s a mixed border in progress.  I’ve planted comfrey and mountain peas in among the border.  Every garden needs comfrey, but since it tends to become permanent once planted, this border seemed like a good location.  Once the comfrey gets established I’ll periodically cut its large leaves to make my own garden mulch as well as add it to the compost pile.



Mountain pea, Orbexilum pedunculatum, is a native groundcover in the legume family.  I like it because it doesn’t need a lot of water, has lovely flowers and adds nitrogen to the soil.

Mountain Pea

Mountain Pea, Orbexilum pedunculatum

I still want to add some good pollinator plants to the mix.  Once the Mexican Hyssop that I’m starting from seed is ready to transplant out, it will probably go here.  Like a lot of things in my garden, the form evolves over time.  A year or two from now, I’m sure that this border will progress into a more complex structure.

Enough With The April Showers

Monday, April 18th, 2011

Here’s a picture of my garden beds that I took this afternoon.  Had I taken it early in the morning there would have been a light layer of snow over the whole area.  April has been most cruel, so far.  Cold and rain are the norm and it is not expected to be any nicer in the week ahead, in fact it will probably be worse.

In most years I could be planting already.  April 15th is the recommended date in this area for seeding peas, a lot of root crops, salad greens, potatoes, and more.  Not that I’m ever on time, but at least this year I can blame it on the weather.  The good thing is that if you are late, it really doesn’t matter.  To a point, that is.  The vegetables do need enough time in the ground to develop mature fruit, but I’ve often planted way beyond the recommended date limit and mostly gotten away with it.

We are looking north from the southwest corner of the garden.  These south beds contain 18 relatively equal sized beds, each about 21 feet long, 3 feet across the tops and about 5 feet 3 inches from the center of one long path to center of the next.  The bed right in front is rhubarb, which is just sprouting out and beyond that in the same bed, raspberries, which I cleaned out and trimmed back a couple weeks ago, when it was actually a lot warmer.

I’m having to do a lot more weeding this spring because I was negligent last fall in not totally covering the beds with leaves raked up from the yard.  It was a big mistake in not doing the leaf cover.  I’ve been very good about bringing in leaves for the last six years, but last fall bad weather and a bad work schedule found me with snow on the ground before I had completed my leaf harvest.  The leaf cover significantly reduces spring weed emergence and the added organic matter from the leaves is a huge plus, too.  I promise to be more diligent next fall, as I have added a lot of unnecessary work because of the lack of leaves.

I do have a plan for planting and next to the rhubarb will go the peas, next to that a bed of potatoes, next to that a new bed of strawberries with starts gleaned from an almost exhausted old bed just north of where Boss Cat is standing.  It’s all planned out.  Now I just have to do it.

The golden bed of straw is where I have my garlic planted.  The flags of the new plants are  already poking through.  As it gets warmer, I’ll pull back the straw and plant greens in between the garlic rows and on the sides of the bed.

Beyond a strip of grass are the north beds.  That’s where I have my asparagus.  The first spears are just now emerging.  To the right are my compost piles, blue compost barrels, and my new cold frame.  I’ve added a couple new smaller beds in front of the compost piles and they are ready to plant.  All I need now is some decent weather.

Brand New Bed

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

It’s been a slow start getting the beds ready for spring planting because of the frequent rain.  It’s not raining right now, but everything is wet and muddy.

I did manage to get a brand new bed shaped up for planting last weekend.  Its only 12 feet long versus the 21 feet of most of my beds.  I made it in my compost area and I have another bed the same size about half shaped up right next to this one which I’ll finish off as soon as the ground is dry enough.

Because I’ve been moving my compost piles through this area for years, the clay soil was actually quite soft and the bed ended up looking pretty good.  Untypical for most new beds, the soft soil was quite deep and required no extra loosening.  I just needed to define the paths, clean out the weeds, and shape it up.

I planted squash throughout this area last year on flat unshaped ground.  As much as possible, I’ve been following Elliot Coleman’s 8 year crop rotation which I originally found in his book, The New Organic Grower.  In Coleman’s system, root crops follow plantings of squash, so carrots, beets, potatoes, onions, and other root crops should logically be planted here.

I’m a little worried about wire worms, which seem to be more concentrated in areas that have not been under constant rotation.  I’m definitely not going to put my potatoes here, but I think I’ll take a chance on carrots and beets.  I’m hoping the carrots will love the soft soil.   I’ll seed the beds directly after April 15th.  It will be another experiment and I’m hoping the super fertile soil will give me good results.