The Thrill Of Vacuuming Varmints

In the pictures above you can see my current hydroponic empire – a Tupperware container in the upper drawer of an old file cabinet – and yes, I should do a separate blog post on that. One of the big benefits of having this hydroponic setup in a file cabinet is the complete lack of pests even though I’ve been growing food in there for more than 6 months and have had serious pest problems when growing food in other parts of the house. A couple weeks ago I noticed really tiny black bugs were crawling around in my lettuce empire, and I was quite surprised – how could they have gotten there?? I got that answer about a week later when I suddenly had a large contingent of tiny flying black bugs rise up like a dark cloud when I opened the file cabinet drawer to inspect the crop. I tried killing them by hand, which had a pretty low success rate, and then I remembered the vacuum that I had purchased for squash bugs. Voila! Victory over diabolical bugs was swift with my vacuum! What a feeling of satisfaction; not something I feel all that often related to gardening.

I bought this lightweight vacuum off of Amazon.com but it’s probably available from a lot of places. At only about a pound and a half in weight this vacuum is super easy to use even with my arthritic hands. This is the first time I’ve used it to murder my enemies, but it sure worked well with this first try.

“I really Should Have Paid More Attention To My Italian Grandmother”, Or “Making Tomato Sauce From Scratch Guided By Somebody Else’s Grandfather On Youtube”

I really enjoyed the video of an Italian American grandfather making tomato sauce from scratch – “Traditional Homemade Tomato Sauce made by Pasquale Sciarappa”. Here’s the video, if you watch it and decide to try to make it his way, here’s my best interpretation of his instructions.

Let tomatoes rest 2 – 3 days after picking.

Wash Roma or San Marzano tomatoes well.

Cut off bad spots and the crown, as well as any internal ‘yellow’ spots, which are part of the crown/stem.

Cut in half, squeeze out seeds and liquidy-stuff in the interior of the tomato

Put in pot, cook over medium heat (??? just guessing) for about 45 minutes, then use very slotted spoon to pull solid tomato parts out of the pot – discard the liquid left behind??

Scoop tomato solids (??pulp) into strainer, let drain for a couple minutes

Run tomato solids (pulp) through a vegetable strainer machine that will quickly separate the skins and seeds from the rest of the tomatoes.

Compost the seeds/skins, or otherwise dispose of them.

Pour the tomato pulp from the straining process back into the pan on the fire and cook down for 3 to 4 hours, depending on how thick a sauce you prefer. Cooking longer yields a thicker sauce. A wood fire is used to do the cooking in this video, so I can’t quite say at what temperature the sauce mixture should be cooked, but it’s not boiling. Lots of steam is coming off the pot, so it’s more than a very low heat, so maybe a low simmer?

After 3 hours of cooking down the sauce, add salt to taste, stir.

After 4 hours, ladle hot sauce into clean jars. Probably a good idea to use a funnel, keep the top rims of the jars clean, fill to about an inch from the top. Put about 2 fresh basil leaves per jar, push the leaves down into the jar of sauce with a spoon.

Place canning lids onto jars after checking to verify that the tops rims of the canning jars are completely clean. Screw canning jar bands somewhat loosely onto jars.

Let the jars sit for an hour?? I can’t quite tell, but I think he lets the jars sit for an hour before he screws the canning jar bands tightly onto the jars. But maybe not, because he wants these to continue to ‘cook’ under a blanket in the next step.

Place the filled jars close together into a short-sided cardboard box and cover tightly with a very warm blanket, covering the top, sides and bottom of the box, let sit for 3 full days. Or maybe he said 3 or 4 days? I’m not quite sure.

He doesn’t do any water bath boiling of the jars, which is pretty forbidden in the official Bar Jar Canning manual. Hasn’t killed him yet, and he says he’s been doing it since 1939.

Lock Your Doors. It’s Zucchini Season.

My brother told me years ago that someone told him that people in their small town didn’t lock the doors on their cars except in August. My brother said “why do people lock their car doors in August?” to which the reply was something like “because that’s when the zucchinis are ripe and if your car door is unlocked you might come back to a car full of zucchini”.

I can’t grow useful crops very much or for long, but boy, is it zuchini season in our middle east* raised bed! It was certifiably hotter than hades yesterday so I didn’t go outside, and you see the result above.

I also harvested some stevia, basil and mint to dry for later use. Being able to process fresh-from-the-garden food is critical to making a garden really useful. My garden doesn’t produce on demand – it’s not providing basil in December, for instance – so learning the best way to preserve food such that it provides sustenance when needed is critical. I suck at that too, but hopefully am learning.

Something else I learned is that the person who told me that stevia is hard to grow from seed wasn’t kidding. I saved a bunch of stevia seeds from my plants last year and planted them all this year – which netted me exactly zero stevia plants. I did a germination test beforehand and a fair number of those seeds germinated, but the overall germination rate seemed quite low – maybe 10% – 20% or so? It’s kind of hard to tell the seeds from the other fluff that grew around them, so maybe some of those specks weren’t actually seeds, meaning that the actual germination rate was higher? I’ll try again next year, focusing more on keeping the seeds in damp conditions until well after germination.

So if no stevia seeds germinated, how was I able to harvest some stevia for the picture above, you ask. I hedged my bets – I bought a couple stevia seedlings and planted those in a container, where they are doing just fine. It’s always a good thing to have a backup.

*We have 6 raised beds and we refer to them as either east or west, and top, middle or bottom, hence one bed is the middle east one.

Happy Leaf LED + 6 Mason Jars

Written 2/27/2020 in Saint Louis, MO USA

I bought a grow light from Happy Leaf LED and a small hydroponics kit (baskets and clay pebbles, a few seeds) and this is what I now have 4 weeks after setting this up (see picture).  The kit from Happy Leaf LED didn’t include the fertilizer that needs to be added to water put in the jars – I bought that from Amazon  for $17 USD.  The sunlight from the window is probably useless; I think all the growing is due to the grow light. The light and 6 black plastic baskets to sit in the top of my mason jars, the pebbles and about 20 lettuce seeds cost about $100 on sale, and most of that cost was the made-in-America light. I think that light is about 17″ long and cost about 5 cents a day in electricity to run for 16 hours (electricity is about $0.10/kWh in the winter in Saint Louis and the Kill A Watt meter said it used .43 kWh for one 16 hour period).  I put seeds of my own in 3 jars – kale, cilantro and basil. Basil barely came up at all and then died; lettuces, kale and cilantro did pretty well.  The picture with this post shows the plants after I harvested enough for 2 salads, so the growth was about double what is shown.   All the growth after 4 weeks is good for about enough salad for 4 people, so since we want at least twice that per week, I might need to double the number of jars per week to grow what we want on a continuing basis.  And since it takes about 4 weeks to get to this point, does that mean that I’d have to have 32 mason jars, one set of jars planted each week, to have a steady supply of the salad that we want?  I’ve got a lot of questions still unanswered about this process and  I’m not sure how to do the financial analysis on this – do we harvest all from each jar and then have to replant, or would the cut-and-come-again capabilities of these plants mean that I’d only need half as many jars as I’m thinking?  How many jars can this one light manage?   How long until this system pays for itself/breaks even?   How tall a space do we need to deal with these plants?   Btw, the onions growing in the foreground in the picture are seated in old glass floral frogs – see my previous post about that for more information.  I’ll post again when I have more data to share.   Thanks for reading this!