Archive for July, 2012

Pesto Corn on the Cob

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Pesto Corn

I doubt that I would ever say no to a piece of corn on the cob smeared with fresh butter and salt.  But I have tried a couple of alternatives that place high on my list of yummies.

One option is extra virgin olive oil with lots of freshly chopped garlic and salt.  Just mix all together in a proper size dish and roll the corn cob in it.  If you love garlic, you will appreciate the tangy flavor of the garlic matched against the sweetness of the corn.

The other is basil pesto spread on the corn.  We first had this at the Irish Rose Saloon, a restaurant in Rockford, IL.  They served the pesto on a roasted cob of corn – delicious.

We had this last night as part of our garden meal served with potato ratatouille and walnutty green beans.  I didn’t roast the corn but it was still an extremely tasty and colorful dish.

Here’s a simple pesto recipe that just takes a couple minutes to prepare.

1 cup washed & packed fresh basil leaves

¼ cup pine nuts

2 cloves chopped garlic

2-4 T. olive oil

¼ cup shredded parmesan

Blend basil, pine nuts and garlic in food processor.  Add in olive oil, then parmesan.  Adjust the amount of olive oil to suit your taste.

This can be used on the corn, on pasta or as a soup flavoring.  It can also be frozen for future use.  What are you waiting for??

Cow Flipping in the Kickapoo Valley

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

World’s Strongest Woman

This is an absolutely un-retouched picture of Judy lifting a cow over her head.  Now you know why I’m so meek and mild mannered. I wouldn’t dare step out of line when flipping a cow around is so easy for her.  She could send me to the moon.

The picture is courtesy of Organic Valley, the Farmer’s Cooperative headquartered in La Farge, Wisconsin, where Judy and I were vendors for CobraHead at the annual Kickapoo Country Fair on Saturday.

Here’s the link to the fair’s website.

One of the Organic Valley booths was set up as a photo studio.  Folks could get their picture taken while holding up a cow or a tractor.

Kickapoo is not a big show for us, but we like it for quite a few reasons.  The show’s mission is supporting family farms and supporting organic and sustainable agriculture.

We meet lots of farmers whose operations are small enough that they actually use hand tools.  It’s a great compliment when a gardener tells us they like our products, but when I hear that from a small farmer, it’s the confirmation I need to know that we really are helping people grow food.

The fair has lots of good food, music and entertainment, and it is located in the midst of some of the best scenery in Wisconsin.  We had a pleasant day, which is never guaranteed when you do an outside event, and we’re looking forward to doing the Kickapoo Country Fair next year.

Preparing for My Fall Garden in Austin

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

I garden year round in Austin, so there is no point at which I “put the garden to bed”, as is often done in more Northern climates. I never get to start with a clean slate for the next year’s season.  At any given time in my garden I’ll have recently planted sections that are often still months away from harvest, sections in peak production, sections that are still producing but well past their peak, and sections that need to be removed.  During peak planting times, as in early September, the challenge for me is figuring out where I can fit new plantings into this patchwork while still maintaining some semblance of crop rotation.

I’ve come up with a few techniques to make this easier:

  • Start kohlrabi, beets, broccoli raab and Chinese broccoli indoors now in late July so that they have 4-6 weeks before transplanting to garden in September.
  • Although I consider the first two weeks of September prime planting time for most of my fall crops, I actually need to plant pole beans in late August so they have time to mature before the first fall frost.  Our average frost date is November 15, although in my part of Austin it’s usually December before the first frost.  I’ll use the same trellises that I used for my early summer tomatoes for these beans.
  • Some of the spring crops are done and ready to be pulled out.  Even though I never put the entire garden to rest at one time, I can prepare parts of the garden now and use burlap mulch to keep the soil soft and the weeds out while awaiting the better planting dates.
  • Some of my summer crops like sweet potatoes and okra will be growing right up to the frost.  I might wait until late January to re-plant these beds, but I can also start cold hardy greens like mustard and spinach indoors in late September to be planted in November.
  • I’ve gotten excellent results from direct seeding cool season greens mixes in early September.  As the fall progresses and temperatures change, different plants within the mix mature at different times.  Lettuces usually peak earlier and arugula peaks later, with mustard greens in between.

