Frugal Friday, February 26, 2016

I can hardly believe another week has gone by since I wrote last Friday but I’m hoping to pick up my own slack next week…I’ve already got several (hopefully) good ideas for posts percolating. This week has been a steady round of doctor visits and tests, along with 3x a week physical therapy on my wrist (which is responding very well!) Time away from home almost always involves spending more money, whether it be on fuel for the car or meals out and this week proved it.

 Monday: We got the first round of cool season things planted. These things transplant well and I’ll replant them every week to 10 days until it’s too warm for them. We didn’t have to buy any seeds at all because we had plenty left from last year and had stored them in jars in the freezer. Some were our own saved seeds from prior crops so the food produced from them will be absolutely free, and because the seeds saved were from our own ‘best of the best’ we can expect them to produce well in the same microclimate that they were produced in last year!


I also direct seeded 2 more kinds of lettuce and spinach as well as cilantro in the greenhouse bed. I’m betting they sprout in a few more days. Nothing picture-worthy there until they’re up! I’m already dreaming of the fresh green stuff soon to come. Savings to come: priceless

Tuesday: The spray bottle that I use to mist the top of the soil while seeds are sprouting quit spraying so I soaked the sprayer part in hot, soapy water and that cleared it up! Savings: About $2, a trip to the store AND one less thing in the landfill.

Wednesday: Multiple back to back doctor appointments meant carrying ‘lunch’ with us. It needed to be something that didn’t create a mess, was filling and a decent substitute for a ‘real’ meal. We packed up our standard bagels, nuts, apples and water bottles  and it was healthy and didn’t cost us any out of pocket money. Savings for 2 lunches from the hospital cafe? $8-$10

Thursday: We ate out this night after a long day of appointments and errands. We walked 2 blocks to the locally owned “Wok and Habachi” restaurant and had a splendid meal with enough leftovers for our lunches the next day. I considered it money well spent since we were both tired and out of sorts, but to compensate a bit, I used two uncanceled stamps peeled off of mail I’ve received, shredded old documents and added the shreds to our too-wet compost pile, and planted a newly rooted start of a very hardy variety of Rosemary that had made it through our coldest weather back in December…


Friday: We got our income taxes done today at the local community center for FREE. This is the one of the few benefits of being a ‘senior’ and by golly, I’m going to take advantage of it! Friends tell us they pay $75-150 to have their tax returns completed!

Michael is having more surgery on Monday and will be in the hospital for a few days but I’ll find ways to continue to save money, lower my ecological footprint and live well on less regardless of the circumstances. It’s just how we roll…

Have a great weekend!




Here we go again…

Are  you sick of my posts about gardening? If so, just hit delete today, because it’s really all that’s on my mind during these long days of spring. I’ve got lots more good topics for transitioning lined up for the near future, some I can barely wait to share with you, but today, it’s all about gardening.

Before we get started on this though, a little personal history and philosophy might be in order. I’m a Tennessee Master Gardener and the coordinator of my city’s largest (to date) and oldest community garden, but I’m hoping that (at least!) a dozen more communal gardens will be surpassing our size in the near future. I feel that growing food is a life skill like no other. Gardening can offer resilience in the face of adversity, whether that’s due to climate change, skyrocketing food prices, personal money hardships, or food sensitivities. It builds self-sufficiency, enhances my sense of empowerment, and oh yeah, provides me with great-tasting and healthy food. My garden offers me a respite from a life filled with the blur of technology, stress and diversions and actually serves as my personal sanctuary when I go to kneel at its’ weedy altar. Oh yeah, did I mention it provides me with great-tasting food?

This post is simply my way of sharing some of what I’ve learned over the years with other gardeners that might be struggling to get their own pots and plots in good shape right now. There are lots of good gardening advice online, so if I don’t cover your question in this short post, you can find the answer somewhere on the world-wide web or in a good gardening book at the library. Or post your questions in the comments section at the end, maybe I’ll have an answer.

Q: How far apart should I plant my (fill in the blank)?

