Archive for March 2009

I Totally Had Better Things To Do

But instead, I cooked, cooked, cooked. And got a haircut, but that's besides the point.

In my previous post, I gave a recipe for my Peanut Butter Crunch Dessert Sushi. I made some of that tonight and updated the post with pictures. A lot of people find the seaweedy taste with peanut butter and rice a bit strange, but I think it's a wonderful combination!
Hm. Maybe my taste is why people won't try my cooking creations.

Well, to hell with that! To the left is a picture of my latest granola, Banana Walnut Yums. It isn't as banana-y as you'd think. It's good to snack on, but I've found that with my granolas, the flavours really come out after you put them in milk (like cereal). It's pretty cool to have orange or banana flavoured milk!

So far, I have three granola recipes. The standard sugary cinnamon goodness, Citrus Craze, and now Banana Walnut Yums. Citrus is my favourite; cinnamon is a good stand-by; Banana Walnut needs a few tweaks. But, it was my first batch, and I had run out of butter... I'll get better as I go!

Speaking of running out of butter, this is why:

My first-ever quiche! Inspired by this flan recipe on a gardening compatriot's companion recipe blog that he and his wife just started, I decided to get creative in the kitchen. But I didn't have ramekins, and I forgot what ingredients to buy (the condensed milk and evaporated milk), so instead I used the remainder of my spinach, two types of goat cheese, and about half of the bunch of erba stella that I got at the farmer's market. (The Wikipedia entry isn't very full, but it's a tasty green!) I even made my own pie crust (it was half butter, not exactly "healthy"--I used 10 eggs and whole milk in the quiche, too!).

I am insanely proud of myself. Until I came to the realization that a blender is not a food processor, I didn't even think that I should have bought a premade pie shell. I was operating the entire time under the assumption that I'd just make it myself. And I did, food processor or no! But not even thinking about buying a premade shell... That's a huge step in the direction I want to go! I didn't get around to making the manju... In addition to eventually marketing the granola, if I make this manju properly, I'll start supplying it for Mr. Yogato in DC and the new location in Baltimore, maybe! I think I finally have it right... Just a few more attempts to make sure it can be replicated properly, and Mr. Yogato and I have a deal.

I say manju 'cause it's slightly different from mochi. Not much, but enough, I guess, to warrant a different name on the recipe sites! I only use those as guides, however. I'm a free spirit in the kitchen!

Watch out for hairs. I just got my hair cut, you see.


Dapper Desserts

So, I say I will include recipes. Here's one!

I haven't made my Banana Walnut Yums yet, but I plan to tonight. I have started making granola and providing Soupergirl with samples. She's my official taste tester! And since I want to market my granola at some point, I won't be giving out the recipes. But I have others, never fear!

Alright, folks... This may sound icky. It may sound weird. But trust me, it's yummy. Or rather, I like it. Try it if you dare!

Peanut Butter Crunch Dessert Sushi

  • Brown rice

  • Peanut butter (I use crunchy)

  • Nori rolls

  • Celery

  • Sesame seeds

  • Bamboo rolling mat

By the way, yes, that is the entirety of my apartment's counter space. That's why I use my nightstand as a second "counter."

Using a rice cooker, cook desired amount of brown rice as per your rice cooker's instructions. You can use a normal ol' pot if you wish, but I can't cook rice at all without automated aides.

When the rice is finished, set it aside while you slice long, thin sections of celery.

Place one sheet of nori on the rolling mat (which is only a few dollars at most grocery stores). Spoon on some peanut butter (however much you wish) along the edge nearest you. Place sliced celery in the peanut butter and spoon on some rice. Sprinkle sesame seeds now, if you wish, or roll, cut, and sprinkle later. The sesame seeds are just for fun, you don't have to use them, the sushi will be nutty enough without them!

The brown rice provides a slightly nutty flavour, as do (obviously) the peanut butter and the sesame seeds. The celery provides a much-needed crunch to the sushi, and the nori and peanut butter are a bit salty. Surprisingly good combinations!

Eat it there or chill and enjoy!

Variations: Use apple instead of celery. Use sweet rice wraps (I have heard about these but haven't tried them yet). Use something with sugar (dip in chocolate sauce?).

I might get pictures up if I get adventurous tonight and decide to make some sushi, along with the manju, quiche, and granola that I have on my list!



This is one of those forehead-smacking moments. Remember how I had unplugged the timer my grow lights are plugged into that controls the amount of light the plants get on a daily basis? And how I was all like "I think they might be getting too much light"? And how I decided to ease them into the grow lights by starting them up again, only a few hours a day, and add an hour every week? (That bit is in the comments.)

Well... I checked the timer today to reset the time the lights would go on. I thought 8 AM to 3 PM would be good--that's a tad longer than the sun naturally shines into my apartment.

And I noticed that the timer was set to turn the lights on from midnight to 7 PM. Yes, that's right, folks--19 hours of light! What the heck? I thought I had set it from 7 AM to 7 PM--12 hours, the in-between setting recommended by the grow-light-bulb box.

I can see my sleep-walking self going to try to turn the lights off early in the morning and accidentally pushing down the little buttons that set the timer... But an extra seven hours? The garden is in my bedroom/living room/computer room (I have a studio, not even a one-room apartment)! I should have noticed, right...? But I apparently always go to bed before midnight.


