Archive for October, 2011

Lentil Cabbage Soup

Monday, October 31st, 2011

Yesterday, after gleaning more stuff from the garden before a few frosty nights this week I decided to make Lentil Cabbage Soup or ‘clean up the garden’ soup.  Just about all of the veggies, other than the lentils, came from the garden.  Along with the usual onion and garlic I used a small head of cabbage that had split from all the rain we had last week, a few less than stellar looking tomatoes, a multi-colored sweet pepper that was green and starting to ripen into gold, and a freshly picked carrot.  I added a cup of lentils to thicken the plot.  It made a pretty huge pot so if we get tired of eating it for lunch this week I’ll just freeze a container or two for a quick fix in the dead of winter.

Lentil Cabbage Soup

2 T. Olive Oil

1 onion, chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped]

4 cups cabbage, chopped

2 cups tomatoes, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 cup green lentils

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. garlic powder

½. tsp dried basil or oregano

Freshly ground pepper

Veggie broth seasoning to taste

10 cups water

Sauté onions, peppers and garlic for 3-4 minutes then add the cabbage and cook for a few more minutes.  Add the tomatoes and carrots & simmer for about 10 minutes until the tomatoes juice up or down as the case may be.  Stir in the salt, pepper and spices, add the lentils and water or broth and simmer for at least an hour or two.  Adjust your seasonings and add fresh herbs if you have them.  Makes a very hearty and tasty soup.

What You Need to Know About Fractal Dimensions of Cauliflower

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

Judy harvested these two excellent heads of cauliflower this afternoon.  The one on the right is one of the best heads we’ve ever grown.  It was over eight inches across and perfect in every way.

I searched “cauliflower” on Wikipedia just to see what might be of interest for a blog post and discovered fractal dimensions.  Mathematicians find broccoli and cauliflower interesting because of their fractals.

A paper cited says:  “The fractal structures of a green broccoli and a white cauliflower are investigated by box-counting method of their cross-sections. The capacity dimensions of the cross-sections are 1.78 ± 0.02 for a green broccoli and 1.88±0.02 for a white cauliflower, and both are independent of their directions.”

I’m not going to suggest I really know what math guys are talking about, but if you’re curious, here you go: and


Greens Under Glass

Friday, October 21st, 2011

We’ve been harvesting salad greens from the cold frame I built earlier this year.  I talk about the building of the cold frame here.

I seeded the frame about a month ago with a mix of mustard, spinach, arugula, several Asian greens and some lettuces.  As the picture shows, germination was excellent.

Until now, when we are finally getting some very cool nights, the main issue has been to remember to open up the glass lid totally during the day.  The daytime temperatures under the glass easily climbed to over 100 degrees F on sunny days, even with outside temperatures in the 60’s.  With the lid propped open but still above the frame, the temperatures got really hot, so I’ve been opening the frame totally during the day and leaving it open about an inch during the night.

Now that we are approaching freezing temperatures at night, I’m closing the frame totally each evening.  So far, the greens are beautiful and my salad mix rivals the best high priced mixes we see in the markets.

As the greens are really thick in the frame, I’ve found the easiest harvesting method is to snip off the entire plant with kitchen scissors just where the stem is coming out of the ground.  I just look for the greens that are the tallest, grab a leaf to get some tension on the plant and cut it off.

Here’s a picture of a salad made with greens, shredded yellow and orange carrots and sliced red onions.  Dressed with a garlicky balsamic dressing, it is delicious.  If all goes as hoped for, we’ll be eating salads like this with our cold frame greens well into December.


Saving Our Youth with Self-Watering Containers

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

A few months ago I came across Mike Lieberman’s website, the Urban Organic Gardener.  He posted several how-to videos about making self-watering planters out of reclaimed five gallon pails.    He does an excellent job explaining how to make them, so I’m not going to repeat all of the steps in this post.

I decided that this would be a perfect project to try out with the Save Our Youth Project of Red Salmon Arts, housed at Resistencia Bookstore.  We had already planted a small herb and vegetable garden, but since they had little soil and far more paved parking lot, containers made a lot of sense.

Czarina, Rene and the other staff and volunteers of Red Salmon Arts already do superb work with young people via poetry and arts.  They recruited me to add a gardening component to their workshops.

Below are our steps towards turning a bit of parking lot into a vegetable garden.

Jacob drilling drainage holes in the inner bucket.

I want to thank the staff at Central Market Westgate in Austin for providing me with empty peanut butter and almond butter buckets from their bulk department.  My friends wonder why my car always smells like peanut butter.

Cutting the copper tubing for the water inlet.


We modified Mike's design by cutting tabs into the bottom of the old yogurt container so that it wouldn't slide around.

Jacob and Crayvon adding the pre-wetted potting mix.

I find that adding some water to the potting mix prior to planting makes it easier for the soil to take up water.

Rene, Crayvon, Czarina and Jacob show off the finished planters.

Given the shift in Austin weather to some cooler fall temperatures we planted collard greens, chard and broccoli.  As the young people get the hang of caring for these plants we will probably make several more containers.  In total we spent about one hour making the containers and less than one hour planting them, making it an easy way to transform a patch of asphalt.

Urban Roots Matching Fundraiser a Success

Monday, October 17th, 2011

We want to thank everyone who donated to Austin’s Urban Roots last month.  Because of all of your contributions we raised over $850 to help keep this inspiring youth agriculture program running strong.

We will be sending Urban Roots at least $850 worth of our tools and other products as a match to the cash donation.

