More Snow, Less Garden, More Penguins in Backyard
Despite another round of snowfall today, the airport being open, Mr. Bitterman returned from vacation, surly, cranky and not in the mood for much of anything other than humming an angry version of "Inka Dinka Doo."
Modern Aviation, It Seems, Does This to Everyone
Since we were once again stuck in the house (pretty much, it's not really that bad despite the cries of "White Death From Above!" by the TV weather folks), Mr. Bitterman decided to entertain us with various impersonations of his relatives.
Mr. Bitterman has loosened up considerably since his arrival, thanks to two bottles of "Golden Gobel" and a cigarette he found in downtown Denver. (I tell you, I cannot control the man.) Plans are to begin germinating seeds on Easter, seems like a good omen, then move them to the "Little Corporate Farmer Genetic Modification and World Domination Seed Starting Tray." We'll let you know how that goes. By the way, Mr. B asked me to leave you with one last impression. It brings down the house at family gatherings, it seems, to the point where the target of the satire grumps and humphs and threatens to take his ball and go build a wall around the family.
Crazy Uncle Don
I must admit, this is my favorite.
Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.
Once Again, I'm Pretty Sure I've Overdone It -- 72 Plants?
It is, truth be told, a very basic system.
(Looks Like the Tread on a 64 Jeep)
You Fill the Tray, And Water Magically Reaches Your Seeds
(How, I Don't Know. Mr. Burpee Wasn't Talking)
(But With a Name Like Burpee, Do You Really Want Much Social Interaction?)
The Last Patient I Gave One of Those Won the Kentucky Derby
Good Little Soldiers, All in a Row
(One Appears to Be Goldbricking There in Row Three)
Simply Add Water, Seeds and Top and Voila!
The Finished Product. All for About $19 Bucks!
(Parking Not Included)
One Foot, By My Estimate, And At Least Four Branches Lost
In one of our last adventures, Mr. Bitterman went off on vacation to Anaheim, while we pondered the notion of starting seeds indoors with my "Happy Grower Indoor Seed Starting Kit and Grow House for Dummies." I know that Colorado has quite the reputation for indoor gardening, but I'm not a part of that world, as the only thing I smoke anymore is brisket (or Brisquit, which is brisket in dough) every now and again. (And, yes, it is hard keeping it lit.)
While we returned from four days in sunny, somewhat, Los Angeles yesterday to dry and summer like conditions, this is what greeted us upon waking this morning and it has been coming down ever since. DIA is closed so Mr. Bitterman is stuck in Anaheim, possibly for months, according to him, while I haul out the chain saw and trim some trees I wasn't planning to trim.
As for the seeds , well, I'm pulling the "Junior Farmer Indoor Growing Kit for Starting Seeds to Shoost Up Toward the Sun and Sky" today, reading the instructions carefully, putting it together and, just before starting to plant, realize that I've done it backwards and will take it apart tonight, determined to get it right tomorrow.
And I will be plowing driveways. On days like this, there are always driveways to plow.
As for Mr. Bitterman, since DIA is closed today and he's stuck in Southern Californoia, he's going on Indiana Jones again today, twice, then sipping a cool drink with Walt in the shade of Sleeping Beauty's Castle before dinner and drinks at a the very exclusive Club 33.
Mr. Bitterman, it seems, knows everybody in Los Angeles.
Not that he invited us to join us while WE were in LA.
Not that he called.
Not that he got us Disneyland passes.
Not that we even met for a drink at The Brown Derby.
Mr. Bitterman can kiss my snowmobile suit clad, snow covered, bright white derrière.
Okay, so he has an addiction to garden gnomes. What can I say?
An amazing opportunity for growth has come my way -- I've gotten on with O'Toole's Garden Center in Littleton. There are a lot of reasons for wanting to do this: something to do, a little cash coming in, but, most importantly, it's the chance to learn from some of the best in the business.
I'll still continue with freelance, but there are a lot of open days in there when being out in the sunshine tripping over ornamental grasses will just make me happy.