A: If you have rich soil that has adequate amounts of a plant’s needed nutrients, count on them growing well. Read that as large. Space accordingly. A big ole’ heirloom tomato plant that’s growing in a well-maintained raised bed that’s filled with rich homemade compost and lots of organic matter can easily grow to 3′ wide and 6′ tall! If your soil isn’t so good, it won’t grow that large and  you might get by with spacing them 18″ apart. I’ve seen gardeners that plant tomatoes and peppers 3-4″ apart! I apologize for the quality of this bad picture, but I want you to look closely at this: there are twelve, count them, TWELVE tomato plants in that little bitty bed!


The spacing in my cabbage patch shown below is good on the left side with four plants, but too close on the right, which has five plants and shows the fourth one almost lost! These were ‘early’ small cabbages. Had they been a later, heavier variety, I would’ve only planted one row of them down the middle.


Tomatoes and squash like a lot of air circulation, as that keeps many of the diseases that they’re susceptible to at bay.  Try to visualize a full-grown August tomato plant when considering how far apart to set them out. However, if we’re talking about carrots, go with 1″ apart thinning to 2″ when they’re up and recognizable. Squash on the other hand need 2-3′ all around to produce well.  These next two pics show how much room I give them. Both beds will be completely covered soon with the zucchini and yellow squash vines! You’ve got to visualize how big the mature plants will be!




Like carrots, green beans and peas are planted closely, about 2″ apart, again, depending on the variety you’re planting. Read the back of the seed package if all else fails. If your seeds are old, plant thicker than normal, and if they all come up, just thin to an appropriate distance apart. In the pic below, the beans were planted 2″ apart, but birds and rabbits have done a pretty good job of ‘thinning’ for me.


The sugar snap peas below were planted very closely around the edges of a square bed and as  you can see are flowering well now. I set the tomato cage in the center for the peas to be supported by, knowing that by the time the tomato needs the space, the peas will be history. Once the tomato fills the cage and is growing well, I’ll plant basil around the edges where the peas were…these three are good companion plants because the tomatoes need a lot of nitrogen and the peas are ‘nitrogen-fixing’ plants, which means they can literally pull it from the air and store it in the soil for use by the next crop. Basil and tomatoes are not only compatible when eaten together, the sharp smell of basil deters pests from the tomatoes when they’re grown together. How cool is THAT?



Q: Why are my young plants turning purple?

A: Did you plant the purple variety?  Likely because your soil is low in phosphorus or because the soil temp is still too cool.

Q: Why are my plants turning yellow?

A: It’s usually caused by a nitrogen deficiency. Fish Emulsion is a good organic source of nitrogen. While young plants are growing feed every week, moving to every two weeks later in the season.

Q: Why do I have huge green plants but no broccoli heads?

A: Too much nitrogen is generally the cause of overgrowth with no fruit set.

Q: Nothing seems to be doing well this year

A: A simple test kit can go a long way towards helping you decide what your garden soil needs or doesn’t. Even though they’re inexpensive, share the cost with a friend or neighbor or two. You generally only need to test once or twice to determine your soil’s Ph and then again after making any needed adjustments, but the kits have enough solution to do it over and over. If  your Ph isn’t in the correct range no matter how rich your soil is, the plant roots won’t be able to draw the nutrients from that soil to help them thrive.

As I’ve written all of this I realize that gardening is kind of like beekeeping… ask 10 people how to do something and you’ll get 10 different answers but maybe this will be of some help to you dear readers. I believe that growing and eating locally grown foods, in season, is the single best thing one can do to improve their health, their personal economy, and the environment. Plant something, ok?

Redefining Prosperity (and a Spring Recipe)

There’s nothing I love more than spending time with my family and gardening. I’ll be going to Ohio in a couple of weeks to watch my granddaughter graduate from high school, so in the meantime, I’m getting my garden in. This is consuming my days, not leaving me with much time to write, which is why blog posts will be scarce as hen’s teeth for a while. There’s always much to do: weeds to pull, seeds to plant and water, beds to mulch and so on. For me, this time spent on my knees at my weedy altar will pay off all year in the form of lower food bills and many, many meals on my table. Growing food is like printing my own money. And if that’s not reason enough, last evening, right at dusk, I spotted a male and female American Goldfinch sitting on the top of nearby tomato cages and suddenly, all my tiredness and the worries of the world simply slipped away…


