Friday, August 28, 2009

How-Not-To #1--Dealing with Tomato Blight

I suggested that there might be some how-not-to's included in this lovely journey, and while, after working more seriously on our gardening this year, I have a few tips of that nature, this is likely my first big How-Not-To. I've not been faced with tomato blight of this nature before. Last year, I think some of our tomatoes were, in fact, blighted, but it was late in the season, and our plants weren't doing all that great anyway. This is primarily, I am convinced, because we planted them in the same spot two years in a row. They were fantastic two years ago, and last year, not so much. Having learned that, we put our tomatoes in a new place this year with new soil. We also added a lovely layer of leaves to the top of our old bed last fall, and threw a new layer of compost and topsoil on top when we brought some in to fill our raised bed. We left the leaves, not completely rotted, in the mix. That bed, holding corn, sunflowers, melons, and one lone cuke plant, has done quite well this year.

When one discovers their tomato plants are blighted, there should be no delay in removing as much of the blighted parts of the plants as possible, possibly applying a fungicide (organic if you feel the need). The blight is an external thing, not internal, so I am thinking that a fungicide might keep it from spreading, even on the same plant. I did not do this. I had a ton of green tomatoes, and practically no ripe tomatoes. But, if you look at the pictures I took the day I figured out they were blighted, the plants looked pretty good. If I were going to choose not to treat the plants, it might have been good to wait a few more days while the green tomatoes were growing nearer to ripe, then remove the green tomatoes and layer them in newspaper to get them to ripen. I might also see if I could find a few green tomato recipes so that I could get the best out of the crop.

However, I did neither of those things. After a lovely escape to the beach early this week, I came home knowing I needed to do something about those tomatoes. I don't really know (and won't ever) whether faster action might have saved more tomatoes, but, anyway... Yesterday, I took all the tomatoes off the plants, pulled them up, and threw them out. I threw out the worst affected tomatoes, kept any ripe ones without too much blight, wrapped a number of mature, apparently unaffected green tomatoes in newspaper, hoping that they will ripen (will have to let you know how that goes). I also kept a number of either apparently unaffected or only slightly affected nearly ripe tomatoes which I placed on my kitchen windowsill. I also have a bucket of slightly affected green tomatoes for which I am seeking out recipes.

I probably have 15-20 lbs of ripe, lightly affected tomatoes, and we'll have to see how the rest go.

I have not done anything with my container plants, and did not do anything preventative when they looked good when I saw the blight on the other plants. I should have. They are now infected. I pulled lower leaves off the plants, and have been unable to bring myself to pull them up as yet. I am pretty sure that the one cuke in the bed is infected, as it is pretty close to dead. I think I saw somewhere that they are prone to this disease.

So, today I am trying my friend Val's Roasted Tomato Sauce recipe to see how everyone likes it. One article I read advised against water bath canning blighted tomatoes, though, because the acidity level in the tomatoes may not be the same as that in healthy tomatoes, so if we like it (and have enough tomatoes ripening up), I will either pressure can it or freeze it. I am also seeking out green tomato recipes to use up the portions of the green tomatoes affected by the blight not likely to make it to ripe before they are overtaken. Most people seem to agree that it is safe to eat a blighted tomato with the blighty (I made that word up) part cut away. Some suggest that the healthy part of a blighted tomato doesn't taste as good, but I haven't noticed that.

This weekend, we are putting up another raised bed (constructed last weekend by my dear husband with very little help from me) and planting some fall/winter veggies--carrots, peas, onions, lettuce, spinach, radishes. I will also add a bit of compost to the area where the tomatoes stood and plant there. So we go on....

Another thought--our tomatoes were a bit too close together, even with cages. We planted them about a foot apart, and they were lush, crazy plants, so they were crowded. I don't know if that really was a problem, except that when disease hit, it spread quickly and easily.

Making Change--School Lunches

There are a number of schools which have made real changes in food service programs, providing fresh, local food to their students. Sadly, this is not true of our school district.

So, action needs to be taken to make change. I have been thinking about this for a long time and was very recently encouraged by a teacher expressing her own concerns and asking parents to get involved. It was just the push I needed to get moving.

