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From seeds to harvest, Crystal Apple Cucumbers

Crystal apple cucumber

This is a not-so-known variety of cucumbers.  I would put this in my exotic vegetable category.    When was the last time anyone has seen crystal apple cucumbers in the grocery store?  Have you heard of “crystal apple cucumbers?” This variety grows massive vines.  Make sure to monitor the nature pollination process.  If you notice the plant producing too many flower blossom, but no fruit, lack of pollination might be problem.  Do not hesitate to pollinate the plants yourself.

I purchased these seeds out of curiosity and from the desire to support the “Seed Saver Exchange.”

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2012 in From seeds to harvest

 

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From seeds to harvest, Cotton

I a new category called “from seed to harvest” to feature vegetables and herbs that were grown from  my seed collection.  These plants have all grown from my container garden in North Austin, on my patio.

Cotton plant in my “From seeds to harvest” collection

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2012 in From seeds to harvest

 

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Growing and cooking with poblano Mexican chili peppers

Poblano peppers

My poblano peppers have been growing in my patio garden for ~ 6 and a half  months!  This tedious process started from seeds.   After I realized that mother nature wasn’t getting the job done,  I had to step in and pollinate the plants myself.   Soon after, the plant exploded with tiny peppers,  growing incredibly fast – right in my patio container garden.

Home grown poblano peppers.  This plant is hanging off the  balcony

As always, I wanted to grow something unique,   I had never grown before.   Well looks like I finally have a winner.    The first batch of poblano peppers were  harvested  today.  This bunch  averaged about  ~ 3 inches (7.5 cm) long.   They were  deep dark green and very shinny.   My peppers were organically grown and shorter than most poblanos you might have seen in Mexican markets and grocery stores.

The dried version are called “ancho.”   They  are used in many Mexican dishes, and sauces.   I was first introduced to these peppers through a Mexican friend who roasted them on both sides, covered them in plastic, waited a few minutes, then removed the skin and seeds and last chopped them into pieces to be served with rice.   I loved them!  If you are wondering about how they taste, they are similar to bell peppers.  In fact, these peppers are in the same family.

Harvested poblano chili peppers.  Notice the intense dark green color

Poblano chillies produce a  flavor that is remarkable when they are  roasted.  Let me tell you where my home grown variety ended up.  I placed one finely cut roasted poblano chili in a pot of black beans.  The other pieces landed up in my corm bread.   Both dishes were delicious.

Cornbread with roasted poblano peppers and onions

Thee are many ways to cook poblano peppers.  Please see the links to the recipes below.  I am very tempted to stuffed these the New Orleans way.    If I do,  I will add more photographs to this post.

It is an amazing feeling to practice sustainable living.   You can do it if you try.  It only takes the desire to do it, and then the will to see it through until the end.

See article http://caraharpole.hubpages.com/hub/Poblamo-Chili-Peppers

Seeds:

Rare Seeds
http://rareseeds.com/petaluma-seed-bank/
http://rareseeds.com

Seeds of Change
Organically certified
http://www.seedsofchange.com

Magazine devoted to heirloom seeds
http://rareseeds.com/magazine/

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Chile Relleno
http://mexicanfood.about.com/od/techniques/ht/chilerelleno.htm

video

Turkey Mole Poblano recipe
http://www.montefin.com/diet/low-carb-recipes/turkey-mole-poblano.html

Turkey-Poblano Tostadas
http://www.marthastewart.com/316744/turkey-poblano-tostadas

Martha Stuart

Mole Poblano from Pati’s Mexican Table
http://patismexicantable.com/2010/03/mole-poblano-de-los-angeles.html

Stuffed Poblano peppers

Martha Stewart
http://www.marthastewart.com/337177/stuffed-poblanos

Another recipe, stuffed with chicken
http://www.thomlarussa.com/Peppers.php

cornbread
https://caraharpole.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/fluffy-down-home-cornbread%E2%80%A8-like-momma-used-to-make-impress-your-friends-today/

You can modify the cornbread recipe by reducing the flower by 1/4 cup and adding more corn meal.

 

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The Aeroponic Experiment – soilless gardens

Aeroponic is a method of growing plants without soil. This method supplies nutrient filled water directly to the roots of the plants.

This is my first aeroponics project and here is the finished container- its ready to go.

I visited a local hydroponic store to get more information as well as purchasing the volcanic pebbles, and air pump and micro-sprinkler heads. (see my article )

I drilled tiny holes in the PVC pipes, where I placed the micro sprinklers.

