Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Planting and Seeding for Spring 2011 has Started!

I never thought I would ever be so excited about Spring showing up and I cannot wait! As you can see from the title, seeds have been started on their journey. The same vegetables from last season have been started and a few more have been added.

I know I may be running a bit early as far as starting seeds but there is conflicting information online about last frost date for my area. It varies from January 2nd and covers up to mid April. I figure if I start them now, and depending on how the weather goes, they will be pretty much ready for anytime I need them. 

I wanted to grow most of the same vegetables as last season but add a few more and I think I can accomplish this. 

Full List of Crops:

Peppers:
Bananas
Green Bells
Habaneros
Poblanos

Tomatoes:
Early Girl
Moneymaker
Yellow Pearshaped

Squash:
Acorn 
Butternut
Spaghetti  

Carrots:  Danver Half-Longs
Cucumbers
Eggplant: Black Beauty and Front Runner
Honeydew Melon
Radishes: China Rose Winter, Crimson Giant, Sparkler 
Snow Peas
Yellow Onions


I know it seems like too much but it is not that much more than before. I also plan on adding potatoes, and maybe a few more. I actually still have some plants that have survived this long and I will see how long they set fruit. 

The raised beds are pretty much ready for when these new plants are ready to be added. The compost in the bin is looking good and should also be ready for the beds. The adishes, carrots and snow peas have  been directly sown into the ground. I do not know how they will work out but there is only one way to find out. 

I wonder if I have any readers that are gardeners themselves that would like to share what they are planning on growing this coming Spring. 

Luis

Monday, December 27, 2010

My New Toy: Salad Dressing Mixing Bottle

My mother in law has been a great resource for my gardening and she keeps on giving. I received a few gifts from her this holiday season but there is one that I am simply ecstatic about. I love cooking and I had never seen anything like this, until now.  It is not something that needs to be plugged in or turned on by any means. 

As you saw from the the title of this post, it is a salad dressing mixing bottle. There are many salad dressings that say they are all natural and some actually are but not all. These dressings come with a heftier price and some things that may not really be all natural at all.  By simply mixing the ingredients myself, I know that what I am eating, really is all natural. 

The idea is simple, follow the healthy recipes right on the bottle. There is no need to guess at the amounts of each as the bottle has a "ruler" of sorts right on it. The recipes are fairly simple and most kitchens already  have these items. 

I did not ask where the gift was purchased but I did find it online at a fairly reasonable price. I found it at Sur La Table for under $5 but I am sure other places carry it. 

I just thought I should share this great kitchen tool with everyone. 

Luis

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fruit Compote

I am back with another recipe and this one is my new favorite. I was in the mood for fruit but not in the conventional way. A quick online search brought up many recipes for fruit compote but they all had the same idea.

Ingredients:
Fruit: Fresh or Dried (Include fresh apples and pears to add real substance. )
Honey (to taste)
1 cup of Wine

Directions:
1. Peel apples and pears.
2. Dice all fruit.
3.Add fruit, honey, wine and water to saucepan.(Use enough to water to cover fruit)
4. Cook until all fruit is tender.
5. Remove fruit and leave just the liquid.
6. Cook down the liquid into a thicker liquid.
7. Add fruit into liquid

There are many ways to eat the compote and I will start you off with a few:

Serving Suggestions:
1. Pour over pound cake and vanilla bean ice cream. (add fresh strawberries to garnish)
2. Top off toast, that has been cut in half, is also amazing. I used blueberry toast.
3. Eating it cold or hot by itself also works.

Well, I give you a starting point and it is up to you where to go with it.

Luis

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bobble Water Bottles

My wife and I are trying to go green with most aspects of our lives. Composting, recycling, and gardening are just the beginning. Our next step is hope is to get rid of water bottles from our home and these water bottles are a great way to do it.

I give you Bobble Water Bottles and we begin with a quote from the company website.

Bottle water is costly.

 Americans alone spend 17 billion every year to slake their first for portable water.  The costs are not limited to our wallets, either: each year, nearly 1.5 million barrels of oil are used to make plastic water bottles. Most of these bottles are casually discarded. They end up in our landfills, in our oceans, littering our sidewalks.

We were intrigued by this challenged. We have decades of experience solving design and engineering concerns. And we like bottled water. We didn't think the solution was to stop drinking it. We saw this as engineering problem, a complex question that demanded a simple, intuitive answer.

We set out to satisfy our desire for fresh, clean, portable water while minimizing the considerable costs bottle water imposes on our environment and ourselves. We decided to reinvent the water bottle. We needed our bottle to be recyclable and resilient. We needed to hold costs down. We refused to sacrifice style in favor of function. In essence, we wanted it all, and we wanted it now.

Two years later, we proudly present: bobble. make water better.


Bobble Water Bottles have been making news and helping us lead greener lives. The idea is fairly simple and saves many water bottles in the process. Each water bottle runs about $10 each but pays for itself in no time at all. Fairly inexpensive, BPA free, water bottles that have its own filters and can save about 300 bottles from the landfill. The filters are also low cost at about $7 each and makes each water bottle about 2 cents. Could these bottles get any better? I think so...

Not only are they great great for the environment, they also come in 3 different sizes, filters in six different colors and even multi-colored for kids. There are different options for different needs. Just do some browsing on their website for these options.

I have given you the information, it is up to you to do something with it.

Luis

Bobble Water Bottle Official Website

Disclaimer: I have not received any type of compensation for this blog post and have written this post on my own free will.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Potatoes!

Like I've said before, there is no feeling knowing that you can and have grown your own food. I just harvested my first pair of potatoes and I am still over the moon. I know I am supposed to wait for the plant to die off and then just dig it all up but I could not wait.

These two were sticking more than half-way out of the soil and were begging to be picked. They are about the size of tennis balls. The rest of them are not ready, so I just made sure that the sun would not harm them. I did not see any others sticking out but added more soil on top. At some point, I hope to add many more potatoes to my cooking.