During peak planting times like early September, it would be ideal for me to drop everything else and spend two weeks exclusively in the garden.  Since that’s not an option right now, planning and preparation helps me spread the work out and still get everything in the ground.

Sun Gold Tomato in Geoff's Garden

I’m still harvesting a few sun gold tomatoes, but the rest of the tomatoes that I planted in March have finished producing and need to be removed to make way for fall pole beans.

Okra growing in Geoff's garden.

I like growing okra because it hits stride in the late summer heat when many other crops have stopped producing.  I won’t remove it until the first frost, so it overlaps with the fall garden.

K is for Kohlrabi Pancakes

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

Kossak Kohlrabi

Kohlrabi is one of our favorite crunchy summertime veggies.  We like it best when peeled, sliced and sprinkled lightly with salt.  It has a mild cabbage flavor with a turnip-like texture.

Kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea (gongylodes group)) is best picked when less than tennis ball size because it can tend to get woody or fibrous in the middle.  We are trying a new larger variety this year, Kossak,  a hybrid from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, that is not supposed to get fibrous and is also a storage kohlrabi.  Optimal/maximum size for harvesting is 8”.  We’ll let you know if it works for us, though I doubt that they will last long enough to get into storage!

Kohlrabi Pancakes

Kohlrabies also make great pancakes similar to potato pancakes but more delicately flavored.

Try this recipe:

2 cups peeled and shredded kohlrabi

¼ cup flour

1 egg

¼ tsp. salt

Olive oil for frying

Sprinkle flour and salt over shredded kohlrabi and stir in so there are no lumps.  Add 1 beaten egg and mix well.

Preheat cast iron frying pan until medium hot.  Add 2 to 3 Tbl. oil to pan.  Form pancakes in pan with 2 Tbl. kohlrabi mixture & flatten.  Fry for 2 minutes on each side until browned.  Makes about 8 or 9 pancakes.  They are delicious with just salt & pepper but feel free to experiment with your favorite herbs.

Anticipating the Main Harvest

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

Here Come the Tomatoes

With this year’s warm weather, we’ll be picking things from the garden a lot earlier than most years.  I’m often late getting things started, but I did a good job of getting the tomatoes, peppers, and cole crops into the ground before the end of May.  The early start coupled with the hot weather is giving us veggies in July that we normally don’t start harvesting until August.  All in all, it appears we will have a good harvest as we go into late summer and fall.

Hot Peppers

This small bed holds most of the hot peppers.  In the foreground are Serranos and behind them are cayennes and some various Asian hot peppers.  Judy likes to freeze Serrano peppers.  She should have plenty.  The cayennes are exceptionally large this year and the pepper plants, in general, are taller than what I usually get.

Sweet Peppers

In front of the asparagus is my second pepper bed.  The small plants in front are Poblanos.  They are loaded with fruit.  The rest of the bed contains various sweet peppers.  I have a lot of Nardellos, the American-Italian heirloom that we like a lot.  Those too are very heavy with peppers.  Behind and to the right of the peppers are two potato beds, one red and one yellow.  Both are doing well.  I’ve already snitched a few red ones.

Sweet Potatoes

The sweet potatoes are loving the heat.  I can’t see what’s going on down below the vines, but I’m hoping for the best.  I’ve been covering the vines with ag fabric to keep the deer from munching on them.  The deer love sweet potato leaves.

Sweet Corn

We ate our first sweet corn, yesterday,  I only have one bed this year.  Most years I get two beds planted.  I’m inter-planting the corn with two heirloom pole beans that have traditionally been grown using corn stalks for trellises.  One bean is called Turkey Craw, the other is Missouri Wonder.  The beans in the corn have a long way to go, but they look just fine.

