Thursday, January 28, 2010

Survival Seeds

survival seeds
Last week, Hometown Seeds offered to send me a "Survival Seeds" kit, which contains 16 varieties of open-pollinated vegetables. My initial reaction to this was - "Do I really need more seeds this year?" But as I read and thought more about it, I began to realize that unlike the other seeds I've purchased and intend to grow this year, this kit serves a different purpose.

I am a 32 year old husband and father - old enough to remember the Cold War tensions between Russia and the United States prior to 1990, and young enough (or should I say jaded enough) to be ultra-cynical about what happens on Capital Hill today. I wouldn't consider myself to be a food activist (well, maybe a passive one), but I will admit that all of the headlines of this past decade surrounding terminator genes, genetic engineering, decreasing bio-diversity and patenting life have made me a bit nervous about the security of our world's food supply. It seems that whenever human beings choose to limit the bio-diversity of our crops and animals, the more we put ourselves and our food at risk. It happened to the Irish and their potatoes; will it also happen to Monsanto's Round Up Ready soy beans?

When my survival kit arrived today, the first thing I noticed was how tightly sealed and heavy it was- like my own personal ark of veggies. It's somewhat comforting to know that these seeds will last for up to 10 years if kept frozen. Now all that's left to do is to make sure that I preserve enough of this year's harvest to stock our large pantry in case of a real emergency and learn the art of seed saving.

So what do you think? Are we really at risk for a sudden and widespread food catastrophe? Or is all of this talk about "Franken-foods" blown way out of proportion? I can't help but to think about all of those people who built nuclear bomb shelters underneath their homes during the Cold War. Were these people crazy, or just plain realistic?

Footnote: Please check out a couple of very interesting posts written today by Daphne (Daphne's Dandelions) and Kelly (How My Garden Grows) on issues related to this very subject.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Good Fortune

Green Gal, welcome to the blog!

more seeds
A few weeks ago, my blogging buddy, mac (Winnie) offered to send me some veggie seeds from her own collection. As reader of her High Desert Garden blog, I knew that she grew many interesting varieties of veggies, particularly Asian ones. I was very excited to accept her offer. What I didn't know at the time was the amount of generosity that this would involve. I came home last night to find a large package containing 35 neatly labeled yellow mini-envelopes, each containing an interesting variety of vegetable. Many of these are ones that I've considered purchasing but haven't gotten around to it. Here is a complete list of what she sent:

*Anahu Tomato
Anuenue Lettuce
Bok Choy - Dwarf
*Bok Choy - Extra Dwarf
*Bok Choy - Shanghai
Carrots - Carnival Blend
*Cherokee Purple Tomato
*Chinese Kale
*Choy Sum
Couer de Pigeon Juane Tomato
Daikon Radish (Chinese)
Daikon Radish (Korean)
Dawson's Russian Oxheart Tomato
Green Grape Tomato
*Green Zebra Tomato
*Hawaiian Chili
Heading Mustard
*Komohana Grape Tomato
Korean Lettuce
Leaf Mustard
Manoa Lettuce
*Napa Cabbage
Napa Cabbage - Mini
Perilla Leaf
Puakea Cauliflower
Rosa Bianca Italian Eggplant
San Remo Paste Tomato
Sierra Gold Cantaloupe
Thai Holy Basil
Taiwanese Eggplant
Tokyo Cross Turnip
Watermelon Radish

Also, Daphne was kind enough to share with me some excess seeds that Winnie had sent to her, including Thai Watermelon, *Michihili (Chinese type) Cabbage and Black Krim Tomato.

THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH Winnie! Words cannot adequately express my gratitude! I feel like I've hit the seed jackpot as it seems that I am now set (as far as Asian greens are concerned) for at least the next few years. I am very excited to try all of these varieties, a few of which sound winter hardy.

Finally, it would be wrong of me if I didn't offer to share my good fortune with my readers who may have an interest in growing some of these vegetables. I have placed an asterisk "*" next to the seeds I have more than enough of and would be happy to share. First come, first served. All you have to do is drop me an email.

