Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry


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July 11 Garden Update

The garden is just humming along right now, and we’re getting tantalizingly close to harvest time for some of the goodies. It’s amazing how much better things are going this year than last year. I heard a report on the news yesterday that late blight has been confirmed across the river in New Jersey, but I’m hoping that a few days of westerly winds and dry heat will help keep my little plants safe.

If things continue the way they’re going now, our tomato plants are primed to give us a monster crop. I took a quick count of tomatoes that are currently growing, and have these numbers:

  • About 55 Slicer Tomatoes (“Big Boy” and “Better Boy”) on 4 plants
  • Over 150 plum tomatoes on 6 plants
  • more cherry tomatoes than I can reasonably count

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Not all of them will become ripe at the same time, of course, so we will avoid a major flood, but there are still going to be enough for us to play with in the months ahead. I’m thinking about putting up a few quart jars of tomato sauce, and maybe dehydrate a few too. I’m not super interested in canning salsa or bruschetta again, but if volume gets high enough we’ll have to consider it.

I can already see 2 little cherry tomatoes turning orange and red. I’ll pull those in soon and we’ll just eat them raw while their siblings ripen up.

We have three large spaghetti squash forming already, which is awesome. However, I haven’t yet seen anything that looks like a butternut squash or a pumpkin. Considering that the plants are right next to each other, in the same soil, with the same watering schedule, I can’t figure out why the spaghetti squash are so far along and everything else isn’t. Maybe I just can’t see them under all the vines and dense foliage. Maybe I just have to be a little bit more patient.

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Peppers are doing well. I have two large bell peppers (one “California Wonder” and one “Orange Bell”). A few more teensy little ones are set on other plants. I have two large cayenne peppers, and a large cherry pepper just starting to change color. There are a handful of small, narrow “Thai Long Hot” peppers starting to grow, and one tiny yellow “Tabasco” pepper, sticking straight up off the top of the plant.

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The last garlic plant finally got ready. They say you’re supposed to wait for a dry spell to pull garlic, so it cures more quickly and is less prone to disease, but the string of rainy days seemed endless so I pulled it anyway. In total I have 6 garlic cloves just waiting to be used. They’re resting with my remaining onions (3 large and 8 medium, the small and weird ones went into soup). I’m already looking forward to buying some new garlic to plant this autumn.

Blueberries are almost completely done. The last few stragglers have been getting nabbed by the birds as soon as they turn blue, so we’re done with them for the season. The harvest this year was small but rewarding. I hope they’ll really do well. Maybe, if Dana hasn’t killed me by then, I’ll pick up a third plant.

Potatoes are limping along. A few of the plants are starting to take off, but several of them seem like they’re just giving up and rolling over to die. My hopes were never particularly high for them, and I really don’t expect to be getting anything out of them this year. Next year, maybe, I’ll do some better planning and try for a better crop.


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Garden Planting Complete

This post is a little bit delayed, but I have finally finished planting things in my garden. The last few seedlings were transplanted outdoors for the wonderful weather on Mother’s Day (minus a few last-minute changes). The weather was warm and absolutely perfect, so I figured it was as good a time as any to transplant out the last of my seedlings.

…And then there was a bunch of wind and the temperatures got down almost into the 30’s, so I had to rush out there and cover all the delicate little plants up for the night to keep them from frosting and getting killed. Maybe I should have waited? A coworker of mine lost all his pepper plants in the turbulent weather. Mine didn’t die, but some of them look like they’re hanging on for dear life. If they do die, I’ll run down to the garden store and pick up some replacements. For right now, however, it seems like disaster was narrowly averted.

The final garden breakdown looks something like this:

  • 14 Tomatoes. 4 Beefsteak (“Big Boy” and “Better Boy”), 10 of assorted plums or cherries (I’m not sure which are which)
  • 12 Peppers. 1 Tabasco, 1 Cherry Hot, 1 Cayanne, 1 orange bell, 8 assorted (pepperoncini, “California Wonder” bells and thai hots)
  • Onions.
  • Garlic.
  • 1 Butternut Squash
  • 2 Pumpkin
  • 2 Spaghetti Squash

Here’s the first bed, showing the tomato plants I started from seed. They’re growing like crazy, and I just finished putting down a mulch of cardboard and straw:

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Here’s the middle bed, showing my pepper plants (still caged in chicken wire to keep the varmints out), onions and garlic (and one little tomato plant, in the back-right):

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All my peppers are still alive but several of them are looking awfully scrawny and sickly. I’m hoping the warm weather and plenty of rain we’ve been getting will help to jostle them back. If not, if they’re going to do as bad as my from-seed attempts from last year, I’ll rip them out and replace them with already grown versions from the garden store.

