Author Archive

Horseradish

Monday, November 13th, 2017
Horseradish

Horseradish

I prepared horseradish sauce yesterday.  I ran the horseradish twice through a food processor, first slicing, then shredding the pieces of root. As I was shredding, I added enough vinegar to keep the horseradish from drying out or heating up. The vinegar helps retain the hot flavor and allows it to keep for a while in the refrigerator. It will last a couple months.  It’s a tasty condiment and it has an impressive list of purported health benefits.

Horseradish Plants

Horseradish Plants

I grow horseradish in the herb bed, along with my plantings of perennial onions, garlic, leeks, and chives.  It is very easy to grow and quite difficult to get rid of once you have it.  I could encourage larger, cleaner, and easier to harvest roots if I grew it in softer soil, but it’s not high enough on my list of priorities to give it the treatment it deserves. I do like to have it around because the finished product is so good.

Horseradish Roots

Horseradish Roots

I dug out several plants. The ground was frozen on top but quite soft below the thin crust. I didn’t try to get out the whole plant. That would have entailed a lot of work. Pieces left in the ground will most often grow back. I brushed off as much dirt as I could. I trimmed off the crowns which I shoved back into the soil where I had harvested, just to make sure there would be some around next year. It was too cold to wash them outside so I brought them inside to do that.

Horseradish Peelings

Horseradish Peelings

I’ve read recipes suggesting not peeling the roots, but just washing them before shredding. The roots I harvest are pretty gnarly, with folds packed with dirt, bug holes, rotten spots, and other imperfections I’d rather not have in my sauce. I think peeling is in order.  The peeling process is where the vapors of mustard oil that make horseradish famous first show themselves. Strong whiffs of horseradish vapors could be likened to tear gas. Usually, it’s just some fun in the kitchen, but I think an overdose of fumes could be a real problem.

Peeled and Washed Horseradish Roots

Peeled and Washed Horseradish Roots

Horseradish: washed, trimmed and ready for the food processor.

 

 

 

CobraHead Tools in Uganda

Monday, October 30th, 2017
Happy Gardener in Uganda

Happy Gardener in Uganda

I think Rose Berry bought her first CobraHead from us at the Madison Garden Expo many years ago.  Rose likes our products and she has purchased many tools for gardeners over the years. She let me know that she really could use a lot of CobraHead tools for a project she was involved with in Uganda. I let her know that I had a lot of obsolete but totally functional tools that I would be happy to donate.

Blue CobraHeads in Uganda

Blue CobraHeads in Uganda

Rose is involved in several projects that help Ugandans live better lives.  She got our tools to Africa and sent me pictures of the local people getting their CobraHead tools. I got the pictures but no background story so I asked for some information and Rose sent me this:

“We work with an amazing nun in Uganda named Sr. Salome.  I also work with Remembering Jesse Parker Inc. (You can see the documentary by going to News8000 and search Tears Into Water). Jesse’s Mom is a friend of mine here in Tomah.  Jesse died in an auto accident and aspired to a life of drilling water for Africa. In his honor we have now (in 7 years) drilled 51 wells.

Other projects we have there are a Diva Cup Project which allows adolescent girls to attend school during menstruation, a sewing project, a microloan project, a school sponsorship ($20. per year for primary school for a year), Photos For Peace (where we set up a photo site and take pictures of families (the only one they own), and more. 

The area is called Busalo and is about 70 miles west of Kampala near Mityanna. Laura (my daughter) and I have traveled there 3 times and love the people and their culture. 

Thanks again for your donation!  Your Cobrahead tool has made a difference in my life and it is making a bigger difference in the lives of people who depend on their gardens for life in Africa!

Yellow CobraHeads in Uganda

Yellow CobraHeads in Uganda

The world certainly needs more Rose Berrys and I’m happy we’ve contributed in a small way to helping people in Uganda to grow their own food.  I’m sure Rose and the projects she is involved with could use more help so feel free to reach out to her.  You can reach her at jfberry at centurytel dot net or contact CobraHead and we’ll forward any messages.

Children in Uganda

Children in Uganda

Gardening in Uganda

Gardening in Uganda

2017 Sweet Potato Harvest

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017
Sweet Potato Harvest. CobraHead Test Gardens. Cambridge, Wisconsin.

Sweet Potato Harvest

We harvested 89 pounds of sweet potatoes yesterday. That’s not a record, but it’s well above our normal yield, and we’re happy with the results. Our average sweet potato yield is about 80 pounds per bed.  We grow a variety named Jewel (sometimes spelled Jewell).  We’ve been growing Jewel from our own starts for over 10 years and we find it excellent for both yield and long-term storage, and they taste great, too!

