Monthly Archives: May 2012

Why would you grow potatoes?

“I’ve never seen anyone grow potatoes before, I just can’t figure out why you would.  They are so cheap at the store!”  – Mr. Trivia, (he says this to me about twice a week.)

There is no explaining to Mr. Trivia why I do what I do.  I’m his favorite crazy person as he is mine.  He’s one of the better neighbors I’ve ever had and entertainment wise he has to be the best.  He knows EVERYTHING about St. Louis history.  I love talking to him, but that has nothing to do with why there are 40 lbs of potatoes planted in his yard.

It occurred to me though that I should consider why I grow them.  There are a lot of options as to why.  Is it entertainment?  nutritional?  flavor?  environmental?  Why?

Entertainment wise, I LOVE IT!  Potato plants are somewhat impressive and pretty.  The flowers vary in color.  The plants put on an impressive show of foliage.  If you straw them they provide even more impact to the viewer.  They are easy to grow.  If you need something that won’t fail to encourage you, throw some on the ground.  They will grow and make you feel good about your green thumb.  Potato bugs are somewhat fascinating, don’t really do much damage, and look like fleas.

Potatoes are high in potassium, vitamin C, and B6.  The starch in potatoes is resistant to digestion and functions similarly to fiber in your intestines.  Organically grown vegetables have a higher nutritional content than vegetables from industrial agriculture.

All the micronutrients found in these roots have to be processed from the surrounding soil.  If the soil is low in Iron, Niacin, Thiamin, or Riboflavin, the gardener may not necessarily recognize that while growing.  The organic farmer will be rotating crops and adding soil amendments that will replace these nutrients and any hidden deficiencies have a better chance of being corrected.   The industrial farmer will apply the big three Potassium, Phosphorus, and Nitrogen.  If he is growing on soil that has had the same crop over and over and over again, those others will naturally be depleted and provide a potato that isn’t a healthy.  As a potato sits in storage it also looses nutrients.  If I grow a potato, I can dig it out of the ground as a living thing and eat it.  If I buy a potato, it has been in transit or sitting on a shelf and has had that time to loose nutrients.  Vitamin C is especially easy to degrade.

I love food.  I love to cook food, grow food, and eat food.  I love to touch it, chop it, process it.  I especially love to taste it.  My brother at Chism Heritage Farm grows pasture raised organic chicken.  It is succulent and that can’t even begin to describe the difference between that product and a similar product at the grocery store.  Recently, my husband brought me some fried chicken from the grocery.  I took a breast and couldn’t even finish it, it was so bland.  The difference wasn’t the way it was cooked, it was the meat itself.  The same thing happens with fruits and vegetables.  No one disputes the difference between a home grown tomato and a store tomato, why wouldn’t it apply to potatoes as well?  They are even in the same family of plants.  Home grown potatoes are just different.  Better.

Roots absorb nutrients by diffusion, mass flow, root interception, and foliar absorption.  Diffusion in particular is when a high concentration of nutrient flows across the membrane of the skin of the root because there is a lower concentration of that element inside.  Nature wants to naturally balance it out.  If there is a poisonous chemical in the soil, it would be a natural process for it to cross that membrane.  Since potatoes are roots, it will accumulate in the potato.  There are many studies showing abnormal concentrations of cadmium and other toxins in roots growing in polluted fields.  This unsettles me and I would like to know where those roots are growing so I have some expectation of what might be in my food.

I live by the Mississippi River which is more and more polluted all the time.  I would not like to contribute to that.  I drink that water.  King Corn + Big River Special Edition DVD SET goes into detail on what is going into that water already from industrial agriculture.  I’m uncomfortable with the concept that my saving money on potatoes might in some way pollute someone else’s or my own water.  It’s too easy to grow potatoes for that to be worth a few pennies.

