Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Aquaponics Explored and a Garden Update

   We’ve had some welcome rain the last couple of days. The garden loves it. It always has a leap of growth after it rains. I’ve got to believe it’s because it doesn’t have all the additives in it, (to make it healthy for us), like the city water. All the plants look so happy and hydrated. Plants that give us food take priority when it comes to watering the yard. The water bill is on my mind in the summer. I feel lucky to have city water. Farmers that have to rely on rain are having a hard time. 

  I’ve been reading a book on Aquaponic Gardening by Sylvia Bernstein. It’s a step-by-step guide to raising vegetables and fish together. I’ve been researching this topic online for a few months now. I’m convinced this is the ultimate way to grow veggies and fish. My husband and I are trying to eat more fish, but it’s very expensive and the threat of mercury in our fish is scary. I stock up when it’s on sale but it would be nice to have our protein on site. It just makes sense to raise them along with the veggies. What intrigues me is that it takes less water than a garden in the soil. The water is recycled and never has to be dumped. It goes from the fish tank to the veggies and back to the fish tank several times a day. The plants sit in a medium of clay pellets, or a wide array of choices. It’s a totally organic system. There has to be an organic balance for everything to live. As soon as we can I’ll be switching to this system. I'm not done reading  the book yet. More to come as I read it.
  As far as the fish are concerned you can raise Tilapia, trout, bass, fresh water shrimp or a few others. The Tilapia sounds good to me, also the fresh water shrimp. The best part is there is no weeding! I spend a good amount of time weeding, every day, 7 months of the year. I really don’t like it!! I do it for the food the yard gives us and to keep things looking nice.

  It’s amazing how much food we get from our garden.  To think that aquaponics could increase that yield is exciting. Last year we canned a year’s supply of tomatoes and tomato products, green sauce, green beans and carrots. That’s a year supply of those. Then we grew, ate and froze peas, squash, cucumbers, potatoes and sweet potatoes. On top of that, I can and freeze fruit and veggies when they are at their cheapest to buy. 

 We don’t have fruit and nut trees of our own but we will someday. I do have a few almond trees that have been growing all summer. They were already sprouted when I found them in the compost pile. 

  I have 2 that are doing really well. One is in a pot (in the blue pot), and one came up in the garden in the carrots (below). The one in the ground has been bigger all along but now the other one has caught up in height and they look about the same. 

  I’m still working on cherry trees from seed. I planted a bunch last summer but none came up. A friend of mine has a peach tree that she was given that had come up in a compost pile. This was about 6 yrs ago. Now the tree is about 10 ft tall and gives lots of peaches. I’m encouraged by that so I keep trying.

  We’re getting carrots although they aren’t very long. The stiff clay soil is to blame here. The clay soil does have minerals in it but it’s hard for the roots to penetrate it. I didn’t double dig that bed; I don’t have the back for that anymore. I just add lots of compost and mix it in a little. This soil will need years of that treatment before it’ll be ‘good’ soil.

  This is our second summer here so it just hasn’t had time to lighten up with the added compost. My house in CA I lived in for 7 yrs and that soil was beautiful. It takes time to build soil from compacted grass. Amazingly though, we get a lot of produce from our garden. 

  I’m so excited that the celery is doing so well. We’ve been eating it and I can’t help but to nibble on it while I water and weed every morning. 

Stella loves to nibble from the garden. She’ll be coming over tomorrow for the day! She has her own little tools and garden gloves.  Her favorite thing to do is look for worms. While we water the worms come to the top of the soil and I usually pick one up and let her hold it. She was nervous at first but now she’s very brave and holds them, but not for long! 

Pretty good for a 2 yr old! She can pick peas with 2 hands so she doesn’t pull the branch off or the plant out of the ground. She's a little expert already. I have so much fun with her in the garden. Now Kym and Stella are growing veggies at their house this summer!

The celery is on the left and the carrots on the right.

  They’re having a great time and Stella gets to see the daily growth, which is amazing to a kid. It’s all very much like magic to see veggies form right in front of you, and then you get to eat them! It connects kids to their food, shows them where it comes from and makes them conscience of eating healthy. 

