Archive for June, 2015

Melon and Squash Trellises Using T-Post and Metal Concrete Reinforcing Grid

Sunday, June 28th, 2015
Melon Trellises

Melon Trellises

Squash Trellises

Squash Trellises

I planted smaller squash and melons without a firm idea on how I was going to trellis them.   Going online, I found several references to using metal concrete reinforcing grids as trellis material.  I knew immediately this was a good solution that would easily integrate with my T-posts, which I use for most of my trellis frames.

Remesh Screen

Remesh Screen

I found the grids at Home Depot where they are referred to as Remesh Sheets.  They are less than $8.00 each for a 42 inch by 84 inch grid made up of a fairly heavy wire laid out in 6” x 6” squares.  The quality of the sheets in the store varied and all were rusty, even though stored inside.   I had to pick though the stack to pull out nice flat ones with no breaks in the wire.

Jute Tie Down

Jute Tie Down

The trellises were very easy to set up.  After laying out my tentative spacing, I just pounded in the first T-post and laced in the grid using jute twine.  I used some spring clamps to hold the grid in place while I laced the grid to the post.  Using the untied edge of the grid as a guide, I pounded in the next T-post, clamped the first and second grid to the new post and laced them in together.  From this point, it’s just a matter moving down the line with as many grids as you want to use.  It’s a very simple process.

Vertical Posts Allow Reach In Space

Vertical Posts Allow Reach In Space

Several of the online setups I looked at used wood posts for framing set up as a sloped A-frame.  I think the T-posts, being vertical will allow for easier weeding and harvesting with enough space to get to both sides of the grid easily.  The T-posts are also easier to work with than wood.

7 foot grids on 6 foot posts

7 foot grids on 6 foot posts

My T-posts are 90” long driven in about 18”, so six feet above ground.  The mesh is seven feet leaving about a foot of unsupported grid.  I think the wire will be strong enough to hold anything that climbs up that tall without folding.  We’ll see.

Hilling Potatoes in Open Raised Beds

Monday, June 22nd, 2015
King Harry Potato Blossoms

King Harry Potato Blossoms

Most years I grow 2 beds of potatoes.  This year, as part of my way bigger than needed garden, I’m growing three beds.  They’re planted more intensively than I’d like.  That’s because I got carried away with my seed potato purchase from Wood Prairie Farm, an organic supplier from Maine.  I’ve been meaning to buy from Wood Prairie for many years.  Jim Gerritsen, the owner, is an associate of mine in the Direct Gardening Association and I’ve always wanted to trial his potatoes.

Bed of King Harry Potatoes

Bed of King Harry Potatoes

When I placed the order, I bought more than I should have.  I was able to give some away, but I just didn’t want the seed to go to waste, so I planted more per bed, and three beds instead of two.

Bed of Dark Red Norland Potatoes

Bed of Dark Red Norland Potatoes

I have not checked underground yet, but the plants above are the most vigorous and healthy potatoes I’ve ever grown.  If the tuber yields match the plants, I’ll be very happy.

Bed of Cranberry Red, Onaway, and Caribe Potatoes

Bed of Cranberry Red, Onaway, and Caribe Potatoes

My intensive planting left no soil for hilling around the plants, and I know that without some good hilling, I could not expect a good yield.  I had no empty beds from which to steal some dirt, and my normal source of extra soil, the compost area, has been planted in squashes and melons.

The solution I used was to cut the paths around the beds deeper and use that dirt for hilling soil.  At first I thought it would be an impossible task to break up the hard packed clay in the paths, but I figured out a way to do it without killing myself with hard labor.

Using a Fork to Break Open the Clay Paths

Using a Fork to Break Open the Clay Paths

As with many problems, the right tools make the solution easy.  To initially break the clay I used a small fork made by Treadlite Broadforks.  Normally, I like to use this as a weeding tool for deep rooted large roots like burdock.  It proved perfect for this job, breaking the hard clay down about three inches.

Antique Five-Tine Cultivating Hoe in Clay Clods

Antique Five-Tine Cultivating Hoe in Clay Clods

To break up the clay clods, I used my old five tined cultivating hoe.   This is a magical tool.  Aside from its blades being the inspiration for our CobraHead tools, this tool rips hard soil and pulverizes clay clods.

This Tool is a Hand Powered Roto-tiller

This Tool is a Hand Powered Roto-tiller

It’s like a small powered roto-tiller, only better.  It is essential for my approach to raised beds and I would be lost without it.

Flat Bottomed Scoop or Grain Shovel

Flat Bottomed Scoop or Grain Shovel

A scoop (grain) shovel works better than smaller shovels for shoveling up dirt from the paths and smoothing the path at the same time.

Grain Scoop in Wheelbarrow

Grain Scoop in Wheelbarrow

I didn’t have enough dirt from the paths directly adjacent to the beds, so I cut soil out of paths elsewhere in the garden.  To move the soil I used a a single tire wheelbarrow.  Two wheeled carts will not work in my narrow paths.  I used a large grain scoop to dump the soil around the stems.  It worked very well, allowing me to make a nice deep cone of soil around each plant.

