Container Garden Update — August 13, 2017


It finally rained last night after fifty-five days of no rain. Today was cool and drizzly, but it was a good day to get out and do some heavy pruning on the tomato plants. The harvest, including ripe Oregon Spring, Roma, and Black Krim tomatoes, tomatillos, and cucumbers. The green tomatoes for our pet store guy:

170813 harvest

An overview before the pruning:

170813 overview before

After pruning:

170813 overview after

Tomato alley:

170813 tomato alley

We harvested about 1/3 of the basil a couple of days ago. The plan is to harvest about half of what’s left tomorrow. In previous years we’ve waited too long and the basil got sort of bitter. We’re not going to make that mistake this year:

170813 basil

The Carmen Peppers are having a good year. We didn’t cage them and now they’re all threatening to flop over. We had to insert tomato stakes and run twine around everything to prevent disaster:

170813 carmen


170813 tomatillo

The seedlings got too much water and not enough sunlight. Some did ok, but we’re having to start over in many of the pots. Even without the shade cloth some of them are looking pretty leggy, so shortly after this picture was taken I moved them to a sunnier spot:

170813 seedlings

The Minnesota Midget melon plant has… melons!  They’re bigger than baseballs, but smaller than softballs. Hopefully they’ll ripen before the frost gets to them:

170813 melon


Visit Dave at Ourhappyacres, host of Harvest Monday.


Container Garden Update — July 30, 2017


It’s supposed to get hot this week. So far the harvests have been small and steady. The garden will likely go crazy starting in a few days.

The Tromboncino:

170730 zucchini

The tomatillos. It’s (past) time to run twine to support the lanky branches, they’re in danger of breaking off. Note the seedlings in the foreground:

170730 tomatillo

Continue reading Container Garden Update — July 30, 2017

Container Garden Update — July 16, 2017


It’s the middle of July, and we’re about to turn the corner from “growth” to “production”. The raspberries are in full swing:

170716 raspberry

There’s a lot more where that came from. Nice output from a pot on the patio:

170716 raspberry plant

The other fun find today were what I think are filet beans — the pods were all hiding under leaves:

170716 beans

We’re going to have a caprese salad tonight using some of this basil:

170716 basil

The Tromboncino zucchini are doing well. There are a few fruits, this one is about 1′ long:

170716 zucchini

The 8′ zucchini trellis:

170716 zucchini plant

Hiding on the north side of the zucchini plant are some spinach, basil, and romaine seedlings. A critter got into them last night, so now they have bird netting over the top:

170716 seedlings

The Minnesota Midget melons are coming along after the slow start:

170716 melon

The cucumbers. There’s one on the bottom right that should be ready in a few days:

170716 cucumber

We’re going to get a *lot* of tomatillos this year:

170716 tomatillo

The Lilac peppers:

170716 lilac peppers

The Carmens:

170716 carmen

The Oregon Spring. Doing their usual crazy early thing:

170716 oregon spring


An overview from the “hill”. It rained a little bit this morning:

170716 overview


Visit Dave at Ourhappyacres, host of Harvest Monday.

Boule On The 4th Of July


I’m getting more comfortable with the bannetons. I think they’re getting more “seasoned” too.

A boule “born” on the 4th of July:

170704 boule

The Recipe –  600 grams bread flour, 390 grams refrigerator water (baker’s percentage 65%), 13 grams salt (2.25%), 6 grams diastatic malt powder, 3/8 tsp instant yeast.

  1.  Combine ingredients and mix on low speed 8 minutes.
  2.  Cover and let rest 18 hours at room temperature. (65F – 70F)
  3.  Lightly spray oil the work surface. Remove the dough from the workbowl and stretch and fold the dough four times, once from each from top, bottom, left, and right. Gather the dough into a ball and place in a well-floured banneton, seam side up.
  4.  Cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap and let rest one hour. Place a baking stone in the middle of an oven, put a sheet tray on the bottom shelf. Preheat oven to 460F.
  5.  When the dough is ready, toss 7-8 ice cubes into the sheet tray. Turn the dough out onto the baking stone and slash the dough as you see fit.
  6.  Bake ~35 minutes or until the internal temperature is 200F.