More than half of the world’s potato fields are grown with Russet Burbank potatoes.  A contributing factor of this is McDonald’s, but people also buy them because they like them and the taste is familiar.  This effectively sets us up for problems associated with monoculture.  People remember the Irish potato famine, but now believe that technology will save us from that and it will never happen here.  Not so.  Technology may move fast enough to make a dent, but chances are that what will happen is a deluge of chemicals on our fields resulting in pollution and not necessarily saving the crop.  It all depends upon what starts killing the potatoes.  Why take the risk?  The easy solution is to grow other varieties and keep some genetic diversity in our seed stock.  If we grow lots of varieties of potatoes, we have lots of variety of flavor as well.  I’m constantly amazed that in a society that seemingly values gourmet food and cooking so much that there are whole channels dedicated to it on television, there isn’t a demand for more variety.  In the Seed Savers 2008 year book, there are 15 pages of potato varieties.  Each page has apx. 40 varieties.  That would make about 600 varieties available through them alone.  Why does the world have half of all potatoes in one variety???  That’s just crazy to me.  Half the world isn’t the same growing conditions.  Out of those 600 potatoes, there are some that are better tasting and better suited to almost everywhere!  Now I don’t have a good variety planted this year.  Before I got some of the more obscure ones, I went with some cheap ones from Rural King to get my legs underneath me for growing them.  I don’t want to waste a limited supply of seed potatoes by failing to grow them.  I have my confidence now and hope that my financial situation will improve enough for me to pick up seed potato for next year from Seed Savers.  I can’t wait to start trying different varieties and flavors!

So, my neighbor can’t understand why I’m doing what I’m doing because cost is the overriding factor in his brain.  Potatoes are cheap, but they are also ridiculously cheap to grow.  50 lbs of potatoes was $12 and three bales of straw was $9.  If I only get 70lbs of potatoes out they are $0.30 a pound.  If I get out the high end possible (which won’t happen) of 400 pounds, they are $0.05 per pound.   I’ve spent a whole hour or so working on them.  They don’t need weeded because of the straw.  They will taste amazing.  I can get them as baby potatoes or big potatoes.  All in all I think I end up a winner on cost.  When you add in all my other reasons, I really feel ahead and I’ve had some really nice relaxing entertainment while doing it.

Resources (Information Links):

Links for tubers:

Chickens in the Trees!

Oh, there are chickens in the trees!

What on earth is going on that the chickens have decided to sleep in the trees.  This is all because of the black minorcas I picked up.  Turkens don’t fly well enough for this to occur to them.  I wouldn’t be concerned, but my neighbors haven’t managed to solve the grey tabby cat problem.  They are trying really hard to solve it, but we still have that cat hunting our yards at night.  I’m not sure it is enough of an issue to clip their wings and it has been ridiculously hot here.  I wouldn’t want to sleep in the coop either.

There’s the silly rooster.  It’s utterly absurd.  At night the minorca has been sleeping up there, but she is a black chicken with black feet and I can never find her.  I went to Chism Heritage Farm for the weekend and my husband texted me with “the chickens are in the tree and not the coop, I hope that is ok”.    I was pulling them out of the tree last night and putting them back in the coop but gave up halfway through and went to bed.   It’s something I will have to ponder today.

Trichogramma Wasps

I was pleasantly surprised by my friend Marcail from Carondelet Garden today at lunchtime.  He was enlisting me to be a “general” in the war on squash vine borer.  I was intrigued.  Recently, while filming the show “Green Time” on KNLC Channel 24, the host asked me what I do about these horrible pests.  I didn’t really have a good answer.  I have planted them in a new location that hasn’t had a garden in a while is this years trial plan.  My side yard always gets them, some years sooner than others.  Rodale says to inject Bt into the stems to control the infestation, but it seems Bt may not be a good solution either.  Click here for an abstract on researching showing Bt in the blood of pregnant women.  Organic gardening is complicated and seems to have some slippery slope options available to it.  I’ve held off on Bt since reading that research.  Is it bad?  I don’t know, I have to think about it for a while.

So I decided the wasps would be worth a try.  Will it imbalance the other caterpillars in the neighborhood?  I don’t know.  I have some unanswered questions about that, but I think rebugging will always be my preferred solution to chemicals.  I went to meet Marcail and picked up the wasps.

