Archive for January, 2012

More on Heat Mats

Monday, January 30th, 2012

Flat of Salad Greens

Geoff posted last week about the heat mat set up he is using to start some pepper plants, here.  I use a heat mat and grow-lights as well to start peppers, tomatoes, and other vegetable seedlings that need a jump start, and I’ve also found the set up useful to give some bottom heat to my sweet potato starts well ahead of the time I need to get my peppers started.  Since I don’t need very much space for the sweet potatoes, I use the mat and lights to grow some salad greens, too.

I’ve already talked a couple of times about the heat mat/grow-light setup I use.  Here I talk about the set-up, in general, and here about using the lights for salad green production.  In this post I’ll explain an inexpensive temperature control I use to regulate the heat output of the mat.

I’m just about ready to start harvesting some greens as you can see in the top picture.  I’ve got two flats that are putting out very good growth.  I’ve got a third flat into which I seeded a lot of cilantro and basil.  They are sprouting, but I think I got the soil in that flat a little too hot and dry early into the process and most of the germination has been toward the edges of the flat. There is a little bit of new sprouting showing up, so we’ll see how it turns out.

The heat mat I have has no thermostat. That appears to be the case for many of the heat mats being sold.  If they do have a thermostat, they are factory pre-set and not controllable.   They sell temperature controlling shut off devices with soil probes to control the on/off heat of the mats.  I just saw one in a catalog for $40.00.  I invested $7.99 at my local Ace hardware for a light timer and it works quite well in lieu of a thermostat.  I’m maintaining a temperature at the bottom of the flats at between 75 and 80 degrees by using the timer shut off mechanism to turn on the heat mat for 30 minutes every two hours.

Inexpensive Light Timer

Setting the timer is very simple.  There are 48 on/off buttons – down is on, up is off. So having every fourth one down has the mat cooking one fourth of the time and idle for an hour and a half out of each two hour period.  When I first started up the system I let it get too hot and I think I fried some of the cilantro and basil seeds.  As the cilantro is a free saved seed, it’s not too a great loss.

Thermometer, Sweet Potatoes, and Salad Greens

I’ve got the heat for the system balanced out, and now it’s very stable.  In addition to the three flats, I have a couple of sweet potatoes in jars that are putting out a lot of root and just starting to put out some leaf buds.  Hopefully, I’ll get enough slips for this year’s planting

About the end of February, I’ll move any greens that are left into the sun room inside my south facing glass patio doors.  I’ll start three new flats with onions, leeks, and shallots, and when those sprout, I’ll move them into the sun room and use the heat mat and grow-lights to start peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, some of my cucurbits, and whatever else I can fit in.

Pumpkin Quinoa Whole Wheat Yeast Bread

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Pumpkin Whole Wheat Bread

I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with all that frozen pumpkin puree I have in the freezer.  Well, I’m pondering no longer.  I’m getting back into old-fashioned bread making, and adding pumpkin to whole wheat yeast bread has been a winner.

We can only make or tolerate so many pumpkin pies and quick breads.  And pumpkin or squash soups go a long way too.  But who doesn’t love a piece (or two or three) of freshly baked bread and butter?

The recipe below was adapted from one of our favorite cracked wheat breads.   Quinoa flakes were used because no one in this household cared for them as a hot cereal.  The kneading takes a little time and effort, but the end product is well worth it.  The bulk of the time involved takes place when the dough is rising, and that just means you have to be in the vicinity.

Pumpkin Quinoa Whole Wheat Yeast Bread Recipe

1 ¼ cups quinoa flakes (or rolled oats or cracked wheat or mystery grain???)

1 ¼ cup boiling water

Pour boiling water over quinoa flakes and let stand for 20 minutes until it cools.  Set aside.

1 ½ cups pureed pumpkin or squash, thawed and warmed if frozen

¼ cup molasses or honey

2 T. Olive Oil

2 tsp. salt

Stir molasses, oil and salt into warmed pumpkin until well mixed.  Set aside.

¼ cup warm water – between 105 to 110 degrees

1  T. dry baking yeast

½  tsp. sugar

Dissolve sugar in water and stir in yeast.  Let stand 5-10 minutes until bubbly.  Set aside.

After quinoa mixture has cooled, stir in pumpkin mixture and mix well.  Stir in yeast mixture.

3 cups whole wheat bread flour

Mix in whole wheat flour 1 cup at a time.

3 or more cups unbleached flour

Mix in unbleached flour 1 cup at a time and knead until dough is no longer sticky and flour is absorbed.  Form into a large ball and place in an oiled bowl.  Cover with a damp towel.  Set in warm spot and let rise for 1 hour until doubled in bulk.  If you have no really warm spot, place bowl in the oven (do not turn it on) with a pan of hot water on the bottom shelf.

Punch the dough down and knead a bit to remove air bubbles and divide dough into 2 pieces.  Let rest for 10 minutes.  (Most recipes tell you this but I’m not sure what the resting is supposed to do.)  Shape each half into a loaf form and pinch the bottom pieces together.  Place into greased 8” x 4” bread pans and let rise for another 45 minutes.  Don’t just press the dough into the pans or the top will be flat instead of rounded.

Bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.  Remove from pans and let cool as long as you can hold out – it will slice better if you can wait, and probably digest better too.

BioMarkers win Green Thumb Award

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

We’re pleased to announce that our BioMarkerTM plant markers won a Green Thumb award from the Direct Gardening Association this year.


Now in its 15th year, the Green Thumb Awards recognize the best new plants and gardening products available each year from gardening catalogs and websites. The Direct Gardening Association (formerly the Mailorder Gardening Association) sponsors the annual Green Thumb Awards.  For more information, visit the Green Thumb Awards page.

