Archive for the ‘CobraHead’ Category

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie

Sunday, February 26th, 2017
Veggie Shepherd's Pie

Veggie Shepherd’s Pie

“It is a homely thing in one or another sense of the word, depending on your point of views.”  Glyn Lloyd-Hughes, Description of Shepherd’s Pie:  The Foods of England

I should perhaps title this recipe Shepherdess Pie which apparently is a variation made without meat but I hadn’t heard the term before I started looking at recipes.  Shepherd’s Pie was traditionally made with minced lamb and Cottage Pie was made with minced beef.

It’s easy enough to make and even easier if you have leftover mashed potatoes, gravy and vegetables.


Veggies in the Steamer

Veggies in the Steamer

6 cups steamed vegetables of your choice (part or all leftover veggies)  I used bok choy, cauliflower, carrots, collard greens, onions and threw in some frozen green beans at the last minute.

4-6 cups mashed potatoes  (either leftover or made with 2 1/2 to 3 pounds potatoes)

Shallots and Mushrooms

Shallots and Mushrooms

2 cups gravy or sauce of your choice   (this may be leftover gravy or fresh mushroom gravy-see recipe )    If you prefer you could use a tomato or cheese sauce instead of traditional gravy.

Oil a deep dish pie plate or casserole dish.  Mix veggies and gravy and scrape into pie plate.  Place mashed potatoes on top to cover filling all the way to the edge of the dish.

Bake at 375 degrees for 25 to 45 minutes until gravy is bubbling.  Timing will depend upon the temperature of the ingredients when placed in the oven.  If all ingredients are freshly cooked and warm it will take about 25 minutes.  If they are leftovers and cold from the fridge it will take longer to heat through.  Enjoy!

Pie on a Plate

Pie on a Plate

Waiting for a Handout

Waiting for a Handout

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.

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Mushroom Gravy

Thursday, January 26th, 2017

Sweet Potatoes with Mushroom Gravy

As you may have read before, Noel’s sweet potato harvest produced almost 125 pounds of edible roots.  He planted the same number of plants (18) that he has for the last several years but we had such significant rainfall throughout 2016 that the potatoes grew bigger, therefore increased our total poundage.

With that being said . . . we have a lot of sweet potato eating to do.  Since sweet potatoes are, well . . . sweet, I like to counter balance them with something savory.  This time I made a mushroom gravy. Here’s a link to a previous post on vegetarian gravy methods.   I also add other veggies to the gravy, such as baby bok choy or chopped collards.

Bake your scrubbed and fork pierced potatoes at 400 degrees until soft all the way through. Check with a fork or knife. Baking time depends on the size of the potato. Larger ones take about an hour. I start checking after one hour and at fifteen minute intervals for the big ones.  They can take an hour and a half or more.

Mushroom Gravy

Mushroom Gravy Ingredients:

2 T. unbleached flour

2 T. nutritional yeast

Dry roast/toast the flour and nutritional yeast  in a preheated (to medium) cast iron frying pan stirring constantly for 5 minutes.  Set aside.

2 T. olive oil

1 shallot, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 tsp. dried thyme or 1 tsp. fresh if you have it

2 cups sliced button or cremini mushrooms

2 oz. dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked and chopped or use fresh (I had 8 dried mushrooms)

1 T. tamari

1 T. liquid aminos

2 cups water (I used the shiitake soaking liquid plus enough water to make 2 cups)

Alternatively, use 2 cups vegetable broth and skip the tamari and liquid aminos.

Sauté shallots and garlic in olive oil for 2-3 minutes.  Add mushrooms and thyme and cook for another 5-10 minutes.  Blend the 2 cups liquid with the tamari, liquid aminos and  flour nutritional yeast mixture.  Pour over mushroom sauté and cook until bubbly and thickened.

Serve your gravy over a baked sweet potato and dig in!


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:

Oven Roasted Root Vegetables

Friday, November 18th, 2016
Oven Roasted Root Vegetables

Oven Roasted Root Vegetables

We had a late harvest of turnips and radishes, more than we could eat raw, so we included these in a roaster full of vegetables.  I’ve not cooked with radishes much so this was something different for us.  I’ve listed the veggies that were in this mix but you can use whatever you have.  Everything came from our garden except the olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper.


1/4 Cup Olive Oil

1 Crushed Clove Garlic mixed with 1/4 tsp. Salt

Potatoes – 1 large, cut in wedges & several small baby potatoes

Sweet Potatoes – 1 peeled and sliced

Cabbage – 1 small head cut in wedges

Carrots – 2-3,  cut in quarters

Turnips – 3-4,  cut in quarters

Radishes – 4-5,  cut in halves

Onions – 2-3,  left whole if small, cut in half or quarters if larger

Shallots –  3, left whole

Garlic – 5-6, peeled, left whole

Sage – 1 tsp. crushed

Rosemary – 1 tsp.

Thyme – 1 tsp.

Parsley – 1/4 cup freshly chopped (garnish)

Salt – to taste

Pepper – to taste

Crush 1 clove of garlic and mix with salt in a large mixing bowl.  Let stand for at least 10 minutes while preparing the rest of the vegetables. Mix in the olive oil, sage, rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper.  Toss in all the veggies and mix with a spatula until all are coated in the oil mix.  Place in a well oiled roaster and cover.  Bake for about 1 hour in a 400 degree oven.  Stir the veggies halfway through the baking time.  Check for doneness, toss with the fresh parsley and serve.


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. 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

Black Beluga Lentil Vegetable Soup

Friday, November 4th, 2016
Black Beluga Lentil Vegetable Soup

Black Beluga Lentil Vegetable Soup

Tis the fall season when the harvest of garden veggies are brought in and placed on every available flat surface in the kitchen.  It’s not always easy to find a place to have lunch or dinner but I did my best to use up enough food to make room for the soup bowls……

Feel free to throw whatever you have in the soup pot. The spices, celery, veggie broth and black beluga lentils were the only items not harvested from the garden.


2 T. olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

3 cups cabbage, chopped

4 fresh paste tomatoes, chopped

1/2 tsp. cumin

1/2 tsp. turmeric

8 cups veggie broth

1 cup black beluga lentils, rinsed

2 carrots, chopped

1 cup baby potatoes, cut in half

1/2 tsp. fresh thyme

1/4 cup cilantro

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

2 handfuls chopped kale

Heat olive oil in soup pot.  Add onions and celery and sauté for 3-4 minutes.  Add garlic and cook for another minute before adding cabbage.  Brown this mixture for 5 minutes then add the tomatoes, cumin and turmeric.  Cook about 10 minutes until the tomatoes release their juices, then add veggie broth, lentils, carrots, potatoes, fresh herbs, salt and pepper.  Simmer for 45 minutes, then add two handfuls of chopped kale and cook for another 10-15 minutes.  Adjust seasonings and serve with your favorite crackers or bread.

It did turn out quite tasty.  Just follow the basic soup pot idea and use the veggies you have on hand.  I’m sure you’ll come up with something delicious!

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.