There Are Many Like It

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…but this one is mine.

This is my garden. This is the seventh iteration of my garden. I have tried six other times, and have become exceedingly efficient at it.

In the past I have grown, or tried to grow, all manner of different vegetables and herbs, with varying degrees of success. For most plants, I had my best luck with the green leafy bits of species which otherwise are known for flowers or the underground parts. My radishes would have spectacular foliage but the radish qua radish would be about the size of a jelly bean. Similar luck with broccoli; leaves the size of tablecloths, and the green vegetable bit would be the size of a mouse and suddenly turn into a beautiful bunch of tiny yellow flowers. Giant chard would be nearly indistinguishable from crab grass. Tomato plants would grow to the size of horses and yield a single tomato.

Though I followed advice from Knowledgeable People, things never improved.

There were a few plants, however, which did well. Basil. Hot peppers. Some herbs.

So this year I have scaled back, both in quantity and variety, to just those plants with which I have had success in the past – hot peppers, herbs, and basil. 68 total plants. 34 hot peppers, 14 various herbs, and 20 basil plants. Nothing in pots or hanging on hooks this year, other than the raggedy avocado tree and two Jack Fruit saplings, which were beautiful in their pots inside over the winter, but appear to be not able to handle being outside, even in this surprisingly (compared to the past four years) mild spring.

For all of the other things I have grown in the past, I will rely on the hard work and expertise of the vendors at the Fulton Street Farmer’s Market.

Pre-Ides Doldrums: Or, May I Continue, May?

Because of a migraine-ish headache I requested the day off from work. The pain is at a low ebb at the moment so I can bear to look at a screen.

The 3288 Review is open for submissions! Tonight is our third official meeting, where we will finalize the few details which still need to be finalized, and lay out a course for the next fifty days. Fifty, being roughly the number of days until the deadline for submissions to issue #1 (to be published in mid-August), seems like a large number at the front end of it, but the whittling down has already begun. June 30 is just over the horizon.

Spring weather is here, finally, and I have laid in most of my garden for the year. My plans are simple – about three dozen hot peppers, a handful of herbs, and some of the easier-to-grow greens, like collards and kale, and maybe some chard. No tomatoes this year; I have seen progressively diminishing returns over the past three years so, for the first time since about 2010, no tomatoes in my garden. That simply means I have more room for cayenne, cherry bomb, habanero, serrano, jalapeno, Thai dragons, Thai birds-eyes, and Hungarian wax peppers. And likely some other varieties, too.

Another change is that I am only growing from seedlings. No sprouting seeds this year. So many other people are so much better at that kind of thing than I am, and I am happy to pay them for their efforts at the Farmer’s Market.

As I get more of a handle on my finances I have started planning for fixes and upgrades to my house and property. Right now I have it narrowed down to “rip out and replace everything that isn’t actually my house or my garage”, which sounds about as expensive as it probably will be.

This Is My Radish

My first harvest

There are many like it, but this one is mine. I pulled it out of a small garden I am growing in an under-used flower bed in front of my house. It was one of sixteen growing in an area a foot on a side. This area is part of a larger grid, four feet on a side, which I put together back in the early part of April. The grid is in a box made of cheap pine boards, eight inches in height, and filled with good potting soil. It is one of two such boxes in the old flower bed.

I have been growing food here in downtown-ish Grand Rapids since the summer of 2006. That year it was hot peppers in pots. The next year was peppers and tomatoes in pots. Last summer I ripped up all of the plants I had put in previously – including prickly-pear cactus and indestructible yucca – and planted hot peppers and tomatoes in the flower bed. The peppers loved it, but the tomatoes did poorly. Grand Rapids soil tends toward sand and clay, especially in the proximity of old houses.

This year I tore out everything except two burning bushes and put in two square-foot garden boxes, each of them four feet on a side. Three days ago I filled in the last square in the grid with a small strawberry plant I purchased at the Fulton Street Farmer’s Market the day before.

For peppers and tomatoes, I purchased some specialty seeds from Amazon.com: thai birds-eyes, tabasco, and bishop’s crown. All of the tabasco sprouted, four of the thai, and none of the Bishop’s crown. I also have some Japanese Black Tomatoes, which are doing nicely.

So here is what I have growing in the boxes.

East box:

Garden Box East, 2009.05.23

  • butternut squash – 1
  • black tomatoes – 2
  • green onions – 25
  • Lilac bell pepper – 1
  • Tabasco pepper – 2
  • Beets – 9
  • Radishes – 16
  • Carrots – 16
  • Spinach – 9
  • Broccoli – 4

West box:

Garden Box West, 2009.05.23

  • Beefsteak tomatoes – 2
  • Zucchini – 1
  • Tabasco pepper – 1
  • Jalapeno pepper – 1
  • Strawberry – 1
  • Green onion – 25
  • Buttercrunch lettuce – 4
  • Pak Choi – 1
  • Swiss chard – 4
  • India mustard – 4
  • Beets – 9
  • Radishes – 16
  • Spinach – 9
  • Carrots – 16

Containers:

  • Cilantro – 4
  • Dill – 4
  • Parsley – 4
  • Okra – 2
  • Basil – 2
  • Thai peppers – 3
  • Kale – 4
  • Tabasco peppers – 4

I also have a few more peppers and tomatoes sprouting, as well as around a dozen Goji plants, for which I have high – if perhaps unrealistic – hopes.

