Broccoli!

Just a quick post today, because I am taking a break from studying for my last exam.  I just couldn’t contain my enthusiasm about the first head of broccoli that I have ever produced!

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Also notice the improved photo quality – I love my big camera!

     I have tried to grow broccoli in containers before but it has never formed a head.  In addition, I think this is from one of the broccoli plants that I started from seed, which is quite exciting, though I will have to go back and look at exactly which variety it is, since I had started a couple of different kinds (some from seed in the garden and some indoors).  I didn’t even think to look at the label earlier because I couldn’t wait to harvest it and eat it.

 Broccoli From Above

It was a pretty good size, 5 – 6″ across

     As soon as I got home, I cut it up and roasted it with olive oil, salt, and pepper, in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes.  Delicious!

Cooked broccoli

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Quick Update

No photos today, I’m afraid.  The good news, however, is that after a year of insisting that my camera was not at her house and accusing me of losing it, my beloved mother has finally found my big camera (at her house), so after I get that back this weekend or next the quality of my photos should drastically improve!  The three tomato transplants from the farmer’s market have exploded.  They are now taller than me and completely fill their cage.  Speaking of which, this experimental cage design is officially a failure.  It just doesn’t allow me to get into the center easily enough.  I think in the spring I will try something different.  There are still no ripe tomatoes, but some are starting to turn from green to pale whitish green, so hopefully sometime this week I will have ripe ones.  I just hope that we don’t get an early winter.  If it looks like it is going to freeze some night I will probably go pull all the decent-sized tomatoes and try to ripen them inside or something.  I will have to do some research on the subject.  I am continuing to harvest chard and I got some potting soil today so I can plant some more chard and lettuce on my balcony.  The broccoli plants are already far larger than they ever got in containers and I have I think seven or eight of those, so I should get a nice broccoli harvest.  I got my first green beans today and ate them less than an hour after picking, and they tasted AMAZING.  The only thing I put on them was a bit of salt and they still tasted better than any store bought green beans I’ve ever fixed.  It is funny, the last time I had tomatoes was earlier this summer and they were from either my plants or the farmer’s market, and the other day I tried tomatoes from Publix and they tasted like nothing.  Freshness really does make a difference!  Next post I will include some photos of my trip to SC this weekend where I made applesauce and went shrimping.  The applesauce was very successful, the shrimping less so, but it was still fun.  I was just happy that not too many of my casts were terrible!

Garden Updates

I know it has been almost a month since I posted, but school has kept me quite busy.  I have finally gotten both beds tilled and filled with plants/seeds, though last time I was out there it didn’t look like any of the seeds for certain things (lettuce, chard, green onions) had come up.  I also found out that apparently where I thought the boundaries of my plot are and where the actual boundaries are are two different things.  It turns out that basically my beds were in between two half-plots, so I ended up shelling out another $7.50 to rent the other half of the plot.  There are only a few feet between the fence that I thought was the edge of my plot and the actual edge of the plot, so I’m not sure what I will do with that space yet.  I will probably plant a few green beans along the wire fence so they can use that as a trellis.  I already have a few green bean plants, but I figure I can always blanch and freeze them.  Here are a few pictures of the garden.

both garden beds

 

Both beds – plenty of room to add compost in the future, because unfortunately there is never any available at the garden right now.

 

 

 

 

Garden bed with wire house

 

Tomato/Pepper (mostly) bed.  The wire support is somewhat difficult to see but it looks kind of like a house and is about five feet tall.

 

central support for wire house

 

A closer view of the wire support as well as the central support.  The holes in the fencing are somewhat small for my hands, but I figure I can always use my wire cutters to make larger gaps as needed.

Garden bed with poles

 

The other garden bed.

 

nail attaching fence to bed

 

Hopefully the wire support is not going anywhere!

 

One of my tomatoes

 

One of my tomato seedlings…you can tell it’s super tiny!

 

Other vendor tomato

 

Tomato transplant from a vendor at the farmer’s market – you can tell it’s kind of leggy, but as of this writing it has some flowers on it, so hopefully I’ll have tomatoes soon!

 

One of the farmer's market tomatoes

 

Tomato transplant from a different vendor at the farmer’s market – you can tell it’s super stocky and healthy – I don’t think I’ll be getting transplants from anyone else in the future!

