Winter Solstice Greens

Purple Top Turnips and Corn Salad – 12/22/2013
Corn Salad – 12/22/2013

On 12/22/2013, we had a Winter Solstice miracle with temperatures in the 60’s with just a little rain. This allowed the Snarky Gardener to check out his garden to see what had survived. The mustard was a dried out brown, as the previous week’s lows in the teens killed it off (as expected). Next year’s potato patch will appreciate the extra biomass, fumigation and sulfur the mustard will provide. What did survive was the purple top turnips and the corn salad (pictured above) plus onions, leeks, and thyme. I picked through the turnip greens to thin them out then covered the remainder with leaf mulch to protect them until mid-March (like I did earlier this fall for the spinach, rosemary, and peas). Leeks and thyme were also pulled before the weather turned nasty again the next day.

Even though I’ve been fall gardening the last few years, I’m always amazed at what survives through the cold. This winter has been early and often with plenty of ice and snow. But out in the garden the greenness and deliciousness continues.  And March is just around the corner.

Washing the corn salad – 12/22/2013
Thyme and leeks – 12/22/2013


The Great Indoor Tomato Experiment Continues

Alternative title:  The Report of My Tomatoes’ Death was an Exaggeration

Other alternative title:  It’s a Winter Solstice Miracle!

Snarky Orange (left) and Chocolate cherry tomatoes doing much better – 12/22/2013
Flowers turning into baby tomatoes on the chocolate cherry tomato plant – 12/22/2013

After a scare with droopy branches, my tomatoes continue to soldier on.  It was a case of over-fertilizing and once I replaced the water, the two plants recovered with only some leaf damage.  As you can see from the picture, the Chocolate Cherry on the right seems to be doing better, but it’s a more robust variety anyways.  I probably should have removed the flowers from both to help with the recovery, but my quest for winter tomatoes overpowered my logic and common sense.  The chocolate cherry tomato plant’s flowers are turning into little tomatoes (yum!).  Now all that’s left is the waiting (and waiting and waiting).

The AeroGarden’s hood is a full mast (2 feet high) so now I’ll have to keep up with the pruning.  I finally put in the trellis system, which is why they look like marionettes.  The vines have been sucking up all the water I pour and then some. Most of the time, AeroGardens can go a week or 2 before you have to refill. These are so needy, but soooo worth it. Hopefully the next post will show fruit ready to pick.

How To Succeed at Your First Food Swap

Have you ever wanted to attend a food swap?

Want to know what to do at your first one?

Traded fresh rosemary and baked breads for the bounty above – 12/17/2013

The Snarky Gardener and the Snarky Girlfriend have been fortunate to have attended three Countryside Conservancy food swaps this year.  A food swap is a gathering where people bring food they have grown and/or made with some local ingredients.  Items are “bid on” through a silent sign up sheet per unique item.  If you want something, you write your name down along with what you have to swap.  Then, when the bidding is over, everybody swaps who wants to swap.

Here are some general rules to help your first food swap a success:

1.  Read the rules first so you have an idea of what you are getting yourself in to.

2.  Bring surplus from your garden and/or make something you’ve made before.

3.  Google and Pinterest are your friends.

4.  Label your produce with your name, contact information,  ingredients, and storage instructions.

5.  Know that you may be bringing some of your produce back home, so be willing to eat your own dog food (so to speak).

6.  Speaking of which, you can make pet treats as well as people food.

7.  Be ready to use your people skills as mingling and talking about yourself and your stuff will be expected.

8.  Be open to what other people have.  Trades are between 2 parties so if you are more accepting, you’ll get more trades.

9.  Have a variety of products, though not too many.  3 unique offerings is probably a good number.

10.  Packaging does matter.  If it looks professional, people are more likely to want it.

Good luck and happy trading!


Kent Ohio Food Not Lawns


Gardening may seem like just a hobby to many people, but in fact growing food is one of the most radical things you can do: Those who control our food control our lives, and when we take that control back into our own hands, we empower ourselves toward autonomy, self-reliance, and true freedom.

Flores, Heather (2011-10-19). Food Not Lawns: How to Turn Your Yard into a Garden And Your Neighborhood into a Community (p. 2). Chelsea Green Publishing. Kindle Edition.