Colorado has wide variations in soil and growing conditions and I'm looking to learn as much about them as I can. And, while I have been focusing on veggies for the past few years, I'm getting a chance to further develop our bee and butterfly garden by working in perennials.
So, I'll start at O'Toole's sometime in the next week or so, but I basically can't wait.
Stop by, say 'hi' and buy some Purple Coneflower.
Gardening Hack #232: Waiting. Just Waiting.
"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. Well, I'll tell you what I do -- I stare out the window and wait for spring."
-- Rogers Hornsby, Professional Baseball Player and Notorious Jerk
This is what we're waiting for ... This is what we got so far ...
One of the things you'll discover when you get this garden addiction going under full steam is that you've got to be patient. It's like cooking a perfect roux. You add the ingredients and stir, and wait, and wait, and kind of drift off, and then, suddenly, the damned thing is done and you're suddenly thrown into a maddening myriad of action trying to get everything on the table at once.
Seeing how this is Colorado, and mid March, we're continually being teased by 70-degree temperatures (and 30-degree nights), beautiful blue skies and the promise of spring. Whether that promise is to be truly fulfilled before Mother's Day is anyone's guess.
I'm chomping at the bit to get seeds germinated, but I know that by doing it now, I'd have a forest of tomato and lettuce and spinach and cucumber seedlings taking over the kitchen. It has never been a popular stance in the past, so, I'm biding my time and chewing my nails until I can get started with something -- anything.
And, now, re-sorting the seeds and re-plotting the garden no longer count. 47 is my limit on re-sorts. Although, I've yet to do a 3-D Animation of the 2016 Garden Plot on the Computer yet. That could take up an afternoon. (As well as an extra $743.85 for new programing software.)
Mr. Bitterman, incidentally, tiring of my anxiousness, decided to take the next week off to visit his mother. I took him down to the Amtrak station in Denver and put him on the train for Cucamonga. She actually lives in a small apartment in Anaheim, but he travels beyond the happiest place on earth just to hear the conductor announce the cities: "Anaheim, Azuza and Cuc -------------------aMONGA!"
Out of such small pleasures a life is made.
As for me, I suppose I will wander around the backyard, carrying one of my mother's old wigs on a pitchfork, and wait patiently for the last frost to do its dirty work.
Oh, to hell with it! Who needs a kitchen table! Let's plant some seeds!
A personalized gift from Mr Bitterman in celebration of his not having flung €#%!!¥ at me for the past two weeks.
A Close Up of a Tomato Seed. At least, I think it's a Tomato Seed. Wait. That's no Tomato Seed! That's a Space Station!
Walk into any garden store, and you'll be assaulted by a gazillion different varieties of seeds to get your garden growing. Tomatoes (in eight to ten different varieties), peppers (in twelve to sixteen different varieties and levels of heat), carrots (in seven to eleven different varieties. How convenient!), beans, lettuce, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, parsnips, kohlrabi, rutabaga, squash (3000 varieties - 3001 if you include the game), leeks, fennel, eggplant (which looks nothing like an egg, nor does it produce a large purple vegetable chicken upon opening), melons-water, melons-cantaloupe, melons-honeydew, melons-Isabella (look it up before you begin sending the angry emails and having me banned from campus), spinach. Chard, charred spinach, basil, lemon basil, rathbone basil, oregano, cilantro, parsley, heirloom varieties of all the above, plus -- a wide variety of prices all designed to keep you in the grubby little paws of your credit card company until your great grandchildren can finally pay off your debt. (I learned accounting from the government.)
The question becomes: do you really need ten packets of Beefsteak Hybrid tomatoes unless you're canning for a family of twenty-three to survive the Apocalypse? Do you really need all those carrot seeds and do you really how to plant them (don't do it in a pot, don't just scatter the seeds around as you will find carrots growing in the strangest places, do thin out the seedlings, don't expect the rabbits to do it for you and even with one pack of seeds, I really hope you LOVE carrots)? You understand where this is going: You don't need to buy that many packets.