Well, it's set for just seven hours now. I'll pay closer attention to it to make sure it doesn't change itself back to 19 hours!

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I Couldn't Resist

I already posted a photo shoot today, but then I saw transmitted light photos of leaves on Plants are the Strangest People, and I wanted to try that with my soybeans. I will, definitely, but I decided to do a plant update first (die Pflanzenfortschreibung auf Deutsch).

Some of my little buddies have been having a rough go of it the past few weeks after being transplanted. I think there are a lot of factors involved in this. One being that I transplanted them not from plugs, but straight from the soil. I was too eager early on to put seeds in the dirt, and I didn't consider that they would be unhappy with me when it came time to put them in their more permanent home. So, I know I messed up some seedlings' root systems.

With a lot of plants, that's not an end, it's just a temporary setback. I expected there to be a bit of a lag while the plants settled in and regrew their roots. Some of the plants weren't happy to do that; a few turnips, radishes, and spinach decided to die, instead. I grieved, reseeded, and moved on with my life.

Weeks later, when I had expected the plants to be doing better and being productive, they were exactly the same as when I had stuck them in the ground (except for my star, the Envy soybeans). What was the problem? Too little light? Actually, I think it was too much light. When your seedlings are used to sitting in the window with 5 to 6 hours of sunlight a day and being warm, but not too warm, they understand "Okay, it's not optimal growing time yet, but I'm going to do what I can to get big so I can outcompete all the other plants when it gets warmer and there's more sunlight." Going from that stage to FULL SUN IN MY FACE EVERY DAY OH MY GODS messed them up a bit, I think. It's like going from early Spring to the dead middle of Summer. Things started flowering a few weeks ago, and I was assuaged because beans are precocious. But I noticed what seems to be a tiny inflorescence on one of my spinach plants. Clearly, the plants were getting confused about what they should be doing. The "weather" is telling them that they are at the peak of their season and should think about making babies, but for a lot of these plants, I don't want their babies! Or, at least, not their immature babies. Babies shouldn't make babies, I am a firm believer of this!

So, last week, I unplugged the grow lights. My hypothesis is this: Only a few plants will get true sunlight, just because of the angle. The other plants will use their photosensors to detect the light and start growing to find some of it for themselves (like growing plants in a dark closet--the light will peek from under the door or in the door jamb and they'll grow like crazy to get at it). I know this might stress them too--they aren't getting what they need--but I think I need to build up to the grow lights. I don't want them to be in shock anymore. Or, at least, not in as much shock.

It seems to be working. A lot of the plants that seemed to have been dormant have sent out an extra leaf or two, most of the plants are oriented to catch the sunlight (instead of laying around helter-skelter like they were before), and things just seem a little bit more, well, natural. Let's hope this thing works...!

Here is my flowering(?) spinach. It looks almost like a miniature cauliflower (which I didn't plant).

Some of the carrots that I seeded the other week are sending out leaves! Yay!

The turnips I reseeded at the same time as the carrots are also sending out leaves. I'll have to thin these at some point, but for the moment, they're fine and dandy!

Here's the zucchini I planted... What was I thinking? These guys are beasts! I won't have room... Especially if the potato eye next to it decides to grow too.

Here's a tomato. These weren't doing so well before, but this one is starting to grow new leaves! Hopefully it'll survive; the other ones decided to keel over.

Here are new leaves on my soybeans. After about five or six leaves on the main stem, the soybeans switched to focusing on nodal growth (horizontal, bushy, branching) instead of vertical growth via the apical meristem.

An update on the soybean pod! So far, each soybean seed will cost about $175. I have this pod, which contains two seeds, and another, which has one seed. Hopefully I will harvest more throughout the season. I will be pretty, well... Destitute if each soybean I eat costs $175!

Ah, and here's a little update on the Guerrilla Gardening/Seed Sharing project I have going. The tomatoes aren't growing (they're on the windowsill, not pictured here), but everything else is doing crazy. I even have two or three people who might help me out planting these midnight miracles!


March Showers Bring... March Flowers

That just doesn't sound right. Clearly whoever came up with "April showers bring May flowers" was a liar, a meanie, and didn't live in the mid-Atlantic region. We have been getting flowers for weeks. Besides the daffodils, we have crocuses, magnolia, random little bushes, tulips, cherry blossom (the National Cherry Blossom Festival starts today and I'm going out this afternoon/early evening as a volunteer to make people recylce), and many others that I don't pretend to know what they are.

So, here, today, I have for you a small selection of my favourite March flowers around Washington, DC! I'll bring more about the Cherry Blossoms at a later date.

I took this photo with my phone. I don't know what these are, but they are so striking, and right near my apartment! Since I took this picture the other day, I've seen these flowers in two other places around here.

Here's a close-up, also with my phone.

These little cuties were growing on Q Street, near New Hampshire. I had just run into my German teacher on her bike, so when the light changed and she took off, I saw these little blue beauties and had to get up close with them! 8 August Update: I was flipping through a random flower catalog, and I came across these: Scilla siberica. I am buying them.

They are only a few inches tall, and my camera was going bat-shit crazy trying to figure out the zoom when I got up close, so this is the best I could do.