The wasps come 5000 eggs on a little sheet of paper.  They are little grey specks.  My husband immediately opened the container to look and I couldn’t get him stopped, so there a four or five microscopic wasps buzzing about my house.  They had already started to hatch.  The instructions say to place in shade where ants can’t get them.  I decided for now I would put them on the sill on the south side of the garden.  They will get a little sun in the morning but not much.  I may go set some pebbles in the bottom of the container and set it in a cup of water to keep the ants out later.

Marcail ordered these in and passed them out to some urban farmers in our area.  This way the whole neighborhood is inoculated.  Brilliant.  Hope it works I will let you know as the summer goes on if I notice a change.  The squash always get infested the first week of June so I should see a difference soon.  I have some volunteers coming up in the garden I have chosen to leave in place to see what they do and I will be able to monitor those.  I’m tempted to order a package for garden “D” where all the zuchinni are planted.  That garden is squash heavy this year.

Order:

Orcon TR-C3SQ Live Trichogramma, 3 Squares/12,000 Eggs

Recommended Reading:

Rebugging Your Home & Garden: A Step-By-Step Guide to Modern Pest Control

Rodale’s Garden Problem Solver: Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs

Sweet Potato Slips Part II

So you have these potatoes sitting in water with shoots sticking out of them, what do you do now?  Sorry I didn’t post this sooner for those playing along.
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Carefully twist them off the potato.  You should get a tiny bit of the tuber at the base of the stem.  Stick the stems in a jar, bowl or cup with water in it.  In two days come back and check the roots.  When they are about an inch long, take them to the garden and plant them.  It’s that easy.  The time is in growing the shoots on the potatoes.
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Sweet Potato Slips Part 1

Sustainable Backyard Tour 2012

While I checked out the yards for this years tour, I thought I would snap some pictures to give everyone a little preview.  I’m very excited about the Carondelet area offerings!  The area I’m coordinating is south St Louis near the river.  Take a look at some of the fantastic things you will see on the tour if you follow my node!  There are gardens, up-cycled elements,  unusual plantings, chickens,  rabbits, solar power, and composting just to name a few elements of our area.

Click on the link to register to go on the tour.  This signs you up to receive a map a few days ahead of time.  Its a lot if fun and free.  Meet some great people, get some great ideas and come out June 24

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These are pictures of right now.  Think how great these yards will look in five weeks!

Wordless wednesday

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Gardening with friends

I love to garden with friends.  With such a nice start to my week, my ambitions nearly exceeded my stamina yesterday.  It had finally become time to work on garden D.

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Its hard to decide where to put garden space.  Gardens are a strange thing.  They take up a lot of space physically and mentally.  For 6 months my girlfriend and I have been talking about what to do with this space.  I had to figure out what her vision for the space was and how I could fit in my needs. If you’re going to dig up so much space in a friends yard you need to make sure that friend will be okay with it. This is the biggest garden I’m putting in outside of my own yard.  The last thing I want to do is anything that would put a wedge in this friendship.

It was with some trepidation that I gathered up my seeds and went to my girlfriend’s house.  The worry was unwarranted.  My sweet husband manned the tiller and our friend Gary mowed the grass.  I admire my husband so much for being such an amazing machine.  It’s like he can’t even feel the heat of the sun beating down on him.  We decided to do four foot wide beds that were about 60 feet long.  Soon my girlfriend and I were raking out the dirt and planting seeds.

We worked away and about 20 feet down the third row look at each other and giggled.  We’d been discussing our plans for going to different farmers markets to sell vegetables and talking about the different vegetables we like.  She is full of ideas and hopes to plant enough garden to cut flowers to sell from.  The pleasant conversation and the working of the soil worked like magic on our souls.  When we looked at each other we couldn’t help but giggle at the wonderful time we were having.  Our work connected us and let us feel connected to the earth and everything around us.  We planted 3 rows of vegetables and thought about how much of it we could possibly eat.  Hopefully there will be enough to fill out a table at a farmers market after we have taken our share.

The day was hard work but we finished it with a sense of satisfaction. We also had the joy of knowing we had had a pleasant afternoon.  Sustainability is easier with friends and it’s a joy to achieve with friends.