  You want your kids to eat their veggies? Then grow some! Make it their own project and their responsibility to water it and take care of it. When my kids were 3 and 5 we had a little plot in the back yard. It wasn’t more than 12’x12’ but I gave each kid a row of their own. (A pot on a porch will work too!) It was their choice what to plant. They got to choose from the seeds I had at the time. They watered it every day and when it rained I showed them how to look at and feel the soil to see if the rain was enough or does it need more. We had slugs and the kids liked to take the salt and kill them for me. Icky as that sounds, the slugs were really doing damage and we had to take care of it. That’s what gardeners do; they take care of the plants. I loved gardening with them. It was like magic when we got to pick and eat the fruits of our labor. I will always treasure those memories. Fast-forward, now I’m making new memories with a new generation. Making memories in the garden is a precious part of my life.

  I took down the peas. They were done producing for the most part. I left a couple plants for Stella as she has just perfected picking and I want her to practice as long as possible before the plants are really done. The cucumbers have taken over where the peas were. I love growing cucumbers this way, off the ground. It keeps them clean and they don’t have a yellow side from sitting on the ground. Cleaner is easier for me. We’ve been getting quite a few cucumbers every day. We’re eating them for lunch and dinner every day and we’ve even started juicing again to use them up. We’re still sharing with the family as well and there is still a surplus. I’m not complaining at all, I love them. The peeling isn’t bitter at all so there’s no need to peel them. I feel so healthy eating all this fresh produce every day!

  The juicing is definitely giving me energy. I zip around here for several hours after drinking one.
If you’re looking for a recipe, we’ve been doing 3 cucumbers, 2-3 stalks celery and 1-2 apples. We did one yesterday that was 3 cucumbers, 6 carrots and 1 apple. These make a couple cups of juice, which is just right for us right now. From what I’ve read it’s a good idea to have a different juice every day. It can’t hurt, right?
   I tried juicing before, that’s why I own a juicer, but I never really liked it and it seemed expensive for the veggies. It takes a lot. But if you have an overflowing garden, it’s perfect. I have to tell you that the worms are loving the leftovers, (from the machine). Everyone is happy; it’s a wonderful thing.
  Here we are having our green drink. Don't we look healthier already?
  Something else that’s abundant right now is the squash. Both zucchini and yellow straight neck squash are producing several a day.

 We love the small ones, 8” or so, split in half and grilled. We eat lots of this! We also eat a lot of stir-fry although we’re kind of tired of that right now. I got a yummy recipe from my friend Melodee, for Zucchini Alfredo Pesto. It is to die for. I made homemade ravioli and put this on it. It was heaven!!! She said I could share it, so here it is!

Zucchini Alfredo Pesto

1 (12oz ) pkg of uncooked egg noodles or any pasta
3 T vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 c. zucchini, shredded
½ c. milk
4 oz. cream cheese, cubed
½ c. fresh basil, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add egg noodles and cook for 8-10 min, drain.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in garlic and cook 2 min. Mix in zucchini and cook for 10 min., until some of the moisture has evaporated.

Pour the milk into the skillet and stir in cream cheese until melted. Mix in basil. Season with salt and pepper. Serve over the cooked pasta.


  Bob and I ate this at Mel and Greg’s house last summer. It’s just wonderful; you have to try this, seriously. It’s a great new recipe to help use up all that zucchini.

 So back to the garden. Everything is growing like crazy. The tomatoes are getting tall and are loaded with fruit.
  The stakes are 8ft tall. I wanted to give them room to grow. They are more than half way up them now.

  You can see the newspaper on the right in the isle. I weeded it first, then raked the wood chips aside and then put 10 or more layers of newspaper down. I'll cover this with wood chips. I plan to do a row a day until it's done, then a trip to the store for wood chips. I put the chips that were there on top of the newspaper to hold it down in the wind. By next week it'll be done and that will be nice since we have some muddy spots right now. I changed my mind about using the old carpet out there. It got a little stinky sitting around waiting for wood chips so I pitched it. It's a good thing I've been saving newspaper for a year! Thank you Denver Post.

   Lots of Roma's this year. They are already big and beefy.