This is a magnolia tree, right? For someone who loves plants so much, I'm not so good at identifying common ones that have grown around me my entire life. I mean, I know Echinocystis lobata, wild cucumber, but that's just 'cause I spent my first semester at university working with it. Anyway, these trees are very popular in DC. We have several outside of my office building. This particular one is in front of my DM's condo (I was confused last weekend, we are actually playing D&D; tomorrow, but it was a beautiful day, so I didn't mind making the trek!).


Office Plants

I have almost never been able to keep regular houseplants alive. The exception to this rule has been Epiprenmum and Philodendron plants. These excel under my care, mostly because they are just so very understanding about neglect. I have tortured and malnourished many a bonsai tree; I have overattended dozens of spider plants, African violets, and cacti; I have intentionally introduced carcinogens, pesticides, and herbicides to hundreds of plants for science fair projects; and I have expunged the life out of thousands of other deciduous and evergreen trees, tomato, wheat, soybean, and potato plants, all in the name of research.

But Epiprenmum and Philodendron, no, never them. They stick by me and treat me like a guy should be treated, even when I'm not treating them properly. They're true friends, they are!

So when I moved to DC in 2007, I borrowed a clipping of my coworker's Epiprenmum, which grows crazy in her office with only the fluorescent lighting. I stuck the clipping in a little styrofoam cup with water for a few weeks, waiting for the roots to grow. Then I brought in a little planter and stuck the clipping in the soil. Along the way, my boss added two clippings from her cascading Philodendron, which seems to fancy itself a weed.

Now, it's one year later, and the Epiprenmum has finally started growing a second leaf! For that year (maybe even longer!), I had two Philodendron clippings growing leaves while the Epiprenmum just sat there, green, happy, and single. I didn't admonish him, much, because my coworkers would get upset if I was mean to little Brendan (that's his name). I would quietly compare his lack of growth to the five or six leaves that grew past where I clipped him off of my coworker's plant. But my coworkers said that he was happy how he was, he didn't need to grow any extra leaves. And, for the most part, that was true--he stayed green, perky, and quite alive for many months.

But every parent wants to see their child live up to his or her potential... It's hard, for me, to separate that from the more important happiness factor. As long as your kid's happy, that's what's most important in life. So what if they aren't procreating?

But now, I don't have to worry about this troubling conundrum! Because Brendan is growing his first-ever new leaf!

On a sadder note, I put down the cucurbits last night and reseeded. The plants just didn't look good at all, and they only started looking like that after the transplant. Maybe I messed up their roots? Maybe ones that germinate and grow in the box (next to the fertilizer plugs) will have a better go of it. I really want to make pumpkin pie!


Vermiculture? Who'da Thunk...

I've been tossing it around in my head for a while. I still haven't decided, but...

Really, why not? It's easy. Uber-easy. Simple, even! You don't need anything expensive, and I already have all the supplies I might require, except for worms.

I was going to go to a "Composting In The City" meeting/seminar/whatever tomorrow night, but I decided that studying for my German final on Thursday takes precedence.

So instead, I was browsing YouTube and found a video on worm composting by this lady whom I've seen freezing basil on Rosegeranium's blog, the Indoor Gardener.

Okay, yes, I stole the name, but I couldn't decide between "The Indoor Garden" or "The Indoor Gardener." Since both were taken, I compromised with "The Indoor Garden(er)."

So... I think I will check it out. Worst thing that could happen? The neighbour's roaches will find a home and fruit flies will be a permanent houseguest. I'm still considering it... But if anyone else tries this and/or has already tried it, let me know!

Also, if you know how to embed YouTube videos prettily in your Blogger blog, let me know... It'd save me a Google search! Okay, so I figured it out. It's super-easy (easier than vermiculture!).

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Fruity Friday & Happy Spring!

Finally! Another photo shoot! Please enjoy the first day of Spring!

I could not resist photographing this flower. It was growing from a crack between a concrete step and a rock wall. It seemed so alone and beautiful, with purple tinges along the creases in the petals. Happy Spring, Everyone!

Spring might be here, but when I lowered my grow lights to six inches over the plants, some of the carrots decided to die. I moved them back to their original position to avoid killing any more seedlings. Hopefully everything will be fine. I can't figure out a way to better position the lights without spending more money, which, at the moment, I can't do.

The mystery squash isn't doing so well... In fact, all my cucurbits are doing pretty poorly. I will look up nutrient defficiencies for these guys. They are all developing leaves like crazy, but they are chlorotic, underdeveloped, and don't last very long. These plants need something extra that the others might not need as much of... What is it?

This is the Summer Crookneck. Not doing so hot, but look at all the tiny yellow leaves. Not a good sign!

One of the Cheyenne Bush pumpkins. Sigh... I really had wanted to make a home-grown pumpkin pie!

Cheyenne Bush number two--or it may be a different squash! Who knows?

Back to better news... The Guerrilla Gardening project is going well! The edamame and sunflowers are shooting up like crazy! (See in the back.) The squash, potatoes, chickpeas, basil, etc seem to be doing well also--remember, these are for the coworkers who wish to garden too.

My radicchio is doing pretty swell too! There are some bright spots in my garden, even if not everything is doing well!

The Greek Mini Yevani basil is another bright spot in the garden. It is compact, but robust!