Hilled, Intensively Planted Potatoes in an Open Raised Bed

Hilled, Intensively Planted Potatoes in an Open Raised Bed

So now I have well hilled plants.  The harvest will tell if I got away with my intensive planting.

Dark Red Norland Potato Blossoms

Dark Red Norland Potato Blossoms

Snow Pea Mushroom Tofu Stir Fry

Thursday, June 18th, 2015
Snow Pea Mushroom Tofu Stir Fry

Snow Pea Mushroom Tofu Stir Fry

Pea pods or snow peas are in – just in time to take over the green aspect in the kitchen from the dwindling asparagus patch. The young and tender pods are great eaten right off the vine. They’re good raw and also make a crunchy addition to a stir fry as long as you don’t overcook them.

Here’s what I came up with for dinner a couple of nights ago:

 Snow Pea Mushroom Tofu Stir Fry Recipe

2 T. olive oil or your favorite stir fry oil

1/2 cup raw almonds (or walnuts or cashews)

1 small sliced onion

1/2 pound tofu, diced

1 T. nutritional yeast

1 cup crimini mushrooms, sliced

2 cups pea pods

1 cup veggie broth

3 T. tamari

2 T. arrowroot or cornstarch

1/2 tsp. maple syrup or sugar

Preheat wok or cast iron frying pan to medium high. Add 1 T. oil and add nuts, stirring constantly for 45 seconds to 1 minute until browned but not burned. Remove nuts from pan and set aside. Add onions to pan, stir for 1 minute and remove from pan. Add the other tablespoon of oil to pan. Add tofu and stir fry for 2 minutes until it starts to brown. Sprinkle in the nutritional yeast and brown for another 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add the onions back to the pan along with mushrooms, pea pods and veggie broth. Cover and cook for 2 minutes. Mix tamari, arrowroot and maple syrup in a small cup until thoroughly combined. Stir into veggies for about a minute to thicken the juice. Sprinkle the almonds on top and serve over rice.  We had black forbidden rice which has a nice nutty flavor and texture to complement the vegetables.

Sautéed Almonds

Sautéed Almonds

Sautéed Onions

Sautéed Onions

Sautéed Tofu

Sautéed Tofu

Fresh Crimini Mushrooms

Fresh Crimini Mushrooms

Fresh Snow Peas

Fresh Snow Peas

Veggie Broth

Veggie Broth

Arrowroot, Tamari Sauce and Maple Syrup

Arrowroot, Tamari Sauce and Maple Syrup

Improved Tomato Trellis

Sunday, June 14th, 2015
Two T-post and Bamboo Tomato Trellises

Two T-post and Bamboo Tomato Trellises

Last year I bought a bundle of 7’ bamboo stakes specifically to build a reliable tomato trellis.  I built a beefy structure that performed well, but it had drawbacks.  Here is last year’s trellis post.

T-post and Bamboo Used as Stakes

T-post and Bamboo Used as Stakes

This year I’ve simplified the design.  I eliminated the traditional tomato cages. In a well-trellised system, the cages are only in the way.  They are hard to weed around and fruit gets wedged in the wires.  I’m also using the t-posts that hold up the structure as trellising stakes for the plants adjacent to the posts, so I’m using less bamboo than last year.

Lacing Stems with Jute Twine

Lacing Stems with Jute Twine

As the tomatoes grow, I’ll start lacing the main stem to the stakes.  I’m going to be more aggressive in pruning than in previous years and probably trim down to two leaders (main branches)  per plant in most cases.

Three Across

Three Across

The trellises work well with my three across tomato plant arrangement.

Four x Two T-Post Structure

Four x Two T-Post Structure

The larger trellis supports 33 tomato plants.

Three x Two T-Post Structure

Three x Two T-Post Structure

The smaller structure supports 27 plants.

Bamboo Laced Back to the T-post Frame

Bamboo Laced Back to the T-post Frame

I like using t-posts for trellising in open raised beds.  They can stand up to any wind and hold huge loads.  And they can be integrated with all types of trellising materials.  While they require a little bit of physical effort to set up, I think the benefits make them an ideal choice for trellis supports.

Radish and Pea Pod Sauté

Friday, June 12th, 2015
Radish and Pea Pod Sauté

Radish and Pea Pod Sauté

With the abundance of radishes in the garden this year I’m trying something new. We’ve always eaten our radishes raw, right out of the garden, or sliced in our salads. I had heard of cooking radishes but never tried it myself. Noel keeps bringing in radish thinnings (some not so thin) from the plantings used as row markers for the carrots, beets and turnips. The first handful of pea pods were a beautiful and vigorous snow pea called Giant Swiss that we bought from the folks at Fruition Seeds while we were walking the Chicago Flower Show this past March.

Peas and radishes hitting the kitchen at the same time turned on the light bulb and a new dish, at least for us, came about.

