Let's Get Dirty
A gardening blog for adults who still love to play in the dirt.
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By Penny Stine
Monday, June 30, 2014
It’s the last day of June, and I wanted to include an update of the cost vs value project I’ve been doing this year for my garden. Since mid-to-late January, I’ve been paying attention to how much I spend on my garden (seeds, irrigation water and materials, fertilizer, plants, etc) vs how much value I get out in terms of food.
Because I started this in January (when I wasn’t harvesting much of anything out in the garden) I decided to place a value on stuff as I used it. So I counted all the produce I grew in last year’s garden and either froze, canned or dried and use throughout the year. Obviously, I won’t count stuff from this year’s garden that I preserve in some way but won’t actually get around to using until 2015.
I did this out of curiosity, since I often hear that it’s cheaper to just go out and buy produce or that gardening is an expensive hobby. I wondered where those ideas came from, since back when I was a kid, and especially when my mom was a kid, it was “country folk,” or basically the poorer people who had to grow their own food rather than buy it at the grocery store.
So I made this handy spreadsheet and used my smarty-pants phone to help record what garden goods we consumed every day.
From January through the end of April, I spent $225.97 on my garden, which included a December charge for half of the irrigation water we use for the season. I used $109.94 worth of produce, which didn’t include anything that I used for the first three weeks in January, since I didn’t start this experiment until Jan. 22. Based on the average value of garden produce I used per week during the winter and early spring ($7.85 per week), the value of the produce should probably be about $133.49.
There’s a difference of $100, give or take (depending on whether I use the $109.94 recorded value or the $133.49 estimated value), meaning that my garden cost me about $100 more than it gave me from January through April.
Not surprising, since that’s when I start buying stuff for the upcoming gardening season, and I'm not picking much from the garden yet, although according to my spreadsheet, I started using onions from my garden in March.
As an aside, just because we need a photo here... I grow these crazy walking onions. They sprout their own bulbs, so once you get them started, you never run out, nor do you ever need to buy starts again. They'll grow anywhere, even this horrible west-side bed, which is shady all morning and hotter than a firecracker all afternoon, but sort of shady most of the time. I haven't purchased onions since March. They're not a good keeper, however, and will turn mushy in the ground, so I'll pick a bunch before September, which will probably last until Thanksgiving. Then I'll have to start buying onions again until next March, when I can start picking my walking onions. They're a small onion, so instead of using one, you might need three, but I've got lots of onions.
I had a separate spreadsheet for May and June (because I used a lot more garden stuff in May and June). I’m also still in buying mode, as evidenced by the $140.43 I spent on my garden. The value of the produce I used in two months, however, jumped to $125.40, since by May and June I’m usually consuming a fair amount of stuff right out of the garden. So the deficit is $15.03, meaning that I spent $15.03 more than the calculated value of my garden returns.
So far, the garden has cost me about $115 - $125 more than what I’ve gotten out of it, but I expect those numbers to start skewing in the opposite direction, since I won’t be buying much more from here on out, but I will continue to consume produce from my yard.
By Penny Stine
Friday, June 27, 2014
I can't grow lettuce that's not bitter. My pak choi toi choi went to seed, as did my spinach, thanks to the heat.
In my quest to find greens that like it here, I'm growing more beets and Swiss chard, and they seem to be doing just fine.
My latest cooking experiment with the greens started with the usual onions and garlic sauteed in olive oil, then I added the chopped chard and beet greens once the onions were carmelized.
I had some dried tart cherries, so I grabbed a handful and chopped them coarsely, then put them in the pan with the half-cooked greens. I also added about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of chicken broth and cooked it until all the broth evaporated.
I thought the result looked good, too, with the red stems and cherries, along with the bright green leaves. I had just sprinkled fresh ground pepper over the greens before I took the photo, which is why it looks somewhat spotted.
It was also absolutely delicious. I read advice that said you were supposed to add the stems to the pan first, because they take longer to cook, but since I love them when they're crunchy, I prefer to add the greens and stems to the pan at the same time.
By Penny Stine
Thursday, June 26, 2014
Usually, when plants go to seed, they don't look good. Interesting, yes. Good or tasty, no. This tall thing with a little yellow flower that looks surprisingly like a dandelion is actually lettuce.
I tend to let things go to seed in my garden, however, because I've discovered it's a cool way to get stuff to come back every year. Or at least that sounds good. The reality is that my garden is big and trying to stay on top of it is the impossible dream. So I let stuff go to seed.
It's always a fortunate coincidence when young seedlings come up the following year and actually turn out to be something you'd want to eat.
Although I'm not the word blogger here at the Sentinel, the term, "go to seed," can also mean to get a rundown appearance, as if you no longer care.
Personally, I think these plants look pretty cool once they go to seed. Perhaps it's because the plant is actually a biennial plant (i.e., one that takes two growing season to complete it's life cycle), even though we grow it as an annual.
This allium-looking plant is a carrot. A couple of years ago, a few carrots went to seed in a cramped corner of my garden, and I got the most carrots (produced with the least amount of effort EVER) the following year. So I deliberately left a few carrots in the ground last fall, intending that I'd let them go to seed this year and give me boatloads of carrots next year.
