You Got Rocks in Your Head! No, Just Protecting Tomatoes Against The Cold (yet another Gardening Interlude)

Rocks and a Wall O Water

  Moving into May - and my isn't this 2013 slipping by fast - the danger of frost is gone for most gardeners, but it's been a wacky enough spring. Last average frost date for our zone 6 area is about April 15th.  As usual, we were a little ambitious and set out tomato and pepper seedlings a week before, and got whacked for it.  We've had three days of near freezing overnight temps since then.  Besides shuttling young plants in and out of the house and covering young plants with black trash bags, there's a couple of low-maintenance ways for protecting tomatoes from the frost. First up, just simple rocks.   Stones provide good thermal mass. If you've got the time and inclination, it's a very good idea to build … [Read more...]

Gardening Interlude: A Quick Way to Make a Vegetable Garden Bed

Start with three...

Say you'd like to get a few pepper plants in the ground, but don't feel like digging up that part of the back lawn, nor laying down a tarp and waiting for the grass to die off. Plus, you're busy, and don't really have time to build a proper raised bed. No problem, here's a work-around and a quick way to make a vegetable garden bed. A few bags of good topsoil or potting soil is about all we need to get started. Lay them out in a 2 x 4 or a 3 x 3 grid, and cut some openings in the tops, like so: Make sure that you don't cut too close to the corners, otherwise the sides will slump and the soil will want to spill out. Next, take a nice long screwdriver and poke some holes in the bottom of the bag. We want to have good … [Read more...]

Gardening Corner: Winter Prep and Proper Mulching

Straw mulch on on the hugelkultured tomato bed

November is good time to start thinking about next spring's gardening season, and prepping the raised beds for winter. The tomato bed below is the same one that was heavily modified this spring, into a hugelkultur bed of sorts.  Now it's done producing its hundreds of pounds of tomatoes, and it's time for a rest.  With the hacienda being further out east towards the Ozarks, temps are a little cooler than Tulsa, and the tomatoes were hit with an early frost.     The winter prep task list for this bed: Disposing of the tomato plants.  Most important to not just pull them up, root ball and all. Soil structure and integrity are an important part of soil fertility, and just simply eradicating plants releases soil … [Read more...]

Using Cattle Panels to Support Tomato Plants

Operation Tomato Support gets under way

  Staking up and supporting tomato plants has got to be one of the more time-consuming pastimes of the home gardener, and there's plenty of ways to do it.  Circular cages, bamboo stakes, stacked hoops, special ties that won't hurt the vines, you name it, the home stores will be glad to sell it to you. If you have a garden and a library, you have all you need. ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero In past seasons, I've used bamboo and wood stakes in the raised beds, and spent quite a bit of time tying the vines to the stakes.    Last year, I tried my hand at cattle panels. Cattle panels are basically farm fencing material made of heavy-gauge galvanized wire.  I found some just laying around on our newly-purchased acreage, and put it … [Read more...]

Building Raised Garden Beds, Part 2

Square edged landscaping rocks used for our backyard flower beds. By decree of Mrs. 101, no vegetables allowed in these spaces (although I've snuck in a few herbs).   The viburnum is flowering nicely, and the peonies are up on deck.  Note sprouting morning glories all over the lawn. I mistakenly planted one against the fence last year, and now they've sprouted all over the backyard.

'Tis the season to garden and put in new garden beds.  In Part 1 of this article a couple days ago, we went over in detail the new and improved hugelkultur bed. Below are some more thoughts on the how and why of raised garden beds. First a look at the two other new raised beds and the one wide row.  The onion bed below is a little wider than conventional, but I had a couple of long big pieces at 57 inches, and I hated to waste good wood by trimming it.   Including the eight inches of timber width, the total bed width ended up at more than 5 feet. The raised bed's footprint covers last season's pole bean patch.  Legumes are plants considered to be a nitrogen "fixers" (probably the subject of a whole future post on green … [Read more...]



This recipe is adapted on our own family recipe, passed down from Nonna Clelia (Great-grandmother) to Nonna Silvana (Grandmother) to Mamma (my Mom) to me.  With the celery and carrot, it’s very close to the traditional Ragu’ alla Bolognese, that  most popular of pasta toppings, and one of those recipes that is endlessly customizable, as varied as there are cooks with pots in the world. Say the word Ragu’, and a picture of a tomatoey pasta sauce immediately springs to mind, but in fact, the classic Ragu’ alla Bolognese has very little tomato  in the ingredients.  Even Italians can’t agree on this one.  Each region has its own distinct variety:  up north in Friuli, thyme and marjoram are the prevalent … [Read more...]

Budgeting for the Spring Garden


It’s been a while since a gardening post.  Nothing much happens in wintertime, except planning, plotting and budgeting for the spring planting campaign Yesterday I placed our order for new seeds packs from Territorial Seed Company.  Here’s what does $74.44 buys you: Tomatoes – Stupice, Viva Italia, Cuore di Bue, Principe Borghese, Costoluto Genovese, and Golden San Marzano. Squash – Eight Ball and Marina di Chioggia Peppers – Peperoncini, California Wonder, and Red Ruffled Peas – Alderman and Dakota Basil – Purple Ruffled, Sweet Basil, and Lemon Balm Swiss Chard – Bright Lights Pole Beans – Supermarconi and Kentucky Wonder Cabbage – Parel, Snow Crown Corn – Sugar Dots, Sugar Pearl Greens – … [Read more...]

Thoughts for Tax Season

Image via Wikipedia The time is nigh for that time of the year.  Spring is coming, birds are singing, flowers blooming, and the IRS comes looking for its cut.  This is when we either agonize over how much goes out, or expect a nice chunky return from state and federal – which most of the time is already spent long before it shows up in the mail.  This time of year is good for a little reflection and discussion on an oft-debated topic. What are income taxes used for? Not roads and schools....much. This seems to be a reflexive argument, and for the life of me I don’t where it originates.  “We need income taxes to pay taxes for roads and schools”.  Except that they're not.  It’s relatively simple to fact check … [Read more...]

Eats for the Holidays: Pasta San Giovanni

Image via Wikipedia Not exactly a Christmas recipe, but one that's made in Florence around the time of the Feast of St. John the Baptist.  At least that's how it reads in the glossy Foods of Tuscany recipe book.  I've also seen this by other names, like Pasta alla Carrettiere (take out the parsley, add hot pepper).  It's a pasta recipe that's reasonably simple to make, but also requiresa bit of  attention and practice. Basic ingredients are a 1/4 cup of olive oil, a small can of tomato paste, a package of pasta (spaghetti or rigatoni), 4 or 6 whole peeled garlic cloves, and lots of fresh chopped parsley. For the red wine, let's go with a Fish Eye Shiraz, inna box.  And of course, loads of good Parmesan cheese. … [Read more...]


Bruschetta has become hugely popular in restaurants, hasn’t it. To the point that it’s regularly mispronounced by teenaged food servers ( It’s Broo-skeh-tah with a hard “K” sound in the middle, not a soft mushy “bruh-she-tah” sound). A basic bruschetta is really a “Fett’unta”, which literally translated means “oiled slice”.  A slightly toasted bread slice, rubbed with a garlic clove, salted and peppered, drizzled with olive oil, and eaten while still warm. Today’s bruschetta is tarted up with all kinds of toppings, but still tastes great.  And if you whip some up for your guests at your next meal, you’ll look like a wordly, well-traveled gourmet cook. Here’s some basic Ingredients: A baguette … [Read more...]