All posts by sharawrsome

No time for long pickles? Go quick.

We found three cucumbers that missed the first round of pickling and wanted to try a method similar to when you get a bowl of the delicious quick pickles at Ted’s Montana Grill. Rather than try to replicate that recipe, we just did an online search for quick pickles and ended up trying Rachael Ray’s quick pickles.

Since we had grown dill this year, the only ingredient we had to pick up was mustard seed. (We’re planning on growing mustard greens starting in the fall so going forward, that deficiency will be remedied and we won’t need to rely on the store spice).

This recipe is very simple and the results are super tasty. Highly recommended for a bowl of yummy pickles to enjoy with BBQ or anything grilled!

Easy quick pickle recipe with cucumbers from first Sumter batch.
Easy quick pickle recipe with cucumbers from first Sumter batch.

What’s your favorite thing to pickle? Okra is on our list for next year…

It’s still summer but need to plan for fall…

We’re going to take advantage of our long growing season and also add some hoop houses to the raised beds to try our hand at some cole crops (cabbage, broccoli, and rutabaga namely) as well as get some milkweed seeds in the ground, garlic started, mustard greens, and a special strawberry pyramid project for September.

However, it’s still the dead of summer and none of these fall and winter babies want to be outside. Apart from staring longingly through seed catalogs and keeping up with watering the current vegetables, it’s time to get seeds started so we can transplant in August through October.

Starting fall/winter vegetables in damp paper towels in plastic bags for germination.
Starting fall/winter vegetables in damp paper towels in plastic bags for germination.

We looked up a planting guide for our zone (7b) on the National Gardening Association garden planning calendar (just add your zip code) as well as checking some great University of Georgia Cooperative Extension guidance such as this vegetable planting chart (PDF).

We still had seeds from Baker Creek Seed Co. from trying cabbage and broccoli for spring but got too late of a start but needed rutabaga. We also knew it was going to be too hot in the small greenhouse even though we moved it onto the patio. Even with shades newly installed it gets well above 80 during the day (and seeds prefer below mid 70s). While there are many ways to start seed indoors, we had seen the Jiffy peat pods during the spring and decided to give those a try using the tray with holes so you can water from underneath and the lid to assist with a greenhouse effect.

The first attempt was awful. All the sprouting seedlings were covered in a fine white fuzz. A quick online search said likely too much moisture and we didn’t clean our trays. Clean our trays? We couldn’t ever remembering doing that. Back to the drawing board! Also many of the seeds didn’t germinate or did so at different rates.

Jiffy peat pods tray with seeds.
Trying the Jiffy peat pods tray for fall seedlings start.

The second attempt was better. Top lid removed, trays cleaned with a 10% bleach solution and dried in the sun, a fan added to the seed room, and seeds germinated first in moist paper towels in plastic bags. Once transferred to their peat pods, they grew quickly — too quickly — and many fell over. More research said that the grow light was likely too far away and that the fan wasn’t reaching the seedlings. Lots of great reading on why vegetable seedlings get “spindly” available online.

Trying Jiffy peat pods for starting seedlings.
Trying Jiffy peat pods for starting seedlings.

Third attempt is going well! Seedling tray has been boosted to within 2 inches of the CFL grow lights (13 watt SunBlaster that you can use in regular fixtures) and can be lowered as the seedlings grow. The fan has been elevated about 3 feet too.

When the second attempt had issues, honestly it was disheartening. Starting seeds in the spring in the greenhouse had been way easier with no issues of white fuzz or spindly growing. But extending growing season or even trying fall crops is a new experience. We’re resolved to not get frustrated but treat set-backs as a way to learn something new.

What methods have you found for starting seeds have worked the best for you?

“Commence ‘ta pickling!”

A few years ago, we thought it would be neat to try and grow everything for salsa. That was a great experiment and taught us a lot in preparation for this year where we’re figuring out how many things can be pickled. The answer is almost anything. We use a refrigerator pickle recipe from “All Day I Dream About Food” with a bit of heat from jalapeno (although you can do with most any pepper, we’ve tried with Thai chilies with good success.)

Open pint jars of vegetables to be pickled.
Pint jars of cut Chinese long beans and Sumter cucumbers with spices waiting for pickling brine.

We’ve been harvesting the Chinese red noodle beans about every other day and had a good stash built up. We had thought to freeze them (and will with the next few batches) but really thought a good pickling may be fun.

Pickled cucumbers and beans in glass jars.
Pickled cucumbers and long beans, so lovely, so spicy!

The Sumter cucumbers matured very quickly although a bit oddly shaped (which in reading seems from uneven pollination so going to try some hand pollination for the next ones growing). One we left in it’s cute small form and the rest we sliced a bit on the thick side.

Cucumbers in a bowl.
First cucumber harvest, July 16.

We were excited to be able to use dill from the garden but left some to grow for the next batch. It’s likely we’ll have to buy a bit more though since we didn’t get a ton.

Cucumber tendrils latched onto dill plant.
Cucumber loves dill!

How do you pickle? Spicy or not? What else have you pickled? Peppers? A peck of those peppers?