Empty Bed. CobraHead Test Gardens. Cambridge, Wisconsin.

Empty Bed

The potatoes were grown in this very clayey bed.

Sweet Potato Vines. CobraHead Test Gardens. Cambridge, Wisconsin.

Sweet Potato Vines

For harvesting, we first removed all the vines and the black plastic sheet which covered the bed and acted as a solar collector to heat up the soil.

18 Harvested Sweet Potato Plants. CobraHead Test Gardens. Cambridge, Wisconsin.

18 Harvested Sweet Potato Plants

Here are the 18 harvested plants.

Vole Damage. CobraHead Test Gardens. Cambridge, Wisconsin.

Vole Damage

More Vole Damage. CobraHead Test Gardens. Cambridge, Wisconsin.

More Vole Damage

The forecast is for warm temperatures for the next ten days, but I had to harvest now because I noticed some vole damage on one of the potatoes when I checked under the plastic, two days ago. Any increase in yields we might have gotten for leaving them in the ground longer could have been easily offset by damage from these little varmints.

Fortunately the damage was limited to two plants and was not significant. I found a nest under the plastic, but no voles.

We trimmed up the roots before we weighed them and wheeled them to the house for a two week curing on the kitchen table.

After two weeks in the kitchen, we’ll wrap the larger potatoes in newspaper and store them in the basement. We will be able to enjoy our harvest all year long.

 

T-Posts in Trellises

Friday, June 30th, 2017
T-Post Trellises

T-Post Trellises

Intensive gardening in open raised beds practically demands working with a lot of trellises.  The system of concentrated planting doesn’t lend itself to sprawl, and the solution is to grow vertically.   I stake or trellis many plants to get maximum production in limited space and to keep the aisle spaces passable.

I use T-posts as my main trellis component.  They are cheap, strong, and last forever.  And they lend themselves well to various designs. Most of my T-posts are 7’ 6” long.  I’ve found the 90” length adaptable to many trellises.  The post is tall, but not so tall I can’t work with them easily.  T-Posts normally come in lengths from about 3 feet to 12 feet.  I do have some smaller ones I use for other tasks, but I like the 90” post for most of my trellises.

Here are three different trellis structures using the same T-post for the frame.

Squash / Melon Trellis

Squash / Melon Trellis

Lacing Melon Through the Grid

Lacing Melon Through the Grid

Squash and melons:  This trellis uses concrete reinforcing grids.  The grids are 42” x 84” and are readily available at building supply stores.  I place one grid vertically between two posts and use jute twine to tie everything together.

Pea Trellis

Pea Trellis

Peas:  This trellis uses 24” landscape fence tied between posts set 3 feet apart.  The trellis makes it easy to get a lot of peas into one bed and it also puts the peas up and easy to reach from both sides of the trellis.

T-Post and Bamboo Tomato Trellis

T-Post and Bamboo Tomato Trellis

Tomato Trellis - 2

Tomato Trellis – 2

Tying off Tomato Stems.

Tying off Tomato Stems.

Tomatoes:   T-posts provide framework for the bamboo stakes and also act as a tomato stake to the adjacent plants.

Guardian of the Garden

Guardian of the Garden

T-post trellises fill a need in my quest for both a practical and sustainable garden.

 

 

Wood Garden Flats

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

Wood Flat

This old flat dates back to about 1990.  I started making my own flats from some cheap fence wood I had acquired.  I’m not sure where I got the design, probably a garden magazine or garden book, but it has proven to be long-lasting and very useful.  The flats are built using  3″ x 12″ x 5/8″ wood for the ends and 3″ x 18″ x 5/8″ wood for the sides.  Thus they are 3 inches deep.  The construction is very rough, especially the older ones, which were cut with a hand saw.  Now I use a table saw and the newer flats are definitely squarer.

Flat Lined with Newspaper

I line the flats with newspaper. They can be filled with soil, or filled with seed starting cups or pots.

Flat Filled With Potting Soil

When I fill the flat with soil, I use a block of wood to level out the soil and tamp it down.

28 Seed Cups in Flat

The flats hold 28 small 5 ounce drink cups exactly.  I start most of my seeds in these small cups.

Stackable Flats

The flats are stackable and strong.  Unlike many plastic seed starting trays, they are ridged and less likely to be upset when moving them around.  I now have about 30 of these flats in my collection.  They are easily repairable.  Wood flats are an important part of my gardening routine.