This bread was a little bit of departure for me in a few ways:

  1.  It’s 600 grams rather than 400 grams. 400 grams has been my comfort zone.
  2.  This dough had a higher hydration (65%) than I’ve been able to “smoothly pull off” in the past when using a banneton. There has almost always been some sticking during release from the banneton. Not this time. I made a point to “aggressively and confidently” turn the dough out onto the baking stone. No sticking! That’s good thing!
  3.  The larger dough mass combined with the diastatic malt (and not using a dutch oven) created a relatively dark, thick, attractive crust.

The slashing was less than perfect:  I need to swap out the razor blades for something newer and sharper a little more often.


Container Garden Update — June 25, 2017


We’ve had our first couple of really warm days, and the fans are now out of the garage. The warm-weather veggies are digging it. I love gardening this time of year because everything is young and vibrant, and the garden is growing and doing it’s own thing with a minimum of work input.

We’re going to get lots of raspberries this year. Speaking of work- I need to do a better job with the bird netting:

170625 raspberry

The beans. The edamame have been much more energetic than the filet beans, and much more bug-resistant too:

170625 beans

The cucumbers are just starting to climb the trellis:

170625 cucumbers

One of the four melon plants made it. We filled the space in the box with a Siletz tomato. In theory they should coexist well:

170625 siletz and melon

The Oregon Spring are drinking by far the most water of anything in the garden. I’m not sure if that’s a function of the box, their location, or just how much respiring is happening with all that plant mass. It may about time to thin the interior of the jungle:

170625 oregon spring

The rest of the tomatoes (L-R) Roma, Old German, Black Krim. There’s a Purple Cherokee hiding behind the Old German:

170625 tomato

The tomatillos are up to the top of the 6′ trellis:

170625 tomatillo

The Tromboncino:

170625 zucchini

A closeup of the bottom of the Tromboncino. We’ll be eating zucchini soon:

170625 zucchini closeupAn overview:

170625 overview


Visit Dave at Ourhappyacres, host of Harvest Monday.

Container Garden Update — June 11, 2017


A few pictures of the June garden-

Overview #1, from up the “hill”:

170611 overview

Overview #2:

170611 overview2

The left column has three boxes of tomatoes, with the Tromboncino zucchini in the big trellis at the back. Continuing to the right in the front row- the next box over has the Oregon Spring tomatoes. The rest of the front row (L-R) is three pepper boxes and then a box of basil. The rear trellis contains the tomatillos, the center trellis has cucumbers, and the rightmost trellis has the surviving melon plant and a new Siletz tomato plant.

The tomatillos are chest-high:

170611 tomatillo

The Oregon Spring are doing their usual early thing. There are lots of blooms and a few fruit:

170611 oregon spring

The Tromboncino will need to be trained to the trellis soon:

170611 tromboncino

Moving to the front yard — we got another good batch of (very big and fat) peas:

170611 peas

There are still more on the vines, though the vines are beginning to look a little “cooked”:

170611 peas2

The lettuces in the top of the salad table are doing well:

170611 lettuce

The front yard now has four little volunteer pansies:

170611 pansy


Visit Dave at Ourhappyacres, host of Harvest Monday.


Container Garden Update — May 29, 2017


It’s almost June and the garden is rolling again. The Super Sugar Snap peas we planted indoors in February are now producing:

170529 peas

Attaching the trellis netting to the salad table seems to have worked very well:

170529 salad table

The view from the other side:

170529 pea plants

The Miner’s Lettuce is looking a little cooked, but the Arugula and Dill are happy in the back of the middle level:

170529 arugula and dill

Shortly after those photos were taken I draped some shade cloth over the salad table to try to discourage bolting. The lettuces on the top level are especially vulnerable on sunny days. (As an added bonus, the pea vines shade everything as well.)