          All of these were taken about a week ago, so I have done a few more things since.  The garden bed with the pole teepee now has a wire house as well, though it isn’t as tall.  There are also bean and cucumber sprouts that are looking good.  Some of the broccoli appears to be fine while some of it is bug-eaten, so I’m not sure what’s up with that (all the same variety).  I will probably attempt to save seed from one of the plants that seems to be resistant, if I like the flavor (if I can get a head at all!), of course.  The tomato plants from the last picture are about three times that size now and seem to be flourishing.  I am hopeful that I will have decent tomato harvests before winter sets in (the average first frost date for my area is in the middle of November).  We will have to see if the cucumbers and green beans have time to grow before the cold comes.  As it is now it is getting down into the sixties at night, though it is still in the mid eighties during the day.

          I have also been saving potatoes.  I never finish a whole bag before they start to get soft, so I throw them in a bag and keep them in the bottom of the fridge.  I know technically you shouldn’t save grocery store potatoes because they aren’t certified as disease free and they’re often sprayed to prevent sprouting, but none of the seed potato companies that I’ve found will ship before March, and here potatoes have to be planted in mid-February, and I want some different varieties.  So far I have some saved from the farmer’s market that would have been harvested back in May, as well as some grocery-store fingerlings.  The garden will have a couple of varieties available in the spring, but I want lots of options.  One of the women in charge of the garden keeps mentioning a feed store that has seed/transplants, so I will have to go there at some point.  I still need spinach seeds.  I will probably sow some lettuce/spinach on my apartment balcony to keep close at hand (and much easier to prevent bugs that way!), but I will have to get some more potting soil.  Out there right now I have three chocolate mint plants (I was hoping two could be indoor plants, but unfortunately they did not do well at all, one actually is completely dead but I’m hoping the two next to it will spread back into that container), a rosemary plant, and a flat-leafed parsley plant.  I really don’t use that many herbs in my cooking, but I do occasionally use rosemary or parsley, so I like to have them on hand (though the garden co-op does have a large herb garden that I can take from as well).  Perhaps in the future I will expand my herb repertoire.

          I recently read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, and I have to say it was extremely interesting.  It is one of those books that I had heard about all the time in my readings about homesteading/sustainability, etc, and it was very good.  After reading it and watching a few other documentaries, along with learning more about the industry in my animal science classes I have decided to give up supermarket “Big Ag” meat and poultry.  That’s not to say I won’t have it at restaurants or whatnot, but for home use I won’t buy it.  There are a lot of great local resources for meat and poultry and I just have no interest in supporting CAFOs in that way.  That said, it is more expensive to buy meat now, but I feel like it’s worth it.  So far I have tried local chicken breasts, bacon, ground beef, flank steak, ground pork, and pork sausage and it has all been so much better than the stuff I used to buy in the grocery store.  At first I was a bit leery of the chicken because the farm that I get it from does not have it USDA inspected (so it is labeled “for animal consumption only”), but really, they will let you go and watch them process chickens if you want to, and my feeling is that any farm that is that transparent, is probably a heck of a lot cleaner than a huge processing facility with Keep Out signs everywhere.  Joel Salatin also mentions in his book Everthing I Want To Do Is Illegal that his backyard processed chicken was compared by a neutral third party to supermarket chicken and was found to have 25 times less bacteria, so I feel a lot safer eating my “for animal consumption only” chicken than I would eating supermarket chicken.  In addition, it is so much tastier and juicier that it would be worth it just for that (though of course the lower bacteria and the better care for the chickens are great reasons as well).  That’s not to say that everything at the farmer’s market is automatically better, though.  I have tried bacon from two different vendors and without naming names, one farm’s bacon is absolutely fantastic while the other’s ended up in the trash because it was absolutely terrible (this is the first time I have ever tried a bite of bacon and thrown it in the trash rather than eat it).  It is also interesting to me to note the difference between the local products and their grocery store equivalents.  For example, this week I couldn’t make it to the farmer’s market so I ended up buying USDA organic, 100% grass fed ground beef from Trader Joe’s for $6.99/lb.  The ground beef that I get from the farmer’s market that is also organic (though not USDA certified organic) and 100% grass fed and it is $8.50/lb.  While the farmer’s market ground beef doesn’t have a fat percentage on it, just by looking at it I can tell that it is leaner than the Trader Joe’s (which is 85/15), and in my opinion, it is much more flavorful.  When you’re talking about only a $1.50/lb difference, why wouldn’t you support the local farm?  There probably wouldn’t even be that difference if it weren’t for the fact that that particular vendor does get its meat USDA inspected, which means higher overhead.   To me it’s a no-brainer to support the local farms, and that is going to mean some trial and error (such as the bacon – from now on I won’t get it from that other vendor), but it doesn’t mean that I am giving up anything.  The vendor that I get most of my meat from doesn’t just have pork and beef, they also have lamb, duck, chicken, rabbit, and alligator.  I could probably buy a different thing from them every week for two years and still never have the same thing twice.  In addition, if I want a specific cut at a specific size, I call them and ask them, and then they bring it for me to the farmer’s market the next week.  I can ask the person running the stand for something that does well in a slow cooker and he’ll give me suggestions.  You just can’t put a value on that kind of personal interaction, if you ask me.  If it means I eat less meat, I was probably eating far more than I needed to before anyway.  To those of you who live in California, you probably have local farms that are doing the same thing, and I would urge you to seek them out, because as all the sustainability big names say, you vote with your dollars.