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After this we sat with our gatorade and look at a book she had gotten at the library.  I was impressed with all the fantastic projects it had in it.  Easy simple ideas to really help around the garden.  Check it out at the link below.

Planted yesterday:

Some of these are the brand I planted and some are not.  They are the type however and I am providing these links for convenience sake.  It is late and hot for lettuce, but these two varieties are supposed to be better in the heat and we will shade the beds where they grow.

We are so excited to see what our friendship will grow and how it will grow.  I love gardening with friends.  Try it!

Better Quiche Florentine Style

A lot of these recipes so far have been quiche.  I like quiche, and I have a lot of eggs.  This week we received some spinach in our CSA box.  We have been hit hard by the economy so we are also on WIC.  I went into the WIC office to discover that in order to keep the program afloat, my son no longer will be receiving cheese or condensed milk.  I find this to be really low that politicians are willing to take cheese from babies, but this isn’t a political blog.  I did vent on Facebook and someone asked me what the heck you do with condensed milk.  (As an aside, I am going to provide links to things that may not be widely available.  I do get a kickback if you order from these links.)  So, eggs plus spinach plus condensed milk equals….

Better quiche Florentine Style

Fry the bacon until crispy, drain, and set aside.  Meanwhile in a saucepan steam washed spinach until it wilts.  Drain and set aside.

In bowl beat eggs.  Then add condensed milk and regular milk.  (This ends up being 16 oz so if your can of condensed milk is larger or smaller just make up the difference with regular milk.)  Whisk in the cheese, onions, sriracha sauce, mural of flavor and salt.  When well mixed add in bacon and spinach.

Bake at 400 degrees F for 40 minutes.

These are all inexpensive ingredients I can find locally.  This quiche is also very light and fluffy with a good texture in my opinion, but I cook for myself.  My kids hate food and my husband likes anything made out of food.  Your tastes may differ.

Those of you who are familiar with “cock sauce” (called after the rooster on the label) or Sriracha may wonder if that makes this a spicy hot quiche, but it doesn’t.  The condensed milk and cheese balance out the flavor really well in my opinion at this dosage of hot sauce.   My husband says he couldn’t taste it in the quiche.  I thought it was just right.  If you haven’t tasted it, click on the bottle below and order some.  There is a kind of underground cooking culture that adores this sauce.  I live near a lot of Vietnamese restaurants and can’t wait to put it on my food there.  I take it for granted here in this part of the city.  Try it and good luck!

Tedium and Chickens

One of the most tedious of garden jobs to me is pricking out seedlings into flats.  I have a ton of flats that are overdue for transplant.  The weather this spring has been so odd, I’m off my game.  Today, I was lucky that my dear friend who owns garden D came over to talk to me while I moved plants around.  That always helps me stay on task.  We had a nice (albeit muggy) afternoon talking and transplanting.

I’ve been out doing promotions for the backyard tour and one of the questions that comes up a lot is the noise of chickens.   Chickens talk a lot.  Roosters yell a lot.  Roosters don’t just crow at sunrise.  I find chicken noise to be incredibly peaceful for the most part.  They have very communicative little noises.  Play, food, surprise are all things they are able to communicate.  One thing that they do drives me bonkers, but they don’t do it much.  If the hawk flies over, one will run out and start and alarm cluck that is incredibly loud.  The others will then go hide.  The red hen sounds the alarm for hawks and the turken does it for cats.  Very weird little system they have.

Two of the chicks moved next door this week to their forever home.  They have lush new accommodations, but cannot figure out how to get to their nest boxes at night.  My neighbor goes out every night and picks them up and puts them up high.  While we were transplanting starts and tossing worms to the chicks, I noticed that one of the old hens was up in the kids fort.  I couldn’t believe it, I had no idea they went up there.  It provided our answer about the chicks, they should be capable of getting into their nest boxes on their own.

Good place to escape my blood thirsty dog boy, but bad place for escaping the hawk.  The hawk swoops over the yard and over to the tree on the left beyond the fort.  I’ve seen it just that low about right there where she is standing.