And here are the flowering kidney beans. They haven't opened yet, but you can tell that there are inflorescences. Hopefully they'll flower soon so I can take more pictures!

Speaking of flowering... Didn't I read that soybeans have pink flowers? Are they microscopic? Because I look at these plants every frakkin' day and I have never seen any flowers on this edamame plant! And yet, when I got home last night, behold! Baby bean pods!

There were two on the same plant. The other two soybeans didn't have any, but then, I haven't seen any flowers... I'm confused, but happy. I will have fruit in a few weeks! YES!

Yes, technically, little edamame bean pods are fruit! Botanically, there is no such thing as a vegetable; everything we eat is a fruit, a root, a tuber, a leaf, an enlarged receptacle, a seed, or, sometimes, a stem. For example, the "vegetable" tomato is actually a fruit (a berry, to be exact). A strawberry isn't actually a berry--it is an enlarged receptacle. The receptacle is where all the parts of the flower are attached to the stem, basically. But the strawberry "flower" is actually tons of little flowers all mashed together. There are dozens of strawberry fruit on each strawberry we eat--what we think of as the seeds are actually entire fruits with seeds inside! Beans are seeds, bean pods (like green beans) are fruit, carrots are roots, onions are bulbs (fleshy leaves, mostly).

Studying a bit of botany makes growing a vegetable that much more exciting. I need to start looking over my textbooks again. My fruity plants are making me want to learn more! I wonder where I'll find the time...


Seedlings Abound

Some of the herbs that I planted last week (unlabeled) and the carrots are popping up in my vegetable garden. The sunflowers, soybeans, chickpeas, spinach, and other Plants To Share are also popping up--just waiting on a few things like the tomatoes and the potatoes, of course. I will be quite happy if they actually grow! They were just eyes, they hadn't grown any leaves yet, so it might take a while.

I have fungus gnats again. I have for a few days, so on Saturday I inundated my garden with Neem again. Those little buggers should be taken care of shortly. Some of them might actually be fruit flies this time, too. I had an apple on top of my fridge that I forgot about, and it had a little rotten spot when I found it. When I picked it up, a tiny fly or two winged away to elsewhere in the apartment. Fungus gnat? Fruit fly? I don't care, they're all going to die!

I tried making mochi the other day... It's glutinous sweet rice in the shape of a cake or a ball, sometimes coloured, sometimes filled with yumminess (like sweet red bean paste). I first tried with the actual rice. That was a disaster. I have a bowl full of delicious booger-looking rice gunk in my refrigerator right now. But I used the foil with the extremely sticky mochi residue near the garden to catch flies. I got about five that way! Then I made mochi with the sweet rice flour, and that turned out much better, but next time I will use powdered sugar as a coating instead of extra rice flour, and maybe I will add a dash of vanilla. (When you get sticky rice at a restaurant, that's a big fat lie--you don't know true sticky rice until you've made mochi!)

Most of the plants seem to be in a holding pattern. The radishes, kale, peppers, spinach, tomatoes, and eggplants are just sitting pretty. They don't look like they're dying, but they don't seem to be growing, either. They are just, well, waiting. Waiting for what? I wish I knew... The soybeans, basil, radicchio, and beans seem pretty happy. The squash look unfortunate. I might not have to worry about where I'll train them--they might not make it. The lavender is oh-so-slowly growing.

I have the grow lights set to 12 or so hours, the middle of the recommended time (between 10 and 14 hours). The angle of light means that the farthest plant is the kidney bean (which happens to be flowering) at almost two feet away from the light source. When the plants are seedlings, such light sources should be closer and moved farther away as the plant gets bigger. Maybe the light isn't close enough to the seedlings? Maybe they need fertilizer? Maybe they need more heat (it's been chilly lately)? Maybe they need a lot of things, but they seem to be doing mostly well, so I'm not going to bug them right now.

It does disconcert me that I planted the radishes about six weeks ago and they're still in the seedling stage. I should have been able to harvest them by now--on the assumption that they wouldn't be transplanted, I think. Hm hm hm... Plants, what are you telling me?

I'm going to get a moisture meter and maybe other high-tech gadgets this weekend, I think, to appease myself. I want to get a feel for as many variables as possible, so I can rule certain ones out and focus on what the problem could be.


Seeds Say What?

So, I decided to finally look at all the information on the seed packets. This is just a convenient list for me to easily search through and find information (I might not have the packets by harvest time, I intend on spreading the joy of gardening around my office, and you know how things disappear...).

All the varieties are labeled as Heirloom (so they often have fun names!), and a lot of them are certified organic seed. I've separated them by company purchased from and then by herbs and vegetables. Beyond that, there's no real method to the madness. I tried to get information on how long the plant takes to germinate and to mature; a few bits on its flavour, uses, or whatever; and how to save the seeds for future planting, but not all the information was immediately available. I have yet to get the information for the random beans, squash, potato, or zucchini that I planted.

Oh, did I forget to mention that I have a 10-year-old seed packet of zucchini seeds that I shoved in the ground next to the potatoes? Yeah. Crazy, here.

Botanical Interests

Florence (Finocchio) Fennel
Days to Emerge: 14
Days to Harvest: 90 (bulb)
Licorice-flavoured bulbs for soups, pastas, or roasting. Foliage as garnish with fish or chicken or used in sauces.
Store seeds in paper bag in warm, dark place. Once dry, place in glass jar for storage.

