Monday, February 23, 2009

A Question for Kitchen Gardeners and Cooks:
What Kind(s) of Eggplant Do You Like To Grow and/or Eat?

No Respect for Raised BedsTopaz with Some Volunteer Bachelor's Buttons Last May

I'm working on a cookbook all about making the most of your seasonal bounty no matter where it comes from, and I would love your input. I'll be posting random questions here every few days, and all comments are greatly appreciated.

Is it just me, or are eggplants some of the most beautiful vegetables in the garden? I love the look of 'plain old' Black Beauties, but of course there are dozens of other varieties you can grow. Eggplants come in all shapes and sizes—and quite a few colors, too.

The first year I gardened in Missouri I had a bumper crop of eggplant, which is what happens when two dozen plants (what was I thinking?) decide to flourish. The only trouble I had was with hungry flea beetles turning the leaves of the young plants into lace, but although they looked terrible they survived just fine.

I've really slacked off on my eggplant production since then, though. Joe doesn't care for eggplant, and they simply aren't a real priority for me. This year, however, I'm jumping back on the eggplant bandwagon big time, and am going to try growing some interesting heirloom varieties from seed (which I will start in containers and then transplant into the garden once the soil warms up and we're well past our frost date), including these (descriptions from the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog):

Pandora Striped Rose
A great market variety, teardrop-shaped fruit are a lovely lilac-rose color with thin white stripes. Strong, thornless plants give heavy yields; tender and delicious. A real eye catcher.

Turkish Orange
This beautiful heirloom comes from Turkey. The 3" round fruit are best cooked when they are green to light orange. This variety has very sweet and flavorful flesh. It imparts a strong, rich flavor to any dish. The small plants yield well. This variety is great for ethnic markets. Very ornamental looking.

Listada De Gandia
One of the most popular heirloom types, this one has 7"-long fruit that are white, with lovely bright purple stripes. They are so beautiful and have fabulous flavor, with sweet, tender flesh. This excellent variety hails from Spain, a country that is renowned for fine food.

So what are your favorite varieties of eggplant to grown and/or eat? And what do you do with bounty left on the vine that's a little past its prime? Cook, curse, compost?

© Copyright 2009, the inquiring foodie farm blog where it's quickly becoming obvious that I won't always have appropriate pictures to go with my questions, so when that happens I'll simply post random garden photos (rather than no photos) from my files, like this one of the annoying but cute Topaz relaxing in a raised bed as if she owns it.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Question for Kitchen Gardeners: How Big Is Your Garden and How Much Food Does It Provide?

Tomatoes, Lemon Basil, Golden Zucchini, Lemon Cucumbers, and Swiss Chard Harvested October 7th

Okay, so I just announced over on Farmgirl Fare that I'm writing a cookbook—and that I need your help. It's a big book all about making the most of your seasonal bounty, whether it comes from your own garden, a CSA subscription, the farmers' market, pick-your-own farms, or is dropped off on your doorstep by an undercover, overburdened neighbor when you're not at home. It's going to be published in spring 2010 and will include canning, freezing, drying, and storing the harvest, along with my favorite ways to savor everything fresh—all using my Less Fuss, More Flavor methods and recipes. Of course there'll be plenty of growing tips and gardening talk, too.

But here's the deal. In order to make the book as well-rounded and helpful as possible, we're including some fruits and vegetables that I don't/can't grow and/or don't have a whole lot of experience with (like okra and rhubarb and figs). I know some of you do, though, and my editor thought it would be fun if I took advantage of this wonderful community of readers I have and solicited your input.

I'll also want to hear about your general experiences in the garden with, well, just about everything. I mean, look how you came to my rescue last spring when I was wondering what to do with those 125 ready-to-pick-right-this-minute scallions. I may even pester you for a favorite recipe or two. Non-gardeners, there will be plenty of questions for you, too!

So what I'm going to do is start posting random questions here, hopefully every day or two. They'll vary from wide open to quite specific, and I'll just toss them out as they come to me. Short replies, longwinded answers, and links to your own blog posts about the subject will all be welcome in the comments section of each post.

