Friday, December 26, 2008

Cold Frame update - Late December 08

It’s almost the end of December, the 27th actually and I finally got out to check on the health of my romaine, lettuce and radish plants. They reside in two small cold frames in my front yard and would no doubt be complaining about the cold if they were able. The mean temperature for this month has been two degrees lower than normal and that’s a lot!
I noticed some of the larger plants in cold frame #1 show evidence of tip burn. This was caused by their coming in contact with the glass on days that were below freezing. Otherwise, they are in good health. The plants in cold frame #2 are also good to go, just a little smaller due to them get planted after the ones on frame #1.

Two conclusions I’ve come to regarding this effort are; one, that even though plants will grow during the winter, they do so slowly. And two, I need to consider a much larger cold frame if I am to have anything worth harvesting. Eleven square feet (the inside growing area of both frames together) is not enough to produce enough to feed one person. I will need at least sixteen square feet to accomplish this. So, that will be my next project this coming early spring. I am in the planning stage at this time.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I’m Making Soup – Vegetable Soup!

It’s one of those cold dreary days when you don’t want to go anywhere you don’t have to. The kind of day that shouts SOUP! Not being one to put off my urges, I threw together the following ingredients I had lying around;

5 oz beef stew meat, cut into small pieces.

  • 1 can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 can of cut green beans, rinsed
  • 1 can of beef stock
  • 1 can of water
  • ½ medium potato, chopped
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 wedge of green cabbage
  • 1 beef bouillon cube

I found an old pot with a lid. Like me it’s pretty beat up but often contains some pretty good stuff. Placed it on a preheated stove burner and added a small amount of beef. In my world, vegetable soup should taste like vegetables with just a background of meat flavor present.

After braising the beef for a few minutes, I added the onion and then allowed it to go for another minute or so. Next, in went the rest of the ingredients. Did I mention my recipes are also a reflection of my personality, simple and stupid.

On goes the cover and the heat is reduced to a light simmer for about forty five minutes or until I decree that the key veggies are done. Just how done things get is often determined by how hungry I am at the time.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cold Frame Insulation

Over the last couple of days, Mother Nature has dropped an arctic cold wave over much of the county. Here in southwest Missouri, we have taken a pretty good hit also. On Sunday, December 14, 2008, the temperatures went from the high sixties to below freezing in just a couple of hours. Yowsers! Overnight, they then dropped into the teens. This is the first time in my memory that such cold came so early in the season. Hey! It’s not even winter yet! Outside, I have two small cold frames I built out of 2x4’s that house young and tender romaine lettuce plants along with a scattering of radishes and spinach. When I began the experiment in September, I had anticipated December temperatures dipping to the twenties once or twice, but not the teens like we have had for the last two days. That’s just too darn cold!

To their credit, the structures have insulated the plants pretty well so far. The temperatures tonight outside will be very cold again, dropping down to 18F or so. This level of cold has been a trial for the plants. I hope I’ve prepared for them by taking additional steps to insure their survival. On Sunday, I made sure to turn on the small 40 watt light sources I have installed in each frame and then covered them with spare floor mats. As a result, the internal temperatures in both cold frames have stayed in the mid to lower forty degree range.

In reflection, if I made any mistakes, it may be that I have neglected to build up the soil around the back side of each frame. The earth is a great insulator and the other three sides are covered well, just not the backsides. Next week, I plan to attach some additional insulation to see if that will help. Also, I’m hoping the ambient temperatures will moderate a bit during the rest of the month.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mid December Cold Frame Update

It’s now closing in on the middle of December 2008. The weather here in southwest Missouri has been on the cool side. Already this fall season (it’s still fall until Dec 21st), we have seen quite a few nights where the thermometer has dipped down into the twenties. Over the last couple of night, it has been cold enough (the high today was only 32F) that I left the covers and warming light bulbs on. When I looked out this morning there was even a light dusting of snow, the first of the season, on elevated surfaces.

