Category Archives: gardening

I really like my gardening boots

You don’t need many tools to start gardening. You can dig holes with a stick or a sharp rock. You can start seeds in tin cans. You can use all sorts of stuff to carry water. You really only need dirt, sun, and seeds. So don’t run out and buy a bunch of stuff!

But when you realize you’ve got the gardening bug bad, there’s a few tools that really help. First off, you need some rubber boots. Otherwise, you’re going to track mud everywhere. That’s going to make your significant other very annoyed!

I bought these boots in 2006. They’ve held up very well over the last seven years. They’re waterproof, thick enough to block thorns, easy to hose off, and the sole is thick enough that I can push on a shovel with them.

They’re made here in Illinois, USA, by Boss Manufacturing Company. They’ve been around since 1893!

You can order them on Amazon. You can’t order them direct from the company.

Note: I will get some commission if you order the boots from the link below, so if you hate me, you should not click on that link.

The first meal I cooked with my new cast-iron skillet

My lodge cast-iron skillet arrived this week and this morning I tried it out for the first time.

First I went outside and pulled up two of my shogoin turnips.

I broke the greens off the tops and threw the roots in my wheelbarrow. The roots were obviously full of of root maggots; I could see the little holes where they tunnel inside all over the outside.

Now the root maggots don’t actually ruin the root for eating. The maggot is a tiny little grub about the size of a big grain of salt. The tunnels mostly just look gross when you slice up the root into chunks.

Plenty of turnip recipes involve mashing up the root after boiling it down; maybe the mashing is really just a way of hiding the evindence of the root maggots.

The greens at the top of these plants looked great. That awfully bitter pepper taste that causes most people to gag when they eat turnip greens raw is also a fantastic deterrent for aphids and leaf-eating caterpillars. These leaves showed nearly no signs of damage.

I went inside and I put a tiny bit of canola oil (like about one fourth of a teaspoon) into my new skillet and swirled it around. I added four strips of bacon and turned the heat to medium.

The plants were generally clean, but when I pulled the roots, I accidentally got some soil onto the leaves. So I rinsed the turnip greens. Then I removed the stems, rolled up the leaves, and chopped the rolled-up leaves.

Then I added about four cloves of garlic (whole, not crushed or minced) to the skillet with the bacon. I also chopped up half of an onion and threw that in there.

Once I saw the bacon was at that chewy texture that I’m fond of, and the onions were softening up, I added the chopped-up turnip greens and put the lid on.

I looked all over the kitchen for a can of chicken stock, but I couldn’t find any, so I added about a half-cup of water instead.

Then I set the oven timer for 12 minutes, drank coffee, and read my newest issue of Countryside Magazine. This one has a fantastic article in there by Harvey Ussery all about the science of growing cover crops to improve soil structure. Here’s a good excerpt:

Let’s focus again on this fact: The greatest diversity and concentration of soil species is in the area immediately surrounding plant roots, the rhizosphere. That is, the more roots in the soil, the more alive is the soil; and as we have seen, a soil that is more alive is more fertile. This maybe be counterintuitive, since we’ve probably been conditioned to think that crop plants take nutrients out of the soil (with the sly implication that we have to purchase nutrients — “fertilizers” — to replenish them).
In other words, soil that is crammed full of weed roots is actually more fertile than soil that is bare on the surface.

As long as the plant material is left to decay in place, then over time, soil fertility improves. Before you start talking about thermodynamics, remember that this is not a closed system. The sun sends energy to the earth, and plants harness that energy and then store it chemically.

Here’s a tangent — I have a bunch of half-baked ideas about what software writers can learn from organic gardening. For example, we focus too much on enforcing uniformity. Instead, we should learn how to cooperate in larger systems where other actors behave nothing like us.

My bean plants have figured out how to cooperate with bacteria. The bean plants host the bacteria in little nodules in their roots and they supply sugars to the bacteria. The bacteria then consume that sugar and output nitrogen molecules in a form that the plant can use.

Meanwhile, we throw tantrums and won’t accept help from somebody else once we learn that their code indents with tabs instead of spaces.

But that stuff goes in a different text file.

Anyhow, the kitchen timer never went off. Instead, I decided the greens were ready at around the 9-minute mark, after I stirred the stuff in the skillet and then tasted it.

Next I used a wooden spoon to scrape all the bacon, onions, garlic cloves, and cooked turnip greens into a big pasta bowl.

It is important to add a little salt and plenty of hot sauce at this point. Use a hot sauce with a lot of vinegar, like tabasco sauce. The acidity in the vinegar and the salt has some extra effect on the greens that cause the last traces of violent bitterness to change into a smooth smokey flavor instead.

The meal was delicious.

How I cook kale

I’ve watched a lot of kale recipe videos on youtube, and learned a few neat tricks there.

I’ve tried it raw, and I just don’t like it that much. Cooking it may destroy some of the vitamins, but it doesn’t destroy all of them, and I need food to taste good or I won’t eat it.

I bet a really great chef can make raw kale taste delicious.

Anyhow, I’ve been cooking the kale lately by picking the leaves, washing them, stacking them up, rolling them into a tube, and then chopping up the tube. People call this “chiffonade”. You can watch videos on youtube to see how it works. It’s just a fast way of chopping leaves.