One nice use for the Dill — Goat Cheese Coated With Minced Dill, Fire Roasted Tomato Flakes, and Sea Salt:

170529 goat cheese with dill

Moving to the backyard — we’re going to get a lot of rasperberries this year:

170529 raspberry

The beans we started in indoors in March(?) are coming along too. The Midori Giant Edamame seem to be more bug-resistant than the Maxibel Filet beans. The Edamame have the rounder leaves:

170529 beans

An overview of the non-pepper plants. The Minnesota Midget Melons (foreground, right) are limping along. We’ll get at least one survivor, but they all shocked due to either transplanting or the few nights we had in the low 40’s:

170529 plants

All of the squash/cucumbers/melons shocked to some degree this year, the melons just got the worst of it.

On the brighter side, the Oregon Springs are already bearing fruit:

170529 oregon spring


Visit Dave at Ourhappyacres, host of Harvest Monday.




The 2017 Summer Veggies


We chose to simplify a little bit this year and go more with things we know “work”, are easy to process, and will see quick use if they make it as far as the freezer. We added a few new things too, including melons. The descriptions below are copied from the Tilth Plant Sale PDF.

The non-pepper division.

The boy cat checking out the non-pepper group of boxes.

Melons –

4 of-  Minnesota Midget Cantaloupe:   65 days. Open pollinated heirloom from 1948 when it was introduced in Minnesota. Measures 4 inches across at maturity, when the rind is a soft yellow and slightly soft at the stem end. Sweet orange flesh with a good muskmelon flavor. The compact vines produce decent yields. Slice into thin delectable servings with an herb infused soft cheese and salted pistachios for a fantastic summer appetizer.

We were going to try these melons last year, but we missed the Tilth plant sale. This will be our first attempt at growing these. From what I’ve read the vines are supposed to get about 4′ long, and the fruits will likely need a pantyhose or sock support or something similar. Hopefully it’s a warm summer, otherwise we may be underwhelmed. 4 plants is one full box.

Sweet Peppers –

6 of-  Carmen:  60 – 80 days. Lusciously sweet when left to fully ripen to a deep red, this pepper is perfect for chopping and tossing straight into a salad. A great container plant and a good addition to a sunny veggie bed. 6 inch fruits on an upright plant.

6 of-  King of the North:   76 days. Open Pollinated. Here is a sweet bell pepper that will mature in short season climates. Its crisp, blocky fruit will turn from medium green to red if left on plant longer. Excellent raw in salads or dips. Great to use as stuffed pepper or in tempura recipes.

Jimmy Nardello:   76 days. Open pollinated heirloom. Thin-walled 8″ long curved tapering pointed fruits turn deep red when ripe with shiny wrinkled skin. Great eaten raw and super tasty when fried–very prolific! This seed variety is considered by Slow Food USA to be an endangered member of their “Ark of Taste.”

Sweet Chocolate:   60 days. Open pollinated. Early sweet, lobed, thick-walled fruits. Ripen from dark green to a rich chocolate color. Cold tolerant.

The Carmen and King of the North do well every year. They’re versatile in the kitchen, they’re easy to process, and they’re relatively work-free. One box of each.

The Jimmy Nardello is a pepper I’ve been reading about for years. Tilth finally had them in stock this year. I have high expectations.

Sweet Chocolate is another pepper we’ve been meaning to try and represents a little more variety in the pepper boxes.

Hot Peppers –

2 of- Anaheim College 64:   74 days. Open pollinated. Medium hot flavor make these short season peppers a hit for dips, sauces, stuffing with cheese or roasting. They are just like the anaheims you find in the store but without having traveled all those miles to get to you!

Anaheims are very mild hot pepper — we still have bags of Jalapenos and Serranos in the freezer, as well as dried Thai Chiles. We have no shortage of hot stuff, so we took a pass on the lava and went mellower.

We have two open slots for peppers, to be filled in the near future.