Most of the garlic is growing huge, but a few little stragglers are not doing as well. See if you can tell the difference:

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Finally, my new bed has the four tomato plants we bought in gallon pots (so they were already pretty large) and my 5 squash plants. This one has also been generously mulched with cardboard and straw, and a few of the smaller-looking squashes have some cages around them as well for protection:

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One of my little squash seedlings died yesterday, but luckily I found a young squash plant of unknown variety growing in the compost pile (I suspect it’s a spaghetti squash, but time will tell!). After a quick switcheroo, nobody will ever know what happened.

 

To top it off, we finally bought a hose that’s long enough to reach all the garden beds, so I no longer have to stand several feet away and spray the hose on it’s highest setting to try and reach the really far away parts. I also don’t have to fill buckets with water, and carry them around to my cherry trees. Why didn’t I think of this sooner?

 


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On Sunday I transplanted my little pepper and tomato plants, which I started from seed and have been nurturing by hand for months, into my garden. Some time on Tuesday SOME RAT BASTARD ANIMAL ATE THREE OF MY PEPPER PLANTS. Whatever it was, it didn’t even completely eat the plants. It just gnawed them off, chewed them a little bit, and left them for me to find. Here’s a big “F You” from nature. Thank you very much.

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Since my pepper plants were all mixed up, I don’t even know which ones specifically were dead. Were they my bell peppers? My Thai hot peppers? A mix of both?

I went down to the Home Depot with the boy, in an angry huff. I bought three new pepper plant seedlings, a roll of chicken wire fencing, and a pair of snips to cut it with. By the end of the evening I had the three peppers replaced with a fun new assortment and I had all my tomato and pepper seedlings surrounded by little chicken wire cages.

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The three new pepper plants I bought as replacements are:

  • Sweet Orange Bell
  • Hot Red Cherry
  • Cayenne

The red cherry peppers, like my pepperoncinis, are probably going to be pickled or chopped up into relish and used on sandwiches. The cayanne peppers will flavor some fresh food and may get dehydrated down into chili powder (or turned into chili oil or even more pepper vinegar). The sweet orange bell peppers will probably be eaten fresh (but I could be talked into roasting and canning them, if I get enough).

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From tragedy, maybe I’ll have created an even better garden with a better assortment of peppers.


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Gardens Planted

It’s April 15th, you know what that means! Oh wait, you’re probably thinking about tax day instead of the average last frost day in zone 7. If you haven’t thought about taxes yet HOLY CRAP GET STARTED ON THOSE BECAUSE THEY ARE DUE TOMORROW. But, if you’re like me and taxes are done already, you can start concentrating on the important stuff: transplanting my seedlings.

Yesterday I picked up a few bags of last-minute soil amendments: 2 bags of lobster compost (for the tomatoes), two bags of a compost and composted manure mix, and two bags of composted humus. Those got mixed in yesterday, and then I put my tomatoes out for a long day of hardening off.

Last night my tomatoes and peppers spent their first night outdoors. This morning they were all looking healthy and happy, so after checking the extended weather forecast I decided today was the day to transplant. First, I put all the peppers into the right bed with the garlic and onions. All told, there were 12 peppers: 5 “Sweet California Wonder” green  bells, 5 “Long Thai” hots, and 2 “Pepperoncini”. They’ve all gotten shuffled up in the last few weeks of moving in and out, so I don’t know which are which. Here’s the garden with the peppers on the left side, the onions towards the middle and the large garlic plants on the far right:

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In the far back left corner I had some extra space so I jammed in another tomato plant. When transplanting the peppers I pinched off all the “seed leaves” (cotyledons) and planted the peppers a little bit deeply. I don’t think pepper plants put off advantageous roots from buried parts of the stem like tomatoes do, but some of them had gotten a little leggy so the added support would be good in any case.

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Next I put in 9 of my biggest, healthiest-looking tomatoes in the left bed:

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At the far edges of the picture you can see some large tree branches I’ve stood up, as a start of a trellis system for the bed. Eventually I’ll run some lines between these to help support the growing tomatoes (either in lieu of, or in addition to, normal cages). For the tomatoes I pinched off some of the lower branches, especially some of the smaller or creepier ones (some early leaves seemed to have gotten “burned” by being too close to my lights). I planted these as deeply as I could manage, while still keeping the leaves up out of the soil.

I planted three varieties of tomatoes, though they had gotten mixed up almost immediately after sprouting (some of the little planter cells sprouted more than one plant, so I carefully transplanted duplicates to empty cells wherever they fit).

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The only ones I seem to know with any certainty are the Redcurrant cherry tomatoes, which have a distinct look from the other two varieties (Roma and “Super Sweet 100” cherries).