         Anyway, sorry for the rant at the end, but it is so important and so few people even realize that there are options outside of the grocery store!

 

Garden Updates

     So it is still dark out right now or I would get some photos of my seedlings, which are all doing well (I did throw out the first batch of broccoli seedlings because they got too leggy and fell over, but now that I have restarted them they are doing well) and are now living out on my balcony to harden off before going in the garden.  I mentioned the other day that I did finally get my beds finished, below is a picture.

 

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After finishing them I was too tired to do anything more.

 

  They are held together with nails, so they aren’t super sturdy, but they don’t exactly have to be, since it’s not like they’re holding a ton of soil anyway.  Then yesterday I went out to begin the hard work: tilling.  While the soil is very good (probably from having tons of compost applied over a period of years) and I don’t think I’ll need to till in the future, for now it has gotten too compacted from me stomping around trying to get rid of weeds for me to be able to use it as is.  So I double dug the first bed yesterday, though I didn’t do it exactly as pictured (I made my life much harder by digging out the entire bed at once rather than in sections and by putting the dirt to the sides of the bed rather than in a wheelbarrow).  Once I was loosening up the second layer, there was definitely some clay, which surprised me, since I expected sandy soil here in FL.  The top layer, though, is very nice, not clay-like and not sandy.  I did add a wheelbarrow load of cow manure, but that was mainly just to make sure I had a load to use (the pile has only been there for about a week and already it is half gone), since that much manure is probably too much for one bed.  Whenever I dig out the second bed I will probably end up moving about half of the manure over.  Meanwhile, hopefully the worms will move in and start breaking it down, because it is much fresher than I would have liked and is definitely not really composted down.  I am hoping that I am adding little enough not to damage my plants.  I would like to add some compost to the beds as well, but there isn’t any ready right now at the garden and I’m not sure whether I want to spring for some bags of it at the store or not (I probably won’t).  I would really like to get some worm castings but those are very expensive so I will probably just ask Santa for a vermicomposting kit to put in my apartment instead so I can generate my own worm castings.  Once I finished all the digging, I added some manure at the bottom of the bed and tilled it in, then put the soil back in and tilled some more, then added the other half of the manure (which again will probably end up being scooped into the bottom of the other bed).  It looked like this:

 

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I actually got a blister from all the digging!

 

     I then added some cardboard to deter any weeds that might germinate from the light exposure:

 

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Doesn’t it look so nice and neat?

 

   And finally I put some black weedblock fabric over the top of it (and added cardboard around the sides as well):

 

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     I am hoping that the cardboard and the fabric will help prevent any weeds from germinating after being exposed to the light during the tilling process.  I am also planning on using cardboard as mulch around my plantings to help prevent moisture evaporation as well as weed germination.  Hopefully having the beds raised like this will prevent water from pooling in them, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem since we are now going into a relatively dry season.  I am hoping to go out and finish the other bed on Tuesday morning.  If all goes well I should be able to start planting some things by next week (I want to get everything at least a week to settle after all the disturbance).  Meanwhile I will probably start working on fashioning all the fencing into some sort of trellis.  I am also planning on making a low cage to cover the entire bed to protect seeds/seedlings from birds and armadillos.  I am not sure whether that would end up being permanent or whether I would remove it when things get to a certain size.  I will leave you with a couple of cat pictures.

