Sunday, March 31, 2013

Blinded By The Light

Our makeshift growlight, that is!

Noah the mini-gardener

Yes, I know. I've boasted for 2 growing seasons now that I don't need a growlight. That by rotating my precious seedlings from windowsill to windowsill throughout the day to catch maximum sunlight, my seedlings have done just fine. But the sun has decided to absolutely disappear for much of the time the past few weeks, and it's been bad news for my baby Amish Paste tomatoes. They began to droop, bend over, and in general look very, very sick.

very sad and droopy baby tomato

I panicked. My first ER action was to dose them with some fish emulsion, diluted (1 t. in about 4 cups of water). After watching them for over a day and seeing that didn't give them a magic boost, I transplanted them all into larger spaces, in case their roots were not getting enough room to breathe.

before: tiny, messy homes
after: bigger and cleaner-looking rooms..ahhhhh

Start a gardening hobby and say goodbye to perfectly manicured nails

I gave them a day in their new, larger homes and still saw little improvement. It hit me, in a sudden 'lightbulb' moment, that the sunlight had not been strong at all for days.

I don't have the cash to plunk out on some special growlight system (I'm saving pennies for other precious items, like a soaker hose). I thought to myself, 'hey, I've got this florescent fixture over the kitchen sink...I wonder if it would help? I mean, how different is a regular florescent light from a special growlight available for substantial bucks at the garden center?'

After a quick search in the garage, I came up with a setup that would get my plants close to the light source. 2 five gallon buckets (which, incidentally, still smelled of the apples I stored in them during apple picking season--I had to stop for a moment to breathe in that wonderful nostalgia), a shelf borrowed from one of our toyshelves in the toyroom, and my seed container (appropriate use for that, or what!).  I also found an empty food container of the right size to boost the seedlings up just a big more--right up to the light.

This setup has worked wonders. Within one day under the lights, our plants grew noticeably,  and they looked happier and healthier. They have reached up toward those florescent photons like their little lives depended on it. The closer I can get those babies to the light the better--in fact I read it's okay to let the leaves actually touch the light. The less effort the leaves have to make to get to the light, the more energy they can put into growing thicker instead of upwards.

I been putting the plants in the windowsills any day that we have strong sunlight, but those days have been very far and few between. So, they spend a lot of time under our little growlight system. I've had to remove the extra container by now, and soon will have to lower the plants even more, because they are growing so big.

Although it's taken some getting used to, working around the baby tomatoes is not a big deal. I spend a lot of time at the kitchen sink, so I'm getting to know each plant by heart, at my eye level. The light has always been a little too bright for me, and at just the right angle that my eyes hurt a bit when standing at that sink, but if it's helping the plants survive, I've got new tolerance for it. Leaving it on for the plants has been a challenge--I'm one of those mamas who seems to be constantly turning off unneeded lights left on by someone. I have to stop myself as I reach to turn out that kitchen sink is now serving a very good purpose! And, I didn't have to go out and spend any more money that I don't have on this gardening adventure.

Baby tomatoes keep me company while washing unending piles of dishes

Take a peek at how wonderful our tomatoes look now, after bigger pots, a little fish emulsion, and a week under our growlight:

Friday, March 15, 2013

Warm Up Your Evening with a Winter Pizza

I can't think of a more appropriate winter pizza than this one! Sweet potatoes from storage, and kale from the cold frame...ingredients readily available in the middle of this long, cold season. Also, the flavor is amazing!
I was skeptical at first--kale? Sweet potatoes? Trust me, get over the doubt and try it at least once if you like either of those ingredients one bit. I'm going out on a limb and assuming you love red onions...because everybody HAS to love red onions. Right?
I found the recipe over at Below is their exact recipe, but I altered it a bit when I made it. Though I made a full batch of dough, I used about a third of it on this pizza. Since I was only using a portion of the dough for a smaller pizza, most of the ingredients needed cut down. Also, I sprinkled dried rosemary on top instead of fresh.