There's nothing wrong with long-range garden plans.
I've got kale going to seed, too, getting about 3 or 4 feet tall and producing these seed pods on long stems. I'm picking the pods and letting them dry simply because I'm curious to see if they'll produce good kale plants next year. I've never had kale go to seed like this before.
Btw, gardening experts say that you shouldn't let carrots go to seed, because most carrots are hybrid and the carrots that come up the following year may not breed true to form, so you don't know what type you'll actually get.
That's OK with me, since I can't seem to get any carrots when I actually purchase seeds and plant them.
By Penny Stine
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
I’m extremely annoyed at whatever has been nipping all of my squash plants as soon as they come up. Not only did it get all six plants that had germinated in my straw bales, it’s taken out all but four of the squash I planted in the ground. I had three different types of squash, but, of course, I didn’t bother marking which was which, since my three squash were pattypan, spaghetti and butternut. I can tell those apart by looking at the squash itself.
So now I have four little squash plants scattered around in the garden, but no idea what they actually are.
I also ordered new squash seeds from Park Seed, which I got in the mail last Saturday and promptly planted. One is called poquito; it’s a small green summer squash that looks like a baby watermelon. The other is enterprise hybrid; it’s a yellow squash that’s supposed to be ready in 41 days.
When I planted again on the straw bales, I decided to put a paper towel across the soil until the seedlings emerge and get big enough not to be bird food. It won’t keep water or daylight out, but if the birds don’t see the seedlings, perhaps they’ll leave them alone.
On the off chance that it’s squash bugs and not birds that are decimating my plants, I researched a few homemade remedies. I saw one online that combined water, a little soap, some garlic juice (aka strained, strongly garlic flavored water), vegetable oil and baking soda. I can’t find the blog post now (of course) or I’d include the link.
I’ve already been spraying my broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts with soapy water to keep the aphids away (and it’s been working beautifully). Since there’s nothing in my new concoction that would harm them, I decided to spray it on those, too. I also gave the beets a couple of spritzes, hoping it would deter the bug that’s sucking all the green out of the beet leaves.
Since I’m not sure what ate the squash in the straw bales, I’ve been spraying around the paper towel (on the straw) with my soapy, garlicky water.
With sprays like that, you have to spray often, (or at least after every time you water) but that’s OK. There’s nothing particularly toxic in the ingredients and it keeps you out in the garden, on the lookout for suspicious bugs. Of course, it might make everything slightly garlic flavored…
By Penny Stine
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
My garden is part grocery store, part science experiment. I love to try new things, whether it’s a type of plant that I’ve never heard of or a a new way of growing.
Because we live in such an odd climate, with fairly cold winters (at least for a month or so in January), but long, hot summers, a lot of the recommended gardening advice (even for Colorado gardens) doesn’t necessarily work here.
I’ve been experimenting with overwintering for several years. I always plant spinach and garlic in November, all of the garlic in this photo was actually planted in November, 2012. I didn’t pick it early enough last year and couldn’t find it by the time I finally got around to it. Obviously, staying in the ground another year didn’t hurt the bulbs at all. I have never grown garlic as big as some of those bulbs.
Last year, I planted some beets in this bed in late October (after I'd pulled up the cucumbers and whatever else had been there), hoping for a final harvest sometime around Thanksgiving.
It didn’t happen. Some came up, but once irrigation season was over, they kind of fizzled.
However, I had a few beets in this bed that started growing this spring. I’ve been eating the beet greens for weeks and last night, I decided to pull the beets because I found an interesting recipe online and wanted to try it.
I pulled two beets from that bed and one beet from this bed. There’s a type of bug (I forget what it’s called) that sucks away at spinach, beets and other leafy greens, causing them to do what mine are doing. Obviously, I haven’t sprayed anything for it.
I tossed out the nasty leaves, but saved the ones that looked edible for another night.
I ended up with three beets, which is what the recipe called for. I didn't actually pay attention to the recipe after I'd read it once, I just used it for inspiration because it combined beets and rosemary. In years past, my rosemary has always died, whether planted outside or in a pot that I brought into the house. This year, it survived and is looking mighty fine.
I love rosemary and am quite happy that mine will live another year.
Although all the beets were supposed to be Detroit dark red ones, once I started chopping, one looked like a chioggia, with the cool bulls-eye design.
I chopped the garlic (the recipe didn't call for garlic, but I love garlic and had some lovely fresh stuff) and rosemary, and then put all the chopped stuff in a foil packet (after generously sprinkling salt and pepper on it all) and then roasted it at 400 for 30 mins and then turned it down to 350 for another 15. I think in the recipe, it says only 35, but I've learned that beets take a long time.
I got it out to take a picture (which didn't turn out well at all) and decided it needed a little bit of feta cheese. So I sprinkled feta on it and then stuck it back in the oven at 300 for about five minutes.
They were delicious. Even my husband, who does not like beets, said they were good. He didn't want seconds, but that simply meant more for me.