Common Oregano
Days to Emerge: 5-10
Mild-flavoured for use in sauces, pastas, and pesto. Goes well with other herbs in Greek or Italian dishes.

Common English Thyme
Days to Emerge: 10-15
Container variety. Repels cabbage worms and whiteflies. Versatile herb, many uses.

Garden Broadleaf Sage
Days to Emerge: 5-15
Container variety. Strong, unique flavour and aroma. Edible flowers. “Digestive aid” in high-fat dishes, such as those with pork, veal, duck, or cheese.

Common Chives
Days to Emerge: 10-15
Container variety. Good indoors. Onion-flavoured foliage. Edible flowers. Seed production reduces flavour; cut off flowers before they go to seed to maintain flavour.

Greek Mini Yevani Basil
Days to Emerge: 5-10
Container variety. Strong, spicy flavour. Slow bolting. Harvest before flowering.

Italian Dark Green Flat Parsley
Days to Emerge: 14-40 (soak seeds before sowing)
Most flavourful of all parsleys. High nutritional value, digestive aid, breath freshener, refreshing bathwater addition.

Slow Bolting Cilantro/Coriander
Days to Emerge: 10-15
Many uses; leaves for Mexican, Caribbean, or Asian dishes, seeds for stews, beans, and cookies. Harvest seeds for culinary use after they turn brown and start to crack but before they drop and scatter.

Palla Rossa Ashalim Radicchio
Days to Emerge: 10-15
Days to Harvest: 65
Tangy flavour. Cooking reduces flavour, but good in soups, in stir fry, or steamed with mixed vegetables. Slow bolting.

Correnta Spinach
Days to Emerge: 5-10
Days to Harvest: 45
Container variety. Bolt resistant. Steam or use fresh. Harvest leaves before plant bolts.

Bush Ace Tomato
Days to Emerge: 5-10
Days to Harvest: 80
Robust flavour, good yield, good for canning. 5”-6” diameter tomoatoes. Low-acid tomato.

French Breakfast Radish
Days to Emerge: 5-10
Days to Harvest: 28
Delicate flavour.

Purple Top White Globe Turnip
Days to Emerge: 5-10
Days to Harvest: 50
Sweet, mild flavour. Shredded or sliced for salads, cooked like mashed potatoes, vegetable soup. Greens can be used as well.

Carnival Blend Carrot
Days to Emerge: 10-25
Days to Harvest: 65-75
Variable colours.

Seed Savers Exchange

Black Cumin
Days to Emerge: 8-15
Aromatic seeds ground and used like pepper. Self-seeds.
Once seedpod turns brown, cut off and allow to dry completely before cracking open and removing hundreds of small seeds. Store seeds in cool, dry area.

Hidcote Lavender
Days to Emerge: 15-45
Fragrant. Germination better if plants are sown in soil that is then placed in refrigerator for 4-6 weeks.
When blooms turn brown and dry, crush flowers and winnow away chaff from the seeds.

Russian Tarragon
Days to Emerge: 7-10
Sweet, anise-flavoured leaves. Fish and poultry dishes.
When blooms turn brown and dry, crush flowers and winnow away chaff from the seeds.

Mrs. Burn's Lemon Basil
Days to Emerge: 5-30
Intense citrus aroma. Good in seafood dishes or vinegars.
Cross-pollinates with other varieties of basil, should be kept separate while flowering. Seed capsules contain four seeds. Allow capsules to dry, then harvest and separate by hand.

Monnopa Spinach
Days to Emerge: ?
Days to Harvest: 45-60
Sweetest of all spinach (low oxalic acid).
Cross-pollinates by wind-blown pollen with other varieties of spinach. Harvest seeds when they are dry on the plant (may need to wear gloves, seeds may be prickly).

Red Russian Kale
Days to Emerge: ?
Days to Harvest: 50-60
Vigorous plants. Tender, mild, sweet flavour. Small leaves for salads, larger leaves boiled.
Biennial. Cross-pollinates with all other Brassica oleracea. Harvest seedpods when dry and clean by hand.

Envy Soybean
Days to Emerge: ?
Days to Harvest: 75-85
Short-season variety.
Self-pollinating. Save seeds from plants that ripen first and are free of disease. Harvest when seedpods are dry, crush in sack, and winnow seeds from the chaff.

King of the North Pepper
Days to Emerge: up to 14
Days to Harvest: 70
Sweet flavour. 14-20 large red fruits per plant.
Cross-pollinates with other peppers. Select peppers that are ripe, fully coloured, and show no signs of disease to save for seed. Remove seeds from core and place on paper plate to dry.

Listada de Gandia Eggplant
Days to Emerge: ?
Days to Harvest: 80-90
Heavy yields.
Cross-pollinates with other eggplants. Let fruits grow far past maturity (seeds are easier to remove from overripe fruits). Seeds are brown and located in bottom of fruit.

Aurora Pepper
Days to Emerge: up to 14
Days to Harvest: 60-75
Container variety. Medium heat.
Cross-pollinates with other peppers. Select peppers that are ripe, fully coloured, and show no signs of disease to save for seed. Remove seeds from core and place on paper plate to dry.

