Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Veggie Knowledge...

"Intelligence is knowing a tomato is a fruit,
Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad"

Thursday, May 26, 2011


The garden has come quite a long way!

Here was my harvest today:

Included here is: 3 Roma tomatoes, crookneck squash, a strawberry (lol), a tomatillo (lol), a LOT of Arugula, dill, and a bit of cilantro.

I have several more tomatoes ripening (turning red).

If you're wondering about the newspaper under the tomato in the picture, from a previous post my tomatoes had "early blight" and rather than spraying fungicide I removed the diseased leaves/stems and spread newspaper for mulch. It worked very well and my plants are thriving again. I continue to remove blighted leaves when I see them.

My lone strawberry grew to maturity.

It's common for first-year strawberry plants to not produce many berries. But I hope that I get a few more off these plants. They are showing signs of more berries coming.


I call the mutant berry. Not quite sure what it's gonna be. It looks half-formed. I may pick it just so the plant can put it's energy into making more berries. We'll see.

And if you recall, I had a few plants that I suspected came from somewhere else. They kept coming up despite my pulling them. I hadn't planted them, this year at least. Well, I left one out of curiosity. And lo' and behold...

It was a tomato plant! Kenny (my husband) thinks it was from tomatoes I planted last year and let lay on the soil. That makes sense. I'm glad I left them now. There are at least 10 such plants growing. This one is the only one producing fruit at the moment.

And back to tomatoes:

I wish I could add those little white arrows to the pics to point to each tomato. I will likely have at least 200 tomatoes by the end of the growing season, barring any unforeseen craziness. Many of the plants now have around 10 tomatoes each. Not counting those wayward plants that came from who knows where. Eek!

And so far this is the only bean I have. *sigh* I don't know what I'm doing wrong with my beans and peas. I will research and work on it.

Likewise my corn has tassled, yet again, at under 4 feet tall. This is why I didn't want to mess with it this year. But hubs insisted. Men! Oh well, from what I've read I should still get corn with proper pollination. Of which I just saw several bees buzzing around my squash plants.

Never been so happy to see bees. :)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


At request from a friend, here are pics of a few "baby" berries, lol!

They're the size of the tip of your pinky (sp?) finger! Cute!!

Arugula Pesticide Success Photos

Comparison Photos from arugula organic pesticide. The growth in 6 days was quite impressive once the bugs left it alone.


See all the holes?

Now after the hot pepper/garlic/oil concoction of last week:

Obviously, I still have bugginess, but it's not as prevalent as it was before and I haven't reapplied since last Thursday (it's now Wednesday). If I wanted them completely off the plants I would apply every other day until they got the hint, lol.

My point here is, and my ecstasy over the results stem from, the plants were unable to grow because the bugs were eating them up. The pepper mix inhibited the bugs enough that the arugula was at least able to thrive enough to grow. I'm happy and have found out that if I'm diligent with making such things I can in fact keep the bugs off the plants.

Another, less "flavorful" solution to keep bugs off your plants is to spray them with soapy water. We used to do this in Illinois to keep Japanese beetles off our plants. They would fly and land on our flowers and eat them up. This way, they would just slide right off. And, no spicy side effects. ;)

Squash anyone?

Squash is the no-brainer plant. Anybody can grow it. But WOW. When these fruits mature what am I to do with it all?????

Squash matures quickly. If you pick it today, you'll need to check other plants tomorrow. The can go from not quite ready to too mature in just 2 days. Believe me, I've picked a TON of squash in my lifetime and this is one thing I know. ;)

Sickness :(

My tomatoes are sick :(

The leaves at the base of the plants are yellow and spotted meaning they are suffering from "early blight." This is a fungus that is found in the soil and splashes onto leaves when plants are watered or rained on. We have had substantial amounts of rain in the last week and I wasn't surprised to see the disease present itself.

Roma tomatoes are surprisingly disease resistant and typically only suffer from this problem.

