Saturday, May 30, 2009

This Week in the Garden and a New Recipe

This week I was gone a couple of days on a camping trip with my classroom.  I came back to find out just over two inches of rain has fallen and the plants are in a flourishing stage.  I am going to add more soil to all of my potato bags. The basil is starting to take off.  I can't wait to make the first batch of pesto.  Last night we used some of the spinach and the sage from our garden to make a wonderful sage, butter, spinach pasta dish.  This is a great dish and Naomi and I love to make it around this time of the year when the spinach is fresh.

Pasta with Sage Butter Sauce

Pasta (any Kind)
1 bunch of Spinach
2 dozen large sage leaves, coarsely chopped
1 stick of butter
1/4 cup of pine nuts
Parmesan Cheese

1. Start boiling water for the pasta once at a boil rolling or otherwise put pasta in for specified time.

2. Start boiling another pot of water and place washed spinach in a colander.  Then proceed to steam the spinach.

3.  Toast the pine nuts in a toaster oven or in the oven  at 350 until toasted

4. Melt the stick of butter in a pan and then saute the sage in the butter.

5. Combine the butter sage sauce, the steamed spinach, and the toasted pine nuts over the pasta.  

6. Lastly add the amount of Parmesan that you desire (I always desire quite a bit) and enjoy.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pictures of the Garden Beds

Well the garden is all planted as I have previously mentioned.  Here are some pictures so you can see the garden and what has been planted.

Here are the peas, tomatoes, peppers, and basil.  The tomatoes are in the cages.  The basil is in the foreground of the picture with the peas in the very back. 

Here are two heirloom melons from Monticello.  There are six of these planted on mounds
 about eight inches high and about a foot in diameter.  We have given these bad boys the run of one of our largest raised beds.  Plenty of room for them to stretch out and grow.   

Here are the cucumbers (in the near right corner), popcorn (far right corner), broccoli (far left corner), then carrots, and spinach.  This past weekend I thinned out some of the carrots.  When carrots grow to close together they will start to fork and never develop any real bulk.  

Monday, May 25, 2009

Farmers Market Delight

Well this Saturday Naomi, my parents (who are in from Ohio for a visit), and myself ventured to the Grayslake Farmers Market.  This is a weekly event for Naomi and myself, but it was a first for my parents.  My mom remarked on the scope and size of the event and the variety of items for sale.  While there we picked up a few loafs of bread from Wild Flour Bakery and some buffalo steaks from Lester's Buffalo.  However I think the find of the week was a jar of heirloom tomato salsa made by River Valley Kitchens from a recipe made by Rick Bayless.  This salsa had a wonderful flavor and just a hint of spice that caught your taste buds in the backside of the flavor. The salsa however did not make it through the weekend as it was finished promptly the next day during lunch.  This was by far and away an exquisite find.  I will be looking for another jar next Saturday.

Later that night we  grilled the buffalo steaks and some asparagus we received in our CSA from Sandhill Organics.  With the steaks we had some sauteed mushrooms and a salad made with lettuce and turnips from the CSA and radishes from our garden.  To top off the feast we had some of the bread that we had bought from the farmers market with some garlic olive oil from the Olive Tap. 

We used a wood burning grill to grill up this tasty meal which may take a while but I do love the flavor of the wood with the meat.  It leaves a better taste than gas or charcoal grills.  However it does take the fire a bit longer to get to cooking readiness.  Of course that is just time for snaking and sitting around the fire.      

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Plants in the Ground

This past Sunday Naomi and I planted all of our vegetables in our raised beds.  At this point we have 15 corn (popcorn variety), 3 cucumbers, 12 spinach, 10 broccoli, 4 pac choi, 15 onion, 15 garlic of two varieties, 6 peppers of mixed variety, 20 basil for the pesto extravaganza, 14 tomato plants, about 50 seed potatoes, 9 radishes, and 6 melons.  If this all pans out it will make for quite the harvest. 
I am excited to try some of our new plants or varieties.  Potatoes, pac choi, onions, and garlic are completely new veggies for us.  I am hoping that they pan out seeing how much work, time, and money has gone into them.  As for new varieties we have a new type of tomato which is an heirloom variety that Naomi received from her aunt.  We have these growing in an earthbox on our back porch.  We also have an heirloom variety of melons that came from Monticello and they are of the same variety that Jefferson planted in his garden.  Lastly for new varieties we have popcorn.  In the past we have grown Indian corn in order to make decorations for our home.  However this year we decided to grow a corn we could eat.  Albeit for pure fun and enjoyment.  We usually pick up our sweet corn at the farmers market later in the year.  

