Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Gardening 201: Advanced Container Gardening

Well, the garden is in and going strong.  The tomatoes are still small, but the rain and heat over the weekend has helped them shoot up dramatically from where they were just a week ago.  The squashes are taking over everything, as squashes do.

I'm fortunate to have some garden, but I certainly don't have as much room as I would like.  This is especially the case because I prefer big, viney plants that take up a lot of room like squash and melons.  So I also do a good deal of container gardening. 

As discussed previously, container gardening is a good choice for people with no room, or people like me who need to make more room because they're garden greedy.  It is also, in my opinion, a little easier than regular gardening if you're just getting started.  You don't have to build a garden, for one.  You don't have to turn over the garden, for two.  And third, it really cuts down on weeding.  Weeds grow in the spaces between the plants.  If your plants are in containers, it doesn't leave much room for weeds!

I tried a few new things for my container garden this year.  In the past, I've done beans and peas in pots just sitting on the stone edge of the main garden.  I especially like beans this way, because then I can just stick a tomato cage in the center of the pot and the beans will climb it.  This saves the time and hassle of building something for the beans to climb.

The rabbits appreciate some good non-GMO soy!
This year, I replaced my regular beans in a pot with edamame (soy) beans.  I haven't ever grown these before, and they were doing pretty well in their pot, but this morning I noticed a good chunk of them *update, make that all of them* had been bitten off.  I guess they're just as tasty to the rabbits as they are to me.  Side note, if you are going to grow edamame, make sure that you are buying certified organic seeds.  Generally I don't care that much about organic when it comes to my seeds, because I  know I'm not going to use any pesticides on the final product, but soy is one of the most genetically modified crop in the US.  93% of all soy in the US comes from GM plants, which have specifically been modified to contain a herbicide resistant gene taken from bacteria.  This means that most of the seeds on the market are also going to be GM.  You can't be organic and genetically modified, so I tend to stick to organic seeds in the veggies that are currently modified (the percentage is the percentage of US product that is modified - per my always reliable source, Wikipedia): Soy (93%), Corn (86%), Cotton/Cotton Seed Oil (93%), Hawaiian Papaya (80%), Canola and Rapeseed (93%), Sugar Beet (95%), and Zucchini (13%).  Starting in 2013, also be on the look out for Golden Rice.  Also, consider reading a little more about the California Right To Know Referendum, which will be voted on in the upcoming November presidential election.

Anyway, back to the garden!  I also wanted to plant regular beans, and since their pot had been given to soy beans, I had to find somewhere new to put them.

This year for my birthday, my father got me a small green house like contraption that I could use to start seeds.  It's very useful, except in the summer and winter when really I can't think of what to do with it.  And since it's permanently affixed to my back porch, I feel like it's taking up space and not doing any good.  So I decided to try to plant the beans in it.  My thought was, put them in a tray at the bottom, leave the door and top propped open so it doesn't get too hot, and let them climb up through and hold on to the shelves.

Yeah, not so much.  Not sure if it was too hot for them, they weren't getting enough light, or both, but the beans were not happy inside the green house.  So I pulled them out and am hoping that they will start climbing the railings on my balcony.  Also up on the balcony I have lettuce and spinach (greens do well in containers.  They also benefit from the fact that containers can be pulled into the shade, extending the life of your greens when it gets too hot in the summer.), carrots, radishes (which are done and I need to plant a second round of), hot peppers, kale, and quinoa.  I'm not expecting to get much quinoa, but whatever).  Last but not least, I also have pots with my herbs and my citrus plants, which are doing surprisingly well.  No flowers yet, but at least the plants are finally starting to grow since I got them after my citrus debacle last May.  I ended up just buying the plants individually on Amazon, and they've been tiny and slow to show any growth, but they're finally moving.
Herb and citrus garden.
Dwarf Lemon Tree.  This was a twig early this spring.
One thing that I've done the past two years now is grow my cucumbers on my trellis.  I have a large trellis in my back yard that supports roses on one side, and on the other side I've gotten cucumber vines to climb it.  I spent a lot of time last summer sitting under it, which was nice because it smelled both like roses AND cucumber!

Cucumbers starting to climb the trellis.  Ignore the weeds!
So, start thinking for next year.  Or, if you're considering growing some fall crops, but feel like you just don't have the time, consider a $5 25 gallon bucket of radishes or lettuce.

And, when the lettuce becomes overwhelming, try this recipe!  If you don't have any lettuce, head down and visit my buddies Jess and Sam at the Rhine Center Vegetable Club booth at the Westtown Farmer's Market on Wednesday.  Let them know I sent you, even if you're just stopping to say hi (it makes me look good!)

Lettuce Pesto
(Why not?  They make pesto out of spinach and arugula, why not try lettuce?)
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts
  • 2 tbsp garlic scapes,
  • 2 large hand-fulls of lettuce, washed and dried
  • 1 tbsp finely grated Parmesan cheese 
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil
Toast the pine nuts by heating a large, heavy skillet over high heat.  Add the pine nuts directly to the pan (no oil) and toast, keeping the nuts moving in the pan.  They will look like nothing is happening, and then they will start to smell a little nuttier and richer, and then they will start to lightly brown, and then immediately they will be burnt and ruined.  So watch them very closely, and as soon as they start to brown, remove them from the heat and pour them directly from the pan into a food processor where they can cool.

Meanwhile, coarsely chop the garlic scapes.  Garlic scapes are the top shoots of the garlic plant.  They taste to me both garlic-y-er and less sharp than regular garlic, all at the same time.  I think they are a good addition to this because they provide a strong garlic flavor without overwhelming the delicate flavor of the lettuce.  If you can't find any (you could check out RCVC!), you can use one large clove of regular garlic.  Add the garlic to the pine nuts in the food processor, and process in pulses until the nuts and garlic have a consistent texture of very small pebbles.  You don't want to go too far and have them start to turn into paste.

Add the lettuce (I needed to add lettuce in two batches, because it didn't fit in my food processor bowl.  This is perfectly fine.) and process until the lettuce is just broken down into small pieces. should still be able to see individual bis of lettuce, nut, and garlic.  Continue to process, adding olive oil in a slow stream.  How much you use will depend on what you are using your pesto for - a spread will get less oil, while a pasta sauce will need more.

The pesto will last in the fridge for a week or two, stored with a thin layer of olive oil poured over the top.  It can also be frozen in individual zip lock bags.  If you are storing it, add less olive oil and then add more when you are ready to use it.  Once you are ready to use the pesto, add the cheese and any more olive oil as necessary.

I served this with pasta as a side for some spicy tequila lime chicken lettuce wraps, topped with kohlrabi and radish slaw.  It was good, but in eating the leftovers I discovered that it was much, much better on cold pasta.  I would recommend this as a pesto for a cold pasta salad - it tastes fresh like lettuce, and who wants to eat warm lettuce?


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