I’m embarrassed, and must apologize to the folks who participated in my Yes, You Can! Holiday Giveaway at the beginning of December. In my last comment on that post, I said I’d announce the winner before my bedtime on Saturday, December 10. I can’t even remember all the reasons that didn’t happen. So many things didn’t go “just so” that I actually FORGOT about the giveaway.
Today, while scrolling through the blog, I found the post and had a panic attack. Please forgive me for the omission.
The Winner Is…
My judges have chosen a winner, and the winner is Iris. This is Iris’s entry:
I would name YBID0079 Hairy Yes, You Canary because every cute yellow canary needs a head full of long streaming black hair…
The judges felt that Iris’s entry played to the judges most effectively. Iris actually worked the name of the book into the name she suggested for Yard Bird YBID0079! My book (my baby) and my family appreciated the thought.
About the Entries
For all who entered: Thank you so much! I loved your efforts and promised to comment on each one. Here we go:
Charlotte: My mom’s name was Charlotte. So sorry to hear about your rooster. Feathers would have made a good name for YBID0079. It is one of the most feathery Yard Birds I’ve ever seen. Of course, in my mind, that one will forever be Hairy Yes, You Canary. Incidentally, someone bought Hairy just before Christmas…
Michelle: I love the name “Little Bit.” I called my first child “Little Man” and “Smidge” for many months… long before he could tell me his favorite color.
Jennie: Mother Goose? But I’m sure YBID0051 is a boy Yard Bird
Iris: Congratulations! You won over the judges.
Cavernap: Black Spy! I read Mad Magazine for nearly 25 years. Alas, my family (the judges) did not.
Melanie: Birds are yesterday? Arachnophobes among us: be afraid!
Mark: Mark, Mark, Mark. I’m afraid, despite your warning, none of us ducked low enough. Thanks for being brave and submitting the limerick!
Jill Patterson: Heckle and Jeckle were guests at our house each Saturday morning when I was young. I enjoyed the memory, but as with Mad Magazine, my family had no similar reaction.
JeninCanada: Your suggestion of a name out of the Star Trek franchise was a long hit into center field. We all are Star Trek fans here. As a family we watched the original series, The Next Generation, and about two-thirds of Deep Space 9—all on video tapes and DVDs. Here’s the sad part: pretty much all of us dislike the Tasha Yar character and felt TNG didn’t really hit its stride until they killed her off. Sadly, she wasn’t any better later on as the spawn of a Federation/Romulan time paradox accident. (I hope you and I can still be friends).
For owners of small kitchen gardens, mixing soil can become a springtime ritual. If you grow annual vegetables in containers, it’s good practice to collect the containers, mix together the soil from them, add some nutrition, and fill containers with the mix for a new growing season.
This is a minor chore that I enjoy because it’s one of my earliest gardening projects and it contributes to my feeling that winter is finally behind us. Historically, I’ve used a shovel to mix my old potting soil with compost, but this year things are way easier. I’ve invested in a fully-organic and sustainable automatic soil mixer. This short video demonstrates the amazing, cutting edge technology. Please enjoy and share your opinions:
I had a Christmas cactus when I was a kid, and it never produced a blossom. The one in this photo started as a four-segment branch from my daughter’s plant just two years ago. It blossomed that first autumn, and it blossomed more last November. It’s about to put on a show unlike any I’ve seen a Christmas Cactus produce. The secret, I think, is to make sure the plant knows summer has ended; apparently, cooler days encourage the plant to blossom.
Though Your Small Kitchen Garden blog has been catching up with a backlog of posts that didn’t get written during the growing season, a few things have come up recently and I felt like sharing them.
Christmas Cactus Knows it’s Cold
It has nothing to do with kitchen gardening, but I’ve gotten a little excited about my Christmas cactus. This started two winters ago as three or four leaves broken off of my daughter’s plant. Even in its first year in my care the plant flowered, and last autumn it produced a couple of blossoms. This month the plant has produced several dozen buds– I’m told in response to the lowering temperature. It’s about to put on quite a show!
Do you have a Christmas cactus that never seems to blossom? Move it near a window—especially one in a room that you don’t heat thoroughly in winter. The plant responds to cooler days and nights by producing buds.
Container Gardening Lima Beans
A pair of lima bean pods hangs in front of a baluster below the handrail on my deck. Recently I wrote a guest post for a friend about growing lima beans in containers.
