Tag Archives: gardening

Where I Am Now

I posted a couple of weeks ago about our move to an apartment, and about selling my Xtracycle.

I’m still mourning a bit, especially when I think of an errand I could run by bike, or of things I’d like to grow.  But here’s where we are now: the balcony of our apartment, and me with my current bike, a Schwinn Avenue hybrid.

Kathleen new

And those would be planters on the left. Our youngest and I planted some seeds from her day camp, but only the fava bean plant has survived so far. I’ve got some more seeds, though, and we’re going to do some replanting. But that’s it for our garden, so far.

You can also see our pool toys on the right. Our complex has a pool, and that’s definitely an asset.

We’re still doing Girl Scouts, as you can see by my shirt. We went horseback riding yesterday, then today I dropped our eldest off at resident camp, and at the end of the month we’ll be going on a medieval-themed campout together.

I’ll still be riding that bike to work, once school starts. Actually, I had started riding it back in June, when I took the Xtracycle in for a tuneup. It’s lighter and faster, but I can’t carry much yet; I need to get a rack and/or panniers. And fenders, before it starts raining!

We have most of the boxes unpacked, but we’re still getting organized. So, life moves on.

Tomato Jungle!

I posted this picture of my tomato plants back on June 25th. The rows were nice and neat, and you could barely see the tomato plants inside their cages.


Now they’re a tomato jungle! I can’t get through the center path, and the vines are commingling.


There are plenty of both blossoms and fruit, and one lonely tomato is nearly ripe. It will be eaten with much celebration sometime within the next couple of days.


The Super Marzanos look exactly like they’re supposed to, long and skinny. This variety (a hybrid version of the traditional San Marzano) is excellent for pizza and pasta sauces. I’m looking forward to stewing them down and running them through the food mill!


There’s a Sun Sugar cherry tomato plant in there. I’ve been expecting those to ripen earlier, but they’re not ready yet. They’ll go fast in salads.

There are also Stupice (I think that’s the one ripening first), Costoluto Genovese, Belle Star and Long Keeper. I’ve lost track of which plants are which in some cases. The tags disappeared. No matter! They’ll all get used.

This year’s crop should be much better than last year’s. Hopefully I can get most of the canning done before I go back to work in September, too.

Oh, and I’m growing this little girl, too. She insisted that I take her picture. Cute, huh?


I’m starting to realize that growing a garden and subscribing to a CSA might be redundant. Fortunately, so far most of our crops are not overlapping! We are probably going to have an overabundance of peas soon, but we’ll see. We like stir-fry and raw peas (I’ve been snacking all day), so that might be OK.

Speaking of peas, I can definitely recommend the two varieties we planted this year: Oregon Sugar Pod II and Cascadia, both from Territorial Seed. Both are great for instant eating; sweet and juicy, not tough and stringy. These are far superior to the peas I’ve grown from seeds from the grocery store!

I also picked a few strawberries today; strawberries are late in the Pacific Northwest this year because we had a long, cool spring.

Potatoes, tomatoes, squash, broccoli and cabbages are continuing to thrive. I’ve also got some bean seedlings the kids planted that need to be transplanted ASAP.

Meanwhile, the CSA is keeping us supplied with a variety of lettuce and cooking greens, as well as radishes, turnips and more peas. In fact, we’re getting more greens than we can really eat in a week! I finally said to myself “So, what are you supposed to do when you have an overabundance of a certain crop? Preserve, of course, duh!”

You can can greens in a pressure canner, if you have one, but I don’t, and I’m not sure I’d want to anyway. I went with blanch and freeze, following directions from PickYourOwn.org. I do recommend using a salad spinner to drain and dry the greens after blanching. I also used re-usable plastic containers rather than plastic bags. Finally, if you do this, be aware that the greens will really shrink down after blanching and spinning! A whole bunch of greens (maybe half a pound?) yields about one cup for freezing.

So, come winter, we’ll still have some of our spring abundance available.

