Friday, June 29, 2012

Building a Holz Hausen (or Beehive) Woodpile

A neighboring lot is being developed; a 'weed' tree, basswood or cottonwood, was being cut down and I asked to have anything bigger than 4" in diameter dropped off on my sidewalk.

My friend Blake and I, using Art's chainsaw, cut it into usable lengths and then I split it with a maul.  It will take 6 months or so to dry and then I can burn it in my wood stove out in the shop.

We cut everything into roughly 12" pieces, short enough to fit into the wood stove.

I sized my pile to use up the available wood. It's about 5' in diameter, and when finished, will be 4' tall. I'll put a round tarp on top to keep the water and snow off. 

In the few days that it's been in place, three people have told me it reminds them of a Andy Goldsworthy piece.  I don't know about that; I just like the way it looks.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

First Tomato 2012

Call it June 23. I didn't pick it right away. Stupice, of course, a favorite of ours.
55 days. Lycopersicon esculentum. Plant produces high yields of 2 ½" diameter red tomatoes. This early producing variety was does well in Northern regions. The potato leaf plant produces tomatoes in clusters all season long. It has excellent tomato flavor. A variety from Czechoslovakia. Indeterminate.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Lunch from the Garden: Garlic Scape Pesto and Stir-Fried Chard

I just harvested my garlic scapes and have had pesto on my mind. This time I made my pesto with garlic scapes and toasted almonds instead of basil and pine nuts. The flavor was really unique. I invite you to give it a try!

Garlic scapes can be found at farmers markets... or next year grow you own garlic! Here's a nice video on how to plant garlic by Josh at Territorial Seeds.

Garlic Scape Pesto Recipe:

10 large garlic scapes
1/3 cup toasted almonds
1/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Combine first 4 ingredients and puree. Add olive oil and puree still smooth.
Adapted from an recipe.

Extra pesto can be frozen. Great for a quick and satisfying meatless meal.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Ode to Basil

There's a lot of basil growing in our front window boxes, much of it going to flower in the intense early summer heat.  J'adore basil, every type I can find seeds for. Here's a sampling of what we're harvesting.

Note the robust white borage (at left) staking out its territory
 amid the basil and a feathery cilantro gone to flower.

Geraniums are my flower of choice for bold color and for practical reasons too: drunk people who inhabit our neighborhood (which has turned into a sports bar theme park of sorts) like to yank flowers out of the window boxes. Geraniums are happy to be picked up off the sidewalk the next day and replanted. Art's grandma told us she stored bare-root geranium plants over the winter, hanging in the cellar.

We also have festivals now, where we once had gangbangers. Better? Debatable. At least one festival-goer vomited in three of my window boxes a couple weeks back. I tried to view it as compost, but it was stinky (compost smells sweet). So I doused the planters with water and then vinegar.

Somehow the basils--including these holy basil--bounced back (faster than I did after that little episode, that's for sure). Holy basil has a flavor all its own, more flowery to my palate than some of the others. This is the basil called for in the Thai classic Gai Pad Gapow (chicken basil), which makes frequent appearances in our house wok.

Lettuce leaf or Genovese?

 Must be the dark opal.

I pluck leaves for virtually every meal--torn with fruit in the morning, chopped and added to ground grassfed beef and garlic at lunch, showering vegetables at dinner--and encourage passersby to do the same.  Here's a colander of beautiful deadheads. The seeds and flowers taste good too, if assertive.

Plus, health benefits: 60% of the RDA for bone-building vitamin K in just two teaspoons of basil (I am so covered).

You can't deadhead forever, though.  When we let them go to flower, the bees are ever present. They love basil as much as I do.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Installing a Rooftop Beehive

My beekeeping friends Michelle and Karen installed a new hive on my roof about 6 weeks ago.

They used foundation in their frames.  Not followers of the Backwards Beekeepers. Yet...

Frames set in the hive body.
Karen behind the new hive, which is sitting underneath the "package" of new bees.

The package included 3 frames of bees and a queen. Here Karen and Michelle are smoking the package prior to moving the frames to the new hive.

Setting a frame of bees into their new hive body.

A frame showing capped honey and brood.

After placing the bee laden frames into the new hive body, the remaining space in each body is filled with empty frames.  Over time the bees will fill in those frames with comb, brood, and honey.

Michelle giving the new hive a final inspection.
 Michelle and Karen have been back several times in the past six weeks to check on the new hive.  Good news!  The queen is laying like crazy, and the hive itself is doing well.  They tell me that it looks like we'll be able to harvest some honey later this summer.