Luis

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Saving Seeds

This is the slower part of the year for gardening and this makes it a great time to harvest seeds. Seeds packets are not horribly expensive but the prices go up every year and saving seeds will help alleviate this issue.

I started saving seeds a few months ago and still doing it. These are not only meant for home-grown vegetables and fruit but may also be done with store bought produce. It must be noted though that store bought produce may be a hybrid and may not grow correctly. This is why growing "heirloom" fruits and vegetables is important as these will produce the same every year.

There are a few basic instructions that should be followed and may be different depending on vegetable or fruit. I found many websites with instructions and here are some to get you started. If you are looking for a specific fruit or vegetable, just do a search on how to save seeds from it. These may be a bit overwhelming but offer great information.

1. EHow Article

2. Mother Earth - Mother Earth also has a wonderful magazine that covers many topics for gardeners.

3. GardenWeb forum for seed saving

I will let you go through it at your own pace and hopefully get something out of it.

Luis

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Fall Garden

It is now Fall but my Summer plants keep producing and my tomato plants have shown many new blooms. I took out some plants but left most alone and I am glad I did. The recent rain has helped the tomatoes come back and keep producing. I don't know if this is normal, as it is my first season of gardening, but why not try and see how far I can take them?

My original spaghetti squash plants are gone but I planted some new ones and one is now producing. I hope it makes it as I love eating squash. Along with the squash, I grew lettuce and have already enjoyed a great salad from it. I will hopefully have more soon from the same plants but we shall see.

I am looking forward to next spring to start fresh but simply could not wait. I planted some potatoes in the planter attached to the outdoor bbq grill. I found these growing while still in the bag and I wanted to see how far it would go. I am pleased to say that they are about a foot high and buds are forming.

I wanted to grow potatoes because I know the previous tenants had a full on garden and were able to grown many things. Our neighbor informed me that they had grown corn, potatoes, and tomatoes. Well, I guess not all potato plants were pulled out and used. I now have another 5-6 plants growing on the outskirts of the garden. I found these about a week ago and told the gardeners to not mow them down. I am excited to see how those grown and taste.

In closing, I leave you with a new Flickr set of photos I just took a few hours ago.
Find those HERE.

Luis

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Community Gardens

We are not all blessed with having the space to have a garden at home. Container gardening only takes keeps you satisfied for so long and that is where the community gardens step in to help.

Community gardens vary by state, city, or even neighborhoods and no 2 are alike but the idea is all the same. They unite residents and provide a place to grow our own produce. Fees, rules, and regulations will differ from garden to garden. Most gardens require a fee, and some also require community service hours. Gardening is growing in popularity and space at the community gardens is limited. Many, if not all, have a waiting list.

The difference in community gardens does not end there. Plot size from garden to garden will vary but should not be an issue. Most plants don't require tons of space and should coexist without any issues.  Some plants will need trellises or cages to help control growth but it should not be a problem. Of course, gardens should be planned out.

Once the plot is all planned out, the soil may need to be amended with compost and other organic material. A great benefit to having a plot in a community garden is that most, not all, will have compost and/or mulch for its gardeners. Some gardens may also have manure that can be added to plots to encourage growth.  These "extras" may be free or come at a fee. Along with these extras, the garden may have a stand that sells seeds or seedlings that can be purchased but these can also be bought elsewhere.

After you have seeds or seedlings planted, you need to know how to keep them growing. Gardening does not come easy to anybody and books can only explain things so much. Some books and online resources are so broad sometimes that we are left to figure it out on our own. This is a perfect excuse to talk to your fellow gardeners and see what has worked for them. Your new friends may be full of useful information, tips and ideas that may have worked for them. I am all for making our own mistakes and learning from them, but what is wrong with getting some help along the way? Meet your plot neighbors and as many people as you can and form new friendships.

Forming new friendships is part of life and helps us enjoy it. Once these friendships have been formed there is a feeling of community. Different people garden for different reasons, but getting out of the house and interacting with other people has its own rewards. Technology has put most people behind a computer screen and avatars are the only way we interact with the world.

So, hop on the web and look up the community gardens that may be in your area. You may be shocked to find that you may have one nearby and you never knew about it.

Luis

p.s.: Here are some in my area:

1. City of Long Beach Community Gardens
2. Long Beach Community Garden
3. Long Beach Organic
4. Wrigley Garden
5. City of Lakewood Community Gardens

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Quick Garden Update

I am looking to add more beds and have them ready for this coming spring. The compost bin keeps turning and making some "black gold". The lawn clippings go into the bin every other week and will be used in the beds or pots. Mom shows up every now and then with stuff for the compost bin.

I put up some shade so the plants would not dry up and it seems like it has helped. The soil has stayed moist and kept everything growing. I found some gorgeous eggplants growing that will be eaten within the next following days. The tomato plants are sticking around and still producing but may not hold out much longer. Radishes and snow peas have shown up and growing nicely. I have lettuce also growing in a few small pots on the front porch and may be used in a salad or sandwich. There were some potatoes that were showing growth in my kitchen and I decided to plant them to see what would happen. I am happy to report that I now have 3 growing potato plants.

This really was a quick update and I will be back later with more. The next update may include pictures.

Luis

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Long Beach Lawn to Garden Program

Hello readers,

I wrote this post for www.562Citylife.com but it goes along with gardening. I am posting only about half the article here and there is a link at the bottom to continue it.

Luis


The Colorado River is at its lowest level, ever and if it lowers another 10 feet, we will have a drought on our hands. There are many ways to help prevent this. The easiest and cheapest way of helping is to simply conserve water. There are other ways but none that are as easy. Desalination is one of these processes but can costs up to $1500 per acre and causes irreversible damage to marine life.