  We had to eat a couple a few nights ago, using them for green fried tomatoes. The first green fried tomatoes of the season are always  the best. I picked 3 tomatoes for this but only used 2. Sliced very thin they go a long way. So yummy! Super easy to make, here's the recipe!

Fried  Green Tomatoes

You will need;

Pick firm green tomatoes, 1 for each person to be served.
1/2 c. or more Flour 
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/4 c. or more Oil (Canola is good)

With a mandolin or a very sharp knife, cut the tomatoes very thin. The thinner the better. 
Get 2 medium sized plates. On one put flour and salt and pepper, mix well. On the other plate beat an egg with a little milk or water. Get your skillet heated on medium (lower this if it starts to burn while cooking). Stoves are different. Add oil while it's heating. Put your plates next to the stove with the flour closer to the skillet. At this point get another larger plate or platter and put 4 layers of paper towels on it and put it next to the stove as well. 

  Take each slice and dip them in egg and then in flour. Carefully put into skillet. Keep an eye on the first ones you put in there, they brown quickly. You'll have to flip them before you're done filling the skillet with the first batch. As they finish cooking put them on the platter with paper towels. As soon as you can, taste one and add salt ( if needed). 

  After the first batch check your oil, if it's burned at all you should wipe it out and start with fresh oil. Be careful with the hot oil. (This use of oil and the mess keeps me from making these often. We have them maybe 3 times a yr. It's a treat for us.We're trying to cut back on fried foods as well.) Now just try not to eat them all before the family knows what you've made! 

  You can do this with zucchini too! When my kids were growing up this is the only way they would eat their zucchini. It tastes very much the same.

 The basil is doing well despite my trimmings.

  Putting a big saucer of water in the garden has brought the birds on a daily basis. It’s good for insect control. This pic was taken through the window. They hung around quite a while and patrolled under the squash. I may put another one in the tee pee corner of the garden; I seem to have grasshoppers in that corner, maybe that would help. 

  The tomato plants are climbing up the tee pee as well as the green beans that survived the grasshoppers. I planted more green beans so as to fill in the tee pee a little better. It’s late to plant but I’ll take a chance. The earlier plantings are up about half way now.

  Each day I gather the harvest of the day in our tray that Mel's hubby Greg made for us a couple yrs ago. I use it every day, thanks guys! 

 Each picture of the tray is one day's harvest. Some purple carrots, snap peas, a couple yellow squash, a couple zucchini, three Roma tomatoes and three cucumbers on this day.
 The corn was ready so I picked it. A tiny ear from a tiny stalk. I read about how to know if corn is ripe. One of the things I learned is that when the corn stands out  from the stalk at almost  a 90 degree angle, it's ready and it's  like it's saying come and pick me.
Another is to peel back the husk and check the kernels. I thought you could go by the dry silk alone but I guess it's good to check it, as long as you put the husk back so it can keep growing if it needs to.
 A little of everything on this day.


  The tomatillos are getting tall. They are just loaded with fruit. I enjoy the shape of the plants. It grows straight for 12-18” then branches out into 4 branches. If left alone it balances itself until the fruit get too heavy. I grew too many in that space last yr. I thinned it out this yr but they still need more space. I get a kick out of the little balloons with the fruit inside. We just love the green sauce we get from these! 

   Bob snapped a couple pics of me in the garden. I thought I’d pop them in.
A cucumber a day keeps the doctor away, or 5 or 6.

My story is #168 on this site. It's a fun place to see what others like me are doing.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Summertime Heat is Upon Us

 We're baking here in Broomfield with a high yesterday of 96. Should be close to the same today. I did all my gardening early, as usual, and now it's time to focus on the inside list of things to do.

  A lot has happened since I last wrote. The garden is growing nicely. Unfortunately, my husband, Bob has a mysterious conditionHis whole right leg is numb and the doctors are still trying to figure out the cause of the numbness. He’s had difficulty walking without help. We got him a cane but that wasn’t enough. Yesterday the rollator came that we ordered. It’s like a walker with wheels. It’s wonderful how it’s helped his mobility. He feels better so I feel better. Since we don’t know what we’re dealing with yet, we’re just taking it one day at a time. He did have blood work done and it’s fine so that’s good. I worried that it might be an autoimmune disease, but it appears that is not the case. He did have an MRI and it did show some minor things that might be causing the problem. They also did injections for diagnostic reasons. He has more feeling in the leg since they did the injections. So now the doctors are trying to pinpoint the cause so we can start the process of getting better.