Well pictures to come soon and more updates.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Well NOAA issued a frost advisory for last night.  As I wake up this morning I notice that the advisory has been canceled.  However last night when I got home at 11:30 pm that was not the case, so I spent a little time moving the plantees inside.  Let that be the last cold night so I can begin putting them into the ground. 

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The CSA, Pac Choi, and Egg Rolls

Well two Thursdays ago was the second week of the CSA pick up (for more about CSA's in the Chicago area and Sandhill Organics see this news article).  Last week we recieved some potatoes, green garlic, spinach, radishes and a few mixed greens.  This prompted Naomi and I to cook potatoes over our wood fire grill and lounge on the deck last Friday night. We made some garlic, chive butter for the potatoes that was quite exquisite.  This Thursday we recieved pac choi, stone ground flour, mixed greens, and a few other items.  Last night the pac choi led to the making of 25 egg rolls.  The production of these egg rolls took about an hour and the feast took another full hour.  We had to take a short break in order to catch our second wind.  (I am not as young as I used to be)  Naomi tells me that I am quite the egg roll chef, but it all seems pretty simple and when your frying something how can it not taste good.

Egg Roll Recipe
This recipe is adapted from the Smith & Hawken Gardeners' Community Cookbook which was compiled and written by Victoria Wise.
1/2 cup of Sweet and Sour
3/4 pounds of pac choi finely chopped washed and spun dry
3 Green onions finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves minced
2 tablespoons of minced fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 tablespoon of ground ginger
6 tablespoons of low sodium soy sauce
One package of Egg Roll wrappers
Vegetable Oil for deep Frying

Combine the pac choi, green onions, garlic, cilantro and ginger in a bowl then toss and mix

Add 2 tablespoons of the soy sauce to the bowl and then toss again.  Set aside

Take out the egg roll wrappers and place one on a plate in front of you.  Put one to two tablespoons of the filling in the middle of the wrapper.  Roll up the wrapper envelope style or by following the directions on the package.  Seal up the wrapper with some of the left over soy sauce to keep the wrapper from springing open.

Continue this process until all of the filling has been used or you run out of wrappers

Then in a frying pan or a wok pour oil until it is about 1 1/2 -2 inches deep

Fry egg rolls until they are golden in color.  You will have to turn them as they are cooking.  Frying of egg rolls will of course cause splattering so be careful.

When all done eat when they are hot and enjoy them

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Rain Drops Keep Falling on my Plants

Last nights thunderstorms brought 1.2 inches to our area.  Soaking all of our new plants veggies and natives alike.  The gully between our house and the neighbors is once again filled with water.  The marsh marigolds must be happy.  Also, the rain overflowed our rain barrels who probably met their capacity fairly quickly.  I will have a good deal of water to use for those times when the rains just don't want to fall.  Although it is a small drop compared to the total amount of rain that fell and was then transported by the sewer system to the river.  I feel good to know that this water will make its way back into the ground and help to save us some money on our water bill.  Hmmm...think I am going to have to get one more barrel.

For a good film on how to make rain barrels your self check out this video.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Food, Inc. and King Corn

Well, I have been a proponent of small scale farming for quite sometime.  I have worked on a learning farm,Stonewall Farms, and volunteered at its CSA.  I currently support our local CSA here in the North burbs of Chicago, Sandhill Organics, and the Grayslake Farmers Market.  Currently I also work at Prairie Crossing Charter School, an envrionmetnally focused charter school whose mission also includes sustainable farming and farm education.  For those of you who don't follow educational philosophy or trends this is a bit of a pendulum shift.  Agricultural education was drummed out of schools several decades ago as it was seen as old fashioned.  As part of my role as teacher I also have lead a book club for the school community.  Just yesterday a parent noticed my class and I working in our garden plot and mentioned a new movie coming out that was about farming.  She suggested that maybe we read a book and have a movie group as well.  Not having much time to discuss it I told her I will think on her suggestion.  Then just today I noticed a new blog post from Green Roof Growers discussing just this same movie, Food, Inc.

Both movies feature Michael Pollan an expert in the issues surronding agriculture and many more experts.

The Earthbox and Rooftop Gardening

After reading the recent Chicago Magazine Article Free Food (such a misnomer) I decided to research more about the information in the articles.  So here is my first look at one interesting piece I found in the article, Salad Days.  