The Snarky Gardener’s entry into gardening came about accidentally with a previous landlord tilling a 10′ by 50′ swath in the goldenrod infested, brick clay hard, no-mans land behind my duplex. Having little idea what I was doing, I filled the freshly tilled ground with plants I saw my parents grow when I was young – tomatoes, beans, peas, corn, onions, carrots, turnips, eggplants, and others. Some did great (beans, onions, and peas), others mediocre (tomatoes, turnips), and others not at all (carrots didn’t even come up, corn was stunted, etc). But I had enough success to ask myself “Could I grow all my own food?” And for me, that question changed everything, though I’m still far from that goal.

I first heard about “Food Not Lawns” when I attended my first Food Not Lawns Cleveland meeting in January 2013. With my food gardening background, it resonated with me instantly, though I didn’t (and still don’t) consider food gardening “radical”.  I wanted to find a group of like minded people to bond with, but organizations like gardening clubs didn’t seem to fit me.  The idea of growing plants and flowers just for their looks seemed superficial to me.  This group felt like my kind of people.

After recent discussions with Mari Keating, the fearless leader of Food Not Lawns Cleveland and rereading the book, I’ve decided to take the next step by starting “Kent Food Not Lawns“.   The FNL movement is “hyper-local” meaning each group should have a limited mile radius influence.  Since I’m 35 miles or so from the Cleveland group, creating a new one near me made sense (and keeps me from driving so much).  My hope is to find other local gardeners who want to grow food and help others do the same.


A Setback for the Great Indoor Tomato Experiment

Just when I thought things were going along peachy for my indoor tomatoes, this is what I found yesterday morning.

Droopy tomato leaves – 12/11/2013
Droopy tomato leaves -12/11/2013

When I saw my plants in distress, I gave them more water and AeroGarden fertilizer.  Later on during the day, I jumped on the “Internets” to see what might be the problem and found an article about overfertilization.  If plants have too much, they cannot absorb water, which is what the saggy leaves reminded me of.   So it looks like I caused the droopiness by using some homemade “Comfrey/Turnip plant juice” a few days ago.  Either this liquid mixture was too strong or maybe the pH was too extreme (should probably check, huh?).  And of course by adding even more fertilizer, I made everything worse (my overenthusiastic self did it again).  So last night I replaced all the water in the AeroGarden with distilled only.  I think this did the trick as they look a little better this morning, though we did lose some lower branches.  I’ll post more pictures this weekend.

Baked Kale Chips

With winter around the corner on 11/18/2013, I decided to bring in some of my Red Russian kale.


I received a baked kale chip recipe from a work-related health event this month. Being that I’m a better gardener than a cook, I usually go with easy recipes (the simpler the better). This one would only get easier if the instructions were “Just eat the kale raw.”  The only issue I had with this was overcooking (also known as burning).  Start checking at 6 minutes in 30 second increments.

On a side note, I learned during a work road trip that kale chips in a plastic baggy look like something else to the untrained eye.  To this day people are still putting air quotes around the word “kale” as in “Don’t you get the munchies after you eat your ‘kale’?”

Baked Kale Chips

Kale Chips Recipe

Makes: 4 servings, about 2 cups each

Active Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

– 1 large bunch kale, tough stems removed, leaves torn into pieces (about 16 cups)
– 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
– 1/4 teaspoon salt


  1. Position racks in upper third and center of oven; preheat to 400°F.
  2. If kale is wet, very thoroughly pat dry with a clean kitchen towel; transfer to a large bowl. Drizzle the kale with oil and sprinkle with salt. Using your hands, massage the oil and salt onto the kale leaves to evenly coat. Fill 2 large rimmed baking sheets with a layer of kale, making sure the leaves don’t overlap. (If the kale won’t all fit, make the chips in batches.)
  3. Bake until most leaves are crisp, switching the pans back to front and top to bottom halfway through, 8 to 12 minutes total. (If baking a batch on just one sheet, start checking after 8 minutes to prevent burning.)


  • Make Ahead Tip: Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.
  • Note: Choose organic kale when possible. Nonorganic can have high pesticide residue.

Safe Seed Pledge


Because of my seed saving efforts, the Snarky Gardener has signed the Safe Seed Pledge, which states:

“Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend. We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations. For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners and consumers who want an alternative,

We pledge that we do not knowingly buy, sell or trade genetically engineered seeds or plants.

The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families or kingdoms, poses great biological risks as well as economic, political, and cultural threats. We feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release. More research and testing is necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically engineered seeds. Further, we wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems and ultimately healthy people and communities.”

This does mean I’ve stopped my evil experiments to create plants that are actually snarky (with snide remarks and sarcastic attitudes), but I think we’re all better off this way.