This week we’re enjoying bushels of fresh spinach, along with lettuces, broccoli, kale and cilantro. I’ve finally mastered the secret to cilantro: I let it reseed itself so I don’t have to monitor and water and baby it like I did when I was planting it myself. Once you get it established you can treat it like a perennial.  Soon we’ll have  bok choy, new potatoes and sugar snap peas and strawberries to go with our daily salads, all the while continuing to eat the canned, dried and frozen foods from last year’s harvest. Tonight for supper we’ll enjoy a dish that we love when we have the needed ingredients growing in the garden-I’ve included the recipe below-(I added some leftover Italian turkey meatballs to simmer in the sauce-yum!) and corn on the cob I had in the freezer. That’s it below. The next picture shows how much food can be grown in a very small space-less than the footprint of a compact car in fact. That bed has 40 heads of garlic, 8 heads of cabbage, 10 bunches of cilantro, 6 heads of broccoli, and enough spinach to make me give it away by the bagful. Soon it will all be harvested and will then be filled with peppers and tomatoes and more.

 Potatoes with Spinach in Cilantro-Red Chili Sauce  IMG_0342

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
6 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
6 dried red Thai or cayenne chiles, stems removed, coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 cup water
1 pound new potatoes, scrubbed and halved
1 large tomato, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
1 tablespoon firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt
8 ounces fresh spinach leaves, coarsely chopped

In a medium saucepan over medium-high, heat the oil. Add the cumin seeds and cook until they turn reddish brown and smell nutty, 5 to 10 seconds.

Immediately add the garlic and chiles. Saute until the garlic is lightly browned and the chiles blacken, about 1 minute.

Sprinkle in the turmeric, the carefully pour in the water. Stir to deglaze the pan, releasing any browned bits of garlic.

Add the potatoes, tomato, cilantro, brown sugar and salt. Stir once or twice, then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover the pan and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are fall-apart tender, 20 to 25 minutes.

Add the spinach, a couple of handfuls at a time, stirring until wilted, 2 to 4 minutes per batch.


This blog is all about finding new measures of prosperity in our lives. Many folks define prosperity by how much money they make, how big their house is, or how new their car is. I adopted new measures of prosperity when I went through my mid life crisis 15 years ago and began to simplify my life. Now,  my personal measure of prosperity is based on how much food I can grow, along with having no debt and owning a car I may never replace. Life is good, very, very good.

“The Hungry Time”

If you or someone you know eats, you’re part of this conversation. Native Americans referred to this very time in our annual trip around the sun as ‘The Hungry Time’; that period between the last of the stored fall provisions and the beginnings of the new spring bounty. For all of wildlife this is that time. It is believed that many of the early Pilgrims, already sick and weak,  finally starved during the Hungry Time in this strange, new land. Many beekeepers will often successfully see their hives make it through a long cold winter, only to have them succumb to starvation now since there is very little available for them to eat, and all of their stored honey from last fall has been eaten.


Gardening, canning and storing food in my pantry or root cellar increases the personal food security of my family and makes it easier for us to eat well year ’round. But for someone that tries to eat seasonally as often as I can, this can be a time of ho-hum meals made from the last of the butternuts and spaghetti squash that we enjoyed so much from November to March, the last of the beets, sweet potatoes and parsnips and the over-wintered kale and spinach that we fought to keep alive in the garden rows throughout the deep freezes! Looked at from the perspective of a hungry bird or a starving Pilgrim though, I am rich indeed. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re not hungry either. I’m thankful for that, as I know you are too.


But what about those that are hungry, and getting hungrier? Their growling bellies are loud, but their need is silent. The price of food and gasoline is creeping upwards while many of them are still struggling to pay those February and March heating bills that are overdue. Undeveloped areas for wild animals are being displaced by mega-malls and soccer fields, while farmers are spraying their fields to kill every living thing in them so they can plant their GMO crops of corn, soybeans and cotton yet again this summer. Is there any help or hope for the hungry ones? I know this problem up close and personal and have come up with a few ideas that might help all of us survive and thrive during ‘The Hungry Time’ and beyond.

1. Start at home: Vow to STOP, not just reduce, your food waste. It’s simple really: plan your menus before you shop (and then eat or share your leftovers). This one practice saves me more time, money  and waste than any other single thing I do in my life.

2. Plant some milk weed, bee balm and sunflowers for the butterflies, birds and bees this summer. Your pretty petunias in a pot on the porch and the stale bread you throw out on the lawn don’t offer any nutrition for them. While you’re at it, put in a birdbath and feeder.