Rooftop gardens are the perfect solution to the space issue that many urban dwellers face.  However, the problem some might face is exactly how do you start and what materials do you need.  Well in the article Russ Chetham, of Green Roof Growers, talks about a reusable planter called the Earthbox.  This ingenious planting box uses the properties of osmosis to transfer nutrients and water from areas of high concentration to areas of low concentration.  

The water resivor at the botom of the planter ensures that the plants are watered to an appropriate amount.  As long as you keep the resivoir filled completely the plants can never be over watered nor under watered.  The plastic cover helps to prevent soil evaporation allowing water to be conserved and the plants to be watered less often than usual.    The cover should also prevent weeds and some pests from bothering your precious veggies as well.  

This planter would also be great for people who might only have a balcony, terrace, or people like myself who want to grow more food on their back patio.  Since I know that I will be wanting just a few more tomatoes to cook into sauce and then freeze for latter use.  

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Look Back at the Garden

For Chanukah I gave this Jeffersonian Raingauge to Naomi.  It adds a nice splash of something something to the vegetable garden.  However best of all it is quite accurate in measuring the amount of rainfall.  This is after a day and half of rain that we recieve in late April.  As you can see the gauge is reading about 2 inches of rain.  We were destined to get about a half inch more the day after this picture was taken.

Here are our young radishes reaching out for the sun.  They have grown quite large since this picture was taken.  Fairly soon we will be able to begin harvesting some of our radishes.  However, we have already recived some from the CSA which started last week.

A young pea sprout that has made its way through the dirt and looking for more sun and nourishment.  Which I have been dutifully and faithfully providing it.

Well here is the garlic that I planted last fall.  As you can see it has grown quite large.  I had about a week previously removed the excess hay from the top but left the bottom layer to help control weeds and to hold in the moisture. In a few weeks I should be able to harvest the scapes that are already coming up.  

The Links Between Phenology and Gardening

For those of you who do not know phenology is the study of the changing of the seasons.  Many believe it to be the oldest area of science.  For early humans would have needed to know when nature was changing in order to adjust his/her lives accordingly.  With the invention of agriculture early humans became even more dependent upon the study of phenology.  Signs in nature would have let them know when to plant different types of seeds or when to begin to harvest the crops that they had planted so many months before.  

which has some good information that the author has collected over the years and the table below details some of she has collected.

Also for more information on the study of phenology see Naomi the Nature Nerd

Naomi knows more than I could adequately or compentently tell you about nature, phenology, native plants, and much more.  So check out her blog from the link above or from my blog roll at the bottom.

Phenology Clues

Plant peasWhen forsythia & daffodils blooms
Plant potatoesWhen 1st dandelion blooms
When the shadbush flowers
Plant beets, carrots, cole crops, lettuce and spinachWhen lilac is in first leaf
Plant beans, cucs and squashWhen lilac is in full bloom
Plant tomatoesWhen lily-of-the-valley are in full bloom
Transplant eggplant, melon and peppersWhen irises bloom
Plant cornWhen apple blossoms start to fall
Seed fall cabbage and broccoliWhen catalpas and mockoranges bloom
Seed morning gloriesWhen maple leaves reach full size
Plant cool season flowers (pansies, snapdragons...)When aspen and chokecherry trees leaf out
Watch for:
Eastern tent caterpillars to hatchWhen crab apples start to bloom
Gypsy moths hatchWhen the shadbush flowers
Squash vine borer eggs are laidWhen chicory flowers
Mexican bean beetle larvae hatchWhen foxglove flowers open.
Japanese beetles arriveWhen morning glory vines start to climb

The Last Cold Night

Well hopefully last night was the last night that will be well below 50 degrees.  We are approaching the last frost date and with temperatures reaching 70 degrees I am preparing to put the veggies in the ground before too long.  Well I will take the plants outside this morning to give another day of hardening off.  

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Another Cold Night

For the past two nights the temperature has dropped below 50 degrees and I have had to bring in the plants to protect them.  Of course after yesterdays Plant Sale at Prairie Crossing I have quite a few more plants to move to the upstairs room.  Naomi and I took several trips up and down the stairs to transport all the flats.  Hope this is the last of the cold spring nights and that we can have some pleasant evenings in the nights ahead.

