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April 5th, 2012

Red Soda Taters.

A few months ago I posted about getting some free shipping crates and turning them into planks, out of which a potato box would be built.

A several weeks ago T.G. cut them to size and screwed them together.

The box in progress.

The box in place!

I lined the bottom with newspaper to help keep the weeds/grass from growing through it, then filled the bottom level with a cheapo dirt/sand mix. You know the phrase “dirt cheap”? If you’ve never bought just plain dirt before, like me you might be surprised to find out it really is, well, dirt cheap! Each 40 pound bag is just a little over $1.

I bought some seed potatoes from a local garden supply. The official name of these is “Red La Soda Potatoes”, but as you can see, this bag has been assimilated into the local dialect and shall be henceforth known as “Red Soda Taters”. This variety is heat and drought tolerant, and apparently gives a good yield quickly, so I thought it might be a good choice for growing in Texas and my first attempt at growing potatoes. Er, excuse me, I mean “taters”.

A couple of weeks ago, they sprouted!

Yay! Go, taters, go! As the vines grow, I’ll add boards to the sides of the box and cover the new growth with more dirt. When I get a few layers up, I should be able to start harvesting from the bottom, a la the method described on this site:
http://www.tipnut.com/grow-potatoes

Key word being “should”… We’ll see how it goes.

. . . .

Some of the onions which were overwintered in the beds started sending up flower stalks. I didn’t want to pull them this early, but I read that once onions start sending up flower stalks the bulbs start shrinking. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like there was much bulb to begin with.

I ended up just tossing them into the greenbelt for the bunnies and coyotes to eat (coyotes eat onions, right?). The bulbs were too small to make the effort of curing/cleaning/chopping worth the time. The greens were already being devoured by cutworms, which like to chew their way into a stalk and eat it from the inside out, filling it up with poop as they go. There were plenty of healthy, intact, non-poopy leaves, but … again, didn’t seem worth the effort.

I don’t know if it was the variety of onions (and I have no idea what they are — they were an impulse buy), the timing of planting them, the overly warm winter, or some combination thereof or something else entirely that went wrong. But next time I decide to plant onions, I’ll be doing more research prior to buying and sowing them!

March 16th, 2012

So about those carrots.

So… about those carrots.

They cleaned up pretty well! These are all the crooked, split, or otherwise imperfect carrots. (What happened to the perfect carrots? We’ll get to that later.)

After they were scrubbed, I peeled them and cut out the damaged sections. There were a lot of damaged sections. There wasn’t much left, but it was enough to contribute to a small crockpot vegetable stew.

I chopped up a few of the smaller carrots to dehydrate; they’ll be good to put in split pea soup later.

They shrank A LOT. I should have used the solid tray liner, because at least two teaspoons of dried carrots had to be rescued from the bottom of the dehydrator.

But it was the perfect amount to fit in this tiny storage jar! The scale isn’t obvious in this photo, but the jar is about as tall as the palm of my hand, and maybe two inches in diameter. It is the cutest storage jar I own.

And what happened to the perfect carrots? Well, they were being stored in an insulated bin in the garage over the winter, and then Texas decided to have a 60-80 F “winter”. I, erm, forgot about the carrots and when I finally remembered to check on them, they’d sprouted a nice beard of fungus. Boo!

I didn’t take a photo of that. ;)

. . . .

I removed “a bunch of red cherry shrimp” from my about me section. They were dying at the rate of about one every week or two, and I haven’t seen any in over a month. I don’t know what went wrong. All my water parameters were perfect; I even bought a fancy chemistry-set-esque test kit in case my cheap-o paper strips weren’t accurate, but they were. The water temperature was fine, there weren’t any hydra paralyzing them like the first unfortunate batch. The only thing I can think of is that there is something either leaching from the house pipes or that is in the tap water (they’re very sensitive to copper, for example). I found out the water treatment I was using doesn’t bind metals, only chlorine and chloramines. If I ever decide to get more, I’ll get a different water treatment product, and a copper test kit to check beforehand. But that won’t be any time soon; having so many shrimp die is frustrating and depressing! For now I’m content with my overgrown aquatic jungle and bajillion tiny snails.

And five cats, two rats (who just had their second birthday!), and fat & sassy composting worms.

February 5th, 2012

Raisins.

I bought grapes just to try making raisins. After washing and de-stemming, I punctured the skins with a fork to help the juice evaporate more easily.

Thirtysomething(!) hours later…

Several are missing because I had to, uh, ensure quality control. I added the screen halfway through the drying time because some of the smaller grapes/raisins (graisins?) were starting to fall through the tray slats.

They’re delicious; more flavorful and larger than store-bought. However, unless I somehow find access to bulk amounts of cheap/free grapes, they aren’t cost-effective enough to justify making them into raisins on a regular basis.

It was a fun experiment, though!

. . . .

And on a sad note, I had to throw out one of the cans of kidney beans because the seal failed. So far the other is still looking good.

January 28th, 2012

Carrot greens.

In retrospect I should have posted these photos yesterday, so I could have written a catchy title like “Kidney Beans and Carrot Greens”.

I’ve never eaten carrot greens before, and 3/4 of the way through pulling the leafy bits off the stemmy bits, I realized maybe I should have tried a bite before doing all that work (took about 2.5 hours to sort and de-stem). But by then there was no turning back, and the greens were going to finish being prepared and preserved whether I liked them or not.

I tried a little piece raw after washing them. Not bad — kind of like a cross between parsley and green beans.

After blanching them in steam, they pretty much tasted the same, only more spinachy.

I don’t have any use for them right now, so into freezer containers they went.

. . . .

I added another entry to the Dallas Bucket List: Eat at Scarlet Ibis, a Carribean restaurant with a secret vegan menu (“secret” meaning not published on their website).

January 27th, 2012

Kidney beans and carrots.

T.M. (you know, THE MOM) got me a pressure canner for Christmas, so I can can ALL the things. The first thing is light red kidney beans.

I only had two canning jars, so they were a bit overfilled. Lost a lot of water from the jars while they were in the canner. But the lids seem well-sealed and so far they haven’t exploded in the pantry, so we should be able to eat them without subsequently dying of botulism.

. . . .

I finally decided to harvest the carrots. They were still growing and thriving, even with a few light freezes. However, I noticed the top of one was almost two inches across, and that seemed big enough, you know? I didn’t want to end up in the tabloids as the lady who grew the monster carrots who gained sentience and rampaged the neighborhood.

That is about 150-180 carrots. HOLY MOLEY. Unfortunately I didn’t know what I was doing when I planted them. I put the seeds in the ground last spring, so they had to do their initial growing during the string of 10,000 (or however long it was) 100+F days this summer. The only water they got for most of the year came from my daily/every other day waterings with a hose. I also planted them after sowing the rest of the garden, when I was just plain tired of putting seeds in the ground, and lazily didn’t space them far enough apart. One reason for that is I didn’t actually believe they’d grow! Obviously they proved me wrong. Sadly because of my poor gardening skills they are not a handsome bunch of carrots. A lot of the larger ones split down several parts of the root when we finally got rain and cooler weather in late fall/early winter.

And many had to fight with each other for territory:

At least, I think that’s what they’re doing. Somehow I feel vaguely scandalized…