Summer Crookneck Squash
Days to Emerge: ?
Days to Harvest: 60
Best eaten when 5”-6” long, before bumps appear.
Cross-pollinates with other squash of the same species. Seeds should be taken from fruits that have gone past maturity by 3 weeks. Remove seeds, wash, and let dry.

Cheyenne Bush Squash
Days to Emerge: ?
Days to Harvest: 80-90
Early bush pumpkin, useful for small gardens or large pots. High yields of 5-8 pound pumpkins.
Cross-pollinates with other squash of the same species. Seeds should be taken from fruits that have gone past maturity by 3 weeks. Remove seeds, wash, and let dry.

Ailsa Craig Onion
Days to Emerge: ?
Days to Harvest: 100
Averages 2 pounds, keeps well.
Biennial. Cross-pollinates. Select only the best bulbs for seed. Store at 32-45 degrees Fahrenheit for 3-6 months. Plant bulbs and allow them to form seed heads. When heads start to dry, cut off, dry further, and thresh.


Spring Has Sprung... And Then Said "Peace Out!"

Over the weekend, the weather was, in one word, ineffingcredible. It was 22 degrees (72-ish Fahrenheit) all weekend, the windows were open, people were outside, flowers were blooming, allergies were flaring up... Now it's 8 degrees (46 Fahrenheit) again. Tomorrow will be 4 degrees (39 Fahrenheit) and snowing.

Anyway, Tuesday night, I was walking around before going to Mr. Yogato for my 30 Day celebration, and I saw daffodils just sittin' there, enjoying the chill winds. They were beautiful. And it's only early March! I don't really pay attention to when things are supposed to pop out of the dirt, but after living so long in Canada, I just expect the ground to be frozen and covered in wet, white flakes until at least April. Not so, here. Or, at least, not this year (the weather year to year, even day to day, in DC is incredibly mercurial).

With the end of winter in sight, I sowed the seeds I mentioned in my previous post, and before that I put some herbs, carrots, and turnips in the ground, too. While I was sowing the seeds, I got adventurous and stuck a potato eye in the dirt near the chickpea and black bean. I will never have room for such growth from all the plants in here...!

Speaking of beans, the kidney beans are already developing inflorescences. It's ridiculous. They have about three true leaves each, with a few more coming out, but they are already trying to flower.

I wonder what hormones I've been feeding them, coming into adulthood so early!

Spring might be teasing outside, but indoors, it's been around for weeks; summer is on the horizon!


Sharing Seeds

In my view, part of gardening is building community. People see you tending your plants, caring for the Earth, and feeding you and your family healthily. An indoor garden is quite the same--each visiting friend or neighbour peering through the window can see the dedication and effort you put in to creating a meal, for guests or for yourself. Gardening shows that you care about yourself and those around you.

Really, it does, try it out sometime!

Along that vein, last night I planted 100 peat pots with different seeds. 40 of the little buggers are sunflowers (10 of each variety). These are for my Guerrilla Gardening project. It's a New Year's resolution (Plant flowers around your city *stealthily*) that I'll be doing in a month, once the sunflowers are recognizable so people won't kill them, and once the last frost hits.

Most of these sunflowers also have soybeans planted with them. I checked companion planting guides and they say that cucumbers or corn go well with sunflowers, but to avoid beans. Other sources say sunflowers assist the growth of beans. But soybean is often touted on some of these sites (Google "soybean companion planting") as being a miracle companion for everything. And I think it'd be wonderful to have cute little pink-flowering soybean plants near the sunflowers! Two edible plants randomly planted around the city. It'd be wonderful!

And it will build a sense of community. For me, at least. I will feel a part of the areas that I'm stealth-gardening. Others will notice that someone cares about the city, too, and maybe they'll decide to throw their trash in the trash can instead of on the ground.


The other 60 peat pots are filled with seeds that I plan on giving away to coworkers. 20 pots are filled with Ace Bush tomatoes, 10 have Mrs. Burn's Lemon Basil, 5 have Monnopa spinach, 5 have King of the North pepper, 5 have Envy soybean, 3 have parsley, and 2 have cilantro; for the more adventurous gardeners, there are 2 Cheyenne Bush pumpkins, 2 Summer Crookneck squash, 2 chickpeas, 2 Aurora peppers, and 2 potato eyes from a tiny potato I had in my refrigerator. I'll bring them in to work in April and let my coworkers fight over what they want.

So, plants are my way of feeling part of a community. It's a way to show that I care about the people around me. There are other ways, but plants are special; ones that you have tended and grown yourself are even more so.

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Edible Addictions

I am getting my Soupergirl soups tomorrow. You might remember my initial reaction to her soups... One of utter amazement, delight, and salivatory ecstacy. That was only duplicated twofold last week, when I got the Chunky Winter Soup Extravaganza and the Heavenly Cinnamon Spice Pear & Parsnip soups. I managed to save the Extravaganza for lunch on Wednesday, but the Pear & Parsnip soup barely made it to the pot to heat up after I picked it up at Mr. Yogato. Tomorrow night, not only do I pick up two quarts of new Soupergirl soup at Mr. Yogato, I am also celebrating my 30 consecutive days of going to Mr. Yogato with a little party. I get a flavour named after me--we decided on Peachy Ken.

