Quick and Easy Fire Starters

I came across these fire starters this week while sorting out our camping gear, and thought I should blog about them. Then I realized we already have–long, long ago: way back in 2006, when we were all young and innocent.

These little babies are made out of paper egg cartons, dryer lint and old candle stubs. Once lit, they burn long and mightily. I always keep one down at the bottom of my backpack, along with the first aid kit. They’re really handy for starting fires, especially for the fire-challenged, or to give you extra security when you’re working in difficult conditions. Best of all, they cost nothing, and take only a few minutes to make.

Read our original post for the how-to’s.

Vertical Garden Success!

Regular readers of the blog know that we’re dubious about vertical gardening, but this is a vertical garden we can really get behind. Here, a cherry tomato is growing out of a crack in a retaining wall in our neighbor’s yard. (It’s just off our front stairs, and is almost certainly an offspring of one of our tomatoes) It is thriving with no water whatsoever. You can’t see them in this picture, but there’s tons of fruit on it. And its tomatoes were ripe before any of our pampered plants were bearing. 

Moral: Plants grow well where plants want to grow.

Bee Hotel

From an old beekeeping book (thanks Steve!),  How to Keep Bees and Sell Honey:

This is probably the finest bee hive in the world. It was built by E. S. Williams, St. Petersburg, Florida, who spent 6 months constructing it. It holds two standard 10 frame hive bodies and a bottom board. The second story lifts off for hive manipulations. It is wired for 110 volt current, has window shades and curtains. The front plastic doors swing easily and fit snugly. There is a flag pole, also a sign, that is not pictured here. This has been displayed at the Kentucky and Florida State Fairs. It is unusual items like this that make a few fair exhibits stand out.

 Not sure the bees appreciate that electricity.

Cornmeal Zucchini Pancakes

  
More things to do with zucchini!
Many of you know Rosalind Creasy, Queen of the Edible Landscape. If you don’t, look her up. She wrote Edible Landscaping, among others. It turns out that she’s not only an amazing gardener, one who makes colors and textures sing, who makes edible gardens more beautiful than any ornamental garden I’ve ever seen, but she cooks, too.  Darn her and her…her…competence!!!
Erik found her Recipes from the Garden at the library and brought it home. This is the first thing we’ve cooked from it, but we liked it a lot. These are savory pancakes that suit for breakfast, brunch, or even dinner. I imagine if you made them without the onions they could be served sweet, with syrup or jam, as a veggie-infused breakfast pancake. 
Note: She calls for yellow zucchini or summer squash, but we used green zucchini.
Cornmeal Zucchini Pancakes
1 1/4 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon of sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup of milk
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 cup of grated zucchini, yellow or green, or yellow summer squash
3 tablespoons yellow bell pepper, diced fine (we skipped this)
3 tablespoons finely chopped onion
Salsa for serving, homemade or store-bought, optional. 
(We just chopped up some red onion and cherry tomatoes and called it salsa, but I think a fruity salsa (e.g. mango) would be really good with this.)
In a big bowl fork together the dry ingredients (the first list). In a smaller bowl mix the wet ingredients (the second list). Dump wet ingredients on top of the dry and mix just until incorporated–Creasy says “until barely moist.”
Cook these like any pancake: in a greased skillet over medium heat until they’re golden brown and the sides are firm. Keep the finished ones warm in the oven while you cook the rest.
They keep well in the fridge. I just ate one for breakfast after rewarming it in frying pan. Still tasty after 3 days!

Droopy Leaves are Not a Good Thing

Droopy Dawg

Mrs. Homegrown here:

So I just learned I’ve been taken in by a popular myth. You know how in the summer, the leaves of some plants go droopy in the heat of midday, then bounce back when it cools off? I’d heard…somewhere…who knows how these things get planted in your brain…that this was nothing to worry about. I’d also heard that was ineffectual, anyway, to water them midday.

Well, I was wrong. Erik just sent me a link to a post from one of his favorite blogs, WSU Extension’s The Garden Professors titled Hot Weather and Not-So-Hot Advice, which scientifically refutes this myth, and gives us permission to water midday, if necessary, to save the plants.

In a nutshell, droop is bad. Droop is stress. There should be no droop.

Are Raised Beds a Good Idea?

Raised bed fail. Our appalling parkway beds. Extra demerits for having used treated lumber! *

Raised beds have some pluses and minuses. Lately I’ve been thinking about their drawbacks. Namely:

  • Cost
  • How fast they dry out in a hot climate.

