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

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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. 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Monday, August 16, 2010

Finally Created a Gardening Blog!

Well,

Hello to all my readers. I finally decided to create a blog for my gardening! I have a photography blog but it has been full of gardening posts lately. This will help keep it organized and looks more professional. Who wants to be reading a post that discusses photography in some way and the next post is about how I cooked eggplants that I grew in the garden? (little teaser there.)

By separating out the blogs, it is much easier to track the traffic. I may be running some promotion or campaign and want to see how well it is doing but I can't get a true reading. It could be the post explaining how I layered my new planter/raised bed.

Well people, this is it for now but much more coming soon.

Stay Tuned!

-Luis