3. Plant a backyard (or a front yard!)  garden, and in there, ‘Plant a Row for the Hungry‘.

4. Volunteer at One Acre Cafe, a local not-for-profit restaurant that is making big strides in our community to see that ‘everybody eats’. If you don’t live in NE TN, find a similar place where you live. A soup kitchen, a community garden, or food pantry would all welcome  your help and help someone that’s hungry sleep better.


5. Consider a fast fast. That’s not a typo. This is simply done by eliminating one meal a week from our diets and instead, giving the food or money we would’ve spent on that meal to someone that’s hungry. And please know that even though Second Harvest and other pantries will lovingly accept your food donations, they have the purchasing power to feed 4.3 meals for EVERY DOLLAR YOU DONATE.

6. Give food as gifts. I suspect many people could use the food but are ashamed to make that known. In place of yet another can of car wax or tee shirt, consider restaurant or grocery store gift certificates. Cookbooks, kitchenware, cooking, canning or gardening lessons, bags of worm castings or organic compost, potted herbs or seeds would all make thoughtful gifts that can help with hunger. Such gifts also cut down on consumer waste and unwanted clutter.

Growing, planting, donating and fasting are all effective ways to reduce hunger, but of course they won’t eliminate the problem. What would? If I was Queen of the World, I’d start my reign by teaching every child how to grow some food and then cook what they grew. From scrambling an egg to cooking dried beans to grilling some veggies, if they know how to grow and cook it, it would open doors for them all their lives. Many people have never been taught, nor had the opportunity, to learn how. The unknown is scary. Those of us that are lucky enough to have these skills take it for granted that anyone can cook. Not. Make it less scary by teaching someone to do this. And did you know that folks that receive SNAP benefits can purchase food plants and seeds with SNAP? I don’t believe it’s so much a factor that they WON’T buy those things with their benefits, I believe most of them DON’T know what to do with a cabbage or tomato plant or seed once they get them home. And before I get dethroned? I’d require every school yard and park in the country to have community gardens. If they became as plentiful as grocery stores, it would become second nature. The last thing I’d do before they pried my tiara off? I’d outlaw GMO’s and Bayer’s famous neonic pesticides, making what foods we do have safer for all of life on this planet. But then again, that’s probably why I’m not the Queen. But at least my subjects wouldn’t be hungry!

Growing Awareness

You may have noticed I’m not posting as often as I did back during the winter. That’s because I’m busy gardening and playing music again. But, as promised, I will try to give you updates on what I’m doing currently in the garden so here goes. I am:

1. Weeding

2. Cutting garlic scapes off so more energy now goes into the bulb, rather than seeds. I posted last year about ways to use them in your meals so I’ll just give you a link here rather than repeat all of that.

3. Enjoying the beauty of the yellow crookneck squash blossoms. Mine are in the showy all-male cycle of their short lives, soon to be followed by females. When those appear, we’ll hand pollinate them early in the morning while they’re opened, to ensure a bigger crop. It’s done with a little water-color paint brush we keep for that purpose but you could probably use any old toothbrush you might have lying around. Here’s how to tell the difference: In the top photo, you’ll see a tiny ‘baby’ starting to form just BEFORE the blossom opens. The bottom photo shows the male blossom almost ready to open, but no baby.

female squash

4. Weeding

5. Piling the second layer of straw up around my potato plants. Straw is an easy way to keep the potato bug population down. In fact, we have NEVER seen a potato bug on our plants in the decade we’ve been planting potatoes. It’s far easier than hilling up dirt around the plants, and serves as a weed suppressing mulch at the same time.


6. Drawing out the garden beds on paper to refer to next spring so we don’t replant the same crop in the same spaces. We try hard to rotate things in a 3 year cycle. This rotation helps keep insect pressure down. If you’re like me, you WON’T remember in a year or so what went where. Just draw it!

8. Weeding

9. Harvesting the last of sugar snap and garden peas, spinach and the last of the gorgeous spring planted lettuces. But that’s ok, they’ll be back in the fall! Check out today’s pickins’:

          spinach and peas

10. Pulling out the spent peas and bolting spinach. Tomorrow I plan to add some compost where they were, then replant to squash we’ve got waiting in our little ‘plant nursery’. Planting squashes every 3 or 4 weeks prevents us from being overwhelmed with too much at one time AND ensures that when the squash vine borer finds one, we’ll have a new healthy plant to take its’ place. It’s a hassle, but keeps us in squash for months.