In spite of everything, the crops look pretty darn good as evidenced by the picture taken this date. OK, so they are a little on the small side. The ambient range of temperatures over the last few weeks has been in the range of 40 to about 55 Fahrenheit, so growth has been slow. I am thinking about increasing the light wattage to 60 in CF#1 to see if that might help. What I really need to think about for next winter (yes, I’m going to try this again) will be an underground heating cable. In any case, I will do a year end update on December 31st and will take some impromptu measurements at that time.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Good Food Costs More

After learning I had high blood pressure and hearing a stern warning from my doctor, I embarked some time ago on a quest to accomplish three dietary goals; 1) a reduction in weight, 2) elimination of all spurious salt and 3) a farewell to all my favorite meats, eggs and poultry in an effort to get my cholesterol under control. This didn’t leave me with much to eat. Maybe a limp stalk of celery and other assorted vegetables. I was amazed at the amount of salt in everything I had taken for granted. Breads, chips, canned soups and even most packaged goods have liberal amounts of sodium. My new dietary guideline for salt restricted me to just 1500 milligrams of salt per day. Imagine my consternation when I began to actually read the nutritional labels on food. A cup of tomato soup can easily contain 900 milligrams of sodium. That’s well over half my daily allowance right there! Bummer. Maintaining my cholesterol intake to below 100 milligrams per day also proved to be difficult. (I’m genetically disposed to be a meat and potatoes kind of guy). In looking for alternatives, one of my friends had pointed out that there are all kinds of low salt, low cholesterol products out there. I would just have to ferret them out.

It didn’t take me long to figure out a couple of things concerning packaging. Labels may say the food is low fat, low sodium, sodium free, fat free, heart health, zero trans fat… Well – you get the picture. You have to become a nutritionist just to figure it all out. The second thing that became apparent is this; healthy food costs more! A lot more! Even though it may be cheaper to make, you the consumer, will pay through the nose. It’s like the food industry could care less about health if it threatens profits. The sad truth is that foods do taste better if they are full of fats, sugar and salt! Big corporations know this, so that is what they place on the shelves and that is what we buy. When absolutely forced to, they may begrudgingly offer a healthier substitute, but will charge exorbitant fees in the process. (A case in point is an 8 ounce bag of salt free potato chips that sells at a local store for $3.19 versus an 11 ounce bag for $3 bucks)! Hey, the only difference is the lack of salt. Right?

My final gripe is the way many stores will attempt to hide the good stuff around the store. I would be all in favor of some form of label, a bright orange color perhaps, that shouts ‘Low Salt’ or ‘No cholesterol’. This would make my weekly ordeal so much more painless. OK. I’m through for now. I have to go shopping.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Shadow Rock Park - A Post Flood Report

In the spring and summer of 2008, exceptional rains caused a local river in Forsyth Missouri to overflow its banks. The resultant flood completely submerged two popular park sites known as Shadow Rock and River Run. The flood lasted over six months, the longest in recent memory. After the waters subsided, everything in the area was covered by a half inch of river muck that dried into a concrete like substance. While there have been some cleanup efforts both park areas still need a lot of work. Both parks have suffered some degree of damage, especially to buildings that, after a prolonged period of submersion, were assaulted by the remnants of two hurricanes, Gustav and Ike. One building, in particular, the popular Lions Club kitchen and exhibition hall had part of its roof torn off. One rumor purports that the City may go ahead and bulldoze it to the ground and then build a new structure in its place.

The roads will need to be cleaned with road graders and a large contingent of volunteers may be sought this spring to added in then general removal of trash, tree limbs and other assorted flotsam that litter both parks.

In a precious report, I alluded to the possibility that the grassy areas may or may not grow back. If this is the case, re-seeding will need to be done in order to bring both parks back up to specifications. Both areas are very popular spots for local events and campers during the regular season and bring in much needed money for the city of Forsyth.

Friday, December 5, 2008

My Radish Problem - No Bulbs!

Here’s the problem. My radishes have not bulbed up after putting on great tops in my cold frame #1. As you can see in the slightly blurry picture, they look very healthy with the exception that where a nice radish should be, there is only a red root.

Some blogs have suggested that the problem might be do to the nature of the soil I’m using. In my cold frame I have used a potting mix, not actual garden soil. Also this mix is pre-fertilized and perhaps it is due to the excess nitrogen that I’m just getting leaves and no root crop.

So, in the fashion of a true researcher, I am planning the following experiment. I am going to set aside one square foot of space (actually an area measuring 6 inches by 24 inches and will divide it up into four sections, each containing a different mix of soil. I will then sow equal mounts of radish seed and will keep a record of the development of each. Perhaps I will then be able to solve the mystery of poor radish development.

My soil mix strategy will be as follows; Area one will have plain soil taken from the garden. This is basically 100% unimproved clavey loam (CL) that is very common in this area. Area two will be 75% CL and 25% Scotts Premium potting mix (PM). Area three will be a 50-50 blend of CL and PM. Finally, area four will be all potting mix.

I plan to document this experiment from the date of visible germination to finish by taking photographs from a fixed position. This will allow me to quantify the rate of bulbing (if any) against a scale of time. I plan to report these results in a future blog and will do a video of the results on YouTube. Wish me luck.