Now I can also think of a few reasons one might want to grow vegetables in a raised bed:

  • You do a soil test (and you should do a soil test, especially if you live in an urban area) and the results come back showing that you have heavy metals in your soil.
  • You live in a very wet climate.
  • A disability prevents you from kneeling or leaning over to garden.
  • Your soil has no contaminants, but has some other problem, say bad texture or lots of buried rocks/chunks of concrete.
  • You have dogs/rabbits/chupacabras, etc. 

I’ve come to the conclusion that for Southern California and, by extension, any dry climate, raised beds are a bad idea unless, of course, you have any of the issues mentioned above. Particularly in the summer, the raised beds I have in the parkway, pictured above, have performed poorly. So poorly, that I’m going to remove them soon. If a soil test shows high heavy metal levels I’ll just go with some ornamental/insectary plants.

 Above, broom corn (Sorghum bicolor) doing just fine straight in the ground.

A partially sunken bed. Extra points for finding the stinkhorn mushroom.

This bed is somewhat of a compromise. I cut the bed in half lengthwise to make it half as tall as it used to be thus getting two beds for the price of one. Then I sunk it into the ground In effect, the veggies are in the ground but I still have the neatness and defined borders of a raised bed.

Again, if you’re in Seattle raised beds are probably a good idea. But here in SoCal, I’m going to skip them from now on if just because of how much water they waste.

*ETA: A note from Mrs. Homegrown re: that topmost picture of the sad, sad raised beds. They look terrible because after a couple of seasons of struggling with mysteriously declining crops within their borders, we’ve given up on them and did not plant them this spring. I don’t want anybody thinking they look so poorly *only* because they are raised beds. That pair of beds has produced very well in the past, but has some sort of soil problem now–one which we can’t figure out. So I wouldn’t agree with labeling the picture “raised bed fail”– it’s more of a gardener fail. It may have something to do with the fact that they are raised, that the soil texture has deteriorated over time due to the elevation–that is Erik’s theory. I’m not so sure that’s all that is going on. Nonetheless, I do agree with the overall point of this post: that in this climate sunken beds make a lot of sense.

Stinkhorn NSFW!

Proof that the mind of Gaia has a crude sense of humor–something along the lines of, “Let’s find another design context for that dog reproductive appendage, only this time we’ll make it slimy and smell like carrion.” I guess you gotta do whatever it takes to get those spores around even if it means pandering to blow flies. 

Extra points to the mycologist out there who pins down the scientific name of this fly attractin’ stinkhorn mushroom. Comments!

Cheerful but Depressing Infographic

Cheerful Seeming but Oh So Depressing Infographic*

National Geographic has an article about seed saving and the importance of biodiversity in the food supply: Food Ark. I know many of our readers are seriously savvy on such subjects, so the material may be too basic for some of you. But for those of you who are new to the subject, or want to share with others, this is a good overview.

And as always, National Geographic is best at the pictures. Attached to the article are several photo galleries. These are my favorites:

Potato Porn
 
Chicken Porn 

*If you can’t read the infographic labels, it is comparing the number of seed varieties found in seed catalogs in 1903 (upper register) with the current number of varieties in the National Seed Storage Laboratory in 1983 (lower register). An astonishing loss of biodiversity over an 80 year period. This is one of the ways in which the 20th century really sucked.

Vegetable Gardening in the Shade

New Zealand spinach in partial shade

Inspired by Scott Kleinrock’s work at the Huntington Ranch, I’ve been experimenting with growing vegetables in partial shade. Two of our vegetable beds sit under two large deciduous trees. In the winter these beds get full sun, but in the summer they might get as a little as four or five hours of direct sun.

Now my shade gardening experiment may not be applicable to northern climates. In fact, the sun is so harsh here that partial shade can be a good thing, in that it keeps more delicate veggies from drying up and blowing away.

What has worked in our partially shaded beds:

  • New Zealand spinach
  • cucumbers
  • tomatoes (not as much growth as in the sun, but they are fruiting)
  • lettuce
  • Swiss chard
  • dandelion greens
  • raspberry

Growing but struggling:

  • bush beans (cover crop)

For more information on growing in the shade, check out this article in the San Francisco Chronicle,  “Best Edibles to Grow in Shade in the Bay Area

Also, follow Scott Kleinrock’s research on the Huntington Ranch blog.

And I’m interested in hearing other people’s experiences growing vegetables in the shade so please leave some comments noting where you live.