All of these costs are the reason that the LB Water Department started its “Lawn to Garden” program. This program is in place to help rip out lawns in the city and replace them with water-wise landscaping. Residents are awarded $2.50 per square foot of lawn that is removed and replaced. This award is only good up to 100 sq feet.

Along with helping save water, the makeovers also help reduce or even eliminate water run off so it does not end up on our local beaches. Some of these gardens include edibles and native plants or plants that just do not need much water. There is a list of approved plants and an FAQ on the LB Water Department website.

To read full article, click HERE.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

My Mother: The Gardener

Spaghetti Squash
For as long as I can remember, there have always been plants at home. I never really thought about it at the time but it makes sense now. Mom has told me that her father, my grandfather, was the same way.

She has always had the love for plants and flowers but not necessarily for growing food. It didn't take much to get her on that path.

Bell Pepper
She stopped by the house to drop off some things and asked if I needed a ride anywhere. I don't have a car and took to opportunity to not only to get out of the house but also to spend some time with her. I really didn't need anything but had thought about getting a seedling or two from the nursery. I didn't know how long it had been since she had been to a nursery and thought it would be something new for her. What was the worse that could happen?

Squash
When we arrived at the nursery, her eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. It took a second to take it all in and slowly began to walk through it all. There were plants of all kinds; vegetables, herbs, houseplants and many others. I knew where I was going and headed in that direction. She followed me and began collection plants even faster than I was and ended up buying some.

Cherry Tomato
She started off with cherry tomatoes, and bell peppers. These plants went directly into the ground and she has been enjoying them ever since. I have hooked her on growing some of her own vegetables and is anxiously waiting for next Spring.

Luis

P.S: The photos are recent and plants are the end of the season. They do not look as good as they did in their prime.



Monday, September 27, 2010

Going Green

Trash day is once a week and once a week, I drag out the recycle bin, trash bin and bin with yard cuttings or trimmings but not always. The trash bin usually only has one trash bag and my wife and I were not sure why it was so little. Don't get me wrong, it is not an issue but we were just wondering.

After a few minutes we had come  up with the plausible answer. We were still putting out the same "trash" we always have but it was being separated and we now have a 75 gallon composting bin.

Compost Bin
Most of the kitchen scraps go directly in the bin and not the regular trash; including most vegetable and fruit scraps. My mom also stops by with scraps from her kitchen every now and then for my bin. Along with food, I toss in the grass clippings and fallen leaves from the front and backyard. Grass clippings are full of nitrogen and great for the garden.

Recycle Bin
The bin is supplied by the City of Lakewood and is also picked up on trash day. We toss in anything and everything that is made of plastic, cardboard or can be recycled. It is usually full or overflowing every week and none of this goes into regular trash.

Gardening
This is something I love doing for a few reasons. We have fresh food right outside our door that is just waiting to be picked and eaten. I know what goes into the food and much healthier.

I wrote a whole post as to why I garden HERE.

There are many blogs, articles and a plethora of information as to what is considered "going green" There is also a huge push from many directions to get mankind to do as much as possible to help preserve the planet. We are using so many resources, and hurting our planet with all the stuff we do to it.

Let's take care of our planet so future generations can enjoy it as much as we do.

Luis


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Heat and the Garden

If you live in Southern California, like I do, you know that it will be and has been very warm lately. It is not easy for the garden to deal with it. Luckily, I had already put up "posts" and hung burlap from them to help with some shade. I went out yesterday and hung the burlap back up and the plants are doing much better today. 


Like people, plants need to stay hydrated to survive. I went through and soaked all plants through and hope they will be fine but nothing is guaranteed. 


I will keep up the burlap probably for the rest of the week and water regularly. I know there are many out there that don't have the longer growing season that I have but it is just so hot. This summer was fairly cool and tomato season was a little slow but the heat is coming back with a vengeance. 


I did an online search and found some great articles on dealing with the heat in the garden. I hope they help bring some relief for those over-heated plants. 

1. Houston Grows: 10 ways to fight heat in the garden
2. How to Prevent Heat Stress in Your Garden Plants 

If there are any tips that are not listed here or on the linked pages that have worked for you, please let us know.

Luis

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fall Plantings

Well,

I finally gave in and tore out the tomato plants in my raised bed. I put the tomato cage back in and toss in some snow pea seeds. Along with snow peas, I've added carrots and radishes but not sure how it will grow or if they will sprout up at all. Then again, I was shocked when anything came up the first time and this was what got me so interested in gardening.

I also got lettuce growing in a tray and have transplanted into a bed but not sure if they will survive. I am looking forward to early next year to when I will be starting new seeds indoors.

All in all, my first fall plantings were not a huge undertaking but I hope to get better at it.

Luis

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Beef w/ Salsa Verde

I had another "adventure" in the kitchen and thought I should share it. It also helps me get it out of my system and others can hopefully learn something from my mistakes.

Today we are having some beef and only because it was on sale. We love chicken but it sometimes gets to be too much and a little red meat sprinkled into the cuisine should not hurt. 

I was inspired by the last attempt at salsa verde with chicken here and just went with it.

Starting off with salsa itself:

Ingredients:
4-5 Tomatillos
1 Round Onion
1 Bell Pepper
1 Can of Diced Chiles (4 oz)
Cilantro
Lemon
Salt

Directions:
1. Wash and peel tomatillos.
2. Cut onion in half.
3. Dice 1 half of onion and other half just in chunks.
4. Same procedure with bell peppers as onion. 
5. Toss in chunks of bell peppers, onion, salt, can of diced chiles into blender or food processor. 
6. Squeeze out lemon into mixture.
7. Puree mixture and pour into saucepan.
8. Add in diced onions and bell peppers into saucepan.
9. Heat up mixture until hot.
10. Set salsa aside.

Next part includes the beef.

