Archive for October, 2009

“Yes we can,” says The Prez.

And to that, Roxie and I would add a bit more specificity. As in “yes,  you can — and should — compost.”

leavesFor example, all those leaves  that are beginning to smother your bluegrass. They’re not all going to blow over to the neighbors’ yards. And don’t you dare  bag them.

No. 1, plastic and paper leaf bags cost money. No. 2, stuffing those bags with leaves and lawn/garden refuse is a pain in the whatsit.

Long ago, when we lived in Roeland Park, I can remember setting out 50 bags one trash day. What a pain (and a waste) that was.

And No. 3, the landfills are already so full of all the other crap that you and I  toss out that many  trash companies now  limit the number of bags you can set out. And one day they may refuse to pickup yard waste altogether, directing you to a composting center instead.

What a hassle that will be for people without pickups.

But beyond all of the above, grass clippings, leaves and garden debris makes great mulch, as I explained to my friend Tim the other day when I stopped by the Pie Lady Coffeehouse in Lenexa. Tim’s wife, Marcia, runs the joint, and she’s been telling the male half of the Prentiss family that he  ought to start composting all those leaves falling from  the mature trees in their yard.

“You tell him,” Marcia pleaded. “He won’t listen to me.”

And so I told him. Better yet, I showed him how easy it is to build your very own composter out of treated lumber that will last for many years.

“See, Tim,” I said. “Look at this really swell set of instructions, complete with handsome diagram, of the composter that sits behind the big red barn at my house.”

Or words to that effect.

And I bet you’re asking yourself, gee, how might I obtain a set of  instructions on how to build Mike’s composter for my very own?

(Look out, but here comes the shameless book plug.)

Answer: You’ll find those instructions and many other helpful garden tips  within the pages of a great new gardening manual  just published by Star Books. The title bears a striking similarity to the name of this blog.

I’ll say no more, but feel free to click on the ad at top right. Or here.

What a perfect Christmas gift it would be for you or that gardener in the family.

(This shameless promotion thing  keeps getting easier and easier.)

Posted by: Mike


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Just when Rox and I  thought we were done with the harvest, round, ugly greenish-yellow  treasures  fell from the sky. Now suddenly, the earth is heavily laden with these orbs that some call monkey brains and others refer to as horse apples, Osage oranges and hedge balls.
Yes, it’s hedgeapple season. The squirrels are besides themselves with glee, while many homeowners “lucky” enough to have an Osage orange tree in their yards are  disposing of the fruit as  fast as they can.

They’re too big to mow over, and if you leave them they’ll

rot. (Hedgeapples, that is. As for the homeowners, that’s a whole other post.)

Hate to say it, but Roxie and I sort of like the looks of a field littered with hedgeapples in the fall (the pic was taken in Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park in Lenexa) — especially when it’s not our field.

Still, you’d think there ought to be some use for this bounty, and there is.

Incredibly, people will pay good money for hedgeapples. The first time I saw them for sale in Hy Vee for a buck apiece, I laughed out loud.

But then folks shell out ridiculous sums for basil in the summertime, when it’s so thick in our garden that you’d need a machete to get through it. Value is almost always a function of availability.

And the reason some people value hedgeapples is that they are said to be a natural pesticide. While they’re not poisonous to humans — even if you are deranged enough to eat one — they are said to repel mice, spiders and various insects.

Experts, however, are skeptical of such claims. Writes Iowa State University horticulturalist Richard Jauron:

The use of hedge apples as a pest solution is communicated as a folk tale complete with testimonials about apparent success. However, there is an absence of scientific research and therefore no valid evidence to confirm the claims of effectiveness. Although insect deterrent compounds have been extracted from hedge apples in laboratory studies, these do not provide a logical explanation about why hedge apples would work as claimed. At this time, there is nothing to recommend the use of hedge apples for pest control.

Yeah, well, what do experts know? (See Jauron’s full article here.) After all, they can’t prove that hedgeapples don’t repel pests, either.

Which is a good thing for the folks at  Hedgeapple.com, who for about $20 will ship four genuine hedgeapples to the address of your choice for your very own personal use (or as a great gag gift).

Should you receive such a package, fear not. Hedgeapples are perfectly safe, unless you bonk someone over the head with one. I suppose they would pose a tripping hazard, too.

But will not hurt your pets. That is, unless you have a pet cow named Bossie or Gertrude:

“…many cattle have died from hedgeapples because they get lodge in their throats and they suffocate,” report the good folks at Hedgeapple.com.

