Spring has sprung!

After several days of warmer weather (70’s) and rain in the middle of April, my garden finally started jumping up.  The spinach I had planted in March under 2-liter bottles have spouted.  My Oregon Snow Peas are also popping out of the ground (I thought they were goners with the long cold early spring).  But the real surprise was my overwintered Red Russian kale.  I even took them off my garden plan as they didn’t look good in late February and early March.  With the warm sun and then rain, they have really perked up.

Red Russian kale – 4/13/2013
Spinach sprouts among the leaves – 4/13/2013

It also looks like I’ll be collecting Seven Top turnip seeds as they are sending up flowers.  I let them go last fall thinking I could eat them this spring but forgot all about whole biannual thing.  I had enough greens to eat one meal, but I’ll let the plants use the rest of their strength to make babies.

Seven Top Turnip Greens going to seed – 4/27/2013
Seven Top Turnip Greens going to seed – 4/27/2013
Seven Top Turnip Greens going to seed – 4/27/2013

On 4/27/2013, I planted the first of my many tomato plants (four Sweet 100 Cherry plants) inside the cages in “Tomato Row”.  I’m a little early (or am I?) but the 10-day forecast looked good plus they were getting root bound. I also planted the only mini pepper that grew from the seeds I started (sigh). I have a pepper-producing AeroGarden mini Jalapeno that I may plant outside plus a mystery pepper I received from Amishland Seeds with my Amish Paste tomato seeds.  And I have a plant swap with Food Not Lawns Cleveland in a few weeks, so hopefully my pepper population will be increased over this one lonely plant.

Full garden view taken from the south – 4/27/2013
Caged Sweet 100 Cherry Tomatoes and Sugar Snap Peas – 5/4/2013
Planted Fenced Backyard Garden Plan- 4/30/2013

In April, I joined the Kent Community TimeBank.  The KCTB is an organization that allows for the trading of services between community members using a simple yet cool website.  So far I’ve given 2 hours of weeding to one member and received strawberry plants (which I planted in the northwest corner on 4/27) and compost from two other members.  The time bank allows me to use my gardening talents in the local community while receiving other valuable services (I’m looking at you, dog groomers, graphic designers, and equipment renters).  The best part is I’m getting in better physical shape without those pesky gym memberships.

Strawberry plants a Kent Community TimeBank member delivered on 4/27/2013

Sauteed Turnip Greens

One of the reasons I garden is to provide my family with as much of our own food as possible.  There is a certain pride in being able to point to a dish and say “I grew AND cooked that”.  It occurred to me that if I wanted to grow entire meals, I would have to go vegan (because there aren’t bacon plants – though I think Monsanto might be working on them).   To that end, I’ve collected some recipes from the Internet (and beyond) that I can totally produce from my produce (minus oils, sauces, spices and salt).  As the season progresses and I can make dishes and whole meals from my garden, SG will blog about it.

The Snarky Gardener overwintered Seven Top turnip greens and they have really came back like gangbusters (or is it ghostbusters?) this spring.  I’m not really a turnip green lover, but they are nutritious and easy to grow.  Seven Top turnips are grown just for their greens, as the roots are not really edible (not that I have tried).  Of course by letting them go over winter, the first thing they want to do is go to seed (thus the definition of “bi-annual”).  I figured these greens would be bitter as plants who bolt tend to get that way.  But a trial munch found them to be better than they were last summer as the cool weather must be what they like.  So I decided to make sauteed turnip greens with this spring bounty.

Overwintered Seven Top turnip greens – 4/13/2013
Overwintered Seven Top turnip greens – 4/13/2013
Overwintered Seven Top turnip greens (outside the fence on the west side of the garden) – 4/13/2013


I found an online recipe with just a quick search.  This one is common and can be used with other greens (spinach, kale, collard).  Most turnip green recipes include bacon or salted pork as a component because turnip greens tend to be bitter (supposedly because of their calcium content if you believe the Internet) and bacon makes everything taste better.  This recipe is vegan (no pork) but it suggests using balsamic vinegar or soy sauce which do taste good with bitter dishes (went with the vinegar this time).  The garlic I used for this did not come from my garden (not ready until July), but it was from the local farmer’s market, so close enough for now.