Looks like I have two roosters.  One of the Lankenvelters turns out has decided to be a boy.  Isn’t he beautiful?  His name is now “soup”.  This issue is probably the biggest one I get questioned about when speaking to people about chickens.  Roosters are not allowed in many municipalities.  Sad, but it’s the way it is.  You can order chicks that are “female”, but there are mistakes in sexing.  Always expect that the supplier will get some wrong.  Hens get old.  If you want pets, that’s ok.  If you are producing eggs, it may not be.  Feed costs money.  It’s not too bad to feed a pet, but a non productive chicken is another thing.  I’m only allowed a certain number of chickens.  My chickens become soup when they stop laying.  I don’t have room for chickens as pets.  That’s my decision, but it is something to consider before you get backyard urban chickens.

My other roo is an unusual breed called Derbyshire Red Cap.  He isn’t technically mine.  He belongs to my friend Heather.  She has not named him soup.   She would like to find him a home and I’m good with that.  It will take quite a while to get him up to an edible size because of his breed.  The comb that is growing on his head is fascinating to me though and I find him quite beautiful as well.  Sadly, his comb is obscured in this picture.

So with good company and inquisitive chickens milling about we had a really nice afternoon transplanting.  I can’t imagine how people could focus on the noise when chickens can be such nice companions.  The white rock at the top has the worm game all figured out and won’t stray too far from me when I’m outside.  They are the breed that picked up the fastest on the human having good treats.

Whirlwind Days

What happened to this week???

It has been raining and raining a lot here in St. Louis.  Last Saturday (I think), Phil and Terry from Home Eco came over to film some B-roll for the show Green Time on local channel 24.  I’m helping organize this year’s Sustainable Living Tour on June 24th.  Terry and Phil started it out and they are some of the quality people that have come into my life since I put my house on that tour last year.  It’s been a tremendously fun thing to be involved with.

Anyway, Terry asked for volunteers to be on the show and I was thinking like a three minute informational blurb, but I’m always up for an adventure and I don’t mind public speaking so I volunteered.  Really, let me show you around my yard!  I can talk to you all day about it.  I like my yard.  I want to see your yard, I can totally geek out on yards.  So Phil and Terry came over and we filmed a bunch of stuff and Phil said he would splice it and get it ready for the interview part on Thursday night.  Awesome.

While getting ready for them to come over I took a ton of seeds out to work on starting flats and transplanting.  It started raining off and on all day.  During one rainstorm, I went in to put my hair up in curls so I wouldn’t look like my usually bedraggled self for when they got here.  We were pushing it to the line to get the yard together but thanks to my dear wonderful husband, we did it.  Somehow we managed to fit the filming in the yard in between rain storms and I went inside and sat down to play some Everquest I hate to admit.

The next morning I got up and remembered that container of seeds I took outside.  Now sitting in a couple inches of water, they were soaked.  It’s amazing how water soluble glue can be.  I kept them together as best as I could and laid them out to dry.  It took all week because of the rain and humidity.  They seem to be ok,   I’ve been trying to get them in flats all week.  Didn’t happen though.

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday….  what happened there?  Who even knows?  Sometime in there I went to Heather’s house and we planted dozens of native shrubs and worked on yard clean up.  I even found a fountain and cleaned it and fixed it in her backyard.  Pretty cute little thing.  Serious sense of accomplishment.  Working over there reminded me of when I used to be a boss at landscaping.  So funny.  I had a crew of teenage boys helping me out and trying to aggravate each other at the same time.  We planted plum, filberts, blackberries, golden currants, and elderberries.  Her yard is going to look amazing once it fills out.  She got a great deal on bare root plants from the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Leftover plants went to Dittmer, MO and home with me.  I took some over to my garden C and planted their yard with all five.  They just got a new vinyl fence which has completely changed the face of their yard.  The shrubs are just the right thing to really make the yard look lush now.  I decided to subject my poor neighbor to my gardening and planted blackberries and one plum in her yard.  Then decided to force them to take tomato, cucumber and who knows what else starts for their garden.  Oh, I also found a ground cover that I think will do really well in her front yard and planted some to test it out.  I’m rearranging the universe.

