Friday, 27 June 2014

Cool Write-up on Vertical Gardening at Mobile Home Living

I just read a neat write-up on alternative methods of gardening at Mobile Home Living. Check it out - there's lots of nifty pictures too, and we all know how much I love pictures.

I really like the look of this system using 2litre pop bottles and was thinking of trying something like that for strawberries - it looks like a great space saver which is cheap to make. A good winter project. 

Saturday, 21 June 2014

What the Heck Happened Here?

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So, I came home today and went outside to admire my beautiful tomatoes in the garden, and what did I find? One of my tomatoes fell off! Like, what the heck? It's lying down there in the pot, but the stem it was hanging on is completely snapped in half and nowhere to be found.


A possibility is that it got pecked at by one of the cotton-pickin' pigeons that are hanging all around the apartment this year.

This sucks.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

A Mid-June Changing of the Crops

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Well, the Balcony of Eden has been chugging along for about two months now and it was time to harvest the kale, with the leaves having turned dark in colour. I had been picking through it already for several weeks, adding it into salads and making two good-sized meals of Stamppot with the rest. Altogether I harvested 20 ounces of kale from that one container. I did a little bit of Googling and found that Kale sells for $1.57/bunch, which is about 130grams or 4 & 1/2 ounces - the next time I go to the grocery store I'll check the prices locally and then weigh it on my scale at home. Quite obviously, this was a financial disaster, since I bought the kale as six pre-grown sprouts which cost a total of $8.94 plus 12% tax = $10.01 expenses. Take off the $7.07 profit I made by growing it and I have a net loss of $2.94 for my efforts. Uh oh! This is the road to bankruptcy! Quite obviously, one must grow from seed or gardening is not cost-effective. At that rate, I won't even pay off the $12.84 (incl. tax) for the container and 30litre bag of soil in which I grew the kale in.
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Heh, don't get me wrong - I'm not doing this to make money or to feed myself. This is more of an experiment than anything else, but I do want to monitor the expenses versus yields so I can become a more effective gardener. This was the first time I tried growing kale and it was a nice plant to grow - easy to care for; it looked wonderfully lush out on the balcony; and it tasted great. I'll plant kale again in the fall, since kale is one of those plants which can withstand frost and actually even tastes better after it has been exposed to frost. Of course, I will also grow it from seed next time, which will lower my expenses to around $2.00 - rather than the $10.01 I paid this time.
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Also, the Mesclun Lettuce Mix had turned to flower and, like the Great Lakes Lettuce, was starting to look a little ratty. Both lettuces grew about as long as I expected them to - two months - before starting to turn. I harvested a total of 18ounces of salad greens from both pots, but like the kale I had bought them as pre-grown sprouts rather than from seed. Leaf-Lettuce is worth $1.88/lb, so I produced $2.12 from an expense of $10.01 (incl. 12% tax), creating a net loss of $7.89. Therefore, coupled with the Great Radish Famine of 2014, I am once again losing money and the Balcony of Eden is not only failing to make a profit, but is creating debt as fast the Federal Reserve and leading me into bankruptcy.   
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Left: Carrots & Cucumbers - Right: Radishes & Climbing Beans
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On the other hand, I now have several empty containers that aren't doing anything. When I harvested the radishes I made the mistake of doddling around for over a week before planting again in the empty container, costing me valuable growing time. I replanted radishes in the one pot (above right), since I want to try them again, and in the other pot - the one with the carrots (above left) - I planted some more carrot seeds in between the plants that didn't get demolished by trying to grow them together with radishes, as so many people recommend. No more radishes mixed with carrots for me, thanks! However, since radishes grow so quickly - about 3-4 weeks from seed to harvest - losing 9 or 10 days of growing time will cost me in overall production. The new radishes are popping up now and soon will need to thinned - this time with the proper spacing as said on the package - but if I hadn't been lazy about it, they would have been much further along by now.
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I didn't make "the lazy mistake" with the kale and lettuce though, and had my seeds ready for planting as soon as I pulled out the old plants. I don't know how this will work, perhaps it's too late in the season already, but I planted ten nasturtium seeds in each of the previous lettuce containers. It says on the package that they should be planted indoors before transferring them outside two weeks after the last frost. Well, that time is well gone by, but the package also shows they grow until October, so I figured that's still quite a bit of time to have them. I made the mistake of planting a non-edible flower (Petunias - below left) to attract pollinators when I started the garden this year. From now on, nothing grown that isn't edible, I figure, so I wanted to try nasturtiums and see what they're like to grow.