 

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Laziest cat in the world

 

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He must be within four feet of me at all times (unfortunately, this includes when I’m trying to cook!)

Yes, I want to be a farmer

So I don’t have any pictures for you today, but I did finally get my raised beds built the other day.  The lumber was about $20 but I think it will be worth it, in terms of helping to prevent soil compaction, improving general appearance, and helping to prevent pests.  I now have two 2′ x 8′ beds that are 6″ tall each.  Right now I have spread the weed barrier cloth out under both beds and all around them to start smothering the weeds in the section of the garden that I am going to start cultivating.  It would probably work a lot better if I ever remembered to bring one of my boxes of cardboard out, but I keep forgetting.  Hopefully tomorrow I will remember to do that.  The free cow manure that the co-op provides is also now there, so hopefully tomorrow I will be able to get my two wheelbarrows full of that to fill my beds.  It looks pretty well composted to me, so I’m not too worried about it burning plants, especially since I will mix it in well with the soil already present.  There isn’t any regular compost ready right now, I’m pretty sure, so that will have to wait until later.  Once the beds are tilled and filled (I don’t necessarily think tilling is necessary each time you plant, but right now the ground is all compacted, so I’m going to have to this time) I will probably cover them with some cardboard and weed cloth and leave them to solarize a bit more for another week or two, just to prevent my tilling from causing tons of weeds to get going.

 

In other news, I am continuing my readings about sustainable/local food, and it is certainly an interesting world!  My fear at this point is that I am reading too many opinions from one side of the argument, and not enough from the more industrial side.  Considering the fact that all the animal science classes at my college are all geared toward industrial production, however, I feel like I am getting enough information from both sides.  It is definitely enough to make me stop eating grocery-store meat.  Even though the locally produced, pasture based meats are more expensive, I would rather eat less meat than continue to support feedlot operations, especially since the locally produced stuff is head and shoulders above the grocery store products as far as taste is concerned!  The thing I love about reading all of these sort of fringe viewpoints, though, is that they bring up issues that I’ve never even thought of.  For example, even a vegan who consumes only organic plant protein products such as tofu, etc, is most likely indirectly supporting industrial animal slaughter because bone meal and blood meal (which are both ok in organic practices, I have used them myself in my garden) are by-products of it.  It really raises a lot of questions, and ones that I don’t think have easy answers.

 

The book that I am currently reading is Folks, this ain’t normal by Joel Salatin (who is one of the most important and innovative of those in favor of pasture based, sustainable farming) and it is a fascinating read.  Aunt Rusty, I think you would absolutely love it.  One sort of funny thing it brings up in the chapter that I am reading now is that there is this perception that smart people don’t farm.  I get this myself in my own family when they ask if I really need to go to graduate school if I just want to be a farmer, and as Joel Salatin puts it:

 

“For decades we’ve shipped our best and brightest off to town to become white-collar doctors, lawyers, accountants, and engineers and reserved food production to society’s dolts.  Does that make sense?  Do we really want society’s bottom feeders to be in charge of our air, soil, and water?”

 

This resounds with me, naturally, though I do want to go farther in academics than he really approves of.  He has some not-so-nice sentiments toward land-grant research universities, while I think they could really help the sustainable/local food cause if more students would just realize that these are huge issues.  I asked my animal science professor this week if there was any research going on about sustainable livestock production and he told me that that was mainly happening in the commercial scene and he wasn’t aware of any projects at the university.  Really?  That is utter insanity to me.  How can such a huge research university not even be looking at alternatives to feedlots?  I have since found a professor who may be doing something related to sustainable livestock production, but we’ll see.  Anyway, it is just really interesting stuff, and it is important stuff and I feel like the more you know the better off you’ll be.  Stay tuned for garden updates…possibly tomorrow afternoon!