Getting extra hands on with concrete

This garden has sparked us to try and do as much as we can ourselves including using a rain barrel, composting, building our own raised beds and trellis (trellises? trelli?) and even creating planters out of concrete. Everything you’ve read or seen online is true probably about making your own planters out of concrete — it’s really easy. Before it dries, concrete mixtures are quite forgiving and not really exact for the recipe so it becomes more of an issue of how far you let your creative mind flow.

We’ve used variants of a few recipes we found online but mainly this hypertufa recipe from Lowe’s. We went a bit overboard with materials and now have enough vermiculite and peat moss for the zombie apocalypse but hey, any time we want to make a pot, we’re ready for that too!

If you’ve never worked with concrete and are a bit leery of getting started with separate materials, just start with a bag of Quickcrete where all you have to add is water. You’ll get a different look but don’t have to worry about ratios and additional bags of stuff to be stored on the patio or garage.

Nerd note…cement and concrete aren’t the same things. Google defines cement: a powdery substance made with calcined lime and clay. It is mixed with water to form mortar or mixed with sand, gravel, and water to make concrete. And concrete: a heavy, rough building material made from a mixture of broken stone or gravel, sand, cement, and water, that can be spread or poured into molds and that forms a stonelike mass on hardening.

Project Photos

Small Buddha carving rests atop a concrete hand in a bowl filled with plants.
Wooden Buddha sits atop a homemade concrete hand in our repurposed fire bowl, now filled with red petunias.
Homemade concrete bowl resting on ground.
Hypertufa (concrete) bowl ready finally after curing, soaking, filing, sanding, and rinsing. Yes, I added drainage hole right after this shot…
Red spotted purple butterfly or Limenitis arthemis astyanax enjoying a cool day in the garden.
Red spotted purple butterfly or Limenitis arthemis astyanax enjoying a cool day in the garden, June 25. This was towards the end of the process when I had the pot sit in a spot in the garden that gets a lot of rain directly from the house.
Sempervivum and another unknown succulent started in hypertufa planter
Sempervivum (hens-n-chicks) buds repotted. This was the first bowl I did and the star shape was a glass candle holder for the inner mold. I had to break it to get it out — use plastic for molds!
hens and chicks succulent in concrete ball
Sempervivum (hens-n-chicks) replanted in DIY concrete ball. We used a flexible play ball for this shape, supported by sand for curing.

Some caveats we learned from the process:

  • Fully round shapes are difficult. The most precise mold we found was an 8-inch glass light fixture that we cracked off our finished globe. That’s not really kid friendly BUT if you don’t need exactly round, small flexible play balls will work just fine.
  • Almost anything can be used as a mold. For the hand we used a latex kitchen glove, turned inside out and sprayed with oil spray, and then supported it on a bed of sand while it cured.
  • If you don’t want to wear a particle mask, a well-secured bandanna around your mouth and nose will work just fine.
  • A 5-gallon bucket works well for mixing everything if you don’t have a flatter tub.
  • Glass inner shapes (like a candle holder) don’t come out easily. Stick to plastic unless you don’t care about destroying your inner shape.
  • It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the possibilities and want to make a billion things. Choose one simple pot to start with so you get a feel for the process.
  • Have a hose or additional rinsing water available in case you get wet concrete mixture on anything you didn’t intend to touch. You have a little bit of time before it’s super hard but if you get it on skin, it will itch or burn.
  • If you want to have a smoother surface, use less vermiculite/perlite and peat moss. So many different recipes that people have tried with success — just do an online search and see!

Additional Resources

Grow babies, grow!

Once the watermelon vine began to escape the raised bed and flowering profusely, we started to watch it closely and LO yesterday a super tiny adorable melon has appeared!

Small watermelon on the vine.
Just a tiny melon right now…6/29/2017.

Also, the Tsungshigo Chinese tomatoes are growing more vigorously (aka taller) than we expected but loads of flowers last week and now super tiny adorable fruits!

Small tomato fruits on the plant.
Where there were flowers, now there are small tomato fruits, 6/29/2017.

The image at the top are the poblano pepper seedlings now transplanted to peat pots so not really any fruits yet but they are still adorable babies yet.

Leaving the nest…

We had prepped more Tsungshigo Chinese tomato, garnet red yam, and Cherokee Purple tomato babies than we could successfully deal with ourselves. Our friends around the area were excited to see how growing on balconies and other locations may fare. Here are some early results!

Progress Photos

Tsungshigo Chinese tomato growing in a pot on a balcony.
Bringing some plant velcro to help this hearty plant stay on track, June 23.
Sweet potato vines growing in a pot.
Sweet potatoes doing really well after just 3 weeks, June 23.
Sweet potato and tomato plants in pots on a balcony.
Sweet potatoes and tomato planted in pots on a balcony, June 5.

Roll that beautiful bean footage…

We have a feeling we’re on the edge of a beansplosion with the Chinese red noodle beans. We counted 40+ pods dangling from lightly scented purple flowers that are likely to be ready in just a couple days. But also, yes, we picked the first one yesterday at 14-inches long! We picked the second one just now and it’s even longer by a bit. The plan for this first harvest is a quick stir fry.

First Chinese red noodle bean at 14 inches long.
First Chinese red noodle bean at 14 inches long.