Sunday, April 26, 2009


The third set of leaves are just beginning to emerge...

I just realized I have completely lost track of the variety of each tomato plant. I wrote the names on the lid of the starter greenhouse, and once the plants started growing and I removed the lid, they have been turned so many times I no longer know which plants are which. No big deal... I'll find out once they start bearing fruit.
The biggest problem is if I give some extra plants away, I won't be able to tell the person what they are getting.

Sunday morning breakfast... Everything bagel with cream cheese and freshly picked Arugula

Saturday, April 25, 2009

dog days of april....

I picked the Saturday in April that felt like August to move 2 yards of top soil into my new raised beds. The temperature reached 86 degrees here in southeastern Pennsylvania, and while the humidity was comfortably low (around 75%), it still was not the ideal day to move at least a ton of soil mix via wheelbarrow to the new raised beds. But the dump truck backed into my driveway at 8AM this morning, and I have never met a pile of anything that I couldn't tackle in a day.

But first I needed to build a couple more raised beds that I had been procrastinating for the last couple weekends. It took about an hour to build these two 10 foot by 2 1/2 foot beds from some salvaged cedar boards I had been saving for just this purpose.

Then it was time to fill these new beds and the deep raised bed I made a few weeks ago with the top soil and mushroom soil mix waiting in the driveway. It took me about three hours to fill the new beds, and I had about a third of the pile left over that I moved to the back corner of the yard to use in the tomato bed as a top filler in a few weeks when it is time for the summer garden to be planted.

That tomato bed is now filled with cold weather crops such as Arugula, Bok Choi, Spinach, and Mesclun Mix. They didn't look very happy in the withering heat today, and it looks like they are going to have at least another four days of temperatures in the high eighties. Hot spells in late April make it very tempting to get an early jump on the summer garden. But one thing that many years of gardening in the Mid-Atlantic states has taught me is to be patient. The best rule of thumb for planting summer vegetable plants is to wait until after Mother's Day. This heat wave will surely pass, and we will have more than a few chilly nights yet in the next three or four weeks. My new beds are ready to go, and that is such a good feeling.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

(sub)Urban Gardening 1960

thanks to Julia

Utopian suburban gardening from 1960. I wonder how many gardeners actually attempted to create this in their back yards? And check out the espalier tomato plants!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Home Roasted Garam Masala....

I love Indian foods and have been trying to improve my home cooking techniques mostly with things I improvise with after reading some of the Indian cook books I have. Garam Masala is frequently used in many Indian foods as a very important spice blend, and is essential to Northern Indian cooking. Traditionally it is a blend of four spices; Cardamom, Cinnamon, Cloves, and Black Pepper, but every region of Indian has it's own blend and many times additional spices are added, such as Red Pepper, depending on regional preferences.

I have always used Garam Masala blends which can now be purchased in just about any grocery store. Like all spices, these can be quite pricey. Recently I was in one of my favorite Indian grocery stores. (I have several here in the Philly metro area) While wandering the aisles I noticed some interesting bags of Garam Masala Whole, very reasonably priced at $1.79 for a 7 oz. bag of whole spices.

It occurred to me that by preparing my own Garam Masala I would be saving money and improving my cooking at the same time. This is a very easy process and adds no more than five minutes to cooking prep time. It is also very comforting to me because I feel like my cooking becomes more traditional this way, not to mention the incredible aroma that results from the process.

First thing to do is heat up a frying pan or wok. Dry pan... no oil or fat! When the pan gets hot enough to begin smoking, add about a palm sized amount of spices to the pan. For the first minute not much will happen, but keep a close eye on the spices. As soon as they dry out they will begin to brown. Keep them moving in the pan. You will notice an incredible aroma as the spices roast and brown. Do not let them burn. Just a nice toasty brown is what you are after. 2-3 minutes of roasting usually does the trick.

Remove the spices to a small bowl and allow them to cool down for a few minutes, then place them into a coffee grinder or spice mill. Grind them into a fine powder, the consistency of drip coffee. You may find that some of the pieces of cinnamon remain in big chunks. I just discard those pieces.