 As you might imagine, I’ve been busy taking care of Bob and the house and garden. I did want to catch up a bit today since the garden has grown so much. I just had to take a little time to share in the progress.

  We’ll be eating stir-fry on the grill tonight! I picked a lot of snap peas this morning.
I planted more this year than last so we’ll be getting lots of big harvests! We love to do stir-fry on the grill in my cast iron skillet. It’s so healthy with a wide range of veggies and we usually throw in some left over meat from the night before. Like tonight we’ll be eating the left over steak from last night with lots of snap peas, zucchini, onions, carrots, 3 colors of sweet peppers and mushrooms.A splash of soy sauce as it cooks and it tastes perfect. Yum, I can almost smell it now.

  The peas are the only veggie we’ve harvested so far this year, however the plants are all full of blossoms so it won’t be long. This is a good size bowl and it's nearly half full. Just one days picking!!

The cucumbers are spreading out and some are climbing the trellis. They have masses of blooms so, like last year, we’ll be eating them daily. I love to pick them when they’re about 8” long. The skin is so tender you can eat it with no problem. The skin isn’t bitter yet, like they get when the fruit is big.

 We prefer baby veggies; they are more tender and a pleasure to eat. Besides the more you pick the more your plant will produce. A lesson learned while growing up in Fort Collins, CO. We had a large garden and I had to weed a few rows every day before I could go have fun. Now I happily spend several hours, every morning, in the garden. 

The lilies are in bloom.I got these for a couple dollars in the clearance isle at Lowe's a couple years ago. I always look there first. The lilies started out in a small container. Now they've spread out after being planted in the ground. This is their second summer in this spot. I'll probably separate them and spread them around this fall. They grow so fast, I love it! 

  Look how big the tomatillos have grown! Lots of blooms here too. The blackberry behind it are getting new branches. All of the blackberry plants are getting new growth, even the scrawny one. Here it is below.
I hope to plant all these blackberry plants as well as the blueberry bushes in our own yard someday. Until then they can grow in these pots.

The tomato plants are getting tall with some blooms starting to pop out.

The squash has really filled out. Three of them have a strange thing going on. The leaves are brown and curling up. I have clay soil under all that compost. I just did some reading and it seems I may be over watering them. The clay holds the moisture so I'll wait 3 days like it said to do and I'll see if that makes a difference. It did say to look for bugs that have bored in at the base of the plant, leaving a little sawdust looking stuff just under the hole or slit. so I'll look for that first and if there is no indication of the bugs, I'll back off on the water. There is always something to learn in the garden!
I'm still getting used to the rotation of the crops. I got a lot of good deals at Lowe's in the clearance area. 
All the plants in most of the pots around the yard were super cheap. Most are perennials so they'll came back next year. That's a money saver right there.

All the marigolds were being cleared out at the grocery store. I got them for a quarter each! The wave petunias won't come back but they sure put on a nice show.
I was excited to find some plants that I've always wanted, marked down to 2 or 3 bucks each. With some tender loving care and water these plants usually come back. Usually they've missed a watering and look sad. I always put on my glasses and check them for bugs. I won't bring home new bugs to contend with.
  Speaking of bugs. I've got earwigs in my corn! Not good. I came out yesterday and found half of the plant was leaning over. I examined the wound at the bend and all these earwigs crawled out. Yuck! I hate those bugs with their little pincher on their butts. So I'll try to find an organic way to deal with that. The corn is also making tassels and ears and it's only a few ft tall. Strange... heat maybe??
The carrots and celery are looking healthy. I planted potatoes at the other end of this bed so it just looks like soil right now as I just covered some growth. There will be a mound of soil the by the end of the growing season.
I planted grass seed on the last patch that didn't have grass in the back yard. It's coming up nicely. It'll be nice to have grass on the entire back yard, where the garden isn't.
The Astilbe has just started to bloom. It's a plant that loves water, but the show is worth it.
The birdhouse gourds in the blue pots have grown up the trellis and into the tree. I've never grown these successfully so I'm looking forward to some gourds this year.
A new outdoor rug we got for the back porch so Bob can get some air without putting on shoes. I think it's fun and the splash of color is nice.

