Friday, April 26, 2013

Heirloom Tomato Sourcing in Denver - May 4

If you are a fan of heirlooms and didn't get a good jump on planting your own indoors, this is a perfect opportunity for Coloradoans to pick up some rare varieties.

We have not attended this event, so not sure if you need to camp out, or just get there when it opens to have a good pick of what is available.  I've not known gardeners to stampede or anything, but if there's anything to get excited about, this would be it.

- roo

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Riding out Spring Blizzards with Asparagus Soup

One of the best things about Spring is asparagus season! Our own asparagus garden is currently under a foot of snow, so it will be a little while before they pop up. Meanwhile, it has been on sale at the store, so I have been making this soup quite a bit.

This wonderful soup is delicious, healthy, easy to make, and it can be served hot or cold. If leeks are not available, you can use a large yellow onion and it will be equally as good.

Also, a great tip for keeping asparagus fresh longer is to submerge the ends in water using a device like the Prepara Herb Savor.

Creamy Asparagus Soup Recipe
makes 4 servings

2 TBL Olive Oil
1 TBL unsalted butter
2 leeks, white and light green part only, finely chopped
1 lb asparagus (remove woody ends), cut into 2 in pieces., reserving some tips for garnish
1 medium (about 1/2 lb) Idaho potato, peeled, cut into 2 in pieces
1 quart chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
fresh ground pepper to taste
1-2 TBL freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 TBL sour cream
1 TBL finely chopped chives


1. Heat oil and butter over medium heat in a large pot. Add leeks and cook about 5 min until soft, stirring occasionally. Add asparagus and potatoes and cook for another 5 min.

2. Add chicken broth, salt, pepper, and heat to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer partially covered for another 15-20 min until vegetables are tender.

3. Meanwhile, steam or boil the asparagus tips for about 3 min. until tender, but still bright green. Drain and set aside for garnish.

4. Puree the soup with an immersion blender (or this can be done in batches in a blender). 

5. Stir in lemon juice. Serve in bowls garnished with a dollop of sour cream, asparagus tips and fresh chives. Enjoy!

Monday, April 8, 2013

OctoGarden Update: Clean-Up and Early Season Planting

The OctoGarden side of our house is starting to shape up.  Our friend Tim applied a fresh coat of paint this year, and it really makes the garden pop against the still somewhat-bleak backgrounds of pre-spring.  We have found that an every-other-year schedule is keeping the wood protected from the weather.  Tim is really getting a strong skill-set in Garden construction and design, and would love to help you out with your garden if you are in the Fort Collins region.

One of the time-management challenges that comes along with early-season gardening is knowing when put things off.  For instance, while I would love to turn the soil for the Tomato and Pepper boxes, the reality is that we won't be planting them for at least another 2-3 weeks.  It would help to break up the larger clumps and mix in the compost, but after a few weeks, we'd have to do some of that all over again because the soil would settle - particularly if we ever get normal spring rains and snows.  Right-timing these projects is important so that you aren't doubling up on your work.

We've now planted Onions and Garlic in this garden, and prepped for Parsley, Cilantro (aka Coriander), and Dill.  A very cold wave is coming through this week (High 22, low 10) on Tuesday, so we are postponing putting any more seeds in the ground.  Not so much because the seeds would be ruined, but they are clearly not going to advance in germination while that cold, and it's not worth the risk.

The Chives are really starting to come out now, and after just a week of being out from under their dead growth from last year, they are pretty much useable.  We also have good Taragon, Thyme, and Marjoram thanks to the Wallowaters.

Did you know we can get Wallowaters to Amazon Prime Members in 2 days with Free Shipping?

We did put in our first crop of Lettuce (5 varieties), Spinach, and Kale in the Berry Garden, even with the cold weather coming.  In this case, we are hoping that the moisture from the forecast rain/snow will benefit them, even though their optimal germination temperatures are not coming back again until later in the week.

So what did we spend the rest of the weekend on?

Well, it can be summed up in one word: Clean-up.  Or, is that two words.

Well, either way, one of the things that is often underestimated by home gardeners is the amount of work necessary just to get things clean and in order for the season.  There's always debris from dead plants - some of which may have blown in with the winter winds from your neighbors.  Not to mention trash.  Just picking up all this debris can be several hours of work.

There's also the issue of timing when to remove last fall's dead growth.  In many cases, it helps to protect the root systems below.  However, there's a delicate balance between protecting the roots and smothering the new shoots trying to come up.  At best, each Spring is a gamble, with a bookie called the "weather person" who is wrong no less than half the time.

This year, I've decided to clear out the Lillies, and found that they had 4-6" of growth underneath what looked to be a dead blob of leaves from last year.  You really could not see the live stuff underneath.  They are pretty hearty, and I've got confidence that even if it does snow, the snow itself will protect the leaves from sub-freezing temps that will be here for 24 hours.

It's also the perfect time to cut back plants like Russian Sage, as they regrow from the ground up every year.  This year, I'm sporting a cordless hedge clipper, which I believe saved me at least 1-2 hours of work with my manual clippers in past years.  Zip-zip through each plant, in probably 10-15 seconds.  Wow.

I also clipped back dead undergrowth on our Cistena Plums, Lilacs, Roses, and Clematis to give them encouragement to grow up and out without getting so wild that getting out the dead stuff later would be an issue.

I've known many who say to cut down Roses and Clematis down to near the ground, but I've found that by April, they are often sprouting new growth FEET above the ground.  So, I use my hands to crunch away parts that are definitely dead, while the softer, more flexible branches remain.  When you use only cutters, you can't undo a clip that took off 1-2 feet of live plant!

In all, it was a solid weekend of work, but given the temperatures in the 60s, it was a nearly perfect weekend.  Not too hot, and with the Colorado sun, often warm enough for a t-shirt.  Of course, when those clouds move in, it's always a good idea to have layers in Colorado.  Any season, any day of the year, as they say.

Hope your garden is coming along too!

- roo

Early Chives (left), Tarragon (center), and Garlic (right, planted)

Wheelbarrow brings in new soil

Parsley Triangle soil prepped

Starting to look tidy and neat

Wallowaters still dominate the Early Season landscape

The fresh paint looks great

Onion sprouts (from Sets) are starting to come up!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

We Need Turnbuckles for our Espalier. Who knew?!

This is the Fan Cordon Design: Our Lead Pick 

For years I have been wanting an Espalier, or living fence, for years ever since seeing one in our friend Sue's garden. We finally have the area all ready to plant, so now we are down to the details. 

We found this video on YouTube which gave us a great tip about turnbuckles. You have to use wire to train the tree into the shape you desire. After time, the wire stretches out, so using turnbuckles in the wire allows you to tighten it with a screwdriver. Awesome tip!
- Deb

Wow! Way too many turnbuckles to choose from! Roo's job!

Friday, April 5, 2013

One Box Down, and Another To Go

 So, we finally completed the box for our Living Fence or Espalier, and will be ready to plant this weekend if the weather holds up.  I believe this is Phase 5 of my 9-Phase plan, for anyone who has been listening to my ongoing promises about garden expansion.

The box was built in 2012, but my trip to India and the High Park Fires, and a pair of tragedies sidetracked us last year.  Deb has been wanting a Living Fence since we moved to this property in 2007, so for her, it's the realization of a long-held dream.

We plan to use a Fan Pattern for the tree, which will be a fruit.  I think at this point it's fair to say it will be a Cherry or Apple variety, but we've discussed so many species at this point, you never really know till you get to the nursery what we will do.
Our new Living Fence planter
The new 2-Level Triangle Planter in Sketch Form
 The space in front of this box is going to have another 2-level box that will incorporate a brand new design element - Triangles.  I've been wanting to add some other geometric shapes to the garden.  Technically, the Berry Garden is all about triangular shapes overall, because that is what this side of the house is - a big wedge.  Over on the other side, where the original OctoGarden is, the design concept was to create circular patterns with square materials - essentially what an Octagon is.

The challenge with true triangles is that when the fasteners are intended to be on the inside of the box, it's difficult to get the screw gun to fit between the boards.  So, the sketch to the left is my brainchild to make this easier - by cutting the vertical boards at an angle, the metal angles could be applied to the 4x4 wood, bent into place, and secure the corners quite well.

Well, sort of.

There turned out to be a slight problem in the concept.  When I instructed my partner in construction, Tim, to cut the angles on the boards, I said that they would be 30-degree cuts.  Technically, I was correct - 30 degrees would be the angle of the wood.  When he went to make the cuts and set the saw to 30-degrees, however, it turns out that it makes the remaining wood 60-degrees.  There isn't a 60-degree setting for any known circular saw.  Of course, we don't notice this until we start assembling, and notice that instead of a closed 60-degree angle (from two 30-degree cuts), we have actually made a 120-degree angle with two 60-degree cuts.

2-Level Triangle Planter 1.0: Fail

Oops.  Back to the drawing board, as they say.

Having already cut the boards to this angle, we looked for ways to resolve this, and arrived at the conclusion that the best way was to take the 4x4s to a local wood shop, and cut a 30-degree angle into them vertically, but leaving the top of the post squared so that the beveled edges would remain.  It has an appeal because it would create a clean look both from the side and the top.
The Fix: Cutting the Vertical 4x4s, and leaving Beveled Top
So, Tim came back on Thursday with the 4x4s cut, and we applied the angles to the 2x12s to start assembly.  When we put the boards together, however, we encountered another problem.  The wood from Home Depot, which had been purchased in 2011 had warped a little.  When put into the fence at the wood shop, the cut that started out by leaving a 1-3/4" face that would match the diameter of the 30-degree-cut 2x12 had shrunk in some cases to 1-1/2", leaving a quite-noticeable reveal on the outside of the box.  We thought of shimming the angle from the interior, but decided it would not be sturdy enough.  In the end, it was decided the best solution was to take the posts back to the wood shop to make sure that there was a minimum of 1-3/4"over the entire length.

In the end, we are certain that the 2-Level Triangle Planter will be another great-looking box that will help the East end of the Berry Garden look more complete from the backyard, completing Phase 6 of my 9-Phase plan!

The Triangle Planter will go here - irrigation is the post in the middle

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Recommended Reading: Backyard Homesteading - A Back-To-Basics Guide to Self-Sufficiency

This book encompasses a little more than we do with our backyard garden, but it drives home the point of being self-sufficient in the things that we do.  We don't have any chickens, pigs, or horses in our backyard, but under different circumstances, we'd sure enjoy that too!

Buy this book HERE

Backyard Homesteading addresses the needs of many people who want to take control of the food they eat and the products they use--even if they live in a urban or suburban house on a typical-size lot. It shows homeowners how to turn their yard into a productive and wholesome "homestead" that allows them to grow their own fruits and vegetables, and raise farm animals, including chickens and goats. Backyard Homesteading covers the laws and regulations of raising livestock in populated areas and demonstrates to readers how to use and preserve the bounty they produce.

* Benefits of pure food
* Family recreation
* Local regulations
* Potential yields and savings
* Garden planning/layout
* Structures/irrigation
* Vegetable profi les
* Planting techniques
* Composting/healthy soil
* Seasonal gardening
* Planting fruit trees and bushes
* Fruit profiles
* Organic pest control
* Grafting and pruning
* Harvesting methods
* The joy of chickens
* Collecting eggs
* Care and feeding tips
* Other small animals
* Benefits of goat milk
* Structures/fencing
* Care and feeding tips
* Other large animals
* Benefits of beekeeping
* Care and harvesting
* Building hives
* Collecting honey
* Canning/drying/freezing
* Making beer, wine, cider
* Making jerky, sausage
* Making jams, jellies
* Pickling/salting/smoking
* Building root cellars