Tomatillos –

2 of- Verde:  70 days. Open pollinated. A classic deep green tomatillo with high yields, ‘Verde’ is ready when the husks have split and are drying. Very intense rich flavor which pairs well with sweet summer tomatoes and makes a fantastic salsa. The high yields will allow you to freeze them as you pick, saving some for winter sauces and stew ingredients. Give tomatillos room to spread and they will favor you with their riches.

Our favorite type of Tomatillo. Larger fruits = less handling. We grow these in an A-frame trellis and run extra twine for support for the branches. 2 plants fills one box.

Zucchini – 

4 of- Tromboncino (aka Zucchini Rampincante):   60-80 days. Open pollinated heirloom. A Tilth favorite, the flesh of this variety has a smooth buttery texture and a mild flavor—the taste of summer! The 12 to 18” long fruits are “trombone”- shaped and can grow in curly cues or hang like bells on a trellised vine. Harvest when they are a pale, grass green or leave a few fruits at the end of the season to mature to a buff color and enjoy them as you would a winter squash.

Historically we’ve done two Tromboncino plants in one box. I sort of screwed up when I picked up four. This variety is relatively mildew resistant and they grow vertically up a trellis, so I’m hoping that four plants will work anyway. We’re partial to the taste and texture of Tromboncinos. We’re unlikely to ever grow “standard” zucchini again.

Tomatoes (2 tomato plants go in one box) –

2 of- Oregon Spring:   60 days. Determinate. An extra-early variety that sets loads of meaty fruits weighing 3 to 5 oz., with excellent flavor. Compact plants set fruits even in cool weather and continue to yield all season long. Nearly seedless. A perfect choice for ketchup and sauces.

2 of- Roma:   75 days. Determinant. Premium canning tomato, ideal for sauce and paste. Pear-shaped scarlet fruits are thick and meaty with few seeds.

2 of- Black Krim:   75 days. Open pollinated heirloom. Indeterminate. From the Black Sea region of Russia, these 10-12oz beefsteak type tomatoes have a strong, rich flavor that is common with black tomatoes. One seed catalog noted that the fruit is best when half green and still firm. Very productive. Reportedly is a consistent favorite at tastings, so why not give it a shot?

Old German:   75-85 days. Indeterminate. Fruits are golden with reddish streaks. Produces large, rich and full bodied tomatoes. Great for fresh eating tomato, salads, and salsa.

Cherokee Purple:   85 days. Open pollinated heirloom.Indeterminate. Slightly flattened, 6-8 ounce tomatoes with a purple cast. Shoulders will remain green when ripe. Deep, rich, smoky flavor that’s not too acidic. For fans of the black/purple tomatoes, Cherokee Purple is one of the best This seed variety is considered by Slow Food USA to be an endangered member of their “Ark of Taste.”

We chose not to do eight different tomato plants this year. We passed on Taxis because their yellow sauce is very sweet and requires cutting with other red sauces. We also passed on Sungold (or “Sun Gold”). The small fruits of Sun Gold require a lot of fiddly work and the orange sauce is very very sweet.

The Oregon Spring are early and dependable. They taste good and they’re high-yielding. Normally we’d pair these with a Taxi.

The Black Krim win basically every taste test we do, and the deep purple fruits make great sauces.

The Romas were selected specifically for sauces. I thought we’d have more success this year if we did a mono-box and they didn’t have to compete with anything bigger or unruly.

We wanted one more “black/purple” tomato. We’ve grown Cherokee Purple in the past and enjoyed them, so that was the selection. Looking at the PDF, we may want to try “Carbon” next year.

The Old German sound like a great fit due to their size, versatility, and color. We’ve never grown these, but on paper they’re a winner.

That leaves one box left over, which will contain six sweet basil plants once the weather warms up.


Earthbox Covers At A Fraction Of The Price


EarthBox covers are sort of necessary evil. The covers that the company sells are of marginal quality, and they run around $2, each.

Instead we go to Home Depot and buy a roll 10′ x 25′ x 3.5 mil black plastic. Right now a roll is $12. The finished cost per cover is 20 cents, each.