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Left: Wave Petunias -- Right: Potatoes
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In the container that used to have the kale (above right) I planted two new rows of lettuce. We certainly liked the Great Lakes Lettuce better than the Mesclun Mix, so this time I'm going to try a different variety - Grand Rapids Lettuce - which looks similar to the Great Lakes variety. Lettuce grows best in the spring and fall, so I don't know how well this is going to work heading into the heat of July and August, but time will tell. I will be planting more lettuce later in the year when the other crops are harvested and the weather cools again, and this way I can kind of get a feel for what it's like to grow lettuce from seed - as well as seeing the difference between growing them in a small container versus a large one. Since my potatoes have grown like bloody palm trees (above right), once the lettuce sprouts out of the soil I'll move the lettuce behind the shade of the potato plants to help keep them cool.
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Tomatoes
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As for the rest of the garden, there are two beautiful tomatoes growing next to my chair (top right above) and a few more of the flowers are just beginning to turn into more tomatoes (bottom left above). The cherry tomatoes (bottom middle above) have flowered, but none of them have turned into tomatoes yet - they are certainly struggling compared to the full-sized ones, which is just the opposite of what I experienced for the past two years.
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Top: Blueberries -- Bottom: Raspberries
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The raspberry plant (above - bottom left) is struggling more than the blueberry plant (above - top right), although there are a couple of raspberries on the one plant, and so far, I see no blueberries at all. I suspect that since these plants are perennials, they won't really produce until the next year - like the strawberries (below) which are now cranking out abundant, tasty little berries for me, of which I sampled my first few only a couple of days ago. Mmmmm... you know, homegrown strawberries are certainly smaller than store-bought ones, which are sometimes almost as big as an apple, but the taste of the homegrown strawberries is one hundred times better. I cringe to think of what kinds of genetically modified tinkering goes into those huge store-bought strawberries.
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Yummy Strawberries
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Sweet Mix Peppers and Hot Mix Peppers
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The peppers which I transplanted from the window sill a few weeks ago are now taking root and growing to just where they are peeking over the rim of the pots. I had planted eight seeds and five made it, and out of those five, only one is struggling after the transplant (below right). Grow, my little babies, grow! You can certainly see the difference between topsoil-mix and potting-soil-mix in those pictures (below), can't you? The topsoil is full of little bits of bark and stuff, while the potting soil (the soil in the large containers) is nice and clean with no debris in it. I've read that potting soil is lighter than topsoil too.
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Sweet Mix Peppers & Hot Mix Peppers
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The cucumbers (below - top left) have finally reached far enough out of the pot that I am able to start attaching them to the railing like the beans (below - top middle and right). I am surprised that so few cucumber plants sprouted from the amount of seeds I planted - I have enough plants, but didn't need to thin them at all, so it worked out good but I'll remember that for the future so I don't "under-plant" the seeds and have too few plants sprout up. The climbing beans as well came with only six seeds in the package, and of those six only four sprouted... and of those four that came up, two have really gone gang-busters while two have languished (below - bottom left and middle). However, those two that succeeded are really going gangbusters! They climbed right up the railing lickety-split and and gave off several side-shoots that went nuts and grew about an inch a day as well, so the railing is starting to fill in now and I am able to kind of attach them here and there to fill in the bare spots. Next year I will plant more beans because it would have been nice for all six to have gone like those two. After all, how am I supposed to walk around naked on this balcony one day if I can't fill in my railing like a screen?
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Top Left: Cucumbers -- Top Right & Bottom: Climbing Beans
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Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Borekole Recipe (Dutch Kale, or Stamppot)