Certainly in the dead of winter, it is an attractive notion. I'm going to buy everything I can so I have colorful things to look at that make spring planting season seem not all that far away. I'll buy seeds and indoor seed starting greenhouses and the tools I needed last year, which I haven't come to realize that I won't need this year and take the days between storms to build new raised bed gardens.
Just don't get carried away -- in terms of seeds or dollars.
For most back yard gardens, you're not going to need twenty packets of anything. Two, actually, should do nicely for a family of four to enjoy regular ripening mid-late season fresh tomatoes and peppers. Two packets (even one, more likely, depending on the size of your garden) should cover all the bases in terms of germination, seedlings, plants, growth and edible results.
Naturally, that never stops me from buying everything I can possibly hold in my hot little hands. I figure three seeds in each hole, to guarantee growth, and begin them in this Burpee seed starter rig I picked up at Home Depot a few weeks ago.
I suppose what I'm saying here is that a little advance planning goes a long way. And, if you're growing corn and potatoes, plan next years garden as well, as these heavy feeders could push you into regular crop rotation.
Please Tell Me They Really Grow Like This ...
(Face it. If the potatoes don't grow, I'm on my way back to the auld country, where generations of Moodys (who didn't ditch the country during the famine) will look at me and say, "Céard sa diabhal atá ar siúl agat anseo?" and "Get the hell up north. You were Protestant until your mother got involved.")
With even a minimum of advance planning, you'll have a garden where the plants complement their neighbors in terms of color, growth patterns and nutrient needs.
Also figure, with solid advance planning, you won't necessarily feel the guilt whenever you look at the 32 packets of seeds you didn't have room for -- or any real inclination to plant, anyway.
After all, what the hell is a rutabaga?
Gardening Hack #9: Never leave an assistant without clear instructions.
As we prepared to clear away the last remnants of fresh garden soil delivered earlier in the week, Mr. Bitterman suggested that he finish up while I go spend more money on garden fripperies, such as another Garden Godzilla Eating Garden Gnomes.
After I left, Mr. Bitterman tired of the shovel and decided to take a snow thrower, run it back and forth over the dirt pile and clean it down to the grass.
Sadly, he didn’t think to change the direction of the throw chute on each pass, so dirt is in the garden, the neighbor’s yard, on the bike path, burying the pine tree in our back yard and decorating one sleeping dog. He also failed to consider what soil, compost and rocks might do to the internal workings of said machine. When I returned from Home Depot, Mr. Bitterman had departed for the day, leaving me with one thoroughly trashed piece of expensive machinery.
The snow thrower belonged to my neighbor (Mr. Bitterman borrows what he likes – with or without permission). I was able to get it relatively cleaned up, reattach most pieces that had traveled a goodly distance across the yard and moved it back into the neighbor’s shed without anyone the wiser -- except, of course, for Mr. Bitterman, with whom, it seems, I am now firmly in cahoots.
We'll see what happens in the next snow storm, which promises to hit Colorado anytime it damned well pleases.
What We Used and Why:
When we first began raised bed gardening, we essentially bought a kit from Home Depot of single plastic rails, about 4" high, with pound-in corner posts. We began with a single and built out to a double. We grew tomatoes, beans, peppers and strawberries (which took over the garden, the yard and the county).
But -- I wanted more.
So, I determined to built raised bed gardens of my own design.
First, I bought 12 4"x6"x8' rails, all of pressure treated lumber for durability.
I skipped the 6"x6" rails, or, the real live railroad ties, because I felt I didn't need the bigger rails, 4x6 was good enough for my needs and I didn't want to be rolling on the ground screeching the "Bohemian Rhapsody" after trying to lift one of the heavy rails into place. (I realize that the width and length of the beds will make it difficult to plant and work the center without tramping the soil down, so as we move forward, I'll either build walkways through the garden or just send Mr. Bitterman in there to do the weeding and harvesting.)