Landscape in North Wales

From the wonderful ::: wood s lot ::: "the fitful tracing of a portal"

 Stanley Spencer, out of Sermons by Artists (1934):

When I lived in Cookham I was disturbed by a feeling of everything being meaningless. But quite suddenly I became aware that everything was full of special meaning and this made everything holy. The instinct of Moses to take his shoes off when he saw the burning bush was similar to my feelings. I saw many burning bushes in Cookham. I observed this sacred quality in most unexpected quarters.
Every thing or person other than myself is a future potential part of myself, or a revealer of and an agent in revealing unknown parts of myself: unknown husbands, wives, lovers, worshippers, never before seen and only known by a persistent desire or passionate longing, supported by a kind of consciousness of their existence.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Growing Melons in Sub Irrigated Planters (SIPs)

These melons grew on our roof a few years back and they were little rock stars. People couldn't believe how happy they were, hanging by their sturdy ropey threads. Melons are mostly water and they love sub irrigation, greedily drinking the reservoirs dry by the time they reach this size.

I seeded our melons this week, happily a day before Chicago became a high-wind inferno with temps around 97 yesterday and more of the same over the next two days. We have five selections this year, all thanks mostly to Debbie swapping me some nice varieties in our seed swap: 

Mexican sour gherkin
   Japanese icebox
   Korean ginka
 Golden midget

I promised myself this year that earlier in the season I'd switch out the SIPs that have been growing greens since March. Often I let them go to seed and we love to make seed, but the lazy (and late) gardener knows these SIPs can be quickly dispatched and replanted. 

Pull off the shower cap, pull out the greens and remove the fertilizer (sending all down to the compost bin)...

...and top up with potting mix and fresh fertilizer. Ready, boom, for five types of melon.

I even re-used the plastic shower caps with multiple holes. You can plant more greens than melons in a 5-gal SIP. We plant four melon seeds and hope for good germination, culling to leave the two strongest seedlings. For all planting in a 5-gal SIP, cut in half the amount you're instructed to plant in a standard-sized Earthbox (the link has a pdf showing how many of most veggies will grow well).

Here's a friend getting ready to enjoy one of the 2011 Golden Midgets. Come back, JT (and Alex too), when this year's melons ripen!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Peter Lawford sings "Age of Aquarius"

It's hot and I'm bored.

Thanks to Fabio for the link.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Greenie Beans Pop Up

When my nephew was little, his mom called these greenie beans and we've called them that ever since. Our provider bush beans from Bountiful Gardens popped up in just two days in one of the earthboxes. I kept them moist and they clearly love the heat.
40-50 days. Extra early, widely adapted green bean. Popular for almost fifty years because of its big early yields and rich flavor.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Why We Grow Tomatoes 2012

(a West Virginia heirloom apparently having nothing to do with the cereal company)

After focusing on work only for the entire month of May I finally started planting tomatoes around the first of June and haven't stopped since.  Look at that photo, an incredible single plant growing in a sub-irrigated container (SIP) on our roof in Chicago, begging to be picked. Hold that image as we move through the summer months.

Did I say it was hot on the roof? Temps at or near 90 for four days translated to this on the growing deck:

We moved food production to the roof because of burgeoning shade on the ground. With these temps we may have to introduce shade on the roof. Most people seem unaware of the bizarre weather--is it because they don't grow food?  I can tell some people think I'm BEING NEGATIVE. My planting notes reminded me we had an utterly strange string of hot weather in March, including about nine days in the 80s and one near 90. Facts are facts. Happily, the weather broke this morning. But before it did, this gardener's friend put up a nice umbrella for me to plant under.

But let's back up. Bruce tended and befriended the tomato, eggplant, and pepper seedlings. He did a fine job and this year's crop is extraordinarily beautiful.

Look at that biomass from a handful of seeds.

As usual, we added perlite to our potting mix from previous years to lighten it up.

All the usual fertilizers and lime for tomatoes.

We've retrofitted most of the SIPs from the original damp-mix-filled wicking cup (large hole in center) to the wicking tapes.

After a backbreaking bunch of planting, Art raised the soil bin six inches off the ground, easing the load on my lower back. A miracle.

Many new varieties set for this year, and I'm optimistic it'll be a solid season. The white tubing is Art's auto-water system, essential in this hot weather.

The bees love it when we water, gathering round the moving stream and crawling into the holes to drink when the flow stops.

I pulled the peapods and lettuces, which grew like crazy and then spun out in the heat, from the two earthboxes and laid in more fertilizer. Bush beans at left, a tomato and tomatillo (thanks, Bruce) sharing the EB at right.

I'm not finished yet but getting closer. Already tasting the pingtung long eggplant,Jimmy Nardello peppers, and BLTs.

This is why we grow tomatoes