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In total, 10 tomato plants have gone into the ground already, and I’m hoping I got a good mix of the three varieties. I have 7 plants left, including some which look particularly sickly, but are still hanging on to life and may yet surprise. I’m not sure whether I want to try and find a place to plant these, or find them a good adoptive home instead.

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With the two garden beds full, the 2013 growing season has finally kicked into high gear. I can’t wait till we start seeing some results.


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Seedlings Rollcall

Dana was all like “What did you buy?” and I was all like “IDK LOL”.

I Dunno LOL

I Dunno LOL

Of course, I really did know, and I knew it was awesome.

Xander and I went down to Home Depot to buy some stuff for the last stages of our never-ending bathroom repair and remodel project. When we were at the store he wanted to go to the Lawn and Garden “Outside Part”. There I saw some of the first new plant seedlings for sale and quickly picked up a small Rosemary plant and a packet of 50 baby onion transplants.

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On our way to the cash register Xander mentioned the blueberries again. OKAY FINE I’LL BUY THEM. Twist my leg, whydoncha? Actually, the leg didn’t need much twisting. I also picked up a packet of pepperoncini pepper seeds. My current list of seedlings packed tightly in the small space under my grow light looks like this:

  • 17 tomato plants (6 Roma, 3 “Super 100 Hybrid” cherries, 3 “Redcurrant” cherries, and 5 others which are a mix of these and volunteers)
  • 4 “Long Thai Hot” hot peppers
  • 4 “California Wonder” bell peppers
  • 24 “Walla Walla” sweet yellow onions

Those pepperoncinis haven’t sprouted yet, but I could get up to 4 of them as well.

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Last year with my cowhorn and serrano peppers I made a lot of hot pepper vinegar, which is always a favorite addition to soups. You only need a spoonful of that stuff for almost any meal, and the quantity I made last summer is more than enough to get me through 2013 and into 2014 (even considering I gave the bulk away as gifts). This year with the Thai hot peppers and the garlic I planted I want to make some sriracha, and with the pepperoncini I want to make some pickled peppers for sandwiches and salads.

The 6 roma tomato plants serve one primary purpose: to be cooked down into tomato sauce. Sure, they’ll also be the bomb diggity in salsa, bruschetta, and sliced thick on hamburgers. This year if I can get a decent crop, I’m hoping to put up several big jars of sauce for the winter months. The cherry tomatoes I got, which both promise to be prolific varieties, are going to be mostly for fresh eating. If I get too many, I may try my hand at drying them out again (if I can buy or borrow a real dehydrator).


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Grow Lights

Back in highschool I knew some guys who had set up growing lights indoors to grow some particular kinds of plants. Don’t ask me what. That was a pedestrian effort, on a shoestring budget, from some people who didn’t have a lot of expertise, experience, money or motivation. Fast-forward to 2013 where I still have no expertise or experience, but I’ve got a steady paycheck and plenty of motivation.

Last year I was trying to rely on a smallish south-facing window to give my seedlings the light they needed, and we can all remember the results (Insert “potty words” here).

You can buy pre-made shelving systems with lightbulbs and timers and all sorts of features. But, I figured, I could make something half as nice for twice the price if I did it myself. If nothing else, it’s one more excuse to go down to Home Depot.

The munchkin and I took a trip down to the Home Depot to pick up the parts. We picked up a little bit of electrical wire, some light sockets, a light switch, and a few other odds and ends, and bolted all of it down to a small sheet of plywood. Once everything was put together, we hooked it up onto a cheap little wire rack shelf unit.

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The unit is still not 100% complete, I do need a switch plate and a few other bits to safely cover up anywhere that curious little fingers should not be allowed to go.

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The bulbs are “100 watt” equivalent, “Daylight” flourescents. Each light fixture is on it’s own independent switch, so I can vary the amount of light depending on need. The small yellow doodad in the background is a plugin GFCI adaptor, in case any of the electric parts get wet or there’s a short. All the components are bolted onto a piece of plywood, which is hung from the wire shelf with non-conductive polyethylene rope. With the rope and the shelf, I can (more or less easily) vary the distance between the bulbs and the plants, to give them more room when they start to grow larger.

I picked up a seed-starting kit that comes with little planting containers and a self-watering mechanism. Tomatoes and Peppers (hot and green bell) were the only two seeds I had which could be planted 8 weeks before last frost (April 15 for me), so those got put in already. I’m impatient, but I have plenty more seeds in case this first batch gets over-done.

Already, about a half dozen of my tomatoes have sprouted.

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In a few weeks I’ll put down some lettuce and basil seeds, to get those moving.