1.  Coat the bottom of a wok or skillet with high-heat vegetable oil (canola or peanut but not olive oil) and heat over medium heat.
2.  Peel and mince 2 garlic cloves and saute in the oil until lightly browned.
3.  Add ½ lb. turnip greens, rinsed and with the stems removed.
4.  Cook greens, turning them gently, until they darken and become limp.
5.  Season with salt, pepper and 2 tablespoons of either soy sauce or balsamic vinegar.

Don’t I look delicious?
Freshly picked turnip greens – 4/20/2013
Sauteing garlic in peanut oil – 4/20/2013
Sauteing the greens outside – 4/20/2013


WinterSown.org part 2

On 4/10/2013, as I looked down the plastic jug holes, little leaves finally sprouted!  From the looks of the leaves and the jug itself (the pink plastic ring on the top), they are kohlrabi and Swiss chard.  This wasn’t planted back on 3/22/2013, but one I prepped later on 3/28.  You will notice the spray bottle in the picture.  It’s my secret weapon (don’t tell anyone) to watering once the jugs are sealed up.  The WinterSown.org instructions say to take the duct tape off to water, but that sounded like a lot of work.  I just spray water in from the top, thus not disturbing the seeds nor over watering.

Kohlrabi and Swiss chard winter sown on 3/28/2013
Kohlrabi (clover shaped at the top) and Swiss chard seedlings – 4/13/2013
Kohlrabi (clover shaped at the top) and Swiss chard seedlings – 4/13/2013

The other jugs are also making progress, though not as much as this first one.  The Apiacea (or Umbelliferae) family jug (carrots, cilantro, celery, and chervil) is almost totally barren, but I’m not surprised as these usually takes longer to germinate than others.  If you look closely though, you can see a little green at the top of the picture, but since they are all the same family, I’m not sure which plant it is.  The Snarky Gardener will taste them later to see who is who.  If it tastes like licorice, it’s the chervil.  Cilantro and celery are very distinct tasting also.

Snarky Gardener fact:  they are known as Umbelliferae because their flowers spread out like little umbrellas (think Queen Anne’s lace).

Carrots, cilantro, celery, and chervil – 4/13/2013

The broccoli, leek, echinacea, and carrot below are still at a standstill, though you can see a few broccoli poking their little heads out at the top of the picture.  Seeds from the Brassicaceae family (cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, mustard, kale, radishes, and turnips) tend to sprout pretty quickly, with radishes being one of the first to develop (ready to eat in 3 to 4 weeks).

Broccoli, leek, echinacea, and carrot – 4/13/2013

Growing Potatoes with Leaf Mulch

Over the last year or so, I have read some Internet articles about using leaf mulch in the garden.  I had heard that leaf mulch would cause my garden’s pH level to get too acidic but wanted to look into it further.  After through research, I determined that this was probably not true, but that even if it was, using lime or wood ash would reverse any pH problems.  So, during last summer, I purchased a lawn sweeper for my mower as I have almost 1 acre of lawn and plenty of oak and maple leaves to pick up (and pick up and pick up . . .).

42-inch Lawn Sweeper
Lawn Sweeper from John Deere’s website. The driver is NOT the Snarky Gardener.

This year I decided to use some of this mulch I collected to cover my potatoes, especially after reading a potato mulching article or two.  You can see by the pictures that my garden is a sea of leaves.  They have been a pain in the butt to move around, especially when they are wet and several feet deep in places.  On the plus side, they will make my potato growing a lot easier than last year.  All I had to do is place the seed potatoes in the mulch eye side up and cover with leaves.  No messy digging or soil involved.  And later, as the potato leaves grow up, I will just pile up the more leaves around/under the stems like I did with dirt last year.

Note on 4/19/2013:  The severe April winds have blown off the leaves at times, exposing some of the potatoes.  I checked one for development and saw roots.  I’m not worried as I do know from experience that they will grow anyways (my compost pile potatoes kept putting out vines).   I’ll just keep covering them back up, though I might add some dirt to make it a non-issue.