To create the covers, unfurl the roll. The folded, short dimension is the 10′ length. Without unfolding it, cut it into 3′ pieces. You’ll get 8 pieces with 1′ left over at the end:

170504 Earthbox cover1

Then unfold each 3′ x 10′ section. Cut those every 24″, making five covers at 2′ long apiece.

170504 Earthbox cover2

As it turns out, the folds happen at about 8″ intervals and it makes measuring easy. They’re straight too, which is good if your scissors tend to wander.

To “attach” a cover to an EarthBox get a putty knife and tuck the plastic between the sides of the EarthBox and the dirt.

It’s easy to do, and we now spend $2.40 on covers per year instead of $20+.


I want my two dollars!


Focaccia, And The Twelve Steps Of Bread Baking Reduced To Four Activities


Authors write about “Twelve Steps” (or more) to baking bread, which sounds like a lot of processes:

  1. Scaling
  2. Mixing
  3. Bulk or Primary Fermentation
  4. Folding/Degassing
  5. Dividing/Scaling
  6. Pre-shaping
  7. Bench Rest
  8. Shaping/Panning
  9. Proofing/Final Fermentation
  10. Baking
  11. Cooling
  12. Storage/Eat


I “simplify” it in my head into four groups of “Activities”:

  1. Scaling
  2. Mixing
  3. Bulk or Primary Fermentation
  1. Folding/Degassing
  2. Dividing/Scaling
  3. Pre-shaping
  4. Bench Rest
  1. Shaping/Panning
  2. Proofing/Final Fermentation
  1. Baking
  2. Cooling
  3. Storage/Eat


At the end of each Activity there’s a natural rest break.


In effect then, Twelve Steps become Four Activities:

  1. Weigh and mix the dough, and let rest.
  2. Divide and shape the dough, and let rest.
  3. Shape/pan the dough, and let rest.
  4. Bake, cool, and eat.


That sounds pretty manageable, doesn’t it? If you don’t count the baking step it’s only three Activities. Easy.

I bring all this up because I’d gotten into the habit of skipping Activity #2 when making focaccia. I’d mix, then coax the loose dough into a parchment-lined tray, allowing for one rise in the tray.

And that was fine, sort of. The focaccia were well-received, though I thought they had the potential to be better. As it turns out, if you don’t skip an Activity that people having been doing for thousands of years the results improve! Behold the power of trial and error!

A two-pound focaccia from Easter dinner:

Cell phone pic, not color-adjusted.

Cell phone pic, not color-adjusted.

A one-pound focaccia we ate with dinner last night:

170422 focaccia

Re-introducing the initial bulk fermentation gives a better crumb structure — the bread becomes more airy, with uniform bubbles throughout. I think that’s partly because the extra rest and handling means that the bubbles get redistributed more evenly. I’ve cut back on the oil too. The end result is a lighter, less oily focaccia.

Both breads:  70% hydration, 6% oil, 2% salt (not counting the pink salt), about 1% diastatic malt, baked at 425F for 24 minutes.


Here’s a Cheap Seat Eats post from January of 2016 talking about a good result due to allowing for an initial 30-minute rise before transferring the dough to the tray. Which means I’ve re-re-learned something. That’s good, right? The biggest difference between that one and these two is that the oil percent for these two were 6% rather than the 3% in the 2016 post. That, and I allowed for a 30-minute pre-ferment in 2016. These two got ~1 hour.

A 100% hydration, 6% oil focaccia, August 2014.

Another 100% hydration, 4% oil focaccia, August 2014. 20-minute rest. Note the somewhat irregular hole structure.

80% hydration, 7% oil, September 2014. 1-hour rest.

70% hydration, 3% oil, December 2015. 1-hour rest. The crumb structure looks fairly tight, though that might just be the photo. It was served with stew, so I might have been targeting that result.

75% hydration, 8% oil, January 2014, topped with onions. No rest. The color isn’t very deep in the photo.

113% hydration, 9% oil, May 2013. 4-hour rest. Beranbaum’s recipe.


For a good, brief description of the Steps see this Reddit post.