Thanks again Winnie! :)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Recipe: Pork and Shrimp Potstickers with Orange Ginger Dipping Sauce

making potstickers 8
If I were to write a cookbook one of these days, this would probably be one of the first recipes to make it into the manuscript. I have to admit that I am very proud of this one, and it just so happens to be one of Marc's favorites. I have been making these pork and shrimp potstickers for many years, but only recently decided to jot down proper measurements. Hopefully, some of you will decide to give this recipe a try. (Also, I'd like to dedicate this post to my blogger friend, Daphne, who loves all things Dim Sum.)

Pork and Shrimp Potstickers Recipe

1 lb ground pork
1/2 lb diced shrimp
1/2 cup carrots, finely diced
2/3 cup chopped scallions
2 cups cabbage, sliced thin
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup chopped wood ear mushrooms (reconstituted in warm water) or fresh Shitake
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup tapioca starch (or cornstarch)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

70 Chinese white dumpling wrappers (purchase the round ones, which can be found in the refrigerated section of the Asian market)

making potstrickers
1. Combine all of the ingredients into a large bowl and mix thoroughly.

making potstickers 2
2. Fill a small bowl with water and set aside. Working with one wrapper at a time, place about a tablespoon of filling into the center. Brush the exposed edges of the wrapper with some of the water.

making potstickers 3
3. Begin folding the dumpling in half by pinching the top of the wrapper to form a crease.

making potstickers 4
4. Lay the dumpling flat on your palm. Using your thumb and index finger, pinch a bit of the wrapper below the crease and drag it to within 1/2 inch of the top. Pinch again and drag this bit to within 1/2 inch of the last one. Repeat this several times until you've created 4 or 5 pleats on one side of the dumpling.

making potstickers 5
5. Turn you dumpling until the loose seams point upward. Take your wet pastry brush and lightly drag it across the seams.

making potstickers 6
6. Again, using your thumb and index finger, press the moistened seams together until the dumpling is completely sealed.

making potstickers 7
What you end up with is a dumpling that is crescent-shaped and scalloped on one side.

making potstickers 10
As you can see, this recipe makes quite a bit - anywhere between 65 and 70 potstickers. To freeze them, I put the whole tray into the freezer. Only after they are frozen solid do I place them into freezer bags. This prevents the dumplings from becoming one solid mass.

The perfect potsticker is one that is crispy on the bottom and slightly chewy on top. To achieve this perfection, the dumpling must first be fried and then steamed, a process that is easier than it sounds.

7. In a non-stick frying pan, heat 2 or 3 tablespoons of canola oil on medium heat. One at a time, add the dumplings until they fill the pan. (If you're unsure about which size pan to use, count the number of dumplings you plan to serve and then choose a non-stick pan into which they will all fit snugly, touching one other, and in a single layer. Also, you do not have to defrost the dumplings first. They can go straight into the pan from the freezer.)

8. Fry on medium heat until the bottoms are golden brown. Once they've reached this point, add enough water to almost cover the dumplings. (I would say that the dumplings should be covered by 3/4's of the way up, leaving the pinched tops exposed. Adding too much water will cause the wrappers to become overcooked.)

9. Cover the pan and raise the heat to medium high until the water boils rapidly. Then lower the heat to medium and cook until most of the water has evaporated (about 10-12 minutes). At this point, pay very close attention as you want to cook the potstickers until all of the water is gone and the bottoms are crispy again (another 5 to 7 minutes). They can burn very quickly once all of the water has evaporated so don't leave them unattended. When they are done, uncover and shake the pan a bit to loosen the potstickers. You can remove them individually or invert the pan onto a serving dish.