I grew lima beans on my deck this summer. I’d never before grown lima beans, and I was quite pleased with the experience. What’s more, I had the pleasure of being a guest blogger for my friend Kerry Michaels over at About.com’s Container Gardening where I explained how I set up my planter and how it worked out. Please have a look. While you’re at it, poke around a bit. Kerry writes about growing stuff in containers which is small-space gardening at its extreme.
The Final Harvest from my Small Kitchen Garden
One especially poignant task for me lately was spending a half hour harvesting the last of everything that looked edible in my small kitchen garden. We’ve had several frosts, one of them heavy enough to kill off the tomato, pepper, and winter squash plants. Still, fruits have held on and continued to ripen. But with November looming large, there was growing danger that we’d have cold enough to freeze the produce.
Most of what you see in my “final harvest” photo is peppers, but there are decent layers of green and semi-ripe tomatoes beneath them. I haven’t decided what to do with any of these, but if I don’t decide soon, enzymes will do the job for me and I’ll be adding the lot to my compost heap.
If I get myself in gear, I’ll preserve the season’s last chili peppers by canning, freezing, or dehydrating them. The semi-ripe tomatoes will finish ripening and end up in pasta sauce or curry, and the green tomatoes will end up as green tomato mincemeat for pies.
My gardening is far from finished. I’m still setting perennial herbs into a planting bed I created this summer, and I need to clean up my vegetable beds. There are trellises and stakes that I’d like to move into the garden shed before snow falls. Sadly, facing these tasks emphasizes for me just how much I despise yard work. I’m a kitchen gardener because my small kitchen garden produces better vegetables than I can buy anywhere… and because for an initial investment of about $30 each season, I manage to grow several hundred dollars worth of fruits and vegetables.
By October, my excitement for gardening has worn away and I’m ready to get on with winter. Fortunately, winter recharges me and I emerge from it full of energy and enthusiasm for the next season’s kitchen garden.
Your Small Kitchen Garden has kept me very busy this summer, but I haven’t been able to write much about it. I’ll tell that story in an upcoming post. Fortunately, my brother is passionate about many gardening topics, and he sent me this piece about benefiting from one of the weeds that probably grows in your garden.
Kris’s last guest post was about making sauerkraut, and it has been very popular. So, I’m pleased to offer up his take on how you should treat purslane, this very common weed.
Weed Eating, no Machines Required
by Kris Gasteiger
Down here in Bowie, Maryland, the season is passing, but up in Pennsylvania and New York, you may still have a chance to harvest one of the best vegetables we don’t tend to grow intentionally. Purslane!
Around here, purslane is a warm season weed of disturbed ground (Gardens for instance) as it is in most of the eastern US. In France and India, it is grown as a garden vegetable and there are different cultivars which tend to be more upright than our local weeds.
I let my purslane get six to twelve inches long before weeding it out and taking it to the kitchen. This week, I picked about five pounds in ten seconds when I encountered a giant plant and its twin in one of the beds I take care of for the city of Bowie. It is best harvested before it flowers and goes to seed. The seeds give it a grittiness that’s unpleasant at best and the stems toughen as they age.
Purslane takes hold easily on bare ground, and so shows up in gardens all over the northeast. If you usually toss it in the compost when you weed, at least once take some to your kitchen and serve it up with a meal.
In the kitchen, I pinch off the roots and any thick tough stems. Leaf Miners can infest purslane, so check for and remove any affected leaves. Rinse the purslane in a sink of cold water, lifting it to drain in a colander while you get ready to cook it. (It’s good raw in salads and sandwiches too.)
To cook your free greens, put some good olive oil or butter in a big pan, saute a clove or two of minced garlic in the oil, and add the damp purslane before the garlic begins to change color. Stir until the purslane wilts, and serve.
Options: include herbs of your choice (basil, thyme, oregano, dill…), some lemon juice, onions, a dash of hot sauce or cider vinegar, bacon, ham, or fat back. Be creative, it’s all good.
Purslane goes well in cream soup, omelets, quiche, and any other recipe in which you would use a green vegetable; it even pickles well.
Nutritionally, purslane has a lot of vitamin C among other nutrients and minerals. It is one of the few land-based sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.
Growing potatoes the old fashioned way is a silly undertaking in a small kitchen garden. However, planting in a garbage can (or something like a garbage can) could produce far more potatoes in a smaller footprint.
Growing potatoes isn’t a great use of space in a small kitchen garden. A single potato plant can sprawl over a four-foot-diameter circle and it might produce only a pound or two of potatoes. What’s more, if you can buy from a potato grower, you might get ungraded potatoes at amazingly low prices; I usually buy a 20 pound bag of ungraded potatoes for three dollars.
