Archive for April, 2009

A quick note:

I just searched around for a good price on wheat for my grinder. Found a place, ordered 50 lbs, etc. However, almost all the places to get this stuff are also the same places that offer Army MREs, kerosene lanterns, and tactical gear. They’re all focused on long-term food storage because they’re convinced that the implosion of civilization as we know it is imminent. Now that I’ve ordered from one of these places, I fear I’ve been watch-listed by the Department of Homeland Security.

Or at least the Mormons.


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I’m a know-it-all.

This comes as no surprise to even the circle of my most casual acquaintances–much less my close friends–and my long-suffering wife has had to endure my vainglorious, self-identified genius for over two decades. Not that my know-it-all-ness is entirely fallacious: I’ve been to a couple of colleges, I’m fairly well-read, my job history has exposed me to a wide variety of skills and information, and I surround myself with intelligent and educated friends.

However, while I do believe I am, in fact, smarter than a 5th grader, people have long thought I’m a lot smarter than I really am. That’s because I’ve developed the skill of being a know-it-all and NOT being a social pariah at the same time: mostly by volunteering the information I know, extrapolating some I can logically guess at, and closing my mouth about the rest.

So, what’s my point (especially in a blog about gardening)?

Partly because of this blog, and partly because of my aforementioned nature, people seem to have the idea that I’m a gardening guru. The bald fact is that I have about a thimbleful of actual gardening experience, tinged with a smattering of theoretical knowledge and a handful of soundbytes culled from knowledgeable sources. And THAT is the point of this blog entry–to reveal some of my favorite web resources for urban gardening.

Sunset Magazine — This covers a wide variety of topics, but often has cool ideas about how to relate the landscape and garden to living spaces.
Growing Edge — A little more aimed at the green-minded, this one often has articles about urban gardening, vermicomposting, and aquaculture.
Sustainable Gardening — Another site with tips for urban gardeners, and how to garden without fertilizers and chemicals.
The Fresh Loaf — my secret weapon site for bread geekiness.

One of my professors gave me a pearl of wisdom years ago. He said: “Knowing all the information is not important; knowing where to find the information is the key.”

Thank you, Dr. Allen.

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Tomatoes Are In!

The tomatoes arrived today: six Early Girl plants from Henry Fields. I planted them around my Japanese tomato ring today, and am looking forward to see if it works. I suppose it can’t hurt, anyway.

Here’s the close view:

And a view that makes it easier to understand the whole setup:

If they survived the transit, things should be good. I may put out some cloches for them if the wind continues to be as strong as it has for the last few days. I don’t want them blown to bits while they are trying to establish themselves.

In other news: tiny little carrots sprouts have begun to emerge from my rows (not all parts of all rows, but since they’ve just become visible, I still have hope for the others). Finally.

I wish a had even a single leaf on my blueberry “sticks,” though.

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First of all: wow.

It’s been three weeks since my last post. Let me bring you up to speed.

Strawberries: The strawberries are beginning to grow, though in some beds more quickly than others (the ones in the doghouse container are doing the best so far).
Raspberries: The raspberry bush is busting out in leaves, and about ten new canes started shooting up through the mulch beside the main bush. Apparently the bush sent out some underground runners that are doing well. I may need to add more support structures for the new growth, because it’s not in a convenient place to use the trellis I already installed.
Blueberries: Still just green and brown sticks jutting from the ground. Not a single leaf yet. I’m hoping they start settling in soon.
Lettuce: The lettuce appears to be holding, but I am not wowed by its growth. I frankly doesn’t seem to have grown much since I transplanted it, but neither has it wilted or anything. I planted about three rows of seeds yesterday, in hopes that I will have a staggered/progressive harvest. There are about three varieties in the lettuce seed mix I bought; next year I’ll probably buy single, specific varieties so I have a little more control.
Onions: My transplants have officially become a write-off. They didn’t like the transplant process, partly (I think) because their root system was never very developed. I planted about a row-and-a-half yesterday, but then ran out of seeds and can’t seem to find my other packet. Have to get some more.
Carrots: Not a single seedling has emerged yet. I know carrots have a notoriously long germination period, but I’m getting worried.
Cantaloupe: My indoor seedlings are growing nicely, and I hope to transplant them in a couple of weeks.
Corn: Still a bit early for corn, though it’s time to start preparing the bed in earnest. Will plant in a couple of weeks.
Tomato: The tomato plants have shipped. I hope they’re more developed plants than the blueberries. We’ll see…
Basil/Cilantro/Oregano: We moved the herbs outside. Wow, they seem to be growing slowly…

Now we come to the reason for this post’s title. With my birthday money (thanks to parents and parents-in-law) I bought a grain mill for grinding my own wheat! I didn’t go for the $400 electric model, but rather a simple $70 version. I’m not a professional bakery, after all. The main reason I want to do this additional work for our bread is nutrition. Wheat in it’s normal state includes the bran, germ, and endosperm. However, because of the oils in the bran and germ, flour that includes them will go rancid in about 3 days. So, commercial mills remove those two parts and deliver flour made exclusively of the endosperm, often bleached and further processed. The problem is that about 30 nutrients are contained in the bran and germ, and all these are lost in the milling process. Mills try to rectify this by artificially adding about six nutrients back. this is called “enriched” flour. To paraphrase Michael Pollan: if some stole $30 from your wallet and gave you $6 to make up for it, would you feel “enriched?”

So, I’ll going to be scouting for some sources of unmilled grain. Ironically, one of the easiest place to find it is at survivalist stores. [Hoard your food to protect against the coming apocalypse!] I’d like to find a local farmer to buy it directly, but according to the Illinois Wheat Association, the wheat varieties that grow in Illinois don’t have a high enough gluten content to make good bread, though they are fine for pancakes, cookies, etc.

At any rate, I’ve taken one more step down the path to craziness.

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Snow, huh?

Tonight has seen about 1/2″ on snow accumulate on the new garden. More is expected tomorrow and Tuesday, with wind gusts up to 35mph tomorrow.

I’m not worried about the strawberries. They’re sheltered under mulch, and probably were still cold-dormant anyway. The lettuce and onion seedlings? Not so sure.

Before the snow started in earnest, I ransacked the house for big Tupperware bins (Melissa even offered up two under-the-bed trays that hold her off-season clothing), and I inverted them over the seedlingsand weighted them down with loose stones. I’m hoping these makeshift cloches will provide a little warmth against the chill and shelter from the predicted winds.

We’ll see. This is the time everything said to put these crops out; I’m guessing cold is expected four weeks before the last frost, right?

I believe. Help my unbelief.

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The Garden is In

Well, it’s been a busy couple of days! Our main garden plot is off and (hopefully) growing. First, we set in the lettuce seedlings (about 35 plants) and then put in the onions. The onions seedlings are so small and frail-looking that I’m not sure they’re going to make it. So, I also planted a few rows of onion seeds as a backup. I also laid in four rows of carrot seeds, too. I also left a couple of fallow 4-ft square patches in order to plant some later harvests of either onions or lettuce.

The big surprise came with the strawberries. I had thought that we ordered 6 plants (2 pks of 3). So, I planned to grow them in a container, and I pressed Athos’s old dog house into service. By removing the top, drilling some drainage holes in the bottom, adding a couple of boards across the entrance and filling it with soil, I reused the large unused domicile into a fine planter. When I opened the first strawberry pack, however, I quickly found out that the pack contained not 6 plants, but TWENTY-FIVE! In total, I now had FIFTY strawberry plants.

Needless to say, this change our garden design radically, especially given the space requirements of strawberries: about 1 plant per square foot. I went ahead and put 6 in the planter, then made a 3-tier strawberry bed. That accounted for about 27 more plants. Then I made a secondary bed that holds another 12. I still have a full dozen plants that I will either give away or keep on reserve to replace plants that don’t make it. The two beds are shown on the flanking pictures. Right now the plants are mulched because the weather forecast is predicting snow and rain for tomorrow and maybe Monday and Tuesday.

I also built my Japanese tomato ring (a technique which has no actual connection to Japan). It’s basically a tall, cylindrical compost pile, around which the tomatoes are planted. You wire the vines up the tower, and help the plants root into the compost. Supposedly this amps up the production of fruit by several hundred percent. I’ll also plant two plants in containers and compare the difference. The tomato plants won’t be here until mid-May, but I’m starting the compost tower early so that it has time to, well, compost. Here’s a picture.

So, to make a short story long, the garden is all in for now. I may add some seeds next week for a successive harvest, add some herbs here and there, and soon will get my blueberry bushes and later tomatoes, but I feel good about where I am at this stage. Here’s an overview of the whole main plot:

To orient you, the lettuce seedlings are in the left foreground, with the secondary strawberry plot on the right, the onions (barely visible) are behind the lettuce, and the carrots (nothing to see yet) are in the farthest end of the lefthand side. The tomato tower is on the right, and behind that is my main strawberry bed.

Whew. Now it’s up to God, at least until it’s time to water and weed.

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