We also want to thank everyone who re-posted, re-tweeted, facebooked, or otherwise helped get the word out about the fundraiser.  In particular, we want to thank Martín Perna who went above the call in publicizing this via his multiple social network connections including his personal blog.  To thank him, we are sending him our Garden Essentials Package.  Martín is also a talented musician, if you don’t know his work you should check it out here.

I’m looking forward to continue working with the young people and adults at Urban Roots.

Aerial Combat in Cambridge

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

Turkey vultures are extremely common in Wisconsin, but it’s rare to see them flying directly overhead in my yard.  Our wooded property is the main residence of an extended family of crows that controls the neighborhood skies.  The crows never allow vultures, owls, hawks or other larger birds to secure the local airspace or even intrude into it for very long.

This afternoon there must have been  a major road kill on US Highway 18 which is the north border of our four acres.  I was working in the garden when at least a dozen vultures began circling overhead.  They were so close and so low to the ground my first thought was, “they’re coming after me”.  Since I’m not dead yet, I knew that was probably not true.  It was the best look I’ve ever had of these wonderful flyers.  Hang gliding humans pale in comparison to the vultures’ ability to effortlessly ride the air currents.

More vultures showed up.  There were now at least twenty circling directly overhead.  I was wondering where the crows were when I heard a few caws.  It wasn’t the raucous cacophony I expected, just a continuous back and forth of their familiar signaling.

Then I saw the crow formation.  At first I thought it was another group of vultures, but they were way more organized.  The crows had scrambled, like Spitfires in the Battle of Britain.  There were about fifteen birds,  grouped tightly, and while they didn’t attack the vultures directly, they took control of their airspace.  The vultures climbed to a higher elevation and headed west.

I really missed having my camera by my side.  I went to the house to get it, but the action was over by the time I returned.  I took a picture of a solitary vulture hanging around to check things out but it was already at an altitude out of range for my camera to get a good shot.  A few minutes later only a couple crow sentries remained in the mulberry tree at the south end of the garden cawing the all clear to the rest of their family.

Sweet Potato Harvest

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

With several nights of frost  predicted for this coming week, it was time to harvest the sweet potatoes.  They will not tolerate frost.  Here’s the bed of potatoes, thick with foliage.  The plants are grown through a cover of black plastic which heats the bed up quickly in the spring and pretty much eliminates any weeds.

Harvesting is much easier if all the foliage is cut away and removed first.  This is the second year I used this sheet of plastic and it looks like it will be in good enough shape to use one more time.  I’m not a fan of using polyethylene, but I bought a roll of the material years ago and I get multiple uses out of each sheet which assuages my guilt, slightly.  We are researching other more ecologically benign fabrics for future use.

Sweet potatoes are very delicate when they are first dug.  They snap easily and it’s hard to keep from stabbing them with your digging tools.  This year’s harvest set no records for weight or size.  I attribute that to the particularly clayey nature of this bed.   The softer the soil the better.  I took a chance and so I can only blame myself for a less than spectacular yield.  The plants were very healthy, but the tubers did not fill out as well as most of my previous harvests.  A lesson learned.  I’ll work a lot more compost into next year’s bed.

Nevertheless, we’ll still have lots of sweet potatoes to store.  We let the tubers air dry in the kitchen for two weeks, then  we wrap them in newspaper and store them in the basement.  It’s important to use up the smaller and stringy tubers first, as they do not store well.  Larger tubers, however, can last up to a year in storage.

Garlic Roasted Tomatoes

Monday, October 10th, 2011

Are you tired of tomatoes yet?  Not here!  It seems like the more I remove from the kitchen counters to cook down or preserve, the more that magically appear in their place.

This year the first few batches of sauce were made in my usual way – boil the tomatoes for 30 seconds, skin and cut them up and simmer on the stove top for a few hours until thick enough for spaghetti sauce.  Cool down and put in freezer containers.

Then a few days ago I was reading a recipe for roasted tomato soup – probably from but there are several of these soup recipes floating around out there.  Each has their own personality.

I wasn’t really interested in the soup as much as the garlicky roasting of the tomatoes.  So time for experimenting – I cut my rather large tomatoes (Oxheart, Brandywine, & Pomo d’Oro) in half and sometimes quarters and placed skin-side down on a roasting/broiler pan and placed in a 350 degree oven for an hour.  I somehow forgot all about the olive oil & garlic when I first started but decided to let it go.  After an hour I decided that the tomatoes could use more roasting so that’s when I splashed on 2-3 T. olive oil, several cloves of chopped garlic and 1/2 tsp. salt and put them back in the oven for another hour.  Two hours was just about right for my oven but since ovens vary you’ll need to check on them until they’re done to your liking.  The longer you roast them the more they will caramelize so it all depends on your taste.  The tomatoes did start to brown more when I ‘forgot’ about them until 2 ½ hours had passed.  Oops!

After the tomatoes cooled I removed the skins although they had almost disintegrated but not quite.  I tasted them more than I should have and reluctantly got them freezer-ready for a wonderful sauce to be enjoyed mid-winter.   These tomatoes stand on their own as a side dish but of course you can use them in soup, lasagna, chili, pizza and casseroles to name a few.

–          Broiler pan filled with fresh tomatoes, halved or quartered depending on size

–          2-3 T. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

–          4-5 cloves chopped garlic

–          ¼ – ½ tsp. salt

Place tomatoes on greased pan, splash with olive oil, sprinkle on garlic and salt.  Roast in a 350 degree oven for 2 hours.