Note on 6/15/2013:  Some of the potatoes are several feet high and flowering;  others have just started a little.  I moved 6 “barely starters” to a different part of the garden (where the spinach was) and buried them under dirt, thinking maybe a change of scenery would help.  I replaced these with red seed potatoes purchased at the farmer’s market.  We’ll have to see if it’s the potatoes or the site/mulch.

Potatoes planted 4/5/2013
Potatoes planted under leaf mulch – 4/5/2013
Potatoes sprouting up from leaf mulch – 5/12/2013
Potatoes coming up by my kale – 5/17/2013
Leaf mulched potatoes – 6/15/2013

Fenced Backyard Garden Update – 3/31/2013

Fenced Backyard Garden as of 3/31/2013

March has been a cold and dry month. I was hoping to have more in place by now, but my houseful of starts means April should be busy. Last weekend did give me the opportunity prep the tomato/pea cages and the pea/corn mounds.  The corn mounds are my version of a Three Sisters Garden with early bush peas replacing the pole beans.  I could also go with climbing peas but then I would have needed to plant those after the corn had been planting (timing is everything).  Also, it’s official – the rosemary is dead as it didn’t overwinter.  But I did find rosemary arp at a local garden center, which is supposed to be perennial in Northeast Ohio (fingers crossed for luck).

The Snarky Gardener will be direct sowing in the next week.  Included will be kale (Toscano and Red Russian), kohlrabi, Swiss chard, lettuce, and peas (bush and climbing).  Leeks, kale, spinach and lavender will be transplanted from hardened off starts.

Snarky Gardener definition:
“Hardening off” means taking your starts outside more and more over time to get them acclimated to the outside world.  All the wind, sunshine, and temperature swings take some getting used to for your little ones.

Homemade tomato and pea cage
“Tomato Row” with WinterSown milk cartons and 2 liter bottles in the background. 3/31/2013
Fenced Backyard Garden Plan for April as of 4/2/2013

Steel Fence Tomato and Pea Cages

The Snarky Gardener spent the weekend raking leaf mulch and digging holes.  In preparation for climbing peas and tomatoes, I brought out the tomato cages I “built” last year. Two years ago I purchased 150 feet of 60″ tall steel fencing (to protect my garden from critters).  50′ + 50′ + 20′ + 20′ (50′ X 20′ garden) equaled 140 feet of needed fence with 10 feet leftover.  Last year, I had an eureka moment and decided to use the extra as a tomato cage as I hadn’t had much luck with store bought ones. Plus the fencing looked a lot like the pea netting I had seen on the Internet. So I curled the fence around like a giant C, buried it into the ground about 6 inches, put dirt over it to hold it down, and planted peas around it. After it worked so well, I ended up buying another 50 feet and cutting 6 more 4 to 5 foot sections (leaving 20 feet to increase my 50′ X 20′ to 50′ X 30′ this year). Did I mention the SG uses math all the time at his day job?

Homemade tomato and pea cages – 3/31/2013

So this spring I raked open 6 spots (pant, pant, pant) and broke ground on “tomato row”. This area was brand new and untilled, so I had to bring out “Big Blue”, my broadfork purchased from the Valley Oak Tool Company.  Weighing in at 18 pounds, it’s a solid piece of equipment and easy to use (though it would have been easier if SG was in better shape).  I was thinking of taking pictures or video of me actually using it, but thought the video on the Valley Oak site would do the trick.  Next week I’ll be planting climbing snow peas around each cage.  Last year none of the experimental peas made it back into the house as I’m a grazer but 6 times as many hopefully means some for everyone else.

Breaking up the soil with my broadfork “Big Blue” – 3/30/2013
“Big Blue” taking a break – 3/30/2013
Tomato cage buried in place – 3/30/2013
Interlocking the top for stability – 3/30/2013
Tomato cages with too much mulch piled up behind them – 3/30/2013
“Tomato Row” – 3/30/2013
Caged Sweet 100 Cherry Tomato plant and Peas – 5/4/2013
Caged Tomatoes and Peas – 5/4/2013
Sylvia’s Amish Low Acid Red tomatoes – 6/17/2013
Sylvia’s Amish Low Acid Red tomatoes – 7/4/2013