Empty the ground spice mix back into the bowl and take a whiff at what you have created! No store bought Garam Masala blend can even come close to freshly roasted! And the whole process takes no longer than about five minutes. Try it, it is so worth it.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


I am really enjoying the rewards of having planted cold weather crops back in early March. There were a few very cold nights that required some fast thinking in order to keep the plants warm, but overall this has been a very easy crop to grow. I haven't added any fertilizer to the soil, and with all of the spring rain we have had, I haven't needed to water but for a couple times.

bok choi april 16th, 2009

Everyday I go out and harvest a big handful of leafy greens, and I will continue to do so right up until I pull these out and change over to Tomatoes, which is at least another month from now. Before I do that I will be adding another row of timbers around this bed to add some additional depth, then I will turn in some composted manure and add another three or four inches of mushroom soil. The soil mix I used last year from Primex Garden Supply in Glenside, Pa. was perfect for tomatoes. My crop was superb and abundant.

cold crops april 16th, 2009

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

bradford pear blossoms

right outside my back door, my neighbor's bradford pear tree is now in full bloom...

Monday, April 13, 2009

more baby photos...

just a couple more photos of tomato babies



Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter...

Tomato babies on Easter morning...

Friday, April 10, 2009

confirming what we already knew.....

From today's New York Times...

WASHINGTON — After decades of steady progress, the safety of the nation’s food supply has not improved over the past three years, the government reported Thursday. And, it said, in the case of salmonella, the dangerous bacteria recently found in peanuts and pistachios, infections may be creeping upward.

The report, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, demonstrates that the nation’s food safety system, created when most foods were grown, prepared and consumed locally, needs a thorough overhaul to regulate an increasingly global food industry, top government health officials said Thursday.

Read the full story

Thursday, April 9, 2009

the miracle of birth...

I was pleasantly surprised to find that today is tomato birthing day! Only four days after sowing the seeds in their peat moss starters packs. I think it is the nice even heat from the radiator, because my seeds usually take well over a week in years past.
They are all coming up uniformly except for the Santore Roma seeds, which germinated much slower than everything else last year as well.

birth of tomatoes 4.09.2009

on a side note... ever since I have been harvesting greens from the garden, dinner has been some form of stir fry as seen below. Tonight it is store bought Onions and Carrots, some Organic Tofu, and a pile of assorted greens from the garden.... Mustard Greens, Arugula, Chinese Cabbage, and some Mesclun, served over Basmati Rice

Stir Fry Greens 4.09.2009

Monday, April 6, 2009

heat source for seedlings...

I am lucky enough to have a north facing window with a deep window sill that covers a hot water radiator. There is a long narrow grill built into the window sill, over which I place my little seedling greenhouses. There is just enough indirect light from this window, and the more or less continually even heating from the radiator below means very happy seedlings!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Tomatoes 1

Official start of the 2009 Tomato season with the sowing of seeds in starter packs. I really like these Ferry Morse Tomato starter packs. They are 3" tall peat moss packs that will allow deeper roots to grow and eliminate tedious and potentially damaging transplanting prior to setting out in the garden.

I am growing five varieties of Amish Heirlooms with seeds purchased from Amishland Seed. Here are the five varieties I will be growing this year.

In addition to the Amish Heirlooms, I am also going to grow the same Heirloom Italian Roma that was so successful last summer. These are seeds that have been saved by the Santore family in upstate New York for several generations. They are the most delicious Roma tomato I have ever eaten.

Santore Roma. 2008

Saturday, April 4, 2009

first salad...

Salad Garden. April 4th, 2009

I've been picking leaves from the salad garden every morning this week and adding them to my scrambled eggs, but this evening was the first time I really went whole hog and harvested up enough for a real salad. The Arugala has just the perfect amount of spicy bite, and the Chives have a bit of garlic flavor to them.

First Salad. April 4th, 2009

Raised beds...

3 hour project for a Saturday afternoon, building a 25 sq ft raised bed. Consists of cedar and pine planks screwed to corner stakes with stainless steel screws. The bed is 10 feet long by 2 1/2 feet wide and I will most likely use it for carrots and other root vegetables.

25 sq ft raised bed (April 4th, 2009)

I spread out about 2 inches of the free leaf compost I get from the town composting system, then covered that with a heavy layer of newspaper to act as a weed preventer.

Another couple inches of leaf compost and that is it for today. I will eventually fill the remaining 12 inches of this bed with a mushroom soil mix from my local garden supply yard, Primex Garden Center

I used salvaged wood that I have been saving for about a year, and together with the free compost and newspapers, the only cost of this raised bed will be the price of the mushroom soil mix... probably about $25. So the gardenomics on this project will mean very low production cost considering this bed should give me at least five years of use.

An interesting side note... this area used to be a bed of Hostas. I dug them up at the start of this project and put them out at the curb. I placed a curbside alert ad on Craig's List, and before this raised bed was finished all of the Hostas were gone!