Ingredients: 
Beef
2 Tomatoes
1 Bell Pepper
1 Round Onion
Cumin
Salt

Directions:
1. Slice onion, tomatoes and bell pepper.
2. Add beef into large flat pan with just enough water to cover it.
3. Lay onions, tomatoes, and bell peppers on top of beef. 
4. Add salt and cumin to taste.
5. Let the beef fully cook.
6. If there is still a lot of water left, I just tossed some of it out.

Well, all of the hard work is done and the only thing left is to just add the salsa to the beef.  Mix everything well and serve. I am serving with boiled vegetables but I will leave that up to you. Rice may be a great option for this one. I may have some quinoa bowl from Fresh N Easy and it only takes 30 seconds to make. I just added something else.

As with most, if not all of MY recipes, chicken and beef can always be substituted for each other. Heck, if you are feeling more adventurous, you can toss in chicken and beef together! I emphasize MY recipes, because I can only speak for my cooking. I pretty much wing most of these recipes and then try to remember everything. It is more fun that way. 

Luis




Monday, September 13, 2010

Chile Verde with Chicken



I sent out a tweet earlier today looking for salsa verde as I have many tomatillos. I got a reply back from @favediets with this recipe and I decided to try it. I tried to stick to the recipe as much as possible but did not add the chiles and used about half the chicken. I am only cooking for 2 and 8 chicken thighs is a bit much. 

This is the recipe in question: Chile Verde with Chicken

I am still learning how to cook and reducing sauces or anything for that matter has not been learned. I did research online for best ways to do it and here are my thoughts on the recipe itself.

As I said before, I did not add the canned diced or chipotle chiles. I know this probably made it harder but if you have read my previous recipes, I do not do well with spicy food. With that said, the recipe is as simple as it seems. I did add about 2 cups of chicken broth because I did not see as to how the 1 cup would last for 45 minutes. Then again, it may have been because the canned chiles were not added and the liquid from that needed to be replaced. It took only about 30 minutes for chicken to fully cook and leaving it in the mixture would have resulted in dry chicken. I took out the chicken and let the rest of ingredients simmer. Once it seemed like it was done, I went ahead and put the chicken back in and added the lime juice and cilantro. I must say that it does smell amazing and cannot wait to have some later for dinner.

All in all, I liked the recipe but will need to find the canned chiles for the next time. They not only add necessary liquid but will also thicken the chicken stock and make it seem more like the normal salsa verde I am used to. I may try the chipotle chile the next time as well, it all depends on the mood I am in. I do not always want any sort of spicy. 

I will be adding a side dish or two but not much more. I will see what happens..

Luis 


Garden Update in Photos!

Hello fellow gardeners and readers!

I went out this morning and took some photos of the garden. I went ahead and created a set on my Flickr account to share it with all to see. I can talk about the way everything looks and describe as much as possible but nothing beats seeing it for yourselves.

All you need to do is Click Here.

I will be back later with another post.

Luis

Friday, September 3, 2010

Garden Update

Current Garden Photo
Hello out there,

I have been posting recipes and general info. but have not posted a general garden update.

Two raised beds have been built, plants were put into them and are now thriving. The first bed includes 3 eggplant, green bell pepper and 2 spaghetti squash plants. The squash plants were not planned as these are volunteer plants. Apparently, there were some viable seeds in the compost that was added when I originally filled the bed. I check the bed everyday for new seedling and have transplanted 3 into a small pot and may move them into a larger pot when necessary.

The second bed includes 3 yellow cherry tomato and habanero pepper plants. All four of these plants are full of fruit and more appears everyday. This one has no volunteer plants but I may end up popping in one of the seedlings into it and see if it works out.

I still have other tomato plants in 5 gallon pots, a red cherry tomato plant, beets growing in the same pot as the kumquat tree and countless seeds growing in egg cartons.

I am already looking forward to next spring and planning on adding another 3-4 raised beds. The construction of these will need to be spaced out as a job has not materialized as of yet. I still have some seeds from last season and they should be fine to bring me on some delicious veggies.

I hope to grow all of the same things as this year but also add a few more things. Crops have included: radishes, carrots, snow peas, eggplant, bell peppers, tomatoes, spaghetti squash and habanero peppers. Some new crops may include: potatoes, few different kinds of peppers, cucumbers, some kind of melon(s) and whatever other seedling may be on sale.

Well, that's pretty much it. If there are any suggestions to keep costs low or anything else, feel free to leave a comment. There is no reason to spend tons of money unnecessarily. 

Luis

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Dinner: Squash Soup, Baked Chicken Breast w/ Vegetables



I am back with not only a dish but a whole meal including soup. Don't worry, it is not difficult and anybody can do it.

There is too much to get through and no need for small talk. Let's get right to this.

Ingredients:
Squash

Kitchen Tools:
Food Processor or Blender
Microwave
Microwave Safe Dish

Directions:
1. Clean off squash.
2. Dice squash into small chunks.
3. Toss in squash into blender or food processor.
4. Puree the squash.
5. Empty squash into microwave safe bowl.
6. Pop into the the microwave for a minute or so to heat it up.

That's it people! Nothing to it. As far as the type of squash, I will leave it up to you. I used crooked neck squash but most are suitable. A great choice would be Butternut.

Now on to the main course! This is has 2 parts.

Part 1:

Ingredients:
Eggplant
Round Onions
Zucchini
Tomatoes
Carrots
Chicken Breast
Olive Oil
Salt
Pepper

Directions:
1. Wash all vegetables.
2. Cut up Eggplant, Onions, Zucchini, Tomatoes, and Carrots.
3. Place all cut vegetables into a bowl.
4. Add salt and pepper to taste.
5. Lightly coat baking dish with olive oil.
6. Pour out vegetables into baking dish.
7. Place chicken on top of vegetables in baking dish.
8. Start pre-heating oven to 350.