Red Russian Kale
My parents were landed immigrants. Yup. It's true! They moved to Canada in the mid-1950's from Holland. There was not much going on in Holland after the war. The country had been demolished by six long years of fighting and the thousands of bombs dropped from on high. It was a pretty trying time, and since Canada had liberated the Dutch and set fire to the imaginations of impressionable youngsters like my parents, when Canada was seeking immigrants to populate its vast expanse and offered the Dutch free passage and $50 (the equivalent of about $500 today) to come and live with them, they jumped at the chance. One of the things they took along with them was their penchant for Borekole, or Stamppot, or simply "Kale" as we children knew it. I have to laugh when I think of all the men - my dad and uncles - who have walked into the house after a day's work, smelled the stamppot cooking, and with a hearty bellow expressed their approval, "Mmmmm, borekole!" It has to come deep from within your diaphragm to achieve the proper manliness effect.  

Rotterdam after German Bombing
You have to understand the times to understand the attachment to borekole. My family came from Friesland, a northern farming province of Holland. Compared to the rest of the Netherlands, they were relatively well off. My dad, for example, was able to forage for wild eggs and catch eels in the canals and my mom told me they were never reduced to eating tulip bulbs during the "starvation years." However, when I attended university, one of my professors was also a Dutch Immigrant of the same generation, and he told me that while growing up in Rotterdam during the war, he remembers going into the alley to pull the lids off of garbage cans, run his finger around the rim, and lick it clean just to get the flavour of food. In fact, after the war ended, those same children were billeted out enmasse to the farmlands of regions like Friesland for a few months to "fatten them up." It was in this way that my mom gained a younger foster brother who had been orphaned during the war. 

Needless to say, borekole was one of the foods that "got them through it." It is easy to grow, simple to make, and sticks to your belly, making you feel "full." Did I mention it's healthy for you too? They ate a lot of it, although the recipe I am showing you today includes some variations, like mayonaise and farmer's sausage. Back then, they used vinegar and had no meat - even after the war, "meat" was a once a week thing. You didn't miss dinner on "meat night."

So, since I am growing kale on the balcony, I invited my mother over to show me how to make kale "the Dutch Way." I felt kinda bad inviting my mom over to dinner and asking her to cook, but I felt even worse when she brought along the potatoes and the farmer's sausage. Ah! Moms! What would we do without them, eh? There she is, giving the cook's salute!
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The Chef & The Ingredients
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So, anyway, onto our recipe for Dutch Kale.

Here are the ingredients and directions for the recipe we used (Serves 3-4):

6-7 Potatoes
2 x Farmer Sausage
1/4lb Butter
Gravy Mix
2 Bunches of Kale (a bunch of kale is approximately 130grams, or 4.5 ounces - and has 33 calories per 67 grams, making each bunch around 64 calories)

Step One - Peel the potatoes and put them into a large pot.
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Step Two - Add the kale on top of the potatoes
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Step Three - Add the sausage on top of the kale - be sure to poke some holes in the sausage so it doesn't burst.
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Step Four - Add water and bring to a boil over high heat. Let it cook for around 20 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked.
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Step Five - Remove the sausages and drain the water, then add the butter and gravy.
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Step Six - Mash it all up! Did you really need to ask why it is nicknamed "stamppot"?  Ah, the Dutch. They're a pretty industrious people - but they suck at making up names. 
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"Stamp da pot, jonge! Stamp! Stamp! Stamp! In dat pot over der! Nowwa, what-a shoulda we call-a dis ting? Hmmmm... wait a minute... I got it... how 'bout Stamp-Pot!?!"
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"Eet Smakelijk" (Pronounced "Ate Smack-a-lick," which means "Eat Heartily" in Dutch - it's something you wish to the others around the table after you've finished saying grace).
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As you can see, the son of a landed immigrant now adds copious amounts of mayonnaise to the dish, although in the old days - and for those watching their calories - sprinkling vinegar on top is the traditional way to season it to taste.

So there you have it. It's easy to grow, easy to make, and as an added bonus, you've cooked it all in one pot so it's easy to clean up afterwards too. This was probably considered "fast food" before the invention of the microwave. 

For those of you preppers out there, this is a great recipe to file away. It helped many of the Dutch get through some pretty dire times, after all.

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Related Posts:
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Tips for Growing Kale
Man With A Pan Recipe List 
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