So my predicament: how do I "organically" remedy the situation? Aggressive gardeners would buy a fungicide and kill the blight. After a little research I discover I can clip the affected leaves and add some mulch, protecting the healthy leaves from further damage.

Even though it took quite a bit of time, I did pull all the leaves off that were yellow and spotted. I was surprised to see that they were dying and weak, easily giving away from the plant.

I have a newspaper that I was going to throw in my compost barrel but I will use it to mulch around the tomatoes since we are expecting more rain and I don't want to spread the blight again.

Hopefully my plants will continue to thrive despite this issue.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Organic Pesticide--Easier to Make Than You May Think! (pics will post later)

Last week I posted pics of my garden. As you may have noticed, my arugula looked pitiful. The bugs seemed especially attracted to it for some reason. I was loathe to use commercial pesticides since they are notorious for killing all bugs, both bothersome and beneficial to plant's ecosystems.

Since I was making several salsas for Cinco de Mayo, I was privy to the seeds and membranes of several hot pepper varieties. I wasn't using anything overly aggressive, just standard jalapeños, serranos, and poblanos. But to keep from killing all the taste buds of the party goers mouths I reserved most of the hottest components from the peppers from the salsas.

I have read over the years that most pests will avoid anything overly fragrant or spicy/hot, much like the human. Kinda funny, huh? They want what we want. With this in mind I decided to use the membranes and seeds from all my peppers to make a pesticide for my ailing arugula.

What I did:

I pureed all the parts of the peppers I'd saved. I threw in about 4 cloves of fresh garlic (I didn't bother peeling it.) I also added in some dried hot red chiles, about 6 whole. All into the blender it went with a little water and olive oil (since it's also very fragrant and it would stick to their legs making it harder for them to climb onto the leaves of the plants).

Once I had my puree of peppers, I smelled it. WHOA. Talk about opening up those sinuses! My eyes watered a bit and my nose started running, lol.

I poured it into a bowl, and armed with a spoon set out to spread this concoction on and around my plants.

I put it around the stems where they met the earth, and around the perimeter of their row.

The results? EXCELLENT!!! The bugs immediately backed off and my arugula was able to grow uninhibited. I had a few bugs eating some cucumber plants also and spread some there and equally impressive results.

Pics will come soon!

So, this garden experimebnt was totally worth it as I used things (other than the olive oil) that I would normally have just thrown away or composted. I was also able to keep from using overly caustiic commercial pesticide on my garden, keeping with an organic method of growing, and being totally frugal all the while!

Pardon me while I pat myself on the back. :)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Make your own Greek Yogurt!!!

I'm a Fage freak. I LOVE the stuff. It's a total treat when I can find it on sale. But even on sale, about $3 for 2 cups is a steep price to pay for yogurt.

I've been making yogurt intermittently for about a year now. It's a surprisingly easy process and requires no special equipment.

You'll need:

A large pot with a lid
A thermometer (I use a meat thermometer)
A roaster oven or cooler
Large glass bowl or glass jars, app. 5 quarts

1 gallon milk, fat percentage is up to you
1 cup plain yogurt, as fresh as possible, fat content up to you
1 Tbsp sugar
Powdered milk, enough to make 4 quarts

Begin by pouring gallon of milk in pot over medium heat.

Whisk in powdered milk and sugar. Cover. My lid has holes for straining which were ideal for putting my thermometer in.

Allow to cook until temperature reaches 180. Took me about 40 minutes. Be sure not to cook over high heat. Check it occasionally to make sure the milk isn't scorching.

Allow milk mixture to cool to 100-110 degrees. Stir in yogurt. I used Aldi brand nonfat plain yogurt.

Pour into clean jars or bowl. Use glass. I used 5 quart jars.

Cover with plastic wrap.

Now you have to incubate the yogurt. I use a roaster over like this.