Part 2:

Ingredients:
Tomatillos
Bell Peppers
Onions
Habanero Peppers (optional)
Salt
Garlic

Directions:
1. Remove outer "shell" from tomatillos.
2. Wash Tomatillos, Bell Peppers and Onions.
3. Coarsely chop tomatillos, bell peppers and onions.
4. Using blender or food processor, puree tomatillos, garlic, bell peppers and onions. (and habaneros)
5. Add Salt to taste.
6. Once "salsa" is done, pour all over chicken and vegetables in baking dish.
7. The baking dish now goes into oven at 350 for about 45 minutes. (Make sure chicken is fully cooked.)

The habanero peppers are optional as I know these bad boys pack a punch.

That is it for this one. I tried to explain it as best as I could and hope everything was understood. If there are any questions or clarifications are needed, just ask.

Luis

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Composting

We now move onto composting basics. I am still learning about what can be composted but started off with some basics. The first round came up good and has been great for the garden.

First, we gotta start by buying or creating a compost bin. These can be free, cheap or expensive and it is only limited by your creativity. I started off by just making a big pile behind the garage and turned it every now and then, It worked for a while but it got too big and turning was a pain. I gave in and did some research on some bins. I started with standard bins and ended up looking at rotating tumbling bins.

The first ones that I looked at were just "box" like bins and offered no real help to turn the materials. The size of the bin did not bother me because I have the room for it. I was at Costco with the wife and stopped in my tracks when I saw the most amazing thing I had seen in a long time. Tied to a rack was a massive 75 gallon tumbling / rotating compost bin and she was a beauty. It was just what I had been looking for and I had to have it. When my wife walked by me and saw the look on my face, she just said I could have it as a birthday gift. I never thought, even for a second, that I would want a compost bin. She knows that look and I would not take "No" for an answer. The fun part was getting that box inside and out of a 98 Toyota Corolla.Once it was out, even more fun began.

The fun continued once I finally put the thing together and filling it. The box recommends that 2 people put this thing together and there is a reason for it. It took me about 4 hours by myself and it took less than 20 minutes to fill.

To fill this bin, I had to wrangle in the materials for it. I had just taken down a vine that had been falling off a wall and that was the first thing in the bin. I tossed in the pile I had going from behind the garage. Next came all of the vegetable scraps from the kitchen, including mom's kitchen. All of those scraps that normally go in the trash are now going into this bin and the road to gardener's black gold is taking shape.

Once filled up, I just rotate it every few days and wait for it to decompose. The bin sits in the sun and the heat helps the material break down faster. Once it is broken down, it can be mixed with soil where you are planting.I used my first batch for my raised beds and it has been doing wonders. My plants have shown new growth and more fruit has been coming in.

Well, I started trying to write a post as to how to compost but ended up sharing my experience. I hope you learned something anyways and  I will add some links that should redeem me.

I hope you will keep coming back.

-Luis

p.s.: Here are some links with more information on composting:
1. Composting Guide
2. Composting 101
3. How to Compost

This is the compost bin I am using:
Costco-Lifetime 75-gallon Tumbler Compost Bin
I bought mine in the spring and paid only $99 and not the current $175 asking price. Shop around.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Are You Gardening? Why not?

I'm back with another post and this time I am asking as to why you are not gardening. I ran a google search for reasons to not garden but did not find anything that satisfied me.

It may be space that is an issue but there are ways around it. You can try container gardening and you can start by reading my post about the subject here. There are many posts and information out there and I have linked some great pages in that post. I started by using containers and will continue to do so in one way or another.

I thought gardening would be too difficult but it has not been too bad. I am not going to lie, there is a learning curve. Although, the internet is there to help with every question / issue to that may arise. I started by tossing seeds into soil and added water. It is nerve racking not knowing as to whether or not anything will grow but when it starts coming in, there is no feeling like it in the world. I remember sending out pictures via Twitter when my first seeds started sprouting and sometimes still do.

The general guidelines for seeds is to follow the directions on the packets. Those packets give you all the basics for those specific seeds. It will not give you every last detail you may need to know but there is always the internet. When buying seedlings, keep those little tags that come with them and refer back to them when necessary. These tags offer similar information about the plant and help you keep them healthy.

Keeping your plants healthy does not have to be expensive. Gardening in general does not need to be expensive and there are many ways to achieve this. I have bought containers at the 99 cent store, and the spring sales are a great way to pick up potting soil and everything needed. Craigslist, Freecycle and the Pennysaver are great resources for free or near free stuff that you may need.

That's what I can think of now and would love to hear as to other reasons out there. I cannot promise that my information or ideas will work for everybody but at least you have started thinking about it. As always, I leave it up to you to do more research about on the subject and not take my word as the absolute truth. There are new products and many other things that change out there daily.

Luis

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Chicken and Vegetable Soup

Well, I am back with another recipe. This one is really simple as I basically started by tossing stuff in the pot. Cooking for two is not always easy and we usually end up with food for an extra meal each, or more. Then again, I try to make a little more in order for my wife and I to have for lunch the following day.

When coming home from the grocery store, chicken is separated into ziploc bags. There are 4 pieces of chicken in each and this way, I do not have to defrost chicken I will not be cooking that day and for this recipe, I pull out all of the frozen and fresh vegetables I can find.

Ingredients:
4 Pieces of Chicken
Salt
Cumin
Pepper
Potatoes
Any other vegetables in can find.

Kitchen Tools:
Medium Saucepan or Pot
Wooden Spoon

Directions:
1. Fill saucepan or pot with water.
2. Toss in chicken.
3. Toss in all vegetables. (except potatoes)
4. Peel and dice potatoes.
5. Place potatoes in bowl with cold water and cover entirely.
6. Season with salt. pepper, and cumin to taste.
7. Cook for about 30-45 minutes or until chicken is fully cooked.
8. Toss in potatoes.
9. Cook until potatoes are tender.

