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Archive for the ‘Malabar Spinach’ Category

Well, I had hopped to keep things up to date a bit more with this here blog, but life just kinda conspires against ya sometimes, doesn’t it? I’ve been a busy little beaver this summer, though unfortunately I haven’t been as busy as I would have liked to have been with my green babies. In spite of this, quite a bit has been going on with my little garden. Everything seems to be thriving, and I’ve actually been able to eat some of the foods that I grew mahself! 

I’ve got quite a bit of updating to do, so I’m going to break this down into several parters w/ pix. Tonight, we will start with the Monster Malabar and Basil!

Lookit them thar greens!

Lookit them thar greens!

I am particularly proud of my malabar spinach and basil, which have grown by leaps and bounds. Both of these have been very, very easy to grow. I’ve grown basil before, but the malabar has been a new adventure. I highly recommend growing it — it has got to be the easiest thing I’ve ever grown. All you have to do is make sure it gets enough water, especially in the summer, give it something to climb on, and it just takes off. It is a beautiful climbing vine, with lovely heart-shaped rich green leaves, offset by deep gorgeous purple stalks and veins. The photo here really doesn’t do it justice.

One caveat though: I don’t think it does as well in a container. I am also growing another malabar spinach in an approximately 3 gallon container, and I really think if it’s grown in a container, it needs to be much larger. The stalk does grow long, and it looks healthy enough, but the leaves do not get nearly as big and full as it did in my little SFG, and the color isn’t as rich. I think it might have done well in a 15 gallon container, like the one I’m growing butternut squash in. It just seems to need a bit more room to really let itself go.

But whether you grow malabar spinach in an SFG, a container, or in the ground, you really need to give it something to climb on, because it is definitely a climber. For the SFG, I took some steel posts that I bought from Home Depot and then I attached plastic chicken “wire” to it. However, you have to train the spinach, and you will have to help it by periodically weaving it through the holes in your trellis. I have kind of haphazardly woven mine, but I think next year I will make a taller trellis for it, rather than weave it around in such a katy-whompus way, though I still think it’s really pretty and interesting that way. For the malabar in the container, I just took the plastic chicken “wire” and attached it to a bambo trellis.

Malabar spinach is also wonderful cooked. Stir-fried in olive oil and onion, it is absolutely delish! You do want to cook it, though — the flavor is too strong for a salad, I think. I have also eaten it with my miso and tahini sauce on it, and this seems to give it kind of a smokey, almost bacony flavor, which is very nice. To make the sauce, I take mellow white miso and then it with water to a creamy consistency, then I add a little tahini and stir it together. You can also add some lemon juice for a little zip, but I often just use water. It is really good and easy and is wonderful with any kind of greens. Yum!

As for the basil, I have used some of it in my homemade lasagna, and it was fab. But I have so much basil growing now, that I think I’m going to have to start making some pesto! Not that I’m complaining! 🙂

Next in my Garden Update: Dwarf Pomegranates!

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Certainly the title of this post is not as sexy as say, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” or even the title of the new Indy movie, “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull,” but I feel it is apropos of my experience creating my tiny square foot garden yesterday.

Cutting through dense and difficult vegetation, dealing with creepy critters, enduring intense heat and humidity, lifting heavy objects beyond my natural ability, the sweat literally pouring off my brow, the theme music from the Indy movie series played loudly in my brain and like Indy probably often felt, I realized I’d bitten off far more than I could chew.

The night before I embarked on my SFG journey, I reread the parts of Mel Bartholomew’s Bible of SFG, All New Square Foot Gardening and in it, after telling you to put the box in your chosen location, he gives a very brief and casual mention, “(oh yes and by the way) remove grass or weeds.” Hum. Well, I thought it wouldn’t be any big deal. I’ve got a shovel, it’s just some grass, I can deal with it.

Well, I showed up at my little chosen plot at 10 a.m. Sunday morning, took my shovel and shoved it into the earth, and . . . the sod hardly budged.

It was already hot, and humid, as late May mornings and days are wont to do in Central Texas. I was already sweating. I contemplated just putting down the corn-based, biofriendly weed cloth I’d bought at Home Depot the day before and doing my SFG without removing the grass. I decided to read the directions on the weed cloth to see if it would confirm for me that this was a good thing to do, but all it said was: “For best results, remove grass and weeds.” Hum. Damn.