My goal, other than to have a steady supply of fresh produce for the next several months, is to break even. That is, I want the retail value of the food I pull out of my garden to equal the money I put into the supplies and infrastructure.The potting soil was the most expensive part of the project, but also the most important. Using the square-foot gardening techniques has made this whole endeavor quite manageable for one person and, so far, the maintenance take about fifteen minutes a day.

Yesterday I harvested the rest of my radishes, a total of 32, at around an ounce each. So: two pounds of radishes. The greens are quite good sauteed in olive oil and sprinkled with Chipolte seasoning, The bulbs, of course, are excellent raw.

I will check out prices the next time I hit the Farmer’s Market, and see what it would have cost to buy two pounds of radishes. Not much, I expect, but I have already re-planted, and should be able to get three or four more harvests this year.

I will post updates as more plants mature. You can see the rest of my garden photos here on Flickr.

The Weekly Avocado, week 4 – and a how-to

Avocado Tree, week 4

Yup. More roots coming in. Shouldn’t be long before there are shoots coming out the top.

In other news, two more of my avocado seeds have started sprouting. At the same time. The same day, even. So for all you people who want to know my secret, here it is:

1. Eat an avocado.
2. Clean the pit carefully, and set aside of a couple of days, until completely dry to the touch.
3. Carefully peel all of the brown skin from the pit. At this point it should come off fairly easily.
4. Cut the top and bottom from the pit; maybe a quarter of an inch each, but be careful on the bottom that you don’t slice into the seed inside the pit.
5. Now you should be able to see the natural split in the avocado pit. Carefully, very carefully, insert a thin knife blade a bit and just barely begin to pry the two halves apart. You don’t want them to come completely apart; just enough to weaken the seam between the halves.
6. Toothpicks around the perimeter, suspend the pit half submerged in a container of water as in the above photo.

The change here, from other online instructions, is the weakening of the seam between the halves of the pit. In most every failed attempt, the pit remained a solid whole and I think this prevented the seed from sprouting. This is not to say this method is foolproof, but it seemed to work okay for me (call it fool resistant instead).

I have two more pits waiting, and I will try with them too. I will post progress if and when there is any to report.

O Avocado

I eat a lot of avocados.

Truth be told, I probably eat more avocados than any other single fruit or vegetable, except maybe bananas or pizza.

This means I end up with a lot of avocado pits.

This past summer, I did a little research, to see if there was anything I could do with an avocado pit after the rest of the avocado had been eaten. Someone – possibly my girlfriend – told me I should try to grow an avocado tree.

So I did. They are easy to grow, if you happen to have a pit which has within it the spark of life. Perhaps 9 times out of 10 the pit will sit there and shrivel and get slimy. But O, that tenth time!

I have managed, in the last eight months, to sprout three avocado trees. The first one was this past summer. After the roots looked good and long I transplanted it into a pot out on my front porch. When I got home from work, the plant was gone and there were SQUIRREL FOOTPRINTS in the soil in the pot.

Argh.

Round about the end of summer another seed germinated. This one I kept inside, and at the moment the plant is about eighteen inches tall, green, leafy and – as far as I can tell – happy and healthy. This one is staying inside until it is too big to be eaten by any of the local wildlife.

This past weekend, I noticed that one of the seeds sitting in the kitchen window had begun to grow.

This is how I start the seeds. All it takes is a small jar, three toothpicks, a sunny window, and some patience.

The Avocado Nursery

The Avocado Tree, Week 1

That little nubbin coming out of the bottom of the pit is a root. In another couple of weeks a small stem will sprout from the top of the avocado, and then, once it begins to grow a couple of leaves, it will be time to put it in a pot.

If you want to try this yourself, I recommend using the seeds from organically-grown avocados, rather than the big supermarket chains, although this might not make any difference. Don’t expect to have fruit bearing trees any time in the next decade, and then only if you have several trees in the same space. This is definitely a labor of love.

So It Begins

This morning I spent a couple of hours planting the last of my salsa plants for the year. I have twelve pepper plants in the ground, and three tomato plants in containers.

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I have eight plants in my front bed, six of which are visible in this photo.

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Four more plants are in the back, near my recently-planted Arborvitae at the north end of my property

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The tomatoes were a spur-of-the moment decision, and will supposedly thrive in the pots.

The pepper plants are as follows:
1 Red Cherry
1 Kung Pao
1 Hungarian Wax
1 Concho
1 Serrano
1 Pimienta “Cowhorn”
2 Anaheim TMR 23
2 Super Cayenne II
2 Jalapeño

The tomatoes are as follows:
1 Amish paste tomato
2 San Marzano paste tomatoes

That’s right: twelve pepper plants this year. I had three last year, and they did amazingly well in containers. This year I wanted something a little more aesthetically pleasing, as well as manageable, considering my limited space. I do not expect all of them to thrive, but the ones that do bear fruit at the end of summer will help me to learn where to plant things next year.

I have a couple of unused containers left over from last year, so if I find any more interesting/promising pepper seedlings, I may put them to some use.