11. Stringing the Hopi Lima beans up our ‘bean tower’ made from a repurposed, inverted clothes line umbrella. Nice thing about this tower is that it’s lightweight, folds flat for easy storage under the tool shed and will last for decades!

bean tower 2

12. Last but not least, I’m growing awareness of the importance that gardening provides to my health and to my family’s resilience against food shortages or rising prices. And that’s priceless.

growing awareness

Just Three Things

It’s that time again when I’ve got a few things I want to share with you, none of which are enough to write a whole post about. But here’s proof that good news comes in three’s:

Our one year old hot water tank quit working recently. I wanted a tankless, on- demand water heater to replace it. The good news is, the company that made the old heater is a LOCAL MANUFACTURER!  American Water Heaters are made right here in good old Johnson City and are sold nationwide at places like Lowe’s and Sears. They agreed that it must be their defect so they replaced it. With the exact same model. They don’t make tankless heaters 😦   That was also the ‘bad’ news, because they wouldn’t give us a credit or refund, only an even exchange. So, we installed the next.best.thing. to a tankless -a $42 water heater timer. We set it to come on at 8 AM and go off at 8 PM but of course,  you’d set yours for whatever works best for your lifestyle, since there are 14 possible settings on them. It’s a well-known fact that water heating is the single largest energy user in American homes, and installing the timer has reduced our electric bill quite a bit. Even though it goes off at 8 PM there’s always plenty of pretty hot water at 8 AM the next morning too! That tells me none of us need to be heating our water 24 hours a day, it’s merely a convenience we’ve all come to rely on as a result of decades of cheap energy. A timer like this is a completely painless way to reduce your household energy needs and make your life a lee-ttle bit more resilient in the process. Now granted, it’s no solar panel, but then again, it didn’t require a second mortgage either. I also found out that if we’d had to trash the old heater, the metal in it had some monetary value and could’ve been recycled; we had 4 people stop by and ask for it in the couple of days it laid in the yard waiting to be picked up by the company! Just sayin’…


If you have an adult bicycle you no longer use, I know of three places that could use it. First is the local Family Promise organization; they help homeless families transition to homes of their own. Sometimes those families have no transportation and a bike can certainly make their lives easier. They can be reached Mon-Fri by calling Aaron at 202-7805. Next is the ETSU Yellow Bike program that fixes up donated bikes, paints ’em red yellow, then  ‘rents’ bikes to students for free to help them get around campus more easily. Contact them about your donation at bucbikes@mail.etsu.edu.

yellow bike

And last, but not least, if your old bike is in pieces, those pieces can all be used by the nonprofit Little City Bike Collective, which rebuilds and repairs bicycles for FREE. Their shop is located at 209 E Unaka Ave in JC.  Here’s the link to their Facebook page. Make some space in  your garage this spring, and make someone’s life easier by donating to one of these fine causes. And if you’re reading this and don’t live in Johnson City, I bet these same types of organizations in your community could use your old bikes too.  Just sayin’…

After recently experiencing ‘Blackberry Winter’ here in Appalachia,we’re finally moving into a season of daily gardening now, and I hope to share tips with you over the summer that will help make your food growing more successful. I sure hope you’ll do the same and share any tips you’ve found that work for you in the comments section below. We started long ago saving our eggshells all year long, drying them, then grinding them in a little mini food processor-a mortar and pestle works well too, as long as the shells are good and dry. Then we add a handful to the planting holes of peppers and tomatoes which provides them with calcium and prevents blossom end rot, something we rarely experience any more. We also add a Tablespoon of Epsom Salts to those holes to provide magnesium as well. What better way to use your egg shells, eh? We finish by adding some compost to the hole, then fertilize with some ‘worm tea’ and stand back! Just sayin’…