I still thought about just putting down the weed cloth, but visions of thousands of blades of grass poking their way up through my weed cloth and six inches of dirt to find the sun and drown out my little veggies wafted through my brain. I didn’t want that now, did I? I also thought about just putting down plastic to kill the grass, but that could take weeks. Weed killer was not an option, as I greatly value organic, environmentally friendly garden growing, and this was neither. So, in zen-like acceptance, I grabbed my little trowel, sat on the ground, and began to work.

It seemed a little easier with the trowel, although once I cleared out some grass, I found that one thing that speeded things up a bit was to use the shovel to loosen the ground and roots beneath the grass and then get back down on the ground with my trowel to finish it off . However, I was sitting in the hot Texas sun in something like almost 100 degrees and  120 percent humidity (I exaggerate on the humidity, but it must have been close). I did have a big bottle of water nearby and a nice big shady hat I’d bought in Hawaii to cruise down the Hanalei River in Kuai with a long-ago ex-boyfriend, so I figured I would be OK.

Even so, it was probably very foolish of me to do this in the heat. I probably should have waited until Monday, gotten up at the crack of dawn to do my work then, but I had planned on doing this on Sunday, I wanted it done, and by gum and by golly, that’s what I was going to do. I come from a long line of stubborn Irish, so foolishly I walked in where angels fear to suffer heatstroke. So kids, don’t try this at home, especially if you live in Texas. Do this either in early or mid-spring or the early morning in late spring/summer!

So there I was, sweating, getting very dirty, hacking through ten year’s worth of grass that was woven together in an intricate web of shoots and roots. I unearthed several roly-poly bugs and a worm or two, and felt guilty that I was disturbing their home. I would very carefully move each critter I saw so I wouldn’t do any damage to it. Unbelievably, I seldom cursed through the whole thing (I’ve been known to curse to embarrass a sailor when things don’t go my way), but maybe all those years of meditation and prayer and spiritual initiations I’ve done have finally kicked in.

I did, however, decide that I was not going to do this with the larger 4×4 SFGs I will be doing in the near future. If I have to put down plastic first to kill the grass, I’ll do that, or build my SFGs with a plywood bottom, to keep out the grass.  I did console myself with the fact that the sod I was digging up would make some really good homegrown compost!

Anywho, I finally got the damn thing dug, and I rejoiced. Mightily! You can see my handiwork below. My SFG Plot - more difficult than it looks!One problem, however: I didn’t quite dig enough, and my concrete blocks were all crooked. So I had to dig some more, but finally I got it all to work out. It’s not perfect, mind you, but it’s good enough for government work, as my wonderful and recently departed stepfather use to say.

I was just going to get the container for the SFG done and then mix the dirt and plant on Monday. It was almost noon and getting hotter and humider by the minute (yes, I know humider is not a word, but I like hotter and humider, not hotter and more humid). I went inside, ate lunch, contemplated taking a nap, but then I went back out to look at my handiwork again, and it felt cooler somehow, and I amazingly was not all that tired.  I put back on my Hawaiian hat (that I later found out was made in Mexico) and went back out to mix dirt and plant plants!

Well, it wasn’t really less hot or humid, I just had cooled off inside, so of course it felt cooler when I first went back out. I soon began sweating profusely again. But I was determined to finish. However, I moved to some shade nearby to mix the dirt. I mixed it as closely as I could per Mel’s instructions: 1/3 spaghum moss (or peat moss, as I said, not so eco-friendly); 1/3 perlite (Mel likes vermiculite, which is hard to find); and 1/3 compost. For me, it took a bag and half of 432 cubic inches of spaghum moss, a bag and a half of perlite (can’t remember the size, but they’re relatively small bags) and almost two bags of 1.5 cubic feet of John Dromgoole’s Ladybug Revitilizer Compost I got from the Natural Gardener. Mel recommends mixing in a tarp, but I used an old shower curtain instead.

 Mel also recommends if you buy compost to buy 5 different kinds because he says most companies only use one kind and you need at least 5 different kinds to get all the important nutrients. However, Mel has never been to Natural Gardner here in Austin, and the Revitilizer Compost is a blend of 5 different kinds of compost, so you save a lot of money that way! If you don’t live in or near Austin, TX, just look at your bags of compost at the store to see if they are a blended compost and have at least 5 types of compost , rather than buy 5 bags of different compost, as Mel advises.