First, I got the following resources from a couple of people I know online who have worked to make changes in their own schools:

Then, I sent a letter to the head of food services, district superintendent, and the school board.

Dear ******,

I am writing to express some of my concerns regarding food service at ***. I am a ******** mom of four kids: my oldest begins sixth grade at ***** this fall, my second 3rd grade at ********, and my third will begin kindergarten this year at ******. My youngest is 2 and a half. Feeding my family good, healthy food has always been a priority for me. I realize that in this economy, providing good quality food for thousands of children must be a difficult and daunting task. I struggle to manage to do this for four. It is very important to me, especially as food becomes more expensive and the economy remains questionable, that I do what I can to feed my children real, fresh food, preferably from local sources. I would like to see *** make this a priority as well. I know that other schools, with cooperation from their communities and local farms, have managed to do so without a great increase in costs, with surprisingly visible improvements in student behavior and well-being. It would seem that in this economy, when schools are responsible for feeding children what may be their best meal of the day, that it is extraordinarily important that all be done to make these meals as healthy possible rather than just filling bellies. This may indeed involve limiting choices for children rather than providing them with the option of a fast food lunch daily.

I also have been disappointed with the kindergarten snack program. My budget is tight right now, and it is difficult to pay a sum for snacks and frustrating that I am paying for things I either have in my home and am sending to school with older children or would not feed my children at all. For 50 cents a day, I could send fresh fruit, whole grain homemade baked goods without preservatives or other additives, yogurt, cheese and crackers, and a variety of other things. I realize that it provides an easy option for both parents and teachers, but I would like to either have the option of sending my own snack or working with other parents to take turns providing healthy snacks for our children.

Real, local, fresh food has been a priority for my family at home, and I see it becoming more important for lots of families. I am certain I am not alone in my wish to see **** providing the best possible food available for our children. It would seem that here in Michigan, where so many products are locally grown and produced, that we could work together to make this a reality which would benefit our children, our local economy, and our community as a whole. I would be glad to do whatever I can to help in this effort.


We'll see where this takes us. ;)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Blight. It doesn't sound like something bad, does it? The tomato plants in our bed have it. Badly. They were green and huge and crowded, and I didn't catch the tomato on the end that showed early signs (of course, until just now when I did a web search, I didn't know what early signs were). They are loaded with huge, beautiful tomatoes, and hopefully, we'll still get a decent crop from them. Our container plants don't appear to have it at the moment, but they were pretty spindly to begin with (I blame a crappy soil mix--it is the same that is in the bed, but I think with the containers, there is a need for REALLY good soil). They actually looked great just a couple days ago, but the rainy, wet weather seems to have provided the perfect environment for it to take hold.

I'm pretty sure this might be the source of the problem. I noticed the yucky tomato weeks ago, but didn't think anything of it. I didn't consider the fact that it could be a disease-carrying leper in need of quarantine.

And the others...

I am really saddened by this, though I am hopeful that we will still get plenty of tomatoes. I'm trying to focus on other things in the garden that are doing well....


Strawberries in August! One of the other plants has been sending off tons of runners, and now we have more than double the number of strawberry plants we started with this year!

And our smiling sunflowers...I am working on a post about flowers.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Up in Smoke

Well, the kale chips didn't go quite as planned. I wandered outside to take laundry off the line and didn't get back in to the oven before the burning kale filled my house with smoke. Molly helped harvest and pull all the kale off its stems and was very excited to try them, too. She and Liam tried the raw kale and decided they weren't so excited about it--it tasted "like grass." So...1 lb of kale burnt is still 1 lb. of kale harvested, right? Darn it. Will try again later, hopefully, with better results.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Creating Community

No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee. --John Donne , Meditation XVII, English clergyman & poet (1572 - 1631)

Many folks in the sustainable living business (and if you were wondering, yes, there are folks for whom sustainable living is big business, and as Americans are turned on to "green living," it becomes ever more true, but I'm talking more about those who are in the business of sharing information on how to live more sustainably, not sell products for sustainable living) emphasize the need for community. There are those, of course, who feel an urge to go it alone, to try to produce all that they need and do all the work for themselves, but for most, it would seem there is a need for community.