Fall, the Garden, the Canning

Fall is officially here. It was off to a chilly start in Oregon, but now we’re getting temperatures in the 70s and 80s again. We’re still harvesting tomatoes from the garden — plenty to eat and cook with, but still not enough to preserve. We’ve got a fall crop of lettuce in, but the peas I planted at the end of July just never took off. Today I harvested about two pounds of green bush beans. The pole beans hadn’t managed to produce anything, but now the warm weather is making them blossom. I doubt they’ll have time to develop beans, but I’m letting them keep going for now.

I bought 40 pounds of tomatoes from a local farm store last weekend, and promptly came down with a bad cold, so most of them are still sitting in the kitchen. I did make a couple of pints of sauce, though, using the crock pot to cook the tomatoes overnight. I’m also planning to make tomato jam and canned diced tomatoes, if the tomatoes haven’t gone soft on me.

I just wish I could have done all of this over the summer! Instead, most of the harvest around here comes right when school starts for the kids and work starts for me.

Photo by visualdensity on Flickr, used via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Kettleman City and Choosing Organics

I’ve been to Kettleman City, California. Sort of. I’ve been to the part at the junction of I-5 and Highway 41, which is where we would turn off to go and visit my grandparents in Lompoc. It’s a cluster of fast food restaurants, gas stations, and motels.

Shamefully, I’ve never thought about any people who might be living nearby, or about whether there was anything more to Kettleman City.

Kettleman City proper is about two miles north of the freeway exit. About 1500 people live within the Kettleman City area (it doesn’t have city limits; it’s just a census-designated place). According to the 2000 census, over 90 percent of the residents are Hispanic/Latino, and speak Spanish at home.  Median household income in 2000 was $22,409.

Some residents work in the businesses at the freeway stop. More than half are farm workers. There’s also a Waste Management faciility nearby, and it’s not just a garbage dump — it’s a hazardous waste facility.

Why am I finding out about this now? I read an article today from Mother Jones Journal: What’s Killing the Babies of Kettleman City?

Yep. “Of 25 births over a 14-month period, five babies were born with cleft palates and other serious birth defects. Three of the five babies died.”  20 percent of the babies born in that time period were born with serious birth defects.

There are between 30 and 64 births each year in Kettleman City. In 15 of the 22 years since California’s public health department began tracking birth defects, all babies in the town were healthy, and in five other years, only one birth defect occurred. But in the last two years and 10 months, residents say, at least 11 babies have been born with serious birth defects.

There are a number of possible contributing causes: chemically-contaminated well water, diesel fumes and automobile exhaust from the freeway, chemicals from the hazardous waste dump, poverty, poor nutrition, and lack of health care.

One additional source of contamination caught my eye: pesticides used on farm fields.

More than half of Kettleman City’s labor force consists of farmworkers who are routinely exposed to toxic pesticides, and residents can smell the chemicals sprayed on the fields that border the town on three sides.

This reminded me of an often-forgotten reason for buying organic. It’s not just to protect ourselves and our children from those chemicals, it’s to protect the farm workers as well.  When I’m at the grocery store, wondering whether I really need to pay twice as much for local and/or organic tomatoes, I often don’t consider the human cost of the cheaper produce.  Am I getting tomatoes at 99 cents per pound or 59 cents per can because somebody’s husband, wife, brother, or sister picked them from a pesticide-contaminated field?

Once again, this makes a good case for knowing where your food comes from. Ask the farmer at the farmer’s market about pesticide use on his or her farm. Or buy the organic, so that you know the grower has followed certain standards.

I’ve got these tomato plants outside still, so obviously we know where our tomatoes are coming from right now. Cooking with and eating the fresh tomatoes has been great, but it doesn’t look like we’ll have enough for canning. If we rely on canned tomatoes from the store, I’ll have to either buy organic (expensive) or use cheap ones that may have come from contaminated fields. And then there’s the whole BPA issue with canned tomatoes. The commercial cans are lined with bisphenol-A, which is even more likely to leach into tomatoes because of their acidity.