Tips: 
1. Do not put in potatoes at beginning with other vegetables because they will turn to mush. Unless you want to make mashed potatoes in same pot.
2. Diced potatoes are placed in water because they will turn black if not in water.
3. You do not have to use a wooden spoon, and any utensil that can stir mixture, safely, should be fine. I just like my wooden spoon.
4. I toss in frozen veggies, and anything that may be ready from the garden. There is no limit to what can be added, as long as you like it.

Well, that is it for this one and like I have said before, if I can do it, most people can as well. My wife loves when I make her this soup but it is more fun to have her guessing as to what I am cooking.

I will be back with more posts later,

Luis


Side Note:
She told me today that my cooking is getting better and coming from her, it means so much. It's not because she's my wife and I feel obliged to say it. She makes a mean lasagna, meatloaf that rocks, and bakes like you would not believe.

Container Gardening

This post is for those people where space may be an issue and large planter beds are not feasible. You would be surprised as to what can be grown in these small spaces. Of course, not all plants do well in containers but there are many that actually prefer it over being in the ground directly.

When I started my gardening adventures, I planted directly into the ground but ran out of space and would not be able to fit the tray of plants I had started. I also wanted to have better growing conditions than my rock hard clay soil and by bringing in containers to fill with potting mix seemed easier and made more sense for me at that time. I have almost off my plants except for a few Eggplants and Bell Pepper plant as these are in my newly built raised bed.

The containers can be pretty much anything but there are some minimum size recommendations. Most plants will not fruit until it feels anchored and a larger container may be needed. I am not saying you need a massive 20 gallon pot. Although if you have a dwarf tree of any sort, I have a kumquat tree, you may need one but most plants are fine with a 5 gallon pot.

Google brings up over 660,000 results for container gardening that may be more informative and much more thorough than I am and I invite you to read more than my 1 post. You will find A Guide to Container Gardening, a chart that shows minimum size requirements of containers for certain plants, here and many other pages.

Containers can be expensive, cheap or even free and who says they have to be ugly? Your creativity should be expressed. Stickers, paint, bottle caps and many other things can help spruce it up.  Your imagination is the only thing hold you back when decorating these containers.

I have used a rectangular salad container to start up some beet seeds and once they got big enough, I put them in the same container as my kumquat tree. The pot is so massive that the tree has room around it for more vegetables and this shows how one pot/container can be used for multiple things, if it is large enough. If you have started your own seeds, possibly in your egg cartons or just in small containers, they may need to be transplanted into bigger pots at some point. Of course, the amount of available room for your garden will dictate the size of your containers and may require some creativity but may still bring in some vegetables or herbs. I loved growing my own parsley and used it in almost everything I cooked but hoping to expand to more herbs for this following spring season.

Well, I think this should give you some ideas as to where to begin. I know I did not go into detail about everything but I tried to include some useful links in the post. I am always here to try and answer any questions. As I have said before, I do not claim to have all the answers and do not thin I ever will, but may be able to lead you in the right direction. I also invite anybody that has comments / ideas / constructive criticism to post a comment with their information or idea.

Thank you for stopping by,

Luis

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Companion Planting and Crop Rotation

Well, let's pick up where we left off the last time. Your raised bed(s) have been filled and are waiting for seeds, plants or seedlings. Before your head explodes trying to figure out what to plant, there are some things that should be considered.

Companion planting is a theory that certain plants should be planting alongside others to help control pests, keep nutrients in the soil, along with others, to make sure maximize the crop productivity.


A simple online search can find companion foods for others that you may be looking into. There are many charts out there that include the more popular vegetables and fruits. 


Here a basic chart I found: Click Here (pdf file)


The second major thing to take into consideration is the theory behind crop rotation. By doing this, you will help enrich your soil and help keep diseases away. In order to do this, we must remember that all vegetables belong to a family. There are also many charts out there that show the different families. 


Here are a few:
One , Two (.doc file), Three


I know this may seem really confusing and I am still working on understanding it myself. The basic gist is that the same things should not be planted in the same area for more than a year or two. If this is done, all of a certain nutrient in the soil may be depleted and not available for the next planting. The following season should have something else in that same spot that replenishes that missing nutrient. 


For example: Tomatoes use up the Nitrogen in the soil. The following season, snow peas can be planted in the same spot to replace that Nitrogen.


Well, this does it for this post. I hope I did not confuse you too badly. I know it seems like a daunting task but once you get it down it should not be too difficult. Chances are that after a few seasons, you will have it down. Something that would help immensely is to keep track of what is planted in the separate beds / areas. 


If anybody out there can help me/us understand these better, it would be greatly appreciated. After looking at many forums, boards and websites that sometimes have conflicting information is too much.


As always, comments / questions / constructive criticism is always appreciated.


-Luis


ps: I found this page that shows a planting calendar for the entire year. It is a great resource.
Click Here

Friday, August 20, 2010

My "Greenhouse"

Here is a simple way I found to make a basic "greenhouse" in order to start up some seeds and wanted to keep it low-cost. By simply using a plastic shelving unit, shower curtain and some screws I got what I needed. This is where I put the egg cartons from the previous post.

The shelving unit is plastic that was purchased at K-Mart and it was on sale but there should be no issue finding something like it somewhere else. I bought a plastic unit but any material that can be left outdoors should be fine. There are metal units out there but they do cost a bit more.

The clear shower curtain and thermometer can be found anywhere else and nothing special is needed.

Materials:
1. Shelving unit
2. Thermometer - It's only $3 at Home Depot.
3. Screws - I used same ones that were used in building of raised bed.

Tools:
1. Scissors
2. Drill
3. Tape Measure or Long Ruler
4. Sharpie (Something to mark off spots for screws.)