So, I have a new idea brewing. I've been thinking about a Community Chest for some time. This is not my idea, but the basic premise is that you create a "chest" preferably from a plastic storage bin where community members can place items they no longer need or want and pass it around the neighborhood for other neighbors to take from and give to as desired. The chest would include a notebook for comments and contact information for all that use it.

But, I'm thinking about going a little further with this idea. Perhaps we could start an email list or even a message board for our community where community members can post wants and needs, offer items or services, and become better connected with their neighbors. It sounds kind of silly that people that live across the street or even around the block would require such a thing to communicate with one another, but such are the times (especially in the winter in Michigan, LOL). People could check in from work, peek in and out anonymously, and might feel more comfortable, actually, communicating with one another in this way than in person. This is a way for people to share. There might be limits to what people feel comfortable sharing, but, maybe you ran out of snacks for your kids to take to school, and I have a box of granola bars in my cupboard that no one in my house will eat. Maybe you have to attend a funeral unexpectedly and your kids have outgrown their dress shoes and there is not time to go shopping. Maybe you need use of a tool you might only use once in this lifetime (or this year). Last winter, I used my neighbor's sledge hammer to break up a huge chunk of ice blocking the way to my mailbox (Yeah, in my neighborhood, the "Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor gloom of night" thing doesn't apply). I really don't think I could have done it otherwise.

Maybe you want to plant a garden, but don't have a spot for it. Maybe your neighbor has a great area that was gardened for years but became overwhelming. This would also allow for coordinating with other neighbors to check in on elderly, take meals to a family with a new baby, or carpool to school. It would also be a great place to organize for requests for zoning changes in order for families to keep chickens or other small animals and possibly plan community areas for gardening.

Anyway, this is what I'm thinking. We know most of our immediate neighbors, but the older residents here will tell you that it's nothing like the early days of this subdivision, and, even then, except for a few, I don't think we've established any kind of network for helping eachother (and I think now'd be a good time, considering we're in Michigan in 2009, and economic predictions don't get better for us for some time). I might be mistaken about how many would be interested in being involved, but even if it's a few, I think it would be a good thing.

I'll keep you updated....

Independence Days Challenge

1. Plant something - I'm going to count the peas, carrots, and radishes, but I hope to get more in the ground before the end of the week--I'll likely count that next week though. ;)

2. Harvest something -one lone tomato, cukes , kale

3. Preserve something -chopped up some puny looking onions and froze them for later use.

4. Reduce waste - Using newspaper as mulch and under new beds, cloth dipes for little one (we've used cloth for all 4 kids), but just aquired cloth "Goodnights" (Happy Heiny trainers with microfiber inserts if anyone is looking for good ones) for older child who is still not dry at night. They will easily pay for themselves if I want to look at it strictly from a cost standpoint.

5. Preparation and Storage - Ben's back is out of whack this week. We want to put together 1 more raised bed for the back yard, and possibly a smaller Mel Bartholomew (Square Foot Gardening)style bed alongside the outside of the back fence where weeds grow better than grass. Learning to use a pressure canner/cooker.

6. Build Community Food Systems - raided neighbor's grass clippings (making it possible for her to fit what was left in one bin when it normally took two!), talked to said neighbor about her own small garden (downsized in her later years, apparently). Hmmm, that means there's more good garden soil available in our sandy neighborhood. Maybe I should consider talking to her to see if she would be interested in expanding again if she had help! Shared a boquet of our flowers with another neighbor.

7. Eat the Food -Cukes seem to be loved by all, as they're being munched as they come off the one plant that is producing at the moment (I only planted one non-pickler, and the picklers aren't producing yet). Kale chopped up tiny in spaghetti sauce is apparently not highly detectable. And I made Kale Chips and thought they were quite tasty. I'm having trouble getting anyone else to try them as they look scary, but I'm going to try again tonight. This time, I'm going to use a little garlic salt to season.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Fall Planting

The first frost for zone 5 is generally between October 6 and October 31. An early frost is generally not the end of decent weather here, so if plants can be covered or brought in, usually, we can have more growing time.

We have one raised bed (currently our only) with pvc brackets on the sides to allow for holding pvc pipe to be covered with plastic, covered-wagon style. We hope to put one more in (very) soon to allow for more fall crops to be planted.

Garbanzo bean plant!