Leeks, Pole Beans, Tomatoes, and Onions

Here is my main bean crop, with leeks in the bed to the left, tomatoes, tomatillos, and eggplants in the bed to the right of the beans, and onions to right of the tomatoes.  You can see another bed of tomatoes in the back right and in front of those are two blue barrel rings holding some fingerling potatoes which I just planted.  It’s my plan to keep adding soil to the rings as the potatoes grow to try to get a larger yield.  I haven’t done this before, so we’ll have to see if it works.

The pole beans in the front of the picture are trellised onto four tripods.  Behind them in the same bed are bush beans.  They are just flowering but I expect good production.  Last year we had a similar size set up that got somewhat eaten by deer and we still had a huge harvest.   I expect a lot more beans this year.  We are getting Japanese beetles in the beans, but I’m able to keep ahead of much damage by cleaning off the beetles using my funnel trap, which you can read about here.

Ripening Egg Plants

I went overboard with the eggplants, I just didn’t have the heart to cull out the nice seedling starts, so we have 16 eggplants.  I normally grow four to six.  They are looking great.  We’re trying to figure out the best way to freeze them – any suggestions?

Three Cabbages

Here are three good looking cabbages in one of two beds dedicated to cole crops.  The other bed is under ag fabric.  Most of this bed was used to grow kohlrabi and we’ve already harvested about half the planting.  Judy talks about using kohlrabi in her recipe post.  I’ve been spraying my coles with a neem oil, soap, and seaweed mixture and that seems to have really made a huge difference on damage from  cabbage moths.  The moth eggs hatch but the caterpillars die when they eat leaves  containing neem oil.  While the neem spray hasn’t done much for the squash it seems very effective in the coles.

Zucchini #2

Here is our second zucchini.  We picked the first, yesterday.  We’ll have lots, I’ve got five healthy plants.  The squash, melons, cukes, and zukes all got a late start.  While the zucchini are doing well I’m really having some major problems both with cucumber beetles and squash vine borers.  I’m definitely going to lose a few squash and melon plants.  I always tell people starting out in gardening to grow a lot of different stuff.  Some will always succeed and even if you lose an entire crop of one vegetable you’ll still have plenty of the others.

Mammoth Sunflowers

These Mammoth Sunflowers are already ten feet tall and they aren’t done growing.  Their stalks are like tree trunks.

Unfortunately, this could be a year without basic root crops.  No carrots or beets in the ground, yet.  It’s not too late for either for a fall crop if I can get to it, but in any case, we’ll get plenty from the garden, this year.

Overhead Irrigation System for a Backyard Garden

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

Watering the Garden

We have not had significant rainfall for six weeks.  I was told that June was the driest recorded here since they started keeping records.  Today and tomorrow will be among the two hottest days in south central Wisconsin since the weather service started logging meteorological data.  103 was reported as a high today, highest ever for July.  The all-time high temperature record here was 104 in August of 1988.   Tomorrow may be hotter yet.

In most of the 26 years I’ve lived here, I’ve not had to worry much about watering my garden.  Rain just fell with enough regularity to count on.  Not every year, for sure, but mostly the rain has been there when we needed it.

This year is different.  Hotter and drier than anything we’ve ever seen.  So I have no choice but to water regularly.  I’m quite happy with this simple system I use to get water down pretty much where I want it.

Overhead Irrigation System

Components, in addition to hoses with quick-connects, are a plastic milk crate, an oscillating sprinkler, and metal spring clamps.  I got my sprinkler at my local Ace Hardware (Ace is the place!).  I really like the design of the new oscillating sprinklers.   Precise control of the arm movement is super easy.  The newer models have thumb tabs to control the arm movement and one can lay down a water pattern with precision.

I’m watering frequently and the garden is looking good.  It’s easy for plants get stressed in these unusual weather conditions, but so far, with my slick overhead irrigation system, all is well in our garden.