Sometime in here I had a garden hose explode, got a grant and went to spend the money.  Perfect timing is amazing.  I was able to replace the blown hose and get all the straw I needed to mulch the garden across the street.

Wednesday, I went to garden B and started it up.  It has been so hot and humid, I started on it about 6PM so that I wouldn’t get heat sick.  She has three raised beds that are basically FULL of lemon balm.  Before I headed out I forced a flat of vegetables on some of my favorite vegetarians and grabbed another to take with me to garden B.  I also took a plum and two elderberries.  No one was home there so I set to work tearing out lemon balm.  It’s kind of like trying to suffocate yourself on lemon scented household cleaners.  Once I got the shovel in and started working it out bit by bit it went pretty well.  Justin, the teenager that lives there came out and pleasantly surprised me by helping out.  We had a great conversation and I had a ton of fun working with him.  His mom got home by the second bed and we pulled lemon balm and dug up Mulberries until it was too dark to see.  We managed to get the middle bed planted with patty pan squash.  Hopefully we can get those grown up without having to worry about chemicals.  Squash bugs are really bad here.  I’ve read you can inject Bt into the stems to control it as an organic solution, but I’m on the fence about Bt being ok.

Somehow I ended up staying up until 1 am talking to friends of friends on Ventrilo about all sorts of sustainability, political and educational issues.  Wow!  Such a stimulating and inspiring conversation.  I got to know a guy who lives on Vancouver Island who has successfully done many of the things I have only done on small scale like Aquaponics.  He doesn’t live to far from Compassion Farm either.  Dirk Becker at Compassion Farms has proven to be an invaluable source of information on sustainability issues to me through Facebook.

Thursday morning was breakfast with the girls.  We have gotten together for probably 15 years and had breakfast together.  We’ve done it more often and less often, but it’s always fun and relaxing.

After breakfast I took my friend Cynthia grocery shopping at Sappington Market and found a new sign they had up that I dearly love.  Great idea!  If you live in St. Louis, shop here, it’s a wonderful resource that we have and needs all the support it can get.

I got home just in time to again set my hair for finishing up the filming on the show.  I had no idea what to wear so I decided to err on the side of over dressed.  How often do people get a chance to be on TV, even if it is a small local channel?  I went over and caught a ride with Terry.  I love spending time with her and can talk to her for hours.  She is a wonderful muse for my gardening obsession.  We got to the station and found a parking place.  For those of you who don’t know, KNLC is run by and housed in the same building as a homeless shelter.  You have to walk through the shelter to get to the studio.  I’ve never been in a studio or a homeless shelter so this was a wonderful adventure for me.  It’s a very welcoming and comfortable place.  Such nice people.  We met the host, Don Fitz, and I found him to be very charming and interesting to talk to.  He asked great questions that really made me think and look at things in new ways.  Amazingly, we weren’t doing an informational blurb but about 20 minutes of interview that will not get edited.  He doesn’t want to know answers ahead of time and doesn’t like to edit anything.  It was so much fun.  I got nervous at the last minute, but I’m so grateful to have had the experience.  It was a wonderful opportunity.  When filming was over, the camera lady came over and started asking me all sorts of questions that she had about sustainable living topic.  It was a pleasure to answer such a nice lady.  I could have talked to her a lot longer but they had to film the next show.

Terry took me to see City Garden after the filming and it’s amazing.  Beautifully landscaped, and all I can say is that any place with giant bunny sculptures is ok by me.  After that we went to Mei Kong on Grand for supper.  I love Vietnamese food.  We sat there way too late talking about everything and having a wonderful evening.  I thought we left about 8PM, but as I was getting in my car to come home, my husband called to find out if I was dead.  It was 10PM, I can’t believe how quickly time will fly with good conversation.    I have had so many good talks with people this week!  What a fantastic week.  Where the heck did it get to so fast???

Oh, this morning I got up and ran out to get my groceries and look up a couple of gardens I had heard about.  After I left the Mexican grocery I spied these beauties in a store window.    All I can say is have a fantastic Cinco de Mayo!