Anyway! Wait, what was I talking about? Actually, I don't know at all. No, I remember now. I was at the Dupont Circle Farmers' Market on Sunday, of course, and I picked up a few veggies, fruits, and cheese before my D&D game. I bought this kale from the market because it's Red Russian, the variety that I'm growing. I wanted to try it, so I made a salad earlier with some lettuces, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, raisins, goat cheese, and a vinagrette that I made. I don't know what the kale tastes like by itself, but gods, was that salad ever amazing!

I am thinking that I should buy a goat. She can hide in my closet and eat my organic refuse--potato, carrot, turnip, and other peelings; the ends and skins of onions; the bits of soup or stew stuck to the sides of the crock pot when I'm done cooking. Then I can milk her and make my own goat cheese. If I teach her how to use the toilet, there won't even be a sanitation issue!

Alright, I'm not that crazy. But the kale, two types of spinach, radish, turnip, turnip greens, and maybe some of the beans if they're ready at the same time will all be going into amazing salads, supplemented only by vinagrette and cheese. It makes me feel awesome to know that I am currently growing future meals!

Along that vein, I put in the ground the Carnival Blend Carrot; Florence, Finocchio Fennel; Garden Broadleaf Sage; Common English Thyme; Italian Dark Green Flat Parsley; Common Oregano; and Slow Bolting Cilantro/Coriander, as well as replanted a few turnips to replace those that did not make the transplant. I didn't label the herbs or the carrots--it'll be a surprise when I accidentally use sage instead of cilantro for my salsa! I am assuming I'll be able to recognize the herbs on the basis of their leaf shapes. Shouldn't be too hard, should it?

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Calculating Costs

Here is a log of all the money I have spent on this project in the past month and a half (in what one would think is a logical chronology of purchasing, but it's not how it all worked out).

Initial costs were only $53.75, for the purchase and shipment of 17 different packets of heirloom seeds from Seed Savers Exchange (Ailsa Craig Onion, Listada de Gandia Eggplant, Summer Crookneck Squash, Aurora Pepper, King of the North Pepper, Red Russian Kale, Monnopa Spinach, Black Cumin, Hidcote Lavender, Russian Tarragon, Mrs. Burn's Lemon Basil, Cheyenne Bush Pumpkin, Envy Soybean, Titan Sunflower, Evening Sun Sunflower, Rostov Sunflower, and Taiyo Sunflower--these last four are for a different project, but I guess it's still gardening, so I'm counting it!).

Impatient as I am, I couldn't wait to get started and bought another seven seed packets at the Garden District. I spent $14.10 on Ace Bush Tomato, Correnta Spinach, Common Chives, Palla Rossa Ashalim Radicchio, Greek Mini Yevani Basil, French Breakfast Radish, and Purple Top White Globe Turnip.

More recently, I spent $41.21 at the Garden District to purchase a spray bottle, Neem to get rid of the fungus gnats, and seven more seed packets: Carnival Blend Carrot; Florence,Finocchio Fennel; Garden Broadleaf Sage; Common English Thyme; Italian Dark Green Flat Parsley; Common Oregano; and Slow Bolting Cilantro/Coriander.

I spent $10.53 at Home Despot ($10.53 too much!) on organic fertilizer and the offensive potting soil to start my little babies. That dire soil has since been chucked over a fence.

Over three trips, I spent $261.44, $57.06, and $59.78 at Logan Hardware, next to the Whole Foods on P Street. I got 19 untreated and cut 2x4s, 2 treated and cut 4x4s, 7 bags of 40 pounds of soil, 2 bags of 50 pounds of gravel, 3 boxes of 3-inch nails, a power drill, 2 boxes of 3-inch galvanized screws, 1 queen-size polyethylene plastic mattress cover, 2 grow light fixtures, 2 grow light bulbs, 1 outlet timer, 1 extension cord, and 1 power strip (not for the garden, but it's part of the $59.78 and I'm not going to calculate more than I have to). In addition, I tipped the delivery guys $20--they were good sports about my apartment being the furthest from the loading dock (I'm on 12th floor in the back, the loading dock is on the other side, on the 4th floor).

Ah! I can't forget the $3.50 or so for the drill bits to drill holes. I bought them at a hardware store on Mount Pleasant Street, a few blocks from my apartment. I don't have the receipt for that, but a few cents won't matter, eh?

Kaching, ching ka ka... And my total is... $521.57.


Can we sit back and look at that number just a little bit? If you add in the books I've purchased (about another $100) to teach me how to make cheese, cook, or whatever, and the $410 for my Community Supported Agriculture, well, why, that's $1,000+ that I've spent in the past two months.

Where do I get that money?

All I know is that spending $521.57 to have 18 different vegetables (one has two varieties, but it's the same veggie!, and I have five bean plants germinated from dried food beans) and 8 herbs that I can grow myself is pretty awesome. A lot of it is up-front costs--next year, all I should have to buy are the seeds for whatever plants I didn't save seeds for. If I get just three veggies from each plant this year, I'm thinking it'd be only twice as expensive as getting those same veggies from the farmers' market. That is, of course, pending growth. And that's only per season--growing indoors, I can have more than two seasons, even, in a year! A lot of these plants can be grown continuously. Radish? Takes only a few weeks to mature, I can have five or six harvests in a single year! Large-ticket items like the squash and pumpkin might only be able to be harvested once a year, but they are more just an experiment and for novelty's sake; the radish, spinach, edamame, radicchio, kale, peppers, and all the herbs are what I'm going to be masticating all over on a regular basis.