BioMarkers are easy-to-read, durable, and ecologically friendly.
Big and bold with easy-to-read weatherproof labels, the markers are made to last many seasons.  The weatherproof labels can be printed on a laser printer or written on directly.  They will last a full season and are easily replaceable for marking the next year’s garden.

BioMarkers are made in Iowa by MCG BioComposites LLC from Duramze™, a blend of tough recycled plastic and corn cob fiber.  BioMarkers are available in three colors, Light Stone, Medium Brown and Dark Green.  To learn more about the BioMarkers or purchase some for yourself click here.


Heat for Hot Peppers

Friday, January 13th, 2012

Last year I skipped using a heat mat underneath the flat in which I started my hot pepper seedlings.  That was a big mistake.  I had a germination rate of less than 10%.  This year I picked up a new heat mat and have had great results.

It’s already time to start hot peppers in Austin.  They can be transplanted into the garden as early as mid-March and it takes 8-10 weeks from the time seeds are sown until the seedlings are ready to transplant out.

Hot peppers germinate best around 80 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.  Since I don’t keep my house that hot they need supplemental heat.  There are fancy heat mats that come with thermostats and soil thermometers, but I picked up a less expensive one that simply raises the temperature of the flat 10 to 20 degrees above ambient temperature.  For my purposes it has worked fine.

In the picture you can see that I’m also using a plastic cover over the flat to both retain moisture and heat.  The heat mat does make the soil in the flat dry out more quickly; I have had to mist the flat daily.  One thing to watch for with the plastic cover is that it may reduce air flow and get moisture levels too high, creating conditions for fungal growth on the plants.

The covered pepper flat.

My flat has 72 cells.  I planted 6 varieties of peppers on January 2.  I first began to see germination on January 6, but some of the seeds are just sprouting now, on January 13, and I expect a few more to still germinate.  The seeds that I had from the 2010 growing season are taking longer to germinate than the seeds packed for 2012, but the slower germination may also have to do with the variety.

I sowed two seeds per cell to ensure getting close to 72 plants.  In the cells that have two seedlings I’ll use a small scissors to cut out the weaker plant.  I don’t want to pull it out as that may disturb the roots of the remaining plant.

Pepper Seedlings

Once the peppers grow their first set of true leaves I’ll transplant them into 3 ½ inch pots.  I like to grow a lot of peppers, but I won’t need 72 plants; so I’ll have a few to give to friends.

Kale Avocado Salad

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Still harvesting winter kale?  My friend Matt Gossage gave me the recipe for this salad.  I tried it for myself a few nights ago and decided to share it.  The avocado gives a creamy texture to the salad.

Kale Avocado Salad


  • One large bunch kale
  • Two ripe avocados
  • Fresh lemon juice
  • Salt
  • Course ground black pepper

Remove the stems from the kale and chop.  In a large bowl add ½ tsp salt.  Massage the salt into the kale with your hands and then let sit for 20 minutes.

Taste the kale to see if it is too salty.  You may need to rinse it once to remove any excess salt.  If you do rinse it, press out as much water as you can.

Add two chopped avocados, fresh ground black pepper and the juice of one-third to one-half lemon.  Mix and serve.

Climate Change Brussels Sprouts

Friday, January 6th, 2012

January Sprouts

The weather in Wisconsin has been super freaky.  With highs of 50 yesterday and again today following a December with no snow and exceptionally mild temperatures, a lot of the locals are saying, “what the hey, this ain’t all bad!”  I have to say yes and no.  It’s kind of scary, and from a gardener’s perspective, in most ways not so good.

I love a deep snow cover on my garden beds.  The snow offers insulation and moisture.  And too many frost-free days can force perennial plants and trees to bud early.  If a cold snap does come after plants put out some tender new growth, serious damage can follow.  So while I’m enjoying the unusual warmth, I’m actually hoping things get back to normal.

An unexpected bonus of the warm weather was a January harvest of Brussels sprouts.  I’d given up for dead the mangy looking plants in the picture, but when I was checking things out in the garden this afternoon I found a nice harvest of sprouts in very good shape.  It did get down to six degrees a couple nights ago so I thought the sprouts would have succumbed to frostbite, but tonight we’ll enjoy fresh sprouts in January.  Hooray for global warming?

Spirooli Is Where It’s At!

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Turning Slicer

Last September Noel & Anneliese were vendors at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA.  The booth next to them was “Wild Success” promoting their raw foods and kitchen equipment.  When Noel called to ask me if I needed anything I said, “not really but if you see something really cool you can surprise me.”

Well ‘my surprise’ was a Spirooli or an Italian designed ‘turning slicer’ or ‘taglialegumi’ if you will.  I think it was Anneliese that decided I should have this.  She got herself a seed sprouter.  I never would have guessed that I ‘needed’ one but it has been fun.

Potato Noodle Curls

I’m sure it will get more use next summer when the zucchini are in full force and we try zucchini noodles.  In the meantime, as you can see from the pictures, we’ve been using it on potatoes, white and sweet.  We made noodles with one white potato and one sweet potato, but if you score or cut the veggie halfway through lengthwise it makes broken circles instead of noodles.

The potatoes were tossed with olive oil, seasoned salt, smoked paprika & cumin, and baked at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, turning halfway through.  They weren’t particularly crispy but were delicious anyway.  Experiment with the temperature when you try it.  The sweet potatoes tend to caramelize and blacken easily so don’t raise the temperature too high.

Curly Oven Fries