I have already begun to plant a few things. I dug two beds along the fence at the top of the hill in the back yard at the beginning of the growing season. Those now hold scarlett runner beans (which are starting to form beans!), blooming sunflowers and zinnias, and garbanzo beans that I stuck in the ground from my cupboard with no idea as to what they would do. They are growing, and look nothing like I would expect a bean plant to look. They are pretty spindly, but I actually saw a bloom on one today. I put in a third bed a few weeks ago. This time I did not dig it, but laid cardboard down over the area and poured a layer of potting soil, peat, and compost over the cardboard. I moved two hills of pickling cukes that were being overwhelmed by the extremely hardy sunflowers I planted between the hills (note to self: bad idea, but the sunflowers are beautiful and have begun to bloom and look much hardier than the ones on the hill; I attribute that to much more heavily ammended soil in the main bed). I also planted a couple more cuke seeds. I'm hoping we'll manage to get at least a couple jars of our very own pickles this year. I also broadcasted some dill around them, and I don't know if that will work or not, but it is starting to come up. Dill takes a VERY long time to germinate. So far, what I have planted hasn't done much. And, last week, I filled in another bed along the fence, again over another layer of newspaper (5-7 pages thick) and cardboard (these are fairly small beds, about 2'X8', I guess). The beds are surrounded by rocks we have from the original owner's rock garden and some wire border fencing (deemed necessary after a little furry neighbor ate all of our spring peas and a few other freshly sprouted plants) that we've had for several years and roll up to re-use each spring. I'm hoping it will last at least another season... I planted snap peas, Thumbelina carrots, and Easter Egg mix radishes. The day prior, I planted shelling peas in the space that held our first planting of carrots in the raised bed.

I hope to plant more carrots, lots more carrots, radishes, onions, spinach, and lettuce. I am thinking that when the tomatoes are done in the raised bed, we can plant some of those there too. I'm hoping with the cover, we can harvest into December.

We have fall plants on order too, some dwarf blueberries and lingonberries that we hope to plant on the hill as an edible ground cover where the hill is too steep to mow, lipstick strawberries (a shade loving strawberry, not super productive, with pink flowers), horseradish (mmmm....), garlic (mmm...), and bamboo.

I have also stared a rugosa rose (good for hips) and ginger root in pots. I can't tell you yet if they're going to do anything.

Limewater and Canning Jars

It's canning time, and a great time to find canning supplies in your local store even if they don't normally carry them! I've been looking for pickling lime for some time. I saw it online last winter, but never justified paying the shipping to buy a $3.29 quart jar of calcium hydroxide. Now, I could have bought a whole case, I suppose, but one quart will actually last me a very long time, probably at least until next summer when my grocery carries it again. That is, unless we decide to actually use it for pickling, in which case, we might need to buy another package, but I would prefer to buy it here to encourage them to stock it again next year!

Now, why pickling lime? I've also considered several times buying a bag of slake lime from the feed and grain store--yes, there is still actually one in existence in a neighboring town; at least, there was a couple years ago when I last enquired about slake lime. I would have to buy, like a 25 lb. bag there, and it is not food grade, as this is. And, I would prefer it be food grade for my purposes.

What are my purposes? Tee Hee! I'm not trying to be cagey...It's just coming out that way!
I want to make limewater to use for medicinal and supplemental purposes. I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on tv, so I the claims you may infer from this post are not approved by any medical establishment, yadda, yadda. I make lime water by adding one teaspoon of pickling lime to one quart jar of filtered water. Distilled might be even better. I shake it up and let it sit until the powder settles to the bottom. Then, one could pour the clear liquid off into a new jar, leaving the powder in the bottom of the old one, or if lazy like me, just leave it there, and pour a small amount off as needed from the jar gently to avoid stirring up the lime. Who taught me how to do this? My dad. He learned it from a friend very well-versed in nutrition (who is also not a doctor).
I use a little bit (like a teaspoon-tablespoon; otherwise, it will impart a funky flavor) in beverages as a calcium supplement. I say use, but I haven't done it in YEARS, not since I was, say, a junior in college. At that time, I mixed my limewater in a handy Rubbermaid container with a flip-top lid. Now, being much more leery of plastic, I am mixing my limewater in a quart sized Ball jar with a plastic lid found in the canning supply section of the grocery, hardware, or department store. And, while I'm jabbering, I should mention that we use canning jars for all sorts of purposes aside from the obvious--leftover food storage (to avoid plastics mentioned above), drinking, storing dry goods, you name it. They come in a wonderful variety of sizes (I can get them in 1/2 pint--that's a cup, son--to half gallon at my hardware store, and I think gallon sizes are available online) and now in a couple of shapes--those are a little more expensive, but terribly cool. The plastic lids are, obviously, plastic, but way handier to deal with than the two-piece canning lids for daily use and not prone to rust. And, if you think you might want to use them in your household, now's a great time to buy them since many places don't carry them except this time of year. They can likely be had year round via online sources, and I can special order them from Ace Hardware, but if you want to be able to see them in person, now's the time.