Orange Ginger Dipping Sauce Recipe

1 teaspoon of canola oil
1 tablespoon of ginger, finely minced
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
2 cups of orange juice (if you are using fresh oj, add 1 teaspoon of grated orange zest as well)
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1/4 cup of soy sauce
2 teaspoons of white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon of dark sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon of ground chili paste (optional)
pepper to taste
garnish with chopped scallions (optional)

In a small sauce pan, heat the canola oil on medium heat. Add the ginger and garlic and stir for about 10 to 15 seconds until the flavors are released. Then add all of the remaining ingredients. Bring the sauce to a boil and then lower the heat to simmer for 10-12 minutes. Let the sauce cool for another 10 minutes before serving.

making potstickers 9
I can't say that this recipe is quick or fool proof, but once you get it right, it's definitely worth the time and effort. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Urban Farmer

OBSESSIVES: Urban Farmer - on from on Vimeo.

Not too long ago, I read a book entitled, "Farm City - The Education of an Urban Farmer", by Novella Carpenter. Today, I came across a very interesting video of Novella discussing her urban farming adventures in Oakland, California, as well as scenes from her urban homestead. What I liked about her memoir was that it painted a very realistic picture of just how difficult it is to raise farm animals in the city (let alone in a suburb). I guess that's why we're seeing more and more chickens end up at the local SPCA these days.

It seems interesting to me that 100 years ago, urban farm animals were very much commonplace. Hopefully, more urbanites today will become inspired to grow food on their small plots. A chicken or two would be a welcomed sight too.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Make Your Own 4-Inch Soil Block Maker

Gardeness, Renee and Caffeinated Mom, welcome to the blog!

homemade soil block maker 6
I've been intrigued by the idea of soil blocks ever since I read Eliot Coleman's New Organic Grower a few years ago. Last month, I finally got around to purchasing 3/4-inch and 2-inch soil block makers from Johnny's Selected Seeds. I also wanted, but did not purchase, the 4-inch blocker simply because it was too expensive for my gardening budget. The 4-inch block is great for larger starts like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, melons, and eggplant and for late transplanting. But I couldn't justify spending the $119 its costs. As a result, I thought I'd try to come up with a homemade solution.

kids blocks
I have to thank my son for this bit of inspiration. I came across his old set of nesting boxes in the basement a few months ago. They were made of sturdy wood and coincidentally enough, held boxes that measured 2 and 4-inches on each side. I also grabbed the 3.6-inch box that fits snugly inside the 4-inch box.

homemade soil block maker 2
I started by breaking the 3.6-box into its 5 sides. I took 2 of the squares and drilled at the center of each a hole big enough to fit around the diameter of a 4-inch bolt. I then drilled the same-size hole at the center of the bottom of the 2-inch box.

homemade soil block maker 3
To create the 2-inch soil block insert (which is used to pot-on transplants started in 2-inch soil blocks), I slid the 2-inch box bottom-side down onto a 4-inch bolt. Then I slid one of the squares on top of the box and secured the pieces firmly with a nut. To create the direct-seeding dibble insert, I slid a couple of nuts onto the bolt, followed by the other square and then secured with another nut.

homemade soil block maker
Finally, I cut a hole into the center of the bottom of the 4-inch box big enough to fit around the nut.

homemade soil block maker 4
To make the soil block, you slide an insert into the 4-inch box and fill firmly with the soil mix.

homemade soil block maker 5
To release the soil block, push down on the bolt to compress the block and lift the box.

I will probably apply a non-toxic water sealant to the inside of the box and inserts to keep them from warping. Hopefully, I will be able to test my homemade 4-inch soil block maker soon. So what do you think? Will it work?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chocolate Dipped Kumquats

chocolate dipped kumquats
As you may have noticed by now, I have a fascination with all things citrus. I've never visited a citrus grove before, but I'm sure I would love it. Maybe someday, I will move to a warmer climate and grow one of my very own.

I've recently become enamored by the pint-sized citrus fruit better known as the kumquat. We've devoured most of the candied kumquats I made a few weeks ago, which forced me to go out and buy some more while they are still in season. This time around, I also sugared some and then dipped them in melted milk chocolate. To say that these are addicting is an understatement.

drying kumquats
The method for this is pretty straight forward. I began by simmering 4 cups of sliced kumquats in a simple syrup made from equal parts water and sugar (one and a half cups of each to be precise) for 15 minutes until they were tender and translucent. At this point, I removed them from the syrup using a slotted spoon, laid them out on a cookie sheet and then left them to dry in a 180 degree F oven. When they feel close to being done, I roll them in some sugar (which draws out even more moisture) and place them back into the oven to finish drying. After cooling for a couple of hours at room temperature, I dip them halfway into some tempered milk chocolate. Simple as that! And a great homemade Valentine Day gift if you ask me. The dried kumquats can be stored in the freezer until you are really to dip them.