GWA Region V Meeting

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

Water Feature at Olbrich Gardens

CobraHead is a member of the Garden Writers Association – GWA.   It’s been a great organization, as garden writers have been instrumental in helping us get the word out about CobraHead Tools.

The GWA is divided into various regions and we officially belong to Region V, which last Friday had a meeting in Madison.  Anneliese and I made a field trip with garden writers from around the Midwest to visit four excellent Madison garden sites.  In order, we visited Olbrich GardensAllen Centennial Gardens, West Madison Agricultural Research Station, and Epic Systems, Inc.

While Epic Systems is not on everyone’s horticultural radar, this private company has a wonderful sustainability story to tell.  All the gardens were interesting and I took a lot of photos, some of which are posted here.

Roy Diblick of Northwind Farms

Roy Diblick of Northwind Farms in Lake Geneva is an expert on dry gravel plantings.  Here he explains why planting in deep gravel beds offers a truly sustainable alternative to our typical method of planting in deep soil.  Gravel plantings allow both the use of drought tolerant plants with much longer lives than most ornamental plantings and in most ways require less maintenance once established.

Looking From a Rain Garden Back to a Dry Gravel Planting

The Thai Pavillion

An Elephant From Thailand

Olbrich has several gifts from Thailand that are popular with visitors.  To show off these pieces, the horticulturists have created a garden atmosphere that looks as southeast Asian as one could hope for while being outdoors in Wisconsin.

Looking Out from Olbrich Gardens to Lake Monona

Olbich is a large garden and we only had time to see a small portion.  We went from Olbrich to Allen Centennial Gardens, which cover less than three acres of urban landscape.

False Alarm Rain Clouds

When we got to Allen Centennial Gardens it looked like it might rain, but the rain stayed south in Illinois and our drought continues.

Allen Centennial Gardens in the Middle of Urban Architecture

The Victorian Mansion Surrounded by Gardens

The Victorian Mansion which is the anchor for the garden property was originally the residence for the Dean of Agriculture at the University of Wisconsin.  If you don’t know it, agriculture is and always has been a big deal at UW.

Ed Lyon Explaining the Crevice Garden

Allen Centennial has 28 distinct gardens within its small area.  Director Ed Lyon commented that while relatively small compared to many public gardens, the gardens have more than enough different features to keep him very busy.

A Vegetable Garden Just Outside the Backdoor of the House

 Ed told us that at Allen, the vegetable garden is getting most of the attention from visitors.  That’s good news for us, and we hear that at a lot of public gardens.

Brian Emerson, Director of West Madison Ag Research

From Allen Centennial Gardens in downtown Madison we drove out to the West Madison Agricultural Research Station, where Brian Emerson and his staff showed us some of the work done under the auspices of the UW College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

Color Trials

The Center Trials for both the Ornamental and the Ag Industry

Grape Trials for Wisconsin’s Growing Wine Industry

After our tour of West Madison Ag Research, it was off to Epic Systems to complete our day.

One of Two Huge Solar Panel Arrays

We met at Epic in a visitors parking lot that was partially shaded by a huge solar panel array.  There was an even larger array to the west of the campus.  Epic also has a large geo-thermal network that contributes significantly to its heating and cooling.  What impressed me the most, though, were the green roofs.

Not Your Typical Office Landscape

Epic Systems is fast becoming the dominant supplier in North America of hospital and healthcare software.  They have 6,000 employees, they are experiencing super-heated growth, and their owner is committed to a work campus that incorporates as many sustainable features as possible.

These Walkways Are on the Roof

Playing Frisbee on the Roof

One of several green roofs, this massive area covers the main employee parking lot.  It is big enough to incorporate several distinct gardens.

A Rooftop Gravel Planting

Roy Diblick, who talked about gravel plantings to us at Olbich, was the consultant for this large rooftop gravel planting at Epic.

A Green-Roofed Canopy

A Butterfly Garden on the Roof

I’m pretty sure the out-of towners had to be impressed with Madison’s excellent gardens and this is a small sample of the excellent horticultural experiences to be found around here.