Now, I want to share a few links with you about limewater, which is apparently handy for all sorts of purposes, not to mention making corn to hominy and tortillas!
DrEddy Alkaline Diet Blog Hmm..I haven't read this thoroughly, nor can I vouch for it's credibility, but interesting, nonetheless.
CellSalts I'll say it again. Just collecting sites for your review. I hope to get a better look at these later, and I may revise this post as I review the info.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


This is actually the last bunch of our first spring planting.

I'll Follow the Sun (or what is that weirdo neighbor doing now???)

While we have some wonderful things growing here right now, we are still very much at the beginning stages of converting our property from average suburban lot to a homestead. I have been drawing up some plans for things we can do with our property, mainly focusing on the back yard. In an effort to fully utilize our space, I realized that I really need to evaluate what our options are for the whole yard, especially since we are financially going to have to do this gradually, and need to have a grand scheme in mind as we place plants and shrubs around our home.

So, today, I decided it was time to evaluate our sunlight hours. I placed some bamboo stakes in the yard at the points where the house shadows our front lawn at 8:30 in the morning. My short term memory is not what it used to be, so I decided I would make it very obvious to make it easy on myself. I also went out and took pictures of the whole yard for reference. I went out again at 9:00 and roughly measured (using my big ol' feet) what was now in direct sunlight. I will continue to do this throughout the day, marking both the front and back, taking pictures, and making notes in my notebook. I am also pulling my mortgage info so that I can get the square footage of my yard without measuring it. ;0)

Other things that must be taken into consideration when you are evaluating what you have available in your space:

soil--generally, with raised bed gardening, problem soil is not of too much concern, but if you are wanting to put things into the ground, obviously, you must consider what will grow in your soil.

zone--we are in zone 5. It gets cold here in the winter. First frost dates tend to be between early and mid-October. Most seed catalogs provide zone information to help you figure out what will grow where you live.

sun--my house faces west. The front of the house is shaded during the morning hours, and the back is shaded in the afternoon. The north side of my house is about 10 feet from my neighbor's garage, and we generally do not use that side of the house at all. The south side of my house has no windows (unfortunate for keeping any plants inside). The garage is also on the south end. We have a square of lawn next to our driveway that is problematic in that it seems nothing but weeds grow there. It is also unsuitable for any beds, though we might be able to add some containers out there, because the door to the fence is here as well as the door to the garage workshop. We have a large strip between the curb and the fence that is also problematic for lawn-growing, but I am thinking if we put beds all along there, we solve the issue of trying to get grass to grow there and can put some heat-loving veggies here where they can benefit from radiant heat from the fence.

Water--We live in an area where water is not rationed. However, if we were watering with city water, it would be pretty much cost prohibitive. Fortunately, we have a well for watering, so we're only paying to run the pump. If we did not, and from a sustainable perspective, it would benefit us to set up some sort of collection system. I am seriously considering putting in a couple of collection barrels for rainwater. There are a couple of places where water from our gutters is actually washing away (very sandy) soil from around our foundation, so this would serve two purposes.

What do you eat? What do you want to grow? There's not much point in growing things you will never eat. Now, certainly if you know someone that loves zuchini or have a food bank nearby that will gladly take your excess and you have the space, then grow some zuchini, even if your only consumption might be two or three zuchini muffins a year. Otherwise, reserve your space for things you will use and love!