The Iowa State guy concurs on that sobering point, as well.   It’s simply is not a good idea to try to swallow whole  hedgeapples or anything else measuring 3 to 5 inches in diameter.

But back to the practical applications. Because of the commercial possibilities,  Roxie and I are now  giving thought to starting a mail-order hedgeapple concern. As many of those ugly suckers there are lying about the Kansas City area right now,  it’s like money in the bank.

“Green Monkey brains — the perfect holiday gift!”

Until we work out the business plan, my idea is to test the pest repellant theory.  Today, I  “harvested” 10 hedgeballs from a public park (glad to help with the fall cleanup, Lenexa Parks and Rec!) and positioned several in the basement crawl spaces that mice use to enter the house in the winter.

I also placed a couple of them in plant saucers on the third floor where we’ve had a spider problem in the past. The saucers are for when the hedgeapples start to rot in a couple of months, as they will.

I’ll let you know what happens, though it’d be shame if they work and our cats are denied the sport of killing a mouse or two.

Meanwhile, I have hedgeballs left in  a bushel basket in the basement.

Let’s make a deal.

Posted by: Mike

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They’re coming! They’re coming! Lock the doors and windows! Get out the guns and ammo! They’re coming for our seeds!

Mike (who occasionally monitors the Glenn Beck radio show) put me on to a commercial by one of Beck’s sponsors, Survival Seeds. Apparently, “global elites” are storing rare non-hybrid seeds above the Arctic Circle  in beck1preparation for a coming catastrophe. The ad urges listeners to invest in a kit that will provide bushels of “nutrient-rich food for you and your family.” The final bit warns us that in a financial cataclysm, seeds will be the ultimate bartering item. (listen to the ad, narrated by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones at this site)

And on the company’s web site:

You don’t have to be an Old Testament prophet to see what’s going on all around us. A belligerent lower class demanding handouts. A rapidly diminishing middle class crippled by police state bureaucracy. An aloof, ruling elite that has introduced us to an emerging totalitarianism which seeks control over every aspect of our lives.

All right. Before we dish it too hard on Mr. Beck and his sponsor, let’s remember there’s plenty of paranoia on both the right and the left when it comes to seeds. For the Left, it’s the fear of greedy corporate giants patenting their genetically modified seed, then promoting monoculture to crowd out standard varieties until just a few companies control the world’s food supply. Bwa-ha-ha.

So let’s take a look at Survival Seeds and its claims.

1.Global Elites have set up a secure doomsday vault of seeds in the arctic, in the event of a catastrophe. Clearly this is a Robert Ludlumesque, apocalyptic, sci-fi fantasy…Whoa! It’s true! If by “global elites” they mean scientists concerned about the effects of war and climate change.

In fact, there is a world seed vault, celebrating its one-year anniversary, in Norway (wait, isn’t that the country of the Nobel Peace Prize? Ooh–ee–ooh.) Here’s what Seed Savers Exchange, a promoter of open-pollinated and heirloom seeds in Decorah, Iowa, says on its web site about the Svalbard Seed Vault in Norway:

Located at 78 degrees north, far above mainland Norway, three vault rooms have been fashioned inside a mountain, down a 125-yard tunnel chiseled out of solid stone. Naturally cold already, the Seed Vault is further cooled to below -2 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, seeds can be stored safely for decades-even if the earth warms or the power goes out. The Seed Vault has the capacity to store 4.5 million different seed samples (each sample containing about 500 seeds) potentially from 1,400 gene banks in more than 100 countries. The Seed Vault will soon house and secure the world’s largest collection of seeds, including many varieties no longer grown by farmers or gardeners.

The article goes on to assure us that even the large corporate donors will not have access to these seeds. Phew.

It turns out the so-called “doomsday vault” in Norway is not the only one. There are many seed vaults throughout the world–some secure and others, not so much. I also found an item on Denver Post.com about a seed depository there that’s 50 years old.  According to that story, plant scientists believe global warming could wipe out 40 percent of the world’s crops. (When? When?) Now that’s scary.

2.In an emergency, seeds have outperformed silver and gold on the market and it may happen again. Sorry, but I could find absolutely no source for this. Is there really a seed trading floor somewhere? The best I could find was a small item from 2006 about mustard seed investments.