Tip: You can skip the sugaring if you'd like when making these. You're also left with deliciously tangy citrus syrup to use in desserts and cocktails.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Assembling Indoor Seed Starting Shelves

Welcome Donna, K, Lisa, Shelli Farr and flwjane. Thanks for following!

seed starting shelves 3
As I mentioned earlier, our neighbor Jim was kind enough to install some electrical outlets in our basement. He did such a wonderful job. (Thanks Jim!) As a result, I able to assemble my indoor seed starting shelves this past weekend. Tonight, I plugged in my lights for the first time. It was exciting to see them all lit up - surely a preview of what's to come! Not a very sophisticated setup I have to admit but I'm pretty confident it will do the trick. I have two shelves fitted with lights right now but will add a third one when it becomes necessary. Also, I made sure to leave extra space between the 4th and bottom shelf to accommodate taller plants.

seed starting shelves 4
Here is an itemized list of what I bought and how much I spent on this project:

Chrome wire shelving unit - $80
4 ft shop lights (4) - $20 ($80)
Energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs (10-pack) - $24
Mini-greenhouse and heat mat - $32
Power strip with timer - $20
S hooks - $3

As you can see, this set up was not entirely cheap to put together (by my standards). And when I add a 3rd shelf of lights, it will cost me another $50. I have to remind myself that this is an expense I will not have to bear every year and that such start-up costs will pay off in the long run.

seed starting shelves 5
The shelves on this unit are 18 inches deep, which I'm guessing will fit a fair amount of transplants. I suppose I could have just bought one over-sized shop light for each shelf but I ended up buying two in order to ensure greater light coverage. (And unfortunately, my local home improvement center did not have a great selection of plug-in shop lights.)

So what you do think? How does this compare to what you have? And is there anything that I'm missing?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Snow Falls in January

Garden - January 2010
This morning, we woke up to another 6 inches of heavy wet heavy that it pulled many of the pine branches down low to the ground. I had to duck in order to get to my compost pile. So much for the January Thaw. I wonder how long it will take for this latest batch to melt.

January storm
I'm trying to remind myself that in couple of months from now, all of this will be gone. There's still so much to do and think about before our last frost date. Hopefully, I'll find the time to work on my garden plan soon.

meyer lemon blossoms
meyer lemon blossoms 2
And while the world looks pretty bleak outside, a lemon tree still manages to flower.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

This Week's Harvest - Garden Update

January carrot and greens harvest
It's been two weeks since I've peaked inside my hoop houses. By the look of things, the garden is indeed in a state of transition. Among the healthy plants (spinach, carrots, kale, chard and wild greens) lay the dead and/or inedible ones (lettuce and wild arugula). Pretty soon, I will dig up the last of my carrots and turn over sections in each bed to make way for early spring sowings. Yesterday, the temperature underneath the garden fabric reached 70 degrees F for the first time in many weeks. Has the January Thaw actually arrived?

I made the mistake of not harvesting all of my Tango lettuce by Christmas this year. This variety has proven to be very cold hardy. In fact, it still looks pretty healthy. Unfortunately, the constant freezing and thawing have rendered it much too bitter to eat. I will just have to accept the fact that unless I can find a way to maintain a minimum temperature of 32 degrees F inside my hoop houses, winter lettuce is just not an option. And wild greens should be grown in its place. I'm wondering if the bitterness will diminish as the weather warms up or should I just pull them up? Any advice?