The 4x6 rails were manageable for me, fit nicely together and their weight was enough to hold the structure in place. To ensure no shifting when the dirt and water were added, I bought 3' half inch pieces of rebar and drove them down beside the rails. They held everything in place. (I also use metal straps I found at Home Depot to hold the joints together so they don't go walkabout.)
Building the new garden on the river rock section of the backyard, I figured I already had good drainage. I covered the base with landscape fabric (got a big, expensive roll, not realizing that I already had plenty hidden in a safe place in the garage), held down by extra rocks and bricks in corners.
With the beams in place, it came time to fill the garden. First, I had Home Depot deliver 20 bags of 2-cu foot Miracle Grow Garden Soil. They delivered it with the rails and put it in a neat pile right next to the garden. I hefted each bag over, waddling as I went, singing higher with each chorus of "Bohemian Rhapsody" and poured them into the structure. Below is what I wound up with after 20 bags and two hernia operations.
Nowhere near enough.
Traipsing over to my local Santa Fe Sand and Gravel outlet, I ordered four cubic yards of garden soil. When they delivered it, They could only back the truck in a few feet past the gate as the electric lines overhead would have proven to be quite the nasty surprise while dumping. Suddenly, I had a pile of four cubic yards of soil some twelve feet from the garden. Time for the wheelbarrow and shovel along with another lively chorus of Freddy Mercury's greatest hits.
After a few days of wrestling with the wheelbarrow, a number of elegant curses and a splinter the size of a steak knife in my hand, the new garden (Nora) was filled. As was the old garden (I'm thinking now of calling it Nick), the pumpkin garden and the butterfly garden (Honi), who you have yet to meet.
Running two independent vegetable gardens gives us the chance to grow more veg, rotate crops, experiment with heirlooms and provide Mr. Bitterman with additional dirt clods which he can then chuck at the next door neighbor during his regular fits of pique.
It's exciting to consider the possibilities.
Now, I just want to start growing.
RECIPE #1: HOMEMADE ROASTED TOMATO SAUCE
The big question many amateur gardeners have come harvest time is: "What do I do with all of this food?"
You can donate it, share it, sell it at the end of your driveway.
For me, it's loading up the cart, getting Mr. Bitterman on the tambourine, and rolling through the neighborhoods of Littleton, CO, leaving the surplus with unsuspecting families.
The first year, there was a ton of surplus, almost too much to deal with in any efficient and effective way. By the second year, however, we had found a way to use our surplus tomatoes in a wholly delicious way.
In a 9x13 glass baking dish, place:
3-4 pounds of fresh, ripe from the garden, tomatoes, cored and quartered. (I just keep stuffing them in there until it's full.) Place tomatoes in glass baking dish, cut side up.
Drizzle 1/2-3/4 cup of olive oil over the tomatoes. (I use Garlic Infused olive oil, or Tuscan Herb olive oil that I get from a local EVOO shop.)
8-medium cloves garlic - crushed (Or -- four good teaspoons of crushed garlic scattered through the dish.)
1 cup fresh chopped basil. (Honestly, grow your own. It's lush, fragrant and makes a beautiful container garden for your back porch or deck.)
1/2 cup fresh chopped oregano. (Again, grow your own. This IS Colorado, I'm told we do a lot of that.)
Salt and Pepper to taste.
Preheat the Oven to 325. This is a low and slow bake.
Bake for 2:30. (Until tomatoes caramelize. Too much longer and the sauce dries out, leaving you with less finished product.)
Pulverize in food processor until liquid.
Each batch freezes well in 8-cup Glad Plastic Containers.
This is a great way to use up the bumper crop of tomatoes you occasionally wind up with in August-September. And, in many ways, I've found, people enjoy the sauce as much or more than the do the fresh tomatoes.
It goes perfectly in homemade lasagna, all pasta dishes, and in this wonderful little Timpano I make, for which I will soon share the recipe. That is, if Mr. Bitterman will tell me where he left said recipe. He keeps telling me the dogs ate it.
Have at it! Have fun!
Vivere, amare, mangiare!