Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Grow Your Own

It's official...
Grow Your Own

“Edible landscape” seems to be going head to head with “staycation” as the most popular catch phrase of Summer 2008. Lawns may not be disappearing before our very eyes, but citizens are definitely swapping out blades of grass for bushels of beans in increasing numbers. [...] Urban agriculture has been around since at least the 18th century, but it’s an idea whose time has truly come — now — in the United States. The reasons range from the fact that our hands are always found glued to computer keys and not even occasionally in the dirt, to the scary existence of industrially grown tomatoes that may (or may not) cause salmonella, to the fact that a drive to the market can now cost more than the food you purchase there.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

What to do with a mess of cowpeas...

My 'Mississippi Silver' cowpeas have kicked into full production. They love all the heat and humidity you give them, but they're also very drought-hardy.

Though advertised as a bush bean (Southern Exposure Seed Exchange), they'll vine when given the chance, and produce a bit more heavily. I grow them around the border of my garden, with sticks and bamboo stakes. The trick, I think, to harvesting them is to leave them until the individual peas are clearly defined and the hulls go every so slightly yellow--the peas are still green, and they slide out of the hull without a problem.

At the end of the season, I pick the last round to dry and use next year, and mow them down as green manure.

Here's the dish I made tonight, based roughly on a recipe from Ronni Lundy's excellent southern cuisine cookbook, From Butterbeans to Blackberries:

In a large kettle, cook two cups cowpeas until tender--about five minutes in heavily salted boiling water ought to do it. If you have a couple handfuls of young cowpeas (shell and all), pole beans, or yard-long beans handy, toss them in during the last minute or two.

Scoop the beans out with a slotted spoon, and toss in a half a pound of elbow macaroni. Cook until al dente, drain, and toss with a tablespoon of olive oil. Set all of this aside to cool.

Meanwhile, chop finely one large scallion and one rib of celery. (You could also use a sweet Italian pepper here, but not a green bell pepper, which even animals won't eat...)

Roast a large green tomato over an open flame on the end of a fork (as Luny puts it, like a marshmallow over a campfire), or broil/grill it until it's softened a bit and the skin is all black. (Failing either of these, a cast iron skillet over medium heat works, too.) When the tomato has cooled, peel it, but don't worry if there's still some charred skin. Chuck it in a blender, along with 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup plain yogurt (I prefer full fat), one medium garlic clove, and a heft amount of salt (at least a two teaspoons, but you go with your own preferences). Blend at high speed until very smooth.

Mix the yogurt dressing, the scallion and celery, and elbow mac and cowpeas together in a large bowl, and combine well. Taste, and add salt and pepper as needed. If things aren't zippy enough, consider a shot of red wine vinegar.
Eat at room temperature with a big plate of cornbread and a glass of bourbon. (I'm from Kentucky...)

Really satisfying and easy vegetarian cooking. But I imagine it would complement some barbecued ribs, too.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

News - newsjournalonline.com

News - newsjournalonline.com: "A dedicated wildflower lover, Jennifer Reinoso is especially dedicated to a few small colonies of native terrestrial orchids that grow in the median and alongside U.S. 92 west of Daytona Beach. For five years, with permission and assistance of the Florida Department of Transportation, she has monitored and protected these threatened orchids.

Under her care, they have flourished.

'I love Florida's wildflowers,' she said. 'Many people consider wildflowers nothing but weeds, (but) some of them are quite beautiful when blooming in masses. . . . I hate it when the wildflowers are mowed down!'

Almost a decade ago she became one of some 17,000 drivers a day on U.S. 92 and, on her way to and from work, she noticed occasional single spikes of white and reddish flowers. As a member of the Volusia County Orchid Society for 23 years and an American Orchid Society judge, Reinoso knew they were orchids.

'I am passionate about orchids,' she said.

The white ladies' tresses, while beautiful, are quite common, almost like weeds, said Reinoso of DeLand. But the coral red blossoms in the grass were leafless beaked orchids (Sacoila lanceolata), a threatened species in Florida because their populations -- although present in half the state's counties -- are rapidly declining."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Locally Grown Diet With Fuss but No Muss - NYTimes.com

A Locally Grown Diet With Fuss but No Muss - NYTimes.com: "For a fee, Mr. Paque, who lives in San Francisco, will build an organic garden in your backyard, weed it weekly and even harvest the bounty, gently placing a box of vegetables on the back porch when he leaves."

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Trying to Build a Greener Britain, Home by Home - NYTimes.com

Trying to Build a Greener Britain, Home by Home :
In an era when movie stars build $5 million eco-mansions, families here have made their old Victorian houses eco-friendly, too.

But they have done it through inexpensive and nearly invisible interventions, like under-roof insulation, solar water heaters and hallway meters, that leave their homes still looking like old Victorian houses.

“When people talk about an eco-house they picture a sleek house in the countryside with solar panels and wind turbines. Well, good for them. But that’s not how the average person lives,” said Mischa Hewitt, of Britain’s Low Carbon Trust, a nonprofit group.