The other side of that coin is: growing your own potatoes is fun. Over the years, I’ve squeezed in a few potato plants, and I’ve always enjoyed the little Easter egg hunt of digging for potatoes when the plants’ stems die back. This year, I’m trying something different.
Garbage Can Potatoes (almost)
Potatoes aren’t particular about their growing conditions. When I was very young, I heard often of the “rocky soil of Maine” as ideal for growing potatoes. The neighbor farmer who plowed my family’s kitchen garden each spring told us we could put potatoes on the ground and cover them with straw, and they’d produce spuds. So, unless you get late blight in your garden, you’ll probably get a few keepers however you plant potatoes.
I bought the smallest seed potatoes I could find, but each had enough eyes that I could cut it into at least two pieces. Some, I cut into three pieces, trying to leave ample material behind each eye.
But some years ago, neighbors told my parents about garbage can potatoes and I’m trying this growing method in 2010.
The idea is: you put a few inches of soil into a garbage can, set seed potatoes on the soil, then cover the potatoes with a few more inches of soil. When the potato sprouts reach about eight inches above the soil, you add more soil, leaving just the top few leaves sticking out. As the plants grow, you add soil periodically until you’ve filled the garbage can. At that point, you let the plants go and they finish up naturally: setting flowers and then seeds, and then they dry up.
At that point, you dump the garbage can and, supposedly, you find it filled from bottom-to-top with potatoes… maybe five pounds or more from a single seed potato.
Stretch Your Seed Potatoes
After a day, the cut faces of the seed potatoes skin over. This protects them from infection when you plant them. They’ll keep for several more weeks, though you need to plant them before they dry out completely. I crowded the seed potatoes in my makeshift garbage can planter. It wasn’t really a garbage can; I used 3.6 foot sections of a large cardboard carpet tube. With 4 seed potatoes in each 20-inch diameter tube, the plants will be tight. I’ll use a lot of compost as I fill the tubes because I expect the plants to argue with each other over resources in such crowded quarters.
Seed potatoes usually sell by the pound. This may be frustrating when you want to set ten plants and the garden store’s potatoes are large: ten seed potatoes might weigh three or four pounds.
The good news is: you don’t need ten potatoes to start ten potato plants. You can cut each seed potato into pieces… ideally leaving three or more eyes in each piece, though a potato piece with only one eye can grow into a productive plant.
In any case, to start ten potato plants, buy three or four seed potatoes at the store and cut them up at least a day before you intend to plant. Let them sit in the open air so the cut surfaces skin over before you put them in the ground. (Some growers suggest that you dip the cut faces of seed potatoes in sulfur—it kills microbes and adds a bit of acid; potatoes prefer acidic soil.)
While I wait for frosty cold nights to end in the spring, weeds grow wild in my small kitchen garden… but alongside those weeds: volunteer herbs! Here, a cilantro plant that must have rooted in the fall keeps pace with a thistle plant whose tap root probably reaches nine or more inches into the soil.
As the owner of a small kitchen garden, I have a lot of enthusiasm for volunteers. The volunteers I’m talking about are the ones that sprout in my planting beds in the footprint of last year’s plants: their parents.
Of the plants I grow, the most successful at reproduction are cilantro and dill. Both toss hundreds—maybe even thousands of seeds onto the soil from about mid-summer until early winter… and dozens of those seeds manage to take root in the spring before I get into the garden. Tomatoes also try to procreate, and succeed occasionally when a fruit falls from a plant and I leave it to rot on the mulch. I’ve even had the occasional squash plant emerge from seeds I can only imagine some rodent or bird dropped during a trip from my compost heap.
Hindrance to Planting my Small Kitchen Garden
As much as I love the volunteers (they provide fresh herbs weeks before I’d harvest any from seeds I plant intentionally), they interfere with my gardening. I try to work around them, but invariably I have to excavate huge patches of them to make way for other produce I wish to plant.
Sometimes I transplant some volunteer herb plants, but mostly I try to harvest them before I till. Dehydrated homegrown herbs have so much more fragrance and flavor than commercially-packed herbs. It’s astonishing how much like fresh herbs they smell and taste.
The day I excavated furrows for my tomato plants, I needed to weed out hundreds of volunteer dill plants and dozens of volunteer cilantro plants. Here’s a three-minute video I recorded in the garden as I harvested herbs: