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Psst…hey Buddy…you wanna buy a tomato cage? I’ve got some for you…cheap!

Yeah, you can buy tomato cages cheap.  They just aren’t worth it.  I’ve tried every single type of cage available at the store.  Big wire cages, small wire cages…plastic cages that come apart….all of them.  And they are all garbage!  (The plastic ones are the best of the garbage.)

I decided I had seen something better in my father in law’s garden.  So I did what I could to copy it.  Here is what I came up with-


Someone needs a bit more sun…

That’s me, proudly standing next to my new tomato cage.  The cage is made from a ‘sheet’ of concrete reinforcing mesh.  Each of these cost about $6.50.  I simply rolled the mesh, overlapped one square, and used zip-ties to tie it together.

Easy peasy.

Okay, not really easy.  I did one by myself, it was a total pain.  My oldest critter helped me with the rest- much easier.  Have a helper help you to help yourself.



My new cages are sooooooo much better compared to the junk they sell at the garden store.  No comparison in size, or durability!

These new cages feel like they are built to last.  The old cages had crummy welds, thin gauge wire, and were just generally lilliputian.   I like my tomato cages like my wo…scratch that.  But I do like them big and strong enough to support some  thick and juicy Yolo County tomatoes.  Baby got back…yard tomatoes! (Hey Becky, I think the other cages are built for New York tomatoes)


No children were harmed, but the neighbors stopped talking to me.  Again.  And why won’t they let their kids trick-or-treat at my house?  I don’t care if it is April, I have a bag of candy waiting for them…

The new cage is big enough to catch some critters!  And the large spaces between the wires mean you can pass a sandwich without the risking the rest of your body to attack!  (This helps during the transport to the circus.)

Really, the big holes will be good enough to pull out one of those poorly-shaped heirloom monstrosities.


Screw the zip-ties, take a look at those flowers!

This is a closer picture of the zip-ties.  Not exciting, but you’ll get an idea of how it goes.  I trimmed the zip-ties after I was done, so it would look a little neater.  Each of these cages took about 5 minutes to make.

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In other news, the cupcake plants did great this year! Today was a pretty good harvest.  I had enough to feed an entire party of pregnant, and not-pregnant, women.


You really have to make an effort to keep the bugs down…these are hard to wash off.

Next year I’m going to make room for an ice cream tree...it’s getting so expensive at the store!

A post with more of my psuedo-science.

I’ve had this conversation a few times with people:

Me: “My soil sucks.”
Other person more blessed than I: “Oh, so does mine.”
Me: “I mean mine really sucks.”
OPMBTI: “Me too. I had a plant die once, and blah…blah…”

Really, my soil sucks.  More than yours.  I’m not trying to be dramatic here, I’m just telling the truth.

I know you don’t believe me, so I did some testing.

I swear I’ve felt Patrick Swayze’s ghost lurking around my yard.  He loves the clay.

In the picture above, I have dug a hole to get some indigenous soil.  This is the stickiest, most vile clay you have ever seen outside of pottery class.  In fact, I am *sure* that this could be used to make pottery.  Pottery clay has to come from somewhere- and this is it.

So I took a sample from the hole you see above, as well as three of my raised beds.   I put the soil into jars with dish soap and water, then shook the crap out of them and waited for things to settle down.


From the left to he right, things are staring to settle down.
I noted which bed the samples were from.

The idea is that the soil will separate into different parts.  The sand will all fall to the bottom first, because those are the largest and heaviest particles.  Then you’ll get a layer of organic material and silt.  And finally on the top, you will get clay.  The clay particles are the smallest and stay suspended the longest.

You’ll end up with nice layers, just like a parfait.  Then you compare the percentage of the different layers and proudly announce, “My soil is ‘silty clay loam”” while your fellow gardeners look on in awe.


It’s a baby manatee!

And this is what happens with my indigenous soil. There’s no parfait at all. Just clay.  100% clay.  No striation whatsoever.  Garbage clay.  Also, notice in the jar that there is still a huge ball of clay.  That’s because this stuff won’t break up.  I shook this jar for a good 10 minutes to get it this far.  This is STICKY!

Really, my soil is worse than yours.  If you don’t believe me, try this same test with your dirt.  And if you do end up shaking the jar for 10 minutes, I recommend a few margaritas and loud music.

On the other hand, these three jars contain the soil from my vegetable beds.  There are very small layers of sand and clay, but it is almost 100% organic material.  This makes sense, since the beds are primarily compost.

Compost is great, but it needs to be replaced constantly.  The level of soil in the beds drops dramatically each year as the carbohydrates break down into things like carbon dioxide and fairy dust.  I need to add some sand.

Oh! Pretty colors!  Green is pH, the purple top is nitrogen.  Blue is phosphorus and orange top is potassium.

Finally, I also tested for ph, nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.  I screwed up most of these tests, but I got some decent information.  (Hint to other people out there…read ALL of the instructions before running these tests!  And, buy two sets, so you can re-test after messing up the first time.)

I found that the pH in my raised beds is neutral, and my NPK numbers were a little low.  I’m not surprised by that, since this was taken before I added any amendments to the soil.  I was happy to find that my soil was not too heavy in any area, because that is a tougher problem to fix.

So when people ask me, “Hey!  Why do you garden in raised beds?”  my answer is simple:  “Why does Superman wear a cape?”

Top Carrot

I’ve got my best crop of carrot that I’ve ever grown.   I planted half a large packet of seeds (maybe 200?), and it seems like every single one grew into a good sized carrot.

So the next question is:  what do I do with all of these carrots? First let’s see what we’re working with.


We’ve had a lot of rain lately, but not a single split carrot in the bunch.

The soil in the carrot bed is very nice fluffy loam.  That makes for a lot of nice carrots.  I get about 5% of them bifurcated.  More common this year is when two carrots intertwine.  I planted a lot of seeds randomly, in a small area.  I think this harvest represents about one square foot of space.


I wash my carrots outside now.  I am hoping to build an outdoor sink sometime this summer.

When I brought the carrots into the house, my wife’s only comment was, “Do you feel inadequate near those carrots?” Should I take that as a compliment to me as a gardener?

Back to the question: what do you do with two pounds of carrots?

You make carrot soup!


This is how I organize my cooking.  It’s not just for the picture.

Carrot Soup
Ingredients, clockwise from the bottom of the picture

  • 4 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 4 cups of broth (I used chicken, but the type doesn’t really matter)
  • 1 cup of chopped onions
  • 1 medium potato, cubed
  • .6667 cups sour cream
  • .5 cups milk
  • 1 Tbsp oregano, rosemary, thyme, basil, cumin mix  (to taste)
  • 2 pounds of home-grown carrots.

Chop the carrots.  The ‘slice’ blade on your food processor will work well. Put carrots in a large metal soup pot with the broth, potato and salt.  Bring to boil, then let it simmer for about 15 minutes.

About 10 minutes later, sautee the onions and garlic in the butter until the onions are transparent, and a few are browned.

Combine all ingredients into large pot, let it simmer for 20-60 minutes, depending on your schedule.  It’s soup; you don’t need a timer.

Using an immersion blender, blend soup into a creamy soup (this is why you use a metal pot).  Blend to your own liking, but I like to keep a little body, but no chunks.

Serve the soup as a main dish, or appetizer.  Depending on your carrots, it can be very sweet tasting- it works great as an appetizer.

I ‘paired’ mine with onion rings for a delicious and complete dinner.

Heavy Metal

My wife is pregnant.  With twins. They’re due in May.

I am trying to do everything I can to de-complicate my life and free up as much time as possible when they arrive. Diapers don’t change themselves!

So I hired a lawn service.

But the lawn service wasn’t too hot.

So I fired the lawn service.

Or more to the point, I just started mowing my own lawn again, and didn’t bother calling when they stopped showing up.


Part of my lawn…the green part. (It’s all green baby!)

Actually, I hired a lawn service for two reasons:  First, because my wife is having twins.  Second, because my old lawn mower finally gave up the ghost and died.  After 11 years sitting out in the rain, it just stopped working.  I have no idea why.

So I had to get a new mower- and I knew that I wanted a cordless electric mower. My last mower was electric and I liked it,  BUT- I hated the cord.  This was my chance to  go cordless.  After reading a bunch of mower reviews online  I finally settled on the lawnmower you see below.  I like it.

After 11 years of having a tripping over a cord, flinging a cord, getting the cord wrapped around trees...using this mower is like running down the street naked at midnight. (Not that I know what that feels like.)  It’s just liberating!


Oh yeah!

I actually hated to hire someone to mow my lawn, because it is a job I really like.

Mowing the lawn is just another chance to be outside.  I like being outside, so do some of my favorite people.  For instance, this little girl below loves being outdoors.


She is one of my best helpers.

She’s not the only one who helps.  In fact, I get help from the whole community.  The boy below is always happy to give a helping ummm…hand.


This is Cocoa, he lives in the neighborhood.  Cocoa rarely sits still, and can usually be found chasing rabbits.  His help consists of barks of encouragement.

So that’s it.  Not much happening in the garden.  I bought a new lawn mower.  I mowed the lawn.  Afterward I sat on the bench with my little red headed ground squirrel while the stupid cat cried at the front door.



It was fun!

Turnips

There’s a winter storm brewing outside my window right now.

It’s rainy, windy and cold.  We’ve had so much rain lately that some of the houses on the banks of the Sacramento river are flooded.  I saw a picture of it in the newspaper, so I drove along the Old River Road today to see what it looked like. (You try keeping a 2 1/2 year old happy on a rainy day!) Sure enough, there were quite a few houses with a few feet of water on the first floor.

I believe the weather report calls for rain during the next 5 days.  I wonder how high the river will get then…

The weather. Why am I talking about the weather? This is a gardening blog!

Probably because my garden sits out in the weather, and more than anything else, it has an effect on my crop.

I found a few seed packets on my workbench, so I threw them out in the garden.  This is what came up…tons of baby lettuce pushing my garden into Spring.

The weather we’ve had lately hasn’t be great for people.  It’s cool and wet.  Too wet for me.  But the lettuce loves it!

So I guess there is a silver lining to the flooded river story: People have evacuated their homes because flooding. It is horrible.
But man, I’m getting some killer lettuce!

Yin and Yang hard at work.


In the center is a bed of lettuce.  In the foreground, spinach.  In the far bed, cabbage.

All the salad greens are just absolutely loving this weather.  The alyssum flowers came out a few weeks ago when we had 5 or 6 nice warm days in a row.  It’s not often that my flowers are happy before the first cabbage is picked- but we’ve had a strange Winter.


Cilantro on the front- carrots in the rear.  These are some good carrots.

I have a love/hate relationship with cilantro.

I love it in the summer, so I plant it every fall.    By the time cilantro matures, we’re a little past Christmas, which means I’m deep into my “holiday roast beef and mashed potatoes” mode- where all I want is good old fashioned white-person comfort food – which  means I’ve got no use for cilantro.

I eat like this until the sun comes out in April and I realize I’m 40 pounds over-weight.  Then I put down the bratwurst and switch to light, healthy meals.  Usually it’s Thai or Indian- and man do I use a lot of cilantro cooking that stuff.

Too bad the Sacramento heat usually causes cilantro to bolt right about that time and I’m forced to buy it from the store.

So another beautiful patch of cilantro goes wasted again, waiting for curries that never came.

Maybe not!  Now I’m back in the house and I see a giant pot of chile stew!

Imagine this is chile verde…but the local store was out of tomatillos.  So I changed things up a bit.  The result was fantastic!   The pork you see there is super, super tender and juicy.  One of the best stews I’ve every made.

Why did I make this stew? To use some of my cilantro and oregano of course.

Once again, the garden wins.

Maybe the cilantro didn’t go to waste at all.  And maybe my comfort food menu is starting to change!

But wait.  The last thing I have to show is this: The grand-daddy of all my comfort foods. (Made by my wife by the way.)

I do apologize for the picture of half-eaten food.  I didn’t know how fantastic this dish would be, and I wasn’t prepared with the camera.

Mashed Potatoes and Turnip Gratin. (Recipe)

It’s good.  It’s very good.  It’s fantastically good.
I started to tear up when I was talking to my wife about it.  I’m not kidding.  It was that good.

And I would never have eaten it, if I didn’t have a garden.  Because who in their right mind actually BUYS turnips?

Once again, the garden wins!

By the way: The most perverse sentence to ever appear on this blog is somewhere in this very post.  “Mind in gutter” prize to anyone who can find it.

Wee Willie Winkie

Well faithful readers, I hope you don’t think I’ve gone soft on you.

In the space of one year I go from a pseudo-scientific gardening cost analysis, to sitting here writing my heart out about my love of gardening.

Let’s get back on track.  Here’s a carrot.  Yeah, take a bite.  Tastes great doesn’t it?

Well, I pee’d on that carrot. And you might thank me later.

Let’s start at the beginning.  Most guys like to pee outside.  It’s good.  It feels nice.  You get to draw designs or try to write your name.  (Ladies, you would do this if you could- trust me.)  Beyond that, you also get to mark your territory- provide a warning to the neighborhood cats.  Show the cats who is boss (until your wife finds out). There are all kinds of benefits.  Peeing outside is great.

So I pee on my vegetables.

Well, not really.  I  pee in the compost pile**.  It is actually good for compost- full of nutrients, minerals and everything else required to create the most flavorful vegetables possible.

I’ve interspersed some pictures of today’s trip to the Davis Farmer’s Market because I didn’t think you wanted pictures of me peeing.


We’ve got every type of vegetable you can imagine within about 100 miles.

Dumb Story Alert
When I was 16 I had a job at a building material supplier (rocks, dirt, gravel, etc.)  in Southern California.  I wouldn’t say it was a good job in fact it was pretty bad. There were a few teenage kids working there, and a whole lot of illegal aliens.  The only reason they hired the teenagers was that we had a rudimentary understanding of English.  We could do SOME work, but as a bunch of 16 year olds we were fairly retarded in what we could do.    The illegal guys could out work us by at least triple.

Having us on hand just meant they could have a cheap translation service.

The boss man would come out and describe a fairly simple menial task to me.  I would start doing it, and the illegal guy would just start doing the same thing.  For instance, a customer may order 100 bags of manure.  We would literally climb a mountain of manure and start shoveling it into bags.  I would do 2, then the illegal would see what I was doing, and he’d work like gangbusters.  I was fairly worthless after that.

But it is an efficient system.  I mean SOMEONE has to tell the guy to put the poop in the bag.  It may as well be some dumbass 16 year old getting paid minimum wage, who can also fill a few bags himself.

How does this relate to me peeing on your carrot?

One of my jobs at this place was to move hundreds of bags of ‘urea’ from one truck to another.  It was a very smelly job.  I breathed in a lot of dry and dusty urea.  It may have ruined my brain, I don’t know.  But looking at those bags for 4 hours or so taught me one thing:

Pee is good for your garden.  Or at least people are willing to pay for dried up pee to put in their garden.

I would guess that someone pee’d on these at some point.

And if dry pee is good, then wet pee must be better.  So with this information, (and after reading scientific studies as well as watching a lot of YouTube videos**) I pee on my compost pile.

It’s not a big deal, the pee is washed by the rain, it’s absorbed, processed by bacteria, fungi, insects, and everything else in the compost pile.  Then I put it out in the garden where it sits for a few months while plants take up little bits of what used to be inside of me, through a chemical process at the molecular level.  It’s not like there are pee particles in the carrot.  Maybe in the cabbage though, it is pretty tangy.

I mean, you do know where that glass of water has been, right?  It’s been through the digestive tract of every disgusting beast you can imagine.  Pee is just one part of the circle of life. The really sad part about this whole thing, is that our civilization has gotten to the point where using a naturally occurring source of nutrients is frowned upon, while pouring petro-chemicals on our garden is okay.

But wait, there’s more. Every pee outside means less flushing inside.  Think about that all ecologically for a moment:  Saving water.  Fertilizing the plants. Giving the neighbors a show.  Put that in your pipe and flush it.

Sounds like a wee-wee win-win to me.

My little red-headed ground squirrel with some piggies at the farmers market.
Piggies pee.  And poop.  Then it gets composted and people PAY to put it in their garden.

Then they cried ‘wee wee’ all the way home.

Have another carrot.  They taste great.  And how about a nice glass of lemonade?

If you want more information about peeing in the garden, there are books about it.  Or just do a Google search. This is the real deal people.  It’s a legitimate source of nutrients for our gardens.  We should all be doing our part and pee outside.

This is a pretty good farmers market, they also sell plants.  I bought some sweet basil and a few flowers.  On sale, super-cheap!

**Very important disclaimer!  Peeing on my compost pile is a fairly new thing.  So if you look back at my blog and see people running their hands through my compost, that was pre-pee.  I will now give a warning to everyone prior to inviting them to dig deep into the pile! (Great respect to those who still do.)

**Second important disclaimer!  A lot of people pee into a container, then pour it on their compost pile.  Personally, I find that to look disgusting.  AND it is a waste of a perfectly good opportunity to pee outside and feel the breeze…

Next week:  Night-Soil, just a myth?  What is the career track for a gong farmer anyway?

I will tell you right now.  This food is the BOMB.  (Khatmandu veggi combo plate)
As I write this, my compost pile is absorbing some of that garbanzo juice.

Breakthrough

Sorry faithful blog readers, I have not updated for a long time.

Why did I take a break?  It’s simple- I realized that the food I grew in the garden would never be cheaper than buying vegetables you buy from the store. Even if we supply free labor, the food sellers have us beat through economies of scale on everything else we buy.

Their dirt is cheaper, their water is cheaper, their pesticides are cheaper.  Every single input we have into the garden gives them a cost advantage, even with them paying for transportation, dealer markups, store profits etc.    Heck, 5 bags of compost will cost me more money than I would ever spend buying turnips in a year, but that is what I bought to prep the bed my home grown turnips are sitting in.

Last year I had a soil disaster that cost me about $100.  This year, I know I will need to spend more capital than I had expected.  New tools, new beds, fertlizer, bug killer, etc.  It all adds up to more money per year than the savings I get by not buying as many veggies at the store.  So my ‘scientific test’ was going to prove something I didn’t want to prove.  Gardening costs money.

Big fat blogging bummer.


Them’s some pretty turnips

I’ve been thinking about this since last June.  I started to look deeper into whole issue, because I couldn’t believe that gardening was really costing me money.  I mean, that just doesn’t make sense, right?  I started to think that no…it wasn’t right.  After a lot more thinking, I realized that gardening really does save me money.  A lot of it!

Let’s start simple. If I weren’t gardening, I would be doing something with my time.  Maybe I would get into remote control cars, or high-end audio gear, or watching sports, or something like that.  Each one of those things cost money- lots of money.  Money I don’t spend now, because I am out digging in the dirt.  So how much did gardening save me there?  $1,000 per year?  Probably…in fact knowing what I would buy, I would say that it would easily save me over a $1,000.

Next you have the offset of the food you grow.  As I mentioned, it really doesn’t end up being a lot, but it does add up to a few hundred dollars a year.  This direct exchange is probably the smallest part of the entire savings.

But let’s expand this out a bit.

This shows a lot of my garden, but is a really bad picture.  My small assistant has stolen all of the SD cards from the computer, so now it is down to using my phone.

If I weren’t gardening, I would be buying other food.  But I probably wouldn’t be replacing my home-grown carrots with carrots from the store.  No, I would be replacing them with boxes of crackers, or cookies, or cheese, or candy. (Evidently I like food that starts with ‘c’)

So what is the value of a pound of carrots?  Probably two days of junk food.  A pound of carrots costs under a dollar, but the replacement cost?  It’s probably about $5 worth of cookies and 900 calories. (Carrots vs. cookies?  You do the caloric math.)

Let’s take this just one step further toward reality.

Where the turnips came from, plenty more to follow.

Last year we had beautiful eggplant in the garden.  I loved to look at them, and I even started to like the taste.  Then one day my wife made ratatouille. It was wonderful, with eggplant, squash onions and more.  All from the garden.  She put goat cheese on top, then broiled it.  Add a loaf of warm bread, and it will bring tears to your eyes. (The cartoon wasn’t too far off.)

So you can imagine on a Friday night, when I come home from work I am not thinking about the family going out to dinner at a restaurant, I’m thinking about ratatouille, or cabbage soup, or fresh strawberries from the garden.  Or maybe we’re having a BBQ with friends, because we’ve got fresh corn.

We center entire meals around our veggies.  We’re not replacing a side dish of microwaved carrots with more of the same- we’re replacing those crummy carrots with a giant pot of carrot soup simmering with hints of cinnamon, sage and chiles.

As the garden season starts again, I’m not going to look at every penny I spend or save.  I’m going to look at the bigger picture.  What would I being doing without a garden?