If you don't have one of these, most people use a cooler. Just be sure to have a warm place to leave it. Like the garage on a warm afternoon. The same steps for adding water would apply if you use a cooler.

I add hot water to the oven and set it at the lowest estimated temperature to keep the yogurt near 100 degrees.

Place jars in the oven or cooler with hot water.

Leave it. Forget it even. To make it tart it needs to sit for more than 12 hours. You should have yogurt after 3 hours but it will likely be watery. After 12 hours it will be substantially thicker. After 15 hours I have yogurt like this.

It's hard to tell but it's solidified and the whey has risen to the top.

Now refrigerate the yogurt overnight. This is what my yogurt looks like now.

But I want Fage-like Greek yogurt. So I must strain it. So I construct this apparatus of a large bowl under a strainer.

Then I line it with paper towels. I have no cheese cloth. Wish I did.

Then I dump a jar of yogurt in.

I do the same with 3 of the remaining jars. 1 jar I save for Nathan, the other yogurt eater. He likes vanilla yogurt. I just happen to have vanilla powder from the local natural foods store. I add vanilla powder and sugar until he approves. Now we have home made vanilla yogurt!!

Back to the strained Greek yogurt.

When you strain yogurt you are removing the whey. I had this left from one jar:

My yogurt was this thick after straining for 1 day:

1 quart jar filled my saved "reused" Fage container.

The other 3 jars I let strain about 14 hours. That yogurt was a bit thicker:

So in summary, from 1 gallon of milk I yielded the following:

The left containers are of whey. The middle containers are of the Greek yogurt. The right 2 containers are the vanilla yogurt.

Why save whey? It's extremely nutrient dense having a high percentage of calcium. Check out the nutrition facts for whey here. Here are some uses:
-proof yeast in bread recipes or use in place of milk or other liquids
-use as liquid in soups, stews, pasta, boiling potatoes
-use in smoothies, milkshakes
-use in salad dressings

So, is it worth it? Let's look at my cost out of pocket.

Milk: $1.59
pwdr milk: 4.24*
Sugar: n/a
Yogurt: .99

Total $6.82
Yield 10 cups
plus whey

10 cups of Fage? If on sale at $3 per container to get 10 cups worth I'd have to buy 5 containers. So it'd cost me at least $15, more than twice as much.

Time invested: 3 days :(

So, if you are interested enough to try it I think the cost savings is definitely worth it. I promise, you'll NEVER get yogurt that tastes this good in the store. It's as fresh as you can possibly get. And once you make some, just save a bit for your next batch and you don't need to buy any ever again. Plus, the total time spent actively "doing" something is nominal. Mostly it's just pouring from one container to another.

Let me know if you decide to try it and how it works out!!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Garden update:

I backed off the watering and behold...GROWTH!

My tomato plants have 2-3 tomatoes per plant. Reminder: there are 36 plants. That's a whole lotta tomatoes!

The plants themselves have really grown a lot in the last few days.

Any of the skeptics about growing plants in grocery bags take note: the tomato plants are bearing tomatoes as well:

The tomatillo plants even grew exponentially compared to recent weeks.

Tomatillos will soon abound!!!!


That's right! Squash is already bearing. We'll have fresh squash in no time!!!

Zucchini isn't far off:

Arugula looks weak but I'll nurse it along still.

Lettuce also looks pitiful so I planted some more. I'll still let this run its course. That thing on the left doesn't look like lettuce....lol

Corn and peas and beans, oh my!

As I mentioned before, I'm planting peas and beans between the corn stalks. The idea is the peas release nitrogen into the soil which corn needs to stay green and grow. The peas need a pole or stake to grow on so in essence this is a symbiotic relationship in the garden!

And the potato experiment is still going. It's coming along nicely.

At least one potato I planted along the side found it's way out. My hypothesis that they would find the quickest route to sunlight was right and it is possible to grow potatoes in levels in the bag this way.

And my personal favorite, OKRA!