I can't wait to hear what you have to say, and I thank you in advance for sharing your knowledge and experience. I know it will make the book better, and I'm also hoping that other In My Kitchen Garden readers will find your replies to these posts helpful.

So on to the first question. I realize it's huge and open ended, but it's something I'm asked a lot by new gardeners who are trying to figure out how much they should plant:

How big is your garden and how much food does it produce?

The big picture, the little details—the more information you want to share the better. A general idea of where your garden is located (state, country, growing zone, etc.) would be helpful, too. You don't have to know specifics regarding bushels of this or pounds of that (though you're welcome to list everything you grow if you like)—even just telling us that your 400 square foot garden keeps your family of four in fresh vegetables for most of the year is helpful. But if you know that if you plant 100 feet of green beans you'll usually end up with up 50 quarts of dilly beans, do tell!

If you've posted a photo of your entire garden (or most of it) on your blog or flickr, you're welcome to include a link to it in your comment.

It's difficult to tell somebody the exact number of plants they need in order to harvest so many pounds of something because your bounty depends so much on location and growing conditions. As I noted in my previous post, Growing Tomatoes: How Many Plants Do You Need? (And What To Do If You End Up With Too Many Tomatoes), my pal Finny gets enough tomatoes to fill up on fresh and can for later from two plants, while a friend of mine here in Missouri puts out 200 plants in order to ensure enough tomatoes for himself and his wife for the year.

Thanks again for your help! I'll hopefully have the next question up in a day or two. If you don't want to miss any of them, consider subscribing to the In My Kitchen Garden RSS feed or signing up to receive each new post via e-mail—you'll find the Feedblitz sign-up box located in the top right corner of the page.

© Copyright 2009, the homegrown foodie farm blog where we have especially big plans for the garden this year because of the book, and yet are already behind out there because of the book. In the name of research, I'm planning to grow both green and red okra for the first time, and I'm even going to give sugar snap peas another try, despite the terrifying (and not very tasty) first and last experience I had with them years ago.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Garden Question: Using Soil Block Makers When Starting Seeds Indoors—Yay or Nay?

4-Block and 20-Block Soil Block Makers at Johnny's Selected Seeds

So I'm thinking of buying a soil block maker, and I'd love to hear about any experiences you've had with them. Have you ever used a soil block maker? They're also called potting blocks, and I discovered them ages ago in the Johnny's Selected Seeds catalog but never actually ordered one. Then last year I read an interesting article about soil block makers in the special March gardening issue of Martha Stewart Living (which can be found online in its entirety here). When I was re-reading through that issue the other day and came across the soil blocks again, I figured it was a sign that I should finally take the plunge and just go order one already.

So what exactly is a soil block maker and why do gardeners love them? Here's an soil block intro from, which bills itself as "The world's resource for soil block gardening:"

Potting Blocks, also known as soil blocks, are free-standing compressed cubes of potting soil which hold their shape without any container. Potting Blocks are made from a zinc coated stainless steel Soil Block Maker, much like an ejection mold. The block maker metal form is packed into a tub of pre-moistened potting soil and then discharged into nice, firm, blocks with a pre-drilled seed or transplant holes formed right into the top.

Potting Blocks are used for seed starting or germination, and transplanting. They have an amazing success rate due to the volume of soil compressed in the cube. The roots are naturally "air pruned" due to the air barrier of the "container-less" cube. They become the growing medium and the container! They are used for everything; herbs, flowers, vegetables, cuttings, and other transplants.

Potting Blocks have many advantages over traditional potting methods. First, they eliminate transplant shock! The seedling and root system stays intact and protected, a "home away from home". They will not become "'root-bound". They eliminate root circling. They replace plastic pots, trays, inserts,etc. They contain more cubic volume of soil than pots of the same top dimensions. They promote great air circulation. They have a major increase in space utilization than round pots. And, studies in Europe have shown that Potting Block transplants are superior in performance than container-bound transplants.