Turn on a computer and the device — a type of so-called smart meter — goes from 300 watts to 400 watts. Turn off a light and it goes from 299 to 215. At 500, the meter is set to sound an alarm.

“I’ve become like one of Pavlov’s dogs,” Mrs. Marchant said. “Every time it bleeps I think I’m going to take one of those pans off the stove. I’d do anything to make it stop. It helps you change your habits.”

Little changes...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Tomatoes and Peppers

Today, for fall/winter garden,I planted some Solanaceae:
  • Nepal tomato
  • Black Plum tomato
  • Jetsetter tomato (these three tomatoes were recommended highly for fall planting on the Florida GardenWeb forum)
  • Sweet Spot X3R Hybrid pepper
  • Little Fingers eggplant
And, because I had some seeds, papalo and epazote to replace my exhausted herbs.

Most of those seeds were purchased from Tomato Growers Supply. Or search this site for other sources.

I've only ever had modest luck with fall-planted tomatoes. This time, I'm going to grow only the three above (and probably the couple of Sun Gold tomatoes that have been growing since early spring -- they will continue to produce until frost, if I let them). Give them a ton of room and a strong pole.


Path to Freedom:
"Since the early 80's the Dervaes family has slowly transformed their ordinary city lot into a self sufficient urban homestead.

View an eco-pioneers life on an urban homestead as this family shares their homegrown revolution, being the change they wish to see by living the solution."

Friday, July 18, 2008


I fertilized them today, lightly, with HOLLY-TONE PLANT FOOD from Espoma. Low in nitrogen, especially for the ones I just planted.

I need to rip my Brightwell out and put it into a pot to be closer to the Climax. Right now, they are at the opposite ends of the row. These are the two last Rabbiteyes I have left; the rest are all Southern Highbush. I fair amount of money to learn a lesson... (That said, the Climax is growing the best of the bunch.)

I need to fertilize these again at the beginning of October.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Latest Southern Exposure order...

For fall planting...

· Willow-Leaf White BEAN, LIMA (POLE) 14g seed, USDA Certified Organic

· Jericho PVP LETTUCE .5g seed, USDA Certified Organic

· Burgundy OKRA 5g seed, USDA Certified Organic

· Belgian White (Lunar White) CARROT, WHITE 3g seed, USDA Certified Organic

· Premium Crop - hybrid BROCCOLI .3g seed

· De Cicco BROCCOLI 2g seed, USDA Certified Organic

· Champion COLLARDS 1g seed, USDA Certified Organic

· McCaslan BEAN, SNAP (POLE) 28g seed

Turf Wars

Turf War: Books: The New Yorker
If you're looking for more reasons to hate your lawn, read this...
The greener, purer lawns that the chemical treatments made possible were, as monocultures, more vulnerable to pests, and when grubs attacked the resulting brown spot showed up like lipstick on a collar. The answer to this chemically induced problem was to apply more chemicals. As Paul Robbins reports in “Lawn People” (2007), the first pesticide popularly spread on lawns was lead arsenate, which tended to leave behind both lead and arsenic contamination. Next in line were DDT and chlordane. Once they were shown to be toxic, pesticides like diazinon and chlorpyrifos—both of which affect the nervous system—took their place. Diazinon and chlorpyrifos, too, were eventually revealed to be hazardous. (Diazinon came under scrutiny after birds started dropping dead around a recently sprayed golf course.) The insecticide carbaryl, which is marketed under the trade name Sevin, is still broadly applied to lawns. A likely human carcinogen, it has been shown to cause developmental damage in lab animals, and is toxic to—among many other organisms—tadpoles, salamanders, and honeybees. In “American Green” (2006), Ted Steinberg, a professor of history at Case Western Reserve University, compares the lawn to “a nationwide chemical experiment with homeowners as the guinea pigs...

The easy explanation for the failure of the anti-lawn movement is that change is hard. People have been trained to expect lawns, and this expectation is self-reinforcing: weed laws are all but explicitly about maintaining property values. When Haeg installed an “edible estate” in the front yard of a Salina, Kansas, resident named Stan Cox, passersby kept asking Cox whether his neighbors had complained about it yet. Everyone “claims to like the new front yard, yet everyone expects others not to like it,” Cox writes. For a developer, meanwhile, putting in turfgrass is by far the easiest way to landscape; what is sometimes called “contractor’s mix” grass seed is specifically formulated to provide a fast-growing—though not necessarily long-lasting—green. (Lowe’s, which sells fifteen pounds of contractor’s-mix seed for $23.52, advertises it as an “economy mixture that provides quick grass cover.”) The lawn may be wasteful and destructive, it may even be dangerous, but it is, in its way, convenient."

For the record, I have a small (maybe 1/8 acre) St. Augustine yard. (My entire property was yard when I moved in; it's taken me eight years of work to reduce it to half the size.) It's beautiful, and I feed it and use all sorts of chemicals on it, but only when needed, and only in the smallest amounts. No matter what anyone says, lawns are beautiful, relatively cheap, and relatively hassle-free. The options that the article lists, while admirable, will take a very different attitude towards land use to come into common use.

Cactus bloom

A surprise yesterday morning.
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Some pics to accompany the previous post...