Pre-made templates for the cuttings was a must. It created uniformity and there were no second guessing. Make sure to get insulation tape to keep the water inside of the container.

The system to make sure all of the mesh pods received enough water.

Estimated total cost to build this system was approximately $30.00

 
 

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How to set up an Aeroponics system

Produced by Cara Harpole

Feel free to follow the steps or read my article:

http://caraharpole.hubpages.com/hub/Aeroponics-The-Experiment-in-my-Small-Urban-Garden

Step 1

Gather your materials, before you do anything. Then make a template for each size you will use.

Every system needs a water pump. Consult with a hydroponic pro for the correct unit according to the volume of water used. This pump was over kill.

Step 2

The circles are strategically placed according to the mesh pot sizes used. Place them as you wish. Draw circles accordance with the mesh pots diameters. You will need to make room for a tight snug fit.

Step 3

Cover your openings for a snug fit. You can find something better than what I used at your local hardware store.

Step 4

The lid need to be insulated to make sure water doesn’t leak.  This this tricky business.  I used materials on hand.  Not a good idea.  You need materials which will create an air tight seal.  This is a learning experience.  Find out what works best for you.

Brite Ideas, Hydroponics & Organics (Austin, Texas) is pictured.

You will need to find a Hydroponic store in your area.  You will be making many trips and find yourself meeting others who are passionate about hydroponics.

I used volcanic pebbles. They need to be washed before placement into the mesh pots. You can see a lot of residue in this photo. It might take a few washings before they are ready for use.

Step 5

Design your own water delivery unit which fits both your water pump and your housing unit.  I used PVC pipes for this experiment.  I would have liked to find something made with natural materials.  Bamboos would have been perfect however,  the fit would have been challenging.  Do you own research on safety and alternative materials.  please share your findings with us.

This is what makes or breaks your system.  If you unit can not deliver water and nutrients properly,  the roots of your plants will dry.  Moisture and aeration is a must for your roots.

Step 6

Finally, everything is set in place

It’s time to plant!

You can read my article about the mechanics of Aeroponics at the following link:

http://caraharpole.hubpages.com/hub/Aeroponics-The-Experiment-in-my-Small-Urban-Garden

 
 

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A world you probably haven’t seen– Louisiana’s swamp

A World You probably haven’t seen– Louisiana’s swamp

By Cara Harpole

If more Americans knew about the natural wonders of the Atchafalaya Basin, I believe the shear numbers of tourist would put Henderson Swamp on the map.    This place is a gold mine.   Many have passed this magnificent  natural wonder while traveling East  (from Texas) on the I-10 freeway.

Atchafalaya Basin, Henderson Swamp

The short glimpse on the over-pass does not come close to the awesome spectacular hidden beautiful and mystery of the swamp.


The majestic natural raw beauty of Louisiana’s  swamp wetlands is often like a buried treasure in the abyss.  Many, (including natives) have not ventured off into the heart of the Atchafalaya Basin.  After living in Louisiana for so many years, even I,  a person who has traveled all around the world, had no idea of the affect the swamp would have on me.

Atchafalaya Basin, Henderson Swamp

The decision came while  taking a  road trip from Texas to New Orleans, then to Memphis, Nashville and then back to Austin, Texas in June of 2010.   I was determined to settle the matter and finally do what my heart desired for so many years.   I  booked a room at what I thought was a  3+ star property that turned out to be the hotel from hell in Baton Rouge.    I called a local Cajun tour guide, Ernest Couret and made arrangements to take a private tour in the Henderson Swamp.

I must say I was a little reluctant to enter  depths of the swamps.  Curious ruled the day and I was on my way.  Mr Couret turned out to be the nicest tour guide I could have possible hoped for.    This proud cajun was professional  and knowledgeable  as they come.

His father, Mr. Couret Sr., ran tours through these parts for many years.  In fact  Mr. Couret’s grandfather, started the swamp tour business  over 100 years. These are the best type of guides–natives who really know the land and have lived in the swamp lands for generations.  These are hard core Cajuns who don’t run from the site of an alligator.  They eat alligators!

The tour consisted of a boat ride through the nooks and crannies  of the swamp.  We rode on a 16 foot, customized all welded aluminum boat with a 25 h.p Johnson motor.    Mr. Couret knew how to get us in and out of  tough places.    It was amazing  that any human being could find his way through a swamp in the middle of nowhere without a GPS system for guidance. He did so without a map, while accounting  historical events and local folklore.     Alligators hang-out spots were pointed out.  One  appeared  beneath the surface.  I should have been petrified, but for  some reason I wasn’t.  Perhaps it was adrenaline and excitement that kept my natural fears at bay.