Potatoes in Cold Storage

Saturday, January 28th, 2017

Cold Storage in the Barn

It’s the end of January. We still have a lot of potatoes stored in the barn. Barn temperatures are often well below freezing but the potatoes are in good shape. Last fall, before I put the potatoes in storage, I modified my straw bale walls and replaced the bales on top with insulating foam panels. It was a good move. It’s way easier sliding off panels than wrestling straw bales when you need some potatoes. The barn stays cleaner and the potatoes seem to be in better shape than the last year.

Mover’s Blankets

Below the foam I placed some mover’s blankets, which are good insulators, to take up a lot of the gaps.

Shipping Crate Set in Straw Bales

The bales surround a wood shipping crate that has been re-purposed as a storage bin.

Potatoes in the Crate

The potato varieties are separated in the crate by walls made of scrap press-board. I mixed some loose straw in with the potatoes and that seems to be a plus in potato longevity.

Potatoes Ready to Cook

We’re pacing ourselves on potato consumption, trying to get most of them eaten before serious sprouting and shriveling sets in. Our improved above ground cold storage system is helping us enjoy all those good potatoes we grew.

Talking and Writing About Gardening

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator

I started CobraHead to sell a tool I designed. I was quite sure my tool would be a help to a lot of gardeners. Since then, sales have proven what I knew when I started, the tool was a good one. Supposedly it was Emerson who said, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” I can assure you Ralph got it wrong. You can have a great product, but you have to sell it and sell it hard before anyone will even know it’s out there.

CobraHead Logo

 

 

Fifteen years into our CobraHead venture it’s obvious no one would know anything about the tool if I didn’t become a marketeer to extol its virtues to the public. Word of mouth happens, but it’s way too slow. You have to fuel the fire. There is so much noise out there and so many people claiming, just like me, that they’ve got something people need to buy. Selling is actually the most time consuming part of the business. Fortunately, I was a salesman before I started the company, and I‘ve learned a whole lot about marketing since we first launched.

Magazine Ad

 

We’ve chosen a relatively low key approach to marketing our company. Print advertising hasn’t been our best venue. We don’t do a lot of it. We’ve found many lower cost tools to get our message out. Maintaining a blog is quite inexpensive. Talking about gardening at trade shows and garden conferences can cost almost nothing and I often get paid for doing it. And while I almost never talk about my tools directly, the association and connection to our company through blogs and public appearances strengthens the perception that I’m a gardener who walks the talk.

The CobraHead Blog

Very early into our history, we found out about a group called the Garden Writers Association. We began attending their conferences with the specific purpose of getting tools into the hands of garden writers with the hope they would like the tool and mention it in their articles and talks. That has proved to be our most successful method of gaining publicity, but attending the conferences also taught us about writing and presenting. Now, while I hardly consider myself a garden writer, I really am one. It’s just not my full time job.

PowerPoint Slide Show

While I’m not on the speaker’s circuit, I’ll be giving three talks on gardening at our favorite garden show, the Madison Garden Expo, coming up in February. I’m talking about growing garlic, growing sweet potatoes, and the raised bed method of gardening that I employ. In none of these talks do I hard sell my tools, but they do generate sales for us at the show and after.

Facebook Page

Social media is the newest selling tool out there and it can be low cost. We maintain a Facebook page, but so far, Twitter, Pinterest, and other such venues are yet to be explored. It probably will be a while before we jump in with those.

Promoting CobraHead has taught me a lot about marketing and certainly has improved my gardening knowledge just by being associated with the garden industry and trying to figure out ways to become a stronger part of it. I’ve met hundreds of people in the industry and many of them are, like me, trying to show others the value of gardening. I’ve learned a lot from them.

CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator Chosen for the Top 8 Manual Weeders of 2017

Monday, January 16th, 2017

The CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator was chosen by Ezvid Wiki as the #2 garden weeder for 2017. That means we are #1 small hand weeder since their #1 selection is a stand up weeder for weeding the lawn.

Here’s the link: https://wiki.ezvid.com/best-manual-weeders

Late Fall Planting of Wine Cap Mushrooms

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016
Wine Cap Mushrooms

Wine Cap Mushrooms

Wine Cap Mushrooms (Stropharia rugosa annulata) are considered one of the easiest mushrooms to grow. Easy to grow, but highly prized, Wine Caps are noted for both their large size and excellent taste. Wine Caps are not often found in stores because of their fragile nature. This is my first attempt at growing them. As with the shiitake mushrooms I’ve grown for many years, my Wine Cap stropharia spawn came from Field and Forest Products, Inc., Peshtigo, Wisconsin. http://www.fieldforest.net/ If you want to know anything about growing mushrooms and want buy the products you need to grow them, check out Field and Forest. We highly recommend them.