Instructions:
1. Build shelving unit per manufacturers instructions.
2. Measure height and width of shelving unit.
3. Write it down so you don't forget it and have to measure it again. 
4. Before cutting, spread out shower curtain on ground and mark out measurements.
5. Mark off shower curtain so that openings for shower rings end up on top. (see picture below)
6. Remember to measure twice because you only get to cut once. (unless you buy another shower curtain)
7. Place cut curtain pieces, one at a time, where they will be going on shelving unit. 
8. Using Sharpie, or writing utensil of choice, mark off where the screws need to go in order to hang curtain on front and back.
9. Drill in ONE screw to start off.
10. Hang shower curtain piece in order to make sure other marks are correct.
11. Drill in rest of screws.
12. Put a screw on the inside to hang thermometer or just leave on shelf.
13. Hang curtains on screws and you are done!
Note the placement of curtain holes.

Tips:
1. When cutting shower curtain, measure out for two separate pieces. (back and front)
2. Leave sides of shelving unit wide open to allow air flow.
3. Place somewhere that does not get direct sunlight all day long.
4. If using a plastic shelving unit, weights will be needed so it does not blow over. I used bricks on ends but water bottles or anything heavy may work. 
5. Leave a spray bottle with water to spray seedlings when needed.
6. If you are using a shelving unit other than plastic, like metal, screws will not go into it. You need to find another way to hang the curtain and thermometer.
7. Once the sun has cooled down, you may want to remove the front shower curtain piece to get some better airflow.

This may seem like a difficult project, but it did not take long. Now I have a place to put my egg cartons and any other trays to start my seeds. Now I do not have take up the shelf inside the kitchen. I have lettuce, beets, radishes, and turnips growing in there already. 

As usual, comments / constructive criticism / questions are always appreciated.

-Luis 


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Stir-Fry Eggplant

I am back with another way to cook Eggplant. It is a delicious vegetable but not always easy to figure out how to cook it. This is a change from the Baked Eggplant from a few days ago.

With nothing else to say, on to the recipe!

Please read entire post before cooking and don't miss the tips at the end.

Ingredients:
2 Small Eggplant
1 Bell Pepper
1/2 Round Onion (maybe the half that was left over from my last Eggplant recipe)
2 Tomatoes
2 Boneless / Skinless Chicken Breasts
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Soy Sauce (to taste)
Pepper (to taste)

Serves 2-3

Kitchen Tools:
Wok
Knife

Directions:
1. Rinse off all vegetables.
2. Chop vegetables into chunks.
3. Chop chicken into chunks.
4. Fully cook chicken in wok with olive oil.
5. Remove chicken from wok.
6. Dump in all chopped veggies into wok with olive oil.
7. Add soy sauce to taste.
8. Add pepper to taste.
9. Fully cook vegetables. Eggplant should be tender.
10. Add chicken to wok.
11. Mix all ingredients for a minute or so.

Tips:
1. I only used about 2 tablespoon of olive oil for everything. 1 for chicken and 1 for vegetables. 
2. Low Sodium soy sauce is recommended. Nobody needs that much salt.

I think that covers it all. If there are any questions, just ask. I will do my best to help. 

This specific dish shows me that I can replace our vegetable usage by simply growing it myself. All the vegetables used on this dish, except for the onion, were grown right outside my door. It is more of a personal triumph and I hope to keep it up.

-Luis

Egg Carton Gardening

Today is about using those containers that we usually toss out but could be using. While planning on the new seeds that would be started, I thought about having to buy more trays. Then this brought the thought that I want to keep to a free or cheaper alternative. I know these trays are not too expensive but "A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned."

My mother-in-law has been an amazing help with my gardening, asked me if I had already started planning for my next plantings. I told her about my dilemma and she told me to do some research online about "Egg Carton Gardening." Wow, I found so many blog posts and articles all over the internet about something I had never heard of.

I started texting friends and made a strange request, strange to them at least. I asked if they had any egg cartons that I could have. Of course, many asked as to why I needed them. Once they understood, a few said they would try to remember to not toss them out.

One of the replies I got was from my sister, and she made good on her promise. I am not saying nobody else won't but this was the first. Thanks to the egg cartons I got, I have now started more lettuce, beets, turnips and radish seeds.

The process is not very difficult and is the same idea as using the store bought trays with individual cells.

Materials:
Seed Starting Mix or Potting Soil
Egg Cartons
Seeds
Spray Bottle (recommended but not necessary)


Instructions:
1. Fill in "cells" with mix or potting soil.
2. Press in center of every cell with finger.
3. Drop in seeds.
4. Cover up seeds with mix or soil.
5. Spray with water until moist.

It is pretty simple to get these going and it should not take long to do. These trays can now be put next to a sunny window. They should be not be put out in full sun and in full heat as they may not make it. They can also be put into a greenhouse. I have a cheap home-made one that I will be posting about soon.

Stay tuned for more soon.

-Luis

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My First Icon Set!

This is the 1st icon set I can say that I have made. It only includes 8 icons but includes all the things I grew in my first season of gardening.

This set is made for Mac, but will try to convert to work on a pc. If anybody can help, I would greatly appreciated.

It can be found here.

I will continue to try and get better at it. Any comments / feedback / constructive criticism is always greatly appreciated.

-Luis

Filling Raised Bed

                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
Finished Bed
In this post I will be filling you in on what I used to fill my new $20 raised bed. If you missed it, here is the post where give a crash course on building it. Here.

I did some online research, which is where most of my initial info comes from, as to what goes into filling a raised bed. Ideally, I would love to fill in the entire thing with potting mix but that would cost way too much and it would defeat the purpose of trying to keep this endeavor low cost.

I found different methods, mixes and formulas for contents. As I was trying to make sense all of it, I realized that I had a trash bin full of grass clippings and leaves. I knew I was going to use some of the compost that has been cooking for a while now. 

I decided to go with the layering method and here is what I ended up with. I am a visual person and thought it would make it much easier to just show a picture.



These layers to not have to be in the exact same order but are recommended. I added the water bottle to keep the cats from using this as a litter box. Cats and animals stay off lawns and anywhere near water bottles. I do not know why this is but I have been told it just works. 