Atchafalaya Basin, Henderson Swamp

As we rode deeper and deeper into the swamp,  it was as if we were moving further and further away from modern civilization.  The noises we often take for granted began to fade into the distance as the blessed sounds of nature became the only sounds we could hear in this abyss.   It was eerie indeed.

Atchafalaya Basin, Henderson Swamp

I can not  count the variety of birds and bugs I heard:  a Great Egret, Little Blue Heron, Woodpeckers,  fish splashing…and how about the huge Cypress trees standing proudly erect in the water as if  they had been there for eternity.

Atchafalaya Basin, Henderson Swamp

I just imagined what Jean Baptisete Le Moyne, Iberville or La Salle’s reactions would have been after beholding a site so unique, so different than anything coming from France.  How about the Native  Chitimacha tribal members?   My imagination took over as I pictured the Chitimacha  traveling through the river on traditional boats as the sounds of crickets, frogs, birds loomed in the background.

Atchafalaya Basin, Henderson Swamp

(See: Roger Stouff, the last traditional Chitimacha Chief)

Oh, I did not want this tour to end.  I felt a sense of natural peace, so hard to achieve in the hustle and bustle of city life.   We were in another world, a world I am sure many have not seen with their own eyes in or out of Louisiana.    We could have been on the moon.  That is how unique and raw the environment appeared.  I could have taken  a thousand pictures and still  not be able to freeze the true essence of that moment in time.  Like Alaska and other natural wonders, this is a place to visit before you die.

http://www.couretsswamptours.com/

 

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Easy composting–even for apartment dwellers

Easy composting–even for apartment dwellers


At one time I thought that living in an apartment would greatly limit my composting and growing capacity.  I now have enough decomposed kitchen waste mixed in soil to start an entirely new garden.    You might think, “how can do this if I live in an apartment.”  Believe me, you can.

Let me tell you my friends, I have not purchased one single bag of soil since I first started composting.   This equates to nearly 3 years of composting, recycling and growing flowers, plants and vegetables and two fruit trees in my patio garden without needing to spend an enormous amount of money on bags of soil.

I have made composting a part of my lifestyle and you can also.  If you are new to composting, it is advisable to place a compost container in your kitchen near your sink.    You will never forget to save your onion, orange and lemon peels, your apple skins, lettuces leaves, coffee grinds and tea leaves (and tea bags) if  a compost container  is located in a visible area where you might normally dispose your waste.

Once my kitchen compost container is full, I dig a hole in my outdoor compost bin, pour the compost waste,  and then cover it with soil.  Sometimes I pour the liquid right in the soil of plants instead of pouring all of the contents in the compost container.  This allows my plants to feed from organic waste–and they love it.

As soon as the compost is planted, Black soldier flies’ maggots get to work to break down the solid waste.  Do not fret, because they are actually beneficial.  They help speed up the decomposing process.  These are not regular house flies.  House flies will not  lay larvae unless they have easy access to stinky-rotten-waste.  Don’t let this happen!  You do not want fly maggots to infiltrate your garden.   Burying your compost is advantageous because the soil will absorb any liquids, adding nutrients to your mix, when it is covered,  potential odors will be eliminated.  You will need to have holes for aeration.   Last but not least, always keep dry soil nearby to cover your newly placed compost waste.

Notice the richness of the added soil compared to the soil already in the container. Fresh compost materials were also added to this pot. The direct decomposing will add nutrients to the Pomegranate tree.

You will not believe how rich your soil will be once the cycle has finished.  It will be very rich, dark any earthy.  Earth worms and night crawlers will flourish.  There is a sweetness to this soil .
Your friends who are interested in starting an organic garden will gladly appreciate  a huge bag of rich black soil made from your compost project.   If you really want to make this gift special and ready for planting, try filling a rice bags (or coffee bag) with compost and try adding layers of rocks.

These bags can be used to grow food in tight spaces.  Please see this video for step by step directions:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZxDD2FYviho&feature=related

See the Youtube video listed about the “Phytopod Container Garden”

Composting is the way to go if you are a garden lover, or environmentally conscientious.  There are many benefits, and you will never have to purchase soil again for your small garden.

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Extra info:
Rice bag – How to
http://thetanglednest.com/2010/02/upcycled-burlap-bags-in-the-garden-and-farewell-to-grass/

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2012 in Gardening, nature and gardens, Sustainability

 

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