Homeland Security

I was in the grocery store the other day and overheard the produce manager telling a customer that the store had no lettuce, and wouldn’t have any for a week because the refrigerated truck hauling it across the country from California had broken down and the lettuce rotted before it could be off-loaded to another truck. This is one of those ‘Things that make me go, “hmmmm” ‘. So, let’s think about that… According to Purdue University’s Dept of Horticulture and Landscape website, (a most trusted source of food growing info for me) 81% of our nation’s lettuce is grown in California and 17% is grown in Arizona. Lettuce is a cool season crop, and needs lots of water for best growth. I have to question, why are we growing this staple in the freaking dessert??? Then of course after harvesting, it has to be immediately washed, chilled, packed, and then loaded onto refrigerated trucks for its’ 5 day trip across the country, where it’s then unloaded at distribution centers, then reloaded onto yet another truck for delivery to our favorite stores. Then we DRIVE OUR CARS to those stores to buy it, DRIVE HOME and put it in our refrigerators. Does any of that make sense to you? Nah, me neither.


That’s a picture of my current lettuce ‘patch’. This same amount could be grown in two window boxes with about 50 cents worth of seed. I consider growing  lettuce a super bargain because it’s what I call a ‘cut and come again’ crop. Many many many bowls of lettuce have come from this little four-foot  row. You can also see I’ve got my tiny bok choi planted beside it, for once it turns hot, the lettuce will be pulled out to make room for this new veggie, followed by collards in summer’s heat, followed by kale in the fall. All in about 4′ of space. There’s also some onions growing there, so I have a ready-made salad, free of e-coli and chemicals, and grown without any fossil fuels. My lettuce is nutrition packed because I always cut it the day I plan to use it. Factoid: once a fruit or veggie is cut, it begins to immediately lose it’s nutrient density.

If ever, in the course of a life, there was a time to plant food, build a pantry and invest one’s money in one’s life, it is now. Between Monsanto pouring millions of dollars into its’ efforts to control the world’s food supply…


the mystery of the disappearing honeybees still unresolved, with the 2013 Farm Bill losing its’ clout to help small farmers, and broken down lettuce trucks all over the interstates, the time to secure YOUR future is now. This spring. Here’s a money-and-fossil-fuel free way to start your own seeds…


When you’re cracking your eggs, tap them 3/4 of the way up the shell, rather than right in the middle. Don’t rinse the shells, that’s a waste of water and nutrition! The resulting ‘egg pot’ will be deep enough to start lettuce plants in, then you can transplant the whole thing right into a bigger pot, or a window box or your garden row. The shell will provide the little seedling some calcium, while it composts away to nothingness. 

My favorite farmer..


is going to help me put together another small raised bed tomorrow. I plan to add homemade compost and manure, then plant it to a fast-growing green manure crop of buckwheat-followed by clover. By fall it’ll be ready to plant with more lettuce, some beets and broccoli, and I won’t be worrying about the truck breaking down, the price of fresh veggies, or what’s for supper! It’s a good feeling 😀

homeland security



‘Tis the Season…

...for ‘winter’ foods. I know it’s positively spring-like outside, but  we’ll be back to, ahem, ‘normal’ in a couple more days so let’s talk about what’s ‘normal’ for this time of year, food wise. I went to the Farmer’s Market today and was pleasantly surprised to find a fair variety of things to eat. There were pickled beets, meats and cheeses, fresh loaves of bread, jams and jellies, greens and more. Here’s what I brought home:


The bag in the background contains fresh ground corn meal, ground right at the market from locally grown corn. (He had grits for sale too and I wish I’d bought some) The eggs, onions and turnips were beautifully fresh and everything I bought was a bargain.


Not only was this food locally grown, it was appropriate for this time of year. You may be asking yourself, “what the hell can I eat besides turnips in January?” If so, let me offer some ideas. The fall crop of potatoes and apples is on sale everywhere, as are cabbages, carrots and greens. Luckily, I still have lots of garlic and shallots and Cushaw squash stored away, and we have broccoli, 4 kinds of lettuce, bok choi and cabbages in the garden, along with  parsley and cilantro growing in pots. Yesterday, we roasted our last homegrown potatoes in the clay cooker, topped with 20 or so of our spring-grown garlic cloves and a handful of fresh rosemary. (Note to self: plant more potatoes this year.) Our Christmas oranges yielded enough zest and juice to make “Orange Teriyaki Rice” tonight, and some of the green onions we’d bought were sliced and sprinkled on top . We had fresh, steamed broccoli that I harvested yesterday and a big bowl of lima beans from the freezer to go with it.