Acclimation or Hardening Off Your Plants

Well the past week has been wonderfully warm.  We have left our plants outside each day to help them acclimate to the elements or to harden them off.   Seedlings grown indoors usually need a period of time where they gradually get use to the elements of nature.  The leaves will slowly develop a thicker cuticle that will help to prevent transpiration or the loss of water through a plants leaves.  This period of acclimation or hardening should be done 7-10 days prior to transplant to the outside on average.  Some plants will need more time to adjust so the best policy is to pay attention to what your seedlings or plants are telling you.  Also when you first start to acclimating them to the outside an hour or two is more than enough.  You can increase this amount by another hour or two each day.  Until they are left outside all day long.  If you are worried about bad weather and don't want to leave them at home by themselves outside, you can always take them to work (if your workplace is amenable to this sort of thing).  However remember if it is going to get less than 50 degrees you are going to want to take them inside.  Many of these plants do not do well if forced to be in weather less than 50 degrees for an extended period of time.  Also remember to give your plants a drink when they need it.  They will dry out faster outside and wilt faster (especially in the first few days of the hardening off schedule). If you follow these instructions that by the time you are ready to leave your plants outside (after the possible last frost date) they should be hardy and ready to survive the elements of mother nature.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Come to the Plant Sale

The Prairie Crossing Charter School and the Learning Farm invite you to 

Growing With Nature: Organic Plant Sale
Saturday 9th 9am-1pm
At Station Square in Prairie Crossing 
977 Harris Road
Grayslake, IL 60030

Educational Presentations, Vegetables, Herbs, Flowers, and Native Plants from EarthWild Gardens

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Well the garden plants have really started to take off and now with this new rain I expect them to grow just that much more.  BTW every potato bag has sprouts now.  

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Creepy Things We do to Plants

Saw this plant as I was looking for information about potatoes.  I find this to be quite a weird plant and find myself thinking, "Why?"

Amazing Tomato-Potato Amaze Your Friends...Fun to Grow!POTATOES BELOW GROUND ...TOMATOES ABOVE The fabulous Tomato-Potato grows delicious red, ripe tomatoes above ground and tasty, plump red-skinned potatoes below. We have grafted a “Sub-Arctic” variety tomato (noted for extra-earliness) onto a “Red Pontiac” potato (noted for its good eating and storage quality). Tomatoes and potatoes are members of the same plant family, plants look alike and grow together in the same space. The potato graft produces plump potatoes while the tomato graft grows luscious tomatoes. • Early ripening tomatoes. • Bushels of fruit from a short row of plants. • Flowers set fruit even on cold days. • Large, meaty, round red tomatoes in big clusters. • Attractive leaves and compact vines. • Excellent storage potato. Good eating. • Long cropping season. • Red Pontiac potatoes grow below ground. 

Price: $6.98 

Saturday, May 2, 2009

One Wet Week and a Short Case for Rain Barrels

In the past week we have received approximately 3.5 inches in the Grayslake area.  Rain of course is good, but getting all your rain at once can be a bit ironic for any gardener.  We would all like to have our rain spaced out evenly over the course of the spring and into the summer.  However it never seems to end up like that.  Therefore with all of the rain that we have received over the past week the majority of that water found its way not into the ground but into the sewer system.  

Now how much is exactly 3.5 inches?  Well if you look into our overflowing rivers you would know it is quite a bit.  But lets take just the rain that fell on the roof of my house.  Given one side of the house's roof that has a length of 40 feet and a width of 20 feet.  I can calculate the volume of water that fell over the course of the past week to be 403,200 cubic inches which converts to about 1,750 gallons of water.  This of course is just on my roof and if we consider the other house in the cul de sac well we are looking at well over 10,000 gallons of water falling just on the roofs of the houses.  It is due to this that we put two rain barrels out to collect some of this water.  The rain barrels themselves can only hold approximately 150 gallons of water.  But during the dry portion of the year this water comes in handy and allows us to water the gardens without fear of any drought restrictions and with the knowledge that what we are doing is good for the environment.  Help conserve our precious water resources and get a rain barrel for your home.  The money you save will add up fast and your conscious will feel better as well.

Currently we are thinking about getting another rain barrel to take just a bit more advantage of the rain that keeps falling on our heads.  

Potatoes are popping up

With all the rain we received this week (3.5 inches by my rain gauge) I was a bit worried about the potatoes I planted.  I did not want them to rot in the soil, but after checking up on them I have found a couple of sprouters popping or beginning to pop out of the soil.  Yeah!