Over the long term? Definitely a fiscal bonus to grow your own food. I could have done it SO much cheaper, but I wanted to recreate my childhood garden box that I planted in every year on the deck in Arbory. I keep thinking about that box and how I loved, every year, to go out in the spring and till all the dead plants back into the soil; I kept trying to add worms and other beneficial insects to improve the soil and the plants; I bought venus fly traps to keep bad insects away (but they never seemed to want to eat!); I eagerly harvested everything early and was so disappointed in the size of the broccoli heads, so I started growing radishes and green beans because they mature quickly.

The soil in that box could grow anything, it was amazing, because I took care of it--everything I grew in that soil became, in turn, nourishment for future plant generations. If I get vegetables this year, I will be very happy. If the soil develops beneficial flora to help future crops grow excellently, I will be thrilled. Plants come and go and help enrich the soil by returning nutrients to it, but it is the soil that ultimately gives life. Without the soil, we would be nothing--without the right microflora, the soil would be nothing.

I'm almost convinced that one cannot be an obsessive gardener without having a fondness for soil as well. I enjoy watching plants grow and eating them, too, but underneath it all, I know that my tending the plants is only part of their success. I have the utmost respect for soil and its work!

Hm, well, that was off topic!

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Grow Lights: Check

I broke down and added grow lights. They aren't really all that expensive, either! But my ceiling is crazy. I was going to screw in some screw hooks, but it didn't work out... So instead I staple-gunned some 4x4s to the sides and screw hooked the tops so the little fixtures can hang from there. It'll give me freedom to angle them differently as the plants grow (if the plants grow). I have hopes!

They haven't been happy lately, if you've noticed... Fungi, overwatering, fungus gnats, transplanting... I don't want to add "not enough light" to that list!

Unfortunately, I think my turnips (oh no, not my turnips!) are not going to make it. The turnips, onions, radishes, and other such seedlings with deep, unbranching stem systems didn't appreciate being picked out of the soil and stuck in different soil. I think I nipped off a lot of root meristems... Luckily, I have many packets full of seeds, although I'd hate to start over after a month and a half... I'll do what I have to for a wonderful salad, soup, stew, or garnish!

This photo is a very edited glamour shot of my soybean. They get pretty hairy, and it's fun playing around with the image enhancing tools in Paint Shop Pro 7! (Adobe Photoshop confuses me... I might take a course about it at work, if I have time.)


Lessons Learned

It only took seven or so hours!

Here's a list of lessons I learned in the five or so weeks that I've been playing with these plants.

1. There are little plastic plug containers for a reason. Use them! (I destroyed so many seedlings trying to move them from my Amazon boxes to the planter box, because their roots were just, like, in the ground.)

2. Measure twice cut once is the saying, but for me? Measure at least twenty times, and have someone else cut. (I only measured five times, but only the last two were for the design I ended up deciding on. I had someone else cut for me, but it seems simple arithmetic is beyond me.)

3. Don't construct a big wooden planter box inside your studio apartment when there are people living next to you, below you, and sometimes inside you. They will get annoyed and bang on the wall/ceiling/come complain to your face.

4. Figure out a proper way to attach wood prior to attempting to attach said wood together. This lesson will help avoid bent nails/screws sticking out of the wood/broken or stripped drill bits.

5. Buy the correct size of drill bit for the screws you're using to avoid having to wiggle the bit around to make a properly sized hole. Luckily, the 1/8-inch drill bits come in packs of two, because the manufacturer realizes that senseless people will break at least one before learning the lesson. (Clueless people will break two, as I did. The second one is currently shoved in between the bottom 2x4 and the left-most support 2x4.)

6. Buy enough soil.

With those lessons having been learned, I think I did not so bad a job at constructing my first garden! We'll see how well the plants do in it...

See? Look! At 234 pounds, I can stand in my planter box without it breaking--after I fixed the first break. One of the 2x4s at the bottom hadn't been properly attached to the 4x4, so the support slats at the bottom were attached, but what they were attached to just ripped out of its moring as I hopped out of the planter. But I'm glad I checked it first, which spurred me to screw things in more properly and then add a few extra screws along the bottom on the sides.

By the way, I know I have 280 pounds of soil and 100 pounds of gravel, but I wondered how much the wood itself weighs. I did some checking online... And I calculated 450 pounds for my 2x4s and my 4x4s. That seems high, but then, I tried moving the beast after putting it together (even without any soil), and dang, it was difficult. After adding almost 400 more pounds to it, I was barely able to shove it into the position it's in now. I can believe that it weighs 830 pounds (not including plants, nails/screws/drill bits, plastic, or water).

But having completed this project... I have a small sense of satisfaction... It's almost smugness, but also the way you look at a child who is just learning how to walk. Proud, nostalgiac, and a bit forlorn for the innocence and wonder of constant discovery. Now that I am done, the next milestone is months away. It's just a waiting and watching game until then! (How true will that statement be...? I anticipate insect issues.)

Here's a video for your entertainment:



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