Seemingly unfazed by the weather is the mache...

and minutina. I sowed these wild greens way too late last fall, a mistake I will not repeat this year. My guess is that they won't truly take off until either next month or March.

minutina 2
The narrow leaves on this wild plant are succulent and very interesting to look at.

potted chard
Off topic a bit, the chard in this pot is not doing nearly as well as the ones I have planted in the ground. However, it does look like it will stick around for me to transplant in a couple of months.

mache and minutina harvest
This week, I ended up harvesting 1.71 lbs of carrots and 0.16 lbs of greens for a total of 1.87 lbs. This will be my first (albeit slight) taste of these wild greens. I hope I like them.

carrot harvest
Finally, I'm finding it interesting that my winter carrots continue to size up even in the frozen ground. They are still tasting very good and showing no signs of pest damage. I can't imagine a winter without these carrots now. If you'd like to see what others are harvesting or show off your own, visit Harvest Monday at Daphne's Dandelions.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Putting It All Together

seed tray and heating mat
Seed trays and heating mats...check.

seed starting shelves
Shelving and grow lights...check.

seed starting shelves 2
Timer and hooks...check.

Tomorrow is one day I've been looking forwarding to for a long time. My next door neighbor, who is an electrician, kindly offered to help me install some extra electrical outlets in our basement. (We only have one at the moment.) After we're done, I'll finally be able to assemble my growing shelves. Since our unfinished basement is fully heated during the winter months and is empty for the most part, I figured it would be the best place to house my indoor seed starting operation. It'll be a simple setup, but I'm excited to see how it will all come together nonetheless.

My job on Sunday will be to purchase all of the ingredients for my soil block mix. Thankfully, I think I've been able to track them all down. I'll be sowing my first seeds within the next couple of weeks. I can't wait!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I Have an Addiction

To the (now) 50 followers of my blog - Thank you! I hope you all like what you've been reading!

more seeds for 2010
More and more seed shelves are popping up at the supermarkets and home improvement centers these days. It seems I can't pass by one without leaving with a few packets. Of course, I always have a justification. I do need to grow herbs this summer, don't I? Though I was planning on purchasing transplants. Also, why not get some fall snow pea and carrot seeds now? I can't think of a good reason not to. Finally, I wasn't going to grow watermelons this year since very few gardeners around our parts have been able to grow them successfully. (Where are the rest of you hiding?) I'm guessing these Sugar Babies will be my best hope. Behinds, like most children, I think watermelon seeds were the first things I tried to grow in my dad's garden. There was a "Jack and the Bean Stalk" quality to them when I was growing up, something children miss out on these days with seedless watermelon from the supermarket.

Store brought seeds are instant gratification (and cheap) in my book. However, I do worry that I'm supporting global agricultural giants like Monsanto in the process. Hence, the guilt.

Seeds from Dan
I'm very excited to note that I came home last night to a package of seeds from Dan, our urban Canadian veggie gardener (and brewer) extraordinaire. Inside were some Jade Cross Brussels sprouts, Red fennel and Florence fennel seeds. I am particularly curious about the Red fennel. Thanks for the seed swap, Dan! You're the best!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What's for Dinner

Stir-Fried Lo Mein with homegrown bean sprouts
I made some stir-fried lo mein noodles for dinner last night, which is a simple and quick meal to prepare during the week. It was also a great way to use up veggies I had sitting in the fridge and my first batch of bean sprouts. My second should be ready in a few days. One day I'll get around to posting a proper recipe but the sauce I use to dress the noodles is pretty straight forward:

Dressing for Stir-Fried Noodles

1 tablespoon of light soy sauce
1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon of oyster sauce
2 teaspoons of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of dark sesame oil
1 to 2 teaspoons of Thai red chili paste or your favorite crushed chilies (optional)
pepper to taste