Then I throw some butter and olive oil into a skillet on medium heat. And I add some chopped onion and garlic. If I have any crushed red pepper flakes (like from pizza delivery) I’ll throw those in there. I push the onions and garlic around in the oil and butter with a wooden spoon to keep them from burning for about five minutes. The onions will turn a little clear, and the garlic will get golden brown.

At that point, I throw in the chopped up kale. The left-over water on the leaves will steam. Then I just keep stirring it all together.

You can take the kale out whenever you want, so experiment with different cooking times. I like it when it is totally wilted, but before it starts getting brown.

Some times, I’ll add a little more water (like about 1/4 cup) and then put a lid on it to make the kale steam.

Usually I eat kale with a fried egg and toast. Once the kale is nearly done, I’ll push it to one side of the skillet and then crack an egg in the other side and put in a slice of bread in the toaster.

Then that all ends up in a big bowl together, maybe with a few shots of hot sauce on top if I didn’t already add the red pepper flakes. That makes a good breakfast.

The onions get sweet when you cook them, and the combined taste of the onions, the kale, and the pepper or hot sauce really appeals to me.

I’ve experimented with cooking the kale in sesame oil and adding soy sauce, but never really felt like I got it right.

If you really get into kale, you might try growing it. I eat it all so much because it grows so fast. I grow the red Russian variety from seed I purchased at Baker Creek.

Help me prep my new 8 x 16 garden bed

I’ve already got one 8×16 bed that I’ve been growing vegetables in for the last four years, and I want to expand. So I set up 2″x12″ boards around a new 8′x16′ section of my backyard that I intend to use for a new garden.

Right now, the space is a big mess. Imagine a yard that nobody mowed for 15 years and you’ll have a fairly good picture.

My soil is dense clay with lots of really nasty roots throughout. It drains poorly and is very compacted.

Here’s what I’m thinking about doing:

  1. Cut everything down as close as possible.
  2. Double dig the area and mix in compost and straw.
  3. Plant a cover crop.
  4. Dig in the cover crop in the early summer
  5. Grow some vegetables, mostly stuff that can handle dense clay soils.

What kind of cover crop should I use? I need something cold-tolerant. I’m more concerned with improving soil structure and adding more humus to the soil rather than boosting nitrogen levels right now.

Side note: I know all about the idea of just turning this into a raised bed, filled with a truckload of fancy store-bought dirt. There’s something about that idea that just doesn’t appeal to me. I want to enrich what I have, not just import the finished product from somewhere else.

Sure, this idea doesn’t really withstand scrutiny; after all, the straw I’ll be mixing in and mulching with later is purchased.

But somehow buying an $8 bale of straw, and $40 worth of composted horse shit to mix in seems more in the spirit of sustainability than spending hundreds of dollars on a truck load of topsoil shipped in from who knows where.

How I cook kohlrabi

I like to cut kohlrabi into matchsticks of about a quarter inch wide. Sometimes I peel off the outer layer because it can be too fibrous.

I dump the match sticks into already-boiling water and cook for about 10-14 minutes, or until I like the texture. I constantly snack on the matchsticks while cooking them.

Once they’re soft enough, I drain it all through a colander and then put everything back in the pot and add a few tablespoons of butter, salt, pepper, and maybe some parmesan cheese, and maybe some red pepper flakes.

If you got it with the leaves, they can be cooked like greens. When my parents were in town, my mom cooked the leaves like this:

  1. cook some onions in butter
  2. chop and steam greens separately
  3. add some sugar and vinegar to the onions
  4. throw in the greens and stir them around

In conclusion, kohlrabi is an underrated vegetable.

After that hail storm, my tomatoes look like Admiral Adama

We had a pretty intense hailstorm that started yesterday afternoon and ran for a few hours. I have a lot of green tomatoes still on the vine outside. Today I brought some in. They’re all dented and pock-marked now. Here’s a closeup:

all the dents are from the hail

Now here’s a completely different tomato. This one didn’t get damaged. Anyhow, this is just one single tomato, not three conjoined tomatoes. I call it the rumpshaker.

zumma zoom zoom zoomand a boom boomshake baby shake baby shake

F U NATURE. THIS MEANS WAR.

My wife looked out the kitchen window this morning and said I should come look and see it for myself.

There were about twenty cornstalks there last night. Each with fat delicious ears. And pumpkins in between them. It was beautiful. And in one night, something showed up and ravaged my corn patch. It wasn’t squirrels. Squirrels don’t have mouths that can strip a cob down like this.

Charlie and I talked about it. He thinks it was probably a lion that ate the corn. I’m not sure I agree. It might be a lion, but it might also be raccoons or possums or deer. You can’t really see it in this picture, but little ants are picking the last bits of goodness out of corn carcass.

This picture shows how whatever it was ate the stalks down to the ground in some places.

For maximum effect, it should have salted the earth, so that nothing would ever grow there again. Maybe it’s waiting for next year. Something similar happened last year.

It doesn’t matter. Next year, those raccoons / possums / super squirrels / lions / deer / garden gnomes or hobbits are in for a violent end. So violent that I will video it and post it to youtube and then watch it get taken down after children everywhere scream in horror after watching it.