3. Open-pollinated seeds (the non-hybrid types that produce seeds you can save yourself) are hard to find. The Survival Seeds web site says it’s seed is grown in remote locations by “fiercely independent farmers.”

“If you don’t have the ability to grow your own food next year, your life may be in danger,” the site says.

Calm down, everybody. Look through about any garden catalog today and you’ll find a good selection of heirlooms and standard seed varieties. In fact, heirlooms and open-pollinated seeds have been offered for years. You can easily find just about anything you’ll ever want at Seed Savers Exchange, which has been around since 1975. If you join and follow the correct procedures for saving seed, you, too, can become a “fiercely independent farmer.”

4.The special preparation and packaging by Survival Seed will keep seeds viable for decades.

I’m still trying to find an expert opinion on this. Most seeds will keep for a couple of years, then the germination rate starts to drop. Survival Seeds claims their seeds are specially dried to just the right level, then packed in foil with a special (and expensive) desiccant to keep the moisture level just right. They also come in a watertight container you could bury, but if you freeze the seeds it will add to the shelf life, the company says.

Well, both the Norway and the Denver vaults keep the seeds right around 0 degrees Farenheit, so there must be something to the freezing, anyway.

According to Survival Seeds, $149 will buy you enough seeds (remember, they use an expensive desiccant) to plant a one-acre “crisis garden.” (Question: Isn’t every garden a crisis garden? Ours usually are, anyway.)

Here’s Survival’s idea of what you should have on hand to plant as your world comes crashing down:

Shell beans, green beans, peas, peppers, corn (sweet and field variety), carrots, melon, cucumber, lettuce, cabbage, onion, tomato, chard, banana squash, spinach and eggplant.

What, no wheat? No medicinal herbs?

The selection, if you look through it, is a bit strange. Sweet corn and field corn (field corn? Really?) take up huge amounts of garden space for not much return, as do the peas and shell beans. And I don’t think my end-of-the world cucumber choice would be the white kind. Eww. Just the idea of white pickles in jars on the shelf, like fingers in formaldehyde…

I’d have to have some potatoes (which don’t come as seed, but can be saved as eyes or, in the case of sweet potatoes, slips) and some butternut squash, which gives a lot of vegetable for the buck. And Moon and Stars watermelon. And hops. Definitely, if the world is ending, you’ll want hops.

Okay. Maybe I’m being too picky. But the point is this: If anyone is really worried about the end of the world enough to stockpile seeds, he’d do better to just go to a catalog, put together his own seed bank and pack it in zipper bags in the freezer. And for goodness sake, don’t trust that the market will increase its value. We’ve all seen how that works out.

If you have that acre of ground, just start gardening and saving the seed year to year. And by the way, if you need a gardening book on how to do that…


Posted by: Roxie

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Come on by

It’s for real! Mike & Roxie’s Vegetable Paradise is no longer an abstraction. It’s been printed and boxed up, and is now a real product. Mike made a short trip to the warehouse last night and picked up our copies. bookcover

For those who are new to this blog, Mike & Roxie’s Vegetable Paradise is our humble contribution to the gardening how-to genre, and, we are told, the only Kansas City-specific gardening book. We share our best tips (and worst follies) of our 25 years of gardening here, along with some stories to entertain you.

They only just reached the warehouse yesterday, so we expect to see them popping up on store shelves in the next week. They’ll be available at the Kansas City Store and Borders (there may be others, but these are the two we know for sure). The Kansas City Store already has them online.

Also, Mike and I will have some copies at the Lenexa Chili Challenge tonight (Friday, Oct. 16) and tomorrow in Old Town Lenexa. Stop by Santa Fe near the depot and see us and we’ll sign you a copy. (Oh, and we’ll also have some fantastic chili to sample on Saturday.)

Posted by: Roxie

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And now for the weigh in

Brr. Frost on the pumpkin, and all that.

But not to worry, for Rox and me, anyway. As I mentioned the other day, this was going to be the year that I’d be way ahead of Jack F.  Sure enough, I potted and brought in all the herbs this week, before it turned cold, rather than waiting for the night before the big freeze.
Oh, the humanity!
Rox clipped some basil for making the last batch of pesto.
And I dug sweet potatoes. Lots and lots of sweet potatoes, it seemed. And collected the last of the butternut squash. We could have pushed it, I suppose. Some of our friends living in low areas had to scrape their windshields this morning. But not moi, and it remains unclear to me when we’ll get that killing freeze.
Tomorrow? Monday? The week after next? Do I really have to listen to the weather folks on TV? Please, no.
But there was no avoiding the inevitable, and it felt good not to have to rush.
But back to the potatoes and the squash. Our haul is sitting on a table in the basement for now, as you can see by this picture. smallveg

On the table, you’ll also see some green tomatoes and some walnuts Roxie plans on processing. Or you might not see them. Not the greatest photo.