1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons of minced ginger

For a quick veggie dish, stir-fry some veggies, garlic and ginger (above) in a bit of canola oil for a few minutes on medium-high heat. Add some precooked Asian noodles and dress with the sauce. Toss to coat evenly and cook for a couple of more minutes until the noodles are glossy and most of the sauce has been absorbed. The sauce recipe above dresses quite a bit of noodles so you may only need half of it if you're preparing a dish for 2 or 3. If you're adding bean sprouts, do so at the very end and cook for another 30 seconds max. Simple as that!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Grow Your Own Mung Bean Sprouts

mung bean sprouts
I've been meaning to learn how to sprout mung beans for a long time now. This past week, I finally got around to giving it a try, thanks in part to Daphne's post on this very subject. Mung beans sprouts are used widely in Asian cuisine. I've eaten them all throughout my life and would keep a consistent supply in my refrigerator if I could. More and more supermarkets carry them these days, but unfortunately, 9 times out of 10, they are already rancid by the time I see them on the shelves. I sometimes make a special trip to the Asian market to buy some, but hopefully soon, I won't have to.

mung bean sprouter
My uncle used to sprout mung beans in a black garbage bag in the basement. However, I'm hoping to keep my own sprouting operation limited to the kitchen. I looked at various commercially made sprouters online, but in the end, decided to make my own out of two plastic containers that I had lying around the house. One of the containers is about an inch smaller in diameter than the other one and fits nicely inside. This will act as the sprouting vessel. Using an electric drill, I punched holes about an inch apart all around the sides and the bottom of the smaller container. This allows excess water to drain into the larger container, which is slightly concave at the bottom. Drainage is crucial as excess moisture can cause your sprouts to rot. And since air flow is equally as important, I drilled holes into the larger lid as well. Finally, you want to cut the smaller lid into a circle that is of the same diameter as the bottom of smaller container (I will get into why this is necessary below). Note: this sprouter will only work for large seeds.

mung bean sprouter 2
sprouting vessel

I purchased my mung beans at the Asian market. A 12 oz bag costs me 99 cents. You want to make sure that the beans you intend to sprout are food grade. If you'd like, you can buy organic beans from a supplier that tests their stock for E. Coli and salmonella. Since commercially produced sprouts have been identified as a major source of food born illness, you want to be fairly confident in your seed source. Another option is to treat your seeds before you sprout them. To do so, heat a solution of 3% hydrogen peroxide (about 2 and a half tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide for every 5 cups of water) to 140 degrees F. Monitor and maintain at this temperature using a kitchen thermometer. Using a small fine-mesh strainer, immerse the seeds into the solution and swirl them around every minute or so for 5 minutes to ensure uniform treatment. Remove the seeds and rinse under running water for 1 minute.

Next, you want to soak your seeds in water for 12 hours at room temperature. Your seeds will begin to drink and plump up during this time. The next morning, drain the seeds and remove any debris or hard or discolored seeds. Then rinse them well under running water.

sprouting mung beans
mung beans after 12 hours of soaking

Place the seeds inside the sprouting vessel, shaking it a bit to get them somewhat level. Place the smaller lid directly on top of them and add your weight. Mung beans sprouts grow longer and thicker if they are subjected to pressure. You can experiment with the amount of weight to use but I have read that you should use 0.5 ounce of weight for every square inch of surface area inside your sprouting vessel. Also, you can use practically anything as a weight (as long as it's sterile). I used a couple of ceramic ramekins of varying sizes. Place the sprouting vessel inside the larger container and cover with the outer lid. Keep your sprouter in a dark corner of your kitchen counter.

You want to rinse your seeds 2-3 times a day for the first few days. It is important that your seeds do not move when you do so as you want them to form a secure mass as they grow. Again, this will help you get longer, thicker sprouts. I rinse by removing the sprouting vessel, adding enough water to the larger container to cover the seeds by an inch or so, then slowly immersing the sprouting vessel into the water and lifting several times to rinse. Repeat this for the first 3 full days.