So what I’d like to do is buy tomatoes to can, or get some pick-your-own tomatoes. Labor-intensive, but I think it will be worth it.

Garden Update: Tomatoes!



We’re now getting a handful of cherry tomatoes every day. But the really exciting news is that the canning tomatoes are starting to ripen! They’re just beginning to turn yellow.

These are Heinz 2653, specially bred for canning. I have frozen tomatoes before, but have never canned them, so I’m looking forward to it.

Post created on my Motorola Cliq.

Garden Update: The Back Yard

So far, all of my pictures and most of my updates have featured the vegetable bed in the front yard. It’s pretty well established now, and I don’t have to do much with it right now besides water and weed. The tomatoes aren’t ripe yet, and the beans haven’t started beaning. I’ve been picking about a zucchini a day, but I think the zucchini plants might even be slowing down.

Let’s take a look at the back, then, shall we? The previous residents had a swing set in the back yard. They took the swing set and left a large sandy area. I built a four by four square raised bed a few years ago, and tried square foot gardening, but I never got around to putting anything else back there. The square foot garden and the sand eventually become overgrown with weeds.

Earlier this summer, I cleared out the weeds. A neighbor gave us some strawberry plants, which we put into the old square foot garden. I would have liked to get a truckload of soil and/or compost to fill in the rest of the sandy area for gardening, but that wasn’t in the budget.

Then, I heard about this book in a Mother Earth News newsletter: Starter Vegetable Gardens: 24 No-Fail Plans for Small Organic Gardens. I found it in the library catalog and placed a hold. It came in fairly quickly, and I immediately skimmed through it. The Easy-Care Bag Garden especially caught my eye. For this garden, you start by buying several bags of soil, cutting them open, and planting directly into the bags. No truckloads of soil, digging, tilling, etc. (here is an article by the same author which details a similar plan)

The garden plan in the book calls for eleven 40-pound bags (40 lbs=1 cu. ft.) of soil to start with. I decided to start smaller — I got two double-size bags instead. I also got several bags of medium bark to make paths. We already had weed cloth to go under the paths.

I started by laying weed cloth directly on top of the sand. The sand has gotten pretty well packed down over the years, so it doesn’t shift too much any more. I put rocks along the edge to hold the weed cloth down and to provide a barrier to keep the bark inside the paths. Then I filled in the path areas with bark mulch.

I put my two bags of soil just across the path from the strawberry bed, end to end. I poked several holes in the underside of each bag for drainage, and then cut the top side open for planting. If you try this, don’t cut too much! You have to leave enough bag there to hold in the soil.

I decided to plant peas, lettuce and kale, all of which are good fall crops. Yes, it’s still summer. You have to start fall crops in the summer, or they won’t mature before the first frost.

I put a makeshift trellis in one bag for the peas. It’s just some old bamboo sticks lashed together with some twine woven between them. The peas are bush peas, so they won’t climb too much, but they do need a little support.

Then I planted — a row of pea seeds along each side of the trellis, and then in the other bag, four short rows of lettuce and kale.

I do water these more often, as if they were container plants. The soil dries out faster because it’s aboveground. But they’re growing just fine; in fact, the peas are doing better than they did in the front yard.

I also started a compost area next to the bag beds. I’m following a method learned from my friend Dan — it’s almost-sheet-composting. We dig a shallow, one-foot-deep pit each day, put the day’s food scraps in it (just fruit and veg scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds), chop them up a bit, and bury them while simultaneously digging the next day’s hole. The scraps apparently decompose within a couple of weeks (I dug up the first hole, and all I found was a bit of onion skin with a sticker on it). In Dan’s yard, they also attract a large number of worms, but I’m sure that will take a while for us. We’re also mixing the sand with the soil underneath as we do this, and gradually building up the soil for next year.

There’s more open space to fill up next year, too — this is only about half the space I really wanted to use. The only problem is that planting more space means more time spent caring for the garden!