Sweet Potato Kale Pizza with Rosemary & Red Onion

Yield: 1 pizza
Cook Time: 10-15 minutes


Your favorite pizza dough-we used this pizza dough recipe
1 large sweet potato, thinly sliced, about 1/4 inch thick
1/2 red onion, sliced
1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper, for seasoning potato slices and onion
1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese
1 1/2 cups chopped kale
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon, freshly chopped rosemary


1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place the sweet potato slices and red onion slices in a bow and toss with 1/2 tablespoon of the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Place on a large baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are soft and tender. Make sure you turn them once during the 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool while you prepare the pizza dough.
2. Turn the oven to 500 degrees F or as high as your oven will go. If you have a pizza stone, place the pizza stone in the oven to get hot. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pizza dough, using a rolling pin. Roll it out to about 3/8 of an inch. Place the pizza dough on a pizza peel or pan that has been generously coated with corn meal. Lightly brush the dough with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. In a small bowl, toss the kale with balsamic vinegar. Top the pizza dough with mozzarella cheese, sweet potato slices, kale, red onion slices, and fresh rosemary.
3. Place the pizza in the oven-directly on the pizza stone, if using one, or on the oven rack. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until pizza crust is golden and cheese is melted. Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes before slicing. Slice and serve warm.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Baby Tomatoes and Hope

One of my goals right now is to become more and more separate from industrial food. Growing lots of tomatoes seems to be one of the easiest ways to start. I used to think of tomatoes and wonder how people could eat so many of them. People who grew them in their gardens would give them away by the bags-full. I thought..just how many salads and sandwiches can I eat to use all of these before they get mushy (which happens so very quickly)? I never realized the possibility of preserving them until I tried it and saw for myself how easy it is. (If mom reads this, she may have a thing or two to say to me, namely, "Oh come on, where were you while I canned all those tomatoes every summer?" Answer: Somewhere far away from the kitchen.)

What things do I buy routinely that I could be putting up from my own tomato plants? Tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, whole tomatoes, roasted and pureed tomatoes...ketchup, even! I obtained a food mill last summer and the ease of making sauce increased ten-fold. So far I've done nothing more than freeze the sauce and diced tomatoes in freezer containers, but canning is next on the list of attainable goals. We use a LOT of canned tomatoes in our family, not to mention all the ketchup we go through. If we could provide the majority of our own tomatoes to last the whole year, not just in those glorious pick-them-straight-from-the-vine-and-die-of-happiness summer days, I think that would be an amazing step in the right direction.

Here are some pics of our growing tomato seedlings. They are started from seed that I got from A heritage variety called Amish Paste. The claim is that they produce well and that they make excellent sauce, so here's to hoping!

Also! This is our 3rd garden season starting our seeds without a growlight. Countless gardening sites assume that success will only come with growlights, but if I can do without, why not? I have big windowsills to hold the trays, and by rotating the seedlings throughout the day to catch as much sunlight as possible, they seem to do okay. In one of the following pics you'll see that on very cold days, I put a space heater (on lowest setting) under the window to keep the babies from getting frostbite. ;)

Big Orange Kitty watching over the babies
Small boy daydreaming next to the nursery

It's always hard to do...but it must be done. Culling the weakest sprouts so the hardiest one will grow into an amazing plant.

A little extra warmth on those frigid February/March mornings.

They eat up the sun and fill me with hope.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

6,000 lbs of Food on 1/10th Acre

If you are insanely interested in urban homesteading like I am, you must watch this! I had briefly read about the Dervaes family before, but seeing this video amazed me. Not only are they growing huge amounts of food on very little land (enough to feed themselves and sell a bunch to local chefs), you'll also see at about 5:30 in the video that they use very little electricity (solar powered), and bio-diesel (fry oil recycled from local restaurants). Off the grid, and growing their own food, all within a crowded urban environment. These are skills that will help us ease out of the cheap energy era. The more we know and learn from families like this, the better. Watch and be inspired!