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About the garden...

The weather's been dreadful the past few days--we've had TEN INCHES of rain in three days, and not a ray of sun. The weeds are running amok, especially the Asian Dayflower, which thrives in this kind of weather. The bugs are unbelievable. And did I mention the electrical storms?

So, not much desire to spend time in my garden. I've pulled up all the remaining full-sized tomatoes with the exception of a couple Tiffany, which is a very disease-resistant bush. It's even managed to set some fruit in the last few days, though my experience has been that fruit this time of year isn't very good, and tends to collapse on the vine from the bug onslaught and the heavy rains. (They crack in all this rain, then gnats or fruit flies get into them...) But the tropical stuff loves it: My malanga has finally leafed out after surviving squirrel attacks, the cassava seems to grow a few inches every day. Sweet potatoes are running everywhere. And the cowpeas and yardlong beans are hitting their summer stride. Peppers continue to produce spottily.

I've been making a very tasty Thai salad based on shredded peppers (hot and sweet) and shredded greens (sweet potato leaves, various herbs, Okinawan spinach), banana blossoms, and cherry tomatoes. Blue crab on top. Dressed with a lime-based vinaigrette. Tasty.

Let's see, in the flower garden: My roses are looking surprisingly good for this time of year. I have yet to spray them since very early spring, and they don't have much black-spot to speak of. This time of year, probably because of the heat and water, they tend to spend their energies on vegetative growth, not on flowers. I'm growing a couple new-to-me plants that have earned a place in my garden: Blue Scaevola aemula (Fan Flower) and Angelonias. The Angelonias aren't constant bloomers, but they sure are a nice, low-maintenance plant that's easy to propagate. I'll also make Buddleia in pots a permanent part of my garden. They have to be deadheaded frequently to stay in bloom, but they're such wonderful blooms and their fragrance fills the yard.

Oh, and I should mention the surprise of the summer: In the corner of a bed, I left some Allyssum that I started from seeds in the spring. Though I think of it as a delicate spring flower, it's flourishing right now. Not a lot of flowers, but enough, and very compact and well-behaved.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

a note to a friend...

too busy right now to blog much, but here's a note i sent to a friend who asked me what's going on in the garden...

hey, mary! we just got from the keys, where i attempted, unsuccessfully, to catch all the fish in the straits. but i got most of them. what fun! the garden was a bit of a mess when i got back -- it's amazing what hell can break loose in the space of a few days, but it's summer in fla, i guess i should have expected it. a good mowing and an hour weeding took care of the worst of the problem. i'm definitely in tropical mode -- yardlong beans, crowders, sweet potatoes sprawling everywhere, yucca growing six inches a day, peanuts blooming, malanga finally leafing out. i finally got around to planting a bunch of okra, too. your white ruellia has finally started to bloom -- pretty stuff! does it bloom just in the summer? amazingly, my snaps still are going strong. this year, instead of pulling them when they started to fail, i cut them back almost to the ground. they seem to bounce back this way really well. i've also been deadheading them aggressively, which seems to help them to bloom faster.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Associated Press: Wal-Mart branches out into locally grown produce

Wait! I thought only dirty fucking hippies cared about crap like this...
Wal-Mart branches out into locally grown produce

Wal-Mart stores in Arizona now stock Grand Canyon sweet onions while aisles in New York display state-grown eggplant, as the world's largest retailer says it has become the nation's largest buyer of locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. plans to purchase and sell $400 million worth of produce grown by local farmers within its state stores this year, an effort the company says will only grow. Academic studies show buying locally cuts down on transportation mileage while also assuring customers of a product's providence amid mass recalls.

'Wal-Mart would not be the first' to buy local, said Rich Pirog, associate director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. 'But they're obviously, without question, the largest retailer to go down this route.'

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Local Food Movement Attracts New Breed of Midlife Farmers - NYTimes.com

In recent years, as the local food movement has grown and farmers’ markets have proliferated, a new breed of back-to-the-landers has emerged. Some, like their predecessors in the 1960s and ’70s, are earnest, college-educated young people, turning their backs on professional career paths in favor of a life of hardscrabble idealism. But many others, homesteaders in their 40s and 50s, have already enjoyed the perks of professional life, and may even have made a fortune, or at least a comfortable nest egg. [...]

(Even affluent urbanites who may not be ready for such a radical lifestyle change are finding themselves drawn to the idea of organic farming. At an organic farming association fund-raiser in April at Guastavino’s restaurant on East 59th Street, some 300 attendees — most of them looking very much like classic Upper East Side ladies who lunch, to whom “buying local” may have previously meant shopping at Bergdorf’s — sat in rapt attention as a panel of farmers and environmentalists described the perils of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.)

It seems to be the change in home life, as much as in career, that appeals to the post-professional farmers.

Although Mr. Gibson estimates that he spends 12 hours a day raising his grass-fed Angus and persuading the public to pay premium prices for it, he says he has more time than he ever did in his former life to focus on what matters." (Local Food Movement Attracts New Breed of Midlife Farmers)
It's a welcome shift in priorities, I guess; but it smacks of the cultish, too.