I also just read an article that shows how to use the same water bottle to keep the plants watered. All that you need to do is check it every few days to make sure it is still full. I guess that somewhat defeats the purpose but after a while, you can keep track of how often it needs to be re-filled. It will not cut out the need to water, but it will cut the times it needs to be watered. FInd this article here: Reuse Plastic Milk Jugs to Irrigate Your Garden.

I know there are people out there that spend tons of money with different mixes and may have something to say but this turns out much cheaper. I had a full 64 quart bag of potting mix but by adding everything else, I only ended up using about half of it. All of these layers will end up mixed in in the long run and will probably need to be amended between seasons. I bought a soil testing kit and have not used it but will be using it for my next major planting in the spring. 

Well ladies and gentlemen, this post should keep you busy for now. I will continue this series with companion planting and crop rotations. 

See you soon!

-Luis



Why Gardening?

Gardening has been around as long as we have enjoyed food, and that is a long time. Home gardening has been around for a while and it just continues to bloom. There was a huge push by the government during WWII for families to grow their own fruits and vegetables in their "Victory Gardens". This effort allowed for a large portion of canned goods to be used for the military.

I am not gardening for the same reasons, not entirely anyways. I want to be more self reliant when it comes to vegetables and fruit. I only say fruit because tomatoes are technically a fruit and the massive Valencia orange tree in the backyard fall under the same category. Like most kids, I did not like vegetables and like most kids, I could not tell you why. As we all grow up, our tastes change and vegetables are now more appealing to me.  

Vegetables are more appealing and seeds are a wonder to me. There is something about the fact that with a single seed, I can reproduce many more. One seed has given me countless cherry tomatoes. One seed can reproduce many times over and those new vegetables are full of more seeds. The cycle for me is just amazing and I cannot ignore it. I hope I never lose this amazement.

In order to take care of those seeds that turn into plants, there is the issue of garden pests. Many people have turned to the organic or at least what they call organic gardening. The only outside thing that I really have introduced to my garden is a little soap and water  mixture. You would also be amazed as to how well just picking off the pests and bugs from those plants really works. There are many products out there that claim to be organic but reading labels shows otherwise. I guess my point is that I just want to keep it as natural as possible and the only way to do so is by grown my own. 

By growing my own and not using chemicals, the flavor of the food is much more intense! Who knew fruits and vegetables had their own distinct flavor? If you go by what is found in a regular grocery store, we may as well be eating porridge. There is a reason for the amount of vegetables that are available. Granted, not all vegetables can be grown in every part of the world but just the number of available for each area is astonishing. There may be countless vegetables that are available to grow in my area, but I am starting with some basics and sprinkling in some unusual ones. 

The sheer amount of vegetables, just floored me. Once I got over the initial shock, I sat down realized that I was becoming more self-sufficient. I think that this is a major reason many people garden. I know some people kind of have to because of location and availability, or lack thereof, of produce. It is not getting any easier out there either. Pollinating insects are running dangerously low, because of all the pesticides that are used on our crops, and crops are not being properly pollinated. This of course, puts a strain on the food that is produced and prices go sky high. Sky high produce prices are a great reason to garden.

Well, I think this covers it. There may be other reasons but this is what I could come up with. I hope this gives you a sliver as to why I do what I do. I just realized as to how long this post has gotten and hope  you have gotten through it. Hopefully I did not bore you too much and you can take something from it. 

I will be back later with more posts,

Luis

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Baking Eggplant

Well,

Here is the first real gardening post. If you have been keeping up with my blog, you may have read my post about cooking spaghetti squash. This is my first attempt with eggplant and will be trying many others since I will have a steady stream of it. There are two more that will be ready for harvesting in a day or so.

Anyways, you came for a simple recipe for eggplant and let's get to it.

Ingredients:
2 Small Eggplants
1 Small Tomato.
1 Small Bell Pepper
1 Really small Habanero Pepper (these guys pack a punch)
1/2 Round Onion
1 14oz can of stewed tomatoes
1 Lime
Salt (to taste)
Pepper (to taste)
Olive Oil

Kitchen Equipment:
Food Processor or Blender
Baking Dish w/ lid

Serves: 2-3

Cooking Time:
About 30 mins. at 350.

Instructions:
1. Rinse all vegetables.
2. Very lightly coat baking dish with olive oil. 
3. Cut up Eggplants into chunks and place into baking dish.
4. Place onion, bell pepper, small tomato, and habanero pepper into food processor or blender.
5. Start Pre-Heating oven to 350.
6. Puree all vegetables together and pour over eggplant.
7. Squeeze entire lime into mixture.
8. Pour entire contents of canned tomatoes in backing dish.
9. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
10. Mix contents in bowl fully.
11. Cover dish with lid and place into oven carefully. (as long as oven is ready)
12. Set the timer for about 30 mins.

These are the basic instructions and if I can do it, anybody can. I know it sounds cliche' but I don't know if I have ever used an oven all by myself. My wife bakes and cooks in it but this was really my first time alone.

A few notes on the recipe:
1. If you are using a baking dish with no lid, your time may be shorter. 

2. I did it in increments of about 10 mins and it all added up to about 30 mins. 

3. Eggplant should be tender. Adjust time as you see fit. 

4. Habanero Peppers are 1 of the hottest and should be added in tiny amounts or none at all if you don't like spicy.

It turned out really good but the pepper was too spicy for me after a few pieces and was not able to finish my portion. You may want to cut it out entirely or use less spicy peppers. My wife loves eggplant and is waiting for more recipes / experiments / concoctions I can come up with. 

Well, that is it for now and I will be back with something else later. 

Stay tuned,

Luis

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On a side note:

I just wanted to publicly thank my wife for her amazing support through my gardening adventures. I know I have spent more than I probably could have or should have and she has been there for me. She is always eager to taste the food that comes out of the garden and I do not know where I would be without her. 

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