Here’s my recipe that serves 2 people:

2-3 t. olive oil

1 cup quartered radishes, if small just halve them

1 cup pea pods

2-3 t. water

Salt and Pepper to taste

Pat of butter, optional

Sautéing Radishes

Sautéing Radishes

Preheat cast iron frying pan to medium heat. Add oil and radishes and sauté for about 4 minutes. Add pea pods and water, cover and cook for 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, and a little bit of butter for extra flavor, if desired. The cooked radishes have a mellower flavor – a little like turnips – without the raw radish bite. The dish was interesting and tasty – something we will put in our repertoire!

Radishes and Peas in the Pan

Radishes and Peas in the Pan

Giant Swiss Snow Pea

Giant Swiss Snow Pea

Radish Thinnings

Radish Thinnings

Sautéed Mustard Greens

Monday, June 8th, 2015
Mustard in the Pea Patch

Mustard in the Pea Patch

Noel has mustard greens growing like weeds in the garden.   He planted the mustard along with various lettuces at the edges of the pea patch and also interspersed them with the garlic plants. Some of what doesn’t get eaten will go to flower to attract pollinators and generate more seeds for future crops. Honey bees love the mustard flowers, and so do a wide variety of other pollinators. Any mustard plant that gets in the way of our pea and garlic crops will be pulled like a weed and used to feed the compost pile.

Lots and Lots of Mustard

Lots and Lots of Mustard

Mustard in the Garlic

Mustard in the Garlic

We use the baby greens in our salad mix and the bigger leaves in a stir fry or side dish as in the recipe below.

Mustard and Onions in the Skillet

Mustard and Onions in the Skillet

Sautéed Mustard Greens

1 T. olive oil

1 onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

8 cups chopped mustard greens

1 T. seasoned rice vinegar

Preheat cast iron frying pan to medium. Add olive oil and onions. Sauté for 2-3 minutes, then stir in garlic. Immediately stir in mustard greens and toss until coated with oil. Mix in vinegar, turn to low heat and cover for about 5 minutes, or long enough to steam and soften the greens.

There are lots of ways to flavor the greens but the seasoned vinegar seems to balance the slight bitterness or zestiness of the mustard. Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and enjoy as a side dish.

Almost Ready to Serve

Almost Ready to Serve

Asparagus Mushroom Tofu Scramble

Thursday, June 4th, 2015
Breakfast Scramble

Breakfast Scramble

A couple of days ago Noel brought in shiitake mushrooms from our logs at the side of the woods. I had a handful of fresh picked asparagus, some tofu leftover from a stir fry and a few cremini mushrooms in the fridge. Here’s what I came up with for a very satisfying breakfast.

Asparagus Mushroom Tofu Scramble

1/2 pound asparagus, sliced in 1-inch pieces

1/4 pound mixed sliced mushrooms – I used shiitake and cremini mushrooms

1/2 pound diced tofu

1/4 cup chopped onion

1-2 cloves minced garlic

1-2 T. olive oil

1 T. nutritional yeast

1/2 tsp. turmeric

1/4 tsp ground cumin

1 T. Tamari

1 T. Water

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat cast iron pan to medium, then add olive oil. Sauté onions for a minute, then add garlic and cook for another 30 seconds. Add mushrooms and sauté for 2 minutes before adding the asparagus. Cook covered for about 5 minutes. Add tofu and stir for a few more minutes until tofu is a little browned. Mix in the nutritional yeast, turmeric, ground cumin and pepper. Combine Tamari and water, add to the pan and mix well, scraping up any bits that have stuck to the pan.   Check for seasoning and add more Tamari if you wish. Enjoy with toast and your favorite side of fruit.

Scramble Ingredients

Scramble Ingredients

Comfrey Mulch

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015
Comfrey by the Compost

Comfrey by the Compost

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale L.) reminds me a lot of tobacco, which is grown as a cash crop by farmers here in Cambridge, Wisconsin. I’ve read that comfrey can be smoked as a tobacco, but I have no interest. I grow it as a compost crop and for that purpose, its value is remarkable.

I previously posted about using comfrey in compost here.

Harvesting Hatchet

Harvesting Hatchet

An established growth of comfrey can be harvested up to four times per year.  I decided to cut some to use as a mulch in the paths. I hadn’t done that before, which I realize now was a mistake. It’s just so easy.  I was harvesting comfrey with a Japanese kama, but a camper’s hatchet is much easier to use. The heft of the hatchet easily cuts through multiple stems.

Big Yields

Big Yields

The large plants produce huge yields.  When you realize the plants can be cut back up to four times a season, the output of comfrey is something to be appreciated.  About the only downside is that comfrey likes to spread and if unchecked could take over an area.

Mulching the Paths with Comfrey

Mulching the Paths with Comfrey

Here are harvested plants laid down in the paths.  I’ll be adding more to make sure paths and bed edges are smothered.  I’m going to encourage even more growth of comfrey as I think comfrey mulch will make my gardening easier.