On the 4th day, cut down on rinsing to once a day for the next 2-3 days. When you do so, keep the seeds immersed in cool water for 15 minutes. Doing so encourages the sprouts to really size up. By the 5th day, you can also remove the weight. The sprouts should be firmly in place by then and should be ready by the end of the 5th or 6th day. Final tip: to separate the green skins from the sprouts, toss the sprouts gently in a large bowl with your hands. You will notice that most of the green skins end up at the bottom of the bowl. Then place the sprouts into a sink or large bowl filled with cold water. The sprouts will float and the skins will sink to the bottom. Run your sprouts through a salad spinner before storing in the fridge as they keep best when dry.

mung bean sprouts 3
As you can see, the end result is good but not perfect. I will play around with the weight, rinsing schedule, and sprouting days to see if I can get them looking a bit longer and thicker. However, it's important to note that they will never look exactly like commercial mung bean sprouts, which are grown with chemicals and gases in 500 gallon drums. At the end of the day, what counts is taste. And these taste like the freshest mung bean sprouts I have ever had. Finally as far as how much seed to use when sprouting, I poured enough dry seed to cover the bottom of my sprouting vessel by one layer (maybe a little more).

As a footnote, I've been debating whether or not "sprouting" really counts as "growing." In my opinion, the answer is a resounding "YES!" I "sprout" for the sames reasons that I grow - to know where my food comes from, eat the freshest, healthiest food and lower my food miles. If that is not enough, consider this: from 2.2 ounces of dry seed, I produced 9.8 ounces of fresh sprouts. And for about $0.20 worth of seed, I produced something that would have cost me $1.50 at the store. However, for the sake of proper disclosure, I will maintain a separate tally for the amount of sprouts I "harvest" this year.

I guess this will have to count as my quasi-harvest for this week since temperatures have been too low for me to go outside and get a proper one. I'm enjoying my early foray into the sprouting world. Since alfalfa sprouts are Marc's favorite, I think I'll purchase some organic seeds to sprout using the mason jar method.

Update: I forgot to mention- you might want to make one slightly larger hole about a quarter inch in diameter at the bottom of edge of sprouting vessel. This will help drain the water during rinsing. Cover the hole with your finger when measuring your dry beans. After soaking, they should be plump enough not to fall out.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

HELP! - The Dreaded "S" Word

kaffir lime tree
It's been a while since I've posted about my kaffir lime tree, and right now, I wish that I was doing so under other circumstances. I've been noticing for the past couple of months that some of the leaves on my kaffir lime were speckled with some kind of clear sap. I would use a damp paper towel to wipe them off only to find more leaves affected a couple weeks later. Today, I finally got around to researching this and sure enough, my suspicions are accurate. My lime tree has SCALE. Luckily, my meyer lemon tree is located in another room and shows no signs of it.

scale on lime tree
If you enlarge this photo and look at the vertical leaf on the upper-left hand side, you can actually see the little buggers. At this point, the infestation is minor. I'm hoping to find an effective treatment before it really gets out of hand. I've read that the adults breed in the spring. Hopefully I can get this sorted out by then.

I've heard that wiping each leaf with rubbing alcohol is one solution, though I believe you have to do this several times. If anyone out there has any suggestions on how I can eliminate my scale problem safely, please share!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What's Possible

By now, I'm sure most of you know about the Dervaes family out of Pasadena, California. I first watched this video about a year ago and became really inspired by their efforts and way of living. As you can see by watching this video, it's amazing what one family can accomplish on a small urban plot of land. To produce over 6000 lbs of food annually on 1/10th of an acre of growing space is pretty incredible. Every once and a while, when daily life gets to be a bit overwhelming, I watch this video and dream.

This weekend is sure to be a busy one. I will be hunting down ingredients for my soil block mix, which might be hard to come by this time of year. Also, I will be stopping by Home Depot to purchase more materials for my indoor seed-starting operation. The metal shelving has been assembled, and hopefully by the end of the weekend, the lights will be installed. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Blooming Season

meyer lemon blossom
My Meyer lemon tree experienced a minor flush of flowers in December, but this one looks like it will be the major one for this year. Tiny clusters of blooms are now developing as well as some minor leaf growth. I have one lemon the size of a golf ball, nine the size of small marbles and hopefully a few more to come with this latest flush. Maybe they won't ripen all at once this year, which would be a nice change.

meyer lemon blossom 2
I'll be hand-pollinating these flowers for at least the next couple of weeks. I'll admit, it can be a very calming activity, especially since you tend to notice the almost jasmine-like smell of these blossoms in the process.