It’s definitely more of a challenge to eat seasonally during the winter months, but it’s also definitely more satisfying when we do. Soup and cornbread is our mainstay in cold weather, and has proven to be easier to prepare, more filling, cheaper to make and most accommodating of my desire to eat seasonally. If you’re one of those people who says that they “just don’t feel satisfied with a bowl of soup”, then you must be eating the canned stuff, because winter soups simmered on the stove and filled with dried beans, herbs, sweet potatoes or squash, kale or cabbage, summer tomatoes and dried peppers, and served over rice, are filling, healthy and takes advantage of the foods that are normally associated with winter anyway.

Eating foods when nature produces them is what people the world over have done naturally through most of history, before mega-supermarkets dotted the landscape and processed foods became ubiquitous. Seasonal eating is also a cornerstone of several ancient and holistic medical traditions, which view it as integral to good health and emotional balance. Here’s a gentle reminder of what I’m trying to say:

To everything there is a season,
a time for every purpose under the sun.
A time to be born and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill and a time to heal …
a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance …
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to lose and a time to seek;
a time to rend and a time to sow;
a time to keep silent and a time to speak;
a time to love and a time to hate;
a time for war and a time for peace.

ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Raising the Bar
October 23, 2012, 9:37 PM
Filed under: Community Gardens | Tags: , , , , , ,

We finally got around to planting  a small fall garden last month, and tomorrow I plan to harvest the first bok choy from it, with kale and lettuces hopefully by the weekend. Take a look:

A second raised bed, with brick sides, is filled with cabbages and broccoli, but I’m not sure if they were planted in time to produce full heads before freezing weather. So I’ll put a hoop house over them soon, where they’ll continue to slowly grow until very cold weather settles in. (The stakes shown on the wagon were soaked in the bucket of wood preservative and are drying there.. they’ll be used to stabilize the new bed.)

  After gardening both with and without raised beds, I definitely prefer ‘raisin’ the bar’. Here’s the pros:

1. No soil compaction: if you’re walking around on top of your raised beds, well, you’re an idiot.

2. No soil erosion: The soil stays within it’s boundaries and doesn’t get scattered into the paths or other areas

3. Easier on the back -’nuff said

4. Less Labor: Raised beds require more initial labor than traditional beds but less labor once established. Constructing the bed takes time, but once the bed is constructed and filled with soil, it only requires minimal maintenance.

5. Raised beds typically have fewer weed problems
6. Raised beds drain well, so they don’t become soggy or waterlogged in areas with heavy rainfall. Since you fill the bed with the best soil, you don’t have to worry about overly wet clay soil.
7. Raised beds require minimal preparation before spring planting. The elevated soil in the bed warms and dries out earlier than in traditional gardens, allowing you to plant some vegetables and flowers earlier. You can also plant more densely in a raised bed, since you don’t need room between plants to walk or move tilling equipment.

There are some disadvantages too, such as being more costly to install rather than planting directly into the soil, needing more frequent watering (due to better drainage), and densely planted beds can be more prone to fungal problems. Nematodes and disease organisms may also buildup in the soil, although you can diminish these issues by growing different plants in the bed each year, which is wise to do in traditional gardens as well. And obviously, tilling is out of the question, unless you have a small hand held tiller. We donated our big Troybilt Pony tiller to the community garden a couple of years ago where almost all the beds are traditional, and only do light tilling now, with our Mantis, when absolutely necessary. The earthworms and frogs are spared because of the no till methods, and the soil structure maintains its integrity better as well. All in all though, we’re raised bed advocates.

One major hurdle in building beds with wooden sides, is preventing the rot that can occur when using untreated wood. I don’t advocate using treated wood when growing food, unless you line the whole thing with a heavy duty landscape fabric first, but even then I’m not convinced that all those chemicals that are used to preserve wood aren’t leaching through that fabric and into the soil, where my plants roots can absorb it.  I came across this recipe for a natural wood preservative in Organic Gardening magazine a dozen years ago, and the beds at our last place were still in use after ten years, so if applied properly, this stuff is pretty long lasting. Here’s the recipe:

Wood Preservative
Recommended by Organic Gardening Magazine

1.   Slowly melt 1 ounce of paraffin or bees wax over low heat in a double boiler (do not heat over a direct flame).
2.   Outdoors, carefully pour just under a gallon of solvent (mineral spirits, paint thinner, or turpentine, at room temperature) into a bucket; then slowly pour in the melted paraffin, stirring vigorously.
3.   Add  1½ cups boiled linseed oil to the mix, stirring until the ingredients are blended.
4.   When the mixture cools, either dip your lumber into it or brush it onto the wood, making sure that you thoroughly coat all surfaces, especially the cut ends.  Dipping the boards for 5 to 15 minutes allows the repellent to soak more deeply into the wood.  

