Thursday, February 10, 2011

February garden update

Phoenix College garden beginning of February 2011.  Things are growing extremely well at this point.  Note however, the yellow pea plants trellised on the left side of the garden.  Normally these plants are green but recent freezing temperatures killed a lot of the plants off.

The past month has been pretty interesting in the garden.  The weather has been very dry with only 0.1 inch of rainfall, we harvested quite a bit of food, and we have had five nights with freezing temperatures.  The lack of rain and especially the freezing nights have really set back a lot of the produce in the garden.  Freezing temperatures slowed down the sweet pea production a lot and killed all of the pepper plants.  Everything else seems unaffected though by the cool temperatures.  This winter has been exceptionally cold with a total of eight nights of freezing temperatures, this hasn't happened in the last seven years that I have been gardening in Phoenix.  Normally we have anywhere from zero to two nights of freezing temperatures each winter.  In-fact, the previous two years had no freezing temperatures at all!  Looking at the weather forcast though it appears to be warming up but it still looks to be dry.  Hopefully we will get a strong March rainfall to break this dry spell.

Here is what we produced this month:
College garden
Shell peas: 26 oz.
Radishes: 11 oz.
Lettuce: 8oz.
Swiss Chard: 19 oz.
Cilantro: 7 oz.
Broccoli: 10 oz.
Carrots: 79 oz.
Turnips: 24 oz.
Onions: 2 oz.
Hours of work: 2.25
Total calories burned: 689
Total calories produced: 1733
Costs: $0
Produce: $28.56

Home garden
Shell peas:  32 oz.
Radishes:  17 oz.
Swiss Chard:  17 oz.
Broccoli:  33 oz.
Carrots:  52 oz.
Onions:  9 oz.
Hours of work: 2.25
Total calories burned: 689
Total calories produced: 1656
Costs: $0
Produce: $28.22
Season totals:
$ Totals: -$48.45+28.56=-19.89
Total hours worked: 9.25
Calorie totals:-1493-689+1733=-449

$ Totals: -$40.38+28.22=-12.16
Hours worked: 11.75
Calorie totals:-2087-689+1656=-1120

So we are still in the hole both dollar and calorie wise.  Tracking all of these things has been quite a learning experience, which hopefully will increase my garden productivity in the future.  Productive foods for these gardens seem to be carrots, onions, peas, cilantro, chard, radishes, and lettuce.  These vegetables produce a lot in a very small space and relatively quickly.  Broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower are extremely space intensive and have produced next to nothing.  Unfortunately, over half of the gardens are planted in these three unproductive vegetables.  I will have to change my gardening plans accordingly for next fall.  Calorie wise, again we are not planting a lot of calorie dense foods.  Carrots and turnips help a lot with the calorie balance though.

I will post another update in March.  Hopefully we break even at least dollar wise by that time but we'll see...

Starting sweet potatoes

Start sweet potato slips for planting by placing a sweet potato in a jar of water.  The bottom of the potato will start to root and the top will form bunches of leaves (slips).  The slips are small vines that can eventually be planted in the ground.

From everything I have heard, sweet potatoes are some of the hardiest, most easily grown, most versatal garden plants in the south.  While I have grown sweet potato vines before I have never grown them for food.  From my experience, the vines are extremely tough, so tough in-fact it can be difficult to kill them.  The only thing that can kill them is a hard frost, which here in Phoenix only happens every three years or so.  Late this spring I will be planting some sweet potato slips in hopes of producing some potatoes for next fall.  Sweet potato slips simply are short vines that sprout off of a sweet potato.  You can buy them through seed catalogs but they are also extremely easy to produce on your own.  All you need is a sweet potato.

1. Set a sweet potato in a jar of water such as in the picture above.

2. The sweet potato will start to root in the water and form bunches of leaves at the top.  These bunches of leaves will eventually lengthen and turn into vines.  These short vines are the slips.  The sweet potato can be left in the water and used as a house plant if you don't want to grow potatoes.

3. Once a slip is about 8 inches or longer, cut it off and plant it in soil.  This slip will root in moist soil and form tubers.  Tubers simply are roots a plant uses to store its food, in this case the tuber is a sweet potato.

4. It will take at least 100 days to form sweet potato tubers and after that time you can dig them up and eat them.

A possibly easier way to do this is to simply partially bury a sweet potato in moist soil.  Eventually a plant will take off from this buried potato.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Finally, the olives are done!

Finally, after over three months the olives are finished.  (Click here to see original post) I was getting a little discouraged because the brining process was taking way longer then some of my original sources suggested, months longer in-fact.  Originally, I read on a few websites that brining would only take one month or so.  Well apparently that is very wrong, it takes much closer to three months for the salt method I described on the original post.  I did however find an excellent paphlet produced by the University of California.

The pamphlet can be found here: Olives: safe methods for home pickling

This free pamphlet has all the detailed information you would need for a variety of different types of olive processing.  If you choose to process olives be sure to follow their directions closely and carefully.

As for my finished product I would have to say it is pretty good and the experiment a success.  I do think the olives are a little mushy and have a little bit of a washed out flavor though.  Both of these are likely a result of brining for a few weeks too long.  Next time I will be sure to stick close to the University of California methods now that I am familiar with them.

Here are my fresh olives soaking in a ~10% sea salt solution on the first day of the experiment.
Here are the finished olives three months later soaking in a ~5% salt, 25% vinegar solution with the juice of two lemons, garlic and chili peppers added for flavor.
Some of the finished olives.

So after draining the olives from the brining solution I put them in a 5% sea salt, 25% white vinegar solution with the juice of two lemons, two cloves of sliced garlic and dried chili peppers mixed in for flavoring.