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

I forgot to mention in my earlier post that I am now reading a wonderful book entitled Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver.  I actually didn’t realize when I first picked it up that Barbara Kingsolver was the author, because it was in the non-fiction section, but obviously, it is.  In case you don’t know, Barbara Kingsolver is also a fiction author.  I have previously read two of her books, The Bean Trees and The Poisonwood Bible, both of which are excellent.  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is very different from the other books of hers that I have read, though it does have the same writing style.  It is about Ms. Kingsolver going for a year trying to eat only local food (with her family following the all local plan as well), other than a few exceptions such as flour and olive oil.  Local for them is defined as within one county.  It is a fascinating read, and I am confident that some of my followers would enjoy it (especially Aunt Rusty).  One interesting aspect of it to me, though, is the fact that it portrays California in a somewhat negative light.  Not in terms of California’s people or anything like that, but in terms of the fact that California exports so much produce to other parts of the country and to other countries, thus in some cases stifling attempts to highlight local produce.  People are encouraged so much to eat vegetables that most people would praise California for providing them year round, but Kingsolver makes the argument that we ought to try to eat seasonal vegetables from local sources rather than imported out of season vegetables from California.  It is interesting to think about.  It is also interesting to contemplate trying her experiment, and would probably be infinitely easier here in northern Florida than in Appalachia where she was.  Perhaps as fall approaches and my garden hopefully starts producing, I will be able to do something similar, though I have an unfortunate addiction to carbonation that would prevent me from going through with it at a puritanical level.  Perhaps I could shoot for making sure that at least 50% of my grocery budget is spent on local products or something like that.  And local for me would probably be defined as coming from the state of Florida, rather than just Alachua county, because I don’t think I have her level of discipline.

In other news, I went to turn on the light in my seedling box just now and discovered that one of the cherry tomatoes has some little shoots coming up, yay!

Garden Update and Sprouts

So yesterday morning I went out to my garden with the intention of planting my corn, but I forgot a key ingredient: the corn seeds.  So I contented myself instead with measuring out my plot and found to my surprise that rather than being 12′ by 12′ as I had originally thought it would be, it is actually closer to 12′ by 19′.  I thought it looked a little squat but figured it might be 10′ by 12′, not actually much larger than I had thought.  So for that reason I will probably be going back to the drawing board as far as laying out my beds is concerned.  The corn, however, will be going in the same spot no matter what.  I laid out an approximation of the corn bed using bricks that have been sitting in my car for about two months now (they formed the edge of my garden bed at my last home).  Thankfully I was able to use a wheelbarrow to transport the bricks because it would have  been very tedious to carry them all from the parking area back to my plot.  I laid out an area that is approximately 8′ by 12 – 16″.  It isn’t very straight right now because the plot isn’t leveled off, but I went ahead and laid down a layer of cardboard then a layer of weedblock just to get that area started.  I will probably go out Saturday morning and work on leveling at least that side of the plot.  I was also very excited because when I went out to the barn yesterday the trainer has started a lot of improvements and there was some leftover old wire fencing that I will be able to use as trellis material and as a support to drape birdnetting or other things to protect young plants.  It is excellent that she is letting me have the old material for free, because a roll of similar fencing new at a home improvement store would probably cost over $50.  In addition, me taking it means it won’t end up back in the trash system.  Recycling, yay!  I intend to pick up that fencing along with a couple of bags of horse poop this weekend.  Here are some pictures of the garden as I left it yesterday.

 

Bed with cardboardThe corn bed with cardboard laid down to start the weed killing process.

Bed with weed block

The corn bed with weedblock laid down to help start the weed-killing process.

  As a side note, the cardboard is also recycled – I  cut up all the boxes from my recent move and have two boxes full of cardboard pieces that I will be able to use as mulch.

  On another note, when I came back from the garden I was very excited to see the following in my indoor seedling house.

Sprouts sprouting

It is somewhat difficult to see in this shot, but the left pots have sprouts.

  That’s, right, the experiment has succeeded on about half the seeds so far!  The marigold and broccoli seeds are all up, I am just waiting on the tomato and pepper seeds (which is not surprising, since they have longer germination times anyway).  I am letting all of the seeds grow for now, but once they get a bit bigger I will cut it down to one seedling per pot.  I was amazed by how fast the marigolds had grown.  One day there was nothing and the next there were inch long sprouts!

Marigold Sprouts

Marigold seedlings

Broccoli sprouts

Broccoli seedlings

Look for more updates soon!