They sound pretty great, huh? Kind of makes me wonder why I didn't start using them ages ago.

Soil block makers are available in several sizes, from itty bitty to big and pricey commercial versions. I'm thinking of starting with the 2" x 2" 4-block size, which can be used for all sorts of seedlings. If I like how it works, I'll invest in the 3/4" x 3/4" 20-block maker (pictured above) and four soil block maker inserts. Each insert makes a defined 3/4" x 3/4" impression in the 2" soil block, perfectly sized to insert a mini block. How convenient is that?

There are many economical and environmental reasons to use soil blocks when starting seeds, and the only outlay of cash is your initial purchase—unless of course you become a soil block addict and need to acquire one in every size available. Apparently making the soil blocks is a lot of fun.

There are different opinions as to the best kind of 'soil' to use when making blocks (some gardeners use compost, others say you shouldn't ever use compost), but everyone seems to agree that they're a wonderful invention. I'm looking forward to finally jumping on the soil block bandwagon—especially since I'm already behind with my seed starting this year.

Related Links:
Article About Seed Starting with Soil Blocks from Martha Stewart Living
Soil Block Makers at Johnny's Selected Seeds
4-Block Maker at Peddler's Wagon
Jason Beam's
Tips, Tricks, & Techniques on The Soil Blocker Blog
How To Make Your Own Soil Block Maker

So what seeds have you started already? And what did you start them in?

© Copyright 2009, the germinating foodie farm blog where seeing seeds sprout up—whether in containers or directly in the ground—is definitely one of the most rewarding aspects of gardening. Right after eating your bounty of course.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

You Know I Love to Use Sheep Manure in the Garden. . .

But this is a little ridiculous.

Happy Valentine's Day! So what things do love growing in your garden the most? You can read more about using sheep manure as an organic fertilizer in the garden here.

© Copyright 2009, the garden loving foodie farm blog where most of the hearts I find around the farm are
made out of rock, but this one that flung itself into the haycart with the first pitchfork full of manure hay mucked from the barn has got to be the most memorable—and the funniest.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Why I Love Growing Vegetables in Raised Garden Beds: Reason #1

All's Quiet on the Winter Front

I've been wanting to write about raised beds since I started this blog back in 2006. I decided to start growing in raised beds when I moved in with my hunky (and handy!) farmguy Joe nine years ago and had the chance to create another new garden from scratch. I'm so glad I did, and unless I decide to plant an acre of something someday, I doubt I'll ever go back to gardening any other way. I even have raised beds in the greenhouse.

There are many reasons why I love my raised beds, and many of you have been asking me to tell you more about them. But because it's obvious that I'm never going to get around to writing one giant raised bed blog post, I decided I should tackle the reasons one by one instead.

So here goes. This first reason was inspired by the weather we've been having and is all about form and has nothing to do with function, but when you think about it, so does a lot of gardening:

They look beautiful when they're covered with snow.

I'm also looking forward to sharing tips about creating and using raised beds in the upcoming months. Are you a raised bed gardener? Feel free to jump into this new ongoing discussion anytime! And if you've written about raised beds on your own blog, you're welcome to leave a link to the post(s) in a comment below.

More posts about the winter garden:
1/5/07: Things Are Looking Up in the Broccoli Department
2/4/07: Yearning For Yellow & Your Seed Favorites and Failures
9/26/07: How To Grow Your Own Swiss Chard (a wonderful winter vegetable) and Why You Should
3/9/08: Tips For Growing & Using Rosemary Year Round

© Copyright 2009, the foodie farm blog where the other nice thing about snow on raised beds is that it even makes all the fall cleanup you never got around to doing look good—and it takes away the guilt, because how can you be expected to go out there and pull up dead weeds when you can't even see the ground? Winter can be so handy
that way. Of course I probably won't be thinking that when I'm scrambling to get these beds ready for planting lettuce and beets (and hopefully a bunch of other stuff) in March.