Now this was dirt not just for a 1×2 foot garden, but also for all the little holes in the concrete block, into which I planted basil seeds for fun. So I estimate that rather than a 1×2 foot garden, I had an extra 6-8 feet in the concrete block holes. If I had just filled in the middle, I would have only needed 2/3 bag of the spaghum moss, 2/3 bag perlite and one bag of the compost.

After I got the dirt in the garden, I got one of my Crista Compact tomato plants (the other I’d already Voila-a tiny SFG!planted in a container) and one of my Malabar spinach, drew a line to half the garden into one foot each, and planted each plant in the middle of each square foot, and then I watered it. Then I planted my basil seeds from seeds I’d saved last year from my basil plant. At first I planted two seeds per concrete block hole, but then I got lazy because it’s a bit difficult to gather just two tiny basil seeds, and I planted more than that in the other holes. Anyway, I hope they take! Look to the right to see my beautiful new SF garden!

Then, feeling even more industrious, I decided to get my dirt ready for my big planter to plant some butternut squash seeds. I had some leftover regular Whole Foods organic dirt, and I’d bought some Ladybug Hill Country Garden soil – I didn’t do the Mel’s Mix for the containers, because I wanted to see which soil grew better stuff, because I might just use regular soil for future SFGs if that works well for my container veggies, with some compost thrown in.

Anyway, I began mixing the Ladybug and Whole Foods soils with my extra perlite in my handy dandy shower curtain, and then I began to shovel it into the planter. However, I was in direct sun now and I’d been outside for quite a while and was very hot. Suddenly, internally I heard in my mind, “You really need to go inside now,” which I figured was the Divine trying to talk some sense into me. I, of course, being the good human being that I am, I ignored it. Then after a couple more shovelfuls of dirt I heard more loudly, “Get inside RIGHT NOW!!!!” Then I figured that if I didn’t go in right then, I was going to have a heatstroke, so I said, “OK, OK,” threw down my shovel and went dutifully back in to drink more water and cool off for a while.

I kept thinking I would lay down and take a nap, but after cooling off, I still had energy, so I went back outside and continued with my dirt. I then realized I didn’t have enough dirt for the planter, so I resolved to buy some more on Monday, and use some dirt to plant my other Malabar spinach plant in a container, to see how it did in that.

My Funky ComposterNow, after doing all that, you’d think I’d go inside, take a shower and then take a nap, but noooo, I still had this unbelievable energy. I went back outside, unfurled my chicken wire I’d bought the day before and built my simple composter! It wasn’t very easy, but I managed to unfurl it enough to weave 4 stakes through it to hold it and then get it set up in my side yard where I hope to eventually get a gate to create a small utility yard to hide it and other not so beautiful yard tools. And it certainly isn’t beautiful or perfect, but it will do the job of containing my compost and letting it aerate so it won’t get smelly, while allowing me to turn it, which is very important for getting compost. You can see my composter to the left.

I cleaned up my mess outside, laid out the sod on my shower curtain so it could dry before being put in the composter (Mel says it’s best to let grass dry first or it gets slimy and smelly in the composter), and went inside. I still didn’t shower and rest, however. I fixed the guest toilet connector, which had been leaking for about a week, rather than pay a plumber several hundred dollars to do. It cost 5 bucks and about 30 minutes of my time. Then I took a shower, but I didn’t nap – I made myself a lovely dinner of a spinach and avocado omelet along with a slice of the bread I’d made before, and some leftover refried beans from lunch and enjoyed.  What a self-sufficient day!

POST NOTE: Later that evening, I was looking at Mel’s web site at http://www.squarefootgardening.com/, and I came across a question on his FAQ about protecting your SFG from grass and weeds, and there, on the web site, he says, Back to the weeds, I would mow them down and then cover the ground with a landscape cloth. You mean I really could have just laid down my weed cloth rather than dig the dang stuff out? Why the heck and tarnation (I had to edit out what I really wanted to say) didn’t he just say that in the book?! Oh well — like I said earlier, now I’ve got some really good material for my compost!

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