Wine Cap Spawn

Wine Cap Spawn

Wine Caps are often grown on wood chips. Yields with wood chips are larger and longer lasting, but growing on straw is fast and easy. Field and Forest sells Wine Cap spawn in 5.5 lb. bags, which they recommend for a fifty square foot planting using one small square bale of straw. I doubled that and planted two 5.5 lb. bags.

Shady Spot Prepared for Planting

Shady Spot Prepared for Planting

A shady area with good soil surface contact is recommended for planting beds. The ground should not be covered with sod or other materials that might keep the mushroom spawn from interacting with the soil. We had an excellent spot on the edge of the woods where the grass never gets established and was showing some bare soil, anyway. It was easy to scratch up a 10 foot by ten foot bed.

Soaking Weighted Down Straw Bales

Soaking Weighted Down Straw Bales

The straw should be of good quality, and relatively weed free. It needs to be soaked under water for three to six days. I had a big stock tank that worked perfectly for this. I soaked three straw bales (just to be safe), although I only ended up using just two bales. I had to weigh down the straw bales with blocks and rocks. Without the weight, the bales would float and not soak up the water in a short time period.

Bagged Spawn

Bagged Spawn

Here’s a picture of the two bags of spawn. Field and Forest has developed a breathable bag that allows the spawn to remain fresh and viable without refrigeration for up to two weeks. If not used immediately, the spawn can be refrigerated for up to six months. The spawn breaks up easily. I just put the contents of the bag into a large bowl and crumbled it by hand. After it’s all broken up, it looks like brown sugar.

First Layer of Straw

First Layer of Straw

I laid down about one inch of wet straw. Working with wet straw is really sloppy, so boots and old clothes are highly recommended. On top of this straw I scattered as evenly as possible the contents of one bag of spawn. Then I added another couple inches of straw and scattered the second bag of spawn on top of that.

Finished Planting

Finished Planting

I covered the second layer with a final cover of about three inches of straw, which used up all of two bales. I blocked the whole pile up neatly and were not winter coming soon, the job would be done. In warmer weather I could expect some mushrooms in just a few weeks.

Wine Cap Straw Pile Mulched with Leaves

Wine Cap Straw Pile Mulched with Leaves

The cold weather will slow things down and the mushrooms shouldn’t show up until spring. To keep the pile wet but not soaked, I mulched the bed with about six inches of leaves.

Wine Cap Harvest

Wine Cap Harvest

If all goes well, we can expect a huge harvest soon after warm weather returns. Field and Forest Products, Inc. also kindly provided the three pictures of wine caps, as we won’t have any to show until next spring.

Wine Caps

Wine Caps

Marigolds Attract Pollinators

Saturday, October 29th, 2016
Marigold and Bee

Marigold and Bee

About five years ago I bought a flat of marigolds at a garden show in Rockford, Illinois. The flat cost only five dollars. I presumed the marigolds were neither organic nor open pollinated, but they looked strong and there were a lot of plants for the money. I thought I would stick marigolds at the ends of the raised beds to add some easy and quick color.

Marigolds in the Beds

Marigolds in the Beds

This was in June. The plants performed well and bloomed until hard freezes came. They put out seed heads with lots of viable seeds meaning they were open-pollinated, not a hybrid variety. On a whim I saved some seed and replanted it the following spring. Marigolds are slow to germinate and the germination rate on these seeds wasn’t great, but I still got a lot of new plants from which I’ve continued to save seed and replant.

Marigolds Everywhere

Marigolds Everywhere

Both the seeds and the plants I’m growing now seem more vigorous than the first ones I planted. Marigolds are adaptable, which means they improve their hardiness over time in a new environment. I went overboard this year and ended up with several hundred seedlings, most of which I replanted all around the garden.

Bee and Marigolds

Bee and Marigolds

The marigolds are proving to be great for their ability to attract and feed pollinating insects right up to and through the early frosts. They continue to provide heavy blooms offering pollen and nectar as well or better than just about any garden flower this late in the season. Marigolds are also touted as having beneficial properties when grown alongside tomatoes and other vegetables and their roots are supposed to be soil cleaning, eliminating certain bad root nematodes.

Bee on Marigold

Bee on Marigold

Moth on Marigold

Moth on Marigold


I found numerous articles on the Internet claiming marigolds are a bee repellent and not attractive or useful to pollinators, but there are even more articles debunking the “bad marigold” claims. While there may be some hybrid or double blossom marigolds which may not attract or be useful to pollinators, I can attest that bees love marigolds as do numerous other insects. I have often found the blossoms swarming with various flies, moths and butterflies.

Bumblebee on Marigold

Bumblebee on Marigold

Marigolds are very useful when used as an herbal and they are edible. So why not grow some? They’re too good and too easy not to.