It's time to cut the veggies for that stir fry!


Monday, May 20, 2013

Got the Garden Planted

Got the garden all planted this past week. I wasn't as ready as I thought I was. It wasn't as simple as popping the seedlings in. There were weeds to remove first so the whole thing took all week. It was extra warm, one day getting up to 91 degrees. The soil here is mostly clay. The amendments I added last yr seemed to have disappeared amongst all that clay. My garden was a lawn last spring. It took a lot of work to transform it but the soil needs help. My big compost bin paid off with wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow full of lovely compost. I was able to put enough in each bed to give the plants a good start. In the short beds I added one wheelbarrow full and the longer beds (14' long) got 2 wheelbarrows full.

I took the sandbox this year and planted corn in it. I put 4 wheelbarrows full of compost into that bed alone. I still felt like that wasn't enough, I'm transforming sand into garden soil mind you. So when I planted the corn, I dug a deep hole and filled it with good soil. We'll see if that will be enough for them. I'm excited about growing corn this year. We should get enough to eat and freeze! I planted 36 seedlings so we'll see how much we get from that! Now if you're a gardener you're thinking why doesn't she add the sand to the beds and help that clay soil? I did a lot of that last summer but I just don't have the back to do it this spring.

 This is the bed that I have squash in. Half is zucchini and half summer squash.

 Here's the summer squash. These seeds were started just a couple weeks ago.
Here's the zucchini squash. We've gotten some heavy rain in the last few days. I only lost one zucchini plant. Luckily I had another one to pop in.
I always hang on to all my extra plants in case I need to replant some.

Here's a couple of tomato plants. I'm giving them 2 ft between plants this year. I think each plant will get bigger and I should get bigger fruit. Last yr I planted them 1 ft  apart and got a lot of small tomatoes.

Here's the tomato bed, a little in the shade when I went out this morning. It rained last night so everything is happy. They grow so much better on rain water.

The tee pee is up and doing fine. The green beans are planted but none have come up yet.

Notice at the corners of each bed I've put long sticks in the ground. That's to keep the hose from getting in the beds and doing damage, while I drag the hose around to water. 

This pic shows the base of the teepee where I dug a trench all the way around, just like last yr. It needs to be dug out every spring. In the course of the year it fills up with dirt and debris. In the middle is a thick layer of wood chips to keep the weeds down and give us a place to walk with no mud.

Here are the peas and cucumbers. Last year the peas were ahead of the cucumbers in growth. After the peas were done and taken down the cucumbers were trained onto the fence. This yr will be different, they look like they'll be competing for the trellis.
A couple of the cucumbers are already long enough to grab the trellis. They'll just have to share this summer.
We had so many late snowstorms, it kept me from planting peas earlier.

 Here is a tomatillo plant. I gave them more room this yr as well.

The tomatillos are happy in their bed. There are 10 plants in here.

This is 1 of three blackberry plants that I got this yr. If this was our own house I would have put them in the ground. This way we can take them with us when we move in a couple yrs. The lattice behind it I made from apple branches a few yrs ago.

Another blackberry plant. The varieties I got are Apache, Ouachita and Triple Crown. The third plant came all dried out with no leaves so I'm nursing that one along till it gets more leaves.
It will recover but it was definitely stressed. A stressed plant won't give you as much produce.

Here's a cherry tomato plant that I started indoors at the end of December. It's now on our porch giving us a handful of tomatoes every day!

 These blue pots have birdhouse gourd plants. They'll vine up this trellis and should give us some nice shade.
I was so excited to find an almond seed in the compost pile that had sprouted! Now I have a little almond tree!! How cool is that!!
 Here's our granddaughter Stella, helping Grandma water the peas.
Here I'm explaining how the peas will climb up the trellis. The next week when she came she told me, "Peas climb up". She remembers everything. She's on her way to becoming a great gardener!

Have you planted anything? Let me know!

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