Pay no attention to the amber liquid. And most of all, do not ask for a sip. We aren’t sharing the apple liqueur even when it’s done aging. Unless of course you ply us with some of your alcohol.

The good stuff only, please.

Now maybe, like us, you were wondering just how much all those taters and squash weigh. No?

Well, we had to find out so we could pat ourselves on the back for a job well done.

All we have is a bathroom scale. So I weighed myself (you don’t need to know) and I weighed myself hoisting the sack of sweet potatoes, then did the subtraction. Same process with the squash.


Sweet potatoes: 24.5 pounds. (I got a reading of 26 pounds, too, but let’s go with the conservative number.)

Butternut squash: 48 pounds.

At today’s supermarket prices (Lenexa HyVee), those sweet potatoes would cost $31.36, and that amount of squash (which is cheap right now) something like $42. But since squash keeps nicely, and the price is more than double that in the off season, you can easily claim (and I will) that those butternuts are like  money in the bank.
Perhaps we could trade in squash futures. Should we go long, or short?
Another question:
Was it worth all the trouble? One could argue that we went to a lot of work for a measly $74 worth of veggies — but then anyone who made that argument wouldn’t be a gardener.

Posted by: Mike

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With lows in the upper 30s predicted for sometime in the next week or so, Roxie has been free lately with the friendly reminders that I might want to be performing some important gardening chores fairly soon.

So rather than put it off as usual, I spent Sunday afternoon getting prepared for the inevitable. Mostly, it had to do with herbs.

With my long handled shovel, I dug up three fourths of the song title “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.” The sage winters over, but the other three plants ended up in  pots. All got a good drink and will reside in the yard for now. But sometime before the night of the first frost, I’ll start hauling them, the cactus and the lemon grass  inside to their winter homes, on shelves or on the floor,  near south windows on the second and third floors of the big old house.

I may pot some basil today. But to assure we have a fresh supply of the dried stuff, I cut a bundle yesterday and stuck it in one of those red, mesh onion/potato sacks, which now hangs from a nail on the exposed floor joists in our basement “ceiling.”

In several weeks, the leaves will be dry enough to crumble. I’ll store them in a plastic tub on one shelf of the kitchen pantry.

We still have some roma tomatoes sunning in the garden. The bell and hot peppers continue to ripen, as do skads of butternut squash and a solitary pumpkin dangling from the fence that the cucumber vines climbed on in high summer.

But the day is coming soon when we’ll harvest the last of that assortment and then I’ll dig up the sweet potatoes.

That’s usually the last crop of the season, sweet potatoes, but off in one corner of the garden  it looks as if Roxie planted some brussel sprouts this year (they’re red, not green, so I’m assuming it’s some oddball variety).

I imagine we’ll wait until the very last minute to get them in. In years past, I can recall plodding through snow to pick brussel sprouts for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. But as usual, I’ll await orders.

Speaking of orders, we’re hearing that the gardening book should be out very soon. Doug Weaver, the honcho at Star Books, says we may have copies on hand to sell from our slot at the Lenexa Chili Challenge, Oct. 16-17.

If not, stop by and say hi, and we’ll give you some of Roxie’s great chili.

Otherwise, the book will be available at Borders, perhaps Barnes & Noble, and at the Kansas City Store on the Plaza.

Also, you can buy it through the The Kansas City Store website, https://www.thekansascitystore.com/

For signed copies (and who wouldn’t want one?)  you’ll need to buy them from us at the chili challenge, at a Star Store book signing, or other events.

Posted by: Mike

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Y’all come visit

The editing is almost done and the proofs are back from the printer. Library of Congress and an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) have been assigned. In just a couple of weeks, Mike and Roxie’s Vegetable Paradise will be on the shelves.

We’re excited to share our years of vegetable gardening–victories and spectacular failures included. If everything goes right at the press, we should have copies for available at our booth at the Lenexa Chili Challenge October 16 and 17 in Old Town Lenexa. Hope you’ll stop by and see us (and taste some great chili!)

In the meantime, here’s the cover:


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