I haven’t found a way to dip boards in a one gallon bucket but I’ve found that five coats seems to offer adequate protection. It soaks into the bare wood quickly, so ‘dry time’ between coats is minimal. Here’s what it looks like in the bucket and on the wood:
I’m taking full advantage of this week’s warm, sunny days to get all the wood coated for a 4’x20′ bed we’ll be building in our community garden plot next week. Next up: improving the soil. 

Extending the Season

Yes, I KNOW you’re inundated with tomatoes and peppers right now, but it’s time to plant your fall garden if you want to keep enjoying all those fresh veggies for several more months. Experience has proven to me that it’s all about the soil, so if your summer garden didn’t do well this year (after all, we were lucky enough here in NE TN to enjoy lots of sunshine, moderate temps except for a one week heat wave, and ample rainfall) your fall garden won’t fare any better, and likely do worse, unless you improve your soil. Adding compost is the best way I’ve found to do that quickly. After spending ten years improving the soil faithfully at our prior home, we were growing tomatoes almost 8′ tall and pepper plants as big as a landscape bush. The soil was loose and rich-it was becoming a great experiment in gardening in hard times because it seemed as though everything was beginning to become a perennial because seeds would sprout as soon as they hit the ground! But that was then, and at our new home we’re starting over from square one. We’ve learned a lot about growing veggies and fruits over the years, and the soil is THE key to success. Every gardening book I’ve ever read tells me that insects will attack a weak plant first, and it’s true. Nutrient rich soil filled with lots of organic matter doesn’t grow weak plants.

I’ve also discovered that fall gardening has become my favorite time to garden: the weather’s cooler, and insect pressure is much reduced. And the best thing is that with just a little protection, your cool season crops can often keep well right in the row until you’re ready to harvest them for supper. An important factor in fall gardening is to get your plants up and fully grown before the hardest frosts arrive because they’ll quit growing once the cold settles in for good. By planting ‘early’ and ‘cold tolerant’ varieties (no vining crops this time of year)  of your favorite things, that’s possible-if you get them planted now. My new favorite interactive planting map is at plantmaps.com. Just plug in your zip code and it will give you all kinds of valuable planting info specific to it. My zip in Johnson City is now considered 6B and my first average frost date isn’t until Oct 21-31st! That’s 8-10 weeks away so I can grow a lot of food in that period of time, and we’ll eat fresh all winter, long after the Farmer’s Markets have closed down for the season. Root crops can be covered with shredded leaves or straw and above-ground plants will have a low-cost, temporary hoop house erected over them to keep them protected. The hoop house acts kind of like a solar refrigerator and is all that’s needed unless our winter is truly extremely cold for extended periods. And if you cut your plants without damaging the crown or inner part of the plant, in late winter they’ll begin to grow again, rewarding you with the earliest, sweetest greens you’ve ever eaten.

So, what should you plant? Plant what you like to eat, of course. Here’s my  personal favorites:

Lots of different varieties of greens: my favorite is Kale, followed by Spinach, Swiss Chard, Collards and Turnip Greens

Root Crops: Carrots, Beets, Bunching Onions and Turnips (as well as Parsnips if you started them 8 weeks ago)

Lettuces: Many kinds of lettuces will produce clear through the winter, but not all will. Look for winter varieties like Tango, Winterbor, Outredgeous or Cold hardy Romaines. Miner’s lettuce, Arugula and Mezuna are considered ‘bitters’ that will also do well in cooler weather (even though I disagree with the name)

Garlic: Plant in October, harvest in late June

Brassicas: Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Brussels Sprouts

PEAS-dwarf, fast maturing varieties only. Can harvest uncovered until first of December most years

I’ll be conducting a free hands-on workshop at Carver Peace Gardens on how to erect a low-cost hoop house in late September or early October. I don’t have a date for it yet, but will let you know in case you’d like to come.

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